HC Deb 28 October 1975 vol 898 cc1300-7
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

With permission, I should like to make a statement to the House. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, at the end of the debate in the Scottish Grand Committee on 15th and 17th April this year, said that we would make a statement as soon as our consultations on the Clayson Report were completed. The Government have decided to prepare legislation to amend the licensing law in Scotland. However, my proposals differ in some important respects from the recommendations of the report.

First, on the major social recommendations on permitted hours, I have decided that the evening closing hour should be extended to 11 p.m. and that this should apply also to off sales from hotels and public houses. It should not, however, apply to off sales shops, which should close at 8 p.m.

I have decided that there should continue to be a statutory afternoon break.

I propose that the one-hour extension to 11 p.m. should also apply to hotels and restaurants on Sundays but I do not accept the recommendation that public houses should be permitted to open on Sundays.

The Clayson Report proposed the introduction of a "refreshment house" licence which would provide an opportunity to encourage the establishment of premises accessible to adults and children in which parents could have alcoholic drink and their children have soft drinks with or without food. I accept this recommendation. I have rejected, however, as inappropriate in Scotland at present the children's certificate proposal which would have allowed children under 14 to enter the part of a public house specified in the certificate.

I propose to implement the report's proposal for a new form of licence for cinemas and other premises providing entertainments which can be tailored more closely to the needs of the premises.

I agree that the legislation on temperance polls should be repealed. I propose, however, to introduce transitional arrangements which would continue for a period of five years the restrictions in areas at present "dry" or subject to limitation.

I accept the Clayson recommendation that police should have a right of entry to registered clubs as they do to licensed premises.

I have also accepted the recommendation that the present licensing courts should be replaced by licensing boards of islands and district councillors appointed by these councils and that the present courts of appeal should be replaced by a right of appeal to the sheriff. These licensing boards, with the support of the local authorities which appoint them, will be in a position to maintain and accelerate the trend to an improved standard of facilities in licensed premises.

I propose to make various other changes, mainly procedural, in the light of the report. No change will be made in the age limit on the purchase of excisable liquor and its consumption in a bar or in the system of registration of clubs with the sheriff.

Urgent consultations on the proposals which I have outlined will be initiated with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other bodies involved in their implementation. A Bill will be introduced when a suitable legislative opportunity is available.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I welcome sincerely the statement by the right hon. Gentleman, which will be particularly welcome throughout Scotland. While recognising that this is a problem in which there is never any hope of pleasing everyone, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, despite his vacillations during the debate during the summer, on what I think is a certain amount of courage in tackling this problem and to a large extent implementing the proposals from what was generally recognised to be a very good report by the Clayson Committee.

I particularly welcome two points. First, despite the restriction in relation to the age of children, I express the hope that the introduction of the refreshment licence may be a very useful step in trying to stabilise attitudes towards drinking in Scotland.

I think that the right of appeal to the sheriff will be widely welcomed in Scotland and will perhaps reduce the concern which has existed about undue influence having been used in the past.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? Does he realise that his statement will raise expectations very widely throughout Scotland, and can he therefore be somewhat more forthcoming about when legislation will be brought in? If this is not done within the forthcoming Session of Parliament, I believe that all the expectations he has raised today will simply be dashed.

Mr. Ross

I am glad to have the commendation from the hon. Gentleman about the general approach. It was not a matter of vacillation. But we thought it wise, when we were having the debate, having sought consultation and advice elsewhere, that the House of Commons should also be allowed to express its opinion. The Government would then be able to make up their mind.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the recommendations of the Committee. As to his other point about legislation, I ask him to wait until the Queen's Speech.

Mr. David Steel

I, too, welcome this announcement of Government action on the Clayson Report. At first sight, the Secretary of State appears to have made some very wise selections from the report's recommendations for action. The right hon. Gentleman referred to proposed legislation. Is he aware that many of us feel that we do not make adequate use of the machinery of the Scottish Grand Committee sufficiently early in a new Session of Parliament and that perhaps this legislation might be tackled by the Scottish Grand Committee within a matter of weeks?

As for the point about entry of the police into registered clubs, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be some anxiety? It is a matter of some principle. What is to be the future distinction between a pub and a club, unless some other concession is to be offered to clubs?

Mr. Ross

There is, of course, a considerable difference between pubs and clubs, and not just in terms of licensing A club licence is a matter for the sheriff and is not controlled by the licensing laws. The hon. Gentleman will recall the very useful debate on this subject that we had in 1962. I hope that he will bear in mind the considerable extension to clubs since 1962 and that he will recognise the importance of this recommendation.

Mr. Dalyell

As regards the Clayson recommendation about the licensing of cafes, does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us are concerned about any prospect of cheap wine, which has a high profit margin, being made available to teenagers, even down to the age of 12 or 13? We gather that the licensing of cafés would permit this. May we be assured that that would not be acceptable to the Government?

Mr. Ross

The purchase of alcoholic wine by children is a completely different matter. There is a considerable element of doubt about cafe licences. But we think that this is an experiment which should be made. Of course, the police will watch carefully during its early years.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

My hon. Friends and I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It is a reasonable package, though not everyone will agree with it or with the original Clayson recommendations. Nevertheless the broad selection is useful.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with one or two specific questions? Will he explain the reason why the Sunday opening of public houses has been disregarded by the Government since in many cases hotels are the equivalent of public houses on Sundays?

Secondly, have the Government in mind as part of the overall package the making available of additional funds for the treatment of alcoholism in Scotland, and have they any proposals for the restriction of liquor advertising on television during hours when children watching television might be attracted by the advertisements?

Mr. Ross

That last point is important but it hardly comes within the Clayson recommendations. It is a general point, though I agree with the hon. Gentleman about it. But I cannot see it being dealt with in the Bill in relation to licensing. I note what the hon. Gentleman said about our not being able to please everyone. I recall reminding the Scottish Grand Committee, in the course of the debate to which I referred just now, of what Lloyd George said in 1915: that every Government who have ever touched alcohol have burned their fingers in its lurid flame. However, I think that a certain cautious change is desirable.

I know that it will be controversial in terms of the non-opening of public houses on Sundays. But here we face two problems. Although there has been a decline in church attendance on Sundays, Sunday is still very much a family day in Scotland and, bearing in mind the nature of public house drinking as against other kinds of drinking—it must be remembered that it is very much a male-only form of drinking—we thought it desirable to retain this traditional aspect.

I neglected to deal with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Pox-burgh, Selkirk and Peables (Mr. Steel) about the early introduction of the necessary legislation. Bearing in mind that we have to consult people, I do not want to give the impression that the legislation is ready to be introduced right away. If it were, I should bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind. It is right that we should get it started as quickly as possible.

Mr. Buchan

My right hon. Friend referred to the board which will grant licences and to a right of appeal to the sheriff. Will that work both ways? In other words, will that right of appeal be available not only to those who have an application for a licence turned down but in cases where objectors to it have been turned down? Secondly, will such a board consider issuing guidelines? I have in mind such matters as recommendations regarding the provision of food as a criterion for the granting of new licences.

Mr. Ross

That latter point is worth looking at. However, we are discussing not one board but boards in the various districts. There may be some desire to give general guidance along the lines that my hon. Friend suggests. As for his point about the right of appeal, it will work both ways—to objectors and to those who have applied for a licence and had it turned down.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In view of Scotland's appalling problem of alcoholism, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the liberalisation of our licensing laws will be accompanied by a major educational drive in schools to warn children of the dangers of excessive drinking?

As the representative of the only "dry" constituency in Scotland, may I ask the Secretary of State what is meant by the "transitional arrangements" for temperance polls? Does this mean that an area which is dry can stay dry for five years, or does it mean something else?

Mr. Ross

It means exactly that. We have to freeze the present position for five years. Following that—not just straight away—we have to move into freedom for the licensing boards. I have given some thought, and I shall consider it further, to whether it should be preceded by a motion in the district council so that there might be local participation in it.

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of education. This is one of the big debatable points—the suggestion by people that we make wholesale reforms which will change attitudes. I do not believe that that is the case. We have to appreciate, as the Clayson Report says, that there is no doubt that Scotland suffers from a serious problem of alcohol misuse, both absolutely and in comparison with England and Wales. We have to continue and to step up our education in schools and elsewhere in relation to this need.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Although I believe that the Scottish people will welcome the liberalisation announced by my right hon. Friend, and although this liberalisation policy has been dictated by the general situation not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom as a whole, will the Secretary of State nevertheless take the point made my the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that the greater availability of alcohol will not reduce the incidence of alcoholism? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a relationship between the availability of alcohol and the number of alcoholics? Therefore, will he make sure that facilities are available to take account of this possibility in the future?

Mr. Ross

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Sproat

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the proposed legislation will include provisions to tighten up the restrictions on those who are the means by which alcohol gets into the hands of minors, whether they be publicans or others giving alcohol to school pupils? Will he also consider the idea of imposing a direct levy on the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks to finance research into the causes and cures of Scotland's appalling problem?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman raised this matter in April, and he raised it again in a letter to me this week. Having given it full consideration, I shall be replying to him on this point.

As for what can be done to stop alcohol getting into the hands of young people, it is difficult to stop it if it is bought legitimately by an adult and handed over. In a number of cases, social disciplines are such that it may be available in the home. It is not a matter which can be dealt with entirely by the licensing system. It is a matter of attitudes and the acceptance of responsibility by the community.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although his statement will be welcomed, it does not go far enough for some of us? Does he realise there will be great disappointment that pubs will not be permitted to open on Sundays? Does he know that in order to get a drink on a Sunday many people in Scotland have to squeeze into hotels and often have to fight their way to the bar in overcrowded and barbaric conditions which are degrading for customers, who include many people who religiously observe Sunday as a day of rest?

Mr. Ross

Religiously observing Sunday and fighting their way to the bar? I think my hon. Friend should choose his words a little more carefully. I am quite aware that the statement will not please everybody, but when one bears in mind what happened in 1962, with the more generous provision of licences for hotels and the move away from the bona fide system, I think there is now far more opportunity for civilised drinking on Sundays than ever before, I considered the matter very carefully but did not think that we should make a further extension for public houses.