HC Deb 27 February 1976 vol 906 cc820-69

Order for second Reading read.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I take the view that our licensing laws are among the most complicated, archaic, uncivilised and restrictive parts of our legal system. I realise that there are those who have come to accept our restrictive licensing laws, and these laws are becoming almost an adopted and accepted part of our way of life. There are also those who firmly believe that the laws do social good and are an advantage possessed by this country which other countries do not have.

I believe that both assumptions can be challenged. I certainly have serious doubts whether the licensing laws achieve any useful social purpose. We tend to have them because we have always had them. They are taken for granted and nobody has seriously questioned their supposed social purpose.

It is interesting to discover when we first introduced into our law the idea of restrictive licensing legislation, and particularly restrictions on opening hours. I discovered that their origin dates back to the First World War in extraordinary circumstances. Our licensing laws are the consequence of a little-recalled episode connected with the battle of Neuve Chappelle in the First World War. I quote a passage from A. J. P. Taylor's "The First World War" in which, after describing the tragic fiasco of that battle, he said: The battle has another importance for English people. Sir John French, to conceal his failure, complained that he was short of shells. The Government in their turn blamed the munition workers, who were alleged to draw high wages and to pass their days drinking in public houses. Legislation was hastily introduced to restrict the hours when public houses were open and, in particular, to impose an afternoon gap when drinkers must be turned out. Those restrictions, still with us, rank with Summer Time, as the only lasting effects of the First World War on British life. Anyone who feels thirsty in England during the afternoon is still paying a price for the battle of Neuve Chappelle. We have gone on a little since then, and the last major piece of reform of the licensing laws was the Licensing Act of 1964. Since then the authoritative Erroll Committee on Liquor Licensing reported in 1972 and made valuable recommendations on liberalising reforms. It is unfortunate that they have never been properly debated and that no Government, of either political persuasion, have announced their position on those recommendations. I should like to see a large proportion of the Erroll recommendations brought into effect.

Before I alarm further those who are opposed to my legislation, let me set out my general views about liquor licensing and the desirability of the Erroll reforms. I appreciate that the major Errol recommendations cannot be implemented in Private Members' legislation and would be better covered by a Government Bill designed as a major reform of the Licensing Act 1964. However, my Bill merely constitutes a modest step in what I believe to be the right direction.

This small Bill aims to implement two small steps. First, it seeks to introduce the possibility of extended and flexible hours of opening for licensed premises in limited circumstances and to introduce the possibility of family provision in licensed premises.

Even these small proposals have aroused some opposition outside the House. I realise the sincerity of those opponents who have major worries about alcoholism, alcohol abuse and social problems allied to the misuse of alcohol, and in introducing this measure I in no way seek to minimise some of the sad effects of alcohol on our society.

I see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who performs valuable public work in advising on this subject and who will try to take part in the debate to remind the House about the problems in our society caused by alcohol. I would ask him and others who express doubts about the measure to bear in mind that my argument is not based on any attempt to try to minimise the problems caused by alcohol. It involves some questioning of the degree to which the inflexible rigidity of our present licensing hours may or may not reduce the problems of alcohol abuse.

I am not persuaded that the absolute embargo on the opening of licensed premises during afternoons is a valuable contribution to restraint in the use of alcohol. We have reached the stage where bottles of liquor are on sale in supermarkets throughout the day. Part of the problem of alcoholism increasingly comes from the bored and frustrated housewife at home drinking in the privacy of her own place. There are no restrictions there in regard to licensing hours.

The unfortunate person with a drink problem is not helped in any way by the inconvenience of our present licensing hours. The great inconvenience is to the social drinker, because the vast majority of those who go into public houses go there for reasons other than the mere consumption of alcohol—namely, for company or for entertainment. To the tourist and traveller, constantly baffled by our restrictions in licensing hours, the modest provisions of my Bill would allow more flexible and extended hours of opening and would certainly not open the way to any great abuse in alcohol.

The Bill proposes that opening hours should be more flexible to meet the wishes of licensees and to serve the needs of their customers as the licensees seek to determine them. The Bill provides that it should be possible for a licensee, if he so wishes, to apply for additional hours of opening outside the present permitted hours but between 10 o'clock in the morning and midnight as the absolute limit. It is envisaged that a licensee in certain circumstances might wish within those times to provide slightly more flexible hours of opening to meet the requirements of his customers.

Let me give an example to show what I have in mind. I am not saying that the majority of public houses will wish to open from 10 a.m. till midnight, but various public houses will have the choice of opening hours according to the working habits and requirements of their customers. For example, in a city centre where there are shops and offices and there is little local population, I envisage public houses opening from about 10 o'clock in the morning to 7 o'clock in the evening and then probably closing. In seaside towns during the holiday season there will be some requests for afternoon openings, and in rural areas no doubt requests will be made for afternoon opening on Saturdays to accommodate people visiting the countryside. I repeat that I am proposing more flexibility so that licensed premises can open at times to suit the needs of consumers and the convenience of licensees.

Some objection to any liberalisation of the law comes from those who live near licensed premises and who complain of nuisance. I have that problem very much in mind. Therefore, in Clause 3(1) of the Bill the justices are given unfettered discretion to refuse any applications which do not appear to be justified. The justices are specifically directed to consider the comfort and convenience of the occupiers of neighbouring premises, because late opening can prove inconvenient in some areas.

The second step concerns family provision inside licensed houses. At present, children aged 14 and over can be taken into any licensed premises. They can at any age be taken into a room where there is no bar, and they are frequently taken into the gardens of public houses in the summer to be served drinks. Unfortunately, they are quite often left in cars in the car parks at premises that are not really suitable.

At present the law is rigid and inflexible and does not allow the licensing justices to approve any accommodation in which there is a bar being open to children. Some of those most doubtful about licensing reform have sympathy in my view that it is positively good socially that children should first be introduced to alcohol in a family setting, in restrained surroundings, and not brought up to believe that drinking, like smoking, is something secret which adults do and to which they themselves can aspire as soon as they reach a certain age.

The Bill does not go very far. It simply allows the appropriate authority to approve a children's accommodation order in parts of premises specifically adapted to the needs of families. The justices would again have unfettered discretion. It is contemplated that children will be allowed in those adapted parts of premises with adults only until 8 o'clock in the evening. It is because we want to ensure that we are not making a mistake in the case of children that the Bill has some additional safeguards. The present law is not too rigid on sales to children on licensed premises. As the law stands, at the age of 14 years and over children can buy non-alcoholic drinks. To ensure that children's accommodation orders are not abused, my Bill would tighten up the present law in relation to sales to children in those parts of licensed houses to which children's accommodation orders applied, so that no sale of any goods to children in those parts of the premises would be permitted.

I put forward the Bill as containing two modest changes in the licensing law which would be to the general benefit of the ordinary consuming public.

I want to add one final reassurance to the retail trade and to those who work in the licensing trade. It is quite clear in the Bill that applications for these two types of orders will be entirely at the choice of the licensee. He will be entirely free to decide whether he wants his house to take advantage of these provisions. Clearly, there would be no obligation upon any licensee to have to apply for such an order and no obligation on him even to continue to comply with one if he obtained one and found that it was inconvenient in practice.

Many licensees are tenants or managers of their licensed houses and some of them fear that they might be obliged by the brewers to apply for these additional orders, even if they do not wish to have them themselves. When the Erroll Committee considered the matter it considered this point, and at that time the Brewers Society gave a written undertaking to the Committee that it would not interpret its present tenancy agreements or its present contracts of employment with its managers in order to oblige any licensee, be he manager or tenant, to apply for additional hours.

I have approached the Brewers Society to find out whether there has been any change of policy and whether such an undertaking might be repeated. My understanding is that there has been no change of policy and that that society will favourably consider any approach made to it for a renewal of the undertaking, although at this stage it has not formally considered the matter. If the Bill is given a Second Reading today and goes into Committee, it is my intention and that of my fellow sponsors specifically to approach the Brewers Society and request a written undertaking of exactly that kind again. If the Society feels unable to repeat that written undertaking and thereby does not give an undertaking to tenants and managers, I should not feel justified in proceeding with this measure. However, it is my understanding that the policy of the Brewers Society has not changed and that it will give such an undertaking. Therefore, I believe that some of the fears of those in the retail trade need not be regarded as insuperable. They can be dealt with and are, fortunately, unnecessary.

In Committee I propose to be as flexible as possible. We shall listen to any detailed reservations that people have with a view to amending the measure. I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

As I speak, the licensing hours will terminate in three-quarters of an hour. However, the licensing hours applicable to this House will not end, and for as long as this debate continues the bars in this House will remain open because of the strange anomaly that the Palace of Westminster is not subject to licensing laws. I do not object to that, but I trust that hon. Members who still believe that some protection is necessary to the public by way of licensing hours might bear in mind that it is a protection which the House has long felt unnecessary to give to hon. Members and the staff because we drink at all hours of the night in the Palace of Westminster. I hope that slightly more civilised arrangements might obtain to the public by giving the Bill a Second Reading.

1.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summer-skill)

It may be helpful to the House if I intervene at this stage to define the Government's attitude to the Bill. First, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in his luck in the Ballot and his decision to introduce a Bill raising important but extremely controversial issues. I listened with great interest to the case that the hon. Gentleman made out in favour of his Bill and I am sure that whatever the views of individual hon. Members on its merits, the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity that he has given us to debate this difficult subject.

As he pointed out, the House has not debated this subject in the recent past. The Bill's main proposals stem from the report of the Departmental Committee on Liquor Licensing, under the chairmanship of Lord Erroll of Hale, which was presented to Parliament in December 1972. That was a long and complex Report proposing far-reaching changes in the present law. Its recommendations aroused a good deal of controversy. During the course of 1973, the Report was debated in both Houses of Parliament, but the debate in this House was too brief to give any satisfactory indication of how the House felt on these issues. Since that time a variety of conflicting views have been expressed on the desirability, or the dangers, of the changes recommended by the Erroll Committee.

The Government have thought it wrong to reach hasty conclusions on matters of such difficulty and moment which are still the subject of lively controversy. We shall, therefore, listen most attentively to whatever views are expressed by hon. Members in their consideration of this Bill. The Government do not, therefore, intend actively to oppose or support the hon. Gentleman's Bill, although I should make it clear that if we considered that any general reform of the licensing law was indicated, it would best be effected by Government legislation when our consideration of the Erroll Report is complete.

Accordingly, I shall confine myself to putting before hon. Members what appear to the Government to be some of the considerations which the House should take into account in dealing with the proposals in the Bill. It will then be for hon. Members to make up their minds on their own assessment of the merits of these proposals.

The Bill does not seek to give effect by any means to all the Erroll Committee's recommendations. As has been explained, it seeks, first, to enable additions to be made to the permitted hours in licensed premises on application by the licensee. That is provided for in Clause 1. Clause 2 would permit the presence of children under the age of 14 in approved bars. Children over the age of 14 are already permitted to be present in licensed premises, although they are not permitted to buy or consume liquor there. Under Clause 2(3), the prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquor to persons under 18 is extended to the sale of any goods.

On permitted hours, the House should note the difference between the approach in Clause 1 and the recommendations of the Erroll Report. Under the present law, once a justices' licence has been granted, the permitted hours laid down in Section 60 of the Licensing Act 1964 apply. There is provision under Section 61 for local variation of these hours within the overall total, but basically the hours are from 11 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.—3 p.m. in certain parts of London—and 5.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.—11 p.m. in certain parts of London. The Erroll Committee recommended that these permitted hours be replaced by the hours from 10 a.m. to midnight, subject to any restrictions which the justices felt desirable either to secure a break in the afternoon on public hygiene grounds or to curtail the closing hour by up to two hours on grounds of public order, including noise nuisance.

The approach favoured by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe is less far-reaching, in that the hours of 10 a.m. to midnight will only apply to the extent that the licensee makes application, under a separate procedure, and the licensing justices, in their absolute discretion, allow the application. This is a more cautious approach than that of Erroll.

Since all extensions are to be at the absolute discretion of the licensing justices, it is impossible to predict the exact effect of Clause 1. It could conceivably have no effect at all, if licensing benches throughout the country were to refuse to accept the case for any extensions to present permitted hours. More likely, perhaps, there would be wide variations throughout the country in the extent to which licensing benches accepted applications for extensions. So although Clause 1 is a more cautious approach than that of Erroll, it also appears to be more arbitrary in respect of variations in hours between one place and another.

I should mention here the fact that the Bill will create extra work for the courts in dealing not only with applications for the grant or renewal of the licences, but for the additional hours and accommodation orders under Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. It is possible that this effect can be mitigated by arranging under procedural regulations for applications for these orders to be heard at the same time as the application for grant or renewal of the basic licence.

The House should also consider whether the Bill does in fact adequately protect the interests of the licensee. If the licensee is a tenant, he will in most cases hardly be able to refrain from applying for additional hours orders if his trade competitors have successfully obtained them. If the licensee is a manager, he may—as was recognised by the hon. Gentleman—be subject to strong pressure from the brewery which employs him to apply for the new orders. The Bill could also have implications for the working hours of employees in licensed houses, which the hon. Gentleman did not mention. If the hon. Gentleman sums up the debate perhaps he will indicate what consultations, if any, he has had with representatives both of managers and employees, and what reactions he has had from them.

To sum up on this clause, the more cautious approach adopted in the Bill represents a less abrupt, and more carefully controlled, departure from the existing system than the Erroll Committee's recommendations envisaged, but, equally, it can be seen as an unsatisfactory compromise. A system of extensions, as opposed to an all-embracing system of permitted hours, could prove to be more cumbersome, to cause more work for the courts, and to be more confusing for the public.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Since when have the law courts ever objected to a bit more work, a bit more for those at the Bar, for solicitors and for others? They have not really objected to this at all, have they? It is not an objection to the introduction of this amending legislation that it might involve them in applications at the Brewster sessions. Has any objection been taken to it by the magistrates' courts?

Dr. Summerskill

I have occasionally heard objections by the public, who are queueing up for time at the courts, that the courts are overloaded. However, I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. If the Bill goes to a Standing Committee, perhaps this is something that can be discussed there.

Clause 2, which provides for the making of on order to disapply Section 168 of the Licensing Act 1964 in suitable cases, follows the Erroll Committee's recommendations more closely. The clause allows the presence of children in any bar where such an order is made. However, there is no requirement that any child should be accompanied. This is not consistent with Erroll's recommendation. There is, however, provision in subsection (3) to make it an offence to sell any goods to such children.

The intention of the provision of subsection (3) is no doubt to remove the incentive for a child to be in licensed premises unless accompanied by an adult who can purchase food and non-alcoholic drink for him or her. The clause does, however, have the curious effect of providing that children between the ages of 14 and 17 will not be able to buy food and non-alcoholic drink during the hours that an accommodation order is in force but they will be able to purchase such items as soon as the accommodation order ceases to have effect after 8 o'clock in the evening.

The other main provision in the Bill is Clause 4, which would repeal Section 76(5) of the Licensing Act 1964 and so allow drinks to be served from a bar while a special hours certificate is in force. The Government do not oppose this change in the law but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has already obtained a Second Reading for a Bill originating in another place which is limited to this one amendment of the law, the hon. Member for Rushcliffe would, no doubt, be content to drop the provision from his Bill.

As for the subsidiary provisions of the Bill, Clauses 1(3), 2(3) and 5(1) apply certain procedural provisions of the Licensing Act 1964 to the new orders. I am bound to say that there are technical defects in these provisions which the House will wish to examine very carefully.

So far I have been comparing the Bill with the Erroll recommendations. There are also, however, issues of principle of which the House should be aware. For example, the existing procedures for ob- jection which the hon. Member seeks to apply to the new orders do not provide for objection by the county council, except as fire authority. It is, however, arguable that the county council, as education authority and as the authority responsible for the provision of personal social services, will have a strong interest in the provisions which provide for the presence of children unaccompanied in licensed premises. For the same reason, it is questionable whether Clause 3(2) should restrict to the chief officer of police the right to apply for revocation of orders under Clauses 1 or 2.

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

Perhaps my hon. Friend will forgive me if I point out that many of these are Committee matters. I understand that the Government do not oppose the Bill or ask hon. Members to oppose it on Second Reading today. I wonder whether it is necessary for her to make all these detailed comments now rather than in Committee.

Dr. Summerskill

I should like to make my own speech in my own way. These are points of which other hon. Members may not be aware, even though my hon. Friend is clearly aware of them.

There does not seem, moreover, to be any provision for appeal in the Bill either for those whose applications are refused or for those who feel aggrieved by the grant of an order. These are all matters which the House will, I am sure, wish to consider very seriously in Committee.

I turn now to what is almost certainly the crucial point for the House to consider this afternoon. This is whether, in the present climate of increasing alcoholism particularly among younger people, drunkenness offences, and offences of drink and driving, it is appropriate to relax the licensing laws in any respect. Last week as the House knows, the Advisory Committee on Alcoholism, set up by the Secretary of State for Social Services last year, made known its views. The Committee recognised that a case might be made for permitting later hours on the grounds that social customs have changed since the law was first introduced. It nevertheless concluded in its summary that an extension of hours would be likely to increase consumption and should, therefore, be opposed. On admitting children to specified licensed premises, the Committee said in its summary that the effects are not known and that unless a strong educational case can be presented, experimentation would be unwise.

In general, the Committee was opposed to any relaxation of the licensing law which was likely to lead to increased consumption. Such an increase was bound, in its view, to exacerbate the problems and increase the cost of dealing with accidents, ill-health and social problems resulting from excessive alcohol consumption.

I come now to the criminal statistics available to us. These do not reveal the number of offences which may be linked with alcohol misuse. I believe, however, that an important connection exists, and my Department hopes to be able to make further studies of this. Meanwhile, we have the annual statistics of offences of drunkenness, which have been showing an upward trend for some years. In 1973, the figures showed an increase of almost 10 per cent. over the 1972 figures. This rate of increase slowed down in 1974 to under 4 per cent., but the rise, for the first time since 1916, in the number of findings of guilt to over 100,000 is nevertheless disturbing. Convictions in England and Wales for drink and driving offences, rose from 27,242 in 1970 to 58,004 in 1974.

Nor must we lose sight of the possibility that a later opening hour will increase the dangers of drunken driving. Offences in this area have shown alarming increases in recent years, and it is right to question whether a midnight closing hour would be appropriate for those licensed premises to which, in the absence of public transport, the only access is likely to be by car.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Very important points flow from what the hon. Lady is saying. She is implying that it is drinking in public houses and clubs which has led to the increase in alcoholism, whereas the fact is—and I suggest that there is evidence of it—that the increase in drinking is due to the great ease with which alcohol can be bought in supermarkets and elsewhere and consumed much more extensively in the home.

Secondly, is not the evidence from the Metropolitan Police, if not elsewhere, quite clear—that the large increase in convictions results from the very much tighter law? Does she not recognise that in many instances persons convicted of driving under the influence of drink are in no sense drunk or even under excessive influence of alcohol? They may have a mere 80 to 85 millilitres in their blood content. Those facts change the picture, do they not?

Dr. Summerskill

I do not believe that there is any clear evidence whether the increase in alcoholism, particularly among young people, has resulted from the ability to obtain alcohol in one place or another. I do not think that has been established. We just know that alcoholism is increasing. Whether the source of the alcohol is predominantly from supermarkets or public houses has not been established.

With regard to the cause and effect, I shall be coming to that in a minute in connection with the Erroll Committee's recommendations.

It would be unfair to give the impression that the Erroll Committee was unaware of the problems to which I have just referred. Indeed, it was fully aware of the dangers and, after examining the available evidence, concluded that the various measures tend to point in the same direction. The picture we get…is of rising overall consumption, accompanied by increases in alcoholism death rates and in offences of drunkenness, all of which, however, are still below the peak levels reached towards the end of the last and beginning of this century. On the relevance of the licensing law to levels of drunkenness and alcoholism, the Erroll Committee said: this pattern is very far from establishing that the licensing law has exercised, or is likely to exercise, a decisive influence on these trends—as opposed, for example, to the other constituents, such as price, general economic conditions and cultural attitudes—of the evironmental factors discussed. On this vital point, the views submitted to us were inconclusive. I think, therefore, the problem is clear in the sense that this is not a simple subject on which it is easy to reach simple conclusions. That is why the Government would like hon. Members to make up their own minds about the correct balance to be struck between a limited relaxation of the licensing laws on the one hand and the risks of increasing alcoholism, drunkenness and drunken driving on the other.

2.8 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

In opposing the Bill I should declare an interest. I have been Chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism for the past four years and I am currently chairman of a working party on the impact of alcohol on industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) described his Bill as a modest measure. He argued the case for it with persuasive charm and moderation; perhaps I should have said "deceptive charm", because the case against the Bill, as I hope to show, is unanswerable.

May I say that although I understand the present situation of the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State, I regret that she took so cautious and negative a line on the Bill. I say that because there can be no doubt whatsoever of the growing menace of excessive drinking in our society.

For the vast majority of people, drinking is a pleasant social pastime and it is very difficult for them to grasp the fact that for a minority—the point is that it is a growing minority—it is a destroyer of health and happiness, it is a major factor in the breakdown of family life and it is a potent cause, as the statistics show, of death and injury to others.

Already the amount of alcohol consumed per capita in this country is at its highest level since the commencement of the First World War, when convictions for drunkenness averaged 180,000 a year. By 1974 we reached the alarming level of 170,000 offences arising from excessive drinking. If, therefore, there is to be a relaxation of licensing laws, even of the minimal character suggested in this modest little Bill, I suggest that we must reflect very carefully on what we do.

The Erroll Committee stated: the law controlling the sale of intoxicating liquor has to strike a balance between the perfectly valid demands of a great number of the population and the needs of those vulnerable in themselves to liquor or potential victims of its side effects. The Committee went on to say: the causes of alcohol addiction include a number of environmental factors of which the availability of intoxicating liquor must be counted as one". There is now sufficient evidence to show that the total alcohol consumption in any population has a direct bearing on the extent of abnormal drinking. An overall increase in consumption, which is the object of the Bill as I shall show presently, would inevitably produce an increase in the number of people with an alcohol-related problem, whether it be a social or a health problem. It is important for hon. Members to recognise that this does not relate simply to the number of dependent, addicted or chronic alcoholics—I should like to have said this to my hon and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) had he been here—but also to an ever-increasing number of people with difficulties in personal relationships, job performance, domestic harmony, driving under the influence of drink, absenteeism and the loss of jobs.

In a recent survey carried out by Shaw, Cartwright and Spratley of the Maudsley alcohol pilot project which reported in October 1975, it was discovered that 3.5 per cent. of the sample had experienced a problem due to alcohol intake during the previous 12 months. This figure projected nationally would suggest that probably over 1 million people would have experienced an alcohol-related problem in that period. I stress that those would be people who would not normally be described as alcoholics and who would not welcome that label being put on them. It would be wrong for us, as a responsible legislature, to consider this simple little Bill, this seemingly innocuous measure, except against the background that, ironically, the Erroll Report suggests should be taken into account.

I shall lift up the stone and peer beneath and describe the realities of the situation in which our society unhappily finds itself today in relation to this problem. Let us take the question of domestic violence. The British Medical Journal reported a preliminary survey last year in which 100 battered wives were interviewed. It was alleged in 44 cases that wife assault occurred regularly when the husband was drunk. The questionnaire revealed the frequency with which large numbers of husbands in the marital home became drunk or indulged in episodes of heavy drinking. That was borne out by the report of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage. Under the heading "Alcohol" it said: No one can be sure whether excessive drinking is the cause of violence or a result of the frustration which produced it. However, we have had considerable evidence indicating that excessive drinking is frequently a factor in domestic violence. This is not surprising in view of the known pharmacological actions of the drug alcohol. We recommend"— hon. Members must remember that this was a Select Committee of this House— that the Government should now introduce a vigorous publicity campaign against excessive consumption of alcohol particularly by the young and should formulate a positive policy on the advertisement of alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is increasing and the number of alcoholics is growing. If nothing is done we fear that the incidence of family violence may increase. We hope to pursue this subject further next Session. Let us take the question of child cruelty. In 1970 the Council of Europe stated that sixty per cent. of child cruelty comes from a background of problem drinking. We have seen this borne out in the reports of two Government inquiries into non-accidental injury to children—the appalling cases of John Auckland and Maria Colwell. Those who think that we should lightly embark on this modest little opening of the door to more liberalised drinking hours should look at these official reports before going any further.

Let us take the question of drinking and driving. The Department of the Environment expressed concern to the Erroll Committee that an increase in drinking hours could lead to an increase in consumption on the part of drivers and pointed to the possibility that more flexible drinking hours might coincide with afternoon traffic peaks and drinkers driving from one public house to another. Therein lies the relevance of what the hon. Lady said about the variation in hours as between one area and another that the Bill would permit.

We still await the Blennerhassett Committee's report on the operation of the breath-test laws, but we know that the number of breath-test offences already shows an alarming increase. The figure for England and Wales increased from 11,000 in 1968 to over 67,000 in 1974. Although that increase is bad enough, the significant factor is the increasing proportion in those figures of young people. Of the latest figure, the 67,000 offences committed in 1974, 53 per cent. were committed by persons under 30 years of age.

We are not without relevant information on the correlation of drinking and driving offences. Clair and Clooney have shown that in Ireland alcohol-dependent drivers have four times as many prosecutions.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

Who are Clair and Clooney?

Sir B. Braine

I am using the normal method of describing the authors of serious academic studies of social problems. I shall continue to do so. I am saying that this was a survey conducted in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Garrett

What standing have these people? It would help the House if the hon. Member would explain who Clair and Clooney are and what is their standing. It is no good the hon. Gentleman quoting statistics unless we have some indication of the source.

Sir B. Braine

I am quite prepared to give detailed information of that kind to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garett) and other hon. Members until 4 o'clock. I should have thought it was unlikely that an hon. Member with my years of experience in the House would quote anyone who had no standing whatever. I am quoting a survey which is well known to those engaged in the study of alcoholism and to the Government's own Advisory Committee, whose report I shall refer to and which was referred to by the hon. Lady.

Therefore, we come back to Clair and Clooney. They have shown that in the Republic of Ireland alcohol-dependent drivers have four times as many prosecutions and twice as many accidents as other drivers and that such accidents occurred early in their drinking history—that is to say, some six years before presenting themselves for treatment as alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease which manifests itself over a period.

Schmidt, Smart and Popham concluded that in Canada traffic accidents involving the drinking driver were at least in part a problem of alcoholism rather than largely or entirely a problem of the effects of alcohol on the casual driver. This latter statement, they suggest, is a probable reason for the serious problem of drinking and driving in Scandinavian countries, Canada and various American States, despite education campaigns and rigorous application of the drink and driving laws.

I am giving the House this information because it must not be said that we are ignorant of the effect of excessive drinking and of too-liberal laws upon social behaviour of that kind.

The hon. Lady talked about the burden on the courts which the Bill would impose. Let me tell the House what the burden on the courts is already as the result of the trend in alcohol-related offences. We now have coming before our courts the highest number of drink-related offences since the First World War. I want hon. Members to absorb these statistics before they think of giving a Second Reading to the Bill.

Consider what has happened in the past decade. The figures jumped from 76,842 in 1964 to 103,203 in 1974; and what is still more striking is that the proportion of persons under 21 within those figures rose from 12 per cent. of the total in 1964 to 19.5 per cent. of the far larger total in 1974.

I put the matter quite bluntly. The House must take proper note of those statistics. One simply cannot dismiss lightly the fears of the Department of the Environment regarding increased drinking breaks which the flexibility that the Bill would introduce would encourage. Any likelihood of increased alcohol consumption related to traffic accidents at peak hours must be avoided.

I turn now to the impact on health of any encouragement to drink more, which is what relaxation of licensing laws—even the minimal relaxation suggested in this modest Bill—must make inevitable. The World Health Organisation maintains that the best indication of a change in alcoholism rates is a change in the death rate from cirrhosis of the liver. I see that the Under-Secretary agrees, and I am glad that she does. Let the House reflect, then, on the appalling statistics for Britain alone. Let us leave Canada and the Republic of Ireland and see what is happening here.

Deaths from alcoholism-cirrhosis increased between 1963 and 1973 by 95.2 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has asked me to read to the House a letter from Professor Duncan Vere of the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at the London Teaching Hospital. Referring to what he describes as a well meant but ill-informed proposed piece of legislation", Professor Vere said: In East London we have seen a steadily increasing incidence of alcoholic disease and a steadily diminishing DHS provision for alcoholics, thanks to the financial crisis. Are we to add to these factors the cynical threat of increased availability? So far as I can see, the incidence of alcoholism is closely linked with availability, and the casual link is probably from the latter to the former rather than the reverse.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I realise that my hon. Friend is trying to help the debate and is not, as he implied a moment ago, simply trying to use up the time between now and 4 o'clock, so may I put to him this question? Will he not acknowledge that the figures which he is using are a little questionable? I say that, first, because the number of convictions for offences relating to alcohol may reflect the reduced tolerance of society towards public drunkenness compared with circumstances 20 or 30 years ago, when public drunkenness on a Friday or Saturday night would probably not lead to prosecution in the way it would now. Second, may not the figures relating to deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in part reflect improved public health, so that such diseases are not killing people and they therefore live longer and may die from social diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver?

Third, if my hon. Friend says that availability of liquor will increase the problem, what does he say about the fact that, under the present law, anyone can go to Sainsbury's and buy a bottle of intoxicating liquor at any hour of the day? In what way would improved flexibility in the opening of bars and licensed houses make the slighest difference to that situation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be in danger of talking out his own Bill.

Sir B. Braine

I think that my hon. Friend, on reflection, will wish that he had not made that intervention. I draw his attention to what was said in the Lancet of 14th February, which came out firmly against his Bill. At one point the Lancet said: There is therefore a possibility that the health issues will be similarly glossed over". That is precisely what my hon. Friend is doing. He is not an authority on the medical aspect. In fact, the medical profession as a whole is alarmed by the Bill. I have a great deal more to say on the subject, and if my hon. Friend continues to interrupt me I shall indeed take a good deal more time than I originally intended.

If we pass this Bill, how do we explain to our constituents—how does my hon. Friend explain to his constituents—that the National Health Service, which is unable to cope with its present load, must have more money to deal with the rising tide of ill health due to excessive drinking? The hon. Lady would not dispute that. The Department of Health and Social Security does not dispute it, and the medical profession does not dispute it. My hon. Friend will be in great difficulty in explaining that contradiction.

There can be no doubt about the connection between consumption rates and the social and economic damage inflicted by excessive drinking. Even the Erroll Committee stated that the evidence which it had received pointed to the fact that total alcohol consumption in a population had a direct bearing on alcohol-related problems in that population.

In 1974, the per capita consumption in this country was 33 gallons of beer, 1.93 gallons of wine and 0.78 gallons of spirits. In terms of absolute alcohol consumption per head of adult population, it is now about 14 pints, which is the highest level since the beginning of the First World War. I do not know what my hon. Friend makes of that in relation to what he said about statistics and the application of the law.

I am talking about the rising consumption of alcohol. Is it any wonder, against that background, that social and health problems have increased? Have we any right, then, to support measures which manifestly would aggravate those problems? Should we not heed the Government's own Advisory Committee on Alcoholism? This is the Government's own inquiry, referred to by the hon. Lady, and here is what it tells us: We cannot doubt that, if national consumption were to increase, howsoever that came about, then the number of people drinking at high personal levels of consumption would also increase. From this would follow an increase in the number of alcoholics". Dare the House ignore advice of that kind?

It is argued by some that our drinking laws should be liberalised in order to accommodate the growing number of tourists. This is a puerile argument. Our first duty as a legislature is to our own people and to our own children. But, none the less, let us note what is happening elsewhere.

France has the highest levels of alcoholism in the world. The French Government are deeply concerned. The French Prime Minister's special committee on alcohol problems has been striving to get consumption levels cut. The French Government are envious of our controlling legislation. They have been endeavouring to persuade the French public not to give alcohol to their children.

This wretched little Bill would open the door a little—only a little, of course; the provisions of Clause 2 are very cautious—to familiarisation of the young with alcohol. Yet, as the Lancet said on 14th February, in a scathing attack on the Bill, the argument goes that if the law allowed children to be brought by their parents into selected parts of public houses they might thus observe how to drink sensibly. The danger is"— this is the point which the Lancet makes— that parents who brought their children with them might include many whose drinking was unrestrained. As an educational measure, then, the proposal is risky". That is an understatement if ever there was one.

Our country, which does not yet have the heavy drink problem which obtains in France, Italy or Western Germany, has long relied on legislation, fiscal measures and education to control excessive drinking. Since education is a long-term measure and has been neglected for over a generation, the two effective measures of control in this country are legislative and fiscal.

Again, I call in aid the Government's own Advisory Committee, which warned: If the recommendations of the Erroll Committee should be enacted, the resulting relaxation of controls would, for all practical purposes, be irreversible. An increase in alcohol consumption and serious alcohol-related problems might ensue and this committee can see no way in which controls could be reintroduced in the short term. That is why the French are so envious of our legislation.

The countries in Europe which have lower rates of problem drinking than we have are those which possess the sort of legislation that we have. Once we let the legislative control weaken, the Government will be left with only one effective way of dealing with the rising tide of excessive drinking—namely, the use of the fiscal weapon. There are international experts who suggest that it would be necessary to treble the prices of alcoholic beverages if we were to expect any immediate effect on our alcohol problems. That would be manifestly unfair and politically impractical. It would certainly be unfair to the average social drinker of modest means.

I do not believe that the sponsors of the Bill can assure us that the Bill will not aggravate the present grave situation by enabling people to drink throughout the day until midnight. Can they give us an assurance that the total consumption of alcohol will not increase? Of course not. The Government's advisory committee states that it is inclined to mistrust any proposals that increase the hours during which alcoholic drinks can be bought as these would only be supported by the trade if some increase in consumption were expected. That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. I need not ask the question because we already know the answer. There is evidence that relaxation of the licensing laws affects consumption. In 1955 in Sweden it led to a one-third increase in spirit consumption. In 1971 the lowering of the permitted level of drinking in Ontario led to a large increase in consumption even among those below the new permitted age. My hon. Friend cannot ignore these trends, which have been observable in other countries.

The difficulties experienced by customers in being able to drink when they like is a poor argument. I have heard it frequently. The general public do not feel inconvenienced by the present laws according to the OPC Survey report commissioned by the Erroll Committee. After all, public houses in the vicinity of market places and elsewhere, where the existence of a special local need can be demonstrated, are already granted extensions. That survey reported that the public generally did not wish to see any changes. Only 14 per cent. desired any liberalisation.

As for those who might be expected to provide the increased facilities proposed by the Bill, their answer is loud and clear. I was intrigued that my hon. Friend had gone to the Brewers Society to discover its view on the subject. Let me read a telegram I have received from the National Association of Licensed House Managers. It says: Britain's 14,500 pub managers opposed the Bill and wish you success. The Bill would mean more overheads and increased prices, the closing of managed public houses and unemployment, the loss of tenanted houses because of unfair competition. Success of the Bill would be a retrograde step. That is signed by Harry Schindler, the national secretary of the association. That is the answer of the people who will have to provide the increased facilities which must be made available for those who want to consume more alcohol at times more convenient to themselves.

The pattern of permitted hours under the Bill is, of course, variable. The results that we fear will occur in some places but not in others. All the problems that I have suggested will flow from stupid ill-considered arrangements of that kind.

The medical profession has spoken out. I have already quoted the Lancet article. I could quote it at greater length. The Government's Advisory Committee on Alcoholism has warned us. In its summary the Report says: The health aspects of alcohol consumption are of fundamental importance in the consideration of laws affecting the consumption of alcohol. The relationship between consumption and alcohol-related problems is known. It is, therefore, unwise to run the risk of increased consumption which would be created by a relaxation of the licensing laws. That is a devastating answer to those who would tinker with the licensing laws of the country.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the Erroll Committee has also spoken and in a contrary spirit to that which he is now expressing? It considered this matter for two years.

Sir B. Braine

The Erroll Committee is one of the worst authorities that anyone could quote. It considered certain sets of facts and came to conclusions which those facts did not sustain. If the Erroll Report was the sound document it is supposed to be, how is it that its recommendations have not yet been implemented by any Government? How is it that we have not had hordes of thirsty customers descending upon the House insisting on reform of the licensing laws and insisting that this should be given precedence over all other business? We have not heard anything from anyone.

That is because there is no evidence that the great majority of people who like a quiet drink in their pub want changes of this kind. There is no evidence that the family men and women of this country want permission to take their children into public houses. We have only to reflect on the problems of publicans and public house managers in dealing with young people who are below the permitted age to realise the stupidity of the Bill's proposals.

The Bill has no popular support, apart from a small minority pressure group and probably from some who seek to make money from the increased consumption of alcohol. A matter of such great consequence for the health and well-being of the nation requires the maintenance of a careful balance between the freedom of the individual to enjoy a pleasant beverage in agreeable surroundings and the control of excessive abuse. There must be the most careful scrutiny of such a proposal.

This issue should not be the subject of a Private Member's Bill. The Minister said as much. I wish that she had gone further and said in clear terms that the Government do not consider this to be a suitable subject for a Private Member's Bill. She said that the Government have not yet formulated their views on implementing the Erroll Committee's Report as a whole. I can understand that, for the reasons I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) a few minutes ago. I do not believe that any Government, in the light of the facts I have put forward, will implement the Erroll Report. Why tinker with this matter? Why waste the time of the House with this modest, ill-conceived little measure? This should not be the subject of a Private Member's Bill. There is too much at stake. The Bill should be rejected.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

The House has been entertained many times by the fervour and skill with which the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) presents his cases. This occasion is no exception. At one time, he presented his case with a skill which would have done credit to the founder of the Salvation Army. But the fact is that we are trying to get some degree of moderation into the argument. It may well be that, had time permitted, some of the statistics quoted by the hon. Gentleman would have been refuted.

Similarly, the Under-Secretary of State with smooth silky voice, said originally that she was neutral, but, as she proceeded with her speech, it was clear that she was putting across hostile arguments against proposals for any change. I am trying to give some modest measure of support to a Bill which would be a step in the right direction for many people we represent.

We are not seeking to oppose the managers or the tenants. Nor can anyone accuse me of being a champion of the Brewers Society. But from time immemorial Governments have to be moved to a change in the licensing laws. They tend to remain neutral on the issue many years after significant changes in human behaviour have occurred about the consumption of alcohol.

It is no good arguing that extending hours would increase the consumption of alcohol. If the hours were reduced to two a day, if the determination were there, people could still get themselves tight. That would happen whether the hours were extended or not.

I like to think of working people enjoying themselves in town, country and at the seaside. It is not much of a problem for the middle and upper classes to get drinks out of permitted hours. It is not much of a problem for Members of Parliament to do so. At 4 o'clock, the hon. Member for Essex, South-East and I may have a pint together in the Strangers' Bar and discuss the debate.

Let us consider the changes in social behaviour. There is more leisure. People have longer holidays. They go out into the countryside with their cars. It is a myth to think that because a person drives a car to a pub, he will come out a raving lunatic and be a menace on the highway.

Mr. A.J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the hon. Gentleman being serious and suggesting that it is not a matter of concern when a car is parked outside a public house and the driver emerges a raving lunatic? A relatively small consumption of alcohol impairs safety.

Mr. Garrett

I am a motorist but I can go into a pub for two hours, meet my friends and emerge below the limit. That happens to millions of people, including hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman and I live in the same constituency, Hexham, where one of the tourist attractions is Hadrian's Wall. Pubs are scattered along the 80 miles of the wall, and on Sunday men take their wives and children there. Outside those pubs one will often see children sitting, sometimes in cars but often in the open, looking very forlorn because their parents have gone into the pub, perhaps for a non-alcoholic drink. That is unfair; it means isolation for the children.

I support the provisions of the Bill which would allow part of the licenced premises to be set aside for children to enter. I support a variation in the permitted hours. This is a simple measure. It would mean no additional legal work. It would mean that the licensing magistrates would still have the obligation of considering the application of a tenant for the 12 months for which the licence would apply. The tenant or manager or owner would not be able to vary the hours over that 12 months. That would be a good thing. The local police would know the situation. They would know the hours that the pub was supposed to be open, and would make sure that they were observed.

Although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that she was normal, I think that, on reflection, she should try to persuade her colleagues in the Home Office to look again at the Bill and instead of putting forward objections to it, try to help its sponsors to overcome the technicalities involved. It is no good being negative about these things and saying "We have not studied the whole of the Enroll Report". That Report has been in the hands of the present Government for a long time. Indeed, it was in the hands of their predecessors.

There are bad points in the Erroll Report, but there are also good features. Now is the time for the Government to take some initiative. If they do not, the situation will drift and we shall not be able to get a series of facilities which, in themselves, are modest and, above all, would be welcomed by many working people.

2.47 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I declare three interests—first, as a practitioner at the Bar with some experience of licensing cases; secondly, as a member of the Committee on Liquor Licensing of the Society of Conservative Lawyers and a contributor to the pamphlet "Liberty and Licensing", price 15p, which was put to the Erroll Committee in the form of a memorandum; and, thirdly, as Member for a famous brewing constituency, although my views are not affected by any discussions I have had with the brewers there on the Bill, since I have not had any.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) on his initiative in introducing the Bill and arguing so persuasively. But I should be happier if these proposals were part of a new comprehensive licensing Bill and not just a patch to be sewn on the somewhat worn fabric of the licensing laws. If the Bill were to precipitate the Government into a more widespread implementation of at any rate the best of the Erroll Report, I should be well pleased.

It is plain that in present circumstances there is too great a rigidity in the licensing law. It was, after all, designed for a pattern of social behaviour far less diverse and more regular than we enjoy today. It is important that as much as possible of our drinking as is consistent with a reasonable amount of personal freedom should be carried on in well-ordered licensed premises. The tendency which an ill-adjusted licensing law might have in driving more and more people away from consumption in public houses under tight legal control to consumption in public parks, streets and even in badly-ordered homes should be resisted. This argues strongly for more flexibility in the licensing law.

On the other hand, we understand more than we did a decade ago the serious dangers of alcoholism and of the tendency in particular for alcoholism to aggravate the restlessness not to say lawlessness in our society. A large section of our electorate—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) here—would not want to do anything which would encourage more people to take to drink. This argues against too great a liberalisation in the licensing law.

The Bill introduces an element of flexibility within the scope of the range of permitted hours recommended by Erroll. It also sensibly provides in Clause 3 that, if any extension should result in an increase of public disorder, the additional hours may be revoked at any time by the magistrates. I confess that, although I believe that the licensing law needs to be reformed along the lines indicated by Erroll, I am not completely happy about this clause.

I am apprehensive about the effect of such a proposal on the future of the small husband-and-wife type of pub. One of the most unsatisfactory developments in recent years has been the gradual disappearance from our High Streets of the family shop selling sweets, tobacco, newspapers and so on. If we are not careful, the family-run pub could go the same way. It could happen if the family pub were forced to open for longer hours.

The real problem is that there may be economic pressures upon the small tenant licensee to keep open for longer hours than he would really want. If a competitor with a large staff down the road can keep open for the permitted hours plus the additional hours, the husband and wife may feel obliged to do likewise or go to the wall. We must be careful that such a clause does not become a charter for the big man and the death sentence for the small family pub, which is so much a part of our British way of life.

Therefore, I would rather see a statutory maximum and a statutory minimum within the range of extended permitted hours recommended by Erroll—that is, from 10 o'clock in the morning to 12 o'clock at night—so that the bigger organisation and the smaller public house alike, whilst being able flexibly to adjust their opening—for example, in the summer to catch the afternoon trade—would have to forfeit some other period of opening time. In that way the big man would not be able to gain over the small man at both the swings and the roundabouts and the husband-and-wife pub as we know it might survive.

Secondly, I want to say a few words about the proposed children's accommodation order. I am delighted that the sponsors of the Bill have resisted the temptation to suggest any reduction in the drinking age to 17 as recommended by Lord Erroll. I think that the forces of law and order are too much under pressure at present to invite more trouble.

However, in my view it is not inconsistent with the desire to keep children from the dangers of intoxication that children's accommodation orders should be available. It is a much greater evil that drinking parents—and no amount of legislation would be likely to stop their activities, as was shown by what happened in America in the years of prohibition—should always have to leave their children alone at home or waiting ouside in the street or in the car park stuffing themselves with ginger beer and crisps than to keep the family together in congenial surroundings.

Children see their parents drinking at home; they see them drinking on holidays and abroad. I cannot see any objection to having children in family rooms in public houses which are pleasant and well controlled. In fact, the presence of children might well limit alcoholic excess. Some licensed premises are wholly unsuitable for children. Others can be made suitable. This is to be a matter for the discretion of the licensing justices. Provided that the premises are well controlled, I think that more good than harm is likely to come from this measure.

Two matters will require closer attention. First, I think we want to restrict the measure, if practicable, to apply to children who are accompanied by their parents. It is a glaring error in the Bill that children need apparently not be accompanied by anybody at all. I am not too happy about a provision which refers only to children's accommodation without qualification. It is the family aspect which is the important reason for extending the law and I think that aspect should not be forgotten. I appreciate that it would not always be easy for the publican to know whether the relationship was that of parent and child and I would not want to see too great a burden of supervision placed upon the licensee. Nevertheless, I think that in Committee we should devote more thought to this aspect.

Secondly a fine of only £20 at the maximum for selling drink to under-18-year-olds needs a second look. After all, any liberalisation of our law will be safe only if there is the strictest practicable control.

The curtailment of personal freedom involved in licensing is a difficult matter for Conservatives. The problem of how far we should go to liberalise restrictions at the present time is not made easier by the fact that society does not speak with a united voice on the matter. Nor is it made any easier by statistics which show everything and nothing. I do not think that the mass of statistics and references to learned authors which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East made proved that any harm would be likely to result from the Bill.

Since the rise of alcoholism has been while the present restrictive law has been in force in public houses, if there is rising alcoholism it is more likely to be because of its ready access outside public houses than inside. But if the public houses are made more and more attractive to customers, it is equally possible that drinking will be more restrained and disciplined and that alcoholism will be reduced. As Erroll concludes, after two years of listening, not to the selected experts referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, but to all the experts: It is impossible, however, to assess precisely the impact on levels of alcohol consumption and abnormal drinking of changes in the licensing law, and in this country, it would probably require very considerable changes in the law in order to influence this significantly". I believe that we should always look to see whether we are justified in giving more freedom rather than less and I believe that there is room for just a little more freedom and just a little more flexibility in the climate of modern society at this time than we have hitherto enjoyed. It is therefore with reservations that I commend the Bill.

2.56 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Unlike the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), although I, too, am a lawyer, I have no interest to declare, except perhaps that I find this a very refreshing subject and I admire the spirit in which the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) moved the Second Reading of his Bill.

I have received very strong protestations from many constituents against the possibility of the Bill's becoming law. I agree entirely with those protestations. I do not know what popular support there is for the Bill. I know of none. It may be that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe can bring forward some arguments in favour of it, but, unless there is a popular demand for a measure of this kind, it is entirely wrong that an hon. Member should seek through the medium of a Private Member's Bill to bring into law a measure of this kind.

I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). At one stage, I thought that he intended to repeat a performance that he gave on a former occasion when he spoke for a very considerable time. But I agree with his arguments. I have no desire to repeat them but in my view they adduce powerful evidence against any possibility of a Bill of this kind being passed.

There is no doubt whatever that alcoholism is a decisive factor in creating a great deal of misery and distress. To appreciate that, one has only to think of the drunken driver, who is a menace, of the battered wife, often suffering from a drunken husband, and of the tremendous effect that alcohol has upon people who commit crimes. It seems to me, therefore, that anything which tends to increase the danger resulting from the consumption of alcohol should not be permitted, and this Bill certainly does that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send (Mr. Garrett), who spoke in support of the Bill's provisions, said that there was no evidence that if a person drank for two hours, the hours being reduced rather than increased, there would be any difference in the effect. But it is obvious that there would be. If we limit the hours and we limit the opportunities for drinking alcohol, obviously we decrease the chances that any ill-effects and any misery will result. I repeat that anything which permits an increase in the consumption of alcohol is not justified and should not be encouraged. In my view this Bill does so.

One has only to look at the provision contained in Clause 1 concerning additional powers in licensed premises or at the provision in Clause 2 giving permission in certain cases with regard to arrangements about children. These are obviously measures which, if the authorities agree, must result in increasing the opportunities for the consumption of alcohol. I deplore them.

The Bill is not justified because it has no real popular support. I believe that it will have ill-effects and for that reason alone I hope that it will not receive a Second Reading.

3.1 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I apologise sincerely to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) for having missed his opening remarks. A number of us were surprised by the expedition with which the Bill to reform Scottish divorce law was dealt with. Some of us were extremely pleased about that, because it is a long overdue measure. I wish that I could say the same for this Bill, which has a great many defects that we ought to consider.

The speed with which our earlier business was dispatched also accounts for the absence from the Treasury Bench of a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security, which ought to be closely concerned with this Bill. I know that the Under-Secretary covered much of the ground that any Health Minister would have covered, but this is as much a Health Bill as a Home Office Bill, because the concerns to which it gives rise are now seen more and more as health concerns and not simply concerns about the ordering of our affairs.

I am sorry that we have a relatively poorly attended House, however high may be the quality. This is a matter giving rise to very serious concern and one which many hon. Members might have occasion to reflect upon with some caution, having heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman).

There are a number of important practical difficulties about the Bill. I have been especially concerned with one of them, because my main interest in this House is Home Office matters. That is the difficulty of enforceability and the work of the police. If the Bill were passed in its present form, I see a very serious addition to the already extensive difficulties of the police in dealing with their wide responsibilities in the enforcement of our licensing laws. Our police have far more pressing matters than that. It is not a job that policemen particularly relish, and their job will not be made easier for them by the provisions of this Bill.

I remind the House that a given police area can cover several magistrates' districts where different arrangements under the provisions of the Bill may obtain in the future, resulting in the police having to enforce different licensing hours with which the people concerned may not themselves be familiar and presenting problems with which people moving between areas may not be familiar. What is more, the police will find the number of hours in the day in which they have to be concerned will automatically increase, resulting in even more difficulty in dealing with the public over an issue which has never been a source of very friendly relations between the police and the public. I do not envy the police that task. We should not add unnecessarily to the severe problems with which they are confronted.

Mr. Rees-Davies

If within the permitted hours the licensee is able to open for the hours that he wishes, why should he wish to contravene the hours he sets? Does not that get rid of all police supervision of permitted hours?

Mr. Beith

I do not think it does. It underestimates greatly the problems of the licensee to suppose that he never needs police assistance in order to comply with the permitted hours. Too often in recent years have licensees and public house managers become the victims of violence on their premises for us not to recognise that in the enforcement of hours the licensee is not necessarily the enemy or victim of the police. Often he needs the policeman as an ally to deal with customers whom he does not know, who perhaps have come from elsewhere and who do not accept his judgment and determination to keep within the law. In any case, it is not the general responsibility of the police to ensure that licensees maintain the law.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his remark about the difficulty of enforcement in giving the police extra jobs to do which may not be popular might apply even more if legislation were introduced on the compulsory wearing of seat belts?

Mr. Beith

That is a serious problem and I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point of view. It is my only reservation about legislation on the compulsory wearing of seat belts. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would not wish me to enlarge on that matter now—we shall have the opportunity of doing so on Monday—but it shows that the more complex the legislation in which members of the public are potentially involved, the more difficult the task of the police becomes and the greater the number of things the constable must look for when he should be dealing with people who are about to perpetrate violence, terrorism, or other offences against the person.

The second practical problem to which we should apply our minds is the position of magistrates in exercising their powers under the legislation. We cannot suppose that there will not be considerable pressure on them to go for the widest extension possible. In many areas, vested interests will naturally wish to press for the longest period of opening possible and any bench of magistrates which tries to resist this development will find itself in some difficulty.

The domino theory as applied to international relations, particularly in South-East Asia, has been shown to be rather weak, but it has a quite striking applica- tion in this respect when there is liberalisation of the law from area to area. Once provision has been made in one area, it is extremely difficult for people in a neighbouring area to stand out and say "We do not want this". There are good arguments for saying that magistrates should conform to the practice in the neighbouring area, because if they do not they may well find people in their community driving to other places to take advantage of the licensing hours in them, thereby increasing the risk of alcohol and driving being mixed in the usual dangerous way. We must not suppose that it would be simple for areas in which this development is desired to go one way and areas in which it is not desired to go another way. Magistrates are likely to be under considerable pressure, and they may find it difficult to operate like that.

The third practical difficulty on which I wish to touch arises from the genuine intention of those who support legislation of this kind and of the Erroll Committee and the difficulty of implementing that intention. The theme running through the attitude to children particularly in the Erroll Report and the remarks of many hon. Members who are in favour of legislation is that it is possible to change the public house in such a way that it becomes a safe, proper and happy place for families, including children, in which the children are not exposed to the risk of being unduly pressured to take up drinking. I think that that is a laudable aim. If I thought that it could be achieved, I should be more sympathetic to legislation that sought to bring it about.

I hope we are all agreed that we wish to bring about a situation in which those who want to drink moderately, to endanger neither themselves nor others, should have reasonable opportunity to do so. Anything which might make it difficult to resist the slope into alcoholism is not to be disregarded. We must try to strike a balance which meets the genuine and legitimate demands of the ordinary, moderate drinker, a balance which does not put pressure on others to take what is a dangerous path.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. A problem which he has not dealt with is that which results from over-restricting licensing hours. I accept what he says about reducing alcoholism, but if the pubs are shut, someone might go into a supermarket, purchase a bottle of whisky and drink it in his car in front of the children. Is not that worse than the present situation?

Mr. Beith

Yes, I accept that there are a number of difficulties. It would be misleading to pretend that the consumption of alcohol in pubs is the only way in which liquor can be obtained. There are other dangers, and the hon. Gentleman has described one. There would be dangers if the restrictions on hours for public houses were too great. I think that restrictions are too great in one or two countries that I could name. They drive people into obtaining alcohol and drinking it in ludicrous situations, one of which has been described by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). However, the normal consequence of our present licensing hours is not to drive people into alcoholism. If that were the consequence, it would be a reasonable danger to point out, but that is not the case. I hope to show that there are two different problem areas. One area involves the public houses, and the other the purchase of drink from other outlets.

I suggest that the supporters of the Bill have a reasonable and fair objective in trying to bring about a situation in which the public house is some kind of happy family place in which excessive drinking does not take place, the presence of children discouraging excessive drinking. It has already been contended that the presence of children in public houses would result in the diminution of excessive drinking. Those who put forward that view look with some enthusiasm to the practice that obtains in a number of Continental countries. They think of the Continental café or refreshment place as a sort of model for their views.

Much depends on which country is considered. A number of countries—not least the liberal and progressive countries of Scandinavia—have felt it necessary to impose far more fierce and restrictive licensing regulations than Britain. They do not allow spirits or even strong beer to be sold in places of refreshment of the sort that some hon. Members envisage.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Gentleman must remember that Sweden—not Denmark—introduced severe laws known as the Brat system of liquor control. That was done because of the grave alcoholic background that had existed for many years. At one time there was severe control on all drink. That situation was later liberalised, but severe restrictions were found necessary because of the frightful background of alcoholism. We have never had that background in this country. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why France, Germany and other main countries can have good arrangements for the family to have their drinks with the children when it seems that we cannot?

Mr. Beith

I was about to deal with the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made about the Scandinavian countries. I am much more familiar with Norway than Sweden, but I concede that the restrictions employed in Norway are not particularly satisfactory. The level of alcoholism in Norway before and after such restrictions has demonstrated that.

I am worried that medical evidence demonstrates that alcoholism is rising rapidly, and it might be worsened if we introduced some of the measures contained in the Bill. We must make it clear that we do not know how to stop the rising tide of alcoholism. That is the most worrying thing of all.

One side argues that the present laws must be the cause of the problem. The other side argues that liberalisation of the present laws would be likely to make the situation worse. That is my honest view, but we do not know. We are dealing with something that is dangerous and damaging and a problem that is on the increase. It means that we must be cautious and not rush into changes whose effects are uncertain.

We should reflect on the argument relating to Continental comparisons because there is some confusion. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) referred to the situation in France, but one can hardly say that the arrangements operating there have brought about a happy state of affairs in terms of alcoholism. Any reference to figures of the alcoholism in France does not encourage one to want to follow the example of the French.

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman no doubt knows that the alcoholism rate in France is four times greater than the figure in Britain, and the rate in Norway, which has strict legislative and fiscal controls, is below the figure in this country. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that what matters is not the rates, but the way in which they are accelerating? We should be concerned about the way in which offences relating to alcohol and the disease of alcohol—in other words, alcohol dependence—are increasing. One cannot get away from the figures. The trends are moving in the worst possible direction.

Mr. Beith

I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman obviously shares my concern, and he has considerable knowledge of the subject and knows what is involved from his discussions with those who are concerned with this problem.

A great many of us do not in our daily lives confront the problem of alcoholism. Most of the people we know are happy, contented and moderate drinkers and their behaviour when taking alcohol gives not the slightest cause for concern. But one has only to talk to any doctor who deals with the problems of alcoholism to appreciate how frightening the situation is.

Let us examine whether the objective of creating a family refreshment house, if I may so call it, is likely to be achieved. The example of the Continental model which has been cited is sometimes mistaken, and certainly the model of France is not one to follow. Can we bring that kind of establishment to this country? I am not so sure we can, or indeed that a great many people want us to do so.

The character of the English public house is something that most regular frequenters would not wish to see changed in that direction. There is likely to be natural resistance to making public houses into family resorts from those who use public houses and who do not want to see such a change. I do not think we can start from the traditional pattern we now have and move readily and easily to something different. I do not think we can move from licensed houses that serve almost exclusively alcohol and a certain amount of food to the kind of establishment where alcohol plays a minor, subsidiary rôle, where the customers go to drink the odd half pint of beer or single glass of whisky, and where most of the people go to drink a cup of coffee or tea with the family, with orange juice or Coca Cola for the children. The two worlds are so different.

The weight of tradition behind the public house is so strong and attractive to its customers that we are labouring under an illusion if we believe that we can readily move from one to the other. I do not imagine the brewers of Burton-on-Trent or elsewhere will put weight and finance behind that change. They have done a considerable amount to try to extend the provision of food in public houses, and that is a welcome development, but I do not think that the public want to see a total change from places where people go primarily for the drinking of alcohol, which may go on for some time, to places in which families readily go to drink primarily beverages other than alcohol.

Let me turn to the practical problems confronted by the tenants and licensees. The views of the managers were made clear in the telegram read by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. There is a wide difference of view among licensees, but there is general apprehension among, for example, those families who keep small public houses. Those establishments are often well managed and the atmosphere in them has some beneficial influence on the way in which the place is conducted. Anyone who runs a public house as a family venture will say just what a time-consuming and tiring business it is. There is apprehension among these hard-working people about how this legislation will affect them.

I turn from the practical problems to the health problems. One of the striking developments since the Erroll Committee reported has been the increase in the expressed concern, particularly by the medical profession, about alcoholism as a health risk. There is no doubt that if we were to measure the weight of concern expressed in articles published in medical journals we should find that it has gone on apace since the Erroll Committee reported.

It is not particularly a reaction to the Erroll Committee's Report, because changes in the licensing law have been advanced for a long time. It is simply that the medical profession has become far more alarmed at and conscious about alcoholism. Alcoholism is probably being diagnosed more frequently and accurately than it used to be and is more frequently being referred for specialist treatment.

All that indicates that we should look carefully at the weight of opinion within the medical profession, particularly at the opinion of those who deal with alcoholism.

Sir Bernard Braine

One of the most alarming features that people in the medical profession and the social services have noted is the increase of alcoholism not only among women but among teenagers—children still at school.

Mr. Beith

That gives us great cause for concern. No one who believes, as I am sure supporters of the Bill believe, that moderate drinking is acceptable and nothing should be done to discourage it can be in the least happy that people who have scarcely begun in life should come so quickly within the purview of the medical consideration of alcoholism. It is quite appalling and it should make us think in terms of introducing wider legislation, if it is legislation that is needed, or far greater allocation of resources to deal with this enormous problem.

We should not be happy about dealing with this problem in a small and piecemeal fashion. The weight of medical opinion accounts for the cautious note in the remarks of the Minister. She and her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have been much influenced by it. Let us take note that if this were simply a matter of widening the area of freedom available to the private individual without doing any harm to others, no one would be a more enthusiastic supporter of the Bill than the Home Secretary and no Department would be more enthusiastically encouraging its ministerial personnel to put their weight behind it than the Home Office. However that is not the case.

It would be interesting if the Home Secretary were present and were to speak, strangely, against the advice which he has received or the speech of his hon. Friend. I do not think that he will. I find his absence rather surprising. The advice that both the Home Secretary and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have received will give them cause to reflect that the problem with which we are confronted demands major measures and not piecemeal alteration of legislation.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said that what was required was comprehensive Government-sponsored legislation to deal with licensing laws as a whole. That view is widely shared. I should like to be in a position to support a Government-sponsored review and adjustment of our licensing legislation. That review should come before the House with the clear and unequivocal backing of all the Ministers in the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security and with the clear and unequivocal backing of the bodies that advised them. This House would easily be influenced to support a measure of that kind if we were told by those responsible that they did not see any cause for alarm or concern in where the measures led. Many people would support such a measure. I should like to support legislation of that kind. However, notes of anxiety have come from such important quarters and have been expressed so strongly that I do not find myself in that position. There is no one who strengthens that feeling more than the Advisory Committee on Alcoholism in its clearly expressed and unusually stringent opposition to the measure.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Is not the hon. Gentleman saying that he is prepared to back this Advisory Committee on Alcoholism and the temperance lot, but is not prepared to back the recommendation of the English Tourist Board, the tourist authorities, a great many licensed victuallers and others of those who support and promote what the great majority of people in the country want to do?

Mr. Beith

First, I do not believe that the great majority of people want moves in this direction. I think that there is no evidence to support that argument. Secondly, if it were the view of every tourist body in the United Kingdom, from John o'Groats to Lands End, and if it were strongly advised against by those who are concerned with the health of our people, I know to which group I would listen.

I am keen on tourism in my part of the world. Many tourists come to my area and use the licensed facilities that they find there. I have not heard many complaints about the licensing hours, but even if I heard many complaints I should not be very concerned about tourists drinking for an hour or so less than they think they should be able to drink. To be so concerned would be an appalling attitude for the House to take.

I am influenced in some measure by the feelings of those who have to operate the law, be they the police, managers of licensed houses, tenants or licensed victuallers—I am rather less influenced by the brewers because the simple argument of interest obviously applies to them—knowing as they do the conditions with which they have to deal in their own bars and public houses. If the other groups were unanimously in favour of this measure, perhaps I should be worried about the line that I am taking, but there is not a unanimous view.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman for some time. As I am the sponsor of the next Bill for debate, I wonder whether he would be in favour of per-permitted hours for the length of speeches.

Mr. Beith

Yes. I should be strongly in favour of a way of dealing with Private Member's legislation so that it should not be contingent upon the legislation preceding it. We have seen an unhappy experience with worthy legislation on a number of Fridays recently. However, the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that he and a number of other hon. Members have interrupted me during my remarks. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Burton, speaking from a sedentary position at present, wants to interrupt me again, I shall give way to him.

The consumption of alcohol is possible in places other than public houses. As was pointed out earlier, it is not simply a problem of pubs and licensed houses. Pubs are certainly not the only cause of alcoholism, nor the only means by which it is sustained. What is involved in the premises in which alcohol is served, however, is the encouragement of continuous drinking in a social atmosphere par- ticularly for those who might be on the verge of alcoholism—that is the main identifiable problem—and the dangers in relation to children, to which I referred earlier.

It is at this stage that we must consider the alcoholic who is determined to get liquor by some means and who is in a medical condition in which he cannot resist the temptation to buy it. He can buy it elsewhere, and neither the passing or the rejection of this legislation will make any difference to that. What we are concerned about is the position of people who, during long permitted hours for public houses, might be brought closer and closer to, and eventually reach, the point of dependence on alcohol.

If the debate were about some of the other dangerous drugs about which we are concerned, and if the state of the law and the general situation in this country were the same in relation to alcohol as it is in relation to cannabis or harder drugs. I think that we should be looking at this whole matter in a different light. It is curious that a great deal of anxiety is expresesd about outlets for soft drugs such as cannabis, but the same anxiety is not always brought to bear on what is recognised by the medical profession as being a far wider concern and a real health risk and damage than that drug. We must be cautious about that, too. If alcohol were coming to us as something new, we should be even more cautious about it. However, we are dealing with precisely the same problem of addiction, and in the case of alcohol it is a problem which we have allowed to go far wider than the problem of soft drugs, about which we are also concerned.

I do not believe that the ordinary moderate drinker and his family have anything significant to gain by the Bill that outweighs the serious dangers involved. They are dangers which, on my evidence, are to be counted as very considerable, and on the evidence of those most qualified to speak—those who deal with the consequences of heavy drinking—the Bill clearly stands condemned.

Those who know most about the problem are those who enter a note of caution. If I felt that we were dealing simply with a Bill by which we could usefully widen the area of freedom available to the individual without threatening him or his neighbours, I would give the Bill my enthusiastic support. But we are dealing with something which is extremely dangerous, which we have not learned how to handle, by which I mean the problem of alcoholism.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

I have great reservations about the Bill. Nevertheless I shall support its Second Reading because I believe that it is time that this matter was aired in detail in Committee.

The Government have dodged their responsibilities in relation to the Erroll Committee's Report. It would have been better had there been a Government Bill to deal with this issue.

I am worried about the Long Title of the Bill, the purpose of which is to Extend the permitted hours of licensed premises and registered clubs; to enable children to enter parts of licensed premises and registered clubs during permitted hours". I hope that the sponsors of the Bill have consulted in some depth those who are involved in it. I am not aware that the Clubs and Institute Union has been approached to discuss the problems. I am sure that this is a matter on which that organisation has some reservations, particularly on the provisions concerning the admission of children to registered clubs.

The provision for the extension of hours worries me. I would be prepared to talk about a variation of hours. I have a lot of sympathy with areas like London and holiday resorts. I should like there to be more flexibility. But as for the extension of hours, why midnight? I do not know whether the sponsors have considered the transport problems. In my area it would be very difficult to get public transport home after midnight closing. When the licensing hours were extended from 10 p.m. to 10.30 p.m., my experience was that people went into a public house half an hour later than they had previously done and stayed half an hour later.

In a debate like this we tend to get extravagant language. I would not accuse the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) of using extravagant language, but surely this is not a Bill on which we should discuss the increase in alcoholism. Anybody who wants to get into that condition can do so without having the permitted hours extended. I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) has left the Chamber. He spoke of drunken driving. We all deplore drunken driving, but I do not believe that a modest Bill of this nature will have any effect on drunken drivers, or, for that matter, on battered wives.

I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and I hope that we shall have an opportunity to discuss its provisions in depth in Committee. I am not happy about children being allowed in public houses. But the Bill refers to "a person under eighteen". With what age are we concerned? Are we concerned with children being taken into public houses in their prams, wearing nappies? I shudder to think what the atmosphere would be like in the average working-men's club if that were allowed. I can imagine a man and wife with their baby in a pub. If the baby was crying, the man might say to his wife "Dip the dummy in the rum, Mum. We do not want to go home yet. I am enjoying a chat with the lads". It worries me, and I think that it should worry the House.

I hope that the matter will go into Committee. This is a Private Member's Bill. I cannot envisage the Government bringing forward any whipping arrangements. If the matter goes to Committee, we can sound out the Government about what they intend to do about the Erroll Committee's Report and the like. Let us have the matter thrashed out at that stage. If when it comes back on Report or Third Reading we do not like it, we can then defeat it.

3.36 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I agree with the main burden of what has been said by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier). The Government are refusing to come forward with any legislation in this area. However, they are not the only Government to fail to do so. Their predecessors were also at fault. The Erroll Committee reported in December 1972 and the only Home Secretary since that time who has had a genuine intention to secure the reforms which are necessary was my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). All the others up to and including the present incumbent have let us down. Indeed, there is no indication that the present incumbent of that office will take any action. The only way it will come about is if the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South carries weight in the Home Office. I hope that it will.

I remember a Home Office spokesman saying in the House that if it put forward gambling legislation the Home Office would become unpopular. In fact it became extremely popular. It will also be extremely popular if it carries out effective legislation in this area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rush-cliffe (Mr. Clarke) is to be congratulated on seeking to put on the statute book something in this connection and on giving the House an opportunity to consider this matter. He referred to two particular aspects. The first was children and the second was permitted hours.

Let us get the record absolutely straight in respect of children. The recommendation which I put forward to the Erroll Committee was adopted. It was: That the licensee of a public house shall be allowed to specify that either the whole or specific parts of the premises should be available to be used by children of any age provided they are accompanied by adults. Such parts of the premises should be identified by a notice stating that children may be present if accompanied by an adult. I also recommended: That children, provided they are accompanied by an adult, should be entitled to enter bars in any hotel or other on-licence establishment. The purpose is clear: that children aged 8, 10, 12 or 14 years can go into a bar provided the licensee or the management has decided to set it apart as a family bar. They cannot go into the working-men's bars, clubs or anywhere else. For example, if parents went out for the day and had their children with them, whether those children were 4 or 14 years of age, there would be an opportunity for them to enter a specifically designated family bar but no other bar of any kind. The licensees favour this because they have the choice. Some licensed premises would be totally unsuitable and the licensees would not apply. However, some licensees would wish to apply in respect of one room which might well have television and other facilities. That is only one provision, and it would be wholly admirable for it to be considered by a Committee of this House. There would be great advantages because we could thrash out the real difficulties that arise.

The other provision concerns permitted hours. I do not share my hon. Friend's view that one can simply extend the permitted hours in general. It cannot be done, for the reason given by the Under-Secretary of State that to do it in that way would not sufficiently protect the working hours of the employees: nor would it sufficiently protect the licensee. That does not mean that we cannot extend the hours. I agree with the Erroll Committee on this point.

I put forward a total of 32 recommendations to Erroll, 24 of which were adopted. But there was one recommendation by the Erroll Committee—its main recommendation—which was opposed by the trade. Erroll wants 10 in the morning till midnight, with a two-hour exemption. I do not favour it. It presents a disadvantage to the small licensee and the man in the trade. It presents a disadvantage to the workman in the industry.

In my view, the right way to go about it is to have nine hours in any one day, those hours to be at the choice of the licensee. Nine hours make a long enough day, but that arrangement would enable licensees to decide the desirable pattern, which, of course, could be different in various areas. For example, in the Isle of Thanet we should wish to set our pattern, and that is what we should like. We could have the nine hours either early or late, according to the pattern preferred in the district.

It is said that one would not be able to have police supervision. But police supervision of the permitted hours is not necessary, because if people have the hours which they wish to have, with power to close when they wish to close, there is no need for the police to carry on the old nonsense of supervising permitted hours. All that the police are required for, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, is the supervision which a licensee needs against violence. I entirely favour that—it is most important—but it does not apply to the question of permitted hours. It is a matter of seeing that the police are from time to time able to supervise a public house at the instance of the licensee when he feels that he needs help against the danger of violence, and that applies, thank goodness, to only a limited number of areas in the country, though it is, no doubt, very much needed there.

I emphasise again that the Bill deals with only two matters, though it could have dealt with many others. It will, however give an opportunity for this matter to be considered in Committee. Later, when it returns to the House, it could well be a useful small measure to go on to the statute book. Above all, it will give a chance for the Home Office to do some radical rethinking about doing something worth while for the general public and, no less, for tourism and people in the trade itself.

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall not take more than 19 minutes. I should at the outset declare an interest as parliamentary consultant to the National Union of Licensed Victuallers. However, I am not in any way speaking on its behalf today.

I welcome the basic concept of the Bill. I should make clear that I was able to arrange a meeting between the parliamentary committee of NULV, which represents the licensees of public houses, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and the parliamentary committee had some doubts to express. Its main doubts were about whether there would be any sort of pressure put on licensees by the brewers to open for all the extra permitted hours, and, secondly, whether they would have to provide the accommodation for children. My hon. Friend said that he would seek suitable undertakings from the Brewers Society, and, although I could not be present to hear his speech, I understand that he said that if the Bill had a Second Reading and he could not get copper-bottomed guarantees and undertakings from the Brewers Society, he would not seek to proceed with the Bill in Committee. Therefore, I take it that the National Union of Licensed Victuallers would be satisfied with that, though I say again that I am not speaking on its behalf.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend stresses that he is not speaking on behalf of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers but is, I take it, approaching this matter entirely objectively. What view does he take of the determined opposition of the many thousands of public house managers to the provisions of the Bill?

Mr. Finsberg

I do not necessarily accept that there is determined opposition. There may be such opposition from their spokesmen, but I do not accept that there is from hundreds or thousands of public house managers. It was interesting to note that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), who made one of his Friday speeches and then went because he had to be in Stoke Newington, said that he had received scores of letters. I reckon that I have one of the largest mailbags among all hon. Members—certainly in excess of 65 letters a day—and I have had precisely two letters against the Bill since my hon. Friend presented it. I do not, therefore, accept that there is that widespread opposition, although I am sure that the opposition which is expressed is genuine.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend was not present in the Chamber at an earlier stage. Was he present when I read a telegram from the National Association of Licensed House Managers, representing 14,500 pub managers? Is he casting doubt on that?

Mr. Finsberg

I heard my hon. Friend read that telegram. With the greatest respect, my hon. Friend knows that if, for example, the AA sends us a brief on seat belts, it cannot claim to speak for all of its members. That is the point I make. I put as much value on that telegram as I do on the brief we have all received from the AA saying that it is against the compulsory wearing of seat belts. The people who sent it are probably able to speak only for the individuals who have authorised them so to do.

Mr. Beith

By the same token, will the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a wide variety of opinion among licensed victuallers on this point and that precisely the same caution must be exercised in respect of what is said on their behalf?

Mr. Finsberg

That is why I said that the licensed victuallers' parliamentary committee appeared to be satisfied with the undertakings given. I did not say that every member of NULV agreed. I was careful not to do so. If we read the columns of the Morning Advertiser we shall see that there are managers in favour of the Bill and licensees against it. That ought to be taken into account by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

For too long the Home Office has fluffed this issue, under both Governments. The Home Office has a deplorable record on this subject and that of taxi-cabs. Governments of both complexions have done nothing about either of these subjects. It is time that the House flushed Ministers out. This Bill will do that. I very much hope that it receives a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).