HC Deb 10 July 1981 vol 8 cc765-9

Read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Soley.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

2.12 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

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

The main object of the Bill is to correct an anomaly in the licensing law relating to special hours certificates. The Bill was taken through the other place by Lord Gainford. Section 81(4) of the Licensing Act 1964 allows a special hours certificate for a registered club to be revoked on the ground of disorder, but that does not apply to certain other places such as discotheques, public houses, proprietary clubs and so on.

I shall clarify the difference. A club that is run for its members by its members is a registered club. Examples of that are the Athenaeum and Carlton clubs. However, a privately owned club that offers services such as drinks, dancing, cabaret—and I dread to think what else—is a prorietary club, and is often known as a night club.

The Bill has been sympathetically received by the Magistrates Association, the Justices Clerks Society, the Brewers Society and the Association of Ballrooms Ltd. They do not seem to have any objection to it. 1 understand that there is general support for the Bill from all parties and interested groups. The permitted hours for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquors, where a special hours certificate is in force, are specified in section 76 of the 1964 Act. With certain exceptions, the evening closing hour on weekdays is extended to midnight and is further extended when music and dancing continues beyond that hour to 2 am, and in certain parts of London to 3 am, or the hour at which music and dancing finishes, whichever is the earlier.

At present, a special hours certificate must be granted by licensing justices with respect to premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor, other than registered clubs, provided two conditions are fulfilled—a music and dancing licence has been issued, in London the issuing authority is the GLC, and the premises are structurally adapted and are to be used for the purposes of providing music and dancing and the provision of substantial refreshment, to which the sale of intoxicating liquor is ancillary. In other words, the premises are not to be used merely for the sale of intoxicating liquor.

Applications for special hours certificates for registered clubs are made to magistrates, and the court is bound to grant a certificate if conditions similar to those for licensed premises apply, except that in place of the condition that there must be a music and dancing licence in force for the premenceises, there is substituted the need for the court to be satisfied that the entertainments licensing authority, which is the GLC in London, has issued a certificate as to the suitability of the premises for the grant of a music and dancing licence.

In the case of a special hours certificate granted to a registered club, the Licensing Act provides that the chief officer of policy may apply to a magistrates' court for a revocation of the certificate at any time if the premises gain an unfortunate reputation for disorderly conduct.

At present, no such powers exists for revocation in respect of other licensed premises. The need for the Bill is the recognition that in certain premises there can be problems, often relating to violence, stemming from drink. The link between alcohol and casual violence has been strongly confirmed. It is a growing problem to which the police have to give a great deal of time and which causes much aggravation, pain and anxiety to neighbours of the club, as well as direct injury and sometimes death to individuals. It is an important area which, I suspect, we shall have to tackle much more seriously in the long run.

At present, section 81(4) of the Licensing Act gives scope for the revocation of a special hours certificate for a registered club on the grounds of proven disorder, but not for certain other premises. There is an anomaly.

Clause 1 intends to remove the anomaly by making an appropriate extension to the power of revocation in section 81(4). Clause 2 seeks to extend the Secretary of State's power to make rules prescribing the procedures on applications to licensing justices for a special hours certificate to applications that the police will shortly be able to make under the new section 81A(2) inserted in the Licensing Act 1964 by the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1980 for the imposition of a condition restricting the hours of a special hours certificate in order to reduce annoyance to residents.

This is a technical and fairly complicated area, but it is important, and the clear aim of the Bill is to enable the relevant authorities to act where there is evidence of violence related to drink.

I am indebted to Lord Gainford for introducing the Bill on his own initiative and taking it through another place. It is a sensible and important, albeit minor, measure. I am also indebted to the solicitor to the GLC, Mr. Beale, and his department for the background information that they have provided.

2.18 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

I should like to intervene for a moment to state the Government's attitude to the Bill. It is one of welcome. I am sure that the House will. wish to join me in thanking the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) for his clear statement of what the Bill does and for his piloting of it through the House.

If, as we hope, the House consents to the Bill being given a Third Reading and it is passed, we shall take steps to bring it into operation as soon as practicable. Because of the Bill's connection with the provisions of the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1980, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to make the commencement order for that Act coterminous with the one for the Bill if it is enacted.

Before the 1980 Act can be brought fully into operation we have to amend the Crown court rules. I am glad to say that work on the amendment of the rules is nearly complete and we hope that it will not be long before both measures can be brought into operation.

We welcome this small but useful measure and we are grateful to my noble Friend Lord Gainford for having introduced it in another place. We believe that it will provide the police with a useful weapon in their armoury to deal more effectively with the incidence of violence arid hooliganism in badly run premises where late-night drinking takes place under the authority of special hours certificates. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House and hope that it will receive a Third reading.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

In one sentence, the Opposition fully support the measure and the thoughts just expressed by the Minister.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

As chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, I give my warm support to the Bill. It is both necessary and timely. In its modest way, it will strengthen law and order and protect the young. It is timely because most people are beginning to wake up to the warnings that some of us have been uttering for many years about the way in which alcohol abuse has been growing.

Over the last decade consumption has risen by over one-third and even higher among young people. The price that that is exacting is very heavy indeed. More young people than ever are being harmed in their health. Hooliganism and violent behaviour in which alcohol is a factor are growing features of our society. A good deal of crime is now linked with drink. The major cause of death among young males between the ages of 16 and 24 is road accident and half of those who die have imbibed alcohol above the legal limit.

The Bill makes a modest contribution to the easement of a serious problem. Anything that tightens the law and facilitates the control of special hours certificates can only be welcomed. I have no doubt that the Bill will be helpful to the police, but in my view—I hope that I carry hon. Gentlemen with me—it is high time that we gave the magistrates more power to control alcohol consumption.

Section 77 of the 1964 Act leaves no option to the magistrates but to grant a special hours certificate if a music and dancing licence is in force for the premises and these have been structurally adapted. Section 77 is quite explicit. It says that licensing justices "shall" grant special hours certificates.

I hope, therefore, that before long we shall have a change in the law which will enable local magistrates to use their discretion in such matters. Local magistrates and licensing justices know the problems arising from alcohol abuse in their own areas better than anyone else. Special hours certificates are related to where music and dancing takes place. For the past decade we have witnessed an increase in mob violence erupting in such places. In residential areas such behaviour causes nuisance and annoyance to law-abiding residents and damage to their property. There is evidence to show that almost one in five crimes of violence occurs in places where alcohol is served and such violence was said to have occurred under the influence of alcohol.

I see the Bill also against the rising tide of under-age drinking and increased evidence of health damage to both young people especially between the ages of 18 and 24. It is salutory to remind ourselves that according to a survey commissioned by the DHSS on drinking patterns in England and Wales, one in every four 18 to 24-year-old males and one in every eight females had experienced drunkenness bouts on three or four occasions in the previous three months and one in every seven males in the same age group and one in 25 females had been drinking well above the upper limits for safety. That is the pattern among a sizeable number of young people today.

It is important to reflect on those figures, especially at a time of growing lawlessness in our big cities. Young people have a lower tolerance to alcohol than their elders. Aggressiveness shows itself at an earlier stage and at a lower level of alcohol consumption than among older people.

I have warned the House before, and I warn it again today, that either we bring alcohol under control or it will control us.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I confirm the figures that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has given. The House may recall the problems that I had 18 months ago when, after young people had been drinking at a disco in my constituency, a train at Neasden was wrecked with sledgehammers. Railwaymen were injured in the incident. As a consequence, special precautions have to be taken on the whole of the Metropolitan line to Wembley. That was a direct result of hundreds of youngsters drinking too much at a discotheque in Willesden Green.

The figures are right. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North has done a worthy service. Out of every 1,000 people, one dies from being murdered, six die through excessive alcohol—I refer to cirrhosis of the live—rand 250 die through excessive smoking.

2.25 pm
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) on introducing this important measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) was correct to describe the Bill as modest. The real problem is that it is a modest Bill. In my view, the House has not begun to face the measure of the problem that abuse of alcohol means to our society.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) gave a particularly important example of the type of damage that alcohol abuse causes at all levels of society. I remember that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) received a written reply to a question some months ago about the numbers of deaths in police custody in Scotland. I recall that in well over half the cases listed the cause of death was alcohol poisoning or suffocation as a result of vomiting through excess alcohol. It is a major problem, and Parliament cannot run away from it.

I shall close my brief remarks by quoting Mr. R. E. Kendall, writing in the British Medical Journal on 10 February 1978. He said: The fact is that ethanol is a drug of dependence like heroin and amylobarbitone and differs from them only in that a much larger quantity has to be ingested for much longer before physical dependence develops. The problem is that the House has not yet begun to face the political problem involved.

In the same journal, Mr. Kendall ends by saying: Politicians will be reluctant to pass legislation as they know or suspect that it will be electorally unpopular. They may also be reluctant to do anything that affects their own drinking habits. There are sound reasons for suspecting that as a class their consumption is high. I hope that the Bill is just the beginning of a series of measures to deal with this serious problem.

2.27 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I hope that the House will think that it is appropriate that, as I represent a brewing constituency, I should say that whilst those whose livelihood depends on the brewing industry would not associate themselves with everything that has been said by the last three hon. Members who have spoken, the brewing industry is as concerned as anybody in our society that lawlessness should be eradicated and that the police should have adequate powers to do their job properly. In so far as it is an extension of those powers to reduce an evil, the Bill is welcomed by everyone in my constituency.

As a lawyer, I welcome the amendment that the Bill makes to the law by way of textual amendment as recommended by the Renton committee. We should go on and on making our law clear and understandable in the technical way in which it is being done in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.