HC Deb 06 March 1981 vol 1000 cc563-82

Order for Second Reading read.

12.41 pm
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

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

I am delighted to be able to present this Bill to the House for its consideration. Many families throughout our country suffer misfortunes of one kind or another. It may be the birth of a mentally handicapped child, a sudden accidental death, the effect of an addictive gambler in the household or perhaps a member of the family on drugs, an illness or a financial tragedy. It may be poverty, with all its stresses and strains on family life.

I am privileged to be able to introduce a Bill which, on enactment, would try to do something about the human suffering of the alcoholic and the tensions and sometimes the break-up of family life that are so often the products of that illness. The loneliness and neglect of the single homeless alcoholic is not only a human tragedy in itself, but a reflection of the failure of twentieth century society to handle these problems.

We have moved to a vastly more compassionate understanding of the position and treatment of the handicapped person from that in the early part of this century, and certainly in the last. Society then sought to hide and castigate those unfortunate people. This House is not short of compassion, and I believe that our task is to change attitudes so that drinking is handled with care and good sense. I believe that people should thus know more about the effects of alcohol so that they are equipped to cope with the habit of drinking and so that misuse and addiction can be avoided.

Today's facts point towards an increasing number of people, most markedly so among young people, who are convicted of drunken offences, and others who are dependent on alcohol. I personally both delight in good wine and enjoy social drinking and I recognise willingly that such consumption is part of everyday life and human enjoyment. Nevertheless, all the key indicators of alcoholrelated harm have been rising rapidly. Many people have probably changed from a pattern of heavy drinking to dependence without being aware of this process.

I have consulted a number of people in medical research and in rehabilitation, some of those involved in care and health and in education and those concerned with the problems of the criminal alcoholic. I am reinforced by their support for this Bill and the need for a wider number of schemes for education, research and practical assistance. I am grateful to my sponsors for their support. It is always rash to refer to a particular colleague among several, but my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has given his wholehearted support to this Bill. His knowledge and deep concern and interest, not only in this subject but in many others in this House, command both our attention and respect for the sincerity of his views.

In proposing this motion, I should like to express my appreciation to the Minister for the assistance that has been given to me, not only by him but by his Department, in the preparation of the Bill. I should also like to express my thanks for the co-operation that I have received from the licensed trade and the Brewers' Society, which includes some of those from whom the funds to which I shall refer have originated.

Before I describe the provisions of the Bill, it might assist the House if I were to say a few words about the history of the compensation authorities. At the beginning of the century the Government of the day were seriously concerned about the level of alcohol consumption and misuse and the consequent social problems. It was agreed that a drastic reduction in the number of licensed premises was necessary. This, among others, was the reason for the passing of the Licensing Act 1904. In order to reduce the number of licensed premises, justices were empowered to extinguish licences which they would otherwise be obliged to renew. Such a refusal to renew could take place only after the award, by the local compensation authority, of compensation based on the consequential reduction in value of the premises. Compensation was funded by the imposition of levies on licensees who retained their licences. In effect, it was a mutual insurance fund.

There were more than 160 authorities until 1973, when reorganisation of local government reduced their number to 59—one for each county and the City of London. Between 1905 and 1940 the authorities were very active and over this period there was a reduction of 27 per cent.— to 73,000—in the number of on-licensed premises. However, the vast majority of the authorities are now inactive, neither imposing a charge nor paying compensation. Thus, their assets have been lying unused.

In 1972 the Erroll committee recommended that the compensation scheme should be wound up. It proposed a scheme similar to that now in my Bill. Protracted negotiations took place between the Home Office and the Brewers' Society and the licensed victuallers—as representatives of those who contributed to the funds. At the end of 1979, after four years of negotiation, agreement was reached with these bodies as to the equitable distribution of the funds. After further consultations, including discussion with the temperance movement, a scheme was finally agreed, which my Bill now seeks to implement.

I should like now to turn to the Bill's provisions. Many of these are of a technical nature and concern the mechanics of the liquidation. But, essentially, the Bill seeks to collect into a central fund the assets of the 59 compensation authorities and to put these to work as quickly as possible for the purposes I will describe.

Clause 1 provides for the termination of the functions of the compensation authorities. Following commencement of the Act, no new cases may be referred to them, and the power to raise money ceases. Provision, of course, is made for pending cases. Under clause 2 the Secretary of State will appoint a liquidator to fulfil functions specified in later clauses, including the collection and distribution of assets.

Clause 3 details the method of transfer to the liquidator of the assets and liabilities of the authorities. The liquidator is granted powers to direct the realisation of assets or the discharge of liabilities and to appoint a day on which assets will vest in him. Under clause 4 authorities will cease to exist on the day appointed for the transfer of assets. Compensation, in line with redundancy payments, under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, will be paid to certain clerks and treasurers of authorities.

Almost all of these people are engaged in other full-time employment, and so will not suffer hardship from the loss of earnings. Indeed, it would be widely appreciated if any claimant felt able to donate his claim to the Alcohol Education and Research Fund, which will be set up by the Bill. In any case, total compensation should not exceed a total of £2,300.

Clause 5 specifies that after deduction of expenses and liabilities the liquidator will transfer half the assets to the Alcohol Education and Research Fund, a quarter for the benefit of licensed trade charities and the remaining quarter will be repaid to those with an interest in certain old on-licensed premises.

Clause 6 and schedule 1 provide for the establishment of a council to administer the half allocated to alcohol education and research. Its members will be appointed by the Secretary of State following wide consultations with his departmental colleagues with responsibilities in this area, also including consultations with the medical profession, those concerned with education, research, alcohol misuse and drunken offenders, and the drinks industry. The council should be representative of this wide range of interests and command their confidence. To ensure an infusion of fresh blood with new ideas, initial appointments will be for a maximum of three years, and no one will be able to serve for more than six years. The expenses of the council should be modest and will be defrayed from the fund. The Secretary of State will have power to dissolve the council if at any stage it should have no further funds to administer, but I would hope that this will not happen for very many years, if at all.

Clause 7 provides for the establishment of the Alcohol Education and Research Fund which the council will administer. It will be a registered charity, and the Bill specifies its objects, which I will discuss later.

Under clause 8, the assets designated for the licensed trade charities will be transferred by the liquidator to a trust fund recently established by the Brewers' Society, the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and the National Association of Licensed House Managers for the benefit of those engaged in the licensed trade.

Clause 9 allows the Secretary of State to make a scheme, to be administered by the liquidator, for the distribution of money to certain of those with interests in old on-licensed premises.

Clauses 10 to 13 and schedule 2 deal with technical matters.

I have already mentioned some of the problems connected with the misuse of alcohol—the scope of which is wider than many people, I think, imagine. For example, it has been estimated that sickness, accidents at work, and reduced efficiency due to alcohol cost British industry at least £500 million a year. The Parole Board estimates that drink was a factor in 50 per cent. of unpremeditated crime—many offenders do not realise that they have, in fact, a drink problem.

In 1968, there were just over 79,000 convictions for drunkenness offences; by 1979, the figure had risen to 118,000. Disturbingly, the steeper rate of increase was among offenders between the ages of 18 and 21.

The Alchohol Education and Research Council provided for in the Bill is potentially a very important body. I very much hope that it will become a focus for research and education in this field, and attract funds from a variety of sources.

I am particularly delighted to be able to tell the House that the Brewers' Society has confirmed that the fund, as proposed by the Bill, can look forward to receiving substantial extra help from companies in the drinks industry. Perhaps 1 may list its objects. They are: the education of the public as to the causes and effects of, and means of preventing, excessive consumption of alcohol; the care and rehabilitation of those convicted of offences involving drunkenness; the provision of treatment and help for those dependent on alcohol or given to its excessive consumption; and research into these matters. Thus, it is not intended that the council will"fight the demon drink". As its funds are of necessity limited, the Bill specifies that in the areas of care, rehabilitation and treatment the council must give priority to support for novel schemes.

The work of the council might include research into the cross-over point between moderate drinking and problem drinking—and how the person involved can identify this. It might be that the council will decide to fund a first scheme to tutor those convicted of drunken driving offences so that the reality of the misuse of alcohol is fully explained, possibly with the use of film. I hope that there will be wide support for any scheme to net those who may be on the path to a serious alcohol problem, and who can then be deflected. Another very important area is providing young people with information as to the sensible use of alcohol.

It is intended that the work of the fund and the provision of money by it will complement and not clash with the interesting and important work currently being done in this field. I have been immensely impressed by the work being undertaken by a very large number of voluntary organisations and by the Department of Health and Social Security. It will be, of course, for the council to decide how to spend its funds and its membership will bring a wide range of knowledge and experience to its deliberations.

I commend the Bill to the House.

12.56 pm
Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his good fortune in gaining a place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills and his excellent good sense in choosing a Bill of this nature to introduce to the House. I very much hope that the Bill will be accorded a Second Reading today and that no attempts will be made to talk it out.

The Bill is long overdue. The trade has been waiting for many years to see some movement on the recommendations of the Erroll report. This is one of the first of those movements.

The National Union of Licensed Victuallers, with which I have the great pleasure and honour to be associated, wishes to make it absolutely clear that it will give the fullest possible co-operation in the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. It is that body's sincere hope that the Bill will get through all its stages in Parliament and become the law of the land.

The hon. Member for Harrogate, in his excellent remarks in presenting the Bill, said that drinking needs to be handled with care and with common sense. Those who form the membership of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers spend their whole lives and the whole of their professional endeavours in achieving that precise aim—the handling of drink with care and with common sense.

I believe that it is therefore incumbent upon the Government to take very seriously the representations that they receive from time to time from such responsible bodies serving the industry. Perhaps I may take this opportunity, while the Minister of State, Home Office, is present, to remind the Minister that there is a document before his Department entitled"The Case for Change". That document included recommendations on the very matter contained in the hon. Gentleman's Bill. It also contained many other suggestions which would be of great value. I hope that the Minister will not now be long delayed in replying to the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and conveying the views of the Home Office on the many excellent recommendations contained in that document.

I turn to the main provisions of the Bill. I note that clause 7 is the main operative clause, setting out the main aims in transferring the money in the compensation fund to another body. I hope that the research that will be carried out will not be of a restricted nature. A growing body of opinion believes that alcohol abuse is partly fired by the easy accessibility of intoxicating liquor through the vast proliferation of outlets that have now spread from the smallest street corner grocery outlet to the largest supermarkets.

I therefore hope that the provisions of clause 7 will allow real and fundamental research to be carried out so that it will establish the tragedy which can now be seen throughout society as a result of alcohol abuse. That abuse has been caused more by a proliferation of licences and the availability of intoxicating liquor, especially from supermarkets, to young people and housewives than by any abuse which might occasionally occur in the established licensed premises—that great and wonderful institution, the traditional British public house.

I strongly commend the Bill to the House on behalf of the publicans. I hope that the Minister will do all that he can to ensure its speedy passage. I hope that he will direct his mind to the matters to which I have briefly referred.

1.2 pm

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). I agree with every word that he said. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) is to be warmly congratulated both on his luck in the ballot and on his wisdom in choosing a Bill to dispose of the liquor licensing compensation fund in so constructive and socially responsible a way. With his characteristic skill and modesty, he has made a convincing case for the Bill, and he should be rewarded by its swift passage to the statute book.

Some of us have been pressing for such a measure for many years. As chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, I can tell the House that it has long been a matter of concern that, while the healing agencies have been left picking up the pieces in the unceasing war against alcohol abuse—and starved of resources—money has been lying idle in the liquor licensing compensation fund. I am not mincing my words. I say that it is scandalous that almost 10 years have been allowed to lapse since the Home Office departmental committee on liquor licensing in England and Wales recommended the winding up of the fund. That has not been for any lack of protest from the voluntary agencies or, to be fair, from the trade itself.

I should like to pay tribute to Lord Kimberley, one of the leading members of the National Council on Alcoholism, who throughout the years in another place has persistently badgered successive Governments on the subject. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office—the hon. Member for Aylesbury, (Mr. Raison)—for the speed with which he has acted since he assumed office. He has helped to bring this matter to a head. His constructive role throughout has been deeply appreciated by Lord Kimberley and myself and by all in the voluntary sector.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate said, the fund was established in order to give some compensation to those who lost their licences through no fault of their own because the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing Laws in 1899 and the Licensing Act 1902 both recommended that there should be a reduction in the number of outlets which sold alcoholic liquor. It is relevant to recall that the Royal Commission and Parliament were deeply concerned at that time about the excessive consumption of alcohol and the magnitude of alcohol abuse. Some action had to be taken. On Second Reading of the Licensing Act 1902, which began the process, the Home Secretary of the day claimed that by diminishing the number of licences it would curb excess andprotect the wife and children from the drunken husband and father and the husband and children from the drunken wife and mother". That was pretty strong language. During discussion on the Licensing Bill 1904, which launched the fund, Arthur Balfour claimedThis is the greatest contribution ever made to the cause of temperance reform". In other words, Parliament then took the situation extremely seriously. To the extent that we are now returning to the level of abuse which existed then, Parliament should again take this issue extremely seriously.

The fund set up in 1904 was based on a revision of the existing licence duty. The Government did not wish to penalise the liquor trade—that would have been wrong—as it had already borne the burden of increased excise duty during the Boer War. As we are so near to a Budget, it is interesting to note that in those days excise duty contributed 41.6 per cent. to the Government's total revenue, compared with about 6 per cent. today.

There was quite a lot of opposition to the setting up of the fund at the time, and some controversy as to whether the money was public money or whether it should be returned to the trade. That does not matter now. It is merely of historic interest. However, those temperance reformers who in the opening years of the century were critical of the setting up of the fund and called it"a brewer's endowment", would probably be very pleased with the Government's decision in the closing years of the century that this Bill will ensure that half the fund will now be devoted to tackling alcohol abuse.

Let no hon. Member be under any illusion. We are facing a situation with regard to alcohol abuse which the Royal College of Psychiatrists described in its recent report asAn endemic disorder of frightening magnitude. Although we are some way from the health damage that is caused in France, the Soviet Union and other countries where alcohol is drunk to excess, we are travelling down exactly the same road. Levels of alcohol consumption have soared in recent years, especially consumption of wines and spirits. I am totally unimpressed by the production of statistics by members of the trade which show that in terms of per capita consumption we are somewhat down the table. All nations which are on this road are moving towards grave health damage. Levels of consumption in Britain today are the highest since the turn of the century. Alcohol-related social and health problems are at their highest levels since the enactment of the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1916, which was designed to curb abuse. That is what should concern us.

It is extremely difficult to raise money from charitable sources to deal with the problem of alcohol abuse. Although there is now more understanding and awareness of the heavy social and economic costs of abuse, it is still an unpopular cause. People do not really want to know. While the amount of money which the Bill will make available for the purposes set out in clause 7 is extremely small in relation to our needs, it is nevertheless welcome. I do not wish to appear ungrateful.

Indeed, we in the National Council on Alcoholism are extremely grateful to successive Governments, area health authorities and local authorities for the increased financial help which they have given us over the last few years at a time of increasing economic stringency. I do not think that anyone can criticise either the Labour Government or the present Government in that regard. I have nothing but praise for the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office for their help and encouragement in recent years.

I must pay tribute also to the leaders of the medical profession who in recent times have spoken out very strongly in favour of an increased national effort to combat alcohol abuse wherever it is encountered. I know that the leaders of the drink industry themselves are concerned about the growing problem. However, it must be said that in public discussion—perhaps, naturally, they are on the defensive—I find some of their spokesmen tending to play down the scale of the problem, and I think that in doing that they do a disservice to their own cause.

The outspoken comments of such distinguished leaders of the medical profession as Professor Sir Desmond Pond and Professor Wilkes are helping to correct this and are giving powerful encouragement to the idea that we must mount a great national campaign to bring alcohol abuse under control.

Time is not on our side. The recent report commissioned by the DHSS entitled"Drinking Patterns in England and Wales" has underlined the gravity of the problem, especially as it affects young people between the ages of 18 and 24.

According to the survey, one out of every 17 males and one out of every 100 females is drinking above the limit where it can be expected that liver damage will be caused. In the 18 to 24 age group, it is one out of every seven males and one in 25 females. So the problem is attacking the young in a particularly vicious way.

The survey also revealed that one out of every 12 males and one in every 50 females had experienced more than three bouts of drunkenness within the past three months of the survey. Again, among the 18 to 24 group, it was one in every four males and one in every eight females.

There cannot be an hon. Member who is not aware that the problem of under-age drinking—that is to say, among youngsters between 14 and 18 years of age—is causing intense anxiety to licencees, who. after all, have a responsibility for seeing that it does not go on in their houses, and to the police.

It is against this background that the Bill's proposal to set up an Alcohol Education and Research Council to administer a new trust fund must be measured.

None of us can doubt that there is an urgent need for more effective health education about the use of alcohol, for finding ways of disseminating relevant information and providing appropriate educational messages, whether this is done in the schools for the very young people or elsewhere for older folk. But this is not an easy task. The message that we have to deliver is not as straightforward as it was in the case of cigarette smoking.

This is not the occasion on which to go into any detail. I hope that we shall have other opportunities. However, there are some comments that I want to make.

There is evidence that some health education programmes, however well meaning, have achieved the opposite of what was intended. Therefore, whatever moneys are granted for alcohol education, I hope that such programmes will be monitored and evaluated carefully as a condition of the grant. I say that because I am far from convinced that some of the present programmes have been monitored adequately.

I also hope that clause 7(2)(a) will be interpreted courageously. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security pointed out at an annual general meeting of the National Council on Alcoholism,Prevention of alcoholism poses not a medical but a political problem … for many of today's medical problems, the answer may not be cure by incision at the operating table, but prevention by decision at the Cabinet table. It is worth hon. Members pondering carefully over those very wise words.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State will know that, in the negotiations leading up to the Bill, I urged in consultations with the Government that the terms of reference of the body to be set up under the Bill should include power to make grants to help services for people with drinking problems. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for listening to that plea. I am delighted to see that such provision is made in clause 7(2)(c). I can assure him that this will find warm acceptance, especially by the voluntary agencies.

I do not think that we should raise too many hopes. Many hard pressed services are looking to the fund for salvation, and I fear that some of them will be disappointed. The capital sum available is, I believe, in the region of £2 million, the investment income from which is again small compared to the size of the problem to be tackled. However, it is a start.

I was pleased, therefore, to hear my hon. Friend say that the Brewers' Society has indicated its willingness to give substantial extra support, though no sum was mentioned. That is excellent. But I shall perhaps be forgiven if I repeat what is being said to me almost every day of the week by my regional councils up and down the country.

If the Brewers' Society and the drink trade generally want to make a real contribution to tackling the problem, they could, if they chose, reduce their advertising, stop their sponsoring of sport—which is manifest humbug since alcohol spells death to the achievement of excellence and high performance in sport—and subscribed a very substantial sum, without loss to themselves, to the trust's income. The brewers could spend quite a large sum on improving their hostelries. I agree entirely that the public house is a great national institution. At least drinking takes place there, generally speaking, under controlled conditions. To that extent, less money spent on advertising and more on making British public houses attractive places for their customers would not go amiss.

I turn briefly to some worries that I have about the Bill. I do not want to make heavy weather of this, because I am very happy that we have the Bill. But this is the opportunity for the Minister of State perhaps to clarify a few points.

First, is it too late to change the name of the body to be called the Alcohol Education and Research Council? Could not this be confused with other bodies with somewhat similar titles? After all, we clearly have the Alcohol Education Centre and the Medical Council on Alcoholism. It is unfortunate that a name has been chosen which could confuse the public.

Secondly, I hope that the council, or whatever it is called, will be solely a grant-making body. It must not be a body which assumes a role as an adviser to the Government on policy. That would cut across the functions and responsibilities of existing bodies. Because the council is bound to include drink industry representatives, that would be resented, and it would come under serious criticism from the outset if it ventured into that area. I cannot stress that too strongly.

Thirdly, it is important that the majority of the trustees are not drawn from the drink industry if this is to be a credible body from the outset. I must ask for a firm assurance on that score.

Fourthly, representations have been made to me recently by Professor Sir Desmond Pond, who speaks with the authority of the Royal Colleges, to the effect that whilst the trustees must of course make their own decisions about the amount and the purposes of grants, consideration should be given to the appointment of a panel of assessors with expert knowledge drawn from the medical and social work professions. This can be worked out in practice. Nevertheless, it has to be spelled out now in order that the intentions of Parliament are made clear. I invite my hon. Friend to give his views on that.

Finally clause 13 makes it plain that the Bill is not intended to apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Alcohol abuse does not end on the other side of Hadrian's Wall. In truth, I am sorry to say, it gets rather more serious north of Hadrian's Wall. Yet, oddly enough, clause 7 saysThe Fund shall be applied for such charitable purposes in the United Kingdom. I am not opposed to that, for the reason that I have just given, but how can it be held that the Bill applies only to England and Wales?

Mr. Banks

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend with this point. It is intended that the council will administer funds in the whole of the United Kingdom, to include Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am happy with that. It would be wrong if it were otherwise, as we are dealing with a national problem. In that case, I do not see why it should be specifically stated that the Bill is restricted solely to England and Wales when its manifest purpose is for its benefits to extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister will probably be able to explain that point simply.

The Bill is a long-awaited and useful measure. It will undoubtedly do a great deal of good. I warmly welcome it and trust that it will reach the statute book as soon as possible.

1.22 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

I hope not to detain the House long. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on this timely Bill, which I welcome. I agree with a great deal, if not everything, of what has been said so far.

As chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre, I have an interest in this matter—not a financial interest, other than on behalf of the centre. We have been hoping for such a Bill for some time.

For many years prior to coming to the House I was involved, as a probation officer, in trying to treat people with alcohol problems. I have lectured and have run groups for the Alcohol Education Centre and other organisations.

The only thing which I can say with confidence is that, having tried methods based on behavioural techniques, on psychoanalytic techniques, on institutional approaches, and on working with the individual in the community, on his own or with his family and friends, they do not have such a high success rate as we would like. One is inevitably drawn back to the old conclusion which is often true in health and social matters that prevention is better than cure. Ultimately, that has a much greater long-term impact, although it is difficult to do, as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) implied. It is a long-drawn-out affair.

The problem is serious: there is no other way of describing it. It is serious not only because of the ease of availability of alcohol, but because it is long established in society, yet it is a hard drug as it causes dependence. That is not always fully understood. That does not make it bad in total. Like the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, I reject that view. There is reliable evidence that, in small quantities, alcohol can be good for a person. It helps as a relaxant, partly because it is a depressant.

Mr. John Loveridge (Upminster)

The hon. Member said that alcohol might be good for people. There is evidence that those who drink in moderation live longer than those who do not. Will the hon. Member confirm, from his knowledge as chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre, the evidence from France that as little as a quarter litre a day, regularly taken, may cause damage to the liver for some people? That is not the dependence of which he was speaking, but it is a physical danger to the people who are affected. The old view used to be that half a bottle of spirits was required every day for a long period before liver damage became apparent, but there is now some evidence that very small quantities of wine, regularly taken, damage some people's health.

Mr. Soley

I would regard half a litre a day as harmful.

Mr. Loveridge

A quarter of a litre.

Mr. Soley

One cannot make rigorous generalisations about this matter. There is some evidence, although it is not conclusive, that for some people an occasional glass of wine will assist certain heart conditions and will be helpful. I stress that that evidence is not conclusive, however.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does not the hon. Member agree that what is conclusive is that the capacity to imbibe alcohol without harm differs according to age and between men and women? Greater harm can be experienced by young people drinking a certain quantity than by older people. That is particularly true of women. In the situation with which we are faced today, the problem is among the young and among women rather than among the generality of the population.

Mr. Soley

That is right. There are individual physiological differences of impact. That is why it is difficult to make generalisations.

Alcohol can be helpful as it is a relaxant. It helps social relationships at times. Mention has been made of the English pub, which is a good example.

The other side of the coin is that alcohol causes damage because people do not know the level at which harm is done. That level can be quite low. It is also a problem because we tend to think of harm as being just medical. I stress that it is not. It is physical and social, and in certain circumstances it is emotional and psychological.

There is overwhelming evidence of death on the road and serious injury being caused by excessive alcohol abuse. There is considerable evidence of medical conditions, particularly damage to the liver, kidney, heart and so on resulting from alcohol abuse. There is growing evidence, which is hard to quantify, that alcohol may cause crimes; of violence. There is evidence of violence outside pubs at closing time and casual violence following heavy drinking. There is a strong link between alcohol and certain types of murder, such as battered baby cases. Some evidence suggests that one or both parents of as many as 70 per cent. of children who had been battered had been drinking.

With regard to crime in general, it is pretty safe to say that between 60 and 70 per cent. of people who appear in magistrates' courts in inner city areas were drinking before committing their offence. One cannot jump to the conclusion that those people would not have committed those offences or would not have got into those difficulties if they had not been drinking. However, given that the first part of the brain which is affected by alcohol is the higher centres which control social behaviour, one expects a lower threshold which tips people over into doing things that they would not normally do. Everyone knows the famous phrase"I did not know what I was doing. I was drunk at the time". That says it all. One day it will be set to music and will get into the"top 10" in some of the courts of the land. I shall not go into depth on that matter as it would not be entirely appropriate.

Those points lead me to the conclusion that prevention is better than cure. That is why I stress the importance of the"Education and Research" part of the Bill's title. I am anxious that we should not lose that part of the title, although I am not too fussy about the title as a whole.

I have some worries about clause 7 which can perhaps be dealt with in Committee. Subsection (2)(b) enables the Alcohol Education and Research Council to give money for the care and rehabilitation of persons convicted of offences involving drunkenness". Subsection (2)(c) enables the council to give money forthe provision of treatment and other help for persons dependent on alcohol or given to excessive consumption of alcohol". Those provisions are qualified in subsection (3) as followsthe Council shall give priority to support for novel schemes for achieving those purposes. I should like the words"give priority" to be strengthened. There is a danger that endless sums of money could be poured into institutions, organisations and groups that are trying to help the two categories described in subsection (2)(b) and (c). Given previous examples, we know that they tend to consume enormous sums of money with relatively little return. The problem is being dealt with when it has reached a severe stage and often one is only trying to reduce the amount of harm. One has almost given up any hope of cure.

Some ex-alcoholic vagrants are still in contact with me and have managed to stay off drink. However, only a few manage to stay off drink. Enormous sums of money are spent on trying to solve this problem. It is incredibly difficult to find a cure at such a late stage. Indeed, in my experience it is more difficult to get a person off alcohol at that stage than it is to cure a person of heroin addiction. I cannot give facts or figures to boost that statement, but I believe that that view is commonly held. However, the issue is complicated, because in Britain heroin addicts tend to be younger than alcoholics. As the hon. Member for Essex, South-East indicated, the situation is changing in a worrying way.

Therefore, I wish to put down a marker for Committee discussion on those points. I emphasise that education and research are essential. In addition, 1 should like to put down a marker on the wording of clause 7 (2)(a)which refers tothe education of the public". I hope that that includes the various professional and other groups that we must work through. The Alcohol Education Centre has to tutor general practitioners, psychiatrists and so on, as well as social workers, prison officers and probation officers. Therefore, I should like to ensure that the word"public" covers those groups. That is important. The Minister may wish to deal with that now, but I am happy that it should be left until the Committee stage.

I fully support the comments that have been made to the effect that the trustees from the trade should not form a majority on the council. I say that in their interests as well as in those of everyone else. Although their motives are good on this issue, there would always be an element of suspicion if they were to form a majority. It would be hard to dispel the idea that they might have a vested interest in maintaining the sales of alcohol. Therefore, in their own best interests and those of everyone else, they should recognise that and accept a minority position. However, they have a powerful voice that should be listened to.

I should not have said what I have said about the positive attributes of alcohol if I did not believe that there was some place for it in society. However, that place should not be so great as to include a majority on the council. I do not think that I am alone in saying that the trade already has far more influence and power than any other group working in this field, such as the Alcohol Education Centre, the National Council on Alcoholism, the probation service, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Surgeons, social workers and so on It has great power and influence. Therefore, it should not push the point too far. I should like to raise in Committee the issues that I have mentioned today.

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

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to intervene at this stage to indicate the Government's attitude to the Bill, and what we propose to do when—as we hope—it is enacted. Before doing so, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his good fortune in the ballot and, more importantly, on his very clear exposition of what the Bill involves. Indeed, he has put a great deal of hard work into its preparation. The whole House is grateful to him for what he has done and continues to do.

For such a simple set of proposals the Bill is surprisingly complex. My hon. Friend's remarks at the beginning of the debate have been of great help in enabling the House to understand these complex proposals. I thank both my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) for their kind words about what I have done to help.

As my hon, Friend the Member for Harrogate mentioned, the Bill seeks to implement the Government's proposals for the winding up and disposal of the liquor licensing compensation funds. Those proposals were announced last July by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in a reply—very appropriately—to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend is one of the Bill's sponsors. Indeed, I should tell him straight away that the fact that the Bill extends only to England and Wales is only because the 1964 Act did so. Therefore, the existing funds are found only under that Act. However, it is helpful and desirable that although the Bill extends only to England and Wales, the money deriving from it can be spread more widely.

As my right hon. Friend said in reply to that parliamentary question, the proposals were based largely on a scheme that had been put forward jointly by the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers as the representatives of those who had contributed to the funds over the years. The proposals reflect the spirit of the recommendations of the Erroll committee and we believe that the proposed distribution of the funds is both fair and equitable.

I have also discussed the proposals with the National Council on Alcoholism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East knows. I am glad that they have the support of his council and that they are generally acceptable to the other organisations that are concerned with the problems of alcohol misuse. I was glad that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) confirmed that the National Union of Licensed Victuallers was also happy about the scheme proposed in the Bill. The response to the document from the NULV will be ready, we hope, by Easter. Indeed, we are trying to get it ready by then.

The Government's primary interest in the Bill lies in the provision that it makes for the setting up of the Alcohol Education and Research Fund. The money at present locked in the compensation funds is badly needed to complement the substantial provision which the Government already make for research into the causes and effects of alcohol misuse. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is especially keen that more money should be provided to pioneer and develop overnight shelters for drunken offenders.

A great deal of research is still needed in the whole area of alcohol misuse: those primarily concerned with health education in the field have to review continually the effectiveness of the work that they do, as new information from research studies and surveys becomes available. The role that the new council can play in identifying the need for, and funding research and initiatives in, education is therefore to be welcomed. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East and the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) have told the House about the seriousness of the problem of alcohol misuse. Before I deal with some of the detailed proposals of the Bill, I should like to say a few more words about the extent of the Government's commitment.

In the last complete financial year the estimated expenditure by the Department of Health and Social Security was £113,000. The Medical Research Council, which is the Government-funded body primarily concerned with financing biomedical research on the subject, is estimated in the same year to have spent £400,000 on research into alcoholism and related matters, while the Social Sciences Research Council is estimated to have spent £37,000.

In addition, the DHSS commissioned from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys a survey on drinking habits in England and Wales, which was published last October. This survey provides useful information on a range of topics including consumption of alcohol by age, levels of income and social groups. Further studies by the OPCS on this subject are planned. The DHSS—and I am glad to see present my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security—maintains close liaison with the MRC over its priorities on the funding of research into alcoholism, as with other areas of medical research. The Department has drawn up its own priorities for research into this field and these, of course, will be made available to the new council once it is established.

A considerable amount of money is also spent by the DHSS in support of voluntary organisations and the work they do in informing the public about the dangers of alcohol misuse, and in pioneering ways of producing effective help to those who have drinking problems. In the last financial year a total of just under £1 million was spent on voluntary organisations concerned with alcoholism.

The DHSS has also been funding the Health Education Council and the pilot scheme it has been running in the North-East of England specifically to promote sensible drinking, and to bring the dangers of alcohol misuse to the attention of the public at large.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May I seek from my hon. Friend an assurance that the fact that £4.3 million and its associated income that will now be spent under the Bill will not relieve the Government of their self-imposed obligation to deal with the whole question of alcohol abuse as they have been dealing with it? In other words, I am seeking an assurance that there will be not just a transfer of the burden of dealing with this matter from the Government to the private sector, but that the Government will continue their campaign side by side with and supplementary to the purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Raison

Strictly speaking that is a question for the DHSS. not the Home Offce, but I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that it is certainly not our intention that the money released under the Bill will be used to let the Government off the hook of their responsibilities.

I do not think that the total is quite £4.3 million, because the sum is distributed in different ways. Not all of it goes into the fund. Nevertheless, on my hon. Friend's basic point, this will not be a means of the Government shelving their responsibilities.

In recent years the DHSS has funded two detoxification centres—in Leeds and Manchester—to which the police have been able to take offenders as an alternative to charging them with the offences. I should like to pay tribute to the work these centres have done. In some instances they have been able to wean the people brought there from drink, but a shortcoming of the system is that once the client has been brought there there is nothing to stop him or her from leaving the next morning. Excellent though the residental treatment and rehabilitation facilities provided by these centres are, they are costly to staff and, for that reason, it would be impracticable to expand them on any scale, as an alternative to locking up drunken offenders. The Home Office considers that a more suitable alternative would be the provision of a network of overnight shelters situated, for example, in an existing hostel, where the offender could in the first place be looked after for the night by experienced staff. In the morning, he could then be offered help with his drink problem and, if he accepted the offer, arrangements could be made for him to receive treatment from an appropriate agency.

The Home Office, through the voluntary services unit, has already allocated funds for the setting up of two experimental shelters of this kind. One will be situated in Birmingham, and is near to opening, and it is hoped that the other will be in the London area. The units will be funded initially for two years during which the schemes will be monitored. Monitoring is obviously an important part of this scheme. If the scheme proves successful, extra resources will be necessary to expand it and it is our hope that the Alcohol Research and Education Council proposed in my hon. Friend's Bill would give sympathetic consideration to any application made to it for this purpose.

Turning to the Bill itself, the proposals for the liquidation seem eminently sensible. I agree that they make for difficult reading for someone not already familiar with the rules and procedures provided under the Licensing Act 1964 for the administration of the existing compensation scheme, but I am assured that they will ease the speedy transfer of the funds from the authorities to the two charitable funds. My Department is making preparations to ensure that the liquidator can be appointed soon after the Act receives Royal Assent and we hope that most of the work of liquidation could be completed within 12 months of its coming into force.

With regard to the appointment of members to the Alcohol Education and Research Council, the process of consulting has already begun with Government Departments and representative organisations and here, too, we would hope to make these appointments shortly after the Act commences. In making these appointments, it is my right hon. Friend's intention to create a council whose members will command the respect and confidence of all the organisations which have an interest in the problems of alcohol education and research, and in the care and treatment of those with serious drink problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East asked whether the council's work will simply comprise giving grants for these purposes or whether it will have a general advisory role. I confirm that it will not have a general advisory role. Its purpose is to handle these funds.

The brewers' representatives would certainly not be in a majority on the council as we see it. We are thinking in terms of the council being at the upper end of the permitted range of numbers. The range is between nine and 15. We think it would probably have 14 or 15 members, and we would expect not more than three or four of those to be in some sense associated with, or representatives of, the brewing industry.

The objects and aims of the Alcohol Education and Research Council seem to me to be sensible and they correspond with the Government's proposals. Whether the council needs to be backed by assessors is not so much a matter to be put into the Bill as something on which the trustees themselves—the members of the council—would be able to make up their minds. They may need expert advice of this kind but we ought to leave that matter to them.

In regard to the provisions for the care and rehabilitation of drunkenness offenders, and for the treatment and assistance of these alcohol-dependants, it is right that the council should give priority to novel schemes. The money which will be available to the fund from the income from the assets it originally receives will be fairly limited and I sympathise with those who do not want the money diverted into the funds of the statutory services. That point has already been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton.

I was also heartened to learn that the fund can look forward to receiving extra funding from companies in the drinks industry. This is very good news and it should enable the council to develop a more ambitious programme than it would otherwise be able to finance from its initial capital. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing its appreciation to the industry for its generous undertaking.

I should turn now to the scheme for making repayments to those with an interest in certain old on-licensed premises. This was part of the scheme proposed to the Home Office by the Brewers' Society and NULV, who between them represent those with a financial interest in these premises. The Erroll committee considered the first and most obvious possibility, which was that the money should be repaid to those who had contributed it. The committee rejected this proposal, in view of the lapse of time since the system had been introduced and the varying investment policies of the compensation authorities.

The scheme which the licensed trade has proposed seeks essentially to limit repayments to those with a current interest in old on-licensed premises in areas in which the most substantial levies have been imposed in recent years. The persons eligible to receive payments will be those who have had and retain—whether as a freeholder or as a tenant—an interest in old on-licensed premises in the compensation areas which existed prior to the local government reorganisation of 1974, and which had imposed charges in the 25 years prior to 31 December 1973.

A further proviso for the purposes of qualification is that amounts available in the funds at 31 December should have had a sufficient balance to justify distribution. The order which my right hon. Friend proposes to make under the provisions of clause 9, to prescribe the repayment scheme, will give precise effect to the licensed trade's proposals. Although there might appear to be an element of rough justice in the scheme, it has, as I have said, been agreed by the representative organisations of those concerned. I think, therefore, that it is reasonable to proceed on these lines.

I think the House will agree that this is a suitable opportunity to place on record its appreciation to the members of the compensation authorities and their officers for their contribution to the public service over the past 77 years. Although the authorities have not had many cases referred to them in recent years, there was a time when they were extremely active, and my hon. Friend has given some indication of their success in reducing the number of licensed premises in the period between 1904 and 1940. It should not be forgotten that it is due to their careful stewardship and sound investment policies that the total in the funds now stands at its present record level. This Government are grateful to them for their efforts.

I reiterate the Government's thanks to my hon. Friend for having brought this important measure before the House. We hope that it will be given a Second Reading today. For our part, if it is, we shall do all we can to ensure its speedy and effective implementation.

1.52 pm
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

I do not wish to detain the House, because we have other important business following this short debate. I begin by adding my congratulations to those already given to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), not so much in his good fortune in drawing a high position in the ballot—which is, after all, a matter of good fortune—as on his wisdom in choosing this Bill.

I dare say that my hon. Friend has a long and distinguished career in this House ahead of him, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that he may very well look back on this Bill—if it becomes law, as we hope it will—as one of the greatest contributions that he will have made in his career in public service.

The introduction of the Bill will have involved already a great deal of hard work and negotiation, not only by my hon. Friend but by the Department and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) in his capacity as chairman of the National Council, by the brewers, and so on. All those who have participated in the complicated negotiations have managed to strike a deal that is acceptable to everyone, and they are to be warmly congratulated on that.

I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State—and not only in response to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence)—reiterate that the Bill in no way diminishes the Government's commitment to their work in this area. Indeed, during his remarks he made a number of observations about the way in which the Government are proceeding on these matters. I was particularly pleased to hear him talk about the commitment that the Government still feel to what have become known as the"wet shelters." I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) is smiling. That term could have other meanings, at least on the Conservative Benches, but I do not want to go into that.

I was also very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) giving the wholehearted support of the National Union of Licenced Victuallers, whose approach to the problem of alcohol abuse, as he said, is one of care and common sense. We all share that approach.

I do not wish to prolong my remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East and the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) have already given the House a brief snapshot of the problems that alcohol abuse pose in Britain. I wish briefly to mention one area, that of alcohol abuse by youngsters. I refer to a study carried out by the National Council on Alcoholism.

A survey was conducted of 7,000 adolescents aged between 13 and 18. It showed that 35 percent. of boys and 30 per cent. of girls said that they had been drunk more than once during the previous year, and that 10 per cent. suffered from alcohol-induced amnesia. Almost one in five boys drank at least once a week. A significant percentage of both sexes admitted behaving aggressively after an evening out—which adds weight to the police claim that most teenagers arrested for such offences as vandalism and hooliganism had been drinking.

This is not the place for those who take a close interest in these matters to expand on the wide range of problems. They have already been touched on in the debate. I wish to touch on two points now, and then leave them in the air for Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East said, considering the problems and trying to confront them is an unpopular issue. Those with an interest in these matters fully understand that. One of the problems that we must face is that in Britain, and throughout the world, drinking enjoys a great deal of social esteem. Part of my job, as I see it, is to attempt to undermine some of that social esteem. One of the reasons that this problem occurs in youngsters is that it is regarded as smart and sophisticated to drink. It is part of our job to undermine that social—

Mr. Soley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the dangerous aspect is the view that it is okay to be drunk, and that being drunk is almost a sign of masculinity? That is a dangerous view, which needs undermining more than anything else.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. That brings me to two points that I wish to examine in Committee. First, there is the constitution of the council. I have already had correspondence with the Minister of State about that. He wrote to me and more or less stated what he has now said to the House in his speech. However, he did say one thing to me in his letter which he did not include in his speech, and which is very important. He said that it is important that the chairman of the council should be independent of any interested group. I was pleased and grateful to receive that assurance from him.

I am not sure whether it will be possible, but I hope that in Committee we shall be able to firm up the representation of the brewers and the brewing and drink interests in the constitution of the council. One accepts that they have behaved responsibly over these matters, which is why the Bill is before us. But inevitably there must be some conflict between their interests and the work of the council. We want to firm up slightly the position of the extent of representation of the brewing industry, if that is possible. The other area that I want to examine in Committee—I shall not go into detail now as it was touched on by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North—is the range of responsibilities of the council.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East in saying that although this measure involves a substantial sum it is a small amount in relation to the magnitude of the problem faced by organisations working in this area. I was delighted to hear that the drink industry had said that the council might expect further sums of money to come its way in future. I hope that that will be the case. I join others who have spoken in hoping that the Bill obtains a Second Reading and that it becomes the law of the land.

2 pm

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I declare a modest interest, and as the representative of the leading brewing town in the country, I extend my own warm welcome to the measure and say how honoured I am to be one of its sponsors.

It is possible that we may be accused of congratulation abuse if I spend too much time congratulating all those who are concerned. It goes without saying that for my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) to bring forward a measure that has no great glamour, but which makes a substantial contribution to the welfare of the nation, is an extremely praiseworthy action which only those of us who envy him for the place that he drew in the ballot can appreciate.

Apart from congratulating the Government who, I am proud to say, have made a determined effort to remedy the problem of alcoholic abuse during our period of office, I should say—though I am not a spokesman for the Brewers' Society, and it would be superfluous, indeed, were I to be a spokesman for the National Council on Alcoholism since it is so well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine)—that one of the most impressive features of this saga has been the way in which those two bodies have got together to highlight the problem and take substantial steps to deal with it.

It is puzzling to me that the sum in the compensation fund of £4.3 million has managed to remain for so long unused. It could have been used much sooner for the benefit of society. Yet that has not happened. I am delighted that action is being taken during the period of office of this Conservative Government. As I say, one of the most heartening features is the way in which both sides—the near-temperance and the near-trade—have got together.

The brewing industry has been attacked during the debate. Perhaps I should say there has been a hint of criticism because my hon. Friend is too splendid and experienced an orator and proponent for his side to have launched anything like an attack, but occasionally the temperance slip showed, if I may say that without causing too great offence.

The fact is that 98 per cent. of the people who drink in this country do not abuse alcohol. The Government's figure is that 2 per cent. do abuse drink, and I understand that the same figure is held on the temperance side of the equation. A substantial and overwhelming proportion do not abuse alcohol, and most people think, like Marie Lloyd, that a little bit of what you fancy does you good. One of the glories of our country is that we have country pubs and a social fabric that has some contact with alcohol. A substantial amount of money is contributed to the national exchequer—£2,500 million—and that amount would have to be raised by excessive taxation or by some other means, to say nothing of the enormous contribution of the industry to employment.

Naturally, I have a close connection with the brewers in my constituency, and they are very conscious of the need to check alcohol abuse Considerable sums of money are now being spent in developing non-alcoholic drinks. When one stops on the motorway at one of the rapidly-improving catering establishments, one can now buy non-alcoholic wine and beer. As yet, they do not taste quite as good as the real thing, but much money is being spent on improving them, and I hope that more people will drink those non-alcoholic beverages. I am very conscious of the fact that there are two sides to the equation, and I am delighted that they have got together.

One great feature of the debate and of the Bill is that it concentrates our minds on the evil of alcoholic abuse. The presentation of the Bill and the implementation of the Act will not be the end of our efforts to deal with the problem. The advantage of all the paraphernalia—the Bill is quite complicated and its implementation will not be all that simple—will be as a springboard from which we can take even further determined steps to deal with a problem that is likely to grow unless we control it.

I welcome the Bill, the Government's reaction to it and the substantial efforts in all parts of the industry to bring about such a result.

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).