§ 'Qualification of members
§ '3. No more than one in five of the members of the Council at any one time shall have direct or indirect interest in the brewing industry.'.
The First Deputy Chairman (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 4, in page 10, line 32, at end insert—'3A. The chairman of the Council shall have no direct or indirect interest in the brewing industry.'.
§ Mr. Soley
With the permission of the Committee, Mr. Godman Irvine, I introduce these probing amendments on behalf of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who apologises, through me, for his inability to be present, owing to a long-standing engagement.
The amendments are designed to establish the attitude of the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and the Government on the number of representatives from the trade that will sit on the Alcohol and Education Research Council. The aim of the hon. Member for Watford is to 409 limit the involvement of commercial interests, to receive some guidance on that issue, and for some views to be expressed by the Committee. In my opinion the trade should be represented but it should not have a majority. I agree that it should not provide the chairman.
The trade should consider carefully the way in which it responds to groups that are working on alcohol abuse. I make no allegation of insincerity on its part. Its interest and help are appreciated. We all recognise that alcohol abuse is growing and that it is serious. There is bound to be a conflict of interest for any member of the trade who is involved with an organisation such as the council.
It is important to remember that we all suffer from alcohol abuse. Suffering is not confined to the alcoholic or his family. There is the problem of ill-health, and the effect on the National Health Service is enormous. That alone has an effect on the taxpayer. There is the problem of accidents and death on the roads. Again, the consequences are dramatic for many who may never have taken a drink in their lives, or who may be drinking moderately. We know that the link between crime and alcohol is strong, and especially between violence and alcohol. Casual street violence that takes place when the pubs are closing causes immense problems for the police and often results in the police being injured when they try to break up fights.
We know that alcohol abuse is strongly linked with battered babies, with murder and, in a general sense, with lost time at work and poor decision-making. These problems are not confined to the so-called "hard" alcoholics. Vagrant alcoholics, or those on methylated spirits, represent at the most about 5 per cent. of those who are suffering from alcohol abuse. We are worried about a much greater percentage, who,are having an effect on the quality of life in our society and on the nation's social fabric.
No one in the trade can be unaware that this is an important issue. I know that the trade is aware of it and is concerned. The problem for the trade is to define the limit for itself and to decide how best it can help without hindering its own interests as a trade organisation. I am sure that it understands that unlike the case of tobacco, the majority of those campaigning in this area are not asking for total prohibition. Indeed, it would be nonsense to do so. However, we are asking for limitation.
It will be difficult for the trade to reconcile conflicting interests. For example, there is the problem of advertising. If we are to take a fairly strong line on advertising and we propagate the view that alcohol abuse constitutes a serious threat to the welfare of society, and if we say that children at school should be educated against the dangers of abuse, it is difficult to justify advertising that can often counteract that procedure. Teachers will say "We have one or two classes a year, at the most, on alcohol abuse, and yet daily a child or adult is confronted by a massive advertising campaign in favour of alcohol abuse."
I do not wish to go into the pros and cons of whether there should be a ban on advertising, whether it should be restricted to the point of sale, or whether there should be cautionary warnings, as with cigarettes. However, there is a conflict of interest for the trade, and that is what the hon. Member for Watford is attempting to spell out in the amendments. My message to the trade is to continue to take a long hard look at its own involvement and the limits 410 of that involvement. If it does not, it will be left shouting on the sidelines while public anxiety about the consequences of alcohol abuse grows. The result of that will be that those who are aware of the link between the problems of which society is complaining and alcohol abuse will have to take more effective action to reduce abuse.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am glad to say that on this I am in complete agreement with what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has been saying. I, too, regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) is not present to move his probing amendments. He is an active member of the National Council on Alcoholism, and we greatly value his support.
It seems, however, that the amendments are pushing at an open door. The Committee will recall that on Second Reading I said:it is important that the majority of trustees are not drawn from the drink industry if this is to be a credible body from the outset."—[Official Report, 6 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 571.]I asked for a firm assurance and I was glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State took the point.
It is important that the chairman of the Alcohol Education and Research Council should have no connection with the drink trade. I say that in no spirit of criticism of the trade or of that excellent organisation, the Brewers Society. However, if we want to make a greater impact on public education and a greater contribution to research there must be no suggestion of sectional or commercial interests having a hand in the decision-making.
It is increasingly clear that important decisions will have to be made in the next few years if the rising tide of alcohol abuse is not to cause even greater problems. We are some distance away from the appalling state at which the French have arrived, but more and more people are being killed on the roads having consumed alcohol beyond the legal limit, more and more health harm is being inflicted. It may be that the new provisions in the Transport Bill will have an impact on that trend, but I am not sure.
The proliferation of licences over the past decade and general slackness in our attitudes towards alcoholic drink has resulted in a growing tide of abuse. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North is right in what he says on that score. Alcohol abuse is the common thread running through the increase in crime, in marital break-up, in non-accidental injury to children, and in accidents in the home and at work. Clearly, therefore, the House may be required to take much tougher measures than it has been prepared to take in the past in order to control alcohol more effectively.
One hopes that the work to be done by the new council will do something to make people more aware of these problems, and that it will spread education, knowledge and awareness of the ill effects of alcohol taken in excess. But in the end political decisions will have to be taken to bring about effective control. The decisions will have to be taken here. Therefore, it is essential that in setting up a new body of this kind there is no suggestion in anyone's mind that the drink industry has a controlling interest in the new council.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give us a firm assurance about that. Having had many exchanges of view with him, I have little doubt about his intentions.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) has explained to me his reasons for tabling the amendments and expressed regret for his absence. I understand why my hon. Friend tabled the amendments, but I believe that they are neither desirable nor necessary, and I ask the Committee not to accept them.
My reason for thinking the amendments undesirable are, first, that it is not customary in legislation that confers powers upon the Secretary of State to appoint members to a body to restrict him in terms of those whom he may appoint. I accept that he is often required to include representatives of certain professions or interests, but that is a positive requirement, and this is a negative one. The amendment would seem to go against the conventional doctrine that the Secretary of State is a wise and sensible man.
My second objection is that the restriction goes further than I think my hon. Friend may intend. Is it his intention that a person who owns a few shares in a brewing company, perhaps as a small part of a larger portfolio managed for him by his stockbroker, should be debarred from appointment? Besides placing a considerable burden of inquiry upon the Secretary of State, that could disqualify from appointment many people who are eminently well qualified and active in, say, alcohol education, and who could in no sense be regarded as spokesmen for the brewing industry.
The amendments are unnecessary, because in the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State gave my hon. Friend a firm assurance that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did not intend to appoint more than three or four members from within the entire drinks industry. It is therefore unlikely that all of those will be brewers—a point so well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). My hon. Friend the Minister has also given an assurance that it is my right hon. Friend's firm intention to appoint an independent chairman.
Finally, it is perhaps unfair to single out the brewing industry in the way that my hon. Friend proposes. After all, the brewers will derive no direct benefit from the fund. It should be remembered that the money that the fund will receive from the liquidation of the licensing compensation funds derives entirely from the amounts levied from licensees and the brewers with an interest in old on-licence premises. The present scheme for the disposal of the assets of those funds was one of many suggestions that were supported by the Brewers Society, which has said that the fund can look forward to receiving substantial funding from companies in its industry.
From discussions that I have had with the society and other representative bodies of the industry, I know that they wish the fund well. They recognise that it has sometimes been said of them that they fund only educational and research projects that accord with their views. They see the fund as a means of countering this accusation and demonstrating their good faith and concern to alleviate the problems of alcohol misuse. Any money that they donate to the fund will be used entirely as the council directs, and it cannot be said in any way to be subject to their influence.
Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Mr. Raison
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) said in urging that the amendments should be withdrawn. I repeat the assurances that I have already given that it is not the intention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to appoint to the council more than three or four members from within the drinks industry, and that the chairman will be independent of the interest groups represented in its membership.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with an amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Banks
I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the cordial reception that they have given to my Bill and for the constructive suggestions that I have received as to how it might be improved. I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) do not feel aggrieved that I was unable to accept their amendments in Committee. I understand the underlying concerns that prompted the amendments, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend can accept the assurances that I have given that the Bill as it now stands will be workable.
I must confess that before I agreed to introduce the Bill I had a little knowledge of the operation of the licensing compensation scheme. I did, however, have a deep concern for the problems that the misuse of alcohol imposes upon society in general and the misery that it causes to individuals and their families. That I have been able to do something to alleviate this suffering has been a source of great satisfaction to me. I now hope that the Bill will make good progress in another place and that the money at present locked in the compensation funds will soon be put to good use.
During the past few months I have made an effort to learn about the problems of alcohol abuse and to see at first hand some of the excellent work that is being done in this area. I have no doubt that the problem is larger rather than smaller, as is sometimes suggested. I am particularly concerned about the clear trend of the drink problem, particularly among young people, and the scale of the crime that is perpetuated where drink is one of the factors.
I paid a visit recently to the detoxification centre in Leeds. I was most impressed by the excellent facilities provided at the centre, and I pay tribute to the dedication and professional competence of the staff. In an ideal world there would be many such centres, and it is unfortunate that there are insufficient resources to permit a large-scale expansion of such services. I am in favour of the concept of wet shelters particularly if they succeed in keeping drunks out of the criminal justice system.
I hope that the Alcohol Education and Research Council will be able to respond favourably to requests for expanding experimental projects in that area. I hope that the shelters will be staffed by persons who have an understanding of the problems of alcohol dependence and that they will be able to encourage many of their 413 clients—perhaps I should say "guests"—to seek treatment. However, that will mean that they will need to have the back-up of treatment and rehabilitation centres which are more properly the concern of the statutory services.
I have also had discussions with a variety of organisations that are active in such matters. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) who, in his capacity of president of the National Council on Alcoholism, has arranged many of those introductions. He has also been a fund of information and has given generously of his time and expertise.
I also pay tribute to the contribution made to the work of the National Council on Alcoholism by Lord Kimberley. Over the years he has tirelessly pursued successive Governments about their progress or lack of progress in preparing schemes to wind up the compensation funds. I am sure that the House will be delighted to learn that he has agreed to sponsor the Bill and to take it through its stages in another place.
I have met representatives of the drinks industry. I assure the House that, while the industry benefits from the sale of alcohol, it is also much alive to its social responsibility for assisting those who drink excessively. The industry already lends generous support to many organisations and has funded a great deal of research. However, on the other hand, I accept that it is only natural that its critics suspect it of self-interest in some of the projects that it has funded. I am glad that the industry has decided to support the alcohol education and research fund. That should make a great deal of difference to the extent of its work.
I should also like to thank the Minister for the help which he and his Department have given me in the preparation and handling of the Bill. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for being here today when he has much work on his hands with a Bill which is being considered in another part of the House.
During the past few weeks I have found that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are anxious to see the provisions contained in the Bill implemented speedily once it is enacted, as we hope. I hope that it will not be long before the fund is established and the council appointed. I am confident that my right hon. Friend will choose wisely when making those appointments and that he will seek to ensure that those chosen command the respect of the interested organisations.
I hope that the council will direct its grants towards projects rather than be seen to be providing funds to support various organisations. I trust that it will build a significant reputation in this area and endure for many decades.
I shall not delay the House any longer. I am glad that we have had this further opportunity to debate the Bill today. I shall listen with interest to the views expressed by other hon. Members who may wish to speak.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
It would be ungracious of the House not to extend congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on the able way in which he has piloted this small but significant measure through the House. It is given to comparatively few of us to succeed 414 in the Private Members' ballot, to obtain a good running place, to choose a worthwhile and sensible subject and to see that the Bill reaches the statute book. Although we are a little way away from that, the comments that we have heard today, and the fair wind which my hon. Friend has had so far, suggest that there is every chance that the Bill will become law and that my hon. Friend will look back with pride later in his parliamentary career on this legislation for which he has been responsible.
I intervened earlier to speak about one of the amendments because I have a specific interest in the subject. My connection with the industry over the years has always made it crystal clear to me that it is as anxious as anyone to see that there is no alcohol abuse. It is not in its interests that there should be.
Sometimes we tend to forget when we support various causes, often with the best of intentions, that where alcohol is concerned the vast majority of people are sensible social drinkers. It is the problem minority about which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and all of us are concerned. The well-conducted, properly run public house and licensed restaurant are part of our social fabric. No one, apart from those who crusade against the concept of alcohol, would wish them to depart from the scene.
Sensible and relevant education about the dangers of over-indulgence is necessary, particularly for the young, while there is still time to educate them about the right process of drinking. There should also be education for those who are at risk, but who may not realise that. More could be done for them.
A number of important questions arise. I was thinking about them during the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate. There is enormous scope for consideration of the problem, which we admit is there, and which we admit has been growing over recent years. Given the fact that alcohol is an addictive substance, we very much need to know what makes a man or woman become an alcoholic and at what stage a heavy drinker becomes an alcoholic. We need to know what an alcoholic is. I have discussed that matter with medical men, as have many hon. Members. As yet, there are no precise answers.
As the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) said, there sometimes seems to be a lamentable lack of appreciation and understanding of the problems of alcohol by the ordinary general practitioner. He sometimes seems not to recognise it as a problem when he is faced with a patient who has such difficulties.
Many other questions on education and planning arise about what we can do to improve the present state of affairs. I believe, for example—I am sure that other hon. Members will disagree with me—that our quaint licensing laws should be reformed, because, paradoxically, in some ways they encourage excessive drinking.
The following matter should be considered as a result of the provisions of the Bill. I am worried about supervision in supermarkets. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East referred to the sloppy conduct of the licensing laws. I would not go with him as far as that, because those laws are stringent in some respects. However, I am alarmed when I see young people, still in their teens, supervising the distribution of alcohol in supermarkets. If we must have proper pharmacists in chemists' shops, there should be proper supervision when 415 alcohol is sold in supermarkets. However, I make it clear that I am not against the idea that supermarkets should sell alcohol.
There are also great difficulty over drinking in public places. In this lawless, ugly age all sorts of excuses are put forward for the unreasonable conduct of individuals, one of which is drink. There is no doubt that drink can encourage people to do the wrong things, but basically, they have to be the wrong people in the first place and they must be evilly motivated. We must consider where people do their drinking other than in established premises, such as public houses and restaurants, or in their own homes.
In the last year or two there has been a campaign in some quarters against alcohol generally. That is wrong. A campaign against alcohol abuse of the sort with which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East is concerned is good. That is the right target. One should aim at the people who drink excessively and damage their homes, their families and themselves physically. Those targets should be constantly borne in mind. No one in his right mind, least of all a politician, would advocate our going for prohibition. It would be nonsense if that came about. We want sensible, well-regulated drinking. We want to be much better informed of the physical dangers of over-indulgence and the social consequences which flow from it. That is why this Bill will make a significant contribution.
We ought to congratulate the Brewers Society on the not inconsiderable part it has played in helping to formulate these proposals. It is also encouraging to know that there are to be further substantial payments into these funds to promote good education and research in respect of the abuse of alcohol. The industry is right behind my hon. Friend in what he seeks to do.
This is not, as some hon. Members have hinted, merely an idea that will be dominated by the industry. That would be quite wrong. We have heard encouraging news from my hon. Friend that the council will be properly constituted and that it will not be dominated by one side or the other. It will be composed of people with a real interest in making certain that this project is taken forward in a way which will be to the benefit of everyone.
In those circumstances, I wish my hon. Friend's Bill a fair wind in another place. In due course, probably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East said, we shall return in this House to any problems which arise, but at least we shall know that there is a body investigating the subject in clear-minded and sensible detail, and that is to be welcomed.
§ Mr. Raison
I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on the competent way he has steered this Bill through its stages in the House. As I said on Second Reading, the Government welcome the Bill, and we hope that it will not be long before it completes its stages in another place. My hon. Friend has made a very skilful and worthwhile use of his opportunity.
In Committee, I said that the Home Office had already begun the process of consultation for appointing members of the council. We hope to announce these appointments as soon as the Bill is enacted. We are also giving consideration to the appointment of the liquidator. His role is extremely important since he will be the person responsible for gathering in the funds from the 59 416 compensation authorities. We envisage that he will be a qualified accountant, and we hope to announce his appointment very shortly following Royal Assent.
The procedures provided for in the Bill will facilitate the transfer and distribution of the assets, which at present amount to approximately £4.3 million. It is difficult to estimate how long liquidation will take, but we hope that the bulk of the funds will be gathered in and distributed within nine to 12 months. However, it needs to be remembered that the assets which are transferred to the alcohol education and research fund will not be available for making grants immediately they are received. Although it is for the council to decide how to use its resources, the Government hope that it will, initially at least, conserve its capital and use the income for funding projects.
From the correspondence which I and my right hon. Friend have already received we know that many organisations are looking anxiously to the alcohol education and research fund for assistance. Obviously the council will be unable to meet all of the requests it receives, but the additional donations from the drinks industry will help to fund a more ambitious programme than it would otherwise be able to mount. It is most encouraging that there is this promise of additional financial assistance, and the Government are grateful to the industry for its generosity. I am confident that the council will make good use of its resources and that the fund will make a very significant contribution towards combating the evils of alcohol misuse.
Like the hon.Member for Hammersmith, North, (Mr. Soley), we recognise the importance of education. A great deal needs to be done, over and above the already substantial amounts allocated by the Government through the social services departments. We are particularly concerned about the incidence of problem drinking amongst young people, especially in the 18 to 21 age group. It is most important that those in the younger age groups are brought to an understanding of the risks they face through excessive drinking. Here, parents arid teachers have important roles to play, and there is room for imaginative educational and research programmes to assist them in this task.
A further important area is the education of doctors and other professional workers in the health services. Very often alcoholism is a contributory—if not the underlying—factor in organic and psychological disease. It is vital that they should be able to detect the signs and symptoms of alcoholism when making their diagnoses. The Medical Council on Alcoholism is very active in this connection, and I know that it will be looking for assistance from the fund in expanding its work.
Whilst I can understand the concern of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North to safeguard the money in the fund—as he put it on Second Reading—from beingpoured into institutions, organisations and groups that are trying to help"—[Official Report, 6 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 574.]drunken offenders and alcohol dependents, the fact remains that these create a very considerable problem for society. Although clause 7(3) of the Bill places a curb on the discretion of the council in applying funds for these purposes, I hope that it will give sympathetic consideration to projects designed to try out new approaches to these problems.
In the Home Office, we are especially anxious to develop the concept of overnight refuges for drunks as a 417 means of keeping them out of the criminal justice system—the so-called wet shelters. As I informed the House on Second Reading, one such shelter funded by the Home Office is already operating, and another, in the London area, is soon to open. We should like to see this experimental programme expanded, with shelters in various parts of the country. If they are shown to be an effective approach to this aspect of the drunkenness problem, it seems right that they should be expanded further under the aegis of the statutory services, but the experiment will cost a considerable amount of money, and we hope that the council will provide some of this funding.
In the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Member for Essex South-East (Sir B. Braine) made a number of very pertinent points and asked that they should be given further consideration. I tried to answer some of them in my speech then, and now that I have had more time to think about them, I should like to give a more considered response. He asked whether it was not too late to change the name of the Alcohol Education and Research Council, since the title could be confused with other bodies such as the National Council on Alcoholism, of which my right hon. Friend is the distinguished president. My hon. Friend asked also for an assurance that the council would be solely a grant-making body.
If I may deal with the latter point first, the council will be a statutory body. As such, it enjoys only those powers and carries out such functions as are conferred upon it by the statute from which it derives. Thus, since the bill only empowers it to administer the fund, it will have no other role to play.
With regard to the title, although I agree that it could perhaps cause confusion in the minds of some people, I am certain that those who are active in the area of alcohol misuse will soon become familiar with its role and that any possible initial confusion in their minds will soon disappear.
My hon. Friend also put forward the suggestion made to him by the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that consideration should be given to the appointment of an expert panel of assessors to assist the council in its decisions in awarding grants. The Bill does not preclude the council from appointing such a panel and for paying for the services of its members. Whilst I understand the concern underlying this proposal—namely that the money should not be applied to apparently attractive, but in reality worthless, schemes—I do not think that it will be necessary for the council to add to its infrastructure in this way. After all, the council should have considerable experience and expertise amongst its 418 members. They will not be operating in a vacuum, and some of them will undoubtedly have close connections with the academic and professional bodies which would provide these expert assessors. But it is a point for them to consider, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having made it.
A final matter raised by my hon. Friend related to the power of the council to make grants for charitable purposes in Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales, even though the Bill extends only to England and Wales. I was able to reassure him that the council could make grants throughout the United Kingdom. But in this connection the House may be interested to hear of a proposal put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently—and also to several right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—by the chairman of the South Glamorgan licensing compensation authority. This was that the money at present held in the funds of the Welsh compensation authorities should be distributed amongst organisations working on alcohol misuse in the Principality. Whilst one can understand the attractions of the money being used in the area in which it was raised, and while it could be of considerable benefit to the local organisations in the short term, if such a policy were widely adopted it would prevent the establishment of a central fund with the ability to attract further contributions. It seems reasonable to assume that the organisations concerned will benefit more in the longer term from the scheme proposed in the Bill. But I have mentioned this in case any compensation authorities feel aggrieved that the money is to be used outside the areas in which it was levied.
On the Second Reading, the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, (Mr. Wellbeloved), from his association with the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, asked when the union could expect to have a response from the Home Office to its submission on the reform of the licensing law, called "The Case for Change". I said that we hoped to have a reply ready by Easter. Unfortunately, that estimate proved to be over-optimistic. This has been because the licensing department has been under very great pressure since I made that forecast. But work is well advanced on the preparation of our reply, and I hope now that it will not be long delayed.
In conclusion, I wish again to place on record the Government's thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate for having brought the Bill to this House. He has worked very hard to bring it to this stage and we wish it well in the remainder of its progress. For our part, we shall do all we can to ensure its speedy implementation when it is enacted.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.