HC Deb 01 December 1983 vol 49 cc978-9
10. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce measures to implement the Erroll committee's report on liquor licensing.

Mr. Mellor

A number of the Erroll committee's recommendations have been implemented. Since that committee reported, indicators of the harm alcohol misuse may cause have been showing a serious and deteriorating situation. In 1981 the Government issued the publication "Drinking Sensibly" to stimulate discussion and create a background of informed public opinion, in the light of which Government strategies could be formulated. We have no plans to introduce legislation at present.

Mr. Knox

Does my hon. Friend agree that the licensing laws cause a great deal of dissatisfaction? Is there not at least a strong case for introducing limited reforms, such as those introduced in Scotland a few years ago, which are working satisfactorily?

Mr. Mellor

I appreciate the strength of opinion in favour of that approach, just as I appreciate the strength of opinion that the increasing numbers of hospital admissions through alcoholism and the increasing number of accidents where alcohol has been a factor should lead, as the Expenditure Committee recommended in 1977, to extreme caution in any liberalisation of the licensing laws.

I can offer my hon. Friend some words of comfort. We appreciate what has happened in Scotland. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is beginning research into whether there is any link between alcohol abuse and relaxation of licensing laws. We shall be in a better position to consider changes in English law when the results of that reseaach are available.

Mr. O'Brien

When the Minister considers the Erroll report, will he ensure that privately run clubs—such as working men's clubs — will not be subject to interference? They are properly run clubs, managed by their members. Will the Minister assure us that the Erroll report will not interfere with such clubs?

Mr. Mellor

I have already made it clear that we have no plan to introduce legislation at present, so the hon. Gentleman need not have any fears.

Mr. Adley

Have not successive Governments recognised that the position is unsatisfactory? Does my hon. Friend agree that producing a leaflet called "Drinking Sensibly" is no substitute for action? As the Government have been elected for a five-year term, should they not take their courage in their hands and deal with a problem that must be dealt with sooner or later?

Mr. Mellor

I must correct my hon. Friend on his point about the leaflet. It was a substantial publication from the Department of Health and Social Security, which dealt seriously with the increase in alcohol abuse. While I understand that many people sincerely believe that the licensing laws could be relaxed without any adverse effect on alcohol abuse, there are many others who equally sincerely, and with equal merit, believe the contrary. On that basis, the Government would not be right to press ahead with any reform.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister accept that many clubs — especially the working men's clubs referred to by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) — which play an important role in the community are facing increasing financial difficulties? Will he consider assisting them—[Interruption.]

Mr. Mellor

I could not hear all of what the hon. Gentleman said, but the Government certainly have no plans to nationalise clubs.