HC Deb 30 November 1984 vol 68 cc1215-59 9.34 am
Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

I beg to move, That this House believes that liquor licensing laws in England and Wales should be revised.

I believe that the liquor licensing laws should be revised because much of our legislation is based on the assumption that ordinary individuals do not have the right to make a choice and that it is right for the state to decide what people should do. We therefore set down laws that prescribe their actions, including laws relating to shop hours and licensing hours, smoking regulations on the tube and many set pieces of safety regulation. We should set out to educate people about different matters rather than try to prescribe what they may or may not do.

I have not chosen to raise this subject because I have specific experience or direct interest in any particular aspect of the licensing trade. Some of my colleagues have experience and are intending to try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. My experience, as with so much of the nation's experience, is purely as a customer of clubs, restaurants, hotels and pubs. I therefore suffer the vagaries of the licensing laws from one part of the country to another.

I also have experience of the problems of alcohol abuse, in that before I was elected to Parliament as the Member for Kingswood I dealt with the problems of alcohol rehabilitation. I have seen the tragedies that are caused by excessive consumption of alcohol — marriages break down, people lose their jobs and some lose their lives as a result of a progressive breakdown in health. I well understand the views expressed by those who are concerned that a revision of licensing laws might result in some form of increased alcohol consumption and, as a result, increased alcoholism. However, we should tackle the problem of alcohol abuse in whatever form it may arise by educating people from when they are very young. I do not think that it is the intention of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, the Brewers Society, the Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers Association or of any other associations that have been arguing for change for many years to drive people to ill health. They are trying to rationalise the circumstances that they currently face.

What are the circumstances they face? Most people say that the current laws in England and Wales stem from measures in the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1915, which were encompassed in 1921 by the Licensing Act. That was changed further by the licensing Acts in 1961 and 1964. There is a whole range of other pieces of legislation, many of which stem back to the 19th century, which also affect the granting of licences, such as the Sunday Observance Act 1871 and other legislation from that period.

Therefore, we are confronted by a general mess in our legislation. Without a shadow of doubt, whatever we choose to do, there is a need for change, for bringing the laws up to date. How can we accept that the laws that were adopted and the standards that applied in the middle of the 19th century or the early 20th century should be regarded as acceptable for the 1980s, the 1990s and the 21st century? In fact, it is an absolute hotchpotch of legislation.

When one examines this subject, one starts with the pub licensing laws and then goes on to the hotels and restaurants, then to clubs, then to shops and supermarkets. All those groups have been affected by change at one stage or another over the past few years. The most substantial change, which probably has had the greatest impact on alcohol consumption, is the availability of alcohol through shops and supermarkets. Following the 1961 Act, about 13,000 further outlets had been licensed by early 1970. The figures for the next decade are not readily available, but it is reasonable to assume that there has been a progressive increase since then. That is where young people, married women and other groups who would not previously have gone regularly to pubs are able to buy large quantities of alcohol and to consume it in private.

As anyone with experience of the problem knows, alcoholics do not fit into the standard public image of them as pure down and outs. Experience leads one to conclude that such people buy most of their alcohol in supermarkets and consume it away from pubs. Indeed, there is a strong argument to the effect that the social circumstances of pubs provide a base for sensible, social drinking compared with the outhouses, underground arches and side streets where alcoholics can be found. Alcoholics are readily visible in this part of London at 8 am, although no pubs are open except around Covent Garden.

It is a source of constant amazement to the public at large and especially to foreigners that our licensing laws are such a series of contradictions. There may be some foreigners in the Gallery today who, if they have the endurance—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Hon. Members should not refer to the Gallery in their speeches.

Mr. Hayward

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Tourists who go into hotels or restaurants at 2.30 pm do not understand why they are allowed such a short time to consume alcohol. Indeed, they fail to understand it to such an extent that British Telecom has made it a subject for jokes in its advertisements on the underground, suggesting that Wenn Sie etwas amusantes gesehen haben"— having seen something amusing—such as the operation of our licensing laws, they should ring their friends in Germany and tell them about it. The same slogan is used in French.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Visitors to London may regard our licensing laws as a joke, but my hon. Friend has already stated that considerable harm results from excessive consumption of alcohol. Can he say whether there is greater harm or lesser harm in France and Germany?

Mr. Hayward

Figures for cirrhosis of the liver are higher in France than in this country, but the conclusion drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Canvey island—

Sir Bernard Braine

Castle Point, please.

Mr. Hayward

I am sorry. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) would conclude from those figures that our licensing laws should not be changed. I cannot agree. Research suggests that much of the problem in France is due to the ready access to alcohol and encouragement to drink from a very early age. It is not sensible, social drinking but ill education associated with access to large quantities of alcohol in supermarkets at all hours of the day and night. That is entirely different from the proposal before us today.

In recent years, various attempts have been made to change the licensing laws. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health made such an attempt in 1975 and the then hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East introduced a ten-minute Bill on the subject in 1976. There was a further attempt in 1979. On each occasion, the proposed legislation fell due to diligent opposition from certain people and the argument that we did not have enough information. Since then, more and more information has come forward suggesting that the licensing laws in England and Wales should be changed.

In the short period since I chose this private Member's motion, I have discussed the matter with a considerable number of people, including police forces, people living next door to pubs and clubs in my constituency, local social and political clubs and school children too young to drink. I have also discussed it with people affected by the specific licensing provisions relating to rugby clubs such as those at Bristol, Kingswood and Whitehall rugby clubs, all of which are in or near my constituency. There is no consensus about the change that should be made but there is a consensus that so long as people living immediately next door to licensed premises are protected a change of some kind should be made. Most people regard it as utterly anachronistic that Scottish people and tourists in Scotland are allowed to drink in a much broader range of hours than those in England and Wales.

People living very close to licensed premises are naturally worried, and I well understand their feelings. Any licensing authority would have a responsibility to take those people's views fully into consideration. A number of hostelries in my constituency cause difficulties. Like the local police, I should want the difficulties caused or perceived to be caused to residents by those hostelries to be taken into consideration in the licensing process.

I have referred to my experience in alcoholic rehabilitation and I recognise that in addition to the opposition from people living close to hostelries there are many people—my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point is one — who are genuinely worried by the dramatic increase in alcoholism and drink abuse generally. I share that concern, but I believe that those problems should be tackled through education. The fact that a proportion of the population cannot cope with drink does not mean that others should be unnecessarily and severely restricted. Current levels of alcoholism are frightening. The level is rising five times as rapidly among women and young people as among adult males. That suggests that the people who are used to drinking socially and sensibly in public houses and clubs—the adult males, among whom the increase is much slower—have social facilities that women and young people tend not to have and that the problem does not relate to existing licensed establishments.

The large number of proponents of change includes many Members of Parliament who are unfortunately unable to be here today. Support has been expressed, for example, by my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) and for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). We must recognise that a substantial body of opinion supports change and we should not oppose it on the basis of a different problem which needs to be dealt with through education.

What changes should be made? The Clayson report in the early 1970s dealt with the position in Scotland. In England and Wales, there was the Erroll report. Immensely detailed studies were made of what should and should not be done. The committees carrying out those studies were not packed with people committed to change. They included teetotallers such as the late Graham Hill.

The Erroll report made 87 recommendations and the Clayson report 90 recommendations. Many of the recommendations were considered far too radical for society and Parliament. The request for change has been scaled down and organisations demanding change have coalesced around one set of changes. It is incredible that so many years after the Erroll report England and Wales should still not have made any change. I shall quote just two of the report's recommendations: 35. We RECOMMEND, subject to our other proposals, that a personal licensee be permitted to sell intoxicating liquor by retail for on-consumption at any time between 10 am and 12 midnight (paragraphs 11.38–11.40). 36. Circumstances could arise, late at night or during the day, in which it would be in the public interest if licensing justices were empowered to impose a limited restriction on permitted hours of opening (paragraphs 11.41–11.43)". Recommendation 35 represents a substantial change. The report also covered proposals for allowing children into pubs, for lowering the licensing age from 18 and a host of other subjects and yet, 13 years later, there has been no change. That is shameful.

The Clayson report affecting Scotland came out at much the same time and followed similar directions, although Scotland had much more restrictive licensing laws. Its recommendations included opening hours being fixed in the evening at 11 o'clock and pubs opening on Sundays. It also took the first steps towards providing facilities for adults and children to be served together in premises with refreshment licences and family rooms. It still stipulated that there should be a closing period in the mid-afternoon but licensing authorities, using their more liberal guidelines, have seen fit to allow a much more open operation.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

During the tall ships race—an international event that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists — the licensing authorities in Southampton would not allow a local licence for the day to serve wine between 3 pm and 5 pm. That is deplorable. That is why my hon. Friend is right—there must be a complete review and more flexibility.

Mr. Hayward

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall give him another example which occurred just across the water from him at Cowes during the international regatta there. More flexible hours were granted in the first year for which they were applied and the local police authority opposed the extension. A year later, when similar applications were made, the police authority did not oppose the extension because drink-related offences had declined the previous year. More sensible and liberal licensing laws can therefore be beneficial.

On 19 December 1983, my hon. Friend the Minister replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman). Comparing the Scottish and English laws, he said: The essential difference between the English and the Scottish provisions lies, as I have already indicated, in the discretion given to the licensing authorities in Scotland to vary the general permitted hours of opening. No one would suggest that it should be compulsory for premises to open at a particular time."—[Official Report, 19 December 1983; Vol. 51, c. 229.] That is a crucial point which my hon. Friend the Member for Southamptin, Test (Mr. Hill) has just made.

I recomend that we move towards the Scottish system. It has laid down requirements and guidelines to the effect that licensing authorities should be flexible and that there should be discussion with all vested interests. It was interesting to hear the chairman of the Glasgow licensing authority commenting on television this morning that the change has been beneficial in Scotland and that people generally feel that the changes have been useful to all parties, although there are still some difficulties with some hostelries and the residential areas that they serve.

Sir John Page (Harrow, West)

I might have missed something at the beginning of my hon. Friend's speech, but will he tell us about the attitude of licensees towards a more flexible approach and whether he agrees that it is possible for licensed premises to open at different hours although they are in the same area?

Mr. Hayward

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall come to that subject a little later. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham will deal with that as he is an experienced licensee.

While considering the problems relating to pubs, we must consider those which relate to hotels and restaurants. There has been a growth in the provision of liquor in shops and supermarkets and an immense growth in drinking clubs or working men's clubs. Many licensees think that competition unfair as such premises do not suffer the same restrictions. Children are allowed into licensed clubs with their parents, who might be drinking. The same is true for hotels and restaurants. Under-age children can quite legally be given a drink in such premises but that is not so in a pub. That is anachronistic, and legislation relating to hotels, restaurants and clubs should be brought into line with that affecting pubs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page) mentioned the attitude of licensees. I said earlier that there is no consensus. I am asking for flexibility so that licensees can choose what hours to operate. There is a clear difference between a pub that serves the City of London, another that serves suburban Harrow, another that serves rural Cambridgeshire and another in the tourist west end. Licensing authorities in Scotland seem to have recognised that and allow substantial flexibility.

I am worried about the appalling delay in action on the Erroll and Clayson reports and should like to quote some of the things that have been said about those reports in the Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said during the debates on the Licensing (Scotland) Bill on 27 July 1976: None of us, with the best will in the world, whichever side we take on the argument, can be certain what the results will be. I hope that the Government will carry through the monitoring that Dr. Clayson recommended because that would help us evaluate properly and precisely what the effect of the Bill will be." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 27 July 1976; c. 581.] I intend to refer to comments by Ministers in a moment.

I know that we shall be told yet again that the Home Office is awaiting a report from the Scottish Office. That must be time-wasting. The Government have had ample opportunity to consider what has happened in Scotland. Eight years have elapsed since the Licensing (Scotland) Act was passed. We must be running into the longest experiment of all time. When will the review be completed, I wonder? It may be some time next year. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham on 19 December 1983, the Under-Secretary said: I do not want to suggest, because it would not be the case, that we have closed the door on the possibility of some relaxations. In 1981 the Government issued a comprehensive document on alcohol misuse entitled 'Drinking Sensibly' to stimulate discussion and create a background of informed public opinion in the light of which Government strategies could be formulated."—[Official Report, 19 December 1983; Vol. 51, c. 229–30.] That was three years ago, some five years after the Licensing (Scotland) Act was passed. It is amazing that so many years have gone by without a Government of any persuasion being able to make any recommendations.

We believe that there may be a report by the middle of next year. We are not certain, because of an answer given in the other place on 24 October of this year. The Minister said: As regards the law on liquor licensing, there no immediate prospect of legislation … My Lords, it is still a matter for a Private Member's Bill, and not a Government one."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 October 1984; Vol. 456, c. 195–96.] I am not sure whether the Minister was referring to Sunday observance or to the licensing laws, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will make it clear that we shall not have to wait for a report from the Scottish Office.

We do not know when the report will be made. When it is made, we shall have a series of statistics which will or will not prove the case, depending on which side of the argument one stands. Television's football commentators have enough difficulty in interpreting a 1–1 England draw. With thousands of vested interests, there will be thousands of different interpretations of the statistics that are put before the Minister.

What interest do the Scots have in pushing forward with their report? They have got their changes. As the Daily Express has it this morning, people can happily cross from Northumberland to Scotland when Northumberland landlords are forced to call, "Time, gentlemen, please," and choose to drink in another pub a few hundred yards up the road. The Scottish Office has no interest in rushing its report. Therefore, it is for the Home Office to take its courage into its hands and make some recommendation to the House.

I said earlier that there was no consensus, but, having had eight years to consider the subject, the Home Office must have at least some idea of an appropriate consensus around which those who favour change will he able to coalesce.

Referring to this anachronism, whereby there are differences in the licensing laws, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher), who is now a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, pointed out during the Licensing (Scotland) Bill debates in 1976 that Scotland was worse off than England. He said: Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a terrible indictment of the Scottish character that for some reason behaviour on the Scottish side of the border seems to be drastically different from that in the north of England? Has the right hon. Gentleman been able to discover why people in the north of England can drink on Sundays and the rest of the week and behave reasonably, whereas, according to what he has said, that cannot be the case north of the border?" — [Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 27 July 1976; c. 410.] Surely the equivalent argument now applies in reverse.

The Scottish case is the one to which I have directed my comments. In addressing myself specifically to that, I draw attention to statistics that were printed in an answer in the other place on 2 July 1984, in which drunkenness offences were cited for the years 1979–82 both for England and Wales and for Scotland. I shall not bore the House with too much detail, but the statistics show that, in those three years, drunkenness-related offences went down in Scotland by some 28 per cent., whereas drunkenness-related offences in England went down by 9 per cent. Surely that confirms the view of the police and licensing authorities in Scotland and the general perceptions of people who have visited Scotland, both before and since the changes in legislation, that there is a difference in the atmosphere of licensed premises in Scotland.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my hon. Friend tell us the source of his information, because my information is that drunkenness-related offences in Scotland have fallen by 41 per cent., not 28 per cent.?

Mr. Hayward

My hon. and learned Friend's intervention highlights my earlier comment that there are any number of statistics which people can consider. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will quote his statistics later. My source is an answer given in the other place on 2 July 1984. I am aware that there are other sets of statistics which show more dramatic changes. I chose this set because they were at neither extreme. The problem with any statistics is that anything can be proved with them. I tried, in fairness to the House, to find figures falling in the mid-range of the statistics with which I was confronted and which, in my view, the Home Office should have been able to analyse a number of years ago.

I referred just now to the public perception of the changes in Scotland, and there has been a recent survey of public attitudes to the changes. It shows that public attitudes are that, in general, since the changes some 55 per cent. of the Scottish population are satisfied or fairly satisfied with them and that only 10 per cent. are fairly dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

We have an obligation to protect that 10 per cent., but I do not believe that, because of that responsibility, we should disregard the views of the 55 per cent. who are satisfied in some form with the changes or the views of the 34 per cent. who passed no comment. We ought to recognise that everyone has the right to pass comment, and we ought on occasions in this Chamber to respect the views of the majority.

Another question asked in the survey was: Do you approve or disapprove of the change in the licensing laws that allows pubs to extend their opening hours? A majority, some 56 per cent., actually said that they approved. Only 23 per cent. disapproved. Again, 21 per cent. did not express an opinion, despite the fact that there is an assumption that every licensed house in Scotland has extended its opening hours. That is not the case. What has happened in Scotland is that some 65 per cent. of all the pubs have changed their hours of operation, and this demonstrates that some publicans believe that the hours that they observed previously are acceptable to them because they suit their communities. But the 65 per cent. which have changed have done so because they seek to provide a service which includes increased sales of alcohol, food, soft drinks and, in many places, coffee. I found drinking in Scotland recently quite a civilised experience. My previous experiences of pubs in Scotland were far from happy because people felt obliged and under pressure to consume alcohol at an unbelievable rate.

Today is St. Andrew's day. I propose that we should move quickly towards the change that was made in Scotland eight years ago and was more than substantially recommended for England and Wales 13 years ago. As was said in "Macbeth", if we are to change, 'twere well It were done quickly".

10.10 am
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) on his success in the ballot and on making it possible for the House to have an opportunity to discuss the vexed question of licensing law. He argued the case for liberalising the law with moderation and personal insight into the problems involved, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his voluntary work in dealing with alcohol abuse before he came to the House. We are much in his debt for his having raised the matter this morning.

If we are to consider the subject objectively and responsibly we must start by asking ourselves a simple question: why is it that no Government have so far felt able to implement the recommendations of the Erroll committee and to do what my hon. Friend asks us to agree to today? Unlike my hon. Friend, I have been a Member for many years—that is a matter of age. I hope that he will be with us for many years to come and will contribute frequently to the sum total of wisdom here. During the many Parliaments in which I have sat the question was debated, but I cannot recollect an occasion when there was a majority, or even a substantial minority, in favour of tampering with the licensing laws, although some reforms or minor adjustments may have been favoured.

Three years ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services warned the House that the misuse of alcohol was causing health and social problems of epidemic proportions. The purpose of my hon. Friend's speech this morning, however, was to persuade us to weaken the control over the drug alcohol, which would inevitably encourage greater consumption, not less. The reason why brewers and distillers are such enthusiastic supporters of his proposed reform should be self-evident. Their profits, already substantial, are not likely to increase unless they can sell more and their customers drink more.

Five years ago saw the publication of the report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It was an unusual document in that it was published in paperback form because of the weight of its content, the force of its argument, the wide favourable reviews it attracted and because, for the first time, it set out for the public in an understandable form the dangers into which we were moving. On page 3, referring to the incidence of alcohol harm, the report states: At a conservative estimate there are at least 300,000 people in this country with drinking problems of such severity as to merit the conventional label of 'alcoholism', and this may well be a gross underestimate. Each of these people is probably affecting the health, happiness, or safety of several family members, friends, and workmates. People with serious drinking problems have an expectation of dying which is between two and three times greater than that of members of the general population of the same age and sex. A recent study in a general hospital in Scotland showed that 25 per cent. of acute male admissions to a medical ward were directly or indirectly due to alcohol.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)


Sir Bernard Braine

I shall give way when I have finished the quotation. I would remind my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood that we have not even in Scotland reached the level of health harm reached in France, where the figure is about 40 per cent., Germany or the Soviet Union. How long we remain in that position depends on how far the House is prepared to weaken present controls.

The report continues: Annual National Health Service admissions to psychiatric hospitals for treatment of alcoholism have increased twenty-five-fold over the past twenty years and are now 13,500 per year in England and Wales: the cost of this hospital care alone must now be upwards of £4,000,000 per annum.

The report concludes: Society has in many ways tried to have its pleasure, deny its responsibilities, and hand the problem over to the courts or the caring agencies. We believe that an undoubted message for the future is that prevention has to be strengthened, and that this will inevitably mean all of us drinking somewhat less. We cannot pretend to be concerned while complaining that any diminution of our pleasures or profits is too great a price.

Mr. Couchman

My hon. Friend quoted statistics from Scotland and said that the report was five years old. Were the statistics gathered before or after the introduction of the Clayson reforms in Scotland?

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend must not try to score debating points. I shall deal with the Scottish position in detail later. I shall not allow some of the things that were said on the subject to go unnoticed and uncommented on. I am quoting the figures from the report. Those figures were obtained when the report was published in 1979. I take it that my hon. Friend has studied these matters carefully and has a copy of the report, which he has read and mastered.

Mr. Couchman

indicated dissent.

Sir Bernard Braine

In that case it is about time that he had because it is a key document.

Since the report was published the case for restraint has grown, not diminished.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

If the problem of alcoholism has increased, which I accept, as the consumption of alcohol in Scotland has remained broadly stable, does my hon. Friend think that it is because of the change in licensing laws, which would seem strange under those circumstances, or because it is a natural trend in Western society?

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. One must not forget that the north in particular and Scotland have experienced for some years now the effects of economic depression and unemployment. Those of us who study such matters know that there is some relationship between that situation and levels of consumption.

In fairness to the case so skilfully deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, we must look at Scotland and England at the same time, and that I propose to do. Let me give the House some broad statistics to put the matter into some sort of perspective. For eight years I was chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, and I am currently president of the Greater London alcohol advisory service, which covers about 22 agencies in Greater London. Therefore, it is likely that the information fed to me is fairly sound.

As a broad generalisation, we could say that in recent years alcohol misuse has accounted for the loss of 8 million working days a year; more than 500,000 male admissions to general hospitals or one fifth of all male admissions; 80 per cent. of deaths from fire; 40 per cent. of road accidents involving pedestrians; a third of all domestic accidents; and 10 per cent. of all deaths of young people under the age of 25. The Royal College of Psychiatrists was referring to 300,000 people with serious alcohol problems. The agencies in the field — people who have had experience of the problem at the grass roots—believe that the figure is probably nearer 1 million, and that does not reflect the social distress and strain caused to families.

The total economic cost to the nation is difficult to assess but I believe that the figure is as high as £1 billion a year. What is more, excessive drinking is the common thread — there are one or two learned members of the legal profession in the House who will bear this out—running through the commission of crime, violence, marital break-ups, non-accidental injury to children, and death and injury on the roads. It has been the subject of certain reports from Select Committees of the House.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

I rise really as a result of an irresistible desire to stretch my legs. All that is very interesting and, although somewhat speculative, may be true, but is not the crux of the matter why law-abiding people who drink in moderation and for social pleasure should not be entitled to drink without being inhibited by the serious problems that have been mentioned in respect of a minute proportion of the population?

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman rose to his feet as elegantly as he put his point. Of course, that is the dilemma. I agree. That is where we must keep a balance. Alcohol is a unique substance. It is one of the most pleasant adjuncts to living. I am not a teetotaller and know that it gives pleasure to many people. At the same time it is a potent drug, which taken in excess is capable of causing ill health and premature death. Somehow or other, one must try to strike a balance. Before 1914 Britain had the most appalling drunkenness problem, and that is why, since then, we have had not only licensing controls which increased sobriety but controls which, by and large, those concerned with alcoholism all over the world have tended to admire. What I am advocating, far from interfering with the pleasure of the hon. Gentleman and millions of others, will protect his and their best interests.

As I said, excessive drinking is the common thread which runs through the terrible and increasing disorders in our society. Worse still is the changing pattern of harm. There is more under-age drinking than ever before in our history. Moreover, whereas until 10 or 15 years ago women were hardly affected by alcohol abuse, today of all those coming to the agencies to seek help, one in three is a woman.

Mr. Hill

Is it not a fact that giving supermarkets the ability to sell enormous quantities of drink which can be concealed in shopping bags has brought that problem to the fore? Does that not defeat my hon. Friend's argument? Would it not be more beneficial if ladies accompanied their gentlemen to public houses during extended licensing hours?

Sir Bernard Braine

The lady who is drinking secretly in that fashion is perhaps doing so because she cannot, for one reason or another, accompany her husband to the public house or club. Indeed, that is an illustration of the strain under which many people are living. But my hon. Friend has put his finger on an extremely important point that I shall develop later. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend is a little worried that I might take too much time. I have never seen such a poorly attended House on a Friday in this Parliament or in previous Parliaments. It is a poor example of the fierce campaigning spirit of hon. Members. Therefore, I shall not sit down before I have put my argument.

Who wants more flexible and liberal licensing hours? The brewers and the distillers certainly do. Is there a demand from the magistracy and the police? As the House knows, I must declare an interest. I have advised senior police officers in Britain for about 19 years. My impression is that the police service has no desire to see more people coming on the roads after periods of drinking, especially at peak hours.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should address the whole House and not just the hon. Member who intervened.

Sir Bernard Braine

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I agree. I was tempted away by those who legitimately interrupted me from behind.

Are teachers telling us that pupils would benefit from being allowed more freely in pubs and that they see no danger from an increase in under-age drinking? Of course not. They are only too well aware of what is happening.

Are licensees demanding that the law should be changed so that more drinking can take place? The truth is that they are divided on the matter. Many managers dislike the idea intensely. However, I concede that the public house, generally speaking, is the one place where some control is exercised over drinking behaviour. The licensee is almost invariably a responsible and law-abiding person whose interest and inclination is to see that drinking on his premises is conducted sensibly. But I would have thought that the best way to help licensees, who have been asking for this for a long time, is to stop the proliferation of outlets where no proper restraint can be exercised.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Bernard Braine

Well, I will give way, but it will only prolong my speech.

Mr. Jones

I do not think that any hon. Member is doing other then enjoying my hon. Friend's speech. He appears to favour control over outlets where alcohol is readily available, such as supermarkets, but will he also pay some attention to the enormous growth in home brewing and the making of home-made wine? That is almost uncontrollable, so does not his argument fall down on that point?

Sir Bernard Braine

No, because the argument has not yet been fully heard. I accept the drift of my hon. Friend's remarks, but if he had been in the House during previous Parliaments he would have known — as some hon. Members know perfectly well—that I have argued for a long time against the proliferation of selling outlets and in favour of the public house. I have always agreed with Dr. Samuel Johnson about that, and believe that it is one of the glories of our land, a pride and joy. I am in favour of public houses but against the proliferation of selling outlets and the placing of liquor on the impulse-buying shelves of supermarkets.

Mr. Ryman

Surely that is a thoroughly bad point, because it follows that the hon. Gentleman is against the present controls whereby local justices who know their areas will have a complete discretion as to whether to allow off-licences, whether or not the application is opposed. On reflection, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that he has just made a thoroughly bad point.

Sir Bernard Braine

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give us the delight of making his own bad points in due course. I did not make a bad point. The hon. Gentleman simply has not grasped the fact, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood understands, that alcohol is not, like butter or beans, to be traded over a grocery counter, but a potent drug. As such, it has always been sold under controlled conditions in this country. If hon. Members want to encourage more responsible drinking habits and to help licensees at the same time, the answer is not to force licensees, often against their better judgment, to apply for more flexible hours for fear of losing business to others in their vicinity, thereby driving up their costs and perhaps making survival impossible for the smaller public houses, but to stop proliferation.

That was the case made by managers when the subject was previously debated in the House. It should be said over and over again that alcohol is a potent drug that gives pleasure to many people, but can also inflict great harm on others. It cannot be treated like any other commodity. The freedom of the market place does not and should not apply in this instance. The answer is to check the proliferation of selling outlets and to outlaw the sale of alcohol save in properly constituted off-licence premises.

Those of us who work in a voluntary or professional capacity in the area of alcohol abuse know that there is an established correlation between increased alcohol consumption and increased alcohol-related harm. One cannot get away from that fact. Therefore, any step that we take to increase the consumption of alcohol will inevitably be accompanied by more harm—not to the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman), who knows how to hold his liquor, but to very many other people. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood paid little attention to that, and completely ignored that fact that the availability of alcohol is the key to appalling health problems in Britain. Today, people are drinking double what they drank 30 years ago.

Price is a factor, along with the length of opening hours and the contribution made by supermarkets. Today, alcohol is cheaper in terms of disposable income than it was 30 years ago. It is not all that surprising that, as a result, consumption has leapt up and so has health harm. In 1979 two devastating reports on the subject were published: one by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the other by the Government's Think Tank, which set out the facts but was supressed. The first report was ignored and the second was suppressed. I know about the second report because it was leaked and published in Sweden. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) will testify to that—[Laughter.] Hon. Members need not laugh, because my hon. Friend was an ally of mine in a series of debates, he knows about these things, and it would be impossible to find a more doughty and faithful warrior.

That leak was as strong an argument for a freedom of information Act as I have ever come across. But against this the brewing and distilling interests have pushed the argument that the greater flexibility of licensing laws in Scotland has not been followed by greater harm. Admittedly, much of the evidence is ambiguous For example, it would seem that in 1977, immediately following the introduction of the extra permitted hour in Scotland, there was a small reduction in the number of drunkenness offences. But the number of such offences was already falling prior to the change. Equally, the. figures for driving offences involving alcohol above the limit in Strathclyde, which covers half the population in Scotland, fell immediately after the change but have since increased to a higher level than in 1977. It is likely that any temporary improvement is due more to the economic recession than to any change in hours. Certainly, during the same period similar improvements also occured in England and Wales. Hon. Members should bear in mind that we are not comparing like with like. Scotland has only one ninth of the population of England and Wales.

What is particularly significant is that extended hours of opening in Scotland appear to have encouraged those already drinking heavily to increase their consumption. That is exactly what one would have expected. That is the sort of statistic to take into account when reaching a conclusion. Some people in Scotland are now drinking more than ever before.

Mr. Hill

My hon. Friend has missed a new aspect that has crept into the licensing trade. There are now many brands of non-alcoholic drinks. My local football manager, Laurie McMenemy, has often been seen on television promoting a non-alcoholic beer. There is a trend in that direction. Indeed, last night, I believe, I saw the "Food and Drink Programme" on the BBC, which showed a whole range of non-alcoholic drinks that could be served during licensing hours, just as alcoholic drinks can be.

Sir Bernard Braine

We might all wish that trend to continue, but the fans who attend football matches do not seem to have yet discovered this delectable non-alcoholic liquor. We must deal with the situation as it is and not as it may be in some distant future, when all the things that I am complaining about have been understood by the population as a whole. Indeed, a start should be made by hon. Members themselves to understand the situation.

The conclusions drawn from the Clayson experiment are based on a careful analysis of the trends in both countries. Their first conclusion is that the sharp fall in drink offences in Scotland in the first year of the Clayson liberalisation merely continued a slightly sharper fall that had taken place in the previous year, and that there was also a fall in the number of offences, although not so spectacular, during both years in England and Wales. Secondly, during the next three years, the number of offences increased in both countries although in Scotland liberalisation was now advancing. Thirdly, in England and Wales, there was a decline in the number of drink offences in 1981 which was somewhat more marked in Scotland than in England. Fourthly, the statistics show either minimal evidence, or none, of a lasting marked improvement in Scotland due to liberalisation. That is the conclusion reached by those who have studied the figures in depth.

My own conclusion is that there is no evidence that leads us to suppose that the introduction of more flexible drinking hours in England and Wales will reduce the massive human and economic costs of alcoholic abuse. On the contrary, it is likely that those costs will increase. The most that can be said in favour of liberalisation is that it will remove a minor inconvenience to the drinking public, including foreign tourists, and that the brewers will gain larger profits.

In my philosophy, there is nothing wrong with convenience or profit. However, I warn that no responsible Government are likely to give either convenience or profit priority over the health of the nation.

10.40 am
Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

I have listened with interest to hon. Members' speeches, which have been so ably made. I regret that I was not present at the beginning of the debate and missed the first quarter of an hour of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward). I gather from the tenor of the speeches that the motion calls for a move towards the liberalisation of licensing laws, modelled on the Scottish example.

I wish to deal with one or two of the appallingly misleading points made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He is a well respected and experienced Member of the House, and his moral crusading in many areas is well known and respected. However, he has depicted an appallingly misleading picture. In effect, he said that, because, tragically, a relatively small number of people are affected by alcohol abuse, millions of decent, law-abiding people should be deprived of drinking in moderation during civilised hours.

I am all in favour of helping any conceivable minority group, but it is an appalling form of moral blackmail to say to the House that because 300,000 people — the figure from the Royal College of Psychiatrists — suffer from some form of serious alcohol abuse, millions of people should be penalised.

I rather resented the slur on north country people. I represent a constituency in Northumberland. It was implied that, because the Government are so incompetent that they have greatly increased unemployment, there is excessive drinking in the north-east. There most certainly is not. The north-east has always drunk well and cart hold its drink. There is far less drunkenness in the north-east than in any other part of the country. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's slur on the north-east, both expressly and by implication, was without foundation.

People with experience of existing licensing laws will agree that the crux of the matter is that the licensing justices, who know their areas, have within the framework of the existing licensing laws already greatly liberalised licensing hours. A few years ago at brewster sessions, contested licensing applications were the order of the day. Now it rarely happens that renewed applications for licences are opposed, provided that the applications are sensible and well prepared in advance.

The hon. Member for Castle Point deplored the display of drinks in supermarkets. He will remember that a few years ago applications for off-licences by supermarkets were always strenuously opposed. It is a relatively new idea that supermarkets should have off-licences. Now there is hardly ever a case where the local branch of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers or individual licensees oppose such applications. It is no exaggeration to say that, provided an application is sensible and well prepared, it goes through almost on the nod if it comes before an experienced licensing bench.

A great liberalisation has taken place within the present framework of the law. Conservative Members have cited examples of licensing justices apparently taking a contrary view. The remedy is to appeal to the Crown court if there

I am in the dilemma that I do not want a free-for-all, but the discretion of licensing justices, wide though it is, does not permit them to obtain the object of the exercise, which is to liberalise licensing laws so that members of the public who can be trusted may have freer and wider access not only to public houses but to off-licences—

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)


Mr. Ryman

I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to make my point, which I think is a jolly good one.

Off-licences have hardly been mentioned during the debate, yet the increase in the number of off-licences is an important factor in the poor performance of some public houses—some of which have had to close because of home drinking.

Mr. Key

I want to help the hon. Gentleman in his dilemma. Does he agree that part of the remedy lies in education? That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward). We are seeking to sell an increasing amount of alcohol without any instructions on the bottles. The role of education in schools on alcohol and other abuses is largely missed.

Mr. Ryman

Of course education is very important, but statistics have been used in this debate rather as a drunk uses a lamp post — for support rather than for illumination. It goes without saying that education is important.

I visited Norway a few weeks ago and was appalled to find that teetotalism had been taken to an absurd degree. One cannot buy any alcoholic beverage in any supermarket other than a few in some of the largest principal towns. One has the greatest difficulty in obtaining a bottle of wine on board a ship or at an airport, and if one does obtain it it is excessivley expensive and most mediocre plonk—even worse than that served by British Rail. I would hate to see that in Britain.

We must be sensible about this matter. We must cater for the reasonable drinking needs of the population, but at the same time try to help those who cannot help themselves. The moral argument put by the hon. Member for Castle Point, with his vast experience, is as absurd as were the moral arguments against betting. Perhaps he was one of those who opposed the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1960 and 1963. At that time people said that to open cash betting shops would be the death of the working classes who would be encourged to bet. If someone wants to bet, he will bet; if he wants to drink, he will drink. It is no business of Parliament to prevent people from enjoying reasonable pleasures because a small minority seek to abuse them. That point cannot be made too often, and having made it I shall not repeat it.

It has been implied that the Government have been too slow in implementing the report of the Erroll committee and other reports that have been produced over the years. I suspect that the reason for that is the vast power of the brewers, who form one of the largest contributors to the funds of the Tory party. They have had enormous influence in the Tory party for years and years and years. The north-east has some of the largest brewers in the country, and they help the Tories day in and day out. They sometimes treat their employees appallingly. They have had bad industrial relations. I strongly suspect that there is a link between the brewers' lobby and the Tory party, which influences the Government.

People may ask me why the Labour Government did not do something about the matter. I can only say that Labour Governments, especially the last Labour Government, have been deficient in many ways.

I support a sensible move for reform of the licensing laws that is based on common sense and judgment. I deplore the emotional and hysterical appeals of those who are obsessed with teetotalism and spoiling the fun of others. I deplore the attacks that have been made on the north-east and I urge the Minister to assist us when he replies and sets out the Government's reaction to the views which have been expressed in the debate.

Does the Minister agree that it is a terrible waste of police manpower to enforce the existing licensing laws in their restrictive form? A great deal of police manpower must be spent, and rightly so as the law stands, in enforcing conditions of licenses and ensuring that the licensing laws are observed.

Statistics have been hurled around the Chamber about offences involving drunkenness. Are not these statistics misleading? Offences of drunkenness have been used by hon. Members to support their cases but there are cases of domestic violence in which drink is a contributory factor. There are many drink-related offences to be considered before we reach the issue of drunkenness offences. That is a somewhat misleading topic. Can the Minister give the House the Home Office statistics on drunk and disorderly offences, motor car offences and offences connected with violence and dishonesty where it has been shown that drink was a strong contributory factor.

It is the easiest thing in the world for a man who has been caught redhanded committing a serious offence to say, by way of mitigation, "I was affected by drink." That is a lot of nonsense and is no mitigation. However, there are some serious cases in which drink has played a significant part. I do not know whether the Minister can help us by producing Home Office statistics of that nature. They may not be available and they would certainly be difficult to collate.

Is a pattern emerging from licensing justices in different areas using their discretion to allow greater flexibility in licensing hours? It is possible only to state one's constituency experience or knowledge of an area with which one has contact, but does the Home Office have an overall picture of licensing justices' decisions on the flexibility of licensing hours throughout the country? I do not know whether the Home Office keeps such statistics. It would be interesting to know also how many of these decisions have been varied on appeal to the Crown court by circuit judges hearing licensing appeals. It is my impression that there are fewer and fewer contested licensing cases and fewer and fewer licensing cases going to appeal either to the Crown court or the Divisional court. I do not know whether the Minister can help us on that.

This has been a good debate so far and a good deal of emotion has already been injected into it. I suggest respectfully that if we take a cool, sensible and reasonable view of the problem, we shall see that the cry for reform of the licensing laws is strong and the evidence in support of it overwhelming.

10.55 am
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) for raising the important issue of licensing laws. I regret that there are not more hon. Members present. An important subject is before us and it is one which is increasingly engaging the time of hon. Members as various representations are put before them.

Before advancing my main argument, I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). As the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) said, my hon. Friend threw statistics around like confetti. He was short on giving us the source of his statistics, with the exception of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He quoted from a report of the Royal College which was published five years ago. He referred to Scottish figures which I suspect are the same ones as I heard for 1975, two years before Clayson was implemented.

Ten days ago, after some unseemly behaviour in the Chamber by certain hon. Members, Mr. Speaker had to announce in a firm tone "This House is now adjourned." There is probably only one more evocative way of bringing proceedings to a close, and that is the universal cry of licensees throughout the country twice daily of "Time gentlemen, please."

It has been my duty for about 15 years to enforce that twice daily adjournment in the public house of which I have been the licensee and of which I still am licensee. I shall make my position clear to the House at the risk of boring my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who already knows of my interest in this matter. I am the managing director of my family's licensed trade company. The company operates seven public houses in the London area and is a multiple tenant of various brewers. I am in this role a joint licensee with the managers of the seven public houses. I ran a large and busy pub as manager for four years. My interest in today's debate is thus both expert, or at least experienced, and vested. I make no apology for that, because I believe that I bring a rare if not unique background to the House. It is appropriate that I should share my experience with colleagues.

I have called time to my customers on countless occasions, and I still do from time to time. I have called time, not because I judged that there was no further commercial advantage in staying open, nor yet because my customers had had a sufficiency of my hospitality. I have terminated the proceedings because the law demanded it and because my licence from the justices stipulated the hours during which I could open the pub. Broadly, the licences stipulate almost the same permitted hours throughout the country, although not, as we have heard, throughout Scotland. Unless a special hours certificate is in force—that usually means that there is a food and/or music operation — the same opening hours apply irrespective of whether the pub is situated in an urban non-residential area, a residential suburb, a village, a commuter dormitory, a commercial centre such as the City of London where almost no one lives, or a highly seasonal resort on the coast. There is a half-hour variation between some metropolitan areas and the country surrounding them. However, that is almost irrelevant.

The permitted hours owe nothing to trading conditions in the immediate environment of a pub and they make no concession to appropriateness. They owe everything to a law which dates from the desperate days of the first world war, when munition workers were inclined to lift their right arm rather too enthusiastically, to the detriment of their shell-filling duties. With minor amendment in 1961 and 1964, we still suffer the penance which was inflicted on our grandparents in the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1915. Seventy years on we endure some of the most rigorous controls on drinking anywhere outside Moslem countries. Our permitted drinking hours are inappropriate to trading conditions and they are anachronistic in the fourth quarter of the century.

A further concern is that the law on permitted hours is falling into some disrepute due to this anachronism and lack of local sensitivity. A minority of licensees. but not an insignificant one, feel themselves threatened by a lack of competitiveness with other retail outlets and extend their permitted hours on what might be called an unofficial basis. The police have more pressing duties to perform, and some licensees get away with a malpractice which is dictated by economic circumstances and the desires of their customers, but a malpractice which devalues the law as it stands.

Recession has hit the licensed trade hard during the past few years. While colleagues may view publicans pleading poverty with some cynicism, it is true that there is an increasing and worrying number of bankruptcies in the licensed trade. In the light of that trend, and recognising the inappropriateness of the law in the matter of permitted hours, the major trade interests represented by the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, the National Association of Licensed House Managers, the British Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers Association and the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, together with other trade-related associations, consumer interests, the tourist boards and many other people interested in the matter, have come together to form a new national committee called FLAG—the Flexi-Law Action Group. It has a simple and modest aspiration — to urge and encourage reform of the law on permitted hours to allow a degree of flexibility so that licensees, in conjunction with their licensing bench, may choose opening hours appropriate to an individual pub from a wider span of available hours.

I have been pleased to be associated with that new national committee, because I share its aspirations. At present, individual participants in FLAG are considering their preferred options for reform. It is not true to say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point suggested, that all licensed house managers are against reform. They are a party to this campaign, and they want to be represented in any solution that is presented to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We hope that they will be able to put forward a sensible and long-overdue reform in Government time. The irony is that we seek to obtain no more than our Scottish trade counterparts already enjoy, for the reforms that followed the report of Dr. Clayson offer a sensible pattern for English law reform to follow.

The English equivalent of Clayson — the Erroll committee — reported almost a dozen years ago. It suggested a comprehensive reform embracing a wide and contentious range of issues, including the issues of children in public houses and the reduction of the drinking age. Those issues are not put forward at the moment. The Erroll report must, by now, be covered with a mountain of dust, and I for one am not seeking to blow that dust away. I hope for a simple and modest change in permitted hours. It will no longer do for the Home Office to sit on the fence, weighing the competing enthusiasm of the tourist lobby against the lack of enthusiasm of the alcohol abuse/temperance lobby.

It was astonishing to me to note that, earlier this year at a major meeting initiated by the British Institute of Innkeeping—it was a learned meeting, during which six speakers talked on the subject of reform—the champion of the temperance movement, the Rev. Bernard Kinman, cited statistics which were pre-Clayson as though they represented the present position in Scotland. That will not do. It was interesting to note also that at that same meeting two chief constables, including the chief constable from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, were not against reform on a sensible basis. They suggested that a wider span of closing times would do away with that awful period at 11 o'clock each evening when the evening's entertainment of so many people comes to an end and a bulge on the roads occurs inevitably leading to more accidents. We have seen a considerable thrust from the tourist interests. I pay tribute to Michael Montague, who was the chairman of the English Tourist Board, for his unceasing work to bring about change.

It is now almost a year since my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and I enjoyed a debate in this Chamber at about 7 am to discuss licensing hours. We both decided that we did not want to go to the pubs around Smithfield market to enjoy an early morning libation. My hon. Friend said at that time that his Department was awaiting a review of the Scottish scheme during 1984. The year 1984 is nearly over, and the licensed trade of which I am proud to be a member anxiously awaits the results of the survey of the Scottish scheme.

We believe that the time for action has arrived. The Home Office must confront the problem of permitted hours and introduce a sensible reform in keeping with our much changed way of life. Many hopes rest on that aspiration, and it is no exaggeration to say that the prospects for the traditional British pub — my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point was quick to praise the British pub as a controlled environment for drinking—would be much enhanced by the realisation of a sensible reform.

11.5 am

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

It is a particular pleasure to address the House on St. Andrew's day, as I am a graduate of the distinguished university of St. Andrews. Having spent seven years in Scotland—five of them at that university — my experience of Scottish licensing laws, both before and immediately after reform, is great.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) rightly referred to the fact that our licensing laws are based on legislation that is nearly 70 years old — the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act 1915, which is known to its friends as DORA, and DORA has few friends. It is almost unbelievable in this day and age that one of the favourite pastimes of the British—having a quiet pint in a pub—is controlled by conditions laid down to control the drinking of munitions workers during the first world war. Surely it is time for a change.

When I first went up to university in St. Andrews, I arrived on a Sunday evening. I thought it was extraordinary that I could go into a hotel to have a drink but could not go into a pub. The only difference between a hotel and a pub was that a hotel had to have two bedrooms available for letting. In most cases, they were virtually never let—that was just a way around the law. Nor were those restrictions associated with restraint in the consumption of alcohol or less drink-associated crime. Not unnaturally, the restriction on the number of premises and drinking hours led to heavy consumption in a short time and in crowded conditions — precisely the worst ingredients for bad behaviour.

I was lucky that the bona fide traveller rule had disappeared by the time I went to the university. In the days before then, a person had to travel more than five miles on a Sunday to get a drink. That led to whole towns leaving their homes and going to the next town. St. Andrews is nine miles from Cupar, so the population of St. Andrews went to Cupar and vice versa. Hon. Members can imagine the number of head-on accidents on the road in between.

That was the background to the 1970 Clayson and 1972 Erroll reports on the desirability of change. With uncharacteristic speed of action by Ministers, and probably because of the poor image of Scottish pubs, the Licensing (Scotland) Bill was introduced in 1976. During its passage all the usual arguments were trotted out—that there was no public demand for longer or different drinking hours, that drink in itself was wrong and should not be encouraged, that an afternoon break was essential to prevent continuous drinking, that strict limits were necessary to prevent people from driving while under the influence of alcohol, that family life would suffer, and so on. This is the rub of the statistics cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).

It is not that the statistics have proved that there has been an overwhelming improvement in behaviour in Scotland since the change. We must wait and see what the lessons are. We can say, however, that the dire predictions by many of the opponents of change have not been borne out. There has been no drastic worsening of many of those aspects of the Scots' behaviour. Eight years on, we can start to draw firm conclusions about the validity of the arguments and, therefore, about whether the citizens of England and Wales, the licensees who serve them and the tourists who are not as disposed as the native English to our archaic practices should enjoy the same rights and duties as the Scots.

The Scottish Home and Health Department published the evidence of a survey by Knight and Wilson into behavioural patterns in Scotland. The conclusions are clear. There is no evidence to support any of the arguments that were put forward in 1976. Quite the reverse. My noble Friend Lord Glenarthur, replying to a debate on pub hours on 9 May 1983, said: Provisional assessments based on surveys carried out in 1976, 1977 and 1978 would seem to suggest that the consumption of alcohol has not been significantly affected by this extension of hours and that those drinking do so at a more leisurely pace." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 May 1983; Vol. 442, c. 411.] Statistical data on drink-related offences show that recent trends are of a decrease in drunkenness offences, and that between 1972 and 1982 there has been little variation in offences of drinking and driving, which was a matter raised by the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman). However, the statistics do not separately identify offences occuring during or immediately following permitted or extended hours.

In reply to a question of 30 November 1983 from my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), said: In Scotland since 1976 the upward trend in alcohol-related diseases has slowed; drunkenness offences have decreased; and drunk driving offences show a slower rate of increase than for motoring offences overall. I cannot, however, say to what extent these changes may result from the provisions of the 1976 Act because of the many variables affecting the relevant statistics." —[Official Report, 30 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 517.] Unemployment is one such variable, but there are many others.

The liberalisation of the laws has civilised drinking behaviour, yet in England, despite a history in most parts of the country of fewer problems than in Scotland, we still have DORA. It must be right to extend to our fellow countrymen the rights enjoyed by the Scots. It is important, for several reasons. In March this year the English Tourist Board determined that a change in the law would be beneficial to tourism. To a European tourist at Windsor, perhaps sitting beside the river on a sunny summer day, it seems absurd to have to leave the pub garden at 2.40 pm. The law should be changed. In fairness to pub landlords, they must endure different privileges for the competition with the different arrangements for clubs and the notorious "substantial meal" loophole.

Hon. Members will be aware that hardened drinkers can drink for 24 hours a day, every day, all year, if they live. The present law bites only on those who wish to behave within the law. We must put responsibility back where it should be, with the licensees and with customers. As the Rev. George Thompson Brake, the director of the Christian Economic and Social Foundation, said, we must preserve the place of the public house as the most favourable controlled environment for the consumption of alcohol.

The time is long since past for taking action on this. I deplore the tardy response of the Home Office, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will say that action is being speeded and that we can look forward to legislation in due course.

11.13 am
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) on bringing this matter before the House, but I am sad that he chose to cast the motion in the terms that he did. The motion relates to the narrow issue of licensing hours, but his speech rightly and very well—

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has said is not the case. The motion calls attention to the licensing laws, and is not restricted to licensing hours.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is a difference between the title of the motion and the opening speech on it, but not one of any significance.

Mr. Soley

It is a minor point. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to interpret it in that way, we need not lose any sleep over the fact.

It is sad that the motion is not wider, because the hon. Member for Kingswood spoke well to the wider issue, which is the recognition that there is an alcohol problem in society. If we do not face that and simply tamper with odd bits of the law here and there without having an alcohol policy, we risk the social, economic and psychological consequences of that behaviour. The alteration of licensing laws and the availability of alcohol is always popular, but dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse is deeply unpopular. That must be said clearly, and, to his credit, the hon. Member for Kingswood mentioned it.

As the hon. Member for Kingswood said, alcohol is a powerful drug which affects the parts of the central nervous system which control social behaviour. The social behaviour that develops after the intake of alcohol can have a dramatic impact on others. Instead of examining the statistics, one could ask police officers when is their busiest time, and their answer would be "After pub closing time, especially on Fridays and Saturdays." They also suffer the most violent attacks upon them at those limes. If one examines Home Office figures to discover the victims of crime, one finds that it is not the little old lady or gentleman being beaten up by thugs in the street who is most at risk. The person most at risk is the single young male who is on the streets late at night at the weekend. He may or may not have been drinking, but he is at risk largely because of alcohol abuse.

The figures are difficult to interpret with certainty, but there is strong evidence that between 50 and 75 per cent. of those who appear before magistrates' courts in inner city areas had been drinking before they committed the offences. What is even more disturbing, and something that we must address in this debate, is that 50 per cent. of people who commit homicide are under the influence of drink, as are 50 per cent. of victims. The figures are hard to quantify, but it appears that in 50 to 75 per cent. of battered baby cases one or both parents were under the influence of drink.

Drunken driving is a recognised problem now, but it was not recognised as a problem before it began to be emphasised that drinking and driving was lethal to others who may or may not have been drinking. When one considers the figures in detail, one discovers that not only drunken drivers but drunken pedestrians are at risk. The number of people who attend hospital as a result of drinking and using the roads is dramatically high. Heavy drinking has a serious effect on family life. It also affects the National Health Service. When we talk about alcohol-related problems and the NHS, people usually think of alcoholics being admitted to hospital with cirrhosis of the liver or delerium tremens—something dramatic—but the disorders are often less serious. Recent research at one hospital—I do not draw general conclusions from it—showed that seven out of 10 NHS beds were occupied by people who, although not admitted for problems directly related to alcohol abuse, had worse health because of alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking also affects people's work.

I have considerable sympathy with some of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman). It is not only the heavy drinkers themselves who suffer. The classic alcoholic or the dosser who drifts round the streets represents only about 5 per cent. of the problem. It is estimated that up to 1 million people are directly affected with health, psychological and work problems. More importantly, the members of their families, their friends and the people who use the roads when they are under the influence of drink are also affected.

I want to put the matter in perspective. The message from the Labour party is that we are not against altering the licensing laws, but we believe that tampering with them, as only one aspect of the wider issue, will invite problems.

It is said that we do not know what the statistics mean, so we should just change the law. The problem is that we would then risk drifting between the two extremes, which is what we have done for most of this century. At the turn of the century, there was a sudden fear about gin palaces and the fact that munitions used in the first world war might not explode because the workers making them were drunk. We rushed in with a law which was probably not debated as much as we would debate it today. That law has been renewed since then, but there is now pressure for liberalisation. If we liberalise the laws, we shall only need a dramatic increase in the drink problem and we shall rush back to the old situation. Nothing could be worse than staggering from one extreme to the other.

There are anomalies in the drink laws. A drunk person can buy drink at a supermarket, but not in a public house. The licensee of a public house has much greater responsibility. If we are talking about changing the laws, we ought to consider that aspect. Licensees have been prosecuted for serving drunken customers. Should we impose a duty on supermarket employees not to sell drink to drunken customers?

People who are under age can sell drinks in supermarkets. That fact has not been mentioned in the debate, and such problems must be considered. The whole issue must be viewed in context.

The hon. Member for Kingswood seemed to base his argument on the view that there should be general availability of drink and that we ought to educate people to ensure the sensible use of alcohol. In an ideal world that would be marvellous, but the guts of the matter is that if we extend that logic we say that all drugs should be available for use and people should be educated about their dangers. For example, I would argue that there is strong evidence that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or even tobacco. However, that does not lead me to the conclusion that we should therefore encourage the use of cannabis. Less harmful does not mean harmless.

The essential point is that, if we rely only on education when dealing with drugs or anything else which society has always licensed in one form or another—through clear laws or unwritten rules—there will be abuse which will hurt people who do not use those drugs. We must recognise the importance of not tampering with one part of the legislation on alcohol availability.

The brewers have a vested interest in the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley said that the brewers are one of the main payers of the Tory party. They are, and they always have been, and they put pressure on the Tory party. A previous junior Minister experienced that pressure when he began to interfere too much in alcohol licensing and tobacco advertising.

The brewers and distillers have an interest in selling alcohol. I am not against the use of alcohol, but society must regulate the use of a powerful drug. If we do not, we shall open ourselves up to all sorts of problems.

My message to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) is that I have much sympathy for the NULV and the licensed house managers, but if they spent more time talking about the consequences of alcohol abuse instead of primarily about the hours of opening, they would win many more friends and carry much more weight.

The brewers, the distillers and other organisations have given charitable grants to some of the agencies which are trying to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse. The brewers say that alcohol abuse is a terrible thing, but their arguments do not sound convincing because they seek to increase the availability of alcohol and increase their sales. They have an interest in doing that. I do not crib about that interest. But when they present the argument in that way it is intensely damaging even to those who want to encourage social and proper drinking.

Mr. Couchman

The hon. Gentleman is equating a call for flexibility in opening hours with a call for longer hours. The call from the trade is for more appropriate hours. It is not a question of expecting to sell more drink. The trade wants to be able to tailor its overheads and ensure that licensed premises are not open for long hours with no customers and then have to turn customers out at the very time when they would like to continue drinking.

Mr. Soley

I understand that, but the hon. Gentleman forgets that he and others who support his view have presented the argument in terms of the problem for licensees and people who want to drink. He has ignored the rest of the problem. That is what I am trying to say to the hon. Gentleman, the brewers, the distillers and the other groups involved.

I know that people who work in public houses do not want to work longer hours. About 20 years ago I worked in a public house as a barman, and I know that the hours are appalling, and the wages are often appalling. Many tenants are not as well off as they are made out to be. Some are well off, but others occupy public houses that are on the margin of profitability and they can find themselves out on the street, with no accommodation, when the pub closes. There are many problems for staff and owners of public houses. I should be happier if the NULV recognised that the interests of the staff—working hours, income, security of accommodation and so on—are grossly underestimated. If the hon. Member for Gillingham is the tenant of seven pubs, he must recognise that it is difficult to get movement in that area. I have just written to the Brewers Society on the matter, and I hope to get some reaction from the society.

If the brewers are serious when they express their worries, let them join the campaign to get the Think Tank report debated. The report was published in Sweden; one of the daft aspects of our secrecy laws is that we can buy a copy of the report in Sweden, but not here. If brewers want a debate about the opening hours of pubs, let us have one of the documents that discuss the availability of alcohol. Everyone, including the Prime Minister, who wrote to me at the time, recognises that that Think Tank report is an extremely important document. Let us hear the brewers say, "We want the Think Tank report debated so that we can demonstrate the case for different licensing hours." There is a case for changing licensing hours, but want such action to be part of a wider policy.

The present law was introduced during the first world war. It was reviewed and modified in 1921, 1953 and 1961. The consolidation Act was passed in 1964 and in recent years there have been at least two private Members' Bills on the subject.

A great deal has been made of the Scottish case. I lived in Scotland for many years, and anyone who goes there has a civilising experience. As they were, the drinking hours were bizarre and had all the worst ambiguities. On Sundays one could drink in a hotel if one was travelling between two points which were more than three miles apart. We would all go to the same hotel every week, and the same comments would be written into the entry log in the hotel foyer, such as, "Travelling from Edinburgh to Lauder." The same people were doing the same trip every week. Of course, they were all drinking and driving. It was the worst possible law. The Australian system was the 5 o'clock swill, when people had one hour to drink as much as they could. There are many such anomalies.

The Scottish law particularly needed changing. That is recognised, but the argument about statistics troubles me. The hon. Member for Kingswood said that statistics could prove anything. It may not be realised why the Conservative party gets away with so much appalling advertising about what it has achieved. It is obvious that it does not believe in using statistics properly. I have a great respect for statistics, in both the pure and social sciences. At best they can help to prove a case strongly, and at worst they can be strongly indicative. We would not know about the link between cancer and smoking if it were not for statistics. We would not know about a whole lot of other factors if it were not for statistics, so they are important.

The trouble with the Scottish case is that there has not been a long-term detailed analysis of what is happening there, taking into account other variables and comparisons with other places, such as England. The good old Scottish principle in the common law of Scotland says that the case is not proven. The only thing that one can safely say is that some of the figures have gone up and others have gone down. Cirrhosis of the liver has increased by about 3 per cent. Drunkenness and drink-driving offences seem either to have gone down or gone up more slowly than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The figures do not lead one to a convincing conclusion right now, but that does not mean to say that we cannot get those figures.

The other problem in Scotland is that when people were trying to check on drink-driving and other drink offences the police were operating an overtime ban, there were changes in the prosecuting process for the police and the courts had an industrial dispute, all of which affected the figures. I would not say that this was responsible for turning the figures round, but most important of all were the effects of the depression, and in 1981 there was an increase in the tax on alcohol. That had a dramatic impact. The one statistic from around the world that stands out is that the greater the availability, the more the social problems. That one statistic holds up well in almost any analysis anywhere in the world, regardless of cultural differences.

Mr. Hayward

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that there is a need for a considered assessment of the statistics, particularly given the fact that there are and have been so many variables from 1977 onwards. Does he agree that the results of the analysis of the statistics, given careful consideration of all those variables, will be ready not in 1985 or 1986, but in 1990 or 1991?

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) for giving way. I am following his speech closely and agree with practically everything that he has said. However, on the subject of the experience in Scotland, the conclusions that I drew were not my personal conclusions, but came from the board of social responsibility of the Church of Scotland. It is true that it is almost impossible to draw a valid conclusion from the figures. That leads me to believe that it is utterly wrong and far too early to base any case for tampering with the licensing laws in England and Wales on that experience. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Mr. Soley

I am arguing for a much wider review of the problem of alcohol policy. In fact, I do not think that we need any more reviews. We have probably had enough. We need the evolution and development of a national alcohol policy—

Sir Bernard Braine

indicated assent.

Mr. Soley

I notice that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that.

When I lived in Glasgow, in certain areas pubs were not allowed. If one did a survey in those areas the people said, "We do not want any pubs here. We have enough problems with drunks already." The problem in Glasgow was that men drank, got smashed out of their minds, went to where they lived and smashed up telephone kiosks, their wives or whatever. If one could encourage social drinking, that would be a good thing.

Some other aspects of the Scottish situation have not been taken into account by some hon. Members. One of the things that was supposed to happen in Scotland was an increase in family rooms, but there has been only a small increase. In other words, little has been done to encourage the social drinking that many people talk about when they make comparisons, as the hon. Member for Kingswood did, with France and other countries. The evidence is that there has just been more of the same. That is the problem.

The other encouraging thing in Scotland resulted from the Criminal Justice Act 1982, of which the Minister will be aware. It imposed restrictions on the provision of alcohol at football grounds and on transport to football grounds. Therefore, we are not just talking about licensing hours and licensing laws in the limited way that they have been discussed today. To be fair, they have been discussed much more widely, but the motion is narrower, which is what troubles me.

I should like to emphasise this central point about international data. All the evidence is that availability and harm are linked. That is what we need to take into account when we develop an alcohol policy. Since 1961 there has been an almost unfettered growth of alcohol sales. Every day we spend about £30 million on alcohol, which is more than we spend on cars or clothes. In the last 10 years, 27,700 new licences have been issued, most to high street outlets. There has been a doubling of consumption since about 1964. Guinness recently—perhaps rather significantly—purchased 550 newsagents. We must assume that Guinness will use them as an outlet for alcohol sales. I cannot see why else Guinness has suddenly developed a fascination for selling newspapers. It does not fit in with its other activities. Alcohol can be purchased readily at petrol stations. Manufacturers spend £150 million to £180 million per annum on advertising, with about another £5 million towards promotion in sport. All those things need to be taken into account.

At the other end of the scale, one can say, "Let this happen," as the hon. Member for Kingswood said, "Let things take their normal course and we shall do what we can for education." What have we done in education? I was chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre for several years. Four groups were operating in that area. Before that I was a probation officer, working frequently with alcoholics. We were constantly struggling to get funds to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse.

This year the Health Education Council can spend £250,000 on education, compared with the £150 million to £180 million spent on advertising alone. What sort of sense is that? It has been suggested that instructions be put on bottles. I have never noticed anyone having any difficulty in opening a bottle. Perhaps there are problems. A notice saying, "Harmful drinking can damage your health," would not be what one would call a proper education programme.

Alcohol Concern, which took over from the other bodies, including my own—the Alcohol Education Centre—has been given a grant of £350,000. The total grant for the other organisations from which it took over was £450,000, so there has been a drop of £100,000 a year. If one takes inflation into account, the organisation should now receive £550,000. Therefore, in real terms, it is getting £200,000 less than it should—and we talk about education. What nonsense. We do not have an alcohol policy. The Government do not have an alcohol policy. It is time that we started thinking in those terms.

The aim of any alcohol policy by any Government should be to reduce the scale of alcohol-related problems, which now affect between 750,000 and 1 million people. I hope that the Minister will give his view on that today. According to The Guardian yesterday, his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), told a British Medical Association conference on alcoholism: `'We would like you to tackle the problem urgently because there is no way we can tackle the problem centrally.' If the Minister agrees with that and takes that course, there will be still more problems, because we shall continue to drift. There must be some central direction. Although I would not agree with everything that was said at that conference, I entirely support the doctor who said that it was no use preaching at doctors and telling them to do more, when the Government controlled availability.

When I was chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre, our aim was not to educate the general public, which was a job for the health education office, but to educate people working with the problems of alcohol abuse. We provided training for probation officers, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and so on. Too little of that education takes place even now and Alcohol Concern, which has taken over that function, will not be able to do all that the Alcohol Education Centre was doing. We were beginning to educate prison officers, who also have to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. We were also working with the trade unions, because their link with industry is so important. If they could achieve a common alcohol policy in their companies, a great deal of progress could be made.

The Think Tank reported that the cost of the problem in this country was £1,000 million per annum. Yet only £350,000 is given to the Alcohol Concern. When licensed premises were closed down at the turn of the century, a fund was established to compensate the people involved. The £4 million in that fund was handed over to the Alcohol Education and Research Council a year or two ago. Let us not pursue that course again. Let us not set up new funds and close down outlets again only to reverse the policy in 20 years' time. Let us develop a proper alcohol policy.

We must recognise that any Government, whatever their political complexion, have a vested interest in alcohol. The £4,722 million in tax revenue is not the only factor. Another important aspect is employment. It is often said-and in principle I support the argument—that if a Third world country such as Pakistan is producing more and more opium we should help the farmers who depend on the opium crop to develop alternative crops, but that argument becomes highly dubious if we do not recognise that we do the same in reverse and that the problems of many Third world countries are made even worse by our massive exports of Scotch whisky. Clamping down on that, however, would create unemployment in the glens of Scotland, where the whisky industry is often the only employer. The United Kingdom is not yet a Third world country, although the Government are working on the problem and seem likely to achieve that result if they continue on their present course, but a Third world country in the same position would be seeking aid to provide alternative employment in the drink-producing areas.

That is a serious analogy, because alcohol is a drug. I have worked with both alcohol and heroin addicts and I know that it is as difficult, if not more difficult, to get an alcohol addict off alcohol as to get a heroin addict off heroin. Unless the hon. Member for Gillingham and his associates address themselves to that problem and show in their public statements that they are concerned about it and want to do something about it, his voice will not carry much weight. The people on the receiving end of the problem—friends, relatives and others who are drawn into the situation, social workers, psychiatrists, and so on—will not be impressed by an argument which ignores those crucial issues.

I do not put that to the hon. Gentleman in an offensive way, but I hope that he will discuss it with his associates. Many bodies, such as the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, recognise that aspect and we need to build on that recognition. No one here is suggesting closing all the pubs and banning all alcohol. That would be offensive to most of us, because we recognise that alcohol is a socially accepted drug and we cannot change that. That being so, however, we must live with the consequences.

The Opposition argue strongly that this country needs, and has needed for some time, a policy on alcohol. There have been a number of reports, but there is still no policy. We must begin to develop that policy, especially at Government level, as a Government lead is clearly necessary. When we have done that, we shall have a proper context in which to consider the anomalies in our licensing laws.

11.45 am
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I welcome the thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) on behalf of the Labour party, although I could not help observing that he was not especially well supported by his party in the Chamber today. But for the arrival of his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), which increased Opposition representation by at least 100 per cent., many of the hon. Gentleman's words might have been unnecessarily lost. I note that there is no representation at all from any of the other Opposition parties despite the importance of the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) on his contribution to this subject. He has been hammering away and I am almost certain that in the end he will hammer successfully. I welcome his contribution as a most worthy hammer.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith made an important contribution in making us face squarely the lack of an overall policy on alcoholism. He made a thought-provoking speech. Today, however, we are considering not whether society should legislate to control a dangerous drug but how best to do so. In that regard, the hon. Gentleman began by reminding us that the closing hour in public houses was probably the single greatest contributory factor to crime. That focuses our attention on the whole subject of licensing hours and the need for some flexibility.

My interest in licensing, which may be known to the House, is perhaps related to the fact that I have the honour and privilege to represent the brewing centre of England. If the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) were here, I should assure him that the brewers in my constituency pay not the lowest but the highest wages to their employees, and enjoy not the worst but the best industrial relations. I have not noticed any large contribution from the brewers to the funds of the Burton Conservative association, although I do not deny that brewers, like any other group of business men interested in the economic success of the country, make contributions to Conservative party funds.

Although I am by no means the brewers' man and consider that I represent everyone in the town, I have been impressed by the responsibility, described by the hon. Member for Hammersmith as so necessary, shown by the brewing industry—managers, entrepreneurs and industrialists—in my constituency. When I first entered the House in February 1974, we had no experience of what greater flexibility in licensing hours would mean. It was said that it would harm the nation's health and that if we provided an opportunity for people to drink more, there would be more drunkenness. It was said that we would walk the streets of Westminster, especially late at night, and find even more people reeling in the gutter. It was said that there would be enormous pressure on the police and that there would be an increase in disorder and crime. Those of us who favoured more flexible hours must have thought if we were being completely honest with ourselves that, although there were no figures and we had no experience to substantiate such theories, these things were possible.

The argument in 1974 was concentrated on what the social and economic good might be, and on considerations about freedom. Those of us who favoured increased flexibility were pretty mute about the effects of drunkenness and disorder. Before I represented the brewing centre of England, I had some experience at the Bar of licensing practice. Few of us who practised there were unaware of the fact that the rules of licensing were unfair and in some circumstances absurd, and that therefore reform was a lively issue.

Matters are different now. We have more evidence of the economic and social benefits and we have evidence of a substantial reduction in drunkenness and lawlessness in Scotland. The gloomsters, the doomsters, the killjoys and the dead-handers cannot brush off the Scottish experience. It is true that there is a recession in Scotland, but there has been a recession in England and Wales as well. It is also true that there might have been some changes in prosecution policy and that there might have been some hold-up in the courts. One could give other explanations for the reduction. No doubt these matters are being worked over carefully by the Government in their consideration of various reports, but the figures in Scotland are shattering.

We are not considering a marginal reduction of a few per cent. here or there, with margins for error or other explanations. I should like to draw the House's attention to those figures. There has been a reduction of 41 per cent. in drunkenness-linked offences in Scotland, when there has been a 9 per cent. reduction in such offences in England and Wales. Whereas, in 1979, 506 people under 18 in Scotland were charged with drunkenness, in 1983 that number had fallen to 274. The figures were 1,205 in 1979 and 600 in 1983 for those aged 18 and less than 21; 1,635 in 1979 and 1,082 in 1983 for those aged 21 and less than 30; and 8,941 in 1979 and 5,283 in 1983 for those aged between 30 and less than 60. The total of 13,628 has been reduced to 8,080 in Scotland, as opposed to a reduction in England and Wales of 117,813 in 1979 to 107,625 in 1983. Those figures cannot be brushed away by consideration of other factors.

Those who do not want flexibility in any form will say, as they have today, that we must wait and see and not take precipitate action. They say that we must not hurry along the path along which we have been hurrying so desperately for so long. Social responsibility councils are important and I do not wish for a moment to demean or diminish what they report, but they are not in favour of flexibility and we do not expect them to say that, even before the Government are fully satisfied, we should increase flexibility. However, we expect the brewers to ask for more flexibility. We expect the British Tourist Authority, the London Tourist Board, the licensees in Scotland, England and Wales who are represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham, (Mr. Couchman), the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and the National Association of Licensed House Managers to want some action.

But the people also want some action and they are not just the people in Scotland who have shown that they are satisfied with the change in the law there. The incidence of criminality and of drunkenness has abated so substantially that, even now, chief constables and senior police officers throughout the country think that the time has come for changes in the licensing law. I should like to refer to just three of them. It has already been said that the chief constable for Essex has shown his inclination by saying that the permitted hours certainly want bringing closer to modern times". The chief constable of Warwickshire has said: I think it is a pity that successive governments have not found time to enact some of the very sensible recommendations of the Erroll Commission. The deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire has said: "our licensing laws are out of date…on the Continent you do not see the local people drunk but you will see a lot of British drunk". It is clear that, when the police and the responsible leaders of the police say that the time has come for some mitigation of the restrictive laws of licensing, it is time for the Government seriously to examine the matter with some dispatch.

Mr. Hayward

Might I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to the fact that, in consultations that I have had in the past few days, I have been told that it could be argued that licensing laws should extend well past midnight for some communities which are known to operate shebeens and that it would be better for them to come within the parameters of licensing laws?

Mr. Lawrence

As my hon. Friend has made a sensible, moderate and restrained speech, it is not surprising that he has made another point which strengthens the argument for reasonable and controlled change and improvement.

I should like to deal with some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member, for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He began by asking for objectivity and reasonableness. Perhaps I might preface what I want to say by observing that I have known my hon. Friend for some time. I have regarded him with the greatest admiration from the moment that I walked into this place. He is probably the pre-eminent camnaigner for good causes in the House and an example to everyone. I have been with him through the night as we have debated licensing laws. He says that it is surprising that the Government have not supported change and that there have been no changes in the years that followed. It is not surprising at all. He is the reason for that. Practically single-handed, he has conducted a dedicated campaign against flexibility in our licensing laws.

That fact is reflected in today's debate. Virtually no hon. Member, not even the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), has supported or will support my hon. Friend in his campaign to stop increased flexibility in our licensing laws. Because he has been such a splendid, dogged and persevering campaigner, he has held up the improvements in licensing flexibility which we have frequently advocated. I pay great tribute to him for that, but he should not be surprised that his wonderful campaigning zeal has met with success.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his more than generous tribute. I know that it comes straight from the heart, because we are old friends. He misunderstands me if he thinks that I am opposed to any change in licensing law. The consideration that I put to the House today, as I may well have done on previous occasions, is that, as the consumption of alcohol has doubled, so the total amount of health harm has increased. We are nowhere near the level of health harm of countries whose example we have been invited to emulate, such as France or Germany. But we must consider how far we wish to follow the path of health harm. Do we wish to go half way or the whole way to the level of France, or beyond? Should we not consider carefully the impact that any change, however slight, may have on health and efficiency in society?

Mr. Lawrence

I agree with my hon. Friend, but the Erroll committee and the Clayson committee considered these matters before making their recommendations. I am not as interested as he is in France, Germany or any other country, where the English-style public house simply does not exist and where there are different social circumstances and economies. I am interested in what we have experienced on our doorstep since my hon. Friend and I first joined battle about this matter in 1974. That is why I ask for his objectivity in considering what has happened far closer to us than what is happening on the continent.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that not one hon. Member today who has argued for changes in the licensing laws has argued for our adopting the French or German system? All hon. Members have argued either for the Scottish system or something short of it.

Mr. Lawrence

I accept that point, because it is precisely what has happened. We are able to look, not at the crystal ball, but at the record on our doorstep. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point is not against any form of change or even some flexibility. My criticism is that he seeks to rely on matters which can no longer be relied on. What is happening in France is far less reliable an indicator of what we should do now than what has happened in Scotland.

My hon. Friend also relies on the report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Obviously he is very worried about alcohol abuse and its effect on society, but he cannot rely on reports based on statistics which existed before the changes took place in Scotland. We must be careful when we produce evidence, which seems to substantiate this, that or the other, to ensure that it is up-to-date. I am making a different type of speech from that which I made before the Scottish experience, because I can now refer to that experience.

Although I concede that there are limitations and that we must examine the matter objectively, the Scottish experience is extremely valuable. If we are anxious about alcoholism and its bad effects, there is all the more reason to consider whether there is less alcohol abuse in Scotland, although there may be more drinking, as a result of flexible hours. We should also appreciate, as the hon. Member for Blyth Valley said — this was surprising from the Opposition, although not surprising from the hon. Gentleman, whose independence is well known—that in a free society it is not a totally acceptable argument that moderate, law-abiding and responsible people who form an overwhelming majority should have their freedom restricted because some people abuse freedoms.

That is the important point that has been proven from Scottish statistics. I shall quote more statistics because they are important when one considers crime, criminality, lawlessness and the pressure on the police. In the younger group, those under 21, in which one would expect the worst problems of disorder, there has been a reduction of 49 per cent. in drunkenness-related offences in Scotland compared with a reduction of 12 per cent. in England and Wales. Why is that so, and what has flexibility got to do with it?

There are many possible answers. It may be because the more flexible hours mean that there is not the bunching at 10.30 or 11 pm with people rushing into a pub to drink as much as possible before getting into their cars and going home to meet their wives or Maker. It may be because there is a regime in public houses of less hectic drinking, which is spread over a longer period. The atmosphere in public houses may be more civilised with more women in attendance, and circumstances surrounding drinking may be more civilised and restrained. It may be because public houses serve food so that the effects of alcohol are not so stark on the central nervous system. It may be because the atmosphere is one of mixed social goodwill rather than of aggravation, which sometimes appears in urban pubs, and there is more self-control. Those may be the reasons why flexible hours in Scotland have reduced the number of drinking-related offences. The overwhelming number of Scottish licensees think so, and, as I recall, they were once dubious about the advantages of the proposed change. Scottish people are also overwhelmingly in support of the change.

In addition to the behavioural advantages of flexibility, one third of licensees in Scotland have taken on more staff. There has been an increase of 1,500 people. If that were translated to England, it might mean an increase of 15,000 people in work in public houses. For tourism, if more hoteliers and restaurateurs were able to sell drink on a more flexible basis, the Brewers Society has, modestly, estimated that there would be an increase in employment of about 5,000, and an increase in the number employed for equipment and services. That is not a massive increase in the number of people at work, but it is substantial.

There would also undoubtedly be an improvement of services if public houses could be more economically viable and could spend more time on improving their service to the consumer.

The licensing laws which bind us are old. They are as old as the first world war, since when times have changed. The work patterns of the nation have changed. New industries such as tourism have grown up. There is more emphasis on leisure now, and there will be increasing emphasis on it. The public house is no longer the only leisure outlet. We have brought women more into activity in our society. We have given them equality. We expect them to come drinking with us in a way that was never the pattern in first world war days.

Since there has been such a change in society, let us bring our laws up to date for the 1980s. Let us at least learn from the Scottish lessons not only that greater flexibility of our licensing laws may produce economic and social benefit but, above all, that it may improve the freedom of the nation to choose and to enjoy the kind of life which our people are entitled to enjoy.

12.10 pm
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

When Parliament imposes or has imposed restrictions on the public, those restrictions need justification. I think that we are entitled to ask what is the justification in 1984 for our current licensing laws.

The original restriction on the hours of pub opening was to assist in the country's efforts during the first world war. That justification has long since disappeared, and the only other argument that I have heard today in the House or in the debate outside for retaining our current system of permitted hours is that, if availability is increased and if the licensing hours of public houses are altered, we may be adding to the numbers of those members of the public who suffer with alcohol problems.

It is in that area that we need to examine the argument and see whether it holds water, and I make two points which have not been mentioned so far. The first is that, as I understand it, the advocates of change are not necessarily seeking to obtain an increase in the permitted hours in terms of the number of hours in the day. They are seeking to see that the permitted hours are more appropriate, that a public house is not closed when customers want to be served and that a licensee does not have to open at hours when there is no great demand.

The other important point to make is that with a public house one is dealing with a very controlled environment in which alcohol is consumed. For example, it is not possible for anyone in an advanced state of intoxication to be served alcohol in a pub. Landlords refuse to serve customers who are in that state. It is not possible for anyone who is being troublesome, because he is the worse for drink, to remain in a public house. Invariably he will be ejected and, if necessary, the police will be called.

Those who are concerned about alcohol abuse should turn their attention to the matter touched upon by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who spoke of the other alcohol outlets currently in existence. It is strange to hear it argued that we should retain the current permitted hours because of the fear of alcohol abuse, when all that someone who wishes to drink need do as soon as he is refused drink in a pub, either because the landlord has called time or because he deems that that person should not have any more to drink, is go to the nearest off-licence or supermarket and buy as much alcohol as he wants.

As the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, the problem is that, invariably, in a supermarket no judgment is made by the person serving the alcohol about whether the customer is in a state of intoxication. I have seen supermarkets quickly serve a customer who was obviously drunk to get him out of the place. They have not made the judgment that a licensee would make, decided that the person was not fit to have more to drink and refused him service. Those who are worried about an increase in alcohol problems are directing their concern at the wrong area. Nothing that I have heard today and no argument that I have heard outside has convinced me that there is any great danger in allowing pub landlords greater flexibility.

Oddly enough, we do not have to look far from these shores, to the Channel Islands, Scotland, Ulster and even the Isle of Wight during Cowes week, where people are allowed to purchase alcohol in public houses at most hours of the day. It has not led to increased problems on the streets and an increase in offences of drunkenness.

But flexible hours are only one issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) referred briefly to clubs. I wish to discuss the present law on clubs and the experiences of one cricket club in the midlands.

I have no interest to declare. I do not follow the sport of cricket; it is much too fast-moving for my taste. But the Leicestershire county cricket club has been able for more than 30 years to serve alcohol to its patrons during cricket matches. Over that period of 30 years there has never been any suggestion that the club has broken the law or that it was not running the licensed bar in a proper manner, and it has never been necessary to call the police because of riots outside or inside the ground due to drunkenness, as I am sure the local police will confirm.

After supplying alcohol for 30 years, this year, without warning, the cricket club was refused a licence and it has not been able, following its practice for this long period, to serve alcohol to its patrons during all cricket matches.

That has not happened because of a sudden change in the law. Perhaps there has been some other change. Could it be that in Leicester there is a new clerk to the justices or a different constitution of the licensing committee or a different police inspector with responsibility for licensing matters? Those are the only possibilities which could account for the odd, and some would say perverse, decision by the Leicester bench this year not to grant the cricket club its usual special licences.

This is an area of law which I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to look at in the not-too-distant future. Quite apart from the need for more flexible hours of opening, there is confusion and worry about what is a special occasion. The High Court has attempted to provide guidelines — in my view, not with a great deal of success. One recent case, Regina v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Maynard, made an attempt. In that case, the judge said that for an extension of permitted hours under section 74(4) an applicant must establish that the occasion upon which the application is based is a special occasion; secondly, that it is related to a national or local event; and, thirdly, that those who are to benefit by the extension of hours will be participating in some form or other.

The subject of that case was an application by a cinema owner who wanted to serve alcohol during the showing of a closed-circuit television presentation of the welterweight boxing championship of the world, taking place in America. The judge said that there was no element of participation and it was not a national or local event.

That has not satisfactorily clarified the law. What would happen on a similar occasion when a British athlete was taking part, as for instance on an occasion such as the World Cup? The courts are in some doubt as to what the law is. It cannot be a satisfactory state of affairs to allow that to continue.

Two years ago in Derbyshire, some 14 clubs were obliged to go dry for a time, not because they had broken the licensing law or because they had had problems which necessitated the attention of the police, but merely because those responsible for running the clubs had forgotten to post an application by a certain date. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs?

I understand that the organisation and methods branch of the Home Office is engaged in a survey involving a sample of magistrates courts, mainly with a view to establishing the scale of fees that would recover administrative costs. I understand that it has been suggested that, for new on or off-licences, the fee should rise from £12.50 to £125, and for the issue of a private members club registration certificate the fee should rise from £6.50 to £125. I hope that that review will also look generally at the working of the law. As I understand it, although courts have the power to grant club registration certificates for up to 10 years, since 1982 some decision seems to have been taken, perhaps by the Justices Clerks Association, that those certificates should be restricted to three years. Although Parliament has said that the courts can grant certificates for 10 years, for some reason the magistrates now seem to be creating extra work for themselves. Should licensees and clubs have to bear the cost of that extra work? Without over-egging the pudding, our licensing law is in a mess and many archaic provisions need looking at with some urgency. Twelve years ago, the Erroll report recommended drastic changes which are not necessarily being advocated today. Many of my hon. Friends have said that, by and large, public demand and the views of the trade could be accommodated by a smaller change than is suggested by the Erroll report.

I know that the Government have taken it upon themselves as a major policy task to review unnecessary restrictions, red tape and bureaucracy. Apart from looking at other areas such as the shops legislation, our licensing law needs to be looked at urgently because of the sense of injustice and frustration that is felt not one by customers but by those who need to operate within the law and to apply to the courts for extensions from time to time. The law is not satisfactory, and I hope that the Government will give some commitment to review it at the earliest possible opportunity.

12.23 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

This has been a most interesting debate so far. I want to recall to the memory of the House the private Member's Bill that I managed, more by luck than judgment, to get through both Houses—the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980. That Bill simply dealt with excessive drunkenness which led to vandalism and which could lead to violence in public houses.

The Bill provided that a man who had been arrested for violence in a public house would be brought before the magistrates and made subject to an exclusion order, banning him from the public house in which he created the damage, or from a series of public houses in that area. If he appeared again in that public house or series of public houses, the landlord could still serve him drinks but, on receipt of a simple telephone call, the police would then be at liberty to enter the public house and take him into custody. He could then be charged the next day and a further exclusion order, a fine of up to £200 or, in the most severe cases, a custodial sentence of up to two months could be imposed.

I want to remind the Home Office of that Act because, in the main, magistrates are not using it in the manner in which it was intended. It is not pertinent for publicans to have to go before the magistrates before they will serve an exclusion order. It is implicit in the Act that the magistrate has the power to exclude such people and I hope that a guideline will be sent out by the Home Office re-emphasising what I think is an important piece of private Member's legislation.

It has been a theme of the debate that magistrates in many areas—it does depend on the area—are most reluctant to grant exceptional licensing hours for whatever cause. I mentioned in an intervention earlier the horror felt in the city of Southampton which had been chosen to host the international fair of the tall ships. A local club owner wished to set up in a medieval square in the centre of Southampton a continental-style bar with umbrellas outside, where wine could be served between 3 pm and 5 pm. That would seem to all hon. Members to be perfectly reasonable. It was an international event, which attracted nearly 1.5 million people to the city of Southampton. That club owner was trying to create a more holiday like appearance in the city but his application was turned down out of hand. It was said that he could have appealed to the courts but there is never time for that. The magistrates made their decision and there was no time for the club owner to appeal.

I hope that a second guideline will go out to the magistrates from the Lord Chancellor's Department asking them to be flexible in agreeing to special events. I do not doubt that many a Conservative dinner dance breaks the law from time to time by not having a licence to serve drinks. Today's debate provides us with an opportunity to re-emphasise such points. I hope that the Minister will give many of us a satisfactory reply.

12.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

We have had a thoughtful and lively debate. Some people seem to think that a thoughtful debate must be dull, but they would not think so if they had listened to today's debate. It is true that it has not been as well attended as some might have hoped, but the speeches have been of a uniformly high standard, and I am glad to have a chance to make my own contribution.

During my five and a half years in the House I have detected increasing pressure for change. It is therefore right that we should have the opportunity to discuss the issues today, and I am accordingly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward), who spoke with great eloquence and good sense. He was too modest to tell us, but for the past week or two he has been suffering from a very painful and debilitating eye condition which makes it difficult for him to read. Notwithstanding that handicap, he made an eloquent speech and our appreciation of it must be even greater knowing the difficulties under which it was made.

It is invidious to name names after I have genuinely welcomed the debate and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the speeches that have been made, but it would be wrong not to point to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). In a very full public life he has devoted himself to the cause of alcohol and alcohol policy. Even if from time to time we disagreed with some of his points, he spoke in a way that we all respect, because we recognise that that is a view that needs to be heard and considered—and it will be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was right to point to the importance of people with expertise in the trade being available to advise the House. He spoke of his own expertise, which is considerable. Again, I think that we all enjoyed and needed the professionalism that he brought to his contribution. One noticeable thing about this new Parliament is the breadth of experience now represented on the Benches on both sides of the Chamber. I am sure that it adds to our ability to wrestle with some of these difficult issues. They may not be the biggest issues to which the Government have to address themselves, but they are difficult.

No hon. Member made that point more clearly than the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). However he had spoken today, I was going to say that I very much welcomed him to his new responsibilities. Indeed, this is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome him. I particularly welcome him in the light of his speech, which was of striking eloquence. It was not necessary to agree with every inference that he drew to feel that what he had to say was of the first importance. His speech was plainly based on great experience and thoughtfulness arising from his work as a probation officer and the specialist work that he has done in dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse and pressing for the need for alcohol education. He made a very important and worthwhile contribution, and I am sure that I was not alone in enjoying it. It gave rise to thoughts that make me unashamed of the fact that shall be unable to resolve some of the issues raised today.

A considerable area remains for continued debate and thought, but the debate has revolved around the question of flexible opening hours. I do not criticise it for that. At a later stage there may well be a case for a more full-scale debate on overall alcohol policy. Such a debate would not involve me so much as my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Security, but if someone were minded to stimulate such a debate I am sure that it would be very worth while.

I do not seek to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood if I say that he chose to fix his gaze on a narrower point, because ultimately very few of us in any area of policy can make a great march forward on all fronts, tackling every problem at a stroke. I know that those who called for that did not intend it to be so, but it is often a good argument for delay to suggest that everything must be tackled at once. Very few subjects are susceptible of that treatment, but provided that the surrounding facts permit it, I can see no objection to moving forward on this one front if the arguments lead in that direction. A piecemeal approach is not to be condemned in what is essentially the practical job of regulating regulations.

Particular attention has been focused on the provisions of the Licensing Act 1964, which governs permitted opening hours of on-licence premises in England and Wales. My hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood and for Gillingham, together with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and others, focused on the licensed trade's view that public houses as we know them will not survive unless licensees can vary opening hours to meet demand. I have considerable sympathy with those views. The Home Office receives many representations from local licensed victuallers' associations, restaurants and hotels, the leisure and entertainment industry and from hon. Members telling us that the time is now right for change. Indeed, there are more people now saying that than ever before in my experience. I accept, however, that my experience is more limited than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point.

We have also received representations from those who hold the opposite view and fear that any liberalisation of the law will lead to an increase in the already high incidence of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Both sides of the argument will be heard and debated when we consider whether, and how, our licensing laws should be revised.

In support of the call for longer or more flexible hours reference is constantly made — and has been this morning — to the recommendation of the Erroll committee, which published a report in 1972 suggesting that licensed premises should be allowed to open between 10 am and midnight without an afternoon break.

We have heard that the catering, entertainment and tourist industries believe that our restricted hours seriously interfere with their conduct of business. Many hon. Members have said that the extended opening hours in Scotland, brought about by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, have led, not to increased drunkenness, but to more responsible and leisurely drinking.

The essential difference between the English and Scottish provisions on permitted hours lies in the discretion given in Scotland to the licensing authority to vary the general permitted hours of opening. The prescribed hours of opening in both countries are broadly similar. They allow public houses to open on weekdays between 11 am and 10.30 pm or 11 pm with a break of two and a half hours in the afternoon. The hours on Sundays are shorter, but broadly the same.

As has constantly been said, in England and Wales the power of the licensing justices to grant regular extensions is tightly circumscribed. As a general rule, early morning and afternoon extensions may be granted only in the vicinity of markets, and extensions beyond the evening terminal hour are available only where the sale of drink is ancillary to the provision of food or music and dancing.

Some special arrangements are permitted and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) rightly says, that gives rise to bitter controversy. An example of that is the regrettable problems that have arisen with the Leicestershire county cricket club. It is a case that illustrates that hard cases make bad law. I hope that the people of Leicester, all of whom surely have an interest in the maintenance of a successful and profitable cricket club, will come together and reach a sensible conclusion. That was certainly the wish that I expressed when, a few months ago, I met a deputation of hon. Members from both sides of the House and representatives of the city of Leicester and of Leicestershire generally.

In contrast to England, the licensing boards in Scotland have, since 1976, had a much wider discretion and can grant extensions for any part of the day in respect of individual premises if they consider that desirable. As we have heard, that power has been widely used to permit Scottish public houses to open during the afternoon break and late at night, especially in the larger towns and cities. I am pleased to accept that the first indications—and this has been borne out by speeches today — of the effects of the 1976 legislation have been encouraging. The forecasts that longer opening hours in Scotland would result in dramatic increases in drunkenness and drink-driving offences have proved to be inaccurate. Instead, the available statistics point to no significant adverse effects.

I must, however, add a note of caution. It would be dangerous to assume that the reduction in drunkenness offences north of the border is attributable directly and specifically to the change in the licensing laws. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, other factors may be at work. It is important that we should look at all the available evidence and not simply at selective statistics which, at face value, appear to prove a case one way or another. The balance of the statistics appears to the casual reader to go in the direction that the majority of hon. Members have suggested.

When advocating, as I do, the need for a word of caution, I must point out that convictions for being drunk and disorderly do not necessarily tell the whole story. A factor which I have not heard mentioned this morning is the increasing practice of prosecuting authorities—it is one which the Home Office applauds—to caution rather than to bring those accused of drunkenness before the courts. That factor needs to be borne in mind when we consider any alleged drop in the number of those who are drunk and disorderly in our streets.

It seems that there is no one fact yet known which is conclusive. It is not escapism to say that there is a need to look further. When emotions are raised, as they so plainly are in this debate, we need to bear in mind that not all the facts adduced are necessarily open to only one interpretation.

I think of the famous temperance lecturer, the high point of whose address against the demon drink was to produce at the right moment a glass which she filled with water and then another glass which she filled with gin. From a pocket came a matchbox containing two worms. With a theatrical flourish one worm was dropped in the water and the other in the gin. Both worms wriggled for a while and predictably enough the one in the gin expired rather more quickly than the one in the water. Just as it did so she pointed to the sky and asked, with a dramatic gesture of which even my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point would be proud, "What does this prove?" At that point someone at the back, perhaps more like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, said, "If you have worms, drink gin." Statistics can be dangerous and on present evidence I do not think that a case has been made out fully one way or the other.

I have been asked again this morning to consider the Erroll committee's report. One of the main reasons why the committee's recommendation to introduce longer opening hours has not been implemented is the concern of successive Governments that the various indicators of alcohol misuse continue to rise significantly. Concern about this growth has over the years prompted a number of influential bodies to examine the problem in detail and to consider ways of controlling it. I shall give one or two examples. In 1977 the Expenditure Committee, in its report on preventative medicine, and the Advisory Committee on Alcoholism, stressed that extreme caution should be taken over any relaxation of the licensing laws. In 1979 a special committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists urged that there should be no further relaxation of the broad range of licensing provisions.

The obstacle in the past — my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and the hon. Member for Hammersmith have made it clear that it still remains— was the serious problems caused by alcohol misuse. In the very week that the British Medical Association has held a conference on alcoholism, it would be wrong if I were not to say that some disturbing and troubling statistics have been given. Professor Kendell, professor of psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh hospital, was quoted in the newspapers as saying that there was "abundant evidence" that the ill effects of drink were linked to consumption. Between 1950 and 1976, British annual consumption of pure alcohol per head almost doubled from 5.2 litres to 9.7 litres. Drunkenness convictions doubled, deaths from liver cirrhosis increased by 60 per cent. and hospital admissions for alcoholism increased by some 2,500 per cent. Professor Alan Maynard, professor of health economics at York university, claimed that the social cost of alcohol abuse from sickness absence, unemployment, treatment costs to the NHS, accidents and crime was an absolute minimum of £1.6 billion a year. He said that premature deaths from alcohol-related disease and accidents were between 5,000 and 8,000 a year.

We do not have to accept all those statistics as being wholly accurate, or the last word on the matters to which they relate, to recognise that the problem of alcohol in our society is one to which we must all give careful consideration, not least when we are planning any change in the law.

Sir Bernard Braine

We need not accept that the statistics reflect the position exactly, but will my hon. Friend concede that they show a worsening position over the years?

Mr. Mellor

I am sure that there is no doubt that the problem of alcoholism has been worsening year after year. We must ask ourselves whether changing the licensing laws would make any difference. The hon. Member for Hammersmith identified certain problems that are bound to be caused when a socially acceptable drug is at large in the community.

That takes me back to the point that I made earlier, which I think commanded some support. Provided that one were satisfied that the indicators of alcohol abuse would not be altered by a change in the licensing laws and thereby made worse, there would be no reason why a responsible Government could not make progress or allow progress to be made. We must be careful to ensure that we have the proper indicators to enable that decision to be taken.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) is not in the Chamber. As ever, he was provocative in his statements. There was a great deal of sense in his contribution, which was strongly backed up by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton. We must not consider just whether we should look at the effects of alcohol abuse on people's health and the cost thereby caused to the community. I am troubled, as is the hon. Member for Hammersmith—we have looked at the same figures and considered the same cases — at the impact of drink on crime. We are all scarred by our experiences, some of which we would rather not have had, but we have to profit from them. Just as, I suspect, the hon. Member for Hammersmith is scarred and troubled by his consideration of crimes of violence when sitting in court and seeing the disinhibiting effect of alcohol—in many cases it has a gross effect—so I am troubled, after 18 months in the Home Office, by reading a dozen files a week on murderers and life sentence prisoners and noting the impact of alcohol on them.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith gave a cautious estimate that alcohol was involved in 50 per cent. of murder cases. I seldom read a file in which the influence of alcohol is not pointed out as a material factor in the crime. Even allowing for the fact—the hon. Member for Blyth Valley made this point only too clearly — that some people will want to touch up the effect of the impact of alcohol to minimise their criminality in the alleged offences, I am still deeply troubled by the number of crimes of violence actuated by drink. Some argue that if drink had not been consumed people would not have behaved in a particular way. I think that some people are predisposed to violence, come what may. It seems that the ability that some people have to resist violence is reduced by alcohol, and that is a problem.

Equally, one notes the effect of throwing people who have been in pubs out on to the streets. They then go to fast-food restaurants, queue up and become argumentative about their place in the queue. The number of acts of serious violence occurring during the period immediately after the pubs close might show — a number of experienced police officers have said this to me—that a more phased removal of people from places of drink to their homes might reduce, not increase, crime.

That is why I unashamedly say to the House that there are pointers going both ways. No hon. Member can stand up in this debate and say that there are not perfectly valid reasons for standing on either side. This is not one of those black and white issues. If we could be assured that longer opening hours would not lead to an increased incidence of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems, our way ahead would be much clearer. That is why we are taking care to observe the effects of permitted hours in Scotland and why I do not apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point for the fact that that experience has been available for eight years. Eight years is not that long a period during which to assess the long-term changes.

If, as we hope, the report of the carefully commissioned survey undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland into the effects of the 1976 legislation is available by next summer, we shall have taken a material step forward. The survey is being conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. It will follow the line of those undertaken in Scotland between 1976 and 1978, of which some details have been mentioned. It will be possible, building on that earlier careful research, to compare the results and have a better idea of what trends have emerged. Although the trends might be clearer, it is likely that, as with the temperance lecturer who made what she believed was a clear argument, much might be open to another view.

Mr. Lawrence

It would be most helpful, apart from concentrating the mind, if my hon. Friend could say when he believes the Government can introduce recommendations based on those studies.

Mr. Mellor

I cannot predict that. I shall develop the Government's line on this, and if my hon. and learned Friend will bear with me I shall tell him as much as I can today, although I suspect that it may not be as much as he would wish. I have tried to show why it would be difficult for anyone to do that at present.

It would be foolhardy to predict the results of the survey, but it may make the approach clearer and may convince not only the Government but those who, for perfectly reputable reasons, are opposed to flexible hours that it is safe to contemplate the relaxation of our laws. I should be happy if that were the case, but such an important change can be based only on a firm foundation of evidence, not on a wish and a prayer.

There are further complications. Although it is true that the licensed trade in general favours greater flexibility of opening hours, sections of the trade favour different systems of flexibility. Not all support the adoption of the Scottish system, and some view with alarm the prospect of running a pub for 12 or more hours a day without a break. Others favour flexibility within the present maximum of nine or nine and a half opening hours on weekdays, leaving the choice of hours to the licensee. There are some who wish the law to be revised on the lines proposed by Erroll, thus enabling licensees to open at any time of their choice between 10 am and midnight. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood conceded that there was no unanimity in the trade.

The licensed traders and associations representing hotels and restaurants are considering how the law should be amended; not just saying that they agree that the law should be amended. I hope — if my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham is involved my hope may become an expectation — that at the end of their deliberations they will reach a unanimous view which they can demonstrate has widespread support. As so often in the past on other issues, the trade has weakened the impact of its proposals because it appears to be hopelessly divided on key issues. To coin a phrase, a public house divided against itself cannot stand — [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) entered the Chamber to hear that, which will have given him some pleasure.

In deference to the arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, may I say that the views of others involved in the present arrangements must be carefully considered. Licensing justices have wide responsibilities and great experience of the law, so their views must be taken into account. My hon. and learned Friend was right to mention the police, who have to enforce the law. They have a view which I should like to see more focused. So far we have had helpful, but spasmodic, indications from one or two distinguished policemen. It would be helpful to know the overall view of the police, particularly on sensitive matters such as the impact on crime.

Mr. Soley

I accept many of the points that the Minister has made about the problem of getting agreement among the various groups involved. However, I should be more encouraged if he would agree that that division between the groups shows the need for an alcohol policy. The thrust for such a policy must come from the Government, because it will not be pressed in a coherent way by outside groups.

Mr. Mellor

It would be unfair to say that the Government do not have an alcohol policy. However, we do not have the feeling of omniscience which perhaps comes more readily to others. We do not feel that, by taking the reins in our own hands, we can solve some fairly deep-seated social difficulties that may affect only a small minority, but are deeply troubling.

A shoemaker must stick to his last, and my job is to discuss the licensing laws. I try to set them in context and to take an informed and educated view of the overall alcoholism problem. The sort of debate which the hon. Member for Hammersmith has in mind cannot take place in the absence of Ministers from the DHSS, who have to make provision for the impact on our health system of growing abuse of alcohol. I do not say that there is no answer to the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but perhaps this is not the forum for it. It would be no bad thing if the House broadened the debate and allowed the various views to be canvassed.

To sum up, there is no irremediable obstacle to changing the law on opening hours. The case for change has many sympathisers within the Government, but there are two reasons why we have no immediate plans to introduce legislation to revise the present permitted opening hours. First, we need to be satisfied that longer or more flexible hours will not have harmful consequences. The evidence is not yet available, but I hope that it will be before long. The key is to establish that flexible hours would be at least neutral in relation to alcohol abuse. To move before we are satisfied of that would not be responsible or sensible.

Secondly, there is no obvious agreement on what system of flexibility should be adopted in England and Wales. As I said before, the door to change is not bolted and barred; it stands enticingly ajar.

12.58 pm
Mr. Hayward

By leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his comments and particularly for what he said about the problem that I have experienced in the past week and a half. I assure the House that my blurred vision has nothing to do with excessive consumption of alcohol. It is caused by an eye infection. That problem has made preparing for the debate more difficult than it might have been; it has been particularly difficult to read, for example, the counter-arguments that have been put so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).

I know what difficulties arise from excessive alcohol consumption. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) made clear the difficulties that this country, the western world and eastern Europe face from excessive alcohol consumption.

I was surprised that no reference was made in the debate to the fact that excessive consumption of alcohol may be partly attributable to people's increased affluence. They can now direct parts of their income towards leisure and social activities that they were previously not able to enjoy. In that connection, I referred to shops and supermarkets, and as much as anything else increased affluence is a reason for the increase in alcoholism.

It is important to recognise that at no stage in the debate has any hon. Member — I am not intentionally misinterpreting my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point—said that he is against some form of change in the licensing laws in England and Wales. Many hon. Members said that they wished that more Members had been present for the debate. It is significant that there have been no contributions from Scottish Members of Parliament to say that what the House did in 1976 was wrong. At the end of the debate in 1976, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), then representing Glasgow, Cathcart, said that, while he opposed the measure, he hoped that he would be proved wrong in his experience. Comments have been made for and against in terms of the statistics available, but it is significant that no Scottish Members of Parliament have told us that what the Chamber did in 1976 was wrong.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I had not intended to intervene. I am not a Scottish Member of Parliament, but a Scot who is a Member of Parliament. I was a member of the Edinburgh licensing court at that time and have had some interest in the problem. There would be great resistance, particularly from the police, if there were any attempt in Scotland to go back to what is now the situation in England, because the incidence of "drunk and uncatchable", as we used to call it, has dropped significantly since the opening up of the licensing laws in Scotland.

Mr. Hayward

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution, which is particularly important given the experience that he cited. I also referred to the experience of the Glasgow licensing authorities. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the evidence needs to be carefully analysed. I hope that what I have heard today—as with statistics, it is always a matter of interpretation—shows that there would be no reasonable barrier to introducing legislation, even if the statistics proved neutral. I hope that that means that some legislation will be put before the House in the next parliamentary Session of 1985–86.

At the same time, I also hope that at some stage the House will have the opportunity to debate alcohol policy, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said. A long time before I came to the House, I had the opportunity of listening to the hon. Gentleman talking about alcoholism at St. Andrew's hospital in Northampton. I recognise the authority with which he speaks on this subject, and his many years of involvement.

As the Minister did, we should recognise the growing pressure for change outside the House. We should recognise that the current anomalies need change and that there will always remain statistics about which we can argue. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point referred to a series of statistics, many of which I am well aware of—in fact, I have read the book from which he quoted. However, he did not show that, although many of the problems were caused because people consumed alcohol in pubs, many others were caused late at night, probably as a result of alcohol bought and consumed elsewhere. That is an important factor to bear in mind.

In seeking to withdraw my motion, I hope and believe that it would be worthwhile, in everyone's interest in England and Wales, if a Bill were brought forward in the next Session of 1985–86. I say that in the knowledge that, at whatever stage of the debate I had withdrawn the motion, we, unlike the rest of the population, would be able to adjourn for a drink. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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