HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc416-7
8. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of the licensing laws.

Mr. Hurd

I want to examine among other things the full report of the Office of Population Censuses and Survey's study of drinking in Scotland before deciding whether relaxations should be introduced in the permitted opening hours of licensed premises in England and Wales.

Mr. MacKay

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time we relaxed our licensing laws, bearing in mind the success of the experiment in Scotland? Is he aware that such a relaxation would have wide support throughout the country?

Mr. Hurd

I have an open mind on that matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will not find me cowardly if I say that I should like to feel a little more sure than I am this afternoon that if we moved in that direction we should have substantial support, not just in both Houses of Parliament, but throughout the country.

Mr. Skinner

What's all this here then! Is the Home Secretary saying that despite the comments of the chairman of the Tory party the other day about departing from Christian values, the permissiveness of the 1960s, and so forth, he will not only vote for Sunday trading, but will relax the licensing laws as well? I do not know what the Tory party is coming to.

Mr. Hurd

If having a drink in a pub offends the hon. Gentleman's idea of Christianity, he is a long way away.

Mr. Skinner

It is Tebbit, not me.

Sir Bernard Braine

In view of the known connection between levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse, and the known connection between alcohol abuse and crime, road accidents, marital break-up and child abuse, as a Select Committee has testified, will my right hon. Friend take note that any change in the licensing laws which does not take account of those important and known facts will be bitterly resisted by some of us?

Mr. Hurd

Well, there we are. I think that confirms that I was right to be a little cautious in my earlier reply. It is surely right that we should look at the full evidence from Scotland when it becomes available to see what has happened there since drinking hours became more generous.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one reason for the large number of serious traffic accidents late at night is what is known as the stop tap syndrome? Does he agree that at the very least closing hours should be drastically amended to avoid that syndrome?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. and learned Gentleman is on to a good point. Police in some cities confirm that one of their problems is due to a large number of pubs in a relatively small area all closing at the same time.

Mr. Gregory

When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to recommend changes? Is he aware that there was widespread surprise that the Queen's Speech contained no proposals for change? Is he further aware that changes will lead to increased employment and that the Secretary of State for Scotland will confirm that the incidence of alcoholism has diminished enormously in Scotland since licensing laws were relaxed?

Mr. Hurd

I believe that the Scots intend to go public with the full report in February. We shall need to consider the situation fairly quickly after that.

Mr. Soley

Does the Home Secretary accept that it will be much easier to look at this issue effectively if it is part of an overall package to cope with the problems of alcohol abuse, including reversal of the Department's action in closing detoxification centres, which has resulted in more alcoholics being turned out on to the streets, despite the denial of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State some minutes ago?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman's question goes rather wide. We shall have to consider whether opening the pubs for a little longer will increase the intake of alcohol to a damaging extent rather than simply allowing people to do a little more of their drinking in pubs and a little less at home with drink bought at supermarkets.

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