HC Deb 05 February 1987 vol 109 cc1129-31
6. Mr. Andrew MacKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to seek to amend the licensing laws.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

The Government believe that there is a strong case for some relaxation of the restrictions on licensing hours and are carefully considering what measures would be appropriate.

Mr. MacKay

As the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), which sensibly sought to amend the licensing laws, was widely regarded in the country but was effectively talked out last Friday, does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it would be right and proper for the House to have an opportunity to vote on such legislation in the very near future?

Mr. Waddington

I know of the disappointment felt by many hon. Members when the Bill was talked out and that many hon. Members recognise that the time has come for some reform of the licensing laws.

Mr. Canavan

Time, gentlemen, please.

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend will know, however, that whether the Government give time for a private Member's measure is nothing to do with me.

Mr. Bagier

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the licensing laws are archaic and out of date and that if the Bill had been given a fair wind last Friday it would probably have been passed by the House? Does he agree that it is nonsense for drinking on controlled premises to be so restrictive when people can now buy drinks at off-licences, supermarkets and so many other places? That has created a situation which worries many hon. Members. Will the right hon.and learned Gentleman ensure that at the earliest possible opportunity there is some alteration in the laws to make them more sensible?

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing his views so forcefully and it is nice to know that there is strong support from hon. Members on both sides of the House for some necessary reform of the licensing laws. However, I cannot help the hon.

Gentleman further than I have done already, because thought must he given to the precise measure of reform that should be introduced.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for what he has said. However, is he aware that more than 160 right hon. and hon. Members were present on Friday to support the Licensing (Amendment) Bill? Does he agree that the climate of opinion is now such that the status quo is no longer an option? Does he further agree that it would be reasonable, before the Second Reading debate on 27 March, for the Government to announce either that they will give a modest allocation of time to the private Member's Bill, or make an absolute commitment to their own legislation at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Waddington

I cannot add to what I said a few minutes ago about whether the Government should provide time for that measure. However, I am quite sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) for having introduced that measure. I do not believe that there are many hon. Members who feel that he has wasted his time. It is as a result of the efforts of people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood that there has been a movement in public opinion over the months and that we have got nearer the time when that reform will come about.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Will the Minister distinguish between flexible hours and extended hours and advise the House whether he favours the former more than the latter?

Mr. Waddington

I mentioned earlier that no decision has been reached as to the precise nature of any legislation. Our preferred system would not impose heavy work loads on the courts and police, but it would be important to maintain proper safeguards on licensed outlets and protect the public from added noise and nuisance. Obviously, one must bear in mind the risk of added noise and nuisance when making a decision as to what the latest closing hour should be.

Mr. Gregory

Will my right hon. and learned Friend publish, in the appropriate place, the overwhelming market research that his Department has undertaken to show that it is in the public interest to reform the present antiquated laws, which were brought in 71 years ago in wartime conditions?

Mr. Waddington

There has been a fair amount of research into that matter. No doubt my hon. Friend and, indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House, will have read the results of the study by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys into what has happened in Scotland since the change in the law there in 1976. Any impartial person would conclude from that study that no deleterious results had occurred in Scotland as a result of the liberalisation that was introduced there.

Mr. Mason

In view of the Minister's determined support—he is obviously speaking on behalf of the Government—will he be more specific and tell the House what he intends to do? Will he allow more time for the private Member's Bill, or will he introduce legislation this Session?

Mr. Waddington

I have already told the House, in reply to questions from other hon. Members, that the question whether the Government should give time for a private Member's Bill is not a matter for me. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Government have never given time for any private Member's Bill during the course of this Parliament, so he may think it unlikely that the Government will give time for this measure. I thought that I had been fairly forthcoming in answer to all these questions, and I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman more about the precise timing of the introduction of any measure which may be introduced.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that the call "Time, ladies and gentlemen please" is well overdue for the reform of these antiquated laws? Does he agree that the area that we have the honour to represent, Lancashire, if no other, is firmly and forcefully in favour of change, and change now?

Mr. Waddington

Lancashire folk are sensible folk, and I have no doubt that they are in favour of reform.

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