HC Deb 27 February 1987 vol 111 cc497-544 9.34 am
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I beg to move,

That this House calls for the early introduction of legislation to reform the present licensing laws in England and Wales; expresses its concern over the problems presented by those who consume alcohol to excess; and calls for further measures of action, education and research.

The motion I have chosen for debate today may appear to many as two subjects in one. The reason why I have done that is to demonstrate that the long overdue reform of our licensing laws must he undertaken in pursuit of a reduction in the problems connected with those who consume alcohol to excess. It is important to consider all this in the round.

It must be the primary aim of Government—indeed, I believe it is—to make changes in the context of the good they will achieve for consumers in the broadest sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who I am delighted to see in the Chamber today, and those who took part in the debate on the Licensing (Amendment) Bill voiced their concern about such matters, and they bear repeating.

With regard to the problems perceived in society today arising from the consumption of alcohol, I can offer no personal qualifications for advising the House, for I am neither a drunkard nor an abstainer. Others present may have more relevant credentials. I admit to being a social drinker and, on occasions, I have felt the consequences of drinking more than I ought. So I may well be classified as an average type of drinker.

My first point concerning the problems of alcohol excess relates to the effects on health; the second to behaviour and crime. Alcohol can and does have a beneficial effect. For older people especially, the occasional or regular drink acts as a tonic. For others it is a welcome stimulant when energy is flagging. It is not possible to be specific about the cases of illness in which alcohol consumption may have played a part. One can, however, consider the statistics for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis caused by alcohol. In 1984, in England and Wales the number of deaths recorded as a result of those two diseases was 937, a rise from 745 in 1980. The number of deaths where alcohol could be identified as a factor showed a slight decline from 2,560 in 1980 to 2,500 in 1984, but in comparison the figure rose to 2,777 in 1985. Since 1976, no particular change in Scotland appears to be discernible.

Nevertheless, there are real problems in reaching conclusions on the effects of sustained, moderate or heavy drinking on physical or mental health. What is clear is that those drinkers who are alcoholics suffer considerable damage to their health, appreciably shorten their life expectancy and it invariably leads to family break-ups and despair. No one knows what leads to alcohol addiction, and research has yet to discover what triggers the dependency syndrome. I prefer to apply common sense, which dictates that excess alcoholic consumption cannot be good for one's health. It is better for our bodies to eat when we drink and to drink only sparingly on an empty stomach.

It is the effects of alcohol on behaviour and crime that is of continuing real concern. Those matters have been raised in the House on many occasions. Alcohol consumption may overcome inhibitions. Loutish and violent behaviour, among young people especially, on the streets, football terraces, trains and ferries is more often than not directly attributable to too much drink.

The steps already taken to restrict and prohibit the sale of alcohol—for example, on trains carrying club fans—are welcome, but first-job wages are today much higher compared with 20 years ago. Young people have much more money available. The Heysel stadium disaster in Brussels in May 1985 resulted in a death toll of 39. There are grave lessons to learn from that appalling event. But crime and the causes of crime must be tackled. Mr. Roger Birch, the chief constable of Sussex, initiated the setting up of a licensing unit in Bognor Regis in 1985, and in Brighton last year. The unit's task is to improve the quality of management and control of licensed premises. Constructive support is given by breweries, trade associations and individual licensees.

During 1986, 3,244 scheduled visits were made by uniformed officers, and a marked improvement in behaviour both inside and outside certain premises is evident. Of the 6,000-plus persons apprehended by police in Brighton for criminal offences, 60 per cent. had been drinking liquor in the four hours preceding their arrest, but more significant is the fact that almost one half of the alcohol-related arrests were of people in the age group of 18 to 25. Almost one third of all criminals were arrested between midnight and 4 am, and 78 per cent had been drinking. Details of each person arrested are documented to record all the relevant details. It is an example which, with funding, should be adopted as a research project in other parts of the United Kingdom. That initiative is to be greatly applauded.

The incidence of excess alcohol consumption among drivers convicted of driving offences is of particular concern. The number of drunken drivers found guilty of driving offences in England and Wales has risen from 58,000 in 1976 to 101,000 in 1984, a rise of some 74 per cent. In Scotland, the rise has been 19 per cent. That comparison points to the need to bring the licensing laws in England and Wales, in my view, into closer line with those in Scotland.

The Government campaign should be widened to make it mandatory for cars, for instance, to have information on consumption limits and how safe it is to drive with certain levels of consumption. In America, I understand that breathalysers are built into some makes of car. One breathes into that part of machinery of the car, and it will not function if one's breath shows that one is over the limit. Another way in which the Government can play a part is to ensure that breathalysers are freely and cheaply available. I see no reason why people should not have their own breathalysers. They would be able to determine whether they were in a fit state to drive.

Society is changing. More people have cars, which in itself is reflected in the statistics that I quoted. People travel further afield. Living standards have gone up, and rising living standards are reflected in the overall consumption of alcohol. There is a natural pressure to be hospitable, and drinking is the social way of entertaining and of expressing friendship and generosity.

I believe that those who are guilty of drunken driving offences should automatically see the full horror of the consequences for life and health, both for them and others, in videos that should be presented to them as part of the penalty that they have to meet. Those are well-known problems and our experience is similar to that in other countries the world over.

Arguments necessarily centre on how to limit and overcome those problems. The policies that we must adopt should involve logic, an active role to make people understand the dangers of excess alcohol consumption to themselves and others, and the promotion of help to those caught in the sickness of alcoholism. Essential to the proper implementation of an overall policy is the setting up of an interdepartmental working group to bring what is relevant together. That would involve the Department of Health and Social Security, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Transport, the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, and, I dare say, other Departments. Undoubtedly co-ordination and the actioning of an all-embracing policy to inform, protect and care is the best way forward.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he not agree that the judiciary needs to take on board the gravity of serious drunken driving offences? Some of the convictions imposed upon drunken drivers recently in Scotland have been staggeringly light.

Mr. Banks

That is a very good point, which we should all take to heart. Many sentences are way below the severity that the crime deserves. I can think of one or two cases in which deaths have been caused by drunken drivers and the sentence on the driver has not been severe enough.

I applaud the screening for breast cancer among women, which was announced only a few days ago, and the allocation of £50 million to help to spur on that campaign, but alcohol and health are equally important. I should like to see more funding being made available to deal with those problems.

The Alcohol Education and Research Council was the consequence of the enactment of the Licensing (Alcohol Education and Research) Bill. The council now has a fund of over £5 million through additional and generous donations and judicious financial management. Its work is to give grants to action, research and educational projects, and to date over 120 projects have been supported and over £1,541,000 committed. The council actively seeks applications for funding and is meticulous in ensuring that worthwhile projects are helped where possible. I mention that, because I wish to bring the work of the council to the attention of the House. I hope that those who seek funds for particular projects will not hesitate to put in their application to that body.

Grants from Government concerned with alcohol abuse totalled £1,282,000, but nearly £500,000 went to the Health Education Council and another £500,000 to Alcohol Concern. Those are pitifully small sums in relation to the problems and the cost of them. The organisations do their best with the sums available. The British Medical Association's board of science report called for better aid and better targeted campaigns in schools. I support that. The use of videos for education and information must be wider. A great deal of work is still to be done. I am convinced that this is something which, with larger funding, must be tackled with greater force.

The problems of alcoholics and their accommodation are forbidding, and the battle for funds is nothing to be proud of. Hospices should be a model on which to base the treatment and care of those suffering from alcoholism. Drunkenness convictions in Scotland dropped by 13.6 per cent. in the period from 1978 to 1983. In England and Wales, they rose by 9.1 per cent. In 1980 to 1983, however, the number of convictions dropped in Scotland by 41 per cent. The number also dropped in England and Wales, but by only 12 per cent. I mention those figures because they show the need in England and Wales to reform the licensing laws and to take advice and learn a lesson from what has occurred in Scotland.

I shall refer next to the need to reform the licensing laws in England and Wales. I am convinced that there are benefits in creating a more relaxed atmosphere for the consumption of drinks in, for instance, pubs. the report on the surveys in Scotland following the 1976 Act which changed the licensing laws stated: the rate at which alcohol was consumed during periods of drinking fell noticeably, particularly for male drinkers. People were drinking more slowly on licensed premises in 1984 than they had been in 1976. And there was a fall in the number of people who started a drink in the last 10 minutes before the bar closed.

Under our present laws, there is a tendency for people to take a last hurried drink before closing time, on a now-or-never basis — sometimes without really wanting another drink. I am sure that we can learn much from the changes in the laws in Scotland and that we must reform our laws. In a report in 1984, I advocated that the maximum permitted hours that licensing magistrates could grant should be 13—that is, from possibly 11 in the morning to midnight, or 10.30 am to 11.30 at night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), in his excellent report entitled, "Time Gentlemen Please", advocated a period from 10 to midnight, following the suggestion in the 1972 Erroll report, and by the Licensed Victuallers Association, the British Tourist Authority and the Adam Smith Institute.

I applaud the advent of low alcohol and non-alcohol beers. They will be a spearhead in the campaign for more sensible drinking. A lot more will have to be done and will be done to make such beers more readily known and more available.

Tourists tend to eat and drink outside expected times, sometimes due to time changes in their journeys or because it suits them better. Likewise, there is a tendency for people to stay up and out later, and the 11 o'clock closing time does not suit them. Not every pub would necessarily want to stay open from 11 in the morning until midnight, nor would they have the customers to make it worthwhile.

If the serious drinker wants to drink in the afternoon, he can quite easily purchase liquour in an off-licence or supermarket. More people need to be provided with what they want. Between 25,000 and 50,000 jobs are estimted to result from this sort of reform, but the important fact to remember is that, on the evidence of the Scottish example, it would be good for consumers' health and sobriety generally.

It is a somewhat ridiculous anomaly that hotel residents can eat and drink in the hotel restaurant at any hour, yet local people or non-residents who go to the restaurant cannot get a drink with their meals after 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I have been pleased to sponsor the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill which Lord Montgomery has piloted through all its stages in the other place with great skill. Amendments were made in Committee. Those who objected to its Second Reading have not explained their reasons to me. I hope that the debate will be appreciated for the opportunity that it provides of discussing the wider issues of reform and the measure proposed in the Bill.

The Bill merely proposes that restaurants should be able to be granted licences to serve alcohol with meals between 3 pm and 5.30 pm, and between 3 pm and 7 pm on Sundays—that is, restaurants or other places that are structurally adapted and self-contained, including those within or attached to premises such as hotels, public houses or private members' clubs. During the Second Reading debate in another place, Lord Caithness said: We are not talking about all premises which may serve drinks with meals, such as the bars of public houses, but only those which are designed to cater specifically for customers sitting down to a meal to which the consumption of alcohol is ancillary."—[official Report, House of Lords,17 December 1986; Vol. 483, c.259.]

That Bill, if passed, will not lead to bouts of afternoon drunkenness. Indeed, one can think of no more expensive way of getting a drink than purchasing a meal for it. It is a most reasonable reform and illustrates one way in which we can begin to start to make reforms. It is dictated by the perfectly normal and understandable desire of the industry to meet the wishes of its customers. It will merely mean that people can have a proper meal with a drink in the afternoon if they want one. It will be a job-creating reform and will help Britain to compete internationally for tourists and conference visitors. After all, most civilised countries do not have our present restrictions.

It has been said that the Bill will be piecemeal legislation. The wider issue of licensing reform has been attempted by hon. Members without success. It is now 15 years since the Erroll report was published and recommended that the licensing system should be more flexible to cater for changes in leisure habits and consumer demand, particularly among tourists.

It can be argued that the Act that amended the laws in Scotland was piecemeal—after all, it affected only a part of the United Kingdom—but it went through and it has provided a most valuable case study of the effects of the changes. I do not believe that it can be justly argued that this small, harmless measure should be blocked because of doctrinaire principles against wider reform. In my view, it is a logical step in the right direction. I hope that the House will allow it to make progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood was unsuccessful with his Licensing (Amendment) Bill. Many people considered that his Bill and the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill would not work together. Now that his Bill, unhappily, has made no progress, we should allow the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill to go forward and to assist those who wish to have a drink with their meals at a perfectly civilised time in the afternoon. We must contend with many problems, but I believe that the more that we can debate the matter and the more that we can arrive at ideas to deal with the problems, the better we shall make the population.

9.57 am
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I compliment the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on the way in which he presented his case. However, I shall offer a couple of criticisms in the course of my brief speech. One is that I am much less sanguine than the hon. Gentleman is about the liberalisation of the law in Scotland. I certainly welcome the chance to take part again in a debate on alcohol abuse. I raised the issue of alcohol abuse in an Adjournment debate way back in May of last year, when I said that the nation needed a public health policy on alcohol abuse. I also talked about the staggering growth in alcohol abuse throughout the nation. I suggested that the Government's policies left us in some doubt about whether they genuinely sought to deal effectively with what I believed to be a major social disease.

I have heard hon. Members warn about the drug of choice in America—cocaine—becoming the drug of choice in this country. For many people in Great Britain the drug of choice is alcohol. The excessive consumption of alcohol is a major British social problem that we must address. I respect the sincerity of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) in his attempt to liberalise the laws south of the border, but I say, have a care, because not all is goodness and sweetness north of the border, as I am sure the hon. Member will agree.

In his excellent speech, the hon. Member for Harrogate referred to the Scottish laws, but I remind him that, at about the same time as those laws were introduced in Scotland, public drunkenness was very largely decriminalised and that at approximately the same time the consumption of alcohol was banned from football grounds. Again, we were ahead of the English in that respect. Similarly, people were not allowed to take alcohol into football grounds.

Banning the consumption of alcohol at football grounds is a liberalisation of the law and it has worked remarkably well. I think that I can say, as a Yorkshireman long domiciled in Scotland and married to a Scot, that Scotland has a much better recent record on crowd behaviour at football grounds than, lamentably, the record at English football grounds.

Banning alcohol from football grounds has had an important effect on alcohol-related crime figures in Scotland. I would argue that it has had as much of an effect as the liberalisation of the laws of the land. I believe, too, that the general recession is partly responsible for the slowing down in the increase of alcohol abuse in Scotland.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I am following with great care the hon. Gentleman's very interesting speech. Will he confirm that the slowing down process to which he has just referred began before the Clayson reforms were implemented?

Dr. Godman

Alcohol consumption relates directly to the price of the product. I remember that during the last Budget debate I was criticised on Capital radio for having the nerve to suggest that the Chancellor had missed a good opportunity to deal with the problem, or partially to deal with it, by failing to raise the price of a pint, or of a half and half, as we call it in Scotland. I look to this year's Budget for a sensible and realistic price for this drug—the drug of choice for many people.

Chris Park, the excellent director of the Inverclyde Council on Alcohol in the constituency that I represent, said: On the subject of alcohol problems versus drug problems, alcohol is by far the most abused drug in Scotland…in the last year, around 700 people died as a direct result of their alcohol abuse, whereas around 160 died from heroin abuse.

To return to the liberalisation of the law, Douglas Allsop, the director of the Scottish Council on Alcohol, claims that, in Scotland, Research has shown that any increase in availability of alcohol will lead to increased consumption and an inevitable increase in the already unacceptably high prevalence of alcohol related problems in Scotland…We are particularly concerned by the increase in off-licensed premises after the recent Government report"— entitiled "Adolescent Drinking"— finding that 61 per cent. of Scotland's 13 year olds drink alcohol". Mr. Allsop went on to say that most of those youngsters obtain that alcohol virtually without challenge from off-licences and supermarket outlets. That is why I say one must take care when pointing to Scotland.

Not so long ago in Scotland my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) succeeded with his laudable private Member's Bill regarding the sale of solvents to youngsters by Scottish shopkeepers. We need to be equally tough on the sale of alcohol to our youngsters.

Much more needs to be done to tackle this evil. Industry has an important role to play. A number of Scottish companies, including some in the brewing industry—God knows, they have a responsibility here—have negotiated alcohol treatment programmes with the relevant trade unions and local alcohol units in hospitals to deal with the problem.

I do not believe that a man or woman should he sacked because he or she is suffering from this form of addiction, but it is absolutely essential that such a person should seek treatment. Companies, employers and trade unions must acknowledge that they have an important role to play. I welcome the developments in the alcohol treatment of employees, but it is piecemeal and the Government have a more direct role to play in encouraging this kind of development.

Some industries need this more than others. All newspapers, in my view—I do not say this because of last night's result in Greenwich—should have an alcohol treatment programme for their employees, particularly for their political journalists.

The hon. Member for Harrogate said that much more needs to be done by way of health education programmes in our schools and colleges. I welcome what he said. In a constituency such as mine, which has been ravaged by unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, it is absolutely essential that youngsters who have been forced into joblessness should not take up heavy drinking. Too many of them are doing so, and they require help.

Apart from our own Scottish Parliament, I should also like to see an increase in the number of designated places in Scotland. A designated place is a hostel for those who are habitually arrested for one element of alcohol abuse—public drunkenness. A great deal of the time of the community policeman—the laddie on the beat—is taken up by picking up public drunkards and running them in. We have one designated place in Aberdeen. The chief constable of Grampian region speaks very highly of it, because it releases his police officers from a great deal of unnecessary work and it allows professionals to give professional assistance to people who are suffering from public drunkenness. The Government should provide far more financial assistance for setting up designated places. Some might say that we need one here, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As for dealing with people who are suffering from this form of addiction, there is a project under way in the alcohol unit of the Duke street hospital in Glasgow. The hon. Member for Eastwood will know the hospital. Its catchment area includes Easterhouse and Drumchapel, Glasgow. Some encouraging developments are taking place in the treatment of those who are addicted to alcohol. That work is being conducted under the direction of Dr. P. Jauhar and Dr. Margaret Walker, with some help from Dr. Raymond Antebi. Nurses in the psychiatric unit are involved in the treatment of the addict—because that is the kind of patient we are talking about—and also social workers, occupational therapists and the district health visitor. The patients in that hospital are drawn from wide socio-economic strata in east Glasgow. Bringing together this team of doctors such as Dr. Jauhar and Dr. Walker and social workers—one of whom happens to be my wife—means that the addict is given help not only when he or she is in the hospital but when he or she returns to his or her family in the community. That development should be extended to other hospitals, not just in Scotland but in the United Kingdom.

I say to those from south of the border, have a care when talking about the liberalisation of the Scottish laws, although there are positive elements to them. But people in Scotland must deal with a major social evil, especially among youngsters—that of alcohol abuse.

10.10 am
Sir Bernardo Braine (Castle Point)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who spoke with such knowledge and understanding of the alcohol scene. I liked his warning, "Have a care." I hope that that will be the message that the House sends out. I should also like to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his success in the ballot, on his wisdom in selecting the subject of licensing reform and alcohol misuse—the two should always be linked—and on the informed and moderate way in which he opened our debate. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that he has performed a great service to the House in raising the matter in that way.

It is important that we should identify clearly the purpose of licensing law. Historically, it is the principal means employed by and within our society to control the harm that can arise from the misuse of a potentially dangerous drug, one about which the medical profession has been warning us repeatedly during recent years. When taken in excess alcohol can impair health, shorten life and cause immense human misery.

That there is a need to control the misuse of alcohol cannot be disputed by anyone. That licensing law is an effective control is apparently rejected by some, but the evidence is against them. A study of the effect of the restrictions introduced during the first world war which formed the basis of our present licensing laws shows clearly that the restrictions had exactly the effect intended. Drunkenness convictions fell by 79 per cent. between 1915 and 1918 and over the same period deaths from liver disease fell by more than 60 per cent. During the period following the first world war, Britain gained its reputation as one of the most sober nations in the world. The level of alcohol-related harm fell probably to its lowest point in our history. Of course, there were other factors, such as the economic recession in the early 1930s, but it cannot be seriously doubted that licensing restrictions played an important part.

Controlling the availability of alcohol does work. The licensing law is a protection against alcohol misuse. Certainly, as the law has been steadily whittled away in more recent years, there has been a huge increase in alcohol consumption and in alcohol-related harm. It should be unnecessary to repeat the account which I gave in the debate on the Licensing (Amendment) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) when we spoke of the growing misuse of alcohol as a major threat to public health.

If, however, we go on moving piece by piece, nibbling at the protection that the licensing law affords, what degree of harm are we going to accept? Do we have to reach the levels in France and the Soviet Union before action is taken? Nibble, nibble, nibble—that is the advocacy we constantly hear from some of my hon. Friends. How far do we have to go before the harm becomes even greater than it is? What is the minimum control that such people will accept? The relationship between availability and consumption is clear. The relationship between the price of alcohol and consumption is even clearer. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow did not say that, in terms of disposable income, alcohol is actually cheaper than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Can one be surprised that it is now within the reach of teenagers and that the level of harm is rising?

The public health case for not allowing alcohol to become an even cheaper item in the shopping basket is overwhelming. However, the idea that raising the price is feasible as the sole strategy is surely unrealistic. But then it is unrealistic to expect any single measure to be feasible as a protective strategy. There are the questions of how much alcohol costs, how many licensed outlets should we permit and what should be their nature, what should be the hours of sale, or the legal drinking age, the advertising and promotion of alcohol by means such as sports sponsorship and legal control over alcohol-related behaviour such as drinking and driving. The aims of our sporting stars are to achieve excellence in achievement. Does alcohol add to this or does it take away. The idea of the drinks industry being involved in sponsoring high achievement in sport is horrendous nonsense.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate spoke vividly of the connection between alcohol misuse and crime, especially violent crime. He was right to do so. The police have established clearly the connection between the two. As consumption goes up, crime increases, especially among youngsters. The House will recall the appalling vicarage rape case. Crime has taken a pretty foul trend in recent years. Was there anything more appalling when a burglary by three men led to the vilest assault of a young girl that one can remember? The two vicious rapists had drunk five to six bottles of vodka. Between that kind of crime and drink—

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)


Sir Bernard Braine

Let me finish the sentence. The indictment is a pretty powerful one. Between a vicious crime of that kind and the excessive consumption of alcohol there is a direct link, and every senior police officer knows that to be so.

Mr. Couchman

I am following my right hon. Friend's arguments, which I have heard before and in which he is extremely sincere. The motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) calls for a reform of licensing laws. His call is for a sensible relaxation of certain of the laws relating to licensed premises. Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that the people who were convicted in this foul and horrible case had bought their excessive drink — the five to six bottles of vodka — from responsible licensed outlets, such as public houses and restaurants, or is he suggesting that they obtained them at supermarkets?

Sir Bernard Braine

In due course I shall get on to the question where most illegal drinking is taking place. Since my hon. Friend tempts me I shall deal with that. For the moment, let me say that all those elements need to be considered in relation to one another and in the light of the known relationship between the prevalence of alcohol misuse and the general level of alcohol consumption in society. That is the point of departure for the rest of my argument. If my hon. Friend will hold himself in patience I shall get to the point he has raised.

Let us agree that when consumption increases, harm increases; when consumption falls, so does the level of harm. The essential failing of the present situation is that the Government lack an overall view of what they wish to achieve in relation to the problem. Indeed, they are divided on the subject. Government Departments with an interest in the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol or in controlling the effects of alcohol misuse appear to act independently of one another. The policies of one Department often undermine the polices of another. We are told that the Home Office and Department of Employment Ministers favour a gentle relaxation of the licensing laws. That could be a measure which could hardly fail to undermine the efforts of the Department of Transport to tackle the problem of drinking and driving. It has been suggested to us that we should encourage drinking in the middle of the afternoon, at least with food in restaurants and so on. That would bring more people who consume alcohol on to the road at peak travelling times, particularly when children are coming home from school. I made that point in a previous debate and I shall not repeat it here.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Can my right hon. Friend explain to the House why the Scottish police favour the liberalisation of licensing hours in Scotland?

Sir Bernard Braine

Did my hon. Friend say "favoured" or "favour"?

Mr. Allan Stewart


Sir Bernard Braine

I am glad that my hon Friend is not harking back to the situation before because my impression when I was chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism was that police officers in Scotland did not favour the reforms and were not happy at the time of the reforms. Yet that is an irrelevance. What really matters is whether liberalisation is accompanied by a whole host of other measures. If my hon. Friend will keep himself in patience, he will hear what I have to say on that score. I shall put my beliefs on the line. I have always believed that drinking in a controlled atmosphere of a properly run public house is something to be defended. Indeed, it is more likely that people will behave themselves there, where a licensee may lose his licence if they do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood must look at the problem in the round. That is what I am proposing to do.

The Department of Transport cannot be happy about anything that leads to increased drinking in the afternoon and it is crucial that steps are taken to remedy that lack of co-ordination between Government Departments. It has been crucial for a long time. The Central Policy Review Staff, a Government body, stated in 1979 — incidentally, the Government never published its report, but it was leaked to a Swedish newspaper: Neither the existing machinery within Government nor the bodies outside it provide the means for the coherent formulation of policy. That statement is as true today as it was then.

I have a suggestion to make. The interdepartmental committee set up in 1984 to co-ordinate the Government's response to illicit drug abuse, which has worked well under the splendid leadership of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, provides a model that could be followed. I cannot see why the terms of reference of that committee cannot simply be extended to include alcohol. Another requirement is the creation of an appropriate forum for the discussion and formulation of control policies between Government, the agencies concerned with public health and the drink industry. Clearly, the Government must reconcile many diverse and often competing claims and interests. Of course, special weight has to be given to such a recommendation. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has long been urging action along those lines, recognised that the impact of health-directed policy on the livelihood of large sections of the population must be borne in mind and strategies devised to protect their interests against unavoidable negative consequences. I accept that fully. However, at present, no such forum exists and the process of working out the detailed, practical implications of control policies can hardly be said to have begun.

It might be thought then that I would have welcomed the establishment of the National Forum which was to be a meeting ground for the Department of Health and Social Securiy, Alcohol Concern, the Heath Education Council and the drinks industry. That body is now dormant following the departure of its chairman, Sir John Crofton, the eminent Edinburgh doctor, and the establishment of the new Health Education Authority. The trouble was that Sir John rumbled — I shall use that word—the set-up. He told us that he became increasingly convinced that the industry was intending only a cosmetic operation. Alas, I have to say that I did not welcome the setting up of the National Forum. It does not follow that, because the drinks industry has legitimate interests, it is right to permit or encourage it effectively to control what is clearly intended to be the principal national forum for the discussion of prevention policy. That was a wholly wrong approach.

What do we know of the industry's views and its attitude towards prevention policies? We know that it regards increased taxation on alcoholic drink, restrictive licensing laws, controls on advertising and measures against drunken driving as threats that must be neutralised. The confidential drink-driving document referred to in the article by Mr. Andrew Veitch in The Guardian on 19 February makes that abundantly clear. That document also makes it clear that the drink industry is not going to repeat the mistake of the tobacco industry when it was faced with not dissimilar threats, but will respond in a much more subtle and sophisticated way.

What then could we expect from a national forum, of which, as I understand it, the drink industry has to be the principal paymaster? The industry will naturally be prepared, indeed eager, to support any number of ideas and projects for educating the public to drink sensibly because such projects suggest that something is being done, while posing very little threat to its profits. It is highly unlikely that the drink industry will be prepared to discuss the level of alcohol consumption beyond which society cannot tolerate any further expansion. It is even less likely that it will favour the return to those former levels of consumption which produced the lowest incidence of alcohol-related health and social harm in our country.

There must be a national forum of some sort but it must be a properly constituted body without undue influence from vested interests. If a forum were to be created which had a genuine interest in and willingness to formulate preventive strategies, licensing law would have to be a prime area of discussion. With that, I am in complete agreement.

As I said in a previous debate, I do not see how any serious analysis of this topic could conclude that the solution to alcohol misuse is to make alcohol more easily available at all times of the day and night. In the past that belief was held sincerely by many people and no doubt many still believe it. It sounds to me as if some hon. Members still believe that. It is comparable to the belief which prevailed in earlier times that an appropriate form of housing for a family with children was a high-rise block. Experience has disproved both those beliefs and, in relation to alcohol misuse, there are serious questions to be asked not merely about pub opening hours but about the proliferation of outlets that we have seen in supermarkets, clubs and elsewhere.

The present and any future Government should aim to reduce the number of outlets and place additional controls upon them. With regard to supermarkets, for example, in order to reduce impulse buying it should be obligatory for there to be a separate entry and exit to the area from which alcohol is sold. Sales should be across the counter and not by customer self-service. Such measures could be introduced in conjunction with others concerned with price, advertising and promotion and preventive health education. We need a coherent and co-ordinated response and so far we have not got it. The Government know perfectly well what must be done. They were told in 1985 when the DHSS received a report on under-age drinking prepared by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, but which was not released until just a week before Christmas. Consider what the report says: for adolescents the major drug of misuse is alcohol, and … they suffer far more problems from its use than from all other drugs combined. I have a few statistics of which the House should be made aware. These are the outcome of a survey that was initiated by the Government, who sat on the results for a year. It appears that 19 per cent. of boys and 14 per cent. of girls aged 13 years obtain their drink in pubs or bars, not in supermarkets. Among 15-year-olds, the percentages rise to 44 per cent. and 42 per cent. By the age of 17, 68 per cent. of boys and 57 per cent. of girls obtain their drink from pubs or bars, not supermarkets. Among 13-year-olds, 26 per cent. of all boys and 17 per cent. of girls drink alcohol on four or more days in the week, and 30 per cent of boys and 38 per cent. of girls drank at least once a week. Among 15-year-olds, the figures are 34 per cent. and 25 per cent. and 22 per cent. and 27 per cent. respectively. Nearly one in every five of 15-year-old boys drinks more than 25 units of alcohol per week.

I shall translate that into medical fact. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated that the upper health limit for adult men is no more than 21 units a week. The OPCS report continues: Heavy drinking, including, no doubt, what is known in adults as 'problem drinking' among a minority of adolescents (even among secondary school children) is a regular commitment that forms part of their lives. It is not an occasional adventure.

A minority of adolescents have a regular habit of drinking. Some of them are still at school. Under 21-year-olds now account for one in four of all drunkenness convictions compared with one in 12 30 years ago. One in 14 cases of drunkenness involves under-age drinking compared with one in 100 cases 30 years ago. Let the House heed what I am about to say, even if it chooses to ignore the rest of my remarks. For the first time this century 16-year-olds are more at risk from drunkenness than the middle-aged. The rate of drunkenness per 100,000 population among 16-year-olds exceeds that of the 30–60 age group. It is no wonder that Sir John Crofton drew back from the trap which was being set for him.

Parliament cannot ignore the figures that I have recited. I have warned the Government repeatedly that if they continue to ignore the problem, there will be a heavy toll of misery and they will be responsible largely for it. I do not believe that they will ignore it. I think that they are now taking the warnings extremely seriously.

Licensing is about achieving a balance between the right of the individual to consume alcohol, which taken in moderation is a pleasant adjunct to living—most of us enjoy an occasional drink with our family and with our friends—and the right of society at large to be protected against alcohol misuse. Our licensing laws have grown increasingly out of balance by making alcohol too easily available and we are already paying an unacceptable price in both human and economic terms for the imbalance. The prime responsibility of Government is to ensure that the cost does not increase still further but instead is reduced.

10.34 am
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

We all admire and much respect the vigorous way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) advances his case. We admire, too, the way in which he has championed the cause against alcoholism for many years, and in so doing has sought to persuade the Government to pursue a more positive campaign against it. I would go a long way with him in what he said about the desirability of an overall package of measures that link the reform of licensing laws with other measures directed to education and research.

I congratulate, too, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on selecting this subject for debate and on the wording of the motion. My hon. Friend was unduly modest with his references to the Alcohol Research and Education Council, which was set up directly as a result of a private Member's Bill that he piloted through Parliament. My hon. Friend has been a distinguished member of the council.

I believe that licensing reform is overdue. The fact that there is a virtually unlimited supply of liquor should be linked to increased research and education. I was extremely sympathetic to the Bill brought forward recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), but it seemed that it could be open to criticism from some, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, who fear that increased opening hours are bound to lead to increased consumption. A reasonable inititial step would be to allow more flexible hours, without necessarily increasing the number of hours that public houses can remain open. We could introduce more flexible opening hours tomorrow without waiting for the larger package of measures to which reference has been made.

I welcome the reference in the motion to those who consume alcohol to excess. The problem is that some use alcohol to excess, not alcohol per se. At this stage I should declare an interest because, as the House may be aware, I am parliamentary adviser to the Scotch Whisky Association. I became so involved through my interest in the problems of alcoholism. I was invited to sit on a committee that the association runs, which rakes a particular interest in the problems. It was by that route that I came to be the association's adviser.

The House will be aware also that I am chairman of the parliamentary ASH group. I am accused occasionally of being inconsistent in holding these two positions — parliamentary adviser to the Scotch Whisky Association and chairman of the ASH group—but there is a clear distinction to be drawn, even though it may not be shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr Garel-Jones), who happily has to remain silent in our debate. There is a clear distinction to be drawn between tobacco products, which are harmful per se and have been proved beyond doubt to be so, and alcohol, which is not. Alcohol can be good for us if it is taken in moderation; indeed, there are occasions when it is prescribed by medical practitioners.

The important feature is that alcohol should be used properly. Clearly it should not be misused or abused. That is a view that is held strongly by the trade associations, including the Scotch Whisky Association, the Brewers Society and the Wine and Spirit Association. They are as concerned as we are about the problem of alcoholism, which is a scourge of our society. As responsible meimbers of the community, the representatives of the trade associations do not want to see it. Alcoholism does no good to them or their products. Indeed, it is damaging to be associated with all the consequences of alcoholism.

One of the undoubted difficulties is that alcohol is associated with many extremely unfortunate consequences. For example, 25 per cent. of all road accidents involve a drink element. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has said, alcohol is associated with crime and domestic problems. Surely the fault lies with the individual who abuses alcohol and not with alcohol itself. If the contrary argument is advanced, we might as well hold the internal combustion engine responsible for the many accidents that take place, drink-related or not. The problem lies with people and how and why they abuse alcohol. About 2 per cent, of alcohol users abuse it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said, the vast majority of people use it sensibly. We all enjoy a drink now and again in pleasant surroundings, but not when we are about to drive off in a car.

It is difficult to estimate how many people abuse alcohol, because we must consider everybody: from the business man who does a reasonable job but who, if one wants to get something out of him, one should see before 12 noon — we cannot say that he is incompetent or unable to do his job in the afternoon, it is just that he is a little the worse for wear—right down to the down-and-out with his bottle of meths.

One thing that we do not know is why people become alcoholic and whether it is possible to get them off alcohol.

Dr. Godman

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the factors is the slick and smooth advertising of alcoholic products? Does he know of any television advertisement for beer, wine or spirits which urges moderation?

Mr. Sims

I do not think that there are television advertisements for spirits. Spirit manufacturers have deliberately not used television advertising. Nevertheless, I do not dispute the broad thrust of the hon. Gentleman's assertion.

We do not know why some people turn to alcohol. Perhaps they are under stress, but why do some people turn to alcohol when others turn to drugs, others to cigarettes and still others simply bite their nails? There is much that we do not know about why people become alcoholic. There is conflicting advice about the best way in which to treat alcoholism and even whether it is curable. Some experts say that it is, whereas others say that, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, and that, although it is possible to get somebody off the drink, if he has another drop he will be back in trouble again. There is a great deal of research still to be done.

Research into availability has been mentioned. It seems that making alcohol more easily available in licensed house conditions does not necessarily increase alcoholism, but there must be some suspicion that the increased number of off-licence outlets does, but we do not know.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) mentioned price. I wonder how important a factor that is. One can argue that, if alcohol is cheaper, more will be sold and that if it is more expensive less will be sold, but we do not know how important price is for the real addict. Is there not a danger that, if we double the price, addicts will simply spend more money on their alcohol and less on other things such as food, or go down to the market and buy meths, thus harming themselves in that way? We simply do not know enough. It could be argued that we should increase the price substantially and penalise the 98 per cent. of sensible alcohol users to dissuade the 2 per cent. who abuse it.

A lot more could be done in education. We must promote awareness of the problem of alcoholism among employers, for example, to achieve a sympathetic understanding of alcoholism and what can be done about it. We should encourage them to take a sympathetic approach to alcoholics and send them off for treatment. The same is true for employees. They often know that Joe is a bit the worse for drink and help him along by covering up his deficiencies. They would do him a far better service if they ensured that he got some help.

The problem of young people drinking and under-age drinking has been mentioned. It is a serious problem. I am keen on the idea of identity cards, as they would have a useful role to play in the control of crime and terrorism. This is not the time to develop that argument, but a useful side effect of such a sytem might be colour-coded cards, for example, which would have to be presented when buying alcohol so that the vendor would know whether the customer was old enough to buy liquor. We should remember that all hon. Members carry identity cards. They are in use in many walks of life.

Establishing age is a real difficulty. The problem has occurred in my family. When 18, my diminutive daughter was refused service and had to ask her under-age but strapping brother to buy a drink for her. Establishing age contributes to the problems of licensees, arid identity cards could help.

It is important to teach youngsters the facts about alcohol and its effects on the system. They should be taught its long-term effects on the body, not just the fact that it can make people feel drunk. We must also teach them that that applies to alcohol in all forms.

We often hear disparaging references to hard liquor. I have mentioned my interest in the spirits industry, but it is as well to take account of the fact that the important thing is the fact that alcohol is taken, not the form in which it is taken. It is not always appreciated that a single whisky, a glass of sherry, a glass of wine and half a pint of lager contain exactly the same amount of alcohol. The form is irrelevant.

Many bodies are involved in research and education, and I have mentioned a few. Many trade bodies make grants without strings to research and education projects which are doing some extremely useful work. The Brewers Society has produced an excellent handbook for schools about drinking and driving, which is written in sensible and straightforward English which youngsters can understand and relate to. The Scotch Whisky Association has issued wall posters on alcohol, its effects, how it is made and the need for it to be used sensibly.

More impetus should be put behind research and education, and there should be some co-ordination. One begins to wonder whether the forum will ever take off, but the impetus might come from it. The DHSS has a role to play. Indeed, it has already produced publications such as "Drinking Sensibly". We might with some optimism look to the new Health Education Authority which is a beefed-up version of the Health Education Council. It could be a co-ordinating body and ensure that more resources are put behind education and research, as they are extremely important.

I am not suggesting that anything I have said is particularly new, but there is still not enough awareness of the problem and the extent of alcoholism. Indeed, there is much misunderstanding about it. If this debate helps to increase awareness and understanding, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate will have served a signal purpose.

10.39 am
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

It gives me particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), whose constituent I am. He talked a good deal of sense and offered us a balanced view on the question of the relaxation of the licensing laws, but with a consciousness of the danger of alcohol in all its forms.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his choice of subject. I am somewhat constrained in talking about the health element of this topic as I am PPS to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), the Minister for Health.

It will come as no surprise that I support my hon. Friend in his aim for sensible relaxation and reform of the licensing laws. I am, uniquely amongst hon. Members, a multiple licence holder and managing director of a small company which tenants and operates five public houses in the London area. It is right that I should make that interest clear.

Nearly 80 years ago my grandfather took his first tenancy in Pimlico road, SW1. We have been tenants of another public house in Pimlico for 55 years, and in 1984 we took another public house in Pimlico. As a family, we have been publicans in Pimlico for 80 years. For 75 years my grandfather, then my father and latterly myself, have been forced to cohabit with the same mistress—DORA. DORA was first thrust upon us in 1916. She had a facelift in 1921 and a further round of plastic surgery in 1964. DORA is now pretty ragged around the edges, but reports of DORA's imminent demise are, I fear, much exaggerated and premature. I have begun to think that were my son to follow me into the trade my one bequest to him would be the family floosy, DORA. This is not a confession to yet another Tory sex scandal.

DORA, as I am sure all hon. Members will know, stands for the Defence of the Realm Act, which was enacted in 1915 to curtail the overenthusiastic drinking habits of munitions workers during the first world war. Although there have been permitted hours for pubs at various times since the 17th century, and continuously since the Licensing Act 1872, DORA severely curtailed the liberal permitted hours under the 1872 Act—some 18 or 19 hours a day. DORA empowered a liquor control board to enforce quite draconian restrictions on opening hours.

The 1921 Act allowed a slight relaxation of DORA, allowing nine hours in London and eight hours a day elsewhere, with five hours permitted on Sundays, Licensing justices were granted a fairly minimal discretion as to opening and closing times, but a mandatory break of at least two hours was enshrined in the 1921 Act.

Permitted hours have been relaxed slightly since 1921. The 1964 Act gave us the mixed blessing of the 10 minutes' drinking-up time.

Hon. Members will remember that the Erroll committee report in the early 1970s recommended wholesale change in the licensing law, since when successive Governments have stood back and allowed the countervailing forces of tourism on the one hand and the health lobby on the other to be used as an alibi for inaction.

Scotland was luckier. Dr. Clayson reported later and a Labour Government, desperate to protect their base against the nationalists in Scotland, brought into being in 1976 the reforms which have been much talked about by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). Those reforms liberalised what had been, until then, the most severe restrictions in the United Kingdom and probably in Europe. The recent Office of Population Censuses and Surveys report suggests that that liberalisation had led Scots to drink in a more responsible way. I shall not take that any further because we all have our views on the OPCS report, and we can all use the report in our own individual cases.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that people such as myself, who are teetotal, think that the changes in the Scottish legislation were one of the best things ever to have ever happened? The problems that came from the rapid drinking that was required by 9.30 pm, as it was in Scotland, created enormous problems, which have now vanished.

Mr. Couchman

There is no worse example of forced quick drinking than the legendary six o'clock swill in Australia, which was the most unpleasant and horrible way of drinking that the world has probably ever seen.

Many hon. Members will know that there is now a good deal of getting round the law. In the urban areas particularly, special hours certificates are not difficult to obtain, and many entertainment establishments can trade until 2 am and even later with the provision of the most minimal meals.

There is also widespread flouting of the law by irresponsible licensees who treat the law on permitted hours with contempt. Every area has its "afters" houses; they are well known and the police seem slow to act against them. The law is thus falling into disrepute, just as the law on Sunday trading has fallen into disrepute. That is not surprising, for permitted hours, which might have been justifiable in 1921—an era before the dawn of television and a time when people went to work earlier, worked longer hours and at more physically demanding jobs— are scarcely relevant today. People's living habits have changed.

The other major factor that has rendered our permitted hours anachronistic is tourism, both outward and inward. We visit foreign parts for our holidays and find more liberal regimes for the sale of drink almost everywhere apart from Scandinavia and the Moslem countries. Foreigners visit Britain and find our drinking hours in pubs and more particular in restaurants — as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) pointed out in some detail—puzzling and extremely irritating.

What is to be done? Since I was elected just three and a half years ago, there has been a tremendous growth of the realisation that our permitted hours are no longer relevant to today's way of life. It is a topic which is talked about, where I suspect it was not before. The licensed trade, publicans, restaurateurs and the brewers have done a good job in bringing the matter to the attention of politicians. Not unnaturally, I have been amongst those who are leading the campaign for greater awareness in the House. I have had the opportunity of bringing the matter to the attention of Ministers, both formally in the House and informally in discussion.

More than 200 Back-Bench Members have signed the early-day motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), which called for longer and more flexible licensing hours. That is an indication of the upsurge of opinion in the House. We all realise that early-day motions are not signed by members of the Government and do not lead to legislation, but they are an indication—a big indication when they are signed by as many people as signed my hon. Friend's motion—of the interest in the matters in hand.

Until recently there was a perception of disunity among the various parts of the licensed trade. Restaurateurs, hoteliers and publicans, whether tenants or managers, appeared not to agree on a programme of reform and relaxation. That problem is behind us. When my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) introduced his private Member's Bill recently there was a great sense of unity within the trade. It liked the Bill, which seemed sensible.

I should like to have seen a vigorous campaign of support for the Bill from the restaurant and pub-going public. That did not happen, but hon. Members will recognise that it is always much easier to motivate a campaign against an issue than to initiate a campaign in favour of change. The Sunday trading fiasco last year demonstrated that fact to perfection. We have not been deluged with letters of support, but we have certainly had almost no evidence of hostility to change.

I wish that my hon. Friend's Bill had been given a Second Reading. I regret that it did not get into Committee, where it would have been vulnerable to change and where it could have been fully and properly discussed. I regret that it seems unlikely to succeed.

I support the motion and I hope that it will spur the Government into bringing forward reforming legislation. Such legislation should not be left to the vagaries of our private Members' Bills mechanism. I am tired of my family's long-serving mistress. My affection for her is long since dead and it is time that DORA's rouged and raddled body was laid finally to rest.

11.2 am

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) referred to my early-day motion which was signed by 206 Members. I would not have tabled that motion if I had not believed that the time for change had come and that change would be beneficial, not only to tourism, but to public health.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred in his eloquent speech to the fact that when a change of law was suggested in Scotland the police opposed the proposal. However, the police now support the change that was made. They have changed their view in the light of experience, and a similar process is happening in the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on tabling his motion.

In the light of the experience in Scotland, we know the adverse, and potentially beneficial, effects of change. During the past year I have had the privilege, as a fellow-elect of the industry and parliament trust, to spend 25 days with Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, and my interest in that company appears in the Register of Members' Interests.

Before my election to the House I made television programmes for teenagers. One series dealt with the problems facing young people and as part of the preparation for that series I took a training course in counselling in alcohol-related problems. More recently, I have worked in the treatment of alcoholics and I am involved in such a course at present.

Anyone who has experienced urine-soaked clothes and mattresses, bodies lying in pools of vomit and the knock in the middle of the night from a policeman saying that there has been yet another accident or yet another car crash, anyone who has witnessed the breakdown of a family, the loss of a job, divorce and misery caused to children, anyone who has heard and desperately wanted to believe the lies told by alcoholics, such as, "I am not drinking now", anyone who has had to search a house, looking for drink in lavatory cisterns, under beds and in the stuffing in the backs of chairs, and anyone who has noticed that a dog is being taken for walks more frequently and knows that somewhere out there bottles of spirits are hidden in hedgerows is more than aware that alcohol abuse is a serious illness.

I do not believe that any responsible hon. Member would wish to exacerbate alcohol abuse, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said, the problem is confined to 2 per cent. or less of the population. They abuse what the vast majority of the population use properly and enjoy. We should not confuse use with abuse.

I was particularly involved with the problems of young people and my hon. Friend the Minister for Health has laid great emphasis on those problems. Many young people learn their drinking at private parties and get their ill-acquired drinking skills from the off-licence or supermarket. That is where the roots of abuse are most likely to be found. In the responsible and controlled environment of the public house sensible drinking skills —as they are termed by the Accept organisation with which I trained — are taught by good and responsible publicans.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point suggested that our licensing laws are a protection against alcohol misuse. That idea is desperately wrong. Our licensing laws do little or nothing to protect the alcoholic from his or her craving. The alcoholic will protect his or her lines of supply, whatever may be the opening hours of pubs.

Indeed, it could be argued that our licensing laws exacerbate the problem. Alcoholics are isolated. Most do not drink in pubs, though I accept that some will have started their drinking in public houses or clubs. The teenager, possibly under age, who is first legally taken into a public house by parents for a non-alcoholic drink learns drinking skills in a social environment. Those skills should also be taught in school. If we are to control the problems created by the abuse of alcohol, we have to start at the root of the problem and teach young people how to use alcohol and how to drink it properly and sensibly. We can do that through much greater effort in schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst referred to the publication that the Brewers Society has brought out and is issuing to schools that relates specifically to drinking and driving.

I should like to think and suggest that the members of the Brewers Society, the major brewers — this was certainly my experience with Scottish and Newcastle Breweries — make a tremendous effort and take their responsibilities in this direction very seriously. The amount of money that has been poured by the brewers into education is not inconsiderable. The amount of money that the brewers have poured into their houses to create an environment that is more socially acceptable than the drinking houses of the 1920s and 1930s is also considerable. In Scotland, especially, the social attitude to drinking has changed dramatically.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Would my hon. Friend care to comment upon the commercial pressures that breweries are under these days in a highly competitive business? One understands that publicans have targets that they must meet. Does not the fact that they have to keep to these targets to earn a decent income in a highly competitive, pressurised environment encourage them perhaps to sell that extra pint to that extra individual which they should not do?

Mr. Gale

My experience is that most publicans will not do that. Most publicans behave responsibly. I have my own personal views on the licensing of publicans as well as public houses. I have made no secret of the fact that I would personally like to see premises and the licence holders themselves being licensed and for there to be a requirement that a licence holder should be on licensed premises at all times when those premises are open.

Mr. Couchman

I think I am right in saying, in response to my hon. Friend, that we are licensed as licensees. I am a multiple licence holder. I am adjudged to be a fit and proper person to hold that licence. Does not my hon. Friend agree that the last thing that a publican wants is a drunk in his pub?

Mr. Gale

I agree entirely. I shall come to that point in a moment. I clearly did not make myself plain. Yes, of course I understand and accept that the licensee is licensed, as are the premises. However, at present there is not a roving band, if I may put it that way, of people not licensed to a particular house, but holding a licence to run a house, as you or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have licences to drive cars. There should be, just as there has to be a qualified pharmacist in a chemist on duty at all times, a qualified licensee on the premises at all times. I am sorry if I did not make myself plain.

I shall refer briefly to the experience in Scotland. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) sought to introduce his private Member's Bill, it was suggested that the British Medical Association had opposed him. It is true that, at the beginning of the week in question, the BMA held a press conference indicating opposition to the Bill. Having given bad publicity to the Bill, it is remarkable how quickly the BMA retracted what it had said. It was compelled to do that because it discovered, to its embarrassment, that the British Medical Journal had carried in January of this year a report from Dr. Martin Plant of the University department of psychiatry at the royal Edinburgh hospital that related specifically to the experiences in Scotland. I wish to put that report on the record. Dr. Plant says in the British Medical Journal: It may be concluded that since the licensing legislation of 1976, Scotland has improved relative to the rest of Britain in relation to drunken driving, drunkenness, total admissions for alcohol dependence and alcoholic psychosis. The position in relation to alcohol-related mortality is less clear. Alcoholism (later alcohol dependence) is a rare cause of death which may fluctuate considerably over time. Even so it can be concluded that relative alcohol-related deaths were increasing in Scotland before 1976. Since then this trend has continued in relation to liver cirrhosis. Available evidence does not clarify whether or not the 1976 legislation has influenced this trend. To the extent that Scottish experience serves as a guide to the effects of relaxing licensing laws in England and Wales, this evidence is cautiously optimistic. That is a psychiatrist's view of Scotland. My own experience, from visiting Scotland last year and having visited Scotland for many years prior to that, and having lived in Scotland prior to the change in laws, is that there has been a dramatic change in social attitudes. The incidence of drink-related crime, of drunken driving, of drunken affray and of drunken theft have all fallen.

If we contrast the experiences and the recommendations of the police in Scotland with those of hon. Members around the rest of the United Kingdom who represent seaside towns, we must conclude that the Scottish experience has been of benefit to tourism and socially desirable. Any hon. Member who represents a seaside town and who finds, on a summer Saturday afternoon at half past 2 in the afternoon, some 750 drunks, or people who have drunk too much, turfed out on to the sea front simultaneously must be aware of the control problems that the English and the Welsh police are faced with.

The change in the rest of the United Kingdom is long overdue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point speaking in the debate on my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood's Bill on 30 January is reported in Hansard as saying: If the Bill ever goes to a Standing Committee we will get the facts, not the opinions of this chief constable or that chief constable. We shall get the opinions of the police officers who have the task of enforcing the law, who for example, have to deal with drunken youths late at night."—[Official Report, 30 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 652.] We have that, and the experience of the police officers who have to enforce the law is that the change that has taken place in Scotland has been, in policing terms, socially desirable. Those of us who have experience of the law in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom can only endorse that view.

Sir Bernard Braine

As my hon. Friend sought to quote me, he might have gone on to recall to the House what I actually said. I said that a senior police officer in the town next to my constituency has been warning that under-age drinking is going on in many pubs. Our local newspaper carries accounts quite frequently of the police having to deal with drunken youngsters late at night in Southend and in Basildon. I said that, although an unnamed chief constable was supposed to be in favour of the Bill, in general police officers who have to deal directly with situations of that sort have no illusions about them, and any extension of drinking at that hour in the face of the facts already known to the Home Office and the Department of Health, any extension of drinking hours without other measures being taken, will increase that sort of behaviour.

We are dealing here not with alcoholics but with youngsters under peer pressure who are flooding into pubs, who are often below drinking age, and who then behave anti-socially. The licensing laws are there surely to protect the public. My hon. Friend was quite wrong in what he said to the House earlier. That was nonsense.

Mr. Gale

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making his second speech of the morning.

Sir Bernard Braine

Be accurate.

Mr. Gale

I quoted my right hon. Friend very accurately from Hansard. The police in Scotland and certainly the police in the seaside towns around the United Kingdom would like to see sensible licensing hours so that those who have been drinking are not all tipped out on to the streets in mid-afternoon.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend is probably aware that I represent a constituency with a huge tourist interest. Tourism is the largest employer. I assure my hon. Friend that the Tayside police are in favour of the changes that have taken place in Scottish law and that the problems that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) has highlighted existed to a large extent in my constituency before the changes took place. They have substantially vanished and that is reckoned to be because of the changes in attitude that have developed as a result of the changes in the law.

Mr. Gale

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is tee-total, and speaks with experience of the law as it now is in Scotland. I have given way many times, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I now conclude my speech.

There is no doubt that the call for change in the licensing laws has the full support of the Department of Employment and of the Back-Bench tourism committee, which recognises the tremendous possibilities for growth in the tourist industry and the contribution to that which a sensible change and an end to inflexibility in our licensing laws could make.

Foreign visitors find our licensing laws totally bewildering. It is nonsense that on a summer Saturday afternoon a foreign visitor can be thrown out of a pub, have the door locked behind him, go across the road to the supermarket, take a beer out of the fridge, pay for it, take it back across the road and drink it on the steps of the pub, leaving the can for the publican to clear up. That is arrant nonsense and the law should be changed.

In Scotland, the responsible attitude of publicans and brewers demonstrates that the time for change has come. I hope that the House will support the motion and that the Government will declare in their manifesto that they will introduce the change that is required in the next Parliament.

11.22 am
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

I welcome the opportunity for a wide debate on the subject of alcohol. I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) for making the debate possible.

Alcohol in moderation can be a source of pleasure for many, but alcohol in excess is a dangerous drug, with serious consequences for those who abuse it. Some hon. Members have suggested that about 2 per cent. of the population abuse alcohol. I beg to differ; I think that the evidence is that the percentage is higher than that.

Exactly a week ago today, the Secretary of State for Social Services made an interesting speech at a conference. He said that the problems of alcohol abuse were not those of a small minority. I commend his speech to hon. Members, and perhaps the Minister will refer to it. I hope that that speech is a sign of a more determined effort by the Government to pursue sensible policies.

Alcohol has caused many problems and difficulties in our society — indeed, in most societies. This is not an exclusively British problem, even though our approach to pubs and licensing hours gives the problem a uniquely British flavour.

If alcohol did not already exist and someone invented the product, and if we were able to assess the consequences, we would say that it should be banned. That is probably unrealistic now, because alcohol is so widely used. Countries which have tried prohibition have been unsuccessful. We must recognise the problem and the pleasure that it gives to many people, myself included, but we must also discover what steps we can take to prevent abuse. The problem requires a broad approach. I am not in favour of piecemeal legislation unless it follows a broad approach and a determined effort to tackle the problem in all areas.

One of the difficulties is that responsibility is divided between so many Government Departments. Today's debate, unlike the debate on the Bill to change licensing hours, gives us an opportunity to cover the problem widely. Piecemeal legislation is not the best answer, although I understand the force of some of the arguments in favour of certain types of legislation.

Alcohol has become more readily available in recent years. In the 10 years between 1973 and 1983, there was a 20 per cent, increase in the number of on-licence premises. In the same period there was an increase of nearly 40 per cent, in the number of supermarkets and other off-licence premises selling alcohol.

I would not mind if we introduced flexibility within the present 9½ hours daily limit for pub opening hours, although I would not wish legislation to be introduced in isolation. It probably makes sense to encourage people to drink with meals rather than without food. By a meal, I do not mean a sandwich and five whiskies. Drinking with meals is a sensible way of drinking. I look with interest at the Bill dealing with drinking in restaurants.

Some countries such as France have unrestricted licensing laws. The problems of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in such countries are more serious than they are here. There might be a variety of reasons. France has a large wine industry, and cultural and historic reasons might explain some of the differences, but I cannot help thinking that the easy availability of alcohol throughout the day in French cafés must be a contributory factor. Anyone who goes on holiday to France and has breakfast in a café will see people having their coffee and a cognac or two early in the morning. That easy availability must contribute something to the alcohol problems in France. I do not wish to go into that, but we need more assurances.

Some hon. Members have referred to the price of alcohol. Relative to personal total income, alcohol prices have about halved in the last 30 years. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) suggested that making alcohol more expensive was not sensible. However, he will know, through his firm commitment to taking action against tobacco and cigarette smoking, that keeping the price up is a deterrent. The hon. Gentleman has not made out a convincing case. Putting up the price of alcohol, at least in line with inflation, would be sensible on health grounds. I am not talking about the needs of the Exchequer.

Mr. Sims

I was not arguing that case but suggesting that we do not really know, and that more research should be done. Such a policy would involve putting up the price for the sensible user as well as the abuser.

Mr. Dubs

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I believe that we have done the people a disservice by making alcohol cheaper in real terms. The price of alcohol should keep up with the rate of inflation, at least. That would not price alcohol out of existence but it would prevent alcohol from becoming cheaper and cheaper, which encourages young people to drink.

Many hon. Members have referred to drinking and driving. In 1985 there were 107,000 drinking and driving convictions. The number has been increasing significantly in recent years. The only welcome change is that it is now much easier to refuse a drink at a social gathering on the ground that one is driving. People accept that, but 10 years ago they did not. Then people said, "Go on — have another one; it won't do you any harm". People gave that insane advice, "Have one for the road." The fact that that attitude has gone represents real progress. The fact that we have legislation on drink driving has meant that people do not say, "I do not want to drink when I am driving because I might have an accident." They say, "I might get caught and sentenced by the courts." It might even be a mixture of the two. I welcome the fact that the phrase "Have one for the road" is no longer used.

However, there is still a serious problem of people drinking and driving and, sadly, alcohol is a contributory factor in many road accidents. I understand that one in three drivers killed had consumed alcohol above the legal limit. We must consider whether there should be lower alcohol limits in breath testing and whether the powers of the police to test should be extended. I do not advocate it, but we should consider the option in the context of overall policy.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a far more serious statistic is that the major cause of death among males aged between 16 and 24 is a road accident in which alcohol has been a factor?

Mr. Dubs

The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated what 1 was about to say about young people and their drinking habits. There is good reason for saying that the under-18 law is not being enforced effectively, because all the statistics and survey information on the drinking habits of people aged under 18 suggest that alcohol is fairly widely available to them. By the age of 17, only one young person in 10 is still a teetotaller, and 82 per cent, of boys and 77 per cent, of girls had their first drink by the age of 13. Drinking and driving is the most common cause of death in the 15-to-24 age group, and 50 per cent, of road accidents resulting in death or injury involved young people aged between 15 and 24.

Mr. Gale

Will the hon. Gentleman make it plain that those statistics relate to England and Wales, not to Scotland?

Mr. Dubs

They refer to England and Wales. Nevertheless, they are especially disturbing and none of us should be complacent about the evidence of young people's drinking habits.

Some of the problems stem from the attitude of society. Advertising encourages or reinforces attitudes to alcohol in the context of social success and approval. Young people take their cue from the values and attitudes of our society. Too often, the advertising of alcohol shows glamour and social success associated with drinking the product.

I accept that to associate alcohol with sport through sponsorship is a travesty because no sensible sports person should drink a great deal. Indeed, those who are successful in sport do not drink much, because they know that they would not be successful if they did. Alcohol-related sports sponsorship fills me with unease.

Hon. Members have mentioned the relationship between alcohol and football hooliganism, so I shall not dwell on that. Some of the statistics from surveys carried out in Britain and in North America suggest that the relationship between alcohol and crime is very close and that there is an alarming relationship between some crimes and the likelihood that the person committing them had consumed a great deal of alcohol. For example, 58 per cent, of those arrested for murder were intoxicated at the time of the offence; about half of rapists had drunk the equivalent of 10 or more beers; and more than 30 per cent, of child molesters had been drinking heavily before committing the offence. These figures come from individual studies, and do not cover all crimes, but they are accurate enough to be alarming.

Other statistics show that more than half of violent offences are drink-related; that alcohol is a factor in nearly 80 per cent, of assaults; and chat in two thirds of the cases of battered women, the man committed the offence while under the influence of alcohol. There is a list of other crime statistics which show the close relationship between crime and alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol appears to be a factor in almost one third of domestic accidents. In nearly 40 per cent, of drownings of people in their mid-twenties, alcohol was a factor. We must accept that alcohol can be dangerous and can sometimes be a killer.

Estimates have been made of the cost of all this to society and the figures are frightening. A study conducted by the university of York suggested that, at 1983 prices, the cost was about £1.6 billion a year. It is probably nearer £2 billion a year at present prices. The costs are made up of sickness, absence from work, premature death, admittance to mental hospitals and the consequences of road traffic accidents. There is a catalogue and a price list of the different ways in which alcohol imposes a heavy financial burden on society.

How do we move forward? The right hon. Member For Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) mentioned the Central Policy Review Staff report of 1979, which did not officially see the light of day but to which we have access thanks to a leak via Sweden. I repeat the sentence quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, because it is sensible: It should be acknowledged that neither the present machinery within government nor the bodies outside it provide the means for coherent formulation of policies. There can be no dissent from that statement.

We should think hard about the recommendation in that report to establish an advisory council on alcohol policy covering all Departments and other bodies concerned in the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol and the health problems of those who have taken it to excess. Such a body, or something like it, should also have regard to the relationship between price and consumption and our taxation policy on alcohol. It should consider sports sponsorship and whether we should have more controls over the claims made for alcohol in advertisements. There should be a positive move to encourage the sale of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.

I wish some of them tasted a bit nicer. They are not bad, but they could be made to taste nicer without putting extra alcohol into them.

As part of the overall review, we should consider the licensing hours. We must try to encourage pubs to move away from the drink-only atmosphere. Some pubs do that, but one still feels under social pressure if one simply wants a soft drink, tea or coffee in a pub. If there were more food in pubs, we would get away from the singleminded concentration on drinking alcohol which is a feature of pubs. As pubs are such useful places to meet friends and have a chat, it would be nice if they widened their range of products to include food and non-alcoholic drinks.

For the reasons that I gave earlier, we must examine the drink driving laws to see whether they should be changed. We must consider in greater depth the relationship between alcohol and crime—

Dr. Godman

I should point out to my hon. Friend that not all is sweetness and light following the liberalisation of the laws in Scotland. Crimes in which alcohol is a contributory factor are commonplace in Scotland.

Mr. Dubs

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, with which I agree. I have studied the evidence from Scotland and it is mixed. It does not point clearly in support of the present licensing hours in Scotland. I accept that there is some evidence to support those licensing hours, but there is also evidence against. We cannot say that the case is absolutely clear cut and that because of the evidence regarding licensing hours in Scotland we must relax the licensing hours in England and Wales. I do not believe that the evidence supports that argument and I believe that we should be wary of those who promote that argument.

Mr. Gale

I agree that not all in Scotland is sweet; some of it is bitter — very good bitter. However, without wishing to be frivolous, the incidence of all drink-related crime has fallen in Scotland since the law was changed. I agree that such crime is still committed, but the incidence has fallen dramatically. That is the finding of the report as well as of the police.

Mr. Dubs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, but having considered the evidence I still believe that we cannot reach such a clear-cut conclusion as he suggests. I believe that the evidence from Scotland is mixed. I would like to consider more evidence before reaching such a clear-cut conclusion.

There is a need for an advisory council or some similar body to consider the problems of drinking among young people, to which so many hon. Members have referred. We must acknowledge that alcohol is the country's third largest killer, after heart disease and cancer. In our approach to this matter, we must consider the dangers as well as the pleasures of drinking. There should be more support for non-statutory agencies, and more effort should be given to health education campaigns to counter the large sums of money spent on sponsorhsip and the advertising of alcohol.

We must also consider resources within the community, such as drying-out centres and other methods of support for those who suffer from alcoholism or alcoholic abuse. There should be some place in each area that provides support for alcoholics. We should aim to keep alcohol consumption within present levels. We should inform people of the danger as well as the pleasure of alcohol. We must stop people from thinking that buying alcohol in the supermarket is the same as buying soup — it is a different product and should be seen in that context.

There has been some disagreement in the debate but also a large measure of agreement. I hope that we will not simply say, "Well, we have had a nice, cosy debate and we have talked about everything," and then do nothing. If that happens, we have wasted our time. We face a major problem and it is important that there should be a sensible and co-ordinated strategy to deal with it. I have outlined the basis of a possible approach and I await the Minister's response.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on using his success in the ballot to raise these important issues. We are indebted to him for his well-balanced speech and he set the right tone for the debate. I entirely agree that we must consider not just the need for reform of our licensing laws, but the problem of alcohol abuse. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) whose Licensing (Amendment) Bill has focused attention on the need for reform. In that context, I must also mention the Bill introduced in another place by the noble Viscount Montgomery and I understand that that Bill, the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill, is on today's Order Paper.

Our licensing laws had their origin in the very different circumstances of the first world war and what was thought to be the need to control the excessive drinking among munition and other workers. Many believe that the reform of our licensing laws is long overdue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made a most interesting speech—I shall refer to it in detail later in my speech—but I am sure that he would not suggest for a moment that we should return to the position that appertained in those days. When the restrictions were introduced — I believe, in 1917 — the number of hours during which alcohol could be sold during the day was reduced to five. My right hon. Friend expressed his anxieties about any relaxation in the law, but he has conceded that the restrictions imposed many years ago to meet a special problem were rightly removed thereafter. That is a point worth bearing in mind.

All parts of the trade agree that the time has come for change. The tourist industry believes that a relaxation in licensing hours will be good for the industry and good for Britain. I am sure that the public recognise the absurdities and anomalies of the present law. I am sure they find it difficult to understand why we should be different from virtually all other countries. They find it impossible to understand why people should not be allowed to drink when they want to provided no annoyance is caused to others and public order is maintained.

I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we should return to the position in 1917, but nor is anyone suggesting that we should return to the situation at the turn of the century. At that time there were virtually no restrictions, and the licensing laws, in so far as there were any, allowed public houses to be open nearly all day. However, it is absurd that on a hot summer afternoon at the seaside a person cannot get a pint of beer at five past three o'clock.

It is also ridiculous that a licensee should not be able to choose to remain shut until midday, and then decide to open his house throughout the afternoon.

The advocates of reform are not advocating a free-for-all, but seeking the eradication of obvious anomalies. Most people recognise that alcohol misuse is a serious problem. They would be prepared to put up with the existing restrictions if they believed they were necessary to protect people from themselves and to contain misuse. However, most people do not believe that, and I believe that they are correct. I am afraid that some people will always be determined to drink to excess, whatever the controls imposed on the sale of alcohol. The question is whether others will be tempted to drink to excess if there is some modest relaxation in the licensing hours. I do not believe that that would happen.

One has to be very careful when examining the experiences of other places. Indeed, the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was entirely right to caution us when we considered the Scottish experience. I do not believe that the experience in Scotland can be used by the opponents of change. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point cautioned us against making any change, on the argument that any relaxation of licensing hours is bound to lead to an increase in the consumption of alcohol.

Therefore, surely those who advocate change are entitled to look to the Scottish experience, not in order to say that it is obvious, by looking at what has happened in Scotland, that all is well with the world and we can ignore all the problems of alcohol abuse, but to say that there is no evidence that changes in the law to allow licensed premises to be open longer necessarily lead to more drinking of alcohol and more drink-related crime.

Let me remind the House of what happens now in Scotland. Public houses can remain open throughout the day and until late in the evening. The basic conclusion of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys report was that the relaxations in Scotland have led to more leisurely and more responsible drinking. The study shows that between 1976 and 1984 there has been an increase in the consumption of alcohol by women, but no significant increase in consumption by men. Alcohol Concern has suggested that the fact of there being no change in men's drinking may be accounted for in part by unemployment, which is one of the points canvassed by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow. But surely that sounds pretty unrealistic. If unemployment was a factor, one might have expected it to affect women as well, and I think that it is fair to assume that drinking by women has gone up in Scotland because of the more relaxed social attitudes to drinking by women.

There also seems to be no evidence that the Scottish legislation has caused an increase in alcohol-related harm. The rate of increase in cirrhosis of the liver, which has often been used as an indicator, has been worse in recent years in Scotland than in England, but it has been worse in Scotland for a long time, and there has been no change in the general trend since at least 1970.

Again, one has to look at the statistics for offences involving the consumption of alcohol with a great deal of caution. Some of the changes in the trends may be accounted for by no more than a change in police policy, so one does not just look at the statistics and say that there has been a smaller increase in this particular offence in Scotland than in England and that that proves the case.

But opponents of change certainly can find no comfort in what has happened in Scotland because, in fact, in Scotland there has been a dramatic fall in drunkenness offences, and while drink-driving offences north of the border have gone up, they have not gone up anything like as fast as such offences in England and Wales. Therefore, with respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, it is difficult to sustain the argument that drink-driving offences will increase in England if there is a modest relaxation in licensing hours.

This is a most important point. The Scottish police are quite convinced that the general extension of closing time from 10 pm to 11 pm has been of considerable help to them and to society. In their belief, it has reduced the number of assaults and disorder for one simple reason, which is that now groups of people tend to come out of public houses between 10 pm and 11 pm, and then disperse, whereas before the change in the law large crowds of people all left public houses at the same time. That is what the Scottish police say. We cannot ignore their view.

Sir Bernard Braine

Surely my right hon. and learned Friend is not looking at the problem in the round. He is relating the proposals for relaxation of licensing hours in England and Wales to the incidence of drink-driving offences. People may have been drinking in their homes, they may buy drink from a supermarket or a garage. The plain fact is that drink-driving incidents have increased in England and Wales in relation to the increasing consumption of alcohol. Will my right hon. and learned Friend relate the harm caused to the total increase in alcohol consumption, from whatever source it comes?

Mr. Waddington

I was just dealing with the the OPCS report and saying that my right hon. Friend and those who oppose any change could draw no comfort from it. I am saying no more than that.

The uncomfortable fact is that, in England, between 1977 and 1984, drink-driving offences went up by no less than 90 per cent. In the same period in Scotland, they went up by 40 per cent. Therefore, one cannot conclude that the result of extending opening hours will be a greater risk of drink-driving offences. I am saying no more than that.

Sir Bernard Braine

But the overwhelming proportion of the population in the United Kingdom is not in Scotland; it is in England and Wales. What is happening here concerns the majority of hon. Members.

Mr. Waddington

My right hon. Friend, unusually, has missed the point. I was talking about a percentage increase. The point that I made remains a good one.

I want to make it absolutely plain that the Government are certainly not advocating a free-for-all. This is certainly no time to throw all caution to the winds. Given the continuing problem of alcohol misuse and the need to protect the public from noise and nuisance also, we believe that adequate and effective controls on licensed outlets should be maintained. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear last year that he supported the case for reform in principle, and we are now considering carefully what measures will be appropriate. In these circumstances, we find no difficulty in accepting that part of the motion which calls for the early introduction of legislation to reform the present licensing laws.

We must study carefully what type of reform will be most appropriate. Although, in my view, the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood, the debate on which is scheduled to resume on 27 March, has many attractions—not least, the requirement that it places on justices to consider whether a variation order allowing longer hours is desirable, having regard to where the premises are situated and the risk of public nuisance—we are concerned about the considerable burden that will be placed on police and on licensing justices as a result of all the applications for variation orders that will be made.

The noble Viscount Montgomery's Bill originally removed all restrictions on the sale of alcohol, provided that it was with meals, but it was extensively amended in another place, and it now will allow restaurants to serve alcohol with meals during the afternoon break. It is therefore a modest reform and seems to be difficult to oppose, except on the basis suggested by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), that it is a piecemeal reform and it is perhaps better not to proceed in a piecemeal fashion but to recognise that change is necessary, not just in restaurants.

Dr. Godman

Public nuisance is of considerable concern when public houses are situated in tenemental property. One warning that needs to be taken from Scotland to points south is that there are public nuisance problems when people live in the same tenemental property as a public house that has extended hours.

Mr. Waddington

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. When one considers what is the most appropriate form of change, one must look not only at the most important matter of alcohol abuse but at the convenience of those who live close to licensed premises. I complimented my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood because, in his Bill, he met that problem head on. He said that one of the matters that licensing justices would have to take into consideration in deciding whether to make a variation order was whether it was appropriate to make such an order, bearing in mind the risk of annoyance to people who live in the vicinity.

Although I do not recommend the precise reform contained in my hon. Friend's Bill, I think that we should give anxious consideration, when we come to the question of what should be in any Bill, of the point made by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow, because those who live in the vicinity of public houses are entitled to have their convenience respected as far as possible.

Mr. Dubs

The Minister referred to legislation to make alcohol more easily available with meals in restaurants. I said that I do not favour a piecemeal approach, but I also said that I thought that it would be good to encourage people to eat when they are drinking, so I am not against that Bill.

Mr. Waddington

I am very glad to hear that, because it seems to be a most modest reform. I was picking up the point made by the hon. Member for Battersea — that people are concerned about the whole of our licensing laws and that perhaps the time has come for us to look at a more wide-ranging change.

Mr. Robert Banks

Rather than say "piecemeal", does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill, which is a very small measure, tidies up the loose ends, that it is an anomaly that people cannot obtain a drink with a meal between 3 pm and 5.30 pm and that such a simple little measure would be of great benefit and would make sense to many people?

Mr. Waddington

I do not quarrel with my hon. Friend, but if we were introducing a Government measure we should not pick out this aspect of the problem. However, half a loaf is better than no bread. Those who see so many absurdities in the licensing laws might well ask why one should oppose the correction of one of the most obvious and absurd anomalies, because the noble Viscount's Bill does deal with one of the most absurd anomalies. It is absurd that if somebody should leave a boat at Dover and go into a restaurant at two minutes past 3 o'clock he should be unable to have a glass of wine with the meal that he orders.

The difficulty that I have had in making this speech is deciding how to start. If I start with what I believe to be the necessary reform of the licensing laws, people say that we are relegating alcohol abuse to second place, but if I start with alcohol abuse, people say that it is about time that the Government grasped the nettle that our licensing laws are patently absurd. Because I intend now to deal with the problem of alcohol abuse, nobody must imagine that I relegate our licensing laws to second place and feel that they are not of the utmost importance.

The importance that we attach to this great social evil is well illustrated by the fact — mentioned by the hon. Member for Battersea — that only the other day my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services hosted a conference on the matter. We all know that much damage to health, much social harm and much misery results from excessive drinking. There are all too many indications that that harm to society is growing, not diminishing.

Because alcohol is so widely used on a social basis, the general public is largely ignorant of the cost of its misuse to society. Indeed, the public are very ignorant of the level of consumption that can cause harm. It is therefore of paramount importance that there should be effective health education.

For some years, the Department of Health and Social Security has funded the Health Education Council. It does the most valuable work in informing the general public about the use and misuse of alcohol. We hope that the new Health Education Authority—which it is hoped will be able to take up its responsibilities from April of this year—will continue to build on that work.

Furthermore, in 1983 the DHSS set up Alcohol Concern, which at present is receiving £500,000 a year in grant aid. One of the principal aims of Alcohol Concern is to provide better public information on sensible drinking habits and to set up new local voluntary councils on alcohol.

It is also important that we should educate ourselves in Government as to the type and size of the problems we are facing, and a number of surveys of drinking habits have been commissioned from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The latest, on adolescent drinking, which was published in December 1986, has revealed some worrying aspects of the drinking habits of young people, and my Department, the DHSS and the DES are currently considering whether existing law enforcement and schools education are adequate.

This may be an appropriate moment to mention the call for some new machinery which enables all the various Government Departments interested in these matters to come together. I hope that hon. Members wil bear in mind that sometimes we are preoccupied with machinery. Much effort goes into setting up new machinery so that we can say to the public, "Look, we have an interdepartmental working group on this, that and the other." That may be good presentation but it conceals the fact that, before any such formal machinery was set up, there was much cooperation between Departments and a great deal was going on anyhow. I have just illustrated that. It is wrong to imagine that a great deal of work has not been going on in Government for a number of years. Indeed, more has been going on during the past few years than ever before and there is the closest co-operation between the Departments involved.

All of us know the link between alcohol and crime, and I am glad that that was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and by the hon. Member for Battersea. As someone who spent a great part of his working life practising at the Bar, I do not think that anyone who has practised in the courts can doubt for one moment the close link between alcohol and crime.

Through the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention, a working group has looked at disorder associated with licensed premises. It reported last November. Its recommendations are being followed up by the police and by the licensed trade. More recently, the standing conference has set up a new working group on young people and alcohol. Under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Baroness Masham, the group is looking at the part which alcohol plays in the commission of crime by young people and the problems posed by under-age drinking. It is due to report on its findings in November this year. The ministerial group on crime prevention, which co-ordinates the Government's crime prevention strategy, has been considering the scope for local strategies for preventing alcohol-related crime. An alcohol demonstration project is being established in Coventry under a local steering committee to tackle alcohol-related crime in the city centre. The chambers of commerce, the licensed trade, the police, the local councils, the Coventry alcohol advisory service and the crime prevention unit are all involved, and more projects are being considered elsewhere.

It is perhaps appropriate for me to remind the House about football hooliganism and alcohol. Following the disgraceful incidents of football violence in this country and in Brussels in 1985, the Government took prompt action. The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 passed quickly through Parliament with support on both sides and came into force in 9 August 1985. It introduced controls on the sale and possession of alcohol inside grounds, on entry to grounds and on football special coaches and trains. The Public Order Act 1986 extended these controls to minibuses used to take football fans to and from matches.

The police and the football authorities are convinced that these alcohol controls played a significant part in the welcome reduction in incidents of violence at football league grounds last season. Although that was only one element in a package of measures aimed at reducing violent behaviour at matches, it shows that the Government will take swift action when misuse of alcohol can be shown to be a significant factor in a particular problem.

I have given examples of the work that is being done across Government Departments to explore ways of preventing the problems associated with alcohol. We are not complacent. We recognise that there is always scope for new initiatives. Alcohol education programmes have an obvious role to play, whether they are directed at reducing alcohol-related crime or the health problems that excessive consumption can bring.

It would be remiss of me if I did not take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Alcohol Education and Research Council, which administers a fund to finance projects for education and research and for novel forms of help to those with drinking problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate was far too modest when he was introducing the debate because he mentioned only in passing, and without giving hon. Members time to absorb its significance, the fact that he has been a member of that council for some time and has made a considerable contribution to its work. Next time, I invite him to be properly modest, but not too modest.

Debates such as this serve to highlight the concern that exists about the extent of alcohol misuse. I hope that 1 have said enough to demonstrate that the Government share that concern and are playing their part in tackling the problem. A strategy of promoting sensible drinking and changed attitudes to alcohol is one to which I hope we all subscribe.

12.12 pm
Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his good fortune in winning the ballot and on his good judgment in introducing this subject. It has proved to be an excellent debate, due, in considerable measure, to the reasoned and considered way in which my hon. Friend introduced the subject.

We have been considering the relationship between the two topics of licensing law and the problems of alcohol excess. I believe that the Clayson committee was right when it declared in its report that licensing, a negative and restrictive process, can play only a strictly limited part in the control of alcohol misuse. That is the Scottish experience. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred to experience in the first world war. I do not think that one can extrapolate from the experience of the first world war to present-day conditions. Not only was there a rigid control on licensing hours but a severe control on the types of alcohol that could be served. There were also severe controls, not only on personal disposable income, but on the number of people likely to drink who were able to do so because so many of them were at the front fighting for their country.

I should like to underline what some of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), have said about the industry. I believe that the industry is a highly responsible one and is genuinely concerned to do everything it can to help deal with the severe problems of alcohol abuse. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) criticised the industry for never putting forward advertisements encouraging moderate consumption. I do not agree with that. I have enjoyed the advertisements for a particular low alcohol lager which regularly appear on the television screens.

My main point in relation to health education is that there is a strong argument within any given budget for a switch of expenditure towards the problems of alcohol abuse, even if that means, in relative terms, less being spent on the problems of tobacco. Tobacco can be a dangerous product and we in Scotland should pay tribute to the late Jock Stein for the work that he undertook in getting across the message about the danger of tobacco consumption to our young people through the Scottish football world cup squad. Adults who smoke tobacco harm only themselves. They may irritate others but they do not create a great deal of social harm. The potential harm to the rest of society from the smoking of tobacco is clearly a great deal less than the potential harm of alcohol abuse. There is an argument that within a given budget attention should be concentrated on the problems of alcohol abuse.

A main area of concern is under-age drinking. The recent report of the Scottish Council on Alcohol expressed considerable concern about the problem. It is worth recording that the council attributes the problem to the spread of off-licences. It has not concentrated on the relaxation of licensing hours as the source of the problem. The problem with under-age drinking and off-licences is that it is likely that within a group of young people there will be one who can enter an off-licence legally to purchase alcohol for the consumption of the other members of the group. That cannot happen legally in controlled premises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North referred to the Scottish evidence, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. I shall not repeat the excellent summaries that they have presented to the House. I wish to take up what my hon. Friend said about the British Medical Association's interpretation of the evidence. It was intellectual dishonesty, to put it at its best, for the BMA to say that the Scottish evidence was controversial and highly questionable, to disregard that wealth of evidence, apparently, and to refer hon. Members to a study of road deaths in North Carolina that had been presented to a conference in Poland. The study, which is not generally available, analysed road traffic accidents after some North Carolina counties allowed spirits to be purchased with meals. By any standards that is a different proposition from the reform of licensing hours that hon. Members have been considering. When it was put to the BMA that many people apart from BMA spokespersons read the British Medical Journal, it retracted and said that the Scottish figures might be in favour of licensing hours reform.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) referred to "other" Scottish evidence. He may have been referring to the parasuicide study which was published on 6 December by the British Medical Journal. The study was highlighted in a letter to hon. Members from Alcohol Concern on 17 January. It is unfortuate that the letter did not refer to subsequent articles in the British Medical Journal that appeared before 17 January. These articles contained strong criticism of the study, and it was argued that its validity was impossible to assess. It was said to be uncontrolled and that the results conflicted with an Edinburgh study over the same period. It is important that we consider carefully and cautiously all the evidence and all the statistics. I think that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow advanced that argument extremely effectively. Against the background of the Licensing (Amendment) Bill, it has never been my case to suggest that all is well in Scotland. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State that the Scottish evidence cannot be used by those who oppose changes being made to the licensing hours in England and Wales.

Dr. Godman

As Dr. Martin Plant said, we can be cautiously optimistic vis-a-vis the Scottish experience. He is one of our foremost experts on the problem of alcoholism, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Does he agree that police forces have an important role to play with regard to youngsters obtaining alcohol from off-licences? It is not just that older teenagers buy alcohol which is consumed by younger ones. There is room for policing the unscrupulous shopkeepers who sell to children who are manifestly under age.

Mr. Stewart

I agree. The conclusion of the Plant and Duffy article was cautious optimism for further change. It is important that the police ensure the law is obeyed. Even if supermarkets and off-licences obey the law, however, there remains a potential problem of under-age drinking which does not apply with pubs and clubs. That is the crucial argument. It is preferable that alcohol be consumed in a controlled environment. Pubs and clubs are controlled by legal obligations on licensees and by social pressures. It is undoubted that the law is biased in favour of consumption of alcohol bought from off-licences where it is cheaper and more generally available.

The other main argument, which has not been the focus of attention today as much as alcohol abuse, is the economic one in favour of reforming licensing hours. The estimate of the number of jobs which would be created — up to about 50,000 — has been criticised on the grounds that it is only a gross figure and that if expenditure is switched towards pubs and clubs employment will be lost elsewhere.

There are two reasons why I question the validity of that argument. First, increasing the number of opening hours would be labour-intensive and, secondly, the argument ignores the dynamic effect on investment and activity of such a change, especially as overhead costs would be spread more evenly throughout the day.

The hon. Member for Battersea said that he favours more flexible licensing hours but within the present total, and that he is cautious about extending the number of hours. The argument for extending the number of hours is that in some areas, such as tourist attractions, in the summer and in city centres, it might be the most sensible thing to do. Extension is likely to lead to a double shift and therefore increase employment opportunities.

As for public opinion, I believe that there is little opposition to modest licensing reform. If there was a great deal of opposition, I should have been one of the most obvious focuses of it recently.

At the moment, we have almost the worst of all possible worlds. The status quo satisfies nobody. Health education measures combined with licensing law reform would make a sensible package. That is the message which will go out from the House today and which my hon. Friend the Minister of State has so clearly taken on board.

12.24 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), who gave an admirable introduction to the problems in all aspects of licensing and our attitude towards drink.

I have sat through almost all the debate. One of the main arguments that keeps coming up against the expansion of our licensing laws and a rather more relaxed atmosphere is the problem of drink among young people, and particularly under-age drinking. The problem is nothing more than a question of enforcing the existing laws. If we extended the opening hours of public houses, hotels and restaurants, it would still be just as difficult or easy to enforce the age limit at which young people can gain access to a public house and start drinking.

There are a considerable number of public houses in my constituency and I sometimes wonder whether there are more public houses than people. There are also a substantial number of working men's clubs, Conservative clubs and British Legion clubs. In the three and a half to four years that I have been a Member of Parliament and a prospective parliamentary candidate, I have never witnessed under-age drinking. I imagine that the statistics and evidence cannot have been obtained from Birmingham, Northfield. I might not have witnessed it, but I have no evidence that it is anything like the problem which the statistics suggest.

The public house can withstand some social change, and we should introduce it. It is an area which is generally confined to adult activity. That may be a drawback, because young people are encouraged to seek every opportunity to gain access to a public house so that they can appear to have grown up and entered the adult world earlier than they should.

When I am touring the countryside with my family on holiday, I wonder what is wrong in my children joining me inside a pub, where I can enjoy alcoholic refreshment and they can have a lemonade or orange squash. The law prevents me from doing that unless I am having a meal, when my children can join me.

It would be realistic to allow the law to be altered so that children could be allowed into pubs until 8 pm. Many people go to a public house to get away from their children, so they do not want it to be nothing more than a glorified kindergarten. A time limit could be enforced by the publicans. Any publican could decide not to take part in such a scheme. He could decide that he did not want children in his pub. Other publicans might decide, in the interests of attracting holiday traffic and the family, that they would welcome children joining their parents until about 8 pm.

I have listened with interest to the points that some hon. Members made about advertising. Drinks advertising is particularly entertaining, and very clever, but it has a hard message, which usually is that it is masculine, adult or macho to drink alcoholic beverages. If that is not the direct message, it is insinuated in a subliminal way that it is the thing to do.

A few years ago we had a campaign about "Ansells bittermen" —which was common elsewhere in the country, depending on the type of brew — showing hulking great swarthy macho men walking down the high street and bursting into their public house to buy a pint of Ansells bitter. The image created was not unnoticed by young people who, under the pressure of that advertising campaign, almost felt, by accident, that they wanted to become part of it.

Perhaps we should think hard about allowing alcoholic drinks to be advertised on television. I have no objection to advertisements in newspapers and on hoardings, but I wonder whether, when we are trying to control the abuse of alcohol, advertising on television, which is a powerful medium, is acceptable.

I am interested in the effects of our licensing laws on tourists and convention areas. Birmingham is undergoing a transition from being a predominantly industrial city and, while we still cherish our industry, we are redefining our role. That process started 12 years ago, with the building of the national exhibition centre on the outskirts of the city and construction has now started on the largest convention centre in the country.

Birmingham must look carefully at the facilities being offered to the highly discerning people who go to conventions. In seeking to attract conventions, we have to compete with places such as Hamburg, Las Vegas and many other cities throughout the world. Every American city worthy of the name has a convention centre and they are all trying to attract a highly lucrative business. If we do not offer the sort of relaxation that people who attend conventions require, that will have a detrimental effect on one of the largest growth sectors in our economy.

Even if we do not favour an overall reform of our outdated licensing laws, perhaps we could create a convention centre enterprise zone for pubs, hotels and restaurants within one or two miles of a convention centre. That would cover most of the city centre in Birmingham.

A serious and stupid anomaly has come to light in the past year and highlights the problem of new services being stymied by outdated laws which we are slow to alter. The moment a ship leaves a port in this country, the bar is opened and people are free to drink as much as they wish until the ship reaches its destination. The moment a plane takes off from Glasgow, the bar will open or a stewardess will bring drinks round and passengers can drink until just before the plane touches down at Heathrow. The airline does not have to ask the 100 or so licensing authorities between Glasgow and London for permission to open the bar as it flies over their areas. Bars open on trains, and drinks can be dispensed throughout the journey.

However, a different situation applies on express coaches. The Government have deregulated coach travel and that has been one of the most successful deregulation stories of recent times. The industry has grown substantially and the number of passengers travelling by coach seems to grow yearly. However, coach operators are prevented by our licensing laws from expanding their services by offering more facilities.

National Express is the main coach operating company, though, essentially, it is a marketing operation. It contracts the score or so operating companies to provide the coaches and to run the services. National Express runs the marketing operation, although to the public it is the company that apparently owns the coaches and employs the drivers. To that extent, National Express is highly delighted because it is interested in providing a strong, market-oriented image.

As National Express develops its coach travel from the early days of deregulation to the elaborate £100,000 six-wheeled double-deck repeat coaches, it seeks to offer the facilities that are now accepted as normal on the railways and on the airlines. To provide those facilities, it has installed video television and hostesses who dispense drinks, but they can only dispense coffee, tea and lemonade.

Many hon. Members would say that that was not a bad thing. Nevertheless, on a long coach journey from Glasgow to London, people desire something a little more refreshing than coke, tea and coffee. People cannot obtain it at the motorway halts, because they cannot buy an alcoholic drink there for reasons that are historical. There is nothing to stop people from going 100 yards off the motorway and buying a drink from a public house or from an off-licence, but that is by the by.

That is a serious anomaly. It can be got around, but it is horrendously complicated. It can be got around by going to each and every one of the licensing authorities on a particular route and applying for a licence for the coach. But then, if an operator applies for a licence for a coach, the registration number of which must be given, does the person who will dispense the drink have to be named in the same way as there is a little sign over the door of a public house which says "Licensed to sell intoxicating liquors"? Would that be needed on a motorway coach because a licence to sell and dispense drinks had been applied for? Would the exact route that that vehicle travels have to be defined? What about the ownership of the coach? Would it be in National Express's name or in Midland Red's name, Midland Red being the operating company?

The whole problem has become so complicated that, naturally, National Express and other operators do not bother to apply for a licence for their coaches. The desire is there on the part of the operators, the passengers and the tourists who use the services that, at the very least, the opportunity should be given to have a small tipple on the coaches, if that is what people want. People who come to this country cannot understand our quaint licensing laws that allow us to buy a drink on a train or on a plane, but not on an inter-city luxury coach.

The way around this is very simple. The company secretary could be the person who has the licensing authority. He becomes the licensee, the person who applies to a licensing authority for a licence, perhaps to the licensing authority where the headquarters of the company concerned is registered. In the case of National Express, it would be Birmingham. The company secretary would apply to the licensing magistrates in Birmingham for a licence for his company's coaches to offer alcoholic drinks for sale on their services.

I emphase that I am speaking of scheduled, timetabled services. I do not mean excursion traffic or the occasional privately hired coach. People who travel on private hire coaches can bring their own beer on board anyway. There is never any problem there, except on the privately hired football coaches which, as we have already heard, are not allowed to do that.

It should be possible to ask for a licence on a scheduled timetabled service, so that a customer travelling from London to Birmingham, for example, would know that on a particular service, perhaps the 10 o'clock morning service, the timetable would say that drinks would be served.

That is a modest alteration to our licensing laws. It again highlights the difficulties that we have in this country, as our society adapts and develops, of dragging along behind us outdated laws and regulations that prevent the growth of the new industries and the new services from providing the facilities that people want.

It would not require a great deal of time and trouble to make this change, which may be small in most people's eyes but which is important to the operators concerned in an industry that has grown substantially over the past few years and will grow substantially over the next few, to enable it to compete fair and square with' other modes of travel.

This has been a good debate in which many important points have been made. I hope that my modest contribution about difficulties for inter-city coaches will be noticed and that some action will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future.

12.40 pm
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), whose views and conclusions I generally endorse. I also wish to talk briefly about a local matter—the future of an alcohol treatment unit in Somerset which is under threat.

I shall not join the general statistical warfare between those who claim that the Scottish experience proves one thing or another. It is always difficult to identify those factors which are affected by a change in the law. There are influences on alcohol consumption more important than whether pubs are open in the afternoon or late in the evening.

There is an analogy with the debate on capital punishment to which the House is periodically subjected. The opposing factions claim that the incidence of capital crime is decisively determined by whether capital punishment is abolished or introduced in various countries at various times. I am sure that there are more important influences at work.

The same applies to the subject under debate today. The prime determinants of alcohol consumption are more the relative price of alcohol, social influences such as the liberation of women, increased leisure time, and increased disposable income, particularly amongst the young.

It is possible to be very concerned about alcohol abuse and consumption in excess and at the same time to be in favour of some relaxation in our licensing laws. That view has been generally expressed in the debate. No one can doubt that alcoholism destroys lives, marriages and careers, and that it has a correlation with crime and with drinking and driving—a growing and major threat.

It has to be said that a world without any alcohol at all would be a duller, greyer, less social and less enjoyable place. It is a matter of degree and quantity. I am sure that restricting pub hours is an extremely clumsy way of trying to reduce the incidence of alcohol abuse, particularly since that would hit the success and vitality of the British pub, one of the few eating and drinking establishments of which we can be proud and which foreigners envy.

Man is such a social and communal animal that it is right that people should get together in their village or neighbourhood pub for company, conversation and entertainment. So many trends in modern life go in the opposite direction. People tend to sit isolated in their own homes, watching their own television sets and probably drinking their own drinks—on their own.

Drink increasingly is obtained in supermarkets. I said that I would not quote statistics, but the market intelligence company Mintel has concluded that in 1972 about 20 per cent. of alcohol was bought in off-licences and supermarkets and that by 1981 that percentage had risen to 28 per cent. Additional evidence is that it will rise beyond 30 per cent. this year. Supermarkets are not subject to the same controls as licensed premises. The half bottle of spirits in the wire basket at the supermarket check-out is an increasingly familiar sight. This applies particularly to women, among whom can be found the fastest increase in drinking habits.

The pub is the stronghold of traditional English food, compared with the takeaway convenience outlets that are popping up in our high streets. It is absurd that an American tourist in my constituency has the choice between getting something to eat and drink in a pub, which may be shut when he wants it, or in the McDonalds restaurant that has just opened in the high street. He has not come 3,000 miles for that. It is odd that we are trying to encourage tourism while at the same time making it less attractive for overseas visitors. If a visitor to Wells wants a drink on a hot afternoon, he has to buy it in a supermarket and drink it on a park bench. That is an unintelligent way of promoting an important and growing area of employment, not only in my constituency but throughout the country.

Returning to the problem of excess drinking, may I say that medicine is becoming a matter of high technology. Very little attention to given to whether a pound spent obtains a good return in terms of the health and happiness of patients. The ordering of priorities in the National Health Service tends to be extremely haphazard, and one victim of this is the treatment of alcoholism, perhaps because it is an unglamorous area of medical care. Some doctors regard it as a social rather than a medical problem. It is unexciting. It does not have miracle drugs or new and exciting items of equipment. Much of it is a boring, repetitive, pedestrian process of counselling, of getting people around a table and of talking people through a course of treatment rather than filling them with modern drugs.

I should say in passing that the churches, which are always anxious to lecture the Government about economics, could play a greater role in the treatment and counselling of alcoholics.

I am a patron of the McGarvey ward which is attached to Mendip hospital, a large psychiatric hospital in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) is also a patron of that ward and has taken a close interest in it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) is also concerned about this. The Mendip hospital is due for closure. Few people oppose that, because it is a large Victorian institution and is increasingly inappropriate for the care of mental patients in the 1980s and 1990s. But the McGarvey ward, which forms one small part of it, may have to close at the same time.

That would be highly regrettable, because it is the only National Health Service residential unit for the treatment of alcoholics in the south-west. It has a body of volunteers and paid workers who have built up considerable expertise. Their success rate is high, although they are the first to say that we must be cautious in claiming any percentage success rate because a cured alcoholic may relapse at any time. But so far, they have achieved a comparatively high success rate, and it would be wrong if the ward was closed simply because a separate mental hospital will close in due course. My hon. Friends and I are in correspondence with the relevant district health authority about this matter and it is my intention to raise it with my hon. Friend the Minister for Health in clue course. I am hopeful of a satisfactory conclusion.

This debate is quite rightly trying to do something about the victims of alcohol as well as trying to improve facilities for the occasional, legitimate, casual social drinker.

12.50 pm
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I am hoping to move the third motion on the Order Paper later today, so this will be a brief apèritif of a speech. I hope that I will have the opportunity to move the motion before you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, produce your towel, hang it over the beer pumps and shout, "Time, gentlemen, please."

A number of hon. Members have spoken about their Scottish experiences and I should like to recite mine. Afternoon opening in Scotland is a great boon. Nearly every year, my family and I try to take a few days holiday skiing in Aviemore, and very good skiing it is too. There are about 4,000 skiers on the Cairngorms on a particularly good day. The ski lifts close at 4 o'clock and about 2,000 skiers go to the nearest bar. There they can have a beer, a dram or — can one believe it in Scotland? — a Gluhwein. There is no disturbance and everyone is happy. However, if they were in England, all they would be offered is a cup of tea.

12.51 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Yns Môn)

I believe that I am the last person to be called in this debate. It has been an excellent debate, but unfortunately I was unable to be here for the beginning. However, I had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) about what he proposed to say. I should like to join in the general approbation that he has received from the House and congratulate him on having moved this timely motion.

The last time that we debated alcoholic matters was when we discussed the private Member's Bill moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), the Licensing (Amendment) Bill. I am aware that a number of hon. Members present today were sponsors of that Bill and wished it to receive a Second Reading.

On the day in question, I spoke in the previous debate on the Crossbows Bill. Because I spoke for about 25 minutes, my photograph appeared in one of the popular newspapers that is known for its nudes rather than its news, and I was described as "Mr. Killjoy".

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Were you topless?

Mr. Best

I hope that those hon. Members who know me would not regard me as being a killjoy. I was sorry that that Bill did not receive its Second Reading, because it would have given other hon. Members and myself, who feel strongly about these matters, an opportunity to articulate their views about the second limb of my hon. Friend's motion — the problem of alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, it was a private Member's Bill and therefore unable to occasion public expenditure. Also, by virtue of its title—the Licensing (Amendment) Bill —it would have been impossible, by way of amendment, to enshrine in that Bill the matters that some of us wished the House to deal with. However, a Second Reading for that Bill would have given us the opportunity for further debate. We now have that opportunity.

This debate takes place against the background of some 80,000 arrests for drunkenness every year and 10,000 drunks who are habitual drink offenders. Consumer expenditure on alcohol is the third highest after expenditure on housing and food. Collectively we spend half as much on alcohol as we do in total on food and half as much on alcohol as we do in total on housing. It is for the House and the public to judge whether that represents proper priorities in society.

I am not a killjoy, but I want measures taken by the House to deal more effectively with the problems of alcohol abuse that cause so much distress in all walks of life as mentioned by other hon. Members in this debate.

The study in 1983 by Professor Maynard of York university showed that the social cost to industry of alcohol abuse was, in sickness alone, £641 million, in unemployment, £144 million, and in premature death, £567 million. The social cost to the National Health Service, in hospital treatment for those suffering from some form of alcohol abuse, is over £25 million, and alcohol-related in-patient costs are some £68 million. I could go on, but I do not propose to do so because I wish to concentrate on the problems of alcohol abuse and crime, and the way in which they are related. In what I understand was an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate referred to that aspect.

All these are statistics, and, like every statistic, they can be used to support any argument, but they are the best statistics that are available. As far as one can ascertain, in the crime of murder, 58 per cent. of those arrested and 42 per cent. of the victims of murder were intoxicated at the time of the commission of the offence. Fifty per cent. of rapists have drunk the equivalent of 10 or more beers directly before the commission of that horrific offence, and 69 per cent. of those involved in child abuse have at least one parent, and 63 per cent. have at least one grandparent, who abused alcohol at some stage. Some 78 per cent. of all assaults involve intoxication or the imbibing of alcohol at some stage.

Those statistics alone—I could quote many others—should be reason enough for the House to take action. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State who sits so patiently on the Treasury Bench that the Government must address their mind more to the matter. I entirely accept that some initiatives have been taken by the Government, some of which I can welcome, but it is a matter of high priority for the social welfare of this country and the general fabric of society that we should address our mind to the issue. It cannot wait. It must remain no longer on the sidelines of legislation.

It has been calculated that if a detoxification network were set up throughout the United Kingdom, there could be savings of almost £3 million a year, to the police, courts and prison system combined. All hon. Members who take part in the debate will know that in 1972 the DHSS set up two detoxification centres in Leeds and Manchester and there were other experiments in Birmingham and Aberdeen. The responsibility shifted from the DHSS to the Home Office in 1981. In 1985 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary discontinued the funding of those centres, so we now have no Government assistance whatever to any detoxification centres in the United Kingdom. The three designated places in Leeds, Birmingham and Aberdeen still accept referrals from the police, but they are in danger of failing financially.

I do not pretend for one moment that the detoxification centres that were set up were the answer to the problems of alcohol abuse, but they were a significant contributor towards overcoming those problems. In my respectful judgment, I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister that there should be continuing funding for detoxification centres from the Government to try to deal with one aspect to which I shall address my remarks specifically—alcohol-related crime and those who come before the courts. Instead of referrals to detoxification centres, other than to the ones to which I referred, we have the police cautioning system. That has had a beneficial effect on the drunkenness statistics. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood here. I know that he has been here throughout the debate. In Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom we have seen a reduction in the number of recorded drunkenness offences, but it is not a true reduction. It is pulling the wool over the eyes of those who cannot see behind the screen. Those who are now cautioned for drunkenness do not become part of the criminal statistics.

Mr. Gale

Had my hon. Friend been able to be present earlier, he would have heard my right hon. and learned Friend explain that the reduction in Scotland relates favourably in percentage terms to the rest of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend is wrong to try to show that, somehow, since the change in the law, there has not been a significant improvement in Scotland—there has.

Mr. Best

My hon. Friend did me an injustice. I do not pretend to do that. I am explaining why it happened. One of the reasons for the reduction—certainly in statistical terms—is the present incidence of cautioning. My hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable in the matter, will know also that, in 1980, alcohol was banned from football grounds and adjacent premises in Scotland.

Mr. Allan Stewart

indicated assent.

Mr. Best

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood nods his head. I am sure that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) will accept also that that ban had a significant effect on the reduction of drunkenness in Scotland.

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend is destroying his own argument. Does he concede that there was no change in the drunkenness figures in Scotland between 1976, when the change in the law took place, and 1980? I agree that there was a fall after 1980, which in part is accounted for by the factors that he mentioned. But he cannot get away from the fact that, during the first four years of the change in the law, without any change relating to alcohol on sports grounds, there was a fall in the number of convictions in Scotland.

Mr. Best

Yes, but my right hon. and learned Friend will accept also that that coincided with the introduction of police cautioning in Scotland.

Mr. Waddington

No. I thought that I made that point. The change came about in 1980.

Mr. Best

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I am sure that he will acknowledge that one cannot escape the logical claim that those are factors in the reduction of drunkenness statistics. It must follow. Other factors may be at work. I do not in any way seek to detract from the argument of those who have put forward such factors. My right hon. and learned Friend is right to point out what I have said, but other factors are at work in the reduction of drunkenness offences. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend is not saying that there is no place for detoxification centres in the United Kingdom to deal with the problem.

Mr. Waddington

Surely my hon. Friend is aware that far fewer people were admitted to the detoxification centres than was expected, and the response to the rather sophisticated services that were made available was nothing like as favourable as people had hoped.

Mr. Best

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. He will have noted my earlier comments. I said that I did not pretend in any way that they were the complete answer to the problem of drunken offences. Of course they are not. There are various forms of detoxification centres.

I do not know what studies were undertaken by the Home Office of other forms of detoxification centre in other parts of the world. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend is able to inform the House on that matter. I have not given him notice of it, so it may be unfair to put it to him. Various detoxification centres have been evaluated in the United States, for example. There is one in St. Louis, where 160 patients were assessed. Four months after discharge, 50 per cent. of them showed a significant overall improvement, 49 per cent. had improved in health, and 47 per cent. showed an improvement in their drinking patterns. A study was carried out at three rehabilitation centres in California, which accepted referrals from hospitals, social services and the courts. Over half came from the courts as an alternative to imprisonment. The length of stay, which was voluntary, was 90 days. The results were encouraging. The total arrest rate was reduced by 47 per cent. in the year following treatment. The cost of treatment was estimated to be between 41 per cent. and 75 per cent. lower than the judicial system costs. These detoxification centre figures ought to be studied carefully by the Home Office.

I refer to a study that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate who opened the debate. Yesterday afternoon the Parliamentary Alcohol Policy and Services Committee, of which I have the privilege to be the chairman, listened to a fascinating — I use that word advisedly—presentation by Superintendent Flenley of Brighton police. My hon. Friend the Member for IIarrogate mentioned the chief constable of Sussex, Mr. Birch, who pays close attention to these matters, which everbody can welcome.

The Brighton study was undertaken last year. For every single person who was arrested a form was filled in. Arrests in Brighton in 1986 were just under 7,000. The form lists various categories, and the results were fed into a computer. They showed the degree of alcohol imbibation during the period immediately prior to arrest for a particular offence. The figures showed that 60 per cent. of all those arrested for criminal offences had imbibed alcohol within a period of four hours before their arrest. A very sobering thought—I use that phrase advisedly in this debate — is that almost half of the alcohol-related arrests were of people who fell within the seven year age group of 18 to 25. Youthful drunkenness is a very significant problem. If society does not address it now, we shall be storing up great difficulties for the future.

Two previous studies, in Torquay and Bognor Regis, suggest that the results in those towns coincide within 1 or 2 per cent. with the results for each particular offence of this very sophisticated study that was undertaken and continues to be undertaken by the Brighton police.

Of the 60 per cent. of those arrested for all offences who had consumed alcohol within four hours prior to arrest, 71 per cent. had been arrested for offences of assault against the person, 73 per cent. had been arrested for offences of criminal damage, 98 per cent. had been arrested for public order offences, while 27 per cent. had been arrested for theft and 42 per cent. for burglary. It shows that after the consumption of alcohol the likelihood is greatly enhanced that such persons come to the attention of the police and are then arrested for offences of violence, because the three top ones that I have quoted are assault, damage and public order. That has a deleterious effect on society as a whole.

These figures are extremely useful in identifying far more carefully than has ever been done before the relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. When he returns to the Home Office, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will try to obtain better statistics on alcohol-related crime. He knows that one of the difficulties is that there is an absence of proper statistics. That example shows what can be done in an effective way.

Mr. Gale

I am sorry to intervene again. Many of the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate believe that drinking should take place in the controlled and responsible environment of a public house. That is especially true regarding young people. Do my hon. Friend's statistics show where the alcohol was consumed? That information would be helpful.

Mr. Best

They do. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that. He will he pleased to know that drinking in public houses does not necessarily lead, as far as one can gather, to the greatest problem. The greatest problem occurs when only 13 per cent. of licensed premises are open but the clubs are open. It is true that many of the people who have gone on to the clubs have been drinking in pubs—

Mr. Gale

Or at home.

Mr. Best

Yes. But it is not true that the greatest problem occurs when the pubs close. The critical time, when most arrests are made, is between midnight and 4 am. That is interesting.

I shall give my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North precise figures to answer his question. Of the 60 per cent. of those arrested who had been drinking alcohol within the four hours before arrest, 40 per cent. had been drinking in pubs, 19 per cent. had been drinking in clubs —and probably pubs before then, although one cannot be certain—14 per cent. had been drinking at home or privately and 27 per cent. had been drinking at other places, which includes off-licence purchase and drinking in public places and in hotels. However, I should say to the hotel lobby in the House that only 4 per cent. of that 27 per cent pertained to hotels.

It is interesting that one third of all arrests took place between midnight and 4 am and, of those, 78 per cent. of the people arrested had been consuming alcohol within the previous four hours — a higher percentage than the overall percentage of arrests. I am sorry that I have given a number of statistics, but my hon. Friend did ask about that aspect. I hope that I have assisted him.

Mr. Gale

That was most interesting. But those are figures for England—

Mr. Best

For Brighton.

Mr. Gale

For Brighton, and by implication for England, not for Scotland where, as we have heard, the situation is rather different.

Mr. Best

I am sure that my hon. Friend would welcome a similar survey in one or more locations in Scotland. It would give tangible proof of what he no doubt firmly believes. I am not in a position to gainsay him.

A great deal more needs to be done by the Government and the House in dealing with the problems of alcohol abuse which pervade every aspect of society, cause immense misery and are an immense cost to society. This matter must be addressed now. It has been left on the sidelines far too long. I hope that the debate, even if it does nothing more, has focused the attention of the general public and the House on the problem. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate on the fact that he has brought these issues before the House. Once again, I say that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has listened patiently and carefully. I hope that he will address this serious problem with renewed impetus, vigour and determination.

1.13 pm
Mr. Robert Banks

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that this has been a remarkable debate, because it has been wide-ranging and well informed. I should like to place on record my gratitude to those hon. Members who have attended the debate for the quality of their speeches. I particularly thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for being here throughout the debate and for his speech and I thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) for his contribution and attendance throughout. I am most grateful.

The outcome of the debate must surely be that the case is proven for reform of our licensing laws. In concert with that has been expressed a very real and deep concern about the problems arising from alcohol consumption, not least among young people. That is an area which deserves more attention from the Government in order to spur on the efforts now being made to inform and try to correct the problem, but to do so with greater resources and greater vigour.

It has been mentioned that many people purchase liquor from supermarkets or off-licences. In the case of off-licences, it is not unusual for young people to be serving behind the counter, sometimes below the age of 18. That needs to be looked at, because if younger people are going into off-licences and purchasing liquor, it is easier for them to do so from somebody under age. That needs to be corrected by legislation or whatever is necessary in order to ensure that those serving behind the counter in such places are over the age of 18.

We have called for a package of reforms and new measures to help deal with the great problems that arise from alcohol excess. I am glad that it has been said in the Chamber today that pubs in Scotland have greatly improved. I think that pubs in the whole of the United Kingdom are one of our great assets. When one hears people from abroad say how much they appreciate our pubs, it is a good reminder to us to remember that we are lucky to have them. The industry is a responsible one and the investment in pubs has been considerable in recent years.

I am grateful for the support that has been given to the Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Bill which is to come before us today from another place. I believe that that measure would be helpful and I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House calls for the early introduction of legislation to reform the present licensing laws in England and Wales; expresses its concern over the problems presented by those who consume alcohol to excess; and calls for further measures of action, education and research.

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