HC Deb 08 May 1987 vol 115 cc965-96 9.41 am
Mr. Speaker

I call Sir Bernard Braine to speak to his amendment No. 1.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? When the House adjourned last Friday, I was speaking to amendment No. 1, but also to amendment No. 13. The two are interlinked in such a way that you recognised that there should be one debate. Therefore, I hope that you will allow me to pursue the argument on which I embarked, because of the interrelationship of the two amendments.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry. I did not make it clear that my selection remains as it was last week, and that with amendment No. 1 we shall take amendment No.1 3, in page 1, line 22, after '11.30 p.m.' insert 'with a two hour break between the opening hour and closing hour'.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 22, leave out '11.30 p.m.' and insert '11 p.m.'.

When the House adjourned last Friday, I was on the point of summing up the case for the two amendments, which is concerned with flexibility and hours of opening. It might help the House if I summarise the beneficial effects of my two amendments on licensees and public houses, and above all in relation to public order, road safety and health.

I have always made it plain that the overwhelming majority of licensees are decent, hard-working people who need some protection from the pressure of the drink industry for ever-increasing consumption and the extended hours in which it can take place. Hon. Members will know from their own experience that the desire for extended opening hours is not universally held by all licensees or by their wives and families.

Two days ago I was delighted to receive, out of the blue, a letter from Mr. Eddie Johnson, landlord of The Crown, a public house in High road, Loughton. I have never met Mr. Johnson, but he gives me permission to read the letter to the House. He says:

Dear Sir Bernard, I would like to congratulate you on your stand against any relaxation of the licensing laws. As a publican of 28 years, I have seen how the erosion of everything we hold dear in this country seems to have been accompanied by an increase in drunken, yobbish behaviour. Mr. Johnson is making the point that I have made more than once in the House. He continues: I enclose a copy of an article that I had published in the Morning Advertiser three years ago. Since then they have put an embargo on any correspondence from me pertaining to the Flexi Laws campaign—indeed one of the features of that newspaper now is that opposition to the measure they say is nil whereas I know that most publicans of my acquaintance are against reform. In the article, Mr. Johnson made it clear that, in his view, longer and more flexible hours are not needed. He also met head-on the argument that tourists grumble about afternoon closing and argue for later opening. He says: Pressure on the Government from the Brewers Society, the Tourist Board and would you believe, the National Union of Licensed Victuallers to allow our pubs to stay open later and longer, is getting stronger. As far as the NULV is concerned, it must be the first time in history a group is supporting an idea that will mean much more work for its members for much less pay. One reason given by the Board is that our licensing laws make tourists stay away and that the laws are silly. Do tourists stay away? London already can't cope with the numbers. In 1985 report by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry concluded: the tourism industry would greatly benefit by a liberalisation of the existing laws. We consider that, both in regard to opening hours, and in provisions for families to take children with them into public houses, a change in the legislation is needed. But where is the evidence for the claim that the availability of drink is a major determinant of people's choice of holiday location? The Scottish experience provides no such evidence. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of overseas visitors to Scotland increased by 8 per cent. In England and Wales over the same period, the number of foreign tourists increased by 54 per cent.

It is perhaps just possible that the failure of licensed premises to cater for families with children could be a significant factor in persuading British families to holiday abroad, but it is highly unlikely. For there is nothing in our existing law to prevent licensees from setting aside family rooms, provided that the rooms in question do not contain bars. The apparent unwillingness of many licencess or the brewery companies behind them to cater for whole families within the current law surely must be taken as showing a lack of demand for such facilities.

Compared with factors such as the value of the pound and the idiosyncrasies of the British weather, the difficulty of obtaining a drink in a public house at 4 o'clock in the afternoon is surely of minimal significance in deterring foreign tourists from coming to this country. Would American tourists, for example, be deterred from holidaying in this country by a two-hour break in the drinking day? I think not. Indeed, in the United States, alcohol consumption is falling precisely because of greater public awareness of the health risks associated with alcohol. One third of adult Americans are, in fact, teetotal.

In New Zealand, as I said last Friday, the Minister of Justice is being urged by a departmental committee to introduce a period of closure of public houses between 2 pm and 4 pm—in view of what has been happening in the House, this reads strangely—on the ground that it would help public houses in New Zealand achieve the "favourable image" characteristic of English pubs. How ironical, and how sad that at the very moment that our system is prasied and may be copied, the sponsors of this ill-considered Bill are seeking to abandon it in this country. There is no reason to believe that the tourist trade would be damaged by acceptance of amendments Nos. 1 and 13. Indeed, it can be argued that acceptance of the two amendments would help to retain the attractiveness of England and Wales to foreign tourists.

In our previous debates, much of our discussion has focused on road safety. I should like to summarise my views on that as it relates to the two amendments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) pointed out last Friday, the issue between the supporters and the opponents of the Bill is primarily concerned with the facts. I agree with him that, in relation to road safety, the primary issue is the nature of the relationship between the availability of alcohol, and death and injury on the roads, and whether increased availability would be likely to increase the number of alcohol-related deaths and injuries.

Everyone accepts that a definitive answer to those questions is not possible because the statistical information that would decide the matter is not available. It is partly because of the absence of this vital information that the issue between the supporters and the opponents of the Bill is also that of on whom the burden of proof should be made to lie.

That raises an interesting question. It is not for me, as an opponent of the Bill, to prove that, in the absence of the relevant statistics, the Bill is undesirable. It is those who want to change the law who must show beyond any reasonable doubt, that to do so would not be harmful. I say here and now that prima facie there is a danger that increased availability might lead to increased deaths and injuries on our roads.

If that is so, the onus should be on the supporters of the Bill to show that increased availability will not lead to increased harm. Until that is done Parliament should follow the safer course. So far the supporters have not been able to do so. Questions to the Department of Transport have not produced figures to support their argument. It is entirely wrong to argue that the onus is on those who oppose the Bill to show positively that increased availability will lead to increased harm. That argument is utterly unacceptable. If the matter in dispute cannot be conclusively decided one way or the other, Parliament must choose the safer course—which, in this instance, is represented by my two amendments. They would go some way to control the availability of alcohol and would especially help to prevent continuous drinking throughout the day.

Why must we err on the side of caution? Why would continuous drinking hours be likely to increase road traffic accidents? It is clear that the incidence of alcohol-related traffic accidents is already closely related to the hours during which public houses are open. We do not need to look into the crystal when we can consult the book of experience.

I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has denied that there is a perceptible relationship between pub opening hours and road accidents. I can only ask him to reconsider the pattern of road accidents by the hour of the day at which they occur. I should like to quote the words of Dr. James Dunbar, director of the Tayside safe driving project, who is one of our country's leading authorities on drinking and driving. Incidentally, I believe that Dr. Dunbar went to the same school and university as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood. In a telephone conversation on Wednesday night, he told me: There is a significant difference in the times at which alcohol related accidents and non alcoholic accidents occur. Non alcohol accidents peak during the rush hours when people are travelling to and from work. Alcohol related accidents first begin to occur significantly at midday, an hour or so after the pubs open, and then increase steadily through the rest of the day, peaking at between midnight and two o'clock in the morning, after the pubs have closed. Of course alcohol-related traffic accidents are affected by pub opening hours—to what else would we expect them to be related? At the moment, the peak of alcohol-related traffic accidents occurs late at night. The danger inherent in the Bill's proposal for continuous afternoon drinking is that the peak would then start earlier in the day, during the late afternoon, when schoolchildren and other especially vulnerable road users, such as the elderly, are about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood argued that extended drinking hours would encourage more leisurely drinking, which in turn would tend to reduce the likelihood of drink-related accidents. Although he cannot offer any proof, that is the basis of his case. I begin to despair, because there is no force in that argument at all. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) explained last Friday that even small quantities of alcohol impair driving ability and increase accident risk. He was absolutely right. Thus, the possibility of more leisurely drinking hardly matters in this context. Moreover, and as Dr. Dunbar has pointed out, if my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood were correct, we should expect the average blood alcohol level of drink-driving offenders in Scotland to have declined since the introduction of extended opening hours. However, Dr. Dunbar's own research into the question has discovered no such decline. In other words, there is no evidence of lower blood alcohol levels having been brought about in Scotland by extended opening hours.

Dr. Dunbar goes further. Other research that he has carried out has shown that approximately one third of drink-driving offenders, aged 29 and over, are already problem drinkers, who habitually drink to excess. They are not simply unlucky people who have been caught out on a single occasion, possibly when celebrating the enactment of this Bill. They are people who regularly drink to excess before driving. It would be naive in the extreme to believe that people with such a weakness would not take advantage of extended opening hours, and that their doing so would not make them even more dangerous drivers than they are already.

In Dr. Dunbar's experience, an accident that results in death is often an accident that follows all-day drinking. As a Scot living and working in Scotland, he is strongly in favour of a two-hour break in the drinking day precisely to reduce the likelihood of all-day drinking followed by driving, the results of which are all too familiar to him in the mortuary.

Perhaps the supporters of the Bill can now begin to understand the logic and the good sense of the recommendation of the New Zealand ministerial committee, which, believe it or not, has just recommended that there should be an afternoon break in that country, which has never had one. It has recommended that because of the splendid example set and the splendid image created for English and Welsh public houses by our afternoon break over a long period. Is that not ironic?

There is a strong possibility that at least one in every 20 road accident deaths involving innocent children is alcohol-related. Twice as many children and young people are killed every year by an alcohol-related road death than were drowned in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster that has so shocked the nation. The onus is upon those who want to abolish the break to prove that not one child will he harmed by the measure. Magistrates must have the power to act and to protect life by being able to place a break in continuous all-day drinking. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Amendment No.13 would not only have a protective effect with regard to the incidence of drinking and driving; it would also serve to mitigate the worst effects of the Bill in a more general sense. A two-hour break in the drinking day may not seem a great amount of time in relation to a single public house but, in a city with perhaps 1,000 public houses and clubs, the total reduction brought about by amendment No. 13 would be substantial—a maximum of 2,000 fewer drinking hours per day. Such a reduction would certainly help to reduce the harm to public health.

If anyone doubts that the increased availability of alcohol would lead to increased harm, let them explain why the highest incidence of alcohol-related liver disease is found among those occupational groups having the easiest access to alcohol—that is, those who work in the drink industry itself, including publicans and managers of licensed clubs.

More than 10 years ago I was the chairman of the first working party in the United Kingdom to look into the effects of alcohol in the place of work. I was not popular when we published figures showing which trades and professions were must vulnerable to drinking alcohol to excess. I am sorry to say that publicans and their staff headed the list.

10 am

The very awareness of the drink trade that its employees are at special risk of experiencing alcohol-related problems has led to numerous drinks companies, to their great credit, to establish special policies on alcohol problems for their employees. These often include measures to reduce the availability of alcohol during working hours. The working party's examination of alcohol in the workplace was followed up by effective action. Guidance from the Health and Safety Executive to the drinks industry published in 1982 stated: It is recommended that drinkable alcohol producers should have a clear and written policy aimed at protecting both the health and safety of their employees. The policy could form part of their safety policy under section 2(3) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and might include the following elements:

  1. (a) Control of the availability of alcohol.
  2. (b) Restriction or prohibition of consumption of alcohol on the premises.
  3. (c) Establishment of agreed disciplinary procedures for alcohol abuse."
Amendments Nos. 1 and 13 are based on the truth that the drink trade recognises and applies to its own work force, if not to its customers. The amendments would reduce the overall availability of alcohol in a locality without damaging the principle of flexibility.

I believe that all the expert bodies concerned with health and safety who have expressed an opinion on licensing reform would support the amendments. The dangers of increasing the already huge problem of alcohol misuse are real and are far too great for us to countenance changing the existing law so precipitately in the direction of extended pub opening hours—a step so manifestly in the dark. The least the nation expects of Parliament now or at any time is that we should take the safer course if there is a risk to health and life.

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

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) will forgive me if I do not take up all the important matters he raised. Indeed, during our deliberations we have often discussed the experience in Scotland, and the content of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' report, and argued that there does not appear to have been an increase in alcohol consumption since that change in the law. Therefore, there does not appear to have been an increase in consumption as a result of increased availability of alcohol. There is not much point in my crossing swords with my right hon. Friend on those matters again.

Amendment No. 1 raised an important matter. The scheme of the Bill provides for licensing justices to pay regard to matters such as nuisance to adjoining residents when deciding the closing hour at night. The Government have made plain their dislike of the scheme of the Bill, not least because of the resource implications. But one is bound to have sympathy for amendment No. 1 because it grapples with a problem with which the House would have to grapple if there were a different scheme of licensing reform and we were, for example, to choose a scheme which allowed individual licensees to decide when they would and would not open.

I am sure that if such a scheme of reform were proposed, the House would discuss anxiously what the final closing hour should be. We would certainly need to have regard to the convenience of people who lived near the licensed premises and we would have to discuss anxiously the possibility of nuisance being caused to adjoining occupiers. Therefore, it is absolutely right and proper that my right hon. Friend should have highlighted that matter in his amendment today.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Yet again the Minister has referred to the experience in Scotland and I fully understand that it may not be appropriate to have another discussion on the different conclusions that can be drawn from it. However, I must repeat that I regret that we did not set up means of monitoring the results of the changes in Scotland. Had we done so, there would have been much more light cast on our deliberations on the Bill. There are seldom opportunities for measuring changes of what some people would call a social experiment, and it is a pity that we have denied ourselves the ability to argue further with precision the consequences of this legislation.

Mr. Waddington

Obviously, there is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says, but he would not wish to ignore the statistical evidence which is available—he will acknowledge that some important messages attach to it. The statistics reveal that since 1978—that is after the reform had been in place for a year or two—the number of drivers killed over the legal limit has decreased. Certainly one does not see a picture from the statistics that exist of an increased number of deaths on the roads in Scotland, although there has been an increased availability of alcohol.

Mr. Dubs

Those figures are certainly encouraging, but, without wishing to stray beyond the limits of debating the Bill, there have been other changes in Scotland since 1978, including an increase in unemployment, so lower incomes and people having relatively less to spend on drink than previously. That may well be a factor affecting that period.

It is difficult to analyse these matters with precision. Had we thought this through when the changes were made in Scotland, we might have devised more methods of monitoring the situation than we did. I am aware that there are figures. Indeed, the Minister has mentioned figures and survey information and I would not deny their existence. But there are differences of opinion among experts who have examined the figures as to what precisely happened and why. We have missed an opportunity, but that is water under the bridge.

Amendment No. 1 suggests that the latest time to which a licensee may keep a pub open should be 11 pm instead of 11.30 pm — in other words, the normal practice in London. In some parts pubs close even earlier than that now.

The second amendment seeks to establish a two-hour break at some point in the drinking day. I should like to say something about the significance of these proposed changes. It has been said that tourism, which we all want to encourage, is deterred by our licensing laws. There may be arguments for changes in our licensing laws, but the argument that more tourists would be attracted if we changed them is not a powerful one, because there are many other motives for coining to this country.

In the past one of the deterrents to tourism was the inability of tourists visiting many parts of Britain to get a decent meal. That is changing and the quality of food in ordinary, inexpensive restaurants has gone up, although as I am a London Member I do not have the same chance to visit other parts of Britain as hon. Members with far-flung constituencies. That improvement has been more important for tourism than the licensing hours.

Secondly, many tourists stay in hotels and, as many hotels are licensed, guests can go back to their hotel and have a drink at any hour. As hotel residents they are not limited by the licensing hours and can more or less treat the hotel as their home. The House recently passed a Bill that relaxed the hours during which people may drink with meals. The previous provision that people could not drink with meals after 3 o'clock in the afternoon has gone. In so far as we wish to encourage sensible drinking, drinking with a meal is probably the best way to do that and all the medical evidence supports that view. All this makes greater our ability to attract tourists and we do not need to use the argument about extending licensing hours.

I shall now turn to the arguments about extending the hours to 11.30 pm. People may have difficulty in getting home because public transport is not what it ought to be. This is not the time fully to debate public transport and you would soon call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I attempted to do that. However, there is clearly a relationship between the time people stop drinking and the method by which they get home. It is fine if they are in their local pub and can walk home. That is the most desirable situation. But sometimes they have to find public transport. We know that after 11 o'clock at night public transport is hard to get and after 11.30 it seems to stop altogether. Therefore, there would be an extra incentive for people to visit pubs by motor car, and that is precisely the danger.

Sometimes when I am on my way back from a constituency meeting after 11 o'clock, I am conscious that I have to drive a bit more carefully in case I encounter people who have left pubs. Such people are quite noticeable sometimes. They are also noticeable at times such as Christmas eve and new year's eve, and at such times my wife and I do our best not to get into a motor car at all, because now and again one observes people who should not be driving.

The later that pubs remain open in the evening, the greater the danger that motorists will have been to them and will have had a bit more to drink than they should have had. As I have said before, it is perfectly clear that even if a motorist is below the legal limit—and in my view the legal limit is too high—his driving ability may be impaired. All the research suggests that every drink will impair a person's driving ability a little, even though the way that it works differs from one person to another. Everybody's driving ability is affected for the worse by having more to drink. Anything that increases the likelihood that a motorist may have an extra drink or two must be discouraged.

10.15 am

There is a further point about the effect of later opening on local people. There is no fixed time at which people go to bed, but certainly the later in the evening that people drink the more likely it is that disturbance will be caused to people living nearby. Many pubs are in residential areas. Where they are not, the situation may be different. I know from experience in my constituency that there can be a lot of noise and disturbance.

Even now when pubs stops serving alcohol at 11 o'clock there is a period during which people are allowed to drink up. By the time they get out of the pub and get into their cars is can be quite late. There will be the noise of car doors slamming, and that disturbance can go on late into the night even with an 11 o'clock finish. If pubs were allowed to open until 11.30, the noise and distrubance caused to people who, for example, may have to get up at 6 am to go work would go on until midnight. We must respect the right of people to sleep and we must respect people's right to have a bit of peace and quiet in the evening. For those reasons, I am concerned about any aspect of the Bill which would make the likelihood of a peaceful night's sleep remote.

The other powerful argument by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) in relation to the afternoon break is about schoolchildren coming home. It is clear that there are more car accidents in the afternoon than in the morning. It is also clear from the figures that young children coming home from school are more at risk than when they are going to school in the morning. It may he that they are more alert in the morning and walk to school more slowly than they do in the afternoon. Perhaps motorists are more careful when going to work in the morning. Even now, some people driving in the afternoon have had rather more to drink than they should. There are disturbing and distressing instances of accidents that have occurred during the afternoon, but I shall not take up the time of the House by going through them.

Certainly we want to minimise the danger to schoolchildren on their way home from school. Of course when they leave school in the afternoon they are boisterous. Schools have railings to prevent children from running across the road. However, it is easy for schoolchildren on their way home to forget themselves when they want to go and play football or whatever. A little bit of thoughtlessness on the part of the child and an inability on the part of the motorists to stop quickly enough can cause a tragic accident. We want to minimise the chances of such things happening.

I view these amendments with sympathy and I fully understand the motives of the right hon. Member for Castle Point in moving them. However, it is right that the House should again have its attention drawn to the possible dangers. Of course, there are benefits on the other side, but they are part of a broader discussion of the Bill and are not part of a specific discussion of the amendments. I hope that amendment No. 1 will be accepted, because it seems sensible and right and will give people peace and quiet and lessen the danger a little.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

I shall be brief. I should like to speak about one or two of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) in relation to the letter that he received from Mr. Johnson. I emphasise that, under the provisions of the Bill, Mr. Johnson is not compelled to do anything that he does not wish to do. It is entirely up to Mr. Johnson whether he changes his present hours of opening.

My right hon. Friend spoke about tourism in relation to Scotland and England and Wales. The overwhelming majority of tourists to Great Britain have to come through London. That is a fact of life, and therefore needs to be taken into account in the tourism argument.

I live next door to a pub in London. I am in no doubt that there is a strong argument for amendment No. 1. There are also arguments against amendment No. 1, but it does not raise matters of principle in relation to the Bill. In the correspondence that I have received about the Bill, the most significant complaint—I have had many letters of support—has been about later opening hours.

The remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) about amendment No. 13 have been illuminating. Amendment No. 13, of course, does not technically achieve what my right hon. Friend is aiming for, and that is the afternoon break. Clearly, if amendment No. 13 were accepted, it would be possible for a licensee to open at 10.30 am, to close at 10.35 for two hours, and then continue trading thereafter.

I am not persuaded by the arguments about amendment No. 1. It is not a matter of principle. I recommend that the House accept amendment No. 1.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned.

I give notice that if the Question is agreed, I propose to name Friday 3 July as the day for the Report stage to be resumed.

The Bill is an all-party measure, involving debates held over two days—30 January and 27 March. It received an unopposed Second Reading and has successfully gone through five Committee sittings. Standing Committee C never sat later than about 7.30 pm. It is not the case that the Bill reached the Floor of the House as a result of unreasonable behaviour on the part of its sponsors. Last Friday, on Report, the Bill had a full day on the Floor of the House.

It has had magnificent support from hon. Members on both sides of the House who, on many occasions, gave up other engagements to be present to support it. Frankly, it has progressed through the House against apparently overwhelming odds; it was No. 8 in the ballot. Of course, it has been opposed for honourable reasons, principally by my right hon. Friend the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). Some hon. Members are opposed to it to a greater or lesser degree and for different reasons. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who had hoped to be here for the debate but has other engagements, has expressed reservations on some matters. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) has expressed his reservations. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister has stated the Government's reservations, which are principally concerned with resources.

Earlier this week, as sponsor of the Bill, I had to ask myself a crucial question. It was this: given the amendments that have been selected for debate and their grouping, given the days that have been allocated for private Members' Bills, and given my right hon. Friend's formidable debating powers, knowledge and known views, was there any prospect that the Licensing (Amendment) Bill could reach the statute book, even on the most optimistic assumptions? The most optimistic assumptions were that today a large number of supporters of the Bill would be present to win closure votes if necessary and that the general election would not take place until after the summer recess.

Hope springs eternal, especially in the breasts of private Members who try to get legislation through the House. I had to conclude that, even on such assumptions, the Bill could not reach the statute book. I am not a betting man, but if somebody had been offered odds at 100 to one on the Bill reaching the statute book, he would not have put £1 on, but would have kept it for a rainy day, possibly in Scotland, on which he could have used it to shelter in a pub.

I wrote to the supporters of the Bill, stating that they should feel under no obligation to be present if they had other pressing engagements today—the rough equivalent of the one-line Whip. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) is here. In Scottish terms, gemmes a bogey. There are good reasons for the belief that hon. Members have many other pressing engagements. I have important constituency engagements this evening. It is a matter of record that supporters of the Bill, both hon. Members and wholly innocent academics, have been subjected to a vicious smear campaign by an hon. Member who is not a member of the Standing Committee.

In the light of that, I emphasise that I did not move this motion because I have to go to what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) last week referred to as my marginal constituency. It is a matter of record that, at the last election, I received over 46 per cent. of the popular vote and a majority of over 8,000. We in Eastwood will fight for every vote because every vote counts. Let the House be under no misapprehension that my commitments are wholly compatible with my presence here, if necessary, until 2.30 pm. Indeed, thanks to the Government's splendid policy of allowing more competition on domestic air routes, there is an excellent air service between Glasgow and London.

At the next election I do not expect my majority to be as high as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. I have looked at his results. The general swing of opinion does not seem to matter for him. His majority simply goes up and up. In one sense, the House is about majorities. It is also about the rights of minorities to be heard. In relation to the Bill, my right hon. Friend is in a minority. He may wish to express his views in full on the general matters. Of course, that is his right, and I shall be here to listen.

Let us not forget the circumstances in which the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading — it was certainly by careful planning, but it was not inadvertently slipped through at 2,30 pm. At about nine minutes past two, after a debate in which he said that he would oppose a Second Reading, and after my winding-up speech, the hon. Member for Newham, South did not seek in any way to divide the House. It is possible that the hon. Member may have been persuaded by my eloquence in my summing up, but I have some doubts about that. Both of us knew the consequences of the hon. Gentleman not dividing the House and of my sitting down at nine minutes past two o'clock rather than at 28 minutes past the hour. One of the consequences was that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who had been sitting quietly in his place for some time, was able to speak to his Bill. That is not a Bill which is supported by those of my hon. Friends who support this Bill or by myself, but we felt that there was no reason why the hon. Gentleman should not have his way. That is an important principle.

10.30 am

There is another important principle that is fundamental to the House, and that is parliamentary privilege. The hon. Member for Workington is not in his place, but I feel that I have to say that that right has been grossly abused and debased by him. What he said and implied about me last week is not an issue, although to be accused of not caring about the deaths of young children, which was clearly the implication of what the hon. Gentleman said, as recorded in column 528 of Hansard, is not a very pleasant experience. Perhaps my reaction to that reflects the fact that I am used in the main to criticism from Scottish Labour Members, who would never have made that sort of speech. Under parliamentary privilege the issue has been debated at length and I shall not go over it now.

The hon. Member for Workington has smeared three of my hon. Friends on a wholly bogus point. It has been made clear by Mr. Speaker and by the Chairman of Standing Committee C that they behaved with absolute propriety. In columns 498 and 499 the hon. Gentleman smeared two distinguished Scottish academics. I have been a Scottish academic and I know that an individual's reputation for intellectual integrity is fundamental. Essentially the accusation was that academics had fiddled research data because they were being funded by the Scotch Whisky Association. The hon. Gentleman quoted the exact figure of £49,000, but he did not say that the project in question was funded from various sources, including Her Majesty's Government. The funding from the Government was about £100,000.

I do not know the motives of the hon. Member for Workington and I do not know whether he was genuinely misinformed. I do know, however, that it is not reasonable to assume that the three organisations which were mentioned—Alcohol Concern, the Scottish Council on Alcoholism and the British Medical Association—would have deliberately misinformed the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member.

The Bill was introduced for a number of reasons. It is a personal assertion of belief in the Act of Union of 1707, which I believe has benefits north and south of the border. That is possibly under greater threat than many hon. Members realise. It is an assertion of belief in the Act of Union for a Scottish Member to introduce on the basis of experience in Scotland measures that relate to England and Wales. Something broadly right in principle was done in Scotland when the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 was put on the statute book by the previous Labour Government.

It has never been my contention that everything in Scotland is necessarily perfect. I believe, however, that the evidence shows that the results of the 1976 Act are either positive or neutral when set against various criteria. That is what the evidence suggests, and my personal observations both before and after the passing of the Act confirm that. I repeat my invitation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point to visit Scotland and to meet the police in my constituency. I would go further. If my right hon. Friend is minded to do that, I would invite him to address my constituency Conservative association, but I do not suggest that the subject of that address should necessarily be licensing hours. The invitation is a genuine one.

I believe that the licensing law in England and Wales is a mess. It is highly biased against pubs and clubs, which provide a controlled environment for the consumption of alcohol. I shall exemplify the position, as I did broadly in Committee. Let us assume that a constituent of an hon. Member arrives in London on a July afternoon and wishes to have a drink. What are his options? First, he could come here. He could seek out his Member of Parliament, who would doubtless take him for necessary refreshment. Secondly, he could buy alcohol in an off-licence and then sit in a park and drink it. He could now, as the hon. Member for Battersea said, enter a restaurant and consume alcohol there. He could take a train to Gatwick and back and consume alcohol there. What he could not do under the present licensing laws is enter a public house and consume alcohol there, even if the licensee wished the public house to be open. I do not believe that to be sensible.

The Bill is not about off-licences. As I understand the state of the law in England and Wales, it is legal for an 18-year-old who is accompanied by two 16-year-olds to be handed £5, for example, by the 16-year-olds on the street and for him to enter an off-licence to buy alcohol for the 16-year-olds to consume on a park bench, for example. No one will have committed an offence, even if the person in the off-licence knew what was happening. I may be wrong in that interpretation of the la w, but I think that the law in England and Wales needs reform.

The Bill has united many people. It has united hon. Members from both sides of the House and those who may be said to have some self-interest in its passage, such as the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, the Brewers Society, the National Association of Licensed House Managers and the Transport and General Workers Union, as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) told the Committee.

It has the support of the tourist organisations, although I do not think that the tourist argument is necessarily decisive. It also has the support of the three local authority associations in England and Wales — namely, the Association of District Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils. Such associations cannot reasonably be said to have a financial or commercial interest in the passage of the Bill.

If my proposal is accepted, the Bill will not be dead; it will remain on the Order Paper. It establishes an important point, and it could well be debated again on 3 July. There may or may not be a June election. If there is not, the supporters of the Bill, on an all-party basis, would be able to approach the Government and say, "The climate for change has been clearly established. What do the Government propose to do now?" If there is a June election, I believe that, irrespective of the result of that election, reform is inevitable. Such reform need not necessarily take the precise form suggested in this Bill; there are arguments for different types of reform.

I should like to thank the Bill's supporters, and also to thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for his courteous neutrality. I also thank the hon. Member for Battersea for what he said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has opposed the Bill for wholly honourable reasons.

I hope that the House will accept the motion as an appropriate procedure, so that, after a due interval for the contributions of others—especially, perhaps, from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister — other measures in which private Members believe may also be debated today, possibly the last day of private Members' time in this Parliament.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

I apologise for not being present at the commencement of this morning's proceedings. I spent a very successful day in Carlisle yesterday, where we strengthened our hold on the city council. I motored home late last night, and I had to get up rather early this morning to come here. I regret not having been here on time. It was no one's fault; the time factor was to blame.

I am glad that I was here to listen to the tail end of the speech by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). As I came into the Chamber, however, I wondered where all the supporters of the Bill had gone. I should have thought that they would be present to give the hon. Gentleman moral support in his endeavours.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Because of the time when the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber, he may not have appreciated the precise position in relation to my supporters. I explained that earlier, before he arrived.

Mr. Lewis

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting me right, and I apologise if I have said anything that I should not have said. Nevertheless, I should have thought that the supporters of a measure of this kind, whatever the circumstances, would have been present right up to the end to give it its funeral. But evidently the hon. Gentleman has done that himself with his motion.

10.45 am

I have taken part in a number of debates during my 22 years in the House. I have been privileged to take part in some, on a non-party basis, with the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), and I have vivid and happy recollections of discussing a similar Bill in Standing Committee in the early hours of one morning. We got it on to the Floor of the House on the same day.

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman may recall that that Bill sought to bring children under 14, unaccompanied, into licensed bars. No wonder we were able to defeat it.

Mr. Lewis

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right. The tragedy is that the present Paymaster General was the promoter of that Bill. However, Parliament in its wisdom defeated it.

This may be the last time that I shall take part in a debate in this hallowed place that I have been privileged to serve, and have loved to serve. The work done by the right hon. Member for Castle Point in opposing the Bill, in Committee and at various other stages, should be commended. I should like to pay respectful tribute to his excellent work on this subject over the years. The right hon. Gentleman is not a strict teetotaller, as I am, and I do not hold that against him. However, he and a number of others can see the potential dangers in opening the floodgates. Heaven knows, we have enough of a problem on our hands now. To open the doors for all-day drinking would be a retrograde step, and I do not want it to happen.

I am all in favour of the principle of flexible rostering, and I feel that the hon. Member for Eastwood should consider it. But I am dead against an extension of the present hours, as are a number of people in the trade, because of the potential dangers, particularly in relation to young people. I admire the hon. Gentleman for bringing the Bill to a conclusion, and I am only sorry—you will correct me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I am out of order— that the Selection Committee that selected the members of the Committee to examine the Bill——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. We are debating the motion that further consideration be adjourned, The hon. Gentleman should stick to that.

Mr. Lewis

I shall try to stick to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely trying to say that I am sorry that, as a result of my intervention in sending a letter and raising a point on the Floor of the House, some hon. Members whom I named, and who are not dishonest people, have now taken a personal dislike to me. That has been evident in the measure of their friendship, and I deprecate it.

Having said that, let me congratulate the right hon. Member for Castle Point. I know that he will be back, not only in his present capacity but as the Father of the House. I wish him well, and all the others with whom I have been privileged to serve in this place for nearly 23 years. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be as successful in his opposition in the future as he has been in the past.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am greatly moved by the kind remarks of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis). I do not think that the public fully appreciate how, on some great social issues, the members of the different political parties work together for what they consider to be the public good. I recollect many happy campaigns in conjunction with the hon. Gentleman and members of other parties. I am sorry that he is leaving Parliament; he will be greatly missed by us all.

The motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was wholly unexpected, but it was a welcome development and I accept it in the spirit in which it was moved. The whole House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for suggesting that time should be provided for further reflection on the Bill. Nevertheless, I am not surprised. My hon. Friend's experience as a Scottish Health Minister will have made him sensitive to at least some of the criticisms of the Bill that I have found it necessary to make. I am grateful to him for his kind words. Throughout all our exchanges, he has conducted his case with great courtesy and good humour.

I am not opposed to the Bill, any more than the hon. Member for Carlisle is opposed to it, because it seeks to allow greater flexibility of opening hours, but I am opposed to the move to lengthen the total number of hours on the supposed ground that it would make for more civilised drinking. That is complete nonsense. It would certainly increase the availability of alcohol. That might he good for the profits of the drinks trade, but it would fly in the face of warnings from the World Health Organisation, the medical profession, the royal colleges and the alcohol care agencies. They have warned that an increase in alcohol consumption is inevitably accompanied by an increase in health harm.

I shall develop only one aspect which it is important to put on record, as and when we return to the issue. Had we proceeded with the Bill this morning, I should have moved an amendment to draw attention to the prevalence of under-age drinking in public houses and to the serious implications for law and order and for the health of our young people. If debate on the Bill is to be adjourned, it must be adjourned on the understanding that these implications are grasped and that something is done about them. I draw some comfort from what my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said this morning: that the Government will have to insist that the implications are grasped and that something is done about them.

In raising this problem, I am attempting to follow the long and honourable tradition of Parliament, at least in the present century, of protecting children and young people generally against alcohol. The Bill does nothing to solve the problem of under-age drinking. If enacted unamended, the Bill would make the position worse.

There are several reasons why it is wise to adjourn consideration of the Bill—and, I hope, to drop it—but none is more important than the fact that, contrary to the best intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood, it lengthens drinking time and increases the load on licensees at a time when under-age drinking is causing grave concern to the police, teachers, parents and the public at large.

I have with me a large collection of cuttings from newspapers that are published in every part of England and Wales that refer to illegal under-age drinking in public houses. The headlines are chilling. I take a few of them at random. The headline in the Basildon Evening Echo reads: Pub kids 12—drinking booze. The headline in the Reading Evening News says: Teeny drinkers in health crisis. The headline in the Liverpool Echo reads: High on the drink drug — up to 80 per cent. of Merseyside teenagers, some as young as 14, are drinking in pubs illegally. And the Manchester Advertiser headline says: Children go to school drunk. I could quote hundreds of examples, but those will suffice.

I have in my hand the monthly press digest for October that is published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies. It reveals a terrifying and nationwide problem. I shall refer to only one article, which, significantly enough, appeared in the Police Review of 19 October 1986. In this article Mr. Colin Sheppard looked at the link between juvenile crime and the alcohol consumed by under-age drinkers in public houses. Speaking of a 16-year-old sitting straight in his chair, his fingers gripping it to keep his balance, he reports that the boy said: Where I come from, lads start drinking when they are about 15 or 16, some more than others but usually on at least four days a week including weekends. The usual pattern is to pub crawl around the city pubs, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, and then look for the wimps to pick off. It's hit and run, really, with us hunting in packs and sometimes being hunted. It's always good fun if Forest are at home and the away supporters are in town, then we get some real sport — a really good boot job on them makes the night. By about throwing out time I have had about eight or nine pints of ale like me mates and then we look for a club. If they won't let us in there's usually aggro—either on the bouncer or damage. Why do I do it? It's the thing to do. Booze and fight—what else is there that matters? Mr. Sheppard goes on to say——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are debating whether we should adjourn consideration of the Bill. He must relate his remarks to that and not make the speech that he intended to make on an amendment that we have not yet reached.

Sir Bernard Braine

I am referring not to an amendment but to the reason why I am not prepared to accept the adjournment of the Bill. You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to point out that an amendment that has not yet been reached would have gone into the matter in great detail. I do not propose to go into as much detail now as otherwise I should have done, but this is the last opportunity to tell the House and the country what is going on.

A moment ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood gave a long list of reasons why he thinks that the Bill, which had an unopposed Second Reading in this House, has a great deal of support in the country. Does it? If it does, it must be due to a fit of absence of mind. Therefore, it is right and proper and in the interests of children that I should produce evidence that was published in a recent issue of Police Review. Mr. Sheppard said: I asked 50 male offenders at the Nottingham Senior Attendance Centre. 'When did you start drinking alcohol regularly?' … No fewer than 23 said they had been drinking regularly in public houses since the age of 15. As one put it, 'I don't think anyone could stop youngsters having a drink under 18 if they wanted to. Anyway, why should they'? No-one seems to bother. You never see the copper in pubs checking up on ages and the landlords don't bother because they are making a living.' … More than half the sample — 28 — said that the prime responsibility for under-age drinking was unconcerned parents and 26 felt that the licensee could do more to check on the ages of drinkers … Whereas only 11 saw a role for schools in educating the young about the problems of drink… Twenty of the sample said they thought that drinking intoxicants to excess made them want to commit offences and a further 10 thought that alcohol made them more likely to commit offences. In 21 cases, drink was said to be likely to make them more agressive and 19 felt that the effect of drink was to increase their dislike of authority, in particular the police. One youth said: 'Booze makes me silly and I hit people. It takes about 10 pints to get me like that and I get through that on Fridays and Saturdays. Where I live there's nowt else to do and that's it really … ' Four of the sample thought they had a health problem related to drinking. One 18-year-old told the group, 'I started when I was about 12 or 13, it was in local pubs, playing snooker and having a pint. I've been at it ever since. Last year I started buying Martini and cheap wine and I get through six bottles a week. I drink about 30 pints of beer a week in pubs and I don't really care. The doctor says my guts are in a mess. —that's life.' 11 am

That is the situation about which I am complaining, and about which the Bill is completely evasive. Perhaps hon. Members will begin to see why head teachers are so concerned about what is happening — the deliberate breaking of the existing law, and here I am not talking about the Bill but the seeming impotence of the police in many areas and the turning of a blind eye to a worsening problem.

When it became known that I was opposing the Bill, I received a great volume of support from people who had begun to feel that nobody cared about the matter. After the Bill reached Committee, I received a letter from Mrs. D. R. Rivilland, MSc., headmistress and the chairman of the health education working party of the National Association of Head Teachers. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, knew of that worthy organisation in your previous capacity. Mrs. Rivilland wrote: I wish to protest most strongly about the Licensing Amendment Bill being put forward by Mr. Alan Stewart M.P. and I hope that you will include the following points in your opposition. The enormous increase in under-age drinking gives real concern to head teachers of secondary schools, particulary as the existing laws are already so difficult to enforce. Quite young children are now consuming units of alcohol on a regular basis and many parents are unaware that alcohol consumption and misuse by young people is a far more serious problem than abuse or experimentation with hard drugs".— I repeat, "with hard drugs".

It is not only protests of that kind against the Bill, but the inadequacy of existing law, which the Bill would worsen, that should concern us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood has decided to adjourn the debate on his Bill, and it would be easy for me to accept that and go away quietly. I am not prepared to do that. Successive Governments have felt unable to grapple with the problem and have left it to private Members to introduce Bills, which, in one way or another, have proved defective, and I feel that that the present grave situation in regard to under-age drinking must be looked at in greater depth. That is why I insist that, if we are to accept the motion, we should be given some assurances on that.

The Justices' Clerks Society, whose members have unrivalled experience in this matter, tells us that the present law is inadequate—I shall deal later with what it says about my hon. Friend's Bill. In its recent report, "Licensing Law in the Eighties" the Justices' Clerks Society states: The question must then be posed. Where do the young persons obtain their liquor? Some steal it, but the majority go to the local public houses and off licences. There is clear evidence that young persons also obtain their intoxicating liquor from registered clubs and disco clubs, the latter allowing young people to buy and consume alcohol until late in the evening or early in the morning. There is no doubt that crimes of public disorder, violence and criminal damage occur after the young people leave the licensed premises. Magistrates talking to each other, and to their clerks, complain of two things:—(1) at the law which makes it so easy for young persons to obtain intoxicating liquor and for licence holders to sell it to them; and (2) at the police for not prosecuting more licence holders for selling intoxicating liquor to obvious minors and more young persons for consuming and buying. That is evidence which the Home Office should be considering carefully — the evidence from the justices' clerks, who advise the licensing magistrates and upon whom they depend for help and guidance.

The justices' clerks go on to say: The police respond by complaining of the difficulties they encounter in prosecuting a licence holder in view of the necessity to prove he acted 'knowingly'. They also say that the courts too readily accept the word of the licence holder when he says that he could not tell that the young person was a minor. The justices' clerks beg Parliament to do something about the matter.

They go on to ask why there is so much under-age drinking: In view of the fact that police, magistrates and clerks— and incidentally parents know that under-age drinking goes on day in and day out all over the country, what is the explanation? Of course, they know where the fault lies. They say: Experience has shown that it is difficult to obtain convictions in view of current legislation and the police simply hesitate to prosecute licence holders and young drinkers. In one police area in the south of England, only two licence holders were prosecuted for selling to minors, which, in the context of the problem nationwide, demands action, and effective action. The justices' clerks suggest a course of action—I shall not go into it now, because it would require an amendment to the Bill, which we are not discussing now — that would certainly require a change in existing law that is not contemplated in this Bill.

I said earlier that for nine years I was the chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism. We built up a network of counselling agencies, and some hon. Members played a valuable role in our work. Indeed, one of the sponsors of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), actually trained as a counsellor, and I pay warm tribute to him for that. I am now president of the Greater London alcohol advisory service, which coordinates such services throughout the capital. I can tell the House from the direct experience that I have gained over the past 20 years that matters have been getting steadily worse. Over that period—and this is why I am so loth to accept the motion to adjourn without qualification—young people have not been exempt from either the growth in consumption or its adverse consequences—especially with alcohol, as compared to other psycho-active and potentially addictive drugs. There is no generation gap or culture divide. It could be argued that young people's drinking patterns have already been aided and abetted by their seniors, and the variation orders in the Bill would certainly aid and abet them further.

I am not prepared therefore to accept the motion without some promises and undertakings because, over the past 20 years, the number of people drinking alcoholic beverages has increased, because drinking starts at a younger age and is more frequent, and because greater amounts of alcohol are consumed. The facts are known. A report on adolescent drinking was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security—the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) — is with us. Long before she entered this House or became a Minister, she showed a keen interest in these matters. She has a deep knowledge of them. If there is one person occupying a role in government for which she is uniquely fitted by her experience, it is my hon. Friend. She will know that the report prepared by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys during 1983–84 was presented to the Minister for Health in October 1985 and was finally released by the Minister in December 1986. The fieldwork was done in 1984 and the complete report was sent to Ministers in October 1985. I had to ask in the House why it had not been published before. It did not see the light of day until the week before last Christmas. That delayed report confirms the view that, for adolescents, the major drug of misuse is alcohol and that they suffer many more problems from it than from all other drugs combined.

I do not have the slightest doubt that, if the OPCS were asked to conduct similar fieldwork when the variation orders proposed in the Bill have been in operation, the findings which I am about the reveal would be greatly magnified. The survey showed that, by the age of 13, 82 per cent. of boys and 77 per cent. of girls had had their first drink. Twenty-four per cent. of boys said that they were nine or younger when they had their first drink. Among 13-year-olds, more than 26 per cent. of all boys and 17 per cent. of all girls drank alcohol on four or more days a week and 30 per cent. of boys and 38 per cent. of girls drank at least once a week.

Among 15-year-olds, 34 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively drank on most days in the week. Of those who drank, about half the 13-year-olds drank fewer than four units of alcohol a week, which is equivalent to two pints of beer, while among the 15-year-olds half the boys and one third of the girls drank more than 10 units a week. Nearly one in five 15-year-old boys drank more than 25 units of alcohol a week. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated that the upper health limit for adult men should be no more than 21 units a week; so the younger generation is already drinking harder than the doctors think is satisfactory for mature adults.

Of 15-year-old drinkers, 55 per cent. of boys and 48 per cent. of girls experienced one bout of drunkenness during the year, half of them more than once. Fifteen per cent. of 13-year-old boys reported getting into arguments or fights after drinking. That proportion rises to 17 per cent. for 14-year-olds and 27 per cent. for 15-year-olds. Half of 15-year-old boys. a third of 14-year-old boys and a quarter of 13-year-old boys report falling over as a result of drinking too much. Since the adolescents were asked to report on the events in the year before the survey, the 13-year-olds were recalling events that happened when they were 12.

The OPCS report states: The greater the degree of social enjoyment that adolescents recalled as being associated with an evenings drinking, the more likely it was to have been followed by a disagreeable combination of sickness, incapacity and regret. The report continues: Heavier drinking among the relatively small minority of adolescents who do drink heavily is not episodic or opportunist drinking, it is an established regular habit … Heavy drinking, including no doubt what is known in adults as problem drinking, among a minority of adolescents (even among secondary schoolchildren) 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 heavy drinking. Some of them are still at school. I have already produced evidence to show the anxieties of one headmistress on this subject.

The report continues: The more money they have the more likely they are to drink, to drink a lot, to get drunk and to get into difficulties. Only a minority go right through this process but the better off are more likely than those who have only little money to go down the path. Those warnings should sound an alarm bell.

Under-age drinkers account for one in 14 of all drunkenness convictions — my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State knows that to be a fact. For the first time this century, 16-year-old boys are more at risk from drunkenness than middle-aged men. The rate of convictions per 100,000 of population among 16-year-olds exceeds that of the 30 to 60 age group. Between 1982 and 1985 the number of offences and cautions among 14-year-olds increased from 94 to 224, or 138 per cent.; among 15-year-olds, from 301 to 492, or 63 per cent.; and among 16-year-olds, from 1,047 to 1,538, or 47 per cent.

How in heaven's name can the Government and the nation ignore figures of that kind? God knows what we are building up for the future. This is not the first time a Licensing (Amendment) Bill has been brought before the House without any consideration having been given to the impact of its provisions on the younger generation. I had to remind the hon. Member for Carlisle that one of the campaigns in which we were engaged dealt with a Bill which—although, of course, it introduced the principle of "flexibility"—sought to permit children under 14 to enter bars unaccompanied. It too was given a Second Reading and went through Committee. But, on Report, the House of Commons suddenly tumbled to what was proposed and threw it out. We cannot go down this line again ignoring the facts.

11.15 am

While overall drunkenness offences peaked in 1980, the number of under-age drivers found guilty of drunkenness or cautioned was higher in 1985 than in 1980. Over 1,000 young people die each year in an alcohol-related accident, and so it goes on. I could say much more on that subject, but I shall not.

There is one other reason why I am reluctant to agree to the adjournment of the Bill without any promise that the break in hours will be restored. The Bill as constituted, even if it were the best Bill in the world, simply cannot be implemented without causing serious disruption for the courts. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department — the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)—told us that there were serious resource problems. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has had to remind us repeatedly that there are serious resource problems. We would be acting irresponsibly, would we not, if we were to accept this motion without a clear statement that the resources necessary to implement the Bill are available? Home Office Ministers have referred to this, although not in great detail.

Let us consider how serious the matter is. In the current issue of The Law Magazine, which reached me only two days ago, Mr. Peter Lydiate a justices' clerk, bluntly warned: the traditional system of administering justice in the people's courts is now under threat". When we are told that the administration of the magistrates courts already faces a "deepening crisis", we cannot allow the Home Office to put further pressure on the courts by seeking to implement this Bill until the courts feel that they can cope with the extra burden. Mr. Lydiate states that 310 justices clerks are responsible for a further 1,300 court clerks. Justices clerks have to be barristers or solicitors of at least seven years standing. Twenty five per cent. of the court clerks are also legally qualified. If the Bill ever sees the light of day, the work that it will entail must be seen in the light of the burden placed on the courts when the Crown prosecution service comes into operation—I believe it may be already in operation.

Mr. Waddington


Sir Bernard Braine

It must be seen in the light of the burden placed on the courts since the Crown Prosecution Service came into operation. The new service was to relieve seriously stretched police departments from having to prosecute in magistrates courts. That action has already had an adverse effect on the staffing of magistrates courts, according to Mr. Lydiate. He said: One vast source of potential Crown Prosecutors was clearly the hundreds of barristers and solicitors employed and trained by justices' clerks to act as court clerks … These court clerks were targeted for recruitment as Crown Prosecutors. Up to April last year, 21 per cent. of legally qualified court clerks left the service, many to go into prosecuting solicitors' departments. There is little doubt that this serious and dramatic trend has continued, perhaps even at a greater pace.

I must describe the reality of the situation facing our courts in order that the House might see why my argument is so important. We need to be given assurances that the Home Office will allocate more resources to the justices' clerks, in order to appoint appropriate qualified staff to meet the demands that they already face, as well as the additional work that the Bill will place upon the courts.

The Justices' Clerks Society is concerned about the length of court hearing times. This has to be spelt out because we have not been told about this burden. The society is concerned about the length of court hearing time and the additional work that will arise if the Bill is passed in its existing form. The society has estimated that each application for a variation order will last on average about 10 minutes. There are some 96,000 licensed premises in England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Grantham—told us on Second Reading that 75 per cent. of those, or some 72,000, will apply for variation orders. On the most optimistic reckoning, 4,000 extra court sessions will be required to deal with all the applications. If such applications are opposed, we can double or treble that number.

To show how this will affect licensing districts, I will give four examples — two large districts, one medium and one small. As the Bill applies schedule 2 to the Licensing Act 1964, it follows that objectors can turn up at a hearing unannounced, thereby prolonging it by up to half an hour or even more. In Manchester, a large district, it has been estimated that if all the licensed premises were made the subject of applications for variation orders, at an average of 10 minutes, an application would require about 180 additional court hours to be accommodated within an already overburdened workload. A normal court sitting lasts three hours, which would mean an additional 60 sittings for licensing justices. If there were objections, as I believe there would be, the 60 sittings could become 120 or even 180.

In Birmingham, another large court, with 1,200 licensed premises to cater for, 200 hours will be required. This would require 66 sittings or even 200 sittings. In Medway, a medium sized court with 475 licensed premises, 78 hours, or 27 to 78 sittings would be required. In Batley, a relatively small court, catering for, say, 100 licensed premises, 16 hours, or five to 15 sittings would be required.

There are other problems. The Act currently allows for a maximum of eight licensing sessions plus brewster sessions in which to deal with the business for a licensing district. The minimum number of licensing justices prescribed by regulations is five, which in almost all areas will have to be increased to the maximum of 15 in order to cope with the burden that variation orders under the Bill would place on the courts. This will obviously create additional expenditure.

As the maximum number of justices under the existing law who can sit and take variation orders is 15, that will mean that in Manchester, which has an existing maximum of 18 half-day sittings, with an additional 60 half-day sittings per annum, justices will be sitting on 78 licensing sessions, thereby reducing their availability to deal with criminal, domestic and juvenile work. I have spelt out that impossible situation in detail to show how ridiculous and ill thought out the Bill is. The question of the resources that will be required has not even been considered. This unsatisfactory situation would worsen if hearings were lengthy because of objections to applications.

In Manchester, as I have already said, the workload would increase to 120 sessions. One could envisage a situation where licensing justices would be spending all their time in the licensing courts to the exclusion of all other work. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that the courts are already experiencing delays because qualified clerks are leaving the service. He knows that the Home Office has allowed one element of the service to compete with another, due to already inadequate finance. The courts must be adequately financed if justice is to be properly administered. The lack of adequate remuneration and the attraction of higher salaries from the Crown Prosecution Service has lured qualified clerks away from the service in their droves.

Peter Lydiate, in the article I mentioned, stated that he believes that this is deliberate poaching. He said: The plan was simple. Pitch the basic salaries of the new Crown Prosecutors above those fixed for clerks. This was done; it worked. The effect of this on the magistrates courts was that large numbers of court clerks were seduced away from the magisterial service, leaving an instant vacuum which justices' clerks have been energetically trying to fill during the past year, with great difficulties. The effects already stare us in the face. As Mr. Lydiate said, many courts have been closed and the hearings of cases put off for weeks or months for want of sufficient court clerks.

Already, justices' clerks are faced with the training of new recruits. Mr. Lydiate said: Corrective action shows little prospect of success. It takes years to train appropriate barristers and solicitors to a level of competence. There is no more difficult and abstruse area than licensing law. Lay magistrates need and expect expert guidance. The Justices' Clerks Society is deeply concerned that the Home Office has turned down suggestions that court clerks should be proficiently qualified barristers or solicitors. We are not matching like with like in our courts. We are opening up a minefield of case law with variation orders. Lay justices need the best advice that can be given. Licensees, with the help of their association, will be given barristers or solicitors to argue their cases.

What Mr. Peter Lydiate said of the magistrates courts applies to the licensing courts. He went on to say: Magistrates courts therefore face a dark period where, in most courtrooms today, the bench of unpaid lay justices will be sitting to hear from a barrister or solicitor acting as Crown Prosecutor, a barrister or solicitor acting for the accused and their court clerk. He will be required to give expert guidance on all that is said and done concerning law, evidence, practice and procedure, and to ensure that the justices apply correct judicial criteria to any decision. We are not told that the Bill will be withdrawn. It is to be adjourned. It will come back at some future time. Of course, the Home Office will look at it very carefully, but there is no guarantee that the Bill will not come before us again in its present form.

The Bill is an administrative nightmare. Frankly, I cannot see that it will ever be implemented. Therefore, there will be a need to increase the maximum number of sessions and the maximum size of licensing committees to deal with the work if it ever becomes law. This would involve a change in the Licensing Act 1964, which the Bill does not deal with. The Bill cannot be implemented without amendment to that Act. That fact has only emerged from my close study of the matter.

I know that the House is not going to pass the Bill now, but how could it ever pass the Bill in its present form? We are entitled to know whether the Home Secretary will be obliged to come before Parliament with new legislation before the Bill can ever be introduced—unless my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister can tell us that the Home Secretary has the powers already. Parliament needs to know, and it has not been told. We deal in generalities with a Bill which, as I have shown, has grave social consequences. I have not mounted the entire case against the Bill as yet. I have taken particular points that cause concern. There is much more that could be said about it. It is not an innocuous little measure but a very dangerous one.

11.30 am

Indeed, even if more financial resources were found to implement the Bill, I wonder whether we are justified in pressing it upon the courts. Again, Peter Lydiate issued a warning. He said: Even if the coming years were to bring an increase in salaries to make them competitive with those of Crown Prosecutors, which is by no means certain, it may be too late. In short, there will be considerable difficulty in absorbing this extra work without causing additional delays to the hearing of criminal, juvenile and domestic cases. Additional court and court clerk time will be involved, to the detriment of other more pressing work, and that is taking place at a time when recruitment and retention of suitably qualified court clerks is proving increasingly difficult.

I could go on to describe the financial consequences of all that. Whether the Government will ever find the money for it is another matter. Unless additional resources are made available, there is a great fear in the licensing world that liquor licensing work will grind to a halt because of a total inability to cope.

I believe, therefore, that the Home Office has a specific responsibility to protect the licensing justices in our constituencies. I hope that I have said enough to convince the House that the debate on the Bill should not be adjourned but that the Bill should be quietly dropped. Perhaps some day the present Government, or another, will find the courage to legislate and will grasp the fundamental truth that alcohol, with all its pleasant associations for most of us, is not like other commodities. Its sale must be regulated if the harm it can cause is not to continue to grow as at present.

I believe that the public will support sensible alcohol control policies. Once the public are told the facts and given a lead — the drink-driving campaign, seat belt legislation and tobacco tax are good examples — I believe that there will be an acceptance of sensible counter policies.

Above all, when the Government are faced with the choice—I address myself particularly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister—between the politics of wealth creation—a course which increases the profits of the drink trade — and the politics of health. they would do well to remember the wise counsel of one of our greatest Conservative Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disraeli, who said that the first priority of Government is the health of the people. It still is.

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

It is appropriate for me to start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). One thing is certain; as a result of his deciding to present this Bill to the House we have had a series of interesting debates when right hon. and hon. Members have been able to ventilate their views, not on the precise terms of the Bill but on the danger of excessive consumption of alcohol, the danger to young people, and all those important social issues.

I am sure that my hon. Friend would wish me to thank my officials in the Home Office on his behalf. Few members of the public realise how much work is done within Government Departments to help private Members with their Bills. My officials certainly gave a great deal of help to my hon. Friend, pointing out to him that it was essential, if his Bill was to make any progress, that he should address his mind, for instance, to the resource implications. Of course, it is no secret that my officials drafted amendments for him to try to mitigate some of the resource problems that would obviously arise from the Bill as originally drafted. Therefore, I thank my officials for their help in that regard.

It was pleasing to see the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) here this morning. I, among many, am sorry to see him go and that this is his last Parliament. My memories of Carlisle are somewhat mixed, having spent my first days in the Army there, not all of which were entirely delightful. However, I have delighted in my acquaintance with the hon. Member, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said that he was not opposed to more flexible hours. He said he was opposed only to an extension of the total number of hours. That plain statement of his views is welcome. The public think that there should be reform of our licensing laws. I think that the public think that there should be a measured relaxation of the present restrictions. I think that they will be convinced by the evidence from Scotland that greater availability — by that I mean relaxation of restrictions of hours and licensees being able to decide for themselves whether they should open in the afternoon— does not necessarily mean higher consumption. The sort of dire consequences that were forecast after the liberalisation took place in Scotland in 1976 simply have not occurred.

My right hon. Friend pointed to the mischief that can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol. None of us need to be convinced of that. My right hon. Friend pointed to the dangers to young people of consuming too much alcohol. None of us doubts that alcohol misuse is a serious problem in Britain and none of us doubts that there is too much drinking by too many young people. However, that is not the question to which we have to address our minds on this Bill. The question is whether that problem, which all of us acknowledge, would be made worse by a modest relaxation in licensing hours. The truth is that there is no evidence that it would.

I dealt with the evidence, or lack of evidence, in the most interesting debate on licensing reform and alcohol abuse initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on 27 February. I pointed out that the basic conclusion of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys report was that the relaxations in Scotland have led to more leisurely and 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. I pointed out that that was entirely unrealistic because 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." —[Official Report, 27 February 1987; Vol. 111, c. 525.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point went on to point out the relationship between alcohol and crime. We all know that. Anyone who has practised in the courts well knows that there is all too close a relationship between alcohol consumption and crime. The question, however, is whether that has anything to do with a modest relaxation in licensing hours allowing licensees more choice as to the hours for which they open.

On 27 February I said that the statistics for offences involving alcohol consumption must be considered with a great deal of caution and that some changes in trends might be accounted for merely by changes in police policy. One cannot simply point to a smaller increase in a particular offence in Scotland compared with England and say that that proves the point. I went on to point out that opponents of change could find no comfort in Scotland because there had been a dramatic fall in drunkenness offences, and drink driving offences had increased nothing like so fast as in England and Wales. With respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, therefore, it is difficult to sustain the argument that drink driving offences will increase in England following the same modest relaxation in licensing hours as has occurred in Scotland.

We must not lose sight of the ball. We are not discussing the dangers of drink. We are considering whether a modest relaxation in the law such as that which has taken place in Scotland would lead to the dire social consequences suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. In my view, it is almost impossible even to begin to mount an argument to that effect, bearing mind that none of those dire consequences has occurred in Scotland.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is it really so impossible? My right hon. and learned Friend recognises the connection between alcohol and crime and I have given him incontrovertible evidence that under-age drinking, from the age of 13 upwards, is increasing in public houses, as is the harm that it causes through the link it has with public disorder and criminal offences. That is all taking place illegally now. If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot cope with an illegal situation of such gravity now, how can he suggest that relaxing matters still more and allowing longer drinking hours will not exacerbate the problem? It certainly will not make it any better. Why does my right hon. and learned Friend run away from that?

11.45 am
Mr. Waddington

If it is all happening illegally already, what on earth does it have to do with the Bill? As I have said, it is impossible to find statistics showing that there has been a worsening of the situation in Scotland as a result of the relaxation. I do not accept all that my right hon. Friend has said because I believe that the vast majority of licensees are extremely responsible people who do their level best to conduct their houses properly and to prevent under-age drinking, but the fact that there is such a problem in England today does not begin to be an argument about extending to England some of the changes that took place in Scotland in 1976.

Lastly, my right hon. Friend said that the Bill raised serious resource problems. He is entirely right. That is why we advised my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood as to how some of the deleterious effects of the Bill could be mitigated and that is why he tabled amendment No. 40. That amendment would have mitigated some of the deleterious effects, but it would not have solved the problems, and I have pointed out throughout our deliberations that his is not the scheme of reform that the Government would have recommended to the House. In the light of that, the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point in seeking assurances that the Home Office would allocate additional resources to deal with the Bill if it became law seem somewhat unrealistic. That is a problem that we should have to consider if a miracle occurred, but as miracles do not occur very often my right hon. Friend will allow me to suggest that we can consider that matter if and when a miracle occurs.

Mr. Dubs

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) who suggested that his brief contribution to this debate might be his last in the House. Members in all parts of the House will be sorry to know that this is his last Parliament as he has earned the respect of the whole House for his contribution to its work and I am sure that he will be sadly missed.

In considering the motion before us, it is helpful to consider what has happened during the passage of the Bill thus far. Two approaches could have been adopted. The first is an overall approach considering all the problems related to alcohol and its abuse—licensing hours, health measures, preventive measures, drink-driving, and so on. Such an approach would require a Government measure because it is too complicated for a private Member's Bill. Had there been such an overall approach—I am sure that the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and the promoter of the Bill would both subscribe to this — we might have approached the measure with more agreement than has been achieved so far. That would also have been my own preferred approach, but that was not the position in which we found outselves when the Bill was introduced.

I think that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has been a Member of Parliament longer than I have, so I do not wish to seem to speak from greater experience, but I suspect that if he had been a little more modest and confined himself to a rather simpler measure it might have got further. A simpler measure would have involved flexibility within the present overall limit of opening hours. Such a measure would have achieved the main aim of flexibility and the hon. Member for Eastwood would have had the support of the House on that point. Instead of discussing a motion to adjourn further debate, we might have been congratulating him on steering the Bill on to the statute book. If there is ever a lesson to learn from private Members' Bills, it is that they should be kept as simple and as uncontroversial as possible. I would have supported a move towards flexibility, but I would have preferred that to be in the context of a nine and a half hour day and no longer. That would have enabled us to make a little progress and to judge the consequences of flexibility without running the risk of all the dangers that the right hon. Member for Castle Point described so eloquently this morning and on other occasions.

I regret that the Bill was not drafted in that way. If it had been so drafted, it would have represented sensible progress without the risks and dangers that the measure has aroused in the minds of some hon. Members. There is no doubt that alcohol is lethal. If alcohol was a new product which was not yet legal and we were debating whether to make it legal, not one hon. Member would vote to make it legal if we had any idea of the consequences of alcohol in our society. We are not in that position. It is clear that alcohol is the most widely used drug and intoxicant in the world. Therefore, it is unrealistic to ask whether we can ban it. We must find a compromise for those people who derive pleasure from alcohol—I admit that I am a modest drinker and derive a little pleasure from it—and so prevent some of the worst consequences of alcohol. That is the challenge and that will continue to he the challenge for this House when legislation on this matter is introduced in future.

We are all concerned about drinking and driving, the effects of alcohol on young drinkers and the effect of alcohol on the health of many people in this country. So many people are in hospital because they have had too much to drink. We must achieve a balance between the pleasure that alcohol gives to many people and the enormous harm that it can cause. We must arrive at that balance in our legislation. I wish that the hon. Member who sponsored the Bill had been more modest and had drafted the Bill in the way that I have suggested.

I want to pay a tribute to the right hon. Member for Castle Point. He has displayed tenacity and determination and has probably single-handedly— although there was other support for him—in Committee and in the House prevented the passage of the Bill. He has shown energy, attention to detail, commitment and anger about the consequences of alcohol and that has impressed all hon. Members. I pay that tribute across the party political divide and I am sure that he understands the reason for that tribute.

However, I am a little puzzled as to why the promoter of the Bill is seeking to adjourn the debate. The hon. Member for Eastwood paid me the courtesy of telling me in advance of today's sitting of his intention. I do not want to challenge his motives. However, I am rather puzzled about this. I have expressed some reservations about the contents of the Bill while supporting the principle of flexibility. I believe that the hon. Member for Eastwood said that reform was inevitable. At least, that was mentioned by someone in the House and I think that it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Eastwood.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I said that as a statement of belief. Of course, I believe that reform is inevitable. I want to make that point clear.

Mr. Dubs

It was a statement of his belief that reform is inevitable. I am therefore puzzled as to why he is calling a halt to the debate now. Whether or not we agree that the hon. Gentleman would have failed in his attempt to get the Bill through its remaining stages this afternoon, if he believes that reform is inevitable, he could have used today's debates as an opportunity to put down a marker for the future. After all, we all know that one of the purposes of private Member's Bills is to put down markers for the future, and the vast majority of private Member's Bills are tabled for that purpose, not in the hope of their reaching the statute book. He would have put down a better marker for the future if he had continued with the Bill today, thereby showing his determination, commitment and attitude to further amendments which he might have been disposed to accept. In future, if a Government or private Member tries to legislate in this area, that further information from the rest of today's debate might well have been helpful.

Mr. Ron Lewis

My hon. Friend is arguing about why the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) should continue with his Bill. Although some of those who supported the Bill knew that the hon. Gentleman would move the motion, would not my hon. Friend have thought that it was their duty to be with him here right to the end?

Mr. Dubs

I would have thought so. I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that.

Where there is a difference of opinion in the House on private Members' legislation, those who are most tenacious tend to win the day. There is a contrast between the tenacity of the right hon. Member for Castle Point and the attitude of some of the supporters of the hon. Member for Eastwood. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Eastwood told us earlier today that he had written to his hon. Friends saying that they should not bother to turn up because he would seek to adjourn the debate. Nevertheless, I should have thought that the House and, indeed, the public, would look at hon. Members' commitment when they judge what is going on in the House, not just the words that are spoken. There is nobody more tenacious than the right hon. Member for Castle Point.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle has come back to the Chamber. He missed the tribute that I paid to him. All Members of the House are sorry that this is his last Parliament. Indeed, that may have been his last intervention—I hope not. We have more time next week, and perhaps even longer. My hon. Friend has earned the respect of all hon. Members for the contribution that he has made, his commitment and his dedication to his beliefs. He will be very much missed, but we all wish him a long and happy retirement——

Mr. Waddington

As the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) would point out, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) also missed what I had to say about him, which was also kindly.

Mr. Dubs

My hon. Friend has now had the embarrassment of listening to our tributes, and he can read them twice over in Hansard on Monday. I have not been in the House all that long, but I know that it is always sad when one's colleagues decide that they will stand no longer. They are missed. I want my hon. Friend to know that.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend took all the trouble to come here today. After all, many other people did not. I know that he is concerned about the Bill. After he campaigned in Carlisle yesterday in the local elections, the fact that he took the trouble to come here simply to be present is a further sign of his dedication and commitment. I hope that his successor notes that and takes a leaf out of his book.

I am puzzled because I should have thought that it would be helpful to the future deliberations of the House if we had the benefit of debating the Bill for the rest of the day. I am disappointed that we have not had that opportunity.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I repeat the point that I made when moving the motion: this procedure enables other private Members to have an opportunity to put a case to the House, with which I may or may not agree. That principle is important, too.

Mr. Dubs

That is an interesting point, which I shall come to later. I had assumed that that would be one of the hon. Gentleman's motives, but I shall consider the others first because it is important. His first argument was that he thought that he could not get the Bill through all its stages today. Implicit in what he said — he may have said it explicitly—was the view not only that he could not get the Bill through today, but that if there were no election, there would be no chance of getting his Bill through by October, which normally would be the end of the parliamentary Session. So the hon. Gentleman let his supporters go and he gave up his opportunity.

I am surprised at that because the other day I was on the Standing Committee dealing with the Obscene Publications Bill. The promoter of the Bill was determined — he failed—to try to get his Bill to the Floor of the House for the final day when the Report stage of private Members' Bills takes precedence so that they have a chance of becoming law.

Mr. Stewart

I do not want to extend this argument, but this is the last day, other than 3 July, on which private Members' Bills can be considered on Report and on Third Reading. Given that, if a private Members' Bill does not get through the House today, it clearly cannot go through another place and be back for consideration on 3 July which is the last day available for private Members' Bills.

Mr. Dubs

I understand that, but I should have thought that that would have been an argument for continuing until 2.30 pm today, rather than giving up at 10.30 pm, if there is commitment to the legislation. This is an important point of principle because private Members' time is limited and is a valuable commodity. Members fight hard to get a share of the time that is available on the Floor of the House for putting forward their own ideas and Bills. Therefore, to give in quite so easily makes me wonder, but I have already covered that. I understand that this is the last day for the Report stage, but that suggests to me that the hon. Gentleman might have shown more determination than he did.

12 noon

The hon. Gentleman hinted that he does not believe that there will be an October in this parliamentary Session or that there will not even be a Friday next in this Session. We are all aware that this may well be the last private Members' Friday before the general election — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman throws his hands up as if to say that he does not know, but perhaps he does know. However, I wonder whether it is right for a Member of this House—of course I accept that the decision must be his — to decide that he will not pursue a private Member's Bill merely because an election might be called on Monday or Tuesday. We have had an election hanging over us for some little while now and there will be other occasions when an election dangles over the House and the country. We should not stop work and forget our responsibilities simply because we think that an election may be called. The hon. Gentleman may have been influenced by the results of yesterday's local elections. However, I believe that he made his decision yesterday evening before any of us had access to those local election results.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Yes, I did.

Mr. Dubs

The hon. Gentleman says, yes. Nevertheless, one should not take as a forgone conclusion what the Prime Minister will decide. I cannot help thinking that it might have been a better tactic if the hon. Gentleman had continued until 2.30 pm.

My last argument, to which the hon. Gentleman gave weight because he intervened on it a moment ago, is that he wants to give an opportunity this afternoon for other Bills to be considered. He said that it would be a generous gesture on his part to allow other legislation to be debated and that that is why he is seeking to adjourn his own. According to today's Order Paper, about 21 other private Members' Bills are waiting to be discussed when we have disposed of the Licensing (Amendment) Bill. I wonder which of those Bills he is seeking to favour because clearly he is giving up his time for the sake of another measure. Therefore, I am looking with some interest at the other Bills to see which the hon. Gentleman wishes to speed on its way.

Mr. Stewart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not draw any implications from the fact that well down the Order Paper is a ten-minute Bill, which is in my name. I hope that he will not suggest that.

Mr. Dubs

Of course, I should not do any such thing. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was simply casting my eye down the list of the Bills that are waiting to be debated today. Every one of those Bills stands less chance of becoming law than the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Virtually all await Second Reading debates or are adjourned debates on Second Reading, so they all have further to go to reach the statute book.

The Tobacco Smoking (Public Places) Bill is an important measure and would add significantly to the health of the nation. If I thought that it had a chance of becoming law I would sit down. Clearly, I would wish to speed it on its way. However, we may not reach it because the Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill [Lords] comes next. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that it will be disposed of quickly so that we can reach the Tobacco Smoking (Public Places) Bill.

The Tobacco Smoking (Public Places) Bill will help to decrease the amount of smoking. The effect of smoking on non-smokers is damaging to their health and can be lessened by having a legislative basis for reducing smoking in public places. As a non-smoker I should like to see that Bill on the statute book. Indeed, I suspect that most hon. Members would happily jump over the second item of business—I know that our procedures do not allow for that — to the third because we would be helping the health of the nation.

The fourth item of business is the Coal Mining Subsidence Bill and, clearly, the hon. Gentleman wants that measure, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), to reach the statute book.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I appreciate the difficulties that we have today, but I would be pleased if we could reach that Bill. It affects many constituencies and Members of Parliament as the problem of coal mining subsidence stretches from the north into Scotland, part of which the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) represents. It is an important Bill and a tragedy that we shall not reach it. The National Coal Board has dealt unfairly with many people, particularly some of my constituents.

Mr. Dubs

I thank my hon. Friend for explaining that and I share his view that it is an important Bill. If I thought that by adjourning this debate there was a chance of discussing the Coal Mining Subsidence Bill and quickly passing it into law, I would not waste a moment by drawing the attention of the House to its importance. I would want to get on and discuss it.

Such are the pressures of a private Members' day that, clearly, we shall not reach that measure. My hon. Friend will have to reintroduce it after the general election, when there will be far more support from the Government for it because we shall be sitting on the Government Benches. It will either be a private Member's Bill with Government support or, even, a Government measure. It is a sign of the usefulness and dedication of my hon. Friend that he seeks to do this. The hon. Member for Eastwood has not said whether he supports the Bill, but I suggest that he is sympathetic to it or at least does not want to delay it.

I do not want to take the time of the House by going through every Bill on the Order Paper, tempting though it is. Clearly, they all have a part to play. However, it is worth saying a little about one or two of them. One of the Bills——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are debating whether the discussion on the Licensing (Amendment) Bill should be adjourned. While the hon. Gentleman may refer to the other Bills as being a motive for the adjournment of this debate, he must not discuss them in detail.

Mr. Dubs

I certainly would not want to do that. The hon. Member for Eastwood said that one of his motives in seeking to persuade the House to adjourn this debate was that other Bills were waiting to be discussed. He did not say which Bill he favoured and I am seeking to tempt him to hint which one it is, without debating the other Bills, so that we may know his other motives. That would help us to judge whether we should adjourn now or decline to adjourn and continue discussing the amendments to the hon. Gentleman's Bill. So far I have not been successful in tempting him to give us a hint, but if we did do that we would be clear about the matter.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I am puzzled about why the hon. Gentleman is pursuing this theme. I did not seek to favour any Bill on the Order Paper but was simply making the point that adjournment of this Bill would give other hon. Members an opportunity to speak. That is what happened when I sat down at nine minutes past two o'clock on Second Reading. That gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) an opportunity to have a say, although I disagreed with the measure put forward by the hon. Member for Leyton.

Mr. Dubs

Nobody could quarrel with that as a statement of willingness to give way to other hon. Members who wish to put forward other measures. The Housebuyers' Protection Bill stands in my name and some time ago I introduced it by leave of the House. I would be less than human if I did not make a passing reference to this important piece of legislation. Much to my surprise, Government Whips blocked it on a previous Friday. I would have thought that the Government Whips would want to encourage protection for housebuyers and would want to find time to debate this simple and modest measure. Even at this stage, I hope that they will decide to let the measure go through as a sign of their commitment to people who are seeking to buy houses and need consumer protection in the process of so doing.

I shall not test this further by going through the Bills that we might reach today. I have commended my own Bill and achieved one of my purposes.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee,) to be further considered on Friday 3 July.

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