HC Deb 27 October 1993 vol 230 cc820-1
9. Mr. Maxton

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to introduce legislation to change the laws on licensing in the next Session of Parliament.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to amend Scots liquor licensing so soon after the major reforms introduced by the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990.

Mr. Maxton

Does the Minister agree that it is absurd that the Government turn a blind eye to supermarkets opening illegally in England? Part of that illegal operation is the selling of a full range of alcoholic drinks, whereas in Scotland, supermarkets open legally, but are not allowed to sell any alcohol whatever. Will he introduce changes to the law that will allow all off licences to open on Sunday?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree that the position is somewhat anomalous, as the hon. Gentleman says, but there are strong arguments from both sides. In October 1986, the Scottish Office conducted a consultation and the results were that 43 per cent. wanted the statutory prohibition relaxed, but 57 per cent. did not. So there is a deep division in Scotland on that subject and there are no immediate plans to change the law.

Mr. Gallie

Is my hon. Friend aware that the lobby for off-licence trading on Sunday in Scotland is very much advanced by the trade? Will he assure the House that there will be no further erosion of the quality of Sunday in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It may be that in the fullness of time the matter will come before the House and be put to a vote. My hon. Friend is correct that the churches continue to express strong opposition to the Sunday opening of off-sales premises and the Scottish Retailing Licensing Law group has made representations in favour of the point that was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton).

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Since an important feature of the existing licensing law is to allow local authority licensing boards to determine many applications at their own discretion, would not it be appropriate for the Government to introduce legislation that allows local licensing boards to determine whether in their own areas Sunday opening of off-sales premises is legitimate?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Cathcart, we have no immediate plans, but I have little doubt that in the fullness of time the House will consider the matter again. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who is a known specialist on the subject as a Queen's counsel, that the tightening up of late-night licenses, which he spoke about in Standing Committee, has had a beneficial effect. Fewer late-night licenses are being awarded and that has resulted in less trouble that requires police involvement. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome that result.

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