HL Deb 27 March 1973 vol 340 cc981-1040

3.3 p.m.

LORD MAELOR rose to call attention to the Erroll Report on Licensing Laws; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am addressing this House this afternoon as a Welshman and I am looking at the Report from the point of view of the people of Wales. I never tire of telling your Lordships that the people of Wales are different from the people of England. I am not suggesting that they are better (I would even say that in Cardiff!), but I am pointing out that we are different and that we look at questions such as the one we are discussing this afternoon from a different point of view. I can assure the Government that if they were to introduce a Bill in accordance with this Report to the other place, not a single Welsh Member out of the 36 Members of Parliament would vote for that Bill. I am sure of that.

the outset let me congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, and his Committee on the thoroughness of their undertaking. They have left no stone unturned and have produced a massive Report extending to 324 pages. From my point of view I would say that, like the proverbial curate's egg, it is good in parts. Let me refer to two of the good parts. I fully agree with the Committee's recommendations regarding clubs. As your Lordships are aware, magistrates, on granting a licence to a club, have no jurisdiction whatsoever over that club afterwards. They have no right of inspection and the police have no right to visit. As the Report rightly states, we have no statutory definition of a "club". The Report says: Broadly speaking it is up to any group of people to decide to set up a club and to prepare rules relating to the scope of club activities, eligibility for membership, and its detailed management.

know that many of these drinking clubs are sponsored by the brewers. Indeed, I would say that the majority of them are. They provide the money on the understanding, of course, that only their particular brew will be consumed on the premises. I remember when a club in my own village run by the Royal British Legion applied to my Bench for a licence; one clause in the covenant stipulated that only the sponsor's beverage was to be sold there. As chairman of the Bench I suggested that it would be desirable if that clause were deleted. They readily agreed, and the licence was granted. It will be interesting for noble Lords to note what happened afterwards. The following year, when carrying out my annual inspection of public houses—and I visited them all every year and was offered free drinks at every one—I had occasion to call at a public house, situated only 20 yards from this club, which had been declining in business for a number of years. I said to the licensee, "I suppose that the nearby club has ruined your business?" He replied, "On the contrary, it has improved tremendously. You see, they do not sell lager at the club and the lager drinkers come over here from the club for their favourite drink". Only one conclusion can be drawn from that and it is that, although the clause I referred to had been deleted, is was understood of course that only that brewer's drinks could be served there.

Now the Report declares definitely that magistrates and the police should have the right of entry.




I fully agree with that, my Lords. The Report declares also that when magistrates consider an application for an off-licence they should, in addition to considering the suitability of the premises and of the applicant, consider also the need for such a licence and the nature of the goods sold at the shop. In other words, there should be a public demand before such a licence is granted. These are two of the good things which are proposed and I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Shepherd will mention the others during his speech, but I want to deal with the bad proposals, and it will take all my time to do so.

I claim that the proposals, if they are carried out, will automatically cause heavier drinking. When the Report was published such a responsible newspaper as The Times advised in a leading article that the Government should be cautious. Let me quote: In general it would be wise not to go so far as the Committee would in satisfying the consumer. It is better to have a few thirsty throats than to provide further unnecessary encouragement to heavy drinking. That is the point of view of The Times. We are living in an age of violence when an honourable judge last week saw fit to impose a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment on a teenager in an effort to suppress the prevalent violence. But are we, as adults, not responsible for all this? We have created what is known as the "permissive society". Consequently, I maintain that to the extent that the law can influence behaviour at all it should be leaning away from greater permissiveness, rather than towards it.

The Report recommends that the legal age for entering and drinking in public houses should be lowered from 18 to 17. In my view that is simply monstrous. Experienced magistrates know that when a licensee is charged with serving drinks to a person under 18 years of age, his excuse always is that the person served appeared to him to be over 18 years of age. If the age is reduced to 17, as recommended, we shall find boys and girls of school age going to pubs and claiming to be 17. That will inevitably give rise to hooliganism and violence. Imagine a boy or girl in a classroom under the influence of drink. They will be able to slip in during the lunch hour. The Committee had to agree with that possibility. On page 177 of the Report I find the following interesting observation: We were repeatedly told of cases of young girls looking at least 20 in the evening, but no more than 16 when appearing in court without makeup and in school uniform. We found these perfectly credible. If you reduce the age to 17, it will be these very girls who appear to be 20 in the evening who will be taking advantage of this relaxation and, as intoxicated young girls, will be liable to many forms of undesirable social habits. Irresponsible men will be ready to take full advantage of their emotional condition. I do not want to be personal but I cannot help expressing my surprise that one member of the Committee, namely, the right reverend Prelate, did not object to this particular recommendation. I should get the full support of noble Lords opposite when I tell them that the Society of Conservative Lawyers (not Labour lawyers) published a pamphlet on the first day of this year entitled, Liberty and Licensing. This pamphlet states that "alcohol is potentially dangerous to health", and then comes out against the lowering of the drinking age to 17. The Society of Conservative Lawyers favours opening hours ranging from a minimum of six to a maximum of nine between 10 a.m. and midnight. I must believe that the present Conservative Government hold that Society in high esteem. Needless to say, the Brewers' Society support the reduction of the drinking age to 17.

I now come to a recommendation which, in my opinion, can only be described as wicked, namely, to extend the permitted drinking hours to 14 hours a day. The Committee states, at page 147: We have concluded that the case has been made out for a system of permitted hours which allows a licensee greater flexibility to open or close than at present. It follows from this that the universal mandatory afternoon break should be abolished … We feel able to propose this, however, because we believe that in particular parts of the country, at particular times, such a change would be convenient to the public at large and could be made without creating or exacerbating existing social problems. I like that word "exacerbate", for that is exactly what this recommendation will do. But, exacerbating who and what? In the first place, it would exacerbate the licensee. We are living at a time when workers in all industries are demanding a reduction in working hours and are also demanding a five-day week. This Committee is asking the licensee to work extra hours, and that for seven days a week. It may be said that he will have the right to choose his hours. But will he in reality? It must be remembered that he is simply an employee. He is working for a boss, and it is his employer, the brewers, who will tell him what hours he works. No wonder that licensees everywhere are already exacerbated and are protesting against the recommendation. Who else will be exacerbated? The drinking drivers of cars. Lack of public transport at midnight will invite customers to use their cars, and that will increase the number of drunken car drivers with a great increase in traffic accidents. That will be inevitable. A flexibility of closing times between 10 p.m. and midnight in different premises would also encourage migration from one public house to another, to the danger of both pedestrians and motorists.

Again, the abolition of the afternoon break will be likely to release drinking drivers into the rush-hour stream of traffic and pedestrians, including children coming from school. That will be exacerbation with a vengeance. The discretion of justices to require licensees to close for periods of up to two hours, which is recommended by the Committee, is conditional upon their receiving a "complaint from the police, a local authority or any member of the public". Should it not be that a licensee himself should satisfy the magistrates that there was a case for his opening early in the afternoon or late at night?

There is one other preposterous recommendation, and that is that young children should be allowed to accompany their parents into public houses. That is the surest way to rear a nation of drunkards. As an ex-school teacher I can claim that young children are, first and foremost, imitators. They like to imitate their elders and, particularly, their fathers. Watching their parents drinking daily at the bar they will instinctively, as it were, follow suit and will wish to be "with it", as they say. One of our greatest social problems to-day is that of the alcoholics, to whom my noble friend Lord Soper is bound to refer in the course of his speech. He knows from practical experience how menacing is this problem. When children will have been reared "on the bottle" there will be an inevitably steep rise in the number of incurable alcoholics. The Police Review has been most critical of that recommendation. It states that that will give rise to a return to Dickensian scenes, with children asleep in the corner or being exposed to fights and other incidents. Incidentally, the police also feel that 10 a.m. to midnight drinking would encourage "vertical" drinking without eating. The Review declares: This could be a serious menace and could disrupt a great deal of work in industry during the day. The French have plenty of experience of this as they have of alcoholism and these social evils may be aggravated here if facilities are increased. In conclusion, I would urge the Minister, when he conies to reply, to tell us explicitly this afternoon that the Government have no intention of presenting to Parliament a Bill based on this Report. From chats I have had with Members of Parliament, I can assure him that this would be a very unpopular Bill it would never be passed. It would be a waste of time, and I am sure the Government have no time to waste to-day. I would also remind him that when the Daily Telegraph held a Gallup poll last December the result was overwhelmingly against the Report. For instance, 62 per cent. disapproved of public houses being opened for 14 hours a day 68 per cent. were against the lowering of the legal age from 18 to 17, and 77 per cent. did not want children to he allowed in bars.

On February 25 the Sunday Express carried an article by Keith Renshaw. In the course of his article Mr. Renshaw stated: Mr. Robert Carr, the Home Secretary, and his Cabinet colleagues have gone cold on any idea of quickly reshaping drinking laws along the radical lines recommended in December by Lord Erroll's committee on Liquor Licensing. Mr. Renshaw then gives the reasons, and I shall finish my speech with those: Firstly, public opinion, as gauged by a Gallup Poll soon after the Erroll Report came out, is not nearly so favourable to freerer drinking as was expected. Secondly, many licensees have expressed concern about their ability to meet the staffing and costs involved in keeping open longer. Thirdly, the influential Society of Conservative Lawyers warned the Government against dropping the drinking age below 18 because of the risk to public order. Fourthly, the Parliamentary timetable is jammed for a long time ahead with priority legislation. I shall be pleased to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, declare that he fully agrees with all that Mr. Renshaw has stated, and I look forward now to hearing the views of noble Lords on this Report.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, for bringing up this subject now, and I am bound to say that there is a great deal in what he said in his speech with which I have a lot of sympathy. I should like, first of all, to explain the reasons why I am speaking here. One of the reasons is that in 1929 my father was appointed the chairman of a Royal Commission on licensing, which I think was the last inquiry into this subject. This Commission was not a frightfully happy one, because there were representatives of the temperance societies and of the brewers in about equal numbers upon it. So it is not really surprising that there were several minority reports and there were six reservations, and that the Report itself was never implemented at all. There was the further point, which was a great point at that time, which was the question whether the brewing industry or the pubs should be run by the State, along the lines of the Carlisle experiment, but that is no longer a question in front of us now.

There are two main points I would take up, following very much on what the noble Lord who moved this Motion has said. One is the question of extension. There appears to be no reason for proposing to extend the hours from 10 in the morning until midnight. I do not think there has been a public demand for it. Even in the Report itself it says that a survey was done by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which showed that about 48 per cent. of people wished the hours to remain the same, or (shall we say?) were quite satisfied with them; 45 per cent. thought they should be increased; and of those people under 25, 34 per cent. wished for longer hours, but if you went to the people over 65, about 60 per cent. did not. So I cannot see that there is a great public demand for any change there. The demand I think comes mainly from the Tourist Board, and not from people at home.

Supposing one were to have some kind of extensison of hours, what would be the effect? Quite apart from the extra liquor consumed—and with that I think must come some increase in the amount of alcoholism—one cannot drink a lot more without something going wrong. My fear would be that it would put up the cost of running these public houses so enormously that the extra cost would not be covered by the extra consumption of liquor. So that would probably mean that the country pub as we know it would disappear, because there would not be enough money coming in to support it. We might be landed with a lot of what one might call super-market drinking establishments, which would be not so attractive as the ones we have in the country at the present time.

Furthermore, I think it might drive away, or prevent, the better type of licensee applying for a job, because he would realise that it was going to be a rather tough kind of job if he had to be working or in charge of a place which is open for a maximum of 14 hours. There again, I think the fact that it need not be open for 14 hours is going to be a very difficult thing to maintain; first, because the licensee himself might not be in charge—it might he the brewer saying "You must work these long hours". Secondly, supposing one licensee were to shut rather earlier or not be open for as long as his friends round the corner, would it not mean that the public would go for the friends round the corner and the licensee would then be forced to keep his premises open longer than they need be?

Another point brought up by the noble Lord was the question of the break in the afternoon. I think there is quite a lot to be said for that, and not only for the reasons which the noble Lord has given, which are very valid ones. I think some break is needed in order to get the pub properly tidy and clean. After all, if a railway train comes in which has to turn round and go out again, it is kept for a certain time in the station while people go round ventilating it and cleaning and tidying it up. In the same way when a plane comes in which is going to make a return flight, there is always a certain pause, partly to put in more fuel, but at the same time to get it properly ventilated and clean. How much more so would it be necessary in the public house, where the stink of stale beer and other things would be most offensive to people coming there after any length of time?

Those are the reasons I should like to put forward in addition to what the noble Lord has said. I do not really see any call for any big extension of hours. I will not say that there might not be some odd corners where it might be required in some particular place, but I do not really agree with an extensive plan such as this one.

The lowering of the permitted age could also prolong difficulties, as the Committee itself points out, because although it is sometimes very difficult to know whether a boy or girl is 18 or only 17, it will be equally difficult if the permitted age is reduced to 17, to know whether they are 17 or only 16, and that is an age when they should not be allowed to drink independently. I have no objection to young people drinking at home with their parents under some kind of control, but it is not good for them to be allowed to go into pubs or public places and be able to drink. There was a good Report published in 1972 in Scotland, called Teenagers and Alcohol, which produced a good deal of evidence that real alcoholism, as opposed to drunkenness, is becoming more common in young people. So we have to be extremely careful before we agree that the age at which people can go into pubs should be lowered.

I now come to the question of the need for drinking places. I think it is generally agreed by both the brewers and the temperance societies that the number of pubs in this country is, broadly speaking, adequate. Of course if New Towns and new estates are built it will be necessary to have more pubs, so that people can get their fair supply. But for quite a time—I do not think the attitude is so marked now—there was a theory that if in a certain area there was a restaurant or two with a licence and a pub with a licence and somebody else wanted to open another restaurant, it was not advisable to grant him a licence because there were already enough licensed places in that area. Provided that the character of the applicant is satisfactory and the place chosen for the restaurant is suitable, he should automatically be able to get a licence to sell liquor, and a licence should not be not granted on the selfish basis that there are already enough people supplying drink in the area, so nobody else must be allowed to do so.

I should like to make two minor points before I sit down. The first is about what is called the pub-café, where a family can sit down comfortably and drink together without the necessity of going into a pub and leaving the children in the street outside. That was one of the suggestions considered in the Report of the 1929 Royal Commission. It was then looked upon comparatively favourably, but nothing has been done to implement that suggestion and I now doubt whether it would be a very good thing, because it would mean that people were encouraged to drink and drive. Families would go by car to their pub-café and the person driving would drink as much as he wanted. Although children might be able to sit with their parents, people would be encouraged to drink and drive, and it is better for children to wait outside a pub than for the whole family to sit in a pub-café and drink.

Finally, a great deal of progress has been made by the brewers in regard to food, and I think this is important. At the present time, it is far easier to get food in pubs than it was. I do not want all licensed premises turned into restaurants which are expensive and which would change their whole character, but it seems important to do what one can. In a great many places, one can get sandwiches and sausages, rather like one can at the bar in this House, and that is very encouraging. If we are thinking about our licensing laws, we should try to have some system of monitoring so that it is known exactly what people think about going into public houses, what occurs when they get there, the amount they drink and the effect it has upon them in various kinds of drinking establishments. I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has to say in reply, but at the present time my sympathies are very largely on the side of the noble Lord who moved this Motion.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, this is a complex and controversial subject, and I would join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, and his colleagues on the clarity of their Report and on the unanimity of their recommendations. I would also thank my noble friend Lord Maelor for putting down this Motion, and for giving us an opportunity of discussing the Report. I regard this debate as part of the public debate which ought to follow a Report of this kind.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, takes the same view and is satisfied to reserve his comments until the end. He is probably wiser than I am. This Report is only one stage in the movement towards greater freedom in our licensing laws, which began in the late 1950s. There was a rising standard of living and an increased number of people were drinking wine with meals, were having a glass of beer when they were toiling in the garden, or were drinking diluted spirits when resting with their friends in the evening. It had nothing to do with the use of alcohol as a drug or as a means of escape; it was legitimate demand. At the same time, new developments were taking place in retailing, new techniques were being applied which reduced retailing costs, and we had the development of the supermarkets which wanted licences. They did not want licences because there was a great deal of profit in them; they wanted licences because they might add to their volume and contribute towards the cost of their overheads, and above all, on grounds of prestige. In this era of "one-stop" shopping, they wanted to be able to offer their customers the wide service that should be expected from a store of their character. Consequently, they repeatedly made applications for licences and repeatedly were refused. The number of off-licences in the late 1950s was fewer than the number at the turn of the century, in spite of the enormous increase in the population which had taken place in the meantime. The law was being blatantly used to protect the interests of the retailers selling beer, wines and spirits who were already in the trade. Therefore, there was dissatisfaction because beer, wines and spirits were not available at the "one-stop" shopping stores, and that dissatisfaction was felt by the operators of these stores.

The first breakthrough came with the 1961 Act which introduced the right of appeal to quarter sessions, and during the 1960s many of our quarter sessions throughout the country refused to support magistrates where they had rejected an application purely on the grounds that there was no need in the particular area. The quarter sessions tended to attach more significance to the fitness of the applicant, the suitability of the premises, the kind of trade that was already being done and whether the premises were being frequented by adults or by young people. In consequence many of the appeals succeeded and it became generally known in some parts of the country that if the magistrates rejected applications on the ground of lack of need there was a good opportunity of success on appeal.

The next breakthrough was in 1964 when, in the Act of that year, the discretion of the magistrate in reference to applications for restaurants and residential licences was considerably restricted. That was a real breakthrough and meant that places which really ought to have licences were able to get them. The next event in this movement was the report from the Monopolies Commission in 1969. It recommended, and I quote: That the liquor licensing laws should be substantially relaxed with the general aim of permitting the sale of alcoholic drinks for on or off consumption by any retailer whose character and premises satisfied certain minimum standards. Following that report by the Monopolies Commission, in 1970–71, we had the appointment of the Erroll Committee in these terms: To review the liquor licensing laws of England and Wales, taking account of the changes recommended by the Monopolies Commission and of any other changes that may be proposed and to make recommendations The Committee of course have done just that. They first looked at the issue raised by the Monopolies Commission, the question of need. They found that the test of need, as it applies throughout the country, gives rise to inconsistencies and uncertainties. It gives rise to inconsistencies because in some areas the magistrates do not use the test of need whereas in other areas they use the test of need with varying degrees of severity. It gives rise to uncertainty because the applicant is put in a position of unjustifiable uncertainty because of the inconsistency of magistrates. I can say from my personal knowledge that in some parts of the country you can get an off licence, providing you are a fit person and your premises are satisfactory, without incurring any expense whatever, but in other parts of the country, because of the attitude which is taken by the magistrates and the uncertainty, you have to employ not only a solicitor but also a surveyor who has to make a survey of the district, prepare maps and pinpoint the existing licences on the maps. Then, because of the uncertainty, you have to employ a barrister to state your case before the magistrates and in the end you are lucky if you get away with costs of less than £500. That kind of inconsistency is not justice; it is entirely wrong.

Looking at this problem, the Committee found that the test of need to applications for both on and off licences was both out of date and unnecessary. They recommend that the grounds for refusal should be based upon the fitness and competence of the applicant and upon the suitability of the premises both internal and external, and with particular regard to the implications for public order and for the environment in the immediate locality. They believe that if the standards required of the applicant and the standards required of the premises were as satisfactory as they should be, this would not result in a proliferation of licences; and I would entirely support that view. It is a high standard for the applicant and the premises that is needed rather than the need test. The Committee therefore support the Monopolies Commission.

On the question of licences, the Committee have noted that at the present time there is a great deal of confusion. Sometimes the licence is granted to the person on the spot who is responsible for the operation; on other occasions the licence is granted, not to somebody on the spot but to an executive miles away who is responsible only for the overall management and in particular for the premises. That, of course, is utter confusion which ought to be put right. Put briefly the Committee have recommended that instead of one licence there should be two licences—a personal licence granted to the operator if he is fit and competent, and secondly, a premises licence granted to the owner of the freehold or the leasehold if the premises are suitable. This, in my view, is a sensible proposal and should lead to the development of training facilities on the lines envisaged by the Committee.

The Committee have also noticed that there is unnecessary overlapping between local authorities and the magistrates. Nowadays local authorities are responsible for planning; that is, the location of premises for different usages. They are responsible for public safety in those premises; they are responsible for sanitation, for food hygiene and for compliance with the building regulations. Those are matters which are already fully dealt with by the local authority and need not be dealt with by the magistrates. Accordingly, the Committee suggest that when there is an application for a licence the local authority should get a copy of the application and should issue a certificate both to the applicant and to the magistrate saying to what extent the premises comply with the matters for which the local authority are responsible. That is a very wise proposal. It leaves the magistrates to concentrate on the matters which are their concern—and they are primarily concerned with the question of public order. For example, it is the function of the magistrates to look at the internal arrangements within the premises to see whether supervision would be adequate, but as to whether or not there is public safety is a matter which is already in the hands of the local authority.

I come now to the question of hours, which I think is the most controversial of the subjects dealt with by the Report. After careful consideration the Committee have come down in favour of flexible hours between 10 a.m. and 12 midnight. As a magistrate, I believe that this is their one serious mistake of judgment. I have read and re-read the chapter and I find that in my view they have attached too much importance to the inconvenience and the amount of work involved in licensees seeking extensions. As a magistrate, I have some experience of this. I serve on a county borough bench covering an area with a population of 200,000, and we have five or six courts sitting every day. The extensions required by licensees are dealt with in one court in the first ten minutes, so that extensions are no great problem so far as the bench is concerned. I would attach far more importance to the argument which is set out in the Report at paragraph 1117. I believe that a terminal hour of 12 midnight, coupled with the licensee's discretion to be open or closed, would inevitably lead to some public houses being open and others remaining closed. Consequently it would tend to encourage the movement by motor car of customers from one public house to another in circumstances which could give rise to public danger on the roads. So far as I am concerned, I should prefer a terminal hour of 11 p.m. with extensions by order or on application, as at the present time. We could, of course, clarify the grounds on which extensions could be granted and we could simplify the procedure.

I come now to young people. Here I think the Committee are absolutely right and that they have been grossly misrepresented in such public discussion as there has been since they published their Report. They recommend that it should continue to be an offence to allow a child under 14 years of age in a bar during permitted hours. In other words, their first recommendation is a continuation of the existing law. You would never have thought that if you had heard some of the public discussion that has been going on in the last few weeks. But, faced with evidence, on the basis of sample opinion, that two-thirds of the population would welcome places for refreshment where they could get drink and where they could be with, and not separated from, their family, they have suggested that there should be a qualification. They have suggested that magistrates should be able to issue a certificate certifying that the exclusion of children from a part or parts of premises is not necessary in the public interest; and in making that recommendation they have clearly in mind the possibility of there developing in this country the kind of place of refreshment which we find on the Continent, and which is so different from the English bar. There has never been any suggestion by the Committee that children should be allowed in a bar during permitted hours.

On the question of the age of drinking, I think the Committee are also right. First of all, you do not need to be an accomplished and acute observer to know that there is a very considerable avoidance of the law at the present time. On almost any evening you can go into any public house and see it for yourself. It is so easily done, and on such a large scale that it would place an unjustifiable strain, both up the licensees and upon the police, if any attempt were made towards strict enforcement of the present law. Consequently, if there was a reduction in the age from 18 to 17, one thing that would happen, it cannot be denied, is that the law would be far more observed than it is at the present time; and it is important, if we are going to have laws, that they should be observed. Seventeen is the age at which a young person, if he is brought before a court, goes not before a juvenile court but before an adult court. Seventeen is the age up to which there can be a care and protection order. Surely these are indications that this is the proper age at which young people should be admitted to public houses. I believe that the recommendations of the Committee are wise. They are certainly realistic.

There are a number of miscellaneous and consequential recommendations. I welcome particularly the scrapping of the licensing planning committees and the compensation committees. They have served their purpose. I would comment on only one of the miscellaneous recommendations, and that refers to registered clubs. Registered clubs, of course, are a form of co-operative organisation, and everybody will know that I have great sympathy with that kind of organisation. They have certain advantages. They can get registration comparatively easily, and that entitles them to supply their members. They can certainly do it much more easily than somebody who is trading for profit can get a licence. They have certain privileges in regard to hours, and the police cannot enter their premises without a warrant. The Committee suggest that if the licensing law is wholly reformed in the manner which they suggest, the registered clubs should come under exactly the same provisions as licensees. I can see no objection to that. In my experience over a lifetime of managing co-operative organisations, I have never pleaded that they should have any privileges when it comes to public order and public money; and, consequently, I can see no objection to that, with one proviso: that whatever applies to the working men's club must also apply to the Carlton. Provided that is accepted, I do not think there should be any great objection.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt? I think I missed my opportunity earlier, but I was so anxious not to interrupt him in the middle of a sentence. However, just now he was saying something which I found most interesting, when he said that the present law, so far as it concerns young people, was not enforced because of the difficulty of identifying the age of the young person. I am sure that is right, and that there is a lot of drinking by young people under the age of 18. The noble Lord implied, I thought, that if the age was reduced to 17, that particular difficulty would be surmounted. I wonder whether it would, or whether there might not be the same tendency for 16-year-olds to come in and hope that they will be passed off as 17year-olds, with the same difficulty of identification of them.


My Lords, I think it would be generally agreed that if there is avoidance of the law at 18—and there is, on a massive scale—then, if you have a lower age, there is going to be less breaking of the law. I think one could accept that. I believe there is substantial breaking of the law at 18. I believe that at 17 the breaking of the law would be comparatively minor. But it is a matter of opinion and judgment. I am glad nobody has suggested 16. That would have given rise to the possibility of the sixth-form going back unable to carry on for the rest of the day. I believe that, as to young persons, the proposals which are made are certainly realistic and, in all the circumstances, are wise.

In conclusion, may I say that I hope we will bear in mind that the problem of drink is now quite different from what it was at the turn of the century. The consumption of liquor; the number of selling points; the extent of drunkenness and illness and death from alcoholism in relation to the size of the population, has been greatly reduced. There is a much greater awareness of the need for moderation, perhaps because of the greater opportunities for education. I speak not for any Party but for myself. In speaking for myself, I hope that we will judge this Report in relation to the future rather than to the past. I believe that if we do that it will be acceptable with perhaps only minor modifications.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale and his colleagues have discharged a gargantuan task in almost record time for a Commission of this kind and, I think, generally speaking with a good deal of sound common sense and judgment. I recall the 1961 Licensing Act and some of the problems which that produced. Not being a magistrate or a lawyer or concerned with the catering industry I speak only as a layman. My wife happens to be a magistrate; she is faced from time to time with this problem of renewal of licences, and there are enormous problems involved. Whatever Commission is set up to look into the laws of licensing, whether in this country or any other country, it is never going to get its priorities absolutely right. The question which the House has to ask itself at this stage is this. How far does this particular Report go towards bringing about an improvement in our present admittedly anomalous licensing system? I believe that in the main the recommendations of the Report would lead to some improvement: although I share the anxieties already expressed by other noble Lords and by the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, to whom we are most indebted for opening this debate with a constructive and humorous speech.

Undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of this Report is the licensing hours. Where do we draw the line here? There are vast areas of London, in the City of London, where after probably eight o'clock at night there is virtually no drinking done at all—




My noble friend is surprised. I make one important qualification to that statement—and that concerns the Barbican, which is now a residential area and where of course there is a good deal more drinking going on. But within the City boundaries—and I am talking about public houses and not restaurants—after eight o'clock at night the number of patrons of public houses is fairly limited. At the same time, there are the seaside resorts which rely for a short season in the summer to make the money to keep going their public houses and other functions. Extensions of licences here are frequently necessary and desirable. I think that midnight is too late an hour but that 10.30 p.m. is too early. Any of your Lordships who has travelled, for example, down the A.24 trunk road past Balham and Tooting at 10.30 p.m. will know the scene: of people coming out of public houses, getting into cars and driving off looking neither right nor left.

But I think the greatest problem is the Sunday lunch-time drinker. I am not objecting to drinking on Sundays on moral grounds—far from it! But there is a tendency on Sundays, for young people particularly, to get up late and go off in a car probably without having consumed any breakfast and then to go into a public house to consume not merely beer but short drinks. Again, those of your Lordships who have been on a road, particularly a country road, between one o'clock and two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon will have seen, as I did last Sunday in Sussex, what was very nearly an appalling accident—due, I suspect, to one at least of the drivers involved having consumed too much.

That brings me to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, about food in public houses. I think it is a well-known medical fact—and the noble Lord, Lord Platt, will correct me if I am wrong—that drinking on an empty stomach is far more dangerous than drinking on a stomach lined with some kind of food, be it sausages, Cornish pasties or what-have-you. There are public houses, all too many of them, where the refreshments served are totally inadequate. The publican may argue that to produce hot snacks pushes up the electricity or gas bill; but I think that on grounds of safety, and particularly if we are to have extended licensing hours (and I can see much justice in this) it will be essential for more food to be available in public houses. I do not necessarily mean hot meals, but at least what are known as heavy snacks.

The other matter is that if we are too restrictive in our licensing hours we shall get to the situation which prevailed in New Zealand and Australia not so many years ago, when the bars were shut at the very early hour of six or seven at night and enormous amounts of liquor were hoarded in people's homes. This drink was still consumed. Merely by closing the public houses substantially earlier, one is not preventing people from drinking. They will probably take it to their own homes or to the homes of friends and consume it there. The question is whether it is more in the interests of public safety to consume it in a public house (assuming one is going out in a car) than in one's home. Some people do not merely go from public house to public house, but from private house to private house to various parties. This, too, can be very dangerous.

My Lords, I think that the question of children raises a very difficult matter of judgment. When one sees the physical stature of many children nowadays one realises that the problem is similar to that in respect of selling fireworks. A child nearly six feet tall goes into a public house. How is the harassed publican to know whether he is 16, 17 or 18 years old? The Report mentions what happens in Sweden where young people have to carry a card bearing their age. Whether or not that is a suitable idea for this country is a matter of judgment. Also, I think that in Scandinavia there is much more alcoholism than in this country; but although an enormous tax has been slapped on spirits the price of wine has been reduced.

I think this is a valuable Report. Inevitably it will meet criticism, as will any report on licensing. There are so many views which may be taken and so many anomalies which may occur. But I hope that the Government will be able to frame some legislation around the Report. Whatever defects it may have—some have been mentioned, and no doubt others will be mentioned in speeches to be made—I think those who have produced the Report deserve our thanks for trying to iron out one of the most anomalous of our institutions.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Maelor for introducing this debate. May I call attention, first, to two quite extraordinary and significant facts which belong to the Report as a whole. The first is that it was accorded a unanimous vote of confidence by those who composed that particular Committee. Considering its extraordinary complexity, and indeed the many issues involved, I find that almost incredible; unless it is rooted in the proposition to which they address themselves, that it was their business to find something which would be generally acceptable to the community at large. That also is incredible to me, because the only recognised Gallup poll that has been undertaken since the publication of the Report shows that to be entirely wrong. Unanimity in complete fallacy is, I think, an extraordinary achievement.

The second point is that almost unanimously those who have responsibilities in various recognised fields have expressed large-scale criticism of the Report. Many of them, from the Lancet on one side, to Conservative lawyers on the other, to say nothing of the gaggle of temperance societies involved, have very largely condemned it in principle. I find it attracts my complete and absolute opposition. But not, I hasten to add, from the total abstinence, or the somewhat frenzied teetotal point of view. I am a teetotaller but am well aware that intemperance in the cause of temperance is generally counter-productive. I remember, to my cost, endeavouring to press the temperance cause on a man one day, and in order to enforce the argument I quoted from the Book of Proverbs: Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging … At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. He said that he had been looking for that sort of stuff for the last ten years, which largely destroyed the point of the argument.

My Lords, my opposition to this Report is substantial. But let me quickly add that there are at least two propositions within the Report to which I would give absolute allegiance and which claim my complete agreement. The first is that there should be one licensing principle operating within clubs and other licensed premises, and in this regard I am deeply grateful for the close analysis of licensing in general given by my noble friend. The other is something which has not yet been mentioned, though I have no doubt that it will be, the total prohibition of alcohol within a distance of the various refreshment areas on the great highways. Having said that, I would say that I find that there is precious little more that I can say, because I believe that the Report starts from the wrong place, goes in the wrong direction and, obviously, ends up in the wrong place.

To make that claim good I would refer to the general acquiescence of the Report in what it is pleased to call a situation; which situation it seems to recognise, and, to use one phrase which is found on page 64 of the Report, it regards alcohol as "deeply embedded" in the life of the community. Well, so was the thorn in the foot of Androcles' lion. Androcles did not proceed to make provision for more luxurious thorn bushes, and he certainly did not enter into a programme of exposing the lion to many of those thorns. He believed that this was an opportunity to remove an evil. I would communicate to your Lordships, whether or not it seems agreeable to you, that overall I am satisfied that alcohol is a far greater evil in the community than drugs; and, although it has personal benefactions which I would not deny, though I have no personal experience of them, yet socially it has to be reduced and limited and disciplined if the community in which we live is to become a tolerable one. For that reason I do not agree with the general atmosphere of this Report which seems to assert that the greater the freedom we enjoy the faster our progress towards the kind of society which we would cherish.

This, to me, is unacceptable and I have some personal and corporate experience of meeting these evils, or trying to do so. Therefore I come to the various proposals within the general statement of this Report with that kind of dubiety and that kind of opposition. I find that most of the proposals justify and support these particular criticisms. Take the one in which, perhaps, I am more particularly interested. Though my memory is fairly good I am not going to trust it, I am going to read to your Lordships something which is in the Report on the general Question of alcoholism. This is from Dr. Griffith Edwards of the Addiction Research Unit of the Institute of Psychiatry: The cost to the country of abnormal drinking is not readily susceptible to actuarial methods but is obviously considerable. The National Health Service currently admits approximately 8,000 patients each year to National Health Service hospital beds, and the number has been rising: to this figure would have to be added a large out-patient case load, and an uncertain but probably large contribution of abnormal drinking to the work of the casualty departments and medical and surgical wards. Alcohol problems contribute substantially to vagrancy and chronic homelessness: in a survey of a London Reception Centre 25 per cent. of men gave evidence of severe alcohol addiction. Drinking problems contribute to the causes of prison overcrowding and to the work of the Probation Service: a survey of three London prisons revealed that 40 per cent. of men had evidence of damaging drinking … The annual rate for drunkenness arrests fluctuates around 70,000–80,000 and the Report of the Working Party on Habitual Drunken Offenders bears witness to the acuteness of Home Office concern. The suicide rate among hospital diagnosed alcoholics exceeds normal expectations by a factor of eighty. Among male members of Alcoholics Anonymous, 35 per cent. have a history of broken marriage". My Lords, there is a fact that I can add to that from the experience at the centre where we try to rehabilitate those who have come under the curse of alcoholism. Ten years ago the average age of alcoholics under our care was between 40 and 50. It is now between 30 and 40. There is an ever-increasing dependence on alcohol among younger people. Reading this Report, it seems to me that there is an almost frivolous attitude to one of the greatest social evils from which we are suffering. I do not share the view of my noble friend that it is a good thing that the question of need should be removed from the category of important issues where licensing is under consideration. I quite agree that there must be, and will be, all kinds of differences between the local administration and local attitudes in these matters of people living in various areas, but I would make a plea for the need standard as at least keeping in mind the dimension of the community and what really a community is for, rather than leaving the question open to much more occasional and, I think, casual arguments. It is better. I think, for people to make mistakes when they are considering the overall need than to succeed at a much lower level. That may be controversial, but I believe it.

What I am sure about is that the increase in the number of possible hours is quite impossible to believe in and to support. I do not know how much more people will drink over a long period. What I do know is that there will be much greater risk of those who are not drunk, but have a certain amount of alcohol inside them, being a much greater danger, particularly if they are in charge of motor cars, at the time when children are going home from school; and, what is even more important, at the later hours when public transport is no longer available as it is earlier in the evening. This, I believe, is a retrograde step and has no real justification in it whatsoever.

As I said before, I was much impressed at the analytical ability of my noble friend when he talked about licensing, but when he assumed the prophetic mantle I lost touch with him. If you reduce the age from 18 to 17 of course you will do away with the abuses of those who are 17, but you will attract the abuses of those who are 16, 15, 14 and 13. What is more, so far as I remember, most of the members of my sixth form were 17, not 16. It is, I think, a danger that young people are particularly under the influence and impact of advertisements which tend to make them think that if they want to grow up and be really men they had better start drinking early. I think it is a most dangerous, and to my way of thinking an insufferable, continuation of the process which has been with us for long enough now of earlier and more continuous drinking. The reference to the estaminets in France was most unfortunate because, as the evidence of M. Borotra and others shows, alcoholism in France has been closely associated with the assumption that if you provide a café-bar you will at least do something to mitigate the dangers of drinking on empty stomachs. That is not so, and has not been demonstrated to be true. Furthermore, if these propositions are accepted—and I agree that they have not yet been put into effect and, therefore, as the law stands at present, there is no possibility of children being accommodated in bars in drinking hours—as has been said in the Police Review it may well be that we shall return to some of the Dickensian situations.

My Lords, I can quote a personal piece of evidence. Just before the years of the First World War, when of course the licensing laws were changed, my mother took part as one of a number of schoolmistresses in Wandsworth in a survey of what was happening in public houses towards midnight on Saturday nights. She found 143 children below the age of 10, either asleep in corners or left outside the doors. Without being a scaremonger, I have ample evidence in the job in which I am involved of carelessness about and the breakdown of family responsibilities; and I have great fear that if we provide the café-pub, and particularly with the opportunity of its remaining open until midnight, not only will children be exposed to brawls and drunkenness from those who have been sitting drinking for hours, but they will also be neglected. I think this would be a curse and a most dangerous innovation.

The Home Office set up, through the Institute of Psychiatry, a research unit to make comments on this White Paper. I have read their deliverance. It is a devastating document. The best thing it can say about the White Paper is that where the writing is clear it is possible to see more obviously how bad the argument is. But generally they really asperse the mental faculties of the members of the Committee. It is not for me to say that the Committee should have their heads examined, and I make no schizophrenic accusations; but if my noble friend and others—and particularly the Minister, if he has not already read it—will read this Report, they will find that it is damaging at the very point at which I have presumed to make the most severe comments. It is in principle a bad Report. It is in principle a Report which starts with an assumption about society which is false, and with an agreeableness about the kind of permissiveness which I think has already run too far. It entirely neglects the idea of the community and the sobriety which belongs to it. It underrates the evidence of the criminality and violence which are associated not with drunkenness but with moderate drinking—and I would bet my cassock that if you got rid of moderate drinking you would reduce prostitution by about 25 per cent.

If there is a move for Papers, my Lords, I should be inclined to move for a box of matches. I do not believe that this Report is worth anything. But we should be grateful for consideration of the problem it sets and for the evidence contained in its pages, which if properly assessed and put into another frame would, I think, be of immense satis- faction to those who look upon alcohol (as I do, along with others) as a great evil; those who are concerned that it should not persist; those who believe that it must be reduced; and those who believe that a proper and disciplined way of looking at alcohol is compatible (and I say this as a teetotaller) with moderate drinking. But I am saying, above all—and this is the point to which, in conclusion, I would advert—that to ignore the problem and to believe that it is largely disappearing is the grossest of fallacies. To deal with it will, as a programme, have to await a very different kind of White Paper from the present one. Let the material of this White Paper be incorporated in one which starts from the right place.

If it be argued that there is nothing constructive in what I am saying, I should be wholly in favour at this moment of the Government's instituting grave restrictions on the advertisement possibilities associated with alcohol. I think that every bottle of beer or of wine ought to have some notice on it that it is dangerous, or can be dangerous, to health. In conclusion, whatever other practical programmes may be available, any man if he so decides can sign the pledge, and I personally would recommend it.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to add my voice in gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, for giving us the opportunity of debating the matters that are raised in the Report of the Committee which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale. I fancy that none of your Lordships' House envies the members of the Committee, for indeed it was an extremely complex task that they were given and they were dealing with a very contentious matter. The fact that they have been able to produce so weighty a Report in, I think, about 18 months is a matter which elicits our gratitude and our admiration.

I, too, find in this Report certain things which I am happy to welcome. I welcome, in particular, the systematic collection of the factual data and the comments on the nature of alcoholism which have been collected in Parts I and II and in Appendices E and L. This is valuable material. It will be of the greatest use to those of us who have been concerned with this problem of alcohol over the years and are glad to have the matter brought into such easy access as it is in this Report. Again, as other noble Lords have mentioned, there are certain features in the Report which I think will gain general acceptance. I welcome that registered clubs should be subject to the normal licensing system.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, welcomed the recommendation that the present ban on the sale of alcohol near motorways would be continued and I, too, welcome it. I am glad that there is also a suggestion that further research, which would be adequately financed, into the use and abuse of alcohol in society should be initiated. That would be extremely valuable for those who are concerned with research. But at that point I am afraid I run out of bouquets, and from now onwards I must align myself with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, in the expression of the belief that this whole Report is wrong in its approach, and that it is based upon wrong premises. I think the Committee has seriously over-estimated the public demand for the changes it proposes, and I suggest that the figures given in public opinion research confirm that opinion. I believe the Report underestimates the deleterious effect which the proposals would have. This is especially true in the areas of health and road safety.

One recognises the difficulties which faced the Committee in striking a balance. On page 46 of its Report the Committee states that its intention is to seek a fair balance between the extremes. But the evidence which has been published as a reaction to the Report suggests that the view they take of the balance is wrong. The medical profession, through the Lancet, the British Medical Journal, and the Institute of Psychiatry at Maudsley Hospital, to which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has already referred, is against this Report: and so also is the law, according to the expression of opinon of the Society of Conservative Lawyers; so are the police in the Police Review; so also are the teachers in their magazine Monitor, which is a journal concerned with social problems as they relate to the teaching profession; so also are the Churches, according to the expression of opinion of both the British Council of Churches and of the Temperance Council of Christian Churches. These have all expressed serious misgivings about one or other aspect of the Report, and together they form a formidable group of experts.

I propose to confine my remarks to two aspects of this Report: health and road safety. At pages 34 to 56 of the Report, the Committee set out quite fairly some of the menaces to health which are presented by alcoholism. They point out that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 alcoholics in this country. They remind us that the social and economic cost of alcoholism to industry and business is considerable—sufficient to justify attention on grounds of economic expediency, let alone natural humanity. They tell us there are 8,000 alcoholic patients admitted each year to National Health Service hospital beds. They remind us that recent research has established a close link between the consumption of alcohol and cirrhosis death rates. Above all, they say that the overall impression, particularly over the last 20 years, is of rising consumption of alcohol, accompanied by increases in alcoholism death rates and in offences of drunkenness—all of which, however, are still below the peak levels reached towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this one.

That is the way in which the Report generally sets before us the health hazards. Is is not then an extraordinary consequence that the Committee should be recommending certain attitudes and actions? I should like to quote now from an article in the Lancet: For the Committee… (in the light of these facts) … then to suggest that pubs should have the right to open continuously from 10.00 a.m. to 12.00 midnight, and off-licences from 8.30 a.m. to midnight closing; to propose that bingo halls, dance places, and cinemas should have licensing hours coextensive with hours of opening, which licences are rather easily obtainable; to suggest that the pub should now be supplemented by the 'cafe-pub' so that parents can take the children along; all this, in terms of common sense can hardly be seen as a well-derived public-health strategy to meet a currently serious situation. If the committee had its way, we seem headed to catch up with our Victorian ancestors. I find a disturbing comparison between the situation which I think would arise if these recommendations were implemented and the situation which is already with us in the world of betting. The small bookie is being squeezed out of existence and the betting shops are now being run by the big "rings" which control the majority of betting shops. They stay open throughout all the hours of racing. As a result of the staggering of hours of racing and the arrangement that there should be two meetings every day, there is a race on which people can gamble every quarter of an hour. If your Lordships will look at the papers to-day you will see that there are two meetings, one at Kempton Park and one at Leicester. There is a race every quarter of an hour from 2 o'clock to 4.45; and the reports of the results are constantly being portrayed in the betting shops. These places are breeding grounds for the compulsive gambler; and if pubs can be open from 10 a.m. until midnight the small pub-keeper will be squeezed out—he is already being squeezed out, and he will go for certain if this happens. The big combines, all with their highly sophisticated selling techniques, will move in and so we shall have a precisely comparable situation—a breeding ground for the compulsive drinker. If, as the Report suggests, the magistrate's absolute discretion to grant or refuse licences is removed, then I think it is very naïve indeed to think there would be no proliferation in the number of pubs.

In paragraph 32, Chapter 8, the Committee expresses the view that economic considerations would control the situation and that it would not be worth while opening new pubs. We were told this in 1960, when the Government opened the door (very harmlessly as they thought) to gaming. My friend, the late Dennis Vosper, who became a Member of this House, said in commending that Bill: I very much doubt whether anybody in this country would find it worth while to set up a casino under the very limited terms of this Bill. My Lords, we know what happened. We know the confusion and the years of work that were imposed on the courts and on Parliament before we could get things straight.

Alcohol is an addictive substance and where this is being sold big money moves in. Nor, may I remind your Lordships, need it be a pub that is provided, because it is quite possible under the suggestions on the relaxation of licensing that big shops would be able to set up a bar and satisfy the licensing authorities that that was all in order. Here are the hazards to health which I think would be greatly increased if this Report were implemented, and it seems to me ironic that this is happening at the very time when the Government are spending £2 million on research into the treatment of alcoholism.

I come now to a matter that is very near to my heart, as it is, I know, to the hearts of many of your Lordships; that is, the question of road safety. There can be no doubt that there is a close relationship between road accidents and the consumption of alcohol. Breathalyser offences rose from 27,972 in 1970 to 39,840 in 1971. In paragraph 12 of Chapter 4 the Report says: Our own belief is that the pattern of drink and driving is closely related to social attitudes of alcohol generally. Very good! Yet the Committee go on to suggest ways in which social attitudes will be encouraged to change in favour of making the drinking of alcohol easier in relationship to the motor-car. Thus there is to be the cafe-pub to which doubtless the family will go in the motorcar, and from which they will go away late at night in their motor-car. The making of licensing hours co-extensive with opening hours for bingo halls, dance halls and cinemas, to which people often go by car, and from which often they leave after public transport has stopped, will relate alcohol to the motor-car more closely.

The lowering of the age limit for consumption of all kinds of alcohol from 18 to 17 will take place at a time when cars and motor-bicycles can be driven at the age of 17. On the use of credit cards, it is suggested that the law should make is abundantly clear that their use on licensed premises is lawful. I suggest that all this amounts to an extraordinary contradiction, and one which we ought not to allow to go unchallenged. For those who remember the debates on gaming some ten years ago this Report presents a haunting similarity. We were assured then that the relaxations were minimal, that the safeguards were sufficient and that commercialisation would be impracticable. How wrong those soothing assurances proved to be, and what trouble it took to get the situation put under control!

I am confident that the same could happen in the area of the consumption of alcohol if the modifications contained in this Report were to be made law. The result would be worse, for more people in the home, on the roads and in society would be put in jeopardy. I welcome the recommendations in the Report for further research, but this should come before and not after the relaxations that are proposed. It is better to examine the security of the stable before the horse bolts as it is sometimes very difficult to get the horse back once it has gone. I remember so well the debates in 1961 on the Licensing Bill when it was before your Lordships' House. On Third Reading I ventured to express these opinions about that Bill: This Bill has been referred to on more than one occasion as an adult Bill for an adult people. Let it then be so; and let it be our hope that these new freedoms which are given will be exercised in a truly responsible manner."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26/7/61; col. 1033.] Those freedoms were given in 1961; they were about right, and there is no call and no reason to add to them.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, as I came into the Chamber this afternoon I was handed a well prepared document which has been collated by the National Council of Women of Great Britain—an organisation which is known to most noble Lords in this House. The document was a little late in arriving, which was probably due to the fact that the business of the House has been altered. During the time I have been waiting to speak I have been able to look through this document briefly. I come to the conclusion that what I have prepared to say will be absolutely endorsed by the National Council of Women of Great Britain. That brings me to this amazing point: I have always understood that when a Departmental Committee was set up to examine a matter of great public interest and importance, such as we are debating to-day, the Department (in this case the Home Office) saw to it that the Committee was absolutely representative of the country; that it could express the views of people who would be involved and, in consequence, could be taken seriously. I hope that nobody will laugh when I say that the Committee which has examined this problem of increasing the hours of drinking time and of allowing small children into public houses consists of 15 men and Miss Black. This is incomprehensible. Here is a matter in which women are very much involved. Their children and husbands are going to be given permission to drink for hours and hours. What has happened to the Home Office? Have we forgotten that there are two sexes? If Miss Black had been accompanied by a number of sensible mothers, who would have injected common sense into the discussions on this Committee, this Report—which has been condemned time after time by noble Lords on both sides of the House—would never have seen the light of day.

In my experience of Parliamentary life I cannot recall a document related to public health and welfare which is marked by so many omissions and commissions as to render it almost valueless. My noble friend Lord Soper recommended putting a match to it. But he is a teetotaller and therefore everybody thinks him suspect. But I am not a teetotaller; I am quite happy to have a "sundowner" which I regard as a therapeutic addition to my diet. The fact that I am not a teetotaller makes my opinion—and I also speak as a doctor—much stronger than that of my noble friend Lord Soper.

The recommendations in this Report are quite appropriate for a brewers' bonanza, and that is all. I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate speak strongly. It is the first time I have ever heard one speak strongly—perhaps I have been unlucky. He had convictions, and it is nice to hear people with convictions express them from the Bishops' Bench. He absolutely condemned this Report. He said that where there is drink money will follow, and of course he is quite right. I hope that nobody will hoot when I say to the noble Viscount who is going to answer that I should like to know how much the brewers gave to the Conservative Party funds at the last Election. This is important because this document could never really have been circulated and published unless there were people who had ulterior motives. The document is lacking in an elementary approach to the important problems of public health and safety.

I know that figures are rather boring but I believe I heard my noble friend Lord Jacques say that alcoholism is decreasing. But what are the figures? There has been an annual increase in the consumption of beer and spirits since 1962. Evidence suggests that there has been an increase in the number of heavy drinkers rather than simply an increase of moderate drinkers. The rate of arrests for public drunkenness has been increasing each year since 1967—but this, I think, is the most startling figure—with the rate among young people under 18 rising by over 50 per cent. during the course of five years. That is the rate of drunkenness among children—I call them children.

The right reverend Prelate quoted various organisations—I think he mentioned the Law Society, the Church and so on—so may I quote to the House what the British Medical Journal said on December 16, 1972, referring to this Report. The British Medical Journal of course is the journal of the British Medical Association. It said: The impression is given that the Committee is set on policies of relaxation for reasons others than those concerning the public health. From the public health point of view the Report's main proposals must be condemned as untimely. Their adoption in practice would be to risk a further increase in alcoholism, with its attendant dangers to harmony in the home and life on die roads. I think the House will agree that that is an unequivocal condemnation from the medical profession.

Apart altogether from the pathological conditions stemming from the over-consumption of alcohol, there is the situation with which the French are only too familiar. I am astonished when somebody says to me, in order to persuade me that these recommendations are the right ones, "Look at France". Look at France, my Lords! The French sit in their restaurants and one can see the unfortunate little children sleeping on the tables or sitting about waiting to be taken home by their parents—and there are many people here who want this country to reflect the drinking attitudes of France. Some of this has been said before, but I want to emphasise it. We are concerned to-day with many of the social effects. They are spoken about and written about ad nauseam Our prisons are overcrowded with men, three to a cell, many of whom have been charged with violent crimes—and recently the word "mugging" has been added to our dictionary. I would say that there are people in this House who hesitate to go for a walk outside their houses at night for fear that this awful thing may happen to them.

The venereal disease rate and the illegitimate birthrate are both increasing rapidly and both can be related to promiscuity. Can it be argued that these social problems will not be aggravated by opening the public houses at all hours —16 hours a day is suggested in the Report—and to boys and girls of 17 years of age? There is no evidence that the licensee is suffering from having to conform to restricted hours, because, as we have heard, he can always apply for an extension.

A point that has not been mentioned so far is the effect on family life. Is this an abstract concept which the brewers should be allowed to ignore? No mercy is shown to the family in this Report for it says: The Committee think it right to find some way of allowing all licensees, where they so wish, to admit children. In this new world which the Committee would like to see, apparently parents will not have to worry about baby sitters; they will be allowed to take their unfortunate children to the public house to wait until the parents are ready to go home. As I have described, we shall have the same picture here as in France and many other countries. Undoubtedly, of course, this will provide a useful apprenticeship for the adolescents in preparation for their promotion to the public bar, where they can order alcoholic drinks in their own right at the age of 17. It is difficult for me to understand how the licensee will be able to distinguish between the 17-year-old and the 16-year-old—and, as has been said, with the school leaving age now being raised to 16, we may well hear of children consuming alcohol in the lunch hour and schoolteachers in the afternoon being confronted with yet another problem. Why not, if licensed premises are to be open to boys and girls of 17?

The Committee makes one excuse time after time. It says that insufficient research has been done into the past changes in the liquor licensing laws. When it comes to research and knowledge of this subject, it seems to me that a knowledge of the behaviour of people under the influence of alcohol, the demands of family life, the welfare of the impressionable child, all provide basic information which of course comes naturally and is generally available. What is it that the Committee wants to know about the effects of alcohol which is not already available? The same excuse is used to criticise the Department of the Environment for expressing apprehension regarding the effect of an increased consumption of alcohol on the drivers of cars and lorries. It would appear throughout that the Committee is prepared to accept a report only if it is favourable to their own thinking; otherwise it is dismissed. This in itself condemns this document as an unbalanced and partial review of the subject. The evidence of the Brewers' Society—and I hope all noble Lords here will read the evidence of the Brewers' Society—is treated with the greatest respect and they are conspicuously silent on the social aspect of increasing the consumption of alcohol.

While the Committee was unable completely to avoid mentioning that there may be some link between the availabiity of intoxicating liquor and the level of abnormal drinking and alcohol dependence", it completely side-steps the whole question of public health by stating that this is the main concern of Ministers other than the Home Secretary. I believe that we are evading the main issue if we do not recognise that these recommendations are concerned with making a drug of addiction available to adults and immature young people. That is what we are discussing to-day. Alcohol is a drug, and now apparently the Committee is not satisfied with the limited consumption of the drug in this country. This Report advises the country to open its public houses and all premises that apply for licences, for 16 hours a day—


Fourteen, my Lords.


My Lords, what is the difference?


Two hours.


Fourteen hours a day, my Lords! What shocks me about all this is that my noble friend Lord Shepherd is associated with it at all, but perhaps after this he may see the light.


My Lords, in view of the reference to me just made by the noble Baroness, perhaps she can at least withdraw any suggestion that there could have been any ulterior motive on my part for any association with the Brewers' Society.


My Lords, that is the whole point. I know the noble Lord, and I find it disappointing—I will not say shocking—that if he is not associated in any way with the Brewers' Society he should put his name to a Report of this low calibre.




I want to emphasise once more that we are speaking of a drug of addiction and yet the Committee conclude that the recommendations as a whole will probably not have any adverse effect on the health of the people. Are these adults who have produced this Report, asking that a drug of addiction should be distributed so widely? (The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is adult; I make him an exception.) On the other hand, it is argued that a drug of addiction should be distributed in this manner in places where there are children, and given to children. A boy of 17 has not yet matured physically; he is not matured physically until he is 22. The noble Lord may know more about drink, but I know more about physiology. Here we have this boy and girl—and there is equality of the sexes here. It is very interesting in this Report that we see only one woman, a Miss Black, on the Committee, but when it comes to drinking the Committee are all for equality of the sexes, the girls are to go in with the boys and have their share.

This is my final word—because I have digressed—and I speak very seriously. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, laughing because I detect a note of hysteria. It is depressing to have the whole House, on both sides, against one. It seems to me that the Committee have arrived at their conclusions without exercising a due sense of responsibility towards the community. That seems to be absolutely lacking in this Report. I would suggest that we adopt the attitude of the British Medical Journal, the journal of the British Medical Association, towards the Report's recommendations, by condemning them as calculated to further an increase in alcoholism with its grave consequences.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to declare that I have the honour to be the Chairman of a considerable wine and spirit business which is a subsidiary company of one of our great breweries. Moreover, I was for twenty years a director of that national brewery. It may be—and this may surprise the noble Baroness who has just sat down—that I know a little more about it than she does on that account. Perhaps I do. I deplore the reference to drunkenness and the reference made by the noble Lord on the other side of the House to this evil thing drink. I call to mind what the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, told us and the figures which he produced with triumph: the 25,000, 30,000, 40,000 people, this that and the other. Does he not realise that there are 50 million or 60 million people in these islands and that if you take away half of that number as being under the age of 17, you are still left with 25 million to 30 million? It is not true that this is a drunken nation nor is it true that alcohol is an evil. It may be that some become addicts. It may be that some who do not drink at all or do not drink quite enough are disagreeable companions from time to time. But it certainly is not true that drunkenness is rife in our country or that the pub is a bad and evil place. It is nothing of the kind. I would say from my knowledge of twenty years that those within the brewing industry, from the directors through the managers to the pubs themselves—and the pub-keeper is the man in the front line meeting the customers—are among the most responsible, pleasant and nicest chaps you can meet anywhere.

I was a soldier in my young life. I was President of the British Legion for 11 years, a society which promotes, fosters and regulates very many clubs in which a lot of beer is drunk. They are not drunken cesspools or evil places at all; they are places where it is not only the drink that you can have but the comradeship of people who you knew in the Services. These are good things and if there is the tendency to liberalise them and get a little away from the straightlaced and over-strict rules which have guided up in the past, I am inclined to be in favour of them, on public grounds and not as a brewers' bonanza as the noble Baroness suggested.


My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord remembered it.


My Lords, I do not think that we can entirely ignore the tourist trade. It is one of our biggest sources of wealth and of foreign exchange and it is true that very many tourists demand a little liberalisation in the rules which are used in this country. I do not intend to speak for long but just to place on record that this Report seems to me to be full of common sense and that we ought to be grateful to the noble Lord who chaired the Committee and to his colleagues. I should not be surprised if the noble Lord opposite, with whom I think I have had the pleasure of having a gin from time to time—if I am wrong, I will withdraw that—


Lord Soper?


Lord Shepherd!


I am sure that he would be a much less agreeable chap if he did not. He can speak for himself, but I would say that he is all the better for it. I am very pleased that this Committee has not been misled by the extremists, those with bees in their bonnets and those who believe that every bit of liberty must be a licence. I have been in the House of Commons and in this place for a long time together with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, the doctor, and I am bound to say that I have not felt as free in her company as in that of some others who are friends of mine. Her criticism of Miss Black is most unjust. It is also extremely inaccurate.


My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for intervening? The last thing I did was to criticise Miss Black. I am not feline. I said that Miss Black, I am sure, would have been happier if she had had some other women, women who were mothers and who could make their contribution, with her. The last thing I ever do (and the noble Lord has known me for years) is to criticise another woman.


My Lords, I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. By implication she separated out Miss Black as if Miss Black were to be set up as one wholly unfitted to sit upon this great tribunal. The noble Baroness did not even know that she is not only a good mother but also a good grandmother.


But, my Lords, she was the only woman and there were 15 men: that was my point.


But she is quite capable of looking after herself, and them.

This Report has been sensible so far as the customer is concerned. It has been reasonable so far as the tenant is concerned—though admittedly a great many tenants would prefer not to see any more hours, and a great many small tenants in the little pubs in the remoter parts of the country would find it very difficult to work more hours; I agree with that.

Let us remember that this Report is only the first stage in this matter. We have not yet had the Government's consideration of it. It would be my guess that Mr. Heath, as well as the militant trade union leaders, has been very busy lately, and it will be quite a time before they get down to thinking about this matter very seriously. I doubt if this Report will come out of its dusty cupboard for a year or two. Meantime the trade will be talking, the trade unionists will be talking when they have stopped being militant and had time to think, and a lot of public opinion will be expressed up and down the country. Do not let us despair; we are not going to be overwhelmed with evil in five minutes. The principle in this measure is a sound and sensible one, and when we come to a Bill, which could be regarded in this context as the Committee stage of the matter, there will be, no doubt, many details which the Government will not adopt, and many suggestions made in this House and other places which will change the pattern. One last word about the national health. I would rather have my modest tot of gin and my health than the health which might have been mine if I had had nothing at all. I prefer a free choice.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, it is a cardinal fact, and I think a decisive one, that if the recommendations of this Report are put into operation there will inevitably be a large increase in the sale and consumption of alcohol. And that for two reasons: because it proposes to make it far easier, and indeed almost automatic, to open places at which alcoholic drinks may be sold, and it proposes to extend very considerably the hours during which they can be sold. The result of that, I am afraid, is bound to be that there will be more alcoholism, and this is a very serious problem. It is not only the alcoholics themselves, but it is their wives or husbands, as the case may be, and their families, who suffer dreadfully and are reduced in many cases to great distress. This is something which must not be ignored.

Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how many alcoholics there are in this country—possibly many more than people suspect, because alcoholics do not want to mention the fact, neither do their families. It is interesting to recall that a few years ago a doctor, a general practitioner, thought he would make an investigation among his own patients. When he started he believed that there was only one alcoholic among them, but when he came to question them and find out more about them he discovered that there were several score—not one but several score—who were in fact alcoholics. The figure has been given of something between 200,000 and 400,000. Whichever figure it is, it is a very large number, and we do not want to see it increased. That would be a very serious matter indeed. The indications are that alcoholism is increasing. Between 1950 and 1970 the number of convictions for drunkenness increased from 48,000 to 82,000 in England and Wales. That is a very large increase indeed.

Further, I submit that if we want to curtail this problem, it is highly undesirable, and indeed very dangerous, that young people should be introduced to alcohol at an early age. They ought, at any rate, to defer this experience until they are more adult and have more self-control. I am speaking here not as a teetotaller but as somebody who does take a moderate amount of alcoholic drink. I am not attacking this problem from the point of view that it is possible in this country to prevent the use of alcohol altogether; that is obviously quite impossible. Nevertheless, it is true that some limits have to be placed upon it.

I have referred to alcoholism. We must bear in mind that alcohol is not a food and the human body is not adapted well to cope with it. Its metabolism in the body depends upon the supply of a factor which is very scarce, with the result that it takes a long time before the body is able to eliminate the alcohol which it has taken in. This also has a bearing upon the fact that some of it is metabolised into extremely toxic substances. This is a reason why cirrhosis of the liver is a consequence. More than that, it has been found within the last few years that some of the products which are metabolised in the body from taking alcohol are alkoloids allied to cocaine and morphine, and it may very well be that this is the reason why quite a number of people become addicts to alcohol, because they are in the end forming in their body this kind of substance which tends to be addictive. If it had not been the case that men learned more or less accidentally to manufacture alcoholic drinks by fermentation, if alcohol had been a new chemical discovered at the present day, there cannot be very much doubt that it would be classed as a poison and one which should not be dispensed without a doctor's prescription. Nevertheless, like many other things, you can take a certain amount of it without necessarily suffering any damage; but it does have this great risk of excessive use and injury to health, not only directly, of course, but also by rendering people susceptible to infections or to other diseases.

It has been the policy of this country for nearly five centuries to control the sale of alcoholic drinks, and this is something which has been forced upon the Legislature by the evils which they discovered and noticed. I am old enough to recall what conditions were like in London prior to the First World War, when the public houses were open to a late hour in the night and it was common as one went along the streets to see many drunken people rolling about. It was a very distressing sight indeed, and caused great hardship and suffering to the families of those who consumed excessive amounts. Let us therefore be careful. I should like to know what are the views of the Department of Health on this subject. I understand that they are conducting research, but they do not need to conduct any research in order to educate the public, and school children in particular, that it is wise to be extremely careful and unwise to consume too much. So let us approach this subject with a great deal of caution, and not open the door to troubles which it is impossible fully to estimate.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, there is a certain amount of self-confession about this debate and I am one of those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, and various other speakers, enjoy my alcohol in moderation. We flatter ourselves that it is in moderation, although some of us are not always quite so sure about that. Of course, the definition of "an alcoholic" is a man who drinks more than you do. But I think it is particularly dangerous for people like ourselves, if we pride ourselves on the fact that we can resist the worst temptations of drink, to say that it is therefore relatively harmless, the laws should be relaxed, prohibitions should be eased, and so on. As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and many others have pointed out, the problem of alcohol at this time is very serious indeed and is increasing. No wonder, then, that when this Report was published the two major weekly journals of the medical profession, the Lancet and the British Medical Journal, both came out with leading articles which were very severely critical.

I intended to start by saying that I had to make an apology because I have an engagement, arranged long ago, to which I must go. But the tempo of the debate having stepped up a little, I hope to be able to stay to the very end and hear what the noble Viscount. Lord Colville of Culross, has to tell us. I hope that I shall be brief, because everything that I intended to say has already been said. In general terms, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who was one of the first to speak and who is himself medical, that there are certain aspects of this Report for which I cannot see any real reason. We wonder what is behind it all. We wonder who is crying out for these so-called reforms. As other speakers have done, we also criticise the Report for its illogicality. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that it started in the wrong place and went in the wrong direction. I would beg to correct him and say that it started in the right place by pointing out what a serious problem alcohol is, and then immediately turned in the wrong direction. The noble Lord himself might agree that that is nearer to the truth. But I shall confine my remarks to making only short comments on the points I was going to make, instead of making them at any length.

Probably the worst recommendation is that to abolish the afternoon closing of the public house. I am quite sure that there are hardened alcoholics who will go from place to place and will drink wherever they can find it, who will no doubt also have well-stocked cupboards in their bedrooms. But they are the exception, and the average person who goes into a pub and has lunch and a few drinks with some friends, taking little heed of the time until somebody says, "Time please" at a certain hour, does not immediately take his car and go to some other pub and join another crowd. So, from the point of view of breaking up the continual drinker, the hours of closing in the afternoon are very important. They are also very important for the publican, for the licensee. As other noble Lords have pointed out, the small licensee will be in danger of being pushed out of the trade. How will the man who runs a small pub, with his wife—possibly with his son or married daughter coming in to help in the evening—be able to carry on if he does not have those few hours in the afternoon when he can relax, and how will he be able to carry on with the accounts, the stocktaking and so on, if the pub is open till 12 midnight? It is putting an impossible burden on a race of people, many of whom are very nice, decent people, and the pubs will be run more and more—as everything else is being run—by people who are interested only in making money. They will no doubt have a shift system and everything will be beautifully worked out. So the first recommendation I am against is to abolish afternoon closing.

The second recommendation that I am against is the extension of drinking hours till 12.0 midnight; and the third recommendation that I am against is to reduce the permitted age to 17. I see no reason at all for it. Young men and women of 17 can go into a pub by pretending to be older, but it takes a little effort. At present, they cannot walk straight in and know that they have a right to drink. The law does not appear to make it look all right for people of 17 to be walking in and out of a public house, which I am sure it is not. Here I come back to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who was so right in saying—he did not use these words—that it is the tone of the Report which is wrong in certain respects. It starts off by putting to us the seriousness of the state of affairs, and then, to some of us, it seems to treat the problem much too lightly and to forget what it is.

Finally, I intended to comment on the present evil—and I do not mince my words—advertising of hard liquor to young people, which is absolutely deplorable. I think that the Report makes a very great understatement, when it states: These age groups are … susceptible … and we doubt whether current trends in advertising necessarily represent the most desirable ways of influencing their approach to drink. Such a statement might have been made in the House of Lords, which is famous for its understatements. The Report continues: In our view, the brewing industry needs to recognise its social responsibilities particularly in relation to the appeals it makes to young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, I think, if I may correct her, made one mistake in quoting the right reverend Prelate. She said, "Where alcohol is concerned big money steps in". What I think the right reverend Prelate said was, "Alcohol is a drug of addiction and where addiction occurs big money steps in". I think this is a notable difference, because it is not only alcohol. We know that the evil of pushing and promoting cigarette smoking among the young is just as evil as pushing hard liquor.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord one question before he sits down—and indeed several others of your Lordships who are medical experts. Would he not agree that the State draws very great revenue not only from alcohol but from tobacco, and if in fact he believes it to be the poison it is, why does he not advocate that there should be some change there?


My Lords, I thought I had advocated that ad nauseam. I still do, and I will raise it again very shortly if the noble Baroness would like me to.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are right to approach a question like this having a bias, other things being equal, towards the greatest amount of liberty that can be provided, but when we look at our modern society and try to make up our minds what its defects are I think we shall find it very difficult to find the defects to-day which are mainly due to lack of freedom or undue restriction. I think such failings as there are are due to very different causes from those. We must remember always that liberty without rule is anarchy, and when we come to this Report—which I have only skimmed through and not read in detail so I will not detain your Lordships more than another half a minute—it seems to me that some of the minor recommendations are sound and sensible because I cannot believe that our present licensing laws are as good and sensible as they can be. But I have very strong doubts whether the case has been made for the two recommendations which seem to me to be the most important. One is longer hours. It does not seem to me that the case has been made out for dramatically altering the hours. Half an hour here, half an hour there, yes. The only comparison I have been able to make is that I often go for my holidays to Southern Ireland—a delightful country in every way—where they have very long hours, but I must say that I do not think the results are ones that we need copy in detail. It does not seem to me that there are any identifiable advantages.

The second point is the lowering of the age from 18 to 17. We must all admit that barmen are presented with an absolutely impossible task to-day, from the appearance of young people, in identifying their age with any accuracy. Resulting from that, there is no doubt a great deal of abuse at present and that a great many people of both sexes under the age of 18 are drinking regularly. Here I regard the case of the girls as perhaps a little more serious than that of the boys. One must remember that most young people are keen on imitating their immediate seniors in age. Very few young people I know show any inclination to try to imitate me when there are four of five decades between me and them. It is their immediate seniors whom they imitate, and I rather fear that if the age is reduced to 17 there will be a great many 16 and even 15-year-olds who will then be anxious to imitate their immediate seniors, the 17year-olds. So, my Lords, while I have a slightly open mind on this matter, I feel that the case has not been made out for either of those two changes, which to me are the most important that arise from this Report. So I rather hope that when my noble friend comes to reply he will not indicate that the Government intend to accept either of those recommendations, at any rate without a good deal more consideration.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Jacques. I think I should make it quite clear that neither he nor I are speaking on behalf of our Party on this controversial subject. I do not think I would be speaking this afternoon if it had not been for the general circumstances in which this debate has taken place. I share with other noble Lords a sense of appreciation and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Maelor for having raised the Report of the Departmental Committee on Liquor Licensing this afternoon. It was only last Thursday, because of an understandable change of business, that it was announced that we were going to consider this Report this afternoon. I have no doubt that if we had adopted the usual timetable for such debates we should have had a different style of debate, because unless one had been present in your Lordships' House last Thursday afternoon, one would be unlikely to know that this subject was being debated this afternoon.

The other circumstance is in some respects more serious, because the way in which this debate has been arranged has prevented my noble friend—I must use that phrase this afternoon—Lord Erroll of Hale from being present in your Lordships' House to speak on the Report of the Committee in which he as chairman played a leading part. So, my Lords, I come to the reason for which I speak. I was deputy chairman to my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale and my signature is on the Report. It is for the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to defend the previous Home Secretary as to the composition of the Committee. I personally think that the then Home Secretary, Mr. Maudling, was right when he decided to excluded interested parties from membership of this Committee. He excluded the brewers; he excluded those who are well-known temperance leaders, and he sought to gather together—whether he was right or wrong is for him to decide—a group of men and women who he thought would be able to look at the evidence put before them with a degree of impartiality. And if I may say so to my noble friend Lady Summerskill, I not only resent personally but I resent even more so on behalf of my colleagues on that Committee who cannot speak here this afternoon, the suggestion that they had in any way an interest, or that they were under any obligation to that very powerful society, the brewers.

My Lords, if Members of your Lordships' House had read the Report, as I should have liked them to do, I think they would have been impressed with the wide variety of bodies and individuals who gave both oral and written evidence. I would say to your Lordships that this Committee went out of its way, through the Press, through television and particularly through the local Press when we visited particular localities, to give an opportunity and an invitation to organisations which might be interested to come and give evidence. My noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned a particular organisation. I am only sorry that that particular group did not feel it worth while to submit their views to our Committee. If they had, their views would have been considered in the same way as all the evidence that was put before the Committee was considered.

My Lords, I should like now, if I may, to perform the traditional duty of expressing very great appreciation to all those who gave evidence and to all those who submitted evidence: to the magistrates; the Magistrates' Association; the local authorities; the local authority officers; the publicans, whether they were tenants or managers; and also the very many imbibers, in clubs and public houses, whom I had the opportunity to meet during my pub crawls in Newcastle and Cardiff. If we were in ignorance when we began to tackle this problem, I think we were fairly well versed by the end, not only as to the advantages of public houses and clubs but also as to some of the very great problems that exist, particularly in places like Newcastle. Any noble Lord who has read the Report, particularly Chapter 3 and, I think, Chapter 24, will have been struck by the care with which the Committee looked at the social and medical problems concerned with liquor licensing. We had on our Committee a medical practitioner who himself felt it right to produce his own paper, which was of very great worth and of very great interest, and which had a great effect on the membership of the Committee when we were considering what needed to be done.

My Lords, I feel that in our production of this Report we are acquitted of the accusations that have been made this afternoon that we have been both frivolous and light. One of the first things that caused us concern was lack of information. We had a great deal of information as to the problem of alcoholism—how it arose and why it arose—but the information that we were seeking and that we found remarkably lacking was information as to the consequences of any change in legislation. We have changed the legislation on liquor licensing for well over, I think, seven or eight centuries, and we have done it in the fairly recent past. But there is little or no information as to how either social attitudes or general behaviour have changed. We wrote a very strong paragraph on this and made a recommendation that the Government, if they were to bring forward legislation based on our Report, should set up a monitoring organisation (and we suggested ways and means by which this could be financed) so that the Government, Parliament and the general public who are interested would be able to ascertain the changes that have occurred in social habits, and, of course, any social or medical changes that might flow from an alteration in our licensing laws. Unless we change the law, I doubt very much whether we shall be able to find any other type of information.

We did not feel—here we may be wrong, but this was our judgment after very careful consideration—that the social and medical problems which are a consequence of alcohol are likely to be changed unless there is some dramatic alteration in the licensing laws. Naturally, we are all concerned about the problems of alcohol; but if we are to deal with them it seems to me that, if we are to use licensing legislation, then we shall need not only to impose very severe curbs indeed upon the access people have to alcohol but also to make its availability more difficult by way of price. We also felt that, taking the country as a whole, and recognising that millions of men and women seek their leisure in public houses, clubs, hotels and refreshment houses away from their ordinary, humdrum life, we would need to change the laws greatly if we wanted in any way to change the basic social pattern. We therefore felt that if we were to make any changes by way of relaxation, the approach should be a gradual one, with counter-checks.

The Committee felt—and here there has been no criticism—that there had to be a continuation of the licensing procedure, and they came to the view, I think very wisely, that the ultimate decision should still remain with the licensing magistrates. But, my Lords, many of us on the Committee felt that the magistrates are to-day being asked to perform tasks for which they are ill-suited. I personally do not believe it is the duty of magistrates (nor do I believe that magistrates are trained for it) to carry out regular inspections of the lavatories or of the conditions in the kitchens of public houses where food is prepared; but many magistrates to-day feel that this is part of their duty. As a consequence, in many of the areas visited we found that the local authorities, which were best suited to perfom this task, did not do so because they felt they were treading on the toes of the magistrates. So we decided that we should leave to the magistrates the duty of deciding whether an individual was a proper person to hold a licence for the operation of licensed premises.

Those who, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, could not find anything very much to say for the Report would have recognised, I should have thought, that one of the points the Committee made was that it was their wish that in the near future those who operate licensed establishments should be, like many such people on the Continent, fully trained and practised in that form of occupation. We felt that it should fall to the local authority to see that the everyday standards of a public house should not only be established but also maintained. We felt very strongly that, by having the two-licence system, not only are we more likely to get a better type of person running a public house or licensed establishment but that, through the local authority, we ought to be able to reach a much higher standard of licensed premises. If we could obtain that situation, I believe that many of the problems that have been put forward to-day would disappear.

Where there has been unanimous approval is in the field of the Committee's recommendation that all establishments, particularly registered clubs, should come under one form of licence. This I know will cause heart-searching among various members of clubs. Here I join with my noble friend Lord Jacques in thinking that if you are to make this change it must apply to all clubs. For myself, I do not believe that any club that is well-run—as are the majority of workingmen's clubs—has anything to fear from the fact that the police and other forms of local authority officers have a right of entry or that this is likely to cause any difficulty. I come now to the two areas of greatest contention; first, hours. What are the Committee proposing? It is that we should move to a possible—and I stress "possible"—14 hours of opening as opposed to to-day's 9½ hours. That is all that is involved. I shall be frank: I approached this proposal with some reluctance; but we were confronted with the fact that in some districts even to-day it is possible to drink through the day. I must turn to my noble friend Lord Maelor (who, unfortunately is not present at the moment) to say that one only needs to go to the capital of the Principality to find that one can drink all round the clock without any great difficulty. There are a number of other places to which this remark applies —places like London.

We were very much impressed by two factors. First, there was—and here I agree with the right reverend Prelate—no great demand for an increase in the overall hours of drinking. In fact, if I may say so, I do not believe that the hours or the number of places is the governing factor on consumption. I believe that in the end it is the price. In fact, you can drink pretty well all over the place if you know where to go. What particularly impressed us was the fact that the police had great difficulty in checking on the various public houses in the districts for which they were responible. In terms of road traffic danger there are cases, we all know, of people driving from one licensing district to another.

When we suggested an increase from 9½ hours to 14 hours we were not suggesting that a public house would have to be open all that time. A great deal of the evidence that we received from both tenants and managers was that they would he open when there was a demand. The actual hours might be very similar to those of to-day. But there is also a factor in terms of holiday resorts or in places like London where you have tourists. We felt that there should be some relaxation, some degree of flexibility, for people who wished to have a drink during hours which at the moment are prohibited.

None of my noble friends who has criticised this aspect has drawn attention to the fact that the Committee in their Report gave the magistrates two degrees of discretion. First, in the field of environment they could say that if a public house was open until midnight and the noise level was unsatisfactorily high for people living in the neighbourhood, the closing time should be brought forward from midnight to 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Again, in terms of the afternoon break I think that there is some point in what has been said to-day both in terms of driving and of the consequences of drinking in the afternoon. There is also the question of cleanliness. Here again, the magistrates have the power to impose a two-hour break provided that it is before 7 o'clock in the evening.

So, my Lords, while we recommend drinking between 10 p.m. and midnight, we do not believe that this will lead to wholesale openings throughout the time permitted, and if there are abuses the magistrates can impose restrictions. The Committee also took into account what could be the problems to a tenant of a public house, to the manager and to the staff. If a public house were to be open longer than the hours at present allowed, there would need to be a shift system. This would exert its own economic force on the owner of an establishment as to whether it remained open for the full period of time.

In regard to young people, I think I can say that this gave perhaps more anxiety to the Committee than did any other subject, for the reasons that have been discussed already this afternoon. I think that at the end of the day whether you stand for a permitted age of 18 or of 17, you may be equally right or wrong. I think, however, that the police and those who are involved in social work are more likely to be active in public houses, in looking for youngsters who are below age and drinking, than they are at present. Under the age of 18 I believe that it is a criminal offence to do so; whereas under the age of 17 one comes within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, where one is not confronted with any sort of penal provision but comes under the care and protection of the local authority. I suspect that on the enforcement side, if the permitted age is brought down to 17, we are more likely to see the police and the other social services a good deal more active than they are at present. But this is an area which is bound to give everyone very great concern. Although I put my name to this Report I would not myself fight through the Division Lobbies in favour of either of these two ages. But I must say that I find it very hard, as the Report says, to justify the fact that you can now marry at 16, you can perhaps have a child at 17 and yet, under the present law cannot take out your father-in-law to buy him a drink. Whether it is the licensing laws which are wrong, or the proposals we have in mind, or whether it is the existing law governing the age when we gram privileges, duties and responsibilities to our youngsters is open to debate.

My Lords, I want to say one other thing about the young people in relation to café-pubs. Reference to cafépubs was not put into the Report to give those who wish to indulge in heavy drinking greater freedom from responsibility in respect of their children. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Amuiree, that there is one of these establishments in Brighton. I have visited it and I think that the country would be enriched if there were more of such establishments. They provide somewhere where families may go; where the father can have a beer and the wife a coffee and the children a coca-cola and all the members of the family may remain together. That would be contrary to what one sees in some of our holiday resorts, where parents are in the bar and the children are waiting outside the licensed premises. I should like to see the idea of cafe-pubs developed, but I recognise that no legislation is likely to encourage such development. It will come only as a consequence of social change and the demands of customers.

May I conclude with a word about the Report. Basically the Erroll Committee was set up as a consequence of the Monopolies Commission Report in which it was recommended that something should be done about the tied house system. Like the Committee, I am convinced that there is nothing in the licensing laws which makes it possible for the present tied house system of the brewers to be broken. If the Government wish to break the system, if they believe, like the Monopolies Commission, that it is economically wrong and puts restrictions on the consumer, they will have to find other ways to deal with it. I do not believe that there is any future in looking to the licensing laws. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, who said that we have our alcoholics; from time to time we have our "drunks". Today when one sees "drunks" one feels that they are objects of pity. It is surprising to see one in these days, as compared with the situation in the days before the war. We are not a nation of drunkards. I do not believe that a modest relaxation of the drinking laws as recommended in the Report is likely to change our social habits. I feel that we are sufficiently adult and aware of the dangers, and I should like to see some relaxation. If we have that I should like the changes to be monitored, as suggested by the Erroll Committee, and if unfavourable trends emerge it would be for Parliament to decide and to change. My Lords, I hope that we may have another opportunity to discuss this Report. With my noble friend Lord Jacques I believe that this is a matter which has an impact on the social life of our people and concerns our increasing leisure time. It is something about which we should not make hasty decisions but which we should discuss and act upon in unison.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, the members of the Committee who produced this Report have, I trust, got broad shoulders, in view of some of the speeches which have been made this afternoon, but at any rate, they have a good advocate in the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. In the regrettable absence of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has, in the compass of a short speech, put over with great balance and discernment the highlights of the Report, very much on the same lines as I read them when I was preparing myself for this debate. I would join other noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, my noble friends Lord Auckland and Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and others—in their congratulations and thanks to the members of the Committee for undertaking this, as it appears, somewhat thankless task, and for the speed and thoroughness with which they have done it. They were thanked in another place but we have not had the opportunity to do so here, and so I thank them sincerely on behalf of the Government. I believe, as other noble Lords have said this afternoon, that the way this Report has been set out, with a collection of background material at the beginning and an attempt to see, for instance, what, if any, effect upon the social and drinking habits of this country—and indeed on the incidence of alcoholism so far as it goes —may be detected from the legislative changes in the past, adds to our knowledge on the subject and provides a useful reference book for those who are interested. I will return to the question of information in a moment.

The next thing I ought to say, although it may be at slightly short notice, is that I am glad that in this House—we seem to be doing this commonly nowadays—we have had the opportunity to give the first Parliamentary airing to this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, has been good enough to take on the burden of introducing the debate, and I am grateful to him and to other noble Lords who have taken part in it. There has been one common thread running through the speeches we have heard this afternoon, apart from the fact that the average length of a speech has been only just over 15 minutes, which is a very good record: it is the importance which everyone has attached to the subject, an importance which has led to a strength of feeling—in some cases quite an extraordinary strength of feeling—in what has been said. I do not think this unnatural in view of the far reaching social implications which may be involved if some of the changes advocated in the Report are put into effect. Certainly one must bear in mind the strong views which have been exercised.

The Government are certainly not going to rush precipitately into the introduction of legislation, and the sort of debate we have had this afternoon is very useful. The result is that I have not a great deal to say, because at this stage, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, it is the job of the Government to listen—indeed that was promised by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place—and to take account of what is said here and by members of the public. Since the Committee reported we have had representations, and we shall go on consulting people. I think I may say that in the 320 or so letters which we have received so far, the recommendations in the Committee's Report that have attracted the strongest criticism are exactly the same ones that have come in for most attention this afternoon; that is the reduction of the age from 18 to 17 for going into a pub to drink and the proposal to extend the permitted hours. I noted that in this House, on the question of the reduction of the age, the score is 8 to 1 against—one of the eight, my noble friend Lord Auckland, being not entirely against it. On the extension, I am sorry to say that nobody exactly agrees with the Committee's Report, although two noble Lords out of the eight who mentioned this would, I think, agree with something a little earlier than midnight and go some of the way with the Committee.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount could carry out a poll among those present about whether they would agree that the present restrictions on drinking with a meal in a West End restaurant should continue?


My Lords, all I have been doing is to try to get the score of those who have spoken on this subject, because for the purposes of a summary it might be of some interest. The only three noble Lords —apart from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who explained it fully—who mentioned the question of the need for a break at some time in the afternoon were mainly in favour of retaining this restriction. This is not, as I understand, inconsistent with the Committee's Report in any event. I see a fairly strong body of opinion against the cafe-pub, 5 to 1, the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, being the, only one strongly in favour.

I wonder whether those who have spoken, in some cases with considerable emphasis, against this idea have really understood, first of all, the nature of the beast that is being discussed; and secondly, the point that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has made, that after all nobody needs to apply to the justices under the scheme in the Committee's Report unless they think there is a demand for it. Because they will not get a licence unless the justices are satisfied that the premises and the person concerned are both suitable. On a purely personal basis (this has nothing to do with the views of the Government), I find great difficulty at times in finding somewhere where I can get my children something to eat, because unless one goes to a very ordinary café indeed, one cannot get a snack in a bar because one has to leave the children in the car or outside the premises. This is most inconvenient. I should not have thought that this idea was nearly so sinister as some speakers this afternoon appear to have indicated.

The only three points which I think have been universally greeted are all points of restriction: on the need to attach the licensing system to clubs four noble Lords agreed; the idea for continuing at least the ban on drink anywhere near motorways has also been universally greeted by those who mentioned it—and I think there was one other restrictive matter that received the approbation of your Lordships.

If I may go back for a moment to the question of further consideration, the right reverend Prelate listed some of the adverse reactions in the course of his speech: and we will study all these with great care, bearing in mind their source. It is not right, as one noble Lord (I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Soper) suggested, that the Home Office set up the Addiction Research Unit of the Institute of Psychiatry, but we did ask them for their ccmments, and I notice that they also gave evidence to the Committee.

As for the question of the views of women, I join very much with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. If the women for whom the noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, is such a powerful advocate really have the strong views that she suggests, it is a great pity that the only people who gave evidence to the Committee, apart from the Girl Guides, was the Darlington Women's Temperance Association. No other women's organisation gave written or oral evidence in the whole of the process of the consultations of the Committee, despite the fact that the public were widely invited by advertisement and other means to do so. What I would ask the noble Baroness to do is this. I am sure that their views should be taken into account, and perhaps she will be good enough to use her widespread influence in this field to make certain that those for whom she was speaking tell us what their views are. I think they have been under-represented in the considerations that have taken place.


My Lords, the noble Viscount and I know of many committees that have been set up in our time. It is quite customary for committees to invite organisations to come and give evidence. How many women's organisations can the noble Viscount tell me he invited to give evidence? That is the point.


My Lords, the noble Baroness must take it from the point that we have now reached. This is the fact. I accept that the machinery used by the Committee to attract such evidence as was available was of the usual sort. I think it was very thorough. The fact remains that the opportunity was not taken. Surely the noble Baroness will not take offence when I ask her, if there are views which have hitherto been unexpressed due to failure to take the opportunity that was provided, to attempt to persuade those concerned to give us their views. Nothing could be fairer than that.


My Lords, I cannot undertake a clerical job for the noble Viscount and write throughout the country to women's organisations to ask them to come and give evidence. If the noble Viscount will ask one of his secretaries in the Home Office to do it, because they are responsible for this Committee, I am sure that that would be the best way to conduct the business.


My Lords, I have rnade the offer to the noble Baroness; it has been spurned, and there we are. I now come to the question of monitoring, which was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and picked up by the right reverend Prelate. We take the point of the Erroll Committee on this, and we are in the process of consultation on how best this should be done. What is, I think, the most important point of all on this (and this was the right reverend Prelate's point) is that we should need to have this machinery in operation before we start introducing changes in the law. This in itself is bound to have a substantial effect upon the timing of any implementation of the proposals in this Command Paper. We have taken to heart the suggestions of the Committee on this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, mentioned the question of competition; and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, told us that one of the main reasons for setting up the Erroll Committee was the Report in 1969 of the Monopolies Commission. I am not quite certain that the Committee have not come to much the same sort of conclusion as did the Monopolies Commission, only by an entirely different route. What we have to do now is to see whether, if we were to introduce at any rate the proposition that you should abolish the absolute discretion on the part of the justices to refuse a licence on the ground of need or the lack of need, we should get into a situation which would be satisfactory from the monopolistic point of view. This is a matter which needs discussion both inside the trade and also inside the Government, because my right honourable friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs is extremely interested in this. That is another matter that we are pursuing meanwhile.

While we are doing these things we should wish for further discussion—whether one will have time for another debate in this House just yet, I do not know, but I am sure there will be a debate in another place—and we should still like members of the public to express their views. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, advocated in his opening speech—and he used The Times to support him—we will be cautious in our approach to the matter. We understand that strong objections are raised—though the feelings, I would suggest, in some cases may be modified a little if the subtleties and nuances in the Committee's Report are studied with a good deal of care. I would not suggest for one moment that noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have not read this Report from cover to cover, but it may be that one needs to read it a second time before all the points and their interrelationship are fully appreciated.

The Government have not made up their minds on this issue; our minds are still open. We shall not introduce legislation during this Session, the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, will be pleased to hear. My noble friend Lord Fraser is quite right in saying that we need time to think about it. I cannot give any undertaking when legislation might or might not be introduced, but what we can do is to thank those who have spoken this afternoon and to study what they have said. I will take my table of calculations with me. Above all, we have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, for having introduced our debate this afternoon, and to thank the Committee for the Report which sparked the whole thing off in the first place.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we shall all agree at the close of this debate that it has been carried on in a good spirit—though perhaps the word "spirit" is a dangerous one in this connection. Immediately I sat down after speaking earlier, I had a request from a representative of one of the daily newspapers to declare whether or not I was a teetotaller. I do not know why he asked that question, unless he wanted to give me a pint, or perhaps a glass of Coca-Cola. I am very glad indeed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester was able to take part in this debate: he gave us a fine speech. He happens to be the nearest Bishop to my home, though he is not my Bishop because he is in England and I am on the right side of the Border! I do not want to embarrass him, but I will say publicly this evening that he is the most popular Bishop in North Wales and also in the County of Cheshire.

The Report has been condemned by practically every speaker, and, speaking now as a Party man, I was sorry that my noble friend Lord Shepherd had been called upon to defend the Report. May I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for his promise en behalf of the Government to exercise caution; and may I thank him in particular for having assured us that nothing will be done at least during this Session—because I do not believe the Government will be here for the next Session! I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.