HL Deb 02 November 1976 vol 376 cc1157-63

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Kirkhill.)


My Lords, I cannot let this occasion pass without registering my regret concerning the composition of the licensing boards and the fact that the Bill as it now stands makes the boards virtually another committee of the local authority. With all the pressures on councillors, it is almost a certainty that the licensing boards will not infrequently find themselves short of a quorum. Last week-end I took the opportunity of consulting informally with members of both a district and a regional council. On the grounds that I have mentioned, I found considerable apprehension among them and also regret that the Amendment of the Committee was reversed by the Government. This Bill has been long delayed and the need for a proper reform of the drink laws of Scotland goes back a very long time, at least 20 years. My regret is that due to purely political, or very largely political, exigencies it contains so many half measures. However, it is better than nothing. It is rather longer than three years since the Clayson Committee reported, and something like 12 years since the Guest Committee reported, so I wish it well.


My Lords, I bid this Bill farewell with mixed feelings, as well on account of what may yet happen to it as on account of what has or has not been achieved in this House. Since our Report stage, when he and I were obviously at cross purposes in points concerning any clash between an application for permanent transfer and one for essential renewal of a licence, I have corresponded with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. The noble Lord has written to me to the effect that he can see no reason why, when coincidental, they should not be taken together; that the drafting of Clause 13 does not prohibit this dual consideration; and that the Government view this as the common sense approach which licensing boards will have adequate discretion to adopt.

I thank the noble Lord for that reassurance and his very prompt response and also for the several occasions when he has been able to meet the points that I have raised. I wish to add a word of thanks to the Scottish Office team who dealt with the points I have raised in correspondence and at short notice for the way in which they have dealt with them. Let us hope that when this Bill becomes an Act the reforms will benefit Scotsmen and Scotswomen who enjoy a social dram in licensed premises.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words on this occasion. I should like to support wholeheartedly my noble friend Lord Balerno in what he has said about the composition of the licensing boards. I wish that in another place they would look at this and realise how vitally important it is not to have simply another county council committee, the members of which will be people who have been elected and that there will be no, as it were, outside wisdom or interest on the licensing boards. The licensing boards are very important because it is on them that the standard of public house and licensed premises will depend. As I said on Second Reading and on Report I should like to have seen a mixture of people on the licensing boards some of whom undoubtedly would be members of the elected county council or town council, as the case may be, but others who would bring to the licensing boards a wider experience, one which is not influenced by the electoral system but one which will help to raise all standards of the licensing authorities. Of course, I do not mean to imply that people who represent the county councils will not also be of high standard; but that it would be a good thing to have two types of persons on the licensing boards and not only as the noble Lord said, where we are satisfied entirely with the elected representative. I am not satisfied with the elected representatives on this particular matter. I should be entirely satisfied with them on elected committees like education Committees or social work committees, but this goes further. It affects more people and it is a matter in which we should have advice from outside and from knowledgeable people in the districts or regions.

My Lords, the second thing I hope another place will look at with extreme care—I feel strongly about it; we did not divide on it here because we wanted another place to have the opportunity of discussing it—is that there shall not be one law for the licensed premises and one law for clubs that are licensed. In my opinion, the police should be able to go into club premises and inspect them in the same way as they can go into public houses and inspect them. I can see no reason at all for differentiating between the clubs and the licensed premises.

I am particularly worried about this because of the enormous increase in so-called drinking clubs in the last few years. I do not bear the figures in my head, but at Report stage I gave the noble Lord figures. The simple reason for people starting these clubs is that they should be private and open on Sundays. Now that we are going to have liberalisation of the licensing laws on Sundays, these clubs are not in the least necessary. An ordinary club, perhaps a political club, which people can join is one thing; but a lot of these little clubs, enormous numbers of which have sprung up, are simply drinking booths and nothing else. That is a great mistake.

I should like to see the same treatment for the private club as for the licensed premises in relation to inspection by the police. The good private clubs will have nothing to worry about. They will be open to inspection and they will not mind the fact that an inspector has asked to see them. The ones that do not have so high a standard will object. Those are the clubs that I want to get at. I hope that when the Bill is discussed in another place people will realise that this is an opportunity to improve the standard of ordinary licensed premises, to see that the standard in clubs is also of the highest quality and to try and do away with those clubs which have simply sprung up because we were, in my opinion, illiberal on the subject of Sunday licensing laws. Now that has been done away with we should be in a better position to demand that all licensed premises shall be of the highest quality and shall, if need be, be open to inspection. With those remarks, I hope this Bill will go through another place and we shall have a great improvement in the licensing laws in Scotland. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for the patient way in which he has listened to us and the way in which he conducted the Committee in the Moses Room.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add a couple of words to what the noble Baroness said to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, to thank him for his patience and courtesy in helping us with this Bill. I wish it well through its passage in another place. It is a subject which has been chewed over for some 40 years by Committees and by both Houses of Parliament, rather like the cud of a cow. I like to think that we are as far as the sixth stomach—there is one still to go. The subject of this Bill is intensely Scottish. The problems in it are entirely Scottish. The attitudes have been Scottish throughout. The local elected assembly—properly elected I hope—will have one final chance of looking at our work in both Houses of Parliament to see if there is one final Scottish touch that can be put on it before we can say at last that the drinking laws in Scotland have included the improvements we have been wanting for so long.


My Lords, I am not sure if the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, will speak; I know that his voice has been troubling him for the past two days and I sympathise with him in having a painful throat. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for being able to deal with most of the points which we raised during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. At the same time, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who was on the Committee and dealt with a number of the Amendments. I should like to express appreciation to all the members of the Public Bill Committee who took part—it was a small, select group—particularly my noble friends who played prominent parts in the Committee stage. This is the kind of Bill on which there is bound to be disagreement on certain points about the best ways of achieving the agreed aims. I am glad that has not stopped the reform going through. As the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, reminded us, reform has certainly been due in Scotland. The difficulty has been to get enough agreement to enable it to be carried out.

I should also like to express appreciation of what must have been a very difficult task for the officials helping the Minister. On the Conservative side, this was a Bill in which there were free votes. The appearances in another place were that there was something similar on the Government side, too. I know this causes a great deal of difficulty and problems for the Parliamentary draftsmen, among others, who have to try to make the Bill consistent after a number of unexpected Amendments have been made. I know a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes. I should like to express appreciation to the officials.

Some useful Amendments have been made where the Government listened to the arguments which were put and responded. They came back with Amendments or accepted our Amendments. There were other points on which the Government were clearly not prepared to move in your Lordships' House and where the Minister clearly had not been given latitude, I believe they are to be considered tomorrow in another place. I hope that the observations made by my noble friends and also the Cross-Benchers who took part in the debates will be considered carefully in another place when they decide what to do about those Amendments. We are modernising the licensing law in Scotland, which has been a task waiting to be carried out for some years.

I think the principle aims which should underly this, and which we have observed throughout these debates, are first to reduce drunkenness in Scotland; secondly, to improve the quality of life generally in Scotland, not only for residents but for visitors. The Scottish tourist trade will welcome this Bill. In giving this Bill our blessing as it goes from us—though there are some Amendments we should have liked to see made to it—I hope that it will go through the other place and that as a result there will be improvements in Scotland.

7.16 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships can hear, I have difficulty with my voice. But it would be churlish not to mention those noble Lords who took part so effectively and constructively in the discussions on this Bill in its various stages. I need not have troubled: in a typically Scottish manner noble Lords have presented their cases again this evening. I am delighted to have heard the main points made again by those who felt very strongly earlier and who sustain that strength of conviction now. I personally appreciate the co-operation within the tolerable limits between an Opposition and a Government Front Bench which was afforded me by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. This has helped to put the Bill to the other place in a shape where decisions which will be taken there can be properly voted upon.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.