HL Deb 16 June 1981 vol 421 cc579-86

6.23 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is perhaps appropriate, on a day when the Order Paper of the House includes such compassionate subjects as social security and disabled persons, that there should come before your Lordships the small Bill which is now before us, touching on another social problem, the problem of alcoholism. It is a problem, as we know—a disease—which our caring society has tried to arrest and reduce for over a century; but I believe we have failed, partly from ignorance and partly from a desire to sweep the problem under the carpet. It is a subject that most of us have encountered, from the small degree of a wee nip before one speaks here, perhaps, to the extreme case of human tragedy and misery that alcoholism can wreak; from a taste, to a habit, to an addiction—a frightening progression that can befall any of us. It is, as we know, a costly burden upon our society, when one hears the figure of over £500 million a year lost to British industry through the direct cause of alcoholism. It is, as we know, a heavy load on the National Health Service; and we see such stark statistics as drunken offences having risen 50 per cent. in the last 10 years, and drink/ driving cases, which now dramatically run at over 53,000 cases a year.

My Lords, what is the solution? How are we to arrest or to limit this social disease? It is a habit that in moderation can add such pleasure, but which in excess has such a bitter sting. I believe the solution is an awareness and knowledge as to the causes of alcohol-related problems, and an education as to how to tackle those problems. It is not, of course, the whole answer, but I think it is a significant step in the right direction. Successive Governments since 1869 and 1904, when there was the introduction of the Licensing Acts, have been aware that they have a social duty to combat the problem and to devote resources to meet it. We are lucky with the many charitable organisations which have assisted so magnificently over the years, particularly the National Council on Alcoholism. But there remains much to be done, and if this small Bill which I have the privilege to introduce should be accepted by the House, then much needed finance can be made available for this purpose.

The Bill arises from a recommendation by the committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, which was set up in 1971, and which reported in 1972, to review the liquor licensing laws in England and Wales. My noble friend's committee highlighted the archaic system that they found of compensation payable to licensees whose premises had been continually licensed (or on-license as it is known) since pre-1904. A fund had been set up, raised by levies from within the industry, to pay compensation to licensees whose businesses were lost, or whose licences were terminated, for no other reason than the policy of reducing the number of licences in the area. The sum grew, and was distributed by the area licensing compensation authorities when a proper claim was submitted.

By 1972 Lord Erroll's committee found that the fund had almost outgrown its usefulness. The number of claims had diminished to a trickle, and many of the licensing area compensation authorities were not even raising levies. Nevertheless, there stood at that moment an accumulated fund of over £3.2 million, which was sitting there doing nothing, or doing virtually nothing. After very careful consultation within the industry, notably the Brewers' Society, to whose members, of course, the money really belonged, and indeed other organisations, such as the medical and charitable organisations particularly concerned with alcohol misuse, a scheme was produced to unblock this sizeable fund and put it to use. This Bill, if accepted, sets out that formula.

Clause 1 is designed to abolish the 59 current area licensing compensation authorities and dispose of their combined assets, now having risen from £3.2 million in 1972 to, I am glad to say, over £4.3 million on the latest estimate. My noble friend in fact announced the way in which the Government should like to see this money dispersed last July: that 50 per cent. of the fund should go to a new Alcohol Education and Research Fund; 25 per cent. should go to a new trust for the benefit of the licensed trade charities; and the remaining 25 per cent. should go to meet any legitimate claims from the industry—that is, the claims from the old licensees.

Clause 2 deals with the appointment of a liquidator, and Clause 3 sets out the method of transfer of the funds to the liquidator. Clause 4 provides for the dissolution of the area compensation authorities and the payment of any necessary redundancy compensation to staff. Clause 5 splits up the fund as I have already described; and Clauses 6 and 7 and Schedule I establish the appointment of a council for administering this new fund, to be known as the Alcohol Education and Research Fund. Members will be drawn on a representative basis. They will be independent of Her Majesty's Government; and the council will run, I am advised, at an absolutely minimum cost. Clause 7 sets out the four objectives of the fund, and these, I am glad to say, have been drafted in consultation with the Charity Commission. I would add that the fund is not a bottomless pit. It is hoped that it will see further donations from other sources in future. I am glad to say that the Brewers' Society have already announced that they anticipate that their members will donate further substantial support to the fund.

Clause 8 deals with the trust fund for licensed trade charities, which, again, will be a self-renewing charity. Clause 9 sets out the third arm of the distribution: the fund for the repayment scheme for those eligible within the industry and who have been connected with licensed premises for the past 25 years. It will be administered by agreement with the industry, it will be wholly dispersed and the scheme of arrangements will be first presented to Parliament for its approval in the form of a statutory instrument. Clauses 10, 11, 12 and 13 and Schedule 2 are basically administrative matters dealing with and consequential upon the main purpose of the Bill.

My Lords, that is the Bill. It is a little complicated when one reads it, but understandably when one is unlocking funds for disposal one must go through many different procedures. This Bill has already been most skilfully piloted through another place by my honourable friend the Member for Harrogate. It received all-party support. It was to have been introduced into this House by my noble friend Lord Kimberley, whose work outside the House on this subject is well known. Regrettably, my noble friend could not be present, so the privilege fell to me.

This Bill comes with the blessing and agreement of the industry and the charitable organisations concerned with this subject. I have received no letters of objection. My noble friend Lord Belstead's own department has done splendid work behind the scenes to secure this Bill, so I hope it will meet with his approval. The Bill seeks to unlock the available money and to put that resource to work on education and research into this worrying social disease. It is a worthy cause and It commend it to the House.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Kinnoull.)

6.33 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on introducing this Bill and on the considerable amount of work that he has put into it. I should like to join him in commending his honourable friend the Member for Harrogate, Mr. Robert Banks, who was responsible for conducting the Bill through its stages in the other place. I join him also in the tribute he has paid to the various voluntary organisations which over the years have helped to combat alcoholism.

I should like to welcome the Bill from this Bench, although the need for it is less welcome, as the noble Earl himself has indicated. It is a very useful measure and I think it will perform a very valuable service. If it is enacted it will bring to a successful conclusion a problem which I believe successive Governments would have liked to see settled some considerable time ago—the future use of the compensation authority's funds—and it will, as the noble Earl has said, implement a major recommendation. Although this is a small Bill it is an important one based on the report made by the Committee on Liquor Licensing chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale.

It is excellent that these funds will be used to combat the problem of alcoholism. Not only will any success in that aim help those who are directly afflicted by excessive drinking, but it will also bring some relief to the families of those who are so afflicted. There will be the added advantage that measures to bring drinking under control will help the fight against crime, too; for the crime figures show a high proportion of cases in which alcohol has played some part in the commission of the offences themselves.

So far as the purposes of the Bill are concerned, perhaps I might say that I hope that the Alcohol Education and Research Council, when it is set up and comes to administer the alcohol education and research fund, will have closely in mind the need to give a high degree of priority to measures to counter excessive drinking among young people. It is particularly and deeply disturbing that this is a problem which affects so many young people.

This was brought out in the recent Department of Health and Social Security report (commissioned, I think, by the department), Drinking Patterns in England and Wales. It was especially worrying to see the results of the survey carried out for that report, for it showed that over a three-month period covered by the survey more than three bouts of drunkenness had been experienced by 1 out of every 12 males and by 1 out of every 50 females, and that in the case of the 18–24 years old age group the figures were 1 in every 4 males and 1 in every 8 females. The survey also revealed even more disturbing indications of the effects upon the health of the young. If we look at the figures showing the proportion of people whose consumption of alcohol is above the level at which liver damage is likely to be caused, we find that 1 in every 17 males and 1 in every 100 females drink above that limit. In the case of the 18–24 year olds, the figures are 1 in 7 males and 1 in 25 females. So there is a great deal of scope for remedial work there and, as a long-term investment, it might be said that efforts to counter excessive drinking among young people would be particularly productive.

In singling out this aspect of the problem I would not want it to be thought that I think there are not other aspects which also merit urgent and additional attention and assistance. I would add a word of commendation for all those in the brewing industry, the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and others, who have contributed to the successful conclusion of negotiations which led to the compensation fund scheme and to the noble Earl's Bill. I was pleased to hear what has been said about the extra funds mentioned by the Brewers' Society, which are to be added by companies in the drinks industry to the fund dealt with under the Bill itself. That news will make the drink that I take in moderation all the more enjoyable.

As far as the fund is concerned with which the Bill itself deals, this is the only question which I will address to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I wonder whether he can give us any approximate indication as to how much there is now in the fund itself. With that, I would join with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in hoping that your Lordships will give this useful measure a Second Reading.

6.39 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for his very helpful and clear explanation of the Bill's intentions. As my noble friend has mentioned, this Bill gives effect to the Government's own proposals for the winding up of the licensing compensation funds and the disposal of their assets. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, asked me what those assets now stand at. My latest information is that they stand at some £4.3 million. As I stated on 30th July last year, in reply to a Written Question by my noble friend Lord Kimberley, who, incidentally, has done so much to press the Government to see that these funds are unlocked, these proposals were agreed following consultations with the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, representing those who have contributed over the years to the area funds, and the National Council on Alcoholism and other organisations interested in the problem of alcohol misuse. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, for making the point that, clearly, this had been reached by agreement, and that the societies and organisations representing the growing industry are very much to be thanked for the part they have played in all this. The Government believe that the scheme proposed in my noble friend's Bill reflects the agreements reached in those discussions, and, although some of them may seem complicated, we believe that they are thoroughly workable. The Government therefore welcome this Bill and commend it warmly to your Lordships' House.

I should like to say a few words about the Government's role generally in the field of alcohol education and research, because a part of the funds which will come from this Bill will be used precisely for the purposes of education and research. I ought to say just a word also about the proposals in the Bill which will impose duties and responsibilities upon my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

My noble friend has given an indication of the problems which the excessive consumption of alcohol creates in society and the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, added his voice to that. I have little to add, but the trend towards drinking problems is an increasing one. We accept that there is much to be done to make society as a whole—and perhaps the young in particular—more aware of the dangers of alcohol misuse, to encourage a sensible pattern of drinking, and to devote more resources to research in this field. We are confident that the Alcohol Education and Research Fund set up by the Bill will provide valuable additional funding to complement that currently allocated from the resources of Central government.

In the financial year just ended, the Department of Health and Social Security allocated £1.2 million to voluntary organisations concerned with problem drinkers. In addition, the Medical Research Council, which is the Government-funded body primarily concerned with financing biomedical research into the subject, is estimated to have spent £400,000 last year on research into alcoholism and related matters, while the Social Sciences Research Council is estimated to have spent £37,000. I should like to reassure your Lordships that the existence of the new fund will not detract from the Government's commitment to funding initiatives in this field.

I should like, too, to mention one specific area in which the Home Office has a particular concern at this time: that is, the development of a new concept in dealing with drunken offenders. As an alternative to imprisonment—because drunken offenders have no money to pay the fines imposed and no other disposal would be suitable—we consider it more appropriate that the police should be able to take these people to overnight shelters where someone can look after them. But that is by no means all: if drunken offenders have a drink problem and want to do something about it, arrangements can then be made for them to receive treatment through an appropriate agency. The Home Office is anxious that a number of these shelters should be developed on an experimental basis. We hope that the Alcohol Education and Research Council, which will he administering some of the money distributed from the licensing compensation funds, will consider sympathetically any applications made to them for funding of this kind.

In the meantime the Home Secretary, through the Voluntary Services Unit of the Home Office, has already allocated money for the funding of two experimental shelters. The first will be in the Birmingham area, within the Trinity Centre at Bordesley. Already staff have been recruited and it is hoped that the centre will open at the end of this month. Discussions are still in progress about the establishment of a second centre. The activities of both these experimental centres, and any others which follow, will be carefully monitored. We hope that they will fulfil our hopes and that they will also help the problem drinkers who are admitted to them, and keep such people out of prison.

As my noble friend has said, the proposals for the liquidation of the funds are complicated—especially for anyone not familiar with the rules and procedures provided for the licensing compensation scheme under the Licensing Act 1964. However, I am assured that these provisions will facilitate a speedy transfer of the funds from the 59 county compensation authorities to the liquidator and thence to the charitable fund, which is where we all want to see the money go. A liquidator will be appointed by my right honourable friend—and it is my right honourable friend's intention to appoint a qualified accountant to undertake this task. We hope to announce this appointment shortly after the Bill is enacted; if it passes through your Lordships' House, I trust that liquidation will be carried out expeditiously. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will also be responsible for appointing the members of the Alcohol Education and Research Council. In making these appointments he will consult the Secretaries of State for Social Services, Education and Science, and Transport, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—all of whom have an interest in the purposes of the fund and, because the Alcohol Education and Research Fund may be applied throughout the United Kingdom, the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As I said in my Statement last July, my right honourable friend has also undertaken to consult organisations with an interest in alchohol education and research. A start has been made in this process of consultation and, again, my right honourable friend hopes to announce these appointments shortly after the Bill has been enacted.

In the discussions of the Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State made the point that appointments to the Education and Research Council will be on a personal basis and that no individual organisation will have a right to be represented as such. While it is important that the council should include those with specific knowledge of the areas of activity to which the fund may be applied, I hope your Lordships will agree that the essential qualification for appointment should be the ability to consider objectively and to distinguish the relative merits of the applications which are made to the council for funding. After all, this is essentially the statutory task of the council. The members will not serve as an advisory body in the general field of alcoholism, but it is hoped that they will select worthwhile projects for funding and that the research they approve will help to dispel many of the myths that exist in the area of alcohol misuse; and we hope also that the new insights into the problem which will stem from this research will contribute to the development of Government policy in this field.

Because it is extremely unlikely that the amount of money available will be sufficient to meet all the requests for assistance, it is important that the council's members should command the confidence of all those with an interest in the fund, and, in making these appointments, my right honourable friend and his colleagues will apply the criteria I have just mentioned. The chairman will need to have additional qualities, and we hope soon to announce the name of the person who will be appointed to undertake this important public service.

Like my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, I am delighted that the Alcohol Education and Research Fund can look forward to receiving substantial additional funding from companies in the drinks industry. The Government welcome this, and I am sure that I speak for your Lordships' House when I say that the industry is to be congratulated on having come to this decision. There are some who have said in the past that the industry has commissioned research out of self-interest. I know of no reason to believe that that is true today and I know that may companies and the trade associations have given financial assistance to many organisations which care for those who have become dependent on drink. By channelling their funds through an independent body such as the new Alcohol Education and Research Council, the industry will be able to demonstrate its goodwill. The extra money will enable the council to undertake a much more ambitious programme than it would were it to rely solely on the income it receives from its share of the assets of the compensation authorities.

Finally, may I just express the Government's thanks, as both noble Lords who have spoken have done, to my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, whose committee, many years ago now, identified the need to make use of this money, which was not really being put to any good use. I must also thank my honourable friend Mr. Robert Banks for having chosen to introduce this Bill in another place and for taking it through its stages there. I am grateful, of course, to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, for his work in your Lordships' House. We look forward to the enactment of this Bill in the near future, and, for the Government's part, we shall do all we can to facilitate the speedy transfer of these funds and to see that they are put to work soon in this important area of social concern.

Lord Fraser of Kilmorack

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I say that while I do not in any way disagree with anything he has said or that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, and while I am entirely in favour of the objectives of the Bill, would he not agree that it is a matter of keeping things in perspective? Judged on any international comparison, whether in relation to spirits, wines or beer, we are still a relatively abstemious nation.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, all of us who have spoken so far would agree that, whatever the relativities, there are causes for concern, not least regarding the trends of alcohol consumption at the present time. It is for that reason that I am particularly glad that this Bill has reached your Lordships' House and I hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, may I briefly thank the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, for his warm words of support from the Opposition Front Bench? The noble Lord referred to an authority which will have to deal with young people and their problems. I am sure his words will not fall on deaf ears. The noble Lord also gave a word of praise to the Brewers' Society. I join him in that. I am sure that its members have shown great social responsibility in being able to bring forward their support for this Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Belstead for his warm words of support. I am sure my noble friend Lord Kimberley is grateful for what has been said, particularly about the two experimental centres which the Government are setting up. I trust that this House will accept the Second Reading of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.