HL Deb 08 December 1982 vol 437 cc177-9

2.57 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to implement the Erroll Committee's recommendations (Cmnd. 5154) for the reform of the liquor licensing laws in England and Wales, which was presented to Parliament in December 1972.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have at present no plans for further legislation in this area.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, disappointing though it is, in view of the enormous amount of time and trouble put in by so many distinguished people over 10 years ago. Would he not agree that it is ridiculous in 1982, for example, that a foreign tourist having a late lunch should not be allowed to buy a glass of wine or beer to go with his lunch, although he can subsequently go into a supermarket and buy as much as he likes and drink it in the street? Is it not ridiculous that children should still have to stand outside pubs in the rain although those same children can spend the entire day in a licensed club, if their parents so choose? Is the time not ripe for this Conservative Government to set the people free from these petty and outmoded restrictions?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government are aware that there is considerable pressure for the liberalisation of the licensing law. Proposals for change must, however, be weighed against public concern about drunkenness and alcohol misuse generally, about which your Lordships will hear more later this afternoon. The Health Department published a document, Drinking Sensibly, in 1981 to promote informed public discussion. It is hoped that the response to this will enable sensible decisions to be taken as to how the law should be reformed.

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that since the licensing laws in Scotland were liberalised in 1976 licensees report that business has gone up but drunkenness has gone down?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I would always have great respect for the views of licensees in Scotland. While these indications are encouraging, we consider that more time is needed to assess whether there is any change in the level of alcohol abuse in Scotland, which does remain a serious problem.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, has the noble Lord not considered more carefully that answer? Should he not do so? If he looks at what has happened in Scotland since the relaxation of the liquor licensing laws some five or six years ago, I think he will find that neither the police, nor the trade nor the opponents of liberalisation would say that matters had got worse; they in fact substantially improved. Is not that a matter to be taken into account in considering the matter in the light of the Erroll recommendations?

Lord Eiton

My Lords, I said that this was a matter which we are considering and that we needed more time to consider it.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, why do we go on talking about liberalising licensing laws? Why not just abolish them?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can think of a number of reasons, which might anticipate the debate which is to take place this afternoon.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is the Minister aware, as I am sure he is, that there was a very full debate on the Erroll Report in this House in March 1973, and in another place in October 1973? On both occasions, the Government said—it was a Conservative Government—that they were considering the proposals of the Erroll Committee. Will the opportunity be taken in the debate, to which the Minister has referred, later this afternoon, for the Government at least to give their intermediary views between the reports of 1973 and 1982 on this very difficult matter?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I cannot answer for what other noble Lords may say in the debate which is to come. However, if the noble Lord himself reads the document to which I referred, Drinking Sensibly, he will discover a great deal about what he terms the Government's intermediary view.