HL Deb 09 May 1983 vol 442 cc392-412

7.10 p.m.

Lord Spens

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper—namely: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to introduce flexible hours of opening of public houses in England and Wales, bearing in mind the success of these arrangements in Scotland". The present situation about the licensing laws for England and Wales is governed by the Licensing Act 1964, which is a consolidation Act of previous licensing laws, the latest of which was the 1961 Act and, for Scotland, the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. The former—that is the 1964 Act—allows little or no flexibility of hours of opening; the latter allows a great deal of flexibility at local discretion.

Last November, the Brewers' Society sent to my noble friend Lord Harris of High Cross, in his capacity, I hope, as secretary of our little repeals group, of which I am the chairman, a draft of a Bill to abolish: the restrictions in the Licensing Act 1964 on the hours during which intoxicating liquor may be sold, supplied or consumed in licensed premises or in the premises of a registered club". This, in fact, meant the repeal of the whole of Part III of the 1964 Act, which deals with permitted hours—a subject in which my small committee found itself very interested.

At the same time the Brewers' Society published an article in the trade magazine Brewing Review entitled "Pot Luck". It said: The laws governing pub hours vary all over the British Isles: getting a pint depends on where you are—and when". It set out the differences in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in the isles around us, showing up glaring inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, I had been in touch with the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, who said in June of last year that they liked the idea of bringing the English law into line with the Scottish, but that some preparatory work would have to be done first. I met their parliamentary committee some three weeks ago and I was asked then to initiate this Question which I am asking today. The result of this is that I have a joint brief from the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers which is a very useful document.

So, my Lords, what are the differences? In this respect I do not propose to involve myself with the special problems that exist in Wales. I am not sure whether we have any Welshmen who are to speak today, but the problem of whether certain parts of the country should be "wet" or "dry" on Sundays is for them to settle and not for us. No, this is a general approach to Her Majesty's Government about introducing flexibility into the permitted hours of opening in England and Wales. At present the situation is governed by Section 60 in Part III of the 1964 Act, which lays down general rules about permitted hours of opening—basically, between 11 a.m. and 10.30 p.m., with a break of two and a half hours from 3 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. There are variations for Sundays and holidays which I do not think need affect us today. That was the situation under the 1964 Act.

In 1972 the Departmental Committee on Liquor Licensing, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, presented a unanimous report. Of course it covered a great many matters, but on flexible hours the committee recommended: that a personal licensee be permitted to sell intoxicating liquor by retail for on-consumption at any time between 10 a.m. and midnight. The committee qualified that by saying: We are not suggesting that licensees should be compelled to open", for all those hours. They wanted the choice left with each individual licensee.

A further recommendation would give the power to licensing justices to impose: a limited restriction on permitted hours of opening, provided they are satisfied that this is in the interests of public order, safety, health of amenity". Those recommendations have not been implemented by any of Her Majesty's Governments since 1972.

Meanwhile, in Scotland a similar departmental committee known as the Clayson Committee reported a year later in 1973 and made recommendations on the flexibility of hours very similar to those of the Erroll Committee. The Scottish Office acted on that report by producing the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. On flexibility of hours of opening, that Act contains provisions on permitted hours very like those in the 1964 Act. But there is an additional provision in Section 64 entitled: Occasional and regular extensions of permitted hours". It is that additional provision which has brought about the flexibility of hours of opening in Scotland in different locations. The additional hours have to be granted locally. Therefore, flexibility of hours is not operating throughout the whole of Scotland, but only in parts. This has been, we think, a great success. However, it is very difficult to find out from Her Majesty's Government whether it has in fact been a success or not.

Last June, in answer to an Oral Question, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who I see on the Government Front Bench, replied to me: the Government have no firm information on the effects of the extension of permitted hours in Scotland, nor have they received any representation that the increased hours have had any adverse effects". The noble Lord went on to say: I am able to say that there has been no significant increase in drunkenness offences or motor vehicle offences caused through drink since the 1976 Act came into force"—[Official Report, 18/6/1982; col. 770.] That is a very important comment by Her Majesty's Government because a great many of the objections to flexibility of hours have come from people who think that more drunkenness and more drink and driving offences would occur.

A second Question was asked only three weeks ago by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. This time his Question was: What assessment has Her Majesty's Government made of the effects of the relaxation of the licensing laws in Scotland in 1976 and 1977? The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said: The Government have made no recent assessment of the effects … An earlier survey, carried out immediately before the coming into operation of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, with following surveys in March 1977 and November 1978, indicated that there was no significant change in the average consumption of alcohol, since those drinking tended to do so at a more leisurely pace, and supported the suggestion that changes in the licensing laws had produced no adverse effect."—[Official Report, 25/4/83; col. 798.] That comment is, I think, a very important one, because it is the contention of both the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers that there is not likely to be any great increase in the expenditure on alcohol by any particular person if the hours are flexible. People go into pubs with a certain amount of money in their pocket and they will spend it. At the moment, if they are near to closing time, they spend it quickly. If the laws were to be more flexible, they would have much more time to spend their money and would be much less likely to become drunk, with all the nasty effects that that may have.

The worries about the introduction of flexibility are included in a discussion pamphlet entitled Drinking Sensibly, which was issued by the Department of Health and Social Security in 1981. There is a bit about flexible hours there. On the whole, I would suggest that they treat the matter rather neutrally: they do not really shoot it down or commend it. However, in that pamphlet there was one interesting little comment about what happened in the state of Victoria in Australia when that state extended the final hour of opening from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. It says: A study of the effect on motor accidents of a change in closing time from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. found that although the overall total of personal injury accidents remained unchanged, the previous accident peak between 6 and 7 p.m. had disappeared and had been replaced by one between 10 and 11 p.m. It is accordingly possible that changes in licensing hours had significantly affected drinking patterns without apparently influencing overall consumption. That is a point which both the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers make—that they do not anticipate any large increase in the personal consumption of any particular individual. What they do anticipate is that there will be more people finding time to make use of the pubs if there is more opportunity for them to get to those pubs. So we hope that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. The advantages of flexibility are really that the gap during the afternoon, when pubs have to close, would disappear to the benefit especially of foreign tourists. I live in Kent and I see foreign tourists passing through who are absolutely infuriated when they arrive at a pub at about 3.30 p.m. and are told that they cannot get any intoxicating liquor until 5.30 p.m.

Publicans could time their opening hours to fit in with local conditions. That is particularly the case where there is a large factory working on s shift system. At the moment some shifts end at the time when the pubs have to close. It would also mean that in holiday resorts the pubs could keep open during the afternoon and possibly not open so early in the morning.

The point here is that each licensee should be given an opportunity to decide how long his pub should be kept open. He does not necessarily have to keep the pub open for the whole time. He can introduce a break at any time that suits him and that suits his local clientele. One should remember that a licensee is a very responsible person because, if he behaves irresponsibly, his licence will be taken away from him. Of course, this is not so much the case with other places where alcohol can be purchased at all hours of the day, particularly supermarkets, where there does not appear to be that amount of supervision, especially over the age of the purchaser, which a responsible licensee will exercise.

Therefore, Scotland is in the lead. I am an expatriate Scot and I have very little opportunity of enjoying the benefits of the flexibility of hours which exist in Scotland. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will very soon give us down here the opportunity of enjoying those benefits. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name.

7.28 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for initiating this Question. I may not be the only Member of your Lordships' House to own a pub, but I do believe that I am the sole licensee here. So for those two reasons I must declare an interest. Over some months now I have seen at first hand the real need for more flexible hours within the existing framework of the permitted 62½ hours per week. In my pub we work a 53-hour week, which I think is sufficient for our area. However, with plans for expansion I can see restrictions on our enterprise as things stand. As the noble Lord, Lord Spens, knows well—for he is a part of my Back Bench group on small businesses—we have these considerations with regard to forward-looking enterprises very much in mind.

A rural inn such as mine would benefit greatly if it could remain open until midnight, and at lunchtime until three o'clock. I can assure your Lordships that customers travel considerable distances for a good meal. As the noble Lord, Lord Spens, has said, licensees are highly responsible people—they have to be. Surely they can be relied upon to run their businesses well, for if they do not they go out of business. It is as simple as that. Competition is extremely fierce and many pubs have indeed closed. We can, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said, lose our licences, and that of course means that we lose our livelihood as well, if we trangress the law.

The police have not been mentioned much today, but surely the police would prefer a fixed later hour of midnight. Then they would not have to go around the neighbourhood seeing whether somebody who had a licence until the normal closing hour of 10.30 was not staying open until 11.00, and that the people allowed to stay open until 11.00 were not staying open until 11.30. I think that they have to waste a great deal of time.

Times are changing fast. There is far more leisure time, sadly due to unemployment but also due to the shorter working week. As the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said, why should we not follow the Scots? There does not seem to be any proof, if that is what we are looking for, that there is more drinking leading to more accidents and to more crime—which perhaps is even more important than car accidents—although of course people feared that that would happen.

Our EEC partners think that we are absolutely crazy about our licensing hours. As many noble Lords who have travelled abroad will know, the French often remark on this. Tourism is of tremendous value to this country, and this is a point worth thinking about. I hope that my noble friend can give some hint as to when we might see a really sensible and constructive approach to the flexible hours suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Spens. I can assure my noble friend that if we receive such encouragement it will receive widespread approval from the vast majority of licensees, not least myself.

7.32 p.m.

The Earl of Minto

My Lords, I have no wish whatsoever to enter into this particular debate on this Question on any form of prohibitionist ticket. I have been for over 15 years closely associated with the field of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in Scotland. I have also been for many years the chairman of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism. But I should like to make it clear before I go any further that those over whom I take the chair in all the voluntary agencies throughout Scotland—because we are differently organised to in England—as well as myself, have a deep detestation of the prohibition lobby, on the basis in Scotland of the terrible damage that we have seen done by it in those areas of our native country which subscribe somewhat to it for social or religious reasons. Therefore, I rise as a humble Scot on a Question which pertains essentially to England and Wales, but I also rise with the, I hope, useful knowledge of a little of what has happened in Scotland since the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.

If one is going to ask Her Majesty's Government for a view upon a particular question, I would have thought it fairly reasonable that all your Lordships would, in one way or another, look for evidence, and that it would be upon that evidence that you would hope to receive your reply from the Government. Although I have said that the Scottish Council on Alcoholism is entirely separate and autonomous from anything in England, I have received correspondence which has asked me to pass on to your Lordships the apologies of the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, for his unavoidable absence. On his behalf, for he is chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism which deals with south of Scotland—and, as I say, somewhat differently from us—may I express his apologies for his absence, and his wish to be associated with those remarks I may make where they affect England.

What evidence do we in fact have? There are three research reports available which are relevant. The first was by Bruce in 1978, and the noble Lord, Lord Spens, has already referred to it. He interviewed 1,700 Scots, all adults, before the first changes in the law came into effect in 1976. Then again, he interviewed them three months later. He also collected sales data from 40 bars which had taken advantage of what we call the "extra hour". He concluded: The survey of licensed premises showed a significant reduction in pattern acceleration in drinking towards the end of the evening. Thus, although the "beat the clock attitude" to drinking has not disappeared, it has at least diminished". This overall favourable report was followed by a publication by Knight and Wilson in 1980 based upon research undertaken between October and November 1978, also referred to by my noble friend Lord Spens. That was some two years after the extension of permitted hours. The report was primarily aimed at Sunday opening. However, the findings within the area on the extra hour tended to support Bruce. With regard to Sunday opening, on the other hand, the report found that while the sample as a whole had not increased their weekly consumption of alcohol, subgroups within the sample had altered their drinking behaviour. For instance, those young males who had earlier reported high levels of consumption now reported a very significant increase in their drinking. Thus, the impact appears to have been one of facilitating the drinking of heavy drinkers, but does not seem to have altered the drinking habits of the more moderate males or females. In view of the Clayson recommendations this was an important finding.

"All day" licensing has only been widespread in Scotland during the past three or four years. Therefore, in fact there is only one available study upon it, and that is by Davies and Fisher. The study was restricted to Glasgow. The sample of public houses was small—only 19 out of Scotland's approximate total of 4,350—and difficulties in such studies are well known to your Lordships. Nevertheless, the insight gained was not without interest. The overall impression gained from reading the report—and I would strongly recommend your Lordships to do so—is that afternoon drinking is not a species apart from lunchtime or evening drinking, but is just more of the same. Different public houses have different types of customers who patronise their favourite establishment at different times and consume varying amounts of alcohol of different types.

In saying that I am not in any sense trying to be facetious, but it highlights what appears to be an essential criticism of the current all-day licensing legislation as we know it in Scotland. The Clayson Committee recommendations—indeed all the recommendations—were based on what is known as the social integrationalist approach to alcohol consumption. Simply stated, this philosophy suggests that by removing restrictions on the availability of alcohol one diminishes the taboos and the myths that exist about alcohol. Greater freedom of use, it is argued, should gradually lead to more responsible use, with the integration of alcohol in the broad fabric of everyday life—in other words, alcohol as an unremarkable and unemotive product.

Controls on the misuse of alchol are shifted from the law to more informal social controls. The classic example of this type of drinking is that of the French and the Italians who consume two or three times more than we do per capita in Scotland, but—this is the important point—little overt drunkeness is exhibited. Yet what has happened with all-day licensing? As noted earlier with the Sunday opening of public houses, the informal social controls have not been built in with the liberalising of the law. From evidence that is available to us today all that has happened is that the traditional styles of drinking have been extended over a longer period. For example, Davies and Fisher give no indication that the patron of the all-day licensed premises is a new breed of moderate drinker, or, more importantly, that he or she is accompanied by the potential social control of his or her spouse or their children.

A further comment on the failure of the legislation to build in social controls alongside the more permissive measures is the fact that by 1979 only 47 out of the 15,800 licensed premises in Scotland, which is 0.3 per cent., were of the refreshment type of facility that allows families to utilise licensed premises.

Statistics from the Strathclyde Region—and those we never take lightly in Scotland because half the population of Scotland lives in that region—show that, in 1980, 99.2 per cent. of all regular extensions were granted to ordinary licensed premises into which children under 14 years of age were not permitted to enter. This is hardly the breeding ground for a revolution, minor or otherwise, in the nation's drinking habits in Scotland.

Up North—I mean by that, Scotland—the main areas of contention about the putative success of the legislation concern official statistics relating to alcohol-related offences. Clayson claimed not so very long ago that since 1976 the, whole totality of drink related offences has diminished". Dr. Clayson, whom I know and who is a most honourable man and whom I respect, could make such a statement on statistical evidence only until that statistical evidence was subject to close scrutiny—a scrutiny which become all the more necessary when it was observed that it was being most vociferously supported by the licensed trade. It is absolutely true that in 1977 convictions for drunk-driving and drunkenness were on the decline; hence the Minister's answer. But the fact is that this trend had started before the introduction of the 1976 Act so there is a good reason to suppose that the two were unrelated. Indeed, it is relevant to note that, while crimes made known to the police rose by 12 per cent. in the period 1976–77, there was a drop of over 5 per cent. in convictions for all crimes and offences.

We all know that convictions for any offence are strongly influenced by police activity. Thus it must be drawn to your Lordships' attention that in 1977 police manpower in Scotland was 10 per cent. below establishment and that within Strathclyde Region itself—I repeat that that area contains half the population of Scotland—a ban on overtime working was enforced. Therefore, the influence of Strathclyde Region's policing had a massive effect upon the national statistics available. For example, in 1979 Strathclyde accounted for 84 per cent. of all convictions for drunkenness in Scotland.

Also in 1977 the court staff in Glasgow took it into their heads to take industrial action and many minor offences associated with drink led to police admonition rather than convictions. It is interesting to note that when normal working was resumed and the police manpower increased in Scotland—not just Strathclyde—by 10 per cent. or by 1,200 officers in 1979 as compared with 1977, convictions for all offences rose. For example, drunk-driving convictions rose from 8,460 in 1977 to 10,594 in 1979—hardly, I should have thought, the base on which to claim, whether it be my friend Dr. Clayson or anyone else, that the whole totality of drink-related offences has diminished. So statistics certainly show that any decrease in alcohol offences has been shortlived.

Perhaps the most worrying point upon which one may safely place a finger—and because it has to do with health maybe it upsets me most—is the international evidence which links alcohol-related harm with per capita consumption. As one increases, so does the other. It must be fair to surmise that the legislation which makes alcohol more available and which encourages wide and more prolonged consumption contributes to more rather than less damage. As a horrible example, between 1978 and 1982, deaths from liver cirrhosis alone rose by 27 per cent.

A noble Lord

In Scotland.

The Earl of Minto

My Lords, yes, in Scotland. It is perhaps proper to note that one of the recommendations made by the Central Policy Review Staff in 1980 was that Scotland should reconsider its all-day legislation and that there should be no adoption of such liberal practices South of the Border.

My Lords, before I take my seat once again, may I stress that the agencies to which I have referred in Scotland do not support the prohibition lobby? At the moment I am bombarded! There are three points of view, and there have been for about three years. On the one hand, there are those who place to one side and cast away all evidence of damage and who support wholeheartedly the Act of 1976. On the other hand, there are those who claim that all evidence of damage is directly attributable to that same legislation. In the middle, stands the largest group; and I place myself among them. They are those who simply do not know. For us in Scotland, legal parlance might be used, I suppose, and we would say that, in either case, it is not proven.

We believe that it can be argued that there is little substance to the claim that the new licensing law has made the Scots into a nation of social drinkers. Although the extra hour does appear to be popular and may have reduced the "10 o'clock swill", this is the only part of the law, the only part, that is above suspicion. The Scottish Council on Alcoholism works very closely with the agencies of the Scottish Office. I have been working alongside them, as I have said, for the past 15 years. I have always found, within this field in Scotland, that, if you take a matter of deep concern to the Scottish Office and that matter has merit, perhaps not immediately but at some time in the future, you get a constructive response.

It is now three years since we first voiced our deep concern on this division of opinion in Scotland and we have continued repeatedly to do so. Hence, I place my trust in my experience of the Scottish Office which would suggest to me that we may well expect from them, from the Minister or the Secretary of State, some action in the not too distant future following the collation of the information that they have apparently been gathering. For that reason, I would hope and, indeed, would ask the Government to wait just for a time until they have some hard evidence to hand before committing themselves one way or the other with regard to a change in the licensing laws in England and Wales; for, in my view, it would be premature, if not irresponsible, to act at this point in time.

7.54 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, to discuss flexible hours of opening of public houses. Flexible opening has a certain familiar ring to me, and it would be strange if I did not support the essence of this debate. It is difficult to discuss this matter without bringing in the pros and cons of drinking alcoholic beverages. I respect the views of those who sincerely believe that alcohol is the root of all that is evil in this country today, but, although I am well aware that the abuse of drink can cause untold misery—and, as a retired magistrate, I have seen much evidence of this—yet I do not believe that certain alterations in the opening hours of public houses would aggravate the present situation. I recognise that there is need for more research in this area, and I should like to make the further suggestion that the Government give support to the commission project on this matter.

Of course, the Erroll Report, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, could be said to have examined the whole situation very thoroughly. I think it is worth quoting from the concluding paragraph of the chapter of the Erroll Report which deals with public house opening hours. On page 161 it says: In the last analysis the success of our proposal depends on two factors. First, it is essential that the approach of licensees themselves should be directed away from any undue reliance on the letter of the law towards a genuine attempt to interpret local needs and to take effective action to meet them—even if this means changing previously established hours of work. The whole point of our proposal would be lost if licensees either felt themselves compelled to open for the full 14 hours permitted by law, or stuck to their present hours of closing, regardless of any demand for alternative hours which might exist in their locality. Second, our recommendations would place a very considerable responsibility on licensing justices, the police and local authorities". This brings me to the views of the Justices' Clerks' Society in their paper, Licensing Law in the Eighties, published in April 1983. The society states that they feel that the problems of misuse of alcohol are not susceptible of solution by legislation alone. They most certainly advocate a number of changes in the licensing laws while remaining firmly of the view that the public must be educated from a very early age about the dangers of alcohol abuse. They advocate treatment for alcoholics and charge the Government with the duty to encourage and fund research into the whole problem of alcoholism.

I do not believe that the changing of the opening hours of "pubs" would increase the alcoholic problem. It is merely the occasional drinker who would be able to take advantage of the more flexible hours. The Justices' Clerks' Society, alas! do not include a recommendation for more flexible opening hours among the various options that they present for amending the present licensing laws. They say that there is no public demand. I think that they are wrong. Why are we having this debate if there is no public demand?

There are two last points that I wish to make very briefly. They are that, if we are going to amend the licensing laws, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Spens, and my noble friend the licensed victualler, would hope that we would take note of and fall in with the laws of Europe. Total bewilderment faces tourists either from Europe or from the United States of America who foolishly believe that they can buy a drink when they want, as they do in their own countries.

Finally, I would ask your Lordships to spare a thought for the family with young children who take the car and go for a day out in the country and who are forced to eat either in an hotel at great expense or in a cafe (if there is one) because the children cannot enter a public house. Surely, family rooms should become a pleasant and legal accessory to any public house, where the parents may drink and both parents and children may eat. I hope the Government will feel that today's debate will provide impetus towards the research project I have suggested—a project which could be speedily set up after the Government have overwhelmingly won the forthcoming general election.

8.1 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Spens for introducing this debate on a subject which, although it has been extensively debated, has seen little constructive change to the fragmented and outdated liquor licensing laws that are applied in England and Wales. I shall be reiterating what many of your Lordships have already mentioned and I would ask you to excuse me for doing so.

There are some extraordinary anomalies in the way in which the laws operate, and noble Lords have already referred to some of them. For example, one is not allowed to buy a drink in a London pub at midnight but one is allowed to drink at any time on a moving boat, train or plane. Also, children are allowed into some licensed premises but not into others, where they may or may not drink alcohol, depending on a complicated interaction between their ages and the nature of the premises.

It is surely time that Her Majesty's Government—and I refer to future Governments as well, of course—were persuaded that there is a popular demand in this country for action on this subject to complement the many years of "consideration" which, according to ministerial replies, have been devoted to this matter. I would venture to suggest to your Lordships that the people of England and Wales are sufficiently mature to decide for themselves when and where to drink alcohol.

I myself support the recommendations of the 1972 Erroll Committee, calling for the reform of the liquor licensing laws and, more specifically, the recommendation that pubs should have the right to remain open from 10 in the morning until midnight, leaving it to landlords to decide exactly when to do business within those hours, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Spens. I regret that, so many years after that excellent report was compiled, Her Majesty's Government still feel that the report requires further consideration. I would suggest that the time is ripe for action and I therefore strongly recommend the arguments that were put forward so eloquently by those noble Lords and Baronesses who have spoken before me.

There are indeed many advantages to be gained from greater flexibility in licensing laws in England and Wales, and I shall mention a few of them. First, it would allow consumers to make up their own minds when they want to drink. Secondly, tourists would find the country a more congenial place to visit, and we should earn more foreign exchange from their increased spending. The present liquor licensing laws are a considerable handicap to the holiday and tourist industries. Thirdly, the boom in over-priced nightclubs in London would be curtailed and more people would be attracted back to the traditional English pub.

It is sad that when one leaves a cinema or theatre in the evening one is often too late to have a relaxing drink in a pub without being pressurised and hassled by the landlord concerned to clear his bar. More employment would be generated by the modest proposals of the noble Lod, Lord Erroll, as bar staff would need to be recruited in order to meet the extra demand. Also, imaginative and industrious licensees would be given the incentives to develop catering and other ancillary services in an effort to compete with licensed restaurants; and this variety would do much to brighten up our cities. The spread of better quality pub food and of pub entertainment has shown consumers the great economic potential of breaking down the rigid division between bars, restaurants and entertainment.

I can well appreciate the concern of the opponents of liberalisation, who argue that longer drinking hours would lead to more drinking, which in turn would cause more health problems. This approach, backed by the French demographer, Dr. Sully Lederman and his theory of the "log normal curve", has been seriously undermined and challenged by numerous researchers of late. I would support the theory of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, that the most decisive influences on consumption rates are the general economic climate and the real price of liquor. It is on this point that parallels can be drawn from the effects of the introduction of flexible drinking hours in Scotland, where I believe it is now possible to buy alcohol in a pub from 10 in the morning until 2 o'clock the following morning, subject to the discretion of the local licensing authorities.

Since the liquor licensing laws were liberalised in 1976 in Scotland, statistics have shown that consumption has actually decreased slightly, and so has street drunkenness and drunken driving. I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, seems to disagree with me, but we are all entitled to our own interpretation. Liquor prices in Scotland have remained stable despite higher overheads through longer hours. More and more places are providing food and generally finding ways of making more money in extra time. The success of the liquor law reforms in Scotland illustrates the inadequacies of fragmentary reform and the viability of such a liquor licensing reform which needs to be introduced in England and Wales.

I shall not detain your Lordships further on this subject. The arguments of those of us who have spoken show the great support for flexibility of licensing laws and have been well developed by speakers. I feel that the strength of our case has made it clear that such a reform is indeed most necessary. I look forward to hearing the speech of the great "reformist" in our House, my noble friend Lord Hams of High Cross. I look forward also in due course to the speech of the Minister. I shall be most interested in what he has to say in reply and I hope that he will include some proposals for the reform of the licensing laws rather than further references to the Government's need to contemplate the subject.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, I agree and join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Spens, in promoting what has so far proved to be a sober and interesting debate on the merits of more flexible opening hours. He pointed out that he has received some support from the informal Repeal Group, which seeks to challenge outdated laws that restrict the freedom of adult citizens to live their own lives without hurting the like freedom of their neighbours. I would say to my noble friend Lord St. John of Bletso that we take one test of whether legislation is outdated by asking: if this law did not exist, would it be necessary to invent it? I believe on that issue the present licensing laws impose objectionable fetters on millions of people that are not justified by any overriding imperatives of public policy.

Since some time ago the Tory party appeared to cause some confusion in the public mind between the Peerage and what became known as the "beerage", I think we should all declare an interest, or lack of interest, in this particular form of consumption. From the published figures I find I am well below the average annual consumption of 200 pints of beer per head of the population, although in wine I am safely between the annual average of 170 pints in France and the 14 pints in the United Kingdom. I must tell your Lordships that, although I have never regularly taken advantage of the varied facilities of the 76,000 public houses and licensed hotels in the United Kingdom, I have to admit that on rare occasions I have been known to curse mildly because I could not find a single pub open at a time when it would have been convenient on a journey, on holiday or to celebrate a family or friendly reunion. I commend to your Lordships the thought of how much worse it must be for the millions of our fellow men who through work or from choice do not live their waking lives from approximately dawn until after dusk.

We have heard that the present licensing laws were introduced under emergency powers in the First World War, just as Tudor monarchs once clamped down on ale houses to encourage archery. I have no doubt that the stipulated nine or nine and a half hours' opening time from 11 a.m. until 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m. generally suit the average convenience of the population. But the question I want to ask is why do averages come into it? The average man does not play golf or visit Covent Garden or even indulge in hunting, shooting and fishing. It does not follow that strictly minority activities should be regulated by reference to average tastes or majority prejudices.

In one of the appendices to the excellent Erroll Report there is a summary of an official survey into public attitudes towards licensing laws. It shows that about half of the random sample in 1970 favoured keeping opening hours as they were, and as they still are. But the other half was divided between a larger fraction favouring later closing and a smaller fraction preferring earlier closing. For a liberal democrat the only logical deduction from such a conflict of views is that the more flexible the hours of opening the larger the number of people who would get what they want.

It is only in politics that we think it right for majorities constantly to impose their will on minorities. In the market place, of which I am known to be an admirer, it is minorities that rule the roost all the time. Except for monopoly services such as the letter post, telephones, gas or electricity, almost everything we buy and where we choose to buy it reflects our individual preferences. In the cars we drive, in the clothes we wear, in the food we eat, we are all minorities. We would be voted down if we had to carry a democratic majority with us on every line of consumption.

I do not deny that all freedom is capable of abuse. We should, every one of us, be concerned that there are approaching 50,000 cases of drunken driving, but that remains a minute fraction of the 2½ million serious offences recorded by the police in a recent year. Although no more than 0.004 per cent. of men are treated for alcoholism, we all know of others who are at risk. But the Erroll Report confirms our everyday observation that there is no simple correlation between excessive consumption and the number of hours that pubs are open, especially when drink can be so easily obtained for consumption at home. This lesson has not been disproved by experience in Scotland since the law was liberalised in 1976 and is upheld by evidence from places as far apart as Sweden or Australia, where severe restrictions on hours have not checked abuse. Nothing in the interesting sociological speculations of the noble Earl, Lord Minto, linked more flexible hours with proven excess. In the end he seemed to me to fall back into agnosticism.

I believe that we cannot make people better by legislation. That is the task for teaching, preaching, personal example, and in the last resort enforceable laws against anti-social behaviour. It is clearly not a sin to drop in at the local. Indeed, no less an authority than the Director of the Christian Economic and Social Foundation, the Reverend George Brake, recently urged the need to preserve the place of the pub, which he thought, the most favourable controlled environment for the consumption of alcohol". He added that, the well-managed public house provides a convenient controlled environment for drinking and is to be preferred to the uncontrolled situations in which drinking takes place at the present time". If the licensing laws were abolished, as I would wish, no pub would be required to open for more hours. Some pubs in some areas would no doubt preserve the present arrangements, while others elsewhere on some days or at some times of the year would open longer and later. The Erroll Report quotes the licensing authorities in London as granting 64,000 extensions in 1970, while a sample of 29 petty sessional divisions gave 28,000 exemption orders for an average of between an hour and an hour and a half of extra opening.

No wonder the witnesses petitioning the Erroll Committee in favour of almost completely relaxing the law included the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police, as well as tourist boards and various catering and hotel organisations. There were of course then, as there will be again, familiar lobbies in favour of tighter controls. The question is: who will speak for the millions of unorganised consumers?

I would argue that, whether any one of us would personally wish to take advantage of more flexible hours, we should not stand in the way of removing restrictions upon others with different preferences. Opening hours are no more a matter for majorities to override minorities than the times at which cinemas, restaurants or shops ply their trade between willing buyers and willing sellers. The contract that is implicit in a free society is that, even where our emotions are involved, we respect the choices, even the whims, of our fellowmen as a condition for having our own differing tastes and values tolerated by others. If we admit that all freedoms are subject to abuse, we must acknowledge the need for penalties where excess may harm others. But such possibilities do not in my view justify the condescending paternalism, however well-intentioned, that tries to impose a selective morality by the crude, insensitive steamroller of statutory prohibition.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, we are indebted, as several noble Lords have said, to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for raising this aspect of licensing laws concerning public houses and, of course, the various licensing Acts, including those affecting Scotland. As several noble Lords have pointed out, as long ago as 1970 the Erroll Committee reported on the situation. Thirteen years later, the situation has changed radically and new licensing laws are needed as a result of further consideration, especially to deal with the inconsistencies in the law to which reference has been made by various noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, made reference to a report from the Justices' Clerks' Society, which I have also received. It is a very valuable report called Licensing Law in the Eighties. As she will know, being a magistrate like myself—

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am now retired.

Lord Bishopston

I am also retired, my Lords, so we are still level-pegging on the supplemental list. But I was a magistrate for two decades from 1957. As I was saying, the society was founded as far back as 1839, and it is the professional body representing the principal legal advisers to the magistrates of England and Wales. In the early days they may have had whiskers and so on, but now their ideas are very much up-to-date and they have on many occasions provided those who need such information with reports which are well worth scrutiny.

On the subject we are considering, I think we should ask what criteria we should look for in the matter of opening hours of public houses. If we refer to the incidence of the effects of alcohol, we are told that the times of opening and the duration of opening are not the main factors. That may be so, but surely the supply and consumption of alcohol and its effects need to be considered comprehensively with other means of procurement and consumption. We should also look at the matter, as several noble Lords have said, with an eye to the effect on tourism. Several inconsistencies have been mentioned tonight by noble Lords. Certainly we should have regard to the needs of visitors, both from home and from overseas. Above all, we should see the whole matter in the context of what is generally good for the community at large.

In his speech the noble Earl, Lord Minto, made various criticisms of the present situation, some of which were well justified. I notice that the Justices' Clerks' Society points out that alcohol, in combination with other factors, is connected closely with the loss of many working days, with the break-up of or misery within many marriages, and with the commission of criminal offences, as can be seen by the daily court lists.

The report seeks to be unbiased with regard to the two sides which have expressed their views, but the fact is that alcohol is a factor of some importance. Alcohol-related illness is increasing rapidly. The Office of Health Economics estimates that there are three million heavy drinkers, some 100.000 problem drinkers and 150,000 alcoholics in England and Wales. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, has mentioned some of these problems. There is also a big increase in drink-related offences by young people. There needs to be some tightening up of the controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol by minors. There is need for more home influence and for more teacher influence. All this should be dealt with in the social context.

If I may consider that aspect, there is no doubt that for many minors the public house is what the youth club and the coffee bar used to be. In many rural and other communities, public houses provide a centre for fellowship and a meeting place, especially for younger people. I have mentioned tourism. We are well aware of the importance of tourism to our country. Conversely, we are also well aware of what we should be offering to tourists who come here from abroad. A number of opinion polls have indicated that a majority of people, especially in the 20 to 30 age group, are in favour of reform.

On the matter of licensing hours, any poll is likely to come up with the suggestion that licensing hours should be extended and that people should be allowed to drink what they like when they like. There are other considerations. It is quite clear that if there is no control over closing time and somebody is drinking at 11 o'clock at night the licensee may have to stand around for many hours while a very small amount of alcohol is consumed. This can be detrimental to the viability of the establishment and may have an effect upon the staff. But there is a need for us to review the licensing laws in order to get rid of some of the inconsistencies which have been mentioned, and to bring about a greater degree of standardisation throughout the country.

With regard to licensing hours, the factor of availability includes the number of outlets and the price. There is need for effective control by means of licensing laws and, therefore, for more action—sometimes by the police and by other agencies. There are many problems, including the absence of national standards for licensing committees and the fact that many registered clubs are not strictly controlled. There is a laxity of proper control, under Section 77 of the Act, and also a lack of control, in many cases, of under-age drinking. There is need for public awareness of the effects of alcohol in a number of ways.

With regard to the particular aspect under review this evening—the permitted hours of licensed premises—although the noble Lord, Lord Spens, and other noble Lords have advocated flexible opening hours there appears to be no proof that the public generally wants or needs such a revision. As we know, there would be the problem of monitoring and of checks by the police, especially when the permitted hours of opening varied from those of other licensed premises in any particular licensing area. Because of the increase in the number of registered clubs, discos and other licensed premises, there would be the added facility of what one might anticipate would be continuous drinking, with people leaving one establishment and going to another nearby where the hours were rather different from those of the establishment which they had just left; or there would be the possibility of people going to registered clubs to continue their drinking. I am not suggesting that flexibility and the inconsistency of the present laws should not be considered. There may be a case for the permitted hours in registered clubs being the same as the general licensing hours in a particular district, even if they had to be extended to cover some of the anomalies which have been mentioned. There is a case for a more standard approach through the licensing committees.

Reference has been made to the departmental report, under the chairmanship of Lord Erroll of Hale, which was published some years ago. Little has been done by successive Governments to bring into effect some or all of the recommendations contained in that report. The fact is that the situation has changed greatly since the report was published. There are more outlets, and the problems connected with alcohol abuse have increased. I believe, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and others are right to stress the need for a review. Although we should be looking at the need for flexibility in licensing hours I do not believe that we should be looking at that question in isolation from some of the other aspects which should be considered by the licensing committees. However, this is a matter for the next Government. I am pleased to say here and now that my right honourable and honourable friends in the other place, and my noble friends in this House, will take note of what has been said tonight.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for providing us with this opportunity to debate a subject of such importance and to examine the issues which it raises. I think this is the first general debate that we have had on the reform of the licensing legislation since 1973, when your Lordships discussed the report of the departmental committee on liquor licensing, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, which was presented to Parliament in 1972. I am sure that those of your Lordships who are familiar with the report will agree with me that it provides an excellent starting point for any consideration of proposals for reforming the licensing law.

The committee recommended fundamental changes in the law. Many of its proposals—and some of these have been implemented—were quite acceptable. The proposals which proved most controversial when the report was discussed in your Lordships' House were those for extending the permitted hours, the fettering of the justices' discretion in the granting of new licences, the lowering of the minimum drinking age and allowing children freer access to public houses. Because of the concern which had been expressed in the debates in your Lordships' House and in another place about the likely effect these proposals would have on alchol misuse, the Government of the day concluded that the report would need to be considered against the background of growing concern about alcoholism and gave an undertaking that such proposals for change as were brought forward would be those which the Government believed to be in the general public interest and generally acceptable to public opinion.

There is no doubt, I am afraid, that since 1973 the problem of alcoholism has increased. Estimates vary of the number of problem drinkers in the United Kingdom. The OPCS in 1979 estimated that between 1967 and 1977 the number had increased by 50 per cent.—that is, from about 500,000 to 750,000. Others suggest larger or smaller numbers, but all agree generally on the scale of the increase. Most of the other indicators of misuse have also risen very substantially. The social and economic costs of misuse are considerable and it is hardly surprising, therefore, that successive Governments have shown a reluctance to introduce legislation which would make alcohol more readily available.

A further factor which has influenced Government thinking has been the findings of a number of influential bodies which have looked in detail at the problems of alcohol misuse and at ways of controlling it. In 1977, the Expenditure Committee in another place and the Government's Advisory Committee of Alcoholism both published reports which, having examined among other things the extent to which availability might be a factor in misuse, stressed that extreme caution should be taken over any relaxation of the licensing law.

Since this Government have been in office, we have received many representations from those who would like to see the licensing laws relaxed. At the same time, we have had to meet the costs which fall on the health and social services which are attributable to alcohol misuse. We concluded that because of our duty to the public, it would be irresponsible to take any initiative in the direction of relaxing the licensing laws in isolation from the wider issues and without regard to our general strategy for helping to prevent alcohol misuse. At the same time, we thought that the issues which had been brought to our notice by the reports to which I have referred should be the subject of informed public debate. To that end, in December 1981 the Health Departments published the discussion document Drinking Sensibly, to which the noble Lord, Lord Spens, referred. The booklet looks at the different issues and the scope for action by both individuals and the Government.

Of particular reference to this afternoon's Question are those sections which deal with the relationship between alcohol consumption and harm, and the effectiveness of legal restrictions controlling the availability of alcohol. In deciding to publish the document, the Government hoped that they would promote public discussion of these issues and that the responses would enable sensible decisions to be taken as to whether the licensing law might be reformed, and, if so, how.

Having said that, the Government have recognised that the licensing law of England and Wales was in need of reform. The Licensing Act 1964 was a consolidation measure of statutes dating back to the last century. During our period in office, the Government have effected a number of reforms, mainly by assisting Private Members and Members of your Lordships' House to promote legislation which we felt would be useful.

For example the Licensing (Alcohol Education and Research) Act 1981 wound up the licensing compensation scheme and enabled £2 million to be allocated for funding alcohol education and research projects under the direction of the Alcohol Education and Research Council, which meets under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Windlesham. This Act has also enabled £1 million to be allocated to the Licensed Trades Charities Trust. Most recently, we gave assistance with the drafting of the Licensing (Occasional Permissions) Bill, which was introduced in another place and which was taken through all its stages in your Lordships' House by my noble friend, Lady Trumpington. There have been a number of other measures, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made orders which have almost abolished the system of licensing planning in some parts of the country.

My noble friend, Lady Trumpington, referred to recent recommendations of the Justices' Clerks' Society. I can say that these have been received by the department but no conclusions on them have yet been reached. They are receiving careful study, and I can assure both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, of that; the Government greatly value the society's views. My noble friend Lady Trumpington asked also whether it will be possible to arrange for some special new research programme. That is an interesting suggestion and one of which I shall take note—and I shall ensure that my right honourable friend does what he can in that respect.

At the same time as the other measures to which I have referred, we have been unable to support proposals for making the law more restrictive where, on the evidence available, we have felt doubtful whether such measures would contribute to any reduction in alcohol misuse. That is why we have resisted proposals for restricting the sale of drink by way of wholesale, and the imposition of further restrictions on retail sales in supermarkets. I recognise that the licensed victuallers and the temperance movement, among others, feel strongly about these matters—but they have not conclusively proved their case for the imposition of restrictions, which would place substantial burdens on wholesale dealers and retailers. I have given these examples by way of showing that the Government have not been inactive in this area.

Turning specifically to the Question on the Order Paper, during the last four years the Home Office has received many representations on the subject from the licensed trade and from other interested organisations. The trade has been particularly worried about the adverse effects which the wider economic recession has had on its profitability, and it believes that the solution lies in its members being permitted to open for longer hours or being able to vary the existing hours so that they attract more custom—and this point was expressed by my noble friend Lady Sharples, with her own special expertise in this area. The tourist industry has supported the trade on the grounds that the existing licensing hours are unattractive to tourists—a point made by my noble friend Lady Sharples and by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston. Neither of these arguments should be allowed to influence the decision on this matter. The licensing law exists primary to protect our own society and it is perhaps relevant, and interesting too, that the Home Office has not received a great volume of correspondence from individual members of the public on this matter.

The essential difference between the English and Scottish divisions as to the permitted hours lies in the discretion given to the licensing authorities to vary the general permitted hours of opening. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest, coming from that relevatively enlightened part of the world. The prescribed hours of opening in both countries are broadly similar. They allow public houses to open in weekdays between 11.00 a.m. and 10.30 p.m. or 11.00 p.m. with a break or two hours or two and a half hours in the afternoons. The hours on Sunday are shorter but are also broadly the same. Prior to 1976, as your Lordhips will know, Scottish public houses were required to close at 10.00 p.m. and all day on Sundays.

In England and Wales, the power of the licensing justices to grant regular extensions is tightly circumscribed. As a general rule, early morning and afternoon extensions may be granted only in the vicinity of markets, and extensions beyond the evening terminal hour are available only where the sale of drink is ancillary to the provision of food or music and dancing.

In Scotland, following the reform of the law in 1976, a licensing board has a much wider discretion and may grant extensions for any part of the day in respect of individual premises if it considers it desirable, having regard to the social circumstances of the locality in which the premises are situated or to activities taking place in that locality. Although it is perhaps arguable that Parliament intended it to be used quite extensively, this power has been widely used to permit Scottish public houses to open during the afternoon break and late at night, particularly in the larger towns and cities. Some boards, however, have adopted a policy of refusing to permit afternoon opening.

Provisional assesssments based on surveys carried out in 1976, 1977 and 1978 would seem to suggest that the consumption of alcohol has not been significantly affected by this extension of hours and that those drinking do so at a more leisurely pace. It is interesting that the statistical data on drink-related offences indicate that recent trends show a decrease in offences of drunkenness, and between 1972 and 1982 there has been little variation in offences of drinking and driving. The statistics do not, however, separately identify offences occuring during or immediately following permitted or extended hours.

With regard to any increase in alcoholism or other medical problems, the statistical data likewise show that there has as yet been no indication of such adverse effects. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, talked about another survey which had been carried out, but I must say to him that that particular information has not yet been widely publicised or debated. The Government wish to continue to keep all information that comes to hand under review as it emerges, and I myself consider that the analysis which the noble Earl made in his very interesting speech was in itself a very worthwhile study. I am sure the Home Office will look at this in great detail.

While the evidence relating to Scotland might suggest that the case for introducing into England and Wales more flexible or extended hours of opening has been proved, I must sound a note of caution. The last survey on the effects of the changes in Scottish licensing hours was carried out in 1978; that is, before afternoon extensions were granted as commonly as they are now. While we think that the Scottish experience so far is encouraging, the Government believe that more time and possibly further research are needed to assess the situation before introducing a similar relaxation into the law of England and Wales.

I recognise that the reply I have given to this Question may come as a disappointment to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, and also to the Licensed Victuallers and others who wish to see the law amended in the way the noble Lord, Lord Spens, and others have suggested. The Government are not insensitive to their views, but, as I have indicated, in considering any proposals to relax the licensing law we must first consider them in relation to our general strategy for helping to prevent alcohol misuse. If it is a crumb of comfort to the noble Lord, Lord St. John, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, both of whom have made powerful speeches this evening, we have not closed the door on the possibility of longer licensing hours, but we wish to be assured that opening it wider will not lead to an increase in the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Spens, has, however, provided us with an opportunity for debating the subject, and for this I know we are all very grateful.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before nine o'clock.