HL Deb 24 October 1984 vol 456 cc195-6
Lord Monson

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the fact that rigid licensing restrictions forced the cancellation of a charity ball in Suffolk arranged for Saturday 21st July, which had been expected to raise a substantial sum of money for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, they will forthwith introduce legislation to liberalise or repeal the licensing laws and the Sunday observance laws.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand that the difficulty in this case was that the proposed function was thought likely by the justices to run foul of the restrictions on public dancing in the Sunday Observance Act 1780. The view taken by successive Governments on proposals to amend this Act has been that this is a matter more suitable for Private Members' than for Government legislation. We therefore have no plans of our own for legislation in this field. As regards the law on liquor licensing, there is no immediate prospect of legislation.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Whatever the precise facts—and my information is that the organisers of the event did comply with all the correct procedures—may I put to the noble Baroness two questions arising from this unfortunate affair? Is it not time that the licensing laws in England and Wales were brought into line with the more liberal licensing laws which apply in Scotland and which have caused no difficulty over the last seven years or so? Secondly, is it not time that the Government plucked up their courage and decided to stand up to the Lord's Day Observance Society, which represents no more than one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the population?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I have said, successive Governments have taken the view that legislation relating to Sundays is a matter affecting the conscience of individual Members and is therefore more suitable for Private Members' than for Government legislation. With regard to Scotland, certain relaxations have been made, as the noble Lord indicated. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has announced that a survey is to be undertaken on the workings of the Scottish legislation. We shall want to see the results of that survey and evaluate carefully the effects of extended opening hours in Scotland before deciding whether similar relaxation should be introduced in England and Wales. Actually, these changes would not have affected the particular ball to which the Question refers.

In reply to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I would say that really it is a question of balance. It is quite true that many people believe that our opening hours are too restrictive, and we receive many representations in favour of greater flexibility of hours from those involved in the catering, leisure, tourist and licensed trades. On the other hand, there are those deeply concerned about the problems of alcohol misuse who are worried about the possibility that longer permitted hours may lead to an increase in alcohol consumption. The Government clearly have to take both arguments into consideration.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is it not a fact that investigations all over the world, and over many years, have shown that the more restricted the licensing hours the more drunkenness in fact occurs?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, personally speaking (even though I should take the view of the Government) I do not know the answer to that.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the noble Lord who has just spoken could not produce any evidence whatsoever in support of his statement?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, it is still a matter for a Private Member's Bill, and not a Government one.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, seeing that the noble Baroness was so kind when she brought forward her own Private Member's Bill for Sunday opening, may I ask her whether, now that she is on the Front Bench, she would be as diligent in promoting a Bill as she was on the Back-Benches?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I have already said, when one speaks from this particular position one speaks on behalf of the Government and not from a personal point of view.

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