HL Deb 15 July 1985 vol 466 cc576-99

7.35 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they will consider some more general reform of the licensing laws.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so perhaps I may say that I am most grateful to the Front Bench for having made time available to take this short debate and also to the various noble Lords and noble Baronesses who are to speak later.

This Question, and the reason I speak tonight, arises to a certain extent from an Unstarred Question which was put down and debated by the late Lord Spens in May 1983. Perhaps I may in passing pay tribute to him as it is to a certain extent in his memory that I carried on the work that he started so ably in trying to seek reform of the licensing laws.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, he was a man of great vision and enterprise and I was very privileged to work with him—indeed, I worked with him until his untimely death.

At that time there was a growing feeling that the licensing laws were increasingly out of date and no longer relevant to the needs of modern society. What has given inpetus to the need for change is the impact that liberalisation would have on both tourism and employment. Many areas of our national life are affected by the licensing laws, and various noble Lords will emphasise different aspects, but I want to concentrate on two sectors that are very close together but where the requirements are totally different. The first is the on licence trade—in other words, the public houses. This has been stimulated a great deal by organisations in that field such as the Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers. I have the impression that both these organisations which speak for a very large section of the industry are in favour of flexibility.

How flexibility can be achieved is obviously a matter for legislation but there seems little doubt that the experience which Scotland has had over the past few years has shown that flexibility is a great success. Independent surveys have shown that there is no connection between pub opening hours and alcoholism. Indeed, it may well be that alcoholism and other related problems such as dangerous driving have declined as a result of flexibility and freedom of choice in Scotland. I know that the Government have been conducting an experiment, and it seems to me high time that the report was published and that the rest of the United Kingdom was brought into line with what is happening in Scotland where things have obviously gone very well since flexibility was introduced.

It is also estimated that if flexibility was introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom on the same basis as in Scotland something in the order of 25,000 new jobs would be created; a conservative estimate but an important and useful contribution to economic activity.

The second area of activity that I should like to mention is the restaurant trade. Here I must declare an interest. I hold an honorary position as president of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain. That association, normally referred to as the RAGB, is a small but growing association representing independent restaurateurs as opposed to large hotels and other catering groups. It has done sterling work in the promotion of increased standards of catering and in improving quality in the trade.

There was a time when English catering had a low reputation. That has changed completely. I believe that English catering now competes very favourably. Indeed, the RAGB has participated by stimulating competitions to improve the quality of catering among British restaurateurs.

The position of the restaurant trade in the licensing scene is quite absurd and completely out of line with the rest of Europe. People visit a restaurant not to drink, but to eat. In this case drink is an accompaniment and a complement to the food. It is quite absurd that one cannot take wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages at any time of the day other than when one happens to be eating. This rather bizarre practice in the United Kingdom at present strikes all overseas visitors—and I emphasise that the restaurant trade and the whole of the beverage industry is an important part of the tourist trade—as rather archaic, as indeed it is.

It therefore follows that if the restaurant trade is an important part of the tourist trade, we ought to bring it into line with the rest of Europe. It is calculated—and again these are only estimates—that liberalisation of the licensing laws would create some 50,000 jobs in the hotel, restaurant and catering industries. I could go on for a long time, as there are many other examples, but I am sure that other noble Lords will mention them.

Before concluding, I wish to mention one specific point. In February my noble friend Lord Harmar Nicholls introduced a Private Member's Bill to make some very small modification to the licensing laws. His very worthwhile Bill has now passed all it stages. However, my noble friend's Bill touches only the tip of the iceberg. The whole issue of licensing reform needs to be tackled on a much wider scale. It is this point which I hope the Government will be addressing in a more positive manner.

What I hope I have done in the remarks I have briefly made is to illustrate that reform of the licensing laws is an area where the Government could create jobs at zero cost, and provide increased freedom of choice in an area where it is obviously much needed and long overdue. I hope therefore that Her Majesty's Government will be able to indicate that they propose to introduce legislation in this very area in the near future.

7.44 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for giving me an opportunity to speak yet again on the subject of changing the licensing laws of this country. I spoke to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord. Lord Harmar-Nicholls, to which the noble Viscount has just referred. Since that time—in fact, only this afternoon—I learnt of a very interesting piece of information which I believe is relevant. It comes from a booklet published by the Brewers' Society which some noble Lords may have read. It reveals a very surprising fact, and that is that the United Kingdom is an example of moderation in drinking habits. In the light of recent events in football grounds and so on many of your Lordships may find that surprising. However, among 28 countries having similar standards of living, and so on, this country ranks twenty-first in terms of per capita consumption, and twenty-seventh in terms of the death rate count from cirrhosis of the liver. Those figures may provide grounds for some people to be complacent, but they surely give one grounds to deduce that the kind of abuses of alcohol and the patterns of drinking in this country which have given cause for alarm recently are probably and almost certainly due to a fairly small minority of people.

We might perhaps also deduce that such abuses are part of the pattern of drinking to which the present licensing laws contribute. I refer of course to the kind of concentrated drinking that takes place in the evening when people go to pubs, which have historically been places having an "Andy Capp" image—if I may use that expression—where people spill out at a late hour. Only last evening I was disturbed by three Irishmen playing skittles with three bottles of beer at a late hour. I had to call the police and have them removed. They had emerged from the pub totally insensible and had obviously consumed a great deal of alcohol in a very short time. That is what makes us different from other countries in Europe, from some of the other countries having the same standards of living to which I have referred.

If the only benefits from liberalising hours of drinking were those connected with tourism and employment which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, has given, and if there were no appreciable change in the abuses, I am afraid that I would not be able to support further flexibility of drinking hours. However, I refer now to the recent experiment in Scotland. Although no official statistics have been published, the voluminous packet of material I received from the Brewers' Society today included some revealing and very encouraging results from the Scottish experiment. The number of indictable offences connected with heavy drinking has decreased dramatically. There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of road accidents resulting from the heavy consumption of alcohol. When I speak of significant reductions, I mean reductions of the order of 30 per cent. to 40 per cent.

Cirrhosis of the liver is not so much a factor in our islands because the kind of drinking that takes place here probably does not lead to the kind of liver diseases which are more prevalent in France and some of the Latin countries where there is a high consumption of wine.

What is very alarming about this country is the high level of social disorder resulting from heavy drinking. I speak not only of the more obvious examples, such as the football violence which has led to the Bill now being considered in your Lordships' House. I took the trouble this afternoon to telephone the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I discovered from them that a very high proportion of cases of child battering take place in an environment of either heavy alcohol drinking or post-heavy alcohol drinking. I discovered also that the incidence of rape after heavy drinking has been on the increase. I learnt too that wife battering—which goes across all classes and is not exclusively the province of working people but occurs among the middle classes as well—is often associated with bouts of heavy drinking.

Without labouring the point, it seems to me that it would be well worth examining the Scottish experiment very closely. If we can reduce the incidence of such highly anti-social aspects of heavy drinking in this country, it would be worth while considering a liberalisation of the licensing laws. This would perhaps make those places where drinking takes place—the public houses, and so forth—less of a domain, as it were, for the males who, in many cases, are alienated males, and more like places for family and social activity. I have in mind something on the lines of the cafes in France and Italy.

To revert to the Andy Capp image, for too long we have seen the enormous concentration of drinking which takes place—and not just in the evenings. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to be on a Tube train at Christmas time, will have seen the way in which people celebrate in the trains in a quite disgraceful manner some two or three weeks before Christmas. Anyone who has travelled on a ship will have seen (as I did when I worked for a shipping company and travelled on its ships) the way in which the crew were conditioned, at their first port of call, to go off on a bout of uncontrollable and alarming drinking, resulting in extraordinary behaviour which was often uncharacteristic of the people themselves.

This reminds me of my Irish neighbour, who says that in Ireland you do not get fighting among the Irish. This might be an Irish tale, but my Irish neighbour says that in this country he is now too old, at the age of 43, to go into Irish pubs because you have to drink with your right hand and punch with your left, or the other way round. He assures me that this is because of the concentrated drinking which has to take place within the hours prescribed by our laws. In Ireland, apparently, one can drink in a much more relaxed way. The grocer will bring your groceries to you at the bar. No doubt there are other social aspects to this pattern of drinking, but it seems to be less violent and less anti-social.

It is that aspect which concerns me. If a relaxation of the licensing laws reduces the violence in our society and increases family activities, then I am all for it. If it benefits tourism and the civilised reception of foreign tourists in restaurants as well, that is an additional bonus. I shall certainly support any legislation to that effect.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, in following the noble Viscount I must say that I think he showed a singular innocence about what happens in public houses in Ireland. I noticed the look on the face of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill. I have seen some strange things indeed, even in Northern Ireland.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. However, I wish that he had been more candid in his Question. I think we might have had more noble Lords attending the debate if it had read: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider extending the licensing hours". We might have had rather more noble Lords in the Chamber, perhaps including some of the Bishops.

I spent 40 years in Fleet Street. I have a peculiar knowledge of pubs and of drinking habits. I have enjoyed very many drinking parties. I have witnessed, in my long life in journalism, many alcoholic tragedies. That is the one side of me. On the other side, I come from a family of abstainers. At the age of 13, before I had reached the age of discretion, I was the Chief Templar administering the oath to other 13-year-olds and getting them to promise not to drink beer, wine, cider, spirits or any alcoholic or intoxicating drink. Then I counselled them, "Touch not the poisoned chalice", "Beware of the first drop", and "Wine is a mocker". I then invited them to sing the old tune, Shall we gather at the river? It all remains very vivid, and it was all very realistic in Ardwick as a boy. The drunkenness was horrible.

The licensing laws certainly strike foreigners as absurd—like many other things in English life, such as driving on the left, cricket, and perhaps even our ceremonial introductions in this Chamber. But our absurdities are cherished institutions, including our remarkable licensing laws. They are all due to World War I. The situation before then was that the public houses were entirely free. Men on their way to work at 7.30 in the morning would have a dram of spirits, perhaps sometimes with a cup of coffee, just as they do now in certain continental towns; and the pubs were open morning, noon and night. The drunkenness in Britain was horrible. However, drinking was to some extent curtailed by poverty and by long hours of work.

Then came the war and the highly-paid munitions workers with nothing on which to spend their money except fur coats, pianos and drink. Lloyd George shortened the hours. He cut out the afternoon drinking and made a rule of no treating. I believe, as a result of long experience, that treating in public houses is one of the great promoters of alcoholism in this country. It is so deeply engrained in the British people that during the first world war, when they could not buy a round of drinks they would pass the money around to each person in the school so that they could buy themselves a drink. When each person's turn came to buy a round he simply passed the money around and they ordered a drink individually. That was done in order to preserve a custom. However, the consequence of Lloyd George's reform was that the consumption of drink was cut by one-half.

For many years after the war drink was no longer a problem, but I think there is an opinion now that it is coming back and beginning to be a problem, particularly a health problem. Figures were given on the radio recently, before I knew I was to take part in this debate, which showed the amount that it is costing the National Health Service to deal with alcohol-related illnesses. They are certainly increasing, and are increasing among women. We all know from our own observation that middle-class drinking is much heavier, partly as a result of expense account lunches and partly because of the cheapness of liquor. Like most other things, cigarettes are now twenty times dearer than before the war. If whisky was twenty times dearer it would cost over £12 a bottle, but it is somewhere between £7 and £8 a bottle.

Today, people have much more discretionary money. There was a time when one gave a party for ordinary suburban friends and provided half the amount of liquor that one would provide for an equivalent party of journalists. Now one's ordinary suburban friends drink like journalists drink, or as they used to drink. There are a number of reasons for this. One is the convenience of supply. The off-licences have multiplied. Brewers have off-licence chains under fancy names. The forecourts of petrol stations are being licensed. Small mixed businesses are applying successfully for off-licences, and there is this vast trade in cash-and-carry from the supermarkets. This expansion of convenience has a great effect on consumption, not only of drink but of everything. Cadbury's always maintained wide margins so that every little retailer would be a seller of chocolate, because Cadbury's knew that the company would sell more chocolate the more retail outlets it had. It is the same thing with drink: the more the convenience, the more people tend to drink.

This new pressure to open public houses for longer hours does not come from the consumers. There are not any candidates in by-elections going around saying, "Vote for me and keep the pubs open all day". They know that that would not win any votes, and that they would lose a lot of votes, particularly from women. This is the reason why the noble Lord and those who support him in this debate are knocking at a closed and bolted door. No Government of this country are going to bring about a big reform in the licensing trade—small reforms perhaps, and maybe something could be done about restaurant licences. I find it incredible that this should have any effect upon tourists. Have any American lawyers stayed away this week because they said, "We will not be able to go into public houses between 3 o'clock and 5.30 p.m."? Do the French not come here for this reason? I should have thought that if we were really concerned to help the tourist trade then we might have a law to insist, as our friends do on the Continent, in Rome and in Paris, that all the bedrooms in hotels should be marked with their fixed legal price or that all the bars should have the price of drinks displayed. That would help. That would show the tourists that we were really concerned about their welfare.

As for the Scottish example, I do not think anything at all of it. The statistics are not in any way convincing. They are full of post hoc propter hoc fallacies. They do not take into account the fact that there has been a substantial increase in unemployment and a lot of poverty. I think it is just possible that one day Parliament may consent to some kind of relaxation of the licensing laws, but that would be on a free vote for both Houses. If it does that, I think it will be absolutely essential to have a long-term experiment in some highly varied districts so as to have some real sociological and statistical evidence that there had been no increase in illness or in social problems as a result of the new lenience.

I am sorry to be so strongly opposed to the noble Viscount, and I do not know what my noble friend will say, but traditionally throughout Europe our Labour movement has always had the idea of temperance in mind. In fact, the Scandinavian socialist parties began as temperance parties. This is a very old tradition. It used to be true of the Liberals at one time, and when you went to a Liberal Party conference you could find no one to drink with because they were all pink-faced non-conformists. All this has changed. The whole world has changed, but I still do not think, changed as the world is, that it is time to have drinking from morn until midnight.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask if he is suggesting that the Government which sanctioned the sweeping licensing reforms in Scotland a few years ago lost electoral support in consequence? I am very sure they did not.

Lord Ardwick

I do not know, my Lords. But if it was a Conservative Government, I do not think they seem to be doing very well in Scotland.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, it is with considerable temerity that I address your Lordships on this issue, because it is now a quarter of a century since I had political responsibility in any way touching on this, but the responsibility which I had then, and in particular relating to two matters, has convinced me—and thinking it over since has maintained my conviction—that the bulk of our licensing laws is hopelessly anachronistic and could well be swept away. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will know very well that the leading textbook on this branch of the law—I think it is the only text book, namely Paterson on Licensing Laws—runs to over 1,700 pages. Does anybody believe these days that that is the sort of legislation that we should put up with in modern society? That legislation belongs to quite a different age, an age where the legislature arrogated to itself the right to determine what was good for others and to enforce it restrictively; and, with reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, had said, that particularly related to an arrogation of the right to determine how the lower classes should conduct themselves. No doubt there is a strong argument in favour of restricting the sale of intoxicating liquors to children, but so far as adults are concerned, what we have is really a hangover from the nannie state, which tells other people how they should conduct themselves and how they should live.

I shall not deal with the economic aspect of this matter, because that was dealt with admirably in the first two speeches with which your Lordships were favoured and I shall be followed by my noble friend Lord Harris of High Cross, but I should like to deal briefly with the social and legal background to it. At common law there was no restriction at all on the sale of intoxicating liquors. The Mermaid, where so much was created, was not licensed premises. Sir John Falstaff drank an intolerable deal of sack compared with the bread that he consumed, but no one suggested that his example—abuse as it was, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to the aspect of abuse—was any excuse for introducing a general system of licensing. That did not come in until the 19th century. Earlier than that, justices could locally, in some cases by special Act, license fit and proper persons to conduct public houses, inns, taverns and victualling houses. It was not until the restricting moral climate of the 19th century that that practice was made general, and became increasingly restrictive, culminating in the Act of 1911.

I mention the two occasions in particular which brought me to your Lordships' House this evening. The first was when I first occupied the office that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate now occupies. I found there the most extraordinary state of affairs. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, referred to it, though not by name—the Carlisle scheme. That arose, as he indicated, out of conditions in the First World War. There was a special body of immigrants of a quite peculiar character engaged in two special areas of vital importance to munition production. The solution was not to extend licensing, because there was already licensing, but to have state-controlled public houses in those areas. One of them disappeared in the early 1920s, but when I went to the Home Office in the late 1950s, the other scheme—the Carlisle scheme—was still in operation.

Of course it was entirely irrelevant to conditions then. There was no special body of immigrants with nothing to spend their money on except drink, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, so picturesquely and strongly put it. There was no special problem of production in the Carlisle area. But could any alteration be made? The answer was, certainly not so far as an Under-Secretary of State was concerned. One was immediately led to know that that was—I trust that it is no longer—the lowest form of political life!

In fact the Carlisle scheme of state-controlled public houses went on until 1971 when it was abolished without anybody suffering the least anguish. In view of that your Lordships may well be on guard lest the noble Lord the Minister has been provided with a brief in favour of inertia—the sort of inertia that led to the prolongation of the Carlisle scheme—and will watch carefully what he has to say.

The second episode was after I left the Home Office, but as a Law Officer I was asked to assist with the legislation which became the Licensing Act 1961. What I found then were very powerful pressure groups against any liberalisation, including some most unlikely coalitions—for example, the Blue Ribbon Brigade with the licensed victuallers. That Act was undoubtedly a liberalising measure, but the Minister in charge, the late Lord Runcorn, and myself each felt that we ought to have gone considerably further. We went as far as we could, supported by the mass of opinion in the House of Commons, but we were frustrated from going further by the virulence of the pressure groups, to which again the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, referred, although not in those opprobrious terms. If the lesson of the first encounter is to beware of departmental inertia, the lesson of the second is to beware of pressure groups!

I said that the present law was anachronistic. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has explained the background on which one can say that that is so, and that is the enormous growth of off-licensing, particularly the supermarkets and the very efficiently organised mass retailers. He went further and described other outlets. That means that anybody virtually can buy what he wants and consume it at home. So far, so good, but where he cannot consume it is in the social and neighbourly atmosphere of clubs and pubs. I hope that at the very least we shall hear from the Minister that there will be early legislation to bring the present law of England into line with that of Scotland, as to which it seems to me that there is an unanswerable case.

I should like to know that the Government were prepared to go further, but I am not sanguine and I shall be content if they will go just this little further and say that the whole problem of licensing, and particularly licensing hours, should be looked at again in a modern context. I end as I began by expressing gratitude to the noble Viscount who introduced the debate. It seems to me to be an important issue because it is an issue of personal freedom which should appeal to all your Lordships.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I also wish to thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery for introducing the debate. I can speak only from my experience in owning a pub in a small village and being a licensee for about two-and-a-half years, until in fact February this year. Like many others, we were a small business trying to provide a meeting place and a social club with service and certainly value for money. Like many others also, we tried to introduce new ideas to entertain our customers. I was prepared to work much longer hours than are now permitted. One has to work long hours to succeed, as it is a very competitive business.

I do not believe that longer drinking hours will result in more alcoholism. I saw quite a lot of the business in that time, and I consider that people were restricted in the amount that they could spend. That is obvious. A pub is a meeting place and a social club, especially in a small village, and tradition counts in the country. If people had longer hours in which to drink, I do not think that they would drink more and I do not think that there would be any problem.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, tourists simply do not understand. We had a restaurant licence. The dining room was alongside the bar. In the restaurant they could drink until 3 p.m., but if they were having a meal in the bar, they could drink only until 2 p.m. That is nonsense. Landlords in pubs take on great responsibilities in running a good establishment. If bad behaviour on the part of our customers is reported by the police or the public, we risk losing our licence. It is the landlord who knows what the customer wants; the customer jolly well tells him. I think that landlords should be given every encouragement. Under the restrictions that are imposed at the moment, life is very difficult for them.

As your Lordships know, food is served in a great majority of pubs now. Food has certainly improved enormously. A little plug for myself: we won two awards in the two-and-a-half-years we were there and got into one well-known guide. Families visit pubs for the relaxed atmosphere. They like to take their children. Children find it difficult to behave well in places where they are perhaps told to be quiet. In pubs, this does not happen. All right, one must have a children's room that must not be part of the bar. I agree with that. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, that it is quite wrong that children should be next to those who are drinking in a public or lounge bar. The customers themselves do not necessarily enjoy this. Children also like to go to pubs which, like ours, have play areas.

I feel very strongly about this matter of the flexible hours and I wish to urge the Government to move on it soon. We have waited a very long time. I sincerely believe that it is not a licence for more drinking but an encouragement to entrepreneurs to attract business. Truly, they can do this only under more relaxed regulations: the present rules in this year of 1985, I feel are far too restrictive. With the commitment of Her Majesty's Government that they will help small businesses, surely legislation should be brought forward to help relieve what I consider to be grossly unfair restrictions on the permitted hours under which we operate at the moment.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she say what hours she would like the village pub to be open? When should it open and when should it close?

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. While I can speak only from a personal point of view, I think that the hours might not necessarily be longer but that they should be allowed at the discretion of the licensee. I think it is up to the landlord. He knows his business. There may be farm workers who want to visit pubs. In the winter, they finish work at 4 o'clock. They might want a beer on their way home and now they cannot have it. I think it should be more flexible. I do not think one should open at 10 o'clock in the morning, or even 11 o'clock. One might want to open at 12. It might not necessarily be longer but I think it should be flexible at the discretion of the licensee.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, it is a great delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, whose teachings from long practical experience seem to me to be more representative than the somewhat alarming memories of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, of life among his fellow journalists. I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for raising the Question. I should also like to follow him in paying tribute to my late noble friend Lord Spens, who, as the tireless chairman of our non-party repeal group, raised the last debate we had—

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, as the noble Lord has referred to me, perhaps I may tell him that I have had a good deal of personal experience of the licensed trade and I am very much concerned about the licensed victualler and his need for a couple of hours off in the middle of the day.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, we shall pick up that point a little later. The tribute was to Lord Spens who raised the last debate we had on this issue, which was on 9th May 1983. I can only say, along with my noble and learned friend Lord Simon, that I hope that we shall have a more constructive and fruitful response from the Government than on the last occasion.

The first national legislation on the sale of alcoholic drinks can be traced back to a Tudor statute of 1495 to restrict gaming in alehouses as a diversion from the more serious business of archery. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery's distinguished father would have approved of that order of priorities! The modern power of the justice of the peace to license premises and to choose licensees dates from as recently as 1552. If we look at the intervening four-and-a-half centuries, we find that the law has oscillated between periods of laxity—as after the Restoration and again following the Napoleonic wars—and periods of severity, as after the Proclamation against Vice and Immorality in 1787 and again over the past 70 years.

Today, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said, the law is of the utmost complexity, with separate licences for sales on or off the premises and intricate, arbitrary discrimination between different forms of drink and whether they are sold in residential premises, restaurants or clubs. I should like to say from the Cross-Benches that, even as a classical liberal of what I might call the highest proof, I would accept that licences to sell alcoholic refreshment to adults should be confined to what the law calls "fit and proper" persons who conduct their business in conformity with what the Erroll Report called, public order, safety, health or amenity". What I cannot accept is that there need be any control over the hours at which such well-conducted business is carried on between willing buyers and willing sellers. The first restriction on hours came, back in 1619. However, it was the first world war which provided the pretext for the most unprecedented austerity over the whole of that period. Under emergency regulations in 1915 the Central Control Board restricted opening to two-and-a-half hours at lunch and three hours in the evening. This draconian regime was eased in 1921, when opening was extended from a total of five-and-a-half hours to eight-and-a-half hours, roughly between 11 in the morning and 10 in the evening, with a compulsory afternoon break. As we have heard, there was a further modification in 1961 when an additional hour's opening was added in the evening.

Thus the restrictions, justified 500 years ago by the call to archery, and tightened 70 years ago in the battle against the Kaiser, have lingered on, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, said, like a legal hangover from the legislative excesses of war.

I was struck by a surprisingly sober tract recently produced by the Campaign for Real Ale. It was called Licence for Change, and it shows to my satisfaction that England and Wales are among the most severely restricted countries outside the Moslem world. Most of civilised Europe, the United States of America and Japan permit all day opening and sale of alcohol. Sweden, as might be expected of a socialist paradise, is the most regimented. Its eight million population is served by only 316 state shops, apparently dispensing state alcohol from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., although the evidence that the Swedes, after all, are human is suggested by the extent of illicit brewing and distilling.

Our native Cromwellian controllers should ponder that even such severe restriction in Sweden has not prevented deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in that country increasing fourfold in the last 20 years and incidents of alcoholism increasing eightfold. This black record is rivalled only by the legendary tales of Australia, where there was a one-hour evening drinking session at 6 o'clock in many states and that did not prevent—indeed it rather provoked —widespread drunkenness, which has declined since the opening time was relaxed to between 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening.

Although the 1972 Erroll Report brought no action in England and Wales, the 1973 Clayson Report brought liberalisation to Scotland. As we have heard, since 1976 the licensing authorities have been given wide discretion in permitting late night opening to midnight and regular afternoon extensions. In contrast to the restrictive Swedes, the Scottish record shows a quite remarkable reduction over the last seven or eight years in every index of alcohol abuse. Indeed, the local police have strongly endorsed liberalisation as having brought a change in habits with civilised drinking and improved amenities in place of the old spit and sawdust drinking dens that some of us can remember. If freedom can have this effect on the Scots, I ask what miracles it might produce among the already civilised English.

Alas, the continuation of these antique restrictions on opening has recently been marked by the declining fortunes of many of our traditional pubs. They have to contend not only with increasing wine drinking and a higher excise on beer but also with increased competition from multiplying off-licences, registered clubs and licensed restaurants. Yet there lies ahead enormous scope for improved business, not least in serving more appetising food and catering, as we have heard, for growing tourism, holiday and leisure trade. Under freedom, the choice of opening hours would vary with locality and time of year. Each pub, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, indicated, could shape its pattern of opening to suit the convenience of its customers, who would no longer have to go abroad to have a drink when it suited them.

The general political and philosophical case for restoring freedom and choice is powerfully reinforced by the economic gains that we may reap from adaptation, expansion and growing employment in one of Britain's major service industries. We have then to turn to the preoccupation of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, and his anxieties about the social effects of freedom on the evils of drunkenness and alcoholism. In the time available, I would simply join others in asserting that for all the emotional rhetoric, these real ills have no logical link whatever with relaxed drinking in the controlled environment of a British public house or a licensed restaurant. Like others, I have shared the anguish of knowing a good many young people, and some not so young, who are caught up in alcoholic excess. I have reviewed the cases in my mind and find that not one of them depended on a pub either as a source of supply or for the opportunity of indulgence. My personal experience is confirmed by the empirical evidence from Scotland, and further afield from Sweden and Australia, which shows that restriction may intensify excessive drinking while liberalisation of the law encourages more civilised behaviour in the supervised social setting of an attractive public house.

I would, in conclusion, urge the growing number of fellow reformers not to settle for minor modifications of the oppressive English law on licensing hours, as we have heard happened in 1961. Let us set our sights, as with the Shops Acts, on the real prize of repeal rather than reform. We shall in any event have to battle against a mountain of prejudice, misplaced fear and obfuscation. Let us not end up by producing a miserable mouse.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, in typical kindliness, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said that although my name is not on the list, he does not object to my making one parliamentary point to my noble friend the Minister. My noble friend Lord Montgomery referred to the Private Member's Bills that I have been able to get through both Houses over recent years. He said very properly that these dealt with the tip of the iceberg and that they were only tiny and insignificant in their scope. The reason for that is that if as a Back-Bencher one intends to use the Private Member's procedure, any proposal has to be modest. Any measure has to be of tiny proportions if it is to get through. If, however, it is intended that we face up to the points that have come out in this short debate, it will be necessary to have Government support.

I should like to make an appeal to my noble friend and ask him to pay a great deal of attention to the formidable contribution made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, a former Home Office Minister who also has experience as one of our leading lawyers and as a former Law Officer of the Crown. The noble and learned Lord did not hesitate to show that the experience that he had gathered while at the Home Office and as a Law Officer made him feel that it was now time to examine the ramshackle set-up that goes under the heading of our present licensing laws.

I was interested in the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, about candidates and the question of attracting votes in terms of any extension of the licensing laws. I have fought 18 elections—a pretty high figure, I should have thought, for any Member of either House. I should like to inform the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that if I—or any candidate—had gone to the polls saying that I would close public houses, I would have been in a darned sight more difficult position to get elected.

When a similar debate took place in another place late last year my noble friend's honourable friend, who was replying to the debate, gave some indication that the Government were perhaps thinking along the lines of sensible reform to meet the present day and age. In his speech he suggested that those taking part in the debate should bring out any little quirks, as I endeavoured to do in my Private Member's Bills. Beyond that, however, he gave me the impression, on reading his speech, that he was perhaps saying something along those lines. I should like to tell my noble friend that the three little quirks with which I was dealing were only three out of 300, 400 or 500 similar quirks. If we have to wait for Private Member's Bills to straighten out those quirks, it will never be done.

I believe that following the Erroll Report and the experience of Scotland, and certainly following the testimony of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I should like to feel that the Government will give some indication that this matter will figure on their list, if not in the next Session—I understand that they have a shops Bill in the next Session which I have no doubt will take up much parliamentary time—then in the final Session, if that is what it will be; I mean the Session following the next one. I hope that this will figure on the grounds on which it deserves to figure.

The existing position hinders the development of many small businesses. There is a need for action to meet the demands of tourism. The time has come for any risk, if there is a risk, to be taken by the Government and for them to give the leadership that is necessary. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for allowing me to butt in when my name was not on the list.

8.37 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I owe your Lordship's House two apologies: first, for not having put down my name to speak and, secondly, for not having heard all the speeches, though I have listened to a number of them. I should not take more than three minutes over what I wish to say. Yes, our present licensing laws, by any standards, are anachronistic. But is there a real advantage in altering them? I do not believe that they constitute any real inroad into the freedom of anyone. What one has to consider when altering anything are the side effects. There has already been reference to the possibility of greater alcoholism, the possibility that the commercial chap will spend longer in the pub, will leave at 4 o'clock and will be even more drunk on the road. That is certainly something we can think about. I do not wish, however, to argue that point tonight.

I wish to put only one argument—that the English pub is something quite exceptional and something that people coming from abroad admire. Our publican works almost harder than anyone else. There is an added advantage. Wherever they go, travellers and people coming from abroad know when the pubs are open. Our climate is not the same as it is abroad. The garden is appropriate for only a very limited time in a good summer. What are you really achieving? Are you simply saying that the laws are anachronistic? That is the burden, I believe, of many of the speeches made by noble Lords tonight.

But that is not the point. Will we gain any real advantage by altering the laws? My opinion, on the whole, is that we shall not. I believe that we would be destroying, or potentially destroying, something that is uniquely English for something that is no better. That is the only matter which I would ask your Lordships to consider. I do not have a view violently one way or the other.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene at this time without having put my name on the list of speakers, and I apologise for not doing so. However, if anything inspired me to say a few words, in spite of the scowling—I beg your pardon, the look which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, gave me as I presumed to stand up—

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord mistakes a look of deep affection for something quite different. I do not know what he would think if I really did disapprove of him.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for explaining what the passionate look on his face really meant when I rose to my feet. There is one other reason I want to speak tonight. There is not a single Liberal down to speak on the list, and I cannot see a Liberal in the House at the moment, except the very distinguished Deputy Speaker, Viscount Simon, who I am sure must be neutral on this occasion. Furthermore, no one has spoken about Wales. Wales has a history in relation to licensing laws, especially on Sundays. Therefore, I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, has spoken about the history.

However, what has encouraged me to speak is that for the first time in this House I can endorse every word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar of Nicholls. To me, that is a great event.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I must intervene. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, is himself influenced by the drink about which we are talking, but the noble Lord's name is not "Lord Harmar of Nicholls".

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am so sorry; I put in a preposition too many. It is of course merely "Lord Harmar-Nicholls".

I should have been delighted to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, with all her expertise in this matter. However, there is a very significant matter that I should like to raise. I am sorry that I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, but from my experience on the bench elsewhere, drunkenness is often not dependent upon whether the pub is open at all. It is dependent upon other social reasons. Therefore, I support the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, in suggesting that there should be a drastic change in our licensing laws.

8.44 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I must apologise to all noble Lords for not having put my name down on the list of speakers. I was not sure what time this debate would come on this evening, and so perhaps noble Lords will forgive me for intervening for what will be much less than five minutes. One of my late husband's favourite quotations was, "Set the people free". It is that phrase around which I want to build a few words tonight.

Other noble Lords have said that our laws are archaic, and in this day and age I would entirely agree. We must have more flexibility in our approach to life and the way we live our lives. Our young people are much more flexible than we were brought up to be. I speak as an old-age pensioner and therefore perhaps my memory is longer than that of some other noble Lords in this House. However, we must be more flexible; we must be more relaxed in how we approach the way we live in our country.

Noble Lords have asked whether, if the pubs are allowed to stay open as and when it is necessary or helpful, that will lead to more drinking. In my opinion we are a conservative nation. The women do not like drunken husbands; we do not like drunken men. The laws of our country do not like people who have taken on board more drink than they can cope with. A person is very quickly picked up in the street if he is drunk; a person is very quickly picked up in the street if he is drunk riding a bicycle; a person is very quickly picked up if he is drunk driving a car. You are certainly not welcome if you come home drunk from the pub.

I would submit that, if the licensing laws are relaxed, for a very short time there will be a certain amount of extra drinking by some people in this country. But I would also submit that that will not last for very long. In supporting what my noble friend Lady Sharples has said, I would say that to a lonely person, to someone who wants someone else to talk to, a pub is very often the only place to which he can go. It is not always something that one wants to do between, for instance, seven o'clock and eleven o'clock at night. A person might be very lonely and very worried at three or four o'clock in the afternoon. For that reason alone I think that licensing laws should be derestricted—if that is the word I am looking for.

We all know that public houses are hard work, but they offer companionship and goodwill to many people who need it. That is all I have to say. I should like to conclude with another quotation that my late husband liked so much: "Trust the people".

8.47 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, if the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, did nothing else this evening but give us some amazing pictures of our colleagues who have participated in this debate, he would have been worthy of our appreciation. We learnt from the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that he appears to have an absolute obsession to be near the Irish, whether in a public house or his neighbouring residence. We listened to my noble friend Lord Ardwick and found, as one would have expected, that he started off with a most innocent and praiseworthy youth, and we were a little disappointed to hear that there would seem to have been a downward slope as he went through that extraordinary place called Fleet Street. When we listened to the charming Baroness, Lady Sharples, I think we would all have guessed that she had received many awards during her lifetime, which has been dedicated to public service; but had I been asked to guess whether the awards were for serving meals in a country pub, I confess that I would have been unable to do so. However, it is extremely fine to know that, among her many other awards, that was one.

When I saw the four colleagues who forced their way aggressively through the gap I immediately thought of the very gallant and distinguished father of the mover of this Motion who would have thought their tactics absolutely in order. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked me whether I could think of the well-known textbook on licensing law which goes to over 1,000 pages. I must tell the noble and learned Lord that I am a little chary about the writing of textbooks and their authors ever since I was told that the great authority on wills, Theobald, died intestate.

Perhaps I may now turn to the subject under discussion. Let me say at once what I think is the view of all noble Lords. We do not have restrictive laws for the sake of having restricted laws. I would say without any doubt at all that my party believes in freedom unless, for one reason or another, in the nation's interest and in the people's interest there has to be a measure of control.

Therefore, one looks at this subject of licensing laws not in a vacuum. One has to look at the question of what really is the social picture. When looking at the social picture, I ought to have mentioned, when I was mentioning other names, the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. It was such a delight to hear somebody who is so well known to us as an economist turn tonight into an historian, and a master, so it would appear, of social expertise.

However, can we look at this situation in a vacuum and without looking at the whole effect of the licensing laws, and the cause of the licensing law, in regard to our people? This is not the only occasion on which Parliament has looked at this subject, and done so quite recently. All of us recognise that there are absurdities, anomalies, and anachronisms, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said. There are all those things. There are examples which were not quoted to your Lordships.

I wonder how many of us know that you cannot serve somebody who is drunk without committing an offence in a public house, but you may do so in a supermarket. Do your Lordships know that it is an offence for a minor to serve anybody with intoxicating drink in a public house, but that it is not an offence for a minor to serve intoxicating drink in a supermarket?

Of course, there are all these anomalies, and of course the Government—any Government of whatever complexion—ought to look and see that our licensing laws are brought into the age of 1985. But we have to look a little deeper than that before we decide on the extent of liberalisation or reform.

There was a debate in another place in November 1984—not a long time ago—on a Motion of the honourable Member for Kingswood: That this House believes that the liquor licensing law in England and Wales should be revised". If your Lordships look at Hansard to see the effect of the various contributions made in that debate you will find, as I did, that it was brought out that there is strong evidence that between 50 per cent. and 75 per cent. of those appearing before magistrates in inner-city areas had been drinking before they had committed their offences; that 50 per cent. of those committing homicide did so under the influence of drink, and that 50 per cent. of the victims of homicide were also the victims of drink.

There is not the slightest doubt—the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to this: I believe he said that he had actually taken the trouble to consult the NSPCC—that anybody going into our criminal courts and hearing those dreadful tales of the battering of children would hear that in so many of them the parent, or the step-parent, has been involved in drinking bouts before any of this shocking cruelty occurred.

Wife bashing has been mentioned. If we look back in our own recollection, as we can do, of friends we have known, people we have admired, people whose autobiographies we have read, lawyers who started off with so much promise, actors who were before the world's stage in a pre-eminent position, we have sometimes learned—I am not in any way trying to preach a temperance sermon—that their family lives were ruined by drink. That does not mean—and I am not trying to put it to your Lordships—that that is an excuse for outdated, absurd licensing laws. All I say is that we ought to know a great deal more about where those people got their drink, and whether they would have been subject to drink in the same way if our licensing laws were altered in some respects.

Only last week this House was engaged in considering the provisions of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Bill. We knew that we were not solving the problem of violence at football matches. But we decided that a Second Reading should be given, and a Committee stage should be passsed, of a Bill which banned alcohol, except in certain limited measures, in regard to our games of football. We did it against a tragic national background. If we did that, and did it as an emergency measure, is it not obvious that the sale of alcohol in certain circumstances must be watched with the greatest of care?

On 5th July another place considered the Licensing (Amendment) Bill, which started in the Lords, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, referred, and indeed of which he was the rather proud parent. He deserves to be proud for the way in which he piloted that measure through your Lordships' House. At that very Commons sitting, at column 685, Mr. David Mellor, the Minister at the Home Office, said: As to the more general reform of the law—I refer here to the much-debated issue of flexible licensing hours—hon. Members will be aware that it is currently under review"— words that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, prayed would not be used of themselves by the Minister on this occasion without any further enlightenment. He went on: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that, before reaching a decision, he will wish to consider carefully the reports of the surveys conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys into the effects of the extension of permitted hours brought about in Scotland by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, together with all relevant data on the indicators of alcohol abuse. The full report, which will include the results of a survey of public house licensees about their attitude to licensing legislation, will be published later in the year". I am sure that that promise by the Minister will be kept. Is it not sensible that we wait hopefully for all that information and report, and then decide to ask the Government to do what is necessary to bring up to date our licensing laws in the light of real information, which will then be before us?

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? The noble Lord mentioned in the earlier part of his interesting remarks that he recognised that there were certain anomalies. Would the noble Lord not agree that the anomaly of the licensing situation in the restaurant trade, particularly, is rather exceptional, and that this might perhaps fit into the pattern to which he referred?

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I find it difficult to disagree that some of the laws appertaining to restaurants are illogical or are not really fit for 1985, but I must condition what I say by an ignorance, until I see reports, of the effect that any alteration would have upon employees in the restaurant trade and of the effect that it might have upon places which are described as restaurants but which, in certain circumstances, could become places where drinks could be obtained at any time that anybody wanted to go into such a place and say, "Please, can you give me a bag of chips? That's my meal—but I am really here for drink." All those things have to be considered. That is why I ended my speech as I did.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord finally sits down, I wonder whether he can confirm that it was under the Government of his right honourable friend Mr. Harold Wilson, as he then was, that Scottish Licensing laws were so drastically liberalised, with such beneficial effects upon alcohol-related crimes.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, in exactly the same way I could quote the fact that there was legislation passed in Scotland banning all liquor from football grounds—which legislation we borrowed last week. All I am saying is this. I understand that the Secretary of State for the Home Department is trying to get really reliable statistical information as to the effect that that Act has had upon drinking and crime in Scotland. In our debate today we have surmised the result. Let us know what it really is.

9.3 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as has been said, it is rather more than two years since it fell to me to reply to the last debate that we had on the prospects for reform of the licensing law. On that occasion it was the late Lord Spens, who we much miss and in respect of whom I share the feelings of my noble friend and others, who asked a Question about flexible opening hours for public houses in England and Wales. Today it is again my pleasant task to reply, but first I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for providing us with another opportunity to debate the subject. His Question has generated worthwhile and lively debate, and the expression of some powerfully held convictions and some equally powerfully expressed anecdotes, and we are indebted to him for that.

My noble friend has disclosed his interest in the licensing laws as president of the Restauranteurs Association of Great Britain. He has drawn attention, in particular, to the restrictions on the permitted opening hours of licensed premises in England and Wales—restrictions which affect public houses, hotels and wine bars as well as restaurants—and to the problems they create for licensees, who have to explain to overseas tourists why they cannot enjoy a glass of wine or a glass of beer at 3 o'clock or 3.30 in the afternoon. We have heard, too, of apparent inconsistencies in the law. These arguments, and others, have been used to suggest that a general reform of the licensing law is now necessary, if not overdue. Against that, other noble Lords, notably Lord Ardwick and Lord Mishcon, have sounded notes of caution on the grounds that we must have regard to the serious problems arising from the misuse of alcohol, and that any reform of the law which would have the effect of increasing its availability must proceed in the full knowledge of the likely consequences.

The various arguments for and against radical reform of the law have been rehearsed on many previous occasions. 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, recommended fundamental changes in the law. If all its recommendations had been implemented, we would have today a very different licensing system and one which gave licensees and their customers a greater say in when and where drinks should be available. But many of the committee's proposals proved controversial, particularly when viewed against the growing concern about alcohol-related problems. Those problems are no less serious now. Indeed, there have been increasing demands on health and social services over the years as a direct result of alcohol misuse. I say that despite the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, about per capita consumption and cirrhosis, which to some extent I found quite encouraging.

Successive Governments have reacted cautiously to demands for relaxation of these laws, for fear of adding to the substantial social and economic costs of misuse, which are estimated at over £1,500 million a year—a staggering figure. The Expenditure Committee on Preventive Medicine in another place and the Advisory Committee on Alcoholism both stressed in 1977 that any relaxation of the licensing laws should be approached with caution. So did the 1979 report of a special committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which urged that there should be no further relaxation of the broad range of licensing provisions.

Dampening to my noble friends' enthusiasm though it might sound, I thought it important to say something about the obstacles in the path of licensing law reform, some of which were well put by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I do not wish to give the impression, however, that the Government are irrevocably opposed to reform in the future. It would be misleading to suggest that. We are, however, concerned about the effects of increased consumption and we must therefore be satisfied that any changes in the law, modest or radical, will not have undesirable consequences.

We have heard references to the Scottish licensing system, to the extended opening hours it has brought about, and to its benefits in terms of sensible drinking. Perhaps I ought to declare my interest as one who lives in Scotland and is therefore in a position to benefit; but the fundamental difference in the licensing systems north and south of the Border lies not so much in the prescribed permitted opening hours for licensed premises, for those are broadly the same, as in the facility in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 whereby licensees can apply for extensions, on a regular basis, to those hours.

We have heard that these substantial changes in the law in Scotland have been the subject of surveys commissioned by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and undertaken by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The preliminary results of one survey on drinking and attitudes to licensing in Scotland were published in May. Those results showed that in the period 1976 to 1984 the average weekly amount of alcohol consumed rose by some 13 per cent. The increase was almost entirely contributed by women, with the increase most marked among women aged between 26 and 45. The OPCS concluded that since consumption by men did not rise in the eight-year period, the increase in women's drinking is unlikely to be a direct consequence of the changes in the licensing laws. Instead, it is more probable that it results from a change in Scotland to a more relaxed attitude towards drinking in general, and in particular to women's drinking.

Additionally and perhaps not surprisingly, 73 per cent. of those questioned agreed that the present licensing laws are an improvement. 79 per cent. agreed that because public houses were open longer, people did not rush their drinks as they used to (and that was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson). But a significant 40 per cent. felt that the longer licensing hours encourage people to drink more.

The information which has been published so far is no more than the preliminary findings of one survey. Those results are being analysed more extensively and will be published, together with other material from the general population survey and the results of a small survey of public house licensees, in the main survey report later this year, as my noble friend Lord Montgomery said. It is important that we consider that full report in detail, together with all available data relating to alcohol-related harm, before considering whether similar relaxations in the law should be introduced in England and Wales. This must be the sensible way to proceed, but I assure your Lordships that we will take account of all relevant information before coming to a conclusion.

The area of the licensing law in England and Wales which attracts the most demand for change is that of permitted opening hours, and that theme has been stressed tonight. Certainly most sectors of the drinks industry and the licensed trade seem to favour the introduction of more flexibility. But that, my Lords, is probably the extent of the agreement. It is when one comes to consider how the law might be amended that one finds that there are fundamental differences of view among the various interested parties. My noble friend's association seeks an amendment to the law which would enable restaurants to serve alcohol with meals at all times, 24 hours of the day. The British Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers Association shares this view. Other members of the licensed trade seek less radical reforms. Some favour a system similar to that recommended in 1972 by the Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, which would have allowed individual licensees to determine their own opening hours within the period 10 a.m. to midnight. Again, others believe that the maximum number of opening hours should remain at 9½ hours a day but that licensees should be free to choose their hours up to that limit. There are other permutations; and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, pointed out the dangers of concentrated drinking hours, as did the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

These examples show the range of views expressed by members of the licensed trade. But theirs are not the only views to be taken into account. The tourist boards favour flexible opening hours and point to the criticism by overseas visitors of our present system. The police and the magistrates can be expected to hold their own strong views on any proposal which would have the effect of increasing the availability of alcohol. And of course members of the public will be affected by any change. Indeed, the Home Office has received a number of letters from individual members of the public who are concerned over any suggestion that public houses should be allowed to remain open until midnight. Their fear is that the noise and nuisance caused by the departure of customers would become intolerable if the closing time was extended by another hour. In our consideration of the licensing laws we must have full regard for the views expressed by those directly affected, particularly by those living in the vicinity of licensed premises.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord why he thinks that the law of nuisance is not sufficient to deal with that problem?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not as familiar as perhaps I ought to be with where one can draw the line with the law of nuisance; but I think that the relevance of licensing laws to the general problem of nuisance caused by people who frequent pubs, and might do so late at night, really does bear thinking about. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred particularly to the question of skittles with bottles being played late at night. I think that what I have just said indicates that there are many others who might be affected by the sort of problem to which this might lead.

But my noble friend's Question goes wider than licensing hours: it asks when the Government will consider some more general reform of the licensing laws. I have to say that we are not contemplating a review of the entire licensing system. The present arrangements have evolved over a long period of time and although they may be imperfect in some respects, and seem unnecessarily complex, they do nevertheless fulfill a necessary function. Few would argue for the abolition of the requirement to hold a justices' licence for the sale of alcohol or indeed for the removal of many of the licensing requirements which exist for the protection of the public and the maintenance of law and order.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly raised the question of alcohol and crime. We have heard disturbing figures on alcohol and crime. There is no doubt that there may be a connection between the two. Perhaps I might also say that most of those who drink do not, of course, commit offences. That is an important point to get across. But we must not underestimate or ignore the real problems which the minority can cause in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, mentioned petrol stations. Yes, concern has been expressed recently about the grant of off-licences to petrol stations. What I can tell the noble Lord is that the Government have the matter under review.

I am glad that my noble friend Lady Sharples, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, raised the question of children in public houses. As my noble friend Lady Sharples said, the basis of the prohibition on entry to bars of young people under 14 is to protect children from too early an introduction to the risks of alcohol, and from what might be considered an unacceptable environment. Similar restrictions exist in many other countries. While we recognise that many responsible parents would like their children to accompany them into pubs, it would not be easy to relax the restrictions on the entry of children in these circumstances without also putting at risk those other children who might then be permitted entry to bars without the benefit of a responsible adult.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, made a most robust speech describing what he felt was the anachronistic—"archaic" was the word used by my noble friend Lady Macleod—posture of our drinking laws. He referred to the Carlisle scheme. I believe that it was called the Carlisle state management scheme. But the noble and learned Lord was quite right that that scheme no longer exists. I think I am right in saying that the scheme was wound up in the seventies—I do not have the precise date. But there are therefore no longer any additional controls on licensed premises in the Carlisle district.

The noble Lord hopes that I am not motivated by a brief which is based on inertia. He at least balanced that by saying that he hoped I would not be bullied by the pressure groups. I shall try to fall into neither difficulty. But I do not want to leave the impression that the Government refuse to contemplate any amendment to the licensing legislation. That is not the case. I shall have to ask my noble friend Lady Macleod in this case to trust the Government.

I have explained the Government's view on relaxations in the permitted opening hours. That door has not been closed. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls can point to his attempts, so far very successful, to amend sections of the 1964 Licensing Act relating to late night entertainments on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. I am sure that my noble friend will acknowledge, as my noble friend Lord Montgomery said, that his Bill is a modest measure—the tip of an iceberg as it was referred to earlier—and it may not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, would like. But it nevertheless shows that the Government are not opposed to amendments to the law when these are shown to be desirable. This I think again takes on board the theme of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. Nor are we afraid to impose new controls on the availability of alcohol when the need arises.

I need not add to what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said just now in relation to alcohol and sporting events. I realise that my reply to the Question of my noble friend will not have been as positive or as encouraging as he and others would like. I recognise, and have every sympathy with, his arguments in support of licensing law reform, and indeed those of others who have spoken in support of him. But I am sure he will appreciate the force of the opposing views, equally serious and sincerely held as they are. All deserve to be heard. I am therefore grateful to him for providing the opportunity to debate the matter again, and the views which have been expressed will be taken into account as consideration of this develops further.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he be a little more specific about the date for the publication of the full report on the Scottish experiment? He said "later in the year". I wonder whether he can explain precisely what that means.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it is difficult to be much more precise, but I should hope that it will be some time in the autumn. But, equally, I should hope that my noble friend will not tie me to that date.