HL Deb 07 April 1986 vol 473 cc49-72

5.43 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when, in the light of the Scottish experience, they will consider reform of the licensing laws for England and Wales.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question concerning the reform of the licensing laws which stands in my name on the Order Paper. Before I turn to this Question, perhaps I may comment that this is, I believe, the first Unstarred Question which my noble friend Lord Davidson has answered from the Front Bench and therefore I congratulate him. It may be of interest that some 36 years ago I was present in the Arts Theatre at Cambridge as a fellow undergraduate when my noble friend made his debut in the first of three distinguished performances in the footlights review. He went on to produce the review, so that augurs well for his parliamentary career. However, there is one big difference: in the footlights review everything was in verse with piano accompaniment, whereas here he is unfortunately stuck with prose.

Turning to the subject matter, we debated this subject in July last year, and at that time the history of licensing was outlined in great detail and the case for reform was postulated very cogently by a number of speakers. Noble Lords might well ask what has changed in the interim. The answer is the publication of the long overdue report on the results of the Scottish experience. This admirable document, which was commissioned by the Scottish Home Office and written by Eileen Goddard for the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, has finally emerged. It is a splendid document, and I cannot imagine why it has been delayed so long and why it has had to be extracted from the Government with so much difficulty. It demonstrates quite clearly that the limited reforms which have been introduced in Scotland have been extremely effective, and that any fears that may have been expressed about supposed problems have really been without foundation.

It is in this context that it is interesting to examine the history of licensing reform in Scotland against what has happened—or rather, perhaps more accurately, what has not happened—in England and Wales. In 1971, following recommendations from an earlier report by the Monopolies Commission, two parallel committees were set up to review the licensing laws: one for England and Wales under the chairmanship of Lord Erroll of Hale and one for Scotland under Dr. Christopher Clayson.

I am particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy is speaking in this debate, as it was during his time as Secretary of State for Scotland that the Clayson Committee was set up. My noble friend will be able to speak very authoritatively on this subject. I am also very glad that there are a number of other speakers on the list of speakers, not only some who spoke in the debate in July last year, but also some who did not. Their contributions will be very important.

The Erroll Report appeared in 1972 and the Clayson Report appeared in 1973. As a result of the latter, most of the recommendations were introduced in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. However, my Lords, what happened in England and Wales? Absolutely nothing. Government inertia set in, and this is a sad tale of inaction and inactivity.

There are many reasons—and very good ones—for the urgent need to reform the licensing laws. They include the special interests of the restaurant trade, the benefits for tourism and the impact on employment. These arguments have been presented before, will be presented again tonight, and need to be repeated again and again.

However, I want to take this opportunity to mention a further publication which has just been published by the Adam Smith Institute. It is called Time to Call Time, and it is a very good document indeed. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will recommend this document to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary and also to his noble friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I would go even further and suggest that this publication should be required reading for every member of the Government. It is not very long, but it is very clear.

Having read this remarkable document, one begins to wonder why there is not a more general movement for the total repeal of the licensing laws. In the debate on this subject in July last year this was what my noble friend Lord Harris of High Cross proposed. Of course he is quite right and I am sure he will come back to it. But having been brought up, as it were, in a school where limited objectives were the order of the day, I have decided to confine myself to reform as being a more practical way to start.

In this context, in the light of the Scottish experience there can be no reason for further delay in introducing in England and Wales the liberalisation of licensing which has been proposed by the Erroll Committee. I refer particularly to the extension of opening hours during the period between 10 a.m. and midnight. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to say something more positive tonight to the effect that this will happen.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, and to congratulate him on bringing this vexed but important subject onto our agenda for us at least to examine it here, as well as having the examination in the other place. The brutal fact is that we have not kept pace with the modernisation of our nation in all things and certainly not with the licensing laws. They, for some unknown reason, have remained as at 1915 when they were introduced by David Lloyd George under the Defence of the Realm Act. That was done because it was recognised that if the workers did not work to produce goods and spent too much time on the booze, production would fail and we could lose the war. Those laws were not designed to be imposed on the City of London, the racecourses or any other places like those but on the places of work. There was a great deal of sense in that.

But I would suggest that we have moved on a little since then; everybody has moved on since then except the successive governments of this nation. That is a fact beyond dispute. We still have these ridiculous situations where a restaurant can open and sell liquor but a bar must close; or a restaurant can open, but come 3 p.m. it cannot give you another glass of wine or another drink. This is a musical joke everywhere; indeed, it is on the hoardings of London Transport. Throughout the USA and Europe we were rightly the butts of the ridiculous licensing law system.

Indeed, in London today, I think, one licensing law operates at one time in one borough and at another time in another borough. I can remember when I was leader of Fulham Borough Council I used to enjoy a Sunday drink. I went to the corner of the road until 2 p.m. and when we got chucked out we simply crossed the road. By doing so we had left Fulham and were in Hammersmith and we could have another hour for drinking. Then, if we were having a big discussion, it was quite comfortable to jump on our bikes and go down to Putney to continue it with another couple of pints in a bar in Putney.

That might seem fun. It was all right; we enjoyed it. But can you imagine what would happen—I ask your Lordships to listen to this—to the millions of tourists who spend so much time in our country, particularly in the capital city, when they realised, as we all realise now, that you can buy as much liquor as you like in any supermarket? You can buy as much as you like; you can pull up a great big van and load it at any off-licence with all the liquor in the world, with nothing to stop you giving it away, if you want to, or arranging to collect it later on. This is the farce we are operating. The licensing laws of Great Britain can be summed up as organised frustration, making Britain look silly.

Another point I want to make is that it appears that in some halls, as long as there is a dance, one may have drinks a little longer than if it is simply an ordinary pub. We all know the restaurant supper hours. If there is a special occasion, whatever that means, one can enjoy a few more drinks with supper in a restaurant than in an ordinary pub, say, in the City or any other part of the country with the exception of Scotland. I am bound to say, if I may speak paranthetically, that I believe that what has been done in Scotland has been sensible and has had a great deal of success.

I appreciate that the temperance movement has genuine concern for the physical and spiritual aspects of alcohol abuse. But its argument is totally blunted when one realises that you can get much more alcohol outside the licensing laws in Great Britain than you can within them. This is the crass absurdity that we must do away with.

It should be seen that while flexibility—whatever than means—is a change, it is impossible to change the licensing laws of Britain for the worse unless you get prohibition. We all know what that did for the USA; it made for totally free drinking everywhere. If a person wanted a drink in the United States, he did not do what I can remember happening in Wales on a Sunday. People went to the British Legion Club and hopped round to the back door of the pub, which was all great fun. You had to get in "the know" of the gangsters who, during prohibition, slew close on 200,000 Americans. That was the result of this piece of stupidity. We have nothing like that in this country. People are fairly level-headed in Great Britain and there has been no massive demand. People have maintained the laws; they have carried out the laws as they exist.

Then came the Scottish experiment. This has been a success from every point of view, but one of the most fundamental reasons why it has been a success is that it has been approved by an overwhelming majority of Scots. I do not think we should dismiss that by any means whatsoever. It is not so much that there is far more to drink or that they drink far more. I read in one report that the Scots like these extra hours not to consume more drink but to consume it more slowly and to be able to have a little more time to talk. That is a heinous reason, I am sure, for relaxing the licensing laws!

Another point we should note is that crimes related to drunkenness in Scotland have declined during the experiment by 41 per cent. since 1979. I believe right the way through it has been remarkable. When crimes related to drunkenness have declined by this amount, there must be something in the idea of making the licensing laws more sensible.

We must admit. as I have already said, that 30 million pub users and several million restaurant users have abided by our licensing laws. That is completely guiltless of any logic. People should not be punished because they have been sensible. When one looks at the Scottish experiment, one can see how helpful it has been to people in Scotland, and I believe it would be wrong to deny what is now enjoyed in Scotland to the Welsh and the English.

In so far as we have seen that there was harm from excessive consumption before the experiment in Scotland, the amount of harm from excessive consumption has reduced. This was not because of restrictive laws but through providing a little more elbow room in the spirit of going out to have a drink and allowing people a little more time. It will be realised that vast purchases can be made at off-licences and other stores. People will realise that they must get home. They will leave the pub at three o'clock because they cannot get another drink and will store up a few more at home. All that the licensing law seems to be, at every turn of the argument, is just a squalid nuisance, and this is an absurdity.

On the other hand, the BMA warning must also be heeded. There is an alcohol problem in society. There is a drug problem in society. We all know—and this has particular application to the alcohol problem—that forbidden fruits are always the most attractive. When you can flog a bottle of Scotch somewhere to someone in those circumstances he will have it even if he does not really want it. If you can walk into any off-licence or public house and simply buy liquor that will reduce the alcohol problem. When something is not necessarily in short supply yet ordinary people are prevented from purchasing it in step the criminals and the black market.

It is true that 50 per cent. of people who commit homicide and 50 per cent. of their victims are under the influence of drink. We have seen terrible things as a result of drinking and driving. We have seen what cirrhosis of the liver has meant, and the costs to the NHS. One has to look at all the arguments, and let them be recognised. In Scotland all the problems occurred when there were restrictions like those which we now endure in England and Wales. If I stood here and said that a massive change in the licensing laws would result in more murders, more drunken driving and more cirrhosis of the liver, I would have no case. But that is not so, and we must have the courage to look at the situation.

We need not merely sensible licensing laws, but laws that will help and not hinder the trade; laws covering both those who enjoy a drink and those who provide it. I believe that our country needs a policy on alcohol. The Government should collate all the reports which exist. Some were referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. There is a need to get them all together and to look at what we can do.

I have already mentioned the example of prohibition in the United States. That was the one extreme. I do not think we should go to the other extreme, but we are at a half-way house, and a half-way house is a miserable house. We are in the middle of the road with our licensing laws; and if you want to get knocked down at some time or other, stay in the middle of the road. The present situation is an absurdity.

In conclusion I want to say that we need to modernise the law. We need to reduce illicit drinking by youths and addicts, but at the same time we need to make life reasonably tolerable for the masses of ordinary citizens of our country who have for so long patiently abided by, though laughed at, our licensing laws. I support the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, in the way in which he opened this debate, and I hope that others will support him. If there is any change, it will be richly deserved by the British people.

6.3 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, like the noble Lord I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Montgomery for raising this subject once more. As he said, 15th July was when we last discussed the subject in this Chamber, and we then had a long and informed debate. He has helped us this afternoon by telling us about the Scottish experiment, which seems to have been more successful than even the Scottish people envisaged at the time.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, I want to say a few words about the tourists coming to our country. I do not think that he mentioned the numbers of tourists. In 1984 13,644,000 people came to our country. They spent £4,175,000. That is a lot of money. They did not spend it on drink; often they could not get it. If the Government move their position on this matter, tourists might spend something on drink; whenever they come they are welcome.

They come to our country for many reasons. They come to see the beauty of our country. They come to see the pageantry of our country when it is on display. They come to see the cultural heritage of which we are so proud and about which perhaps we boast too little. I refer to our beautiful houses, our cathedrals—all the lovely buildings we have in our islands.

Tourists also say that the food has improved. There are more restaurants open. They are run by people of all nationalities who have come to live here and who have opened restaurants. We all hope that the tourists enjoy their visits. We hope that having been here they understand more about our island people. But we know that in no way can they be expected to understand our licensing laws.

As I know from going to Spain, a Spaniard, for instance, lunches at three o'clock. You cannot have a glass of wine with your Spanish food at three o'clock in this country, and visitors cannot understand this. It is possible to go out and buy a bottle of wine but it is not permissible to take it into the restaurant during closing hours.

I shall be brief. I think I said a few words about the public houses and the great part they play in the life of our country during my brief remarks last July, and certainly I shall not repeat that. I hope that the Government will take the plunge. It is just a plunge to try out an experiment. If it is wrong, if it does not suit the country, if it does not help our tourist trade, they can of course go back to what is an out-of-date set of laws.

The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, was right in saying that much is swiftly changing in our country and that this is a completely out-of-date law. In my view the shops hours situation is almost a parallel. We are grown-up people. I do not believe that if flexible hours are allowed, abuse of this law will have much effect. I do not think that the laws will be abused by people in this country. A change in the law will mean that people will not down several pints quickly just because they feel that they must drink a certain amount before the pub closes. It will help because in certain cases where the publican decides to stay open later people can enjoy themselves for a longer time. I feel that the time is right to try an experiment with more flexible hours of opening. Last July I quoted my late husband, who said, "Set the people free". That is what I should like the Government to do now.

6.8 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for giving us a chance again to discuss this most interesting topic. It is always one which produces colourful speeches. I already feel a bit of a wet blanket following the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, with whose sentiments I agree, but I am afraid that I shall probably introduce one or two caveats. This does not mean to say that I am not entirely for the idea of the liberalisation of our licensing laws, but one may forget that it has been 10 years since the Scots tried this departure from the British method of the control of drinking in these islands, which has differed from what happens with some of our European neighbours who have no such controls.

In those countries they have grown used to using alcohol in a different way socially. Social drinking habits in those countries are quite different. Nevertheless the dangers of alcohol are still present in those countries. The effects of the dangers of alcohol are simply different under our system from those which prevail in those other countries. As the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, graphically pointed out to us, we have in this country a frustrating atmosphere in which people drink. We have these fixed hours. We have had them since they originated, as he said, under the Defence of the Realm Act in the First World War, for reasons which are quite remote from the reasons for which they are enforced now.

We went along the road of controlling drinking by producing rigid hours and out of this, perhaps, came some ills which we see now, such as particularly concentrated bouts of drinking which resulted in increased hooliganism. The consumption of alcohol has gone up. We have seen increased road accidents over the years, though there has been a reduction recently due to better policing and so on. I do not know the reason and I cannot answer the question posed by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, about why the Government have taken so long to react to the Scottish experiment. Nevertheless it has taken 10 years to effect a change in social drinking habits in Scotland.

To begin with, the experiment was slow in taking off. It was four years before one could see that people's drinking habits had changed. They have indeed changed and the statistics are unarguable. The numbers of drink-related crimes such as assault and battery, sexual attacks and drunken driving have all decreased by large percentages. One may quibble at the statistics. It may not be 40 per cent. but it may be 20 per cent., and so on. Nevertheless there has been a marked change in social drinking in Scotland and that could take place here. Indeed, I agree with other speakers that now is the time for us to embark upon that road. I agree that it is really absurd that we should have these kinds of controls and that we should be the odd people out. I agree with the Government that we do not want a nanny-ed society. We do not want a society which is told to do this or told to do that. More responsibility should be put on the individual to decide what is right and what is wrong for him and that he should suffer the consequences if he strays beyond the law. But it does not happen overnight.

The Government should now seriously answer this question: when will they take cognisance of the successful Scottish experiment and start us off down the road? I suggest that one of the reasons they have not acted very promptly is because of the important contribution that the sale of alcohol makes to our economy. They are afraid of rocking the boat. I believe that in the league table of income producers in this country alcohol is about fifth. It represents about £5 billion-worth of business to this country. I do not think that will be affected. In Scotland—and this may be a danger—the consumption of alchohol has gone up. Some experts have suggested that this may particularly affect women at home, for women are drinking more at home. This could have dangerous social consequences and could lead to some of the ills of drinking which one sees in other countries and which result in premature death from cirrhosis of the liver and so on. But there are always ills attached to drinking. In this modern age we should seriously consider going down the road of liberalisation. We should take it gradually.

The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, will think that I am being rather Alliance on this, but we on these Benches are known for being reasonable and using common sense in these matters. I support the noble Viscount absolutely. I do not want him to think that I do not. But the Government need at this stage to come out into the open because their performance has not been good recently—for example, in their attitude to drunkenness in the streets and their reaction to the clogging up of the courts with drunken cases. The police have been instructed to caution rather than to charge people with ordinary drunken offences. This has resulted in the police not wishing to take proceedings against drunks.

The figures which have been produced concerning the reduction of drunkenness on our streets are false because the police are not doing anything about it. It is not worth their time and trouble to proceed. Detoxification centres which were useful in the past and were not very expensive public facilities have disappeared altogether. If the Government are to go down this road, they need at the same time to realise their responsibilities to protect the public, particularly the young, against the evil effects of drink and the abuses of alchohol where they occur—and indeed they do occur. The Government need to take a more serious approach as they do towards drugs. Where drugs are concerned in this country that is a different problem because we wish to eliminate drugs completely whereas drink is part of our culture and we have to live with it.

I believe that the Government spend about £17 million a year on helping people who suffer from the ill-effects of illicit drugs. But I believe that only £2 million is spent upon the sufferers from abuse of alcohol. I should like to see a reappraisal of this approach. After all it is a well-known fact that in this country in 1984, conservatively, 50,000 people died as a direct effect of alcohol abuse. In that same period only 250-odd died from drug abuse. That is not to say that there is not a serious problem. Drink is a serious problem if it is allowed to get out of hand. There will always be areas where the Government need to control, to educate and to advise, particularly the young. It will take a long period of time before we achieve such a change in our social habits that people use drink sensibly and it is no longer a macho thing for young men to visit a pub and drink for two or three hours to see how many pints they can put down.

My son is a young officer in a Scottish regiment. I was horrified when he told me that it is still in a Scottish regiment a macho thing for young officers to show the sergeants' mess that they can drink and stand up after consuming extraordinary amounts of alcohol. I daresay this is very good for young men but I am distressed to find that it is done in a Scottish regiment, in a country which has been so progressive in reform in this area.

I should like to finish on the note that I, and I think the great majority of people in this country, when they understand more about alcohol, more about what happens now and more about what the ill effects are, as well as the good things connected with alcohol, believe that the Government need to take a strong guiding role to help to curb the abuses so that we can move into the next century without this unnecessary nannying of our people and allow them to act responsibly on their own initiative.

6.17 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I wish to thank my noble friend for initiating this debate this afternoon. He knows well of my interest in the subject. I was owner and licensee of a country pub for some two and a half years until about a year ago, so I know something of the problems of the present licensing laws which I feel act as a straitjacket to a publican when he or she should be expanding the business. Flexible hours would help.

My noble friend's suggestion about the Scottish experiment for pubs to be open between the hours of 10 and midnight or choosing the hours to suit the publican would be a wise idea. This, I hope, would possibly eliminate the ridiculous 10-minute drinking-up rule which invariably is abused. I do not believe that there would be an increase in the consumption of alcohol in pubs, because I saw at first hand on many occasions that people only drank what they could afford and they then ceased to drink. They did not abuse the existing hours.

The biggest sanction on a licensee is the fact that he can lose his licence if there is excessive drinking in his pub. When he loses his licence, he loses his livelihood. Other noble Lords have mentioned leisure. For whatever reasons—unemployment is obviously one—there is increasing leisure. Surely we should change the rules to give those in the pub trade a chance to show what they can do. Noble Lords, I am sure, realise that pubs are now catering for families, sometimes with a separate room for children. Bar meals, which used to be possibly just a sandwich, have improved enormously and people will go miles to a good pub. I can assure your Lordships that people came a long way to our pub because we had very good food.

Why should visitors in the bars having lunch on a Sunday—and it is often a meal; it is not just a bar snack—have to finish drinking at 2 o'clock when in the restaurant (and we had a restaurant licence with only six tables) they can drink until 3 o'clock? It is quite extraordinary and nobody can understand it. I feel that the Government are dragging their feet. We should be benefiting from the tourist boom. The tourist boom will continue if we provide, especially in pubs, the service that both the British and the foreign tourists require—and quite rightly so!

We have been patient for a very long time. We have had many reports and we have had many debates; and we have had Questions over a number of years on this subject. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister comes to reply we shall be told of changes in our antiquated licensing laws in England and Wales to follow the Scots.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on his persistence in pressing Her Majesty's Government to reform the licensing laws in England and Wales in the light of experience in Scotland. I am sure that he would join in tribute to our late friend Lord Spens, who showed himself well ahead of his time in raising a Motion in almost identical terms three years ago. I have thought very hard about this in the meantime and I can think of only one serious ground for not welcoming an early Bill to permit freer opening of public houses in England and Wales. There cannot any longer be the fear of awful consequences from alcoholic excess which Scotland has now proved to be without foundation. For my money, the worst aspect of early reform would be the prospect of a repetition of all those speeches we heard from the temporal and spiritual opposition when we had the Shops Bill before the House.

If the Government heed the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, and take courage to trust the people with freedom in this matter, I have no doubt that we can expect the right reverend Prelates to wax indignant, if they have any wax or indignation left, about the end of Sunday as we know it—in which case I hope that in large numbers deaf ears will be turned to that argument, as happened with the Shops Bill.

It seems to me that the issue of freedom is the same in both cases as, indeed, would be the likely outcome. If pubs and shops were equally free to open for the convenience of their customers, we know from Scottish experience in both cases that not all the outlets would equally avail themselves of the opportunity. We know that in some areas, on some days, at some times of the year, some shops and some pubs would find it worth opening to cater for their own clientele. We know that the public have differing patterns of working and differing styles of recreation. And we know that for holidays, locals and tourists from home and abroad choose differing patterns of going out, eating out and drinking out. There is enormous scope for expanding the service sector to provide more facilities and employment in serving both drinks and also, as the noble Baroness has said, meals and other refreshments.

There is no longer any objective, logical justification for imposing these restrictive and uniform prohibitions on opening times for pubs, any more than for shops, cinemas, restaurants, hotels or clubs. Why should not willing buyers and willing sellers be permitted the freedom to trade when it suits them? If the law of nuisance is insufficient to prevent damage to third parties, by all means let the law be strengthened on the general principle that the polluter should be made to pay any costs he imposes on others.

The only conscientious ground for hesitation about applying the liberal rule of laissez-faire to the sale of alcoholic refreshment has been that a minority will harm themselves and harm others. There is a danger that this incantation can become the refuge not only of killjoys and paternalists but even of tyrants. All freedom carries costs and dangers: consider motoring, air traffic, point-to-point racing, eating, dieting, smoking and, I would add, even stopping smoking. All are manifestations of free choice and all bring risks of suffering, handicap and possibly premature death.

I personally have no more reason that the next man to be complacent about alcoholic excess. Like others, I have friends or relatives who are or have been in danger from the affliction of alcoholism. But the joyful news is that experience in Scotland confirms the judgment of the Erroll Report that there is no correlation between the misuse of alcohol and the hours at which pubs open and close. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, has said, so long as pubs are licensed, landlords have a very powerful incentive indeed to check drunkenness. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has said, the worst manifestations of the abuse of alcohol occur well away from pubs, in private homes and elsewhere.

Lest I am thought complacent, I would draw the attention of remaining sceptics to a very thorough assessment of the Scottish evidence in the British Medical Journal of 4th January this year. There were two authors, a Dr. Plant of the Alcohol Research Group and a Mr. Duffy, a statistician with the Medical Research Council. I should like to put on record their summary of the findings in their own words. They said: The study showed no appreciable effect on the level of alcohol related morbidity and mortality, though some improvements were noted in relation to the rates of convictions for drunkenness. The changes introduced since 1976 appeared to be popular and there was widespread perception that public drunkenness had become less commonplace". If your Lordships read the detail of the article in the British Medical Journal, you will see that it shows that although mortality and hospital admissions from alcohol remain higher in Scotland than in England and Wales, the previously rising trend shows a more marked relative improvement in Scotland since longer opening was permitted after 1976. The report also shows that for both public order offences of drunkenness and drink-driving there has been a relative improvement in Scotland, especially compared with the rising trend of convictions for drinking and driving in England and Wales since 1977.

The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, quoted the report of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. For me, the most impressive single finding appears in table 4.3 on page 13, which shows a marked fall in the average number of drinks consumed per hour. It lends credence to the view quoted from a licensee at the very end of the report, on page 42: "To me, the Scotsman at one time drank against the clock. It's a better way now; no screaming for drinks in the last hour; a much more civilised way of drinking. Scotsmen used to go out to get drunk, but that's changed now—like the English they go out for a drink".

As a mere Sassenach, who spent seven years in those rougher parts in the days of the bogus bona fide traveller who invented journeys to get a wee dram in Scotland, I may say I rejoice in this transformation since I left those parts. The quicker the Government can bring the boon of reform to the English, the sooner we can further civilise our own pattern of drinking.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I too would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Montgomery on having raised this Question and for having put the point so clearly. I speak, as your Lordships may have guessed, because of the reference in the Question to the Scottish experience. I admit to being the person who must be held responsible for initiating the reform which took place in Scotland. As Secretary of State, I appointed in 1971 the committee under Dr. Clayson to review the law and to make recommendations. The committee, with admirable expedition, reported to me while I was still in that office and I was able to set in train the action which led to the legislation. So I am the instigator or culprit (whichever way you like to look at it) so far as Scotland is concerned. I hope I can make a contribution to this debate as someone who lives in Scotland and who took a leading part in the changes there.

First, I must make the distinction completely clear between this subject and Sunday shopping, because there has been some confusion. The shops and pubs in Scotland were subject to entirely different regimes on Sundays. The Shops Bill on the subject of Sunday trading which is at present before Parliament has no relevance in Scotland because the situation there has been for many years what the Bill now proposes for England and Wales. I cannot overemphasise this point: it is being missed continually in public discussion, in articles and broadcasts, and sometimes it is not even known.

If it is mentioned at all that Scotland is not affected by the Sunday trading Bill, it is mentioned at the end of a broadcast, with Scotland even being put together with Sweden as if Scotland were not a part of this country. The proposals which are in the Shops Bill are already operating in Scotland and have been so operating for many years—for much longer than since 1976 and the licensing law reforms we are discussing this afternoon. The point is that the restrictions in England and Wales concerning shops, with ridiculous anomalies such as being able to buy a newspaper on a Sunday but not a Bible, did not exist in Scotland and so there is no question of reforming them.

In sharp contrast to that, the liquor licensing laws in Scotland in the 1970s prohibited Sunday opening, besides severely limiting weekdays. Drunkenness was a serious problem in Scotland—worse than in England. Some of your Lordships may be surprised to hear me say that something was worse in Scotland than in England and Wales, but I go back to the 1930s because I lived on the outskirts of Glasgow at times, as well as in the Highlands. There were two factors which applied and dominated. The first was an incentive to drink as much as possible before closing time. The second was that many pubs and bars—the equivalent of the "local" in England—were simply dens for hard drinking where the customers were all men, because they did not think of taking their womenfolk to such places.

When I appointed the Clayson Committee it was my hope that rationalising and liberalising the licensing laws in Scotland would not increase drunkenness and that indeed it might reduce it. The recent report of the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys and the statistics for charges of drunkenness in Scotland vindicate that hope and also the Clayson recommendations. Drunkenness is on the decrease in Scotland.

Of course, there were doubts at the time. To illustrate my intentions at that time, when I was invited to address the annual gathering of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh in 1971, I referred to this subject, together with the work then in progress on improving trunk roads, including an important one in Perthshire. I was therefore able to say that, in more than one sense, my aim was to straighten out the devil's elbow!

If I may say so, I was sorry to hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that at least one Scottish regiment continues an ancient custom concerning drink. I also have a son in a Scottish regiment, in which he is a company commander and also president of the mess committee of the battalion. He certainly would disapprove: he is almost teetotal and a fitness fiend, as are some of the other officers. It was therefore no problem when he had to serve for two years in the army of the Sultan of Oman, where there was no alcohol.

In the changes in Scotland there were problems for the licensed trade, and we should be considerate about those matters where England and Wales are concerned. To move from a six-day to a seven-day week and to longer hours meant changing the patterns of employment and it also meant increasing costs. That led to more jobs and the additional costs were more than outweighed by additional custom. Drinking has become more civilised in Scotland, as the report confirms, and more people are drinking in moderation in public places. In particular, the reform has helped the tourist industry in Scotland. Visitors, especially from abroad, expect to be able to get a drink in the late evening and on Sunday, whether it is during the Edinburgh Festival, the Commonwealth Games, or in a country inn. Also, in Scotland visitors do not have to worry about the possibility of the wine being less wholesome than it should be. As for the "wine of the country", that is as good as ever and will continue to be so, however the beneficial ownership of the distilling industry may be changing in the coming months.

I am not suggesting that any reform in England and Wales should follow closely the Scottish example. I modestly submit that what has happened in Scotland is worth looking at, especially because on this subject, like Sunday trading, Scotland is often forgotten or overlooked, much to the irritation of people like me whose homes are in Scotland and who can be in central London within two hours.

I shall end by reminding the House about a farcical element of the Scottish licensing laws up to 1976. Alcoholic liquor could only be sold on Sundays to someone who had travelled for at least three miles. He was known as "the bona fide traveller". As a result, certain hostelries, strategically placed about four miles from the centres of cities and towns, did a thriving business on Sundays, mainly for customers driving from home. They had to keep a book and the book was for the signatures of the travellers, with their addresses, for inspection by the authorities. As they all had to drive on, or in many cases to drive back, at least three miles to their homes, this was a travesty of the requirements for safe driving and a contradiction of the "Don't drink and drive" campaign.

Your Lordships will see why reform was necessary in Scotland, but I believe that we took the opportunity at the same time to bring about a general improvement, which has succeeded.

6.39 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I must apologise for being a late entry this evening. I should like to mention a few words, as I spoke in a similar debate some three years ago when the subject was raised by my late friend Lord Spens. Like all other noble Lords, I should like to add my support, especially as one of the younger Members of your Lordships' House, for the recommendations and the need for action.

I do not want to mention the rush hour and all the other issues that have been raised, but I should like to refer to one aspect of the British tourist industry. Statistics have shown that, if the Government implemented more flexible drinking laws, an estimated 25,000 new jobs in public houses alone could be created. These would substantially result from increased food services. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned the anomalous position in Scotland. I would add that in England it is possible to drink in a moving boat, train or plane for 24 hours a day, while one cannot drink in a pub. May I just add my support and hope that the noble Viscount the Minister will give some encouragement to more flexible laws in the future?

6.41 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, I come in to this debate without having my name on the list of speakers, which means that it is my duty to be brief, as indeed he was. I come in because there is one point which I do not think has been made. I support absolutely the main ones, such as the fact that tourism calls for reform, the fact that it would help employment and the fact, as my noble friend Lady Sharpies said, that we ought to be more fair to the licensee who has the obligation of seeing that these laws are carried out. All of those are crying out for some real reform.

But in addition to all those matters, I believe that there is a parliamentary reason which is very much the concern of those of us who are in the Chamber today. The licensing laws are at present a jungle. We all know that and we as legislators ought to see that they no longer remain a jungle. It is possible to cut a path through, which will mean that the laws can be properly applied. So quite apart from the day-to-day reasons which have been very eloquently stated, I believe that we as parliamentarians ought to be concerned and we ought to see to it that the existing confusions are removed.

I say that because I have been a licensing magistrate for 30 years or more and the different views of various licensing benches, and particularly of the chairmen of licensing benches who may have very strong views, result in the application of the law as it now stands being very unfair between one district and another. I believe that from the central pivot of Parliament we ought to bring in some reform which will make the position more clear and more fair.

The most significant speech that we heard was from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. He was the Secretary of State for Scotland who brought about the Scottish experiment. I thought that his evidence was very clear. He said that Scotland led the way in the United Kingdom in seeing whether it was possible to bring about a reform of the law, which would in no way encourage alcoholism or other things that none of us wants, but which would bring about a more civilised approach to the way in which we allow our licensed houses to be run. He has testified as one who had responsibility for bringing in that reform for Scotland, and the experience of a year or two has shown that he moved in the right direction, and England and Wales ought to follow.

His final point was one which we ought to keep in mind. The United Kingdom is England, Wales and Scotland, and I have always felt it quite ludicrous on matters like this, where we are literally talking about the same country, that over a certain boundary line the law and the way in which it is applied is different. Since the experiment in Scotland has shown that the direction in which they have moved seems to be the right one, I believe that the Government have enough evidence to look with favour at a possible reform in the rest of the United Kingdom.

If I may say a final word to my noble friend who will be replying, I hope that he has noted the significance of this debate. Every Bench in this House has shown that noble Lords think that this subject ought to be looked at with sympathy and good sense. Not one noble Lord in any part of the House differed and that is something which the Government ought to take into account when considering the next step that they will need to take. It is because I believe that the case is a sound one, and that, quite apart from the convenience to individuals that comes from it, we as law makers have a duty to clear up what is an anomaly, that I am hoping that my noble friend's reply will show that the Government intend within the reasonably near future to move in the same direction that Scotland pioneered some time ago.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am sure that all speakers and all noble Lords present this afternoon are very grateful to the noble Viscount for having raised this Question, and he should be very gratified that no fewer than two noble Lords found it impossible not to jump up and make their contribution to his debate. It is right that the subject should have been taken very seriously, because after all this is an area which affects many people's lives very closely indeed. The length of time that our public houses and other centres remain open affects those who go to them, affects those wives who, in many cases, stay behind and wait for closing time to come and, as has been said often today, affects those visitors from abroad and our own people on holiday in this country who would like to see a change.

The noble Viscount has today asked us to look at the Scottish experiment, and he made a very good case, as other speakers have done, for emulating this change in England and Wales. Other noble Lords have pointed to the anomalies in our present licensing laws, all of which are only too true. Hours have been spent in this House discussing anomalies in the Bill on Sunday trading. I certainly would not wish to confuse the two issues; but there are very serious anomalies in our present licensing laws.

My noble friend Lord Molloy made a very powerful case for change on the basis that the present law is hopelessly out of date and he was supported from many sides. I was more than delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, suggest something with which I quite agree, from my lesser experience of pubs than many speakers, that there is no doubt that those hastily downed final beers before closing time bring on very much greater intoxication than leisurely drinking over a longer period.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, talked of the record of drinking in neighbouring countries and pointed out the true fact that there is very much more drinking in those countries which do not have licensing laws. But he should remember that many of those are wine-growing countries, and a lot of drink-related illnesses come from a very high consumption of wine. I know that we were all delighted to hear the truly professional voice of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, who talked from the point of view of the publican, with all that he has at stake if he does not keep his public house in order, and who also made the important point that people have a certain amount to spend on drink and once having spent it they do not go further.

I feel that those points have been very well covered, so I should like very briefly to comment on three aspects of the subject. First, I should like to give my own view of the conclusions of the Scottish experiment; and, secondly, I should like to say a word about the other measures, apart from changing the licensing laws, which the Government could take to combat alcohol abuse. After all, there can be action of a social, legal or fiscal nature; but our purpose today is to address certain legal measures to control alcohol consumption. It is very important to remember that the use of tax and other revenues for the purposes of research, health education and such preventive measures aimed against alcohol misuse might be more effective in curbing that misuse than restrictive licensing arrangements.

Lastly, I should like to say a word about the changes, besides making opening hours more flexible, which could be made to enhance public houses and perhaps to adapt them to meet the needs of all members of the family today and the needs of the increasing number of tourists whom we are lucky enough to attract to our shores. From the research that I have carried out I must confess that I find the results of the Scottish experiment to be somewhat equivocal in pure statistics. In the same way as one cannot quite put one's finger on the reality of the Loch Ness monster, I found that I could not quite quantify exactly what came out of the experiment, although I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, who drew some very important conclusions from the figures.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She keeps referring to the Scottish experiment but the Unstarred Question refers to the Scottish experience. It has been 10 years now; and it certainly was not an experiment when I started it—it was a reform. We now have a report and police observations on what has happened during 10 years; but it is not an experiment.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for pointing out that I was using the wrong word. It is of course an experience and not an experiment. Nevertheless, I was going to speak more in general terms. I believe that the following advantages are absolutely true. First, the longer drinking hours were welcomed both by the public and by the licensees generally. Secondly, the longer hours were thought to have led to more civilised drinking habits. The evidence of changes in behaviour lends support to this view. Public drunkenness became less commonplace. There was a very great improvement in relation to the rates of conviction for drunkenness; but as I understood it, there were also changed police procedures which could have made some contribution to this.

Thirdly, although there had in fact been an increase in overall alcohol consumption during this period, this increase, I understand, was attributed to women drinking more while the level among men remained the same. Although the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was saying that he thought that this increased drinking among women was probably carried out at home, I should like to think that there were many younger women who go to pubs now. I was going to say that this more relaxed attitude towards women joining men for a drink was absolutely to be encouraged and to be applauded because it would make a very great difference. I do not believe that anything very dramatic and entirely conclusive can be proved from the statistics coming from this experience; but I believe that the changes made there played an important part in our quest for finding a formula whereby alcohol misuse is discouraged while normal enjoyable sociable drinking is allowed to proceed. This is the important point that has come out over the past 10 years.

Perhaps I may move briefly to my second point which flows from the main conclusion of the Clayson Committee, which was as follows: Licensing, a negative and restrictive process, can play only a strictly limited part in the control of alcohol misuse". So bearing in mind that we all start from the same premise—namely, that unlike tobacco or hard drugs, there is nothing wrong with a normal consumption of alcohol—let us look at government policies which could be strengthened to combat alcohol abuse, other than the crude and doubtful way of restricting its sale in pubs.

Action on Alcohol Abuse has produced some very disturbing figures showing that the level of problem drinkers is very high. It amounts to about 1 million in the United Kingdom. Arising from that, as many as 15 per cent. to 30 per cent. of male acute hospital beds are occupied by patients with alcohol-related disease. It is estimated that between 40 per cent. and 60 per cent. of our prison inmates are in custody for drink-related crimes, although it is very difficult to establish a figure for that. The total cost of alcohol abuse is approximately £1.6 billion per annum, and more than 25,000 deaths, including motor accidents, can be attributed to that cause. I notice that my figures are not quite the same as those of the noble Viscount, Lord Falk land, but I produce them with complete conviction.

Surely when confronted with this tragic human toll the Government should move a little way from the present £1 million per annum which they give to fight alcohol abuse. Voluntary organisations such as Alcohol Concern have been begging for more resources in order to research and monitor the problem and to invest in health education regarding the misuse of drink and in preventive and curative measures, all of which are possible had they the resources to do so. An active government policy on those educative and preventive lines should be implemented in conjunction with any planning regarding the licensing laws that might come about.

My third and last point relates to the arguments used by those parties who, from I suppose a vested interest, wish to see opening hours extended. The Brewers' Society and the National Union of Licensed Victuallers—supported, I understand, by the British Tourism Authority—have proposed that a modest amendment to the law in England and Wales should be made along the following lines: Individual on-licensees (or registered clubs) would be entitled to vary their existing permitted hours, within the outer limits of 10.00 a.m. to 12 midnight (subject to a maximum of 12 hours in any day, or more in exceptional circumstances). In each case the variation would be subject to the approval of the licensing justices. It could be made for up to 12 months at a time. Existing procedures for the extension of hours in special cases would remain. There are no current recommendations for change to the existing law on Sunday trading". That is what they think would be both practical and effective changes that could be made in the present law. They complain with some justification of the injustice of allowing off-sales outlets to increase and argue that people who have a serious alcohol problem are unlikely to obtain their drinks through the controlled environment of the pub and that supermarkets and other off-licences would be a very much more likely source of supplies for them.

However, it is not only those who have a vested interest who support more flexible opening hours. Many ordinary, moderate social drinkers do so too on the grounds that change would be in the interests of the consumer, allowing a greater range of choice; that it would be beneficial to tourism and holidaymakers generally, as has been said so often today; and that foreigners are really astounded by the practices in this country. This is the view not only of people who have an interest in changing the licensing laws but also people who feel that this is a very outmoded habit and that it is time it was changed.

My final point relates to changes which can be made to widen the service and the contribution made to the community by pubs. Surely it is absolutely unbelievable that children should be left outside pubs while their parents go inside to have a harmless beer. I know that there have been changes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, said. The amount of food available is being increased and there are some leisure activities. However, that is not nearly enough. I feel that the family of today needs a place to which they can go and eat something together and have a drink together. There should be more provision of non- alcoholic drinks and something for children to do in pubs.

I very much feel that the presence of children in a pub would be very beneficial. There is nothing more harrowing than the bell-like note of a child who says, "Dad, you're drunk!" or, "Mum, you're talking too loud!". The presence of a child in a pub, if the service and the environment were changed naturally in order to make it possible for children to be there, would have a highly beneficial effect upon the amount of drinking that would go on.

Again, with regard to the Sunday trading Bill, I feel that the enjoyment of a child going shopping would be much less than the enjoyment of a child going out with his or her parents to have a sandwich and a Coke in a public house during the weekend.

I know that some alcohol concerns have put forward very strong views about how there could be changes in the environment of pubs in order to make them more attractive to foreigners—along the lines of bars on the Continent—and to parents so that they may take their children with them.

I hope that the noble Viscount the Minister will think carefully about all that has been said this evening. There is no doubt that the Scottish experience was a very important one; every speaker has said so today. At the same time I should like to think that the Government will put more money into dealing with the subject of alcohol abuse and into supporting any changes that might be made within our present public houses.

7.2 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for providing your Lordships with another opportunity for debating the prospects of reforming the licensing laws of England and Wales. I should also like to say how delighted I am that my second reply—not my maiden reply—to an Unstarred Question should be addressed not only to a noble friend but to an old noble friend (or perhaps it should be noble old friend) for, as he said, our friendship dates from those now distant but still memorable days of Cambridge just after the war.

My noble friend mentioned that I used to write verse and now have to speak in prose. When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, I was reminded of Noel Coward's first composition, which began: Every peach out of reach is attractive> Cos it's just a little bit too high". However, I will not pursue that point any further.

It is one week short of nine months exactly since my noble friend asked a similar Unstarred Question on this subject, but I am sure he will not expect me to produce a miraculous delivery. Although I was unable to attend that debate, I have naturally studied the Official Report very carefully, and particularly the reply given by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur. Whether my reply tonight will be more positive and encouraging than my noble friend's was on that occasion will be for your Lordships to decide. I am in any case grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, which has shown quite clearly that the subject of licensing reform continues to arouse strong emotions and convictions—which have been well expressed today.

Much has been made in this debate of the findings of the surveys conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys into drinking and attitudes to licensing in Scotland. We have heard that if the law in England and Wales governing permitted opening hours were amended on Scottish lines, the benefits would be widespread. For example, licensees of restaurants and public houses would receive a welcome boost to their trade, as my noble friend Lady Sharpies mentioned; there would be increased job prospects; and, my noble friend Lady Macleod said, tourists would find less cause to complain about our irritating customs: no longer would they be denied the opportunity to enjoy a drink in the afternoon. Other noble Lords, and in particular the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, have advocated caution, and have warned that the social and economic costs associated with the misuse of alcohol will rise if we remove the current restrictions on its availability.

I do not think it necessary or appropriate here to repeat all the points my noble friend Lord Glenarthur made in reply to the Question put by my noble friend Lord Montgomery in July last year. Many of the comments he made on that occasion remain valid, but perhaps I could emphasise one that explains the Government's approach to licensing reform, and it is one that I believe will find support on all sides of your Lordships' House. I hope it will answer the point put so cogently by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. It is this.

The Government have consistently taken the view that any move towards extended or more flexible hours for licensed premises in England and Wales must take fully into account the likely effects on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. We cannot pretend that the problems associated with alcohol misuse are insignificant. Nor can we accept the view, which is sometimes put forward, that because it is only a minority of the population who indulge to excess the law should disregard that minority and be tailored to the moderate majority.

It is perhaps significant that the Question put by my noble friend asks not whether but when the Government will consider reform of the licensing laws in the light of the Scottish experience. That rather implies that all the evidence to emerge from Scotland since the introduction there of extended licensing hours points to beneficial results. The picture is not, however, quite as straightforward as that. At this point, I should like to mention my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and to thank him for his instructive and constructive contribution to this debate, and for giving the House the benefit of his enormous experience on this occasion.

The purpose of the recently-published report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys was to assess the long-term effects of changes in Scottish licensing laws resulting from the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. That Act introduced three fundamental changes. The evening closing hour of licensed premises was extended from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.; public houses were for the first time allowed to open on Sundays; and there was a new facility enabling licensees to apply for regular or occasional extensions to their opening hours. It is the use of that facility which has led to many public houses in Scotland opening throughout the afternoon and late into the night, beyond 11 p.m. The surveys conducted by the OPCS compare the levels of alcohol consumption and the patterns of drinking before and after the implementation of those three changes and explore the attitudes of the general public and of licensees to the revised licensing laws.

I shall not attempt to describe all the report's findings, but it may be helpful to point to a few that are of particular relevance to this debate. In the period 1976 to 1984, women's consumption of alcohol increased by 36 per cent., due in part to a rise in the number of women drinking but also to an increase in the amount drunk by individual women. In contrast, there was only a very small increase in consumption by men, despite the fact that they were far more likely to have drunk on licensed premises during the afternoons, and they made more use of extended evening hours and Sunday opening of public houses.

What is also interesting is that the time spent drinking, by both men and women, increased by more than an hour a week, but the rate at which alcohol was consumed fell noticeably. Those few findings alone suggest that the longer licensing hours in Scotland have led to more relaxed and leisurely drinking.

There is therefore some encouraging news to emerge from the Scottish report, but to balance the picture perhaps I might draw on the OPCS study a little further. The Health Education Council guidelines suggest that a sensible, healthy level of drinking for men is no more than two or three pints, or the equivalent, two or three times a week, and no more than half that amount for women. The OPCS report found that of the men interviewed, 26 per cent. had drunk more than the maximum recommended, a slight increase over 1976 when the figure was 24 per cent. In the case of women, however, the proportions exceeding the recommended limits rose from 7 per cent. in 1976 to 11 per cent. in 1984. The picture is not therefore entirely one of responsible and relaxed drinking. Over a quarter of men and slightly more than a tenth of women in Scotland are drinking more than the sensible levels suggested by the Health Education Council. It would be wrong to suggest that those increases in the levels of drinking are directly attributable to the changes in Scotland's licensing hours.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Viscount give way? He has made a very important point, but answers have been given to the amount of drinking by women in Scotland. Many of them used to drink at home because they could not go out for the longer hours. Therefore, some of the conclusions are wrong. It is like the three professors: one of them drank a lot of brandy and water and he got drunk; another drank a lot of whisky and water and he got drunk; the third drank a lot of gin and water and he also got drunk. They concluded that water was intoxicating. What I am trying to say is this. Many of the women in the report would have drunk that amount of alcohol at home because the times were awkward for them to go out to drink. They might well have drunk less in the company of their friends than alone at home.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I do not know whether I can answer that intervention and I think I shall not try to do so, but it is an extremely interesting point.

I repeat what I was saying, because it is an important point. I was saying that it would be wrong to suggest that these increases in the levels of drinking are directly attributable to the changes in Scotland's licensing hours. That is what I said. Equally, we should not pretend that relaxed licensing hours will always bring relaxed drinking; although I am sure that it will in the case of the noble Lord.

It has been mentioned in this debate that a reliable guide to the extent of alcohol misuse is found in the various health-related statistics, including the indicators covering registered deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. We have heard that the evidence of alcohol-related harm in Scotland suggests that the introduction of extended opening hours has not resulted in increased problems but instead has had a neutral effect. I think that is probably right. Although, when comparing the position in Scotland with that in England and Wales, there are a number of factors which make it difficult to interpret the indicators clearly and to draw firm conclusions, so far as the particular issue of flexible licensing hours is concerned there is no evidence that the Scottish legislation has caused an increase in the incidence of alcohol-related harm.

We have also heard in the course of this debate statistics of drunkenness and drink-driving offences in Scotland used to support the claims that only good will flow from relaxations in the licensing laws. But, to paraphrase Andrew Lang's words of almost a century ago and, perhaps rather appropriately in this debate: People often use statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost—more for support than illumination. So I have to offer a note of caution: statistics may not always be what they seem. They may be affected by a number of factors, and in particular the amount of effort the police, in this case, devote to catching drink-drivers and their attitude towards drunkenness.

The drunkenness figures for Scotland show little change in the number of offences recorded or charges proved between 1976 and 1980. This was the period when the use of flexible opening hours in Scotland gradually became widespread. If flexible hours had had any marked effect on drunkenness one might have expected to see some change before 1980. As it is, the sharp drop in offences proved occurred from 1980 onwards, and more likely reflects a change in police procedures. Nor can we look to the statistics of drink-driving offences in Scotland to assess the effects of flexible licensing hours. The figures do not reveal any particular trend and are probably greatly influenced by the police perception of priorities and the deployment of police resources. All we can say about these various statistics is that they provide no evidence that extended licensing hours in Scotland have had significant adverse effects.

Up to now I have concentrated my comments on the effects of the longer Scottish licensing hours in terms of the evidence that is available. The recent OPCS report has provided a very detailed analysis of patterns of drinking in Scotland and it is right that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary should want to consider the implications very thoroughly, along with the health and offences data, before contemplating relaxations in the licensing law in England and Wales.

But there is a further aspect which it is important to mention, and that is public reaction to change. It is certainly the case that overall the changes in licensing laws in Scotland have been popular and 73 per cent. of those questioned by the OPCS agreed that they were an improvement. But it is significant that whereas the 11 p.m. closing time and Sunday opening of public houses in Scotland found favour with most people, the extensions, and in particular the late evening extensions, were considerably less popular. Opinion was fairly evenly divided on afternoon extensions but majority opinion was opposed to late night opening after 11 p.m.

In England and Wales various public opinion surveys have been conducted over the years to assess the demand for longer or more flexible opening hours. They do not suggest widespread support for change. The surveys show a fluctuating minority in favour of increasing pub opening hours which reached almost 50 per cent. in 1984. My noble friend Lord Montgomery may, however, take comfort from the results of a 1984 survey which showed that 85 per cent. of those interviewed thought that restaurants should be able to sell alcohol whenever they were open.

There is considerable public concern about the extent of alcohol misuse in this country, which may influence the results of opinion polls. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said that he wants to take into account, as part of his review of the licensing hours, public reaction to the picture to emerge from Scotland. I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a responsible approach.

I cannot pretend that, public opinion apart, the pressure to remove the present retrictions on opening hours of licensed premises has in any way eased in recent months. That would be far from the truth. I certainly do not underestimate the strength of the case for change which is put by the tourism industry. Nor should we disregard the benefits in terms of new job opportunities that may come if we release licensees from some of the restrictions on their ability to trade. Various figures are quoted in relation to the number of new jobs likely to be created if the licensing hours were relaxed. My noble friend Lord Montgomery said on a previous occasion that several thousand new jobs could be expected in the hotel, restaurant and catering industries. A figure of 25,000 new jobs in public houses was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso. I have no wish to dispute the figures. Suffice it to say that in my view the prospects of any new job opportunities are to be welcomed. Certainly I can assure noble Lords that the Government will not lose sight of the tangible benefits, in terms of tourism and employment prospects, to result from liberalising the licensing laws.

The Question asked by my noble friend Lord Montgomery was: when will the Government consider reform of the licensing laws? I hope I have said enough to convince him and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate in support of change that the issue is under very active consideration. My right honourable friend made it clear in another place recently (Official Report, vol. 94, cols. 397 and 398) that he had a lot of sympathy with the view that the law is out of date, and believes there are strong arguments for considering a change. At the same time we need to be sure that we are on firm ground before embarking on such a course. I cannot anticipate the outcome, but I hope that it will not be too long before the Government's conclusions are announced. Until that time I shall refrain from speculating on the prospects of legislation. I hope, too, that noble Lords who take a cautious approach to reform will have been reassured to learn that we take very seriously the concern that is expressed.

We have had a stimulating and interesting debate and I hope that my reply has covered adequately most of the points raised in it. I conclude by again thanking my noble friend for providing this further opportunity to discuss a subject which, as always, has provoked keen interest.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes past seven o'clock.