HL Deb 17 December 1986 vol 483 cc248-63

8.10 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I thought it might be helpful if I started by giving some background as to why this measure has been brought before your Lordships. As on past occasions, I must begin by declaring an interest, as I am the honorary president of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain. The RAGB, as it is generally known, is a trade association concerned with safeguarding the interests of independent restaurants and promoting the highest standards of catering.

Your Lordships will be aware that in July 1985 and in April this year I initiated short debates on the need for some general licensing reform, possibly based on the Scottish experience. I had hoped that Her Majesty's Government would take this question on board and would introduce some measure during the current Session. However, as the Queen's Speech failed to produce any new development, I thought it might help both Her Majesty's Government and the cause of licensing reform to proceed on a step-by-step basis. This simple measure is therefore one very small first step in that direction.

This one-clause Bill will allow flexibility for restaurants or any other establishments at which table meals are served to provide drinks with meals at any time. The main problem for restaurants concerns the afternoon hours when late lunch customers request drinks with meals. It will be obvious that lunching habits vary widely throughout Western Europe, and indeed countries are on different time-scales. For instance, the Spanish lunch-time generally starts at about the same time as the English lunch hour ends. Throughout Western Europe there are no restrictions and only the United Kingdom has remained with outdated and outmoded regulations concerning the serving of drinks with meals in restaurants.

The restaurant trade is not pressing for late night extensions, which are already available up to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. through special certificates, but is concerned with the afternoons between 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. on weekdays and between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Let me make one point quite clear. People go into restaurants to eat, and drink is an accompaniment to food. If people want to drink there are many other outlets where that need can be satisfied. Therefore it follows that this Bill is not intended as a bonanza for boozers. Quite the contrary; restaurants provide an important service within the tourist industry and general substantial employment, but they are currently disadvantaged by the restriction on hours. This is the case throughout the length and breadth of the realm, although there has been a move forward in Scotland, for which we must all be grateful.

In conclusion, this Bill is about the quality of life. It is about tourism. It is also about employment. Most job creation schemes are expensive but this modest measure will provide many jobs at no cost whatsoever. This Bill will allow the British restaurant trade to operate on the same basis as continental Europe and most other parts of the world. I commend it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.)

8.15 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support the Bill, which has been so clearly and succinctly presented by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. I must declare an interest in this matter, because when I last supported the main theme of the Bill presented by the noble Viscount some years ago I was not quite in the position in which I find myself now. Since that time, as some of your Lordships will be aware, I have become the chairman of a trust—the Brantwood Trust—which supports the home of John Ruskin in the Lake District. The trust maintains the house, which is open to the public, and it receives 30,000 visitors a year.

My managers are always looking for opportunities to increase revenue and recently they decided that one of the stable blocks where Ruskin used to keep his horses and carriages should be converted into a restaurant, which has been done. As Ruskin supported the Pre-Raphaelites, my managers and advisers thought it desirable that we should decorate the restaurant in the Pre-Raphaelite style but rather than associate it with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood we should refer to the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood. It is furnished with full length portraits of ladies who were associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, and those pictures were presented to us by the Manchester Art Gallery.

I must apologise to the House. Because of prior long-standing commitments I shall not be able to stay until the end of this debate. I am sure that it is not necessary at this late hour for me to put forward further argument in support of the realistic Bill that is now before your Lordships. It seems to me that it is very much in the public interest that such a measure should be passed. The Bill ought to be welcomed by the Government as being another step forward, and not merely a step forward in the sense mentioned by the noble Viscount in his speech but a step forward in harmonisation, particularly with EC countries, so that our arcane laws of licensing will become modified in a European sense in the future.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I, too, should like to add a few words of support for this useful little measure which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Montgomery in his customarily lucid way. I must declare a previous interest in exactly the same way that he did, because I preceded him in the office of president of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, a duty that I carried out to the best of my ability for nearly 10 years. I therefore support this Bill not only out of loyalty but also because I think it is an extremely good Bill, especially as I tried to bring forward exactly the same kind of measure about seven years ago but failed because the Home Office said that it would be tackling the job piecemeal and that we should try to obtain wholesale licensing reform.

Having served for some years in the Home Office and knowing its ways, I suspect that when it said that the Bill would thereby become too big and should be the subject of a public Bill and a private Members' measure, that was a polite method of putting it in a pigeonhole. Perish the thought that such a thing should happen today! I was only too delighted to hear the present Home Secretary, Mr. Hurd, mention the desire to introduce racing on Sundays.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

Hear, hear!

Lord Mancroft

The noble Baroness says "Hear, hear!", my Lords. Five years ago the Home Secretary would have been swinging from the nearest lamp post if he had suggested such a thing. I know, because I was then chairman of the Tote, and when we tried to get betting on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on a Sunday I realised that I was in danger of losing my job. However, times have changed.

I went all over the country when I tried to introduce my little Bill and I found very little opposition indeed. I know that my noble friend Lord Montgomery has also made detailed inquiries. If I thought for one moment that this measure would increase the incidence of drunken driving or alcoholism I should not be supporting the Bill at all. I do not want to add to the reasons for commendation given by my noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, too, has added his support for other reasons—but I should like to put forward one new one.

I am strongly opposed to nonsensical Bills which the public despise and which the police shut their eyes to, and which authority does not want to touch. In Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble said: "If that is the situation, the law is an ass; the law is an idiot". I despise asinine and idiotic laws. This law, which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, is trying to reform, is an asinine law, and so are the existing licensing laws generally. When I come to think about it, so are the Sunday shopping laws. I was very sorry indeed to see them fall by the wayside. I have been deeply concerned with them. Therefore, I am very pleased to support this measure.

I remember the 1954 Shopping Act. It was at the Despatch Box representing the Home office in your Lordships' House, that I tried to get it through. I spent nearly three columns of Hansard trying to persuade your Lordships to understand why only a Mohammedan or a practising Jew could operate as a barber in Scotland on a Sunday. I failed, and I hope the noble Viscount will have more success with his Bill than I had with mine. I beg leave to support the Bill.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, this is a Bill which one has unqualified pleasure in supporting. I can say without fear of intelligent contradiction that it is a measure which is long overdue. We must all be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for taking the initiative and goading us into action to remove a stupid anomaly which has been tolerated for far too long.

To be able, if one so chooses, to enjoy a modest glass or two of wine, beer or cider with one's main meals is not only a prerequisite for enoying the greater part of Western European cuisine, but is an integral aspect of Western European civilisation. It may not be part of the Ayatollah Khomenei's civilisation, it may not even be part of the civilisation of the American mid-west, but these cultures are no concern of ours. It must follow that to circumscribe and restrict that modest pleasure in a country such as ours (which is part of Western European civilisation) is tantamount to cultural barbarism.

Almost as barbarous are regulations which permit the unlimited consumption of wine, beer or spirits at the beginning of a meal and which then force diners to swill down the rest of their bottle, or bottles, in 20 seconds flat or even to see their glasses snatched away unfinished in order to beat the deadline of some arbitrary chiming of the clock.

There may just conceivably have been some justification, albeit shaky and tenuous, for this uncivilised practice in a static provincial society where everybody works exactly the same hours and where everybody eats their meals at identical times. However, there can be no justification in a thriving cosmopolitan society such as ours. This is so especially in these days of large scale international tourism where people may want to eat their lunch at three o'clock following an exhausting round of museums, or conversely may want to eat their dinner at five o'clock before an early evening theatre performance. Nor can there be any justification in these days where people must practise shift work in so many occupations. Especially not at the present time when so many people, particularly in London, but also in other parts of the country, are obliged by the nature of their work to keep the hours of Tokyo, New York, Vancouver, Sydney or Hong Kong and must adjust their mealtimes accordingly.

The puritans and busybodies will demand: "What about drunkenness and alcohol-related diseases!". As the noble Viscount said, the answer to that is that anybody who wishes to get drunk is certainly not going to go to a restaurant to do so. Unless he positively prefers the greater ambiance and expense of a pub, our would-be drunkard will head instead for an off-licence, a supermarket or a corner grocery shop where he can buy drink of all sorts for up to 15 hours a day from Monday to Saturday and for up to five hours a day on Sundays—drink which will cost him between one-half and one-third of what he would pay in a restaurant. So that alarmist argument is a bogus one which will simply not hold water. My Lords, let us declare ourselves in favour of a more civilised Britain by supporting this Bill overwhelmingly.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, it is very appropriate that my noble friend Lord Montgomery should introduce the Bill at this time. After all, we had the Erroll Report just at the time that the breweries and the supply of beer was referred to the Monopolies Commission. At this moment the Director of Fair Trading is looking at the whole of the tied house system.

There is one argument that I am not influenced by. I am not influenced by this great cry that the tourists want it. I look at this Bill from the point of view of what is good for the people of England. If it happens to be of help to the tourist, that is all right. I am all for taking the maximum amount of money off the tourists because they cause us enough trouble and do enough damage to this country. But we actually have to have them. Let us be realistic about it. Do not let us legislate just for the sake of the tourist.

I regard this Bill as much more important. I regard it as part of a better Britain, and a brighter Britain. I regard it as the forerunner of dealing with the other problems not only of licensing but Sunday trading, Sunday racing and Sunday betting. However, I approach it in the same way as I approach those matters. We have had a certain experience of those problems under fire. I used to follow the noble Viscount across the ploughs of Cambridgeshire. I hunted him across those ploughs for three years when he used to run for the Cambridge drag. However, I am not prepared to follow him into the political valley of death, unless the guns have been spiked. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will recall that that was the context in which the Home Secretary made his speech the other day at the Gimcrack dinner at York. If we want to reform the laws on licensing, shopping and racing on Sunday, then we have to get the lobby properly organised.

One must realise that in every constituency there are churches and chapels covering nearly every polling station. They are an enormous lobby which at the moment is not necessarily on our side. The lobby that wants to see sensible licensing laws and see a sensible Bill like this on the statute book is the majority of people. But so far those people who support these sensible amendments have not been properly organised. They will not be organised by all-party committees or by public relations men having people to lunch in London. It will be organised only by running the matter properly at grass roots level throughout the constituencies.

Concerning the effect of liberalising the licensing laws on the whole question of drink, we have the example of Scotland. Afer all, the Scottish licensing restrictions were far greater than they were in this country. Since the laws in Scotland have been changed, drunkenness has fallen by 41 per cent., which is a pretty amazing statistic. If there are more civilised drinking hours, then there will be much less drunkenness.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Montgomery on introducing this Bill. He said it is a Bill which goes a long way to allow us to have drinks with meals at any time—a highly civilised idea. I wish him the greatest possible success.

8.29 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I too support the Bill of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. There is no inconsistency with the recent speech that I made in your Lordships' House where I promoted the idea that we had a very severe problem as regards alcohol in this country. I support this Bill for the very good reason, as the noble Lord has just said—if I may take the meaning of what he has said—that it improves the quality of our life here to enable people to pursue the civilised pursuit of eating and drinking and all that that entails.

However, I think that it is worthwhile pointing out again that we have an alcohol problem and I should like to press the Minister on that. This is a two-part problem. There is the question of dependency and addiction, which is the traditional problem. There is also the problem of intoxication and its immediate effects, particularly among the young, which result in violence to the person and destruction of property. I feel that that is something which has not been given proper attention by the Government.

It is significant that alcohol consumption is increasing in this country whereas in neighbouring countries it is on the decrease. In France, in particular, which is a country where there is no restriction on what one may drink and eat or at what time, it has decreased by 20 per cent. The reason why they do not have the problem of this increase in consumption that we have is that there is consensus. There is consensus with government, with those who manufacture alcoholic drinks, and with the public. There is awareness in this country but we have not yet reached that point.

There have been a number of excellent television programmes recently. Quite a lot of work is being done by groups who are interested in this social problem. I do not think that those groups will welcome this Bill because they will see the measure quite simply as another way of increasing consumption. I do not agree with that argument. The young will not be particularly interested in this measure. The consumption among the young is mainly from outlets which under no circumstances could be described as restaurants.

One can get drink anywhere one likes nowadays all round the clock. The laws are a nonsense. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Indeed, today when driving to a meeting, I heard on the Brian Hayes programme on LBC, a woman who telephoned in saying that she had a son who is clearly under age (she did not state his age but it sounded as though he might be 12, 13 or 14) and who habitually came home drunk. She went to the publican and protested that he and his friends were being served. He was very off-hand about this. He said that as far as he was concerned these young men were of drinking age. She said, "If you do not do something about it, I shall report you to the police". She went to the police, and the police said, "We understand your problem but would you mind standing off for a couple of months because we have this pub under observation as a place where there is trade in drugs". We therefore have a very extraordinary situation where the police are not enforcing the laws of the country as they now stand. I am not saying that this applies generally. This is a situation where drugs and drink are being confused; they overlap. There is definitely much more concern about drugs.

Of course there should be concern about drugs and I shall not repeat the figures I gave when I spoke to your Lordships the other day about the effect of alcohol abuse in terms of illness, crime and so on. However, our drinking culture needs to be considered and debated, and I hope it will be. It will in no way be harmed—indeed it will be improved—by the Bill proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. I hope that the Government will take action before this problem becomes so great that they can no longer go on ignoring it.

Drink is an enormous revenue-earner. The position may well be not unconnected with the news today that the enormous revenues coming into the Exchequer this year may possibly result in a lowering of the tax rate. The revenue from drink is immense. I can understand the unwillingness in Government circles to alter this situation.

This Bill has been warmly welcomed in your Lordships' House. I welcome it as an important cultural step in the alcohol culture of this country. At the same time I hope that the Minister will take on board the concern of all of us about alcohol abuse in this country, which is growing. I hope that something can be done to alter the laws to take that into account as well.

8.35 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lord, I hope to be as brief as all the other speakers, who have been commendably brief so late at night. We are discussing a part of a Bill which was introduced over 70 years ago. Change has occurred in this country, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree. Apart from the relaxation in Scotland in 1976, we have stood by the law introduced 70 years ago. I would hope that all noble Lords—and there are few present—would agree with me that change is our ally and we must march forward and change with the times.

I shall say only a very few words. Mine is a cri de Coeur from a housewife. On many occasions people arrive for a meal by plane, ship, air or train, and one is unable to go to a restaurant as one had hoped because one cannot get a drink of any kind and it would therefore be very inhospitable to take anyone to a restaurant for a meal after perhaps three o'clock in the afternoon.

Accordingly, one has quickly to prepare a meal for eight or 10 people, because it is so very easy to purchase several bottles for eight or 10 people from the local grocery store. But that is not leisurely drinking. Leisurely drinking is impossible in a restaurant at such a time. One is looking at the clock. One therefore has problems in coping with people from overseas, and I do not entirely agree that we should not take those people into consideration. If one looks at the Germans, the Italians, the French and the Spanish—and I have travelled in all those countries—they rarely eat and drink at the same time before three o'clock in the afternoon. Our hours are, as the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, quite rightly pointed out, completely different from theirs.

This is not a big measure, but a small one that will help the quality of our life, as I think one noble Lord said. It will help the quality of our welcome to people from abroad. I wholeheartedly support the Bill. I hope that the Government will do so also.

8.38 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, I am very glad to join others in congratulating the noble Viscount on this effort to remove obstacles to civilised drinking with meals. I rejoice that it has so far been supported by all the previous speakers. I am very sad to report that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale is unable to be with us. However, I can vouch that he would have lent strength and vigour to the advocacy of this case.

As a general rule, if I find too many people agreeing with me I often pause to reflect whether I might be on the wrong side. However, I have decided that there are some propositions that remain true even though supported by Conservatives, Social Democrats and even Liberals—and we have yet to hear from the Labour Benches.

I have no hesitation in supporting this Bill on two grounds. The first is the high principle of individual freedom of choice. The second is the subordinate but wholly supporting expedient of economic efficiency in catering for the widest range of consumer demand. As my noble friend Lord Monson has pointed out, changing patterns of work and more travel and growth in tourism make it increasingly anomalous that the Government should attempt to prescribe the hours at which people may enjoy the amenity of drinking with their meals.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and others have said, the only possible cause for a moment's doubt could be on grounds related to the acknowledged evils of alcoholism. Undoubtedly the abuse of alcohol is one of our gravest social problems. There can be few of us who have reached an age to qualify for membership of this noble House who do not have friends or relations who are, or have been or may become, in peril from the demon drink. I confess that I have at least two people currently on my prayer list for this reason. However, the Scottish experience seems to confirm that excess springs from drinking at home or in clubs or in private at parties. The safest environment for drinking is surely the controlled public setting of a pub or restaurant, where the publican or restaurateur has a powerful interest in avoiding the excess that could bring his licence—his business—into jeopardy. My only objection is that for my liking this Bill is a touch too modest a step towards the wider freedom and flexibility that I hope will remain our aim. With that qualification, I gladly support this positive and constructive measure.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate my noble friend on introducing the Bill, which will take the situation a step forward in England and Wales. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about Scotland.

Your Lordships know that I would be the last person to suggest that life and conditions in Scotland are the same as they are in England and Wales. I live in Scotland and my home is in Scotland, and I suggest that over the past 10 years the experience in Scotland is very relevant. I remind your Lordships that I was the Secretary of State who in 1971 appointed the Claysing Committee to review the law in Scotland. It reported expeditiously while I still held that office, and I set in train the preparation for legislation which was passed in 1976. I was therefore the initiator of the reform in Scotland.

It was a liberalisation and a rationalisation of the previous restrictions. My main concern was that it would not lead to an increase in drunkenness. There was some drunkenness in Scotland before the reform because there was an incentive to drink up before closing time; it was trying to beat the clock, apart from the points which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned.

The important thing is that the reports on the effects since 1976 show that there has not been an increase in drunkenness and that drinking is now more civilised. In general it has been accepted in Scotland as a successful reform. In particular, two benefits have arisen. First, it has considerably helped the tourist industry and, secondly, it has provided more employment. The employers were worried at the time because it upset their work programmes but they adjusted and worked out new schedules.

In passing, I should mention that of course there is also freedom to shop in Scotland on Sundays. The situation in Scotland is already what the late lamented Shops Bill would have introduced in England and Wales. That freedom does not detract from Sunday in Scotland. Statistics show that a larger proportion of the population in Scotland go to church on Sundays than is the case in England and Wales.

I should briefly like to take this opportunity of dealing with a very recent development where clarification and correction are needed. A few days ago garbled versions of another report came out in the media. At first hearing it sounded as though the reform of Scottish licensing laws had led to an increase in alcohol poisoning. The report was in the British Medical Journal of 6th December, so I looked it up. It appeared to be contrary to the previous report to which I have referred about improvements over the past 10 years.

I now put this in proper perspective. The observations in the British Medical Journal concerned one hospital only in West Fife and did not relate to Scotland as a whole. They were for 12 years: six years before 1976 and six years after the reform. However, the cases were only cases of admissions for self-poisoning, deliberate or accidental, but presumably most cases were attempted suicides by overdoses of drugs. The findings were that in such cases there had been an increase in the frequency of alcohol taken in association with self-poisoning. One hospital is only a very small sample of the Scottish population as regards people who have been trying to poison themselves, most of them presumably trying to take their own lives.

This was the result of scholarly and meticulous research but it related to people who had been taking overdoses of drugs in one small area of Scotland and not to alcoholism in Scotland as a whole. The authors stated in their article that there was no evidence to support the theory that overdoses tend to be more serious when even moderate amounts of alcohol are taken concurrently. They went on: It has become increasingly recognised that alcohol has pharmacological actions which may moderate the effects of certain types of drug overdose. In the acute phase alcohol may decrease the severity of self-poisoning". Some of their findings were the other way. Of course they were not suggesting that alcohol should be taken in such cases. Their conclusions were that, though there appears to have been no increase in the severity of overdoses associated with increase in alcohol abuse, there has been a rise in admission rates.

I am glad to have clarified what the findings really were, because some of these reports made headlines in broadcast news. I am therefore glad to point out what the findings were really about. Some of the brief summaries in the media gave a quite different impression. However, all the reports about the Scottish experience have come to the same conclusions.

8.46 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount must be very grateful that his Bill has aroused so much interest and support. He must also be very pleased that so many noble Lords have spoken even at this late hour and at close proximity to Christmas shopping. As the noble Viscount said, this is not the first time he has brought the subject of our licensing laws to our attention. In April of this year he asked the Government to consider introducing flexible hours in public houses following the reform in Scotland. I remember that the Minister was not persuaded that this was the right course to take, though in his speech he allowed a glimmer of hope to emerge.

I remember that my own view, spoken from the Front Bench on this side, was that on the one hand the opening hours of a public house should fit in with the needs of the local community, and that one unequivocal result from the Scottish experience was that there had not been less drinking but that there had been more civilised drinking. I agreed with the Minister that bringing about more flexible licensing hours might well turn public houses into areas where the whole family might enjoy a place and might have either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.

On the other hand, I remember very clearly the speech that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made when he deplored the lack of sufficient education about the dangers of drinking and the insufficiency of funds going to organisations seeking to provide this education.

In spite of that glimmer of hope that we heard from the Minister in the previous debate, we did not hear anything in the Queen's Speech about any legislation coming from the Government. We have not heard from the Government that they intend to develop a comprehensive policy on alcohol control while at the same time introducing legislation to update our licensing laws. Instead of that we have this Bill relating to licensing hours in restaurants. In the other place we understand there is to be another Private Member's Bill introduced to cover licensing hours in public houses. That Bill is not yet printed, but that is what we understand will happen.

My first point is: what will be the effect, hypothetically speaking, of both these Bills? If the Government support them both, we may see a very radical change affecting the whole of our licensing laws. If the Government intend to support these two Private Members' Bills, which it is thought may be the case, why do they not bring forward a Bill preceded by the usual consultations and formalities which normally go with major social legislation? I very much hope that the Minister, when he answers, will make the Government's position and views clear on this point. It is important to the way we see the noble Viscount's Bill this evening.

Perhaps I may make one or two comments on the noble Viscount's Bill and put one or two questions to him. First, I certainly agree with the intention behind the Bill. I believe it is perfectly logical and constructive to wish to help restaurants provide a better service to their customers. At the moment there is little doubt that many foreign tourists as well as British families are inconvenienced when arriving late for lunch at a restaurant and are not allowed to have a drink with their meal. This is a well-known fact. The new measure that the noble Viscount wishes to introduce through this Bill seems sensible and, on the face of it, not at all contentious.

However, there are implications which must be considered. As I understand it, there is an elimination of every kind of restriction on an establishment provided meals are served in a predesignated area. This means not only that reputable restaurants could serve alcohol at any time without restrictions, but also that public houses of whatever kind could sell alcohol without control provided they serve meals in designated areas. I have described their service in this way because nowhere is a meal defined; and a plate of sandwiches is no less acceptable within the terms of this Bill, as I understand it, than a five-course meal.

It also has to be noted that the concept of permitted hours completely disappears under the terms of this Bill. As it is, after all, now common practice for public houses to serve food, it is only a small step to common acceptance of a designated area where alcohol, on purchase of a token quantity of food, will be available 24 hours a day.

The failure of the Bill to define a restaurant and a meal, both of which I can understand are difficult to define, raises problems. For instance, would the legislation allow alcohol to be served with fast food? There are many fast-food establishments which are popular with young people, and the serving of alcohol in places such as those would produce a real danger to them, and one that I am sure none of us would wish to see. Secondly, would the proposal bring a spread of increased licensed premises? At present when magistrates are asked to grant new licenses to pubs and wine bars or off-licences they have to consider the question of the need in the locality. If they consider that the locality is already well served they may refuse a licence.

However, this of course is not the case with restaurants. Once it meets the fire regulations and has the proper facilities and security arrangements for drink, etc., a restaurant must be given a licence. This Bill would allow all-day servings, and therefore allow much longer hours than pubs and might bring about a great rush for more licensed restaurants.

I wanted to make those points because I feel that these are the areas that need looking at in the Committee stage of this Bill. I hope that the noble Viscount will consider including amendments which will introduce proper controls, and that the proposals to allow 24-hour unlimited drinking in places where meals are served will be changed.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the arguments concerning Continental behaviour in these matters. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made it clear that this is rather misleading, in that without exception those countries are introducing increased restrictions on alcohol. France, for example, has reduced its consumption by 20 per cent. in the past ten years. I believe that at this particular moment we are the only country going in the other direction.

Those of us on these Benches agree that there are many anomalies in our drink laws. We are certainly not against altering them as a point of principle. But we believe that any change made in them should not be done in a piecemeal manner. Surely change can only come from a clear policy on alcohol, and although there have been a number of reports on the subject there is still no clearly defined policy from the Government. If we had that it would provide a proper context in which to consider the anomalies which exist in our licensing laws.

Therefore while congratulating the noble Viscount on this further initiative to rouse the Government into looking seriously at this whole field, I must once again ask the Minister why the Government do not provide their own legislation having first arrived at this clear policy. This policy must be worked out with those who are affected by the anomalies—people in catering and restaurant businesses—and also with those organisations which are trying to assist in the whole area of drunkenness and alcoholism. None of the statistics has been brought out today, but indeed a horrifying toll is paid.

There should also be discussion with those representing the labour force who work in this vulnerable and badly paid area of the workplace. I hope that when the Minister answers he will put the Government's position. In the meantime, I am glad that the noble Viscount has once again brought forward something which will encourage the Government to do that.

8.57 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the views expressed tonight in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Montgomery has stressed the benefits to tourism and employment which his Bill would bring by allowing restaurants to serve drinks with meals beyond the present licensing hours. My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve has highlighted the irritation and disbelief of tourists coming to this country who find it impossible to buy a drink in a restaurant after 2.30 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. My noble friend Lord Kimball said, "Don't worry so much about the tourists". It is the poor Englishman he is concerned about. Not surprisingly therefore, the flexible approach contained in my noble friend's Bill has found considerable support.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, made reference to the Bill introduced last week in another place which is designed to benefit all licensed premises and registered clubs, including of course restaurants. I shall come back to that in a moment. I need first to say a few words about restaurants in terms of what the law now allows and the effects of the Bill before us. We are not talking about all premises which may serve drinks with meals, such as the bars of public houses, but only those which are designed to cater specifically for customers sitting down to a meal to which the consumpton of alcohol is ancillary. In this context therefore we are concerned with the structurally adapted, self-contained restaurant, including those within or attached to premises such as hotels, public houses or the private members' clubs.

The hours during which restaurants may serve alcohol with meals are governed by the Licensing Act 1964. As a general rule, the permitted hours for all licensed premises are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. to 10.30 or 11 p.m. on weekdays. On Sundays the hours are shorter, with an afternoon break between 2 o'clock and 7 o'clock. For restaurants which are structurally adapted for their purpose and which serve alcohol only as an ancillary to a meal, the supper hour certificate enables drinks to be served for an extra hour in the evening and until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, seven days a week. For premises which also provide entertainments, late-night extensions are available allowing the sale of alcohol until 1 a.m., 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.

As I understand it (and my noble friend has confirmed this this evening), the main purpose of his Bill is the removal of the dry period in the afternoons; that is, the period between 3 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. If this were done it would be possible for anyone dining at, say, four o'clock in the afternoon to have a drink with a meal. That is not unreasonable. But when one looks criticially at the Bill one finds it goes beyond that modest ambition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, correctly pointed out.

The Bill effectively removes restaurants from all controls over permitted hours, and would enable them to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. This would mean that there would be no effective safeguards against the restaurant whose customers dispersed in the small hours of the morning and who caused disturbance and nuisance to those living nearby. The only remedy available would be to oppose the annual renewal of the restaurant's licence—a drastic step if all that was needed was a curtailment of the opening hours.

Premises which provide only food but not alcohol throughout the night are subject to a registration procedure by the local authorities so that those which give rise to disorderly conduct may be controlled. No similar restraints would apply to licensed restaurants under the provisions of my noble friend's Bill. We doubt whether this is an acceptable approach. We can all think of examples of restaurants filling with customers once public houses in the area have closed. I wonder whether it is such a good idea to allow restaurants to continue to serve alcohol, albeit with a meal, until the last customer sees fit to leave. Those living in the vicinity of such restaurants may well view the prospects with alarm.

It was for that reason that I was slightly surprised by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, considering what he said when we debated the gracious Speech. He made a strong attack on alcoholism and suggested ways in which the Government should tackle that very serious problem. I fully sympathise with him on this. Having had the honour to be a Whip and to speak for the DHSS, it was one of the areas in which I took a particular interest.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred to Scotland. The evidence to emerge from Scotland, where the facility for extended licensing hours was introduced in 1977, is that longer opening hours can lead to more civilised and leisurely drinking. That only goes to support the views of my noble friend Lord Montgomery. However, a survey has been conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and, although there has been a small increase in the consumption of alcohol by men, in the eight-year period to 1984 women's consumption of alcohol has increased by 36 per cent.—the very housewives that my noble friend Lady Macleod mentioned. But let us not be mistaken about Scotland. Restaurants in Scotland serving drinks with meals may operate only during strictly limited hours. The proposals in the Bill would go way beyond the situation in Scotland.

In some ways my noble friend's Bill goes wider than the Government would wish, in that it removes what we regard as an important safeguard in the conduct of premises, but in another way it can be criticised for being too narrow, because it seeks to benefit only restaurants. As your Lordships will know, the Government believe there is a strong case for measured reform of the licensing hours to benefit all premises serving alcohol.

Piecemeal reform of the law may be appropriate in some circumstances, and I have much sympathy with my noble friend's objectives. But it is difficult to justify singling out one type of premises for special treatment when others too have a case deserving consideration. My noble friend Lord Mancroft, with his very great experience, will understand the consistency of my argument on that point. At this point I return to the Bill which was introduced last week in another place and which could affect all licensed and registered club premises, including restaurants. Until we have had a chance to consider that Bill, which was printed only yesterday, your Lordships will not, I hope, expect me to offer the Government's reaction to it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked what we were going to do as the Government. It was her party, among others, that said we were bringing in too much legislation. If she is happy to sit a little bit longer I shall see what I can do.

It is only right that I have found it necessary this evening to point out the Government's objections to the Bill on two counts: its narrow approach, in that it seeks to benefit only one sector of the licensed trade, and its removal of all effective controls on the hours during which restaurants may serve alcohol. I have, however, taken full note of the speeches in support of the Bill and I cannot but recognise a view in your Lordships' House that my noble friend's measure is a sensible and desirable reform. If any amendments are tabled to define the periods during which restaurants may supply drinks with meals, I can say that the Government will be prepared to look at them with an open mind. I hope therefore that my noble friend will not feel too dispirited that my initial remarks indicated a rather negative approach on the part of the Government.

9.5 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I find myself in rather a difficult position on the Back Benches trying to sum up this very wide-ranging debate, although it is on a narrow subject—if that is not a contradiction. First, I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses for their support for this measure. We have had speeches from all parts of the House, from all parties. Without exception—although I think the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, had a few reservations—in general there was support from all quarters of the House. It has been my privilege to have been supported in this measure by no fewer than two former Ministers of the Crown. Indeed a third would have spoken, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, but he was not able to be here. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, said, he too would have supported the idea of reform.

It is difficult to sum up the debate, but perhaps I could make one or two remarks and comment on what has been said, particularly before I come to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Caithness. I should like to lay one ghost to rest concerning the quite understandable preoccupation of many people, particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, with alcoholism.

Let it be quite clear that British restaurateurs are responsible citizens and that the British restaurant trade is equally opposed to intoxication and alcoholism, as any other citizen should rightly be. But let it also be clear that alcoholism and intoxication are not good for the restaurant business, as I said at the beginning. People go into restaurants to eat; alcoholics and others who suffer from that sort of disease, by and large, do not eat. That is their problem. They are not really catered for by the restaurant trade. Let that be quite clear.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me some questions. I am not certain that I am qualified to answer them all, but fortunately they have mostly been answered by my noble friend Lord Caithness. The Bill is not trying to create licences and widen licensing as such. It is trying to provide for a certain section of the licensed trade to operate with greater flexibility, both for the benefit of the tourist and, as my noble friend Lord Kimball said, for the benefit of the home market. I think that was a valuable point.

If I may, I shall turn to my noble friend Lord Caithness. I was gratified to see that he welcomed the idea in some ways, although he had reservations. I see no problem about accommodating the restriction in hours; in other words, what we should do is to narrow this down as far as possible to cover the dry period. I use that phrase, "the dry period", because that was the term he himself used. I believe that it would be quite possible. I shall go away and endeavour to construct an amendment which will meet his request and requirement in that connection; that this one single Act should be restricted in hours to cover the dry period.

My noble friend made some very good points about late night business and the early mornings. But that is not really the problem from which the restaurant business suffers. The problem is in this short, dry period, which is a great handicap to employment and a great handicap for many other reasons.

On the subject of the piecemeal approach I think I take slight issue. If we were to have a wider approach to all this, we should have a general reform. When something is described as piecemeal, I do not think that I quite go for that. We should be very happy for this to be a general reform. As it is not, I should rather use the expression, "step-by-step" than "piecemeal". If you are not able to scale the ladder at one go, the only way to ascend it is to go up little by little.

What this Bill attempts to achieve is not to single out a specific industry—although it happens to do so—but to proceed on a logical basis. It happens that I have selected this particular industry and I have explained why. If the Government were prepared to widen the legislation, that would be a very simple amendment. But I think that that is not for me to do at this stage, although that would be very welcome and perhaps the Bill which he talked about in the other place but which none of us has yet seen will cover this aspect. That indeed would be more than welcome.

Encouraged by the limited support that we have, if it is possible to narrow down this Bill to the hours to cover the dry period, I think that that would be acceptable at this stage on the basis that one must proceed on a step-by-step basis. With those few words, it remains for me once again to thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken so cogently and so briefly in this debate.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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