HL Deb 14 January 1987 vol 483 cc619-26

7.45 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in committee accordingly.

[The EARL CATHCART in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Removal of restrictions on times during which intoxicating liquor may be served with meals in restaurants, etc. ]:

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein moved Amendment No. 1. Leave out Clause I and insert the following new clause:

("Relaxation of day-time restrictions on hours during which intoxicating liquor may be served with meals in restaurants, etc.

  1. 1.—(1) In section 68 of the Licensing Act 1964 (extension of permitted hours in restaurants, etc.) in subsection (1)(a) for the words from "(if any)" to the end of the paragraph there shall be substituted the words "between the first and second parts of the general licensing hours;".
  2. (2) In section 95 of that Act (permitted hours in premises for which restaurant or residential and restaurant licence is in force)—
    1. (a) in subsection (1), for the words "afternoon break" there shall be substituted the words "start of the second part of the general licensing hours"; and
    2. (b) in subsection (3), for the words "afternoon break" there shall be substituted the words "second part of the general licensing hours".").

The noble Viscount said: Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I made some general remarks about the series of amendments before us since they are all consequential, one upon the other.

The Committee will recall that during the debate at Second Reading both my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, expressed concern about the fact that the Bill as originally drafted would enable restaurants to serve alcohol throughout the night if they so chose. These amendments have been prepared in response to that suggestion. The idea is to replace the proposed system of complete deregulation with a much more limited measure which merely lengthens the existing daytime extension of licensing hours available to restaurants by virtue of Section 68(1)(a) of the Licensing Act 1964. The intention is to cover the so-called dry period during the afternoon or, as the 1964 Act calls it, the afternoon break.

The Minister remarked at Second Reading that it was not unreasonable for someone dining at, say, three or four o'clock in the afternoon to be able to have a drink with a meal. The Bill in its new form would be solely confined to such cases. As before, the Bill makes no attempt to tamper with the existing concept of a "table meal" which is contained in the 1964 Act. Moreover, the Bill will make no change in the system of control presently exercised by the licensing justices or, in the case of registered clubs, by a magistrates' court.

Accordingly, in order for a, restaurant to be entitled to the benefit of the extended hours in the daytime, the justices must be satisfied, that the premises arc structurally adapted and bona fide used, or intended to be used for the purpose of habitually providing, for the accommodation of persons frequenting the premises, substantial refreshment to which the sale and supply of alcoholic liquor is ancillary".

That is taken from Section 68(3) of the 1964 Act.

I turn for a moment to Clause 2. It may seem rather surprising that I should be proposing that this clause should not stand part of the Bill. I do so because the original Clause 2, assuming that we pass Clause I, is entirely consequential on the original Clause 1. So, with the new Clause 1 as proposed in Amendment No. 1, Clause 2 would not be required at all. That is why it is proposed that it should no longer stand part of the Bill.

The transitional provisions in Clause 3, as amended, will ensure that, on commencement of the Bill, restaurants to which Section 68(1)(a) of the 1964 Act already applies would be able to take advantage of the extension in hours provided for by the Bill. Clause 3 will also ensure that conditions imposed under Section 95 which limits the permitted hours in the case of certain restaurants to the daytime or the evening will apply by reference to the new system of opening hours.

Finally, the change in the Title is merely to bring the Title into line with the general thrust of what we agreed at Second Reading about the Bill in general—the fact that there was cause for modification but that there were certain reservations. As the Committee will have seen from what I have said—and I hope I have given a satisfactory explanation—the intention is to close the gap in the afternoon but not to provide total deregulation. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will be able to agree the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I am grateful to the noble Viscount for putting forward these amendments to his original Bill. He put them forward partly, I think, through the suggestion I made, and indeed the Minister made, at Second Reading. Therefore he no longer proposes that licensed premises should be allowed to be open for 24 hours a day, which was his original intention. This makes a very great difference to the first proposal and goes a long way towards quietening the anxieties I expressed at Second Reading which had been passed on to me by certain organisations concerned with our licensing laws.

The proposals now made by the noble Viscount should content restaurant owners. After all, I understand that they were complaining that latecomers at lunchtime, both foreigners and British people, found it frustrating that they could have a nice lunch but were not allowed to have a drink with it. Therefore I think that the Bill as drafted afresh by the noble Viscount is certainly a great deal more satisfactory and I certainly agree with its intentions.

However, as the noble Viscount is dealing with all these amendments together and therefore spoke in a general way about his new Bill—which is really what it is—perhaps I may briefly make two comments and ask questions that go with the comments. These are addressed to the noble Viscount, but there is one question I have for the Minister.

First, I feel that the Title of the Bill is a little misleading in that it would appear from it that the Bill only affects restaurants, whereas in the body of the Bill it is clear that other establishments are included. The word "et cetera" can only mean public houses in one case. Therefore I feel that possibly the Title of the Bill could be seen as a misnomer. I do not know how the noble Viscount could rectify that, but I feel that one should either be talking about restaurants or about restaurants and public houses. That should be made much clearer in the Title than it is at present.

My second point concerns the right of appeal, because I am not sure whether that is included in the Bill. For example, people could be inconvenienced by a licensed establishment in their neighbourhood and their objections could subsequently be overruled. My understanding is that the 1964 Act includes a right of appeal to a Crown Court for people who feel they are inconvenienced, but it is not clear whether objectors would still have that right under this Bill.

I raise that point because I feel strongly about it. I live in a small Chelsea street which is entirely residential except for a successful and crowded restaurant at one end of it. The residents in the street are undoubtedly very much inconvenienced by the noise, the lack of parking facilities, piles of litter and so on. I should like to think that the residents would be able to object and that if those objections are overruled by the local authorities they would be able to appeal to a Crown Court. I ask that question simply because I think it is important for residents to know the position.

Finally, I put forward a final point to the Minister and perhaps he can help me on this matter. I believe that there are two major anomalies which arise through the interaction of this Bill and the Bill put forward by Mr. Allan Stewart in another place. I know that we are only addressing ourselves to this Bill, but if both Bills find their way onto the statute book there would be an interaction and anomalies which I believe exist between them.

The first concerns Sundays. Here I believe there is a direct contradiction between the two Bills. Mr. Stewart's Bill does not appear to apply to Sundays. Indeed, I heard Mr. Stewart on a television programme saying that he intends to leave opening hours on Sundays exactly as they are now. On the other hand, as I understand it the noble Viscount's Bill would permit restaurants—which could encompass public houses with restaurants included—to open throughout Sunday afternoons in the same way as on weekdays. Therefore if the two Bills both become law who would win with regard to Sunday opening? Quite clearly one Bill states that Sunday afternoons would be the same as weekdays, while Mr. Stewart said on television that his Bill does not tamper with Sundays and that the situation would remain as it is.

The second disparity between the two Bills is reflected by the fact that Mr. Stewart's Bill includes the need to apply for a variation order, thus involving the local licensing committee with all that that implies, whereas such a requirement is absent in the Bill now before us. Does not the Minister agree that if it is thought that the best way of revising our licensing legislation is by introducing two separate Bills simultaneously the best hope of that succeeding would be to make them match in essential detail?

Those are the two slight anxieties that I have. As I have said, I agree with the intention of the Bill as now drafted by the noble Viscount. It will be useful for our tourist trade and for the convenience of customers in restaurants. Therefore, I support the Bill in its revised form, but I should be most grateful to have answers to my queries.

Lord Monson

I congratulate the noble Viscount on the skill with which he has thought out and moved this series of amendments. Many of us would, in theory, have preferred total deregulation but one must recognise that whereas no reasonable person could validly object to licensed restaurants or cafes opening throughout the afternoon, support for late-night opening would be rather less than universal.

Many people, including I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, would be worried about the possibility of nuisance from car doors slamming or engines revving at midnight, or even well after that, where restaurants are located in or on the periphery of residential areas. Therefore although the amendments tabled by the noble Viscount represent a compromise with the ideal they are entirely justified if they ensure that this excellent Bill obtains a speedy and smooth passage, not only through your Lordships' tolerant and worldly House but also through the other place, which often tends to be rather more puritanical and restrictive in these matters.

The Viscount of Falkland

I also congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, on what I think is an excellent compromise. Although I did not express at Second Reading quite the reserve that was expressed by the Minister and the noble Baroness, I recognise that the road towards liberalisation and towards more responsible drinking in this country has to be gradual. These amendments largely satisfy that requirement. Although it had not struck me before the noble Baroness raised the point that the Title of the Bill is somewhat ambiguous, I myself much prefer that the definition of "restaurant" should be made clear and that no chinks should be left whereby unscrupulous public houses or other outlets could take advantage of this Bill.

Having said that, I think that should the Bill succeed we shall not in any way aggravate the problem of alcohol abuse in this country, which, as I said at Second Reading, is becoming a greater problem, mainly owing to intoxication among young people, with all the ensuing social problems in terms of violence, destruction of property and so on. However, an extension such as we see in this Bill can only add to the quality of life in terms of civilised drinking when eating a meal, with obvious benefits to the tourist trade and others. I hope that this Bill will lead to a greater recognition of the fact that the problem of alcohol abuse and the way with which it is dealt is a matter that is quite separate from normal eating and drinking.

We have to recognise that the consumption of alcohol is not a practice that will just go away. Alcohol is a commodity that has to be treated correctly and with prudence. If this Bill goes through I hope it will ultimately lead to a recognition that alcohol abuse is something which we have to deal with as seriously as we deal with drug abuse. One hopes that the present and successive governments will find a way of dealing with it.

8 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

Perhaps at the outset I may express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for tabling his amendments. In the course of the Second Reading debate I expressed the Government's reservations on this Bill on two counts. These were that the Bill approaches licensing reform from too narrow an interest, dealing only with restaurants, and, secondly, that by removing all controls over the hours during which alcohol may be served with meals, the Bill went too far.

Understandably, the amendments we are discussing this evening do not tackle our first concern; they do, however, meet the second, in that they limit the effects of the Bill so as to extend the licensing hours for certain restaurants solely during the afternoon period. We are no longer faced with the prospect of restaurants serving drinks with meals late into the night, or even 24 hours a day, without any safeguards against noise, nuisance and the general disorder which, unfortunately, is all too often associated with alcohol. I am, therefore, grateful to my noble friend for his ready willingness to limit the scope of the Bill and in return I can say that the Government look upon his Bill with benevolent neutrality.

My noble friend has explained the effects of the amended Clause 1. I should perhaps emphasise that his Bill is not directed at all premises serving food and alcohol. We are dealing at Clause 1(1) with those premises, or parts of premises, whose main function is the supply of substantial refreshment to customers sitting down to a meal and which serve alcohol as an ancillary to that meal. These are the premises which operate under the terms of a full on-licence, a restaurant licence or a club registration certificate and which are now able to serve drinks with meals until three o'clock in the afternoon, when others are required to close at 2.30 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Sundays. The criteria which must now be met for those extensions will apply equally under my noble friend's proposals. Their effect will be, however, that instead of ceasing to serve drinks with meals at 3 p.m., eligible premises can continue throughout the afternoon without a break.

There are, however, restaurants which, because they are open for meals only at midday or only in the evenings, are subject to a condition imposed on their licence restricting the supply of drinks with meals to the midday licensing hours, until 3 p.m. or to the evening period. My noble friend has explained that it is reasonable to allow those restaurants now subject to a cut-off time of 3 p.m. to continue to serve drinks with meals throughout the afternoon until the start of the evening licensing hours. The proposed new Clause 1(2) has this effect and enables licensed restaurants which are open only during the day to benefit from the Bill's provisions in the same way as other eligible premises. The only difference is that, at the start of the evening licensing hours, normally 5.30 p.m. or 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. on Sundays, such restaurants could no longer serve drinks unless the proprietor successfully applied to the justices to vary the restrictions on hours imposed on the licence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked me a hypothetical legal question about two Private Members' Bills emanating in different Houses of Parliament. She asked what would happen if they both became law. I do not think I can answer her at this stage because they are Private Members' Bills and therefore not the responsibility of the Government. I am sure that if it were a government Bill we should have tied up the loose ends for her, but I think we should wait and see what happens to the Bills as they proceed through Parliament.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Baroness concerning the Title, it appears from the work that we have done on this Bill that it covers the point adequately and will not lead to the misunderstandings to which the noble Baroness quite rightly referred, at which we should have looked and indeed have done so already.

I do not dissent from my noble friend's wish to harmonise the licensing hours for all licensed restaurants. Indeed, he reminded the Committee of something that I said during the Second Reading, in that it is not so unreasonable for someone dining at four o'clock in the afternoon to want to have a drink with his meal. For these reasons I am happy to support the amended Clause 1 and the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

Perhaps I may just thank those who have taken part in this debate. I am very grateful for the support that I have received from all quarters of the Committee. Perhaps I may also mention that I had a telephone message from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, to say that had he been here—and he is very sorry not to be here—he also would have supported these amendments.

I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, that I do not think that it would be entirely appropriate for me to enter into a detailed debate about the definition of "et cetera". That is an issue which we ought perhaps to deal with another time. I am not sure that the addition of the word "et cetera" to the Title would add anything whatsoever to the Bill. Personally, I think it is in place where it is in the text because the definitions of all these matters and the definitions of all the different types of establishment have not in fact been altered and have been taken directly from the 1964 Act where they are spelt out in very considerable detail in Section 201. I think that, if she cares to refer to that particular passage of the 1964 Act, she will find the explanations given in quite considerable detail.

Regarding the second question of the noble Baroness, I am very happy to concur entirely with my noble friend Lord Caithness when he said that of course this Chamber is the House of Lords and the House of Commons is another place and no doubt they will deal with matters as is appropriate.

It seems to me that this Bill stands in its own right. We in this Chamber have put forward the Bill and I hope that it will go forward as it stands or rather as it has been amended, because it seems to me to be worthwhile in its own right.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

New Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Minor and consequential amendments 1):

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

I have already spoken about this clause and argued that it should be deleted from the Bill. Therefore I think I shall be voting "Not-Content".

Clause 2 negatived.

Clause 3 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein moved Amendment No. 2: Leave out Clause 3 and insert the following Clause:

("Transitional provisions.

3. On the commencement of this Act—

  1. (a) section 68(1)(a) of the Licensing Act 1964, as amended by section 1(1) above, shall apply (subject to section 69 of that Act) to any premises to which that paragraph applied immediately before the commencement of this Act; and
  2. (b) any condition in force immediately before the commencement of this Act under section 95 of the said Act of 1964 shall take effect as a condition restricting the permitted hours in the premises so as to exclude any time after the start of the second part of the general licensing hours (within the meaning of that Act), or any time before it, as the case requires.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

New Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

In the Title:

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein moved Amendment No. 3: Line 1, leave out ("remove the") and insert ("relax the daytime").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at ten minutes past eight o'clock.