HL Deb 31 March 1988 vol 495 cc877-904

11.58 a.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Modification of permitted hours]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) In subsection (6) of that section (premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor for consumption off the premises), the words "half past" shall be omitted.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe that it would be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendment No. 7 which is a consequential amendment.

In dealing with a comparable amendment at an earlier stage, the Minister acknowledged that there have been changes in consumer demand. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said: The new clause seeks to extend those hours so that they may begin at 8 a.m., this being the time when many shops and supermarkets now open". [Official Report, 15/3/88; col. 1107.] He went on to say that he was not persuaded that this would be right and proper. In raising the matter again I hope to persuade the Minister that this provision ought to be in a Bill. We are trying to produce regulations and rules with regard to on and off licensing which are appropriate to 1988.

There is no doubt that the hours of trade in 1988 are undergoing a great change. Many years ago shops were open at all hours, from very early until very late. Fortunately, there has been a period when the opening hours of shops were very much restricted. By and large, this has been to the benefit of workers and communities. However, the retail trade has very heavily reorganised over the past 30 or 40 years. Increasingly members of the public are obtaining their needs from what we call the large stores—if not the hypermarkets, certainly the supermarket and the self-service shop. Increasingly in 1988 shops are rationalising their hours.

I declare an interest, as I always do, with my close connection with the Co-operative movement. But it is not just the Co-ops. It concerns the larger stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Gateway and many others, all of them members of the Retail Consortium who represent 90 per cent. of the retail trade in this country.

The vogue is very much for shops that open from "8 to 8". Some of them say "8 'till late". The point I am hoping the Minister will accept is that confusion is caused not just for customers, but for staff. Shops open at 8 a.m. but by law they cannot sell alcohol until 8.30, and some might ask why a customer could not wait. The short answer is that for the many people whom you and I would want to go out to work often find it convenient to do their shopping before they go to work. They go into the shop when it opens at 8 a.m. I am not talking about the corner shop but about the large stores patronised by many people. They will be able to get round the shelves quickly because the shop is relatively lightly occupied and they reach the check-out at 8.15 or 8.20, only to be told that the alcohol they have chosen cannot be sold because it is prohibited. Those who manage our retail businesses are responsible people. That does not mean to say that sometimes there is not either error or abuse. The retail trade desires to observe the law, but irritation and confusion is created.

I am asking the Minister to accept the logic of this. We are seeking to encourage people to go out to work and to maximise their time. From my point of view the best use of weekday hours diminishes the need for Sunday trading—a point I make very strongly. We ought to make it convenient for those who wish to purchase their alcohol at the same time as they purchase other items and to be able to do it sensibly, rationally and, much more important, legally between 8 and 8.30 a.m. This is a modest change in keeping with the times, and is one which I believe will assist businesses to use their staff and their resources more efficiently. I beg to move.

12 noon

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, after declaring my usual interest, I strongly support this amendment from the point of view of the consumer interest and common sense. It is becoming increasingly the practice for shops to open at 8 o'clock a.m. at busy periods, for example on Saturday morning. Without the amendment customers who are in the shop to purchase groceries and perishable goods will be unable to purchase alcoholic beverages at the same time. Instead shoppers are forced to wait around the premises until the off-licence of the shop is opened or are forced to make a second visit to the store. This is an obvious inconvenience to the shopper who finds it difficult to understand.

This minor extension of licensing hours to bring them into line with what is now a growing shop practice will be welcome both by the public and the trade.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I also rise to support the amendment. It seems to me that when shops, stores or any retail outlets are open, everything that is available inside those stores should be for sale. To have certain items available only at certain times is quite illogical and makes no sense whatsoever.

I take issue with only one small point in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. He said that the amendment would diminish the need for shops or stores to open on Sunday. Quite the contrary. We shall be moving forward in due course to Sunday opening once again, but I appreciate that that is quite another issue.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I see that this amendment has very strong support from the three previous speakers, but I still wonder about the logic which is that in supermarkets which open at 8 a.m. the time of the sale of alcohol should coincide. The noble Lord, Lord Montgomery, just said that it seemed quite right that all products sold in a shop should be available while it is open. How would he feel about those shops which open before 8 o'clock? Would he say that the sale of alcohol should be permissible from 7 o'clock in the morning and so on? Indeed the noble Earl, Lord Arran, at Committee stage said that perhaps shops would like to be able to sell alcohol from 7 a.m. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says in response to that.

I feel that from two points of view this amendment would be yet another liberalisation, though I know it is a small one, and yet another outlet for the sale of alcohol. Also, there seems to be a lack of logic that it would not apply to shops that open before 8 o'clock. I believe that there is a weakness there.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, as one who was a complete teetotaller for 40 years but who has now fallen from grace, I should like to support this amendment. I think that the whole House will support the amendment without feeling that they have done anything wrong or unsociable.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, the whole House does not support the amendment. I do not support the amendment, as I did not in the Committee stage. The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, seemed to me to diminish the arguments of my noble friend. My noble friend had the earnest worker starting work at 8 o'clock in the morning and having to go to work without his bottle of claret. Now the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, says "Oh no, it is Saturday mornings, the busy mornings when the people who nip in to be the first in line at the check-out want to get away". It will take them a quarter of an hour to choose their other goods and then they would have to wait perhaps another quarter of an hour to buy their alcohol. That is perhaps inevitable, but I think it is a very sad indication of the way we are going in this country.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think that we want to start off with difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, says that the whole House will support the amendment, and his noble friend Lord Ardwick says that the whole House will not support it. That makes life very complicated.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, raised this matter at Committee stage. My noble friend Lord Arran said that he was not persuaded that the present restrictions on the opening hours of off-licenses were such a serious impediment to trade as to justify altering the licensing hours so that they began at 8 a.m. Since then I have had an opportunity to study more carefully the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Graham.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said at Committee stage that her noble friend's argument was logical, that his explanation made sense, but to be fair to her she said that she did not support it. Indeed, to be equally fair to her, today she said that she did not think it was logical. The spirit behind the Bill is one of removing unnecessary and outdated restrictions, provided that in doing so we do not put into jeopardy other citizens' legitimate rights to go about their business, indeed their lives, without undue disturbance.

On reflection the proposed amendment seems to me to be in keeping with that spirit. Changing work patterns and life-styles result in people needing to do their shopping early in the morning or after work in the evening, and the supermarkets have sought to cater for those needs with the result that many of them now open at 8 o'clock in the morning until 7 or 8 at night. The vast majority of shoppers who will purchase alcohol at this early time will simply be buying what they would normally buy, but at a time which they find more convenient.

There must be a cut-off point in any licensing restriction, and to some extent that must always be arbitrary. The fact that there is a degree of arbitrariness does not mean that we should take a rigid or inflexible view in deciding where the cut-off point should be. If we accept that an 8 a.m. start to the off-licence day is acceptable then, as the noble Baroness points out, there will still be a number of premises which open even earlier and which will not be accommodated. However, I do not believe that that means that we should be detracted from the validity of an 8 a.m. start.

This is a pretty modest amendment and I have been persuaded that it strikes the right balance between catering for changing shopping needs and presenting undue early morning disturbances. I am happy to accept the amendment.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reflections and his acceptance of the amendment. I take the matter seriously although it is not a matter of life and death. It would not be of great importance if the amendment was moved and not carried. If the amendment is put to the House and the vote is lost there would be no great outcry. The amendment is moved in the sense that the Bill presents an opportunity to attempt to rationalise an ongoing situation. My noble friend Lord Ardwick misunderstood what I had said. I was not arguing that the extra half an hour would be used by people buying their drink earlier in order that they could consume it earlier. It is for the convenience of the ordinary shopper. I was making a case for the consumer who, having entered the store at 8 a.m., is confounded by his inability at being able to leave by 8.20 a.m. having purchased his goods. I am saying that we should look at that matter.

My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs pointed out the fact that certain shops open before 7 o'clock. The Retail Consortium represents 90 per cent. of the trade and it confirms that more goods are being obtained from the larger stores whose pattern is to open at 8 a.m. If the argument is put forward that that may change, then we must look at the law yet again.

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment. I hope that the House will also accept it in the spirit of reasonableness and reality.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Kaberry of Adel moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 1, leave out ("five") and insert ("six")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 2 standing in my name and also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I am indebted to him for supporting the amendment. It is consequential upon an amendment to Clause 1(2) agreed to in Committee. It gave public licensed premises an extra opening hour on Sunday in order that they may open between 12 noon and 3 p.m. Together with the evening opening hours permitted to public licensed premises, that gave 6½ hours' opening on Sunday, Christmas Day and Good Friday.

The present effect of the subsections with which we are dealing, relating to registered clubs, limits their opening to 5½ hours on a Sunday. Clearly there is an anomaly which should be corrected. The clubs referred to are of a wide variety, country clubs, sporting clubs of all descriptions, political clubs, nonpolitical clubs, working men's clubs and so forth. Each is autonomous but all have one thing in common. Their rules always provide that no person shall be elected a member under the age of 18 years. Therefore there is no question of any under-age drinking being permitted in a club. Clubs consist of law-abiding citizens who wish to see the rules strictly adhered to. There is no risk in amending the presnt subsection in order to give clubs 6½ hours opening on a Sunday, Christmas Day or Good Friday similar to public places to which the public may have resort.

The three subsections at the top of page 2 of the Bill clearly envisage clubs having flexible opening times. A club fixes its hours during which members may consume their own liquor in their own club. They are registered with a Clerk to the Magistrates. At present they could open from 12 noon until 3 p.m. However, 3 from 5½ leaves 2½ so there is little point in providing that they can open for 3½ hours in the evening as provided in this subsection. The simplest way is to give clubs parity with public licensed premises.

I should like to adopt all the arguments put forward in Committee. Sunday is a visiting day when families may go out, when they can entertain and so forth. In addition, clubs of a like kind can be grouped together. Political clubs can group within their own political affiliations and the Licensing Act 1964 clearly permits proper use of pass cards or inter-affiliation cards. They permit a member of a club in the north of England reasonable access to use all the facilities of a club, for example, on the South Coast during the summer time. It may be in Torbay, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth, Blackpool or on the Yorkshire coast. There is a full interchange and Sunday is the great day when that interchange takes place.

One could quote one or two silly examples around the country where the club may be next door to the public house or maybe there is one across the road. It would be ridiculous to think that a club must be limited to 5½ hours on Sunday whereas the public house next door can open for 6½ hours. I hope that your Lordships will see the reasonableness of the argument and approve the proposed amendment.

12.15 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to this amendment. I think that the parity with licensed premises, as described by the noble Lord, is very important. He pointed out the growing tendency to eat out at lunchtime, when people like to use their clubs. There is a more controlled environment within a club. Clubs are more used by local people who do not go there in a car and therefore the danger of increasing drinking and driving does not exist. It would be a pity if club members went to their club only to find it closed and were then compelled to move on to a public house with expanded opening hours. I should like to support the noble Lord's amendment.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, at the Committee stage of the Bill your Lordships chose to accept an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls. The effect of that will be to allow licensed premises to keep their bars open until 3 p.m. at Sunday lunchtime instead of closing at 2 p.m. as at present. This means that the total number of hours available to licensed premises will be 6½ hours instead of the present 5½ hours.

It is in the light of that amendment that my noble friend Lord Kaberry has tabled the present amendment. It seeks to restore parity between licensed premises and registered clubs in terms of the total number of hours permitted on Sundays. I can understand the logic of this amendment since pubs and clubs have long been permitted the same total number of hours. But we have to say that we are not persuaded that there is any force in the argument.

If I understood the mood of your Lordships' House at Committee stage correctly, I believe that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was accepted because it took account of a specific need relating to Sunday lunchtimes. The case for an additional hour reflected the tendency to lunch later on Sunday, that it would provide an opportunity for pubs which do not presently find it viable to do so to provide meals, and that it recognised the needs of families. We do not believe that the primary intention was to provide an opportunity for an extra hour of drinking on Sunday.

Clubs already have a measure of flexibility in deciding when to use the hours available to them on Sundays. They may already stay open until 3 p.m. if they choose to do so. Consequently the specific arguments about the need to cater for people's particular needs on Sunday lunchtimes do not apply to clubs. The provision of an additional hour for clubs will effectively amount to the provision of an additional hour for drinking with no obvious justification.

As we have repeatedly made clear, the Government do not intend to lift the restrictions on Sunday hours. We are not persuaded that a convincing special case has been made out for this amendment and we therefore cannot commend it.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, I am astonished by that answer. I cannot understand why the Government should accept the logic of the amendment and yet illogically oppose it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, at an earlier stage the Committee agreed to an extra hour for pubs. There was no Division and the Government did not oppose that. Therefore, why do they oppose bringing clubs into line? The other place has a right to decide the matter when the Bill returns to them.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I heard my noble friend Lord Kaberry move the amendment in terms which I thought were completely compelling. I am surprised that the Government have not felt it right to accept the logic of the matter. I have listened to my noble friend's argument from the Front Bench and I am bound to say that the conclusion which he reached caused me some surprise. I hope that the Minister will, even at this point, give an undertaking to look again at the arguments. I hold an inter-affiliation card, in the way that my noble friend Lord Kaberry indicated. I cannot claim to use it very often but the logic of having the same hours for pubs and clubs seems to me to be absolutely irrefutable.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, the experience of licensing legislation is that whenever one gives an inch, the temperance lobby wants two inches. This is the same process. If a concession is given, it creates an anomaly, it does not go far enough or there is something wrong with it until there is a further increase.

We are discussing the hours during which people may indulge their addiction in alcohol; that is what we are talking about. I understood that addiction to alcohol can be very dangerous. The contradictions about this Bill and the amendment before the House at present and the anxieties about alcoholic excess are apparent all the time. I said at Second Reading that we ought to be looking at the curtailment of opportunities for doing this and not extending them. I support the Government.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, I should like to assure the Minister that I welcomed what he said. He put into words the misgivings or hesitations which I had and I believe that those misgivings deserve to be expressed a little more fully. They concern the familiar point about the English Sunday and there is some danger that it will be trickled away and eroded. Not long ago we had the legislation concerning off-course betting on Sundays. We now have another detailed proposal. Details work cumulatively and surely the whole question of the nature of the English Sunday and its observance deserves to be looked at in its own right.

I know that important and weighty considerations can apply and I have heard persuasive arguments during the course of the debate on this amendment, however, I believe the better way to deal with this matter is to wait until the detailed matter can be subsumed under the larger subject of observance of Sunday rather than deal with it as a side issue.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I am glad that the Government have taken this view. I spoke earlier about the reasons why this 2 o'clock limit was laid. It seemed illogical that while everywhere closed at three on weekdays, they closed at two on Sundays. In the industrial areas the object was to get the men out of the pub and back around the dinner table for the family Sunday dinner. It was also to give the licensee—the small licensee with no staff and a family—a decent afternoon of leisure so that he might, for once in the week, go out in his car. I hope that that will be preserved and that the Government will stay firm in their intention to resist the amendment.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I rise to disagree wholly with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. This matter was discussed in Committee. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry, is quite right and I hope that he will pursue his amendment vigorously. Perhaps I may go back to what my noble friend Lord Arran said in Committee as my name was coupled with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls which was passed by the Committee. This matter touches on the need for us to move forward. The intention of many of those in favour of liberalisation was that Sunday should be the same day as every other day, which is wholly logical. However, as only one hour could be obtained that was the best we could do for the time being. However, it is wholly illogical. My noble friend Lord Rippon put his finger right on the button as usual when he said that the Government, having accepted the argument, would be proceeding very illogically if they did not allow this amendment to proceed.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may help the House, and I also remind noble Lords that we are proceeding a trifle out of order. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that when this Bill was discussed in Committee, the Government accepted the amendment to increase the pub hours from 2 o'clock to 3 o'clock. The Government did not accept that. In Committee I explained very clearly that the Government had always decided that this Bill should not interfere with Sundays. However, a number of noble Lords considered that it would be appropriate for family reasons to allow the Sunday closing hour to be extended from 2 o'clock to 3 o'clock to enable people to enjoy their Sunday lunches. At that time I advised that the Government could not accept that proposal but your Lordships decided to do so. My noble friend Lord Kaberry now comes along, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said. As soon as the door is opened someone tries to push it wider. My noble friend Lord Kaberry says that he now wants another hour for clubs. Clubs can open until 3 o'clock on Sundays. Therefore, to suggest that they should be allowed another hour means that they should be allowed another hour's drinking in the evening. That is against the point of the Government's Bill.

It was in order to endeavour to accommodate points such as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, reasonably made earlier regarding weekdays that we introduced this Bill to tidy up anomalies and not to run into Sunday and get everything confused. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was very fair, if I may say so, in suggesting that the House should not accept this amendment because it would run into the problem of Sunday and that that day should be dealt with in a much wider context.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Kaberry is not being wholly fair if he tries to persuade the Government to accept this amendment, because the analogy we should consider is whether the clubs can be open at the same time as the pubs are for Sunday lunches. The Committee accepted that amendment for pubs but I hope that the House will not accept this amendment.

Lord Kaberry of Adel

My Lords, to say that I am disappointed is to understate my feelings a million-fold. I sought to speak on behalf of 1½ million to 2 million club members around the country who hold pass cards or inter-affiliation cards which enable them to visit other clubs from time to time. It is that visiting time which is now granted for licensed premises to which the public at large can go which is denied to members of private clubs. Club members are just as worthy citizens as those who visit public houses.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will think again on this matter and that he will have second thoughts from the point of view of parity between the two sides. I hope he will agree that it is grossly unfair that clubs should be denied the facilities that are granted in the Bill as it stands. No amendment has been tabled by the Government to delete what is apparently an offending paragraph in Clause 1. In the hope that wiser counsels may prevail, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 3: After Clause 1, insert the following clause:

("Off-premises sales on weekdays.

. In section 60(6) of the principal Act (premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor off the premises) the words "or Good Friday" shall be omitted.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to bring logic into the situation primarily as it affects supermarkets and the retail trade. All the points made in the debate have been made with good intentions and it is clear that this is a complex issue. We are referring to Sundays and the effect of any amendment passed; and I take the point made by the right reverend Prelate, who is anxious to preserve all matters relating to Sundays until we have a major measure, which we expect will be coming forward. However, beggars cannot be choosers and we have an opportunity in this Bill to raise a particular point.

I will listen again to the Minister, as I did to his ministerial colleague when I previously raised a point. I am seeking consideration of an anomaly. The present situation in England and Wales is that off-licences may sell alcohol on Good Friday between 12 noon and 2 p.m. and between 7 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. More and more of the larger stores—not necessarily in any one chain—open on Good Friday. They do so in order to meet the convenience of their customers or their community. When the larger stores open in Scotland there is no restriction on the sale of alcohol, but in England and Wales there is a restriction.

The Minister may say that he supports that anomaly. However, I ask the Minister to take account of the fact that when customers go into a large store, or even a smaller store, that is open on Good Friday—I am not making the case for stores to be open on Good Friday because under the Shops Act stores can legitimately open—they find that the stores have to control and supervise their alcohol sales so that alcohol is not available to the public except between the hours of 12 noon and 2 p.m. The hours of 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. are almost irrelevant because generally on Good Friday stores tend to close much earlier than their normal opening hours. They may well open at 8.30 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

The case that I should like the Minister to accept, or to tell me why this is not an appropriate or good amendment, is that embarrassment and confusion occur when store staff have to explain to customers that the alcohol section is closed and that the store which has been legally trading all day cannot legally sell all of its goods. I believe that that situation is illogical and that this is the appropriate moment for the Minister to deal with it.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, I support this amendment. However much some may regret it, the fact is that for some time Good Friday, which in the past was treated as a special day, is now by public and trade alike no longer so treated. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly anomalous that restricted hours for off-licences should be applied to this day.

Lord Somers

My Lords, at the risk of being in a minority of one, or perhaps two with the presence of the right reverend Prelate, I must confess that I oppose this amendment.

For some time I have regretted the increasing disappearance of any desire to look upon Christian festivals as different in any way from the ordinary day. Sunday is merely looked upon now as the day when one does not have to go to work or to school. Christmas is regarded as a day when one must give one's children a lot of rather useless toys and as an opportunity to have an extremely good meal. Apart from that, the day has no significance.

In what I sincerely hope is still a Christian country, I cannot help regretting that tendency. I admit that the noble Lord's argument is completely logical but I suggest to him that logicality is not always the only argument.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Somers as strongly as I can. To a great many Christians, Good Friday is the most sacred and special day in the whole year and it is, as he said, distressing to see it abused in the way that it is now. Therefore, I very much hope that your Lordships will resist this amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for his kind reference to me just now. He spoke very persuasively in presenting his case on this amendment. I consider the amendment to be regrettable though hard to resist. We all know that Good Friday has long been a working day in some parts of the country, and increasingly stores are open on Good Friday. Given these facts, it would be difficult or repressive to try to prevent the purchase of alcohol on that day. I regard this amendment to be regrettable because I and many others consider much in the present observance of Good Friday to be regrettable. I shall be very much interested to learn of the Minister's views on this subject in due course.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the purpose of this new amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has tabled, is to allow Good Friday to be treated like any other weekday for the purposes of the licensing hours as applied to off-licences and not to on-licences. It will not affect the hours on Good Friday for on-licence premises at all. On Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday off-licence premises are permitted to sell alcoholic drinks between 12 o'clock and 2 o'clock, and between 7 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. Off-licence premises can sell alcohol at present on Good Friday; but the hours during which alcohol as opposed to other goods can be sold is restricted.

The Shops Act allows shops to trade in normal goods on Good Friday in just the same way as on any other weekday. I can understand the restrictions which are imposed by the Licensing Act on licensed premises on that day. They can seem to be anomalous and unduly restrictive. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that in Scotland alcohol can be bought all day on Good Friday. He uses that as a perfectly sound argument. I realise that for many people any relaxation of Good Friday hours is really just another assault on the decorum of what is a special Christian day. The Government have said that we do not intend this Bill to affect Sundays. I thought that the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Manchester, was extraordinarily generous in his remarks because he might well have taken a contrary view.

There is a dilemma. There is a distinction to be drawn between Good Friday and Sunday. For the purposes of trading, Good Friday is not the same as Sunday. Nevertheless, it is a special day. On Good Friday it is permitted to trade in alcohol. It is only the times at which this can be done which are restrictive. The Government take a neutral view on this matter. It is not Sunday; and it is a special day. I respect and understand both points of view.

My Lords, I apologise if I referred to the Bishop of Birmingham; I thought I had said the Bishop of Manchester. I meant to say the Bishop of Manchester.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

No, you did not; you meant to say the Bishop of Newcastle.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am so sorry. I apologise to the right reverend Prelate. I am confused now not only by what I did not say, but also with what I was trying to conclude as regards the amendment.

The conclusion is that from the point of view of the Government we consider that Good Friday, though not a Sunday, is a special Christian day. It is not the purpose of this Bill to interfere with Sundays. There is an argument which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has put forward very cogently about extending the hours. It is for your Lordships to decide whether or not you wish to accept that.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful for the courtesy and care with which the Minister has made his remarks. I am not going to press this amendment to a vote because I am well aware that what has been said here can clearly put this matter in a wider context. All noble Lords who have spoken and commented upon my remarks have quite fairly pointed out that logic is on my side. I am very much taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said. Logicality is not the only matter that has to be considered regarding these issues. I am very much minded of the way in which not only the right reverend Prelate but others have alluded to the totality of the argument that one day will have to be joined about the whole rationale of our life on Sunday.

Many of those opposed to this amendment have said that they do not object to alcohol being sold but that they object to shops being open on Good Friday or Christmas Day. I can see the logic of that argument. However, this is the reality; namely, that the shops are open. There is an anomaly here in the shops being open; and then inside the shop there is the anomaly in what can and cannot be sold. What my amendment has sought to do is to remove at least that anomaly. I would blanch at the prospect of having to go back and change the whole pattern of consumer expenditure and demand.

With the differences between Scottish law and English law on Sunday; and between Scottish law and English law on the sale of alcohol and licensing hours, all those questions have to be tidied up at some stage in the future. I am satisfied that the case I have made has some good sense. The case will be deployed even more strongly at a later date. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.45 p.m.

Viscount Brentford moved Amendment No. 4: After Clause 9. insert the following new clause:

"(Disqualified premisesgarages.

. After section 9(3) of the principal Act there shall be inserted the following subsection— (3A) Premises shall be disqualified from receiving a justices' licence if they are sited within a location where the primary purpose is either the retailing of petrol or derv or the sale or maintenance of motor vehicles or both".).

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is with a measure of diffidence that I bring back before your Lordships the question of the sale of alcohol by garages. Your Lordships will remember that the debate on this subject in Committee went to a vote and the amendment was defeated. This is a different amendment. I make no apology for bringing this amendment before your Lordships because so many members of your Lordships' House have approached me and asked me to do so. I was not involved with the previous amendment. I believe that this matter is extremely important. I hope that your Lordships will pay attention to this amendment.

Perhaps I may make two points as regards the detail of the amendment. First, your Lordships will notice that the amendment says that "the primary purpose" is the sale of petrol, and so on. At Committee stage two or three of your Lordships made the point about the all-purpose shop that sold petrol, alcohol and everything else that one wanted because there was no other shop within a radius of 10 miles. This amendment would not affect the right of that shop to sell alcohol as well as petrol. It refers to those premises where the primary purpose is the sale of petrol.

Secondly, I draw your Lordships' attention to the words "sited within a location". I understand that quite often one or other part of the garage or the shop is used as a franchise and may not be owned by the same people. The object of the amendment is that where one has together a shop selling goods and a garage selling petrol, the shop should not be able to sell alcohol. Perhaps I may refer to a few important facts. Your Lordships will be well aware that the sale of alcohol at motorway service stations is not permitted. I find it very difficult to see why one can buy petrol and alcohol on an A road when one is filling up with petrol but not on a motorway. An A road may be a dual carriageway and the speed limit will be the same. Many of the factors will be the same. It is illogical that you may buy alcohol on one road but not on the other.

Noble Lords may say that this is not a matter of great significance because only about 150 garages have been licensed by the justices to sell alcohol. It may also be said that not a great many people will be inconvenienced if the House accepts the amendment. It is, however, important for reasons to which I shall come in a moment.

In a newspaper report on Monday of this week I discovered that in Llanelli in Wales the justices have licensed three garages to sell alcohol. According to the report, the Licensed Victuallers Association and the Rural Community Council are to appeal to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to forbid the justices giving these licences. A good deal of anger has been created by justices permitting this. I should like to remind the House that drink driving convictions increased from just over 8,000 in 1965 to 107,000 in 1985. That is a substantial increase over that 20-year period.

In conclusion, perhaps I may give the two reasons why I should like the House to accept the amendment. The first is psychological. If the Government are rightly stressing the need not to drink and drive, how can we in Parliament permit justices to license garages to sell alcohol? If we permit the two to be knit together it will make a nonsense of the drink driving campaign. My second reason is a practical one. How easy it is for somebody filling up with petrol to buy a few cans of beer and drink them as he is travelling along. He may not be driving at the time. He may take over the driving later. The question of drink driving is so important today that we have a duty to be seen to be taking every step to discourage it. That is the impact of the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment as I did to the similar amendment that we moved in Committee. I cannot add very much to what the noble Viscount has already said except to stress again that the previous amendment had powerful support from all sides of the House. The major argument put forward by the Minister was that there were few such premises. He said that the total in 1986 was only 150. From my personal knowledge I know that two or three have come into being since 1986. If I have such knowledge I cannot help feeling that the number may well have increased in the past two years more than one would have thought.

The Minister also argued that he did not share the view that the sale of alcohol in shops attached to garages will incite people to drink and drive. He said that in the vast majority of cases people will purchase alcohol in order to consume it when their journeys are over and not en route. That may well be the case, but why offer this handy opportunity to buy drink when it is not totally necessary?

I should like to stress again what the noble Viscount said in moving the amendment. It is the message that is important. Surely alcohol and driving is a mis-match. Everything that has been done by the Secretary of State for Transport over recent months has been geared to driving that message home. Surely the licensing of garages undermines the message, which is that if you drink do not drive, and if you drive do not drink. I hope that the House will give its support to the amendment and I hope that the Minister will as well.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister is aware that this amendment is supported by noble Lords on all sides of the House, although, unfortunately, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, who spoke so eloquently in Committee is unable to be here today. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, for putting the case so ably and well.

I did not come to the House yesterday because I decided to ask what we call "the general public" for their views on this amendment. I went round my local town and apprehended 15 people of all ages and both sexes. I asked them whether they thought that garages should be given a licence to sell alcoholic drinks. Every single person said, no. They added the rider that alcohol was far too freely available now and that to add another dimension of being able to buy alcohol en route when one is driving would be very detrimental.

I tried to explain my strong views on this matter in Committee and I do not think that a long speech at Report stage is called for. I feel strongly that it is an added incitement to people to take a can off the shelf, as the noble Baroness has said, or to buy a bottle of gin. On the other hand, if they have to park their car (or their motorcycle, which is perhaps more likely) and go into a store to buy alcoholic liquid that is a different matter. Like the people I spoke to yesterday, I believe that too many places are able to sell alcoholic refreshment. To be able to add garages to that list is wrong in principle.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, in the ordinary way I have spoken consistently in past debates in favour of liberation. This amendment is a restrictive one. However, there are some rather special circumstances.

Much reference has been made in our debates, today and on previous occasions, to logic. As regards logic it is unreasonable to suppose that everybody on the road who goes into a gas station to fill up and may buy alcohol will immediately become a raving homicidal maniac. That is totally illogical. On the other hand, this country and the Government have been engaged in an enormous campaign to restrict drinking and driving and they have been doing all in their power to move that campaign forward. As many noble Lords have said, there is a total mismatch between drinking and driving. In those circumstances the most telling argument produced by my noble friend Lord Brentford was the psychological one. How can it be that we are engaged in a major campaign and at the same time selling alcohol at petrol stations? That is the telling argument. There will not be a large number of garages involved. The psychological argument has the most impact today.

1 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Falkland, may I add my support for the amendment? I hope that the noble Viscount will take the amendment all the way.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am sorry to disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on this occasion, as I usually agree with him on matters touching upon licensing. I had not seen the amendment before today, and I have not had the time to study it in depth. It seems to me to go a little too far. If the amendment confined itself to preventing garages from selling spirits or fortified wines, or even ordinary table wines, one could not have any objection. One frequently wants to buy a can of lager or cider to have with a picnic when driving for a long distance. What on earth is wrong with that? No one can seriously argue that a can of ordinary strength lager (3 per cent.) can make one more accident prone. One would have to be of a curious disposition for that to be the case.

I do not know whether it is technically possible, but if the amendment could be redrafted and brought back at the next stage, confined to limiting the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks, that would be acceptable. It is not acceptable to me as it is at present.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, it depends upon how many cans of lager or other beer one has, does it not?

Lord Monson

My Lords, with the leave of the House, for various obvious reasons, most ordinary people do not drink several cans of lager while driving long distances.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Brentford seeks to introduce a new clause to ban the sale of alcohol by garages whose primary business is the sale of petrol or the maintenance or sale of cars. My noble friend Lady Macleod said that she was very much in favour of the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that we should adopt the principle, "If you drink, you do not drive; if you drive, you do not drink". That is a good policy to adopt, but I do not think it is relevant to the amendment.

I can understand noble Lords feeling that it must be wrong to allow alcohol and driving to be associated in any way. However, there is no evidence that where alcohol is sold at garages it encourages people to drink and drive. Most garages with a licence will also sell other groceries and their customers use such premises in the way other shoppers use out-of-town supermarkets; they are a convenient place to purchase alcohol which will be consumed at the end of the journey or at some other time. I find it hard to believe that your Lordships believe that people go to a garage, buy some spirits, drink them and then drive off. That is wholly unrealistic.

My noble friend Lord Arran explained in Committee that the police are able to oppose applications from garages for a licence where they feel that the sale of alcohol from such premises may give rise to customers drinking and driving. Justices would normally respect that view in such cases. It is the opinion of the Association of Chief Police Officers and of the Magistrates' Association that that system provides an effective control whilst allowing the justices discretion to take into account all the local factors, including the availability of other off-licensed outlets in the area. If any licensed garage should give rise to difficulties, it will be open to the justices, using their new powers contained in Clause II of the Bill, to revoke its licence.

My noble friend Lord Brentford said that the only premises which are currently disqualified from holding a licence are motorway service stations. He said that he could not see any difference. There is a difference. Those premises provide an opportunity for motorists to rest and to take refreshment, and there is a real risk that the provision of alcoholic drinks there could encourage some drivers to drink and drive. But one does not rest at garages. They are not normally parking places. With respect to my noble friend the two are different.

Of the 150 or so licensed garages, the majority are in rural areas. When the department sought details of the numbers of licences granted to garages in 1986, it emerged that over half were to be found in the four counties of Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk and Dyfed. That should not be interpreted as those counties having people most likely to be inebriated. It merely serves to illustrate the point that I tried to make, that in rural districts, in particular, there is a need for garages to meet customers' various needs, not simply the supply of petrol. For those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will agree that it is inappropriate to insert this clause into the Bill.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I am disappointed by my noble friend's reply. He does not seem to have answered the point put by my noble friend Lord Montgomery about the psychological impact of the Government permitting garages to sell alcohol. As he said, I believe that that is the most important point and that it undermines the Government's whole case for discouraging drinking and driving.

If we in Parliament approve of justices licensing garages to sell alcohol, we are doing two different things with our two hands. That is unacceptable. It is not what we should approve. My noble friend the Minister said that the garages are largely in rural areas. I do not know the town of Llanelli, which featured in Monday's press, but it has three garages all of which are entitled to sell alcohol. I therefore do not believe that it can be a very rural town.

In view of your Lordships' support for the amendment, I do not propose to withdraw it. I wish to put it to the vote.

1.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 63; Not-Contents, 45.

Addington, L. Leatherland, L.
Amherst, E. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Ardwick, L. Longford, E.
Ashbourne. L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birdwood, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Blatch, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Brentford, V. [Teller.] Macleod of Borve, B.
Broadbridge, L. McNair, L.
Buckmaster, V. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Molloy, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cox, B. Mountevans, L.
Craigavon, V. Munster, E.
David, B. Nelson, E.
De Freyne, L. Newcastle, Bp.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Nicol, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Norfolk, D.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Northfield, L.
Fortescue, E. Peston, L.
Gainford, L. Reay, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Hanworth, V. Rugby, L.
Hayter, L. Stallard, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Strathspey, L.
Hunt, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Ingleby, V. Thurlow, L.
John-Mackie, L. Whaddon, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. White, B.
Killearn, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Wise, L.
Lane-Fox, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lawrence, L.
Arran, E. Lindsay, E.
Attlee, E. Long, V.
Beaverbrook, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Belstead, L. Melville, V.
Bessborough, E. Merrivale, L.
Blyth, L. Monson, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Norrie, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Carnock, L. Reigate, L.
Cottesloe, L. Rodney, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] St. Davids, V.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Sempill, Ly.
Dundee, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Effingham, E. Somers, L.
Erroll, E. Strathcarron, L.
Ferrers, E. Swansea, L.
Glenarthur, L. Terrington, L.
Hesketh, L. Teynham, L.
Hooper, B. Thorneycroft, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Trefgarne, L.
Joseph, L. Ullswater, V.
Lauderdale, E.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 5: After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:

("Applications for justices' licences.

. In paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 to the principal Act, for the words "renewal unless objection is made to the renewal" there shall be substituted the words "transfer of a justices off-licence when the applicant has been the holder of such a licence for the past five years, or in the case of a renewal, unless objection is made to such application, for transfer or renewal").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, although, quite clearly, this amendment is relevant to the Bill, it deals with a very distinct and different aspect of the Bill. We are not primarily concerned here with what can be sold where and by whom. We are concerned, and I am particularly concerned, with the extent to which time is taken both in the justices' licensing courts and by those who are employed in the trade in carrying out what one would call proper administrative functions.

I believe that there could have been a misunderstanding of the wording of the amendment dealing with this matter which I brought before the House at Committee stage. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, said quite fairly: The amendment would apply to transfer applications not only in respect of off-licensed premises, but also in respect of, for example, public houses". [Official Report, 15/3/88; col. 1110.] That was never the intention of the amendment. However, on re-reading it, I find that that is what my amendment said. Therefore I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the intention of this amendment is to deal wholly with off-licence premises.

The Minister made another point. He said: In many cases the nature of the new store would not be significantly different and the fitness of the applicant to hold a licence will have been established on an earlier occasion". We are talking about a person put forward to accept the transfer of a licence in his name, who for five years has been a licence holder with an unblemished record and against whom no objection is lodged by the police, as being a fit and proper person to have the licence transferred into his name. On the last occasion the noble Lord said at col. 1110. I do not believe that we should allow transfer proceedings to become a mere formality". Nor do I. Nor do those in the trade who, I repeat, are very conscious of their responsibilities.

The noble Earl used illustrations concerning a licensee transferring from a small country pub to a substantial city centre establishment who would no longer expect to appear before the licensing justices to demonstrate that he was capable of maintaining control of the new premises with perhaps a record for attracting young people, trouble-makers or even drug-pushers. It is a vastly different scenario when one compares a very busy supermarket and a very busy pub. Supermarkets, whether in an urban or a rural setting, are invariably operated in precisely the same way. One does not hear about fights or disorder breaking out in supermarkets and certainly not because of alcohol having been consumed.

We are saying here that the time of executives, the senior management, of the major retailers has, quite often, needlessly to be spent in court. I shall give the House some illustrations of this. At present 146 transfers are required each year by Tesco stores, 150 by Sainsburys and 77 by Asda. I give those figures not only to highlight the administrative burden but more importantly the judicial burden created by the present arrangements. Out of the 146 transfers sought by Tesco the company representative was actually called to appear on approximately 42 occasions. In other words on more than 100 occasions,—two out of three—an executive or a senior manager together with a legal aid official had to attend in case there was an objection.

The Minister was quite right on the previous occasion to point out that they did not have to attend but when the livelihood of many people as well as the profitability of the business is involved the executive and also the legal representative must attend.

If a person has to have satisfied the law by having kept a clean sheet for five years, and if that person is also scrutinised by the police and there is no objection, in those circumstances it is reasonable that the time of the court and the time of the business should be saved for administrative as well as judicial reasons. I believe that this is a reasonable and a sensible amendment which has very much to do with justice if not as much to do with the consumption of alcohol. Even more importantly, it has much to do with the ability of businesses to survive in the very competitive business environment in 1988. I beg to move.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, I support this amendment covering the transfer of a justices' off-licence because it would be particularly helpful for multiple companies faced with changes of personnel from one store to another. Although in law the licence is held in the name of the individual, it is run for the company and in accordance with the company's methods and instructions. The inclusion of this amendment would considerably ease the administrative burden on the courts and the police without in any sense reducing the real level of control exercised by the police and the magistrates. It does not reduce the opportunity for the police to object, and in the case of any objections a personal appearance would be necessary. This is a technical amendment which would generally help in my opinion in the administration of the law.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has explained very fairly his amendment and I am grateful to him for doing so. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, has supported it and has said that it would ease the position of the courts and of firms. I understand that position but I do think that the transfer of a licence is in many ways analogous to the grant of a new licence and to that extent I think it is important that licensing justices should retain the right to ask applicants to appear before them. This means that they can then retain a clear picture of who holds licences in their area which in itself is an important aspect of maintaining a proper control over all licensed premises in the district.

I realise however that larger retail companies can find that onerous and irksome. The nature of their stores does not vary greatly and they ensure that their licensees are well trained and are fit to hold a licence.

When the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, first put his proposal to us in Committee, my noble friend Lord Arran explained that we could not accept it, in part because some transfer applications give rise to serious considerations about an applicant's fitness to take on new responsibility.

I realise that the noble Lord. Lord Graham, has altered his amendment and has tried to tie it more closely to the needs of large retailers where stores will be run on similar lines with similar degrees of responsibility.

But even as now drafted the amendment will cover a person who may have a been a small, independent off-licence holder, who has a clean licence but who changes his job possibly to join a large multiple retailer. I think it is reasonable and desirable that licensing justices should be able to question this man especially if he is new to the district and unknown to the justices.

It is important to realise—the noble Lord, Lord Graham, quite rightly drew attention to this fact—that the law as it stands does not compel the attendance of a transfer applicant. Licensing justices know that licensees are very busy people, but I think that it is right that licensing justices should continue to have that right even if they need not exercise it.

The fact that many licensing committees call most transfer applicants reflects the importance which licensing justices themselves attach to the transfer proceedings. I understand the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has very fairly put, but I think that it would be better to leave the licensing justices with this right.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am disappointed with what the Minister has said. In effect, he acknowledges that I have arguments; but with great respect to him, he chooses to ignore them. The Minister is saying that there is no difference between a new applicant and an application for a transfer: that is that a person who has not previously held a licence and about whom nothing is known presents the same situation as someone who has held a licence for five years with an unblemished record and against whom the police, having made investigations, have no objection. I believe there is a difference there.

The point that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, made, is absolutely right. If there is any question of someone who has been a licence-holder for five years in a weak environment and who seeks to move to a larger perhaps more troublesome store having an objection raised against him that is the end of the matter. This amendment would not be applicable to such a person.

We are not anxious, and I am not anxious, to have a situation where a person who is unfit by all the measuring rods to be the manager of a large store obtains a licence and, because he is unfit to hold a licence, is unable to manage the store efficiently and effectively. That not only causes trouble in the community, but also trouble to his company. I believe that all large stores without exception are very jealous about their reputation and about the protection of their employees. They would not lightly be party to a situation that brought them into disrepute.

The noble Earl told the House that many justices do call applicants. That may very well be true. Besides what the Minister has been told, I shall repeat what I have been told, and I shall name names. Tesco has said that of 146 applications which it made to transfer a licence from one of its employees to another, in more than 100 cases the applicants were not called. That is the reality. It is obviously different from the experience of the Home Office. I respect that. However, that is what it is like in the real world. Because of that, such businesses are saying that it is reasonable to obviate that situation.

The Minister was present and listened to our Second Reading debate. When I made the same point and suggested that I would move the amendment, I said that the views of the police and magistracy would be very helpful. The Minister has given us his views and the views of those advising him. Before I decide how to proceed on the amendment, perhaps he can tell me whether the views of the police and the magistracy have been sought. Is his view reinforced by their reactions to these matters? If I am told that the police and the magistracy object to it, I shall have second thoughts about pursuing the matter. If they have been asked about the matter and have said that they are benign towards it or welcome it, that puts a different gloss on the whole question. I am very conscious that we do not wish to make a situation which needs to be watched even more difficult. However, I should be grateful if the Minister would respond.

1.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps with the leave of the House I may make one further intervention. In considering the Bill, a large number of organisations were consulted including the police and magistrates. It would not be correct for me to give the impression to the noble Lord that they were both specifically questioned about his amendment. However, they have been concerned in all parts of the Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I well understand that as regards a clean sheet the views of the police would be sought in the consultative processes that have taken place between the Minister, his advisers and others. However, were their views sought on every amendment and on specific amendments? I think that it is still possible for the Minister to reflect on what the amendment tries to do. If he is seeking to provide justices with the opportunity to review every transferee and transferor, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment. I do not ask him for a commitment. But between today and the next stage of the Bill perhaps he can seek the views of those who I have mentioned and who have a very real locus in the matter—the police and the licensing justices. In the meantime I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment and perhaps return to it in another form at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 6: Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Intoxicating liquor.

. In section 201(1) of the principal Act, in the definition of "intoxicating liquor", in paragraph (a), the words "of an original gravity not exceeding 1016 and" shall be omitted.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is parallel to some of the general purposes of the Bill which were described by the Minister when he was responding to Amendment No. 1. He said that in part the Bill was designed to remove unnecessary burdens and outdated restrictions. I refer in the amendment to an outdated restriction, and the amendment is somewhat technical.

The purpose of the amendment is to remove from the definition of "intoxicating liquor" in Section 201 of the principal Act an anachronistic criterion which does not relate to the alcoholic strength of the drink and which inhibits the manufacture and sale of alcohol-free and low alcohol products. Under the present text of Section 201, a drink which has been fermented at any stage during the manufacturing process has to pass two tests before it is regarded as not being intoxicating liquor. Those are that the alcoholic content should not exceed 1.2 per cent. by volume and that the original gravity does not exceed 1016 degrees.

The reference to alcohol content speaks for itself. It directly affects whether or not the drink is intoxicating. However, the orginal gravity test does not in itself have any bearing on that. The original gravity of a liquid which has been fermented assumes a gravity before fermentation took place and is a variable figure. The reason that the licensing law contains that definition for intoxicating liquor, with that apparently otoise reference to the original gravity, is that from the 19th century until recently retailers were required to have an excise licence as well as a licence under the Licensing Act.

The rules were formulated before there was any interest in, or indeed any adequate technology for, drinks being produced by fermentation and then being stripped of the alcohol before sale, or being prepared from worts with such a high proportion of unfermentable sugars as to be incapable of producing enough alcohol to reach the duty or Licensing Act threshold. Both those techniques are now in use and consumer demand for the product grows rapidly.

The retail excise licence was abolished by the Finance Act 1967. Wholesale licences remained. The definition of "intoxicating liquor" in Section 201(3) of the Finance Act was simply amended. Wholesale excise licences were in turn abolished by the Finance Act 1981 in Schedule 8 and the Licensing Act definition was again amended, this time to create the same effect as before but without reference to an excise licence.

The anomaly still exists that if the product has an alcoholic strength not exceeding 1.2 per cent. it is not subject to control as to where, when and to whom it is sold under the licensing legislation if the original gravity does not exceed 1016 degrees. If, however, it does, it is subject to those controls. In order to produce an acceptable quality of alcohol free or low alcohol beer, it may be necessary for the manufacturer to put in sufficient body—a sugary material—which will in turn cause the original gravity perhaps to exceed 1016 degrees.

It seems to the industry that there is no conceivable reason why the licensing legislation, which is fundamentally a social measure designed to control the sale and so on of alcoholic drinks, should concern itself more with the sugar content of the drinks in question simply because they are drinks that have been fermented at some point or time in their manufacture. The legislation is not concerned with the sugar content of other soft drinks and indeed it may come about that soft drink manufacturers may design and produce a beer-tasting drink without the use of any fermenting process. Those will fall only under the requirement that the drink should have less than 1.2 per cent. of alcohol by volume.

Perhaps I may give some examples. Bass's Barbican product and Guinness's Kaliber product are labelled quite lawfully "alcohol free", in that they have no alcoholic content; Whitbread's White Label bitter and Elgood's Highway bitter are quite properly labelled "alcohol free" although they have 1 per cent. of alcohol by volume. Those products are derived from a fermenting process, but because they fall below the 1.2 per cent. alcohol threshold they can be labelled in that way.

The only difficulty arises in that the sellers and retail purchasers do not know whether that product was derived from a beer that had an original gravity in excess of 1016 degrees. That is where the confusion arises. My noble friend Lord Arran said that he was not aware of any confusion. However, it is a fact that the manufacturers are inhibited from creating a wider range because of that confusion. Retailers are inhibited from stocking and selling a wider range of alcohol-free and low-alcohol beers because they do not know where they stand and have been challenged.

We are left with the Licensing Act, which is concerned with what makes a product alcoholic. We are left with an original gravity criterion which originates from the last century and has very little to do with the alcoholic content or the intoxicating nature of the drink. It has no bearing whatsoever on the measurement of alcohol. It produces uncertainty and confusion about products. It restricts the freedom of brewers to produce a product with an acceptable taste; and, lastly, it flies in the face of the ministerial working group on alcohol abuse and the Masham Committee recommendations in regard to alcohol. For those reasons—which are essentially technical reasons—I suggest that your Lordships should agree with me that this now anachronistic and artificial barrier should be removed. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise to support the case that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Both at the beginning and at the end of his speech he quite rightly said that this is very largely a technical matter. I listened with great respect to the Minister when he argued on technical grounds about this amendment. As I understand what the noble Lord has said, this is an attempt to make it easier for alcohol-free or reduced alcohol content drinks to be not only produced but produced more easily.

Because of my preparation for other amendments, I happen to have a copy of the report of the Working Group on Young People and Alcohol which was chaired by our highly respected Member, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. One of the recommendations in the report says: We call upon the alcoholic drinks industry to build upon its existing work against alcohol abuse by providing the resources to set up a wide range of alcohol-free facilities in co-operation with local agencies and the community, and to evaluate their effectiveness". In the summary, the report talks in terms that, Alternative facilities for young people are one means of attracting them away from under-age drinking and alcohol abuse". Those are the words of a ministerial working group. I certainly subscribe 101 per cent. to what has been said by our highly respected colleagues.

I listened to what was said. If the purpose is the advancement of what we want—namely, the discouragement of the drinking of alcohol by under age and young people—and, if this measure will aid and abet that, I am all for it.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I cannot claim to have followed the technical presentation of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I very much enjoyed his explanation. I understand that the confusion arises from the modern process of producing non- or very low-alcohol beer from which the alcohol content has been extracted. As my noble friend Lord Graham said, I understand the purpose is to remove the confusion and restrictions concerning the availability of low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beer to the public. Surely that must be beneficial. Moreover, perhaps I may mention that the Government gave a very strong indication that they supported that objective when in the Budget they lowered the taxation on low-alcohol drinks. I think that should be borne in mind in considering the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

As my noble friend Lord Graham said, this is supported by the committe chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, as something which will help to prevent young people from drinking alcoholic drinks. I hope that the Minister will look favourably at this amendment.

1.45 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Lucas, who has moved this amendment very comprehensively. It is a technical matter but I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, need not be unduly worried. Throughout this legislation she has been concerned about alcohol abuse and quite rightly. By and large, alcohol is measured as a percentage of net pure alcohol by volume, whereas some of the archaic methods to which my noble friend referred go back to the measurement by fermentation and gravity in which sugar is re-added in order to give some substance and body so that it is palatable.

The whole purpose of the Government's legislation, and, as the noble Baroness has mentioned, the thrust of recent tax adjustments, has been to encourage the sale of low-alcohol or nonalcoholic beverages. Those non-alcoholic beverages must be considered as soft drinks, which the alcohol abuse lobby is trying to encourage. Therefore it must stand to reason that if there are archaic pieces of legislation that still measure the alcohol strength or gravity of the product which has been created by sugar, that is not only incorrect but irrelevant.

I like to think that we should be removing that anomaly. I hope that the Government will be able to support my noble friend's amendment, because it seems to be to be in the spirit of what they are trying to achieve on the social front.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I too should like to support this amendment. For reasons of health and safety, if not revenue, the Government would like the public to switch from high-alcohol drinks to low-alcohol drinks. People will only do so if the latter can be made more palatable. If this amendment can help to make low-alcohol and non-acoholic beers and lagers more palatable, it can only benefit the nation as a whole.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lucas gave warning at Committee stage that he would try again to amend the definition of intoxicating liquor found in Section 201 of the Licensing Act 1964 so as to exempt from licensing controls the sale of low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers and wines. The intended effect of the present amendment is the same as the amendment that was before us at Committee stage, although it approaches the problem from a slightly different angle.

We can accept the logic of my noble friend's argument. He is seeking to make sure that the licensing regime only covers drinks which are clearly alcoholic, leaving other products to be sold without restriction. From a strictly legal or technical point of view, it makes sense to deal with products solely according to whether or not they are alcoholic.

But there are, I think, wider considerations which cannot be left out of this argument. There seems little doubt that if we removed these drinks from the control of the Licensing Act altogether, manufacturers would seek to sell them from a much wider range of outlets and as a result could exploit the youth market.

It seems to us that there is a considerable danger that, by encouraging children to drink these products, we shall be developing their taste for beer and wine at an all too early stage in their lives. The habit of drinking will be formed and the progression to the alcoholic varieties will inevitably follow. Such a move may give rise to serious long-term consequences which will outweigh the technical benefits this amendment may bring.

The amendment represents a significant change. We do not, of course, wish to discourage the drinking of low-alcohol drinks by adults; but we think that we have other ways of providing incentives for them. We do, however, think it would be wrong to encourage the young to start drinking beer of any kind. In those circumstances, we cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I admit that the amendment is the same one as I moved previously although I have taken a slightly different angle. I apologise for any inadequacy in my explanation at Committee stage, which has meant that I have taken a rather longer time this afternoon amplifying my intention. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I confirm that the purport of the amendment is to encourage manufacturers to invest the considerable sums of money required to produce low alcohol and alcohol-free products which taste and smell like beer, so some people tell me. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having quoted the passage from the Masham Committee report.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who reminded your Lordships that in his Budget proposals the Chancellor made certain changes, much welcomed by the industry, designed to encourage the further production of these products. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, was extremely helpful, as was my noble friend Lord Montgomery.

I hope my noble friend Lord Arran will forgive me when I say that his reply was just about the poorest explanation for the rejection of an amendment that I have heard from the Front Bench since the beginning of this Session. It demonstrates to me—I do not know whether noble Lords feel the same—the possession of a puritanical mind absorbed by the necessity for ensuring that no under-18-year-old should get a whiff of the barmaid's apron. Dear, oh dear, the practical reality is very different!

Since the soft drinks manufacturers, such as Cadbury-Schweppes, Corona or Tizer, can produce synthetically a drink that smells and tastes like beer, why deny the legitimate industry that has very many more outlets the opportunity for doing precisely what the Government and their advisory bodies want?

My noble friend the Minister has produced a non-answer. I believe that the strength of support around the House may demonstrate to him that he ought to think again. I shall give him that opportunity. I ask him to think again about these matters between now and the next stage of the Bill when I shall return to the subject. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 [Repeals]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 7: Page 21, line 24, after ("words") insert (" "half-past" and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, before the Question is put, perhaps it might not be inappropriate, as this is the last amendment with which we are to deal in the Bill and this is our last business before we go away for Easter, for me to wish not only your Lordships but everyone associated with this building a happy Easter. Those wishes go not only to noble Lords but as much to the staff, the staff whom we see and the other staff whom we do not always see, but on whom rests with equal seriousness the responsibility of running the House.

I fear that in going away for Easter it may not be a fixed Easter, but I hope that we all enjoy the happy Easter spirit. Those modestly irresponsible attitudes that always accompany an impending Recess, have overtaken your Lordships today on one occasion and ensured that an amendment was passed against the Government's advice. Despite that, I wish your Lordships and all the staff a happy Easter.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, at this point I should like to respond and say how warmly we on these Benches endorse those remarks, particularly as regards the staff. We are very conscious of the efficient and willing support that we receive from staff in all quarters of the House. We hope that they will have a relaxed and cheerful Easter and will enjoy their rest.

Perhaps it is not inappropriate to say that we hope that the Ministers opposite will also enjoy a happy and relaxed Easter and will come back feeling generous. A happy Easter to all from these Benches.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the seasonal wishes which have come from the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. In this House we are protected, serviced and refreshed by a host of people, some of whom, as the noble Earl said, we never see. We are most grateful to every one of them. I hope that they as well as your Lordships will have a very enjoyable Easter.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, from the Cross-Benches we also should like to join in the good wishes for the Easter Recess, and also to express our thanks to those, seen or unseen, who look after us all so well.

On Question, amendment agreed to.