HL Deb 02 May 1995 vol 563 cc1329-48

3.9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blotch)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill makes simple and logical reforms to our liquor licensing laws. It will relax Sunday licensing hours so that pubs and clubs may open during Sunday afternoons in the way that they already can on weekday afternoons. Off-licensed shops, including large stores such as supermarkets, will be able to sell alcohol for longer hours which fit in sensibly with their Sunday opening times. That, in a nutshell, is what the Bill provides. Our present restrictions on the times at which alcohol can be sold and drunk in public houses stem from the First World War. Successive governments have considered that there are valid reasons to limit the times at which public houses may open. Nevertheless, there has been a gradual easing of the restrictions over the years as working patterns, leisure activities and social attitudes have changed.

The most recent changes in the licensing hours were made in the Licensing Act 1988. The requirement that public houses must close during weekday afternoons was abolished and the normal licensing hours were standardised at 11 in the morning until 11 at night. There were some who predicted at that time that afternoon opening would give rise to more excessive drinking and disorder. Those predictions have not been fulfilled. What has happened is that licensees have had greater freedom to decide when to offer their services to their customers, and customers have had greater freedom to choose when they take advantage of those services. Some public houses have chosen to open throughout weekday afternoons. Others continue to close, as they did before the 1988 relaxations. In short, the abolition of the weekday afternoon break nearly seven years ago has given the licensed trade much greater flexibility to give their customers what they want when they want it. It has not given rise to any appreciable increase in drunkenness or disorder.

What the 1988 Act did not do was to alter significantly the times at which pubs may open on Sundays. An hour was added to the lunchtime opening session so that it ends at three rather than two in the afternoon. Otherwise, the Sunday licensing hours remained as they were. In other fields, there have been significant changes since 1988 in what people may do, and want to do, on Sundays. Sunday shopping, which was put on a rational footing last year by the Sunday Trading Act and has proved popular with a great many people, is the obvious example. More recently, in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act, Parliament relaxed the restrictions on betting and sporting activities on Sunday. It is now time to bring the Sunday licensing hours into line with people's current likes and expectations, and to remove unnecessary government interference in this area.

Clause 1 of the Bill will bring that about. At present, the Sunday licensing hours for on-licensed premises such as public houses and hotels are from midday until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and from 7 o'clock until half past 10 in the evening. Clause I will remove the requirement to close between 3 o'clock and 7 o'clock.

Pubs will, therefore, he able to open continuously on Sundays from midday until half past 10 in the evening. They will no longer have to close during the afternoon. We regard that as a sensible change, which I am sure will be welcomed by those who run pubs and those who frequent them. Many pubs have for some time been tailoring their services to meet the needs and wishes of families—for example by providing family rooms. In addition, we took the opportunity presented by last year's Deregulation and Contracting Out Act to introduce children's certificates. Since the beginning of this year, licensees who wish to do so have been able to apply for a children's certificate. These permit children under 14 who are accompanied by an adult to be admitted to the bar, if the licensing justices consider that it provides a suitable environment for children of that age, and meals and non-alcoholic drinks are available there. Our aim, which I believe the licensed trade warmly supports, is to enable pubs which wish to do so to become more family orientated. But if that is to happen, it does not make sense for pubs offering facilities for families with young children to have to close on Sunday afternoon—the very time that many families are able to get out and spend their leisure time together. More generally, there is no good reason why people should be denied the pleasure of popping into the pub for a drink while taking a stroll on Sunday afternoon.

Clause 1 also extends and rationalises off-licence hours. At present, off-licensed premises may sell alcohol on Sundays from noon until 3 o'clock in the afternoon and from 7 until half past 10 in the evening—the same hours as pubs. The effect of Clause 1 is that, subject to the restrictions in the Sunday Trading Act 1994, off-licensed shops will be able to sell alcohol on Sundays from 10 o'clock in the morning until 10.30 in the evening. Large shops whose business consists exclusively or mainly of selling alcoholic drinks and small shops with off-licences, which are not subject to the Sunday Trading Act, will be able to sell alcohol throughout these longer hours. But like pubs, there is no obligation for off-licensed shops to stay open for the whole of the licensing hours. It is for businesses to decide the times within those hours which suit them and their customers best.

The change in the hours will, I know, be particularly welcomed by large stores which have off-licences, such as supermarkets; and I am sure that it will be equally welcome to their customers. Since August last year, large shops have been permitted under the Sunday Trading Act to open for any continuous period of six hours between 10 in the morning and 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Some have chosen from 10 o'clock in the morning until 4, others from 11 o'clock until 5, and yet others from midday until 6 p.m. But the present off-licence hours mean that whatever time those stores choose to open there is always part of their opening hours —before midday or after 3 o'clock—when they may not sell alcohol. So they have to cordon off their stocks of drink and make sure that no one takes a bottle of wine or some other alcoholic drink through the tills except between 12 and 3 o'clock.

That makes life unnecessarily complicated for the stores, and is undoubtedly a source of irritation to customers. People shopping on Sunday morning, perhaps for their Sunday lunch, can buy all the food they want. But they cannot buy a bottle of wine to accompany their meal. That really is absurd. The Bill will sweep away that petty and unnecessary restriction, and enable people to buy alcohol in supermarkets and other large off-licensed stores throughout the time that they can buy other goods in the store.

The Bill also deals, in Clause 2, with the hours during which alcohol may be sold on Sundays in clubs. A club may sell alcohol to its members or their guests in accordance with the club rules, if it is registered for that purpose with the magistrates' court. The hours during which alcohol may be sold on Sunday must be fixed in the club rules and can vary from club to club. However, as in the case of pubs, club hours may not exceed 6½ hours and may not begin before midday or end after half past 10 in the evening. But clubs may have a shorter afternoon break so that one might open, for example, from midday till 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. until 8.30 p.m., while another might open in line with the pub hours of midday until 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to half past 10 in the evening.

Clause 2, therefore, will simplify these arrangements. In future, registered clubs will be able to sell alcohol throughout the period from midday until 10.30 in the evening, without an afternoon break, The Sunday hours for clubs will therefore be identical to those for pubs.

I referred earlier to the abolition in 1988 of the afternoon break in weekday licensing hours. There is no evidence of any appreciable increase in problems of drunkenness, nuisance and disorder as a result. However, there was some understandable apprehension at the time the change was made that things might not work out as well as they have. A power was taken, therefore, for licensing justices to make a restriction order which would effectively reimpose all or part of the old afternoon break at a particular pub if afternoon opening had led to annoyance, disturbance or disorder. The power also enabled magistrates' courts to make a restriction order to reimpose the old afternoon break at registered clubs in the same circumstances.

In the event, the power to make a restriction order has been needed only very infrequently. Nevertheless, it is a valuable safeguard. We therefore intend to extend it so that it is also available to reimpose the current Sunday afternoon break at pubs or clubs where afternoon opening gives rise to problems.

That is the effect of Clause 3. It will enable the licensing justices, in response to an application by the police or someone who lives or works close to a pub, to consider making a restriction order which would prevent that pub from selling alcohol for part or the whole of the time between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. The licensing justices would, of course, have to be satisfied that this course was justified in order to reduce or avoid annoyance, disturbance or disorder. Clause 3 also extends the existing power of magistrates' courts so that they too will be able to make a restriction order prohibiting Sunday afternoon opening if serious grounds for complaint arise about registered clubs.

The licensing hours for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises on Christmas Day and Good Friday have traditionally been the same as for Sundays; and that is the position at present. The extended Sunday hours in the Bill, and the power to make a restriction order, will also apply to Good Friday. However, they will not extend to Christmas Day. In deference to views expressed during debate in another place, the Government moved an amendment which removed Christmas Day from the ambit of the Bill. Opening hours for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises on Christmas Day will, therefore, remain as they are now.

The remaining clauses of the Bill are of less substance. Clause 4 makes amendments to the Licensing Acts 1964 and 1988 which are consequential to the changes which Clauses 1 to 3 make to Sunday opening hours and to the arrangements for restriction orders. Clause 5 provides that, following enactment, the Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill will come into force on a date appointed by the Secretary of State. This flexibility is needed to enable the Home Office to inform the licensing justices, magistrates' courts and the police upon Royal Assent about the changes that the Bill will make. We do not envisage that this will take long, and so there should be no need for any significant interval between Royal Assent and the Act coming into effect.

Those are the effects of the Bill. I am sure that they will be popular with both the licensed trade and their customers. The Bill will allow pubs and clubs to get on with their business without unnecessary interference from government. That is what deregulation is all about. It will also, I am convinced, benefit tourism, and perhaps make our licensing hours a little more intelligible to visitors from abroad. For off-licensed premises too, there will be obvious benefits. In supermarkets, in particular, the visible evidence of outdated regulation—the cordoned-off drinks area before midday and after three on Sundays—will rightly become a thing of the past. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Blatch.)

3.21 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I open my remarks, as always on matters of this kind, by saying that as far as the Opposition are concerned, this is a matter for a free vote and we do not in any way impose the Whip. I take some comfort, in view of the different views expressed by Members of my party last year on the Sunday Trading Bill, that none of my noble friends has chosen to speak on this occasion. I am sure that that will not inhibit them from taking part in the Committee and later stages if they feel strongly enough on the matter and, indeed, if they disagree with me, as they are fully entitled to do.

Let me state my position clearly from the outset. I support the Bill. I support the reduction, as far as is possible, in artificial restrictions on the right of people to do what they want so long as they do not harm other people. Having said that, the Government have not fully grasped the opportunity available to them to remove some remaining anomalies in relation to licensing laws. A number of anomalies, which, we are told by Mr. Forsyth, are to be covered in the consultation paper, could well have been covered in the Bill if the Government had shown firmness of intention.

The law in relation to late night opening of licensed premises is still very unclear. There is a formal closing time and a formal drinking-up time, but there are still considerable and varyingly used powers for magistrates to give extensions. I should have thought that it would be desirable to codify the basis on which magistrates ought to be able to consider extensions of that kind in order to satisfy any demand that may exist—I am not convinced there is such a demand—for wider late night opening.

Magistrates do not appear to be subject to any guidance, let alone statutory restrictions. They are perfectly capable, when considering licences, of saying, "This licence is not needed because there is no economic need for it". Surely the basis on which magistrates express local needs should be on local planning grounds rather than on making moral or economic judgments about the desirability of licensed premises being opened in any specific place.

We still have a quite unnecessary and damaging division between what is called a "pub" and what is called a "cafe". We should be more flexible, as are most European countries, in allowing alcohol to be sold either in conjunction with meals or not in conjunction with meals. We no longer have the dried-up sandwich, but anomalies still exist in that part of our licensing laws and the Government should take the opportunity to deal with them as well.

I was interested in what the Minister said regarding the experience of the new provisions for children in licensed premises. I am sure she would agree that these provisions are still finding their feet. There is no doubt that different magistrates in different parts of the country are interpreting the needs of families to enjoy themselves in licensed premises in a different and sometimes anomalous way.

I say all that in the firm knowledge that survey work by the Consumers' Association found by a majority of two to one not only that the people of this country want pubs to be open on a Sunday afternoon—after all, that is the prime purpose of the Bill—but also that, by a similar majority, people want publicans to make their own decisions about when licensed premises should be open. That is fundamentally my view. This is not an area in which the law should be engaged any further than is necessary for the protection of those who wish and need peace and quiet around where they live and where they need to be. The kind of liberal licensing provisions for the sale of alcohol in public places that exist in most parts of the Continent could perfectly well apply to this country without any of the paraphernalia which exists here.

In general, therefore, although I welcome the Bill, there are still anomalies in relation to our licensing laws and I look forward with interest to seeing what the Government propose to do about them. I almost forgot one small anomaly which is not provided for in the Bill. The Minister rightly said that it is an absurdity that parts of supermarkets are cordoned off and not allowed to sell alcohol except between 12 and 3 when the shops are open between 10 and 4 or between 11 and 5. Has she considered that cordoning-off will still apply on Good Friday mornings when supermarkets open at 8.30 or 9 o'clock and that they will have to retain whatever devices they have to stop people taking things off the shelf for one day a year? It would be more desirable to rationalise Good Friday while we are rationalising the rest of the licensing law.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I understood from my noble friend's opening remarks that precisely what the noble Lord is asking for is included in the Bill in relation to Sunday but not Christmas Day.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, yes, and also not Good Friday. The provision for off-licences is that they should be able to open at 10 o'clock. Christmas Day is not affected by the Bill at all, but supermarkets which have off-licences and which open on Good Friday before 10 o'clock would still have to cordon off their shelves until that time. It is a small anomaly which only happens once a year but the opportunity should be taken to deal with it.

My major proviso in relation to the Bill—and it follows a problem we had with the Sunday trading legislation last year —is the protection of those who work in licensed premises. That applies both to staff in supermarkets and, above all, to the staff and managers in licensed premises. I give notice now that my noble friends and I will be tabling amendments comparable to those we tabled last year to protect the quality of life and the interests of those who work in licensed premises.

The principles of the amendments will be similar to those proposed last year. If staff are not working now on Sundays, then any extension to Sunday working should be voluntary. If staff are working on Sundays, then any extension of their Sunday working hours should be voluntary. If there are volunteers—and the experience is that quite a high proportion do volunteer—then they should be entitled to enhanced pay. We argued last year on a sound basis that that kind of pay should involve double time. Such enhanced pay should apply not only to those who are working on a full-time basis but also to part-time workers, including Sunday only workers. Finally, in order to ensure that the legislation providing for workers on licensed premises is consistent with other employment protection legislation we would wish it to be included in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act.

There is a particular and even more serious problem for licensed house managers, which I hope your Lordships will consider sympathetically. They are not employees in the ordinary sense but they work at least 70 hours a week at the moment and have work to do before the pub opens and after the pub closes. They do not have the freedom which a tenant or a sole proprietor would have of saying, "I do not wish to open these extra hours." It is the owners who will decide when the premises will be open. They often have contracts which say that they will work as and when required rather than having defined hours. I am sure that noble Lords will have heard of the real difficulties they have and the threat that is posed to their family life by the situation in which they find themselves. I am very sympathetic to that and I should like to explore with other noble Lords what can be done to deal with the particular problems they face.

However, subject to my doubts about the adequacy of the law to deal with the anomalies which still exist, and subject in particular to the points I have made about the protection of the workers concerned, I, without in any way imposing a Whip, would urge my noble friends to support the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I resolve the Good Friday point. Perhaps I may repeat what I said earlier. The extended Sunday hours in the Bill and the power to make a restriction will also apply to Good Friday. The exception to the rule is Christmas Day.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sorry. It is my fault. I have not made myself clear. The legislation for Sundays and Good Friday proposed in the Bill is very clear. It says that off-licences can be open from 10 a.m. My point is that on Good Friday, though not on Sundays, supermarkets with off-licences open before 10 a.m. and they will therefore have to keep their cordons between 8.30 or 9 a.m. when they open and 10 a.m. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is an anomaly.

3.33 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I accept the Bill, and I agree with most of what the noble Baroness said in her opening remarks. Perhaps I should declare my interest. I am the deputy chairman of the all-party group on alcohol misuse. I think I am speaking for most of my colleagues in that group when I say that it is not when people drink that is important; it is what they drink, where they drink and how they drink.

We have quite grave problems in this country with the misuse of alcohol which lead to a good deal of harm and injury to persons and the break-up of families. Our total consumption of alcohol compared with other developed countries is relatively low. We can fairly confidently point to the main area of concern, which is drinking among young men between the ages of 16 and 24. Licensing hours in the 75 years or so during which they have been in existence have not been of enormous help. Some of my colleagues may disagree. The culture of drinking in this country over hundreds of years has been identified with a certain amount of rowdiness, damage and disorder and has largely been focused on the same group that I mentioned.

We have recently taken evidence from magistrates, probation officers and police officers with the intention of issuing a report which I hope will be published. The picture to emerge from the evidence given to us—particularly by the police and the magistrates—is fairly alarming. The amount of underlying alcohol misuse which goes relatively unnoticed by the public at large needs to be looked at. The difficulty is that alcohol is socially acceptable. It is usually a pleasurable activity to take drink in moderation. Most of the attention with regard to substances is concentrated upon those which are illegal. In an area where there has been a cultural change—I refer to drink-driving —the recently published figure of 500 people killed on the roads last year by drivers under the influence of drink shows that there is still a great deal to be done.

I therefore say that when the hours have been changed—I shall not enter into the debate between the noble Baroness and the noble Lord on the Labour Front Bench—there will need to be greater emphasis on the training of magistrates so that they are able to assess who is fit to be a licensee. It is also necessary to ensure that when licensees do not behave according to the standards we expect of them, proper sanctions are taken against them. I am thinking in particular of under-age drinking and of disorder, not only within public houses and places where drink is consumed—there is a great deal of it, particularly at weekends—but also outside public houses. Magistrates granting licences to establishments need to be very much better informed about the kind of environment involved and the likelihood of disorder taking place outside. Licensees have to take responsibility for what happens outside their premises when they know full well that disturbances may take place. That is the kind of area which our group is looking at.

Most important of all are the options in sentencing which need to be given to magistrates in dealing with people who, clearly, because of their repeated offending, have a drink problem. That applies not only to drink-drivers but to those who are constantly involved in brawls, assaults, sexual misbehaviour, and so on.

Perhaps I may refer to the general attitude in this country towards drinking alcohol. The recent decision by United Distillers to break with a 40 year-old convention that spirits are not advertised on television is disappointing. It has declared quite openly that it is now pushing drinks of this kind—the stronger drinks such as spirits and strong beers—as drinks for young people. That is a retrograde step and needs to be watched. I understand the pressure on those who purvey alcohol and the difficulties of competition and so on but a public responsibility falls on large groups, particularly those who have the power to advertise on television, to be especially wary where young people may be affected.

Having said that, I welcome the Bill, but there remains a great deal to be done in the whole area of alcohol misuse.

3.39 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter

My Lords, I am most grateful for the retention of the break for Christmas Day. My reason for being grateful is the family life of licensees on Christmas Day, which is an important family day. I am also grateful for the provisions under Clause 3. But the question presents itself to me of my attitude to the removal of the mandatory break on Sundays.

I far prefer to be allied myself and in the office I hold with progress rather than to be obscurantist. But I find that there is a problem in that progress can sometimes be judged to be progress only if subsequent history—and sometimes considerably subsequent history—tells us that it was progress. Therefore, I feel bound to express some regret. There are many in this country who regret that under the Bill the Sunday break in public houses is no longer to be mandatory. One of my main reasons is again the family life of licensees. I was most interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the points that he said he would be making at Committee stage in this regard.

It may be that the majority of licensees are not clamouring for the retention of the mandatory break, but I am bound to wonder whether this was not an occasion for far-sightedness —an opportunity for a legislature to question the desire to buy alcoholic drink at any time of day on a Sunday in licensed premises—and whether that desire will turn out to be appropriate for humanity in the long run.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I find myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on this Bill. I do not see why certain restrictions on the sale of alcohol are still being preserved. I welcome the relaxation of those restrictions for which the Bill provides. That of itself is a very sound argument for letting the Bill go through. However, it retains a number of restrictions which seem to be rather questionable. One has only to compare our situation with that of our friends in Europe. Even if this Bill goes through, we will still restrict the sale of alcohol at times when the purchaser wants to buy it to a far greater extent than our European friends.

As regards the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken, I would point out that the Sunday break, while it may be very convenient for the licensee, is probably very inconvenient for a great many members of the public. On Sunday most people who are in work have the opportunity to go out with their wives and families. It may well be that it is just at the time of the Sunday break on Sunday afternoon that they would particularly like to go into a pub and have a drink themselves, give their wives a drink and introduce their older children to sensible and moderate drinking. Although it is natural to sympathise with the licensee, I do not believe that maintaining the Sunday break of itself is going to be of any great benefit to him. We are doing away with a great many other restrictions during the week. I do not believe that the life of the licensee is going to be particularly improved if a compulsory break is imposed on Sunday afternoon, whereas I am perfectly certain that a great many members of the public will be unduly interfered with.

I say to my noble friend the Minister that I wonder why in this day and age it is now thought necessary to maintain any restrictions at all. As I have said, these restrictions are not maintained by highly civilised neighbouring countries. They are not regarded worldwide as being of essential importance. It seems a little strange that we should still be maintaining, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out, quite complicated provisions restricting people who want to buy a drink from doing so and also restricting those who want to sell it.

Therefore, while I very much welcome the Bill and the improvement that it makes, I regard it as only an instalment in the right direction. I very much hope that the reception that this Bill receives, and the reaction of the public to it, will encourage the Government to a final Bill clearing up all the restrictions and putting us in the same position as our European friends.

I know that there are certain fanatics on the subject—I do not suppose that there are necessarily any of them in this House—who want to interfere with people having a drink. That is a mentally confused approach, because if one limits the hours one still does not prevent people from drinking too much if that is the intention. They can certainly do it quite effectively within the limited times. All that one is doing is confining their excesses, if they are going to drink to excess, to certain hours to the inconvenience of everybody else. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be prepared to take a robust line on this matter and to say that the Government are giving consideration not only to making the good changes being made by the Bill but taking the matter further and putting ourselves in the same position as many of our European friends.

I know that there are still fanatics, prohibitionists and fanatical teetotallers. Perhaps I may read to your Lordships a few lines of very entertaining verse which has been written about them: We zealots, made up of stiff clay,

The sour-looking children of sorrow,

While not over jolly today,

Resolve to be wretched tomorrow.

We can't for a certainty tell

What mirth may molest us on Monday;

But, at least, to begin the week well,

Let us all be unhappy on Sunday".

3.49 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it was about this time last year that we debated the merits of Sunday trading in the Sunday Trading Bill. When I spoke on that Bill, like my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I made my position clear as a total deregulator. When Parliament seeks to interfere with what is a healthy free market, it cannot avoid making anomalies, placing unnecessary restrictions on retailers and so causing dissatisfaction among consumers. Unfortunately, your Lordships chose not to agree with me on that occasion although what we now have in place is a lot better than the discredited Shops Act 1950. There are issues which I am sure are not subject to this Bill; but, for example, the opening of garden centres on Easter Sunday caused amazement among the public when they found that those garden centres were not open.

I mention the Sunday trading debate and the Act that followed for two reasons: first, because by liberalising Sunday trading it was inevitable that attention would soon have to turn to the country's archaic licensing laws and, secondly, because unless we deregulate licensing laws with vigour, we shall be perpetuating anomalies similar to those that I mentioned earlier.

On 1st November 1994, I asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether they will reform the licensing laws to bring the hours during which alcohol is allowed to be sold in large shops and supermarkets on Sundays into line with those during which those shops may open under the terms of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. My noble friend who replied to that Question said that the Government were, considering whether to consult publicly about further reforms of the liquor licensing laws21/11/2549".—[Official Report, 1/11/94: col. 761.] Therefore, I am delighted that the Government have come forward so soon with this Bill which does just that. My Question received widespread support from noble Lords of all parties. In fact, no noble Lord spoke against it.

I am sure that all of us have anecdotal evidence of the inconvenience which the Sunday licensing laws can cause. Indeed, that is why I tabled my Question last year. I had been caught out on more than one occasion either when trying to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday morning before midday or when entering a pub on a Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. only to hear the cry "Last orders". Frustration is the overwhelming feeling, and in some cases that frustration can boil over into anger towards the very staff whom the law is presumably designed to protect. Forget the alleged damage that liberalisation has wrought on the British Sunday; it is the damage that the current law does to the traditional British sense of tolerance that alarms me.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I should like the Government to go further and to remove licensing hours restrictions altogether. Why shops, supermarkets and off-licences should have any restrictions on the hours during which they may sell alcohol, I fail to understand. I appreciate that local residents may have objections to pubs and clubs having extended hours; but surely that is a local issue and can be dealt with, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, suggested, as a planning matter.

I cannot accept the suggestion that longer opening hours would be an unwelcome imposition on landlords. A survey by Publican magazine showed that 57 per cent. of licensees thought that they would benefit from the freedom to open on a Sunday afternoon—more than twice as many as those who did not. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to a survey by the Consumers' Association which showed similar results. Anyway, as has been said, there is nothing in the Bill which requires pubs to open on Sunday afternoons. Whether they do so is entirely a matter for them.

I suspect that the real reason for the restrictions that exist today is religion, to which the right reverend Prelate referred. The reason why pubs do not open until midday on Sunday and then close for the afternoon break from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is so that we cannot nip off early and fail to show at communion or evensong. It strikes me that a great religion like Christianity was built on rather more secure foundations than whether, in the late 20th century, it can prevent people going to a pub on Sunday afternoons.

That argument holds true on one religious day in particular, Good Friday, when the licensing hours mirror those for Sundays despite, as honourable Members pointed out in another place, Good Friday being an ordinary working day in certain parts of the country. Pubs cannot open until 12 p. m.; neither can off-licences— although I accept that the Bill will bring that forward to 10 a.m. I fear that, given the amendments tabled by my right honourable friend in another place which have the effect of reversing the Bill's original intention of liberalising pub licensing hours on Christmas Day, I shall make little headway in seeking even more liberal hours for pubs on Good Friday than already envisaged.

However, so far as concerns off-licences, the Bill creates an anomaly to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. As the Bill stands, large supermarkets will be able to sell alcohol throughout their six permitted hours of opening on a Sunday. The Government are to be commended for that. However, those hours are then applied to Good Friday as well, but supermarkets typically open at 8 a.m. or 8.30 a.m. on Good Friday—they have been able to do so for years—so there will still be a two-hour period until 10 a.m. during which sales of alcohol will be prohibited. I believe that licensing hours on that day should be pushed back to the normal weekday time of 8 a.m. That would remove one anomaly for supermarkets and make matters considerably easier for customers. It would not be onerous for employees because whether or not they are selling alcohol, they are already at work. Therefore, such provisions would not make any difference to them. I intend to return to that issue at Committee stage when I shall table an amendment to that effect.

I finish where I began. I am against interference in the market, against anomalies and for deregulation. That is my ideal, but I accept that one often falls far short of one's ideals. I accept that a year ago the mood of your Lordships' House was not in favour of total deregulation on Sundays; and it may not be for total deregulation of the licensing hours now. However, like my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I believe that this is an issue to which we shall have to return before too long. I think that we should reject the views of the ever-present doom-mongers and put our trust in the good sense of the British public. I warmly support the Bill.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I rise to thank my noble friend who introduced the Bill to your Lordships. Following the excellent remarks of my noble friend Lord Brabazon, I shall refer to a third element in the argument. My noble friend mentioned alcohol and religion. I should like to refer to what appears to be an anomaly in Clause 2 which refers to casinos, of all things.

I understand that gambling does indeed take place on Sundays, and I understand that under the Gaming Act 1968 some licensed casinos provide meals as well as liquid refreshment, but not adjacent to the gaming area. That happens throughout the year. I wonder whether such establishments, which are licensed under the Gaming Act 1968, are classified as "registered clubs" for the purposes of Clause 2 of this Bill. If they are so classified, I understand that they are already entitled to provide alcoholic beverages for their patrons until 10.30 p.m. I would imagine that that applies even on Good Friday. I wonder whether my noble friend can confirm, either today or later, whether I am right in thinking that the Bill, and particularly Clause 2, will not have any restrictive effect on casinos that are licensed under the Gaming Act 1968.

One anomaly was addressed by the Royal Commission on Gambling which reported in 1978, which specifically recommended that casinos should be permitted to supply liquor on the same basis as other types of club. It is my understanding that the point that I have raised is covered by Clause 2. If I am wrong, perhaps my noble friend will advise me. If I am right, perhaps we can discuss the matter on another day. I give my warm support to the Bill.

3.58 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have been involved in consideration of all licensing reform measures. Indeed, I introduced one such measure myself some years ago. I therefore welcome the Bill which was so effectively introduced by my noble friend Lady Blatch. On such occasions, I am always happy to declare an interest—albeit an honorary one—in that I am a former President, now Patron, of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain.

In that context, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that there are still anomalies in our licensing legislation as a whole. I should like to mention one specific anomaly. Restaurants and cafés cannot serve alcoholic drinks unless they also serve food. That is not the case in pubs, most of which sell food and drink indiscriminately. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Bradford who I believe may speak later. He is much more knowledgeable about that aspect of the matter than am I, but it is an important point.

My noble friend the Minister said that much of the licensing legislation was an unnecessary interference in consumers' lives. That point was reinforced strongly by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Surely the time has come for us to consider the total abolition of all licensing legislation so that consumers and dispensers of food and drink to the public have freedom of choice. That is important, and it is a point to which other noble Lords have referred. This modest Bill is a most welcome measure. I hope that it will have a speedy passage onto the statute book and an early implementation.

4.1 p.m.

Lord Kenyon

My Lords, I too welcome the Bill which in the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will do away with an absurd, old-fashioned, out-of-date and patronising regulation that distinguishes Sunday from the rest of the week. The abolition in 1988 of the afternoon break on weekdays did not bring the problems that some people foresaw. I am sure that allowing the pubs to stay open all afternoon on Sundays will have no further adverse effects.

I should like to point out one glaring omission from the Bill—glaring, at any rate, for the people of Wales, who still suffer total prohibition on Sundays in one area and are now threatened with the possibility of a complete ban next year throughout the Principality by virtue of Sections 66 and 67 of the Licensing Act 1964. Those two sections impose a referendum on the Welsh every seven years. While in the last referendum only one area elected to stay dry, the turnout was so low that the prospect of a maverick poll cannot be ruled out. In Cardiff in 1989 just 9 per cent. of the electorate voted.

I am aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has indicated that he proposes to introduce legislation after the next poll which will cast in stone the result of that referendum. I do not agree that that is what we should be doing. If in the Bill we are doing away with absurd, old-fashioned, out-of-date and patronising legislation, surely we should consider the repeal of Sections 66 and 67 which fit those criteria to a tee. Old-fashioned they certainly are. They date back to the Sunday Closing Act 1881 and a later Act of 1915 when Monmouthshire was included by the Central Liquor Control Board as a wartime emergency measure.

Next week we shall be celebrating the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Is it not time we got rid of an outdated measure that precedes that day by more than 50 years? It does not even stop there in its absurdity, because in 1921 another Licensing Act allowed licensed clubs to sell alcohol on Sundays while the pubs were kept shut. Today any club can be opened on a Sunday but a pub cannot. So while a local person can join a club to enjoy his freedom to have a drink, a visitor or a tourist cannot. I am sorry to say it goes even further than that, because a hotel can serve drinks to residents on Sundays but not to casual customers. Your Lordships do not need me to paint the picture of a hotel dining-room at lunchtime on a Sunday: one table of resident tourists allowed to have their bottle of wine and anything else they want, while beside them a table of non-resident tourists having to make do with the finest bottle of Welsh water.

When I use the example of tourists I do so deliberately, because the only area in Wales that is presently dry is Gwyfor, which includes one of the most important tourist areas of North Wales—the Lleyn Peninsula and the resorts of Caerphilly, Abersoch and Portmadoc.

The Bill's Long Title is specific: to amend the provisions of the Licensing Act 1964 relating to permitted hours in licensed premises and clubs on Sundays". Even within that narrow scope, it would be possible, if the will were there, to include measures to bring Wales into line with the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom, instead of increasing the gulf between them, merely by repealing Sections 66 and 67, together with Schedule 8, of the 1964 Act. That would save my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales the trouble of having to find time in the future to introduce a further Bill, when I am sure that there are more pressing matters to be dealt with. It would also save the new unitary authorities the expense and effort that will be required to hold the referendum at a time when their efforts will be much better directed elsewhere.

The Government are committed to deregulation. Here is a ridiculous anachronism, together with a golden opportunity to put it in the dustbin of history where it belongs. I sincerely hope that they will seize this chance while they can.

4.5 p.m.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Montgomery has referred to me as a bit of a restaurant busybody, I should declare one or two interests before making my point. I am president of the Master Chefs of Great Britain; chairman of the Westminster Considerate Restaurateurs Association; I sit on the committee of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain and the British Tourist Authority's Great Britain Great Food working party; and, finally, and very much not least, I have my own 200-seater restaurant (Porters) in Covent Garden.

I lend my support to the Bill, which should increase customers' choice but should not increase total drink sales. However, various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and my noble friend Lord Montgomery, have referred to certain anomalies. The Bill will enable pubs to compete effectively with restaurants. However, it does nothing to help restaurants to cope with the increased competition that they will face from pubs in the future because they will not be able to serve a drink to a customer who does not wish to eat. It causes confusion to tourists and customers. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will encourage the Government to look again at that point. It is an area that harms our tourist trade, and as pubs will now be allowed to compete more freely with restaurants, it will undoubtedly harm restaurants.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I shall speak for just two or three minutes in the gap. There are two or three points I should like to make. I support what the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, has just said. I speak as one who for 22 years was the licence holder of the largest club in Manchester. One must not assume that all licensees operate under the same system. In registered clubs the licence is not held by the person who runs the bar, as is the case with a pub. The licence is usually vested in the secretary. It is not the same type of licence. It is known as a permission to supply people with liquor. So there is some difference.

I am not an anachronism. I still like a drink. Having run a club for that many years, I am reluctant that a group of people should be able to tell a man and his wife who have historically worked in the club—the steward and his wife —that they have to work two or three extra hours on a Sunday whether they like it or not. Such matters must be taken into consideration.

Has there been any consultation with people representing licensees or managers? Sadly, over the past two or three years literally thousands of licensees have been driven out of existence by Grand Met's policies and the way in which it has applied them. It is not a subject to go into today, but those are the facts. That company has been criticised severely for ruthlessly making people bankrupt.

One of the earlier speakers referred to drinking and driving. I maintain that people who go drinking and then drive a car know full well that when they get into that car they are in charge of a lethal machine. It saddens me when people are killed because of that. When the matters go before the courts the sentences are almost trivial. In my opinion, they are insufficiently severe to deter some people.

A few weeks ago I was astounded to see a television programme shown in the North West about a number of pubs in the Salford area that are fully licensed but whose landlords dare not open them because of the activities of gangs running protection rackets in the area. At first, I could not believe that that happens in this country today.

I understand that it occurs in other big cities. Gangs move in on pubs and if the landlord does not cough up a certain amount of money, they organise a battle in the pub between the local gangs, and the pub is wrecked. In fact, guns were discharged in a pub in Salford and that has now closed down. I know that that has nothing to do with the Bill but it is a fact of life and it is happening in licensed premises in this country. I hope that the Government will issue guidelines to the police authorities to crack down on such behaviour in the severest way possible.

I believe that as the Bill goes into Committee certain issues need to be discussed and I have drawn attention to one or two. I have never been keen on the introduction of children to licensed premises unless specific areas are provided for them. In some licensed premises they sit with their families at tables or at the bar. The provision is not as simple as some people say; it can lead to most unfortunate practices. Indeed, the stage can almost be reached when some children become alcoholics. And please do not laugh; that is happening in France, whether one likes it or not.

I believe that in Committee certain matters should be considered. I am pleased to have been able to enter the debate for three or four minutes in order to make those few points.

4.12 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to conclude the debate. As I expected, we have had an interesting discussion and a number of important points have been made. With your Lordships' indulgence, I hope to address as many as I can, but I promise to write to my noble friends and colleagues on those that I miss.

Perhaps I may first pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He was anxious about licensing committees which refuse licences on the grounds of the lack of need for the premises. We are considering whether the grounds on which licence applications can be refused should be set out in statute and, if so, whether the grounds should include lack of need for the premises. Of course, that raises complex and important questions on which views differ markedly. There is, for example, the possibility of an over-concentration of premises leading to nuisance and disorder. While these complex reforms are under consideration, we should not delay in the simpler and more valuable task of deregulating Sunday licensing hours. I was taken in particular by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which has some force. It is that perhaps the decisions should be planning decisions as opposed to blanket permit by statute.

My noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Brabazon and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked whether the Bill was a first chapter in the story of reform and whether we envisage proposing the removal of all controls on the sale and purchase of alcohol. I can assure all noble Lords on the first point; that it is a step on the road. However, I am afraid that I cannot give an assurance on the second point. We are considering whether to consult publicly on other possible reforms, including possible consultation on longer opening hours on some weekdays. However, we do not envisage proposing to remove all controls on the public sale and public consumption of alcohol which, if not properly controlled, can lead to local nuisance disorder and sometimes to other crime.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was anxious about other changes which he mentioned. We accept that there are other areas in the licensing system where changes have been advocated, and an extension of weekday hours is one such area. However, the purpose of the present Bill is to rationalise Sunday licensing hours in the light of the legislation in the last Session which deregulated Sunday trading. We are considering the different issues arising out of later evening opening. As my right honourable friend the Minister of State said in another place on 20th April, we hope to reach a conclusion on this shortly. Any changes that we might propose to weekday licensing hours would be subject to public consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to Good Friday. Perhaps I misunderstood the point, which accounted for my intervention. The noble Lord referred to Good Friday as an anomaly. That is, in fact, a matter of judgment. For many years the licensing law has treated Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday as the same for the purpose of permitted hours. When the Bill was introduced in another place it therefore proposed to deregulate the licensing hours in precisely the same way for all three days. However, the pressure in Committee in another place was to keep the present limited hours on Christmas Day and Good Friday. The Government decided to accept the former but not the latter. Good Friday is, of course, a major religious festival. While some people, such as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would like even longer hours for off-licences, others would like them to be shorter. Therefore, the Bill strikes a balance which at this stage we believe is the correct one.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was anxious about alcohol abuse. When the afternoon break in weekday hours was abolished in 1988 there was considerable concern that it could lead to increased alcohol consumption, drink driving and alcohol-related disorder. Experience has shown that those fears were unfounded. Research conducted in 1990, some two years after the afternoon break in weekday licensing hours was abolished, revealed that nearly half of the pubs surveyed—that is 44 per cent—had not extended their afternoon hours as a result of the relaxations. That does not suggest that weekday afternoon opening opened the floodgates to excessive drinking. Nor is there any research evidence to suggest that afternoon opening on weekdays has led to any appreciable increase in disorder.

While pubs may be more likely to take advantage of the opportunity to open on Sunday afternoons than they were on weekday afternoons, there seems no reason to believe that Sunday opening will create such problems. However, the noble Viscount made the point that we must be vigilant in ensuring that all that is monitored.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter was concerned about the effect of these measures on Sunday as a special day. I accept that some people believe that Sunday should not be like any other day and I respect their right to hold that view. Indeed, I am personally committed to that view. However, the Government believe that it is important that people should be able to choose how to spend their leisure time and that they should not be prevented from doing so by unnecessary government interference. The changes that we are proposing to the Sunday licensing hours will not enable pubs to open earlier in the day or to close later in the evening. Off-licences will be able to open from 10 o'clock in the morning, which is no earlier than the time at which large shops and supermarkets are permitted to open under the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

Furthermore, we have recently introduced a system of children's certificates, which allow accompanied children into suitable bars. We expect that system to help pubs to become more family-oriented. It would seem illogical not to allow pubs to open on Sunday afternoons when families with young children are most likely to benefit from the new arrangements for children's certificates.

In response to suggestions that some licensing committees are too restrictive in granting children's certificates, we are aware of reports that some licensing committees are setting very demanding conditions for children's certificates. In some ways that is no bad thing, but Home Office officials are monitoring the situation. If it is found that in some areas the system of children's certificates is not working as we intend, we shall consider what action needs to be taken.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, was concerned that there was no consultation and wondered whether that was an oversight or needed to be remedied. I accept that we would normally consult publicly on proposals for licensing hour reform, but we decided to go ahead with these relaxations on Sunday licensing hours without formal consultation because we believe that they are sensible. I am sure that they will prove to be popular.

As regards the rationalisation of the present Sunday licensing arrangements, the noble Lord will have gathered from this debate that the anxiety which he raised is one justification for making a relatively modest change to fill that particular lacuna. Some of the other changes that have been mentioned in the debate must be subject to consultation. The point which the noble Lord makes is well taken.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, rightly expressed his concern about employment protection. Under the law, employees are already protected against being forced to accept unwelcome changes in their hours of work. Terms and conditions of employment arc binding on both parties and cannot be varied without agreement although, as with any other type of contract, it is always open to either party to seek to renegotiate the terms. Licensing house managers are in the same position as other employers.

The Government do not accept that special protection should be introduced for people who work in public houses, although we did so for retail employees in relation to Sunday trading and for betting employees in relation to Sunday betting. That was in specific recognition of the fact that those groups of people would have entered employment believing that there was no prospect of them ever being lawfully required to work on a Sunday. That point was well made by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara.

The position is quite different in relation to pubs. Sunday working is a long-established feature of that industry. Employees would have been aware that at some point they might be asked to take on such work. In any event, some pubs may choose to remain closed on Sunday afternoons in the future and employees there will be required to work no longer than usual. No doubt we shall return to that topic at a later stage.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Lyell will allow me to take away the matter which he raised. I shall consider it more carefully. I shall both meet with my noble friend and write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, raised the subject of Wales. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has, after consultation, decided that the next Welsh polls in 1996 will be the last. The provision in the Licensing Act 1964 for polls every seven years will therefore need to be repealed. But the Government do not see the Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill as a means of effecting that repeal, especially as the final polls are not due to take place until the autumn of next year.

My noble friend Lord Bradford complained that a restaurant may not sell drink without food to a customer. Freedom to sell drinks only comes with an on-licence and a restaurant proprietor is entirely free to apply for such a licence.

Perhaps I may say in conclusion that the Government feel that the measures in the Bill to relax the hours when pubs, clubs and off-licences may open on Sundays are sensible and responsible and will, I am sure, prove popular with business and consumers alike. There are good reasons for introducing them quickly, rather than attempting to deal with a wider range of more complex, and perhaps more controversial licensing matters.

Relaxation of Sunday hours comes as one of a series of deregulatory measures introduced by the Home Office in the recent past. The Sunday Trading Act, which came into force last August, is a major example. Since then there have been various other measures. Following enactment of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act last November, provisions for children's certificates were introduced on 3rd January. Sunday betting was permitted under the deregulation Act, also from 3rd January, and at the same time restrictions on charging for admission to sporting events and activities were removed. Other measures are in the pipeline. The Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill is part of our programme of deregulation. We have moved quickly to introduce other deregulatory measures. I hope that it will be possible to continue to move quickly on this particular measure. I commend the Bill to the House.

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