Orders of the Day — LICENSING (AMENDMENT) (No. 2) BILL

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 1976.

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Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East 12:00 am, 27th February 1976

I am quite prepared to give detailed information of that kind to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garett) and other hon. Members until 4 o'clock. I should have thought it was unlikely that an hon. Member with my years of experience in the House would quote anyone who had no standing whatever. I am quoting a survey which is well known to those engaged in the study of alcoholism and to the Government's own Advisory Committee, whose report I shall refer to and which was referred to by the hon. Lady.

Therefore, we come back to Clair and Clooney. They have shown that in the Republic of Ireland alcohol-dependent drivers have four times as many prosecutions and twice as many accidents as other drivers and that such accidents occurred early in their drinking history—that is to say, some six years before presenting themselves for treatment as alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease which manifests itself over a period.

Schmidt, Smart and Popham concluded that in Canada traffic accidents involving the drinking driver were at least in part a problem of alcoholism rather than largely or entirely a problem of the effects of alcohol on the casual driver. This latter statement, they suggest, is a probable reason for the serious problem of drinking and driving in Scandinavian countries, Canada and various American States, despite education campaigns and rigorous application of the drink and driving laws.

I am giving the House this information because it must not be said that we are ignorant of the effect of excessive drinking and of too-liberal laws upon social behaviour of that kind.

The hon. Lady talked about the burden on the courts which the Bill would impose. Let me tell the House what the burden on the courts is already as the result of the trend in alcohol-related offences. We now have coming before our courts the highest number of drink-related offences since the First World War. I want hon. Members to absorb these statistics before they think of giving a Second Reading to the Bill.

Consider what has happened in the past decade. The figures jumped from 76,842 in 1964 to 103,203 in 1974; and what is still more striking is that the proportion of persons under 21 within those figures rose from 12 per cent. of the total in 1964 to 19·5 per cent. of the far larger total in 1974.

I put the matter quite bluntly. The House must take proper note of those statistics. One simply cannot dismiss lightly the fears of the Department of the Environment regarding increased drinking breaks which the flexibility that the Bill would introduce would encourage. Any likelihood of increased alcohol consumption related to traffic accidents at peak hours must be avoided.

I turn now to the impact on health of any encouragement to drink more, which is what relaxation of licensing laws—even the minimal relaxation suggested in this modest Bill—must make inevitable. The World Health Organisation maintains that the best indication of a change in alcoholism rates is a change in the death rate from cirrhosis of the liver. I see that the Under-Secretary agrees, and I am glad that she does. Let the House reflect, then, on the appalling statistics for Britain alone. Let us leave Canada and the Republic of Ireland and see what is happening here.

Deaths from alcoholism-cirrhosis increased between 1963 and 1973 by 95·2 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has asked me to read to the House a letter from Professor Duncan Vere of the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at the London Teaching Hospital. Referring to what he describes as a well meant but ill-informed proposed piece of legislation", Professor Vere said: In East London we have seen a steadily increasing incidence of alcoholic disease and a steadily diminishing DHS provision for alcoholics, thanks to the financial crisis. Are we to add to these factors the cynical threat of increased availability? So far as I can see, the incidence of alcoholism is closely linked with availability, and the casual link is probably from the latter to the former rather than the reverse.