I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The laws of this island are full of anachronisms and old and archaic practice. Many of the laws that govern our affairs have been on the statute book for many centuries. Others were introduced for reasons no longer relevant and no longer valid. Some were originally introduced to meet emergencies that have vanished. Those laws have been left behind. One such law was that governing income tax. When I was lucky enough and privileged enough to draw a position in the ballot, I admit that the abolition of income tax was a singularly attractive prospect. However, I thought that my right hon, and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might not like such a move, and so I looked for another equally archaic law—one that was also originally introduced for an emergency.
One such law stems from the hypothetical possibility that munitions manufacturers and those working in factories in the First World War might get drunk and endanger the safety of our land. It is that law that I have set my mind to attempting in a small way to repeal and to bring up to date by the amendment Bill that I bring before the House. I ask hon. Members to consider the Bill as one that makes only minor changes, but changes that would be wholly beneficial both to the industry involved and to the public generally.
The two amendments that I seek to make are to allow more flexibility in the opening hours available to publicans—namely, between the hours of 10 o'clock in the morning and 11.30 at night—and to allow them to provide children's accommodation where families may go into certain bars in public houses, where publicans wish to introduce such a measure.
The reaction to my proposals has in general been extremely favourable.
The National Union of Licensed Victuallers, the Brewers Society, the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board have all given my proposals their qualified blessing. In most instances it is qualified because they feel that the Bill does not go far enough in changing the present position.
There have been two exceptions to the general approbation for my move. One of those exceptions is sitting two Benches in front of me, in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). The other is the National Association of Licensed House Managers. I shall deal with the objections that I know my hon. Friend and the association take because of the views that they have already expressed outside the Chamber.
First, I deal with the letter that was sent to all Members of Parliament, written by Mr. Shindler, the general secretary of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. In that letter he makes three statements that in no way reflect the true consequences of the passage of the Bill if the House sees fit to support it. He writes:
The Bill seeks to allow pubs to remain open until 11.30 pm on weekdays and for children under 14 to be on licensed premises, not through the provision of 'family rooms' or 'children's rooms'—but in BARS.
The image that Mr. Shindler is attempting to conjure up in our minds is one of children scurrying from one bar to another, getting in the way, interrupting people, helping themselves to drinks and generally disrupting life in pubs. That has nothing to do with the proposals that I shall put forward.
Secondly, Mr. Shindler asks:
Who will pay for the extra overheads if the Bill becomes law? The premium payment for
staff. The heating, lighting, et cetera. The extra payment to the manager and his wife for more 'unsocial' hours payments. At a time when we are being exhorted to hold down the cost of living the price of drink will rise sharply.
In Scotland the implementation of a far more liberal law than the one that I am attempting to introduce today has not had that effect. The variation of the flexible hours that I am seeking to introduce will not increase overheads. It will be voluntary. There is no compulsion on any publican to do other than continue with the hours that he already keeps.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain in what way the recent Scottish licensing legislation is more liberal than the Bill that he now proposes? Does he regard the extension of Sunday opening in Scotland as comparable to the Bill?
I am sorry. I do not understand the question. I said that the Act was much more liberal than the Bill that I am introducing. It allows publicans to open for far longer periods than I am proposing. It is, therefore, clearly a much more liberal measure. I am using "liberal" in the widest sense. I am not using it in the party political sense, which may have been the hon. Gentleman's point. The increase that is alleged will not occur. There is no reason why the price of drink should rise. There is no reason why overheads in public houses should go up. Indeed, as I shall seek to demonstrate when I come to the details of the Bill, there will be every opportunity for those overheads to be cut.
Mr. Shindler finally says:
Does Parliament really wish for babes in arms in pub bars?
What a ridiculously emotive statement. Does Parliament really wish that children should not be allowed to accompany their parents but that they should be left in the car outside when it is raining and after they have all been together in the public house garden? Does Parliament really wish to continue with an archaic practice where parents either have to forgo their own entertainment or, as I fear happens more often, leave their children unguarded and up to mischief outside? That is the question that should be asked. The question is not whether we want babes in arms in pub bars.
I must stress, and will continue to stress—I will give way in a moment—that the point about whether Parliament wishes to have babes in arms in bars is invalid. If the publican does not want to have them, he will not be obliged to have them. It is an entirely voluntary exercise. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) roars with laughter, but the fact is that this is voluntary. The only compulsion will be one of competition. I appreciate that some Opposition Members do not like competition. On the Conservative Benches, I expect that even those hon. Members who oppose the Bill would support the compulsion of healthy competition.
Hon. Members are perfectly entitled to raise that question. I hope that I have expressed the advantages. There are occasions when certain bars should be set specifically aside for that purpose, and only that purpose, so that children would be inside and not outside. I shall be harping on that theme. I believe that there is widespread support for it. If my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East wishes to make a point later, he is entitled to do so.
The letter refers to
any person under the age of 14 in bars.
The Bill does not say that. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East will search in vain if he is looking for those words. The Bill, with carefully thought out and carefully phrased safeguards, provides that children under 14 years of age will be allowed into bars, set aside for that purpose, with the approval of the licensing magistrates.
My hon. Friend does not drink and is unlikely to know a great deal about public house managers. Most public house managers would agree with me that it would be crazy to ask for every—
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point. It is one that I discussed in detail with Mr. Shindler of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. I offered to put in a safeguard clause so that the brewers would not have that right. Mr. Shindler said that he did not want the negotiating position of his association a propos the brewers to be interfered with in that way. I hope that I shall be allowed to get on with my speech. I am aware that many of my hon. Friends wish to be here until 4 o'clock, but I do not wish to be speaking until 4 o'clock.
It is a shame, I agree. My hon. Friends will have plenty of opportunity to make whatever points they wish.
I should like to turn to remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex. South-East on the radio a few days ago. He was talking specifically about the issue of children in pub bars. He was asked by the interviewer:
Is it not more likely, Sir Bernard, that someone who goes into the pub with his family for a quiet drink is much less likely to get drunk than the man who goes there—
I am sorry to say that the interviewer was not allowed to finish the question because my hon. Friend was so keen to get in his point. My hon. Friend said:
You're talking about Mr. Averageman. There is no average man. There is no reason at all why publicans can't provide and in some places do provide a separate family room. It's not what the Bill is about.
I see my hon. Friend nodding his head. That is precisely what the Bill is about. In most public houses in country areas and small public houses in tourist areas there are two rooms, the saloon bar and the public bar. In those licensed houses, there is no room for further family accommodation. I see the Bill, if it becomes an Act, working very much in favour of Mr. Shindler's membership. They will be able to make much more use of their saloon bar accommodation than at present and will be able to provide for the family on the move in a way that is not now allowed. It is precisely what this Bill is about.
It is precisely because I wish to see families accommodated in this way and those provisions made for them that I bring this measure before the House. I declare an interest as a man with two young children. I find it highly inconvenient—as do most of those to whom I talk—that if I want to give my children lunch on my way from one place to another, I have the choice of giving them a picnic or taking them into a restaurant. Those hon. Members with children will know that trying to settle down in a restaurant for lunch with three- or four-year-old children is a nightmare for the parents, the children and other people in the restaurant, and it is more expensive. One cannot at present take them into most pubs: there is no family accommodation. One cannot have a pub snack, which is what the children and their parents want. This facility is not allowed by law. It should be provided.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East was asked another question. The interviewer said that he was advocating not that these children should be allowed to drink—I agree with that—but that they should be allowed into the pub. My hon. Friend said:
The Bill does not allow them to drink. That is not the point.
I suspect that is the only point on which my hon. Friend and I will agree today. It is not the point. In the interview to which I have referred, my hon. Friend, having denied the existence of Mr. Average a second before, went on to talk about Mr. Average. My hon. Friend said,
Let me say that if you went round the pubs in this country and asked the clients having their quiet pint at night whether they want the place to be filled with children under 14, you would get a very short answer.
Of course one would. If someone came to me in my favourite pub while I was sitting having a quiet drink in the evening and asked that question, I would give the same short answer. That answer would be "Of course not." That is not what this Bill will permit. The publican will have the right. No publican who has regulars sitting having their quiet pint and not wanting children in the premises will be stupid enough to go to the licensing magistrates and specifically request that this should be allowed. He would be cutting his own throat. Why on earth should he do that?
With the greatest respect, I do not see that the criticisms made about my Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East and the National Association of Licensed House Managers have the slightest merit. Can we, therefore, put aside the criticisms and look at the actual provisions of the Bill, what it is trying to achieve, and what advantages will accrue?
I come now to the question of flexible hours, and I make two points—
The hon. Gentleman says that we should look at the Bill. Let him look at clause 4. There is nothing which in any way defines or limits the room which will be made available as children's accommodation. The words are quite clear—
any bar on those premises.
The hon. Gentleman has just given the illustration of the small country pub with a public bar and a private bar. Those two are the only available accommodation in the pub. If a children's accommodation order were made in relation to either bar, it would mean that children would mix with the usual habitues of the bar—the bar being defined, of course, simply in terms of how much extra one has to pay in one rather than in the other.
I do not accept that at all. If the hon. Gentleman refers to subsection (1), he will see the specific point which I made earlier that approval must be given by the licensing magistrates. The licensing magistrates will go and look at the bars in question and see whether they are suitable. If they are clearly bars where there will be an unsuitable mixture between the regulars and children, no such application will be granted.
I return to the question of flexible hours. There are two important safeguards here which make nonsense of many of the allegations made against the Bill on behalf of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. The flexible hours will be limited to the same maximum as applies now, namely, 9½ hours. There will be no longer hours provided for under the Bill, with the exception of a marginal increase on Sunday.
Second, there is the question of late night opening. The licensing magistrates will have a discretion to order earlier rather than later closing if there is nuisance in residential areas.
The House will see that the provision for flexible hours is extremely limited in that sense, but it will nevertheless offer an enormous increase in the freedom of choice open to pub managers, licensees, and all those involved in the catering trade to open at hours most suitable for their business. For example, they will be able to alter their hours of opening in tourist areas to suit the seasonal demand, which they cannot do at present in most places. They will be able to open for longer hours, up to the 9½ maximum, in the summer and for shorter hours in the winter. In that way, they will be able to save on the overheads which Mr. Shindler alleges will be so formidably increased.
On the question of flexible hours, does my hon Friend agree that the proposal in the Bill is above all permissive and that it puts no pressure on anyone to operate those hours if he does not wish to? Second, the justices will have to agree. Third, has my hon. Friend noted that in various places—for example, some of the London market areas—there are already varying hours controlled and operated without any problems under the jurisdiction of the licensing justices? Does not that prove that the proposed flexibility could be incorporated with no great stress on the publicans themselves or on the population?
Some market areas and market towns have that flexibility at present, but in the tourist areas and outside those market towns it is denied. One cannot have one's cake and eat it. Either it is right for the market towns or wrong for the market towns, or it is right for other areas or wrong. One cannot say that it is right for the market towns and wrong for tourist areas, for example, to have such flexible provision.
In my view, it would undoubtedly be of great assistance to publicans throughout the country to have the proposed flexibility, and some of Mr. Shindler's members, I may add, have written to me agreeing that it would give them a good opportunity to take advantage of their local situation in recognising and meeting demand.
I have referred specifically to tourist areas, but much the same applies where there is a good deal of shift working. In many of our towns the pubs close at 2.30 pm and shift workers come out at 3 pm. They come out tired, and they want to go to their favourite pub and have a drink, but they are not at present allowed that facility. There is no sense in it whatever. I am now attempting to make a change in this respect, to the great advantage of all those who work at what we now regard as abnormal hours. There will be an increasing number of them as technology advances, as hours of work change and become shorter, and it is my proposal that people who come off work at times when the pubs are now closed should be entitled to go in and have a pint on their way home.
In those ways, the freedom of choice would enormously benefit the public house managers, as also would their ability to meet a teatime demand at the seaside or in country areas where people are on holiday. Father wants a pint of beer—I occasionally do at 4 o'clock on a hot day when I am on holiday—the children want cream cakes and buns and mother will want a cup of tea.
A family cannot now take that refreshment together. I regard that as a great shame, and I am certain that a vast number of my countrymen would wish to enjoy such a facility. The same applies to visitors who come from other countries where they are accustomed to such teatime arrangements—in their cafes on the Continent and so on. They come here with their families, and they find, first, that they cannot get into a public house at all times when they wish to, and, second, if they do get in, they have to leave their children outside in typical English summer weather, with the rain pouring down.
I regard that as a lot of nonsense, and I am convinced that the change that I propose would be a great advantage to the public house manager.
I have no doubt that others will wish to take up many of these matters, but I must put a question to my hon. Friend at this stage. He is now, I gather, advancing the idea that foreign countries have more civilised arrangements than we do, so I wonder whether he finds somewhat inhibiting—
Does not my hon. Friend find slightly disturbing the evidence published, for example, in France, where in 1969 Dr. Brésard estimated that half the hospital beds were occupied by people suffering from alcohol-related complaints?
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be equally disturbed to know that every year 80,000 people in this country die as a result of smoking—something which be, perhaps, should take into account in his own leisure hours. The fact remains that nobody—certainly not in this Bill anyway—suggests that we should ban all smoking. I feel, therefore, with respect, that that point is not valid. Moreover, I am not suggesting Continental hours in the Bill. I wish that my hon. Friend and others would try to keep to what is proposed in the Bill, which is to maintain the present maximum number of hours at 9½ but with flexibility to cater for the demand as it arises in this country.
I have spoken about the needs of customers, especially families on holiday, with reference to both flexible hours and the ability to take children into public houses as opposed to the present need to leave them outside. I believe that these new arrangements would be most valuable in that respect, and also for the advantage of tourism so that visitors to this country would have a similar benefit instead of being frankly staggered at our old-fashioned and archaic laws.
There are anomalies in the present legislation. We hear a lot of talk about the harm which will be done to children by their being taken into pubs by parents or other adults. I regard this as a load of nonsense. Children from the age of five upwards are already taken into clubs. I have had my ear close to the ground during the period leading up to presentation of the Bill, and I have not heard any suggestion that it is wrong or harmful for parents to take their children into clubs. Why should it be so much worse or more harmful to take them into specified rooms in pubs, rooms chosen by the licensee and vetted by the licensing magistrates?
There is a ridiculous anomaly at present in that respect, just as it is an anomaly that—if one is lucky enough to have a sunny day—one can take children into a pub garden where there is often a kiosk at which alcoholic drinks are served. When it rains, of course, the children have to go back to the car and remain on their own if the adults wish to go into the pub. It is plain nonsense, with no merit whatever.
I come now to one matter on which I share the concern which is expressed, namely, the danger of developing alcoholism in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford mentioned this a few moments ago, albeit obliquely, in his reference to France. There is serious concern about the growth of alcoholism in this country, as there is in every Western country.
My view on this matter is clear. The increase in alcoholism is largely caused by the excess of off-sales drink outlets. We all know that anyone who appears remotely to be an adult can go into a supermarket—or can get an older person to do it for him—buy a pint of bitter in a can or a bottle of whisky, come out and drink it in a public place.
We know what happens at soccer matches. We have all seen or heard of the crowds of young men going about with bottles of drink and singing and shouting away. They have not been into public houses. They get their supply of liquor elsewhere. No licensee would allow them in his pub. The supermarket is probably their source of supply, and they consume the alcoholic drink in public places. That is what we must together in this place try to attack in other ways, but I emphasise that it has nothing to do with the proposals in the Bill.
Because I do not believe in trying to do two things at once. I am having great difficulty getting this Bill through the House, so if I were to have to put in another complicated clause I do not think I would have stood a chance. Although the increase in alcoholism is extremely important and of great concern, it has nothing to do with the minor changes I am putting forward in the Bill. A man taking his family to a pub is far less likely to drink to excess than if he went alone.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when a previous Bill was introduced into the House the sponsor introduced it in the same categoric manner as the hon. Gentleman, saying that the mere fact that there was greater availability would not mean that there would be greater abuse? The results must be manifest, even to the hon. Gentleman.
I am not in any way responsible for the words chosen by the hon. Gentleman who put forward another Bill. I am not aware of the details. An increase in outlets has very often been shown to lead to increased intake in other countries, particularly Finland, where alcoholism rose by 22 per cent, after the number of outlets was increased. I would never make the point that an increase in outlets would not lead to a greater problem—of course it would. But that has nothing to do with the Bill that I am asking the House to think about today.
The question before us is whether a change of licensing hours will assist a man in his ability to take his family into a pub. I am not putting the Bill forward on the basis that it will assist to alleviate the problem of alcoholism. I think that very marginally it will, but that is not the purpose of the exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to give greater freedom of choice to publicans and customers, particularly overseas visitors.
I mentioned earlier that Scotland has a far more liberal law than I propose to introduce through this Bill. After the intervention I will tell the House what the effect of that law has been.
I answered my hon. Friend's point when he asked that question last time. I have discussed this with the National Association of Licensed House Managers. It did not wish me to put anything about that in the Bill. If it had, I would certainly have considered the best way to do it. If the association changes its mind, perhaps it is something that we can discuss at a later stage of the Bill.
Scotland has laws which allow much longer opening hours than those that I propose. Those laws have been in existence for three years now. To answer another point about the brewers, there has been no overall increase—or only a marginal increase—in the total sales of beer. So for the brewers to interfere with the hours that a publican opens on that basis would not be justified.
I had discussions with the brewers, and I am quite certain that they will not make that error. It would not be in their own interests. It is in the brewer's interest and the public house manager's interest to cater for the needs of the consumer. That is what the public houses are there for and that is what the Bill will help to achieve.
The Secretary of State for Scotland was good enough to look in depth into the effect of the licensing legislation in Scotland for me. I have here a letter from him which he has kindly said that I may read to the House. In that letter the Secretary of State says:
Regrettably the problem of the misuse of alcohol is still very much with us in Scotland and the changes in the licensing laws cannot be claimed yet"—
I emphasise the words "cannot be claimed yet"—
to have had a major effect. Various surveys have been carried out to try to establish the effect of the changes, and certainly immediately following implementation of the Clayson recommendations there was a fall in the number of drink-related offences (including drunk driving).
I make that point, I hope, with a little emphasis because it was an entirely misleading quotation from the Secretary of State's parliamentary answer that Mr. Kinman circulated to hon. Members earlier. At the initial point, the incidence of drunken driving offences, as all other driving offences, had an immediately beneficial effect following the implementation of the Clayson report. The letter continues:
but these figures have crept up again. Studies of the earlier offences"—
[Interruption.] I said earlier that I am not putting the Bill forward on the basis that we are solving the alcohol problem, so the derision is unnecessary.
Studies of the earlier effects suggested that longer hours did not increase total consumption and there appeared to be a beneficial effect in the reduction of drinking against the clock during the final evening hour.
The Clayson report recommended that the public houses in Scotland should remain open all day up to midnight, which is something that I am not for one moment proposing here, and there has been absolutely no deleterious effect by
that change. The chief constable in Edinburgh was reported as having said that he has not had one single complaint against the public houses that had taken advantage of the new laws.
In summary, I ask hon. Members to look on the Bill for what it is and not for what it might emotively be put across to them as being. It is a very minor recommendation for change, for liberalisation, and for more freedom of choice for managers, licensees, tenants and brewers—all those who cater for leisure hours and the leisure industries, That is what this Bill is for. It makes two small changes that are significant for the benefit of the community as a whole, particularly for families with children, who will be able to stay together and take advantage of the fantastically good pub food which we now enjoy in this country.
Over the last 10 years the standards in our public houses have improved. I doubt whether any hon. Member would disagree, except my hon. Friend the Member for Watford. The standard of our food has risen enormously, as has its price, over the last 10 years. It is now a major attraction for overseas visitors to go into our public houses to sample and savour that very fine example of British traditional entertainment and leisure. I hope very much that when hon. Members consider the way they will vote later today they will give all those I have mentioned the opportunity to enjoy the changes that I have recommended in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) is a fairly new Member of the House and has presented his case in a pleasant and effective way. I think that many of us find it surprising that though the hon Member, from some of the comments that he has made, is aware of the scale of the alcohol problem in Britain, he has not taken the opportunity to deal with it in the Bill. He dealt at length with the problems of off-sales of alcohol in supermarkets and the beer cans and the wine bottles at football matches, which are all too well known to the thousands of police who have to turn out to deal with football crowds on Saturday afternoons.
Willing as the hon. Member was to go into this very difficult area, it would have been better had he chosen one of these problems and tried to tackle it as at least the main component of his Bill, whatever other provisions he sought to include in it. He might well have been wiser to keep off the subject altogether. I think it was Lloyd George who said that all Governments who tackled this subject had burnt their fingers in its lurid flames. The hon. Member may find that he has done precisely that before the day is out. There are other subjects on which he might have found ready agreement throughout the House.
Hon. Members are right to be extremely cautious—as they have been on every occasion when it has been discussed—about the kind of changes that the hon. Member for Nantwich now proposes. If we are not careful, there is a great danger, on the occasional Friday afternoons when Private Members' Bills are discussed, of playing around with what is one of the biggest problems facing this country and other advanced industrial countries today—the problem of alcohol consumption on a massive scale. We are not talking in most of these debates about Mr. Average having a quiet half pint on a leisurely evening. That is not the problem. The problem is of a scale which makes it easy to forget about the large numbers of people who use alcohol moderately and in a way which does not harm themselves or anyone else. The problems of alcohol abuse are so great that they must occupy our attention when we are considering changes in the law.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the problems which arise from people who become alcoholics and those who kill others because they are driving under the influence of drink usually start with "Mr. Average" enjoying a quiet pint?
That is right. It is curious that that argument is rejected by some people in this quarter but is used avidly in other contexts, such as soft drugs. In a discussion about cannabis, people are quick to point out that hard drugs users start on cannabis; we therefore restrict it because we believe that it would lead to dependence on other drugs. It is accepted in that context, but the argument is never accepted when it comes to alcohol, where the connection is quite obvious.
Governments should take a close interest in this matter. Indeed, Government Departments are becoming increasingly concerned about it. I am glad to see the Minister of State, Home Office present, although I would have liked to see a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security as well, because of the major health considerations involved. Alcohol is a dangerous and addictive drug, although millions of people use it without becoming addicted. However, many thousands use it to addiction and thousands of others face other serious consequences of alcohol.
One problem is that alcohol in excess is gravely injurious to the health of those who consume it. That is problem enough. In the case of smoking, Governments have found it necessary to take stringent action because of the health danger to the person who consumes tobacco—forgetting for a moment the danger that we must consider, in the case of alcohol, of causing harm to others. So we must consider the danger to the person who consumes it, the harm to others, hospital costs and all the other appalling consequences—whether it be cirrhosis of the liver, from which deaths are steadily increasing year by year, or hospital treatment for alcoholic addiction, which must now be provided on an increasing scale.
Alcoholism is perhaps the only addiction—smoking may be the other—for which society has devised elaborate disguises and cloaks of social acceptability. One of the problems for doctors in diagnosing alcohol addiction is that society covers up for it. Many people who should be getting medical help for alcohol addiction find it easy to conceal from themselves their dependence on it because of the way in which society accepts that another drink and another drink, and another drink, are just part of the social fabric and nothing to worry about.
We are discussing in what circumstances alcohol should be consumed, what controls there should be and what provision should be made to give children access to it. We must therefore consider the health background and the dangers involved. I refer to them only briefly. The hon. Member for Essex South-East (Sir B. Braine) will probably have more to say, because he is much more expert than I in these matters. I am just touching on the issue: the hon. Member for Nantwich does not know what is coming to him vet.
Perhaps the hon. Member himself does not know what is coming to him. I do not know whether he has read the Bill, but I draw his attention to the fact that it would not allow any child to get any alcohol. As for the bar, that would be separately set up, in pursuance of the recommendations of the Erroll committee. Thirdly, there would be no extension of hours under the Bill. There would be the existing hours—much less than recommended by Erroll—and then it would be purely a question of selection by the licensee. Therefore, alcohol abuse surely does not arise on the Bill within these parameters, does it?
Indeed it does. I will try to deal with the hon and learned Gentleman's questions in order. On the first point, he is quite right: the Bill does not increase the ability of children to be served with alcohol. What it does is increase their access to the places in which alcohol is served. The situation continues to be governed by the existing law on the consumption of alcohol, but no one should suppose that the Bill is irrelevant to the question whether children will become accustomed to alcohol or wish to have it. The brewers themselves, I think, would reject the idea that children can be taken into bars and yet not have inculcated in them an interest in drink.
The hon, and learned Gentleman's second point was incorrect, and I will return to it shortly. It is not the case that the Bill provides for the establishment of entirely separate bars into which children may be taken. I forget his third point.
I will deal later with the point about the bars being separate. It is clear that they will be but, if the hon. Gentleman and others wish, that could be clarified in Committee. My third point was that there is nothing in the Bill which will lead to the consumption of even an extra pint of beer. It is simply that the hours will be differently arranged, at the choice of the licensee.
The hon, and learned Gentleman has forgotten that the Bill will provide facilities for continuous drinking. The only problem for the person who drinks is that he will have to transfer from one pub to another in the process.
The hon. Gentleman talks of a drinker going from pub to pub. At the moment, cannot a drinker go from the pub to the supermarket or the off-licence and drink his purchases in the street, at the football ground or at home?
Why is there no provision in the Bill to deal with that abuse? It is fair to say that there is some difference—or, to put it another way, not a complete overlap—between those whose alcohol problem arises from drinking in pubs and those who make use of off-sales. Some people drink only in the social environment of pubs. Many others do just as the hon. Member describes, but the Bill of which he is a sponsor does nothing to deal with that problem. There could have been provision to deal with that. Then, those of us who oppose the Bill could have been told that that might be some good to set alongside the harm that the Bill does. No—the hon. Member prefers that the Bill should be one of largely unmitigated harm.
The evidence does not demonstrate that there have been no problems from the extended hours in Scotland, even over the relatively short period involved. The hon. Gentleman should take a tour of Glasgow and Strathclyde and have a serious look at some of the problems developing there with the present licensing system.
The hon. Gentleman is extending my speech by intervening, although I am always glad to give way to him. I want to develop the argument in sequence. I was talking of the health consequences of alcohol to the person who consumes it in excess. I was saying that those who suffer from alcohol addiction are excessively shielded by society from recognising the problem and getting the treatment they need. It is socially acceptable. If alcohol were in the same position as cannabis, we should be taking as restrictive a view of it. If hon. Members who support the Bill could then demonstrate to my satisfaction—I am not arguing for the legislation of cannabis—that alcohol would bring about fewer problems for those who consume it and for others than cannabis does, they would have achieved a remarkable feat of logic.
I would favour people desisting entirely from the use of alcohol, but the experience of prohibition legislation is that it does not solve the problem. One has to take an objective assessment of this matter.
It is quite clear, first, that a great many people are wont to use alcohol in moderate and reasonable amounts and that it is not reasonable to prevent them from doing so, and that even the scale of the problem—which, I am arguing, is very considerable—is not such as to make it right or reasonable to impose that degree of restriction on the freedom of the individual.
If one were to start de novo and had to pose the problem of which social drug our society should be permitted to use, surely the overwhelming weight of independent dispassionate evidence would fall in favour of cannabis rather than alcohol, which is a much more potentially serious drug.
Yes. The argument that I was developing when I was drawn into another direction by the intervention from the Conservative Benches is simply that if our position in relation to alcohol were what it now is in relation to cannabis—namely, that this is something that has come in fairly recently and that we still believe we can control and prevent the use of—we would be arguing much more seriously whether it would be right to be exactly as strict about alcohol as we are about cannabis.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that it is a demonstrably proven fact in medical circles that the drinking of wine, malt whisky and sometimes stout is actually medically beneficial? [Interruption.] It is certainly true of Guinness, for example. My grandmother was given Guinness on prescription, and she lived to a great age. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is generally accepted that particularly wine, whisky and sometimes stout are positively beneficial to the constitutions of many people?
Heroin and cocaine are used extensively in medicine, but the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that they should be widely dispensed for other purposes. Of course, there are doctors who would argue that a little alcohol here and there can serve a useful purpose, but that is a long way from defending the situation in which many hospitals and doctors spend a lot of time clearing up the appalling consequences of alcohol.
I have only started mentioning the consequences to the health of the individual who consumes alcohol. We might all agree and Parliament might say—although I am not inclined to do so—"We can forget about that; it is the individual's fate. The individual can choose whether he gets himself into that position." That is not my view. We cannot leave it at that in any case, because there are the consequences to others of alcohol abuse. Perhaps the most dramatically known and understood consequence is that which occurs on the roads—drink and driving; death on the roads. I simply quote—because it is particularly relevant to this debate—what the Blennerhasset report said.
I see that the Government Whip has been promoted to a close and welcome
interest in the matter—the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Wakeham). I hope that Ministers are taking careful note of the continued concern about this matter. The Blennerhassett report pointed out that
Alcohol accounts for at least one in ten of all deaths and injuries on the roads and its share is growing The success of the Road Safety Act 1967 sharply, but only temporarily, arrested this deplorable trend. The proportion of drivers killed in accidents who have a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit is higher than it has ever been and the social cost of road accidents involving alcohol now exceeds £100 million a year Although numbers of breath tests and convictions have risen, the police and the courts work under handicaps and cannot stem the tide.
It went on to say that
The inability or unwillingness of some drivers to exercise a proper degree of restraint in their drinking and the futility of the resulting loss and suffering are a source of wide public concern. We have been forced to recognise that drinking and driving is part of a wider problem of alcohol abuse in Britain today. National consumption of alcohol rose by 39 per cent, between 1968 and 1974 and among young people it is believed to be rising even more rapidly. Not only drinking and driving but other alcohol-related offences and alcohol-related diseases have increased alarmingly. It is not part of our task to recommend countermeasures against these wider problems, but we feel it must be recognised that the growing abuse of alcohol is a major factor—possibly the major factor—in the declining effectiveness of the 1967 Act.
Then comes the crucial sentence:
Those whose responsibility it is to consider the wider problems should bear in mind the heavy social cost of road accidents due to alcohol.
I point to one particular respect in which it is relevant to the Bill—the late afternoon rush hour and the possibility of licensing hours extensions into that period, so that more and more drivers want to drink before they set off driving in the rush hour on the way home from work or town. That is a potentially very serious problem. Hon. Members who do not take it seriously cannot have visited the casualty wards and talked to the police and others concerned.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point with great seriousness indeed. However, he will no doubt be aware, as I am, that, as the medical profession has demonstrated, it takes over an hour for alcohol to work into the bloodstream As for the rush hour, in most cases people are already driving, if they are stupid enough to do so, at a time when they may be over the limit during the rush hour. Therefore, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point is either valid or relevant.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about extensions, for example, into the period between 3.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.—exactly an hour before most people are driving in their cars through the rush-hour traffic. The hon. Gentleman proves the case. He is talking about the very period concerned. An hour spent in a pub in that afternoon period is precisely the danger about which we are talking.
Again, I shall not go into detail—although one could talk for hours about the detailed problems and detailed incidence of drink problems in accidents on the road. It is colossal. Everyone concerned is worried about this matter. Again, I am surprised that the hon. Member did not make it a major feature of his proposals to do something positive about this rather than to increase the dangers.
There is another area that must be mentioned—the effect of alcohol in general violence, in terms of crimes of violence and violence on the streets, which we must also consider seriously. It comes at every level, from mere unpleasantness and roughness on the streets outside pubs after closing hours right up to serious crimes of violence, of which licensees and licensed house managers are sometimes the victims but which, of course, affect a wide range of quite innocent people, who may either never drink at all or be the most exemplary moderate drinkers but who are the victims when people who have taken too much alcohol are out on the streets engaging in violence.
It is amazing on how many occasions the courts are told, in supposed exoneration or mitigation of some grisly piece of violence in which an individual has suffered appallingly, "It was drink. The accused was drunk at the time", or "I had had too much to drink. I am very sorry, your honour, it will not happen again". It may be all very well for the accused to say that it will not happen again, but what about the victims of such crimes, who may have cause to think about it? Even mere safety on the streets around many town public houses is one of the things that we must consider. Those sorts of crimes and the involvement of drink in them increase steadily.
There is one last category that is equally important and has been important throughout the history of arguments about drink legislation—the effect in the home and the effect of violence upon the home. I suggest that hon. Members talk to some of the battered wives and look at some of the children whose homes have been effectively destroyed by the ability of people of weak will to stay in pubs for a very long period and not go home until the very worst consequences upon their judgment and their system have worked through.
The dangers in this category would be worsened by the legislation. I want to say why I believe that. The legislation puts the clock back to before 1915—to the period before Governments felt it right to take fairly drastic action. The first reason why this is so, as I mentioned in response to the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), is that it provides the availability of continuous drinking. It ensures that there need not be a period in the day during which one cannot go into a pub and get a drink. There need be no closed period, because of the ability of publicans and licensees—as the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) pointed out, it will be the breweries that will make the decisions—to ensure that open hours exist around the pubs in the locality. The facility for continuous drinking is available, and the outlet is greater.
The hon. Member for Nantwich has disappeared from his place. I thought that he had come to join us on the Opposition Benches to see whether he could drum up support from an unexpected quarter. The extending of outlets is something to which he drew attention. I believe that it is one of the potential dangers.
The second thing that can result from it is that in pursuit of the extended drinking opportunities there will be people wandering from pub to pub in order to get a drink at another place. I mention this also in response to the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West. During the afternoon of a football match, those who have been excluded from the ground because of their records of violence and drink offences—a number of clubs now exclude such persons—will be wandering around different pubs in the area to ensure that they take advantage of continuous drinking hours. Late at night, when the pub that they normally visit closes, they will go off to another—perhaps in a vehicle on the road.
The licensed house managers also face problems. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Nantwich to dismiss the problems of the National Association of Licensed House Managers and say that it has no business to make such unfounded complaints and that the breweries will ensure that everything is all right. It is often difficult for a tenant of a brewery to exercise freedom of choice. Licensed house managers are genuinely concerned, both for themselves and their staff, that they will be forced to work longer hours and face the problems of clearing bars at the end of the night and dealing with people who have already drunk too much in another public house. The licensed house managers will be quick to point out how many of their number have suffered severe violence from people under the influence of drink.
I turn to the crucial question of the proposals in the Bill on the subject of children. I find it amazing that the hon. Member for Nantwich, because he finds it difficult to pop into a pub with his children and have a pint while they have something to eat, brings forward legislation that creates such danger. It seems to suit the convenience of people like the hon. Gentleman, who cannot do without a drink and have to go into a pub—
If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to finish my sentence he would have realised that I did not intend to say anything objectionable. However, on his own words, the hon. Gentleman admitted that in the middle of the day or at 4 pm he is not satisfied to take his children into a restaurant or a cafe where they can eat what they like, without having the equal opportunity of taking them into a pub, so that he can have a drink. I am quoting the hon. Gentleman's words—he made his position clear.
He felt that many find that to be a most unreasonable sacrifice. He went on to say that the legislation should be devised in the interests of people who would otherwise lock their children in the car while they went into a pub. Should that be the basis of legislation about children in public houses? He complained that when it rains children have to leave the gardens of public houses and go into the car while their parents are in the pub.
What are we being asked to approve in the legislation? It is not family rooms or special provisions for children, but a bar. We are asking the justices to approve of a bar into which children can be taken. No special provisions have been made. There have been no suggestions of what should or should not be available in the bar and there is nothing to differentiate that bar from any other in the public house. The hon. Gentleman admitted that many pubs have two bars—the lounge and the public bar. We are asking the justices to approve of one of those bars.
The hon. Gentleman has taken to asking Mr. Deptuy Speaker questions that he should not be asked to answer. The existing law makes provision for children to go into premises which are not licensed and in which alcohol cannot be served. Most hotels have restaurants and lounges into which children can be taken. However, we are not talking about that. We are talking about bars—places in which alcohol can be sold and served. That is the objective and the wording of the Bill.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Lyell) would make use of the facility on a family basis. Equally, it is true that in that bar there might be violence and habitual drunkards. In that case, I am sure that my hon. Friend would remove his children immediately. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that these will not be nice places with teddy bears and so on.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was about to come to that point. Much of the discussion about family rooms conveys the suggestion that what there would be in pubs in the future is a sort of play room with slides, teddy bears and little cars that my little boy would love to drive around the room. Everybody would be drinking orange squash and cups of tea, while father would have a quiet half-pint brought in by a waitress from another room. That is not what the Bill is about. The Bill is about bars, and about which bars in a pub children can go into—no more, no less.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in his constituency there are licensed premises with lounges and bars—in other words, bar lounges? Does he agree that his constituents take their children in there and that the children drink lemonade, while the good lady has a cup of tea and the husband a pint of beer? What is his line of argument on that? Would he close down such bar lounges?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take me to a licensed bar in my constituency where the range of facilities includes beer, orange juice and tea. I have yet to find one, and I know my constituency reasonably well. Perhaps I can arrange a meeting with the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman is known for his abstinence. The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), like myself, frequents licensed premises. I am not bragging about the fact, but I probably go into such places more than he does.
I should always be happy to spend an afternoon with my hon. Friend—I hope that he does not mind my calling him that—the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). However, on this matter he and I have different views. Indeed, our experience seems to differ quite markedly. He deflected me from making an important point. [Interruption.] Perhaps that was his intention.
Clause 4(6) of the Bill states that
For the purposes of this section 'bar' includes part of a bar.
We are not even talking about bars that are separate and designed to have a special characteristic that makes them suitable for children; we are talking about a corner of the saloon bar that can be designated, with the use of a partition and toys, as a separate area for children. The idea that we are discussing separate rooms is not borne out on the face of the Bill. It includes no provisions differentiating the rooms in any other respect, except that they are designated as places to which children can go.
The hon. Gentleman knows well that one of the essential requirements of the justices who have to consider these matters is the suitability of the premises. I should like to draw his attention to recommendation 50 of the Erroll report, which says that
The justices would be required to have regard to the suitability of the premises for children under 14, and there would be a right of appeal against their decisions.
Recommendation 49 states that
It should be left entirely to local judgment which premises are considered suitable for the admission of children under the age of 14.
Surely, after the deep consideration of that report, that is plainly right. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) would give an undertaking to provide that the premises should be suitable in the opinion of the licensing justices. If the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) wants that provision in the Bill, I am sure that it will be written in.
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman did not even think fit to put any qualifying provision into the Bill. Even the provisions of Erroll, with which I disagree, do not find their way into it and would have to be forced into it in Committee. But I do not accept the Erroll view either, and I do not think that there is very wide acceptance in the community for this provision.
If the hon. Gentleman leaves his remarks as they are at the moment, he may create the impression that either there has to be a separate room that is authorised for use by children or a separate part, but one only one part, of a bar Surely what the Bill provides is that if a pub has only one room, it is possible for the justices—they may not do it—to approve the use of the entirety of that bar for children. If the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is the correct meaning. I think that that should be made clear.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for focusing attention on what is the only interpretation that one can make of the Bill's provisions.
I was about to deal with the other part of the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West, which concerns the position of the justices. When presented with this task, the justices will try to do their best to see that these orders are applied only to suitable places, but they must do it against the reality of what they face. They are bound only to choose the best. They can do no more than choose the best of what the licensed trade can offer them in this context. They cannot simply adopt a blanket refusal attitude. If, in a given area, all the applications they received were simply for the designation of existing bars as accommodation into which children might go, the justices would find it difficult to take the line that they would not approve any of these until family rooms—as they felt they should be—were created on the premises. They would have quite a struggle to hold that line if the brewers decided that all they wanted to do, which seems to be the suggestion, was to have children permitted in their existing bars.
It would be a very hard task for the justices and, sooner or later, the magistrates in one area would be forced to give in and designate an existing bar—possibly an only bar—and other magistrates in other areas would read the case and follow suit. It would have a kind of domino effect, where no set of justices would feel that they could any longer hold out against the prevailing trend. If we are to make any provision of this kind in legislation, we have to get it right and not simply rely on justices being able to enforce standards far higher than any that Parliament contemplated when it devised the legislation in the first place.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right about that. If the justices in a given area or even at large sought to make a restrictive interpretation, the breweries undoubtedly would force it through the courts, if necessary right to highest court in the land, to compel them to make the most literal interpretation of the clause.
I am sure that that is true. The resources of the breweries will enrich the legal profession on a grand scale while the matter is taken through the courts.
I turn to another aspect of children in bars. It is clear from what I have said that it is my premise that it is not desirable, especially at this stage of our understanding of alcohol problems, to allow children into bars and to encourage them to be present in places where drink is consumed on a considerable scale.
In what circumstances would children be allowed to go in, and accompanied by whom? The Bill provides for a child to be accompanied by an adult—not a parent or a guardian but by anyone who is himself over the qualifying age of 18. What picture does that conjure up? It is one of young teenagers of 12 or 13 standing outside public houses asking "Will you take me into the bar, mister? I will get my own drink and I will not bother you any more. I just want to play the machines." There is no provision to ensure that the person accompanying a child into the bar has any responsibility towards that child. Into whose hands might a child fall in those circumstances? What sort of people do we imagine might be willing to take children into bars in those circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman suggested that a child would ask "Will you take me in, mister?" Does he remember the days when children stood outside cinemas asking the same question? Is not it a fact that, quite properly, many bars have colour television sets and that an easy way of watching a late night programme would be to obtain entry to such a place and perhaps cause difficulties in relation to parental control?
I am sure that that is true. I mentioned amusement machines because they are one of the attractions of bars. Amusement machines, billiard tables, and so on, quite naturally are attractions to youngsters, and there are too few opportunities for people under age to play billiards and pursue these kinds of amusements outside pubs. The brewers seem to be the only people making provision of this kind. It is a matter of great regret, because it is a proper and enjoyable pursuit for a youngster. But, if he is to go into a pub, he will look for one that he can go to, and, if he cannot under the law now, what is to stop him looking for any passing adult who will take him into that bar, even if it is a person who is just over the approved age himself? The moral dangers and problems inherent in this are considerable and I do not need to dwell on them in any detail for hon. Members to realise what is involved.
I am surprised that the lesson has not been learned from the last time that legislation on this subject was brought before the House, when we went into these matters in some detail.
Many hon. Members want to take part in this debate, so I conclude my remarks by touching on one topic that I think is important.
Some hon. Members and some people outside the House who support the Bill think that it would be easy to introduce into the country a café-style pub—a cross between a pub and a Continental café—which they remember faintly from a pleasant holiday in France or Spain. They envisage a place in which people sit at tables, perhaps outside in the sunshine, half of them drinking tea, coffee and orange juice, and where the odd glass of alcohol is consumed. It is not an unattractive picture. It is made a bit less attractive by the discovery that countries that have that system have the most appalling problems of alcohol-related diseases and alcoholism. Anyone who quotes France, as the hon. Member for Nantwich was wise enough not to do, must recognise that.
Even if it were a desirable objective, I do not think that that state of affairs could be brought about, because of the historical way in which our pubs and cafés developed on quite different lines. Whether that is good or bad, it cannot be changed overnight, partly because most of the customers of public houses do not want it that way. They do not want that change. They like pubs to be places to which adults and not children go. The brewers have no enthusiasm for encouraging the sale of drinks other than alcohol, except for those soft drinks for which they can charge a very high price and have a whacking great profit mark-up. The sale of tea and coffee in public houses is not proceeding very rapidly. There is a slight improvement in coffee sales, as food is introduced, but I do not see much advance in the serving of tea in public houses.
In my view it is impossible to make these two groups converge and to bring about an atmosphere in licensed premises which is more that of the café—the place serving food and non-alcoholic drinks—than it is of the pub. That is a change that cannot be superimposed on our historical developments. I do not think that it should be. The most genuine supporters of the Bill are sincerely but wrongly trying to bring it about. I do not think that they can, and I doubt very much whether they will succeed. The effect of what they propose would be to increase the availability of alcohol at some of the most dangerous points in our society and to encourage children into an atmosphere in which a lot of it is consumed and in circumstances in which a great many dangers would be presented to them. That is not what Parliament should be doing, and I oppose it.
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), I was reminded of the words in the Great Book,
What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again and there is nothing new under the sun.
Many of us remember the fate of a previous Bill which we debated in 1976 and which had rather similar objectives. What was done then is being done again, and evidently there are those among us who still have not learned the lesson that
alcohol licensing is too serious a matter to be dealt with in a Private Member's Bill, especially one which, as I shall show, is riddled with danger.
It is relevant at the outset of the debate to ask who wants the Bill. We can be sure that no responsible Government would give their blessing: nor can we expect the Opposition Front Bench to give its support since my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich has been unable to attract a single Opposition sponsor.
Do the general public want the Bill? How many of us, I wonder, have been pressed by our constituents to change the law so that other people's children under 14 can be brought into their favourite local and allowed to stay there until 11.30 pm?
Is the licensed trade clamouring for the Bill? On the contrary, despite the unwarranted remarks made by my hon. Friend about the managers' association, manager licensees are implacably opposed to it, as every hon. Member must now know from the letters and telegrams that he has received. Many tenant licensees have also written to me saying that they dislike the Bill. The immediate past president of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers has been highly critical of it, and the kindest thing to say of that organisation is that it has been speaking with two voices on the subject.
Are the police in favour of the Bill? They certainly are not; they have enough on their hands without coping with the problems that will arise from later closing times. They are already deeply disturbed by growing violence inside and outside public houses. They know that the main cause of death among young males between the ages of 16 and 24 is now a road accident, in which the major factor is alcohol imbibed above the legal limit. They know, too, the connection between alcohol availability and crime.
Are magistrates clamouring for a change in the law? On the contrary, those who have written to me are horrified that the House is wasting its energies on such a measure at a time of concern to every bench in the land about growing alcohol abuse.
Are our school teachers demanding that their young pupils be admitted to bars? Many of us have received complaints from teachers about pupils returning in the afternoon under the influence of alcohol that has been bought in public houses where it is becoming increasingly difficult for licensees to cope with underage drinking.
It is clear that there has been no effective consultation with anyone over the Bill's implications other than with the drink industry. I propose, therefore, to discuss the implications so that we can at least understand the background against which this unwanted and badly drafted Bill should be considered.
Quite a number of us are concerned about alcohol abuse and know that there is a direct correlation between sensible alcohol control policies and the general level of sobriety. We know that rising levels of consumption lead to increasing alcohol abuse—as sure as night follows day. We know that over-permissiveness and a weakening of controls lead to excessive consumption and that this in turn causes harm both to the health of our people and to the fabric of our society.
Most people, of course, are able to drink with no resultant social or health harm, but for some—and, alas, it is a growing number—drinking causes harm to themselves and to others. In short, control of alcohol availability is a public health issue, and that should be of concern to Parliament. That is why the delicate task of maintaining a balance, one that gives freedom to the majority who do not harm themselves on the one hand but provides the necessary social control on the other, is a task for the Government rather than for private Members such as my hon. Friend. That task should not be determined by manufacturers, whose primary object is to sell more of their product irrespective of the harm that it may cause to some individuals. We are not discussing the sale of beans or butter or tins of cocoa. We are concerned with a potent drug that can harm and shorten life.
My hon. Friend has not concealed the real motive behind his Bill. He has quoted my utterances outside the House and I shall quote one of his. He has been reported elsewhere as saying that many licensees that he has spoken to are worried as the result of misunderstandings arising from the Bill. He said:
Some have said that new hours would be at the expense of publicans, that overheads
would increase because of the extra staff landlords would need to take on. What I've said to them is that their increased costs should be covered by increased turnover as a result of the different opening hours. Obviously if increased trade doesn't cover the extra costs there is no point in changing their opening hours.
My hon. Friend has given the game away, because the motive for his Bill—apart from resolving the inconvenience to himself when he is out with his family—is to increase the consumption of alcohol.
Already the proliferation of outlets permitted in this country over the past 10 years has been accompanied by a huge increase in consumption. Supermarkets have been allowed to drive a coach and horses through our system of licensing control. Not surprisingly, that has been accompanied by a massive increase in alcohol abuse. So far Britain is not as badly affected as other countries. However, we are moving fast in a downward direction. In France, for example, about 46 per cent. of hospital beds are now occupied by patients with alcohol problems. The death rate in France from liver cirrhosis is 10 times greater than that in Britain and 40 per cent. of road deaths are due to alcohol abuse. Ironically, it is the Continental pattern of drinking that the authors of the Bill wish to introduce into Britain and which lay behind the whole philosophy of the long-discredited Erroll report. This modest little Bill is the beginning; its purpose is to take us gently in the direction of that report.
Against that general background, it is not surprising to find that the World Health Organisation is urging member States not to relax but to strengthen their individual alcohol policies. Indeed, at its meeting this week in Geneva, its assembly urged that
Governments must take the responsibility of forcing down consumption".
Nor is it surprising to find that a report on the medico-social risks of increasing alcohol consumption prepared for the directorate-general for employment and social affairs of the European Communities states:
the increased use of alcohol beverages throughout Europe over the last decade has now produced a situation warranting grave concern, characterised by widespread damage to the social well-being, the economic function and the health of the population".
In this country we do not need such advice. Only last year the Government's own advisory committee on alcoholism recommended that
the legal restrictions on the availability of alcohol should be enforced rigorously and should not be relaxed until there is sufficient evidence that to do so would not cause increased harm".
With this the recent report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists agrees, forecasts an endemic disorder of frightening magnitude, and concludes that
there should be no further relaxation in the broad range of licensing provisions".
Such authoritative and strongly expressed views as these stand in stark contrast to the findings seven years ago of the Erroll committee, which so far, thank God, no Government of any political complexion have been prepared to implement, the reason being that responsible Ministers know that any further weakening of licensing control would contribute to the growing problem of alcohol abuse.
Some of us were present and took part in a debate held on 19 October 1973 on the Erroll report, when Mr. David Lane, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, advised us that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was then Secretary of State for Social Services, was worried about the problem, as was the standing medical advisory committee, which was particularly concerned about the effect on young people. Mr. Lane warned:
As Members of Parliament we cannot ignore this concern however much as individuals we may want to reform and liberalise the law, or however much we may want to broaden the base of the retail liquor trade so as to reduce monopoly control. Against the advantage that may accrue from changes in the law we have to try to measure the possible ill-effects of these changes, both in terms … of the resources required for prevention and treatment of alcoholism"—[Official Report, 19 October 1973; Vol. 861, c. 624.]
Those were wise words and are all the stronger and more relevant today.
Since then, all Home Office Ministers when replying to questions on the subject have answered in the same vein. I detect no change in their position and there has certainly been no change in the attitude of the DHSS, which has to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse.
In July, my hon. Friend the present Under-Secretary of State for Health and
Social Security, whose views on the subject are sound, told the annual meeting of the National Council on Alcoholism, over which I have the honour to preside, that preventing alcoholism posed not a medical but a political problem. He went on to say:
Indeed for many of today's medical problems the answer may not be cure by incision at the operating table, but prevention by decision at the Cabinet table. Most of the big killer diseases of today are not caused by nature but by our way of life. The answer to these illnesses is not cure but prevention. And prevention does not raise medical issues but political ones, since it presupposes the adjustment of a nation's life style to improve its health.
In 1973 it was estimated that there were up to 400,000 people with a serious drinking problem. Today the figure is about 740,000.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich seemed to equate cigarette smoking with excessive drinking of alcohol, but, unlike harm caused by cigarette smoking, that caused by excessive drinking affects other members of the family. That means that probably one in 15 of the population knows only too well the true cost of alcohol and the misery that its abuse invariably brings.
It is, therefore, important to have a correct perception of the problem. It is a common fallacy that the nation can be divided into two categories—the vast majority who know how to drink sensibly and a small number of alcoholics who do not.
Until recently, the prevailing view was that alcoholics—those who are totally dependent on alcohol—are a small minority possessed of a defective personality and physiology whose drinking behaviour is unique. We know now that in any society the more alcohol that is consumed, the higher the proportion of problem drinkers there will be. That is true of every country in the world.
We also know that there is no clear line of separation between hazardous drinking and alcoholism. In that case, we should not measure the size of the problem in terms of the numbers who are pathologically inclined to become alcoholics but should understand that all of us who drink are in some way at risk and are all somewhere along the same line.
Commenting on the relationship between national consumption and
alcohol-related disabilities, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said in the report that I have already quoted:
In any population there exists a small percentage of people whose drinking is on the borderline between relatively safe and harmful drinking. However, in a population of millions, a 'small percentage' will imply hundreds of thousands of people. For that sector of drinkers the increase may be just sufficient to damage some tissues of his body, or crucially to impair the capacity to work, or to make the marriage intolerable for the spouse. A further grave possibility is that the borderline drinker will increase his consumption just sufficiently to induce the dependence syndrome.
One's position on the line of movement from normal to hazardous drinking and from hazardous to dependent drinking will be influenced not only by stress and personal difficulties but, more importantly, by availability. At a time of severe economic difficulties and our inability to increase our health and personal social services, we surely cannot afford to take risks that could well increase, rather than diminish, the queue for alcohol treatment services.
The promoter of the Bill is asking us to weaken one of the controls over availability. Although the Bill does not increase the total permitted hours in any single licensed premises, it would permit a variety of opening and closing times over an area, and this could enable an individual to indulge in almost continuous drinking from 10 am to midnight. That fact seems to have escaped my hon. Friend.
If we are to offset the harm that the Bill will create, the only weapon left is an increase in the taxation of liquor. I have an open mind on that subject, but most international agencies drawing attention to it say that that weapon will have to be resorted to. In any event, since alcohol is cheaper today, in terms of disposable income, than it was 10 years ago, the idea of taxation increases should not be excluded, but it is surely a less fair way of dealing with the matter. It is hardly likely to be popular with the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich. Nor is it likely to recommend itself to the licensed trade.
It is palpably clear that my hon. Friend has not thought the problem through. He does not even understand his own Bill. He referred at some length to the Scottish experience, following the passage of the 1976 Act. I am glad that he sought figures from the Scottish Office and I do not quarrel with these.
However, I recall warning some liberalisers who were euphoric about the Scottish figures for 1977 not to count their chickens before they were hatched. After all, we in England and Wales had had a sobering experience in the previous decade. When our licensing laws were changed in 1964, drunkenness offences fell from 83,007 in 1963 to 72,980 in 1975. However, by 1970 they were back to 82,374 and they reached the record level of 108,728 in 1977. We were getting back to the drunkenness figures of pre-1914.
In examining the Scottish figures, it should be noticed that the number of drunkenness offences peaked at 14,999 in 1975 and in the following year there was a drop to 14,156—before the implementation of the Act. In the first year of the operation of the Act, there was a further drop to 12,346. However, the view of the police is not unimportant here, and in his report for 1977 the Chief Constable of Strathclyde said:
The changes in the licensing laws which came into operation towards the end of 1976 have now had a full year to prove themselves. I regret to say that the decline in drunkenness noticed in early 1977 was not maintained and by the end of the year the level of drink related offences had returned to their normal level.
In 1978 the chief constable's report showed an increase in drunkenness offences of 6 per cent. The figures for Scotland as a whole were up in 1978, compared with a decline in the figures for England and Wales from a peak of 108,000 in 1977 to 106,814 last year—which is serious enough.
Let us now take a look at the drink-driving offences. An examination of the figures gives little ground for comfort. Throughout Great Britain there has been a general decrease in such offences since the peak in 1975, when there were 58,145 in England and Wales and 11,635 in Scotland. The downward trend continued in the next year. Suddenly in 1978 there was a sharp rise of 11 per cent. in England and Wales and almost 21 per cent. in Scotland. In Strathclyde the increase was 22 per cent.
If we compare the percentage of road accidents between 8 pm and 2 am in England and Scotland, before and after the change in law, Scotland fares worse. In 1975 the percentage of accidents in England was 25·1 per cent., which improved to 23·8 per cent. in 1977. In Scotland, the 1975 figure of 25·1 per cent. had increased by 1977 to 25·5 per cent. How does my hon. Friend account for that? Figures fluctuate from year to year. I suggest that it would take at least five years before any firm conclusion could be reached. But there is no doubt that the general trend appears to be that the improving effect of any change in the law wears off, and does so quickly. I suggest that we have a little less euphoria from the liberalisers and more sober reflection.
I turn now to the Bill. It provides for 11.30 pm closing, and, since I understand that a 30-minute extension can still be obtained, that in effect means midnight closing. It does not provide for a uniform terminal hour. The implications for the public and for law and order are serious. In some areas, by arrangement with the suppliers, it could mean continuous drinking for an individual from 10 am to 11.30 pm or midnight and with children under 14 in bars up to closing time. At present there is some restraint. The Bill would gravely weaken it.
The implications for licensees are also serious. My hon. Friend need not travel very far to secure their views. I have spoken to Mrs. Gallimore of "The Vaults" in Middlewich, a delightful hostelry which I believe is in my hon. Friend's constituency. I understand that he visited that hostelry during the general election. Mrs. Gallimore told me only yesterday that, as a consequence of the Bill—and I quote her words:
Staff problems would increase. There would be a half hour clearing up after 11.30 pm closing, yet our part-timers must be up at 6.30 am to 7.0 am next morning to do their regular jobs.
For full measure, she added that she strongly disagreed with children under 14 being in bars, and explained:
We have enough problems now with under age drinking.
That is exceedingly kind and generous of my hon. Friend. However, I must tell him that yesterday Mrs. Gallimore also extended an invitation. So when next I came up to her part of the country I must visit her first.
Other licensees have told us of their fear that they would be subjected to pressure once the Bill became law. I am surprised that my hon. Friend, who has so much knowledge of the licensed trade, is not aware of the widespread anxiety of licensees—not only managers, but tenants—on this score.
A careful analysis of the many letters that I have received shows that, even among those who favour more flexible hours—many licensees do—there is strong opposition to the Bill's failure to grasp the nettle of the uniform terminal hour. Indeed, there is a widespread fear that if one man opts for afternoon opening or a later closing hour, all others in the locality will be forced to do the same or to face closure.
Mr. Jimmy Ross, the immediate past president of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, has warned:
It is the small public house that is going to suffer. It is reasonable for a large public house to have three sets of staff. We are speaking of a 100-hour week. There is no way this can be covered by two people. With illness, holidays, to be covered, it would be very difficult for the small trader to continue. We have seen in our lifetime the wiping out of the small family licensed grocer. Don't let us wipe out the small public house.
We should understand—even if my hon. Friend does not—the bitterness that this would create in the licensed trade. According to the Morning Advertiser of 17 September, a senior police officer on Tameside expressed his opinion
that flexibility of hours might in the long term get some licensees at each other's throats unless there is some uniformity. It needs careful watching. From the police point of view there has to be a set of rules that we can enforce.
The same point was made by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in oral evidence to the Erroll committee. My hon. Friend, in introducing his Bill, made no reference to the views of the police. Yet these are surely crucial, given the realities of life in Britain today. Only a week or two ago, without a
single dissenting voice, we passed a Bill through the House to provide licensees with protection against the growing violence that they are having to encounter in the pubs. One would have thought that the first agency to be visited by my hon. Friend and whose advice he would have sought was the police.
The most abnoxious feature of the Bill, however, and the gravest in my opinion for the well-being of our country, lies in the provision for children under 14 accompanied by any person over 18 to be brought into any bar, where they can stay until closing time. For the first time it would be possible for a woman to come into a bar with a child in her arms or for young children under 14 to beg some callow youth to take them in and to leave them to their own devices.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will underline that point. Once a child has gained access through the agency of an accompanying person, that accompanying person need not exercise any further responsibility and could leave the premises.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That causes anxiety both to licensees and to the police. I am appalled by this provision, and so are the overwhelming majority of licensees, who are responsible people, and those members of the general public who have awakened to what this irresponsible Bill would mean.
Never before has any Member of the House proposed the bringing of babes into bars. In the past there has been talk of special rooms set aside for children or for whole families. It is clear from some of the interventions that some of my hon. Friends think that that is what the Bill provides. They have not read it. My hon. Friend does not understand it.
My hon. Friend assented to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that the provisions of clause 4(2) would allow the accompanying adult to leave. Does he agree that the subsection would permit a person under 14 accompanied by an adult to be in the bar, not to enter the bar? If so, that would cover the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
My hon. Friend must be naive if he thinks that he can get away with that. Does he genuinely believe that once a child has been brought in by a stranger, the licensee or members of his staff will keep an eye on what happens throughout the rest of the evening? The problem of under-age drinking—that is, youngsters under 18 years of age—is already causing enough anxiety to licensees and the police.
The public house is one of the great glories of this country. This Bill will introduce a new atmosphere into public houses which, I suggest, will cause a great deal of trouble to those who run them and to those who use them. It is no use my hon. Friend protesting, because clause 4 makes it plain that any accommodation set aside is
in relation to any bar on those premises.
This has brought forth strong protests from, among others, leading magistrates. Hon. Members will be interested in the comments of Lady Ralph, an eminent East Anglian magistrate and a distinguished educationist known to quite a number of us. In a letter to me, she says:
The Bill seems to be embodying a policy for the indulgence of adults and not the welfare of children. If implemented it would legitimise youngsters' contact with alcohol in their formative years in an environment the main purpose of which is its consumption. This would contribute to the formulation of a habit of drinking alcohol before they are able to make a reasonable decision based on its potential effect on them and its potential social hazards. All this at a time when in-creased drinking and alcoholism are causing alarm as regards the younger age group.
The Bill is surely an answer to the plea for adult enjoyment—meanwhile what a miserable time the children will be having and what incalculable harm may be stored up for their future.
Of course, Lady Ralph speaks from deep knowledge and experience. So does the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, who, speaking at Manchester university on 19 July, said:
Drink is an unmistakable and telling factor in many of the encounters which bring young people into contact and conflict with the Police, from the street brawl to the road accident where young policemen and women not much older than the children in their vicarious charge, ale left to literally pick up the pieces. Neither does it help to hide the truth that many schoolchildren drink to excess and some at least have to be coaxed from licensed premises to return to lessons spoiled by inebriation. Something will have to be done and done very quickly if we are to avoid an
inevitable regression to the chronic community drunkenness that bedevilled this area one hundred years ago.
We ignore such warnings at our peril. We in the National Council on Alcoholism are firmly convinced that the bringing of children under 14 into bars will produce recruits for the ever-growing army of under-age drinkers. It was once held that if wives accompanied their husbands into bars it would reduce male drinking. What has been the result? Male drinking has increased and women are drinking more than ever before, and some are joining the queue for treatment services as a result.
Now we have the same argument put forward about children—that their presence in bars would reduce mothers' and fathers' drinking. It would have no such effect. It would over-expose children to heavy drinking. A bar is no place for a child, less so than ever before.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will develop that argument later. We already have a severe and growing problem with under-age drinking, without encouraging still younger children to ape their elders. We are also entitled to ask what provision the Bill makes to protect those parents who do not wish their children to be in a bar but whose children are taken there by someone else. Where is the appropriate safeguard in the Bill? The thought has never occurred to my hon. Friend. I hope that the House grasps it now.
The sponsors of the Bill seem to be remote from reality. BBC Leeds recently broadcast the results of a survey carried out last July among pupils in certain Northern schools. The survey, which covered fourth year pupils of a comprehensive school—that is, children of 14 and 15—found that 25 per cent. claimed to take at least one alcoholic drink on a regular weekly basis. It found that 62 per cent. consumed alcohol in the week prior to the survey and claimed to have drunk between them the equivalent of 164 pints of beer and 132 measures of spirits. It found that more than one in five had consumed their alcohol in a public house during the week prior to the survey.
Every licensee and every senior police officer knows the difficulties which are caused by under-age drinking in public houses. Every doctor and head teacher know the harm that is being caused to the health and education of young people. Now the door is to be opened by my hon. Friend's Bill, which permits not only parents to take their children into pubs but anyone over the age of 18, and then to leave them to their own devices. This provision will not only undermine what is left of family responsibility but will run counter to the spirit of all the children's legislation that we have enacted over the years. It is a monstrous provision.
As chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism, it is my duty to tell the House that there is clear evidence that early exposure to alcohol does not, as some have thought in the past, get rid of the forbidden fruit mentality and create a healthy attitude towards drinking later. On the contrary, it is our experience that it can lead to inappropriate drinking and earlier alcohol dependence. We are dealing with a drug which depresses the central nervous system. Its effects are much more pronounced on the young than they are on older people. I remind the House once again that the major cause of death among young males between the ages of 16 and 24 is a road accident involving a driver with a raised blood alcohol level. The consequences for schoolchildren are now causing serious concern among all of us—whether we are laymen, like myself, or doctors or magistrates—who have to deal with the young.
I shudder to think what future social historians would say about us if in this Year of the Child we put the convenience of adults above the interests of children. It simply must not be. I recall the wise words of that good and kindly man, the late King George VI:
Take care of the child and the country will take care of itself.
I ask the House to reject this untimely, unwanted and wholly irresponsible Bill.
I oppose the Bill, not because of the increased flexibility of licensing hours, which I welcome, provided that it is done reasonably, but because of two other consequences and because of the hypocritical and negligent position in which the Government would be placed if the Bill became law.
The first consequence, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), is the increased consumption of alcoholic drinks. All evidence shows that that leads to an increase of alcohol-related illness and physical deterioration. Above all, it leads to an increase in alcoholism, which is a disease and not merely a social or personal failing.
Secondly, the Bill will lead to increased consumption of alcohol, and therefore increased revenue to the Government. It is difficult to estimate the amount, but it will certainly be millions of pounds. Therefore, on the one hand there will be more alcoholic disease and on the other more Government revenue, both stemming directly from the Bill. In fairness and in logic, that ought to mean that at least some of the increased revenue should be devoted to alleviating the increase in the disease and to helping the small proportion of drinkers who suffer from the increased accessibility to alcohol. I am not making an abolitionist plea. The majority of drinkers can handle, and could benefit from, increased access to drink. But some people cannot, and will end up as alcoholics because of the Bill.
A comment from the Royal College of Psychiatrists was quoted in a debate on alcoholism in another place on 31 October. It said:
In any population there exists a small percentage of people whose drinking is on the borderline between relatively safe and harmful drinking. However, in a population of millions, a small percentage' will imply hundreds of thousands of people. If for that sector of drinkers alcohol is made more available, in a borderline of drinkers the increase may be just sufficient to damage some tissues of his body, or crucially impair the capacity to work, or to make the marriage intolerable for the spouse. A further grave possibility is that the borderline drinker will increase his consumption just sufficiently to induce the dependence syndrome."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 31 October 1979; Vol. 402, c. 381].
That comment puts the case very well.
We must consider what chance there is of the Government using some of their increased revenue from increased sales of alcohol on services to help the recovery of alcoholics. The chances of that are nil. The Government have already announced their intention to cut all their current central Government funding for alcoholic recovery projects. We are not talking about a proportionate cut among the other reductions in public expenditure. The Government have made it clear, both in public statements and to deputations in which I have been involved, that the whole lot will go.
I shall explain briefly the current position. Under circular 21/73—the date indicates that that circular was put out by the previous Conservative Government, when the present Secretary of State for Industry was then the Secretary of State for Social Services—the Government began help in setting up alcoholic recovery projects. They took over 22 projects funded by the Home Office, in which there are now 325 beds. Forty-one new hostels have been opened since then. In 1973 there were 284 beds only for alcoholic recovery projects, whereas now there are 742. That, while not sufficient to meet the problem, is a major advance. The Government are now determined to withdraw that circular and to end all funding by the DHSS on 31 March 1980. Of the 63 existing alcoholic recovery hostels, 29 will face the end of DHSS support on that date, and most of them will close. A few will find charitable funds, but those funds are rapidly drying up as so many valuable social projects in other areas search for funds to keep them going after central and local government cuts.
The Government response to the crisis that they have induced is to tell those projects to go to the Housing Corporation. That misses the whole point, which is that the social care costs as well as the housing costs have to be guaranteed if the projects are to continue. The Government's other response is to say that local authorities should take on the costs.
I regard that as cynical hypocrisy. It is ridiculous and outrageous for the councils that are faced with massive cuts in rate support grant, and which are being told by the Secretary of State for the Environment to cut back on existing services, to be asked to start paying for such new service.
My local authority in Lambeth, which is subject to a campaign of mindless vilification from Conservative Members for its simple and reasonable decision not to make cuts in its services, is being asked now by DHSS Ministers to take on more spending commitments for alcoholic services. Four projects in that borough face the axe. To keep them open would mean an extra £20,000 a year from April 1980 to be provided by the council when its rate support grant, like that of many others, is being cut by millions of pounds.
The argument against local government funding is not just one of costs and lack of money, because these services should be funded nationally. Although alcoholism occurs nationally, it is manifested in ways that require action in a disproportionately few areas, notably the inner city areas such as Lambeth. Hon. Members who are not familiar with what I am describing have merely to walk over Westminster bridge to see these sad people who even now are on the pavements and streets around Waterloo.
There is no doubt that the increase in the rate support grant to the shire counties may lead to some ratepayers there using the money they save on their rates to finance a greater consumption of alcohol. Very few of them, however, if they become alcoholics, will be on the streets of their county towns, homeless, rootless and destitute, as are the people that these projects are trying to help.
In 1971 the Home Office, under the then Conservative Government, said that 2,200 hostel beds were needed for homeless alcoholics. So far the efforts of Governments of both parties have established less than half that number. This Government want to axe that inadequate provision, possibly leading to fewer places being available in six months' time than were available in 1973. We were asking only for a two-year extension of circular 21/73, which would cost less than £1 million, and for permanent machinery to be set up for central Government funding for alcoholic services. That was rejected out of hand by the Government.
In the light of that Government policy, therefore, I cannot support a Bill which, for all its good features, will lead inevitably to an increase in the desperate need that the Government are already committed to ignore.
It may help if intervene at this stage in what has been a lively debate to explain the Government's attitude to the Bill and to offer some general observations on the issues that it raises. First, however, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on his success in the ballot and his decision to introduce a Bill dealing with an important though, as I think he now realises, often controversial branch of the law. I have listened with interest to the case which he made in favour of his Bill, and there is no doubt that, whatever views individual hon. Members may take of its merits, the House will be grateful for the opportunity he has given us of debating this difficult subject.
My hon. Friend made a characteristically robust presentation of the case for what he called minor but beneficial changes. Evidently not every hon. Member agrees that the changes are minor or beneficial, but that, after all, is what the debate is all about. However, my hon. Friend started the debate off well, and it is most important that this subject should be discussed here from time to time.
The Bill covers part of the same ground as that dealt with in the report of the departmental committee on liquor licensing, under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Erroll of Hale, which was presented to Parliament in 1972. This was a wide-ranging report, which proposed fundamental changes in the present law, many of which proved controversial. Since then there have been few, if any, indications that we are any nearer to achieving a consensus on the subject. Our debate today has borne that out. Many hon. Members will recall, in 1976, an attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, to implement some of the Erroll proposals and that he met with very strong opposition in the House, though he did get a Second Reading for his Bill.
I want to be brief. Brevity has not been a particular characteristic of the debate so far. It is quite evident that a considerable number of hon. Members wish to speak, and it would therefore be reasonable that I should not take too long.
Since the Erroll report in 1972 there have been other developments which have caused the Government to think that reform of the liquor licensing laws must be approached with caution. During the last Parliament the advisory committee on alcoholism and the Expenditure Committee, in its report on preventive medicine, both reached the conclusion that there should be no relaxation of the law at present. The problem of alcoholism and the formulation of policies to combat it are, of course, matters for my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, but I ought, perhaps, to remind the House that it is estimated that in 1977 there were about 750,000 alcoholics in the United Kingdom. This representeci an increase of more than one-third over the figure 10 years ago.
I have looked at the figures and should be grateful if my hon. Friend could enlighten me on the answer that I was given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security on 31 October last on this matter. He explained that there was no agreed definition of alcoholism, and he purported to define it statistically, first, on the basis of the number of deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, and, secondly on the proportion of alcoholics found to suffer from alcohol-induced cirrhosis. The second statistical analysis begs the whole question of what is an alcoholic, because it requires a definition of an alcoholic. Can my hon. Friend the Minister of State enlighten me, because I do not understand the figure?
I do not think that I can fully enlighten my hon. Friend off the cuff, but I shall write to him about the points that he has made.
Whatever the precise figures may be—I can see that there is an area of argument about that—it is hard to avoid the conclusion—I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich would seek to avoid it—that there are substantial grounds for concern at the extent of alcoholism in this country. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) spoke about all this extremely forcefully.
Much of the public concern in these matters centres on the increase in drinking among young persons. Over the past 10 years there has been a marked increase in the offences of drunkenness, and it is particularly disturbing that the highest increase by far is amongst males in the 18–21 age group. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides have looked at the statistical report "Offences of Drunkenness", and I think that they are bound to conclude that the figures and graphs that appear in the report give a good deal of cause for alarm.
Under-age drinking, to which much reference has already been made, also continues to give rise to serious concern. This is obviously an area in which enforcement of the law is not easy, particularly because of the difficulties faced by licensees in determining, for example, whether someone is 17 or 18.
The offence of drinking and driving also remains a severe problem. It is a factor in about 1,200 deaths on the road each year. One in three of all drivers killed in road accidents is found to be over the legal limit, and at night this figure rises to two in three.
I do not claim that the Bill will necessarily exacerbate these problems, but I feel that hon. Members should take account of these matters as part of the general background against which the Bill must be considered. The Government take the view that it would at present be unwise to move towards a general reform of the licensing laws but do not intend to oppose the Bill. Indeed, we shall be interested to hear all the views expressed in the course of the consideration of this Bill, not only in the debate today but, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, during the Committee stage.
My hon. Friend made a somewhat odd statement. He admits, no doubt on the advice of the Department of Health and Social Security, that there is an important and growing problem and that there is widespread concern. Then he says that the Government do not intend to oppose the Bill. Will he be more explicit about that? Of us all here, the Government alone have the responsibility for giving a lead. What does my hon. Friend mean by this? Does he mean to say that the advice from his colleague the Secretary of State for Social Services is "It does not matter to us very much if this little tiddler of a Bill gets through"? Has he received advice from his colleague that the Bill is unwanted? He must come clean on this.
There is widespread concern about the problem of alcoholism. The Government and I share that concern very deeply. But what has to be established is whether this measure will make the problem of alcoholism worse. Our belief is that at present it would be right to put it to Members of the House to cast their votes as they feel to be proper. I do not intend to advise hon. Members to vote either for or against the Bill. I suggest that they should make up their own minds. I am sure that they will have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend said and, indeed, that they will give similar attention to the other speeches that we shall hear during the debate.
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the World Health Organisation, on the international plane the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Government's own advisory committee on alcohol, and Select Committees of this House have all reported consistently that a firm hold must be taken on this problem. I expected from the Home Office Minister this morning a much clearer statement on the gravity of the position and the unwisdom, at this moment, of tinkering with the licensing laws, which really are the only way in which we can control the sale of alcohol and the proliferation of outlets.
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. I do not think that anybody could accuse me of underrating the gravity of the problem that we are discussing. I have said several times that it is a grave problem. However, the question at issue before the House, about which hon. Members are entitled to make up their minds, is how far this piece of legislation would make the problem worse. That seems to me to be not unreasonable.
I now turn to the content of the Bill.
The Minister has a duty at least to summarise the impact of the evidence on the question, which he regards as the kernel of the discussion today, so as to advise the House. Surely what has emerged since Erroll is that the evidence may not be entirely conclusive one way or the other but tends to lean more strongly in favour of the proposition that an extension of licensing hours, with the consequent extension of the availability of alcohol, leads to the increase of abuse.
The problem about considering the evidence in relation to this measure is that it is a measure that, as it were, adumbrates the future. It is always very difficult to produce research on the future. We have had some experience. We have evidence from the Scottish experience. Reference has already been made to the Scottish experience. Reference was made to a letter sent by one of my hon. Friends, a Minister in the Scottish Office. I am bound to say that it is not possible at this stage to say that that evidence is decisive. Anybody who considers the Scottish experience will say, frankly, that it is rather early days to make up one's mind. Therefore I do not think that I can do what the hon. Gentleman asks me to do—to tell the House flatly that this is what the facts of the case demand, or that this is the logical, scientific answer to the problems posed today.
Turning to the content of the Bill, I note that clause 1, which seeks to allow holders of justices' on-licences, except for certain categories, to fix their own permitted hours between 10 am and 11.30 pm, is more modest in scope than either the corresponding recommendation of the Erroll report or the approach favoured by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe in 1976. Under the present law, once a justices' licence has been granted, the permitted hours laid down in section 60 of the Licensing Act 1964 apply. There is provision under section 61 for local variation of these hours within the overall total, but basically the hours are from 11 am to 2.30 pm—3 pm throughout most of London and in other parts of the country where the justices so decide—and 5.30 pm to 10.30 pm, or 11 pm in London and in some other areas. Whatever variation is adopted under the 1964 Act, the total number of hours per day must not exceed nine, where the terminal hour is 10.30 pm, and nine and a half where drinking ends at 11 pm.
In this light it seems that the Bill, which would not allow permitted hours to exceed nine and a half hours, is more concerned with providing greater flexibility in permitted hours than with extending them to any great degree. However, the proposed new terminal hour of 11.30 pm may not be greeted with such enthusiasm by some who live in residential areas that suffer from disturbance and other nuisances at night caused by people leaving public houses.
Another point that needs to be made is that such variations in permitted hours as are allowed under the existing law are largely subject to the discretion of the licensing justices. Clause 1, as I understand it, leaves the decision solely in the hands of the licensee. These criticisms may be met to some extent by the inclusion in the Bill of the power to make restriction orders under clause 3, however. I shall come back to that shortly.
Clause 2 appears to be largely dependent upon clause 1, and I do not think that it calls for any comment other than that, like clause 1, it leaves the initiative with the licensees rather than the justices.
Clause 3 would enable the licensing justices, on application made to them, to make an order restricting the opening hours of particular licensed premises and possibly requiring them to close by 10 pm. This provision would implement a recommendation of the Erroll report, albeit one that was made within the context of a fundamental reform of the whole system of liquor licensing.
On a point of detail, I note that an order would be made in the interests of public order, safety, health or amenity. I am not clear what is meant by "amenity" and, if the promoters have noise or disturbance in mind, some amplification of this term may well be necessary. I should also mention, while on the subject of clause 3, that this provision will create extra work for the courts, but, without knowing how many applications would be likely to be made, it is impossible to make any accurate forecast of the amount of work involved.
Has the Minister yet had the opportunity to take advice from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis or from representatives of police authorities about the general impact of varied hours within any one locality? Does he envisage problems arising in that area? Is he satisfied that the movement of people from pub to pub, with varied hours, will not create difficulties?
On the question of the view of the police, the police have not made specific representations to us about the Bill. It is known that, generally speaking, they take a rather cautious view to changes in the licensing legislation.
Surely the Government have asked the police for their view. They would not wait for the police to volunteer their view. Before the Government decided to take a neutral view on this Bill, surely they would have asked the Metropolitan Police and, indeed, other chiefs of police what was their view.
Surely it cannot be the practice, when the Government are making up their minds whether to have a view on a Bill that certainly affects the police very much in their obligations, that the Home Office does not go to the police—not wait for the police to come to it—and ask them if they have any views to state.
A number of hon. Members on both sides wish to speak.
I come to the most controversial part of the Bill. Clause 4, which in part follows a recommendation in the Erroll report, would empower the licensing justices to make an order, known as a "children's accommodation order," which would allow persons under 14, when accompanied by an adult, to be in a bar on the licensed premises referred to in the order. The clause does not specify any relationship between the adult and the child. There is a possibility, therefore, that a child would stand at the entrance to the premises and succeed in persuading an adult previously unknown to him to escort him inside.
There seem to be two ways of approaching the principle of the clause. It may be seen as a sensible way of introducing, children to an environment in which moderate drinking takes place on approved premises as merely an incidental part of normal social activity. From another standpoint, it might be argued that this is far too early an age to expose children to such an environment, whatever the conditions under which the drinking takes place. Hon. Members may well have already formed their views on that. However, it is necessary to be clear what is intended. For example, we must be aware of the approach in the Bill as opposed to that of the so-called family room.
We recognise that the Bill raises difficult issues and, like most matters affecting licensing laws, gives rise to strong feelings on both sides. In changing the law of licensing, we may have to consider not only the detail of the legislation itself but the climate in which it is put forward. The climate is one that gives concern. Drunkenness is on the increase and teenage drinking is a serious problem. However, it does not follow that the Bill would make things worse. That is for the House to consider.
A short while ago my hon. Friend said that the Department had not consulted the police on the Bill's provisions on hours. Surely the hon. Gentleman's Department has a clear responsibility for the welfare of children Has the view of the police on that subject been sought, bearing in mind the enormous and growing problem of under-age drinking that now exists in public houses?
My hon. Friend knows that I have expressed clearly my deep concern about the problem of under-age drinking. It is a serious problem. However, I have nothing to add to what I have already said.
The Bill raises difficult and important issues. I believe that it is proper to leave the final judgment on the Bill's proposals to hon. Members.
It is the tradition in this House that Government and Opposition do not take a very firm party line on Private Members' legislation. The Opposition as such will not take a firm line on recommending hon. Members to vote for or against the Bill.
I shall speak briefly because I do not think that the passion and the expertise displayed in the speeches that we heard before the Minister spoke should be spoilt, as it were, by the mincing neutralism of Front Bench speeches.
I must say that I was surprised that the Minister was quite so excessively neutral as he was. Of course, whether this Bill passes or not is a matter for the House to decide. I have not stood in this position long enough to feel that this is any different from any other Bill in that respect. But the Minister is part of the House. The Minister is going to have to cast his vote at the end of the day. So are all Ministers; and I think any Government in power owe it to the House to say what their view of the matter is and not just say "This is a matter for the rest of the House to decide."
Those hon. Members who are not in Government do not have access to the sources of advice and expertise that Governments have. Therefore, it is essential that Governments should be the channel through which that expertise is made available to the House. I would have been interested to know from the Minister how he intends to vote at the end of the day. At the end of my remarks I shall indicate how I propose, as a personal matter, to vote at the end of the day.
The one thing that is surely clear is that there is an argument for the Bill, a perfectly respectable argument for the Bill, and a perfectly respectable argument against the Bill. I would only disagree with those who say that the case is entirely on one side of the argument.
The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) said—I took down his words—when referring to present practice on licensing hours and children. "It is nonsense. There is no merit in it whatsoever." That is not a moderate view that many people would share. There is a very strong case in favour of the restrictions which now exist. The hon. Gentleman also fell, I think, into danger at one point by almost suggesting that his changes had one object in mind, which was to foster the sale of pub food. It almost seemed as if it were some Scotch Egg Promotion Bill at one stage. Whatever it results in, it is likely to result in the sale of liquor, and that is what we are talking about rather than the sale of Scotch eggs and warm sausages.
May I protect the interests of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor)? I am sure that the House would not wish him to be misunderstood. He was not arguing only for Scotch eggs and food. It is becoming increasingly popular these days to eat out. More people wish to do so in the pleasant environment of a public house. To be unable to do so because one is unable to take in the family is a constriction that my hon. Friend feels to be unfair, as do many hon. Members who support his views.
I accept that, but I just think that the dangers from the liquor side are so enormously important and so deserving of discussion that the introduction of the food argument and the denial of access to pub food for people is an irrelevance that we should keep out of it.
Regarding the proposal in the Bill on hours, we surely have to face the fact that the processes of competition are likely to mean that first one proprietor and then another will, in fact, make application for pubs' licensing hours to be extended, and that will either mean that licensing hours are extended towards the 11.30 pm period in all cases or it will mean that by the non-congruity of licensing hours the times available during the day for drinking in a particular area will be, in practice, extended. That is one of the very serious considerations which we have to take into account.
Secondly, if licensing hours are extended later into the evening, then the time when people are leaving pubs will be a time when public transport is less available.
And in many areas, as my hon. Friend says, there might be no public transport available at all. That means that the possibility of people drinking late at night and driving away by car is even greater than at an earlier time of night, and drunken driving is now a colossally dangerous inclination on the part of a large part of the population.
Thirdly, I would make the point, particularly related to inner city areas, one of which I happen to represent—my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) touched on this point—that where pubs exist cheek by jowl with residential accommodation, there is under the present legislation enormous nuisance caused, and not only noise nuisance but more unspeakable nuisances caused to those who live in the immediate vicinity of a pub. Certainly if I were to canvass around—and I use the term "canvass" generally—for the opinion of residents in the immediate vicinity of pubs as to whether the pubs should open later at night or not, I have no doubt that the vast majority of residents there would deplore it.
The sponsor of the Bill can, of course, properly point out that the Bill does not compel opening late at night but permits it, and that it would be open to the magistrates to decline, for the reasons I have indicated, to give approval. The Bill cannot, however, result in less opening late at night. It may result in more opening late at night. That is a danger that we have to face, particularly in inner city areas.
I come now to the question of children. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Nantwich that it is irritating that one can go into the garden of a pub and drink with one's children but one may not go inside the pub. It is irritating if one can find only a pub for lunch but not be able to take the children, and therefore be obliged to go searching perhaps a long distance for a cafe or a restaurant. It is irritating that an accommodating publican will allow one to squeeze into the pub near the door, perhaps illegally, and do what the Bill would allow to be done perfectly easily. Those considerations must not be swept aside. There is an anomaly and an irritation in present practice which it would be nice to get rid of. The question that has to be asked is whether the extra convenience of permitting children to go into pubs is sufficient to justify the nuisance and, more important, the danger of their being permitted there.
Attention has been drawn to the consideration that any adult, not only a parent or temporary guardian, would be able to take a child into a pub. A situation could arise in which schoolchildren, some under 18, were taken into a pub because one of them happened to be over 18. I understand from the words of the Bill that there is no restriction on the number of under-18-year-olds who can be taken in by one adult. I presume that under the terms of the Bill a whole school class—one of whom is over 18—can go into the pub, although not to drink. One always sees a notice in French bars about the danger to minors of alcohol consumption. These important considerations have to be taken into account.
I would welcome personally the existence of family rooms in or near pubs. However, the proposal in this Bill is not for family rooms. There was a reference earlier in the debate to the consumption of soft drinks in pubs and what kind of soft drinks might be consumed in pubs. I should like to say in passing that it is pretty monstrous the way that pubs overcharge for soft drinks. It is almost as if they are saying that they exist to provide alcohol and that, if one wants a Coke, one will be made to pay through the nose for it. The behaviour of pubs over the sale of soft drinks to young people has not, in my experience, been very respectable.
I was astonished and dismayed by the Minister's remarks about the lack of advice from the police on the subject. The House has before it a proposal that, when a Bill goes to a Standing Committee, that Standing Committee should be able to summon witnesses to hear evidence before it proceeds to consider the Bill clause by clause. We have not decided yet to introduce that innovation. We may do so next year. If a so-called Public Bill Committee had been considering this Bill, I should have thought it was inconceivable that the Committee would not invite the police to come before it and give evidence. That procedure does not exist at the moment. We depend on the Government to go to the police, not to wait for the police to volunteer advice, which they may or may not do.
The Government should tell the police that they will have to enforce the Bill and ask what advice they want to offer. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, to take one case, might say that more manpower was required. If that is his view, we should have been told this information during the debate. It is massively relevant to our consideration of the Bill. I would have hoped, frankly, that if this Bill gets a Second Reading today, and before it goes forward to another stage, we should obtain, through the Home Office, the views not only of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis but of other police forces as well.
The problems for the police will be considerable. If the Bill is passed, the police will face a situation, in any given area, where the closing time is not the same. It would not be a case of the police noticing that some people still remained in pubs drinking after 10 pm or 10.30 pm. The police would have to look up a little book to discover that the "Rose and Crown" was open until 11 o'clock and the "Frog and Nightgown" until 10.30 pm. This will pose a slight problem. I recognise that the hours would have to be posted on a notice at the pub, but the proposal places some extra work on the police.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. We are not entirely lacking knowledge of the police view. Chief officers of police have referred to the matter in their annual reports. The Home Office must be aware that in Greater Manchester the chief officer has reported a very serious problem and has said that the police, to use his words, are having to coax schoolchildren out of bars in order to get them back to school. Is it not reasonable in those circumstances, and in the face of such serious allegations and such terrifying reality, to expect that the Home Office should be commissioning a survey of the whole matter now instead of waiting and advising the House that it can vote which way it likes? A much more serious view of this matter must surely be taken.
I agree that the annual reports of chiefs of police and other means exist of getting an idea of police views on the subject. But when a Bill such as this is before the House there is a different and more formal method of obtaining that advice.
I have said that we have no doubt about the seriousness of the general problem and the sort of matters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has referred. I undertake that, if the Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Committee, I shall do all I can to obtain the advice of the police in time for the Committee stage.
I am sure that the whole House will be grateful for that undertaking. It is a pity that this advice is not available on Second Reading. The views of the police are more likely to relate to whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading than to whether it should be amended having been given a Second Reading. But the Minister's undertaking is better than nothing. We are grateful to him.
The point has already been made that the Bill does not state that there has to be a separate room for children. It does not state that there has to be a separable part, or a defined children-only part, of a bar. The Bill would permit children, if the justices gave their approval, to be in the entirety of one bar, even if it was only a one-bar pub. This means another problem for the police. If the police were to inspect a pub to see whether it was complying with its approval terms, they would have to find out whether children were allowed only in a little room at the side, a section at the corner of the bar or the entirety of the pub. The police could cope. But it would certainly mean additional work. Those are considerations that we should take into account.
There will be an additional problem for the police. If they have reason to suspect that there is underage drinking, go into a bar and find children over a wide range of ages, it will be impossible to prove or establish that particular children, of particular ages, were or were not drinking. At the moment, no one under 14 has a right to be there at all. But, under this arrangement, children aged between 10 and 14 could be present. How will police, wanting to bring a prosecution, determine whether this or that child was drinking?
One could put the difficulties more strongly. If an adult goes into a pub, accompanied by three children under the age of 18, who are in the clear because the adult is accompanying them, what happens if another child who knows those children goes into the pub and joins the party? I suppose he is in the clear.
There are difficulties about particular forms of words used in the Bill which have not, I think, been faced by the promoter in his speech today and which may not be possible of solution by means of amendment if we go to Committee.
Much has been made of the difficulties of the police going into public houses where children may be, but what about the present arrangements in regard to clubs? Children are allowed to go into working men's clubs throughout the country. Why does the hon. Gentleman feel that the police are not thereby inconvenienced, and how does he make the great distinction when we are talking about an extension into public houses?
That is a perfectly valid point if one is considering only the removal of anomalies, but if one is considering also that one would rather have an anomaly than the extension of an undesirable situation one can say "We have one thing in existence at the moment, and we may or may not abolish it at some time, but that is not a reason for extending that undesirable situation to a different context."
I say only that that is a consideration. Anomalies are not, especially in this country and in this House, universally eradicated just because they are anomalies. Sometimes in the process of getting rid of anomalies one creates worse anomalies, and sometimes in the process of getting rid of all anomalies one creates a very bad situation indeed.
I conclude that the extra convenience and tidiness created by the Bill would be real but modest. There are dangers involved in the Bill which some hon. Members believe to be extreme dangers, and it therefore seems to me that when we come to vote on the matter we shall have to measure the modesty of the tidying up involved in the Bill against the potential dangers, which some believe to be small but which others fear will be great. It is, therefore, almost the very modesty of the changes proposed in the Bill which calls in question whether it is worth running the risk of the dangers which we might be bringing upon ourselves.
The Opposition as such take no view on the matter. Hon. Members will, as they always should, vote according to their judgment. I must say that I should prefer the subject to be dealt with by Government legislation at any time rather than by Private Members' legislation. My personal feeling on the Bill is such that I shall vote against it.
First, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on the way in which he has prepared and presented his Bill. I do not agree with what he proposes, but the good humour that he has shown is commendable, and I applaud it greatly.
At first sight the Bill appears to be innocuous enough. It appears to be almost a liberal measure, just a tidying-up measure—indeed, almost a family measure. I can almost hear the phrase "A family that drinks together stays together"—the ad-man's dream. One can almost hear people putting a very different meaning on the phrase "Your daily pinta" if the Bill goes through.
One justification for the Bill advanced in the debate thus far is that it offers a means of assisting the tourist trade. Pethaps hon. Members will feel, as I do, that if this is a prime reason for promoting the Bill it is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. It is nonsense to suggest that licensing hours in our country should be governed by a desire to help tourists. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am obliged to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches for their support. After all, Britain should be governed for and on behalf of the British rather than for and on behalf of tourists and the tourist trade.
I was interested to note that at least one of the trade associations clearly opposes the Bill. I say that because at first sight one might imagine that this was a measure that would commend itself to such people and be greeted with wild enthusiasm, but I am pleased to see that the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and the National Association of Licensed House Managers are concerned—
If my hon. Friend had allowed me to develop my argument he would have heard me make clear the distinction between those two trade associations. The licensed victuallers give the Bill a somewhat guarded approval. I am trying clearly to establish the fact that the other trade associations are absolutely opposed to it as it stands.
The licensed victuallers give limited approval, but that approval is far from unanimous. I quote, as an example, from the view of the Croydon and Mitcham Licensed Victuallers Association:
This is a flagrant attempt to resurrect the Erroll Commission's report, which died a natural death some years ago. But if the purpose of the proposal to open pubs from 10 am till midnight is to pander to the tourists, the possible implications for licensees and their staffs most certainly merit consideration.
In the first instance, more staff would have to be recruited and paid at a rate to compensate them adequately for working unsocial hours. But an even greater difficulty would be in ensuring staff getting home safely after their late duties. The women, particularly, could not be expected to make their own way home on foot after transport facilities have stopped. Nor could the average licensee afford regularly to lay on taxis or car-hire service for them.
My hon. Friend has quoted at some length from the view of the Croydon association of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers. Will he comment upon the official letter of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, which says, in its closing words:
We trust that we can count on your support on 30 November to ensure that the Bill receives its Second Reading"?
Had my hon. Friend been listening carefully to what I said, he would have appreciated that I prefaced my remark by saying that there was not unanimity. With respect, I am citing views expressed by members of the organisation who disagree with their national union.
Lest it be thought that the branch whose views I have quoted—the Croydon
and Mitcham association—is a maverick branch, I can go on to quote the views of Mr. Ted Greenslade, president of the Doncaster and District Licensed Victuallers Association:
If we are going to be open all day, it is going to treble the price of beer.
That is a statement well capable of curdling the blood, if not the beer, of any true Englishman. The prospect of his beer trebling in price—instant inflation, as it were—is truly daunting.
My hon. Friend is as forceful as he always is—we are becoming accustomed to it—but he must concern himself with the actual content of the Bill. It is not proposed that a public house should open for longer than nine and a half hours, and to suggest, as he does—or as the Croydon and Mitcham Licensed Victuallers Association does—that public houses will open from 10 am till midnight goes far in excess of the nine and a half hours, as does the Doncaster suggestion about opening all day. It is quite wrong. My hon. Friend must direct his mind to the facts of the Bill as it stands.
With respect, I have not said that public house opening hours would be increased. Neither am I implying or suggesting that the Croydon and Mitcham association said anything of the sort. All I am doing is quoting the forecasts made by members of the trade who, one would think, know a good deal about it. If someone in the trade forecasts that beer will treble in price, even if one regards that as a gross overstatement at least it holds out the prospect of the £1 pint coming along—and I wonder how many of our countrymen will relish the promise of the £1 pint.
The other main trade association—the National Association of Licensed House Managers—is unequivocally opposed to the Bill. It dislikes the proposal to allow pubs to remain open until 11.30 pm on weekdays and the idea of children under 14 being on licensed premises—and not necessarily in family rooms. Clause 4 refers to any "bar" on the premises, and not to a family room. Some hon. Members might give the Bill a more sympathetic hearing were that definition to be tightened up. Some may feel that a family room would be a major step forward.
As the Bill stands, a landlord will be able to designate any part of his pub—the bar, for example—as a place to which children may be admitted. Anyone who believes that that would be conducive to the traditional atmosphere of the British pub is gravely mistaken. The impact of the bar on children must be to their complete disadvantage, but this Bill also provides facility for children to be admitted in the company of "an adult"—not necessarily one of their parents. Older Members will recall as I do the days of the "A" certificate cinema, when children would hover outside asking adults to take them in. Does anyone doubt that the same will happen outside pubs if the Bill becomes law?
Once a child is taken into a pub, he will not continue to be the responsibility of the adult who accompanied him. The temptations and the circumstances of some public houses could well have the most adverse effects on children. The public in general and children in particular will not benefit at all from the Bill as it stands.
The NALHM believes that extra staff would have to be engaged to work the additional hours but that the additional trade would not necessarily justify taking them on. The additional overhead must go on the price of drinks. Thus, my fear that the price will increase is an entirely reasonable one.
The trade believes that there would be a direct encouragement to under-age drinking, with all its consequent evils. Children admitted to pubs would almost certainly seize the opportunity to follow the example of their elders in the bar and consume alcohol.
If one pub changes its hours, others in the area, whether they like it or not, will have to follow suit. The level of public activity must rise to that of the pub that keeps the most unsocial hours. If not—
I was disappointed to miss the start of the debate, but I speak with 30 years' experience as a licensee—a period that has seen useful changes. Does not my hon. Friend agree that if the Bill goes to Committee one can expect a number of adjustments but that it is a hocus-pocus Victorian view to say that every pub shall be governed by exactly the same rules and regulations, whether or not they suit a particular town? The requirements of a market town are totally different from those of the beautiful and magnificent spa town of Cheltenham. There, absurdly enough, in the summer, thousands of tourists who have contributed to our largest business—the tourist industry—want to sit down in the park with a lager only to find at 3 o'clock in the afternoon that it cannot be done.
I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not rise very often, and I shall resume my seat as soon as possible.
Will not my hon. Friend concede the minor point that a variation of regulations could be reasonably accepted and would be a matter for the Committee to consider, in the same way as the creation of family rooms? I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), but we are totally out of date and are burying our heads in the sand on a vital issue.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his brief intervention—he took us from larks in the parks to the opening hours of pubs—but one must judge the Bill as it is and not as it might be. It is not for me or for my hon. Friend to anticipate what would happen to the Bill if it went into Committee. I hope, therefore, that he will forgive me if I judge it strictly as it is.
As for the question of flexible hours, I believe that the brewing industry is well marshalled and disciplined. I lack my hon. Friend's knowledge, but I believe that there would be considerable arm-twisting on this matter.
Some amendments to licensing legislation are genuinely long overdue. There are some that the trade itself wants—for example, to allow the exclusion of members of the public found guilty of assaults on licensees. We should concentrate our minds more on this—
The House should look carefully at the purpose of the Bill. Nominally, it seeks to extend the permitted hours of drinking to an extra one and a half hours in the day from 10 am to 11.30 pm. Of course, it will not do for the sponsor to argue that individual pubs will stay open for only nine and a half hours, because, as has been said, by the time one pub has opened at 10 and another at 11.30 next door or in the next street, the lawful hours for drinking will have been extended.
The second supposed purpose of the Bill relates to permitting children under 14 in bars. I shall come to that a little later.
But the true purpose of the Bill is to increase the consumption of alcohol and thereby the profits of the brewers and the breweries, which are an enormously powerful, wealthy and far too influential force in this country—and, I am sad to say, in the politics of the Tory Party.
Yes, it is a shame—a great shame. My authority for saying that is the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), the promoter of the Bill. I think that he was somewhat—
Very influential, yes, and somewhat incautious. He was somewhat incautious in giving a lengthy interview in the November 1979 issue of a rather peculiar journal entitled What's Brewing. I do not know a great deal about this journal. In fact, I do not think that I have ever seen it before, although I was very kindly presented with a free copy this week with a view, no doubt, to influencing me to vote for the Bill.
The importance of, and my interest in, this article is what the hon. Member for Nantwich is quoted as having said. In relation to his uncertainty about the views of the licensed victuallers' associations, he said:
I have spoken to a lot of publicans and local Licensed Victuallers Associations, and most of the worries are a result of misunderstandings.
He went on to say:
What I've said to them is that their increased costs should be covered by increased turnover as a result of the different opening hours. Obviously if the increased trade doesn't cover the extra costs there is no point in changing their opening hours.
The only logical conclusion to be drawn from that is that the object of longer opening hours is increased trade, and increased trade is just a nice way of saying increased alcohol consumption and increased sales of liquor—in other words, more booze. That is the underlying purpose of the Bill, and I can hardly have a better authority for saying that than the hon. Member for Nantwich.
That means that the House must consider the consequences of an increased consumption of alcohol on individuals, their families and children, and society, as well as the impact on other bodies such as the police, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) referred in his speech. It is a staggering omission on the part of the Government not to have acquired the considered opinion of the police on the Bill.
I understand that to some extent the Bill, like an earlier Bill, is derived from the report and recommendations of the Erroll committee. I think that the House is entitled to consider and ponder over why it is that Governments have been so cagey and cautious about doing anything about that report. I know that one Bill was put forward by private enterprise about a year ago that was, happily, talked out by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), assisted to a modest degree by myself. But basically it was the Erroll report that set in motion the general argument about licensing hours and related matters.
It is significant that, in the seven years since that report, successive Conservative and Labour Governments have not sought to introduce legislation to implement its findings and recommendations. That report was, I believe, a substantial document produced after a thorough study of this subject. In that connection it is pertinent to quote the views of Mr. David Lane, then a Conservative Minister, speaking from the Government Front Bench in a debate on 19 October 1973. Among the various things Mr. Lane said was the following:
that is, other proposals—
we know, are much more controversial, particularly the proposals for lowering the minimum age and for making opening hours more flexible. These proposals try to take account of the changes in our social life and of the wider horizons which people have from travelling abroad. But they have aroused deep feelings, particularly in people who fear that they would lead to more drunkenness and, what is worse, more alcoholism, and one must take full account of those feelings…It is against the background of this growing concern about alcoholism that the Erroll recommendations must be considered."—[Official Report, 19 October 1972; Vol. 861, c. 615–24.]
That was a very fair statement. It is as valid now as it was then, and it is a statement that the House should carefully bear in mind before coming to any conclusion on the Bill.
Alcohol is an extremely dangerous drug; there is no getting away from that. It affects the physiology of the individual and, if taken in large quantities, is extremely damaging and impairs an individual's capacity to walk, let alone speak or handle a machine as complex as a motor car. Alcohol is dangerous not only because of its impact on individuals but because of its possible consequences on that person's general health, employment and family.
We do not have to go into stories from Victorian times about the evils of drink or stories from the First World War, and so on. There is abundant evidence and much statistical information available today, which I shall quote in a moment.
The consumption of alcohol is a major social curse. If the House is to devote the time to considering the problems of drink, it should consider them in the context not of a more permissive, laissez-faire regime but of restricting control and tightening the laws that already exist. There is significance in the fact that the Independent Broadcasting Authority has already imposed some restriction on television advertising of alcohol, and there is a good case for imposing more restriction. However, we are concerned with licensing hours and the effect on young children and I shall concentrate on that.
Many more people and responsible bodies are becoming worried in this country and elsewhere—international bodies—about the effect of drinking on individuals and on society as a whole. It is no use the House purporting to legislate on this subject without studying with very great care the possible impact of that legislation on the general social and personal problems related to the consumption of alcohol.
Let us take, for example, the question of drinking and driving. It has already been pointed out that the more flexible hours could result in greater drinking just before people are setting out on the home journey at the rush hour period. Of course, the Bill also creates the possibility that people will be drinking later at night, leaving the pubs later and, therefore, extending the period at which hazards occur from drinking and driving.
The scale of this problem is quite frightening. In 1969 there were 21,000 convictions for people having excess alcohol in their blood and being in charge of a car. By 1974, this number had shot up to 51,000—in a period of only five years. These are convictions—not the numbers of people who were actually driving with excess levels of alcohol in the blood. These were people actually caught and who subsequently did not manage to wriggle out of the matter with elaborate defences. Incidentally, these figurees relate only to England and Wales, and do not include the Scottish figures.
By 1977 there had been a fall from the 1974 peak, possibly owing to the introduction of the breathalyser test, but even then the figure was 40,000 convictions in England and Wales—that is, almost double the 1969 figure, over as short a period as eight years.
I think that it was partly because of the frightening incidence of accidents in which drink had been a factor that the Department of the Environment set up a departmental committee under Mr. Blennerhassett in July 1974 to make a detailed examination of this problem. I find it rather sad—perhaps it is partly my fault; I must accept some responsibility—that, so far as I know, no Private Member's Bill has been introduced to implement the findings of Blennerhassett, although we have had two attempts—this Bill is the second—to implement the findings of the Erroll committee. Certainly it is regrettable that no Government have yet taken the time to seek to embody in legislation the recommendations of Blennerhassett.
It is important to quote part of the findings of that report. I quote from paragraph 2.6, which talks of investigations conducted by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory:
In the TRRL investigations of 2,000 accidents, a drinking driver was involved in 25 per cent. and his condition was a major factor in 9 per cent. Another indication of the magnitude of this cause of accidents was the 11 per cent. reduction in casualties which followed the Road Safety Act 1967. The effect of alcohol on road safety is thrown into sharp relief by the coroners' returns of alcohol levels in drivers who die in accidents in England and Wales. By 1974, over one in three—about 900—drivers had BACs over 80 mg/100 ml when they were killed, and one in ten—about 250—were over 200 mg/100 ml. The vast majority of deaths occur in the hours between 10 pm and 4 am, when the proportion over the legal limit rises to 58 per cent. on Monday to Friday, and to 71 per cent. on Saturday nights. Thus the relatively small number who drive while intoxicated are a very large factor in road casualties.
The report went on to say, in paragraph 2·9:
road accidents cause half of all male deaths between the ages of 15 and 24 and the largest factor in these casualties is alcohol.
In the light of that, any Bill which sets out to increase the consumption of alcohol must be suspect and should not be given a fair wind in this House.
There has been some argument that the liberalisation—as it is called; I would not regard it as liberalisation in the best sense of the word; a greater permissiveness and freedom in matters of licensing laws—would improve the matter in so far as abuse of alcohol is concerned. Those purporting to argue this way have cited the experience in Scotland in support of their arguments. But the facts are against them. One of the Ministers in the Scottish Office has said, as recently as 24 July this year, in relation to Scotland, that the figures record a rise of just under 2,000 in the number of convictions for drunken driving offences, from 9,166 to 11,083, and show an increase in drink-related offences of 10·4 per cent. after three years in which the number fell. In other words, we have the rather dismal economic effect of the J curve—that there may be some improvement for a while, but then the mischief continues even worse.
A letter which I have received from the United Kingdom Alliance says:
The Chief Constable's Report, of the Strathclyde Police, for 1978 shows a 22 per cent. rise for driving while under the influence, from 4,627 cases in 1977 to 5,647 in 1978. The number of persons reported for being drunk and incapable rose from 10,038 in 1977 to 10,638 in 1978—an increase of 6 per cent.
On those figures, which are, after all, given by the Government, through the Scottish Office, and by the chief police officer of the most populous area in Scotland, there is no support for the argument that greater permissiveness, greater extension of licensing hours, assists in the problems associated with the consumption of alcohol.
It is also probably pertinent to mention to a Government who are now passionately addicted to reducing public expenditure at all costs and in all directions that Blennerhassett also discovered, plainly, that the social cost of accidents caused through drinking and driving was about £100 million a year. That was in 1974. Heaven knows what the figure is now, but it must be at least treble that. Then there are all the other problems of law enforcement, crime and so on which are exacerbated by excessive drinking.
Concerning drunkenness, there can be no doubt, on the figures available to us, that a general increase in the consumption of alcohol produces an increase in drunkenness. Of course, the brewery trade always produces the argument that the rise in the consumption of liquor is accounted for by a lot of nice pleasant people just drinking a little more, a bit more frequently, a bit more while on holiday or at Christmas or whatever and that the rise in consumption is no problem at all. I return to what the hon. Member for Nantwich has said, and he has published the view that what he wants is an increase in the consumption of alcohol. It is in writing in his statement.
With respect, the hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what I said. What I said was that, if there are increased costs, they should be met by increased turnover. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, public houses sell other things as well as alcohol. One of the points that I made earlier was about the increase in the meal potential at teatime, and so on, which would increase turnover. I did not specifically say—and I do not specifically accept—that an increase in sales of alcohol would result. The statistics in Scotland show that indeed it does not.
I do not know how the hon. Gentleman thinks he will avoid an increase in costs by expecting people to work later at night, with all the difficulties that will arise, with having taxis home and that sort of thing, and obviously having to offer higher wages to people, either full-time or part-time staff, to induce them to work these hours. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that will not result in increased costs, he is not living in the real world.
An important point has just been raised. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) aware that in the last 25 years—I quote from the report of the special committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists—alcohol consumption per head of the adult population increased by 87 per cent.? In the same period, the incidence of alcohol-related disability also rose by leaps and bounds. My hon. Friend must do his homework.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. His considerable study of these matters must mean that the House should listen to him with great care. As I pointed out, increased consumption of alcohol results in increased drunkenness. In 1969, those who caused enough trouble to fall foul of the police—not drunkenness as such, but convictions alone—numbered 80,000. Nine years later that figure had risen to 106,000—a 33 per cent. increase in less than a decade. That is paralleled by the increased consumption of alcohol. In the two years from 1975 to 1977. there was an increase of 17,000 in the number of persons under 21 convicted for drunkenness. Prosecutions for drunkenness of young people reach a peak at the age of 18.
What is most disturbing is the increase of alcohol trouble among women. I am surprised and slightly disturbed that no lady Member—with the delightful exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor)—has put in an appearance in the Chamber during the debate. The Bill relates to the welfare of children and I should have thought that we might have had a contribution from at least one of our charming lady hon. Members. I am sorry that, no doubt for good reasons—constituency commitments—they have not been able to contribute.
There has been nothing out of order in the hon. Member's speech. However, about eight other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and the hon. Member has been about 25 minutes already.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall press on with the other aspects of my argument.
There has been a serious increase in alcohol problems among women. We are aware of the increase of violence in the family and that it is not unassociated with alcohol consumption. The House has had its attention drawn to the problems of football hooliganism. Again, that is related to the consumption of alcohol.
Alcoholism itself is, of course, a grave problem. That subject has been touched on by one or two other speakers in the debate. According to figures given in answer to a parliamentary question on 31 October, the number of persons known to be suffering from the terrible disease was 490,000 in 1957, 540,000 in 1967, and 740,000 in 1977. That is an appalling rise, causing grave consequences of alcohol abuse. In themselves, those figures should persuade the House to go extremely cautiously and to refuse to indulge in any Act which would extend the availability of alcohol to the public at large.
The recent report "Community Services for Alcoholics" produced, among others, by a former hon. Member, Helene Hayman, shows that the current rate of increase in alcohol problems among women is higher than that among men. The only reasonable argument for the Bill would be that somehow it is not possible for people to consume as much alcohol as they would like and that the licensing laws are so tyrannous and draconian that they place an obstacle in front of those who wish to drink as often as and as much as possible.
On 30 June 1977, in England and Wales, the number of on-licences issued was 85,000. That represents an increase of 12 per cent. over 10 years. The number of clubs was 25,000, an increase of 15 per cent., and the number of off-licences was 33,000 which is an increase of 26 per cent. over that same 10-year period up to 1977. That represents a total of 143,000 places where it is perfectly lawful and open for anybody to purchase liquor.
The availability of liquor is reflected in the figures of consumption. Again, to my mind, they are startling and frightening. In milion barrels, the consumption of beer between the years 1969 and 1976 rose from 33 million to 40 million. The figure for consumption of spirits is even more frightening. It rose from 18 million proof gallons to 31 million proof gallons. The consumption of wine rose from 42 million gallons to 77 million gallons. That rate of increase is continuous.
It can hardly be argued that there is a shortage of opportunity for people to drink. We cannot escape the fact that there is a grisly, ugly correlation between the rise in the consumption of alcohol over the past decade, drunken driving and the ultimate evil consequence of alcoholism itself. I have the pleasure of serving on a Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. The Committee has devoted many months to the study of preventive medicine. In the course of that study, time was—quite rightly—devoted to the problem of alcoholism. One
of the conclusions reached by the Sub-Committee was endorsed by the entire Expenditure Committee on page 44 of its report:
We believe extreme caution should be exercised in respect of any variation of the licensing laws; we do not believe it would be easy to return to stricter laws if a relaxation proved to be a mistake.
I believe that relaxation would be a mistake.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the effect on workers in the industry if the Bill goes through. In 1976 the TUC flatly opposed an attempt to lengthen the working week of workers in the industry. The suggestions have also been opposed by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which pointed out that the staff involved in the trade already have to work unsocial hours and, therefore, face domestic problems. The Bill could exacerbate those problems.
I do not think that we can dismiss casually, as some hon. Members have done, the views of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. Just because those views are unfavourable to the Bill, they cannot be set aside. The association has pointed out that many of its members already have to work 70 hours a week, have to start early in the morning because of deliveries of liquor and, of course, have to work late at night because of present opening hours. The association has also made a good many forceful and cogent comments about the problems of children in bars. Its members already have to cope with problems of after-hours drinking, under-age drinking and violence in pubs, which is getting worse. Unfortunately, violence to licensees is getting worse, apart from violence between customers. They are horrified at the prospect of having to deal with the control of small children in bars in addition to these other problems.
One of the curiosities at present is that the Erroll committee was against having children under the age of 14 in bars. The committee said explicitly in its report:
It should continue to be an offence to allow persons under 14 years of age in a bar during permitted hours.
The hon. Member for Nantwich tried to shift, wriggle and twist on this issue and pretended that he did not really want children in bars or that he merely wanted it to be possible for a child to pop into
a country pub with his father, and so on. We always hear that kind of drivel when a proposal of this sort is made. However, the Erroll report was clear on this matter. The committee did not want children under the age of 14 to be in a bar and said that it should be an offence to permit it. I remind the House that this Bill derives largely from the Erroll proposals.
One of the dangers of allowing children into bars is that more women and more families would be allowed in. One of the extraordinary features of the Bill is that it does not impose any limit on the age of a child who might be legally allowed into a bar. The hon. Member for Nantwich made merry with the comments of the National Association of Licensed House Managers about babies in bars. But what the association says is right. The Bill provides no limitation. It says simply that "a person" under 14 years of age may legally be in a bar. That can cover a toddler, a babe in arms, a little child of 11 or 12. Any person under the age of 14 could be present in a bar during the so-called permitted hours if this Bill were passed into law, which I am confident it will not be.
The so-called safeguard introduced is that a child must be accompanied by an adult. There is no suggestion that he must be accompanied by a parent, although that would be easy enough to get round, anyway, or a responsible person of some kind. It would be perfectly lawful if this Bill were enacted for anyone—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can help the House. The House has been transfixed for the past 35 minutes listening to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) make a brilliant speech. But I wonder whether you could possibly appeal to him to conclude his remarks, because I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This debate has become a farce. I am not being critical of the Chair. I am critical of the length of speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am not yet even critical of the content, because I have not had a chance to criticise the content. However, I think that the occupants of the Chair today should have given more emphasis to the feelings of hon. Members, bearing in mind the time allotted to the debate.
The House will understand that the Chair has no power to control the length of hon. Members' speeches. That is a matter for the good sense of hon. Members. That and their sense of respect for the House should ensure that they do not make overlong speeches.
Hon. Members will appreciate that I have only just come into the Chair. However, I notice that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) has been speaking for about 30 minutes and that there are a large number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion. However, I might point out that the hon. Member for Nantwich was by no means brief in his exposition of his proposals.
This is an extremely important Bill and quite a complex one. It could have very serious social consequences for my constituents, and therefore I believe it right for those possible consequences to be explored and spelt out. It is also right that the statistics showing the damaging effects of alcohol on individuals and on our society should be explained fully to the House so that they are on record, thereby enabling the public at large as well as this House to judge what would be the real consequences if the House were to pass this Bill.
I wish to make a final brief comment on drinking among teenagers and young people. This is a very serious matter and one which concerns me greatly. I shall not quote from various journals over the last few years which have drawn attention to it. I say merely that in 1973 there was a substantial article in New Society on teenage drinking. In 1975, The Times published an article entitled "Drunkenness among children: a serious aspect of growing alcoholism in Scotland". In 1978 the Western Mail produced an article entitled "Drinking will damage your children". There are many more articles of this kind from many other quarters, but the three to which I refer are taken from newspapers in London, Scotland and the West of England and they deal with the very serious problems of teenage drinking which are arising already and which are not receiving sufficient attention.
In the light of all this evidence, I regard it as the height of irresponsibility to pass any measure in this House which enlarges in any way the legal possibility of children under the age now permitted being able to frequent places where drink is sold and consumed.
This is the most evil aspect of the Bill. There are grave dangers about the problems of the licensing hours which I have tried to spell out. But to my mind this proposal is wholly socially indefensible. If that were the only objection to the Bill, I should urge the House to throw it out.
Order. Before I call another hon. Member, I remind the House that I have just come into the Chair and that I notice that there are nine other hon. Members seeking to speak in the debate. Therefore, may I appeal for short speeches in order that most of them may be called before the debate concludes at 4 o'clock?
I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on his good fortune in the ballot and on producing a Bill that gives the House an opportunity to discuss more flexible licensing hours. Although his proposal may be controversial, at least it gives us an opportunity to debate this important subject.
I intend to devote my remarks to the very serious problem of alcohol abuse, about which we have heard so much in the debate. It is important that Parliament should take a new look at problem and find new solutions to deal with it.
In my view, alcohol abuse cannot be dealt with by restricting licensing hours or by restricting the number of licensed premises. That approach is ineffective in a modern society. People will continue to drink alcohol whether or not they do it in public houses. Consequently, I believe that there is a need for a programme to promote education about alcohol abuse and research into its extent and its causes.
I therefore wish to consider, in the context of the Bill, the helpful proposals of the licensed trade for setting up a foundation for education and research into alcohol abuse. If the establishment of such a foundation received the support of the Government, it would be the recipient of more than £2 million that is currently lying idle in "compensation funds".
Compensation funds were established following the legislation in 1904 that restricted the number of licensed outlets. Pub owners and licensees contributed to the fund by way of levy, and the funds were used to compensate those whose licences were not renewed. About £4 million is currently believed to be dormant in compensation funds around the country. When we are all looking for ways of finding money for worthwhile causes, the House will be startled to hear that so much money is lying unused.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I am concerned about that point. I declare an interest as a member of the executive committee of the alcohol education centre and as a lecturer on alcoholism at that centre. That organisation is likely to suffer because of the foundation that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. It is being set up by the trade. If progress is to be made, the money should be given to the alcohol education centre, which is already in trouble with funds.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but if he will be kind enough to listen to my remarks he will discover that my proposals will not damage the worthwhile cause with which he is associated.
Following discussions, which have gone on for several years, between the licensed trade and the Home Office, proposals for putting those funds to use have been made. That is why I am raising the issue again. It is important that the House is aware of those proposals as they could do much to reduce alcohol abuse.
It is interesting to consider the history of the compensation funds. To do that we must go back to the Beerhouses Act 1830, the Refreshment Houses Act 1860 and the Revenue (No. 1) Act 1861, which permitted the sale of beer, wine and off-sale of bottled spirits, without a justices' licence. The result of that legislation was, not surprisingly, a considerable increase in the number of licensed outlets.
Although the Licensing Act 1869 once again brought all retail outlets for intoxicating liquor under the control of the justices, discretion to renew licences for such premises was restricted to certain specific matters. By the beginning of this century, the levels of alcohol consumption and abuse were such that a drastic reduction of unlicensed premises was considered socially desirable. Conditions in 1904 were, of course, quite different from those that obtain today. The whole social fabric of the country was different. The social deprivation that existed at that time does not exist today.
The 1904 Act set up those compensation funds to offset the severe financial hardship that could result for those who lost their licences. It was a mutual insurance scheme. The provisions of the 1904 Act were perpetuated in successive licensing legislation. In 1905, the year after the compensation scheme had been introduced, there were 99,478 on-licensed premises in England and Wales. By 1940 that figure was reduced to 73,365. There is no doubt that the compensation arrangements contributed to that reduction.
Since the Second World War, there has been a continued reduction in the number of public houses, but at a much slower rate. There has also been a considerable reduction in the activities of the compensation authorities. Many of them have been dormant for some years. Currently, on average, over half of them neither impose a charge nor consider any licences in any one year. The unspent balances now exceed £4 million.
It is generally agreed by the trade and by others that the compensation funds should be wound up. Such action was proposed by the Erroll committee. The question would then arise as to what should happen to those funds. I am glad that the Minister of State, Home Office is present, because I hope that he will consider carefully what should happen to those funds. The licensed trade has put forward a scheme that is sensible and answers today's social need. In August of this year, it suggested that 25 per cent. of outstanding balances should be refunded to those who have borne the principal burden of the levy in the past. Of the remaining 75 per cent., two-thirds, or half the total value, should be allocated to the proposed new foundation to finance education about the dangers, research into the incidence, causes and possible remedies of alcohol abuse.
It is also suggested that a quarter of the total value of those funds should be allocated to a separate fund for grants to licensed trade charities. The House knows that those charities do a very good job. The idea of a new foundation is an imaginative response to today's needs. It could be an important instrument in tackling alcohol abuse. I remind the House of the Erroll committee's conclusion:
Changes in liquor licensing laws would not affect some of the deeper causes of social drunkenness.
Surely, if Parliament is concerned about the problems that arise as a result of drink, greater education concerning the effects of drinking is the answer.
The advisory committee on alcoholism report on prevention by the Department of Health and Social Security and the Welsh Office stated in 1977:
Health education designed to alert people to the dangers of alcohol and to discourage excessive drinking should be encouraged and expanded.
I support that sentiment, and that is why this foundation could be so important as it would deal with the problem in a new way.
The report on public health aspects of alcohol and drug dependence that arose from the World Health Organisation conference at Dubrovnik in August 1978 stated:
Health education on drugs and alcohol should form part of a continuous educational programme helping towards self-realisation, developing their coping and adaptive mechanisms and decision making, thus helping them to make healthy choices.
That is important because people should be able to make their own healthy choices. Young people should receive education about the problems of alcohol abuse. They would then be more able to cope with those real problems that arise in adult life. Those are the problems that rightly cause hon. Members considerable concern.
It has been said that the per capita consumption of alcohol in Britain is at its highest since 1914. That statement is broadly correct, but it does not automatically follow that there has been a dangerous increase in the number of those drinking excessively. Per capita consumption is a fairly crude indication of drinking patterns, as there is no doubt that the drinking population has increased in recent years. A recent analysis of a commercial market survey, which used a sample of 25,000 people, shows that the per capita increase from 1974 to 1978 was about 8·4 per cent. That is a familiar figure in this House in another context. The increase per drinker was only 5·2 per cent. Those are useful figures to consider in the debate. In 1975, men drinking daily—which could include the most excessive as well as many moderate drinkers—comprised about 15·2 per cent. of the drinking population. In 1979, the percentage had declined to 14·5 per cent.
It is also claimed that the changes in the hours that are proposed in the Bill would lead to increased consumption, but I understand that the Bill does not propose that pubs should remain open for substantially longer periods. The Erroll committee rejected the argument that the licensing law was a precise instrument for manipulating consumption rates.
As the House knows, it is only a short time since important changes took place in the Scottish licensing laws. Before they were introduced, all sorts of dire consequences were foreseen, and I admit that I watched carefully and wondered what would happen in Scotland. Although the report concerning changes in Scottish drinking habits and behaviour following the extension of permitted evening opening hours has not yet officially been published, I understand that it can be referred to.
The survey reveals that despite the extra permitted hours there was no change in the average consumption per drinker; that there is evidence of a small decline in the rate of alcohol consumption per person per hour; that, despite price increases, till takings per hour were consequently lower after the law for corresponding time periods; that there was a significant reduction in the acceleration of drinking towards the end of the evening—a point of great concern to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley)—and that there was no evidence of increased numbers of drink-related offences as a result of the extra hour's drinking.
I anticipate that the survey results are likely to show that the extension of opening hours has not produced adverse effects on drinking habits and public behaviour but that it has possibly been beneficial in certain respects. In this connection, I instance particularly the significant reduction in drinking towards the end of the evening, which is so important when we think of the need to improve road safety.
The hon. Gentleman ought not to read too much into the fact that drinking has been reduced towards closing time. My experience, from a not very detailed personal survey, leads me to conclude that the reason why drinking is not accelerated towards closing time is that many drinkers are not capable of lifting a glass by then.
I value the hon. Gentleman's intimate understanding of the problems, but I have merely quoted one of the conclusions of the unpublished report.
It is useless to deny that there has been a considerable change in people's leisure habits. The Erroll committee found that
there is an increasing demand for better service, more varied refreshment and a greater range of leisure facilities in licensed premises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich made that point when introducing the Bill.
The Erroll committee also recommended that
Changes in leisure habits and consumer trade justify a system which allows personal licensees greater flexibility to open or close than at present.
That is what we are talking about. In most of the Bill, excluding clause 4, we are talking about increased flexibility. That recommendation would be implemented if the Bill became law.
In my opinion there is a strong case for greater flexibility of hours in order to prevent some of the present problems. The dangers of drinking being concentrated into set periods of time and of large numbers of people having to leave premises where they have been drinking at exactly the same moment must be obvious. With greater flexibility in the licensing laws, there would be no pressure to cram the maximum amount of drinking into the shortest possible period.
The Scottish experience in extended hours is believed by those who have made a careful study of it—including, no doubt, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—to show that there was a significant reduction in acceleration in drinking towards the end of the evening. I cannot say whether that is for the reason to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am aware that you do not have it within your power to stop any speech, but mathematics show that if you were right and there are another nine hon. Members wishing to speak—I am not one, because I have withdrawn so that others may speak—16-minute speeches will make it impossible for you to call another eight, or even seven, hon. Members.
The length of an hon. Member's speech is not a matter for the Chair. I have already made one appeal for brevity. It would be fair for speeches to be shorter, so that more hon. Members may have the chance to take part in the debate.
I am about to conclude my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In his report for this year, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland said:
There is no lessening in the concern over the increasing consumption of alcohol with its related problems and more attention must be paid to the national and local health
education programmes which highlight the dangers and possible consequences of excessive drinking.
Those remarks support my case that the Home Office should give urgent consideration to winding up the compensation funds and releasing the £4 million which is lying dormant because of an Act passed in 1904. That money could be mobilised to deal with the serious problem of alcohol abuse through a programme of education and research.
I hope that it will not be long before the Government take action to mobilise that money for such a worthwhile and important cause.
There are, of course, a number of attractive arguments in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) referred to many of those currently in use. I am sure that we have all been annoyed, when visiting a public house in a small village, especially on a cold day, to find that we could not take our children in with us. I must admit to having sometimes felt that there could be an advantage in making it possible for children to visit certain sorts of licensed premises.
It is also argued that many more people are working flexible hours, that those on shift work are adversely affected by current licensing hours, and that it would be in line with the general drift towards greater freedom if flexible hours of the sort proposed in the Bill became a fact. Public houses might even be more pleasant places—though that argument has not been used in the debate—if they were more family places.
Those are all arguments that we who oppose the Bill must consider carefully. However, as other hon. Members have made clear, if those arguments have any weight they have to be balanced against other most serious considerations.
As we have been asked to make relatively short speeches to enable as many hon. Members as possible to take part in the remainder of the debate, I shall confine myself to one aspect of the Bill. Unquestionably, problems are likely to arise late at night in consequence of a variety of closing times. Indeed, there can be a variety of closing times in different parts of one district.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) mentioned a problem in inner city areas where public houses are in close proximity to private homes. I could quote several similar places in my constituency. Royal Hill has three public houses, with many terraced houses close by. That situation must be repeated in many different parts of the country. Enough annoyance is already caused to local residents by the rows that go on after 11 o'clock, often lasting for half an hour or more. One consequence of the Bill's becoming law would be for that situation to go to midnight or beyond. That problem affects not only inner cities but many areas, particularly where the buildings are old and their layout results in public houses being in close proximity to family homes.
I do not think that the House has studied carefully enough the dangerous consequences that are likely to arise from drunken driving. If public houses are able to operate flexible hours—opening and closing at different times—the Bill could become a pub crawler's charter. It would enable people to move from public house to public house throughout the day and evening, and, if they went by private motor car, that could have appalling consequences for pedestrians and other drivers.
We would like to be able to liberalise public houses. I have no doubt that the majority of the population would be sensible about the use of public houses and alcohol, but, alas, a minority of the population—some of them young people—would not behave in that manner.
The House cannot evade the argument about later afternoon closing times and the dangers of people driving home having had several drinks—possibly being over the limit—when children are coming out of school and people are walking or driving home from work. The House cannot evade the dangers likely to arise from the fact that, in consequence of flexible hours, people may go from one public house to another getting drinks until 11.30 pm.
They already do that, as my hon. Friend said, and they are likely to do it even more in consequence of the Bill.
The police already have considerable difficulties, particularly in urban areas, with the increasing amount of violence that takes place at the end of licensing hours. Any hon. Member who represents an urban constituency, as I do, has only to visit the local general hospital emergency department to see the consequences of violence, much of which derives from drunkenness late on Friday and Saturday evenings. The House must balance dangers of that kind against some of the advantages that have been mentioned in the debate. I ask the House to consider these implications seriously.
The House should also take careful note of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury about the absence of public transport late at night and the greater likelihood of people travelling to public houses by motor car in order to stay until half-past eleven, after the last bus has gone.
Like other hon. Members, I was surprised that the Minister of State was unable to tell us anything about the views of the police. However, I am pleased about his undertaking to consult the police on some of the consequences of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury drew attention to the possibility that, if the Bill were to become law, it would create extra work for the police, particularly late at night, but there are other consequences. I hope that the Home Department will ask the police about the likely consequences in terms of drunken driving and of violence on the streets with which the police would have to cope if the Bill were to become law.
When I first heard that this legislation was coming forward, I thought that we should give it consideration, but the more I have studied the Bill and its likely implications, and the more I have listened to the debates, the more disturbed I have become about its likely consequences. I am one who might be prepared, with proper sanctions, to admit to the possibility of children going into public houses in certain places—particularly a little rural pub—during the lunch hour. I see no case whatever for children going into public houses in the evening.
I cannot see how arguments of the kind that the proposer of the Bill put forward can be allowed to prevail against the severe dangers that are likely to arise if the Bill becomes law.
Bearing in mind the time, I shall make my contribution as brief as possible. I rise as a sponsor of the Bill and I am pleased and privileged to be so. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on his good fortune in being able to present the Bill to the House and on the way in which he moved it.
I must declare an interest, in that Preston is the home of temperance. Temperance started in Preston. Many hon. Members will know that Joseph Livesey, who founded the temperance movement, was born in Preston and was a famous Preston alderman. The gentleman who invented the word "teetotal", Mr. Dicky Turner, is buried in a churchyard just outside my constituency. People from Preston know a good deal about alcoholism, temperance and the problems associated with alcohol.
I have been impressed by the concern about the problem of alcoholism shown by all hon. Members, whether for or against the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made a persuasive and cogent argument which perhaps went some way towards destroying the arguments advanced by the opponents of the Bill who were seeking indirectly—I do not wish to impugn their motives—to suggest that the proponents of the Bill were trying in some way to increase alcoholism. That is not our intention.
One of the reasons why I shall vote against the Bill is that the mover said, as I understood him, that he does not regard this as a measure concerning the abuse of alcohol and its problems and that little thought had been given to it. It is far too serious a matter for the Bill to be passed unless a great deal of thought has been given to alcohol abuse generally. That is the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich, who introduced the Bill, can look after himself, and I am sure he will do so in due course, either here or outside the House. I did not understand him as saying that, and I am sure that other hon. Members did not either.
This legislation is much needed. I believe that our licensing laws are absolutely ridiculous, and most sensible people realise that. Whenever I go to various pubs and talk to sensible people, they tell me how antiquated, out of date and ridiculous are our licensing laws. The Bill goes some small way towards relieving that situation. One has only to go to country areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) said, where tourism is the greatest industry today, to realise that we must bear in mind the effect that our licensing laws have upon tourists. This is permissive legislation in the literal sense of the word. It will allow publicans—
Unlike me, the hon. Gentleman does not believe that pubs are the glory of this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said earlier. In places just outside my constituency, such as the Trough of Bowland and Clitheroe and in the Fylde, there are some superb public houses, taverns and restaurants. If my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) were to seeek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he could talk lovingly about pubs surrounding his constituency which people want to visit. They want to see the old buildings and to experience the ambience that exists in those pubs. At the moment they are restricted to certain times of the day. I find that depressing, as do some of my colleagues. The Bill does not seek to bring about any extension of the total number of hours during which people may drink. The figure is now nine and a half hours, and that is what it will remain. The Bill merely seeks to incorporate flexibility.
We also suggest in the Bill that children should be allowed into bars. The question has been raised as to whether any bar in a public house can be used. I accept that the wording in the Bill may be misconstrued and needs to be ironed out in Committee, but the reasoning behind it is that any bar within a public house may be chosen for use as a family room. It would be up to the publican, in discussion with the justices, if they so decided, to choose which room that should be. I recognise that the existing wording could be misinterpreted.
As a family man with two young children, I realise very clearly the difficulties that face people like me who want to visit relatives or take long journeys. We are unable to stop in the various beautiful parts of the country to take a drink, perhaps, but, more important, to take food as well. This important point has not been emphasised enough. Pubs these days increasingly provide food to a very high standard. One has only to reflect that in years gone by taverns and hostelries on the main roads were places where people stopped to take food and stay the night. That business declined a little, but it is now beginning to come back, and I welcome that.
My wife tells me that there is no way in which we can go for lunch—perhaps during the recess in the summer—at a public house in areas surrounding my constituency because we cannot take the children. There is nowhere for them to go. That is sad, and we want to do something about it.
Hon. Members have referred to the brewers. I take the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who was making comments about the brewers with, in part, some justification. There was also a reference to the brewers from the Labour side. I can do no better than make two brief points. My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich has offered the people concerned—the National Association of Licensed House Managers—to incorporate a clause to make sure that the brewers are unable to bring pressure to bear. They refused that offer. I wonder, therefore, just how genuine that point is.
Let me now quote from the newspaper What's Brewing, the newspaper of CAMRA. CAMRA is a non-party organisation which has been instrumental in trying to break some of the more restrictive practices of the brewers—
That may be so, but it has gained a great deal of respect because of the campaigns it has waged in defence of tenancies, in defence of conditions in pubs and in some ways to try to get action on the quality of beer. It represents a good body of opinion within the country. The leading article on the front page of its newspaper this week states:
A comment has been made about proliferation. The National Association of Licensed House Managers and many others in the trade are waging a war against proliferation of outlets for the purchase of alcohol. I agree that they have a point, but they cannot have it both ways. If they want to cut down the proliferation of additional outlets, they must be prepared to allow greater flexibility in the hours and operations of the pubs of which they are managers. To that extent I do not believe that that argument has a great deal of justification.
A brief mention was made of concern about children being in pubs. I subscribe to the point of view that was touched on by the Minister of State when he discussed the arguments for and against. I take the view that drinking occurs and that it is better that my children and those of my colleagues should be encouraged to participate in drinking in an atmosphere where it can be controlled. It is better that my son and daughter drink with me in my home, local pub or restaurant. I can introduce them to the pleasures—I believe—of drink in a controlled environment. It is better that that should happen than that they should be allowed to go off and drink ad nauseam.
I shall not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I mean no disrespect.
I have always believed strongly throughout my political life, as indeed throughout my drinking life, in the virtues and the benefits of alcohol. Hon. Members will recall that I intervened briefly to talk about my granny and her stout, which she obtained on prescription. That was reasonable at the time. There is some point in that. It was believed to be something that could strengthen her constitution when she was recovering from a bout of illness. It is a known fact that pregnant women, for example, benefit by drinking red wine during pregnancy as it is so good in terms of iron. Wine is good for the digestion. It is good for children's teeth. They should drink wine rather than any of the commercial variants of sugary, fizzy lemonade and other sweet drinks. Whisky is known by members of the medical profession to induce sleep, taken in the right quantity. Many members of the medical profession, when asked for a sleeping draught, much prefer to suggest a small dram of whisky before someone goes to bed than, for example, drugs such as Valium, Librium and Mogadon or various other sleeping draughts, which cause considerable problems. Whisky is a good way of inducing a night's sleep if taken in reasonable quantities. I advance that in all seriousness.
I am coming to my conclusion, bearing in mind that my colleagues wish to participate.
I believe that there is a touch of hypocrisy about the argument that drink is one of the devils of our society. Of course it is, if taken to excess. But so is smoking. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford, (Mr. Garel-Jones), who I expect will participate in the debate, is a heavy smoker, as indeed are many other people in the House. I believe that we must be clear about this. If one is opposed to something that causes harm, one must be consistent. One must either oppose driving, alcohol and smoking or none of them. One cannot have it both ways. Everyone knows that.
I welcome the Bill. It is a simple and necessary reform. It is permissive legislation which will not bring pressure to bear but will allow publicans, in discussion with the justices, flexibility in the times when they open pubs and to have rooms for children, if they require them. This is a necessary Bill. I wish it god-speed, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
I think that the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) made one of the most shocking speeches that I have ever heard in this House in discussions on matters of this kind.
Some time ago I received a letter from the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) telling me that he proposed to introduce a Bill to alter the drinking habits and laws of this country and asking for my support. I did not know at the time whether he was kidding or serious. However, I then realised that there were three hon. Members with the same name as myself. I thought that he must have put his letter in the wrong envelope. Ever since I became a Member of this House, in 1964, I have always opposed any measure to extend drinking habits, and as long as I am in this House I shall continue to do so. I make no apology for that.
I oppose the Bill at a time when the nation is facing a grave and growing alcohol problem. Many national organisations are beginning to face up to this issue. It is a problem that the Trades Union Congress is beginning to face. At a conference for trade unionists and industrialists organised by the National Council on Alcoholism earlier this year, one of the leading members of the TUC, Mr. Buckton, said:
Alcoholism is a massive social problem and the signs are that it is increasing year by year. It is hard to exaggerate the size of the problem and the urgency of the need to tackle it in a fundamental way. The majority of people with serious drinking problems are males in full-time employment, but there is also a serious increase of problem drinking among women, especially those isolated in the home, so you can appreciate the concern of the trade union movement in their desire to help find a solution.
It was in 1976 that what was known as the Kenneth Clarke Bill was introduced. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is now a member of the Government, had supporters from both sides of the House. I am glad that none of the names that appear on the back page of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nantwich are Labour Members. When the Clarke Bill—the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill—was defeated, I was glad that the Trades
Union Congress came to the conclusion that it was
resolved to oppose any future attempts made through Parliament to lengthen the working week of this section of its employees.
If any of my right hon. and hon. Friends support the Bill, they will be moving in the opposite direction to that proclaimed and taken by the Trades Union Congress.
A Bill must be pursued if there is substantial demand for the proposal contained within it. In my view, the hon. Member for Nantwich has failed to tell us where the demand lies and what is wanted. Of course, there is no demand from the licensed trade. Managers' organisations are opposed to it. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was rather unkind to Mr. Shindler, the general secretary of the National Association of Licensed House Managers. He is merely the mouthpiece of his members. As I have said, the employees do not want the Bill, and the tenants are divided.
Much has been said about tourists. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) made a telling remark. We are not legislating for tourists. They visit the United Kingdom every year in increasing numbers.
No. The hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber for about 10 minutes, while I have been here since 11 o'clock.
Tourists visit the United Kingdom year after year in increasing numbers. There is no evidence that they want the Bill. The Bill means longer unsocial hours for those who come within its ambit. The case has not been made out for longer hours in the licensed trade.
If the Bill becomes law, it will create many difficulties for the licensed trade. We shall find manager and pub against manager and pub.
The most shocking aspect of the Bill is that it would allow children into any bar in a public house. I say, here and now, that I would not want to encourage this measure to allow even my own granddaughter, who is 9 years of age, to be able to be taken into a bar at any hour of the day. I am opposed to the Bill hook, line and sinker.
The Erroll committee recognised that there was a deal of support for a totally different concept of a place in which the whole family could sit down together. The OPCS felt that this represented a desire not to change the public house but to establish a totally different institution alongside the public house. The Bill goes well beyond the recommendations of the Erroll committee. There is no public demand that children should be allowed to be taken into bars.
The Erroll committee recognised that there were premises to which it would be wrong to bring children. These included premises of substandard hygiene and accommodation and premises notorious for disorder and drunkenness, where clients would not wish children to be present in the bars. The Erroll committtee recognised the strength of public feelings. Its report said:
We had it put to us on more than one occasion during our visits outside London that part of the attraction of regular pub-going for some adults is getting away from the children.
It is interesting to note the comments of The Lancet on the Errol committee's recommendation regarding café-pubs or special accommodation, never mind free access to any bar in a public house as suggested in the Bill. The Lancet said:
It is not only a number of the individual proposals which are ill-conceived but it is also the general tone, the ethics, which seem inappropriate to the problem. There are certainly bows in the medical direction and the report has included a chapter on alcoholism; but in the light of much else in its pages the bowing has the look of pretty empty posturing. One of the advantages the Committee sees for the 'café-pub' would be that it would be easy for parents out on a family drive with their children to go in and have a drink. Such a suggestion seems, in the context of all we know about drinking and driving, to convey an ethic of almost rollicking irresponsibility.
What would The Lancet have said of this Bill? The Bill gives an unrestricted right of access for children to the bars of all licensed premises. Do the sponsors seriously intend that that should happen?
I do not intend to give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman has been popping in and out. I have been here all the time.
The Bill talks about restricting the order to certain seasons, and to certain days of the week, but it does not lay down any restriction on hours. Are we to believe that children are to be allowed in bars at any time during the day up until the closing hour of 11.30 at night? The Bill does not make certain that the accommodation, particularly the toilet accommodation, is suitable. Nor does the Bill make provision for refreshments other than alcoholic beverages, namely, tea, coffee, sandwiches, cakes and biscuits.
The attempt to allow young children to enter public houses during permitted hours must be viewed with the utmost concern. It is a radical departure from the principles of child care and protection well established during the whole of this century. It can only be described as a step that will put the clock back. There is no educational merit in this couse of action. Experience in past centuries shows that it is damaging to the lives of children and gambling with their health and social well-being. It is important for the House to look at the history of legislation with the aim of protecting young children from alcohol abuse, for here we have a Bill which, I believe, takes a huge backward step, which none of us wants.
At one time alcoholic drinks of all kinds were sold to all members of the community regardless of age, and in the writings of those days there are many descriptions of drunkenness even among children. Is that what we want back again? The Metropolitan Police Act 1839 prohibited the sale of spirits in London to any boy or girl under the age of 16 for on-consumption. It was not until 1872 that that prohibition was extended to the whole country.
The present century has witnessed remarkable developments in child welfare. It is significant that coincidentally with the provision of better conditions for children, better education, free meals, medical treatment, school clinics and special care for mothers, the State has progressively sought to shield the child from alcohol and to keep alcohol from the child.
In some of those developments, of course, we are now seeing a reversal. Are we to see it also in the control of alcohol?
In 1902 the Licensing Act made it an offence for any person to be found drunk on any highway or in any other public place while having the charge of children apparently under the age of 7 years. In 1908 Parliament passed the Children Act, and among many beneficial provisions it enacted one to the effect that intoxicating liquor should not be given to any child under 5 years except on medical orders or in emergency cases of sickness, and another excluding any child under 14 from being in the bar of licensed premises. That Act was further reinforced by the Children Act 1933.
In 1923 Parliament adopted a measure, sponsored by Lady Astor and others—the Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under Eighteen) Act—which raised the age of public drinking to 18 years. This measure was brought in at a time of notable sobriety, and the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 confirmed those decisions.
Do the sponsors of the Bill wish by one clean sweep to put the clock back years? Are we so out of date as to believe that a public health model does not apply to alcohol problems? Do we dismiss primary prevention in terms of alcohol because of the inconvenience to some of us?
The sponsors of the Bill appear to be going out of their way to pander to those parents or adults who put themselves before their children. Are we to say that Parliament wishes to encourage those parents who want to keep their young children of 3, 4, 5, 7 or 8 years out until all hours? Is it suggested that Parliament wishes to encourage children of 5, 6, 7 or 8 years to be on licensed premises very late at night, as the Bill would give them the right to be? Do we really want primary school children to be openly exposed to the irresponsibility of some parents who are inconvenienced not by the licensing laws but by having children? Do we wish to provide the means for sixth formers to take their second- or third-form girls into public houses during the lunch hour?
We are already facing a serious increase in the number of under-18s brought before the courts on drunkenness offences. The number of under-age drinking offences has shot up over the past 10 years.
Over the past 100 years Parliament has a history of protecting children and not opening up the way for them to be abused. Children seem to be becoming a political pawn. We cannot say what effect the measures will have but surely we should, in the present climate, have been debating laws to prevent the overexposure of our young people to alcohol. We should certainly not have thrown caution to the wind.
Do we really wish to encourage parents to nip into the local and stay until the late hours with their children in attendance? Do we wish—
I am sorry that I have got under the skin of the hon. Member for Nantwich, the sponsor of the Bill.
The Government's own advisory committee on alcoholism did not dismiss this problem too lightly when it feared that this type of measure would lead to an increase in female alcoholism. That committee stated that
Overall, the proposed change could well lead to an increased consumption, particularly by women.
If parents are to be encouraged to keep their infant children out until the late evening, what time will they get to bed? Do we assume that such young children no longer require 10 to 12 hours sleep?
The measures of the Bill apply not only to the 12 weeks of school holidays but to the remaining 40 weeks. Again, are children not to be protected from irresponsible parents? Although the law cannot prevent parents from committing irresponsible acts, it should not encourage them. One person in 15 in this country experiences the true cost of alcohol. Children are—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) is laughing. I have been in the House too long to be sidetracked, even by the hon. Member for Fulham, whose only comment since dinner has been that of a part-timer.
It is argued that the merit of allowing children into bars is that parental drinking will be cut down. Would it not be more true to claim that the inaccessibility of children to bars may well have prevented some parents drinking to excess?
Commenting on drinking by children, the National Children's Bureau has the following to say:
Drinking would appear to be a more common activity than smoking; as almost half report having had an alcoholic drink in the past week in simple numerical terms the current concern over teenage drinking may seem to be justified.
It should also be noted that the survey carried out by the National Children's Bureau reported that 37 per cent. of the youngsters under the age of 16 were drinking in public houses.
Finally—[Hon. Members: "It is about time."] Finally, an investigation carried out for the medical council on alcoholism by Ann Hawker on 7,500 schoolchildren in England and Wales revealed that 49 per cent. of the boys and 41 per cent. of the girls had experienced a hangover, headache or inability to attend school due to a drinking bout. Several of them had experienced trouble with the police as a direct result of having had too much to drink. Ten per cent. of the girls and 7 per cent. of the boys were afraid to go home. Five per cent. of the girls and 6 per cent. of the boys were aggressive at sports matches, and 4 per cent. of the girls and 10 per cent. of the boys started a fight or an argument with a friend. Seven per cent. of boys felt like smashing things.
Such evidence should not surprise us. If the Bill were passed and children could be taken into public houses by some young adult without their parents' consent, the situation could become worse. The Bill should proceed no further and no hon. Member should be able to support especially the clause affecting children. I hope that the House will reject the measure. The Year of the Child will be a tragedy if we celebrate it by passing this Bill.
In supporting the Bill, I should disclose an interest in that I have a shareholding in a well-known brewery—Arthur Guinness, Son and Co.—whose future might be affected by the Bill.
The opposition to the Bill seems to have been conducted with a surprising lack of proportion. There seems to be some fanciful, typically romantic British idea that all the nation's drinking is done in public houses. There seems to be a total lack of appreciation of where people drink.
There are two main areas of opposition. The first comes from those motivated by self-interest. There is nothing wrong with that, if it is properly disclosed, but one is entitled to be critical when moral objections are used to sustain it. The self-interest argued on behalf of the National Association of Licensed House Managers is that the Bill will make their working day much longer and will confront them with anti-social hours.
We should constantly remind ourselves of the detail of the Bill, on which few hon. Members seem to have refreshed their minds. No extra and therefore antisocial hours will in totality be introduced by the Bill—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. Let me remind him that the suggestion is that there could be half an hour extra in the evening, possibly an hour, but no more.
If the hon. Member considers that it is unsocial to work before 10 o'clock in the morning, I wish him well, but it is not unsocial to work between 10 and 11 am.
That may be so, but no one argues that working between 10 and 11 is unsocial. There will be no more than an hour in the evening of what could be called unsocial hours, yet one would think from the description of the NALHM that it was a dreadful thing. The association is motivated by legitimate self-interest, so one is entitled to scrutinise carefully what it says.
The other limb of the argument against the Bill consists of the moral objections. Anyone who claims that there will be an increase in alcoholic consumption should first consider that there is no proposal for an overall increase in the number of hours that people can go to a public house. All that is proposed is a variation in the hours—different hours at different times of the day.
We all agree that alcoholism is a matter of the gravest concern, but the crucial criticism which must be faced is the question: will the Bill make alcoholism worse? I shall proceed to answer it in this way. I suggest that the case is best examined by asking this sort of question. How many alcoholics—reformed or those who are trying to reform themselves—would say that their problem was exacerbated by the fact that they might drink for an extra half-hour or one hour in the evening, bearing in mind that they could not drink at another time of the day when they might also be able to do so, or by an extra hour's drinking in the morning? How many people who have had a problem of drink would say that that would in any way affect their condition or that it would have been likely to do so in the past?
This is a very important point. I am not totally opposed to many of the things that have been said about the Bill. I am not totally opposed in certain situations to children being in pubs. My objection to the Bill as it is is that far too little thought has been given to its effect on alcohol abuse. I am afraid that the case is not being made by the sponsors of the Bill. The problem is outlined in a report of the Central Policy Review Staff, which I have been trying to get the Prime Minister to publish for some time. It affects the very issue about which the hon. Member is talking. One of the reasons why it will not be published is that it is said to be "too contentious".
Of course, the hon. Member is right. This is not a Bill which is dealing with alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is a serious matter which must be looked at in a totally different way. But still one has to face this retort. If the hours are not increased at any time during the day, and if we have only an extra half-hour or hour at night, how will that increase alcoholism, particularly as alcoholics, reformed or those trying to reform, will say that their problem was not created in public houses or by drinking in public but was created by drinking in private? That is where the problem arises.
My hon. Friend has asked a very important question, namely, whether the Bill is likely to make alcoholism worse. Speaking with the authority of the National Council on Alcoholism I say that the answer is "Marginally, yes", because it is our experience that today's under-age drinkers—that is, those below the age of 18—are tomorrow's alcoholics. In the sense that the Bill brings into any bar in public houses for the first time children under 14, some of whom will seek to ape their elders, the answer is "Marginally, yes."
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he makes the point that I was about to make. I shall come on to children in due course. But if that is my hon. Friend's objection to the Bill, may we take it from him that he has no objections to the hours provisions in the Bill and that he does not feel that those provisions will create difficulties? That is the implication behind his remarks. If he would give that indication, it would be very valuable.
The answer to my hon. Friend is that I am opposed to any tampering with hours. With the absence from the Bill of any common terminal hour or common pattern over the country as a whole, the Bill could enable public houses, by arrangements with the brewers, to be open by rota from 10 o'clock in the morning until 11.30 at night, so an individual drinker would have access to continuous drinking through the whole of the day.
I am glad at any rate that my hon. Friend does not feel that the hours provision is at the root of the matter. I have dealt with the main aspect of that point, but I want to ask this question, on which my hon. Friend will no doubt also be able to dwell. Are we to hear at a future date—not this evening—arguments for reducing the licensing hours for the public houses in the United Kingdom? If not, why not?
If my hon. Friend is talking about the question whether licensing hours have any effect on the incidence of alcoholism, would he care to reflect on the experience of the Australians? When I was in Australia some years ago there was a practice called "the 5 o'clock swill" which existed because at six o'clock the pubs closed. The hour which elapsed between people finishing work and closing time led to more alcohol abuse, to my knowledge, than would have been the case if the hours had been extended over a greater period.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. It illuminates one facet of the debate.
If we are not to see an argument in favour of the reduction of licensing hours, why not? It is interesting that several Members have overlooked the fact that the Bill provides the opportunity for public houses to open at times of the day—the afternoon, in the main—when most people in the country do not want to drink. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South East (Sir B. Braine) is concerned that it will lead to increased consumption of alcohol. I accept his concern, but I do not believe that the argument can be adumbrated as conclusive. I have received a broadsheet from the National Association of Licensed House Managers which states:
It is a fallacy to believe that sales increase with these different hours. Experience shows us that when hours have been lengthened in the past, sales have not increased. Drinkers simply come into pubs later.
I support several of my hon. Friends in saying that it is the case that the Bill provides for extended hours when most people do not wish to drink.
I said that if the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members continue to speak and do not listen to interventions, we shall have less opportunity—in fact, none—to introduce the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill. That Bill is of far greater importance than a Bill aimed at increasing the sale of alcoholic drinks.
I said that if the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members continue to speak and do not listen to interventions, we shall have less opportunity—in fact, none—to introduce the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill. That Bill is of far greater importance than a Bill aimed at increasing the sale of alcoholic drinks.
I shall deal briefly with the aspect of children. A great deal of pious prudery has been expressed on the subject. Most children I know who are under the age of 14 spend much of their lime watching television. It is a false observation to imagine that children will see more alcohol consumption in public houses than on television. It cannot be said that children will be exposed to substantially greater temptations than those that exist already in their lives.
As I mentioned in the earlier part of my speech, what about restaurants and clubs? Children can go freely with their parents into working men's clubs. What about Conservative clubs, pub gardens and all the places where alcohol is freely available to children? Those who support the Bill do not intend that children will be able to enter all public houses, however ribald or uncouth those public houses may be. Magistrates will always have the power of veto if they consider that an establishment is unsuitable for children. I am sure that that power will be exercised as often as it is by magistrates and licensing justices who grant new licences.
Those of us who support the Bill would like to take children to public houses. We know what the provision means. It does not mean that children will be exposed to vice, corruption and temptations of the kind that hon. Members who oppose the Bill have sought so emotively to demonstrate.
I suppose that this is the only time in my career that I have found myself winding up a debate. It is also the only time that I have been the only hon. Member on my side of the House to speak in favour of a Bill sponsored by an hon. Member opposite.
We have had a deplorable debate, in that the temperance movement, the Methodist movement and other affiliated religious movements have been responsible for a well-documented brief prepared with the aid of the dexterity of one person. Who it is I do not know, but I know that in the debate we have had quoted chunks and chunks of reports on the dangers of alcoholism. At the same time, however, we have had no statistics about the relative life spans of teetotallers and those who drink. So far as I am aware, those who do not drink live no longer than those who do, although it may seem longer to some of them.
It is about time that we disposed once and for all of the arguments that have been put forward in this House for about 200 years, long before the days of Lady Astor, about the problems of liquor in the United Kingdom. It is said that there is a great deal of violence associated with the consumption of alcohol. I ask hon. Members to consider the Moslem countries and how violent they are, but there is no drink consumed there. If hon. Members wish to put forward the extreme and ridiculous arguments that they have today, by all means let them. We can all do with a little gaiety and jollity, but let no one take them too seriously.
There is a lot of alarmism about the Bill. However, the reality is that there are extended drinking hours. They exist in market towns and in the licensed houses of any industrial city which apply properly to the local magistrates for a variation of the permitted hours. Anyone who goes to a race meeting knows that he can get a drink there. There is another place not far from where we are sitting where at this very moment people are partaking of drink, and I say "Good luck" to those who are there. They are probably more enlightened than I have been today.
The debate has concentrated largely upon the admission of children to licensed premises. We all have pubs in our constituencies where there are lounges, each with a bar in the corner. Children may be taken into them. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) takes his grandchildren. I have never seen any element of corruption there. On Saturdays and Sundays I see well-dressed children relaxing there with their parents, as they should do. This Bill merely gives an added dimension to a facility of this kind.
We live in a society in which, for good or ill, we have more leisure. One of the purposes of leisure is to sit down and relax, and we are here to make the facilities available.
Let me make it clear that I do not speak for the brewing industry. I have no shares in and no connection with any brewery. In the North-East, the brewing
I already know the views of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) on drink, so I think perhaps I shall simply continue until 4 o'clock.
I wish we would try to remember that there are 56½ million people in the United Kingdom and that they are becoming a little tired of being preached at by the disciples of General Booth. They would prefer to be left alone to live in a reasonable society and pursue their own pleasures.
I conclude by saying that I support the Bill. When the debate began I was extremely pessimistic. I told myself "It's had it. It won't get a Second Reading." However, as the ranks grow in size, I forecast that we may—
|Division No. 116]||AYES||[3.59 pm|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Freud, Clement||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Bell, Ronald||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Garrett, W. E (Wallsend)||Race, Reg|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Hawksley, Warren||Rathbone, Tim|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Best, Keith||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Janner, Hon Greville||Shersby, Michael|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Knox, David||Stevens, Martin|
|Brotherton, Michael||Lawrence, Ivan||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Lee, John||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)|
|Buck, Antony||Leighton, Ronald||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Trippler, David|
|Cohen, Stanley||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Cormack, Patrick||Lyell, Nicholas||Ward, John|
|Crouch, David||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||MacGregor, John||Wheeler, John|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mellor, David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Dubs, Alfred||Moate, Roger||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Eggar, Timothy||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Fell, Anthony||Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Newton, Tony||Mr. Robert Atkins and|
|Forman, Nigel||Parker, John||Viscount Cranborne.|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Tilley, John|
|Dobson, Frank||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|English, Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Field, Frank||Spearing, Nigel||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and|
|Greenway, Harry||Stallard, A. W.||Mr. John Golding.|