Orders of the Day — Licensing (Amendment) Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 11:53 am on 5th July 1985.

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Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside 1:24 pm, 5th July 1985

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third Time.

I should like to pay tribute both to Lord Harmar-Nicholls for bringing forward this measure in the other place and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) who formally moved the Second Reading and assisted the Bill through its Committee stage, which was not too controversial or arduous and lasted about 15 minutes. Because the Bill had slid through the House so quickly, you may be prepared, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to allow us to say a little more about it on Third Reading than would normally be the case.

This is a modest measure, but we must bear in mind the important part that the entertainment industry plays in our nation's economy. The contribution of hotels, restaurants, dance places, café entertainment and many public houses is significant and extremely valuable. In our balance of payments, the invisibles earned by these sectors are second only in total to those earned by banking.

In a limited number of those hotels, restaurants, dance halls cafés and public houses where entertainment and food are provided, it is possible under present legislation to apply to licensing magistrates and, having justified a need, to be granted special hours certificates or extended hours certificates, which result in those establishments being able to continue to sell liquor and part of the general entertainment between 12 midnight and 2 am, instead of finishing at midnight. The certificates extend business for only two hours. The applicants must demonstrate to the magistrates that there is a need. The certificates are available for 310 of the 365 days in the year, which leaves 55 days in which they cannot be obtained. Fifty, two of those days are Sundays, which leaves three days — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. The Bill is concerned only with those three days. It will extend to those days the same privilege that is given to the other 310 days. We have all accepted that privilege. It is practised in Scotland. We are talking about another two hours of business on three days only, or another six hours of drinking a year. That is not very much.

The measure is important because alcohol consumption is such a controversial subject. Any discussion of liquor licensing and permitted hours inevitably returns to the Erroll Committee's report of 1972, Cmnd. 5154. Since then, there have been two attempts to pass a Bill providing more flexible hours — the first was introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the second by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). Both attempted to extend the hours from 11 am to 11 pm, primarily to give flexibility. This is what the licensed trade has been reqesting for so long. The Bills attempted also to allow children under 14 in to pubs, and perhaps it was for that reason as much as any other that they failed.

Nevertheless, the debate about those Bills in the House and outside showed that there is anxiety over increasing alcohol consumption and pressure has been brought on the Government by various bodies, notably the National Union of Licensed Victuallers. I should declare an interest because I act as a parliamentary adviser to that organisation. I should, perhaps, also declare an interest as a licensee, although I am afraid that the Bill, as it stands, will not have much effect on public houses. Representatives of the tourist industry and the breweries have also made representations about making our licensing laws more flexible as has happened in Scotland.

"Drinking Sensibly", published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office in 1981, recorded that there were indications that extended permitted hours and Sunday opening in Scotland had not resulted in any increase in total consumption.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Member should be careful. I do not wish to seem to be too intolerant, but he is aware that on Third Reading we are required to confine our remarks to what is in the Bill and not what might have been, compared with other legislation.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

I stand corrected, but I believe that the Bill should be viewed in the context of the wider licensing laws. That is why I think that you will find, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that everything that I say will have a direct bearing on the measure before us. I shall, however, keep my remarks as brief as possible.

The subject of flexible licensing hours is relevant to the Bill. The key points are, first, that the present licensing law was designed to meet the social and economic conditions prevailing shortly after the first world war. That is a long time ago, and the time has come for some reform.

Secondly, the circumstances are now dramatically different. There are new work patterns, greatly increased social expectations and a vastly increased public demand for up-to-date catering and leisure facilities. Those are, of course, growth industries. We are interested in jobs. Those are labour-intensive industries and should be encouraged.

Thirdly, the ability to provide better services to meet customers' requirements is generally inhibited by the present rigid system of permitted hours. That is another reason why I welcome the Bill. It will give customers further flexibility on at least three days a year.

Fourthly, the retailers most disadvantaged by the present system include over 78,000 small businesses — independently owned and tenanted public houses, restaurants and hotels.

Fifthly, in Scotland the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, which was introduced following the Clayson committee inquiry, introduced a wide measure of flexibility that has resulted in social and economic benefits.

Sixthly, many public houses in Scotland have changed their character since the new law. They now offer much more food, better services and general amenities.

That is an important point to bear in mind because under the Licensing Act 1964 the section that the Bill aims to amend limits the provision to catering outlets, hotels and other such establishments offering food and entertainment. In many cases, our public houses do neither. When passed, the Bill might be an incentive to our public houses to broaden the scope of the services that they offer. Many more now offer food, but to offer food and entertainment generally would not just widen the scope of their own businesses but would be good for the economy generally, and would enable them to benefit from the Bill's provisions.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. He knows that when he talks about a growth area, he is talking about increased sales. He knows that there is also a massive growth area in the problems associated with alcohol abuse. Therefore, can he say a little more about those problems and that growth area, and put it in the context of the growth area of employment, income and so on?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) will not be tempted down that road. I have been very flexible and tolerant so far. We have strayed a long way from what is in the Bill. I hope that we shall get back to it.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

I shall not reply directly to that question. I hope that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will forgive me. Nevertheless, he has raised an important point. It is in the context of alcohol abuse that the debate on more flexible hours is being conducted. That is why the next point that I wish to make is relevant.

Government statistics have suggested that there has been a massive drop in drunkenness offences in Scotland since the new law was introduced, which must be partly as a result of the flexible hours system. A survey was carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and it is worth quoting the summary at the end, which says: The preliminary anaysis … has shown that an increase in alcohol consumption occurred in Scotland between 1976 and 1984, and that the increase was almost entirely contributed by women … Since consumption by men did not rise between 1976 and 1984 it seems unlikely that the increase in women's drinking is a direct consequence of the changes in licensing legislation, but rather that it results from a change in Scotland to a more relaxed attitude towards drinking in general, and in particular towards women's drinking. It is perhaps because of this more relaxed approach to drinking that more women now drink in public houses, and that the extensions to licensing hours brought about by the 1976 Act tend to be seen as having led to more sensible drinking, rather than as offering a temptation for people to drink more. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Keeping within the rules of order, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the research on that project, which I welcome, is not as complete as we should like. Surely one of the principal guides to which the hon. Gentleman should address himself is not charges of drunkenness, which are not a good indicator, but the number of cases of cirrhosis of the liver, which have increased, although only marginally.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

I do not think that I dare answer that question. You were lenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in allowing me to slip in a reply to the hon. Gentleman's previous question.

No doubt, if the Minister is so minded and has a word in the ear of the Home Secretary, we may see a Bill in the House before long during which we can debate in detail the matter that the hon. Member for Hammersmith raised.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

Does my hon. Friend accept that only the most extreme temperance fanatic could argue that the passage of the Bill would lead to an increase in alcohol abuse? We are dealing with only three days out of the whole year.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why none of the temperance fanatics are present today to argue against the Bill. They have read it and seen that it is modest in what it attempts to do. Therefore, they are happy to see it go on to the statute book.

We should like a system of licensing that is on more flexible lines. I look upon the Bill as the first step down that track. A more flexible system would enable premises retailing alcohol to adjust their trading arrangements to meet the needs of local communities. For example, the extensions granted for summer trading might be different from those granted for winter trading. The system should take account of the vastly different work patterns—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. We had better stick to Good Friday, Maundy Thursday and Easter eve.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

The Bill seeks to begin to bring in a more flexible system on Good Fridays, Maunday Thursdays and Easter Saturdays. Our hotel and licensed trades are already renowned for the service that they give. The Bill will allow them to offer a better service on those three days. I am glad that the Government see no need to object to these modest proposals, but I must have a suspicious nature because I wonder whether, rather than regarding the Bill as the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of more flexible licensing hours, the Government hope that if they agree to these proposals they will manage to keep the licensed trade quiet for a few more years. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that the Government regard the Bill as the first step towards a more flexible system. Detailed analysis of the Scottish findings will provide the evidence required to support the introduction of a further Bill before long. It may be too late for the Queen's Speech this year, but perhaps in 1986—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman must deal with the Bill before the House today and not with Bills which may be before the House at some future time.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

In conclusion, I believe that the House unanimously welcomes the Bill. We regard it as a first step, though unfortunately a tiny step, towards a more flexible licensing system and we very much hope that the Government see it in the same light and not merely as a way to keep the licensing lobby quiet for a few more years. There has been growing concern on both sides of the House about the need for a more flexible licensing system. All the evidence from law enforcement officers, doctors and the trades concerned is that a more flexible system would be beneficial. We shall, therefore, be justified in giving the Bill a Third Reading.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North 1:42 pm, 5th July 1985

To put the Bill into perspective we need briefly to consider existing licensing legislation. I say that en passant, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is amazing that although the common law imposed no restrictions at all on the sale of intoxicating liquor we now have a complicated and archaic web of legislation on permitted hours which vary in their application to public houses, restaurants and clubs.

Anyone who is unsure whether the Bill should receive a Third Reading has only to consider that Scotland, Ulster, the Channel islands and virtually every other country in Europe all have more tolerant and flexible licensing hours than we have. Most solicitors regard licensing law with dread. The 93rd edition of Paterson's "Licensing Acts" summarises the legislation relating to licensed premises and covers a large number of Acts of Parliament, including the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979, the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Acts and the Licensing Act 1964 which the Bill seeks to amend as well as various Weights and Measures Acts.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) that the Bill is an extremely modest measure. Under the 1964 Act, a limited number of hotels, restaurants, dance halls and cafés where entertainment and food are provided can apply to the licensing magistrates for special extended hours certificates allowing them to continue to sell liquor as part of their general entertainment between midnight and 2 am. I gather that, in London, they can go on until 3 am. A growing number of people find such a provision most useful. Extensions for two hours are available for 310 out of the 365 days in the year. That leaves 55 days for which certificates cannot be applied for, of which 52 are Sundays. The Bill does not affect Sundays but merely deletes from the 1964 Act Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday. If the Bill were accepted, the law in England and Wales would be in line with that in Scotland.

The Bill has been described as modest. That is something of an over-statement. It was said in another place that we should take care about what licensing provision we allow during Easter as it has special religious significance. Sections 70 and 76 of the 1964 Act should not apply to Easter, it was argued. Most people regard Easter as a holiday. Sporting events such as motor racing are permitted and we are entitled to ask why discotheques and restaurants which are allowed to stay open until 2 am at other times should not enjoy the same privilege during Easter.

The Bill does not amend general licensing hours and the 52 Sundays that I mentioned will not be affected. It merely irons out a quirk in our law, and I hope that the House supports it. In Committee, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said that he would not oppose it. I hope that the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) means that the House will pass this modest but welcome Bill.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham 1:48 pm, 5th July 1985

This is indeed a modest little Bill and I shall confine myself to making a small speech on it. It alters the law regarding Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter eve only in respect of the limited number of licensed premises which benefit from an extended hours order or a special hours certificate. The Bill brings the law in respect of those three days into line with the rest of the year apart from Sundays.

This is a sensible tidying up and I do not object to it in principle. I shall certainly not press any objections to a Division, but I have some apprehensions about this being considered a crumb that can be thrown to licensees to stem the strong tide in favour of major reform of licensing laws, especially in respect of public houses.

It might be appropriate for me to declare — I have done so before — my interest in the licensed trade. I run a small company with five public houses, of which I am licensee. None of those houses is affected by the measure, because none of them has either an extended hours order or a special hours certificate. I am perhaps unique in the House in that I have personally managed a public house with an extended hours order. I did so for four years. I was encouraged by the police to take out a special order. They were objecting to the fact that I was regularly applying for special orders of exemption to extend my normal hours for the functions that I was then running in my public house.

There is a curious anomaly in the Licensing Act 1964 which excludes the three days — Good Friday, Maundy Thursday and Easter eve — with which we are concerned in the Bill. Therefore, I welcome the measure, which was introduced in the other place, because it will have a tidying-up effect. However, we shall have to be careful because there is clearly a need to look at the question in the round.

There is growing and increasing pressure upon Members of Parliament and the Government to introduce major legislation on licensing matters. I know that you have been extremely tolerant, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in allowing us to speak a little widely today on the measure. That is perhaps because we have too few opportunities in this House to speak on the need for the reform of licensing legislation.

I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will also widen his remarks, because I am a member of an organisation which is known under the acronym of FLAG — Flexi-Law Action Group. It is a national organisation in which all the major trade interests are represented, from the National Union of Licensed Victuallers to the Brewers' Society, the National Association of Licensed House Managers and all sorts of people. We welcome all kinds of reform of the licensing law, and the Bill is one little piece of reform.

The measure will affect businesses other than public houses. Therefore, it is particularly relevant that FLAG should take an interest in the reform. We are keen to see major reforms and hope that we shall get them within the not too far distant future. We hope that the results of the review of the Scottish experiment, as it is called, will shortly be made known to us, and that there will be a positive reaction to the effect of the Scottish experiment, which was introduced following Dr. Clayson's report.

Special hours certificates and extended hours orders affect premises which provide musical entertainment — frequently live music and disco — and food at the same time, and those premises are frequented by the young. I understand the concern of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) about alcoholism, because it is the young who make most use of such premises, and they seem to have a good deal of money to spend on entertainment. They are perhaps the least responsible in the use of alcohol. Therefore, it is a proper matter for concern.

In supporting the measure, I look forward to major reforms coming before the House so that we may have a proper debate on licensing law reform and on permitted hours.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 1:54 pm, 5th July 1985

I reiterate what I said in Committee. I shall not oppose the Bill, which is too small to have a dramatic effect. However, it involves flexibility of opening hours and the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) openly admitted that he saw it as a first step on the road to greater flexibility.

The problem with following that road is that all the evidence from around the world suggests that greater flexibility leads to greater abuse. My message to the House is that, although I am not against more flexibility in opening hours, I oppose tinkering with licensing hours in the absence of a national alcohol policy to deal with the problem of abuse. Conservative Members speak with great eloquence and at considerable length about the advantages of the Bill to the trade, but they do not take into account the consequences of the increased availability of alcohol.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

The hon. Gentleman shows a proper concern for alcoholism. However, does he agree that the book by Davies and Walsh called "Alcohol Problems and Alcohol Control in Europe" suggests that permitted hours are but a minor factor among the causes of alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

The overall evidence is that greater availability leads to more problems. The book says that there is evidence to suggest that greater flexibility can lead to more responsible drinking. I have said previously that that can happen. The problem is that when we tinker with one aspect, such as flexibility of opening hours, and use Bills as steps towards something more, without taking other necessary actions, we run risks.

If Conservative Members do not give greater attention to the problems caused by alcohol abuse — we are dealing with a major drug which has a far bigger effect than heroin on our society, in terms of the number of deaths and injuries, social problems and so on—they will run into considerable opposition from hon. Members who know about the problems caused by alcohol abuse.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

Is not the hon. Gentleman overstating his case? The Bill deals with only six hours in a year.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

The hon. Gentleman could not have heard me when I said that I would not oppose the Bill because it was such a minor measure. I went on to pick up the comments of the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside, who said that the Bill was a step towards more flexible licensing hours. I said that that was not a bad thing in itself, but that it was a dangerous course to follow in the absence of an alcohol policy.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

The hon. Gentleman raises a fundamental and important point which the licensed trade views with great concern. He mentioned availability of liquor, but we are debating a Bill applying to outlets such as hotels, licensed entertainment establishments, cafes and public houses — all places where responsible proprietors supervise drinking.

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the enormous growth in the number of off-licences, which have increased by 11,000 to nearly 42,000 in the past 10 years. Perhaps many supermarkets are fairly responsible, but far too many off-licences—often they are little more than corner shops, and even garages are involved now—sell drink far too readily and often to children who are under age. That ought to be stamped out.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

If it were in order I would treat the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside to a repeat of previous speeches in which I have emphasised that availability has become a major problem, primarily because of the introduction of supermarkets into the licensed business. My complaint against the licensed trade is not that it is unaware of the problem, but that it often deals with the problem by throwing out the people who are the problem. Not long ago the House passed legislation to give licensees the power to restrict access to people who have troubled them in the past. The trade tries to deal with the problem by keeping people with an alcohol problem outside licensed premises on the streets, where those people are a problem to other people. The trade must look at the matter more carefully.

I well understand why the trade calls for such a measure, and I do not intend to oppose it. However, the trade is not yet considering sufficiently seriously the problems caused by alcohol abuse, which, as the Minister knows, is increasing dramatically. The Scottish evidence is much more ambivalent than the hon. Gentleman made out. There is certainly a small increase in cirrhosis of the liver, which is one of the best indicators of an increase in alcohol abuse. In future the hon. Gentleman must Day greater attention to that problem, and to the various bodies which are far less well funded than the brewing industry, the Wine and Spirit Association and the Scotch Whisky Association, but which are expected to pick up the pieces of a major national problem.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 2:01 pm, 5th July 1985

Until this afternoon little has been said about the Bill during its passage, which has surprised me slightly because any measure which deals with entertainment on days of religious significance would normally be expected to meet with comment, if not opposition, from those anxious to preserve traditional respect for holy days. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that no such qualms have been voiced.

It has been said that the Bill is a modest measure, which is how many people will regard it; and it is also true that it will have only a limited effect. It relates to the hours during which certain licensed premises and registered private members' clubs can serve liquor and provide entertainment on the three days of the Easter weekend. Its effect would be to allow, but not require, licensed premises and registered clubs which provide entertainment and food to serve alcohol for the same hours on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday as apply on a normal weekday. Those premises, instead of closing their doors at midnight on Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday and at 10.30 pm on Good Friday, would be permitted to remain open until 1 am, if they hold an extended hours order, or 2 am — 3 am in parts of London—with a special hours certificate.

The purpose of the liquor licensing legislation is to control and regulate the sale of alcohol. However, the particular restrictions which apply to late night opening over the Easter weekend, and which have the dual effect of prohibiting the sale of alcohol and the provision of entertainments, arise solely because of the religious significance of those days. Successive Governments have taken the line that it must be a matter for individual conscience, and the will of the House, whether restrictions relating to days of particular importance in the Christian calendar should be relaxed. I said in Standing Committee that the Government are neutral on this Bill and that we have no objection to its proceeding on to the statute book, if that is the will of the House, as it seems to be. That remains our position.

The proposals in the Bill will affect only the minority of premises licensed for the sale of alcohol. It can be argued that even this modest measure does no more than bring the licensing legislation into line with that governing other forms of entertainment. Neither the theatres nor the cinema licensing legislation, for example, imposes any restrictions on the opening of those premises on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter Saturday. Nor are there any specific restrictions relating to the Easter weekend on the opening of casinos. Thus, it is lawful for casinos to be open from 2 pm to 4 am every day, except on Saturday, when the terminal hour is 3 am in London and 2 am elsewhere in England and Wales. It cannot be said, therefore, that the relaxations on licensed premises in this Bill are inconsistent with other areas of licensing, for which the Government have overall responsibility.

There will be those in the House and outside who will criticise this minor legislation on the grounds that it does not go far enough and that we need more radical reform of the licensing law rather than a piecemeal approach affecting only some days — [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] My tired old ears have picked up the odd "Hear, hear" from the Benches behind me. I have some sympathy with that argument, but it should not prevent us from considering minor amendments when they are shown to be desirable.

As to the more general reform of the law—I refer here to the much-debated issue of flexible licensing hours —hon. Members will be aware that it is currently under review. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that, before reaching a decision, he will wish to consider carefully the reports of the surveys conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys into the effects of the extension of permitted hours brought about in Scotland by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, together with all relevant data on the indicators of alcohol abuse. The full report, which will include the results of a survey of public house licensees about their attitude to licensing legislation, will be published later in the year.

The Bill proposes modest relaxations for three days of the year, enabling those seeking entertainment to purchase alcohol for a few more hours, until 1 am or 2 am. As I said, the Government are neutral. Whether the restrictions on the supply of alcohol and the provision of entertainment should be relaxed is a matter for the individual choice of hon. Members, but if, as one suspects, this Bill gets its Third Reading today and becomes law, the Government will certainly not oppose it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.