A number of measures are under consideration, and we have made provision to allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays through legislation which is currently completing its passage through Parliament.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposed changes in Sunday licensing are very popular, especially with the tourist trade? Does he accept, however, that certain licensing magistrates are making the award of children's certificates very difficult, and will he continue to keep the position under review?
I have received representations from a number of hon. Members suggesting that the procedures to ensure—in accordance with the intentions of Parliament—that licences are available to allow children to go to into public houses where appropriate conditions exist are being frustrated by magistrates who are attaching onerous and unnecessary requirements to such licences. I am very concerned about those representations, and have asked Home Office officials to monitor what is happening.
If there is evidence of widespread attempts to frustrate the wishes of Parliament, we will not hesitate to act. It is early days; the new procedures have been in place only since the beginning of the year. I hope that it will be recognised that the granting of children's licences was a very popular move, and was supported in all quarters of the House.
The country has 65,000 pubs, which are visited by 12.5 million people every week. We also have many millions of visitors, who find the great British pub extremely attractive. What they—and I—find less attractive and quaint is the 11 pm chucking-out time.
Will my right hon. Friend take into account experiences on the continent, and consider measures which will allow people to drink after 11 pm without being forced to pay entrance fees in clubs? Could local licensing be introduced, so that any disruption to people living near pubs could be minimised but benefits to those who want to drink legitimately after 11 pm could be maximised?
My hon. Friend asks me to consider further liberalisation of licensing hours in respect of late-night opening. A number of concerns have been expressed about the opportunities for disruption, noise and disorder that that would create in certain communities; on the other hand, we have received representations from people who argue that it would be possible to allow local discretion for later opening. The matter is currently under consideration, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be able to reach a conclusion shortly. If we decided to take any further deregulatory steps, they would of course be subject to consultation.
Does the Minister agree that the time has really come when we should consider the question of children in public houses, restaurants and other such places? In a modern civilised world, is it not time to follow the continental fashion, so that families can eat, drink, play and enjoy themselves together, without petty restrictions?
That is precisely what the Government have done in introducing the new children's licences, although concern has been expressed about the policy's implementation by local magistrates. I agree, however, with the basic thrust of the hon. Gentleman's comments that the licensing laws should exist only in so far as they are required to provide necessary protections. If unnecessary or over-bureaucratic provisions exist in the rules, they should be swept away. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative is about, and that is why we are about that business in the Home Office.