Skip to main content

Effects Of Variation Orders

Volume 115: debated on Friday 1 May 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

'The Home Office, the Department, of Health and Social Security and the Department of Transport shall monitor the effects of variation orders on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems with regard to public order, road safety and health in the administrative counties of England and Wales.'.— [Sir B. Braine.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 20, after second 'or', insert 'road'.

The Bill seeks to change our licensing law in ways that will affect drinking habits, some say beneficially and many say adversely. But we can all agree on one matter. Licensing is no longer solely a matter of law and order for the Home Office. It has implications for health, child welfare and road safety. The new clause would ensure that not only the Home Office but the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Transport will monitor the effects of variation orders on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems with regard to public order, health and road safety in the administrative counties of England and Wales.

New clause 1 would be a constructive amendment to the Bill to which all hon. Members could assent. Our previous debates revealed sharp differences of view on the desirability and likely effects of the Bill. The new clause is non-controversial, in that it proposes merely that, if the Bill is enacted, its effects should be properly monitored. I see no reason why anyone should object to that.

I shall proceed by establishing the case for monitoring the social and health effects of variation orders. I shall then outline precisely what should be monitored and how and by whom monitoring should be undertaken.

The Bill's supporters have told us repeatedly that it is a modest measure that will benefit society in terms of social convenience and will bring licensing law more closely into line with contemporary patterns of work and leisure without adversely affecting the prevalence of alcohol misuse. Indeed, they suggested that it would reduce alcohol-related harm in society. They cite the experience in Scotland since licensing reform in support of their argument.

Opponents of the Bill include the British Medical Association—which has written to me making clear its stand on the subject—and many other expert bodies. We believe that the Bill would have a markedly adverse effect and would increase the extent of alcohol-related problems, and we are not convinced that the experience in Scotland since reform has been as positive as the Bill's supporters claim.

I do not pretend that it is possible to come to a definitive view on the matter. It is a matter of argument, the flavour of which was provided by a letter from the director of the alcohol studies centre at Paisley which was published in the Glasgow Herald of 10 January. It states:
"Mr. Laing (a Glasgow Herald journalist) quotes Dr. Clayson who suggests that Scotland is still worse off than England and Wales in terms of levels of harm, but notes that we are only twice as bad instead of three times as bad. It is likely that the 'closing of the gap' is owed in part to the recession which, it can be argued, has hit Scotland harder than England and Wales and an increase in the real price of alcohol in 1981 made alcohol more expensive and had some effect on levels of consumption and related harm. Indeed, the Government's own survey"—
to which there will be frequent reference during the debate—
"agrees that there has been an increase in alcohol consumption in Scotland since 1976, offset by the effects of the recession. Since 1976, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in Scotland have increased almost three times the rate experienced in England and Wales. Drinking and driving charges have increased by more than 60 per cent. since 1976. Are these consistent with claims of success?
We often hear that changes in the law have resulted in less drunkenness. There is no doubt that charges of drunkenness since 1976 have decreased by 27 per cent., but charges for breach of the peace (mostly involving drinking) have increased by 16 per cent., charges of petty assault have increased by 20 per cent., as well as the already mentioned increase in charges for drunken driving."
9.45 am

That letter shows clearly the issues about which there has been so much argument and which are still in dispute. New clause 1 would give Parliament the opportunity to examine the effects of licensing law reform on public health, public safety and public order. The country would know that the new legislation was on trial. No precedent would be set because, following the passage of the Defence of the Realm (Liquor Control) Regulations in 1915, the Central Liquor Control Board was established to monitor their operation and effects.

In relaxing controls on alcohol, with the inevitable effect of increasing the hours of sale, great caution must be exercised. We must monitor closely the effects of new legislation, and new clause 1 implies that it would be possible to reverse the legislation if it proved to be detrimental.

The wise advice of Professor Robin Room, who is an American authority on alcohol problems, should be carefully heeded. He said:
"It has been fashionable to decry the complexity of the system"—
the alcohol beverage control system—
"in its current form, to point to the inconsistencies"—
in legal provision—
"from one place to another, and simply to assert the ineffectiveness of alcohol control laws as a strategy of prevention. There is always a strong temptation to conclude that a longstanding law is ineffective, since its failures will tend to be apparent while its successes remain hidden. But the only true test of the effectiveness of laws is to see what happens when they change."
The purpose of new clause 1 is to apply that test. If fears of increased consumption and harm resulting from the Bill are unfounded, its supporters have no reason to be alarmed by what I propose. Indeed, they should welcome the new clause. But its justification is the danger that the Bill will have detrimental effects, so it is vital that proper steps are taken now to ensure that, although the Bill is a step in the dark, its effects can be measured and adjustment made.

The grounds for believing that there is at least the danger, if not the certainty, of harm resulting from the enactment of the Bill are incontestible. It is a sad fact of life that good intentions are not enough. I accept unreservedly that the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) are the best. But I cannot forget that when the licensing law was reformed in the past, also with the best of intentions, there were highly unfortunate consequences. The Beerhouse Act 1830 was a prime example. Motivated by a desire to turn people from drinking gin to drinking beer, Parliament extended the available outlets. Mr. Calvert, a famous London brewer, said in the House that the title of the Bill should be amended to an "Act for the increase of drunkenness and immorality". Despite arguments and warnings the Bill was given a Second Reading by 245 to 29 and was carried in its subsequent stages by a substantial majority. However, two weeks after the Act came into force, Sydney Smith, the great wit of the day, who had been a vigorous advocate of the measure, wrote despairingly:
"The new beer Bill has begun its operations. Everybody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling. The sovereign people are in a beastly state."
Four years later, the House passed a Beerhouse Act 1834, which did not improve matters—Parliament had not left its options open. At the same time, a Select Committee was appointed to examine the extent, causes and consequences of drunkenness and excessive drinking in the United Kingdom. It reported a grave situation, but it took the House of Commons until 1869 to act on the report, and to redress the problems caused by the 1830 Act.

We should learn a lesson from history. It would surely be wiser to adopt my modest, cautious clause, and to give the present measure a trial period of five years. I notice that two former Ministers with responsibilities for health, my hon. Friends the Members for Eastwood and for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) are present—I was one myself, once upon a time—and I should be interested to hear what they have to say on this subject later.

After all, we have been warned by the World Health Organisation, which has given a number of illustrations of the outcome of increased consumption. That organisation, monitoring the rise in alcohol consumption the world over, has concluded that its member states must reduce their levels of consumption by the 1990s by at least 25 per cent. In this country, consumption has doubled in the past 30 years. It is still increasing and will increase further as a result of this liberalising Bill; that will inevitably cause more harm to health.

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to consumption doubling, but I want to know what that means. Has it doubled in terms of quantity, alcoholic content or the amount of money spent on it? Has it doubled in terms of a particular drink — has beer consumption doubled or has wine consumption trebled? The right hon. Gentleman made a very general statement and I am sure that he would not want to slip through the matter without being far more specific.

I would be delighted to be more specific, but I have much to say. The short answer is that we are drinking twice as much today as we did 30 years ago. It is as simple as that. I cannot give the specific answer, but the hon. Gentleman has my word as a former chairman of the National Council of Alcoholism and as the president of the Greater London Alcohol Advisory Service that my statement is correct. Those of us who have studied these matters know that experience has shown the efficacy of using hours of opening to control levels of consumption, drunkeness and cirrhosis of the liver.

The Erroll report reviewed two periods in our history—the 1915 measure of restriction and the 1961 measure of liberalisation. Of the 1915 measure, the report concluded reluctantly:
"This is one case where changes in the law relating to the number of outlets, permitted hours and conditions of sale may have a perceptible effect."
By golly, it had a perceptible effect. Of the 1961 Act, and the trends in drunkeness that followed, the Erroll report said:
"There is little evidence in our view to suggest that the Licensing Act 1961 had the overall effect of accelerating these upward movements."
Many experts would not accept Erroll's claim that the 1961 liberalising measure had not had an adverse effect. One of the basic criticisms of the Erroll report was of its unsure handling of research data and its rejection of such data when it did not accord with the common sense ideas of the committee. The composition of the committee was lacking in health and public safety experts and overloaded with retailers.

It is relevant to recall an article by one of the committee's members in the Financial Times, in November 1972:
"We all knew, in outline, where we stood when we first met that April day in the large high-ceilinged room in the Home Office opposite the cenotaph. What we wanted, basically, was total freedom for all, to drink when and where we liked … There was nothing we had in common, to slant our views, but we were as I have said, liberal-minded.
That liberality began to be eroded right from the beginning. For one thing, a special survey commissioned for our exercise, proved to us that, on the whole, the people of Britain were quite happy with the laws as they are and didn't particularly envisage any need for change.
That shook our faith in liberality quite a lot. Then we began to argue, people might not know that the new could be better than the old as long as they were used to the old ways.
We had to think at least 10 years ahead, perhaps even 20. Legislation cannot be continually changed after all."
In short, if research findings were not convenient to the preconceived ideas of the Erroll committee, they were dismissed. It was almost as if one had turned up at a meeting for which the secretary had already written the minutes.

If there is to be monitoring, it is imperative that it be free of the prejudice shown so blatantly by the Erroll committee. If changes in the law were monitored in the same way as they were by the old Central Liquor Control Board, in five years we would have the facts and experience to come to a rational decision about the role that opening hours should play in alcohol prevention and control policies. We would be legislating on lines confirmed by careful social investigation and not merely on the whims and fancies of a few individuals.

What should be monitored? First, it is vital to monitor closely the levels and patterns of alcohol consumption because of the known relationship between the level of alcohol consumption and the extent of alcohol misuse in society. Secondly, it is necessary to monitor alcohol-related problems, of which there are basically, two general types. There are problems that arise from intoxication, and from heavy consumption.

Problems relating to intoxication include domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, accidents, public drunkenness, criminal damage, assault, drinking and driving, psychological disturbances such as depression and attempted suicide, and physical problems such as acute alcoholic poisoning, gastritis, hepatitis and cardiac arrhythmia.

Problems related to regular heavy consumption of alcohol include marital break-up, unemployment, fraud, debt, homelessness, psychological problems such as changes in personality, amnesia, dementia and the misuse of other drugs and physical problems such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, cancer of the head and neck, nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, cardiomyopathy, strokes and brain damage. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton will wish to say something about these matters later.

In case there is any question, the source of these lists of alcohol-related ailments is a recent report of the Royal College of General Practitioners, entitled "Alcohol — A Balanced View". There is no need to elaborate on this aspect. It is clear that there is a wide range of problems, the prevalence of which in the population is certainly measurable.

How should consumption be monitored, and by whom? The three most important Government Departments affected by changes in the licensing laws are the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Transport. As far as I can see only one of those Departments—the Home Office—is represented on the Front Bench today, by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. I am speaking as chairman of the all-party Committee on drugs misuse, which spans both Houses of Parliament, and I should like to pay high tribute to the Government, particularly to the Department of my hon. and learned Friend, for setting up the inter-Departmental committee that co-ordinates our war against hard drugs. Why should the same approach not be taken to alcohol? I leave my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton to develop that theme because I know that he feels strongly about it.

If the Government were able to establish such a system, it would soon become apparent whether variation orders granted under the Bill were having an effect on the level of alcohol-related problems, and if the system were to be effective, four requirements would have to be met. The three relevant Departments would need to set up an inter-departmental committee to co-ordinate the exercise. Secondly, social impact surveys would have to be carried out. These would assess the level and extent of alcohol-related problems in relation to the variation orders. The surveys would analyse the problems and provide information about the attitude of people towards alcohol-related problems and the effect of them. It is obvious that the process should start before any variation orders are granted. It would be a major handicap to researchers, would it not, both now and in future if they did not have accurate baseline data on the current state of alcohol-related problems and the public's attitude to the granting of variation orders.

10 am

Thirdly, it is critical that the monitoring process be regular and consistent and not spasmodic and erratic. Social impact surveys need to be published every two years. Monitoring must not be an indeterminate, indefinite process without any conclusion.

Fourthly, the monitoring process must ascertain regional variation in the patterns of alcohol use and misuse. Each administrative county in England and Wales should be treated separately so that a more accurate picture of the relationship between problems and variation orders can be established. In my judgment this should not impose an impossible burden on the three Departments. Increasingly data on alcohol-related problems are being gathered. District health authorities should be able to provide information on the incidence of alcohol-related injuries, accidental and non-accidental, as recorded by accident and emergency departments in a given locality by the hour of day and by the day of the week. It is most helpful to our purpose that health authorities are already improving their capacity to measure what is happening by using means such as hospital activity analysis data and the numbers of patients with alcohol-related disease who are treated in hospitals. Such systems can clearly be employed to ascertain the impact of the Bill's proposals on admissions to hospitals.

Similarly, agencies providing counselling services to problem drinkers and their families should be able to provide important information on the way in which changes in opening hours in a locality relate to patterns of consumption and misuse.

I re-emphasise that all partiality in this process must be avoided. To that end it is imperative that none of the research that is conducted should be funded by the alcohol industry. We cannot and must not allow a process to develop where researchers are funded by those who have a strong vested interest in their findings. Moreover, whatever form the monitoring process takes, the public health and social well-being of the community require that the results of the researchers' work should be made widely available to academics and to Parliament.

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to research being carried out by various organisations. Is it true that the Scotch Whisky Association spends a vast amount on research in this area, and does so in the knowledge that the findings will be helpful to the promotion of its causes, or is that a misrepresentation of its position? I understand that researchers are being paid by the association and that others treat their work with some suspicion because of the clear linkage between the industry and their work.

I agree with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I do not think that it is true that the leaders of the drinks industry find moneys for research solely to advance their own interests. I think that there is a genuine concern within the industry to minimise the amount of harm that its product causes on the fringes. Alcohol is something that most of us enjoy in moderation, but it happens to be a potent drug that we know impairs health and shortens life. It is all a matter of balance. I do not altogether accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I think that Parliament should insist that the drinks industry should have no hand in the sort of monitoring that I am talking about. Parliament must have the facts, and they must be presented to it objectively.

Making alcohol more freely available means taking a risk. If we vote the Bill into law, the very least that Parliament can do is establish a comprehensive monitoring process that will bring the facts to light and inform all those with responsibilities for public health, public order and public safety. Both supporters and opponents of the Bill have declared that they do not want an upsurge in the level of problems arising from alcohol misuse. I believe that to be an expression of sincere concern. If it is sincere, it can best be demonstrated by voting to include the new clause in the Bill.

New clause 1 is linked with amendment No. 6, which is concerned specifically with drinking and road safety, and I shall now address myself to the amendment. Licensing law has a direct hearing on road safety. During the first world war Parliament was deeply concerned about the impact of alcohol on the level of efficiency of munition workers. The shell shortage was a crucial factor in politics and in the waging of the war itself in France. that resulted in the defence of the realm regulations, which drastically reduced public house opening hours. In 1987 the House should be concerned about the impact that the availability of alcohol makes on road safety. The scene is entirely different from what it was 30, 50 or 60 years ago.

Liquor licensing is no longer the concern of the Home Office alone. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who thinks deeply about these matters, would agree with that. The issue of road safety brings wider considerations to bear in liquor licensing, especially in relation to permitted hours.

My bible on this subject is the Blennerhassett report, which shocked the nation. Paragraph 1.1 states:
"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.
Paragraph 1.3 reads:
"The fall in casualties—which was largely accounted for by a reduction of a third in accidents between ten at night and four in the morning—has since worn off. Before the Act, 25 per cent. of drivers who died in accidents had over 80mg/100ml of alcohol in their blood. This fell to 15 per cent. in 1968, but was back to 26 per cent. by 1971, and had risen to 35 per cent. by 1974."
This is a reflection of the increase in consumption that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was asking about a few moments ago.

Paragraph 1.3 continues:
"The deterioration in the position is particularly marked among young male drivers; by 1971 40 per cent., and by 1974 45 per cent., of those in their twenties who were killed were over the legal limit. Drinking and driving was one of the commonest circumstances leading to death in this age-group."
I ask the House to note the time of day when so many accidents occur, which is after public houses have closed. The position has not altered and that was confirmed by the Minister with responsibilities for roads and traffic in a written reply to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on 28 April. The Blennerhassett report went on to put that in the context of the availability of alcohol. Paragraph 2.9 states:
"There is a clear link between road accidents and social activities. The level of accidents is high after 10 in the evening, and increases dramatically on Friday and Saturday nights; other evidence shows that alcohol is a factor in far more accidents at these times than during the rest of the day. Those involved are almost all male because men drive and drink more than women. They are predominantly young, but this is partly because young people go out more than others. The result is that road accidents cause half of all male deaths between the ages of 15 and 24 and the largest factor in these casualties is alcohol."
We know that, today, this age group comprises the heaviest drinkers in the population. The ownership of motor cars is fast increasing among them. Where do they do their drinking? In the pub? But how do they get there? By car. How do they get away from the pub? They get away by driving. Any magistrate setting a variation order must take into account whether an extension of hours will exacerbate the problem. A magistrate, in fixing a variation order for the terminal hour, must surely consider how the public are to get home from a public house. Are they to go home by foot, some form of public transport, car, taxi, motor cycle or bicycle? If public transport closes down at 11 pm or 11.15 pm, how do people get home?

If the Bill had been accompanied by measures to deter drunken drivers by raising the likelihood of their being apprehended for drinking and driving—stiffer penalties and more appropriate charges being brought if someone is killed or maimed by a drunken driver—some of our fears might have been allayed. I have heard no clear evidence that the situation in Scotland has been improved by the 1976 reforms. We have all received a broadsheet from the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving. Every hon. Member should receive a copy. It states:
  • "(a) Scotland has the highest road casualty rate in Great Britain. This is confirmed in a letter to a (ADD victim family from the Scottish Home and Health Dept (4.12.86) 'the number of deaths and injuries … remains higher than elsewhere in Britain.'
  • (b) Scotland has the worst road fatality record in Europe.
  • (c) Scotland has a higher average blood alcohol concentration in drink drivers than in England and Wales (67 per cent. in excess of 150 mg as compared with 58 per cent. in England and Wales)."
  • I have been informed by the campaign that, in his reply to it, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said that he considered that flexible hours enable the drinker to pace his consumption and reduce the practice of heavy drinking just before the closing hour. I do not see how that affects alcohol impairment in relation to driving. I concur with the campaign's conclusion that: Even if extended hours encourage more leisurely drinking, it is of little relevance to drinking and driving. More leisurely drinking may or may not reduce drunkenness, but in relation to driving even modest quantities of alcohol can be dangerous. Indeed, the Minister with responsibility for roads and traffic, who has made a great impact on the public consciousness in regard to drinking and driving, said:
    "Even one drink can kill."
    That view formed the basis of his highly commendable Christmas 1986 campaign.

    One feature of the Bill that causes me deep concern is the encouragement that it will give to continuing drinking through the afternoon. The afternoon from 3 o'clock to 6 o'clock is the peak time for all road traffic accidents, but at present it is the period during which traffic accidents involving raised blood alcohol levels are less likely. I repeat that because it is crucial to understand it. It is the period during which accidents involving a raised blood alcohol level are less likely. Why is that so? It is because public houses are closed.

    There is no evidence from Scotland to show whether the change in the law there has improved or worsened the situation, or has had no effect at all. Unfortunately, we cannot get comprehensive figures from the Government about the number of innocent victims who have been killed by drunken drivers in Scotland before and after the 1976 Act. I understand that the figures were not properly compiled before the Act. Again, the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving appears to have been closely following the deliberations of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. It advises that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office
    "claimed that statistics in relation to availability and drinking hours had been analysed and shown no adverse effects on road safety. He then conceded that the relevant statistics do not exist and it was therefore impossible to prove the matter one way or another. In fact, Mr. Waddington had to admit that statistics"—

    10.15 am

    I remind my right hon. Friend of what I said in that regard. I said that statistics relating to drivers killed while over the legal limit, which are the Department of Transport's measure of drinking and driving, have been collected in Scotland only since 1978, but the figures since then suggest a generally downward trend. So there is no particular reason to think that licensing changes in Scotland have had an adverse effect. That is what I said.

    If one is not in possession of the figures relating to the period before the Act, it is impossible to arrive at such a conclusion. The House will form its own conclusion on the subject.

    The Minister of State made a telling intervention. Obviously the Department feels defensive about the matter and wishes to present that case. Is it not true that, when examining figures relating to recorded offences, we must also take available resources into account? It may be that, due to heavy unemployment in Scotland, more and more police resources are increasingly given over to other areas of public control. If we were to examine the reports of the—

    The hon. Gentleman said, "Rubbish," from a sedentary position. I wish that he would get to his feet to make interventions of that sort. Perhaps we could then debate this important matter. Can he give me an absolute assurance that every police authority in Scotland, with its hand on its heart, can say that it has adequate resources in every way to monitor fully the number of people who drive with excess alcohol in their blood? He may wish, during the course of the debate, to give that assurance. I cannot give such an assurance for my county. I do not believe that any hon. Member from anywhere in England can give such an assurance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is in a special position. It appears that he does not wish to intervene any more.

    I should make it clear to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) that the House cannot have interventions within an intervention.

    A moment ago, my right hon. and learned Friend accurately reflected what he said in Standing Committee. It is quite right. Put another way, he told the House that statistics in relation to the matter had not been collected in Scotland prior to 1978. The campaign went on to state:

    "How can uncollected statistics be analysed and used to show that there have been no adverse effects from changes in the law on permitted hours in relation to drinking and driving? We have heard of governments tuning statistics but this is a camouflage hiding the fact that there are no statistics."
    The reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for roads and traffic to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) shows that the relevant figures could not, even now, be instantly produced. The hon. Member asked the Secretary of State for Transport
    "how many road users, including pedestrians, pedal cyclists and children, were killed or injured on the roads by a driver with a raised blood-alcohol level; and if he will provide distributions of casualties and rates by hour of day, for 1975 and 1985 separately, for (a) Scotland and (b) for England and Wales."
    Hon. Members must remember that that was when the Standing Committee was considering the matter. The Minister replied:
    "I shall answer this question shortly."—[Official Report, 28 April 1978; Vol. 114, c. 71.]
    In other words, he will answer it after Report and Third Reading. That is disgraceful.

    I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it might be very difficult to answer that question. There are many incidents of motor cars being driven by people who can only be described as drunk and who hit people and then drive off, and they are not reported. Whatever figures the Department produces to strengthen its case—I understand that the Department is a closet supporter of the Bill—it can never take those numbers into account. Indeed, in past months, there have been a number of reports in the national newspapers of precisely that. If I remember rightly, only a few weeks ago an ITN news bulletin referred to a hit and run case. There may well be thousands of such cases each year in which people are drunk, yet manage to get away because they refuse to stop.

    I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but we were told by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister that statistics are being collected in Scotland. I am saying—this is relevant to the debate on this measure — that the information should have been available to the Standing Committee. I asked for it at the outset of the Standing Committee's sittings, but it was not provided. That information must be available to the House before it extends hours and does away with the afternoon break. It is disgraceful that information of that kind, which is crucial to an understanding of the problem and which touches on the safety of men, women and children, was not provided. We are talking about what will happen because of the disappearance of the afternoon break, with people who have been drinking all through the day coming on to the roads when children are coming home from school. It is disgraceful that such information was not available to the Standing Committee.

    Magistrates need to be informed of the possible consequences on road safety of variation orders. Parliament would fall short of its duty to safeguard the health and safety of our citizens and, in respect of the afternoon, of children in particular if it did not insist on this measure. The families of innocent victims of drinking and driving expect us to do our duty. For that reason, we should support amendment No. 6.

    Order. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to inform the House that the need to reprint the Bill has resulted in the line numbers of the amendments beginning with amendment No. 4 being incorrect. A corrected version of the Amendment Paper is now available in the Vote Office. The change does not apply to the new clause or to amendment No. 1, but it applies to the following amendments.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a revelation. Before you took the Chair, Sir, I raised, on a point of order, the question of the indecent haste with which this matter has been brought before the House and the fact that the reprinted Bill was not available yesterday. Do you have information that similar mistakes have not occurred elsewhere in the papers that are supposed to be before us?

    The matter has been checked. I am assured that the amended Amendment Paper is now accurate. As I have informed the House, it is now available in the Vote Office.

    I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) for the way in which he moved the new clause and spoke to amendment No. 6, and for his energy and eloquence in opposing the Bill.

    I should like to speak in favour of new clause 1. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) will say that he is disposed to accept it. Unlike all the other amendments, with the possible exception of amendment No. 12, it does not seem to me that the new clause or the amendment do any injury to his objectives. All the amendment and the new clause seek to do is to require three Government Departments to monitor the impact of the change that he seeks.

    Although the amendment and the new clause are directed at Government Departments, it is fair to ask my hon. Friend whether the brewing industry and the trade will co-operate. If we are to monitor the impact of variation orders on consumption as well as on alcohol-related problems, the trade will have to co-operate in making essential information available to the three Government Departments. For example, to monitor the impact of the variation orders, the Departments concerned may want to know at what time alcohol is sold. They will not have that information. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood assure us that the industry will co-operate and make available information that is essential to carry out the necessary research?

    We will want, for example, to isolate the figures on alcohol consumption from the figures on alcohol that is bought from supermarkets or from off-licences. Those places are not affected by the Bill. To monitor the impact of change we will want to know how much alcohol is sold through licensed houses rather than through other outlets. Likewise, the industry may be asked to supply information on the distribution of sales. If my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood says that he is disposed to accept new clause 1 — as I hope he will be—I hope that, so far as he is able, he will give the House an assurance that the industry will co-operate with the three Government Departments in making essential information available so that we can monitor the impact of this legislation on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems.

    I think that other Government Departments might be involved in this exercise. I am not certain whether the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or the Department of Trade and Industry, is the Department responsible for the brewing industry. This exercise will have an impact on the brewing industry's health, so perhaps the Department of Trade and Industry, or MAFF, should have been included in new clause 1, because they may have useful information available. The new clause says that the three Departments "shall monitor the effects", and I very much hope that the information will be published. It is essential to find out the answers. If we conduct this exercise, the results should be published.

    The new clause goes right to the heart of the argument about the whole Bill. Is the reform of licensing hours simply a welcome response to public opinion which removes a tedious restriction and is neutral in terms of alcohol consumption and consequential harm? That, in a nutshell, is the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood.

    The hon. Gentleman is perhaps unique in the House in so far as he has become a Westminster character outside the precincts of the House. If one rises early in the morning and drives down the Embankment, one often seen the hon. Gentleman on is bicycle. He wears big arm bands and a luminous reflector—I do not know what it is called—on his back, and all over his bicycle are streamers to ensure that some drunken clown does not drive down the road in the dark and bash into him, so that we lose him as a Member of Parliament and there is an unfortunate by-election. Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment, especially as the new clause relates to road safety? He has a special contribution to make to our proceedings. I should like to know what he feels when he is cycling around London, especially late at night, when he knows that he is at risk.

    I am very touched by the hon. Gentleman's concern for the health of a Conservative Member. The article to which he referred is called a Sam Browne belt. It is one of those luminous straps that one puts around one's self. I shall come to the matter of road safety, particularly from the cyclist's point of view

    New clause 1 goes to the heart of the debate between my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood, who believes that it simply removes a tedious restriction and has no effect on alcohol consumption, and the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, that liberalisation will give a further boost to alcohol consumption and the problems with which increased consumption may be associated. It is essential to resolve that argument, because it may influence the House on the need for further reform. New clause 1 is an attempt to provide the answer to that question in so far as it requires three Departments to monitor and, I hope, to publish the impact of the variation orders.

    The new clause is directed at the Government, and I should like to put a number of questions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister. There have been protracted exchanges about the impact in Scotland of the liberalisation that has already taken place there. I wonder whether the Government have given their view on the various bits of research that have been published, and whether they are satisfied that the impact of the change in Scotland has been adequately monitored. Has my hon. Friend worked out what the impact of the Bill will be on the three Departments involved in terms of manpower and costs? I am not sure what the rules are about private Members' Bills and the extent to which they are allowed to increase public expenditure, but if we were to adopt new clause 1 there could be consequences in terms of manpower and costs for those three Departments.

    10.30 am

    Let me pose some of the methodological problems that we shall have to overcome if we are to measure properly the impact of increased consumption on public order, road safety and health.

    The hon. Gentleman asked the Minister what work had been done to examine the research done by others. The problem is that much of the research done in Scotland is not very objective. In fact, it is very subjective. It is based on the reports of organisations with a clear commercial interest. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is mumbling from a sedentary position. I wish that he would get to his feet and reply. I want to know the answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). The Minister did not intervene to answer it, so I am trying to obtain an answer. There are strong commercial pressures on researchers that prevent them from being objective. We need an objective assessment. That is what the new Clause sets out to establish.

    I am aware that allegations have been made about the independence of some of the research that has been published. That is why I think it important that the Government should tell the House whether they have made their own analysis of the various research projects, whether they have conducted any research of their own, and what their view is of the impact of the licensing reform in Scotland. Has it increased consumption and damage? If the House is to make a decision, we are entitled to know the answers to those questions.

    If we are to monitor honestly the impact of the change on public order road safety and health, we must isolate the impact of other changes that may be taking place. If we implement the Bill and consumption goes up, but at the same time there is a well-organised, well-directed promotional campaign on road safety in one part of the country, but nowhere else, that will clearly have an impact on the consequences of the change. Likewise, if there are tariff or tax changes at the same time, that will have an impact on both consumption and alcohol-related problems. If there is a heavy increase in police manpower, or if police priorities are changed to take more account of drunken driving or other public order effects, that again will have some impact when we try to analyse the change introduced by the Bill.

    I am anxious that the change should be monitored, but I think that whoever does the monitoring will have to take account of some of the problems at which I have hinted if we are to come up with the right answer.

    Amendment No. 6 deals with road safety. As the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was good enough to mention, I travel around Westminster on two wheels, as I find that the most effective and quick way of getting around. It also does something for my waistline. However, the cyclist, who is a vulnerable creature at any time, is more exposed to danger at night, because he is more difficult to see when it is dark. The difficulties are added to if there are drunken drivers about. Such drivers tend, for instance, to turn left, having just overtaken the cyclist, without giving any indication, and sometimes a car door is inadvertently opened after the car has stopped while a cyclist is riding past. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point referred to some statistics. If they are published, I hope that they will pay some regard to the exposure of the cyclist, who is particularly vulnerable, to drunken driving.

    I do not wish to detain the House further on the clause. However, I feel that the key to the debate is contained in new clause 1. Surely we are entitled to know whether the Government are prepared to play their part in answering the question that has come up time and again this morning and in Standing Committee: is this a harmless measure of social reform that will have no damaging consequences, or—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said so eloquently—will it merely add a further twist to consumption problems and an illness that is already causing considerable damage to society and imposing large costs on the National Health Service?

    I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will tell us that the Government are sympathetic and prepared to carry out research, and to publish it when it is available.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) for the kind remarks that he made about me. We have had some long debates in Standing Committee, mainly between my right hon. Friend and me. As always, he has been courtesy itself. I also listened with great interest to the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young).

    The Bill is a modest and controlled measure. I am a great believer in the Act of Union, and I think it absolutely right for a Scottish Member to put forward measures applying south of the border when we are proud of what we have achieved in Scotland.

    The consequences of the kind of liberalisation of licensing hours that has taken place in Scotland come under various headings, either positive or neutral. I speak on the basis of the research that I have read on the Scottish experience, and also on my personal experience. I have told the House before of the times when, as a student at St. Andrew's university, I would go into a pub after an evening's work in the library for a half pint and see the infamous 10 o'clock swill. Members of the public downed large whiskies and half pints at great speed, which is obviously a very stupid way to drink. The evidence produced by Plant and Duffy and other researchers is also positive about the Scottish experience.

    I was not on the Standing Committee, so I am new to these matters. But is it true that Messrs Plant and Duffy receive money from the Scotch Whisky Association for their research? If so, how much do they receive, and for doing what? What is done with the research?

    As the hon. Gentleman says, he is new to the debate. He did not take part in the first Second Reading debate or in the resumed Second Reading debate; nor, to my knowledge, did he apply to serve on the Standing Committee.

    I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Procedure, the Select Committee on Members' interests and the Standing Committee on the Consumer Protection Bill.

    I accept that. But the Plant and Duffy article was published by the British Medical Journal. They are highly-respected academics.

    No one has ever cast such an aspersion on those two distinguished academics. There are those who, on technical grounds, have said that they may or may not be right on this or that, but when researchers are invited to speak at conferences organised by Alcohol Concern or by bodies such as the Scottish Council on Alcoholism and when are they listened to with respect, that shows their standing.

    I resent the way in which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is behaving this morning.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point for the way in which he responded to the earlier intervention by the hon. Member for Workington regarding research that is funded by the industry. The industry is genuinely concerned about the problems of alcohol abuse.

    Although I am as guilty as any hon. Member, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) agrees that it is not normally the custom to respond to sedentary interventions. However, I think that my hon. Friend should emphasise, yet again, the slur that has been cast on the integrity of those two individuals by the aspersions of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). People are asked by a variety of industries to carry out research for them and they are provided with resources by those industries, but their academic integrity remains untarnished. For it to be suggested by the hon. Member for Workington that there is a connection between the results that are achieved and those who commission them is, frankly, disgraceful.

    My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those who are opposed to the Bill agree entirely, I am sure, with what my hon. Friend has just said.

    The hon. Member for Workington operates according to a personal code that is not, I believe, shared by other hon. Members, and it is certainly not shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was a very interesting observation. The hon. Gentleman referred to a personal code. You will understand that a precedent is set out in "Erskine May" concerning references to the personal conduct of hon. Members. I should welcome it if you would ask the hon. Gentleman to clarify precisely what he means by "personal conduct".

    Order. That sounds much more like a debating point than a point of order.

    10.45 am

    My point of order is not about the substance of the debate but about the hon. Gentleman's reference, irrespective of the nature of the debate, to the personal code of Members of the House of Commons. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have a specific responsibility to ensure that hon. Members are not subjected to such criticisms. I do not mind them. On the contrary, I welcome them. If, however, an hon. Member is free to make them when you are present in the Chair, it is for you to ensure that he is clear. Let him be far more specific. What is it that the hon. Gentleman objects to? Is it that I tell the truth and that he cannot take it?

    There is nothing out of order in what the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has said.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that ruling. The hon. Member for Workington has endeavoured to cast aspersions on two distinguished academics who have no parliamentary privilege and no right of reply.

    That kind of aspersion would never have been cast by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point or by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, both of whom have already spoken in the debate.

    Road safety is a matter of genuine concern. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has made clear the Department's position on road safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton asked me whether I thought that the industry would co-operate with the requirements of the new clause and the amendment, if they reach the statute book. On the basis of my knowledge of the industry, which is not extensive because I have no personal involvement with it, it has always co-operated fully with I he requirements of the law.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton have both said that new clause 1 and amendment No. 6 should not cause the sponsor and supporters of the Bill any problems just because there is a difference of view about the effects of the measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton has said, that is the essence of the debate. Therefore, the debate should be informed by statistics that can be made readily available. Nevertheless, because of other factors, it is not always easy to interpret statistics one way or the other. The new clause and amendment No. 6 pose no problems whatsoever for the supporters of the Bill. We are in favour of information being made available. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has made a good case, and, as sponsor of the Bill, I recommend acceptance of new clause 1 and amendment No. 6.

    I am rather nervous about intervening at this point, when there is so much sweetness and light, but you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was asked certain questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). He asked about the Government's view on the impact of the change in Scotland and inquired about whether that change had been adequately monitored. During the Committee proceedings there were many references to a report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. That report, which was published comparatively recently, is of great interest and it may be helpful if, very briefly, I mention the essential points that emerge from it.

    Between the introduction of the changes in Scotland in 1976, and 1984, the consumption of alcohol by women increased by 36 per cent. There was an increase in the consumption of alcohol by women in all age groups. The overall increase represents an increase both in the number of women drinking and in the amount that is drunk by individual women. There was a very small increase in the consumption of alcohol by men, but it is not statistically significant. However, male drinkers in 1984 were four times more likely than female drinkers to have drunk on licensed premises during the afternoon. Men also made more use of extended evening hours and Sunday openings of public houses. That, together with the absence of any increase in consumption by men, suggests that the relaxation of the licensing hours in Scotland did not play a major part in the increase of consumption by women.

    OPCS concluded that it was unlikely that the increase was a direct consequence of the changes made by the 1976 Act. It believed that it was more likely to reflect changes in attitudes towards women drinking, possibly in part by the new licensing law. I understand that the overall conclusion was that the changes made in Scotland had led to more leisurely and responsible drinking rather than to anything else.

    I am not here to pass judgment on the OPCS report; I am simply asking specific questions. The important point to make is that there has been a detailed survey which I invite hon. Members to read if they have not done so because it is a most detailed document and should give guidance to us all.

    This is the first opportunity that I have had to ask the Minister a question that I have wanted to ask him for several weeks and to which Government Ministers should have replied three weeks ago, at the time of the appointment of members of the Committee. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think it right that three Conservative Members of Parliament who take money from the drinks industry should have been members of this Committee and been able to vote—

    Order. I cannot see the relevance of that intervention to the clause.

    The behaviour of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is quite deplorable. I resent his assertions and insinuations. He uses the protection of parliamentary privilege to abuse that privilege and to insult hon. Members The hon. Gentleman ought to be thoroughly ashamed of himself, and I hope that all his consitituents know of his intervention today and know the sort of man who has been representing that constituency during the last few years. I do not think that it is necessary for me to say anything more.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton asked about the resource implications of the Bill. Throughout our deliberations I have been at pains to emphasise that the Government's attitude has been one of neutrality, not least because we do not believe that the scheme in the Bill is the correct scheme if one is considering licensing reform. Undoubtedly the resource implications of a scheme that provided for individual applications for variation orders would be very considerable.

    In view of a question asked by the hon. Member for Workington, I ought to mention the Duffy and Plant research. It is perhaps not entirely without significance that that research was published in the British Medical Journal on 4 January 1986. If those gentlemen were bought by the drink trade and their research could not be looked upon as independent, I doubt very much whether it would have been published by the British Medical Journal. The Duffy and Plant research records that several recent studies have suggested that alcohol consumption levels in Scotland are very similar to those elsewhere in Britain. Nevertheless, a higher proportion of Scottish alcohol consumption is in the form of spirits than is the case in England and Wales. In addition, alcohol consumption in Scotland appears to be slightly more concentrated. It appears on fewer separate occasions than in England and Wales. Wilson suggested that Scottish alcohol consumption levels may once have exceeded those in England and Wales, but that recently these differences may have faded. In other words, they may have faded since the time of liberalisation back in 1976.

    After the sweetness and light poured on the House by my hon. Friend the Member of Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), it would not be right for me to say all that I would have said on the new clause. My hon. Friend is in charge of the Bill and he must make his own judgment. The only reservation that I would have expressed is that, if one writes into a Bill of this nature a provision for specific monitoring, as set out in new clause 1, it might be read as an instruction to all those concerned to carry out only that sort of monitoring. That is the last thing that I know my hon. Friend would wish. Quite clearly, it is the duty of all the Departments concerned to react to public concern and to carry out the research and monitoring that seems necessary as events develop. Therefore, although I realise why my hon. Friend has decided to accept the new clause, I hope that everyone will realise that it must not be taken as an instruction to the Government to carry out monitoring only in that area. I hope it is also recognised that the wording will create considerable difficulty for the Government, because one will have to keep statistics of the number of variation orders in particular parts of the country, and not just statistics of the total number of variation orders.

    That brings me straight back to the point that I have made so often and that is of help to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) about the resource implications. One is adding to the Bill yet another provision that will add to the resource implications already there as a result of the machinery for separate applications for variation orders. In all the circumstances, and in the light of my hon. Friend's views as to the acceptability of new clause 1, I shall say no more.

    I would like to make a number of points about this new clause. It complements the Bill extremely well. The Bill is welcomed among the licensed victuallers in my association and I put on record my appreciation of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is in charge of the Bill, and the Government for the way they have conducted these proceedings. One of the greatest characteristics of this Government has been the way in which they have enhanced the notion of personal responsibility. This Bill is a significant further addition to that principle in its application to the use of alcohol in a responsible way. We are seeking to promote tourism and enterprises in my constituency of Stafford, so this Bill will be helpful. On the other hand, I have had reason to be concerned recently about a number of instances where pub owners have been viciously attacked by thugs who have gone into the pubs and caused very great distress.

    I should like to mention the recent case of Mrs. Whitehouse of the Lamb Inn in Stafford, who was viciously attacked and caused great injury. As the Home Office is responsible for the matter, and in the context of the new clause, which I think is a good one, I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact—I have written to the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor—that it is wrong for such lenient sentences to be given, such as that given to the assailant of Mrs. Whitehouse after a vicious attack. In fact—

    It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).