House Of Commons
Friday 1 May 1987
The House met at half-past Nine o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Diplomatic And Consular Premises
Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Hurd, Mr. Secretary Ridley and Mr. Tim Eggar presented a Bill to make provision as to what land is diplomatic or consular premises; to give the Secretary of State power to vest certain land in himself; to impose on him a duty to sell land vested in him in the exercise of that power; to give certain provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations the force of law in the United Kingdom by amending Schedule 1 to the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 and Schedule Ito the Consular Relations Act 1968; to amend section 9(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1977; and for connected purposes; And the same was read the First time: and ordered to be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 May and to be printed [Bill 145.]
Licensing (Amendment) Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns our procedures. I do not know whether there is any precedent, but in my long years I have never known a Bill such as the one before us today which has been rushed through—not by the sponsors—with such indecent haste. It was reported late on Wednesday evening and is to be considered as first business today, but hon. Members wishing to table amendments were unable to obtain a printed copy of the amended Bill. I asked for one yesterday but could not obtain one. The printed copy was simply not available.The Bill is not lengthy, but it is highly technical and, as I hope to show later, has grave implications for our society in terms of child protection, road safety, and so on. The House may consider this justifiable, but the Bill makes a very serious breach in established licensing procedures. Despite the handicap that I have mentioned, I managed to put down a number of amendments which you. Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, have seen fit to select. Had the printed Bill been available, I and other hon. Members might have been able to put down other amendments, but we have been hindered in that respect. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as guardian of the rights of all Back Bench Members, for your guidance as to whether such casual, inefficient and inconsiderate arrangements, which clearly militate against proper consideration on Report, should be allowed to obtain in future.
I understand the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill was indeed reported on Wednesday. There are few opportunities for hon. Members with private Members' Bills and today is a day on which remaining stages are taken. Bearing in mind the fact that the Bill was reported only on Wednesday, I have been generous to the right hon. Gentleman and have selected amendments which were starred. I think, therefore, that the Bill should proceed.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I intervene at this stage as I suspect that you are about to move to another point.You, Mr. Speaker, have just ruled in reply to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). Could you tell us the precedent for that ruling? I have not been able to establish it, but I am sure that you did that work before coming to the House today. I believe that the House is entitled to know what the precedent is, because we have been approached by a number of organisations asking how it is possible for Parliament to debate these matters in this way. I have given assurances that we shall seek to establish what the precedents are. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker. will be most forthcoming and will wish to advise the House before we proceed with the Bill. Otherwise, people will wonder what we are doing in this place.
This is a private Member's day. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are 12 such Fridays in a Session when Bills have precedence; the first six are for Second Readings and the latter six are for remaining stages. The promoter of the Bill has, as is his right, chosen today to debate its remaining stages. I took into account the fact that the Bill was reported only on Wednesday, and I have been generous in my selection of amendments. I think that we should proceed.
New Clause 1
Effects Of Variation Orders
'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.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second 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:
to which there will be frequent reference during the debate—"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"—
"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?
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: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."
the alcohol beverage control system—"It has been fashionable to decry the complexity of the system"—
in legal provision—"in its current form, to point to the inconsistencies"—
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:"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."
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 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."
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:
By golly, it had a perceptible effect. Of the 1961 Act, and the trends in drunkeness that followed, the Erroll report said:"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."
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:"There is little evidence in our view to suggest that the Licensing Act 1961 had the overall effect of accelerating these upward movements."
"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.
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.We had to think at least 10 years ahead, perhaps even 20. Legislation cannot be continually changed after all."
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:
Paragraph 1.3 reads:"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.
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 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."
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:"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."
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:"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."
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"Even one drink can kill."
"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"—
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:
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 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."
Hon. Members must remember that that was when the Standing Committee was considering the matter. The Minister replied:"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."
In other words, he will answer it after Report and Third Reading. That is disgraceful."I shall answer this question shortly."—[Official Report, 28 April 1978; Vol. 114, c. 71.]
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 viewNew 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.
They always are.
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.
How much do they get?
I resent the way in which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is behaving this morning.
Was it £49,000?
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 industry is concerned about the problems of alcohol abuse.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I shall not give way again to the hon. Member for Workington.
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.
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.
Of course they have a 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).
Radioactive Waste (Disposal)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the disposal of low and intermediate-level radioactive wastes.I have received a letter from the chairman of NIREX reporting on the results hitherto of the investigations at Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck and South Killingholme, and giving me his current assessment of the economics of shallow disposal of low-level waste; and of the alternative of deep disposal together with intermediate-level waste. The letter from NIREX, which I have placed in the Library together with my reply, concludes that, although a safe near-surface disposal facility could certainly be developed at any of the four sites currently being investigated, the economic advantages of separate near-surface low-level waste disposal are nothing like as great as NIREX earlier thought. Consequently, NIREX concludes that it would be preferable to develop a multi-purpose deep site for low-level waste and intermediate-level waste rather than proceed with the investigations for a near-surface facility at any of the four sites currently under investigation. I accept that conclusion. NIREX will therefore now concentrate on identifying a suitable location for a deep multi-purpose facility for both intermediate-level waste and low-level waste. It is already evaluating the relative merits of techniques of deep burial of intermediate-level waste in a repository on land, tunnelling under the sea from the shore, and disposal into the seabed from a sea-based rig and it will now extend this study to embrace low-level waste as well. It will not proceed with the investigation of a near-surface facility for low-level waste at Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck or South Killingholme. I should like to pay tribute to the staff of NIREX and its consultants for the quality of the technical work they have done, and also for their very great efforts to establish good working relations with the local communities. This is a sensible development of our policy to establish not only safe but acceptable facilities for the disposal of radioactive wastes.
The Labour party welcomes the decision by Her Majesty's Government to abandon this policy, which we have long argued from the Dispatch Box, is misconceived, undemocratically perceived and has been found to be deeply flawed technically, as we suggested it would be. We can fully understand the relief that will be felt in the communities in the vicinity of Bradwell, Elstow, Fulbeck and South Killingholme. I pay tribute to the hon. Members from both sides of the House who fought against that flawed policy.However, we recognise, as does the rest of the country, that the Government have acted only in a squalid attempt to save themselves from electoral embarrassment. There can be no other explanation for this announcement being made today. If I lived in one of the four constituencies affected, I would need more reassurance than that given by the Government that they will not reverse the policy if by any accident they happen to win the next election. The policy that the Secretary of State has abandoned today has been found to be bankrupt. I wonder whether he will give the country an assurance that the next round of decision-making will be done openly, with full input from local and environmental groups and with full consideration of all the international experience. That is vital. Will he now acknowledge that decision-making in secret by a small group of Government technicians simply does not work? As the Secretary of State has now acknowledged, they simply could not get their costings right. In his statement, the Secretary of State told the House and the country that the Government, in their attempt to tackle this serious problem, will concentrate on a single, deep, multi-purpose facility for nuclear waste. We all know that that is the Swedish solution that has been advocated by the Labour party and the Select Committee of the House for a considerable time. Some of us have seen it in Formark in Sweden. The Government's estimate of the amount of waste that will be accumulated and accelerated by the decision to go ahead with the Sizewell proposal will increase the problem, without finding solutions. In his evidence to the Select Committee, the Minister said that by the year 2000 we would require facilities for up to a dozen multi-storey tower blocks. That is the extent of the problem in Britain. Does the Secretary of State realise that, although we admire the Swedish system, we would require up to 16 Formarks to cope with the problem? What work is going ahead on that issue? What procedure will be used to identify up to 16 seaside towns that will be examined and used for a deep mine facility? Have the Government considered the full implications for the health of workers in the nuclear industry and in the nuclear transport industry of this continued delay? Will the Secretary of State act urgently on that problem? Does the Secretary of State recollect that in 1976 the Flowers report said that we were a long way behind our neighbours with a policy on the problem? Will he press ahead as quickly as possible and give the House some indication of when he intends to start work on the problem? How will he overcome the problem of blight that we have experienced on the four sites, when he is looking at a further 16 areas? The Secretary of State has made the announcement, and we welcome it. We understand why it has been made, but we hope that the Government will follow the Labour party's approach when they go into the next round of decision-making and will decide to consult widely with environmental groups and the industry, because only by doing that and by taking the general public along with them will they be able to cope with this difficult problem.
The hon. Gentleman is muddled about a number of things. He says that he welcomes the statement—I am grateful to him for saying that—but then he describes it as squalid. He cannot do both. If his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who is in charge of shadowing my Department, were present—I am not regretting or complaining about the fact that he is not — he would say that he has always recognised the need for shallow disposal sites and believed that they were safe, as I still do. That policy was also endorsed by the Select Committee, to which I pay tribute. Therefore, there is nothing from which the hon. Gentleman can make political capital.I wish to emphasise that the reason for the exchange of letters, which are in the Library, was that the work done by NIREX has shown that the large cost differential between shallow and deep sites has now more or less disappeared. As the reason for going for a shallow site was originally the large cost differential, it must now be right to ask NIREX to investigate a deep site, since the cost of storage is no longer greater. The hon. Gentleman accused me of behaving secretly. As I received the letter from NIREX only yesterday, I believe that the rapidity with which I have come to the House to make the statement shows that I have nothing to hide or conceal from the House and that I wanted to make those fact available as soon as I received them. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to start talking about 20 seaside towns, this town or that area, or that county, or the other constituency. We do not have any proposals from NIREX for a deep disposal site. The hon. Gentleman should know better — he is a Front-Bench spokesman. It is all too easy for him to start playing politics — [Interruption.] As the hon. Gentleman said that the Labour party recognises the need to find disposal sites for nuclear waste and that the nuclear industry would have to provide those sites, it is up to the hon. Gentleman as well as the Conservative party to co-operate in taking the matter calmly, reasonably and rationally.
I am sure that the residents of the four areas concerned will welcome very much the statement by my right hon. Friend. For whatever reason the decision may have been taken, happily, the economics show that another solution is equal, or even preferable, to the one that was being sought by NIREX. Nevertheless, what is the time scale proposed for finding alternative facilities?Everyone has recognised and is agreed that the method used at Drigg is an unacceptable form of disposal and, furthermore, the time there is running out shortly. How long will it take to explore and find alternative facilities? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recommendations made by my Select Committee, that compaction and pyrolysis should be used to reduce the volume of low-level waste, would resolve some of the anxieties that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) mentioned, because the need for sites would be vastly reduced?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the report from the Select Committee, which he chaired, and for what he has just said about it being right to change course in the light of the changed economic figures that are now before me. The answer to my hon. Friend's question about the time scale is that the position until now has been that NIREX believed that a shallow site might be available for use in the mid-1990s, but that a deep site might not be available until about the year 2005. I hope that by asking NIREX to concentrate on looking for a deep site, it will be able to advance that date by a year or two, or even three, so that the deep site will be available soon after the end of the century. I am quite confident that the storage of nuclear waste in the meantime can well be accommodated, as the exchange of letters will show, which I commend to my hon. Friend.With regard to Drigg, I confirm that we shall consult on a new draft authorisation for the storage licence there, and that there will be compaction to increase the capacity of the site. In response to my hon. Friend's Select Committee's recommendations, we shall also be tightening up the safety requirements on that site. I believe that NIREX and British Nuclear Fuels plc are satisfied about the capacity problem and that there will be no difficulty with that.
This must be about the greatest and quickest U-turn in the history of the Government, seeing that the letter was despatched yesterday and the Secretary of State must have been up early this morning to send his reply. The obvious conclusion—the Secretary of State must not try to deny it — is that when the public's environmental concerns were put forward, the Government turned a deaf ear, but when the political and electoral concerns of the right hon. Gentleman's party managers were put forward, like a response to a Mayday signal the Government came to the rescue at the last moment.I should like to ask two specific questions. First, does the Secretary of State accept that the Opposition parties have argued all along for what he has now concluded is the better option? He was wrong. the Conservatives were wrong, but the Opposition parties were correct. Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the chairman of NIREX, who says in his letter that ready public acceptance of low-level disposal will not be achieved in the short term? The public are not happy with nuclear waste, and the Government's belief that they could be persuaded was wrong. The costings could have been worked out first without putting those four communities to all the trouble of the drillings and the test bores. If the Government had been minded to be fair about that, the four communities could have done without a year and more of enormous concern, which in the end has vindicated them and shown that the Government have been going in the wrong direction for the past three years.
It was typically squalid of the hon. Gentleman to try to make those political points about a serious and important matter for the future of our economy and for our environment. The reason why that exchange of letters has taken place is that the fundamental difference in costs between shallow and deep disposal of low-level waste has, after exhaustive examination by NIREX, been shown not to be there. That must be something that the hon. Gentleman will accept, just as I accept it. I will not take it from the hon. Gentleman to be criticised for coming to the House and announcing that fact as soon as I had time to make the statement, having replied to NIREX.The hon. Gentleman is incorrect in saying that the Opposition parties have all been arguing for this solution, because the hon. Member for Copeland has always believed that a shallow disposal facility is right, and he is in charge of the Labour party's environment portfolio. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about this. I have no reason to believe that a shallow disposal site is not totally safe, and no such decision would have been made if it had not been for the cost differential. The hon. Gentleman talked about public acceptance. He has misread the letter from NIREX. He will find that there is a problem, in Mr. Baker's view, with public acceptance of the disposal of radioactive waste as a whole, not just low-level waste.
Order. I remind the House that this is a private Members' day. I ask hon. Members who are called to be brief in their questions.
As my right hon. Friend knows, not only I and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), but all Essex Members of Parliament and all elected local authorities in Essex, were opposed to the Bradwell project from the start. I hope that my right hon. Friend will appreciate the relief and delight at the wise decision that he has announed. He will know that Bradwell is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), who, as Chief Whip, has been precluded throughout from expressing his very strong oppostion to the project, because of the conventions of the House, but is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip throughout? We have worked together in close harmony, and I am empowered to say how delighted he is, as I am, at this wise decision.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and for what he has said, but I think that it would be right if I made it absolutely clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) and I never discussed the matter until last night. He has been scrupulous in conducting his duties as Chief Whip, irrespective of his views on the issue that we are now discussing.
I am not by nature a vindictive person—at least. I hope I am not; not any more than any other hon. Member—but if I were to try to pretend that I did not relish today's event, I am afraid that I should be guilty of being somewhat economical with the truth.As an engineer, the justification of economics in regard to shallow disposal compared to deep disposal leaves me somewhat breathless with astonishment. The only thing that I can detect is the erosion of electoral support. If there is a difference in cost to justify the statement, will NIREX and the Department publish the costings so that everyone can test the validity of the claim? If the Department now backs deep disposal sites, will the right hon. Gentleman give a repeat performance of the two previous statements and say that the Billingham and Cleveland areas will not be identified for that purpose? As the Secretary of State has allowed himself to be persuaded that the less-blinkered perspective of those who are not experts in the industry is acceptable, how will he justify trying to persuade the House to accept the proposals for Sizewell B a week on Monday?
I remind the Gentleman that he is not the only engineer in the House, because I am also a qualified engineer. The costings have already been published and are to be found in the letter that is in the Library. I cannot comment on what proposals NIREX might put to me in the future, because that is a hypothetical question.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and who is, even now, with his constituents?
My hon. Friend speaks in accordance with what my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) would have said if he had been here.
May I remind the Secretary of State of the comment that I made when his predecessor made the announcement about investigating the four sites? I said that because the four sites had been identified the black clouds that had hung over other parts of the country had moved to four specific areas. As a result of today's statement the black clouds have moved from those four areas — I am happy about that—but every hon. Member representing a constituency with a coastal boundary must face the possibility of an investigation in his constituency.Not only is the depositing of low-level nuclear waste a problem, but so is the transporting of it. Will the Secretary of State confirm that any constituency with a coastal boundary is a potential site for the depositing of low-level waste? My constituency has a coastal boundary, although I might be considered fortunate because coal workings exist all along the coast. All hon. Members with a coastal boundary must be worried.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) first used the phrase "coastal boundary," but if the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) reads my statement he will see that NIREX is now
Those are the three options. The first is on land, the second is tunnelling under the sea from the shore, and the third is disposal into the seabed from a rig. I plead with all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen not to play the game of guessing where something might or might not be, when at the moment there are no proposals from NIREX. Indeed, it was only today that I asked it to make proposals."evaluating the relative merits of techniques of deep burial of intermediate-level waste in a repository on land, tunnelling under the sea from the shore and disposal into the seabed from a sea-based rig".
I welcome the statement, which will also be welcomed by many people in Yorkshire and Humberside, not least by those who live in the Brigg and Cleethorpes constituency. Will my right hon. Friend give priority to finding a deep site as far north as possible?
This is not the proper occasion to introduce arguments about the north-south divide.
The Secretary of State has made it clear that economic factors are the reason for the change. Does he accept that while investigations into the three options are taking place economic factors could change yet again? May we have an assurance that the most important considerations are not economic, but those of safety, and the public concept of that safety?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that the reason for the statement is the economic change described in the letter to which I referred. Of course economics are not the only concern, but at the outset when the four sites were considered the economic differential was about 20:1. It has now shrunk to nothing. Obviously economics are a factor, but there is no question but that whichever site or type of site is chosen—deep, shallow, in the sea or on the land — safety will be the Government's paramount consideration.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the NIREX facilities in my constituency alongside the important nuclear research institution at Harwell laboratory? Does he recognise the importance of an early resolution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal? Will he confirm that Britain cannot will the end of achieving nuclear power without willing the means of nuclear waste disposal?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's last comment. We cannot have a nuclear industry unless we find a repository for its waste. We are to have a nuclear industry, so we shall succeed in finding a repository.I regard today's statement as an evolution; an improvement in our knowledge and in our costings of the difficult question of waste disposal. It is a step forward. We now know that the ultimate answer is likely to be in one of the three options, and that increases our preparedness, so that we no longer waste time on false avenues.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I am committed to the principle of a nuclear industry? Does he accept that the people of Northumberland, Tyneside and Cumbria, where mining interests go back centuries, are aware that mines have been closed in those areas and that deeper mines exist under the sea? The people are not naive, and they are aware that nuclear waste is likely to be transported in their areas. Will the Minister inform NIREX as soon as possible that it must be open and frank and educate the people to the realities of the transport and safe storage of nuclear waste? If he does that, he will do the people in those areas a favour.
The hon. Gentleman is doing the people of the country a favour, both in his stand that the nuclear industry is essential for our economic development and in his recognition that people must be persuaded that they cannot have the benefits of nuclear power without the difficulties associated with waste disposal. If the whole of his party was as realistic, it would not be experiencing its present difficulties.It is extremely unlikely that any old coal mines will be acceptable. An immense amount of care is required in the selection of rock formations that have no water fissures and of particular types of rock suitable for such a facility. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that a new shaft would be bored into a new strata of rock that had all the required properties. An old abandoned coal mine would not be used.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been able to contact my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who are heavily involved in ministerial and constituency duties? They have asked me to say how grateful they are, on behalf of their constituents, for this statesmanlike decision by my right hon. Friend.
I must not accept gratitude from my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) because, equally, I would have had to accept their curses if the decision had gone the other way. The truth is that this matter has been decided entirely on economic merits and not at all on my hope for favours from my hon. Friends' tongues.
Now that it has proved so difficult to get rid of what the Secretary of State termed as safe waste, and after 18 months of negotiations the Government have had to say that they will not dump waste at the four sites, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is strong evidence that four opinion polls which were taken in those areas where the waste was to be dumped and which were due to be published shortly would have shown that the Tory candidates in those seats were in severe jeopardy? That is why the Secretary of State has come along in this hasty fashion today. Will he acknowledge that, having faced this black hole of the election, he had to try to cobble together some other proposals? Will he say categorically, notwithstanding what he said about existing coal mines, that no suggestion will be made about placing any of this waste in what are known as opencast areas, where giant holes have been created in places such as my constituency where lots of waste has been dumped, including dioxin and other toxic products, and that they will not be used for this kind of proposal?
I gather that an opinion poll which was taken at the four sites as to people's attitudes to waste disposal was published yesterday. Against the decision that I have taken, they show a slightly more favourable attitude towards shallow disposal of low-level waste than perhaps the House would have expected.
Not that poll.
I know of no other polls. They are the polls that matter and they are the polls at which I look.The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned toxic and other waste in his constituency. I believe that those sorts of waste are far more dangerous than any low-level intermediate waste could ever be, particularly since they have not been properly provided for in storages such as we were making.
I want assurances.
I am not giving any assurances whatsoever as to what sites, areas or techniques NIREX might suggest. We must wait and see what it proposes.
As a strong supporter of nuclear power, I say to the Secretary of State, quite modestly, that when the original announcement was made I predicted that in the end the Secretary of State would not proceed, on the basis that there is a distinction between what is safe and what the public perceive to be safe. It is a remaining problem which we cannot resolve because of public prejudices. If west Cumberland is to be examined for further disposal, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said he would do well to remember that while the people of west Cumbria accept nuclear power, because it provides much employment, they would object if, in the longer term, his announcement led to any escalation in the amount of nuclear waste that we are required to take. What I originally suggested to the Secretary of State three years ago stands. There must be an international settlement of these matters. We need an international bank for waste. That is the only way in which we will solve this matter in the long-term.
The hon. Gentleman claims prescience about this decision, and I think that it is the exception that proves the rule—for once the hon. Gentleman is right.The hon. Gentleman has been right to support nuclear power which is an important industry in west Cumbria. I pay tribute to him for looking after the interests of his constituents, by the attitude that he has taken throughout. Nuclear power is vital to the area — I was there a fortnight ago — and I welcome anything that can be done to demonstrate to the rest of the country that the people of west Cumbria not only make their living from nuclear power in the main, but are very happy to accept the assurances that the safety standards are as high as I believe them to be. It is other people who spread scare stories about west Cumbria, not those who live there. I have no idea what NIREX and BNFL will propose, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be wise to talk to them about future plans for the Drigg site. It is referred to in the exchange of letters and I am satisfied that all precautions will he taken to ensure that that site is totally safe and under control. This is a help to those who would like to see disposal facilities advanced, and not long ago I was asked by the Copeland district council to accelerate the bringing forward of a deep hole for intermediate-level waste so that the waste could be removed from the site at Sellafield. This statement does exactly that.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have listened to a statement that is of great interest to the House, and most of all to the four hon. Members in whose constituencies NIREX's explorations have taken place. Not one or those hon. Members has been able to attend the House and we have had, at best, an attendance of about 30 hon. Members. On any other day than a Friday, the House would have been almost full. It is an extraordinary discourtesy to inflict on the House on a Friday morning a statement that lacks the urgency that normally attends statements that are made on a Friday morning.In addition, it is a grave interruption of private Members' time, of which there is all too little in the House. The Secretary of State would have served the House far better if he had postponed his statement until Tuesday and I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), can only conclude that political reasons made him decide to make this rushed statement this morning ahead of the publication of the opinion polls.
That is not a matter of order but a matter for the Government whether there should be a statement. However, it is a private Members' day and there is little enough time for private Members.
Licensing (Amendment) Bill
Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
Before the statement I was speaking about the vicious attacks on pub owners that have occurred in my constituency and I told the Minister that I had raised this matter with the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor because I was appalled at the leniency of the sentence which was given—a suspended sentence—to a person who had inflicted horrific injuries on a constituent of mine, Mrs. Whitehouse of the Lamb Inn, Stafford. I also raised this matter with Mr. Bruce Williams of The Shropshire Inn, Stafford, who is the chairman of the local Licensed Victuallers Association. I hope that we shall receive a satisfactory response from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor on those points.Unfortunately, as well as that example, we now have pending a similar instance which occurred in the King's Arms, Eccleshall, where Mrs. King was attacked about 10 days ago. I am glad, in principle, that the Bill is going through and I am particularly indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) because it seems that the matter needs to be monitored, and on the carefully worked out basis of public order, road safety and health. Not only do we need the results to be monitored, but we want to be sure that licensing justices will use their powers not to make an order if there is likely to be a public nuisance or a threat to public order or safety. We also need to be sure that magistrates' courts will revoke or amend orders if public nuisance is caused. I welcome the principle of the Bill which will widen freedom of choice and personal responsibility and I am satisfied that there are suitable restraints to enable the new system to work effectively. I should be glad if my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State would consider, if not today at least on another occasion, the use of exclusion orders. When publicans are subjected to vicious attacks exclusion orders can be served on their assailants. I was appalled that an exclusion order was not served on the person who attacked Mrs. Whitehouse. We should ensure that exclusion orders are not short-term measures, but run for a year or two to make sure that people behave themselves. I am informed that in Madeley, in the northern part of my constituency, young people under 18 are being supplied with drink at a youth club or community centre by people over the age of 18. I am looking into the circumstances which could be the basis for refusing a variation order to the publicans who are allowing people over 18 to supply drink to younger people. It is a matter of the gravest concern if young people under the statutory age are being encouraged to drink. I am extremely glad that the Bill is going through. It includes suitable safeguards to ensure that it will not be abused.
New clause 1 is an important provision which I welcome, because it goes to the heart of many of the worries about the Bill.I wish that we had monitored more diligently what happened in Scotland. The Minister referred to the OPCS survey, which is full of interesting information, but I am sure that he agrees that we do not have as much information as we should like about what happened in Scotland. If we had that information new clause 1 would be unnecessary. It is regrettable that when such a momentous decision was made in Scotland insufficient effort was made to assess the implications of the change. Much of our discussion, in Committee and today, has been based on assumptions about the consequences of the Bill. We cannot say confidently what happened in Scotland and assume that much the same will happen in England. The new clause is a second best; at least the results of the change will be monitored diligently and carefully. I listened carefully to the Minister, but the Government's attitude did not become clear. Unless we have a commitment from the Government to monitor carefully the results of the change in such a way that the House and the country will be helped to assess the consequences, new clause 1 will not mean much.
I had not appreciated that there was some uncertainty in the Government about monitoring this extension of what has been loosely called the permissive society. Having listened to the chairman of the Tory party talking about the evils of the permissive society and the Prime Minister speaking about Victorian values and so on, I took it for granted that they would be here to say to the Minister, "Now look you here. We are not going to be slipping any further into this permissive age. We might get the whole show being degraded even further."I should have thought that the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Tory party would insist on monitoring to find out whether the permissive society was being enhanced. I had not fully realised until now that that sort of slippage was taking place while the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Tory party were supposed to be in charge. What will they say on the hustings about this matter?
My hon. Friend's intervention may provoke the Minister to make a more clear-cut response.The Government have not given us an assurance that would enable us to be confident that the Government will do what clause 1 requires. I hope that the Minister will make a clearer statement of the Government's intentions. The Minister expressed reservations about the resource implications of the procedures for issuing variation orders. That point was made in Committee, but new clause 1 raises a new issue which was not covered in Committee and I was not sure what view the Minister took on it. Exactly what is the Government's response to the new clause?
With my eye on the clock, I was trying to do a service to the House by not spending too much time on the matter. As I have been asked to be a little more specific, I have no hesitation in being so.We start from the proposition that no one doubts the health risks attendant on the consumption of alcohol, the dangers to others and the need to collect statistics to assess the risks and how we should respond to them. The new clause seems to assume that there is a dearth of statistical data on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems, but that is simply not the case. A range of information is collected, from which it is possible to monitor trends on, for example, the incidence of road accidents in which alcohol is a contributory factor and the extent of alcohol-related health problems. My Department maintains records of public order offences and offences in which alcohol is a primary cause. There is no suggestion that those statistical data will not continue to be available. To that extent, therefore, the new clause is unnecessary. As I emphasised in my short speech, there has been a great deal of research into what has happened in Scotland since 1976. I repeat that the OPCS survey is very rewarding and deserves careful reading. I also made available to the Standing Committee copies of a letter that I had addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) in which I gave the statistics for total alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom as stated in the official journal of the European Communities. In litres per capita, consumption was 5·6 in 1960, 8·3 in 1970, 10·5 in 1975, 9·8 in 1979 and 8·5 in 1983. In other words, there was a big increase between 1960 and 1970 but virtually no increase between 1970 and 1983.
I am not laying the foundations for any kind of argument. I am replying to the assertion that there is not a wealth of statistics. There is indeed a wealth of statistics. The problem is that one cannot always draw any certain conclusions from them, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braille) stated in Committee.
I am following my right hon. and learned Friend's argument and I do not necessarily disagree with what he is saying, but in this context the statistics that matter are the health harm statistics. There is no doubt whatever that in the period under review harm has been increasing, especially among the young. I will give chapter and verse for that at a later stage. What matters is how much harm is being done and how many lives are being damaged or even destroyed by alcohol excess. That is what matters and it should not be avoided. We must have the statistics on that aspect.
I have given many of those statistics, but they do not always support my right hon. Friend's argument. For instance, the death rate from cirrhosis of the liver has always been higher in Scotland and the figure has been rising from 1970 until the present, but it does not help my right hon. Friend's argument because there was no escalation in the rate of increase following liberalisation of the licensing laws in 1976. There is a wealth of statistics about health harm, but they do not prove my right hon. Friend's point, although they also do not prove the case advanced by the sponsors of the Bill. The statistics exist, but they must be analysed with great care to ensure that the right lessons are drawn from them.In my earlier remarks I referred to the research carried out by Duffy and Plant. That is a further example of the work that has been carried out in this area. I emphasised that the OPCS survey of drinking in Scotland provided useful information about the level and patterns of consumption but that it was difficult to evaluate the implications of the evidence because there was no directly comparable data available for England and Wales.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With all respect to the Minister, he should remember that he is making an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs).
The error is mine and I apologise to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). I understood that he had completed his remarks, so I called the Minister. With the leave of the House, however, I will call the hon. Member for Battersea again in due course.
I certainly intended no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). I thought that he had finished his speech and had challenged me to deal with this point in a further speech, which is precisely what I am doing.The OPCS survey compared levels of consumption and patterns of drinking before and after the 1976 Act and found that although there had been some increase in consmption it was almost entirely among women. As there was no discernible increase in consumption by men, the likely conclusion was that other factors had led to the increase among women, mainly the changing social attitudes towards women drinking. It is very difficult. to conclude that it could have had anything to do with the 1976 Act. Other statistics are quoted in my letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, and I repeat that plenty of statistics are available. I promise my right hon. Friend that if a Bill similar to this one was passed by Parliament, we would try to monitor its effects and, bearing in mind the gravity of the issue of drink as a cause of accidents, disease and premature death, we would ensure that proper emphasis was placed on research in this area. I was dealing swiftly—perhaps too swiftly—with the terms of the amendment because it did not seem to be fair to take up the time of the House on an amendment and a new clause which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said so quickly, and to my surprise, that he would accept. The Government would not have advised him to accept the new clause because new machinery would have to be established to gather details of all the variation orders granted within a county. Given our reservations on the Bill in terms of its resource implications for the courts, it cannot have come as a surprise to hon. Members when I said that the Government have grave reservations about new clause 1, which would add to all the difficult resource implications that follow from the scheme of the Bill and the idea of separate applications for variation orders. But apart from that, the requirements of the new clause overlook the fact that, at present, statistical data do not always relate to county areas. For example, statistics on offences of alcohol-related crime are collected within police force areas, while statistics on alcohol-related health problems are collected on a regional basis. There is little point in collecting data on a county basis unless there are comparable data for earlier years. For all those reasons, the type of data that the new clause suggests should be collected may not be the most useful. For the reasons which I advanced a few moments ago, it would be inappropriate to include a monitoring requirement in the Bill. It reads almost like a direction that that sort of monitoring should take place and that is the end of the matter. But we would all expect the Departments concerned to ensure that monitoring and research was carried out when it seemed appropriate in the light of the new facts and circumstances, including public concern. I do not recommend the new clause to the House, but out of concern for my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood and with my eye on the clock, I have tried to deal with the matter briefly. I meant no discourtesy to the House, and certainly none to the hon. Member for Battersea, and I hope that my remarks have met his point.
My enthusiasm to hear what the Minister had to say made me sit down as though I had finished my speech rather than as though I was giving way to an intervention. I regret that I caused the misunderstanding, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I thank you for allowing me to say a few more words.The Minister has not put my mind at rest. Although he was helpful in elaborating on the range of statistical information that is being collected and that would be used to meet at least some of the requirements of new clause 1, many other bits of information, not necessarily statistical, would be encompassed by the intentions of the new clause. Those the Minister has not given an undertaking to meet. I understand the Minister's difficulty. He seems to be saying that we have much information, but it is not very conclusive. Although that information will be available, he is not certain that it will add up to the type of scrutiny of the consequences of the Bill—if it becomes law—that the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) would have desired. That adds to the anxiety that I expressed earlier—that we missed a chance in Scotland. It would have been easier to set up the type of monitoring of the consequences of the changes that is necessary in Scotland than in England and Wales, for some of the reasons mentioned by the Minister. There are several others, but I shall not take up the time of the House by discussing them. Although the new clause is a worthy effort. in view of the Minister's remarks I believe that it will not go as far as I had hoped. 12 noon When the Minister discussed the statistics relating to alcohol as a contributory factor to road accidents, he mentioned people who are above the present threshold. As we have a legal limit, it is understandable that statistics are collected on the basis of compliance or failure to comply with that limit. However, the Minister will surely accept that, even below that legal limit, alcohol poses dangers to drivers. It is clear that any amount of alcohol that is consumed by a driver lessens his ability to drive as safely as he would otherwise have driven. I am concerned that the level of alcohol that has been set, for particular reasons, as the legal limit—I certainly support the idea of such limits — is not beyond controversy. Other countries have lower limits because they think that they are more consistent with road safety. If we gather statistics only about people who are over a certain limit, we are missing much valuable information. The Department of Transport could collect and make available information that would deal with the problem of drivers who have been drinking amounts of alcohol below the limits set by the present legislation. All the evidence is that alcohol is a major contributor to road accidents. I suspect that the more one examines the matter, the more alarming become one's conclusions, because consumption affects a wider range of road accidents than is apparent at first sight of the current statsitics. Nevertheless, the new clause at least points in the right direction, and I therefore support it.
Hansard will carefully follow our proceedings and accurately report what is said. However, some people cannot read. If they can only hear, they may like to hear the amendment that we are discussing to see how it slots into the clause in the Bill. Clause 1(7) states:
The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) has inserted an amendment that would include the words "road" between "or" and "safety" in line 20. That means that we are discussing the issue of road safety, and, in particular, variation orders. We are surely entitled to ask why we should take these matters into account. I have received a letter from a Mr. Mark Kelly of 19 Tarbot crescent, Woodthorpe, Yorkshire. It is an interesting letter that is similar to many others that I and my hon. Friends have received. It reflects the concern of many others about the Bill and I shall read it to the House because letters that are written to Members have a special place in our proceedings. Invariably we wish to receive them because they represent the voice of the electorate. Mr. Kelly wrote:"Licensing justices shall make a variation order unless satisfied that it is undesirable to do so having regard to the social circumstances of or to activities taking place on the premises or in the locality in which the premises are situated; and such an order shall not be made if the licensing justices consider that the proposed variation of the permitted hours is likely to cause public nuisance or to be a threat to public order or safety."
These are the words of an elector and as such he is important in our proceedings. The letter continues:"I was rather disturbed to hear that three MPs on the Committee looking into the licensing hours have a financial interest in the drink industry."
"Their defence that they declared an interest just does not satisfy me."
I hope that the views of an elector are not to be shut out of our proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Order. The hon. Gentleman must observe the procedures of the House. We are dealing with the monitoring of the effects of variation orders and road safety. The hon. Gentleman must restrict his remarks to those subjects.
I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Kelly is extremely concerned about these matters and feels that if they are to be considered fully, far more time should be given to the consideration of the Bill. That is why he is so angry about the selection of Members to consider the Bill in Committee. He writes:
"Surely it is not enough just to declare an interest. Members of Parliament with such interests"—
Order. The hon. Gentleman appears to be disregarding the clear ruling that I have given. He must restrict his remarks to the proposals that are before the House.
If I had tried to table an amendment to deal with this issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you confirm that it would have been out of order? There is no way within the procedures that exist within the House for me to raise this matter. When I raised it last week on a point of order—I have the relevant copy of the Official Report and this can be checked—I was told that it was impossible for me to raise the issue. If 50 million people, irrespective of what they think about the Bill and whatever their views on its likely effects on transport, the driving of vehicles and health, feel that the selection of Members to consider the Bill in Committee is a sufficiently important matter to warrant it being raised on the Floor of the House, they will expect an hon. Member who seeks to read a letter from a constituent to be adjudged as being in order.
The hon. Gentleman is being unfair to other hon. Members who wish to speak. There is a heavy load of business on the Order Paper and he must, as he knows, restrict his remarks to the matters that we are discussing. If he does not do so, he will be being unfair to the House, including hon. Members who wish to address themselves to business that appears later on the Order Paper.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
May I retain the right to speak, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I wish that to be established because I am on my feet. I wish first to raise a point of order, but I trust that you will call me again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I manage to catch your eye.What are we to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when three hon. Members declare their interests, do not break the rules but cause many concern? The three hon. Members have not broken the rules and I do not accuse them of doing so. They have done what the rules of the House allow them to do. They declared their interests, and having done so it was known when they were voting what their interests were. In that way they have done everything properly. But what do we do when the rules of the House of Commons are set in such a way as to protect the rights of hon. Members to have outside interests? I do not complain about that. I am riot one of those who say that they should not have them. If they want them, they should have them. But the rules are set in such a way that it is expected of hon. Members that, when they have pecuniary interests of such a nature, they would not wish to seek selection to such a Committee. The Bill is badly tarnished—
Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He will recollect as clearly as I do that he raised it with Mr. Speaker the other day, and Mr. Speaker gave a clear ruling at the time. There is nothing that I can add to that ruling.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order for my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) or any other hon. Member, when referring to a letter from an elector who is disturbed about the passage of a certain Bill and about some hon. Members sitting on a particular Committee and thereby, in his opinion, lining their pockets and assisting brewers who make large donations to the Tory party, to refer to that letter in the context of the amendment that deals with monitoring? It might assist the elector who wrote the letter in the hope that the matter would be raised as soon as possible. He might—but not necessarily—be satisfied to a degree if my hon. Friend could speak on the monitoring aspect in relation to his complaint about the Bill. If my hon. Friend were to deal with the matter in that fashion, he might conceivably be allowed to continue.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) how he might get his speech in order. Perhaps the hon. Member is grateful for that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it or is it not a convention of the House that hon. Members do not interfere with other hon. Members' constituencies without their express support and permission, particulary when quoting letters from other hon. Members' constituents? I understand that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) quoted from a letter from someone in Yorkshire, which is clearly not the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I wonder whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will confirm that Mr. Speaker does not look kindly upon hon. Members trespassing on other hon. Members' constituencies, and particularly quoting their constituents' letters.
I confirm that that is the normal custom in the House, and Mr. Speaker has reiterated it in the House on numerous occasions.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether I can help the House on the last point. I remember a famous debate when the then Secretary of State for Industry, who is now the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), quoted from three letters, none of which was from his constituents, which raised historic laughter in the Chamber. Leaving that matter aside, I support the Bill and hope that it gets its Third Reading today.I wonder whether I can help my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He read a letter from somebody who purports to call himself Mr. Kelly in which he made serious allegations about the conduct of certain Government Members. Is it not a convention of the House that, when letters are read — the hon. Member started to read the whole letter—they should be placed on the Table? That might satisfy everyone and then we could get on with the business and the Bill.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) made a series of helpful suggestions. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is an experienced parliamentarian. I am sure that he will get his speech in order without any help from hon. Members.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not have to respond to the slurs made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He has admitted that three hon. Members — my hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and I—have acted perfectly properly in accordance with the rules of the House. All hon. Members know what the hon. Gentleman is about with his campaign of smears and character assassination, but perhaps it is more difficult for those outside to understand that, because he has only bankrupt policies to offer, he will continue to indulge himself in his dirty, dirty little campaign.12.15 pm I owe it to my hon. Friends the Members for Thanet, North and for Romsey and Waterside, who cannot be here today, to say a little bit about what the hon. Member for Workington has said. My integrity has been impugned twice within the past 10 days by the hon. Gentleman. Last week, the hon. Gentleman made a scurrilous and defamatory attack and accused me of taking money in
Today he has effectively exacerbated what he said last week. These attacks, if made outside the House, would render him liable to some charges which would probably end up with extremely hefty expenses payable for libel or slander. But they are made with the absolute privilege that we in this House enjoy. The damage done is none the less real and calculable. Let me once again make my position in this regard absolutely clear. I am managing director of a small family company, Chiswick Caterers Ltd, in which I have a controlling interest. That company operates five tenanted public houses in London. I am paid a salary on which tax and national insurance are paid under the PAYE rules. It is the same position which I held before I became a Member in 1983, except that it carries half the salary that it did then. My parliamentary duties here have always taken precedence over my business interests. I am able to perform both tasks only by working very hard and for very long hours. I do that seven days a week. I doubt that my business interests take me more time that it does the hon. Member for Workington to dredge up his muck and slurs."back pockets for services rendered"—[Official Report, 22 April 1987; Vol. 114, c. 679.]
Order. I hate to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must remind him that he is on a point of order and that he should be brief.
Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of the Committee ruled last week that the way in which the three of us declared our interests had been totally in order. I shall not go over that, in the interests of brevity. I look to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your role as protector of the Back Benchers to protect me against the corrosive innuendo of the hon. Member for Workington who, with his hon. Friends, has brought so much disrepute to the House lately.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has worked long and hard to get his Bill through Committee and into the House. I am not complaining on this score, but, owing to the pressure of time, for the whole of yesterday and last night—I did not get to bed—I was preparing serious amendments to lay before the House, so that we could discuss the important matter of alcohol consumption and the Bill's effects on our national life. I cannot help but feel that these matters on a private Members' day are distracting us from our proper business. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who has been detained this morning in his constituency but who hopes to be with us shortly, and I have worked long and hard in preparing amendments, some of which may be accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood, some of which may not. I hope that we can now make some progress.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—
Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for that very valuable suggestion. I appeal to the House. We have spent a long time on points of order that are of very little relevance to the Bill. There are many amendments to this important Bill to be discussed. It would be unfair to the Bill's sponsor, to those hon. Members who have tabled amendments, and to other Bills on the Order Paper to continue in this way. I appeal to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) not to pursue further points of order with which I have dealt, but to continue with his speech. I am certain that he will get his speech in order. Equally, I hope that he will take the advice of the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and will be brief.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I intend to return to the thrust of the amendment, but first I should like you to confirm that I am entitled, as a Member of the House, to raise here the question of private influence and private interests affecting the passage of a private Member's Bill. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a sittings motion was moved in a Committee of this House to speed up the passage of the Bill.
Order. I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question at once, very briefly. Of course he is entitled to raise such matters at the appropriate time, and when it is in order.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is what I said true?
Order. I have confirmed that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to raise matters of that kind at the appropriate moment, as long as it is in order forhim to do so. I have given him an answer. I now ask him to resume his speech.
I shall return to the thrust of the debate, although I have to say that everything that I have alleged is correct. That is known and on the record.New clause 1 and amendment No. 6 deal with road safety, which should be an important consideration for those making variation orders. Road safety is a very important matter, and it weighs heavily on the minds of every hon. Member. A Committee of the House has been set up to deal with it. It is, I believe, an all-party arrangement, and it makes an important contribution. We have Government statements, recommendations by Ministers and Members of Parliament speaking in various parts of the country to all kinds of gatherings about road safety. Yet, because of the way in which the Bill was expedited and driven through its Committee stage by commercial interests, it has not been possible to examine such matters in detail, as I believe that they should be examined. In the presentation of the Bill, and during its consideration in Committee, who has really taken on board the fact that one in five of all road accident deaths—some 1,200 a year—is caused by excess consumption of alcohol? Many people die because of drink. In about 10 per cent. of accidents, it is a major cause. At night, two thirds of accidents in the United Kingdom—nearly 70 per cent. — involve a drinking driver. Most of those involved in such accidents, although not necessarily those who are knocked down, are under the age of 30. The total resource cost of accidents and deaths in England and Wales — "resource costs" in this context means the cost to the Exchequer, and therefore to the taxpayer and the ratepayer — is some £85 million according to some figures that I have been given; according to others, it is £86 million and £87·5 million respectively. In Scotland—interestingly, as the legislation is already in place there—the figure is some £10 million. However, the initial effect of the Road Safety Act 1967, produced under a Labour Government although—I believe that there may have been a good deal of private Member involvement in its passage—was considerable. Road casualties fell by 11 per cent. in the first year after the implementation of the 1967 Act, and deaths fell by 15 per cent. In the first seven years the drink and driving legislation saved about 5,000 lives and prevented 200,000 injuries. Those were substantial savings. Parliament has tried to restrict the effects of alcohol on road accidents and over the years has agreed that there should be further restrictions in order to save lives. That consensus has been broken by the introduction of a Bill that would lead to more deaths on our roads. The effects of the 1967 Act quickly wore off. Before 1967, 27 per cent. of vehicle drivers in England and Wales who were killed in road accidents had blood-alcohol levels that were over the prescribed limit. In the year after the implementation of the Act, it was 17 per cent. In 1977 it was 32 per cent., so the signs are that the decrease in the number of road accidents has slackened off. In an intervention, the Minister of State commented on that precise fact. When I say "slackened off", I mean that it has slackened off in the last couple of years. A previous Government accepted in principle the recommendations of the Blennerhassett committee that was referred to by the right hon. Member for Castle Point, who so ably moved new clause 1. It was exhilarating to hear his contribution. Clearly, he knows a great deal about the matter—much more than I—and has studied it in great depth. In his retiring years, the right hon. Gentleman has spent all night studying these matters, examining them and preparing for today's debate, on the basis that he believes that they are important. I can only express gratitude to him, and also the gratitude of many millions of people. The previous Government accepted in principle the recommendations of the Blennerhassett committee about changing the drinking and driving laws.
I am not sure that I heard the hon. Gentleman aright. Did he say that he understood that I am retiring from Parliament? I hope, with the help of my constituents, to be here for many years to come.
I do not wish in any way to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is retiring from Parliament. I was referring to the fact the he is in his retiring years. I am coming rapidly towards my retiring years, but I hope that I shall be here to cause a little difficulty here and there for many a year to come.The previous Government accepted in principle the recommendations of the Blennerhassett committee for changing the drinking and driving laws in Great Britain, but it was not thought that it would be proper or possible to find parliamentary time for legislation. The committee sought ways to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents. Its report contains a thorough and convincing analysis and was commented on in detail by the right hon. Member for Castle Point. It has been accepted as the best way forward. None of the alternative proposals, involving the adoption of quite different procedures in other countries, offers the same chance of improvement, and the pattern that was outlined by the committee is increasingly being adopted by other countries. The French Government have recently changed their legislation along similar lines. Those recommendations have one advantage—they are ready and capable of implementation. I hope that Government Ministers respond by acknowledging that that is exactly the case. 12.30 pm The report contains one controversial proposal—the removal of the present limitation on alcohol testing at the roadside. Instead of the police being able to test only if they have reasonable cause to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his body or has committed a moving traffic offence, they would be able to test at their direction. The other proposals do not create the same degree of difficulty. The immediate issue for the Government is whether to introduce legislation that will implement this recommendation and the committee's other proposals. Those are very important matters because the general public is most concerned about what is happening in the area of road traffic accidents arising from alcohol. Government Ministers repeatedly come to the Dispatch Box and advocate safer driving. The Government spend a fortune annually on advertisements, both in the newspapers and on television. on safer driving campaigns during the festive seasons, particularly at Christmas. We have all watched television after Christmas and seen the figures of accidents, and invariably alcohol-related accidents, that took place over the Christmas period. Therefore, people are unable to understand why the Government have taken the position that they are in favour of passing a Bill that will further liberalise the licensing laws in this country and potentially provide for more drinking. The Government must know that that has implications for road safety, yet they refuse to acknowledge those implications by setting up an inquiry, publishing its findings and setting out what might happen if people at certain times of the day are able to drink more alcohol. There is a gross and indecent inconsistency in the Government's position. My view, and the view of many, is that the Government should have opposed this Bill on the basis that it was insufficiently precise as to the hours that drink should be available and that it failed to take fully into account that a greater number of people could die from accidents arising from the increased use of alcohol. The present law on the testing of drivers for alcohol has two main purposes. It establishes a degree of alcohol absorption above which drivers are likely to be impaired. Many drivers will be impaired by a great deal less. How often have hon. Members been with people who have said that they can drive because they do not feel drunk, yet they are way over the limit? Those things vary so much from person to person. The way the Government have dealt with the Bill suggests that they, like the sponsors, have ignored that. That may have been dealt with during Committee but, as I understand it, there could not have been time during Committee because of the commercial pressures that arose.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has made constant allegations about commercial pressures influencing the Committee and the sittings motion. He has made no allegations against me. Is he aware that the sittings motion that was put to the Committee would have been passed if those voting had been only my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), myself and the Labour Members?
I hope that we will now get back to the new clause.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the hon. Gentleman rose you allowed him to make a statement. Your are now preventing me from replying to that. He has said that Members of the Committee would have voted. That is an important statement for any Member of Parliament to make. No one can ever predict what would happen in any Committee of the House if the membership had been different. Different Members would or could have deployed different arguments. In the deploying of those arguments they may have convinced Members voting in favour of the sittings motion that they had obligations of another nature and that they should vote against it. I wish that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) would consider what I am saying. He repeatedly falls into the same trap.The Blennerhassett committee saw proposals on discretionary testing as central to its whole strategy. It might now be that if the new clause is not passed there could be an even greater need for the Blennerhassett committee proposals for discretionary testing to go through. I am concerned about this. One has to argue these things. There are all sorts of implications when one has discretionary testing. However, we are being driven by the motor of the Bill into having to accept what some might perceive to be an illiberal principle because, if it looks as if the increased opening hours of public houses leads to more people being on the road who have consumed alcohol, clearly the police will have to respond. They will have to set up new monitoring and testing arrangements to ensure that at least the annual figures show that they are responding to the new legislative and commercial framework that has been set up under the proposals in the Bill. One would expect the police to accept that we would want to see, because it would be inevitable, a greater number of prosecutions arisng from the tests taking place after the introduction of the Bill. In so far as I and many others believe that there will be more drinking and driving if we did no have a greater number of prosecutions it would suggest that there was a deficiency in the way in which the police were operating. I would not like to think that that was happening. We know that the police are being tested every day on the question of resources and that they find it difficult to operate in the current climate of increasing crime. However, we are introducing a Bill that increases the work load of police forces without increasing the resources available to them to enable them to deal with the additional crime that will arise only as a result of the passage of this legislation. The Blennerhassett committee regarded the proposal of discretionary testing as essential to its strategy. In that committee's view it involves returning to the proposals in the original 1965 White Paper. At issue is whether the law can be an effective deterrent without discretionary testing the perception of risk is greatly reduced. That final sentence is a very important propositon. Yet we have this difficulty over discretionary testing. The promoter of the Bill has not fully taken into account the Bill's implications for discretionary testing. Perhaps he will care to put me right.
I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I am accepting new clause 1 and amendment No. 6. I underline the points already made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who is anxious to make other points on further amendments. That is my position on new clause 1.
That is a very interesting intervention. We are now talking about the variation orders and who takes the decision on them. The clause states that
So the licensing justices have a discretion, which means that they have to make a consideration. They have to take matters into account."Licensing justices shall make a variation order unless satisfied that it is undesirable to do so".
The hon. Gentleman may genuinely misunderstand this point. We are discussing new clause I and amendment No. 6, which is a narrower amendment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has moved new clause I, which has been debated. I, as promoter of the Bill, have said that I accept it. I also underlined my agreement with the point already made by my right hon. Friend about the importance of the work that he has done and that others have done who are interested in further discussions on the other amendments on the Order Paper, including, those in the name of my right hon. Friend.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understands the point that I am making to him. Amendment No. 6 inserts the word "road" before "safety". We are amending a clause that deals with the discretion to licensing justices when they make variation orders. They have to take matters into account. While they may well have to do so, by reason of all sorts of commercial pressures in all communities — there are pressures on justices because it is Uncle Sam, Brother Jack, or whoever; we all live in the real world—they may find it difficult to evaluate objectively. Even when the amendment is accepted as part of the legislation the question will arise, what should be a road safety criterion that should be taken into account when the licensing justice makes a variation order under the discretion that is available to him?When I asked the hon. Gentleman to respond to me, I only said that, in the real world, the thrust of the Bill, the existence of the Bill and the general proposition behind it means that more road accidents will arise from the abuse of alcohol, which in itself arises from the extension in hours set out in the Bill. That is a fact. Even people outside the House who seek the change may well accept that. They might make a calculation and say, "There will be more road accidents and fatalities but if we build more aeroplanes they might crash and one does not argue against the building of more aeroplanes". It might be argued that that is a justification but if one believes that more road accidents will be caused by alcohol abuse as a result of liberalising the drinking hours it is wrong to support the Bill. I think that that proposition is supported by many people. 12.45 pm Repeatedly we are told that this is a popular measure. I have received four letters, three of which opposed the Bill. As I do my rounds in my constituency I do not hear people telling me that it is popular. People might think that there should be more flexibility, and I do not argue against that, but they are worried because the pubs will be open longer. People are also worried about the Bill's implications for employment. A person's health is affected when he has to work late at night. A landlord might say to a barman, "You're lucky. You've got a job. I want you here until very late tonight because business is going to be good." He might say that he intends to change his licence and open later hours or, "I want you to come in earlier. I know that over the years your lifestyle has been based on having the afternoon off but that is over. You've got to be here." Some might call that constructive dismissal. In a former incarnation you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were a master of employment law and you know all about constructive dismissal. The measure could lead to cases of constructive dismissal being heard by tribunals. The hon. Member for Eastwood represents a marginal constituency. I am sure that he will not wish to be seen to advocate anything which will prejudice his constituents who work in public houses. I withdraw that comment because the hon. Gentleman represents a Scottish seat and the measures in this Bill already apply in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman has already been through the hoop but some of us in England are not eager to go through that hoop.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I shall give way, because my argument is not at its strongest.
The Bill is supported by the National Association of Licensed House Managers which is affiliated to the TUC and, as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) said in Committee, it is supported by the Transport and General Workers Union.
I am glad to hear that.
But the Bill is opposed by the British Medical Association and the royal colleges.
That is interesting, because the Minister told us that research funded in Scotland by the Scotch Whisky Association was published in the British Medical Journal. Was it published simply to show a willingness to be balanced in the presentation of the case? The BMA perhaps opposed the Bill but published material that would be helpful to the promoters. Is that correct? I was not on the Standing Committee and I am learning as the Bill progresses. Discretionary testing might be a major feature on the agenda, if the Bill were to succeed, because the public will demand an increase in prosecutions of those who drive vehicles in a state of inebriation.The issue is whether the law can be an effective deterrent. Without discretionary testing the perception of risk is greatly reduced. At present, if a driver can get home by driving carefully and without giving the impression of impairment, his chances of being tested are slim and known to be slim. As a result, large numbers drive with levels of alcohol in the blood which expose them to substantial risks of accident. That is an interesting statement. The right hon. Member for Castle Point expressed concern about the safety of schoolchildren going home beween 3 and 4 pm. Last week in my constituency there was an incident involving a lollipop lady who became angry with a car driver, who she alleges was about to drive over a crossing that children were about to use. She felt that she was being intimidated, so she took hold of her lollipop and smashed his windscreen. She felt that she had to do that because it was her only defence against a driver whom she believed was acting irresponsibly. I do not know the exact circumstances of that case, but that is her side of the story. I am sure that on many occasions in the past lollipop ladies have had to take action against people who, in their view, have been driving irresponsibly and thus endangering the lives of children. What will happen if people driving home in mid-afternoon are full of drink and puddled out of their minds and wish to take on the lollipop lady and, indeed, may inflict death or damage on young children? Who will take responsibility for that? Will the hon. Member for Eastwood say, "I never thought that that would happen. I know that they said in Parliament that that might happen, but it was only Campbell-Savours; you know what he is like. It was just an allegation that he made"? The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember what the Secretary of State for the Environment said today, because I predicted something three years ago and from the Dispatch Box today he said that I was right. It may well be that I am right on this occasion and that young children will lose their lives as a result of introduction of the Bill. The hon. Member for Eastwood may shake his head, but if that happens will he come to the House and make a personal statement? Does he intend to come and excuse the supporters of the Bill—people such as the big brewers and pub owners—for what has happened? I do not think that he will. It will just be another statistic, another tragedy. It will just be another family who have lost a child; it will hardly make a little bit of copy in the newspapers. I do not think that that is right. Perhaps we shall seek to delete all the clauses one after another so that we are only left with the title and then no damage will be done. I am sure that the great majority of people in this country will be very happy indeed about that. It is unfortunate that the members of the public who support the Bill have not thought about the road safety implications. Perhaps they never dreamed that the right hon. Member for Castle Point would have to move an amendment to insert the word "road". They would have expected the promoter of the Bill to insert that word. The fact that he did not do so demonstrates the callous indifference of the sponsor, who was willing to put before Parliament a Bill that did not include that precious word. He was willing to ignore a matter of great concern to the public. I am keeping strictly to the amendment because if I did not do so, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order. There may be other occasions when the Bill can be debated, so I feel free to deal, perhaps briefly, with a number of issues. If the Bill is not passed today, it will come back to the House next Friday. We have a lot of time to deal with these matters and I hope that the public understand that that is why we are dealing with a number of issues at length. We are determined to ensure that every slot of parliamentary time is used to discuss the Bill as fully as possible, with a single objective. The present law appears to give the police a wide discretion, but the courts have not interpreted it in that way. The Blennerhassett committee examined alternative formulations that might allow the police greater freedom to use their resources effectively, without raising the spectre of discretionary breath tests. It concluded that there were no alternatives that were not liable to the same restrictive interpretation. The committee said that without discretionary testing there was little chance of raising the perception of risk. The perception of risk is important. Only when people feel that they will be at risk of prosecution, disqualification, loss of employment, criticism from friends and children, arguments in families, references in local newspapers and in council chambers and even in Parliament will the perception of risk exist. Under present arrangements the perception of risk has been set at a certain level. The Bill will change that situation, because it will introduce a new consideration for the police. More people who have been drinking will be driving. They could kill people. What will the police do about that? Either they must be given many more resources or they must have the right to carry out discretionary testing. That could spark off all sorts of arguments and the liberal lobbies would be worried. Indeed, we would all be worried. Even when I have had just one pint of beer in a pub before driving my car I feel a prick of conscience. Just one glass of beer and I feel guilty, even though I know that I am well under the limit. The worry about discretionary breath testing centres on the belief that civil liberties will be threatened if the police do not have to fulfil certain specified conditions before stopping and testing motorists. The Blennerhassett committee said that it did not believe there were good grounds for that fear. A driver is responsible at all times for ensuring that his vehicle is in good condition and that he is fit to drive. It is on that kind of understanding that he is issued with a licence—a privilege which does not carry with it an automatic right to drive, whatever may subsequently happen. Under existing law, a driver may be stopped by police at any time without specific grounds to have his vehicle tested or his licence or insurance checked. Nothing improper is held to have been done when that happens. The same should apply in this case. Some say that there should be a means of checking before impairment manifests itself. This would show drivers, as the Blennerhassett committee recognised, that accidents or wild driving are not an adequate indication of impairment. 1 pm This raises another issue which goes to the heart of the amendment. I should have thought that the sponsors of the Bill, and others who wish to see changes in licensing hours, would have wished to ensure that safe equipment was available—there is some already available—which any driver could fit to a motor car to act as an alcohol testing device. The driver could then test himself when he got into his car. If those who are so interested in promoting the increased consumption of alcohol had thought about this, they might have included a new section 75D placing a responsibility on all drivers and manufacturers to provide such equipment. A person who thought that he had had a few too many could then test himself and if the result was positive the ignition would cut out so that he could not drive the vehicle for an hour or two, or whatever the necessary period. Many hon. Members have more knowledge than I of the health aspects. If we can send rockets to the moon, if we can build Tornado aircraft, microchips and all the new technology that Members have grown to love with the increase in secretarial allowances in recent years, surely it is not beyond the intelligence of man to produce a simple little piece of equipment to fit into a motor car so that if the driver taking the test is drunk and the red light goes on, the ignition will cut out. That might be some protection against the excesses which might arise from the implementation of the Bill. By refusing to identify "road" as the crucial word in the clause that the right hon. Member with his great knowledge of these matters had to introduce, the sponsor has made it clear to the world that he is simply not interested.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest, but is there not a simpler approach? The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that we should think in terms of drinking less and the World Health Organisation has called upon all member states, including the United Kingdom, to reduce their consumption of alcohol by at least 25 per cent. in the 1990s. Against that background, where is the rhyme or reason in asking Parliament to provide longer drinking hours in public houses? It is nonsense—
Order. The new clause deals with monitoring. The right hon. Gentleman's comments are more appropriate to Second Reading.
I do not wish to prolong my intervention, but it is indeed about monitoring. In order to monitor, we must know the facts. I was merely saying that there is a simpler solution to the problem than the very interesting technical suggestion made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). To return to the sobriety that was one of the glories of our country between the wars, we have to drink a little less. If that is difficult for individuals the answer is for the Government to discourage the idea that there should be an increase in drinking hours.
The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that he likes a tipple on occasion. I, too like to have a bottle of wine occasionally, and it is easy for us to suggest that others might drink less. I would like people to drink less. I wish to deal in some detail with that, because I feel strongly about the consumption of alcohol and its effects on health and—the right hon. Gentleman has a great interest in this — on family life. That has been ignored in the Bill. I hope that, during the next few weeks, we shall have an opportunity to discuss the matter in great detail—
But not on this new clause.
That is precisely what I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We shall discuss it during the next few weeks, not today, although new clause 1 also relates to health. It covers alcohol-related problems with regard to public order, health and road safety. So far I have dealt only with road safety.The Blennerhassett committee considered the enforcement of the present arrangements and discretionary testing, which goes to the heart of the matter. The new clause implies that the licensing authority will have to take into account the prospect — or lack of it — of discretionary testing. I can imagine magistrates meeting behind closed doors and agonising about what they should do when applications are made. Representatives of parents and governing bodies on schools will be saying to them, "You will not introduce new hours which will endanger our children." They will have to listen to the road safety lobby, the cyclists and representatives of county council education departments. Many people will lobby the magistrates saying, "Be careful, because if you change the rules, there will be more accidents on the roads." All sorts of lobbies will be trying to influence the licensing authorities, which will be placed in a very difficult position. In the United States, such authorities are elected. Perhaps the supporters of the Bill have it in mind that, if licensing authorities prove to be obstructive and dare to resist granting such variations, they will introduce a Bill next year—no doubt sponsored by the brewing industry—to promote the principle of election to the bench. Then candidates will be able to run on platforms such as, "Vote for Joe Bloggs if you want longer hours", or, "Vote for Joe Bloggs if you want to retain the present hours." Let there be no doubt that the issue of licensing hours will be turned into a well-inflated—indeed, almost bursting—political football. As everyone jumps in on the back of it, local Liberal candidates will be pointing both ways on the issue. They will say that they want extra hours in one part of the town and, in another that they do not really want them and have been misquoted: they want reduced hours. People in the commercial end of the Tory lobby in local communities will say that they want opening hours to be extended because they want their members to have increased business. Then, the little old ladies—the heart and soul of the Tory party—who, on some issues might be described as illiberal, but not on this one—might say that the issue goes against Conservative principles. The Conservatives are supposed to stand for decency, and they do not want to put up with people peeling out of pubs all day long. They want controls and restrictions. There will be arguments in Conservative associations between those who want more or fewer controls. Candidates in other political parties will stand for greater hours and for fewer hours. Even Labour candidates might be divided on the issue. There is a division of opinion on the Opposition Benches, just as there is on the Government Benches on these matters. Inevitably, the issue will become a political football as people take into account the important words, "road safety". That is what will concern them and they will say that those words should feature prominently in the minds of the licensing justices when they make their decisions. I do not believe that the Bill's promoters and their commercial backers have taken this matter into account. I can understand that the hon. Member for Eastwood, who, I believe, is a Scot—
—might wish to punish the English in the same way as the Scots are being punished. However, some of us, by one means or another, intend to ensure that the Bill's implications for England are fully considered.The Blennerhassett committee made five proposals on the issue of discretionary testing, and the public reaction to those proposals was mostly favourable. The final proposal was for continuing publicity. The committee accepted the need for Government, local authorities, organisations and lobbies to keep pestering the public with information about the dangers of drinking and driving. The committee also recommended the continuation of the existing structure of penalties, but with special procedures for high-risk offenders. I do not quite understand that, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) can help me. Special procedures sound like illiberal words. They do not smack of the civil liberties to which he and I subscribe. Our position on the life issue, for example, is shared. The words have connotations that I might find a little worrying, but no doubt we shall discover more about that in the course of the debate. As I have said, the Blennerhassett committee recommended the continuation of the existing structure of penalties. If the Bill were enacted and there were more people puddled and drunk on the roads and the police found that there were more opportunities for bringing people before the courts on drink-driving offences and more successful prosecutions, surely the penalty would have to be increased. In those circumstances it could not be left as it is because it would not be acting as a deterrent. Punishment by fine is supposed to be a deterrent, and if there are more people appearing before the courts the scale of the deterrent must be examined, otherwise there will be a loss of control I must express a reservation about the recommendation in view of the circumstances that might develop if the Bill were to clear our procedures and become law. 1.15 pm The Blennerhassett committee was not confronted by that proposition because it did not have the Bill before it, or any other Bill of this nature, when it made its recommendations. In another proposal it recommended the use of breath-testing machines to determine levels. I did not quite understand what the Committee meant and I thought that the right hon. Member for Castle Point might be able to help me. We are discussing an important Bill, and we are required to take into account the Blennerhassett committee's recommendatons. When there are implications of discretionary testing, surely we should have somebody in the Chamber who is competent to answer questions on breath-testing machines to determine the level of whatever was recommended by the committee. We have a lack of information on matters that are vital to those who are considering the Bill. We have a Bill that in many ways is riddled with inadequacies. We have the problem of the three Conservative Members and their commercial interests—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has referred to an issue that has been cleared more than once during the debate and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw.
I do not think it necessary for the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to withdraw. He has referred in passing to hon. Members who have interests that have been declared. He is drawing attention only to that which has been said in the course of our proceedings.
I think that the hon. Member for Gillingham protesteth too much, but it is for the country to judge. As I have said, there is the problem of the three hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Castle Point, in so ably moving new clause 1, drew attention to the second problem, which is that the Bill was not even published. The right hon. Gentleman went to get a copy of the Bill and could not obtain one. There is an inadequacy in the way in which the House is being asked to deal with these matters.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the substance of the new clause.
I shall address myself directly to discretionary testing, Mr. Deputy Speaker.The Blennerhassett's fourth recommendation was retention of the legal upper limit of the present blood-alcohol levels. I do not know whether they are set at the right levels, but I believe that there would be an increased number of accidents if the Bill were to succeed and become an Act. It would then be necessary to re-examine the present levels. We might have to impose some new discipline. I am not necessarily in favour of that, but I propose that we may be driven to it by the fact that the police do not have the resources even to police—in the verbal sense—the present arrangements. Under the proposals, we have the removal of the difficulties that have evolved in case law since 1967, so the proof of an offence does not rely unduly on the technicalities of compliance with detailed procedures. I find that case law usually defends the position of the civil libertarian. I do not express blanket opposition to that in the context of the introduction of a Bill of such an irresponsible nature that it may drive us to consider such matters. I should have hoped that one would have been inclined to secure a legislative framework within which it is not necessary to dismantle what had been built up in case law over a period of years. We may be driven to it. Such matters have not been taken into account. In the view of some people, the first proposal would not be difficult to implement. The association in the present law between certain procedures such as those for making an arrest or taking tests and proof that an offence had been committed has greatly confused and inhibited its enforcement. In many cases, it has led to ludicrous results that have allowed those guilty of offences to go free but has provided no additional protection whatsoever for the innocent. I refer to the arguments that I have deployed. The recent removal of the right to jury trial will no doubt limit the incentive to produce spurious defences of one kind or another, but it is evident that legislation is needed to reform the law and the findings based upon it. I am afraid that we are reforming the law—that is what we are doing today—but we are doing so in a way that acts in the public interest in a converse way to that which has been recommended by Blennerhassett. Yet hon. Members—not necessarily Conservative Members—who support the Bill do not deploy such arguments during the course of the debate. In only one other western European country — the Republic of Ireland — is there a higher blood alcohol limit. Some countries have set lower limits. Some drivers are undoubtedly impaired below the present level, as I have suggested before. A recent OECD working party—I do not have to spell out what the words are; I am sure that the great majority of people know what OECD stands for—has noted that the average person can be shown to have some degree of impairment of blood-alcohol concentrations as low as 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, particularly if they are inexperienced as drinkers or as drivers, as most young people are. That is an important matter. When the little old licensing justice considers a variation order and, in a back room, argues out the policy of the bench on the matter, he will have people pressing him to be more liberal and to increase the number of hours, and others pressing him not to increase them but to be more restrictive. Some people would argue that the law should be changed so that it works in the other direction and reduces the number of drinking hours. We have not even begun to consider the arguments that they might deploy. They might argue much of the case deployed by the hon. Member for Eastwood on new clause 1. We must take account also of what can only be described as a revelation. It is the statement that many people have a degree of impairment at blood alcohol concentrations as low as 50 mg. We are basically saying that, by opening pubs longer, more people will have access to drink for greater periods during the day, which means that more people with blood alcohol concentrations of 50 mg and over will be in circulation, many of them young people. Many of those people will be incapable of driving, yet still driving. Those people will have been given a licence to drink and drive by the hon. Member for Eastwood and the commercial forces that have promoted the original legislation. Perhaps I should clarify that. I have just made a statement, but perhaps I was wrong. Is it the case that those who drew up the Bill had a connection with the licensing trade? Perhaps someone will deny that. No? It is now coming out. I presume—this is quite a development — that the Bill arose from discussions in the brewing industry and among the licensees and pub owners, and that they promoted it. I am sure that the public will understand the motivation behind the Bill and why three Conservative Members who had a direct commercial interest in the business were appointed to the Committee. It is obvious why they were there. The brewers promoted the Bill. They put their people on the Bill and then they drove through the sittings motion so that the Bill would be considered as fast as possible—
Order. Hon. Members are appointed to Committees by the Selection Committee appointed by the House and by none other. [Interruption.]
From a sedentary position from behind me, I hear the voice of a man experienced in these matters — my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) — who said that perhaps the Selection Committee was wrong. Perhaps that should be taken into account by the Chairman of the Selection Committee.
Order. I hope that hon. Members will reflect carefully on what they are alleging before they adversely raise questions about Committees appointed by the House.
I did not say that. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) misheard my muttering.
I unreservedly apologise to my hon. Friend if I misrepresented him in any way. I am sure that when he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will say what he said.The licensing justices are in a difficult position. They must take into account the fact that evidence suggests that people with blood-alcohol concentrations of 50 mg and over may drive vehicles, have impaired judgment and may well be a danger to the general public. I put this proposition to the House: it is not in the public interest that those people should be allowed to use motor vehicles if their judgment is impaired, even though that is within the law. The licensing justices have a responsibility to take that into account in making their decisions. I should have thought that, when all the lobbies to which I referred start arguing about these matters, they should put that matter at the top of their agenda. 1.30 pm At between 50 and 80 mg the degree of risk starts to rise. Increasing numbers of drivers will be on the road who are over the limit of 80 mg and, in the absence of discretionary testing, more will be allowed to drive under the Bill. The present problem is the effective application of the law to drivers, a large number of whom are substantially above the existing limit. For the time being, as the Blennerhassett committee concluded, it is undoubtedly better to concentrate resources on them. What is important is that the Government preserve their existing option to have a lower limit at some stage, if in the future it can be shown that people below the present level are contributing substantially to the number of accidents. That is an interesting consideration, which we should take into account. put it to the House that we are legislating today for precisely that position. That is why the House should be full today: there should be 600 Members of Parliament arguing the case for road safety, and discussing whether young people should be allowed to drive in a state of inebriation. That is within the law as it stands, but surely the implication is that we may need at some time in the future to reconsider the law and reduce the limit. The Blennerhassett report says that it is generally accepted that the existing penalties are, if effectively used, stiff enough to deter those capable of being deterred. The maximum level of fines has recently been increased, and in addition, insurance companies by increasing the premiums for convicted drivers, can impose a further substantial financial penalty. Some, no doubt, escape the full rigours of the penalty, either by driving when disqualified or by not admitting their conviction to insurance companies. But in the Committee's view there is no evidence that such people present a substantial problem. For most drivers who are likely to be deterred, the possible combination of a disqualification and a fine is an adequate threat. What is required the Committee says, is not so much a higher penalty as a greater likelihood that the penalty will be imposed. But will that penalty be imposed? In my view, there is no such likelihood, because the Bill does not provide for the increasing resources needed by the police to ensure compliance with the existing legislation. The Bill's supporters have not dealt with that problem. They have simply imposed on the public a dollop of what they perceive to be more liberal legislation, and presumed that the civil authorities will be able to act in such a way as to secure and defend the public interest. But it will not work like that, and they know it. It is not fair to legislate without understanding the financial consequences of that legislation, but the financial consequences of this Bill have not been taken into account. For my sins, I went into the Committee Room to watch the proceedings on the Bill for a short time from the public gallery. It struck me then that these matter were not being dealt with. When the right hon. Member for Castle Point tried to bring them into consideration, no one responded. The hon. Member for Eastwood responded briefly to his suggestions by saying that all such matters were covered by the legislation in Scotland. We shall deal with Scotland and its roads in a moment. The hon. Gentleman always hid behind Scotland. He never addressed the problems in England. He did not deal with the resources that are necessary to secure greater policing for the implementation of his Bill, in particular for the implementation of the provisions in new clause l and amendment No. 6. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman lives in Scotland.
I live in Glasgow.
I am very pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman lives in Glasgow. He will have noticed what I have noticed in Glasgow. It must disturb him, as it disturbs me and many people in Scotland. I refer to the alcoholism of many people who live in deprived conditions or who are unemployed. They find it very difficult to resist alcohol. Some people take a conscious decision to keep away from it. That can be very hard, particularly if one is living in very difficult circumstances.In parts of Scotland, including Glasgow, there are appalling examples of the result of alcohol abuse. Scottish authorities, the police and many of the groups that have been set up to deal with the problem are very concerned about it. They never supported the Bill, and the hon. Member for Eastwood knows that they never supported the Bill. When they came to see hon. Members and A rote to us they said that they did not support the liberalisation arrangements in Scotland. Even today they write to us. I have a very interesting article in my bag of tricks that was written by a Scottish journalist, following correspondence in the local newspaper. It drew attention to what is happening in Scotland, as against what the two researchers to whom I referred might think is happening in Scotland. Does the hon. Member for Eastwood know the director and the senior lecturer of the alcohol studies centre at Paisley college of technology? Paisley is very near to Glasgow. This gentleman wrote an article in the Glasgow Herald on 10 January 1987 that was headed "Alcohol and Social Harm". That was long after the introduction of the Scottish legislation to liberalise opening hours. His conclusions, particularly those that relate to the subject of the new clause and the amendment, are totally and utterly at variance with the conclusions that have been drawn by the hon. Gentleman. This person is a director and a senior lecturer of the alcohol studies centre at Paisley college of technology. He is an expert on these matters. He is paid by the education authorities in Scotland to study the matter in depth, to write papers and to lecture on it. Why is it that he takes a completely different view from the whisky manufacturers in Scotland? Why is it that he also takes a completely different view from the three Conservative Members of Parliament who moved the sittings motion three weeks ago in Committee? Could it be that they gain financially from the industry, while he is required, as a researcher and a social scientist, to look objectively at these matters? The hon. Member for Eastwood the promoter of the Bill, sits there and says nothing. Surely he can answer the simple question whether he knows this man. He does not respond. Let the record show that he does not respond. I ask whether he talked to this man.
I will not be provoked further by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He alleged that I have not met the gentleman in question. I do know the gentleman and I have certainly discussed these matters with him.
When the hon. Gentleman was discussing with Mr. S. J. Allsop, director and senior lecturer, those matters that are raised in the amendment that was tabled by the right hon. Member for Castle Point, who so ably and notably moved new clause 1 and amendment No. 7, why did he not ensure that this word was inserted in the original Bill? Why did he not move the amendment? Is he suggesting that he was unconvinced by the arguments deployed by Mr. Allsop, who, as I understand it, has repeatedly referred to road safety? Why did the hon. Gentleman ignore Mr. Allsop? After his conversations with Mr. Allsop, why did he not go to the Public Bill Office and table an amendment to his own Bill or have it modified in Committee? Why is it that those who were concerned about the Bill were left with the responsibility of tabling this highly important amendment? Could it possibly be that when the hon. Gentleman met Mr. S. J. Allsop, he simply switched off and just went through the motions? Could it be that he was simply not interested? Can the hon. Gentleman say whether he has amended the Bill in any way following the discussions that he had with the director and senior lecturer of the alcohol studies centre, Mr. Allsop? The hon. Gentleman does not respond. Therefore, I have to assume that the amendment arises from discussions that the hon. Gentleman must have had with people who are interested in the Bill and with the concerned lobby. It was the concerned lobby that produced the amendment on road safety and it was the commercial lobby that proceeded with a Bill that did not take into account the implications for road safety.It seems to me that the commercial lobby — the brewers or whoever they are who are behind the Bill—have been very selective in the sort of Bill that they have produced. All they have done is look after their commercial interests. It might be that they would wish to take into account what I am about to say. Those who oppose the Bill, like me, do so because the Bill has been cheated through Parliament by commercial pressures exerted by three Conservative Members of Parliament. That is what repels and upsets us. That is why we are angry.
Order. If I heard the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) correctly, he alleges that the Bill has been "cheated through" Parliament with the aid of hon. Members who had a direct interest. If so, he must withdraw that remark.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I missed that.
The hon. Member alleged that the Bill had been "cheated through" Parliament with the assistance of hon. Members who had a direct interest in it. The hon. Member must not say that.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps you would care to advise me what I am supposed to do. You say that I must not say that.
Order. I am advising the hon. Member that he must withdraw the allegation that the Bill has been "cheated through" the House. I hope that he will do that.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am very respectful of our proceedings, despite the allegations that are frequently levelled against me. If you wish me to do that, I shall do that for you. I accept that. I have made my point and the record will show what I have said.Mr. Allsop should be a key part of our considerations. I do not know whether he is in the House today but I, many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members are grateful to him for the work that he has done and which I hope to deal with during the course of a debate on another amendment. Perhaps I should resume my speech. I have been speaking almost two hours quite briefly actually. I have an abundance of material on which to draw and there are matters which, in my view have, not been deliberated upon adequately. My great sorrow is that because of the way in which the Bill was treated in Committee by the use of procedure, those matters will never be fully debated. The Bill has been rushed through and, during the debate on other amendments I shall deal with that matter in more detail.
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) with great interest. However, I thought that he was a trifle unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) who, at an earlier stage, indicated that he accepted the new clause and amendment No. 6. I wish that my hon. Friend and I could have somehow got together at a much earlier stage and, if there was to be a Bill, we could have framed a Bill that respected the principle of flexibility but would not have eroded the break in hours.Before you put the question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say that I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood for accepting the new clause. It shows that we can make progress, albeit a little more slowly than some of us would have wished.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Variation Orders Etc
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 22, leave out '11.30 p.m.' and insert '11 p.m.'.
With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 22, after '11.30 pm' insert
'with a two hour break between the opening hour and closing hour'.
I move amendment No. 1 on behalf of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who, unfortunately, has to fulfil a number of constituency engagements that were fixed a long time ago. In Committee the hon. Member for Newham, South was an absolute stalwart. He and I have been associated on Committees before. When I was Chairman of a Select Committee I could always rely on the hon. Gentleman to do his homework and make a positive contribution to our inquiries and investigations. I hope that he will be able to come to the Chamber in sufficient time to address himself to amendment No. I, which is strictly his. I support it because it would bring the law in England and Wales into line with the terminal hour in Scotland. I see no reason why there should be a difference between the two jurisdictions.Taken by itself the amendment does not affect the principle of flexibility enshrined in the Bill. However, I must confess that I would prefer the House to accept amendment No. 13, which would be a great safeguard while allowing a modest relaxation. Both amendments relate to the central purpose of the Bill—the extension of drinking hours. The supporters of the Bill have tried to convince us all along that the question of the opening and closing hours of public houses is one of purely social convenience, having no other significance. I believe that, on that matter, the Bill's supporters are fundamentally mistaken. My view is shared by virtually all the expert bodies that have pronounced on the matter. It cannot be emphasised too often that all the caring bodies — the medical profession, the British Medical Association, the royal colleges and countless other organisations — are opposed to the Bill anyway. Moreover, no evidence has been produced to show that there is any great public demand for change. That is what I find so astonishing. All this time, energy and eloquence have been spent on promoting a Bill for which there is no real public demand. If there had been, presumably the Government would have acted, but no Government have had the courage to do anything about licensing law. We are in the mess that we are in today over this Bill, as we were over previous private Members' licensing Bills, because Governments of the day failed to understand that licensing is far too important a matter to leave to private Members and to the chance of their getting a Bill through. The majority of the public are, I believe, content with existing permitted hours. There is no mass movement to have the pubs open all day. The pressure for change comes not from the public but from the drink trade, the tourist boards and some national newspapers that have attempted to whip up public support for change, but without much success. My main concern is with amendment No. 13. I cannot emphasise too much the importance of the historic break in continuous drinking, which has brought great benefits to our society in the present century. At present, when licensing magistrates deal with applications for extensions in the afternoon or in the early evening, they still insist upon a break of an hour or art hour and a half to prevent continuous drinking and the problems that they know it causes. Since our deliberations in Committee, information has been passed to me that is of special interest in regard to continuous drinking. I hope that I shall not shock the House with what I am about to say. I refer to a report, I received only yesterday, by a ministerial committee of inquiry into violence. It was presented to the Minister of Justice of New Zealand in March 1987. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has seen it yet, but it is worth reading from beginning to end and then re-reading. I am speaking of a country which, some years ago, I was invited to visit to advise on alcohol problems. I had the great pleasure and privilege of going from one end of New Zealand to the other, from Auckland in the north to Bluff in the south, where one stood on the cliffs and looked southwards 3,000 miles to the South Pole. It is a beautiful country and in many ways still a British country—
Order. That is all very interesting, but it does not have much to do with monitoring the effects of variation orders in England and Wales. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will address himself to the clause before the House.
I am not surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have not yet seen the connection, but it is very close. The reason why I was saying something kind about New Zealand is that of all countries overseas—none is more remote from Britain than New Zealand—one will find a more British way of life there than anywhere else in the world. Therefore, in many ways New Zealanders still look to this country to set an example.The report was presented in March this year to the New Zealand Minister of Justice. The committee, presided over by a distinguished High Court judge, examined the association between alcohol misuse and violent behaviour. It recommended
It then stated:"a period of closure of public houses from 2 pm to 4 pm."
Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can now see the connection. How ironic and how sad it is that we should contemplate the removal of the very element in our licensing law that another country, similar in outlook, seeks to emulate—and for such good reason."Many English pubs are required to observe an afternoon closure and that must be regarded as one of the significant factors which enables English pubs to maintain a favourable image far removed from that of their New Zealand counterparts."
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way with his customary courtesy. I have no doubt that, given the present attendance in the Chamber, the rest of the time can be spent in civilised debate.I wish to put two points to my right hon. Friend. First, there is a clear difference of principle between the two amendments under discussion. Amendment No. 1 does not conflict with the principle of flexibility, but amendment No. 13 does. Secondly, my right hon. Friend's amendment would not secure the afternoon break technically, because it would be open to a licensee to open at 9.30 in the morning and close at 9.35, for example. I do not want to detain my right hon. Friend because I think that it is right that he should have the balance of time between now and 2.30 pm.
I always listen to my hon. Friend with the greatest of respect. Throughout our debates he has conducted himself with great courtesy and has always tried to be helpful. However, it would have been better if he had waited to see whether my proposed amendments were so far away from what he in his heart wants. There is plenty of time. It is clear that because of long speeches and interventions we are making slow progress, but I assume that we shall be at it again next Friday.I do not interrupt other hon. Members' speeches until I begin to understand what they are driving at. In view of our discussions, I thought it important that the House should know that in New Zealand a departmental committee looking into the connection between violent crime and alcohol has recommended the introduction of a practice that this Bill seeks to injure, if not destroy. I thought it important to bring that to the attention of the House. Few Members may be here, but I guarantee that this piece of news will make good reading and will make an impact. It is ironic that just when this Bill seeks to destroy a major safeguard for the British public, the New Zealanders should say, "The British have been so sensible over the years, we must copy them." What are we doing? We are abandoning a principal safeguard. The idea is so ludicrous that the Bill, despite any argument that I have advanced, will deservedly be laughed out of court. 2 pm Amendment No. 13 would not require the two-hour break to occur in the afternoon. Therefore, it would not be inconsistent in any way with the priciple of flexibility. However, it is important to observe and record that in relation to the Scottish reform it was never the intention of Government or Parliament to abolish the afternoon break. Many of us may recall that in Standing Committee on the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, an amendment to abolish the afternoon break was heavily defeated. It would seem that that was a much more sensible Parliament than this one. The Government were explicit in their wish to retain that break. The large-scale disappearance of the afternoon break in Scotland has occurred since because loopholes were discovered in the legislation which permitted licensees, contrary to the wishes and intentions of Government and Parliament, to obtain all-day opening. That is how the matter arose in Scotland. I have been careful not to say too much about the Scottish experience. I have an enormous respect for Scotland. I refer to Scotland as a kingdom where the law and people are different, and thank God for that. It is a great country. We are concerned here, however, with a Bill that seeks to change licensing law in England and Wales, but it is relevant to say that the intention of Government and Parliament was frustrated with regard to the Scottish legislation. When we are seeking to change the law in England and Wales, it is as well that that should be remembered. Some hon. Members may recall that the Erroll committee opposed the afternoon break because of its rigidity. Amendment No. 13 makes the break flexible so that it can occur at any period during the day. However, some break there should and must be. I should like to go into this matter in a little detail. The Erroll report grudgingly acknowledged the value of a break. In paragraph 11.42 it stated that it
It went on to give an example where it might be very useful."could still see a number of ways … in which it could be useful".
That is reasonable, is it not? Usually when the pub is open the licensee and staff are fully-stretched. Over the years I have known a great many licensees and they and their wives have always welcomed the idea of a break. I am not worried about licensees, but I am worried about the vested interests behind them which are seeking to sell more liquor. If licensees were freer to conduct their houses as they wished, we could trust them more. In general, they are decent and responsible people. The Erroll committee referred to law and order, and I wish that some of my hon. Friends would recognise the serious part that alcohol plays in both petty and serious crimes. The liquor trade can never be allowed to be controlled by market forces. That is why the New Zealand Ministry of Justice has made its strong recommendation. The Erroll report said:"It is possible, for example, that a local authority might conclude that an individual public house was being badly run and that insufficient attention was being paid to hygiene and cleanliness. In such cases, it might be reasonable for a local authority to conclude that some sort of break should be imposed to allow a licensee time to attend to these matters."
Whatever harm was being caused when the Erroll committee deliberated has increased many times over since then, and every hon. Member knows that to be true. The Erroll committee also foresaw the road safety problem. It referred to"It is equally possible that disorder could arise at a particular public house either as a result of excessive drinking or in connection with some other event — for example, a football match. Here, a Chief Constable might well see some advantage in suggesting that individual public houses ought to be closed in the interests of public order."
As the Erroll committee could see that danger and as the situation has worsened since then, one would imagine that every hon. Member could see the danger. But no, the issue has been fudged and no reference has been made to it by the sponsors of the Bill. A two-hour break could certainly be useful in areas where public houses are adjacent to schools. I suggest that licensing justices should vary orders in such cases."the suggestion by the Department of the Environment … that road safety could be endangered by drivers who had been drinking throughout the afternoon emerging into the afternoon rush hour."
Does my right hon. Friend agree that under the safeguards in the Bill it would be open to the licensing justices to refuse a variation order that did away with the two-hour break?
Yes, but that is a cumbrous way of proceeding.It is important to note that we discovered the relevance of road safety to licensing laws not just recently; it was foreseen by the Erroll committee. There was a problem then and there is an even greater problem now. Amendment No. 13 would give the flexibility of a two-hour break without rigidity and would meet the Erroll committee's criteria. The committee said:
The Erroll committee saw all this very clearly all those years ago. It is a matter of great surprise to me that private Members who have introduced Bills to amend the main licensing Act have never seen how necessary are safeguards of this kind—with the result that their Bills have always failed. As I have said before, this is far too important a matter to be left to the chance that a private Member might just strike the right balance and have the good fortune to get a measure through. Private Members' legislation will get through only if there is wide support in the House for a worthy measure and if the Government of the day give practical support, which they usually do not. The Bill in its present form would provide the opportunity for licensees to obtain all-day opening, and we must assume that if it were enacted thousands would take advantage of that opportunity. Some supporters of the Bill, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), have suggested that in practice a relatively small proportion of licensees will seek to open for the maximum permitted hours and that many, perhaps the majority, will be content with the benefit of flexibility provided by the Bill. My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and he has wide experience of these matters. When he is talking of things that he knows about, I listen with great respect. I am sure that he is right about this—at least speaking for himself. He is a very responsible man and he is speaking for himself. I do not ask him to agree or disagree, but I fear that we are not dealing with licensees who are completely free agents. We are dealing with a trade in which all kinds of pressures can be brought to bear, as I discovered when I first became involved in this business and found that many managers greatly resented the pressures placed upon them. One cannot be absolutely positive about this, but I believe that once applications can be made for the maximum permitted hours, those hours will eventually become the norm. My position can be stated quite simply. If the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham is correct and the majority of licensees will not wish to take full advantage of the maximum hours permitted by the Bill, there can be little objection to amendment No. 13, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) will be prepared to accept it. If the suggestion is incorrect and the majority of licensees will seek to open for the maximum permitted hours, amendment No. 13 is a necessity to mitigate some of the worst effects of the Bill. We are at an early stage in our discussions, and later amendments will bring out facts about the under-age drinking and appalling antisocial behaviour that may be encouraged by the Bill. It is a matter of grave concern to many people that they will certainly not be discouraged. Amendment No. 13 will be necessary to militate against some of the worst effects of the Bill. 2.15 pm The possibility that the majority of public houses will wish to open for longer hours is by far the most likely. In those circumstances, we can pay close attention to the example of Scotland, where nearly 90 per cent. of public houses in the cities are open from 11 am until 11 pm. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) mentioned Mr. Douglas Allsop, the director of the Scottish Council on Alcoholism, whom I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood has met. He is well known in the area of alcohol care and he believes that all-day opening has not brought benefits to Scotland. If the prospect is that thousands of public houses will take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Bill for all-day opening, a major argument in favour of amendment No. 13 relates to the relationship between availability and consumption. There are plenty of statistics on this. I was not terribly impressed by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said earlier about statistics. He quoted an OPCS survey which was based on self-reporting. Such surveys are unlikely to produce reliable figures because most people tend to underestimate their consumption. No one would argue against the proposition that if many public houses open for a significant number of extra hours, alcohol consumption is likely to increase perhaps — substantially. I do not suppose that availability is the only factor in consumption and misuse. The effects of increased availability can be overriden by factors such as the state of the economy. That is what appears to have happened in Scotland, where licensing liberalisation was followed not long after by economic recession."In circumstances such as these, we would see some advantage if licensing justices were able to impose a compulsory break during the day, either at individual licensed premises within their area or more generally throughout the district. This power would enable justices to deal with particular abuses and should be capable of being used as a flexible instrument of control. We accordingly propose that the licensing justices should he empowered, on complaint, to impose a restriction of no more than two hours on the permitted hours of any licensed premises or group of licensed premises within their area. In order to restrict this power to the afternoon or early evening, however, it should be possible to impose such a break only up to 7,00 p.m. At the same time, we do not think this power ought to be absolute. In the interests of certainty, it would seem preferable to restrict the use of the power to circumstances where the justices are satisfied that it is necessary for the purposes of public order, safety, health or amenity."
As a former Scottish Office Minister with responsibility for industry, may I tell my right hon. Friend that I do not accept his general proposition about the recession being more severe in Scotland than it was in England. That proposition is put forward by the Scottish National party in the context of other debates, but my right hon. Friend should know that I do not accept his argument.
I did not argue that the economic recession was sharper in Scotland than in England. I said that licensing liberalisation was followed, not long after, by economic recession. That is a fact. I was not making a comparison with England, although I know that such comparisons have been made. However, the economy is now recovering health and vitality, and I am delighted that it is doing so in Scotland as well as in England. We know that the north of England and Scotland have suffered during the economic recession, but that is not peculiar to the United Kingdom. It has happened all over the Western world. The decline of the old basic industries has been followed by the movement of people in search of new industrial employment. In the United States, for example, such a movement has taken place from the north-east to the south-west. These things are happening all over the industrialised world. Scotland went through a difficult time, and it is good to know that things are now changing for the better there, as they are in England and Wales.The future holds increased prosperity, not recession. That will tend to increase alcohol consumption, which has not declined in the past because people have gone off drinking beer or spirits, but because they have not had enough money in their pockets to indulge in their favourite pastime in more prosperous times.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of the north are hard working? They have had a difficult time during the past few years, but the apparent drift to the south-east and west may well be reversed quite soon because the cost of living in the north and the renaissance of prosperity both there and in the midlands—particularly in my constituency—gives us every reason to suppose that there will be an equalisation and redistribution of wealth throughout the country. That will do much to improve the position to which my right hon. Friend has referred.
I have never quarrelled with the facts of another man's experience. My hon. Friend knows about the midlands and I am sure that what he says is right. He is underlining my argument. As all parts of the United Kingdom become more prosperous, it is likely that consumption of alcohol will increase. That happens to be a common pattern. Thank God we have not yet reached the level of harm to health caused by alcohol that has been reached in France, Germany, Finland, Scandanavia or the Soviet Union. One of the most significant things that Mr. Gorbachev has said is that productivity in the Soviet Union has suffered grievously as a result of widespread drunkenness and alcoholic illness. We are nowhere near that level yet, but we have been moving in that direction. The bed occupancy in our hospitals of those suffering from alcohol-related illness is about half that of France, but it is increasing all the time. It may be expected therefore that, as we move into more prosperous times, the harm will increase unless there is more effective control, and that is what licensing is all about.
I accept entirely my right hon. Friend's proposition that there must be a relationship between total consumption and incomes, depending upon the relative price of alcohol, but that is not the relationship that the Bill is about. The Bill does not change incomes for the price of alcohol. The Bill is about changes in licensing hours.
I note that the Bill is about availability; and the longer the hours, the greater the availability. That is fundamental. The Bill will increase the hours of drinking and encourage continuous drinking from lunch-time through the afternoon. If that becomes possible, there will be greater harm. The afternoon break has meant hitherto that drinking has stopped for a period, for during that time no more liquor can be consumed. It is a brief period but it is sufficient. It has provided a safeguard for the public and been a feature of British licensing law throughout the century, and the Bill seeks to breach that. If the Bill makes alcohol more easily available in a time of growing prosperity, there will be infinitely more harm done. That follows as surely as night follows day.My hon. Friend—I say this sadly because I did not want him to walk into this one — talked about price. There we have it. It is strange that at a time when the cost to the individual of almost every commodity that we can think of has increased — disposable incomes have increased, too — the price of alcohol in terms of disposable income has fallen. Those who are in the drinks trade may feel that this is marvellous as a way of encouraging more consumption, but price is one of the major factors of controlling the consumption of alcohol. Successive Governments have failed to understand this. If we provide greater availability by means of extra hours and combine that with a Government policy that keeps the price of what is a potent drug below what it was 10 or 15 years ago, we are asking for trouble. It is a prescription for disaster. We have not talked yet about teenage drinking in public houses, which is now a plague. It is becoming uncontrollable. When we have the opportunity, I shall give illustrations that have been culled from newspapers in every corner of the kingdom to show precisely what is happening. The harm is increasing. Youngsters of 13, 14 and 15 years of age tipple in pubs. What has happened to licensees — the splendid people who are supposed to control public houses? They will lose their licences. We are allowing this to happen under our very noses. It has to stop. That is one reason why I condemn the Bill. It is the wrong time and the wrong place further to liberalise drinking hours. I beg my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood to see that we are trying to save him from being the author of—
It being half-past Two o'clock further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.
To he further considered on Friday 8 May.
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