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Clause 1

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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

Modification Of Permitted Hours

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 11, at end insert—

'(2) In section 60(1)(b) of the principal Act (permitted hours in licensed premises on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday) for the word "five" there shall be substituted the word "three" and for the words "beginning at two in the afternoon" shall be substituted "between two and seven in the afternoon.".'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 11, at end insert—

'(2) In section 60(1)(b) of the principal Act (permitted hours in licensed premises on Sundays, Christmas Day, and Good Friday) the words "with a break of five hours beginning at two in the afternoon" shall be omitted.'.

We might describe one of these amendments as frivolous and the other as eminently sensible. Both relate to the permitted hours issue on Sundays. Amendment No. 4 is rather impractical, at least in political terms, as it attempts to treat Sundays like other days of the week by abolishing the need for licensees to close during the afternoon. In the light of the Shops Bill, I do not think that the House is ready for such a change. I am sure that the time will come for such proposals, so for the moment I shall not seek to press amendment No. 4.

Perhaps it would be advisable to remind the House of the licensing law on Sundays, Christmas day and Good Friday. The permitted hours are from 12 noon to 10.30 pm, with a break of five hours beginning at 2 pm. Pubs are therefore closed between 2 pm and 7 pm, a total of five hours. My proposal would limit the closing to three hours only, leaving it to the publican to decide during which of the three hours between 2 pm and 7 pm he would close.

I realise that I am on extremely dangerous ground, as I have dared to touch on the issue of Sunday trading. This is only a modest inching forward on this issue; it is not even a step forward, but it is a modest move in the right direction towards what we might describe as "sense on Sunday". I am mindful of the ignominious fate of the Government's Shops Bill, defeated in the House by an unholy alliance of the official Opposition, the trade union movement and a number of Back Benchers, no doubt with marginal seats, who demonstrated the truism that a politician's mind is conditioned by the state of his seat.

That is a monstrous, disgraceful and utterly untrue statement. I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it.

With respect to my hon. Friend, I shall withdraw it. If I have touched on any sensitivities, I withdraw that statement unreservedly.

Would my hon. Friend also withdraw it in respect of myself? Over the years, I have been consistent on this subject. It has not affected the vote in my constituency, which, I am happy to say, has increased at every election.

If it needed to be shown that Sunday trading is a sensitive issue, I have done so. I unreservedly apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).

Amendment No. 2 also questions the Government's commitment to reforming the laws on Sunday trading. They should be a little more courageous than they have been in this Bill.

9.45 pm

I draw the House's attention to a commitment in the Conservative party manifesto of the last general election. The relevant paragraph appears immediately before the commitment to reforming the licensing laws. It reads:
"We will, therefore, look for an acceptable way forward to bring sense and consistency to the law on Sunday trading."
In that regard, I suggest that amendment No. 2 would be a sensible first step.

Earlier my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said that public houses in Britain are changing very fast. Many public houses now offer meals. To cope with the provision of meals, a measure of flexibility in Sunday opening hours would merit serious consideration.

What I am proposing would ensure that Sundays were still treated specially. One cannot change that by law. I do not believe, as do my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that the amendment would jeopardise the Bill. On Second Reading, they were questioned about their attitudes on changing the Sunday trading law. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) to say whether he would agree to changing the law on Sunday hours. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) asked:
"Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would vote against an attempt to extend the Bill to Sundays?"
The Secretary of State said:
"I am not. I am simply stating facts."—[Official Report, 9 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 41.]
When pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellet-Bowman), he was still a little ambivalent. There is much support, not only on the Conservative Benches but in the Government, for a change in the law on permitted hours on Sundays. I have heard no good arguments advanced for preserving the status quo. No doubt hon. Members who feel strongly on the subject will make their views known.

We must accept that the social scene in the United Kingdom is changing very fast. In keeping with the efforts that are being made to encourage tourism, particularly in rural areas, licensees should be given an opportunity to respond to the demands of their customers.

Essentially, we are talking about an element of choice, and choice is an important Conservative principle. At present, public houses open at midday and have to close at 2 pm. Two hours is not long to eat a lunch on Sundays. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State looks very much like a port and pheasant man. He has already admitted in another debate that he is a shooting man. I am sure that, when he has finished his lunch on Sunday, he will not be able to enjoy his glass of port before being driven home by his wife, who has been drinking Perrier water, because there will not be time to do so. That is ridiculous.

If we accept, as I believe we have, the arguments in favour of a change in the so-called permitted hours from Mondays to Saturdays, surely it is inconsistent and illogical not to reform the hours on Sundays, Good Fridays, and Christmases as well.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) is not here to move this amendment. He has taken part in previous licensing reform debates and was present during the lobby of Parliament last December. He told some 400 assembled licensees in the Great Hall that he favoured a change in the licensing law operating on Sundays. A number of Opposition Members favour a change in the law on Sundays with regard to licensing, although they do not favour a change generally with regard to retail trading.

This is not what is described a probing amendment. It is essentially a prodding amendment to persuade the Government to think again. We shall listen carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who has moved the amendment in a moderate way. Three headings need to be taken into account. First, I do not think that there is any hon. Member who does not believe that this change will eventually come about. I emphasise the fact that this is a modest move, which paves the way for future change. If the change is not made now, and the amendment is not accepted—I do not expect that it will be—surely it will come within the next decade.

Secondly, the present Sunday opening hours are not understood by foreign tourists. They find all our licensing laws puzzling, and Sunday hours are especially puzzling. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said, many modern public houses serve food. Many foreign tourists eat in public houses and it becomes something of a liability if the bell is rung at 2 o'clock.

Thirdly, I submit that a limited change is sensible and would not cause any more disturbance than now occurs on Sundays. I support the movement to keep Sunday special, with only limited shop opening. I abstained in the vote after the Sunday trading debate. I am certainly not a free-for-all man in respect of Sundays. In speeding this legislation on its way, we should take account of the position on Sundays and provide for a modest increase in hours.

I oppose the amendment, which is clearly against the public interest and which, moreover, runs counter to many of the assurances given with regard to the modest scope and purposes of the Bill.

I wish to be fair to the Government. I voted against the Bill on Second Reading because, with the Wakeham committee having just been established—a development which I warmly welcomed—I did not believe that this was the appropriate time to meddle with the licensing laws and because the Bill did not at that time include any safeguards in relation to the problem of under-age drinking.

I am glad to concede that the Government have taken important steps towards the inclusion of additional safeguards. Whether I vote against the Bill on Third Reading depends on the outcome of the drink industry's attempts to obtain longer opening hours. I shall await what my hon. Friend says about that with the greatest of interest.

I am pleased that so far, during Second Reading and in Committee, the Government have honoured the assurances that they gave the House about Sunday opening. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to resist pressure from the drink industry with the utmost vigour.

Would it help my right hon. Friend to know that we have no intention of departing from the assurances that we have already given?

I did not think for one moment that my hon. Friend would depart from his assurances, but it is necessary to make a stand in these matters so that there should be no misunderstanding. Some of the speeches in the debate have shown a considerable misunderstanding of the position. For that reason, I am entitled to give my reasons why the House should reject the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin).

I have already mentioned my first reason, which is that to accept the amendment would renege on repeated assurances that the Bill would exclude Sundays. The Government's consultative document stated that they would be excluded, as they were, and the Bill completed its Committee stage unaltered in that respect. No doubt there would have been more opposition to the Bill in Committee if Sundays had been included.

The second reason is that there is no evidence that the majority of the public want extended drinking hours on Sundays. Indeed, the evidence from opinion polls strongly suggests that a large majority of the population opposes such a change. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside has said, it is necessary for me to say something. The MORI poll in November 1987 found that only 29 per cent. of the population agreed with longer pub opening hours on Sundays, while 59 per cent. were opposed. Thus, to accept the amendment would he not merely to renege on previous assurances but to do so knowing that we were flying in the face of public opinion.

The third reason for opposing the amendment has to do with the additional harm that would be created by extending drinking hours. In the first place, there is the matter of prolonged annoyance and aggravation to local residents. For many people, Sunday afternoon is the only time in the week when they can enjoy rest and relaxation with their families at home, free from the noise and disturbance that characterise the rest of the week.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) said, Sunday is regarded by many people as a special day. The amendment, if carried, would be likely to spoil that specialness for a great many people. I do not represent and have never represented the views of Sabbatarians but a vast number of our people who do not go to church or have religious views about Sunday want to keep one day in the week when they can enjoy peace and quiet. Those living in the immediate vicinity of a pub would he especially likely to experience additional annoyance, but the problem would by no means he restricted to them.

Many of us are anxious about the likely effects of the Bill in increasing outbreaks of public disorder during the week, which is why I have tabled an amendment to improve the safeguards. But the disorders are most likely to occur at weekends, the time of the week when most alcohol is consumed. We await with some trepidation what will happen in our streets and town centres on Saturdays once the Bill is in force. The prospect of the peak drinking period being extended to include Sundays would certainly cause considerable alarm to the staff of the accident and emergency departments of hospitals and to the police, who will have to cope with the consequences.

I quote a brief extract from the Yorkshire Post on 21 September last year. It shows what I have in mind. The heading is:
"A wet Friday night out"
It states:
"A scream of obscenities was followed by a thud as a drunken youth pushed another up against a hot-dog stall, raining blows on his face … as we passed McDonalds restaurant to see (another) youth, face covered in blood, being comforted by his friends … Across the road, a line of young drunks urinated in a shop doorway in full view of a crowd of young girls … It was a wet Friday night in Leeds as the city centre pubs disgorged their customers, many of them below the legal drinking age."

My right hon. Friend has read a graphic account of trouble outside a public house on a wet Friday night. I understand that the amendments concern Sunday hours, not wet Friday nights.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Business Of The House


That, at this day's sitting, the Licensing Bill and the Welsh Development Agency Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Neubert.]

Licensing Bill

Bill, as amended, (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

My hon. Friend's intervention was a waste of time. He should have listened a little longer. He is prolonging what I have to say. The problem in Leeds is to be found in many towns and cities.

Not yet, but certainly on other days. I have given evidence of that over and over again. My hon. Friend's ears are closed to the subject.

The report stated:
"It was a wet Friday night in Leeds as the city centre pubs had disgorged their customers, many of them below the legal drinking age."
The House will he well advised to note what happens on Saturday afternoons and bank holidays after the Bill is put into operation before making any further extension of hours to those proposed by the Government and undermining traditional family quiet days such as Christmas day and Good Friday. Moreover, the amendments are likely to have a particularly marked effect on problems caused by alcohol abuse.

In Committee, the Minister conceded that a relaxation of the Sunday law would probably lead to an increase in consumption. That is a frank admission from the Government. It has been stated over and over again, the world over, that increases in consumption are accompanied by increases in social and physical harm. The Minister also argued against allowing airports to have extended licensing hours on Sundays, on the ground that to do so would be likely to give rise to an increase in drunken driving. There is good evidence to show that the Minister was right on both counts.

Dr. D. Smith of the Western Australia Alcohol and Drug Authority has shown that, following the introduction of Sunday alcohol sales in Perth, there was a 63·8 per cent. increase in the number of persons killed on Sundays in comparison to the other six days of the week. Similarly, in Brisbane, following the introduction of two two-hour drinking sessions on Sundays, road casualties increased by 130 per cent. If my hon. Friend would like me to tell him what is happening in other countries, I am ready to do so.

The introduction of a 10-hour Sunday hotel session in New South Wales was followed by a 22 per cent. increase in fatal road traffic accidents. The House already knows that the peak time for alcohol-related road accidents occurs when pubs are turning out, and especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

In introducing the Bill, the Government have taken no counter-measures to prevent such harm from increasing. It would be utter folly for the House to pass my hon. Friend's amendment without also strengthening the law against drinking and driving.

If libertarians want a person to be free to drink when and where he likes, and if the drink industry wants the opportunity to sell alcohol at any time during the day, they would make a better case if, at the same time, they were prepared to see the Department of Transport's "Don't drink and drive" policy better enforced by introducing random breath testing, increasing the penalties for such offences, and lowering the legal limit. Until such action is taken, removing the existing safeguards on alcohol consumption without replacing them with other measures is tantamount to aiding and abetting the killing and maiming of more people on our roads.

The amendment is trade-inspired. It promotes a drinking day rather than a family day. It is more likely to promote "one for the road" than "none for the road." By maintaining the present Sunday licensing law, there is a greater likelihood that pubs will open and sell tea and coffee—as was recommended by many hon. Members—and attractive alcohol-free drinks which all the family can enjoy, including the driver.

How can a licensee start selling tea at 7 pm on a Sunday afternoon? If the Government accepted my amendment, the publican would have the flexibility to close at 2 pm and open at 5 pm. That is a far more practical proposition, and the publican could do what he wanted.

How naive can my hon. Friend get? The whole object of the amendment—never mind where it comes from—is to increase the sale of alcohol. The House is not composed of fools. We know the purpose of the amendment,. Perhaps some people believe there is no great danger in the amendment, but many of us believe there is.

By maintaining the present Sunday licensing laws there is a better chance of getting public houses to open and sell tea, coffee and attractive alcohol-free drinks which all the family can enjoy. We should encourage rather than obstruct such a change in our drinking habits. I hope that the House will reject the amendment decisively.

I will be brief, but I want to say a few words because these are important matters. The cost of alcohol-induced accidents and alcohol-induced disease is a major problem. If we did not have to look after people suffering from an excess of alcohol, our National Health Service would not be in crisis. There would be a surplus of beds because so many of them at present are occupied by people with alcohol-induced difficulties and diseases.

I want to speak out clearly against the amendment. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) said earlier that these amendments were trade-inspired. I am beginning to wonder whether Agnes Maude Royden's aphorism, that
"The Church should no longer be satisfied to represent the Conservative party at prayer"
is any longer true. It looks as if the Tory party is more concerned about praying to the brewers than being part of the Church of England.

Although I would not argue that Sunday should be closed or isolated from many human activities, some of which employ people, we must decide whether we are trying to preserve Sunday as a reasonably quiet day with some people having to work to provide services, such as the supply of electricity, staffing hospitals and running the railways and other public services. We accept that that is part of Sunday. We must also make a judgment not to extend the law to erode Sunday so that the precious nature of Sunday is removed for many people. That precious nature may stem from a religious preference, and, although I do not particularly share that, I honour and respect those people who wish to make a decision in that direction.

People may want to maintain Sunday as an emphatically family day. We must be careful not to allow Sunday to be eroded gradually by watering down legislative safeguards that have not been properly examined. As the right hon. Member for Castle Point said, a committee is examining the procedure. I regret the fact that the committee did not report to the House before the legislation was introduced.

We must consider another aspect of this matter—the workers. Wherever Sunday working is introduced, there should be safeguards for workers. There should be a conscience clause that people can exercise so that employers cannot force them to work on Sundays against their will. People may argue that that does not apply in some industries at the moment, and that is probably true. I regard that with considerable regret because employers can pressure people into working when they want to keep Sunday free.

Even when there is a conscience clause, it is often honoured more in its breach than its observance. It is difficult for people who are faced with the possibility of dismissal — not because they would not work on Sundays, but because an employer would choose another reason to dismiss someone who was not prepared to cooperate and work on Sundays.

That was the argument against the extension of Sunday trading. I do not think that that argument was properly made. The amendments contain no protection for workers. There is no protection in the parent legislation. I should have thought that if hon. Members were really concerned about the rights of those who differ from the movers of the amendments, they would include in their proposals safeguards so that people are not coerced into working on a Sunday if they do not wish to do so.

Lastly, representations have been made to me by members of the St. John the Evangelist parish church at Great Horton. They sent me a petition, containing more than 400 signatures, expressing opposition to the Bill. I share that opposition. The vicar, Canon H. M. Wigley, asked me specifically to oppose the legislation. That is why I am taking the opportunity to speak out against proposals for the incursion of yet more pub opening hours on a Sunday.

I do not like the Bill, but I certainly dislike those aspects which, as the right hon. Member for Castle Point put it so aptly, are trade-inspired. I do not like trade-inspired amendments, because we are making a judgment. My judgment is that the two amendments will not add to the sum of human happiness or pleasure. They will cause more pain than pleasure. They will cause more discomfort and more disagreeable intrusions into a day which, when we examine the circumstances, we should try to keep as free as possible from difficulties for people who wish to take pleasure in a simple family day.

For reasons similar to those expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), I oppose the amendment. It is unfortunate that it was introduced at this late stage. It should have been considered on Second Reading, not on Report.

Nevertheless, I respectfully submit that, even today, the comparative peace of Sunday is invaluable to people, whether or not they are churchgoers. That peace can easily be eroded, and we would then regret its departure. It has become part of the life of this country; and it is difficult to envisage a seven-day working week, which is what we are in danger of achieving.

There have been many attempts to erode the difference of Sunday. Fortunately, the Shops Bill 1986 was defeated, but it would have been an invitation for the wholesale secularisation of Sunday, and the creation of a good deal of traffic, disorder and destruction of the environment, all of which would be undesirable.

In the eyes of its sponsors this is a modest change. Unfortunately, it is a move in the wrong direction. They are all incursions into the kind of Sunday that we have known, and in the long term they are cumulatively injurious to the environment. I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that people who are under pressure to work on Sunday should have some protection. There was no such protection in the Shops Bill. There was not the complete protection that is desirable.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has given an assurance that the Government will not adopt the amendment. I hope that very few hon. Members will vote for it and that it will be defeated conclusively and comprehensively, as it is an undesirable move in the wrong direction.

10.15 pm

This is not the time to rehearse all the arguments about the special nature of Sunday, but, like the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), I have the honour to be a patron of the Keep Sunday Special campaign. We look back with interest at the campaign which we waged in the House on the Shops Bill. We also look back to last Friday when the Government, after their experience on the Shops Bill, were much more wary on the Sunday Sports (No. 2) Bill, the key effect of which would be to open betting shops on Sunday.

The Government are treading warily because of their experience, in spite of the fact that the Home Secretary sees the need to make Sunday like any other day of the week. I do not believe that that is in tune with the wishes of the great majority of the people. I shall not rehearse the general arguments, but I am glad that the Government —at least for the moment—resist the amendment.

The Government have been timid on the question of Sundays. A small adjustment, such as that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) to allow a slightly longer lunchtime session on Sunday, would have satisfied many people who like to take their families out for lunch on Sunday. At present, opening hours are unequal on Sundays. As a result of the noble Lord Montgomery's Licensing (Restaurant Meals) Act 1987, restaurants and public houses with restaurants which are entirely separate may open throughout the entirety of Sunday afternoon to serve drinks with meals.

Public houses are constrained by the antiquated requirement whereby they can open only from 12 midday to 2 o'clock. If they wish to serve food during Sunday afternoon, they are still constrained by the 12 to 2 o'clock rule. As I said on Second Reading, the rule is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. There is more abuse of the opening and closing times at Sunday lunchtime, particularly in London, than in any other session during the week.

I take issue with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) that a modest increase in the number of hours allowed at Sunday lunchtime would lead to an enormous rise in crime, motor accidents, and so on. Sunday is a day when people would very much like to go out with their families for a meal and to have a slightly longer time in which to buy a drink with a meal in a public house which offers such good value in the food that it serves.

My right hon. Friend suggested that the amendment was inspired by the trade. If the trade, in its desire to serve its customers with what customers want on a Sunday, has inspired the amendment, that is nothing to be ashamed of. I accept what was said about this being a prodding rather than a probing amendment, on which I suspect that we will not get a result this evening, but I hope that the Government will bear in mind that the question of opening hours on Sunday is still alive, whereas, had they taken a modest step to increase the Sunday lunchtime session, the whole question of the permitted licensing hours on Sunday would have died not for the next five or 10 years but probably for 25 years. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State must expect the question to be raised again, even if the amendment does not get the approval of the House tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) has spoken modestly and persuasively. Had my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) spoken in similar terms when he moved the amendment, he might have won more friends, although he was gracious enough to apologise and to withdraw his remarks which impugned the motives of some of his colleagues. None of us should ever do that. It set the debate off on a sour note.

Many of us believe that Sunday is special and different and that it should not become a duplicate Saturday. That is why I have resisted attempts to encourage Sunday trading. It is not that I do not believe that the law needs tidying up—it does—but that I do not want Sunday to become a second Saturday. We should be doing a great disservice to the British people if we took such a course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside prayed tourism in aid. Tourism is extremely important. It brings great revenue to the country. Tourists are welcome, but, although we welcome and must look after them, we do not have to change all the laws of the land to accommodate them. That is a slightly threadbare argument, and it should not be pushed too far.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Minister said that the amendment would be resisted. I hope that it will not be put to a vote. I hope that there can be a long and—I choose my words advisedly — sober look at the law governing Sundays in all respects to meet the legitimate designs and aspirations of everyone. I declare an interest as a non-executive director of a small group of hotels.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham said, we should take into account the fact that people who can afford a fairly expensive meal can buy drinks, but those who cannot do not. We must nevertheless be extremely careful. The hours of trading must be restricted. Sunday must not become a second Saturday. We should therefore follow the lead offered by my hon. Friend the Minister and, if the House divides, we should support the Government against the amendment which I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside is proposing unadvisedly.

Although I represent an English constituency, I come from Wales. I must say that there is something reminiscent, in the arguments against the extension of flexibility on Sunday, of the arguments in the Principality against drinking on Sunday. Under the force of public opinion and democratic voting, flexibility has gradually been extended. I believe that even the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) will admit that Wales has not turned into a terrible Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, it has benefited.

The Government have implicitly accepted the arguments in favour of liberalising the licensing laws on the grounds of the extra amenity and employment that would be created. I should have thought that those arguments applied just as much—if not more so—to Sunday as to any other day of the week.

I am in favour of extending choice, provided that that does not overbear on the choice available to others to keep Sunday as they wish. I want the Government to be more radical on this matter.

I do not commend the amendment to the House for two reasons — one broad and one narrow. I shall deal with the latter first.

The proposals amount to flexible hours, but make no provision for enforcement, without which the amendment cannot sensibly be proposed. The amendment therefore falls on that narrow ground.

There is another point, which is of greater substance. The Government have made it wholly plain that we do not intend at the moment to change the law on Sundays. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made an unequivocal statement to that effect, and I echoed it. Other people, including hon. Members, altered their stance on the basis of those assurances. It would be wrong to depart in any way from those assurances. I hope that I can persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends to take up the same position.

I am pleased that I tabled these two amendments, and that the more modest of the two has been debated. I think that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it has been an extremely good debate and I for one could not have been accused of closed ears. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) was on his feet, who could have closed his ears to such eloquence and power?

There have been strong arguments for and against some relaxation of the law on Sunday. The Government must now consider how they will honour the manifesto pledge to bring sense into the law on Sunday trading generally. I was proposing a modest step in that direction with licensing law reform. Having made my point, and having listened to the arguments, I can only hope that, when the other place comes to debate this matter, with the will of the House, it will pick up the banner and carry it forward, and that an amendment along the lines of mine will be tabled.

The anxiety expressed by Ministers about opposition to changing the law on Sundays arises mainly from their fear of what might happen in the other place. As hon. Members know, in this place we can be dragooned in the right direction to a certain extent, as we are being tonight. That is regrettable, when Opposition Members have the opportunity of a free vote, such as that which we enjoyed in the debate on the Shops Bill in 1986. With those thoughts in mind, and in the hope that an amendment like this may appear in the other place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 11, at end insert—

`(2) In section 60(1)(b) the words "The licensing magistrates may modify the permitted hours for bona fide English vineyards so that they begin no earlier than 12.00 noon for a total of no more than five and a half hours" shall be added.'.
This is an interesting and unusual issue which I feel that the House, even at this late hour, would like to hear a little about. There are 200 commercial vineyards in this country, 100 of which are open to the public. Increasingly, they are a tourist attraction, but they are also a sort of small business enterprise, and many of them are on farms, where farmers have heeded the Government's exhortations to diversify and have gone into the vineyard business. They are creating successful wines which are the envy of many parts of Europe and the world.

The problem, which is endemic, is the law relating to wine tasting or sampling, and the amendment specifically deals with that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, when he has heard the argument, will be able to say something helpful about the general point of tasting and sampling, beyond the scope of the amendment.

Let me deal first with the issues. At present, a tourist visiting an English vineyard can taste wines if that vineyard has an on-licence during the hours that a public house is open. One can go to an English vineyard—as one can go to one in Germany, France or Italy—but one can taste the wines and enjoy the quality that the vineyard has produced only during the hours of 11 am to 3 pm in the day and from 5.30 pm to 11 pm at night. It will be appreciated that vineyards will be open not at night, but only during the day. If the charabanc arrives before 11 am or after 3 pm, the people in it will be shown the wonderful vineyard but told that they cannot taste what it produces.

10.30 pm

I have been following my hon. Friend's remarks with interest. Surely, if one goes into any wine merchant's shop in a town or city with the possible intention to buy, the wine merchant will give one a tasting to enable one to make up one's mind. Is that against the law?

As always, my hon. Friend has made a telling point. He must have foreseen what I was about to say. If the charabanc travellers arrive at the vineyard outside on-licensing hours, they may find that the owner of the vineyard has had the forethought to apply for an off-licence.

In that case, in addition to the vinery, with tastings during on-licensing hours, he will have a separate building —which he will have had to build—containing an off-licence. The charabanc travellers will go into the off-licence and say, "I would like a bottle of wine." But they will not be allowed to taste it unless the tasting is free. The House will appreciate that if 1,000 visitors to the vineyard are all tasting the wine free in the off-licence, the modest farmer who is trying to diversify will be out of pocket very quickly; all his bottles of wine will be consumed at the off-licence outside on-licence hours.

There is a much more serious problem. If the visitors buy a bottle at the off-licence in the hours when the on-licence does not apply, they are not allowed to consume it on the premises. Therefore, arrangements have to be made to take the bottle off the premises — [An hon. Member: "To the charabanc."] Yes, but they cannot drink it in the charabanc if it is parked on the premises of the vineyard. The vineyard owner will have to make arrangements with the next-door farmer to construct a third building to which the travellers have to go to open their bottle of wine. If there are a corkscrew and glasses in that third building, the travellers can then taste the wine.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House—even at this late hour—will appreciate that the 1964 Act could never have envisaged this ridiculous state of affairs. In 1964 we did not have 200 commercial vineyards and the Government were not exhorting farmers to diversify because of our problems with food surpluses.

My hon. Friend is making an important point. I am sure that the Government will listen to his argument about the problem and attempt to put it right to encourage this growing sector of business.

Just outside Dorking in Surrey — not in my constituency, but not far from it—a new vineyard was planted two years ago. It is not producing yet, but its area is 120 acres, so it will be the biggest vineyard in Great Britain. It will be an important enterprise. It is a new business which has drawn on expertise from Germany and the rest of the continent. That is an example of how new firms can grow, which is exactly what the Government want.

Any impediment such as the licensing impediment to which my hon. Friend draws attention should be removed if we wish such businesses to expand. Wine growing is very suitable for small, new businesses—just as it is on the continent. I do not say that 120 acres is small; indeed, it is very large. However, there will be many opportunities for small vineyards to start up, creating new jobs and new enterprises. I wish my hon. Friend well and I hope that the Governent will pay attention to the point that he makes.

That was a helpful intervention. Although the vineyard to which my hon. Friend referred is not in his constituency, I know that he is interested in vineyards—particularly in the new vineyard at Dorking, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Other vineyards not quite as large as that are well known to my hon. Friend. The largest one — Lamberhurst — is already 55 acres and is doing very well and many other vineyards, in constituencies from Berkshire to Gloucestershire and right across the country, are springing up fast and doing well.

I do not want to detain the House. I have set the scene of the problem and now want to explain briefly what will happen when the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will. The new law will help the vineyards — there is no doubt about that—because they can get an on-licence, not just for the pub opening hours as at present, but for the new pub opening hours of 11 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night—not that many people will want to taste wine at 5 o'clock in the evening until 11 o'clock at night.

Therefore, although this is not directly connected with the amendment, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will perhaps encourage the other place to consider whether the 12 hours — 11 am to 11 pm — could be slightly flexible so that the magistrates could not, heaven forbid, increase the number of drinking hours, but allow the hours to be from, say, 10 am to 10 pm or even from 9 am to 9 pm. There could still be 12 hours, but perhaps they could be moved a little. That discretion and flexibility would allow our English vineyards the scope that the rigidity of allowing them to open only from 11 am to 11 pm prevents. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will say something which, although not immediately relevant to the amendment, will assist us when the Bill goes through another place.

I turn to the sharp end of the amendment. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) will be attentive to this point because the 1964 Act, which will not be changed by the Bill, states that the number of hours on a Sunday will follow the identical hours of the pub openings. That means that on a Sunday, when the vineyards have their big tourist attractions, they are caught by the limitations of the pub openings as at present. That means that they cannot have any wine tasting on their on-licence before 12 o'clock midday and must stop their wine tasting immediately at 2 pm. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point will realise that, from 7 pm to 10.30 at night on a Sunday, there is no point in having wine tasting, unless it is by candlelight or in the vaults.

The purpose of my amendment is to allow the magistrates some discretion to distribute exactly the same hours on Sunday, but to make those hours not from 12 o'clock to 2 o'clock and 7.30 pm to 10 pm, but to allow the English vineyards to provide a sample of wine between 12 o'clock and 5.30 pm. That would cover just the type of family outing that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends talked about a moment ago. What nicer way is there of spending a Sunday afternoon than for a family to go out in their private car to look at some of the wonderful and enterprising vineyards and to enjoy a sample at the same time?

My hon. Friend has done us a great service by drawing this matter to the Government's attention and I hope that they will listen carefully. I endorse his point about family outings on Sundays. My hon. Friend the Minister for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) mentioned earlier the problem of not having to change all our laws in this country just to suit tourists. When the three commercial vineyards in my constituency have opened on Sundays, they have attracted a completely different clientele—local families who want to see the process of wine making and the parents who, of course, want to enjoy the prospect of buying and drinking the product.

I am delighted that so many hon. Friends, who have vineyards in their constituencies, have made such points, because my hon. Friend the Minister will obviously be impressed by the strength of feeling among Conservative Members. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for making that important and telling point.

The amendment will give the magistrates in each locality a discretion to manoeuvre the hours on Sunday —but not to increase them—so that families can enjoy wine tasting on an on-licence. It does not alter the fact that English vineyards will still need to have an on-licence and an off-licence.

If the Minister rejects the amendment it will mean that at 2 o'clock sharp on a Sunday the vineyards—all 100—will have to have an off-licence. People will have to move from the on-licence, where they are sampling wines, to the off-licence. Unless those wines are provided free, people will have to buy a bottle and traipse over to the next-door farmer, with the corkscrew and the glasses, to sample the wines on their own in a little hut.

The Minister may believe that such problems are modest and trivial, but tens of thousands of people visit vineyards. The present ridiculous anachronism could be altered at a stroke by the Minister.

We are faced with the problems of on-licences, off-licences and flexi-hours on Sundays. I do not know whether my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken with such fervour would feel the same way if magistrates were given the discretion to switch and distribute the Sunday hours. The on-licence, instead of being confined from noon until 2 o'clock and from 7 pm until 10.30 pm, could be distributed differently.

I should declare an interest. I have been involved with the English Vineyards Association for many years and indeed, I have four vineyards in my constituency. Many hon. Members believe that the amendment is important. I hope that the Minister will use this opportunity to say something constructive that will enable us to believe that, if he cannot act immediately, he will do his best to get rid of the present anachronism. Many European visitors to our vineyards consider that anachronism to be out of place and out of character with the British habit of getting things done in an appropriate way.

The amendment deals exclusively with Sunday and the points that I made in the previous debate apply to this one. Therefore, I cannot offer my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) any hope.

My hon. Friend has clearly described the wider problems faced by British vineyard owners on days other than Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas day. My hon. Friend has described those problems so graphically that I feel that I would like to reconsider the problem relating to those days to see whether there is anything that we can do to assist in resolving the problem that he has described.

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) I am a non-executive director of the Bluebell railway and at Sheffield Park, at the end of that line, there is an English vineyard.

One of the problems that we face is that English wine has been cursed for years by ignorant people calling it "British" wine. In the past few months I have been able to introduce a major French wine grower to English wine. To his astonishment he found it drinkable. We all know that it is.

Is the Minister saying that he will look at the general issues with a view to telling his draftsmen, if he is convinced, that something must be done when the Bill reaches another place?

I support my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). In my constituency we have Biddenden vineyard, which won a prize for its Ortega 1986 vintage. Indeed, hon. Members on both sides of the House chose it in the wine-tasting before Christmas.

My hon. Friend was right to underline the problems that over the years have been piled on English vineyards, but, despite those problems, they have thrived. At one time we had many Dutch, French, Belgian and German tourists passing through my constituency, and for them English wines were a joke until they tasted them. Now they enjoy them and like to taste them without all the nonsense that my hon. Friend described.

I hope that the Minister and his team at the Home Office will take a long hard look at this, so that we can make life easier for enterprising English vineyards which produce some of the best wine in the world.

10.45 pm

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for meeting us halfway, and support entirely the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).

England was excellent wine, but it is new wine on the world circuit, so is relatively unknown. Therefore, wine tasting is particularly important in order to sell it within the EEC and throughout the world. In the debate on the previous amendment, my hon. Friend the Minister clearly explained the problem with Sunday, and I accept what he said. But I urge him to persuade his hon. Friends to be flexible, because Sunday is a big day for bringing clients to vineyards. In Hampshire we have four big vineyards: Lymington, Swanmore, Ringwood and Beaulieu. Putting major investment into these alternative crops also fits the Government's policy of alternative use of farmland.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for agreeing to consider days other than Sunday, but I urge him to press his colleagues to think again about Sunday.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and his moderate new clause. My hon. Friend the Minister certainly made a brief response which caused some disappointment.

Has the Minister held any discussions with his hon. Friends in the Department of Employment? He did not mention the employment aspects, which are great, or tourism in connection with English vineyards.

I have not held such discussions. This matter has not been raised with me previously; it was first brought to my attention when the amendment was tabled. I am against nonsense and there seems to be a certain amount of nonsense involved. If we can resolve it, we shall do so. But I cannot help my hon. Friends about Sundays.

I am grateful for that further comment from my hon. Friend. Nevertheless, I hope that in another place he will consider getting out the old files; over many years there was enormous correspondence with his predecessors about this.

Britain has enjoyed English vineyard wines since the Roman era. Those who look at Christies' catalogues and others will know that vineyards now extend even into Wales. The new interest since 1945 is attractive, but there is nothing special in our having vineyards, although we now have many hundreds of acres under the vine.

Tonight we are faced with classic red tape. I do not believe that the Government wish to support red tape, but my hon. Friend the Minister is certainly putting up a good case for keeping the scissors in the cupboard. I wish he would take them out, cut the red tape, and consider the employment aspects of English vineyards and the English vineyard trail. What is so immoral about someone tasting a glass of wine on an afternoon in the south of England and even as far north as Yorkshire with a view to purchase? That should be considered in another place.

For all those reasons, I hope that the scissors will be used and that my hon. Friend's officials will consider the matter in another place.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and I am pleased to hear that the Minister wants to get rid of much of the nonsense.

I am chairman of the Conservative party's Back-Bench food and drink sub-committee. We recently held a wine-tasting, attended by many hon. Members. We tasted 10 wines, five English and five continental wines, in a blind tasting. The five English wines did very well, winning the first three prizes. That reflects the excellence of English wines and the desire of many people in this country to taste them.

I am grateful for what the Minister has said tonight about getting rid of some of the nonsense, and for dealing with the problems explained to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams about days other than Sundays. I hope that the Minister will be able to bring forward proposals in the not too distant future.

I do not wish to detain the House, except to say that I support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).

I first became aware of English wines recently at a reception organised by an extraordinarily paradoxical body, the Milk Marketing Board. I support the proposal and hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will carefully consider it. Perhaps he will reflect that we might not have found ourselves in the present inflexible position in respect of Sunday if the Home Office, in the last Session, had not got us in such a mess over Sunday trading.

I apologise for not having been present throughout the debate. I have been detained elsewhere on important constituency business.

I wish to add my voice in support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), because there is a vineyard in my constituency and I respect the way in which it has sought to bring employment into a rural area. It appears to be inhibited by these petty restrictions.

I should like to rise quickly to prevent any more of my hon. Friends from rising, as I know that quite a number of them planned to intervene. I want to curtail that by saying that this has been an interesting debate. It has shown the strength of feeling on the Conservative Back Benches about English vineyards and the anachronisms and antiquated laws which affect them.

I was tempted to press the amendment to a Division, but that would be quite inappropriate after the Minister's generous and flexible response in recognising the strength of feeling on this matter. It caught him by surprise, so he wants time to consider the issue. In view of his flexibility and intelligence and the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) supported most of my speech, the Sunday trading lobby may not be opposed to a little flexible discretion by the licensing magistrates.

My hon. Friend has made a most interesting speech, which has already evoked a little promise from the Minister. I advise him not to spoil it.

Whenever my right hon. Friend gives advice, one is wise to take it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.