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Licensing Amendment (Off-Licences) Bill Hl

Volume 416: debated on Wednesday 28 January 1981

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7.34 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill, I submit, is not just short in length but is also big in merit. It contains just two proposals, one in each of its two clauses, and it follows the line of a debate in this House in October 1979. It is designed to tidy up a small corner of the jungle of our licensing laws, and I shall explain in a minute in more detail. It is not the intention to swing sales of drink from one set of outlets to another. May I say, too, at the beginning of this short speech, that since the Bill was printed I have had letters from individuals, including the chairman of a well-known football club, and organisations, all in support, and I have heard very little from the other side.

It is true that these proposals have been among the recommendations put forward by the Licensed Victuallers' Association for some little time, but I am introducing this Bill not as anyone's agent but because I am convinced of the merits. Here, may I say that I am not hostile to alcohol in moderation, nor to younger people enjoying a drink as much as their elders. I drink my share, I do not disguise it; and, further, I buy my drink where I find it is the best value, as no doubt we all do. In passing, it is a coincidence that we might notice that today in the Grand Committee Room there was a well-attended meeting—in fact, the Grand Committee Room was full—where there were people from different walks of life discussing, under the chairmanship of a Member of your Lordships' House, the results of alcoholic excess. That meeting had the privilege of being addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who I am glad to see is going to speak in this debate this evening.

For a long time this country has had special rules and safeguards for the retailing of alcoholic drink as against the retailing of other general lines. The law today is not uniform as between sales in on- and off-licence premises and the increase in the number of off-licence premises is something which is well-known to us all today; the number has increased greatly over the last few years. I am glad to say that no-one can fault the management of the great majority of these outlets, whatever the law may or may not require of them; but there is need for some amendment of the law, and I am looking forward to Government support since one Home Office Minister has spoken in this vein several times and he, like many knowledgeable social workers, has deplored how easy it is for people, particularly drop-outs and the younger element, to obtain drink from certain laxly-managed outlets.

Now, my Lords, the Bill itself. Clause 1 deals with off-licence premises where the sale of intoxicating liquor is ancillary to other business. The Bill provides that such a drink shall be sold from an enclosed department reserved exclusively for that purpose, as frequently happens today, or from over a counter. This all seems simple and reasonable, but I have heard that the smaller businesses see some difficulty in this. I think myself that it is exaggerated, but if it can be shown to be material we can certainly consider other wording if we come to the Committee stage. What the Bill wishes to prevent is a layout where a shopper can take from the shelves everything that he needs, including alcoholic liquor. That is not something that can be found everywhere, but it does happen in many cases. In fact, I went to two not so very far from your Lordships' House yesterday, and found it was easy to put in my basket a bottle of spirits together with cornflakes and the rest, and to pay for the whole together. The Bill wishes to prevent that; to prevent a layout where a shopper puts his bottle of wine or spirits and his baked beans and cornflakes, and all the rest, into the same basket and pays for them all together.

It is not generally realised that magistrates today, when granting or renewing an off-licence, have no power to impose conditions such as they may on on-licences. believe there are occasions when an assurance is asked for, but I very much doubt whether such assurances could be supported if it came to arguing their validity in court. Whereas magistrates have considerable responsibilities when it comes to the granting of on-licences, they have no powers to impose conditions when they are granting off-licences; and, further, in practice today—and any magistrate would bear this out, I am sure—it is difficult for them to refuse an application for an off-licence, and a number of applicants who have recently been refused have in fact had the decision reversed in the Crown Court.

Let us turn to Clause 2. We have been dealing with premises, now we are turning to persons. Clause 2 provides that a person employed selling intoxicating liquor in the premises that we are considering must be 18 years old, which is the minimum age for the legal handling of alcoholic liquor. It brings the law relating to minors employed in off-licence premises into line with that covering on-licence premises, where persons under the age of 18 are not allowed to serve behind the bar. That seems to me a wholly responsible thing to require. In holiday times it is not unusual for teenagers to work in such stores, and in the smaller shops they could find themselves alone under pressure from schoolmates. Today at this meeting I referred to in the Grand Committee Room I heard a Minister of the Crown say that a growing proportion of our young people are drinking more than a few years ago and that the convictions for drunkenness among young people are also going up. That means that they are drinking more than is good for them.

In conclusion—I do not wish to expand on this because the two points in the Bill are simple, short and I am sure your Lordships can understand both-I cannot see that there will be many people in the country who will be opposed to the provisions of this Bill. As I have said, it is in line with the discussions in this House in October 1979. It is exactly in line with the resolution passed by the magistrates at their conference in December 1979. The wording was that they urged that licences should be granted to supermarkets for the sale of intoxicating liquor only where there is a secure separate licensed area staffed at all times when the area is open by an adult cognisant of the licensing law.

The wording of the Bill is not quite so precise as that, but it shows that what I am proposing is in line with the opinion of the Magistrates' Association. Further, it has the general support of all the police officers, senior and junior, who I have asked. I understand too that the Association of Chief Officers of Police is in favour of the proposal, although they say they are not able to comment on the administrative consequences that might be required in certain businesses under the provisions of this Bill.

It could be said that there is a need for much bigger reform of the licensing laws. I can see one noble Lord already nodding in agreement. Be that as it may, it is well known that we can wait a very long time in this country for major reform of any law, and frequently there is a good case for taking the smaller step when it can be done without great difficulty in a reasonably short time and with wide approval. This straightforward short Bill meets a real need and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading tonight. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Inglewood.)

7.43 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to oppose this Bill. I would first declare my interests. In common with 10 million of my fellow countrymen, I am a member of a co-operative society. In that society I have a small investment and receive a fixed rate of interest and, so far as they are able to, my family buy their requirements from that society. I think that the House will agree that my financial interest is negligible. On the other hand, I have to admit to a substantial professional interest. I have not only been in the management of retail distribution pretty well the whole of my working life, but I was involved in the initiation and development of the first self-service stores in this country and I wrote a booklet on the subject. I have continued my interest on the subject and I therefore admit that I have a very strong professional interest.

I want to give the House some background data which I think will help them to put this Bill, and what might be said about it, in its proper perspective. The figures that I am going to use have been taken from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Seventy-five per cent. of alcoholic drink in this country is sold from on-licensed premises; that is, premises where the alcoholic drink is consumed on the premises. Of that 75 per cent., 57 per cent. is consumed in public houses, 3 per cent. in restaurants and 15 per cent. in clubs. The balance of 25 per cent. is the off-licence trade.

The off-licence trade can also be analysed. Fourteen per cent. of the 25 per cent. is in specialist off-licence shops, and only the balance of 11 per cent. is the off-licence trade of grocers. Even that 11 per cent. can be broken down. Seven per cent. is by the national multiples; 2 per cent, is by the co-operatives and 2 per cent. is by the independent grocers.

Not all the grocers sell by self-service. I would say that the majority do not. It is, on the other hand, true that some of the specialist shops have developed self-service; but by and large it is fair to say that fewer than 10 per cent. of the alcoholic drink which is sold is sold on self-service. We all abhor excessive drinking and the supply of drink to the young who are below the age. But that is not what this Bill is about. If it were about that it would be an entirely different Bill, and I will show the House in due course how it would be different.

This Bill is a move by one section of the trade against another section of the trade. The impetus for the Bill comes from the licensed victuallers—that is the people who have the pubic houses. It is a move against the off-licence trade, particularly the self-service shops, both large and small. The reason for the Bill has nothing to do with young people, nothing to do with excessive drinking; it is because the public houses are losing trade to the off-licence trade. They are losing trade and, consequently, they are trying to protect themselves.

The reasons why they are losing trade is well known. First of all, the housewife likes one-stop shopping. She likes to be able to buy a bottle of wine with her groceries rather than have to go along to a public house to buy the wine after she has finished buying her groceries. That is the first reason. The second reason is that in the past decade or so many more of our fellow countrymen have spent their holidays on the Continent, and on the Continent they have enjoyed a drink of wine with their meals. When they have returned home they have on occasions had the enjoyment of wine with their meals, and wine is predominantly sold in the off-licence shops.

Furthermore, the housewives who purchase the wine are not, and do not profess to be, connoisseurs. They like to browse among the labels free of any assistant and to decide for themselves which of the wines would suit their taste and palate. We claim they should be free to do that. But by the adoption of the most economic methods of retailing, the self-service shops in retailing have been able to cut their costs drastically and to pass on part of that reduction in cost to the consumer by reduced prices. That is really where the rub comes in. What the public house licensed victuallers, the public house managers, are complaining about is that the consumer is getting a benefit from the self-service shops which the public houses cannot find their way clear to give.

But there is a final reason why the balance of trade has tended to go to the off-licence. Up and down the country there have been campaigns by the police against drinking and driving; consequently there has been less drinking in pubs and more drinking at home. I would claim that is a good thing. I would claim that the environment of the home is more likely to be conducive to the control of drinking than the environment of the public house. I would give in support a quotation from a report entitled Drinking in England and Wales: an inquiry carried out on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Security. The report was prepared by a Mr. Paul Wilson, and among other things he says this:
"Among both men and women the heavier drinkers did more of their drinking in public houses or hotels whereas the lighter drinkers did more drinking in the home. The results suggest that people who mainly drink in bars may be more vulnerable to developing a higher drinking style".
There is the evidence—

My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? How on earth, in one's own home, do you find out whether someone is drunk or sober, whereas you can see whether they are drunk or sober in the street or in a public place?

My Lords, I am not concerned as to whether you can see A or B. What 1 am saying, and what is supported by the report from which I have quoted, is that the environment of the home is more likely to be conducive to controlled drinking than is the environment of the pub and anyone with experience of both I think would verify that, whether they are in favour of this Bill or not.

So far as drinking by those under age is concerned, this does not originate in super-markets. A recent market survey, analysing the customers of supermarkets according to age, found that only 1 per cent. of customers were under 18 years of age. Consequently it cannot be said that supermarkets are crammed with juniors who are trying to purchase or steal liquor.

The magistrates are quite capable of looking after the conduct of the off-licence trade; and here I speak from personal experience both as a magistrate and as an applicant for licences. The first step magistrates take is to call for a plan which shows where and how the liquor is going to be sold. I have also found by experience that what they often do is to visit the premises and see for themselves. If need be, they ask for assurances. For example, they often ask for an assurance that the display of liquor will be under the supervision of an experienced and responsible person who has been specially trained for the purpose and is over 18 years of age. I have seen those assurances and have had to give them, and those assurances are generally attached to the licence.

So far as theft is concerned, the shopkeeper does not need any incentive to ensure that there is no theft because he has already paid heavy licence duty on the products, and consequently, because of their considerable value, he keeps them in a position where they will be under the most careful supervision.

Because of my interest in retail management, I keep my eyes open when going into retail establishments. I have found that in self-service stores, which are usually well lit and in which the customers are walking about, it is comparatively easy to detect those who are likely to be under 18; but in the public house, which is only partly lit, which has dark corners and in which the customers are often sitting down, it is very difficult to distinguish who is and who is not under 18. That is where the trouble arises—in the public houses. I will quote again from the report, Drinking in England and Wales. Here they say that of the men they interviewed 40 per cent. admitted they had drunk intoxicating liquor on licensed premises before they reached their 18th birthday. Similarly 30 per cent. of the women they interviewed said they had drunk intoxicating liquor on licensed premises before their 18th birthday.

The trouble with the sale of drink to people under 18 arises in the public houses: it is those who are just under age imitating those who are over the age. That is the trouble and that is the problem you have to deal with. In an all-party committee this afternoon, when this Bill was discussed, I heard a very good example of what can happen. A Member of your Lordships' House said that he went into a public house when 15 years of age and, while he was at the bar, he got a nudge in his back and when he turned round he got a fright—it was his grandfather. He was asked: "What are you doing here?" and he said "I was going to have a pint." The grandfather said: "Well, get me one as well." That is the problem you have got.

Now let us look at the effects of the Bill. The first effect will be to frustrate the housewife. The Bill provides that if the shopkeeper wishes to sell liquor on self-service it must be in a separate, enclosed department used exclusively for that purpose. Just let us look at what that is going to do. It will mean that the housewife, when she buys her groceries, will not be able to buy her bottle of wine and pay for it at the same time as her groceries. She will have to go through the check-out with her groceries and then go to another part of the store beyond the enclosing wall, collect her bottle of wine and go through the check-out again. We have no right to insist upon a trader inconveniencing his customers in that way unless we havevery good reason, and I suggest that no good reason has been given to us. Also, suppose that her husband goes into the supermarket. He wants a bottle of gin and half a dozen bottles of tonic water, and therefore he would have to go into one part of the store and buy his tonic water, go to the check-out and pay for it, and then go to another part of the store to get the gin—because the enclosed department where they sell intoxicating liquors cannot be used for any other purpose.

Furthermore it is the custom and practice in many self-service stores to sell tobacco and cigarettes at the check-outs, but you cannot do that in the enclosed department because that department must be used exclusively for liquor. Furthermore, there would be an enormous waste of space. The off-licence trade is one in which there are great fluctuations throughout the year. At the present time the trade is relatively small. In the summer when we get warmer weather it is somewhat greater, and in the months before Christmas it is very great. Consequently, the space you need for self-service of wines and spirits varies throughout the year, and if you have to have an enclosed department you will give the trader the choice: either he has to have a big department which is used only at Christmas and is idle space throughout the year, or he has to have a smaller department in which there is congestion at Christmas; and if there is congestion at Christmas there will be more young people who are under age getting wines and spirits and there will be more thieving because of the congestion.

In all seriousness I submit to the House that if you put a wall through a self-service store and say: "You are going to sell wines and spirits on one side, and all the other goods on the other side", it will make no difference whatever to the youngster who wants to go into the store to buy wines and spirits. It will not affect him one little bit.

You are tackling the wrong problem. The problem you have to tackle is supervision. If you are not satisfied that the magistrates are getting firm assurances on the standard of supervision in self-service stores, then there is a justification for a Bill dealing with supervision, but not for a Bill that puts through the middle of a store a wall which will serve no great purpose whatever, and will increase the cost to the retailer which he will have to pass on to the consumer.

This Bill will increase costs and prices. But it goes further. The Bill insists that even the young lady who takes the money shall be over 18 years of age. It is based upon the fact that people who are behind the bars have to be over 18 years of age. But the people who are behind the bars are doing an entirely different job. They are handling loose wines and spirits, and bottles and cans that are already open and available for drinking. But in the case of the supermarket, the assistants are handling unopened cans and bottles, and a can of beer is no different from a can of vegetables or a can of food so far as the shop assistant is concerned, while a bottle of wine is no different from a bottle of detergent. All the shop assistant is concerned with is finding the price and charging for it, and to insist that she must be over 18 years of age is pure nonsense. Furthermore, this Bill would affect the employment of school-leavers. Two in every 10 school-leavers go into the retail trade, and if you hamper the retailer in this way, then he will be able to give less employment to school-leavers, which at the present time is a significant question.

All sections of the retail consortium, which is a very wide organisation, are opposed to this Bill. My noble friend Lord Sainsbury has asked me to apologise for his absence and to say that, unfortunately, he has prior commitments abroad. But had he been here, he would have spoken on the Bill and voted against it, in the same way as I shall do.

Social habits change. Methods of retailing change. As a consequence of these changes, the balance of trade changes. I would direct your Lordships' attention to the words of the Erroll Committee:
"In the final analysis, it must be left to the public to demonstrate what type of outlets they prefer and the licensing law cannot, in our view, be used to control these market forces".
I ask your Lordships to follow the Erroll Committee in your decision upon this Bill.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who has in all good faith brought this Bill to the House. But I will, nevertheless, ask your Lordships to oppose the Second Reading on two grounds: first, because it has no basis of proven fact; and, secondly, because it seeks to use an emotive subject to handicap one section of the trade in favour of another section of the trade, and those who would be favoured are the people behind the Bill.

8.4 p.m.

My Lords, I also rise to oppose this Bill, and I am helped in doing this by the very strong case put forward, with all his experience behind him, of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. But before I develop a slightly different argument against this Bill, I must declare an interest in that I have for the last few years been a consultant to a large, well-known retail organisation—not at all, I hasten to add, on this aspect of their work. But they would be seriously hurt if ever this Bill got on to the statute book, and it is only right that I should refer to it.

I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, on the detailed effects on retailers, but I want to oppose the political aspects of this Bill and to challenge, as he did, the aim of the legislation. Despite the assertion to the contrary of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I really must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. In my view, this Bill is a very thinly disguised attempt by the public house owners, the managers and the tenants, to recover some of their off-licence business which they have lost to the high street shops.

But this is not at all the way to tackle this problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, said, the high street shops have less than 10 per cent. of the trade, in any event. But this is not the right way to do it. This is trying to use legislation to advantage one vested interest against another. To seek to do this by imposing severe restrictions on the way that high street shops operate their sales of alcohol to the public is quite wrong and, in any case, it is a business which is subject to strict control by the licensing magistrates.

Furthermore, I do not believe it is right to say that licensing magistrates—and I know many—have no real control at all. In the end, they can refuse a licence, they can ask for conditions to be imposed and they can ask for assurances. I do not find that a well-found argument. This Bill would place a very severe burden, too, on the enforcement authorities and I should like to ask who would be the enforcement authorities in a case such as this, if you are to police the Bill as a measure of this kind would demand.

It is suggested that the increase in under-age drinking is largely because of the sale of liquor by supermarkets and general stores. But I have searched in vain for any evidence to support that claim, or even any evidence to disprove it. This is a field in which there is very little evidence. But such evidence as I have found points the other way. The statistics published in Appendix L to the Erroll Report in 1972, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, referred, show that the number of people prosecuted for knowingly delivering intoxicating liquor to someone under 18 for consumption off the premises, between 1967 and 1970, varied each year from a high of 15 male and female in 1967 to a low of five in 1969. The latest figures for 1979, which I got from the Home Office, show 13 prosecutions in this field and eight convictions.

In contrast, the number of people under 18 who were convicted of buying or drinking in a bar in 1979 was over 4,000. This is a tremendous contrast. It seems to me to be quite wrong to seek to place a very heavy burden on a particular section of commerce, without a comprehensive study of the whole problem of youth and alcohol in our society. Certainly, it would be extremely unwise to jump to the conclusion that selling arrangements in the high street were to blame, and that public houses were the epitome of virtue in this matter.

I believe—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who is to reply will confirm this—that a Green Paper on alcoholism is to be produced in the next few weeks by the Department of Health and Social Security. That Green Paper will, as I understand it, deal with the problem of youth and alcohol. Those of us-and there are many-who are worried about teenage drinking and under-age drinking, look forward to the publication of a paper of that nature, and to the public debate which it will generate. This is an area in which we could begin to get some evidence on which to work, and I do not believe it is right and proper for this House to pass a Bill of this nature, without having much stronger evidence on which to formulate the legislation.

It may well be that this House itself should, on an important problem of this sort and as part of the public debate, set up a select committee to go into all aspects of this matter, to call for witnesses, to call for papers and to do a proper investigative job. We shall see, when we get this Green Paper, whether that is necessary. But at the present time we have totally insufficient evidence on which to make up our minds one way or another and, in my view, this is the worst form of legislation. The idea that you should, without reliable evidence and without reliable statistics, engineer an advantage for one commercial section of the community against another is absolutely wrong.

There is, in my view, nothing which indicates that this measure would have any beneficial effect on the problem of under-age drinking. The Bill is totally misconceived. I shall certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, if he takes it into the Division Lobby, and I hope we shall be fully supported.

8.10 p.m.

My Lords, in the last session of Parliament I was asked to promote a Bill similar to the one which my noble friend Lord Inglewood is promoting today, but largely through lack of parliamentary time and as a result of the high and responsible advice which I sought from people in the licensing profession, lawyers and so on, to the effect that the drafting was not entirely adequate, I decided not to pursue the Bill further.

Today my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who has had distinguished experience as a Minister in another place, has made out a very convincing case for the Bill. Nobody is going to pretend that it is a solution to the problems of our licensing laws, least of all a solution to under-age drinking or under-age drunkenness. All noble Lords and Members of another place, indeed all those who have young people's welfare at heart, will be concerned about this problem.

I have two very close relatives who are magistrates. One is the chairman of a bench while the other is a member of a licensing committee. Only a few moments ago I spoke to the chairman of the licensing committee of our local bench in Surrey. They wholeheartedly support the Bill. It is arguable whether supermarkets should sell intoxicating liquor. There are those who believe that this should never have been allowed. Off-licences have grown in number and are subject to very strict control.

I would not challenge what has been said about drunkenness in public houses. My reading of the Bill is that it does not challenge the fact that there is drunkenness in public houses. However, I challenge the view that a youngster taking a bottle of whisky or gin or whatever into his or her home, whether for father, uncle or somebody else, would not necessarily consume some of the alcohol. In other words, there seems to me to be no convincing proof that drunkenness in the home is any less a hazard than drunkenness on licensed premises. I do not know the figures. I certainly agree that if figures were available they might show that in public houses, particularly on a Saturday night or after a football match, there may be more people in various stages of intoxication than could be found in the home.

Supermarkets have a prime duty to sell food, toilet requisites and items of that kind. In America, supermarkets sell almost everything, including lawnmowers and cars. I do not think anybody would wish supermarkets in this country to go that far.

I think that the provisions of the Bill are not unreasonable. It may well be true, as the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, who made a very persuasive speech from his own tremendous experience in the retail business revealed, that in some supermarkets there are problems of space, particularly at Christmas-time and at Easter. When relations or friends come to stay, one needs more alcohol or drink of some kind in one's house. At those times there is obviously going to be much more demand.

As I see it, this Bill is seeking to do something to prevent young people under the age of 18 from going into supermarkets to obtain alcoholic refreshment without adequate supervision safeguards. The checkout points are very often manned by youngsters. I believe that they are supposed to have a supervisor with them, but the supervisor, particularly on a Saturday morning, may be under great pressure. The person at the checkout point may not be able to tell whether a youngster is under 18. And if the person at the checkout point is under 18, he will have still less influence over the matter.

The provisions in my noble friend's Bill will do something to curb the sales of alcoholic refreshment to people under age. As the Bill stresses, if it is sold over the counter it will mean that people of a more mature age can be brought along to be on the counter and to supervise the sales of this liquor.

Another point is that it is argued that in some areas there are insufficient off-licences and other places where such drinks can be obtained. This may be true in rural areas, but in that part of Surrey where I live there is no shortage of off-licences. All of them operate under a very strict code.

The question of price has been mentioned. I wonder whether there is much of a saving as between going to a supermarket or to an off-licence like Peter Dominic or Augustus Barnett. I wonder just how much money the housewife or the father who goes into a supermarket to buy a bottle of gin or whisky, or whatever, saves.

Clause 1 (1)(b) of the Bill is especially welcome. It may be that in Committee some points will need to be tidied up. However, many of these establishments are not necessarily managed by our own people. There are places in London which seem to be open day and night. I should like to ask my noble friend under what licensing laws they come. I am thinking particularly of places in the Fulham Road and such places run by people of foreign communities. Are they subject to these strict licensing laws? People can go in there and buy this kind of drink almost ad lib—at least that is my understanding of the situation and surely that needs looking into. The fact is that in Scandinavia in particular there is an enormous amount of teenage drinking, and from what I have seen there I would go so far as to say teenage alcoholism. Teenage drinking is on the increase in this country and I think any magistrates' court would confirm that.

I would be the last to deter people of the right age from drinking. This is not an anti-drink Bill; it is not an anti-supermarket Bill. It is a Bill to try to ensure that licensing regulations apply in reasonable condition to all outlets of those who sell alcoholic refreshment. I believe that, as an attempt to do this, the Bill has been well thought out; it has the support—as my noble friend has mentioned—not only of the licensed victuallers but of the police, which is most important and I think also of many magistrates. I believe that it deserves its place on the statute book.

8.22 p.m.

My Lords, I am attracted to the question raised by this Bill. The propositions attached to that question form a very single-minded background and I share with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, the purpose, however fragile and small, that such a Bill as this will do something to improve the situation—a situation which has got steadily worse with regard to alcohol and now presents, as I see it and as I think your Lordships will see it, a major problem for the community in which we live.

Therefore, the question I ask myself is: Will this Bill improve that situation? However small may be its measures, is it going in the right direction and therefore does it deserve support? I find the answer is in the negative on those three counts. I am not of the opinion that the retail consortium is a complete and total ally of such a proposition as I have advanced. I do not think we both belong to what John Wesley would have called a "holy club", but I am quite prepared and ready, and in fact willing, to accept them as co-belligerents—as Winston Churchill described the Russians after the Nazis attacked them. I would regard their claim that this is internecine strife, that is discriminatory, as proven and that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, is unanswerable. In other words I do not really believe that this has anything to do with the question of improving an alcoholic situation, but is an attempt to recover trade by a particular outlet and that trade has been impaired by the provisions of off-licensed premises.

I do not necessarily identify publicans and sinners, but ethics, I think, would suggest a very close connection. Therefore, I am not going to weep any tears about the licensed victuallers. I believe they are doing something to recoup their losses and from a purely commercial standpoint I have nothing against that; from an ethical standpoint, inasmuch as I believe they are dealing with a highly dubious commodity, I am against it.

I would take a more positive line with regard to the effects of this Bill as it now stands. I believe it will necessarily advantage the public house to the disadvantage of the store and of the off-licence premises. There was a time when I was by no means satisfied that the extension of the sale of liquor to off-licence premises was a desirable proposition, but I am bound to say that on the evidence the various evils which might have accrued from such a proposal and such a practice have largely proven themselves to be enlarged or exaggerated. Indeed, if I had to choose as a compromise between the evils of drinking in the public house or the evils of drinking in the home, for a number of reasons I think drinking in the home is preferable. In the first place, it is much more likely that drinking in the home will be accompanied by eating. That is much less likely to happen in public houses. I understand from the document which has already been quoted that the rate of intake of alcohol over a period of time in public houses is much faster than at home, which again I would regard as a very dangerous proposition.

Thirdly, from the evidence which, as a social worker for many years, I have been able to accumulate I have no doubt whatever that the provisions of regulation in public houses are grossly unfair in the sense that it depends in so many cases on—as has already been suggested—the lighting and the quality of the care of supervision and indeed of the way in which that particular public house is regulated. It is beyond any question, as I see it, that quite a number of youngsters of 14 and 15, to my personal knowledge, regularly attend public houses and have no sense of danger of being arrested or being prevented from indulging in the habits of alcohol. This has come to such a point that in the last 10 years there has been a 40 per cent. increase in young people's drinking.

I will quote just one other piece of evidence which to me is minatory and it is this: in this particular survey of the age group of 18 to 24, 23 per cent. volunteered the information that over the last three months they had been intoxicated and got drunk on at least three occasions. When one thinks of what is likely to be the cumulative result of the practice of getting drunk three times in three months, or whatever it may be, I regard that as evidence that our real problem is with the public house and not with the off-licence premises.

Therefore, I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood; if, as I firmly believe, it is his intention to reduce an evil-and I for one go very much further than many others in your Lordships' House in my estimate of what is required if this evil is not only to be abated but to be controlled and conditioned and contained—then at least it should be a very different Bill from this one. It should put its firm emphasis first of all on the evils which are associated with the public house. That is a Bill which would attract the support of Members of your Lordships' House who take very similar views to those which I have expressed tonight. I know that I can speak for the right reverend Prelates who are not here but who have given me their assent in this particular regard.

I should like to make one other point before I sit down. I do not know how many of your Lordships drive cars late at night in the heart of London. I suggest that, if you do, you are increasingly aware of the amount of drunken driving which is a danger alike to those who drive and to those who happen to be in their way. It is much more likely that the carnage on the road will be increased by the public house drinking than by drinking in the home, which, after all, if it is domestic is not likely to be followed by long journeys by car. That is just one piece of evidence which I think should be adduced and added to what has already been said.

I would appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that here is an opportunity to do something big and practical about an ever-increasing evil about which he and I were given concrete evidence only a few hours ago in another part of these premises. It is in this regard that I hope that this Bill will go no further. It is a wrong Bill because it is looking in the wrong direction, doing the wrong thing and failing to appreciate the opportunity of doing something constructive in this problem of alcohol and in the containment of it, particularly with regard to the youth who will be the citizens of tomorrow and who are being regularly incapacitated in large numbers from fulfilling that post and that opportunity because of the menace of alcohol in our present society.

8.30 p.m.

My Lords, I think anyone who is intending to drink too much at home will do so regardless of this Bill. I do not think this Bill makes any contribution to stopping that, and I do not think anything in this Bill has been proved to have any benefits in other directions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, when he says that most alcohol is consumed at pubs, or people at pubs consume most alcohol. Obviously, we all know that once you have one drink you give somebody else one and the camaraderie makes you have one drink and then another. I am sorry he did not take as an example a report in today's press. A man went along to the pub and had a drink; he rang his wife to say he would be just 10 minutes, and a quarter of an hour later rang again and asked her to come and join him; she explained that the dinner was on. An hour and a half later, after many more drinks, she came along and emptied over his head a complete plate of egg and chips. This indicates the amount of time that he must have spent there.

It has been said that there should be no sale at supermarkets, and yet this clashes, because there is great inconvenience, with the hours of opening of off-licences. And this should indicate that they should be allowed to continue to sell alcohol. Scandinavia has been mentioned as being a place of great drunkenness. Yet in many parts of Scandinavia where I have been—I do not know if it is so all over, but it certainly is in parts—it is not only difficult to get wine and alcohol, but it is extremely expensive. In Finland, and I think in Norway, it is actually rationed and people are only allowed one bottle a month or whatever it is. In spite of that restriction there is a lot of drunkenness. Restricting alcohol does not stop drunkenness.

I think there may be some relevance in this Bill with regard to large supermarkets. Indeed, many supermarkets at the moment have exactly what the Bill requires; that is to say, a separate counter with somebody serving; you do not help yourself. I think it is a very good thing. But one notices that these are all fairly large supermarkets with large staffs, perhaps 10 or more, where it is always possible to find one person who is of age who can man that particular counter. Also there are so many people in the shop that there is a reasonably brisk trade to keep the counter occupied.

But there are huge numbers of self-service stores. I think I know the same one the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, knows; I am thinking of one in Fulham Road also. I should like to draw attention to these small self-service stores and small grocers, in London and in towns and villages. These have just a few shelves and they sell groceries and wines on a very small scale. They have very limited space. It would by physically impossible for many of them to have separate counters from which to sell their alcohol. Where they have a staff of perhaps only one person, this in itself would not allow for a person to be selling alcohol; the one person obviously has to have his eye on the till and be collecting money from people buying other goods. At the same time this one person would be unlikely to be a child, if he is left in charge of the shop. It being a small shop, unlike a supermarket, supervision is fairly easy, because somebody at the till with half a dozen people in the shop can perfectly well control that shop, whereas they cannot control a large supermarket. Furthermore, these small shops work on extremely minute margins, through the competition of multiples, and even if it were physically possible to have the separate counters it would be financially crippling. This is at a time when there is compulsory payment of sickness benefit. The expense would be disastrous.

Finally, there is always the problem of defining these shops, where you have a grocer selling alcohol or a shop selling alcohol which also sells groceries. I think that might present a problem. I cannot support this Bill unless it is redesigned to suit the small traders. I think that those who wish to misbehave with drink will always get it regardless; even if it is rationed they will still get it and get drunk. I do not believe the problem is all that large. I think that in the small shops there is the supervision that is required. I do not feel that we should necessarily reject this Bill, but I think it should be severely amended to help the small retailers.

8.37 p.m.

My Lords, if I may start my contribution to tonight's debate, which is apparently turning into one on alcoholism rather than on the Bill before us, perhaps I may, with great respect, chide my noble friend on the Front Bench for the way in which the Government, not only this Government but other Governments, have not in fact tackled this whole problem in what I might describe as the round, the whole problem. While I noted with great interest what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said with regard to the report that is to come out shortly, it is my understanding that this is a report on drink in respect of work; it does not cover the whole problem of alcoholism.

I stand totally and fully for a free enterprise situation. I like people to be able to buy goods that they want to buy and sell goods that they want to sell in the best way they think it possible. However, society decided many years ago that alcohol was one of those products which had to be regulated, and regulations have been made. We have now seen the growth of—and I do not use the expression "supermarkets"—self-service stores, designed primarily to reduce price. Wines and beers and hard liquor can now be sold in those stores. Some licensing magistrates seek assurances from the licence applicant. As my noble friend, Lord Inglewood, quite correctly, pointed out, conditions cannot be applied; assurances may be sought, and I am told by self-service store operators whom I know that you do not challenge those assurances; otherwise on renewal you are likely to find yourself in difficulty. On that point, different magistrates, different licensing authorities, apparently seek different assurances. This seems to me rather wrong and a little unfair, for the on-licence applicant has to comply with the full rigours of the law.

With regard to offering a free enterprise situation, I mean by that where there is fair competition. I have no brief in my pile of papers; I do not know anything about what the Retail Consortium have said. I do not believe for one minute that the pub keepers, those represented by the National Association of Licensed Victuallers, are seeking, if indeed they re seeking anything at all, anything more than the same competition, the same elements of competition that they have. They have to have of-age persons to serve, and they have to serve within certain physical bounds. And as for the nonsense—if the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will forgive me for using the expression—of the brick wall down the middle of a supermarket, I think that the noble Lord was pulling our tails a little tonight on that matter. Certainly when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill there is little doubt that we may want to know what is meant by an "enclosed department". I do not think that the definition of my noble friend Lord Inglewood is too good in that regard.

However, in Waitrose in Romsey—which is a food store belonging to the John Lewis partnership—there is a wine, beer and liquor store within a store. There is no hardship for the frustrated housewife. I think the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, called her the housewife who was going to be frustrated by going to two checkouts—she would not like an enclosed space because she wanted to walk around the shelves and make her choice from the exciting array of labelled bottles to see which would suit her palate and, no doubt, her purse. She can also do that by being served and saying, "What's that?" and "What's that?" I do not believe that very many people who buy wines in supermarkets or self-service stores have a very great knowledge of wines nor a great desire to be absolutely satisfied by a particular wine or beer. The connoisseurs go to the shippers and the specialist shops. I am told—and this is information which I believe to be totally reliable—that the hard liquor taken out of a self-service store is a very small proportion of what is called the "pick-up sale", where somebody just goes along and picks up a bottle of hard liquor, probably because of the pricing factor.

Quite frankly, I see the self-service sale of liquor, wines and beers as the sprat to catch the mackerel—the one-stop shop. Underneath the same roof one can get all that one requires on the grocery list, whether it includes wines, beers, tomato sauce or whisky. That is what it is about. So they bring in this additional range with the wish and hope that, by filling the shelves with as many of the products as might be anticipated, they will sell all or most of those on the shelves: butter, biscuits, cornflakes, beans, beer, wine, tomato soup and so on. That is why people go.

I part with my noble friend Lord Auckland when he suggests what a hyper- or supermarket might or might not sell. Let them sell everything, motorcars included, as they do elsewhere. They are in business to satisfy a market. The only point is that they must operate under the same constraints as anybody else. When Sainsbury's, for example, sell petrol, they have to operate under the same constraints as I had to operate under as a petrol station operator—namely, the same licensing; the same number of staff; the same age of staff; the same records; the same books and the same inspectorate. That is exactly what should happen in the self-service store in so far as selling wines, spirits and liquor is concerned.

I have concentrated my argument on that side of the case because that is where I felt most of the argument against my noble friend was coming from. I believe that the problem of alcoholism starts very early in life. I know a man, sadly, who confesses now that his alcoholism started as a young schoolboy nipping across to the pub at lunchtime for a quick half. As the years went by it became a necessity. It is as difficult to tell an under-aged boy or girl under the bright lights of a supermarket as it is under the lesser lights of a pub. It just is difficult to tell the age of anybody. When one asks, as Clause 2 of my noble friend's Bill asks, that the staff should be of some maturity, 18 at least, there is a better chance that, if challenged, somebody younger is likely to give way. But if one is challenged by a 16 year-old—and one knows that there are 16 year-olds at the checkouts in multi-checkout stores—there is not much chance of success.

I believe that we should give my noble friend's Bill a Second Reading. I think that we should seek from him, by way of amendment, answers to a number of the questions and problems which have arisen tonight. That is what the Committee stage is for. There is only one other matter that I should like to mention that would reduce my support: that would be if my noble friend on the Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said: "Ah yes, but in x period of time we propose bringing in a new piece of legislation which will cover the whole area of alcoholism". I fear that he will not be able to offer any of us that, so I think that we shall have to make do with the rather piecemeal way in which we treat the whole matter.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood really is to be congratulated for his single-mindedness of purpose over a number of years in bringing to Parliament very modest Bills that, in total, may make some kind of an impact on the one thing which all of us are worried about, which is the growth of alcoholism and its dangers. I was so delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Soper, speak in that context in terms of drunken driving. He will know, of course, that in the other place at present the Transport Bill is under discussion, a part of which I hope will take care of that very problem. I am quite sure that it has the overwhelming support of the country. Therefore, perhaps this modest Bill ought to have very much greater support than your Lordships have so far shown it this evening.

8.48 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to oppose the Bill and I speak in the capacity of a magistrate. The cases that come before us in the Birmingham courts arising from excess alcohol normally fall into three categories: first, the driver who is driving under the influence of drink, more often than not having done the rounds of the pubs and clubs in the city before he has decided to go home; secondly, the unfortunate category which comprises more often than not the middle-aged or elderly man who tends to come before the court normally for a nice weekend in the local prison where he gets a rest and a good feed and then sets off again; and thirdly, of course, that category of young people which attends football matches. Those are the three categories that I normally deal with when I sit as a magistrate.

However, I also speak as a housewife who has considerable knowledge of using supermarkets. I do not want to criticise noble Lords about supermarkets, but I am always a little worried when men speak as though they have the greatest knowledge of what goes on in supermarkets. The majority of men who go shopping in supermarkets are the younger men who accompany their wives. I bow to the great knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, because I first met him as a very active co-operator myself, working in the Co-operative Movement.

But if you go around supermarkets at the beginning of the week, you find in the main the middle-aged and the elderly shoppers because they have received their pensions at the beginning of the week. The middle-aged tend to shop on Wednesdays and Thursdays because they then avoid the week-end crush. Then on Thursday late night shopping, Friday and Saturday you normally find the young marrieds, up to the age of 45 or so, with the husband and wife both shopping together, filling their trolley with everything that they will need for the coming week. You very rarely see a young person shopping in the supermarkets. I do not know whether Waitrose is different from Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, or the Co-operatives, but statistics show that it is very rare to find young people shopping in supermarkets, for the reason that the supermarket aims at a particular category of people, which is not the young people.

Supermarkets are trying to sell food and other commodities which are not for the young people. I speak from experience. If noble Lords can tell me where I can see crowds of young people shopping for alcohol, I shall be only too pleased to go with them to witness it. But when the boys go by train or coach to football matches, from where do they get their cans of beer? They are not getting them from the local co-operative; they are not getting them from the local Tesco.

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness for giving way because I should like to answer her. On many Saturdays, whether or not there is a home game at Southampton, quite early on in the Upper Street precinct, where there are no motor-cars and where there is a Tesco, I have seen with my own eyes young men and women going in and coming out with handfuls of chips, bottles of whisky and containers of beer. They sit on the benches in the precinct, drink them, drop the bottles—plop-which smash on the ground, and throw the cans wherever. I have seen that happen.

My Lords, I do not dispute that the noble Lord has seen it; I am just saying that I have not seen it. That is the difference. Southampton and Birmingham may perhaps be entirely different cities in that respect. Perhaps the magistrates in the City of Birmingham are much tighter in their control over the selling of alcohol in supermarkets. I speak with a vested interest as a magistrate.

Many noble Lords have brought forward instances tonight with which I fully agree, but I do not think that we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, or the noble Lord who has just spoken, any proof at all that the self-service store is not carrying out its duties in a proper and responsible way under the Licensing Acts do not think that the courts can prove that they are not doing their job in a responsible manner. I do not think that we have had any proof that the supervision is less rigorous in the supermarket and all the other places than it is on licensed premises. If we had that proof I should be willing to listen to it, but we do not have any statistics on it.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has left the Chamber, he said—and I agree—that we need statistics if we are to prove a case. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said that he did not want to speak too long, therefore he might answer this point. But he did not produce any statistics to show that supermarkets were being brought before the magistrates or that their licences were being revoked because they were less rigorous in their supervision concerning selling to under-age teenagers.

I want to speak for only a few minutes because I think that one noble Lord said that this was not an anti-drink Bill or an anti-supermarket Bill. I appreciate and accept that there is a problem with under-age drinking, but I do not think that this Bill goes any step forward to combat that problem think that we are starting from the wrong place. As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, young people go to public houses for companionship, for convivial and enjoyable drinking under what they think are enjoyable, dim lights—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. It is a different form of enjoyment compared with sitting, drinking out of a can on a bench in a park. Therefore, although I sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is trying to achieve, I cannot support the Bill because I do not think that it goes any step forward in cutting under-age drinking. I do not think that the source of the problem lies in the supermarkets and the self-service stores.

8.57 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to support this small Bill. It is not a world-shaking Bill; and I am the first to admit that it is not a Bill which will cure. But at least it points in the right direction. I speak as a social worker; indeed, I am proud to ally myself with the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I speak as an ex-Director of Social Services. As such I have moved in the circle of the most vulnerable in our society, and it is concerning the most vulnerable in our society that I wish to speak.

I and my colleagues seek to protect the most vulnerable, and it is that protection about which I also wish to speak. In my experience there are those who in no circumstances would transgress the law, who would not indulge in excessive drinking. There are those who will always seek ways to get round the law, to transgress the law, and who will indulge in excessive drinking. There are those who will transgress the law who will indulge in excessive drinking if the opportunity arises. Very often they are the most vulnerable people who need protection.

I believe that this Bill will go some way towards helping those people who need protection. Like other noble Lords, I have consulted the police, and they welcome the Bill. I have consulted a warden of a well-known community offering shelter to the homeless and, what one might term in modern parlance, the drop-outs. He states that the men and women in his hostel would be helped if they could not easily remove bottles of drink from shelves in supermarkets and put them in their capacious pockets. I make a plea for some of those who have been in mental hospitals or who are attending clinics which help them with their problem of drink, who are placed out in the community, who go round the supermarkets and find that they are able to remove bottles from the shelves.

I speak also of the juveniles whom we are trying to rehabilitate within the community rather than putting them into custodial care. We want them to be kept in the community. We want them to be helped to sustain life in the community, and therefore we want to make life easier for them so that they are not able, and do not have the temptation, to transgress the law.

The first clause of this Bill has been well described by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and therefore I shall not go over it again. In any case, it is well known to your Lordships' House. I listened with the deepest interest to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, who, as has been said before, made a persuasive speech, and one listened carefully to it knowing of his great experience. The noble Lord seems to me to have great experience of the supermarket and the stores, but I wonder whether he has quite such experience, although I hesitate to say this, of people and of the vulnerable people.

I agree with him that many more people have travelled, many more people are drinking these days. But my experience is different from his. My experience is that women who do not quite know what bottle of wine to drink, what bottle of port to drink, what it is that they really need and want, prefer to have a counter; prefer to have someone to talk to. I have spoken to many women who have bought things off the shelves and then it has not been what they wanted when they got home, and there has been a waste of money. Therefore, I would have said that many housewives want to have a counter and want to have an older person with whom they can discuss the purchase of their drink, their alcohol.

As to waste of space, I am surprised at this argument of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, because there is no more space taken up in having a shop within a shop. There is no question of any great wall—the East-West wall. The space is exactly the same whether you have a shop within a shop or whether you have the product on the shelves. The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, also talked about depriving school-leavers of jobs. I spent Saturday morning in a big supermarket, and I went to one shop where the drink was sold off the shelves and to another shop where there was a shop within a shop. It did not seem to me that there would be any depriva- tion of jobs for school-leavers because the shop within a shop had two experienced people behind the counter, but the shop selling drink off the shelves had simply standing by the check-outs four supervisors to whom a girl could call if she wanted to. It seemed to me that this was really quite an extravagant way of using labour, and in any case there was no question of school-leavers not having jobs.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, talked about the very little amount of research into this matter, and I absolutely agree. This is astonishing. There has, however, been some research. I think that there was some particularly good research in Scotland, but it was some time ago and therefore could not really be mentioned in this debate today. The noble Lord mentioned the Erroll Report, which of course was in 1972. We in your Lordships' House must all admit that conditions have changed quite dramatically from 1972 until now. The noble Lord felt that the Bill was misconceived because it was not based on research. I would only say that when you have the police agreeing with the Bill, and some social workers—perhaps not all —agreeing with the Bill, there must be surely some merit in it.

The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, is a supporter of the Bill. He said with great honesty that he was not anti-supermarkets; that he was not anti-drink, but that he wanted to safeguard the interests of those who might go to the supermarket and might in fact take drink that they might not otherwise have had. I listened, as we always do, with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Soper. He bases his opposition to this Bill on the fact that it is just one part of the industry fighting another part of the industry. I suppose that the noble Lord would say that it is the greatest treason to do the right thing for the wrong reason. All I would say is that I have absolutely no interest in the supermarkets, I have no shares, and I have no interest in pubs. I enjoy both places. I drink in pubs; I go into supermarkets. I like them both. I drink, I hope, in moderation. Therefore, there is no war in my mind as between the supermarkets and the pubs.

I speak as a social worker and, as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, I speak for those few vulnerables. I hardly like to say this to Lord Soper, but there was that little parable about the one black sheep. I find in my work as a social worker that my time is not taken up with a number of people; it is taken up with just a few people who commit offences and who cause the most enormous amount of trouble.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would allow me to remark that the parable is not about a black sheep but one rather helpless lamb that got lost and was discovered by the zealous shepherd.

I bow to the noble Lord's greater knowledge, my Lords. I speak about the one lost lamb and, so far as I am concerned, the one lost lamb is the delinquent boy or girl who longs for drink, goes into the supermarket and manages to nip round and come out. I hardly like to call my drop-out friends lost lambs, but as the noble Lord has corrected me perhaps I might do so. It is the few drop-outs who cause an incredible amount of work and trouble.

Though they number just a few, they cause a disproportionate amount of work and trouble to society and those who are their friends, and in any case we cannot always talk in terms of numbers when speaking of people.

The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, spoke about small self-service stores and the limited space available in them. I can think of two very small grocers' shops in a small Cotswold town which have separate counters with separate people serving drink. In this connection, although I have never personally run a supermarket, I wonder why we denigrate the shop within a shop concept, inasmuch as many shops, Waitrose and others, have shops within shops. As so many of them do that, they cannot operate at such a loss. I listened with interest to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with whom I agree that one can get assurances; but they may not always be carried out and it may he difficult to prove they are not being carried out. As for the choice of the housewife and the fact that a sprat is used to catch a mackerel, while many housewives do not necessarily go to supermarkets to get drink, I have been told by many that they have had sight of drink as they have passed by and, although they had not meant to get drink, they had in fact purchased it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, and I are on the same ground, but strangely, although I know Birmingham extremely well, we seem to differ in our view. She did not make it clear from where she thought the football crowds purchased their drink. My experience is that while some of those who take drink on the trains and into football grounds purchase it at pubs before making the journey, most of them purchase it at off-licences and supermarkets.

My Lords, from my experience in Birmingham I would say that they buy it from pubs near the ground, and in the last two years those pubs all close on Saturdays when matches are being played in those areas.

My Lords, I should be interested to know, from what the noble Baroness said—perhaps she will tell me later—whether that means they now go to football matches without drink. I very much doubt that. This is a small Bill. If I thought the Minister intended to call for a complete reorganisation of our licensing laws I would support my noble friend Lord Lucas and withdraw my support for the Bill, but I do not think the Minister will be so recommending. Therefore, in fairness to the most vulnerable members of our society who need our care and protection, we should give this small Bill our support.

9.13 p.m.

My Lords, I apologise for not having put down my name in advance. I had to attend a board meeting in Plymouth earlier in the day and could not guarantee being back in time to take part in the debate, and therefore originally, my programme being what it was, I did not intend to speak tonight. However, I am, as the noble Lords, Lord Peart and Lord Jacques, know, a member of the Retail Consortium Parliamentary Group in this House. May I also say that I have not been approached by any licensed victuallers or publicans, and I have not received a brief from any source, other than the brief which arrived on Tuesday morning from the Retail Consortium. I thought that that brief went right over the top and missed the point of this little Bill. I thought that it was making such a martyred case for itself that I immediately rang the director-general and told him that in no circumstances could I support him.

I have read of recent statistics relating to Glasgow and London, and I know of the problems that there have been in the South-East of England and in London, particularly when there is an influx of people arriving at mainline stations on their way to football matches. They arrive early in the morning long before the pubs and off-licences are open. They arrive at Wembley at 10 or 11 o'clock and line up with the loads of drink which they have bought in supermarkets; and many of them are under the age for buying liquor.

I am glad to be following my noble friend Lady Faithfull, because I think that she has brought the Bill back to its original purpose. It is a very small Bill. It makes a modest effort to counter the ease with which young people can buy alcoholic drink when they are under age.

The noble Lord, Lord Jacques, made a very spirited speech, and I should like to emphasise that nothing in the Bill prevents supermarkets from selling drink to people who are entitled to buy it. If it is said that the Bill would present a monstrous embargo, I would say that it is possible to have an enclosed department for selling drink within a supermarket. Woolworth can do that, so can Waitrose, Tesco and Fine Fare. All the supermarkets in Victoria can do it, and so there cannot be such a burden for the housewife. I go to Woolworth's in Oxford Street, near my office. I nip in and buy my butter, bread, bacon and meat, and then I go to a separate drinks counter. If I buy a bottle of sherry or whisky, there is a responsible counter man, who is not under age, and I pay separately for the drink. It is put in a bag and a receipt is clipped to it. I place it in my wire basket with all my other purchases, and at the main cash desk the girl takes out the bag containing the drink, which she knows I have paid for, and she tots up the rest. There is no hassle or agony of having to go to another department, which the noble Lord so graphically described. If Woolworth, Tesco, and Waitrose can do it, I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of the others to do it.

I come to another point that concerns me, and I do not for a moment doubt the record of experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, who had her dig at gentlemen who do not go to supermarkets. With her great work in Europe she is away from England even more often than I am, and I can assure her that I do all my own shopping and I go to the supermarkets—

Will the noble Baroness give way? May I point out to her that I have not been going to Europe since the direct elections took place.

The noble Baroness established a record for herself, but I apologise, and stand corrected. Be that as it may, I too have to do all my own shopping, and I, too, go to the supermarkets. I live very near Victoria Station and I see people using supermarkets. I see the supermarkets being used by people who come up for Cup matches and by tourists who arrive on the first morning train from France—some of them are very young—for a day in London. Quite often, when we have great Wembley matches, they will come down to Euston, they will then go and see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and then they will pour into Victoria Street and collect the booze before they catch the Tube off to Wembley. I also see, well after the pubs have closed, at the supermarket in Victoria, youngsters going in and buying liquor from the little girl at the cash desk, who quite often is well under 18 and would be too frightened, anyway, to stop some of these burly youngsters, who have bought a couple of cover items and have also bought the drink.

With the greatest respect—and I shall be madly unpopular for this among my colleagues in the Retail Consortium—I think this is a genuine attempt on the part of my noble friend in a small way (and he would be the first to admit it) to limit the ease with which young people can obtain drink. You can read in the London Metropolitan Police report, you can read the welfare officer's report, you can read the Alcoholics Anonymous report and, above all, you can read publications about Glasgow, which is at the head of the league table, of the deep concern at the increased sale of liquor and the ease with which young people are obtaining it. That is the reason, my Lords—because I sincerely believe it will make some contribution to reducing the ease with which young people can get it—that I support my noble friend Lord Inglewood in the Second Reading of this Bill.

9.22 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Inglewood for his very clear explanation of the reasons which prompted him to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and for explaining to us the Bill's intentions. As an almost total abstainer, I have found this short debate extremely interesting; and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend, therefore, for the clarity with which he introduced the Second Reading of this Bill.

I wonder whether I could say just a word to your Lordships about the very serious concern with which the Government view the growing problem of alcohol misuse in this country. I am afraid I cannot respond to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, this evening about any possible publication from the Government; I am not in a position to do so.

My Lords, I do not press the noble Lord. I merely got that information from his office—the Home Office.

My Lords, I am simply responding to the noble Lord by saying that, whatever may have been said from my right honourable friend's department (which is always, in everything, helpful to those who inquire of it), I, nonetheless, am not in a position to respond to the noble Lord this evening, and I know he will not think I am being deliberately unhelpful.

Instead, let me say a brief word only about the Government's concern, and, to illustrate the rate of growth of alcohol misuse, let me give only a figure or two. In the 10 years from 1967 the number of admissions to mental hospitals for the treatment of alcoholism in England and Wales almost doubled, and there are indications that the numbers are still rising. In the same period, the number of deaths reported from chronic alcoholism increased by 150 per cent., and deaths from sclerosis of the liver have risen by about 40 per cent. The number of convictions for drunkenness offences in 1968 was just over 79,000; in 1979 there were almost 118,000 convictions. I will not go on, because all noble Lords, in one way or another, have recognised this increase in the statistics which concerns us all.

It is undeniable, of course, that men figure more prominently in these statistics than women, but a disturbing feature of all these trends is the rate of increase in the number of women involved. The number of women convicted of offences of drunkenness has indeed risen very considerably, as has the number admitted to hospital for the treatment of alcoholism. It is a sad picture. Among the severe problems which may result from excessive drinking are family breakdowns, accidents and of course loss of output at work. It contributes also to crime and vandalism. There are many other problems which my noble friend Lady Faithfull could no doubt tell me about.

Against this background the Government are always willing to consider any constructive proposals which may help to reduce levels of alcohol misuse. We have examined my noble friend's Bill very carefully. As my noble friend has said, it has been prepared in consultation with the licensed victuallers who have first-hand experience of the problems involved in controlling the sale of alcoholic liquor, and they are also people who stand much closer to the tragic effects excessive indulgence may have.

The main provisions of the Bill are to require supermarkets and other self-service stores to establish specially designed self-enclosed areas for alcoholic drinks and to ban those who are under 18 from working as assistants in areas where drink is sold. My noble friend has argued persuasively in his speech that the ready availability of drink on the shelves of supermarkets, and the employment of those under 18 at check-outs, can be factors which facilitate the purchase of drink by under-age drinkers. There is also the point which I think my noble friend mentioned that women who might not wish to be seen buying drink in considerable quantities in an off-licence or a special area of the supermarket would be prevented from doing so by the provisions of this Bill.

If the Government believed that the Bill would contribute significantly to a reduction in drunkenness and alcoholism among these two groups, we would warmly commend it to your Lordships' House. But we are not convinced that it will achieve this desirable objective. I am not sure that I am so entirely certain that everything is black and white, as perhaps some noble Lords may think. It is a very difficult area on which to reach the right conclusions. One of the reasons, as many noble Lords have said, is that the statistics are not easy to unearth and not conclusive when one has found them. All I have been able to find which has convinced me in one particular direction is that recent figures for the number of findings of guilt for offences of drunkenness for persons under 18 shows that since 1973 the number of offences has remained fairly constant at about 165 per 100,000.

As I have already said, we all know that the overall figures for drunkenness offences have been going up much too fast. But there is little evidence so far as I know for a direct link between excessive consumption by young people and women and increases in the numbers of off-licences granted. This was certainly the view which was taken by the Erroll Committee. My noble friend is quite right that that was eight years ago. The survey mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, carried out by the OPCS last October into people's drinking habits in England and Wales did not find any evidence, either, that off-licence sales were a major factor in increasing levels of alcohol misuse, particularly among the young. While the provisions of this Bill, if it is enacted, may go some small way towards reducing the sale of drink to those who are under-age, the Government wonder whether the overall impact would be sufficient to justify the creation of new criminal offences, not to mention the additional inconvenience to shopkeepers and to the shopping public. On balance, I have to say to the House that we do not think it would. That is not to say that we are not concerned about these sales.

We hope that the off-licence trade will respond to some of the criticisms which have been voiced in this debate this evening by intensifying its efforts to eliminate sales to those under 18. In this respect, I should like to say that I have managed to get hold of a copy of a booklet called You and the Rules of Selling Drink which has been put together by the Wine and Spirit Association of Great Britain in collaboration with the British Multiple Retailers Association for use in staff training programmes. I think it is clearly and simply written and should be a very great help in this way in setting standards for those who are actually selling in retail stores.

So, in conclusion, although the Government have some reservations about the effectiveness of this Bill in countering alcohol misuse, we shall certainly study carefully the points raised by noble Lords in this debate. We welcome the opportunity that this Bill has given for a debate on the important subject of alcohol misuse and we are grateful to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for having provided the opportunity.

My Lords, the Second Reading debate on this small Bill has developed into a general debate on alcoholism and, although many of the speeches had very little reference to what was actually in the Bill, they have all contributed to what I hope will be considered by others who are not here tonight, if they read this debate, to have been a useful occasion.

I think that I must answer several points, my Lords. I believe that many speakers have read too much into this Bill and, if I may say so, they have spoken about many things which are very wide of what is in the Bill. For instance, I made no attempt to deal with alcoholism in general, although we all agree that it is a real and pressing problem, as we have just heard from the noble Lord the Minister. Nor are all off-licences referred to in this Bill: only some. I never mentioned the names of any of the well-known retailers at the beginning of this debate because I have no wish to be represented as standing up for one section of the trade against another.

The noble Lord, Lord Jaques, did, I think, make the perfectly fair point that this Bill could be seen in that light, but I thought as time went on—he will not mind my saying this—that it was just a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black. I would submit that the proposals in this Bill are not likely to be a heavy burden, as was suggested, and this idea of great big walls being built right through the middle of retail premises was an amusing exaggeration, but that is not something which is required under the Bill. Also, as was said by my noble friend at my side, in the vast majority of well-run places today you find a separate "compartment" already in operation. Therefore there is no novelty here. We are dealing not with the well-run premises but are thinking of those few whose standards could well be raised.

I avoided introducing any emotion into my speech, I hope, because alcoholism always seems to raise all sorts of emotions on its own. Very few statistics are available. The noble Baroness who asked that question about statistics knew, I am certain, that very few are in fact available. I would tell her that over recent months I have spent more than a little time looking at the problem of alcoholism in and around Victoria Station, where plenty of unfortunates can be seen of all ages and types—but how you are going to discover where they got the alcohol which brought them to this pass, I just do not know. I think it will be a very long time before we have many statistics which we can accept. We have to use our own intelligence and our own "hunch", as it were.

I mentioned at the beginning that I would be happy to consider amendments, and one amendment in particular. I should like to suggest, in that spirit, that I would happily look at any amendment which is going to improve this Bill. So, of course, I agree that social habits change with changing times. Let us see what improvements we can introduce in Committee. My Lords, I hope the House will give this Bill a Second Reading tonight. I beg to move.

9.34 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill be now read 2a ?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 8: Not-Contents, 19.


Auckland, L.Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller]
Faithfull, B.
Gisborough, L.Mersey, V.
Hornsby-Smith, B.Strathclyde, L.
Inglewood, L. [Teller.]


Airedale, L.Northfield, L.
Amherst, E.Oram, L.
Blease, L.Peart, L.
Brooks of Tretnorfa, L.Soper, L.
Byers, L.Stone, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B.Strabolgi, L.
Jacques, L. [Teller.]Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kissin, L.Underhill, L. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L.Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Maelor, L.

My Lords, as it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 54 I declare the Question not decided, and the debate thereon stands adjourned.