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In response to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), I shall say that my hon. Friend the Minister for Corporate Affairs made it clear in Standing Committee that, to provide an opportunity for a debate on the Floor of the House, he invited the Committee to allow the clause to remain in the Bill. He said that we could have a proper debate with as many participants as possible--in particular Scottish Members--and in circumstances where the Whips would not try to determine the outcome.
Column 282I warmly welcome the fact that this will be a free vote, certainly for every Government Member and I hope that that includes Opposition Front-Bench Members. The hon. Member for Hamilton also raised the issue of there being too many off-licences in some areas. That is, of course, entirely a matter for local licensing boards, which can refuse applications for new off-licences if they are satisfied that the granting of a licence would result in an over-provision in a particular locality.
That provision was introduced in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, which was piloted onto the statute book by Harry Ewing, now Lord Ewing, for the last Labour Government, whom I recall. Unlike many of my colleagues on the Front Bench, I remember what it was like to be in opposition.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : If it is right that the licensing boards have a power in respect of provision, why is it not equally right that the licensing board should have the power to determine whether it is in the community's interests for an off-licence to be open on a Sunday ? The Minister is familiar with my constituency. Does he honestly think that it is right that one individual can thwart and defy the wishes of an entire community such as that in the Western Isles on this matter ? Would not it be more democratic for the local licensing boards to have the option ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The Guest committee considered whether the matter should be discretionary in its 1960 report. It recommended that, instead of the varied hours fixed by the licensing courts of the day, there should be standard permitted hours for licensed premises for the whole of Scotland. That was accepted by the Clayson committee.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I do not think that the Minister is giving the House the whole story. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest. I have some professional expertise in licensing matters and from time to time appear on behalf of companies and individuals who might be thought to have some pecuniary interest in the outcome of our deliberations. The Minister piloted the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill through the Committee in 1990. He knows that the determination of the regular extension of permitted hours is a matter entirely within the discretion of local licensing boards. Why does he not use that as a parallel when considering the issue that has just been put to him ? Why should it not be within the discretion of licensing boards in Scotland to determine whether off-sales shops should be open to reflect the different social conditions throughout Scotland ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : As a member of the Clayson committee, the hon. and learned Member will recall that the committee recommended that there should be standard permitted hours. That provision was included in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1962 and continued by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. The crux of the matter is that it would be anomalous to introduce a specific discretion for licensing boards solely in relation to Sunday hours for off-sale premises in their areas.
The crux of the matter was referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). He made it clear that it was a striking anomaly that, whereas the
Column 283off-sales sections in supermarkets and other shops have to be cordoned off, off-sales from public houses and hotels are available, although much more expensively.
As for enforcement, licensing boards have powers to suspend the licence of off-licence premises on receipt of a complaint. They rightly have those powers at present.
With regard to choice, under clause 17 licensed retailers will be able to assess the commercial opportunities for themselves. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) properly mentioned distilleries which provide conducted visits for tourists. The distilleries would have the opportunity, if they wished to do so, to sell souvenirs of their products. That would undoubtedly be good for tourism. I have to point out again to the House that tourists businesses are the largest single employer in the whole of Scotland.
Clause 17 does not permit off-licences to trade on a Sunday morning before 12.30, having regard to the existing opening time of 12.30 for licensed premises generally. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) raised the issue on 27 October and I made it clear that one day it might come before the House and be put to the vote. I support the clause on the grounds that it removes an anomaly, benefits tourism and increases consumer choice.
Relevant points were made earlier about nuisance. I want to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). Many statutory offences already exist and should be used. The hon. Gentleman gave the example of someone urinating. This is covered by the Civic Government (Scotland) Act (1982), which deals with drunken and incapable behaviour, urination in public places in circumstances that would cause annoyance and obstruction of the lawful passage of another person. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act (1980) includes an offence of vandalism, as well as augmenting the common law on malicious mischief, and behaviour likely to cause alarm or annoyance may constitute the common law crime of breach of the peace. All those offences attract sizeable fines or imprisonment. I want to deal with the key issue concerning byelaws that was raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton. I agree that this is the way forward. The experiments have been successful, and we hope that local authorities will come forward with proposals. Indeed, seven are already discussing possible byelaws with the Scottish Office. I hope very much that the process will be completed successfully. The maximum penalty for breach of the byelaws is a fine of £500.
Mr. George Robertson : When does the Minister intend to publish the results of the byelaw experiment so that the rest of Scotland may share the experience of the three towns that were chosen ? Have the fears about displacement of the nuisance been realised ? Surely the proper way to proceed is to publish the report on what has been an ambitious, and what the Minister has just described as a successful, experiment so that the people of Scotland may themselves come to a conclusion, rather than
Column 284to provide an add-on to a deregulation measure that has little or nothing to do with the problem that we know exists.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We have already debated this issue in the context of criminal justice legislation. Although the final results of the experiment have yet to be published, the main conclusions, with guidance, have already been issued to the local authorities, and we are prepared to consider any application sympathetically. I have also mentioned the fact that licensing boards already have the relevant sanctions to withdraw or suspend a licence where there is a nuisance. The purchase by an older person of alcohol for a person under 18 is already an offence.
Mr. Galloway : The Minister is advancing the fatuous argument that all the nuisances that we have described are already offences. We realise that. But how many prosecutions does the Minister think there have been in the city of Glasgow, or anywhere else, in the past 10 years ? Given the burden on the overstretched police forces, does the Minister really think that a constituent of mine phoning up to say that a lout is urinating outside an off-licence will see the arrival of police in less than four or five hours, by which time the lout has staggered off ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Enforcement of the law is very much a matter for the police. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman raised the point. His party kept the police force in Strathclyde under strength. I am glad to say that it has had a change of heart and that the police are now becoming much stronger. I can assure the House that there has been no change whatsoever in the treatment of alleged offences that come before the law enforcement agencies, which will pursue cases vigorously.
We are very concerned about under-age drinking. We encourage schools to tackle alcohol issues in the context of health and education programmes. Currently we are engaging in a poster campaign. But, more important, statutory obligations have been introduced. There is a statutory embargo on unsupervised sales by people under 18 in off-licence or wholesale premises ; it is an offence for any person to buy alcohol for or to sell alcohol to a person under 18 ; and it is an offence for a person under 18 to buy alcohol for his own or any other person's consumption. Indeed, we have made various other changes.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It most certainly is illegal for a person under the age of 18 to buy alcohol for his own or any other person's consumption. I made that absolutely clear to the House, so the circumstances that the hon. Member for Hamilton mentioned may well be illegal.
Attitudes have changed. In a recent survey for the Scottish Retailers Licensing Law Reform Group, by System 3 Scotland, 63 per cent. of a sample of more than 1,000 adults were in favour of retail stores selling alcohol on Sundays and 37 per cent. said that they would be likely to buy alcohol from a licensed retailer on a Sunday. The commercial reality will simply be that off-licences will remain closed on a Sunday unless they have sufficient customers to make opening worth their while.
Column 285Mr. Macdonald rose
In a letter to all Members of Parliament representing Scotland, the Scottish Consumer Council made it clear that it supports the clause because it believes that it is a sensible extension of choice to consumers, allowing them greater freedom to decide when they wish to purchase alcohol.
The introduction of the new law in 1976 did not result in any significant overall increase in alcohol consumption. A 1984 survey showed that consumption among men was virtually the same in 1984 as in 1976 and that an increase in women's drinking seemed to reflect the more relaxed attitude to their drinking.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, in which matters of principle have been debated with great passion. Members have deeply held convictions on the issue and it is right and proper that the House should decide on a free vote. For my part, I believe that clause 17 should remain part of the Bill. It removes an anomaly and extends a new freedom to retailers and--much more importantly--to consumers, who will benefit from enhanced choice and more competitive prices. People who are concerned with potential public nuisance can be reassured that a battery of statutory and common law sanctions is already available and permits the police and licensing boards to take the appropriate action against those who might act irresponsibly. The clause represents steady and sensible progress. It is a reform consistent with current social attitudes and I commend it to the House as being in keeping with the spirit of the last year of the 20th century. I ask the House to reject the amendment.
Mr. Darling : As usual, the Minister's response was not very satisfactory. It was longer than his response to the debate on extending aggravated trespass to the law of Scotland, but the content was not much better, which is a pity because, despite what he said, I agree with the conclusion that he reached.
I represent the city centre in Edinburgh and, perhaps more than some other hon. Members, I have reason to know of the problems that arise because of the abuse of alcohol. I do not see much difference between meeting someone in the street who has had far too much to drink in a pub and meeting someone who has had far too much to drink from cans bought from an off- licence. The clinch point is that it is absurd that one can buy as much drink as one wants in a pub in Scotland and that one can buy drink to take home from a pub in Scotland on a Sunday, but one cannot buy it from a supermarket or other off-licence premises. That is an anomaly that ought to be ended.
I understand the problems that exist in parts of Scotland with regard to off-licence premises. I am prepared to accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and others said about that. My hon. Friend must also accept that the problems in Edinburgh and its city centre tend to arise not from off-licence premises but from fully licensed premises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) mentioned the fact that many licensed premises are underneath tenemental property. In fact, 90 per cent. of my constituents live in such property and most of the pubs in Edinburgh are also under such property. That is where the problems arise.
My conclusion is that the problem that we need to review is not off-licence premises in Scotland but the
Column 286licensing regime. We must face up to that fact. As many hon. Members said, it is not merely a problem on Sunday, but one that goes on for six days a week. If the clause is passed, it will be a problem that we shall have to deal with all of the time.
It is high time that the House examined how the licensing laws operate. I have every sympathy with my hon. Friends who say that it is probably the wrong place and the wrong Bill to do that, but the measure is before us tonight and we have to reach a judgment. It is a free vote and we are all entitled to express our opinions according to our experience and that of our constituents. That is how it ought to be.
The licensing laws need to be examined as they are biased against the objectors--the ordinary members of the public. Licensees tend not only to have access to representation, which they can well afford, but rights of appeal ; they have greater opportunities than ordinary objectors. It is high time that the balance was redressed.
I do not see why my constituents should have to put up with far too many late licence outlets that stay open until all hours of the morning when they also have to put up with people coming out of pubs and nightclubs late at night and causing disturbances. I have sympathy with people living next to off-licence premises where there is a problem, but we will not tackle that problem by banning everything for everyone all the time. That is a wrong response ; it cannot be right as a matter of public policy.
If there are problems--my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead has said that there are certain problems with off-licence premises--the licensing boards should be given powers to stop shops from opening. At the moment they have great difficulty because they can be challenged if they are do not operate a consistent policy. I am prepared to let them be inconsistent ; I am even prepared to do away with the normal standards of proof in some cases where there is a good suspicion that problems are occurring at certain premises, but that cannot be proved, even on the balance of probabilities. I am prepared to do that because the rights of ordinary citizens who live next door to licensed premises ought to be protected.
However, I cannot accept that it is right to ban people from buying alcohol from supermarkets on a Sunday when at the same time, on the same day of the week, we let them go to the pub and drink as much as they want or buy alcohol to take home. That cannot be right ; it is inconsistent. I accept that there is a problem. Let us deal with it through the licensing regime rather than by a blanket ban.
Mr. Macdonald : I make no apology for detaining the House--or the Government Whip who seems in a hurry to conclude the debate--for a few minutes longer, not just because of the unacceptable approach, the back- door method of tackling the policy, but because the Minister failed to address one of the key points that I tried to put to him and that was made earlier by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie).
We are talking about the objection to the Government's proposal. It is not simply a question of public order, or the nuisance and disturbance that having off-licences open creates in certain areas. That was discussed by many hon. Members. The Minister seemed to focus his entire reply, in an unsatisfactory way, on public order, but there is a
Column 287separate issue--the right of local communities to pursue, protect and defend a particular way of life and a particular set of values. The Minister knows the Western Isles very well. He has a great love and affection for them. One of the things that he likes about the Western Isles is the particular way of life there. The Minister and the Government are proposing to take away from the community in the islands the right to shape, determine and maintain that way of life. The Minister, in refusing any more interventions from me, was displaying a bit of a guilty conscience. He is familiar with the area. It is not just a question of freedom of choice for individuals, which is an important value, but the freedom of choice for communities. Communities should be able to pursue a culture and set of values that suit and benefit them and are attractive for others to observe and even visit. The Minister referred to the measure's value for tourism, but many tourists come to the Western Isles for the way of life there, especially the observance of the Sabbath, which is one of the major linchpins and attractions of the community in the islands.
Although the measure may not result in off-licences opening in the Western Isles, the community will no longer have a defence against that happening. How can the Minister think that it is right, in communities like those in Lewis, Stornoway or Harris, for one individual to go against the wishes of the community ? It is not a question of that individual going his own way without affecting the rest of the community as others do not have to open or man the shop or buy goods there. If a shop is open and being utilised, it immediately affects the surrounding community, and the way of life is irretrievably lost.
The Minister knows the great effort that the community in the islands has made in recent years to preserve its way of life. He is also responsible for transport issues in Scotland and will know the uproar that was created when Caledonian MacBrayne proposed sailing a ferry service into Tarbert on Sundays. The outrage went extremely deep and, ultimately, Caledonian MacBrayne had to back off from its proposal. The Minister appreciates that aspect of life in the Western Isles, so why cannot he acknowledge that local communities, through their licensing board as has been suggested, should be able to exercise that key, vital say ?
It is no good the Minister referring to committees and saying that that is the position with which they came up and it should be standardised throughout Scotland. I am asking for the Minister's personal view of the matter. In his heart of hearts, he cannot oppose the suggestion in the amendment that was unfortunately not selected, but that is still open for the Government to pursue later in another place.
I appeal to the Minister to think of the community that he loves to visit and consider whether it is right for it to retain that essential democratic ability to preserve its unique way of life.
Mr. Wilson : I shall be extremely brief--in case the pubs shut. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) on introducing the amendment. This robust debate has crossed party lines. We have had serious and well-argued disagreement about the amendment within the ranks of three of the Scottish parties. It is a tribute to the Labour,
Column 288Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that they have bothered to participate. There is one notable omission from the ranks on an issue that affects the lives of every Scottish citizen, for better or worse.
The fact that we are able to have this debate and, hopefully, a free vote on the matter is healthy, and I hope that the outcome is the one that I favour. The important point is that the debate has crossed party lines because every hon. Member who has participated has different experiences to reflect.
I was involved over many months with the Committee that considered the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, in which the matter was brought forward by the Government. Again, the divisions in that Bill crossed party lines. On that occasion the Government were obliged to back off because of a consensus in the Committee against the opening of off-sales premises on Sundays. The arguments that we have heard tonight were very much in the same vein.
The charge that must be levelled against the Minister is that four years have passed since that Committee sat. I remember it well because it was during the time of the previous world cup. Four years ago, we had exactly the same debate, argument and dichotomy. We are talking not about one subject--whether all licensed premises in Scotland should be able to open on a Sunday--but the fact that there is a whole range of different types of premises to which different arguments apply.
Of course it is sensible that, if one goes into a supermarket that is legally open on a Sunday, one should be able to buy a bottle of wine, or whatever. Of course it is sensible, as the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) says, that if one is visiting a distillery on a tourist bus, one should be able to buy the miniatures from that distillery. But, as was argued by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), and by the hon. Member for Ayr, there is a totally qualitatively different kind of problem in many areas of Scotland.
The fact is that, on other issues that we debate, behind the facade of reasonableness of the case, other people are waiting to take advantage of something that is not at all reasonable--in areas where the facility is not wanted, the opening of off-licences from morning to night, which will be imposed on them for seven days of the week instead of six.
The charge that must be levelled against the Government is that, in four years, they have done nothing to separate those arguments and come up with something that would be acceptable to everybody in the House, and in which some discretion was permitted or in which the difference in the arguments was recognised by the legislation. All that has happened is that, four years later, through a back door, the same blanket proposal comes forward, and we are having the same arguments again tonight. Because of that, I will vote against the amendment.
Of course, if the legislation took account of the light and shade of the argument and the different circumstances that prevail, I would want there to be some Sunday off-sales in Scotland. But instead of that, the Government are trying to get through, on the basis of a reasonable approach, the unreasonable proposition that every off-sales premises in Scotland should be open. The Government have not taken account of any popular feeling. They have not taken account of the different arguments.
Column 289The arguments that the Minister adduced are perfectly good in some respects, but, as he knows--or certainly should know --they are not in others. I very much hope that the Government will learn this lesson tonight : for heaven's sake, take account of what people think. Go out and listen to the constituents who do not want this sort of thing on their doorstep seven days a week. Listen to people who want the facility, such as supermarkets, and then try to draw up some reasonably sensitive legislation that takes account of both points of view. They have failed to do so, so the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ayr deserves to be carried tonight.
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : This subject revives happy memories of our late colleague, Gregor MacKenzie, the former right hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen, who, I recall, enjoyed inviting his colleagues to join him in the Smoking Room from time to time for a small Christian refreshment. I certainly enjoy the produce of Belhaven brewery, or Glenkinchie distillery in East Lothian, in my home, on a Sunday from time to time, but find myself rather uncomfortably in the middle of the argument this evening. I accept the case for relaxing absurd regulations, and would be quite happy for local licensing boards to be able to allow appropriate businesses and premises to sell alcoholic drinks on a Sunday, but I am very worried about the prospect of passing a law that would require all off-licences to be allowed to open seven days a week. I think that there is a middle way. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) that allowing all off-licences to sell alcoholic drinks seven days a week could cause a serious problem in many neighbourhoods : it could constitute a diabolical imposition on residents.
I think that local licensing boards should be allowed discretion. The point has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and others. It is a pity that we are not able to consider amendment No 103, tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), and I am still concerned about the prospect of the legislation being passed as it stands without such a safeguard ; but it would be possible for the Government to bring the idea back in the House of Lords.
If the Minister is prepared to give an undertaking to enable local licensing boards to be given discretion by means of amendments tabled in the House of Lords, I shall be happy to leave the legislation in its present form, but in the absence of such an undertaking I feel that we have no choice but to accept the amendment ; otherwise we shall end up with some very bad legislation for Scotland.
Mr. Menzies Campbell : To some extent, I have been stung into joining the debate by what I must describe as the Minister's rather inadequate response to a debate that has clearly demonstrated the considerable and legitimate anxiety felt by many people with direct experience of the consequences of the substantial change in the licensing law effected by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. To those who have argued that it is time for another review of Scottish licensing law, I can only say that I consider their argument well founded : it is more than 20 years since the Clayson committee reported, and at least 16
Column 290years since the first legislative implementation of its recommendations. Anyone with any knowledge of the way in which the licensing trade has developed in Scotland will probably appreciate that there have been substantial changes, far beyond any of those contemplated by Dr. Clayson.
One of the significant recommendations of the Clayson report which has not been acted on was that the radical solutions that it proposed should be subject to constant monitoring to ensure that the consequences of enshrining them in legislation were properly understood and evaluated. In view of that, I feel that the case for a further review is overwhelming.
Some hon. Members have drawn attention to an anomaly : it is possible to go into a public house and buy off-sales liquor, but not to go into the off- sales outlet or licensed grocer next door and perform the same transaction. That anomaly was created when we allowed public houses to sell by way of off sales on Sundays. When the issue was under discussion in 1990, while we were debating the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, a number of people expressed considerable reservations about the piecemeal way in which the Government were proceeding, and emphasised the obvious fact that an anomaly was being created. We are now being asked not to remedy the original anomaly but to compound it. The Government have presented the House with an ill-thought-out piece of legislation that does not take proper account of its consequences.
One of the most notable features of the debate has been the anxiety of individual hon. Members to argue that, given the circumstances of the communities that they represent, a blanket permission for all off-sales premises to open is inadequate. One could not but be impressed by the case advanced by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). It is not simply that the Western Isles are different from Hillhead, north-east Fife or Dundee ; the point is that there may be significant differences even within those communities. One has only to consider the constituency of Glasgow, Hillhead to realise that even within one area there are circumstances in which the opening of an off-sales premises on a Sunday might be entirely legitimate while in other circumstances it is likely to produce the adverse social effects to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) referred.
The Government are failing to allow local licensing boards the opportunity to discriminate. However, they of course already allow them to discriminate in relation to the regular extension of permitted hours. When a licensing board determines permitted hours, it does not do so on a blanket basis throughout the area under its jurisdiction. Each outlet has to argue for the extension of permitted hours that it seeks, so that there already exists a substantial discretion in that regard.
There is no evidence to suggest that, having been invested with that discretion, licensing boards have exercised it unreasonably. Indeed, all the evidence points to the fact that they have been entirely conscientious and reasonable in the exercise of a substantial discretion. If the Government are prepared to trust licensing boards on the regular extension of permitted
hours--sometimes extensions are sought until 4 am--why are they not prepared to invest the same trust in the same democratically elected people to determine whether, in their jurisdiction, a particular off-sales outlet should be entitled to open on a Sunday ?
Column 291I fear that the Minister gave no answer to that fundamental question, and for that reason, in addition to many others advanced in the debate, I am minded to support the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made :
The House divided : Ayes 55, Noes 108.
Division No. 236] [12.21 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Home Robertson, John
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Neubert, Sir Michael
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Spink, Dr Robert
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Phil Gallie and
Mr. Jonathan Evans.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James