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Land Registers (Scotland)

Mr. Bill Walker accordingly presented a Bill to make prepayment of the appropriate statutory fees a condition of acceptance of writs for recording in the Register of Sasines and of applications for registration in the Land Register of Scotland: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17 February 1995, and to be printed. [Bill 51.]

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Orders of the Day

Licensing (Sunday Hours) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker: I have not accepted any of the instructions on the Order Paper.

4.12 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is straightforward; it is to rationalise the Sunday licensing hours for off-licences, pubs and clubs. The Bill contains sensible measures which I believe will be welcomed by both consumers and the licensed trade. It provides for necessary protection against nuisance and disorder while removing the current unnecessary rules and regulations governing the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

Clause 1 will enable small shops and off-licences to sell alcohol from 10 in the morning until 10.30 at night. This will bring the law governing Sunday off-licence hours into line with the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

Since August last year, large stores and supermarkets have been able to open for up to six hours between 10 in the morning and 6 o'clock in the afternoon; yet they have been able to sell alcohol between midday and 3 o'clock only. That has created the absurd situation in which people shopping in supermarkets on Sunday morning for their lunch can buy as much food as they want but no drink to go with it. The Bill will sweep away that pointless restriction.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Can the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the Bill will have no effect on the Easter Sunday and Christmas day position--that supermarkets are not allowed to open on Christmas day when it falls on a Sunday? Will supermarkets be empowered by the Bill to open solely for the sale of alcohol on those days?

Mr. Forsyth: The Bill does not mention the opening of supermarkets. That matter has already been before the House. The Bill provides for removal of the anomaly that related to the sale of alcohol in supermarkets, as I have explained. As a result of the Bill, people will be able to buy alcohol in supermarkets on Sunday in the same way and at the same time as they can buy any other goods. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is right that, in licensing legislation, Easter Sunday and Christmas day have been treated in the same way as normal Sundays.

Mr. Beith: The Minister has not made it clear; he has made two conflicting statements. Does the Bill allow a supermarket to sell alcohol on Easter Sunday when that supermarket is not allowed to sell anything else on Easter Sunday?

Mr. Forsyth: If the supermarket is not open, it is not able to sell anything--either alcohol or goods. I thought that I had made that pretty clear to the right hon. Gentleman.

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I now move to on-licensed premises. Pubs and hotels with bars are allowed to open only from noon until 3 pm and from 7 pm until 10.30 pm at the moment. Clause 1 will remove the afternoon break, so that pubs will be able to serve drinks in the bar throughout the period from noon until 10.30 pm.

The Government regard that as a sensible and responsible step. It is more than six years since the Licensing Act 1988 permitted pubs and clubs to open during weekday afternoons. At the time, serious worries were expressed about the adverse consequences that all-day opening might have in terms of increased drunkenness, crime and disorder. However, there has been little increase in drunkenness, nuisance or disorder as a result of the changes, and there seems no reason why things should be different on a Sunday.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Will the Minister clarify for the House the position in an area such as Dwyfor in my constituency, where licensed premises do not open on Sundays as a result of the local referendum?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me into matters that are outwith my immediate area of responsibility, but I understand the position in respect of Welsh polls to be that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has said that, after 1996, that system will disappear and legislation would be required for that purpose.

The Bill creates an opportunity, where opening does take place on Sundays, for it to be extended. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the scope of the Bill is narrowly drawn to deal with Sunday opening. Although the issue of polls might well be in the scope of the Bill, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has said that he will seek a future legislative opportunity to tackle that matter.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The Minister said in terms that there has been "little" increase in alcoholism or drunkenness because of the operation of the 1988 Act. Will he confirm that, immediately after the 1988 Act, there was such an increase, and that research shows that there has been an increase in heavy drinking following the Act? How little is "little"?

Mr. Forsyth: I should be very interested to see the evidence on which the hon. Gentleman bases his remarks. The advice that is available to me shows that there has been little evidence of the type that he suggests, but I should be happy to consider it. I was making a specific argument in respect of the consequences of all-day opening, but I should be happy to examine that evidence. I am not aware of any strong evidence to support what the hon. Gentleman says. In considering those matters, we need to balance the rights of the majority of people to go about their business exercising responsible choices, and I believe that there should not be legislative barriers in the way of those people unless there is substantial justification for legislation of that type.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): It may be helpful for my right hon. Friend to know that my experience as a licensee when the Licensing Act 1988 came into force

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was that the heavier drinking which followed the abolition of the afternoon break on weekdays lasted for approximately a fortnight.

Mr. Forsyth: There we have it from the sharp end. It is predictable that people would perhaps take advantage of the longer opening hours for their novelty value. Speaking as a Member who represents a Scottish constituency, I believe that when liberalisation took place in Scotland it was said that the binge drinking which went on at 10 pm when people tried to "get one more in" before closing time was lessened as a result of the longer opening hours. Those who take a different view cite anecdotal evidence to support their position. However, I am not aware of any general research which shows that giving people more freedom of choice results in their being less responsible.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As a result of supermarkets opening on Sunday, churchgoers have been prevented from parking outside their church by the local council from 9.30 on a Sunday morning for the rest of the day because it is inconvenient for Sainsbury. That is a very odd thing to do. As a result of pubs opening all day on Sunday, parishioners of St. Gerard's in Featherstone, for example, may now be prevented from parking outside their church because it will inconvenience the pub next door.

Mr. Forsyth: Parking arrangements are matters for local authorities to decide. The proposals in the Bill are not related to parking arrangements for motor cars. I start from the position that our legislation should allow people to go about their business freely. It is up to them whether they wish to go to church or to the pub with their families. Unless there are very strong reasons for imposing legislative barriers to their doing so, those barriers should not be put in place. I am afraid that I am not able to help the hon. Gentleman directly with regard to parking arrangements, but I shall happily give way to him again.

Mr. Enright: The Home Secretary, who is sitting next to the Minister, assured us that the Sunday Trading Act 1994 would not have a deleterious effect on churchgoers. I agree that the problems have not resulted directly from any action by the Home Secretary, but will the Minister give an undertaking that he will examine the matter to ensure that churchgoers are not disadvantaged by being unable to park outside their churches as they do now?

Mr. Forsyth: The Bill deals with the opening hours of pubs and other licensed premises. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's churchgoing habits are--I appreciate that there are differences between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England--but most church services begin before 12 o'clock when the pubs will open under the provisions of the Bill; so churchgoers will get there first for the parking spaces. I think that the hon. Gentleman can rest easy on that matter.

Mr. Enright: Not for midday masses.

Mr. Forsyth: I do not know about day masses--the hon. Gentleman is stretching my knowledge. As for his point about supermarkets, as I have already pointed out to the right hon. Member for

Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Bill

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does not deal directly with the opening hours of supermarkets, as we have already dealt with that matter. We are concerned about whether it is possible to buy alcohol in supermarkets when they are open. Presumably, parking arrangements will reflect public demand for the other goods that are on sale in supermarkets as well as the availability of alcohol. I hope that that point is clear.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): I am sure that the Minister will agree that a radical and significant measure such as this warrants full consultation with the licensed trade and club associations. The largest all -party group in Westminster is the clubs association, whose offices and membership are shared by all political parties. It has direct responsibility for looking to the interests--not protecting the interests-- of consumers. There are 8 million members of the Committee of Registered Clubs Associations. They are extremely concerned that no consultation took place. The matter was first announced by the Prime Minister outside the House, rather cavalierly, if I may say so. I do not expect the Minister to comment on that, but, if we mean what we say about consultation, particularly about involving people in such a great industry, it is imperative that consultation should take place. I hope that it is not too late to invite the associations to respond, especially CORCA.

Mr. Forsyth: The Prime Minister made the announcement as part of the Government's general determination to remove unnecessary regulation which inhibits people's choices and opportunities. Most people will welcome that and will welcome the measure. The hon. Gentleman used the description "cavalier". Perhaps Cavalier as opposed to Roundhead might be more appropriate. It may be more a Cavalier measure than a Roundhead measure, and puritans may be concerned about it.

This is a permissive piece of legislation, but nothing in it will compel people in clubs or other organisations to take advantage of it. It is about removing barriers, not imposing requirements, and if clubs feel that it is not appropriate for them to take advantage of the new freedoms that the legislation will provide, they are free not to do so. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's protests about consultation are entirely fair.

Mr. Couchman: My hon. Friend will know that in 1993 his Department issued a White Paper on possible changes to the Licensing Act 1988. There was extensive consultation at that time and the bodies to which reference has just been made certainly had an opportunity to respond to the White Paper.

Mr. Forsyth: I was not in the Home Office at the time, but I shall take a risk. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is certainly true that we issued a consultation document, but I am not sure whether the present proposals in respect of Sundays were included.

Mr. Cunliffe: They were not.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters carefully, tells me that they were not, but I can tell the House that we have had representations on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has responded to those representations and I am sure that the

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silent majority up and down the country will welcome the measures. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will rally to support them.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Who are those large groups of people who have supposedly made a demand to change the law? In all the correspondence and representations that I receive, no one has ever suggested to me that it would be a great idea. Could it be that the Tory party has responded to the fact that the brewers give large sums of money to the Tory party funds, and that the brewers put forward the idea and the Minister is carrying out their wishes?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman does not seem to notice any demand for anything, unless it is written on placards borne by militants marching towards Hyde park. That is the nature of his politics, but I suggest that he goes back to his constituency and asks people whether they wish to have the opportunity on a Sunday afternoon to take advantage of the new licensing arrangements to allow people to take their children into pubs. If he asks people whether they think it is a sensible measure, he will find that it has considerable support. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should seek to make such a low party political point on a measure that will command support from people of all political persuasions.

Sunday afternoon opening fits in naturally with the other steps which we have taken to relax licensing legislation. Until January, children under 14 were not allowed into public bars. The children's certificates which I have just mentioned will change that. Children under 14 accompanied by an adult will be allowed into those bars that serve meals and that licensing justices consider provide a suitable environment for young children. That should help to encourage family pubs, where parents can enjoy a quiet pint in the company of their children. As Sunday is the day when families often go out together, it makes no sense for pubs offering those facilities to have to close on a Sunday afternoon.

Allowing pubs to open on Sunday afternoons cannot fail to boost tourism. The change will, I am sure, be particularly welcomed by visitors from abroad, to whom the present requirement for pubs to close on Sunday afternoons is simply incomprehensible. I very much hope that the Bill will make rapid progress, so that its benefits can be felt during the summer holiday season.

The relaxation in Sunday hours will also apply to clubs. A club may sell alcohol to its members or their guests in accordance with the club rules if it is registered for that purpose with a magistrates court. Under the present arrangements, the hours during which alcohol may be sold in clubs on Sundays are the same in total as for pubs, and there must be an afternoon break. However, clubs have more flexibility than pubs over the length of the break and the time that they reopen on Sunday afternoons. Clause 2 will remove those somewhat complicated rules for clubs opening on Sundays. In future, they will be able to open from midday until 10.30 pm. Sunday licensing hours for pubs and clubs will be the same, which is already the case on weekdays.

I have outlined what the Bill will permit. I know that people of who live near pubs or clubs may be concerned that Sunday afternoon opening will bring problems of noise, nuisance or even disorder. As I have said, there has been virtually no evidence of such problems since pubs and clubs have been allowed to open during weekday

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afternoons. Nevertheless, there must be some remedy available if such problems arise following Sunday afternoon opening. Clause 3 provides that important safeguard.

Licensing justices or magistrates courts will be able to impose restriction orders on pubs or clubs where problems of nuisance or disorder have arisen or are likely to arise. A power to make a restriction order was introduced in the Licensing Act 1988 when the weekday afternoon break was abolished. Its effect is to reimpose all or part of the old afternoon break when afternoon opening had or was likely to give rise to annoyance, disturbance or disorder, and the power will be extended to Sundays.

Mr. Enright: Does that mean that, if the church next to the supermarket that is suffering--and has suffered--disturbance, objects to the sale of alcohol during those periods because it brings more customers, it will be able to appeal under that clause?

Mr. Forsyth: It certainly means that the church will be able to appeal if, as a result of the afternoon opening, there is annoyance, disturbance or disorder. It will permit the police and people who live or work in the vicinity of a pub or club to apply for a restriction order--a church is included in that category. If granted, the order will require the pub or club to close for all or part of the period from 3 pm until 7 pm on Sunday afternoons.

Clause 4 is concerned only with consequential amendments as a result of the changes in clauses 1 to 3 relating to Sunday hours and restriction orders. Clause 5 provides that, following enactment, the Bill will come into force on a date specified by the Secretary of State. That flexibility is needed to allow the Home Office to inform the police, licensing justices and magistrates courts about the changes that the Bill will make. We do not expect there to be any significant interval between Royal Assent and the Act--given that Parliament chooses to support the Bill to that stage-- coming into effect.

I believe that Sunday is a special day. For many, it is a family day. Some people choose to go to church, some to play sport and others to have a drink in the pub. It is for individuals--not Government--to make those decisions. The Bill will increase individuals' freedom to choose how they spend their Sundays. It will call time on closing our pubs and clubs on Sunday afternoons. It will allow families to spend time together--eating and drinking at the time of their choosing, not the state's. It will ensure that the necessary safeguards exist to protect people from nuisance and disorder. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I regret having to raise with you so soon after I raised a similar point of order with you last Thursday the failure of the Government to make a statement on public sector pay, the failure of the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House about changes that I understand he will announce in a press release shortly on the introduction of new restrictive measures that will affect all categories of people seeking permission to remain in Britain, including asylum seekers. It is disgraceful, given the controversy that arose last weekend and this week, that the Home Secretary should not have seen fit to come to the House to make an important statement about matters which are of life and

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death importance to many people. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might find it possible to make a statement at 7 o'clock.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): The hon. Gentleman has made his point. He knows full well that it is not a matter for the Chair to judge. It is up to Ministers whether they make statements. Those on the Treasury Bench will be aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that a written question has indeed been answered.

Mr. Madden: That is not good enough: make a statement.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. This is interfering with the legitimate business now under discussion.

4.35 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North): As has been the custom on such issues, if there is a Division it will be a free vote for the Opposition. Although in the past I have not voted in favour of any measure that encroached on Sunday, I will vote to give the Bill a Second Reading if there is a Division. We have some reservations, however, with which I shall deal later in my speech.

In the mid-1990s, there does not appear to be a great deal of moral heat left in the arguments about Sundays. As recently as 1988, when the Sunday hours were extended by one hour by an amendment in the House of Lords, Lord Ferrers, who was then a Minister in the Home Office, declined to support the amendment. He said that he could not

"support even this modest extension of the licensing hours for the simple reason that the Government have made plain their intention to leave Sunday hours unchanged in this Bill."--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 15 March 1988; Vol. 494, c. 1052.]

The heat had gone out of the argument by then, but even at that stage it was clear that the Government were not entirely comfortable with exactly how those changes were proceeding.

Mr. Donald Anderson: As a veteran of the 1988 Licensing Bill, I can tell my hon. Friend that the facts were that throughout the Second Reading debate and proceedings in the Standing Committee, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), gave repeated assurances that there would be no change to the Sunday hours. The gloss on what the Minister now says is that the Government did not support the change when it was made in another place and nor did they oppose it. They did not oppose it, notwithstanding the many assurances that had been given during the passage of the Bill through the House.

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the gloss that he has added to what I was saying.

The arrangements for Sunday licensing have in the past been far more hotly contested and controversial. For example, in Wales in the recent past--the Minister referred briefly to it in his speech--the issue was not

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always so straightforward because there were various referenda, or referendums as we are now told they are to be called.

Mr. Enright: Referenda--my hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Howarth: There is controversy even on the name of that subject, never mind the execution of it.

I have an extract from a House of Lords debate on alcoholic drink as long ago as 1968. I noted an exchange between Lord Maelor and Baroness Phillips. Lord Maelor had asked about the conduct of the referendum that had been held. His response to the answer was: "I thank my noble friend for her reply. I am not quite satisfied with the answer because I can give her facts and figures . . . Is my noble friend aware that in Denbigh there were 470 spoiled votes, and that in fact 1,500 were technically spoiled, except that the presiding officer could presume to know what was the intention of the voter. I must say that I am not surprised. I have here a copy of the ballot paper."--[ Official Report , House of Lords , 20 November 1968; Vol. 297, c. 846.]

The whole debate then proceeded into chaos. Even at that stage, the question of holding referendums on the subject generated a great deal of heat.

The position in Wales created a series of anomalies. I have an extract from The Times of 6 November 1989. The article is headed: "Forecasts of a wetter Wales".

In my experience, it is often just that. On the question of some counties being wet and some dry, the article stated:

"To see the consequences this produced you need to stand on a humped bridge over the River Teifi. Behind you is Nellie Griffith's Red Cow. It is shut because it stands on the Cardigan side of the border. By noon a steady stream of young men--many of them the Red Cow's mid-week regulars--has crossed the bridge to drink in the dozen public houses strung through the streets of Newcastle Emlyn, which is in liberal Carmarthen. Nellie Red Cow (locals will call her nothing else) is 75 and has lived in the house since infancy. `It is not the little bit of lost business that makes me so angry,' she explains, `it is injustice. The good Lord knows that we are not bad people over here. Peaceful on Sunday? I don't have swearing or fighting any day."

That sums up the problems and the anomalies.

Serious issues remain that should be discussed in the debate. In view of those anomalies, it was necessary to have some change. Broadly speaking, there is widespread support for a further relaxation of Sunday hours. I am sure that other right hon. and hon. Members have also received representations from the Consumers Association. It states:

"From surveys of CA members and the public at large, it is clear that present restrictions are inconvenient and that greater flexibility in opening hours will meet with widespread approval." It then states some reservations, which could be appropriately raised at a later stage of the Bill.

I have also received representations from the Campaign for Real Ale, which also supports the Bill. I suppose that it represents the serious drinking end of the market. Nevertheless, its support should be taken into account.

As patterns of social life and working life have changed over the years, Sunday has become a day of leisure for most people rather than specifically a day of worship, as some might have maintained 30 or even 20 years ago. Many people--me included--are able to combine both. It is quite possible, as the Minister hinted, to go to church in the morning and to a pub, club or restaurant in the afternoon, and many families do just that.

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Yesterday, I spoke to the Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, who is also chairman of the board for social responsibility of the Church of England. He said that although he personally regretted the cultural changes associated with what is permissible on a Sunday, he still did not feel it necessary to take a strong line in opposition to the Bill.

Despite the fact that I shall support the Bill, I should record some of the reservations that people have about it--in addition to those already expressed by some of my hon. Friends. I agree, for instance, with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe). Even before the Bill goes into Committee, there is a case for further consultation with some of the organisations-- [Interruption.] It would be nice if the Minister bothered to listen to what I am saying. If sensible changes to the Bill can be made later, I am sure that my hon. Friends will be willing to propose them.

Mr. Donald Anderson: There has apparently already been some consultation with the brewers, even if the Government did not think it worth while discussing the matter with club representatives or licensed trade representatives.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed. I urge the Minister to hold meaningful consultation on all these points.

To continue my list of reservations: I have with me a Home Office press release published on 3 January and entitled

"Pubs to Offer a Family Welcome".

It states:

"Landlords will be able to welcome families with children into their bars early in the New Year, Home Secretary Michael Howard announced today. Licensees will be able to apply for children's certificates from January 3rd, in time for the major licensing session round in February. The certificates will, for the first time, allow accompanied children under 14 into suitable pub bars where food and soft drinks are served."

I welcome that announcement, but I fear that all too often pub and club facilities are not family friendly. They are frequently gloomy places that make no concession to families and have no facilities for children. Speaking as the parent of three young children, I am well aware of the changes that need to be made.

I trust that the certificate procedure will not stop there, and that licensees, breweries and club organisations will be encouraged to carry on the process of making licensed premises more family friendly. If we are serious about Sunday being a day of leisure, such facilities are very necessary ingredients.

I should like also to put the point of view of those who work in the licensed trade, referring, if I may, to points made by the Transport and General Workers union, the major trade union active in this area. It has five points to make:

"(i) For any worker not currently working on a Sunday, the decision to do so should be entirely voluntary. Workers should be protected from any disciplinary action or discrimination for refusing to do so."

The same points were made in respect of Sunday trading; with slight modification, they hold good in this case.

"(ii) Where a worker already works on a Sunday, any extension of their working hours should also be entirely voluntary and, again, workers should be protected from any disciplinary action or intimidation for refusing to work extended hours. (iii) Any workers who volunteer to work on Sunday, or to work extended hours, should be entitled to enhanced pay based on a minimum of double

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time. (iv) (iii) above should apply to all workers, whether they be employed for the sole purpose of working on Sunday or in a peripheral activity relating to the business.

(v) Any legislation in this matter should have universal application and be incorporated into the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act."

We may not be given full answers to those points, but they should be taken into account.

It may surprise one or two of my hon. Friends, but I have been lobbied by the British Casino Association, and I promised to put one of its points on record without any commitment by us. It wrote: "Whilst the British Casino Association welcomes the further de-regulation of licensing hours under this Bill, this is in stark contrast with the current situation for casinos. Unlike other types of club, some casinos licensed for gaming may supply liquor after 10.30 pm and none may do so after midnight, even though gaming can continue until 4 am in the morning. This is an unforseen side effect of the ban on live entertainment in casinos by regulation under the 1968 Gaming Act, which means that no casino can apply for an `extended hours order' or for a `special hours certificate' under Sections 70 and 76 respectively of the Licensing Act 1964." The Minister mentioned tourism. The association argues that the restriction affects the tourist industry.

Mr. Michael Forsyth: Casinos are outside the scope of the Bill, but, as part of the deregulation exercise that produced this child, we are considering casinos and proposals will be forthcoming. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's views on that and other areas where there may be scope for deregulation. I have some sympathy with the association's point on the inability of casinos to sell alcohol after a particular time in the evening. That anomaly is under consideration.

Mr. Howarth: I hasten to add that I was not pressing that case but merely flagging it. We do not take a particular position on that aspect.

Mr. Enright: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth: Certainly.

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