|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Couchman: We discussed earlier whether there was an increase in heavy drinking immediately after the 1988 Act. I stick by my suggestion that it lasted for about a fortnight. The country was hardly in a recession in 1988-90, so one would have thought that that drinking spree would have lasted for two years rather than two weeks if the hon. Gentleman's theory was correct.
Mr. Anderson: It may have lasted just two weeks in the hon. Gentleman's licensed premises, but the informed view is that it lasted for a year and then the recession took over. The key determinant of consumption is personal wealth.
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore): On the question of vested interests, does my hon. Friend agree that the only communications about the Bill that most hon. Members received were from the Campaign for Real Ale and the brewers? They are particularly anxious because they are losing trade through the import of drinks from Europe. People can now bring back gallons of alcohol in their minibuses, take it home and distribute it locally.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those vested interests who want to extend the licensing hours on Sunday, yet again, are repeating the Government's wishes on Sunday trading? I know that my hon. Friend was a great supporter of my Bill to restrict Sunday trading. The Government may speak about freedom of choice and extending the
Column 1036rights of the individual, but does my hon. Friend agree that just as the retail companies were the vested interests behind the Sunday Trading Act 1994, so vested interests are behind the campaign to open pubs for longer on a Sunday?
Mr. Anderson: Of course, brewers have suffered as a result of bootlegging. That is a factor, but, unlike the Prime Minister, I cannot believe that the public interest is synonymous with the interest of the brewers.
It is highly significant, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) said, that the proposal to liberalise the hours on a Sunday was pulled out of the hat by the Prime Minister at the dinner of the British Retail Consortium. The context is very important as a clue to the origins of the proposals.
As a result, as my hon. Friend says, of the recession, as a result of the considerable increase in continental imports, and as a result of the mini- Budget in December, when the Government increased the duties on beer, it was obvious that the brewers were becoming pretty unhappy with the performance of what they deemed to be their Government, and the Government hoped to win back the support of the brewers, which, after all, had provided 10 per cent. of Conservative party funds at the previous general election. Several key brewers, including Allied Domeque--a major contributor to Conservative party funds--withdrew their funding from the Conservative party in 1994. The context therefore makes one slightly suspicious of the Prime Minister's motive in producing the proposal out of the hat, with no consultation, as was said earlier, either with representatives of the clubs or with representatives of the licensed trade.
Historically, the beerage swung from the Liberal party to the Conservative party following Gladstone's Licensing Act 1872. I am rather proud because the Liberal Member--I repeat, Liberal Member--who promoted that Bill, Henry Bruce, was the only other member of my school, Swansea grammar school, ever to have served in the House of Commons. In the 1874 election, as a result, Gladstone complained that he had been washed away in gallons of beer.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) rose --
During the debates in the other place on that 1872 Bill, Bishop Magee of Peterborough commented, "Better an England free than an England sober," sentiments that were echoed on 24 January 1995 by the Prime Minister, who clearly considers that social safeguards against drinking are no more than bureaucratic red tape. "Set the people free," says our Prime Minister to the brewers.
Mr. Jenkin: I intervene simply to point out that, if the hon. Gentleman had met any brewers or publicans recently, he would know that they hardly feel that the Government are in the pocket of the brewing or licensed trades interests. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission review of the brewing industry had them screaming with outrage at the Government. It is outrageous for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we are somehow in their pockets.
Column 1037Minister felt that he had to give them a sop. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the history of those beer orders, which shows that Lord Young speedily retracted much of the effect when the brewers barked. Does the hon. Gentleman deny that 10 per cent. of the Conservative party's funds at the previous general election came from the brewers? Does he deny that, mysteriously, during that general election campaign, advertising hoardings that were formerly used by the brewers suddenly became available for the Conservative party? If he wants to deny that, I am ready to give way. Those are the facts. It was Lloyd George, after all, from the Liberal party, who used the peerage for party purposes; the Conservative party uses the beerage for party purposes. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to the contrary, I should be very happy to consider it.
The only real pressure for longer hours comes from the drinks trade. The only plausible benefit is the increased profits that it hopes to make. That process, as I said to the hon. Member for Gillingham, is incremental. It was forecast, and it is precisely as we feared.
I recall the broken promise made in 1988, when the then Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), said that the Licensing Act 1988 would in no wise relate to Sunday; the Government did not seek to reverse the amendment that had been moved in the House of Lords. Now we know that the Government plan to abolish all limits on Christmas day and Good Friday. In my judgment, that is part of a generalised assault by the Government on our Christian heritage, and an encouragement for increasing humanism and secularisation.
Mr. Michael Forsyth: From suggesting that the Government are in the pockets of the brewers, the hon. Gentleman now moves to suggest that we are heathen fanatics attacking Christianity. Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that many Opposition Members will support the measure, that it is a deregulation measure, which will greatly enhance the quality of Sunday afternoons, and that it does not help the standard of debate in the House to suggest that the measure is being proposed other than on the basis of removing unnecessary controls that limit people's freedom of choice? Why does not the hon. Gentleman meet the argument head on and explain why he wishes people's freedom of choice to be limited by his opinions of what is an appropriate way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
I am arguing that the Government intend the natural consequences of their actions, and that the natural consequence of what they have done in relation to Sunday trading is that an assault is taking place on the long- held Christian traditions in this country. This incremental measure may be regarded as part of that.
I therefore repeat my general arguments in relation to the value of Sundays to families generally, and more specifically to the lives of publicans and their wives, whose working conditions are often appalling, and who need a break. That is not an idea that I have drawn from the air; it is the result of several conversations with licensees in my constituency.
Column 1038I confess that, when I began that telephoned public opinion poll, I did so with some trepidation, as I feared that the answers might not wholly accord with what I hoped they might be, but I was not to be disappointed. I shall give the House an idea of the comments that I received from representative publicans--licensees--in my city of Swansea. One said:
"I am very much opposed to it. I have only just moved to 3 pm. The family and I now have our lunch at 3.45 pm."
Another licensee said to me yesterday:
"I know that this will cream off the licensed trade's leisure hours."
"Sunday is the only day we have to spend together and sit down together."
Another, rather bigger, business man in my constituency, who serves perhaps 200 meals on a Sunday, said that he was very keen to clear his public House by 3.45 pm so that at last his family could sit down to a meal together.
Mr. Anderson: It is exactly the same pressure as will come in respect of Sunday shopping; it is market share. People will find that, simply as a result of competitive pressures, they have to move. May I give the hon. Gentleman another response from a licensee in my constituency, the only one who was fairly neutral on the issue? He said:
"Yes, I shall open during the Sunday afternoon, if only because I shall now be able to do legally what my competitors are doing illegally"--
which surprised me a little.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): In the course of asking the publicans for their opinions on those matters--which is a very good exercise to undertake--did the hon. Gentleman ask them whether their regular customers would be likely to come to the pub at that time on a Sunday? If they did not, would the pubs close as a result? Surely they would not stay open if there were no customers.
Mr. Anderson: One of the constant themes that came through the survey--it was not selective questioning, in that I already knew the answers--was a general unhappiness about the state of the trade. The cake is only so big and the licensees wondered whether working longer hours would lead to a greater return. Nevertheless, they said that they would feel impelled to stay open for the reasons that I have given. I did not ask the licensees whether people would come to the pubs, because they would not know the answer. But they felt that they had to stay open, if only because of the current economic pressures upon the trade and their wish to compete.
Mr. Duncan Smith rose --
Mr. Anderson: I pointed out to the hon. Member for Gillingham that there is a key link between consumption and wealth. Therefore, there is a danger that steadily rising incomes will mean greater alcohol consumption. There is also some linkage between consumption and availability. For example, in Finland the 1969 extension of opening hours and the abandonment of various other restrictions led within six years to the virtual doubling of alcohol-related deaths, the incidence of violent crime and days lost at work.
The linkage between alcohol availability and consumption was accepted by the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham, the then Minister of State, Home Office, in debate during the proceedings of Standing Committee H in 1987. He said:
"If the hon. Gentleman then asks whether it"--
that is, the extra hour's trading--
"would lead to an increase in consumption if we did seek a relaxation on Sunday, the answer is probably yes because the licensing regime on a Sunday is much more modest".
He repeated that point about linkage when he said:
"That will probably lead to an increase in consumption and, if people have to drive there, a risk of increased drunken driving".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee H, 26 November 1987; c. 190, 128.]
My view would be less hostile if the Government's liberalisation measure was accompanied by any evidence of their serious concern about alcoholism and the problems associated with alcohol consumption. Far more public money is devoted to seeking to combat drug abuse and AIDS than to alcohol abuse. The harmful effects of alcohol are clear in terms of road accidents, domestic strife and street violence.
According to the British crime survey, in about half of all violent crimes, the victims state that the assailant was drunk, and about 25 per cent. of violent crimes occur in, or in the vicinity of, licensed premises. I mention in passing the associated longer national health service queues and the number of working days that are lost every year through alcohol-related absenteeism.
I concede that there is some evidence that the Government have responded to increasing public concern about the multitude of problems related to alcohol abuse. They released the report "Action on Alcohol Misuse" in 1991, set up the Health Education Authority, and established priority areas in "The Health of the Nation" document in 1986.
Yet certain Government activity, such as the introduction of the incremental measure today, flies in the face of their attempts to combat alcohol abuse. The grant to Alcohol Concern was reduced last year and the Government are reluctant to adopt a range of policies to improve the situation.
For example, the Government could introduce a "tax-as-you-drink" system, which would link duty to the alcohol content of drink. They could use taxation to encourage the development of a market for super light beers, with 2 to 3 per cent. alcohol content, and wines, with 4 to 6 per cent. alcohol content. The Government could introduce unit labelling of alcoholic drinks in pubs and retail outlets. In August 1994, the Government issued the "sensible drinking message" that men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week and women should drink no more than 14. Yet brewers have responded by increasing the alcohol content in beer.
Column 1040Other Government measures could include monitoring the effectiveness of alcohol education, allocating more resources for new health centres and random breath testing. Such measures would show that, while the Government are liberalising the licensing laws and thereby allowing easier access to alcohol, they are also aware of the dangers of alcohol misuse and devoting public money and ministerial attention to that campaign.
The whole point of extending the licensing hours is to increase consumption. The higher running costs associated with longer hours can be paid for only by an increase in sales. The longer-hours lobby has not yet proved that a more permissive regime has any other advantages, whereas the risks are well documented. Tough controls are undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Britons drink less and why Britain has fewer alcohol problems than most western countries. The Prime Minister--a weak Prime Minister addressing the British Retail Consortium and the representatives of the brewing industry--clearly prefers populist gestures to the long-term interests of our nation and a spurious freedom to an attack on the problems of alcoholism. 6.6 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): As I listened to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), I despaired that we are spending so much time discussing a very small deregulatory measure. Given the tone of his warnings about the risks of a "more permissive regime", one would think that we were considering deregulating nuclear power. The moral overtone in the words "more permissive regime" would be more appropriate to a discussion about the deregulation of pornography.
In fact, we are talking about the sort of small deregulatory measure that should not be necessary in a modern, mature and democratic society. I believe that adults are quite capable of making decisions for themselves; they do not need to have their lives regulated to ensure that families sit down to a meal together. People should be free to make natural choices.
The purpose of the debate is to allow people to explore the pace of deregulation and its effects and consequences. Deregulation is sweeping the whole of Europe--the Europe that is so beloved of many Opposition Members. I can see that one, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), is about to jump to his feet.
If Labour Members were to spend their holidays in France, for example, they would find a complete absence of regulation of licensing laws. One can stop at a roadside cafe at 7.30 am, in the middle of the day or in the afternoon and drink any kind of alcohol. I do not see Frenchmen rolling around the streets drunk, crashing their cars, or divorcing their wives as a result. I give way to the hon. Gentleman with enormous pleasure because I enjoy sparring with him so much.
Mr. Enright: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. You will have noted, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I did not "jump to my feet". I hope that I rose gracefully to intervene on the hon. Gentleman. Does
Column 1041he recall the halcyon days of "back to basics" when the Prime Minister mused on the traditional English Sunday of ladies on bicycles of willow and of the green?
Mr. Enright: And warm beer, indeed, as my hon. Friend reminds me. Is the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) now saying, as appears to be the tenor of his argument, that the Prime Minister, in order to prove that he is at the heart and centre of Europe, is turning to the continental Sunday?
Mr. Jenkin: There must have been some misunderstanding of the Government's "back to basics" policy in regard to Sunday, certainly from the perspective of the hon. Gentleman. The family Sunday was and is intended to be voluntary. There was never anything compulsory or legislated about the family Sunday. Even a Labour Government--who would be committed to much heavier legislation in many spheres of life--might draw back from legislating about family Sunday lunches. We need to keep the matter in perspective.
The hon. Gentleman did not deal with my point about Sunday licensing legislation or the equivalent on the continent. As he is probably even more committed to being at the heart of Europe than the Prime Minister is, one would have expected him to be more committed to continental Sundays.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my hon. Friend think that people go to church on Sundays only because they cannot go to the pub, that they have Sunday lunch with their families only because the pub is a problem for them around lunch time, that they rule themselves by the inability to get a drink and that as soon as it is all deregulated, family life will break apart, lunches will fall to pieces and people will stop going to church?
Mr. Jenkin: My hon. Friend has inspired me. I have suddenly realised what Opposition policy should be. Pubs should be compulsorily closed between 12 and 2.30 pm to encourage families to go home and have their Sunday lunch. Perhaps that proposal will be made later in the debate.
I return to the comments of the hon. Member for Swansea, East. He has a paranoic terror of what is motivating the Government. It is either money that was paid to the Conservative party to encourage us to behave in a certain way, or money that was taken away from it that was making us behave in a certain way. He could not make up his mind about that. He seems to inhabit a world in which all kinds of motives are imputed to particular circumstances and individuals.
It beggars belief that the Government have caused more disruption in the brewing industry than any previous post-war Government because we have attacked its monopolistic tendencies. If we have paid the price of reduced contributions to the Conservative party, so be it, but that shows the Government's objectivity in the matter and not that we are prisoners of the brewing interest.
We need more deregulation measures. The Prime Minister speaks for the majority of people when he proposes deregulation policies. We should deregulate more retailing and licensing laws in future. It may not be helpful to my hon. Friend the Minister to say that it is
Column 1042likely to happen, but I hold out no long- term prospects for the survival of the present licensing or Sunday trading laws. The laws simply freeze in anomalies and unfairness to one group or another. It is far better to let individuals decide when they want to shop and when they want to go to pubs to drink. We should allow the market to decide how best to deliver the services that consumers actually want.
Let us take as an example the problem of garden centres under the new Sunday trading regime. Most gardeners like to buy their garden produce early in the morning and plant it during the day, but the current regime does not allow them to go shopping until after 10 or 11 o'clock. If they do their shopping at a filling station or another shop that is not principally a garden centre, they can buy the produce at any time, so we are discriminating against garden centres.
Mr. Michael Forsyth: I know that a number of representations have been made about garden centres in respect of the Sunday Trading Act. My hon. Friend suggested that it might be the Government's fault, but he will recall that it was a matter that Parliament itself determined on a free vote.
Mr. Jenkin rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, I should say that although I accept passing reference to other matters I hope that he will not expand upon garden centres, remembering the contents of the present Bill.
I raised the matter tangentially merely because I have had representations from garden centres in my constituency. My constituents are particularly concerned that on Easter day, which should be their biggest trading day of the year, they are not allowed to open. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister and although the Government may not feel compelled to examine the issue, the House will have to examine it at some time and, on a free vote, eventually we will get it right.
I wish to turn to what are called grey imports in the beverage business and to the serious problem of the differential duties between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. I welcome the Bill as it will help the brewing industry at a difficult time. I may be rather unfashionable in this respect, but I think that sooner or later, in order to protect our tax base and ensure that our industry continues to prosper, we shall need to reimpose personal limits at points of entry in the United Kingdom.
Column 1043cultures and values. It is impossible instantly to harmonise the tax base across the European Union without causing grave disruption.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We have a long-standing tradition here that the matters discussed should be relevant to the subject of the debate. The hon. Gentleman is now going very wide and I suggest that he draws to a conclusion or gets back to the point.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my hon. Friend agree that the key problem that he is discussing, which is relevant to whether British pubs will be more competitive, is that the Opposition have consistently opposed any widening of the VAT bands? The fact that our VAT bands are narrow along with our other problems may eventually lead to my hon. Friend's proposal.
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South): In an attempt to be helpful and to bring the debate back to the original point, my hon. Friend might be willing to hear the history of how Sunday restrictions were introduced and for what purpose. All the original licensing regulations, with one or two exceptions, were the result of an attempt by the Liberal Government--and thereafter a coalition Government--to stop munitions workers getting drunk during the first world war. The first world war is over and munitions workers are not getting drunk. There is a residual chapel vote, which has just been represented, but there is no reason whatever to have such restrictions.
Mr. Jenkin: I was going to avoid mentioning the war; it is not helpful to blame the Germans for everything. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the measures have long outlived there usefulness and I commend the Bill to the House.
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen): I shall try to be fairly brief. I am the only woman present in the Chamber and I think that it will be self-evident when I finish that women in this place often find it easier than men to make brief contributions. I shall first declare a registered interest. The Argyll group, which runs a number of supermarkets, makes a small contribution to the running of my constituency office.
As hon. Members will know, I have long had an interest in Sundays and legislation affecting Sundays. Sunday is often the only day that I have with my family--it is often my only free day. I welcome the freedom to shop and to engage in as many activities as I choose. Sunday will always a special day for me as it is the only day when I can exercise those choices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to Sunday as a family day. Families should be free to choose what they want to do on Sundays. One of our favourite family pastimes on a Sunday is to walk in my constituency, through Sunnyhurst woods, up to the Darwen tower, which was built to record Queen
Column 1044Victoria's silver jubilee. It was only possible to build it because, one year earlier, the public gained access to Darwen moors. It is the centenary of the Darwen tower next year.
Our walk usually takes place after Sunday lunch. We walk down from the tower and reach the Sunnyhurst public house at about 5 pm. There is nothing that we would like better than to stop for a rest and a pint, but we cannot do so because the pub is closed. I am sure that many of my constituents who also enjoy that walk on a
Sunday--particularly my good friend and patron of Sunnyhurst pub, councillor David Smith--look forward to the ending of the afternoon break.
Those opposed to this modest piece of deregulation may console themselves with one thought: if people do not use pubs during the new opening hours on Sundays, there will be no point in opening then and pubs will not do so. If, however, people want to use pubs then, they will continue to open. The House should vote today to give the public the chance to show what they want.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) mentioned the problems with supermarket staff. I, too, have seen staff on Sundays subjected to aggressive behaviour from customers who have arrived just to late to buy their six pack or bottle of wine. Such scenes could be avoided by removing the restrictions on the sale of alcohol in supermarkets.
One positive aspect is the gradual erosion of the notion that we have to be controlled and prevented from doing things because they might be bad for us --as if we should feel guilty about enjoying ourselves. It is important--I speak as a mother of three teenage children--for people to have a responsible attitude towards alcohol and its consumption. I hope that the Bill will lead to public houses becoming family friendly and women friendly. I believe that it will have that effect as public houses will seek to compete with establishments such as Harvesters, which serve food all day.
Mr. Jenkin: Does the hon. Lady share my concern about existing restrictions on families in many public houses? Should we not modernise the legislation so that all pubs are friendly places for families and we do not have the absurd situation whereby publicans have to apply for a special licence to make their premises available to families? If all drinking establishments were naturally family places, would not some of the more rowdy elements naturally be excluded?
Ms Anderson: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that public houses should be welcoming places for families so that children do not regard them as secretive places into which they are not allowed. Such an approach encourages
inquisitiveness--children want to know what they are banned from. It would be better if pubs were open and easily accessible. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and thank him for his intervention.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the fact that we continually return to this place with little bits of licensing legislation. I agree that it would be nice to deal with all of them in one go. My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) mentioned one specific anomaly. We are today talking about the deregulation of licensing hours--in stark contrast to the current legislation on casinos.
Column 1045We often think of casinos as places where people gamble for hundreds or thousands of pounds in the plushest parts of central London, but there are casinos all around the country. Many of them are used for pleasure by people on relatively low incomes who like a little flutter now and then. In the main, casinos cannot serve alcohol after midnight--we should consider that restriction. The industry brings in millions of pounds to this country and employs thousands of people. I understand that the Prime Minister was recently dining in a casino and was shocked when his drink was taken away at 12.30 am. Perhaps that is something that the Minister can consider changing--I am sure that he will have the support of the Prime Minister.