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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: It seems to me that we are discussing a very sensible amendment. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider it favourably.

Lord Gisborough: I should also like to support the amendment. It is eminently sensible and should be well supported.

Lord Skelmersdale: I second the remarks made by my noble friend. Indeed, it is a great pleasure, for once, to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. However, I should like to add to his point about Yorkshire and say that—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am sure that the noble Lord and I have agreed on more than one occasion in the past.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am sure that that is so, but I was referring to today. The noble Lord mentioned the fact that Good Friday is not a holiday in Yorkshire—or in parts of Yorkshire. However, I have always regarded the most

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fervently religious part of Great Britain as being Northern Ireland. I should point out that it is not even a holiday in the Province. Therefore, one can buy intoxicating liquor in Northern Ireland perfectly freely as one can on any other day of the week. I should like to see that extended.

Lord Monson: I was in two minds about the amendment. On the one hand, I do not believe that it would do any harm for supermarkets and a very small proportion of their customers to be mildly inconvenienced for a small part of one day out of 365. On the other hand, the original purpose of the Good Friday bank holiday has now largely disappeared; indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh alluded to that fact. I would guess that not more than 5 per cent. of the population at most spend the hours between 12 noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday in quiet, solemn prayer.

Of course, logically, if shops are to be compelled to close at all on Good Friday for religious reasons, they should be compelled to close during those three hours. However, no one has proposed that and that is not what is on offer. That being the case, I can see no reason for resisting the amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: I regret not to have been present at the Second Reading of this Bill but I have read the record of the debate. In it the noble Baroness in charge of the Bill referred to a balance in this matter of religious festivals. She remarked that she believed that the balance proposed by the Government was correct. I wish to support her on that. I have the impression that such a balance would be widely thought to be fair and sensible, both in this Chamber and outside it.

Speaking personally, I noted with appreciation that the present arrangements for limited hours will continue as regards Christmas Day. I am grateful that the Government deferred to views expressed in another place on this matter, not least by the right honourable Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. On balance this seems right. Consumer interests are not the sole consideration; the protection of employees and their families is equally important. That point is addressed in another connection in an amendment which will follow.

It is against that background that we come to the more detailed matter before us; namely, that of licensing hours for Good Friday in supermarkets and stores in which there may otherwise be a cordoned off area from, say, eight to 10 o'clock in the morning. Given that extended hours are now being proposed for the opening of licensed premises on Good Friday, the amendment before the Committee seeks to eliminate what may prove to be but an anomaly. No Member of the Committee has adduced compelling reasons to retain for Good Friday this particular provision. I do not think it reasonable to make life difficult for shoppers for two hours in the year and therefore I believe it is not reasonable to resist this amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was absolutely right; these amendments would permit off-licensed premises to sell alcohol on Good Friday from eight o'clock in the morning through to 10.30 in the evening. The Government recognise that, at first sight, this might seem a simple and worthwhile change from the

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10 o'clock start which the Bill provides for off sales on Good Friday. But, as is so often the case, a change of this kind would not be entirely straightforward, and there are a number of matters that need to be considered. Good Friday is, of course, a religious festival, and it is for that reason that licensing hours on Good Friday have traditionally been the same as for Sundays. The Bill will continue that link. The licensing hours on Sundays and Good Friday for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises will be increased from what they are at present, but not so far as to bring them into line with weekdays.

The amendments of my noble friend—supported today by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—would mean that off-licence hours on Good Friday would be virtually the same as those for routine weekdays, which are from eight in the morning until 11 at night. The question arises, therefore, whether it is right for off-licence purposes to treat Good Friday just like any other day of the week.

The noble Lord's purpose is to enable supermarkets with off-licences to sell alcohol throughout their opening hours. That is what the Bill is intended to achieve on Sundays. Under the Sunday Trading Act large stores like supermarkets may open for six hours between 10 in the morning and six in the afternoon; and the new Sunday off-licence hours will cover which ever period of six hours within those times that supermarkets choose to open. But it is a rather different matter to tailor our off-licence hours to suit whatever times, outside of the restrictions of the Sunday Trading Act, shops choose to open.

Most of the debate on off-licence hours on Sundays and Good Friday has tended to concern supermarkets. But only a small proportion of off-licensed shops—less than 15 per cent.—are supermarkets. The great majority comprises either shops specialising in the sale of alcoholic drinks or small shops which sell alcohol along with a range of other goods—frequently the typical corner shop. These small shops are not subject to the Sunday Trading Act, and so they can open at whatever times on Sunday suit them and their customers. Many open quite early, but under the new off-licence hours in the Bill they will not be able to sell alcohol before 10 in the morning.

So while we have restrictions on off-licence hours, and lesser restrictions on shop opening hours, there will always be times when shops with off-licences may open but not sell alcohol. The only way in which that situation could be avoided would be by abandoning off-licence hours altogether. While that is a course which my noble friend, who is not present today, and perhaps also the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, might well applaud, I hope they will agree that it goes far beyond the ambit of the present Bill. Furthermore, as the noble Lord acknowledged when the Bill was read for a Second Time in this Chamber, extending Good Friday hours beyond those that are proposed for Sundays would be to move in the reverse direction from the views which were expressed in another place. There amendments were moved, albeit unsuccessfully, which would have left the licensing hours on Good Friday for pubs, clubs and off-licensed premises as they are at present—that is, from midday until three p.m. and from seven until 10.30 in the evening. There was certainly no move to extend Good Friday hours beyond those provided in the Bill.

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The noble Lord also acknowledged, in the light of those views expressed in another place, that he would make little headway in seeking more liberal hours for pubs on Good Friday than the Bill already envisages. The amendment therefore concerns only off-licence hours. But it would be illogical if Good Friday were regarded as comparable with Sunday as far as pubs and clubs were concerned, but were treated like any routine weekday for off-licence premises purposes. I am sure many licensees of pubs would find it hard to accept that their Good Friday opening hours should be more restricted than weekdays, when off-licence hours were not.

The Government take the view that there needs to be a proper degree of consistency between on-licence hours and off-licence hours. That is not to say that hours should be the same for both kinds of business. They are not uniform now—for good reasons—and nor will they be when the Bill is enacted. But there need to be good reasons for applying different standards to pubs as compared with off-licensed shops. There seems no obvious justification for linking Good Friday with Sunday for the purpose of pub hours but with weekdays for off-licensing purposes, which is the effect of the amendments before us. For these reasons the Government believe that the balance in the Bill is about right. However, I have to say that amendments such as these must be a matter for the individual conscience of Members of this Chamber and therefore I leave the matter to the free vote of this Chamber to determine.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I find that response, or the logic of it, difficult to follow. Of course it is true that there have been those, both in this Chamber and in another place, who have been against the extension of hours proposed in this Bill and they have proposed amendments which have been defeated. They have come from all sides. I should have made it clear that neither is this a party matter within the Labour Party; a large number of my noble friends are opposed to the provisions of this Bill.

I am not convinced by the argument on amendments in another place further to restrict opening hours. When the Minister says that there are other anomalies which still remain to be corrected, I am sure she is right. It is true that what this amendment does is remove only one anomaly of many. A number of us said at Second Reading that at some time we would have to recognise that this piecemeal approach which is being adopted by the Government is not satisfactory because it does not allow us to consider all the issues at any one time. Yet the Minister appears to come to the conclusion, although she has not actually criticised the direct effect of this amendment, that somehow the anomalies which are still there do not permit the Government to accept the provisions. I am not sure whether, if the matter is put to the vote, she will vote against it. I am not sure whether she will advise any of her noble friends who agree with her to vote against it. I am not sure what the Government's position is, or whether indeed we can hope for a Government amendment which would deal with any deficiencies in drafting at a later stage in the Bill. Will the Minister advise the Committee further?

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