HC Deb 17 May 1888 vol 326 cc558-61
MR. SUMMERS (Huddersfield)

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether the Licensing Clauses of the Local Government Bill were framed upon the advice of the Law Officers that publicans have, in the absence of misconduct, a legal vested right to the renewal of their licences; whether there is now reason to believe that this opinion is erroneous; and, whether the Government will take advantage of the Recess to re-consider their proposed legislation on this subject?


(who replied) said: It is quite unusual for the Government to state what advice they receive from their Law Officers; and I cannot, therefore, give the hon. Gentleman any information on the subject. I may say, however, that I have already stated in the House that in framing our proposals on the licensing question we were guided by what we consider the paramount claims of equity, and from these we cannot recede. I desire, however, to take this opportunity of saying that the Question of the hon. Gentleman seems to imply a misconception of the proposals of the Government—a misconception which I have noticed seems to be largely shared by those who have adversely criticized the clauses in the Local Government Bill dealing with this question. It seems to be the impression that we propose to take away certain powers now possessed by the Justices under which renewal of licences may be refused. The Bill does nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it is expressly provided that where a person is desirous that a licence should not be renewed on any ground on which Justices would, if the Act had not passed, have been authorized or required to refuse the renewal of such licence, such person may apply to the Justices, who may make a Report that the licence ought not to be renewed; and if, on appeal, the decision of the Justices be confirmed the Licensing Committee must refuse to renew the licence. In such a case there would be no claim for compensation. Whether the Justices do or do not possess such a power except for misconduct under the existing law is, I am aware, a matter of contention; but if they do possess such a power it will be seen we do not propose to take it away. Undoubtedly, however, such a power, if possessed, has been rarely exercised. This being so, we thought it right, with a view of facilitating the closing of public-houses where not required, to confer upon the County Councils powers, in addition to those of a judicial character possessed by the Justices, expressly enabling them to close public-houses where, in their opinion, they were not required; and in that case, and that alone, compensation can be claimed, and to provide for that compensation a special duty on licences may be imposed. The position, in the event of the Bill passing, would, therefore, be that where renewal of licences was refused in consequence of the action of the Justices under any powers at present possessed by them, no compensation could be claimed; but where renewal was refused by the County Council under the new powers created by the Bill compensation would be paid by means of a fund practically created by the Licensed Victuallers themselves.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

The right hon. Gentleman says the magistrates rarely exercise their powers of refusing licences. I desire to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is willing to give the Returns he referred to the other day in reply to the hon. Member for the Leigh Division of Lancashire (Mr. Caleb Wright)?


I have promised to communicate with the Home Office upon the subject, and have done so; but I have not yet ascertained whether the Return can be prepared. If it can, it shall be granted.

MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

Does the right hon. Gentleman still adhere to the statement made that the Bill places holders of licences in a more secure position?


Yes, Sir; I take it that under the provisions of this Bill it will not be possible to do that which I know some hon. Members in this House desire—namely, to close the whole of the public-houses in a neighbourhood by means of what is commonly known as local option.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

asked whether, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, the Licensing Magistrates would not have a perfect right to close every public-house without assigning any reason; and that, if they did not assign any reason, there would be no compensation?


; As I have stated, what the exact powers of the magistrates are in this respect is a matter of contention; but, certainly, if the hon. Member refers to a decision recently given, I understand that Justices could not, even under that decision, act as the hon. Member suggests; but must take each case into consideration, and act judicially with reference to it.

MR. SUMMERS (Huddersfield)

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, whether, in view of the important discussions that might be anticipated on the Licensing Clauses of the Local Government Bill, he would cause to be printed and circulated as a Parliamentary Paper a full report of the case of "Sharp v. Wakefield and others," and of the Judgments delivered in that case by Mr. Justice Field and Mr. Justice Wills?


(who replied) said, although the Judgments of Mr. Justice Field and Mr. Justice Wills are, no doubt, of considerable importance, as the hon. Member is probably aware, an appeal against the decision of those Judges is pending. This being the case, it is not proposed to issue as a Parliamentary Paper a full report of the case and Judgments, as that would be a very unusual course.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman not bring forward the Licensing Clauses until that appeal is decided?


Yes, Sir; we shall bring forward the Licensing Clauses as soon as the House will allow us to do so.