HC Deb 08 June 1904 vol 135 cc1173-80

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—


The first Amendment on the Paper standing in the name of the hon. Member for Anglesey should come in in line 9. I think it will read better there after the word "shall." The next three Amendments on the Paper have already been disposed of. The next Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Spalding merely negatives compensation, and the proper place to take that is when the word "compensation" is reached, and he can then move to strike it out. The next four Amendments deal with the time limit and the first three Amendments on the top of the nest page also deal with the same subject. The Amendments which come next, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Spen Valley, all refer to the Court before which the question of the renewal of licences is to be considered, and the proper place to raise that is when we reach the words quarter sessions. Then the hon. Member can move to strike out those words and insert such words as he may desire to substitute. I understand that the hon. Member for Huddersfield has taken his Amendment off the Paper. The first Amendment which is in order is the one standing in the name of the hon. Member for Tunbridge.


said the Amendment he had to move raised a question which had excited a great deal of interest, and it was a question whether this clause should be confined to on-licences, or whether it should include off-licences. Two distinct questions were raised by this Amendment. In the first place there was the question of jurisdiction and in the second place the question of compensation. Upon the question of jurisdiction it was, he believed, now the law, and always had been, that the same body which dealt with the renewal or the refusal or the granting of on-licences should deal with off-licences. He thought very considerable inconvenience would arise by drawing a distinction between the two. In the case of the refusal of an on-licence jurisdiction would be transferred to quarter sessions except for the reasons stated in the clause, but in the case of an off-licence the jurisdiction would remain with the petty sessions, and therefore he thought it was a question upon which the Committee was entitled to have some opinion from the Government. As regarded compensation, if an off-licence was taken away for causes other than misconduct he thought a similar rule should apply as in the case of an on-licence. He fully admitted that there were great difficulties in the way, because the case of an off-licence differed very considerably from that of an on-licence. In a public-house the principal business was carried on in connection with the licence, and all that business would cease if the licence was removed. But in the case of an off-licence in connection with a grocery business the amount of business transacted in consequence of the licence would be very much less and therefore the compensation should be smaller. Although he admitted the difficulty he thought there was certainly a class of off-licences which ought to be dealt with, and which he hoped the Home Secretary would be able to meet—he alluded to off-beerhouses. He did not see why such beerhouses could not be brought under the Bill and treated in the same way as ordinary public-houses. He formally moved his Amendment, and although this might not be the best place to press it, he hoped the Government would state their opinion in reference to this question.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 5, to leave out the words 'an on,' and insert the word 'a.'—(Mr. Griffith Boscawen.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'an on' stand part of the clause."

MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

said that in his view it was necessary that both off and on-licences should be dealt with by the same jurisdiction when they were considering the question of whether a licence was necessary or not. He was afraid that on the question of compensation, which he did not think was involved in this Amendment, he should take a different view. He thought there were great differences between off and on-licences for the purpose of compensation, although there was no difference as to jurisdiction. As hon. Members opposite were aware, at the present moment brewster sessions could deal with both and it would be a reactionary method to separate the jurisdiction in regard to two subjects which were so closely connected. Therefore as far as he was concerned he wanted to apply this principle to the jurisdiction but not to compensation.

SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)

said he understood this Amendment was in the nature of a preliminary canter for a more serious race. The really important point was whether the class of house indicated by the Amendment was to be brought into the Bill for the purpose of compensation, the question of jurisdiction being in this case one of minor importance. Up to 1880 these licences were, so to speak, freehold licences, but in the years 1880 and 1882 the trade, through the instrumentality of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon, obtained a provision to the effect that these licences should be no longer considered as freehold, but that they should be subject to the absolute discretion of the justices. It was a movement promoted by the trade itself, which thought, apparently, that these off-licences were dangerous competitors. But now, although the competition had been displaced, the brewers wanted to bring in these licences for the purpose of compensation. He sincerely hoped, however, that the Government would not think it necessary to bestow a perpetual fixity of tenure in the case of these off-licences.

MR. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)

said the question of these licences had been brought prominently forward in the Report of the Royal Commission, and it had been found that in one town thirty-two out of forty-eight of this class of licences were tied. This Amendment did not deal only with the beerhouses, but also with certain other classes of off-licences. It also dealt with grocers' licences. Attempts had been made to show that some of the provisions of this Bill showed some continuity, but to include grocers' licences was a direct contradiction of that policy. These licences were handed over to the justices as recently as the year 1902, and the Act of Parliament laid down that the licensing justices should have unqualified discretion to refuse a licence upon any grounds which appeared to them sufficient. Another clause in the same Act was still more suggestive as to the reasons which weighed with the House of Commons at the time. That clause provided that the justices might take away a licence on the ground that the licensee had sold surreptitiously or misrepresented the nature of the goods sold under his licence or had in any other way been guilty of misconduct. Special precautions were found to be necessary to prevent abuses by the holders of these licences. For the purpose of checking these abuses, could it be maintained that quarter sessions could protect the public so well as the local justices? This class of licensees had protection for life, and the discretion of the justices would only come into full exercise as new men came upon the scene. The fact that the existing licensees had their life interest fully protected was a reason for not bringing them under the compensation provisions.

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

warned the Government that the acceptance of this Amendment would lead to trouble from Ireland.


said it was evident to anyone who understood the law that the Government could not accept the Amendment in this form. It would bring in an immense number of off licences, of which there were some fourteen different kinds. It would be impossible to apply the principles of the Bill to beer off-licences which were used in connection with other businesses. The compensation clause would be inapplicable to a grocer the loss of whose beer licence would not destroy his business. The grocer would in most cases object to coming in under the Bill; for he would have to pay towards the compensation fund on the whole valuation of his premises, and could only receive compensation for the loss of his retail beer business. The scheme of the Bill was not applicable at all to the great majority of the cases in which there were beer off-licences. With regard to the point raised by his hon. and learned friend he was afraid that he was mixing up the beer off-licences which were not merely off-licences where nothing else was sold. He thought the Committee would see that it would be impossible to accept this Amendment which would bring within the principles of this Bill every kind of licence. He did not know that there was any very great demand for dealing with these licences, but at any rate the question must be raised in some particular form limiting it to particular cases he bad mentioned. He was not saying that the Government conceded that point, but if it was raised in the way he suggested it would be fully considered. He did not think that the difficulty anticipated by the hon. Member arose. The hon. Member said that the two classes of licences ought to be dealt with by one authority, but in his view of this Bill they would, because both classes of licences would come in the first instance before the brewster sessions, the difference being that if anybody was dissatisfied with the decision of the brewster sessions, they could appeal to the quarter sessions, which would be the final Court of appeal. The other cases suggested in regard to on-licences would necessarily go forward after the brewster sessions had adjudicated, and a report would be sent to the quarter sessions instead of having an appeal. Therefore, in both cases the ultimate tribunal was the quarter sessions, and it certainly was not the intention of the Government to interfere with the existing jurisdiction. Therefore, he did not think there was any real substance in the objection put forward by his hon. and learned friend, and it was impossible for the Government to accept this Amendment.

MR. WHITTAKER (Yorkshire, W.R., Spen Valley)

said this discussion was a most interesting one and was throwing some light upon some very interesting points. It was interesting to know from the Solicitor-General that the reason why compensation could not be given to a certain class of licences was based not upon their value or on equity, but upon the fact that another business was carried on upon the premises. Hon. Members from Ireland would be interested in that point, for almost every full public-house licence in that country was for premises on which other businesses were carried on. What about hotels? The main business of hotels was not sailing liquor, but providing rooms and food for visitors. Were they going to have an Amendment leaving hotels out from compensation. As to the jurisdiction a very interesting point had been raised. The Solicitor-General had told them that both classes of licences would go to the same tribunal. He did not think that would be so; at any rate, not in county boroughs unless he had misunderstood the Bill.


All this is rather far away from the question of the off-licences.


said he was dealing with the point which the Solicitor-General had raised. The mover of this Amendment raised the question of jurisdiction, and he said that all these licences ought to come under the same jurisdiction. The Amendment applied not only to compensation but to the jurisdiction, and the hon. Member for Tunbridge gave a one of his reasons that they ought to go to the same tribunal. The hon. Member for Stretford dealt only with the point of jurisdiction and the Solicitor-General said that both classes of licences would go to the same tribunal. He wished to point out in the case of county boroughs they would not do so and this only showed the confusion which was likely to result in regard to this jurisdiction. The hon. Member for Tunbridge had referred to the inconvenience of having two jurisdictions dealing with this class of licence, but it seemed to him that they would not get rid of this complication by adopting the Amendment. It appeared to him that they had not yet had the real reason for this Amendment, which was that the discretion of the magistrates with regard to off-licences should be limited and checked. It had been realised that the change proposed with regard to on-licences did hamper and check the power of the justices, and this Amendment was being moved in order that off-licences might be put under a more limited jurisdiction. It was not uniformity that was desired, but the hon. Member opposite desired to bring these licences under the foreign jurisdiction of gentlemen who did not possess local knowledge. According to the speech which had been made by the Solicitor-General, if beer was sold in a jug compensation was to be given, but if it was sold in a bottle compensation was not to be given. He failed to see the distinction of principle.

And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.