HC Deb 07 June 1934 vol 290 cc1099-120

3.52 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 19, at the end, to insert: and it shall be the duty of any licensing justices to consider, at any time before the first annual licensing meeting subsequent to the passage of this Act, a request for such a direction. The Home Secretary on the Second (Reading used words which in our opinion give the best possible reason why this Amendment should be submitted. He said: The object of the Bill is a very simple one. It is to deal with a situation which has arisen owing to a decision in the High Court in April last, which has been subsequently upheld in the Court of Appeal. Later on he said: I think it will be agreed that the situation which has been created has caused a great deal of confusion and is anomalous, and that, if the licensing justices have the power of increasing the hours for the whole of the year, it is a little unreasonable that they should be debarred from using their discretion with respect to a part of the year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1934; col. 497, Vol. 290.]

The Amendment is intended to give to licensing benches which have not yet had occasion to consider applications for the extension of hours the same powers as would be given to those whose attitude has already been affected by the Steyning judgment. There are benches, for instance, which have not granted any extensions, either for eight weeks or more, because they doubted the legality of such an action, and in many parts of the country licensing justices have deemed it necessary to refrain from giving any direction in respect of extension applications because they were rather doubtful as to whether or not they themselves would be guilty of over-riding the law if that direction had been in favour of the application. On the other hand, there have been many interested parties, especially licensees and the trade in general, in various parts of the country which will be most affected by the Bill who have, in their desire to conform to the law, not made applications because they were doubtful as to whether they would be in strict conformity with the law.

The Amendment is to empower the benches to hold special meetings with a view to considering any applications from interested parties not already affected by the Steyning decision. I hope, in view of the fact that the Measure was not opposed by hon. Members opposite, the right hon. Gentleman will allow these words to be included in the Bill. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), on the Second Reading, said he fully recognised that the Government were justified in introducing a Bill to deal with the confusion that had arisen in consequence of the recent decision. Unless these words be inserted, it is the opinion of many of us that great confusion will arise among persons who have in the past done their best in difficult circumstances to conform to the law in every respect. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept these words, I ask him at least to accept the spirit of the Amendment and to suggest other words which will meet our requirements in part if not in whole.

3.55 p.m.


It is true that last week I said we proposed to offer no opposition to the Bill. That was because the Government had deliberately confined themselves to dealing with the difficulty that had arisen from the Steyning judgment. The confusion arose there because of an interpretation of the law which necessitated proceedings before the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal. The Government were asked to deal with the difficulty arising from what had happened in the courts. They have confined themselves to that, and I suggest that the Amendment travels beyond what was then intended. I do not think the same objection applies to the Amendment of my hon. Friends, which falls far short of this. May I relate again the circumstances with which we have to deal? It is true that a number of benches throughout the country granted the extension from 10 to 10.30, and from eight to 8½ hours, in the belief that they could do so under the existing law. There were other benches of magistrates who thought that, if they made such an order, they would be going beyond the law, and they declined to do so. In that case, I think there is a legitimate grievance, Where a bench of justices say, "We would grant this extension but we feel that we should not be complying with the law," I think they ought not to be placed at a disadvantage with other benches of justices and, although I would very much rather that there had been no Amendment one way or the other, I recognise the justice of that case after consultation with Members with whom I am usually in consultation on these matters. I said last Friday that we did not wish to rest our case upon any adventitious result of legal proceedings. Although I deplore the necessity for the Amendment, I think something must be done to meet the situation in regard to magistrates who would have acted in a certain direction, but who, because they thought that in doing so they would come into conflict with the existing law, held their hand.

It is very difficult to get at the facts. A number of applications were made, and those applications were dealt with in different ways. In some instances the bench of magistrates said, "We think that we are entitled to do this under the existing law. At any rate, we. are going to grant it." That was done, I think, in some 120 cases, including the Steyning bench. There were those who said, "We think that in doing so we should be going beyond our jurisdiction, that we should be exercising our discretion improperly, and we decline so to proceed." Some benches of magistrates, in announcing their decision, gave as the ground that they were prevented by the existing law. Others simply gave their decision without any explanation. Some may have acted upon the general merits of the question, and, whatever had been the state of the law, were not desirous of extending hours, and when they came into the court, after they had retired and the applications had been made, by the trade, or, it may be, by members of the public in some instances, they gave the simple announcement of their decision. I have no doubt that some benches of magistrates who refused the application did so, not because of any question of summer time, not because of the existing state of the law, but because they thought that extended hours in their district were not necessary. I think, therefore, it is very difficult to differentiate between the many decisions which were made, because of the different courses which were taken by the magistrates.


Can the hon. Gentleman distinguish in the case of the licensee who refrained from applying because he was advised by his legal advisers—rightly, as it turned out—that the law was that the application could not be granted?


Of course, when the law is uncertain, it is bound to bear hardly upon some, and there are so many anomalies arising with emergency legislation of this kind that you cannot hope to remedy them. If you are going into all the anomalies, this ought to be a very much fuller Bill than it is. I do not think that it is competent for this House to try to ascertain whether applications would have been made if the law had been different some months ago. I think it would be only safe for this House to confine itself to those cases where applications were actually made, and, if that is done, I think that, broadly, justice will be accomplished, because no one could say what the law was at that time, and, further, no one knows whether, if the application had been made, it would have been granted. Therefore, you have to accept what are the difficulties arising from the uncertain state of the law, the interpretation of the Courts, and the emergency legislation which this House is now granting. We are desirous, if we can, of meeting what is the obvious difficulty where an application has been made, and where that application was refused, and I understand that the second Amendment on the Order Paper—in page 2, line 16, at the end, to insert: Where before the date of the passing of this Act an application that eight and a-half hours should be substituted for eight, and half-past ten at night should be substituted for ten at night, has been refused by any court of licensing justices at their last general annual licensing meeting, it shall be lawful for a fresh application to be made at any ordinary or special meeting of the licensing justices, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in section twelve, sub-section (1), of the Licensing Act, 1921. is for the purpose of reviewing the cases, or to give the opportunity for review of those cases where the circumstances justify it.


I think, perhaps, it will be right if I tell the hon. Gentleman that, unless anything unforeseen happens, I am not proposing to select the second Amendment on the Order Paper. The one which we are now discussing, I believe, covers the whole point. Therefore, I do not want the hon. Member to think that he will have an opportunity of speaking on the second Amendment. I think that anything which it is necessary to say can be said on this one.


As you please, Sir Dennis. I assume that under your ruling I can make a reference to the second Amendment, and to the difference between that and the present one?




I have tried to show the circumstances in which applications have been made, and to ask the Committee to agree to some arrangement which will only apply where applications have been made in certain licensing districts and those applications were refused. If His Majesty's Government were inclined to do something to meet the request in the second Amendment, I should not object. If they said that in any instance where an application had been made and refused, they proposed to allow that case to be raised again, I think that it would be unfair on the part of any Member of this House to say "We are going to take a technical advantage, and to insist upon it." But I think that some safeguard should be introduced. I do not think it is right that a case should be reopened simply upon the application of the licensed trade, because if it were so, there would be automatically a new application, and the way to secure the safeguard, in my submission, is for the magistrates themselves in their several areas to decide whether a case should come up for review. They are well acquainted with the circumstances, knowing why they arrived at their previous decision, knowing whether they decided upon the merits of the case, or if they simply decided upon the state of the existing law. If a requisition were signed by the majority of the licensing justices desiring that the case should be reviewed, in that way, I think, justice would be done.

It is very important that not only should there be that safeguard, namely, that the case should only be reviewed at the instance of the licensing justices, but that whatever are the rights of the public as they exist to-day, they should be maintained jealously. After all, an application for extended hours is one which is made ostensibly in the public interest, and it is in the highest degree important that when that application comes before the court, the rights of the public to make their representations in the matter should be jealously safeguarded. They are in a difficulty at present. It is the easiest thing in the world for the licensed trade in any area to make their application. They have their financial interests at stake. They are very highly organised, and they have in every local area, generally, a very able advocate who can put their case. But the members of the public who are also concerned in this matter are generally at a great disadvantage. I can speak with some experience, inasmuch as I have had frequently in the course of my life to appear for those who represent the public in this matter. The advocate who appears for the trade is generally the same advocate, a trained advocate; but very often when the public are concerned with an application, they have to form an ad hoc association. They have to make their contributions from some general appeal, and they are very often at a great disadvantage in the opposition that they make. Surely there is all the difference in the world between a highly developed organisation defending its own financial interests or out to secure its own financial gain, and the general public interest.


Is it not true that in at least 99 cases out of 100 where members of the public appear to oppose any application made to the licensing justices, their representation is voiced by an association of one description or another, such as a temperance association or a church society, and is in hands as capable as any representative who appears on behalf of the trade?


The hon. Member may know a great deal more about the licensed trade than I do, but I know a great deal more about temperance associations, and I know that in many localities there is not the organisation which can gather up, especially at the right time, the public representation upon this matter, or that representation of the public mind which is opposed to the granting of the licence. The hon. Member may take it from me that generally in these matters in the opposition to licences those who oppose are at a great disadvantage in that respect, both in regard to organisation and in regard to financial resources. But whatever may be the difference upon that, I hope that those who support the second Amendment upon the Order Paper will agree that, whatever are the rights of the public in making their views known to the licensing justices who are under Statutory obligation to gather the opinion in the locality upon the proposed extension, those rights should be jealously preserved, and if the Government accept an Amendment upon those lines, we should like to have an assurance in that particular respect.

Further, there is greater necessity for this public representation because of the confusion which has arisen about this Bill. The hon. Member for Attercliffe and those who were here last Friday will remember that I dwelt upon the misunderstanding of this Bill consequent upon what, I think, has been said in the newspapers. Following upon the Debate last Friday that confusion is continued. It is quite clear that this Bill deals only with one narrow point. All that it does is to give to the licensing justices in any locality the power to grant for a part of the year what, under the existing law, they can grant for the whole of the year. It travels no distance beyond that. But the Bill is being spoken of in the country and in the newspapers as one for the extension of hours in summer time. I notice that one of our London newspapers with the largest circulation came out the other evening with "Commons vote for later summer drinks." The Commons have done nothing of the kind, and this Bill does nothing of the kind. It is not a necessary corollary of the passing of this Bill that there should be an extension of drinking hours for five months in any licensed house in the country. Let that be made perfectly clear.

Further, I would point out that there is the more necessity for this public representation because of this confusion, and because of the misunderstanding in the public mind. I would like it to be made clear in this House that if any advocate for the licensed trade goes to any bench of magistrates and says, "We shall have within certain months summer time, and we ask that during that time, and because of summer time, you should grant these extended hours," he is asking the magistrates for what they have no power to grant. It is no good for the hon. Member to shake his head, because I have the authority of the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Scrutton, who made it quite clear that if any bench of magistrates in any part of the country say "because in certain months there will be summer time, and because of summer time we are going to grant this application, and extend the hours of drinking," they will not be exercising judicially the discretion which is in their hands. That is made perfectly clear by the existing law. They are entitled in any district to say, "In this district, having its special requirements, we shall consider summer time as one of the factors"; but they are not entitled to do it on the ground of summer time, because their obligation is to make the extension only if the special circumstances of the district require it. summer time is not the special circumstance of that district; it is the condition which applies to every district and to all the country. Therefore, if only on the ground of summer time certain magistrates think it to be a right thing that people on light evenings should have the right to drink later, they are doing what they have no right to do.


If this Bill passes, it will be perfectly competent as I see it, for any bench to say that by reason of the incidence of summer time the needs of that particular neighbourhood require this extension.


The needs of that particular neighbourhood. My hon. Friend is introducing the other factor. I hope that hon. Members will agree that, whatever is in their minds, there should not go from this House a Bill in regard to which there is danger of confusion in the public mind. Let us make the position clear. Take the Steyning case. It went up to the Divisional Court, and the Divisional Court, in which the Lord Chief Justice pronounced the decision, decided against the justices on two grounds. The first ground was that they had granted for a part of the year what under the existing law they could only grant for the whole of the year, and the second ground was that they had granted for summer time an extension which was not justified because, as the Lord Chief Justice said, summer time applied to the whole country, and therefore could not be looked upon as a special requirement of the district. When the matter went, with that statement of the Lord Chief Justice, to the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Scrutton delivered judgment, and I will qoute what he said about it. It is of importance and shows the existing law, and what will be the law after the Bill has passed. I quote from the "Brewing Trade Review," which gave the fullest report I have seen, of 1st June, 1934. Everyone who has any experience of licensing cases knows that these reports are very full on this matter. Lord Justice Scrutton dealt, first of all, with the power to grant for certain days in the year, and said that there was no such power. That was his first point. He said: There is also a second reason which seems to me to be quite independent of the first reason, and which is mentioned by all three judges of the Divisional Court, which is this: Just as in a previous decision of the court the Divisional Court has held that summer time is not a special occasion which justifies making an order under Section 57 of the Act of 1910, so summer time is not a special requirement of the district which justifies the justices acting under Sub-section (b) of the proviso to Section I.— That, of course, is the Act of 1921— Summer time applies to the whole country. It is not a special requirement of the district, such as a race meeting, or a musical festival, or a dance, or a county ball, or any matter of that sort. It is a matter which applies to the whole of the country, and Parliament, when it passed the Summer Time Act, did not think it necessary to make any alteration in the licensing laws because they were altering the standard of life of the whole community by making 10 o'clock at night be what it used not to be before they passed the Summer Time Act. Here is the important thing: For those two reasons, I think the judgment of the Divisional Court was accurate, and that this appeal must be dismissed with costs. The two reasons are (1) that the justices had granted in part what they could only grant in whole, and (2) that they had taken summer time as a special requirement of the district. It is no good our dismissing something which was considered so important that emphasis was laid upon it by the Lord Chief Justice in the Divisional Court and by Lord Justice Scrutton and other judges in the Court of Appeal. All I wish to say is that if generally throughout the country it is thought that because of summer time there will be extended hours—the hon. Member opposite still shakes his head and, of course, he is in the legal profession, but I appeal to other hon. Members of the House. If that be the impression which has got abroad, it is the result of what has been published in the newspapers. There is not a full report of the Debates in this House. The warning which I gave last Friday did not go outside the walls of this House except perhaps to those who are interested in the question. If there be a little back-chat about cricket it gets into all the papers, but, when there is an attempt to make a serious contribution upon a very difficult part of our law, very little public attention is given to it. I stake any legal knowledge I have, perhaps not very much, upon this, that the Bench of magistrates who state that summer time is between certain dates in the year and because of summer time they are going to extend the hours in their area, can at once have their decision challenged and can be brought before the High Court, and, upon the law as it exists to-day, under the declaration of the Lord Chief Justice and of Lord Justice Scrutton, can at once have their order set on one side on the ground that they have failed to exercise judicially their discretion.

It was open for the Secretary of State for the Home Department to have dealt with both points which came before the court, but the Government have chosen to limit it to the one point. May I go further and bring to the attention both of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends opposite, whom I have such difficulty in convincing to-day, the fact that not only was this point emphasised by the judges but by the counsel for the trade. Counsel for the trade, in the speech which is reported in the same paper, said that he did not contend that summer time was the ground upon which they were entitled to make the extension, but there were certain parts of the country and certain districts where there were watering places and where in summer time there is a big influx of population. In the submission he made to the Court of Appeal, he emphasised that it was in those cases that the extension could be given. You have your watering places and places where summer population is greater than the normal population, and in that case, where the concession is given, if all the factors are taken into consideration, the magistrates are well within their rights, but in the normal case where there is nothing special between summer and winter, and where the population remains pretty much the same, it will be a very difficult thing for any benches of magistrates to justify departing from the existing law, as has been made clear beyond any shadow of doubt by the highest Judge in the land.

Therefore, because of that confusion, there should be every encouragement given to those who are genuinely interested, as they think rightly, in the public well-being. Their views may not be the same as the majority of the Members of this House. They have no axes to grind and nothing but the public interest to serve, and, when there is difficulty in interpreting the law in this House and confusion among magistrates, it is the more reason why there should be legal representation not merely on the part of the trade but those resisting the extension, so that at any rate the Jaw may be made clear when it comes to be administered. Although I regret that we could not pass this Bill without further Amendment, as soon as I saw the Amendment which had been put down in the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Christchurch (Major Mills) and other hon. Members associated with him, I thought that there was an honest grievance which would be fairly expressed. We said last Friday that we wanted to state our case with fair arguments; and if you can have the view safeguarded, namely, that a case shall not be reviewed in any district except at the instance of the majority of magistrates rather than at the instance of the trade, which would automatically make its application—let it be a fair safeguard, so that you may be able to differentiate between the cases where they acted by having regard to the existing law, and the cases which were turned down on their general merits—if we are given some safeguard making the reopening only possible at the instance of the licensing justices concerned and ensuring that whatever may be the right of the public under the existing law, that law shall be maintained, then, given those two safeguards—and we give this evidence of our desire for fair play and not to prolong the argument on this matter—we shall certainly not oppose an Amendment in those terms.

4.27 p.m.


May I ask you, Sir Dennis Herbert, whether I shall be in order in discussing the points of the second Amendment on the Order Paper which stands in my name and that of other hon. Members?


My Ruling was merely that there are no points arising under the second Amendment which do not fall under the First.


I should have liked to have had a chance ultimately of moving the second Amendment, because it differs in an important way from the First Amendment. I thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) for the very fair way he has considered the case, and personally, I should be prepared to accept his condition that the cases should be brought up at the instance of the majority of the magistrates of any particular bench. It is obvious that it would be no good if the majority of magistrates of any bench were not prepared to have a ease brought before them. Even if there be power for applicants to come, they will not get any further, because the majority of the magistrates will turn down the application on the ground that it is not needed in the district. The Amendment which I desire to move runs as follows: Where before the date of the passing of this Act an application that eight and a-half hours should be substituted for eight, and half-past ten at night should be substituted for ten at night, has been refused by any court of licensing justices at their last general annual licensing meeting, it shall be lawful for a fresh application to be made at any ordinary or special meeting of the licensing justices, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in section twelve, sub-section (1), of the Licensing Act, 1921. We have deliberately framed the Amendment in that way to limit it to applications refused at the last brewster sessions, because we did not intend to let loose a flood of new applications on the licensing justices. We also thought that, if we put in the provision that cases should be taken at ordinary or special sittings of the licensing justices, the proceedings would be quicker in operation than is provided for by the wording of the first Amendment. Our object is to enable justices who did not at the last brewster sessions exercise their powers under the Act of 1921 merely because they realised that although they had the power to grant such an extension for a whole year they had no power to grant it for part of a year, and who would otherwise have wished to exercise their powers, to do so now, and not be at a disadvantage compared with those magistrates who made an Order, chanced the legality of it and now are fortunate enough to find their decision is likely to be legalised.

Let me give a specific case. In a certain district in the New Forest an application was made to the brewster sessions in 1933 for an extension, and it was granted for that year! Application was made again in 1934. The magistrates retired, and when they came back they said that they had been advised that they had no power to grant the extension for part of a year and no case had been made out for granting it for the whole of the year, therefore, they must refuse the application. There is no question of the privilege granted in the previous year having been abused, in fact everything had gone extremely well and there had been, I believe, only four cases of drunkenness during the whole of the period. I feel sure that those justices would like to look into this matter again, but they will be unable to do so until the brewster sessions of 1935, because of the provision in the Act of 1921 which restricts the power to make these Orders to the annual general licensing meeting. Therefore, unless something is done, that district, and districts like it, will be unable to have the advantage of the new provision until 1935, just because as magistrates they knew the law too well and were too conscientious, and rightly too conscientious, to chance the legality of their action.

At first, I considered the advisability of limiting my Amendment to cases where the magistrates had given their reason for not granting the application (because they knew they had not the power to do so, and then I felt that it was not fair to those justices who desired to make a direction, realised that they had no power to do so, but refrained from giving their reasons. How wise is that bench of magistrates which never gives a reason for its very excellent decisions! Therefore I deemed it best to give all benches power to revise their decisions, for this year only.

Both Amendments have this in common that they seek to remove one further difficulty that has occurred. In certain areas benches of magistrates gave a decision and made an Order, but when they saw by the High Court decision that their action was not legal they sent out an intimation through their learned clerks to the licensees, asking them not to open. In other words, they rescinded their Order. I very much doubt if that action was legal. What are those justices to do now? Are they to rescind their rescission of the Order? Are they to send out a further intimation? I am sure that the magistrates who are in that position would much sooner have the chance, if they could—in the words which we hear so often in this House—to "ask leave to sit again," to reconsider their decision, rather than leave the whole matter tangled in doubtful legality.

I have said that we do not desire to let loose a flood of new applications upon the licensing benches, but that only cases that were turned down on points of law and not on merit should be considered. I do not think the benches will be overwhelmed with requests, for this reason, that the applicants know the reception that they got at the brewster sessions, the facts are well in the minds of the licensing justices, and unnecessary or unwise applications would be dismissed very shortly. Further, the Amendment is not in any shape or form an attempt to give a Parliamentary hint to licensing justices that they should give an extension, because they remain, as they must remain, judges whether such an extension is or is not necessary in their area.

Finally, I should like to quote from some of the speeches that were delivered in the Second Reading Debate and which secured its passing without a Division. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said: The Bill is not an instalment dealing generally with the licensing problem; its sole purpose is to deal with a question of emergency, and to confer on the licensing benches a power which a large number of the licensing authorities throughout the country have believed that they possess, and which quite clearly they have exercised with considerable discretion and for the general advantage of the districts over which they preside. All that my Amendment desires to do is to confer on the better-informed benches the opportunity to use the power which they put aside last February because they knew too much.

The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) used these words: On general grounds I should always be in favour of saying that, where unexpectedly a legal decision has upset what was the intention of the House, and what has been held for a number of years to be the intention of the House, it should be put right by legislation. The hon. Member has the reputation for not wanting to do things by halves, for the future, at any rate, and I feel sure that he would not wish to leave obviously hard cases uncared for. My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) also made remarks which I should like to quote, and may I say that in quoting them I am not in any way wishing to embarrass him or to wring a reluctant concession from him? The whole Committee knows very well that his principles are far too strong on this point and that he is much too consistent to be won over in that way. He plays the game with far too straight a bat for me to be able to get him out in any underhand sort of way. I quote his words merely to refresh the memory of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He said: As a result of what is now being done, not a single extension is being imposed. It simply maintains the discretion of the magistrates and gives them the power to grant in part what undoubtedly to-day they can grant in whole.… Obviously the magistrates ought to have the power, if they want to give it for a limited period, to exercise that power, but, beyond giving the magistrates the power to grant in part what undoubtedly now they can grant in whole, the Bill does not travel by the width of a hair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1934; cols. 498–499–502; Vol. 290.] No more does my Amendment, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to look benevolently upon it. I am conscious of the defects in the wording of my Amendment and I am equally conscious of the defects in my method of presenting what I believe to be a very strong case, but I hope it will be received sympathetically by my right hon. Friend and the Committee.

4.40 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

After this very interesting discussion it might be to the advantage of the Committee if I said a few words on this matter. I should like to say at the outset that the Government, as we announced on Second Reading, are dealing with a purely limited point, and it was because of that fact that the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill without a Division. This Bill rectifies the position where benches of justices have considered this question and have given an extension of the half-hour and have been told subsequently, because of the decision of the Court, that their action was illegal. This Bill is to put right for those districts what was disputed in court. On the other hand, since the Second Reading there has been brought to our notice a problem, again a very narrow problem, relating to the position where benches of justices who having considered the problem and having possibly even been advised from the Home Office that it was illegal for them to give the extension, have withheld it.

I believe, particularly after what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) has said, that it is recognised in all parts of the House that it would not be quite a fair deal on our part to restore by this Bill an advantage where it has been already decided upon by the justices and to deny it in those cases where the justices have adhered to the advice which they have received. If that is, as I understand it, the general view of the Committee, there remains the question how it is to be brought into effect. There is in the second Amendment a very near approach to what, I think, is in the mind of the Committee. I have had an opportunity with my advisers of directing our minds to seeing how effectively this can be done. If I am rightly interpreting the views of the Committee, I would say that the Government are prepared to accept the spirit of the Amendment, but we must set up certain definite machinery in order to carry out this common purpose. I will read the Clause which we propose, which would be a new Clause: Where at the general annual licensing meeting of any licensing justices last held before the passing of this Act a proposal to make a direction under the said subparagraph (1) was considered and negatived, then, on the requisition of a majority of them made within two months after the passing of this Act, the licensing justices shall hold a meeting for the purpose of considering whether such a direction or decision as they are empowered by this Act to make ought to be made, and may at that meeting make such a direction or decision as aforesaid. Those words clearly lay it down that it shall be by a majority of the justices that they shall decide whether or not they shall call a meeting to consider this matter. I think it was the hon. Member for the New Forest (Major Mills) who pointed out that, if a majority of the justices in a district do not feel impelled to reconsider their decision to hold a meeting, no representation from any interest in the district is going to achieve any practical purpose. In the circumstances, that is what we propose to accept. The proposal continues (2) In relation to a meeting held under the foregoing Sub-section, the provisions of the rules made by the Secretary of State under Sub-section (1) of Section twelve of the Licensing Act, 1921, shall have effect as if for references therein to the general annual licensing meeting there had been substituted references to the said meeting, and the clerk shall send notice of the said meeting to the superintendent of police of the district and to each of the licensing justices. That is pure machinery, merely to ensure that everyone concerned shall have notice of what is on foot. I hope the Committee will accept this proposal in this form. It is very desirable that the confusion which has existed in the country should be cleared up, and I think, from everybody's point of view, that it is very necessary that that should be done at the earliest possible moment. The question was raised as to whether it was correct for the justices, having had doubt in their mind, to rescind orders which they gave for this present period. Strictly speaking, I have no authority to give any ruling on the point, but I am advised that the powers of licensing benches in relation to orders under Section 1 of the Licensing Act, 1921, could only be exercised at Brewster Sessions and that the action of those benches which have purposely cancelled their orders in the past few weeks would not have any legal validity, I hope that that will be understood, and in fact I have little doubt that that is the correct interpretation of the law.

Therefore, this proposal which I make to the Committee is to give that opportunity, which I think the Committee in all quarters desire to give, in those districts where the justices, having considered these applications during the earlier part of this year, for reasons good to themselves, have turned them down, to reconsider it. I would remind the Committee that we are only dealing with this one particular year, and that when you come to the future you come to the Brewster Sessions, and application can be made there from any quarter and from new quarters and considered under the clarification which this Bill now gives. In these circumstances, I hope the Committee will think it fair, without further discussion, to accept the proposals of the Government. It was possible either to put this Clause in here as a manuscript Amendment, which I think has been quite clearly understood by hon. Members, or to delay it until the Bill went to the House of Lords, but I hope the Committee will agree that in the circumstances it would be best dealt with here.

4.50 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman is about to deliver us all from a great difficulty, but I want to say this much about the Debate which has taken place so far, that I would not be doing my duty to my own conscience if I did not tell the Government that in future, when they find any anomaly in the laws of the land which operates against the working folk of this country, I hope they will be as quick in removing that anomaly as they have been in responding to the brewery interests in this connection. So far as I understand the situation it is found that some of the justices have given a wrong direction to the law, and the case goes to the court of appeal and all the rest of it, and we are now told that the law must be altered. I make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that whenever he finds a decision of that kind operating against the workers of this country, in connection with factory laws, or compensation laws, or anything like that, he will at once do as he has done in this case.

We are in this position: So far as I understand it, we have now three proposals before us. The first proposal made is that fresh application shall be allowed in cases where these applications have been turned down. Then we are asked to alter the law in this Bill so that applications shall be allowed whether or not any previous applications have been put forward; that is the proposal in the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest and Christ-church (Major Mills). But we have now come to the stage of the right hon. Gentleman's own proposal, with which I agree, and in so far as any suggestion of mine is of any use, I would prefer it to be embodied in the Bill this afternoon, because I am anxious that the other place shall have no title whatsoever to touch anything that we can deal with in this House of Commons. That is how I feel about the other place on all occasions, and particularly when we come to the drink traffic.

So far as we are concerned, we do not oppose this Bill, and the hon. Member for Attercliffe ought to be more careful about the use of the English language. Not to oppose is not exactly the same thing as to support a Bill. That is where I think he went wrong when he said that those of us on this side supported the Measure, and he referred particularly to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) when he said that he supported this Bill. I speak for myself when I say that I do not oppose this Bill, but that does not mean that I support it.


If I used the word "support," perhaps it slipped out beyond my intention, but I explained at the beginning that I regretted the necessity for the introduction of the Bill.


What I said was that the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division made the statement this afternoon that the hon. Gentleman supported this Bill, and I was trying as a. Welshman to make the English language more clear by saying that there is a difference between not opposing a Bill and supporting it.


Does that apply to the hon. Member's position on that bench?


Our position is always clear, and it is that we also regret the necessity for the introduction of this Bill. I repeat that I trust that the Government will see to it that any pressure from the trade unions of this country shall be as effective on all occasions as has been the pressure of the brewers on the right hon. Gentleman in this case.

4.54 p.m.


I welcome the new Clause that my right hon. Friend, I understand, will shortly introduce. I do not intend to deal at length with the speech of the hon. Member for West- houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies), but I would refer to some of his opening remarks. My right hon. Friend and those who support him have shown them selves just as eager to get rid of any difficulties that oppress the working classes as did the hon. Member and his friends when they sat on this side of this House for 2½ years; and, after all, a very large proportion of the members of the working classes like a drink after 10 o'clock as much as any other people in this country. The justices up and down the country have very often given these extended hours in the special circumstances that a large number of people want to work later during the longer hours of daylight on their allotments, and so go in and have a drink when those hours are finished. I will only say, in answer to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), that there are a number of reasons which justices might find as being special occasions in their districts which would allow them to give the extra extension for a definite period of time. They have got to give this extension under this Bill for a minimum period of eight weeks, which makes the position somewhat different from that which existed previously. With regard to the new Clause proposed by my right hon. Friend——


We cannot help, of course, referring to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, but we must not discuss it in detail until it is moved.


I understood that the Debate was going rather wide to cover the two Amendments.


The hon. and gallant Member is apparently getting to a third Amendment, which has neither been moved nor is it on the Order Paper.


I bow to your Ruling, but with regard to the Amendment which might have been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest and Christchurch (Major Mills), the words "has been refused" did occur in it, and similar words may appear in the new Clause which may be moved later, but I will apply my remarks to those words, because of one particular case which I want to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend. The case is one of the licensing justices of a district in my constituency, who took what may be the doubtfully legal course of extending the time, under the Section which we are amending by this Bill, from 10 to 10.30 p.m. but of not extending the hours from 8 to 8.30, that is to say, they said to the licensees, "You can open from 6 to 10.30 p.m. instead of opening from 5.30 to 10 p.m."


Surely the hon. and gallant Member means that they did not extend from eight to eight and a-half hours instead of, as he said, from 8 to 8.30?


I am obliged to the hon. Member. I meant that they extended the time of opening from 10 to 10.30 p.m., but they did not extend the number of hours on which they could open from eight to eight and a-half hours, and the result of that, of course, is that they only did half what they were entitled to do if they were giving a direction under the Sub-section with which we are dealing. It is rather doubtful whether that is a refusal or whether it is not, and I would ask my right hon. Friend—perhaps there may be other cases up and down the country—to consider that point, because I very much doubt whether these particular licensees who are now opening from 6 to 10.30 have any right at all to sell any alcoholic liquor in those hours. I think that where a muddle has occurred, as it has in that district the new Clause ought to be drawn in such a way as to cover it if that be possible. At any rate, I think we are right in being agreed to amend the Bill in this way to deal with cases where justices acted in accordance with the law. It would be quite absurd to put those districts on one footing with those where justices, perhaps taking the law into their own hands, did something that was not done in the other districts. That is why I welcome the attitude that my right hon. Friend takes up in this matter, and I hope he will also be able to consider whether the case I put to him—which may have happened, for all I know in other districts—may be covered in any new Clause.

5.1 p.m.


I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my uttering one or two words of criticism as to the method of dealing with the problem before us.


The proper course if the hon. Member wishes to criticise the new Clause is to do that when the Home Secretary has moved his new Clause. It might be for the convenience of the Committee generally, if the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment. In that event, of course, the Home Secretary may move his Amendment, and we can go on to discuss it.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment in order that the Committee may discuss the new Clause to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman. I will do so if that be the wish of the Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 (Short title and construction) ordered to stand part of the Bill.