HC Deb 17 May 1939 vol 347 cc1411-7

Captain Arthur Evans: I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require justices to declare that they are not disqualified by Section forty of the Licensing Consolidation Act, 1910, from acting as justices for any purpose under the Licensing Acts; to amend the said Section forty; and for purposes connected therewith. I must apologise for the speed at which this Measure is introduced, but in the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for War "So much to do: so little time". I am asking permission to bring forward this small Bill, which I am happy to say is supported by Members of all political parties in the House, to clear up certain doubts and misconceptions about the disqualifications of licensing justices. It is provided in Section 40 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act of 1910 that: No justice shall act for any purpose under this Act who is, or is in partnership with, or holds any share in any company which is a common brewer, distiller, maker of malt for sale or retailer of malt or of any intoxicating liquor in the licensing district, or in the district or districts adjoining to that in which the justice usually acts. The Section goes on to provide that a justice is also disqualified from acting in respect of any premises in the profits or running of which he is interested, but makes no clear provision to disqualify him if he is interested in premises which would be adversely affected by the competition of the premises for which a licence is sought. There seems, however, to be considerable doubt and ill-feeling about the precise meaning and effectiveness of these disqualifications. I find that the Royal Commission on Licensing of 1929 to 1931, made only very brief reference to this matter in their report. In para- graphs 627 and 628 they used these words: A number of witnesses urged that licensing meetings should be invested with the status of a court. While we appreciate these arguments, we believe that they are based on a misconception. Such status would, we think, be inconsistent with the free and unfettered exercise of their discretion in the public interest. I ask hon. Members to observe those particular words "in the public interest." The Royal Commission stated further: The sole issue which the licensing justices have to consider in such circumstances (that is, the issue of the licence) is whether, having regard to all the circumstances, it is in the public interest that the licence should be granted. In this Bill all I am trying to do is to ensure that, as the Royal Commission recommended, we should be certain that the public interest does in fact prevail. When it is solely a matter of licensing a public house, and another public house is opposing that application, and a justice finds that he is a shareholder in a brewery company operating in the same district, then the issue is crystal clear; in such a case that justice is clearly and abundantly disqualified from adjudicating.

There are, however, other cases in which the issue is not so clear. Let us assume, for instance, that someone wishes to start a new hotel or a new restaurant. Whether my hon. Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) likes it or not, it is not a practical proposition in this country today, particularly in a big city like London, to try to operate a first-class hotel or restaurant unless you can supply your clientele with alcoholic refreshment at their meals. Therefore if the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) had achieved his desire to sub- mit the restaurants and bars of this House to normal licensing procedure, and we had failed to obtain the necessary licence, I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would quickly have realised the discomfort of having to send round the corner for beer, wine or spirits, if they wished to take them with their meals.

Let me refer for one moment to a case which has recently aroused a great deal of interest in the London district. I quote from a letter which appears in the "Times" under the signature of Sir George Reeves-Smith, managing director of the Savoy Hotel: At the London quarter sessions on Wednesday last, in the space of three minutes, confirmation of a licence granted to the Savoy Hotel, Limited, for a branch of the celebrated old English restaurant, Simpson's, was unconditionally refused. The circumstances of this application and the refusal are so exceptional that it is felt they should be brought to public attention. He went on to describe how this eminently respectable company, which, I submit, has done valuable service for the tourist trade of this country, recently embarked on a plan for establishing a branch of Simpson's in the West End. Distinguished architects and other experts worked on plans for months, and it was arranged that no less than £65,000 was to be spent with various British industries in fitting out the restaurant, and the staff to be employed, mainly of British nationality, would have exceeded 200 in number. The Strand justices who heard the first application, granted the licence. Then when the licence was submitted for confirmation at the quarter sessions it was refused within three minutes. Sir George Reeves-Smith in his letter concluded: It is generally admitted that the authorities are not likely to have a better application submitted to them either as regards stability, control, direction or any other aspect, and it must therefore be assumed that no confirmation of other similar applications could be entertained in future. This places London as an international centre in the position of not being allowed to have any new restaurant of the first order. It may be asked, what has this to do with the Bill which I am seeking to introduce. Anticipating the criticism on that point, I would like to explain. Many people may say that the only effective remedy for the situation I have described is a drastic revision of our licensing laws, and particularly in so far as they hamper the development of our hotels and restaurants. Yet this House has already on two occasions been unable to permit the Hotels and Restaurants Bill to reach the Statute Book. Perhaps on some future occasion hon. Members who have opposed that Bill will see the problem in a different light, but in the meantime I feel that it would be a very useful preliminary if we were to legislate on the modest lines I am now proposing, with all parties' support, so that we can find out how our licensing procedure works when our justices do concern themselves with, and solely with, the public interest in these matters. As the Home Secretary said in reply to a question in this House on Thursday last: It is, of course, of the first importance that in numerous types of cases justices should not adjudicate who are subject to disqualification, because of the risk of bias. He went on to add: But I have no grounds for thinking that justices are not aware of the law on this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1939; col. 704, Vol. 347.] Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that in some cases justices do not seem to be aware of the law, or else they find difficulty in interpreting exactly what the law is, or at any rate what Parliament intended it to mean when it passed this House.

I would refer again to the case that I have already mentioned. It appears that since the confirmation of the licence refused by quarter sessions investigations have shown that some of the justices who adjudicated were actually shareholders in companies operating, or financially interested in, restaurants or hotels in the district concerned. It is true that those companies cannot be said to be principally concerned in retailing intoxicating liquor, but the fact does remain that they are connected with restaurants or hotels selling intoxicating liquor in the district concerned.

Mr. R. Morgan

Will the hon. and gallant Member state what these companies are?

Captain Evans

I hope that the hon. Member will not press me on that matter. I am not anxious to give names here, but I can give them privately.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Is it not usually held that the conduct of justices should not be impugned except on a substantive Motion?

Mr. Speaker

That is so.

Captain Evans

If it is the wish of the House I would say that two of the justices were shareholders in Lyons and one of them in the Strand Palace Hotel. Here is a case, a definite case, a specific case, where justices were interested, and it does not seem right to me that when justices come to consider the granting of facilities to a new restaurant they should be personally concerned in any way financially, either directly or indirectly, with the profits or losses of other restaurants in the district. The sole test should be the public interest. I am sure that if the public interest had been the sole test, this new Simpson's restaurant would have had its licence confirmed.

I am hoping that the Bill I ask leave to introduce will make some small contribution to remedying the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. It seeks only to ensure that the decisions of licensing justices shall be completely impartial. Under Clause 1 of the Bill they are required—

Mr. Westwood

On a point of Order. Has the hon. and gallant Member not exceeded the 10 minutes allowed for introducing a Bill?

Mr. Speaker

The Standing Order does not say 10 minutes definitely; it refers to a brief explanatory statement.

Captain Evans

I am not anxious to over-try the patience of the House, knowing the most important Debate which is about to begin. I shall conclude by briefly explaining the two simple Clauses of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that I must intervene and say what my ideas of brevity are. The hon. and gallant Member must not take up too much time.

Captain Evans

I offer my apologies to the House, but my remarks would be incomplete without reference to the proposals of the Bill. It is obvious, however, from the remarks I have been privileged to make what are the objects of the Bill.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require justices to declare that they are not disqualified by Section forty of the Licensing Consolidation Act, 1910, from acting as justices for any purpose under the Licensing Acts; to amend the said Section forty; and for purposes connected therewith.

The House divided: Ayes, 186; Noes, 79.

Division No. 136.] AYES. [4.15 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke Conant, Captain R. J. E. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Cox, H. B. Trevor Henderson, T. (Tradeston)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Crooke, Sir J. Smedley Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Cruddas, Col. B. Hepworth, J.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Culverwell, C. T. Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Daggar, G. Higgs, W. F.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Day, H. Howitt, Dr. A. B.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Denville, Alfred Hume, Sir G. H.
Apsley, Lord Donner, P. W. Hunter, T.
Barnes, A. J. Duggan, H. J. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Duncan, J. A. L. Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Ede, J. C. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.
Bennett, Sir E. N. Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)
Benson, G. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)
Blair, Sir R. Elliston, Capt. G. S. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)
Bassom, A. C. Emery, J. F. Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.
Boulton, W. W. Entwistle, Sir C. F. Lamb, Sir J. O.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Erskine-Hill, A. G. Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.
Boyce, H. Leslie Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Lancaster, Captain C. G.
Braithwaite, J. Gurney (Holderness) Findlay, Sir E. Lathan, G.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Fleming, E. L. Leach, W.
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Foot, D. M. Levy, T.
Brocklebank, Sir Edmund George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Lewis, O.
Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.) Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley) Liddall, W. S.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. G. (Newbury) Gluckstein, L. H. Lipson, D. L.
Burke, W. A. Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Little, J.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)
Cartland, J. R. H. Grigg, Sir E. W. M. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.
Castlereagh, Viscount Grimston, R. V. McCorquodale, M. S.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake) Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Guinness, T. L. E. B. McGhee, H. G.
Channon, H. Gunston, Capt. Sir D W. McGovern, J.
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Harbord, A. McKie, J. H.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Harris, Sir P. A. Maitland, Sir Adam
Colfox, Major W. P. Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest
Collindridge, F. Hayday, A. Markham, S. F.
Marshall, F. Riley, B. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Mathers, G. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Sutcliffe, H.
Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Rowlands, G. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R. Tate, Mavis C.
Mitcheson, Sir G. G. Russell, Sir Alexander Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Montague, F. Samuel, M. R. A. Thomas, J. P. L.
Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge) Sanders, W. S. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Morris-Jones, Sir Henry Sanderson, Sir F. B. Thorne, W.
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Sandys, E. D. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Munro, P. Schuster, Sir G. E. Touche, G. C.
Naylor, T. E. Scott, Lord William Tuinell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Orr-Ewing, I. L. Shepperson, Sir E. W. Turton, R. H.
Owen, Major G Silverman, S. S. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Patrick, C. M. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Peat, C. U. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwieh) Wardlaw-Milne Sir J. S.
Petherick, M. Smithers, Sir W. Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie
Pilkington, R. Snadden, W. McN. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Porritt, R. W. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J. Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Radford, E. A. Spears, Brigadier-General E. L. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Rayner, Major R. H. Spens, W. P. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Reed, A. C. (Exeter) Stephen, C. York, C.
Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury) Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Storey, S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Strickland, Captain W. F. Captain Arthur Evans and Mr. Emmott.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Groves, T. E. Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Adamson, W. M. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Sexton, T. M.
Ammon, C. G. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Hambro, A. V. Sloan, A.
Barr, J. Hardie, Agnes Smith, E. (Stoke)
Batey, J. Holdsworth, H. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Jagger, J. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Bevan, A. James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Sorensen, R. W.
Broad, F. A. Kirkwood, D. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Bromfield, W. Lee, F. Thurtle, E.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Leslie, J. R. Tinker, J. J.
Cape, T. Lunn, W. Viant, S. P.
Charleton, H. C. Lyons, A. M. Walkden, A. C.
Cluse, W. S. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) McEntee, V. La T. Watson, W. McL.
Cove, W. G. Magnay, T. Welsh, J. C.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Messer, F. Westwood, J.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Muff, G. Wilkinson, Ellen
Dobbie, W. Noel-Baker, P. J. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Paling, W. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Parker, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Eckersley, P. T. Parkinson, J. A. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Everard, Sir William Lindsay Pearson, A.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Price, M. P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gardner, B. W. Quibell, D. J. K. Mr. James Griffiths and Mr. A. Jenkins.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Richards, R. (Wrexham)

Bill ordered to be brought in by Captain Arthur Evans, Mr. Craven-Ellis, Mr. Foot, Mr. Grenfell, Mr. Temple Morris, Mr. Raikes, Sir Frank Sanderson, and Sir Arnold Wilson.