§ Mr. Silkin
I beg to move, in page 9, line 9, at end, insert:(c) with respect to the disqualification of any person who has directly or indirectly a financial interest in the sale or supply of intoxicants, from serving as a member or as the secretary of the licensing planning committee.I think this Amendment needs very little advocacy from me. It provides that persons who have a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in the sale or supply of intoxicants shall not serve on a joint planning committee. It would be most improper that people should be concerned with recommendations for the granting of licences when they have a personal financial interest in what they are doing. This merely conforms to the ordinary principles of good government. As regards the clerk to the justices, or the secretary of the licensing planning committee, who will normally be the clerk, it is well known that some, at any rate, act as solicitors for brewers or for other firms having a financial interest in the sale or supply of intoxicants. The secretary of the Town Planning Committee, especially if he be the clerk to the justices, as he may well 2011 be, will be a very important and influential person on such a Committee. The Committee will be guided by his experience and knowledge and will very much lean on him, and it is essential that such a person should be beyond reproach and that it should be impossible for it to be levelled against him that he had a financial interest in the subject matter upon which he was advising the Committee. I ask that, in making Regulations, the Home Secretary shall have this in mind, and shall make sure that persons who have a financial interest are disqualified from taking any part in the proceedings of a licensing planning committee.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think this Amendment, and the next—
In page 9, line 9, at end insert,—(c) with respect to the disqualification of any person having a pecuniary interest in the sale or supply of intoxicants from serving as a member or as the secretary of a licensing planning committee.—may be taken together.
Mr. Graham White
I rise to support, very briefly, this Amendment, as one who put down an Amendment in almost identical terms. To be quite frank I am not sure whether these Amendments are really necessary, for the simple reason that it did not occur to me that anybody would contemplate such a change in licensing practice as to bring into the new planning authority a principle which has never existed before and which, I think, would be contrary to the practice of Common Law. It is a principle that the participants in a judicial inquiry shall have no financial interest in the subject of the inquiry.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, but, in the Consolidated Licensing Act of 1920, it was specifically provided that licensing justices should not have this interest. This has contributed in very great measure to the authority and respect in which the licensing bench is held, and it would be a most mischievous and unfortunate thing if in connection with these planning committees, that salutary principle were abandoned. It is a financial interest which is debarred, not an interest of any other kind. It is perfectly in order for a brewer to take part, and, equally, for a temperance reformer. It is the finan- 2012 cial interest with which we are here concerned. It may well be that there was no intention, as I believe there cannot have been, to allow this principle to be departed from, but I notice that, in Clause 2, Sub-section (3), the members of the Committees are appointed subject to such terms and conditions as the Home Secretary may lay down. If we were assured that this is one of the conditions, the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) and myself might find it would not be necessary to go on with this Amendment.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I think I had better declare my interest in this subject. My family have made gin in the same way and in the same place for 150 years, and I am interested in the trade, and interested financially, but, at the same time, I oppose this Amendment both on the grounds of equity and common sense. On the grounds of equity, I do not see why members of the trade should be debarred from being members of this Committee, even if we assume that the members of the trade are grossly bigoted and unfair people. They are only making a living out of the trade in the same way as others make a living out of preaching teetotalism. I do not see why they should be debarred, and it seems to me unfair.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I could give instances. But I refuse to admit that, if I was a member of one of these committees, I should be incapable of giving a perfectly fair and unprejudiced decision. The extraordinary suggestion is that, because I am a member of the trade, I should automatically favour every other member of the trade. It is assumed that I am either dishonest or incapable of being impartial, or, secondly, that I should favour every member of the trade because it is my own trade. Anybody who knows anything about the trade knows that the contrary may well be the case, and that, if I was not an impartial representative, I might well be prejudiced against some other member of the trade. That argument, therefore, falls to the ground. I repeat that I refuse to admit that I am incapable to being an impartial, unprejudiced member of my own trade on such a committee.
2013 But there is another and more powerful argument. Nobody knows so much about the needs of areas for licensed premises, or about the way they should be run, as the members of the trade who are engaged in running licensed premises. I can imagine a Bill for zoning chartered accountants. Would this House stand for a provision that no chartered accountant should sit on the committee? The thing is ridiculous. There are enormous numbers of perfectly upright, honest and exceedingly capable men in the trade, and this casts an unwarranted slur upon a body of men who are as honourable and decent as any in the country, and I protest against it most vigorously.
Surely, the work of solicitors and chartered accountants does not have to be controlled by the State, and the drink trade is the only one which has to be controlled by the State. How can anyone compare them?
§ Mr. Nicholson
In dealing with any trade, it would be foolish and a handicap to cut one's self off from the knowledge, advice and experience in that trade. The last thing I want to do is to serve on one of these committees, but to say that I should not be impartial—
§ Mr. Nicholson
I thank the Noble Lady very much. I think it is wrong that it should be assumed that the trade is full of people who cannot possibly be impartial and who are, or would be, unworthily influenced by being connected with that trade.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
I think everyone must know that the hon. Member who has just spoken would be impartial in his judgments on such a committee or any other, and I am quite sure that there are very many members of the trade and people having financial interests who would be perfectly impartial, but the point, surely, is that of the old maxim of English law that not only should justice be done but that it should manifestly appear to be done. It is most undesirable that any licensing planning committee should be under any kind of suspicion or misapprehension, for, if the secretary or any member of the committee happened to have a financial interest, it would be the easiest thing for his position to be misunderstood. It would be most un- 2014 desirable that a decision of the Committee should be misrepresented—and it might be—as being governed by financial interests.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
Is not my hon. Friend aware that there are other interests besides financial interests? He and I are at one in desiring an impartial committee, but does he call teetotallers impartial? I am grateful to him for the tribute he paid to my impartiality, which I appreciate, but there are other interests besides financial interests.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am inclined to think that the perfectly impartial person does not exist, or, at any rate, only exists in heaven. We want to avoid any manifest appearance of the possibility of serious financial interests prejudicing a decision. I do not think it likely that a person known to be an extreme prohibitionist and who is making his livelihood as a prohibitionist would be appointed as a member of such a licensing planning committee.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
If I am a member of "X" brewery, does it naturally follow that I am going to favour "Y" brewery? Why should it be assumed that this would be the case?
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)
I would like to know whether, as an engineer, I would be precluded from being a member of the committee if I had a great deal of money invested in Nicholson's gin or Bass's beer?
§ Mr. Harvey
The hon. Member would not be qualified to sit as a licensing justice if he had a financial interest.
§ Mr. Harvey
That is the position, and the purpose of the Amendment is simply to apply to the licensing planning authority the existing law regarding licensing justices. As this is a planning authority, I hope that it will be made quite clear that the Government do accept the principle, even if they cannot accept the words of the Amendment.
§ Sir William Wayland (Canterbury)
I shall certainly oppose the Amendment. 2015 It is very unfair. It says that no person indirectly having a financial interest should become a member of the committee. You can press the word "indirectly" right up to the point where, if a man had a pint of beer a day, he would be indirectly interested in the drink question. I am of the same opinion as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson). I have been a licensing magistrate for about 30 years, and although there are always some goats to be dealt with, I have a very high opinion of the licensed victuallers as a body. I consider that for integrity and straightforwardness they can compare with any other body in the United Kingdom.
The position is very different now from what it was with regard to licensed victuallers 40 years ago. A man who wants to become a licensed victualler to-day must be above suspicion, and that cannot be said, I believe, of any other large body of men. These people number between 200,000 and 300,000, and considering that actions against them in the courts are so few, they really have proved that they are worthy of being looked upon as good citizens. Why they should be penalised, even as far as the magistracy is concerned, from occupying a seat on the bench I could never understand, although a licensed victualler who is a mayor can sit as a magistrate. It is said that the Lord Chancellor has always refused to appoint licensed victuallers as magistrates. He has always stated that in his opinion it would be inadvisable, but whenever we see the licensed victuallers acting as a body or sectionally they always carry conviction that they can be independent, are independent and would act independently on any committee on which they were appointed. If expert opinion is wanted on a committee such as is to be formed, it would be better in the general interest that a licensed victualler or someone with an interest in, or knowledge of, the trade should be put on the committee.
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
I agreed with the first speaker from the Liberal benches when he said that he was surprised that it was necessary to put the Amendment down, because it suggests a practice which has been followed almost ever since the licensing laws existed. As it has been 2016 thought necessary to put the Amendment down, we are entitled to consider this proposal de novo. I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson). This Amendment and the idea behind it seem to go completely contrary to the modem trend of State control. Everything is going to be controlled by advisory committees, fatherly or not; whether it is the beer trade, the milk trade or the coal trade, there are always to be committees here and committees there. How are they invariably composed? Not of employers, on the one hand, and employees on the other, but of everyone who knows how the business is conducted and who is able to give good advice about it. I support my hon. Friend on the practical ground that you must trust people and can trust people, and if you are to have an advisory body, it is just as well to have on that body representatives of every part of the trade who know how to conduct the business.
The question is, How are we to get the most efficient and the strongest body? I cannot say that I share the profound respect exhibited by some Members, for licensing justices. We know that not merely the brewers and distillers but, by the terms of this Amendment, the barman, everybody who works in a brewery for a wage, is indirectly interested. You have a great number of people, rightly or wrongly, rabid teetotallers, extreme or very bitter teetotallers, and I cannot say that members of temperance bodies are necessarily the best people to decide these things.
I have experience of the way in which they do their duties. I have told the story once in the House before, but I would ask for the attention of the Committee to-day. A very small respectable riverside public house, run by a very respectable man, has a little garden, in surroundings where most of the inhabitants have no gardens, and it is a great relief to them, on a hot summer evening, to go into this garden and have a glass of beer. In order to extend the amenities, this publican proposed to give a little music—
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
He proposed to give some music in this garden and, for that purpose, obtained a music licence 2017 from the London County Council, who said, "You can have this music licence if you move that door from there to there, for the purposes of a fire exit during the concert." So he went to the noble licensing justices, who had among their number no contemptible brewers or publicans, and said, "May I have a licence to move that door from there to there, to form an exit from the garden in case of fire?"—my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) will know the place of which I am talking. These beautiful justices, with no disgusting brewers, publicans and gin distillers among them, said, "Oh no, we do not care what the London County Council has said about your music licence. This is a structural alteration, and by the laws of the land we are entitled to forbid you to make a structural alteration, and we are not going to allow you to move that door from there to there, because if you give music in your little garden, you will give more pleasure in this horrible, adulterous, alcoholic place by spreading the drinking area." That is the spirit in which—I do not say all, but far too many of these temperance justices discharge their duties. Without going into details, I say that is a prejudice with an improper interest, just as improper as any financial interest could be, and, on the practical ground that we must have these laws discharged without prejudice, I say it is a bad thing that practical people in the trade should be excluded, while people not in the trade, having this improper interest, people who desire only to make pubs more and more squalid and discourage them from stocking food and playing music, sit on these bodies. I say those people are far less worthy to sit upon these advisory bodies than an honest, public-spirited brewer or publican.
I am sorry I did not notice this Bill before. I count myself negligent in not having put down an Amendment. I do not think there will be much bother about this Amendment, but if there is, I must say that I shall not only vote against the Clause standing part, but against the whole of the rest of the Bill.
I wish also to oppose this Amendment. As the Bill stands, there is nothing in it to give any direction as to who shall sit on the Committee, except that they shall be appointed by 2018 the local authority. I think the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) moved this Amendment rather in the hope of shoving the responsibility for choosing these people on to the Home Secretary and the Government instead of having to face the responsibility squarely on the London County Council. I am not sure that he is not right in doing so. I think the Government, in issuing directions, ought to give some sort of directions but it is about the nature of those directions that I am rather anxious, because, from some of the speeches I have heard to-day—particularly that of the hon. Member for Birkenhead East (Mr. Graham White)—it would seem to be assumed that there will be such direction that nobody with a direct or indirect financial interest in the trade will be allowed to sit on these committees. I hope that is not so, because, as I said on Second Reading, it is vitally important that we get the best possible, unbiased, broad-minded people to sit on these committees.
Let me give an instance which the hon. Member for Peckham will well understand. Take Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He is the chairman of the Kensington Town Planning Committee. He is an admirable man with wide experience of housing and town planning, and all that sort of thing, but he is a director of a bank, and the bank may have some brewery shares or a mortgage on a public house, and therefore he would be directly financially interested under the Amendment. He may have some brewery shares himself, for all I know—I have not the faintest idea. How is the hon. Gentleman going to find out? He would have to write a letter on these lines:Dear Lord Burleigh,We are anxious to put you on the licensing planning committee for the county of London, but, before we can do so, will you please disclose to the London County Council whether you have any shares in a brewery or a distillery.The hon. Gentleman may laugh, but that is a fact. Under his Amendment that would have to be done.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
No. Since my hon. and gallant Friend refers to what we should do, we should draw his attention to the regulations. That is all.
That is the same sort of thing, the same principle is involved. 2019 He would have to refuse to serve on that planning committee, for which he is eminently suited, if he had any direct, or indirect financial interest. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert) mentioned the licensed victuallers, and so on. I think it is really a slur on the trade as a whole, particularly on the licensed victuallers, that they should not be eligible in these days for places on these committees, which are already heavily influenced in the other direction. The whole success of this Bill, as I see it, is that the local authorities should be quite free to choose whoever they wish. Whatever their private business or interests may be, they should be chosen on character, ability and broadmindedness rather than on a financial interest. Only in that event will this Bill, in my opinion, be a success, and for that reason I wish to oppose the Amendment.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
I think the Committee ought to distinguish first of all between what I call bias and material interests. If hon. Members will read the Royal Commission's Report of 1929–31 they will find that the Commission made that distinction. That Royal Commission, by the way composed of three brewers, was unanimously against what the hon. Gentlemen are suggesting this afternoon. They were in favour, indeed, of what my hon. Friend has proposed in his Amendment—
§ Mr. Davies
They considered the position of licensing justices. What this Bill does clearly is to take us away from the law as it stands in relation to the material interests of licensing justices. Let me point out to the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) that case after case in this country has occurred recently where an ordinary member of a co-operative society, a member of a local authority, is debarred from voting in the council for a contract in favour of his co-operative society because he is deemed to be materially interested in the society. That is the law. It is a very remote interest to be an ordinary member of a co-operative society with a membership, say, of 100,000 people and to be debarred by law 2020 because of pecuniary interest, yet the hon. Gentleman is suggesting putting a brewer on a bench to give licences under this Bill when he is materially interested. I think it is in the interests of the brewers themselves to keep away from the granting of licences. The one thing above all the public detests, not only in relation to brewing but to all manner of businesses, is that men should use their position and material interests for their own financial gain—
§ Mr. Nicholson
I beg the hon. Member to keep a sense of proportion. Nobody would dream of suggesting that anybody should be judge in a case in which he holds the slightest financial interest, but I do not conceive that nobody may be a judge in a case in which the firm is in the same trade as himself.
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Member will look up the records of our courts of law for the last three or four years he will find instances of where undue influence was used to secure licences and men sent to prison because of that.
§ Mr. Davies
As I have said, I think it would be a good thing for the brewers themselves to keep away from this question, because it would create undue public bias against them. The vast majority of the people in this country, whatever their business, are honourable, but there are others, too; and all that the law does is to try to safeguard the public against about 2 per cent. or so who are evildoers. They wil1 be found among brewers, and sometimes among teetotallers, too. But when we come to the brewer he has a material interest—
§ Mr. Davies
I want to appeal to Members of the Committee not to oppose this Amendment, because it would not be in the interests of the community to allow those with vested interests to serve as licensing justices.
§ The Solicitor-General
I hope my Friend the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) will not mind if I inter- 2021 vene at this moment, because I would like the Committee to know where the Government stand in this matter before it is discussed any further, should Members wish to do so. I would like to begin my short remarks by indicating, as exactly as I can, what is the present position. With regard to the licensing justices, who will contribute half the members of the local licensing planning committee, under Section 40 of the Licensing Act, 1910, they can have no interest in the trade in the locality. That is a statutory disqualification. With regard to members of local authorities—my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) has put it quite rightly—a member of a local authority is debarred from voting on, or taking part in the consideration of, any question with regard to a contract or other matter in which he has a direct or an indirect pecuniary interest.
The Committee will understand that there is a difficulty here, in that although the person is chosen as a member of the local authority he is acting as a member of the licensing planning authority. There may be some technical difficulty about that, but that is the broad position from which we start. So far as half of the licensing planning committee, who are licensing justices, are concerned, they have their statutory disqualification, and I suggest that we do not interfere with that position.
What about the local authority members? I feel that we could not go further than the restriction on the licensing justices, that is, that the restriction must be limited to trade in the locality, and I suggest it would be reasonable to make the disqualification a little less wide. I am rather disturbed by the idea that someone who has given 20 years of work on a local authority, and happens to hold one share in a firm making malt for sale, should be disqualified from this type of service. Anyone who considers that, or who has a few shares in a bottling business, will, I am sure, think that is going too far, and I ask the Committee to consider that point of view. The dividing line, I suggest, is to disqualify any person who has a major interest in either the wholesale or the retail liquor trade in the district, that is, a substantial interest in the carrying on of the trade in the district. I do not want to go into details of the definition Clause to-day, because that is a matter for regulations, 2022 but I hope that that is a reasonable suggestion and a reasonable mean between the different points of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) wants to know how that is to be dealt with before he withdraws his Amendment. Under Clause 2, Sub-section (3) it is provided that:The appointment of a member of any such committee shall be for such term as may be determined by the Secretary of State at the time of his appointment and shall be subject to such conditions as may be so determined.What the Home Secretary, through me, suggests is that we should draw up model conditions, and that one of those conditions should provide for the position I have just stated to the Committee. I have no doubt as to the conditions attaching under that Sub-section. As soon as a person joins the licensing planning committee the conditions attach, and if he is outside them he is, ipso facto, disqualified, and must retire. I could not help being struck by what has been said on both sides as to the desire that not only should justice be done but that justice should manifestly be seen to de done. That imports a great responsibility on everyone, whatever his views, and I put the appeal from this Committee to those who have to deal with this matter that, whatever be their views, one way or the other, they will bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) has said, and approach their duty in that way.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
Do I understand that the Government are going to put down an Amendment on Report?
§ The Solicitor-General
No. Under Sub-section (3) the Home Secretary can prescribe the conditions of appointment. They will be prescribed in the sense that I have indicated.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
Will it not be possible to disqualify persons not on the ground of financial interest but of bias? Licensing justices have been known to act improperly.
§ Mr. McKinlay
I am quite willing that the matter should be dealt with as the hon. and learned Gentleman has indicated. People with whom we do not agree are not necessarily biased. One of the amazing things about this is that everyone 2023 who does not toe the line in the liquor trade is biased. I was amazed to hear the Solicitor-General offer the comparison of a person holding one share. He is too big a man to get down to such a trivial illustration. I wonder if we could segregate the people in Parliament who have a financial interest. Apparently a person is disqualified from being a licensing justice if he has an association with the trade, but Members with financial interests in all sorts of trades can roll up here in their hundreds and vote in any way they care to.
I hope my hon. and learned Friend will look into the question of London, because it is different from an ordinary town.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
I am not quite satisfied with the constitutional position. A responsible Minister rejects an Amendment but does not propose himself to set down an Amendment saying what the Regulations are to be. It is completely nebulous rather than being in black and white. It is most unsatisfactory and I think it is a wrong way to treat the Committee.
§ The Solicitor-General
I should really like to take my hon. Friend up on that. The Amendment is to add to a rule-making Clause, and there is a point about the subject matter with regard to which the Secretary of State can make Regulations. The intention of the Amendment is to give my right hon. Friend directions as to his power of regulation and subsidiary legislation. The Committee have already authorised my right hon. Friend to make certain conditions. I cannot see why it is illogical or treating the Committee with disrespect for the Government to say, "You have already given us powers to deal with the matter, and we intend to deal with it in a certain way, therefore we do not need the extra Regulation-making power with which the Amendment seeks to provide us." There are certain things that one might be ready to do, but to treat the Committee with disrespect is not one of my usual failings.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
I only meant that I thought it was rather a strange way of settling the question. I acquit my hon. and learned Friend of any desire to treat the Committee with any disrespect.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
The Solicitor-General says that those who have a substantial interest will not be allowed to serve on the committees. Will it be possible for the Home Secretary to say that those who are members of definite teetotal bodies should be excluded? If so, I will withdraw my opposition, but, failing that, I think we ought to have a Division.
§ The Solicitor-General
I hoped that the whole Committee was with me in dealing with the point in the last words of my speech. I did not mean to omit to deal with the point, because I put it in the form of an appeal to everyone who is concerned with this, on whichever side of the controversy, to approach it in an attitude of impartiality of mind.
It is difficult at this stage, in a Bill which is temporary and dealing with a special problem, to deal with the broad question of licensing administration. What the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend would mean is that financial interest and mental approach would be put on the same level. That may be very desirable or not. It is a matter for argument. It is a matter which should be considered in a Licensing Bill dealing with the whole problem and not in a temporary Bill which deals with the distribution of licences in war-damaged areas. I ask my hon. and gallant Friend not to consider that I am running away from his point. I do not want to do that. I ask whether the better method of dealing with the special problem might not be to leave the licensing justices in statu quo and to find for members of the local authority, a reasonable middle course which will bring in as many people of both points of view as we can. I am not pretending that this is one of the gigantic Measures of reconstruction, but the Bill will contribute most usefully to the lives and amenities of the people. I therefore ask my hon. Friend on that basis, with full reservation of his rights and privileges, not to press the Amendment when the Committee are in general agreement on the Bill.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sure that the Committee will agree that the Solicitor-General has dealt with this matter in a reasonable and practical way. I therefore have very great pleasure in accepting the compromise which he has put forward, and 2025 asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I beg to move, in page 9, line 14, after "committees," insert:and the furnishing by those committees to the authorities by whom the expenses of the committees fall to be defrayed of statements of the expenses estimated by the committees to be likely to be incurred by them in connection with their business.The Amendment embodies a piece of machinery which should, if accepted, end this interesting afternoon in a generous spirit of conciliation. It relates to the estimate to be furnished for the expenses of licensing planning committees. It is not expected that the expenses will be very great, but it is clear that the expenses have to be met locally. The local authorities must include them in their annual budget.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday, and to be printed [Bill 21].