HC Deb 10 May 1949 vol 464 cc1738-42

(1) So much of subsection (2) of section one of the Act of 1921 as provides that the permitted hours on week days shall, in the case of licensed premises, be such as may be fixed by order of the licensing justices of the licensing district shall have effect subject to the following provisions of this section.

(2) As respects licensed premises in the metropolis, an order made by the licensing justices under the said subsection (2) shall not fix the permitted hours so as to end earlier than half past ten at night.

(3) Where by virtue of any such order as aforesaid, being an order in force immediately before the commencement of this Act, the permitted hours are so fixed, as respects any licensed premises in the metropolis, as to end earlier than half past ten at night, the following provisions shall have effect, that is is to say—

  1. (a) during the period beginning with the commencement of this Act and ending with the date of the general annual licensing meeting or transfer sessions next held after the said commencement whichever of the two first occurs) the order shall continue to have effect as if this section had not been enacted;
  2. (b) notwithstanding anything contained in the Act of 1921 or in any rules made thereunder, the order may be revoked or varied by the licensing justices at the transfer sessions next held after the commencement of this Act, if those sessions occur before the general annual licensing meeting next held as aforesaid;
  3. (c) if at the general annual licensing meeting or transfer sessions mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection the licensing justices do not revoke the order or vary it so as to comply with the provisions of the last foregoing subsection, the order shall, on the expiration of the period mentioned in the said paragraph (a), cease to have effect as respects the said licensed premises.—[Mr. Nally.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Nally

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

It is always the ambition of a provincial, coming as it were from civilisation, to try to do a good turn for the barbaric areas of our country. The object of this Clause is to remedy an outstanding anomaly in relation to London as regards the latest permitted hours. What in effect the new Clause does is to provide that on weekdays and holidays hours of closing of public houses shall not be earlier than 10.30 p.m. As I think will be generally recognised, the objection to these differing closing hours, and the problems that arise not only for the public, but for the licencees concerned, arise because of migration. If there are two neighbouring public houses, or two public houses close to one another, and they have two different closing times, it follows as a matter of course that at 10 o'clock in the one case there is a wholesale migration, and pressure on the staff, and most appalling and stupid difficulties are produced as a consequence.

7.15 p.m.

In the time of the beer shortage it was a matter of wonder to me that when public houses were closing at all sorts of odd times, and when people—including myself on one or two occasions—were rushing from one to the other, that some thirsty citizens were not trampled to death in the ensuing rush. This inconvenience is happening every night in certain areas in London. Under the existing law permitted hours on weekdays are governed by Section 1 of the Licensing Act, 1921, which contains special provisions dealing with London. For present purposes the "metropolis" is defined by Section 20 of the Act of 1921 as meaning the administrative County of London. It seems to us, and there have been considerable protests about this matter, that it ought to be possible to get a far more reasonable arrangement of hours than at present obtain.

Permitted hours in the area to which have referred must be nine in number beginning not earlier than 11 a.m. and ending not later than 11 p.m., with a break of at least two hours some time after 12 noon. But within those limits licensing justices have discretion. The present position is that in the metropolis, in Central London and the City of Westminster and the Boroughs of Holborn and Paddington the closing hour is 11 p.m. Elsewhere it is 10.30 p.m., except in the Kensington licensing district, where it is 10 p.m. In making this point it should be remembered that the Kensington district covers, in addition to Kensington itself, the Boroughs of Chelsea, Fulham and Hammersmith. Quite clearly it is Kensington which is out of step not only with Central London and the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth across the river, and the rest of the metropolis, but also with the adjoining licensing districts of Willesden and Mortlake.

Kensington is an isolated 10 p.m. district surrounded by 10.30 p.m. districts, except where it adjoins the 11 p.m. area. This situation, and I say this subject to correction, is objectionable to all the borough councils involved without exception. All the locally elected representatives object to this situation. It has from time to time drawn complaints from the police for whom considerable difficulties are created in the migration to certain areas of large numbers of people from one group of public houses to another group. From time to time the police have sought to impress their point of view upon the Kensington licensing authorities but entirely without success. The London Passenger Transport Board has joined in and state that on certain routes inconvenience is caused because at 10 o'clock there are so to speak, "boarding parties" trying to get on the buses to go to public houses where they can get a drink up to 10.30. If uniformity in this matter is to be secured it is clear that we must have a look at Kensington and find some method of getting the additional half hour on the closing time to apply in the Kensington district.

It is one of the great difficulties of the licensing law as it now stands, that the licensing justices, I understand, are not compelled to give a reason for a decision which they make. There is no compulsion on them, no matter how strong may be the case advanced in favour of the proposal. I have studied with some care the case for the licensed victuallers in whose favour I am not prejudiced—no one can accuse me of that. I have studied the case of the brewers and the police and the London Passenger Transport Board. So far as I can see, their case is an overwhelmingly sound one. The licensing justices—and we cannot complain about it—have never produced a single argument against the overwhelming weight of evidence placed before them for making the Kensington district conform with the surrounding boroughs so far as possible.

It would be wrong for me, and the House would find it boring, if I went through all the aspects of the new Clause. I only wish to make one or two final points. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) is not here so that one could disabuse his mind on this point. The new Clause does not increase the hours in Kensington during the day. They will remain as they are. All it involves is an adjustment at mid-day or in the early evening hours. The Clause has no effect on Sundays. I should make the point that it makes no difference to the registered clubs in the area which, under the Act of 1921, are entitled to fix their closing hour at 11 o'clock irrespective of the time which the justices fix for licensed premises.

I am sorry to have to say it about the Kensington justices, but in this matter they seem to have been unreasonable. They appear to have taken no account of the overwhelming weight of evidence from all sorts of bodies, including many whose only objective is the public weal, comfort and convenience. I hope that my right hon. Friend can find it possible to approve my proposal which rights a grave anomaly. It creates no anomalies at all but it gives to the citizens of Kensington, Hammersmith and Fulham the elementary justice which for far too long they have been denied.

Mr. Forman (Glasgow, Springburn)

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) has drawn attention to an anomaly in the existing hours in London which creates the very gravest difficulties not merely for those concerned with the enforcement of the licensing laws, but for those who have to deal with traffic. Just across the river from Hammersmith Bridge is the Borough of Barnes. The Town Clerk of Barnes last year sent a letter to my Department complaining of the nuisance caused by the coming over of people who hoped to get a last "quick one" on the Barnes side of the river after having stayed in the Hammersmith houses for as long as they were allowed to stay. The local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union, representing the bus conductors, also complained about the difficulty not merely of the overcrowding of the buses coming over the river from Hammersmith to Barnes, but of dealing with some of the people who, after the Barnes houses had closed, then wanted to get back on to the other side of the river. Every effort has been made to deal with this matter by other means, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting down the new Clause which I advise the House to accept.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.