HC Deb 04 April 1951 vol 486 cc328-32
Mr. Higgs

I beg to move, in page 15, line 19, at the end, to insert: but shall include the sale of intoxicating liquor when sold on premises consisting of a restaurant to which subsection (1) of section forty-five of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, applies, and also the sale of meals or refreshments in such premises. In Committee I asked the Solicitor-General the reasons why, in dealing with the definition of shops to which the Bill was to apply, there had been some difficulty in drawing the line. An ordinary restaurant where meals are served, but where no intoxicating drink of any kind is served with them, is brought within the definition of the Bill; but where any form of intoxicants is sold under a justices' licence, as the Bill stands the restaurant is outside the Bill. Now, in between those two extremes, of the restaurant which serves no intoxicating liquor and the restaurant which has a full licence exactly the same as a public house licence, there are a number of places which serve drinks within the law but not under a justices' licence. They are clubs, bottle parties, and things of that sort. The first thing that occurred to me was that it was very hard to exclude from the benefits of this Bill the restaurant which has the full justices' licence and pays all the dues, but to allow the benefits of the Bill to the bottle party and the club which is set up with no other purpose than that of circumventing the liquor laws.

I asked what was the reason for that and I was told that it was very difficult, if one was to allow any sort of licensed premises into the Bill, to draw a line, because it was clear, for a number of reasons which are not material to the present purpose, that it was not desired to bring within the Bill public houses in the ordinary sense of the term—taverns, ale houses, or whatever they are called. The difficulty was to arrive at a definition which would include a licensed restaurant, but would not include an ale house, tavern or public house. That being the purpose, and as I understood quite clearly from the Solicitor-General that he had great sympathy with my argument that it was unfair on the licensed restaurant, and that it was only the practical difficulty which led him to resist my Amendment then, I gave a little attention to the question whether we could arrive at a definition which would bring into the Bill a licensed restaurant but exclude from the Bill public houses and taverns.

The first thing that one finds is that in law one can quite easily separate what is a restaurant from what is a tavern, public house or ale house. That has already been done. There are Acts of Parliament and documents which have come before the courts from time to time which have used the word "restaurant," which have required a restaurant to be separated from a public house, and the courts have had no difficulty in doing it. The present Lord Chancellor had no difficulty at all in the case of Lorden v. Brook-Hitching in 1927. That is the first point, that if we allow the word "restaurant" and allow the businesses to which it applies to be brought within the Bill, there is no fear that we are bringing in public houses, because the courts have already had to face that decision and have made it.

Research went a little further and I came across the Finance Act, 1910, in which effect was given to a decision to reduce the rate of Excise Duty to licensed premises which are either restaurants or hotels which do not exist solely for the purpose of selling drink. Section 45 of that Act provides that licensed premises which are structurally adapted for use, and bona fide use, as a restaurant need pay only a reduced rate of duty. It occurred to us that this is a case where a distinction is already drawn for us in the statute, which we can use here to give effect to removing an injustice which is agreed upon on both sides of the House and to avoid the difficulty of definition.

9.45 p.m.

The attractiveness of taking the definition of that Act is that every licensee knows at once whether he is within or without the Act, because all that he has to do is to look at the receipt of the last Excise Duty which he paid, and if he paid the lower rate he is then within the Bill and if he paid the full rate he is outside it. It seems to me that, in those circumstances, where every licensee who may seek to get the benefit of the Bill has become entitled to such a file in his office, it is absurd not to give him the benefit of it and to exclude him because we say that we cannot provide a proper definition.

Mr. Powell

I beg to second the Amendment.

I think that it is within the general intention of this Bill that premises where a liquor trade is not the primary element of trade carried on in the premises should be regarded as a shop for the purposes of the Bill. The whole problem is to discover the means of drawing a distinction. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, that distinction has been drawn in a certain way by the Finance Act, 1910, which is at present applied under Statutory Instrument No. 208 of 1927, which prescribes in the case of a restaurant that the dividing line shall be that three-fifths of the business is concerned with intoxicating liquor.

I think that the provisions of the 1910 Act and of that Statutory Instrument show that it is possible to find—indeed, it has already been possible to find—a dividing line between the type of premises which should be regarded as a shop and those which should not. I would add that there is admittedly a certain inconvenience in applying to any Bill of this kind dealing with the law of property a definition in the Finance Act, and that if the Government were to express themselves as favourable to the principle of finding a dividing line, it might be more convenient if that dividing line were written into this Bill rather than attach it to the term of the Finance Act which can be altered according to the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer from year to year.

The Solicitor-General

We feel that there is a serious difficulty about accepting the definition proposed. The difficulty arises in this way. Because of various technical reasons, which I will not go into, a great many restaurants have not, in fact, availed themselves of the conditions of Section 45 (1) of the 1910 Act, which accordingly does not apply to them. The result is that if we adopted this definition it would operate entirely capriciously. Some restaurants which supply drink would be excluded and some included, according to whether or not they avail themselves of the provision of that Act.

On the other hand, we feel that it is somewhat illogical to include restaurants in this Bill and, at the same time, to exclude those restaurants the terms of whose licences apply only to the consumption of liquor with meals. One is the restaurant where one can get a glass of sherry in the foyer, such as the Hungaria Restaurant in London. On the other hand, there are restaurants where drink is served solely with meals and there is no independent provision of alcoholic liquor. I would ask the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment to be so good as to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment upon this understanding.

While I cannot give any undertaking that any change will be made so as to introduce restaurants of the type I have described, we will, nevertheless, carefully consider between now and the later stages, in another place, whether we can, con- sistently with the purposes of the Bill, find words which will bring in those restaurants which stand on the same footing as those within the scope of the Bill. I trust that hon. Members will realise the difficulty of selecting restaurants which stand on the same footing as those at present included and will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Higgs

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.