HC Deb 22 February 1951 vol 484 cc1499-506
Mr. Powell

I beg to move, in page 12. line 41, to leave out "either."

This Amendment requires to be considered in conjunction with the following Amendment in the names of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), in page 12, line 42, to leave out "or off." The object of the Amendment is to ensure that the Bill shall apply to premises which are occupied by the holder of an off-licence. I am aware that where the trade under the off-licence is only a minor portion of the total trade carried on by the tenant, he is outside the mischief of this definition, and is covered by the Bill. That, as I understand it, follows from the combination of the definition of "shop" as: premises occupied wholly … or mainly for the purposes of a retail trade. … and the definition of "retail trade," which I am seeking, by this Amendment, to vary.

The Amendment addresses itself to the case where the tenant carries on the greater part or the whole of his trade under an off-licence. At present premises to which an off-licence attaches are covered by the Rent Restriction Acts, and a good many such premises are occupied as statutory tenancies. Further, the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, apply to premises to which an off-licence attaches; and although there have not been many cases in which that Act has been invoked, I understand that there has been a certain number, and that those provisions have been of benefit directly or morally to tenants who are holders of off-licences.

In those circumstances I wish to ask the Government to consider whether the same should not now apply, and whether the tenants carrying on business under an off-licence should not be protected under the terms of the Bill. Clearly if the justices decide to terminate an off-licence, the tenant will not normally desire to remain in occupation: but so long as he retains a justices' off-licence, I see no reason why he should be deprived of the advantages of this Bill any more than a person carrying on any other kind of trade.

One realises the special position of the holder of premises where there is an onlicence—premises which are constructed and which exist purely for the purposes of the liquor trade on the premises. I suggest, and my contention is borne out both by the Rent Restriction Acts, which include off-licences and exclude on-licences and by the 1927 Act, which does the same, that we should in this Bill give protection to the tenant who carries on most or all of his trade in pursuance of an off-licence.

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged to the hon. Member for calling attention to this point. It had not been overlooked, but the reason why holders of on- and off-licences have been excluded from the description of shops is because it is felt that as the licensing justices have to decide the question of licences the jurisdiction of the justices would indirectly be encroached upon if holders of such licences were brought within the purview of this Bill, and thereby made eligible for extensions of their tenancies. But for the reasons which the hon. Gentleman has given, we feel on reflection that there is a distinction between the holder of an on-licence and the holder of an off-licence. For those reasons, which have commended themselves to us since he put down his Amendment, we have pleasure in saying that we are prepared to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 12, line 42, leave out "or off."—[Mr.Powell.]

In page 13, line 1, at beginning, insert "the."—[The Solicitor-General.]

5.30 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I should like to make a further last-minute appeal before this matter proceeds to its final stage that the term "shop" should be reconsidered. As it stands at present, the term leaves rather an anomalous position with regard to certain professions. Let me give an illustration by mentioning members of one profession. It is not recognised on the same plane as other professions perhaps, but it might very well be so recognised. I refer to ophthalmic opticians.

One might have an ophthalmic optician who has shop premises. If he exhibits in the window of his shop certain of his wares and if, as it were, he carries on a business in that shop, he is protected. But if he desires to place an ethical standard of a higher nature on his work and carries on in shop premises precisely the same business, without exhibiting his wares at all, he is not protected. That, if I may say so, obviously creates a position which is absurd with regard to that particular trade or profession, whichever one might care to call it.

The question affects many other professions. One can visualise a solicitor who has a shop premises and is living on the premises, as is sometimes the case in the smaller towns and even possibly in London. Another solicitor may have an office in a shop premises although, in fact, he is not, of course, carrying on what might be called a recognised retail business in those premises. The same thing applies to a surgery for a doctor or a dental surgeon. I think that it would be quite within the scope of this Bill that the definition "shop" should be extended to include those cases. I believe that the people who carry on these professions have as much right to protection as the ordinary shopkeeper, although, of course, I quite agree that the ordinary shopkeeper is fully entitled to the protection given to him here.

What, perhaps, is even more important is that in the dental or medical profession if a man is turned out of a surgery in a particular district it may very well be that there are no other available premises at all. That would work very considerable hardship upon the people who have to seek the services of that professional man. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will find it possible to extend the definition of this term to include those professions to which I have referred and that he will let us know, on the Report stage, that that is practicable under the Bill.

Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman might care to say a little on the question of restaurants. In the definition of "retail trade or business" at the bottom of page 12 of the Bill it is apparently intended to exclude from the benefit of the Bill businesses which are for the sale of meals or refreshments and which are licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises.

Why have the Government decided that while a restaurant where no intoxicants are sold is to have the benefit of this Bill, a restaurant where the proprietor has been sufficiently considerate of the tastes of his customers to obtain and pay for a licence should not have the benefit of the Bill, on that ground and on that ground alone? I offer this thought to guide the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that that is rather to put a premium on the somewhat doubtful procedure followed by some people of starting a sort of club so that patrons of the restaurant may, by the fiction of being members of a club on the premises, obtain intoxicants with their meals.

That is done quite commonly and I wonder whether or not a place registered as a club but not licensed by the licensing justices would be included as premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor. It seems to me that we are penalising the one person who is going the right way about the business of supplying liquor to his customers, namely by paying the proper dues to the Revenue and persuading the justices that he should have a licence. This apparent exclusion causes a little wonderment in some quarters and perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would look into it.

Mr. Hay

I should like to ask another question on the definition of "shop." I am concerned with two more anomalies. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), has mentioned some anomalies, and although I do not agree entirely with all he has said I agree that there are anomalies. I am interested in the position of organisations like building societies and insurance companies who have offices which contain shop premises attached to them where people make payments and transact various kinds of business. Would they come within the definition of "shop" as in the Shops Act, 1950? The right hon. and learned Gentleman must have seen these types of premises as he goes about his daily work. It often happens that they do a great deal of their over-the-counter trade in what is, to all intents and purposes, a shop. I do not expect a definite answer now but perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will meet that point.

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) introduced his observations by saying that he was again making a last-minute appeal. It would hardly be a service to the deliberations of the Committee if I embarked again upon a long-scale disquisition upon the general question as to whether we should go beyond the ordinary understanding of "shop" or maintain the attitude we have adopted, that is to say, keeping to the limited scope which is within Part II and keeping within the ambit of what can properly be described as a shop.

I do not want to repeat the general reasons but, as the Committee knows, we said earlier, both during Second Reading and also when we were discussing Part II, that we thought it right for the purposes of this temporary Measure to keep ourselves within the area of shops proper, in order not to embark upon the very large-scale change which would probably result if we included business premises, industrial premises and all the rest. We thought that the repercussions which might result from such a change could be very far-reaching and might have a disturbing effect.

It was for that general reason, which I repeat only in general terms, that we thought we should bring simply shops within the scope of Part II, and I do not think I can add to what we have said previously about our reasons for adopting that view. Perhaps it was right; perhaps it was wrong. I have been asked in a debate on Clause 17 to re-open the basic principle upon which the Bill is framed. I am sorry to say that I cannot undertake to do that, having proceeded hitherto on the general basis which we have adopted and which we still think is right, for reasons which we have already given on many occasions.

I turn next to the question of restaurants with an on-licence. It is very difficult to draw the line here, and we feel that where there is a restaurant with an on-licence—the granting of which has to be determined in the way in which the granting of all other on-licences is determined—it is not practicable to distinguish such a restaurant from a public house which also sells meals. In a sense, of course, they are quite different. It depends on the restaurant.

If one seeks to draw a line between the two, based on sound reasons which do not lead to absurd results in particular instances, one embarks upon a very difficult task; it is very difficult indeed to define a restaurant with an on-licence in terms which will not include a public house, in the ordinary sense, where meals are served.

Perhaps it was right, perhaps it was wrong to exclude public houses, but upon the assumption that we were right in excluding them—though not off-licences since we have accepted an Amendment—we thought it was extremely difficult to try to include the restaurant which has an on-licence. It would mean drafting which would probably produce unsatisfactory results and lead to a feeling of injustice in a number of cases.

I shall deal now with the question of building societies where a shop is part of the premises. I would not like to be kept to this answer because it may be wrong, but I would have said that where shop premises, although part of the general building in which the building society or whatever it may be is housed, can nevertheless be said to be a separate room, a separate portion of the premises; and where the shop undertaking is an undertaking separate from the rest of the operations of the building society; I should have thought that these—and I repeat that I would not like to bind myself to the answer without considering the matter more fully—would be shop premises within the meaning of the Clause. That would be my answer to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay).

Mr. Hay

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would consider the matter before Report stage?

The Solicitor-General

Certainly. I think I have now dealt with all the points raised. I hope the Committee will agree that as the Clause is now phrased it does what it is expected to do and gives reasonably clear definitions which fit in with the other parts of the Bill.

Mr. Janner

What would be my right hon. and learned Friend's view, for example, with regard to a hairdresser's establishment—an establishment which is not carried on wholly or mainly for the purposes of a retail trade or business"? Is it to be protected or not? I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the matter because it is very important that a large number of anomalous cases should be covered.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not try to answer every question put to him by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) on matters of this sort. I have never been able to make out whether the hon. Member wants this Bill to be passed or not. Quite obviously, whether premises come within a definition in this Clause is in every case a question of fact, and if we were to spend the whole time dealing with cases such as that which the hon. Member put to his right hon. and learned Friend, we should take a very long time and not complete the Committee stage tonight.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.