HC Deb 14 October 1952 vol 505 cc33-46

(1) Proposals under section three of this Act may include provision whereby during such period (hereinafter referred to as "the interim period") as may be specified in the proposals, the next following subsection shall apply to any place specified in the proposals for the situation of licensed premises.

(2) While by virtue of proposals under section three of this Act which have been confirmed this subsection applies to any place, premises situated at that place shall not be treated for the purposes of section thirty-seven of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910 (which relates to the qualification of premises for receiving justices' licences) as not being structurally adapted to the class of licence which is required by reason only of the materials of which the premises are constructed or to be constructed or of the fact that the premises were constructed or have been used for other purposes; but—

  1. (a) nothing in this subsection shall be construed as requiring justices to grant an application for the grant of a licence for, or for a removal to, premises situated at the said place if in the opinion of the justices the premises are not proper to be used for the purpose,
  2. (b) where the justices grant such an application by virtue of this subsection they shall certify that they have so granted the application and the licence shall on the expiration of the interim period become void unless previously removed, otherwise than by virtue of this subsection, to other premises at the same place or removed to premises at a different place.

(3) Where proposals under section three of this Act include such provision as is authorised by subsection (1) of this section, proposals of the committee for other places at which licensed premises should be established may include provision whereby they shall not have effect until the expiration of the interim period or such earlier date as the committee may from time to time determine.—[Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.35 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

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

This Clause deals with temporary licensed premises Right hon. and hon. Members who were on the Committee will remember that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) proposed a new Clause during the Committee stage to deal with this problem. The Clause which he put forward was based to some extent on Section 9 of the Licensing Planning Act of 1945. The main point of his Clause was that, where a committee under the Bill made proposals for temporary licensed premises, the requirements of Sections 37 and 38 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act of 1910—about the number of rooms and the annual value of the licensed premises and the requirement that the must be structurally adapted to the class of licence for which they were required—would not apply to temporary premises constructed or adapted in pursuance of the committee's proposal.

The argument for the new Clause was that, as experience since the war in war-damaged areas and areas of new building has shown, it is often impossible, with existing restrictions on building, to get a building licensed for permanent licensed premises, but satisfactory temporary premises can often be provided. I think I should be putting forward the general view of the Committee in saying that they were not impressed by the necessity to be saved from the provisions of the Sections with regard to rateable value or number of rooms. The Committee thought that any premises ought to comply with that.

There was another aspect of the matter, which was developed by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), and which I think impressed the Committee and created a general interest in the Clause. The right hon. Gentleman said—and it appears at pages 468 and 469 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee's proceedings—that he had had a problem of this sort within his personal knowledge. I should like to quote some of his words which raised the point as it appeared to him. He said: In making their application to the magistrates the brewers said, in effect, 'We have managed to buy some ships' timbers in considerable quantity and we propose, if the local planning authority and your worships will agree, to erect a temporary building.' They produced an elevation, which I have no doubt owed a little to the artistic skill of someone in an architect's office. It showed a presentable building constructed of temporary materials of the kind I have mentioned. They said that they hoped to get permission from the local planning authority to use materials which would justify it being acknowledged only as a temporary expedient. They hoped that that would comply with the requirements of the justices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 31st July, 1952; c. 469.] This is a point on which there was no party division in the Committee, and I think I am interpreting the feeling of the Committee as a whole when I say that the point made by the right hon. Gentleman aroused interest and was felt to be one which was worthy of solution. Some Members of the Committee opposed the proposed Clause on the ground that it would open the door to the construction or use of unsuitable premises, and that even if it were necessary to use temporary materials or to adapt premises for temporary use as a licensed house, it should never be necessary to fall below the standards for the number of rooms and rateable values.

I was asked from all sides of the Committee to consider whether I could not find certain safeguards—as, I think, the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) said, as reported in column 478, when, by a wily interjection in the middle of my remarks, he secured the opportunity to make a speech. He said: What we are chiefly concerned about is that in this new Clause we have not got sufficient safeguards."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 31st July, 1952; c. 478.] That is what I have tried to deal with in the Clause now before the House.

As I said, the only point which I think all the Committee thought required consideration was that premises made of temporary materials or adapted from some other use might not be regarded by the licensing bench, or by some licensing benches, as being "structurally adapted to the class of licence which is required" on a strict interpretation of those words; and they wanted some provision made to meet that problem. That is what I promised to do.

This Clause is, accordingly, limited to dealing with the points I have just mentioned. It is similar to the Clause of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove, except that in the first part of subsection (2), instead of providing for the suspension of the requirements of Section 37 of the Act of 1910, the Clause provides that such premises shall not be treated for the purposes of that Section as not being structurally adapted to the class of licence which is required by reason only of the materials used—that was the right hon. Gentleman's point— or of the fact that the premises were constructed … for other purposes and that was a point which was raised in an interesting way, if I may say so, by the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) in dealing with the question of an adapted mansion house.

That is what I have tried to deal with, and I hope that in its modified form the new Clause will meet the practical points mentioned in the debate in Committee without providing any ground for the fears which were expressed about opening the door to the use of unsuitable premises. I believe that the question of temporary licensed premises will be under the effective control of the committees to be set up under the Bill.

If hon. Members will look at the new Clause, perhaps I may briefly indicate its effect. Subsection (1) enables a committee to include in proposals under Clause 3 provision for temporary premises—and I ask the House to note this point—for a specified period. This would be open to objection and subject to confirmation in the same way as any other proposal. Subsection (2) provides that premises to which a provision for temporary premises applies shall not be treated for the purpose of Section 37 of the Act as not being structurally adapted by reason only of the materials used or by reason of the original purpose of the premises; and that is a point I have already mentioned.

I want the House to note that it goes on to provide that the licensing justices may nevertheless refuse a licence if in their opinion the premises are not proper to be used for the purpose. That is to say, the licensing justices have the final word as to whether the premises should be used for the purpose of a licensed house.

Paragraph (b) of the subsection provides for the justices to certify the fact when they grant an application under the subsection, and goes on to provide—and I ask the House again to note this point—that at the end of the specified period the licence for the temporary premises will become void unless previously removed to permanent premises on the same site or to temporary or permanent premises at another site.

Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

The period is left to the magistrates to fix without any limit in the Section to the period?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Yes. It is for the justices to decide.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

It could be for quite a long time if the magistrates so desired. There is no limit at all.

3.45 p.m.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I thought one could trust the experience and common sense of the magistrates. If there were strong feeling on that point. I should, of course, be prepared to consider it.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

The whole point is that these are premises of a temporary character relieved of the prerequisites usually required for that sort of premises. They are being departed from entirely, so that the absence of some restraint on the period is rather important.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I confess that I thought one could trust the licensing justices: and, of course, one previously has the committee, which introduces the Development Corporation. I thought they could be trusted to deal with that point There is no controversy here, and I want the hon. and learned Gentleman to understand that what I have tried to do—whether I have succeeded or not—is to interpret the feeling which existed in dealing with the problem. If it were felt that the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman was a serious point, I should be very glad to consider it. I have fully seized the point and I treat it with respect.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I was merely sounding a note of caution. As this was admitted to be a temporary building, some limit might have to be considered and placed upon it.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have noted the point and I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for bringing it to the attention of the House so thoroughly.

Of course, it follows from what I was saying that if the licence is removed to permanent premises, those premises would be subject in full to the requirements of Section 37 or 38 of the Act of 1910.

The third subsection of the Clause has effect so that where a committee proposes permanent premises on another site in substitution for temporary premises, they may provide that the proposal is not to take effect until the provision for the temporary premises expires. That is simply a question of tidying up.

I hope those who were Members of the Committee will believe that I have tried to meet the points put up during the debate. I support the Clause which I have brought before the House. I think it will deal usefully with the subject and might be for the benefit of the new towns in certain circumstances. As I said in Committee, I have been very anxious to learn the general view and to interpret it, and I hope the House will understand that it is in furtherance of the attitude which I took in Committee that I am following the same line today. I have stated my view, but I propose to leave those hon. Members on my side of the House entirely free. Indeed, I hope this will be a free vote of the House, because it is a matter which I believe to be completely beyond any controversy and one in which we should like to have the vote recorded in that way.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

We are debating today under duress, and we cannot express ourselves as freely or with as much detail as we should like to do in all the circumstances. Therefore, I am quite sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand that, if my remarks are few, that is in the general interest of the debate. I should like to thank him for the way in which he has met the points that I raised in a previous debate and for not acceding to the request of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) that there should be a complete removal of the restrictions that are placed on these premises by the existing law of the land.

I share to some extent the apprehension that was expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) with regard to the fact that there is no time limit on this proposal. A predecessor of the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the Home Office, Sir William Harcourt, once had his attention drawn to the fact that it is the sheriff who fixes the date of execution; and a sheriff who had a pal who had become liable to capital punishment fixed the date 100 years hence. But Sir William Harcourt's remark was that he had no doubt civilisation would deal with that.

I cannot help thinking that there could be very unreasonable use of this power, and that temporary buildings may call for some action. I am not certain that it would not be a good thing to put in some limit—say, 10 years—as the maximum that could be granted. I should hope that in most cases it would be less, because anyone who has been associated with local government knows the way in which temporary buildings do exist for a very long time. I suggest that possibly in another place, if the House agrees to this new Clause, it may be as well to consider putting in some limit.

I am quite sure that I speak for all those who were Members of the Committee—of both sides of the Committee—when I say that we do not desire this provision to be used except where no other provision is possible. The last thing we want to see, I am quite certain, is the growing up in new towns of any form of construction, particularly of licensed premises, that may lead to the place steadily degenerating as time goes on. On the other hand, we have to face the fact that these new towns may encounter considerable difficulties in the way of meeting this sort of provision.

I welcome particularly the provision that a building that is otherwise suitable ought not to be ruled out merely because it was constructed for some other purpose, and that the possibility of adapting some of the large houses that may very well become derelict so far as letting capacity is concerned, owing to the construction of the new towns, may be considered for some of these premises.

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has dealt quite adequately with the points I raised in Committee. I did not raise this question. My hon. and learned Friend did so, with his great capacity for realising legal niceties that occasionally confront laymen like myself after we think a thing a reasonable proposition; but I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if it would not be a wise safeguard to put some limit on the period for which the licensing justices may use this.

Of course, it will require not only the approval of the licensing justices. Temporary buildings or buildings constructed of temporary materials will require also the consent of the planning authority and. I think, also of the local sanitary authority. I think local byelaws will probably come in, generally speaking. I should hope that, although we have these additional safeguards, we might consider putting into this Measure some reasonable limitations on the power of the licensing justices.

I am bound to say that I do not think this matter is one on which we need spend much time today, as there are other more important matters we have to get through in the time most arbitrarily and tyrannically fixed, but I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the way in which he has met us, and particularly for not falling for the blandishments of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

I should like to join in thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for producing a new Clause which, I think, is a tribute to the joint work of Members on both sides of the Committee. I accept what has been said now, that my original new Clause was too widely drawn. It was as a result of the observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that I realised, after listening to the arguments, that my original new Clause was wider than was desirable, and I was much impressed by the remark of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the real point here was the question of the premises being structurally adapted, and that there was not enough force certainly in the arguments as to number of rooms and rateable value as to justify including them in a new Clause.

It is only as a result of the deliberation of all of us on both sides of the Committee that we have arrived at what I believe now to be a Clause which meets the requirements of the situation. It is undoubted that there will be difficulties in the immediate future in the new towns in providing the licensed premises that are necessary, and, of course, the first thing we all want to ensure is that licensed premises are not constructed in a way which will in any way prejudice the ordinary housing programme. It is certainly desirable that traditional materials for houses should first be made available for houses and that there should be freedom to allow licensed premises to be constructed out of materials of a non-traditional nature. I think that really that is as far as this new Clause goes.

The safeguards which are required by the Licensing Act, 1910, as to the size and rateable value of the premises will, of course, remain part of the general law, and therefore the situation is, I think, met by the new Clause which my right hon. and learned Friend has moved. I rather agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) said about some form of limitation in the interim period. Indeed, my original new Clause, curiously enough, did cover that point to some extent. It was that there should be an interim period which should be one as might be specified in the proposals—

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

To what column is the hon. and learned Gentleman referring?

Mr. Marlowe

Column 461. I was paraphrasing the terms of my new Clause, but this is the way it was put: Proposals under section three of this Act may include provision whereby during such period (hereinafter referred to as 'the interim period') as may be specified in the proposals, the next following subsection shall apply …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C. 31st July, 1952; c. 461.] The effect of this was to enable suggestions to be made as to what was an appropriate length for the interim period. In that respect at least I think I can claim that my original Clause had one aspect which was an improvement on this proposed new Clause.

4.0 p.m.

My original draft sought to impose some limitation of time, because there should be some assurance that this will not go on indefinitely. Whether it is desirable to do it in the form suggested by the right hon. Member for South Shields, with a fixed period of 10 years, is questionable. Perhaps another method could be to have re-certification annually or tri-annually, or something of that kind We all agree that an interim period is desirable, and I am sure there should be no difficulty in finding words to meet that.

I should like to repeat my thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend for meeting the Committee on this matter. I finish as I began, by saying that this shows the value of a Committee of this kind, when the two sides, representing different points of view, are able to get together and eventually produce something which meets the occasion.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I am sure the Home Secretary desires to take a judicial view of this matter. I am not complaining for a moment that this new Clause was not intended in all respects to cover the points raised in Committee, and I am certain the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought it would do so. I think I am right in saying that probably the reason no limit is inserted is because that point was never raised. It is true as the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) said, that he adumbrated a sort of interim period, but there was no suggestion of any particular period and I rather think that that is probably why no period appears now.

Let me say at once that I am not questioning the capacity or the judgment of the magistrates to deal with the matter, and I am also taking into consideration the various safeguards that there may be, such as the consideration of the premises by the planning committee and the sanitary authority. I do not, however, think that is relevant to the question of a limit of time being imposed. Why I said I was sure the Home Secretary would apply a judicial view to the matter was because, as I think he will agree, and as is shown by the marginal note, this is a temporary matter; the whole purpose of it is temporary.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also agree, I think, that we are hero departing from a strict standard; this case will in fact create an anomaly. Ordinarily the standard as to licensed premises has to conform with certain established practices and requirements, and but for the fact that this is a new towns matter this provision would never have been tolerated for one instance. It is, therefore, necessary to have such safeguards as are sensible and practicable.

When seeking to impose a limit on the licence, it might be difficult to say, "This temporary licence shall exist for 12 months, and that is the end of it, "because the situation at the end of the 12 months may not be such as to make it convenient that the licence should expire. While I see that, it does not prevent a limit from being made, because provision can be made for the matter to be looked at again, and, where it is proved desirable, for a further period to be granted. The advantage is that in a temporary matter, such as there is here, the position can be reviewed after a certain time, and I should have thought that the interim period ought not to be too long. At the moment we cannot say what the temporary period should be without examining the matter more closely and fully, but I should have thought that the period ought not to be too long.

I think the Home Secretary might look at this again. I am not carping about it. This is not a party matter. My remarks are purely precautionary. I think it might be examined again to see that those who have the premises and those who have the power to grant the licences have some sense of the urgency in regard to the matter, because the sooner these premises conform to the strict standards essential to licensed premises, the better.

With a review of this kind we should create a situation in which there would be some sense of urgency, and thus get as soon as possible the sort of building which in normal circumstances we would have in any case. There ought to be some safeguard, but without a limitation there is none. If a limitation is stated there is a safeguard, still leaving discretion in the hands of the magistrates to say from time to time whether the temporary premises should continue or whether they ought to stop. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at that very carefully.

Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

I do not think that the Home Secretary has taken full account of the many objections raised in Committee on more than one point. I, personally, would not object to the provision in the new Clause for the adaptation of existing premises. I have seen such adaptations of licensed premises which have taken place in certain areas since the war, when building difficulties were prevalent, and for the most part those adaptations were to structurally sound premises which could be made to conform to decent building practice. Those were buildings which were old, but very well built and very strong.

When building premises of temporary materials for use as licensed premises we are dealing with something entirely different. Let us examine what has been done in many areas in the erection of buildings made of materials which might be called temporary, where there is a patchwork arrangement. Such buildings soon deteriorate, and attempts are made to make them fit enough to continue in use. All kinds of buildings are being erected of temporary materials on many housing estates throughout the country, and almost every one is completely unsatisfactory.

The difficulty I find with the broad provisions of this new Clause for providing temporary premises is that, once temporary buildings have been erected and put to a certain use, it is very difficult to get rid of them. We all know of premises reputed to be temporary, but which have been in use for very many years. In Committee I quoted a case, which I know is known to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, of a school provided in 1898, made of temporary materials, patched up with all kinds of materials since that date and it is still in use. Many of us know of church halls, and similar places, centres of community life on housing estates, built of similarly unsatisfactory materials which, while I admit they serve a very useful purpose, it is very difficult to get rid of because they serve the community by having established a proper use for what might be called an improper building.

Therefore, I see the danger of this, freedom to use temporary materials and to erect temporary premises in the new towns for use as licensed premises. We are trying to lay down better standards, of building and of amenities of all kinds in the new planning. We are trying to attract to the new towns people who will find their homes and work there, together with the amenities which they need. This proposal will debase these standards. I hold very strongly to this view which has been forced upon me by my own experience of temporary buildings in the conditions which I have described. We know that the temporary homes erected since the end of the war, authorised by Parliament and upon which public money has been spent, were given a limited life when they were first erected. We now realise that the term of years laid down for those temporary homes will be exceeded by many years. These premises, whatever may be their condition, will continue to exist because of the need for homes.

More than one hon. Member expressed this view when we were considering this matter in Committee, and although I am still strongly opposed to the provision of temporary premises, I admit that there is a case for the adaptation of premises which are structurally sound and strong for this purpose. I have seen adaptations which served a very useful purpose and which did not have the objections which I have attempted to make known this afternoon.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take serious note of the strong objections that were raised in Committee in connection with the provision of temporary premises and will take account of the feelings that we all have, that we do not want to debase or to depress standards, especially in the new towns, where we have set out to obtain the highest possible standards in planning amenities and buildings.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I should like to say one thing, with the leave of the House. I shall, of course, be very glad to consider the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), which was also taken up by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Before the Bill goes to another place, I shall see whether something can be done to meet that point. I should like to consider it with the Licensing Department of the Home Office before I give any undertaking, but I promise that I will consider it and, if it is a practical matter, do my best to meet this point.

Mr. Ede

The suggestion was made that there might be an annual renewal. May I say that I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will do something about this matter? I hope that he will do it in the form of a fixed period of years. If these temporary premises are to be subject to annual renewal, it may frighten people from making the provision at all, and, after all, it is only to be used in circumstances where no other provision is practicable. I think that a short, fixed term of years would enable that to be done, whereas if this were a matter subject to annual renewal by annual certificate it might frighten people from making a start.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I will gladly consider that point.

Question put, and agreed to.

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