HC Deb 24 October 1952 vol 505 cc1492-6

1.45 p.m.

Mrs. Corbet

I beg to move, in page 4, line 25, at the end, to insert: (5) The Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State acting jointly shall make rules regulating the appointment of assessors to advise courts of quarter sessions on questions of public safety and welfare arising in connection with appeals under this section. In the past, local authorities have been the final court of appeal, so to speak, in matters of public safety and welfare in connection with this subject. Naturally, they are now apprehensive about what is to happen as a result of the Bill and particularly as to how the judgments of the Appeal Court will affect their own work. They hope that the decisions of the courts of quarter sessions specified in the Bill, will be reasonable and practicable, but these courts deal mainly with criminal matters. The decisions that are arrived at by them might not be applicable in all respect to the work of the local authorities, for instance, in matters of child welfare, public safety and standards of building construction. Those are all technical matters, on which one would not expect courts of quarter sessions to have very special knowledge.

My local authority think that it is better to have a public administrative tribunal which would cover all this knowledge and be able to give competent, reasonable and satisfactory decisions in these matters. It was not possible to put down an Amendment for the appointment of such a tribunal, as it would have involved a charge on public funds, but perhaps the Government would agree to withdraw their Clause and move a new Clause on the Report stage, providing for a tribunal somewhat on the lines of the Lands Tribunal.

We ask that the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State should make rules for regulating the machinery for the appointment of assessors, and it is hoped that under those rules the courts will be bound to appoint assessors upon the written request of a local authority. If we can get such a new Clause providing for specially qualified assessors we shall feel satisfied to some extent. The other point which I wish to make has escaped me for the moment, but I think I have generally covered the point of view of my local authority.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

I do not normally find myself supporting the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), but I ought to testify that the object which she is seeking to achieve is one which would be supported by all members of the London County Council, although there may well be differences of opinion as to the right methods. Up to now, as the hon. Lady says, there has been no general right of appeal from the decision of the licensing authorities. The London County Council has the largest sphere of work in this matter, and probably has had to face the most difficult cases and has the largest experience.

I am not opposing the idea of there being an appeal from the decisions of the licensing authority, though, in the past, there have not been many cases likely to have gone to appeal. I am, however, anxious to ensure that when Clause 6 is enacted there will result a uniform and generally acceptable and workable code of standards. The fear on the part of the members of the London County Council is that if these occasional appeals go to quarter sessions, with no expert guidance available, one may have, if not erratic decisions, sometimes conflicting decisions and sometimes decisions not based on that amount of technical knowledge which is at the disposal of a great licensing authority such as London.

I do not know what is in the mind of my right hon. and learned Friend. I do not know whether he apprehends this danger to be serious, but I hope he will recognise that the purpose behind this Amendment is one which we should all pursue in all good faith, and that it is most desirable, not only for the convenience of the licensing authorities but for the general public interest, that people shall know where they are and that there shall be a generally accepted and understood code of standards to which these final decisions will regularly conform.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

When I saw this Amendment on the Order Paper and realised what it meant, some of my hon. Friends and myself did not look upon it with favour. It occurred to me that it would not be a pleasant thing to oppose my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), who moved her Amendment with such felicity, particularly as we opposed her and her friends earlier in our proceedings today. However, when the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) spoke, I felt quite sure where my duty lay. If he is in favour of something we look at it with even greater care than hitherto.

I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he should not accept this Amendment for the very reasons given by the hon. Member for Hampstead. A suggestion of this kind, which would inevitably mean the appointment of many assessors, would not lead to uniformity but obviously to the reverse because, if I understood the argument of my hon. Friend aright, it was that these assessors would be people who knew the local circumstances.

Mrs. Corbet

I was referring to technical matters such as building construction, which, I imagine, would be uniform all over the country.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I agree that they should be. Perhaps the gloss which my hon. Friend puts on the matter is the right one.

However, as I see it there has been no real complaint of the way these things are handled, whereas the appointment of accessors would be cumbersome and we should not get uniformity but the reverse, because from area to area different standards would apply. We heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman earlier that he will examine this, particularly with reference to children. Therefore, I suggest to my hon. Friend that the right course would be to leave it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the cinema and its relation to children in conjunction with the other things he has in mind.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I am sorry not to be able to agree with my hon. Friend. I feel quite differently about the matter. This appeals procedure is new. We do not know how many people will avail themselves of it and how many will not, but I believe that they may not be numerous. If that is the case then it is of the greatest importance that the decisions on appeal in different parts of the country should be as uniform as we can make them, and only if we have the advice of assessors on technical points for those who are engaged in quarter sessions shall we get uniform decisions.

Nevertheless, I agree that we are talking hypothetically. If the Home Secretary is willing to give careful consideration to the points we have raised, I, for one, and I think my fellow members of the London County Council also will be quite ready to leave it to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to bring forward any Amendment he may think desirable on the Report stage.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am sorry that I could not honestly take the course in this case which the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to put to me. It would, be quite impossible in a weekend to recast the Bill on the question of appeal to quarter sessions to an appeal to a special tribunal. I shall give careful attention to how this will work out. If the fears which have been expressed as to the way it will work out are in any way justified, or the councils make representations, those representations will be carefully considered and we shall bear in mind the feeling that there ought to be a new form of appellant machinery.

It would be wrong for me to go further than that. I do not want to go into the arguments because I know that the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) have considered all these points. The principle of an appeal in an administrative matter to one or other of the Queen's courts—either to petty sessions or to quarter sessions—is not a new one. It covers a great variety of Acts such as the Public Health Act, the Factories Acts, Civil Defence Acts, and so on. I am sure that apart from the constitution of the bench, the method of hearing experts and of hearing them cross-examined, is one which has worked well in regard to that type of appeal. I shall look at this new subject matter with great interest and also with the care that I have promised. If any difficulty arises, I shall be only too happy to look at it.

2.0 p.m.

Mrs. Corbet

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 7 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.