HC Deb 24 July 1953 vol 518 cc843-6

Order for Second Reading read.

3.46 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

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

The Joint Committee of both Houses have reported that no representation was received in respect of the memorandum setting forth the corrections and minor improvements of the law proposed in the Bill, and the Bill itself, although long in form, will, I am sure, result in the task of lawyers being considerably facilitated when they want to look up the law.

Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)

We welcome the Bill, and I am sure that the consolidation will give my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) opportunity at a later stage for raising points with which the Solicitor-General will have the pleasure of dealing.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

While agreeing with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) has said from the Front Bench, I think the House should pause one moment to consider whether this is really the right time to consolidate the licensing laws, or whether it would be more prudent to leave the Measure until we have made one or two further amendments to this very old and long body of law.

I am glad to see the Lord Privy Seal here. I would not for a moment suggest that we should prolong the debate so as to avoid obtaining a Second Reading for this important Measure today, but I hope that on Third Reading he will provide an opportunity for the House to discuss the interesting question of whether this is really the time to consolidate the licensing law. If I may, I will indicate the sort of objection which I and my hon. Friends have to the licensing laws as they exist and consider whether or not we should, so to speak, give them this new degree of permanence by consolidating them.

This Bill does make a number of minor changes, one of the most interesting of which is that it makes it much more easy for a public house to be carried on after the licensee has gone bankrupt. Why it was thought necessary at this stage to make this small but, I cannot help thinking, significant, change in the law, I do not know. But the House is always very easy on these consolidation Measures and perfectly prepared to let a little thing like that go through on the ground that it is really consolidation and probably a very necessary reform.

The sort of thing I have much more in mind is the total inadequacy of the licensing laws in very many cases. This Bill, for example, puts into our permanent legislation the one great Measure which hon. Members opposite enacted in their first year of office, the licensing in new towns Measure. That was the only major Measure this Government were able to carry through in their first year. Whether or not the time has come and whether, if one may use a metaphor normally used in relation to cheese, the matter is sufficiently ripe to be included in a consolidation Measure, is a question about which the House should take a little time to think.

What I am concerned about is the total inadequacy of the licensing laws to deal with what we were discussing earlier today—merchandise marks. We are considering the——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think that is going beyond the question of consolidation.

Mr. Bing

With great respect, this is an argument I am addressing as to why we should not consolidate the law at present. I think I am entitled on Second and Third Reading to argue that it is not desirable to pass a consolidation Measure. One of the reasons against passing a consolidation Measure is that it encourages people to think that the law has reached a fixed form and a form in which it cannot be touched. The last thing one wants to do is to pass a consolidation Measure in this way because people would rightly say, "Only last year we consolidated all this law; why should we now start trying to get reforms through?"

The very passage of consolidation legislation interrupts or restricts the opportunity of making amendments in the law. Therefore, by way of illustration, I was going to call your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to one or two defects in the licensing law that exist at the moment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a little mistaken. When the law is consolidated, it can be amended later by another Bill; it is not for ever and ever.

Mr. Bing

Exactly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The point I was putting to you was that we must consider the timing of all these consolidation Measures. If, in fact—I was hoping that the Solicitor-General would say so—the Government have in mind some important reforms in the licensing law, it will be imprudent for us to proceed at this stage with consolidation; we should wait until these reforms have been carried out.

I was only going to suggest one or two possible, desirable reforms and inquire if there was any chance of their being undertaken by the Government, in which case this Measure could be postponed until they have been dealt with. It was the inadequacy of the law at the moment which seemed to me to make it undesirable for it to be immediately consolidated, and that it would be more prudent to wait until it is altered and reformed and then consolidated at that stage. I hope that I shall be in order in making one or two remarks on that point.

As I was saying, I need not go in great detail into the defects in the law at the moment—there would not be time—the various defects, for instance, in the Beer Act, 1790, which is one of the Measures which is being consolidated in the present Bill. It seems to me it would be far better if we were to take a look at these Acts and to alter and reform some of them and then put them all together and start on the task of dealing with the law as a whole.

One of the principal defects in the licensing laws at the moment is that there is no provision for dealing with what we were discussing earlier today—merchandise marks. If one brews a bottle of vinegar one has to declare its strength but if one brews a bottle of beer one has not to do so. That is a grave defect in the law, and we should consider whether these defects should be given priority in the time of the House over the mere question of consolidation.

I have raised this issue but I do not want to delay the Second Reading of the Bill. All I wish to say to the Solicitor-General, who I am sure is in charge of the Measure, is that I hope he will provide adequate opportunity, when we come to the Third Reading, for those of my hon. Friends and myself who doubt the wisdom of consolidating the law at the moment, to discuss the matter when there is more time at our disposal. To take up time now would be to upset the work which has been done by those people who have worked on this Measure, and we should, therefore, not jeopardise their work by talking too long and possibly talking out the Bill. We should wait until the Third Reading, when we can consider at leisure this important issue of whether the licensing laws as they at present exist deserve consolidation.

3.54 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has convinced me that it will be most unwise to consolidate the licensing law, as is the intention of the Solicitor-General. In commending this Measure to the House, the Solicitor-General did not say whether he had received any urgent representation from the licensed trade or consumers of from anyone to consolidate the licensing laws at the present time. The licensed trade have many grievances and many difficulties under which they are suffering. I should not have thought that one of their primary aims at the moment was to secure the consolidation of a law with the operation of which they are not very happy, and certainly, so far as I can ascertain, not completely satisfied. However, let us grant a Second Reading now, as my hon. and learned Friend says, without prejudice to such points as we may be able to make at a later stage.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

Committee upon Monday next.