HC Deb 11 May 1956 vol 552 cc1561-6

11.16 a.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "and", to insert: for the purposes of this Act only. During the Committee stage, when we had the assistance of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General, we had some discussion about what was an inn in the eyes of the law. We were told that there is no definition in statutory law of what constitutes an inn; we have to depend on common law. I do not want to get involved in a long legal argument with either the promoter of the Bill or the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, but I want to be quite certain that no damage is done to the common law definition of an inn by the words in the Bill.

I am not concerned with the people who are brought in by the definition as conducting inns so much as with the people who by the definition in subsection (1) appear to be deprived of the position of innkeeper, and their customers deprived, at any rate under the Bill, of certain rights against an innkeeper. It may be that this might influence the general position of some people who are innkeepers now, but who will cease to be innkeepers under the Bill.

Subsection (1) gives a definition of what is not an inn. It says: A hotel within the meaning of this Act shall…be deemed to be an inn… Subsection (3) defines the expression "hotel". I have no objection to that part of the Bill. I am concerned with what is meant by the other words: A hotel within the meaning of this Act shall, and any other establishment shall not, be deemed to be an inn… Does the phrase …within the meaning of this Act… carry on over to the establishments that are not to be deemed inns in future? To secure that for certain, I have proposed the Amendment to put in certain words so that the subsection will read: …and for the purposes of this Act only any other establishment shall not, be deemed to be an inn… That would make the position quite clear.

There are certain general liabilities on innkeepers, I understand, with which this Bill is not concerned at all. The Bill merely relieves the innkeeper of liabilities which he might incur over the loss of goods by guests staying at his inn, but, as I understand, the general responsibility of an innkeeper is to provide reasonable refreshments for visitors to his establishment. In the old days, when people travelled about the country on horseback, or in vehicles drawn by horses, there was also a liability to provide reasonable refreshment for the horse, or horses, as well as for the man.

The railways have very largely destroyed the trade from that point of view which is described by Dickens and by Cobbett, who gives some very amusing descriptions of what he saw through the windows of inns. On one occasion when he was wet through, he saw some men in the Red Lion Inn, at Thursley, sitting round the fire drinking their ale, smoking their pipes and carrying on a conversation on village politics. He thought they represented the real, collective wisdom of the country and would have rather joined in their deliberations than those of the Privy Council.

There are still a number of people who are dependent on inns for their reasonable refreshment when they are travelling on the roads. As President of the southern area of the Ramblers' Federation, I know the difficulties that are occasionally presented to the organisers of walks undertaken by those people in arranging for tea in the afternoon on such a ramble. When I was Home Secretary I was approached by the Federation and asked whether an innkeeper was under a liability to provide tea. I was assured that there appears to be no legal case on the matter and, when I attempted to get a definition, I was driven back on this common law definition. I was given to understand that both sides engaged the best lawyer they could find, hoped they would get in front of the best judge that could be found and that it would depend on the facts of the case whether the place was found to be an inn or not.

Although that is a nebulous position, at least it does not describe any building as not an inn. The difficulty of this Clause to me is that A hotel within the meaning of this Act shall,…be deemed to be an inn;…and any other establishment shall not, be deemed to be an inn;". I do not want it to be argued, if it is possible to argue, that those words would demote—if I may use that word—certain premises which are now inns into being not inns. I am not opposed to the general purposes of the Bill, but I am anxious to see it become law if that can be done with safety to the point of view I am putting forward. I do not want the Bill, when it becomes law, to be brought into court and it to be said, "This place is not an inn because the Hotel Proprietors (Liabilities and Rights) Bill, promoted by an hon. Member from Northern Ireland who took great care to exclude Northern Ireland from the provisions of the Bill, has declared that the premises about which dispute has arisen are not an inn for the purposes of the Act and probably are not an inn for certain other purposes."

I may be able to get help from the Solicitor-General on this point. I want to make quite certain that the Bill does not relieve innkeepers, who do not run hotels within the definition of the Bill, from their common law liability, as innkeepers, to the wayfarer and other persons who may satisfy all the conditions for receiving refreshments at an inn except that they will be told that the house is not an inn owing to the operations of this Measure.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Harry Hylton-Foster)

I hope I can relieve the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) of what I might call his very proper anxiety that when he and I go striding about the hills of Surrey we may not get proper refreshment at the right places. I appreciate his anxiety and I hope I can relieve it.

The right hon. Member will remember that the Law Reform Committee, in paragraph 15 of its Report, pointed out that it was not within its province to make any recommendations in regard to the duty to receive travellers which the criminal law imposes upon innkeepers, although if the civil law is altered in the way we recommend it may be found desirable to bring the criminal law into line on certain points. It may, for instance, be thought necessary to alter the law in regard to an innkeeper's liability to receive a traveller's motor car, and we consider that the obligation to supply refreshments should be confined to those who are travellers within the meaning of paragraph 12 of this report. That recommendation is not adopted in the Bill, with the object of avoiding the kind of result which the right hon. Member has in mind. What is done by Clause 1 (1) is not to make any alteration whatsoever in the common law definition of an inn. It merely enacts it, but does not alter it in any way. So nothing which previously was an inn will cease to be an inn by the definition set out here.

I think that that is enough to cover the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but I might emphasise it in this way: nothing in the Bill is dealing with the criminal law imposed obligation on the innkeeper to provide refreshments and to receive travellers. It does not touch that at all, but merely restricts his civil obligations in other respects. I can give the right hon. Member the assurance that nothing ceases to be an inn which was an inn before by reason of this definition, because the definition only enacts what the common law is. I hope that that will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

I would be compelled to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to insist on the Amendment because, obviously, it would be extremely inconvenient and, in practice. tire some if we had one definition here and another elsewhere and had to have a different definition of an inn in the criminal law. I hope that with the assurance I have given the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

May I ask the Solicitor-General to clear up one point? What the Law Reform Committee did was to consider the conception of a traveller. Paragraph 12 of the Report, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, deals with that.

The point seems to be whether a traveller is a person who stays for the night at an inn and only such a person, or whether a traveller proceeding in a motor car—or, more healthily and more to the common good, on foot—arrives at the inn and, with no intention of staying there, asks for food and drink. The word "traveller" is used again here. It is part of the definition of subsection (3). I think I am right in saying that "traveller," in that subsection, includes both types of traveller and, therefore, clearly includes the rambler, whom I think we all have in mind

11.30 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I am much obliged to him for drawing attention to the way in which it is dealt with. There is further reference in Clause 2. but that does not touch the point now in question at all. I am obliged to him, and I agree.

Mr. Mitchison

When the Solicitor-General says that he agrees, I take it that he means that "traveller." in Clause 1. includes the rambler asking for food or drink?

The Solicitor-General

I do.

Mr. Ede

In view of the explanation given by the hon. and learned Gentleman, for which I thank him, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.32 a.m.

Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I believe this Measure to be entirely non-controversial. As will be remembered, it received its Second Reading on the nod and went fairly briefly through its Committee stage unamended. The intention of the Bill, which is the result of the Report of the Law Reform Committee, has merely been to bring up to date the law relating to innkeepers' liabilities and rights. I am very grateful to all hon. Members who have facilitated the Bill's progress. If any of my hon. Friends or any hon. Members opposite wish any more information about the Bill, I shall be only too ready as far as it lies within my power, to give it, although I am a layman and not a lawyer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) has on the Order Paper a Bill of very much greater interest to many hon. Members on both sides, and I do not wish to detain the House in any further consideration of this Measure, which, I believe, commands the support of both sides.

11.33 a.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

In supporting the Third Reading of the Bill, I suppose I ought to declare an interest—hon. Members know that I have connections with the hotel industry. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill) on the way he has piloted this Bill through the House. I think we should also thank him for his generosity in attending to this Measure which, as hon. Members now know, does not affect Northern Ireland.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I should just like to say just a word or two about the Bill. At bottom, it seems to me to be motivated by the modern practice of driving about the country, calling at inns and putting one's motor car in places where the vehicle is exposed to risk. We are now quite a long way from the days when there were no motor cars. Then we proceeded by horse in one way or another and there were questions as to whether there was a liability with respect to the horse. One must not exaggerate the importance of the modern horse. Some of us have a sentimental feeling for an animal, and the curious provision in this Bill is that if one rides to a place and stables one's horse in the inn in the old-fashioned way, the horse does not appear to be a vehicle and the Bill does not appear to touch any question of liability with regard to the animal.

The provision clearly covers the motor car, and the Law Reform Committee stipulated that a motor bicycle should also be included. May I ask the Solicitor-General whether it is quite clear that a "vehicle" includes a motor bicycle, where it occurs in this Bill? And is it also quite clear that a "vehicle" includes an ordinary bicycle or tricycle as the case may be?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.