HC Deb 30 June 1959 vol 608 cc396-8

Considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

10.56 p.m.

The Chairman

This is a Consolidation Bill. If the Committee agrees, I shall put all the Clauses together.

Clauses 1 to 201 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 12 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

Can the Joint Under-Secretary tell us why we are consolidating the licensing laws of Scotland? He will be well aware that there is much feeling in Scotland that they ought to be amended. I understand that I am not entitled now to discuss the various amendments that might be made to the Scottish licensing laws, but I think that I am entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman if he realises that the mere act of consolidating legislation gives the impression that Parliament is satisfied with these laws, yet there cannot be a single hon. Member from any part of Scotland who believes that these licensing laws are all right as they are, or who would wish his constituents to think that we in Parliament are satisfied with them and are willing that they should be consolidated. Indeed, the Secretary of State had allowed the impression to gain currency in Scotland that he was anxious that there should be an independent inquiry—perhaps by a Royal Commission—into our licensing laws, and that he was well aware of their present shortcomings.

I know that very soon I should be outside the rules of order were I to discuss the shortcomings of our licensing laws, particularly in regard to Sunday drinking. But the present law is a scandal and none of us, so far as I am aware, knows of any good reason why we should be consolidating our licensing laws at the present time. I should have thought we would all be perfectly happy not to pass this Bill at all but to have this Bill withdrawn so that we might proceed as soon as may be to have a look at many of the abuses which take place under the law, which are quite legal but socially undesirable.

Could the Joint Under-Secretary tell us what is the reason for consolidating now? Would it not have been far better had he not troubled to engage a lot of highly skilled people to go through all the licensing laws throughout the years and to consolidate them in this Measure with a good many minor amendments and adjustments as are provided for under the consolidation Act of 1949? Would it not have been far better if he had got his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to set in motion the kind of inquiry which the people of Scotland are anxious to have, so that our licensing laws might be examined impartially and dispassionately and so that we might have some recommendations from an impartial committee as to the kind of amendments that we should make after we had done that? We might very well have consolidated all that was good in our licensing laws.

11.2 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I am surprised to hear the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) object at any time to the consolidation of the law, but when we get the law of licensing such as it is in Scotland, covering some 17 enactments and going back as far as 1871, one would have thought it was high time that the law of licensing was consolidated.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Is not my hon. Friend's point rather different? We recognise that the law is going to be consolidated, but we are also informed that the Secretary of State is going to start to amend it shortly. At least, that is the understanding. Would it not be a sensible thing, if he is going to amend it after an inquiry, that the consolidation should be held up until we decide what will be the final picture of the licensing laws?

Mr. Macpherson

I do not think it would be in order for me to discuss any future changes which might be made in the existing law.

I was going to say that the consolidation of the law has three advantages. The first is that it is helpful to the licensing courts. The second is that it is useful to all those who have to refer to the law in the course of their business to have it in one easily accessible form, even though it does have 201 Clauses. The third is that the fact that the law will now be set out in one Measure will certainly not make it more difficult to make any changes which it may be thought necessary to contemplate at any time in the future.

From all these points of view, the consolidation of the law will be of considerable value. Therefore, I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.