HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc1011-40
Mr. William Stones (Consett)

I beg to move, in page 33, to leave out lines 4 and 5.

If my interpretation of the paragraph to which the Amendment refers is correct, many working-men's clubs can be and probably will be seriously affected by its provisions. Subsection (8) says: Subject to subsection (9) below, in determining whether a club is established and con, ducted in good faith as a club a magistrates' court may have regard"— and these are the lines referred to— to any arrangement restricting the club's freedom of purchase of intoxicating liquor… Working men want their club premises to be built and maintained to a modern standard of comfort. As many hon. Members are aware, many workingmen's clubs have premises which are a joy to behold and which are a credit to the working men themselves.

In the north-east of England, a part of the country to which I belong, and, I suppose, in many other parts of the United Kingdom, hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on building new and modernising existing premises so as to provide the desired comfort. In many instances, the capital has to be borrowed. In my own area, most of the money for building and modernising premises has been loaned by the Northern Clubs Federation Brewery and in other cases by private brewers.

Those loans are at very moderate rates of interest and have made it possible for working men throughout the area to provide themselves with desirable club premises. The breweries, naturally, expect a guarantee in return for their money. Consequently, they ask the clubs to enter into an agreement whereby they purchase at least a good proportion of their intoxicants from the brewery.

Such an agreement between a club and a federation brewery or a private brewery may well be considered to be an arrangement restricting the club in the purchase of intoxicants. According to subsection (8), the magistrates may have regard to that in determining whether a club is established and conducted in good faith when seeking a registration certificate. The magistrates might also decide that a club having such an agreement with a brewery was not established and conducted in good faith and they might refuse to grant a certificate.

Suppose that a club already in existence has an arrangement with a brewery from which thousands of pounds has been borrowed and most of it is still outstanding. The magistrates might refuse to grant a registration certificate on the ground that there is an agreement restricting the purchase of intoxicants. How can such a club then be expected to repay the money if it is not allowed to continue?

What about the working men in a recently built-up area or new town who are desirous of starting a club but lack the capital? If they are prevented from entering into an arrangement with the brewery, how are they to provide the necessary money? I doubt whether the necessary finances would be provided by any financial concern outside the breweries. In any event, it is difficult to get such a loan at such moderate rates of interest.

Unless my interpretation is wrong and these two lines in the Bill are deleted, working men are likely to be prevented from providing a number of better premises and in quite a number of cases they will find their clubs in great difficulty. I ask the Minister to consider what I have said and to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Vosper

It certainly is not the intention of the Bill to prevent the sort of practice to which the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) has referred. By the first Amendment moved today the House has shown itself anxious to ensure that a strict control over clubs is exercised. At the same time, the House has shown itself aware of the rights of the clubs. As the hon. Member knows, in Committee on the Bill we were able to move and accept several Amendments which, I hope, have gone a long way to meeting the fears of clubs, particularly working-men's clubs.

One of the requirements of the Bill, however, is that the control of the liquor shall be in the hands of the members. That requirement is contained in Part HI of the Bill. It would, of course, be possible for the control of the liquor to be in the hands of the members and for the club proprietor—the man who wished to make a profit out of the sale of liquor—to control the course of supply of liquor. In such a case, the fact that the elective committee controlled the liquor would not prevent the club promoter from exercising the control which he would normally have exercised in a proprietary club.

Therefore, it is important that there shall be some way of preventing the promoter of the drink or bogus club exercising this control and evading the normal control of the club by being the sole supplier of the liquor. Therefore, the subsection to which the hon. Member has drawn attention enables the court to have regard to any arrangement restricting the club's freedom of purchase of intoxicating liquor". It is designed purely for the case of the individual who might wish to evade the other provisions of the Bill.

6.45 p.m.

There is no intention of interfering with the supply of liquor to the genuine club, albeit through a tie of which the hon. Member for Consett has spoken. I appreciate that it would be more satisfactory from the hon. Member's point of view if we were able to write into the Bill that the sort of tie which he has in mind is legal and the sort of tie which I have in mind is illegal. I am advised, however, that that is not legislatively practicable. Therefore, we have used the words that the "court may have regard" to this and to other provisions.

Having checked on this, I have no reason to believe that the court would take an unfavourable view of the sort of tie which the hon. Member has in mind What the magistrates have to consider under the terms of the Clause is whether the tie is compatible with the genuine club. Obviously, the clubs which the hon. Member has in mind are genuine clubs. The courts must interpret this provision in accordance with the words at the beginning of subsection (8). established and conducted in good faith". Therefore, the court, knowing that the clubs which the hon. Member has in mind are established and conducted in good faith, would not seek to refuse them registration simply because they had the sort of tie of which the hon. Member has spoken.

If we accepted the Amendment and deleted these words, it would be possible for the bogus club promoter to evade the normal provisions of Part III and to make his profit out of the sale of drink by means of this tie. I hope that the hon. Member will accept my assurance and not press the Amendment.

Sir F. Soskice

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) would be only too willing to accept the assurance of the Minister of State if it could be said to be safe in quality. I do not mean that in any sense of disrespect. What my hon. Friend and what the working-men's clubs are anxious about is this. The individual decision has to be given by magistrates. Magistrates may differ in opinion. If they see the wording of the subsection before them, they may well regard it as an indication by Parliament that the kind of arrangement to which my hon. Friend has called attention—that is, the arrangement with a brewery to take only its liquor—is a ground which Parliament has inserted in the Bill specifically to ensure that registration certificates will be refused.

That constitutes a real threat to working-men's clubs. As my hon. Friend pointed out, they sink a large amount of money in providing up-to-date, first-class premises. That is an extremely expensive undertaking. The more they spend on trying to ensure that the premises are in every way suitable, up-to-date and modern and such as the Government and the public would approve, the more it can be said that they put themselves at the mercy of these two lines of subsection (8).

My hon. Friend certainly has in mind what the Minister has said, but he is thinking that in, say, five or ten years' time, a bench of magistrates, reading the Act for the first time and not having in mind what the Minister has said, may think, "This is one of the guides which we are to have in mind. In the case of this club, there is a binding agreement with a brewery limiting the right of the club to purchase its liquor to a right to purchase only from that brewery." The magistrates may decide that the two lines in question are the plain indication by Parliament that they are to regard that sort of practice as a disqualification for the obtaining of a registration certificate.

That is the danger facing the clubs. Whatever the Minister says—and nobody doubts his good faith—it is hardly a guarantee for clubs which may find themselves in the situation which my hon. Friend has indicated. My hon. Friend would, I am sure, accept, as I do, that there is a real need to have in the Bill some kind of provision of the sort imposed in paragraph (a). He and I will certainly agree that there is an easy way round the provisions of the Bill. A club committee may be in general control but the promoter may have sole domination over the purveying of drinks in that club. That would be an easy way round the Bill's provisions and it would be highly undesirable.

I therefore ask the Minister to give us an assurance that between now and when the Bill goes to another place he will reconsider the language. He should try to insert language which will prevent the kind of abuse which he has described, but which, at the same time, will not place bona fide working-men's clubs in serious embarrassment. Some of these clubs have committed themselves heavily, financially, by borrowing for the laudable purpose of constructing desirable premises in which to carry on the club. They have been able to do that only by entering into an agreement with a brewery undertaking, which might make them fall plumb within the paragraph, worded as it is

It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that he has made inquiries and that the magistrates will not generally interpret the Bill in the sense that we fear. That may be true of some but magistrates differ in their opinions, and as the years go by they may entirely forget what the Minister has in mind. In the end, they can be guided only by the words of the Statute, and it may be interpreted quite differently later on. I hope that the Minister will agree to consider the wording between the present date and the further progress of the Bill, and see whether he can amend it in the sense that we desire.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I support the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), I have had close personal connections with some of these clubs, and I know what reputable people their members are and how anxious they are to protect their reputation. It seems wrong that language should be inserted which, on the face of it, appears to cover something which the Minister has clearly stated it is not desired should be covered.

If this wording were to be interpreted in the way suggested by the right hon. and learned Member, it would be a very serious matter for certain of these clubs against whom nothing has been or can be said. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the matter again. He has not told us whether any great effort has been made to devise a form of wording, but it should not be beyond the wit of man to ensure that magistrates have a little more guidance. It is rather alarming to be told that my hon. Friend's inquiries have indicated that magistrates will not do a certain thing. I do not know how anybody can arrive at a conclusion of what magistrates will do in relation to any situation, and in this case I would think that it would depend very much on the locality and the people concerned.

I appreciate the difficulty of drafting a provision which will do justice to the clubs concerned. This difficulty arises from the fact—perhaps it cannot be avoided—that they are included in a number of other provisions which also deal with other kinds of clubs which are, or potentially may be, of a very different character. Every effort should be made to safeguard the position of working men's clubs in this case.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I should be more satisfied about the position if the Minister would make it clear beyond doubt that bona fide working-men's clubs are excluded from this provision. It is very difficult to follow the meaning of the language of the Clause. In his original speech the right hon. Member referred to the club proprietor. In a bona fide working-men's club there is no such person. Reference to a club proprietor obviously implies a reference to a club other than a bona fide working-men's club, registered under the provisions of certain Statutes.

It also appears to me that a magistrate will have some difficulty in interpreting these provisions. I cannot speak of what are called bogus or vice clubs; I have never been a member of any such institution. But I know something about the working-men's clubs in my constituency. Their position varies. I know one well-established club which has been in existence for forty or fifty years which has been in the habit of purchasing its liquor supply from a certain brewery. For some reason or other—either because of a deterioration in the quality, or an increase in the price demanded—that club might seek to change its source of supply. It might decide to transfer its custom from a private brewers' organisation to the Northern Clubs Federation Brewery, which is established in the County of Northumberland but also serves clubs in Durham and Cumberland. It is a non-profit-making organisation, and clubs might well find it desirable to transfer their custom to it.

Am I to understand that a magistrate can make inquiries to find why such a transfer has been proposed, or, 'having been proposed, has been effected? This seems an unwarrantable interference by a magistrates' bench in the activities of a bona fide working-men's club. From the outset I have been opposed to including bona fide working-men's clubs in the Bill. Now that they have been included, those who are disposed to render support to these excellent institutions—support largely of a social character, although occasionally political, and not necessarily on the Labour side—

Sir L. Heald

The right hon. Gentleman will probably agree that in the registered working-men's clubs politics are completely taboo. I certainly do not allow them in mine.

Mr. Shinwell

Do I understand the right hon. and learned Member to say that he does not support bona fide working-men's clubs?

Sir L. Heald

No. I said that in the registered working-men's clubs with which I have been associated for many years politics are absolutely taboo.

Mr. Shinwell

It depends on one's definition of politics. The hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), who is not present —and I am not complaining about that—recently informed me that he would pay a visit to my constituency. When I inquired the reason he told me that he had been invited to address an aggregate meeting of club members in my constituency. I thought at the time that he must be impinging on my preserves. But he corrected my impression by telling me that he was addressing an aggregate meeting of Conservative clubs. I did not seek his assurance that he would not indulge in any political observations and tricks of that sort, but one never can tell. I am bound to say that were I invited to address Conservative workingmen's clubs in the aggregate—

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Order. These speculations are attractive, but I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to return to the Amendment.

Mr. Shinwell

It is precisely as I suspected. I was drawn into this "vortex" by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald).

I also seek the assurance for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) was asking, that the words contained in this part of the Bill should be clarified so as to make abundantly clear that bona fide working-men's clubs will not be affected; and that there will be no unwarranted inquiry and investigation by a magistrate, or a bench of magistrates, into the procedure adopted by these clubs, either relating to the method of purchasing their liquor supply or into transfers from a profit-making private organisation to a non-profit-making organisation.

Mr. Vosper

I will certainly do what has been asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) and look at these words again. But I do not want to appear too hopeful about it. This part of the Bill was drafted after exceptionally careful consideration and preparation. There are those who are only too anxious to take advantage of any loophole in the law. Nevertheless if there is any way of meeting the point contained in this Amendment we shall do something about it. There is no doubt that the language used in these words is to prohibit the sort of clubs which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that the statement that inquiries of magistrates had revealed that they would not interpret this the wrong way was not sufficient. I did not say that. I said that my advice was that there was no reason to believe that the courts would interpret this provision unreasonably. I will certainly have the words examined to see whether we can improve on them, but I am anxious not to appear hopeful.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State cannot be hopeful. In these two lines, and in many parts of Part III of this Bill, he is trying to impose the same legislation on those sort of clubs which we wish to see continue as on those sort of clubs which we should like to see abolished. My right hon. Friend is up against an almost insoluble problem.

Mr. Vosper

My hon. Friend will understand that had these words been drafted too widely we should allow to continue the very clubs which it is sought to deal with.

Mr. Cole

My hon. Friend needs only to include such words as providing such arrangement is made with the knowledge of and for the benefit of all the members. That would stop any proprietary person from making something on the side.

Mr. Ede

I am quite sure that magistrates, when considering this matter in the magistrates' room, will interpret these two lines as preventing there being any tied clubs. I am opposed to tied houses, but I recollect that the present Lord Chancellor once explained to the House of Commons that, in view of the modern requirements for building in respect of licensed premises, it was virtually impossible for private people to put up the necessary capital, and that, therefore, it was probable that all public houses in the future would be tied.

I know the difficulty confronting my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones). I should object to a club being tied to a private brewer. But the case of the Federation to which he alluded is, in my opinion, rather different. It is a co-operative society running a brewery and the members are working-men's clubs in the area covered by the federation. To my mind, that is a different proposition from a brewer who might be acting in the same way.

We have had the advantage of the views of two past Attorneys-General about the position which will arise if these two lines remain in the Bill, and the matter comes up for consideration by a licensing committee when it is considering the circumstances dealt with in subsection (8). For once, I find myself in the happy position of being able to agree simultaneously with two right hon. and learned Gentlemen. Against that, I am asked to accept the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State who, in all good faith, has assured us about what magistrates will consider when they have two lines as specific as this before them.

The right hon. and learned Solicitor-General is present on the Government Front Bench. I wonder whether he would tell us about what limits there would be on the discussion in a magistrates' room, so that we may know what weight we can place on the assurances given by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

I think that something should be provided to prevent individual breweries from establishing a kind of monopoly over clubs in areas, such as we have seen in relation to licensed houses. In these days of amalgamations of breweries, which occur one after the other, one wonders how soon we shall arrive at the happy position to which Lord Hugh Cecil used to refer, when we shall have one organisation, and the State, in one purchase, will be able to take over the whole lot. I am in favour of the Carlisle system.

This is a Committee matter. In the past, the problems of licensing have depended on the way in which magistrates have interpreted the law. Very often they have done so in accordance with the individual views which they hold, which might not of necessity always be favourable to securing a reasonable distribution of licensed premises in an area. I do not use licensed premises for the purchase of intoxicating liquor, but I think that there should be a sufficient number of such premises so that people who wish to obtain intoxicating liquor may be able to get it. If they take too much to drink, I hope that we shall not be told that the police find themselves incapable of enforcing the law against them for making a nuisance of themselves to others.

If I may refer to the problem connected with working-men's clubs, and particularly the federation operating in the northern counties, it is clear that the words in the Bill cannot be interpreted by magistrates if they merely have regard to the ordinary meaning of the English language; and it is necessary to make quite certain that no tie is attached to the premises in which the club exists. Where the club is a member of a cooperative brewery, that might work out very harmfully in the case of a large number of excellent clubs, including several In my constituency which have been established by the federation, and which, I hope, will be able to continue to enjoy what they at present have without being subject to frequent consideration by a licensing bench.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

It is quite clear that the majority of us are anxious to see that the arrangements such as have been mentioned by the hon. Member who moved this Amendment are not prevented by the law and we would except breweries whether they happened to be federated or not. Would my right hon. Friend consider putting after the word "arrangements" the words, "other than with breweries or bona fide suppliers"? If those words were in I think the position would be safeguarded.

Mr. Iorwerth Thomas

The Minister of State said that he had no desire to give any hope or encouragement to the belief that there could be a change from the present position. That is very important if efforts are to be made to improve the standards of clubs throughout the country, particularly in mining communities. There clubs have been established for fifty or sixty years and the premises were very old when they were taken over as clubs. A serious and encouraging effort is being made by clubs throughout the industrial parts of the country to carry out considerable extensions to premises and to bring them up to modern standards.

The Minister also said that he was concerned about the management of clubs and the Bill was intended to deal specifically with the type of club and club-management which he had in mind. I think it is not beyond the wit of the Solicitor-General to redraft this paragraph in a manner which should give the utmost protection to well-established clubs. If the provision is not changed, I am of opinion that it will act as a deterrent. Clubs will not be prepared to take the risk of borrowing fresh capital to carry out extensions because of their fear of the interpretation which would be placed on the Clause by respective managements.

I suggest that this could be easily overcome if the words were added: may have regard to any arrangement restricting the club's freedom of purchase of intoxicating liquor other than those purchases which are sanctioned by the elected committee. The elected committee will be a body which has the authority of the club and the confidence of the club. It is recognised in the other provisions of the Bill as the competent body to manage the affairs of the club. If such a proviso were put into the Bill it would meet with general satisfaction.

7.15 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I think there is a general concensus of opinion that we do not want the Clause to provide a loophole for the undesirable clubs which Part III of the Bill is primarily designed to put out of business. On the other hand, the arrangements to which the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Stones) and the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) have drawn attention, which I know very well, are in our view entirely desirable and have had the beneficial effect which they described.

I venture to disagree with the interpretation put on this Clause that it would preclude such arrangements. The reason for that, in the first place, is that the Clause does not say that: any arrangement restricting the club's freedom of purchase of intoxicating liquor shall he a disqualification. What it says is completely neutral—that in determining whether a club is "conducted in good faith as a club" the court may have regard to certain matters. This is ony one of four matters to which the court may have regard. The others are also completely neutral. It may have regard "to the nature of the premises", and that is just as neutral, as is "arrangements for giving members proper information".

However, in view of what has been said, I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, that we shall re-examine the drafting of this paragraph in a genuine desire to meet the points which have been raised. I must not be taken as giving any categorical assurance that we can find such a form of words, but we shall do our best to do so.

For the reasons I have given, I do not think the Clause would operate in the way that is feared, but I shall certainly consider all the suggestions which have been made and consider with the draftsmen whether we can meet the point made by the hon. Member for Consett.

Mr. Stones

Because I believe there will be a sincere effort my the right hon. and learned Gentleman to meet our desires, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 33, line 32 to leave out from "it" to "is" in line 35 and to insert: is proved that a person who if a certificate is granted will during the currency of the certificate or is likely during its currency to take any active part in the management of the club".

Mr. Speaker

It may be for the general convenience of the House to consider with this Amendment the following Amendments:

In page 33, line 36, leave out character, associations or antecedents and insert:

known character as proved to the court In line 36, leave out "associations or antecedents".

In line 36, leave out "associations".

In line 36, leave out "associations or antecedents" and insert: or the character of persons with whom he habitually associates".

Sir F. Soskice

This group of Amendments deals with a very important aspect in the Bill. Subsection (10) of the Clause is a subsection, indeed the only one, which enacts that there shall be a refusal of a registration certificate if persons associated with the club are of bad character. I am quite sure the whole House will recognise that as an absolutely indispensable provision. I should not for a moment seek to whittle it down or to ask for its complete removal.

We discussed this Clause very fully when the Bill was before the Standing Committee, and virtually two points were made on it. One point was that there was a considerable degree of uncertainty about the individuals referred to in the subsection, that is to say, the individuals referred to in the words: a member of the committee…or of any committee having the general management of the affairs of the club, or other officer of the club. The first objection was that those words were unsatisfactory because, looked at from one point of view, they went too far and, looked at from another point of view, they were not very precise in their meaning. The second objection was to the words: in view of his character, associations or antecedents The subsection provides that if any of the individuals concerned is unfit: in view of his character, associations or antecedents a registration certificate may be refused.

The objection to those words was that, in the first place, they were extremely vague. What did one mean by "associations"? What did one include in the scope of the word "antecedents"? It we said that it was unfair to people who controlled clubs because the wording was so wide-ranging in possible extent. It was also said that it should be made clearly apparent in the terms of the subsection that the onus of showing that one of the individuals listed was unfit should be upon those who asserted it and it should not be upon the club to demonstrate that all those associated with the club were fit.

I will try to dissect the situation by saying that so far as the second lot of objections are concerned, those which centre on the question of onus and upon the vagueness of the words "character, associations or antecedents", it seems to me that the Amendment in the name of the Home Secretary to line 36 is ample and satisfactory to meet the objections raised. I thank the Ministers in charge of the Bill for the change which they have introduced. It completely and utterly satisfies me it places the onus where it should be and it makes the cardinal word "character", the words inserted by the proposed Amendment being: known character as proved to the court". in place of the words "character associations or antecedents."

Therefore, I would put aside the second objection and say that I am very grateful to the Government for their Amendment.

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be good enough to define the term which the Government propose to insert: known character as proved to the court"?

Sir F. Soskice

I can furnish many examples. If the individual had just come out of gaol having served ten years for fraud and that was clearly established, I should say that the words known character as proved to the court would probably be regarded as satisfied by the bench. The words are perfectly plain in meaning and can be elucidated only by furnishing examples. Fraud, violent behaviour, serious crime, and grossly dishonest behaviour, if proved, would demonstrate that a person was of a character unfit to be associated with a club. I hope that that satisfies my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Shinwell

Let us assume that some person associated with a club had been guilty of an act of petty larceny and had had to serve a short term of imprisonment, or he may have been heavily fined, and then applies for registration. Would it be a known character proved to the court?

Sir F. Soskice

It is not for me to justify the Government's Amendment, but I would have thought that the answer that one would have to give to my right hon. Friend was that it was a matter that would have to be judged by reference to the circumstances. Assuming that the man had been convicted many years before, could it be shown that he had since then lived a perfectly respectable life? Could it be shown that the circumstances in which the larceny was committed were circumstances in which there was temptation or pressure, perhaps indigence impelling the person to commit the offence? All such circumstances would have to be taken into account. No doubt the magistrates would take a sensible and human view and look at what the person had done and how he had lived since he had committed the offence. They would ask the plain, ordinary, human question "Is it proved to us that this man's character is such that he ought not to be allowed to be associated with the club?"

Speaking for myself, if I were told that a person had committed an offence of petty larceny many years previously and had then lived a perfectly respectable life, I should say that he was fitted to be associated with the club. But it is a matter for the individual judgment of the magistrates. They should bring their judgment to bear on a particular case as is done every day in all our courts. Without that the administration of justice would be completely impossible. One cannot say "Yes" or "No" to the question whether in a certain case a person's character is known to be such as to make him unfit to be associated with a club. It must depend on the circumstances.

It seems to me that the first objection remains open to consideration. I am not violently enthusiastic for the words which I have chosen and put in my Amendment really for the purpose of eliciting the Government's views and perhaps exciting some discussion and debate on the topic. It seems to me I urge this in support of the words which I have chosen—that the acid test should be this: "Is the individual whom one is considering a person who during the period for which the certificate would operate—during the year or for a longer period, as the case may be—shown to be a person who will have an active part in the management of the club?"

That seems to be the test which should be applied. That is, after all, what the enactment is seeking to deal with. It is seeking to prevent a situation in which a registration certificate is granted to a club which is under the influence, which may be guided or actively conducted in one way or another by one of these undesirable persons. The object of the draftsman in trying to pinpoint the individual with whom one is concerned would have been, I should have thought, to try to limit him to somebody who will be actively concerned with the management of the club. I know that these words are not capable of precise definition, but the situation is one which is not capable of complete precision. It differs according to the circumstances. Consequently, I put forward these words in an endeavour to deal with a situation and a difficulty.

The words which are in the subsection seem to me to be open to some objection. It is, perhaps, placing rather too heavy an onus on the club to say that it must search through the membership of all the committees of the club and inquire into the character of all members of the committee, who will no doubt have done their best to conceal from their fellow members of the club and the committee anything which they wish to hide.

There is some rather general language in the formula. What is a committee having the general management of the affairs of the club"? There are also the words "or other officer". I should have thought that those terms were not altogether satisfactory. So far as I can discover "officer" is not defined in the Bill. I suppose that a doorkeeper or a bartender might be regarded as an officer.

It seems rather hard upon those responsible for managing a club, perhaps with a large membership and disposing of very considerable funds, that they should, in effect, have to guarantee the character of everybody who might fall within the broad purview of the language which is at present in the subsection.

I suggest to the House that the wording which I have chosen—I accept at once that it is far from ideal—is preferable because it strives for a more specific result. It poses the test whether during the currency of the certificate the person concerned is likely to take an active part in the management of the club—will he do so, or is he likely to do so? I propose that test for the consideration of the Government, and I trust that the Government will at least consider it between the present stage of the Bill and its progress to another place.

The Solicitor-General

When we discussed the subsection in the Standing Committee there was no difference of opinion as to our objectives. We wanted to make sure that the club was not used for the benefit of somebody of bad character who was using it for his own evil purposes. We particularly wanted to make sure that the committee was not a "front" organisation with someone behind it who was a person of bad character running the club for his own purposes and as likely as not in a highly undesirable way.

On the other hand, the drafting was criticised from both sides of the Committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) objected to the words if it appears to the bench that a member of the committee and so on, on the ground that the wording was either altogether too vague or did not demand affirmative evidence or that it put the onus of proof on the committee. I ventured to disagree with that, but I promised to look into it, as I also promised to look into the drafting of the phrase "character, associations or antecedents". The word "associations", particularly, met with general disapprobation, less on its own statutory intrinsic merits than because of the overtones of MacCarthyism and guilt by association

7.30 p.m.

I promised to find an alternative form of words if one could he found. The Government have tabled an alternative formula— known character as proved to the court hoping thereby to meet both the objections of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am very grateful for his kind reception of the Government Amendment. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) asked about the scope of such a formula. I do not think that I can improve on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation. It must be read in its context. It must be his known character as proved to the court whereby he is not a fit person to be concerned in the management of a registered club.

It clearly lets in any previous conviction, but nobody would suggest for one moment that a conviction for riding a bicycle on a footpath would make any body unfit to be concerned in the management of a registered club. On the other hand, one can conceive of serious offences, whether criminal or not, involving fraud and other crimes of dishonesty which would, in the opinion of any reasonable bench, render a person unfit to be concerned in the management of a club.

It comes down to this. It is obviously not every previous offence. One must look at all the circumstances and hear in mind how long ago the offence was and how serious it was. That sort of thing can be safely left to a magistrates' court.

I come now to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment in page 33, line 32. He argued the case in support of it. As I shall advise the House to accept the Amendment, which is an improvement on the wording of the Clause, I need not rehearse again the arguments he put forward so clearly. It guards against what I feared was a slight danger in the Government Amendment, namely, that the Government Amendment if it stood alone might not reach the person who stands behind the committee and uses the committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment extends to that but goes no further in any undesirable way. In that respect, it is an improvement. The two Amendments can stand perfectly well together and I advise the House to accept the Amendment.

Sir F. Soskice

May I, with the permission of the House, thank the Solicitor-General very cordially for his acceptance of my Amendment? I am very grateful to him.

Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the Solicitor-General have very properly drawn attention to the importance of the Clause and, therefore, of the Amendments. Indeed, no one would want to dispute the intention of the Clause, which is to prevent men of known bad character taking part in the management of clubs, either by directing such management or by employing a group of "front men" to act on their behalf.

There is great anxiety among members of working-men's clubs in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man). Some people are greatly concerned lest, because of the interpretation by magistrates of what constitutes a bad character, they may be in some way disbarred from engaging in their duties as managers or committee men of clubs.

Not long ago one club man came to me in great agitation. He said that in his youth he had been convicted of stealing a bicycle. He wanted to know whether that was likely in future to be used against him under the Clause. It may well be said, without seeking to define what a bad character is, that that is a peccadillo and, consequently, would be regarded as such by magistrates. However, magistrates are inclined to be moved by the attendant circumstances in which even police court offences are committed.

There is an important semantic difference between offences according to the type of people committing them. For example, when an undergraduate takes a bicycle from outside his college it is often considered to be an undergraduate prank. If a factory worker takes a bicycle from outside a factory it is often stigmatised as a singularly mean theft. A person who goes into a public library and leaves with a book without permission is promptly labelled a book thief. If he is a member of the London Library and goes away with a book without permission he is called a bibliophile.

It is very important that we should recognise that, unless we tighten as much as possible the definition of what a bad character is, we may expose many club managers and committee men to the unconscious prejudices of the magistrates who have to adjudicate in these matters. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport that the phrase known character as proved to the court now proposed by the Government is undoubtedly an improvement on the vague phrase character, associations, or antecedents", Even accepting that, I am not wholly satisfied, unless the Solicitor-General can tighten the definition more closely, that, as it stands, it will not expose individuals to abusive definitions by certain magistrates of what constitutes fitness to manage a club.

I have already given two examples of how what seems to be a trivial offence committed by one person may be regarded simply because of a definition of terms as offensive and bad behaviour tantamount to bad character in another person. I need not labour the point. I will only add that in certain circumstances one person may be considered a drunk and sent to prison. Another person is called an alcoholic and sent to a clinic. These are all matters of definition. Therefore, I do not think that we can lightly dismiss the intention of the Clause and the nature of the Amendment.

I am certainly not wholly satisfied that the phrase known character as proved to the court is sufficient to safeguard managers and committee men of clubs against a misuse of the very great powers now vested in magistrates by the Clause. After all, when the case against a potential manager or committee man has been proved in court a magistrate has only to reach the conclusion that a single individual is of bad character for the registration of the club to be refused. That opens up vast possibilities of prejudice.

After all, a prejudice is merely a judgment based on the pre-conceptions of the judge. Consequently, in view of the terms of the Clause as it stands, the Solicitor-General ought now to seek to give a more detailed reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington who properly interjected to ask what constitutes a known bad character. I am not satisfied that the peccadilloes of a man's youth may not be brought up against him and used unfavourably under the terms of the Clause.

Many people, in their youth and in different circumstances, have behaved in a drunk and disorderly way. For some it is an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives; for others, it is treated as a juvenile aberration. We should not allow anything like that to be used in the Bill to stigmatise a man.

We see in the Street Offences Act—and I mention this only to draw a parallel—that we already have a class of known prostitutes. It would be very undesirable if a whole class of people were to be labelled as men of notorious bad character in such a way as to preclude them from taking part in what is a spontaneous democratic institution that has served well the purpose of enabling people to meet in social activity, and preventing precisely the sort of thing against which the Bill is designed to legislate.

Mr. Shinwell

I suppose that there are hon. Members who would regard me as a known bad character, so one must be exceedingly careful before accepting such a provision as this. Before this Bill came to the House, I was invited to address several meetings in my constituency of members of bona fide, registered working-men's clubs. There are at least a score of them in my constituency and, in the larger mining areas, some have a membership of nearly 4,000.

When I sought to ascertain their views, I was first told that they wanted me to use my influence—they apparently think that I have considerable influence in this assembly, and with the Government—to get rid of the Bill altogether. They said, "Away with it—we don't want it. We don't mind you interfering with the vice clubs and the bogus clubs—get rid of them. They are in the South; we don't have them in the North." That may he an exaggeration—

Mr. Speaker

I gather that these gentlemen who were addressing the right hon. Gentleman were not subject to any rules of order, but we in this House are bound by them.

Mr. Shinwell

I am leading up to my principal argument, Mr. Speaker. What they said was, "Get rid of the Bill but, at any rate, stop these prying, nosey magistrates from interfering in our business." They are afraid of those magistrates. I know that people can be good and able magistrates, but others are not so good and so able. After all, we have to consider how they are appointed, and from whom they are drawn. One can readily understand the apprehensions of the members of these clubs.

What is to be the position? Let us assume that a management committee is about to be elected. The Bill stipulates that there must be an elected committee of management. The members are about to elect their committee of management, but they do not seek to inquire into the antecedents of every member who seeks to become a member of that committee. They would not dare to do it. There would be considerable trouble if they attempted it. The committee of management is appointed and, when it has been appointed, goes to the magistrate's court to seek registration. One magistrate immediately says, "There is Jack Jones"—[Laughter.] I only use this name by way of illustration

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Yes—he is a magistrate.

Mr. Shinwell

The magistrate says, "I know that man has a bad character. Many years ago he committed an offence." It may well be that the magistrate is biased against Jack Jones—or whoever it may be and that is a very serious situation.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) knows all about the law and legal matters, and I have no doubt that he, as a lawyer, and knowing something about justice, has endeavoured to define the man as being of known character as proved to the court, but that does not satisfy me a bit, and it certainly will not satisfy many of my constituents. They will still remain apprehensive of what is likely to arise as a result of this interference by the magistrates' bench.

The fact is that in this debate we are on the horns of a dilemma, and we had better face up to it. We all want to dispose of these vice clubs and bogus clubs. They are an abomination, and we would render every possible help to the Government in suppressing institutions of that kind if they can be called institutions. Our dilemma is this, and we are likely to be impaled on either horn. On the one hand, we want to dispose of this abomination but, on the other hand, we want to protect the interest of bona fide clubs. We in the North are concerned primarily with the working-men's clubs, because we hardly have any private clubs there.

7.45 p.m.

How are we to protect those clubs? The only way is to provide legislation that affords a measure of protection. What measure of protection is afforded? The only measure of protection that could have been afforded was not to have included working-men's clubs in this legislation, but that has been done, and we are now seeking a very modest measure of protection by trying to prevent magistrates interfering unwarrantably and unnecessarily in the affairs of clubs.

If the magistrates are to be permitted to interrogate, to inquire, to investigate, to pry and to be nosey about the antecedents and associations of the members of committees of management, these clubs will be in a constant state of fear lest their registrations are not granted. That is not good enough. I have always had a great admiration for my right hon. and learned Friend, and for his industry in this assembly—and outside it, of course—but, in spite of what he has said, I beg him not to be too anxious to assist the Government in getting this part of the Bill through.

I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend knows as much about these bona fide clubs and their members as some of us do. We have to visit them often, for political and other reasons, and we have great affection for many of their members. Many of them work very hard in the day-time and require a bit of relaxation at night. There is hardly a club in my constituency that does not invite the ladies to come along. They have rooms for the ladies and all the amenities laid on. They have lecture rooms and they put on concerts. There are social gatherings. To suggest that a magistrate should be able to come along and ask whether Tom, Dick or Harry has at some time or other served a sentence and is, therefore, unfit to assist in the management is, in my view, just a piece of impudence.

Suppose that I were proposed as a member of a committee of management, and attention was directed to the fact that, many years ago, I served a prison sentence; not for picking pockets by the way, or indulging in bogus company promoting, but for political reasons—and not as a conscientious objector, either, in case there should be any mistake about that. It was because I was the leader of a strike. The magistrate would say, "You can't register this club; this person has served a prison sentence." That is not good enough.

The pharase known character as proved to the court is the definition of the legal trade, and I do not think that it is right. Before this Bill passes through its final stages—and it may happen in another place; valuable things sometimes do happen in another place—I hope that we shall get a definition that will not create apprehension in the minds of many of my constituents who belong to workingmen's clubs.

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

I join in the appeals made to the Government to give this part of the Bill and, indeed, other parts not at the moment under discussion, much more consideration. I have been a club member for nearly forty years. In the working-men's clubs in Buckinghamshire and in the Conservative clubs I have never known a case of drunkenness. I have never known a case of misdemeanour. I have never known anything to occur which warranted calling in the police. Yet, at the same time, I have known men serving on the committees of those clubs who at various times in their lives have been had up in court either for peccadilloes or for other things slightly more serious.

Under the Clause as it stands, if a committee member in one of these working-men's clubs or Conservative clubs has a past of that kind, which is usually more more known to the police than to his own fellow members, when the club comes up for registration the police can suddenly produce the evidence that there is on the committee—perhaps as chairman of the billiards committee, chairman of the finance committee or chairman of the dance committee—someone who is engaged in the management of the club, who fifteen years ago, may have been a deserter from the Army, may have bashed his sergeant-major in forgivable anger—something of that kind—and been up for assault and battery but who had since made good. A genuine club, unexceptionable in its value to the community as a whole, could be disbarred and struck off the register because there happened to be on the committee or as chairman of one of the sub-committees a man whose past was tainted with the odd black spot.

I agree with what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said. I believe that the working-men's clubs, clubs which we call the recognised clubs, clubs with a decent social history behind them, clubs which have been faultless in observing their responsibilities to their members and to the public at large, should have been omitted from Part III altogether. There should have been a list of approved clubs and, once a club was on the list as an approved club—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope the hon. and gallant Member will not go beyond the Amendment we are now discussing.

Sir F. Markham

I return to my main point, Sir William. I hope that the Government will give much further consideration to the effect of this Clause on the recognised club and will bear in mind how such a club may be disbarred or struck off simply because there is someone on the committee who has a black spot in his past.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). There is a danger here because the Government, having made a series of concessions on this part to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), may think that they have done enough and will not wish to look at the matter again. I assure the Government that there is real concern about this Clause among people engaged in managing clubs. The more one looks at the matter and examines the ordinary meaning of the words, particularly as laymen examine such words, the more legitimate the concern seems to be.

I take, first, the words known character as proved to the court In one sense, those words might be interpreted by magistrates as meaning merely that the charge had had to be proved in a court. Lawyers might say that that is not the meaning to be attached to them. There is nothing in the two words "known character" by themselves to give any estimate of what degree of crime would qualify a person for exclusion from engaging in running a club. The more one looks at the words known character as proved to the court the more they seem on every count to constitute a loose and sloppy phrase. Since this is the core of the subsection, I hope that the Minister will reconsider it.

There is no doubt about the intention of the whole Committee as to what the subsection should achieve. It is designed solely to deal with criminals seeking to set up bogus clubs. That is what it is supposed to do. If that is the purpose, it is surely not beyond the wit of the Government and their legal advisers to use words which make that absolutely clear and which do not leave open any other interpretation.

Mr. Edelman

Is it not quite likely that in certain parts of the country some magistrates may include in their catalogue of persons guilty of moral turpitude those people who, for instance, take part in anti-Polaris demonstrations?

Mr. Foot

It is conceivable, but I am not applying to manage a club and, as far as I know, none of my friends is proposing to do so. My hon. Friend gave a list of examples of the way in which prejudice and supposition and a different approach to these matters could determine the decision. That is not what the Government intend. At any rate, it is not what they say they intend, and I am sure that in this case they are acting in good faith. By this Clause, they want to try to prevent real criminals from starting bogus clubs. That is all. But the words they use go very much further.

I hope, therefore, because he has told us that he wishes to carry out the intention which he described, and no more, that the Minister will be good enough to look at the matter again. The Clause has been hacked about a bit already and it is becoming quite difficult for anyone to understand. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take the Clause away and see whether he can bring in a much tighter Clause which does no more than fulfil the purpose which he himself defined as the purpose of this subsection.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I was very much indebted to the Government for the changes which they made. I think that I was the first Member in Committee to raise all the objections and ideas which the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and others have raised. That is why I put my name to the Amendment in page 3, line 36, to leave out "associations or antecedents" in support of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). I have certain misgivings. I say this with some experience of having appeared in matters of this kind in other places. I think that the two Amendments which are now to be incorporated really meet the whole spirit of the debate, and I will explain why.

If a man has a background as an admirable strike-breaker or strike leader, even if he has had the misfortune to have ended up in the wrong place some years ago, the fact is that it comes before the bench. The practice in the courts is this. First, the case comes before the bench and the police have to make their inquiries. If in the course of those inquiries they elicit that there is concerned in the active management of the club a man who has one or two previous convictions, perhaps in the fairly distant past, they may nevertheless say—and they usually do—"We have no objection to the grant of this certificate".

The matter goes through and the bench does not inquire. On the other hand, one may have a bench which is very particular and which itself inquires into whether there has been any convictions in the background. If there has been, the bench may know about it, take it into account, and take another view. Alternatively, if a man has a conviction and the police introduce it, they must prove the known character as proved to the court properly.

I am bound to say that, if a man has a conviction which is sufficiently recent and sufficiently relevant to the conduct of management of a club, we must all agree that it is right in such circumstances that he should not play an active part in the management of a club.

8.0 p.m.

Therefore, I believe that we have now got what are the best words. I think the Government have gone as far as it is possible to go. If I had to sit down and draft this Clause, with the views which I hold, which are stringent in this regard—that we should have proper proof against a man's character—I certainly could not better it. Indeed, I certainly did not have the ability to draft an Amendment as good as that of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, because if I had I should have drafted it.

I sought to exclude "associations or antecedents". The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) was dealing with the question of "associations or antecedents", as was also the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). Of course, I see that "associations or antecedents" would cover political associations, and antecedents might cover disreputable friends. They may be disreputable politically, socially or because they have had criminal associates, and there is very little doubt that those who originally drafted the Bill wanted to cover as well, if they could, not only the man but the associates of the man, and there was very good reason for it.

In the West End of London, if people are trying to operate a disreputable club, the man who makes the application is a man of good character. The secretary of the club is a man of good character, but the real promoter with the finance is a man of bad character who never comes up to the surface—the big fish that lies in the stagnant pool behind.

Mr. Shinwell

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise what he is saying? He is dealing, primarily and fundamentally, with the private club, the sort of club where, sometimes, there are accusations of vice or bogus operations. He is not dealing with the bona fide working-men's club, to which I myself and some of my hon. Friends addressed ourselves.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I appreciate that, and I was going to deal with it, but, unfortunately, the Government would not have it in Committee. We put forward the view to them that all clubs that were prepared to accept Schedule 4 automatically go out of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and others sought to bring up the question of the working-man's club, and we quite naturally and rightly said, "All right, we want the Conservative clubs." We could also have Labour clubs, and, indeed, I have said that I wanted the M.C.C., being a member, and all sporting clubs. Why not? They are just as good. I suggested at that time that we should take out all clubs which were prepared in their own rules to support the rules which line up with those for friendly societies.

The Government would not have that, and, as a result of that, we have to have here one Clause that covers them all. If that one Clause has to cover all, then it has to cover not only the workingman's clubs, but also the West End club—the "sleazy joint"—and one test has to be applied. I think it is right that we should have one test of character, which can be equally applicable to the man in the North of England who is engaged in running a perfectly respectable club, the same test being applied in London, where the man may not be so respectable, but where, none the less, the great majority are equally respectable. When we look at that test and see what it is, I believe that these words— known character as proved to the court in the Amendment which my right hon and learned Friend has put forward, will meet the case. I wanted to say that I do not believe that it will cause any hardship.

There is only one point that cannot be met, and it is best said. This was the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) when he said that it is true—and he is quite right—that something that has been in the cupboard for a long time might come out—an old conviction. On the whole, the police are pretty good about this. They do not bring up this sort of thing if they know that there is no fundamental objection. They do not usually do it unless there is some good reason, and I do not think they would do it. It might happen, but it would be on very rare occasions, and, on the whole, it certainly would not become grounds for an objection to a club of this kind. It is my considered view that the working-men's club and all the others will have no objection to the Clause as it is now to be amended.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 33, line 36, leave out "character, associations or antecedents" and insert— known character as proved to the court."—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]