HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc1068-94
Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 40, line 1, to leave out subsection (1) and to insert: (1) Where a club applies for the issue of a registration certificate in respect of any premises, any officer of the local authority authorised in writing by that authority may, on giving not less than forty-eight hours' notice to the person signing the application and, if the premises are not occupied by the club, to the occupier, enter and inspect the premises at any reasonable time on such day, not being more than fourteen days after the making of the application, as may be specified in the notice.

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if the following Amendments were also discussed:

In line 2, leave out from "premises" to "may" in line 3 and insert: an officer of the local authority authorised in writing by that authority". In line 9, leave out from "and" to "shall" in line 10 and insert: a constable authorised in writing by the chief officer of police". In line 11, at end insert: but a chief officer of police shall not so authorise a constable unless in his opinion special reasons exist making it necessary that the premises should be inspected on behalf of the police authority". In line 11, at end insert: and such right shall be exercisable additionally in respect of an application for the renewal of a registration certificate In line 12, leave out "a constable or" and insert "an".

In line 15, leave out from "the" to end.

In line 25, at end insert: (5) Nothing in this section shall authorise a constable to enter and inspect the club premises of any working-men's club (that is to say, a club which is, as regards its purposes, qualified for registration as a workingmen's club under the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, and is a registered society within the meaning of that Act or of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893). If I may make the matter plain, I would, if so desired, thereafter call for a Division only the Amendment in page 40, line 2, and the Amendment in page 40, line 25. I think that covers the ground.

Sir F. Soskice

This series of Amendments deals with a matter of considerable importance affecting clubs, because it deals with a question of police entry into clubs for the purpose of inspection. I should remind the House at once that the Bill contains two separate provisions about police entry. One is to be found in Clause 26. That is a provision for police entry on a justices' warrant in the event of there being reason to suppose that there is a breach of the law going on in the club. These Amendments do not touch that provision at all. That remains intact.

I seek to make a change, or rather alternative changes, in the existing wording of Clause 25 (1). That Clause deals with a situation when an applicant has just applied for a registration certificate in relation to a club. The subsection contains a provision that a constable authorised by a chief officer of police and an officer of a local authority shall have the right, on giving due notice, to enter once for the purpose of an inspection after the application has been made and before the hearing takes place.

The concept is that there should be an opportunity both for the police and the local authority to enter premises on which it is proposed to conduct a club in order to satisfy themselves about the suitability of the premises, and in matters which would enable them to decide whether or not they would desire to raise objection to the granting of a certificate. Strong apprehension has been felt about the provision that the police should have that right of entry even on the occasion of the first application. The argument has been put forward, and it was exhaustively explored in Committee, that there was nothing that the police could detect when they made the examination which could not equally be detected by an officer of a local authority and its being prima facie a thing not altogether pleasing to be subjected to police scrutiny it is felt that the provision should be removed unless it is justified as absolutely necessary.

In Committee, the Government gave some indication of those things which they thought police officers would be able to notice if they entered upon the premises.

Listening to the explanation of the Government case for wanting to preserve these powers, the Committee was left in some state of doubt. I certainly was. I asked myself, and I still do, why an inspection, if it takes place before an application is granted, should not be made by the appropriate officer of a local authority. What are the things which he is likely to want to see—whether there are suitable exits for fire, whether the premises are properly maintained, whether there is any danger to persons resorting to the premises, whether they are sanitary and wholesome from the point of view of ventilation, and so on? One would have thought that it would be vitally necessary that all these things should be examined when the pre-application inspection took place. One would have thought that the borough engineer or the architect would be an appropriate officer of the local authority to undertake such an examination.

One asks what, in addition, would a police officer be able to discover which the borough engineer or architect would not be able to discover. I still do not know. I do not quite know what would be of significance to a police officer when he went upon the scene, and why it is, therefore, that clubs, the vast majority of which are perfectly respectable, should be subjected to this humiliation so far as it goes when they apply for a registration certificate.

All of us in this country resent intrusion upon our liberties unless it can be shown that the intrusion is justified in the public interest. I put it to the Minister of State that so far we have not had an adequate justification. The Minister was, I thought, very much impressed by the questions put to him during the course of the Committee deliberations, and I thought he left us under the impression that he would give serious consideration to the matter and ascertain whether any changes would be appropriate.

It emerges fairly clearly that with one exception no change has been made. The exception is important and I call attention to it. It is contained in one of the Schedules and is embodied in a later Amendment. It is to the effect that in the case of a working-men's club, if I may so loosely describe the definition in the Amendment, there should be no police inspection under the Clause if the club had been licensed for a period of not less than three years—broadly speaking, before the Bill comes into operation. That is a very important change and exonerates from inspection the great majority of working-men's clubs now in existence, for the vast majority will have been in existence for far longer than three years and none of them need have any apprehension that the power of police inspection under Clause 25 will be used in its case.

Still, the power exists in the case of all future clubs and of clubs which at the moment have been in existence for less than three years. So it is still a power the use of which even in the case of working-men's clubs requires to be very carefully scrutinised.

The power is one which is to be exercised in the case not only of workingmen's clubs but of all clubs. Therefore, the first questions I put to the Minister are as follows. What is the case for the police going into clubs at all? What is it that they will be looking for? What is it that they will be likely to find which the appropriate officer of a local authority would not be able to find? What, in general, is the case for saying that the police are to have these powers?

In asking these questions, I am not saying anything derogatory to the police. I feel sure that they will exercise their powers with discretion, wisdom and courtesy, as they do. Nevertheless there is a question whether a case exists for giving them this additional power, a very wide-ranging power because it will affect all clubs except those specifically excepted.

9.45 p.m.

Confronted with that situation, we have tabled Amendments making three separate proposals. The first is that which is contained in the Amendment which I have moved, which is to limit the power of inspection solely to an officer of the local authority. I think that I have made the case for that, such as it is, and the right hon. Gentleman will either accept it or reject it.

Secondly, I have put inspection by the local authority in the first place, and I have provided that, although the chief constable is to be able to authorise a police constable to make an inspection as well as the local authority officer, nevertheless he is only to give that authority if

…in his opinion special reasons exist making it necessary that the premises should be inspected on behalf of the police authority. In other words, prima facie it should be the local authority which, through its officer, carries out necessary inspections, but I do not take away the power of inspection by the police. I hedge it around, however, by the provision that the chief constable should not send in a police constable to make the inspection unless he has some special reason in his mind for thinking that it is necessary, owing to special circumstances, to have an inspection by the police.

My third proposal is contained in the Amendment to line 25. It is a plain and simple proposal to exclude altogether from the purview of police inspection the working-men's clubs as defined in that Amendment. The case for that has already emerged during the course of our debates today. It is, broadly speaking, that working-men's clubs, with their very large membership, and spread over the country, are well conducted and serve a useful social purpose.

That being their character, it is unjustifiable to subject them to this requirement of police inspection when there really is not an adequate case for so doing. It must be remembered, not only in the case of these clubs but also in the case of all clubs, that, side by side with this power of police inspection, there exists other power of inspection by the police if they obtain a warrant. This is contained in Clause 26 and I have already referred to it. It is not, therefore, as if a club can break the law with impunity. It cannot do so. Whether it be a working-man's club or not, it must submit to inspection on a justice's warrant as the law stands at present, and that provision is to be continued and is repeated in Clause 26.

In short, I make three separate sets of proposals. The first is to limit the power of inspection to a local authority; the second is to retain the police power of inspection to go with that of the local authority, but to limit the police power by providing that the police constable is only to go in if the chief constable is satisfied that special and exceptional reasons make it necessary for there to be police inspection; thirdly, I propose to leave out altogether all the provisions relating to police inspection of working men's clubs, because of the special circumstances which obtain in their case.

I commend these three proposals to the House. I put them forward as alternative proposals in a desire to meet the situation which has given rise to widespread apprehension. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State will be able to see his way to accepting one or other of them.

Mr. Snow

I am addressing myself particularly to the proposed Amendment to line 25. I am aware that some of the things that I shall have to say have been said already, and I do not wish to detain the House by any form of repetition. But, at the same time, ever since the Bill was first tabled, and as a result of conversations I have had in my constituency, I have been impressed, as I have rarely been impressed, by the immense antagonism which this provision has created in the minds of many of my constituents.

In drafting this Clause the Government have been curiously insensitive to the general sentiment in areas outside the great urban concentrations. Many of my hon. Friends, with greater experience of this matter than I, will agree that working-men's clubs were created originally when social circumstances were a good bit harder than they are today and in small communities, many of them attached to particular industries, like coal, where, geographically speaking, it was not easy to produce social amenities of any sort. These clubs feature to this day in the life of ordinary people in a way which many hon. Members opposite find difficult to understand, since they are somewhat conditioned by the requirements of urban life.

In the West Midlands, for instance, an immensely important social change is going on with the exit of masses of the population from the highly concentrated areas to the sort of overspill receiving areas such as I represent. In those areas the Bill's provisions for new clubs become increasingly important.

I sometimes feel that hon. Members opposite do not quite understand the immensity of the new housing estates which are being created in these overspill areas and where amenities practically do not exist, where shops hardly exist and where there is a definite need for some factor, some agency, in life to get the communities together. Workingmen's clubs fulfil that function. The very idea of the entry of the police is resented very strongly. What conceivable function could the police have in a new proposed club when every possible requirement could be judged, assessed and decided upon by the local authority representatives?

I recently had the honour of being a guest of honour at the golden jubilee of a working-men's club in Rugeley, in my constituency. That golden jubilee was celebrated by a dinner at which the president of the club mentioned that in the club's fifty years of existence there had not been one single occasion when the police had been brought in, or when there had been a police complaint, or any sort of brush with the Establishment. That goes for the overwhelmingly large proportion of working-men's clubs.

The Minister should be a little more sensitive about the prevailing attitude on this matter. I do not wish to import undue prejudice into my speech, but there is a feeling that this sort of proposal for police entry would not have been suggested had there been any serious question of new clubs in the West End. The fact of the matter is that the heyday of the old-established, reputable and distinguished clubs of the West End is over. Had that been the case, I doubt very much whether this proposal would have been put forward. In other words, it must apply only to the clubs about which I have been talking, and particularly to the new clubs which by the very nature of things must be developed on these new overspill housing estates.

I strongly support what my right hon. and learned Friend said. It would be wrong if the Minister did not take into account the strong resentment felt by many of my constituents against this proposal.

Mr. Shepherd

I readily understand, and to some extent share, the anxiety of those who do not wish the police to come on to their premises, but I think that the House is making rather heavy weather of this. After all, it is not as though, as happens in some West End clubs, the police come in during the course of running the club to inspect the premises and see whether drinks are being served when they ought not to be. They come in only before the club begins to operate.

There is one reason why it is desirable that the police should conduct this form of activity. When an application is made to establish a club in a neighbourhood, there is often a good deal of resentment by those who live around, and a good deal of pressure is put on the local authority to resist the application. If an independent body like the police, who are not susceptible to electoral pressure, were to investigate the club and give an independent report, it would be a safeguard against the tendency on the part of local authorities to be susceptible to the pressure put on them by interested parties before whom they have to appear from time to time as candidates. I therefore think that it is a wise provision to have a second opinion by permitting the police, as well as the local authority, to submit a report on the desirability of the proposed premises.

I hope that the House will take the point that it is not necessarily against the interests of those who want to establish a club that some authority which is independent of the electoral pressure which can be put on a local authority should provide a report on the suitability of the premises and other factors.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Hon. Members who are interested in this Clause will appreciate that we are discussing a number of Amendments together to facilitate consideration of the issues involved and also to facilitate the business of the House.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference in Manchester of delegates from trades councils in the north-west area. Concern was expressed at the relatively large number of clubs which had been opened in that area in the last few years. This arose out of a discussion of the terrible fire at the club in Bolton. My knowledge of the fire was confined to what I had read in the papers, but Alderman Peter Flanagan, of Bolton, who had been very interested in what happened after the fire broke out, gave an account of the club and what went on there, together with what the local authority had been doing. This created considerable concern amongst those present at the conference.

I did not say much, because I preferred to sit back and listen and learn from those who lived in the vicinity. It caused me some concern. I have since discussed the matter with a number of people who have been very active in the matter in that area over a long period—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the Provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out, to the second "any" in line 2, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I have learnt a great deal, and I was surprised at the conditions which exist in that area. I hope that the Minister will give us an undertaking in respect of these Amendments before we part with them. I am pleased to see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) has safeguarded the position of the working-men's clubs. At the conference to which I have referred concern was expressed about the effect of the Clause on those clubs. My right hon. and learned Friend has put down an Amendment to safeguard their position, and I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking in respect of it, if he cannot accept it.

The Minister should also deal with the other Amendments from the point of view of the lessons learnt from the terrible Bolton fire. It was obvious that no inspections had taken place. No attention had been paid to safety. That kind of thing happens in too many cases. I understand that in Manchester and similar areas mills have been taken over and used as clubs. Anybody who has doubts about the correctness of that should remember what occurred at Bolton. I hope that the Minister will make a clear statement showing how he proposes to deal with these clubs in order to prevent a repetition of the Bolton catastrophe.

Mr. Edelman

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has very properly drawn attention to the dangers caused by a lack of inspection of these premises. Nothing in the Clause appears to me to militate against a proper inspection of premises which may be used as clubs, whether the inspecting officers are police officers or members of the local authority; we are now specifically discussing the question whether this inspection should be undertaken by a police officer or an officer of the local authority. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) very properly asked what precisely a police officer would look for when he went into one of these clubs.

I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). Workingmen's clubs, with their long history, are a constantly expanding institution in our national life, and their organic method of development is to proceed from simple premises by steady enlargements, progressively to become the large and flourishing clubs which we know today. Because of that progressive enlargement, it is necessary, and would be under the Bill, for there to be not a single inspection, as has been suggested, at the beginning of the club's history and then total oblivion for the future, but a need for constant inspections.

Under the Bill, the police would require to have a repeated right of entry any time extensions were made to the premises. So it would he idle to dismiss the question of the appearance of the police on the premises merely as if that happened on a single occasion. On the contrary, each time an extension was made—we know that extensions are frequently made—it would mean that there would be a police inspection. It is true, as has been said, that law abiding people do not fear the police.

It is equally true to say that in working-class areas the appearance of a uniformed policeman is often an antagonistic phenomenon. Certainly, his appearance on club premises is an indication, if not of actual trouble, of potential trouble. A uniformed policeman is synonymous with difficulty; he is synonymous with objection; he is synonymous with the resentment which law-abiding people feel when they consider that their privacy and personal security is menaced.

It is all very well to dismiss that as idle apprehension. I recall that in this Chamber some years ago the late Mr. W. G. Brown said that whenever he entered the precincts of the Palace of Westminster he felt a flutter of apprehension in his stomach when he passed a policeman. He said that that dated from his working-class origin, when a uniformed policeman in the street always meant that someone was in trouble. We cannot dismiss the fact that the feeling is there, and that there exists genuine resentment among the members of working-class clubs—premises which serve a most valuable democratic purpose—at the thought that they will be exposed to these incursions and snoopings by the police, who are the servants of the Executive, in order to assess whether the club should or should not be considered fit for registration.

In this matter we might take a lesson from the United States. There, the police have very important powers of entry into clubs and into places where normally a difficult and elaborate system must be carried out in order to obtain admission. We know that especially in places like Chicago the amount of corruption among the police is very high, precisely because they have the power and the opportunity to give personal concessions to special interests. I should not like to see the opportunity given to the police in Britain or rather, not the opportunity, but that they should be exposed to occasions of corruption by being put in a position in which they would have to make recommendations as to the worth or value of premises of this kind.

I should have thought the Home Secretary had his hands full in trying to deal with the crime wave. Only today and quite by chance, when I was in the Library I was looking at two newspapers, one a Birmingham newspaper and the other a South Wales newspaper. I read that in both Birmingham and South Wales the crime figures had never been higher. The police should be used for their proper purpose, which is to stem the crime wave. But here we have police officers, instead of being engaged in keeping the peace and preserving the law, given the difficult and thankless task of inspecting club premises.

My right hon. and learned Friend has asked why? What are they to look for? Will they see whether the escape ladders are in the proper position? Surely that is a job for the borough engineer. Are they to consider whether the club premises are sanitary? Surely that is a job for the medical officer of health. Are they to see in those premises, which are yet to be occupied, whether people are behaving themselves? Quite clearly, since the premises are unoccupied, there is nothing for them to do in that respect.

It is clear that this is a civil activity which should be entrusted to a civil authority. This is a civil activity which should be entrusted to the officers of the local authority, each of whom has experience in the particular respect for which the premises should be inspected. If the Minister accepted the Amendment he would kill two birds with one stone. First, he would provide an answer to the profoundly felt resentment of the members of the Working-men's Club and Institute Union.

They sent representatives to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and myself from the Coventry area. There, they have about 30,000 club members who were filled with burning indignation at the prospect that they should be exposed to this new kind of snooping on club members who for many years have lived together in their communities with their clubs untroubled by incursions of the police authority and subjected to this examination. The Minister has an opportunity of doing not only the practical and right thing, but also of providing an answer to these deep psychological resentments felt by the Working-men's Club and Institute Union.

Working-men's clubs are, by nature and definition, private places. They are places where men go with their families to commune and find the kind of social activity which other people find at cocktail parties in West End clubs. They are clubs where they seek to enjoy the kind of entertainment which is traditional among them. They have never had police appearing in their clubs in uniform. If it were suggested that the police should appear not in uniform, that would be worse than the proposal as the Bill stands.

I urge the Minister to consider the whole matter very carefully. The police have no business at all in these clubs. Let him entrust this task to local authorities' specialists, who have great experience in assessing the worth of club premises. Then he will go a long way to make the Club and Institute Union and working-men's clubs feel that the Government, instead of seeking to undermine their long-established traditions, are concerned in seeking to maintain the amenities of working-class clubs.

Mr. Vosper

I think it would be of help if I intervened to answer some of the questions which have been asked. During Second Reading representations were made from more than one quarter that full police entry should be afforded in the case of clubs as in the case of public houses. Those representations have continued during the passage of the Bill, although I note that no voice has been raised to that effect so far in this debate. Nevertheless, the Government have always taken the view that full police entry and inspection of clubs should not be introduced in this Bill.

That has never been in dispute. Despite that, there has been intense confusion as a result of this part of the Bill. Many clubmen in all parts of the country have been led to believe that policy entry during the operation of the club was being introduced, but that was never the intention and was never in the Bill. The present law is that there may be entry on a warrant. That, as the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) said, is retained in this Bill in Clause 26. An additional power has been taken that there should be inspection prior to first registration. This is only a limited, once-for-all inspection before the first registration of the club. That was the only new proposal for police inspection ever made by the Government in the Bill for clubs.

10.15 p.m.

The reason for introducing the proposal was that in Clause 21 the police are given the right to object to the registration of a club. In particular, they are given the right to object on the ground that the premises are not suitable and convenient for the purpose in view of their character and condition and of the size and nature of the club. It seemed to the Government difficult to give the police the right to object to the registration of a club if they had never seen the club. That is the first reason for allowing this once-for-all inspection of the club.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman argued, as did others of his colleagues in Committee, that that duty could be undertaken by the local authority. There is, however, a difference between the function of the police and that of the local authority in this respect. The local authority can also object to the registration of a club and its inspection would be concerned, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly said, possibly with the structure, the architecture and the sanitary aspects. The fire authority is now being brought in, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) referred to this. The fire authority will be able to object on the grounds that the fire precautions and appliances are not adequate.

The police, however, are concerned with something different. They are concerned with law and order, with control over the premises as a club. The local authority would be concerned, not with the order of the club running as a club, but with its structure and physical condition. It will not be concerned, as the police will be concerned, with the control of the club from the bar which is so necessary as in the case of a public house. Therefore, if a club is to set up premises in a basement or somewhere like that, it is right that the police, who will be responsible for objecting or not objecting to the application for registration, should visit the premises in the first instance to see whether those sort of premises are capable of being run as a club.

Mr. Ellis Smith

As I understand it, the Bolton affair would never have occurred had this Clause been in operation.

Mr. Vosper

I would not like to answer that question. Certainly, the Clause as amended at an earlier stage will give much greater power to prevent that sort of occurrence happening.

Mr. Snow

I am not quite clear what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at about police inspection of premises beforehand. I understand perfectly about the location of the bar, from which the right hon. Gentleman said that the "pub" is controlled. That is a self-evident matter that the local authority could look at. But how could anyone judge the control of club premises when the place is empty and there is no pattern of behaviour by which to judge?

Mr. Vosper

I hope I am clarifying the position that the local authority will be concerned with physical structure of the club premises and, no doubt, the sanitary arrangements, but will not he concerned with the running of the club as an organisation, with the preservation of law and order, which is the particular responsibility of the chief officer of police. That is the matter with which the police must be concerned. This was a matter which we debated in Committee, and it was then argued that the police did, or should, know whether an established club was capable of being conducted within the limits of law and order without the necessity of this first inspection.

Following the Committee stage, I discussed the matter particularly with the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to see whether, in his judgment, these powers were necessary. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) intervened on an earlier Amendment about whether this was a London or a national problem. It is initially and basically a London problem, but, of course, it has its ramifications in the provinces. I discussed this issue particularly with the Commissioner of Police to see whether he insisted that the power of first inspection was necessary if he was to carry out his duty of preserving law and order. It is because of those discussions and the views urged on me in Committee that the later Amendment, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, in the Seventh Schedule, page 55, line 39, at the end to insert: (4) Where during the transitional period a club remaining registered under the 1953 Act in respect of any premises applies for the issue of a registration certificate for those premises, section twenty-five of this Act shall not apply so as to authorise an inspection of the premises by a constable, if the club had for the three years preceding the appointed day been registered under the 1953 Act in respect of the premises. is designed to exempt all established clubs from even this first inspection. It is guesswork, but I should say that 95 per cent. or more of existing registered clubs in this country will be exempt from any form of inspection by that Amendment. I must make that clear, because as the Amendment appears later on the Notice Paper some hon. Members may not be aware of its existence. They have been exempted because it can be said that during the period of initial registration it is possible for the police to ascertain, by means available to them, that clubs are well conducted and that law and order can be preserved.

That same facility obviously does not arise in the case of a new club. There-tore, the Bill as it is before the House at the moment and without that Amendment merely preserves the power of police inspection for clubs which have not been registered for three years at the date of the Bill becoming an Act. That is the limited power still retained in this Bill. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis believes that, if he is effectively to carry out the terms of Part III, he should retain that power, I have no reason to believe that the chief Constable of Coventry, for instance, would take a different view.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) rather suggested that this power was being imposed on the police. That certainly is not the case. At the moment the police are unable to deal with the drinking or bogus clubs because of the weakness of the law. We hope that the Bill will save police manpower because the law will become effective This is one of the provisions which is necessary to that end. I want the House to be quite clear. We are concerned with a very limited number here. We are merely concerned with clubs which have not been established for three years. The question is whether they should be inspected once to see whether law and order can be preserved.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me again if I would exempt working-men's clubs. I think that he is seized of the fact that one cannot discriminate between working-men's clubs, however laudable their purpose, and Conservative or British Legion clubs. One cannot exempt one type of club. We discussed this at great length in Committee and I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman then accepted this argument.

He suggests, next, that this power should in some way be permissive, in the sense that only if a chief officer of police has good reason to believe that there is anything wrong with the club should he have power to inspect it. The purpose of the inspection is to see if the club is capable of being run as a club and whether objection should be laid before the magistrates. Therefore, it would be impossible to accept his suggestion that the power should be only permissive in such circumstances because it will be of general application.

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

When the Minister of State says that the police will see whether a club can be properly run as a club, what is he referring to? Is he referring to the club as an organisation, as a going concern, or is he referring to the physical premises? I am in a complete muddle about this. I should like to know what the Minister of State has in mind. Are the police to go there for the purpose of gauging the suitability of the premises for running as a club, or are they to go there to see the club and its members in operation in order to decide whether the membership of the club and the way it is conducted are such that an extension can be granted or the premises licensed?

Mr. Vosper

The police will not generally be concerned with the structure of the club. That will be the concern of the local authority. The police will be concerned with seeing whether the premises are capable of enabling a club to be run there and those in charge of the club to be capable of exercising control. That is the purpose. That is the great difference between inspection by the police and by the local authority.

This power is permissive to the chief officer of police. But if he is to be in a position to object or not object before magistrates to the registration of a club, it is obviously in the interests of the club that the officer of police should have a chance of seeing the premises. The terms are very reasonable. The application has to be made in writing 48 hours in advance. There is no question of a policeman in uniform appearing in uniform in the club unannounced to the inconvenience of the members. We are not concerned with police entry in that form in any sense of the word whatsoever—

Mr. Snow

They will not be there.

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Gentleman says that they will not be there, but it is quite possible for the police to examine a club that has not come into existence as an organisation to see whether or not the club can be run as premises—

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

The right hon. Gentleman says whether the club can be run as premises, but does he not mean whether the premises can be run as a club? I have rather an open mind on this and I want to know what the Government's answer is, but I am simply and completely foxed by what the Minister says. It is utterly impossible to follow him.

My difficulty is this. The police will go into the premises. When they go into the premises, what will they look for? Will they look for the behaviour of the members and the way in which the club is being conducted, or will they just look at the premises so as to satisfy themselves as to the premises, but with no members there at all? What will they be looking for? That is what we want to know.

Mr. Vosper

They will look at the premises, presumably, when they are unoccupied by members to see whether the premises are capable of being run as a club, and control kept by a committee or barman. If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not believe that it is possible, perhaps he will consult his own chief constable. This is an imposition laid on the authorities by the Government, but if the control of clubs is to be effective by means of this Bill, some chance to inspect the premises prior to the hearing of the application is not an unreasonable request.

This is a very limited power. From the original provisions in the Bill, we have reduced this power to apply only to, new clubs. It is certainly arguable whether or not one should drop the power altogether, but if one does that then, to some extent, one undermines this part of the Bill, which has been supported by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are very reluctant to make the task of the authorities who have to administer the Bill more difficult than it need be. We have to balance that against the suggestion urged on me in this debate that this is an unnecessary power and will cause inconvenience to clubs.

I find it so difficult to think that this will really be an inconvenience. Existing clubs will be completely exempt from the provision. There will be one inspection of new clubs by notice given in writing by the chief officer of police, and that does not seem unreasonable. If the House does think it unreasonable; and that is more important than the preservation of law and order and the control of clubs under this part of the Bill, we will certainly give further consideration to the matter. The choice is between retaining this limited power as it is here, or dropping it altogether. I think that the other Amendment would do no good to either party.

By an Amendment that has not been fully discussed so far, the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) wants annual inspection by the local authority. That is asking for an increase of inspection, which is the opposite of what we have been considering in this debate. My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has already said that he will consider whether the right of annual inspection should be given to the fire authority where there is a case. I think that there is a less case in regard to the ordinary local authority. We will take that point into consideration but to suggest that there should be an increase in inspection is in direct contradiction of what we have been listening to.

That summarises the Government's attitude. It is not a matter of great moment; it has been vastly exaggerated in the country. I still feel that many hon. Members think that this is a much worse threat to club life than it is, but if they are still of the opinion that it will be of great inconvenience and burden on the clubs and that that is worse than the burden on the law, we will look at it again.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

The Minister says that this provision applies only to new clubs, but under subsection (4) it will apply to clubs already registered when at any time they expand their premises.

Mr. Vosper

I should have made that clear. If an existing club extends its premises, then it will be liable for inspection

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Ede

The right hon. Gentleman has made a very fair offer. If we object to this proposal and impress him with the strength of our objection, he will drop the proposal. I sincerely hope that he will, Otherwise, if we have the kind of police inspection to which he has referred, he will make the club coincide more nearly with the public house than most clubs would want.

I take as an example the ordinary licence in respect of a new house applied for by the brewers or by a prospective tenant. The premises have to comply with the byelaws of the local authority, and they cannot be erected if they do not. Sanitary and other requirements have to be complied with, and the case never reaches the licensing committee unless that sanction has been obtained. Speaking as an ex-chairman of a licensing committee, the first question I should put to learned counsel appearing for the local thirsty population—hon. Members would be surprised how great is the number of them and how great is their thirst—would be, "Have you secured the sanction of the local authority to the plans?". My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) would still make that a preliminary.

Thereafter, the police say whether the premises can be controlled. Are they so designed that they can be controlled? Is the licensee in a position to assure the police that at any given minute of the day or night when the premises are open he can accept full responsibility for everything which goes on? That is not my conception of the way a club is run.

I have belonged to two clubs in London. In my early, unregenerate youth, I was a member of the National Liberal Club. Now, being rather more sophisticated, I belong to another club. Neither of those two clubs would comply with police requirements of the kind I have just mentioned. The police are very traditional in their approach to this matter. It is a matter for the club committee how the club is laid out and the extent to which the committee, in its oversight of the steward during the time when the club is open, can ensure that the rules of the club and the requirements of the law are observed.

I do not want to see clubs constructed with the kind of bar one sees in some public houses, a bar from which, on occasions, two or three separate rooms are served. The atmosphere of the public house would become the predominating atmosphere in the club. I do not consider that the police have any ground for the intervention at the early stages which the Government's proposals give them.

The matters referred to by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) are town planning and similar requirements. I do not think that the police should be brought in, possibly in conflict with the local authority, on matters like that.

I hope that the Minister will be as good as his word and will feel that, without any real detriment, he can drop this proposal and leave the local authority to settle whether the inside of the club building complies with the byelaws or not. After all, the members themselves will try to shape the building, as experience teaches them, in a way which will enable them to get the benefits of a club without some of the detriments which they feel would flow from turning the club into a public house being run by the club committee.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I apologise for having missed a certain part of the debate—I went out to get something to eat—but I heard most of what the Minister of State had to say. I also remember vividly the discussions on this topic in Committee.

What I heard of the right hon. Gentleman's speech left me in rather a muddled state of mind. He did not seem to mind whether the provision was dropped or not; he was completely in the hands of the House, and if a majority of hon. Members felt that the provision should go, the Home Office would have no objection. If that is so, it makes a great deal of difference.

But this part of the Bill deals with clubs, and we cannot remind ourselves enough about that. Unfortunately it will bite on reputable clubs, particularly working-men's clubs, which have been very perturbed about some of the provisions, including this one. Many of us have agreed to these provisions because we believe that this part of the Bill has one definite purpose—to deal with the unsavoury club. Decent clubs have nothing to fear. These provisions are aimed at what goes on in unsavoury clubs, the clubs that we want to get rid of.

As I understood from the right hon. Gentleman when we dealt with the matter in Commitee, although the local authority official and the town planning officer had to look at the premises, it was essential, for obvious reasons, that the police should have the right of entry. Now I understand that it is not really necessary for the police to enter even unsavoury clubs. If that is so, what is all the bother about? If after all this trouble and all the debates on this matter it is necessary to support the Government, I want to support them. If their view is that it is essential that powers of this kind should be provided to deal with the unsavoury club, I want to support them, because it is the unsavoury club that we want to get at.

Will the Solicitor-General or the Home Secretary, if the Minister of State feels that he cannot speak again, let us know what the real position is and whether the powers are essential, and whether they want us to vote for them if the matter goes to a Division?

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Not all hon. Members are against the proposals in the Bill. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said. My experience in my constituency and other parts of Birmingham is that when this matter is explained to those who are concerned with the running of clubs they do not oppose the Bill as it stands. I think that the misunderstanding that has arisen has been created by the clubs themselves, or by their organisations, which did not fully understand what the Bill meant to do. The clubs which have raised the matter with me are now quite satisfied that there is nothing in the provisions of the Bill to which they object.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) impressed me by referring to the accident at Bolton. That is the sort of case where the provisions of this Bill would help. Any additional advice, even from a local authority or a police officer, on the protection of a club prior to it being opened might be quite useful in preventing such an accident.

Mr. Snow

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that in Birmingham the club organisations are prepared to accept this provision? It is not so.

Mr. Gurden

I did not say anything of the kind. I said that those clubs which have approached me—and several have done so—are now quite clear that what the Bill proposes does not interfere with them in any way, and they now take no exception to its provisions. That is quite clear. I did not say that the club organisations had done so. Perhaps what confused the hon. Member was my reference to the club organisations which have whipped up some feeling against these provisions. It was from these organisations that the information on this matter reached the clubs in the first place.

I was saying that the accident at Bolton was a reason why we should retain these provisions for as much inspection as possible of any premises that are to be opened as clubs. I see no reason for withdrawing these provisions, nor why my right hon. Friend should even think of doing so. No one will be hurt by inspection of premises it is intended to open as a club. They should be open to inspection if they are to be safe and reasonable for use as club premises.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, N.W.)

The position can be summed up in the one or two minutes that I intend to speak. I am of the same opinion as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who accepted the suggestion that was made by the Minister of State, that if the House felt that these provisions were not necessary he would concede the point we were putting. The argument that 95 per cent. of the clubs will not be affected is an argument in favour of those who say that police inspection is not necessary. In other words, it means that 95 per cent. of the clubs are already carrying on in such a way that they do not require police inspection.

Mr. Vosper

The problem has always been that of the new clubs. The established clubs in general are not a problem to the authorities.

Sir B. Janner

That is what I was saying. It has not been found necessary to alter what has already happened by sending police in to find out whether a club is suitable or not. That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman was saying.

10.45 p.m.

Secondly, I cannot for the life of me understand why the police should be brought in at all. For every purpose for which it is necessary to ascertain that the premises are suitable for use as a club, the local authority has the necessary powers, as have the authorities who have anything to do with fire risk and so on. No one would suggest that a local authority would permit premises to be used as a club if they were not suitable. The only thing that the police can do is to start disputing with the local authority about whose opinion is right or wrong.

The provision is wholly unnecessary. There is much to be said for the view that the arrival of the police on premises is regarded by reputable people as undesirable. If this is to be the provision, why should not the police be able to enter a private house to see whether a cocktail cabinet has been put in for private parties? There are often 40 or 50 or 60 people at a cocktail party in a private home. Why should not the police be able to to go to any premises which someone may want to use to see whether certain conditions should be imposed?

The Home Office should be prepared to accept the suggestion in the Amendments and follow the feeling prevailing in the House. Working-men's clubs, which are extremely well run, resent this kind of thing, and rightly resent it, as I would resent anyone coming into my home to see if I was providing proper facilities for the entertainment a guests or visitors.

The Solicitor-General

I must first apologise for the fact that I did not hear the beginning of the debate, and I shall therefore not be replying to any except the last few speeches which I have been privileged to hear.

I want, secondly, to make plain what sort of matter it is against which a police inspection would be directed. What the police are concerned with is not the sanitary arrangements but matters of order. For example, the sort of thing on which the police would want to satisfy themselves is whether, when the premises are in a basement room and the membership is large, reasonable order could be maintained.

Having said that, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that both in Committee and on Report my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been guided in his conduct of the Bill by the general sense of the House. It has seemed to him that the general sense of the House in this case has been that we should try to limit the police inspection, even on the initial application, to the limited senses in which, as the House will see, there are reasons for requiring it. If the House will leave it in my right hon. Friend's hands to consider it before the Bill is considered in another place, it is in his mind to move an Amendment in another place somewhat on the lines of those of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice).

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Home Department has indicated, we are already virtually committed to considering the Amendment in line 11 in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) because that is merely an extension of an undertaking which I gave earlier in connection with fire authorities. If the House is content to leave it there, the matter will be further considered.

Sir F. Soskice

If I have the permission of the House to speak again, may I say that having listened to right hon. and learned Gentlemen I would be content to ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.