HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc1115-20
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 49, line 6, after "all" to insert "ordinary".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that with this Amendment could conveniently be taken the next following three Amendments, that is to say:

In page 49, line 9, after "matters", to insert "(a)".

In page 49, line 10, after "twenty one", to insert "(b)"

In page 49, line 11, after second "club" to insert: and (c) members who are temporary country, overseas or Service members and who do not pay the full annual subscription

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Paragraph 2 (4) provides that At a general meeting the voting must be confined to members, and all members entitled to use the club premises must be entitled to vote, and must have equal voting rights". The Workmen's Club and Institute Union objects strongly to this. It would mean that union associates from other clubs, honorary members, social members, country members and temporary members, all of whom usually have restricted rights and privileges of membership, would be entitled to attend and vote at general meetings, which they cannot do at present.

The proviso to the sub-paragraph does not exclude from voting any of those classes of members. The union suggests that the only persons who should have the right to attend general meetings should be ordinary members paying the full rate of subscription and who are entitled to all the rights and privileges of membership.

In paragraph 3 of the Schedule, reference is made in three places to ordinary members, thus making a differentiation between members and ordinary members. The position where a club could overload its membership with non-voting classes of members is safeguarded by sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 3 which provides that: The rules must not make any such provision for the admission of persons to membership otherwise than as ordinary members …as is likely to result in the number of members so admitted being significant in proportion to the total membership.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The brief which the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) read sounds very much like one I prepared. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got it from. I hope the House will forgive me if I suggest that we should spend a little time on this Amendment. It is by a long way the most important Amendment we have discussed today, if not the most important in many respects to the whole of Part III, in that, if the Schedule went through in its present form, it would make a complete nonsense of the Bill.

All the major clubs in the country have different classifications of members. The Amendment in my name, in page 49, line 11, which we are discussing at the same time, refers to temporary country, overseas or Service club members who do not pay the full annual subscription. Apart from the constituent clubs of the Workmen's Club and Institute Union, all the golf clubs of the country have temporary country, overseas and Service members. Most of the London clubs have country members, temporary members and Service members. Practically all the working-men's clubs have got social members who are temporary members. Many of the Service clubs, of course, have special arrangements for Service members of different kinds.

11.30 p.m.

In almost every one of these cases these people do not pay the full annual subscription and are not entitled to full privileges. It therefore becomes essential to ensure that in the case of the 99 per cent. of respectable clubs we do not give a power of voting to any of these members other than those who are entitled to the full rights of membership, pay the full subscription and carry the full responsibility.

What is the difficulty, therefore? Briefly, it is this. In the case of the 1 per cent. of unrespectable clubs the draftsman of the Clause as it was standing was hoping to be able to prevent the promoter of such a club from being able to retain control over the voting; that is to say, if six men got together to run a club, they could, by being the only six ordinary members, retain voting control, and then they could of course, have a mass of ordinary other members who did not pay the full annual subscription, and in that way they could run a proprietary club under the guise of a members' club.

I do not for a moment believe that this is an effective way of dealing with this control. If one wished, one could get round it in many ways quite easily. The real essence of it is controlled in two ways. One is that sub-paragraph (2) says that the main number of full members must be a considerable majority, and, therefore, that the country and overseas members are to be only an insignificant part of the whole. But the real control is to ensure that there is a properly elected committee; if it is a bona fide run club with a properly elected committee, that acts as a quite proper control.

Where it does not, if risk there must be, it must in this case he in favour of all the respectable clubs of the country. It would be complete nonsense for all of them if they had to face the difficulty of not being able to give their ordinary members proper voting rights because they had to give them to all the other categories of members which exist in the London clubs, the sporting clubs, the working-men's clubs and the whole setup of clubs in the country.

Therefore, I hope that, if not here, in another place a clear undertaking will be given that the spirit and purpose of the Amendments can be met.

Mr. Vosper

I fully accept there the point raised by both hon. Members is a very serious one. The Government will use every endeavour to meet their point, which is a perfectly fair one. I had hoped to be able to say that the Government had found a solution to the problem, but my conclusions are not yet quite complete.

As my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) realises, there is a great risk in accepting either of the Amendments referred to that one could enable the promoter of a bogus club to create a special class of voting members who would exercise control of the club and the vast majority of other members would be excluded from voting.

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has differentiated between two forms of members by using the term "ordinary". It is true that that features in the Bill and is well understood in club language, but I am advised that legally it would provide the loophole we are most anxious to avoid.

I should like both hon. Members to rest assured that we are fully seized of the problem and that neither of the solutions that they suggest will, as I am at present advised, take care of the problem without providing the additional loophole, but when the Bill is in another place I hope to find some more effective words. That being the case, I hope that the hon. Members will not press their Amendments.

Mr. Fletcher

I am very much obliged for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 49, line 33, after "consisting", to insert: as to not less than three-fourths of the members of the committee". This Amendment proposes a very slight change in the composition of the elective committee which is referred to in paragraph 4 (1) of the Fourth Schedule, according to which the elective committee is one that has to be elected by the club. I proposed that it should have to be elective only as to three-quarters of its membership.

My reason is that there are some elective committees to which it is desired by the club to co-opt some of the membership. I must be frank and say that the case which brought this to my mind was one in which a club was affiliated to a political party—I will not say which one—and it was desired to co-opt some members of that party. Although that is the case which has prompted this Amendment obviously, in the nature of things, the situation must arise from time to time where a club desires to co-opt members to its elective committees who are not members of the club.

No harm could be done, and there would be no infringement of the principle it is designed to enshrine in the provisions of the Schedule, if it was permissible that some part of the membership of an elective committee could be made up of co-opted or nominated members. I hope the Government might feel able to accept the point. It involves very small change, and it is one which would provide an authority which might or might not be used by members of clubs in large numbers.

Mr. Vosper

I am still a little puzzled by the Amendment, as I was when I first saw it. Paragraph 4 (3) of the Schedule reads: …a committee of which not less than two-thirds of the members are members of the club elected to the committee in accordance with sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) above shall be treated as an elective committee. Therefore, the Bill already provides for a committee of which only two-thirds are elected; this is going a little better than three-quarters.

There are two exceptions, which are, perhaps, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind—a committee of less than four members, and the wine committee. It is an important part of the Bill that control of wine should be entirely by elective members. If that is the point he is pressing, then I am not enthusiastic to concede it. If the point is on elective committees as a whole, then it is already fully met.

Sir F. Soskice

If I may speak again by leave of the House—it was the exceptions that I had in mind. Clearly, there must be an exception of the committee with less than four members, because that would involve a dichotomy which would be difficult to achieve in terms of physical composition. I had in mind—I am sorry that I did not make this clear—the committee which was concerned with the purchase by the club or supply by the club of intoxicating liquor.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the wine committee, but there are different clubs and there are obviously different circumstances in which elective members will control the purchase of and supply by the club of intoxicating liquor, but if he is prepared to accept, in the case of other elective committees, the principle that they need not be wholly elective, there cannot be any cogent reason why the same reasoning should not be applied to the wine or liquor committee. I do not suggest the fraction of one-third but the more modest one of one-quarter.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman might be able to see his way to accepting the Amendment, which brings things rather more into line. I cannot see clearly why there should be this rather more rigid requirement with regard to the committee concerned with the purchase of and supply of intoxicating liquor by the club.

Mr. Vosper

It is an important principle of this part of the Bill that the control of wine or liquor should be exercised by the elective members. That is the issue, and I cannot be too forthcoming on that. If he will let me have details of the case he has in mind, I can examine it to see if anything can be done, but I would not like to say that we could relax the general principle that liquor must be under the control only of elective members.

Sir F. Soskice

By leave of the House again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I will let him have particulars of the case I have in mind. I am grateful to him for saying that he will consider whether anything can be done in the light of that case. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.