HC Deb 11 July 1962 vol 662 cc1400-10

(1) Notwithstanding anything in the principal Act, the rules of a registered club may provide for the admission to the premises of the club of persons who are members of another club, and for the sale and supply of exciseable liquor to such persons by or on behalf of the club for consumption on the premises, if—

  1. (a) the other club is a registered club whose premises are in the locality and are temporarily closed; or
  2. (b) both clubs exist for learned, educational or political objects of a similar nature; or
  3. (c) each of the clubs is primarily a club for persons who are qualified by service or past service, or by any particular service or past service, in Her Majesty's Forces and are members of an organisation established by Royal Charter, and consists wholly or mainly of such persons; or
  4. (d) each of the clubs is primarily a club for persons who carry on the same trade, profession or occupation, and that trade, profession or occupation is the same in the case of either club; or
  5. (e) each of the clubs is a working men's club (that is to say, a club which is, as regards its purposes, qualified for registration as a working men'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).

(2) Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, the authority of a certificate or licence shall not be required for such a sale of exciseable liquor as is mentioned in the foregoing subsection and, where the rules of a club provide as aforesaid, exciseable liquor may be supplied in the premises of the club to such persons as are mentioned in that subsection and their guests for consumption on the premises, as it may to members of the club and their guests.—[The Lord Advocate.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.0 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The new Clause involves, if it is accepted, the consequential Amendments to Clause 15, page 15, line 22, after the first "the" to insert "sale or"; and in line 27, after "the", to insert "sale or".

The reason for the new Clause is that I gave an undertaking in Committee, when Amendments were moved by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) in regard to what I might call club affiliation; that is to say, where clubs give honorary membership or receive into their premises members of other clubs. The hon. Member for Dundee, East had in mind two types of clubs. The first were clubs like the staff club at St. Andrew's University which entertained visiting professors and lecturers from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh and had to enrol them as honorary members.

It was found that the sheriff in the neighbourhood took, if I may respectfully say so, a slightly different view of the law to that which I take. As a result, the club had to go through the whole formality of electing these visiting professors and lecturers as honorary members. The second type of clubs he cited was railwaymen's clubs, like those in Perth, and the hon. Member for Govan raised a similar question in regard to working men's clubs.

My view—although I do not claim to be infallible and I realise that certain sheriffs disagree with me—is that under the law as it stands it is perfectly proper to have affiliation arrangements with another club so that members of that club can come in and be treated as members and have the privileges of members, for example, in buying their drinks and introducing guests. But in view of the doubt which has arisen, the Government have felt it right to bring in the new Clause, which is basically founded on part of Section 28 of the English Licensing Act, 1961.

The new Clause is designed to make it clear in what circumstances members of other clubs can be received into what I might call the receiving clubs and have the privilege of buying drinks and entertaining their guests in them. There are five types of affiliation, or pairing arrangements, which are specifically covered.

Sub-paragraph (a) deals with the position of a club which is temporarily closed. That may happen, for example, during the holiday season when the staff are away. Club A may be closed for a fortnight in July while club B might be closed for a fortnight in August so that the clubs can exchange their staffs during those periods. They may also be closed for redecoration or reconstruction, and so on.

Paragraph (b) deals with the club like the St. Andrew's University staff club which exists for learned or educational purposes and it also covers clubs like Conservative or Labour clubs which have political objectives. Paragraph (c) deals with the arrangements by members of clubs in the Royal Naval Association, the British Legion or the Royal Air Force Association under which the members of the club of one branch can have entrance and facilities in another club. That has worked perfectly reasonably in the past and I do not see why it should not continue to do so.

Paragraph (d) covers the type of club like the railwaymen's club in Perth. Paragraph (e) deals with working men's clubs, the point raised by the hon. Member for Govan. I do not see that what I have stated represents any change in the law. The new Clause is merely designed to clarify the law although, admittedly, not every lawyer and sheriff agrees with me.

It seems reasonable to clarify the law in this way when these facilities are specifically laid down in England and appear to have worked well without abuse. Equally, in many parts of Scotland—where the sheriffs have thought fit—similar arrangements have worked without abuse up to now.

Mr. W. Baxter

Why is it necessary to clarify the law if it has been operating satisfactorily up to now? As there is a certain amount of doubt on the part of certain sheriffs and lawyers, does not what the Lord Advocate has said mean that greater difficulty will be caused?

The Lord Advocate

When one clarifies the law one does not try to make the position more confused. The position is that certain sheriffs now accept the provisions of the Clause as being the existing law while others think that it is not. I am merely saying that I hope the law will be regarded as it is stated in the Clause. The Amendments, which are consequential to the new Clause are designed to insert the words "sale or" before the word "supply", because the people with whom we are concerned will be coming in not as members and, accordingly, the drink is sold to them and not supplied to them. This is a purely technical matter.

Mr. Hoy

I was pleased to hear the Lord Advocate say that the new Clause is designed to clarify the law. Apparently at present the sheriffs cannot make up their minds about the matter. If so, it means that some get justice in Scotland while others do not—depending on the sheriff who is trying the case. The Lord Advocate said that some sheriffs agreed with him while others did not——

The Lord Advocate

The difficulty in this case is that there is no right of appeal. There is a single judge, the sheriff, whereas in 99 per cent. of cases there is some sort of appeal.

Mr. Hoy

I made that point in Committee. I raised that precise matter with the right hon. and learned Gentleman because I thought that under the law there was some method of appeal against a decision. However, I was informed that there was no right of appeal. Therefore, some sheriffs interpreted the law as being one thing while others took a contrary view. I suppose that it was thought that if 50 per cent. of the sheriffs went one way and the other 50 per cent. went the other, on balance justice was done. However, that thought did not bring any satisfaction to the people on the side of the wrong sheriffs.

If the new Clause helps to clarify the law we shall all be grateful. Any contribution which the Lord Advocate can make resulting in it being less likely that lawyers will be employed will meet with satisfaction.

Mr. Hannan

If there have been differences of opinion regarding the interpretation of the law, presumably there will be even more differences of opinion when the new Clause is enacted. Although it is said that the new Clause will clarify the position, we shall be back where we started, and since the Lord Advocate represents the Law Office fin Scotland, can he say how this matter is to be resolved?

This provision means that there will be inter-visiting by clubs, in the spirit ofbonhomie,good fellowship, good comradeship—all these fine words that are prostituted for the sake of participation in this sort of business. Paragraph (a) says that if … the other 'is a registered club whose premises are in the locality and are temporarily closed … its members can be admitted to another club, but the premises may have been closed by the action of the law. Are the members of that club still to have this same facility? If a club is closed by police action, can its members find the same facilities in another club——

The Lord Advocate

That arises under an Amendment to this Clause which may—I do not know—be discussed later. As soon as the premises are closed by law, the club ceases to be a registered club, and paragraph (a) does not then apply to it. It must be a registered club and, therefore, still open.

Mr. Hannan

Then let us turn to paragraph (b), where … both clubs exist for learned, educational or political objects of a similar nature… That means that the St. Andrew's clubs are to be used as an example for opening up in a wider field. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) is not here because he, too, is interested in educational objectives.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State told us that youth clubs had accepted the recommendations of a committee in respect of licensing and temperance, and I hope that they will not be 'brought into this. The Lord Advocate assures me on that score, and I am relieved to know it. On the other hand, those clubs are in need of money, and if there is this liberalising, civilising object of making drinking laws wider and wider, I must ask, facetiously and ironically, why not youth clubs? If the permission is good enough for clubs into which young people of between 18 and 19 go, why is it not good enough for young people of 16 and 17?

I am not very happy about the terms of this new Clause because it seems to widen the faculties for people to drift from one club to another and for a bigger congregation of people to go from the cities into the country to visit like-minded clubs existing for these … learned, educational or political objects of a similar nature … Those words will be quoted. Ex-Service men's clubs, British Legion clubs, clubs whose members keep pigeons and all the rest, will find some pretext or other to visit clubs in the country areas, and we shall have the ugly scenes that we are trying to stop. In that respect, we shall aggravate the situation.

I do not yet know what my hon. Friends will say about this new Clause, but I personally have these doubts and hesitations. I should feel somewhat happier if the Lord Advocate could reassure me that youth clubs will not in any way be involved under paragraphs (a) and (b).

The Lord Advocate

It would be open to youth clubs to become registered clubs. In practice, they do not, and there are restrictions on the selling of drink to young persons in clubs. I do not know of any youth club that is a registered club, and I doubt whether any ever will be. I do not think that the Clause will have any effect upon them. As to clarification, we are saying that certain views that certain sheriffs have had should no longer be operative, and that these particular reciprocal arrangements should not bar a receiving club from continuing as a registered club.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Ross

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in paragraph (a) after "closed" to insert: for reasons outwith a court order". The new Clause begins by saying that … Notwithstanding anything in the principal Act, the rules of a registered club may provide for the admission to the premises of the club of persons who are members of another club, and for the sale and supply of exciseable liquor to such persons by or on behalf of the club for consumption on the premises, if— (a) the other club is a registered club whose premises are in the locality and are temporarily closed; or … A special case is being made in relation to clubs in the locality of another club that is temporarily closed, and we have no amplification of what "temporarily closed" means.

I apologise to the Lord Advocate for not being present when the Second Reading of the new Clause was moved, but I believe that he suggested that if a court order had been made the club was automatically disqualified, and was no longer a registered club. I am not altogether happy about that. I have seen in the Press that a club was to be closed for, say, three months in which case, presumably, the club would be temporarily closed and, on the face of it, it would come under the provisions of paragraph (a). When it reopened, its members would automatically resume their membership, without all the business of registration, and the like.

There is no limitation here as to cognate subjects of interest between members of learned, professional or political clubs. One could presume that if, for some reason or other, the Liberal Club in West Lothian were closed down, its members could use the Conservative Club there. They probably do. They probably have a new affinity now, in that candidates of both those political parties lose their deposits in by-elections.

Again, there is no mention of proper control of the size of the premises. A very small club might be open and a very large one temporarily closed, the premises of the smaller one being quite unsuitable in relation to the membership of the other. I am not sure that much thought has been given to this Clause, which automatically confers a right in relation to clubs temporarily closed. There is nothing said about premises being suitable or adequate, or anything like that. Little thought seems to be given to some of the other things that are additionally allowed because, under another paragraph, an open club can receive members of other clubs that are temporarily closed.

I think that it goes far beyond the original intention of the Government, and I am sure that it requires clarification. I should like to be absolutely clear as to the limitations of "temporarily closed". A club may be closed because it has run out of money and is going bankrupt. Then there is always the possibility that the mineral water has run out; that there is no longer any water in the area and people have to go elsewhere for their water.

The position is not clear to me. I think that the Government are far too generous in this respect. We need a tightening of the law. I should like the Lord Advocate to tell me that if the courts have temporarily closed a club its members would not automatically get the benefits which they are denied in their own club by going to another. Can he give me some idea of the circumstances which led him to insist on this being put in the Clause, so that people should not have to endure hardship, even unto death, by being denied, for a short time, the facilities of their club? I am not convinced that paragraph (a) is either desirable or necessary, or in the public interest.

The Lord Advocate

The reason why this was inserted was that there are doubts about the law. It is common practice for two clubs in the same locality during the holiday season or when the premises are being reconstructed, redecorated, or the like, to have an arrangement under which the members of the closed club are accepted as members of the club that is open. I have experienced it frequently myself. In my experience, there has been no overcrowding, no unsuitability, no disgraceful behaviour, or anything else to which anyone could take exception. I felt it right that to meet the case of the education clubs or the railwaymen's clubs this particular matter, which is dealt with in the English Act of 1961, should be mentioned in case doubt should rise over what is a well-known, respectable practice.

It is quite true that in Edinburgh a Conservative club can came to an arrangement with a Liberal club during some period of the year—I will not say which—and members of the one can use the other. I have dined exceedingly well in a Liberal club before now, but at the expense of my host and not at my own.

Mr. Ross

Section 173, paragraph (k) of the 1959 Act states: … unless on the invitation and in the company of a member and that the member shall upon the admission of such visitor to the club premises or immediately upon his being supplied with such liquor, enter his own name and the name and address of the visitor in a book … There are considerable limitations there and someone has to keep sufficiently sober to sign the book.

The Lord Advocate

My host signed the book. That is not to say that he was the only sober member of the party. It is a reasonable, well-known practice.

The hon. Member raised a perfectly valid point about the closing of club premises. To repeat what I was saying when he came into the Chamber, if a club ceases to be a registered club it does not come under paragraph (a). The hon. Member will see that the other club must be a registered club. There are two provisions in the main Act. One is for the cancellation of the certificate of registration. Once that is cancelled the club ceases to be a registered club and cannot have the benefit of paragraph (a). That is under Section 175 of the Act of 1959.

The second provision, in Section 176. deals with what, I think, the hon. Member had in mind. Where the sheriff has either refused the renewal of or cancelled the registration under Section 175, he may in addition disqualify the premises from being used as a club. I think that this is referred to rather loosely as closing the premises for a period. It is up to twelve months on a first offence and five years on the second. That is quite separate from the cancellation of the registration.

The phrase "closing the club" is rather loose. In fact, it has no legal foundation. The question is whether the certificate has been cancelled or not, and if it has, or it has not been renewed, the club ceases to be a registered club until a new certificate is obtained.

Mr. Ross

The paragraph says: … whose premises are in the locality and are temporarily closed. We are dealing with premises temporarily closed and outwith the court order. That is my Amendment. It is exactly the situation to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred just now.

The Lord Advocate

If the club is a registered club its premises cannot have been closed by a court order. So long as it is a registered club, the sheriff cannot close its premises. The sheriff can do two things. First, he can cancel the registration. If, but only if, he either cancels it or fails to renew it can he also disqualify the premises from being used for the purposes of a club. So long as the club is a registered club, its premises are not closed and cannot be closed by the sheriff.

Mr. W. Baxter

I am not quite sure what is the position of a town or a community such as Kirkintilloch in this matter. Under the local poll it has voted to remain dry and have no "pubs" in its locality. Has the sheriff power under this Clause to grant a club licence in a town or locality such as I have indicated, which has decided that it does not want "pubs" of any description in its area? I have not seen any indication whether or not a restriction is placed on the sheriff to have regard to the fact that the whole of the people in a particular locality have voted against having "pubs" in their area.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I do not see how the hon. Member's observations are relevant to this Amendment.

Mr. Baxter

I cannot say that they are relevant to the Amendment, Mr. Speaker, but I ask for your indulgence, as I could not find a peg on which to hang my argument.

Mr. Hoy

May I put a further question to the Lord Advocate? I do not think the Lord Advocate dealt with the point relating to a club in respect of which the sheriff has the right to suspend a licence for a period for misbehaviour. Can he suspend the licence? Can he cancel or suspend it for a period of say, three months? If he is able to suspend it for a period up to twelve months, I interpret that to mean that he can do it for not more than twelve months. If he is able to suspend a licence because the law has been infringed, my hon. Friend wants to know whether that would automatically disqualify a member from using the alternative club for the same period or whether it applies only to the premises.

The Lord Advocate

If I may speak again with the leave of the House, I am sorry that I did not make that point clear. There are two matters to consider. One is the cancellation of the certificate—or, as it is sometimes called, the licence. That is a complete cancellation and not a suspension. The club can at a later date ask for a new certificate but the cancellation is permanent, as it were, and not temporary. What is temporary is the additional penalty which the sheriff can impose of disqualifying the premises from being used as a club for a period up to twelve months for the first offence and five years for a second offence. If the certificate is cancelled, that club ceases to he a registered club. It is not temporarily closed; it is "out". I think that that is the point that the hon. Member has in mind.

Amendment negatived.

Clause added to the Bill.