HC Deb 23 June 1964 vol 697 cc308-36

Order for Second Reading read.

7.35 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

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

As this is essentially a Home Office day, I hope that I shall not be ruled out of order if I take this my only opportunity of saying what a splendid maiden speech I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. C. Morrison) made in our last debate, I hope that it gave as great a pleasure to his well-loved father as it certainly did to all the rest of us who listened to it.

I am sorry now that I have to turn a long way from my hon. Friend's special interest and experience, because this Bill deals with near-beers, or clip-joints. They are places where foolish people get milked of their money by fraud. The record known case is where three foreigners, visitors to London, after 15 minutes in a near-beer and having consumed nothing but fruit juice, were faced with a bill for £27. There are now about 40 of these establishments in London and with rates of profit like that it is hardly surprising that their numbers are growing.

I am sure that it is better to legislate about this now than to let the scandal grow. There are three reasons for legislating about them. First, they are barefaced fraud; secondly, there is evidence that they are harming our reputation in the tourist trade; and, thirdly, an altogether disproportionate amount of police time is taken up in dealing with complaints about them.

The technique is this. If any hon. Members have been preparing to take part in the debate on the Bill by gaining personal experience, I hope that they will bear with me if I describe what happens. Late at night, particularly after the public houses are closed, a woman stands just outside in the street and sees whether she can induce passers-by to come in. A vague idea is created of night club entertainment, seductive company, drinking and perhaps something more exciting than all that at the end.

Once inside, the customer sits down at a small table with a hostess, who orders drinks for them both. The drinks are, in fact, cheap fruit juice concoctions. The charges for all this spurious entertainment are enormous. As soon as the hostess finishes her drink she orders another round. She has every incentive to do so, because her pay from the management depends on the speed of drinking.

The customer's welcome lasts as long as his money holds out, and no longer. If he is hoping for something to come after, he is completely frustrated and disappointed. He finds himself out on the pavement, with nothing in his pocket but with a lot of fruit juice effervescing in his stomach. He feels himself cheated, and he has been cheated. He may create a row in the street and the police may have to be called to move him on, or he may go to the police and complain. That very often happens. He says that he has been defrauded, but there is absolutely nothing that the police can do to help him.

If hon. Members would like independent evidence of these curious goings on, without the rather heavy expense of a personal test, they will find an excellent account of an obviously first-hand experience in the Sunday Telegraph of 14th June.

This form of exploitation is possible because there is at present no power to attach conditions to a refreshment house licence. A refreshment house licence is an Excise licence granted under the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860. The greater part of that Act has by now been repealed by various licensing Acts, but its provisions, that are still in force, require the keeper of a refreshment house which is open at any time between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. to take out a licence.

Refreshment houses are defined in the Act as All houses, rooms, shops or buildings kept open for public refreshment, resort and entertainment between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., not being licensed for the sale of beer, cider, wine or spirits … Other provisions of the 1860 Act create the offence of keeping a refreshment house without a valid licence, refusing admission to the public, and permitting unlawful gaming or the assembly of prostitutes, thieves or drunken and disorderly persons. In addition, of course, the licensing law would apply to any offence of selling intoxicating liquor without a licence. It is no use going to a near-beer if one wants alcohol.

The Refreshment Houses Act applies only to England and Wales. In Scotland, I imagine, no place would stay open all night for non-alcoholic refreshment. The Act is useful in England and Wales as n means of maintaining a measure of control over the establishments kept open at night for the sale of food or drink—non-alcoholic—and of ensuring that there is an available record of them. There are about 1,800 of these late-night or all-night refreshment houses in the county of London alone. They range from the big Corner Houses to little all-night cafes and coffee stalls.

These are not what the Bill is directed at. It is aimed at the few which are exploiting a weakness in the present law. The 1860 Act gives no power to attach conditions to a licence before it is granted. What the Bill does is simply to enable conditions to be attached to a refreshment house licence when it is granted or renewed. That power can then be used to curb the undesirable features of the near-beers.

But the licensing authority cannot impose conditions in any and every case. Subsection (3) provides that the restrictive powers can be exercised only where this appears; to the licensing authority desirable to prevent customers from being misled as to the nature or cost of the entertainment provided.

I should say that the licensing authorities are county or county boroughs. In London, from next April onwards, they will be the new London borough councils.

Where the conditions of subsection (3) are satisfied, and the licensing authority finds itself dealing with an application for a licence from a refreshment house where the sort of practices take place that the Bill is designed to curb, then the other subsections apply and it will be possible for conditions to be attached 1o the licence.

These conditions can render it unlawful to make charges in that particular refreshment house between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless a visible and legible tariff is displayed and the charge on the bill is not greater than what the tariff specifies. It can also, if desirable, be made a condition that the tariff shall be displayed where it can be read by the customer before going in.

Another condition that can be imposed would prohibit soliciting for custom outside or in the vicinity of the refreshment house between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. This should deal with the practice of touting in the street which causes a lot of complaints and can be a scandal. The reason for specifying the hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. is that it is only in respect of those hours that a refreshment house licence is required at all.

The other Clauses are subsidiary. Clause 2 requires all holders of refreshment house licences to notify changes of address to the licensing authority. This is a useful provision of general application, but it will particularly help to deal with refreshment houses of the kind aimed at in the Bill.

The main effect of Clause 3 is to increase the penalties for offences against the existing provisions in the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860, or against the relevant provisions of licensing law: at present, the maximum fine is £20, or £50 if there has been a similar conviction within the previous five years. The new penalty is in line with that in Schedule 12 to the London Government Act, 1963, for the operation of unlicensed premises for music and dancing; it is a fine not exceeding £200 or imprisonment not exceeding three months, or both.

The near-beer that I visited when I went round Soho did not seem to have been doing much business that evening. Perhaps I was a bit too early. It passed my comprehension how anyone who had once been fleeced in one of these grubby places could ever come back another night for a second dose. But some do. One cannot wholly save fools from their folly, but that does not mean that Parliament should never take a fresh look to see whether the laws of past years have gaps.

The Dangerous Drugs Bill, which got its Third Reading last night, to deal with the current "purple hearts" racket, is a case in point. So is the Obscene Publications Bill, about to be reported back to the House from a Standing Committee—I believe the first Obscene Publications Bill to be introduced by a Government and not by a private Member in the last 100 years.

Then there is the Young Persons (Employment) Bill which will be coming up on Friday, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) to close a gap by extending the prohibition of the employment of young people under 18 to night clubs and the like.

All these items of legislation have the common motive of protecting the innocent or the unwary against unscrupulous exploitation, making more difficult the piling up of easy money by preying on the worst weaknesses of human nature, and cleaning up scandals which are a blot on a city and a burden to the police.

There is nothing grandmotherly about all this. Nobody believes that the near-beer fraud, any more than drug-taking by youngsters, is in any conceivable sense a good thing. Nothing will be done, so far as I am concerned, to interfere with all the honest and well-conducted establishments where people can get entertainment and refreshment and pleasure; but there is trash about too, and people cashing in on it in a big way.

In some respects the trash has managed to get the better of the law. I want to see that the law is strong enough to have the better of the trash.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The Home Secretary has given us a very engaging account of the activities of "near-beer" clubs, or "clip joints", as they are called. From what he said, I gather that the Bill, introduced to deal with what is no doubt a serious but very small problem, is the result of one of his nocturnal visits to the West End of London which he told us about when he was bent on discovering something about the trade in "purple hearts". I gathered that that led him to discover the existence of 30 or 40 clip joints, or sleazy clubs, as they are described in the Press, which he is anxious to suppress.

I need hardly say that my hon. Friends and I cordially support the Measure. However, in view of its somewhat sudden introduction, as the result of the Home Secretary's visit to the West End, there are one or two passages which need careful examination.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there are about 40 clip joints at which the Bill is aimed, and about 1,800 refreshment houses of a legitimate character to which the Bill either applies or may be made to apply. I suppose that our duty is to see that the Bill will be effective in its object of closing down or clipping the clip joints and, at the same time, will in no way impair the activities of those refreshment houses which carry on legitimate trade in London and the provinces for the benefit of those whose occupations require them to partake of non-alcoholic refreshment between the hours of 10 o'clock at night and 5 o'clock in the morning.

For information about these clip joints all hon. Members will be dependent on what they have read in the Press. The most enlightening comment in this respect is that contained in the Daily Telegraph of 1st June, which, I suppose, is as authoritative a description of what happens as any. It says that these clip joints are so-called because their conductors join in clipping the purses of unsophisticated visitors. In the characteristic clip joint a flamboyantly attired siren lures the midnight stroller in, ostensibly to quench his thirst, but very frequently with promises of more seductive pleasures. Once seated with him at a table she reveals an insatiable appetite for a beverage which to an untutored palate may pass for diluted beer, but which is charged for at double the price of vintage champagne. When his funds are exhausted, so are the young lady's affections. A correspondent in the Sunday Telegraph described in great detail what happened when he visited one of these clubs a few hundred yards from Piccadilly underground station and was accosted from a doorway by a plump little blonde, who said "Hello, darling. Looking for something?" He answered, cautiously, "What have you got to offer?" She beamed a broad, disarming smile and answered, "Me!"

If that is the evil which we are attempting to remedy by the Bill, we must examine the content of the Bill and see whether it effectively deals with the case of those who frequent these places. I think that we should all agree with the Home Secretary that it is almost impossible to imagine a person who has once been the victim of a fraud of this kind wanting to indulge in the same experience a second time.

Incidentally, I do not think that anyone need have very much sympathy with those who are so foolish as to fall victims of this kind of stupidity. I suppose the case that the Home Secretary makes for the Bill is not on that ground so much as on the ground that, as he said, this practice does harm to our tourist trade and takes up a great deal of time of the police.

The Home Secretary ventured at the end of his speech into what I thought was a very pious but, I have no doubt, well-intentioned intimation of what steps he is proposing to take towards the improvement of some of our great cities. The right hon. Gentleman referred to various other Bills which are passing through the House. Desirable though this Bill may be, it is relevant to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it deals with a very small matter compared with some of the far more serious scenes and activities in the West End that many people regard as a perfect disgrace to this great metropolis. I refer in particular to some of the striptease clubs and the garish and seductive advertisements outside them. I do not know whether the Home Secretary has yet had an opportunity of visiting any of those establishments which seem to me to be springing up in increasing numbers and which constitute a much greater disgrace and cause much greater offence to decent, well-meaning citizens than does this handful of sleazy clubs.

One reason the Home Secretary gave for closing down the sleazy clubs is that tourists complain because, they say, they are defrauded when they go in. He meant that they are defrauded in the sense that they go in thinking they will get some seductive entertainment which they do not get. In that connection, the Home Secretary should tell us what his attitude is with regard to all the striptease clubs which are growing up all over the place. He cannot close those down because tourists complain that they are defrauded. Can he defend them on the ground that they are an attraction to the tourist trade? Do not the right hon. Gentleman's principles, which he has been telling us about, require him to take far more energetic steps in that direction than he is taking in the two Bills which are before the House today to deal with malicious damage and clip joints?

I want to consider whether the Bill will produce any injurious effects on the 1,800 or so respectable refreshment houses that exist. We do not know how the local authorities will operate the Bill, but, as I understand it, the Bill gives local authorities power to require any refreshment house to exhibit a tariff outside the premises. I suppose that will apply to a Lyons Corner House in the same way as it will apply to a coffee stall in any part of the suburbs? Is it reasonable—is it practicable—that Lyons Corner Houses should have to exhibit tariffs? If they are to exhibit tariffs stating what refreshments they serve inside them, what is the position if a customer reasonably asks for some kind of refreshment which is not contained on the tariff? One's experience at some of these perfectly proper and respectable refreshment houses which do not sell alcoholic beverages is that they often have tariffs inside them; they have a menu on which prices are listed; but from time to time their patrons ask for something which is not on the menu and not on the tariff, and a charge is made.

If these conditions are to be attached, does it mean that in future, unless everything that is listed on the tariff is priced, the refreshment house will be unable to serve a customer with something, even at a reasonable and legitimate price, merely because it is not included in the tariff? The House should be assured that there is no risk of a Bill designed, quite properly, to close down a relatively small number of nefarious sleazy clubs being used to interfere with the legitimate trade of coffee houses and refreshment houses, both in London and in the Provinces.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary, who will presumably reply, will also tell us whether, in the case of legitimate refreshment houses, Clause 1(2), which makes it unlawful to obtain custom by means of personal solicitation outside "— those words seem reasonable in the context of a sleazy club—might not operate to prevent, for example, a commissionaire standing outside a perfectly respectable refreshment house. Presumably there is nothing wrong, in the case of respectable refreshment houses, in custom being solicited. This is a matter for the Government to explain.

I gather from the Press correspondents who have been studying this question that those who run sleazy clubs contend that the Bill will not have the effect it is thought it will have and that they will be able to operate in some other guise. It may be that they will still be able to operate in their present guise, despite the Bill. Would the Home Secretary consider what is meant by Clause 1(1,a), because, as I understand it, the operative words are that it shall not be lawful to make any charge for or in connection with the entertainment of persons in the refreshment house … whether for the supply of food or drink, for admission, for service of any description or for any other matter, except any reasonable charge for the use of cloakroom or toilet facilities, unless—

  1. (a) a tariff of charges made in the refreshment house is … kept displayed …"
Judging from the experience of those who have visited these sleazy clubs, what the victims pay for is presumably the opportunity of having the society, either for a short time or for a longer time, of somebody who either entices them into the premises or whom they expect to find in the premises. If that is the inducement or enticement, perhaps the Home Secretary will consider whether it would not be possible for these sleazy clubs to continue, despite the provisions of the Bill.

True, the Bill will prevent deliberate solicitation, and it may prevent any charge being made except for refreshments advertised on a menu outside, but will that, in itself, prevent clip joints of this kind, with suitably seductive advertisements, continuing to trade and continuing to provide opportunities for extortion of visitors who are attracted by this kind of inducement?

While my hon. Friends and I support the Bill, which is of a very meagre character and which is intended to deal with a very small evil, but not less an evil that should be stopped, in the West End of London, my concern is to express some doubts about whether it will have the desired effect, about what will happen to the patrons of these clip joints and, more particularly, to wish that the Home Secretary would direct his attention to doing something about some of the other clubs in the West End which are such a disgrace to London's society.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

I appreciate that there is not uniformity of opinion on the series of Bills which my right hon. Friend is bringing forward. There are those who believe that this kind of legislation is unnecessarily grandmotherly, that we cannot dictate the moral standards and prudence of people by legislation. I confess that I do not share these views because I believe that it is the duty of Parliament to try to maintain higher standards, particularly in the large conurbations.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the initiative that he has shown in so many directions in trying to clean up what are some very unsavoury activities in the West End of London. I said that this was not the universal view because I recall listening a few weeks ago to an extraordinary speech made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who believes that if one left everybody alone and abandoned all attempts at restraint, one would arrive at an idyllic situation in which all that was bright and beautiful would prevail. That is either an attempt at self-deception or incurable naïveté, because it is not so.

I recall once going to a club to see what was one of the most nauseating spectacles I have ever seen in my life. The man responsible for it was subsequently sent to gaol for a number of years. The most appalling aspect of it was a statement made to me by one of the people running the spectacle, an assistant, who said that men came along week after week to see that sort of thing. I have drawn the conclusion that the veneer of civilisation is so thin that we have a moral obligation to improve and maintain standards, however much criticism we get from people like the hon. Member for Pontypool and his colleagues.

While I welcome the Bill for many reasons, I have some serious misgivings about the extent to which it will prove to be effective. Consider a small point to begin with, the question of the prohibition of soliciting outside or in the vicinity of premises. As I understand it, these unalluring women stand in doorways and I am not exactly sure whether the words in the Bill would cover standing in a doorway. Such a place would not seem to be either outside premises or in the vicinity of them, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will further consider this matter.

It is not to this limited point to which I wish to draw attention. I am more concerned with a possible greater danger arising from the Bill. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said something about the danger I have in mind, but he did not quite get to the point. Is there not a real danger that establishments at present known as clubs—and there is no legal definition of a club of this kind—will arise in greater numbers as a result of the Bill?

I have in mind the sort of club which has no real significance. If it is a licensed club then it has, and there are plenty of means of discovering what is happening, but if it is a club which does not sell alcoholic refreshments it is perfectly open to any individual or group of people to call the establishment a club. If it is so called, it does not require to have a refreshment licence and, obviously, in those circumstances the police cannot enter the premises.

I wish to direct my right hon. Friend's attention to a real danger that might arise as a consequence of the Bill. This danger is that places that now operate not as clubs will assume the mantle of clubs so that they will have no requirement to have a refreshment licence and will, of course, be able to prevent the police from gaining access to the premises.

This illustrates the extreme difficulty of dealing with this problem and I have in mind the possible result of this Bill being an increase in the number of strip clubs to which the hon. Member for Islington, East referred. If, for example, it will become rather difficult—to put it no higher than that—to have touts on the door, will it be as easy to put up some striptease advertisements and run a striptease inside a so-called club, and get customers into the establishment by those means?

This might be a more effective method of luring the public into these establishments than the present method of having these doubtful-looking females lounging in doorways. I see the prospect of the Bill being calculated to increase the number of undesirable clubs of this nature and intensifying the attraction to striptease, particularly if touting is difficult, and if, as I say, they are simply called clubs, they will not need refreshment licences. Although I agree that if they conduct themselves in this way it will be possible for the police to take steps to prove that they are not clubs in the sense that we know clubs, that will be a long way round for the police. In view of the way that these places open and shut so frequently, we must try to devise methods by which the police can be save the trouble and time of exposing these places.

What can we do to prevent the people who are now running these establishments calling themselves clubs and defeating the object of the Bill? We must, first, deal with the basic issue of what is or what is not a club. We must try to cause people to have a licence for selling refreshments, whether or not they call their establishments clubs. If they are selling refreshments for the purpose of gain, perhaps we need a definition such as "purpose of gain" and to make a licence mandatory, whether it is a club or a place which does not call itself a club.

The same consideration should be applied to entertainment, whether the place calls itself a club or not. If the purpose of the entertainment is for private gain, a music and dancing licence ought to be necessary. Unless we have these alterations in the Bill I have some anxiety that its main purposes will not be attained. I know that my right hon. Friend is desperately anxious to deal with this difficulty, and, having privately tried to do something about these places over many years, I have no illusion about the problems in dealing with this class of person. It is easy to deal with a respectable man in the entertainment world, but it is exceedingly difficult to deal with the sleazy gentleman who is in one day and out the next.

If we have to stretch matters a little far to catch these people, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have the support of the House, because I am satisfied that not only do these places tend to depreciate the level of entertainment in the Metropolis, because bad entertainment tends to drag other entertainments down with it to a lower level, but that they give our city a bad name. I do not say that it is as bad as Hamburg's, which is a warning to all of how bad a reputation one can get with these entertainment establishments. I hope that between now and the Committee stage my right hon. Friend will look at the difficulties which I have tried to point out and will do something to strengthen the Bill so that we can get at these objectionable near-beer establishments.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I apologise to the House that I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) has just said. I believe that all people with a sense of social responsibility are disturbed at some of the changing values of our time. The very fact that the Bill has to be introduced is a sad commentary on the habits of some of our people. We always have had, and I am beginning to think that we always shall have, people who will seek to exploit sex and the weaknesses of people so that they can make money.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing a Measure to tackle the problem. I cannot speak with authority on these refreshment houses, as they are politely called, because I have not the right hon. Gentleman's experience. I always bow to a man with greater knowledge than myself, though I realise that his knowledge is limited—at least I trust it is—to an official or surprise visit. When I read of the right hon. Gentleman's tour I was pleasantly surprised—I hope he will not take that offensively—that he had taken the initiative. Secretly I would have liked to have been with him, because my eyes might have been opened as well as his, though I have a very good imagination.

The hon. Member for Cheadle referred to the need for restraints. I believe that self-discipline is a cornerstone of civilisation and that imposed discipline is essential in any enlightened country. Therefore, if people will not behave properly it is our duty and responsibility here to seek to impose restrictions upon them. I would go further than the hon. Member for Cheadle, because I believe that we could do with a good dose of Puritan standards back in this country. I happen to believe that we owe an enormous debt to our Puritan forefathers for the values which they laid down for probity, honesty and sincerity.

I believe that one of the reasons why we are having this mushroom growth of undesirable clubs is that it is associated with the swing away from religion in the life of our country, and that the day will come when the House of Commons will have to realise that there are terribly dangerous consequences which reveal themselves in any community that refuses to accept the restraints and the disciplines of a religious code.

I realise that sometimes we are criticised if we are what are called "do-gooders". I do not claim to be a do-gooder, but I have a great respect for those people who seek to reform and to raise standards. I am anxious, however, lest this little Bill will fail, as the Street Offences Act has failed.

Mr. Shepherd

It has not.

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Member is more innocent than I thought if he does not realise that what that Measure did was to direct people's energies into finding other ways of exploiting prostitution and that there are new clubs and institutions exploiting what was once on our streets. I am glad to see our streets cleaned up, but this evil is now finding an outlet in other ways. If the hon. Member believes that that Act stopped prostitution and cleaned it up, he will believe anything.

Mr. Shepherd

The hon. Member is repeating what the opponents of the Act have been saying for so long, but it was immensely successful in its prime purpose of preventing our streets being squalid and noisome. Anyone knows that if one does not put the goods in the shop windows one does not sell as many.

Mr. Thomas

I believe that there is as much of this prostitution now as ever there was. The fact that it is not under our noses merely means, if we are not careful, that our hypocritical sense that as long as we do not see it it does not matter will be satisfied.

If the Home Secretary is to be able to tackle this problem he ought to be able to do something about the opening hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. I grew up in a Nonconformist home in a small community in South Wales where we used to think that nobody was up to any good if he was out after a certain hour.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Half-past seven.

Mr. Thomas

Evidently my right hon. Friend had even a stricter home than I had.

These places should not be tolerated throughout the night. Where the police know that a place is undesirable for the type of person whom it is attracting, the police should have power to apply to the licensing authority either to have it closed altogether or to make it close earlier at right. I know that the Home Secretary will correct me if that power already exists.

The penalties in the Bill are not severe enough. I would not give the option of a fine to people who are found guilty of breaking the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act. There should be imprisonment for people who are deliberate flouting the law in order to make money regardless of how they make it and of who is damaged in the process. The time has come when we must make the law more severe for people who have no moral standards and no regard for the rest of the community. I gather from the Press that much soliciting has gone on inside these places, but I am very glad that by subsection (2) of Clause 1 it will be an offence to solicit for custom outside, or in the vicinity of, the refreshment houses. The hon. Member for Cheadle may have warned us in time about the strip-tease advertisements that can drive a coach-and-four through this Bill. I hope that the Home Secretary will, in the ordinary course of the Bill, look again at what his hon. Friend has said, and see whether it is necessary to include a reference to advertising in subsection (2) of Clause 1.

Whatever criticisms I have expressed, I am very glad that the Home Office Ministers have shown themselves aware of the problem and have brought forward a Measure that seeks to reduce it. For that they will earn the gratitude of many people outside this House.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Alan Brown (Tottenham)

I support the Bill, which my right hon. Friend has so ably explained. The problem that is rearing its head is not by any means as small as the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) may think. His constituency may have been lucky, but these so-called all-night cafés are being opened in many parts of North London, including Tottenham. I am surprised that Islington has so far been missed; if it has, I do not think that it will be for long.

I am authoritatively informed that in the London boroughs covered by my own police division there are no fewer than 20 of these establishments. The problem is not confined to Soho, as so many people think. To illustrate the point and, perhaps, explain some of the difficulties to the House, I should like to read a letter, dated 3rd June, 1964, from one of my constituents who conducts a most respectable business in the area of one of Tottenham's main shopping centres. She writes: I have a matter of great importance which I should like you to take up. The above address"— it is her address, of course— is shop premises and living accommodation, and we have been here for 13 years. About last March the shop next door, namely "— I will say No. X— changed hands, and was taken over by a Greek Cypriot calling the place "— such-and-such a café. He appeared to have no set hours, six only pints of milk being left daily, no kitchen in use. He sells cups of tea and coffee only, opened in the afternoon and stayed open all night every night of the week. Rumours that the place was to be used for gambling in all rooms all night long, and that the man had previously come from Camden Town and had been closed down there for running a brothel sent me hurrying to the town hall, where I saw "— a gentleman in the planning department. There I was assured that no licences of any description had been issued, and after examination of my own premises to show the close proximity of next door and the thinness of the walls, I was assured that no licence would be allowed for noise during the night. However, the place opened, and soon attracted most unsavoury characters who made themselves a terrific nuisance to all the premises round about, the noise from the jukebox being terrific throughout the night"— and noise was complained of from gaming machines.

My forecourt and store were used as a urinal, fighting amongst the customers next door disturbed the peace, and many complaints were made to the police. The back rooms of the premises are used about five nights a week for gambling. The people who visit there are either Nigerians, Greeks, or Irish mainly, a different night being for each type of game. These rooms are very close, being only about 10 ft. from my own living-room and the bedroom of myself and husband and my two little girls aged four years and nine years. The letter goes on: The town hall assured me again that the premises were not authorised for this use, but they did nothing else to help me. I therefore made an appointment with the superintendent of police at Stoke Newington. He told me to wait for a month. It has been the most terrible month; the attached copy of notes I made at the superintendent's suggestion I enclose herewith. Those notes have already been sent to the Home Office. My constituent says that she was unable to get any satisfaction from the town hall, and feared that she would get little help from the police. Prostitution was taking place in these premises. She says that the people at No. 53, on the other side, have done all they can to have this nuisance stopped. Finally, the police suggested that she should get a solicitor to make application for an injunction. She adds: I feel that the local authority have let me down in this matter. It should not be necessary for me to have to take legal proceedings in this matter. Although the police have been helpful their hands are tied considerably. Your immediate help will be a godsend. This is not by any means the first so-called all-night café of this nature that has opened in Tottenham; to my knowledge, it is the third.

I made inquiries at the town hall and was there told, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, that the authorities had no powers whatsoever under existing legislation to help this woman, or the neighbours who were complaining. I also communicated with the superintendent of police. The police have to act through certain procedure, which means watching the premises for a very considerable time. They then have to get a search warrant to enter, by which time, with look-outs and everything posted, it is almost an impossibility to do anything about it or secure a conviction.

I ask the House to support the Bill, because, clearly, it will give the police, and certainly the local authorities, power to stop the functioning of these disgraceful kinds of businesses.

Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)


Mr. Brown

The Bill will be instrumental in doing that.

Mr. G. Thomas

The gambling to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, which must be a dreadful nuisance to the people next door, will not be stopped by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman had better try to change the Betting and Gaming Act, which made this sort of thing possible.

Mr. Brown

As I read the Bill, these places will be controlled by night. It is during the night that the main nuisance, and certainly the prostitution, takes place.

8.31 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The Home Secretary is to be congratulated in bringing this matter before the House. It is one of great difficulty, and if anything effective is to be done it will need very careful handling.

I should not like to see the right hon. Gentleman lured by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) into trying to turn the Bill into a Measure to deal with the status of clubs which exist merely to defeat the law, because there are many quite respectable clubs, including those associated with the Working Men's Club and Institute Union, which would watch such a Measure with great and meticulous care to ensure that they were in no way affected by it. I am sure that no Home Secretary, for a good many years to come, will embark on anything which might arouse hostility in that quarter.

I hope that the Home Secretary will be able so to get the Bill through as to leave him with sufficient power to deal with the evils which he described and that he will be wary of Amendments put forward by well-meaning people wishing to extend the Bill, which would put him in very considerable difficulty with responsible elements in the community who should not be confused with the kind of people of whom he has spoken. I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in what he is endeavouring to do, but warn him that he will be travelling along a very narrow path and that a slight deviation to the right or to the left may involve him in great difficulty.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. R. M. Bingham (Liverpool, Garston)

Like all hon. Members, I think, who have spoken, I welcome the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) referred to the danger of pseudo clubs. I agree with the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that ft. is not opportune to attempt to modify or alter the law in that respect in this Bill, particularly as the definition of a refreshment house' in the 1860 Act is: Any place of public refreshment, resort or entertainment". If the mischief which the Bill is aimed is the soliciting for custom and the charging of excessive prices, it is hardly possible for an institution of that sort to pretend with any hope of success that it was a members club if at the same time it was using persons outside the premises to solicit for custom.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said something which, in principle, probably commended itself to everyone. He said that the police should have power to deal with the goings on inside premises such as those which we are discussing, which are obviously undesirable. Again, I suggest that this is not a Measure in which that type of regulation could be introduced. I suppose that we can only see how the Bill takes effect when it is enacted. If the mischief which the hon. Member apprehends takes place, I suppose that we should have to consider bringing refreshment houses into the licensing code because only in that way could we apply a discretionary regulation such as the hon. Member had in mind. Obviously, it would not be possible to give such a power to the police, but to give it to licensing justices and to allow the police to carry out on their behalf the day-today supervision in between the annual applications for renewal would be an effective way of dealing with the matter. However, that is well outside the scope of a Measure such as this.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to a most inelegantly drafted set of provisions. It was my unhappy lot not long ago to draw attention to another Bill in another context whose drafting seemed to me to be abysmal. I can hardly exempt this Bill, as drafted, from that criticism. If it is possible in the scheme of this Bill to complicate and obscure what is intended, that has been done. One needs only to look at certain isolated cases to realise that. The point is clearly illustrated by line 8 on page 2 of the Bill. Subsection (4) reads: Where subsection (1) applies "— and the reader has to look back to subsection (1) to find out what it is about— the tariff of charges must be able to be read before entering … I have always understood that the active voice is preferred to the passive and that if one is to use the passive voice it should be used so that what is meant is fairly clear. But it continues by any person frequenting the refreshment house if it"— another passive voice— is so stated by the condition applying the subsection". I cannot understand why some simple phraseology is not used, such as "the conditions may require that the tariff or charges should be legible to persons entering …" I produce that as I am on my feet, and it may not be the most apt phraseology, but it illustrates what I have in mind.

The whole of Clause 1 could be compressed into a comparatively small and intelligible Clause if the scheme of the Licensing Act, which gives justices power to impose conditions and which provides penalties for non-compliance, were followed. Clause 2 could be halved and made more intelligible as could Clause 3.

The only Clause which seems to me to read at all easily is Clause 4, and even that ends by saying This Act shall come into force at the beginning of April 1965". I had hoped that it would be possible to bring it into force, at any rate for new licences—in view of the fact that these refreshment houses are apparently springing up all the time—on the Act receiving the Royal Assent. I see no reason why that should not happen, although I can see administrative difficulties in bringing it into force before April in respect of existing licences.

With these comments, which I feel must be made when I find drafting which offends many of the canons of intelligible English, I naturally welcome the Bill and hope that it will be on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

8.42 p.m.

Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)

Perhaps it is because I am a woman that I have been so impatient with nearly every one of the speakers I have heard tonight. I cannot take the Bill very seriously. It seems to me rather a silly Bill, in fact one of the silliest little Bills I have ever seen.

We had a long speech from the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown), who read out a long letter from a constituent of his about a club in his constituency. But the Bill will not affect that kind of club at all. We are talking about refreshment houses, which serve only lemonades. The right hon. Gentleman called them "near-beers". I suppose that he means lemonade. All that the Bill does is to ensure that the prices are put up outside the refreshment house and that there is no touting for custom outside.

It seems to me that the Bill is a man's Bill for the protection of foolish men. Introducing the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that in these places foolish people are milked of their money by fraud. I have not been in one of these establishments. Indeed, I might even be turned back at the door. It seems to me that it is not the young who are going to these places, but those we call the tired business men—the middle-aged or the elderly, who go into the sleaziest parts of London.

There they see women of doubtful character, who invite them into these refreshment houses, where they are overcharged for fruit drinks. We are tonight giving a Second Reading to the Bill to protect them from this over-charging. What do they expect when they go into a place of this kind? Do they expect to get orangeade or lemonade at Is. a bottle? If so, I think that they are very foolish and deserve all they get.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) quoted the Sunday Telegraph. I have here the Sunday Telegraph of 14th June. One of its journalists went into one of these refreshment houses under the name, I think, of Fletcher—with apologies to my hon. Friend. He described what went on in several of them. I will quote only one of his experiences. He said: My wallet had been lightened of more than £5 in 20 minutes. Just across Wardour Street, a tall, sultry brunette stood framed in another doorway. Was I looking for a girl? she asked. In this club, a tiny cellar that could have served as a Turkish bath, I was served orange squash in a plastic mug while my new friend had double 'cocktails'. Each round cost £3 16s. He went on to say: Each drink she consumed yielded a cocktail stick, and I gathered that when she had collected sufficient I might enjoy her undivided attention until the following evening. When I announced, 15 minutes and more than £10 later, that I had come to the end of my resources, Doris was quite upset. She gave me a card in case I wanted to return later, and even made sure I had enough money to pay my bus fare. I was rather touched. The whole technique of emptying my wallet was so skilfully performed it was almost artistic. At each round of drinks the victim is led to believe himself a step nearer his goal, and the more he invests, the less willing he is to abandon what he has already invested. Then he added: Soon, we are assured, Soho's clip joints will be squeezed out of business. So, farewell ladies. For hundreds of lonely salesmen at least, it will be a duller, if a cheaper, world without you. I am wondering what is really wrong with these places. People appear to drink lemonade in them and the women send the men home to go to bed. There are lots of places to which the Home Secretary might pay his attention which are not nearly as innocent as these. I cannot take the Bill seriously.

From time to time we have talked in the House about women who have been taken in by slick salesmen on the doorstep who sell washing machines and refrigerators. I have heard hon. Gentlemen get up in the House and say that we ought not to legislate to protect women, because women know a bargain when they see one and they can look after themselves in that respect. And yet tonight in the House of Commons we are seriously giving a Second Reading to a Bill to protect men who knowingly go into the worst parts of London and who are invited in by women to drink lemonade. We are ensuring that they do not pay too much for their lemonade. It seems to me that we are legislating to protect men who really should now better. If these men go in for immoral purposes, as I feel they do, and are taken in by these women on the doorstep, and when they get inside find that they get an expensive lemonade instead, I have no sympathy with them.

The Home Secretary has said that the tourists should be considered. Even tourists are not so silly as to go into places like that and be taken in in this way. I am sorry, but I cannot get excited about the Bill. If it can be improved and made sensible in Committee, I will be willing to help to improve it. As it is, however, the right hon. Gentleman will not have done very much if the Bill goes on to the Statute Book.

8.48 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Wood-house)

Reading between the lines of the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon)—and many of them were extremely good lines—the House can detect that the hon. Lady is not entirely averse to the Bill, although she has taken the opportunity of striking a blow in the battle of the sexes which has gone some way to redress the balance. I almost feel inclined to congratulate the hon. Lady on a brilliant maiden speech.

The hon. Lady expressed scepticism about the Bill. I will return later to the points on which she had doubts, although, if the hon. Lady will not think it ungallant of me, I should like to take the gentlemen first and answer some of the questions which have been raised by earlier speakers in the debate. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said confidently that he assumed that with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we were all dependent upon the Press for our knowledge of the subject. I confess that I myself, in the jargon we are learning to use, have been touted though not clipped. The hon. Gentleman raised the question whether that evil will continue despite the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd)—who has told me that he is unable to remain for the conclusion of the debate—raised a somewhat similar point.

I can assure both hon. Members that so far as the specific examples which they mentioned go—the hon. Member for Islington instanced the case of the blonde described in the Sunday Telegraph article and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle spoke of the lady standing in the doorway whom he thought to be neither in the establishment nor in the vicinity—such cases will, in fact, be effectively curbed by the Bill.

I can tell the hon. Member for Islington, East also that the provisions of the Bill will have no effect at all on respectable houses of the kind he mentioned, whether the Corner House at one end of the scale or the coffee bar at the other, because, provided they are properly conducted, the local authority will not have any occasion to impose these conditions upon them. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the crucial point in Clause 1(3), under which the power of the local authority to impose such a condition is restricted to any case where it appears to them desirable in order to ensure that persons frequenting the refreshment house are not misled … The word "misled" is crucial and, obviously, is not applicable to the respectable establishment which the hon. Gentleman had in mind. I think that this answers his point both about the tariffs in such places and about the commissionaire at the door who, we are assuming in this context, is not committing the offence defined in Clause 1(2).

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of establishments where "striptease" and similar performances take place. Of course, in the nature of things, these are outside the scope of the Bill, but I gladly respond to his request for some comments on the legal position as it affects them. The provisions of the law applicable to striptease performances are to be found in Schedule 12 to the London Government Act, 1963, and, where the performance takes place in a theatre, in the Theatres Act, 1843. Control over striptease and other such performances is, in our view, tolerably satisfactory, so far as this matter can be entirely satisfactory, in licensed theatres and in premises licensed for music and dancing. In the latter case, it is a con- dition of the licence that striptease is not allowed. The maximum penalties for breach of the licence conditions were very recently increased by the London Government Act from £100 to £200.

We shall give careful thought to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle about clubs and also to the cautionary reservations put by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). Genuine clubs serving only members and their guests are not required to obtain a music and dancing licence and there is, therefore, no prohibition on striptease entertainment as such in them. But this is not to say that they are entirely outside the law. In fact, a few years ago an obscene type of striptease entertainment was provided at some such clubs and was stopped by prosecutions for the common law offence of keeping a disorderly house.

Our view on this difficult matter is that there is not at present any need for amending legislation, and there is a reasonable prospect that the police will be able to control the situation by use of the existing powers, particularly bearing in mind that the London Government Act comes into force fully on 1st April next. It is primarily in London that the problem exists, and we believe that the London Government Act will provide an effective reinforcement of control. Nevertheless, a close watch is being kept on the working of the law and on any new developments.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government are satisfied with the way in which striptease clubs are at present conducted and advertised in the West End of London?

Mr. Woodhouse

In our view, the law is at present satisfactory, especially with the reinforcement recently introduced under the London Government Act. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the London Government Act is not yet fully in force. However, it is a matter which we shall continue to watch closely and, if necessary, we shall introduce amending legislation. The hon. Gentleman will agree that this particular matter is somewhat outside the scope of the present Bill. We shall certainly pay careful attention to the other points which he raised.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Bingham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle referred to certain other types of offences which are outside the scope of the Bill. Perhaps I might recapitulate to show that we are not breaking entirely new ground here and that there is a substantial body of law affecting such establishments. There is already the offence of keeping a refreshment house without a licence. If I followed the description given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) of the case referred to in his letter, it seems to me that, if the place he was describing was operating between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. without a licence, an offence was, without doubt, already being committed. Second, there is the offence of refusing to admit the police. Third, there is the offence of permitting unlawful gaming or the assembly of prostitutes, thieves, drunks and disorderly persons. There are also the offences of selling alcohol without a licence and supplying it at parties organised for gain. All these provisions of the law already apply to the refreshment houses with respect to which we are now making a small amendment of the law.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), with whose puritanical sentiments I have a great deal of sympathy, went a little far, I thought, in his harshness in one or two respects. He referred to the hours of opening and seemed dissatisfied with the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The reason that these are written into the Bill is that they are already the hours defined in the 1860 Act and it is only the establishments that open between those hours which require any licence at all.

These hours have been in effect for over 100 years, and it would be a severe thing to limit them any further, particularly when one remembers that the establishments we are legislating for include most reputable concerns and coffee bars and other places which provide not only for people seeking refreshment and entertainment but for those working at night or in the early morning.

The hon. Member also thought the penalties insufficient. The Bill substantially increases them. The present maximum fine is £20, or £50 if there has been a similar conviction within the previous five years. The new penalty goes up to £200 or three months' imprisonment or both, and the prison sentence is a new penalty. I will also give attention to the point raised by the hon. Member about advertising.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham also raised the question of noise and nuisance caused by establishments of this kind. There have from time to time been representations on this subject. This main difficulty in attempting to control noise and nuisance in a Bill of this kind is that, in practice, the noise occurs not so much on the premises as in the street when customers are arriving and departing.

That is clearly beyond the control of the licensee and in any case would be outside the scope of the Bill. It has sometimes been argued that planning conditions affecting the location of all-night cafes could ensure a minimum of disturbance to other people in the neighbourhood. That may be so, but, again, it is not a point for consideration in this Bill. It is rather a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and I will see that this is brought to his attention. It will not be entirely new to him.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Garston also referred to the date of operation of the Bill—1st April, 1965. From every point of view, it is a practical and a reasonable date, especially is that is also to be the date of operation of the London Government Act. My hon. and learned Friend will see in the first line on page 2 of the Bill one of the better drafted phrases: … before or after the commencement of this Act … I am sure that these words will cause no great perplexity to the House.

Licences are granted with effect from 1st April each year and run for 12 months. They may come up for renewal before expiry in February or March and when the licensing authorities early next year consider applications for renewals they will have power under this Bill, even though it will not yet be in full operation, to attach conditions to any licence granted or renewed regarding the matters defined in Clause 1(1), (2) and (4).

They will be able to do this before 1st April next year, and it will take effect automatically upon that date. I will nevertheless take a careful look at the point my hon. and learned Friend raised on the question of drafting. I am bound to say, however—and I am sure others will agree—that this is a matter in which it is much easier to suggest improvements when one is not responsible for ensuring that the law is foolproof.

The fundamental question of whether such legislation is necessary was raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, Southeast and the hon. Member for Islington, East. The hon. Lady asked whether it was necessary merely to protect men from the consequences of their own folly and weakness. I entirely agree that their folly and weakness is entirely unadmirable, and if protection from it were the sole object of the Bill I would be inclined to agree with that criticism, although, at the same time, I would also strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West that it is not inappropriate for the law to intervene in questions of morality of this kind.

But there are also weightier reasons for the Bill, and my right hon. Friend referred to them. In the first place, the Bill will relieve the police of a time-consuming burden. From representations we have had from the police, I can assure the House that an exasperating amount of work is laid on them by the present situation.

It will also remove a discreditable incubus on the legitimate tourist trade in London, and on this matter again we have had many and increasing representations from people making use of tourist facilities in London. Finally, it would remove a stigma which tends to bring London into disrepute as a centre of entertainment. I think that those are cogent considerations, and I hope that the House will be impelled by them to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. G. Thomas

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why the Bill does not extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland? Is it because of the special virtue of those parts? If not, why is there no reference to Wales?

Mr. Woodhouse

Because the principal Act which is amended by the Bill does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Unluckily for the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), England and Wales are customarily taken together in legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

Committee Tomorrow.