HC Deb 22 February 1966 vol 725 cc359-62

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Refreshment Houses Acts, 1860 and 1964; and for purposes connected therewith. I can hardly claim this as a maiden speech, as it is 28 years since I first entered the House and I have introduced a great number of Government Bills in the meantime. However, this is the first occasion on which I have sought to introduce a Private Member's Bill, so I hope that I may receive the traditional kindly indulgence. So far as I know, there is no element of party politics in my Bill.

The Bill springs directly from the experience of many of my Hampstead constituents. I have received the strongest representations that something effective must quickly be done to mitigate the nuisance caused to all the neighbourhood by a certain type of coffee bar in the middle of the night and the early hours of the morning. These are places which do not sell alcohol, so they have no need for a licence of that sort.

There are admirable refreshment places which stay open all night and create no trouble at all, and the Bill need not make any difference whatever to them. But there are others that give rise to constant complaints, and they are not confined to my constituency, as is evidenced by the readiness with which numbers of hon. Members have promised support for my Bill—Members from both sides of the House.

The complaints made to me relate not to what goes on inside the restaurant or coffee bar—there are powers in the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860, to deal with that—but to the noise and nuisance created outside, late at night or in the early hours of the morning, in the street, by the crowds and the types of people which some of these places attract, and which that Act does not in any way cover.

If no one was trying to get to sleep in the neighbourhood that might not much matter, but it is when one of these late-night or all-night restaurants establishes itself in the middle of a residential area that complaints arise, and naturally so. Any premises with planning permission for use as a shop can be turned into an all-night restaurant without any further planning permission being needed.

The complaints I have received include blocking the footway shouting and throwing abuse at people passing along the street, who are perhaps on their way home, banging of car doors and starting up of motor bikes and racing of engines when the place closes long after midnight—because, of course, at that time there is no public transport to get home by—and other nuisances of a fouler character.

One might imagine that existing statutory powers would be effective to quell all this. But the experience of the police and of many local authorities which have tried them have proved that that is not the case. Neither the Public Health Acts nor the Noise Abatement Act nor good rule and government byelaws under the Local Government Act are effective in practice to deal with the root of the trouble.

For example, when I asked a constituent who found life quite intolerable in a flat opposite one of these all-night places whether he had tried lodging a complaint under the Noise Abatement Act, he replied quite simply that under that Act he would have to give his name and address as complainant, and that would certainly mean that he would get stones through his windows—not, of course, from the owners of the place, but from some of the less desirable customers. Some very queer types of teen-agers frequent some of these coffee bars. I am quite certain that many of them gravitate to them from a distance and do not live locally.

The police, as I say, help as far as they can. But there have been nights or early mornings when up to 50 per cent. of the available police manpower in my constituency has been called out to try to deal with complaints about these coffee bars, and that, of course, is splendid for the burglars who are practising their profession elsewhere.

The only way to deal effectively with this very real nuisance is, in my view, to give the local authority a power, which strangely enough it does not possess at present, to fix a definite closing hour in any case where it thinks fit to do so.

The principal Act which my Bill seeks to amend was passed no less than 106 years ago, in days very different from these. That Act, the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860, says that anyone who wishes to keep open: a house, room, shop or building…for public refreshment, resort and entertainment at any time between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. must obtain a licence. The licence costs only a guinea and is obtainable on demand, like a dog licence. The local authority which issues the licence has no power to attach any conditions to it, however many complaints there may be about the nuisance which the place causes locally.

My Bill will, quite simply, empower the local authority, if—and only if—it thinks fit, when it issues a licence, to stipulate a closing hour. It may be 11 o'clock, it may be midnight, it may be 1 o'clock in the morning, it may be such hour as the local authority thinks fit; but I suggest that it should not be before 11 p.m. If the place gives rise to no complaints at all, the authority need not fix any closing hour.

There must, of course, be some safeguard against arbitrary action by the licensing authority, and the Bill will lay down that those who are running the coffee bar or refreshment house should have a right of appeal against an authority's decision to the magistrates' court.

The Bill will not apply to Scotland. Nor will it attempt to deal with clubs, which often produce a more difficult and, indeed, a more serious problem. I hope that in due course the Government, whatever Government there may be, will bring forward fresh proposals to deal with those. My Bill deals only with places which are open to the public. I hope the House will give leave for the introduction of this Bill, which is designed to make good a gap in an Act now more than a century old, and to give my constituents and the constituents of many other hon. Members the right which, I believe, we should wish all our constituents to enjoy, even if we cannot always enjoy it ourselves when we are here—the right to sleep undisturbed through the night.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Henry Brooke, Mr. Goodhart, Mr. Berry, Lady Gammans, Mrs. Joyce Butler, Mr. Blaker, Mr. Patrick Jenkin, Mr. Atkinson, Mr. A. Royle, Mr. Burden, Mr. Higgins, and Mr. Gresham Cooke.