HC Deb 16 June 1967 vol 748 cc1001-7

3.18 p.m.

Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, after 'avoid', to insert 'unreasonable'.

Despite some remarks which you made a few moments ago, Mr. Speaker, about the number of Bills trembling on the brink, this Bill needs some discussion and must not go through in just a few minutes. It is an important Bill and the Amendments affect it considerably. The Bill has had an interesting career. It was not discussed at all on Second Reading, thanks to the luck of the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) in getting it accepted at 4 o'clock in Friday, 14th April. Secondly, even in Standing Committee, Clause 1, which is the operative Clause, was accepted only on the casting vote of the Chairman of the Committee.

Mr. Speaker

These remarks may be all right for a discussion on a Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", or on Third Reading, but the hon. Member must now come to his Amendment.

Mr. Chapman

I am coming to my Amendment with this final introductory remark, Mr. Speaker.

The Amendment makes a substantial alteration to the Bill. The last thing which can be claimed for the Bill is that it is an agreed Measure, which is why we must probe the wording of Clause 1 carefully and try to improve it. We may manage to reach the point where we need not oppose the Bill on Third Reading, but much depends on how the hon. Member for Worthing responds to our pressure and the effect which we are advised our Amendments would have, and whether the Home Office thinks that they are possible and workable.

This Amendment would interpose the word "unreasonable" between "avoid" and "disturbance". Clause 1 says that the licensing authority, which in this case is the local authority, may impose times of opening and closing on refreshment houses at night in order to avoid disturbance to residents in the neighbourhood. My Amendment says that the authority would have that power only to avoid unreasonable disturbance.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

It may save time if I make it perfectly clear that I am prepared to accept the Amendment. I am sure that that would be the wish of all those who are on the Standing Committee.

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Gentleman is very helpful and I shall be as brief as I can, but I want to use this opportunity to make it clear that this is a difficult matter and that I want to hear the advice of the Home Secretary about it.

An Act of 1860 defines refreshment houses as being all houses, rooms, shops or buildings kept open for public refreshment at night, between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and the Clause would provide a sweeping power to control their hours of opening and closing.

With the Bill drafted as it is, it could mean that every one of them could easily be closed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. because it is almost impossible to avoid disturbance. The Bill as drafted means avoiding any disturbance to the residents of the neighbourhood.

Any refreshment house, whether it has people driving up to it in cars and slamming the doors, or people talking outside, or has cooking fumes—which is a disturbance—or has flashing lights inside or outside, could be affected. All of these things are disturbances. Any legitimate way of carrying on the business of a refreshment house after 11 o'clock at night could easily, and almost certainly would, be a disturbance to the residents of the neighbourhood.

Mr. Higgins


Mr. Chapman

Many of the circumstances which I have been outlining could be disturbances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I have given way to the hon. Gentleman, and he can speak in a moment. I will not be long, but if he provokes me I shall take longer.

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of State of the Home Department whether it is a convenient way to limit the operation of this Clause to use the word "unreasonable" between "avoid" and "disturbance"? After all, we do not want to reach a situation where anyone living in a flat over a restaurant, anyone in an area where there is mixed development of residential buildings and cafes, can say, under the Bill as it stands at present, that he is suffering disturbance and demand that the local authority controls the business, insisting that it be closed after 11 p.m.

The simplest way of protecting many of the people who carry on a very legitimate business, serving the people a great deal, whether they are selling fish and chips, operating an all-night café or whatever else—they all come under the umbrella of the Bill—is to accept that they must cause some disturbance after 11 p.m. The only test which the local authority and, on appeal, the magistrates' court should be called upon to apply should be to assess whether the disturbance is unreasonable. If that is a reasonable way of proceeding to amend the Bill I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will say so, and will tell us that it will limit the operation of the Bill a good deal and protect a lot of people serving the community who should not be chivvied in giving this service in the way that the Bill lays down.

Mr. Higgins

As I mentioned in my intervention, this is an Amendment which I am able to accept, and I shall support it.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has asked me several questions, but, as he knows, this is not a Home Office Bill. It is a Private Member's Bill, and I made it clear during Committee that the Government were neutral about it. He has heard that the promoter of the Bill accepts the Amendment, and I think that with the Amendment the Bill will be more workable than without it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Chapman

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 7, to leave out from 'neighbourhood' to 'may' in line 8.

This is another quite far-reaching Amendment. As the Bill is drafted, a local authority may impose conditions about the hours of opening and closing, for two reasons: first, in order to avoid unreasonable disturbance to residents of the neighbourhood; and, secondly, to preserve reasonable enjoyment of the amenities of the neighbourhood". This is the phrase which caused most of the discussion in Committee. My hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) and Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) and others showed how monstrous and capable of misuse this provision would be if it were left in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aston went straight to the point. He said: … there is no reasonable definition of what is meant by 'preserve reasonable enjoyment of the amenities of the neighbourhood'. What does that mean? Some people regard a fish-and-chip shop as an amenity while some regard it as a nuisance. Possibly the best definition is that if it is in your street it is a nuisance, but if it is in the next street it is an amenity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee H, 14th June, 1967; c. 14.] My hon. Friend was quite right in saying that the phrase was meaningless until it was given a better interpretation than that provided by the Bill.

Secondly, this is a very dangerous power to give to some local authorities. A number of main roads run through very select residential localities. In some of them all-night cafés and restaurants perform a good service for people. But it is possible that the local residents will say, "We do not go to them. They are for travellers passing through. They do not preserve the amenities of our neighbourhood. All that they do is to attract undesirables and cause a lot of noise".

Mr. Higgins


Mr. Chapman

The hon. Gentleman must be a little patient.

Mr. Higgins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It will help the House, I think, if I make it clear that I am again persuaded by the arguments which were put forward in Committee and which the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. I am prepared to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Chapman

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts the Amendment, and I am grateful to him. But I must finish my case very briefly—I am taking up very little time, and the hon. Gentleman knows it—because what I am saying points to the objections which I shall raise on Third Reading.

In select residential areas where people feel that their amenities would be harmed by the presence of cafes and restaurants, a grave danger is that if the Bill is left unamended—and I will still have doubts about the matter even if it is amended in the way that I propose—not only will existing cafes lose their licences, but no new licences will be given to people to stay open after 11 o'clock at night and until 5 o'clock in the morning. This was a difficulty which was pointed out by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) in Committee. It is a difficulty which worries me. The Bill as drafted will leave the door open to every local authority which wants to stop cafes starting up in areas where it can have the remotest claim that the amenities of the residents will be harmed without having regard to the wider amenities of people as a whole, who may, when passing through an area in their motor car, need refreshment.

It is because I have grave doubts about the Bill as a whole as well as the drafting by the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that I have ventured to detain him for three or four minutes to show that the Bill has a number of points which are worrying. The hon. Member has, however, said that he will accept the Amendment. If it is acceptable to the House, I shall be grateful and glad.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), has been extremely kind in meeting the point which I raised in Standing Committee. He has written to me to confirm that a matter with which I wanted to deal by Amendment could, in his view, be adequately dealt with by means of a circular from the Home Office.

I should like it to be emphasised in the House that there is to be no intention of bringing perfectly respectable, wholly well-run refreshment houses into any difficulties which they have not had to meet previously. There is a fear that some very well-run refreshment houses may in the end be subjected to a general prohibition on opening after 11 p.m. The point was discussed at length in Committee and I am certain that the sponsor of the Bill will emphasise again that there is no intention of interfering with refreshment houses which are well run.

I have one other brief point. There is, apparently, a growing tendency for some all-night refreshment houses which are not licensed to sell alcohol to assist either, wittingly or unwittingly, in the passing of drugs to young people. I would have liked to have seen a Clause which would do something to meet this hazard and great nuisance to young people.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. That does not arise on the Amendment, which is concerned only with the amenity aspect of the Clause.

Mr. Morris

The Amendment takes out important words altering drastically the meaning of subsection (1) of the Clause. I raised the possibility of the Amendment in Standing Committee, and I wish to thank the hon. Member for Worthing for the way he has dealt with this matter in correspondence with me.

Mr. Higgins

I agree very much with the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) that it is certainly not the intention of myself or of any of those in favour of the Bill that it should in any way restrict the opening of well-run refreshment houses which in no way cause a nuisance but, on the contrary, provide a public service.

In Committee, a number of hon. Members expressed grave doubts about the words which are covered by the Amendment. I have given considerable thought to the matter since then and made considerable inquiries about the wording of the Clause. If we are to strike a balance between the liberty of the individual, on the one hand, to run or use a coffee bar and the liberty of individuals living nearby to enjoy a good night's sleep after 11 o'clock, I think that the Amendment will certainly make sure that the balance is very much maintained between those two interests.

I am, therefore, glad to accept the Amendment, having given it considerable thought. Together with the previous Amendment and the two Amendments which follow, it covers all the principal points that were raised in Committee. Therefore, all those who in Committee had doubts about the Clause should be satisfied with the Bill as it will eventually be amended if the Committee accept the Amendment and the Amendments which follow. On that basis, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northfield, who has moved the Amendment, which I have said I am prepared to accept, would have no objection to the Bill.

Miss Bacon

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), who moved this Amendment, said, quite rightly, that there was equal voting on Clause 1 in the Committee, but I think I am rightly interpreting the discussion there in saying that those of my hon. Friends who felt they could not vote for the Clause probably would have had different thoughts if this Amendment had been able to have been moved in Committee.

To that extent, I think this meets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), admitted, the objections of some of my hon. Friends.

Amendment agreed to.