HC Deb 16 June 1967 vol 748 cc1007-13
Mr. Higgins

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 25, after 'renewed', to insert: '(including a direction that no condition is to be imposed)'. I think that it would be helpful if we were to discuss my next Amendment with this one because they are inter-related, if I may have the leave of the House to discuss both together.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Is that acceptable to the House? Yes.

Mr. Higgins

I am grateful to the House.

During the proceedings of the Standing Committee the view was expressed forcefully by a number of hon. Members that there should be a further right of appeal from the magistrates' court to quarter sessions. Two possible forms of Amendment were suggested. One was that the initial appeal should be straight to quarter sessions, and the other was that, following upon appeal to the magistrates' court, there should be a further appeal to quarter sessions. I think it is true to say that the Government felt that it was more consistent with recently passed legislation that the second of those, the double appeal, should be agreed to.

It is true that some fears were expressed in Committee that the decision on the actual question of limiting the licensing hours of a refreshment house might be taken on too parochial a basis, and that, therefore, it was better, on balance, that the decision should be taken by the licensing authority specified in the Bill, usually a county or county borough authority, and not primarily because of very local considerations, and secondly, in addition to the appeal to the magistrates' court, there should be an appeal to a wider court which might take into account considerations prevailing in the whole of an area.

The purpose of the Amendments is simply to achieve this. I should, perhaps, point out that they do something more than that. The original wording is, I understand, rather faulty. The original wording might enable the magistrates' court, as the ultimate court of appeal, to alter the licensing hours without removing the restriction completely, but the wording of the Amendments would not only achieve the object which in the Committee the hon. Member felt ought to be achieved and ensure that those who run refreshment houses would be adequately protected from an arbitrary decision of the licensing authority, but also that both the magistrates' court and quarter sessions may eliminate a limitation altogether, rather than merely vary the hours during which a refreshment house should be open.

Mr. Alfred Morris

This was an important point in the Standing Committee. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has met the criticism raised in the Committee. It is an extremely difficult task to balance public nuisance and private liberty, public harm with private good. We are taking the matter out of the parochial atmosphere and transferring it to quarter sessions. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 4, in page 1, line 25, at end insert: (2) Any party to an appeal under subsection (1) of this section may appeal from the decision of the magistrates' court to a court of quarter sessions.—[Mr. Higgins.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr. Chapman

I thought the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) would move the Third Reading. He is not doing so. As we have got 20 minutes, I propose to say something about—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) said that he has 20 minutes. May I remind him that he has no such thing?

Mr. Higgins

I propose to move the Third Reading now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I had assumed that the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) was moving the Third reading, and I proposed the Question. Mr. Chapman.

Mr. Chapman

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not intend to delay the House for long. In saying what I did, I meant that there was no rush to have the Third Reading through in a couple of minutes on the nod, particularly as the Bill has not had any substantial debate in this House. This is the only opportunity to express the considerable misgivings which I, for one, have about it. I have no intention of talking it out, although it is against my better judgment that I refrain from doing so.

The hon. Member for Worthing has been most courteous in accepting my Amendments, and the net effect of them is to reduce the substantial harm done by the Bill, as I see it.

In his remarks just now, he made what might be regarded almost as a Freudian slip. He spoke about coffee bars and implied that his main object of attention was the all-night coffee bar. I want to demonstrate to him that, although his Bill is in the interests of citizens who feel that they should not have to suffer unreasonable disturbance from the "goings on" in coffee bars, by drafting it in the way that he has he will create more anomalies and difficulties than he is curing.

As he knows, there are two ways of selling coffee in the middle of the night. One is to have a refreshment house and the other is to have what is called a "coffee club". All that his Bill does in respect of many refreshment houses is to force their proprietors to exempt themselves by turning their premises into private coffee clubs. Once that is done, the Bill will not touch them, and the harm and disturbance to the neighbourhood will continue. I do not think that he realised that when he drafted the Bill, but I am aware of the problem because I happen to live in Brighton, where the local authority had to promote a Private Bill to deal with it.

Part of the blame must lie with the Home Office in not drawing his attention to the fact that anyone who wishes to evade the provisions of the Bill will be able to do so easily by turning his premises into a coffee club. As a result, it will be a simple matter to drive a coach and horses through—

Miss Bacon

I understand that my hon. Friend feels that the Home Office should have pointed out to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) what my hon. Friend believes to be a flaw in the Bill. However, there is no flaw in the Bill in that it is not soundly drafted, although it may be that it should have included clubs. Perhaps my hon. Friend will introduce a Private Member's Bill at some future date to do just that.

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Gentleman wants to try to cure this abuse, but I am afraid that he will not succeed.

Even worse, which is what I had hoped that the Home Office would point out to him, it will create a great deal of injustice in that a refreshment house selling coffee will have to close down at 11 at night when the man next door, committing the same nuisance, will be able to continue that nuisance through the night simply by turning his premises into a club.

3.45 p.m.

That is the difficulty. My right hon. Friend is saying that the remedy is to introduce legislation to apply this to coffee clubs. It will be difficult if we have to start setting up nationwide licensing systems to enable people to drink cups of coffee privately at 2 o'clock in the morning. This is what will happen if we have a system for licensing coffee clubs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. I think that it will be wrong to do this. We shall be starting on a slippery slope. My right hon. Friend signposted the way for us by saying that the way to deal with this is for someone to introduce a Bill to give nation-wide powers for the licensing of coffee clubs throughout the night. This is a dangerous thing to do.

The right way to deal with this problem is the way in which Brighton has tackled it. If there is a nuisance, the local authority should come to the House and prove that it needs the right to control people's activities in private clubs after 11 o'clock at night. It should introduce a Private Bill, and if it can prove that there is a nuisance locally, it should be given power to control it. I object strongly to the giving of wide licensing powers like this throughout the country because they may well be used in some areas where there will not be as much of a nuisance as in my view necessitates bringing in the whole paraphernalia of licensing and controls. It would be much better to leave this matter to be dealt with in the way that Brighton has dealt with it, and allow local authorities to come to the House and prove their cases as necessary.

Reference has been made to drug peddling. Control of this is the other reason often given for Bills of this kind. I do not think that the House—or the country—should fool itself into thinking that this sort of Bill will clean up drug peddling in coffee bars after 11 o'clock. If people want to peddle drugs they can do so just as well at five minutes to eleven as they can at five minutes past. There is no proof that shutting down these places between 11 o'clock at night and 5 o'clock in the morning will cure this abuse.

It is because I think the Bill will cause injustice between coffee house owners and club owners, and because of the infringement of rights which will inevitably follow as the cry goes up to licence all clubs, that I have grave doubts about it. I am sorry that it did not get a proper Second Reading, and that we have had to alter it so substantially on Report, with the result that we have a truncated Bill. Nevertheless, I still think that it will be harmful to the country, instead of, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended, being useful. I hope he will accept that I feel very strongly about this Measure. I shall not refrain from talking out the next one if my right hon. Friend gets her way and brings in a Bill to license clubs which operate through the night. My right hon. Friend signposted the way by saying that perhaps I would be fortunate enough to introduce such a Measure and carry it through.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman meant to do good, and I have no wish to spoil his chances of getting the Bill through. I only hope that I shall be confounded by events, and that the Bill will not do as much harm as I expect it to, but I must, in fairness, express my misgivings about it.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)

I propose to say only a few words, because I am conscious of the clock.

I rise to give the Bill all-party support from my locality, although it is the progeny of my noble predecessor with whom I have some political but no personal differences. The Bill is supported by my Labour-controlled council. I would not support the Bill if I thought that it would lead to the closure of many all-night cafés, because I believe that they perform a great social need by giving young people in particular somewhere to go in preference to being on the streets. I have full confidence in the common sense of our local authorities to bear reasonable and social criteria in mind.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. T. Higgins

I rise for only a few moments to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). I appreciate the difficulty that he sees, that there may be some danger, even with the limitation of opening hours, as against the prohibition of opening of refreshment houses—which the Bill does not impose—which may conceivably lead to the creation of coffee clubs rather than refreshment houses. That is a matter for another Bill. It is not the purpose of this one. If another Bill is introduced the House will judge it on its merits.

I am convinced that the Bill now before the House has been improved in Committee and on Report. I believe that it meets all the points that have been made and that in its present form it will perform useful function, hitting the right balance in respect of the liberty of the individual, whether he be refreshment owner, user of a refreshment house or a person living in the vicinity.

Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has conducted the proceedings on the Bill and I hope that the House will now proceed to give it a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.