HC Deb 06 March 1967 vol 742 cc957-60

10.4 a.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the licensing of certain private places of entertainment. The credit for the Bill goes to others—in this House to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who in 1965 introduced a Measure with a similar aim. He did that having heard the evidence given on the Manchester Bill, which passed as a Private Bill. Credit for this Measure must go also to Lord Parker, Lord Chief Justice, who in another place has successfully launched and has almost completed the passage of a Bill in identical terms with that which I ask the House to grant leave to introduce.

In June last year, I was pleased and proud, having won a place in the Private Members' Ballot, to be given permission to introduce a Bill in similar terms to that proposed by Lord Parker in another place. Thanks to Government drafting, his Bill was improved, and I was not able to bring my Bill within the Long Title. Hence my bringing forward the Bill today under the Ten-Minute Rule.

This is in no way an anti-club Bill. Indeed, there could hardly be anything more satisfactory than we should find developing properly accommodated and properly-run clubs which provide for coffee, dancing, beat, jazz or pop groups for teenagers. One hopes that this will in future become part of our society and of our way of life.

Unfortunately, however, over the last five years there has been a very different development which has made almost a mockery of the word "club" by places which charge, say, 2s. 6d. entrance fee and subscription for a year and which are formed simply for the purpose of avoiding the existing legislation. This House will not need to be reminded of the evidence of what has been happening in these clubs. Our knowledge comes from Questions in the House, the experience and evidence which was given during the consideration of the Manchester Bill, articles in the Press and notably an article in The Times in 1965. The position in Manchester was that sleazy and unsatisfactory clubs in tenements or blitzed premises were being run by people with known criminal records. For many hon. Members, these clubs must have become a familiar feature of their constituencies.

I need only emphasise that there is no control over the premises of such clubs. Some of them are filthy and insanitary and there is a considerable fire risk. One has only to think of what might happen in one of these basements where no proper fire precautions had been taken and dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of young people were present late at night. There might well be a disaster of major importance. There is no control over the proprietors themselves or their background or record. There is little or no control over morals or the sale of drugs in such cases.

I emphasise that this is not an antidrug Bill, but we must be well aware that many of these places of the most unsatisfactory type are primarily outlet points for drugs such as purple hearts and hemp, which are often the start of much worse things. We know also that they are used, because there is no control over their hours of opening or closing, as doss houses where people stay all night. We know from the evidence in London, Manchester and elsewhere that they are often the refuges of absconders.

I have, naturally, made inquiries in my constituency from the chief constable, and I have discussed the matter with those concerned with clubs at New Scotland Yard. They all tell the same story. I am glad to say that the situation in Blackpool has not yet become serious, but it is giving rise to some concern. Only last week a special squad to deal with drugs had to be instituted in the Blackpool Police Force.

Both the Chief Constable of Blackpool and New Scotland Yard made it clear to me, however, that the best of the clubs are well and properly run and should be encouraged. I hope that the Bill will make sure that the best survive and that the bad are driven out.

The law is somewhat complicated, because local authorities in different parts of the country control public entertainments by virtue of powers under different statutes. There is the Public Health Acts (Amendment Act), 1890, which deals largely with areas outside London. There is the Home Counties (Music and Dancing) Licensing Act, 1926, which is concerned primarily with Essex, Hertfordshire and most of Buckinghamshire and Kent. There is also the London Government Act, 1963, which deals with the London Boroughs and the City. There are also a number of local Acts controlling certain county areas.

Clause 1 of this Measure gives power for the appropriate local authority to which it applies to adopt the Bill. Clause 2 is the vital provision because it requires premises used for dancing, music or other entertainment to obtain a licence if it is within the area in which the Bill has been adopted and if it is a club which is run for private gain. The Clause also provides exemptions for theatre clubs and cinema clubs—and it is also necessary, apparently, to exempt broadcasting studios because they come under premises where music is made. Subsections (4), (5) and (6) of Clause 2 deal with the problem of what constitutes "private gain", although I will not go into this matter today.

Clause 3 deals with the granting of licences on such terms and conditions, including terms covering entry and inspection as the authority may specify. The House will note this provision with pleasure. These terms will be those which the local authority concerned may require. I would expect those terms to be in line with the ordinary terms imposed by licensing justices, covering such matters as the conduct of the premises, drunkenness, the control of strip-tease shows, the use of the premises by prostitutes, and other terms such as fire precautions, sanitation and so on. To give teeth to the Bill, Clause 4 proposes a maximum fine of £200, three months imprisonment, or both.

In asking leave to introduce this Measure, I wish to say to the House in general and the Government in particular that it contains provisions which are much needed and which are recognised to be needed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I appreciate the Government's difficulty in that the timetable makes the easy passage of a Bill such as this more difficult, with Easter and other Measures coming along. However, by virtue of the drafting of the Bill, it is virtually unamendable. It has also been through its Committee stage in another place. Accepting the limitations that these two facts will impose on the Bill, I hope that the favourable wind which has blown so far may see the Bill safely home in this Session.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Miscampbell, Mr. Deedes, Sir D. Renton, Mr. Gresham Cooke, Mr. Blaker, and Mr. Carlisle.

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