HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc92-4


Mr. Dean

I beg to move Amendment No. 83, in page 84, line 17, after 'relates', insert: 'or a person whose interests may be affected by the decision'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With that Amendment we can discuss Amendment No. 84, in page 84, line 25, after 'him', insert: 'or in the case of a person whose interests are affected by the decision, within six weeks of the time when he might reasonably be expected to know of the decision'.

Mr. Dean

The Clause provides a right of appeal to the High Court for someone whose interests are directly affected by the licensing authority, or by the Minister, in the case of registration of premises where the person concerned feels that the licensing authority or the Minister has acted outside the powers of the Act, as it will be, or the requirements of the Act and the regulations made under it. In other words, the Clause is not really concerned with whether the licensing authority has acted rightly on the merits of the case, but whether it has acted within or outside the terms of the Act.

As the Clause is drawn, a defence will be available only to the person to whom a decision relates. The object of the Amendments is to make the Clause slightly wider so that this defence can be available to a person whose interests may be affected by the decision. We discussed the matter briefly in Committee, when the Minister made it clear that the people we had in mind were not covered by the Clause as drafted. For example, a commercial competitor might feel aggrieved at the grant of a licence to a rival firm, but he will have no redress. This is nothing to do with the merits of the case, but whether the Minister has acted ultra vires. In our view this defence should be open to a person whose interests may be affected by the decision, as well as being open to the person to whom the decision relates. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. K. Robinson

As the hon. Gentleman said, the object of these Amendments is to extend the range of persons entitled to question in the courts the vadility of decisions of the licensing authority. The hon. Gentleman said that the Amendments would make the Clause slightly wider. I question the use of the word "slightly". I think that the Amendments will make the Clause far too wide.

Under the Bill as drafted, only the person to whom the decision relates has any such rights. The first Amendment aims at allowing any person whose interests may be affected to challenge the validity of the decision. The consideration which we had in mind in drafting the Clause was to strike a balance. Obviously the person to whom the decision relates ought to have a right of appeal on a point of law, and the Bill provides for that, but if any person could challenge a decision made under the Bill by alleging that his interests are or could be affected in future that could create an impossible situation, particularly if it were abused. It could throw the whole of the licensing arrangements into disarray by placing the licensing authority, perhaps on the flimsiest of grounds, under the burden of having to defend before the High Court cases which were of little or no merit, or even vexacious.

Moreover, the holder of the licence which was being challenged might not be a party to the proceedings, yet, if the Amendment were accepted, a court could suspend the operation of the decision. All this would mean time and expense for the licensing authority, the applicant, and everyone else. Though I should not want to suggest that such considerations are any ground for refusing a right to apply to the court on a point of law where a person is directly affected, I think that we should think carefully before we give a right to impugn a decision to an ill-defined range of persons who are not directly concerned.

Perhaps I can give the House an example. The hon. Gentleman mentioned competitors. Let us suppose that applicant A has been granted a licence on conditions which his competitor B thinks are less onerous than those which apply to his product. On the hon. Gentleman's argument, competitor B ought to be able to challenge the decision, but surely what he ought to do in those circumstances is to say, "The licensing authority obviously does not now require such onerous conditions. I shall therefore apply for a variation Order." I suggest that we should not enable a person to challenge on the ground that his interests could be affected by the mere granting of a licence to a competitor. After all, if there were no licensing scheme in existence there would be no ground for legal proceedings in a situation like that.

I shall not go into detail about the wording of the Amendments, except to say that the first one talks about a person whose interests may be affected, which implies that they are not affected by the decision, whereas the second talks about a person whose interests are affected, and on that basis he would have to wait until they had been affected before he could apply to the court.

I think that the whole of this proposal, by comparison with a number of other Amendments tabled by the hon. Gentleman, is somewhat ill-considered, and I ask the House to reject it.

Amendment negatived.

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