HC Deb 23 February 1979 vol 963 cc769-806


Order for Second Reading read.

11.8 a.m.

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill proposes to correct two anomalies in the licensing law, which is necessarily very complex. The bible on the subject is "Paterson's Licensing Acts", which refers to 200 Acts and statutory instruments and runs to about 2,000 pages. I am fortunate in that Mr. John Martin, the editor of "Paterson's Licensing Acts", has given me tremendous assistance in the drafting of the Bill.

I should say at the outset that it is not a controversial measure. It has the enthusiastic support of the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society. I should declare an interest because I am a member of the Newcastle bench. The brewers have supported the Bill and I have consulted the National Union of Licensed Victuallers and the National Association of Licensed House Managers and they have raised no objection to my proposals.

The Bill is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House and I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) in the Chamber. His work as chairman of the National Committee on Alchoholism is well known and he takes a great interest in the subject. I am pleased that he is here to help in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who was one of my original supporters, wished to be present, but unfortunately he has to attend an important conference on Health Service matters and must therefore be absent. I should not anticipate the remarks from the Front Benches, but I understand that favour will be shown to the Bill by both Front Benches.

I thank the Minister for the co-operation that she has shown and thank her advisers for their co-operation in the discussions that took place before the Bill was presented. I also appreciate the presence of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) on the Opposition Front Bench. I shall welcome the addition of his wisdom and learning to our deliberations, and I am sure that if I find myself a little stuck on some complex aspects of licensing law I shall be able to turn to him for a ready response.

It will help the House to understand the background to the two anomalies that the Bill seeks to correct if I briefly review some of the history of licensing law. In doing so, I shall draw heavily on an excellent book published in 1903 by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who were great campaigners on matters relating to drink. Their book gives a good background to the licensing laws up to 1903.

There has always been a problem with drink in this country. As a moderate drinker, I am in favour of reasonable drinking habits, but when drinking is carried to excess it is a problem for the public.

The first licensing Act was passed in 1552 in the time of Edward VI. Justices were authorised, for the first time, to select people to keep ale houses. Until then, anyone had the right to keep an ale house, but in 1552 it became a privilege to keep such a house and the justices decided who should have that privilege.

From the end of the seventeenth century, the justices became rather lax in their administration of the law and the Webbs' book refers to The superfluous number of such petty inns and alehouses. The reason for their existence was that application was frequently made on behalf of some broken, half-starved merchant or idle fellow, who rather than beg or steal, and be hanged, or at best become chargeable to the parish, hopes to get a subsistence by the little cheatings and degenerate shifts of ale selling. That presents a very different picture, of course, from the publican of today, but it shows the state of affairs at that time.

By 1722 the Webbs computed that 36 gallons of beer a year were consumed by every man, woman and child. After the Restoration, taverns—which was the name applied in those days to wine shops—multiplied fast. But a far worse feature of the time was the result of the free sale of gin. I do not mean that it was given away, but there was no control over the establishments and persons who could sell gin.

The Webbs referred to the fact that Not only were there in London and Westminster six or seven thousand regular dramshops, but cheap gin was given by masters to their workpeople instead of wages, sold by the barbers and tobacconists, hawked about the streets on barrows by men and women, openly exposed for sale on every market stall, forced on the maid-servants and other purchasers at the chandler's shops, distributed by the watermen on the Thames, vended by pedlars in the suburban lanes, and freely offered in every house of ill fame. Not surprisingly, the results of that were that even in shops of a creditable and wholesale appearance, a crowd of poor ragged people, cursing and quarrelling with one another over repeated glasses of these destructive liquors…". was to be found. And afterwards the people were laid together in heaps, promiscuously, men, women and children, till they recovered their senses, when they proceed to drink on, or, having spent all they had, go out to find wherewithal to return to the same dreadful pursuit…retailers of the poisonous compound set up painted boards in public, inviting people to be drunk for the small expense of one penny assuring them that they might be dead drunk for twopence… and that they could have the straw in the room behind to sleep it off for nothing. We have not quite come to that state of affairs today, but one can see that drink was certainly a social evil at that time.

A bid was made to attempt to control the system by imposing a £50 licence for the sale of drink, and by taxing spirits at the then very high rate of £1 per gallon. The result of that, sadly, was rioting, and it proved quite impossible to enforce. No one took out any of the £50 licences.

At that time over 7 million gallons of spirit were sold—that is the figure for the year 1742. As far as I can establish, only about 6 million gallons are sold today, when the population is five or six times greater than it was in 1742. As a result of the scene that I have described, in 1743 moderate duties were imposed instead of fierce duties, and the licensing powers of the justices were restored.

The situation continued until 1830 when the Beer Bill was introduced during the Administration of the Duke of Wellington as Prime Minister, and beer sales were encouraged. The retail sale of beer was therefore, thrown completely open, and anyone could sell beer if he wished to—the aim being to discourage the sale of spirits. Any ratepayer could sell beer without licence or control by the justices. The result of that was that tens of thousands of new beer houses were opened, and again the Webbs described the effects: A fortnight after the Bill came into force everybody is drunk and those who are not singing are squalling. The sovereign people are in a beastly state. That continued to be so until 1869 when the Wine and Beer Houses Act was introduced and all licensed premises were then brought under the control of the justices, which was probably the start of modern licensing law. But while beer shops and wine shops now had to obtain a licence from the justices, the discretion of the justices to refuse did not exist other than in very limited circumstances. Therefore, a privileged status was granted to those who had an existing beer shop or wine shop for which they had had to obtain a licence in the past. Under the 1869 Act that privileged status was apparently intended to apply only to the first application to the justices. But, for some reason that I have not been able to discover from history, in 1870 there was another Act and the privilege was enshrined for subsequent renewals. Therefore, we find that that class of premises that had had no licence but which had been selling beer before 1869 was automatically entitled to a continuation thereafter of licensing without discretion of the justices.

That continued until 1961, when there was a major licensing Act, and section 14 of that Act is now section 37 of the Licensing Act 1964, which is the main Act in force today. At a late stage in the proceedings of the 1961 Act a new clause was introduced by the Government of the day in what was a major Bill. It was subjected to about half an hour's discussion in Committee. The Committee stage of the Bill had 25 meetings and no fewer than 45 Members of the House served on that Committee and gave half an hour each to this subject.

What happened under this new clause, which, in time, became section 37 of the 1964 Act? It provided that on an application made by the holder of a justices' on-licence, or on the renewal or transfer of a justices' on-licence, and at the request of the person applying for the renewal or transfer, the licensing justices, if satisfied that the application or request is made with the consent of the registered owner, shall vary the licence so as to add to the descriptions of intoxicating liquor authorised to be sold in the licensed premises. It is clear from discussions in that Committee that the aim of that new clause was to allow the by then diminishing number of those who had these traditional beer houses—which, I repeat, had not had to obtain a licence originally and had the right in perpetuity to a licence after 1869—to develop into full public houses.

One or two members of the Committee spotted that the clause had its defects. Sir Frank Soskice said: I think that we ought to look rather more carefully at this new Clause. It looks to me as if this may be a method by which, as it were, one can use a short cut to get a full licence. Sir Cyril Black said: Is this merely a procedural arrangement or a substantial change of policy in the existing licensing law? If I understand the position aright, it goes beyond procedural questions. There is a substantial matter of policy involved. I would be glad if my right hon. Friend could tell me whether I am right in what I have said. The first word in line 5 of the new clause is ' shall '. Why not the word ' may? If the word ' shall ' stands, surely it will remove discretion from the justices in dealing with applications for licences and will impose what appears to be an obligation on them to vary the licence subject only to the condition that they are satisfied that the consent of the registered owner has been obtained."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 25 April 1961; c. 1226–29.] There was no difficulty at all as far as the application was concerned. At that time, there were 5,355 beer licences out of a total of 69,184 on-licences of all kinds. Two members of the Committee spotted the problem that has given rise to the anomaly that exists and which my Bill seeks to correct. The word was introduced as "shall" and not "may". The aim of the Committee was clearly to help those who had a limited beer licence to expand into a full public house. But what that clause, when passed into law, achieved was to remove from the justices any discretion if someone with any form of limited licence subsequently applied for a full licence. That has been happening around the country, mostly in respect of wine bars.

We have a situation where an applicant applies for what would seem to be a for cider only—on evidence which would licence for a peaceful wine bar—perhaps not have supported the granting by the justices of a licence extended to other types of liquor. The applicant then has the right to apply the next week, if he likes, and demand a full licence. Because the word is "shall" and not "may" in that section in the 1961 Act subsequently incorporated into the 1964 Act, the licensing justices can do nothing about it and must grant a full licence. That has caused trouble all over the country.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the majority of applications for upgrading occur not within the first few weeks but at the end of 12 months? People may have had time to forget the original history which otherwise might worry them.

Mr. Trotter

That is true. The answer to the problem is that if they wish to change the nature of their business from a limited wine bar to a full licence, they should apply, like anyone else, in the proper way, giving full particulars why they think they should have a full licence. That is what would happen if the Bill was passed.

Apart from this problem of a complete change in use by right, there is also the possibility that justices might be reluctant to grant a limited licence for wine in case it should subsequently develop into a full licence. Some legitimate wine bars might well be hampered by the present situation.

Clause 2 of my Bill seeks to give effect to the presumed intention of Parliament by applying the upgrading provisions specifically to licences in force at the time it was introduced in 1961. An alternative would have been to repeal section 37 of the 1964 Act on the basis that its purpose is now exhausted.

I understand that there are 178 beer and cider licences left in the country. There are some 85,000 on-licence premises. There has been a dramatic fall since 1961, when there were over 5,000 of these limited beer licences. Those premises which had the right in 1961 would still have it under my Bill, but the measure would prevent anyone who had obtained a limited licence since 1961 from having the benefit of an automatic extension of the type of drink he can sell.

The withdrawal of the opportunity of taking advantage of the provisions from holders of licences granted for the first time since the beginning of 1962 should not be regarded as a serious disadvantage to such holders except in cases where there is likely to be abuse of the upgrading facility. The discretion of justices to grant new licences to such holders in return for the surrender of the lower-grade licence will remain unfettered. Indeed, the loss of the facility should prove a positive advantage to bona fide applicants for restricted licences by removing any cause for reluctance on the part of licensing benches arising from the handicap to the exercise of their discretion to which I have referred. That is the first of the two anomalies which my Bill seeks to correct.

I should perhaps at this stage point out that as well as the two anomalies the Bill proposes another minor change in the licensing law. Clause 4(1) removes a fault in the wording of section 83(2) of the 1964 Act which disregards the fact that a seasonal certificate may be granted under section 82 so that reference to any grade in any 12 consecutive months is inappropriate in relation to such a certificate. That is purely a drafting correction to the 1964 Act. It is a drafting correction spotted by Mr. John Martin as editor of "Paterson's Licensing Acts" and not by myself.

I should like to return to the second main amendment. It deals with the grant of special hours certificates. They are the basis of late night drinking in establishments providing meals and music and dancing on a regular basis. The origin of the growth of these establishments should briefly be touched upon to explain the present difficulties.

Prior to 1949 there developed, mainly in the West End of London, a group of night clubs, the proprietors of which exploited the fact that the consumption of intoxicating liquor on premises without a justices' licence by the owner of that liquor or his guests was lawful not only during the permitted hours but at any time outside those hours. The method employed was for the members, or so-called members, to place orders with the proprietor, who acted as their agent to purchase bottles of drink on their behalf, and each member had his individual purchase earmarked for his personal use when visiting the so-called pub. That was a way round the licensing law.

To stop this abuse, the Licensing Act 1949 prohibited parties organised for gain, more colloquially known as bottle parties, outside the permitted hours, and no doubt as a palliative to some of those interested in the continuance of this facet of London's night life, introduced the special hours certificate procedure for premises in a district of London known as the metropolitan special hours area.

The change was designed first to ensure that the management of the night clubs would not be in the hands of undesirables by the requirement that the applicant for the certificate must be the holder of a justices' licence in respect of premises which had to belong to a defined class of hotels and restaurants, or could apply to a registered club. Secondly, to prevent all-night drinking in those premises, there was a limit to the extension of the hours to two o'clock and also a requirement for a public music and dancing licence then granted by the London County Council, as the local authority then was, in the case of licensed premises. In the case of a registered club, there was a certificate from the council that the premises were suitable for music and dancing.

In 1962, the law was altered by the Licensing Act 1961 with the following effects. The special hours certificate provisions were extended to the whole of the country where there was legislation requiring licences for public music and dancing. It is interesting that there are apparently areas where there is no provision for public music and dancing. I have not been able to track down these areas, but it is interesting to speculate where they might be. In all built-up areas where there are large concentrations of people, there is a procedure for licences for public music and dancing. It must be in some of the more remote areas that there is not.

The 1961 Act also changed the terminal hour for premises in the metropolitan special hours area—just in this central area; not in the rest of London—from two o'clock to three o'clock. It remained two o'clock for the rest of the country. It also altered the law in relation to the registration of clubs, which meant that many establishments formerly operating as registered clubs became licensed premises.

Throughout those developments, the requirements concerning the qualification of premises for the grant of a certificate were that they must be used for providing music and dancing and also substantial refreshment to which the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor was ancillary, and, as I have said, there had to be a music and dancing licence or, in the case of a club, a certificate of suitability.

The difficulties arise in this way. The provision of dancing means providing facilities for dancing which are adequate having regard to the number of persons for whose reception provision is made. That is under section 83(2) of the Licensing Act 1964. It would be difficult to justify the contention that "adequate" meant a dance floor big enough to accommodate every customer at the same time. My researches have revealed that there are places which can accommodate 4,000 people, and one can understand the size that the dance floor would have to be if all 4,000 were to be accommodated at once. It is difficult to avoid relating the adequacy of the facilities to the habits of the customers.

Although, clearly, it is the intention of the Act that late-night drinking shall be ancillary to the provision of music and dancing and meals, there is no direct requirement that those who are admitted for drinking shall either eat or dance. It is often difficult for justices to distinguish between an application made to serve the needs of those who wish to eat or to dance and one which is made primarily to enable customers who wish to do neither to drink until two o'clock in the morning.

A contributory cause of the difficulty is that the requirement to provide facilities for dancing may be met by providing a very tiny dance floor in relation to the capacity of the premises, unless it can be shown to be quite inadequate for those who want to use it. That is a factor which in many parts of the provinces is less likely to be found in the kind of area with which night life is traditionally associated in city centres. These are premises qualified to receive a special hours certificate for late night drinking in neighbourhoods with residential populations needing to be protected from unreasonable disturbance and annoyance. There is no means of giving this protection under the existing law except in areas where the music and dancing licensing authority chooses to exercise its power to curtail the hours under the music and dancing licence.

In areas where the justices are the music and dancing licensing authority, they have the power by restricting the hours for music and dancing and can thereby restrict the hours for drinking. But, nowadays, local councils are beginning to take powers under Private Bills themselves to have the granting of music and dancing licences.

I can see some advantages in that procedure. I have seen some of these establishments in Newcastle late at night. Fire precautions and safety should be a major factor in the granting of music and dancing licences. Usually the premises are cellars, and they are crowded with young people to such an extent that very often one cannot get in until someone comes out. One has read of disasters abroad where hundreds of people have been burnt and wondered how it could happen. I have seen some places in this country where one can well understand how in a crowded establishment, with the lights out and panic ensuing, such an incident could occur if there was a fire. In my view, fire precautions and safety precautions are a very important feature of these establishments. For that reason, I can see an argument for licensing for music and dancing being in the hands of the local authority with specialist staffs on the side of fire precautions and safety.

In effect, however, where the local councils have taken such powers, they are depriving the justices of licensing control in city centres. The justices must give a special hours certificate if a music and dancing licence has been given.

I have been supplied with examples from all over the country. I choose one at random which has been sent to me from Berkshire. The story concerns licensed premises. They changed hands in 1976. The new owner, with a view to increasing trade, applied to the district council and was granted by the council a public music and dancing licence. Susequently, he applied to the justices and, since he had fulfilled all the conditions, the committee had to grant him a special hours certificate. As a result, the place now runs disco evenings. The noise and the drinking by the large number of people concerned carry on until two o'clock in the morning. Local residents in what is basically a rural area complain about the noise, the trouble caused by illegal parking—although the premises have adequate parking, people do not use it—and the noise caused by people leaving the premises at two o'clock in the morning.

The residents formally objected to the brewster sessions for the removal of the licence and were represented by a solicitor. The licensee was represented by counsel. The objection was to the renewal of the full licence since, as private objectors, they could not object to the granting of the special hours certificate. The committee had no discretion, as there has to be a complaint by the police, and unfortunately there had not been in this case. Accordingly, the licence was renewed. The clerk to those justices wrote to me: My committee would have welcomed the opportunity to impose a time limit and fully supports your proposal. I have many similar letters from all round the country.

Even where magistrates have power to limit the drinking by, in effect, limiting the music and dancing licences where they still grant them, it is a very clumsy way of limiting drinking. It has been used on the South Coast in both Bournemouth and Torquay. The cases were taken right to the highest level and the Lord Chief Justice pronounced judgment. One concerned a well-known five-star hotel, and it, like all the other establishments in the town, found its drinking cut off at one o'clock by the means of cutting off the music and dancing at the hotel. This is a bit of a blunt instrument, and I suggest that my Bill would help in dealing with the problem by enabling magistrates to choose a different hour for the ending of late-night drinking compared with the ending of music and dancing.

I ought to stress that my Bill does not interfere with the basic policy that the grant of a special hours certificate is not within the justices' discretion. The applicant is entitled to a certificate if he can prove the matters to which I have referred about the provision of food and dancing. There is no intention to interfere with that basic policy.

The proposal to amend the law under clause 2 and clause 4(2) of my Bill will enable the justices to attach to the certificate a condition limiting the hours for the sale and supply of drink to a time earlier than two in the morning but not earlier than midnight. There will be two cases in which they can do it. First, they can do it if there is a bona fide case for extended hours which does not justify ancillary drinking until two in the morning. The second is where they think it is necessary to impose that limit to avoid disturbance, as would have been the case in the example from Berkshire to which I referred.

Clause 3(2), in conjunction with the concluding words of the new subsection (3) added to section 83 of the Act by clause 4(2), enables steps to be taken for the insertion of a similar condition in a certificate which has already been granted without any previous limitation. Where there has been such a certificate, the limitation can be written into it either in pursuance of an application directly to that end or on an application for revocation. At present, it might be that the certificate could be revoked completely because the justices were able to do that in a specific case. But perhaps they would find that a more sensible solution to the problem would be to limit the hours, instead of a complete revocation.

Since there has been no suggestion that the major difficulties have arisen in the metropolitan special hours area, the effect of these amendments has been excluded from that area by the provision at the end of clause 2 and the words in brackets in clause 3(2) and clause 4(2).

My Bill, therefore, seeks to deal with two major anomalies in the law to date. Perhaps I might quote my own local bench. The clerk to the Newcastle bench has written to me saying: You will observe…that there have been many breaches of the licensing law in the Northumbria police area, but, those apart, there were 2,035 prosecutions for drunkenness during 1978 at these courts, together with 305 prosecutions for offences in connection with drinking and driving. Of those persons prosecuted for drunkenness, 32.6 per cent. referred to non-residents of the city. One can see what a magnet the night life of Newcastle is for the area. It is not possible to relate the drinking habits of the populace and visitors to other crimes, but it is a matter for constant observation by the justices that so many offences of another nature are drink-related or are committed when under the influence of drink. This particularly applies to so many cases of violence, hooliganism, breaches of the peace, football hooliganism and theft, including shoplifting and others. I do not think that there would be much shoplifting at two o'clock or three o'clock in the morning. It will be well known to you that the streets and public places of a metropolitan city such as Newcastle are now dangerous at night, and self-respecting citizens do not go abroad except under most stringent conditions. In the opinion of magistrates and so many informed observers, this is due to the excessive consumption of alcohol, particularly by young people, who then commit offences which are totally out of character ". We should remember that young people can be started on a disastrous path for the rest of their lives by being allowed excessive hours in which to consume drink. No little part of it is due to the continuing consumption of alcohol, which can commence early in the evening when public houses open at 5.30 p.m. and continue right through until two o'clock the following morning, with very little substantial food in support. I emphasise that this is a non-controversial Bill. It has the support of the Justices' Clerks' Society, the Magistrates' Association and the brewers. No opposition has been expressed from the licensed trade. I believe that both sides of the House are in general support of the Bill. The streets of our cities and even small towns are now not safe to walk on late at night because of drunken brawls. The Bill will not affect the respectably-run club or any other peaceful establishment, as the grounds upon which the justices' discretion is based are purely grounds of breach of the peace.

11.43 a.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

The Bill deals with a very refreshing matter, though I fear that it makes for a very dry debate.

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) referred to "Paterson's Licensing Acts". That brought back to me vivid memories of paging through those books in order to ascertain what the position was.

The hon. Gentleman rightly described the law on liquor licensing as very complex. I cannot hope to rival his detailed history of this branch of the licensing law. He has obviously given great attention to the matter and has engaged in considerable research. I congratulate him on taking this opportunity, given to him by his luck in the ballot, to try to bring a measure of order into that branch of the law. These laws were enacted when it was not contemplated that there would be the developments that we see today.

The hon. Gentleman deals in his Bill with two specific subjects. As the long title shows, he deals with the grant of special hours certificates and the extension of existing on-licences to additional types of liquor. I ask the House to consider the position of the applicant for a wine-only licence. Section 37 of the Licensing Act gives licensing justices no discretion where an application is made for a wine-only licence to be extended to cover the sale of all types of intoxicating liquor: the application cannot be refused. That is putting the matter very simply.

When the law as it is today was enacted, presumably no one foresaw to what extent the number of wine bars would grow, as they have in the past few years. Clearly, the intention behind section 37 was to protect the rights of holders of certain categories of older on-licences. It could not possibly have been to permit a successful applicant for a wine bar licence to apply to the bench after some time for a full licence, which the bench could not refuse. Therefore, the need for a further outlet of this kind should require much greater scrutiny.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society have expressed their concern that there is no discretion to refuse such an application. Clause 1(2) deals with this problem. It does not give the justices a discretion to upgrade such a licence. What it does—and this is important—is to give the right to restrict the application to licences in force or suspended on 31 August 1961. That is an eminently sensible compromise. It closes the loophole for holders of new wine bar licences but permits the benefit allowed to old on-licences.

Many hon. Members have from time to time received complaints about noise and other disturbance to residents in the vicinity of establishments. Therefore, I welcome clause 4, which specifically enables that to be taken into account when an application is made for a special hours certificate or for the revocation of such a certificate.

There are far too many examples of people living near night clubs, perhaps not very well managed night clubs, having to endure such nuisances as shouting, slamming of car doors and other annoyances caused by customers going home. I hope that this new provision will ensure that proper regard is paid to such conduct.

The West End is, of course, a special hours area. It has developed a particular character over the years. Perhaps for that reason it is right to exclude it from the provisions of the Bill in this respect.

The grant of a special hours certificate is something to which an applicant is entitled if he can satisfy certain requirements. The Act clearly intended that late night drinking should be ancillary to the provision of music, dancing and meals, yet there is no requirement as to that. Justices are unable to distinguish between those who wish merely to drink until 2 a.m. and those who wish to eat or dance. The lack of discretion in this respect to refuse the application still re mains, but under the Bill discretion in regard to the conditions which may be imposed is increased. I think that that is right.

Clause 4 gives the right to impose a condition limiting the hours of sale or supply to a time earlier than 2 a.m. but not earlier than midnight. Thus, in a proper case, the supply of drinking could be limited to midnight.

The proposed provision could do much more to bring greater control of late night drinkers, particularly in areas where there are complaints of noise or disturbance to residents in the vicinity. The discretion given in clause 2 is to be welcomed.

The Bill is a step in the right direction which could help to deal with abuses in the present system. The hon. Member has rendered a useful service in his effort to promote a Bill which will deal with the problem. I congratulate him.

11.51 a.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I enjoyed the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), whose contributions are always refreshing.

I support the Bill and perhaps I should declare a double interest. I am chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism and also chairman of the all-party group on alcohol abuse.

For some time, all hon. Members have been aware of the growing concern in the country about the proliferation of licences and what that entails. We have been told about this not only by those who have to deal with problems arising from the excessive consumption of drink but by the licensed trade itself, whose members are traditionally the guardians of public sobriety.

I join the hon. and learned Member in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on seizing the initiative to introduce this modest but useful and timely measure. My hon. Friend has explained how his Bill would give back to magistrates the powers that were so unwisely taken from them in two innovations of the Licensing Act 1961 and incorporated in the 1964 Act.

The Bill should be supported by all who consider that the control of licences and hours of sale should be determined by local magistrates. It is they who are best acquainted with local conditions and problems and therefore best equipped to respond to the needs of the community. Certainly, the Bill has the warm support of all on this side who have a serious desire to check the current grave increase in alcohol problems arising from ever-increasing consumption.

The first limitation of magistrates' powers introduced in 1961 provided that, if the holder of an off-licence limited to certain types of liquor requests the magistrate to add to his licence other kinds of intoxicants, the magistrate shall grant that request. Alas, that provision aroused very little comment or discussion at the time. The only kind of limited on-licence known at that time was the old street corner beer house, the atmosphere of which somewhat resembled the atmosphere of a public house, so the removal of the limitation seemed innocuous enough. Nor did the matter cause any concern during the following decade.

However, since about 1972, those of us who watch these matters closely have seen a growing spate of applications for licences to open wine bars, often in areas already crowded with on-licence premises. In many instances, it has been clear that the plea which led the justices to grant these applications was that a wine bar was totally different from a public house. It might attract a different clientele—including for example, women, who would be glad to use the wine bar to refresh themselves at the end of a tiring shopping expedition. The Minister looks puzzled, but that is the kind of argument that has been used.

Let us consider what has developed since. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth made it clear that the West End is excepted from the provisions of the Bill. If what is happening in the West End is permitted to extend to other areas, as well it might unless we alter the law, and as is happening in other cities, this House should sit up and take notice.

In the area of Soho about half a mile long by half a mile wide, there are almost 100 public houses. Yet, since 1970, six wine bars have been granted permission to open there. In Covent Garden, close to Bow Street, it is possible to draw a circle of 100 yards radius containing eight public houses, yet in recent years two wine bars have been authorised within that area. Just behind Holborn tube station, two public houses face each other across a narrow passageway, yet two wine bars have been granted permission to open within 100 yards of them.

My information is that that pattern is being repeated elsewhere in the country. I find this distressing and worrying, for reasons that I will not go into in detail now but which should be apparent to all hon. Members.

Latterly, the tendency has arisen for wine bars to seek upgrading, permitting them to sell, beer and spirits without restriction. The absurdity of the present law is that magistrates have no power to refuse an application to that effect. That is what the Bill seeks to rectify. In London at present, such upgrading of a wine bar can be hindered by the London licensing planning committee, but few parts of our country come under licensing planning areas. There are even suggestions that licensing planning committees should be abolished.

In short, wine bars cannot be prevented from graduating to the status of full public houses as the law stands. At a time of growing concern about the proliferation of licences, it would be foolish and dangerous not to restore the powers of magistrates in this regard.

The second way in which magistrates' powers have been eroded since the early 1960s will be seen in section 76 of the 1964 Act, which provides that permitted hours for premises holding special hours certificates shall last until two o'clock in the morning. Section 77 provides that premises holding a liquor licence and a music and dancing licence shall be granted a special hours certificate by a magistrate should that be sought.

No matter how disturbing late night drinking may be to neighbours, nothing can be done about it unless the chief officer of police steps in to seek the revocation of the certificate. That is a drastic remedy which chief officers of police would be most reluctant to apply. Therefore, it is timely and reasonable that the House should restore to magistrates the right to modify hours in which late drinking is permitted.

It is timely for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, and on which I shall not elaborate. It is reasonable because we should never allow ourselves to forget that the dispensing of alcohol is not like the selling of any other product. It should not be confused with lemonade or soap powder. Alcohol is a drug. Many who dispense it want the levels of consumption to increase.

I am not saying that the liquor trade as a whole wants levels of consumption to increase, irrespective of the effect of that upon health. Of course it does not. By and large the liquor trade takes a responsible attitude to these matters. But those who are using this loophole in the law to apply for an increase in outlets are concerned with only one thing—the making of money by dispensing a drug, in areas where the magistrates do not have the power to determine whether the need for that increase is proven.

We who have a responsibility for the health of our society have a duty to recognise that rising levels of alcohol consumption are directly linked with the rising tide of abuse. The safest and best place for the consumption of alcohol outside the home is the public house. That is because of the obligations which are put upon the licensee and his long experience of ensuring sober drinking habits.

Until recent years, one reason why the level of sobriety was higher in Britain than in many other countries with a comparable society was our strict licensing laws and the type of man who ran our public houses. Publicans are controlled and responsible. They are dedicated to the idea that a public house is a place where people can go and enjoy themselves in decent, friendly and cheerful surroundings. That type of public house has long been one of the glories of our land, as many visitors have testified down the ages.

Licensees in particular have given their strong support to the Bill. At a recent meeting convened by the all-party alcohol abuse group in the House, a spokesman for the Licensed Victuallers Association said: Discipline in the drink industry has been upset by the proliferation of licences given to those whose only interest is making money. The ordinary publican has a much wider social role than that. I am sure that we can all agree with those words.

The proliferation of licences which we have allowed the law to permit and which my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth seeks to check is therefore a matter for grave concern. The responsibility here should rest firmly with the licensing justices. The Bill will strengthen their hands and ensure that the needs of an area are properly and responsibly met.

12.3 p.m.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

I promise my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State that I shall not make a long speech. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) for introducing the Bill. It is pleasant to think that the Bill is sponsored by an hon. Member who represents the constituency adjoning mine. We know each other reasonably well. I do not flatter him when I say that he presented his case in a fine manner. The House is indebted to him.

This is a complicated Bill. The licensing Acts are also complicated. I could extend the argument about alcohol abuse but I am sure that I should be ruled out of order. We accept that the Bill is technical. But we should not overlook the fact that if the Bill is passed it will put an end to the significant abuse of the present system.

There is no doubt that police and magistrates are worried about the present situation. The increasing number of wine bars throughout the country, even in rural areas, is an example of the abuse. There is undeniable evidence that this is responsible for the drinking habits of some young people.

I took my first drink when I was 17 or17½ years of age. I have been a regular drinker ever since, but abuse of alcohol has not been my practice. I enjoy alcohol. It is a good and pleasurable hobby if one is in controlled circumstances.

Late night or early hours drinking causes anxiety throughout the nation. In the North-East of England the Government ran a campaign pointing out what happens to people who abuse alcohol. If that abuse is curtailed by this Bill, we shall be helping the Government and possibly the unfortunate people who are addicted to alcohol.

I can see no justification for continuing the present arrangements whereby the holders of wine bar licences are entitled, as of right, to obtain a full on-licence. There is a trend towards setting up more wine bars. The sooner that problem is dealt with, the better.

The proposed amendment to section 37 is drafted in such a way as to limit the benefits of that section to certain categories of licence. I assume that the purpose of the Bill is that a holder of a wine bar licence who wants to increase the range of intoxicating liquor sold on the premises will have to make a fresh application.

Mr. Trotter

That is the intention.

Mr. Garrett

The proposals for special certificates will be welcomed as a means of strengthening the justices' power to revoke and vary existing certificates. The provisions will give the justices greater flexibility to terminate drinking earlier than 2 a.m. The amount of drinking after midnight is a cause for concern. The purpose of the original Act has been prostituted by that abuse. The Bill will reduce the incidence of late-night drinking.

In some senses London is different from the rest of the country. I have a limited knowledge of pubs and wine bars in Soho, so I cannot challenge the statistics produced by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). If they are correct, they illustrate that there is an enormous problem in Soho and other parts of London. Perhaps later we shall hear a first-hand account of the situation from my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr).

The Bill reaches a reasonable compromise for London, since it is a city that attracts tourists and will continue to do so. The Bill represents a substantial advance on the present system. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise its merits and support it. The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth for bringing this issue to the fore.

12.09 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

May I start by declaring my interest as parliamentary adviser to the National Union of Licensed Victuallers, which has for a long time been concerned about some of the anomalies which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) seeks to cover. I am grateful to him and envious that he managed to get such a high place in the ballot.

I am glad to see the all-party support for the Bill. It is pleasing that at least on one occasion the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is being constructive instead of destructive, certainly in the interests of the people of London. It was also a pleasure—about the only pleasure there is, not yet having had a general election—to have heard the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), whose Friday speeches repay reading over and over again. He will be a great loss, particularly as one fears his replacement. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) on this subject are always knowledgeable and always listened to with great respect. There are few people who would not agree that he is a diligent supporter of all whose cause he champions.

One or two issues are missing from the Bill. I have been pressing for nearly three years for some legislation to deal with the upgrading of wine bars. I have met total resistance and cowardice from the Home Office. It is unwilling to plug even the minor holes. They could have been the subject of a Government Bill which would have gone through virtually unopposed. Some licensing benches have been trying in various ways to prevent the automatic upgrading of wine bars. That is not a satisfactory way of proceeding. One should know in advance whether it is possible to upgrade or whether at a much earlier stage one has to muster the right opposition before the pass is sold.

I spent a decade as an active member of the bench, and I regret now that I did not sit on the licensing bench. It would have been an opportunity to gauge the needs of the area. The needs of the area can be ignored by the automatic upgrading that Parliament, when it amended the earlier licensing laws in 1964, omitted to consider. It did not look at that point.

There are other areas that need to be covered by a Government with sufficient courage to implement much of Erroll. A dangerous area that gives rise to an increase in alcoholism is the totally unfettered sale of liquor from many supermarkets by people with little or no experience and in some cases who do not even ensure that their staff are over the age of 18. I have looked with care to see if it would be possible to amend the Bill. But I am afraid that the only reason why my hon. Friend had any Government blessing for the Bill was by keeping the long title so narrow that he could not do more than he has tried to do.

Mr. Trotter

It was my judgment that that might be the best way to proceed.

Mr. Finsberg

I know the Home Office fairly well and I think there might have been different views had my hon. Friend tried. If the Under-Secretary is able to say that she would have welcomed a longer title, that would give joy to many people.

I have a note here that refers to violence at football matches. A publican in Southampton was asked by the police to close his public house in case of violence when a match was being played nearby. He co-operated, but at a loss to his trade. Another match took place and, because the publican had not heard from the police, he assumed that on that occasion everything would be under control. He did not close. Two of his windows were smashed and he suffered a loss. In many cases the sale of drink is not from public houses but from supermarkets.

The Bill is trying to ensure that there shall not be an automatic increase in the number of outlets where all forms of liquor can be served, especially where that is the opinion of the licensing justices, who are best qualified to judge. In England and Wales it is easy—I am sure that Scotland is much wiser, as, indeed, is Northern Ireland—to get permission to open a wine bar and to get an almost automatic upgrading within a short time. That is not right. It is unfair to those who live in the locality, because they do not know in advance that it might happen. It is unfair to those already in the licensed trade. In 99 per cent. of cases publicans act with total social responsibility, yet they suddenly find this unfair competition against which they were not able to argue before a licensing bench.

On this occasion, rather like Oliver Twist, we must be content with this modest measure and hope that there will be a further opportunity afforded by the Government or by a Private Member to deal with other matters. But the Government should be willing to look at the licensing laws. They should not treat with contempt many people who gave up time to serve on the Erroll committee. If this goes on much longer, people who serve on Royal Commissions and other public bodies will begin to wonder why they should waste their time if Governments are scared of dealing with subsequent reports. Governments set up these bodies and hope that the issue will go away by the time they report, and are unwilling then to take action.

For all these reasons, I warmly welcome the Bill and hope that it will proceed speedily through the House and on to the statute book.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I should like to make a point from my native experience as the only Australian to be a Member of the House. This is a sensible measure and should go some way to sorting out the licensing trade. In Australia, until recently we were bound in by what is known as the "wowser" attitude. That is the fundamentalist religious attitude of mind that is restricting and constricting. As a totally unsought consequence, it produced a fantastic catalogue of crime that was a bad development in Australian social life.

I shall not weary the House with a whole catalogue of everything that went wrong. Suffice it to say, as one or two of the lawyers in the House may know, it took a Royal Commission of inquiry headed by a very enlightened high court judge, Mr. Justice Maxwell, to blow to bits a lot of the pretence that surrounded the licensing trade at that time. There were revelations that included what we call "sly grog"—that is, illicit selling after hours, and all the rest—prostitution, corruption, financial corruption in the main, and so on. Links were shown to exist with the bookmaking profession. Incidentally, a long list of socially prominent members of Sydney society were hailed good and proper. They were branded more or less for life. The income tax experts had a little black book in which they kept detailed notes, and that cost many of Sydney's citizens tens of thousands of pounds in back tax.

It took all that before my state of New South Wales came to its senses in 1955, having 10 years before decisively rejected, mainly because of the working-class women's vote, proposals to liberalise the trade and to get away from the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. opening hours which were then a characteristic of our drinking. So there was, I am pleased to say, a bit of a clean-up. In wishing the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) a fair wind and a speedy passage with his Bill, I utter this tiny note of warning, without pretending to any particular expertise beyond that of the average consumer of the wares of those premises, I hope that from my warning he and his hon. Friends may learn a little from the experience of their Australian cousins.

12.22 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I declare an interest, not so much as the representative of Burton-on-Trent, the greatest brewing town in Europe, although that would be an interest as important as any I could think of, but also as a practitioner in licensing law until I became a Member of Parliament. I had the good fortune to be the pupil of the greatest living licensing practitioner at the Bar at the time—James Burge, Q.C. I hope that I learned something from his very wide, deep and greatly esteemed knowledge of the law.

Even my experience enables me to observe that perhaps some of the fervour which is shown in support of this Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who represents the licensed victuallers, may not be completely untinged by the fact that the Licensed Victuallers' Association nearly always opposes applications for permission to open wine bars on their territory.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I hope that my hon. Friend will be clear that I do not represent the association. I merely advise it. There is a great difference.

Mr. Lawrence

I am sorry. It is seldom in the interests of the licensed victuallers and the public houses to have a wine bar established nearby. I can recall one case in which I made an application for a wine bar that was situated 8 ft from a public house. However, a sizeable body of the population now likes the idea of wine bars because wine is sometimes preferred to beer and spirits, and because the bars tend to provide higher quality food than do many public houses. The atmosphere in wine bars is congenial.

However, it would be wrong to suppose, as one may have done from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead, that the existing law prevents the licensed victuallers or anyone who is opposed to a wine bar from making known his opposition. A licence to open a wine bar has to be applied for just as any other application has to be put before the justices. I think that my hon. Friend was objecting to the next stage in the process when a wine bar, wishing to increase its area of consumption to that of a public house, undergoes a procedure by which the publicans are stopped from objecting. On that I have the greatest degree of sympathy, and I think that the amendment proposed in the Bill to deal with the point is wholly warranted.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) raised what he called a tiny objection. Lest we all die of a surfeit of congratulation for my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) about the wonders of the amendments he is proposing to the 1964 Act, and which I fully support, we should appreciate two matters.

First, the need for these amendments underlines the utter complexity of the licensing law as it has developed over the years and as my hon. Friend has so well described. It was thought necessary in 1970 to set up the Royal Commission under Lord Enroll to cut away some of this complexity, and to some extent a lot of us now feel sad that that report has been left on the shelf without any form of implementation. The Commission reported in December 1972, but it covered too big a subject and it was too controversial. It arrived at a time when law and order were of great concern to the House and there was worry that relaxation of the licensing law would strain the resources of the police. In many aspects the recommendations were too revolutionary—they were certainly too much for my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).

Sir Bernard Braine

May I remind my hon. Friend that it is not that the recommendations were too much for me but that they bore in some cases no relation to the evidence that had been submitted to the Royal Commission.

Mr. Lawrence

I had the privilege, the pleasure and yet the disappointment of listening to my hon. Friend for many hours through the night as he spoke on this subject in a successful attempt to defeat a Private Member's Bill which sought to introduce one or two of the Royal Commission's proposals. I know my hon. Friend's arguments, therefore, and I know how deeply he feels about the matter. I have a great deal of respect for the view that he always so eloquently expresses. However, the licensing atmosphere in this country is the worse for our not having implemented some of the Erroll proposals.

I spoke about the complexity of the law and the fact that anomalies underlie it. Let me give an example of one of the root complexities that Erroll analysed and upon which it recommended action. That is the distinction between the different types of licence. They are now granted according to the category of premises to which the licence is to apply and the type of intoxicating liquors authorised to be sold. Erroll recommended that all existing licences should be amalgamated into one single form of premises licence, and that any restrictions on the category of liquor which should be authorised to be sold should be imposed as a condition of that licence. That was a very far-reaching and sensible simplification.

That leads me to the second point which emerges from these otherwise wholly praiseworthy amendments—namely, that they make the law more complex. They provide more hurdles for the applicant for a licence to overcome. It is not a matter which the House usually ignores when it is presented before it, but it means more work for the lawyers and more expense for the applicant.

I am not suggesting that the overall advantages of these changes are not greater than the disadvantages, but we should realise that these recommendations will result in more hurdles. It will now be necessary for a lawyer to be instructed to appear before a court to argue points not arguable now—for example, the reasons for wanting to upgrade a wine bar. I hope that some reduction in complexity will come in due course when the licensing planning committees are abolished, as was recommended by the Society of Conservative Lawyers in its wholly praiseworthy pamphlet "Liberty and Licensing"—I say that with knowledge, since I helped to write it—which contained the evidence that it gave to the Erroll Commission.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my hon. Friend agree that one result of the Bill may be that a large number of wine bars will not try to become upgraded because they will know that they will not succeed? That may be one of the effects of this measure. Therefore, they will not necessarily need all the extra fees for skilled lawyers.

Mr. Lawrence

That is a point, but I should like to know the numbers of applications. Perhaps the Minister will in due course tell us how many successful and unsuccessful applications of upgrading have been made by wine bars. My experience has not shown any, but my experience of that branch may be somewhat limited. The saving will be limited if the numbers of applications are small.

There is a body of opinion that believes that the complexity of special hours certificates and the unnecessary legal work involved in making applications would best be avoided by extending the ordinary licensing hours to two or three o'clock in the morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) waxed eloquent and long and with a great deal of force in his argument on the point that to extend licensing hours would be to take an unnecessary risk regarding law and order at this time. He won that argument in Committee on the Licensing (Amendment) Bill. As the Government have not proceeded to try to implement any of the Erroll proposals, he appears to have won that argument in the House, too. I think that he deserves to do so. However, that underlines the fact that special hours certificates will be unnecessary if we were to simplify the rules governing drinking laws.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) has proposed another alternative. But his recommendation would make the law more complex, because we would have another hurdle to overcome. According to this proposal, there would have to be an application not only for a music and dancing licence but for a special hours certificate, taking into consideration again the matters already covered by a music and dancing licence.

It would be a good idea, if it were possible, to abolish the committee which considers the music and dancing licence so that the justices considering the special hours certificate could deal with both matters in one. Of course, that is impracticable because many music and dancing licences do not involve liquor. Therefore, the committee to deal with the music and dancing licence must remain.

The Erroll committee proposed that in any case where a music and dancing licence was preparatory to a special hours certificate, the two might be amalgamated. I believe that some benches, which adjudicate not only on the special hours certificate but on the music and dancing licence, already deal with both matters together. That is one way of simplifying the matter and keeping down the costs and work of lawyers.

I hope that I have not poured any cold water on these proposals. I remind the House that they show the complexity of the law. They would provide more work, more cost, more delay and more work for magistrates or licensing justices. Instead of simplifying the law, they would make it more complex.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth on the excellent way in which he has presented the matter—a way worthy of the best licensing practitioners at the Bar. But I hope that this measure will remind us that there is a bigger job to be done in reforming the licensing law. I hope that hon. Members present today, or those reading these proceedings later, will be reminded that the sooner the larger job is done, the better it will be for society.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on introducing a Bill which attempts to straighten out some of the mistakes of previous legislation. Those mistakes are obvious today, but they were not at the relevant time.

The hon. Gentleman spanned a period of over 400 years, from 1552, when the keeping of an ale house was licensed, to 1964, when the last Act dealing with licensing was passed. The hon. Gentleman described in graphic detail what went on during that period. He is to be congratulated on the amount of research and everything else that he has done in relation to this matter.

I want to make only three points, and they relate mainly to London. In London, without the intense observation of the licensing laws by the Metropolitan Police, the system would be far worse than it is. I recall that before the war a special licence application would be made for perhaps three occasions a year—St. Patrick's night, new year's eve and May Day. Whether a function were held in the town hall or elsewhere—it might be a local dance at which drink was to be consumed—the police would come in and see that the rules were strictly observed. The Metropolitan Police carried out that job in London. No doubt other police forces carried out similar duties in other parts of the country. Today, with the onerous duties that the police have placed upon them, with the introduction of wine bars and extended special hours certificates, the Metropolitan Police now have a really formidable task.

The two main points with which I want to deal have to some extent been covered by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) referred to the purchase of alcohol from supermarkets. Whilst I agree with the Bill, I believe that it does not go anywhere near far enough. I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead that the Home Office must come to grips with the whole of our licensing laws and with what is taking place in big towns today.

It is easy for someone of reputable character to open a disco in a basement somewhere in London, in which he sells only soft drinks. However, young people attending such discos, some aged between 14 and 17, take in their own liquor which they have purchased from a supermarket. They then dilute or lace orange squash, say, with gin. That is what goes on in those places which do not require a licence. That is one problem on which the Metropolitan Police must keep their eyes. To the police goes the task of trying to keep some order under our licensing laws.

I agree with what has been said this morning. However, what is happening in London today? In many suburbs—I do not doubt that this goes on in Hampstead; it certainly takes place in Wands-worth, and I have had many complaints about it—private parties are held in houses. No licence is required. Canned music is taken into the house, and there is a party on a Saturday night. Car load after car load of drink is taken in, mostly canned beer, and literally hundreds of people come from all over London to go to a particular house.

Sometimes this takes place in very nice residential areas. These parties are called private parties, but in the real sense of the word they are commercial parties run for profit. Those who run them do not have to apply to the Metropolitan Police or magistrates for licences to held them.

In my constituency I have had complaint after complaint from law-abiding, ratepaying citizens who have been denied, time and again, the right to their sleeep on a Saturday night until three o'clock or four o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Lawrence

Have they complained to the police?

Mr. Perry

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has asked me that question. They have complained to the police on many occasions. The police have come along and have been told by the owner of the house in which the party is taking place that it is his private property, and, although people are making a bit of noise, the police can do nothing about it for the simple reason that no licence is required. The people can carry on with their party. The police ask them to cut out the noise, and the people say "We will do that". The police cannot force an entry into the house. They then go away, and the noise goes on just the same. This goes on somewhere in London every Saturday night or Sunday night.

I am sure that the Home Office has received numerous complaints from the Metropolitan Police about this sort of thing. It is one of the problems that must be tackled. The question of a licence is dodged in this regard. My constituents, people in Wandsworth and people in other suburbs of London, are continually confronted with this nuisance. There are many drunken parties at night, particularly on Saturdays, which disturb the peace and quiet of decent people living in residential areas.

I ask the House to forgive me for what I am about to mention. The number of cars that are driven to these houses runs into dozens and dozens. Because of the inadequate toilet facilities at these houses, people go outside and, to put it in vulgar Cockney terms, they urinate against someone's else's car, then return to the party. This is going on in London all the time at parties for which no licence is required.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has received such reports from many branches of the Metropolitan Police. I have been inundated with complaints from people whom I have known for years, people who own their own houses in my constituency. These parties have even taken place in council flats. People are very disturbed to think that the Metropolitan Police are- powerless to do anything about them.

We talk of wine bars. It all depends upon the interpretation of two words—"shall" and "may". It boils down to the fact that if we say that a magistrate "shall" give a licence, that finishes it and a person can get a licence. But if we say that a person "may" get a licence, the magistrate can consider the matter. Some objectors can relate what is happening, but if the phrase is "shall give a licence" there is no option about it.

When the hon. Member for Hampstead was a magistrate in London, I am sure that he lived in the immediate locality of his bench and knew what was going on. However, many magistrates in London do not live in the area in which they act as magistrates. The Home Office should think about that matter, too.

I am very glad to have had the chance to bring this matter into the open. It is a subject on which many Londoners feel strongly. I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

12.46 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

I should like to define briefly at this stage the Government's attitude to the Bill and congratulate, as have preceding speakers, the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) on his fortune in the ballot and his decision to introduce a Bill amending a complex area of licensing law.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member's extremely detailed and clear case in favour of the Bill. Whatever the views of individual hon. Members—although it would appear that there is unanimous support for the Bill—the House will be glad to have had the opportunity to debate not only this Bill but, it would appear, general licensing issues in this Second Reading debate.

I have taken note of the criticisms of the Government in this respect. For many years, under many Governments, the whole subject of licensing law has been found to be so controversial and cross-party that it has not been possible for Governments to bring in licensing measures without a great deal of controversy, so this has been left to private Members. That is why we find a very satisfactory situation here, where a private Member has brought in a Bill which has met with general agreement throughout the House. Therefore, the law can be improved in a very satisfactory way.

As we have heard, there was another Private Member's Bill on which I also sat all through the night while the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) gave his views and won the day and the night. There was an example of a great controversy between hon. Members of one side of the House on that Private Member's Bill. There was great feeling and great passion about that subject, and rightly so. I have great feelings about it, as the hon. Member knows. I cannot say that I was disappointed about the result in regard to that Bill, but the Government are traditionally neutral, leaving these matters for the House to decide.

I am glad that the sponsor of the Bill has received, and will receive, the support of interested bodies outside the House. In legislation of this kind, it is most important that he should have ascertained beforehand that he had their support, because obviously the measure will operate far more satisfactorily with the support of all interested bodies.

As regards the general remarks that have been made about increasing alcoholism, especially among the young, I share the concern expressed by many hon. Members.

The Bill seeks to remedy what some may regard as defects in the Licensing Act 1964. We all agree that there are defects. Its effect is to increase in certain respects the discretion of the licensing justices when dealing with applications for extension of the range of liquor that may be sold under an on-licence or for late-night drinking to be permitted in conjunction with music and dancing.

As we have heard, the Bill falls into two parts. Clause 1 is concerned with applications to the justices for extensions of the range of liquor that may be sold under an on-licence. Under section 37 of the 1964 Act the holder of an on-licence limited to the sale of certain kinds of liquor is entitled, with certain exceptions, to have the licence varied so as to extend the range of liquor that may be sold on his premises. In recent years, this has given rise to problems relating to wine bars.

A minority of these establishments, having obtained "wine only" licences on the basis of meeting a need not met by local public houses, have insisted on their licences being upgraded to full on-licences. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) asked me how many such cases there are. I cannot provide him with the exact number now, but I will write to him and let him know the figures that are available.

In many cases it is clear that, had the application been made for a full on-licence in the first place, the justices would have refused to grant it. Where section 37 is exploited in the way I have described, the justices have virtually no control over the creation of another fully on-licensed outlet for which no real evidence of need has been produced.

The effect of clause 1 is to limit the range of licences which may be extended in this way—that is, those in force or suspended on 3 August 1961, the date of the enactment of the Licensing Act 1961, which originally conferred the right to such a variation.

The remainder of the Bill is devoted to changing the present law on special hours certificates. These permit late-night drinking on licensed premises and in registered clubs. There have been passionate speeches, from both sides of the House, about the effect of those certificates. These provisions arise from a concern, with which I have every sympathy, about the very limited discretion which the justices have in dealing with these applications. As the law stands, if such premises are licensed to provide music and dancing and substantial refreshment, the justices are bound to grant the certificate allowing drinking to continue as long as the music and dancing. This could be up to 3 a.m. in parts of central London and 2 a.m. in much of the rest of the country.

I am interested to see that the Bill goes beyond the mere removal of this anomaly and not only strengthens the justices' powers to revoke and vary existing certificates but enables them to require drinking to stop earlier than 2 a.m. though not earlier than midnight. The Bill does not alter the position regarding the end of drinking in the "special hours area" of central London, the West End. I believe that to be right, because we have no reason to suppose that major difficulties have arisen in that area.

The Government take the view that the amendments to the 1964 Act are, in substance, an improvement on the present law and support the hon. Member's Bill. However, matters affecting the liquor licensing law give rise to strong feelings, and we are content that the final judgment on the hon. Member's proposals should be left to individual hon. Members.

12.54 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I should like to add my warm congratulations to those of other hon. Members to my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter). I hope that he will forgive me for mentioning that he told me in private that, being a chartered accountant, the law was not his line. If his mastery of figures is even better than his mastery of law, those of us who stand as much in awe of accountants as we do of dentists must be impressed. My hon. Friend presented the Bill with a clarity and cogency that impressed the whole House. He preceded that with a history of the licensing laws which I found fascinating.

The Bill deals with two narrow but important points that go to the root principles of licensing law. It is generally accepted that the sale of intoxicating liquor must be restricted by law and that the restriction should be as reasonable and effective as possible. We should bear in mind that the Bill comes before us in the face of the spectre of the increasing abuse of alcohol, the growth of alcoholism and the appalling problems of crime, particularly among the young, that are associated with excessive drinking. The crimes range from those of a petty character, such as theft, right up to murder and are committed by people under the influence of drink.

The aims of the Bill are to abolish the automatic grant of a full on-licence to holders of limited licences and to allow the licensing justices outside the metropolis to restrict the hours of drinking outside normal licensing hours. Those aims are wholly admirable. We regard the Bill as a valuable and necessary reform. There are many who readily agree with that view. I found it a comfort to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who has devoted such a heartfelt interest and understanding to these problems, giving his support to the Bill. I was also glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who spoke on behalf of the licensees and gave his good will to the aims of the Bill.

The Bill has the full support of magistrates, justices' clerks, brewers, licensees, the Government and the Opposition. We welcome it and wish it a fair passage.

12.58 p.m.

Mr, Trotter

With the leave of the House, I should like to express my gratitude to those hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill. It has been a good experience to hear every speaker giving his support to the Bill. All the speeches have been based upon great knowledge and spoken with great feeling. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) was particularly knowledgeable on the subject. He emphasised rightly the place in society of the British public house and the responsibility of the licensing trade. In no way is it the aim of the Bill to offend or attack that tradition of responsibility or the way in which the licensed trade has carried it out.

My colleague—perhaps I might say my marrer—the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) and I, share the same local council and the same problems on Tyne-side. I agree entirely with his comments that a good, pleasurable hobby can be found in drinking, so long as it is not abused. He raised the question of section 37. As he said, under that section the holder of a limited licence can still apply, but the justices now have the right to refuse the licence. Of course, if the justices do refuse the licence, an application can be made in the normal way for a full licence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) spoke with a depth of knowledge about the licensed trade. He pointed out to my satisfaction the need to go wider than this Bill in future. Having spent a considerable time during the last few months researching the background on licensing law, I shall be happy to support him if he is lucky in the draw next year.

The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) explained from personal experience some of the problems of Australia. I visited that great country about 20 years ago, when I was a young man in the Air Force, and I noticed the particular drinking habits. Speedy consumption was a feature that I particularly noticed. The trams went into the sheds at about six o'clock at night, and everyone disappeared for the rest of the evening. The number of pints that were sunk between 5.30 p.m., when people finished work, and 6 p.m. was quite astonishing.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke with knowledge not only of the subject under discussion but also of legal practice. He brought out well the complexity of the licensing law. As I said in my introductory remarks, I have been most fortunate in having Mr. John Martin as my assistant. He is probably the foremost expert on this subject with regard to textbook writing.

Obviously, a bigger job has to be done, and I am sure that we shall see another major Bill in the years ahead. There is a lesson to be learned from what happened to the new clause in the Licensing Bill 1961, which later became section 37. Perhaps sometimes in Committees on very long Bills we as Back Benchers are just a little too ready to accept Front Bench assurances which are later proved not to have been justified. It might have been interesting had we preserved some of the notes on clauses with regard to that particular section all those years ago, in order to see what was in the mind of the parliamentary draftsman at the time.

The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) brought home the particular problems of London. I am sure that the sort of experiences he described are worse in London than elsewhere, but I suspect that the type of nuisance to which he referred can be found in other cities, although obviously not on so great a scale. This is a problem that is difficult to solve at the present time.

I believe that the Bill is in the public interest. It will lead to a reduction in late night drinking, to a reduction in breaches of the peace, to less annoyance in our town centres, to more safety and to less crime. As well as reducing breaches of the peace, I also believe that it will prevent young people from starting their lives on the road to ruin in terms both of their health and of the prospect of their turning to crime. I am grateful to the members of both Front Benches for the kind way in which they have supported the Bill and for their kind personal comments.

Question put and agreed to.

Billl accordingly read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Trotter.]

Committee upon Friday 6 April.

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