HC Deb 04 July 1980 vol 987 cc1939-49

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 17, leave out "commencement of this Act" and insert end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed

9.36 am
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendment No. 3.

Mr. Trotter

These amendments relate to the commencement date of the Act. In simple terms, Lords amendment No. 1 provides that clause 1 shall come into effect one month after the date upon which the Act is passed. Lords amendment No. 3 provides that the remainder of the Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) for the way in which he has proposed acceptance of the amendments. At the conclusion of the passage of the Bill it may be appropriate to say how well my hon. Friend has handled the Bill. It is one of the few Bills on the Order Paper today—the last day when the House considers Private Members' Bills—that will probably complete all its stages. It is one of the few Bills to which we have had amendments sent from another place. The fact that we are considering the amendments today reflects on the wisdom of my hon. Friend in choosing such a sensible subject for a Private Member's Bill.

It is worth putting on record the fact that the Private Members' Bill season this year has been distorted because many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have embarked upon a course that is totally unsuitable for the Private Members' Bill procedure. The one thing that we have learnt during the course of this long Session is that if Members introduce a controversial Bill the chances of its reaching the statute book are extremely limited.

When one's name is drawn in the ballot at the beginning of the Private Member's Bill season, it is no good choosing subjects below the navel about which people feel strongly. It is better to be wise and shrewd, like my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, and take the advice—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are discussing the Licensing (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, not the Private Members' Bill procedure. The hon. Gentleman may be right, but we should stick to the Lords amendments.

Mr. Kimball

I apologise for having strayed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thought that, at the end of the season, your tolerance might allow me to review the whole of the Private Members' Bill season.

I turn to the amendments which have come from another place. I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth gave them only a short introduction. We are in a serious position when discussing the amount of notice that must be given before a minor drinking licence—one that allows wine with a meal —can be changed. Am I right in thinking that on one month's notice it will be possible to change that licence?

Mr. Trotter

The amendment relates to the changing of a limited licence, for a wine bar, for example, into a full public house licence. Under the Bill, that will no longer be an automatic right. Magistrates will have the power to refuse such an application if they think fit.

Mr. Kimball

Can my hon. Friend explain to what "one month" refers? I am concerned about the time that one will have to object. I understand that one can object to the change of a licence only at the annual brewster sessions. I cannot tie up the one month's notice with the fact that the brewster sessions are held only once a year. A change of status of a licence affects property values in the area and concerns many people.

Mr. Trotter

I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend has given up his Friday to take part in the debate. That shows his considerable interest in the subject. This part of the Bill will not come into force until one month after the Act becomes law.

Mr. Kimball

I am grateful for that explanation.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I have a genuine interest in the Bill, not only because I am a sponsor, but because I used to practise at the licensing Bar. I learnt my practice at the feet of perhaps the greatest licensing practitioner the Bar has known, Mr. James Burge, QC, and in the early stages of my Bar career I edited the "Current Law Statutes" on the Licensing Act 1961. I have a close interest in the minutiae of the Bill and I want to ensure that we are doing precisely the right thing and to elicit the reasons why we are doing it.

Mr. Kimball

Should not my hon. Friend declare an interest? He represents the famous town of Burton and I know that previous hon. Members for Burton always took the greatest care, when they spoke on licensing matters, to declare a substantial interest in the products of that town. I cannot believe that my hon. Friend can represent Burton without having some interest in the brewery business.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me that I represent the greatest brewing town in the country and that I have to declare that interest. I am not slow in coming forward whenever the interests of my constituency are involved, but I hardly had time to declare my interest. I was coming to it, though not on this amendment, because neither the brewers nor the substantial work force in my constituency, whether involved in the production of beer or associated activities, is much concerned with whether the legislation will come into force at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed". They are more concerned with other aspects of the Bill which I shall refer to at the appropriate time.

9.45 am

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) has done the House, the country and the brewing industry a signal service in bringing forward the Bill, but it is not apparent at first sight that it did not already adequately cover the point of the Lords amendment. Clause 1(3) provides: This section"— which amends the provisions for the upgrading of on-licences— shall not have effect in relation to any application made under the said section 37 before the commencement of this Act. Clause 4(2) provides: This Act shall come into force at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is passed. It therefore follows that everything in the Act will come into force at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is passed. It is not immediately obvious why another place needed to amend the Bill to insert the words proposed in amendment No. 1. Amendment No. 3, to clause 4, says: Sections 2 and 3 of this Act shall not come into force until such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument. It appears that in relation to the second matter on which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth is legislating he has been prevailed upon by another place to give the Secretary of State as much time as he wants before bringing into force the second part of the statute.

I hope that my hon. Friend will explain why it is necessary to change the basis of the Bill's timing in that way. If there is a good reason for the Bill not being implemented within one month of its reaching the statute book, I shall want to know why that reason does not apply to both parts of the Bill and not only to the part dealing with appeals.

The timing of appeals is a matter of less concern to the licensing trade Applications for a licence or the extension or revocation of a licence which are business matters of great financial importance to the businesses concerned, are heard before a magistrate's court of licensing justices, normally on the application of a lawyer.

If the case goes the wrong way for an applicant, the lawyer will advise there and then on whether there is justification for appeal. There does not seem to be any apparent reason for a delay in the implementation of that part of the Bill which deals with appeals. There does not seem to be any reason why the secretary of State should have to make up his mind what date the Bill should come into force.

However, an application for an extension or upgrading of a wine bar licence must be considered with care over a period. I can understand that there might be a need for the Secretary of State to give more consideration and decide the appropriate time at which that matter should be brought before the House.

I think that my hon. Friend has it the wrong way round, although I might be wrong. He should be giving the Secretary of State power to bring in the first part of the Bill at such date as he thinks appropriate because that deals with the upgrading of on-licences. He should ensure that the second part of the Bill comes into operation within one month of comes into operation within one month of its being placed on the statute book.

Mr. Kimball

I realise that my hon. Friend is skilled in these matters. He said that the appeal would be handled by a barrister. What will happen if an appeal is lodged when barristers are on holiday? What happens if the one-month period begins when the courts are not sitting?

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend labours under the misapprehension that members of the Bar work for set periods in the year. In the halcyon days of the last century, and in the years before I was privileged to be welcomed into the arms of the great legal profession, that might have been true. However, it is many years since the Bar conducted its operations before the courts according to the rigid timetable which my hon. Friend was brought up to believe in.

The barrister of today never sleeps. He is always on hand and has to be on hand to give all types of legal advice and to make appearances in court. I do not wish to digress, but there have been occasions when I have appeared in court on Boxing Day and Easter Monday. I have been telephoned on Christmas Day, even on Labour Day. I have been at work on days which the less-hard-working members of society regard as holidays. They are working days for the Bar. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham(Mr. Hogg), who has helpfully joined us for this legal debate—look forward to when the House is not—

Mr.Deputy Speaker(Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentle man said that he would not digress but he is digressing a little. Will he return to the question of the period of one month after the Act is passed?

Mr. Lawrence

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led astray by the dulcet tones of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough(Mr. Kimball), who was making a valid point. I spent too long answering him. The short answer is that member of the Bar are always on hand to provide a service, as are solicitors. The law never sleeps. If it does, we are in trouble

I have made my point. A fuller explanation would be welcome. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth has got it the wrong way round. The delay should be occasioned on the other part of the Bill. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has a sensible, reasonable and wholly justifiable explanation for what is, on the face of it, an extraordinary procedure.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on bringing his Bill so far and handling it with skill. The Government are content that the Bill should come into operation in the way proposed by my hon. Friend. I thank him and Lady Phillips, who sponsored the Bill in another place. It is a useful measure and it has been well piloted through its stages. It will correct several anomalies in the licensing law.

It is right that an applicant for a full on-licence should be required to provide to the licensing justices satisfactory evidence of need. It is also right that the justices and magistrates should be able to take into account social and environmental factors in granting special hours certificates which permit late night drinking when it is ancillary to the provision of music, dancing and substantial refreshments. The provision will be welcomed by many, not least by magistrates, the police and people who live in the vicinity of such an establishment and whose sleep might be disturbed by noise.

The Lords amendments should be accepted. Lords amendment No. 1 enables the provisions of clause 1 to come into force earlier than the provisions in clauses 2 and 3, which it is proposed should come into force by a commencement order. The amendment is in line with what is becoming normal practice. It allows for a month between the passing of the Act and its coming into force so that people who must comply with the Act have an opportunity to obtain copies of it. It has become a familiar grievance that legislation is passed without the printers being able to keep up. It is common sense to give people a chance to buy and read the Act before it comes into force.

Mr. Lawrence

The provision is in the Bill, so why do we need the amendments?

Mr. Raison

The amendment introduces a period of one month to give people a chance to read the Act.

Mr. Trotter

There is a problem in taking one amendment in advance of another. Amendment No. 3 provides that there shall be a delay in bringing in the second part of the Act until the Secretary of State provides that it shall be put into operation. That is because the appeal procedure intended in the second part requires the Crown court rules to be amended; and that will take time. That is why the second part of the Bill will come into operation later.

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend has done the job which I was about to do. Since the Bill is his and he is sponsoring the amendments, what could be more appropriate than that he should explain them for me? My hon. Friend has accurately described the reasons for the amendment.

10 am

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

It would be useful to hear from the Minister, not so much confirmation that the sponsor of the Bill has got it right, but some indication, as was given in vague terms in the House of Lords, of the use that the Government propose to make of the latitude given in the Bill. Lord Belstead said in the House of Lords that it was the Government's intention to bring the provisions, subject to commencement order, into force as soon as possible, or words to that effect. It would be better for us to have some more precise indication of the date that the Government think that the commencement order might stipulate—or at least a rough indication.

Mr. Raison

I cannot give a precise indication, but since we accept that this is a desirable and wise piece of legislation our feeling is that, once the problem of the adjustment to the Crown court rules has been carried out, this is something we should get on with. We support the legislation. I should have thought that the right answer was to get on with it.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reassurance. The point raised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is not a superfluous one. There have been too many statutes recently—I cite the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Act—in which commencement dates have been given and assurances have been made, yet, by the time the legislation commenced, it had to be changed. It is important perpetually to remind Ministers that these obligations to bring in, as soon as possible, commencement dates, are obligations that ought not to distort the will of Parliament, as has happened in the matrimonial causes procedures.

Mr. Raison

I take my hon. Friend's point. I think I can rely on him as a tireless watchdog, who says that he never sleeps in these matters, to keep the Government up to the mark. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth will also do so. These are sensible amendments and I commend them to the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I should like to support the amendment and to echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). It is valuable that the amendment provides for a delay of one month before the statute effectively comes into operation. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton, I consider that it is extremely important, in the first place, that people who will be affected by statutes of this kind should have the opportunity to obtain a fully printed and up-to-date statute. One of the problems facing people is that statutes change as they pass through this House and the other place. As a result, they do not really know what are their statutory obligations.

It is important that before people are required to comply with a statute, they should have the opportunity of knowing exactly what their statutory obligations amount to. Associated with that is the opportunity to take legal advice. Until the Bill is finally passed and receives the Royal Assent, it is extremely difficult for people who might be affected by this statute to know upon what question they should obtain legal advice. It is highly desirable that there should be this period of one month within which they can acquire the necessary legal guidance.

People do not concentrate their minds on legislation unless and until they see that they will be affected by it. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people to say that the matter will be looked after by the noble Lords or dealt with on Report. They do not concentrate their minds until they realise that the matter is law. The one-month period contemplated by this amendment enables people who are likely to be affected by the scope of the statute to put their representations in written form, to communicate with their Members of Parliament and, if desirable, to communicate with my hon. Friend the Minister of State and his colleagues. That is a valuable safeguard because this House is always ready to look again at possible defects. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is also ready to look at possible defects in a statute. I give the warmest possible endorsement to the amendment. I hope that it will be accepted by the House without any criticism.

Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

I want to say only a word about the Lords amendment. It is rather strange in the sense that, in the past, we have often said that where a process such as an application for a justices' on-licence, or any such application, begins, one got through before the gate was closed and the statute, which is already the law, shall not apply to any of the subsequent stages of that process, because it can be a fairly extended process. From some experience of it, I can say that the process can also be agreeable and amusing—

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Or remunerative.

Sir R. Bell

My hon. Friend makes a quite unworthy comment. There is no part of my legal practice that I have enjoyed more than licensing work. It has a certain bucolic atmosphere lacking from other aspects of it.

The process can continue for some time. One can appeal to the Crown court and so on. Even if we retain the words the commencement of this Act we are still in a sense exempting people from the new provisions for quite a long time.

My first reaction on reading the Lords amendment was "Is this not odd? Is this to be done for all sorts of things in future?" Will it not lead to a situation when one does not say that anything started before the Act comes into force shall be exempt from the new provisions but anything started before one month after the Act comes into force shall be exempted from the new provisions? This could be a precedent quoted on future occasions. I am not aware of any exact parallel hitherto.

This is not a very important matter, but it is an interesting proposal. I think, on balance, that it is justified in this legislation. We are dealing with a change in the law which will not get around all that quickly. There is an organisation of licensed victuallers that always resists any new application for a justices' licence. When one's client succeeds, as he always does, he joins the body and becomes one of the objectors next time. It is a most agreeable process, part of the bucolic atmosphere to which I referred. There is a trade organisation and knowledge of these impending changes gets around. There is nevertheless something to be said for the gap of one month. It ensures that anyone who did not know has a one-month better chance of knowing before putting in his application. It is a good amendment. I shall support it.

Question put and agreed to.

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