HC Deb 07 May 1982 vol 23 cc404-25 11.30 am
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in schedule 1, page 5, line 41, leave out 'clerk' and insert 'applicant'.

I feel a sense of guilt at taking up the time of the House on such a day when there are other matters to be discussed which are probably of far greater consequence than this rather minor and uncontroversial Bill.

Schedule 1, paragraph 8(2) states: Not later than fourteen days after the making of any such application,"— that is, for a billiard, gaming or club licence— the clerk to the licensing authority shall cause notice of the making of the application to be published by means of an advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the licensing authority's area. When the Bill was drafted I was not aware that there might be the possibility that in an area such as the City of Westminster, where there are many clubs, the clerk to the licensing authority concerned might find a disproportionate cost falling upon his magistrates court. This is essentially a probing amendment. I had a letter of representation on this clause from the clerk of the Huntingdon, Peterborough and Fenland magistrates courts, which I sent to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The clerk to the justices wrote: We see no reason why the tax payer should bear the cost of advertising applications. In liquor licensing matters this falls upon the applicant and we do not see why it should not do so here. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State wrote to me on 28 April thanking me for the letter from the chairman of the parliamentary committee of the Justices' Clerks' Society, written also in his capacity as a representative of the magistrates court. My hon. Friend said: Mr. Booth asked why the taxpayer should bear the cost of advertising applications and not the applicant. By this I assume he refers to the provision in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Bill requiring the clerk to the licensing authority to publish an advertisement in a local newspaper giving notice of an application for renewal of a licence under the Act. In fact it will be the applicant who pays, for the licence fees are set at a level to cover the costs incurred by the licensing authority in carrying out its licensing function. Any additional expenditure incurred as a result of this provision would be taken into account when the fees are reviewed. That reply satisfies me that it is not the Bill's intention to place any undue burden on the clerks to the licensing authorities or on the taxpayer. However, I want to confirm that the Minister of State is happy with the drafting of this paragraph to the schedule and that the licensing authorities will be recompensed for the additional expenditure that they will have to undertake. This will not be a major problem in the average provincial areas of Britain, but what I did not foresee, on the First and Second Readings of the Bill, which were without debate, was that there would be considerable expenditure for an authority such as the City of Westminster and for licensing authorities in big cities, where there will be many clubs. They will be concerned at the additional amount of expenditure that they will have to find when advertising the applications.

I hope that the Minister will assure the House that he is happy with the drafting of this paragraph and will assure the clerks to magistrates courts and licensing authorities generally that the provision will not cause additional expenditure to fall upon them and that such expenditure as they incur will be recouped via the licensing fees.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) for having considered this matter with such care, and for tabling the amendment, which he frankly described as probing.

The amendment is about an application for the renewal of a gaming licence. Paragraph 13(2) of schedule 2 to the 1968 Act as amended by the Bill reads: Not later than fourteen days after the making of any such application, the clerk to the licensing authority shall cause notice of the making of the application to be published by means of an advertisement in a newpaper circulating in the licensing authority's area. The object and effect of my hon. Friend's amendment would be to transfer that responsibility from the clerk to the applicant. There is a drafting point about which I will not weary the House. It has been suggested by the chairman of the parliamentary committee of the Justices' Clerks' Society that the applicant should advertise his own renewal application because the cost will otherwise fall on the taxpayer. In fact, the licence fees are set at a level that will cover the costs incurred by the licensing authority in carrying out its licensing function. Any additional expenditure incurred as a result of this provision would be taken into account when fees were reviewed.

I well understand that the effect of the transfer would be to make one job fewer for busy clerks to the justices. I fully appreciate how great their burdens are. However, I do not think that the House need concern itself unduly with the cost of the advertisements as it can be reflected in the licence fee, which can be adjusted so as to ensure that the cost is met by the applicant.

The proposed amendment would also be undesirable in the context of the renewal procedure set out in the Bill. While the applicant would be required to publish the advertisement within 14 days of making the application, it would be for him to decide, in accordance with paragraph 13(3) of schedule 2 as amended, what period should be allowed for the receipt of objections. While that period may not be less than 14 days, no maximum period is stated. While it can appropriately be left to the clerk to the licensing justices to fix the maximum period, it would be inappropriate to leave it to the applicant, because he could fix the date for, say, a year ahead, in the knowledge that in accordance with another provision of schedule 2 his licence would continue in force until the licensing authority had determined the application. It could not do so until at least seven days after the date for receiving objections had passed. If the applicant failed to advertise his renewal application, whether deliberately or otherwise, that would have the same effect and his licence would continue in force. In other words, the amendment would give the applicant the power, if he were so minded, to extend the duration of his licence of his own volition. That would be undesirable.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to explain this aspect of the Bill. I hope that what I have been able to say will reassure my hon. Friend so that he will feel that it is right to withdraw his amendment.

Sir Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I understand that my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) tabled the amendment at the request of the Huntingdonshire, Peterborough and Fenland magistrates' courts. It is significant that this request should have come from that part of the world. The House will be aware that communications are not all that they might be in the Fens. Many villages are virtually cut off. They are hard to get to, and sometimes even the local newspaper does not circulate very well.

I support the amendment because I do not see why the burden should be imposed in the way that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State wants it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe has shown considerable parliamentary skill. He was drawn No. 11 in the Ballot, but on only the second day of remaining stages days we find that, thanks to an extremely impressive display of parliamentary skill, my hon. Friend's Bill is first on today's Order Paper, at a very advanced stage, having nearly completed all its parliamentary stages. It is a very impressive performance, and I do not want to delay the progress of the Bill, having seen my hon. Friend achieve such remarkable success.

All the same, I do not see why we should accept the specious arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. The amendment is based on the suggestion put forward by the Huntingdonshire, Peterborough and Fenland magistrates' courts. I understand that the clerk to those justices also has the distinguished position of being chairman of the parliamentary committee of the Justices' Clerks' Society.

We are getting ourselves into a frightful muddle with the number of parliamentary committees, semi-parliamentary committees and all-party committees which now clutter up the Order Paper, and I find my self wondering whether this parliamentary committee is a very weighty body. I am not very skilled in these legal matters, and I should have to be advised about that by others, including my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who has many legal connections. What is the worth of the parliamentary committee to the Justices' Clerks' Society?

Mr. Michael Brown

My hon. Friend was good enough to pay tribute to the way in which the Bill had been steered through to this stage. The fact that the Bill, small measure though it is, has found favour with right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House is a tribute to the chairman of the parliamentary committee. His drawing to my attention of this item of concern demonstrates that the body is doing a worthwhile job. It has undoubtedly been highly skilled in going through the Bill in great detail.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me right about the weight which should be attached to the parliamentary committee's letter

I am also worried about the second paragraph of the letter asking why the taxpayer should bear the cost of advertising applications. Am I to understand that, unless we accept the amendment, the Bill will put a charge on the taxpayer? If a Private Member's Bill puts such a burden on the taxpayer, I wonder why we allow it to proceed. When drafting a Private Member's Bill, my understanding is that, unless the promoter obtains a special certificate of exemption, he is not allowed to put a charge on the taxpayer. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe, smelling a dangerous parliamentary area—that of using a Private Member's Bill to raise taxation—thought that the only way to avoid this serious hurdle was to table the amendment.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will discover some reason why he should accept the amendment. If he does not accept it, we may have to consider taking up another 20 minutes of the time of the House by taking the matter to a vote. I should hate my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe to lose his Bill because there were not enough hon. Members present for the House to vote on the amendment, so perhaps we shall have an opportunity to assess the strength of support before we take the matter to a vote.

I can see that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) is equally worried about this matter, so I shall allow him to pursue it while we assess the number of bodies in the building before deciding our further tactics.

11.45 am
Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I have no wish to stand in the way of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball), who wishes to assess the body of support for the amendment.

This is an extremely valuable little Bill. I used to be closely concerned with the making of applications for gaming and other ancillary licences. The Magistrates' Association and others who advise the House do very valuable work, especially on this type of administrative Bill. They have done so on this occasion, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) for the trouble that he has taken to pilot the Bill through thus far successfully.

Under this paragraph it is entirely for the applicant to send copies of his application to the relevant parties—the board, the appropriate officer of police, the local authority, and so on. In the circumstances, in my view it is for the applicant to cause notice of the making of the application to be published by means of an advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the licensing authority's area. I appreciate the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State about the possibility of the applicant creating a deliberate delay, but that can be taken care of simply by an amendment, if need be, ensuring that the applicant shall cause the notice, with due expedition, to be made and published in the advertisement. Any such amendment would be quite easy to ensure that there was no undue delay in pursuing the application and in the applicant having to cause the application to be published.

If the applicant has to make the application himself, he will of course have to pay for the advertisement. It will fall upon him naturally to do so. The applicant will be quite willing to do that, because it will be a matter of considerable importance to him. It is the applicant who wishes to renew his licence or to register it, as the case may be.

I am not altogether sure about the amendment. I came into the Chamber only at the very beginning of the observations of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, and I was not wholly clear whether there was any real question of principle, other than that of delay, why we should suddenly amend the Bill to make the clerk to the licensing authority the person who has to publish the application.

To the best of my recollection, if anyone wishes to apply for a betting office or other licence of the type that we are discussing, the duty is imposed on the applicant in every instance to publish his advertisement in a local newspaper and to pay for it. Generally speaking, therefore, it is for the applicant to take all the necessary steps to ensure that his application is made. If in this instance it has to be done with due expedition in the proper manner, in my view, the amendment is on the right lines, even though it may need some further minor amendment to make sure that it is correct.

Mr. Michael Brown

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) was right to draw attention to the fact that possibly there was some burden on the taxpayer. When the amendment was suggested to me originally by the clerk to the justices, I was prompted immediately to table the amendment and to write to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State.

The last thing that I wish to be responsible for is a Private Member's Bill that imposes any additional financial obligation on the taxpayer. It was that great sense of guilt when it was originally brought to my attention by the gentleman to whom we have already referred that made me immediately look at the Bill, write to my right hon. Friend, and then table what at the beginning I thought would merely be a probing amendment. I am satisfied with the response from my hon. Friend, and I reassure my hon. Friend that the intention is not in any way to impose a financial burden on the taxpayer.

Equally, I was most impressed by the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), who is a great expert in these matters. He drew attention to the fact that in many examples of licensing in other matters for which the Home Office is responsible, it is the duty of the applicant to make the necessary advertisement. I should not wish to be responsible for ending the excellent relationship that I have been privileged to have with the Home Office, and I am grateful for the great assistance that I have received from that Ofice. I shall withdraw the amendment, but it is, of course, open to my hon. Friends, if they feel that the matter is sufficiently important, and if I have not satisfied them, to express their views in a Division.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I should hate my hon. Friend to mar his brilliant parliamentary performance, but I remind him that his colleague who represents Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) is honourable and learned, and not just honourable.

Mr. Brown

I assure my hon. Friend that no disrespect was intended to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West and I thank him for correcting me.

Mr. Mayhew

With the leave of the House, may I be allowed to say that I am not a right hon. Member?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman had put a Question before the House, and it is my duty to ask if it is the pleasure of the House that the amendment be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.52 am
Mr. Michael Brown

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third Time.

Before I start my speech, may I say that I referred to the Minister of State as "my right hon. Friend" because it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the other Minister of State, who has handled the Bill hitherto, and who wrote to me previously. The problem, of course, will soon be solved when my hon. and learned Friend becomes my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that that time will not be long delayed.

As the Bill received a formal Second Reading, and had only a short Committee stage, it is appropriate, in moving the Third Reading, for me to say briefly what the Bill seeks to do and how I believe that it will be of assistance, particularly to the Gaming Board.

The main purpose of the Bill is to amend the Gaming Act 1968 so as to provide more flexible timing arrangements for the licensing of gaming clubs, such as the casinos or bingo clubs, and for the registration for gaming of members' clubs or miners' welfare institutions. There are two stages in obtaining a gaming licence. The first is for persons wishing to become casino or bingo club proprietors, who must obtain a certificate of consent from the Gaming Board. The second stage is the obtaining of a licence from the local licensing authority.

The background is that the Betting and Gaming Act 1960 was based on the theory that anyone should be entitled to run a casino or work in one if that person gave players a fair deal. There were loopholes in the law, and gaming became so profitable for the proprietors that, in a very short time, there were over 1,000 casinos in the country. The industry was being infiltrated by criminals and other undesirable characters, and urgent action was required.

Thus, eight years later, Parliament found it necessary to pass the Gaming Act 1968, which was based on a very different philosophy. Participation in commercial gaming was no longer to be claimed as a right, but was to be a privilege conceded only to those who satisfied the Gaming Board that they could be trusted to observe the letter and the spirit of the law. To that end, the Gaming Act 1968 required that no gaming licence should be issued unless the applicant first held a certificate of consent from the Gaming Board. The issue of the certificates was to be no mere formality. The board was required to give careful consideration to the applicant's suitability, after inquiries into his background of the police and a wide range of other sources. Hon. Members will appreciate that gaming is very much an international affair, and a proportion of applicants for certificates of consent are from overseas or from people who have been concerned with the operation of casinos overseas. As a result, inquiries into the background of applicants may take a considerable time.

This is very much what the Bill is about. The 1968 Act provided that application for a certificate of consent had to be made before the end of October in the year immediately preceding the year in which the relevant licence application was to be made. All applications for licences had to be made in January or February, and licensing applications were then considered at the May licensing sessions.

It was originally thought that it would be an advantage if all the applications were dealt with simultaneously, in that it would enable the Gaming Board to carry out an effective review of the gaming facilities available in relation to demand at a particular time. In fact, the reverse happened. It caused great congestion in the work of the Gaming Board, which has to consider simultaneously the various applications for certificates of consent and then take an interest in all the licensing applications being heard at the same period of the year all over the country.

The Bill is based largely—in fact, almost wholly—on the Gaming Board's evidence to the Royal Commission on gambling, In its evidence, the Gaming Board said that because of the work load that the present system casts upon the board at one time of the year it sometimes does riot have sufficient time to carry out all the exhaustive inquiries that it would wish to make before the licensing hearing. The Justices' Clerks' Society also recommended that the gaming licensing procedure should be amended to bring it more into line with the procedure for applying for justices' licences under the Licensing Act 1964. The Royal Commission considered those representations and recommended that gaming licensing procedure should be amended accordingly.

The problem is no less now than it was in 1978—some four years ago—when the Gaming Board reported and made this recommendation. The Gaming Board mentioned it again in its report for the year 1981, which was presented last month. It said that it had referred many times to the difficulties created by the fact that, year after year, the vast majority of applications for certificates of consent are not submitted until the last moment—that is, just before the end of October.

Hon. Members will appreciate that that not only adversely affects the amount of the work that the board can do on each individual application, but it also makes it impossible to make the most efficient use of valuable and scarce staff resources. The board therefore welcomed the Bill, one effect of which is to remove the timetable constraints that give rise to those difficulties. I am most grateful to the Gaming Board for saying in its report, which was laid before the House only last week, that it is happy that the Bill is being considered by the house today.

I have spoken at some length about the benefit that these changes will have for the work of the Gaming Board. But the Bill will also benefit those seeking a gaming licence. If, for example, suitable premises for a casino become available in November and a would-be proprietor wishes to apply for a certificate of consent, he will find that he has missed the boat and must wait until October of the following year before he can apply for a licence and, if the application succeeds, until May of the year alter before his application for a gaming licence can be heard.

That is a very long-drawn-out procedure. It will be of great advantage to the industry if, as the Bill provides, application for a certificate of consent can be made at any time, applications for licences or the renewal of licences are heard at four sessions per year and the licensing authority has power to fix additional dates as necessary. A similar timetable would apply to applications for registration under part II of the Act of a miners' club or miners' welfare institute. My constituency in the North of England has many working mens' clubs, and I am sure that that there are many similar clubs in the adjacent town, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball), which I know very well.

For many people, clubland and club life is a feature of daily life. The North of England thrives on clubland. Therefore, while the Bill seeks, by rearranging the timetable, to ensure that the Gaming Board has sufficient time and resources to consider carefully applications for licences from people who may be rogues, at the other end of the scale it will help people who wish to start clubs in the northern part of the country where clubland is a cultural and social feature of daily life, in that if they miss the boat they will not have to wait a year before their applications can be considered.

The Bill also seeks to do what the House has failed to do for nearly 140 years. It seeks to amend the Gaming and Wagering Act 1845 in respect of billiard licences. In my research into the provisions of that Act, which is still on the statute book, I was grateful to the Library for the considerable assistance that I received and for pointing out that many laws of the land still go back to 1845 and even further.

Under section 10 of the Gaming and Wagering Act 1845, billiard licences may be granted only at an annual licensing session. I had no idea—as I suspect is the case for many hon. Members—until I became interested in the subject, that to operate a billiard table one requires a licence.

Mr. Mayhew

The fee is five shillings.

Mr. Brown

My hon. and learned Friend draws attention to the cost of the licence fee. The total cost referred to in the 1845 Act is, in fact, six shillings. I assure the House that some slight amendment is envisaged. Paragraph 1 of schedule 2 to the Bill substitutes for section 10 of the 1845 Act the provision that a new billiard licence may be granted or an existing licence transferred at any session held under section 2(3) of the Licensing Act 1964. This will benefit those who, for example, wish to install a pool table and, understandably, do not wish to wait for up to 12 months to obtain the necessary licence.

It has been suggested that the need to license billiard tables is not so great as it was in 1845. That may well be so, but I cannot undertake a major review of the law in this short, uncontroversial Bill. One is always cautious in describing a Bill as uncontroversial. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the Cinematograph Bill that we discussed earlier seems uncontroversial but may cause some argument on the details. Nevertheless, I cannot in this Bill undertake a major review of the licensing law.

As the long title makes abundantly clear, the Bill seeks to Amend the law with respect to the times of year at which applications may be made It does not deal with broader issues. I did not feel it right, and I suspect that the House would not have been so charitable as it has so far been, if I had sought in the Bill to go into the whole question of gaming policy which is highly controversial and on which every hon. Member would have views. The Bill merely indentifies some areas of the controversial subject of gaming and gambling in which some limited progress may be made, while leaving the policy implications to the Government of the day. As I fear that a private Member's Bill would be unlikely to be able to go too far down the policy road, I have sought to limit the scope of my Bill in that way.

The Bill has one other purpose in relation to billiard licensing, in terms of the fee, which has remained unchanged since 1845. My hon. and learned Friend was right to say that the fee to the Home Office was originally fixed at five shillings, but there was then an additional shilling for the petty constable or other peace officer, for serving notices and other services required of him. Since then, the sum has been converted to decimal currency, so the total cost is now 30p. I shall refrain from seeking the assurance of my hon. and learned Friend that in recent years the petty officer serving the notice has claimed his 5p, as that might cause administrative problems for the Home Office.

The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to make provision by order as to the fees payable on the grant or transfer of such licences. I have not sought to lay down what the fee should be. Some of my hon. Friends may regard that as unwise, as one does not know what fee might be set. However, I am confident that so long as my hon. and learned Friend is in charge he will not take undue advantage of the powers given to him to specify the fee that he thinks right. I have been assured that no attempt will be made to calculate the effect of inflation over the past 137 years. If it were, billiard licences might feature prominently in the Budget proposals of my right and learned Friend the Chancellor from year to year. From the informal assurances that I have received, I understand that it is intended to bring the proposed fee into line with somewhat similar licences for minor gaming.

It may be argued that billiard licences should no longer be required, but that is a wider issue outside the scope of my modest Bill. While such licences continue to be required, it is right that they should be more readily obtainable and that the fee should bear some relation to the cost of issuing them.

I have had great support and assistance from the Home Office in the months since the Bill was introduced. Through my hon. and learned Friend, I express my gratitude to all his officials who assisted me with the preparation and with background information for the Bill. I also thank him and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury who assisted me in Committee, for the help and support that they have given. I also thank the spokesmen for all the other major parties represented in the Committee, all of whom gave the Bill their blessing. If there ever have to be negotiations around any table, it should perhaps be a billiard table, as this seems to have created the greatest unanimity in the House this Session.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

My hon. Friend should take his cue.

Mr. Brown

As my hon. Friend suggests, I should take my cue. The Bill has received the support of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members and nobody spoke against it in Committee. I hope, therefore that it will now be read the Third time.

12.9 pm

Mr. Rees-Davies

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) for having taken the trouble to place such a measure before the House. It is a valuable, if small, Bill which largely ends the days of the Brewster sessions, at least for gaming. However, billiard licences were never heard by them. It is right to end those days and to have sessions that are convenient both to the applicants and to the public.

Altering the timetable and giving four sessions a year, plus additional licensing sessions if necessary, is clearly in accordance with modern administrative convenience both for the public and applicants. I also congratulate the Home Office and I remind it that it is popular when it comes to such measures. It is not always popular, but it is now.

In 1960, I was instrumental in introducing the original provisions of the 1960 Act, inspired by the Conservative Inns of Court Society, then headed by Gilbert Beyfus. We recommended that the gaming laws should be changed and that a simple Act should be introduced to make the chances alike for all players. That was the 1960 Act. I produced the original version on the day that I originally got married, and I introduced a Ten-Minute Bill, which succeeded.

In 1968, Lord Gardiner and the present Lord Chancellor reluctantly agreed that a tough measure should be introduced to ensure that virtually absolute and despotic power should lie in the hands of the Gaming Board when deciding whether to give a certificate of consent. They feared the arrival in Britain of the Mafia and other undesirable elements. Therefore, it became necessary to vet carefully those who sought to engage in gaming. Unfortunately, that was only right. Almost all those who run casinos and gaming establishments get the hug of greed. As a result, if they are not carefully advised, almost all of them get into trouble.

The Home Office must consider carefully not only the number of licences that are to be granted, but whether they achieve the necessary ends. In the past 18 months some of the great companies in this country have unfortunately flagrantly broken the gaming laws and lost their licences. The measure will enable the Gaming Board at any time to consider whether it wishes to grant a new licence.

It is intolerable that all the applications have to be in by October. They are not considered in October, because a certificate of consent from the Gaming Board is a condition precedent on receiving any licence. If an applicant does not get over that hurdle, he will fail. In January and February the applications have to go in. The Gaming Board may give its consent, but the applicant then has to get over the second hurdle of the licensing authority, which has to grant a licence, and that is in April or May. Therefore, one has to consider the position and decide whether to make an application in October.

If an applicant made an application this October, he would have to get all the necessary information to the Gaming Board by July at the latest. It would then have to be vetted by the Gaming Board and the applicant would have to go through all the other troubles in January and February in order to be heard the following May, so that he could open his casino the following October. Therefore, there is a period of 12 to 18 months between the beginning of consultations and the conclusion of the course.

I speak now wearing my tourist hat. The Home Office is popular because it has produced the best gambling clubs anywhere in the world. People come from all over the world to spend millions of pounds of good tourist money in the casinos. If they have a good win, they may spend their money in Sothebys and Christies buying valuable pictures and paintings. The ladies spend their money in Bond Street. One Arab won £1 million in a night at Ladbrokes. It is said that he spent a good deal of it to the benefit of this country, and then, happily, lost the whole £1 million a few days later. Fortunately, he still had money.

Such gambling produces greed. It was sad that Ladbrokes should be caught up in that greed. It followed wealthy punters so that it could prevail on them to bet in the casino. That was wrong and, as a result, Ladbrokes lost its licences. Therefore, almost every casino needs to be set up well, with good money and people of impeccable character behind it. In addition, all casinos need to be monitored and supervised.

Those of us who have advised in these matters have often regretted that we did not advise throughout. We lose about £50 million a year because we no longer have the large sums of money that the various casinos used to make. More recently, the promoter of Les Ambassadeurs—one of the best casinos in the country—died and it was taken over by Mecca, which, of course, has a very good reputation. However, that casino lost its licence because of lack of care about the regulations.

I hope that the Gaming Board will recognise the need to replace both quickly and effectively all those casinos that have fallen by the way. I am sure that it will realise that it is important to do that. It will realise—as the Home Office undoubtedly does—that there is a great deal of money in it for Britain. Those who come to Britain to play in the casinos have a good deal of money. They come from all over the world, but I think in particular of the Germans and Italians, as well as of those from the Middle arid Far East.

We must ensure that our great name is unsullied. No one has suggested that any of the casinos were engaged in cheating the punter. The allegations were of what is crudely called skimming tax or of being unfair in taking business away from competitors. One might call that a rather exuberant sense of private enterprise. Nevertheless, such matters must be straightened out. This small Bill will help, because it will clear the timetable so that all those who wish to operate casinos will be able to do so.

I suppose that billiards includes snooker. A billiard table has to be used for snooker and snooker is the "in" sport. There has been an enormous increase among snooker fans, and there must be a considerable chance of there being more snooker clubs and tables. If so, how remarkably appropriate that my hon. Friend should have examined the provisions of section 10 of the Gaming Act 1845 in order to inform himself of matters that had escaped my attention and to bring the provisions up to date.

I only hope that, in doing so, it will not be brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We should keep this away from his attention in the warm and cosy atmosphere of the Home Office and not allow it out into the woollier and more unkind atmosphere of the Treasury. It might be suggested that, in due course, the provision should be repealed so that people can have snooker and billiards tables without paying any licensing charge. I am sure that my hon. Friend would wish to examine that matter.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Does the law distinguish between a table for snooker and table used for billiards, or are they both classed as a billiard table and subject to the same tax?

Mr. Rees-Davies

The Act mentions only billiard tables. In 1845 people had not learnt about the brilliant future for snooker, which developed in more recent times. The billiard table attracts tax, not the promoter, so snooker would also be caught.

Perhaps the Home Office should examine the matter. It would be good public relations if the Home Office were to say publicly that it would abolish the licensing of billiard and snooker tables altogether. That might be a happy concession before it becomes too expensive to make it.

We have lost much tourism and trading revenue because we have not recognised the need to keep our applications in order and to look after our licensees. We must also recognise that there is clear evidence that the Home Office is helping a private Member to implement the provisions of the Royal Commission on Gaming. The Home Office could do itself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor a power of good by implementing some other provisions of the Royal Commission on Gaming. One of those is crucial, because it would provide much additional tax revenue. At the same time, the Home Office can implement all the other provisions, both for lotteries and gaming, in one measure. For that reason, it may have the Cabinet on its side. The charges are now made under regulations, but they do not prescribe any right for a talliate or 5 per cent. to be collected as against the right to payment. If such a provision were introduced, a substantial sum of money could then be taxed.

A major problem in casinos is that some forms of gambling—indeed, the best—are not played because the casinos cannot recover the losses that are made. Chemin de fer, which is the best of gambling games, is not played in our casinos. Many more people would gamble in Britain, to the benefit of our revenue, if we played it. We cannot play it because of a provision, which I opposed at the time, which the Royal Commission on Gaming recognised was totally unnecessary and which must be altered immediately.

If one becomes a member of a casino, cashes a cheque, for example, for £10,000, and wins that evening, one cannot hand back the money, tear up the cheque and take the profit. That is against the regulations. The result is that no casino will play chemin de fer because it must present the cheques for payment later. There have been many examples of people cashing cheques, winning at the tables, collecting their winnings, and their original cheques not being honoured.

The law permits casinos to sue for the return of money. Unfortunately, the Casino Association of Great Britain has not pressed its members to sue in every instance and to create a blacklist so that those whose cheques are dishonoured cannot gamble again. That matter needs careful examination. The Home Office can play a great part by introducing legislation which will entitle people to cash cheques freely when they enter casinos. It would encourage all casinos to ensure that members have a basic account somewhere. It would enable the casinos to play chemin de fer and baccarat, which would in turn attract foreigners who cannot readily play those games in other countries. With our admirable casino set-up, we could provide revenue for the Treasury and popularity for the Home Office. I have no doubt that the Home Office will recognise that in due course and will give me credit for what I have said today.

12.26 pm
Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) on introducing the Bill and on making such rapid progress with a measure that is not monumental but which could well prove to be an important feature of life in Britain when it is enacted, as I trust it will be soon.

This is one of the few Bills that have not had a Second Reading debate. My hon. Friend is lucky that, in its wisdom, the House gave the Bill a Second Reading on the nod. The Bill had only 14 minutes—certainly less than a quarter of an hour—in Standing Committee, which is a tribute to the draftsmen responsible for the architecture of the Bill. I support the flexibility that will be permitted once the Bill is on the statute book. It will allow the Gaming Board for Great Britain to approach the licensing authority and, instead of one licensing period in about the middle of May each year, there will be at least four occasions, spread throughout the year, on which licensing can take place. That was a recommendation of the Royal Commission on gambling which was agreed by the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Magistrates' Association. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be foolish to fly in the face of that specialist and knowledgeable advice.

I am not so happy about the fees provisions in the Bill. Clause 2(b) empowers The Secretary of State to make provision by order as to the fees payable". That is followed up by schedule 2, which replaces section 10 of the Gaming Act 1845. Subsections (4) and (5) of the proposed new section 10 stipulate that the relevant changes in fees will be made by order.

I am not as trusting of Home Office Ministers as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe. I yield to no one in my admiration of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, but I should not be prepared to give him—certainly not without comment—the carte blanche which the Home Office appears to have been given in clause 2(b), which provides that the fees payable will be laid down and introduced by order. There is no indication in the Bill of the amount of the fees initially or how often they are to be changed. One imagines that whenever they are changed they will move upwards.

Moreover, the Bill does not reveal—this is improper—the amount of consultation, if any, that will take place between those responsible for establishing the initial fees and upping them at mysterious and irregular intervals and those who have to pay the fees. In other facets of life in Britain regular and unhealthy increases in fees by the Home Office have reduced the number of people who hold relevant certificates or licences. In certain areas it has been found to be an impossible burden to continue to pay the fees.

Mr. Michael Brown

Clearly I cannot anticipate what will be in the mind of the Home Office or in the minds of Ministers when the Bill is on the statute book. However, I asked some Home Office officials what they had in mind for licensing fees. They told me that they would regard the licence for billiards, for example, as being similar to the licence permit for the commercial provision of amusements with prizes. Under schedule 3 of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 that permit costs £8.50 annually. I do not know what my hon. and learned Friend and his successors will have in mind, but the idea of Home Office officials is the idea that I had in mind when this part of the Bill was being discussed.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. I shall come to that point in more detail in a moment.

The sum of £8.50 sounds reasonable. However, my hon. Friend must pin down the Home Office on the amount of times that the £8.50 will be changed. The Home Office is responsible for establishing licence fees in a whole range of areas. Regular, frequent and rapid changes take place, which are often ahead of the high level of inflation. The sum of £8.50, while it sounds eminently reasonable today, could well be into three figures in a few years. My hon. Friend must not laugh. Between 1971 and 1980 some fees for which the Home Office is solely responsible rose by 1,100 per cent. If my hon. Friend applies that 1,100 per cent. in the same nine-year span to £8.50, he will get a nasty shock.

My hon. Friend tabled a sensible amendment about fees but unfortunately withdrew it. His original amendment was that fees would be valid for 10 years. I wish that he had proceeded with it because I am sure that it would have met with the approval of the House.

A fixed fee for 10 years gives an element of stability to the public and those who have the licence. Many of us would think that to license billiards at all in this day and age is out of date. The revenue accruing to the Treasury is not worth the effort of collecting it. Billiards is a harmless occupation that should be enjoyed licence-free. In any event, in several areas there has been a much longer life for licences and only a regular annual review. The driving licence, for example, lasts for life. Once the Home Office has a grip on those fees, whatever the initial level is, there will be at least an annual increase. In a few years the result will be most unpleasant.

An example that will interest the House relates to the Firearms Act 1968. It laid down fees for firearms—that is, weapons such as rifles and shotguns. The House, when discussing the level of fees to be charged for billiard licences, will be interested to hear what has happened to firearms fees between 1971 and 1980. When one appreciates the Home Office policy adopted by successive Governments over that period of less than a decade, any hope of sanity in billiard licence fees disappears altogether. For example, in 1971 the fee for a firearms certificate was only £3.50. In 1980 it had increased to £25, an increase of 614 per cent. The picture for the renewal of a firearms certificate is worse. The fee increased from £2.50 in 1971 to £20 in 1980, an increase of 700 per cent.

Under the powers given to the Home Office in the Firearms Act 1968 in relation to shotgun certificates, there has been a savage increase in the fee way beyond the increase in the cost of living. In 1971 the shotgun certificate fee was £1. In 1980, it had risen to £12, which is an increase of 1,100 per cent. Over the same period, the renewal fee rose from £1 to £8, which is an increase of 700 per cent. I do not know exactly how much the cost of living increased over those nine years, but it certainly did not increase by 1,100 per cent. The Home Office's over-vigorous pricing policy has had a damaging effect on people who use shotguns and rifles in recreational pursuits.

Mr. Michael Brown

The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to charge such fees as he may determine by order. Is the provision here the same as that for reviewing the firearms certificate fees and so on?

Mr. Farr

I imagine that it is similar. Firearms certificate fees can be increased only by an order tabled by the Secretary of State. Orders are tabled in such a way that it is difficult to arrest their progress. Objections have been raised, and on more than one occasion—the last occasion was in 1978 or 1979—the Government were defeated. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball), it was not so much a matter of good management as a lucky fluke. The order was brought on fairly late and annulled. That is a rare occurrence and in a properly managed Government such as this one such lucky flukes are unlikely.

The Home Office policy has had a serious effect. Governments of both parties have been vigorous in increasing firearms certificate fees way beyond any loss in the value of the pound or rise in prices. All the statistics show that the number of firearms certificate holders has fallen considerably in the past decade. It is continuing to fall markedly because of the pricing policy of successive Governments, which has savagely and unacceptably curbed the recreational activities of firearms certificate holders.

I draw the attention of the House to the pitfalls in the Bill as it is drafted. I do not know how my hon. Friend will get round it; I do not suppose that he will. If one tries to tie up the Home Office in any way at all, a Bill will not make much progress.

Mr. Michael Brown

As my hon. Friend will be aware, if the House is kind enough to give the Bill a Third Reading, it will still have to go to the House of Lords. One does not know what will happen there but many people will, of course, be as vigilant as my hon. Friend is seeking to be today. Perhaps some of them will seek to table amendments of the kind that my hon. Friend might have tabled on Report had he been aware of the problem.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful again for my hon. Friend's intervention. I would do nothing to prevent or impede the rapid progress of the Bill, but if he were to succeed in having a proper amendment tabled and accepted in the other place—the sort of amendment that ought to be tabled and accepted in both places would be to the effect that initially licences would be granted for 10 years and that after that the fee would be static—he would find that the first of those conditions was anathema to the Home Office. If he were to persist, either directly in this House or through the other place, I am afraid that the Bill would not make any further progress, which would be to the regret of everybody.

12.47 pm
Sir Marcus Kimball

I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) will, on reflection, wish to withdraw his remarks about lucky flukes. He knows that these things happen not by lucky flukes but by extensive organisation and the fact that many Members of Parliament are advised by their constituents how very strongly they feel on the subject. I should hate us to find ourselves in a similar situation in regard to the level of billiard licences.

I think that my hon. Friend was not totally fair to the Home Office—the licensing authority in this case. I do not believe that the Home Secretary goes round looking to see whether he can increase the licence fees for firearms, for circuses, or for the vast number of other things that have to be licensed. We must be fair to the Home Secretary and to his great Department of State on the subject because, as always, the nigger in the woodpile is the Treasury. The Treasury never asks about lease costs or any other costs. Rather, as with rents, the Treasury thinks it is necessary to add inflation into the cost every year.

The argument that we had over licences has been not about adding inflation into the cost, but about the amount of police time spent in filling in the report or the form for a licence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) said, it is the actual time spent by police constable Plod in going round and inspecting the premises, noting who is on the committee, checking whether those concerned are respectable citizens, and filling in a report before the licence is granted. I do not think that £8.50 will cover much of a policeman's time today. It will cover only about an hour of one policeman's time, let alone his travelling expenses. In some rural areas travel, at 23p a mile, can become very expensive.

I should like an assurance from the Minister that his right hon. Friend will not be bullied on the matter of adding inflation into the licence fee every two years or 18 months or on the costing of police time. There is great unfairness in the costing of police time. It obviously costs less for a police constable to inspect premises and to advise my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about a billiard table in a club in a small area of London than for a police constable, faced with vast distances and expensive travelling time, to carry out a similar task in a country area. It is surprising to me that licences are needed for billiard tables in clubs—

Mr. Michael Brown

This was initially a matter of surprise to me. There is, however, a benefit to the police through the power available to them to enter premises where they may suspect that something is not quite right. They may want to visit premises where they have no firm evidence that something is not quite right and ask to see the billiard licence. Upon the discovery that there is no billiard licence, the police might uncover something far more serious that they may have suspected. It is a way of gaining admittance.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I should hate to find myself voting against my hon. Friend's Bill, but the argument that he has just advanced would make me want to do so. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) would also take that view. All hon. Members respect the role of the police in maintaining law and order. However, the idea that a policeman can walk in anywhere on any pretext is alien. I would never accept it. I am certain that it would not happen in Lincolnshire. It must be remembered that my hon. Friend represents a Humberside constituency. I hope that, on reflection, he will recognise that he has made an error and will withdraw his argument.

I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe about the research he has undertaken into the Bill and into the Gaming Act 1845. I should like to know whether he found a research assistant essential. The problem of research assistants is serious. The fact that my hon. Friend was able to carry out his own research in the House of Commons Library without employing a research assistant, bearing in mind that he was once a member of this dangerous tribe, is important. I intend to write to the Chairman of the Services Committee to draw attention to the point that has arisen in the debate.

Before the debate, I attempted to count the number of bodies in the House. I was seriously considering calling a Division. I did not wish my hon. Friend's Bill to fail because there were not 40 Members present to vote. If one counts the number of people in the Library today, one cannot be certain, without knowing all hon. Members by sight, that one is counting hon. Members. This is a serious problem. There are research assistants floating around in the House of Commons Library on a Friday morning. It makes management of the House very difficult.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

We should be grateful that hon. Members are still allowed into the Library. Since I have been a Member, 40 per cent. of the space has been taken away from hon. Members by people in the service of the House who could carry out their duties elsewhere.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I must not go down that road. One cannot help overhearing the telephone conversations of women in the Library who are part of the additional staff. Much of their conversation could be conducted by letter. In many cases, it is irrelevant to immediate research. I do not object so much to servants of the House. I object to the ill-disciplined attitude of research assistants employed by hon. Members. It is unacceptable that they should be occupying the Library when the House is sitting. I understand that there is another Library across the street in the old Norman Shaw building—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are on Third Reading.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I was merely drawing attention to the fact that the excellent research on the Gaming Act 1845, which is relevant to the Bill, was carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe without the help of a research assistant.

Mr. Michael Brown

I was helped considerably by the Home Office. I have a research assistant, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is wrong for our assistants to use the Library. The Home Office gave me far more help than a research assistant could ever provide.

My research assistant gave me limited assistance. He used the facilities in the Norman Shaw building, without, I hope, troubling other hon. Members. I feel that there is an obligation on us to instruct our research assistants not to be seen or heard. However, I should like to put on record the fact that my assistant gave me some limited help, though the bulk of assistance came from the Home Office.

Sir Marcus Kimball

I shall not pursue that point further. However, I hope that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that our comments on the matter will help the Services Committee.

I understand that if a person wishes to apply for a licence to run a pub he has to go to the annual Brewster sessions at the magistrates' court. The argument for the Bill is that the licensing of gaming establishments should take place at the same time. I cannot believe that we will ever have as many gaming establishments as we have public houses and, as all public house licences can be dealt with at one Brewster sessions, I am not sure that the Bill is necessary. I hope that the magistrates will not demand that, because there are thousands of public houses in this country, the consideration of their licences should be spread over four or five sessions a year.

There are occasions, particularly in modern society, when changes in buildings and in the character of villages make it necessary for residents to object to a public house licence. Often the problem is noise—amplified music, car doors being slammed late at night, and so on. When such nuisances are caused, it is right that residents should have the safeguard of being able to object to liquor licences being granted

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) laughs, but I suspect that he would object to liquor licences on any occasion. I would not want that to happen. I am not sure of your attitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I suspect that you agree with me that it would be wrong to withdraw the right to object to the licensing of a public house. Local residents know that if there has been trouble from a public house, it is possible to seek the protection of the magistrates every year just after Christmas. If magistrates can manage all that work on one occasion, there should be no need for more sessions. Once a year is enough.

I accept that the licensing of gaming establishments is complicated. We must let the Bill go through. However, I give a severe warning to the Home Office that it should not allow any changes in other licensing laws or the Brewster sessions.

1 pm

Mr. Mayhew

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) on what he has achieved in his success in the ballot and on the way in which he has successfully steered the Bill through its Second Reading and Committee stages. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) drew attention to the achievement, pointing out that my hon. Friend was eleventh in the Ballot. It only goes to show that the fact that one is an eleventh man does not prevent one from scoring a great many runs, provided one has a suitable partner. I am grateful for what he said about the Home Office. Perhaps to the surprise of many hon. Members who have seen one or other of the partnership take the Floor in the past, between us we have achieved a great deal. Although my hon. Friend was generous in his thanks to Home Office officials—for which I am grateful—he deserves the bulk of the credit.

Much has been said about the Home Office being a cosy and popular institution when it is dealing with gaming and licensing matters. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) spoke of it in those unfamiliar but welcome terms. He has courteously explained to me why he cannot be in his place at the moment. He drew attention to the Gaming Board's need to be able to replace quickly, for example, the casinos that have lost their licences. He gave one or two unhappy examples where that had happened.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to break the mould—if I may use that expression today—that has so long given shape to licensing arrangements under the Gaming Act, forcing magistrates to deal with a bulk of licensing applications once a year. It has created unnecessary congestion in their lists and has had damaging effects. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said that they have to cope with that when they are licensing public houses. I confirmed that the licensing of public houses takes place at special sessions but with the difference that they are not limited to once a year. They take place generally four times a year and therefore the same problems do not arise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was concerned about fees assessment. He feared that they would be assessed at too high a level and increased more than would be reasonable. However, I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has no interest in fixing licence fees for any of the multifarious activities that he is obliged by Parliament to licence at anything more than is reasonably required. In this instance they will be fixed broadly, according to the cost involved in issuing the licence. The fee will probably be comparable to that for the permit for commercial provision of amusements with prizes, which at present is £8.50. The fees are set in statutory instruments which must be laid before the House and they are subject to the negative resolution procedure.

I know too much about the capabilities and skills of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough to suppose that it was simply a lucky fluke, or even a brilliant fluke, that led to the defeat of the firearms order under the last Administration. That episode established that if it is so minded the House can effectively bring its mind to bear upon a matter when the Government produces, under the negative resolution procedure, a proposal with which it disagrees.

First, my right hon. Friend has not the slightest intention of fixing fees at an unreasonable rate, nor has he any interest in doing so. Secondly, the House had the effective procedure which I have endeavoured to describe.

To some extent we are the prisoners of history. So long as my right hon. Friend is required to license any activity, premises, thing, animal or person he should have power readily to ensure that the level of licence fee is sensible and keeps pace with the change in the value of money. It is riot a very impressive monument to our legislative skill that for the past 137 years the fee for billiard premises has remained the same. Therefore, although there may be a question whether billiard tables should be licensed, that is not a matter which, without comprehensive legislation, can be looked at. However, although billiard licences are not required in pubs—in what we call, colloquially, licensed premises—or in members' clubs, they are required for public billiard tables, of which there are a few.

The reason for that is quite interesting. Section 10 of the 1845 Act applies to public billiard tables only, but a fully licensed liquor public house is exempt from billiard licensing under section 11 of the Act. I acknowledge the perspicacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe in discovering this curious anachronism and anomaly and in taking the opportunity to bring up-to-date and enable to be kept up-to-date the licence fees for this activity.

For the purposes of gaming, to which part II of the Gaming Act 1968 applies, there are detailed provisions in schedule 2 for the licensing of premises, clubs run commercially as casinos or bingo clubs, in Great Britain and in schedule 3 for the registration of members' clubs and miners' welfare institutes in England and Wales. One of the main features of those procedures is that applications for the grant of renewal of licences arid registrations have to be dealt with at a particular time of year. In general, such applications must be made in January or February, and hearings take place or begin in May.

There is a separate procedure in schedule 4 to the Act for the registration of clubs and institutes in Scotland, where applications for registration may be made at any time. Originally there were thought to be advantages in concentrating attention on all the gaming clubs at one session. The 1968 Act imposes on the Gaming Board for Great Britain, amongst other things, the duty of keeping under review gaming facilities provided by licensed and registered premises.

The procedures in schedules 2 and 3 of the Act were intended to enable the Gaming Board to carry out an effective review at a given time of such facilities. Now that the licensing and registration system has been in operation for some years, the Gaming Board is in a position to review the situation on a continuing basis.

It is also evident that the procedures can have the effect of causing congestion, as all the applications come forward at the same time. The congestion occurs not so much in the consideration of the applications by the several bodies acting as licensing authorities as in the work of the Gaming Board, which has an interest in every application. In order to relieve the congestion, if only gradually, it is proposed to relax the requirements of schedules 2 and 3 to the 1968 Act so that applications may be processed more frequently.

I agree entirely with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West about the need that was perceived for the Gaming Board to have really effective powers of surveillance of those who were applicants for licences. It is very important that in the exercise of those powers the board should not be unduly rushed.

The main aim of the Bill is to make changes in the timing provisions of the relevant procedures to allow applications to be made at any time. Those changes will make it necessary to provide for the gaming licensing authorities to hold several sessions in each year for considering and determining applications made to them. As a consequence of the granting of applications at different times of the year there will be need to be some amendment of the provisions relating to the renewal and duration of licences and registrations, although the duration of an existing licence or registration is not to be affected.

The opportunity is also being taken to make a similar sort of change in the procedure for granting billiard licences. The granting of these licences takes place at one session only in the year. This has given rise to complaints that a person in the entertainments business who wants to install a pool table for public use may, by virtue of an Act dating back to 1845, have to wait many months before he can obtain a licence authorising its use. There seems to be no reason for the provisions to be so restrictive, and my right hon. Friend wisely proposes to provide for several sessions a year at which licences can be granted. It is also proposed to make different provision in respect of the fees payable for licences, which have not been varied since 1845.

May I say, in parenthesis, that I would not approve—nor, I am sure, would my right hon. Friend—of use being made by police or any other officer of the right to inspect a billiard licence for quite unconnected purposes. I am sure that, on reflection, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe will accept that one must not use powers granted for one purpose for other purposes, although those other purposes are perfectly proper in themselves.

Mr. Michael Brown

I wholly accept the arguments that have been advanced by my hon. Friends and by the Minister. Perhaps the person who does not have a billiard licence may well be the type of person, having not gone through these procedures, who is more likely to have broken the law on other matters. Therefore, I totally withdraw the implication of what I said earlier.

Mr. Mayhew

My hon. Friend acts with characteristic firmness and generosity, and I do not want to make a meal of what was a momentary intervention. We in this House have always been very careful and jealous of the rights of entry that we grant to the police, and so on, and we do not want to depart from those standards.

My hon. Friend has made it clear that the flexibility that the Bill will provide in the timetable of the licensing year will help both the Gaming Board and the gaming industry, and that it was recommended by the Justices Clerks' Society. The changes also have the support of the Magistrates' Association, which has also advocated them. The work of the licensing courts, under the existing arrangements, starts from the beginning of the year and reaches a peak in about April or May. It will assist both the licensing justices and the staff of the courts if the work can be more evenly spread through the year.

My hon. Friend also said that the more flexible timetable will be available not only to casinos and bingo halls, but to members' clubs and miners' welfare institutes which apply for registration for gaming purposes under part II of the Gaming Act. Registration of such clubs is usually for the purpose of playing bingo. It is fair to say that we have not been pressed to relax the timetable for the registration of clubs, probably because many of them prefer to rely on sections 40 and 41 of the Gaming Act 1968 to cover bingo playing for low stakes. Section 42 of the Act, as amended by the Gaming (Small Charges) (Amndt.) Order 1981, provides that the maximum daily charge which may be made in clubs and miners' welfare institutes in respect of a person taking part in games of equal chance, except bridge and whist, shall be 15p. Many clubs seem to operate with this small charge, rather than seeking registration for gaming on a larger scale.

Clubs and institutes also make use of section 41 of the Gaming Act 1968, which allows gaming and entertainments not held for private gain, provided that the entrance fee or stake, which was increased by an order in 1981, does not exceed £1.50 per person. The number of clubs which will benefit from the relaxation of the registration timetable may not be large. On 30 June 1981, 814 such clubs were registered in England and Wales and 53 in Scotland. The initial grant of registration lasts for one year, but renewals may be for any number of years up to 10. Thus the annual number of applications made by these clubs is not large. All the same, there seems no reason why these registered clubs should have to adhere to a stricter timetable than that now proposed for casinos and bingo clubs. Thus, my hon. Friend's Bill will benefit them, too.

My hon. Friend said that time is the essence of the Bill. There is another aspect of timing that he did not mention. Clause 3(2) of the Bill provides that The provisions of this Act come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which it is passed. There are good reasons for not introducing timetable changes of this nature overnight, so the two-month period is wisely specified.

As my hon. Friend has explained, the licensing year really gets under way in October, which is the last month in which applications for certificates of consent can be made. It is, therefore, highly desirable that the Bill should pass through all its stages before the Summer Recess so that it will come into force before October.

I therefore commend the Bill to the House and express the hope that its further passage will be both smooth and speedy, as I believe that the initiative and parliamentary skill of my hon. Friend as well as the inherent merits of the Bill deserve nothing less.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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