HL Deb 04 March 1912 vol 11 cc288-91


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, fortunately for me, perhaps, this Bill does not in any way touch the thorny question of the censorship. It is merely a Bill to amend the law under which licences to hold entertainments of music and dancing are granted in respect of buildings in London and parts of certain adjoining counties. The principal object of the Bill is to enable licences for music and dancing to be granted at any period of the year instead of only at the Licensing Sittings held at Michaelmas, which is at present the law with regard to London and its immediate neighbourhood. Other parts of the country have already, under the Public Health Amendment Act, 1900, the powers which are sought for under this Bill; but the cities of London and Westminster and within twenty miles thereof still come under the Disorderly Houses Acts, 1751 and 1818. Under those Acts any house, room, garden, or other place kept for public dancing or music or for other public entertainment of a like kind is deemed a disorderly house unless a licence for the purpose has been obtained, and may be proceeded against by any two inhabitants "paying scot and bearing lot." who, under the Act, receive £10 each for their services if a conviction is obtained. It is obvious that such a procedure is entirely obsolete. I think it is also obvious that it is an absurd situation that a great city such as London should be in the position of not being able to grant licences to buildings for possibly ten or eleven months. If an application is made now for a licence for music and dancing, that licence cannot be granted until the Licensing Sittings next Michaelmas. The county of Middlesex has already, under the Music and Dancing (Middlesex) Act, 1894, cleared itself from the limitations imposed by the Disorderly Houses Acts. Generally this Bill is on the lines of the Middlesex Act of 1894. It has received the unanimous countenance and support of all the county councils concerned, and particularly of the London County Council, whose Bill this is and on whose behalf I am acting.

I now turn to the clauses of the Bill. Your Lordships will observe in Clause I that the area to which the Bill applies embraces the whole area covered by the Act of 1751 with the exception of the county borough of Croydon, who have already made other arrangements which they desire should continue to stand. There is also a small part of the county of Buckingham to which the Act of 1751 has never been applied, and they naturally see no reason why they should have an amending Act. Clause 2, as to definitions, maintains the present position under the Acts of 1751 and 1818. Clause 3, which is, I think, the important clause in the Bill, is on the lines of the Middlesex Act, and it also re-enacts some of the provisions of the Act of 1751, which it is proposed to repeal. There is one exception to that general statement, and that is in subsection (4). Your Lordships will observe that by that subsection a person to whom the licensing authority has refused to grant or transfer a licence shall not be entitled to again apply for the grant or transfer in respect of the same premises within three months from the date of such refusal. The clause also ensures that ordinary applications shall be made at the annual meeting of the licensing authority, but it does give power in exceptional cases for a licence to be granted at any other time.

Clause 4 lays down the fees which are to be charged for licences. They are considerably higher than those which have been put into similar Acts, but I think your Lordships will agree that they are not too high, at any rate as regards the county of London, when I say that it is estimated that these increased fees will not even cover one-half of the estimated cost of the inspections. The remainder of the cost, of course, will have to be borne by the ratepayers. The fees are 5s. a month under the Theatre and Cinematograph Acts and also under the Middlesex Act, as against the larger fees in this Bill. But, on the other hand, I might mention that in New York the fees charged are 500 dollars, and that in Chicago they range from 500 to 1000 dollars. Clause 5 imposes penalties for keeping open premises without a licence. Subsection (1) imposes the same penalty as is now charged under the Metropolis Management and Buildings Act. 1878, with regard to protection from fire in buildings of a similar character. It is felt that it would be unwise to have a lower penalty under this Bill, as it would lead to considerable inconvenience and houses would naturally desire to come under this Bill rather than under the other Act. Subsection (2) is on the lines of the Middlesex Act, the only difference being that the date of the offence is taken as the date from which the fine shall commence, instead of the date of the conviction. Clause 6 is merely a re-enactment of Clause 4 of the Act of 1751. Clause 7 is similar to the clause in the Middlesex Act. The exceptions to buildings coming under this Bill are proposed to be the same as at present exist. There is no desire to include buildings which are not already under these licensing authorities. Clause 8 lays down the date of the commencement of the operation of this Bill should it become law, and fixes the date at November 1 in order that the next meeting of the licensing authority should be held under the provisions of this Bill. Clause 9 merely repeals the enactments mentioned in the Schedule which are either re-enacted in this Bill or have become unnecessary owing to its provisions. I do not think the House will consider the Bill a contentious one, and I trust, therefore, that your Lordships will see fit to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, with the general principle of this Bill the Government are in agreement. It is very desirable that the licensing authorities should have power to grant occasional licences and to transfer licences at other times than at the Michaelmas sittings. This was recommended by the Select Committee on Stage Plays which sat in 1909. The Committee said— The licensing authority should have full power to grant occasional licences and to transfer licences from one person to another during die twelve months for which the licence has been granted. On both of these points the present law needs amendment. This Bill is founded, I believe, on the Act of 1891, under which the county of Middlesex got what the noble Lord desires should be extended now to the whole of the metropolis.

When this Bill reaches Committee, if your Lordships give it a Second Reading, I shall move one or two Amendments. In the first place, it is desirable to bring Croydon into line with the other authorities. Unless there is very good reason why it should be left out of the arrangement, I think it would be much better that there should be a general uniform method applicable to all. The only other point I will mention to-day is with regard to Clause 5—the penalties clause. It is the universal practice, I believe, to make fines date from the conviction and not from the date of the offence. I hope that in Committee the noble Earl will agree that it will be much better to adopt the universal practice with regard to penalties, and not set up a new system as is done by this clause. Subject to these Amendments and one or two others on small points which may occur to me before the Bill goes into Committee, the Government have no objection to the Bill and will give it their support.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 12th instant.