§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill which I present to your Lordships' House at this late hour is to meet the situation which has arisen owing to a decision of the High Court, and which was ultimately upheld by the Court of Appeal, declaring to be invalid an older made by the licensing justices for the Steyning Division of Sussex fixing extensions of permitted hours under the Licensing Act, 1921, for part of the year only. Your Lordships will remember that subsection (1) of Clause 1 of the Licensing Act of 1921 lays down that the "permitted hours" for the sale of intoxicating liquors on week-days should be eight hours only, ending at 10 p.m. The next subsection, however, did give to the licensing magistrates the right and the power, if they so wished, to extend those "permitted hours" by a further half-hour so that the closing time would be then 10.30 at night. While many of the justices have given such an order for the whole year, a larger number have given orders for part of the year only, and this is the case which was recently declared to be invalid.
The High court and the Court of Appeal, in their interpretation of the Act, laid it down that any direction from the licensing magistrates should and must apply to all week-days throughout the year and not to part of the year only. To meet this point the present Bill, which is really an emergency measure, is introduced, and its sole purpose is to confer on the licensing justices the power which many of them imagined they had possessed since the 1041 main Act of 1921 was passed. This Bill passed through all its stages in another place without a Division, and I submit it to your Lordships' consideration. I would notify to your Lordships that as the Bill is a matter of urgency, if it should meet with the consent of your Lordships' House, I am proposing to put down the Committee stage for Thursday afternoon.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ LORD RHAYADER
My Lords, it is not my intention to offer any opposition to this small alteration of the licensing laws. I rather want to congratulate the noble Earl who has introduced the Bill on finding himself in what I believe to be a unique situation in the history of Parliament. I believe this is the only Licensing Bill in the long story of liquor legislation which has not met with some opposition from some quarter. The truth is, of course, that it is hardly a Licensing Bill at all. It is, as the noble Earl has explained, to put right the confusion in licensing administration which has arisen owing to the varying interpretations which justices have put upon their powers under the Act of 1921. The coming of summer time has caused a number of applications to be made to the justices that they should use their power to extend the closing hour to 10.30 in certain circumstances during summer time, and the justices appear to have given three different answers to such applications. Some, believing they had the power to grant an extension during summer time as a special requirement, granted the application. That happened in a good many cases, and it was only after the decision in the Steyning case that the necessity for this Bill became apparent. Other justices seem to have taken a different view of their powers, and, not being able to grant an extension for summer time only, appear to have granted an extension for the whole twelve months, which it was fully their power to do if they thought the requirements of the neighbourhood were such as to justify it.
Other benches appear to have refused the application, interpreting the law correctly, on the ground that summer time could not be a special requirement, and that became very clear in the Steyning case when Lord Justice Scrutton pointed 1042 out that as summer time was universal throughout the country it could not possibly be a special requirement of any particular place. Therefore, I understand, Clause 2 of this Bill has been put in to enable justices who have decided against applications on the ground that they have not the power, to reconsider the applications if they so desire. The confusion is so great that I am bound to admit, little as I like licensing extensions, that the Government are not unjustified in introducing this small alteration. I gather that the Government wish to get the Bill through as soon as possible, and provided it goes no further than it does at present, and no extension is made in Committee, I should like to say it will meet with no opposition from me or, I think, from any of those who act with me.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I do not intend to speak for more than a moment. I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that this is an emergency Bill. It is proposed to meet a special difficulty which has arisen, and I think it meets it, as far as I can see, in a satisfactory manner. On those conditions I feel it is a Bill which ought to be passed and I trust it will be passed without any opposition.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I also wish to support the Bill. I think the Government are to be congratulated upon bringing it forward with such expedition. The law has been in an anomalous state for some time, the anomaly being that justices have power to fix the permitted hours for twelve months but have no power, if they so think fit, to fix the permitted hours for a shorter period. This Bill will remove that anomaly without introducing any fresh anomaly. Further the Bill in no way diminishes the discretion of justices. The only point to bear in mind which perhaps is new, is that they must have regard to, and be satisfied as to, the special requirements of the district before they can make an order. As my noble friend has just said, the Bill will no doubt be made use of in respect of summer time in the case of seaside resorts and watering places. Although it does not say so in so many words, the Bill will enable justices in these resorts during the summer months or part of them to extend the permitted hours for a period of not less than eight consecutive weeks if they are satisfied that such an 1043 extension is desirable. Among the matters to be considered by the justices will be the interests of the public.
I also wish to call attention to a further point, and it is this: If the Government had given effect to certain recommendations of the Royal commission on Licensing the litigation that arose in the Steyning case would probably not have arisen. In order to secure uniformity of administration throughout the country, the Royal Commission recommended the establishment of a Central Board or National Licensing Commission, and amongst its duties would be that of advising the magistrates. It was proposed that this body would deal in addition with other matters. In my opinion such a body is an indispensable part of a satisfactory system of licensing administration. The Home Secretary, as the Minister concerned with miscellaneous matters affecting home affairs, has been responsible to Parliament for the conduct of licensing legislation; but he has no administrative or executive functions in connection with the ordinary administration of the licensing law. Some licensing authorities do from time to time consult him on particular questions. The advice given in these ways has served a useful purpose in the direction of securing uniform administration. But even when the Home Secretary has been consulted he has no authority in the matter. Something more is necessary, and some central body such as a National Commission would serve a most useful purpose. The licensing justices have onerous duties to perform, and should be protected from making such mistakes as they made in the Steyning case.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.