HL Deb 31 May 1949 vol 162 cc1288-93

4.34 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I would point out that there is a Royal Commission at five o'clock. It might be convenient to adjourn at about ten minutes to five until after the Commission, and if I have not finished my oration, which is a rather long one, perhaps I may go on with it after that short interval. This Bill, though not a measure for a fundamental alteration of the general licensing laws, covers a fairly wide and varied range of matters. It falls into three parts—namely, Parts I, II and III. Part I is the controversial part; Parts II and III are, in the main, uncontroversial, and perhaps I may say something in the first instance about Part II and Part III.

Part II of the Bill arises from two recommendations of the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace, of which the late Lord du Parcq, whose loss we feel so deeply, was chairman. In that Report the Commission pointed out that some limitation on the size of licensing benches was desirable, and they recommended that county petty sessional divisions having ten or more justices on the active list should exercise their licensing powers through a committee elected by the justices from among themselves. At present all those justices on the active list in petty sessional divisions who are not statutorily disqualified for acting in licensing matters are licensing justices, and on occasions as many as fifty justices have sat on the licensing bench in a London division. The Bill is not, however, limited to this point, but applies the principle to licensing authorities as a whole in both counties and county boroughs, by providing that not only the licensing justices but also the confirming and compensation authorities shall always he committees. The two latter bodies in counties will be a committee of quarter sessions, and in county boroughs a committee of the whole body of justices. These proposals, which are contained in Clauses 9 to 13, go further than the recommendations of the Royal Commission but are in accordance with their spirit and will clear away a whole mass of complications from the existing law as respects constitution of licensing authorities. I may add that the proposals are acceptable to the Magistrates' Association and to the Justices Clerks' Society, with whom ale Home Secretary has had discussions.

The Bill, does not at present deal with non-county boroughs. The reason for this is that the Roche Committee recommended that the smaller non-county boroughs should no longer have separate Commissions of the Peace. The Justices of the Peace Bill will embody the Government's proposal in this connection, which will fall to be debated on that Bill. No doubt this Bill will be before your Lordships in the next two or three days, but I feel sure it will only cause confusion to discuss the licensing arrangements in non-county boroughs, and we therefore leave the position in non-county boroughs untouched at this stage. But we hope that the position will be clarified by the time the Licensing Bill reaches the Committee stage in your Lordships' House.

The second recommendation of the Royal Commission is in paragraph 128 of their Report, which deals with the question of disqualification of justices for acting in licensing matters. Section 40 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910 disqualifies for practically all licensing work a justice who, inter alia, is a shareholder in any company which is brewer, distiller or retailer of intoxicating liquor; but there is an exemption for railway shareholders. The reason is, of course, the very small extent to which railways are concerned in the liquor business in comparison to the whole of their business. The Royal Commission recommended that this exemption should be extended to shareholders in co-operative societies and that consideration should be given to the question whether the exemption should be extended to all cases where shares are held by a trustee and not beneficially, or where the shares are in an undertaking where dealing with intoxicating liquor is not a substantial part of the business. Your Lordships will find that Clause 18 deals with that point. The remainder of Part II, except for Clause 17, tidies up in several minor respects the relevant provisions of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910. Clause 17 provides for the payment of expenses to members of Scottish licensing courts and courts of appeal by the town and county councils which at present meet the general expenses of these courts.

The provisions of Part III, except those dealing with or related to the question of hours of sale and supply of liquor at certain premises in Central London, may be summarised as follows. Clause 29 deals with the so-called "bottle shops"—that is to say, retailers' premises where, by virtue of Section 111 (1) of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, wines and spirits are sold for off-consumption under an excise licence only, no justices' licence being required. This has long been recognised to be an anomaly, and magistrates, the Temperance Party and a considerable part of the licensed trade itself—a remarkable combination, if I may say so—have frequently urged that, as recommended by the Royal Commission on Licensing, 1929–31, these premises should be brought under the control of the licensing justices. The clause provides accordingly.

Clause 30 prohibits the employment of persons under eighteen in the bars of licensed premises. It has long been recognised as anomalous that persons under eighteen could be so employed, having regard to the fact that the Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under Eighteen) Act, 1923, prohibits them from obtaining or being served with liquor in a bar; and the clause implements a recommendation in the recently published Report of the Gowers Committee. Clauses 31 to 37 contain various provisions to assist the work of licensing planning committees established under the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Acts, 1945 and 1946. It will be recalled that the Act of 1946, which itself provided some additional elasticity in licensing planning machinery, was a House of Lords measure which I introduced on April 4, 1946, and which, unlike some of the Bills which I introduce, received a cordial welcome from all sides of the House.

Clause 38 should commend itself in particular to the Lords Spiritual. The Act of 1910 provides that notices relating to a considerable number of licensing matters must be posted on the door of the principal church or chapel of the parish. Literal observance of this requirement sometimes leads to defacement of historic church doors, and the clause accordingly provides that notices may be posted near the door. Clause 39 is designed to secure greater uniformity in the week-day permitted hours in the metropolis (broadly speaking the administrative County of London) by providing that the latest week-day closing time shall not be earlier than 10.30 p.m. Clause 40 proposes to regularise existing licensing practices in the Scilly Isles.

Attention may now be turned to Clauses 19 to 28. They are designed to replace by permanent legislation Defence Regulation 42C (which empowers the police, if so authorised by the Home Secretary, to close undesirable night resorts) and, in particular, to provide, under careful safeguards and control, for reasonable demands for facilities for the supply of liquor at night with meals, music and dancing in Central London. The main outline of the proposals is as follows. Clauses 19 and 20 provide for the grant of "special hours certificates" for certain classes of hotels, restaurants and clubs in a part of the metropolis specified by order of the Home Secretary. The part proposed to be specified is little more than the City of Westminster, where the main "night life" of London takes place, but the northern boundary of that City runs along the middle of Oxford Street and some extension will be needed there and possibly also to include the hotels around Russell Square.

In the case of the hotels and restaurants, the special hours certificate will be granted by the licensing justices if they are satisfied that a music and dancing licence is in force; that the premises are structurally adapted and bona fide used or intended to be used for dancing and substantial refreshment to which the sale of intoxicating liquor is ancillary; and that the premises pay, or that the Secretary of State certifies that they could have paid, reduced excise licence duty on the grounds that the receipts from liquor were less than half (for a hotel) or less than three-fifths (for a restaurant) of the total receipts. There are some differences in the provisions as respects clubs. First, the special hours certificate will be granted by the stipendiary magistrates who deal with the registration of clubs. Secondly, as clubs do not usually have a music and dancing licence (since their dances are not open to the public) it has been agreed with the London County Council that a certificate should be required that the premises fulfil the Council's requirements for the grant of a music and dancing licence. Thirdly, no counterpart has been devised to the provisions as respects hotels and restaurants relating to the extent to which receipts come from intoxicating liquor, but the Home Secretary has promised that further consideration will be given to this point. Finally, the police are given the same right of entry to clubs having a special hours certificate as to licensed premises. At present they may enter a club only under a search warrant.

Clause 21 provides that special hours certificates may be granted for part only of the year—some premises may not need them except in the tourist season. Clause 22 specifies the special hours. Broadly speaking, drinking in restaurants is already allowed up to 12.30 a.m., and the effect of the clause is that premises where drinking is to be allowed to 2.30 a.m. will have to give up one hour before lunch and one hour before dinner, so that the proposals involve no lengthening of the hours. The special hours are confined to the restaurant where the dancing is provided and, if the dancing ceases, the permitted hours are also to cease. On Saturdays the supply of liquor will cease at midnight and consumption at 12.30 a.m., as under the present law. Clause 23 empowers the Commissioner of Police to apply for revocation of a special hours certificate if the premises have not been used as intended or the permitted hours not observed, and Clause 24 contains supplementary provisions. In connection with these clauses the Home Secretary has promised to consider whether further safeguards are needed against the issue of special hours certificates to undesirable clubs, and whether it can be made clear that dancing means dancing by a reasonable number of members of the public or club.

Clause 25 proposes to put a stop to bottle party practices. Subsection (8) provides that it shall come into operation on January 1, 1950. This will give time to bottle parties, which are able to do so, to get registered as clubs and otherwise qualify for a special hours certificate—Defence Regulation 42C, will still be in force to deal with undesirable bottle parties. Clause 26 contains supplementary provisions, including powers to justices to grant a search warrant, and Clauses 27 and 28 deal with refreshment houses under the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860. These are premises, not licensed for the sale of liquor, which are kept open for public refreshment, resort or entertainment at any time between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. A number of undesirable refreshment houses (chiefly disreputable cafés in London and the larger provincial seaports) have been closed under Defence Regulation 42C, and the penalties contained in the Act of 1860 for misconduct of refreshment houses are both inadequate and inconsistent. It is therefore proposed to stiffen the penalties and make them more uniform. The proposals, as a whole, may, I feel sure, be confidently commended to the House as a means not only of suppressing long standing abuses, but of providing a positive and practical solution to the problems which have given rise to the abuses.

As that finishes what I have to say about Part II and Part III of the Bill, I think that this would be a convenient moment at which to adjourn for the Royal Commission.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.