HL Deb 21 July 1952 vol 178 cc26-40

4.1 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Haden-Guest.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Control of demonstrations of hypnotism at places licensed for public entertainment

1.—(1) Where under any enactment an authority in any area have power to grant licences for the regulation of places kept or ordinarily used for public dancing, singing, music or other public entertainment of the like kind, any power conferred by any enactment to attach conditions to any such licence shall include power to attach conditions regulating or prohibiting the giving of an exhibition, demonstration or performance of hypnotism on any person at the place to which the licence relates.

(2) In the application of this section to Scotland for the reference to places kept or ordinarily used for pane dancing, singing, music or other public entertainment of the like kind there shall be substituted a reference to theatres or other places of public amusement or public entertainment.

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL moved to omit Clause 1. The noble Earl said: May I preface my remarks on this clause by one observation which I hope will elicit a reply from the Government at a later stage in our discussion this afternoon? I hope it is safe for me to assume that if any Amendments to this Bill are carried this afternoon, the Government will give time for their consideration when the Bill goes back to another place. It seems to me (I hope the Committee concur in my view) that unless the Government are willing to do this, we are really not in a position to carry out our constitutional function as members of a revising Chamber. Therefore, I hope very much that the Government may be able to give us some assurance that any Amendment that the Committee desires will be given consideration in another place. The second general observation I should like to make is that this is a Bill which, in the main, will be worked by local authorities. They will have to decide whether these hypnotic performances are to be allowed and, if so, on what conditions they are to be permitted. All the Amendments I have down on the Marshalled List are regarded by local authorities as making the Bill a more workable proposition, and my motive, therefore, in moving the Amendments is to make the Bill more workable from the point of view of the administrative authority and also, I believe, in certain ways to make it more effective as a protection for the public.

My first Amendment is to leave out Clause 1. In order to save time, I hope the Committee will allow me to cover the subsequent Amendment to Clause 2 by my remarks on this Amendment, because all these Amendments are directed to the same point. In the Bill as it stands, there are two methods of control as applied to hypnotic performances which are given as part of public entertainment. One method covers licensed premises—that is to say, music halls, theatres and so on—and the other covers unlicensed places, such as village halls or community centres in towns. The first method is to attach a condition to a licence, and the second is for a controlling authority to authorise a particular performance. There are two objections to having two methods of control. First of all, if you have two forms of control you are likely to have anomalies—performances will be allowed by one authority in one part of the country, while similar performances will be forbidden by another authority in a different part of the country. But, to my mind, the second objection is far more important than the creation of anomalies. The inclusion in a licence of a general rule for providing entertainment for the public by hypnotic performances would fail to protect the public, unless, of course, it was a total prohibition, which would be unfair and unreasonable from the point of view of the entertainment business. The trouble about a general rule is, that it cannot cover all the circumstances of a particular case.

May I give an example? Suppose the general rule was that these performances could be given only by a qualified hypnotist. That would not take into account the length of time during which a person was kept in a trance; it would not take into account the things which a person was called upon to do while in the trance. Therefore, it leaves out precisely the circumstances which are damaging to the health of a hypnotised person. If, on the other hand, every case is considered on its merits and all the circumstances can be taken into consideration by the controlling authority, there is the best possible chance of protecting the interests of the public. My second Amendment—that to Clause 2—is to provide that the controlling authority shall consider very application on its merits. I hope that both the promoter of the Bill and the Government will consider this matter from the point of view of the local authorities, and from the point of view of providing the best possible protection for the public. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 1.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


I am very glad to say a few words in support of the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Listowel, although my two Amendments, seeking to omit Clause 1 and Clause 2, go somewhat further than is proposed by my noble friend. It is only right that I should say that my attention was drawn to the provisions of this Bill by the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I have the honour to be a Vice-President and, to that extent, I suppose that I have an interest to declare. The first point that I would submit to the Committee is that it is somewhat unfortunate that a Bill of this character, with provisions which affect local authorities, was not discussed with the representative associations which are so vitally concerned with the functioning of local authorities. I need hardly call attention to the importance and representative character of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and it is somewhat unfortunate that the vast fund of experience and knowledge not only of that association but of other associations also, has not been taken into account. Even a small Bill of this kind may (if I may be permitted to use a somewhat horrible word) have repercussions throughout the country.

I do not complain so much in regard to the non-consultation (I assume that the time factor has been against the promoters of the Bill), but I do complain because the character of the Bill was entirely changed in another place. When it was submitted for, and passed, its Second Reading in another place, this 'was a Bill to prohibit entirely for entertainment or amusement exhibitions of the kind dealt with, and it was only in Committee that Amendments were accepted making it illegal for demonstrations to take place with those under twenty-one years of age but permitting such demonstrations for entertainment to people over twenty-one. I submit that that Amendment entirely changed the character of the Bill. With all due respect, I say that this is an instance of hasty and ill-considered legislation. There has not been time in another place—and obviously there is not here—to give this measure the consideration that it deserves.

It may be said that the local authorities or the licensing justices will have power to deal with these demonstrations. That is provided for in Clause 2. But, again, I submit with respect that the licensing justices or local authorities have absolutely no experience at all to work upon in connection with exhibitions of this kind, and it will either be the case that the exhibitions are authorised or that they are prohibited entirely. There will be no middle course. I know this quite well. For many years I have sat at the licensing meetings of a local authority, and we have built up over the years a code in connection with the licensing of dancing, stage plays and exhibitions of that kind. If there were an application for the licensing of an exhibition of hypnotism there would be absolutely no experience whatever upon which the authority could go and, so far as I can see, there would be no opportunity of attaching any conditions at all to the granting of a licence. It would be one thing or the other—either it would be granted or it would be refused. It may be said that the licensing justices or the local authorities will receive guidance from the Home Office, that instructions will be sent to them on the well-known and accepted principle that "the gentlemen in Whitehall know best." But, again with respect, I would submit that even taking into account the wide-ranging knowledge of the gentlemen in Whitehall, they, too, have absolutely no experience at all to go on so far as the licensing of exhibitions of this kind is concerned.

I would suggest to your Lordships that by this Bill, taking all the circumstances into account, we are imposing on local authorities or licensing justices, a task the implications of which should first be considered at national level. National decisions should be arrived at before a Bill of this kind is passed, and responsibility is placed on the local authorities. In those circumstances, while I agree that my Amendments go further than those proposed by my noble friend, I ask your Lordships to take all the circumstances into account, delete both this clause and the next clause, and send the Bill back to another place for that full consideration which I am sure the circumstances warrant.


The noble Lord, Lord Burden, is not the only Vice-President of the Association of Municipal Corporations in your Lordships' House and it is in a similar capacity that I should like to address just a few words to the Committee on this Amendment. I must confess that I share the uneasiness which has been manifested by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I also share the uneasiness of the noble Lord, Lord Burden, at the rather jumbled way in which this Bill has come up to your Lordships' House. In that respect, it appears to have something in common, unfortunately, with much of the spate of legislation which lies there on the Table before us and which we have to dispose of, as best we can, before we go away for our holidays. It is our job to make the best we can of this Bill. I share the noble Lord's uneasiness concerning the abilities of the local authorities to judge fairly in this matter. I think this is one of the very rare occasions when the gentleman in Whitehall does know best. It seems to me that if it is wrong that these performances should be held in one town, it must be wrong that they should be held in another. I am all for keeping as much local control as possible in the hands of local authorities over local matters, which they know best. But this is not one of those matters. I believe that this is a matter which should be legislated for centrally in the Bill. I am sorry that the Bill has come up to us in such a confused manner, and I hope that it may be possible to find time to correct these flaws in another place. But I certainly should not agree to follow the noble Lord into the Lobby, for fear of losing the Bill altogether. So, as I have said, I hope that it may be possible to improve it and to deal with these very valid objections before the Bill becomes law.

4.16 p.m.


I should like to say a few words on this Bill now, as I had the honour of bringing it before your Lordships' House. I think there is a certain amount of misconception in the minds of my noble friends. The Bill received a unanimous Second Reading in the other place, and in view of that it is to be presumed that that House is in favour of controlled hypnotism. I am basing this view on the words of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth. It is the fact that the Bill was referred on the Second Reading to Committee, and when it passed through Committee it underwent very considerable changes. Those changes, which are set out in the Report of the Committee, were largely due to the efforts of Dr. Somerville Hastings, who brought about alterations of the Bill which substantially modified its character. One purpose of the alterations was to make the Bill less rigid than it was in the first instance. Finally, when the Bill had passed the Committee stage it came again before the other place, and on the day on which it was to be read a third time there were put down a number of Amendments which were, in some cases, word for word the same as those which have just been moved by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and which have been supported by Lord Burden. I may say that they were not debated, and not inserted in the Bill, although, as a matter of fact, the House of Commons had before them this Paper which I have in my hand.

In the circumstances, it seems clear to me that between the Second Reading of the Bill and the time when it came up finally in another place, there was a considerable amount of discussion as to the proper way of dealing with it. And, in fact, it was because of that discussion with experts that your Lordships to-day have this amended form of the Bill which is calculated to put the matter on the best possible footing. Dr. Somerville Hastings said in debate in Standing Committee B: When the Bill was first drafted we thought it best to prevent completely all demonstrations of stage hypnotism, but it was pointed out to us that this was rather drastic at the first attempt and that in many areas local authorities had power to deal with the evil.… The Bill, as we propose to amend it, will accordingly now substitute for absolute prohibition, control by local authorities with power to specify conditions. That, in fact, is what the Bill now does. I believe that this Bill as it now stands, without these Amendments, will serve a very useful purpose indeed. There have been too many performances by amateur hypnotists and people over whom there is at present no means of control, and a considerable amount of harm has been done to those taking part. I feel that the situation might get much worse than it is at the present time. I find another reason for passing the Bill in its present form and not sending it back to another place. If it is sent back with amendments, it will almost certainly be killed. There is no time now to have the Bill reconsidered, and I cannot think that the other place are likely to change their opinion on the nature of the clauses at present in the Bill. It seems to me that in its present form the Bill gives control of the kind which ought to be given over public hypnotic performances, but does not prohibit other performances being given in public in conditions which are not undesirable. We have a situation which I think your Lordships ought to accept, and I think we should pass the Bill in its present form.

4.22 p.m.


It might be convenient if I gave some indication of the Government's view on this Bill, particularly because of the question which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, put to me at the outset of his remarks. At this stage in the Session, I can give no guarantee as regards time. The noble Earl knows well the pressure of legislation upon Parliament as a whole, and certainly I could not guarantee that it would be possible, in what remains of Parliamentary time, to find opportunity to reconsider this Bill. As regards the discussion which has taken place, I confess I was a little uncertain from the course of his remarks whether the noble Lord, Lord Burden, was speaking to his own Amendment, or supporting the Amendment moved by the noble Earl. As to striking out the two clauses, that is a matter which the promoters of the Bill will decide whether they are prepared to accept. I do not propose to put forward any view on the point.

As to the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, so far as I understand its purpose, the effect would be to make it illegal to give a hypnotic exhibition anywhere without the special sanction of the controlling authority. The original plan of the Bill was to impose an absolute ban upon all performances of this kind. In another place, it was pointed out that it did not seem right to single out this form of entertainment for a type of prohibition which had no precedent of any kind, and from that point of view it was thought undesirable to introduce such a precedent. Thereupon the Bill took on the shape in which it originally came to your Lordships' House—namely, that there should be no performance unless specifically authorised. From the point of view of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, there seemed to be certain objections to that principle of specific authorisation. The general principle which governs all these matters is that a man may produce in a place of entertainment such entertainment as he thinks the public will enjoy, subject always to the right of the controlling authority to impose conditions which they may think right in the interests of the area for which they are responsible.

This Amendment seems to indicate that there shall be no performance unless the licensing authority can be satisfied that there is a special reason for giving one. That seems to us to be a wrong approach. I find it difficult to see what could be a special reason in that context for giving an entertainment of this kind. If one had to produce a special reason, the only effect of that requirement would be to ban all performances. If you want to do that, the right thing to do is to say so and do it directly, and not go about it indirectly by putting machinery into the Bill which will have the effect of banning all such performances but will not say so. That is surely the, wrong approach. There are also practical difficulties, in the way of continual applications for licences of this kind and the possibility that if an authority did find that there were a special reason, it would be so out of the ordinary that it might be thought that some responsibility attached to the licensing authority for the performance. This is a private Bill and the decision is in the hands of the noble Lord in charge of it, but I thought it right on these aspects of the Bill to indicate the considerations which at present are in the mind of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, under whose jurisdiction this matter comes.


I am sure we are all much obliged to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who spoke for the Government, for making the Government's attitude so plain at this stage, not merely about this Amendment but about the whole principle of amending the Bill in its passage through this House. May I make this observation? We have a whole series of Private Members' Bills which reach the House at the tail-end of the Session. There must be many noble Lords who would like to amend these Bills in some minor way, in order to make them more effective statutory instruments. It is our function as a revising Chamber to make minor amendments which do not interfere with the principle of a Bill, and I must say that, if the Government are going to take the view that as a general rule they can give no guarantee that Amendments proposed by noble Lords to Private Members' Bills will be considered in another place, it really means that we are not able to exercise our constitutional function of revising Bills when they are Private Members' Bills and when they reach us at the tail-end of a Session. I think this is a matter of extreme importance for the House as a whole. I emphasise it now because it has arisen in connection with this Amendment. I hope your Lordships will consider it from the point of view of satisfactorily exercising the constitutional functions of this House.


Will the noble Earl forgive my intervening for one moment in a matter of explanation? I used specifically the word "guarantee" and I certainly laid down no general rule. I merely pointed out that at this stage of the Session, with the number of Bills that have accumulated, I could give no guarantee that there would be room for this Bill.


I appreciate the position of the noble Marquess and realise his difficulty, but I think that unless the Government can say definitely that they will give time, or will do their best to give time, or something of that kind, noble Lords will be placed in the position of either withdrawing Amendments, however desirable they may be, or of killing a Bill which everyone wants. This Bill has already passed through all stages in another place and has been supported on Second Reading and subsequently by those noble Lords who have taken part in discussions upon it. I hope the noble Marquess may perhaps make representations to the Government in order that when this Bill reaches a later stage we may have a definite statement as to whether or not the Government will do their best to find time, and that when the Second Readings of other Private Members' Bills are being considered in this House, a similar statement will be made. I do not want to press an Amendment which may very well kill a Bill that everyone wants to see passed into law, and, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.


I should like to say just a few words more, and to express my appreciation of what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has said on behalf of the Government. I admit that I was in the main speaking to my own Amendment, in view of the other matters coming before your Lordships. So far as my noble friend Lord Haden-Guest is concerned, I stand by my point that, when the Bill was discussed on Second Reading, it was a Bill which considered prohibiting entirely hypnotic entertainment and was, subsequently, drastically amended in Standing Committee. However, it is not much use pursuing the point, and I do not want to see this Bill lost. I should like to put this point to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. Despite what one might have said in a somewhat jocular manner about instructions from Whitehall, it will no doubt follow that, when this Bill becomes law, the Home Office will have to consider its implications, and some instructions will be issued by circular to local authorities or to the licensing authorities. I feel that it would be to the advantage of all concerned if, before those instructions were issued, appropriate discussions took place at office level, in order that the wisdom of all should be used to get the best possible out of the intentions of the Bill. I do not ask the noble Marquess to reply now, but perhaps he will take that matter into consideration.


I will certainly bring the noble Lord's suggestion to the notice of my right honourable friend.


Before the Committee give permission for this Amendment to be withdrawn, as I understand is about to happen, I should like to take up a remark made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, concerning the crowding of business on the Order Paper right at the end of a Session. Of course, my noble friend Lord Reading could not do more than say, as he did, that he could not guarantee that the Government could find time for this matter to be reconsidered in another place. I must say that I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that it is not possible for us to do our job properly as a revising Chamber if we are confronted with this mass of Private Members' legislation right at the end of the Session. I myself am in a particular difficulty, because three of my right honourable friends in another place have been good enough to entrust me with their Private Members' measures all in the same week. It is physically impossible for a private member of your Lordships' House to cope with three Bills in the same week. We have had the whole time lying behind us in which we could have dealt perfectly well with these Bills if only they had not come up in such a mass. I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Reading whether he could possibly initiate, through the usual channels, some discussion that might enable us next Session to have this Private Members' legislation delivered to us in a slightly more leisurely way, so that we can give it slightly better handling.


My noble friend appealed to me. All I can say for the moment is that what are known as "the usual channels" are here, and are capable of hearing, and I dare say that what has been said has not passed unnoticed by them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

4.35 p.m.

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL moved, after Clause 3 to insert the following new clause:

Proceedings by controlling authorities

". A controlling authority as defined in section two of this Act may institute proceedings for any offence under this Act."

The noble Earl said: I put down this Amendment merely to bring this Bill into line with similar Acts. The object of the Amendment is to give the controlling authority the power to enforce the provisions of the Bill. When a duty is imposed upon a local authority to do something in the public interest, the usual practice is for the local authority to have power to see that the thing is done. I understand that that provision is in the Shops Act and the Food and Drugs Act. Ail I suggest here, for the consideration of the promoters of the Bill and the Government, is that this Bill, which imposes a duty on local authorities, should be brought into line with other Acts which impose duties of a different character on those local authorities. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 3, insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


May I say a word on this matter? We hope that the noble Earl will not press this Amendment—for this reason. I quite see the desirability of having the provisions of the Bill enforced, if you are going to pass them into law. But the noble Earl will not forget that Section 276 of the Local Government Act, 1933, has a general provision that: Where a local authority deem it expedient for the promotion or protection of the interests of inhabitants of their area they may prosecute or defend any legal proceedings. That provision being in existence, it seems to us imprudent to insert in this Bill a special provision which might seem to reflect upon the comprehensive character of the provision contained in the section of the Local Government Act, 1933, which I have quoted.


The local authorities will be glad to hear that they are expected to exercise the power they already have under the Act mentioned by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. This advice is no doubt given after consulting the local authorities. As, no doubt, they will be in that position, I certainly do not wish to press the Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4:

Entry of premises

4. Any police constable may enter any premises where any entertainment is held if he has reasonable cause to believe that any act is being or may be done in contravention of this Act.

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL moved, after "constable" to insert and any person authorised in that behalf by a controlling authority as defined in section two of this Act". The noble Earl said: I am not sure whether, after what has just happened, and the explanation which the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has given as to the power of local authorities to institute proceedings, this Amendment is appropriate or not. The purpose of the Amendment is to authorise an official of the local authority to enter premises where these performances are taking place, in order to see whether the provisions attaching to the holding of the performances are being observed or contravened. Again, I understand that this is usually provided for where a local authority are expected to enforce an Act of Parliament. If the noble Marquess, as I think he suggested in his remarks, does expect the local authorities to supplement the police in this matter, he may wish to see an Amendment of this kind in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 26, after ("constable") insert the said words.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


I would ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill whether it would be possible to consider this Amendment without in any way impeding the passage of this Bill. May I point out that at any rate within London and the Home Counties, the licensing will be done by the local authorities, and they, as such, have no direct contact with the police force in the carrying out of provisions of this kind? Inspections of places of entertainment are done by the appropriate officers of the local authority. I feel that it is important that we should have the two authorities carrying out whatever inspection is necessary to see that the conditions attached to the licensing of the entertainment are fulfilled. May I put it this way? Under the Bill as it stands, a local authority would lay down a condition as to the performance, but they would have no power to see that those conditions were enforced. They would have no right of entry through their appropriate officer, the only right of entry being that held by a police constable.


May I again say a very few words on this Amendment? Quite frankly, we have no very strong feeling about this Amendment one way or another. It might be desirable that the representative of the authority should have statutory power. On the other hand, it seems very unlikely that he would in practice have the least difficulty in getting into premises for any performance if he wished to insert himself there. The other objection we feel is that the Amendment is drawn in extremely wide terms—in fact, the words used might be held to give access to any premises. It might even permit entry into a private house, which I do not think the noble Lord who moved the Amendment intended. In view of the criticism which has been made in regard to time, I hesitate to say this, but if this were the only Amendment which was to be inserted in the Bill—the others having, been dropped—the possible consequences are obvious.


It is quite clear to me that the Government do not take any strong view about this Amendment. The local authorities who have to work this Bill say that they would rather their inspectors had the authority to enter premises on which these performances were being given if, as the Government say, they are to enforce the Bill when it becomes law. In ordinary circumstances, this is the sort of minor Amendment which your Lordships would like to see in a Bill. It is an Amendment which is desired by the people who have to work the Bill. They think that they can carry out the Bill best if this is included. Obviously, if we have hanging over our heads this "death penalty" on Bills which are passed by your Lordships at this stage of the Session, then the fear of wrecking the Bill is bound to oblige us to withdraw even these minor Amendments. While I feel that I must enter another protest against a procedure which I do not think is in the interests of your Lordships' House, I shall certainly ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.