§ 7.9 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 Lloyd.)
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]758
§ Clause 1 [Power to authorise grant of retailers' excise on-licences for seamen's canteens]:
§ On Question, Whither Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD SILKIN
I will not detain the Committee for more than a few moments. The House will remember that on the Second Reading of this Bill I raised one or two matters on behalf of my noble friends to which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, replied, promising that he would give further consideration to them. There were three matters in all and on two of them I shall say nothing further because the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has satisfied me. There is one matter to which I want to refer briefly. The Bill deals with canteens and provides for the licensing of these seamen's canteens, and makes special provision. I have no quarrel with that. The point I made on Second Reading was: how could it be secured that the character of these canteens remained? What happened if they ceased to be canteens for seamen and deteriorated or degenerated into places where seamen could get intoxicating liquor and nothing else? I felt that if that were the case there was no need for giving them special treatment. It was only because these establishments were canteens, as well as places where intoxicating liquor was sold, that there was a justification for this special provision. I think I have the noble Lord's permission to say that I have been in correspondence with him. He has sent me a letter which entirely satisfies me, but I think it right that the assurances he gave me in that letter should be repeated publicly, as briefly as he likes. It was for that reason that I have raised this matter on Clause 1.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (LORD LLOYD)
It is quite true, as the noble Lord says, that I have been in correspondence with him about this matter and I am perfectly ready to repeat what I said to him in my letter and to give him, and I hope the House, all the reassurances I can. As I think I said to him on Second Reading, the main practical safeguard in my opinion, and in the Government's opinion, lies in the character and purpose 759 of the canteens themselves and of the bodies which provide them. These canteens are in no way commercial undertakings. They are provided by voluntary welfare bodies which are co-ordinated and supplemented by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board itself. I think your Lordships will be aware that this is a body of very high standing. On it there are all the seamen's societies, and unions representing all ranks of seamen, and also the Government Departments concerned. The whole purpose of their activities, including, in particular, the provision of these clubs, is the welfare of the seamen—that they shall not be dependent for their recreation and entertainment on the ordinary facilities of a port, but shall have somewhere of their own where they can relax and amuse themselves in decent surroundings. That is their whole purpose.
Yes; to eat, drink, sleep and do all the other things that people normally want to do when they are off duty. I think, therefore, that the noble Lord's fears are in a sense a little unreal because of the nature of the body concerned in running these hostels. I also think that the legal safeguards in this Bill are quite effective. The body providing the canteen has to be approved by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, and the canteen requires a certificate from the Minister, which must be renewed annually. These welfare arrangements for seamen are now a national institution, and I do not believe that any Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in any conceivable circumstances would give his approval to a certificate if the canteen had degenerated in the way suggested by the noble Lord. After all, the Minister is answerable to Parliament, and there is no doubt that he would place himself in an impossible position if he did so.
Then there is a further safeguard. If the noble Lord looks at Clause 2 (2) of the Bill he will see that rules have to be made as to the persons entitled to use the canteens, and those rules have to be approved by the licensing authority; and he will see that a failure to observe the rules is a ground for refusing to renew the canteen's licence under Clause 4 (3). 760 So here again the licensing authority will have an effective control over the kind of people who are allowed to use the canteens. They will also have the general power to refuse the renewal of a licence if a canteen is improperly conducted. I did try to see whether there was something further we could do to allay the noble Lord's fears, but I feel that any satisfactory amendment to the Bill would be difficult to find. I think that the Bill is water-tight. We have done our best to make it so, and I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will be prepared to let the matter rest now.
§ LORD MATHERS
This Bill is an improvement, so far as I can judge, on the present position, and I see that the licensing authority will now be the normal licensing authority for the district. I hope I may take it that that means that there will be police opportunity of visiting the premises and police supervision: that it is not simply left to the canteen itself to run things as it will. I suggest to the noble Lord that thus an additional safeguard is brought in by interesting the local authority in the position.
That is perfectly correct, as I think I said on Second Reading. The police will now be allowed to pay visits to these canteens in the normal way, should that be necessary, and this is an additional safeguard.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Lord has, in fact, repeated what he has told me in correspondence. I entirely accept it and on that understanding I have not put down any Amendment.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported without amendment.