HL Deb 20 February 1967 vol 280 cc551-69

4.18 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. During 22 years' service in another place, I was responsible for introducing a good many Government Bills, but only once did I venture to introduce a Private Member's Bill. That was a modest Bill to amend the Refreshment Houses Acts 1860 and 1964, and for purposes connected therewith. In the Party sense that Bill was quite uncontroversial; it had the backing of Members of different Parties, and I think it might well have reached the Statute Book had it not been killed by the Dissolution—for all this happened just a year ago. I am now seeking support for the same Bill in new surroundings. Whatever the future of the Bill, I hardly think it will meet exactly the same fate as the last one—I almost wish it could!

Your Lordships might well think that refreshment houses were places where you could go and get a drink, but they are not—not in the normal sense of getting a drink. Refreshment houses are defined in an old law passed 107 years ago as: All houses, rooms, shops or buildings kept open for public refreshment, resort and entertainment at any time between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., not being licensed for the sale of beer, cider, wine or spirits. This Bill therefore has nothing to do with hotels or pubs. The refreshment houses with which this Bill is concerned are cafés, coffee bars and the like.

Similarly, there is no overlap between this Bill and the admirable Bill introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, a fortnight ago, to which the House gave a unanimous and, I think, enthusiastic Second Reading, because that Bill was concerned with private places of entertainment— clubs, and the like—whereas the places with which my Bill is concerned are by definition open to the public. I can confidently say that the ordinary café or catering establishment is totally unaffected by this Bill. The Bill applies only to those which stay open after 10 o'clock at night. There are many late-night or all-night cafés which are admirable places, and this Bill will cause them no inconvenience at all. It will affect only those places which are giving rise to disturbance in the middle of the night, and are preventing the neighbours from getting a quiet night's sleep.

Complaints about this sort of thing are cropping up from more and more towns in different parts of the country, where a certain type of late-night coffee bar is thronged with noisy teenagers; and the present law has been found powerless to stop such disturbance in the early hours of the morning when people and their children are trying to sleep. During the last year or so that I was Member for Hampstead I started to receive vehement and continuing complaints from many of my constituents about the noise and nuisance caused locally by several coffee bars of this sort. There seems to me to be nothing against keeping one of these places open until the early hours of the morning if it is situated in a busy traffic road where there will be noise all night anyhow; but when it is situated in an otherwise quiet area, where the people who live there have hitherto had a reasonable chance of sleeping undisturbed at night, the nuisance can become intolerable.

Some of these coffee bars attract teenagers who may come from miles around, with their cars, motor-bikes or scooters. When the place gets full towards mid-night, they tend to congregate on the pavements outside. I used to get complaints about blocking the pavements, about shouting obscene remarks at unoffending passers-by, and about fouling the neighbourhood in various nasty ways. Then, when the place finally closes clown in the early hours of the morning, when public transport has of course stopped, the noise often reaches its peak, with the shouting of goodbyes, the slamming of car doors, the revving up of engines and the popping of noisy exhausts. For people to enjoy themselves is one thing, but to show absolutely no consideration for all the people who are trying to sleep in the houses or flats round about is quite another. And it goes on night after night, though usually it is worst on Friday and Saturday nights. The number of Members of another place from different Parties who came to me a year ago and offered support to my earlier Bill because of the complaints that were raining in on them in their own constituencies made me realise how widely this kind of nuisance was spreading.

My Lords, it seems to many of us that in these days planning permission is needed for almost everything, and it is somewhat strange that no planning permission is required to convert an ordinary shop, which closes every evening at 5.30 or 6 o'clock, into a coffee bar which stays open all night. This is something which I wish the Government would tackle; I wish they would amend the General Development Order under the Town and Country Planning Act accordingly. This could stop late-night coffee bars from being opened up at all in the sort of premises and the sort of neighbourhood where they are inherently likely to be a nuisance; but, of course, it would not deal with coffee bars that are there already. My Bill does.

In what had previously been a quiet neighbourhood in my former constituency there were at one time three of these late-night coffee bars open within half a mile. They gave themselves sultry names, like "El Sahara" That, I remember, was one. I will not mention the others, because I do not want to advertise them. Things got too hot for "El Sahara" in other ways, and it closed down. I had one person after another from these neighbourhoods coming to see me or writing angrily to me, begging me to do something to get the noise stopped so that they and their children could be sure of getting some sleep. Even in this past fortnight, since this present Bill was published, I have had fresh letters from former constituents of mine wishing me luck with it. During some nights in Hampstead up to half of all the available police in the area were out responding to complaints about those three coffee bars, and trying to deal with them.

The people who complained simply would not believe that there was no law effective to put a real stop to all the disturbance in the early hours of the morning; but neither the Public Health Act, nor the Noise Abatement Act, nor good rule and government by-laws have anywhere proved to be effective in practice. For one thing, the existing legislation mainly covers what goes on inside the premises: the mischief with which the complainants are mostly concerned is what goes on in the street outside. I asked one victim whether he had thought of invoking the Noise Abatement Act. He pointed out to me that a complainant under the Noise Abatement Act had to give his name and address, which meant that he would certainly get stones through his windows at night from some of the types who were causing the trouble. So I tried to see what strengthening of the law would help these neighbourhoods—and, indeed, would help the police, whose interests we also should consider—and I believe that the proposals in this Bill are the best way to establish sensible safe guards for a neighbourhood without in any way inconveniencing well-run cafés or coffee bars which are open late at night but give rise to no trouble at all.

The present law on the subject, which is the Refreshment Houses Act, 1860—a long time ago—says that anyone who wishes to keep a catering establishment or refreshment house open after 10 o'clock at night must obtain an annual licence from the local authority. It is obtainable on demand, just like a dog licence. It costs, now, a guinea a year. The weakness which my Bill seeks to remedy is that when, under that Act, a local authority issues a licence to a catering establishment to stay open late, it has no power to fix any closing hour. By paying a guinea a year anyone wishing to open a refreshment house can get a licence authorising him to stay open after 10 o'clock and until any time he likes; and that is how this trouble arises. Of course, if these places sold alcohol they would be subject to closing times; but they do not. In the alcoholic sense, they are dry, although some of them almost certainly provide opportunities for peddling drugs. But that is a different matter.

My Lords, Clause 1 of my Bill will empower a local authority, as licensing authority, when it issues a licence, to attach a condition imposing a closing hour, which I suggest should be not earlier than 11 o'clock, because, after all, these places can remain open until 10 p.m. in any event without needing a licence. I have reason to believe that a good many local authorities who are besieged with complaints from the neighbourhood about some of these late night coffee bars would welcome a power to stipulate a closing hour at 11 p.m., midnight, 12.30 a.m., 1 a.m. or later, whatever it may be, according to local feelings and needs. Your Lordships will see that under my Bill the authority, before doing this, must satisfy itself that it is desirable so to do in order to avoid disturbance to residents of the neighbourhood and to preserve reasonable enjoyment of the amenities of the neighbourhood.

The penalty for an offence is to be the same as the penalty for other offences under the Refreshment Houses Acts, which was in fact revised by Parliament less than three years ago. As a safeguard against arbitrary action by local authorities, Clause 2 of the Bill provides for a right of appeal to the magistrates' courts. Clause 3 attracts the power which is already given under the Refreshment Houses Acts in respect of certain offences for the court, if it sees fit, to disqualify the person convicted from running a refreshment house in future. This is a reserve safeguard against persistent and deliberate offenders. Clause 4 confines the operation of the Bill to England and Wales. Scotland is excluded because Parliament in 1860 provided that the original Refreshment Houses Act should not apply to Scotland. I confess that I do not know why. I can only assume that nobody in Scotland in 1860 thought it worth while to keep a refreshment place open after 10 o'clock at night unless it sold whisky.

I can give the assurance that there are many towns and cities in England where the new powers to be granted by this Bill will be welcomed. If Amendments are suggested in Committee for improving it, I shall be glad to consider them. I hope that the Government will consider favourably my plea that one of the freedoms we should defend in Parliament is the freedom of the citizen to sleep at night without the continued repetition of purely selfish disturbance from people in the street outside, and that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and start it on its way. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Brooke of Cumnor.)

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke on behalf of the Government, and that other noble Lords who, like the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, wish to speak would not mind if I went first and they followed. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on reintroducing his Bill in these different surroundings. I hope it will not be stopped for the same reason; namely, the lapsing through dissolution of Parliament for a General Election.

As the noble Lord himself said, the object of the Bill is to deal with the problem of noise outside late-night coffee bars, a nuisance which is said to have been on the increase in recent years. There have been representations to the Government from some Members of Parliament—mainly representing London constituencies; although we have heard the noble Lord refer to the fact that this is now extending outside the London area, a fact which the Home Office will be pleased to take into account. The local authorities also have been complaining, individually and through the Association of Municipal Corporations, that there is a need for legislation on this matter. It might be thought that the problem could be adequately dealt with under local by-laws, or under existing legislation on noise-abatement, or, as the noble Lord himself suggested, by altering the law relating to town and country planning. The noble Lord made the request that the Government should consider this so as to make it necessary for planning permission to be obtained before an existing shop can become a coffee bar. This suggestion for amendment of the law has been resisted as inappropriate, as it would merely add to the already heavy burden of dealing with planning permission by bringing under control every proposal for such a change when comparatively few of these lead to any trouble at all.

It is true that planning permission is required for the use of premises as coffee bars if they have not already been used as a shop; and this would apply in any new building for use as a coffee bar. It would not usually be right, on planning merits, to permit such a development in a residential area if it were thought likely to be disturbing to the amenities of residents. Conditions limiting the opening hours could be imposed on planning permission, like those on closing hours; but this would not of itself prevent rowdiness or bad behaviour in the streets while the coffee bar was open. Planning powers cannot control the kind of people who patronise a coffee bar, the means by which they come to it or their behaviour either inside or outside it. The use of the powers of the Planning Acts to secure the discontinuance of a lawful use involves the payment of compensation which might easily be considerable.

Experience has shown that this is not always the case, and local residents are sometimes unable effectively to ensure for themselves freedom from interference from the noise naturally generated outside late-night coffee-bars. I can see that people who live in close proximity to such an establishment may find their sleep disturbed and that, if this goes on night after night, the effect on their health and happiness can be substantial.

I do not think, however, that we should over-estimate the size of the problem or over-emphasise the evil which the Bill aims to overcome. There is clearly nothing inherently wrong in the fact that enterprising café proprietors should provide a service to their customers late at night, or in the fact that some members of the public choose to go out, in their motor cars or on foot, late at night to drink coffee, cocoa or fruit squash. Many of us may think it preferable that motorists should drink coffee late at night at a café rather than intoxicating liquor at a restaurant or club. Difficulty arises only when these cafés are situated in the middle of a residential area so that a clash of interest arises between those who want to be quiet in their own houses and those who want to enjoy themselves outside. Those noble Lords who have served in the Armed Forces at any time, or have stayed in a Scottish hotel on Burns Night, will recognise the conflict between those who want to sleep and those who do not as one inherent in the human situation. The problem here is a local one, and the noble Lord recognises this in proposing that the licensing authority (who would have local knowledge of the needs of the area) should be the authority empowered to impose a closing hour (not earlier than 11 o'clock) for refreshment houses licensed by it.

The matter is not one on which the Government have so far thought it right to legislate, or one which they would regard as meriting high legislative priority. We feel no need to come down heavily either in favour of the Bill or against it. Noble Lords may think that it could be a useful measure to deal with a limited (if to some people irritating) problem, and the Government will watch its progress with interest. They will wish to examine its provisions with care to ensure that they do not contain an unacceptable threat to the liberty of the people to enjoy themselves in the way they choose.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, will have an easy passage for this Bill, because I am sure it seeks to remedy a very serious nuisance. I would apologise to him for not being here when he opened his speech for the Second Reading; but I mistook what was going on. The only criticism I should like to make, very briefly, is of Clause 1(2), where one of the penalties is imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. I take it that I am criticising the principal Act, but I should like to take the opportunity once more of expressing my disagreement with inflicting prison sentences for conduct which may not be in the least contrary to the normal moral standards of the people of this country. I always feel that it is a great pity to send a man to prison for something which is purely a civil offence. I should not mind seeing the fine increased, if necessary—after all, £200 a night might be a considerable penalty and quite a sufficient deterrent—but I should very much like to see imprisonment for offences of this sort cut out of our legislation, if it is possible to do so.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to apologise to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor for not having been here when he started his speech. Indeed, I had not intended to speak on this Bill at all but, like my noble friend, in the past I represented a London constituency, and I found that he was voicing many of the problems that arose within my own constituency. I found it very disturbing not to be able to afford any redress to my constituents when they came to the advice bureau and complained, perfectly reasonably, about noise and disturbances in their neighbourhood. In my constituency there were two main complaints. Many overseas visitors came into my constituency, including many Jamaicans and, quite reasonably, they started their own clubs. There was nothing wrong with the clubs—no drinks were sold or anything like that—but they developed into very rowdy places because the Jamaicans play rather noisy instruments and like to sing at the top of their voices, and that disturbed the neighbourhood very much indeed.

The other complaint about which I frequently heard was with regard to motor-cyclists. On Friday or Saturday nights anything up to twenty young men, riding high-powered motor-cycles, would roar down the street and stop at a perfectly respectable café. They would have a few cups of coffee, and every now and then one would go out with his motor-cycle and do a "ton-up" and then come back. It might be at midnight, or even after, that they would all roar away again. This was most disturbing to the residents in the street, but I found that one could do nothing about it. If a resident rang the police station during the time when there was a loud disturbance, and it was possible for a policeman to come and hear the disturbance, a complaint might go forward, but this was practically never the case.

My Lords, people who were proud of their neighbourhood, in which they had lived for a long time, and which they regarded as a decent and quiet neighbourhood, would suddenly find that, after a coffee bar had been opened there the whole tone of the neighbourhood had altered. Instead of it being a quiet back street, where elderly people could live peacefully, along would come the motor-cyclists and the whole atmosphere of the neighbourhood would change. I suppose that legally there is little that one can do about it, but it is extremely hard luck on people who live there. It was extremely frustrating to a Member of Parliament not to be able to do anything to help these people under the present law. For that reason, I wish my noble friend the greatest possible success with the passage of his Bill.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this Bill at all, but I must say that I have a little sympathy with it on one point only, and that is in respect of noise. It seems to me that if motor-cycles had silencers fitted, or if the motor-cyclists did not make a noise, this Bill would not be necessary. I do not believe that there are many cafes in really residential quarters which are open all night. Even in Hampstead, where I live, the cafes are in the main street. I do not frequent them, and I do not know how much noise is made outside them, but I think there is a need for young people to have places where there is no alcoholic drink to be obtained; where there is coffee and food, and where they can congregate and enjoy themselves. We all know that we have problems with our young people; they are full of vitality. It seems to me that to shut these places at 11 o'clock at night would be completely unrealistic.

We do not want to have a kill-joy city. Most other big cities have cafés which stay open all night, and when we go abroad, either to New York, Paris or to cities in Germany most of us enjoy visiting the places which are open very late at night. I believe that 11 o'clock is too early to close. If there are licensing powers given to local authorities, they might be used to refuse a licence for cafes to be run in the centres of residential neighbourhoods, but I do not think that we should try to stop people from having cafes in the main streets of suburbs. So I feel rather tepid about the Bill, and I do not feel that I can give it my wholehearted support.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I say that while I entirely sympathise with her about motor-cycle silencers, may I point out that there is one piece of mechanism to which we cannot fit a silencer, and that is the human voice. As she says, our young people are full of vitality. One has only to listen to them to know that.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, but I think we are a bit squeamish about the noise that young people make. We have to learn to live with a certain amount of this noise. We cannot repress the young people, and we do not repress them. We really have to concentrate on the important things, like drug-taking, and I do not think we ought to fuss so much about noise.


My Lords, must it be we who make all the sacrifices?

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Somers, say that it is a pity we cannot apply silencers to the human voice. How much happier our politics would be if that could be done! I suppose that on about 999 public issues out of every 1,000 I should agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell, but I am afraid that on this issue I do not. There is no comparison between these high-street coffee bars which have sprung up in so many of our towns and suburbs and the cafés that we know in Germany or Paris, or on the Riviera. They are an entirely different kind of establishment. Some years ago, when these coffee bars started to open, I saw a glimmer of hope in them. As a licensing justice of many years standing, I thought how nice it would be if young people were able to spend their evenings in coffee bars rather than in public-houses. But a long experience as a magistrate has taught me that visits to many of these coffee bars do far more harm to young people, and the neighbours all around, than visits to public-houses, with their stricter measures of control, ever did.

When I find the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, urging that we should rivet the shackles of control on private enterprise I immediately prick up my ears and get interested. I get doubly interested when I recall that it is not so many years ago that the noble Lord's Party fought an Election on the slogan, "Set the people free!" Undoubtedly this measure will deprive a large number of people of their freedom. It would deprive café proprietors and quite a large number of people of their freedom. But freedom, I think, is something relative. On the one hand we have to weigh the freedom we are taking from the coffee bars, and on the other hand the additional freedom we are proposing to give to the residents round and about who are now pestered and awakened in the middle of the night by all kinds of disturbances. Although the Bill is open to slight improvement, I feel that, on the whole, this is a worthwhile measure of reform. I was glad to hear the noble Lord explain that the Bill deals solely with cafés, coffee bars and refreshment houses, in the old-fashioned sense of the law, and not with what I believe are called "clip joints", "strip joints" and establishments of that kind, of which I have no knowledge whatsoever.

I have been a magistrate for over twenty years, and frequently I have had before me cases of disturbances arising out of visits to coffee bars, especially at turning-out time at three or four in the morning. It is then we find this noisy "revving-up" of motor-cycles, this fighting and shouting and swearing, so that neighbours cannot fail to be wakened. We find pitched battles, just like cup finals, when the habitués of a coffee bar in one town pay a visit, in a convoy of cars and motor-cycles, to a coffee bar in the next town, challenge the customers to come out and fight and set about them with motor-car starting handles and iron bars. I had before me one case in which a young fellow was found outside a coffee bar at midnight with a baseball stick in his car. That is a cudgel-like instrument quite capable of inflicting a nasty bruise if used in a certain manner. His explanation was that he had this baseball club in his car because he was going out to have some baseball practice. We decided, after weighing up the evidence on both sides, that it was hardly likely that he would want to play baseball at one o'clock in the morning.

My Lords, I do not want to see these places closed. I do not object to their staying open until midnight, because even people of our age do not go to bed before midnight, with television to watch; but after midnight residents are likely to be awakened, disturbed and frightened. I have known stones to be thrown through bedroom windows, and that is certainly likely to frighten people.

I should like here to enter a minor proviso. It was my lot for forty years to work on newspapers, and for a time my office was near Covent Garden. There the cafés stay open all night, and they are a boon to early morning market porters and late-night journalists on their way home. I sincerely hope that this Bill will not be used to try to close down places like these, which are performing a useful public service. At three or four in the morning, after putting the last edition to bed, and with a long walk home to face, because transport is not available at that time, it is very nice, on a cold and frosty morning, to go into one of these cafés and have a hot cup of coffee before setting out on the journey.

I am heartily in favour of the principle in the Bill, while thinking that there may be some minor points that might be adjusted. For example, I agree that this is not the kind of offence for which we ought to create a new penalty of imprisonment. The whole of our ideas on punishment are moving in the direction of sending as few people to prison as possible. This is not an offence against personal morality, and it is not dishonesty. It would be a grave mistake if we did not have in the Bill provision for fining people instead of imprisonment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I have had experience in local government. I know that, on the whole, local authorities exercise their powers and discretions wisely and well, but sometimes they can make mistakes. They might do so in attaching conditions to the issue of one of these refreshment house licences, and therefore I am pleased to see the provision of the right of appeal to magistrates. With those few rambling remarks, I would say that I am in favour of the Bill.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and in general I am in agreement with it. I have some knowledge of this problem, not so much in London and other big cities, but in the seaside resorts in Sussex, both in and out of season. In recent years a good many disturbances have been caused in some of these resorts by small but menacing bands of hooligans. The proprietors of these places have three months of our English summer in which to make their livelihood, and I am thinking of the reputation which they can get out of season. There are also the residents in the shopping and trading areas of these resorts. Many of the shopkeepers live above their shops, with their families, and they need protection from hooligans who make a lot of noise and sometimes throw bricks through their windows.

I understand that this is a discretionary Bill and that there will be no mandatory closing of coffee bars after 11 o'clock at night. Heaven preserves us from legislation such as that! It seems to me that the Bill should give local licensing authorities powers to inquire much more carefully into the bona fides of those seeking to open new establishments, to make sure that they have respectable backgrounds. I have had some experience of coffee bars late at night and, by and large, they are well conducted places. As in so many other matters, it is the odd few who cause the trouble. As regards penalties, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Leather land. Imprisonment, except as the very last resort, may well be the wrong punishment. A heavy fine may be the answer.

I also agree with the noble Lord that midnight might be a better closing time than 11 o'clock, particularly in the Provinces and at the seaside, where theatres and cinemas may not finish be fore 11 o'clock. Young people like to go in for a last thing at night cup of coffee, and I do not think it would be right to deprive them of that; otherwise they may get up to worse mischief. Given these provisos, a Bill of this kind is certainly necessary. In Committee a few small Amendments—for instance, as regards the time limits—might be worth consideration.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Leather land, began his speech by introducing, I thought, an unexpected whiff of Party politics in this debate, I think a word or two should be said from these Benches. I am sure that noble Lords on these Benches wish this Bill well. I was a little surprised at the picture painted by the Government spokesman, who seemed anxious, in support of the Government's neutrality, to paint a picture of the scales being kept absolutely even between those who wanted to sleep and those who wanted to enjoy themselves. I should have thought that, considering the very late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning that we are considering in this Bill, the interests of those who seek to sleep should prevail over those who seek to enjoy themselves, particularly when one bears in mind that many of those who are seeking to sleep at midnight or at one o'clock in the morning are people who are going to have to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning to get to their place of work probably by 8 o'clock. If the Government would bear this thought in mind, and perhaps throw an ounce or two into the scales on the side of those who are seeking to sleep, and let those who wish to enjoy themselves do so a little earlier in the evening, I am sure it would greatly assist the passage of this Bill.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say only a word or two. I am glad that the Government are going to consider this Bill before giving it endorsement, because two aspects have to be balanced. I think we are all entirely sympathetic with those who live in residential areas and whose night hours may be disturbed by noise, both of the human voice and of motor bicycles. I live in a quiet street, and my wife and I should both resent it. But we have to balance with this the fact of the lives of young people to-day. Many of us in this House belong to the older generation, and some of us belong to the oldest generation; but we have to appreciate that there is a great gulf in the habit of living between large numbers of the younger generation to-day and those of us who have grown up amidst different habits and customs of life. I believe it would he quite wrong for this House not to recognise that changed custom of life which is so strong among our younger generation.

I have been into a coffee bar late at night only when I have been travelling home by car from a distant meeting. I believe it is quite wrong to indict coffee bars as a whole in the manner of some of the more extreme speeches which have been made in this debate. I have been extraordinarily interested, because there young people have been gathered taking their coffee and engaging in conversation and in fun. I rarely found, when I visited them, the great amount of noise to which reference has been made in the debate. I believe that we have to recognise that a change is taking place in our society between the habits of the older genera- tion, who have lived rather stuffy and sometimes snobbish lives, where we have not even known the next door neighbour and where our privacy has been of a kind that we have been cut off from the community around us. We have to recognise that we now have a generation of younger people who are seeking much more association in their lives and in the enjoyment of their lives than those of us who were reared in circumstances of the older generation. I have known young people in London who have even sought to go to the areas where West Indians are living, because they could there have their late parties and their singing and dancing without interfering with the privacy and quietness of their own residential neighbourhoods.

I would urge upon the Government that when they are looking at this Bill they should think of it in terms not only of the privacy and quietude of those who live in residential neighbourhoods, but of providing some opportunities for this outlet of the younger generation, at least in streets which, though distant from those residential neighbourhoods, are within a reasonable distance. We are aware of the dangers which the younger generation is facing; we are terribly aware of the dangers to them, particularly of the drug habit. But if we are going to deal with those dangers we must, at least, allow for outlets for their new habits of life, their new desires for enjoyment, and provide for those facilities which will be some safeguard against more dangerous customs into which they may fall.

I hope that the Government will look at this Bill and balance those two views: first, of the privacy and quietude of those who live in residential areas, but also of the opportunities for the younger generation to enjoy the new habits of life which are theirs and which, though they may not be our habits, we have to recognise as a part of the society in which we live.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will grant it to me that I made perfectly clear that the majority of cafés and coffee bars will be in no way touched by this Bill; and I entirely agree with him and other noble Lords that many cafés and coffee bars are admirable places, performing a real social service.


I was not referring to the noble Lord.


Indeed, in my opinion no local authority could exercise its powers under this Bill to seek to fix a closing hour unless it had received positive complaints about what was going on in the neighbourhood, because, unless it could show that it had received such complaints, I fail to see how it could possibly convince the court on appeal that it had been justified in reaching its decision. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke, I thought, as though a residential area meant always a place where there were big houses in large gardens. The people who, in my experience, are affected by the noise and disturbance from these places are mostly people living in flats, ranging from working class to middle class, with no gardens at all, right on the road and therefore in no way protected from the disturbance.

I am indeed grateful to the large number of noble Lords who have shown an interest, in almost every case a friendly interest, in this small Bill of mine. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, for what he said. In reply to his point about prison sentences, let me point out that I was simply transferring into this Bill the same penalties which already exist in the Refreshment Houses Acts. Those penalties were in fact reviewed and approved by Parliament as recently as 1964, and I think it would have been impertinent for me to have put in my own system of penalties, seeking to superimpose it. I hope that your Lordships would agree that, whatever the case against short prison sentences of this sort, for which I have a great deal of sympathy, it would be wrong to confuse the courts by having different sentences for this offence as compared with other not dissimilar offences arising under the 1960 and 1964 Acts.

I was specially grateful to my noble friend Lord St. Helens. He spoke from London experience, as I did, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, that most of the complaints at first came from London. Now they are coming from coastal towns, as my noble friend Lord Auckland said, but it is spreading elsewhere. The latest complaints I heard came in fact from Salisbury, which is a city of a very different character. I agree with almost every word the noble Lord, Lord Leather land, kindly said about this Bill, and I think he gave the answer which I should have sought to give to the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. I certainly would not allow anybody to challenge my claim to understand the social value of all kinds of entertainment for young people, both boys and girls. But I thought the noble Baroness was inclined to suppose that this Bill would lead to all coffee bars and cafés being closed at 11 o'clock. That certainly is not my intention, as I explained earlier. Unless there were complaints, there could be no closing hour imposed at all. I put 11 p.m. as the earliest closing hour there could be because I had to put some figure in; and I would ask the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Auckland to bear in mind that the time when the establishment closes is not the time when the noise stops. It is the time when a lot of the noise begins, and, generally speaking, it will be at least half-an hour from the official closing time before the street and neighbourhood are quiet.

I myself have a great deal of sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, that in the early hours of the morning the interests of those who desire to sleep should prevail over the majority of other factors. But it is a matter of balance, and it seems to me that the local authority should in the first instance be allowed to try to strike the right balance, and if it is thought to have struck it wrong, the local magistrates' court is the ideal body to strike a final balance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, suggested that these places generally existed in busy main streets. I do not want to give the addresses of the three Hampstead coffee bars which I had in mind, for obvious reasons, but if I tell her afterwards the streets in which they are or were, I think she will agree with me that none of them was in any of the big traffic streets of that borough.

The final issue is, I think, this. All legislation is to some extent an interference with freedom. We are a freedom loving country, and anybody who has occupied the office of Home Secretary cannot fail to be aware that it is the duty of those in authority to be constantly seeking to strike a balance between liberty and order, between freedom and the rule of law. But we have to put on certain restrictions ultimately in the interests of freedom. It is a clear interference with the individual's freedom that he is now liable to be charged with committing a criminal offence if he is found in a public place possessing an offensive weapon. But Parliament not so many years ago legislated to make that a criminal offence, simply because the use of offensive weapons in public places was becoming an intolerable interference with other people's freedom to walk about unharmed and unassailed. And so with this Bill. The last thing I should wish would be that my Bill were misused by local authorities to try to clamp down an early closing hour on all coffee bars in the neighbourhood, even when they gave rise to no complaint at all. I believe the Bill contains sufficient protection against that.

But I would most strongly urge upon your Lordships' House that this is not a negligible trouble. It is obviously localised, although I think it is spreading throughout the country. To those who suffer from it, it is far from negligible, and when the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, sought to establish a distinction between the older generation who are out of sympathy with the young, and the young who should be given freedom to enjoy themselves, I could not help thinking of two parents who came to me to complain of one of these places, their principal complaint being that their children went tired-eyed to school in the morning because it was almost impossible for them to get any sleep between half-past eleven and 2 o'clock. So I think the noble Lord himself will agree that there is something well worth while looking at in this Bill. My hope is that it will eventually reach the Statute Book in a form which will preserve the maximum freedom for everyone.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.