§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I shall endeavour to be brief, but I am sure that my brevity will not be taken as any indication of the lack of importance of this Bill. The object of the Bill is to exclude off-licences from the scope of the licensing planning committees. These are committees set up under the provisions of Part VII of the
§ Licensing Act 1964, which consolidates earlier Acts. That Act has the purpose of establishing these committees in areas where there has been extensive war damage. The function of a licensing planning committee is to ensure that in their area the number, the nature, and the distribution of licensed premises, and the accommodation and facilities provided, are in accord with local requirements. There are 18 areas, including the area of Inner London and the City, in which these committees are still functioning to-day. Part VII of the 1964 Act is subject to annual renewal in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The amendment to the 1964 Act with which this Bill deals has been the subject of discussion on more than one occasion, it having been raised by Mr. W. T. Williams, Q.C., in another place; and out of his representations has come this Bill.
§ The whole future of licensing planning was examined by a Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. J. Ramsay Willis, Q.C., and their Report was published in July, 1965. One of the Committee's recommendations was that there was no need for premises in respect of which only an off-licence is held, or is being sought, to be controlled by the licensing planning procedure. The Committee expressed the view that the powers 345 held by licensing justices to hear applications for the renewal of existing off-licences and for the grant of new off-licences are sufficiently wide to deal with such problems as redundancy, changing public need and the development of new shopping centres.
§ This Bill seeks to implement this recommendation by excluding justices' off-licences and licensed premises for which a justices' off-licence only is in force from the provisions of Part VII of the Licensing Act 1964, to which I have made reference. The Bill, when under consideration in another place, underwent small drafting amendments which were suggested by the Home Office. As a result of one of these Amendments the Bill, if enacted, will not come into force until one month after it is passed; and the purpose of such an Amendment was to allow time for the justices, planning authorities and the trade to assess the new situation before being required to apply the provisions of the Bill. I want to make quite clear something which I am sure the House will realise: that the Bill does not deal with the wider question of licensing planning as a whole. That, obviously, must await Government consideration of the Departmental Committee reports. However, the Bill does give effect to one recommendation of the Committee about where there is general agreement, and, if accepted, it will remove what has been for some years a source of irritation and criticism. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Peddie.)
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, for having explained not only briefly but clearly the purposes of this Bill. I need hardly say that I welcome it, for the Departmental Committee under Mr. Ramsay Willis was set up by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor when he was Home Secretary. Apart from that, I welcome it because it seems just plain common sense. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is going to say a word for the Government I would ask: why has only this recommendation of the Committee come forward? Is it not about time that the other recommendations of the Committee were dealt with?
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in thanking my noble friend Lord Peddle for his very clear exposition of this small but useful Bill. As my noble friend said, it concerns a matter which for several years has been raised in the course of our annual debates on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. When that Bill was debated in another place last year my right honourable friend Miss Alice Bacon, Minister of State for my Department, indicated that the limited reform that has now been proposed in my noble friend's Bill might be achieved through the medium of a Private Member's Bill—that which we now have before the House. We therefore welcome the initiative of the sponsors of this Bill and hope that it will be approved by the House.
As my noble friend has kindly indicated, the Home Office has given some drafting assistance to make sure that the measure is technically viable. I, for one, shall not be sorry (having had to refer to this three times, I think) that, at least in part, it will dispose of a wartime relic that has been an annoyance to many people for a good many years, by putting into effect one of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee presided over by Mr. J. Ramsay Willis, Q.C. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, underlined the fact that it was only one of the recommendations. Not unfairly, he asked me why we did not "go the whole hog" and implement all the recommendations. I give him one clear—and, I hope, satisfying, if not satisfactory—answer. The very good reason is that there was no uniformity of opinion on the matter and that the main Report itself was accompanied by a dissenting Minority Report.
Meanwhile, the licensing planning system, where it is still in force (in 18 out of the original 33 areas) seems to be working well and giving general satisfaction—with the one exception with which this Bill deals. As my noble friend Lord Peddie said, this Bill enables that smaller matter, on which there is widespread agreement, to be put right. We feel that it is sound common sense on which there is general agreement to put it right without waiting for a decision on the more controversial general issues 347 —although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will join with me in hoping that there will not be much further delay on those matters.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Stonham and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, for their indications of support for this Bill. My noble friend has given a clear indication as to why the Bill deals with only part of the general recommendations of the Committee—a Committee which, it is true, was established during the former régime. The reason is, of course, that the recommendation upon which this Bill is based, as has already been said, was unanimous. It is easy to deal with in isolation and it meets a well recognised 348 need. I would thank the House for the support it has given to the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.