HL Deb 09 March 1967 vol 280 cc1560-9

4.17 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 Brooke of Cumnor.)

Qn Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD GRENFELL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Power to impose conditions on grant or renewal of licence for refreshment house]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I did not warm to this clause when this Bill was first introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and I am afraid that on a closer look the cooling process has continued. I find this clause very discriminatory in various ways. The clause deals with one particular kind of nuisance, the occasional noise and disturbance that residents living near a cafésuffer from late at night. Let us be quite clear about this. We are not here speaking of the café which is a dope depot or a gambling den; we are speaking of cafés which serve light refreshments to young people who congregate there perhaps after the cinema or theatre.

I will grant that loud human voices, reinforced by the revving-up of motorcycle engines are disturbing late at night. But why pick on this particular clash of noises? People who live in the overpopulated large towns and cities are subjected to every kind of noise, by day and by night. Up till now noise has been the concomitant of industrial progress. I am sure that many noble Lords must have noticed the houses along the railway line when approaching Paddington or King's Cross stations. I have often wondered how the people who live in them endure the continuous noise from the trains. There are thousands of people who live literally on the banks of the main railway lines, the major highways or on the edge of an airport.

Should we then not begin to legislate against the continuous noise from which these people suffer? Are we out simply to preserve small pockets of amenities in the more fortunate neighborhoods, as in this clause? In that case, we are fighting a losing battle. Democracy is fast catching up on us, on the remaining oases of quiet. Hampstead, one of the districts whose amenities the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has in mind, I believe, is as full of trippers at weekends as any South coast seaside resort. Amenities these days are spread wider and thinner; and I say firmly: why should that not be so? If the object of this clause is as stated: …in order to avoid disturbance to residents of the neighbourhood and to preserve reasonable enjoyment of the amenities of the neighbourhood… and if this object is achieved, late-night cafés will be relegated to districts which presumably have no amenities to be enjoyed. Is this really what we want for our young people?

I maintain that this is not a good way to tackle this problem. Local authorities should have proper discretion in the first place for their licensing. What will happen, if a threat of withdrawing the licence, without even a warning, is held over the head of a cafe proprietor, is that cafés will be turned into clubs, and then there will be much less control of any kind over them. Moreover, local authorities already have too many niggling powers, and I, for one, have no urge to increase them.

Much play has been made of workers who have to start early and so need to go to bed early. In my experience, it is not always the people who retire early who are the hardest workers in this world; nor do I feel that there is anything immoral about staying up late. When there are so many problems with our young people to-day, when we have to re-think so many of our past attitudes towards our children, I cannot believe that this clause tackles them seriously. After all, we in this Chamber are not like a lot of retired nannies and governesses, legislating to tuck up our teenagers at night. This is no solution whatever.

Finally if it is indeed true that there is widespread disturbance and noise from late-night cafés all over the country, then it is time for the law and the police to take vigorous action, and not for local authorities to fiddle with licences. If, however, these outbreaks are sporadic among our young people, then this clause is something of a sledgehammer to deal with what is, after all, a social nuisance and irritation, and not a social evil. I think we should leave our heavy ammunition for those social evils that we have to cope with.

4.23 p.m.


I wish the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, would go and repeat that speech in the neighbourhoods where some of these late-night café-bars are operating and causing such intense annoyance to the neighbours. She spoke of "occasional noise and disturbance". If it were "occasional noise and disturbance", as on Burns Night (which I think was an instance quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, on Second Reading), well and good. It is because this is happening night after night throughout the year, and particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, that sleep becomes impossible. And I submit to your Lordships that this is a matter to which we in Parliament should give some consideration.

The noble Baroness said that we should give proper discretion to the local authorities, and she thought that they might use unreasonably the threat of withdrawal of a licence. My Bill does not provide for the withdrawal of a licence. I particularly made sure that it did not. All that my Bill does is to empower a local authority, if it receives complaints that one of these places is excessively noisy, to fix a closing hour, which must not be before 11 p.m.; and if the owner or manager of the café-bar objects, then he can lodge an appeal with the local magistrates, who I submit are the best people to reach a final decision on the matter.

Perhaps I can best answer the noble Baroness if I may have your Lordships' permission to read a letter that I have received from what is certainly not, in my opinion, one of the more "fortunate areas"—I am quoting the noble Lady's words, because she seemed to imply that the only complaints came from people who were living quite comfortably and did not like people making any sort of noise around them. This letter is from an eastern part of London, and it says: Congratulations on your caféBill. May it become law! What is good for main business roads is bad for areas like this. Cafés offering very little refreshment attract the lay bouts and loose girls for miles round; unlicensed cars block the roadway for residents, and it is from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. that engines rev. and shouting and abuse take place. Your critics would soon change their minds if they spent a night here. I have received a number of letters since the Second Reading of the Bill, all of them to that general effect, and not one of them has included a criticism of my Bill.

I stress that this is a matter in which, as the noble Baroness said, the local authorities should have a proper discretion. She intimated that perhaps responsibility should be taken away from local authorities and left to the police. The complaint of the police in dealing with these matters is that there are no statutory powers which they can invoke. All they can do is to frequent the places in the late hours of the night. As a result of their presence the noise is probably quelled for a time, but the moment they leave it springs up again. Meanwhile, of course, it becomes well known to people who have more criminal intent that on Friday and Saturday nights the police are likely to have to congregate around these places, and that leaves a free rein to the burglars elsewhere. I am sure your Lordships are aware that the police in London and big cities are grossly under strength. One of my purposes is to try to relieve the police of duties which take up their time but which are not really connected with the suppression of crime.

I am sorry to have to sneak like this to the noble Baroness, but from all the evidence that I have received I am quite convinced that some new power is necessary here. If any noble Lord, or any Member of another place, can think of a better way of achieving this end, then, as I made quite clear in my Second Reading speech, I shall be only too glad to consider Amendments. But I have had discussions in certain quarters, and this appears to me to be the best way in which we can try to check this late-night nuisance. I note that there have been no Amendments tabled on this Committee stage of the Bill, except two by my noble friend Lord Ilford, which do not in any way strike at the main purpose of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will be persuaded by me to agree that this clause should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

4.29 p.m.

LORD ILFORD moved, after Clause 3, to insert the following new clause:

Delegation of county council's functions

".—(1) A county council shall, if so requested by the council of any county district situate within the county and having a population of sixty thousand or more, delegate to that council their functions under this Act and the Refreshment Houses Acts 1860 and 1964.

(2) Where such functions are delegated to the council of a county district council under this section that council, in the discharge of those functions, shall act as agents for the county council".

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 which stands in my name on the Marshalled List. With the leave of the Committee, I think this Amendment can conveniently be discussed with Amendment No. 2, which also stands in my name. The purpose of the first Amendment is to insert a new clause which will make it possible for the larger county districts to claim responsibility for the administration of this service. As your Lordships know, this is not an uncommon arrangement in local government. There are many cases where the large county districts are given power to claim from the county council responsibility for administering a particular service. The figure which is usually taken is a population of not less than 60,000. Accordingly, I have taken that figure in my Amendment which proposes that a county district having a population of 60,000 or more shall be entitled to claim delegation of the functions to be exercised under this Act.

There are substantial advantages to the public in this arrangement. In the first place, it makes the administration of the service more local and, because it is more local, it is more readily accessible to the public than is the case when the administration is carried out by a more distant authority. There are a number of large towns which are county districts with populations exceeding 60,000, in some cases very considerably exceeding that figure, which will not be responsible for administering this service unless this Amendment is adopted. The City of Cambridge is one such town. I think that the citizens of Cambridge would be rather surprised if they were to go to the Town Hall to discuss with the officials whom they expect to be responsible for administering the service to find that the Cambridge Corporation is not the authority for this service at all, and to be sent to offices of a very much smaller authority, to the Cambridge County Council.

There are a number of examples of this sort. Worthing is another case in which the residents would be rather surprised if they heard that their local council is not the authority for carrying out a service of this nature. There are in fact about 25 towns which fall into this class, having a population exceeding 60,000, and who will be entitled to claim the administration of this service. In addition to these non-county boroughs there are 11 urban districts whose population exceeds 60,000. Again, I should think that as regards all those authorities it will come as a surprise to their residents who may be interested in this matter if, when they go to their town hall or council office, they are told that the local council is not the authority responsible for this very simple matter.

A service of this sort is a service which is very readily administered by the smaller authorities. It is in fact just the sort of service which they can undertake. They have the necessary staff, and they have the accommodation. I have very little doubt that the majority of authorities who would claim this service will be able to administer it with their existing staffs or with very small additions. That is not necessarily so with the larger authorities, and I think that here is an example of the sort of service which ought to be administered locally by the local council, and which can conveniently be administered in that way. I hope that my noble friend will look at this matter in the light in which I have been endeavouring to present it. This Bill will provide a useful new service—I am afraid I am a long way from agreeing with the noble Baroness's views. It is essentially a service which ought to be administered locally.

Amendment moved— After Clause 3 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Ilford.)


I have listened with a great deal of sympathy to what my noble friend Lord Ilford has said, and I am attracted by many of his arguments. Nevertheless, I hope that the Committee will not decide to add this new clause to the Bill. I will explain why. The new clause, of course, does not merely alter this Bill: it goes right back and alters the Refreshment Houses Acts of 1860 and 1964, and it alters them in a way which is bound to attract controversy. I would suggest to my noble friend that if he wishes to pursue this matter further he should initiate (and I should be glad to lend my good offices to this end) discussions with the County Councils Association and other bodies which may be interested. If he would do that, perhaps an agreed solution could be found.

To the best of my knowledge, these Amendments appeared on the Order Paper in your Lordships' House for the first time yesterday, so that few people outside could have had any time to give consideration to them. I submit that it would be wrong in principle for the Committee to subtract a power from the county councils—because in certain instances it would amount to subtraction—without the county councils generally having had any opportunity to consider the matter. This Bill has still to go through another place, so there is plenty of time.

My noble friend has just said that he is a supporter of the Bill, as I understand are the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. But if at this stage of the Session we send the Bill to another place with a point of unresolved controversy in it, nothing is more certain than that it will not get a Second Reading. Therefore I express the hope that my noble friend will be willing to withdraw the Amendment at this stage. If, as I say, I can lend my good offices before the Bill reaches the Statute Book, as I hope it will, to examine further whether in a place like Worthing, for example, it would be better for the decisions to be taken in Worthing than in Chichester, or wherever the headquarters of the County Council are situated, well and good. But, in my view, not only would it be wrong in principle to alter the Bill in this manner and to alter the 1860 and 1964 Acts at such short notice, it would also imperil the chance of the Bill reaching the Statute Book.


I have listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said in moving his Amendment, and also to what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has said in reply. I should like to confirm that so far as this is concerned there has been no consultation whatever as to the desirability of extending the power to authorities beyond those proposed in the Bill. The Bill was considered by the County Councils Association, and in general terms it was approved, and was thought to be a useful addition to the powers of local authorities to control something which is an undoubted nuisance. They accepted the Bill in that spirit. There may be arguments in favour of extending the powers to other authorities, but certainly we should have the strongest objection to this being done without consultation. We should strongly oppose such a step, not only in this House but also in another place, to the best of our ability. I am speaking from the Association's point of view. Quite fortuitously, there happened yesterday morning to be a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of the Association and we were able to take a quick look at this matter. Without prejudice to the possibility of what might come about as a result of negotiation, we should certainly strongly oppose any alteration of the Bill at this stage.

There are certain factors to be considered. When one comes down to administering something which is of fairly general application over small areas, there is the possibility that two adjoining local authorities may exercise these powers in different ways. In that event, all you do is to drive a nuisance from one area where the local authority decide to close the place to another area where the authority decide to leave it open—which might be in the next street or a couple of streets away. There will therefore be a confusion about what may happen if there is any change in the Bill as at present drafted. There are strong arguments in favour of local application, and I am not opposing local application as such but on many occasions it creates anomalies which are difficult to iron out. However, my Association is always glad at any time to enter into consultations.

I should also like to refer to the fact that the Amendment is not limited only to this question of a closing hour for refreshment houses: it brings in also the whole question of their control. I do not know what is involved in that, and certainly I am not prepared to see a change in the law unless I know what the Amendment is inclined to do. For the reasons I have given, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, will accede to the appeal made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and withdraw the Amendment, without prejudice to consultations which might take place to consider whether or not it is desirable that it should go forward at a later stage.


May I at this stage intervene, and perhaps make the Government's position clear, in case the consultations which have been referred to fall through and are abortive? The position seems to us to be that since 1949, under Section 15(1)(d) of the Finance Act of that year, the duty-levying and licensing authorities under the Refreshment Houses Act 1860 have been county boroughs and county councils. The purpose of the new clause appears to be to give the larger county district councils a greater say in the control of refreshment houses, if they wish to have the county councils' functions delegated to them. The normal provisions for delegation by county councils, Section 274 of the Local Government Act 1933, worked the other way round: the county council does the delegating, the district council concurs.

Notwithstanding the Government's neutral attitude to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I must say that this new clause is open to certain objections on the part of the Government. First, this is a Private Member's Bill which deals with a relatively minor nuisance. It is not an appropriate medium, we think, for introducing a radical change in the allocation of functions to local authorities. It would apply not only in the special cases aimed at by the Bill, but also, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said, in respect of applications for refreshment house licences. Secondly, the result might well be an uneven pattern of responsibility, as my noble friend Lord Pargiter pointed out, with one county district requesting delegation and its neighbour not. This could give rise to uncertainty and confusion.

Thirdly, and finally, I would again mention the fact that, as every noble Lord in this House must now be well aware, a Royal Commission is sitting at the present time. This fact calls for a specially strict scrutiny of any changes in the distribution of functions to local authorities—although it is true that this is a minor function. It will be some time before any recommendations by the Royal Commission can be given effect to, but, even so, the Government regard the proposed change as inopportune at this stage in the consideration of local government, unless there are very strong reasons based on the merits of the case. In the Government's view, no such reasons have yet been put forward. The Royal Commission will doubtless have things to say about delegation as a principle, and about the 60,000 population as an appropriate line of demarcation for functions. Meanwhile, the Government would not wish to see either of these concepts given additional support now.


It is true that these Amendments were put down at a rather late stage, and I have no objection whatever to my noble friend's consulting with the County Councils Association before he comes to a final decision. I hope that he will not listen too long or to attentively to what he may hear from that quarter. But I do not wish to press this Amendment to-night and, with my noble friend's assurance, I ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, without amendment; Report received.