HL Deb 14 May 1980 vol 409 cc325-31

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I make no apology for bringing it to the House. I have been asked by the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Magistrates Association to introduce the Bill. Mr. Neville Trotter, MP, piloted the Bill through the House of Commons. This is not a controversial matter— though nowadays one becomes doubtful when that is said— and all trade bodies have been consulted and have raised no objections, except in regard to one point which will necessitate an amendment, to which I shall make reference.

The Bill is designed to correct two anomalies in the licensing law. When Mr. Trotter introduced his Bill in another place he gave a fascinating review of the history of licensing law. I shall not take up the time of the House in repeating all of that, but I should like to remind your Lordships that the first licensing Act was passed in the year 1552, in the time of Edward VI, and justices were authorised to select people to keep houses

In 1722 it was said that 36 gallons of beer a year were consumed by every man, woman and child. But worse than that, there was a totally unrestricted sale of gin, which resulted in London and Westminster alone boasting 6,000 to 7,000 regular dramshops, and masters paid their servants in gin. Therefore, it was certainly true that you could be drunk for a penny and dead drunk for twopence. Seven million gallons of spirit were consumed in the year 1742, whereas today— and this is a little cheering— the figure is 6 million gallons, and the population is now five or six times greater.

In an attempt to discourage this wholesale spirit drinking, a Beer Bill was introduced in 1830. It enabled beer houses to be set up by almost anyone. Indeed, during the following five years 40,000 beer houses were established. In 1860 there was passed the Wine and Beer Houses Act which brought licensed premises under the control of the justices I think that that was the starting point of modern licensing law. Incidentally, there are now about 200 Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments concerned with licensing— I have here one of the numerous books on the matter— and I hope that your Lordships will not bring to me any technical points during the course of the passage of the Bill, because I should not be able to give a direct answer.

In 1961 there was passed a major licensing Act, which is the main Act in force today, and in 1964 there was passed another Act which modified certain of the sections of the 1961 Act. The first clause in the Bill is directly related to a section of the 1964 Act. That section provides that: on an application by the holder of a justices' on-licence, or on the renewal or transfer of a justices' on-licence and at the request of the person applying for the renewal or transfer, the licensing justices … shall vary the licence … ". The word "shall", which your Lordships have debated on many occasions, was in that particular Act of Parliament very relevant. At the time that provision was intended to help those with limited licences to expand so as to have full houses, but it actually removed the discretion from the justices, so that if someone with a limited licence applied for a full licence he had to be granted one.

So we now come to the situation where, if an applicant applies for a licence for a small wine bar— even if he is selling only cider, and is serving sandwiches, and it is all very peaceful and simple— he can later apply for a full licence; in other words, he is "uprated", as it is called. It cannot be refused by the licensing justices. This causes trouble all over the country. Indeed— and this is a rather serious point— it can lead to justices refusing a licence to quite respectable wine bars because they fear that later on they will come back again and ask for upgrading to a full-scale publichouse. So Clause 1 seeks to give licensing justices the option to grant or refuse such upgrading. I apologise to your Lordships for the fact that it is couched in parliamentary language, but this is in fact what Clause 1 does.

Clause 2 deals with an anomaly— the special hours certificates. These are the basis of late night drinking, mainly, originally, in restaurants, but they are for establishments providing meals, music and dancing, on a regular basis. That is the description of premises receiving special hours certificates. The provision of dancing is supposed to be allied to the facilities for the number of people who can be received in the place at any one time. I am sure that many of your Lordships will have seen the kind of house where you certainly have a music and dancing licence but where, if all the thousand people present at one time tried to get on the small dance floor, some kind of chaos would prevail.

My Lords, these premises are often in residential areas, and I know of one such in my own area. This is where there has been caused great distress and irritation. I will not spoil your Lordships' dinner by speaking of some of the things which go on when the patrons leave these places. but it is not only noise; it is all kinds of other irritations and nuisances— and these are residential areas. In counties and areas where the justices are the music and dancing authority, they have the power to restrict the hours of drinking; but nowadays, as we know full well, local authorities are more and more taking powers under Private Bills to grant music and dancing licences. So Clause 2 will deal with this point, and it will enable licensing justices to impose conditions. Clause 3 is similar, but in this case it enables steps to be taken for the insertion of a similar condition in a certificate which has already been granted to premises without limit. I would say that, in connection with Clause 2, representations were received from the entertainments industry making the rather valid point that there should be the right of appeal to the Crown Court against decisions by licensing justices, and so an amendment will be moved in Committee.

My Lords, this is a small Bill. It deals with very narrow points, but they are points which affect many people. The Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society have seen the effects of some of these less happy establishments, and wish to put the matter right. I hope that your Lordships will agree that this Bill is worthy of support. In another place, I noticed, a Member said that it dealt with a refreshing matter but that it made for a dry debate. I hope that will not be true in this House. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2".— (Baroness Phillips.)

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Phillips on having mastered what is an intricate branch of our law in a way which I think will be the envy of lawyers. I am also sure that we admire the care which has been taken by all those concerned to consult all the interested parties. I think it is significant, too, that such a broad measure of agreement, in a sphere which is notorious for controversy, has been reached. This in itself— and here I would also follow my noble friend— is perhaps a refreshing aspect of this matter. My noble friend might have referred in her historical survey to a reduction in the consumption of spirits, but certainly in the way that she has presented this Bill to the House I think she has, if I may say so, certainly raised our spirits.

My Lords, this is a useful reform, and I would certainly welcome the additional discretion given to licensing justices which they would have under this Bill if it becomes an Act. These are matters which are customarily left to individual Members of the House to decide upon, and I would only say that I hope that the Bill will receive here the broad support that it has received elsewhere.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Baroness for her clear explanation of this Bill; and, of course, we are also indebted to my honourable friend Mr. Trotter for piloting the Bill through another place, so that it now reaches your Lordships' House. Fundamentally, this Bill is in two parts. Clause 1 deals with applications to the justices for extensions of the range of liquor that may be sold under an on-licence. Without going into detail, we have followed the noble Baroness in the explanation which she has given to the House— and the reference to this is Section 37 of the 1964 Act— as to how this has caused particular problems so far as wine bars are concerned. In saying that, I do not think that in many cases it is the fault of wine bars. Indeed, it leads to the unfortunate effect that licensing justices may look askance at some of the perfectly genuine applications from wine bars, fearful that the owner of the licence for a wine bar can then, under Section 37, have the power to come back and demand that the licence be upgraded in the way that the noble Baroness explained.

My Lords, the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill, then, is simply to limit the range of licences which may be extended in this way— that is to say, those in force or suspended on 3rd August 1961, the date on which the Licensing Act 1961 was enacted— and, if I may say so, in the view of the Government this is desirable. Perhaps I may just say that in giving support to this provision the only concern of the Government is to preserve the fundamental policy that the number of licensed premises should be increased only if an applicant can produce to the satisfaction of the licensing justices real evidence of need. I am anxious to say that because the noble Lord, Lord Boston, was quite right. In your Lordships' House we take our individual views of Private Members' legislation, and I felt it was right for me to explain why the Government take this particular view of Clause 1.

My Lords, the remainder of the Bill, as the noble Baroness again explained, is concerned with amending the present law on special hours certificates. Here again, I will not go into detail because the noble Baroness has explained, except to say that the Bill goes beyond the removal of the anomaly which exists, for the Bill not only strengthens the justices' power to revoke and vary existing certificates, but it also enables them to require drinking to stop earlier than 2 a.m., though not earlier than midnight. The provision that justices will be able to take into account the environmental comfort of residents in the neighbourhood of premises will be welcomed by many people, and the noble Baroness has made it quite clear that it will be welcomed by herself. However, the promoters have excluded the "special hours area" of Central London, so I understand, from the application of this part of the Bill. Again, if I may say so, I think this is probably right since certainly my right honourable friend's department has no reason to suppose that there have been any major difficulties in that area.

There are two things that I must add. The noble Baroness has drawn the attention of your Lordships to representations she has received from representatives of the entertainments industry. I noted the intention which the noble Baroness expressed in her speech to table an amendment to provide for the right of an appeal to the Crown Court against decisions by the licensing justices to impose conditions restricting the hours of a special hours certificate, or to revoke a certificate. Since the Bill will have the effect of giving the justices greater power over people's livelihoods, I think it is right that licensees and registered clubs should have this right of appeal. Conversely, I think it is right, too, that others affected by the decisions should have a similar right. That is the first thing I must add.

The second thing is this. With regard to the issue of a provisional extended hours certificate, having consulted the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society, we think that this is not practicable. However, I should like to give an assurance to the industry that it is the firm intention of the Government to amend the present miscellany of enactments relating to music and dancing by extending to the whole of England and Wales a scheme which is based on that which operates at present in Greater London by virtue of Schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1964. As far as we know, this scheme works well, and among other things it contains (and we intend that it will contain) for the future, for the wider scope, a provision whereby an operator can obtain from the licensing authority, namely, the district council, a provisional music and dancing licence before he invests his capital. With that observation and that assurance, may I say that I agree that this Bill should be read a second time.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his very clear explanation. I did not refer to the second point raised since we are not going to have the amendment on it. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Boston for his kind words. One is always diffident with a technical Bill of this kind. Incidentally, I was interested to see that the persons who can be disqualified from having a full licence are sheriff's officers, a legal process server, a person who has been convicted of forging a justices' licence, a person who knowingly used a forged justices' licence, a person who has been convicted of certain brothel offences and a ship's pilot; which seems to show that almost anybody else can hold a licence— unlike having a vote! I should like to thank your Lordships for having received this Bill in the way you have. I am not quite certain of the protocol, but I am grateful to the noble Lord's department for helping me in framing the amendment, and I look forward to the Committee stage at an early date.

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