HL Deb 11 March 1981 vol 418 cc354-7

7.47 p.m.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. This short Bill is presented in order to modify Section 81(4) of the Licensing Act 1964 which concerns the revocation of special hours' certificates. The permitted hours for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquor where a special hours certificate is in force are specified in Section 76 of the Act. With certain limited exceptions, the evening closing hour on weekdays is extended to midnight and is further extended, when music and dancing continues beyond that hour, to 2 a.m., and in certain parts of London to 3 a.m., or the hour at which music and dancing ends, whichever is the earlier.

The procedure of applying for the grant of a special hours' certificate differs slightly between registered clubs and other premises licensed for the sale of liquor. In the latter category I have in mind particularly discotheques, public houses and proprietary clubs. To summarise the difference, a club which is run by its members for its members—there are some common ones like the Athenaeum and the Carlton—are registered clubs. If a club is under an owner who offers some particular service, such as food, drink, dancing, cabaret and such like, to the public after they have been admitted to membership (for example, what is commonly called a night-club) then that is a proprietary club.

At present a special hours' certificate must be granted by licensing justices with respect to premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor other than registered clubs, provided that the following two conditions are fulfilled: first, a music and dancing licence has been issued—in London the authority for issuing this licence is the Greater London Council; secondly, the premises are structurally adapted and are to be used for the purpose of providing music and dancing, and for the provision of substantial refreshment to which the sale of intoxicating liquor is ancillary. In other words, the premises are not to be used merely for the sale of intoxicating liquor.

Applications for the grant of special hours certificates for registered clubs are made to a magistrates' court, and the court is bound to grant a certificate if conditions similar to those for licensed premises apply, except that in place of the condition that there must be in force a music and dancing licence for the premises, there is substituted a need for the court to be satisfied that a certificate has been issued by the entertainments licensing authority (again, in London this is the Greater London Council) as to the suitability of the premises for the grant of a music and dancing licence.

If I may be permitted to digress for a moment, I would say I have had experience of the work of inspecting buildings where there was made an application for an entertainment licence or an application to alter any part of the premises already licensed, as well as the work of making regular inspections when a licence has been granted. That was when I was an employee of the Greater London Council's architect's department, in the building regulation division. The rules are strict, but practical, and they minimise to the fullest possible extent the chances of a disaster such as the horrific fire in Dublin last month.

In the case of a special hours certificate granted for a registered club the Licensing Act provides that the chief officer of police can apply to the magistrates' court for the revocation of the special hours certificate, at any time, should the premises gain an unfortunate reputation for disorderly conduct. But at present no such power for revocation exists in respect of discotheques, public houses, and proprietary clubs.

In the Greater London area the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan Police are alarmed at the increase in violence at licensed premises providing entertainment, and I am sure that local authorities and police forces in many other regions of the country are similarly concerned. Some of the establishments of the kind that I have mentioned, to which special hours certificates have been issued, have become the scenes of disorderly conduct. Some managements have endeavoured to curb this by employing people who are officially referred to as security attendants, but who are commonly known as "bouncers". But it seems to be the case that where such people are employed there are further incidents of disorderly conduct.

As it stands at present, Section 81(4) of the Licensing Act gives scope for the revocation of a special hours certificate for a registered club on the grounds of disorderly or indecent conduct, but not for the other types of premise to which I have referred; namely, discotheques, public houses, and proprietary clubs. Thus an unfortunate anomaly exists. The Bill intends to remove the anomaly by making an appopriate extension to the power of revocation in Section 81(4). In view of the strong connection that is considered to exist between drinking and violence, the police feel that the Bill will greatly assist their efforts to combat crime and violence. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Gainford.)

7.54 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill and the way in which he explained it and on having identified this anomaly in our licensing laws. I think, too, it is a fact that our licensing laws are almost excruciatingly intricate, and he has quite clearly mastered the complexities of this branch of our law. On the other hand, it does not necessarily follow that once an anomaly has been identified, we should go ahead and reform the law automatically, unless it can be shown that there is a problem, that there is a way to solve it, and that it ought to be solved.

Until I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, I proposed to raise two points in connection with the Bill. First, I had proposed to inquire as to any knowledge of the extent of the problem, but the noble Lord has already addressed himself to that point. I was also going to venture to ask whether there was any information about the way in which the police regarded this particular proposal, but the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has addressed himself to that point, too. So he has anticipated the only two queries that I had been planning to raise, and certainly he has satisfied me on both points, if I may say so with thanks. So I believe that it has been useful for the Bill to be introduced, and it seems to me that if your Lordships decide to give it a Second Reading, and it is eventually passed, it will serve a very useful purpose.

7.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Gainford for his clear description of the Bill's intentions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, that our licensing laws are very intricate, and I was delighted to hear from my noble friend a definition of the difference between the Carlton Club and a nightclub. More seriously, it was most helpful to have my noble friend's very clear explanation of the problem which the Bill seeks to put right.

The Government think that this is a measure which will provide the police with a useful weapon in their armoury to combat violence and hooliganism at licensed premises where late-night drinking takes place under the authority of special hours certificates. As Lord Boston has said, my noble friend has described for us the increasing problem of violence at these premises, especially in the Metropolitan Police area. The Government recognise the trouble that can be caused in this way, as well as the concern of the police in relation to it and their desire to be able to take swift remedial action. Therefore, the Bill is in principle entirely acceptable to the Government, and we hope that in due course it will become law.

I should like to add one point. In considering the Bill I think it right to bear in mind that Section 77 of the Licensing Act 1964 provides that if the licensee of licensed premises, who is the holder of a licence for public music and dancing, applies to the licensing justices for a special hours certificate, the justices are bound to grant the certificate. As I understand it, they have no discretion in the matter. As my noble friend said, the grant of a special hours certificate effectively extends the hours for alcohol to be sold to two o'clock in the morning, and three o'clock in Inner London. It is true that in the near future, when the provisions of Sections 2 and 3 of the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1980 are brought into force, the justices will have discretionary powers to limit the operation of the special hours certificate to an earlier period. But the point is that if things go wrong, and a chief officer of police considers it right to apply for a club special hours certificate to be revoked, there is no provision in the 1964 Act for a special hours certificate for licensed premises to be revoked immediately, and the Bill of my noble friend Lord Gainford seeks to correct that anomaly.

As I have already said, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Boston, in welcoming this measure. The Government think that it will enable the police to deal more effectively with the incidence of violence at badly-run premises, and I would therefore support my noble friend Lord Gainford in moving that the Bill should now be given a Second Reading.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, by your leave, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, for his encouraging remarks and to my noble friend the Minister not only for his encouraging remarks but also for the interesting and useful facts which added to what I have already said. There is now nothing left for me to do but ask your Lordships' House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

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