HL Deb 09 May 1989 vol 507 cc615-20

7.42 p.m.

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Since the introduction of the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1988, which had the effect of increasing the number of permitted hours on Sundays, Christmas Days and Good Fridays in licensed premises from five and a half hours to six and a half hours, there have been many expressions of resentment that the extra hour does not apply to registered members' non-profit-making clubs. Clubs generally welcome, through their representative associations, the introduction of this Licensing (Amendment) Bill 1989 which is aimed at restoring parity of permitted hours on Sundays for members' clubs to those enjoyed by public houses and other on-licences.

The Committee of Registered Clubs Associations is an association of club organisations comprising the Working Men's Club and Institute Union Limited, the Royal British Legion, the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs, the National Union of Liberal Clubs, the Royal Naval Association and the Royal Air Force Association. I should say at this point that I act as secretary of the all-party group for non-profit making members' clubs. It is a group which started with five members and now has over 200 members. I understand that it is the largest parliamentary group which is meeting regularly.

The association is representative of approximately 6,000 bona fide registered members' clubs which operate on a non-profit-making basis and which provide facilities and social recreation for 8 million male and female members. It was formed in 1983 as a means of being both an advisory and defensive organisation whose sole objective is to act in advocacy and defence of clubs in the legislative and other public spheres. Whereas the association is quite young in years, the individual club organisations are of long standing. As an example, the Working Men's Club and Institute Union Limited, the oldest of the club associations, was formed in 1862. It is interesting to note that it was formed by a Unitarian Church minister with the aid of the Victorian gentry as a means of giving working men an alternative to the licensed houses and beer shops then so degrading an influence upon the mass of the people. It has a proud history of providing education, recreation and convalescent home facilities as well as making a tremendous contribution to the communities at large in social welfare facilities.

A former president of the union, Lord Roseberry, once said: All that is to be done for the working men is to be done by themselves. What a man does for himself is worth ten times as much as what can be done for him by anyone else". At that same meeting in 1875 the right honourable Lord Frederick Cavendish, MP, moved, and Sir Harcourt Johnstone, MP, seconded, a resolution: That Working Men's Clubs are calculated not only to diminish excess in the use of intoxicating liquors, but also to promote self-culture and the growth of a healthy public spirit among the mass of people". The history, aims and objectives of the Royal British Legion, the Royal Naval Association and the Royal Air Force Association are well known to us all and their clubs are an extension of those objectives. The National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs and the National Union of Liberal Clubs are, as their titles suggest, politically motivated. As for the Association of Conservative Clubs, that has been in existence since 1894. While not in membership of CORCA—the Committee of Registered Clubs Associations—I know that the association is of the same accord as the other club associations in that a Motion at its last annual general meeting, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry, to do everything possible to restore parity of Sunday permitted hours was unanimously supported. To all these we can add the Association of Golf Clubs and the many rugby and cricket clubs throughout the country.

For many years the permitted hours applicable to public houses and registered members' clubs have been the same, having been fixed by the appropriate licensing justices for the district. Certainly this applied in practice on Sundays. Clubs have had and continue to have flexibility in fixing their permitted hours on Sundays with the following conditions: first, the hours fixed shall not be longer than five and a half hours and shall not begin earlier than 12 noon or end later than 10.30 in the evening; secondly, there shall be a break in the afternoon of not less than two hours which shall include the hours from 3 to 5 p.m. and, thirdly, there shall not be more than three and a half hours after 5 o'clock.

In practice, the clubs observe the normal pattern of using the hours of 12 noon to 2 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m., as did public houses. Since the introduction of the extra hour in the afternoon for public houses on Sundays it has had a detrimental effect on clubs. It has created a preference in the minds of many club members to resort to the public house rather than to the club. Club management committees are loath to adjust the afternoon hours to counteract this situation, thereby leaving only two and a half hours in the evening—and with good reason. Since the closing of the music halls, the apprenticeship platform for up and coming entertainers has been, and still is, the members' clubs' stages. Many, if not all, the national and indeed some international entertainers owe their success to the opportunity and experience given and gained in working men's clubs.

The introduction of the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1988, as expected, brought with it a more relaxed approach to the consumption of alcohol, and experience shows that it has proved most successful. Clubs are by their nature self-disciplining. Drunkeness is not tolerated and it is an offence which is answerable to the clubs' management committees. Club members in general are law-abiding, decent people who have proved constantly over the years able to govern and manage their own affairs. They are entitled to enjoy their leisure hours on Sundays in the way that they choose and they should not be denied the opportunity of enjoying a drink between 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in their own club surroundings instead of having to go to a public house.

Since 1976 clubs and public houses in Scotland have had parity of permitted hours on Sundays for six-and-a-half hours; namely, from 12.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m., and from 6.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Clubs can, if they so wish, apply for an extended hours' order granted annually to provide permitted hours on Sundays from 12.30 p.m. to midnight without a break. It appears a little daft to say that the clubs in Scotland are different from clubs in England and Wales. There can be no argument for saying that clubs should be treated differently from public houses on Sundays.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Brooks of Tremorfa.)

7.50 p.m.

Earl Grey

My Lords, we on these Benches are in agreement with this Bill that brings into line the clubs with other places where people gather to drink alcoholic beverages. Clubs are not places where one usually expects abuse to take place as there are more often than not customs and rules of the club that are sadly lacking in other public places. On that basis, we are perfectly willing to support the passage of this Bill through Parliament.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, although I am no longer a publican, I still take a keen interest in the licensing trade. I find this very modest Bill entirely logical. It makes the hours which clubs will be open on Sundays the same as those permitted in pubs under the recent Act.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I apologise for my name not being on the list of speakers. The reason is that I saw this Bill for the first time at a quarter-past seven this evening, which is just over half an hour ago. This Bill has been ably introduced from the Opposition Benches. But the House may remember that it was an equally distinguished noble Lord from the Government Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry of Adel, who twice tried to push through amendments to what is now the Licensing Act 1988. If accepted those amendments would have had the same effect as this Bill, if I have interpreted it correctly. So it is not a party political matter, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, reminded us. On both occasions, at Report stage and Third Reading, spoke in favour of the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry's amendments. The logic and justice of bringing the permitted opening hours of clubs into line with those of pubs on Sundays is just as powerful today as it was last year. I therefore warmly support this Bill.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I rise to support the objectives of this Bill. Standing at the Dispatch Box on this occasion I almost get a feeling of déjà vu—that we have been here before. I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, concerning the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry. He is an old political opponent from Leeds but nevertheless a personal friend. During the passage of the Licensing Bill last year he went to great lengths to get the objectives of this Bill inserted into that one. At Report stage we had a lengthy debate at which he withdrew the amendment. He brought it back at Third Reading and said that he had been disappointed at the response of the Government to the negotiations at that time.

From my own experience as a club secretary in Manchester for some 22 years, and having been privileged to represent an area of West Leeds that had a large number of very prominent working men's clubs, I know that they form a very important part of the social fabric of those areas. The clubs are quite different from pub life. To all intents and purposes these days they are social gathering places and they make great efforts to see that they are run within the law. The number of clubs that unfortunately (but rarely) come in conflict with the law are few indeed. The clubs are extremely well-run establishments, and they cater for both ends of the community. Very often they cater for the ageing sector of the community, and also the younger sector, which is the main recipient of the extensive funds that they provide to assist them.

I recall the rather lengthy exchange that took place with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, at Third Reading of the last Bill. I rather thought that the matter got a little out of context. I have the Official Report before me now and I refer to cols. 1183 and 1184. The noble Earl was saying that, because the House had taken a decision on the question of pubs regarding an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that particular amendment was passed against the Government's advice. So when this amendment was tabled at Third Reading they did not feel inclined to give any other advice. I thought that time would eventually catch up with that situation. I am not particularly a pub man. If I go out for a drink these days I still go to a club. I am a member of one or two clubs.

I find it strange that this difference has continued for quite a few months. I do not find a logical argument to justify the difference other than for the Government to say that we are prepared to go back to square one and remove the hour from the pubs. There may be some logic if the Government argued that, but they do not. I am particularly pleased that supporters for this Bill are on all sides of the House. Though we lost the vote on the last occasion, we received the support of 49 Members of your Lordships' House who went through the Division Lobbies in order to get this particular facet put right. The Division was called at six o'clock, rather late for a Thursday in terms of the sittings of your Lordships' House. So, we then had a great deal of support.

I am delighted that we have support from all corners of the House for this debate. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kaberry, who was the original instigator in this matter, cannot be present with us. I have no idea why he is not here; but I am sure that he is with us totally in spirit, and he will support us. From these Benches, we totally support what my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa is trying to do. We express our appreciation to those on the other side of the House for the support that they have given.

7.57 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, has explained very well that the purpose of this Bill is to extend registered clubs the extra hour's opening time on Sunday that was, at the wish of your Lordships, granted to licensed premises in the Licensing Act 1988.

Licensed premises can now open from 12 noon until 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. until 10.30 p.m. on Sundays, a total of six-and-a-half hours. Registered clubs, on the other hand, have a greater degree of flexibility so far as concerns Sunday hours. They may within certain limits choose when they wish to open on Sundays. Those limits are that they do not begin to serve alcohol before 12 noon or continue to do so after 10.30 p.m. They must take a break between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and they must not serve alcohol for more than three-and-a-half hours after 5 p.m. But most significantly in this context they may not open for more than five-and-a-half hours in all. Therefore if they choose, for example, to open for a full three hours until 3 p.m. on Sunday lunchtimes to be in line with licensed premises, then they may only open for two-and-a-half hours during the evening.

We know very well that the present discrepancy in the total Sunday opening hours between licensed premises and registered clubs is a source of great concern to those connected with the clubs' movement. Your Lordships may recall that when attempts were made to amend the Licensing Bill to restore parity in the matter the Government concluded that such a change could not be justified. We had stated quite firmly from the outset that, as a matter of principle, we did not intend to use the Licensing Bill to make any changes in the Sunday opening hours. But we subsequently (shall we say?) bowed to strong pressure from your Lordships to allow licensed premises to stay open until 3 p.m. on Sundays to allow families and others to enjoy a drink and perhaps a meal in a more leisurely fashion on their day off in a way that would not significantly affect the position of Sunday as a special day. We did not, however, wish to depart any further from the commitment we had given not to seek any changes in Sunday hours in the Bill, particularly when the law already enabled clubs to keep their bars open until 3 p.m. if they so wished. We therefore opposed amending the Licensing Bill in this fashion.

This Bill gives us an opportunity to consider the matter afresh. No question now arises of any commitments we have given being compromised and we are fully aware of the strong feelings the issue has aroused among the clubs movement. We are therefore content to adopt a neutral stance towards the Bill and to leave it to your Lordships to decide whether it should be given a Second Reading.

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to noble Lords and to the noble Baroness for their support this evening. Opposition in your Lordships' House was described to me on one occasion as being like a British boxer boxing on the Continent, knocking out his opponent and getting a draw. It seems to me that we have achieved rather more than that tonight. I am grateful to the Minister for letting democracy prevail. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.1 to 8.40 p.m.]

Forward to