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Clause 3—(Restriction Of Sale And Supply, Otherwise Than By Secretary Of State, Of Intoxicating Liquor In State Management Districts)

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1949

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I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to insert:

"or in premises to which any justice's licence attached to such premises or any such registered club may be removed."
The proviso at the moment gives protection to anything done in premises which were licensed premises or a registered club when State management came into operation in the district, and which have continued to be licensed premises or registered clubs, as the case may be, since that time. It may be that for a number of reasons—one that occurs most readily is if there had been a fire or some other calamity of that kind, but of course there may be other reasons which would result from the development or the control of development in the area—the premises to which the licence was attached at the time when State management came into operation, or the premises in which the club was situated when the scheme came into operation, may have been destroyed or may have disappeared, and the licence may have been removed. In that case it would be a special removal to other premises. Again, the club might have changed its venue. We want to have protection given in what is really the substance of the matter; that is, the holder of the licence or the people running the club.

I think that the position truly is that one does not know how long this period will be, and I shall be very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman on this point. As I understand it, the period from the time when State management comes into operation in the district may be any time in the future. There may be some differences in different parts of the country as to when that time will occur. Although I am always prepared to consider carefully anything that the right hon. Gentleman suggests on a practical point of this sort, I cannot see how, if the intention is to protect the licences that remain on the same premises, where through some misfortune the licence has been moved to another part of the town, it should not receive the same protection. The same basis and the same principle seem to me to apply in the case of a club. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point, which seems to be a short and simple one, and one that is deserving of his attention simply to make the Clause complete.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have something to say to meet this point, because as I understood him during the Committee stage, he did express an intention to do so. It is necessary for the House to appreciate the problem. Under the first Clause of this Bill there comes a point when, as soon as the Bill becomes law, the designated town becomes a State management area, and, under Clauses 5 and 6, two things can subsequently take place at an entirely indefinite time. Under Clause 5, Parliament gives power to the Secretary of State in a State management area to acquire licences or the premises which carry the licences and enables the right hon. Gentleman himself to take on the business of selling liquor in place of the ordinary publican. Under Clause 6, he may extinguish a licence. What we are trying to deal with is the position which occurs between the time when the place becomes a State management area and when the right hon. Gentleman does one or the other of these two things.

Clause 3 as it stands safeguards the licences of premises in existence during that interim period. As the right hon. Gentleman well understands, there may well arise circumstances in which the licence may be removed for necessary reasons to other premises, and what we are seeking to do is to safeguard the existence of the licence. In the licensed trade the licence is the valuable asset, but we are not trying to increase the number of licences in a State management area, and this proposal would not mean that there would be any more licences, though it would make sure that there were not any less.

During the Committee stage, the right hon. Gentleman, on the assumption that we were trying to deal with a case where the premises had been burned and the licence had been preserved, said this:
"On the assumption that we are trying only to deal with such an exceptional case, I think there is a case for an Amendment, and between now and the Report stage, I will endeavour to find a form of words which will enable that point to be met, but the undertaking is limited to that point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 22nd February, 1949; c. 271.]
The right hon. Gentleman appears to have failed to find a form of words, because I do not see any Amendment on the Order Paper to that effect, and, for that reason, we have put down this Amendment. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking must be limited, and, if, one takes a broad view of the matter, in the case of premises being burned, I would not seek to ask him to go beyond that, though I see no difficulty in extending it beyond that point. Where, for any good reason, it may be necessary to preserve and remove a licence, we do not see why such protection should not be given in order that the licence should be preserved. I think the Minister was in sympathy with the case, and that his only difficulty was in finding a form of words in which to meet it. I suggest that the words of the Amendment do meet that position, and I accordingly ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot carry further his welcoming words in Committee by accepting the Amendment now.

Here, again, I have tried very hard to find a form of words that would cover the point which I undertook to cover and no more, and I am bound to say that I have failed to do it. The effect of this Amendment would be to place all removals, for whatever cause, outside my control when I am dealing with the State management scheme, and that is a position which I could not contemplate. I think that the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) will agree that it is not necessary to deal with this question of clubs because I have no power to acquire clubs, and that, therefore, if it was put in for an abundance of caution, it was not actually needed. I cannot contemplate a situation where all removals would be placed outside my jurisdiction in these cases. However, if between now and the consideration of the Bill in another place, I can deal with the very limited point with which I undertook to deal, that is, places that are burned down or similarly destroyed by what might be termed—it might seem almost blasphemous—an act of God, I will endeavour to do so, but I cannot go to the length that this Amendment, which is similar to the one moved in Committee, proposes that I should go.

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, I wish to ask him to consider the matter again from the point of view of a special removal and an ordinary removal, because I think he will agree with me that a special removal can only be obtained when something in the nature of an act of God has occurred. Like him, I do not want to be blasphemous, but he will decide whether it is blasphemy or not to include in the phrase "act of God" the action of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.

I would prefer to refer that point to my right hon. Friend the Minister concerned. On all these points, I am very anxious to give all the reasonable assurances I can without hampering the appropriate development of the scheme that may be under consideration in the new town. If I can find some help in the words which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just suggested, I will certainly do so.

Quite frankly, I am very disappointed with what the right hon. Gentleman has said because he does not appear to be seriously trying to meet the very clear point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). I know he would like to do so, and may I suggest to him that there is a perfectly easy way in which he could meet the point? He could quite easily do what usually happens on these complicated Bills, which is to have a Law Officer present who would be compelled to say that my right hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is perfect in sense, and that it would in no way do what the right hon. Gentleman is afraid of doing—handicap the development of these areas. All that this would do—and I think it is quite a clear thing from what I can make out of it, and I have tried to see exactly how it will work—is that where by some misfortune or otherwise, the premises have been put out of action, it would give the existing tenant the right to carry the licence to new premises. Surely that is only a fair thing to do. There has been no effort on our side of the House to increase the number of licences. It is not from this side, for instance, that legislation has been introduced to legalise pubs, and we have done everything possible to make it easy and fair for those who are being removed.

I am sure that the Home Secretary must admit that nothing would have been put in by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby, with his great legal knowledge, which could possibly do any harm in the sense that the right hon. Gentleman fears. That is not the sense of his Amendment; I think the right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. If he had his Law Officer present, he might be able to get out of the position in which he has placed himself. I hope this Amendment will be inserted in the Bill because it seems fair and just to those who, by no ill-doing on their part, but by one of the misfortunes which might fall on anybody, are going to lose their licence when it may be perfectly possible for them to carry on in some other premises.

7.45 p.m.

I was naturally disappointed to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he had not succeeded in finding a form of words to deal with this difficulty, particularly as in Committee upstairs we managed to narrow this issue very considerably. I have been looking again at our proceedings in Committee and I find that following the moving of that Amendment by my hon. and learned Friend the junior Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), the Under-Secretary, who replied, said:

"To do so would make a very large hole in the scheme, which is designed to plan facilities generally throughout the area."
After a little further debate, we got to the point where the Home Secretary—and this is really why I rise because I think that remark of his upstairs narrowed the point rather more than he intends to do now, and because I hope he will be good enough to say that he will examine it again—said:
"I understand that what the Opposition desire is to deal with what will be, in the state of the existing law with regard to arson, a very exceptional circumstance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 22nd February, 1949; c. 269, 271.]
Well, of course, that is no act of God; quite the contrary. Arson is an act of sabotage, and while we are looking at it again—

I recognise that while the law of arson prevented people from starting fires, it limited it to those things which I called, rather colloquially, an act of God.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is going to be good enough to have another look at this. We are trying to deal with a case of genuine misfortune where, through no fault of the owner, the licensee or anyone else, the premises are destroyed, and, thereby, there is a reduction in the number of houses by one. We maintain that the licence should remain in existence even though the building has disappeared. If that is the sort of thing the right hon. Gentleman is going to try to do in another place, I wish him well, because he will remember that in the Committee upstairs we were almost unanimous on this point.

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.