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Clause 12—(Constitution And Procedure Of Licensing Authorities In Counties)

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1949

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I beg to move, in page 8, line 21, to leave out "January in every year," and insert

"the month of October, November or December for the year beginning with the following first day of January."
There was some question in the Committee upstairs about the difficulty that may be created if we say that the licensing committee must be appointed in January. It might be more convenient, owing to the ordinary meetings of the justices, for the appointment to be made in one of the last months of the year rather than in the first month of the year. Since then I have had the opportunity of consulting both the Magistrates' Association and the Justices Clerks' Society on this matter. They think—and I agree with them—that the preferable way is that the appointment shall be made in one of the last three months of the year, and that the new committee shall come into being on 1st January.

I think that is far better than having a date in January for the meeting of the justices, and then finding that they might come into office in different areas on different days between the date of the meeting and the meeting of the Brewster Sessions with, sometimes, confusing results for all concerned. What we now say is that the meeting must be held in either October, November or December, and that the licensing committee will come into office after 1st January, and will hold office for the current year. We believe that will make the matter much clearer for all concerned, and, therefore, I commend the Amendment to the House.

This matter was very strongly stressed upstairs by the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lyne). I was looking round the House to see if he was present, but I do not think he is. In the discussion I supported his line of argument that there should be a longer period for these appointments to take place. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for moving this Amendment.

The Home Secretary indicated that it was to be 1st January. If this part of the Bill is applicable to Scotland, may I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that 1st January is not a day on which magistrates, or, indeed, any other persons meet?

—or, otherwise, we would have fixed it for Christmas Day, which I understand is a fast day in Scotland.

What day, then, is it in Scotland if it is not 1st January? Would the Secretary of State tell us?

This does not interfere with the existing practice of the licensing courts in Scotland.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 8, line 35, to leave out from "three," to the end of line 37.

There is a little history in this matter also. There was an Amendment on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd), on behalf of the Magistrates' Association, to reduce the maximum membership of the committee from 15 to 11. I had some consultation with him, and I thought, in conjunction with him, that the arrangement here would be rather better than the proposal put forward. However, I am bound to say that on examining the administrative effects of this, I am convinced that the suggestion that not more than seven members of the committee should sit for the hearing or determination of proceedings before the committee would be very awkward and difficult.

After all, in these matters, the justices are acting both administratively and judicially—administratively at one part of their proceedings and judicially at another — and. having reached an administrative decision, it might be very difficult if the 15, or whatever number there were present, had then to decide which of the seven should sit judicially. I think the practical difficulties are very great. Therefore, if these words are removed, it will be possible for all the members of the committee to act both administratively and judicially on the various issues that arise.

9.30 p.m.

Having said that, perhaps I may be allowed to express the hope that there will not be many occasions on which as many as 15 justices will think it necessary to sit judicially on these proceedings because there are obvious disadvantages of a large Bench attempting to act judicially in these matters. But I think that giving them complete freedom of action will enable many awkward issues in the magistrates' room to be avoided or perhaps to be settled more amicably than would be the case if a definite limit had been put in the Bill. For those reasons I suggest that these words should be deleted from the subsection.

I think the right hon. Gentleman has made out his case as to the difficulties which would beset the intention to secure the smaller number. I agree with him, and I hope it may go out from the House as a whole that there is to be found in both our speeches encouragement for licensing justices that they will avoid, if possible, over-large Benches in dealing with these matters.

Amendment agreed to.