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New Clause—(New Procedure In Connection With Grant Of Justices' Licences)

Volume 641: debated on Friday 5 May 1961

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(1) No justices' licence granted after the coming into force of this section shall require confirmation; and, subject to the provisions of this Act,—

  • (a) all powers exercisable by licensing justices may be exercised at any licensing sessions; and
  • (b) there shall be an appeal to quarter sessions against any decision of licensing justices granting or refusing to grant a new justices' licence, or an ordinary removal of a justices' licence, and against any decision of licensing justices as to the conditions of a justices' on-licence.
  • (2) The following powers of licensing justices shall not be exercisable at transfer sessions, that is to say,—

  • (a) the power to renew justices licences, except where the licence was due for renewal at the preceding general annual licensing meeting, and the justices are satisfied that the applicant had reasonable cause for not applying for renewal at that meeting;
  • (b) the power to make regulations under section twenty-eight of the Licensing Act, 1953 (which enables licensing justices to restrict repeated applications for transfer or special removal);
  • (c) the power to make orders under section eighty-six of that Act (which relates to the extinguishment of licences in suspense by reason of war circumstances);
  • (d) the power to make orders under this Act fixing the general licensing hours in the licensing district;
  • and paragraph ( a) of subsection (1) above shall not apply to powers exercisable by licensing justices otherwise than under or for the purposes of the Licensing Act, 1953, nor affect the operation of any enactment in so far as it expressly authorises licensing justices to act otherwise than at a licensing sessions.

    (3) Compensation authorities for the purposes of the Licensing Act, 1953, shall continue to be constituted and Part II of the First Schedule to that Act shall continue to apply to them as heretofore; but they shall be known as "compensation committees" (instead of "confirming and compensation committees").

    (4) Part I of the Schedule (Licensing Procedure and Appeals) to this Act shall have effect with respect to the holding of licensing sessions and to the procedure at and in connection with those sessions, with respect to appeals from licensing justices to quarter sessions, and with respect to the duration of justices' licences, and Part II of that Schedule shall have effect for adapting and correcting the Licensing Act, 1953, in connection with the provisions of this section.—[ The Solicitor-General.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

    This new Clause, together with the new Schedule—(Licensing Procedure and Appeals)—lays down a completely new code of procedure for the licensing justices and a code of appeal from the licensing justices. Under the present law, the licensing justices are responsible for granting an application for a new licence, but it is not valid until it has been confirmed by the confirming authority. The confirming authority in a county is a committee of the quarter sesssions and in a borough is a committee of the borough justices, and the confirming authority has power to confirm or refuse to grant the application or to vary the conditions.

    That system, as, I think, was clearly recognised in Committee, has a number of disadvantages. First, it causes quite unnecessary expense. The majority of applications are unopposed before the confirming authority, but the expense of going through the procedure before the confirming authority has to obtain in every case. Secondly, if the licensing justices refuse an application the applicant has no remedy. On the other hand, the objector has a remedy. Thirdly, on the whole, we like to have a hierarchy of appeal courts—an appeal from a lower court to a higher court—whereas in the case of the confirmation authority it is really an appeal from the expert licensing justices to the confirming authority which is largely of the same status, certainly in a borough, but it will not in all cases have the same experience as the licensing justices.

    The new provisions under this Clause and the Schedule provide for the abolition of the confirming authority and the requirement of confirmation, but it provides, in its place, an appeal to quarter sessions. It provides it for both the applicant and the objector who is overridden before the licensing justices. The objector who unsuccessfully opposes the grant of the licence may appeal to quarter sessions and so may the unsuccessful applicant for the licence.

    The House will see that where there is no appeal by the objector the grant of the licensing justices shall be valid and, therefore, further expense on an unnecessary procedural step is obviated. Quarter sessions, on appeal by the objector or the applicant, can either grant the licence or countermand the grant by the licensing justices or impose any conditions which the licensing justices could have imposed.

    A further point, as a result of the representations made in Committee, is met in the new Clause. At present, new licences can be granted only at the general annual licensing sessions, popularly known as brewster sessions and held in March each year. Under the new provisions, new licences can also be granted at transfer sessions which are held much more frequently. They are not less than four nor more than eight in any licensing year. That is the existing law and it is re-enacted by the new Schedule. Licensing justices will also be able to grant a supper-hour certificate at any transfer sessions. That further implements the undertaking that we gave in Committee.

    I do not know that the House will wish me to go in detail through the terms of the new Clause, which are fairly self-explanatory, although, perhaps, I ought to draw attention to subsection (2), which overrides subsection (1). Paragraphs (a) to (d) are all cases where it was felt that the annual licensing meeting was more suitable for the various transactions which are there set out. Paragraph (a) gives a little extra flexibility in that it allows the licensing justices to deal with an application for a renewal of a justices' licence if it was not brought on before the brewster sessions without any fault on the part of the applicant.

    We were unable, for a technical procedural reason, to table this new procedure for the Committee stage, but we indicated fully on a number of occasions the sort of procedure that we had in mind and it commanded, I believe, universal approbation. One of the attractive things about the Committee on the Bill was the cross-bench nature of the difference of opinion. I think that this was the only occasion when what we proposed commanded universal assent and the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) even said that he enthusiastically supported us, very much to our surprise.

    I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on the drafting of this difficult Clause, but one which, I think, will fulfil his object, confirmation undoubtedly not being a popular procedure, for the many reasons given by my right hon. and learned Friend, in that it amounts more or less to the same tribunal trying the same question again.

    The new Clause states:
    "No justices' licence granted after the coming into force of this section.…"
    The Bill deals with restaurants and clubs. Does the new Clause include off-licences, which have nothing to do with restaurants and clubs, or is it confined only to restaurants and clubs? My reading of the new Clause leads me to believe that it would include all forms of licences, including off-licences, such as, for example, grocers' shops. I should like confirmation or denial of that fact before I give my wholehearted approval to the Clause.

    I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for incorporating a number of proposals which were put to him in Committee. It is right to remind the Government that they first introduced the Bill without any provision either for an appeal against the grant of a new licence or for the confirmation procedure. They were then subjected to the humiliation of a vote against them by their own supporters and a provision that the confirming procedure should be restored was carried against the Government. I know that they are making the best of a somewhat difficult position, and they have come to a sensible conclusion.

    In Committee, the Minister offered, in effect, that instead of the confirmation procedure there should be introduced into the Bill procedure by way of appeal to quarter sessions against the grant of a new licence. I am glad to see that the Schedule and the new Clause incorporate that procedure.

    The Solicitor-General referred to the cross-bench nature of our discussions upstairs. That was, perhaps, a slightly unfortunate way of characterising what took place when we were discussing the Clause, but I think that the right result—

    The phrase I used in discussing what happened on the Clause was "a procedural technical difficulty".

    It may be a procedural technical difficulty. Whatever it is, it now looks all right, if that is rather more robust language to characterise a sensible result achieved after a considerable degree of travail on the part of Ministers in charge. Subsection (1) is certainly one to which we should give our assent—although, of course, in a free vote for hon. Members on this side; some of my hon. Friends may differ.

    Subsection (2) and the remainder of the new Clause introduce about four pages of Schedule which we had not seen during Committee. It is a bit lopsided. The Schedule is nearly as big as the Bill itself. The Schedule is in small print, whereas the Bill is in large print. This is rather a case of the tail wagging the dog. However, it seems to be quite a reasonable tail so far as I have been able to look at it.

    I would be out of order, no doubt, if I were to discuss the new Schedule in detail. In general terms, however, it seems to implement the provisions in the new Clause, embodying in it the appeal procedure. Speaking for myself, I would have no objection to the new Clause.

    Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said what he has said, I might say that I thought the most convenient course to the House would be to discuss the principle of the new Schedule with the new Clause. If there are matters of detail on the Schedule, they can be raised when we get to the Schedule.

    4.15 p.m.

    Thank you, Mr. Speaker. After your invitation, perhaps now is the time, if ever, to refer to the new Schedule.

    It seems to me that on the whole the procedure, highly complex and containing a vast number of new provisions, is satisfactory, although it is a big mouthful to digest. It has elaborate provisions concerning notice, and so on. If the Solicitor-General can confirm that all that the new Schedule does is to tidy up existing provisions with regard to notice and with regard to the hearing before the brewster sessions and the other sessions, that it incorporates the necessary additional provisions which are involved in this new appeal procedure and that my researches into the new Schedule have not gone astray, I would be content.

    As I understand it, the second part of the new Schedule merely contains corrective provisions adapting the 1953 Act to the new enactment which we are now considering. If the Solicitor-General would confirm that I am right in that supposition, perhaps I might be taken as having said all that I would offer to the House concerning the principle of the new Schedule.

    I wish to ask a few questions of the Solicitor-General. I genuinely seek knowledge and information about these transfer sessions. I am a little worried that licences will now be, or could be, granted up to eight times a year in place of the existing ones. I gathered from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that licences could be granted at the transfer sessions not less than four times and not more than eight times a year. If that is so, I want to know whether adequate provision is being made in the Schedule for the necessary advertising for people who object to the granting of licences to be given full and adequate time to prepare their case, to get people to present their case and to ensure that whoever has the responsibility of issuing a licence has the opportunity of hearing the full view of the community concerned.

    This is an important part of the Bill and I should not like to let it pass without the Minister giving me assurance on a question which, I know, is agitating the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches a great deal. I hope that the Minister will explain in detail how this provision will work, whether there is any major difference from the present brewster sessions and whether he has included as a requirement the necessity for adequate notice, advertisement, and so on.

    To deal, first, with the point that was asked of me by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), the new Clause applies to all justices' licences: that is to say, it applies to off-licences and on-licences, and included in the on-licences are the new Part I licences, the residential, the restaurant and the mixed licences. It also, therefore, applies to licensed clubs, but not to registered clubs, which are dealt with separately under a different procedure in Part III of the Bill.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) both referred to the new Schedule. The Schedule looks, perhaps, inordinately long compared with the Clause. What happened was that, once we made the change in the procedure for appeal which commended itself to the Committee, it became necessary to make a number of changes in the procedure before the justices. That gave us an opportunity to rewrite and codify the whole of the existing procedure. That dated in every respect, except the compensation procedure, from the last century and a great deal of it was very much out of date.

    To give an illustration from the point put to me specifically by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, the advertisement procedure under the existing procedure was in most cases, if not in all, the nailing or posting of a notice to the church door where it might or might not come to the attention of an objector. As the hon. Member will see from the Schedule, we have replaced that by procedure by way of advertisement in accordance with all the comparable modern enactments.

    I therefore assure the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) that much of the new Schedule is re-enactment, but it makes a number of improvements and modernisations in the existing code. There are such things, for example, as specific notice to the

    fire authority, which will be very much in the mind of the House and which we shall be discussing in greater detail under the next new Clause. It provides greatly improved facilities for learning of any application for a new licence or the transfer of a licence.

    The hon. Member for Cardiff, West is quite right. The transfer sessions must be held at least four times and can be held up to eight times in the year. Therefore, there will be that additional temporal facility for the granting of new licences. It is a matter of great convenience. It by no means follows that plans will be crystallised in relation to the February brewster sessions, but in relation to transfer sessions no less than the brewster sessions there is ample time and greatly improved opportunity to bring to the notice of any potential objector what is proposed.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) wanted to know precisely what was the procedure at transfer sessions, what business would be transacted at the general sessions, and whether objectors to these matters would have a reasonable notice of the proceedings. We are called upon to consider a Schedule of 284 lines only recently put on the Notice Paper which most of us understood would be discussed at a later stage of the Bill.

    Unless we have a further opportunity of discussing the Schedule in detail, I feel that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) accepted with some alacrity the invitation to discuss the Schedule now with this new Clause. We should have an opportunity in discussing the Clause to make reference to the Schedule, of course, but this is a substantial variation of the whole licensing procedure as we know it, and those of us who were not members of the Standing Committee have a right to fuller information when we come to discuss in principle the various matters in the Schedule.

    In emphasising the matter, it was not my intention to exclude discussion of the Schedule when we got to it. I thought that matters like advertisements, for instance, might come under the heading of detail.

    I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, but, even so, we should like some further explanation.

    It was precisely because I thought that details like advertisements would be discussed later that I did not mention any details to the House now, but in case it is convenient I would draw specific attention to paragraph (2, c) of the Schedule which deals with notice. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will see from it the procedures for notice to which we shall come back later.

    On the point put specifically by the hon. Member, under this new provision all powers exercisable by the licensing justices may, subject to what follows in the new Clause, be exercised at any licensing sessions, which would include transfer sessions. The matters that are excepted are the matters to which I referred in subsection (2) which are felt to be more suitable for investigation, discussion and adjudication at the annual brewster sessions. In addition, in line 23 of the new Clause, there are also excepted powers exercisable by the licensing justices other than for the purposes of the Licensing Act, 1953. That excludes, for instance, billiards licences under the Gaming Act.

    No, those licences are included. If there are eight transfer sessions there can be an application for a new licence at any one of those eight, and if there is an application it must be advertised in accordance with the Schedule. I was going to add that the compensation procedure which is at present discharged by the confirming authority is also saved.

    May I ask something about the last statement that the Solicitor-General has made? As a former chairman of a licensing committee, I know the difficulties when the licensing committee of the petty sessional division thinks that a licence has become redundant to get the same view taken by the county licensing committee. What will happen in future when the local licensing justices—the licensing committee—have reviewed the licences for the area and they think that one is not required for the appropriate service of the community, either because the building is defective or because of some other reason which may be good and sufficient in their minds? Is their decision now the final one, subject to appeal to the appeal committee of quarter sessions?

    How will it be dealt with? Will this kind of appeal go to the ordinary appeal committee or quarter sessions, or will there be special appeal committee of quarter sessions to deal with licensing matters only, which is what the county licensing committee is now in reality, in so far as it deals with redundant licences and assesses compensation? Who will assess compensation in future? This is one of the matters which give great concern to local licensing justices' committees and which can lead to considerable ill-feeling between the petty sessional committee and the county committee when what the local licensing committee wishes to do is considered.

    The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asks me about the compensation procedure. At present, the procedure is that the licensing justices can decide that there is redundancy in licensed premises. If they decide that, they can recommend compensation out of the compensation fund which has been built up from what has been called "monopoly value".

    4.30 p.m.

    That procedure is quite untouched by the new Clause and by the Bill. It is stated in subsection (3) that the compensation authorities shall continue to be constituted. They have simply changed their name. They are known as compensation committees and not as confirming and compensation committees. But it is still for the compensation committee to determine what compensation is proper in the case of a licensed premises recommended to it by the licensing justices as redundant.

    Perhaps I might ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a supplementary question on that. Now that the monopoly value has been abolished under a recent Finance Act, where will the compensating authority now get the money with which to pay compensation?

    I should not like to give a final answer on that matter. It is rather outside the scope of the Bill. But my impression from discussions of it on the Finance Bill of two years ago is that it is estimated that the compensation funds are sufficient in any foreseeable future to meet any demands made on them.

    The new Clause seems to be more mysterious than ever. I am impressed by some of the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). The opening words of the Clause state that no licences shall require any confirmation. Subject to correction, that seems to me to mean a very definite alteration of procedure.

    The old procedure, as I remember it—it is many years since I was engaged in these matters—was that we had an annual general licensing session and an adjourned meeting. One of the things that one tried to find out was what members of the bench would be sitting on a certain day, because the bench was always divided into so many teetotallers who would vote against every licence and so many justices who would vote for the licences, with a modest minimum of unpredictables who had only recently been appointed.

    I altered all that in the Licensing Act, 1951, which provided that a licensing committee should consist of a minimum and maximum number of magistrates selected by their colleagues from the general body of magistrates of a petty sessional area.

    No one admires the reforms that we have had from my right hon. Friend more than I do, or the purpose which was behind them. We have the greatest admiration for all that. However, I think that my right hon. Friend, when he said all that, was rather overestimating the effect of the Act. I have no doubt that he sought to enable Parliament to deal with the previous anomalies of the system.

    On the other hand, it is possible for quite a lot to be done under the existing system very often. It is possible for one to get a copy of the jury list and make inquiries about the jury. In one or two cases I have done that, with some benefit to my clients. I think that a local solicitor could form some idea of the probable chances of an application if he knew what justices were likely to be sitting.

    There are to be nine sittings a year—that is the new figure—at any one of which an application for the grant of a new licence can be made. I think that some measure of protection for the public ought to be provided. It seems to me possible that applications will be made only in the last month or so. We are told that one has to provide a notice to the clerk of the local authority, which will be received by the clerk and will then be conveyed by the clerk to the council the next time it sits. One then has to advertise the application not less than 14 days previously in a local newspaper. At the moment I have been unable to find any definition of what that is, and there are some queer newspapers circulating at the moment. There is also the provision to give 28 days' notice in some place accessible to the public.

    It seems to me that people who take an interest in licensing matters may be in some doubt about what we are doing by altering the procedure so that an application for a new licence can be made at any one of the nine sessions. Perhaps there is some procedure later in the Bill for dealing with this situation, but I do not know whether there is. Under the old procedure that was an important matter. It was far too expensive a matter, even for a brewer, to make a hopeless application for a licence. Even if the brewer was applying in respect of unbuilt premises, he would have employed architects and had all the plans prepared, and would have produced all the evidence, witnesses having to be called who were devastated by the inability to buy a bottle of beer less than 250 yards from where they lived. A great deal of work would have been done in such cases.

    It is true that under that system, once those concerned had done all that, they could pop the application in every year until they got it. They had the papers, the witnesses and the plans and had spent a good deal of money, and it was worth while spending a few guineas on a solicitor's fee in order to have another shot at it. I do not know what possibility of that there will be with nine sessions a year. It may be that there is a provision dealing with this later in the Schedule, but I have not seen it. We have not had much chance of reading what is proposed. This is Monday afternoon, and I was working under Royal command in Aberdeen on Friday. I have tried to find out what has happened since, but the mass of Amendments and new Clauses and this almost incomprehensible Schedule make any hon. Member feel concerned about whether he is in a position to carry out, or to give reasonable effect to, representations which he may have received from his constituents.

    What is the procedure? Are we not introducing a procedure with no form? It is true that a provision for appeal is made, but I do not know whether one has a right of appeal against a decision to which one was not a party. I should have thought that for all practical purposes such an appeal would be nugatory, anyway. It seems to me that if one is not there at the first sessions one has lost the right to object. Suppose that one did not know that the application was taking place until one read about it in the local paper and saw that it was granted. One might wish to appeal, but one might be told that the application had conformed with the provisions of the Schedule.

    It might be said that one had a solicitor, but that he did not understand the provisions of the Schedule, and that one took counsel's opinion but counsel did not understand the provisions of the Schedule, and certain advice was given by the brewers. If an individual then came along and complained that he had not read the notice in the advertising column of his local newspaper, a problem would arise.

    I should have thought that if one really was concerned about the evils which afflict humanity, from nuclear bombs to chocolate liqueurs, at least the House, in assessing the relative devastating facts, should seek to provide a measure of certitude so that the average citizen might have some idea when the licensing sessions were to be held.

    There is a curious thing about the Schedule. It provides—it is a fantastic provision—that the general sessions and the transfer sessions shall be held at regular intervals. One cannot fix things at regular intervals if one waits for business to come in. If one fixes regular intervals, it must be done at the start of the year. Therefore, one has to decide before the business comes in what business one is likely to have. One will probably decide to have nine sessions at regular intervals—one about every six weeks. Otherwise, it may not be possible to have the sessions at regular intervals. If one has the first sessions and a dozen applications come in, one may have to wait for three months for the next sessions, and in that case it would be difficult to have the sessions at regular intervals.

    So we shall probably have the licensing justices fixing nine sessions each year and saying, "What does it matter if there are no applications at some of them?" This will be the simplest method from the point of view of the solicitor's clerk. At the beginning of the year he would write for the list of sessions, which would comprise one general session and eight transfer sessions. If the Solicitor-General was correct in the information which he gave—I do not doubt that he was—this means that an application can be made at any one of them with the minimum possible warning to the public.

    This is not a question merely of whether one is fond of licensing or not, whether one is roughly in favour of alcohol or not, or whether, like me, one thinks it is good for oneself but not good for other people, or not. This is a question of property rights, tenancy rights, and the amenities of housing estates. There are many people who are not teetotallers, but who have sound reasons for not wanting to have a public house opposite their home. I had a flat in London opposite which there was a public house. What was annoying me was that all my friends called on me "for one" when the "pub" closed, which was an almost intolerable burden on my wife and myself. Such problems are involved in this matter.

    The initiation, at this late stage, of this very elaborate Schedule will present us all with problems as our discussions of the Bill continue. It may well be that in abolishing this elaborate procedure we shall abolish the careful safeguards which have hitherto been provided against the granting of licences without proper representation being available to all those people who have reason to believe that their interests, or those of their children, family or district, might be affected by the hurried grant of licences without due consideration.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.