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Clause 2—(Grant And Renewal Of Licences For Restaurants, Guest Houses, Etc)

Volume 641: debated on Friday 5 May 1961

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Amendment made: In page 4, line 28, leave out subsection (1).—[ The Solicitor-General.]

I beg to move, in page 4, line 42, to leave out "character and".

I am glad that the question of leaving out character is not consequential. The Clause lays down conditions for the granting and renewing of licences for restaurants and guest houses, but I think that the question of the character of the building is a new one. The first ground upon which licensing justices may refuse an application concerns the fitness and propriety of the applicant, and his age; the second is that the premises do not fall within the provisions of Clause 1, and that they are not suitable and convenient for the use contemplated in that Clause—which is clearly right, since it concerns the actual structure of the premises—and then we have the qualification,
"having regard to the character and condition".
I say that the word "character" is right outside the context of the Bill. Surely the character of the premises cannot be a relevant consideration in this connection. It is not the character of the applicant that has to be considered; it is the character of the premises. That is just what I do not want the justices to consider. The question whether a public house is Gothic or totally modern should have no bearing on their decision.

Another part of the question of character may be the clientele which frequents the premises. It may be said that the character of the premises depends upon the type of person who frequents them. I do not want that to be taken into consideration, because it is contrary to the intention of the Government, as expressly stated, to make these provisions mandatory.

The behaviour of the courts in recent years hardly leads one to suppose that there will not be lengthy, difficult, obtuse and different decisions and arguments on what is the meaning of the word "character" in this context.

I do not pretend to express any view, but I strongly pretend to express an opposite view if somebody tells me that it means one thing, because one thing that I am sure about is that it does not mean one thing. It may mean any of several things. I have suggested two, and careful reading by other hon. Members may lead them to say that "character" in this context means something quite different again.

I therefore submit that it should be excluded, for once one has looked at the propriety of the person, at Whether he has complied with the provisions of Clause 1, and had regard to the conditions, to the nature and the extent of the proposed use, and to the requirements as to the sitting conditions, one has covered everything.

The inclusion of the word "character" arises from an endeavour by the Parliamentary draftsman to bring in everything he could, but without careful enough consideration of the meanings which might attach to that word. I submit that if the words add anything, it is wrong. If they do not add anything, it is wrong again. If they do something which is thoroughly ambiguous, it is even more wrong.

These words stood intact during the nine Sittings we devoted to Part I of the Bill, and I should be reluctant to depart from them now, because they are an integral part of Part I of the Bill. They form one of the grounds on which the licensing justices may refuse a restaurant or residential premises licence.

My hon. Friend seeks to leave out the words "character and." I could understand it if he sought to leave out "character and condition," but he does not do that. The phrase with which we are concerned is that the licensing justices may refuse permission on the grounds that the premises
"are not suitable and convenient for the use contemplated by that paragraph, having regard to their character and condition…"
If, as my hon. Friend suggests, we leave out "character" but retain "condition," the premises might be structurally sound and therefore be said to be in good condition, but they might not be of the right character for use as licensed premises. A wooden shack might be in good condition structurally, but might not be suitable for use as a licensed restaurant.

If we are to have the word "condition," we need the word "character." There is no intention to interfere with planning decisions. It has nothing to do with the character of the applicant. It is simply the use of a building as a licensed restaurant, or as licensed residential premises.

With due respect to my hon. Friend's knowledge of the licensing law, I submit that whilst there may be an argument for leaving out the words "character and condition" there is no argument for leaving out one of the words. These words have stood together, and I think that they should be left in the Bill.

I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman resist the argument of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). The hon. Gentleman has consistently sought to weaken the powers of the Bill where it imposes any restrictions. He is honest about his argument. He wants to set those who get the licences as free as possible, and he has already indicated that he speaks for those who have a direct concern in the provisions of this Measure. I hope that the Government will stand firm because I can think of some restaurants which, by their character and condition, are certainly not automatically fitted to get a licence.

10.45 p.m.

I believe that if we take away this discipline and restraint from the justices and those responsible for issuing the licences, we shall be opening the door again to the sort of business that certainly the hon. Gentleman would not wish to see encouraged. I believe that we must retain the restrictive terms. If the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet feels so strongly about this as to take the matter to a Division, I hope that there will be sufficient hon. Members on both sides of the House to help to resist him.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 5, line 44, leave out "or renewal of a," and insert "of a new."

In page 6, line 4, at end insert:

(6) On the renewal, transfer or removal of a justices' on-licence licensing justices may, at the request of the applicant made with the consent of the registered owner (if any) of the licensed premises, vary the licence by attaching the conditions required for it to be granted as a restaurant licence, residential licence or residential and restaurant licence (in substitution for any conditions previously attached), and the renewal, transfer or removal of a justices' on-licence with such a variation shall not be refused except on the grounds on which a renewal may be refused of a licence of the description specified in the request.

In line 9, leave out subsection (7).—[ Mr. Vosper.]