Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
Before we proceed with Clause 2, I should be grateful to learn from the representatives of the Home Office what action they propose to take to extend the provisions of the Licensing Act so far as they relate to licensing planning committees. Originally licensing planning committees were set up in badly bombed areas of the country to provide that unnecessary licences should not be afforded in areas which by reason of bombing could possibly later change their character. The provision was then made, and at the time of making was a very sensible provision, by which before the licensing magistrates themselves considered the question of granting licences in such areas, the licensing committee should be advised by a licensing planning committee that it had considered the possible need of those areas.In the passing years the licensing planning committees in most areas of the country have ceased to have any raison d'etre. The position now is that in some parts of the country, notably Plymouth and London, although these licensing planning committees continue to function, they now hardly function in the way in which it could have been intended that they should function when they were set up. The position, as the Minister and the Home Office know, is that in many of the licensing planning committees the same kind of evidence is received, the same kind of witnesses are heard and the same kind of arguments are deployed as reasons for not granting licences as will be argued in the licensing committees proper. The position, therefore, is that often objectors have two bites at the same cherry, and very often considerable sums of money are spent by those seeking to obtain licences for the sale of liquor, first of all to obtain the consent of the licensing planning committee, only for them to discover that in a later hearing before the licensing magistrates themselves, at the brewster sessions, on the same argument and the same evidence, their application is rejected. I raised this question last year, and I was told by the then Home Secretary that they were aware of the anomalies which arose from the continuance of these committees which are now obsolescent, but that in previous years—and this I readily concede—large numbers of the licensing planning areas had been abandoned and the licensing planning committees no longer met. I was told that it was the intention of the then Government to explore whether these licensing planning areas should not now cease to have relevance to the granting of licences and that it was the Government's intention as quickly as possible to end this system of licensing planning inquiries. I therefore ask whether the Government have had an opportunity to look again at this matter. Will they give us an assurance that this anomaly is to be ended, if not immediately then as quickly as possible, with a return to normality, and that these licensing planning committees, which serve so little useful purpose, will be abandoned.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) raised this question last year, as he rightly said. There are 18 of these planning authorities now exercising their powers. The House will know that in July last the Departmental Committee, which had been set up by the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) to consider and report on these war-damaged areas and licensing planning committees, submitted a report to the Minister which was published as a White Paper on 13th July. Its main recommendation is for the continuance of licensing planning in a modified form. This would involve consultation between the licensing justices and the local planning authorities. Licences would be excluded from their scope. Unlike the present licensing machinery, the new licensing system would not be limited to areas of war damage but could be applied to any area of development.Obviously the Government do not want to introduce legislation without first consulting the organisations which are likely to be concerned, and they have asked for time to consider this report. We expect that their views will be received before the end of the year, but, clearly, as my hon. and learned Friend will understand, not in time for any new legislation which might be considered necessary to come into force before the present period of extension expires at the end of March 1966. It is therefore necessary for Part VII of the Act of 1964 to continue in force for another year during which time it is hoped to complete the preparatory work of any new legislation which may be necessary.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.