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Clause 3

Volume 22: debated on Friday 30 April 1982

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Applications For Renewal Or Transfer Of Licence Or Consent

I beg to move amendment No. 2 in page 2, line 38, at beginning insert—

'An applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence shall give to—
  • (a) the licensing authority;
  • (b) the fire authority; and
  • (c) the chief officer of police,
  • not less than 28 days' notice of his intention to make the application.
    (1A) The licensing authority may in such cases as they think fit, after consulting with the fire authority and the chief officer of police, grant an application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence notwithstanding the fact that the applicant has failed to give notice in accordance with subsection (1) above.
    (1B) In considering any application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence, the licensing authority shall have regard to any observations submitted to them by the fire authority or by the chief officer of police.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

    No. 4, in clause 4, page 3, line 13, leave out

    `section 2(4) of the 1909 Act'

    and insert 'section 3(1) above'.

    No. 5, in page 3, line 14, after second 'to', insert 'a fire authority and'.

    No. 6, in page 3, line 15, after `to', insert 'that authority and'.

    No. 30, in schedule 2, page 9, column 3, leave out lines 22 to 24 and insert—

    `In section 2, in subsection (1) the words "(as defined in the Cinematograph Act 1952)" and subsection (4).'.

    These amendments are designed to make some important changes in the procedure governing the grant, renewal or transfer of cinematograph licences.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take it that there will be a debate on clause 2 stand part.

    Section 2(4) of the Cinematograph Act 1909 provides that an applicant for a licence or the transfer of a licence should give not less than seven days' notice in writing to the licensing authority and to the chief officer of police of his intention to make such an application. There is also a proviso which makes it clear that notice is not required where the application is for the renewal of an existing licence held by the applicant for the same premises. The effect of these amendments would be to repeal that provision and to introduce into the present Bill provisions corresponding to certain provisions contained in schedule 1 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is being considered in another place.

    The new provisions which are proposed would require an applicant for a new cinematograph licence, or for the renewal or transfer of an existing licence, to give to the licensing authority, the first authority and the chief officer of police not less than 28 days' notice of his intention to make the application. Thus the notice requirement would cover applications for renewal as well as applications for the initial grant, or transfer, of a licence; the notice would need to he given to the fire authority as well as to the licensing authority and the chief officer of police; and the period of notice would be 28 days instead of seven.

    These changes would affect, in the main, cinematograph licence holders and potential licence holders. Two other changes which would be brought about by the amendments would affect the licensing authority. The first of these would enable the licensing authority, after consulting the fire authority and the chief officer of police, to grant an application notwithstanding the fact that the applicant had failed to give the required notice. That, would import a necessary element of flexibility into the procedure. The second would require the licensing authority, in considering an application, to have regard to any observations submitted to it by the fire authority or the chief officer of police.

    It is sensible, I think, that advantage should be taken in this Bill—another opportunity may not occur for many years—to bring up to date procedures which were introduced almost three-quarters of a century ago. That would be particularly timely in view of the statement made by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State on Second Reading that the Government are contemplating an early consolidation of cinematograph legislation. As there was some confusion on Second Reading about the status of the consolidation measure, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will find it helpful if I explain what is intended. The Minister will correct me if my explanation is not right in detail. The 1909 and 1952 Acts are already difficult to follow, largely because they have been so heavily amended. My Bill will not improve matters in that respect, although I am confident that it will do so in others. A consolidation Bill, as its name implies, would consolidate into one measure the 1909 and 1952 Acts and my Bill, if enacted. That would be of enormous help to those who regularly have to consult this legislation.

    The fact that responsibility for the licensing of cinemas rests with district councils, which will also have responsibility for licensing places of entertainment covered by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill—dance halls and boxing exhibitions, for example—is a further argument for harmonising the procedures involved. A practical consequence is that fire authorities for the first time would be statutorily involved with cinema premises, in an advisory capacity, and would have an opportunity to consider the fire safety of such premises from the outset and at regular intervals after that. That seems to me to be a very important consideration. While I accept that cinemas in this country have a good fire record, I believe that there is in principle no reason why they should be treated differently from other premises of public entertainment.

    I am sure that hon. Members will accept the complicated rationale behind these amendments. I commend them to the House.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) on the flexible way in which he has dealt with these amendments, which are complex. I reinforce what he has said and look forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State says.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) for his exposition, which the Minister will confirm, of the intended consolidation measure, although I cannot imagine that it will occupy a high priority in the Government's forthcoming legislative timetable. It will be all to the good if it does. The consolidation of the 1909 and 1952 Acts and the Bill, which we hope will be enacted shortly, is good news.

    Cinemas have been going down like flies mainly because television and the revolution of video cassettes available in the home make it almost impossible for cinemas, certainly in small towns such as Bury St. Edmunds, Newmarket and Haverhill to stay in business. It is therefore important that, when we examine the consolidation of these various Acts and the application of my hon. Friend's admirable Bill, the Government should have some regard to reducing the burdens and restrictions placed upon local cinemas wherever reasonable. This is hardly killing the goose that lays the golden eggs because cinemas in rural areas have not been laying golden eggs for a long time.

    The restrictions implicit in the Bill are sensible. They have been necessary for a long time. I should like, however, to make the general caveat that if there is the opportunity shortly to consolidate the legislation, it should be done in a manner to assist and not to restrict and damage the prospects for an industry which provides harmless pleasure to large numbers of people and which, especially in rural areas, is no longer able to operate viably.

    I welcome the tidying-up that has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), but I share the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about cinemas. My anxiety extends to other areas of entertainment such as the small amateur theatre and small premises occupied by adult education classes which are not maintained by public education authorities but which are regarded, I believe, as places of entertainment for licensing purposes and which would presumably come under this provision.

    It is well known, but not widely challenged, that those responsible for fire regulations and for suggesting what fire precautions should be taken in cinemas, theatres and other public and private places often place enormous burdens on those responsible for the premises. That is an extra concern that I would add to those already expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Without flexibility for district councils administering the licensing of cinemas, theatres and cinematograph premises, as suggested in the amendment, cinemas and small premises will face large financial burdens. I refer to the sort of flexibility that will not require huge escape routes for small premises such as those required for large premises. Often there are ridiculously demanding requirements for small premises.

    I wonder whether it can be impressed upon district councils licensing premises for fire purposes that the flexibility that I have described is essential. There should be a minimum of statutory requirements on cinemas and other ailing places of entertainment covered by the amendment. If a fire notice is sufficient, that should be accepted. If an extra escape route is necessary, it will have to be provided. I believe that a great deal can be achieved in fire safety in most premises through occasional fire drills and regular staff training. With that caveat, I support the amendment.

    It may be true to say that I support the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) even more strongly than some of my hon. Friends. I raised on Second Reading a number of points about the fire services and the type of cinema that my hon. Friend seeks to control more tightly. These are just the cinemas to which the safety regulations should apply. I paid tribute on Second Reading to the fire services and pointed out that one of their important roles is to visit cinemas and other public places. I am delighted that my hon. Friend has included in the amendments specific references to the fire officer when consideration is given to an application for a licence or for renewal or transfer of a licence.

    I support flexibility for the licensing authority. If, for instance, an application has not been made within the due 28 days, I support the idea that the licensing authority should have the flexibility to waive the time scale. I also support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham about consolidation of the various Acts——

    Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of fire and safety regulations, may I say that it occurs to me that my words may have sounded critical of the regulations and of fire officers. I wish to make it clear that the safety record in many premises is testament to the value of the work of fire officers.

    I was not seeking to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I should like to take up the point he made about an increase in the number of fire drills. Fire drill is important in an office where the same people are working day in and day out. But a cinema is a place to which a person may go once in his life. There is, for instance, a wide choice of cinemas in London. It would be impractical to have fire drills in cinemas involving the people most at risk, namely, the audience——

    Is my hon. Friend making a case against fire drill in cinemas? It would not matter if an individual was caught by a fire drill on his only visit to a cinema. It is possible for him to be caught by a fire drill on one occasion at a place that he has never visited before or will visit afterwards.

    That does not negate the point. It would not be a bad thing if the public became accustomed to regular fire drills in cinemas. We should do more than show the safety curtain in theatres. Perhaps the theatre could be evacuated in the interval. It is much less expensive to be properly conducted down wide constructed staircases than to require such premises to install new staircases and tunnels as a means of escape that may never be used.

    12 noon

    I understand my hon. Friend's point, although I do not agree with it. If I were watching "Chariots of Fire", I am not sure that I would be pleased to hear the fire bells and had to run for my life.

    There is a clear distinction between the use of fire drills in an office or factory and in a public building such as a cinema. I should prefer to leave fire safety to the continuing checks of the appropriate fire officer rather than to rely upon periodic fire drills which, as my hon. Friend admits, may never catch anyone in his lifetime of going to the cinema. As we all know, Members of Parliament rarely go to cinemas and may never be subjected to the same inconvenience as the general public.

    There is a need for consolidation in this area. At the moment we have the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952. Now we shall have a third Act and there is a possibility of further legislation, currently being discussed in another place, covering the same ground. There is a clear need for consolidation as and when it can be slotted into the Government's timetable.

    With those brief comments, I welcome the amendments.

    It might be helpful if I intervene shortly, especially to answer the points about fire safety. I am glad that my hon. Friends accept the need for a consolidation measure, which was outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about the disappearance of cinemas from rural areas. As far as I know, they have already disappeared. It is very rare to see cinemas in rural areas, but even in substantial conurbations we have seen the conversion of cinemas into bingo halls and for many other uses. There is no doubt that the development of video has had much to do with it. In Southall in West London there is a large Asian population, which, by and large, is keen on the cinema. However, even there cinemas are disappearing because so many people have bought video recorders and can watch the same films at home. It is very much a pattern of our times.

    I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that we do not wish to impose any more restrictions on cinemas than are absolutely necessary. However, it is clearly accepted by the House that we must be sure about fire safety in cinemas.

    I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that the Bill applies only to premises that require a cinematograph licence. Therefore, it would be most unlikely to affect theatre groups or adult education institutes. The Bill, as its title implies, relates to cinemas. As to the burdens imposed by fire authorities, the amendment does not alter the present position adversely. Fire authorities are already involved heavily in the inspection of cinemas and the amendment formalises the position. We can be sure that district councils or fire authorities are well aware of economic considerations and will ensure that no more is done than is necessary in the interests of public safety.

    That phrase is the rub—that no more will be done than is necessary. I accept the good faith of the Minister. I have known him for many years and there is no question but that if he had control over the position he would ensure that the minimum was required. However, I draw it to the attention of the House that some fire authorities, in my view and in the view of many both inside and outside the House, are unduly extravagant in their fire safety requirements and put bodies that are struggling for funds to massive and undue expense. All that I can do is to ask my right hon. Friend to underline what he said so that it is firmly on the record, namely, that we wish to have a statutory minimum and no more.

    We are not seeking more than is necessary, but I must stress the words "is necessary". This is an area where the fire and licensing authorities must be sure that the proper fire and safety precautions exist. That must be paramount. If one is in doubt, it is better to err on the side of caution than to minimise restrictions. It is difficult to be more precise, but we are talking about an extremely serious matter, and a little caution is justified.

    When I say "a statutory minimum", I mean what is necessary and no more. Of course I should err on the side of caution, even if it meant extra expense, but I do not wish to err on the side of extravagant provision, which I suggest has occurred occasionally. There has been an open conflict of opinion between experts on fire precautions and fire authorities over what those authorities have required. I accept what my right hon. Friend says.

    I understand my hon. Friend's point. It might be helpful if I spend a few moments explaining the Government's view on fire safety. I hope that I can take my hon. Friend with me.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said that an important consequence of the changes in procedure if his amendments are accepted will be that the fire authority will receive notice of an application for the grant, transfer or renewal of a cinematograph licence and so have an opportunity at any of those stages to inspect the premises. If it is thought fit, it may submit observations to the licensing authority on the suitability of the premises from a fire safety point of view. The licensing authority will be obliged to have regard to those observations in determining the application. In other words, the fire authority's views must be taken into account, although the final decision will rest with the licensing authority.

    It is perhaps worth remarking that to involve fire authorities in cinema licensing arrangements is nothing new. In many parts of Britain, fire authorites already inspect cinema premises, at the request of licensing authorities, and give advice on fire safety. In their application to fire authorities the amendments try to give statutory recognition to an existing practice and to encourage the adoption of that practice country-wide.

    This modest attempt to rationalise licensing procedures will be welcomed by the authorities whose responsibility it is to carry them out. They might be less palatable to cinema proprietors, who might wonder why they should be asked to give 28 days' notice of an application when seven days has sufficed for more than 70 years. They might also ask why it is proposed that the notice provisions should extend to applications for a renewal. Proprietors will be concerned about the prospect of greater demands being made upon them, but it is unlikely that they will be placed under great strain by what is proposed, and they will want to be assured that there are good reasons for what is being done.

    There is good reason for suggesting that the period of notice should be extended, quite apart from the arguments in favour of rationalisation. It is particularly important that the fire authorities should have generous notice of an application. As I have said, it might be necessary for the fire authority to inspect the premises. A fairly detailed inspection might be necessary if premises have not previously been used for cinematographic exhibitions, and on the basis of that inspection a report may have to be prepared for the guidance of the licensing authority. Bearing in mind the many statutory responsibilities of fire authorities, it is asking a great deal to expect the work entailed to be completed in less than a week.

    The arguments for requiring notice of the renewal stage are also concerned with fire safety considerations. A licensee may feel that once his premises have been inspected by the fire authority, and its recommendations have been carried out, there should be no need for further inspections, and therefore, no need for the fire authority to be notified of an intention to apply for a renewal of the licence. Unfortunately, nothing can be further from the truth.

    Fire safety in public buildings is dependent as much on good day-to-day management as on structural considerations. The ease with which bad practices can develop, often undetected by management, makes it important that there should be an opportunity for fire safety procedures to be independently assessed by experts from time to time. However, I emphasise that the fire authority would not be required to submit its observations on receiving notice of an application for a renewal of a licence. For example, in the case of a well-managed establishment it might well decide, on the basis of a recent spot check, that it was unnecessary to do so.

    I hope that what I have said will reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said. I hope too, that the House will feel that what we are doing is reasonable and will support the amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 1, after 'Act', insert

    `unless the contrary intention appears'.

    No. 7, in clause 5, page 3, line 33, leave out 'reason' and insert 'reasonable cause'.

    No. 22, in clause 10, page 7, line 25, leave out 'passing of this Act' and insert

    'day on which this Act is passed'.

    No. 23, in schedule 1, page 8, line 10, leave out ' the premises' and insert 'they'.

    No. 24, in page 8, line 11, leave out 'the provisions of'.

    No. 26, in page 8, line 26, at end insert—

    '2A. For subsection (4) of section 7 of that Act (exhibitions in private dwelling-houses) there shall be substituted the following subsections—
    "(4) The following exemptions shall have effect in relation to any cinematograph exhibition to which this subsection applies, that is to say—
  • (a) neither a licence under section 2 of this Act nor a consent under section 4 of the Cinematograph Act 1952 shall be required by reason only of the giving of the exhibition;
  • (b) where the exhibition is given in premises in respect of which such a licence or consent is in force, no condition or restriction on or subject to which the licence or consent was granted shall apply to the exhibition;
  • (c) regulations under this Act shall not apply to the exhibition; and
  • (d) for the purposes of subsection (2) of this section the giving of the exhibition shall be disregarded.
  • (5) Subsection (4) of this section applies to any cinematograph exhibition which—
  • (a) is given in a private dwelling-house; and
  • (b) is one to which the public are not admitted".'.
  • No. 31, in schedule 2, page 9, line 35, column 3, after `3', insert 'in Part I'.

    No. 32, in page 9, line 37, at end insert—

    `1971 c. 23.The Courts Act 1971.In Schedule 9, in Part I, the entry relating to section 6 of the Cinematograph Act 1952.'.

    These are all drafting or technical amendments. Therefore, by definition they are obscure and difficult to follow. I shall simply commend them to the House.

    I welcome my hon. Friend's alacrity and brevity. There are one or two points that I should like to raise with the Minister and with him. No doubt he was absolutely right to allow hon. Members to make their points to which he can then respond. I doubt whether he will do so quite as briefly, although no doubt he will do so adequately.

    The amendments appear to relate to the 1909 Act. Earlier we debated the merits of the Home Office and its inhabitants. My admiration for its officials is second only to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). Nevertheless, one cannot help but feel that on this group of amendments my hon. Friend has been got at by Home Office officials.

    12.15 pm

    No normal person—I refer to my hon. Friend in this context with great respect—would suggest an amendment in 1982 containing in line 14 of amendment No. 26 the words "cinematograph exhibition". They went out of date with the 1909 Act. We are being asked to approve the same old wording which is not relevant today. I suggest that the correct phraseology is either "home video show" of "home movie" rather than these hackneyed old phrases which have been drawn out of some dust-ridden Home Office cupboard. That is the jargon which people can understand. "Cinematograph exhibition" gives an impression of age to the amendment, which is entirely wrong.

    I agree with my hon. Friend that most of the amendments in this group—for example, Nos. 3, 7, 22, 23, 24, 31 and 32—are drafting amendments. However, amendment No. 26 has a little more substance inasmuch as it changes the wording of the 1909 Act to what one would have hoped would have been more up-to-date wording. Unfortunately, it is still couched in the phraseology of the early days of the twentieth century.

    In line 14 of amendment No. 26 my hon. Friend refers to
    "any cinematograph exhibition which—
  • (a) is given in a private dwelling-house; and
  • (b) is one to which the public are not admitted."
  • I take it that exhibitions run by political clubs, the Round Table and other semi-private organisations would be covered by the amendment.

    It does not matter who gives the cinematograph exhibition—to use the term that, apparently normal people would not use. What matters is whether it is given for private gain. Clause 2 of the Bill gives the detailed test to be applied to determine whether that is so.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that lucid explanation. One would assume that cinematograph exhibitions—to use the term in the amendment—in aid of the Church or a charity would not be for public gain and therefore would be approved.

    I support the amendment with the one caveat that I had hoped that the wording of it would not be so transparently Home Office jargon. Perhaps, even at this late stage, it could be brought a little more up to date.

    I shall respond briefly to the interesting points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). I hope that the consolidation measure will make the situation clearer even if the language used is not necessarily that used in my hon. Friend's household. He rightly described the term "cinematograph exhibition" as an antique phrase redolent only of the Home Office. However, I was interested to note that he could not produce a single phrase that covered all the forms of projecting moving pictures in the Bill. If such a phrase occurs to him, I hope that he will write it down and send it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. It would be useful to have a simple, easy handle.

    My hon. Friend is worried that we should be concerned not only about the traditional cinematograph exhibition but about video exhibitions. Perhaps I can give him some comfort in terms of what the Bill will do rather than in terms of the language in which it is expressed. Clause 1 makes it abundantly clear that video is covered. That is one of the important effects of the Bill.

    There has been some discussion about what the Bill should be called. I have some sympathy with the feeling that the term "cinematograph exhibition" has a slightly archaic ring about it. However, the Bill relates to other Acts on the statute book. The 1909 and 1952 Acts both use the phrase "cinematograph exhibition" and, therefore, it is impossible to inject a new phrase. Perhaps we could reconsider the question when we look at the consolidation measure. I am not sure what the answer will be. Many different words are used to describe "cinematograph exhibition". People talk about "the cinema", "the movies", "the pictures" and "the flicks". Various other expressions are used and there is a notable lack of consensus about the right description. Perhaps "the movies" corresponds most closely with the Bill's intentions. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) looks rather appalled. He might think that "the movies" is an Americanism that should not be incorporated in a Bill.

    In knocking down some of the ideas that he has put up, I hope that my right hon. Friend will also knock down the expression "the flicks".

    I shall certainly knock down that expression, which I used only to illustrate the lack of consensus and the fact that several phrases are used to describe "cinematograph exhibition" which might be even more repellent to my hon. Friends than the polysyllabic phrase "cinematograph exhibition". However, for the reasons that I have given, we cannot resolve the matter this morning.

    I shall fill out the somewhat sparse outline of the amendments given by my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). I confirm that the amendments simply maintain the policies in existing legislation. With the exception of amendments Nos. 12 and 20, their purpose is to ensure that the appropriate references are made in the Bill to exempted exhibitions given in licensed premises. It may help if I give an example of such an exhibition.

    It is common for ordinary cinemas to be hired out of hours by private bodies, such as ethnic minority groups, to give a "members only" exhibition. Because the public would not be admitted to such an exhibition, it does not require a licence and is exempted by section 5(1) of the 1952 Act. However, section 5(3) of the same Act provides that, when such an exhibition—an exempted exhibition—is given on premises in respect of which a licence is in force, safety regulations and conditions have to be complied with.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said, the amendments are purely technical, but amendment No. 26, which replaces section 7(4) of the 1909 Act by a new provision, requires some comment. The proposed provision is considerably longer than section 7(4) but has the advantage of clarifying two points. The proposed subsection (4)(d) would make it clear that exhibitions of the kind that the provision is concerned with do not count towards the six occasional exhibitions permitted under section 7(2) of the 1909 Act before it is necessary to obtain a cinematograph licence. Subsection (5) removes an ambiguity in section 7(4) as to whether it is admittance to the private dwelling house or admission to the exhibition which is at issue.

    I hope that the House agrees that the amendments make several improvements to the Bill which, although minor, are to be welcomed.

    Amendment agreed to.