§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with respect to occasional licences.The purpose of this short Bill, which would be called the Occasional Licences and Young Persons Act, 1956, can be explained in a very few sentences, and the arguments can be adduced in a very few more. The Bill asks that Sections 127 and 129 of the Licensing Act, 1953, shall apply to occasional licences as well as to full justices' licences. The effect would be that the employment of persons under the age of 18 in the bar of premises with occasional licences, or the serving of intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 where occasional licences apply, would be illegal. The Bill does that and that alone.
I should like to make it perfectly clear to the House that the Bill does not, for example, prevent children under the age of 14 from attending a function where there is an occasional licence. It might be a surprise to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that this anomaly exists at this time. For very many years it has been illegal for publicans to sell intoxicating liquor to persons under 18, or to employ them in their bars, and Parliament confirmed that opinion as recently as 1953 and the trade has never objected.
In latter days, however, it has been of great concern to magistrates, to the police and to social workers that young people have been able to obtain and have obtained intoxicating liquor in dance halls and other places where occasional licences have been in operation. There have been many undesirable incidents and, in many cases, the youngsters have been brought before the courts for disorderly behaviour while under the influence of drink.
On 31st January of this year, the chairman of the Birmingham Licensing Bench, Mr. Provost, expressed himself as very worried over the tendency to increased drinking by youths and girls under 18 in that city. In his report, the Chief Constable of Birmingham said that the Home Office had asked him for a review of offences involving drunkenness among 1193 persons under the age of 18, and his figures show that while in 1954 18 youths were so convicted, in 1955 the figure had risen to 42 youths and four girls in the City of Birmingham.
Complaints have been made in similar circumstances in Aberdeen, Inverness and many other Scottish cities and towns. Since I made it known that I was seeking leave to introduce the Bill, hon. Members have told me that they have received not only a lot of correspondence, but petitions on this matter from their constituents. The Manchester Guardian has published a factual and telling article on the matter. The Sunday Dispatch has referred to what it calls "drink babies" and has told how police chiefs in many parts of Great Britain are troubled about the drink consumed by people of this age in dance halls.
The same paper said:The flaw in the licensing laws enables youngsters under 18 to cultivate a taste for liquor by going to dances where the organisers have been granted an occasional licence for a bar.The chief police official in Huddersfield said in court the other day that, as the law stood, if a toddler ordered a double whisky the police could take no action whatsoever, and he said that the organisers have found that the attraction of drink doubles, and sometimes trebles, the attendance at these dances.
I do not want to detain the House even for the time that is allowed to me. I will add only that a publication of the Economic Research Council issued last month said that, among young people between the ages of 17 and 20, prosecutions for drinking had risen from 18.4 per 10,000 in 1946 to 61.3 per 10,000 in 1954; similar figures for the ages of 14 to 16 showed a rise of from 1.5 per 10,000 to 4 per 10,000. I am convinced that, in the main, the publicans of the country do their utmost to prevent drink- 1194 ing among young people, but the occasional licence knows no law whatever on the matter. I feel that hon. Members will not object to legislation which will correct this anomaly.
There may be one question. Cannot justices cease to grant licences where they have been abused? Obviously, the answer is "Yes," but it may be quite a different person who applies for the licence in the same premises, and, in any case, it would be only after conviction had taken place or strong complaints had been made by the police. Before that time very great damage might have been done. The Bill does not seek to end occasional licences; it seeks to make these offences among young people wellnigh impossible and to take away the temptation.
It desires only to employ the same safeguards that have applied in public houses for so long. I have had a very kind letter from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Home Secretary in which he says that while he is not convinced of the need for amending legislation, he would not wish to oppose my efforts and offers to help in the drafting of a Bill, if I so desire. I have tried not to overstate my case, and I hope that the House will see fit to give me authority and leave to introduce the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Royle, Mr. Ede, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Black, Mr. Bowen, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Anthony Greenwood, Mr. Hastings, Mr. H. Hynd, Sir Frank Medlicott, Mr. Goronwy Roberts and Mr. George Thomas.