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Licensed Premises in New Towns Bill (Allocation of Time)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st July 1952.

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Photo of Mr David Maxwell Fyfe Mr David Maxwell Fyfe , Liverpool, West Derby 12:00 am, 21st July 1952

I do not want to be at all unkind to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), but one very good way of learning what are the reasons for which I say their interests are affected would be to let me tell him, and that I shall proceed to do.

In following your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, it would not be right for me to go at length into the three points which I emphasised on the Second Reading of this Bill as to the difficult and laborious steps that will have to be retraced if the policy of the nationalisation of public houses in the new towns were not quickly reversed, and, therefore, I simply refer to them from the angle of the difficulty that we should be causing if we proceeded with the steps which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite desire.

Merely to recount them, the first was the opposition which showed itself to the preliminary steps that were taken by my predecessor in considering whether any of the existing licensed premises should be excluded from State management. It aroused an opposition which was neither synthetic nor confined to the new towns most immediately affected.

The second point, which underlined the laboriousness of those steps that would have to be retraced, is that we should have to spend a large sum of public money on the acquisition of these premises. As I reminded the House, the late Government had included a sum of £1 million for a number of houses—barely half those involved—and a further large sum would have been required for the rest.

The third point, of which I merely remind the House, is that that course would have required the setting up, for 12 widely separated new towns, of a supervisory organisation which would have had to be destroyed again when the new procedure came into operation.

Those are what one might term the negative points, and, in my submission to you, Mr. Speaker, they are serious enough. On the other hand, there are the positive points, which arise from the moment of time at which we now are in regard to development. If there is to be a change, it is essential that it should be implemented without delay, because the longer it is put off the greater will be the period of uncertainty and impediment to the ordinary development of the new towns. These positive points also fall under three heads, and I hope to put them quite shortly to the House.

The first is that three houses which have already been built by the development corporations in Harlow, Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage are now proceeding towards their completion. It was not possible to apply for licences for them at this year's brewster sessions. If licences are not applied for until the next brewster sessions, they would not become effective until April at the earliest, and that is taking a very optimistic view of the time in which the confirmation proceedings would be completed. In that case, these houses would stand completed and unused, and would bring in no revenue.

This Bill, as hon. Gentlemen who have studied it will appreciate, enables me to give certificates under Clause 4 (8) in respect of such houses, and it would then be possible to get licences for them at transfer sessions without waiting until the next brewster sessions, and so the delay would be avoided. It is clearly to the financial interests of the development corporations that these houses should be made ready and brought into use, and it is clearly in the interests of the inhabitants of the new towns, who will be their customers. That is the first point.

We must also consider the houses for which sites have been selected and plans passed. In these cases also, progress must be delayed until the Bill becomes law. As I understand the position, there is no dispute between the two sides of the House as to the importance of developing the new towns as complete and balanced communities, with all necessary amenities and suitable licensed accommodation, without allowing excessive delay to intervene between the arrival of the new population and the provision of this accommodation. The great question between us, on which we hold such strong and diverse views, is who should provide the accommodation and who should control these houses. Until the Bill is passed and the uncertainty is removed the plans for providing that accommodation cannot go forward.

The third point is the question of future years and further developments. Of course, the development corporations want to push on with their plans to the next stage and to begin to settle their building programme for ensuing years. It is of the utmost importance to them that they should take into account the provision necessary for new licensed premises. The fact remains that they cannot proceed much further with this vitally important work without the assistance of the committees that will be set up under this Bill. For this reason, again, the early enactment of this Measure is essential in the interests of the new towns and of the proper progress of the plans of the development corporations.

I want to deal not only with that facet of the matter, but with the arguments which are implicit in the Motion on the Order Paper. When last February the Bill was given a Second Reading and the Government proposed that it should be committed to a Committee of the whole House, it seemed reasonable to suppose that time could be found for its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. Subsequent events and the exceptional demands of financial business have frankly upset that calculation, and by reason of the critical economic situation bequeathed to us by right hon. Gentlemen opposite we have had an exceptionally complex Budget and Finance Bill which occupied no fewer than 11 days in Committee on the Floor of the House. Once the House had decided to commit the present Bill to a Committee of the whole House, the Government were naturally—and I am sure everyone would sympathise with this—