Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Thursday 25 June 1992


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Abbott, Ms. Diane (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Aspinwall, Mr. Jack (Wansdyke)

Baker, Mr. Nicholas (Dorset, North)

Barnes, Mr. Harry (Derbyshire, North-East)

Batiste, Mr. Spencer (Elmet)

Canavan, Mr. Dennis (Falkirk, West)

Colvin, Mr. Michael (Romsey and Waterside)

Coombs, Mr. Anthony (Wyre Forest)

Corbyn, Mr. Jeremy (Islington, North)

Evans, Mr. David (Welwyn, Hatfield)

Gardiner, Sir George (Reigate)

Hanley, Mr. Jeremy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

Knapman, Mr. Roger (Stroud)

Lester, Mr. Jim (Broxtowe)

Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)

McNamara, Mr. Kevin (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Marshall, Mr. Jim (Leicester, South)

Stott, Mr. Roger(Wigan)

Trimble, Mr. David (Upper Bann)

Mr. F. A. Cranmer, Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 25 June 1992

[SIR GILES SHAW in the Chair]

Draft Licensing (Validation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1992

10.30 am

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Licensing (Validation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1992. We are greatly honoured, Sir Giles, not only by your presence as Chairman and as a former Northern Ireland Minister but by the presence of so many senior Members of the House to discuss this important order. The original representations that led to the order were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). We are grateful for the diligence with which he carried out his work. He visited Stormont with members of the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade Northern Ireland. As a result, the order is before us. The nub of the order is in article 3, which is designed to restore good title to liquor licences which are of doubtful standing as a result of a recent court ruling. It regularises the provision where two or more protection orders have been granted to the same person in respect of a specific licence. A protection order enables a person acquiring a licensed business to begin trading before he obtains a licence. Since 1971, courts have many times granted successive protection orders to the same person before the licence was formally transferred. However, the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland recently held that the law allows only one protection order for the same person, otherwise the licence is void. It will distress the Committee to learn that there are about 500 other licences which, through no fault of the holders, are similarly affected. Article 3 will ensure that title to them is still valid. I commend the order to the Committee.

10.32 am

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I understand that the order is purely retrospective—

Mr. Hanley: Indeed.

Mr. Trimble—that it merely cures the problem of several protection orders being made previously, that it does not change the law prospectively and that it means that whereas in some circumstances it was in the past necessary to have several protection orders, people will have to act within the six-month period provided by one protection order. That might cause problems to anyone administering the estate of a deceased licensee. The average time for obtaining probate or letters of administration in Northern Ireland is nine months. If the trade and the legal profession are happy with the order, they will set a target for having an estate administered and the licences transferred in less time than it usually takes to obtain letters of administration or 4 probate. I hope that they will be able to achieve it. I wonder whether it might not have been appropriate in the order to give the option of a second protection order. I hope that we do not have to come back in a few years' time to consider the issue again. I hope also that we do not find that a number of people are disadvantaged in practice. As this is a minor order that makes a slight adjustment to the 1990 licensing order, a couple of other matters might be worth mentioning relative to that order which perhaps could have been dealt with in today's order, but may be considered later. I consulted colleagues in the legal profession to ask whether there were aspects of the 1990 order that caused difficulties because I thought that this might be a good time to mention them. I am indebted to Mr. David McBrien for mentioning a couple of minor matters.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): Get on with it.

Mr. Trimble: We do, of course, have plenty of time to go into these matters and there are at least 55 minutes before my next appointment.

The Chairman: Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that others may not be so fortunate.

Mr. Trimble: I shall be happy to indulge you, Sir Giles, if not the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who commented earlier from a sedentary position. A problem was caused by the decision of the Court of Appeal, and there was a county court decision in 1986 by Judge Rowland in the case of Mulholland, which related to article 36 of the 1990 Order, which covers alterations. I have not been able to check the decison because Northern Ireland law reports are not available here, nor is the "Bulletin of Northern Ireland Law", in which the case is noted only briefly. I am informed that Judge Rowland took the view that article 36, which relates to the alteration of premises, applied only to hotels or public houses that provide accommodation. He found that if alterations are being made to licenced premises which do not have accommodation, the parties cannot take advantage of article 36, but must instead take the route of applying for a new licence under article 7. There are different procedures and different fees and expenses, and it is more expensive to apply by the article 7 route. There seems to be confusion about which applies to which. Perhaps this could be looked into. Article 33(7) relates to premises which have, say, a public house on one floor and a restaurant on the floor above. The provision allows an internal means of access between the pub and the restaurant if it is licensed, but does not permit such access if the restaurant above is not licensed. The tourist board of Northern Ireland requires a restaurant to operate for six weeks before it will consider granting a certificate, but it is necessary to have a certificate from the tourist board before applying for a restaurant licence. It is the chicken-and-egg problem. It could be cured by the tourist board changing its procedures. That is something that should be taken into account. Article 50 enables applications to be made for extended hours where entertainment is being provided. Applications for licences go to a county court for initial grant and then they must go to the court of petty sessions for an article 50 5 order. Two applications to two different courts mean inconvenience and expense. I am sure that it would be more convenient if only one court proceeding was involved. I understand that in some parts of Northern Ireland the police have objected to what are called beer gardens—open spaces at the back of public houses where chairs and tables are set out. In one case, police objected on the ground that they were not inside the premises. Surely this was taking too narrow a view of the legislation. Perhaps the Minister could consider that. Another small problem relates to the definition of premises in article 22. Premises have to be clearly marked in a plan. This means that corridors leading to toilet facilities are not included in the premises, so that people who stand in corridors holding a drink—

The Chairman: Order Despite the hon. Gentleman's great interest and skill in the subject, he is going further than this somewhat limited order allows. Toilets, corridors and beer garden areas are all very well, but this is not the right place to debate them. The hon. Member should relate his remarks to the order.

Mr. Trimble: I accept your ruling, Sir Giles; I was beginning to stray out of order. However, the problem could have been dealt with in the order. When I mentioned corridors, I did not mean to imply that people would commit offences inadvertently. I realise that the Minister will not be able to reply in detail to my comments, but I am glad to have brought them to his attention. As for the order, it is purely technical and we hope that it will not cause future problems.

10.40 am

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): I begin by acknowledging the Minister's thanks for the action that I took to start the ball rolling. As a consultant to the Federation of Retail Licensed Trade Northern Ireland, I should declare an interest. I give it what advice I can and I am one of only two Members to hold a licence to run a public house. The 2,000 public houses in Northern Ireland perform a unique function—they are one of the places where people can meet and socialise in a non-sectarian atmosphere. Anything that assists the licensed public house trade should be done because pubs do much to promote social harmony. I thank the Minister and his officials for consulting as widely as they did. The order is exactly what the federation was seeking, and the explanatory memorandum was most helpful. The order incorporates a legal point that was raised during consultation—it will ensure that licensees' interests in an affected licence are fully protected. As a result, article 3 is rather wider than the original explanatory document suggested. Will my hon. Friend the Minister elaborate on its wider scope? The turnout of hon. Members this morning is interesting. Many of us regret the fact that three different sets of legislation are necessary to cover licensing laws in England 6 and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The day that one set of legislation covers the United Kingdom is the day that we secure better productivity from Parliament and spend less time in Committees.

10.43 am

Mr. Hanley: I take first the last point of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside. The turnout today may show the keen sense of duty that the hon. Members feel about such important matters, our keenness of interest in the order, or, most likely, the devotion that we feel towards my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), the Government Whip. The wording of article 3 has been amended to meet the anxieties of those who responded during the consultation process. Responses were received from the Law Society for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Court Service, the Northern Ireland resident management association, the Belfast solicitors association and from judges and solicitors. We have taken those views into account. We have therefore extended the validation to subsequent actions on affected licences. For instance, subsequent renewals and transfers of licences will be covered. The validation also extends as necessary to licences where a previous licensee died or went bankrupt. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), and I am grateful to him for his comments. Although not all of his remarks related to the order, they were none the less important. I assure him that they will be addressed in due course. The hon. Member for Upper Bann asked whether the order was retrospective or whether it would cover future problems of a similar nature. The Law Society of Northern Ireland and trade representatives are satisfied that their members can operate within the existing provisions and can avoid having to seek further protection orders in future. The hon. Gentleman would be rightly suspicious if he felt that that promise could not be kept and that another Committee would have to meet. A person will apply to a court for a transfer of the licence during the currency of the first protection order, and seek adjournments if the appropriate documentation is not available. In effect, there is an easier way to avoid problems in future. I hope that I have answered the points that have been raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Licensing (Validation) (Norther Ireland) Order 1992.

The Committee rose at fifteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.



Shaw, Sir Giles (Chairman)

Aspinwall, Mr.

Baker, Mr. Nicholas

Barnes, Mr. Harry

Batiste, Mr.

Colvin, Mr.

Coombs, Mr. Anthony

Evans, Mr. David

Gardiner, Sir George

Hanley, Mr.

Knapman, Mr.

Lester, Mr.

Lord, Mr.

McNamara, Mr.

Trimble, Mr.