I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
I should like, first of all, to outline briefly the background of the present Bill and to deal with some of the criticisms of a more general nature which are being levelled against it. When my predecessor came into this House with what subsequently became the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1960, he, and the Government of the day, sought to establish order out of chaos and they succeeded in doing just that. An effective licensing code was established and consistently enforced. Despite a great deal of criticism, and even cynicism in the early stages, it gradually came to be regarded by the vast majority of our people as eminently satisfactory, except in certain limited aspects. For the first time we had in this country a licensing code suited to our needs, giving general satisfaction and universally and impartially enforced. Law and order prevailed. My simple intention in introducing this present measure is to safeguard that situation.
The 1960 Act has been very successful in meeting the reasonable needs and requirements of our people—surprisingly successful when one remembers the circumstances in which it was introduced. In its main provisions, it has stood the test of time and I am satisfied that it will provide a solid and stable basis for our licensing code for many years to come. It has, however, caused inconvenience and dissatisfaction in some ways. I am concerned to ensure that that element of inconvenience and dissatisfaction should not develop to the point where it would interfere with the consistent observance of the code as a whole. What is not generally acceptable cannot ultimately be effectively enforced. If we find that there is excessive pressure at some of the seams, it is better to do a little letting out in time than to risk a serious rent.
To establish where pressure existed did not cause any great difficulty but to provide acceptable and satisfactory solutions called for careful, anxious and detailed consideration of a variety of factors. I have met deputations from all the principal organisations involved and I have studied views and representations on as wide a scale as possible. Having conscientiously considered all the views and suggestions I received, I finally settled upon the proposals contained in the Bill as the most reasonable and indeed in many cases the only possible solutions. Despite this long process of investigation and consideration to which the proposals have been submitted, however, I am still prepared carefully to consider everything that Deputies will have to say and to examine on their merits any suggestions for improvement which may be put forward.
I wish, at this stage, to emphasise something which I think goes to the very root of this whole matter. There is very little, if any, connection between opening hours and the problem of excessive drinking. The amount a person will drink is determined by a variety of factors—characters, social background and so on—but primarily, in the vast majority of cases, by the amount of money which is available for the purposes. People will, by and large, drink the same amount whether the hours of opening are long or short. I therefore reject emphatically any suggestion that I am, by these proposals, encouraging increased drinking in any way. I am merely proposing, by extending the hours of opening in some minor respects, that those who drink will be able to do so at somewhat more convenient times and in a more civilised and dignified fashion.
I want also to correct an impression which some people are endeavouring to convey, that is that the Bill proposes considerably extended opening hours. It does nothing of the sort. The extensions proposed in the hours of general opening are of a very minor character. What is proposed involves the addition of no more than two or three hours a week to the existing total of approximately 80 hours. Furthermore — and I am very surprised how little advertence there has been to this by some organisations which have been quite critical of the Bill—the Bill contains some very important provisions which are in fact directed to restricting facilities for the sale and consumption of drink.
It has also been suggested that the changes proposed in this Bill are not wanted by anyone and that they are in fact unnecessary. That suggestion is completely incorrect. I shall be dealing later, when I come to the details of the Bill, with the reasons for each of the main provisions, but I want at this stage to say that the demands made upon me for a change have been steady and insistent. There is not one single thing proposed that has not been strongly urged by some responsible organisation or section of public opinion.
I now turn to look at the contents of the Bill. Deputies will have received a copy of an explanatory memorandum which sets out in some detail, and I hope in easily understandable terms, the proposals in the Bill, section by section. In view of this, I am sure that the House would not wish me to go through the proposals in great detail now, but I think that I should, nevertheless, give an outline of the main provisions.
Three changes are proposed in regard to week-day hours. The first relaies to the general closing hour at night. Under existing law, the ordinary closing hour on week-nights is 11.30 p.m. during the months June to September, inclusive, and 11 p.m. during the rest of the year. The Bill proposes that the 11.30 p.m. closing should apply during the period of official Summer Time, with 11 p.m. closing during the rest of the year.
The second change relates to the afternoon closing hour in the four County Boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. At present, public houses in those four places are required to close between 2.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon, and offlicensed premises, while not required to close, are forbidden to sell intoxicating liquor during that hour. The Bill proposes that those restrictions should in future apply only in Dublin and Cork.
The third change that is proposed relates to the general hours of opening for unlicensed business in the morning. The general opening hour for licensed business on week-mornings is 10.30 a.m. but, where a "mixed business" is carried on, the law allows a licensed premises to be open for unlicensed business from 9.0 a.m. onwards. The section proposes that such premises should be allowed to open for unlicensed business from 7.30 a.m. onwards.
The present hours of opening on Sunday are also applicable to St. Patrick's Day and the Bill proposes to retain that arrangement. Accordingly, what I have to say about the hours of opening on Sunday may be taken as referring also to St. Patrick's Day.
The present Sunday opening hours are 12.30 p.m. to 2.0 p.m. and 5.0 p.m. to 9.0 p.m. during the months June to September, inclusive, and 12.30 p.m. to 2.0 p.m. and 5.0 p.m. to 8.0 p.m. during the rest of the year. Generally, the Bill does not propose to alter the first period of Sunday opening, that is to say, the period 12.30 p.m. to 2.0 p.m. There is, however, a qualification to that. It is proposed that in any town or village, other than a county borough or borough, the district court may authorise general opening at 12 noon. This provision is subject to certain conditions. First of all, the licensee who makes the application to the court will be required to prove that his application has the support of a majority of the licensees in the town or village concerned. Secondly, the application cannot be granted if during this half hour between noon and 12.30 p.m. (or any part of it) "a considerable number of people in the locality to which the Order would relate would be likely to be attending Divine Service".
As well as this, the Bill has a similar provision, also applicable only to places other than county boroughs or boroughs, whereby an application may be made to the District Court for an Order permitting opening for a period not exceeding 45 minutes for unlicensed business on Sunday mornings.
Although it is not strictly a question of opening hours, this too is, perhaps, the appropriate point to mention that the Bill has a further provision, applicable to places other than county boroughs or boroughs, to allow persons to put animal-drawn vehicles in the yards of licensed premises on Sundays and certain other days even at a time when the law requires the licensed premises to be closed.
As regards general opening on Sunday evenings, the proposal in the Bill is that the hours should be 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. throughout the year.
So far, I have been dealing with ordinary opening hours. I now come to the question of drink with meals in hotels and licensed restaurants. At present, drink may be served with a substantial meal in hotels and licensed restaurants during certain hours outside the ordinary opening hours. Generally, those additional hours are (1) from closing time on week-nights until midnight; (2) in county boroughs, during the hour 2.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m., i.e., the hour when the general sale of drink is prohibited in county boroughs; (3) on Sundays between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. which is, of course, the hour immediately after the first period of general opening, and also from the general closing time in the evening (i.e. 9 p.m. from June to September, inclusive, and 8 p.m. during the rest of the year) until 10 p.m. These are, of course, the privileges that are available for non-residents. I am not concerned here with residents in hotels or licensed premises: residents have almost complete exemption—within the premises in which they are staying—from the licensing laws and the Bill does not affect that position.
The proposal in the Bill is that the right to serve drink with a substantial meal in hotels and restaurants after the ordinary closing time on weeknights should be extended to 12.30 a.m. and that on Sunday nights it should be extended to 11 p.m. The Bill does not propose to change the other provisions. All the provisions relating to the serving of drink with meals would, however, be affected by another provision in the Bill which is in effect, though not in form, a definition of "substantial meal."
Under the existing law, clubs are subject to the same restrictions as licensed premises as regards the hours during which drink may be served and have the same privileges as hotels and restaurants as regards the serving of drink with a substantial meal. The Bill proposes to continue this arrangement and, accordingly, the changes that it proposes correspond to those that I have already mentioned in relation to licensed premises. It is not proposed, however, to give to clubs the benefit of the provisions which I have mentioned relating to opening before 12.30 p.m. on Sundays in certain circumstances in areas outside the county boroughs and boroughs.
Since there is sometimes some doubt as to what is meant by a club in the context of the licensing laws, may I mention that what I am referring to are members' clubs and nothing else. In particular, I am not referring to late-night restaurants—whether or not they have music or other entertainment. Such premises are not recognised as clubs under the Licensing Acts.
I now turn to the question of exemptions of one kind or another. The Bill proposes to allow a new type of exemption, namely, one applicable to a particular locality during a period of special festivity. The proposal is that only one such exemption may be granted for any locality in the year and that the period of the exemption may not exceed eight days. The Bill proposes to make a corresponding provision in relation to sports clubs, where there is a special event in the club which is likely to attract a considerable number of spectators. As in the other case, the proposal is that only one such exemption may be granted in the year and the period of the exemption is not to exceed five days.
The Bill also proposes to impose certain restrictions both on the granting of special exemption orders, which are exemptions granted to hotels and restaurants, and on the granting of occasional licences, which are licences to sell drink at an unlicensed place on a particular occasion. The restrictions, in both cases, have special reference to the question of the sale of drink at dances. As this is one of the matters to which I intend to revert later, I shall not go into further detail in regard to it at this point.
The Bill also proposes to impose certain restrictions on the granting of general exemption orders. These are the orders that may be granted for the accommodation either of persons pursuing a lawful trade or calling or persons attending a fair or market. Except to a certain extent in Dublin, the restrictions proposed would not interfere with any existing practice with regard to the granting of these orders. The proposal in the Bill would mean that, outside Dublin, these orders could still be granted entirely at the court's discretion for any period from 5 a.m. onwards, in the case of persons attending a fair or market, and from 7 a.m. onwards in the case of persons following a lawful trade or calling. Apart from places where these Orders have been given for the benefit of persons engaged in sea fishing—and it is not proposed to interfere with orders of that kind—no orders have, in practice, been effective for periods earlier than the hours now specified; and the proposed restrictions are intended, not to deal with an existing problem but, rather, to provide a safeguard against possible developments which have been foreshadowed in certain applications that have been made—unsuccessfully so far—in the district court. It is not proposed to interfere with the granting of these orders at any time for the benefit of persons engaged in sea fishing.
What I have said about these orders is not applicable to Dublin. As regards Dublin, general exemption orders have been granted, in the main, to premises in the vicinity of the markets and premises in the vicinity of the docks. In both cases, the tendency has been that applications have been made—and granted—for more and more premises, so that we have had what I might describe as an everwidening circle. The Bill proposes, as far as the markets are concerned, to "freeze" the position as it is at the moment. As drafted, it proposes to prohibit entirely the granting or renewal of these orders in the dock area or, indeed, elsewhere in the city otherwise than in the market areas. This latter proposal was made in response to representations received over a period from various quarters including, in particular, representations on behalf of the workers. Since the workers' representatives concerned have now come to me to say that on fuller consideration they have changed their minds on this issue, I have decided to move an amendment on Committee Stage which will preserve the present situation but, as in the case of the markets, prevent any further extension of the granting of these orders in Dublin.
The Bill proposes to increase from 12 to 15 the number of authorisations that may be granted by the district court to a registered club in any year for the supply of intoxicating liquor at times outside the normal hours. Without at this point going into the merits of this proposal, may I take the opportunity to clear up a misunderstanding that seems to be fairly common about club extensions. From some criticisms one reads from time to time, one would get the impression that a club can get an extension every night of the year, including every Sunday, on the flimsiest excuse. The fact is that, no matter how good a case a club can make to the court, it is limited to 12 extensions in the year: that is, 12 days out of 365. I think that it is well to mention this so that we may see it in proper perspective.
The Bill also proposes to allow licences to be granted to greyhound racing tracks. Here again, the licences would be subject to special conditions, the conditions in this case being that drink could be sold only on the day of race meetings, sales or trials and then only during the period beginning 15 minutes before the commencement of the meeting, sale or trials and ending at the start of the last race or the end of the sale or trials as the case may be.
Another provision which, I think, I should refer to here is one relating to the granting of new licences in rural areas. The 1960 Act permitted a new licence to be granted in a rural area, subject to certain conditions. The most important condition, perhaps, is that the applicant must be in a position to extinguish two existing licences, but these two existing licences may be in any part of the State. The Bill proposes to amend that provision to the extent that in future a new licence can be granted under the section in question only if there is no existing similar licence attached to premises within one mile of the premises for which the new licence is sought. However, of course, a licence that was itself granted by virtue of the 1960 Act is not being given the protection of this new provision.
May I mention—since I have received some inquiries on the point— that if it is not already sufficiently provided for by the rules of interpretation set out in the Interpretation Act, 1937, I have in mind moving an amendment to ensure that this change will not prejudice the rights of anybody who has already commenced proceedings to get a new licence under the law as it stands.
In this summary of the main provisions of the Bill, the last proposal to which I intend to refer is the proposal to prohibit the establishment or maintenance of what are popularly known as "locker lounges." I refer to this, not because I think the matter in question is of any great practical importance, but because there has been a considerable amount of newspaper publicity about these places.
So much for the actual content of the Bill. Most of the provisions in it are, I think, appropriate for discussion on the Committee Stage rather than on Second Reading but I would like, at this stage, to deal with a number of matters.
I think I am justified in assuming from the terms of various Parliamentary Questions put to me in recent months, and, indeed, from the terms of the motion of which the main Opposition Party have given notice, that the need for some amending legislation is accepted by all Parties in this House. Agreement on the principle does not mean, of course, that there is not room for differences of opinion as to what the amending legislation should contain, and, indeed, it is quite clear that such differences are not just a possibility but a reality. I hope, however, to convince the House that the proposals in the Bill represent a carefully-considered and reasonable approach to the problem.
May I begin by adverting to one point that I think it is particularly important to bear in mind? There were a number of Deputies who, in the course of the debate on the 1960 Act, criticised the Sunday hours, for instance, as being both excessively long and excessively late but who afterwards asserted that they were neither long enough for holiday resorts nor late enough for country people. Of course, these Deputies did not seriously believe, when they spoke here, that the enactment of the Bill by the Oireachtas would lead to any noticeable change in the extent of illegal drinking. Time has proved the contrary and, thanks to what has been done in that respect, we now meet here knowing that what the Oireachtas decides will, in fact, be made effective. But to know this is also to acknowledge the heavy responsibility that rests on each and every Deputy here. Nobody can any longer take refuge in the belief that it does not greatly matter what restrictions the Oireachtas imposes because any problems that result will be solved by the exercise by the local Garda Síochána of what used to be called discretion. We must all face the full consequences of what we decide now; and if I lay particular stress on that point I think that it is right that I should do so, especially because it seems very probable, in the nature of things, that the decisions which the Oireachtas will now make will not be reviewed for some considerable time.
One does not get, or expect, unanimity in relation to the licensing laws but all the trade, tourist and sporting organisations which I have met showed a remarkable degree of unanimity on two major matters: first, that, subject to some qualifications that I shall mention, the present week-day hours are giving general satisfaction and are reasonably adequate even in holiday resorts and, secondly, that the present Sunday hours are very definitely unsuitable.
The first qualification to the statement that the present week-day hours are regarded as satisfactory even by those most directly concerned is that the present four-month season during which we have 11.30 p.m. closing is too short and that the change from 11 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. closing should coincide with the change from ordinary time to Summer Time. The second qualification is that there is a need for exemptions on important festive occasions, where the town is, so to speak, en fête, and there is insufficient accommodation, including shelter, toilet facilities, etc., in the town for the visitors, a proportion of whom remain overnight and perhaps for several days. Certain race meetings which traditionally have a carnival air associated with them have been mentioned as good examples of the kind of occasion that is envisaged but there also are other, perhaps, lesser-known, occasions, such as when important music festivals or fleadhanna ceoil are promoted in small towns. The Bill makes provision for an exemption on such an occasion, but as a safeguard against abuses, there is a specific limit to one a year in any locality.
I believe that the proposals regarding week-day opening will be accepted generally as both reasonable and adequate.
I now turn to the question of Sunday opening. We may as well recognise frankly that the question of Sunday opening is both controversial and difficult. Perhaps, I should deal first with those aspects of it which will, I hope, be accepted by Deputies on all sides as both necessary and reasonable, namely, those provisions that affect rural areas on Sunday mornings.
In dealing with those provisions, I shall have occasion to refer to certain well-recognised social customs; and if I speak of them in the context of persons attending Mass, I do so simply as a convenient way of pinpointing the problem and I am not overlooking the members of other religions.
I think it will be generally acknowledged that in most parts of rural Ireland there was a long-established custom whereby the licensing laws were not strictly enforced for a period after each Mass in the smaller towns and villages. When I speak of a long-established custom, I am not referring merely to the relatively recent period preceding the enactment of the 1960 Act when the enforcement of the licensing laws generally had become very lax. This is something that in some cases goes back to the days well before the establishment of the State. The Bill proposes to give a certain degree of recognition to this custom in villages and towns other than county boroughs and boroughs.
In practical terms, and in relation to a typical country town or village where there may be two Masses, the effect of the proposal would be, in the first place, that the District Court could authorise public houses to open for a short period not exceeding three-quarters of an hour after the first Mass for the sale of goods other than drink. This is designed to permit the sale of goods such as newspapers, cigarettes and the like which are likely to be on sale at that time in other premises that are not licensed. It is not proposed, during that period, to permit drink to be sold. This, admittedly, is a compromise in that it may safely be assumed that a certain amount of drink used be sold even after the first Mass. However, the main problem at that time is the permission to open for unlicensed business and, if we permit that, I feel we are going a reasonable way to meet the legitimate needs of the public and, incidentally, of the traders.
Secondly, where, as is the case in many areas, the second Mass is over, perhaps, at a quarter to 12, the position at the moment is that anybody wanting to go into a public house, whether it be for licensed business or unlicensed business, has to wait three-quarters of an hour. To meet the problem that arises in that sort of case, the Bill proposes that the District Court can authorise opening for any type of business at noon.
The Bill has explicit provisions to guard against any practice of opening of public houses before Mass is over.
As well as those provisions, it is proposed to allow animal-drawn vehicles to be put in the yards of licensed premises, as has been the custom down the years in some places, while people are attending Mass. This proposal, like those that I have just mentioned, relates only to places outside county boroughs and boroughs.
I now come to the question of Sunday evening opening. The main Opposition Party have given notice of their intention to move that the House decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill and the motion sets out the grounds. One of these grounds expressly relates to Sunday evening opening and one relates to holiday resorts and is, I assume, intended to be taken as referring, primarily at all events, to Sundays also. As I have already said, various interested parties have represented to me that it is in respect of Sunday opening that establishments in holiday resorts have the most difficulty in meeting the requirements of the general public.
I can, of course, well understand the main Opposition Party criticising or opposing what is in the Bill as regards Sunday opening and advocating some alternative, but, quite frankly, I find it extremely difficult to understand why such opposition should be a ground for opposing a Second Reading of the Bill. As I said earlier, it is, I believe, common ground that there is a need to change the present law and I would have thought that that would have been sufficient ground for them to accept the Bill on Second Reading, making clear if necessary that they disagree with certain proposals, and then proceeding, on Committee Stage, to put down the necessary amendments. After all, it is not as if it could be said with any show of reason that the Bill is not reasonably capable of being amended to meet whatever views the main Opposition Party may have: if they want to substitute some other hours for the Sunday evening hours proposed in the Bill, all that is needed, basically, is an amendment of one single word or, at most, two words in Section 2 of the Bill, and, if they wish to put in a special provision exclusively for holiday resorts, there is nothing to prevent their putting down an amendment to insert an additional section or subsection setting out what they have in mind.
Yet, in one sense, I actually welcome the motion—and, of course, I am duly grateful for the fact that advance notice of it has been given. I welcome it in the sense that I take it to be an indication that the main Opposition Party this time have an agreed policy in relation to the Bill. That in itself is an advance. To say this is not to decry the value of the contributions of individual Deputies, who express their personal views. Indeed, in a matter of this kind, which transcends Party allegiance, it is particularly desirable that expression should be given to different points of view. But at some point in the discussion, decisions have to be made—decisions which in some respects involve a balancing of partly conflicting interests—and I do not think that there can be any gainsaying the fact that a definite policy by each Party, at least on the major issues, is what is most likely to lead to responsible and acceptable solutions.
Broadly speaking, the present opening hours on Sunday evening have been criticised on two grounds. The first ground is that there is too great a gap on Sunday afternoons. This criticism has been voiced mainly, though not exclusively, in the context of the needs of people in holiday resorts, and on special occasions elsewhere. The second main ground of criticism has been that the closing hour of 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., as the case may be, is too early for the needs of people, especially in rural areas.
It will, I think, be better if I deal first with the evening closing-hour. It has been stressed repeatedly by persons from all walks of life, and persons representing different interests, that the present closing hour of 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., as the case may be, is seriously out of harmony both with the needs of the situation and with the practice that had actually obtained before the 1960 Act was passed. The general view of those people was that anything earlier than 10 p.m. would be quite inadequate. Many suggested that a later hour—up to 10.30 p.m. at any rate—was justified, but there seemed to be a fairly general acceptance of the view that a 10 p.m. closing could be accepted.
As regards the afternoon, the problems that arise in towns on the occasions of football matches and the like are immediately obvious; but while we all, I suppose, tend to take the big occasion (such as the occasion of a big match) to illustrate how a problem arises in the afternoon, the same need arises, more regularly if not quite so obviously, with people who are away from home for the afternoon for any reason whatsoever, if only out for a walk. The present hours beginning at 5 p.m. cater to some extent for these needs but, if there were any question of confining the general opening hours to the period after the usual tea-time on Sunday night, there would be a significant unsatisfied demand from the many people who seek a drink in the late afternoon, before tea. And, whether we like to admit it or not, there are dangers in any arrangement which tends to ignore a significant unsatisfied demand.
Holiday resorts, of course, present another problem but, unfortunately, perhaps, they do not all present the same problem. We have some resorts in which practically all the demand is for opening in what I might call the mid-afternoon period: certainly earlier than the present 5 p.m. opening. These are the resorts which cater to a large extent, and in some cases apparently almost entirely, for what are called "day-trippers", that is to say, persons visiting the resort for the day only or, as it often means in practical terms, for the afternoon. The picture as presented to me by various interested organisations has been something like this. Those "day-trippers" may have travelled up to 30 or 40 miles, or even more. They may or may not have had their lunch before leaving home but, one way or the other, they are not as a general rule interested in going in to public houses when they arrive. They prefer to swim or walk, and generally, to enjoy themselves in the open air. However, after a couple of hours in the open air, many of them wish to have a drink or two, but, under the present arrangements for opening at 5 p.m., they are unable to do so with any degree of relaxation, because by that time they have to be making arrangements to return home.
On the other hand, other resorts have a demand running right through the present opening period and, for them, the present closing hour is not late enough. In this respect, their needs are much the same as the needs of other areas where there is an obvious demand for more facilities than are at present allowed on Sunday nights.
I do not suggest that the 4 p.m. opening proposed in the Bill will meet fully all the problems that arise in certain holiday resorts. I might have ventured to make such a suggestion if, in fact, our resorts never experienced anything but sunny weather on Sunday, but, since occasional rain is not unknown in some of them, the problem arises as to where a bus-load of visitors is to go if the afternoon turns out to be wet. It is easy, of course, to comment that it is a poor showing if the only facilities available in a resort are the public houses but, while there is some validity in that comment, we have to have regard to the realities and one of the realities, in my view at all events, is that in many cases a good sing-song in the bar or lounge of a public house on a wet evening is not merely a pleasant way of passing the time if the hopedfor sun does not emerge, but may be the only alternative to a few hours' boredom sitting in a bus looking out at the rain. I am alive to that problem. The Bill does not meet it fully but I do not think we can do more.
Various people have advocated that the needs of holiday resorts should be met by the device of area exemption orders applicable to the resorts every Sunday during the season, with, perhaps, variations in the hours as between one resort and another to suit local conditions. This is an approach to the problem which certainly merits consideration, and, for my part, I can assure the House that I myself, first of all, and, later, the Government, looked at this very closely. As is clear from the Bill, we rejected the idea.
When one comes to consider the idea of area exemption orders, two difficulties immediately present themselves. First of all, there would be the objections—the serious objections —that arise from the very fact of there being a differential between one area and another. We have had this problem, in one form or another, more than once before. If it were the question of exemptions during part of the afternoon only, that might not—I do not say would not—create very much of a problem in respect of some resorts, but I think that there can be no doubt that, in the case of those resorts within easy reach of the bigger centres of population, there would be a very real risk that we would once again have large numbers of people travelling to get drink.
The second problem that would present itself is the finding of a reasonable and workable definition of "holiday resort". I do not suggest that this is a completely insurmountable obstacle but, if any Deputy thinks that an easy and completely satisfactory solution is to leave it to the district court to decide, I will remind him that, in the days before the passing of the 1960 Act, when we had provision for area exemption orders on Sundays, district justices were known to grant them for isolated premises on no better ground, apparently, than that quite a few people went for walks in that direction on Sunday evenings, and if anybody hazards a guess that more people went for walks in that direction after the exemption order was granted than before, his guess will probably be right.
We should, I think, also ask ourselves what precisely are the objections to extended opening hours on Sundays. As I understand it, the objections are, first of all, on religious grounds and, secondly, on social grounds. But if we object to opening in an inland town beyond a certain number of hours—whatever that number may be—on the basis that more extended opening hours would seriously conflict with the sanctity of Sunday, can we, in the same breath, advocate additional hours in holiday resorts? I merely put the question. The answer I would prefer to leave to somebody else.
These are some of the aspects of the problem of Sunday opening. Obviously there are, and will be, conflicting views and conflicting interests. No solution will satisfy everybody, and, if we exclude the extremes of complete closing on the one hand or opening throughout the entire day on Sunday on the other, one might say that no solution would satisfy anybody completely. The proposals in the Bill exclude the idea of exemptions for holiday resorts but go, I think, a substantial way to meet their needs as well as the needs of other areas.
I turn now to what is, in my view, the other really important proposal in the Bill, namely, the proposal to restrict the granting of occasional licences for ordinary "house" dances in commercial dance halls and to restrict, on somewhat similar lines, the granting of special exemption orders for hotels and restaurants.
I believe that these provisions will be generally welcomed and, if they are likely to be criticised at all, they may be criticised on the grounds that they do not go far enough. However, I think that the proposals in the Bill with regard to drink at dances strike the right compromise. There are some who advocate a complete prohibition on the sale of drink at dances but, while one may respect that point of view, it is, I think, too rigid, and if put into practice might well, indeed, lead to greater evils than any of those which it would be intended to combat. Besides, there is a valid and important distinction between the special dance, such as the annual dance of the staff of a business firm, or the members of a particular association, or of some group with a common bond who like to get together for an outing once or, perhaps, twice in the year and, on the other hand, the regular "house" dance which is apt to have substantially the same clientele week after week and, perhaps, in some cases, several times a week.
In the first case, one is dealing with a special social event of which the average patron is unlikely to attend more than one or a couple in the entire year. With regular "house" dances, one is dealing with what is, or may easily become, little more than a front for an ordinary public house trade, especially when the price of admission to the dance is insufficient to deter people whose only interest is in getting drink after the normal opening hours. To permit this is clearly inconsistent with the accepted public policy that public house trading is to end at a fixed time, be it 11.30 p.m. or 11 p.m.
I should also mention that with some isolated exceptions—there would not be much more than half a dozen in the whole State—the granting of authority for the sale of drink at "house" dances in commercial dance halls is a very recent development. Unfortunately, it has shown every sign of spreading. A recent survey by my Department showed that, in the preceding 12 months, there had been an increase of roughly 50 per cent, in the number of occasional licences granted for "house" dances in commercial dance halls as compared with the preceding year. This does not reflect any real need for these facilities but, rather, the well-recognised fact that where somebody succeeds in an application of a particular type, others tend to follow suit, and the court which allowed the first application, possibly in a moment of weakness, finds itself a victim of precedent. In any case, the entire licensing code is based on the proposition that, in the sale of liquor, the law of supply and demand cannot be allowed free operation, and there will be few who will deny that it would be a most undesirable development if the sale of drink at ordinary dances should become a regular feature.
Similarly, in relation to special exemption orders, there has been a growing tendency for hotels to apply on what I can only describe as the flimsiest of excuses to the courts for these orders and since the courts have, in recent times, shown an unwillingness to confine the operation of the order to persons attending the function —nominal though the latter be in some cases—the effect has been that certain hotels have been allowed to do what is for all practical purposes a public house trade with casual passers-by at a time of night when the ordinary public houses are compelled to remain closed. There can be no possible justification for this. If public houses are forbidden to serve drink at a sing-song in the lounge at 1 o'clock in the morning, nobody could justify allowing hotels to do so. If it is contrary to the public interest to allow it in one case, it must equally be so in the other.
The proposals in the Bill with regard to the granting of special exemption orders for functions of this nature are based on the principle that, since these exemption orders are in the nature of privileges available to hotels and restaurants only, they should be related to functions which include a meal. This test is, I feel, both reasonable in its practical application and logical in principle, for it is the serving of meals which is the main if not the only feature of hotels or restaurants which justifies their getting privileges not available to the ordinary public house.
I would mention in passing that there have been newspaper reports to the effect that some persons have taken time by the forelock and applied to the courts for special exemption orders and, perhaps, occasional licences for the entire summer period. When the 1960 Act was drafted, it was thought that the repeal, not only of the provisions under which area exemption orders were actually granted, but also of the provisions which gave force to such orders, sufficed to cancel all existing orders. In the event, the Supreme Court held otherwise. In the present Bill account has been taken of that fact, and there is a specific provision relating to this matter.
I mention this now, lest it be said later that persons innocently incurred expense on making applications to the court which, if the Bill becomes law, will prove a waste of time. I do not think I need offer any defence for this provision. We are seeking to stop what is clearly and obviously an abuse and it could hardly be contended that persons who, when they see the terms of a Bill, seek to evade it by making applications for periods far ahead of what they would normally apply for, have any grievance if their efforts are frustrated.
Finally, I want to come to Section 15. Section 15 was designed to meet a particular problem. As a general rule, our public houses do not supply meals and in the ordinary course of events a person who wishes to have a drink with a meal cannot do so unless he goes to an hotel which, for a variety of reasons, he may not wish to do. Practically any restaurant can get a wine licence, but, because of the limitations on the type of drink which may be served under such a licence, the majority of restaurants have not bothered to apply for one. It is true, therefore, that to a large extent eating and drinking in this country have been kept in separate and distinct compartments. I think that this is entirely undesirable. Food and drink are complementary and, I think, it is socially desirable that we should get more and more away from the custom of indulging in fairly long periods of drinking without partaking of food of any kind. Section 15 was put forward in an effort to do something about that situation. However, it has been represented very strongly by very responsible sections of the community that the proposal as published could lead to serious abuse. The Government, accordingly, have decided not to proceed with this particular proposal on this occasion. I believe, however, that there is a situation in this regard which must be remedied. An establishment which is devoted exclusively to selling drink and nothing else is an anachronism and if our publicans do not make an effort within the next few years to provide reasonable facilities for meals for their customers it may be necessary to make some further provision in this regard.
That is all I have to say at this point about what is in the Bill but, before concluding, I should like to refer briefly to one other matter. A number of people have spoken to me about the desirability of improving the toilet accommodation in public houses generally. I agree that, over a wide area, there is considerable room for improvement in this regard.
The 1960 Act provided that the court might refuse to renew a licence on the grounds of unfitness of the premises and as the health authority is competent to object either to the granting of a licence or to its renewal, I hope, that, over a period, a substantial improvement can be expected. I think that I have covered the main points and it only remains for me to commend the Bill to the House.