Night club bill

Legislation concerning nightclubs, 27 March, 1925 (Catalogue ref: CAB 24/172)


(This document is the property of His Majesty’s Government)

SECRET                                     C A B I N E T

C.P. 182 (25).                          NIGHT CLUBS BILL

Memorandum by the Home Secretary

I understand my colleagues desire a little further information as to the reason for this Bill. They will be aware perhaps that this is not the first occasion when the matter has been before Parliament. In 1915 the Clubs (Temporary Provisions) Bill was passed for the continuance of the War.

In moving its Second Reading in the House of Lords on November 4th, 1915, Lord Curzon said “it was designed to put an end to a great scandal by arresting the growth of night clubs, which were haunts of temptation and dens of iniquity in our great towns; they were snares provided to trap the unwary, there were in them scenes of drinking, gambling and immorality.

In introducing the Bill in the House of Commons Sir John Simon, then Home Secretary, said “these institutions are the resort of every kind of scoundrel and harpy.”

In January of this year I received a deputation introduced by the Bishop of London and representing practically every Christian Church and Social Organisation in London, unanimously asking me to take steps to revive three of the main provisions of the 1915 Act, so far as regards night clubs-: (1) to prohibit harbouring of any undesirable persons in night clubs; (2) to provide satisfactory methods of registration; (3) to provide for the entry of police officers, not under the rank of Inspectors, at any time to night clubs.

The speeches which were made by these gentlemen were corroborated by the Commissioner of Police. I obtained a long report from him and put before me the difficulties as follows-:

First, the difficulty of obtaining evidence as distinct from mere information of what takes place inside. Second, the difficulty even if a search warrant is obtained, in executing it in such a way as to secure the evidence necessary.

My colleagues will be aware that though the Police may have reason to suppose that the law as to the sale of intoxicating liquors is being evaded flagrantly, they cannot get a warrant until they can prove to the satisfaction of the magistrate that enough has actually taken place to justify him in issuing a warrant.

Beyond this, having got the warrant, it is very difficult to get in. At Lamb’s Club, for instance the only means of access was by a small lift. In the Quadrant case there was an elaborate system of doors and bells to obstruct entry.

Further, persons who are notoriously making huge profits out of the  illegal sale of liquor in a night club can immediately after one is raided and closed, open another one (even in the same building) and the whole trouble begins over again. I need only mention the well know case of Mrs Merrick who with her daughter seems to ring the changes in regards to the siting of her nightclubs.

It may be said ‘why interfere with these clubs’. In the first place my reply would be, that there is a strong belief that these clubs are not only breaking the law in regard to the sale of intoxicating liquors, but are in certain cases the haunts of very undesirable characters, and that young men inconsequence led astray in a way they would not be in decently conducted licensed premises. The law provides generally speaking to take the Metropolis alone- that no drink maybe supplied in any night club after 11 o’clock in the evening, and that all drink so supplied must be consumed before 11.30 o’ clock, or if a special certificate is obtained under Section 3 of the Licensing Act, 1921, 12 and 12.30 respectively.

If my colleagues desire that unlimited drinking should go on through al hours of the night, let us alter the licensing hours and enact accordingly, but I think in that case the enactment would have to extend to the licensed public-house or restaurant.

If my colleagues are not prepared for this course, I submit that it is perfectly clear that the law must be obeyed. There is nothing worse in this or any other country than the enactment of laws which are openly disobeyed by sections of the community, and my reason for asking leave to bring in this Bill is that some further steps are required to enable us to see that the law whatever it may be is obeyed.

The plan of the Bill is, first, to take the existing law (Section 91, etc. of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act 1910) as the registration of clubs which applies to all clubs, good or bad, supplying liquor on their premises, and add it to special provisions relating to night clubs

What objection could be taken to this proposal? It will not in the least degree hurt well conducted night clubs, of which doubtless some of my colleagues could give me the addresses. There would be no objection to an officer making an inspection and my colleagues will remember that during the war this right existed in regard to all clubs including our own and was never burdensome.

I have been very careful as I said before to avoid anything that would appear harsh or in the nature of kill-joy legislation, but I believe the country does demand a better regulation of these clubs, and I say with full sense of responsibility as the political head of the London Police that they cannot conduct their duties effectually and efficiently without some such powers as I am now asking for.

Finally, I may mention that clause 9 contains a provision as to the controller of any club knowingly allowing it to be used as an habitual resort of prostitutes or gamesters. I see no harm in including this which will be of assistance to the Police, but it will be for my colleagues to decide whether they will include it, or not.

27th March, 1925           W.J. H. [William Joynson-Hicks, Home Secretary]

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