HC Deb 18 June 1900 vol 84 cc401-4


Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

This is a Bill to amend the Inebriates Act which was passed in 1898. I think it is always objectionable when we have a Bill introduced in one session that it should be necessary to proceed almost in the next session to amend it. It shows the necessity when a Bill is before the House of having it properly considered, so that it should not be necessary always to bring in these amending Bills. Indeed, a great many of the Government measures consist of Bills to amend the legislation of the two previous years. Under the Inebriates Act the funds for providing homes for inebriates are to be levied in the same way as the funds for reformatory schools are levied. These funds are provided under a rate called the prisons rate, so that in order to know what is levied under the Inebriates Act you have to get the Reformatory Schools Act, and when you have found that you have to ascertain how the prisons rate is levied. That rate, I think, in almost all cases is levied on the owners. This Bill proposes to change the rate to the public health rate, which in Scotland is levied half on owners and half on occupiers. I object altogether to the public rates being used for the purpose of providing homes for inebriates. We have precedents for providing money from other sources. As the House is aware, we take certain sums of money from the duties on spirits and licensing for the purpose of aiding local rates. I would suggest that in making provision for the homes for inebriates we ought to provide the funds out of the whisky duty or some other tax of that kind. It seems to me to be a fair principle that if the sale of whisky and other spirituous liquors, which, of course, is recognised in this country, produces an evil requiring a remedy in the shape of suitable inebriate homes, then that provision should be made a special burden on that article of excise which causes drunkenness and the necessity for these homes. That is why I have put down an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I have done so principally to raise the question as regards the change proposed the levying of the tax in connection with public health. As compared with the existing law, certainly the Bill is an improvement. There is no question about that. I do not know why the ratepayers should be compelled to pay for the provision of such homes when many of them do not consume spirits at all. If the burden of providing inebriate homes is placed on the taxation of spirits, you will have a wealthy fund to draw upon, and I am sure there would be no objection whatever in the country. The other point to which I wish to refer is that a new offence has been created so as to bring the inebriates within the Act. I have always a strong objection to the creation of a new offence with the view of bringing it under any particular Act. The common law of Scotland and the licensing laws are strong enough for all practical purposes. Until the Inebriates Act was brought into operation I never heard any complaint as to the law. I do not know any special reason why this new offence should be created. We will hear an explanation from the Lord Advocate, but I hold that the support of an inebriates' home should be a burden on drink itself. I beg to move that the Second Reading be postponed for three months.

MR. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)

seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.' "—(Mr. Caldwell.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


The hon. Member may rest assured that there is no intention here to create any new crime. The scheme of the Inebriates Act was to deal with offences of which drunkenness was the essence of the offence. As it happened, there were a great many offences under English law of which drunkenness was the essence of the offence, and consequently these offences were put in the schedule of the Bill. Persons who suffered conviction for these offences were liable to be put in an inebriates' home. But the law of Scot- land was different. It was mostly common law and not statute law, as in England. There was this anomaly, that except in certain cities under Police Acts there were few places where drunkenness was the essence of the crime. If the Act were allowed to remain un amended it would be practically a dead letter in Scotland. The object of the Bill is to create a new offence in one sense, but it is an old offence in another sense. As regards the other matter, the rating clause, the hon. Member for Mid Lanark candidly confesses that he thinks it an improvement, but his objection is that this ought not to be a charge on the local rates at all, but on the Imperial funds Whether the hon. Member is right or not I am not at the present moment going to discuss. It is perfectly evident that you could not expect that inebriates' homes should be made a charge on the Imperial funds in Scotland, while not so in England. The scheme of the Act of 1898 was that only criminal inebriates were to be dealt with in State inebriate reformatories; but if you come to the minor offences of drunk and disorderly when they are repeated more than a certain number of times within a certain period, then they are to be dealt with in inebriate homes provided by the local authority. That is the law in England, and you would scarcely expect that in Scotland they should be supported from the Imperial funds.


I am afraid I cannot on this occasion follow my hon. friend into the lobby on the ground he has suggested. I quite agree with the Lord Advocate when he states that that would be an injustice to England. In a large number of places in England it has been decided not to put the Act in operation, but where they do put it in operation it must be a charge on the county funds and not a charge on the Imperial Exchequer. I regard that as a very proper manner in which to raise funds for the cost of inebriate homes, for this reason: if you bring home to the people the enormity of excessive drinking you will have better administration under the Licensing Act, and they will put the law in operation to a greater extent to prevent drunkenness than has been done in the past. I must say I am surprised that the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, who takes such a keen interest in most of these questions, should suggest on this occasion that the charge should be an Imperial one.

It being Midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday