HC Deb 02 May 1900 vol 82 cc549-64


Order for Second Reading read.

* MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)

I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I have no intention to occupy the attention of the House on this occasion. On the 3rd May last year we had a full day's debate on the Bill,† and had it been loft to the Scotch Members it would have gone upstairs. On that occasion there were forty Members who voted for the Bill and † See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series]. Vol. lxx., page 1225. fifteen against it, showing the intense and strong desire on the part of the people of Scotland to have this put upon the statute book. This is one of the great social questions which the people of Scotland have set their minds upon, and in many places they have already adopted the arrangement proposed in the Bill. The truth of the matter is that the prohibition of the issue of licences within the area of these parishes has been exercised not by the will of the people, but by the, will of the landlord. What is wanted is that the same rights that landlords have over their properties should be given to the ratepayers within the area in which they live in respect to the licensing question. The Bill I hold in my hand refers to three different points. The first point is prohibition within areas in the hands of the ratepayers by a two-thirds majority; in the second place there is in the hands of the ratepayers, if they are so disposed, the power to limit the number of licences within their area; and in the third place, if they do not wish any alteration of the law, the right to say that matters should remain in statu quo. There is no doubt that if this Bill was. put on the statute book many places in Scotland would act upon it. In my own constituency there has arisen within the last ten years a suburban district where there are between 8,000 and 10,000 inhabitants. If a few individuals are in favour of applications which are made for licences, great hardship is entailed upon the ratepayers of the district in opposing these applications. To the credit of the justices of the peace it should be stated that they have listened to the ratepayers hitherto and refused to grant licences within the area. What is the result in that area? The result is that the whole area is inhabited by a class who do not want to live in the neighbourhood of a public-house. They are very desirous, and naturally desirous, to prevent the place from becoming a slum land, as is the case in most places where public-houses are put down. With those few remarks I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. COLVILLE (Lanarkshire, N.E.)

I rise to second the motion. When the Bill was discussed last year only fifteen ventured to record their votes against it. We only claim that which has been granted years ago to most of the colonies, of the British Empire. In Canada they have had for many years some sort of local option; in the Australian colonies, in New Zealand, and in Cape Colony they also have had popular control of this traffic. One of the reasons advanced last year for; the opposition to this Bill was that the Royal Commission appointed by the Government had not then issued its Report. A Report, or rather I should say a dual Report, has since been issued. Lord Peel issued a Minority Report, which recommended that at the expiry of a period of five years there should be granted to Scotland, in respect of its advanced temperance sentiment and the demands of the people of Scotland, such a legislative measure of popular control. That is what we seek by this Bill. While it would give to those areas which are so far advanced as to be able to put in force the enactments in this Bill power to prohibit the sale of liquor, it would give to larger areas the power to restrict the increase of the number of licences. By the recommendation of the Minority Report it is suggested that there should not be more than one licence for 750 in urban and one for 400 of the population in rural districts. Were that the law of the land there would be a very great decrease in the number of public-houses in our large cities; but as a matter of fact under the law as it now stands the licensing authority, and especially the appeal court from the burghal authority, being quite irresponsible, and having no constituency to answer to for their conduct, are constantly being urged to grant additional licences, and the result is that in considerable areas there is still a steady increase in the number of these licences, 'notwithstanding that every demand for additional licences is met by petitions and representations in the licensing court appealing to the justices not to grant such additional licences. I think no argument is needed in support of this very reasonable Bill of my hon. friend, and I have much pleasure in seconding it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. John Wilson.)

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

Both of the hon. Members who have just spoken have given, as a reason for introducing such an important measure as this in so short a space of time as seven minutes, that it was discussed last year. But the Bill was defeated last year, and if they wished to alter the opinion of the House, surely it would be more courteous to the House to advance arguments to show that the House was wrong in defeating the measure last year, and ought to alter its opinion this year. I fail to see, although I have listened attentively to the hon. Gentlemen who introduced and seconded the Bill, any reason to induce the House to alter the determination at which they arrived last year. It is true, as the hon. Member who seconded has said, that the Royal Commission has reported; but the Commission has not, so far as I can see, made matters very much clearer by its Report, and it has made confusion worse confounded. Therefore I do not think that argument is a very great one on which to induce the House to depart from the decision at which it had arrived. When one comes to look at the Bill, one finds that this is practically local veto pure and simple—that is to say, it is open to all the objections which can be urged against local veto. No doubt it is a very great thing to promote temperance, and I am quite certain there is no Member in this House who is more in favour of temperance than I am myself. [Laughter.] Certain Members opposite may laugh, but I do not see why they should laugh, because I think everybody on both sides of the House is of the same opinion, that the temperate man is very much better in i whatever walk of life he may chance to live, and therefore if we can by example, or any other way that does not interfere with the liberty of the subject, promote temperance I am sure we would be willing to do everything we could in that way. The question here is not whether we should by example and precept endeavour to promote that which we believe to be an excellent object, but whether we should by Act of Parliament and by force prevent people from not only using but obtaining in any form all refreshment. One of the arguments that have been used is undoubtedly a very strong one, and that is that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. It is not essential to the rich man that there should be a public-house in his neighbourhood. He can in his cellar store that amount of alcoholic liquor which he may deem to be good for himself, but the poor man is not in that position. He, as a rule, consumes liquor in what I may call a legitimate form, because I consider that the drinking of alcoholic liquor, provided you do not take too much, is not only legitimate, but is sometimes beneficial. I am afraid that the hon. member for Cockermouth, whom I see opposite, will not agree with those views, but at the same time I think those views are held largely by a number of people, not only in this House, but in this country, and therefore they deserve some consideration. The alcoholic liquor consumed by the poor man is generally in the form of beer, and we all know that you cannot store a small amount of beer in your cellar, because if you do the result is that the beer becomes Hat and is not pleasant to drink. At the same time he has no room to store a large cask, and therefore he is dependent on the public-house to enable him to obtain that refreshment which, I think, as long as he takes it in moderation, he is entitled to obtain. What would be the result of passing this Bill? Probably the result would be in some localities, where there happened to be a considerable number of teetotalers—I do not wish to say a word against the teetotaler, he is a very estimable man—that the provisions of this Bill would be put in force. But if you went into another locality where there were not so many teetotalers, the provisions would not be put in force, and therefore you would have anomalies arising at once. The ordinary man living in a locality where the pro- visions were not in force would be able, if thirsty, to have a pint of beer, but if the same man, to follow the exigencies of his trade, were to go into another locality where the provisions of the Bill wore in force, he would find that he was prevented from having the glass of beer which he had always been accustomed to. I am reminded by my hon. friend below me that there would be no provision for visitors to a district. We know that there is at the present moment a great increase in the number of people who travel on bicycles. That is, I think, a form of recreation which everybody must admit is extremely good for the people of this country. It is of great assistance to people who, before the use of bicycles, were not only unable to see so much of their native country, but who were unable to obtain that exercise which is so good for all of us. Cyclists would be unable to obtain that refreshment which, in the mind of every reasonable person, they are certainly entitled to obtain. This Bill bristles with contentious subjects, even in the first few lines of it. There is another question which is not, perhaps, so clear as the matter with which I have been dealing, and it is a question upon which opinions are very much divided—I allude to the question of compensation. I believe that there are among the ranks of the temperance party those who sympathise with the principle of compensation, but among the temperance party there is not a unanimous opinion as to what should be done in regard to this question of compensation. This Bill practically provides no compensation whatever for the abolition of licences. That, I think, is a very serious matter, and I can hardly conceive that the House of Commons will,, on a Wednesday afternoon at five o'clock, after a discussion which cannot possibly last longer than an hour, allow such a proposal as this to pass. I see my hon. friend the Member for Norwood has just come into the House, and I should be delighted to hear whether he is in favour of taking away publicans' licences and giving them nothing in return. I know he is an ardent temperance advocate, but I do not think he will support this proposal. This Bill provides that— (a) A majority of two-thirds of the votes recorded are in favour of a prohibitory Resolution as defined by this Act; or (b)) A majority of the votes recorded are in favour of a limiting Resolution as defined by this Act. As licences are granted annually, publicans would receive no compensation of any sort or kind. The licence can be repealed at any moment. But, on the other hand,, when the publican invested his money in a public-house he did it under the impression that, provided he did not transgress the unwritten law which governs these matters, and provided he conducts his business in a proper and decent manner, his licence would not be taken away. That is the general principle on which licences are granted in this country, and though there is no legal right to the licence beyond the year for which it has been granted, I think it would be little short of confiscation if those licences were taken away by a new law which, at any rate up to the present, has not had the greatest amount of favour shown to it. At the last General Election one of the chief points upon which the election turned was a Local Veto Bill. I believe there were other questions, but the question of cold water for the working man was one of the great questions upon which the election turned, and I do not think the cold water programme at the next election is likely to lead to a return of hon. Members opposite. As to the question of the abolition of licences altogether, Clause 2 is very clear upon that point. It says— While a prohibitory resolution is in force in any area, no licence shall be granted or renewed for a sale of intoxicating liquors within that area. Apparently, as far as I can make out, not only will there be no new licences granted, but a considerable number, amounting to 25 per cent., are to be taken away without compensation of any sort or kind. I will not go into the matter further, because I do not think the details of the Bill are the immediate questions before the House. The question is whether or not we shall pass a Local Veto Bill for Scotland. The only argument I have heard in favour of the Bill is that a certain number of Scotch Members are in favour of it. But we have not yet given Home Rule either for Scotland or Ireland, and questions of this sort are decided not by the Members from any particular district, but by the Members elected by the country at large. Because a majority of Scotch Members voted last year for a Local Veto Bill, that is no reason why we should pass this measure into law. If we were to pass this Bill for Scotland it would be said that what is good for Scotland is good for England. I am not a Scotch Member, but as an English Member, and knowing that in England the vast majority of the electors are against this Bill, I consider it my duty to make the protest I have done, and I shall certainly vote against the Bill if a division is taken.

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

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

MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)

I rise with considerable pleasure to second the proposal which has just been made by the hon. Member for Peckham, because I think that a Bill of this kind should have something more than a seven minutes introduction. I was very much amused. at the arguments which seem to carry so much weight in Scotland. The hon. Member opposite complains that there is a rising suburban district in Scotland containing between 8,000 and 10,000 people, all of whom object to these licences, and on account of this we are asked to abolish, without compensation, a number of the licences which are held by people in that district. I do not wish to say a word against my brethren in another portion of Her Majesty's dominions, but I cannot see that this is a grievance which the House ought to be called upon to remove. The arguments of the hon. Member who seconded this proposal were even more extraordinary. He spoke of the Minority Report of Lord Peel's Commission in justification of this Bill. It seems to me an extraordinary argument to urge that the Report of that Commission justifies what is proposed by this Bill. The abolition of existing licences because a resolution may be carried to that effect in any particular locality is an extraordinary proposal, for even the Report alluded to said that these licences should be allowed to run a certain number of years. It is an extraordinary thing that a Minority Report, which has not received the support of this House, should be brought forward in support of a measure which goes much further in the direction of abolishing existing licences without offering any compensation. The whole principle of local veto has been rejected as far as London is concerned. I am only an occasional visitor to Scotland, but I shall be a still less occasional visitor there if this Bill is passed. It may be that a cyclist or an Englishman, who cannot afford the expense of Scotch hotels, may find himself in a suburban district of Scotland, and he may be compelled to go more than a Sabbath day's journey to get to some place where there is a refreshment bar at all. That is one of the strongest arguments against the principle of this Bill in many constituencies, for people might find themselves in the West End of London working during the day, and because the people living there—who enjoy the possession of this world's riches, and are able to provide all their requirements in their own establishment—object to licensed houses in their midst, there would be absolutely nowhere in that locality for these men to obtain refreshment. If you take away from the licensed victuallers the opportunity of providing refreshments, the business will not be carried on, and the working man has no right to have cold water or weak tea forced upon him. I know the hon. Member for Cockermouth would like to abolish all the bars we at present possess. Why should the people of Scotland be treated differently to the people of England? It has been said that forty Scotch Members voted for this Bill upon a previous occasion, that some stayed away, and that only fifteen voted against it. It is an extraordinary proposition that Scotland is to be treated differently because less than half of the Scotch Members pledged to this principle, and hoping to secure the support of the extreme temperance faction, came and voted for a Bill on a Wednesday afternoon, which in the present state of political parties had no possible chance of getting beyond a Second Reading. We must deal with the details of this Bill. Even if some of us do agree with the principle of local option and my hon. friend the Member for Norwood does—I am quite sure that those who agree with the principle on this side of the House would be the last persons in the world to do an act of injustice to publicans, even though they be Scotchmen. What is it that this Bill proposes? It proposes to take a poll in a certain area. This Bill is very badly drawn, and it took me a considerable period to discover what an area was. When I referred to Clause 6, Sub-section 2, I discovered what an area was, and I venture to say that on Clause 1 alone we tome to a principle which must be better explained, and which, when we discussed this question with regard to England, had practically to be abandoned. Now what is an area? We have to go to the sixth clause to find it, and it says — In the case of a burgh——

MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)

We call it "borough."


Well, you do not spell it "borough." If the word "borough" is the legal definition of it, at all events, south of the Tweed, we spell "burgh" in a different manner. I must apologise to hon. Members for Scotland for not understanding their language. The second section of Clause 6 says— (a) In the case of a burgh or police burgh not divided into wards, that burgh. (b) In the case of a burgh or police burgh divided into wards, a ward of that burgh. Here we come to the gross inequality, injustice, and absurdity of a measure of this character. Take a small town divided into three or four wards. We may find in the ward described by the hon. Member who proposed this measure, that a ward with 6,000, 8,000, or 10,000 suburban inhabitants will carry a resolution against licences. The next ward may be described as a slum, and I imagine the slum is where the poor people live. In this matter my sympathy is with the poor people, for the rich can look out for themselves. We should have the suburban ward people with no licences, and the people in the slums with a great many more licences than is good for them. And why? Because up to the present every effort made on this side of the House to reduce the number of licences and to compensate those who would have been turned out has been met with stolid opposition from Members opposite. If the friends of temperance reform had met the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade in 1888 in the spirit it should have been met in, hundreds of thousands of pounds would have been spent in extinguishing licences in our boroughs, and in removing that class of drink shop which every hon. Member on this side of the House is as eager to abolish as those who sit on the other side. I do not want to see the smallest holder and the poorest man turned out with absolutely nothing for him to receive. This measure is simply an attempt to get behind the minority Report of the Royal Commission, and it is trying to do what even the most extreme temperance advocates had not the courage to propose when they had the opportunity—it is trying to do something by a side wind which they have not the courage to do in the, face of public opinion. That is the first defect which we recognise in England, and it is a principle which, in every constituency, stands condemned. If you are going to have the constituencies divided as they are divided in London, into wards, what will occur where a ward has its boundary in the middle of the street or at the corner of the road? Take the Goswell Road for instance. There you may have one side in Clerken-well with licences, and the other side of the road without licences. I venture to say that the position would be equally as absurd in Scotland as in England. The Member for Peckham who spoke just now said the beer got flat when it was kept in the house. I did not know that the favourite Scotch national beverage was beer, but I have no doubt its con- sumption is growing in Scotland, because as people get more education they find that wholesome beer is better for them than strong spirits. It would be an absurdity in one of these wards, where the centre of the street is the boundary, say in one part of the thickly populated portion of Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or the model city of Perth, to find licences on one side of a street and on the other none at all. This means that in the poorest parts of the city, where there is a large majority against the abolition of licences, you would be practically doing what one knows goes on in prohibition counties in America. That is, you would be driving to certain houses the very worst class of people you can possibly have, namely, the people who roam about and drink from one place to the other. They run special Sunday trains to escape the Sunday Closing Act in Swansea, for they are considered to be bonâ fide travellers, and this produces scenes which are disgusting to right-minded persons. If it is only to prevent these anomalies, I do ask the House to hesitate before it proceeds to give even a Second Reading to this measure. This Bill has been brought forward without any authoritative backing behind it. We have been told what was done on a certain Wednesday afternoon a year ago. The resolutions carried in this House, and Bills which have survived a Second Reading on a Wednesday afternoon, are very much like the good resolutions with which we are told a certain place is paved. The majority of the measures brought in on a Wednesday afternoon are generally got rid of with the knowledge that they will either become hardy annuals, or else disappear altogether from the political horizon. Let us take the third sub-section, which provides— (c) In the case of a county, a parish, whether wholly within one county or not, or where such parish has been divided into wards for the purpose of the election of a parish council, a ward of that parish. I have had, of course, some experience in trying to construe Acts of Parliament, and this clause looks to me as though it would give plenty of employment to the advocates of Scotland to find out what it means. What do these words mean? I venture to say it will puzzle the Court of Sessions to define this section, and when they have given their decision there will probably have to be an appeal to the House of Lords, and I cannot see what is to happen to the county. This section must have been drawn by someone with an elementary knowledge of law. When we come to a growing district, partly rural and partly urban, with which we are so familiar in the south, and which is ceasing to be rural and becoming more urban, in what position are we? There are the parish council and the county council areas, but what does a ward of a parish mean there? This shows to my mind that this Bill has really been put before the House, not with the view of testing a principle, but simply to see how far the House will go on a Wednesday afternoon, for it leaves the real crux of this question without further consideration. Let me now come back to the second section, which is one dealing with an important principle. It provides— While a prohibitory resolution is in force in any area, no licence shall be granted or renewed for the sale of intoxicating liquors within that area. This Bill has the same defect as the English Bill in this respect: that it puts it in the power of all legally qualified medical practitioners to sign prescriptions enabling people to get intoxicating liquors from the chemist. I remember that the late Mr. Gladstone spoke with great eloquence upon the privations of Scotch students, and of the number of highly qualified and gifted young men who came from humble homes in Scotland and qualified themselves at the evening classes of Scotch universities. Just look what a temptation to them this proposal would be, for they would be practically able to set the law at defiance, for anyone who has got the ordinary legal qualification in Scotland is to be allowed by this measure to sign a prescription by which a person can get intoxicating liquors from a chemist under another name. Therefore those who live in a prohibited area will by this method be able to got as much for a shilling as they want from the chemist instead of getting it at the proper place. That is opening up a new channel about which we, ought to be very careful, for under the garb of medical treatment we are giving people intoxicating liquors. I remember a book which was given to me upon the evils of intemperance, and it was a work which had the sanction of the hon. Member for Cockermouth. This book pointed out that one of the great evils of intemperance was the growing tendency on the part of the medical profession to prescribe intoxicating liquors under the garb of medicine. To the man who was accustomed to a moderate or an immoderate use of stimulants the very first tiling the doctor would say is, "This man must have these stimulants." The prescription would he signed, and intoxicating liquors would he brought in. This is a real danger, not only to morality but to health, and to that fair dealing between man and man which, in the liquor traffic as well as in everything else, ought to be one of the first and primary considerations when dealing with this question by Act of Parliament. With regard to the second clause, we come to what my hon. friend who has just spoken very truly said was the crux of the question. There is not the slightest proposal to give any compensation to those persons who lose their licences. These licences are to be taken away by the mere brute force of numbers. The second sub-section of Clause 2 provides that — While a limiting resolution is in force in any area, licences shall not be granted in the area to a number in excess of three-fourths of the number exiting at the date of the poll. If the limiting resolution stood alone in this Bill I should not offer a very active opposition. But there is no such suggestion, for although we understand that the number of licences would be reduced by one-fourth probably the real object of this measure is to get rid of licences altogether. It goes on to say that — For the purposes of carrying the resolution into effect—(a) The grant of ordinary licences at the general yearly meeting for certificates at which such resolution comes into force (whether in respect of premises previously licensed or not) shall be subject to the law relating' to the grant of new licences. That is, that every existing licence will have to be considered upon its merits, and there comes in the gross unfairness of this proposal. One-fourth of these licences have to be pushed on one side, and that means that the magistrates will have to consider who are the men who are to he deprived of their licences. Who will they be? Do you think they will he the holders of large licences, who have the largest establishments, and who have the greatest amount of capital? I think it will be the small men who will be driven out, on the ground that the smaller the licensed premises the more dangerous they become; for if they take away the licence from large premises they will be involving in financial ruin a number of persons and depriving them of employment in the trade. We come now to what is called "absolute discretion." I am not so well versed in the licensing laws of Scotland as of England, and I do not understand what the proposers of this Bill mean by Subsection (b) in Clause 2, which says— The grant of any licence at that meeting, and also, while the resolution is in force, the grant of any new licence within the limited number, shall, if not otherwise in the absolute discretion of the licensing authority, be in their absolute discretion. We have had very little explanation of this proposition, and I would like to know if there is in Scotland a number of houses in the same position as the beer-houses before the Act of 1868, or does this subsection deal with every holder of a grocer's licence? I hope that the proposers of this Bill will let us know what they mean by the details of this measure, and not throw it before the House with- out explanation. With regard to the poll, I cannot understand what will be the position of the unfortunate returning officer, and what will be the position of the magistrate, for the requisition must be signed by the electors presenting it. Subsection 3 of Clause 3 provides— A requisition must he signed by the electors presenting it. An elector may sign requisitions for both a prohibitory and a limiting resolution; and where there are requisitions for both such resolutions, the poll on them shall be taken together. I would like to ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh whether he approves of that proposal.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put "; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

MR. H. C. RICHARDS (resuming)

This Bill is a gross attempt to get behind the recommendations of the Minority 'Report of the Royal Commission. It is an attack upon the trade, and nothing else, by men who believe that the consumption of any form of alcohol is wrong, and it would have been far more honourable of the promoters to have said so. Having secured a sufficient number in favour of the prohibitory resolution, the limiting resolution is only a make-believe to obtain the support of honest temperance reformers like my hon. friend behind me and others who sit on this side of the House. That has not been put in to work, and the idea is absolute prohibition, the effect of which will be to open out those channels of illicit purchase which any of us who have had any experience of Radical clubs in the metropolis know are considerably worse than the worst managed public-houses in the country. My attention has been drawn through the clergy to the way in which these clubs are selling drink to the wives and children of the members during the prohibited hours when public-houses are closed.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

Are the Conservative clubs closed?


The hon. Member for Stepney evidently does not know that all Conservative clubs are closed at a respectable time; but I do not want to discuss this grievance now with the hon. Member for Stepney. I may say that I shall only be too pleased to attend a temperance meeting with him, and to point out what an enemy to temperance so many of his supporters are. But I am not going to be drawn away into a discussion of my friend's friends' misdeeds in the metropolitan area, and I come back to the limiting area. I will deal now with what is going to happen on the day of the poll. The Bill provides—. On the day on which a poll is taken for the purposes of this Act all premises licensed for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquors shall remain closed during the whole of the day of polling. I must say that if I had any of my small savings invested in licensed houses I should support this clause, because I am perfectly certain that the ordinary man, deprived of drink, would register his vote most emphatically against those people who shut up public-houses on a certain day. I think myself that this would be a great blessing, because we know that all the mischief is done against us at election times by unscrupulous people in public-houses. I remember that upon the last occasion when I was engaged in a contested election we were told that the only place where mischief was being done was where there was an application of English rather than Scotch liquors. Before dealing with the penalties under this Act, I want to ask the hon. Members who proposed this measure what they have to say with regard to what they call the further poll which is not to take place before the expiration of three years from the date of the resolution coming into force. I venture to think that, unless the Lord Advocate can throw more light on this Bill than the promoters have done, we shall never get so far as the first poll——

It being half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Wednesday, 27th June.