HC Deb 19 February 1901 vol 89 cc557-86
* MR. WHITTAKER (Yorkshire, W.R., Spen Valley)

I rise to move an Amendment to the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, in order to express regret that there appears to be no intention on the part of the Government to deal adequately with the question of reform of the licensing laws. There is no need for me to dilate on the eyils of intemperance. It is reognised that drinking is our country's curse; our enemies say it is our national characteristic, and all right-minded people deplore it as a great dishonour. It is admitted to be a potent source of crime and poverty, and it is a great barrier across the pathway of social and moral progress. It confronts and baffles and defeats all philanthropists and reformers. Statesmen, judges, magistrates, doctors, ministers of religion, guardians of the poor, governors of gaols and workhouses, and that innumerable band of men and women who render priceless service to their fellows by constant, self-sacrificing, and largely unseen work among the poor, all unite in describing intemperance as the giant evil of our day and generation. Not only do the drinking habits of the people destroy their health, corrupt their morals, and waste their resources, but the liquor traffic itself—that swollen tyranny— has become a kind of British Tammany, a widespread source of political corruption, a distinct danger to the State, and a menace to the purity of our local and national public life. That is the social evil and the political danger with which it is the object of this Amendment to ask the Government to deal.

The Amendment expresses regret that there is no indication in the King's Speech of any intention to at all adequately attempt to discharge an immediate, urgent and obvious duty. There is an announcement in the King's Speech, but it is by no means easy to say precisely what that announcement means. The general opinion is that it means extremely little. It is clear that no reform in the licensing system, as a whole, is intended. Lord Salisbury says— It may be matter for regret that our licensing system has reached its present condition, but how, without injustice to the individual, without injury to the public weal, and without exaggerating the influence of Parliament, this state of things can adequately be remedied we do not at present see. That is a pitiable confession of impotence and incompetence. It is quite true that he goes on to suggest that somebody else may see a remedy, for he says— In any case the remedy is obvious. Legislation is not the monopoly of the Government, and if the noble Earl will propose Bills on these and other subjects we shall consider them with sympathetic interest and we shall be glad to find a way out of the labyrinth of our troubles. We have some idea what the sympathetic interest of the Prime Minister is worth. We know his treatment of the Children's Bill last year, and how he treated the Motion of the Bishop of Winchester. One thing is clear from the King's Speech, and that is that it is results and not causes that are to be dealt with. That is not what the nation desires or requires By all means check and punish drunkenness, but the Government should grapple vigorously with the system which facilitates, promotes, and largely creates the evil. Drunkenness in public-houses is already an offence against the law. It is a violation of the licence to permit it. Are we to understand from the Prime Minister that it is so prevalent, glaring, and scandalous as to be the most obvious and urgent reform? If so, what is to be said of the authorities that permit it and under whose supervision it has grown up? It seems to me that we ought to deal with this licensing question thoroughly, but the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury have made it quite clear that the Government does not mean to grapple with this question seriously.

What is the position? In 1896 they appointed a Commission. In 1899 the Commission reported, and the Majority Report—it issued two Reports— after expressing the opinion that drunkenness has materially decreased in the last twenty-five years, went on to say— Yet it is undeniable that a gigantic evil remains to be remedied and hardly any sacrifice would be too great which would result in a marked diminution of this national degradation, nor is Parliament likely to remain satisfied with leaving things as they are or to trust wholly to the influence we have described. That is the portion of the Report which indicates the extent of the evil. It is a gigantic evil and national degradation. I may say, on behalf of myself and my colleagues who signed the Minority Report, that we all agree with that statement in the Majority Report, and I must remind the House that on the Commission sat eight chosen representatives of the liquor trade.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, is there any method by which we could compel the attendance of some member of the Government? The Ministerial bench is empty, and this is a most important debate.

MR. CAINE (Cornwall, Camborne)

Should I be in order to move the adjournment of the House?


Order, order ! The hon. Member cannot move the adjournment whilst another hon. Member is in possession of the House.


I was pointing out to the House that on the Commission were eight chosen representatives of the liquor trade. They signed the Report that there is a gigantic evil, and also that Parliament is not likely to rest satisfied with leaving things as they are. That was the opinion of eight representatives of the liquor trade. Is there an hon. Member in this House who does not endorse those statements? Yet the Government practically refuses to do anything, and makes a suggestion which is obviously so trifling as to be absolutely ludicrous? Therefore, I beg to move this Amendment, which practically declares Parliament will not rest satisfied to leave things as they are. It is twenty-five years ago since the Secretary for the Colonies used these words— Temperance reform lies at the bottom of all further political, social, and religious progress. Drink is the curse of the country. It rains the fortunes, it injures the health, it destroys the lives of one in twenty—I am afraid I should be right in saying of one in ten—of our population, and anything which can be done to diminish this terrible sacrifice of human life and human happiness is well worthy of all the attention and study which we can give it. And then he went on to say— The agitation will go on without us if not with us. If we are silent the very stones will cry out. If there is in the whole of this drink business any single encouraging feature it is to be found in the growing impatience of the people at the burden they are forced to bear, and their growing indignation and sense of the shame and the disgrace which it imposes on them. The Home Secretary only the other day said that in his opinion things were growing worse rather than better, and yet the Government is practically silent, and the Prime Minister at one time gibes and flouts and sneers, and at another wrings his hands and pleads impotence and incompetence; whilst the Home Secretary prattles ancient nonsense about better dwellings for the poor. It is enough to make the very stones cry out. Thirteen years ago the Government then in power thought it needed dealing with. Eleven years ago they made another attempt. In 1894 the Colonial Secretary said "temperance was the most urgent social reform." In 1895 he said "there is a grievous scandal existing, to which it is the duty of statesmen to devote attention." In 1896 the Government appointed a Royal Commis- sion, which was an admission that this question needed dealing with; and only the other day the Home Secretary said— It had been said, and he thought without exaggeration, that intemperance was one of the greatest evils which could possibly be inflicted on a country. It was indisputable that it filled our prisons and crowded our workhouses, that it lowered vitality, that it prevented the breadwinner from putting forth the strength that was necessary for the purpose of maintaining his family, and that much of the wretchedness and distress in this country was owing to the extent to which, unhappily, intemperance existed. They were, he thought, justified in saying that all parties in the country, to whatever section of the temperance party they belonged, or indeed whether they belonged to any section or not, were agreed that the evil was a great one, and that it would be a great blessing to the country if means could be found to mitigate, if not altogether to remove, that great evil. Then why do not the Government take some action? It is a year and a half since the Commission reported. We cannot be charged with being unduly hasty. The Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury have indicated one reason, which is that the Commission was not unanimous. Of course they were not. They could not be unanimous, and I venture to say it was never intended that they should be. The constitution of the Committee was too absurd to hope for unanimity. But I say if the fact that a commission does not agree is to be taken as an excuse for burking a question, it will always be easy to avoid dangerous and difficult legislation by appointing a commission which never will agree on a particular subject. The excuse is too paltry, and would never be put forward except by a Government which, in proportion to its majority, has less courage and backbone, and is more flabby than any I have ever known.

It is a plea of incompetence. They do not wait for unanimity on other questions—when they give doles to parsons for tithes, doles to aid agricultural rates, and subsidies for sectarian schools. They do not stipulate for unanimity then, nor is there any demand for it when they desire to shovel money into the pockets of their friends. It is only when they are called upon to grapple with a gigantic evil and a national degradation upon which a body of men fatten who claim to have put the Government into power and to be able to put them out again that they stipulate for unanimity. The First Lord of the Treasury and the Home Secretary have stated that there is no unanimity as to a remedy; but there is unanimity that something should be done. The Commission does disclose where the shoe pinches; it discloses weaknesses, defects, and failures in the law; it shows the evils to be grappled with, and it is the duty of the Government to propound the remedy. That is their duty and responsibility, and they cannot shuffle it on to the shoulders of anyone else. The Government asks for a plan, but it is not our business to supply one. I remember years ago in this House the Colonial Secretary, speaking with true commercial instinct on another question, saying what he would do when he sat on the Treasury Bench and received the fees. It is the duty of the Government to suggest a remedy, and of the House to accept or reject it. Have they not a plan? I seem to remember during the last and the previous election that the supporters of the Government went to the polls with the plea that they were in favour of reasonable and practical temperance reform. Those men must have had some definite idea of what they were talking about. Where is their scheme? If they do not produce one they are charlatans and political humbugs. I venture to say there is a good deal of unanimity upon this matter. Of course, if the Government stipulate that the trade must be unanimous, they probably demand the impossible; but it is a novel doctrine that those who fatten on abuses and wrongs must be consenting parties to reform, or nothing can be done.

The Times pointed out some time; ago that it was not to be expected that the trade would agree to temperance reform, which means the checking of drinking, and consequently less profits, but if there is not unanimity there are many points of general detail upon which the Commission is unanimous, and still more of general principle. The Home Secretary demands unanimity, and when the points of agreement are suggested he doubts if licensing reform will do much good, and branches off to better dwellings, and through it all chews the cud of compensation, and his own fiascos in 1888 and 1890. I am not surprised that he was frightened at the deputation which waited upon him, and made their foolish proposal. They practically asked him to revive the absurd, discredited, and discarded proposals of twelve or thirteen years ago. It was not unreasonable for the right hon. Gentleman to refuse to consider their scheme. With regard to points of agreement, take the question of watch committees. There was absolute unanimity in the Report that representatives of the liquor trade should not be members of watch committees. Let me remind the House what a scandal there was at Manchester. In that case it was found that there a superintendent of police had some property bequeathed to him, a brothel and a beerhouse. He would not allow the police to bring charges against the keeper of that house, and set them to raid other establishments to promote the business of his own: and when eventually a summons was obtained against the keeper he with held the summons so that the keeper might escape, and when finally the matter came before the magistrate at Manchester, I never read more scathing language than he used in connection with this man's conduct. Moreover, this superintendent of police, while himself a married man, with a grown-up family, had cohabited with a woman who was a beerhouse keeper, and took her to the Isle of Man for a holiday. That was brought to the attention of the watch committee; but did they dismiss him? No. They merely censured him. It was only after a public outcry that he had to go, and then they awarded him a pension, though after another public outcry that pension was refused. The chief constable of the city had to go in consequence of that scandal, and at the next election the watch committee was purified. Yet the Government of the day conferred a C.B. on the chief constable, and this year the chairman of that watch committee was knighted. At the very time the Commission was sitting the mayor of the borough of Wigan was a publican who held premises in a district in which the police had to go in. couples at night, and who had admitted that he had sold drink illegally. At Derby, too, there was another terrible exposure; and anybody who read the evidence taken before the Commission would understand why they unanimously recommended that it should be made illegal for anyone connected with the trade to sit on a. watch committee. Another unanimous recommendation was that no one who acted as solicitor to brewers should be allowed to act as clerk to any bench of magistrates. Justice must be purified at its source by removing liquor-dealers and brewers from the watch committee. These are anomalies that ought to be remedied. As to Quarter Sessions, there is a belief that the present condition of things is extremely undesirable. The magistrates who review the decisions do not know the localities or the conditions under which the licences are dealt with. There is agreement that the bona fide traveller nuisance needs to be dealt with; there is very large agreement as to the serving of children, and there is agreement that the licensing authority should have control over all licences. There is also unanimity on the Commission as to providing legal assistance for the police in carrying out their duties with regard to licences. There is also agreement that the hours of sale on Sunday should be very much reduced. There; is not agreement as to the actual hours, the majority—twenty out of twenty-four —reporting in favour of two hours at noon and two at night. There is agreement as to the necessity of some restriction upon clubs, and there is also agreement as to the necessity for greater power as to snugs, screens, partitions, back doors, and side entrances—those abominations that respectable men ought to be ashamed to resort to. They facilitate people sneaking in unseen to get liquor if they are ashamed to be seen doing it. The baker or the butcher does not want a side entrance or a back door. The publicans want these entrances because they know that the people who go into these places are ashamed to be seen. The people who own these public-houses are not ashamed to facilitate those people in doing what they are ashamed to do. The screens and partitions inside mean that when they get inside they are afraid of being seen by one another. If I had time I could tell you some terrible stories of what has occurred behind the screens.

I have ventured to name a number of points on which there is unanimity. There is no question of compensation in connection with these things. If the Government cannot see its way to anything further, these are some points on which they might do something. The Home Secretary referred to reduction in he number of houses. The recommendation of the Commission is unanimous that there ought to be a reduction. The Home Secretary questioned whether, after all, it would be of very great value to reduce the number, He says there has been a great reduction in the number during the last twenty-five years, and yet public-houses are now worth more than before, and that more drink is consumed now. Well, of course the houses are worth more. If you have fewer of them and a larger population it does not necessarily mean that there is more drinking. You may have fewer houses, and a smaller total sale, but each of the fewer houses may sell more liquor. It is the monopoly that sends up the value.

I shall now deal with the point whether, in spite of the reduction in the number of houses, there has been an increase in drinking. I challenge the fact entirely, and I will undertake to prove that there has been a diminution in drinking as the number of licences has diminished, and that until there was a diminution in the number of licences there was a steady increase in the consumption of liquor. The Home Secretary gave the period of twenty-five years, and I will take his own period. I will take the bulk of my figures from the statistical abstract issued by the Department over which the Home Secretary previously presided with such distinguished credit. Between 1874 and 1899 there was a diminution of 15,000 in the number of public-houses and beerhouses. During the same period the consumption decreased 15 per cent. in spirits, 30 per cent. in wines, and 4 per cent. in beer. At the same time, the consumption of tea, went up 41 per cent., sugar 47½ per cent., and tobacco 31 per cent., showing that the decrease in the consumption of liquor was not due to a diminution of the prosperity and the spending power of the people. I will go back twenty five years prior to 1874. During those twenty-five years there was an increase in the number of public-houses, and the consumption of spirits went up 21 per cent, of wine 130 per cent., and of beer 60 per cent. Everyone knows that facilities do increase drinking. If they do not, why is not anyone who wants a licence allowed to have one? There is not a single bench of magistrates in the country which grants licences to every applicant. Every Committee and Commission which has investigated the subject during the last seventy years has recommended a diminution in the number of licensed houses on the ground that an increase in such houses facilitates drinking. The trade continually enlarge their premises because they know that facilities increase drinking, and they will tell you that clubs do promote drunkenness. The. Registrar-General gives statistics every ten years, which show that the mortality amongst publicans and their servants is greater than in any other trade. Why is that? Because the men are under more temptation than anybody else; they are constantly face to face with liquor, and the result is that they drink more than other people. The terrible increase in drinking amongst women during the last twenty-five years has been due to the establishment of grocers' licences and refreshment houses. It is very proper that better dwellings should be provided for the people, but my firm opinion is that temperance is the most important factor in social reform. Is there no drunkenness in the dwellings of the well-to-do? Ask our doctors and the clergy. In the north of England I know something of colliery villages, which have been built near great pits. The conditions of the people in these villages are the same. The houses are all alike and men work at the same trade and earn the same rate of wages. Go through the streets of these villages and you will find some of the houses utterly miserable and neglected, while others are clean and respectable. Make inquiry, and you will find that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the dirty houses are occupied by intemperate people. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that it you take the drunken family out of the dirty home and put them into the house of the sober family it would alter their way of living? I say that the drunken family would soon alter the condition of the clean home. It is since 1876 that a reduction in the number of licences has taken place. Up to 1876 from 1828 there was a steady increase, and from 1876 there has been a considerable decrease. The twenty-five years prior to 1876 was a prosperous time in this country, and pauperism was diminished one half during that period. Our exports rose from £71,000,000 in 1850 to £223,000,000 in 1875. There was a, great increase in the education of the country during the same period, and the sanitary conditions under which the people lived were greatly improved. During that time licences increased by 15,000. In spite of better sanitary regulations and Factory Acts, drunkenness and crime increased, and, what is very important, the death rate stood still. Our sanitary legislation made no change on the death rate of the country, it was in 1876 that licences began to go down; drunkenness and crime also went down, and the death rate fell from 4 to 5 per thousand. I suggest that formerly the evils of intemperance more than counterbalanced all the improvements in the other directions.

The Prime Minister deprecated changes the effect of which could not be seen. I venture to say that here are changes the effect of which can be seen in diminished drinking, and in the improved condition of the people. We have never during the past century reversed any restrictive legislation with regard to the liquor traffic. The Licensing Commission docs not suggest that we should go back on the restrictive legislation we have passed. All the forecasts as to the failure of Sunday closing have been refuted and disproved. Many of the reforms recommended in the two Reports are already in operation in Scotland, and they are a success there, and the people of Scotland are asking for more.

But there is the difficulty of compensation. I venture to submit that this is not an insuperable difficulty. What are the conditions under which com- pensation could be agreed to? First, it must be so arranged that it will not block the way to further tenvperance reform. It must also secure some immediate or early substantial reform, and it must not come out of the public pocket. I am not going to argue the question of legal right. That has been settled by the law courts of the country long ago, and is now beyond dispute. With regard to the question of compensation, eight of the members representing the trade on the Commission signed the recommendation that the compensation should come from the trade itself. Both the Majority and the Minority are absolutely unanimous on that point. The fact disposes of the legal claim, because no one who had a legal claim would ever suggest that he should provide the money himself. It has been alleged that the temperance party were foolish to reject the schemes of 1888 and 1890, but the truth is, those schemes were impossible, because they were inadequate, because they endowed public-houses, and because they blocked the way to future reform. As a matter of fact, many more public-houses have been got rid of without those reforms than would have been the case with them. In London those proposals of 1888 and 1890 would have provided money enough to buy up between 150 and 200 public-houses in seven years. But in seven years in London since that time we have got rid of 600 licences. Therefore, when people say the temperance cause lost much by not accepting those schemes, they do not know what they are talking about. The temperance party ought not to accept any measure of compensation that will not give them a much bigger reduction than they are now getting. It should be an essential part of any scheme, too, that it should not block the way to future reform. I am satisfied that a workable and satisfactory scheme of compensation, by means of funds raised from the liquor trade, could be arranged. The great bulk of the temperance people will not oppose a reasonable scheme, if the way to further reform he not blocked, and the whole of the money required comes from the trade. Lord Peel's scheme is only one way of grappling with the problem. If the trade wish to pay more money to each other that can he arranged. To say that extreme men prevented legislation is childish nonsense. No body of extreme men could in this country prevent reasonable, just, and effective legislation.

My object in proposing the amendment is not to press on the Government any particular scheme of reform; all I wish is to press upon them most earnestly to do something. I do allege that the responsibility is theirs, and the amendment calls upon them to undertake the responsibility and to discharge the duty. I know the question is a difficult one, but the greater will be the honour to those who deal with it. And they must not talk as though they were giving something to temperance men as an advantage, as though we, as a class or section of the community, were going to gain something by it; they must not talk as though we were really primarily and specially responsible for the evil. We are interested in dealing with this matter only as citizens anxious to get rid of a great evil in our midst. If there be any class of men upon whom the burden of responsibility with regard to the liquor traffic does not rest it is those of us who touch not the stuff. Our hands are clean, at any rate; we do not necessitate the business from which this evil flows: and to talk to us as if we were specially responsible for dealing with it is little less than an impertinence. Those are responsible who necessitate, countenance, and justify the traffic. The responsibility is theirs, and if they will but shoulder that responsibility and attempt to discharge the duty which lies upon them, temperance men will help them in so doing.

The Government should grapple with this question. I am not the man to advise the liquor trade, but I venture to suggest that the trade itself will do well to get the question settled. We who sit on this side of the House will be in power some day, and there are more ways of killing a cat than by hanging it. We can destroy the value of the monopoly in public-houses if the trade will not consent to some reasonable method of doing it. High licence fees and a free licence to everybody who will pay the fee will knock the bottom out of the public-house monopoly in twenty-four hours. It can be done, and the trade need not look to another place to protect them, because it could be done in a Money Bill. Temperance men want something doing; we are anxious to have this gigantic evil dealt with. The country wants something doing, and I venture to think that the trade itself is somewhat weary of the uncertainty and unrest which the continual agitation is causing it-The opportunity, therefore, is favourable; everybody is in a mood for a reasonable settlement. Let the Government but pluck up their courage to deal with this question, and they will secure a great triumph. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

* MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

After the able speech of my hon. friend it will not be necessary for me in seconding the Amendment to do more than emphasise one or two of the main conclusions to which his speech inevitably led. I feel some diffidence in referring to Lord Peel, but perhaps. I may, without presumption, be allowed to say that I think he has rendered the country a great service through his chairmanship of the Licensing Commission, and that future history will count his name memorable, not only because of his having been a great Speaker of this House, but because he very courageously grappled with a very difficult problem and made an important contribution towards its solution. My hon. friend has already pointed out that the main conclusion to which this Commission came was somewhat remarkable, namely that there, was rampant in this country a gigantic evil in regard to intemperance, and that hardly any sacrifice would be too great which conduced to reduce its power. That was a strange conclusion to come from a Commission so constituted. That body had upon it representatives of every phase and section of opinion on the subject. Another fact which ought to be alluded to is that, with regard to that inquiry, we had an absolutely open door; there was nothing in the shape of a press censor in connection with it. Every section of public opinion had an equal right and opportunity of laying its views before the inquiry, and yet the result of three years examination of the problem was an emphatic verdict of condemnation of the existing licensing system. The Commission aroused in the country an extraordinary amount of interest, by reason of the fact, I believe, that the matter has now become a national question. The conscience of the country-has at last been touched upon this point, and the temperance problem has passed from the region of uncertainty and doubt into the domain of fact. Anyone who has seriously considered the conditions surrounding the problem will at once see that that is an clement in the case of the greatest importance. The Amendment points out that there is at the present moment in the country a widespread desire for legislation in the direction of temperance reform. The evil is admitted; no one doubts it for a moment.

I would very briefly lay down three general propositions with regard to the Amendment: first, we are dealing with an issue of national importance: secondly, that the condition of things in regard to it is so grave that it demands the abandonment of political considerations; and thirdly, that there is no time to be lost, but that action ought to be taken in the direction of legislative interference without delay. We are dealing with an issue of national importance. I am not going to weary the House by going over ground which has been already covered, but evidence from every quarter substantiates this proposition. Judicial and criminal statistics, the records of crime, disease, and insanity, the opinion of the medical prefession, the statistics of the Registrar General, the annual colossal and annually increasing drink bill, and, more than all, if you go below the surface of things you will find that this poison of drunkenness is prejudicially affecting what I might call the higher life of the country. As evidence upon this point we have the unanimous judgment of the Royal Commission. I would draw the attention of the Home Secretary to the very strong words he made use of the other day in replying to a deputation to which reference has already been made. The right hon. Gentleman admits that drunkenness fills our prisons, crowds our workhouses, lowers the vitality of the country, prevents the maintenance of families, and causes much of the distress and misery of the people. In the face of such facts no Government are justified in declining to propose legislation dealing effectively, at all events, with the most glaring defects in our licensing system.

Then the position, I take it, is so grave that it demands the abandonment of political considerations. The time has come for us to look at this problem from the national standpoint. Is not this the history of every great reform? In regard to all big questions is it not the ease that a point comes when the politician must be merged in the citizen? This is the case with regard to questions affecting national defence. I am glad to think that with regard to the Army and the Navy we have at all events in this House reached a point when those matters are dealt with from a national and not from a political standpoint. And is not this curse of drunkenness the great enemy of our home life that our country has to fear? I want to give one or two of the reasons why I think the Government have not so far been able to show any indications of their determination to deal with this question. One reason I would submit is a want of information on the part of leading political statesmen of the day as to the true and real condition of things, My hon. friend the mover of this Amendment has referred to the action taken by the late Lord Randolph Churchill in years gone by. Many speeches in regard to temperance reform made by that gentleman are memorable to this day, and I think the reason of that great interest was the fact that he took an opportunity of seeing for himself something of the havoc which drink is doing in regard to the life of this metropolis. Another reason put forward for the inaction of the Government is this. In his speech to the deputation the other day the Home Secretary said that he was unable to promise any great things with regard to legislation on temperance lines, because of what he called the opposition and the difficulty of carrying a Bill through Parliament. Is that a valid excuse for a Government with a majority of 134 behind its back? Clearly the opposition to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is not a Parliamentary opposition. My hon. friend has already dealt so clearly with the plea that nothing can be done because of the want of agreement or all points in the Com- mission that I will not dwell upon that point; I would only emphasise, the fact that it is not true that there is a. want of agreement upon many of the main points. We are agreed as to the necessity of a drastic amendment of the laws relating to the administration of the trade, and also as to the necessity of a great reduction in the number of public-houses. Even if we had not been able to come to an agreement upon those points, I do not think that any Government, having regard to the circumstances of the case, are not justified in shirking the responsibility of taking effective action in regard to the matter. But what is the real reason that; we cannot get any real and substantial reform? It is because of the unfortunate alliance between the party opposite and those who represent the drink trade. I do not say that there are not on the other side of the House a large number of hon. Members who take as great, an interest in temperance reform as any Member upon this side. I further believe that this alliance is not generally of their own choosing; it has grown up owing to the application of one of the leading political doctrines of their faith to an interest in the country which has assumed gigantic and alarming proportions. But nevertheless the fact remains that, speaking generally, Members on the other side of the House are more or less pledged to resist temperance legislation. Until this alliance is severed we cannot hope, so far as legislation coming from the party opposite is concerned, to have an adequate solution of 1he question. There was also a general agreement on the Commission with regard to the amendment of the Sunday Closing Act in Wales, and with regard to Local Veto the Chairman's Report recommended that after a certain period of time that principle should be applied to the Principality.

My concluding point is that we have arrived at a condition of things which demands immediate action. I was reading the other day a very interesting article which appeared in the Lancet. It points out that during the last twenty years, whereas there has been a diminution in the death rate in all other groups, in the group dealing with deaths from drink there has been a substantial increase, the rate of mortality rising from 45 per cent. per million to 77 per cent. per million. The writer of the leading article, who cannot be in any way regarded as attached specially to temperance reform, makes this observation — No temperance lecturer can be more profoundly convinced than we are ourselves of the terrible mischief which is being done to our country at the present day by alcoholic indulgence. If we are not touched in regard to this matter by questions affecting humanity, perhaps some of us may be affected by other considerations. In looking forward to the future, it is important for us to watch very carefully what is taking place in regard to the trade and the economic position of this country. I believe the time has come when we should throw aside the subtleties of political controversy and have united action upon this question, which is of vital concern to the nation. There is apparently in this country at the present day a serious lack of earnestness in regard to social questions. The air is filled with the word and spirit of Empire. I have more than once candidly admitted that there is no one who takes a greater pride in the glory of the British Empire than I do, but I cannot close my eyes to the unalterable fact that if we are to maintain our prestige and our position abroad as an Empire who must see to it that our house at home is set in order. One of the most essential reforms in my judgment for the strengthening and the uplifting of the home life of the country is an effective measure of temperance reform, and I believe it is in this way alone that in this century the British Empire can be made, not only in name but also in deed, the greatest power for good in the world. I have very great pleasure in seconding the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— At the end of the Question, to add the words,—' But we humbly express our regret to Your Majesty that, having regard to the Reports of the recent Royal Commission on the Licensing Laws and the wide-spread desire which exists that some effort should be made to diminish the evil, which they describe as gigantic and a national degradation, there is no indication in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech of any intention to deal at all adequately with this subject.'"—(Mr. Whittaker.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

* COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)

protested against the references made, by the hon. Member for the Spen Valley Division to Wigan. He had no hesitation in saying that neither the chairman of the watch committee nor the Mayor of Wigan would encourage drunkenness any more than the hon. Member opposite.


Those of us who sit on this side of the House, and yet have much sympathy with the views expressed by the mover and seconder of this Amendment, feel that they have two difficulties to contend with in dealing with this question on this occasion. One is that an Amendment to the Address is generally viewed as a vote of want of confidence in the Government, and, that being the case, if the hon. Member goes to a division, we, shall have some difficulty, I am afraid, in following him. The second difficulty is that we are in ignorance at the present moment as to exactly what it is His Majesty's Government have in their minds in regard to carrying out the statement of the King's Speech in reference to this licensing question. Many of us have examined it very carefully, and have endeavoured to conjecture what it meant, but we have failed to derive very much comfort from it, or, in fact, to imagine what the proposal is. I am one of those—and there are a considerable number on this side of the House—who, while not anxious to press upon the Government drastic and impracticable measures, do earnestly believe that the time has come when progress should be made with regard to temperance reform. I venture to say, notwithstanding some remarks of the seconder of the Amendment, that there is a very large body of Members on this side of the House who will support the Government in bringing forward, and vote in this House for moderate and reasonable measures of reform, which, after all, although moderate and reasonable, may be very beneficial indeed and pave the way for further legislation in the future,


I am sorry to interrupt, but that is exactly what I endeavoured to say. I acknowledged the fact that there were a large number of Members on the other side heartily in favour of temperance reform.


I am glad if I misunderstood the hon. Member. The Home Secretary the other day seemed to be very much afraid of entering upon legislation connected with the licensing law, and apparently he gave as his reason that he would have to face the difficult question of the reduction of licenses coupled with the thorny subject of compensation. I hope that that was not really the Home Secretary's own feeling. I think he was a little misled, perhaps, by the deputation which appeared before him, because I rather think that that deputation had not so much in their minds the reforms that many of us have in our minds; they wished to impress upon the Home Secretary the very reasonable and beneficial character of the scheme of reduction and compensation which they recommended. I venture to suggest that we should leave aside for the present that large question of reduction and compensation. I am in favour of the reduction of licenses, and I believe it will be essential, but there is a great deal of work to be done before we get to that question. If we put that in the fore-front of anything we attempt it will only block the way and prevent us doing a great deal of good which might pave the way to such a reduction coupled with compensation. It is sometimes said that piecemeal legislation is bad legislation. I do not think it is. I can fancy that in regard to some subjects piecemeal legislation may do harm if it is ragged legislation, but I think we could show the Home Secretary that on this question there are a number of reforms which are simple and complete in themselves which might be taken up and carried into law without interfering at all with further progress, and which would be most beneficial.

The question of compensation is always I dragged across the path of temperance reform, but the Report of the Royal Commission consisted of five parts, and in the first part, relating to England and Wales, there are forty-three recommendations which have nothing to do with the question of compensation at all. Indeed, it is only when we come to the fifth part that the question of compensation is dealt with. My hon. friend opposite has suggested some, reforms which, I agree, will he most beneficial and are demanded. Having been a member of the Royal Commission, I venture to say that the hon. Member has not exagger-rated in the slightest degree the evidence that was brought before us. I am quite prepared to stand by the words the hon. Member has used, and to say that in many parts of the country the present administration of the licensing laws is in a scandalous condition. That is not a question of temperance reform. It is a question of the reform of the administration of the present law; and if the Government are afraid of entering upon purely temperance legislation, surely they ought not to be afraid of reforming the administration of our existing licensing law.

I will not weary the House by giving a long catalogue of the various reforms that are suggested in these Reports. A large, number of them, as the hon. Member pointed out, wore unanimous recommendations by both sides of the Commission, including the trade, and I venture to say that the trade ought to be bound by the action of their delegates in regard to them. I also believe that the Majority Report in many of its recommendations not only represents what temperance reformers desire, but represents the opinion of the public outside—that these are reforms which should be undertaken at once by the responsible Government of the country. One simple reform that might be undertaken —it is so simple a matter that I am almost ashamed to mention it—is the holding of the licensing session in March instead of August and September, when the renewal of licences and the granting of new licences is very loosely done, because in the various localities the people are away at that time of the year. Then there is the reform that a licence should not be renewed in the case of a house under £12 rateable, value. Off-licences should be under the control of the licensing authorities, and the distance in regard to bona-fide travellers should be extended. Then there is the power to arrest for simple drunkenness, and of dealing with habitual drunkards. There is also the important question, unanimously recommended by both sides of the Commission, as to the limit of age at which children should be served with drink. I believe that public opinion has been thoroughly roused on this question, and that it has a great deal of sympathy from many who have no liking whatever for what is called ordinary temperance reform. It is strongly felt that if we cannot in our generation remove the stigma of drunkenness, which unfortunately attaches to our nation, we should endeavour to prevent the next generation from falling into the evil. There is in addition the very important question of clubs, which is not exclusively a temperance question. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will venture to take that question up. I feel that the more the, number of public-houses is decreased the more the growing evil of clubs will increase. The proposals of the Commission with regard to clubs are not at all drastic. They do not interfere with bona-fide clubs, hut would put a stop to bogus and drinking clubs which are often set up for the sole purpose of drinking, and carried on by some publican who has lost his licence. The regulations proposed would improve the condition of working men's clubs, many of which are admirably conducted and free from the stain of drunkenness, but many of which would be better for the public eye being turned upon them.

These and many other recommendations I think the Government might take up, and I trust the Home Secretary and the Government will take a more courageous attitude on this subject. Up to a certain point this is becoming less and less a party question, and it will find a, great deal of support from these benches. I have had an opportunity during the past few weeks of ascertaining the views of a large number of Members on this side, of the House, and I am surprised to find the change that has taken place in public opinion on this question since I. first entered this House. We are not fanatics. We will be found to be most reasonable, but if the Government does not move we shall have to be unreasonable. I do not ask for a comprehensive Bill. I simply ask the Government to deal with some of the urgent reforms recommended in the Report of the Royal Commission, and to give their support to any private Bill introduced for this object, which would, without their assistance, have only a remote chance of becoming law.


contended that instead of reducing the number of licences the Government should go to the root of the question and see that what was sold in public-houses was good and wholesome. Much of the spirits sold in this country was imported from Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, and was manufactured from sawdust and shavings by what was known as the sulphurie acid process. It was this sort of stuff that produced the mischiefs of which so much complaint was made, and at a recent exhibition it was used to clean the elephants with. If attention was not given to this matter they in Ireland would have to seriously consider the question whether they should in the future produce barley or sawdust. He hoped the House would pause before taking away the vested interest in licensed houses such as was admitted to exist in Ireland, and not run amuck against all licensed houses with so-called temperance reformers. The great check in Ireland was that it anyone broke the law he lost his licence. He denied that there was any widespread desire to deprive of licences a class of traders in commodities which bore the brunt of taxation. If the temperance party had their way they would reform the trade off the face of the earth, and then they would have the greater evil of unlicensed public-houses or shebeens. If the House would see that arsenic was not put in beer, and that whisky was not made from sawdust. it would do far more towards promoting temperance than by reducing the number of licences, and taking the bread out of the mouths of people who were conducting their business in an honourable way. Would England like to have its trade interfered with, simply because of the fads of some gentlemen who did not understand the question? [An HON. MEMBER laughed.] That laugh was probably the exhilaration of adulterated tea. The licensing question was one of the most serious questions of the day, because the trade was the backbone of the taxation of the country. He did not remonstrate with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of licensing, but on the subject of foreign spirits which were not taxed, and he asked that when the question of licensing was being considered, the Government should also consider the question of the sale of deleterious compounds produced in foreign countries, and sold in this country under names which they had no right to bear. He never heard of Danish whisky, or Swedish whisky, or German whisky, but compounds from these countries were bottled in bond, and fraudently imposed on the public as Irish whisky. He objected to that, and he felt sure that the Government would consider it before interfering with the vested interests in. a trade which had always found money I for taxation. It could not be shown that the licensing system in Ireland was a bad one. The drink bill in Ireland was £2 l4s. per head, but the sober people of England spent £4 5s. per head. In Ireland they had not only a better licensing system, but they had better stuff. They were always asked in Ireland to take their opinions from England, and to go to England for sobriety and licensing reform. They declined. They did not want English licensing; they did not want English liquor, but they asked England to take theirs. They did not wish licensed houses to sell as an Irish commodity a compound made in Germany or Denmark. There was one thing that the Government should consider, and that was whether they were going to rob people who had invested money in a trade which was always sanctioned by law. If the Government abolished all licences to-morrow, how would the teetotalers like to see tea and soda water taxed? They would then be-all found drinking London water. He-would conclude by making an entreaty to the Government to deal with the question of commodities. If they found that adulteration was rife, and that the public health suffered, then let them not. spare such licensed houses as sold such compounds, because they had broken the law. But as long as licensed houses carried on their trade in a fair and honourable manner, any Government worthy of the name of a government would not interfere with them, notwithstanding all that the faddists of the nation might say.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

In a somewhat amusing speech the hon. and gallant Gentleman stated that the people would not drink Scotch whisky in Ireland. I would reply that we would not drink Irish whisky in Scotland, a liquor which I heard described in this House as "a torchlight procession down one's throat," and I think no one accustomed to Scotch whisky would favour it. I do hope that some good will come, of this debate. The matter is one in which the whole country is of one way of thinking, although not much was said about it at the General Election. I believe in every constituency, certainly fin every Scotch constituency of which I have knowledge—and I have knowledge of a good many—it was held that legislation on the lines laid down by the Royal Commission must take place; and it would not be well, under these circumstances, for the Government, with its great majority, to do nothing during the present Parliament. I think, however, that the tone of the proposer and seconder of this Amendment was somewhat harsh as regards the position of the Government. I do not condemn the Government. They have introduced a sentence on the subject into the King's Speech. What that may be worth I do not know, but it may be worth—and I rather think it will be worth—a great deal more than some hon. Members seem to think. Therefore I give the Government every credit for yielding to the wishes of the country, provided that they see, as I am satisfied they do, the great urgency and importance of the question. It is not that Englishmen attach any great importance to drastic measures. I have been in Parliament for, more or less, twenty-five years, and I have never yet seen one of those great reforms foreshadowed at the commencement of any session carried into law. Almost the only measure of any utility affecting Scotland which was carried during the last twenty-five years namely, the closing at an earlier hour at the wish of the town councils in the burghs, was really carried by myself. The hon. Baronet the Member for North-west Manchester foreshadowed several important measures. It is true they were small ones, compared with the larger measures foreshadowed by the Royal Commission; but if several of them were passed in the present Parliament we should be much the better for them, and I believe they would tend to give us a more sober people, and to put licensing reform on a much better basis. Those of us who know anything about licensing in Scotland know it is not a question of liquor, but really a question of administration, and if the question of administration is better attended to in the measures which; the Government may give us no one will be more satisfied than I will be.

* MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)

I think the Irish Members are entitled to some explanation from the Government on this licensing question, so far as it affects Ireland. We have heard from these benches eloquent speeches on the temperance question. I, for one, do not object to home rule for England in temperance matters. If you want legislation to deal with the evils existing in England, let it be confined to England. The general rule on these temperance matters is that Gentlemen from the Liberal benches bring forward temperance measures, and apply them not to England but to Ireland. Ireland is used as a, place to experiment upon, and as a kind of dumping ground for temperance fads. I think, therefore, the Irish Members are entitled to know from the Government, if they are really serious about bringing in temperance legislation, whether it is to apply to Ireland. You passed a Sunday Closing Act for Ireland, but there is no Sunday Closing Act for England. We who have experience of the working of the Sunday Closing Act in the West of Ireland know that that Act has closed no house which would not have been closed if it had never come into operation. All the respectable houses would close of their own accord on Sundays, and as a matter of fact, the Sunday Closing Act has really been a Sunday Opening Act for all low-class public houses.

The hon. Member who introduced this amendment referred to the police corruption in Manchester, Wigan, and other cities in this country. We know that in Ireland police corruption on a smaller scale has also occurred. From my own experience I know that the police, instead of enforcing the Sunday Closing Act with an equal hand and with equal justice, use it as an engine very often for political and personal spite. A certain class of publicans are harassed, whereas another class are allowed to sell as much as they like on Sundays. I myself, having been appointed a magistrate under the Local Government Act, had to complain about the conduct of the police in this very respect. But I could obtain no satisfaction. In fact, other magistrates and myself have been sneered at because we are Nationalists. If you put in force any law of great severity it is almost bound to lead to corruption on the part of the men who are called upon to administer it. If, therefore, you increase the restrictions at present existing, how are you to guard against corruption on even a wider scale? On that ground alone I object to any further attempts to make people sober by Act of Parliament, or to make them temperate by methods of coercion. The ordinary individual would not drink a glass of whisky more simply because there were a hundred public-houses in a street instead of ten. Of course foolish and stupid people will get drunk no matter what legislation you may pass, and to say that because a few idiotic individuals get drunk the reasonable habits of ordinary men are to be hampered is a proposal which this House should not tolerate. My reason for interfering in this debate is simply to object to any further extension of licensing restrictions to Ireland. If you want them in England I will not object. The hon. Member who moved the amendment referred to the terrible drunkenness prevailing in some parts of England. I have had some experience of that myself. I remember attending a meeting held in a colliery village in the North of England—it was called a"village"—of 10,000 inhabitants. The day happened to be pay-day, and I never saw such a state of drunkenness before. After the Irish meeting was over, which I attended, I remember that every place I went to, I saw nearly every man, woman and child in a drunken condition.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)

As one of the Members for Durham I should like to know the name of that village. I venture to say that the hon. Member cannot find a village in the north of England which in any way comes near his description. I hope he will use more careful language.


I have great personal respect for the hon. Gentleman, and I do not wish to hurt his feelings particularly. If he would like the name of the village I will give it to him afterwards.


I wish to have it now.


It was in the village of Hetton-le-hole.


It is untrue.


I was a witness of it myself. When I was looking for a car to take me to the station, every place I went into appeared to be crawling with drunkenness, and I could not get a vehicle to carry me to the nearest railway station there were so many people drunk in the place. I do not object to any coercion, any Crimes Act you may introduce to put down intemperance of that description. I never saw any thing like it in Ireland, and I hope I never shall. I hope in this matter the Government will confine their legislation to England. When we brought forward the question of the over-taxation of Ireland the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment was one of our most conspicuous and able opponents, and although he would not give us Home Rule in the matter of financial relations I am quite willing to give him Home Rule in the matter of temperance legislation. I have seen it stated that one of the methods of dealing with this question is to wipe out all public houses under a certain valuation in Ireland without compensation. There is also another proposal. In obedience to some circular or mandate issued from Dublin Castle, the county court judges in Ireland—a respectable body of men—were summoned to meet, and came to the conclusion to recommend to the Government that all licensing business in Ireland should be taken out of the hands of the local magistrate and put into the hands of the county court judges. I object to giving them any further power in these matters. I think they are entirely unfitted to deal with licensing questions in Ireland, by their political as well as their legal training. Moreover, they have quite enough to do at present. The cry never went up in Ireland for abolishing the jurisdiction of ordinary magistrates until, owing to the operation of the Local Government Act, men like myself, elected by the votes of the people, were able to take our seats on the magisterial bench. And because such men have become magistrates it is suddenly discovered that everything wrong is now done by the local magistrates and the Government are accordingly asked to abolish their jurisdiction and to hand over the question of licensing to the county court judges. Another proposal is to, hand over the licensing administration of Ireland solely to the paid magistrates.

I think that is equally objectionable. In fact, if I had to choose between the two classes I should prefer the county court judges. Whatever chance of fair play or independence or consideration for the people that might be looked for—and it might be very small—would be found among the county court judges rather than among the promoted policemen who figure as resident magistrates. I think the Secretary of State for the Home Department outlined recently a very wise alternative scheme, by which the vice of intemperance could be dealt with in a satisfactory manner. He said that if intemperance was to be combated the people must be housed in proper houses. I am very glad to see that the King is identified with that question, and I hope that during the opening years of his reign legislation regarding it will be passed, because it is on the lines of improving the dwellings of the poor that you can effect real temperance reform. When we consider the miserable slums in which these people have to live, and the miserable cabins in Ireland, often with nine or ten persons in a single room, is it any wonder, that, worn out with hard and constant toil, these people should at the end of the week seek some respite by recourse to indulgence in drink? As long as the poorer classes are housed—


The hon Member would not be in order in discussing the housing of the working class on an Amendment having reference to licensing reform.


I do not, in any way, wish to disregard your ruling, Sir. I was merely pointing out an alternative to that raised by the motion. In my experience the gentlemen who so strenuously advocate the question of temperance are generally employers who are trying to get more out of their men at lower wages. They think that by preventing the working men from spending money on drink, they will be able to get them to work for less wages. There is nothing straightforward about them, although they pose as possessing a monopoly of all the Christian virtues, whereas any of us who differ even slightly from, them are sinners who ought to be cast out into the wilderness. My experience of these gentlemen is that they make their temperance fads a stalking horse for their own profit, and for the purpose of getting more work out of their workpeople. I think, however, if these temperance fanatics are compared to the men who resist their ideas it will be found that the latter are just as straightforward and as anxious for the good of the people. My own experience is that whenever we put forward in our local bodies any housing or water scheme the men who oppose it are generally those who are distinguished as temperance advocates. I am certain the House will not consent to any legislation on this question unless men of all classes and all parties assent to it. It seems to me that the gentlemen who are most desirous of promoting temperance legislation are the gentlemen who will give no freedom of opinion to others, and who will allow no one to differ from them without calling them vile names.

It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.