HC Deb 30 January 1902 vol 101 cc1433-48

I rise to ask the House to divert its attention from the interesting subject of water to the much more fascinating subject of liquor, and to move for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to the sale of intoxicating liquors and to drunkenness, and to provide for the registration of clubs. Some observations were made in the debate just closed as to the Reports of Royal Commissions, and we were asked whether the Government was going to show their zeal for the decisions of a Royal Commission by introducing a Bill to carry out all its recommendations. I say at once, that as regards the licensing laws. We have no such intention. We do not at present intend to ask the House to take up all the subjects connected with this question—someof them of extreme difficulty—which were dealt with by the Royal Commission. If we were to attempt to deal at large with all the various matters no one knows better than those associated with temperance reform that it would undoubtedly end in failure, and we should be unable to obtain any measure at all this session. I think, therefore, that were those who are most desirous of seeing carried a very extreme measure of licensing reform will agree that we are taking a more prudent course in asking the House to deal with some of the important subjects reported on by the Commission, leaving the others for the present. We do not propose to attempt to deal this session with large licensing reforms, or to ask the House for increased powers to refuse the renewal of licenses. We do not propose to deal with the reduction of the number of licensed houses or with the great question of compensation which has wrecked so many proposals before. But there are other branches of the subject which are of importance, and which are dealt with in the Bill which I will proceed to explain.

This Bill is in three parts, and deals with three branches of the question. The first part of the Bill deals with the law relating to drunkenness, and I think it will be admitted by all sane temperance reformers that although they may desire to see the sale of intoxicants abolished altogether, the great evil of which they and we complain is not due to the moderate consumption of liquor, but to the excessive consumption of it. For my own part I am amazed to see what a large number of the crimes of violence which have come before me since I have been at the Home Office may be attributed to drunkenness. I do not think I am going beyond the mark when I say that nine-tenths of them have been in the main caused by drink. Therefore we propose to ask the House to strengthen the law with regard to this particular matter. We first of all propose to strengthen the law with regard to the individual drunkard. As the House knows, if a person is found in a public place drunk and incapable he is taken charge of by the police until he is sober, with the view of subsequently serving a summons on him. We propose that the person instead of being summoned may be arrested and charged, and further that, if he or she be found in charge of a child under seven years of age, which sometimes unfortunately occurs, that shall be a specific offence rendering the offender liable to a penalty of 40s. or one month's hard labour. We propose also that this offence shall be one of those rendering a person liable to be committed to an Inebriate Reformatory. We also propose to strengthen the law with regard to one of the worst grievances of married couples. If a married man becomes an habitual drunkard his wife is to be able to apply for a separation order under the Summary Jurisdiction (Women) Act. She may obtain this order for several offences now, but habitual drunkenness is not specifically one of them, and we propose to add it to the other causes which entitle a wife to this protection. We are also making a new provision by which a married man may obtain similar protection against a drunken wife. At present the law affords him no remedy in what is often an extremely hard case. We further propose that, when a man is convicted of an offence of which drunkenness is either a part or an accompaniment, and being an habitual drunkard, is liable to be committed to a Reformatory, the police shall be notified, and if he attempts to purchase liquor at any time within three years he shall be on conviction liable to a penalty. This cannot be done unless the man comes within the terms of the Habitual Inebriates Act, 1898, that is, unless a certain number of convictions shall have been recorded against him within a certain time. That being so he would, under the Bill, be bound under a penalty not to purchase drink at licensed premises for a period of three years. Any license-holder who knowingly, that is to say knowing him to be under that prohibition, supplied him with any liquor, would also be liable to a penalty. Every care will be taken to notify to the publican, by means of the police in the district, the fact that a certain person is under this disability, and if, after having been notified, he defies the law and knowingly sells or allows to be sold intoxicating liquor to that individual he is liable to a penalty. [An HON. MEMBER: What as to grocers?] I will deal with that question in a moment. Let me mention some other points as to drunkenness. If a licensed person is charged with permitting drunkenness on his premises, and it is proved that any person was drunk on his premises, we propose that it shall lie on the licensed person to prove that he and the persons employed by him took all reasonable steps to prevent the drunkenness. It is quite clear that we are justified in strengthening the law as far as we reasonably can in a matter of this kind, because if it is true that the crimes of violence to which I have referred above are in nine cases out of ten committed by persons who are more or less in a state of drunkenness, it is also perfectly clear that those persons must have been supplied by license-holders with drink when they were in a state of drunkenness. I believe these provisions will be acceptable to the licensed persons as a whole, because they are wise enough to know that there are no greater enemies to their trade than persons who are turned out on the streets in a drunken condition. I believe that the immense majority of publicans take every precaution they can to prevent this happening, but there is a small class of license-holders who take no such precaution, and it is against them that we desire to strengthen the law.

In Part II. of the Bill we propose some amendments of what may be called the machinery of the licensing law. At present, if a licensed person is convicted of an offence against the law a justice may or may not order the conviction to be endorsed on his license. The law further provides that if there are three convictions endorsed on the license that very fact prevents him being able to obtain a renewal of his license. That seems rather a drastic mode of dealing with this particular point. But, as a matter of fact, it has completely broken down, because the justices will not exercise the power given them of endorsing licenses, the effect of which, on the third endorsement, would be to deprive a man of the value of his license. And it is for that reason, I imagine, in the main that this power is practically not used. What we propose is that, instead of endorsing on the license, the clerk to the justices shall keep a record of all the convictions, and that that record shall be produced at every Licensing Sessions so that the Justices may see if there is any record against the applicant; and we enact that where a record shows five convictions against an individual in five years and the justices renew that man's license or grant him a new license, they shall give their reasons for doing so in writing, and that the police authorities shall have the power, which they have not at present in regard to renewals, to appeal against the decision of the justices. We believe that that change will act much more effectively than the existing law does.

This part of the Bill also deals with off retail licenses. At present, as the House knows, grocers may obtain a wholesale wine dealer's excise license at £10, and if they can obtain that license they can sell liquor retail without any certificate or license from the justices. They do not have to go to the justices at all. Or if they do not choose to pay £10 and prefer the retail excise license at £2 10s. they have to go to the justices, but the justices have no power to refuse the certificates asked for except upon certain specified grounds. Our proposal is to put all these licenses under the absolute control of the justices. There are certain other smaller amendments of the law which we propose in this part of the Bill. We propose to give justices much greater power with regard to structural alterations than they at present have. We propose to disqualify justices' clerks from acting privately in respect of any license in the districts for which they are clerks. We propose a small amendment which has been much asked for, namely to make an alteration in the date of the annual licensing meeting—to make it uniform throughout the country, the same, in fact, practically as it is now in London. We propose also that application for an occasional license, instead of being made to one justice with but little publicity, shall in future have to be obtained from two justices in open court. There is one little reform which we also propose, and that is to remove the disqualification of justices who happen to be interested in railways which carry on their own refreshment bars. There are some other minor alterations in this part of the Bill with which I need not trouble the House.

The third part of the Bill is that dealing with clubs. I am sure all of us will agree that the present state of the law with regard to clubs is a very unsatisfactory one. No one who has read the evidence given before the Royal Commission can doubt that a great number of these clubs are a source of very great evil and danger, and that they are, in fact, not clubs at all, but mere drinking shops. There are many instances given in which a license-holder, having by misconduct or otherwise lost his license, immediately turns what was his public house into what it pleases him to call a club. I believe there is some power in the law by which some check may be exercised over these institutions. I am not sure that the Excise would not have a locus standi in the court, and if they could prove that these clubs were only clubs in name, the proprietor or manager of these bogus clubs would be open to the penalties of the law. If, however, the law could be enforced with regard to that it would only touch a small portion of the evil, and, therefore, we propose to remedy it by a different method. It must be apparent to everybody that in dealing with clubs we must treat alike the clubs of St. George's, Hanover Square, and those of St. George's-in-the-East. There can be no distinction whatever drawn between them, and I do not for an instant believe that fair and reasonable proposals, framed with a view to getting rid of what all admit to be a great evil, is in the least degree likely to be objected to by any class of club whatever. At the same time, whilst endeavouring to deal with the evil we must be careful not to draw our law so stringently as to make it very difficult for real genuine clubs to be carried on. We must remember, I submit, that clubs are laudable institutions. I think it is a good thing that to whatever class of life a man may belong he should have a place like a club, which is properly conducted, to go to where he can meet his fellow men, talk over the affairs of the day, see the newspapers, read books, and spend a quiet evening. None of us would desire to place the slightest impediment in the way of genuine clubs, whether honest working men's or West End clubs, and therefore in striking at an undoubted evil we must be careful that we do not injure or stop the growth and development of really well-conducted clubs. Two different plans have been suggested. One is that there should be registration, and that before a club can claim registration it shall give evidence to the registering authorities in a great many different ways, by producing evidence of a great many things, in great detail, that the club is a really bonâ fide, genuine, well-conducted club; and until that has been done, registration ought not to be given. If we proceeded on those lines we should not be going on right lines. I do not think it would be right at all to say that the registration should not take place until the registering authority was convinced by much inspection, and many returns, that the club was a club conducted in all respects as the registering authority would desire. It would, indeed, be almost giving to that club a license, which is not what we exactly desire to give. We proceed on a different plan in this Bill. We first of all say that all clubs must be registered, and that no club that is not registered can be allowed to keep or to provide for anyone any intoxicating liquor whatever. The penalty for a breach of the provision will be very heavy, not merely nominal, £50 or a month's imprisonment, or both together. That is with regard to a club which is not registered, and which keeps its premises open for the sale of intoxicating liquors. But we do not make it difficult for clubs to register. We regard registration as almost purely ministerial, and we think the registrar should be the clerk to the Justices. It has been suggested that it would have been better to have some central authority like the registrar of friendly societies, but we do not think that that would be nearly so satisfactory as having a local registrar. We think that in every way and in all instances it would be better that the register should be local rather than central, and therefore we propose to make the clerk to the Justices the registering office. We also provide that any club which furnishes to the registration authority particulars in the form prescribed by the secretary of State, and containing the name and objects of the club, the address of the club, the name of the secretary, the rules for the election of members and the admission of guests, the terms of subscription, and the number of members shall be entitled to registration, and that every year the secretary of the club shall in the month of January furnish to the clerk of the Justices a return signed by the secretary giving the particulars I have mentioned up to date. We do not in this Bill ask the clubs to undergo all the detail of application and of obtaining registration every year, but once registered they must furnish all these particulars annually to the registrar. What happens then? It is then within the power of the police or anyone to make a representation to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction that a club has either ceased to exist or is not conducted in good faith as a club, or that there is frequent drunkenness on the club premises, and if the Court of Summary Jurisdiction is satisfied that the club offends in any of these three particulars, it may order its name to be taken off the register, and after that, if it is continued as a club, it will be liable to the penalties of which I have spoken. Then there is the great question of police supervision. I believe myself that there is nothing that clubs of all kinds would more resent than to be put under police supervision, to the extent of allowing a police officer at any time to enter the premises for the purpose of making an investigation into the affairs of the club. I believe that that would be resented, and rightly resented by members of all clubs. But we do think that there ought to be some provision for entering a club where there is reason to believe that it is not being conducted in good faith as a club, and, therefore, we provide that anyone may apply to a magistrate on sworn information that, in his opinion, the club is not properly carried on, and we empower the magistrate to grant a search warrant, and on that warrant the police could enter the club. I think it is desirable that such an order should not be granted until good reason had been shown that the club was not properly conducted.

This is, shortly, a description of the main provisions of the Bill. I said at the outset that we do not profess to deal with all the various great and important problems which are in the minds of many temperance reformers. I believe there was a time when, if a Bill of this moderate character had been proposed, it would have been met at once by what I may, without offence, call the extreme Temperance Party, with strong, dissatisfaction. I believe, however, that the minds of temperance reformers have undergone, in late years, some change in that respect, and that, although they do not depart from the opinions which they hold as to what they think ought to be carried out in the way of temperance legislation, they are, nevertheless, ready to assist the Government in passing a measure which has temperance for its object, and which, they believe, is framed on such lines as to secure, at least, some advance in the direction they desire. It would be very easy for the extreme temperance reformers to prevent this Bill becoming law this session, but it would also be very easy for them to secure that it should become law. I hope that, guided by the moderate views they now hold, they will adopt the latter course, and, while reserving their opinions with regard to other proposals, they will regard this Bill as an honest attempt to deal with some of the evils which they recognise, and that they will assist the Government in passing it into law.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

Will this Bill apply to Scotland?


No, sir; I believe my noble friend has a Bill in print with reference to Scotland. The law in Scotland is different, and we found it impossible to include the two countries in one Bill.

(11.20.) Mr. CAINE (Cornwall, Camborne)

With regard to the suggestion of the Secretary of State that there has been a change lately with regard to the attitude of temperance reformers in this House, I may say that we have always been guided by the reasonable frame of mind which he has described, and which has always characterised us. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can mention any case in which extreme temperance reformers have ever obstructed any reasonable proposal which went in any way in the direction we have so long advocated. I am sure the whole House has listened with interest and attention to the exposition of this measure. I am not proposing to discuss it in detail, but so far as the limited information we have goes, it appears to be a measure which will certainly receive a general support, at any rate, of extreme temperance reformers in this House, and of all other classes of temperance reformers. I do not say it is a great Bill, that is not claimed for it, and we do not expect heroic legislation from the present Government with regard to temperance reforms, but I sincerely trust that the Government will keep a stiff back and not give way as they did in the case of the Children's Bill. The publicans themselves—a body of men for whom I have always entertained the greatest possible respect—have shown themselves much better temperance reformers than has the Government or the House of Commons. The Children's Bill, as passed, enabled any child to get drink as long as it was in a sealed bottle, but now nearly every public house has a notice in its windows which goes a long way beyond that.


I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not desire to misrepresent the action of the Government. It was perfectly clear that the Bill, as it stood, would have no chance of passing in the very short time that could possibly be given to it, and in order to obtain the Bill even extreme temperance reformers on the Committee were themselves desirous of making the concessions which were made, because they knew that otherwise the Bill could not be passed.


I will not labour that point farther. I simply fall back on my statement that the publicans of the country have shown themselves better temperance reformers than either the House of Commons or the Goverment. As regards the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's measure, that relating to drunkenness, none of us will object to anything that strengthens the law or tends to get rid of the habitual drunkard. That is all to the good. With regard to the second part of the Bill, that also travels in the right direction. There is no doubt whatever about that. What interested me most, however, was the latter part of the Bill, with reference to clubs. That is a matter to which I have given a great deal of attention. I myself introduced a Bill on the subject in 1893, and it was referred to a Select Committee before which a great mass of information was given, which I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman has availed himself of. I do hope, however, that when we come to the club clauses the Government will approach them with an elastic mind. It is an extremely difficult and intricate question, and one which ought not to be approached in any extreme sense, but with a sincere desire to get rid of bogus clubs. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would, at all events, have given us a clause which would prevent liquor shops, which get into trouble with the law, being turned into clubs.


I omitted to say that we provide that when a Court of Summary Jurisdiction orders a club to be taken off the register, it may also order that the premises occupied by that club shall not be used in any way by a club which sells drink for five years.


What I want to get at is that no premises used as a public-house shall be turned into a club. A great deal of evidence on that point was brought before the Royal Commission. I will give a single instance. A country brewer had thirteen tied houses, one of which had been notorious for a long time as the resort of fruit thieves and poachers. Finally it was refused a renewal of its license, whereupon the brewer called together the thieves and the poachers, and formed a club, consisting of 44 of these excellent gentlemen, and all went merrily along, except that the public-house was no longer under police supervision, and the poachers could wait until the moon rose and the thieves until Sunrise.


Our provision will meet the very case the hon. Gentleman supposes, namely the case of licensed premises which have been refused a license and afterwards have been opened as a bogus club. The club could be struck off the register, and the premises could not be used for the same purpose for five years if the Justices so decided.


I do not want such premises opened as clubs under any circumstances; it is a clear evasion of the law. The magistrates decide that liquor shall not be sold there and yet it continues to be sold. I would ask the Home Secretary whether he would not consider the desirability of enacting that any public house whose license has been withdrawn for misconduct shall not be used as a club for a certain number of years. That would go to the root of the bogus club question. What temperance reformers aim at is to get eventually some measure by which the control of the sale of intoxicating liquor shall be administered locally. What will be the use of this prohibition if the result is that every liquor shop that is closed is to be turned into a club by complying with the very easy requirements which have been foreshadowed in this Bill? I do not wish to discuss these points further. I merely want to press on the Government to approach these matters with as elastic a mind as possible, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that every extreme and moderate temperance reformer will welcome with pleasure every proposal for the restriction of the liquor trade and the promotion of sobriety, however microscopic it may be.

(11.40.) MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)

I have listened with some interest to the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman. May I congratulate him on the very moderate and temperate speech he has delivered, although there are some omissions which might have been included in the Bill. I congratulate him also for saying that so far as the trade is concerned their worst enemy is the habitual drunkard and the spreading of drunkenness over the country. I deny that the trade has any desire to spread intemperance, and I believe that many of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman will be welcomed by the trade. The hon. Member for the Camborne Division has referred to the great moderation of the temperance party. They always take one line and say "This is Liberty Hall, but you must do as we tell you," and as long as anyone holds an opinion differing in the slightest degree from theirs, he is always regarded as being wrong in that opinion. I should like to say a few words with reference to some of the provisions which the right hon. Gentleman has intimated are contained in the Bill. I think it is perfectly right to introduce legislation for the habitual drunkard. I think also it is perfectly right that the intemperate husband who beats his wife should be punished. In Ireland we have not yet attained to the high civilisation of England as regards beating women and children, but every hon. Member on these Benches will welcome any Bill that proposes to punish the drunken husband for ill-treating his wife and children. I also quite agree that husbands should be protected from wives who are habitually given to drunkenness, but I fear the working of such a scheme will be almost impracticable.

With regard to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to alter the power of the present licensing authorities, I am unable to agree with him that Justices do not exercise their power when they are called upon, and I cannot see that if the Justices' clerks keep a record of the endorsements, it is more likely to make Justices do what they are of opinion should not be done. I deprecate that people who are connected with the manufacture of spirits, or merely hold a few shares in a distillery, brewery, or company connected with the liquor traffic, should be incapacitated from sitting on licensing questions, and I think that the proposal of the hon. Gentleman that it should not apply to Justices holding shares in a railway company, is only a very small step in the right direction, and I trust, that honourable men who are also Justices of the Peace will not have a stigma placed on them and be made pariahs of, because of their connection with an honourable trade. If they are unfit to sit in licensing questions, they are utterly unfit to be Justices at all, and still I note that the clerks keeping a record of the endorsements is put forward as an inducement to Justices to be more severe; yet it is proposed in other matters, namely the granting of grocers' licenses, to give these same Justices further power than they at present possess.

As regards clubs, I uphold, and I believe every member of the trade does the same, the restrictions which are now to be enforced by the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. There are, however, two points which are not touched on by the right hon. Gentleman, and which would do more to check drunkenness than all the licensing restrictions. First, the question of adulteration, and then the question of giving greater facility for licensing to those licensed victuallers who will also provide good and cheap food for their customers. I think they should be encouraged in every possible way, both by lightening the restrictions of their licenses, and even by taking off a certain amount of taxation if they provide good and suitable food for the use of the public. The question of adulteration is at the root of the evil of drunkenness, and should be dealt with by the Government, and I trust that what I have said will be taken some notice of by the right hon. Gentleman in his Bill.

(11.47.) MR. TRITTON (Lambeth, Norwood)

I desire to express my thanks, and I am sure the thanks of many who are associated with me on this side of the House in temperance reform, to the right hon. Gentleman for the Bill he has asked leave to introduce. We have been much indebted to His Majesty's Government for the assistance they have given to the temperance cause. We are indebted to them for having set up the Royal Commission on the licensing laws. The two Reports published by that Commission have done more to open the eyes of the people of England and of Members of this House to the evils of intemperance, than any document ever before issued to the public. We are indebted to the Government also for the help they gave us last session in securing the passage of the Children's Bill. Without the help and facilities afforded by the Government that Bill would have come to an untimely end after its Second Reading. Now, again, we feel ourselves indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the measure he has described to us. Speaking for myself, the measure does not go so far as I should like it to go. I wish that in amending the licensing laws the right hon. Gentleman had seen fit to restrict the hours of sale of intoxicating liquors on Sundays. That I believe is one of the most important items of the temperance programme. But I accept what the gives us with the greatest pleasure. I believe the registration of clubs is a question we are all united upon and wish to see carried out. The structural alteration of public-houses is a most important question, and will tend to the diminution of intemperance. The provisions with regard to grocers' licesnes and for dealing with drunkards, will meet with general approval. The Bill will receive the support of a great number of those who are anxious to see an end put to the intemperance of the country and a better state of things brought in.

(11.50) MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

In one part of his Bill the right hon. Gentleman has given us a proposal that magistrates' clerks should keep a record of the convictions of license-holders. Could not the right hon. Gentleman draft an amendment to that, to prevent a magistrates' clerk, or the firm of which the magistrates' clerk is a member, taking briefs from brewers in regard to whom he may have to enter a conviction in the course of his duty as clerk to the Justices?


That is already done.


I did not hear it mentioned.


read the clause dealing with the matter.


The right hon. Gentleman did not read that before.


No, but I stated the effect of the provision.


I wish the right hon. Gentleman would go a step further and prohibit such a firm being engaged in the posting, delivering, or serving of notices, or having anything whatever to do with the granting of new licenses, or with the transfer of licenses. That is a matter of great importance. If the right hon. Gentleman has had any practical experience of Summary Jurisdiction Courts or Brewster Sessions in this matter he will agree that it is essential that these clerks should be entirely separated from every portion of the work connected with licenses. Another point I would urge is this. I understand that after a certain number of convictions the loss of the license of the occupying publican will be automatic. But that provision will never come into operation; it will be a dead letter. In the case of a tied house the brewer himself is a much better protector of the public than this clause will be. Immediately on conviction, a tenant is served by the brewer with a notice to quit. The brewer will not risk having difficulties with the license through the neglect, immorality, or illegality of his tenant. The only way to achieve your object is to make the clause apply to the house—that if the tenant of a house has been convicted five times (three would be better) the house (not the man) should lose its license. Unless you get at the house instead of the tenant the clause will be futile.

There is one other respect in which the Bill will be utterly impracticable, and that is with regard to the supplying of drink to habitual drunkards. It is an impracticable scheme, and will never work. As to the "knowingly supply," every magistrate knows that whenever there is a case of that kind, it is always the barman, the barmaid, or the ostler, or some other servant who has been momentarily left in charge, and who had been previously warned that they were not to supply drink to certain persons. You must make the license-holder responsible for the acts of his servants. In other trades the master is liable for the acts of his servants, and unless the same is done here the clause will be no good at all. There are several other points in regard to which the Bill will require strengthening, and my experience of the right hon. Gentleman leads me to believe that in Committee he will listen to suggestions with a view to such strengthening. As the Bill stands, there is no harm in it, but there will be very little good in its working out, and it will require all the attention and labour of my temperance friends behind me to make it into a valuable working measure. I certainly shall not raise one finger to hinder the progress of the Bill, but in Committee I shall deem it my duty—unless the Home Secretary saves me the trouble—to put down Amendments for the purpose of improving the measure in various respects.

Bill to amend the Law relating to the sale of intoxicating liquors and to drunkenness, and to provide for the registration of clubs, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary Ritchie, Mr. Attorney General, and Mr. Jesse Collings.