§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1: —
Amendment proposed —
In page 1, line 5, to insert, at the beginning, the words "During the period of seven years after the passing of this Act."—(Mr. Ellis Griffith.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment—
To leave out the word 'seven' and insert the word 'fourteen.'"—(Colonel Williams).
§ Question again proposed. "That the word 'seven' stand part of the proposed Amendment."
§ *MAJOR JAMESON
continuing his speech said, until the Amendment was moved, to make the time limit fourteen 871 years, nobody in the House had any knowledge of what the reasons were for proposing a time limit. Then they were told that one reason was that compensation should not be granted at all, that compensation was not granted to shareholders in goldmines which did not happen to prosper, and that compensation should not be granted to those whose licences were suppressed. But he would point out that there could be any number of gold mines, while the number of public-houses was limited. He did not think the hon. Member for the Spen Valley could nave been serious when he compared public-houses with gold mines. He could not understand the objection of the hon. Member to what was practically a perpetual fund raised for the purpose of securing that those public-houses which were superfluous should be done away with. Did the hon. Member mean that this time limit was required, or did he think that the end of all public-houses would come at the end of this time limit. At the end of fourteen years justice would be the same as to-day. It was only towards the end of the hon. Member's speech that the Committee discovered that the real reason for a time limit was their old friend local option which had been so often before the House, and which had been scouted by the House whenever it came before it. The hon. Gentleman should remember that whenever he had the power and had the people behind him he could always introduce local option. This Bill simply created a perpetual fund for the purpose of redeeming superfluous licences. Why should the Committee consider a time limit was necessary? If they desired to put a time limit on what was right and just then all he could say was that the temperance and Liberal Party was attempting to do a thing which they would not have thought of doing ten years ago. The Government by this Bill had given the Committee a chance of doing a great stroke for temperance reform; the magistrates had always had the power to deal with superfluous licences and the Government now came forward and said, "You always had the power to deal with licences, now here is this fund from which you may compensate the licence-holder; get along and get rid of all these superfluous 872 licences." Why should it be said that there should be a time limit in which to compensate the man whose licence was suppressed. In Ireland, when all the superfluous licences had gone, it became the law that a man should not have his licence taken away unless he broke the law, and that should be the law here. It worked very well in Ireland. Those in favour of a time limit being introduced into this Bill seemed to have overlooked or forgotten the fact that this Bill practically stopped for ever the granting of any new licences. They appeared to forget that the money which passed as compensation to dispossessed licence-holders was only equivalent to the value of a new licence being paid for the surrender of an old licence. It was a most extraordinary argument to put forward that a Bill which practically prevented new licences being granted should only be in force for fourteen years and that it should then expire. This Bill, if passed into law, would deal with all the old 1869 beerhouse licences and bring them into line with the others, and he himself believed that the only reason why the temperance party were opposed to this Bill was that it was introduced by the present Government. He opposed the Amendment.
§ *MR. ROWLAND HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said "time limit," in his opinion was little more than a catchword, like "efficiency" and "free trade." Hon. Members seemed to forget that for many years it had been the custom of the justices to renew licences as a matter of course, and it would be admitted that the custom of the country continued for many years became to a great extent a law of itself. Licences had been renewed under this custom for a great number of years, and, in his opinion, it would be a very wrong thing indeed to take them away without giving the holders some compensation for them. With this time limit they were going to compel the trade to pay a large sum of money year after year, and at the end of the seven, four teen, or twenty-one years, whichever was suggested. The remaining licence-holders would find that they had paid all this money and got nothing for it, and, in 873 addition, could have their licences arbitrarily taken away. Even with local option he did not think the people of this country would be willing to subject these licence-holders to such unfair conditions. If they had a time limit they would be in a far worse position respecting the reduction of licences than they were at present. The only time limit which he felt they ought to recognise in the Bill was one which provided that no new licences should be granted to brewers. Brewers naturally tried to sell as much beer as they could, and consequently pressed the sale of their commodities at the public-houses controlled by them, and the English people were quite ready enough to drink alcholic liquors without extra inducements. What he should like to see was the prevention of the granting of new licences, except to associations similar to that of Lord Grey, which gave every opportunity to the people to be able to have good food and tea and coffee, as well as really good sound alcoholic liquors. He regarded the Bill as a real temperance reform, with nothing of grandmotherly legislation about it, and if this proposal could be inserted in the measure he believed it would be a thoroughly good one.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
said the Amendment was one of which he heartily disapproved. It put a time limit on the operation of the first clause of the Bill, which was a clause chiefly relating to the machinery under which licences should be granted. The Committee did not yet know what particular form Clause I was likely to assume, and under those circumstances it appeared to him to be a somewhat foolish thing to put a limit to machinery the precise nature of which was not yet determined. It would be far better for the Committee to set up proper machinery for granting licences and not to enact that this Bill should not last more than seven years, the only result of which would be that it would, as everybody knew perfectly well, be put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill at the end of each session, and go on year after year, but if the clause was passed as it now stood and the House found it necessary to amend the machinery, it could be easily amended. There was nothing, 874 therefore, to be said in favour of the particular Amendment before the Committee But when they came to a time limit up to which compensation was to be paid out of this Bill, then he did not agree that this was an attempt on the part of those who advocated a time limit to deal with the licence-holders in an unfair manner. The situation was this. It was admitted by everybody that there was no legal right to compensation, but owing to the weakness of the authorities there had grown up a custom of renewing licences, which had created in them some value, and it was thought to be a hard thing to take away a licence from a man without compensating him for his loss, and for his own part he thought it. I was better that they should buy back the right to deal with licences in the interest of the public.
The main question was how much compensation was to be given, and in what form was it to be given. All were agreed that there must be compensation, but not as to the amount, and under this Bill it was very difficult to estimate the amount. It had been stated by the hon. and learned I Member for the Stretford Division that in his long experience he had never known a case in which more than ten years purchase was given for a licence in compensation cases. Would the Government say whether that was the meaning of the clause? If it was not, would they make the clause bear that interpretation? Because undoubtedly the trade itself—the brewers—put upon the Bill a very different interpretation to that which was put upon it by the hon. and learned Member for Stretford. The brewers, at any rate, expected to be compensated on a very different computation. If compensation I was to be quite just to the custom that had grown up, it was perfectly certain I that the value of the property should neither be raised nor depreciated by this Bill, but what had been the result? This was the kind of property which could be estimated in the gross, because it was admitted that 85 per cent. of the public-house licences were in the hands of brewery and distillery companies, by the quotations on the Stock Exchange. A friend of his had been good enough to make out an estimate of the value of all the ordinary stocks and shares of the brewery and distillery companies quoted 875 on the Stock Exchange before and after the introduction of the Bill. On 1st March, 1904, before the introduction of the Bill, the value of these ordinary stocks and shares was £24,629,000; on 1st June last the value of this same property was £25,812,000, an increase of about £1,200,000, or nearly 5 per cent. It was quite true that during the interval gilt - edged securities had considerably appreciated, but these were not gilt-edged securities, they were ordinary stocks and shares; such a thing might account for a rise in debentures, but not in ordinary stock. Consols had not risen 5 per cent. What had caused that rise? The introduction of the Bill; and no doubt when the Bill passed into law the rise would be greater still. That was what induced many people to think that the brewers and distillers were securing under the Bill, not only adequate and legitimate compensation for what they were asked to give up, but something more. The object of a time limit was to make a bargain now as to how much the so-called rights and equities of the publicans were worth and to make them a present of it. Some said that the value of a licence was ten years purchase; others said it was fourteen years, and others again said it was twenty years. He was Dot qualified to say which was the legitimate period, but whatever number of years purchase it was, let Parliament endow the publicans at once with the right to have that number of years purchase, and then as time went on compensate any owner of a licence whose licence was taken away for any reason other than misconduct, by giving him the value of the residue of that period. No one would be damnified by such a course, and at the end of the period the nation would be entitled to resume control of all licences, and the way would be open for the adoption of such system of temperance reform as the advanced opinion of the time suggested, by which the terrible sale of drink would be reduced. Such a scheme could not be described even by brewery and distillery I owners as anything but fair and equitable, and it would restore to the public the power they had now lost, possibly through the laches of the licensing justices, of dealing annually, triennially, or quinquennially, with the licences according to the interests not of the holders, 876 but of the public at large. The Bill appeared to provide for a new monopoly from the time new licences were granted—a monopoly that was to be put up to auction and sold to the highest bidder. That, in his opinion, was the most pernicious method of dealing with new licences that could possibly be devised, and later clauses of the Bill would have to be carefully considered. In the meantime, he failed to see anything unjust in such a time limit as he had described, and he greatly regretted that the curious manner in which the Rules of the House had operated would prevent Members from expressing by their votes their opinions in favour of a time limit.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS
said he concurred generally in the broad theory laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University. With regard to the particular Amendment before the Committee, whatever might be its effect upon the future working of the licensing system in England generally, Wales was especially interested in the question. His view was that the question of compensation was one for the settlement of those financially interested in the licences, though he agreed as to the advisability of supporting a scheme of compensation which would have the effect of facilitating the reduction of licences, such compensation to be levied on the trade and to have a distinct limit. The Licensing Commission, of which he had the honour of being a member, considered every phase of the time limit question, and, in the chairman's Report, there was recommended a scheme of compensation the dominant conditions of which were that it should not in any way interfere with the discretion of magistrates, that it should have the effect of reducing the number of licences to a statutory maximum, and that there should be a time limit. There was also an addendum to the effect that, having regard to the special position of the Principality, at the end of seven years Wales should have a large measure of popular control. Doubtless the opinion of the country as a whole was not ripe for such a settlement of the question, but, judged by every possible test, the popular feeling in Wales was overwhelmingly in favour of giving the Principality a large measure of popular control over licences; and, unless the Amendment were adopted, that settlement of 877 the licensing question on those lines, so far as Wales was concerned, would be shut out for a great many years. That being so, the Committee could not be surprised that it was the determination of Welsh Members to do their utmost to secure the Amendment of the Bill in this particular. Many circumstances in connection with licensing administration made the Amendment of especial importance to Wales. There was the question of the relation of the magistrates to the general opinion of the country, and also that of the somewhat exceptional position occupied by quarter sessions. Moreover, it must be evident that any scheme of compensation must be in the way of experiment, and, therefore, it was necessary that a time limit should be introduced. Public opinion altered, and in ten or fifteen years there might be a totally different situation. The operation of the Bill would be to reduce the number of licences and enhance the value of those that remained. These, he contended, were strong reasons for the insertion of a time limit. He hoped this question would not be settled entirely on Party considerations. He had always pleaded that in the settlement of important questions directly concerning the welfare of the community at large Party differences should be as far as possible forgotten, and the interests of the public alone considered, and he hoped that that course would be followed upon the present occasion.
§ SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had made a mistake in confining the rise in value of stocks to which he had referred to brewery shares and gilt-edged securities, because in the period mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman there had generally been a considerable rise in English securities quoted on the Stock Exchange. As to the argument that the absence of a time limit would convert an insecure tenure, dependent upon the caprice or judgment of a Bench of magistrates, into a freehold, that was disproved by the right hon. Gentleman himself, because, if the value in brewery shares had been increased by 5 per cent., that meant that a house formerly worth £5,000 was now worth an additional £250, an infinitesimal increase which certainly did not represent the difference between 878 an insecure tenure and a freehold. Hon Members opposite seemed to have enhanced value of licences on the brain. He did not believe that temperance reform would be either encouraged or discouraged simply because somebody was going to get a little more for his property, but hon. Members by their arguments in support of the Amendment seemed more anxious to prevent publicans getting some increase in the value of their property than to promote the cause of temperance. The fear had also been expressed that public-house associations, such as Lord Grey's Trust, would not be encouraged, and that consequently the profits of the trade would continue to go to private individuals. What had that to do with the cause of temperance? Surely private individuals had as much right as anybody else to make profits, and if it ever became the intention of Parliament to prevent their so doing he would be sorry for the future of the country.
§ *MR. EMMOTT
said the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham did not seem to grasp the elementary considerations which influenced Members on the Opposition side who were not fanatical teetotalers but who believed that there was a system to which they ought to approximate and work, and that that system was the elimination of private property without anything in the way of confiscation. There were two views in regard to licences—either they must keep to the present system under which the whole of the profit went to private individuals who were granted a monopoly under certain conditions; or they must have a system by which the interest in the sale of drink and the profits from the sale of drink should not belong to private individuals at all. If they were to have a perfect system of licences—perhaps it might be a long time before they got it—it must be a system in which no single person was interested in increasing the sale of drink for his own private profit. It was because this Bill was drawn without a time limit, and must make temperance reform more difficult, that they were anxious to introduce a time limit. The Prime Minister had deplored the system of monopoly in the drink traffic which at present existed. This Bill riveted that monopoly upon the 879 neck of the public for an indefinite time, and that was why the Opposition strongly objected to it. It gave—whether they called it a freehold or not—something like perpetuity of tenure to the present holders of licences subject only to their being dispossessed on payment of full compensation. To those who believed that it was desirable to get rid of the present monopoly, the elimination of private property seemed necessary. On this question the Bill was on the wrong line, and presented a permanent block to those who wished to approach the question from the point of view of public interest alone. The only way to avoid that in a Bill drawn like the present was to introduce the time limit for which they were now pleading—the system of a time limit plus compensation for those dispossessed during the period of that limit.
With regard to the equity of the case, surely the idea of a time limit was an equitable compromise under present conditions. The present system was that no licence need be renewed if the magistrates did not desire to renew it. But the present practice, on the other hand, was that only three houses out of every 1,000 were on the average suppressed in a year. The time limit with compensation seemed to him to be an equitable compromise for the actual position in which they found themselves. What was the value of a licence? The hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division had told them that the actual value of a licence was not what it would be if it were a freehold at all, but at least ten or twelve years purchase. Therefore he contended that for that a reasonable time limit—ten, twelve, fourteen, or he would give even more years in order to settle the question—would meet the equity of the case. With regard to the question of expediency the Prime Minister had said it would be unwise to introduce a time limit because the justices would not be able to borrow, and at once to expropriate a large number of licences. He believed it was the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division who said that if only they capitalised the annual sum that Manchester would receive under this Bill, they could at once dimmish the number of licences in Manchester to the scale recommended by the Minority Report of the Royal Commission. 880 But the hon. and learned Member forgot to point out that if such a course were adopted the number of licences then remaining in Manchester would be stereotyped for all time, and must remain whether the people wished it or not. Then with regard to expediency and equity, the Prime Minister had raised the question of the double insurance. He (Mr. Emmott) thought the double insurance could be managed by a trade which had been so enormously profitable as had the liquor trade during the last twenty or thirty years.
But they were told the insecurity of the present system wassuch—an insecurity which would be intensified if a time limit were introduced—that no respectable man would undertake the trade of a publican. Where did the real insecurity of tenure of the public-houses exist? Did it exist in free houses or in tied houses? Everyone who had studied the question even in the most elementary way knew that the tenants of tied houses remained a far shorter time than the tenantsof free houses. He had seen the figures in regard to Leeds. Out of 379 tied houses in Leeds there were during the year 165 transfers, whereas out of 788 free houses there were only 109 transfers. What about the security of tenure there? It was a matter of common report that some owners of tied houses actually encouraged changes of tenants because they believed that by bringing in a new tenant they would bring in a new clientele with-out losing the old one. Insecurity of tenure did not arise from the present licensing system except so far as it had been with the system of tied houses, the existence of which many Members deplored. The Bill did nothing whatever to remedy the system of tied houses, at any rate it did not alter it for the better. The reason why he pleaded so strongly for this Amendment was that if a time limit were introduced they could deal with the question again de novo when the time limit had expired. Then they would have had more experience and they would be able to tell upon what line they could most equitably advance. He felt sure that this course would be for the benefit of the temperance cause. His hon. friend the Member for the Spen Valley Division said that if this Bill was passed without a time limit, the Liberal Party, when it 881 came into office and desired to deal with this question, would be forced to look for some direction in which to deal with the question in a satisfactory way. What direction would be left? First and principally the high tax. If the licensed houses in London paid the same taxes which they paid in New York then they would pay ten times as much as they were asked to pay to-day. He did not like the high-tax system at all, and he preferred a gradual approach in the direction of eliminating private profit from the trade. If they passed this Bill without a time limit they would put an absolute block in the way of any temperance reform in the future.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
said he ventured to address the Committee on this occasion with some diffidence, but he hoped with more brevity than had been shown in some of the very able speeches to which they had listened. He did not pretend to be able to exhaust the whole of the subjects which had been brought under review during the discussion of this Amendment. He noticed that the hon. Member for Spen Valley, in a very interesting speech, developed all kinds of theories, many of which to him appeared to go beyond the scope, not merely of this Amendment, but even of this Bill. The hon. Member for Spen Valley had conceded that there was something which belonged to the licensees which was not property, to which they had no legal right, and to which they had no moral right, but which he was prepared to pay them money for out of grace.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
said he understood the hon. Member's theory was that they were not morally entitled to anything.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
From no one. They were entitled of grace, which the hon. Member distinguished from morality. He thought the distinction was unsound. When Portia said that the quality of mercy was not strained, she certainly did not intend to imply that there was no 882 moral claim upon Shylock. At any rate, the hon. Member concede I that there was something—and it did not really matter whit they called it—which was worth money; and what they had to determine was not what the publicans had a right to, but what it was the duty of the community to see that they got. It seamed to him it would be unfair for them to require that persons who were pursuing a trade which they had always assumed was an honest trade should be deprived in a larger measure than heretofore of something which was admittedly worth money. The hon. Member went on to say that he did not believe that security of property made any improvement in the management of public-houses. He confessed that that seemed to him to be one of those propositions which had an interesting bearing beyond the scope of this Bill, and he should like to know how the hon. Member would apply that proposition to land reform. Did the hon. Member mean that fixity of tenure which was given to the Irish tenants had not improved the cultivation of the land? He thought the Chief Secretary for Ireland might take a hint from this argument, for there were many points strikingly illustrated by it. Contrast how the Irish tenant, who had no legal right at all, had been treated in the controversy with his landlord and the way it was proposed the holders of licences should be treated in respect of the State. The Ulster tenant, for example, before 1881 had a thing called tenant right which was worth money. Was that a moral right, or a legal right, or an equitable claim, or something which deserve I compensation by grace or favour? It was evident that the real question was whether, as a matter of fact, the licence-holders would feel aggrieved and, according to the general standard of morality of the community, ought to feel aggrieved. He thought it had always been admitted that if a person had fixity of tenure he managed things better and made more improvements than if he was simply a tenant at will. That was the view of the hon. Member for Oldham, who maintained that this Bill would add to the security and implied that if it did it would have an increased claim upon his support.
883 His right hon. friend the Member for Cambridge University developed, with characteristic force and lucidity, a very interesting theory as to the proper manner of dealing with licences. He, too, admitted that there was a something which the State ought to compensate; but he said that that might be compensated by giving something to the whole class of licensees, a something which was to diminish year by year and finally expire at the end of the time limit. That might or might not be a just way of dealing with the subject, but it was not in the least within the scope of the Bill. The Bill did not buy out anybody or anything. What the State did was to, insist on the members of the trade themselves paying a certain amount of compensation to the particular individuals who, in the interest of the community generally, were compelled to abandon their licences. He had always thought that the Bill might be criticised with some severity from the point of view of the trade, on the ground that the compensation was not really paid by the State at all, but by the trade itself. But, whatever might be the force of his arguments, it was evident that the case of his right hon. friend did not really arise. If a time limit were introduced the persons engaged in the trade would suffer under this unfair disadvantage. They would pay their share of compensation which was paid to particular individuals during the duration of the time limit and they would afterwards have no security of tenure at all themselves. Therefore, they would, as it were, suffer twice over.
But the real argument he was anxious to put before the Committee was the argument of duty, which, undoubtedly, was at the bottom of the great mass of demand for a time limit outside that House. An enormous number of people said "We do not mind this Bill unless it ties our hands for the future." He apprehended that the great mass of the Church of England temperance opposition to the Bill, as far as they were opposed to it, was upon those lines; but it seemed to him that it rested on a misconception of what the principle of the Bill was and what the Bill did. He did not think it tied the 884 hands of any temperance reformer in the least. He thought it only put into an Act of Parliament what every Member on that side of the House, and not a few on the other side, had always recognised as an equitable doctrine. This Bill did not stand in the way of municipalising the trade or of doing anything which the House of Commons might think was fair and just. The Bill did not say, it did not imply, that they were not to take away licences, after a period, with notice. The only principle involved in the Bill was that the licence was not to be taken away without notice and without compensation. It did not go an inch beyond that. It would be quite competent for the hon. Member for Spen Valley to bring in a Bill declaring that at some future date, say twenty or thirty years hence, every licence should cease in the country. This Bill did not deal with that question at all but it dealt with what were to be the rights of magistrates under the existing law as to refusing licences without compensation. It did not interfere in the least with the future right of Parliament to set up whatever time limit it might think proper under which licences might cease altogether and after due notice given. And why was that not fair? If they set up a certain limit which every licence-holder in the country knew, and at the end of which his right as a licensed victualler came to an end, he made his arrangements. If the time was long and reasonable enough, he was enabled to get back all the capital he had put into the business, and he would go out without losing a penny. But if they were going to have in the future a system of refusing licences from year to year, they maintained the element of uncertainty; and it was precisely that element of uncertainty which occasioned the unfairness. It was because people did not know whit they had to expect that they were not able to make their arrangements.
What their real object should be was to carry some measure of reform without inflicting hardship on any class of the community; and, if the circumstance of hardship remained, the licensed victuallers would still have the moral ground of complaint that they had against the discretionary refusal of the magistrates at the present time. It seemed to 885 him that the House would have its hands as much untied in the future as in the past; but, in any case, could anything be more unskilful or unwise in legislation than to set up a time limit for the future and not to introduce into the Bill a plan for what they were going to do when the time limit came to an end? What a state of chaos would be introduced. The Committee knew very well how time limits operated, for they had had experience of that kind with regard to Irish land, for every fifteen years the land system in Ireland was turned upside down. Was the whole trade to be upset every fourteen or fifteen years because no one knew how Parliament was going to deal with this discretionary power of the magistrates? If there was no plan, at any rate which this Parliament could accept, why burden the Bill with a time limit which gave them nothing whatever, which was not in any respect necessary, but merely aggravated the sense of uncertainty and doubt for the future? The only way of dealing with the subject was to pass this Bill as it stood. Then, if public opinion developed and they saw a way of dealing with the question, nothing in this Bill would stop it. But do not let them interfere with the operation of this Bill, which was really a small and modest proposal, and merely designed to get over the present critical situation under which one bench of magistrates adopted one system and another bench a different system in dealing with licences. He believed that, if the critics outside the House would accept the view that this Bill was only intended to meet the exigency which had arisen in quite recent times owing to the action of a few benches of magistrates, and not fundamentally to alter or revolutionise the licensing system of the country the opposition to it would be very much diminshed. He was certain that the great cause of temperance was not advanced by those who threatened to kill a cat by some other way than hanging it.
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
said the Committee were indebted to the noble Lord opposite for the admirable and lucid speech he had just delivered. A great politican and philosopher once said that all political problems were questions of 886 morals. He thought the noble Lord opposite had failed to realise that this was in a large measure a question of morals. He invited the Committee to look at some of the moral elements involved. He did not think there could be any doubt as to the existing right of the licensee, because his existing legal right was expressed every time they used the word "licence." The word "licence" had been used as though it were a property going beyond the year for which it was granted. It had been admitted that a licence was an interest which existed only for a year, and at the end of that year what was the duty of the community in regard to a licence? It was the duty of the community to consider whether, at the end of each year, it was necessary that a licence should be renewed. If the magistrates were of opinion that for any reason whatever the number of licences had become in excess of the legitimate demand of the population, it was not merely their right to refuse a renewal of any licence, but it was their duty. He knew no kind of judicial discretion or Tight which was not in proper circumstances a duty. No representative of the community was entrusted with rights unless in proper circumstances he performed the duty of exercising those rights. This Bill proposed to put a prohibitory limit on the exercise of a public duty. It seemed to him that those hon. Members who had taken part in this discussion had not considered the question sufficiently from that point of view.
What did the history of licensing show? If they traced it from its earliest days they would find how readily it had conformed to public opinion upon the question of temperance. In the latter part of the eighteenth century the design of the Government was to raise money by increasing the consumption of spirituous liquors, and an evil state of things was brought about. Whit would have been the condition of things to-day if the magistrates had not become alive to their duty with regard to the then existing state of things? There was no question of right in those days when the magistrates came to the conclusion that it was necessary to diminish the number of gin shops. There was no question of compensation then, and they put the licences upon a proper footing. The licences had 887 been granted in the public interest, and it became a paramount interest to diminish them and the magistrates acted accordingly, and as soon as the great stress on the Revenue was taken off the licences were everywhere diminished with results extremely beneficial to the community. This Bill was deliberately designed to prevent the magistrates from exercising that duty and performing it freely without impediment according to the existing state of public opinion. The noble Lord's argument seemed to imply that they should prevent the magistrates from performing that which was their principal duty. The noble Lord also said that nothing so improved an industry as fixity of tenure; but that argument seemed to point to the conclusion that the whole system of annual licences was wrong, and that licences should be made freeholds. The third point raised by the noble Lord was undoubtedly expounded in a way that created an impression upon the House. That point was that the noble Lord thought the Bill did not tie the hands of any future Parliament. The noble Lord I seemed to regard it as a misconception on that side of the House to suppose that this Bill would limit the discretion of Parliament in dealing with licences hereafter. If that were so undoubtedly this Bill would meet with much less opposition. If it were really the case that in the next Parliament or next session they would be at liberty to propose a time limit and that the Bill did not tie the hands of Parliament, many hon. Members would not be so anxious for the result of the division. The Bill prevented the unconditional control of the magistrates. According to the law of England the magistrates had hitherto the right to refuse the renewal of a licence without cause shown. They would no longer be able to act on that uncontrolled discretion. What had the publican had up to now? A licence with a strong reasonable hope of renewal. It was only a hope, though it was a hope which had a market value, and it depended on the exercise of a discretion by a particular body. It was unreasonable, inequitable, and unfair, to deprive that body of the discretion with which it had been entrusted in the public interest.
888 Apparently it seemed to shock more or less the moral sense of some hon. Members opposite to put in any kind of limit whatever. One Member after another had said that the same difficulty would be found at the end of the time limit. He asked the Committee to consider what that involved. A publican approched the justices for a licence and they said to him that they would give him a licence for one year, or five, six, seven, or fourteen years. But if the magistrates said to him, "Remember at the end of fourteen years we will not renew the licence," and then, when the time limit expired, he approached the magistrates and asked a renewal of his licence was he to be supported in telling them that it was inequitable, unfair, and bad morals that they should keep their word and refuse the licence. The question had been treated on the other side as if the publicans had a permanent right of property in their licences. He would like to hear some definite declaration from some member of the Government as to what their view on this question of freehold in a licence was. He was somewhat puzzled why it was that they had not heard it from the Home Secretary, who was in charge of the Bill, or from the Solicitor-General, who was in charge of the Home Secretary. They were dealing now with the most vital point in the Bill, and he now thought they ought to hear from some member of the Government what in their opinion was the true state of the existing law in regard to licences. The learned Solicitor-General had said that there was something corresponding to a freehold, and that had been vigorously combated by the Prime Minister and his hon. and learned friend the Member for the Stretford Division-Ten years would be a very high scale of compensation in the case of a public-house taken under the Land Clauses Act. The licence was treated as having an element of risk in it, and the Government desired that it should continue on that footing, for the compensation was not to be assessed on the freehold value, but on the value of the house as it would have been if this Bill had not passed; in other words, the licence was subject to determination at the will of the local magistrates. They admitted that the licensee had no property rights, but only a moral 889 expectation to which the community it self might in its own interest put an end whenever it thought fit. A great right of public control was to be hampered and practically prohibited. That was the reply to the noble Lord who said the Bill would not tie their hands in the future. The instinct for reform, the desire for temperance, would be more than handicapped if the Bill passed, and he begged the Committee to consider this proposal carefully and well.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)
said he was surprised to hear the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich say, if he understood him correctly, that the present position of the licensed trade and the situation which had led to the introduction of this Bill was that the monopoly of the licensed trade had been more or less threatened by the action of the magistrates in the exercise of their discretion. This Bill clearly stopped the magistrates from further dealing in their absolute discretion with licences, and imposed the limitation that they should take away no licence without paying compensation from a strictly limited fund. The noble Lord had said that this was merely a temporary expedient to reduce the magistrates to a sense of their duty, and that there was nothing to prevent Parliament from passing a measure under which all licences should terminate at the end of a certain period. He would welcome that declaration very much more from a member of the Government than from his noble friend. Certainly he had heard no indications of that kind from the Front Bench, and he should be extremely surprised to learn from any speech members of the Government might make that any ideas of that kind were floating in their minds. He confessed he did not understand why his noble friend was so inconsistent on the point as to say that, while it was perfectly legitimate to pass a general law bringing about the absolute termination of licences, he was entirely adverse to saying exactly the same thing within the four corners of this Bill. Although there might be certain difficulties about uniting the two ideas of paying compensation and the termination of licences on a time limit, yet if his noble friend was prepared to contemplate both ideas in different Bills, he could not conceive that it was beyond the ingenuity of the Front Bench to com- 890 bine them together in this Bill. He felt, and he was sure that many others on that side of the House felt, the very greatest difficulty in regard to the question of a time limit, and particularly the difficulty of including it in this measure. Those who desired, as he did very strongly, to deal fairly with a trade which had been led to expect the renewal of its licences, subject, of course, to good conduct, felt at the same time a sense of duty to the community which forbade them to welcome or endorse a Bill which closed the door to future measures of temperance reform. Under the existing system, by which the magistrates had an absolute discretion over redundant licences, there was a control over the trade which the passing of this Bill would inevitably tend to weaken, and while, perhaps, that was an inevitable consequence of any Bill which conferred the right of compensation upon the individual licensee, those who desired to see the cause of temperance advance must recognise the necessity for a review of the condition of affairs at the expiration of some definite period of years. A time limit of seven years was wholly unacceptable to those on that side of the House who desired to deal fairly with the question. For his part, he suggested, twenty years as a fair term for which to fix the limit, but an Amendment had been moved to convert seven years into fourteen, and that had his support. If it was not possible for those opposite to accept some modification of the extremely narrow term of years suggested in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Anglesey, he feared it would be impossible for many on that side of the House to support them by their votes.
§ *MR. WORSLEY - TAYLOR (Lancashire, Blackpool)
said he proposed to confine himself to the question whether there should be a time limit introduced into the Bill at all. There were two tests which ought to be applied to any proposition of this kind. The first was—Is it consistent with the public interest? and the second was—Is it consistent with justice to the individual? If it did not fulfil both of these conditions then the proposition must be rejected by the House. He thought the proposal of a time limit sinned against both, and he therefore, must record his vote against it. He was not, however, like his hon. friend 891 the Member for the Toxteth Division enamoured of the existing state of things. There ought to be a considerable reduction in the number of licensed houses, and this was the opinion of the country, but various schemes to bring this about had failed. Justices desirous of reducing the number of public-houses had got the owners together in different towns, and had tried to get them to agree on schemes of compensation among themselves. That had failed. There had been a system of insurance by public companies, and that had failed. There had been the system of mere suppression, and that had failed because the conscience of the country had risen against it. In his own personal experience in the last three years as an executor he had known the estate duties levied, not on ten years, but on twenty years purchase, and under conditions of that kind justices would not agree to confiscate such property, for that was what it would amount to. Everybody was dissatisfied with the present state of things, and was seeking for a remedy.
The want of compensation had been the fatal stumbling-block in the way of the reduction of licences. It was that difficulty, together with the absence of control over the ante-1869 houses, that this Bill of the Government would remedy. Hon. Members opposite had used such expressions as that the Bill would "tie the hands" of the authorities, and that there would be "no effective reduction of licences," and that the Bill "would make reform more difficult." But would it? [Cries of "No," and "Yes."] He would apply the test of the figures the hon. Member for Oldham had given just now. He had said that in the present state of things the total number of reductions was three per 1,000, and as there were about 100,000 licences that meant a reduction of 300 in a year? That, he presumed, included reduction for all causes, misconduct, uusuitability, and so on; therefore the reductions on the ground of non-requirement would be less still. What did the Bill make possible? According to the latest figures they had an annual return of the compensation fund of £1,200,000. In the majority of cases ante-1869 houses would be the first to go, as they most pressingly required reduction, and as they 892 would be the cheapest to buy out, and it was over the mark to put a considerable number of them at £1,000 apiece. So that the immediate result of this Bill would be that the next year, after the compensation fund had been levied, something like 1,000 licences or more could be taken away, and steady reduction, more gradual no doubt, could continue year after year as long as it was necessary to take away licences on the ground of redundancy. How, then, was it possible to justify such expressions as hon. Members opposite had used? And that would be done without a shilling of expense to the country! That was not his idea of creating a vested interest in the trade; on the contrary, it would make it more easy and simple and less costly to dispossess larger numbers of houses which were not in accordance with the public interest. Why was it necessary to put a time limit to beneficent action of that kind?
And if there were a time limit what was to happen at the end of it? At present a block existed, of which every one on both sides complained. Was that the status quo to which they were to revert? What would be the effect of the tenant coming before the justices and pleading that for seven or fourteen years he had been paying to the compensation fund a sum which appeared to him roughly about 15 per cent. on the annual value of his house in order to compensate people whose houses were not so well conducted? Would not the justices be likely to consider the strength of that plea? Every one who voted for a time limit would vote deliberately for increasing the difficulty which now existed. What would reversion to the status quo mean in the case of the ante-1869 houses? Were they going to put a provision in the Bill by which at the end of the time limit what were left of those houses should again enjoy their present immunity from control? Did any hon. Member opposite desire that? The alternative was even worse. Every man who had invested his money in an ante-1869 house had done so on the faith of the statute, which said that so long at the house was well conducted he should be absolutely irremovable on the ground of non-requirement. Could anybody say that it was right to 893 induce those people to come into this general scheme, to deprive them of their status of irremovability, ask them to contribute to this fund for seven or fourteen years, and then to turn round and confiscate their licences at the end of that period? A more monstrous piece of robbery had never been proposed. This time limit would be a time limit to the usefulness and justice of the Bill, and for the reasons he had stated he intended to oppose it.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
said the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had made a great point of the difficulty which would be created, if this Amendment were carried, in dealing with the 1869 beerhouses. In his opinion the 1869 beerhouses were really a small matter in the whole question of temperance reform. [MINISTERIAL cries of "No."] What proportion were they to the whole? [MINISTERIAL cries of "One-third."] One-third of the value of the whole trade? [MINISTERIAL cries of "One-third of the total number."] If the value was not the important question, then the question of compensation became comparatively insignificant. There were two classes of these beerhouse licences—off and on—and the off-licences were abolished without a word of protest in the ordinary course of public legislation. If the community resumed the free control, which they ought never to have lost, of the whole licensing system, the position of the 1869 beerhouses would not be a real obstacle to complete reform. The main argument of the hon. and learned Member, persuasive as it sounded, was not, he thought really persuasive to the Committee, because it was based on an assumption which was diametrically opposed to the views of the majority of temperance reformers—namely, that our existing system of licensing was a thoroughly bad one and must be changed. The hon. and learned Member assumed that the existing system could never be changed; that it must go on, and that all that those who were looking to temperance reform could do was to get control of the existing system which could never be got rid of. The existing system was that of carrying on the liquor trade of the country for private profit, and there was not a word in the hon. and learned Mem- 894 ber's argument to show that he contemplated that system's ever being changed. Regarding that system as being incapable of change, the hon. and learned Menber said this Bill was the best they could possibly have. His objection to the Bill was that it made any change in the system impossible. They were told that a time limit was not suitable to the present Bill. No doubt that was because the Bill was solely adapted to the present system. It was a Bill to perpetuate the present system. The Amendment was intended to fix a date when the present system should come to an end. That was why there was so much opposition to the Amendment.
The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich pleaded for the Bill because it was such a little one. Would any Member of the Government endorse the noble Lord's interpretation of the Bill? The noble Lord contended that, supposing this Bill were passed, there would be nothing to prevent another Government from introducing a Bill with a time limit in it that might entirely change our licensing system; that it was a small Bill for carrying on, and might be prefaced by the words "So long as the existing system remains unchanged the justices shall act in a certain method." But there was nothing of that kind in the Bill; it was not that which had won the support of the trade for this Bill. The Bill had been interpreted by the trade as giving them a title which it would be beyond the power of Parliament to take away. The noble Lord had told them that the Bill did nothing of the kind. Until a member of the Government would tell them which was the correct view, it seemed to him that the noble Lord had no case, according to his own argument, for resisting this Amendment. This Bill meant goodbye to temperance reform of any other kind. It was because he believed that they would have no real temperance reform under this Bill that he wished the time limit to be introduced. The existing licences under the existing system more than covered the ground. If they were established by law and if reduction were limited by this Bill, the ground would remained covered and there would be no room for the introduction of any other 895 system. At the end of a time limit, progressive communities would be free to try other systems, such as local option and the public-house trust system and municipalisation. Without such experiment the best system could not be found, and during the time limit what injustice was imposed on the licence holders? All that they were entitled to was the existing practice, and not the law, on the part of the licensing authorities; and that they would have.
The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich compared the equitable claim of the licence holders to that of the Irish tenants. But when they talked of an equitable claim let them be quite clear that they compared like with like. The Irish tenant created his interest; while the licence holder had had his given to him by the State. That made all the difference. He was perfectly prepared to consider equity provided there were any prospect that the community would, after a reasonable time, resume its rights. The exact number of years of a time limit was a small circumstance in the great question of whether the community was ever to have its hands free. The prospects of temperance reform were never brighter if only they wore given a chance. The hon. and learned Member said that the conscience of the country had risen against the action of the licensing authorities. It was the stirring of the conscience of the country that produced that action; and that action had produced this Bill. It was not a Bill to enable licences to be reduced, but a Bill to prevent licences from being reduced. Did any one suppose that this Bill would have been introduced but for the Prime Minister's speech of a year ago, and every one knew what was the origin of that speech. If the Bill were for a limited time, then the objections to it would largely disappear; but the trade only supported the Bill because it shut the door in the face of any other system. The trade was bound up with the sale of drink for private profit. There were two parties to this matter—the community and the trade. All were prepared to admit certain claims on behalf of the trade; but only on condition that in the long run the rights of the community were restored. This Bill would give away those rights; and the Government 896 were to that extent guilty of a breach of trust.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LYTTELTON,) Warrick and Leamington
said that he should I vote for the Amendment if he believed that the consequences which the right hon. Gentleman had set forth would ensue from the Bill. But he did not believe that the measure would arrest all future temperance reform. But they required to look rather closely at the Bill and see what its true character was before that proposition could be made out. He agreed that if it could be really said that the Bill stereotyped for all time the existing opinion with regard to temperance reform there would be a genuine objection to it. But the measure simply dealt with the state of facts which an experience of thirty years had proved—namely, that magistrates would not reduce licences as fast as many temperance reformers wished, because to do so would involve hardship and injustice on many persons. It was an injustice which stopped a reform which was dear to the hearts of many Members on both sides of the House. The Bill enabled justices without violating their sense of justice to reduce licences more rapidly and freely at the expense of the trade, whom it compelled to set up a system of compulsory mutual insurance and to pay compulsory premiums. The means adopted were analogous to the principle lying at the root of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The loss was diffused over the industry in which the individuals were engaged and not on the individual. The Bill enabled the justices to reduce licences without hardship; it diffused the loss resulting from reduction over the whole trade instead of making it fall inequitably and harshly on the individuals whose licences were taken away. He repudiated the idea that the Bill would stereotype all licences for the future, and denied that it deprived the people of the power of introducing licensing reform in the future. It would be competent for hon. Members opposite, notwithstanding this Bill, to institute some system of municipalisation or local option if the opinion of the country liked those reforms, combined with the granting of fair terms of compensation. If, on the other 897 hand, hon. Members could persuade the people to favour spoliation without compensation in twenty years time there was nothing to prevent them. It would involve another Bill, but this Bill would not tie the hands of the country for all time. But hon. Members were now asking the House to postpone an act of confiscation. What was suggested from that point of view would, to his mind, be a gross injustice. What was worse was to attempt to subject those who entered into an insurance fund to what would be little less than spoliation. He could not see that that would be right or just from any point of view. Those who were in favour of that policy and wished to carry it into effect must get the public to agree with them and then they would find nothing in this Bill to prevent them.
The Bill simply provided facilities for the reduction of licences and for the creation of a compulsory insurance fund, and it avoided injustice by spreading the contribution to the fund over the whole of the trade. He therefore asked hon. Members to address themselves to this question. What was there in the Bill which imposed a fatal barrier to temperance reform? That was the whole point. [OPPOSITION ironical laughter."] Well, he did not think that any one disputed that the Bill would, under present circumstances, facilitate the reduction of licences. ["OPPOSITION cries of "Oh," and MINISTERIAL cheers.] The hon. Members who had preceded him had not disputed that; on the contrary they had admitted that there would be a large reduction of licences. It had been estimated by Mr. Sidney Webb that the reduction in London alone would be 25 percent. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh," and an HON. MEMBER: Does that not mean if the contributions are continuous?] Of course there was to be no limit of time in the Bill; if there was a limit of time there would be an end of the fund. He had already pointed out the power which remained hereafter to revive the question, if the country was prepared for it. The arguments in favour of the Bill, as he had tried to state them, were, first, the reduction of licences; second, the removal of the great obstacle which at present existed to temperance reform—namely, the obstacle to the reduction of licences; third, the diffusion of the loss by 898 spreading it over the trade, and, further, that the compulsory insurance would not interfere with future reforms. He could see nothing to prevent any future reform provided it were not a reform without compensation, which in the eyes of the Government meant confiscation, but a reform with compensation, which could always be fairly argued.
§ *MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract)
said that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken practically admitted that this Bill created a vested interest, and gave the licensed holders something they did not possess at the present time. It would, therefore, be admitted that the Bill was a new obstacle to temperance reform, and would make a new present to the trade. The right hon. Gentleman was very careful not to define the nature of a licence at the present time. He treated it as a vested interest; but looking at the nature of a licence it was quite impossible to hold that view. A licence was not in any sense a freehold property. It could not be given away; it was limited as regarded time and restrictions, and in a great many other ways in which freehold property was not limited. From that point of view certainly a licence was not in the nature of a vested interest. From the legal point of view it was not in the nature of a vested interest or freehold property, according to the law as laid down in "Sharpe v. Wakefield". It was a question of the custom, of renewal; and it seemed to him that when a licence holder came before a bench of magistrates and asked for the renewal of his licence, he was in very much the same position as a man whose lease had expired and who was asking his landlord to renew it. If the man was a good tenant, and if he paid his rent, the landlord would probably renew the lease. In the same way, the bench of magistrates would ascertain if the licence holder had conducted his business properly, and if he had the licence was again granted; but otherwise it was refused. The whole case for compensation was argued on the basis that the custom of renewal had existed almost from time immemorial. It was admitted on all hands that the licence holder could have no legal expectation; and if it were said that he had a good expectation that could only be because it was customary. As had been pointed out, an expectation in business could be sold if it were a 899 hopeful and sanguine expectation. How much was the licence holder entitled to by way of compensation; how much was his expectation, worth? It was worth much, less than a freehold or a vested interest; but that it was worth something he was ready to admit. He thought it was worth something on the ground of expediency alone. It seemed to him to be a case of employer and employed. A man was employed from year to year, and when the employer wished to exercise his power to turn that man out, the case was put to him as one of hardship. Then the employer would say that he would give the man three months' extra notice so as to enable him to rind a new situation. That was as much as could be expected by a licence holder whose licence was not to be renewed, so much compensation as would enable him to find some other equally good employment and to turn his attention to a new trade in which he would be in no worse position than he was before. The Minority Report recommended seven years; an hon. Gentleman opposite proposed fourteen years; he himself had also an Amendment on the subject. But whatever the length of the time limit was, at the expiration of it they would be face to face with a very grave position. A man would ask why his licence was taken away without compensation after the time limit, when it could have been taken the year before with compensation. He thought, however, there were several ways of meeting the difficulty. Depend upon it, at the end of any time limit they would be face to face with a very grave state of affairs. At the same time he was in favour of some time limit, because he thought it placed the whole question of the right to compensation on an entirely different basis, and did not regard a licence as either a vested interest or a freehold. For his part, he should certainly vote for the Amendment; and he sincerely hoped that the Government would see their way not to endow this wealthy trade with still greater wealth than they had already. Further, if the Bill were passed in its present form, it would place a barrier for ever against a great many 900 schemes for temperance reform which he hoped the country would deal with in the future.
§ *MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
said he had an Amendment on the Paper, the object of which was to introduce a new clause to the effect that after the 31st December, 1904, the compensation fund should become, as it were, a private fund administered by a board elected by publicans, brewers, and others interested in the trade, which should have power to levy, collect, distribute, and manage the fund privately. In a sense, it might be called a time limit; and in another sense its object was to provide, after the Bill had done its work, that the machinery should remain, but in private hands. He wished to ask if that Amendment could be discussed apart from the present Amendment.
I think the hon. Member will be precluded from raising his Amendment, assuming the Committee negatives the present Amendment, because that will mean that the Committee has decided that there shall be no time limit; and if there is to be no time limit, obviously the proposal of the hon. Member would be contrary to the decision of the Committee.
§ *MR. BOUSFIELD
said he was much obliged to the Chairman, and that being so he would shortly state the nature of his Amendment. He ventured to submit that his proposal would not make any difference in the machinery of the Bill, or in the security which those interested in the liquor trade would have. It would not make any difference in the power of magistrates to utilise the machinery of the Bill to diminish the number of licences, but he felt certain that as regarded public opinion it would make a very great difference indeed. He ventured to say it would be impossible to get out of the minds of a large section of the public the notion which existed that under this Bill the liquor trade would get something they had not got 901 now—namely, a security of tenure, the value of which was measured by a very large sum of money, and which would be inimical to the interests of temperance. They had to meet under this Bill a state of things which in its essence was, after all only temporary. They had to meet a demand by the magistrates and by the public behind the magistrates for a change of policy with reference to public-houses. For a great many years past the magistrates had not been doing their, duty; and the public had not considered it the duty of magistrates to keep down the number of public-houses to the limit of public requirements. The consequence had been that public-houses had grown until their numbers were out of proportion to the requirements of the public; and that tended to the spread of intemperance in this country. A change had now come over public opinion, and a consequent change in the practice of the magistrates; and he ventured to think that the Government would have been justified in making compensation out of public funds instead of out of trade funds, because public opinion ought to pay something for the change which it demanded; and they ought not to change a policy, which was long established, without seeing that persons who suffered hardship thereby were compensated. The point he wished to make was, that the general necessity which had arisen only needed temporary machinery to meet it; and that they would not be justified in electing any other than temporary machinery for the purpose. They now had hundreds of public-houses more than they ought to have in proportion to the population; and they were all agreed that there should be a steady diminution in their number until they got back to something like the right proportion. 902 That necessarily involved some hardship, some compensation, and some special machinery. But it was hoped that within a certain number of years that machinery would practically have done its work; and that the number of public-housed would be reduced to a fair proportion in comparison with the population. There was not, however, the slightest doubt that when tie number of public-houses was reduced to some fixed proportion, question would be constantly crop nine up as to whether there were too many public houses in one locality, owing to a change in population, or too few in another. It seemed to him that the proper course was to use public machinery in order to grapple with the only difficulty they now had to grapple with—namely, to reduce the public-houses to a right proportion; and, after that, to put the machinery under private control. The fund could still be a compulsory fund; but it could be collected and managed by the trade, so that magistrates might have full and unfettered discretion after the expiration of a certain time to close any public-house they pleased, within certain limits, without any reference to the question of compensation, knowing fall well; that there would be compensation. The compensation being for the trade, that seemed to him to he a very hopeful solution of the question of the time limit and the other difficulties they had before them. There was a very widespread feeling in the country against making the machinery proposal in the Bill permanent. The object which the Government had in view would be achieved in a limited number of years. There was no necessity for permanent machinery; and his proposal would satisfy public sentiment, which was manifested 903 very keenly day by day, against permanently restraining the discretion of the magistrates.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said they had heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary a speech full of singular plausibility. The right hon. Gentlemen asked them to explain how they could, without committing injustice upon people who might be well-to-do or might be poor, lake from them by legislation the licences which they at present enjoyed; and secondly what in justice this Bill perpetrates in the way of preventing future legislation on the subject. The attitude of hon. Members on that side of the House had been admirably expressed by his hon. friend the Member for the Sped Valley. They regarded the position of the holders of licences from the proper legal standpoint as merely licensees; and they contended that this Bill entirely destroyed the legal position which, as licensees, they had occupied for a very long series of years. In other words, the Bill created a vested interest which never existed before; and by creating that vested interest they were preventing the Legislature from dealing with licences in the future, either by way of extinction, or by the reduction of their number, or by any other method which might act prejudicially to the present holders of licences. That was he answer to the right hon. Gentlemant. It was entirely begging the question, if he might say so, for the right hon. Gentleman to say that hon. Members on that side were proposing a sort of prospective confiscation. Prospective confiscation could only be made possible by the operation of the Bill. As the law stood, there could be no confiscation in refusing the renewal of a licence on any ground 904 which the law at present provided; but the Bill put Parliament in this position, that whenever it dealt with licences in the future it would be not only morally but legally blind compensate the holders of such licences. Without the operation of this Bill there need be no compensation, and what he wished to press on the Committee was, that not only from the legal standpoint mercy, put also from the standpoint of practical experience and common sense there had never been any vested interest in the enjoyment of a licensed house. If ever there had grown up the idea among licenses that they had some vested interest, and that they had a moral right to the renewal of their licences, that was rudely shattered many years ago in the case of "Sharpe v. Wakefield." He was not contending and he thought his hon. friend the Member for Spen Valley would agree with him, that there might not be cases in which a man had invested his savings in public-house property, and probably exceptional provision might be made for such cases in any large scheme dealing with licences. There might be cases of hardship; but it was idle to contend that the brewers of this country had not had ample notice, not merely by the case of "Sharpe v. Wakefield," but by other decisions, that their relation to the ownership of public-houses was that of licensees and nothing more.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.
§ Adjourned at five minutes after Twelve o'clock.