§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland Penrith) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:—
Amendment again 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 again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
Amendment again 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."
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said that the Colonial Secretary the previous night stated that the Amendment would involve a proposal of confiscation, but he Mr. (Atherley-Jones) declared that it was this Bill and this Bill only which would possibly involve confiscation, because by it they were endeavouring to establish a vested interest by brewers and publicans in their property. At the present time it was idle to talk of confiscation There was really no confiscation involved in dealing with licences under the existing law. It was otherwise under the Bill, and what they were attempting to do was to modify the effects of this Bill. If this Bill were passed, they were obliged to recognise that the principle of compensation had been assented to by the House, and therefore they were endeavouring to give the brewers and publicans time to consider their position and provide for it, and to insure at the end of that time having that free hand which they believed they at present enjoyed. He disputed that there was any analogy between the compensation proposed by this Bill and that proposed by the Workmen's Compensation Act. The present position was as nearly as possible analogous to that under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Many of them were not opposed to 935 the principle of compensation, they were not opposed to the principle of compensation by the brewers and publicans in their interest, but what they said was that it was not right to crystallise for ever a number of public-houses. There had grown up a kind of idea among publicans that they had something like a moral right, but 80 per cent of the public-houses were owned by brewers, and it was ridiculous to suppose that they had been under a misapprehension. The clearest proof that they had not was that three of their number were at the present time directors of the Licensed Victuallers Insurance Company. It was absurd to say that there was anything approaching a vested interest in these public-houses, and he believed, if they gave the publican fourteen years notice, they would afford him no excuse not to insure. He repudiated the idea of hardship in the case of a publican who lost his licence just after the period of the time limit. The man paid just the same as a person who insured his life for the years during which his premiums were paid and not for any prospective period. The man who insured his life for seven years and then omitted to renew his insurance might as well complain that he had not the misfortune to die during the period he paid. These arguments were fantastic. It might be that a few of the owners of the 1869 beerhouses would suffer and not be able to insure and he was not attached to any hard and fast rule. He thought special provision might be made for them. They desired not to act harshly or ungenerously, but they believed this was a great social evil and that the Bill would not promote temperance, though it might affect some slight improvement in certain localities. They wanted temperance carried on upon lines which could only be secured by permanently establishing full recognition of the principle that licences were licences, and not vested interests.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said that in considering this question it seemed to him that the Committee, or other some Members of it, were under a misapprehension as to the subject of the time limit. He was, perhaps, rather sceptical whether the reduction in the 936 number of public-houses would have very much effect in reducing intemperance. He had studied the statistics in connection with that matter a great deal, and he could not reconcile the fact that reducing the number of public-houses would as a natural sequence reduce intemperance. Taking the case of London, of which he knew, perhaps, more than of any other town, he admitted there were too many licensed premises, and, of course, he would like to see a reduction in the number, especially of the smaller houses and of those established under the Act of 1869. The time limit was an attractive sort of thing, but it seemed to him that it was a mistake, and he could not think that the object of the Bill would be promoted by incorporating it in the measure. If he was interested in the liquor trade, which he was not, he did not know that he should mind whether there was a time limit or not, because, whatever period might be introduced, they would still be on the horns of a dilemma. No man would put money into a business if it were liable to be ruthlessly interfered with in the way some hon. Gentlemen appeared to think this trade should be. It seemed to him, therefore, that the introduction of the time limit would really retard the object which hon. Gentlemen opposite professed to have in view. Of course, they approached this matter with different ideas. Some thought that the insertion of a time limit implied that at the end of the period, whatever it might lie, seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years, they would have the houses put in a position that they could be shut up forthwith if the magistrates thought fit. But, in his opinion, at the end of the period they would remain in practically the same position as they were at present. Of course, he knew they were not all agreed upon that point, but he, for one, could not believe that the houses would necessarily be shut up at the end of a time limit. A public-house, after all, was a reasonable and proper institution if properly conducted. The only way of approaching this subject fairly and properly was to seek to do away with the houses which were redundant, and he thought, looking at the Amendment, that without a time limit they would be able to effect a great deal more in that direction than if they had a time limit. Reference had been made in 937 the course of the debate to the fact that about 25 per cent. of the houses in London would be done away with under the Bill. It seemed to him that if they could get rid of 25 per cent. of the worst public houses in London, even if the Bill did nothing else, it would be a very good result indeed to have achieved, and he Could not understand hon. Gentlemen opposite objecting to the passing of a measure which would have such an effect. They professed to desire to promote temperance, and yet they were objecting to a Bill which would, they admitted, have the effect of closing 25 per cent. of the public-houses in the Metropolis.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY
thought there was absolute security that it would be accomplished if the general public desired it, and that it would be done even without the time limit, and he repeated that that would be a great result to have accomplished. He claimed that those who were really interested in the promotion of temperance should support this Bill. After all, it did not settle the thing for ever. It would take a good many years to close all these public-houses, but hon. Members must not think it was possible to bring about such a state of affairs at once. Let them remember that the public-house met a great public want and that the working-man had as much right to use the public-house as anyone else.
Then it seemed to him that the arguments which had been used in regard to compensation were very strange. After all, the money which was to provide the compensation was to be obtained from the publican himself. Some hon. Gentlemen said that it was not the publican's own money, and that the nation had a right to claim it—that it was, in reality, public property. But, that argument did not seem to him to be a good argument. In his view the money was as much the money of the brewer and of the publican as anything could be, and whether the system of I compensation was to be limited to a number of years or not, it still remained the fact that the money came absolutely out of the pockets of the brewers and the publicans. If this Bill succeeded 938 in simply closing 25 per cent. of the public-houses in London it would, as he had said, be a very good thing indeed; but, in his opinion, it would do much more, because it would deal with those houses which were licensed before 1869, and it would bring them within the new category of houses which there was power to close. If the measure enabled them to deal with a large portion of those houses, that fact alone justified the House in treating it as a great step in advance. He did not wish to discuss this matter at any length. He was very keenly interested in temperance. He believed they were all agreed that one of the greatest curses of this country was the excessive drinking which went on; and he believed also that they were unanimous in desiring to do away with that. There were many ways of securing that end, and he was glad to think that it was gradually being accomplished, that there was less heavy drinking, especially among those of the working classes who had better homes. That, indeed, was the key to the whole situation, for it was in that direction that the signs of improvement were most marked. Still, the fact remained that far too large a sum was spent in alcohol. It was not, however, by abusing the publican and by declaring that he was the man who did the mischief that they were going to alter the present state of affairs. It was of no use punishing him. No doubt many of the smaller public-houses constituted a great temptation to people to drink to excess, and, inasmuch as this measure would enable a large number of these smaller houses to be closed, he could not understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite should oppose it, especially as the compensation to be paid in respect of the licences was to come out of the pockets of the publicans themselves. As he understood it the publicans did not object to the Bill, they rather accepted it.
§ DR. HUTCHINSON (Sussex, Rye)
Upon what authority does the hon. Gentleman say that the publicans accept this Bill?
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY
said he had not noted any indication that they were objecting to it. He thought, perhaps, that if they had been more worldly wise 939 they would have objected to it, and then, perhaps, some hon. Gentlemen opposite who called themselves temperance advocates would have voted the other way. From all he had heard, however, the trade was prepared to accept this arrangement. At any rate, inasmuch as he was convinced that it would tend to reduce the temptation to drink, although he feared it would not make the nation as sober as he would like it to be, he did look upon it as a step in the right direction and should support it. At the same time it did away with a great injustice and hardship, seeing that it made it impossible for magistrates to take away licences from men who were carrying on their business properly without any compensation whatever. As the publicans had agreed to make their own contributions to the compensation fund he looked upon this Bill more as a measure for securing compulsory insurances. It was a system under which everybody would have to pay pro rata according to the value of his house, and he certainly contended that that was a system based on reasonable grounds, and as a temperance reformer he was, therefore, prepared to support the measure. If they could get rid of Party feeling for two or three days, he believed nearly every Member would support the measure.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said he hoped he might be excused, although he was a Scotch Member, for taking part in the debate, because he felt that if the principle of the Bill were once applied to England, it was sure very soon to leap across the border. He could say with perfect sincerity that he took no Party view at all of this matter. He believed that the Bill was a pernicious and most dangerous measure, and it was for that reason alone he opposed it. If it were a good Bill, if he believed it would have the good results predicted by some of its supporters, he, regardless of Party ties, would have given his adhesion to it. It was most unfortunate that the present Motion had been brought forward in the way it had, because it had tended to prevent an absolutely clear issue on an important question being presented to the Committee. It was, however, no use finessing in reference to a question of that kind, and he hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not allow any small 940 technicality to prevent them joining in the protest which it was desirable to make at this stage. The time limit was a matter which could not be discussed unless they touched upon the principles of the Bill itself, because the time limit was woven into the texture work of the Bill in every way. He was glad to think that if this subject was involved in a fog it was not, at any rate, a legal fog. One point was perfectly apparent in regard to the whole question, and that was that the lawyers had been much more definite than anybody else upon the matter, and the Courts of Justice which had had to consider the arguments and the different statutes had been perfectly unequivocal as to the legal position of the licence-holders. Putting aside the 1869 licences, which stood in a different position, licences were not only in name but in reality annual licences, and although the Lord Chancellor spoke of the duty of exercising judicial discretion he explained afterwards that he used the phrase only in the sense that he desired to distinguish between judicious and capricious discretion. The real source of difficulty in this matter arose from the manner in which the licence had been valued in the past. No one asserted that the licence duty in the least degree corresponded with the annual value of the premises and the immense benefit conferred upon the licence-holder. It was just the same as a lease on a peppercorn rent. Holders of these leases obtained an enormous property for which they paid an insignificant rent, and they were practically in the same position as the licence-holder. The State had taken no consideration whatever for it, and the consequence was that the mere granting of a licence apart from the remuneration returned for the same created an immense property. There was no objection to calling it property in the least. It was an immense property of precarious duration, but the weakness of the magistrates in past times had been displayed by granting too many of these licences and that had brought about the present state of affairs. There were undoubtedly too many licences in existence.
The question whether it was true that drunkenness corresponded with the multiplicity of licences in a district was one well worth consideration, and in regard to that the Majority and Minority Reports of the Royal Commission were 941 well worth considering. They had unanimously come to the conclusion that it was extremely necessary in the interests of the community to diminish the number of public-houses in order to arrest the gigantic evil which existed by reason of the prevalence of drunkenness in this country. The question was how to secure that end. For his part—and here he was speaking merely his own opinion, he was not professing to represent the views of others—he believed that when once the State put a hand to this business it led them into enormous difficulties. He believed that the right course and the best course was to leave this matter to be dealt with on the priniciple of mutual insurance, or on the principle of ordinary insurance, for it was well known that underwriters and insurance companies in the present day would undertake all kinds of risks. Indeed, it was quite curious to see what strange risks they did undertake, and even the risk of a judgment being reversed in the House of Lords had recently been insured against at Lloyd's. He had, in his own mind, no doubt that if this question were settled in a sense adverse to the contentions of the Government there would arise in the natural course of commerce a complete system by which on payment of a very moderate premium indeed all these risks would be insured against. The same point was discussed at the time when they had before them the Bill known as the Workmen's Compensation Bill, and he remembered how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was told that insurance was impossible. He replied at once that it was nothing of the kind, and that he was quite confident that for a small premium the risks could be covered. Events had proved the accuracy of his judgment, and these risks had since been covered by payment of a small premium. If the State were to interfere at all, he would very much prefer that it should do so by itself undertaking the insurance, because then there would not be the risk of dealing with the individual holders of licences. But he did not desire that the State should interfere. At any rate the premium would come out of the pocket of the licence-holder who would have exactly what was offered to him by the Bill with the certainty that either the licence would be renewed or, in the case of non-renewal, he 942 would get the compensation for which he paid the premium. He would rather see the State itself undertake the insurance against this risk than have a scheme like the one before the Committee adopted.
By this Bill a question of compensation which had been suggested as a compromise had been elevated into a principle. If Lord Peel's Report were put into the clauses of an Act of Parliament to-morrow he would feel not only pleased but grateful. Its purpose was not to bestow compensation; not to deprive magistrates of their real control, but to suspend it for a period of years. There was no doubt that Lord Peel's Report, if carried into effect in its entirety, would be a great advantage, but he had always had one feeling in regard to it. It was a most delicate and ingenious mechanism, and it was so delicate that it was hardly made for rough weather. Once they took a single part of that Report away they would find that the whole edifice would break down. The danger always in compromises of that kind was that your adversary could take the principle and strip it of its safeguard, and then you found yourself naked in the face of your enemies. The writings of his hon. friend the Member for Spen Valley had been appealed to, he had used the word compensation and people now appealed to that doctrine. Some hon. Members said they were moderate men, but then they all professed to be moderate men. He did not think many hon. Members were likely to lend themselves to fanaticism on this question. Hon. Members opposite had taken up the principle of compensation and struck out the safeguards, and now they came forward with it as a supposed concurrence in favour of compensation, while nearly all of them meant different things. Last year the Prime Minister was interviewed by a deputation upstairs and they complained of the injustice done to licensed victuallers. The right hon. Gentleman expressed his sympathy with them and agreed that there was an injustice, and so he brought in this Bill. Those hon. Members who now supported the Prime Minister took credit for the fact that they were making the licensed victuallers themselves pay a sum of money to compensate one another. Therefore, the argument was that an injustice to a number of people was 943 remedied by taking money out of their own pockets. It simply meant that if fifty people were suffering an injustice they were to take money out of all their pockets and bestow it upon one of them, and then the argument was that that injustice had been remedied. He thought it was a very strange remedy to make them compensate one another, because they could do that without an Act of Parliament.
Last night the Colonial Secretary presented a very fascinating picture of this Bill, and said it would do a great deal of good and that everyone would be treated according to the principles of eternal justice. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the effect of this Bill would be to enable justices to reduce the number of licences and to diffuse the loss by a principle of mutual nsurance and compulsory premium. Every word of that was true, and that was really the effect of the Bill. This measure did enable the justices to reduce licences without violence to the most tender conscience, and it also diffused the loss by distributing the money and by means of compulsory premium. Those were the effects, but was that all? That was where the Colonial Secretary's statement seemed to him to fall entirely short of the actuality. Those effects were mixed up with other effects of a totally different complexion. He would take a concrete case. Take a place where there were 1,000 licensed houses where there ought to be only 750. In such a case what did this Bill say to the justices? It said—"Look at your schedule and count up the number of licences, and when you have made a calculation according to the provisions of this Act you may reduce to that extent and you may do it year by year. You may if you like reduce it by means of capitalising, but you will tie your hands if you do that for the next thirty or forty years." The Bill must necessarily restrict the power of the justices from doing what they did at the present moment. If there was a frightful state of things which could be remedied by a diminution of licences under the power which the justices had at the present moment, and if it was laid down that the justices could only diminish those licences according to the scale and schedule of 944 this Bill, was it not transparent that they were restricting the power of the justices? But as soon as the outraged sense of a community led the magistrates to take this step, down came the Government with a Bill to restrict their power, and that was the very thing which he complained of. In addition to that, this Bill bestowed fixity of tenure upon the licensee. In the case he had mentioned of 1,000 licences which ought to be reduced to 750, suppose the justices could reduce them by 150 by means of this Bill. All the remainder of those 1,000 licences would have fixity of tenure, whereas before they were liable in the eye of the law to be discontinued. At any rate, their position was so shifted by this Bill that they were not liable to be discontinued, or if they were discontinued they would receive a full equivalent in cash. That must necessarily increase the value of those houses which had fixity of tenure. His hon. friend the Member for Spen Valley expressed the opinion that £125,000,000 sterling would be the value of the public-houses which would come under the operation of this Bill. Mr. Arthur Chamberlain, for whom he had a profound admiration, placed the amount at £300,000,000. He was inclined to think that Mr. Arthur Chamberlain had not over-stated the value of those licences. He wished to give one illustration from the Majority Report. On page 55 the Royal Commission stated what was the value of the public-houses in the county of London and they also gave the actual value of the premises less their value without a licence, and they put that in the county of London at £30,000,000. That might be right or wrong, but it was what the Majority Report stated, and if £30,000,000 represented the capital value within the county of London, he should be very much surprised if £125,000,000 would cover it throughout England and Wales.
§ *MR. WHITTAKER (Yorkshire, W.R., Spen Valley)
said the authority for the figures in the Report stated that the value of the licences for the whole country would be £150,000,000.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said at any rate it was a very large sum of money. What the Colonial Secretary had omitted to 945 state in his speech was that in addition to the features he had described there were two other features. In the first place, by this Bill they cut down the power which magistrates had exercised ever since there had been a licence in England; and in the second place, they imparted to property which was said to be worth £125,000,000 at all events a fixity of tenure which must enormously increase its value. Where was that increased value going to come from, and who was going to find the balance? The effect of what was now being done was to make it impossible to apply new methods in the future. Experiments were going on now upon this question in many parts of the world in order to ascertain the best method of treating this fearful evil. It was being dealt with by all the States of the Union, by Australia, Canada, and Scandinavia, and all these places were excellently dealt with in the memorandum issued by his hon. friend. Who was prepared to say now what would be found to be the best method to deal with this question during the course of the next ten, fifteen, or twenty-five years? It was a subject upon which all the experiments were comparatively new and of which the results were being compiled only by degrees. He thought he might safely make one prediction, and it was that whatever system was found to be best, the one that would be most generally condemned would be the system which they had at the present time in this country. It was perfectly certain that a system under which this dangerous traffic was farmed out upon monopoly principles to individuals for private profit must cease. Numerous books had been written on this subject, and no one could read them without coming to the conclusion that the system in this country must come to an end and could not possibly be continued indefinitely. Would the Bill perpetuate that system? That was the crucial question which they had to ask. Would this Bill perpetuate a system which had been condemned by all those authorities who had dealt with this subject? The Colonial I Secretary said it would not. Perhaps in law it would not. This Parliament would be able to pass a law for any purpose, and it could repeal this Act in case it; became law. But look what practical difficulties would be created by this Bill. If this Bill were passed there would be a 946 legal fixity of tenure recognised in the eyes of the law in every public-house in the country, and they could not try the experiment of local option without buying out every single one of the public-houses in the local option district at an inflated price enhanced by the fixity of tenure created by this Bill. This Bill would make local option practically an almost superhuman work to accomplish with the feelings there were in this country upon it. The large sums of money which would have to be paid on the adoption of local option would be double the price at which those licences stood now, and they would be greatly enhanced in value by fixity of tenure. This Bill was for all time, if anything in human affairs could be for all time. This fixity of tenure would be as fixed and certain and protracted a tenure as any of them might have in land.
Suppose they tried the system of high licensing, that would mean merely that when they were giving an enormously valuable monopoly they did not wish to give it wholly to the individual, but they wanted a part of it for the State. The Prime Minister had spoken of monopoly in terms of regret, and he said it had been a great mistake and that it was a great pity that the system of monopoly had been introduced. He agreed that it was a great misfortune, but suppose they were to try by high licensing to interfere. If they were to endeavour to remedy this evil by a system of high licensing, what would be said? They would be told, "You have not the courage to confiscate our property openly, and so you are indirectly destroying it by this system of high licensing." That was the same way in which property in Ireland was eaten up by unfair rents. Fair rents, free sale, fixity of tenure, were things which all arose round every monopoly. He would tell the Committee where the value of a time limit came in. He thought the Majority Report ought to be quoted in support of a time limit. On page 54 of that Report it was stated that—It has been suggested that there are advantages in settling specified periods at which Parliament should review the working of the system, so as to facilitate the introduction of such changes as the circumstances of the time render necessary. We concur generally with this view, and recommend that recurring periods of seven years would afford a favourable opportunity to make what fresh departures, may seem necessary. In the absence of Parliamentary action, the system would continue for 947 another septennial period, when Parliament could again review the situation. We recommend, therefore, that the system should be worked by septennial periods, and a capital sum borrowed at the commencement of each period on the seven years charges. The advantages of this plan over one giving, say, a seven years time limit to be followed by a very large reduction all at once, are obvious.Then the advantages were given. He read that extract to show that it was desirable to have pauses. He did not quote it in support of this particular Amendment or of the scheme he had been advocating, but simply to show the value of a time limit or a pause at which they could reconsider the position and determine whether they should continue the system any further.
§ Mr. LLOYD WHARTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Ripon)
Our object was to secure that there should be a stocktaking.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
said he did not wish to deal with this question controversially, but to show that what he recommended went beyond what the hon. Member had been recommending as stocktaking. What he wanted was that some fresh opportunity in seven years—or it might be fourteen years—he deprecated the term being fourteen years—should be given for Parliament taking a new departure if in the light of the working of this novel proposal it should be found desirable to make some new proposal. Why were they so afraid that Parliament would do injustice in future? He begged hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to remember that, whatever they might think of this proposal, they were entering on an unknown system. It differed from any system that had been tried anywhere else. It would have the most serious effect of depriving the magistrates of their wonted power, it would increase enormously the value of public-houses, and bestow fixity of tenure. Following the advice given by the majority of the Commission let Parliament have an opportunity of considering this in the light of what was going to happen. Do not shut the door for all time. He thought they might fairly expect that as their predecessors had always had confidence in the justice of Parliament in dealing with important public questions so they might be sure that those who 948 followed them would deal justly hereafter if only they reserved for them the opportunity. Pass this Bill and he thought it would be fatal to temperance reform. There were many who thought the same of the measure as he did. There were many hon. Members on the other side who he knew had misgivings on the question.
There was another reason against the bringing forward of this measure. He did not wish to state it angrily, but he felt strongly on the matter. When this Parliament was returned it was on the understanding that it was on the one question which was alone before the electors. [Cries of "No!"] Well, that was his belief. He thought he could quote the language of the Prime Minister in his appeal to the country.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
The hon. and learned Gentleman may quote my address as often as he likes, but if he suggests that I or any other Minister suggested that only one subject was to be dealt with by this Parliament it is really absurd. There were other addresses besides mine. Let him read the address of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
stated that he did not say the Prime Minister or anybody else said there was an understanding that nothing else was to be dealt with by this Parliament. What he said was that there was only one question at the election, and if he had been allowed to finish, what he had to say was that the result of that was that many persons gave the Government their support on that one question in the belief that there would be no really substantial and important questions contrary to their opinions dealt with in the course of this Parliament. He said for himself, at all events, that it was unfair to pass a Bill of the kind now before Parliament in the present circumstances. It was a perfectly new departure, and they ought to have an opportunity of taking the sense of the people in the constituencies themselves before so dangerous and far-reaching a Bill was allowed to be placed on the Statute-book.
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir EDWARD CARSON, Dublin University)
said he would not follow his hon. and learned friend who had just spoken into the constitutional disquisition he gave of the powers of the present Parliament. This Parliament had been elected for the ordinary time, and it was almost impossible to conceive that a Parliament elected for a period of six or seven years should only be allowed to deal with the one issue which the hon. and learned Gentleman said was before the country. The question of the time limit had seemed to him all through the debate to be entirely dependent on how hon. Members made up their minds upon this one question as to whether the provision in the Bill giving the trade—to use a term which included the publican and the brewer—the right to insure at their own cost, was a just and expedient measure. The more they examined the question the more they found that it came back to that; and the whole reasoning of his hon. and learned friend was based upon this, that Parliament had no right to give the trade that privilege—if it were a privilege—and they had no case to demand it. If that were so the Opposition were right that there should be a time limit. He entirely disagreed that under the present condition of things, which the hon. and learned Member seemed to ignore, the owners of licences had no claims upon Parliament for the particular privileges which re given to them by the Bill. It was quite true, as the hon. and learned Member had said, that as regarded some of these licences in the eye of the law they were only annual licences, but did he really think that that fact disposed of the present situation as regards the licences? In the eye of the law that might be true, but at the same time the law recognised licences as a taxable entity and a rateable entity and had allowed them to grow up in the course of our commerce as matters which could be sold just like any other property. When the hon. and learned Member stated how the Lord Chancellor and other Judges decided in the case of "Sharpe v. Wakefield," did he venture to Jay down that the question was disposed of by saying that licences were held upon an annual tenure? He thought the 950 matter was very clearly put by Lord Lindley, who said—It is true that no owner or tenant of a public-house has a right to have his licence renewed; but the expectation that it will be I renewed unless there is some good reason why I it should not, is founded upon human nature, and is perfectly reasonable and cannot be ignored by any fair-dealing man. Outlays are made on the faith of it, and the expectation gives a market value to the house which can be very closely estimated by persons accustomed to value such property.So closely could it be estimated that our own law enacted that upon the death of the owners of these houses it should be estimated not upon any consideration of annual value, but upon a value of from twenty up to thirty years. The hon. and learned Member knew perfectly well that when a licensed house was taken for public purposes not; only was the value of the licence to the existing holder considered, but in one case the Courts decided that with regard to a reversion expected upon a twenty-six years lease, the outstanding portion would have to be compensated for. What was the use in face of that state of things to try to close the matter by simply saying that a licence was only held for a year in the eye of the law? That was the reason—and this the hon. and learned Member entirely ignored—why the present system as regarded the reduction of licences had absolutely broken down, because it was impossible to have these two systems of law running side by side and expect magistrates who were asked to deprive men of their property to take one view of the law and to I ignore the other. The first decision that the House had to come to was whether it was just or not that for the purpose of reducing licences for the public benefit they should allow this system of I insurance to be set up at the cost of the trade itself. Was that expedient? It was expedient because without it the present system had failed. If it were both just and expedient, and they had to start upon that basis for the consideration of the time limit, what had the time limit got to do with it? Were they, when they admitted the system of insurance to be just, to say to a man that, although it was just, and, in the public interest, expedient, they were going to ask him at some future time for no consideration to forego this just principle? 951 He said that that was impossible. It would really come to this—they would say to the owner of these licences, "We allow you to set up an insurance at your own expense, but at the end of seven years, you must be in a worse position than you are at the present moment." That was what it came to.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
The right hon. Gentleman asked bow. It was for this reason, because at the end of seven years the property vanished altogether.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
said he thought that that was the meaning of the Amendment. If it was not, he would take the other alternative—viz., that the publican would be exactly where he was now. Well, were they going to have all this agitation about the country at the end of the next seven years and would the position be any better? As the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool had pointed out they had a case to present to the magistrates now, what, a fortiori, would be the case at the end of seven years? The publican would say, "We have actually contributed hundreds and thousands, if not millions, to the extinction of other public-houses for the benefit of the public, and when I ask you for a renewal are you going to say that I am to be extinguished without any compensation at all?" He did not agree with his right hon. friend that that was the meaning of the majority of those who put forward this Amendment. He was perfectly sure a great number of hon. Members meant that at the end of the time limit there was to be what had been called a clean slate. He did not see any other logical way of making any advance at all. If that question was to be put to every candidate at every election when the seven years were up, as to whether he was going to vote for the renewal or non-renewal of the Compensation Bill, did they make any progress at all on this question t No. The licence-holder, if there was to be this extinction at the end of seven years, would be in a worse position than he was now. Now he had a chance, and he had shown that the chance was a very valuable one. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ber- 952 wick had said that his objection to the Bill was that it made any change in the present system impossible, and that it meant good-bye to all temperance reform of any kind. Was there ever a more exaggerated—he might almost say ridiculous—statement, that because they admitted the justice of the claim, under existing circumstances, to have this insurance fund set up, this House was never to proceed with any further temperance reform. The hon. Baronet went on to suggest that this Bill, so far from being framed in that way, should be framed with the view to experiments in local option, public-house trusts, or municipalisation of the liquor traffic. Was the right hon. Baronet in favour of local option?
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
I stated as a general principle that you would make no real progress in temperance reform until you enabled progressive local communities to make experiments, and I specified instances of three ways in which experiments might be made. I did not advocate any of them at the expense of the other. My general principle was that this Bill, by establishing by law the existing system, would be an almost insuperable barrier in the way of temperance, reform.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
said so far as he was concerned he was not in favour of local option, and was not in favour of municipalisation of the liquor traffic, and he did not see why the House should spend its time in the framing of legislation with a view of at any time giving facilities for the setting up either of local option or municipalisation. But he would make this concession to the right hon. Baronet, and to his hon. and learned friend, that if their view was that local bodies should be left free to try these experiments, while ignoring the just claims of the owners of licences, and if the Bill prevented that, then all he could say was that he was very glad the Bill did so. He thought that met the whole case put forward. While it did not in the least prevent the setting up of local option or municipalisation of the liquor traffic, it might hamper, and he hoped it would hamper, any setting of that up unless they were prepared to do justice to those who had interests which the law allowed them to have. While the right 953 hon. Baronet was very clear about the privileges of Parliament, he gave the Committee a curious instance of the power of Parliament. He told them almost in the same breath that if once they set up the insurance system they would never get rid of those licensed houses at all, and at the same time he told them that the freehold of off-licences which existed before 1902 was got rid of by Parliament without paying a penny of compensation at all. Why? The opinion of the country was ripe, and when the Bill was going through the House there was no difficulty whatever in bringing these off-licences under the ordinary jurisdiction, the same as the various other licences. The truth of the matter was, that if opinion in this country ever became such that they wished to confiscate property, he supposed they would do it. If the opinion of this country was ever ripe for local option, and at the same time for granting fair compensation to those whom the law had allowed to acquire property, he was perfectly sure that public opinion would be carried out in that direction. But he submitted that it was absolutely ridiculous to say that, because they had allowed a system of insurance for the purpose of protecting interests which the law had recognised, Parliament was to be impeded in the future from proceeding further in the reform of the liquor laws.
This Bill was a modest Bill. It was an effective Bill in the direction in which it was brought in. What it meant to do was to get rid of the difficulty of inducing the magistrates to reduce those houses by placing in their hands a fund contributed by the trade which would enable them without any difficulty to get rid of a large number of houses. Why should they hamper themselves in relation to that by putting provisions in this Bill dealing with a situation in fourteen or twenty-one years time? It might be that an entirely different situation would then arise. In fourteen years a very large number of the surplus public-houses would have been got rid of. In twenty years a still larger number would have been got rid of. It might be, but he did not at all admit that it would, that the other remaining public-houses might be then better able to 954 contribute larger sums for further reforms. But at all events they were not now in a position to survey what would be the existing state of affairs when the reduction under this Bill had taken place. He could not see why they should hamper themselves or hamper future Parliaments by setting up a system at the end of a number of years when they did not know what the existing circumstances of that time would be. Let the Bill not be mutilated, because that was what the Amendment was meant to do. The measure had in it at least three useful provisions, which must be admitted by any impartial critic as in the interest of temperance. It brought a third of the licences of the country from a state of being freehold and therefore not amenable to the jurisdiction of the magistrates to the condition of the remaining licences. His hon. friends who had already addressed the House always said that they would leave that out of the question for the moment, and that they would come back to it, but they never did. But, after all, they must admit that they were not under the magistrates, and that they were the most undesirable class of licensed houses in the country. Then they had the large sum of £1,200,000 a year on which capital could be borrowed for the immediate reduction of these houses. Was it nothing to get £1,200,000 a year from the trade to extinguish the worst class of houses? It was at all events a step forward. There was another matter not referred to in the course of the debate, namely, the fact that they were going to prevent in future any monopoly arising from the creation of new licences. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Yes, he said that distinctly, and when they came to that clause in the Bill, if there were any Amendments in that direction they would certainly be considered. He asked hon. Members who gave the go by to those benefits, which were all in the direction of temperance reform, to look at the matter in this way—if thirty years ago when Mr. Bruce brought forward in the House his Bill, which was a great temperance reform measure, such a measure as was now brought in by the Government had been accepted, and if ever since then £1,200,000 a year had been available in the hands of the magistrates for the extinction of licences, including the beerhouse licences, and if for thirty years they 955 had never created new licences or created a monopoly, where would this country have been now? Would it not have been in a far better position for advancing any temperance reform than it was by reason of the proposals which had been rejected from time to time by extreme men on both sides? After all, thirty years was a short time in the life of a nation, and if, looking back over those thirty years, they believed they would have been in an entirely different position if such a Bill as this had been passed, he asked the House to pause before they put into this Bill an Amendment which would largely retard its working and which might, he thought, eventually destroy its usefulness.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down made one observation in which they were all agreed, and that was that if Mr. Bruce's Bill had been carried into law considerable progress would have been made in temperance reform. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman, however, that Mr. Bruce's Bill contained a time limit and, in fact, that the proposal now before the Committee was on the lines of that Bill. The Amendment before the Committee at the present moment was simply a proposal on the lines of Mr. Bruce's Bill.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
said that his recollection of Mr. Bruce's Bill was that it had no compensation fund, but that it gave a fixed period of ten years in which licences could not be disturbed.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
said the Amendment before the Committee was considerably more liberal, because it proposed fourteen years, which was a much better proposal. The right hon. Gentleman in the beginning of his speech described this Bill as a Bill for the purpose of giving a right to the owners of licences to insure them. But they had that right at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a privilege that was to be extended to them; but it was a privilege that they possessed and exercised at the present moment. There were insurance companies with directors of brewery companies on their boards which insured 956 licences at present. What was the use of a Bill to enable the brewers to do what they could and were doing at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Justice Lindley, and he himself was perfectly certain that every Member on that side of the House would be very pleased to accept Mr. Justice Lindley's definition of what the state of the law was; and he was glad to see that the learned Solicitor-General quoted it with acceptance. The right hon. Gentleman said that according to Mr. Justice Lindley what the licence-holders had at the present moment was a reasonable expectation, and that that expectation was justified by a knowledge of human nature. But the Government now proposed to convert what was an expectation into a property; and that was what they were objecting to. Of course the licence-holders had a reasonable expectation. Take a well conducted hotel in a district where there was a real demand for it. Everyone knew that that licence would be renewed from year to year. It was a perfectly reasonable expectation for the holder of the licence to come to the conclusion that he would hold it for fourteen, fifteen, or twenty years. He could speculate upon it; he might sell it, subject to conditions; and it was perfectly right that the law, if he could materialise, as it were, his expectation, and could sell it, should assess him upon it. But it was a very different thing for the Government to convert the expectation into a property. After all, there was an element of uncertainty in a licence which was absolutely ignored by those who defended the Bill.
At the present moment there was a very important element of uncertainty in every licence, and it was greater the worse the property was. The Government now proposed to deprive those licences of the element of uncertainty. What was it? There was the demand of the neighbourhood, the necessity of the neighbourhood, the knowledge that the magistrates not only could, but were bound to consider the needs of the neighbourhood, and might come to the conclusion that the licence was not the sort of licence they wanted to keep; and, therefore, a house might be deprived of its licence. That was the element of uncertainty. But the 957 Government now said, "You cannot expropriate a man from his holding without compensation." Was not that converting the licence into a freehold? If a thing which was an annual holding was put into the position of a perpetuity, which they could not expropriate except on payment of compensation, that surely was a freehold. He observed that the word was used by the learned Solicitor-General. He said that the beerhouses of 1869 were freeholds. What was the difference between the beerhouses of 1869 and the property which the Government were now creating under this Bill? He should like to know from any hon. Gentleman opposite if he could point to any distinction between the beerhouses of 1869 and the state of things which would be created by this Bill for all licences. The only difference was that the magistrates might deprive a man of his licence upon payment of compensation. But the public could deprive a man of his freehold property on payment of compensation on proof of public necessity, such as schools, cemeteries, or railways; but that did not make his property less a freehold. The Government were putting licences on exactly the same footing as any other freehold. Take the holder of a living. A man could be deprived of his living for misconduct only. He could not be deprived by a vote of the parishioners on the ground that he was not one of the necessities of the neighbourhood. Otherwise a great many would be deprived from time to time if it were left to the neighbourhood. But that was a freehold, notwithstanding that the holder could be deprived for misconduct. What were the Government doing by this Bill? They were putting licences on the same footing as a living, with the exception that a living was terminable by life, whereas a licence was not terminable by anything. It was a freehold subject to deprivation on proof of misconduct by the man who held it. Was not that a freehold? His hon. friend the Member for Dumfries said that the Bill would stand in the way of all temperance reform in the future, because it would convert licences into freeholds. The learned Solicitor-General asked how was that? He would quote the speech of the right hon. Gentleman's leader, who was probably the highest authority he 958 would accept on this question. Last night, referring to the beerhouses of 1869, the Prime Minister said—It is the freehold tenure of the beerhouses, which, of course, you cannot take away and which was established by Mr. Gladstone in 1869, which has always been the obstacle in the way of temperance reform in dealing with licensed houses.One day somebody in this House would quote that sentence with simply one alteration, and that would be the name. Someone would say, "It is the freehold tenure of licensed houses, which, of course, you cannot take away and which was established by Mr. Balfour in 1904, which has always been the obstacle in the way of dealing with licensed houses." The case for a time limit and against perpetuity could not be more succinctly put than in that sentence of the right hon. Gentleman.
The Colonial Secretary last night said, and he was so pleased with it that he repeated it twice—he himself was so pleased with it that he would repeat it again—My view of this Bill is, that it is just like the Workmen's Compensation Bill. It is simply putting the burden of compensation upon the trade.It was a happy illustration; but he would point out that there was a time limit in the Workmen's Compensation Bill. A workman's life was not valued at what it would be valued at law, its full value; it was valued at three years purchase, and not more than three years purchase could be given to a workman under the Compensation Act. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no right but an equitable claim. Here was the brewer's equitable claim. He lost his licence and his living; but he got not three years purchase, but a full fourteen or twenty-five years purchase. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman was he still prepared to carry out the illustration of the Workmen's Compensation Act? He would further point out that three years was the maximum under that Act whereas the fourteen years in the Amendment was the minimum, because at the end of fourteen years it did not necessarily mean that the licence-holder would be deprived of his living. Not at all. He might go 959 on under certain conditions; but the three years was the limit beyond which compensation could not be given to the workman. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman was as pleased with his illustration now as he was before. If he was, he ought to be a supporter of the proposal in the Amendment. But, after all, said the learned Solicitor-General, this was a modest and effective Bill. About the modesty of it he would have something to say later; as to its effectiveness, he had no doubt it would be effective for the purpose the right hon. Gentleman acclaimed. He was nothing if not open. He was perfectly candid. He said that if this Bill put an obstacle in the way of schemes of temperance reform he hailed if. That was candid and frank. He went through all the schemes of licensing reform, not one of which commended itself to him. Was it not perfectly clear that the Bill was really a Bill to prevent licensing reform in the future.
The Prime Minister yesterday—he listened to him with some sympathy—poured scorn on the clergy. He asked why the clergy should meddle; what did they know about legislation? How long was the Prime Minister of that opinion? He recollected perfectly well not so very long ago the clergy actually indicated the lines upon which a certain Bill should proceed. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] He would beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. He must have forgotten; he himself had referred to it so often that he could not possibly forget it, and he certainly hoped to refer to it again. The clergy indicated the lines on which certain legislation should proceed in a resolution in Convocation. Those lines were absolutely followed. They were an authority then, not on high ethical matters in the air, but upon secular matters of legislation. Now they must not interfere at all. It practically meant "I gave you your share; you go on devouring and digesting what I have flung to you; do not be greedy; it is the brewer's turn now, and you must not be jealous." That was really the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman; and he himself rather sympathised with him. Then the brewer said to the clergy, "It is all right; but if you go on like this we will disestablish your Church." And the 960 right hon. Gentleman was with the brewers in that matter. Well, let it go on; it was a very pleasant quarrel; and in those quarrels honest men came by their own, and really they might do so. But let him put in one word for the clergy. After all, the temperance question was a moral question; it affected the morals and good conduct of the community and he believed they had some right to talk on a subject of this sort. He would also put in a word for the temperance societies. It seemed to be assumed that the last people who had a right to speak on this subject were those who had given their lives to the study of it. Temperance societies were not all teetotal societies. The Church of England Temperance Society was not a teetotal society; but its members had given their lives to the study of this one question from a disinterested point of view. They had no interest in it except the interest of the community. They might be right or wrong; but they had no interest except a public one. But the people who were interested in this matter directly would be voting on this very Amendment. The brewery companies were not extreme; they were not included in the extreme men to whom the Solicitor-General referred. The Prime Minister's view of legislation seemed to be, whether it concerned education or temperance, that the only people whose opinion they ought to seek and whose opinion was worth having was the opinion of the people who were either financially or personally interested in the advice which they gave. That was an absurd proposition. At any rate, let them consider the men who had devoted their time quite unselfishly to the consideration of this subject. There was no use talking about this being a modest Bill or a Bill in the interest of temperance. It was perfectly clear what the Bill was. Who was it that said what a pity it was they could not consider the Bill for three minutes free from Party considerations? Here was what was said at a brewery company which met before the Bill was introduced. The chairman said—We mean to have a Compensation Bill, and unless the Government do justice to this trade they will find opposed to them a huge and solid phalanx of common sense and public opinion. Let the Government beware of that array. It 961 is a dangerous rock to hurl themselves against, and greater Governments than this have perished in the attempt.That was from the Licensing World. The right hon. Gentleman was steering between this brewery rock and the clerical whirlpool, and he thought the clerical whirlpool was the least harmful. Here was another trade society's declaration, which held this threat out to the Government—I do not think the Government will go against the trade, for we put them in power, and if they treat us properly we will keep them there.That was the meaning of the opposition to the time limit. It was treating them properly in order to keep the Government "there."But if they do not we will chuck them out.The Government were standing drinks to "the chuckers-out" Justin order to propitiate them. That was what it meant. The Opposition said, "At any rate, let there be a limit to the quantity." Give them something. He thought, however, it was carrying electioneering in this country rather too far. It was undoubtedly a gross and corrupt practice. The Government had come to the conclusion that as between the clergy and the publicans, the publicans were the better electioneerers; but he did not think that the Government had a right to wreck all hope of temperance reform in the future by means of a Bill of this sort, when they knew they had not the country at their back. They had not received any sanction from the public for it; and they knew perfectly well that if the public had an opportunity of expressing an opinion on it they would soon turn the Government out. All it meant was a threat from the trade to turn them out and the Government said, "Do not put us out in such weather as this; we are not teetotalers and we cannot stand all this rain and water." That was really what it meant. It was all very well to make a great pretence of justice; to talk about justice and equity and all those high-sounding words; but this was not equity; it was electioneering from beginning to end. Property—what was the good of talking about property? Property was a thing that a man had a legal right to. Who had a legal right to 962 a licence? The Solicitor-General and the Colonial Secretary admitted there was no legal right, and Mr. Justice Lindley was quoted to prove that there was no legal right. The Bill was simply a barrier in the way of any legal right to all permanent and effective temperance reform.
§ Mr. GROVES (Salford, S.)
said he would venture to answer to the best of Ms ability statements that had been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member who had just spoken referred to the certainty of licences being insured against forfeiture for non-requirement. He assumed that the hon. Gentleman was perfectly aware that he had rather overstated his case in claiming that licences could be insured against forfeiture on the ground of non-requirement. He challenged any hon. Member to mention a company which would insure licences on that ground. That was one of the principal clauses which insurance companies now inserted in their policies. Those statements, which had been repeated again and again, were entirely without foundation. It was impossible to effect an insurance with any insurance company for the forfeiture of a licence on the ground of non-requirement. Another mistake made by hon. Members on both sides of the House was in stating that there had been a considerable increase in the number of licences in late years. Those who had any knowledge of the figures would know that there had been a steady and consistent reduction of licences for a long period of years, and that this year the number had fallen below 100,000. That was a point which they ought to bear in mind. Again it had been stated very frequently that brewers were in favour of this Bill and that it was practically a Brewers' Endowment Bill. In speaking of brewers it was well to bear in mind that they were not speaking of individuals, but were dealing with a large body of shareholders numbered by hundreds of thousands, who on the faith of the renewal of licences from year to year had invested their money in brewery securities. Another point on which there had been great misconception was that the publicans, as a body, were in favour of the Bill. He challenged any Member of the House on either side to 963 find a single publican in favour of the time limit as applied in this Amendment.
One point they might congratulate themselves upon during the progress of the debate and that was the statement made in the course of the eloquent and able speech of the hon. Member for the Spen Valley. He stated an entirely new fact of which doubtless he was not previously aware of. He said there were more ways of killing a cat than by hanging. It was quite true. Perhaps the hon. Member had never travelled in a far distant country where informer times the practice of Hara-kiri or the "happy despatch" existed. When a certain person became undesirable, he was invited to make away with himself and to perform the "happy despatch." and he was always presented with a jewelled knife for the purpose. He thought he was not far from the point when he said that by the Bill now before the House, in the gradual extinction of superfluous licences the holders of licences were invited to perform the "happy dispatch," but they were not presented with a jewelled dagger by which to perform the operation. Hon. Members opposite objected to compensation and desired to insert a time limit, which he submitted was altogether inconsistent with the principle of the Bill. What would the representatives of the shipowning, coalmining, or landed interest say if the Government proposed to make them liable to expropriation of their property at the end of fifteen or twenty years? But it was just as proper that it should be said in regard to those interests as to the brewing interest, and he hoped that when the right time came the Government would give due consideration to the suggestions that would be made by the representatives of the owners of licensed property. The present proposal was directed against the very essence of the Bill; it could not be worked in conjunction with the Bill, and if the principle were adopted the measure would have to be entirely redrafted. What had the members of the Radical Party done during the last twenty or thirty years in the direction of temperance reform? They had not lifted their hand for any measure of reform such as the country would accept, and now when a measure of real reform had been brought forward—a measure 964 based on justice and equity—they lifted not their hands but their feet and desired to kick it out of the House.
§ Mr. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)
said the only persons who regarded this Bill as a temperance measure were connected was the brewing industry. The hon. Member for Salford in declaring that a time limit would be intolerable if applied to the shipowning or coalmining interests, had overlooked the fact that neither of those interests was asking the State to recognise in them a property to which, all the Judges declared they had no legal right. Attempts had been made to prove that although there was no legal right to the renewal of a licence, there was such a moral right as to make it a property entitled to recognition; but the arguments by which the contention had been supported were such as would never be admitted in regard to any other property. It was argued, for instance, that because death duties were charged and the property passed from hand to hand that constituted a vested interest entitled to compensation. In the neighbourhood of his own property a public-house was sold for £25,000 more than it would otherwise have fetched on the ground that it was nest to a prohibition area. The purchaser would be charged death duties; but no human being would contend that that individual had established any right to demand that he (the hon. Member) should discontinue his prohibitionist policy or pay compensation, and there was no more ground for saying that the persons who speculated upon the probability of magistrates renewing the licences had established any right to compensation. Another curious argument was that because a licence had been renewed for a long series of years a right had grown up which must be fully recognised. On an estate for which he was a trustee, a family of tenant farmers had lived since the year 1178, but nobody would contend that they had thereby acquired rights against the landlord. He regretted to hear the Prime Minister say that the Bishops and clergy had no special qualifications to deal with the provisions of a measure of this sort. The broad moral issue before the Committee was whether they should go backward or 965 forward in the matter of temperance legislation, whether they should declare that the public required extra safeguards against the trade, or that the trade required further protection against; the public, and the Bishops and clergy, if qualified to be moral teachers, were surely qualified to have an opinion; on such an issue. The Prime Minister appeared to consider that the brewers were the only persons qualified to have; an opinion on the subject, because, when he received the deputation from the I trade, he was asked to receive also a deputation from the great temperance societies, but he refused the request, and also marked his reply "private" so that the grounds of his refusal could not be communicated. If the Bill were a real temperance measure why should the temperance societies have been refused a hearing while the trade were admitted?
The Solicitor-General had given I the most startling reason for the Bill vet put forward, viz., the reluctance of the justices to refuse licences unless they were able to give compensation. The reason given by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary was not that too few licences had been refused, but that justices had been too precipitate, and had not had due regard for the hardships involved. On that point he had thrown out two challenges, neither of which had been accepted. He had offered, if it could be shown in any of the cases put forward by the trade deputation that the licensee had suffered financial loss, to pay whatever sum the Lord Chancellor declared that individual would have received had this Bill been the law of the land. The trade, however, had failed to bring forward any case of hardship which this Bill would have alleviated. Nearly all the speakers who had tried to prove that the Bill would diminish the number of licences, had gone on the assumption that the quarter sessions would raise the fullest amount in their power. That was certainly not the contemplation of the Bill, otherwise the quarter sessions would not have been given the option of raising no fund at all or of raising only a portion of the maximum amount. It was a significant fact 966 that all those who did not believe in the reduction of licences as a remedy, and who, like the Home Secretary, thought such a step would not reduce intemperance, believed in this Bill. They were sometimes told that in addition to the advantage of reducing licences, this Bill was going to deal justly between man and man. But would it do justice between man and man. Take a brewer in a small town where he had a monopoly. If they took away one of his licences they would actually increase the profits of his business because his trade would not be reduced but his distributing expenses would decrease accordingly. And yet under this Bill that brewer would be compensated upon the market value of that house which he had purchased at a high price in order to maintain his monopoly.
It was said that the licence-holder was going to be compensated out of his own money, but was that so? This tax was not limited to brewers, because hotel and restaurant keepers I would have to contribute in such cases as the brewer he had mentioned who would have actually suffered no loss. Under these circumstances they were doing a real service by trying to impose a limit on the operation of this Bill. Nobody would venture to1 say that as a matter of fact the beerhouses licensed prior to 1869 which enjoyed the greatest security had been the best conducted. Nobody would assert that in those places where the magistrates had been most slack and where the security had been the greatest the conduct of public-houses had been any better. As a matter of fact, the conduct of those houses had not been so good where the magistrates had been slack as in places where the magistrates had been strict. Insecurity generally rested upon the risk that some I other individual might take advantage of his opportunities for selfish gain, but the insecurity in regard to this trade rested uot upon the charge that anyone might interfere for selfish gain, but upon the charge that magistrates might interfere in the interests of the public, and that was just the sort of interference which led to good management. The passing of this measure in an unlimited form would be, to his mind, one of the very greatest calamities that could fall upon the nation. It was all very well for hon. 967 Members to pretend that this was a temperance measure; but there were many men and women in this country who had given their lives to temperance work, and it was not saying too much when he declared that not one of those men and women would welcome this proposal, or who would not hail with a sense of relief the limitation of its period of operation.
§ Mr. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said he wished to confine himself to one branch of this question, which seemed to him to be the critical part of the Amendment. The question was whether the system was to be a perpetual one, based on doctrines and grounds which would be equally valid ten, fifteen, or twenty years hence. He would address himself to the question whether the grounds upon which the Government made their proposals were grounds of efficacy or justice or whether it would be better to limit their proposals to such a time as justice required. The question was whether the licensing justices should be empowered by their mere fiat to increase and practically to double the value of the property they were dealing with. When a man was given a licence his property was greatly enhanced in value, and he did not think it was right that any official should be given the power of giving the property of a private individual an increased value in this way. The ground put forward by the Government was that when a licence was granted an expectation was formed that it would be renewed. He did not know what the First Lord of the Treasury meant when he talked about a moral claim. How could there be a moral claim in this matter, because the licence was granted expressly for one year only and no expectation was raised by the form in which it was granted? It was said that the practice had grown up, but that did not constitute a legal right. Surely it was an element in the case that the amplest warnings had been given that licences might be withdrawn without compensation. They had had one Bill after another in which the House had been asked to take away the rights, or the supposed rights, of licence-holders without any compensation. They could not have had a more complete and full notice to licence-holders in this respect than those repeated Parliamentary 968 attempts. The value of a licence was a monopoly value, but that value would be destroyed by increasing the number of competitors.
Not long ago the Liverpool magistrates thought they would do more good by allowing the free sale of drink than by granting a monopoly, and they tried the experiment of giving a licence to everybody of good character who applied for it. In circumstances like that the value of existing licences enormously declined. If a licence-holder had got anything like a legal claim, then it was injured by destroying the monopoly. That was what the Liverpool magistrates did, and that was what any magistrates could do now. If the magistrates to-day were to enormously increase the number of licences in a given area they would decrease the value of existing licences just as effectively as if they removed the licences from the present holders. In that case, would there be any ground for compensation? He thought everyone admitted that there would not. If there was no legal claim in that case where they destroyed the value by increasing the number of licences, why should there be any legal claim when they refused to renew a licence? For the sake of argument, he would admit that the licence-holder had got, not a right, but a saleable interest in his licence, which seemed to be an equitable interest, upon the expectation of renewal, that was upon the idea he had that because it had been the practice to go on renewing licences his licence ought to be renewed. That idea had grown up because the practice had been continuous and because it had been so uninterrupted that it had been taken to be regularly fixed. Everybody admitted that if the licence had been withdrawn this expectation would not have arisen. Surely it was an expectation which was founded entirely on what was represented to be an unbroken rule, and it would be destroyed for the future by the destruction of that rule. The destruction might equally well be done by giving formal notice, and therefore if formal notice were given, and a reasonable time allowed to claim compensation, that expectation altogether disappeared. That was the proposal in Mr. Bruce's Bill. The authors of that Bill said—"We will 969 allow that there is a certain well-grounded expectation. We will recognise that expectation for a certain time, but as we are giving you ample notice that that expectation will not be recognised we shall pay no compensation after a term of ten years." The equitable moral claim depended entirely on expectation. That expectation existed on what was admitted to be unbroken usage. That usage could be broken by giving solemn warning, and the only question was what was the proper length of time during which that solemn warning should be given. His hon. friend the Member for Anglesey suggested that it should be seven years, and his hon. friend the Member for East Dorset suggested fourteen years. It might be one or the other, or it might be a longer term. It might be twenty years, but that was not the point. The question was whether it was their duty to destroy the expectation on which the so-called moral claim was made by giving notice that after a certain time it would not be recognised. He had never been able to understand why a moral claim of this kind should be eternally maintained. It must come to an end if due notice had been given that it would be no longer recognised. He knew, of course, the argument that had been frequently used that licence-holders under this Bill would pay a mutual insurance, and that it was because they were going to do so that they ought to be in exactly the same position at the end of the period as at the beginning. But they had had their quid pro quo. Licence-holders would have a quid pro quo in that they would be undisturbed during the term of years or receive compensation. That the present proposals were regarded as of benefit to the trade by those who were interested was shown by the fact that brewery shares had risen in price.
The question was asked, What would happen when the time limit expired? During its operation the number of licensed houses would be reduced, though he felt very doubtful whether the reduction they were told to expect would take place. But assuming that it would, it was to be assumed also that the better licensed houses and those which were more wanted would survive, and therefore the chance of licences being taken away when the time limit expired 970 would be a great deal smaller than at present. By that time, too, it would be perfectly easy for licence-holders to insure themselves. He could understand the view that they would get some reduction of licences under this Bill, but he could not understand how it could be supposed that they would be equally free to deal with the temperance problem after this Bill had passed, when they would have created a vast vested interest which did not now exist. This Bill had a past, a very instructive history. It arose out of a deputation which waited on the Prime Minister, and which did not wait on him in the interests of temperance. The problem with which they had to deal was a great one, and many experiments had been tried in different parts of Europe, in America, in Canada, and in our colonies, some of them had been more or less successful. To allow local authorities to try one experiment after another, and to see which succeeded best, was a hopeful method of dealing with the problem, but a Bill like this closed the door altogether on that possibility. They were interdicting the one proper method of dealing with the problem, and they were creating what he might call a wire entanglement in front of the problem. They would indispose the public to listen to any proposition that might be made by creating this enormous preliminary difficulty in the interests of the liquor trade: that was why he so deeply regretted the step which the House was now asked to take. The Solicitor-General said that thirty years was a short period in the life of a nation. He himself was not sure that it was a short period in the life of this country. When he thought of the evils from which the country suffered in every branch of social life in connection with intemperance, he was bound to say that the retarding of temperance reform thirty years was a very serious matter. He confessed that he thought a Bill like this was calculated to throw the greatest possible difficulty in the way of any future reform which might be proposed, and he hoped the House would not take the deplorable step of creating a vested interest for all time.
§ *SIR EDGAR VINCENT (Exeter)
said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen had pleaded the 971 urgency of temperance reform, bat it appeared to him that the alleged urgency which he fully admitted was hardly consistent with opposition to the present proposal. Undoubtedly if the Bill were rejected the cause of temperance would be put back, if not for thirty years, at any rate for a considerable period. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the system of compensation which was now to be established was to be perpetual. The reply appeared to be that the application of the present Bill for a few years would render the further reduction of licenced and the consequent compensation unnecessary. In his belief, if this Bill were passed without important modification the licences would be reduced in a few years to the necessary number, and the redundant houses would be abolished.
§ *SIR EDGAR VINCENT
said on the contrary he believed that the present measure, so far from blocking the way to further temperance reform, indicated the best path along which temperance reform should proceed. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that it was immoral and wrong by giving compensation to increase the value of licensed houses. He would point out that Clause 4 provided for an entirely new system for the granting of new licences. There had been a great deal of argument as to the abstract right of the licence-holder to get his licence renewed. It appeared to him that the question of abstract right was of infinitely less importance than the practical result of the application of the new Bill. It was clear that the effect of the time limit would be to destroy to a large extent the efficiency of the Bill in the direction of the reduction of licences. The capital powers could not be exercised if the period were reduced to seven years, and if the time limit were extended to twenty years they fell on the other horn of the dilemma by creating an intolerable condition of injustice between the licence-holder who was abolished in the nineteenth year and the licence-holder who was abolished in the twenty-first year. While the former would receive compensation, the presumably better-conducted house, the licence 972 of which was refused in the twenty-first year, would receive no compensation at all. Another great injustice would be inflicted by levying the tax which it was proposed to establish on a licence-holder after the twenty-first year, exposed as he would be to the immediate abolition of his licence without compensation, in order to pay the interest on the capitalsum paid to his more fortunate colleagues who had had their licences abolished previous to the twenty year limit. They would thus create a difference between the well-conducted and the badly-conducted houses and give all the advantage to the less well-conducted. Criticism of the Bill appeared to have erred in underestimating the effect of the Bill on one side, and in over-estimating it on the other. Regarded as a measure of practical temperance reform, he thought the merits of the Bill had been very largely undervalued. The fund available for compensation would amount approximately, to 10 per cent, of the present annual value, on which it would be possible to raise a capital sum equal to twenty-five times its amount, or two and a half times the total nominal value of the licensed houses available for compensation purposes. It might be fairly estimated that the compensation price would not be more than ten years purchase, so that the Bill as it stood, the capital powers being exercised, would afford a sum adequate to promote the reduction of the present licences by 25 per cent. Surely even to extreme temperance reformers such a reduction would be adequate.
As to the argument that the Bill blocked the way to further temperance reform, he maintained that, on the contrary, the Bill indicated in the clearest manner the way in which temperance reform could best proceed. If hon. Gentlemen opposite could carry the country with them they had only to take the schedule to the Bill and increase the compensation facilities by increasing the fund from 25 per cent, to 50 or 60 per cent. This would be achieved by increasing the proposed maximum schedule from an average of 10 per cent, to a higher percentage. Arguments had been used pointing to the conclusion that the Bill was bad because it had been well received by the trade. He could not see why the trade was particularly favoured by the Bill. The 973 measure amounted practically to a warning by the community that a reduction in the present number of licences was contemplated and a command to the trade to insure itself against a possible loss to individuals which would ensue upon that reduction. The principle of mutual insurance had been advocated. That was the underlying principle of the Bill. Insurance was not the less valid because imposed by the Government. He appealed to all those who, like himself, were anxious to promote in every practical manner temperance reform and who were totally unconnected with or interested in any brewery concern, to view whatever proposals were put forward in this direction not so much by their effect on the trade as by their probable effect on the community. If it could be shown, as he believed it could, that the result of the application of the Bill would be a large reduction in the number of licensed houses and a probable reduction in the amount of drunkenness, then he contended that the Bill was entitled to their most hearty support.
§ Mr. CHARLES DOUGLAS (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said the question raised by the Amendment was vital to the Bill as a whole. Many Members had argued with great care a question which was not really in dispute, viz., whether or not there was any claim, moral or otherwise, to compensation or consideration in the ease of non-renewal of a licence. The only question at present before the Committee was whether the compensation should be restricted or unrestricted. The argument of the Prime Minister was substantially that a time limit would be inequitable because licence-holders, after having been compelled to pay an annual turn, would receive nothing at the end of the period in return for the money they had paid. But the whole theory of compensation by the trade was that those whose licences were renewed were not merely left as they stood but were gainers by the process of reduction. In his judgment it would be wholly inequitable to make one trader compensate another for the loss of his licence unless the former gained by the latter's loss. By diminishing the number of licences competition was reduced, and the profits of the remaining licence-hold era were increased, 974 and that was the only equitable ground on which compensation could be asked. The Bill would not only reduce present competition but largely restrict future competition, because there were to be imposed on new licences new conditions which would tend to reduce the number of applicants. In addition to that, the licence-holders who remained would have a much better security for the renewal of their licence than they now had, and that in the opinion of many people, was the main reason for the introduction of the Bill. The licence-holder would receive all these benefits during every year that he paid into the compensation fund, and they constituted a very good return for the payments he was asked to make. At all events, there was nothing in the fact that he had to pay into the fund to prevent Parliament considering, as an entirely separate question, the point whether they should take the opportunity afforded by the readjustment to give fair, and, if necessary, long notice that the present arrangement would be terminated at the end of a given number of years. If they were dealing with property, that would certainly be out of accord with the usual methods of procedure, but the matter here to be dealt with was merely an expectation, and it would be perfectly fair to liquidate that expectation by giving a reasonable number of years notice. If they had a time notice they would have a slower rate of reduction because they would have less funds available. He was bound to say that he thought the estimate of the last speaker was an unduly sanguine one. Surely ten years purchase was not such an unreasonable rate of compensation as had been spoken of by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. If that were so, then the rate of reduction would not be 25 per cent, of the total, or anything approaching it. He admitted that if they had a time limit and gave a time notice that they were going to terminate the present system they would create a new situation. That notice was one of the merits of the proposal to bring an end to the present system, because it created an opportunity of dealing with the situation which really needed fresh treatment. That was the point made by the Solicitor-General that afternoon.
975 Whatever hon. Members might think of the various methods of reform in detail, it was useful to have an opportunity for dividing opinion between those who thought the present licensing system was good through and should be continue, and those who believed that a fundamental changes was necessary. He confessed that he was only interested in the question has to how this Bill was going to affect the future licensing question in this Country. The question of a time limit was not real question, but what was more important was how far the public would be able to retain the rights they possessed at present, and how far they would be able to control this matter which affected them so closely. One solution mentioned during the debate had been the gradual transfer on fair terms of the licensing trade to disinterested management in some form or other. He regarded that as the most hopeful way of getting rid of the evils which existed in the trade now, without making any revolutionary departure from the present system. He thought such a solution was an essential step to take. It was very easy to say, as the Prime Minister said on the Second Reading, that the whole matter was entirely the fault of the people who drank too much. No doubt it was, but the business of the House of Commons was to do what it could to create circumstances in which there should be less and not more inducements to people to drink too much, and create circumstances in which there would be less abuse of the licensing system. So long as it was to the interest of those who were retailing liquor that their customers should drink more than was good for them, so long would they fail to get the best method of selling liquor which would do the least injury to the community. The real question was whether the future of licensing reform of this kind would be prejudiced by this Bill. Would this measure enhance the value of licences or not? He had in his possession an estimate made for specific business purposes in regard to the value of a number of public-houses in various part of the country, and the value of the licences and goodwill apart from the, buildings were put down at something like five years purchase of the net profits. 976 Surely if that were so the fact that they were now proposing to pay ten years purchase was an argument in favour of the contention the this Bill was increasing the value, licences. It was admitted t by one of the provisions of this measure that they were going to have a change in the value of licences, because if they were not going enhance the value of licences what was he meaning of that extraordinary provision that the value of the licences was to be estimated as if the Bill had not been passed. What was the meaning of having that provision in the Bill? Evidently there were two values in view, one representing the value of the licence at the present time, and the other the value which the Bill was going to give it. This was also proved by the fact that they were going to have increased borrowing powers if they did not have a time limit, which would enable them to make larger reductions in the number of licences. Surely this meant that they were going to give a better security.
By this Bill a perpetual right of renewal was created, subject only to good conduct, and when renewal was reused without misconduct there was to be compensation. Whether they called it a freehold or not, the licence-holder would have a very much more valuable security under this Bill than he possessed now, and they were creating for the first time in regard to general licences, as distinct from beerhouse licences, actual property in licences, and they were transforming a moral claim into legal property. The additional value they were creating was an additional obstacle to future reforms, whether they took the shape of local option, municipal management, or public trusts, or whatever way the licences were to be removed from private holders, and this Bill was creating a great additional obstacle unless it contained an element of time limit. If they had a time limit temperance reforms would be possible. The right hon. Gentleman had talked of confiscation, but what could be worse confiscation than to take from the public the right to deal with a trade which had been absolutely in their hands for so many years? Without a time limit this Bill was unrestricted confiscation, and therefore he should oppose it at every stage. He was 977 sure that when the people of this country realised what this Bill meant in regard to the future control of the liquor traffic, they would take a view which would perhaps lead them to deal leas leniently with the trade than they might otherwise be disposed to do.
§ *Mr. TRITTON (Lambeth, Norwood)
said that as a considerable amount of reference had been made in the course of this debate to the Church of England Temperance Society, perhaps the House would grant a few moments indulgence to one who had been the treasurer of that society for a great many years. The Prime Minister had apparently got the idea that the clergy and Bishops of the Church of England were not to be considered good judges upon any point appertaining to temperance legislation. The Church of England Temperance Society wag composed very largely of the clergy, and they had for many years been doing their beat to check the drink traffic and to adopt some scheme by which legislative help might be given to that desire. Like many other societies, they were not absolutely unanimous in regard to this measure, and some of them strongly opposed this Bill and desired to see it ended, whilst others, like himself, desired to see the Bill amended and not ended, because they believed that it had very many good points in it. As one who had taken a very considerable and a very deep interest in this question for many years, he looked at the Bill and asked himself how it met the case he had at heart, if at all; what did it do to reduce the excessive number of licences? and he confessed that he thought it did a great deal towards reducing them, and upon that score he welcomed its introduction. He also thought that a licence should not be taken away unless compensation was given, and he had often thought that if he had been a licensing magistrate, which he was not, he would never have consented to put down a man's licence unless the man was compensated. He, therefore, agreed with that part of the Bill; and coming as it did from the trade itself, he could not understand how any one could object to compensation being given. The one fatal blot upon this Bill was that it mentioned no time at which 978 the right of the publican to compensation should cease. He was not in favour of endowing for all time this trade. He did not agree with the view that when they made a new departure of this kind they should turn an annual licence into a vested interest. Why should they? Why should they go out of their way to safeguard the interests of the drink trade and entrench that trade beyond the reach of harm, and prevent any amendment in favour of temperance reform in the future? He had been told that his view in regard to this was wrong, and as he had been told so by hon. Members who were learned in the law, he would just quote from a speech recently made by one who was also learned in the law, who was a Member of this House, and whose retirement from it he ventured to think was a great joss to this Assembly. He alluded to Sir Edward Clarke. Sir Edward Clarke was speaking at the Albert Hall a few days ago at the annual meeting of the Primrose League, and he said—He thought it was a deplorable thing that a time limit should be suggested by way of amendment. He hoped that this legislation with reference to licences might at least disentangle the Party to which he belonged from its constant connection with the trade. It had not been good for the Conservative Party nor for the trade that the interests of both should have been too closely mingled, bat if a time limit were adopted it would be found that during the time, and especially towards the end of the period, there would be a recrudescence of the agitation by a great and important trade, and that they would not be able to do what they might be able this year to do, namely, to put an end finally to the need of appealing to Parliament in respect of these questions.He himself did not want to see that result. He did not want to see an end of temperance reform. He agreed with the opinion of Sir Edward Clarke as to the disentangling of the Party to which he belonged from, its constant connection with the trade, but he did not want to see in this the last year of power of the Conservative Party, before they want out to wander for a long time in the wilderness, this trade entrenched in this way. Had it done any good for the country? Had it helped the material and moral welfare of the country? He would like to have the opinion of the Home Secretary upon that point, for in no other place in the country were the evils of drink so brought home to a man. He saw opposite a 979 right hon. Gentleman whose presence from their discussions he regretted they were soon to lose, and he remembered that in 1893, when the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Local Veto Bill—with which, however, he did not himself agree—the right hon. Gentleman saying that it was what he had seen of the evils of drink during his tenure of office as Home Secretary that had made him a temperance reformer He asked that there should be no barrier put in the way of temperance reformer and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to say whether this trade required such tender handling as it was receiving in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman must allow that all the sad cases which came before him demanding his decision were all more or less connected with this evil of drink. It was because he believed that drink had done more than anything else in the world to send many poor souls to perdition that he earnestly hoped this Amendment might be adopted, and that by this Bill the way might not be barred for ever to temperance reform.
§ *MR. HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)
congratulated the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down upon the speech which he had just made, the ting of which, he said, was in the tail. He himself wished to credit all sections of the House with a strong desire to deal with this great social evil, but the question in his mind was whether the scheme before the House contained the right proposals for dealing with this question. It must be admitted that any scheme before it could be satisfactory should have regard to the existing public opinion in the country, and secondly that it ought not to create barriers or restrictions that would make it well nigh impossible for any successive Government to deal with the question. He was inclined to think that this scheme had not the support of public opinion behind it. They all remembered that the Conservative Government in 1895 appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the liquor laws, having due regard to the public interest. That Committee reported, and the first conclusion at which it arrived was that a great evil remained to be removed and that hardly any sacrifice would be too great which would 980 result in a marked diminution of this national degradation. The Committee made certain recommendations, which they expected to have the effect of minimising the evil which had been so conclusively proved to exist. Had the Government had any regard to the findings and the recommendations of their own Royal Commission? If this measure was judged in the light of the proposals and recommendations of the Commission, it must be admitted that no heed whatever had been paid to them. He wished they could be satisfied that the Government had paid more heed to the conclusions of their own Royal Commission than they had to the importunity of the trade itself. Not only had they paid no regard to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but they had paid no regard to the public expression of opinion on the question. The strength of that public opinion was proved by the petitions which had been lodged against this Bill. No such evidence could be found in favour of this scheme. The only evidence in its favour came from those who were interested in passing this Bill through the House of Commons. It ought to be borne in mind that it was possible that public opinion might grow and desire to deal in a more drastic form with this great evil. Any scheme which this House was asked to adopt ought not to erect barriers, impose restrictions, or create any prejudice against its successors dealing with the question. The community as a whole was largely interested in this question, and was greatly affected by it. Therefore the community ought to be taken into consideration in any scheme put forward. They had been told that this was a compromise, but a compromise surely was something in the nature of a concession which ought to be mutual. There could be no compromise in this scheme because the party most interested in it, namely, the community, was not consulted. It could not be a compromise if the public were ignored while the trade was taken into consideration. This was proved by the action of the Prime Minister himself, who, when asked, received a deputation from the trade. That deputation waited upon the Prime Minister, not to make out a case for the reduction of licences, 981 not to urge that the evil should be curtailed, but to report the magistrates who had begun to do their duty to the public and to carry out the first recommendation of the Royal Commission by reducing the number of licences, and upon the ex parte statements of that deputation the Prime Minister promised that the question should be dealt with at an early date.
Personally he was not prepared to speak in support either of the Bill or of the present Amendment. Even if a time limit were inserted Parliament would be departing from the principle which had governed the licensing law since 1828, and creating a fixity of tenure which had never yet been held to exist by a Court of Law. Then one of the greatest blots on the Bill was its permissive character. The only thing definitely determined was the restriction of the power of the magistrates. As soon as the question of the public interest came in, and the question of putting the Bill into operation arose, the provisions read, the quarter sessions "may," not "shall," do so and so. The Bill afforded the maximum of protection to the trade, and the minimum of protection to the public. It had been said that under the Bill it would be possible to reduce licences to the extent of 25 per cent., but nobody bad dared assert there was any obligation upon the authorities to effect such a reduction. Many of its present opponents would be prepared to support the compensation scheme if they could thereby impose a permanent obligation upon the local authorities to effect a 25 per cent, reduction in the licences. Instead of that, power was to be taken from the local justices and given to the quarter sessions, the members of which might please themselves whether or not they created the necessary fund. So far as he was concerned, he would not accept any compensation scheme hedged round with such provisions as were to be found in the Bill; on the contrary, he would give it his most strenuous opposition. Public opinion on the temperance question had considerably advanced during the last ten or fifteen years Every section of the community was beginning to recognise that the evil of intemperance must be grappled with in the interests of the community as a 982 whole by bringing the licensing authority nearer the people most affected. As one who spoke directly in the name of the workers of the country, he affirmed that from every standpoint the workers were the greatest sufferers from the trade. Of late years a change had taken place in the composition of many benches of magistrates; thanks to a Liberal Government it had been made possible for a certain number of working men to secure seats upon the magisterial bench, and so to introduce the local element into the administration of the licensing law. Under this Bill the little power they possessed was to be transferred to quarter sessions the members of which had lived all their lives in a totally different atmosphere, and the working men were to have no representation whatever. There was not a Labour representative in Parliament who could qualify for a seat at quarter sessions, so absurdly high were the qualifications demanded.
intimated that the hon. Member's remarks were hardly relevant to the Amendment before the Committee. The point he was discussing would come up at a later stage.
§ *MR. HENDERSON
said he was endeavouring to point out that inasmuch as the authority was to be transferred from the local bench to quarter sessions, the question of whether the transfer should be for an unlimited period or for seven or fourteen years was of vital importance. However, he would pass from that to his last point, which was that, with the growth of public opinion, everybody interested in the question had been looking forward to the time when there would be introduced a great scheme of constructive temperance reform by which the community as a whole would be enabled definitely to grapple with this evil. That hope would be permanently destroyed by the present Bill, because when once it got into operation, with all its financial and other provisions, any Government which attempted to deal with the question on other lines would be at once met by the cry that they must observe existing contracts—for the Bill would create contracts and give a property that had never been held before. Nothing was so difficult in connection with legislation as to carry a measure which was going to have the 983 effect of upsetting existing financial arrangements. In the interests of the workers he was going to give this measure his strenuous opposition, because he believed that it would not facilitate the reduction of licences. No one would persuade him that members of the trade opposite would come down to the House and give all this attention to promote a Bill which was going to facilitate a reduction of the licences which many of them were interested in. Hon. Members opposite knew full well the permissive character of this Bill, and they knew that the reduction of licences although small in the past, would be smaller in the future. It was because he believed that the Bill would have this effect that he had determined to oppose it.
§ *Mr. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had attributed to all those who differed from him that they were influenced by sordid motives. He wished to assure the Committee that he had no interest direct or indirect in any brewery companies, and his opposition to this Amendment proceeded purely from considerations of what he considered were the highest principles of justice. He regarded this Amendment and this Bill exclusively from what seemed to him proper and equitable high principles, and it was no drawback to this Bill if it secured those principles and at the same time incidentally benefited brewers or the owners of public-house licences. The hon. Member for Spen Valley, on the Second Reading, said that he was not in favour of compensation, but he consented to it from considerations of policy, and he said that he was willing to consent to compensation as an act of grace. He followed the hon. Member's arguments very closely, but he could not see where considerations of grace would be involved in returning to people that which was their own money and their own property. He regarded that as a matter of honesty, and he declined to regard it as a matter of policy or an act of grace. He had always objected to the maxim that "Honesty is the best policy," because it was wrong to be honest merely because it was, forsooth, good policy. He considered that it was dishonest to deprive even brewers and publicans of property which was their own. The hon. Mem- 984 ber who had just sat down said they had been looking forward to a great measure of temperance reform. The hon. Member had not been long a Member of the House, but he had no hesitation in telling him that he would continue to look forward to a great measure of temperance reform if he relied upon those hon. Members who were always advocating drastic temperance proposals. He should not describe the hon. Member for Spen Valley and the hon. Member for Camborne as temperance reformers, but temperance advocates. The most conscientious and the most ardent advocates of temperance reform always seemed to him to support measures which thwarted and prevented temperance reform because they advocated only drastic measures.
The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries delivered a very powerful speech until he arrived at the end of it, when he was led away by the usual temptations of hon. Gentlemen opposite to refer to the last general election. There were, however, one or two observations in the hon. and learned Member's speech to which he should like to reply. He said that the justices in the past had not reduced the number of licences. That was quite true, and that was just one of the reasons why he was supporting this Bill. Hon. Members who had experience of the action of magistrates in petty sessions knew that there was a reluctance on their part to refuse the renewal of licences when there was no discreditable behaviour on the part of the licensee, although they might think there were too many public-houses in the district. There was a natural, and, he thought, almost a creditable reluctance to visit upon well-behaved licensees the loss which would result from that refusal. The hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs said that if they wanted to raise money by mortgages to the total amount of their annual income they would have to spend all that money; and, of course, although they could make a sweeping reduction of licences they would come to an end of their resources. That argument was irrelevant. He said so because he had never heard of any proposal in any portion of the United Kingdom to hypothecate the total amount of money at the command of the magistrates for the removal 985 at one fell swoop of all the licences which would come under the scope of the Bill. He considered that sound finance required that they should only mortgage part of their income, and that they would reserve something as a nest egg to continue the extinction of licences when the first outlay of capital had expired. He, personally, was not a tremendous believer in salvation being got from the reduction of licences. For twelve years on the London County Council he had opposed the abandonment of licences in connection with the properties of the Council. In the last ten years eighty-two licences had been abandoned by the County Council at a cost to the ratepayers of £272,000. That, to his mind, had only retarded temperance reform, because the policy pursued had made more valuable the surviving licences in the neighbourhood. The result was that they would have to pay more for them when they came to extinguish any of them. He could not understand why some hon. Members so much desired to deprive licence-holders of compensation. The refusal to give compensation reminded him of the days when highway robbery prevailed in the country. Then a man went up to another, and pointing a pistol at him, said. "Your money or your life." That, at least offered the victim a choice. Now it appeared the hon. Member opposite wanted both the money and the life, as they took the money in the shape of rates and then desired to confiscate the licence after a given time. He felt sure that this Bill would be an important step in the direction of true temperance reform, and he hoped it would be followed by other measures in the same direction. He would vote against the Amendment for a time limit.
§ *MR. LYELL (Dorsetshire, E.)
said it was a matter of surprise to him to find how widely hon. Members on both sides of the House differed on this question, in view of the fact that they had so much common ground to start from, and that they travelled so far along common lines of thought in their efforts to find a solution. They were all agreed that there was too much liquor consumed, and, if anyone had any doubt on that point, he could refer to the records of the hospitals, 986 lunatic asylums, and jails. If he did so he would not have any doubt on the subject any longer. They were all agreed that there was too much money spent on liquor, and that was a point which, he thought, had not received so much attention as it deserved. It had been proved that there were many people earning from 24s. to 30s. a week spending 6s. to 7s. a week on liquor, and that without incurring any reproach whatever from neighbours and friends of being drunk. There was nothing more certain than that money spent on liquor, which was a luxury, was money not spent on food, clothes, proper housing accommodation, and the necessities of life, without which no family could be brought up in such a way as to afford the expectation or the chance of their becoming efficient citizens in the future. They were all agreed that there were too many licences. Some hon. Members on the other side of the House thought that a reduction of licences might not necessarily mean a reduction of the amount of liquor consumed or of drunkenness. If that were the case it only proved that the unnecessary licences were much more unnecessary than even he and his friends thought they were. The object of all hon. Members was to effect a reduction in the number of licences in London and elsewhere with as little hardship as possible to all concerned. The Government proposal had been laid before the House, and it had been said for it that in London a reduction of 25 per cent. might be secured by its operation; but, with all due deference to the opinion of the hon. Member for East Islington, he ventured to say that that could not be done without borrowing and spending up to the hilt the capitalised fund for paying the compensation. And how long were they to suppose it would be possible before a new capital fund would be available for any further reduction? A hundred, eighty, or sixty years? And were they to sit down with folded arms to wait for all these years before any further reduction could be undertaken? On the other hand, on that side of the House a time limit was proposed as a solution of the difficulty. Well, the Government refused to accept this solution. And on what ground? They regarded it as wanting in equity. 987 What was there inequitable in a time limit if the time was a fair one?
He could not help feeling that a great deal of the difficulty arose from a certain amount of confusion of thought in the minds of hon. Members opposite. One after the other got up and confessed—some of them reluctantly—that there was no property in a licence, and yet these same hon. Gentlemen all the time were unconsciously thinking of a licence as property. They had been told that a licence was property or quasi-property from the point of view that it was dealt with by the officers of the Inland Revenue on the basis that there was an expectation of renewal; but no one had ever considered that there was an expectation of a renewal of an ordinary public-house licence for more than fourteen years, and fourteen years was precisely the term proposed by the hon. Member for West Dorset as the number of years purchase or grace. But the Government had put forward the idea that there might be gross injustice in one man losing his licence just before and another just after the expiry of the time limit. He failed to see any injustice in that whatever. They were not going to follow the principle of the parable in which one man was paid a penny for one hour's work, and another man only received a penny for twelve hours work. In this case one man had thirteen and a half years profits, and if he lost his licence he was surely not going to be compensated at the rate of fourteen years profits for the loss of six months profits. If the other man lost his licence after fourteen and a half years he was to get nothing at all because he had received fourteen years gross profits. He failed to see any injustice in that at all. On the contrary, it seemed to him to be a very adequate measure of justice.
Then as to the question of the remaining houses, hon. Members opposite had, time after time, spoken as though this was a question of insurance, and insurance only. But there was another aspect of this levy on the houses which were going to be left. He ventured to think that it was something in the nature of an increased premium paid in return for an increased monopoly. And here they bad one of the 988 typical injustices of this Bill illustrated. The areas in which the levy was to be made were not scientifically adjusted. Take the county of Dorset, for instance, part of which he had the honour to represent. The number of licences to population through the country districts was not conspicuously great, though he was not quite sure whether it would satisfy the requirements of the Minority Report of the Peel Commission. But the old parts of Poole and Weymouth were largely over-licensed—the proportion being one to every 163 of the population in Poole. When a question of reduction went to the quarter sessions Poole had not a single magistrate on that Court. The county licensed houses were mainly well conducted, and their risk of non-renewal was very small. Why should they be assessed to contribute to the reduction of licences in Poole and Weymouth where nine-tenths of the licences might be swept away in these towns without putting another pennyworth of business into the pockets of the country licence-holders. That would be a very gross injustice to the country licence-holders. But if the area in which the levy was made were more scientifically adjusted and the levy made on the remaining licences in the towns to pay compensation for the licences suppressed, there would be no injustice, and the amount of the levy and probably more would be automatically returned to the pockets of the remaining licence-holders in the increased profits they would earn.
Lastly, there was the question raised of undesirable tenants taking up licences during the last year or two of the time limit. He did not think that that was a question which could seriously affect the case. The law was there which could control the licences, and if the law was inadequate it could very easily be strengthened, and if the law were enforced brewers would not put in men who would lose them their licences. Moreover, it would not be known necessarily that a particular house was going to be suppressed. Indeed, it would be found that it was to the interest of the licence-holders not to conduct their houses badly but to compete with each other as to who was going to conduct his house best so as to secure a renewal of his licence. The hon. Member for Carnarvon had stripped the 989 flimsy pretences thrown over the Bill. The hon. Member called it an electioneering Bill. He quite agreed; but he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he said it was a good electioneering Bill; on the contrary, he thought it was an uncommonly bad electioneering Bill. Let him get the publican in a quiet corner, where there was no one around to take the news to the brewer, and ask his opinion, and he would find that the unsophisticated publican had a very shrewd idea indeed of the Bill, and had no delusion as to the solidarity of interest as between himself and the brewer. He ventured to think that at the next general Election the effect of the Bill would be more far reaching than the Government imagined.
§ *SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)
said he thought that there was considerable confusion of ideas on both sides of the House with reference to this Bill. Directly the Government brought in the Bill it was received on that side with acclamation. It was thought by the country to provide a great want; but although its general principle was approved, it was felt that there was something lacking to make it a perfect measure. From recent experience, and throughout his life, he had been quite consistent in regarding compensation with a time limit as essential. He had argued the matter when no one was willing to hear him; he had fought elections on it, and might have to fight elections on it again; and he had won on principles which were repugnant to many, but which he had endeavoured to make as palatable as he could, In many parts of Scotland there was a strong feeling that a publican ought not to be dispossessed without compensation; and as the Bill gave compensation, he did not think it should be rejected in the summary manner advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. During the twenty-five years he had sat in the House, he had seen Bills which might have proved most useful rejected. He recognised in this Bill a real attempt on the part of the Government—and he gave them every credit for the attempt—to put down the number of public-houses where they were not necessary or useful. He was not one of those who 990 thought that the working classes wished for a moment to be without public-houses. He knew perfectly well they liked public-houses; and a public-house conducted in moderation would be most useful in a district. But there were a number of bad low public-houses which were not necessary, and which ought to be at once put down. There was no machinery at present to do that. The licensing magistrates in England would not do it. He himself had gone down from London to Scotland to oppose a licence; but the licence was afterwards replaced by the licensing justices. That was unsatisfactory. The licensing justices would not act because they did not like to take away a man's living without compensation.
So far he spoke in praise of the Bill. Now he had to take a different view. Would the public benefit from this Bill as they should? Here was a great monopoly confined to a very few, and protected by very careful laws, in order that those who had licences should manage their houses properly. At present, a licence could not be said to be a freehold or a vested interest; but if the licences were to be perpetuated their value would be increased enormously. Was not the country justified in asking, if this enormous profit were to be made, that it should have some hold on the licences. Giving licences in perpetuity was what moderate temperance reformers could not stand. He was not now speaking of any particular church or class. He had been a member of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, but he had also access to a fair amount of information from Dissenters. The great Nonconformist body, the United Free Church of Scotland, held its General Assembly at the same time as the Church of Scotland; and he knew the feelings of hundreds of these men. They were unanimous in saying that they could not approve of this Bill without a time limit. They were really interested in the matter on behalf of their flocks and congregations; and to ignore such public opinion was to throw away an opportunity to gain knowledge, which was a very great loss in considering a question of this sort. When they went deeper and asked individuals what they thought of this Bill in which they were all concerned 991 they would find that the people knew all these things far better than English legislators could explain them; because the Scotch were far ahead of the English in these matters and could explain these matters far better for themselves than they could be explained in an heated debate in this House. He implored the Government to consider this matter. It was out of the question to say they could not graft a time limit onto this Bill. How could it be said that in fourteen years time this Bill would have done its work. Would an Act hold good for fourteen years without amendment? It might require revision and that was all he asked for. They might call it a time limit, or revision, or what they liked, but that would satisfy the country to some extent. If a time limit were not incorporated the result would be that the moderate temperance party, which embraced many thousands of voters, would take a line of their own at the next election and would silently vote for the policy in accordance with their views on this question. There was nothing which troubled Scotchmen more than religion and politics; they cared little about other matters, but if once strife was stirred up in either religion or politics they would fight to the last gasp. He appealed to the Government to give the matter more consideration. The Bill would go through far more easily and in far less time if some assistance was given in the way of a time limit. Let the Government call it what they liked, but let them give something by means of which their supporters could assure their constituents that they were not handing over any property or vested interest to the trade.
§ *Mr. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)
said the clause to the Amendment which the Committee was now asked to consider, appeared to him to propose such a drastic change in the law that he was a little astonished to hear the hon. Member for Stretford say that he was surprised that temperance reformers wished to mutilate a Bill of this sort. Outside this House a strong public opinion had shown itself. In the numberless petitions that had been presented, the Committee had evidence that there was a growing feeling that the proposals of this Bill were not supported by public 992 opinion outside. A duty, therefore, seemed to be thrown on the Committee to endeavour to meet this by, at any rate in this House, appealing to the Government not to throw away the opportunity still within their grasp. So far as he could make out, this opinion centred itself in the strong objection to destroying the discretion which the justices had hitherto exercised in giving or withholding a licence. If the Committee looked for a moment at the grounds on which these licences were granted they would be bound to admit and recognise that it was not the private interest of the applicant that was considered, but the public need of the locality, and for that reason a licence was granted for a year, and a year only. In his opinion the magistrates had not exercised their discretion ruthlessly and without consideration to the trade in the past. There was a feeling that in each case justice must be done, and that there must be no partisanship. Many of his constituents who differed from him, and had done their best to prevent him sitting in this House, were now pressing him to the utmost extent; in their power to secure an alteration in this Bill by the introduction of a time limit, and were urging him to amend and even, if necessary, obstruct the passage of the Bill in order to bring about that result. The desire of the public to deal justly with all interests concerned must be admitted. The public authorities could always afford to be generous in dealing with such a question as was now before the House, but he honestly believed that public opinion had formed a stern resolve and that it would re-assert itself, if thwarted now, and insist upon controlling the drink traffic. He, therefore, thought the Government was unwise in the course it was pursuing.
On the previous evening the Prime Minister had said that if it was proposed that the public should pay this insurance, the attitude of the Government would be different in respect to the question of the time limit, and had asked was it right and fair, considering the fact that this sum of money was to be drawn from the trade, to press for a time limit? He certainly thought it was because the extraordinary profits that could be made by the licence-holder were due to the 993 power given to him by which he was subjected to no competition in respect of the sale of drink, and therefore, in his opinion, the public had a legitimate claim to a portion of the profits made in exchange for the monopoly which had been conferred upon the licence-holder. The Government ought to realise that the general welfare of the community had as much right to be considered as the pockets of the licence-holders. The policy behind the Bill would obstruct the progress of reform, and he submitted that it would have been quite sufficient had the Government provided a compensation fund, drawn from the trade, and placed it at the disposal of the magistrates without any limit on their discretion. The magistrates had always desired to deal fairly with the interests of the individual, and they could have been trusted to exercise their discretion fairly. Moreover other trades had to insure against certain contingencies, and it would have been perfectly easy for the liquor trade to secure itself against the arbitrary exercise of the powers of the local Bench. Of late years there had been a gradual giving up of licensed houses which had become effete or worn out, but that process would now be stopped, because the houses would be given a permanent value which did not formerly exist. Parliament ought not to block the way, and thus render more difficult the carrying out of a wise and careful scheme for the improvement of the liquor trade. He deprecated Members being so filled with the Party spirit as to permit a system of "see-saw" legislation by which legislation forced through by a mechanical majority now, in spite of the protest of the Opposition, had on a future occasion to be repealed or materially altered by another Parliament. If practicable he would propose a time limit in connection with the schedule, so that the amounts payable under the Bill would be fixed only for a certain number of years. The country would then be given an opportunity of reconsidering the position, if the Government still refused a response to the appeals which had been made from both sides of the House, and a future Parliament be spared the necessity of adopting a system of high licence fees as a punitive measure 994 rendered necessary by the policy of the present Bill.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.