§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Licensing Acts, 1828 to 1906," resumed.173
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR. CHARLES ROBERTS,
continuing his speech, said: I wish very briefly to conclude my argument on the time limit. Fourteen years is a long tunnel, even though there is daylight at the end of it. Any extension of the term proposed by the Bill would really be an endowment of the brewers. May I refer to the attack which has been made on the Bill with reference to clubs? It has been said that the whole value of the Bill in reducing facilities for drinking will be counteracted by its weakness in dealing with clubs. I believe that the Government has seized the central and essential point in dealing with clubs. They might have gone further, but in handing over the question of the annual registration of clubs to the discretion of the licensing authority I believe the real step will be taken to check the multiplication of bogus clubs. We have seen before the value of this discretion in stopping the multiplication of grocers' licences. This provision will enable the justices to distinguish between the legitimate club and the bogus club which is started with the intention of wrecking the reduction movement or of paralysing the plan of No-licence. I wish, then, to thank the Government most cordially for the Bill. I know that there are points in it which may be regarded as shortcomings. It is not the whole loaf, but it is all good bread. It seems to me that in regard to election day closing they might have made that obligatory instead of permissive. I do not wish, however, on the First Reading to go into criticisms of detailed points. We shall hope that the Bill will be strengthened. I want to thank the Government for what is not in the Bill as well as for what is in it. On some points they might have followed devious and perilous ways. We have not got the position which faced us when Mr. Bruce's Bill was introduced. That Bill, along with many good points, proposed some most objectionable and dangerous changes, which have quite passed out of public memory. Hence at that time a most difficult and embarrassing decision faced the party of temperance reform. If the Bill does not on some points go far enough I am sure it is one which offers real and substantial advantages. I wish specially to thank the Government for having given to us the power of local option in regard to licences. 174 I understand that we get under the Bill that power at once over new licences, and though we shall have to wait long for it, in the end we get the power of local option over all licences. That is the fighting issue of temperance reform all over the world. I hope the temperance forces will concentrate for the purpose of supporting and strengthening this Bill. We know quite well that it will be made the subject of party attack. Hon. Members on the other side would have attacked it just as much if the Bill had been weaker. The Bill is worth fighting for, and I hope the Government will stand to their guns against all opposition. I hope the House will allow me to say one word of thanks to the Prime Minister for his action in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has crowned a life of steadfast fidelity to temperance reform by his act of signal courage in producing this Bill. Temperance reformers will not forget to whose decision it is due that at last a door is opened for the deliverance of the country from a great social evil.
§ MR. YOUNGER (Ayr Burghs)
I have, I think, a certain title to intervene at this stage in the discussion. I am the only member of Lord Peel's Commission sitting on this side of the House. If I had not intended to speak to-night I should certainly have done so on account of the scant courtesy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has paid to that Commission. I may not be regarded as perfectly free from a certain amount of prejudice on this question. I belong to the trade. I am a brewer, and although my interests are—[An HON. MEMBER: You should be in the House of Lords] —I shall look forward to the day when my hon. friend will interrupt me there— I think I should perfectly frankly say that while my interests, and the interests of my firm, are predominantly Scottish we have certain English interests which will be affected by this Bill. At the same time, I am sorry not to be in the position of the hon. Member for Lincoln of being able to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for this measure. It is a very much more drastic Bill than I thought it would be. I hardly believe that the right hon. Gentleman expects it to pass in its present form, and I am perfectly certain that if it does it will create a financial 175 cataclysm on the Stock Exchange which will react on other interests than those of the brewing trade. The fact of the matter is this: I do not suppose there is a single brewing concern of any consequence in England, having a large debenture issue, which would not find itself, within a very short period of the passing of the Bill, in the hands of the Official Receiver by means of the change in the quality of the debenture holder's security. That may seem to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite a very small matter. It appears to me to be an extremely serious one, and I am bound to say that I was astonished at the light-hearted and casual fashion in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with the question to-day. As to the possibility which the right hon. Gentleman foreshadowed of the brewing companies being perfectly able, in the short time he was inclined to give, to insure the enormous interest they have in licensed properties, I do not intend to go deeply into the question. It has been spoken to with great ability already, and it will be discussed by my right hon. friend later on. I enter now as moderate but as strong a protest as I can against what I believe to be the extremely unfair proposals of the Bill. My hon. and learned friend the Member for the Walton Division produced certain figures which I think were not acceptable—certainly they were not accepted—to the other side. These figures I am authorised to say were provided by Mr. Peat, whose name I have only to mention to make the House realise that they were serious and sound figures. If hon. Gentlemen do not care to accept these figures, they have the recent letters of Mr. Edward North Buxton, once a Member of this House, and a member of the Licensing Commission. He stated in letters to The Times what the position of his firm would be if an illusory period were granted during which compensation was to be given and a levy continued. I think he stated in these letters that the balance of his profits amounted only to £64,000 a year, after paying fixed debenture charges, and that is under management by the existing partners of the concern. The House will see that with a fourteen years time limit and a concurrent levy it certainly is not possible that the whole of that money could provide what is required. The right hon. Gentleman is treading on rather 176 dangerous ground in believing that this levy will continue to be paid. Does he suppose that these firms will remain solvent? Does he think that the profits now being made will continue to be made? Of course they will not. The whole thing will be gone. There will be a condition of affairs created which will disturb the credit of all those persons. The interest of those who so well manage these concerns will be taken away and in that case such profits will cease to be made. I would like to ask if there is the slightest sign of this Bill being a temperance measure. How will the consumer fare under it? All I can say is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will risk the loss of his revenue while the consumer who wants a good glass of beer will get no "forrarder" on the beer which will be supplied under it if it be watered as the hon. Member for the Spen Valley suggests. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there could be no temperance reform more likely to do good than the encouragement under a new licensing system of the improvement of the condition of the houses. I am one of those who think that the policy of most of the licensing magistrates has been very foolish in the restrictions which they have placed in the way of the licensed holders being encouraged to make their houses more like a French café than a mere drinking bar or saloon. Surely, if after fourteen years the whole of the interest of the licence-holder in his house is to disappear, that will neither induce him to carry on his business in the careful way I have indicated, or to incur further expenditure in the improvement of his premises. Again, how does the right hon. Gentleman expect to get all the money he wants? And what is the chance of the consumer having his beer or whiskey at a reasonable price? Prices under the right hon. Gentleman's proposal must go up, and that is not likely to make him a popular Minister or his Government a popular Government. After all, people have got used to paying 1½. a glass for their beer. They will not like it if they have to pay 2d., and they will bless the right hon. Gentleman still less if there is some water added to it. In the speeches which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman and others who followed him, 177 there was an extraordinary omission. I suppose that of the 95,000 licences which still exist in England, something like one-third represent the ante-1869 beer houses. When the Act of 1904 was passed, those houses had a statutory right to a renewal of their licences. They could not be taken away except on certain grounds. But the owners and holders of these licences agreed to come under the provisions and scope of the 1904 Act, because they were to be protected by its compensation clauses against the withdrawal of their licences. Why does the right hon. Gentleman place those licences now in the same position as other licences? I say that this action of the Government is in the nature of a gross breach of Parliamentary faith, and hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to bear that in mind. The hon. Member for Lincoln thought he had made an excellent point by saying that in estimating the compensation payable to those ante-1869 beer house the Court only added one year's extra purchase money over and above the number of years purchase money allowed for on-licences. But instead of making a good point from his own standpoint, does the hon. Gentleman not see that he was making an extremely bad one? If a licence having a statutory right to renewal is only supposed to be worth not more than one year's purchase money more than an on-licence the Court showed that it thought that, the expectation of renewal in the one case was nearly as good as the certainty of renewal in the other. At any rate that is how, I think, the Court understood the matter and' most people will agree. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition alluded in the course of his speech to the sale of a licensed house to which the Government was a party. The War Office sold a licensed house in Portsmouth in the month of July last for £10,000, and the valuer who valued that house for the War Office valued the house without the licence at £2,500. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman thinks after this Bill is read to-morrow, and if it passes into an Act, that that house will be worth £10,000; and if he does not, does he think it quite fair for the Government to sell the house at that rate within a few months of 178 the introduction of this Bill and in the knowledge of their intentions? I have heard of directors being severely taken to task for selling shares in a company when they knew that there was to be a poor dividend; but is this not a much worse case? The right hon. Gentleman is not content with hitting the unfortunate trader by granting him such a short limit, he has also seriously penalized him in order to increase the rate of reduction of licences. He changes the system of valuation in such a way as to enable him with the same levy to reduce a very much larger number of houses, so that in every way the unfortunate trader is put in the position of being wholly unable to meet the extra insurance money. There cannot be any question about that fact. The question of annual rental is a very different thing from the question of annual profits; and the loss under that head alone in the case of many companies will be so great that even if they were able to set aside from profits money to provide for insurance, that would preclude them from paying any dividend. I have only another word to say, and that is that, so far as I can judge, there seemed a desire on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to "play up" to the publican. Brewers are horrible persons in the estimation of some people, as was shown by the ironical cheers with which any reference to them was received. Just as Lord Rosebery the other day said that a noble Lord had the "airy grace of a butterfly," and then immediately after added: "a butterfly with a pin through it," so it struck me and many Members around me that, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer was playing up to the publican, he was putting three pins through him! I do not think that the publican will thank the right hon. Gentleman for this Bill any more than will the brewer. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would welcome criticism of the Bill, and would not resist any fair Amendment to it. I hope that as the result of debates in this House and of opinion in the country the Bill will be largely modified, and made more acceptable to the trade, which I consider for my part is a necessary and a perfectly respectable one. I trust that in its defence I have not used any extreme expressions, 179 and I honestly say that if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that his Bill as at present drafted is fair and reasonable, there will not amongst the whole of the licensed trade of this country be found a single soul who will agree with him.
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
I think I may be allowed to express on my own behalf and that of my colleagues and of the great majority of the people of Wales our great satisfaction with the Bill introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and our gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the provision he has made in it for the special needs of Wales. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted that the position of Wales in regard to licensing and Sunday closing is different from that of England, and it is very gratifying to us that he has recognised that fact in his Bill. For many years past the people of Wales have pressed for two outstanding reforms. One is that Monmouthshire should be included in the Welsh Sunday Closing Act, and the other is that immediate recognition should be given to the principle of popular control in the granting of licences. Both these reforms find a place in the Bill. I would like to say in regard to the extension of the Sunday closing area that that reform will be the means of conferring a benefit on the counties of Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire, and of meeting one of the worst evils in the border districts. With reference to the other point, the recognition of the principle of popular control, I desire again to express our great appreciation of the Government's action, and of the proposal which is included in the Bill in that respect. I feel sure that this provision will be very welcome in the Principality. It will afford the people of Wales an opportunity of testing the principle of local control during the running of the time limit, and I feel sure with regard to the funds at the disposal of the licensing authority for this further reduction, there will be sufficient money to bring about at all events a substantial reduction beyond that authorised by the machinery of the Bill. I have only further to say that I look upon this as a great Bill, and as a great effective, comprehensive, and 180 equitable scheme for dealing with some of the most urgent evils that now exist in our licensing system There is one fact which I think will enable the Government to pass it into law, and that is that there is now in the country a settled feeling that something must be done to reduce the gigantic evil of intemperance in the country. This is a courageous and honest attempt on the part of the Government to grapple with that evil. We may hope that this will enable us to lift the question out of Party politics and make it a national question. I thank the Government for the special provisions of the Bill relating to Wales, and I have no doubt that if this great measure passes into law it will strengthen not only the physique but the mental and moral courage of the nation.
§ SIR E. CARSON (Dublin University)
As I listened to-day—as I did very attentively, as one who took part in the last legislation upon this subject in 1904, when I had the honour to hold the position of Solicitor-General—to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as he unravelled, with the lucidity of which he is such a master, the details of his Bill, and more and more showed his determination almost to strip away the last garment of the trade, I could not avoid asking myself whether, having regard to the serious nature of his proposals, we were to consider this really as a genuine Bill, or whether it was a move in the game of tactics in their campaign against the House of Lords. A great deal is said about that terrible class of people called brewers, who next, I think, to the Irish landlords-are about the worst class of people with which the Legislature has to deal. But after all, what are the brewers? There are thousands, almost millions of innocent investors who upon the faith of legislation by Parliament have invested their money, not in a speculative, but in a perfectly proper and well recognised security-Therefore when you talk of brewers do not imagine you are dealing with two or three individuals; you are dealing with millions of people, and in many cases with the savings of a lifetime. When those who have invested their money in these securities come to realise what 181 is included in this Bill, and the million and a half employees also come to realise it, the one class will know that they have been stripped of their property, and the other that they are going to be stripped of their employment. That is a course which I do not think even the Chancellor of the Exchequer can have entered upon with a light heart, and I certainly think he might have given us some very much better reasons, if he had them, for engaging in a campaign of this kind. The sole basis of his speech and of all his proposals was the old controversy as to what was the exact legal interest which the owner of a licensed house had in his licence. That is a very old phrase. We have argued it many times here across the floor of the House, but I venture to say that it is not a question of the construction of an Act of Parliament. It is a question of hard and actual facts as to the real nature of that expectancy, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer called it, and how it has been treated not merely in regard to the matter of licensing, but as an ordinary commodity in the market. It is idle to tell me that because by the construction of an Act of Parliament a discretion is given to justices in regard to licensing, in the same way as in regard to other matters which have been looked upon as a continuing and vested interest and have been so dealt with—it is idle to tell me that that can be got rid of by a decision of a Court, no matter how high that Court may be. But I would remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in that case to which he referred of Sharpe v. Wakefield—I really apologise for going into these matters, but they have been put at the root of the case by the right hon. Gentleman himself—I would remind him that in giving judgment in that case the Lord Chancellor, while admitting that the justices had a discretion, said—The legislature has given credit to the magistrates for exercising a judicial discretion that they will fairly decide the questions submitted to them, and not by an evasive attempt to repeal the law which permits public-houses to exist, or to evade it, avoiding a clear exposition of the reasons upon which they act.That means that where an Act of Parliament has laid down certain definite considerations upon which these renewals, may take place, unless the 182 magistrates see clear and real reasons why they should go outside these conditions they ought to proceed to renew these licences as they have done for more than a century. If anyone wants anything further I wish hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have to consider this very serious subject would take the trouble which I have done more than once to read a little of its history, which they will find stated in no biassed way in a little book produced by Mr. Sidney Webb, who at all events cannot be said to be a partisan of the political party to which I belong. He draws attention to the fact that as far back as 1816 a Committee appointed by the then House of Commons, and appointed because there was a revulsion of feeling against the drastic and stringent measures taken by the magistrates in reference to the subject of this discussion, reported to this House—Your Committee think it by no means clear that the legislature ever contemplated that magistrates would assume power to consider old licences as new ones, or that they should be able to deprive at their own will, persons of their property to which long enjoyment has given them a right, and upon which the living of themselves and their families depends.
§ SIR E. CARSON
Yes, Parliament took this action on that. They allowed a free trade in beer licences. That is the whole origin of the ante-beer licences in 1869.
§ SIR E. CARSON
But the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not take any notice of the vested interest in the ante-1869 beer licences. All this talk of the vested interest has nothing to do with the case. It is merely a peg for the right hon. Gentleman to hang his hat upon, because whether there is a vested interest in a beer licence or whether there is not, he intends to sweep them all into one net. Why, then, bring in all this talk about the question of vested interests at all? It has no real foundation, although it is the only argument put forward by the 183 right hon. Gentleman in favour of bringing in this Bill. But it has nothing whatever to do with the arguments with which he tries to support this Bill. He draws no distinction between the case in which there is a vested interest and that in which there is not. I therefore dispute entirely the basis upon which the right hon. Gentleman frames his argument. The next point which the right hon. Gentleman took was our Act of 1904. He said it had been too slow. At all events, it had the merit of being the only Bill brought forward by either Party for thirty years which had had the effect of decreasing the number of public houses. Whatever effect it might have upon temperance, it reduced the number of new licences from 215 per annum to about fifty-five or thereabouts, and it decreased the number of licensed houses in the three years at the rate of about 1,200 a year. It has done that while for the last two years the Government has been trying to impair the usefulness of that measure. Why do I say that? I say that because we gave powers in 1904 to borrow money on the security of the compensation fund, with a view to an immediate greater reduction; with a view that redundant houses might be immediately suppressed. But when an application was made to the Home Office during the tenure of the present Government to borrow money in order to close up a larger number of houses, the applicants were told that they could not be allowed to borrow for more than one year. So that with a view to making a case in this matter the Government have actually impeded the operation of an Act of Parliament. It is no use for the right hon. Gentleman to shake his head, because it is the fact. Let him get up after me and deny it. I say to have an Act impeded in its operation in that way for party purposes is a disgrace to an Administration which is put into power for the purpose of administering the law as it exists. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is going to impose this time limit. I think he has given very little reason for doing so. He said we had to consider this question of time-limit. We considered the question of the time limit when we were passing the Act of 1904. I said then, and I say now, and I believe the House thought 184 then, and I believe it is a fact now as it was then, that a time limit is absolutely inconsistent with the idea of an insurance such as is set up under this Bill. Just examine it for a moment. I can understand its being said to a man who had merely the expectancy which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says he has, "We give you notice that at the end of fourteen years we will close your house, but we will take care that you are not turned out." You can say to the tenant: "You have made improvements, you are liable to be turned out, but we will give you fourteen years in order that you may compensate yourself for the improvements you have made." But if you tell this man during all those years he must compensate himself, and then suddenly suppress his house, the whole thing is a farce. Look at the absurdity to which you are driven the moment you apply a time limit to such a case. The first thing that results is that the longer a man resides the less he gets. Let us see how it works out. If a man's house is taken in the first year, he has paid a years insurance and gets the value of his house based on a fourteen years purchase; if he has paid fourteen years insurance and his house is taken he gets the value of his house on one year's purchase. Was there ever anything more ridiculous than an insurance on that basis! But at the end of the time if he has not the good luck to have had his property taken from him before, he loses not merely his house but his insurance as well. That is a very satisfactory way of insuring property is it not? But that is not the end of the effect of this time limit coupled with the compulsory powers conferred on the magistrates, in fact, as I understand it—it is not very easy to follow a complicated Bill of this kind—the magistrates are to be bound, whether they think it expedient for the neighbourhood and for the benefit of the people or not, to reduce a certain number of houses per year. Very well, the Government have not much trust in the magistrates anyway. How many houses are to be reduced per year? Two thousand three hundred. Let us have no delusion over this. Where is the money to come from? The right hon. Gentleman says: "We are going to take the same 185 scale of compensation as under your Act." Do not let anybody in the trade be deceived by that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows perfectly well the money will not go nearly far enough.
§ SIR EDWARD CARSON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is too sanguine. He must be thinking of the personnel of the Commission he is going to appoint. Probably, the Chairman will be the hon. Member for the Spen Valley and one of the other two gentlemen will probably be the Chairman of the United Kingdom Alliance. No doubt he can get a most excellent tribunal for the purpose of carrying out what he says will be the fact that there shall be sufficient money under the circumstances. If up to the present time, when, of course, the worst class of houses have been dealt with, you have only been able to reduce about 1,200 a year out of the sum available, how can it be that you will be able to deal with more expensive public-houses, taking away 2,300 a year with the money which will be available? The right hon. Gentleman knows it perfectly well, or he would not have put in the Bill the power to increase the compensation money. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to regulate that? Is it the Commission, with the hon. Member for the Spen Valley, as Chairman? It would be far better to do it openly in the House of Commons and regulate the price to be paid from year to year. There is another matter. As I understand the Bill, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman, when a district has been cleared, when you have got your £750 for the acre, or your 3 acres to the cow, or whatever it may be— when you have got your land cleared of excessive public-houses, then the remaining public-houses there are to go on contributing. The man in Sussex is to contribute towards the reduction of public-houses in York after the houses in Sussex have been sufficiently reduced. Well, I hope the man in Sussex will remember that when he comes to consider the just and equitable and judicial provisions of this Bill which the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought in, in such a judicial frame of mind this afternoon. Under the Bill, at the end of the time 186 limit, the licensed trader loses his premises and his insurance. "Oh, but," says the right hon. Gentleman, "you. can have a second insurance. You can insure against what will happen at the end of fourteen years." The right hon. Gentleman has not told us what is going to happen at the end of fourteen years. Although he calls it an insurance, what he really means is that you must make a sinking fund. Will the right hon. Gentleman lay upon the Table of the House his calculations, taking specimens of various houses in. various districts, and tell us what it will cost to provide this sinking fund? I venture to think he will not. These calculations have been referred to by the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool. I have seen those figures. I do not, of course, vouch for the accuracy of them, but if they are anything like right you must, in order to put by a sinking fund to purchase or make good at the end what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking away, begin next year and starve your debenture holders, not to talk of preference and ordinary shareholders who are gone entirely the moment this Bill is passed. And what is more: Will any of these people who own shares in the trade be able in the meantime to raise a shilling of the capital required for the extension or keeping up other various businesses? Who would lend a brass farthing on such a security? The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if the interest falls into arrears, the debenture holders in their own protection will have to enter and take possession of the premises; if there is even a prospect of it falling into arrear, they will have the right to do so. The whole trade, by this Bill, must be thrown into a state of financial anarchy. Anybody who looks at the Bill fairly and considers the proposals must come to the conclusion that every shilling that is invested in it—and there are millions—is in jeopardy of being lost. Why is it that this time limit is put in at all? The right hon. Gentleman says: "It is because I have my political honour to think of." What does it matter to all these debenture holders, to the millions of people who have put the savings of their lifetime in this security under the sanction of the law, 187 and to the 1,500,000 employees in these various businesses? He has his political honour to think of, and the pledges he gave when in Opposition! He stated of Lord Hugh Cecil—and nobody has a greater respect for the noble Lord than I have—said that the Bill of 1904 did not prevent Parliament setting up a time limit. He was quite right: nothing in an Act cam prevent Parliament doing anything afterwards; and, just as the Bill of 1904 did not prevent Parliament setting up a time limit, or having it proposed, at all events, so the Bill of 1908, if it ever passes, cannot prevent Parliaments in years to come from striking out the time limit. The right hon. Gentleman talks of political honour in relation to what he said when in Opposition. What does he think of the political honour of those who passed the Bill of 1904, and of the course that they ought to take if the arrangement made and the moderate compromise effected ate set aside? What would he think of the political honour of those who were engaged in the process of forming that Bill and in pressing it upon the House if they were to abandon those who were led to invest their money upon the compromise come to at that time? The right hon. Gentleman says we gave notice, and that that is the reason why he has a right to confiscate all this property of these various people. Fortunately we are legislating for fourteen years hence. I know the right hon. Gentleman probably thinks that, small minority as we are, we never have a chance of coming again into power. But at all events he will, I hope, give us credit for having as much honour as he has. There is at all events, time before those who are concerned in the effects of this time limit, and I have no doubt they will take advantage of the opportunity between this and fourteen years hence to try to have the matter regulated. Does the right hon. Gentleman not see that any attempt of this kind so far from being a settlement is absolutely an unsettlement of the whole matter of Does he not see that people, in reference to this matter, will be fighting for their very existence, and once you have raised the question in this form, in which it is to affect millions of innocent people, it will be many long years before you 188 can expect them to leave this question outside their political contests. Above all things, the right hon. Gentleman has said he is not in this Bill going to determine what is to happen at the end of fourteen years. At least he gave a general indication that it would be left to local option or something of that kind, and he said how that local option was to be exercised, but it would have to be done in a future Bill. At all events, there is a fair field for fourteen years for the publican and the trade to keep agitating and to keep this as a dominant factor in politics before those who are seriously concerned in this matter, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if I was not concerned with the rights of property and with the rights of those who have just as good reason to ask for protection as any individual in this House, there is nothing I should hail with greater joy if I were a mere politician than the fact that you have produced a Bill which will arouse a feeling amongst those affected which I think you little contemplate. And after all, have you any great confidence in your own Bill, that having inflicted these hardships it is going to raise any great accretion of strength to those who are so much engaged in this temperance movement? You, by your own admission, have shown that, at the best, as you suppress these licensed houses from time to time, you will only turn the channel into these clubs which the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us have been growing so rapidly in recent years. Yes, and the right hon. Gentleman makes no serious effort to deal with them. He knows as well as I do what a network of these clubs there is. Has he considered the question of the affiliated clubs—the thousands of clubs affiliated to the central club, and how as you pass from one town into another you are able, by merely writing down your name and stating that you are a member in another town, to enjoy all the privileges of the club and the convenience of getting such liquor as you may require? I read somewhere, and I believe it is true, though I do not vouch for it, that these affiliated clubs have actually made arrangements with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the sale of intoxicating liquors in any of the- 189 affiliated clubs to a member of any one club is not to be a breach of the rules and regulations of the club so as to prevent it from continuing to be registered as a club. The truth of the matter is that there is very little of temperance in the Bill at all. The provision that opposition can be made to the renewal of the registration of the club is founded on an absolutely farcical proceeding. What is it? That a policeman without uniform is to be at liberty to walk round the club occasionally, and I suppose is to go and give the evidence on which the registration is to be opposed. How is he to do it? Is he to look at the countenance of each man he sees reclining in a chair or on a sofa or perhaps smell his breath, and the usual matters we see in the police court from time to time? This man is to go round the clubs, and come up at the end of the year and tell you: "You ought not to renew the licence of this club, because I have been two or three times a year and I can assure you it is nothing more or less than a drinking shop." It is not in the least necessary that they should be disreputable drinking shops at all. They may be perfectly properly conducted clubs, just as the public houses that you put an end to may have been perfectly properly conducted public houses. What is your remedy then? Where does your temperance come in? If a properly conducted public house is turned into a properly conducted club, what is the difference as regards temperance? The only difference is that in the public-house there is some supervision, and that the club is free from licensing duties and various other charges which are paid to the Exchequer. I believe, looking at the history of this subject, if your Bill were to pass to-morrow, it would cause a reaction as regards this question, which would lead in a very short time either to the Bill's repeal or its modification. What do you find in the whole history of this question? You find in the 190 eighteenth century magistrates taking great powers upon themselves, trying local option, trying the putting down of public-houses, trying to prevent in every way the sale of beer and other intoxicating liquors, and then in 1816 a great reaction of feeling coming over the country at these magistrates interfering with the liberty of a people who thought they had no right to interfere. And then you find the legislation going entirely in the other direction in consequence of that reaction, and that instead of these restrictions there was established an absolutely free trade in beer which led to the ante-1869 beerhouses being called into existence. You find by degrees as time went on, according as the wave went one way or the other, one year a number of licences taken away, and then an outcry, and then for a few years little or nothing done in the way of suppression of licences. And so you will find, if you pass an extreme, extravagant, drastic, and confiscatory measure such as this, a revulsion of feeling upon the part of this country which will drive back this question which has been going on steadily for years past, with consequences that temperance advocates little understand. This is not the time to go into the more minute details of the Bill, but I have no hesitation in expressing my opinion for what it is worth, that a more mischievous and a more confiscatory Bill has seldom been presented to Parliament
§ THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir SAMUEL EVANS,) Glamorganshire, Mid.
It has always been the case that whenever any interests of a private character are attacked for the benefit of the community at large it is the experience of the House of Commons that lugubrious and dark pictures are drawn, but those pictures are always falsified in the working of the measure. Up to the speech which has just been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the criticism which has been directed towards the Bill 191 of the Government, introduced in such a masterly speech by my right hon. friend, has been such that the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have no reason to complain of it at all. The speech of the right hon. and learned Member opposite was made solely on behalf of the trade; and when in a few short sentences he approached the question of temperance, the good of the people, and the welfare of the community, his criticism consisted of a mere statement that the Bill was a mischievous and confiscatory measure. The Government have brought this Bill forward in the interests of temperance, and it would be the worst possible tactics in introducing a measure with that object to bring in a Bill which would deserve such criticism as that which has been directed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the last few phrases of his speech. I deny that this is an extreme, extravagant, or confiscatory measure. The Government are dealing with the interests of the community as well as with those of the trade, and the object they have in view is to make a fair and equitable adjustment between the rights of the trade and the rights of the community. Prophecies have been made as to the result to the Government (in case an appeal were made to the country) of having introduced a measure of this kind. I do not think that considerations of that sort ought to affect the Government in dealing with their legislation. We have to consider what is right and best for the country' at large, and if the consequences are that we shall be overwhelmed in disaster, and that the Party to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman belongs will come in and repeal this Bill which we are going to pass into an Act, so much the worse for the Liberal Party, but if such should be the result, we should meet disaster in a good cause. The first principle of the Bill is that there is to be a gradual reduction of licences, the effect of which will be to promote the cause of temper- 192 ance. The difference between the Act of 1904 and the present measure is that by this Bill there will be uniformity in reduction over the whole country: that the reduction will be gradual, and that it will be compulsory. With these exceptions we have followed the plan of the Act of 1904. We believe that it is absolutely essential for the good of the country that there should be not only a reduction but a reduction on a large scale.
§ SIR SAMUEL EVANS
That is another and a different matter: but we have followed the Act of 1904 in adopting the plan of reduction as a means towards promoting temperance. The second principle of the Bill is that the State should after the reduction period resume the control of the licences which it has granted. If notice is required to the trade, they have had notice for many years that the time might come when the State would assume the full control of the right to grant licences, and should intercept the monopoly value of such licences. The time limit has been commented upon by the right hon. Gentleman, and he said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought it necessary in order to keep his word and to live up to his standard of political honour to deal with this question upon this basis. Quite true; and similarly the right hon. Gentleman and his Party find it necessary to preserve their political honour by threatening to recede from this principle. We have not been driven as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said to bring in this Bill: we have introduced it because we believe in it; but would it have been right, would anybody have thought anything of us if after professing opinions in opposition and giving pledges at the election, when we came to legislate we did not carry out our principles? We are not alone 193 in this matter. Fortunately, in regard to the time limit we have the assistance, among others, of the bishops of the Church of England. The Leader of the Opposition does not like the opinions of bishops on this question.
§ SIR SAMUEL EVANS
I make a present of the support of the hon. Member for South Hackney to the Party opposite. The Leader of the Opposition said it was no use quoting bishops on this matter, because it was a matter of plain, common, financial equity, and, in his view, so far from the principles of this Bill being properly described as equitable, they were confiscatory and predatory, and that we are guilty of robbery in proposing such a Bill to the House. Such language proves nothing, and does not helpto a right decision. With regard to clubs, the Leader of the Opposition said that we were doing hardly anything to stop the evils which arose out of them. We are not proposing to do anything in regard to bona fide clubs. We are proposing to deal with clubs which are mainly used for drinking purposes. We want to stop the practice of opening as a club premises next door to, or in the same street as, a public-house which has been closed. That is not a case of working men starting a club. It is not a question of interfering with the liberty of working men, but of dealing with the licences of brewers. It is well within the experience of everybody who knows about this matter that the evils with which we are dealing arise from the action of brewers in starting a club when public-house premises have been closed up. We intend to do something to check these evils. I can promise the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the Party to which he belongs that if they will give us a helping hand in strengthening the provisions of the Bill for dealing with the admitted 194 evils of drinking clubs, we shall receive with the heartiest welcome any assistance they give us. We ask the help, sympathy, and support of the right hon. Gentleman towards that end, and we will give the right hon. Gentleman our gratitude for doing what he can to assist us in this object. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the pre-1869 beerhouses. I should like to remind him and the House that the change in the law in regard to these houses was carried out by the Party to which he belongs, and he cannot accuse us of being confiscatory in regard to them, seeing that in 1904 they were put by him and his party on the same footing as other licences.
§ MR. YOUNGER
They were dealt with under a guarantee of full compensation if the licences were withdrawn.
§ SIR SAMUEL EVANS
I attended the debates in 1904 pretty regularly; I heard and know nothing of a deal inside the trade, but I am perfectly certain that there was no deal in the House of Commons on that matter. There is one other principle of the Bill which has hardly had any opposition at all directed to it in the course of this evening, and if that be a presage of what is going to happen during future discussions on the Bill, we shall be very glad that we have introduced into this Bill the principle of local veto with regard to new licences. I have listened to every speech in the discussion to-night, and there has been no speech in disapproval of the introduction for the first time for many years past of the principle of local veto with regard to new licences. At the end of the period of fourteen years all the public-houses will be regarded as new licensed houses. The right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of the trade being stripped of all its garments. We have left it decently clothed for a period of fourteen years: and after that there will be scores of thousands of licensed premises still existing; the most respectable kind will be left in the field, all 195 the others which have been extinguished having been compensated for according to the proper annual value of the premises and the time still to run. At the expiration of the fourteen years what will happen is that those people who have conducted licensed premises properly, and in a way to commend their conduct to the magistrates, will still have their licences granted to them; but the monopoly value will no longer be given to those people. We have heard to-night about a profit of £8,000 being recently made by the grant of a licence. I have seen coming into Brewster Sessions a man who had spent £1,200 or £1,400 upon a house obtaining a licence which made it at once worth £8,000 or £9,000. I think when we are considering the proper adjustment between the various interests, the trade on the one hand and the community on the other, we have a right to look back and ask what has become of the millions of money which really ought to belong to the State, and which has been pocketed by individuals and companies. It is an abuse of language, when the State is only asking for the monopoly value of the licences at the end of fourteen years, to call that robbery. We are told that we shall be punished for having given effect to our political convictions in proposing this measure to the House. It has been said that fourteen years is not a long time in the history of a nation. It is not a very long time in the history of a human being. Many of us have been Members of this House for fourteen years, and I hope there are many who will be Members fourteen years hence, and who may see the end of the reduction period and the beginning of a better system of dealing with licences. I feel perfectly confident that after this measure, improved in details possibly in Committee, has become an Act, and after it has been carefully worked by the wisdom and co-operation of all persons who will have the working of it, and when we have seen the effect at the end of fourteen years, we who take part in the passing of the measure will be glad of what we have done, and Mem- 196 bers on the other side who oppose it will regret the opposition which they may now be prepared to offer.
§ MR. BARNARD (Kidderminster)
The Solicitor-General has stated that at the end of the time limit those licence holders who have by their conduct commended themselves to the magistrates will have fair consideration. I would like the House to compare that statement with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his speech earlier in the day. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the time limit was reached complete dominion and unfettered freedom would come back to the State. I want to understand exactly what the Chancellor of the Exchequer means by that, because I have here a quotation from a speech which the right hon. Gentleman delivered on 29th July, 1904, on the Licensing Bill of that year. He said—As I have said, any logical system of compensation will make it a diminishing, contribution, so that in the later years it will be almost nothing. But, apart from that, I say the publican will have got a quid fro quo.In the first place, if the Act is to succeed in what is said to be its main purpose—namely the reduction of redundant licences—it is quite clear that at the end of the period, if reasonably long—say fourteen years—there will be such a reduction in these licences that redundancy will be a rare thing, and, of course, as redundancy ceases the risk to the publican of losing his licence is small, and it is a risk that could be insured to-morrow in any insurance company in the country. Moreover, the reduction in the amount and stress of competition must surely enhance the value of licences, not only at the end of the period but during the whole period that the process of reduction is going on. I find that, even without any change in the law, between 1900 and 1903 the number of on-licences in London decreased by 7 per cent, although both the population and the consumption of alcohol largely increased in those years; and it is obvious that there must be a greatly enhanced value in the licensed premises which remain.I put it to the House, if that is the case, it seems to carry out the idea expressed by the Home Secretary in a speech delivered at Leeds, and also in a speech by the late Attorney-General, which showed—they were talking prior to the election of 1906—that when this period 197 of the time limit—or whatever you may call it—ceased, there would be something coming to those who had been paying into the compensation fund. When we are told that within fourteen years there are to be something like 30,000 licences taken away, I ask whether it is not a reasonable thing to demand that some complete explanation should be given to us as to the effect upon those licences which are left. Then, I want to know the meaning of "complete dominion" and "unfettered freedom." I understand that the unfettered freedom means that we are to give back to the justices the right which they had before the Act of 1904, to give a licence at their discretion. But I do not understand that that in any way deals with two other points in the Act of 1904, and which the right hon. Gentleman never touched upon in his speech. The Act of 1904 dealt deliberately with the ante-1869 beer-houses. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not even name them, and did not deal with them in any way whatever. There were 30,000 of these beer-houses, the owners of which possessed a vested interest in the licences, subject to four conditions which I need not repeat. The Act of 1904 brought forward by a Conservative Government took away from them that right. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Divide."] I will not argue whether that was correct or not, but I say that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer brings forward to-night a measure which seeks to alter the Act of 1904 in a way which favours his own views, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have referred to those features of that Act of 1904 which do not meet his views. I would have liked to have heard him speak of those parts which took away absolutely the vested rights in the ante-1869 beer-house licences, and in the grocers' licences. [Renewed cries of "Divide."] It is all very fine for hon. Members to cry "Divide," but it is rather hard on me. I do not speak often, and when I want to put one or 198 two points to the House, and when I happen to be in the very singular position that the National Trade Defence Association openly opposed me, whilst I never answered, any of the questions or gave any pledge to a0ny Temperance organisation—I think I may be allowed to proceed. What I was trying to bring out was that it seems to me to be extremely hard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should single out this particular trade for what I regard as exceptional treatment. I will put it in this way: We have all sorts of taxation and different varieties of taxation. There were eight different war taxes put on during the South African War. Four of them have been got rid of, and the four which remain press distinctly on the licensing trade. I could further illustrate my meaning by showing that this particular trade has, in my opinion, been very badly treated in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. It is sufficient for my purpose to have emphasised what I have tried to put forward. [Cries of "Divide."] I do not want to weary the House of Commons at this hour of the morning, and I know that it is very unpleasant for some of my friends who seem to imagine that on temperance legislation everybody should agree with them, and that we have got to swallow the whole lot offered us. That is not my view at all. I only wanted to make it clear that there are a great many points in this Bill which I most respectfully deprecate and shall oppose. In regard to the clubs, I, personally, wish that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had gone much further, as I am of opinion that it is altogether unfair that he should allow them to go on competing as they do with the public-houses. Whether the policeman goes in plain clothes or uniform, I do not care, but I would rather that the right hon. Gentleman sent a tax gatherer to levy upon the clubs in the same way as he does upon the public houses. I will go even a 199 step further than that. If it is right that the right hon. Gentleman should by these drastic provisions in regard to public-houses seek to reduce them by some 30,000, I think that he ought at the same time to remember that those who hold grocers' licences will in the main be the gainers by this legislation, and that he ought to levy upon them in the same way. It appears to me that the fourteen years limit will in no way enable the ordinary holders of licences to meet their liabilities or to accommodate themselves to the situation. I have, moreover, a variety of authorities which show that we had no right to imagine or to expect, when we agreed to Lord Peel's Report, that at the end of the time limit rights were to be taken away from the people who were their possessors. This is, to my mind, a very serious matter, and I feel bound to get up and record my opinion that the measure brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman contains very many enormous dangers, and I am very glad that he concluded his speech by saying that it was open to amendment.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
I promise only to take two minutes before we go to a division, but I want to put before the House a matter which goes to the root of the Bill. My point is this, that I am one of those who believe that the true cause of temperance and sobriety would best be served if all the public-houses in the kingdom were made airy in summer, well ventilated, well lighted, well warmed in winter, provided with tables and chairs, newspapers, games and music; in short, if they were made respectable. I believe the effect would be that, as environment has a great deal to do with a person's conduct, you would have respectable behaviour, less drunkenness and less excess, if all the licensed houses were so altered and so made comfortable and respectable. Unfortunately the Legislature and the bench 200 of magistrates following it, have conspired together to make the licensed house to-day so small and dirty as to render it impossible decently to conduct business in it. The result is that the public slink in at side doors, and you have drunkenness and no respectable behaviour. Therefore, I believe, that in the interests of sobriety and temperance, it is necessary to get these alterations in the houses that supply necessaries to the people—for they are necessaries to a certain number of people. I say that if that money is compulsorily spent upon licensed houses it will be in the interests of sobriety and temperance. But it may be said, "Where is the money to come from?" and under a time limit of fourteen years nobody will find a sixpence to carry out any such reforms. The Act of 1904 missed the same point and was in the same stupid form as this, which is a blow at temperance, the liberties of the people, and the interests of the public. It is the worst blow that I have seen struck since I have been a Member of this House.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequar, Mr. Secretary Gladstone, Mr. Lloyd-George, Mr. McKenna, Mr. Solicitor-General, and Mr. Herbert Samuel.