HC Deb 31 December 1912 vol 46 cc328-30

I desire to raise a different question, of which I have given the Home Secretary notice, namely, with regard to the administration of the licensing laws in London. I understand that his Department is not directly responsible, but that the responsibility rests with the licensing authority of the county council. His Department is very largely consulted, at any rate, privately in the matter. I desire to know what is the attitude of the police towards the growing tendency on the part of the licensing authority in London to grant on New Year's Eve and other feast days a considerable extension, sometimes for an hour, of the ordinary closing time to fashionable places of entertainment, such as the Savoy, the Hotel Cecil, and other hotels, when such permission is refused to the humbler places of entertainment. That is the tendency which has grown up during the last few years, with the result that at the present time any large hotel can obtain an extension without the slightest difficulty of any kind, while the poor man desiring to remain for a few minutes in the "Fox and Grapes" at Limchouse, or some such place, is prevented from so doing. I ask the Home Secretary whether the police have been consulted in any way upon this question by the licensing authority and what is the attitude of the Home Office towards it? It seems to me that if you are going to grant an extension on New Year's Eve and other feast days to one class of place where liquor is sold, it is only right that the same privilege should be granted to everyone. I can see no justice in allowing persons to consume champagne after hours when you refuse permission to the working man to consume his beer after working hours in the ordinary public-house. I desire to ask the Home Secretary if his attention has been called to this growing tendency and what is the attitude of the Home Office towards it.


I would like the House to insist upon an answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the two questions addressed to him by the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil). It is a question we have very few opportunities of discussing, and a question of serious importance to the House, and we ought to get an answer from the Front Bench, especially when the attention of the House has been called to it. I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take this opportunity and not evade it, of giving a direct answer as to whether the Government are going to deal with what has been properly described on both sides as a public scandal, namely, the thwarting of the freedom of discussion in this House. More and more the tendency is for the House to come under the thumb of the Cabinet, and private Members' rights are week by week and month by month being almost whittled down to disappearing point, not only in respect of private Members' rights, but of public Debate. We shall soon get to the state of affairs when there will be no more Committee stage of a Bill. We shall be told to accept a Bill simply by order of the Cabinet, signed "Cabinet Imperator." I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as Leader of the House, to answer this question.


I would ask the Home Secretary whether, in answering the Noble Lord's question, he will also inform the House as to why it is that Covent Garden Theatre again and again gets an extension of its licence for fancy dress balls?


I will endeavour to make such reply as I can to the question put by the Noble Lord, the excellence of whose sentiments we all admit. There is not a word spoken by him with which he will not find complete agreement on this side of the House. We are all grateful to him for having called public attention to this very important matter. I think perhaps that I alone in this House might be justified in having some slight complaint against the Noble Lord for the reason that though he gave me notice of the question he was going to ask, he gave it to me only at twenty-five minutes to eleven, almost before he rose to put his question to me. I have to confess that I am not aware of the limits of my responsibility in this matter. My impression is that I am not primarily responsible at all. I will, however, in deference to the question which the Noble Lord has put, endeavour to discover what the accurate limits of my responsibility are, and if I have the power I will endeavour to put into force those admirable principles which he has enunciated.


I am sure the House will accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, though it is regrettable that he did not take the opportunity of asking the Solicitor-General before he hurriedly left the House as to what his exact legal position is, because, although the Solicitor-General at times does not like to give an opinion on what may be a doubtful subject, I cannot help thinking in a matter like this he would have been able to tell the right hon. Gentleman straight away what his real position is. He left the House in a very marked way. Whether he went to don a kilt to join one of the said parties or whether he went to join the Prime Minister, we do not know. At any rate, subject to that, I am sure the House will accept the promise of the Heme Secretary.

Adjourned at Five minutes before Eleven of the clock.