HC Deb 13 August 1913 vol 56 cc2556-69

Order read for consideration of Lords Amendments.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)

I beg to move, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."

The House is well aware that the effect of these Amendments, taken as a whole, represents an agreement which, on behalf of the Government, I ask the House to accept.


I desire to make a few remarks with regard to the compromise which has been arrived at on this Bill. The representatives of Scotland in this House number some sixty Liberal Members and about eight Tories. Here is a compromise in which Scotland alone is affected and my complaint is that the Scottish Liberal Members were never consulted with regard to it. No doubt we considered fully all the Amendments to the Bill which we expected was to take advantage of the Parliament Act as it went from this House, but, by some extraordinary arrangement that goes on, outside interests and the Opposition side were consulted, and we Liberal Members were not asked what we thought about this. That must be wrong. We are sent here by the Scottish constituencies to represent Scotland, and in a compromise of this kind we certainly ought to be considered. On some measures there is no difficulty in calling the Members together, and we ought to have been asked whether we consented to this compromise before it was agreed to by the Government. It is all very well for the Scottish Office to do as they like without regard to the Scottish Liberal Members, and it may be said they can shove these things through with the help of the Labour party and the Irish Members, whether we like it or not. That is what we feel at the present moment, while we Scottish Members support Home Rule and other measures, and we want to secure that the views of the Scottish people should be thought of when a matter of this kind is settled. The Small Landholders Act was spoiled in the same way by consulting the other side and nothing was done for Sutherlandshire. I felt it to be my duty to say these closing words. This cannot be allowed to go on in this way, and I hope the Government will turn over a new leaf next Session and take care that with regard to Scottish local matters the wishes and feelings of the majority of the Scottish representatives, who are always practically Liberal, will be considered before they settle these com-promises with outside interests. Let me quote from a journal which is a strong supporter of the Liberal party and the Liberal Government, so far as they act in a liberal spirit in carrying on a Liberal policy. This is what they say with regard to the compromise:— We cannot profess to feel any kind of pride in or satisfaction with the compromise which has been arrived at on the Scottish Temperance Bill. What we actually feel is something akin to humiliation that a Liberal Government should have been compelled to accept any other terms than those contained in the Bill—terms which were naturally presumed to be the irreducible minimum. But the 'Trade' and their allies in the Lords have been able to will it otherwise. The time limit has been increased from five to eight years. a very considerable concession, and, what is of equal importance, a change has been made in the dimensions of the poll necessary to put the options into effect. As the Bill stood the majority necessary to carry either of those items or a no-licence or a limiting resolution must include not less than 30 per cent. of the electors in the area. This figure is increased to 35 per cent. On the other hand, it is true that the Opposition has made a concession. As proposed, a no-licence resolution in order to be carried required a percentage of 60 in favour to 40 against. The Lords here intimated their willingness to accept a percentage of 55 to 45, which means a drop of 5 per cent. in the majority required. In practical working we do not think, however, any advantage will be got. The disturbing fact is the increase from 30 to 35 per cent. in the number of those on the roll who are really required to vote in favour of either prohibition or reduction in order to carry a resolution. Everybody with experience in municipal politics knows how difficult it is to bring the electors to the poll, and it is quite evident that under the conditions imposed the friends of temperance will have a stiff task to obtain the required percentage. It is really wonderful how the trade manages to get the dice loaded in its favour no matter what is on hand. Lord Rosebery a good many years ago said that if the country did not control the liquor interest the liquor interest would control the country. He spoke for the nonce with the voice of a prophet. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland has read what appears in that paper, but I do trust when he walks out again to give away our rights to any interests, the House of Lords or otherwise, that he will bear in mind that that article which I have quoted from an influential and most respectable paper in Scotland in the Liberal interest no doubt speaks the wishes and feelings of the people, and I should like to see the Secretary for Scotland better able to appreciate Scottish feeling on this question of temperance and other matters in connection with local government. I am sorry to have to make these remarks, but it is certainly time for some Scottish Member or Scottish Members to speak out in the best interests of the people of Scotland.


I regret that I cannot entirely agree with some of the observations which have fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton). I think, if I may say so, on this occasion that the Secretary for Scotland, so far from being scolded, deserves to be congratulated upon the compromise which he has effected. He has succeeded where his Predecessors have failed in ensuring that a Scottish Temperance Bill, after many years of delay, shall be placed on the Statute Book. That has only been done after negotiations requiring much tact and firmness and patience in their conduct. So far as the matter which has been raised by my hon. Friend is concerned, I think there are just two questions between us. One is, whether a good bargain has been made. Personally, I have not the smallest doubt upon that matter, and, if my hon. Friend has any doubt about it, I would recommend him to read some of the rather lugubrious speeches which were made in another place by those who felt they were bound to assent to the compromise, but who, I think, very plainly showed that they thought that the Secretary for Scotland had driven a rather hard bargain. So far as the compromise is concerned, on the merits I think it is a very satisfactory one. So far as consulting the Scottish Members is concerned I am bound to say I do not labour under any sense of injustice in that matter. If you are engaged in litigation and you have got to settle it. you must really trust your counsel, and when the litigation is in the course of being settled you cannot have your counsel always running backwards and forwards in order to be armed with fresh authority for every detail in the course of the settlement. So far as this settlement is concerned I am sure I speak for the large majority of Scottish Members when I say that they are entirely satisfied not only with the terms of the compromise but with the manner in which it has been conducted. The master fact of the settlement is, of course, that it is an agreed settlement, and inasmuch as it is, I take it that involves that this Bill is fairly secure in its future history, whereas if another course had been taken and the Bill had been passed under the Parliament. Act I doubt very much if I should have been able to say so under those circumstances. While I had no desire to intervene in this Debate, I did feel bound to make these observations, and to add that the criticism which my hon. Friend has read from a Scottish newspaper is really founded on a misapprehension of the parliamentary situation.


I approach the consideration of the Amendments which are now before the House from a somewhat different point of view from either of my hon. Friends. I wish, however, to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Wick Burghs (Mr. Munro) in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland on the settlement which he has reached in regard to this matter, and I feel all the greater pleasure in doing so because I found myself at variance with him on the last occasion when the Lords Amendments were considered in this House. On that occasion I made a plea for negotiation, for accommodation, and for compromise. That plea at that time may have been premature. In any event, I am glad that now at a later period negotiations have taken place, and that those negotiations have been completely successful. While we congratulate the Secretary for Scotland, I think that Liberal Members on this side should not fail to recognise the services which have been rendered by the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger). My hon. Friend the Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton) regards any such acknowledgment as a matter to be treated with contempt. I, however, think that it is of the utmost importance that on a Bill of this kind a settlement should have been arrived at by consent. Had this Bill been passed under the terms of the Parliament Act it would have gone to Scotland simply as a party measure and as a measure passed simply by the House of Commons. Now that a settlement has been reached this Bill goes to Scotland as the agreed Bill of both parties, and in the case of a measure which vitally and intimately affects the social life of the people, and the successful working of which depends on the goodwill of people of all parties in Scotland, I think we cannot overestimate the importance of this happy settlement which has now been arrived at. I do not desire to enter at all into the merits of the Amendments. I think that the Secretary for Scotland has made an admirable bargain. Both sides have, of course, given way, and that is essential to any satisfactory compromise.

I desire to say that the procedure upon this Bill seems to me to afford an example of how the Parliament Act may be worked in regard to normal measures. Of course, in regard to contentious measures, measures of first-rate importance like the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill, it is natural that the House of Lords should exercise their powers of delay to their fullest extent; but in regard to other measures not of such importance, where the House of Lords only seeks to revise and not to obstruct, I think we have, in regard to the Scottish Temperance Bill, and our experience in connection with it, a justification of one of the methods which the Parliament Act will bring into operation, namely, the method of bargaining between the two Houses and between the two parties. Nobody at present speaks well of the Parliament Act. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have always denounced it, and many Members on this side of the House have very little to say to its credit. On the other hand, I am one of those who believe that the conditions of the Parliament Act are probably the most favourable conditions which will ever be obtained for the passing of Liberal legislation in this country, and it is because I believe, in respect to the Scottish Temperance Bill, and not in respect of Home Rule or Welsh Church Disestablishment, we see what will be the normal working of the Parliament Act that I welcome this compromise, and I welcome it not only from the point of view of Scottish temperance but also because it proves the successful working of the Parliament Act.


I wish to say a single word as an English temperance reformer, and I desire to express the thanks of temperance reformers in England to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of Scotland for his services in connection with this Bill. I think many of those who agree with me throughout the United Kingdom will feel that they owe a very warm debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has accomplished, and will recognise that he has shown great firmness and very sound practical judgment in making his bargain so as to get this measure under the conditions in which he has got it. Of course, I regret that the Act is delayed a little while in coming into operation, but I hold that those who look at this question from my standpoint, have gained on the other points of the compromise quite as much as they have lost, and I fully agree it is a matter of great satisfaction that the Front Opposition Benches in both Houses have at last accepted the principle of this Bill, although I do not think that they understand the principle they have accepted. It is, at all events, satisfactory, although there is some delay, that this Bill, after long controversy, will now pass as an agreed measure on to the Statute Book. I agree that it is thanks to the Parliament Act that we have got the measure without essential damage. That has been admitted by the Noble Lord in the Upper House, who practically said he was forced into this agreement, because the Parliament Act hung in terrorem over his head. This is one of the first fruits—it is literally the first fruit—of our recovered Constitution. Personally, I should like to express my thanks to the Government for what they have done in this matter, and to state that our aim now is that this measure which has been passed for Scotland, and the principle which has been agreed to by all parties in this House, should be extended to other parts of the United Kingdom.


The hon. Member who last spoke seems to think that the principle of this Bill was only accepted when the Lords agreed to the compromise which has been arrived at, but I think he should remember that on many other occasions we accepted the principle, and, therefore, I cannot understand what he means by saying that it has only now been accepted. That, I think, is a total misrepresentation of the facts.


I do not wish to misrepresent the position, and if it is true that the principle has been accepted all these years, it only increases my satisfaction.


Certainly, the words which the hon. Member used gave me the impression that, in his view, there had been a new departure in this respect, whereas the slightest acquaintance with our procedure would have shown him that that is not so. I will not, however, deal further with that point. With regard to the observations which fell from the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) and the hon. Member who has just spoken (Mr. C. Roberts), I feel that they entirely misunderstand the position when they say that this in any sense represents the first fruit of the Parliament Act. The hon. Members have only to read what was said by the Lord Chancellor in the other House about the impossibility of passing this Bill under the Parliament Act to recognise that that was not the standpoint from which the Bill was approached. It is quite out of the question to take this as an indication of how the Parliament Act could be strained so as to pass a measure of this kind, and I venture to think that is not the position which responsible Ministers take in regard to the powers of the Parliament Act. I quite agree with what fell from the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Munro), namely, that so far as a measure passes under the Parliament Act, it is quite recognised on both sides of the House that it involves no finality; that it is merely a temporary measure which requires to be reviewed whenever the opposing party gets into power. But that is a question we need not discuss here. I confess that my views, so far as this Bill is concerned, have not changed. I do not think it will do the good which its promoters anticipate, but they will have the opportunity, if they live long enough, to see how it works when it comes into operation. It is impossible to say what the social position may be in 1920, or what the position of the trade may be in that year, but so far as the Bill is concerned, I, personality, still think it is not calculated to achieve any of the great results which those who believe in it think likely to result from it. I do not in any way dissent from the congratulations that have been expressed on both sides on the fact that a compromise has been arrived at, but I think that to refrain from jubilation on one side or the other will probably tend more to give the Act a chance when it comes into operation in 1920, than indulgence in recrimination or blame. The Bill as it now stands will be amended as a result of the compromise, and we are content, so far as this side of the House is concerned, that the measure, if, and when, it comes into operation, shall have fair play.


I am afraid I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that there is no good in this Bill, because he and. his Friends are responsible for some of the changes which were put in in order to achieve some good. I think the right hon. Gentleman will probably agree that the Clause concerning clubs put in in the House of Lords, and one or two other minor Amendments, have improved the Bill from that point of view, and that ought to be borne in mind. I do not think some of my hon. Friends on this side have adopted a fair way of looking at the Bill. Surely, the most vital point that has been settled in this attempt to deal with the difficulty of intemperance, is the establishment of a time limit that is reasonably long enough to enable the trade to put its house in order without affecting those who are concerned in it in a disastrously financial way. If it requires eight years' time limit in Scotland to cover that risk, I do not know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. C. Roberts) will look forward with much pleasure to the period that will be required in England. But that is by the way. What I wanted particularly to say was that, although I have opposed this Bill right through its course in Parliament on one particular question, I am glad it has been settled on the basis of this compromise. Everything that is in it now I am glad to see in it. I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, whether he and the Ministers who sit in this House, take the same view with regard to the option which was most in dispute during the discussion of this Bill, namely, the option of disinterested management, as was taken in the House of Lords by the Lord Chan- cellor and by Earl Beauchamp, who represented the Government in this matter. I read their speeches very closely in dealing with this particular matter, and I think they made it quite clear that so far as they were concerned, the only obstacle to- the adoption of disinterested management as an option, was that it was not convenient to put it into this particular Bill, but if a Bill was introduced into Parliament dealing not only with Scotland, but with the whole of the United Kingdom, both the Lord Chancellor and Earl Beauchamp, and all those associated with the Government in the House of Lords, will be glad to see that Bill become law. I want to ask the Secretary for Scotland if that is the view of the Government in the House of Commons?


That is not relevant to this discussion. There is nothing about it in the Lords Amendment.


I only wish to convey an intimation that if it were not so I might feel it my duty to oppose the Amendment. But if we were assured that that was the view taken, we might allow the Amendment to go through easily. I will not pursue the point, however, as it is not relevant. I will conclude by repeating that the main gain which has been achieved by this Bill has been the establishment of a principle which will make temperance reform easy, not only in Scotland, but in England. When it was tackled in future years, namely, the fact that temperance sentiment has now recognised that it is not fair to make these changes in the trade without giving the trade reasonable notice to put their financial affairs in order.


I congratulate the Government on the Bill, and I also congratulate them on the able way in which the Secretary for Scotland has conducted the proceeding throughout. We who have long worked for this Bill, see the fruits of it in this measure, and to me it is delightful to hear both sides taking up the position they have adopted this afternoon.

Question put, and agreed to.

  1. CLAUSE 1.—(Date of Act Coming into Operation.) 47 words
  2. cc2565-6
  3. CLAUSE 2.—(Poll of Electors on Resolution Submitted.) 392 words
  4. c2566
  5. CLAUSE 6.—(Structural Alterations.) 64 words
  6. cc2566-8
  7. CLAUSE 8.—(Amendment of Law Relating to Clubs.) 766 words
  8. cc2568-9
  9. CLAUSE 15.—(Definitions.) 523 words