HC Deb 07 April 1914 vol 60 cc1895-7

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Ellis Griffith)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

I am sure that the House will remember the Bill of 1912 dealing with this subject. That Bill obtained a Second Reading on the 9th July without a Division. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Bridgeman), who was a member of the Committee which investigated the question in 1908, took part in the discussion on the Bill of 1912, and was able to support it, and I think that practically unanimous support was given to the Bill on that occasion. At any rate, whether the support was unanimous or not, there was no vote against the Second Reading. This is a question which, I think is recognised by everybody, must be dealt with. We have had three Committees inquiring into it, in 1872, in 1903, and in 1908. This Bill is only carrying into effect the recommendations of these three Committees. I will not trouble the House now with what each Committee recommended, but I can assure the House that this Bill does not in any way go beyond the recommendations of these Committees. There were two Acts upon this matter, the Act of 1879 and that of 1898. Perhaps the House would like me to say a word as to why the present law has failed. First of all, the definition of a habitual drunkard is entirely unsatisfactory. A great many of the magistrates have come to the conclusion from the definition that in order to be an habitual drunkard within the meaning of the Act a person has to be more or less feeble-minded and more or less akin to a person out of his mind. In the Bill before the House that definition has been extended in the way in which anyone who reads the Bill will see.

The second difficulty was that in order to come within the Act a man must be four times convicted. There are a great many cases which should be treated, although the person has not been four times convicted, and in addition there may be people who have been four times convicted, but there are no central records to establish that fact. A further point is that magistrates hesitate about throwing upon anyone the responsibility of providing accommodation. Then it is also necessary, in order that he may be dealt with summarily, that he should give his consent to be so dealt with, and that would not often be got; and there was also the absence of that after-care which we think essential in these cases, because after spending very often a considerable time in one of these reformatories or homes, unless there is after-care for that man, all the work is undone directly he goes out of the institution. The Bill also proposes to deal with what may be called the non-criminal inebriate. At present the non-criminal inebriate can only be admitted to an institution upon his own application. That application is not as frequently made as one would desire. The real purpose of the Bill is to suggest two mild alternatives. It is to enable a man who does not really want to go to a retreat to come and give an undertaking to abstain from intoxicating liquor. Although on the last occasion some humour was provoked by the suggestion, as it was a new thing, we know perfectly well that when men are let out on probation, very often for a period of six or twelve months, it is a condition of the probation that they shall abstain from intoxicating liquor, and the experience of the hon. Member for Cambridge University is that that is a very useful power, and in a great many circumstances it works extremely well. The second alternative is that the man should submit to a voluntary guardian.

It is only when those two methods have been refused or have failed, that the man is sent compulsorily to a retreat. It is proposed that the definition shall be extended so that abstention from intoxicating liquor shall include abstention from drugs, which the House will admit is very important, and also with regard to the criminal inebriate, instead of having a sentence of three years—for it is a very curious thing that in the practice of magistrates three years, which is the maximum sentence, is very often regarded as the minimum sentence—it is proposed in this Bill that if the inebriate has not been in a reformatory before, he may be sentenced to six months, and, if he has been in a reformatory before, the sentence will be not less than one year, and not more than three years. These are the main provisions of the Bill, and I have now to say a few words about the finance. At present the arrangement is, in criminal cases, where the man has been convicted on indictment, the Treasury pays the whole of the expenses, whether he is sent to a State or to a certified reformatory. When he is sent to a certified reformatory under Section II. the Treasury pays 8s. 9d. per week, and in special cases where a great deal of money has been spent on the institution, 10s. 6d. per week. It is proposed that when the inebriate has been committed to a State reformatory, the Treasury shall be responsible for the whole of the cost, and when he is committed to a certified reformatory the Treasury shall pay half the cost and the local authorities the remainder. It is an exceedingly difficult thing to adjust these matters, but we submit to the House that to divide the expenses equally in the case of persons sent to a certified reformatory is an equitable way of dealing with the matter. Having explained briefly the provisions of the Bill, I beg to Move the Second Reading of this Bill.


Will the hon. Member say what is the difference between this Bill and the Bill of last year?


Practically it is identically the same Bill.


I should have been greatly surprised if the hon. Gentleman had not given some explanation of this Bill on its reintroduction, and I am only sorry that he has not taken the opportunity of replying to the many criticisms which were made when the Bill was previously before the House two years ago, and when, in fact, although the hon. Gentleman then made a preliminary statement, there was no reply made by any Member of the Government subsequently, in spite of these numerous criticisms and of the fact that the Debate ranged over two Parliamentary days.

It being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.