HC Deb 28 February 1917 vol 90 cc2057-65

I beg to move, "That the Members of this House request the Kitchen Committee to observe in the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors the same restrictions as are imposed upon the general public."

In moving this Motion I think the House is entitled to know how it comes to be on the Order Paper to-day. On the 10th April, 1915, I addressed a question to the late Prime Minister, asking him if the Government were prepared to suspend the sale of intoxicating liquors in the refreshment rooms and bars of the House of Commons, and thus bring the Palace of Westminster into accord with the other Royal Palaces of His Majesty the King. The then Prime Minister replied that it was a matter for the House of Commons to decide. Afterwards facilities were granted me for a discussion on the question, and on the 20th April I moved a Resolution in these terms: This House is of opinion that during the War no alcoholic liquors should be sold in the refreshment rooms, or at the bars attached to the House of Commons, and request the Kitchen Committee to arrange accordingly. During the course of that Debate the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a statement to the effect that if my Resolution had been one to impose the same restrictions on Members of this House as are imposed on persons outside, it would have had his support. That statement sealed the doom of my Resolution, and it was afterwards respectfully interred on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House. I must say, in passing, I deeply regret that the House missed a great opportunity, and there I leave it.

Later on I addressed questions to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee (Colonel Lockwood), who made various replies, some of them in his usual facetious manner, which seemed to please the House, and by and by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was good enough to give me a reasoned answer, which was again that it was a question to be settled by the House of Commons. I then put down a question to the Leader of the House of Commons, asking if he were still of the same opinion as on the 10th April, 1915, regarding putting the same restrictions upon this House as were applied to outside establishments. I understood him to answer in the affirmative. I wish to thank him publicly to-day, because it is by his arrangement that I am able to move the-Resolution which now stands in my name.

4.0 P.M.

It is always a difficult matter to move a Resolution of this kind. It produces a kind of idea that we have Chadbands here again, or Pecksniffs. I realise that thoroughly, but still I am standing by my Resolution, although the position is this. If a man talks about abstinence, he is asked if he abstains himself, and if he replies that he does not, then they cry unto him, "Physician, heal thyself," Again, if they ask him if he drinks and he answers he does not, then he is told he is prejudiced, and consequently whatever position one occupies he is always apt to be ruled out in this way. Then the practical man comes along and says, "If the Resolution is passed, who will stay in this House after 9.30?" Or another hon. Member informs us that if he is restricted here, he would drink at his own house and under his own vine and fig tree. This is no longer a temperance question. It is a question of great national importance. The Food Controller has come into existence, and those who listened to the Prime Minister's great appeal on Friday last must realise that this War is about to be a struggle between the civilian populations, just as severe as that between the military and naval forces. In other words, it is now going to be a struggle for grains of corn. Viewed from that standpoint, the influence of this House ought to be on the side of preventing any further waste in what I am sure will be admitted to be luxuries. I am asking this House to pass this Resolution because the man outside has his own opinions on this point. When you say to the dock labourer, the munition worker, and others, "You must restrict your hours of drinking in the interests of efficiency," they turn round and say, "Everybody is to be restricted but the Members of the House of Commons!" They are not slack in saying that the position is absolutely rotten in that you should impose upon them a condition you refrain from adopting yourselves. Therefore, I ask the House, without any further remarks from me, to pass this Resolution. I do not want to say anything that is controversial. I would like the Resolution to be passed without a Division, so that we may, as a House, send to the nation a message that we are not going to ask the public to suffer any restrictions which we are unwilling to bear ourselves.


I beg to second the Motion.

Time, indeed, brings strange revolutions. If I had been told in 1908–9, when I was associated with alcohol to the extent that I fought the Licensing Bill night and day for weeks and months, and also the Licensing Clauses of the Budget, not on the ground that I was a drinker or that I had any association with the trade, but on the ground of injustice, as I thought a great injustice was being perpetrated, and to the best of my humble ability I tried to put it right—if I had been told then that within seven or eight years I should get up and second a Resolution of this kind I should never have believed it to he within the bounds of probability. I will not say that in a moment, or in the twinkling of an eye, I have changed. In the course of these two and a half terrible years all sorts of things that we used to believe in have gone by the board, and we have to face the terrific, cruel necessities of this appalling War. The other day, when two leading temperance reformers got up and made a Motion involving a sacrifice on the part of brewers, I was sitting on this side of the House and I had not the opportunity of speaking. Perhaps I should have shocked old Friends if I had spoken. I said, "If it comes to a contest between beer and food, beer has got to go." I did not say that as a temperance fanatic; I said it as an ordinary citizen of this country. We have to make tremendous sacrifices, even vicarious sacrifices. There are a few trades in this country that have done well, but trade after trade has gone down and others are going down. You may say, "What has that got to do with the matter before the House?" It has a good deal to do with it. Are we not prepared to practise what a good many of us preach? What have we preached up and down the country except abstinence and self-sacrifice—I mean abstinence in the broad sense—the conscience of the people, the soul of the people, and all the time what has been going on in this House? Business as usual, drink as usual! How can we reconcile those two things? We cannot reconcile them with our consciences.

It is impossible that outside this House certain restrictions on drinking are put upon the public in general, and that we, the elect, the leaders, in a way, of the people, we who ought to hold up a great exemplar, are to go on drinking as usual. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and laughter.] All I can say is that it is not worthy of us. Every hon. Member whom I am addressing now knows that perfectly well—joking apart—the House of Commons can always lend itself, and wisely lend itself, to a joke, considering the terrific hours of monotony through which it has to pass; therefore I am not complaining in the least of anybody laughing. Strangely enough, it is not a matter for laughter. It is such a small thing in itself, yet there lies within it the kernel of a great principle. All over the country it is "Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice!" and we go on with the bars of the House of Commons open as usual. It has become impossible, and you know it. How many of us were not horrified—I know I was—at the announcement in last Sunday's "Observer"—if it was true—that in certain sections of society dances were going on as usual, almost under pre-war conditions? I threw down my paper, and held up my hands and wrung them. I am afraid I said, "Good God, is it possible?" The time has come to rank ourselves in line with everybody else. Let us do in the House of Commons what the people are doing outside. What is the good of all these appeals made by the Food Controller if we are still to hold ourselves in a compartment apart—not a water-tight compartment—I need hardly complete the sentence by saying, in a drink-tight compartment. This is too serious a matter. We must not go to a Division. I say that as an old white-headed man who has become white since he entered this horrible place. I remember the late Prime Minister, when the Licensing Bill was under discussion, which I fought night and day for weeks, looking at mc chiefly among others and saying, I see thy hair getting white before my very eyes. I have become white in this House. It is as a white-haired old man that I appeal to this House to set yourselves right, to set yourselves right with the country, to set yourselves right with the House of Commons and with yourselves. Do not go to a Division—that would be shameful—but pass the Resolution sub silentio.


We ought to look at this matter from a common-sense point of view and not from any sentimental point of view. The Mover of the Motion is a well-known temperance reformer and has a right to his opinions. Two years ago he attempted to prevent anyone obtaining intoxicating liquor in this House. He failed then and now he wishes to prevent anyone obtaining intoxicating liquor after a certain hour in this House. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. G. Faber) says that we should conform to the Regulations outside. May I point out that in our own houses at any time during the day and night we have an opportunity of obtaining intoxicating liquor. This is not a public place, this is the Palace of Westminster, which has been for centuries differentiated from ordinary places.


It is the only Palace with drink in it.


Why not? I see no objection to taking a glass of beer or a glass of wine if I think it right. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to, he need not. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman, if he thinks it wrong to have a glass of wine, to take one, but that is no reason why I should not have a glass of wine if I desire it. As a matter of fact, it does not affect me in the least, because I rarely dine here. I should like to put this view before the House. We have no dinner hour at the present moment. Last year on one occasion—I forget which it was—I got no dinner till ten o'clock. I went into the Dining Room at 10 o'clock and got what was left. I had the honour of meeting the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, the present Lord Chancellor, and one or two other Members who had been unable to obtain any dinner until that time, owing to their having been occupied in the House, and we all dined together. I am not quite sure about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I think he had a drink called ginger ale, and all the rest of us had something of an intoxicating nature. If this Order had been in force, and if we had sat here doing our duty until ten o'clock, unable to get any dinner—I do not remember that my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. G. Faber) ever sat through Debates in that way—


I have sat here for months and months. I was here during the whole of the Licensing Bill and the whole of the Budget.


That is six years ago. I am talking about last year. If these Regulations had been in force we should have been unable to obtain anything except water with our dinner.


A very good thing, too.


Would that have killed you?


That may be the opinion of my hon. Friend. I do not think he acted upon it himself.


Very nearly.


Be that as it may, it seems absurd to say that if we come down here to do our duty, and if we are unable to dine until ten o'clock, we should not be able to get anything to drink with our dinner. The whole thing has been engineered with a view to promoting temperance.


I entirely deny that.


It is the last way to promote temperance. It runs contrary to the old customs and habits of this House, without any object whatever, so far as I can see. What difference would it make? Because instead of having a glass of wine here, I could go home to dinner, and have a glass of wine in my own house. This House is not in the position of a club or of a public-house. Clubs were put in the same position as public-houses because it was held that if you legislated for the working men's clubs you must also legislate for the rich men's clubs. That may be all right, but this is a different thing altogether. To come forward with this sort of idea is perfectly absurd. I put this position—it does not affect me because my Constituents live near at hand, but there are Members whose constituents live many miles away—if they come up to see their Member, and spend five or six hours in the train, and perhaps do not arrive until eight or nine o'clock, they cannot get anything at a restaurant, and they ask their Member if he can get them a whisky and soda and a sandwich, and they are told "No." The whole thing is absolutely absurd. For two and a half years during the War we have gone on as we are now, and to alter it at the last moment is ridiculous. We are not going to save any food by this. It has nothing whatever to do with food.


It is an example.


What are we to gain by it except a little advertisement for ourselves or a step towards temperance? I shall certainly oppose the Resolution.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)

I hope the very few words I shall address to the House will not tend to produce a discussion on the subject, for I think we all understand pretty well what are the issues, and can decide them without much delay. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is entirely a question of common sense, but I do not think common sense was very conspicuous in his speech. It is not at all a question of teetotal fanaticism. As perhaps the House remembers, I opposed a previous Resolution, but I did it on grounds quite different from those which apply to this proposal. To my mind it is simply this: We have imposed certain restrictions on other people. That is what it comes to, because they could not be carried out without the consent of the House of Commons. That being so, the very least we can do is to say that we are willing to impose upon ourselves precisely the same restrictions. That is the whole issue, and that is common sense. I know it is no use appealing to my right hon. Friend not to go to a Division if he can get anyone to tell with him. I have always admired the consistency of my right hon. Friend. I have had the Debate to which reference has been made brought to me, and I have found that in it I said this: If this were a Motion to impose upon us in this House precisely the same restrictions which are imposed, upon other people, I would be heartily in support of it. Then my right hon. Friend got up later and paid me a compliment which I greatly appreciate. He said: I do not know that there is very much to be said after the admirable speech of the Leader of the Opposition. But he went further: I venture to say, if he will allow me, that I agree with every word he said. I should like him now to show his agreement.


I should like to-say a few words on the subject. They will not be in the least polemical, nor will they, I am perfectly certain, increase the length of the Debate. For fourteen years I have been Chairman of the Committee which is concerned in this Resolution, and during that time I never remember a case in which we have thought it necessary to-appeal for guidance to the House in any of our decisions. But I am bound to say I am glad we have been able to get an opinion from the House, as we shortly shall, before the new Committee is appointed. Perhaps I might be allowed to fall back on my classical friend. I thought I would quote him in the vulgar tongue, so that I might not be accused of trying to show off my classical knowledge. Lucretius writes—I am quoting from a crib— For 'twere of no avail should some depart and go away and some be added new and some be changed in order, if still all kept their nature of old heat. I think that is very apposite, and refers to-the conduct of the new Committee which I hope will shortly be appointed. We are only the executive of the House, and we do our best, with the assistance of our first-rate manager, and our old friend Platt, to please everyone, and I am sure we succeed in pleasing nobody. But we are not born hotel managers, and we can only do our best to assist our fellow Members in the work that is given us. The Leader of the House said the whole question is before us, and there are two sides to it. One side says, "If you make the law you ought to carry it out," and the other side says, "The House of Commons is totally different from any other place, because men come and go at different times, at all hours of the day and night; and also it is neither a club nor a restaurant, nor anything like it." These are really the two points at issue. I take it for granted that when the House comes to a decision they will leave to the disposition of the new Committee the power to make certain regulations for the Press, because the Press are on a totally different footing from the House generally. Their work keeps them here for some time after the House has gone, and even the Controller, Lord D'Abernon, has made separate arrangements for the Press in the licensing laws which he has issued. However, that is a question which it will be for the new Committee to settle. May I give you another excerpt from the same delightful poet—still in English— Free food and drink are taken within our members, and since they can stop up certain parts, thus easily desire of water is glutted and of bread.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Members of this House request the Kitchen Committee to observe in the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors the same restrictions as are imposed upon the general public.—[Mr. Wing.]