§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I suppose that there is no subject of discussion in this House which is more difficult to deal with or which leads to greater controversy than the licensing question. It is with considerable trepidation that I venture to make proposals for dealing with the licensing law. It is admitted on all hands that the present condition of things is not satisfactory and cannot endure. The Liquor Control Board was instituted for certain purposes during the War. It was intended for military and naval areas where forces were in training, and areas where munitions were made and other preparations for the purposes of the War were carried on. The operations of the Board were extended very much more widely than was contemplated when it was set up by Parliament, and the area subject to them now comprises the greater part of Great Britain. There is, however, still a considerable part of England and Wales which is not included under the Control Board, where the common law still runs. But the Liquor Control Board comes to an end on the termination of the War. By a legal fiction a state of war still endures until the last Treaty of Peace is made, and by common consent it is agreed that there should be some alteration in the law arising out of the experience which has been gained during the period of the War.
The Bill which I am introducing takes cognisance of that general consensus of opinion in certain directions at any rate. The general purpose of the Bill is to meet the reasonable requirements and convenience of the public. The licensed trade always regarded itself as, what in fact it is, the servant of the public, to meet the requirements which the public desire to have satisfied. Therefore it appears to me—and I think to most other people—that the licensed trade is not the first consideration in these matters. On the other hand, it has a title, like any other body of citizens in this country, to 2240 be treated with justice and consideration when these various questions are raised. Therefore in some of its provisions the Bill proposes to get rid of some of the difficulties which affect the licensed trade. This Bill has been called the "trade Bill." That is not the fact. I had the honour of introducing a trade Bill last Session. It was introduced and did not obtain a place for discussion or further progress. When the fortune of the ballot gave me the opportunity of introducing a Bill, I came to the conclusion that the trade Bill required considerable amendment and curtailment, and therefore I proceeded to deal with the Bill so as to cut down and remove some of the things to which objection had been raised. This is not a trade Bill. It does not meet entirely or fully the views of the trade on some questions. In other matters it does not take cognisance of the views of the trade at all. It is perfectly true that the licensed trade has been persuaded, and after consideration has decided, to support this Bill, as being at any rate an instalment in some directions of a measure for which they themselves are anxious.
The earlier Clauses deal with a proposal to establish a new Appeal Court. It is well known that an appeal now exists to Quarter Sessions on those questions which come before licensing justices. But that appeal in practice has not proved altogether satisfactory and it may be improved substantially in several important directions. The Quarter Sessions are a composite body, and in many cases I agree Quarter Sessions perform their duties admirably and in a manner which is not open to any serious criticism. On the other hand there are other Quarter Sessions, especially with the small benches of justices, where the appeal in practice is ineffective and does not really exist. The body of justices has been so small that the appeal in practice is one from Peter to Paul, and there is no real careful revision or consideration of the cases brought before the court. It will be agreed by this House that there is great variety in the composition of the courts of licensing justices In some cases the majority consists of persons who do not regard their functions as legal or administrative in accordance with the law, but import into their proceedings and decisions their own personal bias which they are not willing to abandon when they sit on these benches. Here 2241 a distinct grievance exists, and it may be that in other cases benches of licensing justices hold views which may be criticised as being too lenient and not open to those arguments for improved administration which ought to be taken into consideration. In all these cases clearly there should be a right of appeal and an effective right of appeal.
The proposal of the Bill is to set up three new licensing justices and to divide England and Wales into three areas apportioned approximately to the population dealt with in those areas. The areas are more or less tentatively proposed. It may be found that in some respects they might be altered with advantage. At any rate, the proposal of the Bill as to the areas is a serious proposal. In each of these areas the county justices will appoint four members to form part of the panel for the licensing appeals and the borough councils will appoint two of their members for a like purpose. As to the appeals to be heard in the districts of Quarter Sessions, the Bill proposes that the licensing justice shall select from the panel four justices to sit with him, of whom all may be in the area where the appeal is heard, and at least one must be. This proposal will meet the convenience of those boroughs which have no Quarter Sessions of their own. They have complained constantly that they have no representatives of the members of their own body upon Quarter Sessions when appeals are heard. The proposal of the Bill is that such boroughs shall be represented, and that in any case affecting the borough at least one justice of that borough will sit with the new licensing justice. The criticism may be raised that too great duties are imposed on the three new justices proposed. That matter has been carefully investigated and account taken of all existing appeals and any new appeals that may possibly arise under the Bill. It is estimated that there will not be more than about 240 to 260 appeals to be heard, that is to say, two appeals in each area of Quarter Sessions which will be affected, except in the case of Wales, where there is a very large number of small counties fully equipped with Quarter Sessions, and where in practice there have not been many cases. The number there will probably not be increased more greatly than in other parts, and therefore a difficulty will not arise 2242 owing to the number of counties with small areas.
There is the question of the general expenses. The expenses will not be great There will be the three judges at £2,000 a year each, and that will mean £6,000 a year; their clerks and assistant clerks will cost, say, another £6,000 a year. The travelling expenses and lodging allowances in all probability would not exceed the judges' salaries. That makes another £6,000 a year; and the expenses of the clerks for travelling and so forth would not amount to any considerable sum. In addition to the actual cost of salaries and travelling, etc., there will be the question of the use of buildings and the payment of the local costs of Quarter Sessions. The sum of £10,000 has been estimated to cover expenses of that kind. The total expenditure, which I submit is an ample estimate, is £30,000, and that is not a very considerable sum. Objection may be raised that even this amount should not be borne by public funds. If the proposals of the Bill are adopted the licensed trade is quite ready to make a levy upon the members of the trade in a form which may be agreed to by the Treasury, so that no charge on this account will fall upon the general public. I hear someone remark, "You will appoint your own judges." That is not the proposal of the Bill and that is not the kind of remark that ought to be made without examination of the proposals which we put forward. The proposals of the Bill are that the judges should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, that they should be qualified barristers of at least seven years' standing, and that they should otherwise possess the general qualifications required of county court judges.
There is a strong case for having a sound and substantial and judiciously-minded court of appeal on licensing to secure greater uniformity in the administration of licensing authorities, and the larger areas proposed to be covered by these courts would tend distinctly in that direction. On points of law, on matters of administration, the right of the subject or of any aggrieved person to appeal to the High Court will not be interfered with in any way by the Bill. That is not the appeal of the trade only, but the appeal of any section of the community. Anyone aggrieved may go to the appeal 2243 court and state his grievance, and have it heard and decided by the court of justices, presided over by a judge. Clause 10 proposes to abolish the confirming authority. That follows naturally and logically the setting up of a new appeal court. In many respects this is a highly technical matter. The procedure of a permanent authority is tedious and leads to great delay and some expense. This is a better method. If objection is made by the public, or by members of the public, or by the licensed trade, or any members of the licensed trade to the decisions of the licensing justices, those objections may be heard on appeal.
In regard to the new licences, considerable criticism has been directed against the Bill. There is nothing novel in the proposals regarding new licences. The whole discretion in the first instance of granting or refusing to grant new licences rests with the licensing justices, and there is a right of appeal if the decision of those justices appears either to the public or to the applicant to be-one requiring review or reconsideration. The Bill gives further powers as to the conditions on which new licences may be granted. The justices may attach any reasonable condition they think fit as to the structure of the premises or the condition in which the premises should be maintained. They may also under the Bill accept a surrender of old licences or they may fix a charge to be paid either in a lump sum or spread over a term of years. This is very often done now though it is not legally authorised. At present the term for which a new licence may be granted on payment of the monopoly value is T years. The Bill proposes to extend that period at the discretion of the justices to 21 years as a maximum period. The period is to he decided on investigation by the justices. It is well known to every Member of the House that the cost of building has greatly increased and the requirements of licensing justices as to the accommodation required in new licensed premises are also increasing. Personally, I am very glad that is so. I think proper, convenient, commodious and airy houses should be provided, but the expense of making these larger provisions is now very heavy. Arrangements should be made in regard to the payment of the monopoly value or there should be some 2244 reasonable period allowed to the licensee to recover the lump sum which he will be charged. Under existing circumstances, 7 years is not in many cases long enough, and there should be a longer period, but the 21 years mentioned in the Bill is a maximum, and the exact period in each case can be decided by the county justices.
At present transfers of licences are made under some difficulty. The proposals as to this in the Bill are by no means drastic, and I think on examination they will be found perfectly reasonable and in the interests of the public. The chief new proposal as to transfers is that, in the case of a licence-holder, a tenant or manager, as the case may be, being found to be an undesirable person for carrying on the business, he may be convicted of an offence against the licensing law. The proposal of the Bill is that a transfer may be made forthwith to a more suitable person, to be approved of in the usual way. If any question arises as to the renewal of the licence it can come up at Quarter Sessions and be there decided. As matters now stand, there is no provision in the law for the transfer of licences from undesirable persons between the period of one Sessions and another. It is in the interests of the public and it is also a reasonable arrangement from the point of view of the licensed trade, that there should be a transfer from undesirable persons between those periods, the whole question of the renewal of the licence to be considered later on. The proposals of the Bill as regards renewal are, perhaps, somewhat novel, but, again, I would suggest that they are reasonable and in the interests of the public. At present, in cases of offences against the licensing law, there is in many cases no middle course between the suppression of the licence and a small fine. The suppression of the licence might be far too great a penalty, and the Bill proposes that there shall be a new provision put in that in cases where the owner is found to be in default as to the sort of person he has selected or accepted as tenant or manager, he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £500. That, surely, is a reasonable provision. If his offence, default, or neglect is so great in the opinion of the licensing justices that the licence should be forfeited, that course can be adopted. Where there 2245 are cases of such default the provision is that a fine may be levied on the owner as well as on the tenant.
I now come to the proposals with regard to compensation. The Bill proposes a change in the method of assessment, and a change in the law as it stands at present regarding compensation. Where a licence is found to be redundant under the present system, and a claim is made for compensation, that compensation is assessed in a lump sum, and out of that lump sum must come any claim made by the tenant or the holder of the licence. This in practice, as in logic, is a very unsatisfactory method of procedure. Surely it would be better to assess the value of the licence as a separate concern and to let the tenant have the goodwill or any compensation due to him in respect of it, as a separate allotment to be awarded by the judge. That is the proposal of the Bill. So far as the payment of compensation is concerned, the Compensation Fund is levied mainly from the licensed trade, and does not involve any contribution of public money whatsoever. There is a provision in the Bill which gives appeals on questions of compensation. Surely that is not unreasonable. There have been already many appeals and cases have been taken before the High Court—a most expensive method of dealing with such questions—and I submit it is in the interest of all parties concerned that if questions arise which lead to appeal they should be considered by the Licensing Appeal Court, appeals on points of statute law still going to the High Courts of Justice.
I will deal now with the question of hours. A great deal of misunderstanding exists in some quarters as to the position in which licensing premises are in respect of opening. The Statute Law provides that in the Metropolis the hours of opening licensed premises shall be 19½; in the towns in the provinces, 17 hours; and in country places, 16 hours. That law actually, in fact, prevails over those parts of England and Wales where Control Board orders have not been set up. Everyone agrees that the statutory hours are too long, and are not required for the accommodation of the public, while they are a great tax on the licensed trade. On the other hand, it is generally agreed—I think I am right in saying—that the Control 2246 Board orders confining them to 6½ hours are far too short, and that thereby much inconvenience and, in some cases, hardship is caused to the public. The proposals of the Bill are a compromise between the long hours provided by Statute Law and the undoubtedly long hours which the Control Board has fixed. It should be remembered by the House that there will undoubtedly be strong resistance by the public in those districts where the Control Board orders do not run to the reduced hours which this Bill proposes. The principle of the Bill which I have the honour to submit is that there should be a certain elasticity and discretion allowed to the local justices in fixing the number of hours that shall prevail in the areas where they have to administer the law. The Bill proposes that the minimum number of hours shall be nine in place of the 6½ under the Control Board, or the 16 under Statute Law, and that the justices shall have a discretion of two hours to a maximum of 11 hours for the opening of licensed premises. These hours must be, according to the proposals of the Bill, between 5 a.m. and midnight. They may be arranged at any period that may suit the convenience or necessities of the public in the areas to which they are applied. They may be either continuous or with one or more breaks as may be decided by the local authority. In some cases where it imposes no hardship on the public, I should be strongly in favour of having them late in the afternoon. The proposals as to hours are not rigid in two respects. The present licensing justices may, under certain circumstances, grant extensions, and that right is preserved in the Bill. It is proposed to go a little further, and if the justices consider that any group of houses or part of a district which they have to administer requires special extensions, there may be extensions for those special cases. I believe it is agreed on all hands that the hours of opening which suit one class or district will not suit another, and that there should be elasticity given to the local administration within the limits laid down by Parliament and that the justices should have power to consider public convenience and public needs.
I know there is a large body of opinion which holds that the Control Board Orders confining the hours of opening to 6½ produced an extraordinary result in 2247 reducing the amount of drunkenness. But that, I submit, is very illusory, and is not supported by the information available on the subject. After all, the statistics of drunkenness are not a satisfactory test; still, they are the only test we have. I have here a table drawn from the White Paper on Drunkenness, dated the 26th March, 1919. It is the latest one dealing with the subject. From these statistics it appears that under the operation of the Control Board Orders in 1917 there were 43,275 convictions for drunkenness; in 1918 there were 26,908, and in 1919 there were 53,621. In the districts not within the operation of the Control Board, areas with a smaller population, there were, in 1917, 616 convictions; there were 384 in 1918, and there were 623 in 1919. If these figures are compared it will be seen there was a very substantial decrease in the number of convictions for drunkenness in the uncontrolled areas, and that when the great increase occurred, I am sorry to say, after the cessation of War and on the return of very large numbers of men to civil employment, in the controlled areas the proportion of convictions increased to a far greater extent than in the uncontrolled areas.
I would go one step further on this question of conviction for drunkenness. It is generally assumed by those who hold strong teetotal views, and support proposals which are intended to lead to prohibition, that everybody who is convicted of drunkenness or found drunk has been made drunk in a public-house. That is a very erroneous view. There are many other sources of supply of alcoholic and excisable liquors than public-houses, and very large quantities are supplied from those sources, and consumption under those conditions, not under the supervision, as in public-houses, is much more likely to lead to excess than in strictly controlled, well-conducted licensed premises. It is considered that the hours of opening licensed premises proposed in this Bill are reasonable and moderate. They are intended to meet the convenience and needs of the public. In many cases they are longer than would be desired by the licensed trade itself, but I return to my original proposition that the licensed trade in these matters should be the servant of the public, and meet the public convenience as a public servant. Objection has been raised to the proposal that 2248 justices should have no power to claim costs, but there is no reason why justices should claim their costs of appeal when in fact under the Bill such costs would not be incurred. In regard to hours, the proposal in the Bill is that where hours of opening have been extended specially, there should be a proportionate increase in the cost of the licence for the house where such extension is made; and, on the other hand, where there is a six days' licence, the licence-holder should not be held liable for a seven-day licence. I think the House will agree that that is reasonable and meets the justice of the case.
It has been objected that, under this Bill, it will not be possible to convict a licence-holder who permits drunkenness upon his premises, but the Clause in question is absolutely misunderstood. It specifically says that the penalties for permitting drunkenness shall stand as they are. It proposes that a licence-holder shall not be convicted of serving a drunken person unless he knows that he does it. It is not always very easy to tell whether, a man is drunk or not. It is only a small point. He may lead the police when outside the house to believe he is drunk, but when he goes into licensed premises he pulls himself together and asks to be served with liquor. The licence-holder or his servants, however, may easily be deceived under such circumstances. It is a very small point, and if the House desires that a man should be fined when he does not know he is committing an offence, and there is no reasonable opportunity of knowing, that provision can be dropped. It is a Committee point which may be dealt with on full examination of the facts, which is hardly possible on the Second Beading of the Bill. Objection has been taken to what is another quite small point. In Clause 30 it is proposed thatNothing shall preclude an adult from taking a child into any part of licensed premises, not being an open drinking bar, where provision is made for suitable refreshment, if that part of the premises is not, during the time the child is there, being mainly used for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor.As the Children Act stands, it only forbids children being taken into bars at the time of opening, and the definition of "bars" in this Section meansany open drinking bar, or any part of the licensed premises exclusively or mainly used 2249 for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor.I submit that this Clause as it stands in the Bill does not alter the law in that matter. I agree it is a difficult point to get into very clear language. I will tell the House exactly what is wanted to be dealt with, neither more nor less. There are a number of small licensed houses in the country that have only one room. These houses do not sell very much beer or spirits, and they are anxious to carry on the general trade in refreshments, but because at night, when the house fills, just before closing, this room is used mainly for the consumption of alcoholic liquors, and it is held that rooms of that character are "bars" within the meaning of the Children Act. During lunch time and tea-time, when intoxicating liquors are not being consumed, it is perfectly reasonable that women or children should go into those premises and be served with such refreshment as they may require. There is the other case, which is increasing quite rapidly, where part of the licensed premises is arranged on the café plan, as a general bar serving refreshments of all descriptions in the same way as a railway refreshment room. It is utterly unreasonable to forbid children being taken into such parts of the premises because it is a place where spirits and wines may be sold as part of the business. These are the two cases, and the only two cases, with which this Clause proposes to deal. I submit that though this is a point, that the Clause is by no means essential to the Bill, and if, on examination, the House arrived at the conclusion that the Clause is undesirable and could not be made a watertight Clause, it might be well dropped out.
Objection has been raised to the present position of affairs, and it is desired to get rid of a public grievance, that of being unable to purchase a small quantity of brandy in the case of accident or sudden illness. It cannot be done now except under a medical order, and the only other way in which brandy may be obtained in cases of death or urgency from licenced premises is in a whole bottle. I submit that there should be reasonable provision made, not to be abused of course, but to meet cases of urgency, and that stimulant should be obtainable when required in such cases. I think the proper way to 2250 deal with this matter is broadly that proposed in the Bill, that there should be severe penalties—if necessary these could increased—on persons who wrongfully made representations to obtain spirits when they ought not to do so. I think I have dealt now with the salient points of the Bill, except two.
The Bill proposes to make much more easy the improvement of the structure of licensed premises. In many districts the justices have set themselves up habitually to refuse to sanction structional improvements. Obviously that is wrong, unless it is their intention to degrade the public-house into a place so unacceptable and so scandalous that its suppression may be claimed in the public interest. That is not a fair way to go about the matter. If there is anything like a general desire for local veto or total prohibition of the licensing trade that issue should be put fairly and squarely before the country.
§ Colonel GRETTON
These matters ought not to be taken in hand by squeezing or distorting the administrative functions of the law. The Bill proposes to deal with this question and to give facilities for structural improvements. The money will have to be found by the persons desiring to undertake the alterations, and I submit they ought not to be obstructed in making these alterations, which will not lead to any public scandal. I come to the last matter with which this Bill deals, and I shall deal with it very briefly. I refer to the question of clubs. Clubs under the Bill would be restored in all material respects to their pre-war position. I understand that the vast majority of clubs desire that that shall be the case, and there is no sufficient reason why this should not be so. There are new reasons suggested in the Bill why clubs should be struck off the register. I understand no objection is raised in any responsible quarter to those reasons being made statutory. These reasons includethat persons in a state of intoxication are frequently seen to leave the club premises, or that the club is conducted in a disorderly manner; orthat the club has been used as a resort of criminals or persons of bad character; orthat intoxicating liquors are supplied for consumption on the club premises at times 2251 not within the permitted hours applicable to the club.1.0 P.M.
There can be no objection to these provisions which strengthen the law and do not affect the position of the well-conducted clubs, which are the vast majority. There is a new provision here, with which I hope the House will agree, that licensed premises where the licence has been suppressed or new premises for which a licence has not been obtained cannot be converted into a club for at least five years after the refusal of such licence. That will prevent those who may be desirous of doing so building new premises, applying for a licence, and on being refused say, "I will turn the place into a club, where I shall be able to sell excisable liquors."
There is one point of controversy in which clubs appear to take one side at present with which I do not, I think, quite agree; and in this respect, in Clause 50, the Bill gives power to enter clubs—The chief constable of police and any inspector or superintendent of police or officer of the like superior rank shall have power, at any time within seven days of his having obtained a written authority for the purpose from a justice of the peace having jurisdiction in the place, to enter and inspect the premises of any club … but any such person … shall not be in uniform …Clearly there should be some power of entering clubs. At the present time the only power is to apply for a warrant and to enter by warrant. I am suggesting in the Bill proposals which I think are much more reasonable and which will render less liable interference with the convenience and the carrying on of the club, and will leave the club open to aid the police if they desire to enter for the purpose of arresting criminals and so on. The last question in respect to the clubs is the question of hours. The proposal of the Bill is that the hours of the opening of the clubs shall be the same obtaining with respect to other licensed premises in the district where the clubs are situated. I know that proposal is open to very considerable objection, and will raise very considerable controversy. The difficulty of the case is this: that there are clubs of many sorts and kinds. Perhaps they may be divided into two categories. There are the clubs with which most hon. Members of the House are acquainted where the sale and supply 2252 of intoxicating liquors is only an incident and a convenience in the general carrying on of the club; and there are other clubs—not all of them in one social atmosphere—which exist and maintain themselves on the profits from the sale of exciseable liquors. It is that class of club which creates difficulty in these matters.
I submit that clubs of that character ought to be included in the general laws which apply to this country in relation to those who carry on the licensed trade. Arrangements are made for special and general extensions, and in that way there is partial exemption for reason shown. On this matter, however, my mind is quite open, and it is a question which ought to be thrashed out in Committee of this House. The proposals set forth are those which are logically justifiable, and I have put them down in order that those questions may be raised and can be thrashed out at a later stage. I submit that this is a measure of moderate proposals forming the existing statute law. It is a measure which gives a better service and also removes the grievances of the licensed trade, who deserve justice from this House like any other section of the community. I am confident that upon examination many of the objections which have been raised against this Bill will be found to be mere shadows of opposition. I think the opposition will resolve itself into what has always appeared in this House to any general improvement of the conditions under which the licensed trade is carried on, with a view to carrying out either local prohibition or general prohibition of the consumption of alcoholic liquors. I believe the vast majority of this House are not prepared for proposals of that kind. The only way in which we can deal with these questions is to take up the Statute law and deal with grievances as they arise in a moderate spirit, having in view the interests and convenience of the public.
§ Sir E. WILD
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that the House will congratulate itself upon having listened to a very informative and very interesting speech from my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Gretton), and therefore my task in seconding the Second Reading of this Bill is much easier, and can be discharged upon more general lines. My hon. and gallant Friend has dealt exhaustively 2253 with the various Clauses of this Bill. My respectful submission to the House is that this is a Bill which consists of a series of real and constructive proposals for dealing with a subject which has got to be dealt with in the interests of everybody, and it has to be dealt with upon temperate lines, I had almost said upon Coalition lines. What I mean by using that phrase is that it is in accordance with the common-sense of the whole House, or, at any rate, that portion of the House which happily is far the larger portion which looks upon the consumption and sale of alcohol, not as a necessary evil, but as the inherent right of free British citizens. If one does not approach the subject from that point of view, but from the point of view that alcohol is an evil, then, of course, any arguments will be lost upon those who honestly hold that point of view, and there are many who do. I propose, in dealing with this subject very generally, to start with two propositions.
The first is, that the Central Control Board has got to go. It has to go, in the first place, because the present Prime Minister, when it was set up, promised that it should only be a temporary measure for the period of the War. It is entirely undemocratic; in fact, it is a negation of the liberties of the people. My second proposition is that the Licensing Consolidation Act, 1910, which is practically the Statute, needs amendment, and I think those amendments ought to proceed upon three lines. The first is, that they should promote temperance by discouraging drunkenness; secondly, that they should provide for the convenience and entertainment of the public; and thirdly and lastly, that they should do justice to the licensed trade. It is because, having carefully studied this Bill, I believe that, broadly speaking, it conduces to all those three conditions, that I shall give it my general support. There are a number of Committee points which may be raised hereafter, and if the House asks why I have ventured to intrude upon this Debate, I reply that I do so for two reasons. First of all, because I can speak as an absolutely independent person not connected with the trade in any way, as I sometimes appear for them and sometimes against them; and secondly, because it has been my lot for over a quarter of a century to 2254 see the licensing laws in operation in the licensing courts of this land. Therefore, I am prepared to justify my support of this Bill both to my conscience and to my constituents.
With regard to the Bill, it seems to me the fundamental principle of it is to be found in Clause 32. That Clause deals with structural alterations and it amends Section 71 of the present Licensing Act. What is the position? At the present time, if a man has a public house which is very dingy, or poky, or unadaptable to public requirements, he can go to the licensing bench and ask to have that house made airy and comfortable and convenient, and the licensing justices have absolute discretion, without giving any reason, to say "No," and they can impose upon the applicant and the brewer a sort of house which is not attractive, and has not reasonable and proper amenities. If the licensing justices say "No," and give no reasons for their refusal, there is no appeal, not even to Quarter Sessions, against their decisions. If they give their reasons, as they did in a case only the other day, they can very often be upset by a High Court Bench. Therefore, they generally very prudently say "No." Clause 32 provides that these alterations shall not be refused if the justices are satisfied that they will render the licensed premises better adapted for the convenience and comfort of the public as regards the provision of refreshments and recreation, and that they do not interfere with the proper conduct of the business. If they are unreasonable in the matter, the Clause provides for an appeal. That seems to me to be basic to all licensing reform. You ought not to stereotype the uncomfortable, inconvenient public-house. You ought to allow the public-house to be an attractive place, where no man would be ashamed to go with his wife and his children.
The Bill by Clauses 35, 36 and 37 proposes to deal with entertainments and the playing of games. I can well imagine that Clause 35 will arouse virtuous indignation, because it actually proposes to enact that if a person plays a lawful game for some trivial stake it shall not be held to be an unlawful game. I have not made up my mind whether that is right or wrong, but I agree that those Members of this House who are unaccustomed to play, for example, bridge for 1s. or 3d. per 100 will be at liberty to 2255 oppose the Clause. At the present time the law is that if a man plays dominoes for Id. or a game called puff and dart for a small stake, he is committing an offence and the publican may lose his licence. That may be right, but, if it be right, there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Clause 36 seems to me a most beneficent suggestion. The effect of it is that a licensed victualler is to be allowed to provide a certain amount of music for the entertainment pf his customers. At present the law is—there is a decided case upon it—that a publican may have a piano for the purpose of letting me, if I am a customer, play upon it, but, if he employs someone else to-play for my benefit, then he must get a music licence. Of course, it is all absurd. The whole idea—and it has been riveted upon the trade by the miscalled temperance party—is to make the public-house unattractive, and the publican a mere social pariah. This Bill proposes to make it, more like the Continental system, a place where the public can go and not be ashamed.
Clause 38 is perhaps the most excellent Clause of the lot. It makes it an offence to refuse to supply suitable refreshment, other than alcoholic refreshment, at reasonable prices. At present the law is in an absurd condition. At present the only penalty for refusing to supply food in a public-house is that when the licence comes up for renewal the justices may refuse renewal. That is an enormous penalty, and one, of course, which they are very diffident about exacting. If the licensee at present unreasonably and persistently refuses to supply food, then that is a ground for refusing renewal. Under this Clause, although that would still stand as a ground for refusal, every time that you go into a public-house and ask for reasonable food and do not get it it is an offence punishable at the time by conviction. The whole thing is intended to try to make the public-house something of the nature of the Trust house, or something of the nature of a real catering house for food with or without alcohol. My hon. and gallant Friend has' dealt with the question of children very fully. It is a matter that must receive serious consideration. As I read the Clause, the only effect of it is that, provided a particular part of the public-house is not a place where alcohol is the principal thing which is being con- 2256 sumed, it shall not be wrong and shall not be a criminal offence for a working man and woman to take their child to see them commit the pardonable practice of drinking a glass of beer with whatever food they chance to eat. If they were not publicans that were being dealt with, no person could resist such a reasonable proposal.
The rest of the Bill deals with the question of drunkenness. There is no doubt that the very worst enemy of the licensed victualler is the drunkard, and the proposals in this Bill for dealing with drunkenness are drastic. They not only provide for the punishment of the publican, but also for the punishment of the man who gets drunk. By Clause 33 the penalties for drunkenness are increased. Clause 34 has been very strenuously objected to by a body that calls itself the Temperance Legislation League, which has published a most misleading pamphlet giving a poor travesty of the provisions of the Bill. The Clause puts the word "knowingly" before the words "sell to a drunken person." It is said in this pamphlet that this Clause shifts the onus of proof from the publican to the prosecutor. It does nothing of the kind; the onus is still upon the publican. If a publican permits a person to be drunk upon his premises, the burden is still upon him or his servants to prove that he did not know his condition of intoxication. The only alteration is that if, in the hurry or the crowded nature of the place, the drunken man is unfortunately served and goes out into the open where a policeman sees him reeling along, then in those circumstances the publican or his servant has to be proved to know that he was in a state of intoxication. If we were not dealing with publicans, it would be said that was ordinary common fairness and English justice.
The only other Clause to which I will allude is Clause 40. That Clause is objected to by this body because it says that it is proposed to treat the police as chuckers-out. The Clause allows the apprehension of a drunken person. At present a man may be drunk and the police may turn him out, but they cannot apprehend him. It increases the penalty from £5 to £10, and for the first time it enables the drunken person who will not go out of the house to be imprisoned for 2257 a period not exceeding one month. It calls upon, as the present law calls upon, the constable to assist the publican, and why should he not? Why should the constable be always an enemy, and why should he not be called upon to assist the publican? For those reasons, I suggest that the general tendency of this Bill is for the convenience of the public, for the amelioration of public-houses, and also for the prevention of drunkenness and the encouragement of temperance. I do not know that the Bill is any worse because it does some measure of justice to a perfectly honourable and, generally speaking, well-conducted trade. There are a good many of the so-called temperance advocates who forget that temperance means moderation, and, although they may be moderate in regard to drink, they use most intemperate language with regard to every other matter. The mistake with regard to it is that they themselves would be very sorry to have to do what a licensed victualler has to do. He has to get an annual certificate of character; he has to get his licence renewed every year, and anything that he has done, anything his potman or servant has done, anything that any member of the public has done on his premises that is wrong, can be brought up against him, and he runs the risk of losing his licence. A very high standard of conduct is required from licensed victuallers, and, be it said to their credit, that, generally speaking, they have risen to that standard.
With regard to licensing justices and the proposed Court of Appeal, I have been before licensing justices for many years, and can personally testify that, speaking generally, they are fair-minded men—I have not seen much of the women yet, but I daresay they would be equally fair-minded—endeavouring to do their duty, and very often doing it well, but there are egregious exceptions. I have seen absolutely wicked things done in the name of justice by licensing justices. Let me give one instance that came to my personal knowledge. There was a publican who had 30 years' character as a publican without complaint or conviction. He had been in the particular house for eight or nine years without caution or conviction. It happened that the Ministry of Munitions allowed the public-house to be open from five in the morning in order 2258 to provide tea and coffee for the people who had been working all night, or who were going early to their work, and there came to that house a night watchman drenched to the skin, because he had been out all night, and that man said: "For heaven's sake give me a little rum!" The publican said, "I cannot." The man said, "Do," and the publican, very foolishly, with the light full on, so that anybody could see, consented, and took him a tot of rum. The man took it along and drank it with his tea, and perhaps saved himself from rheumatism. If the publican did anything wrong, he must be convicted; but what do you think happened? This was the only thing against this man. He came up before a bench of licensing justices in this Metropolis, and those justices refused to renew that licence because of this one slip, which was only committed in the cause of humanity. That is one instance, a comparatively recent one, which came to my notice only this week; but although licensing justices generally do their duty, there are benches which require looking after, and certainly some of the benches even in this Metropolis.
The Bill does not propose to undermine the authority of the licensing justices. If those justices, for instance, refuse to grant a new licence, the Bill gives an appeal, and why not? At present, if the justices grant a new licence, there is an appeal, but if they refuse to grant a new licence, there is no appeal. If they behave unreasonably an appeal is given against their decision. It may be said, perhaps, that at the present moment there is an appeal, but to whom is the appeal? It is to the Court of Quarter Sessions, which is not a well-qualified court to deal with licensing appeals. In the first place, you very often come before practically the same justices who have decided in what we should call the court of first instance. In the Court of Quarter Sessions, say it is a question of compensation, you will find, at all events, some of the same justices presiding, and if it is a county borough or a borough with 10 or more justices, the proceeding is even more absurd. I have frequently appeared in licensing matters before some such bench as, we will say, a county borough like West Ham or Croydon. They have a commitee of seven. You want a new licence, an objection is raised against you, you go before this committee 2259 of seven, and that committee gives a decision. Assuming you appeal, you go before the whole body of justices, and it frequently happens that, having seen seven gentlemen in the one court, you will see 10 in the next court, the so-called Court of Appeal, of whom seven are the same gentlemen who have given the decision in the Court below. That is manifestly absurd and contrary to all idea, of justice.
There is another very reprehensible practice that obtains largely in some Quarter Sessions, and that is what I call the beating-up practice. It is done by the so-called temperance party, and it is done by the trade as well, although it is much more effectively done by the former. You really have whips. In this House we know what whips are, when you are wanted to vote for a party, but it is not quite in keeping with one's ideas as to the administration of justices; yet at the present time it is the commonest thing in the world to have whips in order that the proper point of view shall be represented on a licensing bench, and the whole thing is subversive of justice. I remember in one case being against a learned friend of mine, who afterwards became a High Court judge, and who is now dead. We went down to the East of England. There was a bench of 17 justices, and both sides were perfectly able to say, "You have got nine," and "You have got eight" before a word had been said. We knew, we talked and talked, but we knew perfectly well that there were nine one way and eight the other way before any of us had opened our mouths. Sometimes you find an enormous bench for Quarter Sessions of 20 or 30 justices, who can hardly be accommodated, which is worse than addressing a jury, even a mixed jury, but 24 people frequently, and sometimes 30, one has had to address. Why do they show all this interest when licensing matters come on? Sometimes, on the other hand, one has appeared in the Court below before perhaps 10 or a dozen justices, and in the Quarter Sessions one finds perhaps two or three people, who are no better than the men from whom one is appealing, and who say, "After all, the justices have considered it, and we do not like to interfere with their discretion." Another objection is that at the present moment the justices are respondents to an appeal, 2260 and therefore there is a feeling on the part of their brother justices that they do not much like to interfere with them. Sometimes, but not often, you get an untrained chairman, with strong views one way or the other, and this Bill proposes to have a really judicial officer.
It is said, in a reasoned Amendment that has been put down to this Bill, that it substitutes judicial for administrative authority. Of course it does nothing of the kind. That Amendment, I see, is put down in the name of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor); I do not know whether the hon. Member is in any way responsible for the other misleading document to which I have alluded, issued by the Temperance Legislation League. The Bill does nothing of the bind, and I do not believe that the people who make these criticisms have ever troubled to read the Bill. What it does is this: it says that the chairman shall be a man who understands the law and is absolutely impartial, and that he shall be supported—not as assessors, but, as I understand, as a component part of the court—by four local justices, one of whom must belong to the county or borough where the cause or matter arises. As I understand the Bill, these four justices would have equal power with the chairman in regard to this matter, and will be selected because of their impartiality and their knowledge of the business with which they are dealing. I must disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend in regard to one question—it is not in the Bill, and I hope it never will be—namely, that of the payment of these justices by the trade. My hon. and gallant Friend said that the trade would be willing to have a levy upon their funds for the purpose of paying the £30,000 involved. That is a view which I have never held. I know that it would not in any way affect the impartiality of the justices, but I know that there are people who would say that it did. If Parliament thinks it right that justice should be open to everyone, I do not think it will jib at an expenditure even of £30,000 for the purpose of amending the licensing law.
I am not going to deal with the other points, because it is time that someone spoke on the other side. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, they are Committee points—the question of hours of sale, questions of monopoly value, and the question of compensation, which I am 2261 very glad to see in the Bill. Clause 16 deals with compensation, considering the loss of personal goodwill on the part of the tenant. Under the present licensing law the tenant is not sufficiently considered. A tenant rarely has more than a year's interest, and sometimes not so much, and you give a man, very often, only a year's purchase, although that man has been in that house for many years and has every prospect of staying for many years longer. I am glad that that should be considered.
I have ventured to make these few points on general lines in favour of the Bill, but, as I have said there are many different points upon which the House and myself will reserve judgment. There is one other matter however with which I should like to deal in a sentence. It may be objected that this is a private Member's Bill, and, that, if the matter is of such grave concern, it is one with which the Government ought to deal—that it is the Government and not private Members who ought to have brought forward this measure. I do not agree. I think we should realise, for the second week in succession, that we back benchers are equally responsible with Members of the Government to our constituents. The back benchers are taking, in regard to their importance and responsibility, an entirely different view from the old pre-War party view, which was that we were mere items at the beck and call of the Government whips. This is a problem which bilious prophets say is calculated to split the Coalition, but I believe it to be a problem that can be faced and solved by Coalition only.
§ Mr. BROAD
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I agree with the hon and learned Member (Sir E. Wild) that it is time a word was said on the other side. I agree also with what the hon. and gallant Member for Burton said in his opening remarks, namely, that the licensing trade should not have the first consideration; but I listened in vain to his long explanatory statement and to that of the hon. and learned Member (Sir E. Wild) who seconded, for any statement relating to that side of the question. This is an exceedingly important subject. The Bills which come before this House relate, in 2262 the main, to financial, trade and commercial matters, but to-day we are discussing a question which touches the life, habits and customs of the whole nation. There is not a family in the land that has not in some way had to suffer through the operation of this trade. Both the Mover and the Seconder of the Bill seem completely to have forgotten why they should come to this House and ask that the law should be altered in their favour. Listening to them, one might imagine that here we had to deal with a trade which was on the same basis as any other business. But through all the centuries, and in all nations, this trade has been regarded as a special one, as a dangerous one, and as one which the State, in self-defence, was compelled to limit, to restrict, and to surround with safeguards which would as far as possile prevent its operations from lowering the habits of the people and doing too much injury to the health of the nation.
This Bill requires very careful inquiry. It is a Bill that touches the life and happiness and well-being of many thousands. Both the Mover and the Seconder stated the case in favour of increasing the facilities and opportunities for the conduct of this business, and improving the public-house so that it might be made more attractive. It seems to be the desire that, while those who have habituated themselves to such places should consume more liquor, at the same time more people, a new class, should be brought in. One wonders, although it has not been mentioned in the statements already made, whether behind all that has been said there is, not philanthropy, but profit. This is essentially a business Bill, it is a Bill to increase dividends. At this present day we have two great opposing principles. One principle is that there should be more freedom to drink, and I think that we have all suffered from the clamant desire on the part of certain sections of our constituents for larger facilities and for the removal of the present restrictions. There has been a demand for these enlarged opportunities in the shape of longer hours and stronger stuff to consume, and the plea has been made here to-day, and outside also, of the liberty of the subject. It has been the plea strongly urged by the last speaker that that liberty should be conceded to anyone desirous of partaking of 2263 legitimate refreshment in alcoholic liquor. But there has been no recognition of the rights of others and of the rights of the nation, for this is a matter where we are all concerned, and the State most of all, because if we speak the truth we have to say that this is a dangerous trade, it is a cancer in the community, it has far-reaching effects and most damaging results, and that it has to be regulated, and too often the most far-seeing and wise attempts made at proper regulation prove abortive. You have here a great, powerful, wealthy trade, carried on in the main for profit—one might almost say a conscienceless trade.
Then while you have that tendency of more freedom for drink, you have another tendency, of more freedom from drink and that the higher interests of the people must have the most careful consideration. You have to-day a great world-wide movement, though here in our own land in some respects we are somewhat outside it, to restrict and diminish the operations of the trade. That great world movement is growing. It has come to its head in the United States and whatever may be said in criticism the general consensus of opinion is that up to the present it has been one of the hugest successes that any movement has ever realised. Then the same movement is going on in our own Dominions. In Ontario during this week the vote has gone largely in favour of prohibition. Not only in the United States and in our own Dominions but in other nations there is a stirring of the conscience of the people that there is something wrong, that there is a waste of money and a waste of human life, the wreck of homes and the destruction of happiness, and there is an increasing number who regard the trade as an enemy to progress, to well-being and to efficiency. In our own land the only efforts we have made have been the attempts at Carlisle at public-house improvements and control and the movement of local option realised some time ago in Scotland and carried on with very imperfect success in the last election, but the principle that underlies the world-movement and the efforts of our own land is, in my opinion, a true and a just one. That which touches inwardly the life, the habits, and the customs of the people is not a subject to be judicially 2264 considered by some barrister of 7 or 14 years' standing, but is a matter for the people themselves to consider and decide upon. It is for them to say whether they will limit or increase or wipe out altogether. So to-day we come in this House with two ideals clashing and coming to closer grips—the ideal of more freedom for drink and the ideal of more freedom from drink. This Bill, in my judgment, is the beginning of a big battle in England. It is a recognition that the trade has seen the red light, and having seen the danger has determined to take steps to entrench itself so that in any possible movement which may take place on the part of the people, they shall be so fortified, with their entanglements and big guns and other munitions, and protected, that when the will of the people may come to declare itself, that will may be ineffective because of the measures, like this present one, which may be adopted. This Bill, in my judgment, is the clarion call of the trade. It is the throwing down of a challenge, and we should be less than men if we were not prepared to take it up and to say we are prepared to submit this to the judgment of the electorate and to let them decide as to what they will in the matter.
It seems to me in connection with any measure that any man who puts down an Amendment for its rejection has to satisfy himself that he has adequate reasons for thus acting, and he should also attempt to satisfy this House that his reasons are ample and just. We have listened to two very careful ex parte statements on behalf of the Bill. I want to refer to the first part of the Bill relating to the powers of local justices. We all know the custom that prevails that when there is a desire on the part of someone or other that a new licence should be applied for in a certain district, application shall be made to a licensing bench for the purpose. It has been recognised as the law of England that the men on that bench shall be men who are familiar with the conditions of the district. They know the needs and requirements, and from their personal knowledge they are in a position to say "Yes" or "No," and when they have said "No" there is no right of appeal. But now this Bill seeks to upset what has been the practice of local licensing in this respect for many a long year. If it becomes law it will be possible, if the 2265 bench refuses, for the applicant for a new licence to state the case to a higher court, and for that case to be considered not as in the present instance, by Quarter Sessions, upon which there will be some one or more who know the local conditions, but will be considered by a judge, of eminent ability it may be, but a stranger to the locality, and it may be that only one of the associated justices with the judge has any knowledge, and the only knowledge he may possess as living in the same county. He may live 50 or 60 miles away. And thus before this court of men, who may be entirely ignorant of local conditions, the matter is brought up for consideration and the decision of the men who knew the conditions and who said "No" can be set aside.
Then it seems to me that there ought to be changes in this appeal court. At a time when it is so necessary that we should practice economy the nation is invited to spend money on three new judges, upon their staff and offices, and I marvel at a man of the business acumen of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Gretton) believing that a staff of this kind and expenses of this kind would be limited to the small sum of £30,000. A very strong objection on our part lies in the expense of appeals. It does not matter what the character of the keeper of a house may be to whom we have taken objection, we may be carried from court to court, and I know from my own experience in opposition to new licences or to bad licences or redundant licences, the difficulty there is in getting men to join with you because of the probable expense. If we have to be carried from court to court, and mulcted in costs at every step that we take, it will be quite an unusual thing for any body of men to offer the slightest opposition to the imposition of new licences upon any district. Citizens who take this step do it for the good of the nation. There is no thought of personal gain, there is no personal gain. They do it because they think it is a public duty and should be performed by them. In the case of an applicant backed up by a wealthy corporation, even if only one application is granted out of ten he is well repaid for all the expense he has been put to. In this matter the scales are weighted against the temperance reformer.
2266 There is also the question of the removal of licences. It is a very rare thing for a licence to be removed from one licensing district to another. A licence is sometimes removed within a licensing area; but in this Bill we have a new practice proposed, and that is that a licence from one county, in an out-of-the-way place, may be removed into a populous district of another county. In the Act of 1904 it was laid down that where licences were redundant they should be reduced. The principle has always been recognised that the granting of a licence was to meet a local need, and that if the local need passed away the licence became unnecessary. This Bill gives a new life and new value to all these redundant licences throughout the country. A licence away in some moorland place may not be worth £100, but that licence could be removed into some thickly populated district and become of exceeding great value. In all our new housing schemes in the development of our suburbs we are seeking as far as we can to keep these new areas free from licensed houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is the wish of the people themselves. If the people desire to have the licence they will back up the application and the licence will be obtained; but although the people themselves do not desire the licence, by this Bill you are going to place in the hands of a foreign court, a court that knows little or nothing about the needs of the district, the power to take some redundant licence, or some almost valueless licence, and plant it down in the midst of a district where the people themselves are opposed in the strongest possible way to the licence being placed there.
I do not like the Clause which refers to the granting of new licences for 21 years. A great deal will happen in 21 years. The education of the people in temperance matters is progressing at a very rapid rate. So long as we had the old voters' lists it was difficult to achieve any great change, but since we have had the accession of women to the voters' lists it has brought in something entirely new. The women are determined that, whatever we men may have wished to do, something shall be done in the limitation if not the removal of licences. To give power for the granting of licences for 21 years, without any change, 2267 is to tie the hands of Parliament and to raise barriers against what we believe is a progressive movement, and we raise the strongest possible objection to that being done.
In regard to the question of hours, I maintain, from the experience we have had of the Board of Liquor Control, that the limitation of hours has been beneficial to the country, and to attempt, as is done by this Bill, to increase the number of hours is calculated to be injurious to the best interests of the people. In pre-War days the number of hours was 19½ in towns and 17 in the country. This Bill permits the public-house to be open for 19 hours each day, from 5 in the morning until 12 at night. You may have 12 public-houses in one street and they can map themselves out in such a way that one or other will be open all the time. This is one very objectionable feature of the Bill. I doubt whether the Mover and Seconder of the Bill have taken into consideration the opinion of the publicans of the country. I have had letters sent to me on behalf of a number of publicans in which they raise the strongest possible opposition to this increase of hours. The longest number of hours given to me is 7½, from 11 in the morning until 2.30 in the afternoon and from 6 in the evening until 10. That is 7½ hours a day, and 5 hours on Sunday. More than one of my correspondents have suggested that the publicans, or a great number of them, would much rather that their places were closed on Sunday evening. In all matters relating to the question of hours it is well for us to consider what this means to-day, not simply in regard to the opportunities to the men, but in the opportunities that may be given to the women, for our social habits and customs have been changed during the War period.
The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Second Reading said he was prepared to withdraw one Clause if there was opposition to it, that is the Clause which relates to children. Parliament has not only protested but legislated in favour of the protection of child life. Parliament did that because it recognised that no child could come into the atmosphere of the public-house without being injuriously affected. The atmosphere there is different from that of any other place. This Bill would permit children to be brought into places 2268 where liquor is being sold, and where that atmosphere prevails. Although the Seconder of the Bill thought there were other rooms where the children might be taken, I gathered from what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) that a great number of country public-houses had only one room available for all purposes, and into that room children of all ages are to be allowed to go. It may be said that things go on there perfectly honourably and decently, but why is it that you have inserted a Clause that the police shall have power to expel those who misbehave themselves and overdrink? We are asked to approve a Clause like that in view of the memorial signed recently by over 115,000 teachers of England. This memorial is one of the most remarkable documents which I have ever read—We, the undersigned teachers serving in the schools of England and Wales, having at heart the moral and physical welfare of the young people among whom we work, and being desirous that the good effect of those clauses of the Education Act which raise the age of compulsory attendance to 18 shall not be hampered by any influence, pray His Majesty's Government to take steps to prohibit the serving of intoxicating liquors of all kinds on licensed premises or in registered clubs to young persons under the age of 18.The memorial, signed by men who know the effects of such influences and atmosphere upon our young life, compels us to say with respect to a Clause like this, whatever happens to the Bill we must accept the offer made to us by the mover; we must save our children from this influence, from this atmosphere, and we must accept the removal of this Clause.
With respect to gambling, the proposal is the beginning possibly of a great evil. Gambling is recognised as one of the great evils of the land. It may seem a trifling beginning. To my hon. and gallant Friend stakes of £100 may mean little, but for others they would be ruinous. Who is the judge of the definition of the word "trivial"? I think that that provision also should be removed. Then the Seconder laid great emphasis on the need for structural alterations. We recognise that it is not altogether a question of the number of licences, but that it is largely a question of facilities, of room, of management. There is in my Division a town of about 16,000 inhabitants, and 2269 some time ago the late Sir Arthur Markham in a speech in that neighbourhood made a charge with respect to this town that it was the most drunken of all the colliery towns in the area of England. Naturally the miners were incensed and challenged him to come and prove his statement. By arrangement one Sunday afternoon he came. The biggest place available was crowded with the miners, and that brave man, Sir Arthur Markham, stood before the miners and proved to them what the facts were. Those miners—it is characteristic of them, for they are sportsmen—accepted all his statements. He proved his charge up to the hilt, and then they took him and carried him in triumph to his motor car. In this town of Shirebrook there are only six licences for a population of 16,000, and yet the judgment of Sir Arthur Markham was confirmed by the miners themselves, that it was one of the most drunken areas in the whole of England.
I think that I have given, at least to myself, adequate reasons to justify me in moving the rejection of this Bill. I know that it is an attempt to settle a great question. In my judgment it does not settle it; it makes it worse, it increases the evil. Our people have seen the vision of larger and better things. They have the vision of a new life, of new comforts, of lesser hours of toil, and they look to the State to safeguard their interests so that they may have ample protection from those temptations and dangers which may thwart those arrangements and destroy that vision. We say, let the people themselves decide this whole question by their votes, but this Bill removes that possibility further and further away from the people, and entrenches the trade in an almost impregnable position. Reference has been made to the ideal public-house, but behind the ideal public-house is the true purpose to secure a profit to the trade. It is a trade business Bill. We oppose it not as temperance workers alone, but as citizens of a great nation. We oppose it because we believe that it is not a battle of prohibitionists on the one side, and licensees on the other, but it is a battle by the trade against the citizens of this country, a battle of interested parties out for gain against citizens who are anxious for sobriety, progress, and happiness.
2270 In my judgment it is the duty of the Government to move in this matter. Promise after promise has been given to us, and those promises remain unfulfilled. Up and down the land there is an angry wave of feeling, of disappointment, of weariness at promises given and no attempt made to rectify this great evil. This is too big a question to be dealt with in a private Bill. I say that also with regard to the Bill which I had the honour of introducing this week. It is all right for educative purposes for us to discuss it, but it is the duty of the Government and the Government ought to be forced by public opinion to take its courage in both its hands and do what they esteem to be just in this matter. So I pray the House, when it comes to decide this great matter, to consider the thousands now living and those unborn whose lives may be influenced wrongly if we take the wrong step now. I beg the House to consider the position of an impoverished State already spending far more than our means allow in this direction. I ask them to have thought for the happiness and prosperity of the nation which is likely to be injuriously affected by being thrown back in the industrial race, that race where success will go and can only go to the best qualified and the efficient, and I bid the House remember how all this must affect the material and spiritual welfare of the people, and therefore I move my Motion of rejection.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
I beg to second the Amendment.
We have heard some very good speeches to-day, and I deeply regret that more Members have not heard the Mover of the rejection of this Bill. I deeply regret that the Mover of this Bill is going out, because I hoped to appeal to him, and I want to appeal to the other Members of the House, to look at this question from the national point of view. To-day the whole country is asking the miners to look at the question of their grievances from the national point of view, and the point of view of what is best for the country. That is the spirit in which the House of Commons should approach this Bill. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill spoke about personal bias. He said that it was not a trade Bill. That is what the House of Commons must decide for itself. The House of Commons must decide whether this Bill is intro- 2271 duced for the interests of the country or for the interests of one section of the country. That is the question before us, and I leave it to the judgment of the House of Commons. I have great faith in the honesty of the majority of the Members of the House of Commons. I appeal to their honesty, and I think that if they are really honest they will not thresh this Bill out in Committee, but they will throw it out this afternoon, because I think we can prove that this is a Bill introduced by the trade for the trade, and against the welfare of the people. Last year, in the King's Speech, we read the following:Experience during the War showed clearly the injurious effects upon national efficiency of the excessive consumption of strong drink, and the amelioration both in health and efficiency which followed appropriate measures of regulation and control.When we read that, we here who look for national efficiency and amelioration in health and the general welfare of the nation, looked to the Government with hope. We realised that the Central Control Board had been set up for national efficiency, and not by so-called Pussyfoots and temperate fanatics. I have said that once before, and I want the whole of the House to remember it. The Central Control Board was set up for national efficiency, and we have to decide now whether it brought national efficiency. No hon. Members will say that the nation to-day is not in just as great need as ever of national efficiency. We got that efficiency through control. I do not say it, but the Admiralty, the War Office, and all in responsible positions say it. We got it by public-houses opening later and closing earlier, with a mid-day break. We recognised that to start the morning's work on drink did not count for national efficiency, and that a drink late at night did not make for national efficiency. It is quite natural. I am perfectly certain that hon. Members, if they had something big in hand, whether it meant physical or mental effort, would not start the morning on drink. If they did they might sprint for a little while, but the fellow who started sober would beat them in the end. So we got our national efficiency—I want to keep rubbing it in—by the method of starting drinking late and stopping it early, with a mid-day break. Of course, that caused some inconvenience, but this nation has put up with greater 2272 things than inconvenience during the last seven years. It has put up with sacrifices such as only the mothers and fathers know. Do you tell me that at a time when the nation needs its best it cannot put up with inconvenience? Prove to the British people that they need to face some inconvenience in order to get back our place in the world, and they will not complain about inconvenience.
Since the Armistice there has been too much appeal to what is lowest in the nation. The appeal sometimes comes disguised in the name of freedom. Freedom for what? Freedom to drink more! If there is one thing in the world that people admire it is honesty. I do not say we are all honest, but we admire honesty. Other nations depend a good deal on cleverness, but, thank God, the Anglo-Saxons as a whole have stuck to honesty. I believe the supporters of this Bill are perfectly honest in saying that they want better public-houses. Are they honest in saying that they want less drink sold in the public-houses? If so, the drink trade is unlike every other business concern in the world. Can you conceive of any body of manufacturers coming to the House and asking that they be given better facilities for selling less of their goods? This is supposed to be a business House. Will hon. Members who have business minds hold on to this one point? We are asked to provide better public-houses for working men and working women. For what? To sell them tea, buns and cocoa? Is it-likely? The hon. Members who introduced this Trade Bill must have thought that the House of Commons was entirely lacking in business sense if they assumed that Members could not see through one of the thinnest camouflages ever presented to an intelligent House. The Bill ignores absolutely our War experiences. During the War we had five and a half hours daily for selling drink. Now we have six and a half hours. This Bill seeks to double the War hours of sale. The trade wants it, but not the public. The Bill would allow public-houses to open at 5 a.m. instead of at noon. That means that at a moment when the cry is for greater output and more efficiency, in order that we might compete in the markets of the world, drinking can start at 5 a.m. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I should not be at all surprised if there are Members in the House who would avail themselves of it.
2273 Hon. Members must look at the Bill. It is not a very subtle Bill, but it is a little subtle. The case for it is going to be argued with great wit. I can hear it coming from the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Macquisten). But you do not settle great questions like this by wit. You have to get down to solid facts and principles. I do not want to deal with personalities and I ask the House to look at principles and not personalities. I have suffered enough from personalities from the drink trade. This Bill strikes a blow at the efficiency of all the industries in this country. Every industry which exports goods to foreign markets would be prejudiced if the Bill was passed. I have very great authority for saying that. The Prime Minister, when President of the Board of Trade, said of the drink traffic:The liquor traffic in this country is a greater handicap to our trade, our commerce, and our industry, than all the tariffs of the world put together.Just think of it! This is a moment when the House has to think of our trade position! That is what the Prime Minister said, and the Prime Minister sometimes says what is very helpful. This Bill has not got the backing of the public. It is purely a trade Bill. It is neither a publican's Bill nor a people's Bill; it is introduced by the brewers for the brewers, to strengthen and enrich the brewers, but not the country. I will read a letter I have received from a publican. I have had hundreds of such letters. I will not read them all, for I have heard far too many dreary letters read in this House and have suffered under them. This is the letter:To say that a working man is going to strike because he cannot get beer is the most ridiculous statement any person could make. I very often discuss the subject with the customers, and the most intelligent of them says that to be able to obtain a drink at mid-day and In the evening is all that a temperate and sensible man wants.Here is a most interesting letter from a woman who is not in a tied house and is therefore able to speak out. People in tied houses have to be very careful. This is supposed to be a free country, but there are no people less free than the poor publican and his family who have to work in a tied house. This is a very interesting letter. It is from a woman licence holder, and she writes:I beg you to do all in your power to prevent any increase in hours or of permitting children in licensed houses. I have 2274 been in the trade all my life, and have held a free licence for the last 20 years. Have always advocated shorter hours with a break at mid-day, and by experience during the War that has been shown to be a great blessing to the country. My house is in the centre of a large industrial district, and there are hundreds of homes in this locality much improved places since the restrictions, and have no desire to go back to the old times or to anything approaching them.This Bill does go back to the old times. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes, it is possible under the Bill to open a public-house at 5 a.m., and to have it open until twelve o'clock the next night. Nobody can deny that. Look for yourselves. Do not think of your coupon, but re-ad the Bill! The letter proceeds:We never want to see again those awful Saturday afternoons when women would come after their menfolk for their money to do their shopping. It is a matter on which I feel very deeply, and I am convinced it is of the greatest importance to the country. I am sure if you could get the voice of the trade they must tell you the trade was never so wholesome as it is to-day.This Bill would also cause tremendous irritation. Just imagine a publican in one parish opening at certain hours when the publican in another parish opened at different hours. It would cause chaos in administration. Think of the difficulties of the police. They would never know which area was right and which was wrong with so many varying hours of opening. Further, it is class legislation. The promoters of the Bill propose to make working men's clubs and public-houses shut at a certain time, but I do not think you will find West End restaurants and clubs prepared to close at the same time.
I am going to leave the technical points to people who are better able to deal with them than I am, but I want to emphasise the big issue which is before the House. England is the centre of a great Empire. [Interruption.] I An hon. Member suggests that it is Wales. I know it looks like Wales at times, but it is really England. Let us see what the rest of the Empire is doing. Canada is nearly "dry," New Zealand on a national referendum had a majority for Prohibition—not a big enough majority to carry it, but a majority. Australia has Local Option, and practically every Dominion has, by popular vote, reduced drinking. Is the heart of the Empire at this day going backward, While the Dominions are going forward? Is that possible? We hear this Bill referred to by the trade as "a 2275 Bill for the freedom of the working man." Do you mean to tell me that the Dominions are not free? The Dominions, mercifully for them, have not got this great incubus of the drink traffic so firmly found their necks. It is not such a political power there as it is in England, and I would like to warn hon. Members that it is not such a power here as it was formerly. The soldiers used to sing, "Poor old Kaiser ain't what he used to be," and that is what I feel about the drink traffic. "The poor old drink traffic ain't what it used to be," because the women have got the vote now, and they are going to see that what is best for the nation is made the first consideration. I am not using any threats, but I am warning hon. Members, who may be a little frightened about opposing the trade, that they have thousands of constituents looking at them to-day, and depending on them to do what is best for the country. If they honestly think this Bill is introduced to help the country, then it is their duty to vote for it, but if they do not think so, it is their duty to oppose it. I want them to think for one moment what sort of a country they desire this to be, and to consider that the Bill is not only making it possible to have more drinking among men, but is also proposing to make drinking among women easier. It is even taking children into the atmosphere of drinking. They say they will drop that provision. That is a great concession. I hope they will drop a good deal more.
The Bill also contains provisions making conviction almost impossible. They say that this is a small point. It is not a small point. If a publican knowingly sells drink to a man who is drunk, I ask you, how is it to be judged? You know and I know that publicans in tied houses are bound to sell as much as they can without getting a man drunk. That is their job, and if they do not do it, out they go. But when is a man drunk? I have often wondered. This Bill literally threatens the homes of thousands of men and women in this country, and, as a House of Commons, we should be more interested in ideal homes than in ideal public-houses. I should like to read another letter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members may groan. I do not often make long speeches in the House, but I listen to some excessively long ones, and I hope 2276 hon. Members will bear with me. They cannot accuse me of being long-winded. I may be rude, but I am not long-winded. Here is a letter from a wife, who writes:The only persons who want public-house hours extended are the brewery shareholders and loafers. I have gone through the misery of having a husband stuck in a 'pub' all day, where since the restrictions have been on he has come home with his money. Hoping you will do your utmost to keep the present hours or less if possible, and earn the prayers of gratitude of thousands of wives.I have another piteous letter. I wish hon. Members could see the thousands—literally thousands—of heartbroken letters I have from women and children and husbands in this country. Here is one:'I feel I must write to you. I can see you are fighting for us poor women who are dragged down with a drunken man. I feel if there is not something done I shall do something desperate, for my life is not worth living every night and week-ends—Sunday is awful. I do thank God I've had no family, for they would have been murdered.She goes on to say:Our country will always be down while the drinking goes on like it does. If they could just have so much! I do pray daily for a change, and may God help you to win. I have done everything a woman can do. Yes, everything. I have bought our own little house to live in out of my hard-earned money. I do wonder what else I can do. I do hope, dear Lady, I have not taken too much liberty writing, but I am nearly desperate. God be with you and help you.There are thousands in the country that way, and this is not only one by any means. The consumption of absolute alcohol has increased from 37,000,000 gallons in 1918 to 69,500,000 gallons in 1920. We have proved that during the War the less alcohol the nation drank the more efficient the nation was, and I commend these figures to the Anti-waste party. The national drink bill has swollen from £259,300,000 to £469,700,000 from 1918 to 1920. I have heard hon. Members say in the Lobby that the nation is bankrupt. If they mean it, they had better see whether they can afford all this non-productive expenditure. If they think it would mean the loss of revenue, let them think rather of the waste to get that revenue, the waste in efficiency, and the moral waste. It is claimed that this Bill makes drink respectable, but you cannot make drink very respectable. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] No, you cannot make it very respectable. I do not want the House to think that it is a choice 2277 of this Bill or prohibition. That is nothing but a red herring; there is no question of prohibition. It is a question of this Bill which is put in by the trade, or forcing the Government to give us a real, true, temperance Bill, which does not force anything or anybody, but continues this country's war gains.
The Mover of the Bill talked about convictions for drunkenness. I will not take the convictions against men, because I do not think it right or fair that at the end of the War, when the men were coming back from the War, we should take the convictions for drunkenness against men. But let us take the women. In February this year there were 420 per week. The Prime Minister once told us that for every person convicted there were ten who had taken too much, and who were not convicted. That means that in February, on the Prime Minister's estimate, there were 4,200 women every week badly under the influence of drink. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can laugh, but it is not a very laughable question. If you went into the homes of these people, and saw the children, I do not think you would laugh. After all, the test of a Christian nation is to legislate for the weak, and not for the strong.
This Bill is going to make it easier for women and men to drink, but I ask hon. Members to think of the children. One hon. Member said to me to-day, "I am thinking of the working man and his freedom." I know a good deal about the working man. The working man is the British Tommy, who was quite willing not only to lay down his convenience but to lay down his life when it came to doing it for the good of his country. He will do it again if he is appealed to rightly, and he will do a great deal for his children, and I ask hon. Members to think of those children. That is our first consideration as a State. If this Bill is going to help the child life of the country, we should pass it, but if it is not, we should turn it out. We know what the teachers have said and that 115,000 teachers have asked the House to raise the age at which children can go into the public-houses. The teachers are in daily contact with the children, and I think the House should take the advice of the teachers on this subject rather than the advice of the drink trade who want to lower the age.
2278 There is another thing, and that is that this Bill permits music, dancing, and gambling. That is against our whole past policy. It is very difficult for places of recreation to get licences to sell drink, because on the whole we think our places of recreation are better without drink, and I am sure hon. Members think that. You do not want your boy or girl who goes to the theatre or to the dancing hall to get drink there; you would rather they went without the drink. They get enough entertainment from the recreation at the theatre or music hall or dancing hall, but when you add drink to it they may feel better for a little while, but think of the awful results. I commend to the Members of this House that this is a moment when we are told that the ravages of venereal disease are killing thousands of children throughout the country. Will permitting drink to be sold in dancing halls help on that great problem? After all, this is unfair competition against the music and dancing halls which have no licence. The object of this Bill is to sell drink. This is no Bill to try and make the home life and the happiness of England better. It is camouflaged under that, but the real object of it is to sell drink, and it is trying to make the parlour more attractive for the poor little fly. Every Clause in this Bill strengthens the drink traffic, and if the drink traffic is more prosperous, the nation is less prosperous. If that were not so, why should we have drink laws at all? If it was for the good of the nation that we should have more drink, why did we ever have laws to restrict drink? Can any hon. Member answer me that?
The main effect of this Bill will be disastrous for the country as a whole. What amuses me so much is about the judges. I commend that point again to the anti-waste party. The trade are not going to pay the judges, but to subsidise them. I thought that was a very good touch. The Prime Minister said during the War that he was afraid the trade would so control public opinion after the War that the nation would, lose its war gains. The Prime Minister is a little like Job; the thing he greatly feared has come upon him. This is the effort of the drink traffic to get control of the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister has said a most wonderful thing with 2279 reference to that which is well worth reading. Here it is:I have not met a man of any party or of no party, of any creed or of no creed, who denies the existence of this gigantic evil, this curse of the hearth and the home, this canker of the national life that is sapping its roots. … Our judges administer justice freed in the main from all political bias and taint, or, if there is bias, it is not in our direction. They say judicially that the crime that passes through their hands, the bulk of it, is attributable to drink. The men and women who are engaged in dealing with the poor wreckages of humanity in workhouses, hospitals, infirmaries, gaols, lunatic asylums, almshouses, wherever you get a poor, miserable, human wreck, the men and women who deal with it come back and say that they can find the finger of drink, drink, drink everywhere.The Prime Minister was perfectly right. The finger of drink is there. I do not ask the House to listen to me or to take what I say as final, but I ask hon. Members—and there are plenty of hon. Members who, I know, are willing to do what is best for the country—I ask them to look at it that way. They are not tied to the trade. I do not believe they are even afraid of the trade, because we have a great many hon. Members who are not what they call politicians, and I thank God for it. I believe they will be as gallant in fighting for the rights of their country here in the House of Commons as they were on the fields of France, and I would like to impress on them that it is not a question of this Bill or prohibition. That is not the question. This Bill makes it almost impossible to get on with true temperance reform. Nobody can force prohibition on a country, and nobody wants to—that is the red herring—not to force it, but give the people a chance to vote on it. They will soon have that chance. Are you frightened of that? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then give them a chance. Some people say this Bill weakens individualism. What is, as I said before, the test of all Christian legislation? Surely it is our duty when any Bill comes up to think of the weak, because after all laws are made for the weak, not for the strong, and I appeal to hon. Members as fathers and as citizens not to do anything to weaken national efficiency or to lower the morals of the country. They will be lowered if the drink trade has more chance to sell more drink. I do not want our legislation to be based on the principle of 2280 "the devil take the hindmost." The devil will take the foremost if we do not look out—the foremost who are pressing for more chances to sell more drink. Our job here with all our legislation is to remember the injunction:Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
I trust I may have that generous measure of indulgence which the House extends to new Members, and upon which I am very conscious of having to rely in rising to address the House for the first time, and to undergo that ordeal on a subject which is admittedly difficult, and increasingly urgent. I have seen it suggested that the quarter from which this Bill comes is such as should induce us to receive it with suspicion. I say, quite frankly, that is not the point of view from which I approach its consideration. I am not concerned with the neighbourhood from which it comes so much as with the neighbourhood to which it will lead. It is not its source, but its substance which is important. It so happens—due, I suppose, to my inexperience—that I started to read this Bill without looking to see, in the first place, who its sponsors were. I can, therefore, claim to have approached it without prejudice or partiality. I admit, however, that I had not gone far before I turned in alarm to the back of the Bill, lest by some strange freak of chance, this should be the Bill of which the Government has told us it hopes some day to be the proud parent, although it has not disclosed the probable date of birth. The parentage of the Bill is certainly no disparagement, so far as I am concerned. Indeed, I should be glad if I and all of us could support a Licensing Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member. That would, at any rate, open up the possibility of removing this subject from that atmosphere of acute controversy which has always surrounded it, and which has hitherto made any attempt to deal satisfactorily with this question impossible.
I do think, however, that the fact that this or any Licensing Bill should have been introduced by the hon. and gallant Member is very significant. It shows that he, in common, as I believe, with every student of social conditions, realises that the Licensing question is one which cannot be left in its present unsatisfactory position. 2281 The only thing that can be said with any degree of certainty about the present position is that it pleases nobody. The trade is disgusted, the temperance reformer is disappointed and the average citizen is dissatisfied. It is from the third point of view that I should like to say a few words, the point of view of the ordinary member of the public. There are many others here who are much more competent than I am to speak on the subject from other points of view, because I can certainly make no claim to be anything in the nature of a temperance expert, and I am not sure that I have any ambition to become one. In my opinion, temperance experts are difficult and unsatisfactory people. Like expert witnesses, they can never agree, and there is no doubt that their own divisions and disagreements have frustrated reform on more than one occasion. That is why I am so anxious to withdraw the case, if I may so put it, from the expert witnesses and submit it to the common jury, that is, to the public itself. That is why I think—I will not say the only possible—but the most probable way of settling this question is by the adoption of some system of local option based upon fair treatment to all sections of the community. The introduction of this Bill is also significant in this. It involves recognition by the hon. and gallant Member that Parliament is entitled, in dealing with this question, to attempt to promote temperance and sobriety, even at the risk of interfering with the liberty of judgment and of action of individual citizens. I think it is well to have these two contentions accepted by the hon. and gallant Member and by those for whom he is entitled to speak.
There are some proposals in this Bill which are open to very obvious objection. Reference has already been made to one or two of them. I cannot, personally, imagine why the hon. and gallant Member should have introduced a Clause repealing provisions of the Children Act. If he ever had any hopes of seeing this Bill passed, he certainly has imperilled its chances by introducing a Clause which is so hopelessly reactionary that it could not possibly be accepted either by this or any other assembly. Another Clause which I must admit has disturbed me very much is Clause 18, which provides for the removal of a licence from one county to 2282 another. That disturbs me not so much by its actual contents as by the very disquieting possibilities which it opens up. That Clause has only to be very slightly amended to lead to evils even greater than those which are contained in the Clause itself. We hear a good deal nowadays about a national pool of profits. With a very slight extension, this Clause would set up a national pool in licensing, and that would probably be the next demand to be made.
Apart from detailed considerations, there are two objections to the whole scheme and character of the Bill which I should like to mention, but will not elaborate. The first is, that it seems to me that it ignores completely the lessons which I should have thought are obvious deductions to make from our experience during the War, and, perhaps, still more since the War.
I personally agree that arguments based upon comparisons of convictions for drunkenness in one year and another are not satisfactory and not very reliable. The only thing I would say is, that if that be so, it is equally unsound to argue, as is being done, perhaps, more than most of us realise, that the increase in drunkenness is due, in the first place, to the fact that the Forces have been demobilised, and, in the second place, to the fact that the hours of sale are so restricted. I heard it seriously contended the other day that it was the latter fact that was really responsible for the increase of drunkenness—that a man now has to drink quickly, instead of spreading his enjoyment over the whole day. Conjurers are fond of reminding us that quickness of the hand deceives the eye. Apparently, the new theory is that the quickness of the drinks deceives the mind! But we are faced with so many difficult problems in life that I shudder at the possibility of having to add to their number that of deciding whether it is the quickness of a man's drinks or their quality that makes him drunk. But that was an argument seriously put forward at a meeting I attended the other day. Last year a certain number of small licensing relaxations were made. It may not have been a consequence, but it was certainly a coincidence, that with almost every one of those relaxations the convictions for drunkenness became increasingly numerous. Therefore to suggest that you can 2283 really promote temperance and sobriety by increasing facilities is an argument which, in the light of our experience since the War, we cannot be expected to accept.
My second objection is that the whole scheme is contrary to what I believe to be the trend of modern opinion on this subject which lies rather in the direction of associating its settlement with local responsibility and of increasing public control. This Bill does just the opposite. It diminishes such right of control as the public now has. It does that in two ways. In the first place it gives a right of appeal to the publican; and the extraordinary thing is that it gives that right of appeal to the publican in the very Bill which takes away from the public the right of appeal which is involved in the necessity for the confirmation of new licences. The second way in which it interferes with public control is by setting up a court of appeal. These provisions transfer the powers which the magistrates have had for some years—magistrates who have ample means of acquainting themselves with local conditions, requirements, and sentiment—magistrates who, on the whole, as has been admitted to-day, have discharged their functions with credit—and without pay—to judges who certainly will get pay but will probably not get much credit for their labours. I certainly think that the setting up of such court of appeal would really be a disastrous experiment. The control of licences, after all, is not entirely, or even primarily, a legal question. It is so mixed up with considerations of a social and indeed of a semi-political character that the judiciary ought not to be involved in its decision, particularly in these days when in some quarters, even in our own land, there is a tendency to impugn the administration of justice. These are the objections which go to the whole root of the Bill and which cannot be met in Committee. For that reason I regret that I, at any rate, must oppose the Second Reading.
So far as Wales is concerned, I have been asked to say on behalf of members of the Welsh Liberal party that the Bill will certainly be regarded as a most unsatisfactory and retrograde measure. I think the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill, and the House generally, will do well to realise that there is an increasing public interest in this question.
2284 That public interest is increasing both in volume and in intelligence. I am referring not to the interest of the official temperance organisations, or even of the churches, but to the interest of the average citizen who may not be a teetotaler, who is probably violently opposed to prohibition, but who, at the same time, is seriously disturbed at the heavy drain, financial, social and moral, which this evil makes upon the life of the nation each year. I hope, as I said at the beginning, that the Government will note the introduction of this Bill. I hope they will note the deductions that can, I think, legitimately be made from its introduction and, encouraged thereby, will themselves at an early date initiate legislation for dealing with the whole subject in a courageous and comprehensive manner.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
We have witnessed on both sides during this Debate the usual absurdities that seem to get into the minds of men on this licensing question. I do not think that this Bill will make much change one way or another. I am entirely opposed to the present licensing system, and rather object to anything in the way of merely tinkering with or amending it. It is an absurdly ridiculous system. It took its origin not for the purpose of restriction at all; that was a matter of later growth. Originally the licensing system was introduced for the purpose of getting revenue. The Government in the old days ran about trying to find out where they could tax the subject, and they discovered that there was one thing that men in all parts of the world would not do without, and that was some form of alcoholic refreshment. They settled upon that, and they then proceeded to legislate on it, and with the usual muddle-headedness of the Englishman—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and "British!"]—very well, I will call it British. They settled upon the licence-holder. There, I think, they made a profound blunder. Why should the licence-holder not be fairly regarded as he really is as a tax-gatherer with whom the State is in partnership, as the senior partner, for the State takes almost the entire profit. When I have heard a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a Cabinet Minister deplore the immorality of the great drink trade and taxing it higher, it has struck me that they are unconsciously guilty of the 2285 most horrible hypocrisy. What would you think of the white slave dealer who bemoaning the immorality of his victims, at the same time decided that the only way he could attempt to diminish that immorality was to take a further reward out of the wages of sin? It is only a small share of the total profits of liquor that finds its way into the pocket of the trade. It nearly all goes into the pocket of the Government. Of course, there are allied trades to the liquor trade—coopers, joiners, and the landlords of buildings, but on the whole I maintain that the profits generally find their way into the pocket of the guilty senior partner. So the wretched trade is the whipping boy of those who live on its plunder and yet condemn it.
We all remember how the Government failed in its production of munitions, and they looked round for somebody to blame. That somebody happened to be the drink trade. They talked about "the lure of drink," and proceeded to enact a new bureaucracy called "The Liquor Control Board," in which I will deal later, or in another Resolution. But the whole mistake, the whole muddle in this licensing matter, lies in the licensing system. The proper person to licence is the consumer. There is no difficulty about that proposal at all. We have all been used to coupons during the War. What is to hinder everyone when he reaches majority—and in all probability that is soon enough, except for medicinal purposes—18, I think, is rather a minor age—what is to hinder the ordinary elector or the ordinary citizen having issued to him at the Labour Bureau something like a passport, with his photograph on it. [Laughter.] I cannot understand why it is when one makes a sensible proposal that there is always—I do not want to use an offensive word and say "ribald," but idle laughter—for this is the most sensible proposal that has been made in connection with licensing. You have this passport issued only to the holder, and when he goes to get his refreshment, unless he is known to be a steady, sober man he need not produce it, he cannot be served without showing his passport. If he or she happens to get the worse for drink, they could be taken to the police office, and, instead of being miserably dragged before the magistrate the next morning and fined, the passport could be simply taken from them. It could 2286 be returned to them at the end of the month. They would never get the worse for liquor again. Consider the jeering a workman would get in the workshop. Consider the jeers of a man's friends at his plight! This would be far, far more effective than fining him 7s. 6d. The simplicity of it! There will be no further trouble, and you would never have excess. The constitution of the Liquor Control Board was made up of an absurd combination of brewers and temperance fanatics, and nothing could possibly come out of such a negative combination except absurdities. The absurdities of that body are beyond all conception, and it has done nothing but harm, and their continued existence in office is an intolerable impertinence. It is only within the last 200 years, and since the Revolution that we have had a drink problem in this country at all. Prior to that there was no drunkenness; we were absolutely a sober community and there was no question of drunkenness, except an odd Falstaff and his sack. The democracy then drank beer while the well-to-do folks drank claret and a little brandy, and there was no drunkenness. When William of Orange came here, on account of his intense hostility to the French, he prohibited the introduction of French wines and brandy, and he brought in gin from Holland, which was sold at quite nominal figures, I think at about 1d. per bottle. That was when the gin palaces started in this country, and that was the time when they put up notices:Drunk for 1d., blind drunk for 2d., and for 3d. a straw shed to sleep off the effects.The result was that restrictive measures had to be introduced and a high duty put on drink, and that was the start of people getting switched on to taking too much strong liquor. I think that this country, in spite of the efforts of the temperance party, is making great progress towards sobriety. I can recollect very well in my own profession, when I was an apprentice in law, the elderly clerks in the law offices were all inclined to tipple a little. The Inland Revenue office in a town in Scotland in which I was in was almost what you might call an inebriates' home. At the present time men are more anxious to get away playing golf or cycling on a Saturday instead of sitting drinking beer in the public-houses, and the real remedy for drink in my opinion is to give the 2287 working man something to do in his spare time. With regard to this particular traffic I remember reading in a work by John Stuart Mill a description of his views in regard to this subject. Speaking of taxation upon stimulants, John Stuart Mill wrote:To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition, and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable.Here I may say that it is no use the hon. Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Broad) saying that they are not out for prohibition, because we all know perfectly well that they are, and that their kind of talk is only the thin end of the wedge. No doubt the hon. Member for Plymouth may be quite unconscious of it, and is being played on by wiser people than herself, because her delightful sex is easily deceived by promises. John Stuart Mill goes on to say:Every increase of cost is a prohibition to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their choice of pleasure, and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgment. These considerations may seem, at first sight, to condemn the selection of stimulants as special subjects of taxation for purposes of revenue. But it must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that taxation should be indirect.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
Will the hon. and gallant Member be good enough to come to the Bill. The Question before the House is the rejection of this particular measure.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I wish to finish my extract, because I submit that it is very relevant:That the State, therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what commodities the consumers can best spare; and à fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which 2288 it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of.The question of making the sale of these commodities a more or less exclusive privilege must be answered differently according to the purposes to which the restriction is intended to be subservient. All places of public resort require the restraint of a police, and places of this kind peculiarly, because offences against society are especially apt to originate there. It is, therefore, fit to confine the power of selling these commodities (at least for consumption on the spot) to persons of known or vouched-for respectability of conduct; to make such regulations respecting hours of opening and closing as may be requisite for public surveillance, and to withdraw the licence if breaches of the peace repeatedly take place through the connivance or incapacity of the keeper of the house, or if it becomes a rendezvous for concocting and preparing offences against the law. Any further restriction I do not conceive to be, in principle, justifiable. The limitation in number, for instance, of beer and spirit houses, for the express purpose of rendering them more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions of temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience, because there are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is suited only to a state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as children or savages, and placed under an education of restraint, to fit them for future admission to the privileges of freedom. This is not the principle on which the labouring classes are professedly governed in any free country; and no person who sets due value on freedom will give his adhesion to their being so governed, unless after all efforts have been exhausted to educate them for freedom and govern them as free men, and it has been definitely proved that they can only be governed as children.I will not go on with all the extract.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That is the real position. You will never deal with this problem or with any other problem unless you start with the assumption that all the citizens of this country are on an equal footing. You must start with that assumption and realise that working men in this matter are your entire equals, and that they are entitled to the same privileges and facilities as their wealthier brethren. All temperance legislation is class legislation directed to the opposite effect. Where this Bill comes in with' a certain amount of usefulness, namely, in giving reasonable hours of opening, is just where it is directed towards that equality. The present liquor control hours are, of course, absurd, and they cause the widest irritation, especially in Wales. Every 2289 Member has had letters of complaint from his constituents. Anything in the nature of restriction against the doctrine there laid down by John Stuart Mill and which leads towards prohibition, as does all temperance agitation, is the purest folly. It leads nowhere. The prohibition craze is one of the greatest fallacies that has affected the mind of man. Primitive man made his own clothes, and he made his own alcohol. There is nothing to hinder him doing both again. Supposing you shut all the tailors' shops and all the spinners to-morrow, I do not think any of us would go naked; we should contrive some garment to cover us. We should not be "knuts," but we should be clothed. Similarly, if in their striving to resist reasonable facilities, the prohibitionists get their way, it will only lead to an enormous manufacture of what is a very simple commodity, namely, some form of alcohol. I could tell the House how to do it, but with the present heavy duty I do not think it would be wise.
The attitude of the temperance party towards the licensing system and towards the facilities for drinking seems to me to be positively ridiculous. A man does not drink any more because there are two or three public-houses. He is only in one public-house at a time, and, if the liquor be good, he will stay there. I agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth that the tied house system is a gross evil and that the retail trader has very often a very thin time of it. How did this artificial monopoly come to be created? By the policy of the temperance party. They created this bogus monopoly. Why was it that we used to have the old-fashioned licence-holder who kept a good table as well as sell drink? It was because there were so many licences compared with the population that no man could make a living by selling drink alone. The result was that he had to have a useful wife who could cook a good meal for his customers. That was how we had our old Boniface. If you had a real temperance party and not a very bad lot—I have had experience of them, and I will tell you some grave evils that I came across in my professional experience and in which you will see that the sins of the trade done merely for gain are nothing as compared with the crimes of those who work with the temperance party. And if you distributed licences widely and had plenty of them, if you gave a licence to any man 2290 who wanted it the same as tobacco licences, it would not add one pint more to the total consumed, but it would prevent people struggling and fighting for drink like wild beasts in confined spaces, and it would get rid of an immense amount of irritation. Have no restrictions and then all your good wills and tied houses will disappear. Your troubles will disappear, and your tied houses will disappear.
I remember a friend of mine, the editor of one of the evening papers in London, telling me of an experience which he had. He stayed for a summer some distance outside of Birmingham, and there was a nice, old-fashioned public-house there. The farmers gathered there at night and drank their pint of beer, played dominoes or whist, and left with complete sobriety. It was the co-operative parlour of the district. The public-house should be the working man's co-operative parlour. He has no comfortable drawing-room or boudoir in which to sit to receive and patronise temperance enthusiasts. He has only a little home with a number of squalling children, and, when he comes home from work tired out, he wants somewhere to go where he can get refreshment and have a little social intercourse. He cannot get that under your present system because the places are too crowded. This little public-house outside Birmingham was a splendid little club for the men, but 15 years later when my friend went again the tramways had been run out there, the place was crowded with working men's houses, and, although the old-fashioned house was still there, the smoke-room and the billiard-room had been gutted, and it was a straight up bar and a case of "drink up your beer, get out, and make room for the next man." If you had had an enlightened bench of magistrates, not intimidated by a dishonest temperance party who want prohibition and will not admit it, and they had granted plenty of licences, irrespective of the traders' interests, the old place would have remained and there would have been plenty of other co-operative parlours there to prevent it becoming a mere beer shop. It is impossible to get these places now, and the fault is that of the temperance party.
I have had a long and bitter experience of the temperance party. I fought them in Scotland for years, and I say that a 2291 more dishonest and dishonourable team of men, in the mass, I have never met in my experience. I will give you an instance. In 1907 there was a temperance association that attacked a great many licences in the city where I then practised. With that unscrupulousness which characterises all fanatics, they collected mandates from all sorts of people, many of whom thought that they were really signing something on behalf of the public-house, and they then came before the Licensing Court and objected to the renewal of the licences. They put in grossly defamatory statements under, as they thought, the protection of privilege, acting ostensibly for the owners and occupiers of premises in the vicinity. I had the duty of reducing the magistrates' decision, which I did at considerable expense to themselves. I then took the temperance association, who had lost their privilege on behalf of my clients, to the supreme courts of Scotland, and do you know what those wretched creatures did? One of them is Glasgow's most honoured citizen and a personal friend of my own, for whose character I have the greatest regard. The missionary of the sailors' home—for the public-house was down about the docks—collected together 45 of the most degraded females in that city and brought them to the court to testify against this publican. The majority of these wretched creatures admitted they had first been bribed with half-a-crown to go up and give evidence to the defender's solicitor. Then they had been told to come to Edinburgh to give evidence against the publican and that they would get as much whisky as they could drink, 10s. a day for their trouble and £2 after the case was over. They testified that upon oath, in the witness box, in cross-examination, and that all their testimony was false, and the wretched missionary, who should have been ashamed of his calling and himself, did not dare to go into the box to contradict them. And this further thing transpired in the course of the case, showing how deeply the fanaticism of the temperance party bites into the spiritual soul of man. It was proved that the leader of this crowd had actually sat on the licensing bench dispensing administrative justice, although the temperance association which he paid was pleading before him. He does not seem to know 2292 to this day, and his friends do not know either, that he was doing anything wrong, something much worse than selling drink even illicitly.
These are the people who are in opposition to this Bill, because their definite aim and policy is to bring about a state of affairs in Great Britain similar to what they have in America. There, taking care that they should avoid the vote of the people, they hocussed the legislatures. The reason they could do that is because America is not a democracy. It only thinks it is a democracy. It is really ruled by a dead Scotsman called Alexander Hamilton, who framed a constitution for it on a monarchical basis, and the President has conferred upon him a power of dictatorship which no other monarch in the world ever had, not even the Kaiser. And, as we have seen in the case of President Wilson, when his time comes he can grossly misrepresent his people. The attacks of this particular temperance party in America drove the saloons into the hands of objectionable Irishmen, and still more objectionable Huns, and like a thief in the night Prohibition was imposed upon the people of America. The same thing is being attempted here. You talk about local veto. Why should there be local veto? I ask the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Broad) to bring it down to first principles. Supposing he or another Member of the House of Commons came to me or any other able-bodied Member and endeavoured to interfere with what we were either eating or drinking. Would there be anything else but a breach of the peace? Always take a thing back to the simple issue and first principles if you can!
We are told that the dissenting churches and the Nonconformist conscience, which I consider a great blot on the history of this country, are in favour of these methods of restriction and of prohibition. I should like to see the principle of Local Veto applied to dissenting churches. I am perfectly sure that at least 50 per cent. of them would disappear, very largely because their pulpits are so often filled by big, lazy men who do not understand the spiritual nature of the Gospel that they are licensed to preach, who do not know that the Kingdom of Heaven is within a man, and that he can only work out his own salvation by fear and trembling, and not through any outside 2293 restrictions. According to them the only righteous people are the people who are in gaol, of which prohibition is a form. How would these great lazy men who have taken to preaching the Gospel as an easy alternative to the manual labour which would be the only occupation open to them otherwise like this system applied to themselves? Or how would we like the system of annual licences applied to the trade of a butcher? There is far more to be said for vegetarianism than there is for total abstinence. Supposing the butchers had to come up for annual licences! Immediately vegetarian associations would spring into active life and speakers would get up—gentlemen earning an easy living by propaganda—and they would proceed to prove that all wars were due to butchers, and that all warlike races were fed on roast beef, and that all the men who beat their wives were steak-eaters. They would draw pathetic pictures of the beautiful little calves and the white woolly lambs bounding on the green sward and cut off long before they had reached the prime of life, and they would say that if you limited the number of butchers' shops there would not be those tempting juicy steaks to excite unholy earnal lusts.
Then apply it to the drapers and the milliners. The drapers and the milliners become enthusiastic prohibitionists because they hope that the money that the good man spends in the public-houses will be spent in their shops. The anti-draper associations would tell about the number of women who, with the desire for personal decoration, are led astray, and the young women who live lives of shame through the lure of dress. Exactly the same thing could be said in their case as is said now of the public-house wherein you have created this present absurd and ridiculous system. That is what has deteriorated the trade and in many cases has corrupted the licensing benches. There are many cases of this, many cases. I must say that I have always looked upon a licensing magistrate being corrupted as a subject for amused regret, but, after all, it is not like judicial corruption. He sees a valuable monopoly being given to a particular man who has very little more right to it than himself, and something follows which should not follow. There have been many cases. They are difficult to trace, but I know that in the late Pussyfoot 2294 campaign in Scotland, which so signally failed when you got the vote of the people, one town councillor is said to have written to another town councillor in respect of the possibility of there being a reduction in number of licences, and therefore a necessity for some being selected as victims, as follows:We must be on the Licensing Bench on this occasion, because it will be a perfect gold mine.It is all very sad, but that is the result. If you create an artificial and bogus monopoly which passes from hand to hand, you are bound to have the tied house system, you are bound to have corruption, and evils of all kinds. I say, take the remedy I have suggested, and graft it on to this Bill, making the license to the customer only. Why should a man not have a liquor licence, the same as a gun or a pistol licence? We have made very poor provision for our ex-service men. I would give 10,000 or 15,000 steady sober ex-service men licences, just as was done after Waterloo. We have not been able to settle anything like that number on the land; why cannot we settle them in decent licensed premises, to look after their fellow subjects when they come in? I do not believe that either this House or the Temperance party—certainly not the Temperance party—has the sense to adopt that policy. It is too reasonable for them; it has no taint of fanaticism; it does not do anyone any harm.
The Temperance party has been unconsciously and sometimes consciously the faithful vassal of the liquor trade always. I recollect once buying a licence for a client, and I paid a very large sum for it. I am not speaking without the book, because I acted for the trade professionally for many years in Scotland, and I know it from A to Z, and know all the evils of it. I have no fault professionally to find with the Temperance party; I have to thank them for bringing me a great deal of business; but speaking as a citizen, I object bitterly to their activities, because they have been largely the cause of harm. I remember that when I bought that valuable licence, I said to the brewer who was financing it, "There are very few licences here; there will be some more granted very soon." He said, "Not at all. We pay the leading teetotaler in the place 50 guineas a year as an annual retainer. Whenever there is a chance of an application for a licence, he gets hold of the 2295 Free Church minister and the leading abstainers; there is a great row, and the licence is refused. Two years ago we had to pay the beggar 100 guineas, because they brought through counsel, and he gave them such a beating that they will not try again for a long while." That is the way in which the Temperance party have been used, and such a party could be used in that way to defend almost any trade. It is only the trade union principle; they keep out anyone who does not belong to their union. If our trade unions endeavour to keep people out, so does the licensed trade, but it should not have the power to do so.
That is what is wrong. We have got this absurd and ridiculous system, and then we blame the licensed trade for the results. The whole thing is a colossal absurdity. Two Cabinet Ministers came to Scotland and made certain ridiculous statements at the beginning of the War. They said, "There are far more dangerous enemies in our midst than the Germans. There is the drink trade." Fancy a sane man making a statement of that kind. I should like to have tried those Cabinet Ministers with the choice of a glass of good Scotch whisky or a German bayonet in their backs, and see which they would prefer. It has been said that the present restrictions have resulted in a diminution of the amount of drunkenness, but that is all nonsense, and nobody believes it. If public-houses were only allowed to be open for two hours, there would be just as much liquor sold. Men would drink more. A man can drink a great deal in two hours. It causes a great deal of rapid drinking. I know a good deal about motor transport, and one nuisance in connection with motor transport just now is that your men with, it may be, motor lorries out in the country, pull up at the wayside public-house at 12 o'clock sharp for a drink, and they do not leave till half-past two, because they know that that is closing time. If these licensed premises were open for longer hours they could take one drink and go on. It has often been said that in districts of the poorer class there are very many public-houses, whilst in the districts where the wealthy reside there are none. The explanation of that is in the wealth of the district; every house is a public house with a cellar. The only difference is that when 2296 the people, being well-to-do, have a friend in, they can afford to give him a drink without charging for it. There is more liquor in the houses of the well-to-do in the West End parts of large towns than there is in the aggregate in the numerous public-houses among the poor. The consequence is this hypocrisy that comfortable persons are prone to make these differentiations between themselves and others. The working man is just as good as they are, and just as capable of self-control; he has to learn it. I should like to quote just one thing that was said by Dr. Norman McLeod, who was one of the greatest teachers of the Gospel of Christ that Scotland's Church has ever known. With him all these wretched narrow-minded people whom we have now calling themselves temperance apostles are not fit to compare; not one of them is fit to have tied the latchet of his shoe. At a social meeting to which he was invited, in the printing office of Messrs. Bacon and Ritchie, he said:Feasts without alcohol are like grates without coal. The man who in this weather can be pleased on lemonade and become poetic on ginger pop is fit for murder. He is wanting in the essential attributes of a man. He can have no stomach or nerves, and far less heart, while his brains must be as vapid as our friend's paste. …That is the view of a great teacher, far greater than your modern dissenting clericals. The medical aspect of it is another thing that is grossly misrepresented. I would like to take the test applied by Sir James Crichton-Browne. There was a great gathering of medical men and Sir Victor Horsley said alcohol was a deadly poison. Sir James thought he would like to see how many medical men partook of the deadly poison, and I think he found that with only four exceptions out of about 200 they all did themselves very well. The "Daily Mail,'" taking an interest in it, found out that the average per head worked out at something like a bottle and a half of wine. That is the true test of doctors' opinions. We cannot take lessons from America in anything. I do not want to say anything unkind about her, but if it had not been for the Scotsman, who made her constitution, she would have broken into her component parts long ago. She has had nothing to knit her into a nationality, and she is the hunting ground of all the cranks and 2297 fanatics in the world. They believe in passing legislation which is not enforced—and it is not enforced in America. There is there a huge conspiracy of illicit liquor sellers, police, and excise. You can send whisky to your friends in America; it will be received through the Customs and delivered at their house under the protection of the police. The thing will die a natural death there. This Bill does a little to straighten out and regularise matters. It assists. It will give greater steadiness. You want to give some security of tenure to licence holders, so that you may retain in the trade the more respectable members of it. The policy of the temperance party is to hunt them, and degrade them, and because this measure is to some extent directed to mitigate matters, though I believe the reforms I indicated in my opening remarks are a thousand times better, I propose to cast my vote for the Bill for what it is worth.
§ Mr. SPOOR
I do not think I ever heard a speech in this House which, despite its wit and its good humour, so successfully evaded the issues. I think the House will agree, whether they approve of her arguments or not, that one merit of the speech of the hon. Member (Viscountess Astor) was that she did, at all events, bring a breath of reality into the discussion. It appears to me that between the evasion of the issues on the part of the hon. Member (Mr. Macquisten) and the somewhat vitriolic criticism of the hon. Member (Viscountess Astor), this Bill is already very effectively destroyed. But I should like to state the position of the party with which I am associated. First of all, we agree with the promoters of the measure as to the desirability of some immediate action in connection with the drink traffic. We feel that the continuance of measures, which, after all, were only introduced for temporary purposes, 2½ years after the conclusion of the War is not justified. We feel that the Government has been extremely remiss and should have had the courage to tackle the question long before this time. We oppose this particular Bill first of all because it is a private Member's Bill, for if ever there was a question that was a truly national one it is this question. If ever there was any subject upon which it was the obvious duty of the Government to make a pronouncement it is this one. And because this is 2298 a national question, because the continuance of these irritating and in many cases unnecessary restrictions long after the occasion for them has passed is causing considerable unrest and dissatisfaction, the Government long before this should have had the courage to tackle the whole matter. I am told the Attorney-General in all probability will give some indication of the Government policy on the question. I hope he will at the same time be able to tell the House approximately when they propose to take action. Further than that we oppose the Bill because we believe it is fundamentally undemocratic. The Labour party has considered the question very carefully, and during recent years has repeatedly declared its adherence to certain principles which are well known. It believes that the Bill in many essential particulars comes into conflict with those principles, and therefore it has decided to oppose it.
I will summarise the objections we have to the measure. First of all we object to it because it diminishes local control over licensing by the establishment of courts composed of a small number of persons drawn from a very wide area. We object to it because it permits the transfer of a redundant licence or a licence in a decayed neighbourhood to a new and developing district, incidentally depriving the community of the full monopoly value of the new licence. It defeats the intention of the existing law to facilitate the suppression of redundant licences. By the transfer of redundant licences to new districts it limits the opportunity for public-house trust companies and others to obtain licences for experiments in disinterested management. It renders possible the extension of the tenure of a licence to 21 years. By fixing the minimum hours of opening at nine per day and the maximum at 11, it leaves a very small margin to the discretion of the local authority. It increases the amount of compensation for redundant licences; it removes the onus of proof of permitting drunkenness from the publican to the prosecutor; it cuts across the provisions in the Children Act prohibiting the admission of children on licensed premises; and—this, after all, is a very important matter which has been very inadequately dealt with by the hon. Members who moved the Bill to-day—with regard to clubs it applies the 2299 same hours of opening, provides for police inspection, for registration, etc. The promoters of the Bill would have been well advised to have made some discrimination in their treatment of public-houses, which exist for private profit, and clubs which exist certainly not for the financial benefit of any individual but merely to contribute to the social amenities of the district. In the Labour movement we have always believed in local democratic control. We have always argued, and I imagine the majority of this House would argue on the same lines, that in matters like these the decision should be left to the people in each locality. While there may be a certain division of opinion amongst members of the party with which I am associated regarding details, in the main the Labour movement has always stood during recent years for public control of this trade. We believe that one of the effective measures in the direction of securing real temperance reform is the elimination of private profit. We oppose this Bill because, as the hon. Member for Plymouth caustically pointed out, it is from first to last a brewers' Bill. I believe the hon. Member who introduced it said that this Bill was brought forward to meet a real public need and to answer a very real public demand. As I look at the names on the back of the Bill it seems to me that it could hardly be seriously argued that the public have initiated this measure. I know that there is a public demand for a change from the present exasperating and irksome restrictions, but I am sure that the public is not in any real sense behind the proposals in this Bill. The Bill is not only undemocratic but it also strengthens private vested interests, and seeing that we have always stood diametrically opposed to that we shall for these two very fundamental reasons register our opposition to this Bill.
I do not like restrictions of any kind. I have always believed in freedom, and I hope the day will come when far greater freedom will be enjoyed by all of us, not only in regard to this matter, but other matters. We understand the irritation created by existing conditions. We want to see that irritation removed; we believe it is the obvious duty of the Government to remove that irritation at the earliest possible moment, and we want them to 2300 come forward and tackle this question in a scientific manner. It is an immense social problem. There is something absurd in the idea that a Bill should be introduced by a particular financial interest, of tremendous power in this country—an interest of which many politicians are obviously afraid—to deal with a grave national problem of this kind. This is a great national question, and it should be taken up by the Government at the earliest possible moment. While I should have very strong objections to interference with my liberty, or with the liberty of anyone else, I do not want to exchange the temporary tyranny of the Government for the worse tyranny of the big financial brewing interest.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I am in agreement with the hon. Member who has just spoken in one respect in thinking that this is a matter which can only be adequately tackled by the Government. It is one of the largest and most thorny questions which this House or the country have to deal with, and it seems to me impossible for my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill to expect that a Bill of this character should receive a Second Reading on a Friday afternoon, after such a Debate as we have had to-day. The Mover and the Seconder occupied about an hour and 40 minutes. I do not complain of that. They had a very big case to make, and I do not know that they could have done it reasonably in a shorter time, but that being so—I do not know whether my hon. Friend will ask for the Closure at five o'clock—and if the Closure is applied, I think the decision of the House will very inadequately represent the real considered opinion of Members on such an immense question on a Friday afternoon, after a closured Debate. My hon. Friend (Mr. Macquisten) who made such an amusing speech, said that any sort of temperance legislation or tendency towards temperance reform was really making, whether consciously or unconsciously, for prohibition. I profoundly disagree with that remark. I believe that the exact opposite is the truth. I am quite as strongly opposed to prohibition as my hon. Friend, and I am convinced that the greatest possible force in favour of prohibition is such an attitude as that taken up by my hon. Friend. Any determination either to laugh out of the House or to argue 2301 out of the House any proposal for dealing, however moderately, with the drink trade, makes much more powerfully for prohibition than any moderate dealing with the question. Opposed as I am to prohibition or anything approaching prohibition, it is for that reason that I am all the more ready to consider any well-conceived moderate proposal for dealing with this evil.
The great difficulty that I always see in tackling this question is that there are two propositions which I have to face, and which are difficult to reconcile. The first is that I recognise that the excessive use of drink is the greatest moral and social curse that confronts this country. Its evil results are difficult to calculate. There I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Plymouth. My other proposition is that, subject to whatever form of control may be devised, the individual citizen has a perfect right to drink what he likes, and he has a perfect right to have ordinary reasonable facilities for getting that drink. It appears to me in connection with this question the problem is to attempt to reconcile those two propositions. This Bill was advertised in the Press and has been spoken of in some places as a Bill embodying the principles of the improved public-house. Some go so far as to say the ideal public-house. I have always believed that the improved public-house offers far the best chance of any real lasting beneficial reform if you can get it, but I am not at all satisfied that this Bill does go any considerable way on the road towards the really improved public-house. There is a remarkable contrast which we must all have noticed between what we call the public-house in this country and what is known as the popular café on the Continent. Surely there must be something in the actual physical difference between those two institutions which accounts very largely for the difference in the moral effect.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Is it not the case that in France there is no restriction and that anyone can set up a café or estaminet?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I cannot tell my hon. Friend. I am not interested in answering his question, which is irrelevant to the matter with which I am dealing. I know that my hon. Friend is in favour of free trade in drink and there may be some- 2302 thing to be said for it. That is not my point. There is something in the foreign café which makes it a respectable place where men with their wives and families can go without reproach, and that it is not disgraced by any particularly drunken scenes such as, in a very exaggerated form, are supposed to be characteristic of our own public-houses. There certainly is the difference that one is a respectable place where anybody may go, whereas many of our public-houses are the opposite. I should not object to some of the proposals in this Bill if we had first got the improved public-houses which it professes to set up. For instance, I object very strongly to the Clause which proposes to admit children to our public-houses as we know them, but if by legislation or otherwise the public-houses in this country were so improved as to be like those on the Continent, then there would be no objection to the wives and children going there with profit to themselves as they do abroad. In the same way I should not have the least objection to extending the licence so as to include power of giving entertainments and having dancing and playing games and having everything that goes along with the Continental café as distinguished from our public-house, but I object to this Bill attempting to introduce those changes without first producing the atmosphere and surroundings which make it perfectly unobjectionable abroad and in the absence of which it will be extremely objectionable, in my opinion, to introduce these changes.
People are entitled to drink what they like and, within ordinary limits, as much as they like, and therefore I am glad to support the proposal in this Bill to do away with the Control Board. I do not agree altogether with what my hon. Friend said about the Control Board. I think that its operations during the War were necessary, and so far as I know they were carried out with as little tyranny as possible; but though I am glad to see the disappearance of the Control Board, that does not mean that I am at all prepared to go back to pre-War conditions. Partly through the operations of the Central Control Board and our experiences in the War, we acquired a great deal of knowledge which it would be a fatal mistake for us to throw away by returning straight away, either with 2303 regard to hours or control or in other respects, to pre-War conditions. This Bill does worse than go back to pre-War conditions. It goes back practically to pre-War conditions as regards hours. I know that the proposer of the Bill is able to point out that, technically speaking, that is not so, but I think the reduction is a reduction on paper and not a practical one. It also allows for a certain elasticity and discretion on the part of justices in localities with a minimum of nine hours a day.
I do not want to tie myself to any particular number of hours. That is a matter which requires a great deal of expert knowledge, and must be thrashed out in a way in which it cannot be thrashed out this afternoon. But, speaking for myself, I would much rather see a Bill in which nine hours was the maximum instead of the minimum. I believe that with nine hours, and with a certain amount of discretion as to how the nine hours should be distributed among the 24, all reasonable facilities would be given, and at the same time we should have a much more valuable control. I object to the change of machinery with regard to licences proposed in the Bill. I listened very attentively to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Gretton). It is quite true, as he said, that Quarter Sessions are in some cases a very unsatisfactory tribunal for deciding these questions of licences. That is particularly so in Ireland, where the magistracy of late years has been very much degraded, but I am not prepared, without a great deal more consideration, to accept the proposal of the Bill that we should have an entirely new system of licensing, with salaried judges and a new department of salaried officials, especially at this particular time. My hon. Friend felt the force of that objection, because in his speech he anticipated that this was not quite the time when he could successfully make such a proposal. He made what appeared to be a most astounding alternative suggestion. If I understood him aright, what he said in effect was, "Let us have these salaried judges and all the accompanying paraphernalia of this new judicial procedure, but as the country is rather hard up just now the licensed trade will pay the cost themselves." In other words, what is proposed is to have a new and elaborate 2304 machinery for deciding these very vital questions, and the officials are to be the salaried officials of the trade whose licences are to be considered.
§ Colonel GRETTON
All the money would go into the hands of the Treasury. If the Treasury levied a tax on the licensed trade the licensed trade would endeavour to meet that tax. The money paid to the new officials would be paid in the usual way out of moneys provided by Parliament.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think I did my hon. Friend an injustice. If as he says, there is to be a special tax put upon the liquor trade for this particular portion of the public service, it is certainly not open to the reflection I made just now upon it, but whether it is quite a satisfactory method of taxation is a matter requiring further consideration. There is another matter which has been referred to by previous speakers, and that is in reference to the question of local option. I am entirely opposed to local option in the ordinary sense of the word. When I say that, I wish to add that it depends to a certain extent upon what one's view of the area for local option is. I think it is most objectionable in a matter of this kind, where it is a question of what law the people should live under, that you should have small areas each with its own regulations, thus creating a want of uniformity in the law. What I do think of importance is to preserve that connection between the licensing authority and local knowledge which has been an accepted principle of the licensing law in the past. My hon. Friend's proposal is to have an enormously enlarged area presided over by a judge, who is to be associated with the number of licensing justices—only one of whom, as I understand it, is likely to have, or at all events need have, any particular local knowledge whatever. If that is so, it seems to me the result would be to entirely alter the whole principle upon which licences are granted. I am not prepared to support a proposal to entirely take away from our licensing system that local knowledge of the particular needs of the neighbourhood which is inherent in the present system. It is made still worse by another proposal of my hon. Friend with regard to removals. I cannot imagine anything more upsetting to all 2305 that is best in the present system than to say that when a licence is no longer wanted somewhere about Land's End it may be removed and attached to premises in Somersetshire or Wiltshire. That seems radically wrong unless you are going to have some completely new system of licensing which is not connected with our past system at all. For these reasons, I say again that the very circumstance of so many questions of such vital importance arising in this matter, points to the impossibility of our arriving at any decision this afternoon. I hope that my hon. Friend will be content with the discussion which we have had and that he will not ask the Speaker to closure this Debate. If he does so and if he invites the House to come to a definite decision on the Second Reading, then although no one is more anxious than I àm to preserve to the utmost extent all legitimate freedom for the individual, nevertheless if he forces us to come to a decision upon this Bill after the very inadequate consideration which the House has been able to give to it, I myself shall certainly be unable to follow him into the Lobby.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
Somebody—I forget who—has observed that upon most questions there is a great deal to be said on both sides—at any rate in point of quantity. I am sure that I am expressing the feeling of all hon. Members when I say that to-day we have had both quantity and quality. I, at any rate, have never listened to a debate on this particular question, a question of a highly controversial nature, which was more instructive, more illuminating, or, may I add, more good-humoured. It has, I think, become quite clear to all of us that it is now accepted that, no matter from what quarter this Bill may come, no matter who its sponsors may be, there is only one point of view from which we can fairly regard it, and that is the point of view of the interests of the community as a whole.
I listened with the greatest possible interest to the very remarkable maiden speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Captain Evans), and I entirely agree not only with very much else that he said, but also with his fundamental proposition that the only standard that can be re- 2306 garded here is the welfare of the ordinary citizen of this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. E. McNeill) said, and said truly, that opposition to moderate proposals of temperance reform is a thing which itself tends towards a policy of prohibition. I do not think that there will be any dispute about that. But have not hon. Members observed this in the course of the discussion, that the view which a person takes upon the policy of prohibition, whether it be expressed or concealed, greatly colours the view which that person must form of any proposal whatsoever with regard to licensing? Take, for example, the proposal for what is called the improved public-house. If a person sincerely believes that the consumption of alcoholic liquor is sinful, if, therefore, it is his policy to make it, if he can, unlawful, he is not likely to look with favour upon a proposal to improve the public-house, and make it more attractive and more decent. His purpose, expressed or not expressed, is to make it as unpleasant as possible, as inconvenient as possible, and as disreputable as possible to consume alcoholic liquor, at any rate on licensed premises. Therefore one has to remember, I think, in relation to the attitude of mind which emerged a little clearly at certain points, in this Debate, that the destructive criticism which is sometimes applied to constructive proposals of temperance reform may really spring from a desire to have done with the hateful thing called intoxicating liquor altogether. I do not want to do the least injustice to the speech of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Broad), who described the licensed trade in plain words as a cancer in the community. One does not regulate a cancer, one cuts it out. And that, I gather, is really what he would like to do. But I am sure he observes that, when he expresses that view, he subtracts greatly from the force of any criticism that he may direct against, the proposal to improve the public-house.
I desire, on behalf of the Government, to approach this Bill, not at all in the spirit of those who regard the licensed trade as a cancer in the community, and equally I desire to approach it not at all from the point of view of those who believe that the paramount interests to be considered here are the interests of the licensed trade. We have to take our 2307 stand, and take our stand only, upon the welfare of the community, and, looking at this Bill in that spirit, I say at once that there are at least certain features or elements in it which appear to be satisfactory. What was the problem? As was said on the opposite side of the House, a little time ago, it is not without significance at this moment that a Bill upon this subject emerges from the quarter from which this Bill comes. Its authors recognise, as we all recognise, that the events of the past seven years have brought about a change. They recognise, as we all recognise, that we have to face what was described in a memorable document as the proper adaptation to peace conditions of the experience which during the War we have gained with regard to the traffic in drink. In that sense one observes that this Bill does at least recognise, for example, that we cannot go back to the pre-War number of hours. The hon. and gallant Member who brought in the Bill said that he was in favour, and I think we are all in favour, of elasticity in relation both to the number of hours and to the times of day over which those hours should be spread, regard being had to the varying requirements of different districts. On the other hand, while I recognise that good feature of the Bill, it certainly does not seem to me that the proposal of the Bill as it stands goes far enough. Let me mention one other detail of the Bill which may be fairly described as good. That is the proposal about clubs. I gathered that the hon. and gallant Member became a little timid of his own proposal as he went on to expound the Bill. But he certainly has put in a proposal, which may prove to be a very important proposal, to assimilate the hours in clubs to the hours in licensed premises.
When we turn from one or two features of that kind to the main structure and purpose of the Bill, I am bound to say that I cannot help feeling the truth of the remark which was just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, that this Bill not only goes back to the pre-War condition, but goes back to something more and something stronger than the pre-War condition was. What does the Bill do? I take, first, the provisions about the appellate tribunal. I was a little surprised to hear the speech from an hon. and learned Member 2308 who has had experience in licensing cases—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham (Sir E. Wild)—who seemed to utter something like a general condemnation of the attitude of courts of Quarter Sessions. I know nothing about those courts in Ireland, but I know something of them in the North of England and in other parts of the country, and I think that the courts of Quarter Sessions, upon the whole, deal with licensing matters in a way which is fair and impartial. It does seem to me to be a grave departure, only to be assented to upon the strongest grounds, to take away the determination of these important matters from a tribunal which is at least comparatively well informed and comparatively well equipped with local knowledge to a tribunal which is more than comparatively ignorant of local circumstances. Great stress has been laid by some hon. Members upon the proposal, contained in the Bill, to give at least the supreme voice in these matters of appeal to a judge. The proposal at first blush appears reasonable enough. But upon what, after all, does the question turn? It is not a question of law. It is not a question of one citizen litigating with another upon his rights. It is a question of what is in the interests of the community in that particular neighbourhood. Although no doubt from time to time there do arise difficult and important questions of licensing law, the main problem is fairly described—is it not—not as a judicial or juridical problem, but rather as a problem of administration. Therefore, I must say that the view we have formed of these proposals for a new jurisdiction, and for the complete supersession of the justices at Quarter Sessions, is that they are proposals which could not be acceptable to the House.
May I point out further that I looked through this Bill with care to see whether it could be fairly said to preserve the status quo ante the War as between the licensed trade on the one hand and the taxpayer on the other hand. Does it? Let me take one example—a crucial and critical test—the question of redundancy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Second Reading passed, I thought, a little lightly and rapidly, over that part of his proposals. If I followed him, they come to this: that while now, 2309 if in a certain area a licence is found to be redundant, it may be and probably is extinguished, subject to the payment of compensation under the well-known Act of Parliament, under this Bill, if it becomes law, it will be open to the holder of the licence, who might be a large holder of many licences, to remove that redundant licence totally out of the neighbourhood and not even into the same county. What result follows? It needs little exercise of the imagination to see that two results may follow. In the first place, that licence which had become redundant in one area, may take the place of what would otherwise be a new licence in the other area. It would take that place, however, with this remarkable difference—that the monopoly value, which would otherwise be payable for a new licence, would not be payable for the licence so removed. The second result which would be likely to follow is that, whatever efforts were being made in the new area, by way of what we at least regard as the important experiment of disinterested management, or any other experiments in that kind of work, which involve enterprise and public spirit, must be undermined and even destroyed, not merely by the fact but by the probability of removals of this kind. Let me add another element which falls under the same category in this Bill. I refer to the fact that this measure, for the first time, makes the grave provision that there may be an appeal from the licensing justices where they refuse to grant a new licence. That proposal I believe to be unprecedented.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I am ready to accept that statement from my hon. and learned Friend. I was not aware of it. But I know that at no time while I have been actively concerned with the law of licensing has it been within the region of practical politics. The House observes how these provisions may work together. You might have in a particular county borough an application for a new licence and have the application refused. Thereupon the unsuccessful applicant takes the matter to appeal before the novel tribunal set up under this Bill. When you put those proposals together it is plain that this Bill by no means preserves the 2310 status quo ante. On the contrary, it would go a long way towards strengthening the hold which the licensed trade has upon the public. That being so—and I refrain from other detailed criticism because of the lateness of the hour—what is to be done? This is not a small Bill, but rather an ambitious Bill. It would take a long time to discuss, and it involves a Financial Resolution. What is the House to do? The House is aware that it has been decided by the Government that the Government whips will not be put on if there is a Division. I am not going to say one word further by way of persuading any hon. Member as to the course which he may think it right to take. But speaking for myself, having carefully considered this Bill, although I recognise that it contains some good proposals, nevertheless it contains also, I must say, some very mischievous proposals, and I intend, if need be, to go into the Lobby against it.
One of my hon. Friends, I think the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor), asked what the Government was going to do, and he rather invited me to make, or to attempt to make, some statement as to what was the policy of the Government. I want to deal with the House in this matter with perfect frankness. It is quite idle, as I am told and as I believe, at this stage of this Session—so great have been the interruptions of normal public business already—to hope to pass a Licensing Bill upon an adequate scale this Session. In these circumstances, what is the course which is open to us? The only course, I suggest is this. Some remarks have been made this afternoon about the Central Control Board—remarks, I am convinced, based to a great extent upon mere misunderstanding. Who are the members of the Central Control Board? They are voluntary workers. They are gentlemen who have given their services to a thankless, an irksome, and an exacting task. It is not by their wish that their duties have been continued. They have again and again desired to be released from their duties. But, as the House is well aware, when Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 3) Act, 1915, it was expressly provided that the regulations made under that Act, unlike the Regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act itself, might be continued 2311 by Order-in-Council for a period up to twelve months after the termination of the War. The members of the Central Control Board, who have done their work in circumstances of great difficulty with so much public spirit and so much knowledge, have proposed and are about to carry out certain relaxations in the Orders which have been made. Those proposed relaxations have been submitted to, and have been approved by, the Government. They will be followed in a very short time, as I understand, by other relaxations. For the moment the relaxation of those restrictions is the policy that will be pursued. But we look forward in the future—I hope I am not too sanguine in this—to something in the nature of an agreed Bill. I have listened to the Debate this afternoon with the greatest care, and I ask myself a question which I should like to put to every Member of the House. In substance we are agreed that you cannot in this country have a policy of prohibition. With such a being as man, in such a world as the present—and, I may add, with such a climate as ours—the policy of prohibition is not practicable, even if it were desirable, and, in my opinion, it would not be desirable even if it were practicable. We may put Prohibition on one side. On the other side it is conceded, and nobody denies, that this matter cannot be regarded from the point of view of any commercial interest whatsoever. We have to consider the interest, the welfare, and the well-being of the community. Is it too much to ask—this is a kind of controversy which for years and years has generated and attracted far more heat than light—is it too much to ask that we should at last bring our efforts into the common stock, not prejudiced by any ulterior views on the subject of Prohibition or on any other matter, and make a real and united effort to deal in a spirit of common fairness and common sense with this great group of grave and fundamental questions? Something has been said this afternoon of enthusiasm and of fanaticism. Is it too much to hope that in this matter, without distinction of party, we may at length endeavour to approach the task before us as enthusiasts for common fairness and as fanatics for common sense?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Those who, like myself, regard this Bill as at the same time revolutionary and reactionary, upsetting 2312 the very foundations of our licensing laws if it were carried into effect, and setting up an insuperable barrier to progress in the future, must have listened with unqualified admiration and sympathy to the arguments of the Attorney-General who has really left no part of the Bill in a position in which it can hold water. Let us think what this Bill does. The governing principle of our licensing laws hitherto has been that licensing is an administrative and not a judicial function, and that it is a matter primarily for those who represent the locality to judge. This Bill proposes to introduce an entirely new system and to divide the country into three areas, in each of which will be set up a tribunal presided over by a judicial authority which, unlike our present courts, will not be equipped with local knowlede and local sympathy, or in contact with local conditions. That in itself is a revolutionary proposal. In addition to that, it reverses the most fundamental principles which—whatever may have happened in 1828—have for the last 50 years governed our licensing laws—that, first of all, there should be no appeal on the refusal of a new licence; and, secondly, that the grant of a new licence before it becomes operative shall be subject to confirmation. If this Bill passes into law these safeguards, I will not say of temperance, but of the predominance of local opinion, will disappear, and those who have successfully resisted an application for a new licence and those who have required when a new licence has been granted that it shall be confirmed by another authority will be subjected to unlimited inconvenience and cost in prosecuting their aims.
Another matter which I regard as of possibly even more vital importance is the provision, to which the Attorney-General has referred, with regard to removals. It seeks to get rid, by what may be called a side-wind, of the present law which makes the grant of a new licence, where no licence previously existed, a matter first of all for the consideration of the justices; and, side by side with that, it would enable the person who applies for the removal to escape the payment of monopoly value. Can that possibly be defended? The only limitation, so far as I know, that the Bill provides, is that the county into which the old licence may be removed shall be a contiguous county. In other 2313 words, a person living, say, at the extreme limit of the North Riding of Yorkshire, might transfer his licence from there to Derbyshire, Lancashire, or Durham, without any of the ordinary investigation which the grant of a new licence at present requires, and without obligation to pay for the monopoly value. That is a revolution in our licensing law. That such proposals as these should be seriously presented at this time of day as a contribution to the settlement of the great question of temperance, is really almost a mockery of public opinion, and a violation of a now well settled Parliamentary tradition. Since the Attorney-General has demolished the Bill by unanswerable argument, and has announced his intention of himself voting against it, I very much regret that he did not announce that as the considered judgment of the Government. I say so for two reasons. The first is that if he, speaking on behalf of the Government, with the authority of a law officer—though in this case it is not necessary to invoke any such authority—and with a cogency of reasoning which I think the whole House admired—if he declares that the case for the Second Reading of this Bill is a case which cannot be made out, why should not the Government, of which he is a Member, support him, and ask the House to support him?
The second observation that I would make is that, as the Attorney-General has very properly said, this Bill is a very ambitious Bill. It covers a wide area of ground, and raises a number of questions which require for their settlement the most careful and prolonged Parliamentary deliberation; and such a Bill ought not to be passed by this House without the sanction of the Government of the day. The Government have committed themselves over and over again to the urgency of licensing reform. The initiative lies with them, and the House of Commons, even if it rejects this Bill for no other reason, can legitimately say that, unless proposals of this kind, so far-reaching and so revolutionary in their character, are brought forward under the sponsorship and with the responsibility of the Government of the day, they will not entertain them. On all these grounds I ask the House to reject the Bill at this stage.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I think the sense of a great part of the House rests with the observations of the Attorney-General as 2314 to the complete reversal of our traditional policy in so far as the first part of the Bill is concerned. I rise merely to express the hope that under the circumstances of this Debate those who are responsible for the Bill will not put the House to the trouble of a Division. The hon. Gentleman who moved and seconded, having a Bill of 52 Clauses, quite properly occupied a length of time which has precluded sufficient argument of the many controversial points in the Bill. The hour and a half which they occupied was followed with the less relevant discussion which proceeded from my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Macquisten) which lasted for some 50 or 60 minutes. The only part of the Bill to which he did not direct his remarks, and which from his point of view would have been the most relevant for him to discuss, was the concluding Clause which says the Bill does not apply to Scotland. Under the circumstances of the discussion and the time that has been occupied I hope it will be recognised by those responsible for the Bill that further time for discussion and elucidation would be desirable. I say that in no controversial spirit. In the second place there are so many difficult points in the Bill which many hon. Members would like to support and other points which many hon. Members feel unable to support that it is impossible really for anyone satisfactorily to discharge his duty under such circumstances. My hon. and learned Friend who seconded the Motion was in the happy position of saying he had squared his conscience as well as his constituents. If it were possible for some of us to do the same it might be easier for us to say whether we should vote for or against the Bill. I have made up my mind which way I shall vote if a Division comes, but it ought not to be put on us that we are exposed to the criticism that we have voted against many admirable suggestions contained in the Bill if we feel unable to vote in favour of it, or to abstain from voting having regard to provisions which we think are wholly opposed both to the interests of the country and the industry with which the Bill deals. The third reason I suggest for not having a Division is that there is one Clause in the Bill which I think most of us would support—certainly I should—which provides for the discontinuance of the Liquor Con- 2315 trol Board. I will not say it is a scandal, but it is much to be regretted that the twenty or so Orders that have been made under the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act, which were intended to be in existence during the continuance of the War, are still in force, and this country is still groaning under conditions which were never intended to oppress us except under the conditions of the War. I hope the Government will take notice that the House is prepared to see the withdrawal of these Orders at the earliest possible moment. I believe it would be agreeable not only to the House, but to the country if the Government by an agreed measure would at once inform us as to the relaxations which it is proposed should be made in the Defence of the Realm Orders. Although we recognise that the Liquor Control Board has carried out its duties effectively and to some extent to the satisfaction of the country, we should now welcome its demise. I never like the difficult task of talking a Bill out. I shall suspend my observations in order that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Gretton) may show the House that he recognises the difficult position in which we are put, and will have the sense and the generosity not to compel us to go to a Division upon which we are imperfectly prepared to express our opinions.
§ Colonel GRETTON
By leave of the House, I desire to respond to the appeal 2316 of the Attorney-General, and to withdraw the Motion and the Bill.
§ It being Five of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.