HC Deb 17 May 1922 vol 154 cc376-81
Colonel Sir A. HOLBROOK

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish State management of the liquor trade. The Bill is very short, acrid it provides for the repeal of the Clauses regarding State control in the Licensing Act of 1921, and there is also a provision to transfer properties under the State Management Committee to the Public Trustee for his early disposal. In the few minutes at my disposal I shall not be able to state fully the facts which I should like to produce in support of my contention that the time has arrived when State control of the liquor trade should be abolished. I would first call attention to the introduction of State control. In the Debate in Committee on the Defence of the Realm Act on 11th May, 1915, the then Prime Minister used these words: We are now taking purely temporary powers. The thing my hon. Friend wants to be assured about is that we are not purchasing for the purposes of trade. We cannot do that under the Bill. It is not good business to deprive the Government of the power of acquiring premises permanently and to sell them again at the end of the War. If they acquired temporarily at the end of the War they have nothing to sell and they might lose money. The present Leader of the House on the same occasion said: When the War comes to an end the real reason for the Bill will he at an end and the sooner we can stop our liabilities in the matter the better it will be. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that last year the Government brought in a Measure to transfer control from the Liquor Control Board to the Home Office, but owing to strong opposition to that proposal the Bill was withdrawn. When the Licensing (Amendment) Act, 1921, was brought before the House there was inserted a Clause to continue the control in the hands of the Home Secretary and the Secretary for Scotland, until Parliament otherwise determined. That was questioned by an Amendment to limit the period of control to 12 months, but the then Attorney-General stated: It is made as plain as language call make it that what is contemplated is something of a temporary and transitional character. I put down last week Notice of a Motion to abolish this control, but I was blocked and could not bring it before the House, and the only chance of testing the feeling of the House as to whether or not the time has arrived to abolish control, is now availed of. I have taken the only course open to me, by introducing a small Bill to bring about the abolition of this control. I would point out that this control is condemned by every local authority in whose district it is exercised. Resolutions have been passed by the town councils of Annan and Maryport, and strangely enough, since I took the matter in hand I have had several resolutions sent me by representative temperance organisations in the country, asking for the abolition of State control. The Geddes Committee, composed as it was of expert financiers, agreed that the time had arrived when State control of the liquor trade should stop. They reported in these words: The Home Office state that subject to further consideration as regards the Enfield Lock area which does not appear to be profitable, it is intended to continue all the existing schemes. We do not enter into the political or social reasons for this experiment, but in view of the results so far obtained, and of the risk of loss in future years, its continuance as a State undertaking would not appear likely to afford any special financial advantage to the taxpayer. I propose to show the House that, not only in regard to finance, but for social reasons, State control has utterly failed. Several hon. Members have tried from time to time, and I have asked several questions, to ascertain how State control is working financially. We have always received evasive replies. I have been looking up the White Papers and Command Papers published by the Central Control Board. These include a statement of assets and liabilities as at 31st March, 1921, and they say the amount accruing to the Exchequer—not paid to the Exchequer, but accruing to it—since the Board's direct control of the undertaking, now stands at rather more than 40 per cent. of the capital employed. For snore than six years they have paid something less than 7 per cent. per annum. Then they pay no Income Tax, no Excess Profits Duty, no Licensing Duty, and, taking all these figures into consideration, it brings the profit down to something like 2 per cent. I contend that is too near a margin to justify the State in controlling the trade. We have been trying to ascertain how much money has been handed over to the Liquor Department by the State. It has never been clearly stated. During the first year or two sums were taken out of Votes of Credit, and probably they have never been brought into the account. At any rate we have no proof of otherwise. The Home Secretary in March last, answering a question put in this House, said that the capital employed up to 31st March; 1921, was £1,251,805. If that were correct, why does it not agree with the figure shown in the report issued by the Control Department? They say, in their annual statement, that up to 31st March, 1921, the outstanding issues from the Exchequer amounted to £660,577. That shows a discrepancy of no less than £591,228. I contend that is obvious proof of the unreliability of these accounts. The Home Secretary, on the 2nd of the present month, in reply to a question as to what proportion of the money accruing to the Exchequer represented interest and what proportion represented capital, said: "We do not go into these matters." I contend that, if that sort of system of loose financial control be adopted, it is quite time that the State gave up management altogether. It would never be submitted to by any private company.

I now wish to come to the question of the social advantages of State control. I saw in the paper that the Home Secretary paid a visit to Carlisle recently. He went down there heralded by previous notice. The windows were dressed for his visit, and he saw all that was best to be seen. I myself went down to Carlisle, but there was no intimation of my journey there. I spent three days in Carlisle and the district, and I saw things as they are. I do not hesitate, as a licensing magistrate with many years' experience, to say that some of the houses now run by the State in Carlisle would never be passed by any licensing bench in this country. I went into one house on which the State has spent thousands of pounds in alterations, a house called the King's Head. It is a regular rabbit warren, full of small rooms. There were several women's bars in the place, and all of them were packed full with women drinking. At half-past nine on Saturday night I saw a woman take a child of ten years of age into one of these bars. There was no police obstruction, and the landlord could not see the child, the place was so full.


The hon. and gallant Member has had his pint, but he seems to want a quart.


May I crave one moment more just to finish my speech? I contend that the time has arrived when we should abolish State control altogether and leave the matter to private enterprise, where the men in control of the house will have personal responsibility.




Does the hon. Member oppose the Bill?


Yes, I oppose it. I have listened with very great interest to the admission of the hon. and gallant Member who brings forward this Measure to the effect that the State can and does, at least in some directions of its activities, make a profit on its trading. The hon. and gallant Gentleman complains that he went to Carlisle without anyone knowing him. That has been the experience of other people, and they are not all inclined to agree with him. If the hon. and gallant Member be prepared to accept a challenge, I am prepared to bring into any Committee room of this House a number of photographs showing the general condition of dilapidations and statistics of drunkenness of the whole area and compare them with the statements made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. His case is on all fours with that which the brewing interest has made generally. It has been said that you could take any town in Great Britain and compare it with 60 other towns, and show by the kind of analysis adopted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman and some of his co-directors that that town was more drunken than any other. That kind of reasoning may be particularly applicable to their general methods of deduction, but, if one looks to the general circumstances which led to control being adopted in Carlisle, if one reflects upon the danger to every young girl and woman in Carlisle in the early days of the outbreak of War, and if one remembers the influx of three times the normal population, the courageous work done in order to bring that population to something like normal conduct, and the general measure of appreciation that has been rendered by every public man who has seen it at close quarters, not with biassed, but with ordinary, moral, impartial minds, I am perfectly certain that the arguments adduced here will be refuted. I would be most happy to throw out that challenge to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to bring forward his arguments as to dilapidations, pre-and post-War, and let them be submitted to the judgment of those who come forward with impartial minds. I am no teetotaler, but I do want to see a comparison with the kind of house that exists in that area. I have been at Maryport on a miners' festal day, and I have sat in a house, which was a disgrace to Maryport in pre-War days, where a man and his wife can now sit at a table and have any kind of drink they like under the best possible conditions. I submit that the photograph of that place as it existed before control ought to be before every Member of the House before they venture to pass judgment.

Question put, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish State management of the liquor trade."

The House proceeded to a division, and Colonel Sir Arthur Holbrook and Mr. Hailwood were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but, there being no Member, willing to act as Teller, for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKERdeclared that the Ayes had it.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Colonel Sir Arthur Holbrook and Mr. Hailwood.