HC Deb 11 April 1934 vol 288 cc315-20
Lieut-Colonel APPLIN

I beg to move That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the sale by retail of excisable liquors. The Bill is a short one and contains seven Clauses only. The first Clause empowers licensing justices to grant special facilities to licensed houses which have provided special accommodation apart from the bar and are particularly suitable and well conducted. The Clause defines the type of house suitable and entitled to be used for general public refreshment and which provides food and non-alcoholic beverages in airy and comfortable rooms, with adequate seats and sanitary accommodation. It also authorises the justices, if satisfied, to grant a special licence. Clause 2 gives the right of appeal to quarter sessions in the event of refusal to grant a special licence. Clause 3 permits music and similar entertainments but not stage plays. It also permits dancing except where the justices, make a special order against it on the grounds of good order. Clause 4 permits children to enter those rooms where there is not a bar serving alcoholic drinks. Clause 5, which is the important one, grants half licence fees when the receipts for the past year on excisable liquors are less than half the total receipts, or if more than half and less than two-thirds it reduces the fees by two-thirds. Clause 6 gives remission of compensation duty payable under Section 21 of the Licensing Act, 1910, Clause 7 is the short title and construction.

My hon. Friends in this House who opposed the Hotels and Restaurants Bill did so very largely on the ground that it was a Measure intended to benefit the big hotels and restaurants and the rich man as against the poor man. The question was asked: Why not grant the same thing to the public-house? This Bill does that. It gives those facilities to the public-house in the way of the sale of food and the sale of tea, coffee, ginger beer, etc. It gives them a decent room where they can enjoy those facilities under comfortable surroundings; in fact, it improves the public-house and brings it up to something on the same lines of the estaminet on the Continent. There are certain other benefits that will come from the Bill. I should like to abolish the bar in the public-house, but that I am afraid is impossible. I should also like to see the public-house windows not darkened but open to the public so that everybody could see what goes on there.

Our public houses are the ancient Victorian idea of the rapid sale of drink across the counter. I want to try and get a public house where a man can go and sit down in a comfortable room with his wife and family and partake of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, together with food. This Bill has the advantage that it would enable us to improve the public house. This is a temperance Measure because a reduction in the licence depends on a reduction in the sale of drink. The less drink sold and the more food sold the lower the licence. It really is a temperance Measure although it is called an Improved Public House Bill. This is an anniversary for me, it happens to be my birthday, and I ask the House also to make it the birthday of the Improved Public House Bill.


I did not know when I decided to oppose the Bill that it was the birthday of the hon. and gallant Member, but I join with the rest of the House in wishing him many happy returns of the day, and I hope he will accept that expression of good will instead of the passage of his Bill. It is quite unnecessary. Some of us express a minority opinion on this matter, but this House exists not only to register the opinions of the majority but to hear the views of the minority. It was open to the hon. and gallant Member, if he wished to have his Bill discussed, to have introduced it in the ordinary way, but by moving it in this way he is inviting the opinion of the House, and that is why I am opposing it. I do not ask the House to consider this Bill on its merits or its demerits. It is somewhat difficult to consider a Bill of six or seven Clauses described to us now for the first time. My suggestion is that the licensing laws of this country are so intricate and complicated that such questions as those should be dealt with in a considered fashion and not by a private Member's Bill. Since 1904 150 Measures dealing with the sale of excisable liquors have been introduced into this House, and this is the 151st Bill. Recently two Bills have been given a Second Reading, one in December last and the other in February. One is upstairs now in Committee, where we have spent 12 days considering its proposals, and it has been altered from top to bottom as a result of the Amendments which have been made. Another Bill is also awaiting consideration in Committee, and I suggest that this is not the time to submit a third Bill.

There is urgent need for reform in the way of standardisation and a clamant need for reform in dealing with the menace to health. There is no bench of magistrates which are not urgently exercised by the problem of the clubs, and they have impressed on the Government the need for reform in that direction. But whatever action is taken it should be taken by the Government. They have the advantage of the Report of the Royal Commission, issued 18 months ago, which went into all the evidence available, they are able to ascertain public opinion and have sources of information which are not available to private Members. If a private Member's Bill is introduced and does not pass, it clutters up the Order Paper and occupies the time of the Committee when other Bills are pressing for consideration. If it passes, it means a dislocation of the existing law. My suggestion is that this question is so vital and important that it demands the considered and deliberate attention of the Government and should not be dealt with in this sporadic and promiscuous fashion. It should not be a matter of discussion between myself and those who are opposed to me, and the Government who are in the position of arbitrator should now consider whether their responsibility for introducing legislation should not be discharged. That obligation on the part of the Government will be lessened if this Bill is passed. That is why I oppose the Motion. Let me, in conclusion, quote from an article in the "Times." when dealing with the introduction of the Licensing (Standardisation of Hours) Bill: Whatever the effects of the change which is to be advocated they hardly qualify for discussion at the moment, and least of all on the strength of a private Member's Bill. The whole of the licensing law has but lately been subjected to thorough and systematic investigation by a Royal Commission. Its Report and recommendations have been presented. When the moment comes for Parliament to turn its attention to licensing reform, it should be moved to legislation by the Government themselves on their own responsibility, and asked to examine a policy that has at least taken account of the considered advice of the Commission. Nothing could be less satisfactory, whatever the point of view, than piecemeal anticipations; nor is the state of the law likely to be improved by an unofficial amendment or by a disconnected and unbalanced succession of unofficial amendments, restrictive or otherwise, directed to this or that detail of need and convenience. The House of Commons will be taking a practical and reasonable line if it declines to countenance this or any attempt at partial revision. I ask the House to take a practical and reasonable line by declining to countenance this attempt at partial revision.

Question put, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to the sale by retail of excisable liquors."

The House proceeded to a Division.

There being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the "Ayes," Mr. SPEAKER declared that the "Noes" had it.