HC Deb 06 March 1936 vol 309 cc1699-770

Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.


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

I know quite well that this is a controversial matter. I am glad to have the opportunity of raising the question for two main reasons; first, that I feel that the time has come when we should bring in legislation to remove some of the anomalies that now exist and, secondly, that I think we should attempt to restrict the bogus club that is run mainly for the purpose of selling drink. I should like to make my personal position clear. I am not interested in the trade, as it is called, in any shape or form, I have not consulted the trade, and they have not approached me. It has been said in some letters that I have received that I am the sponsor of the trade. That is simply not true. I am speaking on this matter as a back-bench Member on behalf of the general public and working men, because I feel that they resent the continued restrictions and that they have merely put up with them because at recent elections a certain amount of crisis was in the air. The reason of my choice of this Bill is a perfectly simple one. I have been approached by the Club and Institute Union to support their Bill and at the last General Election I gave a promise to support it, and when I found myself successful in the ballot I took over the draft Bill that they had prepared. This Club and Institute Union represents 2,700 working men's clubs, 1,500 Conservative clubs and 1,060 golf clubs. Unfortunately for me the conditions regarding hours in that draft Bill were drastic, and this has led to a good deal of misapprehension.

I do not propose continuous drinking from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and I do not propose to do away with the break in the afternoon. The main object of the Bill is to put an end to the anomalies that have arisen from the varying hours of sale, to try to institute uniform conditions and to keep off the register the undesirable club which has come to be known as the bogus or one-man club. The club that cannot claim to have a legitimate purpose for its promotion will not be able to get on to the register if the Bill passes. In that way we shall kill the bogus club. With regard to the hours question, under the 1921 Act the hours were determined by the local justices, and that has proved to be effective, in my view, in many ways. The author of the Bill, then Sir Gordon Hewart, now Lord Chief Justice, said in an article in the "News of the World," on 12th January last, that it may be that the time is approaching when some alteration of that Act may be desirable. In my view that time has come. It is time that this thorny subject was tackled, either by the Government or by means of a private Member's Bill. The 1921 Act was brought in to clear up the after effects of the War and now, when 15 years have elapsed, surely the changed conditions demand some further legislation. In the Metropolitan area there are 18 licensing districts. The permitted hours are nine and the justices can ùx these nine hours as they wish between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. Prior to the present licensing sessions the terminal hour in seven districts was 11, in another area it was 10.30, and in four it was 10 o'clock. The framers of the 1921 Act had in mind 11 p.m. as the closing hour in London, because Section 1, (2) (a) gives the hours as 11.30–3 and 5.30–11.

It is the giving of discretion in fixing these hours that has produced what has come to be known as the Oxford-Street anomaly, where one side of the street has 11 o'clock closing and the other side 10.30. In the Edgware Road district the same conditions apply, because until a few days ago we had 11 o'clock closing in the portion in Marylebone, 10.30 in the portion in Paddington and 10 o'clock in Kensington. Coming closer to this House, Westminster has 11 o'clock closing, whilst across the bridge in Newington it is 10. The result of this difference in hours is that at about five minutes to 10 there is a general exodus from South London across the bridge to the public houses in Westminster, causing a good deal of overcrowding and inconvenience there. I have been told that a licensee on the other side has complained of the loss of a number of glasses, because customers who are annoyed at not being served have taken glasses with them. Outside the Metropolis the normal hours are eight, from 11 to 10, with the custom- ary break in between. Here again there are numerous anomalies due to this discretion being given. At last year's brewster sessions 91 districts had 10.30 closing all the year round, 239 had 10.30 closing for part of the year and 660 retained 10 o'clock closing. Where is the justice in all this? In London you have the sale of liquor till 11, in Manchester till 10.30 and in other large cities, like Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol and Sheffield, they close at 10 o'clock. Is there a difference in thirst in these districts and is it understood that thirst can be regulated by Act of Parliament?

Then we come to that further very knotty problem—the special requirement. It is a difficulty due to the wording of the 1921 Act. As hon. Members know, Section 1, Sub-Section (1b) gives power to extend the hours if the Justices are satisfied that special requirements render it desirable. I am told that even a universal desire for an extension cannot be classed as a special requirement. Recently the Chairman of the Swansea Bench said that, If we granted the application "— that was for an extension— we should be doing something which is wrong in law I believe that but for this wording many extensions would have been given, but the special requirement has to be proved, and, of course, it is a very difficult matter to prove special requirements in this way. I claim that the extensions which have been given have not been abused. In 300 districts extensions have been granted till 10.30, and, as far as I know, in only one division have they reverted to ten o'oclock. Last year the Marylebone Division extended to 11 p.m., and the Chairman of the Justices, at the annual meeting, congratulated the licensees of that district upon the high standard of conduct of their houses, and said that no increase in drunkenness had taken place. With regard to statistics, I am always averse to a long string of figures, but if the House will allow me, I should like to mention one or two upon the question of increased drunkenness. The position in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1933 was that there were 28.17 convictions per 10,000 of the population. In 1934 that had increased to 29.4, not a very large increase; in Bradford the figures were 13.76 up to 14.5; in Liverpool they were 20.19 up to 25.23—that, I agree, is rather a bad one—and in Hull they were 11.69 up to 13.7. The average for the whole country in the 1934 statistics was 9.82 convictions for drunkenness per 10,000 of the population which gives a figure of one per thousand. I suggest that that is a very small figure and is no reason why the other 999 should be restricted and penalised.

I am aware, of course, that the temperance people have bias against any extension of hours and against the principle of this Bill, but I do feel that it is somewhat unfair that there is a tendency to pack the benches which are discussing these matters with temperance justices. It is well known that anyone who has any connection whatever with the trade, even if he has only ten small shares in a restaurant which occasionally sells drink, is debarred from sitting on that bench, and I submit that that is a very unfair state of affairs. The hon. gentleman the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), who is, I understand, to move the rejection of the Bill, shows his bias in the fact that, before the terms of my Bill were published, he put down an Amendment for rejection. I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to reduce the hours of sale instead of to increase them?

The Bill proposes 11 p.m. closing in London and certain large cities, and 10.30 for the rest of the provinces. The break in the afternoon, of course, is retained for obvious reasons. I do not wish myself, and I do not think that anyone else wishes, to have the continuous sale of liquor. Apart from this, it is desirable from the point of view of the licensee and his staff, that there should be a reasonable break in the afternoon. Some people have said that 10.30 is too late for the small country towns. I suggest that that is not so in the present conditions where motoring enters into the subject so very much, but as an offset to that I would mention that in Yorkshire the bulk of the country and outside towns at present have 10.30 closing, whereas large places like Leeds and Sheffield have only ten o'clock. The provision in the former Licensing Act with regard to the hour's extension for those places serving food in as great a proportion as liquor is still maintained in this Bill, but those premises which cannot claim this hour's extension are given the right on twelve occasions per year, under Clause 1, Sub-section (1c). On giving notice to the superintendent of police they are entitled, on twelve occasions throughout the year, to add one hour to their hours of sale.

Another Clause deals with the question of giving ten minutes' grace for drinking-up, which is an attempt, once again, to get rid of an anomaly. At the present time, it is legal to order a drink up to, say, one second before ten, but it is not legal to take one minute to consume it, hence the provision which gives the right of reasonable time to get rid of that particular liquor. The precedent to this is the Royal Commission on Licensing for Scotland, which recently suggested a period of 15 minutes for drinking-up, and then for leaving the premises. I suggest that this could be well covered by ten minutes, and that is why I have altered that figure in my Bill. Sunday hours, hon. Members will see on reference to the Bill, are from 12 to 3 and from 7 to 10, and are within the same limits as were prescribed in the Act of 1921. It is not my intention that this should apply to Wales, and I say that under Clause 10, the repeal Clause, which does not include the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act, 1881, it is clear that this provision will not be operative in Wales. At any rate, if there should be any query about that, I am willing to so amend it in Committee as to make the point quite clear.


Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the Sunday Closing Act, 1881, is still on the Statute Book?


That is the Act, I understand, which covers the closing in Wales.


Is it still on the Statute Book?


If that is the Act, I am perfectly willing to let it stand and to exclude Wales from the provisions of of my Bill. I come to the Clause dealing with clubs, and on this point, I think that there will be rather more general agreement. There has been, as. hon. Members know, a very great outcry against the one-man club. In my constituency a few years ago we had one of these particular things. It was called "The Silk Stocking Club." I have no idea why they chose that particular title.


It must have been a ladies' club.


Its sole object was to sell drink, and eventually it came under the notice of the police and was closed down. No doubt hon. Members have similar clubs operating in their constituencies. I think that most of these clubs are a sort of stage army; they march on and off the register, and come on again under different titles, their one purpose being the sale of drink exclusively. Under the existing law, if it was enforced, I understand that this could be dealt with as a transgression. We feel that prevention is better than cure and that it is desirable to introduce legislation which will prevent this type of club ever getting on to the register. I am told that under the Clauses referring to clubs no bona fide club will suffer. They will have to put up with a certain amount of additional regulation and obligation, but they do not mind that so long as they can rid the club movement of the present disgrace.

The registration authority is changed to the county council and the county borough council. This will relieve the clerks to the justices, who in most cases now are terribly over-worked. The precedent for this change is in the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934. Another point is that the clubs dislike being linked up with the retail licensed trade. They prefer a different tribunal for their registration. Provision is made for appeal to quarter sessions. With regard to the conditions for registration, any club applying for registration will have to prove that it is established for a lawful purpose, that its affairs are conducted by a properly constituted committee and that correct accounts are kept. A novel feature of the registration under the Bill is that the name and address of the landlord of the club will have to be supplied, also the names, addresses and occupations of the members of the committee. In this way the constitution of the club will be known, and if there is anything in the past record against it, it cannot secure registration. There are other conditions which I do not propose to enumerate. I hope the House will be satisfied with what I have said. Any club raising an objection to non-registration can be heard before the county or county borough council, with the right of appeal to quarter sessions.

I should like to say a few words with regard to the Government and the Bill. I have been told that this is a large Measure which should be tackled by the Government. I agree, but as they have not tackled it, it is obvious that someone must raise the matter. I agree that large and controversial matters of this description are not suitable for private Members' Bills, but I have been successful in the ballot, and as under the present system it is permissible to bring in a Bill on any subject I have chosen this subject. If I can have a definite assurance that the Government are going to deal with the question at some definite time, I shall be perfectly willing to consider withdrawing the Bill.

So far as the extension of hours is concerned it is necessary to secure uniformity. Some districts open early and some late. The only way to secure uniformity is by the reasonable extension which I have put down in the Bill. Another point to which I would refer is the position of the Methodist Church. I have been asked how I, who was brought up as a Methodist, dare to introduce a Bill of this description. I am sorry that that question has been brought up. Naturally, I do not want to say anything against the Methodist Church, because I have the greatest respect for it, but I feel that it is a pity that this matter should have been brought into the question of religion. In spite of the fact that I occasionally take a little alcohol I do not consider myself any worse a Christian than anyone else. The hon. Member for Bermondsey West will be pleased to know that I never take any alcohol when I am driving a motor car.

The Bill is the minimum that can be asked for with regard to the extension of hours and the restrictions on the registrations of clubs. I am aware that some of the details may need alteration and amendment in Committee. If the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, we can consider amendments in Committee. I appeal for a Second Reading and ask that the Bill should be sent to a Standing Committee.

11.33 a.m.

Commander BOWER

I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, I feel a certain amount of embarrassment in finding myself so close to the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). For the last 20 minutes she has been making low, moaning noises, like a tigress deprived of its young, but she has kindly given me an assurance that, as I am so young and inexperienced, I shall not be unduly interrupted in my few remarks. I support the Bill because I believe that some such Measure is very much overdue, but I do not feel too happy about the drafting of the Bill. However, one must realise that Private Members have not at their disposal the advice and facilities which the Government have, and, on the whole, I believe that the drafting of the Bill has been done as well as might be expected. With regard to the question of standardisation, all reasonable people will agree that it is very long overdue. My hon. Friend has given several instances of anomalies in this respect. He pointed out that in most of the divisions of London the closing time is 11 p.m. and in the City of Manchester, 10.30, while in Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield the closing hour is 10 p.m. In Cheshire, in the towns of Hyde and Macclesfield, the closing hour is 10.30 p.m. Liverpool, with a population of 855,000 has a closing hour of 10 o'clock, while in the hon. Member's own town of Halifax, with 98,000 inhabitants, they have a different hour from Barnsley, with 71,000, and Wakefield with 59,000.

The question is, does extension of hours really increase drunkenness? It is a very difficult question to answer. Evidence can be produced to support the argument that it does increase drunkenness and equal evidence can be produced to support the statement that it does not. When one reads the evidence that was given before the Royal Commission one sees that both sides can put up a very good case. In connection with the Jubilee celebrations last year the Home Secretary said, in reply to a question, that the total number of persons arrested for being drunk and disorderly in the whole of the London area was 167, and he thought the House would agree that that low figure was highly satisfactory. As the weekly average is 183, I think that figure was extremely satisfactory. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said, in the year before last, in connection with the Royal Wedding and the Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve celebrations, that these were regarded as special occasions and justified the issue of special orders of exemption on somewhat more generous scale than had been the practice hitherto. The number of such orders was over 16,800, each application being considered individually on its merits. I want the House to take note of the words— Each application being considered individually on its merits "— because I shall have something more to say about that. They go on to say— The concession did not result in any increase in drunkenness. With regard to the Jubilee, one would have thought that such an occasion of national rejoicing would have resulted in a considerable increase of drunkenness in view of the increase in opening hours. Not at all. Even those who disapproved of such manifestations of public loyalty and might have taken to the bottle as a counterblast to Jubilee ballyhoo, do not appear to have done so. In 300 districts exemptions were granted with no ill effects. Under the present system, however, there is no doubt that magistrates' benches can be, and undoubtedly are, from time to time packed by the teetotal interest, and packed by people who can be relied upon to base their decisions on prejudice rather than on the evidence. I have here a most flagrant example. Mr. Grundy when introducing the report of the Temperance and Social Services Committee at the Independent Church Conference at Sunderland last year is reported to have said— Several Independent Methodists have been appointed magistrates during the year. The connexion has been fairly successful in this respect but not as successful as we had hoped. And this is the important passage— More effective temperance work can be done in a magistrates' room than can be done in 12 months anywhere else.


Did you say Mr. or Mrs. Grundy?

Commander BOWER

This is Mr. Grundy. I submit that this can only mean that certain magistrates consider that the bench affords them an opportunity of forcing their own views on people rather than of exercising the proper judicial capacity of judging each case on its merits after hearing the evidence. I hope that the attention of the Lord Chancellor has been directed to these matters. Reference has been made to the attitude of the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), who put down an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill before knowing its provisions. This appears to be something of a habit amongst extreme teetotalers. I have here a copy of a publication which will be well known to many hon. Members, the "Alliance News," of March 1936, in which it says amongst other things: It is again necessary to call upon our readers to take immediate action on the subject of a private Member's Bill which is down for Second Reading in the House of Commons on 6th March. The Bill is being introduced by Mr. Gilbert Gledhill, the Conservative Member for Halifax, and although the actual text of the Bill is not yet available authentic forecasts have appeared in the trade Press. Although no definite details are yet available as to the provisions regarding clubs, however drastic they may be, they cannot save the Bill from the strenuous opposition of the whole temperance movement. Therefore, one must assume that the whole temperance movement is quite unwilling to consider the Bill on its merits and is determined to oppose it simply because it is a Bill dealing with licensing. That is the only conclusion to which one can come. They go on to recommend that their readers should write an individual letter to the House of Commons asking their Member of Parliament to be present in the House and oppose what they call "this disastrous extension of drinking facilities," and also that they should write a letter to the Home Office and to the Prime Minister asking that the Government Whips should be put on against the Bill. That is a rather strenuous attitude to take regarding a Bill which they had not seen. I shall not be doing hon. Members who oppose the Bill an injustice if I say that their attitude towards clubs is "Close the lot," whilst they sell drink at all. I have the utmost respect for the opinions of a teetotaler. I respect him, and I should never dream of trying to force him to take alcoholic liquor or, indeed, try to stop him drinking some of those non-alcoholic beverages which my medical friends tell me are more deleterious to health than good beer. I realise that one man's meat is another man's poison—and the same applies to drink. In this connection I once said to a personal friend of mine, Mr. Isaac Foot, who, alas, is no longer with us, that if he drank the same amount of beer as I did it would not do him any harm, but that if I smoked the same amount of strong tobacco as he did I should be in my grave in a week. If I were to drink the amount of milk which the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth consumes, and she drank the amount of beer that I do, I should certainly be the sufferer.

The principal object of the Bill is to deal with the scandal of the one-man club. I have seen many of them and I say that they are an absolute scandal. The time has come when they must be dealt with. I hope the Home Secretary is not going to say that the police already have powers sufficient to deal with them, because if that is the case why do they not use their powers I These clubs must be stopped. They are a rapidly growing scandal. What a bona fide club objects to is to be classed in the same category as these bogus clubs. All the 128 Conservative clubs and the 3,700 clubs of the Workmen's Club and Institute Union are unanimously supporting the Bill. Their combined membership is 1,500,000. A very large number of golf clubs and other sports clubs are supporting the principle of the Bill. I have no doubt that there are several such clubs in Bermondsey. I know that the two Conservative clubs in that division are supporting the Bill. The bona fide clubs, with which hon. Members are familiar, are I submit a very great asset in the social life of the country. They do not exist merely for the purpose of drinking.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) in the last Parliament on a licensing Bill crossed swords with me on this matter. I wish he could come to my constituency and visit one or two of the working men's clubs in which I spend a good deal of my time. He could have a game of billiards or darts, or backgammon, listen to the wireless or read the newspapers, including the "Daily Herald", or he might even indulge in a surreptitious game of "Housey-Housey". The drinking is moderate and quite ancillary to the ordinary activities of the club. The mere fact that these clubs have such an enormous membership is in their favour. Hon. Members, whatever they may feel about clubs, will agree that they are a great boon to the unemployed man and particularly to the unemployed man who has been out of work for a long time. There are many of these men in my constituency, and it is pathetic to see the shifts they will employ in order to be able to pay their club subscription, and be able to go along to these social centres and feel themselves on terms of equality with their more fortunate brethren who are working. I support these clubs through thick and thin, because I believe they are a great asset to the social life of the country.

In conclusion, I would like to make a few remarks about the Royal Commission's Report. There is no doubt that the Royal Commission will be quoted against us very extensively on the plea that many of the proposals of the Bill cut right across the Commission's recommendations. The Royal Commission was set up in 1929—over six years ago—by the Labour Government, which adopted that time-honoured device for shelving a somewhat thorny question. In this connection I would say that, after being in office for over four years, I see no reason why the National Government should shelve this question any longer, for it ought to be dealt with in one way or another.

The constitution of the Royal Commission was rather peculiar and it became known as the "Shandygaff" Commission, for obvious reasons. The Commission issued a voluminous Report, which contained a majority Report, three minority Reports and 14 pages of reservations. There would have been yet another minority Report had Mr. B. T. Hall, then the Secretary of the Working mens Club and Institute Union, been spared to compile it, for it is well known that he dissented from many of the recommendations of the majority Report, particularly those concerning clubs. This Report was pigeon-holed and nothing was afterwards heard of it, except on occasions such as the present, when it is dug out and used for purposes of argument against Bills of this character.

Last week it was announced that the representatives of all the temperance organisations in the country had agreed to sink their differences and to unite to work for the proposals of the Royal Commission on Licensing. The majority Report of the Commission proposed the following hours of opening: We recommend, therefore, that the latest hour for the sale of intoxicants should be 10 p.m. throughout the country, with the exception that it should be within the discretion of justices in rural districts to fix a latest hour not earlier than 9 p.m. during the winter. Since the publication of the majority Report, I notice that one of its most prominent signatories has been appointed a director of a, big firm of brewers, which has between 2,000 and 3,000 licensed houses under its control, one of which is just outside this House, and I would like to know whether he still favours 9 o'clock in the country and 10 o'clock in London and elsewhere. The Commission's Report is completely out of date, except for purposes of propaganda on teetotal platforms. I remember that when Mr. Lockwood in the last Parliament introduced the Licensing (Standardisation of Hours) Bill—which incidentally was a very bad Bill—Mr. Isaac Foot, ably assisted by the hon. Member for Westhoughton and others, spent day after day reading out numerous extracts not only from the Report but from the evidence as well; but, so far as licensing justices are concerned, far from being influenced by the recommendations of the majority Report concerning the universal 10 p.m. closing they have now in London, made the terminal week-day hour 11 p.m. in seven districts and 10.30 p.m. in eight districts. In only three London districts is 10 p.m. closing now in force and it is probable that this number will be reduced before the licensing sessions are concluded.


The hon. Member said that I read voluminous documents to the House, but did he ever find me adhering to a typescript as closely as he is doing this morning?

Commander BOWER

I have not had the opportunities of speaking that have been accorded to the hon. Member for Westhoughton, particularly during the last Parliament, when I sat and listened to him, if I may say so without offence, simply devastating acres of the OFFICIAL REPORT. To conclude, I am afraid I shall have again to read an extract which I have not been able to commit to memory. It is a letter written by the Rev. J. M. F. Dumphreys, and read at a meeting of the Newington Justices on Monday, 2nd March, when an extension to 10.30 p.m. was granted. The letter reads as follows: There is nothing whatever, it seems to me, in reason or religion. to justify childish and arbitrary curtailment of personal and parochial liberty such as is now obtaining in the case of a person who desires his drink being sent indoors; or, alternatively, spending his money in hurried travelling, thus going away from his own district of his own London. Experience has proved beyond doubt that our own people will never be driven indoors by unfair by-laws, or into church by parsonic pratings, and it is best to trust to individual judgment to decide upon what is fit and proper in the matter of visiting a licensed house, or even a church. Every sane man must plead and stand for the consistency and the logic of the case. All my people here are of the same opinion. A really just demand has never been denied us. What should prevent the later half-hour being entrusted to those who desire it? This Bill seeks to standardise hours and to eliminate bogus clubs with a minimum of disturbance to the existing state of affairs. For those reasons I beg to second the Motion of my hon. Friend.

11.47 a.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."

Despite what was said by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, this Bill was drafted and promoted by the vested interests, and it was put into his hands ready-made without his having seen its provisions. Forecasts of various Clauses of the Bill appeared almost accurately in the trade papers, and when the notice for the rejection of the Bill was put down on the Order Paper, those who take the general views that I do were perfectly familiar with its provisions. In almost every Clause the Bill proceeds in flat defiance of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I think practically all hon. Members are agreed that such a huge and complicated subject as licensing law should not be handled by a private Member's Bill in a piecemeal fashion, but should be tackled in a comprehensive manner by a Government Measure. That is my first objection to the Bill as a whole.

But there are grave objections to almost every Clause of the Bill. The Mover and the Seconder have stated that one of the primary objects of the Bill is to secure standardisation of hours. I think I shall be able to convince the House that this Bill does nothing of the sort, but on the contrary aggravates the existing position. To many of us, the Clauses of the Bill as a whole seem to be constructed with the object of extending drinking facilities generally, and an air of respectability is given to those pro. posals by certain other provisions dealing with clubs. I ask the House to look at the facts of the case. Everybody who knows anything of the facts agrees that the reduction of hours, and particularly the abolition of the late hours of closing, effected first by the Defence of the Realm Act and subsequently by the Licensing Bill of 1921, really brought about a social revolution in this country. Within three months of the reduction of hours and the abolition of the late hours of closing which existed prior to the War, there was a positively sensational drop in the number of convictions for drunkenness. I believe it was in the neighbourhood of 30 per cent. within a few months. All who live in industrial districts recognise that there has been a tremendous change for the better in the condition of the streets, particularly on Saturday nights, since the shorter hours were imposed. If conclusive testimony is wanted of the beneficial results of earlier closing I refer the House to the statement given before the Royal Commission by Sir Edgar Sanders, the present Director of the Brewers' Society, who said: The earlier closing hour has been a reform of the first magnitude for the whole country. The last hour in the evening is always the worst whatever the period of opening is. To get the streets clear at least one hour earlier than used to be the case has been an enormous benefit and the health of the working class has also benefited through getting more sleep. Unfortunately, the tremendous advantages which the country derived from the shortening of hours are now being lost. The position is being reversed. Prior to the last pre-War year, the total number of convictions for drunkenness was 188,000. That number came steadily down for 11 years without a break until 1932. There was a continuous and steady decline in the number of convictions until, in 1932, the figure was 30,000. Then two things happened. First, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by reducing the Excise Duty, secured a reduction of one penny a pint in the price of beer. Secondly, the Brewers' Society inaugurated a tremendous campaign advertising their commodity. Within a year there was a jump of 20 per cent. in the number of convictions. In 1933 the figure was 36,000; in 1934, it was 40,000 and, although we have not yet got the complete figures for this year, they are understood to be in the neighbourhood of 50,000. That is a deplorable position and is giving rise to great anxiety among many people who have the welfare of the country at heart. The curve of convictions for drunkenness is almost precisely parallel with the curve of increased consumption of beer.

This Bill by lengthening hours is obviously intended to increase the total consumption. Wherever hours have been increased an increase in consumption has followed. Although agree that many factors are concerned in the decrease in sobriety in this country during the last two or three years I consider that the lengthening of hours is undoubtedly one factor. Let me call attention to the position in Manchester and Salford. The Manchester bench in 1935 increased the hours of opening in that city from eight to eight and a half hours. Whether it is a case of post hoc or propter hoc there was an immediate increase in convictions for drunkenness in Manchester. There was a 22 per cent. increase in the case of males and a 25 per cent. increase in the case of females, and there were 2,242 eases in one year. The Chief Constable of Manchester in a report to the Watch Committee said he had been at a loss to discover the reason, but he concluded thus: The increase has been much more pronounced since April, when the later hours became operative. The adjacent city of Salford has almost identical social conditions with Manchester and a similar population. There is no distinctive boundary between it and Manchester. One can step across the street from the one borough into the other. In Salford, the magistrates refused to lengthen the hours and there was actually a decrease in the number of convictions in Salford last year. I do not pretend to say that any final or even positive conclusion can possibly be drawn from that one circumstance, but Manchester people, and I have talked to a good many on this point, all agree that the extra half-hour has been some contribution to this position. In Liverpool the Chief Constable delivered himself as follows: On Christmas Eve no great difference was noticeable in some divisions of the City, but in the central division the conditions were far from good. There were obvious signs of extensive drunkenness, particularly among young people. This resulted in a greater number of scenes of rowdyism in the streets than has been apparent for a number of years, and these remarks apply also to part of the south end of the city. The conditions on New Year's Eve were very much better than on Christmas Eve, but there was much heavy drinking at the south end, and rowdyism and disorder in the streets prevailed until a late hour. I may mention, incidentally, that the situation in Manchester is very interesting in this respect. In 1925 the Manchester Trades and Labour Council petitioned the bench to extend the hours from 10.0 to 10.30. In 1936 the Manchester Trades and Labour Council petitioned the bench to revert to the earlier hour. The reason was that the extra half-hour had inflicted a great injustice on the employés in licensed premises. They had been compelled to work an extra half-hour and none of them had received either any additional remuneration or any corresponding time off. I have this morning received a letter from one of the large trade unions, which includes a number of former employés of the licensed trade in its ranks, requesting me to continue my opposition to this Bill in the interests of the employés. The letter states that the brewers have shown no desire for any accommodation whatever and, where the hours of opening have been lengthened, the employés in practically every case have been compelled to work the extra time and have received no recognition whatever therefor. Nothing in the Bill will protect or assist the employés in this respect. If the genuine and unfettered opinion of the licensees them- selves could be obtained, I should be surprised if a large majority of them were not against the Bill. A number of them in my constituency have told me that this proposal is foisted on them and that this move proceeds from the brewers and does not emanate from them.

So far as the consumption of liquor is concerned—and this Bill is designed to promote an increased consumption of liquor—there has unfortunately been an increase, and there is a continued increase, which has had all kinds of disastrous social effects other than merely increasing the number of convictions for drunkenness. I have the official returns of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Before the War, when the hours of opening were as long as the House knows they were, the number of convictions of parents for cruelty to children in cases due to drink was 19,755 per annum. With the reduction in the hours and in the consumption of drink, that number dropped, dropped, dropped, until in 1932 it had fallen to 3,121. Directly there was an increased consumption of liquor the convictions for cruelty to children rose once more. In the next year they went from 3,100 to 3,300, then to 3,400, and then to 3,500. It is clear that any additional consumption of liquor will be followed not merely by increased convictions for drunkenness, but by disastrous social effects as well. There was pushed under my door a few days ago a church leaflet, or at least a leaflet from a local mission. The title of the document was "The Home Message". There is no special reference to drink in it except this, that in London at Christmas time the Commissioner of Police, acting on his own authority and under powers conferred upon him, without any reference to the justices at all allowed public-houses to remain open till 12 midnight, and this is the only comment that appears in this leaflet: We mentioned last month that our carol singers had never in the whole of their lives seen such drunkenness as they saw on Christmas Eve. We are evidently getting back to the bad old times. I am bound to say that that is my own experience. I saw last year sights in my own borough which I had never seen during the 40 years had lived there. I saw three men lying in the gutter or on the pavement, not merely drunk but comatose drunk. You could have kicked them, and there would have been no response of any kind. I have seen sights like that in Moscow, and I have seen them in the Balkans, but I have never seen them in this country before. I say that every observer of social conditions in industrial neighbourhoods at the present time is recognising that this sort of thing is increasing and that there is a definite reversal of the admirable improvement in sobriety that has been taking place in recent years.


Was there any evidence, with regard to the hon. Gentleman's comatose constituents, to show whether they had come from public-houses or from one of the bogus clubs which this Bill is designed to close?


My point is that there is at the present time a definite tendency in the direction of an increased consumption of drink, and the whole of the facts show that when there is an increased consumption of drink, that is always followed by increased drunkenness. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of solid fact, which neither the hon. Member nor anybody else can refute. I now come to the claim made by the Mover and Seconder of the Bill that the Bill will promote standardisation or uniformity of hours of closing, and I submit that the present difficulties will not be removed, that in many cases they will be aggravated, and that in other cases they will be created where at present they do not exist.

Of course, there will be uniformity or partial uniformity within the area of the County of London itself, but the County of London has not a sharply defined border except in a purely artificial sense. It is surrounded entirely by large numbers of other boroughs continous to it, and the closing hours within the County of London will be 11 and in all the surrounding ring of boroughs it will be 10.30. They are only divided from the county area proper by an invisible boundary in the middle of the street, and there will be no difficulty whatever in people living outside the county, over an enormous area, obtaining liquor after the public-houses in the district in which they live have been closed. As a matter of fact, the amount of uniformity created in London proper will be less if this measure is carried than exists now. The length of frontage of the county which will be affected, and in regard to which there will be a difference in the closing hours on either side, will be actually longer, from a geographical point of view, than the frontage inside the county at the present time where uniformity will be created.

As regards the other great towns of over 300,000 population referred to in the Bill, the position will be chaotic. Let me give a few examples: Manchester will have 11 o'clock closing, but Salford in future will have 10.30 closing. There is no boundary except an artificial one, and no one can tell, unless he happens to know the, locality accurately, when he is stepping out of Manchester and into Salford, or vice versa. On the South side of Manchester you have the borough of Stockport, which will have 10.30 closing, and on the other side of the road, in Manchester, they will have 11 o'clock closing. If you look at a large-scale map, you will see that Manchester is really the centre of one vast town, and Manchester with 11 o'clock will, like, London, be entirely surrounded by numbers of other districts where the closing hour will be 10.30. I should judge, after looking at the large-scale, map, that conditions so far as Manchester are concerned will be much worse than those which exist in London at the present time, about which so much fuss has been made.

Liverpool has no boundary difficulty at present, and it will suddenly find that the county borough of Bootle, adjoining, will have 10.30 closing, whereas Liverpool itself will be closing at 11; and Birkenhead and Wallasey, which are connected both by a tunnel and a frequent ferry service, will be in the same position. Sheffield has a boundary difficulty at the present time. There. 10 o'clock closing exists, whereas in Rotherham, next door, the closing hour is 10.30. This Bill will reverse that position, and Sheffield will have 11 o'clock and Rotherham 10.30. I could go on giving a large number of other illustrations, but I will not weary the House, except that I will refer to Birmingham. At present Birmingham and the Black Country are under a practically uniform 10 o'clock rule. The magistrates on Tuesday last rejected for the second time an application to extend the hour to 10.30. The Birmingham and Black Country uniformity is to be broken up completely, and an endless number of anomalies will be created between the City of Birmingham proper and all the boroughs and districts immediately adjacent thereto. In view of the fact that some great towns like Newcastle and Bradford, which are under 300,000 at present, are likely to reach 300,000 in a year or two, trouble is being laid up for the future, involving further anomalies.

There is one feature in the Bill which is to me very shocking, and it is to other hon. Members to whom I have spoken about it. Under paragraph (c) of Clause 1 every public house will not only be able to have a closing time at 11, but one a month it will be able to have a closing time at midnight. That is going back to the bad old days with a vengeance. In my own area, where there are a considerable number of public houses that are tied, brewers will be able to arrange easily that on almost every day in the week some public house in the neighbourhood will be opened until midnight. If I may be allowed a personal reference, I would like to give my recollection in my own district of those dreadful times, those nightmare times, when public houses closed at 12 o'clock. I practised for 30 years in one of the poorest boroughs of London as an ordinary general medical practitioner. No doctor in a neighbourhood like that could dare to go to bed on Saturday night before three or four in the morning because of drunken brawls in the street. The police surgeon has told me again and again that he practically never had Saturday night in bed. He was called out time after time to stitch up cut eyebrows and to mend broken noses which had occurred as the result of drunken scenes in the street.

Now this Bill proposes to go back to a condition something like that. It is a retrograde Measure of the first magnitude. It will inflict a grave social wrong. It is an anti-social Bill of the worst character. My view in that respect is borne out by the attitude of the women's organisations in the country. When the Lockwood Bill was brought in last year and proposed to increase the hours of opening, every women's society in the Kingdom protested. Mothers' unions, women's institutes, women's co-operative guilds wrote to Members and to the Government begging that the hours be not extended because the women know perfectly well that they and the children will be the main sufferers if once again the hours are lengthened and we tend to revert to pre-War conditions. I have letters in my file from women who are literally terrified by the thought of a reversion to those dreadful hours of years ago. This Bill is one of the most mischievous innovations that has come before the country for many years.

I want to say a word about clubs. I think, and a number of other hon. Members think, too, that the particular Clauses dealing with clubs have only been introduced as a kind of camouflage to cover up the proposals in the Bill. This bogus Bill proposes to deal with bogus clubs. Actually, as can be easily shown, it will have very little effect. It may dispose of a few of the purely one-man, proprietary clubs, but it does not profess to touch the existing one-man proprietary clubs, of which there are hundreds, if not thousands, in the country. They are to be allowed to go on as heretofore. No proposals are in the Bill for dealing with them or for controlling them. Then there is the extraordinary proposal in the Bill to transfer the powers of magistrates over clubs to the local authorities. That proposal was before the Royal Commission. It was adequately discussed and the Commission unanimously turned it down for the very excellent reason, with which all municipal leaders whom I have had the opportunity of consulting agree, are good and sufficient, namely, that if we place the registration of clubs in the hands of the local authorities, we shall introduce the drink issue into every municipal election. Instead of the attention of the electors being concentrated on vital municipal issues, such as housing and maternity and child welfare, the elections will be conducted again and again on the question of drinking facilities. We shall open the way to pressure and counter pressure and there will be endless opportunities of corruption and intimidation. I regard this particular section dealing with clubs as one of the worst, if not the worst, in the Bill.


Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that Clause 9 makes provision for getting rid of bogus clubs?


No, I adhere to what I said. I suggest that for the reasons I have given, and for many others with which I have no time to deal, but which will be dealt with by other hon. Members, the House should reject the Bill with no uncertain vote.

12.23 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

It must be clear to the House that on all sides there is agreement that the time has come and passed when this question should be dealt with. When the opportunity came for my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Gledhill) to introduce a Bill of this description, one felt that he should have tried to bring in a Bill with which we could all agree and so get this question settled once and for all. The greatest service that such Measures can render is as a pointer to the Government in. the direction in which some action might be taken. I hope that, as the outcome of this debate, the Government will tell us that they are going to tackle this thorny question and bring it finally to an issue arid a settlement. I look at this question from the standpoint of the rural districts. So far as I have been able to judge, most of those who support this Bill are thinking of the great centres of population, believing they are going to gain some little advance, if it be an advantage—very little, but some little advantage— by an extension of hours; but it would impose upon the rural districts a great increase in drinking facilities which those districts do not ask for and do not want.

The only reason submitted to the House for extending the hours in the rural districts is that nowadays there is so much motoring through the countryside. I submit that if there is one thing which ought to influence the House to pause before passing this Bill it is that reason. We do not want greatly increased facilities for drinking by motorists as they pass through the country. It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that this Bill is universally desired. In the last two or three years I have spoken to dozen of the licensees in my own division, a scattered country district, and I have yet to meet the first licensee who wants an extension of hours. Whilst the Bill last year was under consideration in Committee I received from licensee after licensee requests that I should oppose it because they did not want an increase of hours. That being the case it seems to me that it would be a mistake for this House to impose on the rural districts a Measure which they do not want.

There have been attempts to impart religious prejudice into this discussion. Let me say as a Methodist and as a magistrate for a very considerable number of years that I can call to mind no occasion in all my 30 years' service as a magistrate when I have been asked to take prejudiced action by my fellow Methodists. We all know—it does not matter to which side one belongs—that if a question comes up, or is known to be coming up, either in this House or before a magisterial bench, which affects the community as a whole, we get people unwisely coming to us and asking us to do this, that and the other; but to suggest that the magistrates of this country are influenced by that sort of thing is an entirely wrong thing to suggest, and it does not happen.

Another point on which I wish to touch is the question of one-man clubs as it affects rural districts. At the present time there is a development of something in the nature of one man clubs in our rural districts. Take a district like that which I have the honour to represent, which consists of nothing but villages and a great forest district. People in the large centres are showing a tendency to secure a large house, with its own grounds, in such a district, and to establish there a club to which people come out from the towns at week-ends and in the evenings, and the conditions which often prevail in our quiet country districts are a menace to those districts and are resented by them.

I called at one of our farms not long ago, and the farmer told me, "We were awakened this morning at 2 o'clock and found a party of motorists from—Club outside. They were on the way to Manchester. The car had tried to mount the 'cop' and they called to ask the way. I went outside and I looked at them and at the car, and I said: 'Well, at all events that is not the way to Manchester'. They had to come in here and stay for some hours before they were fit to drive that car to Manchester." This Bill will not help in circumstances such as those. We want some protection against the importation of that which is undesirable in towns into the quiet districts of the country. I stand here for the preservation of rural England. We do not want this House to pass such legislation as will enable undesirable conduct such as would not be tolerated in the towns to be introduced into rural England.

I would point out to the House that the proposal before us is to extend the hours at a late stage of the day—10 to 11. I do not know what those Members who are magistrates in urban districts will have to say to this, but I have had a somewhat unique experience in keeping the peace in one of those districts which, during a part of its history, at all events, was liable to rioting and other conduct of that description. Perhaps almost more often than any other living man, I suppose, I have had to go out into the streets with a platoon of soldiers and with the Riot Act in my pocket. Time after time that has occurred. What was the mode of procedure? We never thought of going down to the Town Hall until it came to about 9 o'clock at night, and we knew we should never be called on to take action until 10 o'clock. But the moment 10 o'clock had passed the telephone bell began to ring, and messages would come in to say that rioting had commenced here or there, and we had to get on the march to try to keep things quiet. That went on till 11 or 12 o'clock, and sometimes later. The very time when people become more excited is the very time at which it is suggested that the facilities for drinking should be extended.

I want to express my views. I know that for many years I have been an object of suspicion by my temperance friends because I cannot take a very narrow view on this question. I have always believed, and still believe, that there is a real social service to be taken up and carried on by the village inn, a service of recreation and fellowship. which could be made a great instrument for human betterment.

What I regret at the present time, and in the Bill, is that the trade do not see that the way to run this social service is to remove drunkenness and degradation and bring in the social service elements which to-day are outside. The Bill goes right against that direction. I look forward to the time when common sense will assert itself in this matter, and in every village we shall see a house for entertainment and refreshment. Those who are responsible for the Bill and for the trade should have the common sense to understand that the way to go forward, as licensees have said to me, is drastically to reduce the number of redundant houses and to reform the remainder, making them houses of social service instead of social degradation.


The Carlisle system.


I hope that the Government will have the courage to say that they propose to reconsider the licensing question, and to bring forward a Measure which will settle for many years to come most of the questions associated with hours of licensing.

12.38 p.m.


I suppose that in the public life of this land there could be no more moving spectacle than that which we have had this morning, of a fierce teetotaller, whom I congratulate upon his sincerity and what I may call the sub-temperate tone of his address, shedding hot tears over the hard lot of the unhappy barmaid, and even putting in a good word for the poor publican. I think that his is a slightly disingenuous plea, because the hon. Member knows very well that if the Bill contained a provision for a 36-hour week for barmaids he would still oppose it. He knows, too, that if the, Bill be passed into law, the barmaid and the barman will still be in a superior position to the waiter at the temperance hotel, to whom the Shop Hours Acts do not apply.

I do not want, however, to dismiss the subject too lightly. I may be even more sympathetic to barmaids than the hon. Gentleman; for perhaps I see rather more of them. I have been going into this question carefully and at great personal peril on the spot—in fact, on many spots—and my conclusion is that on the whole the publican is a good employer, who gives many more holidays than he is required to give by law. There are, nevertheless, many cases in which barmen and barmaids have to work far too long, not so much long hours as long days, and I see no reason why the provisions of the Shop Hours Act, 1913, should not be made compulsory in their case. One difficulty is that this industry is subject to very heavy and almost vindictive taxa- tion. In the case of a big house in a High Street, the publican may have to pay £250 or £300 a year in Excise Duty. If that taxation were not there, that man might be able to employ two or three more men. If it were possible to introduce into the Bill such a provision, which might be more appropriate in a Shop Hours Amendment Bill, you would find me with you, I think. But that point I not really relevant to the purpose of the Bill, which is to decide how we shall regulate what is, on the whole, an innocent trade.

It would be refreshing if, for a change, we could refrain from giving this dog a bad name. It is very easy to throw a cloud of prejudice over things by using such pseudo-scientific terms as "alcohol," "liquor," "intoxicating liquors," "vested interests" and so forth. I shall not follow the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) in his medical researches, but I would say this to him: "So far as I know, beer does not have to, be boiled before it is fit to drink; and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister of Health are not racking their brains in order to regulate, certify and pasteurise it in order to make it fit for human consumption." I might easily go about describing milk as a tuberculous beverage, or motor cars as homicidal vehicles, but that would be nonsense. Therefore, I ask hon. Members not to use that kind of language. One more word to the hon. Member for West Bermondsey. I believe that the lecturers of certain temperance associations, and perhaps himself, are in the habit, for the purpose of conveying an awful warning against the use of beer, of exhibiting in bottles to the children in the schools, the livers of deceased clubmen, and, for all I know, past Members of this House. In that case, I would gladly offer my liver to the nation. I suggest that in this great educational scheme, which I believe is to be extended, he should make a further exhibition to the unfortunate children of the lungs of somebody who has perished through tuberculosis contracted from milk.


Would the hon. Member tell the House whether a periodical called "Punch" advertises drink?


I believe not: but it does not appear to be a matter which is relevant to this Bill. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey talks about licensed premises and pubs. What is a pub? I was very glad to hear at last a good word about the pub from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell). He was quite right. Forgetting the large gin palaces which we see sometimes in our main streets, we can agree that the pub is, on the whole, a social centre and, I suggest, a very valuable social institution. It is a centre to which people can go for political sanity and, for temperance purposes, it is the instrument of control. It is a place where people who do not own rich houses, who have no billiard rooms or gardens of their own, are able to go for social intercourse, to discuss the troubles of life and the news of the day. I would ask hon. Members, in discussing this question, to remember that the public house is not a sink of iniquity, and that the publican is not a man who wants to ruin his fellow country-men. It is said in 'the trade that it is more difficult to become a publican than a parson. He has to give seven years' good character; every minute of his life for seven years is gone into. I have no interest in the brewers. In fact, I am abused as often in the "Morning Advertiser" as I am in the "News Chronicle". But this is a trade which contributes annually, sometimes £130,000,000, sometimes £120,000,000, and I think the last figure was £100,000,000, of revenue to the country, which is enough, or was enough, to pay for all the armed forces of the Crown. That is another thing which I think should be borne in mind before we start throwing stones.

The hon. Member for West Bermondsey told us that there is drunkenness, and increasing drunkenness, and I am not surprised; but he did not give us the real cause. I say without hesitation that, if there is drunkenness, and if there is increasing drunkenness, it is the temperance party, and the licensing justices above all, who are responsible for a great deal of it. They complain, perhaps rightly, that wherever a redundant house, as they call it—what a word !—that is to say, an unnecessary house, a needless house, is closed, a bogus club springs up; but, if a bogus club springs up where formerly there was a licensed house, does not that show that the licensed house was not redundant? The club has met a need which really existed, but without the control to which the public house is subject; it is really an uncontrolled public house. That is one cause of increasing drunkenness and the houses that are described as redundant are generally the smaller ones with an atmosphere, with a tradition, with skittles and darts, and their customers are driven to the big gin palace in the High Street or to the bogus club.

Many—I do not say all—licensing benches do a great deal of harm by opposing improvement, because they think that improvement will bring more people to the public house which is what they call the drinking area, and so they themselves perpetuate the system of the public house being merely a drinking place and nothing else. For this and many other reasons I say that the licensing justices and the temperance party, are responsible for much of the drunkenness that exists, and if they oppose this or any other Bill they will be continuing their work in that direction. Hon. Gentlemen here are indignant when it is said, but we all know it is true, that, while nobody may sit on a licensing bench who has any interest in the trade, biased members of the temperance party can and do sit on these benches. All the rest of the year they very often do no work at all as justices, but when the Brewster Sessions come round they crawl out from every hole and corner and crowd on to the benches. I can give an example of the kind of thing that they will do.

There is a quiet, respectable old public house near where I live. It has a garden, where, on Saturday nights, and particularly on hot Saturday nights in the summer, people with no gardens of their own congregate with their wives, families and dogs. The landlord desired to give them a little music on Saturday evenings. He applied to the London County Council for a music licence, and he got it, with the very proper proviso that he should move a door from one position to another, in order that there might be a safe exit in case of fire. He then had to go to the licensing justices, who have to pass all structural alterations, because the moving of this door from one position to another was a structural alteration. The Kensington licensing justices, who are notoriously the worst bench in the world, and who were responsible for the 10 o'clock closing about which complaints were being made the other day, said: "What is this? Music will bring more people into the drinking area"; and so they refused permission to move the door and turned the whole thing down, not on its merits, but because they were determined that that house should never be improved and no one should ever go there if they could help it. It is that kind of thing which causes one to say that the licensing justices in many places—I do not say everywhere—are not discharging their functions properly, and I think the system is one which ought to be swept away. It is one of the merits of this Bill that it would take away from them some of their discretion.

We have heard a great deal of discussion as to whether the publicans really want these hours. As I have said, I have been making some researches into this matter, and I think it is true to say that probably not all publicans desire all these hours; but all of them want some of them, and I suggest that a reasonable Amendment might be made to the Bill if it is found that that view is strongly held. After all, there is no reason at the moment why a publican should necessarily keep open for the full number of hours. Under the law he can, unless he is an innkeeper, close when he likes. An innkeeper, of course, must receive a traveller, but the publican is not bound to keep open at all. In my own part of the world, the hours are from five to 10. This Bill would make them from five to 11. In some places the hour from five to six is probably more or less useless, while the hour from 10 to 11 would be very desirable. In some places, like the City or Hammersmith Broadway, on the other hand, opening at five o'clock might be desirable. Why, then, should not an individual publican or a group of publicans be able to get together and say that they would contract out and open from six to 11 instead of from five to 10? I suggest to the Home Secretary that that, either in this Bill or in another Bill, might provide a way out. I am speaking now of the day-time, when there is no danger in discrepancy. I think, however, that in the case of comparable houses in comparable areas the closing hour at night should be the same, because the present inconsistency is, as I hinted the other day, causing people to take more than they really want. They have a "last one," then another "quick one," and then they go off to another public house which is open half an hour longer.

With regard to the question of clubs I am not going to say that the bogus club menace is not an evil, but I believe the reports about it are exaggerated, and that some of those reports come from those who are always anxious whenever they see poor people enjoying themselves in some way in which they themselves would not enjoy, and not surrounded by nursemaids and policemen. I admit that there probably is an evil, and certainly I know that it bears very hardly on the publican; and therefore I should be prepared to co-operate in some measures like those provided by this Bill. But I am not prepared to go any further, and, in case the Government should be proposing to bring in a Bill to close clubs, I would ask them not to include in it two things. One is the handing over of the control of all clubs to the licensing justices, who, as I have just suggested, have themselves created the bogus club evil and half ruined the public house, and will, if clubs are handed over to them, do heaven knows what to the clubs.

The second thing I would ask the Government not to do in such a Bill is to give the police the right of entry without a search warrant. I know it will be asked, and with some plausibility, why should a respectable club object to the entry of a policeman? Of course, we all love policemen. I often have policemen in my own home—I had better not say for what purpose. But I think we should all be sorry if a policeman could walk into our homes at any time without warning, and a club is an extension of a man's home. Beyond that, is it not the great organ of political consciousness and liberty? I would ask lion. Members opposite how they would like to have Chief Sir Oswald Mosley's policemen walking into a Labour Club without a word of warning, and how would members of the Carlton Club like the policemen of hon. Gentlemen opposite to walk in there without a word of warning? But I understand the difficulties of the police, and I suggest that the proper thing is that in some way the conditions on which a search warrant is granted should be relaxed.

As to the Royal Commission, I am astounded when I hear people say that the Bill should not be accepted because it does not follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I used to think that I was a humorous writer until I read the Report of the Royal Commission. I now feel that I am finished. I doubt whether there is anybody in the world who would take that document seriously. Not even hon. Gentlemen opposite, I accept it all. I think the hon. Members for West Bermondsey and Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) believe in Local Option and Sunday closing everywhere. At any rate it was announced the other day that the Parliamentary Temperance Council was in favour of these two objects. But the Royal Commission considered and condemned both these proposals. As regards pubs in Wales and the inclusion of Wales in this Bill, I would remind hon. members that clubs can be kept open in Wales on Sunday, and that the Commission recommended that they should be shut. I have this interesting document, the Report of the Royal Commission, here, and looking at the index I see not only the entry "Temperance bars, alleged abuses in," but also this alarming entry "Trains, drunkenness in." When I turn to the page indicated, expecting to read of hideous orgies on the 9.15, I find there is no drunkenness in trains, that there have been no complaints, and that the service of intoxicants outside the restaurant car has not led to any abuses. But this did not prevent the Commission from recommending some new restrictions. That is the kind of report that this is. There are some sensible things in it, but always we find restriction for restriction's sake. This Royal Commission actually recommends that all licensed premises with the exception of hotels and restaurants shall be closed at 10 o'clock. Here in the heart of the Empire one would not even be able to get a glass of port or a glass of beer during the second interval of a play.

It is even recommended that temperance refreshment houses should be closed at eleven o'clock, so that after the theatre not even teetotal ladies or gentlemen would be able to get a modest sandwich unless they were rich enough to be able to go to a restaurant or a hotel. I know there are legitimate differences of opinion on this subject, but I do hope that the Government will this time grasp the nettle and not tell us that the only thing they are going to do is in the direction of restrictions, that they are going to take the restrictive part of the Bill and make it more restrictive, and leave the other part alone. There seems to be always time to increase restrictions, but never time to expand liberty in this country. I hope also that the Government will not tell us that anything done now will disturb the famous compromise of 1921, because that was a compromise in which the ordinary people of this country—the people who go to pubs, who after all are the people who matter—had no part or lot.

My mind goes back to a year ago, when I was naughtily and boldly laying an information against the Kitchen Committee of this House. There was not then lighthearted talk about "alcohol" and "intoxicating liquor" and about liberty which nobody wanted. There was indignation, and rightly. This House did not then say, "Oh, well, these things do not really matter, let us have more control, let us obey the law which we have imposed on the people." This House marched out to battle—horse, foot and Attorney General—to defend its rights and privileges, and I congratulate them. I am very glad that they succeeded. The High Court then did not say "These are trifling matters." The High Court decided that continual access to refreshment of every kind was essential to the conduct of the business of this House, although the business of this House is the most important business of making laws. I do not say that the people demand the same privileges as there are in this House—I think they are glad that this House has special privileges—but they would like to have the same spirit shown in this House when their simple human desires are being considered. If this Bill is pressed to a division, I shall support it: I do not think it a perfect Bill, but it is a basis; and I shall be very much disappointed if nothing whatever is done.

1.5 p.m.


The most powerful argument that the promoters of the Bill rely on in appealing for our support is that it is designed to remove anomalies. "Anomaly" is a word that is achieving a popularity it does not deserve. As a rule one describes a thing as an anomaly when one does not like it oneself. The anomaly upon which the promoters of the Bill are laying so much stress is that there are varying hours of closing and opening of public houses. What is the reason why this so-called anomaly exists? I had the privilege in 1921 of serving on the round table conference upon whose work was based the Act of the year, and therefore I have some measure of responsibility for the existing law. It was a very remarkable body of people, which represented every phase of thought on this question. The Noble Lady the Member for the Southern Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) was a member, and so were the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), the late Mr. Wintringham and Sir George Younger. Our duty was to try to adapt the restrictions that had been imposed during the war to peace-time conditions and, as soon as it was suggested that there should be uniformity of opening and closing throughout the country we were presented with this problem. It was said, "See how hard it is going to be in this district and in that." There was drawn before us a picture of the miner coming up from a shift and not being able to get refreshment. We were referred to the porters in Billingsgate, Covent Garden and various other markets. A pathetic picture was drawn of the poor farmer arriving at market exposing himself to the risk of influenza and pneumonia because he was not able to get something to warm himself. Because of that we decided that we would provide for a diversity which would enable the licensing system to meet those different needs.

It is the very same type of person who was calling for that diversity then who is now calling for uniformity, and the demand for diversity then, like the demand for uniformity now, took the form of increasing the number of permitted hours. If the only purpose of the promoters of this Bill is to secure uniformity, they can secure it by reducing the hours. They have never suggested that, nor does anyone expect to hear them suggest it. We cannot in view of these facts, resist the conclusion that it is not so much for the removal of this diversity that the Bill is being introduced, but rather for the purpose of increasing the number of permtted hours. The Seconder said he wanted standardisation. This Bill will not give it him, and no one who is a supporter of a Bill which has the objects this Bill has in view will ever support standardisation, because it will be impossible to achieve it on conditions that the country will subscribe to at present, and they will not subscribe to the only condition upon which it can be obtained, and that is a reduction in the number of permitted hours. Standardisation is not possible, because conditions vary. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton said on the Second Reading of the Bill of 1921 that there ought to be local elasticity to meet the necessities of localities. That is a common-sense point of view and, as long as that common-sense point of view prevails, you will never get a standardisation that is going to remove all these anomalies of which complaint is made.

As far as Wales is concerned, you will never get standardisation on the basis of the hours provided for in this Bill. I was glad to hear the hon. Member say he did not propose that the Bill should operate to repeal Sunday closing in Wales, but I was impelled to examine it a little more carefully than I might otherwise have done when I found that it was necessary for him to confess that he had not realised that his Bill would have that effect. Further, when be was asked a question, he failed to realise that the Act that he referred to is not in existence because it has been incorporated in a consolidating Act. When one finds the Bill prepared in that way one may be excused for examining it a little more critically than one otherwise would have done. As it stands, it would completely alter the system of licensing in Wales, which has been in operation for 55 years, the continuance of which has been recommended by three Commissions which have sat since, and the abolition of which would offend the conscience of the Welsh people and create a spirit of bitterness which one would like to avoid.

In regard to clubs, I agree that in recent years Governments have been guilty of sad neglect in the way that they have allowed such a large number of undesirable clubs to grow up. I think they are vulnerable to the charge that, in paying attention to some evils, they have ignored the fact that there was growing up a much greater evil than that which existed through public houses. The Bill recognises that that evil is one of the most marked features in the social life of the country in recent years and introduces clauses designed to deal with it. But I think it is a very dangerous thing to make county and borough councils the registering authorities. It is going to introduce a very, unfortunate element into our electoral life, and I do not think they are the competent bodies to do it. I believe that the provisions of the Bill referring to clubs are likely to create anomalies of a much more dangerous and devastating character than any of the anomalies that it is designed to remove. Lastly, I think they will be quite ineffective in achieving what is said to be the desire of the promoters, the abolition of bogus clubs.

I do not think anyone will make a complaint against the hon. Member introducing a Bill of this character, but it is not the sort of Bill that the House ought to accept from a private Member on a private Members' day, because it deals with a matter that requires much more consideration and much more ample dealing with than is provided for in the Bill. The licensing system is one of the most potent influences in the social life of the country. During the War it was necessary to impose restrictions, not from the point of view of temperance reform but as a war measure which the Government of the day felt to be necessary in order to maintain and increase the power and force of the country in the War in which it was engaged. It is still necessary for the Government to maintain control of this trade from the point of view of the social requirements of the country. It is necessary in the war against poverty and disease to do that. It is a matter that affects the whole social and economic life of the country. That being so, it should not be dealt with in the haphazard, casual, partial manner that this Bill proposes to deal with it.

It is a case upon which the Government ought to have a declared and definite policy. If the Government come, to the conclusion that changes are necessary, they should explain to the country the reasons upon which they believe that these changes should be made. I appeal to the Government to tackle the problem. It has to be tackled. We cannot go on putting it off year after year. I can imagine that no Government is over ready to tackle it, but it has to be tackled, and I join heartily in the appeal to the Government. At the same time, this is not a Bill to which the House should give a Second Reading.

1.16 p.m.


I am sure that we should all agree that, whatever else has emerged in this debate, there is unanimity that the subject under discussion is very vexed and one which is very prickly to handle. That seems to account for the fact that the Government have steadily refused to deal with this question, because, their programme being overloaded enough, they find it difficult to get through legislation which will obviously be highly controversial. So it falls to the lot of back-bench members who ballot for opportunities on Friday to bring forward Measures of this character. We have heard, and I have no doubt as the Debate proceeds we shall hear a great deal more, about vested interests. There is just as much vested interest on the other side against Bills of this character as there is in support of them. The vested interests which are opposed to any amendment of the licensing laws are invariably very vocal, much more vocal than their numbers would justify, and they invariably entrench themselves behind statutory reports and things of that kind. I remember being interested in the last House in a Measure which was called the Hotel and Restaurant Bill, a measure designed to carry out one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but the embattled hosts of teetotalers took very good care to see that that Measure did not get on to the Statute Book. It was a very innocent Measure and was supported and amended by the Government, but when it came before the House it was duly talked out on Report.

Viscountess ASTOR

As the hon. Member talks of the vested interests of teetotalers, will he be good enough to look into the matter and see how much the drink trade spend upon advertisements to try and influence the Press and Members of this House, and how much they spend on helping working men's clubs? Will he compare that with what the temperance party spend, because it will be very interesting?


I am sure that a consideration of those facts and figures would be very interesting. I am not sure that they are entirely relevant to the matter under discussion, but I am prepared to make such an examination. The question of whether it is necessary to discuss the relative advertising value or the amount spent on cocoa or beer is not for me to go into, but, no doubt, the noble Lady will have those figures. The point really is that hon. Members who oppose this Measure do not want to amend the licensing laws at all. They want to abolish the trade. They might as well be honest about it and say so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no".] Hon. Members say "No, no", but one can only come to the conclusion that when they block every attempt to amend the obvious defects in the licensing laws, their one idea is to make them unworkable so that they may ultimately be scrapped. I can think of no other reason. Here we are discussing a Measure which in itself will be very difficult to put through. The question of standardisation and extension of hours is one on which there is a great diversity of opinion, even in the trade itself. I do not think that we are tackling it from the right angle, and I shall tell the House why in a moment or so.

On the second part of the Bill which deals with bogus clubs, I had hoped that there would be virtual unanimity. I know that the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place, opposes it because he says that it is a bogus Bill to deal with bogus clubs. I should have thought that any impartial-minded person dealing with the question would have come to the conclusion that at any rate it was an attempt to put right something which has reached the proportions of a scandal. In another place on Wednesday there was a very interesting Debate on this matter and some figures were given about the growth of clubs, which appears to have taken place in proportion to the abolition of licences, as my hon. Friend the junior Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Alan Herbert) pointed out. Twenty-three thousand licences have been taken away in the last 30 years, and in that period the number of clubs has gone up from about 4,000 or 5,000 to about 15,000.

That is pretty clear evidence of what the hon. Gentleman says, that these redundancies, as they are called, are really depriving people of the opportunity of drinking of which they want to avail themselves, and, that being so, the bogus club or one-man club springs up. I want at once to say that there are a great number of perfectly respectable and reputable clubs; and that it is calculated that there are only 20 per cent. of the clubs on the register which are really of the bogus variety. But they constitute a menace and are a social evil, and lead to practices which we all deplore. Magistrates, chief constables and others are always condemning them, and clearly we must take them in hand. If the Government do not take them in hand private Members must, and do their best to deal with them.

What I am afraid will happen to this Bill is this. I assume that it will be given a Second Reading. If it is given a Second Reading and is sent to Committee, it will undoubtedly be blocked by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) and his friends. That will mean that not only will this Bill be blocked, but that all subsequent private Members' Bills which go to that Standing Committee will be held up. I appeal, therefore, to the promoters of the Bill, if on getting into Committee it is clear that the first part of the Bill dealing with standarisation and extension, which is extremely controversial, is blocking the progress of the whole Bill, to drop that part if necessary, in order to concentrate upon doing something which everybody thinks must be done—to pass legislation to deal with bogus clubs.


On a point of Order. May I ask that the interests of other hon. Members be safeguarded. Is it competent for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that any hon. Member of this House, by opposing this Bill, will be deliberately delaying the progress of other Bills through Committees upstairs?


I would not attempt to make such an insinuation against the hon. Member. I have served on committees with him and know that that would be far from the truth. Unfortunately, I have known occasions when the hon. Gentleman and some of his friends have found it necessary to remain outside the door of the Committee at 11 o'clock when a quorum was being formed, and if by some misfortune those supporting a Bill did not happen to be there in sufficient strength a quorum was not obtained. And I find the hon. Gentleman's prolixity and verbosity increases as the Committee session gets further on, so that it is almost impossible to get through business. On one occasion I remember that we actually sat in the afternoon to get through a Measure that was subsequently held up on Report. But we are not in Committee at the moment, and I hope that that will not occur in this case. The real difficulty, as I see it, in all this licensing legislation is, as the junior member for Oxford University pointed out, the question of the discretion given to licensing justices. That is the real point at issue.

I am sorry that none of the hon. Members are here, but I took the trouble to work out in my own mind which of the hon. Members of this House, were the most fanatical teetotalers. I put the hon. Member for West Bermondsey at the head of the list, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), second, and the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) third. Each of those hon. Members is a justice of the peace. I am not going to suggest in their absence that they go on the bench in any corrupt frame of mind, or influenced by outside bodies, but I ask the House whether it is reasonable that persons who are going to perform a judicial function should, in season and out of season, announce at the tops of their voices a whole-hearted disapproval and detestation of the very people who are coming before them to have justice done to them? Is it likely to produce in the minds of the people coming before such a tribunal a feeling that they are going to get justice? Do they get justice when they go there? We know that when some of the benches assemble decisions are made in the magistrates' room before they come on to the bench.


Can the hon. Member mention one bench where that is done?


Yes, I remember that there was an interesting case at Marylebone where one of the magistrates came into court and said: "I do not see why we should listen to this, because we have made up our minds already." That statement was immediately suppressed by some of his brother justices. I appeared in a professional capacity before the Kensington bench only a few weeks ago, on the question of hours, and what the hon. Member opposite said about that Bench being "packed" was perfectly true. I do not mean "packed" in the sense that people had been whipped up, but I counted 37 justices who walked, climbed or tottered on to that bench. I would ask hon. Members whether if they went before that bench in the ordinary course of things they would expect to find 37 or more justices sitting there. Of course not. They would get very few justices there, and in ordinary cases they would obtain justice.

What I am saying is confirmed by no less a person than the Chairman of the Notts County Justices and Licensing Committee. He may be expected to know what goes on. I am not a justice of the peace, but he is. In a speech in my Division I referred to this question and suggested a remedy, with the result that I received a letter from the gentleman in question, Sir Lancelot Rolleston, who is one of the most important persons in the County of Nottingham, very greatly respected, and well known to many hon. Members in this House. He says: I was very glad to see the very true remarks you made on the 19th at the Off-Licence Holders' dinner on the great necessity for some more impartial tribunal for granting licences than is afforded by many of the present benches. As chairman of the Notts County Justices and of the Licensing Committee I have to admit that the present proceedings are too often a perfect farce, and the result a serious scandal. Only the other day a decision was given, though only by a majority of one vote, in absolute opposition to quite overwhelming evidence, which shocked everyone who had any respect for law and justice and, unfortunately, such decisions on licensing matters quite destroy public confidence in the whole bench in cases of ordinary justice. Under the present system of appointing justices I am convinced of the necessity of either, as you suggested, taking licensing altogether out of their hands and referring it to a qualified stipendiary or, in default of that, providing a satisfactory court of appeal.


On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to criticise the judiciary? I have always understood that that is out of order in this House.

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

It is a well known rule that any individual decision of a court of law cannot be challenged, but I do not think that on a question like this, when the whole administration of the licensing laws is before the House, we can rule out of order a discussion of one branch of the administration. It seems to me that that would reduce our proceedings to a pure farce.


The hon. Member actually mentioned a specific case which he was definitely criticising, through the words of the chairman of that bench.


Mr. Gluck-stein.


The letter proceeds: That an appeal should be allowed against Courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions and not against such bodies as these, is a mischievous absurdity. The writer goes on to say that he hopes that I shall be able to mention this matter. I should like to make a suggestion to the Home Office. It is becoming increasingly clear that. the whole of the licensing jurisdiction requires to be overhauled, and I suggest as a very much overdue reform that licensing jurisdiction should be taken out of the hands of these benches of magistrates, many of them appointed, in circumstances of which we all know something, by selection committees, with a balancing of rival party claims and very often as a reward for party service. We all know how these appointments are made, and I suggest that licensing jurisdiction should be taken from the hands of benches of that kind and put into the hands of stipendiary magistrates, recorders and chairmen of sessions. It should be taken completely away into the area of real judicial mindedness.

At the present time the law is perfectly clear that the discretion given under the licensing Acts is wide enough to satisfy reasonable publicans and reasonable people if it is applied impartially and properly. If my system were adopted the home Office could arrange for a conference of stipendiary magistrates in London, each knowing the needs of his own particular locality, and at that conference they could arrange a system of hours to meet those needs. If they met in conference to decide the question of hours, then uniformity and standardisation would be achieved without any amendment of the law. So long as we have separate benches coming to their conclusions independently of each other, we shall have all the anomalies of which we have heard with regard to hours. The stipendiary magistrates know the needs of the people, they are in daily touch with them and they appreciate their point of view. I hope, therefore, that whether or not the Bill receives a Second Reading, whatever happens, the Home Office will, in the near future, decide that licensing jurisdiction should be taken away from the present benches of magistrates and given to stipendiary magistrates and people of that sort.

1.34 p.m.


I approach this question from a somewhat different angle from that of previous speakers. This small Bill raises very great moral, social and industrial questions. It is a Bill to deal with clubs, and it raises the number of the hours for opening public houses. I would ask hon. Members to recollect that that means working hours being raised by seven per week in London and by 10 per week in other places, plus almost 2½ hours of additional time, called saving time, for the purpose of securing that those who are in public houses at the closing time may go on consuming their beverages. The Bill also, although the hon. Member who introduced it did not seem to recognise it, repeals Sunday closing in Wales. At the last, election I had the great good fortune to be returned by more than half the electors in my division, if you allow for those who were dead and unable to vote, and not from a single one of these people have I received a request to vote for the Bill. No supporter of mine has asked me to support it; but some of those who voted against me have asked me to oppose it. This is one letter which I have received: Whilst I opposed your election to Parliament on account of party, I have confidence in your voting for measures that are for the general good, and I hope you will do all you can to lessen the facilities and hours for selling intoxicating liquor both in club and in pub. I hold in my hand a letter which may be called a human document in relation to those employed by this industry: "Dear Sir, I am writing to you as a publican of a good many years, and hope you will make every effort to oppose opening from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with only two hours. Those two hours will be useless to us, as there is always half an hour cleaning up and another 20 minutes or half an hour before opening, which reduces your time to one hour. I, like many more, would hate to go back to the old days. We do get time for a little recreation now, closing at two p.m. or 2.30 until 6. I have two bar generals working the same as my wife and self, starting at 7.30 a.m. with breakfast 30 minutes, dinner 30 minutes and tea 30 minutes. We go on from 7.30 until 2, with half an hour breakfast, seven hours, and then from 6 o'clock to 10.45; four and three-quarter hours. That means 11¾ hours to 12 hours every day, and not, overloaded with cash, many of us working for £3 per week and some as low as £2 10s., which includes the services of wife. It means about 80 hours each for this sum. If licensees could be canvassed the vote would be 100 to 1 against more hours, but we cannot, otherwise we should be thrown out. This is no doubt a brewers' move, who have only their own souls to save. The public do not want it, or at least the majority of the public. We would like all clubs to come under the same control as us as regards police supervision. I do hope you will do your best, and wish you every success in your effort to stop increased hours. In rising to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill I do so with no fanatical feeling that every manufacturer, distributor and consumer of alcoholic beverages deserves condemnation for doing that which the law entitles them to do if they feel so disposed. But, on the other hand, I would rise with unlimited enthusiasm in support of any Measure which would increase temperance and total abstinence throughout the country and, in these days of increased mechanical transport, would lessen the evils and dangers arising from the use of strong drink. The Bill is good in so far as it seeks to rid the community of the bogus club. In respect of that the proposers of the Measure realise that there is no permanent virtue in the oft-repeated argument against the restraint of trade in any given direction or against the freedom of the individual to do what he likes with his own time and resources, if these are destructive of the moral and economic conditions of the community. In fact, the Government side of this House very often puts restraint on trade and interferes with the liberty of the individual in a way which does not appeal to my political philosophy or secure my approval from an industrial and economic standpoint. But we seem to be agreed on one thing, and that is in the words of John Stuart Mill: All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraint upon the actions of other people. Our difficulty, and the difficulty which confronts every one, is what restraint should be imposed? I shall not take up the time of the House by discussing the part of the Bill which deals with clubs. Had the Bill been confined to the suppression of bogus clubs I am sure that it would have been unanimously received, passed with acclamation and almost without discussion. These clubs should be eliminated from our midst. They are a danger to as well as a competitor of bona fide clubs. If the promoters of the Bill are serious in their opposition to the evils of bogus clubs let them drop the irrelevant portion of the Bill, receive the thanks of all local communities and obtain the honour of being recognised as true and progressive social reformers. I am afraid that they will not do that, and the Bill therefore becomes a highly contentious one. It becomes not a Measure for the purpose of cleaning up social amenities, of restricting drinking and promoting temperance in the use of alcohol, but a Bill of reaction. It is not a Bill for the betterment but the worsening of social and communal environment.

In. fact, the Bill is brought in ostensibly to deal with bogus clubs but really for the purpose of lengthening the hours and increasing the facilities for drinking in every part of the country. It has been devised to trap temperance reformers into voting for the removal of an evil which, believe me, brings no real increase of trade or profits into the industry by extending and perpetuating another evil which does increase trade and enhance profits and which extends the powers of vested interests in the country, with the consequent result of increased drunkenness and poverty, road accidents and death. Some hon. Members may think that is too sweeping a statement, but let us see whether it is. All the glaring advertisements of strong drink on the hoardings throughout the country are not there in the interests of individual freedom, but in the financial interests of the brewing and cognate industries of the country, and their producing and selling agencies. Their trade is not a philanthropic institution seeking to increase consumption without increasing gains. Some of the supporters of that movement, who I am told are paid to write in support of it in the Press and especially in local newspapers in out-of-the-way places, would like us to believe that all this boosting of alcoholic liquor is done from quite disinterested motives. I remember that not long ago one of those correspondents in the Press, in reply to a speech of mine, said that the brewers did not want the price, of beer decreased for the purpose of increasing consumption, but in order that the workers might consume the same amount —no more apparently—at a lower cost.


Does the hon. Baronet suggest that the purveyors of cocoa and other types of refreshment have only the public interest in view, and have no concern for private profits?


I do not suggest anything of the kind. I am pointing out the dangers of this industry and saying that we are entitled to take steps against those dangers. If I could believe what the correspondent to whom I have referred said, then I could believe that this proposed increase in the hours is not for the purpose of bringing financial benefit to any branch of the industry, but merely to slow down the speed of drinking and to delay to a less dangerous hour the effects of intoxication. The purpose of this Bill is the same as that of all the advertising by brewers that we see on the hoardings throughout the country. Its purpose is to secure a supply of customers for the liquor trade, and that can only be done at the expense of other industries in the country. "We want customers," said the director of the Brewers' Society. Why did he say that? In the same speech he said that the consumption of beer had been steadily falling. It is not falling now, thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Reference has been made to the effects of taxation on the price of this commodity. Evidently the idea is. "Drink up you beggars, the more you drink the more we shall receive for taxation, and that will he useful in increasing armaments." The same gentleman who said that more customers were wanted also said that he wanted to get the beer-drinking habit instilled into thousands, almost millions, of young men who do not at present know the taste of beer. Was anything more cynical ever said by any public man in this country? If this Bill is not, a brewers' Bill, it is nevertheless one to assist the trade in getting new customers who are, in the words of the same cynical gentleman, to become the mainstay of the public house. This anxiety to increase the facilities for the consumption of strong drink and to secure. new customers is at once a very great compliment to the workers of the temperance movement in this country and to past Parliaments in securing and increasing sobriety by moral education on the one hand and by restrictive legislation on the other. Do not let us undo the good that has been accomplished. The increase in drinking hours will increase the consumption of alcohol, which is not a food but a drug, as is being more and more demonstrated every day by the diminishing use of this drug in the pharmacopaeia of our public hospitals. The State should not lead people into temptation. The millions of young men envisaged by the brewers as customers will not he made better men by drinking strong drink.

I will go further and look at the matter from the economic point of view. To increase drinking and the facilities for it will increase the misapplication of the meagre resources of most working people who drink beer. The rich may spend their money foolishly if they like and feel no economic hurt by so doing, but for the mass of my fellow workers the consumption of alcohol is like throwing money away. There is no intellectual, moral or physical benefit in return. I will go further and say that there are few working men in the country, not among the unemployed but among the employed themselves, who can afford to indulge in a Guinness a day without sacrificing some more necessary commodity needed by the man himself, his wife, or his children.

It may be that some of my Labour friends are inclined to support this Bill. I trust they will think again of its implication. Why should they vote to the advantage of the vested interests of the liquor trade while opposing vested interests in all other directions? If it is wrong to vote for the State to give bacon and beet sugar subsidies, then it is wrong to give a vote which will cause money to go out of the pockets of our fellow workers for the purchase of non-essential commodities.

Captain DOWER

There is no subsidy here.


An increase in the working hours of workers in the trade, without any increase in wages, is equivalent to a subsidy. It should be part of our policy to educate and encourage the wise spending of income for personal. as well as national needs. This Bill, if passed, will provide increased facilities for unwise spending to the disadvantage of the more useful productive trades. Millions of pounds spent on drink now could very well be spent on food, clothing, shelter and healthy recreation, and that much to the advantage of the country. There is no advantage in disregarding the industrial and economic facts arising from unwise spending. The increased hours for the sale of strong drink, just as the decreased cost in the price of beer, will increase drunkenness and the prosecutions and convictions which arise from it. In my humble opinion, no social reformer can vote for a Bill of this kind. It does not improve the environment of either old or young and that is the acid test by which all social legislation should be tried. It is, on the contrary, a Bill which creates obstacles to social progress and social reform. It minimises the effectiveness and economic utility of past legislation and municipal administration in relation to questions of housing, education, and employment.

I cannot understand how any Labour man, be he teetotal or non-teetotal, can support the Bill. What about the men and women employed in hotels and public houses? Are their conditions of employment no concern of ours? They are ignored in the Bill. If a 44 hour week, or even a 40 hour week, is our ideal in other industries, why should it not also apply to this industry? Are the living-in conditions of these employés all that could be desired If we cannot reduce their working hours, at least let us try to prevent any increase of those hours. If we cannot improve their conditions in relation to work and wages, do not let us make those conditions worse by extending facilities for the later opening of these places. If these hours are necessary for this industry, then we must in reason and logic, admit that other industries are entitled to the same facilities for the sale of their products.

I trust that the Government will not give facilities or support to the Bill unless the promoters drop the contentious parts of the Bill and agree to deal only with clubs. If they do that, they will probably find that with some amend-merit it might become an agreed Measure. If they will not do that, then I submit to the Government that matters involving contentious legislation regarding the liquor trade ought to be dealt with comprehensively by and at the initiative of the Government itself. There is much to be said for the principle of uniformity of selling hours and the abolition of anomalies. The Government have the Royal Commission's Report on which to work. Let them proceed with that. But the young men and women of the country must be safeguarded from the brewers' intention to make them "mainstays of the public houses." Whatever is done, experience teaches that hours ought not to be increased. I trust that there is much better in store for the youth of our land, as citizens of a free country, than what the brewers intend for them. The true advocate of social reform is one whose example is equal to if not better than his precepts. Our drinking habits are bad. The custom of "treating" in this country is a curse to many who cannot escape it. This Bill, by increasing the hours, would encourage and strengthen that practice. There is an old Japanese proverb which I think is very often applicable in our own country. It is this: At the first cup man drinks wine. At the second cup wine drinks wine. At the third cup wine drinks man. That is very largely true in relation to other alcoholic drinks as well as wine. I am opposed to that sort of thing and I sincerely trust that those hon. Members who are interested in the working conditions of the people will make up their minds that, whatever is done in this direction, we shall not be parties to increasingg the hours of labour of any of our fellow-workers. I have lived in hotels in my constituency and elsewhere, and I recognise that the hours of the employés in this trade are such that we trade unionists ought to leave no stone unturned to prevent any legislation which would increase those hours or make the position any worse than it is. This Bill proposes an increase of hours amounting to seven in London and 10 in other parts of the country, plus a possible two hours and 20 minutes at 11 or 10 o'clock at night as the case may be. We have no guarantee that for this increase of hours one penny piece will be paid to the employés. If upon no other ground, every Member of the Labour party ought to vote against this Bill on that ground. I only regret that our leaders have not given us more direct encouragement to vote against it because I believe that our moral prestige in the country would have been enhanced if they had done so.

2 p.m.


I do not intend to detain the House long. I support the Second Reading of the Bill because there are few constituencies in England in which there are more clubs than in mine and practically all of them have asked me to support the Bill.


Is the hon. Member quite sure that they know what the Bill is?


Possibly the constituents of my hon. and learned Friend are not as intelligent as mine. We hear a great deal about democracy from hon. Members opposite. As a democrat, I feel that I have no right to stand up against such a body of opinion as I have indicated. Who are these people? Many of them are my keen supporters, many are my strongest political opponents, but, whether they support or oppose me, I realise that they are the cream of the working-class men in my district. I have no doubt that certain hon. Members who will take part in the discussion of this Bill know very little about clubs. I have been in the clubs in my constituency hundreds of times. I wish to say that they are well run and that the rules of those clubs are as well observed as the rules of this House or of any West End club.

It is said that this is a brewers' Bill. I do not care two straws about the brewers. It is my own honest constituents about whom I am thinking and they want the Bill for two reasons. The first is to do away with bogus clubs. I do not think I need occupy much time with that point. In that respect I think those in favour of the Bill are pushing at an open door. Every hon. Member will agree that we must try to get rid of these bogus clubs and, even if nothing else should be done in the matter, I heartily thank the hon. Member who brought in the Bill for having ventilated the question and shown the hatred and fear of these clubs which exists in all parts of the House.

The second thing is more debatable, and that is the question of extension. This, to my mind, is not a question of principle at all; it is purely a question of convenience. Supposing there was a demand to destroy this House of Commons, I have no doubt that we should rally in defence of this House. That would be a question of principle. But supposing it were a question of altering the time at which this House should sit, whether it should start sitting at 2.45 or 3.15 p.m., it would not be a question of principle, but a mere matter of domestic politics which should be decided by Mr. Speaker, the Government, and by us Members for our own convenience.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

Is it not a, great question of principle whether the House should sit after 11 o'clock?


If that is a principle, it is one that is very often broken. In this case, as I say, I think it is a question of convenience. It is not that people want to drink more. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) pointed out how drinking has increased since 1932, but he missed the main reason entirely, and that is that there is more money now in the country. If the hon. Member had been a working man in the North three years before the boom, with the low wages paid, the strength, or rather the weakness, of beer, and its expense, even the hon. Member would have had great difficulty in getting drunk. It is not, to my mind, a question of getting more, but one of going to bed later, and why do people go to bed later? No one seems to have drawn attention to the fact that all the factories start an hour later. Then again people stop up later for another reason, namely, summer time. It used to be the case that at half-past 10 or so in the small towns in the North the streets were almost as empty as the West End of London is at 3 o'clock in the morning, but now from 10 to 10.30 is the busiest time in the streets of the whole 24 hours, with people coming away from the pictures and from their meetings and being out—the older men in their gardens and the younger people playing games.

Viscountess ASTOR

At 11 o'clock?


No, by 11 o'clock the streets are getting empty, but I am talking of from 10 to 10.30. I know how this question was first brought to my personal attention—this inconvenience of 10 o'clock closing. I attend a lot of meetings when I am in my constituency, a great number of them having nothing to do with politics. It is very difficult to start them before 7.30 p.m. A man who has been working all day has to go home and get washed, and very likely changed and shaved, and then he has to have his tea, which is a great thing up in Yorkshire. Then he wants a smoke and a look at the paper, and so we cannot have our meetings before 7.30. If they stopped at 9.30, they would get into my car, we should run down to one of the clubs, and we should have a drink, but if the meeting were prolonged till five minutes to 10 or so, what happened? It simply meant that I had to leave them, and they had to go back without a drink, if they wanted one, as there was no method of getting it, though very likely, having worked all day, they deserved it far more than I did. I drove home and could have as many drinks as I liked, and every time I did that I felt it very unfair on the working man and getting very dangerously near what is called one law for the comparatively rich and another law for the poor.

Hon. Members opposite have been returned by working-class votes, and so have I, and I am very proud of it, as they are. They admire their constituents, as I do. Well, if they do, surely they can trust them. I think everybody will agree with my final word, which is that 99 people out of every 100 who drink, no matter whether they are working-class people or the "old school tie" brigade, can have reasonable freedom and they will use it and not abuse it.

2.12 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Rickards) has asked that we should trust the working men of England and give them liberty. I ask him if he and the people who are backing this Bill are so willing to trust the working men of England as to give them local option on drink. No, not one of them.


The Noble Lady has absolutely no right to say that I do not agree with local option. She knows nothing whatever about my views on that question.

Viscountess ASTOR

I want to call this bluff of trusting the working men of England and giving them liberty.


As a matter of fact, I am in favour of local option.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am delighted to hear that. It is one more recruit for local option and trust in the working-men of England. I do not know where to begin about this Bill. As to the hon. Member who introduced it, I am perfectly prepared to believe in his innocence, absolutely. I never heard a more innocent speech, and I have never seen a collection of more innocent backers, but the hon. Member really understood very little about the licensing laws of this country, and he certainly did not understand the motives of the people who handed him the Bill which he has brought before the House. I am certain that nearly every Member of this House feels that the Government should do something to deal with bogus clubs, and if this Bill was really a genuine effort to deal with bogus clubs, you would have the whole of us behind you. If the promoters of the Bill had been in earnest about clubs, why did they bring in the extension of the drink hours? I am not going to deal with the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert), because we know that he is the playboy of the drink world.


May I suggest that a regular course of narcotics would be extremely good for the Noble Lady? She would be less restless.

Viscountess ASTOR

The Noble Lady will be restless in this House long after the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert). I am not going to deal seriously with him, because we know that he has a picture of the old-fashioned pub where there is music and merriment and good cheer. It is a beautiful picture. I only wish it were true. If it were not for the vested interests of the drink trade it would be true, but those conditions are long past. It is said that those who are interested in this question want to take away the liberty of the British working-man to drink. What we want to do is to curb the iniquities of the vested interest in the drink trade. It is not that we are cranks and fanatics. Let us get back to the real issue. Hon. Members have spoken lightly of the Royal Commission—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] Hon. Members get more and more innocent. Many hon. Members do not realise what the Royal Commission was.

During the War we had set up a Board of Control for the drink trade. It was not set up by fanatics or by temperance reformers, but by the Government, whose first duty it was to keep the people at home efficient so that we could win the War. They found that drink caused inefficiency and wastage of hours. They found after the War that one of the things that made for increased sobriety more than anything was shorter hours. If the hon. Members could read the letters that some of us received after the War as to the effect on the home of shorter hours and the decrease in drinking, many of them would feel as strongly as some of us who have always been interested in the social side of drink. The minute the War was over, and even during the War, certain sections of the drink trade behaved in a most unpatriotic and amazing way. In certain areas where they had decreased the strength of the beer the good old drink trade—and the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) knows something about it—sent down people to tell the working-man that the beer was weaker. That was a splendid thing to do. Even during the War they had a higher allegiance than allegiance to their country —that was to their trade and to their profits.


The Noble Lady has challenged me. I do know something about that. She has made a big mistake. There was only a certain amount of material available for brewing, the beer was weak, and the brewers were inundated with complaints.

Viscountess ASTOR

The right hon. and gallant Member knows as well as I do that it was in the interests of the country that the beer should be weak, but it was to the interest of the brewers that it should be weak.


The Noble Lady has no business to make this kind of accusation against the trade. The brewing trade was playing the game, and no- body except the Noble Lady has accused them of not doing so during the War.

Viscountess ASTOR

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ask the Board of Control what they thought of some of the carryings on of the drink trade during the War? I can give him chapter and verse. When the War was over, in spite of those great reforms which had done so much good to the country, the drink trade was never tired of agitating about the liberties of the working-man. It was always the liberties of the working-man, but they would not agree to local option; the drink trade would fight that to the last ditch. There was continual agitation, and, finally, no Government had the courage to face it, so a Royal Commission was appointed. Hon. Members have spoken lightly of it, but do they realise of whom it was composed? It had on it representatives of the Home Office, the licensing justices, employers of labour, trade unions, clubs, co-operatives, and social reformers; there were, too, three women, three representatives of temperance organisations and three representatives of the trade. The Commission sat for two years and heard 189 witnesses. I do not suppose a more thorough commission has ever been set up. It said two things. One of them, on which all the members were all agreed, was that clubs had to be controlled. They also all agreed on the hours of drink except two, one of whom was a representative of the brewers and the other a representative of the licensees. The rest of the members agreed that the existing hours were right.

If the promoters of this Bill really wanted to deal with clubs, they should have taken the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission. Instead, they have taken a very dangerous line. They have set up two authorities to control the sale of drink in each area. I am certain that the House wants to take drink out of party politics, but this Bill puts it into party politics. It puts licensed premises under the justices but the registration of clubs under the local authority. It thus puts drinks directly into party politics. I am rather surprised at that because the trade has no party politics. We know that drinking clubs, whether working-men's clubs or Socialist clubs, are helped by the trade.


Not in Scotland.

Viscountess ASTOR

Yes, in Scotland. Working-men's clubs are helped by the trade. The trade has no politics; it will go wherever the going is good. The one thing in the world that we do not want to do is to put the trade more into politics than it is. I would like to tell the House and to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there was a great politician once who knew about the baneful influence of a gigantic vested interest whose tyranny and whose insolence must be as repugnant to those who could profit by it as it was to those who were suffering from its opposition. That was said by Joseph Chamberlain, and everybody who has had anything to do with local government realises the dire effects of this traffic. The first thing the Bill does, then, is to put clubs directly into party politics. You cannot possibly have two licensing authorities. We know that the effect of the Balfour Acts was almost nullified by these clubs. I could give instances of where the minute a redundant public house was closed, a club sprang up.


If you say that a licence was extinguished because it was regarded as redundant, and in its place up springs a club, it means that that licence was not redundant but that there was a need for it.

Viscountess ASTOR

Redundant in the interests of the community and not in the interests of a few people who want to drink. That is what I meant. The licensing justices consider the question of the community and what is best for the community. With due respect to the hon. Member, he may tell this House a good many things, but he cannot tell it that he knows more about what is best for the community than the Royal Commission or the licensing justices. That is the first thing. The second thing is that this Bill aims at eliminating bogus clubs, but its provisions for the registration of clubs are almost the same as in the Licensing Act of 1910, under which bogus clubs have sprung up, and that Act was unanimously rejected by the Royal Commission. So the Bill will not do anything for bogus clubs. [Interruption.] The hon. Member had better look up the Act of 1910. None of those who have brought in this Bill seem to know anything about the Licensing Act. I am no authority, but I am like Solomon himself compared with them. There is another thing, that children under 18 are to be admitted to membership of a club provided it is athletic or educational. I ask you! I am perfectly convinced that the House does not want children to become members of a bogus club on that excuse. I am showing that the Bill is not dealing with bogus clubs. It is going to let in children on some flimsy excuse.

I shall not deal with the extension of hours, which has already been so well dealt with, but I should like to warn the House against one thing. We know that the drink trade has got the services of a very able man now, Sir Edgar Sanders. He administered the Carlisle scheme when Carlisle was put under public control, he was their chief man, and he did it so well, and he was so splendid, and the drink trade is so rich, that Sir Edgar Sanders is now bound to the drink trade and has changed his tune entirely. Sir Edgar Sanders, when he was asked about the drink trade before the Royal Commission, said this—I have got it somewhere— We feel satisfied that the shorter and broken hours have proved themselves to be an indispensable element in the reduction of insobriety. Well, I see that it was not Sir Edgar Sanders, but the Royal Commission; but Sir Edgar Sanders himself spoke about shorter hours, and also about advertisements. He was very strong about advertisements and very strong about the clubs. After he joined the trade, he went to one of the brewers' dinners and said he was really alarmed at the decrease of drunkenness, particularly among the younger people. [Interruption.] It has been put before in the House.


Said he was alarmed at the decrease of drunkenness?

Viscountess ASTOR

Would you like his exact words? He said: The Trade, despite continuous profits was naturally not satisfied. And he said that one of the reasons was that there were thousands, nay millions, of young people in this country who did not know the taste of drink, and that the trade had got to get the young people of the country beer-minded if the drink trade was to go on with its profits. Now I ask this House of Commons, do they want to get the young people of this country beer-minded. Is there a single member of the House who wants his child, who has never taken anything to drink, to become beer-minded? Does the country want the young people to become beer-minded. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Really. I bet your wife does not.

Commander BOWER

I am quite sure my wife would be del ighted, and I may say, if it interests the Noble Lady, that I frequently give my children small portions of beer.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am perfectly satisfied. That is perfectly all right. I am not saying that small portions of beer are going to hurt his children at all—I am no fanatic on the subject—but does not the House know that very few of us have any control of our children after they are 18? Would not the world be a different place if our children were what we wanted them to be after they were 18? No matter what our desires are, we cannot get our children to do what we want them to do after 18. I am asking this question from a national point of view—do you really want the children of this country to become beer-minded?

But I want to get back to the Bill. Ever since Sir Edgar Sanders has joined the brewers he has been extraordinarily clever in advertisements. We know that the brewers spend literally millions on advertisements. It was said, in this extraordinary speech, that they had a way of influencing the Press—which they have, in all conscience. No matter how much the reporters want to report about drink they have to be careful, because the Press has to be kind to the people who advertise in it, and they know it and we all know it. And Sir Edgar Sanders not only said this, but that they had a way of influencing leading articles—not only advertisements. It is all there in black and white.


Does this influence apply to the newspaper with which the Noble Lady's family is connected?

Viscountess ASTOR

Certainly not. The "Observer" has no advertisements in connection with drink.


Does not the influence of any advertisements, affect the policy of the "Observer."

Viscountess ASTOR

I do not know what advertisements you are referring to. You know perfectly well the "Observer" is outstanding. We never use the paper for our personal opinions or to advertise ourselves in any way.


But the general assumption that papers are controlled and influenced by advertisements goes beyond the drink trade and it is an interesting thing to put on record. Presumably it applies to your newspapers as well as others.

Viscountess ASTOR

I wish the reporters in the Gallery could speak. They could tell us a thing or two. We all know perfectly well that the trade spends £2,000,000 a year on advertising drink. Hon. Members have only to go round the corner to see on the walls "Beer is good for you." Look at the millions they spend. I should say they spend even more in the Press. So we really cannot get the truth about the drink trade in the Press—in most of the Press. Even in the "Daily Herald" we cannot get the truth about it, let alone the other dailies. Let the House come back to this. Really the pressure for increased hours comes from the brewers. It does not even come from the publicans or from the public. If hon. Members were to put this matter to the general public or to their constituents, they would find that this demand does not come from the people; it comes from the trade.

In this House we must do what we think best for the country as a whole. We have a right to say to the Government that it is about time that they did something about this question of hours. The Government assert that they have ne time to do anything, but I would remind them that the time of the House has been wasted over and over again. There were three Bills which took up much of our time, and one of them went through 16 Committees, I think it was. I hope that the Government will have the courage to deal with clubs and with the whole question of drink. I do not blame the hon. Member for Oxford University for being a little bit muddled about it, because he is quite good humoured, and if he and other hon. Members knew what was going on, if they knew the machinations of the, drink trade and the extremely clever way in which that trade gets up an agitation and makes others think that there is a feeling in the country when there is not, I am certain they would take a very sane view of this matter. Does the country realise what the trade is doing and how enormous its profits are? [An HON. MEMBER: "And its taxation."] That is nothing to its profits. Most trades would be very pleased to be taxed if they could make profits like the drink trade.


There is no profit on the taxation.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am sure that lion. Members will be interested in the figures of the profits. In 1932 those profits were £16,000,000, in 1933, £18,000,000, and in 1934, £25,000,000, and even then the Government let the trade off to the tune of £14,000,000. The trade was squealing. It always will squeal; it will be yelling although its profits are going up. The increase in the expenditure on drink has gone up enormously. The country is now spending on drink many more millions than a few years ago.

All that the Bill will do if passed—I am sure it will not pass—is to increase the profits of the brewers and the convictions for drunkenness. It will increase the expenditure on drink. I cannot believe that hon. Members who represent traders of all kinds want more money of the working classes to be spent on drink. I am not referring to the well-to-do; none of us are really thinking about ourselves. I beg hon. Members not to be moved by the piteous arguments about the freedom of the working-roan, and that they will not think that this is a Bill to stop bogus clubs. It is a Bill promoted by the drink trade, fostered by very innocent people, and backed up by playboys and by people who think that any restriction of the drink trade is a restriction of the liberties of the people of the country. Hon. Members must bear in mind that this is the only trade in the country that the Government have always had to control not only in this country but in all other countries. Why does it have to control this trade?


What about milk? Is not that controlled? [Laughter.]

Viscountess ASTOR

Hon. Members can laugh, but we who have spent years in social work can never laugh about the abuses of drink. The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) has told us of the appalling cases which, before the War, came to the notice of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Immediately there was control of this trade, the figures of such cases went from 20,000 down to a few thousands. If I had a casting vote tomorrow, I would not vote for total prohibition, because this country is not ready for it. I have never been a total prohibitionist in respect to the drink trade, which spends thousands of pounds, nay, millions, in trying to persuade people to drink, although the Government has it under control—and that is a ridiculous position. I pray God that some day the great vested interests will lose their influence, and that we shall be able to talk about the question of drink clearly, either as a social evil or a social service, but without the appalling pressure which now comes from outside. I beg hon. Members to believe that this is not a temperance Bill, that it will not do a thing to help bogus clubs, and that, if they vote for it because of what they think are the views of the cream of their constituents, they will find a good deal of sour milk under that cream.

2.43 p.m.


The Noble Lady made her speech completely under a misapprehension. It is not the first time she has misunderstood what has been going on. The Bill, as was frankly stated by the proposer, is introduced by the Workingmen's Club and Institute Union and the Union of Conservative Clubs. It is not instigated by the licensed traders, who have not been consulted about it. The clubs have drawn the Bill up on their own lines, and only after the Bill was drawn up have they come to the representatives of the trade, of which I am one, to ask what our view was and how far we could support the Bill. The Noble Lady made her speech as though this were a trade Bill—

Viscountess ASTOR

Of course it is—


—designed to advance the interests of the licensed trade, and that the club and institute are only put into the Bill to make it more plausible. There she is fundamentally and completely wrong. She has made various accusations, as she often does inside and outside the House, against the licensed trade, but no one takes them very seriously. She causes us a very great deal of amusement, as we usually expect on these occasions. She thinks it is very bad for the licensed traders to make profits; well, they are traders, and it is their business to make profits. They make and supply the best article they can and sell it at a reasonable profit without profiteering. The figures include, moreover, a good many subsidiary profits other than those made out of selling beer, and also the profits of the export trade; and many items, as for the maintenance and improvement of business, have to be deducted. The actual profits are very much less than these figures would seem to indicate. A speaker earlier in the Debate talked about the brewers wanting to sell their beer in the worst possible houses, but that hon. Member must be very ignorant of what is going on, and has been going on for many years past. There has been a, steady improvement in licensed houses, and many benches of magistrates and many chief constables have spoken with a high degree of approbation of the efforts that have been made to facilitate such improvement.

This Bill is in two parts; it deals with hours and it deals with bogus clubs. On both these matters there may quite properly be criticism and argument. I am not at all wedded to the hours stated in the Bill, but I think that a. good point in the Bill, from the point of view of the licensed trade, is that. it would regulate and standardise the hours throughout the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Some Members have argued that the hour of 10.30 is too late for rural districts, but a very simple Amendment would make it 10, and it would be within the competence of the Committee to make such an Amendment. I think it was the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) who described the Conference at which the present arrangement was agreed upon by which the hours are now regulated. I was one of those who thought then that some discretion—though it was said earlier in the Debate that discretion is a very dangerous thing—might be entrusted to the licensing justices, and that less fanatical views might prevail in the great majority of cases. Unfortunately, we have been disappointed. I recognise the anomalies that are created by licensing justices, some of whom look upon their office more as a means for propaganda and for enforcing their own views than for regulating the business of the licensed trade in a manner convenient to the public. But I do not want to insist too much upon the hours themselves.

Turning to the question of clubs, all clubs do not necessarily have a licence; many clubs are formed which have no licence. Clubs which have a licence to sell alcoholic liquor have to register themselves and to furnish certain particulars It is felt in many quarters that that method of registration has been too easy, that the particulars supplied are not always all those which ought to be supplied, that the registration has been practically automatic, and that, if harm has been done by the way in which clubs have done their business, it has had to be rectified after that harm has commenced. We are all agreed, however, that the bogus club ought to go, and I personally regret that this Bill is not a simple Bill dealing with bogus clubs. It is remarkable that some speakers in this Debate do not seem to have paid attention to the Report of the Royal Commission, which they praise so much, or to have realised how far it is carried out in this Bill. If hon. members will refer to the appropriate page of the Report, they will find that the recommendations as to the conditions for registering clubs are almost identically reproduced in the Bill. The reasons for striking clubs off the register are very similar—there is a little variation—

Viscountess ASTOR

The point is that under the Bill clubs would be put under the local authority and licensed premises under the licensing justices. The Bill makes two different licensing authorities.


That is another point, with which I am going to deal in a moment. The recommendations of the Royal Commission may be good or bad, but they are practically in all essentials included in the Bill. As regards the authority with whom clubs should be registered, the clubs object most strongly to going before licensing magistrates.

Viscountess ASTOR



Because of the experience which they see others suffer through going to the bench.

Viscountess ASTOR



The licensed trade. And we, with our experience of a number of benches of licensing magistrates, certainly cannot recommend or ask the clubs to suffer as we have suffered. Many benches are most reasonable, do their work in a businesslike way, and understand that they are there in a judicial or semi-judicial capacity to regulate matters according to the law and the reasonable convenience of the public. But many are not, and the clubs do not desire to be brought under that kind of jurisdiction. It is interesting in this regard to look at the Scots law. Clubs in Scotland are registered in the sheriff's office, and not with the licensing authority. It may be that the proposal in the Bill is not the best, and I know it is not the proposal that was recommended by the Royal Commission. They recommended that clubs should be brought under the licensing justices, but the clubs are not going to have that, and the friends of the clubs are not going to force them to agree to it.

After all, working men's clubs are some of the most admirable institutions in the country. They are well managed; they are extremely orderly; and no one in this House or outside has any right to direct obloquy against them. But, on the other hand, there is a great number of clubs which are not clubs at all, and it is those with which we want to deal. This business of the bogus club is a crying evil; here is an opportunity to deal with it, and the whole House wants to deal with it. It will not satisfy some of us if the Government simply say that when the time comes they will be prepared to offer legislation to the House. We know that the Government are overwhelmed with business this Session. The Eleven o'Clock Rule is being suspended night after night, until the operation of that Rule has become, not the custom, but the exception, and there is no chance of any such legislation this Session. On the question of hours, there is every reason why anomalies and irregularities in hours should be rectified standardisation. Here is a Bill which enables the House to deal with these matters, and it appears to me that the criticisms directed against the terms of the Bill are principally committee points. For these reasons I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill if it goes to a Division.

2.56 p.m.


After some of the lively and entertaining speeches made by hon. Members in this Debate I am afraid my contribution will be very stale and dull, although I hope it will not be entirely unprofitable. On Fridays before Easter the time is private Members' time and the Bills before the House are private Members' Bills, and it is not an occasion when it is the business of those sitting on this bench to attempt in any way to direct the view of the House. At the same time this is a subject of such tremendous importance that I think the House would wish to know how the Bill strikes the Government, and would tolerate from me some observations, much less heatedly expressed than some of the things that have been said on one side or the other to-day.

The first observation which must occur to anyone who has been present throughout the Debate is that this is indeed a very controversial subject. It is a subject on which conflicting views and perfectly legitimate differences of opinion are expressed, and sometimes are expressed with great intensity. Undoubtedly it is a subject that does touch the life of this country at many points.

I was interested to note that when my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Gledhill)—whom I would like, if I may, to compliment on the tone of his speech —was presenting the Bill, taking advantage of that good fortune which he got in the ballot, he was good enough to say, and I agree, that large and controversial matters should not be undertaken by private Members' Bills. The House, of course, will have to consider that aspect of the matter. Certainly previous experience goes to show that in such cases there is long drawn out controversy, and if this Bill goes upstairs to Committee, which it is of course within the rights of the House to decide shall be done, it will occupy a very long time and obviously will have an effect on the opportunities for other legislation.

I want to make some comments on the contents of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) pointed out, it deals with two subjects. I am not going to say that the promoters are using the one subject as a cloak for the other, but it does in fact deal with two subjects. It is described in the first instance as a Bill for the standardisation of hours, but it also represents an effort to eliminate what are called bogus clubs. I should like to say a few words on both those matters.

First, as regards standardization of hours. That sounds, of course, very neat and practical and sensible. Uniformity in hours, the removal of anomalies, a change in the law which will secure that there will not be in future what is sometimes called the Oxford Street absurdity—these things appeal to everybody, when they are presented to them at first blush, as being quite reasonable proposals. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend described his Bill as getting rid of these anomalies and promoting standardisation of hours, but from the moment that the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) pointed out in a series of illustrations what will be the real effect of the first part of the Bill, not a soul has got up to contradict him, or to suggest that this Bill would really bring about the uniformity which is desired.

I would like to point out what the Bill does do. At present, of course, as everybody understands, the actual closing hour is fixed by the licensing authority of the area within a certain range of hours, and it does in fact vary according to the decision of the licensing authority in different parts of the country. The result of this is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) pointed out amusingly the other day, that an active man who keeps his balance on a bicycle can attend what he described as the closing ceremony in three different parts of London in one evening. That sounds very absurd, but the reason why closing hours vary in different parts of the country is that the authorities charged with the matter think that upon the whole in the district for which they are responsible the closing hour they fix is better than any other. Local conditions in different parts of the country have to be considered. Broadly speaking, I think it is true to say that in the North of England people go to bed at an earlier hour than in the South, and it is certainly true that in the great towns of the North there is generally an earlier closing hour.

If this Bill were a Bill which would provide for variations of local habit that would be another matter, but this is a Bill which seeks to substitute a particular closing hour, fixed by Act of Parliament, once and for all, without modification for local circumstances, in place of the decisions of the various local licensing authorities. But although it does that, it does not fix a single hour. It does not say that 11 o'clock shall be closing time everywhere. It says that 11 o'clock (with an extra 10 minutes to swallow your last drink) shall be the closing hour in the Metropolis and in every town with a population over 300,000, but, with equal precision, that closing time is to be half-past 10 in every other place. Consider what would happen in the Black Country where you have the City of Birmingham with well over 300,000 people, surrounded, riot at a considerable distance but contiguous to it, by a series of smaller boroughs. In every one of those places at present by the action of the licensing authorities the closing hour is for practical purposes the same. I think there may be a slight exception. But if you enact legislation on the principle of this Bill, if you approve of the proposal that Parliament should fix for the whole country the exact hours of closing, all the greater towns in the country—Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and the rest of them—will all have the closing hour of 11 o'clock, whereas around their boundaries there will be what I may call a continuous circular Oxford Street. As a result everybody will be free when the public houses in adjoining areas shut at 10.30 to move into the centre. Liverpool will have its closing hour at 11 o'clock under this Bill whereas in Birkenhead closing time will be half-past 10. The Mersey Tunnel may become congested.

At present, although I agree that there are curious cases, as the hon. Member for Oxford University very properly pointed out, there is a certain give-and-take in fixing the closing hour, which on the whole seems to be exercised sensibly, because it does mean that in great areas of population in the country—areas including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and so on—the same rule is as a matter of fact adopted. I cannot think it would be very satisfactory that in Liverpool the closing hour should be 11 and at Birkenhead, Wallasey and Bootle, half-past 10. Of course, if the House decides to send the Bill to a Committee, that is one of the matters that can be discussed there, and I think it will be discussed at very great length. So much for the first topic dealt with by the Bill.

I agree with many who have spoken that it is high time we made an effort to eliminate bogus clubs, and in so far as the purpose of the Bill is directed to that, I do not in the least challenge its purpose, though I rather doubt the method that the Bill provides. May I state the present position as I understand it, and the House will see how strong the case is for trying to devise a measure to deal with bogus clubs. At present anyone, whatever his character, and whatever his record, even a convicted criminal, may register a club with, amongst other things, the right of supplying drink to its members, and he cannot be challenged in his application so to register if he produces to the magistrate's clerk 5s., a set of rules, a statement of the name, the objects and the address of the club, and of the number of members. Many people are under the impression that he has to give a list of 25 names. Nothing of the sort. The law, as far as I know, does not prevent him registering his club if he says he has perhaps five members. After all, Dr. Johnson's club, which still exists, consisted originally of only eight members. It is difficult to believe that the law is in a right condition if that can happen which I have just described. In the second place, there is no provision in the law that the premises shall be suitable. A man may register a club for a cellar, for a place structurally quite unfit for the purpose. I cannot think that is right.

More extraordinary than either of those two things is a third. Cases arise in which a registered club is struck off the register. Proceedings are taken—it is a judicial process, of course evidence has to be given, and sometimes it is obtained under difficulties. Whether it is on proof of habitual drunkenness, or the habitual use of the place for an unlawful purpose, or the habitual admission of non-members for the purpose of obtaining intoxicants, or illegal sale, whatever the reason is, a club has been struck off. Yet the very moment it is struck off, there is nothing whatever in the present law to prevent the promoter of that club, or the officials of the club, in the next five minutes, from producing another 5s., from applying afresh for a club under another name, stating how many members it had, as though nothing had happened. And unless a special provision is taken advantage of, there is nothing to prevent him from re-registering the same premises. If, in respect of the club struck off, the authority that struck it off exercised its discretion and said that the premises of the club should be disqualified for 12 months or, for a second offence, for five years, then he could not register the same room, but he could register another floor of the same house. I cannot think that that is a reasonable state of affairs. My hon. Friend's Bill makes no provision about that. I have looked at it, I assure him, with no desire to be antagonistic, but I do not think that the Bill as it stands really deals adequately with this matter. I cannot find anything in it at all about the premises.

There is a further and very important question involved in this part of the Bill. Is it right that we should introduce into local municipal politics this difficult question of club law and practice, with undoubtedly serious results in the character of the controversies at every local election? Is is not better perhaps to use a different machinery, whether it is the present one or some neutral machinery? The Bill seems to bring into local municipal politics a very undesirable issue.

There is another point which was made very properly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Burton. We have reason to be concerned, among other things, because it is undoubtedly a grave affront to well-managed bona fide, decent working men's clubs that they should in the law stand in the same position as undesirable and bogus clubs. It is simply not true that the working man's club is the haunt of vice. Anyone who knows anything about it first hand knows quite well that these clubs are conducted for the most part in a most excellent spirit, and I do not agree that a really bona fide social club, whether it is used by working men or anyone else, is simply a competitor with the public house. The competitor of the public house 'may be the bogus club, and it is about that kind of club, therefore, upon which we ought to unite in doing something.

I have made it my business to study this matter as well as I could, before I knew that this Debate was to come on, and I commend these considerations to the House. I have a paragraph here in which the Royal Commission summed up the state of the law, and I will read it to confirm what I have already stated to the House. The Royal Commission sum it up thus: Where a club is struck off the only result, unless the premises are disqualified, is that the name of that particular club is removed from the register without prejudice to the possibility that another club, which may be virtually the same club, occupying the same premises and having the same members, may be registered. That is a situation which really we ought to be able to improve. It would, of course, be very gratifying to some sections of the House if one could announce that the Government had plenty of time and was about to launch into the presentation of a comprehensive licensing Bill covering the whole field. I can do nothing of the kind, but I am able to say that it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to deal with the evil of bogus clubs. We cannot do it this Session, but I am prepared to carry my assurance further on the point of definiteness and to say that we do intend to promote that legislation next Session. This is, in fact, a particular compartment of the subject which can be dealt with by itself. The Royal Commission thought that it can be dealt with by itself. This is not the time when I ought to attempt to define to the House what will be the provisions of the Bill. I do not know that I could do that, even if this were the right time. I am acutely conscious of the fact that this question, when we come to deal with it, is much more difficult than it appears to be on the surface, but the Government are prepared to say that they will introduce this legislation next Session.

I give that information to the House, while leaving, of course, every Member of the House to exercise his own judgment, in the light of the arguments he has heard, as to the course he will take on the Bill. I apologise for intervening at this stage, when so many hon. Members wish to speak, but I thought the House would excuse me in trying to state exactly what I understand to be the present law and in saying definitely that it is the intention of the Government next Session to introduce a Bill to deal with bogus clubs.


In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and in the hope that the Government will deal with this matter within a reasonable time, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn; Bill withdrawn.

The remaining Orders of the day were read, and postponed.

Whereupon. Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at Twenty-one Minutes after Three o'Clock until Monday next, 9th March.