HC Deb 22 February 1945 vol 408 cc1087-91

Amendment made: In page 9, line 35, leave out Sub-section (2).—[Miss Wilkinson.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

6.23 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

May I be allowed to say a very few words on the Third Reading of this Measure, which is, of course, unique in the history of the drink problem? During the Committee stage I asked the right hon. Lady one or two questions about a very special subject connected with this Bill. Hon. Members will understand that this Measure provides facilities for drinking in public houses and clubs, but there is still another avenue for supplying drink, namely through what are commonly called "bottle shops." Licences are provided through the Customs and Excise for these shops. The authorities, whatever their views may be about public houses and clubs, are, I am pleased to say, somewhat alarmed about these bottle shops, because, through them, there can be a great deal of drinking under cover and on the sly, as it were. In Committee, the right hon. Lady said that if it was found that wholesale dealers were taking advantage of the provisions of this Bill to prejudice the field of the licensing planning authority the problem would have to be considered again along those lines. Indeed, it is quite possible that the provisions of this Bill may be completely nullified if wholesale dealers are allowed to open a large number of these bottle shops in the new planning areas. That would mean that public houses or clubs would not then be required at all. This Bill therefore seems incomplete, and not entirely in tune with the recommendations of the Morris Committee, on which it is based. I hope that the Government can tell us something hopeful to-day about the attitude of the Home Office towards the problem of these bottle shops.

6.26 p.m.

Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)

Astonishing as it may seem, I want to support my Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) in this matter. To a great extent we have the same ideals about licensed victuallers not sufficiently reminding themselves of their title of "licensed victualler." They are not eager enough to provide food and other refreshment besides drink, although I do not think they are quite as bad as my Noble Friend seems to think. We both want to see that public-houses are not mere drinking-dens, but places where you can get food and other amenities, such as music and games. During the Committee stage, I spoke of licensing justices and brewers who seemed to go counter to our common ideals, and who set their faces against music and games and any enlargement of licensed premises. A brewer may want to make a public-house bigger and better, but certain licensing justices say, "No; if we allow amenities to be added, there will be a larger drinking area. We would rather keep the place squalid." The Home Secretary, by this Bill, can lay down conditions about the kind of justices who are to be appointed, and I hope he will remember that.

The House will agree that it is perfectly lawful to play lawful games on Sundays on licensed premises, innocent games like "shove ha'penny," darts, skittles and, maybe, backgammon, although not billiards, because that is not legal. Playing those games militates against drinking and drunkenness. It is impossible to throw a dart, let alone a good dart, if you are drinking. Every game played diminishes drinking, and I should have thought that everybody on a licensing bench would agree. But that is not so; recently, a man in Liverpool wrote to me and said, "The licensing justices in my part of the world are playing the old game. They come round, through the police, and threaten us that if we allow darts, backgammon and 'shove ha'penny' to be played on Sunday on our premises, we shall lose our licences at the next Sessions." Some years ago I asked Sir Samuel Hoare, now Lord Templewood, who was then Home Secretary, whether this procedure was justifiable according to the law, and in the course of a very long answer he said that there was no shadow of doubt that it was quite legal to play lawful games like that on licensed premises on Sundays, and that no justices had any right to make those threats. It was a kind of unlicensed blackmail. I know it is difficult for a Home Secretary, when appointing justices, to go into the history of everything, but perhaps the right hon. Lady would like to support the announcement of her predecessor and discourage those ideas. Anybody, whether brewers or publicans, or improperly acting licensing justices, who reduces public-houses to mere drinking-places is going counter to the desires of everybody in this House.

6.30 p.m.

Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

I am delighted to be in harmony with the last speaker, but I really feel that he has not been interested in temperance as long as I have. As long as drink is in the hands of private enterprise, the trade are bound to push their goods. If they made as much by selling tea, coffee and food, you would get your games and it would be delightful. I hope the day will come when that will be possible, but it is not near yet. The brewers have made enormous profits. They always make profits, whatever happens. I am not blaming the brewers. I am blaming the people who make it possible. They could sell tea, cocoa and coffee, and show that they were interested in the public, but we have proof after proof that the minute the drink stops they close, and there are soldiers, sailors and airmen walking up and down the street with nowhere to go. Much as I should like to see these reforms, I do not think you will ever get them as long as the trade is in the hands of private enterprise. Before the war we were always talking about the Continental system.

Mr. Speaker

This is a limited Bill dealing with justices' licences in blitzed areas. It is not in Order to raise the whole licensing problem in this Third Reading Debate.

Viscountess Astor

The Parliamentary Secretary said that in granting licences they were going to broaden the basis on which they asked people to come in and help. I should like to ask her to consider the claim of certain organised bodies to be heard. Will she ask the churches and chapels and social organisations which are concerned with the interest of young people? It is they of whom we are mostly thinking. After you get to a certain age, no one cares whether you are drunk or sober, but the whole country is interested in the future of its children. I beg her to consider people who have no prejudices, but whose one desire is to make the world better for the children.

6.33 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wes though ton (Mr. Davies), we are very conscious of the fact that there may possibly be an increase in the number of the kind of premises that he has referred to as bottle-shops. I gave an assurance in Committee that, if we found that wholesale dealers were taking advantage of Section III of the Licensing Act to prejudice the work of licensing planning committees, the problem would be considered again. I repeat that promise, because we are very much concerned about it. I have looked into the matter since my hon. Friend raised it with me and I find that the Commissioners lave discretion to refuse a licence to wholesalers where they were not in business prior to 1939, and therefore there is a check on new entrants into the business. We considered his Amendment but it was outside the scope of the Bill and, therefore, it was not possible for him to move it or for us to accept it, but the matter is being carefully watched.

We fully sympathise with the point of view put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) that licensed premises should not simply be places where the largest amount of alcohol can he consumed in the quickest possible time. While this is a very limited Bill, the powers that it contains will be exercised in the new premises which are to be put up in the new planning areas. I can assure the hon. Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) that we always take into account such organisations as churches and chapels, which can put their views before the Committees when these things are being discussed. Also we are fully alive to the necessity of taking into account in these inquiries the views of those who are concerned with young people, particularly the youth organisations which are now becoming such an important part of our national life.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.