HC Deb 28 October 1952 vol 505 cc1873-80

Lords Amendment: In page 4, line 4, at end, insert: including the provision of accommodation to be provided for the consumption therein of beverages other than intoxicating liquor and in which the consumption of intoxicating liquor is prohibited.

10.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House will remember that the Bill provides for the setting up of committees in new towns to plan the distribution of licensed premises in their areas. Clause 3 deals with the powers and duties of such committees. Subsection (1), as it left this House, required a committee under the Bill to consider from time to time the requirements of its area in respect of licensed premises and the accommodation, amenities and facilities for obtaining intoxicating liquor, meals and other refreshments which should be provided.

The Lords Amendment, which was moved in another place by an Opposition Member, adds to the list of things which a committee must consider the provision of accommodation for the consumption of soft drinks where the consumption of intoxicants is prohibited. The Amendment is useful though not fundamental. Even without the Amendment, each committee would be required to consider what accommodation and facilities for obtaining both intoxicating liquor and meals and other refreshments there would be.

The Amendment will not have the effect that the provision of accommodation of the kind in question will unnecessarily be required. The provision of accommodation will remain within the discretion of the committees, subject to the power of the Minister of Housing and Local Government under Clause 3 (7, c) to modify their proposals. The added words will serve a useful purpose in calling attention to the desirability in appropriate cases of providing, for instance, a tearoom where non-intoxicants are to be sold. For this reason, the Government are glad to accept the Amendment passed in another place and I recommend it to the House for acceptance.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I should like to say a word of acknowledgment and approval of the fact that the Government have found it possible, though with certain qualifications to which the attention of the House has been drawn by the Minister, to accept the series of proposals which my hon. Friends and I made when the Bill was going through this House. The Home Secretary then promised that, so far as it was possible for him to do so, he would try to find a means to meet our desires in the matter.

I should like to point out that the extent to which the ideas now embodied in this Amendment are likely to be successful in their aim will depend upon some important factors. I will mention them very briefly, as I do not wish to detain the House, but I think that notice must be taken of them. First, the success of the proposal will depend upon the awareness of the committees that are now empowered to deal with the question of licensing and amenities in licensed premises that this facility, namely, to have places in public houses where no intoxicating drink is to be obtained at all and where proper arrangements can be made for the provision of other types of refreshment, is within their duty and their powers.

Secondly, it will depend upon the extent of the watchfulness of the Home Secretary who, under the general terms of the Bill, is empowered to receive complaints in certain eventualities and to watch what is being done in the new towns. Thirdly, upon the watchfulness of social welfare organisations, the temperance societies and the churches will depend the extent to which some provision is made in some public houses to see that the conditions of the Amendment are carried out.

Perhaps my most important point is that the success of the proposal will depend upon the willingness of the liquor trade to adopt a different attitude from the one it has adopted so often in the past towards matters of this sort. Certainly at the beginning of the experiment, it will have to face the fact that this provision will mean a lower standard of profits than the trade might have expected to get from houses where no facilities of the sort existed. Upon the extent to which the trade falls in with the desires of the local committee, and, as now expressed, the desires of the legislature on this point, will largely depend the success of the proposal.

There is a word of warning that I should utter. The liquor trade has before it, to warn it, not only the terms of this proposal but also the Carlisle scheme which the Government have left in despite its criticisms about new towns. I criticise Carlisle in other matters but in relation to the proposal now before the House Carlisle has provided, irrespective of the profits, rooms and places where precisely such amenities can be given.

The failure of the trade to carry out the intentions which this House and another place have clearly indicated will leave it more open than ever to the suggestion that Carlisle at any rate, through a different type of organisation, is very much more capable of carrying out the intentions of the House than the private liquor trade is. At any rate the liquor trade now has that before it, and, if the House accepts this proposal, I suggest that it cannot afford to neglect the importance of this provision in the general work which will now have to be carried forward in the new towns.

I repeat that I am thankful that the Home Secretary was able to encourage another place to accept the Amendment. The speeches in another place, at any rate those for the Government, did not provide many good reasons for doing this. Two noble Lords wished to move the Amendment and the only way they could settle the problem was to toss for it. However, I hope I have provided one or two arguments in favour of the Amendment. There is good reason now for doing this work and for doing it thoroughly.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department introduced this Amendment as a useful but not fundamental one. We on this side of the House regret that he has not any fundamental Amendments to introduce. We regret it all the more because in another place there are those who are most capable of making fundamental Amendments. On the one side there are the bishops, on the other the noble representatives of the great brewery firms. Here in this place we have only the help of the president of the Band of Hope and the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant), who represents the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society. That is the substitute we have for the array of brilliant talent on both sides in another place.

Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)

I do not think I should allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to get away with that remark. I do not represent the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society. I am a member of it.

Mr. Bing

If the hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw.] Certainly, I am only too pleased to withdraw, and if the hon. Member wishes me to substitute for the phrase "represents the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society" that he is universally recognised as the most distinguished member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society, I will do so. Indeed, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) outstrips all others in the Band of Hope.

It is particularly unfortunate, when in these circumstances there was all this advice available in another place, that there was not more thought given to the actual wording of this Amendment. I just call the attention of the Under-Secretary to it to see whether at this late stage he would not recommend the House to disagree with it so that it could be taken back to another place to see whether there could not be some more precise wording.

For instance, what is meant by "intoxicating liquor"? We have had some discussion on this very subject, and I take this opportunity of apologising to the House for the very grievous error that I made on a previous occasion. I described one beer as only 6 per cent. stronger than the beer that was permitted during Prohibition in the United States of America. After further considering the analyst's certificate I see that I was mistaken, and I apologise to the House. It is, in fact, 6 per cent. weaker than the beer in the last year of Prohibition. In the last year of Prohibition beer to the strength of 3.2 per cent. alcohol by volume was permitted, and the particular English beer in question has only the strength of 2.6 per cent. alcohol by volume.

It would have been very much better if, in the presence of the great experts of the Brewing Society, it would have been possible to set out clearly what was intended by "intoxicating liquors," instead of relying on an old definition or something of that sort that is available. It would have been better to go frankly into the question and see whether certain brewers could sell all their products in the room labelled "non intoxicating." Why not? That would have enabled a very reasonable choice to be made, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) could then have entered. He would realise that the beers for sale in the intoxicating room would, from his point of view, do the public harm, while the others could, as it were, receive his imprimatur.

Under the circumstances, I feel that this lacks something in precision. In view of the importance of this Measure, greater consideration should be given to this Amendment. After all, the Bill we are considering tonight is the only major Measure which has been carried through in this Session of Parliament. So we ought not to depart lightly from any Amendment. The Government, in the last King's Speech set out a number of Measures which they intended to carry through, but the only Measures during the Session on which the House divided on Second Reading were a Measure to increase by 1½d. the charge on postal orders, the Bill for the Health Service charges, which arose out of the Budget, and this particular Measure. Therefore, the House would be very wrong not to regard with some strictness the Amendment which comes from another place.

10.30 p.m.

There is a second reason why it is necessary that the House should look with a little closeness at this Amendment before we pass it. I think I am right—I quote from memory from the brewers' publications which are available in the Library—in recalling that they said that no delay was to be tolerated in another place with regard to the Bill. If so, if in fact they were hustled through it, if one examines the length of time taken in another place in regard to the Licensing Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and the number of detailed Amendments which came before the House, one cannot feel, now that there is only one Amendment, of a useful but not fundamental nature, before the House, other than that perhaps there has been a rather overhasty consideration of it elsewhere.

If that is so, and faced with the principal Act—the only Act of hon. Gentlemen opposite upon which they can congratulate themselves; the only actual carrying out of their policy, as I understand it—it would not be right on either side of the House to leave the matter without a little further consideration, particularly when we are so fortunate in having with us one or two experts, the most distinguished member of the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society and one or two other people who approach the matter from a different angle. It would be wrong if the House were just to pass lightly from the matter without giving the Amendment a little more consideration.

I hope, therefore, that before we part from it, we shall have the view of the brewers on whether in their view it is necessary—and there may be some director of a brewery company—for there to be a regulation saying that a special room should be set aside. Why is it necessary to introduce this into legislation? Is this in agreement with what is thought to be the right policy by the Brewers' Society? I do not know whether any hon. Gentleman is able to speak on behalf of them. Is it welcomed by any hon. Gentleman opposite? Is it welcomed by those hon. Members who stand for the temperance interests? The House ought to have some guidance, before we leave this Amendment, from the many experts on the other side of the Chamber on the numerous aspects of this matter.

In those circumstances, I hope that we will not pass from this useful, if not fundamental, Amendment until it has been thoroughly reviewed by people who are far more expert to speak on this matter than any hon. Gentleman on this side of the House.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

While I welcome the further instruction, as it might be called, to the committees in the consideration of the provisions that may be made in licensed houses, I hope it will be realised that there is a certain danger in the Amendment if it is interpreted wrongly by the people who are building these concerns.

I realise that in many of the modern places the facilities for people who are not temperate are adequate and spacious. In many of the hotels that I visit, I find that while the parts of the hotel which are set aside for the people who are having tea or refreshments are quite suitable and the amenities are quite good, one sees when passing the place that is set aside for those who do not take temperance drinks a crushed little bar in which men are crowded together, and where in an otherwise suitable building they are drinking in a room and in an atmosphere not far removed from the oldest and most crowded conditions of intemperance.

It is part of our purpose—on both sides of the House, I hope—in asking the committees to consider these matters, that we are not only going to provide good conditions for the people who drink tea; but I hope that this will not be made an excuse for providing a repetition of the former bad conditions for the people who are not drinking tea but are drinking something else.

We have done our best in the House to try to legislate to see that these matters are considered, but I recognise that no legislation can make that certain unless the people who are carrying it out act in the spirit of the discussions that have taken place in this House. Therefore, I would make this appeal through the Secretary of State to all those connected with working the provisions for these places of refreshment in the new towns. I make this appeal both for those drinking temperance refreshments, and those taking alcoholic refreshment, and I hope that the places will have the dignity and amenities which this House has tried to foreshadow.

It is not enough that those responsible should just observe the letter of the law. I hope the law will be observed in the right spirit. [Interruption.] Well, this has always been a refreshing subject for discussion.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury(Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)


Mr. Woodburn

Yes, and a stimulating one. I hope that the law will be observed with the good wishes which have gone to the new towns from this House, and that places of refreshment will be established which will be a credit to those towns, and to the country as a whole, and that those responsible will not merely act in a mean spirit in providing these institutions.

Question put, and agreed to.