HC Deb 28 January 1954 vol 522 cc2022-9

6.45 p.m.

Mr. J. Hudson

I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, to leave out subsection (3).

Subsection (3) is designed to permit Sunday opening in canteens in Scotland and Wales. I shall speak most of Wales, but in both places there are limitations in the matter of the opening of public houses on Sunday. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) spoke very strongly on this matter during Second Reading. He would have liked to second the Amendment tonight, but he arranged a pair before he knew that the Bill was to be discussed today and feels that he is not as free as I am. I never pair where issues of this sort are likely to arise.

Although it would have been better if one of my colleagues from Wales had moved the Amendment, I am so much in touch with the churches and the temperance movement there that I can discuss the problem. They had made no protest before the Second Reading, but since then they have told me that they are still very strongly opposed to the possibility of a weakening in their Sunday legislation as a result of the Bill.

The Committee ought to face the fact that the House of Commons—and Royal Commissions appointed by the House—have come down flatly on the side of Sunday closing in Wales as a necessary process for that country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to remember that the Royal Commission which their party was responsible for appointing, the famous Peel Commission, said that the continuance of Sunday closing in Wales was necessary and that it had beneficial consequences on the Principality. The Royal Commission appointed by the Labour Government of 1929–31 was emphatic that, whatever was done about Sunday closing anywhere else. in Wales the process had had an extremely beneficial result and ought not to be weakened. They said as regards Sunday: We have considered whether any facilities should be provided for the travelling public. I suppose we could put seamen among the travelling public; they travel a good deal more than the average member of the public. They said: Our conclusion is against the adoption of any such course. They recommended that the supply of intoxicants on Sunday in Wales and Monmouthshire should be generally prohibited.

Considering that this Welsh Sunday closing has been in existence since 1881. under an Act passed by this House, Members must face the fact that there is the gravest concern in Wales, which understands very clearly what has been obtaining in this matter, as expressed in a report of the Churches Temperance Council in Wales which I have received, which says: The Churches of Wales are unanimously in favour of Welsh Sunday closing and would regard it as an intolerable wrong to the religious life of Wales to reopen public houses on Sunday.

Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)

Is it not remarkable that there is not a single Member representing a Welsh Division present on the other side of the Committee at the moment? If they felt so strongly about it, I should have thought that they would have been here.

Mr. Hudson

I know the case in regard to Wales as well as my hon. Friends. I know the position is weakened, but so it is weakened for hon. Members opposite regarding a Bill which is taking the place of much more important Bills which were promised in the Queen's Speech. If the point about the size of attendance is to be raised against me, the size of the attendance of Conservative Members applies equally against them.

I admit that it is deplorable in a matter of this kind, but those of us who are interested in the matter have to accept the fact that friends whom we would have expected to be here have had good reasons—I do not know what they are—for being elsewhere. I know one good reason, or rather I can guess at it, as I have not been told. It is something which all of us suffer from on a Thursday night, when the business of the week has almost run its course and Members begin to think about their homes and constituencies; and if there is a way of getting away on a "pair," Members tend to do so. I do not know of any other reason, but that may be as good a one as any.

Let me return to the point with which I am dealing, and deal with it effectively, as I am trying to do. This is an old question in Wales. I have heard, in church meetings and temperance meetings, the strongest protest about it, and I know that there will be an expectation that the point of view which I am trying to voice should be voiced. That is about all there is to be said about it. If there is a strong religious view, this House, having carried special legislation recognising that view should have some regard to it in this Bill.

What the Bill does in relation to the special difficulty about Wales is to provide a means whereby Welsh Sunday closing shall be broken into still further than it has been broken into by the pro- cedure in connection with clubs. I am now proposing that both Wales and Scotland where this special view about Sunday prevails strongly, especially in Wales, should be excluded.

I am under a great disadvantage in moving the Amendment, because I do not take the view about Sunday which the people of Wales take. I belong to a religious communion that regards all the days of the week as the Lord's Day, and we speak of Sunday as the "First day." That is all that it is to us. It is true that it is set aside for the purpose of worship, but it is one of the days, and my religious communion certainly does not believe in using the pressure of the law to the point of securing special treatment in relation to the Sabbath. But Wales does not take that view

Wales, even more than Scotland, but certainly Scotland too, insists upon a very careful safeguarding of its Sabbath by keeping closed institutions that can be kept closed on that day, especially when it is considered that those institutions are a danger in the general life of the community. That being so, I put the view that Wales and Scotland—Wales in particular—which have been so long exempted, might continue to be exempted regarding seamen's canteens.

As the Royal Commission said that there was no ground for making any exceptions on behalf of the travelling public, that might be considered in connection with seamen. They might be asked when in Wales to accept that as the view held in Wales. They might be expected to try to get to know the habits of the nations to which they go and conform to them. Even if they conform to the habits of those who do not take the same view as that held in Wales, they might be asked to accept the fact that Wales expects a certain position to be maintained on the Sabbath which ought to be respected by them and by the Government.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am afraid that I must resist the Amendment. It is necessary first to say something of the background because the facts of the case are that there are facilities for buying drinks in both Scotland and Wales on Sunday. The present law provides that drink may be sold in clubs in both those countries on Sundays, and in the case of Scotland it also provides that the bona fide traveller may buy drink at hotels.

The fact of the matter is that a great number of the seamen, in Welsh and Scottish ports will not be local; the probability is that the majority of them will have come from other parts of Britain, or possibly from Commonwealth and overseas countries, and most of them will not have been brought up in either the Welsh or the Scottish tradition. They will, generally speaking, be unaware of that tradition and will expect to be able to buy drinks on Sundays. Certainly they will not think it wrong to do so.

There will be no moral sanction upon them against buying drinks on Sunday, and if they are not to be able to buy drinks in these canteens, the inevitable result will be that they will seek to do so elsewhere. They will not in the ordinary way be able to become members of clubs which can legitimately supply drink. For obvious reasons, there will be a great temptation, therefore, to seek drink illegally. The result of passing this Amendment would be to put a great temptation in the way of certain people to provide drinks, at a high price, "under the counter." The only result of the Amendment would be to ensure that speakeasies grow up in these seaport towns.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Hudson

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that since 1881 this provision has always applied to Wales. If there has been a tendency to break down a piece of legislation by illegal efforts all this time, then, surely, Sunday closing in Wales should have come into ridicule from the point of view of public opinion. The speakeasy has not developed in Wales, and it does not follow that, because things went wrong in New York during prohibition days, there is any parallel of that state of affairs in a country like Wales, where the people have learned to accept the legislation which we pass.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am quite willing to agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, that the people of Wales have learned to accept the legislation which has been passed, and with what he says about the normal state of affairs in Wales. But we are not here dealing with the people of Wales. By definition we are dealing with seamen, with people who, for the most part, will not have come either from Wales or Scotland, and who will have learned nothing of the kind.

For the last 13 years these canteens have been able to provide liquor under the regulation under which they now operate. The canteens have been able to meet this need, and that, no doubt, has done a great deal to prevent the growth of undesirable places. But if, in fact, this Amendment were passed, it seems to the Government that the only effect would be to encourage such places. It would have exactly the opposite result to that which the hon. Gentleman and every hon. Member in this House desires. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment. In any event, I am afraid that we must resist it.

Mr. Ede

There are only two ports in Wales and Scotland combined where there is a canteen. There are three canteens in Glasgow and three in Cardiff, but, important as those two places are, they are not the only ports in Wales and Scotland. Leith, as I understand it, is a very important port, and I am sure that if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) were present he would by this time have interrupted me to say that Aberdeen is not without its claims to being recognised as a port. In Wales, Swansea is a considerable port, and Newport is a considerable port, but there is no canteen in either of those places.

Are we to understand that in Swansea, Leith, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, which adjoins Leith—I understand that Leith is sometimes called the Port of Edinburgh—speakeasies are rife, and that there is considerable breach of the law? When was the last prosecution in any of those places for the illegal sale of liquor on Sundays, and when was the last occasion on which the desire of a seaman to slake his thirst on a Sunday was the cause of such a prosecution?

This cuts as much the other way, if not more, than the argument of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department cut in the direction in which he was attempting to move. What we have to face is that this is the law of the land in these countries, and, on the hon. Gentleman's own argument, a seaman is very unlikely to be eligible for membership of a club in either Scotland or Wales.

I suggest that there may be an argument in favour of the Government's Clause, but it is not the argument which the hon. Gentleman used, for that argument, I think, stands completely refuted by the instances that I have given with regard to the actual facts of the situation. In Wales, at any rate, there is very considerable feeling on the question among the churches of the country, and Wales is a place where organised religion still has a far greater hold on the mass of the population than is the case in England. I regret that should be the case in England. There is no doubt about the position in Wales of churches of every denomination, and one of the things in which some of us can rejoice is that the disestablishment of the Church in Wales has added to its strength and to its hold over the conduct of the people of that country.

I was very disappointed with the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State in contrast with the speeches which we have had throughout the debate on this Bill from the Government Front Bench. He did not use the argument which was used on Second Reading, that it was desired in these two countries to put these places in the same position as clubs, as opposed to public houses. That would have been a consistent argument, but I expect that by this time the hon. Gentleman has discovered that the argument for extending the influence of the club provision in the law is highly unpopular among the religious communities in Wales and Scotland.

I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman was not able to find an argument that could be examined in the light of the facts without being proved to be quite fallacious. I do not believe that the conduct of seamen in Swansea, Newport, Leith or Aberdeen is such as to make it plain that it is necessary to safeguard Cardiff and Glasgow from the establishment of speakeasies by carrying the Clause in the form in which we now have it. I hope that we shall hear something rather more convincing from the Government Front Bench before we are asked to pass the Clause in its present form.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8, 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.