HL Deb 08 July 1909 vol 2 cc227-38


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it is only about half a year ago that I had the honour of presenting to your Lordships a Bill almost in similar form to that which I present to-day. Therefore it is not necessary for me to go at length into the reasons for reintroducing the Bill, or to explain why in my opinion there is necessity for it. Moreover, in the course of the last debate your Lordships were for the most part in agreement with the objects of the Bill, though disapproval was expressed in some quarters of the machinery in the Bill. In the country generally there is, as far as I can gather, a desire for legislation on these lines, and the only opponents are the extreme teetotal people and those whose minds are so imbued with the idea that a public-house can only be a gin palace or drinking shop that they cannot conceive of a public-house run on modern lines.

There is one difference in the Bill as now presented, and it has been made to meet the criticism that if you remove the discretion of the magistrates in regard to alterations and improvements in the structure and general conditions of public-houses, these alterations might take the form of facilitating an increase in the sale of intoxicants. Certainly that was not my object in introducing the Bill, and therefore I have tried to meet this criticism by putting in the proviso which appears at the-end of Clause 1— Provided always that no alteration in the premises or fittings, the chief effect of which would be, in the opinion of the licensing justices, to increase the consumption of intoxicating liquors only, shall be deemed to come within the provisions of this section: Provided also that in case of refusal to sanction alterations on the last-named ground an appeal shall lie to quarter sessions. I hope that will satisfy those who were critics of the Bill as it originally stood.

There was another objection raised last year. The Lord Chancellor objected very strongly to games and music being allowed, stating that that would practically amount to setting up a music-hall in connection with every public-house. I had no desire to see that. What I meant was automatic music. The same with games. I would only allow games in which the customers of the public-house would be the absolute participants. I have no desire to see a music-hall as an ordinary accompaniment of a public-house, and I would be glad to accept any Amendment which would meet the noble and learned Lord's objection. That it is desirable to have places for the recreation of the public is freely admitted, even by such a strenuous advocate of temperance as Sir Thomas Whittaker. In a document which he presented, and which was embodied in the Report of the Royal Commission that sat under the presidency of Viscount Peel, Sir Thomas Whittaker said— Places where persons may meet indoors for recreation and social intercourse are a necessity of our modern life. He went on to disclose his plan of meeting this want by further fining existing public-houses so that the community could, at the expense of the public-houses, provide institutes or halls for public recreation. At page 154 of their Report the Royal Commission say— It is not, of course, to be inferred that, even if it were possible, people should be prohibited from hearing music or dancing to it, or should be precluded when doing so from obtaining refreshments. My Bill does not go nearly so far as that, because I expressly exclude dancing. At page 127 the Royal Commission say— Public-houses should, is our opinion, be as open as possible to supervision, both from the inside and the outside, and this in the common interest both of licence-holders and of the public. That is the sole object of my Bill—namely, that public-houses should be more open, not only to police supervision, but the supervision which would be brought about by respectable people being encouraged to use public-houses for social and pleasurable intercourse.

If this Bill were allowed to pass, I do not suppose that there would be a great revolution in the character of public-houses. It is not intended to represent that all licensing authorities are so very narrow-minded in their views. It is chiefly in the large towns, and, perhaps, in London, where they are found largely to hamper improvements in public-houses. These improvements could only be effected at great expense, and therefore it would be a longtime before any large scheme of reform would be carried out throughout the length and breadth of the land. The movement has already taken root through the Public-house Trusts, and only this afternoon before coming down to the House I was told by Mr. Adeane, who is connected with one of these Trusts in Cambridgeshire, how remarkable had been the effect of the improvement in the Trust public-houses. Their object had been to raise the tone of public-houses and render them more open to respectable people, and this had been attended with such success that where any of these improved public-houses were situated the ordinary public-house had to, if possible, follow suit, as otherwise the competition was too severe.

Your Lordships know what, in olden days, was the usual custom in regard to canteens. Now at Aldershot there are large commodious rooms; and by the provision of healthy recreation and other means of enjoyment every encouragement is given to soldiers to frequent them. All that I seek to do by my Bill is to try to improve the conditions now prevailing throughout the country, and I am quite prepared to accept any Amendments so long as they do not injure the principle of the Bill. I think that with the wealth of legal talent we possess in this House, it should be quite possible to pass a Bill which would prevent arbitrary authorities from stopping improvements which would benefit the people and at the same time would not offer greater facilities for the consumption of intoxicants. We know what an improvement has taken place in the structure of ordinary shops throughout the country. Many of your Lordships will remember, as I can, that in former days we saw hung outside butchers' shops carcases covered with flies, against which the people jostled. Now these carcases are housed in tiled shops, with cold water running down to keep the atmosphere cool. Why should not our fellow citizens who frequent public-houses be allowed to enjoy social and pleasurable intercourse in modern and decent surroundings?

I should like to read, as very apposite, a newspaper cutting which I happened by chance to see apropos of the development now taking place la Scotland in the running of steamers on the Clyde on the Sabbath. The writer draws a contrast between the customs that prevailed fifty years ago and those prevailing now, and goes on to say— The moral, of course, is: make a thing reasonable and above board, and it is not intrinsically evil, the harm in it will evaporate—a maxim which some people regret was not applied to our national drinking customs. That puts the whole object of my Bill, the Second Reading of which I now beg to move, and I trust that your Lordships will allow the Motion to be carried.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lamington.)


My Lords, I am sorry to say that the difficulty which I felt last year in supporting the noble Lord has not been removed by the change he has introduced into the Bill. The noble Lord, I am quite sure, desires to see established something better than the horrid gin palaces that we see in the streets of great cities. I have not the least doubt that his object is to provide something more wholesome, and, if I might say so, more decent, and there is no doubt at all that the habits of the people on the Continent in regard to refreshment houses and cafés afford a very pleasing contrast to the condition of things in our centres of population. How far that is due to the habits of the people, to the difference of climate, or the difference of liquor I do not pretend to say; but it would be a very good thing if a system of open places of refreshment and entertainment were substituted for what we have in this country. I think everybody would agree with that. But the noble, Lord appeared to think that we are precluded from having that now. There never was a greater mistake. I agree that it is practically prevented by the impossibility of getting the land in towns and cities; but it is not prevented by law. The magistrates in each locality have a perfect right to grant this permission if they think it right to do so. It rests with the discretion of the justices in the locality. What the noble Lord wishes to do is to prevent it remaining in the discretion of the justices, and to impose upon them by Act of Parliament the obligation of allowing these things whether they approve of them or not. That is the sting of the Bill of the noble Lord.

Let us see how Clause I deals with the subject. It enumerates five classes of structural alterations, most of them very attractive. The first four are—

  1. (a) The provision of accommodation for the supply of food or light refreshments;
  2. (b) The making of such premises, or any part thereof, more open, airy, commodious, or comfortable;
  3. (c) The improvement or enlargement of the sanitary accommodation;
  4. (d) The substitution of the provision of chairs and tables either wholly or partly in lieu of existing bar accommodation.
Excellent! But the really serious part of these proposals is the fifth, which provides that the licensing justices shall not be at liberty to prevent—for that is what it conies to—
  1. (e) The provision of games, newspapers, music, or gardens, or any other means of reasonable recreation.
Let me apply that to any of the public-houses you see in the streets of London. They are to be at liberty to have just what music they like.


No; I said automatic.


The proviso at the end of the clause would enact that the discretion of the justices is to be overruled; they are not to be allowed, in exercising their powers as to granting permission for alterations, to interfere with the provision of games, music, and so forth. Are you prepared to say that, whatever the justices may think is right or wrong, they should be obliged to give the facilities specified in every public-house, regardless of the question whether the result is likely to be beneficial or mischievous? The proper course seems to me to be to respect the discretion of the people possessing local knowledge. It is not possible to lay down a hard-and-fast rule. What may be good in a country place may be injurious in a large city. The proviso to which I referred a moment ago runs— Provided always that no alteration in the premises or fittings the chief effect of which would be, in the opinion of the licensing justices, to increase the consumption of intoxicating liquors only, shall be deemed to come within the provisions of this section. If there is something else they are to be deprived of their discretion. I believe the noble Lord has a good object at heart, and therefore I do not like to seem to oppose his proposals. I believe he wants what many of us would be very glad to see, but I do not believe it is right or reasonable to try and effect the object—however good one may think it—by means which are impracticable, namely, by depriving the justices on the spot of the right to exercise their own discretion, and imposing upon them a cast-iron rule that they should not refuse these things whether they think them in the interest of the public or not. I prefer to leave discretion to the people on the spot.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord who introduced this Bill was only stating what is notoriously the case when he said that there was a widespread desire for legislation upon these lines, and I am sure that that desire is widespread not only out of doors but in this House. Those who followed out the long discussions on the Licensing Bill last year must remember how, throughout those discussions, a desire was expressed again and again that something should be done to deal with this part of the temperance question—that something should be done to make the places in which intoxicating liquors are sold less of the character of mere drinking shops and more of the character of places in which people can obtain reasonable recreation, social intercourse, and harmless refreshments.

My noble friend has made in this Bill an honest and sincere effort to bring about a change of this kind. I certainly came here fully inclined to support him. I should have supported him last year if it had not been for two things—first, that other legislation dealing with the question of the consumption of liquor was imminent; and, secondly, that on that occasion also the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack pointed out to us that there were technical difficulties, or I would say, perhaps, more than technical difficulties, in the particular proposals which my noble friend then submitted to the House. I am, I confess, discouraged by the statement which has just been made by the noble and learned Lord. I am not going to be so presumptuous as to question his statement with regard to the present condition of the law; but, quite apart from the present condition of the law, is it not notorious that the practice of the magistrates has been to discourage, or, at any rate, to give no facilities for, alterations in public-house premises designed to bring about the kind of improved conditions which my noble friend desires to promote? I make the suggestion with very great deference, but feeling as we do so strongly on the subject of the intentions which are expressed in this Bill, is this not a case where the House might safely give a Second Reading to the Bill with the reservation that when we get into Committee we should consider whether we could not overcome some of these difficulties—real difficulties, no doubt—to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has pointed. That is the only suggestion which I have to make, and I lay it humbly before your Lordships.


My Lords, I had rather hoped to have heard a somewhat fuller exposition on the part of the noble Lord and of those who agree with him of the way in which this Bill would work out in Practice. I join to the full in the tribute which has been paid to the noble Lord for the interest he has taken in the matter, and for the way in which he has put the case, in its elements at least, before us. I am certain that the more this subject and subjects kindred to it are ventilated the better. People should be encouraged to take every opportunity of making experiments and trying different modes of improving, by indirect as well as by direct legislative means, the condition of the liquor trade both as regards the sale and the consumption of intoxicants.

But I cannot help drawing a somewhat clear distinction in my own mind between the admirable object of the noble Lord and others who support the Bill and the practical effect which the Bill would have in face of the conditions in which it would be applied to-day. I am entirely with the noble Lord in his object. I do not think he would accuse me of being one of those who would take exception to legislation of this kind on narrow and bigoted lines, or on the ground that it is going to improve the condition of these places. Quite the contrary. I have been a promoter of the Public-house Trust, and if I had thought this Bill was going to effect the purpose which those of us had in view in promoting the Public-house Trust I would say, "By all means let the matter go forward." But the more I look at it the more difficult I feel it to say that.

I do not think that for what it is proposed to effect by the Bill legislation is really required, or if it be, I believe the practical results would be different from the aim which the noble Lord has at heart. Does experience show that magistrates are to any great extent trying to prevent the establishment of the kind of public-houses which are under discussion? I do not say it may not have happened in a solitary instance here and there, but to say that magistrates generally are trying to prevent this kind of improvement in public-houses—


I did not say generally, but in certain places.


There may be some particular cases in which the magistrates, actuated by arguments not fully before the House, have refused facilities; but I have not found in a considerable range of inquiry, that ordinary experience shows that the licensing magistrates have been trying to use their power to prevent the kind of change in public-houses which the noble Lord wishes to promote. I am afraid the absence of such change has been due to a totally different cause—namely, a belief that it paid better to conduct public-houses on the old lines. If the magistrates were deprived of the discretion they now have in respect to the substitution of chairs and tables for bar accommodation and the provision of means of recreation, I doubt very much whether the effect would really be in the direction which the noble Lord desires. As to the provision of accommodation for the supply of food or light refreshments, the making of public-house premises more open, airy, commodious or comfortable, and the improvement or enlargement of the sanitary accommodation—I can only say that if magistrates have refused permission for such improvements on the grounds stated by the noble Lord I have not come across such cases.


I could give you cases.


I, of course, accept the noble Lord's assurance, but I am sure the cases must be few and far between. And when we come to the other proposals referred to it is obvious, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack pointed out, that large and difficult questions are raised. They are matters which in practice call for the utmost caution, though I am by no means prepared to say that it would be undesirable that something of that kind should be permitted. I believe that substantially there is no practical legal difficulty to-day in going far in the direction desired, where people are really prepared to make the experiment. It is because I do not think that the result wished for would be produced by the Bill that I find it exceedingly difficult to see what would be gained by giving it a Second Reading.


My Lords, I confess that I welcomed one of the observations made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—namely, that you should not lay down hard-and-fast lines, but leave a great deal to discretion. That is quite true. But I think the error that has been committed, and which this Bill is intended to remedy, is an error which has arisen through the practice of the magistrates. My noble friend behind me, on the last occasion that this Bill was before the House, quoted the observation of a magistrate when told that a certain proposal would improve the state of the public-houses in his district. He said— We do not want to improve them. We want to improve them out of existence altogether. That, as I understand, is not the policy which the most rev. Primate himself advocates. I fully believe it, and if the most rev. Primate were himself a magistrate deciding this question I should leave it with absolute confidence in his hands.

But, unfortunately, there has been for a considerable period an effort to make public-houses disagreeable, and it has been avowed. I do not think that is within the proper discretion of the magistrates at all; and although I give them credit for having done what they did with every desire for the benefit of the State, yet I think they have proceeded upon the theory that they have a right to establish a policy, and I do not think they have that right. They have to exercise the jurisdiction given them by law, and that does not exist in making things disagreeable, but in providing proper accommodation for the public. The difficulty is that people will have these accommodations, and the result of the, as I think, unfortunate policy of the justices has often been to establish the club in the place of the public-house. The club is not under any supervision or jurisdiction of the magistrates, and the result of that has been to establish a large number of clubs which are by no means useful to the neighbourhood or likely to promote temperance. The effort of my noble friend behind me is to get rid of that, to get rid of the idea that persons in the lower class of life should not have places to which they can invite their friends and in which they can enjoy social intercourse and games. The only way to accomplish this is to allow a reasonable discretion in regard to the provision of such music, games and so forth as may be appropriate. But that cannot be brought about unless in some way the Legislature points out to the justices that they are not there to establish any theory of their own but to administer the law as it stands. Though I believe the magistrates have on the whole done their duty faithfully and earnestly for the public good, they have from time to time entertained the idea that they are going by their policy to improve the temperance of the people. I do not believe they will.

As to the question whether the multiplication of public-houses increases drinking, that has been negatived by statistics. I cannot help feeling that it would be a great advantage, particularly in country districts, to have some place in which the people could amuse themselves. I presided at a meeting on that subject, and read a letter from Lord Roberts, who, speaking from his own experience of the canteens in India, testified to the admirable improvement that had taken place since the introduction of very much the same thing as the noble Lord behind me desires to introduce into the public-houses in this country. If it is a natural and reasonable want the people will have it, and if you do not afford it to them in public-houses, which are subject to supervision, there will be set up clubs subject to no supervision.


My Lords, I should like to make one suggestion to the noble Lord who has brought in this excellent Bill by which, I think, he could easily get over the difficulties that have been propounded. It is clear, after the declaration by the Lord Chancellor and by the noble and learned Earl who has just addressed us, that no Bill will pass with their assent which in any way hampers the discretion of the justices. I think the general feeling of the House is in favour of the changes which have been adumbrated by Lord Halsbury. The whole House is in favour of doing something, if possible, which would not interfere with the magistrates but improve the public-houses. I think the Bill is an excellent Bill, as it aims at turning public-houses into cafés, such as exist in Vienna and Paris, where working-men and their wives and families can go and spend a pleasant evening with amusement. I venture to suggest that if, in the clause stating that in exercising their powers magistrates should not do so in such manner as to interfere with certain facilities and improvements, the words "not do so in such manner as to interfere with" were omitted and replaced by the words "have regard to" the objection raised by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would he removed, and the way would be paved in a tentative manner for the justices taking the hint given by the Bill.


My Lords, I do not know what view my noble friend behind me takes of the valuable suggestion which has just been made, but it must be clear to your Lordships that the proposal made by Lord Haversham is well worth consideration and that we shall not be able to consider it at all unless we accord a Second Reading to the Bill. Therefore, it seems conclusive that we ought to read the Bill a second time. I do not, without further consideration, desire to commit myself to the precise method which the noble Lord has suggested. It is evident that more than one method might be proposed by which Parliament could place upon record its view that in the general case those facilities should be accorded. Some provision may have to be inserted that the discretion of the magistrates is to be preserved in the last resort and in special cases, but that as a general rule the object of my noble friend behind me should be carried out. All this shows that the Bill should be read a second time, and we on this Bench hope your Lordships will consent to the Motion.


My Lords, I think every member of the House wishes to attain the object of the noble Lord, but the question is, Will his Bill really effect his purpose? What the Bill practically means is to take away the powers of the justices as they at present exist, because it is said, though it has not been proved, that in some cases those powers have been abused, and the justices have made the public-houses disagreeable. We on this side would not in any way attempt to oppose the suggestion which has just been made by the noble Marquess opposite, and we are content to have made our protest against the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.