§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, this Bill was before your Lordships so lately and so frequently that it is, perhaps, unnecessary for me to say very much this evening in moving the Second Reading. I propose, therefore, to content myself with explaining to your Lordships the exact form of the Bill and the reasons why it is different from the form in which it appeared before this House last session; and any further remarks I hope your Lordships will allow me to make in reply to the discussion which will probably take place. The only changes in this Bill are that His Majesty's Government have accepted—with one exception, to which I will refer in a moment—all those Amendments which they possibly could out of the large number which were inserted when the Bill was before your Lordships. There are certain changes in dates, rendered necessary by the time which has elapsed since the date of the former Bill; and in view of the fact that the only other Amendments are those agreed to by your Lordships it is evident that this Bill conforms with the conditions laid down in the Parliament Act.
The only Amendment to which we agreed last session which we have not inserted in this Bill is in regard to the definition of the word "area" in Clause 15. That was a subject which interested the noble Earl below the Gangway (Lord Camperdown). We have restored that clause to its original form. It may be remembered that when the Bill was here last session the definition was criticised on the ground that to take the ward as an area in the case of burghs with over 10,000 inhabitants would result, at any rate in the smaller of those burghs, in an area small in extent and in population, and it was sought to amend the definition by the creation of ad hoc areas. I think it was Lord Balfour of Burleigh who moved that Amendment. We offered as a compromise to increase the population limit from 10,000 to 25,000, and the Bill was amended accordingly. But noble Lords opposite accepted this, not as a compromise, but only as an experiment, adhering to their proposal for an ad hoc area. As a result the amended definition 1085 did not commend itself either to His Majesty's Government or to the House of Commons; but in the form in which the Lords' Amendment went to another place it was necessary, in view of the provisions of the Parliament Act, that it should be either rejected as a whole or accepted as a whole. It was rejected, and the original definition was reinserted. The position of His Majesty's Government in this matter is that they are still prepared to revert to the 25,000 limit if that will by itself be considered sufficient by noble Lords opposite. I can only express the hope that the result of our deliberations this evening, and I hope afterwards in Committee, may be to secure for this Bill in this session a more fortunate fate than that which attended it earlier in the present year. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Beauchamp.)
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Balfour is unable to be in his place this evening, I desire to say a few words on behalf of those who were advocates of the principle of disinterested management in the discussions which we had on this Bill last session. What I have to say will be very short, because it is obviously quite useless to go through a general Second Reading discussion upon this Bill as if it had come to us for the first time. We are all familiar with this Bill. We have discussed it clause by clause and line by line. We have moved Amendments to various clauses, and we spent a great deal of time upon it last session. It is quite unnecessary, therefore, to discuss at any length its principle at this moment. The only thing I imagine your Lordships are interested in is the question whether this Bill can be so modified as to pass into law this session, or whether it must take its chance under the Parliament Act together with other measures of His Majesty's Government. For my part, I hope that it may be possible to modify the Bill this session in such a way as to enable it to pass into law, though I am bound to say we have had very little encouragement from His Majesty's Government in any attempts we have made to bring about that result.
In the few remarks which the noble Earl in charge of the Bill deigned to offer to the House this evening he told us that 1086 His Majesty's Government had inserted in the Bill all the Amendments which they were able to accept out of those which had been suggested by this House. I think if your Lordships will read through the Bill as it is before us this evening you will have great difficulty in recognising the presence of any of the Amendments over which we spent such a long time during last session. One would almost imagine from the noble Earl's speech that a very large proportion of our Amendments had found their way into the Bill. I am bound to say I think the noble Earl might have given us some explanation of the reasons why the whole of the work which we did upon this Bill last session has been thrown away—some explanation of the reasons why His Majesty's Government have been unable to accept the vast majority of the Amendments which we inserted. We have had no explanation whatever upon those points. However, as I say, I hope that it may be possible that this Bill may pass as a normal Bill, I will not say as an agreed Bill, because I do not suppose there is much hope that the two sides of the House will ever agree entirely upon all the details of it, but at any rate a Bill which has the assent of both Houses of Parliament.
I protest very strongly indeed against bringing this Bill under the machinery of the Parliament Act. It is not in any way the kind of Bill for which the Parliament Act was intended even by its promoters. If we recall the arguments which were used in support of the Parliament Act at the time when it was under discussion, we shall remember that that measure was intended to deal with a situation where there was a fundamental, an irreconcilable, difference of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament on some great matter of principle. We had an instance the other night of such a Bill. We shall have another instance again next week: There is the question of Home Rule. There there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the two Houses. Noble Lords on the opposite side of the House want to destroy the Union and set up Home Rule in Ireland. We on this side do not want to do that, and no amount of discussion in detail or consideration in Committee can reconcile that fundamental difference of opinion. Noble Lords on the opposite side of the House want to disestablish the Church in Wales. We on this side of the House do not want to 1087 disestablish it. There, again, you have an irreconcilable difference of opinion, and the Government introduced the Parliament Act for dealing with a situation of that kind.
But, my Lords, we have nothing of the sort in this Bill. There is no fundamental difference of opinion here. We are all agreed in desiring to promote temperance in Scotland if it can be promoted. More than that, if we read the title of this Bill we find the method which the Government are going to adopt for promoting temperance in Scotland. We see that their object is—to promote temperance in Scotland by conferring on the electors in prescribed areas control over the grant and renewal of certificates.There is no difference between the two sides of the House on the principle of the Bill as defined in the title. We are all quite prepared to give control to the electors in Scotland over the grant and renewal of certificates. If there is a difference, it is that we on this side of the House want to give to the electors a larger measure of control than that which is given by the Government in their Bill. But there is, as I say, no fundamental difference of principle at all; and to use the machinery of the Parliament Act to pass through a Bill of this kind seems to me to indicate that the Government intend to use their coercive machinery, not for the purpose of carrying a principle which cannot be carried by any other means, not even for the purpose of bringing their political opponents into a reasonable frame of mind, but simply and solely for the purpose of avoiding the necessity of defending their own measure in detail against the criticisms which are brought against it, and still more for the purpose of avoiding the responsibility of accepting alterations in it which they themselves know to be perfectly reasonable but which, for some reason or other, happen to be distasteful to a small number of their followers.
What are the facts with regard to this Bill? The principle of it your Lordships accepted last year. Amendments were moved every one of which was entirely consistent with the principle of the Bill. Some of them, no doubt, went further than the Government were prepared to go, but others, on the other hand, were entirely reasonable. Let me give to your Lordships three instances. The Government know 1088 perfectly well that the five years time limit which they are setting up in the Bill is a very hard measure of justice to the owners of certificates in Scotland, and if there is any value whatever from the point of view of temperance in this Bill surely it is worth purchasing at a rather more generous price than that which the Government propose. Then, again, they know perfectly well that the areas they are setting up in the Bill are quite unworkable, and that the Bill in that respect does actually require amendment. Again, they know perfectly well that the principle of disinterested management is at least an experiment in the direction of temperance which is worth trying. I do not put it higher than that at this moment. We do not ask the Government to legislate and to set up the principle of disinterested management by law in Scotland. We merely ask the Government; in a Bill which professes to be a Local Option Bill and to give the electors of Scotland the control of their liquor trade, to give the electors the chance, if they so desire, of trying this experiment. I think that every one of the more important members of His Majesty's Government have at some time or another expressed general approval of the principle of disinterested management. At any rate I cannot remember one who has offered any very strong arguments against it.
I have stated the nature of the changes which we tried to make in this Bill last year. Now see what the effect of the Parliament Act was on the reception of our Amendments. Your Lordships remember that this was originally a Private Member's Bill, and was taken over by the Government, who thereby made themselves responsible for it and undertook to pass it into law. The changes which I have indicated and which we suggested in our discussions last year are no doubt distasteful to the original promoters of the Bill, and they have reasons for wishing the Government not to accept them. In old days before the Parliament Act was passed the Government would have gone to these gentlemen and said, "We have taken over your Bill and are very anxious to pass it into law. Amendments have been moved in the other House, some of which we think perhaps go too far, others of which, however, are eminently reasonable. We think there is an opportunity of compromise, and in order to secure the Bill we propose to accept certain Amendments." And then when 1089 their supporters became restive and suggested that the Government should not accept those Amendments, the Government would have replied "But that is the price of the Bill. Make up your minds whether you would rather stick to the Bill in its present form and lose it, or exercise the spirit of give and take and let us get this legislation passed." That would have been the situation.
But what is the situation now? The Government know that many of these Amendments which we have made are eminently reasonable, and if left to themselves I have no doubt they would be quite willing to accept them. I have very little doubt, if the noble Earl in charge of the Bill and his friends on that side of the House were to meet some of those who were responsible for the Amendments on this side of the House and the matter were left to us that we should have little difficulty in getting the Bill into a form which we should be prepared to agree upon. But now when the Government show any disposition to accept our Amendments their friends come along and remind them of their own Parliament Act, and demand that this Bill should go through under that machinery without the change of a single line, a single word, or a single comma. And so it comes about that this machinery which the Government originally introduced for the purpose of coercing your Lordships is now being used by their supporters fur the purpose of coercing the Government. No one can pretend for a single moment that this Bill as it stands, without any alteration, represents the will either of the people of Scotland or of the House of Commons, or of the Government themselves. Yet it is this Bill in this form which we are asked once again to discuss in all its stages, when the Government are in the position of saying, "We do not care for any suggestions you make; we propose to pass the Bill through as it stands under the Parliament Act." I hope, however unreasonable the Government may be, however little disposition to compromise they may show, that we on this side of the House will again embark upon a careful consideration of the Bill with a view to passing it into law this session if it be possible.
I have intervened at the commencement of the debate for the purpose of suggesting that it would, I think, be useful if at this stage some indication were given of the 1090 matters which are likely to be raised in Committee—if noble Lords on this side of the House could give us some indication of the particular points to which they will call attention in Committee, and if the Government could give us some indication of the concessions, if any, which they are prepared to make for the purpose of obtaining their Bill. On the question of disinterested management I only desire to say this. I think, as I thought and said last, year, that a Bill which professes to give the electors of Scotland the control of the liquor traffic and restricts their choice to two things—to the two points, namely, of whether they shall have any public-houses in a particular district or not, and, if so, how many—is a bad Bill. It is an insincere Bill, because it does not do what it professes to do. I have said that the principle of disinterested management is an experiment which at any rate is worth trying. Now, however strong may be the case in Scotland at this moment in support; of trying that experiment, it could not be done under the operation of this Bill. Yet this Bill is recommended to us as a Local Option Bill which will give to the localities interested the right of controlling their own affairs. Last year when we tried to insert this principle we were told by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill that he was not opposed to it in principle. In fact, he said that he did nut think anybody was opposed in principle to disinterested management; but he said, "Your Amendment is unworkable, your machinery is bad; that is the reason, and the only reason, why we cannot accept it." I have tried repeatedly to find out from the Government in what respects our machinery is defective, to find out what sort of amendment would meet their objections, and I have signally failed with the result that I am forced to believe that in this matter the Government are not their own masters and do not like to own it. That being the situation, it seems quite useless to pursue any further the attempt to find something which the Government will accept, not only in principle, but which they will acknowledge to be a workable proposal.
Strong advocate as I am of the principle of disinterested management, and anxious as I am to get it inserted in this Bill, I am not prepared to wreck the Bill on that question and that question alone. I feel, therefore, that the most dignified course for us who believe in that principle 1091 to adopt, after the treatment we have received from the Government, is to enter our protest and to take no further part in the proceedings. If I had any encouragement or any promise of support from other quarters of the House, I should be quite prepared to move Amendments again in Committee and try and get the principle inserted in the Bill; but, failing that, I think I must content myself with making the protest which I have made to-day against the whole treatment which this House has received in connection with this Bill, and possibly at a later stage of our proceedings protesting once more against the insincere character of the Bill. At the same time if noble Lords on this side of the House and the supporters of His Majesty's Government can come to some agreement upon other points in the Bill, they will not, I think, find that the advocates of disinterested management will quarrel with them in any way. We think that the Bill is defective in so far as it does not contain this principle, but we will be prepared to offer what assistance we can to the passage of the Bill this year and content ourselves with the hope that on some future occasion an opportunity may occur of giving to the people of Scotland means which have proved valuable in other parts of the world of controlling the grant and renewal of liquor licences.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I rise to express the hope, which I share with the noble Earl who has just addressed us, that we may be able to dispose of this Bill without having it subjected to the operation of the Parliament Act. I do not think any of us are much enamoured of the processes of that Act. The authors of it adopted it as a painful necessity, and they will put it into operation only, I suppose, where they think it unavoidable that it should be adopted. But where it can be avoided they will, I am sure, desire to avoid the compulsion involved in that Act. Sharing as I do the hope of the noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships, I would venture to suggest to him and to others that if we are to obtain the consent of the Government to this Bill being treated without recourse to the Parliament Act, we must try as far as possible to avoid all expressions which would lead to feelings of animosity, and restrict our action in Committee, as far as we can, to sug- 1092 gestions of the adoption of which there is a reasonable hope. The noble Earl, if he will excuse my saying so, was twice betrayed into applying the epithet "insincere" to this Bill. I do not think we gain anything by the use of an epithet of that kind, and one may be sure that the backs of those in another place who support the Bill as it now stands will be much stiffened if it is imputed to them that they are insincere in the promotion of this Bill. They may be, and I think they are, in great error on one or two points; but I think we had better acknowledge at the commencement that they are as sincere as ourselves in the adoption of principles which they believe will bring about the end which they desire.
In Committee last year your Lordships inserted three leading Amendments. The first was the extension of the time limit from five to ten years. There can be no question of great principle in the number of years adopted in a time limit. I myself think that five years is ample notice to those engaged in the business preparatory to the Bill being put into full operation, and it is obvious that if the Bill could have been agreed upon last year with a seven years' time limit it would have come into operation quite as soon as it will if forced through Parliament next year with a five years' limit. I hope, if we have to discuss the time limit again, that the suggestions in reference to it will be extremely moderate, and I repeat my own conviction that the term of five years is ample warning considering the great length of time that persons engaged in this business have known that there have been suggestions for putting into operation local option in its severest form.
Disinterested management was the second of the great changes made in Committee by your Lordships' House. I agree with the noble Earl who has just addressed us that to refuse to allow the people of Scotland, in particular areas in which they are invited to vote, to express a preference for the principle of disinterested management is really to deprive this Bill of all claim to be a perfect Local Option Bill. The people in a locality are asked how this traffic shall be managed. Shall it be managed by the abolition of all licences? shall it be managed by the reduction of licences to some small proportion to the population? 1093 or shall it be managed by transferring the management from those interested in the sale of intoxicating liquors to a public company absolutely disinterested and having no motive to promote sale? There may be not a single area in Scotland in which the third principle would be chosen even though there was the possibility given to the electors to choose it. But if it failed of adoption it would then show that the people did not desire it. What harm would be done thereby even to those who are promoting the Bill as it stands? If, on the other hand, it were adopted even in two or three areas, it would be useful as leading the way in an experiment which in other countries has been attended with the greatest success. If you are going to give the people a choice in the matter, why deny them this third choice?
It is said that members of His Majesty's Government, have, singly, expressed themselves in favour of the principle. I think that is an accurate statement. It is then said that they are obliged to refuse to allow this option because the persons most interested in this Bill are absolutely opposed to it. I think they might fairly say to their friends who are so opposed to this option of disinterested management, even if they are as numerous as is suggested, that it is, after all, a question for the people to determine, and unless the people have the power of determining for themselves in a particular area how the drink traffic shall be managed it cannot be said that you are really carrying out the principle of local option. But my impression is that this principle of disinterested management has not aroused in Scotland itself such a vehement spirit of opposition that if it stood by itself it could not be inserted in the Bill even against the inoperative murmurs of some of the extreme supporters of the Bill. I would ask your Lordships to consider whether in the course of last session you did not very much embarrass, perhaps fatally embarrass, the principle of disinterested management by inextricably mixing it up with the principle of compensation and inserting in the Bill an elaborate scheme of compensation for those licencees who, under the operation of the Bill, might be deprived of their licences. I noticed that Lord Lytton did not mention this third change, a change which in my judgment was most prejudicial to the 1094 fortunes of the Bill, and if persisted in will, I fear, be fatal to its passage as a more or less agreed Bill through this House.
For Scotland I cannot speak. But having represented in Parliament a constituency not wholly dissimilar in the construction of its residential population to many parts of Scotland and animated by very much the same feeling as the temperance people who hack this Bill, I can say this, that there is throughout Great Britain a most determined resistance to any kind of legislative recognition of the principle of compensation to those dispossessed; and if by introducing this principle you rouse that spirit of opposition to compensation, then the question of disinterested management may perish with it. It is evident that compensation is not a thing to which the noble Earl is tied, and perhaps he may, like myself, regard it as being injurious to the fortunes of the Bill. I would ask those who were most interested in promoting the compensation scheme which was inserted in the Bill last session whether it is necessary at all that legislative provision should be made in this matter of compensation. Unless I am very much mistaken there are already in this country more than one company established for the purpose of insuring licence-holders against loss through being deprived of their licences. Any such company would be readily open to these Scottish licence-holders; and in the absence of such companies, or to meet the objections that the premiums which these companies require are higher than the real risks involved, I can see no difficulty whatever in the licence-holders of Scotland forming amongst themselves a mutual association which should protect them against any loss which they might sustain.
I would in any case beg your Lordships to consider the propriety, if you reinsert the three Amendments to which I refer, of making it clear that they are not interdependent one upon the other. The time limit stands by itself. The disinterested Management option stands by itself. The provision of compensation stands by itself. If you persist in trying to mix up two of these or the whole three together, you may endanger that which you could secure by pursuing relentlessly that which you cannot possibly obtain. It is in this spirit that I urge your Lordships to consider before going into Committee on this Bill whether it would 1095 not be possible to propose only reasonable Amendments and distinguish them from those others of the adoption of which there is really no hope. It is worth while doing a good deal in order to prevent this Bill being brought under the operation of the Parliament Act next year. I think if that did happen it would tend still more to brutalise the Parliamentary machine and to make the future conduct of business less promising than it is even at this moment.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I confess that I was somewhat surprised by the speech of the noble Earl in introducing this Bill. There is no member of your Lordships' House who can be more clear than he can, or whose speeches contain more information when he chooses to give it; but the speech in which he introduced this Bill was more remarkable for what he omitted than for what he told us. He told us that His Majesty's Government had accepted all the Amendments which they possibly could accept. I wish I had them on paper here. Except in the case of clubs and one or two verbal Amendments in other parts of the Bill, I am not aware of any important Amendment whatsoever that has been accepted by His Majesty's Government. Indeed, the line of what Lord Courtney would call unreasonableness has pervaded the whole of the speeches and statements of His Majesty's Government—I do not say in this House, but in the other House. There has been a determination not to give way on anything. The noble Earl did not tell us to-night a single thing of what had happened since this Bill left your Lordships' House last session. He gave us no information with regard to the reasons why our Amendments were rejected. He did not even tell us that the Bill had been placed under the Parliament Act. It was only when he alluded to the word "area" that he said that under the Parliament Act so and so could not be done. That was the only indication he gave us that this Bill was to be placed under the Parliament Act, and it does seem to me that he might have given some further explanation to the House with very great advantage at all events to myself.
This Bill, as it comes to us to-day, is in all essentials the same Bill as that which was brought up to us last year. It is the Bill of the extreme Prohibitionists which was taken up by the Government, and whenever any change has been proposed 1096 the Prohibitionists have, as the noble Earl beside me said, threatened the Government, and the Government have always given way to those threats. Now we learn that the Bill is to go through under the Parliament Act. The Parliament Act was intended to deal with important questions and with those Bills which are now under the Act. It was to deal with Constitutional questions. This is not a Constitutional question; it is a purely social question. It will be remembered that in the discussions last session we said quite freely that we did not ourselves personally approve of this principle of local option, but that we accepted it and did not intend to introduce Amendments which were inconsistent with it. That is what was said, and during the considerable discussions that took place that mode of treatment was consistently adopted in this House. To put this Bill under the Parliament Act is an abuse of that Act. It is contrary to all that was said of the Act by its authors. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition mentioned the other night many things which had been said by the authors of that Act, and he quoted many pledges which they had given, not one of which he said had been fulfilled. Noble Lords opposite took the very wise course, as I think, of saying nothing whatsoever in answer to the noble Marquess, and there was this excellent reason for that, that they had nothing to say, and when you have nothing to say it is much better to hold your tongue.
In your Lordships' House this Bill was discussed without any Party spirit whatever. It went down to the other House, and what happened? Immediately the Secretary for Scotland said he would place the Bill under the Parliament Act, and the Bill which we are now discussing has since been forced through the other House by the machinery of that Act. There was no Committee stage at all, and in other ways it was forced through under the machinery of the Parliament Act. Now what are your Lordships going to do? If we were to consider the matter in the spirit adopted by the Secretary for Scotland we should reinsert all our Amendments and stick to them, and then let the Bill fall under the Parliament Act and be passed under that Act a year or two hence. But I hope your Lordships will not be tempted to follow the example of the Secretary for Scotland. On the contrary, I hope that you will adopt the advice that was given by Lord Lytton and 1097 also by Lord Courtney; and that you will consider which Amendments you regard as vital and necessary to the Bill, and then, having inserted them, insist upon those Amendments.
I ask your Lordships to consider what were your Amendments which were rejected in the other House. The first dealt with the principle of disinterested management. It is playing with the term Local Option when you say there are to be only three options, one of which must be accepted by the people of Scotland. What reason is there why they should not have a fourth, or even a fifth, or a sixth Option? This has been treated in another place as if there was no feeling in favour of disinterested management in Scotland. My Lords, there is a very considerable feeling in favour of it. It was expressed by such an important body as the Temperance Committee of the Church of Scotland. They presented a Petition to this House asking that that Amendment should be inserted in the Bill. But it is hopeless to ask the Government to agree to give the people of Scotland this disinterested management option. They have pledged themselves to those who virtually lead them in this matter, and I suppose it is useless to ask them to reconsider their determination. But if those who are in favour of this disinterested management option do not move to reintroduce that Amendment, your Lordships who disagree with them will understand that that is a great concession on their part, and, depend upon it, they will expect additional safeguards in other parts of the Bill.
The next point which was dealt with in this House and which was ruthlessly disposed of in the House of Commons was the question of compulsory insurance. As to that question, what did no less a member of the Government than the Lord Advocate say in April last? He said—The question of compulsory insurance has always presented itself to me in two aspects—first, as an indispensable act of justice to a dispossessed publican; and, secondly, as a method of smoothing the path to the passing of a no licence resolution.If Mr. Ure is opposed to inserting compulsory insurance in this Bill, does it not stand to reason that he must be in favour of giving some additional safeguard in lieu thereof? With regard to what fell from Lord Courtney about the time limit, the 1098 question of the period at which the Bill is to come into operation is an essential and vital question, and I hope that when we are in Committee it will be fully discussed and considered.
There is another question, the question of areas. The Secretary for Scotland has got his Bill into the most ridiculous position by an Amendment which he made striking out the 25,000 population limit. There was no reason in the world why he should strike that out. There were two separate Amendments; one was to insert 25,000 in the Bill, and that the noble Earl accepted; and the other Amendment, which was quite separate and independent, was to enable local authorities to fix the areas in larger towns. Why could not the Secretary for Scotland have left the 25,000 in the Bill, and simply limited himself, if he wished to do so, to reverting to wards? That would have been perfectly intelligible. But observe the position in which the Secretary for Scotland has put himself. It is this, that unless your Lordships reinsert the 25,000, his Bill will apply to every burgh the population of which is more than 10,000. I cannot understand, I confess, why he should have taken this action. It seems to me that he was really destroying his own Bill without any good reason. I hope that Lord Courtney will consider what "extreme reasonableness" means when we come to the Amendments, because at the present time I cannot see that we have had any encouragement from the Government. I hope that the Government will give an indication of some substantial Amendments which they may be prepared to accept; otherwise, if the Government refuse every single Amendment and adhere to the Bill exactly as it stands, all I can say is, it will be their fault if it takes them some time to pass their Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
I trust that your Lordships will not allow yourselves to succumb to the gloomy speech of the noble Earl who has just sat down. If his feelings were the feelings which animate the House generally, we should all have to regard this Bill in the light of nothing but a great disaster, and one which, perforce, through some malign agency, we are bound to accept. I am glad to say that was not the tone of the speech of the noble Earl who sits near him, nor was it the tone of my noble 1099 friend Lord Courtney. Lord Lytton recognised that for the main proposition of this Bill as it stands there was something to be said, and he spoke in a way which gave me great hope that the two sides of the House were nearer together on this matter than they were during the previous discussion, and that the wise counsel which came from my noble friend Lord Courtney of Penwith would prevail, which was that we should try to arrive at a common point of view in order to avoid what I frankly say to your Lordships I regard, and always have regarded, as a misfortune—the passing of a Bill like this under the operation of the Parliament Act.
I quite agree that the Parliament Act is an Act which ought to be reserved for rare occasions only, and ought not to be regarded as the normal procedure. I have always felt that, and I take this opportunity of saying so now. The Parliament Act is there, and it was the inevitable outcome of an arduous conflict between the two great Parties in the State; but it would not be appropriate for the Parliament Act to he looked upon as an Act which will have to be applied on all occasions as the inevitable outcome of things which belong to the past. To me it was a pleasure, therefore, to note in the tone of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, a suggestion that we ought to come together and try to adjust our differences as far at all events as we possibly can. It is quite true that there is still a good deal of difference of opinion between us, but I think it is the disposition of your Lordships generally to accept the Second Reading of this Bill and enable us to try and bring our minds together, as far as we can, on this subject.
The principle contained in this Bill, a principle which has been fought for for many years in Scotland, is one which we would do well to recognise and accept, although I am not one of those who think that the last word has been said if we pass the kind of local option which is embodied in this Bill. It may be found that the majority of the people of Scotland are not willing to use the power to restrict to any large extent the sale of liquor; it may be that the results of this Bill will be disappointing to its advocates. Only experience can tell whether it may be necessary hereafter to add a disinterested management option. I myself have always liked the 1100 idea of disinterested management, and I should have been glad if, in a convenient form, it had been found practicable to incorporate such an option in this Bill. There were two grave reasons why it should not be incorporated. The first was that those who lay stress on the evils which this Bill proposes to remedy—their loyalty to their cause is unmistakable, and they carry with them a very large body of opinion in Scotland—consider that the machinery which they propose would be destroyed by the introduction of disinterested management. They may be wrong about that.
But I am bound to say my mind turned very muck in the direction of their wishes when I listened to the discussion on disinterested management which took place in Committee on this Bill when it was last here. Disinterested management is admirable in principle, but I never knew how difficult it was in practice till I listened to the debate and to the noble Lords, Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Lord Salisbury. Lord Balfour brought up a scheme which Lord Salisbury tore to pieces, substituting another plan of his own—I have no doubt a plan for which there was a great deal to be said, but a plan which brought out the intense difficulties and complications of what is known as disinterested management. I, for my part, began to think that disinterested management had better be embodied in a Bill by itself. It would hardly be a very short Bill; but whether that be so or not, it is obviously a subject that has not yet been sufficiently thought out. There is a difficulty about it, and the difficulty in the minds of its advocates in Scotland is that those who are in favour of it have not yet been able to agree on a practical scheme. So much for the first part. I think we should be altogether jeopardising the chances of this Bill if we sought to introduce into it disinterested management in any concrete form.
Another point we heard something of this afternoon is the question of compulsory insurance. There, again, we get into all sorts of complications. First of all the licensing law is different in Scotland, and the measure of the interest of the holder of the licence is also very different from that in the case of the holder of a licence in England. Then, again, when you get to insurance, it is impossible to incorporate a measure of compulsory insurance in a Bill of this kind. We got clauses so complicated that till the end I 1101 was never myself satisfied that I had made out their meaning, they were so obscure and difficult. The noble Lord who sits on the Back Bench (Lord Courtney) pointed out that, after all, insurance was a commercial matter, that there were private companies who were willing to take it up, and that it would be as well to see whether those private companies would not do more to meet the mischief which your Lordships want to avoid than we should do in trying to introduce elaborate provisions which we have not thought out, which have not been thought out even by the experts, and which are not apposite to a Bill of this kind.
Then something was said about the time limit. After all, five years is a long time when you consider what is the nature of the title of a Scottish licencee, a title which rests only on the practice existing in different areas and not governed by any uniform principle. On the question of areas, I have more sympathy with the noble Earl. That is undoubtedly a difficult question. It has puzzled us all, and from every point of view it bristles with-difficulties. We shall go into Committee on this Bill, and I hope to move an Amendment which may be productive of some good with regard to this question of areas. It is impossible for us to say what can be done and what cannot be done until we see what is proposed. If the propositions submitted are propositions which are inconsistent with the spirit or with the principle of the Bill, then it is impossible to get any further. It is always a delicate and a difficult thing to adjust matters over a Bill of this kind when you have had as much controversy as we have bad; but it is at least a hopeful sign that there is a disposition on the part of your Lordships to assent to the Second Reading, and a desire that the Bill should be passed by the minds of the two Parties being brought together and not by any artificial machinery.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Your Lordships were pleased to give a Second Reading to this Bill a few months ago, and I suppose we may assume that a Second Reading will not be refused to it this evening. I should like, if I may, to say one word as to the considerations which induced me to support the Bill as I did. The principle of the Bill, as we all know, is the transfer of the power of dealing with these licences from the existing licensing authorities to a majority of the 1102 electors in the areas concerned. I confess frankly that I am not enamoured of that principle. For my own part, I am much more inclined to trust to the wisdom of a properly constituted licensing authority than to the wisdom of a majority of electors who may be impelled by every kind of local prejudice, and whose decision may not always he a particularly wise one. I have great doubts whether, ill spite of all the hopes entertained by the supporters of this Bill, it will prove to be really what could be called a temperance measure. I can perfectly conceive that in some circumstances it may not act in that way at all, and that it is more likely to lead to the prevalence of intolerance than to the prevalence of temperance. But although I have these feelings, I am aware that this Bill is supported by a great body of public opinion in Scotland, and it certainly did not seem to me that there was any reason why your Lordships' House should put yourselves in opposition to His Majesty's Government so far as the principle of the Bill was concerned. Nor, my Lords, had any of us—and I say that with the utmost conviction—a desire to do this Bill to death in Committee. Our Amendments were put forward in perfect good faith. None of them was opposed to the principle of the Bill, as I have just described it; some of them had been favoured in principle by members of the Government; many of them received a large amount of support in Scotland, and were supported by such distinguished advocates of temperance as my noble friend on the Back Bench and by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Our objects in moving these Amendments were legitimate and perfectly avowable. We desired, if we could, to bring about some mitigation of the undoubted hardships inflicted by this Bill upon the licence-holders of Scotland, and, above all, we desired to enlarge the field of choice offered to the electors. That was our attitude. What can I say of the attitude of His Majesty's Government? I do not think that in all those long discussions through which we passed they gave us any assistance in dealing with these difficult problems. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill told us that His Majesty's Government had accepted a large number of Amendments. I think my noble friend behind me was right when he said that, so far as the Amendments to which we really attach importance were concerned, scarcely any were accepted.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend says "Not one." At any rate of this I am sure, that when at the end of the last session we sent down our Amendments to the House of Commons they came back to us en bloc, thrown hack in our faces, without any reasons alleged, in a manner which I could almost describe as contemptuous. There was, of course, at that moment no time to renew the discussions between the two Houses, and I felt strongly at the time that the course which His Majesty's Government might and ought to have pursued was to interrupt the discussion and resume it when the new session of Parliament began. But you preferred to lose the Bill, and to treat our Amendments as tantamount to the rejection of the measure. You thereby were able to score one rejection under the plan of the Parliament Act. The Bill, if I may give the words used the other evening by the noble Marquess who leads the House, "was then allowed to proceed on its course until it should complete its journey under the law of Parliament." That is a good description of the automatic way in which a Government Bill, which once finds itself on the Parliamentary rails, will, under this new dispensation, reach its destination without further embarrassment. I note, and I note with satisfaction, what was said by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill when he expressed a hope that His Majesty's Government would be more fortunate in the session through which we are now passing. That, of course, depends entirely on the spirit in which he is prepared to meet us.
I shall say very few words about the disputed points in the Bill, because they have been already dealt with by my noble friend behind me and others. As to the question of disinterested management, I attached last session, and I attach now, the greatest importance to the principle of disinterested management. I venture to think that we were able to produce a very strong case in favour of that principle. We were able to appeal to the practice of other countries; we were able to show that there was a large body of public opinion in Scotland in favour of disinterested management; disinterested management found considerable favour in the Grand Committee of the House of Commons; and it had been approved in principle by Ministers, includ- 1104 ing the noble Earl himself. It figured in the Bills of 1908 and 1909, which were the predecessors in title of the Bill upon the Table, and beyond all doubt it was entirely consonant with the main object of this Bill, because it was intended to effect, not a restriction, but an enlargement of the area of choice offered to the electors. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack told us that our scheme or schemes—because there were more than one—were faulty, and he set the proposals of my noble friend Lord Salisbury against those of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. But His Majesty's Government never came to the rescue with an alternative of their own. They never held out a helping hand to us in those discussions. Now my noble friend Lord Lytton told the House very frankly where he and his friends stand with regard to disinterested management. I think he realised that if His Majesty's Government still refuse to give us any assistance in embodying the principle of disinterested management in clauses fit to be accepted as part of an Act of Parliament, it is almost hopeless for us to go on breaking our teeth upon this intricate subject. But if we are reluctantly not to look forward to a disinterested management Amendment in this Bill, I certainly hope, and I am rather encouraged in my hope by what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, that we may live to see a proposal of this kind embodied in a Bill, and to see that Bill ultimately find its way on to the Statute Book.
Then the noble and learned Viscount said something about compulsory insurance. We proposed a scheme of compulsory insurance because we believed that something was necessary in order to mitigate the hardship occasioned to licence-holders under the provisions of this Bill. The noble and learned Viscount, I think, said that the title of the licence-holder was not a very substantial one, or words to that effect. That may be the case, but the noble and learned Viscount, I am sure, is familiar with the dicta of some of his own colleagues and of some very high Scottish legal authorities to the effect that these licence-holders have really a valuable asset which they can sell, and which ought not to be taken away from them without adequate compensation. And, again, I remind the House of an argument which was often used last year, that this very Government which proposes to 1105 deprive these licence-holders of their licences without adequate compensation is the same Government which imposes heavy taxation upon those licences whenever they come under review in connection with the Death Duties. There was another reason which weighed very much with me when I gave what support I could to this proposal for insurance, and it was this. The argument has been used by members of His Majesty's Government that unless you can provide some compensation of this kind there will be a great risk that your Bill will prove a dead letter, because the electors will not care to put it into force if the hardship which it involves to those affected is too great. That was said by the Lord Advocate himself on the Second Reading of the Bill in the other House, and I think the argument is one deserving of great respect.
I trust that after what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount we may assume that there really is a sincere desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to consider the views of noble Lords on this side of the House, and to endeavour to find a reasonable solution acceptable to both Parties. I quite realise that it is not only to disinterested management or to compulsory insurance that you need look for the kind of remedy which most of us desire. There is the question of the time limit. I remain of opinion, and so do most of us, that the five years proposed is quite inadequate, considering the extent of the hardship involved. Then there are other clauses which I will not particularise now, because they deal with points which are rather points for Committee, but I will mention one which I think has not been referred to yet—I mean the question of the percentage of the electors whose vote is to be decisive in the, case of these different options. As the House remembers, there are two percentages—there is the percentage of the majority, and there is the percentage of the electors who take part in the voting. That latter percentage seems to us quite inadequate, and that is a point in regard to which I hope His Majesty's Government will make some attempt to meet us. I think it was the noble Earl who said that he looked for some indication from this side of the House as to the sort of Amendments we were prepared to agree to. I think we, on this side of the House, have a right to ask for an indication from His Majesty's Government as to the atti- 1106 tude which they are likely to take in Committee upon some of these points. I do not press for an answer in detail, but I do say that, unless an attempt is made to meet us and to meet us in a reasonable spirit of compromise such as I thought I detected in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, it will really be of no use to us to recommence the long and laborious discussions of last year.
Permit me to say that I associate myself with every word that fell from my noble friend Lord Lytton as to the impropriety of forcing this Bill forward under the Parliament Act. The Parliament Act was intended to meet the case of irreconcilable differences between the two Houses. There ought not to be any irreconcilable difference in the case of this Bill. We have accepted its principle, and our Amendments have been entirely consonant with that principle. I can only say—and again I am strengthened by what the noble and learned Viscount said as to the manner in which he regarded the use of the Parliament Act in connection with Bills of this kind—that I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will not use this tremendous bludgeon with which they have armed themselves in order to annihilate us whenever we have the temerity to hold views of our own with regard to any Bill that comes before your Lordships.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I am sure that all those who are interested in this Bill will feel gratified at the discussion which has just taken place, and the feeling which I think is general in this House, that perhaps its fortunes have passed into less stormy waters than those in which it was during the last days of last session. It will be a matter of great satisfaction if, during the discussion which will take place in Committee, the same atmosphere pervades our deliberations as has pervaded the debate this evening. I hope the noble Marquess opposite does not think that we on this side have at any time minimised the efforts which he made to get this Bill passed into law last session. We always realised that to a great deal in this Bill there was very strong opposition, not only on the part of the noble Marquess himself, but also on the part of many noble Lords behind him. We realised that that existed last session, and I am afraid that we know that it exists at the present time.
1107 This Bill as it stands is not, and certainly cannot be, palatable to many noble Lords opposite, and we recognise, therefore, that it is with the greater difficulty that they will come to the discussion of the various Amendments in Committee. But I confess I join issue with the noble Marquess when it comes to the question of the indications which should be given by His Majesty's Government with regard to the Amendments which they would be prepared to accept to this Bill. The plan of His Majesty's Government is before your Lordships' House; it is contained in this Bill; and this is the Bill which we would wish to see become law. It would be very difficult, I think, for us to take any steps in such a direction as that which was suggested in the course of this debate without seeing the Amendments which will be put upon the Paper of your Lordships' House during the next few days. We were blamed in the course of this discussion for not having come to the rescue of two noble Lords who had disagreed with regard to their respective Amendments. It was not, in our opinion, at that time our business to do such a thing. Neither of the Amendments commended itself to us, and the mere fact that there was that disagreement between the two noble Lords was used as an argument by more than one of us to show the impracticability of the course which the noble Lords suggested.
I should like to add my hope to that which was expressed by the noble Marquess with regard to the future discussion of the question of disinterested management. If I understood him aright, I heartily agree with him. He expressed a desire that the matter of disinterested management should become law, and be placed upon the Statute Book as affecting not only Scotland, but also the country as a whole. That I hope may be the case if the difficulties in the way can be overcome at some more distant period. I am indeed sorry that the noble Earl who generally sits on the Cross Benches, Lord Grey, and who is interested in the subject, has not seen his way to introduce a Bill of that kind, dealing with England as well as Scotland, during the present session. I think that it would be a more convenient way of dealing with the question. If it is generally convenient, I should wish to take the Committee stage of this Bill on Wednesday next, if that allows time for the various Amendments to be put down. Meanwhile 1108 I think that we are all agreed that we have wiped the slate clean, and that we shall approach the discussion of the various Amendments next week without any ill-feeling with regard to the discussions which took place during last session, and make a fresh attempt to try to solve the problem which is before your Lordships' House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I only rise for the purpose of trying to clear up a certain misconception which has been displayed in the remarks of the noble Earl. I can assure him that, so far as we on this Bench are concerned, no kind of irritation will be displayed in reference to the discussions which took place last session. For my part, I do not remember that there was very much irritation displayed even then. It was a very businesslike discussion in which we on this side of your Lordships' House put forward Amendments which were undoubtedly of an extensive character but at the same time were all within the four corners of the Bill, and upon which we were perfectly ready at every stage of the discussion to accept the help and the guidance of His Majesty's Government. It has been said that there is a difference of opinion even among us on this side of the House. I do not think that this House would have for so long occupied the position it does as a great House of Legislature if opinion on this side of the House had never been divided, and if the only opinions which were divided were the opinions which prevailed on the two opposite sides of the House. I may say that my noble friend Lord Balfour and myself were able perfectly to agree before the end of the discussion was reached. We on this side of the House, therefore, were able to compose our differences. Where we failed was in trying to compose the differences which existed between this side and the other. But we are going to treat all that as past history, and I can assure noble Lords opposite that no feeling of resentment whatever as to what has occurred is left.
The noble Earl said, and I thought justly, that he could not say what the Government were prepared to do in the way of meeting the views which we on this side of the House hold until they saw what suggestions we had to make. That seems to me a very reasonable proposal. But I would remind him that, although it is quite true we know what the Government's 1109 original proposals were, for they are contained in the Bill, so also do they know what our original proposals were, because they were contained in the Amendments which your Lordships had before you on the last occasion. But we are quite ready to state again what we think are the Amendments that ought to be inserted in the Bill. What we do ask is this. In order that there may be a useful discussion in Committee, we ought to know from His Majesty's Government before we begin to discuss the details the points on which they are willing to listen to our observations. What is the good of once more ploughing through the endless intricacies of this Bill if, at the end of it, all the. Amendments are going to be thrown back in our faces by the House of Commons? We want to co-operate with the Government, and co-operation means a certain amount of frank, candid statement on both sides. We are willing candidly to state, before we go into Committee, the kind of Amendments which we hope your Lordships and the Government will accept, and we think we ought to be met before we go into Committee by an equally candid statement, not, of course, as to every detail, but as to the general scope of the points on which His Majesty's Government are prepared to meet us. If the Government will treat us in that spirit, then I believe this co-operation will lead to a perfectly fruitful result, and that we shall be able to congratulate ourselves upon an agreed Bill before many days have elapsed.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Wednesday next.