HL Deb 31 July 1913 vol 14 cc1562-73

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. (Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, I rise, in pursuance to a Notice I have given, to move that this Bill be read a third time this day three months. I do so more for the sake of putting myself in order than for any other reason; but I desire to express my regret that this House is making itself responsible for this Bill in its present form. There can be no doubt that the House does make itself responsible by passing it in the circumstances in which we stand to-day. I think that the whole procedure under this Bill is an advertisement of how useless discussion is on any Bill, at any rate in this House, and I think in the other House also to a large extent, when once the powers given to the Government under the Parliament Act have been invoked. I venture to add that I do not believe the Parliament Act was ever intended for a Bill of this kind, brought forward in the circumstances under which this Bill has been brought forward, or a Bill which has been discussed, or its general principles so cordially accepted, as has been the case in regard to this Bill. I go further, and I say that I do not believe when the Government passed the Parliament Act that they themselves had any intention of applying it to a measure of this kind. The fact that the Parliament Act has been invoked for this Bill is really owing to what I may say, I think, almost the intolerance of a large section of the supporters of the Government in Scotland.

The point I want to make is this, that once the Parliament Act is appealed to, it has the effect of taking away all real freedom and responsibility from discussion. I am the last to say that this House under any circumstances can be, or even ought to be, on absolutely equal terms in matters of this kind with those who are, so to speak, the representatives of the people. But it seems to me entirely unreasonable in a matter of this kind that all independent action should be taken away from this House under the threat that if this House does not agree to anything which is proposed by the Front Bench opposite the Bill shall be passed over the heads of this House. I venture to say respectfully to those who are responsible for it that I think, in all the circumstances that have passed—which I shall go over as briefly as I can—it would have been much more in conformity with the dignity of this House if this House had thrown upon the Government the responsibility of the passing of the Bill under the Parliament Act, to be passed, if it was to be so passed, with all its crudities and all its absurdities in the form in which it came up to this House in the first instance. In other words, if the appeal is made to the Cæsar of the Parliament Act it should be by that tribunal judged, and that it would be more in conformity with the dignity of this House not to have taken part in making any amendments in the Bill after the discussion which took place last year unless really substantial concession on points of detail had been given to us.

At any rate, there can be no doubt of this. This Bill does not in any way stand in a parallel position to either the Government of Ireland Bill or the Bill with regard to the Established Church in Wales. So far as the Irish Bill is concerned it would have been an absolute farce to give that Bill a Second Reading or to go into Committee upon it, as we were invited to do, in the hope of making it a Bill which could in any way be in conformity with the opinions and judgment of the majority of this House. But there never has been disclosed any really fundamental differences in regard to the contents of this Bill. We all want to promote temperance. All of us who know the condition of affairs in Scotland—and I think I may say the whole House—agree that there is a strong case in the present state of things there for reform and for change. I can say for myself, at any rate, that all along I have cordially welcomed the extension of local control over licences. I have a real belief in its wisdom. I am perfectly prepared to trust my fellow-countrymen to do justice when the case is fully put before them and they are given a full measure of discretion in regard to the policy which they would choose. I agree that there is a strong case for reduction in the number of licences in many parts of Scotland, and that if you can, as it is possible you may under this Bill although I have some doubts about it, get a really judicial consideration and decision with regard to the licences which ought to be taken away, you may make some change for the better in regard to the position of affairs.

I frankly admit that in those points, at any rate, this Bill is really desired by enlightened Scottish opinion; but I go further and say that I think Scottish opinion is favourable to a much freer power than is given under this Bill to make experiments, and I believe it would be wiser to give the people of Scotland a really broad choice over the policy which they, on full information, would have desired to adopt. It is not unfair to say that the Government, or at any rate a large proportion of those who are behind the Government in this matter, are not prepared, like those of us on this side of the House, to trust the people altogether. They are only desirous of trusting the people with those options which they in their wisdom think the people ought to want to choose. As an illustration of this I instance the whole question of what we have been accustomed to describe as disinterested management. Even the Secretary for Scotland has never challenged the wisdom of the principle underlying disinterested management, and it is an open secret that a large number of his colleagues in the Cabinet are actual supporters of it. Their public declarations show that that is the case. Yet we have the anomaly of a Government in that position, and holding the opinions some of its members hold, making no effort whatever to adjust terms whereby the people of Scotland, or such portions of them as may desire it, can have the opportunity of exercising that option.

So far as that is concerned, in the last session of Parliament when minor Amendments favourable to bringing in disinterested management, which is seriously handicapped under the existing law, were proposed, those of us who were in favour of the principle of disinterested management could get no support at all or even toleration from those who are in charge of this Bill. At present the principle of disinterested management is seriously handicapped in the respect that under the present licensing law we are obliged to take out the licence in the name of an official or an individual employed by the company for disinterested management. We cannot get the licence in the name of the company. That is a serious difficulty, because it puts the individual under the general licensing law in whose name the licence is taken in far too prominent and far too powerful a position. This is a part of the licensing law of Scotland wherein it differs from that of England, where, speaking generally you license premises rather than an individual. In Scotland you license the individual to sell in premises, and the licence is much more regarded in Scotland as the appanage of the individual than of the premises or of those who are behind him. We asked the Secretary for Scotland whether, even in a small matter of that kind, a reform might be made whereby the company charged with disinterested management should be in receipt of the licence. There is no real difficulty in it. Yet the answer given to us was that there were certain penalties to be enforced in the case of breach of licence, and that these were money penalties with the option of imprisonment, and you could not imprison the company if they did not pay. How hollow that is I will show your Lordships in a moment. I believe there is no case on record—at any rate not for a very long number of years—where it has been found necessary to put in prison for any of these classes of offences any holder of a licence for not paying the fine. But even so under the Factory Laws there are many cases in which, if there is a breach of those laws, the penalty is a tine with the option of imprisonment if the fine is not paid. There are many limited companies employing hands in factories, and they cannot be put into prison because it is obviously impossible that you can do it. That is an exactly parallel case, and it shows the sort of rubbish which is thought good enough for argument by the Secretary for Scotland.

When we knew that we were not going to get the option of disinterested management, we confined ourselves to asking that this simple change in the law might be made which would give us greater facility for trying these experiments; and although this Bill is a Local Option Bill it does contain half a dozen or more provisions for the amendment of the general licensing law, even this simple request, was denied us. The Divisions which have been taken on this question of disinterested management are about the most striking and remarkable that I have ever seen. I go so far as to say that this Bill as it stands, without the option of disinterested management, represents neither the wishes of the people of Scotland nor the untrammelled desires of the House of Commons, and it cannot in any way be said to be representative of the opinion of this House. On the Amendment early in the year on which the question of disinterested management was first discussed, the Government could only get 22 Peers to go into the Lobby with them, and I think I am right in saying that 17 of those were actually members of the Government holding office, and four of the other five had been created Peers within a very short time. The overwhelming sense of the House was in favour of giving the option of disinterested management, and even so consistent a supporter of noble Lords opposite and one who knows Scotland so thoroughly as Lord Loreburn actually left the House rather than support the Government in the Division which they took upon that particular matter. That, even if it stood alone, is a somewhat striking proof of what the opinion of this House in regard to the principle at stake is. When the point went down to the other House of Parliament, there were challenges over and over again that the Government Whips should not be pot on, that the free vote of the other House should be given in this matter, but that was rejected. If that is a true instance of the working of our representative system under the domination of Party and under the working of the Parliament Act, then I am even more surprised now than I have been in the past that this system as it is should be so much the ideal of the noble Viscount the President of the Council, who is the most consistent and determined opponent of anything in the nature of a referendum upon any of these matters.

I should be the last person to say anything harsh or bitter about those who have worked hard for this Bill. At the same time, I believe that they are in an infinitesimal minority among the people of Scotland. I pay them the tribute of saying that they are earnest and hard-working and self-denying, and that they are much in evidence in local organisations and very skilful in bringing their influence to bear. In the passing of this Bill in the form in which it passes they have their reward. In my opinion they will find that they have won, from their point of view, a useless victory. It is my belief that the voting on this Bill will prove that they have over-estimated their power and their influence, and that, although in some cases there may be a reduction, in very few instances indeed will they gain their real desire of total prohibition. I go further and say that where the change is most needed I believe it will not come under this Bill either with the rapidity or with the good effect with which it might have come if a more sensible course had been pursued. It is my humble belief that, except in some sparsely-peopled areas where it is not required, prohibition as a policy will not be adopted by the people of Scotland. It is never wise to prophesy until you know, and perhaps I am risking something in making that confident prophecy, but it is my belief that in those congested populations where the reduction of licences is most required a great danger will be run that success will not follow the efforts which will be made.

I believe that the real hope of reform and of improvement lies in improving the management of public-houses, coupled with the increasing growth, and it is increasing and growing, of working-class opinion and sentiment that it is a disgrace to be seen the worse for drink; and also, I think, we have much more chance if we rely on the slow but sure operation of religious and educational influences in strengthening character and in giving self-control. But for these things to take effect, you must, in my humble opinion, have improvement in management. Through all the time I have been on the Bench as a licensing magistrate in my own district my experience has been that far more can be done by the personal responsibility of a high minded man in managing a public-house than can be done by coercion or by unduly limiting the times and driving those who are determined to get drink at times when the law says they are not to have it either into what are known as shebeens or into not altogether creditable clubs. This Bill is passing under the œgis of the Parliament Act. I cannot deny that the Government can pass it by that means. In my humble opinion it would have been wiser for this House to have let it go with all its defects and absurdities in the matter of areas and other things in the form in which it came, rather than make itself responsible for it even in the to the some extent improved form in which it now stands.

I admit that the areas are likely to be better now than they were when the Bill was brought to us. But look at it how you like, local government areas are not suitable for this class of legislation. You have the difference between county and burgh and the divisions between wards in your larger cities. Unless the authorities of those different areas work together, you will have all over the country a series of areas with different laws in which men who desire to procure drink will only have to walk a few hundred yards, in some cases only across the street, for the purpose of satisfying their desires. My experience from what I learnt in Wales nearly 20 years ago is this, that anything like a division by streets or by a river, as is sometimes the case, between county and borough is absolutely destructive of the possibility of carrying out a law of this kind If you are going to have areas in some of which there is prohibition and in others there is not, you ought carefully so to delimit the areas for the purpose by an arrangement in which local knowledge plays its part, sanctioned by the central authority, in which, as between one area and another, there will be wide spaces rather than the mere crossing of a street. In very many cases in Scotland there will be different authorities on opposite sides of a river, and although I admit that the areas as they now stand are an improvement upon what they were before, I venture to predict that this Bill will not go any distance, as it now stands, to satisfy the wishes even of its promoters, and so far as I am concerned I desire to dissociate myself from any responsibility with regard to it.

Amendment moved— To leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Notion ("this day three months").—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


The noble Lord who has just sat down will, I hope, acquit me of discourtesy towards himself if I do not respond at any great length to the speech which he has just made, in view of the important discussion which we are awaiting with regard to the affairs of India. Indeed, if I were to answer, point by point, the various questions which he has raised, I am afraid the debate would be prolonged for a considerable period. He spoke, as we on this side are now becoming accustomed to hear, hard words of the Parliament Act. This is not the first time during the past few weeks that we have heard denunciations of that measure, and I daresay that in the course of the next year we shall hear even a great deal more against it. But I venture to think that in so far as it has promoted the passage of this Bill during the present session, those who were responsible for that Act may at any rate take some credit to themselves. I believe that on the whole all moderate-minded men would have preferred the passage of this Bill even with the Amendments that have been put in, small though the noble Lord thinks them to be, during the present session, rather than its ultimate passage next session without any of those Amendments having been made. The noble Lord laid emphasis on the fact that discussion was useless in the present circumstances. I remember that some years ago, in 1904, we had long discussions upon a licensing measure which had been introduced by noble Lords opposite. A great many Amendments were moved, among others by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches The noble Earl will, I am sure, bear me out when I say that he was disappointed at not receiving all those concessions from the Government in power which he hoped to get. Amendments were moved, not only by the noble Earl himself, but by a large number of noble Lords who felt on that occasion, as the noble Lord feels to-day, that discussion is, after all, useless when the Government has made up its mind with regard to a particular measure.

We are forced back on this occasion to consider which of the two views most nearly represents the wishes of the people of Scotland—the opinion of your Lordships' House as it was expressed last session, or the opinion of the direct representatives in another place of the people of Scotland. On the whole we prefer to take the expressions which reach us from the direct representatives of Scotland as being the most representative of opinion in that country. There was, indeed, one feature which gave us some satisfaction in the speech of the noble Lord. That was the fact that he seemed rather to blame this Bill for its sins of omission rather than its sins of commission. It is not so much what the Bill does as what it leaves undone that the noble Lord blames.

That brings us to the question of disinterested management, as to which Lord Balfour said a good deal in the course of his speech. We have discussed this at considerable length, and I am still not without hope that, within the course of next session, a Bill may be introduced by those who are keen advocates of the proposal for disinterested management which will make that principle apply to England as well as to Scotland. I am afraid I am obliged to repeat myself upon this question. We do look forward to the possibility of such a Bill being introduced in order that it may apply, not only to Scotland, but also to the whole of the country; and I venture to think that if such a Bill could be produced and laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House we should then be able to judge more easily what are the difficulties in the way of the passage of such a measure and how far it will be easy to apply tins principle. But if such a suggestion is refused and no such Bill is introduced, I venture to think that those noble Lords who are anxious for the promotion of the principle of disinterested management will lay themselves open to the suspicion that perhaps after all it is more difficult to draw up a Bill for the promotion of that principle than we had suspected before.

To a great deal which was said by the noble Lord it is, of course, difficult to make any reply. Much of it consisted of prophecy as to the uselessness of our victory and as to the uselessness of the Bill even when it is put into operation. We must wait and see what the actual result will be. But, at any rate, if in the course of the next few years no progress is made with the principle of disinterested management we on this side of the House who believe in the principle will be able, when we change sides, to claim the support of the noble Lord if we then press upon the Government of the day to support or produce a Bill on these lines. I am glad to think that the noble Lord does not intend to ask your Lordships to divide upon this occasion. Indeed, if a Division had taken place I venture even to think that we might have managed to secure the passage of this Bill. But although it is being passed without the support of the noble Lord I cannot conclude without expressing my regret that that should be so. We all of us know the interest which the noble Lord has taken in social affairs in Scotland and the influence which he very justly and rightly exercises in that country and therefore we regret the more that in this matter we should not have his support.


My Lords, my noble friend who has made this Motion will, I understand, not ask the House to divide upon it, and I am glad that that should be his intention, for it would obviously have been impossible for me to go into the Lobby with him. At the same time I rise for the purpose of expressing my entire concurrence with a great deal of what was said by my noble friend. I say frankly that I have never liked this Bill, and I do not like it now. I dislike it because I believe it will be fitful and perplexing in its operation. Under this Bill the law in any given area in Scotland will depend, not upon principles laid down by Parliament, but upon the will or, I might perhaps say the whim, of the majority of the electors inside the area. I dislike the Bill because I feel convinced—and I ant glad in this respect to be fortified by the high authority of my noble friend—that it is not likely to do much for the cause of temperance. There will be startling discrepancies under this Bill between the treatment of one area and another. You will have one area in which prohibition will prevail, and alongside of it, divided perhaps by the width of the street, you will have another area in which there will be free trade in intoxicating liquors, stimulated and aggravated by the disappearance of all facilities in the adjoining area.

I dislike this Bill, again, because I believe it to be unduly severe and harsh in its operation upon the holders of licences, and because it cannot fail to inflict a great deal of uncalled-for inconvenience upon persons who may desire to gratify a perfectly harmless propensity which no law has yet stamped with the brand of illegality. And perhaps most of all I dislike this Bill because, although it professes to be a Bill for conferring local option, it denies to the electors a particular form of option which many of them probably prefer to any other, and which upon the merits appears to me to be a more reasonable form of option than any of those included in the scope of the Bill. We tried hard to deal with those defects during the different stages of the Bill, and if we failed I do not think it can be said that we failed ignominiously. We failed really because we attempted an impossible task—that of amending an extremely complicated measure without any assistance from the Government who are responsible for it. Our feelings remain unchanged. But we had to take into account that persistence in our views meant the loss of the Bill this session, followed by its passage into law next year in a completely unaltered shape under the operation of the Parliament Act. My noble friend told us just now that in his view it might have been better for this House and more consonant with its dignity if we had chosen that course. I do not entirely agree with him. There was, perhaps, something to be said for it if we had merely desired to bring discredit upon the Bill and upon those who are responsible for it, but we had to consider the Bill on broader grounds, and to my mind the most important point we had to consider was that it is a Bill which is distinctly local in its operation. Its operation is confined to Scotland, and we are told—and I think my noble friend confirmed it—that it is desired by a great number of people in that country. And again it is local in its operation as regards the different areas concerned. The principle of the Bill is that each area is to be free to choose for itself.

That being the character of the Bill it has never seemed to us to be one in regard to which we ought altogether to exclude the idea of compromise; and therefore when an overture was made to us, as it was the other evening, by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, we did not think it our duty to disregard that overture. We accordingly endeavoured to come to terms. I say frankly that to my mind the terms are by no means completely satisfactory, but we have to remember that in negotiation we did not meet on equal terms. Noble Lords opposite had a weapon which they were able to hold in terrorem over us, and we had to be content with the best terms that we could get. We have been able in some respects to make it a less unfair Bill than it was. We have in particular been able to mitigate the hardship of the Bill by a substantial extension of the time limit. That I regard as distinctly an improvement. We have also been able to render it less easy to inflict either prohibition or limitation, with all their attendant hardships, upon the areas con- cerned by an alteration in the numbers of those voting under the second clause. We arrived at an agreement upon these bases, and such as it is I am glad that it has been arrived at. We, at any rate, have been parties to that agreement, and that being so we cannot recede from it now; and it is therefore certainly not our intention to offer any further opposition to the progress of the measure.

On Question, whether the word ("now") shall stand part of the Motion, resolved in the affirmative: Bill read 3a accordingly, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.