HL Deb 13 May 1915 vol 18 cc989-97


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the circumstances in which Bills are now brought before your Lordships' House are very different from those to which we were accustomed in days gone by. Instead of a Government Bill being a bone of contention between noble Lords opposite and ourselves we are glad to think that our measures are generally supported, and that noble Lords opposite are as anxious as we are to see them passed into law. I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my acknowledgments to noble Lords opposite for the assistance which they have so often given us in this direction, and also the hope that the Bill which we are now discussing may receive the same treatment from them this afternoon.

This Bill is entitled the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill. Its object is to provide more munitions of war for our arms in the field. It is an armament Bill, and therefore it is not inappropriately called a Defence of the Realm Bill. Your Lordships will see on turning to the Bill—which I am afraid was not circulated with our Papers this morning, though it is now to be found on the Table—that it is only meant to apply to certain areas and not to the whole country. The Government, by the provisions of the Bill, makes itself in those areas practically the distributor of the liquor which is to be drunk therein. I do not know that it will be necessary for me to discuss this afternoon the exact amount of harm that has been done by liquor in preventing the further provision of munitions and of equipment. I think it is sufficient to repeat what was said by my right hon. friend in introducing this Bill in another place—that there is no doubt that a minority, but not an important minority, in certain districts have so far succumbed to the temptations put in their way as to prevent such a complete output as we should be glad to have. In these circumstances I think we may say that this Bill, which has been discussed pretty fully not only in another place but throughout the country, has general approval, and that in confining its operations to certain areas we are very carefully providing that people who have in no way done anything to prevent these munitions being turned out should not suffer. The Bill is intended to apply only to those areas in which there is need for something of the kind.

Let me, in the first place, direct attention to paragraph (e) of the second subsection of Clause 1. From that your Lordships will see that the Bill empowers His Majesty by Order in Council to make such Regulations as may be necessary for transferring the control of the liquor traffic in the area to the prescribed Government authority. Your Lordships will, of course, realise that in speaking of the liquor traffic in this connection we mean not only the ordinary publichouses but also clubs, grocers' shops, and such methods of distribution as railway bars. The new Government authority is one which we hope, when it is set up, will be representative. It will consist of representatives of the Army and of the Navy; and your Lordships may rest assured that it will be chiefly upon the information obtained from the representatives of those two great Departments that action will be taken. For the whole idea, as I have said, is that in circumstances of this kind we should do our best to meet the demands made upon us by either of those two Departments. On this new Government authority will be, as I have said, representatives of those two important Departments and various other people who we think will be able to give good advice on the subject. It will be their duty to put themselves in touch with local committees in the various areas. In more than one area local committees of this kind have already been set up—notably on the Tyne, where the committee is an admirable one representative of various interests. The idea is that the central Government authority, after consultation with the local committees, should proceed to make such Regulations as they may think necessary.

From the other sub-clauses of the Bill will be seen the lines which these Regulations will follow. They will allow the Government, in the first place, to acquire either compulsorily or by agreement these licensed premises. I should perhaps say, in passing, a word upon the taking of powers by His Majesty's Government for making this acquisition of a permanent character; not, indeed, that it is intended that it should be entirely of a permanent character. The idea is that the people who expect to be compensated will very likely say, "You are taking away part of what belongs to me; you are taking away my custom for so many months or so many years. It is not fair that you should take it away unless you acquire it altogether." Therefore while for general purposes we take power to acquire it permanently in order that the question of compensation may be fairly considered, there is no intention on our part to make use of that provision as some people outside seem to think we might do. Your Lordships will see that we also take power to establish refreshment rooms—what for convenience we may call the canteen system. That is an idea which has met with so much general approval and is so commonly understood that it is not necessary for me to occupy your Lordships' time by any remarks upon it. Then power is taken to adjust relations; because there is no doubt, when you consider how complicated the licensing laws are, that there will be some difficulty in adjusting the various interests of people, for instance, like those who are managing tied houses. Finally your Lordships will see that His Majesty's Government take power to compensate fully, and we have already announced who the Compensation Board will be. They are gentlemen who are already engaged in somewhat similar work and they are to be presided over by Mr. Duke, a King's Counsel and also a Member of Parliament. In these circumstances and in view of the general approval with which I hope the Bill will meet, I do not think it necessary to delay your Lordships at any greater length in asking you to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Beauchamp.)


Can the noble Earl tell us who will appoint, the local committees?


I think the idea with regard to the local committees is to make use of them where they have been set up, but where they have not been already formed the idea is that similar committees should be set up in those areas on the same lines. They have hitherto been formed by general agreement in the locality, the initiative being taken, I believe, by the Lord Mayor.


My Lords, the noble Earl began his speech by a very handsome admission that His Majesty's Government had received from this side of the House nothing but acceptable assistance in the promotion of the emergency legislation to which they have been obliged to resort so largely during the last few months, and I do not think that upon this occasion we are likely to show ourselves more niggardly than we have upon former occasions. Indeed, most of us realise very deeply that legislation of the kind which is now proposed is most urgently required. This Bill, moreover, is, I think, in accord with the general scheme of most of the emergency Bills which we have lately passed, because it proceeds upon the assumption that the proper way of dealing with this question is by singling out certain areas which for obvious reasons are of special importance at the present time and making those areas the subject of exceptional Regulations. We have already placed a certain amount of legislation of this kind connected with the liquor trade upon the Statute Book. The noble Earl will remember, for example, that the Defence of the Realm Act of November, 1914, contained a clause under which the naval and military authorities were empowered, by Order, to require all licensed premises within certain specified areas to be closed. Then there was an Act called the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act also of last year, under which the licensing justices were empowered, on the recommendation of the Police authorities, to suspend the sale of liquor in certain areas where the circumstances required it; and it would be rather interesting to know whether any advantage has been taken of those two enactments in order to mitigate the evils with which His Majesty's Government now desire to cope.

But, my Lords, we certainly now know a great deal more than we knew when those two Bills were passed into law. We have received a great deal of evidence, evidence much of it of a very painful character, which goes to show that there does exist at this moment in connection with the trade in intoxicating drinks something which I can only describe as not only a national scandal but a national peril. The case is. I venture to think, proved to the hilt. It is proved by the White Paper which has been placed in your Lordships' hands within the last few days. It has been proved by the influential deputations which have come to London from the great manufacturing centres, each of them with their own statement of facts to corroborate the complaints which have been made. It has been proved by the speeches made elsewhere by Members of Parliament representing the Labour Party, who have dealt with the utmost frankness with the question. When I say that the case has been proved I do not for a moment suggest that what has been proved is a charge of general insobriety against the classes who are concerned in these particular branches of manufacture. I believe, on the contrary, that the majority of those men have worked hard and loyally, and that it would be a very cruel wrong to brand the whole of that class as if they were guilty of what I can only describe as the offences imputed to them. But on the other band I must add this, that I think there is a tendency to be rather too Mealy-mouthed when we are discussing questions of this kind. In our desire to deal tenderly with the susceptibilities of those concerned, I think we sometimes stop short of facing the facts as they really exist. If I had to preach a sermon at the present moment I should take for my text the words, "Speak ye every man the truth unto his neighbour." And the troth is that the evidence contained in these Papers shows beyond all question that there has been a very lamentable amount of slackness amongst the men employed in the production of munitions of war, that there has been great indifference, great demoralisation, and a consequent shortage of production which has led to the most disastrous results it, the supply of articles of the first necessity—articles without which this war cannot be successfully prosecuted, and articles the supply of which has, for all that may be said to the contrary, notoriously failed at very critical moments during the progress of these hostilities.

The noble Earl did not attempt to elaborate that part of his case, nor will I. It is quite enough to compare the number of hours worked by large bodies of these men with the number of hours worked by the men who really put their heart into their work and do their best to produce as large an output as possible to see how lamentably the performance falls short of that which might be expected. The thing is summed up in half-a-dozen words in the White Paper, in the Report made to the Admiralty by Admiral Tudor. He says— The problem is not how to get workmen to increase their normal peace output, but how to get them to do an ordinary week's work of 51 or 53 hours. My Lords, that is a dreadful admission to have to make at a time like the present. I know it is said, and said not without truth, that there are other causes which have contributed to the failure of which we complain. There is, for example, I think good reason to believe that in some cases the men have been over-driven, and that the very attempt to get too long hours out of them has led to a condition of staleness and weariness amongst them that has rendered them reluctant to work and driven them to idling and drinking outside. Then I think it is also true that the difficulty has been increased by the introduction of a large number of young and inexperienced hands less accustomed to the work and less accustomed to discipline than those engaged by their side. But making every allowance for these contributory causes, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the main cause has been the tendency on the part of a great many of the men to spend the large earnings which they are able to gain at the present moment upon drinking in the company of their friends. And, my Lords, I venture to think that those Ministers who have had the courage to say this fairly and squarely, as it has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Secretary of State for War, deserve credit for their courage, and are doing a better service to the public than those who, on the contrary, have sought, to slur over the difficulties with which we are faced. I feel sure that every one of us has read these Papers with feelings of the most profound regret and mortification. They are a reproach, a deadly reproach, to us, and I do not think I exaggerate when I say that most of us would sooner have read of a reverse to our arms in the theatre of war than to have read the kind of story which is told in the Papers now upon the Table of your Lordships' House.

I pass to the Government remedy. It is probably the best of which the circumstances admit. We all know—I am not going to waste the time of the House by enlarging upon the subject—we all know that it was originally the intention of the Government to resort to much more drastic legislation than this. They have laid those proposals aside, I think wisely, because when they came to examine them they found that they were of an impracticable character. But let me say that so far as we who sit upon this side of the House are concerned we have in no sense desired to place a curb upon any proposals which His Majesty's Government may have considered, after full and mature inquiry, to be indispensable for the prosecution of this war, and that whatever proposals were put before us with that recommendation from the responsible Ministers we should have thought it our duty to facilitate. I think this Bill will do good. You cannot make a weak man strong by Act of Parliament, but you can take temptation out of his way. This Bill will have that result. You can, at any rate, remove the temptation to which these men are exposed by a cordon of public houses surrounding the works in which they are employed. You can substitute for those public houses places of refreshment where the men can obtain what they want under less demoralising conditions. Those two things the Bill will do. But it is quite clear—and the noble Earl pointed that out to us—that the efficacy of this Bill must depend largely upon the manner and the courage with which it is administered, and upon the Regulations which will be issued under the powers given by this Bill. The noble Earl told us that the administration would be largely influenced by the two Departments most concerned—the Admiralty and the War Office; and he added that they would act in close consultation with local committees. I think that is right, and I think it should be the business of the representatives of these two great Departments to familiarise themselves with the local circumstances, and to endeavour to work, if they can, in consort with representatives both of the employers and of the employed.

I will only say one thing more. It is this. This Bill can only be a superficial treatment of a very deep-seated sore. The real poison lies beyond the reach of this Bill. And it remains deeply fixed upon my mind that when this war is over it will be the duty of Parliament to probe this question much more thoroughly, and to inquire how it has come to pass that the best of our working classes have laid themselves open to a charge of this kind. This question raises a number of other questions. It raises, for example, the whole question of the management and control of our public houses. Is it not clear that the greater part of this mischief is due to the fact that public houses are at present places in which a man can as a rule get liquor and very little but liquor, and that the object of Parliament should be to substitute for that miserable arrangement a better one under which he can get not only intoxicating drink but reasonable refreshment of other kinds? Then I ask the House whether this question is not intimately mixed up with the whole question of housing. It is shocking to be told, as we are, that when these men find their pockets full of money they have nothing better to spend it upon than carousing with their comrades. If a man had a decent home, would he not use his savings in order to make that home brighter or more attractive, or perhaps to acquire the freehold of that home? I noticed a very interesting statement made a few days ago by a Member of Parliament upon this subject. He was very naturally pleading the cause of these workmen, and he said this—

They have to endeavour to make homes in strange places. These men are living in quarters where, as I have said, the beds are on double give them no convenience at all, because as soon as they rise from their beds, instead of staying in the house, they have to get away in order to enable the people to keep the house tidy and clean. How can you expect men to have decent and home-staying habits when they have no better home to go to than the kind of home which this gentleman describes? Another question is, I think, raised by this controversy—the question of the education which we give to our people. If at our schools we gave the lads who attend them some kind of education in discipline, patriotism, self-control, a little more of that and a little less of the dry, book-learning which is crammed down their throats, would they not grow up into men who would think it beneath themselves to hang about at public houses until they had become sodden with beer or spirits? My Lords, these are all questions which, when this war is ever, we shall have to consider. For the moment all we can do is to attempt with all humility to do what we can to mitigate a state of things which I venture to think must call a blush to the cheek of every self-respecting Englishman.

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