§ Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading resumed (according to Order).
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I owe your Lordships an apology for having been slightly out of order in some of my remarks the other day. I do not propose to repeat the arguments I used; or deal with the aspect of the question to which I referred, on the previous occasion. I am going to assume that every one is agreed that there is a drink problem. People differ as to its extent and as to the way it should be tackled. It is easy to exaggerate it, but every one must be agreed that there is a drink problem; that is, that the national efficiency: to some extent is impaired by an unwise and excessive consumption of alcohol.
The Bill before the House recognises that there are, broadly speaking, three alternative ways of dealing with the drink problem; that there are three alternative policies before the country—private ownership, disinterested management and prohibition. The Bill also recognises that in any drink reform it is absolutely essential to carry the public opinion of the country, and it makes it impossible for any change to be brought about unless there is a direct mandate from the people. The Bill adopts the machinery for ascertaining the will of the people which has been used throughout the whole Empire. The 1107 referendum is particularly suitable for dealing with the drink problem. Local option, or national option (the options vary in many cases), has been adopted throughout the whole Empire, except in England, Wales and Ireland. It is suitable and consistent with Anglo-Saxon development; it is democratic.
The Bill also accepts existing Statutes. It recognises that there is a claim for compensation. As Mr. Asquith said some time Ago—There has grown up a claim for an equitable consideration which the State ought not and cannot ignore.The Bill, accordingly, recognises that where existing interests are dealt with they should he properly compensated. It also recognises the fact that Parliament has accepted the principle of the time limit and that a Bill embodying this principle, passed by both Houses of Parliament, is in existence to-day. The monopoly value of licences, as your Lordships are aware, has been directly created by the State. Undoubtedly, there would be great hardship if this value were suddenly cancelled without due notice, but the State, if it gives reasonable notice of its intention to cancel the licences, so that provision can be made by insurance or otherwise, is within its rights in discontinuing such interests. So this Bill recognises existing Statutes, the principle of compensation and the time limit, and it provides machinery whereby the three ways of dealing with the liquor traffic can be referred directly to the people for decision. It is believed by those who support the Bill that whichever is ultimately the best way of dealing with the question will be adopted by an increasing number of areas. Changes will be brought about only after local experiments. The Bill does not commit the country as a whole to any drastic change.
Before dealing with the Bill in greater detail, I should like to touch upon some arguments which were put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner. Like many of your Lordships, he was at a disadvantage in not having had an opportunity of studying the details of the Bill. Unfortunately some of the remarks which he made have created a wrong impression outside Parliament. He created the impression that, if this Bill went through, the country would be committed to an expenditure of from £300,000,000 to £400,000,000 sterling. That figure was an 1108 estimate which was put forward by the Committee over which he presided in 1917, when they were asked to make an approximate estimate of the total value of the liquor traffic in England and Wales. But that Committee made it very clear that from this total must be deducted the value of the redundant premises, whether they be public houses or breweries. The estimate also included the licensed trade in Wales, whereas this Bill does not touch Wales. From the total of £300,000,000, therefore, must be deducted the value of the redundant premises in England, and the whole value of the liquor trade in Wales. But whatever figure might thus be reached, it would be worth discussing only if this Bill proposed to commit the whole country immediately to State Purchase or to prohibition.
The Bill does not do so; it allows for local experiments. It makes it impossible for any change to take place unless there has been a direct mandate by the inhabitants of the locality. I have never met any temperance reformer, however keen an advocate he was, who believed that England would "go dry" now or in the near future. It is inconceivable that any large number of areas would vote for No Licence at the first poll. Similarly, it is inconceivable that any large number of areas would, at the first poll, vote for State Purchase, or disinterested management. The people of this country are far too conservative to do that. Sonic areas undoubtedly would do so, and I believe that, as success followed these local experiments, so they would be adopted at successive polls by an increasing number of areas. But at each poll, at each vote, at each referendum, the amount of compensation money which would have to be found would grow less.
The Bill accepts the principle of the time limit, at the end of which no compensation is payable in case of a No Licence vote. It also accepts the basis for compensation which was recommended unanimously by the Committee presided over by Lord Sumner in 1917. Your Lordships will remember that, in arriving at the capital value of the liquor trade, the Committee took the net profit for a datum period, and multiplied it by a certain number of years' purchase. This Bill proposes to give 100 per cent. compensation at the first, vote, and to reduce the amount of compensation at each successive vote, so that, when you 1109 reach the end of the time limit, no compensation would be payable in the case of a No Licence vote. That means that if this Bill were to pass—and I need not remind your Lordships that the most rev. Prelate, when he was introducing it the other day, said that he did not mean to carry it further than a Second Reading—there could be no question whatever of the country being committed to anything remotely approaching the figure of £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 which was mentioned the other day.
I should like to deal with another fear expressed by the noble and learned Lord. He feared that if an area voted for State Purchase there must of necessity he a loss on the operation of the liquor traffic in that area. Why should this be the case? It has not been found to be so at Carlisle. Carlisle will have paid for itself in six or seven or eight years—I do not know what the exact figure may be. It has been found at Carlisle that, when you have a monopoly in a particular area and the State comes in and acquires it, profits may be increased by reducing the cost of production and distribution. In Carlisle, where there were four breweries, there is now only one. The public houses there have been reduced by over 40 per cent. It is in that way that the large profits have been made under State Purchase in the Carlislc area.
But the noble and learned Lord seemed to be afraid that political pressure would force the reduction of the price of beer, and that, although there might he profits if the liquor trade were run as it has been run in Carlisle, there would nevertheless, as the result of political pressure at Election time and through Parliament, be such a reduction of price that all profits would be wiped out. A study of the Bill will show that this fear is groundless. The Liquor Management Board proposed by the Bill is not to he subject to daily control by Parliament. It is purely a business body, and its duty is merely to produce and distribute the beverages. It is not subject to daily control as to quality or as to prices. I ought to add that, in case of proved incompetence, the Board can be removed by a direct vote of Parliament. An Advisory Committee is to be set up to assist and guide the Board, and on that Committee existing private interests are to be represented, as well as the temperance societies. It would he manifestly unfair if, in a State Purchase area, as the result of political pressure, the price of 1110 beer or spirits were reduced below the price in No Change areas, where there was private trade. The existing interests of the brewers are safeguarded by their having representation on the Advisory Committee. Similarly, there are a large number of temperance reformers who fear that if the State were to acquire the liquor trade it would be conducted to the detriment of the public interest. Their fear is met by giving them representation on the Advisory Committee.
When we are on the question of cost, when we consider the cost to the community of any possible change of our system of licensing and management of the drink traffic, we ought to ask ourselves whether the present system is economic, whether we can afford it, and whether it is in the national interest. I am not talking of the cost which might be attributed to the unwise consumption of alcohol in its direct results. The country is now paying the liquor traffic £145,000,000 more than it did before the war to collect the taxes on alcohol. I suggest that, at times like this, when we should have a maximum of economy, the country cannot afford to pay nearly £150,000,000 sterling more to the liquor traffic than it did before the war to collect these taxes on drink. This is not "Pussyfoot," but purely a business proposition, and I suggest to your Lord-ships that, as a business proposition, it cannot be defended.
There is undoubtedly a demand in the country for what we call the reformed public house—the improved public house. Many people think that the surroundings in which people have to drink alcohol are unsuitable, and conducive to intemperance. There is a great deal to be said for this argument. I do not believe there is a single genuine temperance reformer who is in favour of the reformed public house in private hands. There is a section prepared to accept the reformed public house if it is under the control of the State, but under any other consideration they would oppose it. After all, the sale of alcohol is absolutely different from the sale of any other commodity. I am strongly opposed to the nationalisation of coal, or of boots, or of bread, because we want the maximum production and consumption of coal and boots and bread, but no one can say that it is in the national interest to have the maximum production and consumption of alcohol. Yet, while you have private ownership, 1111 and success to the brewer who sells the most beer and failure to the brewer who sells the least, so long is the liquor traffic bound to be contrary to the public interest. Because of that I would agree, somewhat reluctantly, to the State management of this particular industry and of no other industry.
We are asked sometimes what it is that State Purchase would give—what advantages, besides the reformed public house, are offered to the inhabitants of an area by this Bill? We are asked, why not have an option in the reduction of licences? Why bring in State Purchase at all? A vote for State Purchase, or disinterested management, would be followed by the following material gains. All redundant public houses would be closed—twenty to forty per cent. would be closed—redundant breweries would be closed; grocers' licences, external advertisements which are lures to drink, would be abolished, and disinterested management would be established. Those are the immediate gains which would be offered to the inhabitants of an area through State Purchase.
We have to ask ourselves when we support a measure like this, what is going to be the attitude of the different interests and groups in the community? What, for instance, is to be the attitude of the temperance Parties? Are the temperance Parties going to reject this Bill because it provides compensation? Hitherto, temperance movements have asked for an opportunity of testing public opinion on No Licences—for a Bill on the lines of the Scottish Liquor Vote Act, with a time limit and no compensation. If eight years is a suitable time limit in Scotland, at least fourteen years would have to be provided in England. That was the time limit offered by Mr. Asquith some years ago. Nobody imagines that a Bill framed on the lines of the Scottish Act, providing machinery for a No Licence vote, is going to be passed this year or next year, or, I should imagine, the year after that.
That is to say, if the temperance Parties stick to the line of advance of the past, and ask for a Liquor Veto Bill pure and simple, with a time limit and no compensation, the most they can expect to get is a first vote on No Licence in something like twenty years. Next, are the temperance Parties going to reject this Bill because it proposes a referendum on State Purchase and disinterested management? How can the 1112 temperance Parties logically ask moderate drinkers to agree to a referendum on No Licence and deny to moderate drinkers a referendum on disinterested management? The temperance Parties will have a great responsibility if they reject a Bill framed on these lines, merely because of the option of State Purchase and because it provides adequate compensation.
Then, what is to be the attitude of the Trade? I know a large number of people in the Trade, and have many friends in it, and I am perfectly convinced that the Trade, on a measure such as this, will be divided. There are some who will always look backward, but there are in this business, as in all businesses, far-sighted men. They realise that new factors have arisen. They realise that increased efficiency has been found in Canada and the United States, and that that is a factor which is going to bring temperance to the fore in the future. They realise that the vote which was taken in Scotland was taken at a moment when there was reaction against all forms of State control. They realise, also, the enormous influence which the women's vote is likely to have on temperance reform in the future. I do not imagine that the Trade as a whole, or any section of it, is going to come forward and say that this is a generous measure which should be accepted. If you have a horse to sell, and want to get the best price for it, you always reject any suggestion that you should part with it for a consideration. You always spurn any offer which is put forward, if you want to get the best price, but it does not necessarily mean that you will not sell the horse or accept a reasonable offer.
As to the general public, I believe they will support the principle of this Bill. I believe the public want to treat fairly and reasonably those who have invested their capital in the liquor trade. The public will be attracted by the fact that the money which will have to be found will not come out of the pockets of the taxpayers, but will be found by means of a compulsory levy on the Trade. But what I think will attract them also is the fact that it does allow for local experiments. A large number of people are not convinced that Carlisle can be applied to other areas, but many would be willing to have State Purchase, or disinterested management, or even No Licence, tried in other areas, and I believe that that will bring support for a Bill drafted as this has been. 1113 People often ask me: Why should you or anybody else interfere with other people's social habits? They ask why one group should be allowed to interfere with the habits of another group. In prehistoric days every man thought only of himself, and the weakest always went to the wall. Gradually, civilisation developed and advanced, and then Christianity came along. Prehistoric man changed his point of view. Man began to realise that he had a responsibility towards his family, towards his clan or his tribe, and eventually his State. At the present moment we realise fully that we have corporate and collective responsibility for the community as a whole. The national conscience is forcing many individuals to give up their prejudices and their preferences for the good of the community. This Bill is absolutely democratic—no change can take place unless there is a direct mandate from the people. I believe that it is a measure which could be supported by all who want reasonable progress and fair treatment for those who have invested their money in the Trade, and who have faith in democracy.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government a few days ago indicated with complete clearness the general attitude of the Government. They have, and they must undertake, responsibility for their own proposals, and they must be regarded, as a Government, as disinterested observers of the proposals which the noble Viscount has supported and the right rev. Prelate has introduced. I will make a few observations, which I will divide under two heads; and in making these observations, on a. subject in which I have long taken a deep interest, I make it plain that I speak for myself and myself alone, as I ant entitled to do upon a social proposal which is not accepted by the Government, and in relation to which alternative proposals are actually under contemplation, which have the authority of the Government as a whole.
The main or the novel objects of this Bill are, in the first place, to apply the principle of local option to an option, namely, for State Purchase. So far as I am aware of the history of this movement, no measure in the direction of local option has ever proposed to include, among the subjects which could be pronounced upon, that of State Purchase. The second main object of the Bill is to obtain from the 1114 Trade itself the money necessary for buying up the licensed trade in areas which decide on State Purchase and compensate the holders of licences in areas which should decide for No Licence.
One objection which I take at once is that, if not extremely probable, it is at least very possible that these proposals may involve a demand upon the Consolidated Fund, contingent upon a local vote. The noble Viscount who spoke last deprecated the use of inflated sums to indicate these contingent liabilities, and I have no doubt that the vast figures with which he dealt are very greatly exaggerated. It is none the less very relevant to the proposal now under discussion to consider that there is at least the contingent risk of a liability which might be considerable. Every four years there is to be a popular vote in every polling area—" polling area "is defined in the Bill—on the questions whether (1) the licensing system shall go on substantially as it is; (2) there shall be no licence for the sale of liquor; (3) the sale of liquor shall be placed under public ownership and control. If a majority of votes is in favour of (2) or (3), that is to say, if liquor licences are to end (a state of affairs which is shortly described as No Licence), or if licences are to be taken out of private hands (which is called State Purchase), payments according to the prescribed rules are to be made to the persons who are dispossessed of their interests.
The necessary money is to be found, if I understand the Bill aright, out of a Central Compensation Fund, and that Fund is to be procured in the following way. The local compensation funds under the Licensing Act of 1910 are to be abolished and the proceeds of the Compensation Levies, out of which they have hitherto been formed, are to be carried to a Central Fund. The rates of levy, which at present apply only to on-licences, are to be doubled, and the levy is to be extended so as to cover, at a different rate, off-licences also. In the second place, the Central Fund is to receive the proceeds of the sale of surplus premises and properties taken over in a State Purchase area, not required for the purposes of the trade. In the third place, the Central Fund is to receive the trading profits in the State Purchase area after deducting all the charges properly borne by the undertakings in the area, including the cost of compensating the interests taken over.
1115 The resultant financial consequences of the provisions I have shortly summarised may be made the subject of speculation—they cannot be stated confidently. But this at least is plain, that if, and to such an extent as, the Fund is inadequate to the demands made upon it, the Consolidated Fund is to stand as collateral security. That, as I read it, is the effect of Clause 30 (6) (a) and (b). The charges, if any, falling on the Consolidated Fund will be by way of terminable annuity and not of capital payments; only amounts not exceeding £500 are to be paid in lump sums.
It is obvious that the mere fact that indisputably such contingent liability exists is sufficient reason for supposing that this Bill could in no circumstances make substantial progress in this House. The right rev. Prelate in charge of it has, I think, indicated that he does not propose to carry the matter beyond the stage of a Second Reading. If a Division is taken upon the Second Reading, if any one challenges it, I shall have the misfortune to find myself in the opposition upon that question because, in my judgment, this Bill is a fanciful Bill, though a most well-intentioned and laborious Bill, and I can conceive of no circumstances which would lead me to the conclusion that it is in the least likely to make a useful contribution to the liquor problem referred to by the noble Viscount who spoke last, whatever that problem may prove to be.
Whether there is anything to be said on behalf of State Purchase and State acquisition I do not know. At one time I was attracted by the conception, but this was, I confess, in the days of pre-war finance. To-day I lay this down as representing my own views; that if there is to be any State control on a universal scale over the liquor trade, that State control ought to be boldly asserted as a principle and applied by Government, and it ought not to be left, in dependency upon the varying decisions of various localities. I have frankly admitted to your Lordships—being slightly apprehensive that some of my earlier observations might linger in the memory of any individual here and there—that before the war I was attracted by these proposals. We have learned a great deal, I hope, in the last seven years. We have had a great deal of experience of State-managed enterprises. I find myself in complete agreement with the noble 1116 Viscount when he says, as I understood him to say, that he is opposed to the State control of almost every other commodity. He gave many and various illustrations.
I share that view, but I find myself driven now to ask the question: If the State manages coal badly and railways badly and half a dozen other activities badly, with which the noble Viscount is as well acquainted as I am, what is there in the nature of Governments or in the nature of liquor which is to lead us to the conclusion that whereas the State control has conspicuously failed when applied to certain commodities, the moment it is applied to those problems which are concerned with alcohol it will succeed? I, for one, see not the slightest reason to suppose that the functions of control will be either better or worse exercised by Governments when applied to liquor than when applied to any great business enterprise. Let no one blind his eyes to the fact that the management of the liquor trade is a gigantic enterprise.
If brewers make great fortunes—as some of them have done—they make them because they are consummate men of business, and the reason why they surpass in their business the skill of Government officials who direct themselves, in substitution for trained persons, to the control of these matters, is simply because the specialist and the man trained to a particular business will always exhibit superior qualities to the State official. I ignore for this comparison the fundamental fact which is elementary in the whole of this argument, that the motives and the inducements from the highest to the lowest of those who are engaged in individual processes of business, are motives which lead to success, and the motives and the inducements which apply to those who are the employees in a great bureaucracy are altogether lacking in the stimulus which, throughout the ages in all civilised countries, has been associated with a high degree of industrial success.
I have, I confess, another objection to these proposals. We hear a great deal in these days about local option, and the noble Viscount gave us a most interesting sketch of its history—I regret that he curtailed it a little, because some stages not quite immaterial seem to me to be omitted —from the days of prehistoric man to Christianity. With a sure and rapid tread, the noble Viscount passed in a sweeping 1117 argument in order to demonstrate the merits of the Bill recommended by the right rev. Prelate. Neither in the records so far as I have consulted them in the well-known work of Mr. Wells, which deals with the subject of pre-historic man, nor in the observations of the noble Viscount, have I been able to discover anything in favour of local option. So far from finding that, I find a striking omission in relation to an argument made good by an attentive consideration of the practice and precepts of Christianity. For not only do I find no reference to local option in any doctrine with which I am familiar, at any rate anterior in date to the time when the most rev. Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, ascended to the highest position in our National Church, but I find, on the contrary, there are many admonitions which seem to me most weighty in conflict in the most direct and obvious manner with the doctrine advocated by the noble Viscount, and with the whole school of thought of which the noble Viscount is the convinced and conscientious advocate in this House. I find none of this feeling which underlies the speeches and the advocacy of the noble Viscount and others, that the consumption of alcohol is, in itself, a bad thing. I find quite the contrary. The most sublime authority of all, far from repelling those beverages which the noble Viscount would wave away from our lips, on suitable occasions adopted and recommended them. I am not able to derive the slightest encouragement in the courses which this Bill invite us to take front any precedent of the kind indicated.
What is fundamental in the case which underlies local option? You may cover it up with fine phrases. You may attempt to justify it by pointing to results in Carlisle and elsewhere, and, even there, a greater variety of opinion exists than the noble Viscount seems to think. But it all comes to this—that on a question which affects the individual conscience the majority is to impose its will, as the result of the ballot box, upon the minority. I have the misfortune to find myself irreconcilably opposed to this doctrine. Let those who are in conflict with the view that has been held through the ages by the greatest philanthropists, the greatest moralists and the greatest teachers of religion, and let those who find themselves of opinion that the consumption of alcohol is excessive, that it works great mischief—as undoubtedly it does—address themselves to the task of 1118 persuading others. Let them exhibit a high example in favour of persuasion, but do not let them attempt to force it upon others by compulsion. That sobriety which is the result of compulsion has no value at all.
The noble Viscount, I am sure, would be, as he always is, quite candid with the House, and I have not the slightest doubt that the ideal which he has set before himself is to see the same shackles of complete prohibition thrown round the citizens of this country as are at this moment thrown round the limbs of the nation in whose harbour the statue of Liberty still finds a conspicuous place. I am sure that the noble Viscount would not dispute that that was his ideal. I think I am entitled to infer that that was his ideal. This is a very convenient moment to separate yourself from it, if you happen not to have held it in its earlier stages. The Romans had a very useful maxim principiis obsta, which you may roughly translate by saying that if you think a thing is wrong choke it if you can at its very birth. The noble Viscount attempts to console us by saying that in his opinion this question of Licence or No Licence will not be ripe for decision for twenty years. Twenty years is a considerable period in the life of an individual, but I confess that I for one feel a responsibility in these matters not only for the present generation but for others. Twenty years is a very small space in the life of a nation, and how do we discharge ourselves of our responsibility to-day by accepting the consolations of the noble Viscount that a direct vote cannot be taken for twenty years? I want to put it out of the power of an intolerant majority in this country to press prohibition on a resisting and resenting minority for all time, or for as long, at any rate, as my voice can be raised, or my influence exerted, in its behalf.
I would gladly see improved public houses. I have spent the whole of my life attempting to enforce the precept that the only true temperance reform is to be found upon the road of making our public houses clean, sanitary, healthy, virtuous and comfortable; making them, in other words, places to which a decent working man, after a day's toil, can take his wife and children, away from the heat and discomfort of a small house, and enjoy all the amenities of social life, provide them with light refreshments, and feel that there is some brighter social amenity independent 1119 entirely of the scanty efforts in a meagre house of individuals of small means. All this is within our grasp of corporate endeavour, but it is utterly out of reach of the resources of a tiny household. But the noble Viscount has no room for those things at all. He says that no temperance association is prepared to give a reasonable hearing to the case made for improving a public house as long as that public house is in private hands.
Again, I have the misfortune to differ entirely from the noble Viscount. I would venture to remind him that if those be the views of the temperance societies of the country they are placing themselves in direct and demonstrable antagonism with the experience and with the fundamental nature and characteristics of the English people. It has been said truly by a writer of an earlier age—Whoe'er has frayed life's chill round.Where'er his stages may have been,May sigh to think he still has foundThe warmest welcome, at an inn.The England of Dickens—the England so characteristic of our life for three hundred. years—was an England in which every traveller who paused at an inn was made welcome, and was there given good food and good drink for man and beast alike. The inns of those days were all houses which were supported by private enterprise, and it was just because the profits went to a good and worthy landlord that the inns were so well maintained and responded so truly to the needs and tastes of the people of that day.
I remember, in the days when I was a young man at the Bar, that I used to practise a good deal in these matters before the Licensing Bench at Liverpool, and, upon the question of attempting to make public houses confortable and useful, your Lordships would hardly believe that in those days—I would almost call them barbarous days—it was the custom of the Bench to allow the police to come forward and give evidence that a licence ought not to be renewed because the convenience of a telephone had been supplied on the premises for the use of clients, or because draughts were played in the room in which refreshment was taken. That was noted as an objection which was considered when application was made for the renewal of licences.
I am of the opinion, which I have already indicated, that the true line of licensing 1120 reform was once and for all laid down in that great Bill which was passed in the concluding years of the last period of Office of the Unionist Party. That Bill is an Act to-day. It provided that the Trade should themselves support a fund which should be used for the compensation to be given m the case of redundant houses. That Bill was most bitterly opposed upon its introduction, but no one who has studied the statistics of its operation—no one, I will make bold to say, who, in any large town, has taken the trouble to make himself familiar with its working—will be under any delusion as to the great; merits of this Act which has brought, results incomparably greater than any measure of temperance legislation that has ever been passed in our time. I confess, speaking for myself, that if I alone had had to deal with this matter, I should have been well content to have allowed that Act to continue to operate, while at the same time making every effort to convert the public house into a useful club.
I will take the opportunity of excepting from my remarks many of those houses which have been taken over and conducted by the Trust Company. I exclude those most particularly because the Trust Company has succeeded, and it has succeeded for this reason, that it has attempted to translate into the necessities of modern life the very spirit of the good landlord of the old days. That is not the spirit of the proposals of those who, at this moment, and as a first step, have attempted to make the way easy for No Licence, never troubling to conceal their real intention of getting rid of licences altogether. I would certainly, speaking again for myself, enter a caveat when we are asked to see in the work of the Control Board during the war evidence of an extraordinarily successful contribution to our present problem. I am not, of course, here to criticise what they did in so far as that was justified in relation to the necessities of the war, but after all that form of control, though tolerated during the war, was always one which was very unsatisfactory to the people. It was undemocratic. The Board was in supreme control. No one could question its decisions, and there were many of its decisions as to the wisdom and necessity of which I confess that I entertained the strongest possible doubt.
I should be much obliged to anyone who will tell me at this moment why it is that a 1121 citizen of this country, who happens to have been to a play and who wishes to go and have supper in a public restaurant, cannot, as I understand, obtain any alcohol in the course of that supper. I am told this is so. I never go to plays, and still less would I go in this hot weather, and I can truthfully say that I very rarely go to supper parties. Therefore, my interest in this question is entirely altruistic, and is on behalf of the greatest city of the freest Empire in the world. The moment I hear of any shackle being imposed upon other citizens which I hold to be unnecessary every fibre of my being rises in resistance. If, when a private citizen who has taken his wife to see a play and afterwards has gone to a suitable restaurant to obtain supper, you deprive him in the course of that supper, during the hours which you have agreed as proper for taking the supper, of the opportunity of consuming alcohol—of course in decency and in moderation—you are acting tyrannously to him, and you ought to be stopped. Instead of coming to Parliament for greater powers you ought to have taken away from you the powers which you have of acting in this manner.
I have been betrayed by very sincere feeling on this subject into a longer speech than I intended to make. In the course of the next few days I shall be engaged in discussing and reconciling the views which I have honestly put forward to-day with the proposals which shortly, I understand, the Government are about to make upon this question. But on this particular occasion, as a member of the Government has full licence to express his views, I have taken the opportunity, for which I have waited for many years, to explain my views on this question. They are views which I deeply hold, views which have attended the whole of my career and which will continue and determine it as long as I take any part in public life.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I cannot help expressing some regret that the noble and learned Viscount has been so completely converted by his experience during the last few years from that sympathy which I thought he at one time exhibited in relation to this matter. I listened with great interest and admiration—an admiration which we must all feel—to his eloquence, and to his denunciation of anything in the shape of State management or State control. I am bound to say 1122 that I think he has been carried away a little too much by the prevalent wave of public opinion, a natural revulsion perhaps, against the restrictions which were imposed upon all of us, and necessarily imposed, during the period of the war. It is difficult at this moment, I admit, to advocate the principle of public management and public control of any business, but the very fact of the stream of opinion excited by the Press in denunciation of Government action, and in its abuse of the word bureaucratic, ought surely to lead us to look with a little more discrimination and not rush to the conclusion that because public ownership, public management and control, may be undesirable in many businesses, it is necessarily undesirable and fatal to all.
What seems to be the fundamental misunderstanding in this matter is this. It is always assumed that if anything is taken out of the hands of private enterprise it is necessarily to be placed under a public authority and run like the present Civil Service. It is one thing to have public control and authority, and another thing to have a bureaucratic system and control of the Central Government. Surely we have many instances (no country has so many) of management of public affairs by public authorities which are not directly responsible to the Central Government. Is the Port of London Authority to be denounced because it represents the principle of public ownership) and control? Are we satisfied that the Port of London, run by a dozen competing companies, would be better and more economically managed than under the public authority which at present controls it? We have to use a certain amount of discretion even in our most fervent denunciation of the excesses of public control.
I should like to be allowed, briefly, to state the reasons why I am prepared, though not by any means defending all its details, to give a vote in favour of the present Bill. I do so simply because it embodies for the first time in any Bill introduced into Parliament the principle of public ownership and control of the liquor traffic. I am firmly convinced that we shall never get out of the interminable controversy, so noxious to our political life, on this question, nor shall we be able, materially, to reduce those evils of the liquor traffic which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack must deplore as much as any one, so long as the liquor 1123 traffic remains in private hands. That may seem a bold proposal, and it is for that reason, while differing on some of the details, that I am prepared to give a vote in support of the Bill.
As I have said, that may seem a bold proposal, but I contend that it has experience arid authority in its favour. The Liquor Control Board (which has come in for a certain amount of criticism from the Lord Chancellor, but which, undoubtedly, did very good service during the war), despite the success which attended its efforts in the enormous diminution of drunkenness, as well as in the reduction of many of the other evils resulting from an excessive consumption of drink, came to the conclusion, and embodied it in a Resolution some four years ago, that it was impossible, effectively, to regulate the drink traffic as long as it remained in private hands. The Resolution and the recommendations of the Board, and the arguments by which they were supported, made such an impression on the Government of that time that we were within an ace of the introduction of a measure for taking over the business of the manufacture and supply of liquor throughout England and Wales, lock, stock and barrel.
Had that happened, I believe it would have been not only the greatest blessing to the people of this country but a triumphant economic success. Lord Sumner, who spoke on the last occasion this Bill was before your Lordships' House, made some very severe criticisms of the economic aspects of a State Purchase policy. As against the terrible picture he drew of the possible economic consequences, which, after all, are only guesswork, I think Viscount Astor is perfectly justified in quoting the actual facts of the Carlisle experiment. The Carlisle experiment certainly is a very hard nut to crack for those who say that the acquisition of the liquor trade by public authority must necessarily be economically unsound. What happened at Carlisle was that the profits of the trade conducted by the public authority were so great that, after paying all costs and providing liberally for depreciation and paying interest on the capital required to buy out private interests, they were in a position, within four years, to replace half the capital required for the acquisition of those private interests. That purchase would within ten years have paid for itself and, after that, all the profits of the business would have gone to the community.
1124 Your Lordships will observe that these economic gains were all concurrent with changes and improvements in the method of supplying liquor to the public, which have resulted in benefit to social order and the health of the community to which every single authority, civil and ecclesiastical, that has investigated the subject, has borne abundant testimony. You may say, "That is the experience of a single district. One swallow does not make a summer." It certainly does not make a winter; and it is hard to contend, in view of the success from an economic point of view, that it is likely to be a failure elsewhere. I would ask your Lordships to observe this. There was nothing exceptional or specially favourable in the condition of Carlisle. There was no wonderful management, there were no recondite causes for the success to which I have referred. It was due mainly to the suppression of a large number of redundant public houses. When they were suppressed, all the parties interested in them were liberally compensated. Nevertheless, the abolition of these houses led to very great economies, which enabled improvements to be effected in the houses which were left, and at the same time provided amply for the cost of the acquisition of the private interests concerned.
Redundant public houses represent a fact with which your Lordships are familiar in every part of the country. They exist in great numbers almost everywhere, and the evil of them is generally recognised. There is the Statute to which the noble and learned Lord, who has now left the Woolsack, referred, which is directed towards getting rid of them gradually. I am bound to say that I listened with some astonishment to the eloquent tribute which he paid to the success of the system of compensation introduced by that Statute, for, as a matter of fact, it will take us hundreds of years to get rid of all redundant public houses under it, and all the time that you are getting rid of them you are increasing the value of the remaining public houses, without any guarantee that they will be improved or better managed, and you are pouring into private pockets the wealth which, under the Carlisle system, goes to the community.
This reform of the liquor traffic, indeed, seems to me to be the one great social reform of which I know that does not encounter the most formidable economic 1125 obstacles at the threshold. The general experience of the social reformer is that, however great the possibility of ultimate advantage in the reform which he advocates, the immediate prospect is simply an increase of expenditure. As a result, social reformers are continually having to strike a balance between social considerations on the one side and economic considerations on the other. But here is a case in which social and economic advantage go hand in hand. Under this system, the public authority at one and the same time has the power of getting rid of redundant houses and improving the houses which remain, with the prospect, so far from becoming a burden to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, of opening up a new source of revenue to the community. It seems to me, therefore, that this is the one hopeful and practical method of temperance reform.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in not desiring prohibition. I have never been able to convince myself that a majority, whether local or national, has any right to cut off a minority from reasonable opportunities of obtaining alcoholic drinks, if they desire to have them. I cannot say that I go to the length of the noble and learned Lord in denouncing any kind of regulation of the drink traffic. I thought his arguments went to the full length in that respect, and when he grew so eloquent about the hardships of people being unable to get drink between 11 o'clock and 12, or between 10 o'clock and 11 at night, whichever it might be, I rather wondered whether he objected to there being any such thing as the closing of public houses at any hour whatsoever, or whether he also regarded it as an intolerable interference with the liberty of the public that opportunities of obtaining alcoholic drinks should not be afforded to everybody at every hour of every day and night. I am opposed to prohibition, and I am totally opposed to confiscation. I would rather pay too much than too little to the people at present interested in the Trade for buying up private interests.
But in my opinion—and I think the more you look at the actual experience during the war, particularly in the Carlisle district, the more your Lordships will be inclined to agree with me—neither prohibition nor confiscation is in the leastnecessary. I believe that what is vitally necessary is to get rid of the system under which large 1126 numbers of people have a direct interest in pushing and encouraging the sale of drink, and in tempting people to drink more than they want and more than is good for them. It is idle to say that, so long as this business is in private hands, there will not be thousands of people interested in encouraging the sale of drink and stimulating its consumption. It is inevitable that there should be, and I do not blame them. Every trader is necessarily desirous of increasing the consumption of the article in which he trades, and where, as in this case, the number of traders is unfortunately much too large, the very fierceness of competition drives them to stimulate consumption all the more.
Eliminate that dangerous and anti-social element from the supply of drink. Leave the traffic in the hands of an authority which, while bound to provide reasonable facilities for the purchase of alcoholic drinks by those who require them, has no interest in pushing the sale of such drinks, but, on the contrary, is interested in the maintenance of real places of refreshment and social intercourse, where alcoholic drinks will be obtainable, but where other things will also be obtainable, and where the management has nothing to gain by pushing the sale of alcoholic drinks. Such opportunities are afforded by a public authority. I believe it to be only fair, in the interests of the poorer classes of the community, that they should be afforded. I believe that public opinion and the growth of temperance principles may be relied upon to do the rest. I believe that this can be achieved, not only without any financial burden whatsoever being placed upon the community, but with actual economic advantage to the community. For these reasons, I hold very strongly that the true road of reform, the most hopeful road of reform in this matter, is the road of State Purchase, and, though differing on many points from the proposals of the Bill, and admitting the force of what was said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, that if it were to be regarded as a practical measure, with which we were going on, it was open to objection from the point of view of privilege, nevertheless I am prepared to go the length of giving a vote for its Second Reading.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I never interfere in a debate upon temperance without an uneasy feeling, born of a long 1127 experience, that I shall most assuredly encounter the hostilities of extreme advocates on both sides. I have never been in favour of prohibition. I have never seen how it could be enforced, although I admit thoroughly that if it were possible to establish such a system in this country with the consent of the people, the enormous advantage that would most undoubtedly arise from the abstention from alcoholic drink would entirely outweigh any personal or selfish interest that an individual might retain in his desire for alcoholic satisfaction.
I am genuinely grateful to the most rev. Prelate for having introduced this Bill, and to those behind him—the noble Viscount and, perhaps I might add also, Lady Astor, for her public position entitles me to refer to her—for the zeal and encouragement which they have given to the furtherance of this matter. In truth, whether we agree with the exact details of this measure or not, I think we must all agree that the question of temperance reform cannot be allowed to go on sleeping. It is of the utmost consequence that we should give our earnest attention to investigating the best means by which we can redeem this country from its national vice of intemperance. That I am not using language that is too strained, must, I think, be obvious to anyone who has looked at the figures which we saw in this morning's papers, and found, suddenly, that the convictions for drunkenness, which must be some index of excessive and gross drinking, are leaping up now that control is being relaxed.
It is a very easy thing to laugh at temperance reformers, and a very easy thing to talk about the liberties of individuals and their rights to enjoy themselves, the jollity and happiness of English inns, and the friendliness of English landlords. It is an easy thing to discuss, and in many cases it reminds all of us of very pleasant memories, but it has nothing whatever to do with the drink traffic. If you want to know the effect of that, do not go to some English inn in the country. Go across the river, down into South London, which I have not the least doubt the Bishop of London knows from personal experience. Go, as I have gone, and as many others of your Lordships have gone, into the hospitals, where I have seen a ward of little children, all or nearly all of whom, I was told by the sister in charge, owed their position in that ward to the fact that 1128 their mothers were drunkards. Go and consider that fact, when reference is made to the jollity of English inns, and remember that there is something besides jollity connected with the drink traffic, and that it cannot be doubted that as centres for the dissemination of vice, brutality, cruelty and degradation in their worst forms, you can find nothing to equal the less well-regulated public houses in the South and East of London. Both these things have to be brought together, and into contrast, when one is forming a judgment upon this matter. The Bill proposes that this matter should be dealt with by local option affecting one of three methods of dealing with the traffic. The mere question of local option provoked the ire of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. He tells us that he has devoted the energies of his life to the securing of better conditions in public houses. I have not the least doubt that he has, and, as everybody knows the powerful driving extent of his energies, I cannot help thinking that looking back he must be rather disappointed as to the results of his efforts, because it is extremely difficult for anybody to find that the conditions inside these public houses—I am speaking of the towns and of London, which I know—are much better then they were twenty years ago. This matter can never be controlled from within. The licensing magistrates can only act upon the records of actual convictions. They find themselves in extreme difficulty if they act upon the recommendations of the district, and unless some external control is put upon the traffic it is impossible that it can be brought within proper measurable dimensions.
Now, the ground upon which, as I understand, the noble and learned Viscount objects to local option, is that no three people have any right to say what two people shall do. But, after all, the whole basis of our Government depends upon three people saying what two people shall do. It is the very thing upon which the whole of our laws are based, and I am unable to understand why we should accept Government by the will of the majority, as we do in all public affairs, and then deny it in local affairs. If you return to Parliament to-morrow a majority of people pledged to destroy all public houses without compensation they can do it. Although the minority might protest, such a law would be perfectly valid. It is the very principle upon which our system of 1129 government depends, and why it is not to be applicable to the reduction of the drink traffic I have never been able to understand. When one realises the extent to which life, and, what is of less consequence, property, may be deteriorated in any district by the presence of public houses, which frequently are the resort of very undesirable characters, it seems a hard thing to say that the people in those districts must be compelled to submit to the presence of those disadvantages, without having any voice in deciding whether they should wholly cease or be regulated.
When one is brought face to face with the question as to whether the State should acquire the drink traffic and take it over, I hesitate to speak. The noble Viscount who has just spoken will forgive me for saying that I have not rushed to the conclusion that State management is bad. I have been driven to it by a series of experiments and examples, which appear to me to admit of no explanation, except the fact that State management and control can never effect what individual enterprise can accomplish; and I am very glad to learn from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that he, at last, has become a convert to this view. I cannot help wishing that the opinion which he urged upon us with such 'force had been urged upon the ears of his reluctant colleagues during the last two years. Then we might have been saved some of the difficulties into which this country has been plunged.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble and learned Lord will recall that most of the instances of Government activity under which we have been labouring for the last two years were inherited from the time when both he and I were responsible.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble and learned Viscount will forgive me for saying that I have heard that argument from him on nearly every occasion that I have made a speech in this House, and it never carries the least conviction, and for this reason, that when he and I had the pleasure (which I am afraid will not be renewed) of serving together in the same Government the country was at war, and that has no relation whatever to what has happened during the time when the noble and learned Viscount, unassisted by my society and my guidance, has been a member of the Government which has continued into the 1130 times of peace conditions that could only be justified under the temporary exigencies of actual warfare.
I do not wish to continue this argument nor to bandy words with the noble and learned Viscount. I am sincerely anxious to secure some method of controlling the drink traffic, which I believe, in its uncontrolled excess, is responsible not only for an enormous percentage of our crime and of our unemployment, but also for no little share of the industrial indifference and inefficiency from which this country stands to-day in grave danger. Everyone who examines this question in any country always finds that these conditions are the necessary result of drink. And when people talk with some scorn of the conditions obtaining in the United States of America I beg them to remember that the reason why the States in America voted for prohibition was because of the unanswerable example of the States that went "dry" one by one. It was that, and that alone, that convinced the United States that, in the public interest, it was essential that this measure should be made universal. Although I do not pledge myself to the details of this measure, yet, none the less, if the Second Reading is challenged—and I hope the most rev. Prelate will take the sense of the House upon it—I shall certainly support the Bill, as I regard it as an honest and sincere attempt to deal with a grave evil which has been but little mitigated in recent days, and in the relief of which I certainly look for a great deal of hope in the future of this country.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, as chairman of the chief temperance society of the Church of England, I think I ought to say a few words on this Bill, although I can only support it in rather a half-hearted way. I listened, as we all did, with the greatest interest to the Lord Chancellor's speech, but I should like to remind him, if it is not impertinent, of Mill on "Liberty"—one of the greatest authorities on liberty that any one can quote. He says:—As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it becomes open to discussion.And again—Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage or definite risk of damage, either to an individual 1131 or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty and placed in that of morality or law.I should like to place side by side with that quotation this description from life. The noble Lord opposite has appealed to me as one who has had thirty years' experience of East London; may I read to your Lordships this letter which carries us right down to bed-rock facts? I received it from an East London clergyman as I started upon my five weeks' tour through England on this particular matter. He writes:—After fourteen years' experience in these London slums it is not possible to face the Day of Judgment without protesting against the drink. If Christian England only knew what is going on in the slums she would rise with one consent and put it down. Only to hear young girls shouting in the streets at night going home drunk! Only to see starved little children waiting for the public-houses to close and their drunken mothers to come home! To have twenty-nine public-houses in your area with the low atmosphere and degrading moral influence, no matter what we try to do! It is most unfair that any party should hang this thing round the neck of Young England.We have to balance a cry like that against that protest for the liberty of the individual which was addressed to us from the Woolsack.
It seems to me that in the last few years lightning flashes have been thrown upon this problem. It really is a totally different problem from what it was six or seven years ago. In the first place, we cannot ignore what has happened across the Atlantic. I am not in favour of prohibition. All round England, at every great meeting I held, "I am not a Pussyfoot,' I said, "and I am not in favour of prohibition." But the facts of the gaols that have been closed across the Atlantic—300 in number, I believe—the rescue homes that have been found unnecessary, have convinced the most sceptical person of the extraordinary effect that prohibition has had. We put the question to the Bishops, fifty-two in number, when they came over to the Lambeth Conference from America. They had not done a hand's turn towards getting it, but they all, with one voice, said, "We will never go back." Admiral Sims said exactly the same thing the other day.
And, in the light of the pamphlets which have been freely scattered among your Lordships by the Trade—I received two myself, and a similar pamphlet was given 1132 at every one of my seventy meetings; they must have spent £500 trying to injure my campaign—I find these facts are really worth knowing. The cases of drunkenness in Philadelphia have gone down from 43,000 in 1917 to 20,410 in 1920; and the 54 police chiefs, in answer to 80 enquiries in the American city, gave the following figures:—Arrests for drunkenness, 372,497 in 1917; 141,071 in 1920. It is exactly the same in Canada. And I have here from the medical correspondent of one of our great papers, who was present when Ontario went "bone dry," the result of what happened over there. I will not trouble your Lordships with that, however.
The second revelation which was made was the revelation in 1915 of the danger of our existing habits during the war. I shall never forget that particular time, as I was privileged to be allowed by Lord French to go down the battle line in 1915. Every general said: "How can I get through these lines with two rounds a day? Why did we have two rounds a day? It was explained to us by our leaders at that time, Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener, in three famous speeches, that we were fighting Germany, Austria and the drink; that the most dangerous was the drink, and that all the German submarines put together were nothing like the danger that the drink was to this country. Lord Kitchener said: "What prevents our sending ammunition to our men is the lure of the drink." That was a lightning revelation, which we ought never to forget, of what our old drink habits were to this country. It seems to me we should be fatuous to forget it.
There is a third reason—the effect that ensued from strict and fair drink control. Your Lordships may perhaps have forgotten what happened. The Liquor Control Board, when, under that splendid man Lord D'Abernon, it took over the drink of England, reduced the hours from nineteen and a half in London (a disgraceful number) and seventeen and a half in the country (equally disgraceful) to two and a half in the morning and three in the evening. That was done with the full co-operation of the Trade in 1915, who saw the danger, and who, as thoroughly patriotic men, would not as individuals oppose what they saw then was the cure of a national danger. What happened under this drink control? This is really a thing we ought never to forget. The con- 1133 victions for drunkenness in London went down in twelve months from 67,000 to 16,000. To show that it was not solely because the men had gone to the war, it went down among the women from 21,000 to 7,000 in two years. Infant mortality in the country—and the noble and learned. Lord opposite is right in saying that a large number of children suffer from this—went down 43 per cent. The prisoners in our prisons went down from 14,000 to 7,000, and many of them went overseas and died for their country. The output of munitions and of our great industries was so great that when I looked into the French and Italian fronts, on my way back from Salonika in 1918, I found there was more ammunition at the end of battle than there had been in the morning, because the women and the sober population here had simply poured the stuff across.
We have also to consider whether, even from an industrial point of view, we are able to compete with what is practically a sober nation across the Atlantic, when we have a drink bill of £469,000,000. One firm competing the other day with an American firm—this was told at the Liquor Control Board a few weeks ago—made it a matter not of social or of moral policy, but of industrial policy, for a man to be a teetotaller for twelve months after they took him on, otherwise they found they could not compete successfully.
Then comes the next revelation. That is the terrible experience we have had since the Armistice. I do not know whether your Lordships happened to read the very striking diary published by the Observer newspaper in May, 1915. This is what has really happened since the Armistice. There have been twelve relaxations, February 5, March 10, April 1, May 7, May 28, June 3, July 22, August 19, and November 18, in 1919; July 5 and November 26, in 1920; and April 25, 1921. Those relaxations have been made in hours and strength of the liquor and in favour of going back to more individual liberty. What has been the result? These are the increases of convictions for drunkenness in England since the Armistice. On August 17, 1919, 106 per cent. over the Armistice figures, 69 per cent. among women; on January 25, 1920, 230 per cent., 124 per cent. among women, showing that it was not merely because the men had come back. On August 1, 1920, 249 per cent., and 154 1134 per cent. among women. There had been a little drop during the depression of trade. Now even The Times newspaper, which has never taken a very strong line on the question of drink reform, in its leading article to-day—your Lordships must have read it—strikes a note of alarm. In 1914 the number of convictions was 183,828. Those figures sank in 1918 to 29,075. Then last year the figures rose again to 95,763, which is nearly half of what it was in 1914. That is what I call a fourth revelation of what would happen if you really went back to the old drinking hours. It seems to me that the very fact that every single relaxation has been followed by an increase of drunkenness is a thing which really must wake us to a sense of the danger we are in.
Then I come to the fifth revelation, which I really believe all your Lordships have not understood. That is the scientific revelation. On that we have a Report of the Committee set up to consider the nature of alcohol itself. Until last year, having been forty years a teetotaller, the nature of alcohol really did not concern me much. But that Report is not temperance propaganda. It is issued by the Privy Council and is to be bought for 1s. It is embodied in the syllabus issued to all our schools by the Board of Education. This revelation underlies the whole problem of temperance reform. Ten great physiologists—of whom all the experts to whom I spoke all round England, great leading physicians, said, that ten men more impartial could not be found—discovered that alcohol is not a stimulant at all, but a great narcotic. When a friend of mine said: "I cannot make a speech after dinner without a glass of champagne," according to that Report he dulled his powers of self-criticism. He did not realise what a fool he was about to make of himself because alcohol had drugged and dulled his powers of self-criticism and self-control.
When you look at our slums and what drink has done there; when you consider its effect on that parish, of which I read an account to your Lordships; when you consider that a man with 13 years' good character in the Navy not only wronged, but finally killed, a poor little girl of thirteen because he was full of this narcotic, which turned him from a man into a beast, you cannot say: "I must have my glass when I go to supper at the Savoy, and I cannot attend to what is going on in the 1135 slums, and what the effect, legislation or no legislation, has been upon my fellow creatures." That is impossible, I protest, in the light of those facts.
With regard to the Bill, it is not my Bill, or the Bill of the Christian Churches. Sixteen Christian Churches have agreed on nine points—Sunday closing; restriction of hours for the sale of drink on week-days; reduction of the number of licensed premises; increase of the power of local licensing authorities; control of clubs; abolition of grocers' licences; prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors to young persons; local option; and the provision of alternatives to the liquor tavern. Those are the points the sixteen Churches have demanded that the Government shall embody in the Bill for which we have waited two and a half years. It is because that of those nine points one—local option —is embodied in this Bill, that I am able to give it my support.
I am very doubtful altogether, and I agree with the Lord Chancellor and other critics, about State Purchase; but what is embodied in the Bill is local option. I ask your Lordships: Is it no concern of a parish such as I have described in East London to have the right to say whether it shall have twenty-nine public houses or not? It seems to me it is right that it should. As a Labour leader said the other day: "You are very fond of calling the public house the working man's cellar, so for God's sake let him have the key of it; he has not got it now." It is a very striking fact that the Labour Party passed this resolution at Scarborough in 1920—This Conference, believing that the liquor traffic is a trade in respect of which the people as a whole must assert free and unfettered power, in accordance with local opinion, demands for this purpose that the localities should have conferred upon them facilities:—That seems to me to dispose largely of the five objections to local option.
- " (a) To prohibit the sale of liquor within their own boundaries;
- (b) To reduce the number of licences, and regulate the conditions under which they may be held; and
- " (c) If localities decide that licences shall be granted, to determine whether licences shall be under private or public control."
There are five in all—that it is not an all-round choice; that it is ineffective; that it is prohibition in disguise; that it is class legislation; that it is an invasion of personal liberty. Those are the five 1136 great attacks on local option. Why is it not an all-round choice? We are quite content to let people choose any other licence if they want it. We trust the people absolutely. If a locality wants another licence let them have it. We do not believe that they are going to choose another licence.
Ineffective? Yes, it will be if you keep the areas too small for local Option, but we do not propose to have small areas for local option, but large areas where you will have the whole county voting on the subject. Prohibition in disguise? That attack is contradictory of No. 2 attack. If it is to be ineffective it is not prohibition in disguise. As a matter of fact, a prohibition area is quite different from a licence area. Class legislation? If it is class legislation I say that the Labour Party are well able to see that their class is looked after. Invasion of personal liberty? I began with that in answer to what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said, whereas I meant to conclude with it. While we all feel that sort of appeal which the Lord Chancellor made—an appeal to liberty—I would point out that liberty must be tempered by consideration for other people. I honestly believe that we have to tackle this temperance question, and by working fairly and squarely together we may have a better future in store.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I know that the House is anxious to proceed to another Bill in which it takes great interest, and I will detain your Lordships for one or two moments only. I notice in the first place, as Lord Astor has reminded the House, that Wales is excluded from the operation of this Bill. I take that as an indication that the framers of the Bill recognise that the situation in Wales regarding licensing is different from that which prevails in England, and that the case of Wales demands and deserves special treatment and special legislation. I can only, in a sentence, express my personal hope that the day is not very far distant when an opportunity will be afforded of granting to the people of Wales the right of settling their licensing question in their own way.
In reference to this Bill I wish to say that I am glad the right rev. Prelate has introduced it, because it gives this House, and through this House the country, an opportunity of considering the urgent 1137 importance of dealing in some way with the licensing problem as it affects our national life to-day. I think that I shall carry noble Lords with me almost unanimously in the statement that we cannot be satisfied with the present framework of our licensing system, having regard to the results which it produces. Some change is required, and I think that change is required upon two cardinal points. First, in regard to the extent of the facilities provided for drinking, and secondly, in the character and medium of the control of the traffic. Many of us differ as to the best way of exercising this control, but I may say, as many noble Lords who have known me in the past are aware, that I have always been a very strong advocate of the principle of local option, and, because that principle is embodied in this Bill, 1 at all events will vote for its Second Reading.
I should like to make my attitude clear upon the question of State Purchase. I am not in favour of State Purchase. I do not think the present financial position of the country makes t hat a practical issue, even if the general opinion of the country were in favour of it. But there is a distinction between a national scheme of State Purchase and local experiments in the way of disinterested management. Personally, I see a most formidable series of practical difficulties in the way of carrying out the plan advocated in this Bill.
I will conclude by simply making one further reference to the Central Control Board, to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and other speakers, referred. I desire to express my very highest appreciation of the value of the services rendered by the Central Control Board to this country during the most difficult time in which they operated and carried out the powers placed in their hands. They have been attacked, as noble Lords know, and attacked bitterly, and, as I think, unfairly, by all sides, but my opinion is that when the time comes for the history of the efforts made during the war to be written in a clear atmosphere, we shall see that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the members of the Central Control Board. I venture to prophesy that many of the steps which they took during the war in the direction of control will find a permanent place in our licensing system in the future. I am glad that this Bill has been introduced, because it has given us an opportunity of pressing, as I think rightly, the urgency of the question, and I 1138 feel sure that even the limited opportunity which we have had of discussing the proposals may be a useful means of preparing a way for the settlement of the question in the future.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, before voting for the proposals before your Lordships' House I should like very briefly to make one or two observations, especially in regard to Part II, which is by far the most important part of the Bill. As to local option, it is perhaps safe to say that if it does little harm it will not do very much good. The best security for the conduct of the liquor trade is a strong, independent, representative licensing authority. As regards Part II it raises the question of the elimination of the element of private profit in the retail trade, which has been adopted in more than one country. It has probably been brought home to most of those who have studied the subject that the monopoly held by the State is a dangerous form of control. One of the great wonders of administration was seen when the late Czar was able to put an end to the enormous liquor revenue drawn by Russia from the monopoly possessed by the State.
I am afraid that Part II of this Bill tends rather towards State monopoly of the liquor trade, and in my opinion that is a danger to be avoided. The elimination of the element of private profit, as in the Scandinavian system, in which the late Lord Grey was so much interested, is one that has been tried on a limited scale only in this country, because there is no power of monopoly over an area, and the effects of the system cannot be well judged of except in Scandinavia. This system, I think, offers by far the most hopeful solution of the problem. I agree with what has been said, that nothing will give control over the liquor traffic except the elimination of private profit. I doubt if that can be applied to the manufacturing part of the trade, but, at any rate, it can be applied to the retail trade. The controlling body would, I think, be much better constituted were it unpaid, and were a permanent, representative citizen appointed to the Board, to distribute the profits to the trade.
With amendments on those important points the Bill would move in the right direction. I feel confident that anything which tends to make the Treasury, or the local authority, dependent upon 1139 revenue from the liquor traffic is a danger to the community of the first order, and, indeed, a greater danger than anything from which we now suffer. Some provision must be made for the profits of the trade being wisely spent, and it would be much better done by strong representative bodies of citizens in the different localities than by a Board which, in its character, is uncomfortably close to those bureaucracies from which we have suffered and from which we are struggling to get free.
§ On Question, Motion for the Second Reading negatived.