HL Deb 17 July 1923 vol 54 cc1071-90

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, anybody who introduces a measure dealing with the affairs of Scotland and who expects to find it uncontroversial must be of a somewhat sanguine disposition; in all probability he will be disappointed. I cherish no delusions about the Bill that I am asking your Lordships to read a second time this afternoon; but I did think that its main object was so simple and so blameless that it required some ingenuity, if not imagination, to find anything contentious in it. Having seen the somewhat uncompromising Notice on the Paper in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, for the rejection of the Bill, I feel that I must congratulate him on possessing those qualities in a very considerable degree. We shall come back to the noble Earl in a moment.

Some of your Lordships who have not had the good fortune to be born north of the Tweed may be unaware of the fact that in Scotland at the present moment we possess, under the Act I am trying to amend, the power of sharing to a great extent in the advantages which the American people are supposed to enjoy under their famous, if sometimes embarrassing, Prohibition Act. My countrymen are not slow, as a rule, to take advantage of their opportunities, but so far they have let this opportunity go by. In fact, they have somewhat emphatically declined to partake of the unrefreshing fruits of Local Veto that have been offered to them. Under the Act of 1913 the localities are empowered, every three years, to vote for one of three options—whether they will have no licences, whether they will have a limited number of licences, or whether they will go on as they are. Therefore, every three years Scotland, or at all events the greater part of it, is thrown into a welter of agitation. The elections are fixed for November and as the time approaches the storm bursts. Streams of money flow from unknown sources. A deluge of propaganda floods the land and there is a spate of speeches, during which the poll takes place. So far, the poll has been emphatically against the prohibitionists, but I venture to say that that result is not accepted with any spirit of contentment by the people of Scotland. The results are not final. They are not definite, and very often they give satisfaction least of all to those who have seen the particular option carried for which they voted.

I will at once acknowledge that the large majority of those who vote in favour of no licences are sincere and would vote for nothing else. They are more dry than the bone dry people. They cannot tolerate anything in the way of moisture in the country to which they belong, and in their efforts to fasten the fetters of a liberty-corroding prohibition on the people of this country they will hear of no concession and agree to no compromise. I put them aside. But there are others who voted for the No-Licence resolution not because they are prohibitionists, but because they think that of the two evils the No-Licence policy is better than continuing as they are. They do not like the other option, in which I agree with them, because they think that the policy of Limited Licences concentrates the evil without in any way remedying it.

There is a second lot of people who vote for the limiting of licences, but they are few in number. They vote that way because they dislike the others so much and because it is the only possible compromise. But what I maintain is that of the people who vote for the No-Change resolution and who see it carried, a very large proportion indeed would resent the implication that because they vote for no change they are content with things as they are now. It would be a gross libel on them. They vote for no change because they can consistently and conscientiously vote against all three of the options that are put before them or vote for the evil which seems to them the least of the three. I will give your Lordships a remarkable instance. The noble Viscount who administers the affairs of Scotland will remember receiving a deputation a short time ago. It was small, but it was very select. It consisted of a right rev. Bishop, a learned Professor of the University and a distinguished Judge. The Bishop had voted for no licences; the learned Judge had voted for limited licences; and the Professor had voted for no change. And yet the wet Bishop, the dry Professor and the moist Judge were all prepared to pool their humidity and to go into the same lobby in support of the only point in this Bill, which is to give them the opportunity of voting for a fourth option—namely, the improvement of the public houses in Scotland.

I am not going to argue whether the plebiscite is a good or a bad thing; but if you have a plebiscite you ought, at all events, to give people an opportunity of voting for what they think is right and not for what they think is the least bad of three different options. Supposing there was not a liquor traffic plebiscite but a London traffic plebiscite, and suposing it was put to the ratepayers to vote not on one, or two, or three selected plans or even principles of London traffic, but simply whether they would have more traffic, or less traffic, or no traffic—what would happen? If we were caught one day in a block of traffic, and in our rage at missing a train, or perhaps one of your Lordships' speeches, we voted for no traffic, the thing would be absurd. But it is no more absurd than the present system of options about drink in Scotland.

When I was asked to take charge of this Bill I said at once that I thought "reform of public houses" was vague. Of course, it is vague, but this is not a Bill to create reform in public houses; it is simply to invite the people of Scotland to express an opinion in favour of reform of public houses. It is not a building that we wish to see erected; it is but the scaffolding of the building that we wish to see erected. If this option were carried then the Government would appoint a Commission and that Commission would settle what form the reformed public houses were to take—whether they would take the form of State control: whether there would be disinterested management; and what standard and what ideals would be expected from these public houses. Another argument I have heard against it is this: that these Local Option elections may not take place all over the country, and that you could not get a clear vote in favour of my idea because elections would not be held everywhere. But if there were any serious opposition to the option regarding improved public houses you may be sure that there would be elections. I have yet to learn that the fact that a Government-majority may include in it a good many uncontested seats is any argument against the strength of their position.

When I speak of improvement in public houses I wish to be regarded as one of the first to recognise that a great improvement has already taken place; that owing both to the action of Parliament and, particularly, of the licensing boards we have gone a long way in the main from the old drinking days. But if we have gone far from those days, we have still further to go to reach the ideal of the Public House Reform League which hopes to see in public house" places of recreation and refreshment, places into which, instead of slinking into them surreptitiously, men and women shall walk boldly and come out unashamed, places in which a man will be as ashamed to be seen drunk as he would be in the streets.

I do not know whether your Lordships have read the debate that took place in another place last night on the condition of the country and its remedies. A very gloomy picture was drawn, but I do not think it was overdrawn. So far as I know, no mention was made in that debate of the statistics about drink. I am going to give your Lordships two figures. In 1913 there were 188,000 convictions for drunkenness in this country. Last year these convictions were reduced to 77,000. Last year there was one death from causes directly attributable to alcohol to every three that there were in the year 1913. Amongst all the gloomy phenomena that surround us and give us such cause for anxiety, I think that these figures shine out with a hope of promise of better things to come. I am sure that statistics like these will be welcomed in your Lordships' House, and will be welcomed by all moderate people, but they will not be welcomed by the extreme Prohibitionist Party who oppose my Bill, as they opposed Lady Astor's Bill in the House of Commons, because they are out to end, and not to mend, the drink traffic. They consider these remedies are only what Mr. Scrymgeour calls "blocks to prohibition." And he is right. They are blocks to prohibition. I believe that low drinking dens, people drunk on the streets, homes ruined by intemperance, and the crimes, diseases and deaths that are caused by alcohol, are the assets of the Prohibition Party. Without them they would be bankrupt of argument. And as these figures go up or down so do the hopes of the Prohibition Party ebb and flow.

This Bill will be opposed by the Prohibition Party, but what I want to learn is why it will be opposed by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. I do not think that the noble Earl is one who would row stroke in the prohibition boat. I am well aware that the noble Earl was responsible for introducing the Act of 1913 to this House, but surely parental, prying legislation must have its limits. 1913 is a long time ago. A great deal has happened since then, and surely it is not impious on my part to try lightly to touch, as I am doing, the device which he crowned with his eloquence ten years ago. I do not think that can account for the noble Earl's action. The noble Earl, as I understand it, has been one of those vigilant optimists who have been trying to coax fire into the cold and ungrateful ashes of Liberalism. I do not know whether he thinks that he has got a new cry for his Party, whether the slogan of the Liberal Party, which he is going to lead, is to be "Hands off the publicans," and whether the public house is to be the refuge in which he and his supporters will rally, and from which they will shower bombs impartially on the forces of reaction and revolution. I await with expectation what he has to say.

I have put before your Lordships the Bill the only point of which is that it gives to the people of Scotland a fourth option to vote upon. I ought to say that as under the present Act all votes given for limiting licences are counted against no licences, so, of course, in this Bill all the votes given for the fourth option will be counted against prohibition. This is a small Bill. It creates no precedent, it costs no public money, it involves no new machinery for the machinery on which it is drafted is already in existence, but it is one of those Bills which, having small beginnings, may have great results. It may be that an expression of opinion from the people on this fourth option may compel the Government to bring in a Bill dealing with this question, and may produce something which, working concurrently with improvement in matters of temperance in the tone and temper of the people, may so reduce the excesses of intemperance that these triennial elections may become unnecessary. Your Lordships' House has always been foremost to support improvements in the material condition of the people. You have always supported and maintained the liberty of the individual, and the rights of the minority, and I cannot help believing that you will give your sympathetic support to a Bill of which these principles are at once the essence and the foundation.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Wemyss.)

EARL BEAUCHAMP had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading, he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the noble Earl has given your Lordships a very clear and alluring picture of the measure he has proposed this afternoon. The criticism I have to make on his speech is rather upon the omissions—the omission, for example, as to the history of the original Act, upon which I wish to address your Lordships. The Bill as originally presented to Parliament was very different from the Act which ultimately reached the Statute Book. I felt it my duty, last night, to look at some of the debates which took place in your Lordships' House ten years ago, and I was astonished to see how often I was obliged to address your Lordships on this subject, and how much I had forgotten of the whole topic. When I remind you of the circumstances in which the original Bill became an Act you will see the reasons which have induced me to put down the Amendment which stands in my name—an unusual step as regards a measure introduced by a private member in your Lordships' House.

When the Bill was originally introduced it was divided upon in another place on the question of the number of years, and a large majority of Scottish Members voted for the numbers in the original Bill. In 1910 forty-six Scottish Members voted for it and only five against. In 1912 forty voted for it and seven against. It was this strong public opinion in Scotland which induced His Majesty's Government of that time to take up the Bill as a Government measure. It was considered by the Scottish Grand Committee in another place, and they devoted no fewer than ten sittings to its discussion. It passed practically unchanged through Report stage, and the Third Beading was carried by a majority of 157. The Bill then reached your Lordships' House, where the Second Reading was carried without a Division. When the Bill went into Committee a number of Amendments were made, and your Lordships will perhaps allow me to summarise them. The time notice was extended from tire years to fourteen years; a fourth option, disinterested management, was inserted and the three-fifths majority necessary to adopt a No-Licence resolution was increased to two-thirds; the Amendment for mutual insurance was defeated by three votes. The Bill was returned to another place, and the whole of the Amendments introduced by your Lordships' House were rejected by substantial majorities. Ten days later your Lordships re-inserted the original Amendments and the Bill, accordingly, was allowed to drop. His Majesty's Government took no further steps during that Session.

The Bill was re-introduced in May. 1913. It went rapidly through all its stages and came before your Lordships' House again. Fortunately, on this occasion a very different spirit was observable in our debates, a spirit of compromise was in the air. Negotiations took place between the Leaders of both sides in your Lordships' House and in another place, and eventually the Bill was passed as an agreed measure. One of the conditions on which it was passed was the dropping of the fourth option. Various other alterations were made; but what I want to emphasise is the fact that the Bill, which up to the present has only been once put into operation in Scotland, passed this House as an agreed measure and part of that agreement was the dropping of the fourth option. The essence of the present measure is to reinsert this fourth option, the dropping of which was one of the conditions which made the former Bill an agreed measure.

In those circumstances I cannot think your Lordships will so soon upset an arrangement which was come to by the Leaders of both Parties in your Lordships' House. May I call your attention to what Mr. Scott-Dickson said in another place on August 13, 1913:— I, personally, still think it is not calculated to achieve any of the great results which those who believe in it think likely to result from it. I do not in any way dissent from the congratulations that have been expressed on both sides on the fact that a compromise has been arrived at. … The Bill as it now stands will be amended as a result of the compromise and we are content, so far as this side of the House is concerned, that the measure, if, and when, it comes into operation, shall have fair play. I turn now to what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, the Leader of the Opposition in this House at that time. Having described the character of the various Amendments, including the dropping of the fourth option, he said:— We arrived at an agreement upon these bases, and such as it is I am glad that it has been arrived at. We, at any rate, have been parties to that agreement, and that being so we cannot recede from it now; and it is therefore certainly not our intention to offer any further opposition to the progress of the measure. The original Bill, as passed, was an agreed measure, and the noble Earl now wishes to insert into the Act one of the items, the dropping of which was one of the reasons which made the former Bill an agreed measure. In these circumstances it is difficult to think that the noble Earl will wish to persist in asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.

He will perhaps allow me to say something upon one or two other matters which are contained in his Bill. I notice that in the Preamble it says that many of those entitled to vote, who were opposed to prohibition, felt unable to record their votes for any of the three options contained in the Act. From a sentence like that one would imagine that very few people had recorded their votes at all, either in favour of No. 1 option, or No. 2, or No. 3 contained in the Second Schedule of the Act. Let me turn to the facts and see the numbers that actually voted. In the boroughs the percentage of electors voting was 71.7, and in the counties 61.4, making a total percentage of the whole electorate of 69.6 who voted in one way or another. Some of them, naturally, voted in favour of no change. On that fact I make no comment, but I am quoting these figures to show that a great many more people voted on this occasion than vote in many elections, either in Scotland or in this country. Unless you get all the excitement of a General Election, or the intensified excitement of a by-election, 69.6 per cent, is really not a small proportion of the electorate. To say that many people were unable to vote is scarcely borne out by the facts and figures of the case.

The noble Earl has described to your Lordships how he wishes to insert in the Schedule of the Bill the fourth option of disinterested management, and he describes what he means by disinterested management. Your Lordships will see what he means from subsection (2) of Clause 2 of the Bill. But there is to be no direct result. I think the object which he has in his mind——


I did not say anything about disinterested management. I merely spoke of a general improvement in public houses, without specifying it more particularly.


I quite agree. But I understood from the noble Earl that he suggested that the Government might appoint a Committee to investigate the best way of dealing with public house reform, whether by disinterested management or by some other means. But there is nothing in this Bill to compel the Government to do so. The Government might take no action at all, and really it seems to me on the face of it quite clear that, supposing that the noble Earl's Bill were carried and this fourth option were given for the coming voting in the autumn of this year, there might really be no result except that a certain number of people who would have been mislead by seeing this option of public house reform would be the people who would equally have voted for no alteration at all it would, of course, look a great deal more respectable if they were to vote for public-house reform, though they would not know to what extent they were pledging themselves to any definite reform.

Supposing the Committee which was adumbrated by the noble Earl were formed, supposing that it recommended something or other to His Majesty's Government, and supposing that His Majesty's Government found time to introduce a measure into Parliament based upon those recommendations, it might be that Parliament would not carry the Bill, and in those circumstances we should have effected nothing at all. It seems to me that to ask your Lord ships' House to pass this Bill before the people of Scotland have been able to vote a second time upon the agreed com promise is to ask more than it is fair to expect your Lordships to do. For those reasons I have ventured to put down this Amendment, and I shall certainly proceed to a Division if it becomes necessary.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day six months").—(Earl Beauchamp.)


My Lords, we have listened to a very conservative speech from the noble Earl opposite. He said that, because your Lordships' House in 1913 agreed to a compromise, the compromise then arrived at should be adhered to at the present moment. But many things have happened since 1913. The movement for public house reform has largely extended itself, both in this country and in Scotland. I happen to be a trustee for a public house trust in Scotland for the allocation of surplus monies that arise out of the profits from the houses now in existence there, so that I know something of the way in which this movement has been extended. We have on the Cress Benches of your Lordships' House the noble Lord, Lord D'Abernon, who at Carlisle formulated and carried through a very far reaching system of public house reform. A great deal of experience has therefore been derived in recent years of how very important and beneficial this improvement of public houses has turned out to be. The noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, dwelt upon the great benefits resulting from the fact that people are not ashamed to be seen entering or leaving a public house. That is really the main purport of this movement. We desire to see public houses made more respectable, and we desire that people should be able to obtain meals as well as a certain amount of spirituous or alcoholic liquor to drink with those meals. I cannot see why, because this compromise was arrived at in 1913, we should disregard the very wide experience of the last ten years regarding this fourth option.

The noble Earl went on to say that 69 per cent of the population in Scotland voted at the one election that has been held on this subject. But after all, on a matter which really concerns the daily life of the people of the country, there still remain 30 per cent of the population who did not vote. The noble Earl's contention that it is possible that they would have voted for the insertion of this fourth option is a very valid one. I may also mention that in 1919 your Lordship's passed a Bill on these lines—though it did not become law—for public house reform in England in order to improve the condition and status of public houses. If the noble Earl can plead that your Lordships' action in 1913 was relevant to this Bill, the action of your Lordships' House in 1919 is equally relevant. I earnestly hope, therefore, that my noble friend who introduced this Bill will press it in order to substantiate, if he can, this very important principle. The noble Earl, in his concluding remarks, implied that this would have no effect, but surely it is desirable to do all we can to establish this real reform in the country, so that people who desire it may have some means of obtaining proper meals at public houses. I hope that the noble Earl will go to a Division.


My Lords, I should like in one or two sentences to support the Amendment of the noble Earl who has moved the rejection of the Bill. There is undoubtedly a difference of opinion in this House and elsewhere throughout the country with reference to the issues of this Bill, but I hope that no difference of opinion will be found in regard to the method by which it is proposed to deal with those issues. There are two main considerations, as it seems to me, to be borne in mind. First of all we must consider the effect of this amending Bill up the principal Act, the. Temperance (Scotland) Act, 1913. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, has already reminded your Lordships of the conditions under which that Act was passed, and I think there will be general agreement that ultimately, when that Bill became an Act, it rested upon a compromise. I think the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill was making a strong point when he reminded your Lordships of that fact. It is neither desirable nor right that such a compromise should be interfered with through the passing of this Bill.

Supposing that this amending Bill becomes law, how will it affect the principal Act? It will affect it in many ways. In fact, I think it would in large measure render the principal Act useless. It would undoubtedly have the effect of splitting the vote, and in many ways it would be more difficult in the future to ascertain the real feeling of the Scottish electorate upon the issues at stake than under the, Act as it now stands. I have seen a good many amending Bills in my time, but I do not think I have ever seen a Bill drawn in quite the way in which this measure is drawn. We are all in favour of that which is stipulated for in the fourth option which is put in this Bill. We are all in favour of public-house reform, whatever our views may be on other aspects of the question. But as the noble Earl has already pointed out, even if the Bill were carried, there is no machinery for effecting such a reform. It is not for me to recapitulate the arguments, but I do not think your Lordships will think that the suggestion of the noble Earl, who moved the Second Beading of this Bill, is one which can be relied upon in a Parliamentary sense—the possibility of a Royal Commission being appointed by the Government, and the possibility of that Royal Commission making recommendations which would enable these particular reforms to be carried out.

I will not detain your Lordships any longer, beyond saying this: In my judgment, whether we agree with the principle of the Act of 1913, or not, it ought to have a fair chance of being tested, not by one election but by a number of elections. Public opinion changes, and changes very rapidly, one way or the other, but I do not think that any member of your Lordships' House would say that upon the results of one election in Scotland the final judgment of Scotland upon this licensing issue can be founded. I hope therefore that the noble Viscount who will reply for the Government in reference to this Bill will at all events, on behalf of the Government, take the view that it would be most undesirable at the present stage to interfere with the compromise which has been carried out in the Act of 1913, and that the electors in Scotland should have a further opportunity of showing what is their real mind upon these points. From my standpoint, the results of the last vote upon the issues of the Act were not satisfactory, but that is not the point. The point is that the people in Scotland should have the opportunity, every three years, of expressing their views upon the issues which are at stake, and I hope the Government will take the view, having regard to the compromise attained under the principal Act and to what I feel sure is the overwhelming sentiment of Scotland upon that point, apart altogether from temperance views, that it is right that every opportunity should be given to have a fair trial, and that it should not be interfered with in this way by an amending Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount answers the question that has just been put to him, I hope he will assist us to some comprehension of where we shall be if this extraordinary Bill is carried. I have had the good fortune of more practical experience of this system than some of your Lordships, because I live close to one of the only towns in Scotland which have gone in for the thoroughly dry solution of no licence at all. Still, we get on very well. There is not the hardship that you would imagine. The wind has been tempered to the shorn Iamb, because the magistrates have the power, which they have exercised, of enabling not the public houses—there are none now—but the inns, of which there are plenty, to furnish to those who come there to take a meal alcoholic liquors with which to accompany that meal. That is extremely convenient having regard to the proximity of Gleneagles, the great golf links, with which no doubt some of your Lordships are acquainted. People come in to Auchterarder for meals, where they can be furnished under the system now prevailing with spirituous refreshments, and therefore, although the public house has disappeared, it is difficult to say that it is a thoroughly temperate place. Temperate it is in one sense, but-prohibition does not exist at all.

In these circumstances I should like to know what is meant by the noble Earl's proposition to add a fourth option. On the last occasion there was an extraordinary amount of apathy on the part of the people of Scotland about the options given to them. It is a great mistake to suppose that the country is divided into people who are keenly in favour of temperance, and people who are keenly against temperance. There is a substantial minority of each kind, but the great mass of the people are indifferent. The result is that they did not vote. Very few No-Licence resolutions were passed, and it was not because the people favour intemperance but because they will not interest themselves in these options. If anything could make these options more distracting, it is the additional option which it is now proposed to give. The scheme under the Act of 1913 was to give to the people the power of deciding for themselves what should be the drink system in their locality. It might be that there was to be no licences, it might be there was to be a limited number of licences, or it might be there was to be no change. These were three practical things which were to be carried out. If they voted, and a resolution was carried, then something was done, but if the noble Earl's fourth option is added what is to be done?

Electors will vote for this proposition: "Public House Reform resolution means that the voter recording his vote for this resolution considers that reform of our present- licensing laws is urgently required, but is not in favour of no licence." What is the elector in favour of? It is wholly an academic opinion. How are we, or how is the country, any better off for his having so voted. Nothing is to be done. You might just-as well take a piece of paper round and ask the voter to record his opinion in favour of the resolution. It is making a farce of local administration and of the Statute to propose a resolution of that kind. It is neither practical nor does it convey anything of what the voter is supposed to have in his mind. What is public house reform? Is it to have public houses open during church time on Sunday? It might just as well mean that as the closing of them, or the prevention of children going to them, or half a dozen other things. We have no knowledge, and we are given no information, and of all the absurd Bills that I have seen introduced into Parliament, this Bill takes a high place among those which contain the maximum of absurdity.


My Lords, we all welcome a speech from the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, whether on temperance or any other subject. Most of us will be in full accord with him in desiring improvement in the Licensing Laws, and many will sympathise with the underlying purpose of the promoters of this Bill and the reasonable object that they have in view. I feel doubtful however, whether the Bill's provisions, however attractive, are practical. If the Bill be simple it would introduce many complexities into the working of the law. It proposes to add a fourth option to the three already comprised in the Act of 1913, in order to permit a voter who is not wholly in sympathy with any of the definite proposals upon which he is given an option, to record his vote to the effect that the reform of our present Licensing Laws is urgently required, but not in the form of no licence.

I fear, however, that this resolution is no real alternative to the three existing options. The first three options, as the noble Viscount opposite has already indicated, deal with practical steps to be taken in the locality itself, while the noble Earl's suggested option deals with the national system of the liquor law. That is to say, at present a vote given in a particular area in favour of no licence, or the limiting resolution, or no change has perfectly definite consequences in that area, while, if the fourth option resolution were carried, it would, amount to a general expression of opinion in favour of some reform in the existing Licensing Laws of the country generally. Apart from the fact that in practice the carrying of this resolution is equivalent to no change, the fourth option does not profess to have any direct consequences in the area for which the poli is taken. In other words, its objective is not local executive action, but national legislative action.

The second point is that the fourth option is not really an alternative to the other three, because a person supporting it may be in favour of one of the three options—namely, the limiting resolution. The meaning of the resolution, if carried, would be quite inconclusive. It not only leaves the matter entirely to future legislation, but it gives no guidance as to the direction that that legislation should take. It simply says that some reform of the laws is urgently required. Supporters of the resolution may have quite different intentions on the subject of reform. Some may be in favour of change in the structure of premises and in the conditions under which drink is sold; others may be concerned about the areas of administration or the constitution of the licensing authority. They may, indeed, be diametrically opposed as to the reforms which they desire. One supporter may be in favour of longer hours, another of shorter. All these people, however, would be gathered together as concurring in this resolution.

It seems clear that, in the circumstances, the resolution, will be practically meaningless as to the state of public-opinion in the particular area upon the subject of any definite reform. Moreover, the polls are taken only when requisitioned, and therefore only in a certain number of areas. Therefore, if we admit this resolution, we do not ensure a national plebiscite on the question, though it is pre-eminently one that would have to be considered and dealt with nationally. The name of Public House Reform resolution given to the option conveys an impression substantially different from the meaning assigned to it by the definition. It suggests some modification in the actual public house, or in the conditions under which liquor is supplied, such, for example, as have been the objects of disinterested management. The different voters might have in mind such different objects as reconstitution of the present licensing court, alteration of the system of appeal, larger or smaller areas, modifications of the provisions of the Act of 1913, any of which objects could be regarded as covered by the expression "reform of our present Licensing Laws." It seems undesirable to introduce a nomenclature likely to cause misunderstanding.

Clause 3 of the Bill appears to provide for the one practical effect of a vote for this resolution. In practice it seems difficult to construe and likely to complicate the results of an already difficult poll. In order to carry a No-Licence resolution it is necessary to secure a certain percentage of votes cast and a certain percentage of the total electorate. The wording of the clause would apparently mean that one vote is to be deducted from the No Licence poll for every vote recorded for the fourth option resolution; therefore, returning officers would have to deal with minus quantities. Nor does the clause make it clear whether a vote for the fourth option is to cancel out a vote for the No-Licence resolution, if the latter is transferred to the limiting resolution poll, in accordance with the Act of 1913. The Bill is not adjusted to that Act. For example, there is nothing to indicate that a percentage of the votes recorded, or of the total electorate, is to be necessary to carry this resolution.

It is, therefore, obvious that this Bill in some quarters would be regarded as very controversial. I venture to suggest that the most hopeful course is for persons interested in this question to work out their own suggestion, which, when presented in tangible form, could be subjected to discussion in the usual way. The drink problem is so grave a one that proposals for any useful reform designed to check intemperance and to improve administration are always sure of sympathetic consideration. It is for the House to decide whether the Bill should receive a Second Reading, but I feel bound to say that I do not think that this Bill, even if amended in detail, offers a substantial basis for legislation. To vote for this Bill would, indeed, be to vote for an object which has yet to be disclosed, and, incidentally, for an immediate reconsideration of the Scottish Temperance Act. 1913, for which I doubt that the country is yet prepared until at any rate another poll has been taken. For the present, therefore, I think that an inquiry would be premature, and I hope that for this reason the Bill may not be pressed to a Division. But, if the Second Reading is carried, the Government would have to see that some of its provisions were made workable.


My Lords. I did not rise at an earlier stage of this debate, because I imagined that we should probably hear from the representatives of the Government the particular point raised upon which I desired to lay stress. If we find, as I am bound to say I find, extreme difficulty in supporting this measure because of the indeterminate nature of the result which would arise from such a vote as the noble Earl advocates, I am very anxious that we should not be supposed to be influenced by the ground alleged by the noble Eari who moved the rejection of the measure. I can imagine nothing that would more strangely hamper and stultify our proceedings in this House than to admit the argument that, because ten years ago a particular measure was passed on an agreement between the two Houses, or a compromise between the two Parties, the measure is sacrosanct hereafter, and no change can be made in it because of what was done then. That argument seems to me so strange a travesty of the ordinary mode in which we look back upon our debates and modify our resolutions and our actions in accordance with circumstances which may have arisen, that I should be exceedingly sorry to appear to give support to the contention by the mere fact of finding myself unable to vote for the Bill.

I am greatly in favour of some such arrangement as was adumbrated in the speech of the noble Earl, but I do not think that we reach it by the Bill that he has brought forward. It does not seem to me that, by voting for this measure, we shall be much advanced in the direction of obtaining the kind of disinterested management or something of the kind which (though, I know, he did not use the words) I had certainly understood to be the purpose of those who are advocating this fourth option. If the Bill were to take the form of suggesting that the fourth option should be allowed to voters in the direction of advocating what is known as disinterested management or public-house control, I should feel very strongly disposed to favour it, though I admit that I am afraid that one election under the Bill has not been enough to test the opinion of Scotland adequately and to justify us in forming an opinion about it. Had there been another election, and had that result left us in some perplexity as to what the opinion of Scotland was then, were it desirable that this fourth option should be introduced. I should be inclined to vote for it in a more specific form; but I deprecate in the strongest manner any suggestion that we are opposed to the Bill because of some arrangement that was made ten years ago for the sake of obtaining an agreed result between the two Houses.


My Lords, I do not know what my noble friend the mover of this measure proposes to do, but my feeling in the matter is very much that of the most rev. Primate. Speaking personally, and not so much as a member of the Government for the moment. I am strongly in favour of the principle of the Bill which my noble friend has placed upon the Table, but I think that all your Lordships will feel, after listening to the speech of my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland, that the Bill in its present form is altogether unworkable—not merely that it will not carry-out the object which my noble friend has in view, but that it will not work at all. In those circumstances it is asking a great deal of your Lordships to request you to proceed with the Bill. Personally I should be much better satisfied, I must admit, if my noble friend were satisfied with the discussion and did not press it to a Division. I do not want to vote against him.; in fact, I shall not vote against him because I agree with the principle that he advocates.

But I could not be responsible for supporting his Bill and asking your Lordships to support it. Even if the Bill obtained a Second Heading I have great confidence that he has no chance whatever of passing it into law first of all, if would have to be subjected to very drastic revision. Even with revision I doubt whether the difficulties which my noble friend the Secretary for Scotland has revealed could be put right. And even if all those obstacles were overcome, then, as my noble friend knows, it would have to go to another place where a man of his great Parliamentary experience is well aware what would happen at this period of the Session. In all those circumstances I desire to offer the very respectful advice to my noble friend not to press the matter any further. He has, after all, received a very large measure of support. I think the support of the most rev. Primate is a most notable support, because the most rev. Primate is a very distinguished advocate of temperance in your Lordships' House and always has been, differing, I am ashamed to say, in that one respect from myself. I have never been able to go with him in his views on that matter. But he is a supporter of my noble friend in this regard, and that is a great adhesion.

If the Bill could be redrafted upon reasonable, lines with the full machinery in it, so that it really carried out what is desired, it would be a much longer Bill, no doubt, but my noble friend would certainly have a very great chance of carrying it through your Lordships' House. But it is for him to decide.


My Lords, I have only one word to say. I am a little surprised at the noble Earl's statement about this Bill having been carried through as a compromise and, therefore, rather implying that it is our duty to hold to that compromise. Surely that compromise was carried under the shadow of the Parliament Act, and if we are to be responsible for compromises of that sort, it will be in something like the way in which the Jews gave up their money in the Middle Ages. When the noble Earl said that because the Bill had been passed ten years ago it ought to be passed again now I could not answer him; I would sooner go home and read "Rip Van Winkle" again. However, after the appeal of the noble Marquess, after the kind manner in which the noble Viscount spoke about the matter and the very weighty words from the most rev. Primate, I have no doubt at all. Considering that if the Bill got through both Houses of Parliament it would not be ready for the elections in November, I accept the advice which has been given me and beg leave to withdraw my Bill to bring it forward in, perhaps, a more suitable form next year.

Motion for Second Reading, and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.