HL Deb 19 July 1923 vol 54 cc1196-210

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which stands in my name on the Order Paper, and which is now before your Lordships, is a much simpler measure than the one which ha" just been before the House. I hope that your Lordships will be in as full agreement upon the principle of this Bill as you have been upon the general proposition that rating reform is necessary. This is practically only a one clause Bill, laying down one or two general principles which, I hope, will meet with your Lordships' approval. First of all, the Bill says that no form of intoxicant shall be consumed by adolescents under the age of sixteen on any licensed premises, and, further, that between the ages of sixteen and eighteen only the lighter form of beverages—beer, cider, perry, and porter—shall be consumed, and that with meals, on licensed premises. The Bill lays down the further general proposition that drinking bars are unsuitable places for young persons under eighteen.

It may assist your Lordships if I explain the law as it at present exists. As far back as 1872—and in respect of some parts of the country farther back still—a law-was passed whereby it was illegal for any young person apparently under the age of sixteen to buy spirits for consumption on licensed premises. In 1901 another law was passed which made it illegal for those below fourteen years of age to purchase any form of intoxicants for consumption on licensed premises, and by the Act of 1908 young persons under the age of fourteen were totally excluded from drinking bars. Parliament recognised, as far back as 1872, and even before that, that there is a special problem associated with adolescence.

Since 1872 our scientific knowledge has been materially increased. Your Lordships are aware of the development and growth between babyhood and manhood, the limbs, bones and muscles grow and increase; but what is not so obvious is that the brain develops also during the period preceding manhood or womanhood. Naturally in a young person of eighteen years of age the brain is not fully developed, and I am told that until the age of twenty or twenty-one the higher brain cells are not fully developed, that the nerve centres which control the higher faculties are not fully developed until manhood and womanhood is reached. Science also tells us that it is these higher nerve cells, which give self-control and moral control, which are first affected by alcohol. Whatever the problem may be as it affects men and women, there is a special problem connected with adolescence, because below the age of manhood and womanhood the brain cells are not fully developed, and it is more particularly the brain cells which give control which are affected by alcohol.

There is another problem. Dining the period from thirteen or fourteen years and up to eighteen and twenty years, young persons go through a very big change, physiological and psychological. It is during this period that parenthood becomes possible and that growing boys and girls have to deal with all those emotions which are associated with sex. That is to say, we have a special responsibility for young persons during that period, and I suggest—and I am sure I shall have your Lordships agreement—that we have a real duty and responsibility to see that we make it as easy as possible for boys and girls passing into the period of manhood and womanhood to have as much self-control over themselves and their new passions and sentiments as possible.

This Bill was introduced a few months ago in another place. It was passed on Second Heading by a very large majority—338 to 56. It met with the general approval of Members of all political Parties. As introduced in another place the Bill made it illegal for young persons under eighteen years of age themselves to purchase any form of intoxicating liquor for consumption on licensed premises. It was sent to Committee after being passed by that large majority and it was very carefully examined and criticised, daring four days. For four days this one-clause Bill was before the Standing Committee in another place and as a result of that discussion an agreement, a compromise, an arrangement, was arrived at.

Broadly speaking, the agreement is as follows. Under the Act of 1910 it was an offence to sell spirits to young persons apparently under the age of sixteen years. The Standing Committee decided to take out the word "apparently" and to insert the word "knowingly." The clause now reads— The holder of a justices' on-licence shall not knowingly sell or allow any person to sell, nor shall any servant of his knowingly sell to be consumed on the premises any intoxicating liquor to any person under the age of eighteen years …. That is to say, the word "knowingly," which protects the publican, was inserted for the word "apparently" which was taken out. The Standing Committee also made it an offence for the servant of the holder of a justices" on-licence knowingly to sell. It was felt that it would make the Bill more water-tight and the administration better.

I have suggested the main substance of the agreement or compromise—namely, that no person under the age of eighteen was to consume any form of intoxicants in a drinking bar as defined by the Act of 190S. A drinking-bar is there defined as— Any part of the premises exclusively or mainly used for the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor. Your Lordships will notice that those over sixteen years of age can either purchase, or have provided for them, porter, beer, cider, or perry, provided they are taken with meals outside the drinking bar. As originally introduced the Bill did not deal with the question of treating. It was only illegal for a young person to pay for his or her own consumption, and it was felt by some critics of the Bill, as well as by its supporters, that there was a decided gap if it was possible for a grown-up man to treat a girl under the age of eighteen. It was in order to meet that criticism that young persons were prohibited not merely from buying, but drinking any form of intoxicating liquor in a drinking-bar.

The only other point in the agreement is the inclusion of a penalty. In the past it was the publican who was liable to punishment in case the law was broken. The Standing Committee decided, and I think quite rightly, that a young person of seventeen years and a half who deceived, or tried to deceive, a publican should be liable to a penalty. That was the general feeling of the Committee, and your Lordships will notice that provision is made to give effect to it. The Bill came down from Committee in another place and went through the Report stage. With the exception of a small consequential Amendment, no further Amendments were made to the agreed compromise arrived at, and the Third Reading of the Bill was passed by a majority of 25 to 1. The Bill obtained a Third Reading by the overwhelming support of representatives of all three political Parties in another place. I trust that your Lordships will approve of the drafting. When the Bill was recast as the result of the compromise that was arrived at its supporters had the advantage of the assistance of the Parliamentary draftsman.

I have heard only two substantial objections to the Bill. The first is that it imposes class legislation, that it gives the children of the well-to-do certain opportunities, privileges and facilities which are not available for the children of the less well-to-do. I think the answer to that may be found in the fact that the Labour party unanimously backed the Bill, and that, so far as I know, every trade union, that is to say, all the representatives of the children who are supposed to be prejudiced by the Bill, are whole-heartedly in favour of the measure as now drafted. The only other argument of any substance that I have heard—and I think it is a fallacious argument—is that this is a step towards prohibition. T can best deal with that contention by quoting the names of two prominent persons. Sir Thomas Horder, who is a prominent member of the Anti-Prohibition League and, as your Lordships are doubtless aware, a distinguished member of the medical profession, together with three other distinguished physicians and surgeons, wrote to The Times supporting this Bill and urging its passage. Mr. Serymgeour who, as your Lordships will be aware, is a representative of the Prohibitionist Party, said on the Third Reading in another place that measures such as this were in his opinion bulwarks against prohibition, and that when a real need was dealt with reasonably, adequately and satisfactorily, then, from the point of view of the prohibitionists, they were deprived of a certain amount of the momentum which they now hoped to obtain.

There is behind this Bill an overwhelming measure of public support. It was originally initiated by the teachers. A petition was presented to Parliament signed, I think, by over 115,000 teachers belonging to the public elementary schools. Recently a memorial signed by most of the headmasters of the big public schools has been presented to His Majesty's Government. When you find the headmasters of Harrow, Cheltenham, Rugby, Dartmouth and other such institutions advocating and supporting this Bill, I suggest that your Lordships should give full and careful consideration to such backing. I do not know of any organisation connected with welfare or social work, or with the interests of young persons or children, that is opposed to this measure.

As I have said, it passed through another place with overwhelming support and backing from all political Parties. Other countries have already, to a great extent, passed and adopted similar Acts. I believe that most of the British Dominions and Colonies have already made it illegal for young persons under eighteen to take intoxicants. Only a few weeks ago Ulster—and I need not remind your Lordships that we have often, and quite rightly, claimed kinship with the people of Ulster and said that we are of the same race and have the same problems as theirs—Ulster passed an Act which contained a clause conceived on the same lines as this. I was speaking the other day to Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Ulster, and he told me that what he called the "Lady Astor Clause" in the Ulster Bill had passed through both Houses in Ulster with unanimity.

In conclusion I may, perhaps, quote two more names in support of the Bill. When the measure was in another place its rejection on the Second Reading was moved by an eminent and learned King's Counsel, Mr. Greaves-Lord. His Motion was seconded by Sir George Hamilton. On the Third Reading of the Bill both those hon. Members voted in its favour, and Mr. Greaves-Lord spoke in favour of the Bill. He expressed himself as satisfied with the Bill as now drafted and as amended in Committee. Those of your Lordships who have followed in the Press the events and procedure in another place will be aware of the fact that this Bill was piloted through that House by a relative of mine by marriage. I commend it to your Lordships not mainly on account of my pride in its ancestry or parentage, but because of the real and overwhelming support which I have found all over the country among all sections of the community who arc interested in the welfare of the young. I earnestly hope and believe that your Lordships will show yourselves equally desirous of adopting the latest scientific knowledge, of representing public opinion and of helping adolescence during a critical period of life.


My Lords, I have only a very few words to say about this Bill. In the interesting account which my noble friend has given us of its genesis and history he has drawn attention to the fact that it has been materially modified since it was introduced. The word "knowingly" bas been inserted, and a young person of over sixteen can go into a public-house and be supplied with the lighter forms of alcoholic liquor provided they are not consumed at the bar but in a part of the premises set apart for taking a meal, and with a meal. I think those were wise modifications. The result of them has been that the Bill has emerged practically as an agreed measure from the other House, and it comes before your Lordships with a tremendous weight of Parliamentary authority behind it.

If the Bill had been introduced into this House in its original form, I think that some, at any rate, of your Lordships would have looked upon it with suspicion. The constant tendency to restrict the title of people to do what they like is a tendency which gives rise to a good deal of apprehension here. But the Bill as it now stands is on a very different footing. I doubt whether it will effect any great or sweeping changes; I doubt whether there will be many convictions under this Bill, or whether many convictions are really needed; but I think that the Bill marks an advance in public opinion regarding the standard of conduct to be observed. I am not impressed, to tell the truth, with the bodies of teachers, temperance reformers and others who have come forward in support of this Bill, but a fact which does impress me is that the headmasters of the great schools should not feel that any hardship is imposed upon a boy because he may experience greater difficulty in obtaining refreshment if he wants it. They, in fact, said that if you take the standards as they now are, which enables a boy over sixteen to get a meal and some refreshment, and which precludes the sale of alcoholic liquor at the bar, then you have done what in their view causes no hardship and what is up to the standards which obtain among the boys with whom you have to deal.

You have an overwhelming mass of opinion which is embodied in the provisions as they now stand—a weight of opinion which seems to demonstrate a change for the better in public opinion in these matters, and which shows that it desires that a standard should obtain which is the standard of reasonable men. Therefore, it seems to me that the Bill as it stands is a Bill to which we may very well assent, representing as it does what has been very thoroughly threshed out in another place, modified in accordance with criticisms brought forward there, and then passed by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons, standing for what ought to be the view on these matters, not on any abstract principle but according to the standard of improved public opinion.

I think it is well that this Bill should have come up from the House of Commons. If it had been introduced here we should not have known what public opinion was, but the discussion in the House of Commons by representatives in touch with the constituencies has shown that by an overwhelming majority they think that in sending this Bill up to us they are sending up nothing which is revolutionary, nothing which is in the nature of prohibition, but something which represents the standard of public opinion. I agree that this is not a prohibition Bill, and perhaps just for the reason that this Bill takes no extreme side, but attempts to do what reasonable men would do, it should all the more commend itself to our favourable consideration.


My Lords, perhaps from these Benches a word or two should be said in support of this measure, and I feel all the more bound to speak in support of the Bill because I know that if the most reverend Primate had been able to be here he would have spoken in its support. I am impressed, as others have been, by the support which has been given to this measure not by temperance societies but by those engaged in education as well as by those who are representing the Labour party. This really is not so much a measure concerned with temperance reform as a measure which is the outcome of that movement of which I think we are increasingly feeling the force—a movement to protect the adolescent and one which recognises that if good citizenship is to be obtained by training, it is not sufficient to concentrate our training merely upon the period of childhood.

I do not think that this Bill will largely affect the customs of working class boys. So far as I have had experience among them in London and the south of England, there is very little drinking on the part of boys under eighteen. The man who lives in drab, unhappy surroundings finds in alcohol the quickest escape from his environment, but the boy under eighteen has plenty of other channels of escape. He has his football and cricket, the cinema, the excitements of the streets, and so on, and it is comparatively rare for the working class boy to be found spending his money on alcohol or standing for any considerable time at the bars of public houses.

But the case is somewhat different with girls. Undoubtedly there is a great deal of evidence that a number of girls under eighteen are quite frequently found at the bars of the public houses, and while the managers of most of our large boys' clubs have very little anxiety, as a rule, about the boys in this respect, those who control our girls very frequently have considerable anxiety. I have often asked the cause of the difference, and I am told that it is due to the fact that the boys have so many more distractions for their spare time than the girls have, and also that the girls are frequently taken in by the older men with whom they are out walking. This measure, I believe, will to a large extent help to check the custom of girls under eighteen drinking in our public houses. I think there will be comparatively few convictions or even proceedings under this measure, but this measure will express public opinion in the most definite way, and, by expressing it, will strengthen public opinion. For this reason I hope that the Bill may safely pass into law.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who introduced this Bill in, if I may venture so to describe it, his interesting speech, has made out a case for the restriction of alcohol in connection with the class to which he particularly refers. I should have been more happy if I had heard one word of grudging approval of alcohol for any people of any class whatever. One cannot shut one's eyes to the fact that a large proportion of the people who support this Bill are people who look upon alcohol as a harmful thing in itself, and therefore specially harmful for adolescents.

I think, before we can form an opinion on one side or the other, it is necessary to face the question a little more broadly, and ask oneself what is the effect of alcohol—to what conclusions has knowledge brought us under the scientific investigations to which the noble Viscount has referred I may pass by at once the question of alcohol being a food. It is, without doubt, a food. But that it is a good and effective food, in health, no sensible person will contend, whatever it may be in sickness. Is it a stimulant? My own view, and that of others, is that it is a stimulant, though only for a transient period. It is agreed on all hands that the chief effect of alcohol is on the nervous system, and it is here worth pausing for a moment to consider what the effect upon the nervous system may be. Now, if one looks at the works and reports on this subject, we find alcohol described as a narcotic. Anybody who refers to wine as a narcotic is a scientific philistine, and either his personal experience has been unfortunate or we may console ourselves with the thought that after he has called it a narcotic he may presently be seen at home enjoying a glass of old port.

To call alcohol a narcotic is misleading. In excess it may be a narcotic, but in moderation it adds to the pleasure, the exhilaration, the happiness, and the gaiety of life. If one takes the particular conditions of modern civilisation in these days of concentration, with the constant endeavour to put twelve hours into six, the higher measure of specialisation in modern employment, it is obvious that at the end of such a day the mind of a man gets into one track. It cannot get out of it. It has no uplift, it is apt to look at things in a gray, disproportionate way. It is there that the value of alcohol comes in. Alcohol, in moderation, gets that man out of the track, lightens his mental touch, enables him to travel from one topic to the other.

Take, for example, a working man who has been, in these days of high specialisation, we will suppose, assisting in the manufacture of a motor car. That man has been, perhaps, utilising the same muscles for six, seven, or eight hours. If he has been utilising the same muscles that means that he has been utilising precisely the same cells of his brain for hours and hours. Could there be a better example of monotony? Is it to be wondered at that at the end of his day the brain is in one track and his outlook is gray? I suggest to your Lordships that it is there that the moderate use of alcohol comes in. The man is uplifted, he gets out of his groove, and good beer at that particular time of the clay would help him, and not harm him. Your Lordships must have many times observed the British dinner table, and have watched people dull and unresponsive, and you have seen them being melted one by one, to the advantage of each other. I had an opportunity of really studying an experiment on this question, for I happened to be at a public dinner not very long ago, when the centre table consisted almost entirely of prohibitionists, among them even high ecclesiastics of the Church. It was very interesting to watch. It was the one dull, gray spot in the whole of that dinner; and if anybody wished to be converted from an uncompromising advocacy of prohibition I would undertake to say that he would have been converted by that ceremony.

I come next to the effect on digestion. There are a number of people at the end of a fatiguing day who arc quite unable to digest their food because their nervous system is too tired. A small quantity of alcohol makes them happy with themselves, and happy with the world. There has been no time when alcohol, at proper seasons and in moderation, could serve a more useful purpose than in the phase of civilisation through which we are passing.

Turning now to youth, the great distinction between youth and age, as I see it, is this, that, whereas the first effect of alcohol, and the only effect with which your Lordships are personally acquainted, is to exhilarate and uplift and to help, the second effect, namely, of narcotism, follows in youth very much more quickly than it docs in adult years. And I think the argument for this Bill is that youth does not require alcohol. If it gets into one track it gets out of it quickly, sometimes too quickly. Youth, therefore, does not require the benefits of alcohol, and is very apt to contract habits and to experience depressing narcotising effects which are damaging to youthful nerves, and also damaging in the formation of habits. Therefore, if one carefully guards oneself against this Bill's carrying a condemnation of alcohol, as such. I think a strong case is made out under this head from the effect on youth as compared with the effect on adults. The effect on adults comes late and the bad effect on youth comes early. If the true uses of alcohol were more readily recognised by reformers I think the influence of the latter would be considerably greater. They are not listened to because too often they talk of alcohol as a curse.

The next point I would like to raise is the question of quality and moderation. An enormous deal depends upon the quality of alcohol. You may take alcohol in absolute purity, and dilute it, and drink it, and you will get effects totally different from those which follow from drinking a good glass of wine or beer. You may submit the samples to analysis, and you will find no difference between the one and the other. The qualities of good wine and beer arc due to traces of imponderable substances which may be compared to vitamines in food. The good effect of alcohol also depends upon moderation. The interesting question arises as to whether the community at large is showing an increasing moderation in the consumption of alcohol. I think it will be universally admitted that moderation is progressing by leaps and bounds. You only have to watch the returns of the magistrate's court. The experience on all hands is that alcohol is being consumed with an increasing measure of moderation.

It interested me to investigate from this point of view the experience of hospitals. I got out the figures of a large hospital in London during ten years for two diseases which are almost exclusively produced by alcohol. In the year 1900 there were thirty-nine cases of cirrhosis of the liver admitted into that hospital; in 1920 there were seven. I then selected an alcohol disease which is peculiar to women, and I found that for the year 1900 there were nineteen such cases admitted into this big hospital, and in the year 1920 only one.

Let me put the evidence in another form. Take all diseases in males directly due to alcoholism in that hospital, and take them per thousand of the male patients. In the year 1900 there were 5 per thousand; in 1905, 5.5 per thousand; in 1910, 4 per thousand; in 1915, 2 per thousand; and in 1920 under one per thousand. There is, in short, the most striking testimony that the consumption of alcohol is becoming much more circumspect, that there is a greater regard for its quality and the times of its consumption; and I believe myself that a more critical appreciation of what it will do, of the beneficent influence it will exert if taken in moderation at proper times, will grow and penetrate through all classes of the community.

But when one comes to youth I fully agree that up to the age of eighteen it is seldom or never that alcohol is required in health, and that the exhilarating and useful effects that one sees in the adult are rapidly followed by irritating and narcotic effects. Therefore, for those reasons there should be a distinction made between youth and maturity. After all, to limit alcohol in adolescence is no more than control of youth. We insist on youth being educated; we protect youth from sexual aggressions; and we protect youth in our factories. It seems to me only logical, therefore, that we should protect youth from alcohol, and, with the caveat, if I may say so, that this Bill does not in any way carry with it any condemnation of alcohol as such, I beg respectfully to support its provisions.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships listened with much interest to the speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Dawson of Penn. I rise to draw attention to what I may call the history of this Bill. The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill reminded us of the viscissitudes through which it had passed in the course of its approval by another place. As the Bill has emerged from that House it seems that it stands a very good chance of acceptance in this House. The Bill was profoundly transformed in the House of Commons.

The only obscure and only disputable part of the speech of the noble Viscount was that in which he spoke of the direct physical or physiological mischief caused to youth or adolescence by alcohol. In its course through the other House the full effect of the Bill has been largely limited to those stronger forms of alcohol, the effect of which nobody would dispute were deleterious to persons under the age of sixteen. But another transformation has been effected which truly shows the real mischief at which the Bill is aimed. It is not so much the stuff; it is not, in all cases, the age. Certainly at a proper age it is never the lighter forms of drink which are mischievous. It is the surroundings, the demoralising effect of the surroundings of the public bar. I submit to your Lordships that it is along those lines that temperance reform should be and will best be sought, and I think it is not at any time a bad thing to remind your Lordships that the extremists in temperance reform have been the principal obstructors of what may be called respectable and moderate public-house reform, structural reform and the increase of amenities available to working men as regards decent enjoyment and moderate indulgence.


My Lords, I listened with very great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dawson of Penn. I need hardly say that I feel sure your Lordships will give due weight to the support he has given to this Bill upon the ground of the essential difference between youth and the later stages of life. I was a member of the Royal Commission on Licensing which reported in the year 1899, twenty-four years ago. This question was a prominent one at that time. As the result of the evidence produced before the Royal Commission they made a unanimous recommendation in the direction of the principle of this Bill. I am, and have long been, interested in licensing reform, and it seems to me that this measure is distinguished by one point—a point which the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, emphasised. It has behind it the overwhelming public opinion of the country.

In all licensing matters, whatever differences of opinion there may be, it is essential to success that there should be an adequate measure of popular support in the country before a Bill of this sort is passed. I welcome the fact that the public opinion in favour of this Bill is not of a political or partisan character. The Bill has behind it the support of practically all political Parties in the country, Further, I think, the most important point in connection with the support of the Bill is the fact of the prominent part taken in its initiation by the teaching profession in this country. I am one of those who place a very high value upon the fact that some 116,000 teachers in this country signed a memorial to the Government in favour of the provisions of the Bill. I will not dwell even for a moment upon what I believe will be the beneficial results of the measure if and when it passes. All I will say is that I believe it will safeguard the youth of the nation against acknowledged risks and dangers, that it will tend to strengthen and improve both physically and mentally the people of the country, and will help to strengthen the citizens of the future. I am indeed glad upon this occasion that a measure fraught with so much good for the future of our country is about to be passed, as I believe, with the general assent of both Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who introduced this Bill gave your Lordships a history of its passage through another place. Perhaps I might be allowed to say one word as to the Government's attitude. As your Lordships are aware, it has been neutral throughout. As my noble friend said the Bill came out of Committee as a practically agreed measure, both sides having made sacrifices to secure a compromise. In response to the general wish expressed in another place, the Government found time for the Report and the Third Reading stages, but it did not commit itself to a definite approval of the Bill.

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