§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment, moved on Wednesday last by Lord Banbury of Southam, to the Motion for the Second Reading—namely, that the Bill be read 2athis day six months.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, moved the Second Reading of this Bill be concluded his very fair and lucid speech in opening the debate with an 686 appeal which, because I think in itself it would be likely to have considerable effect with your Lordships, I would like to comment upon. I think that the ground of his appeal is entirely unfounded. He said:—I ask you, by giving the Bill a Second Reading, to do no more than approve the principle of disinterested management. I ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House (the Marquess of Salisbury) to say on this occasion, as he said in 1912, that he cares too much for the principle of disinterested management to try to defeat a Bill giving effect to it, just because he disagrees on questions of detail.I do not think I have ever heard the proposer of a Bill throw overboard with both hands so completely the whole of his Bill, because the whole of his Bill consists of details, and so he was asking for support for a principle which, so far as it is a principle at all, I think is not to be found in this Bill.
I particularly ask such of your Lordships as are interested—and I know many of you are interested—in the general problem of the promotion of temperance, to be careful before you give your votes in favour of this Bill, to appreciate thoroughly exactly what it does, how little it does to promote the objects which you have at heart, how much it does to advance things that I should imagine you are not in favour of, and what burdens it casts upon the community for the sake of a rash experiment promoted by a doubtless numerous body of well-meaning but, if I may be forgiven the word, thorough-going fanatics. Do your Lordships who are interested in teetotalism appreciate that if this scheme came into force, there would be a body indistinguishable from a public body of State whose business it would be to sell beer, to promote the consumption of beer and spirits, to make profits out of them if they could manage to do it, and that they would be relieved from the justices' regulations which are imposed for the purpose of maintaining order and promoting police inspection, except in the one particular of licensing hours; that they would have a monopoly by which they could oust nearly all the other retailers of drink; and that they would have incidental advantages in unfair competition with traders of other kinds. All this would be done ultimately at the risk and probably at the expense of the overburdened taxpayers of this country.
687 I would say to those of your Lordships (and I think there are many) who are actually interested in what are called Trust houses to consider the comparison between the houses in which they have risked their money and which they have given time and trouble to establish and the houses which are to be carried on by Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Central Board. This is done in the name of disinterested ownership and management, which is called a principle. In the case of the Trust houses, of which I gather there are about 450 up and down the country, private persons have formed companies in which they have risked their own money. About £2,000,000, I understand, is already invested in these enterprises. They trade on their own money, their ownership is disinterested because they voluntarily limited their dividends to 5 per cent. before the War and even now, when money is worth less, to 7½ per cent. Further profits they renounce for themselves. They compete with other people in the same trade and take their chance of holding their own. They submit to the same conditions as other public-houses do, but they endeavour to make better public-houses and in no event have they, or will they, put any burden on the Exchequer or the taxpayer.
The public-houses that are to be taken under the scheme that is before you will trade ultimately on the national credit. Those who promote the Bill, so far as I know, do not and probably cannot put a penny of their own money into the experiment they propose to make. I do not know whether they would make much profit but their programme is to make as much profit as they can. It is no part of their programme to discountenance the consumption of beer and, unless it were to lead to a very considerable consumption of beer and spirits, their scheme would fall to the ground. They insist that they must have (for it is essential to their scheme) a monopoly, a trading monopoly, giving them the right within a specific area to carry on exclusively one trade, while they engage in other trades, a thing which I was under the impression had been hateful to English trade and English commerce since the time of Lord Coke. So far are they unrestrained by the law that, as I have said, except in the case of the licensing hours, they are free of the restrictions which the licensing justices have long 688 imposed in many cases as part of a policy to prevent public-houses from being too attractive and to ensure that they should be as readily as possible under the immediate control of the police. "Disinterested," as applied to ownership or management, appears to me to be a word wholly out of place in this connection. The principle of disinterested management and disinterested ownership is that those who are disinterested shall be making some sacrifices themselves. The principle here is that those who are to be managed and catered for are to be disinterested parties, and the scheme is to be carried on in order to promote what may be a promising temperance movement but at any rate is founded upon no adequate experience.
In sum, the result will be that the Central Board will be at the same time under political influence and free of political control. Every area which falls under its control will become a gigantic tied house which they will conduct. The Board will be in the position of a company carrying on licensed multiple shops for profit. Those shops will be beer shops. They will be managed by disinterested directors and by publicans who are to be paid but not paid to sell beer. It will mean the same thing to the publican whether he sells beer or does not sell beer. That kind of disinterested management, I should have thought, spelt ruin. I understand the case of private companies who limit their dividends, but I should have thought a body like this, disinterested in such a manner as that, meant a body which would not take any interest in its management and might, therefore, be expected to leave other persons to carry the burden which will have to be borne by someone. Who is to settle, if you please, which areas are to come into the hands of this body and which are not? I should have thought that if there could be anything suitable for the decision of the national legislative body it was this. I should have thought that as a matter of business, before a trading concern undertook to manage all the shops in a particular area which trade in a particular commodity, the first thing it would have done would be to select an area for itself. In this particular case, however, the Central Board will not be able to choose where 689 it will trade or in how many areas it will trade, nor can it know beforehand in what areas it will be called upon to trade. That which at least ought to have been left to Parliament is conferred under this Bill upon the Parliamentary voters in each area, and the areas for practical purposes coincide with the Parliamentary constituencies.
This is done under the name of local option. I can understand that a locality might have some right to elect whether some new element, not known before and possibly offensive to the majority of the inhabitants, should be included in it. I can understand local option, for example, with regard to the admission of greyhound racing after an electric hare or things of that kind. But upon what principle can we possibly say that a constituency has the right to choose that within its area a common and, I think, a necessary object of universal consumption shall be vended in one way or another? The effect of it, however, is that, instead of leaving the matter to those whom the Parliamentary voters elect—namely, their Parliamentary representatives—the Parliamentary voters themselves, area by area, are left to make their choice under a scheme which makes the result of their deliberations (shall I call them?) as arbitrary as possible, so that in the result we do not know whether the whole country may pass under this scheme, or whether we shall have a sort of cross-word puzzle or pattern of that kind, or whether the thing would come to apply hardly at all.
In that state of uncertainty the finance of the system has to be worked out somehow. I ask myself why this should be. Why should not those whom the public vote elects do that which I should have thought was their function and decide whether a particular mode of dealing with intoxicants should be adopted in a particular area or not? Why is it to be left to those who elect them and not to the elected? I can find no answer, except that I am quite satisfied that the real reason is that those who promote this scheme know perfectly well that it would have no chance whatsoever if it were submitted to the representatives of the people of the country as a whole, and that the only chance of getting it started is, insidiously and under the cover of a term which I think was invented for a 690 different purpose, to introduce it so that they may say: "Now we are gaining experience; now the principle has been admitted and the rest is a matter of detail." In my view local option in this connection is not a principle; it is a dodge.
This scheme is, of course, founded upon the Carlisle experiment. The Carlisle experiment is the only experiment that has been made in this method of working the trade in England, with the exception of the Enfield Lock experiment, which terminated at the end of the War, with what result I do not quite know. Scotland, of course, has had experience of this kind of thing, but I deprecate any argument from the experience of Scotland to the experience of this country. National habits, national traditions and other reasons, I think, differentiate the two countries. Carlisle has been recently the subject of an elaborate investigation by the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Southborough, and part of the terms of reference of that Committee was that they should consider and report whether any extension of the system and the Acts under which the Carlisle experiment has been carried on should be recommended or not. With regard to any extension on a large scale, they have reported against it. With regard to the Carlisle experiment, while not closing their eyes in the least to such success as it has had and to such good as it has done, they say—and I am sure that your Lordships will agree with them—that the experience so gained is not at present enough to justify any further steps in that direction.
I think I am right in saying that the Carlisle experiment, which consisted in acquiring the breweries and the public-houses in an area which comprised the City of Carlisle and something beyond it—I do not quite know how large the area was—cost from first to last £750,000 or upwards. That sum was borrowed from the Treasury. In the first stages, of course, it had not occurred to any one that anybody but the Treasury could find money for a scheme like that, and not even the Treasury except under the stress of the Great War. I do not run down the Carlisle experiment at all. I do not think it is really ground for discussion here to-day, except for the one purpose of seeing what experience it has 691 really given us. By this time, I understand, the £750,000 or more has been repaid by the Board of Control, and they have a quantity of valuable public-houses in hand. They, at any rate, have made profits, and to those who think that beer is not a commodity out of which profits should be made, and are not so narrow-minded as to think that it does not matter provided the profits are not made by brewers, I commend the view that this shows at any rate that the Board of Control, trading under this Bill, must at any rate try to be very successful publicans.
But how was that success obtained? They borrowed their money from the Treasury, I do not know at what rate, but certainly at less than the market rate. They did not pay any Income Tax, they did not pay Excess Profits Duty or Corporation Profits Duty and, in those circumstances, it is not very surprising that they made money. But what assistance does that give in learning the data upon which to found such a structure as a nation-wide scheme—if you can only get enough people to vote for it—under which, not getting their money directly from the Treasury but getting it, if they get it at all, by paying competitive commercial rates, a Central Board will have to manage to conduct an enormous trade throughout the country? Your Lordships will have no hesitation in agreeing with Lord Southborough's Committee that we want a great deal more experience than the Carlisle experiment before we touch anything like that on a large scale, and we need that experience, not only because we do not yet know how far public-houses can be managed on the multiple shop principle by a body of officials, but also because we do not yet know to what extent the working classes are ready to absorb that feature which is an agreeable feature in the Trust houses and which was in part created at Carlisle—I mean the adoption of what is called the improved public-house.
It is all very well to say that it would be desirable, even ideal, that the working man should be able to get a meal with his beer wherever he wishes to do so in a public-house, that he should be able to take his wife and children without being ashamed of it and spend the evening there and read the papers or smoke, 692 and that his children may play games or listen to music. We do not yet know, and it is a very serious question to be considered, how far the social habits of the great mass of the customers of public-houses, which are necessarily conditioned by the amount of wages they earn and the amount of money they can spend, are either able or willing to adopt this kind of entertainment, which I am sure that those who cater for them will agree has been more successful with the middle classes than with any other, and more suitable for the country and for the suburbs than for densely populated industrial districts.
My noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam had a good deal to say, and not one word too much, about the Central Board. I will try to say very few but I think those few are material. It is to be a distinct incorporated body, incorporated like the Hudson Bay Company or the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; that is to say, incorporated in such a manner that its members will neither put money into it nor lose money if it fails, and that it can be said to be independent of the Government and not to be a Government Department. There is a further feature that if it becomes insolvent it will have to be wound up like any other insolvent company. It is, all the same, almost indistinguishable from a political body. The members of it are appointed by a Secretary of State; the number is not limited in the Bill, and his choice of persons is unlimited except that this Board is not to be contaminated by the presence of any member of either House of Parliament. In other respects the Secretary of State for the time being appears to have a free hand with regard to their appointment. It is true that they cannot be got rid of unless they misconduct themselves, and on the other hand, unfortunately, they cannot be got rid of if they stick on until they are too old to do any good. There are no means of dismissing them and there is a salary attached to the post.
The Secretary of State has it in his power to make regulations by which they are to be bound, as to the manner in which they carry on their business, and in those circumstances it appears to me quite certain that as soon as political considerations make it worth while to approach the Secretary of State or to 693 awaken the subject in the newspapers, the question of the ultimate control of the public-houses of the Board will become a political one. Then you will has a constitutional question. We may as well ask all the questions at once. Who is responsible for this Board to Parliament and the country? If it is a Minister, of course, every public-house in the country that gives dissatisfaction is the subject of a possible question in the House of Commons to the Minister. If no Minister is responsible, then you are entrusting to this autocratic and almost self-contained body an enormous amount of trade taken from other people and an enormous amount of monopoly, conferred upon no other body, and until they come to grief in some way, or Parliament otherwise orders, they must pursue their own reckless career.
Let us consider the mode in which they are to manage these things. They have no capital and no property of their own. They have no power to levy rates, and no power to do anything whatever, except, like a spendthrift, to go out and borrow. The Bill specifically provides that they may borrow, and it also specifically provides that the Treasury may lend, but their start in life depends upon borrowing. You would think that in the circumstances they should be able to borrow pretty well, and, I think, the supporters of the Board are sanguine that they will be able to do so. I do not dispute that they probably can borrow, but my reason for expecting that they can is this very simple one, that in practice, though not by requirement of law, the public Exchequer has to back their bills. If they come to grief with thirty or forty or a hundred or two hundred areas on their hands, and cannot repay the money that they have borrowed, one cannot imagine that public opinion would allow the thing to come a financial crash, and it would be necessary in some way or other for the public purse to be at the risk and loss of supporting their experiment.
The fact that on the face of the Bill the Treasury can lend virtually will operate as a guarantee by the State which will, of course, make private lenders willing to give credit, not to the Board but to those who pay the taxes of this great country. I want this to be borne in mind by everybody, that unless 694 a vast speculation should by some extraordinary accident prove to be successful, any losses, and the provision of capital, in order that it may be got so cheaply as to avert losses, must come from the Treasury and the taxes. Of course it is asked: What is the difficulty? You are going to set up these gentlemen in whatever district it is—St. Helens or any good drinking locality—in a trade which is a going concern, and in a commodity which, so far as we can see, human nature being what it is, will continue to be consumed whatever Government is in power for a long time to come. More than that, they are to have a monopoly as well. The argument then will be that even a fool cannot fail to make money in such circumstances. There is something in that. But look a little more closely. As soon as the resolution is passed and takes effect, constituting one of those disinterested areas, all the public-houses in it, and the freeholds of them, and to a certain extent (this is a matter to which I must come later) the breweries, vest in the Board at once, and of course it will be said: "What more do you want? On such and such a day all this real property is to vest in us. We have got to pay a price for it, but it is the simplest transaction in the world, and who will compete for the advantage of lending us the money? The property itself is its own security."
But that is not quite so simple as it looks. You would be impressed—at least I was—by Lord Balfour of Burleigh's argument that it is the slum public-house that is the blot upon the present system. And as he said, I do not doubt with great, justice, it is in that kind of house that most drinking goes on. That is, therefore, the most profitable kind of house, because the capital expense on the house is small and the thirst of the customers is great. Those are the houses which brewers have competed for to buy them as tied houses, those are the houses of which we have too many, and of which, in the cause of disinterested management and of the promotion of temperance, it ought to be our first task to get rid as far as we can. I agree with all that, but see what the disadvantage of it is—the security that you are just going to vest in yourself and which is going to be offered to the vendor, has at the very outset, as the first thing that you do, to be diminished to a large extent 695 by closing these profitable houses, by discontinuing their licences, and by turning them into dirty little houses in slums which are to be disposed of as unlicensed property, if you can dispose of them, and at Carlisle I think between 40 and 50 per cent. of the houses were closed.
Therefore, if you start by buying and promising to pay for a hundred houses, and then convert nearly 50 per cent. of them into premises that you cannot use in your trade, it appears to me that between what you have to pay and what you are going to keep there is a very inconvenient gap. And do not let it be supposed that that gap will be promptly closed by selling the property, because, as we were told, they are properties largely in slums, they are properties as to which the licensing benches have constantly preferred that they should not be specially adapted to any purpose except that of standing up against the counter, and putting down your money and taking a drink, and going away as soon as you can. And that is the kind of property which, when you have it on your hands, not by three or four houses at a time, but ten or a dozen or more in every one of these areas that vests its property in you—that is the kind of property you will not find it easy to get rid of, and the value of the licence, which in the case of a no-license decision you are going to pay for, you extinguish at once in the case of every redundant place.
I do not want to say anything to your Lordships particularly about compensation. Lord Balfour of Burleigh said it was his desire and his belief, from what he was advised, that the compensation was full compensation to the brewers. There are some things, however, that the brewers are not compensated for—the inroad upon their trade by suddenly sweeping away a large part of their tied houses, and the potmen and the publicans also are not compensated, but they are given the chance of being taken over and employed by the Board if they are wanted, which may not always be the case. But, in any case, there is a large capital sum to be paid out as the price. The first thing you are to do is to begin by cutting down and abandoning a considerable part of the properties you are buying, and the second thing is that, if you are to pursue your policy, you have to lay out a large sum for the purpose of doing up 696 the houses, so as to make them worthy of disinterested management. Now, it is said that publicans must supply food, that the beer-house must supply soft drinks as well as hard ones. Nay, more, they are allowed to push the soft drinks and the sandwiches and the Bath buns, and to pay commissions to the manager for selling them. In some cases I think the system is that he should have what he can make out of it, but they must pay no commission on the sale of beer and spirits—that is part of the disinterested principle—and the manager is to be so disinterested in the matter of the sale that it will not matter to him whether he sells a quart or does not sell a quart.
And to discourage the sales still further there will be no advertisements of intoxicants exhibited, although you may decorate your place with advertisements in favour of the cups of cocoa and so forth, to any extent that you like. No more "Johnnie Walker" on the walls, no more attractive puzzles as to what footsteps in the snow mean until you see the word "Worthington" over the public-house door. No pictures of that kind. You must not even put an advertisement of a champagne or whisky, although those are always supplied free. You may not do that, but you may decorate the house to any extent that you like with children eating buns, or people growing cocoa beans in the Island of San Felipe. I do not think much money will be wasted in that way. It will soon be learnt that if "Good wine needs no bush" is a good principle for intoxicants, it may also be applied to sandwiches and cocoa. But that is the kind of thing that in the interests of disinterested management they have to direct their minds to, because that is what the regulations and what one section of the Bill will require. And you may not turn a close little public-house, in which there is no room to do anything but stand up, into an airy, well-ventilated place, where you can sit down with wife and family, except by acquiring more property, building on it and altering the property that you have—and all that means more expenditure of capital.
I think, therefore, that this unhappy Board will find, when first it starts upon its finance, that it has rather a poorer outlook than you might have supposed from the monopoly and the going-concern 697 side of it. And may I remind your Lordships what the risk is that they run with regard to the quantity of the business that they have to take on. For some reason which I do not understand spring is the time for voting upon these subjects. In the spring a young man's fancy turns to lots of things, but why it should turn to contested elections I am not able to understand. However, it is spring. In March comes your requisition, in May comes your vote, in October comes the pay-day; and therefore between May and October the Board has got to face its liabilities. Nobody knows—I do not think my noble friend would pretend that he had any idea—whether at the first time of asking the Board would be flooded with votes in favour of this scheme, or whether it would find that one or two companions for Carlisle were all that that year's harvest would contribute. But the great uncertainty makes the whole of their financial arrangements almost impossible to predict and to arrange for.
I want to point out how very easy it would be to get a successful vote, if it is properly managed. A requisition, signed by one in twenty of the Parliamentary voters, makes it necessary that a poll should be held, and when you have signed that requisition there is no going back. When you come to the poll one single vote, constituting a bare majority of the total number voting at that time, irrevocably for fifteen years fixes this scheme upon that constituency. Now, in that state of things a well-managed campaign in favour of the Bill, appealing to the young and ardent—and at twenty-one even young men are ardent, and I think most young women would think that anything that made for temperance was a thing to which they should give their votes—such a campaign among them is easily worked and arranged for by those who have this matter in hand. And if they should descend—perhaps they would not do so—to a baser appeal I think this would be a very useful cry: "This is a public scheme. We are not out for profit; we are eliminating the brewers' profits. And we have the Treasury behind us. We will cheapen your beer. Trust to the Secretary of State; trust to the Central Board. This is national beer and it ought to be cheap." I should think that there are votes to be got out of that.
At any rate, though the Board and the supporters of the Bill may think that this 698 is all nonsense, those who consider whether they will lend their money or not have the Bill before them and will put two and two together. They will use their hard heads and regard it as a matter of business. If this is once landed on the Board they have to go through with it. They not only cannot say: "We are not ready to take on another district and particularly not that district," but they are forbidden by this Bill under penalty from so much as writing a letter to the newspapers saying: "We do not think this is a suitable district," or "We do not think the Board ought at present to take on any more schemes." Whoever else may speak they must be mute. They have put upon them by the vote of the one odd woman voting in a moment of enthusiasm in a miniature poll, a district with its public-houses and some of its other premises for fifteen years and they have to raise the money.
For my own part, I must say that I do not see how you could expect that the City would absorb a great deal of that kind of business. After all, the amount of money that the City is prepared to find for any particular kind of business is not unlimited, and if suddenly and without warning the Board comes into the market to finance another score of districts, I should have thought it would have great difficulty whatever terms it was going to offer. Of course, if the intending borrower or the proposing lender took the trouble to read the Bill he would then find in Part III, Clauses 12 and 13, much to comfort him; not that it will comfort you. He will see that the Board may, in accordance with rules made by the Secretary of State, "borrow any money required by them for the purposes of this Act on the security of any property vested in or acquired by the Board" and of the central fund. If they closed the public-houses as they bought them that would not be security. It means, therefore, that they would borrow on the central fund. Then the Public Works Loan Commissioners may lend the Board, as they lend to other authorities, money from the Local Loans Fund, and the Treasury may guarantee, on such terms and conditions as they think proper, the payment of the interest and principal, or of either interest or principal, of any loan proposed to be raised by the Board under the clause.
699 It is not, perhaps, susceptible of argument; it must depend upon your knowledge of the world. We are familiar with that kind of borrowing when a young fellow at the University gets, say, a couple of hundred pounds accommodation from a moneylender. If you say to the moneylender: "What on earth were you doing? Ten per cent., 20 per cent., 60 per cent. will not pay you. He has no money. Why did you lend it to him?"—he will reply: "My dear Sir, I know the young fool has no money, but his father will have to pay." And they will say with regard to this matter: "We must, of course, have a wholly unfinancial rate of interest for a business like this because goodness only knows what this Board may do. But it does not very much matter, because they never will let this thing go to smash. 'His father will pay'! The Treasury will find that they 'may guarantee' the payment and interest of the principal. The Public Works Loan Commissioners will find that they may carry it on, so we shall get our money back; though, of course, the rate of interest we have been charging all this time may have prejudiced the property considerably."
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one other thing before I resume my seat at the conclusion of an unintentionally long speech. What is going to be the effect on the revenue? I think I might safely challenge my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh to go on with this Bill with the part of the clause struck out that contains any reference to loans and the Treasury or the Public Works Loan Commissioners. Supposing this Bill should reach the Committee stage, I feel convinced if that provision was cut out that the Bill would drop at once. It is as indispensable to it as the monopoly. Working it in that way what would be likely to be the effect upon the revenue? In proportion as the new scheme advances true temperance in the sense of less beer, which I think is what most people mean and understand by true temperance, there would be less beer upon which excise can be levied, which is one of the most important items in the Budget. In proportion as breweries and brewery companies are bought out there will be less Income Tax, less Super-Tax and less Death Duty. Why? In the case of private brewers, they are supposed to be notorious 700 examples of unrighteous wealth. In the case of the shareholders in brewery companies—I do not wish to offend any susceptibilities, it is mere supposition; we know—they are supposed to be very wealthy, and whether in the capacity of the private brewer or in the capacity of the shareholder, if you exceed a certain modest income you are liable to the payment of Super-Tax.
This incorporated Board is not liable to pay Super-Tax. This incorporated Board does not die and pay Death Duties. When you come even to the Income Tax, which I understand they are to pay although Carlisle did not, they have this enormous advantage. Their business is one business. They may have hundreds and hundreds of public-houses but they all go into one pool. What they lose on the swings they may make on the roundabouts. There may be profits made on several houses in one area while losses are made on other houses in another area, but they are set off and the profit of the corporation when it comes to be taxed is its net profit. If all these houses are in the hands of a small number or a limited number of separately taxable persons, those who make a profit pay on the profit, and those who make a loss have just to put up with it and be thankful that they do not have to pay.
I am well aware that all these are tiresome details, but they are very vital to the Bill. It appears to me that in the working of this Bill it is certain that the revenue will suffer to an extent which no man can forecast or foresee. In the case of financing the scheme, it is certain that sooner or later large advances will have to be considered to assist the scheme and, mind you, those advances will come upon you not at a time that you can foresee and so prepare for, but probably at the most inconvenient moment possible. And for the sake of making a large-scale experiment of this kind the revenue is to be dislocated, the Treasury is to be drained, a vast monopoly is to be set up, and all the people who do not like to have their catering trade competed with by amateurs who have certain advantages given them, will be offended and not without good cause.
I sincerely trust, not from any hostility to the motives which inspire my noble friend but from sheer distrust of its being possible at this stage to do any 701 good with this Bill, that your Lordships will give it no support. If you do not give it support I believe you will be the truest friends of temperance, because if this thing were got upon its legs and then became a wreck the cause of the systematic organised reduction of intemperance would be bound to suffer. In time, I suppose, we may expect that the process which has certainly gone on for some twenty years will have attained great results—the process, I mean, by which the working classes not only tend to consume less but to an enormous extent have got rid of the habit of consuming to excess. But it must take time. You cannot work social experiments on a large scale all at once. I am prepared to believe that the masses of this country may in time, when they have been chastened by the influences of universal suffrage and birth control and the League of Nations and things of that kind, come to a stage in which they will resist the temptation to drink beer when they are thirsty and resort to something of a softer kind, but I think the habits of the English are deeply engrained and I do not greatly fear that there will be any going back upon the course we have pursued in the last twenty years. I trust there may be no going back upon the principle we have maintained for centuries—that is to say, preference for free and fair trade and hatred of monopolies in trade. Upon those grounds I ask your Lordships not to entertain this Bill.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I think it will be satisfactory to those who support this Bill that upon the one point upon which the noble and learned Viscount is a real expert he finds no fault with the proposed compensation clauses. I think that is the more satisfactory because the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, when he was speaking on behalf of his Amendment, used the word "confiscation." I am sure when he used that word he could not have understood the compensation clauses in the Bill. The compensation clauses in the Bill are the same as those comprised in the Licensing Acts, 1904 and 1910, which, under what is known as the Kennedy judgment (a judgment subsequently considered and approved by the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken) gave the full measure of compensation—namely, the market price of the property 702 estimated on what the property would be worth if sold in the open market.
There are a few words only which have been misunderstood. They are in Clause 15, subsection (2) (i) and are these—.… calculated as if the licence were subject to the same conditions of renewal as were applicable immediately before the passing of the Licensing Act, 1904.Those are the provisions to which I have referred, but they go a little further than that, because, as is well known to those who study compensation in questions of this kind, a larger measure of compensation than an aditional year's purchase was given by Mr. Justice Kennedy in respect of what were known as the ante-1869 beer houses, because they had a further security under the old Act. I cannot understand myself how compensation based on the experience of 1904, as it has satisfied brewers and everybody else, can possibly be attacked as though it was confiscation at the present time. I am not quite sure that I understood one matter mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount. I should not like to differ from him on a point of this kind. I am not sure whether he appreciated the provision made here for the compensation of the actual licensee or holder of the licence. Again, that is the same as in 1904, and Mr. Justice Kennedy held—and the noble and learned Viscount followed his judgment in another place—that it was not really intended to be a compensation in the ordinary sense but a proper compassionate allowance, and the allowance which was granted in the Act of 1904 has been carefully preserved in the present Bill.
That being so, there are only one or two further matters I wish to refer to in the noble and learned Viscount's speech—a speech of great ability and of considerable detail. The basis of his speech was this. He stated that in his view a Bill of this kind would be of no social advantage—I use the expression in a large sense—and that, so far as the future was concerned, the Bill would, in all probability, come to grief on the question of finance. I think I summarise correctly the two points to which he specially referred. I will say one word outside those two points. I will refer also to what he said on the question of local option. I think his criticisms there 703 must be left to a further stage. They must be left to the Committee stage, if such stage is ever reached; because the constitution of the various bodies is not inflexible in a Bill of this kind, and I am one of those who readily think that if the matter be discussed in detail, as it would have to be discussed if it went further, improvements or Amendments might be suggested by the noble and learned Lord himself or by other noble Lords. I do not think the noble and learned Viscount has quite appreciated the meaning of the Southborough Report. The object here, of course, and the only object, is that what is called disinterested management—we all know what that means in the case of Carlisle—should be subjected to further experiment under the process of local option. Let us see what the Southborough Report said. I am only going to read a summing-up point, because it would be impossible to go through a Report of its length. It says on page 23, in Section 64:—After a full survey of the field of our enquiry we have reached the conclusion that the system of disinterested management of public-houses, which we have considered in the foregoing sections of our Report, are of proved value and should be encouraged.That is the whole basis of the proposal of the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
They also say:We are not satisfied that a case has been established for the extension of the schemes to any other particular area or place.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I have read from the summary of the Report. I quite agree this is a carefully balanced Report. I should like to read the whole of it but that would be impossible because it would overtax the patience of your Lordships, but I have read from the summary. The words are—are of proved value and should be encouraged.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I differ in that respect, if I may say so. If they are to be encouraged an Act of Parliament is the right way to do it, and, as far as I know, the only possible way to do it on an enlarged experimental scale by means of local option. May I draw the attention 704 of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, to what is said on the question of finance? It is easy to prophesy disaster in social experiments which necessitate a large measure of finance, but this is what is said on page 16 of the Southborough Report:—From the financial point of view the State management schemes at Carlisle and in Scotland can be regarded as sound:
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am going to read on so as to quote a further passage which I want your Lordships to hear:—sums have been set aside out of earnings from year to year, which have reduced the indebtedness of the schemes to the Exchequer to a figure which stood on the 31st March, 1926, at £140,682.In order to make that statement complete, the Committee carries on with the financial position to a later date and says this towards the end of the paragraph:—If the reduction of indebtedness continues at the same rate"—and that is being done—within a short period the whole of the advances with interest, so far as the Carlisle area, which is much the largest of the State-managed areas, is concerned, will have been repaid, and the State will be in possession at Carlisle free of all cost"—because they will have paid back all the moneys involved—of a flourishing business with assets valued at over £900,000. The present success of the schemes from other points of view, and in particular their social success …It leaves there the question of—
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord—it is a pity to have a controversy about a matter of fact—but he has left out what I drew attention to, that they borrowed from the Treasury at Treasury rates and that they did not have to pay Income Tax.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I did not want to leave out anything but I did not want to be too long. It is quite true that there were certain advantages in that way, but as I read the Report, even apart from those advantages—which after all are not very great advantages—financially it would have been a success and there would have eventuated a large surplus of £900,000. I admit these matters are questions of the future and one cannot predicate exactly what will happen, but I do claim most strongly, and I think 705 perfectly accurately, that after this very long investigation Lord Southborough's Committee found that the finance was sound and that there was a large surplus under those conditions of about £900,000. There is one other matter of finance about which I should like to say a word. I dare say the noble and learned Viscount has taken his part in the shutting up on purchase of public-houses under the scheme of 1904. The experience there, as a matter of fact, is just the same as at Carlisle. You do not injure the interests involved or the person who is carrying on the business by shatting up a redundant house. On the contrary, you relieve them of what is really in most cases an unprofitable part of their business. Just in the same way at Carlisle something like 50 per cent. of the houses—I do not know the exact figures—have been closed. It is pointed out quite clearly that there has been no reduction in sales and I am not sure that they have not increased. It is a source of business advantage, it is a source of economy, and it is a source of better regulation.
The noble and learned Viscount made a prophecy of future ruin—he used the word "ruin"—but that has not been the result in practical business. I am sure I am one of the last persons to desire anything to be done in this country which would not give fair compensation to business interests involved, and I am gratified that on the point which is so often attacked by people who have no knowledge there has been no attack made by the noble Viscount, who perhaps more than any one from his judicial experience has knowledge of this compensation question. On those grounds I think the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, has drawn too gloomy a picture. He has been too pungent in his criticism. I hope that this Bill will be given a Second Beading because I believe it will be a great step in social reform.
§ LORD DAWSON OF PENN
My Lords, Lord Balfour of Burleigh has put forward the principle of local option as a remedy for an admitted social evil. My first contention would be this, that the principle of local option carries with it certain disadvantages not to say dangers of its own. Therefore, before it can be employed as a social remedy the onus of proof lies with considerable weight upon the proposer of that remedy. I 706 take it that the last thing you want to do in popular government is to cheapen elections. You want people to regard elections in a serious light, as great occasions when they are called upon to apply their minds disinterestedly and not merely consider their petty interests. The effect of ad hoc election for this and that matter cannot but have the effect of cheapening elections in the eyes of the people. I take it that one of the of difficulty democracy is to keep the interests of the better educated citizens in contact with politics. There is too great a tendency for those who are educated and busy to drift away and their interest is not maintained.
If one comes to actual experience, if we take the elections for boards of guardians, if we take the elections under the Scottish Temperance Act, what happens? Relatively small numbers go to the poll. When you cheapen your elections you get abstentions and a small poll. What does a small poll mean? It means that very often the most valuable citizens hold aloof and you get elections in the hands of people who are the least wise because they are the most fanatical of the population. The people who run these elections are to a large extent people who cannot manage their own affairs and therefore concern themselves too much with other people's affairs. One hears "Let the people decide." If there are abstentions and so a small poll you get government not by the majority but a tyrannical minority. I think it needs to be shown beyond doubt that local option is a remedy and we have had before us this very valuable experience of Carlisle. I take it that everybody interested in social reform would rejoice that we have had Carlisle to help us. Here is an experiment conducted in the very best circumstances, during twelve years of freedom and of autocratic Government, that very proper form of autocratic Government that existed in the War. There has been every advantage. Can it be said that Carlisle is the outstanding success that it should have been in those circumstances? Take the test of drunkenness. There appear to have been not fewer and not more cases of drunkenness than elsewhere. Take the question which the noble Lord thinks of importance, the question of supplying eatables and things 707 other than alcoholic drink. You can obtain those in many other places throughout the country. The place is drab and dull. I think taking it as a whole it is not an inspiring centre nor anything which would tempt one to go very much further. Is that to be wondered at?
If one looks the world over can it be said, to take the experience of the last twenty years, that municipalities and Governments are successful traders, whether it be Australian ships or tramways? Whichever way you look, it cannot be said that Governments and municipalities are good traders. Their function is something totally different. It is to govern and administer. I can see no end to this ad hoc legislation. A little while ago somebody suggested that we should have local option in regard to greyhound racing, and in a very little while I suppose we shall have the New Health Society asking for local option in regard to brown bread. Far better let the representatives of the people decide whether to have these particular restrictions on drink or not. We have had other social experiments which enable us to see whether restrictions on drink have been successful. I think that the experience of legislation regarding drink will prove to any of us that, unless restrictions carry the assent of the people, they defeat their own object. The politicians are pretty shrewd judges on these matters. Why is it that no political Party has ever taken local option into its programme? They know too well that it will not do. They walk out with temperance, they show their blandishments to temperance, but local option never gets into their programmes, which, I think, perhaps illustrates the principle that coquetry very seldom leads to marriage.
Take the restricted hours which, I think had a good deal to be said for them. There is something in human nature which refuses to be coerced in this way. Take Sunday closing, for example, in Wales. Charabanc parties were organised on Sundays to carry people into the non-restricted districts. The alternative was that people collected drink during the week and drank in their rooms on Sunday. In other words, what was meant to be occasional drinking became an occasion for drinking. 708 In London itself on Sundays there has been early closing in one district at 9 o'clock and in another at 10 o'clock. You could see quite a stream of people walking from one place into the other in order to defeat the law and get their last drink at any price. I could multiply examples to show that restrictions on drinking defeat their own object unless they carry with them a large amount of popular assent.
If we go to the other side of the Atlantic, we see the terrible problem that they have had there of youthful drinking, of the flask in the pocket. This would never have arisen at all but for restrictions which did not receive the assent of public opinion. It is a wonder to me, looking back on the history of local option and of legislation in connection with prohibition, to observe the want of ingenuity and the complete sterility of the proposals that have been made. There has been no change in this local option programme since the year 1879. In the early 'eighties Sir Wilfred Lawson did bring a little gaiety into the scene, but I cannot but reflect that we have seen no change in this monotonous proposal for local option. I take it that, though the noble Lord maintains that the main object of this Bill is not to promote temperance, be surely would not bring forward these far-reaching proposals unless he were sore that they were going to increase temperance. If he will look back and ask himself what measures have done most to promote temperance in this country, whether legislation or education and suasion. I think he will find that legislation has done far less than education and suasion.
When this matter was last debated the noble Lord suggested that the great improvement in temperance in this country was due to restriction. But the improvement in temperance began long before the War. If one looks back at the figures, dating back to 1909 and even to 1906, one can see the steady improvement among the masses of the people. Look where you may, is there anything more striking that the rapid and progressive improvement in the temperance of the people? There is nothing in our social life in the last fifteen years that is more outstanding. Go where you will to our places of amusement, study Bank Holiday crowds go to the canteens at 709 Aldershot or into the public-houses which were places of drunkenness a few years ago, and you will see an orderly crowd. There are innumerable examples which might be quoted.
When this matter was before your Lordships on a previous occasion I gave statistics to show in a striking way the great diminution in the consumption of alcoholic liquors. I am not going to repeat them now, but perhaps I might be allowed to quote one example. In a large house in London 75 per cent. of the people who sat there in the evening were taking no alcohol at all—it was a house with a full licence—and of those who did drink, 80 per cent. took only beer and lighter drinks. The same story can be found wherever you go. The only place where it seems that drunkenness still remains in front is from time to time behind the motor wheel, and it stands out in striking contrast to the progressive temperance elsewhere. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote one or two striking figures with regard to the consumption or beer, spirits and wine. The consumption per head of beer in the United Kingdom was (in barrels) in 1913, 26.8, while by the time we reach 1924 the figure has fallen to 16.6, and in 1927 it stands at 16.5. The same progressive diminution is found in the consumption of spirits, though in contrast to this we find a slight increase in the consumption of wine. These figures are all the more striking when you consider that the alcohol in beer is less than it used to be. There is a further lesson to be found in the fact that the proportion of people in this country over 25 to those below that age has steadily increased, on account of smaller families.
What is the statesmanlike course to pursue if you wish to increase temperance? Surely it is to study the causes which have made for temperance and further them wherever you can. What are those forces? I put first the growth of knowledge and education, the educational propaganda of the last 25 years, and I think we must put foremost the work of the Bands of Hope and the great popularity of recreation and games. Above everything else there is something that possesses the youth of this country now, and that is a love of health and fitness. It is that growing desire for health and fitness, and an appreciation 710 of how good alcohol is in its right place, and how important it is not to drink too much, which have resulted in there growing up a degree of temperance which leaves very little to be desired.
One further word before I sit down. The noble Lord said that 75 per cent. of the public-houses in this country were slum houses. The inquiries which I have made would put them at a much lower figure than that. If he will go about the country and investigate for himself, and it is open to anybody to investigate, he will find that there is a striking improvement in the public-houses of this country. Wherever you go, with the exception of slum areas, there are improvements in public-houses which far outmatch anything in Carlisle. In some of the newer districts around London you can find houses where food and coffee and non-alcoholic drinks are provided, as well as games and amusements, and where the managers are paid no commission on the amount of alcoholic drink sold. It is along those lines that I would suggest we should proceed. Encourage these houses. At the present time they are discouraged by the licensing authorities. In my belief by giving encouragement to those houses, and by educating the people, the temperance which is rapidly growing year by year will reach its goal far sooner than by these restrictive and, as I think, inefficient proposals.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I rise in support of this Bill, and what has astonished me during the course of this debate is that nearly all the opposition argument that has been put forward is based on supposition and on theory, and that very little of it is based on fact. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill said that if this Bill were passed it might mean that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh might take over the Ritz Hotel. He said that if the Bill were passed hordes of officials might make it impossible for people to buy bottles of whisky in various districts, and the noble Lord who has just sat down said that if the Bill passed it might be the precursor of local option in brown bread. What is the use of all this supposition and all this theory? None of the things are ever likely to happen. Those of us who are in favour of disinterested management can produce plenty of facts to show that wherever disinterested management has been properly 711 tried it has brought benefit to the people.
I am not going to quote Carlisle again—it has been quoted ad nauseam—but I can give you a piece of positive experience. During the War there were frequent complaints about the delays of shipping, as being a danger to the Fleet and the whole of the Glasgow dock area was placed under my authority. There were 238 licensed premises, and these were put under the control of a local Sub-Committee of the Liquor Control Board, who managed these premises. They closed some of them and regulated the hours of opening and shutting, and also the quality of the liquor sold at the others, and after three weeks there was never again any complaint about shipping on the Clyde. On the contrary, we received a letter from the Town Clerk of Glasgow in which he said—Owing to the beneficent effect of the operations of your Board, the general drunkenness in the City has been very greatly lessened.Some of your Lordships may say that that is War-time experience. Yes, it was a War-time experience, but your Lordships must remember that at that time in the War this country had its back against the wall, and was face to face with a possibility of defeat. If anybody ought to have done something to remedy drunkenness it was the trade, and the trade failed in its duty, and the Government assumed control.
I will give your Lordships a peace-time illustration. About two years ago we had an application in the County of Dumbarton for the transfer of a licence from one trader to another. When the case came before our licensing board the magistrate used these words:—If this had been a transfer in the ordinary way, from one private trader to another, I would have opposed the grant, as this is the most drunken place in the County. But since it is an application on behalf of the Trust company, I am willing that an opportunity for experiment"—in disinterested management—should be given.What happened? At the end of the year the Chief Constable of the County, in making his Report, said:—It is now a very nice country inn, and with the improved control, the habits of the people have been entirely changed.712 Another instance I will give your Lordships comes from the County of Lanark. There were two water schemes. At one place there was a Trust house, and there was a proposal to put up a canteen to supply liquor to the navvies. As there was a Trust house the idea of a canteen was over-ruled, and the Chief Constable, in his report, stated that there was no drunkenness in the village, not even amongst the navvies; the liquor traffic was in the hands of the Trust and he had no wish to remove the responsibility for control to others. He also said that he had had experience of another water scheme in a different part of the County, where, because of drink, the police cells were crowded to suffocation, and if things had continued they would have needed an infirmary and a mortuary as well. I have quoted those instances not to weary your Lordships but in order to put forward definite facts in opposition to all these theories, and I believe I have been able to prove that where disinterested management is conducted with courage and energy it has proved of benefit to the people.
There is one other point which I would like to make, and it is with reference to the argument which has been put forward that if this Bill is carried it will mean nationalisation. My reading of Clause 8 means that the Central Board can allocate its operative powers to trusts, and I am pretty confident from my experience that most of the trust companies will take advantage of the opportunity, and that there will be very little borrowing from the Government. I believe that in England there are over 400 houses now managed by trust companies, with a capital of £750,000. I believe that every one of those Trust houses is solvent, and there is very little likelihood indeed of any necessity for the ordinary trust house company to borrow from the Government. Of course occasions may arise where it would be necessary. I know a case in Glasgow where a certain area of 180 acres was scheduled as a congested area. In this area were 36,000 people crowded together, or 200 people to the acre. In this area there were 103 public-houses, fourteen grocers' licenses and one hotel, that is, 118 licensed premises on 180 acres, or one licensed premises for 713 every 305 persons — a shocking state of affairs. The Corporation wished to clear this area, and they approached the trust, but we were unable to undertake it, because we had no liquid finance. Had this Bill been in operation, and had we been able to get a guarantee of a loan from the Government we should have been able to take over the management of that congested area. As it is to-day, it is still congested, and its name is a by-word in the City of Glasgow for drunkenness.
As to borrowing from the Government, or getting guarantees from the Government, we have often heard America quoted in this debate. But why go to America? We can get useful lessons much nearer home, in Northern Europe. There is Norway. Norway was very recently prohibitionist, but she turned by an enormous majority to disinterested management. In Norway they formed a central body, very like a trust, called the Vin Monopolet. The Vin Monopolet has complete control over the whole of the liquor trade, it has a guarantee of finance from the Government, and, after paying 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. to its shareholders, all the rest of the revenue goes to the Government. After the first year of operation the Government are budgetting to receive 200 million krs. from it. Then in Sweden we know about the Gothenburg system, founded by Dr. Bratt, a pillar of the Swedish medical profession. Under this system they formed a body called the Spritcentralen, which is very like a trust and again is guaranteed by the Government; and after paying 5 per cent. to its shareholders it pays £5,500,000 a year to the Government. That shows that even if a Government decentralises the liquor management, and places it in the hands of an independent body like a trust, it can be worked on a sound financial basis.
As for the Government guarantee to the Central Board being an unsound financial proceeding it has been done many times in this country on a much worse footing. Under our Land Settlement Act in Scotland the Government give loans to small holders to purchase live stock and put up farm buildings, when we know very well that small holdings are uneconomic and cannot pay. 714 The Government give loans to Scottish national housing trust companies against the security of steel houses, to be repaid in forty years. Nobody alive can say that a steel house will last forty years. It is no security. The Government give thousands of pounds to sugar beet companies. Nobody can say that sugar beet, free of subsidy, is going to be an economic proposition. The Government are guaranteeing loans for industry in this country, and you could not have a much better security than good licensed premises in a scheduled area, and possessing monopolistic rights.
The noble Lord who introduced the opposition to this measure has said that if people got drunk it was their own stupidity, and no concern of ours. You might as well say that if people put their fingers into moving machinery it is their own stupidity, that if people fall off ladders and lose their employment it is their own stupidity, that if people get ill it is their own stupidity. But this sort of don't-care attitude will not do for us to-day. It may have been all right for early Victorian Tories, but it will not do for the Conservative Party to-day, nor for any Party, to neglect the welfare of the people. We know that there is a drink problem. We know that misery and poverty follow in the train of drink. Very well, if we know it, it is our bounden duty to bring forward legislation on a constitutional basis, and do our best to bring about the prosperity and welfare of the people.
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who opened the debate to-day has acquired in this House, by merit and persistence I think one might almost say, the office of advocatus diaboli, for no scheme is ever propounded for what one may regard as any social advance but it receives the determined and violent opposition of the noble and learned Viscount. I have heard him examine many Bills—all liquor Bills and many other Bills—and always with what I might call a ferocious hostility. His examination of this Bill was detailed and long, and I do not propose to follow him into those details. Quite the majority of the points he raised were Committee points, which could perfectly well have been raised in Committee.
715 There is really only one portion of his observations to which I should care to refer: that is the one in which he appears to suggest that there is no principle underlying this Bill—he spoke of "the so-called principle." Well, disinterested management is a phrase which one would have thought was sufficiently well known by now, and which embodies, I should have thought, a sufficiently clear principle. It means that the person who is actually engaged in the handling and the selling of the liquor should not have a personal interest in the sale of that liquor, and should not therefore press its sale beyond that which is desired by the customer of his own volition. That seems to me to be a perfectly clear principle, the principle that a man should not have an interest in forcing upon the public that which the public do not want. It really is a principle of liberty, and not a principle of the opposite kind. It seems well to speak for a moment about disinterested management, because the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill really did not seem to know what disinterested management means. He compared it with what he called the disinterested management of the Great Northern Railway. Apparently in his view disinterested management means management without taking any interest. That is quite a different thing. He spoke about its being badly managed, and mismanaged, and run anyhow, and that appears to be his view of disinterested management. Disinterested management means substituting good management in the interests of the public for management whose sole object is the sale of liquor, and I should have thought that even the noble Lord knew that by now.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Dawson of Penn, made a speech in which he attacked a great many things, but in which I could not discover any definite reason why he should have concluded, as he did, by saying he was going to vote against the Bill. He said that sobriety is advancing and that that is satisfactory as far as it goes, but I could not discover in most of the arguments that he used any reason for his not supporting this Bill. And some of his illustrations were, I thought, a little unfortunate. He took the usual opportunity of girding at everything in the shape of public control, public ownership, 716 public management, whether by a municipality or a Government or by any other body that represented the public interest, and among his object lessons he chose tramways. Had it been the ill-fortune of the noble Lord to hear as much as I have heard during the last few weeks about the extent of the operations of tramways, about the enormously useful purpose which they serve and the enormous revenue which they earn, he might not have been so sure that tramways in the hands of a municipality are always a failure. I will merely give him one figure to consider as he leaves here, and that is that in the City of Glasgow you can travel 23 miles for 2d. on a municipal tramway and that the tramways make a profit.
Then there is another word which has been used in this debate, which is always used. It is that bogey "nationalisation." Personally, I do not very much care whether you call a thing nationalisation or anything else; but I know that there are a large number of minds to whom it appears an entirely indefensible proposition that money in the hands of the public should be used to manage houses well and to earn a profit for the public, instead of being used in private hands to manage houses badly and earn a profit for private persons. That always seems to them a wickedness. I have never understood why and I am not going to argue it now. But in that sense, much as the phrase shocked even the introducer of the Bill itself, you can if you like say that this Bill is nationalisation because the money is, apparently, in the first instance to be public money.
I also should like to comment for a moment on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dawson of Penn, about laws which have not the support of public opinion. He made the usual reference to prohibition in America, which, apparently, has the support of public opinion; at any rate a majority voted for it. I have noticed that when people speak of laws that have not the support of public opinion what they seem to mean is this; certainly what the noble Lord seemed to mean in the case to which he referred and in some of the other matters to which he referred is that he would regard a law as not having the support of public opinion if it had not got the support of a majority of the 717 less responsible and less respectable members of the community. If that is the sort of public opinion to which an appeal is made, I think it is just as well that we should have a good many laws that have not the support of that public opinion. There are a good many laws passed by your Lordships every year which have not in that sense the support of public opinion. I dare say none of the Public Health Acts has; but that is not the kind of public opinion that I think we should find it necessary to consider.
I have noticed this whenever we have a discussion on a liquor bill of any type. It must be remembered that this Bill is of a particularly mild type. There are a great many faults your Lordships are in the habit of finding with these Bills that you cannot find with this one. It does not impose compulsory prohibition or any prohibition. It does not impose a compulsory poll. Both those things are optional. But it does give a district a certain local option to try this plan of disinterested management and to see whether they find their district better managed and happier under it. If they do not, at the end of fifteen years, which after all is a comparatively short period, they return to the other system of the brewer-managed and brewer-tied public-house. It is a very mild Bill in that way. But no matter what the Bill is, whenever it deals with the liquor interest I find in your Lordships' House an enormous amount of lip service to the cause of temperance—and, even from the noble Lord, Lord Lamington, in the case of this Bill to the cause of disinterested management—but a singular reluctance ever to do anything in the interests of temperance.
What I should like to ask the Government—that is, if there were any member of the Government here to ask—is what their view of this matter is I understand that they are opposing this Bill and opposing it officially. Does that mean that His Majesty's Government are satisfied with the present state of public-houses in England, with the present state of the drink traffic, and with the present way in which it is managed? Have they nothing constructive to say? Are they merely to oppose every suggestion that is made by anybody? No doubt it is far preferable that there should be a Government 718 Bill to deal with the liquor trade and one covering the whole country; but are they content to say that all proposals made by private members of your Lordships' House are objectionable for one reason or another, and that everything is so satisfactory that nothing requires to be done? Is that the attitude of His Majesty's Government? If so, I think there will be people in the country, even in their own Party, who will be disappointed by such an attitude.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, unlike some speakers in this debate, I do not propose to say anything about the details of the Bill or to discuss the question of temperance generally. But I should like to say a few words in defence of the general principle of the Bill against which, I venture to assert, no serious argument has been brought forward in the course of the debate. The noble and learned Viscount who opened the discussion this afternoon chided my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh with having thrown over his Bill when he asked your Lordships on this occasion to con-skier and to vote only for its underlying principle. He said that the Bill was full of details. I suppose if you embody a principle in a Bill and such embodiment requires a number of clauses, the bulk of the Bill generally is occupied with details. Bat the main principle of the Bill which is relevant to a discussion on Second Beading is the extension of the principle of the disinterested management of the retail liquor trade by the machinery of local option. That is the principle which we are dismissing at this stage, and nothing else. The area in which the option should be exercised, the periods at which polls should occur, the conditions which should govern the body to whom the licensed premises should be entrusted, the compensation to be paid—all these things are matters of detail which can be dealt with in Committee. Almost every one of the criticisms raised by the noble and learned Viscount could be corrected in Committee consistently with maintaining the Preamble and Title of the Bill.
The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill justified himself in doing so by declaring that he always opposed Bills which infringed the liberty of the subject. But during the course of his speech the noble Lord did not inform us 719 what liberty of what subject was infringed by this Bill. The Bill does not take away the liberty of any subject either to buy or to consume liquor. The liberty to sell liquor is a restricted liberty at the present time, and all that the Bill proposes is that one form of restricted sale of liquor should be substituted for another in districts where a local vote is expressed in that sense. I would ask the noble Lord who is such a champion of liberty whether the public is to have no freedom of choice in the matter of how the retail liquor trade of the country should be conducted. The noble Viscount, Lord Sumner, in his very able and weighty speech this afternoon, said in reference to the Report of the Southborough Commission that we wanted more experience of this method of managing the retail liquor trade. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. We do want more experience of this principle of disinterested management, but I would ask him how we are to get it if we are not to have an Act of Parliament.
Interrupting the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Parmoor) he said the principle might be extended without recourse to an Act of Parliament, but the noble and learned Viscount probably knows that something like 90 per cent. of the licensed houses in this country now are tied to breweries, and, therefore, if public opinion were unanimous in favour of the extension of this principle, there is no means by which it can be extended unless powers are given to some body or other by means of an Act of Parliament. If my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh had introduced a Bill, or if the Government of the day introduced a Bill, making this system compulsory upon the whole country, I could well understand the noble and learned Viscount objecting to such a sweeping change and saying, "Before this is done we ought to have more experience of the system." But that is not what this Bill does. This Bill is really asking that that experience should be gained slowly, and in different districts, after a local vote has been taken. I really would ask the noble and learned Viscount, who, I understood from his speech, was in favour of the principle of disinterested management—at any rate he spoke sympathetically of existing experiments on those lines—how are those 720 who favour that principle to get it carried in the country to-day without the machinery of this Bill or something on its lines? That is my ground, therefore, for defending this Bill on the Second Reading.
I have assumed, so far, that this principle of disinterested management is of value, and I have asked how, without an Act of Parliament, it is to be extended. Let me now justify that view by examining, very shortly, what is the meaning of these words "disinterested management." I noticed that many mistaken ideas of this principle have been expressed in the course of the debate. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill said that the result of improving public-houses would be more drinking and my noble friend's Bill, therefore, he described as a Bill to encourage drinking. Again, he said that he did not know how we were going to get any money from disinterested people. I think even the noble and learned Viscount who spoke so ably this afternoon imagined that disinterested management was involved in the fact that the trust companies with whom we are accustomed to associate this principle have limited their dividends. But it is not the limiting of dividends which constitutes disinterested management. If the brewery companies were to limit their dividends voluntarily to-morrow the management of the liquor trade in their houses would not be disinterested or any more disinterested than it is now.
As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has rightly pointed out, disinterested management refers not to the board or the shareholders or the companies or to the fact that the dividend is limited, but refers to the fact that the man who stands be hind the bar and who is more responsible than any one else for influencing the sale of the commodities which are sold should not be dependent for his livelihood upon the amount of alcoholic liquor which he can sell. The salaried manager, therefore, is the pivot of the whole system, and it is the system of salaried managers in the place of publicans dependent for their very livelihood upon the amount of liquor which they can sell that constitutes the essential principle of disinterested management. It was very easy to misrepresent this idea when it was only an idea, and we had many criticisms and 721 sneers about the futility of trying to put off a man who has asked for beer with the offer of a bun or a glass of milk. That was an easy debating argument when this was simply an idea, but it is no longer merely an idea; it is a proved experience to-day. This system has been in operation for more than half a century in Norway and Sweden, and it has been in operation for more than thirty years in this country. I myself have been actively associated with the Public House Trust company in this country since the year 1900. We have had accumulated experience, therefore, of the effect of introducing this system into the licensed trade. I claim, therefore, to know what I am talking about when I say that our experience has proved that this system is both sound business for all concerned in it and sound policy for the State.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, indulged in some sneers of the same kind in his speech this afternoon. He talked about buns and cocoa, but he did not make any endeavour to prove that the system of disinterested management which is in force in this country in many hundreds of houses had failed in any respect in the last thirty years to fulfil any of the expectations placed upon it, or to carry out any of the objects with which it was started. It may interest the noble and learned Viscount to know that these companies have proved through their experience what, until then, had not been known—namely, the fact that in a licensed house adequate and satisfactory profits can be obtained from catering. Let me tell the noble and learned Viscount that we do not rely upon buns to earn these profits, but so successful have the trust companies been in earning satisfactory profits from catering in non-alcoholic refreshments, that the brewing companies have come to us and asked us what we would take to teach them our secret and let them into the method by which we can make catering pay. That is an actual experience which cannot be dismissed by cheap sneers about buns and cocoa, and it is because that principle has been tried and tried successfully that I desire to see it extended, and I hope that more experience in this system can be achieved.
It is because this Bill of my noble and learned friend would enable us to gain more experience that I gladly give it my 722 support, but it would not be fair to my noble friend if I did not mention, very briefly, certain features of the Bill which I do not like and features of the Bill which I would endeavour to amend if the Bill reaches the Committee stage. In the first place I do not think that the position of the existing trust companies is sufficiently safeguarded in the Bill. There is, it is true, a clause which says that the Board may, if it is so disposed, recognise the existence of these companies. On the other hand as the Bill stands the Board, if it is so disposed, may equally ignore them, and if the Bill were to pass in its present form those companies would have no security. I would point out to my noble friend that these companies have an accumulated experience of the management of the liquor trade far greater than any Board constituted for the first time under this Bill could possibly have. I should like, therefore, by some Amendment to Clause 8 of the Bill to ensure the protection of already existing disinterested ownership and management companies.
Again, I object to placing the whole country under the administration of a single Board. I agree with my noble friend that the existence of a monopoly in a particular area is necessary, but a monopoly in all the areas all over the country at the same time seems to me to be both unnecessary and undesirable. I doubt whether a single Board could administer all the public-houses of the country which may pass under their control as effectively as would a number of special ad hoc bodies in the local option areas, all of course enjoying certain statutory powers and subject to certain statutory conditions and limitations. I feel that the advisory committees which it is proposed to set up under my noble friend's Bill would not be sufficient to secure that variety of experience, that comparative administration, which I think is desirable if we are to gain the experience desired. Lastly, I doubt whether it is really necessary to make the Bill applicable to large hotels. The administration of large hotels is quite a different problem from that of the slum public-house to which my noble friend refers in his Bill. The need for the application of disinterested management to these premises is not nearly so great as it is for the ordinary public-house.
723 These are details which I merely mention in fairness to my noble friend but which I do not dwell upon at this stage because in my opinion they are matters which can be dealt with when we come to the Committee stage. I should not be justified in voting against title Second Reading of the Bill because of these defects, as I think them. I would prefer to have the Bill even with these defects than to go on any longer with the present licensing system, which I consider to be bad—bad in the interests of temperance, bad in the interests of the consumer and bad in the interests of the State. The system of disinterested management may not be the best method of managing the retail liquor trade, but it is at least the best system which we know at present, and until a better one is devised I have no hesitation in giving my support to a Bill which endeavours to promote that principle and to secure its extension by the machinery of local option.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the regulation of the liquor traffic is a matter which so intimately affects the social welfare of our whole system that I think your Lordships would be disposed to be grateful to any member of your Lordships' House who is good enough to bring forward for discussion a measure which contains a constructive attempt to improve the system under which the liquor traffic is dealt with. I think that every one of us who had the privilege of listening to the noble Lord who introduced this Bill must have recognised alike the fairness with which he stated his case and the sincerity which inspired its introduction. On these grounds alone I should have been very glad if the task of defining the Government's attitude could have been left in the hands of my noble friend the Leader of the House who had intended to sneak himself. Your Lordships, I know, will share the regret which I feel, not only that he is unable to be present this evening, but also that it is upon the ground of ill-health that he has had to depute this duty to me this afternoon.
In considering the Bill it is important, to remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, explained, that this is not a temperance measure. Whether or not the system which is in vogue at 724 Carlisle has resulted in an increase of temperance is a matter which the Southborough Committee expressly left undecided. No doubt drunkenness has diminished in that area, but fortunately hat experience is common to the rest of the country. Your Lordships will remember that while the convictions for drunkenness are not a safe guide as to the whole temperance development of any country, there has been a very remarkable drop in convictions for drunkeness—from 186,000, I think, in the year before the War to 67,000 in the year 1926. So far as temperance is concerned, there is one school of thought which believes that the system carried on at Carlisle does make for temperance because it discourages excessive drinking and encourages the use of public-houses for other purposes. There is, as the Southborough Committee was careful to point not, another school of temperance thought which takes a precisely opposite view and thinks that if public-houses are made as attractive for the sale of food as this scheme seeks to make them the result will be to induce people to frequent public-houses and take drink who otherwise would stay at home.
I am not asking your Lordships to decide between these competing views. I state them only to reinforce what the noble Lord said last week, that this is not a temperance measure. The object of this Bill, was first, I think he stated, to reduce the excessive number of public-houses more speedily than would be otherwise achieved, and secondly, to improve the amenities of the public-houses so as to make them more decent and more attractive places. Those objects undoubtedly are admirable ones. They would command the approval not only of the Government but, I am sure, of every one of your Lordships. The objection which the Government are bound to lay before your Lordships' House rests not upon the purpose so defined but upon the fact that when studied this Bill is not a practicable attempt to achieve these objects.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, quite fairly said that one of the most important matters, I think we might say the most important matter to consider, is the finance by which these objects are to be achieved. They are contained, as your Lordships have been 725 reminded, in Clause 13 of the Bill. The scheme, as I understand it, is that the Board, when set up, shall be charged with the duty of buying up at the full price all the public-houses in any area to which the scheme is applied. The funds that they will have for that purpose are to be raised by loan. Since it is manifest that the loan could not be expected to come from private sources, they are empowered to borrow from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. The Treasury have the very strongest objection on national grounds to the use of the Public Works Loan Commissioners for that purpose. They ask me to point out to your Lordships, what I am sure your Lordships have already in mind, that there has in recent years been placed a very heavy and increasing strain upon the funds available to those Commissioners. The only source to which they can look for the necessary funds is the issue of local loans and, owing largely to the developments in housing and the like, the annual demand upon them is now something like six times what it was before the War. The effect is that moneys which ought rather to be applied to Debt redemption and to the improvement of our national credit are under existing conditions necessarily used to swell our liabilities and thereby to depreciate our credit.
As a necessary result, the policy of the Treasury has been to limit the loans made by the Public Works Commissioners to the lowest possible level, to restrict them, as far as this can possibly be done, and even to shut out useful public works such as the supply of gas, electricity and the like, on the ground that in the present state of our national finances it is not safe or expedient to allow money to be used for those purposes. What would be the extent of the liability imposed on the local loans nobody can foretell, because it is impossible to say how many areas would adopt this scheme. The total amount involved, if all the constituencies were to adopt the scheme, would, I suppose, be somewhere in the region of £500,000,000, though I am not, of course, suggesting that this would happen in the immediate future.
There is a further and equally serious objection from the financial point of view. The Bill goes on to provide that 726 the moneys borrowed for the purposes of the Board may be guaranteed by the Treasury and charged on the Consolidated Fund. It has been said during this debate that there is no likelihood of that guarantee becoming effective or involving the State in loss. I shall examine that argument in a moment, but I should like to point out at once that it is a complete fallacy to suppose that, because a guarantee is not likely to crystallise into a liability, no harm is therefore done to the national credit or to the national finance by giving it. It has been pointed out over and over again, both in this House and in another place, that it is of vital importance to this country that we should reduce the total amount of our liability, whether in the form of guarantee or of direct Debt. It is on that account very largely that the operations of the Trade, Facilities Act have been closed down, and it is on that ground that great objection has been taken both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere to any guarantees being given even for such objects as those of the Electricity Act of a few years ago, where the amount was comparatively small.
That being so, it is the considered view of the Treasury that it would be utterly wrong to commit the nation to the financial plan which is the essence of this Bill and without which the whole scheme mast necessarily fall to the ground. It is, of course, conceded that this method of finance, involving the creation of a charge on the Consolidated Fund, can be initiated only by a Financial Resolution introduced by the Government in another place, and therefore, although there is no reason why your Lordships should not pass a Bill containing such clauses, it is only right that I should warn your Lordships that the result is to do something that is utterly futile, because your Lordships would then be passing legislation which cannot ever even be discussed in another place.
Possibly that argument would be sufficient to explain why the Government are unable to invite your Lordships to support the principle of this Bill, but I should be failing in my duty if I were to limit my criticism merely to the financial aspects of the Bill. It has been said by the noble Earl who spoke last and by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, 727 a little earlier in the debate, that the principle of this Bill was the principle of disinterested management, and your Lordships were told that, if you approved of the principle of disinterested management, then you ought to vote for this Bill. With all respect to those who take that view, I do not agree. This is not a Bill in which the principle of disinterested management is at stake. The principle of this Bill is the principle of nationalisation, followed up, not by disinterested management, but by irresponsible management. Your Lordships will appreciate that under this Bill any constituency which so pleased, on the demand of a comparatively small number of people for the taking of a poll, would, vote upon the question of whether or not the liquor trade in that area should be nationalised. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading disclaimed that this Bill was nationalisation, and the reason that he gave was that, until the whole country came under its operation, no profits would go into the Exchequer. That is not a test that I can possibly accept. Many of us believe that most schemes of nationalisation would result in no profits going into the Exchequer. The question is where the losses would be paid from, if there were any; and, if one asks this question, one finds that the losses are to be paid out of the Exchequer, because it is the only fund available out of which to meet them.
It has been said that the criticism on financial grounds is unsound because it ignores the results of the Carlisle experiment. Your Lordships have been invited to suppose that because the Carlisle scheme has been successful this scheme will be sound. No such deduction ought to be drawn. This scheme must, in my submission, result in loss. If one follows out its operations, it appears that you are to buy all the licensed houses in an area at their full market price. This, as the noble Lord was careful to explain, is the essence of his intention, whether the actual words are sufficient to carry it out or not. You are therefore to pay the full price which the brewers in competition with one another would pay in order to acquire the houses as tied houses. Having paid that price, you are not to carry them on, as the brewer would, primarily with a view to getting the greatest profits from the sale of liquor, but you are rather to discourage 728 the sale of liquor in the hope of encouraging a more sensible use of the houses. You are to close down a large number of them as quickly as you can. Actually in Carlisle nearly half were closed down in fifteen years. Every one that is closed down must involve very heavy loss on that particular house, because its value unlicensed is probably not more than a quarter its fully-licensed value, and although you get something back in the increased value of the other houses, that by no means compensates for the whole difference.
Further, the scheme is to be operative for fifteen years in any area where it is adopted, and at the end of that period, if the locality chooses, it may be brought to an end. On its being brought to an end the whole of the houses are to lose their licences. That implies this, that the Board who own the houses, and who bought them at their full licensed value fifteen years before, must have paid off three-quarters of the value in the fifteen years before, otherwise they will be saddled with the loss which results from the loss of the licence. That must therefore mean that the Board has to make such heavy provision for sinking fund and interest as must foredoom the scheme to financial failure.
In Carlisle, first, you have the fact that purchase was made in the War, when values were very much lower than they are to-day. Secondly, when you had bought the houses there was an enormous influx into the area of war workers and the like, who enormously increased the number of customers. Thirdly, they were exempted from heavy taxation borne by other people; and, fourthly, you had shat was deliberately chosen as a self-contained area, where you had a monopoly and no competition from private enterprise. This Board may be compelled, under the Bill, to buy up any brewery of which half the product is being sold in the area. Therefore, it may have to buy up tied houses outside its area, and to enter into competition with private enterprise, from which it was so carefully safeguarded in the case of Carlisle. The conditions therefore are completely different, and it is absolutely fallacious to deduce from the success of Carlisle any argument as to the financial success of this Bill.
Then there is another question. If nationalisation be sound at all, at 729 any rate it ought to be brought into effect at the bidding of the national authority. If Parliament thinks a particular trade or enterprise should be nationalised, it can go for it. Under this Bill it is not Parliament which decides that nationalisation shall take place, upon which a local area is invited to carry out the will of Parliament. Under this Bill the local area, irrespective of any Parliamentary control at all, can decide that the liquor industry in its area shall be nationalised; and it can do that not on the votes of the majority in the area, but on the majority of those who take the trouble to vote, which is a very different thing indeed. Once nationalisation has been achieved, who is to carry out the enterprise? It is to be carried out by a Board appointed by the Home Secretary, but, once appointed, it is irresponsible so far as I can find in the Bill to anybody at all, and removable only by Parliament. Therefore you haw not disinterested management, but irresponsible management, of a nationalised public enterprise. That is a very different thing indeed.
I submit to your Lordships that it is radically unsound to create a body, responsible to nobody, to manage a fund the whole cost of which is borne by the State, with no manner of control by the State. That is the scheme in this Bill. More than once it has been suggested that in the Report of the Southborough Committee some support can be found for this Bill. I hope Lord Parmoor will forgive me if I say that is a complete controversion or misunderstanding of what the Southborough Committee reported. That Committee reported carefully first on the system of private disinterested management, and then on the Carlisle, Gretna Green and Cromarty experiments, and the Committee, having examined those experiments, stated that they did not recommend the extension of those experiments to any other area, but they said that the result of those experiments in those areas had been gradually to enable attempts to be made to improve the type of public-house. They said also that they thought further improvements might be achieved if those experiments continued. The recommendation of the Committee, therefore, was that existing 730 experiments in those three areas should be allowed to continue, but they did not recommend the extension of those experiments to any other area. Therefore, so far from support being found for the proposals of this Bill in the Report of the Southborough Committee, this Bill is an exact contradiction of what the Committee reported. It would be misleading to your Lordships' House to imagine that if you voted for the Second Reading of this Bill you would be voting in favour of what the Southborough Committee recommended. On the contrary, you would be voting in opposition to the recommendations of that Committee.
I have taken up rather more, time than I wished to do on this Bill, but I have thought it right to deal a little carefully with what I think your Lordships will agree are matters of principle and not matters of detail. In conclusion, I hope that no member of your Lordships' House will suppose for a moment that His Majesty's Government are not in favour of the principle of disinterested management. That is not involved in this Bill at all. We believe that disinterested management is very often a valuable method of regulating the drink trade. We have seen with sympathy and approval the attempts of such Trust houses as the Duke of Montrose referred to, but what we object to is a system of public management nationalising the whole drink traffic, and submitting the traffic so nationalised to an irresponsible body, regardless of any Parliamentary control, and doing it under financial conditions which can only spell disaster for the experiment and involve grave liability upon the taxpayer. On those grounds I ask your Lordships not to accept the Bill, and not to give a Second Reading to this measure.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, any debate in this House relating to the sale of drink is sure to produce acute controversy and great diversity of view. This debate has been no exception. Of course opinions on all questions of the reform of our licensing laws divide themselves under several heads. There are those who think that all is well at present, and that nothing needs to be done. Their spiritual leader in this House would probably be Lord Banbury of Southam. There are those who think that all is 731 not well, but that it is very difficult to know what should be done. One of the most prominent representatives of this is the noble Viscount, Lord Sumner. He it was who in a previous debate used a phrase to which I have already referred but will refer again, because it struck me at the time as a very striking and significant phrase. He said, "You should have faith in time." Well, there are others of us whose faith in time is weak and faint and who think that something should be done to quicken the slow and torpid progress of the years. And, finally, there are those who resent all forms of selling drink, because they regard drink as a moral and dietetic evil, and they think that to have anything to do with it is to encourage an accursed thing. They, of course, are always the most pitiless and formidable adversaries that any advocate of drink reform ever has to meet, and I should like at once, in order that your Lordships should not misunderstand or misinterpret words that I may subsequently use, to say that I have no sympathy with them whatever.
I object to having my life regulated on strict hygienic grounds. I think it is a mistake to imagine that life should be measured only by its length. I think that life has breadth and depth and colour, and I am not excited by the prospect of seeing the Three Sisters measure the thread of my existence in the form of an endless piece of pale and attenuated tape. So that your Lordships will, I trust, bear in mind my feeling on that matter when I discuss other portions of this Bill. Of course, the trouble is that these extreme people are the people who enable noble Lords like Lord Dawson of Penn, who speaks with such extreme authority, to explain to a comforted and gratified Rouse that is about to depart to dinner, that they may safely obey St. Paul's injunction, and that they need not fear the effects upon their digestion. Those things poison this matter, because they really divert your attention from the thing that needs the closest possible scrutiny. The point that arises at once on the speech of Lord Banbury is this. Are you satisfied with things as they are? Do you really think that the condition of our licensed trade at the present moment is a thing of which we have any reason whatever to be proud? I at once tell you that I think the present 732 condition of our licensing laws and our licensed trade, better though it may be than it was years ago, is none the less a disgrace, and that something ought to be done, and done quickly, to secure its reform. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said that there were 75 per cent. of "slum pubs" in this country. Some other noble Lord said that the percentage was too high.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Oh well, if the noble Earl does not know what a "pub" is, he can hardly expect me to instruct him. Well, the number may be too high. With that I am not concerned. If it were 50 per cent., if it were even a smaller per cent., the existence of those places is a continual disturbance to our social order and a continual obstruction to all those elements of moral improvement which the right rev. Prelate whom I see opposite me (the Lord Bishop of Southwark) is so anxious to reinforce. Let me give you a description of one of these places, not taken from a recent issue of The Times, but taken from one a few years back. This is how The Times, which is not a paper given to exaggerated language, described one of these places unknown to the noble Earl opposite—and not unnaturally when you hear the description:—For a scene of horrid vice and filth and lust and fury, all concentrated in one point, and therefore fermenting, you may search the whole world over and find no rival to a thriving public-house in a poor and degraded neighbourhood.And it seems so hard talking here, and talking to noble Lords whose lives do not lead them into contact with those places, to put before them, even for a moment, the picture of such places as that. It happened that last Good Friday, or the one before, I was down in one of these poor places, and on that evening which I should have thought might have been an evening to cause even the most indifferent to have some solemn thoughts, I found myself in a poor street with two of these reeking places, one on each side, filled with a noisy, disorderly 733 crowd of people, and answering, I will not say to every word, because I am not able to justify that, but answering in general terms to that description.
Do you wish that kind of thing to continue, or do you wish it checked? If you wish it checked, what steps are you going to take to check it? It is no use having faith in time. Time will let these things go on and on, as they have done from the beginning. You have to take some steps to cheek it. So grave and so terrible was that evil in America that they have resorted to means which every one of us recognises are open to grave objection. But remember this, that those were the means to which people resorted for the purpose of getting rid of precisely that class of place. I know little of the United States, but from end to end of Canada to-day you will not find a single drinking place where the people can go and get drunk to the public peril as they did before. Further, in the Province of Quebec, and I think in the Province of Ontario, and in some of the other big Provinces they have the whole of the liquor trade under State control; and with what result? You cannot imagine any better system by which yon can have drink provided for people who desire to get it under every possible condition of decency and restraint. I say that no person who is accustomed to seeing our drinking here, and who goes over there and sees how it is maintained there, can fail to realise that the conditions that they have over there are something which we well might envy.
I am not going on to tell your Lordships what you all know, that, whether vice and crime and poverty are the direct results of drink or not, they are at least their inseparable companions. Nobody denies that. You will find that stated again and again, and it is only within the last few months that one of our Judges said that one-half of the crime in this country is due to alcoholic excess. It is said: "Be it so, but your Bill is not a Temperance Bill, and you will not stop alcoholic excess." That depends largely upon what you mean by a Temperance Bill. This Bill is undoubtedly a Bill to encourage the temperate consumption of drink. That does underlie the whole principle of the Bill, and the idea is that you do so encourage it by putting it in the hands of independent—what the 734 noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has called irresponsible—management. That is why it is done, in order that you may encourage or permit—encourage if you wish, for I do not mind that in the least—temperate drinking, but also that you may take steps to cut down the gross and excessive and vulgar and abominable drinking which has disgraced our lower public-houses.
The real objection to this Bill, the objection formulated in the most formidable manner to-night by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, and reinforced by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, is that here you are going to cause the State to embark noon something in regard to which you have no promise whatever that it will not be a financial failure. I should have thought that whatever might be said about this it could not be said that we had no promise or prospect that it should be otherwise than a financial failure. It is no use disregarding the question of Carlisle. Carlise has produced in somewhere about fifteen years the money that has paid absolutely for the whole capital value of all the assets it took over. What is the difference between that and this? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said it must be remembered that the houses were bought before the War. I have yet to learn that you got them at a lower price. At the moment when you were taking over these places they were filled with drinkers. I should imagine that the price was peculiarly high, and I certainly have no knowledge whatever that it was peculiarly low.
You have done in Carlisle exactly what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said would be impossible under this scheme. You have places outside your own area and you are entering into competition there, as he said might be done here, with rival interests, and yet the thing thrives and succeeds. What is there peculiar to Carlisle that will enable it to succeed there and would prevent it succeeding somewhere else? That is the one question to which I have been utterly unable to get an answer, or even to obtain the suggestion of an answer, in this debate. You close down these poor places; that is the difference, do you not see? That does not show that the saving effected by the unification of control and 735 management enables us, notwithstanding the closing down of these places, to make a profit, which is an indisputable fact.
To turn away from Carlisle and go to other places, you may say: What will it effect on one ground or the other? There is control in Norway, in Sweden, in Canada and elsewhere; is there any single place where it has been said that it was a financial failure? No one has ever suggested that. You cannot produce any argument, and the truth is that the Southborough Report, as I read it, says that you could not without further experience advocate the extension of this scheme. This Bill is designed for the very purpose of enabling you step by step to obtain the necessary experience that may be required for the purpose of putting the whole of the trade under disinterested management, noble and when the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack said that there was nothing whatever about disinterested management in the Bill he overlooked what to my mind is the very essence and centre of disinterested management. He overlooked the clause that provides that whatever else is done you must not pay the manager of your concerns commission upon the sale of drink. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, knows as well as anybody that that lies at the very heart of disinterested management. It is what it means. It means that the person who manages shall not be directly and financially interested in the sale of drink. That is in the Statute and that is why it is a disinterested scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, said: "See what you are going to do. You are going to have a whole army of potmen and potboys, and all these other people who are all going to form together in a block and force themselves selves upon you at the election in order to get higher wages." He presented to us a picture of a scene which I have experienced as well as he, of the postmen who came to him and asked for an increase in their wages. I agree with him, that one of the risks of the national control of an industry lies in the fact that it would enable a large body of people to join together for the purpose of enforcing their own personal interests against the welfare of the State. But under this Bill nothing of the kind can possibly happen. These men are not and 736 cannot have their wages affected by any election. The whole point of the Bill is to take them away from that. The Board when once set up is not changed by an election, and no amount of voting for one candidate or all the candidates together could possibly secure that they would get their wages raised by one single sixpence. When the noble Lord refers to the postmen I should like him to consider for a moment whether there is any big group of people connected together in this country by any common financial interest who, when that interest is going to be threatened, do not put their own interest against the interest of the State: I will not say universally but generally. I am bound to say that I should have thought reproaches against the postmen fall ill from the lips of a man speaking on behalf of a trade which exalted self-interest into a species of religion and went to the polls under the banner of "Our trade our politics." Nothing like that has ever been heard of in any other industry in the whole of this country.
The noble Lord said what is so often said, that after all we would rather enjoy our liberty than have our drink restricted: that it is better to have England free than to have England sober. I yield it to nobody in the admiration I have for the eloquent Prelate who uttered those words. I know of no man by whose words I have been more profoundly moved, but I regard that phrase of his as a glib false phrase with a wrong antithesis. If you examine it for a moment you will see that the right rev. Prelate could never have meant that it should be used in the sense in which people have used it ever since. Would you rather have England free or have it subjected to the shame of children working in your mines and factories? Would you rather have England free than have England moral? Would you rather have England free than have England constrained by education laws to become a wise and educated people? This doctrine of the elevation of liberty against the moral progress of this people is a doctrine which in the end can only result in anarchy—in anarchy and the breaking up of law. There is no such thing as the liberty for which the noble Lord contended. Every single advance we have made in our social conditions has been 737 the result of education. It is by that means that you are enabled to encourage little by little the approach to what I regard as the highest standard of all—the time when they can use their liberty to restrain their own excess.
This debate was preluded last Wednesday by a speech from the right rev. Prelate opposite (the Lord Bishop of Southwark) upon the slums of this country. The slums of this country and this question are appropriately associated. Our slums and our public-houses are the twin spectres of our civilisation. They mar our triumphs; they mock our pride. Slums where, as the right rev. Prelate told us, women sicken at their work and children at their play; with public-houses to which men and women go in order that they may drink and forget their misery and remember their poverty no more. I do not suppose that this Bill will put an end to that, but I think it is going to be one step further on the road which in his heart each of you desires to tread.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I think you are ready for a decision and I shall not detain you for more than a very few moments; but I should be very unwilling that this debate should conclude on a note of hysteria. When I examine the question not in the inflammatory atmosphere of the noble and learned Lord's rhetoric but in some relation to history and perspective, I am amazed that sentimentality can carry any member of this House so far. My memory goes so far back as before the year 1906, when the only rational and effective measure of temperance reform which has been carried through in this country was carried through by the Government of which the present Lord Balfour was the head. That Act was most bitterly assailed by the Liberal Opposition of the day. A futile, foolish and unsuccessful attempt to reverse it was made by the Liberal Government which succeeded to office in 1906, and it was greatly assisted by the efforts and the votes of the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken. Yet, what is the history of this matter? The noble and learned Lord has told us that the one goal to be aimed at is the reduction of licensed premises. The noble and learned Lord bitterly opposed that Act and spent nearly eighteen months voting 738 for a most futile and unsuccessful attempt to reverse it.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble and learned Lord cannot have the best of both worlds. I admit he is entitled to the best of the next, because he seems to understand it so much better than most. Let us rather deal with this, in which we so imperfectly grope our way. That is the only Bill that has ever effected any real licensing reform in this country, if you take the figures of the reductions of licences that have taken place since the year 1904. I say that this problem is in process of solution to-day and it is in process of a solution which was not contributed to by those who talk of disinterested management and make much use of phrases when they have never even begun to understand the financial and the social commitments involved. This task was undertaken and it will be completed by the Party which first showed the slightest practical insight into the realities involved.
The noble and learned Lord talks about "slum pubs." Well, he attempted a pleasantry at my expense upon that point. I do not think the noble and learned Lord who has such a command of the English language adds much to the dignity of our debates, or does full justice to his own rhetorical powers, when he invites us to descend to the nomenclature of the gutter in discussions of this kind. We are accustomed, I hope, to graver language when we address ourselves to these problems. The noble and learned Lord, at his age and holding his high judicial position, ought not to borrow from the ebullitions of younger Peers which add little to the dignity of this House.
The noble and learned Lord then gave a description, apparently from The Times newspaper, of some unidentified public-house of which he evidently greatly disapproved and on which he will allow me to reinforce his moral opinions. I myself, on the whole, disapprove of this place from the point of view of a place to which I should be likely to resort, but I am not convinced by this kind of evidence. The noble and learned Lord of all people, with his great experience as a sagacious Judge, ought not to produce 739 this kind of evidence as prejudicing the general question. What is the use of saying: "I read in The Times newspaper a description of such and such a public-house, and it was very low, and the whole atmosphere and surroundings of it were indescribably vile." If there is such a public-house I do not know how it has survived the Act he opposed, but it will go very soon. Do not let the noble and learned Lord doubt that.
But I was far more interested in his own personal perambulations about the Metropolis. He stated that lately he happened to find himself in an entry where he saw quite opposite to one another two reeking places full of disorderly people. Of course every man takes his own promenades. I have not myself happened to find myself inside an entry at all recently, but I hope the noble and learned Lord will report to the licensing justices of this particular neighbourhood what he saw, how he saw it, why he saw it, and any recommendation that he can make I am sure will be reinforced by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and who has a good deal to do with the justices who deal with these questions. But I do not think the noble and learned Lord contributes very much to the debate by giving a lurid side-light upon what, after all, can only be an episode in his life, without any identification of the particular district involved.
I should have thought very much more highly of the contribution which the noble and learned Lord made if he had added a little about the clubs to which the Liberal Party has given a great deal of support all these years. If the unlimited sale of alcohol is to be criticised and discriminated against, surely it is at least as bad in the Liberal clubs as it is in the public-houses. I have never heard the noble and learned Lord say a single word on that matter in all the years during which I have been associated with him or opposed to him in Parliament, and I think we entered the House of Commons in the same year, 1906. How many eloquent speeches I have suffered under made by the noble and learned Lord inveighing against public-houses I cannot even approximately attempt to report, but I have never heard him make one single speech in which he pointed to the evil, at least as great and probably far 740 greater, which is furnished by the indiscriminate multiplication of these clubs. Even the inexhaustible energies of my colleague the present Home Secretary are beating apparently almost in vain against this social mischief, and your Lordships must have observed with pain that the mother-in-law of two members of this House has recently incurred the public censure of the Court.
Let us look at this thing in true perspective. We are invited to deal with a Bill of crude and impossible finance, to which everyone who is competent to advise or instruct us has not pretended to give the slightest support. When we are invited to found ourselves upon the illustration of Carlisle, on which the noble and learned Lord largely founded himself, are we not bound to ask another question? The relevant issue in the case of Carlisle is not whether the total number of licensed premises have been diminished or have not been diminished, but the issue really is, has drunkenness been diminished in Carlisle? The noble and learned Lord does not even suggest that is what the Liberal Party really desires to do and I hope very much that the Labour Party will discharge themselves from this taint. What the Liberal Party desires to do is not to prove that drunkenness has been diminished—that would be an admirable solution—what they desire is that licensed premises should have been diminished and, if possible, a few wretched publicans have been ruined.
The goal at which we should aim is an improvement in general sobriety, and it will not be denied that there is a great and progressive improvement in the sobriety of the population as a whole. I look back now with a long experience over the history of our licensing struggles and I am convinced that the case of Carlisle supplies no argument whatever for this Bill. If there were no other indictment spoken in this debate which would justify the destruction of this Bill the fact that it is founded upon a system of finance which, if adopted, would wreck the resources of any corporation which attempted to apply it, would be enough. The Bill has not been supported by anyone competent to speak upon the economy of a highly complicated trade.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to: Bill to be read 2athis day six months accordingly.