HL Deb 06 February 1935 vol 95 cc793-819

LORD AMULREE had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That, in view of the inadequacy of the existing law in regard to the supply and consumption of intoxicating liquors in registered clubs, and the abuses arising therefrom, His Majesty's Government be requested to introduce legislation in general agreement with the recommendations on the subject made by the recent Royal Commission on Licensing (England and Wales) in its Report.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the matter raised by this Motion is one that for some time past has been arousing great public concern. It was dealt with by the Royal Commission on Licensing in the Report presented some three years ago, but the position has become worse since then. It is not primarily a temperance question, although the interests of public sobriety are vitally concerned. It is a matter in which law observance, respect for law and respect for the intentions of Parliament are closely involved. It particularly concerns those responsible for the maintenance of social order as well as those entrusted with the administration of the licensing laws, such as the Police and the licensing authorities. The club supplying intoxicants is not a new institution. It was not in its origin a product of the law. It arose outside the law as a voluntary and private institution, and its legality was not challenged until the year 1882 when, in the case of Graff versus Evans, it was declared to be legal on the ground that, the liquors distributed being the property of the members of the club, the transaction was not one of sale but of supply, and in no way a contravention of the licensing laws, which were concerned with sale only, and that any profits or surplus derived from the difference between the net price of the liquors and the price paid by the members supplied was a gift to the funds of the club in which the members supplied had a proprietary interest. It was the essence of the transaction that the liquors were the property of the members, that they were supplied only to the order of a member, and that none but members derived profit from or had a financial interest in the transaction.

That is the position of a members' club. The position of a proprietary club is different. In that case the subscriptions of members are paid to the owner, who has control of the club and to whom the club house and property belong. All the profits go to him and he alone is responsible for the losses. A distribution by him to a member on payment is a sale and thus comes within the licensing laws, which render the transaction illegal. This illegality is obviated in practice by the members appointing a committee, sometimes called a wine committee, to act on behalf of the members and with their money buy the liquor. This liquor can then be supplied to members on payment as in a members' club. In many of the ill-conducted clubs and in bogus clubs, the committee, if appointed, is a mere pretence. The liquor is bought by the owner and sold by him, and he takes the profit on the transaction, which is quite illegal. It is in these one-man clubs, as they are sometimes called, that the gross abuse of the law has arisen. The new fact is the recent rapid expansion of the club movement and the threat which, since the War particularly, it offers to the utility and efficiency of the liquor licensing system. This expansion was undreamed of in 1902, when the registration of clubs supplying liquor to their members was made compulsory.

No precise official figures are available to show the numbers of clubs supplying liquor which were in existence prior to compulsory registration, which came into operation in 1903, but it is clear from inquiries made by the Royal Commission which sat from 1896 to 1899 and was presided over by Lord Peel, that the number amounted to some thousands by the end of last century. In 1896, according to returns made to the Commission by the Police authorities in the country, the total number of clubs in which intoxicants were supplied in the United Kingdom was 3,990 of which 3,656 were in England and Wales. In 1904, after the first year of compulsory registration, the number in England and Wales had grown to 6,371. Assuming that the estimate made by the Police authorities in 1896 was correct this shows an increase of 2,715 clubs in eight years. In 1910 the number had risen to 7,536. By January, 1915, the number had grown to 8,902. The numbers declined during the War years to 7,972 in 1918 but rose rapidly from 1919, and beyond all precedent to 15,298 on January 1, 1934, an increase of 7,326 in fifteen years. Part of this increase no doubt is due to post-War changes in social ideas and to the demand of social requirements which older institutions such as ordinary public-houses did not satisfy.

So far as this is the case there is nothing to be said against it, provided only the law furnishes proper safeguards against abuse. The bona fide club has a place in our social life and is an institution to be encouraged. Unfortunately, a mass of evidence exists to show that a large part of the increase is due to the establishment of bogus clubs and undesirable clubs against which the present law provides inadequate safeguards. Clubs may be struck off the register for misconduct and, according to the licensing statistics recently published, the number struck off in 1932 was 417 and in 1933, 380. It is pointed out that these figures may include clubs struck off as having ceased to exist and struck off through no misconduct; but in number the proportion of these clubs is very small. I need not remind your Lordships of the proceedings which have been taken against night clubs and other undesirable clubs in London. They seem to have migrated to Maidenhead, and more particularly to the residential suburbs of London. Since I put this Motion on the Order Paper I have received letters from residents complaining of the nuisance which these clubs create in their quiet neighbourhoods. Apparently the practice now is to take a house in one of these neighbourhoods which has stood empty for some little time—and in many of these neighbourhoods there are houses which are empty because people are not able to live in them—and to use the house as a club. For some weeks the neighbouring residents are constantly disturbed by cars coming and going at all hours of the night, and frequently by noisy drunken people leaving the club. When the proprietor finds the Police on his track the place is closed for a time. Then another club is started in the same house, and similar rowdy scenes are enacted until once more the proprietor becomes alarmed and retires again. One result of all this is that houses in the neighbourhood are quite unsaleable.

The Royal Commission in their Report summarised the position at the date of the Report on the basis of the important evidence which had been submitted to them, and I am going to show to your Lordships, very briefly, I hope, that since that Report was issued the situation has become very much worse. Paragraph 514 of the Report of the Royal Commission states: We have, moreover, received evidence in detail from various sources of deplorable conditions actually existing in certain clubs to-day. We have been told of structural conditions which are defective, and worse: of club premises constituted of a single room on a top floor with no window, and of clubs where sanitary accommodation is inadequate or altogether unfit and objectionable. We have been told also of clubs frequented by persons of the worst character of both sexes, of clubs virtually run as betting establishments by bookmakers, and of clubs in which drunkenness is a regular occurrence. It is significant that, according to the evidence given us, there are clubs in which ordinary amenities of any kind—such as the provision of newspapers, etc.—are totally absent. Paragraph 515 of the Report is as follows: We do not mean to imply that such conditions are characteristic of club life in, general in this country; but the fact that they exist to a substantial extent indicates clearly, to our mind, the need for some measure of further control which will ensure that bogus or undesirable clubs do not achieve or retain registration. So much for the Report which was presented three years ago. I have two or three reports of Police authorities reporting on the state of matters subsequently to the hearing of the evidence by the Royal Commission. Perhaps I may read them to your Lordships. I have in my hand the annual report of the Chief Constable of the City of Bradford for the year ending December 31, 1931. In that report, after calling attention to the fact that many clubs in the city have been struck off the register for misconduct, he proceeds: Having regard to the great—in many cases insurmountable—difficulties which beset the Police in getting sufficient evidence to justify application for a warrant to search clubs suspected of contravening the law, the fact that twenty ill-conducted clubs were closed during one year points to the conclusion that a not inconsiderable number of clubs in the city are not con- ducted in good faith and are little better than 'drinking dens' set up solely for the purpose of supplying intoxicating liquor and for betting and gaming, with no pretensions to afford even ordinary amenities. During the year under review, I have received many complaints and reports of alleged excesses and irregularities in or near such premises. Further on in the report he states: Many of the premises registered as clubs are quite unsuitable for the purpose and would be disqualified by law by reason of structural unsuitability and annual value from having intoxicating liquor licences attached to them, while many of the persons conducting them do not conform to the qualification of fitness to hold a justices' licence which the law requires.

The report of the Chief Constable of the City of Liverpool for the year ending December 31, 1932, calls attention to the number of registered clubs, which he says is 176, being an increase of seven on the total of the previous year, and proceeds: Proceedings were taken during the year for offences in relation to sixteen clubs, resulting in the conviction of twenty-one persons concerned in their management. Eleven of the clubs were struck off the register, Then the Chief Constable proceeds to quote from his report to the licensing justices: I have no desire to labour the unsatisfactory state of the law in relation to clubs, nor to attack the conduct of the general body of clubs in the City, but I Think it desirable to state briefly in this report some of the unsatisfactory conditions which have been found to exist and the difficulties which confront the Police in dealing with an undesirable typo of club which has increased in numbers during recent years. In clubs of this type, ordinary amenities of any kind have been found to be almost entirely absent, the structural condition of the premises often defective, the sanitary accommodation unfit, and, indeed, wholly inadequate in those clubs resorted to by persons of both sexes. There is evidence that, in the interval between the execution of search warrants and the court proceedings, the business of the clubs concerned has been carried on more extensively and intensively in order to provide for the payment of possible penalties. Further, at the hearing of the cases, representatives of those low-class clubs attend the court to scrutinise the police witnesses so as to be able to identify them and frustrate their entry into other clubs of similar character. It is within the knowledge of the Police that some of the clubs which exist solely for drinking and betting are run by bookmakers. The names of a committee may appear on a minute book, but the clubs are, for all practical purposes, bookmakers' establishments. It would also seem that membership is of no account, as was indicated in a case where, of the 57 persons found on the premises, only two were members of the club, these being the steward and barman. Another case illustrates that the striking of a club off the register is of little value as a deterrent, and that disqualification can easily be rendered ineffective. A club which occupied a room in a building was, on conviction, struck off the register and the club premises disqualified for six months. Almost immediately a new club, virtually under the same control, and occupying another room in the same building, was formed and registered. The Police experience great difficulty in obtaining evidence. The closest scrutiny of all entrants is maintained by officials of the clubs, and the doors leading to club premises are often securely locked and holted. 'Spy-holes' are cut in the woodwork to enable doormen to first examine persons seeking admittance, and systems of electric bells are installed to give alarm when necessary. If the Police resort to clandestine methods, as at times they are forced to, in order to defeat those means of covering grave breaches of the law, it is because, as the law stands, there is unfortunately no alternative if an open scandal is to be avoided.

The Chief Constable for Leeds in his Report for 1932 speaks well of the old-fashioned clubs which are mostly well conducted and give the Police little cause for anxiety, but he calls attention to a new type of club, the one-man clubs which are springing up in the City, and a new class of offence—namely, the sale of intoxicating liquors to non-members. He refers also to one of the clubs prosecuted as "a drinking den of a very low character, carried on in the nature of a one-man club for personal benefit only." Further evidence of the undesirable nature of these clubs is to be found in the proceedings of the police courts. I have studied dozens of these cases reported in the Press during the past year, all proprietary clubs. I will cite only two or three cases to show the nature of the club revealed in the evidence. A proprietary club at Leeds was registered in October, 1932, and struck off in November, 1934. Members paid no subscription but might put what they liked in the infirmary box. The proprietor was convicted of selling beer out of hours and keeping a gaming house. The magistrate said that it was nothing else than a place run by a bookmaker for the purpose of gambling, betting and drinking out of hours.

In the case of a proprietary club at Hull, parties concerned were convicted of using the club for the purpose of betting and selling liquor without a licence. Evidence showed that a resolution had been passed exonerating members from financial loss in the event of a police raid. According to the minute book two bookmakers were granted permission to take up betting in the club. In convicting, the magistrate complained that the Legislature did nothing to amend the law. A proprietary club tried at Havant was registered in 1931 and struck off in 193d. The evidence showed that there was no record of the nomination or election of members. Members were elected verbally and not by any committee and their names did not appear in the minutes. There was no wine committee, and the members did not have any control over the supply of liquor. The chairman of the bench characterised the club as a bogus club. Other convictions show that clubs were really unlicensed public-houses. In some cases there was no pretence at having a wine committee; in others there was a so-called wine committee but it never functioned. Another practice is to admit members at the door. The candidate pays threepence at the door, one penny being for the entrance fee and twopence for a month's membership. This is against the law, as there must be an interval of forty-eight hours between nomination and admission.

So much for these convictions. There is another class of case which is also grossly abused and that is registration. In 1930 a proprietary club was duly registered. After a short time the steward was convicted and fined and the club was struck off the register. Next day another club was registered as at the same premises. Afterwards another club was also registered as at the same premises. Some time afterwards still another club was registered as at the same premises. It got into trouble and proceedings were taken against it. Before the summons was heard a fifth club was registered as at the same premises. In each of these five different clubs the same individual appeared as the leading man in the capacity of steward, president, trustee, secretary and door-keeper. The magistrates convicted on the summons and the club was struck off the register and the premises were disqualified for twelve months.

The object of registering these various clubs consisting mainly of the same people was apparently that, if one club was struck off, the business could still be carried on by one of the other clubs. This object was frustrated by the premises being disqualified. The resources of our friend were not, however, exhausted; for regarding himself as employing' himself he stamped an insurance card both as employer and employee. Whether he is now enjoying his unemployment benefit I do not know. In view of these facts which are only typical of a large mass of other instances, it is safe to say that an amendment of the law is urgent and long overdue. It is not surprising to find that benches of magistrates have begged the Home Secretary to have the law strengthened.

It is sometimes said that the growth in the number of clubs is due to the reduction of the number of redundant public-houses. This was a familiar plea before the Act of 1902 was passed and registration imposed. As a matter of fact the rate of increase in clubs was lowest during the period when the suppression of redundant licences was highest and has been at its highest since the reduction of redundant licences has substantially declined. For example, between 1905 and 1911, in twenty-five out of the then seventy-three county boroughs in England and Wales, there was not only no increase in the number of clubs but an actual decrease of sixty-one as against a decrease of 883 redundant on-licences in the same period. In the whole of the county boroughs in England and Wales in the same period (having a population of 15,000,000) the net increase in clubs was only 109 as against a decrease in on-licences of 3,480.

The great part of the increase of clubs has coincided with a very low rate of reduction in on-licences. There is no apparent relation between the two things. The primary cause—far exceeding all others is the inadequacy of and the loopholes in the law. In 1902 no such increase as the post-War increase in clubs could really be foreseen. The number of clubs then known to exist was relatively small, and, although steadily increasing, was not increasing at a formidable rate. The intention of registration was to regulate the growth of clubs and so safeguard a privilege from abuse. In this it has signally failed. The law as it stands provides no real security against abuse. The registration of clubs is purely formal. The secretary of the club is required to deliver to the magistrates' clerk of the petty sessional division in which the club is situated a form containing the name, address and objects of the club, the name of the secretary, the number of the members and the rules relating to the election of members and such matters, and pay a fee of 5s. The justices' clerk is thereupon bound to register. He has no right to question the information supplied. He has no authority to challenge the bona fides of the promoters. No inquiry is permitted into the character of the promoters or the nature or suitability of the premises.

The large increase in the number of these bogus and undesirable clubs sullies the fair name of club, and the effect is to obstruct the administration of the licensing laws. The aim and object of our licensing system is to regulate, safeguard and control the sale of alcoholic liquor. The club law, as it now exists, with its automatic registration, its non-requirement of proof of bona fides and its lark of effective supervision, largely stultifies this system by facilitating the promotion of bogus clubs, in which the distribution of liquor is not "supply" but unlicensed sale. It has been said that it has a deterrent effect on the discretion of licensing justices in the reduction of redundant licences and the granting of new licences. An argument now used is that if a licence is refused a club will be started. It also works against the reasonable endeavours of licensing justices to adjust sale facilities to local needs. It also handicaps the Police. They may suspect that in certain clubs there are serious irregularities, and, as the law stands, they have great difficulty in obtaining evidence of these irregularities, as pointed out by the Chief Constable of Liverpool. It means watching the premises for some considerable time, or gaining an entry in some disguised form and then obtaining a search warrant, and this is followed by all the notoriety of a raid. The fact is that the present law gives shelter to violation by protecting bogus clubs from effective observation.

The illicit business carried on in these clubs is an injustice to the licensed victualler, who is subjected by them to unfair competition. Many of these clubs are really unlicensed public-houses and have been so described by magistrates in the police courts. They are run by individuals for their own profit. The licensed victualler complains that he has to pay a licence duty of one-half the annual value of his premises and his share of the compensation levy. He has to be a man of good character, his premises must be suited structurally, and he is liable to have his premises visited by the Police at any hour. The proprietor of one of these clubs pays only a duty of 3d. in the pound on his purchases of liquor during the previous year. He may be a man of no character, as he often is, and his premises may be entirely unsuited, as they sometimes are, for the purposes of a club, and, however bad the conduct of a club may be, the Police can only enter under a search warrant on sworn evidence. Things have got to such a pitch that these illicit clubs are bought and sold as an ordinary business. They are advertised for sale, disclosing the bar takings and the general profits of the concern, sometimes described as licensed or fully licensed. A club is in no sense licensed. Here are a few samples: "(1) Fully licensed club, two bars, £1,000, including fixtures, stock and goodwill, over 100 members. (2) Gentlemen's club, full licensed, price £1,250. (3) Fully licensed working man's club, price £1,650. (4) £450 all at. Working men's club, takings £48 per week." These transactions are indicative of the fierce competition publicans have to meet in this type of club.

Some very important evidence was tendered to the Royal Commission by representatives of club organisations. This was chiefly from the central club organisations of the political Parties, and front the Working Men's Club and Institute Union. Their evidence was mainly to the effect that self-discipline was the right way of approach to the problem. These organisations certainly exercise a discipline over their members, and if their clubs were the only clubs concerned probably no amendment of the law would be necessary. But they represent only about one-third of the total number of registered clubs, and the breaches of the law have not as a rule arisen in connection with them, but with clubs outside their organisation. Another contention was that proprietary clubs should be refused registration. Many of these clubs are old-established, and comply with the law. A general prohibition of proprietary clubs would exclude clubs against which there never has been any complaint. Sometimes the expression "proprietary club" is used in a special sense as meaning the bogus club, which is not in law a club entitled to, registration, but is really an unlicensed saloon. A club of this kind ought to be excluded from registration, and the recommendations of the Royal Commission would effect this.

The Royal Commission recommended certain amendments of the law. Among other things they recommended that the system of registration should be continued, and that the registration authority should be a small committee of the justices of the petty sessional division, selected in county boroughs by the borough justices, and elsewhere by Quarter Sessions. They recommended also that the registration of clubs should be discretionary, to be renewed annually. The discretion, however, should be limited. In the case of initial registration the discretion should be limited to certain matters. For example, the structure of the premises should be satisfactory and there should be an absence of any disqualification of the premises, and the persons participating in the management should be of good character. A club should be one promoted for some legitimate object, not merely for obtaining the supply of intoxicants. Other recommendations were that the minimum number of members should be fifty (with power of the registration authority to allow a number of not less than twenty-five), and the names and addresses should be given. Under the present law a club may be struck off the register if it has less than twenty-five members. Further there should be an absence of any "tie" or any understanding amounting to a "tie," and the supply of intoxicants should be under the control of members.

They recommended also that the renewal of registration may be refused for frequent occurrence of drunkenness, habitual admission of members after an insufficient period of waiting, disorderly conduct and illegal sales. The parties entitled to object before the registration authority should be the Police, the local authority and persons owning or occupying houses in the neighbourhood. There is at present power of entry by the Police under a search warrant. The Commission propose another and modified power of entry—namely, by a suitable officer acting on the written authority given for the occasion by the Chief Constable. No well-conducted club could reasonably object to this. The Chief Constable would only authorise a suitable officer where he has good ground to believe that irregularities were taking place. During the War there was a right of entry by the Police. This right worked with perfect smoothness, and no trouble or difficulty, so far as I am aware, ever arose. It is certain that few club members knew of the inspection. The Commission made certain other recommendations which I need not at present detail. I recognise that the present Parliamentary Session is likely to be fully occupied with other important measures. But I hope that my noble friend who will speak on behalf of the Government will be able to state that they intend to deal with this subject at an early date. The law is now flouted every day. The position is getting worse. It may be possible to secure a Bill based on some measure of agreement. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That, in view of the inadequacy of the existing law in regard to the supply and consumption of intoxicating liquors in registered clubs, and the abuses arising therefrom, His Majesty's Government be requested to introduce legislation in general agreement with the recommendations on the subject made by the recent Royal Commission on Licensing (England and Wales) in its Report.—(Lord Amulree.)


My Lords, it had been my hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester would have been present to follow the noble Lord. He has taken a very great part in this matter, and would have spoken with a closer knowledge of recent inquiries than I can claim to possess. But as he is unable to be present owing to indisposition, I am extremely happy to add a few words of testimony in support of what the noble Lord has put before your Lordships' House. First, may I express the obligation which I think that all interested in temperance and social welfare must feel to the noble Lord himself for his conduct of the Royal Commission. He has laid us under a real debt of gratitude, and I trust that his labours on the Commission may lead to action beneficial to the whole community. It is of the greatest importance that it should be borne in mind, as the noble Lord mentioned but did not, I think very heavily stress, that the recommendations upon this point were unanimous. There was some division in the Commission upon other points, but upon this there were unanimous recommendations.

The chief matter that I wish to impress upon your Lordships is that, as far as I can judge, clergy and social workers intimately concerned with the life of the people now regard the club question as the very heart of the whole temperance issue. At the moment, at any rate, the great evil, the growing menace, comes from the development of clubs under the state of the law which the noble Lord has just set out. It does seem to he highly anomalous that whereas for a licensed house there must be very careful inquiry, and the needs of the district are considered and how far existing provision already meets these needs, the registration of a club is virtually automatic, and, as the noble Lord has pointed out, this applies not only to the first register but to what is virtually the re-register of the same club even when it has been struck off the list for misconduct. It can then be reopened under another name—it might be by the same people—and there is nothing to prevent, that happening. Not only so, but in cases where a licence has been suppressed the premises may be opened almost immediately afterwards as a club. I have an instance, for example, from Bradford, where on the last day of 1929 a beer house was closed as redundant, compensation amounting to not less than £5,800 being paid to the parties interested. Two days later the same premises were registered and opened as a club, the son of the former publican becoming the club secretary. They had netted £5,800 in the transaction and really made no effective change in their business.

The noble Lord quoted the findings of magistrates and justices in various parts of the country. I happen to have in my hands a report of the Leeds justices of very recent date which entirely bears out what the noble. Lord has quoted from Bradford and elsewhere. In this report these words occur: The intolerable state of affairs which the proceedings in the Leeds courts as well as elsewhere had revealed this year could only be dealt with by legislation, striking boldly at a state of things which, if continued, would, by the sheer multiplication of clubs seriously prejudice and imperil the effective administration of licensing law in its most fundamental aspects. Reference has already been made to the general club movement and to the injury to the reputation of wholesome and sound clubs by the bogus clubs which it is possible to run under cover of the law as it stands. Police court cases are sufficient to prove the existence of a very real evil. It is certainly acutely felt by the residents in some of the new areas that they are unable to make any protest which is effective with reference to the establishment of clubs in their neighbourhood. Their views can be heard and receive attention if what is proposed is a licensed house, but if what is proposed is a club, which will, to all intents and purposes, be merely a drinking house, they have no power to take any effective action at all.

Moreover, the growth of the evil, which threatens to become greater every year as the opportunity of making profits under the existing state of the law is more widely realised, threatens any reasonable and sound temperance reform of a general kind; and as one who believes that it would now be perfectly possible and most desirable that those interested in reform should co-operate with the leading brewery houses in promoting better distribution and better conduct of public-houses, the menace due to this illicit trade that, is carried on, and which can hardly be checked under the law, is a serious and, I think, an insuperable obstacle. Therefore, not only to deal with the evil in itself but to open the way to well-considered reforms on a larger scale afterwards, I very much hope that the Government will see their way to accept the Motion which the noble Lord has brought forward.

The two main proposals, as he has amply indicated, are that registration should be made a reality with reasonable conditions attached to it, and that there should be an opportunity of really checking the observance of the law by the clubs which are registered through a very carefully considered form of Police entry. I know it has been suggested that if such a provision is made—and of course it must be universal—we shall have the spectacle of Police officers entering the Athenæum and observing the conduct of its members. They would find it, I think, singularly dull, and I do not think they would stay long. I do not believe there is really any serious ground of objection on this line, and I am quite certain that if the Working Men's Club and Institute Union and other great organisations, which deserve the highest credit for the tone they have successfully maintained in the clubs affiliated to them, can be assured that they are protected in their essential autonomy they will not raise any serious objection when they are also going to be protected from the rivalry and the degrading association of these bogus clubs. I think I need say no more. My chief object is to bear my testimony to the strong feeling among social workers intimate with the habits of the people that this is a very grievous evil and, in these days, the most acute portion of the whole evil in this field. I very cordially support the Resolution put before your Lordships in the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down.


My Lords, the two previous speakers have made so overwhelming a case for some reform of the law that my observations will be very brief. As the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, indicated very clearly—and no one is more competent or qualified to speak than he is, having been Chairman of the Royal Commission—the present state of the law leads to grave irregularities, and prejudices absolutely the effective administration of the licensing law. The noble Lord is quite right in saying you have got, in fact, unlicensed public-houses in many of the clubs, and that state of affairs both tends to nullify the intention of Parliament in doing away with redundancy and also causes the licensed victuallers to be subjected to very unfair competition. At the same time, as the most reverend Prelate has rightly observed, it tends to bring into discredit the otherwise excellent movement associated with clubs.

As your Lordships will have gathered, the Royal Commission, which represented totally different points of view and on which representatives of the licensed trade, manufacturers and distributors, were represented, was unanimous in recognition of the fact that the state of the law at the present moment was most unsatisfactory and that reform was desirable. There was, I understand—I have seen a report of it in the papers—a deputation to the Home Secretary of representatives of the licensed victuallers in December. They indicated quite clearly that at the present moment a large number of so-called clubs were registered for the sole purpose, in effect, of selling drink, and of selling drink during prohibited hours, and that the supervision of these so-called clubs was so completely inadequate that it was practically ineffective. I am perfectly certain that it would not be wished that anybody outside or in this House should believe that we had any feeling at all against the club movement as such. It has done a great deal of good. The club movement brings relaxation and education in a large number of towns and villages up and down the country. There is not a word to be said against that movement. In fact it is deserving of the greatest support. But the whole club movement at the present moment is being discredited owing to the grave irregularities which are going on.

I venture to intervene to-day because of recent occurrences in the neighbourhood where I live, Maidenhead. Reference has been made to it this afternoon. I do not know whether it is mainly due to the activity of the Police in London, but at all events recently, in the Maidenhead district, there has been a very substantial increase of most undesirable clubs. I have here copies of a petition which was recently sent to the Government. I think it can be summarised in a few words. The petitioners submit a number of documents which, in their words, show "the magnitude and persistence of the evil" and they demand that the Government shall take action to remedy it by altering the law. That petition was signed by the Chamber of Commerce, repre- senting the business interests; it was signed by the Ratepayers' Association, representing property owners—a large number of people got rid of their houses because of the disturbance created by those who frequent these clubs—and it was supported by a resolution of the borough council and by a large number of the leading citizens. Because of my personal contact with the matter, I was one of those who signed that petition, and for that reason also I venture to take part in this discussion. You have there what amounts to a gross scandal which cannot be dealt with at the present time by the law as it is.

I am afraid that there has been a certain amount of misunderstanding among some of the clubs as to the purport of the change which is asked for in the law. I have in my hand a copy of the Conservative Clubs Gazette for January, 1935, in which it is stated: We venture to hope, in its own interests, that the Government will do nothing of the kind. That is to say, to give effect to the recommendations of Lord Amulree's Commission. Any attempt made to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission would range against it the whole of the club vote and all the influence that members of clubs—who number 4,222,113, according to the latest official return—can exercise. It is perfectly ridiculous to say that 4,000,000 members of the Conservative clubs are going to vote against the Government if the Government give effect to the very reasonable demand for changing the law so that the intention of the law may be carried out.

I am perfectly certain that if a proposal like this was put before the members of those clubs, or before any conference, it was done in such a way that the members did not have a correct appreciation either of the situation as it is to-day or of the proposal that is made for bringing about the change in the law. I am certain that anybody investigating this question with impartiality and an open mind would agree that there is real need for an early change in the law. We want more effective supervision and more effective control. Nobody wishes to embarrass decent clubs. I do not believe the members of any club who understand the situation as it now is would have any legitimate cause of complaint if the recommendations of the Royal Commission were carried out. I hope very much that the noble Earl when he speaks on behalf of the Government will be able to indicate that the Government are seized of the gravity of the situation and that they hope, in so far as they are able, to try to remedy it in the near future.


My Lords, I would support my noble friend's Motion from another point of view. I do not pretend to be a teetotal reformer or to be a teetotaller. I speak from the point of view of the moderate drinker and of the moderate club-man. I would say that the abuse of drinking is the worst enemy that the trade and the decent club-man has, and now that this particular matter has been brought forward by the noble Lord I hope that the Government will attend to it. I would rather speak of it from the point of view of what has happened in the past, because I have studied the subject, and, indeed, committed myself to the writing of quite a big book on British Taverns. That remark is not intended to be an advertisement of the book, but simply an excuse for my saying a few words in this debate.

The law has been the subject of change during many centuries. It has been the subject lately of Royal Commissions whose members have had to consider many varying circumstances. I suppose that in the last century there have been at least three great circumstances which have altered the whole of the brewing trade. The first is that instead of every house having its own brewery we now have big breweries. This has come about, particularly in the industrial towns, owing to the enormous distribution of liquor that is required. The second circumstance has been the practical abolition of adulteration which the wonderful discoveries of Pasteur into fermentation and micro-organisms have rendered possible. The chemical industry has come into the brewing trade. The third circumstance has been the change that has taken place in the price of liquor since the War, and the movement and change in the general feeling of the country at large.

There is no doubt that drinking has diminished enormously. There is no doubt that the redundancy of public-houses has been put an end to at very great expense to the owners. But this may have been neutralised by these clubs. Statistics have shown that for every public-house that is closed as redundant there is now springing up one-and-a-half clubs, and the number is going up not in one district only but on an average throughout the country, chiefly perhaps in industrial districts. If you do away with more public-houses you would simply have these clubs coming in and taking their place practically untaxed, under no supervision to speak of and started by anyone who can get a few persons round him, run in a manner that is disgraceful and, if ousted from one place, going on to another. I think that the history of the liquor laws in this country from very early times shows that Governments have been wrecked owing to the introduction of these laws. There have been fierce debates and difficulty when attempts have been made to pass a general Act of Parliament. The noble Lord has said that the recommendations in the Royal Commission's Report are more or less bound together, but he has himself now picked out one particular bit of the Report which he indicates could be dealt with in a comparatively small Act of Parliament and that that might at least put a stop to the further increase of these bogus clubs.

I am not at all sure but that one of the best courses might not be to follow what has happened in Scotland. There, before a club is started, the flat of the sheriff has to be obtained, and the applicant cannot even approach the sheriff unless he has two justices of the peace vouching for his bona fides. Could not something of that kind be done here? Even if they may say that they are overworked, could not we ask the Stipendary Magistrates in the big boroughs and cities, assisted by assessors, if you like, and the clerks of the peace in other districts, to act as a sort of judges, and make certain definite inquiries as to the character, which is the important thing, of the so-called proprietor or promoter of a club before he is allowed to open one and as to the number of persons who are to form the club, the kind of premises in which it is to be carried on, and the rules which should govern it, some of which are indicated in the Report of the Royal Commission. I cannot conceive that that would be a very difficult Bill to get through.

I would like to express the hope that the Government will introduce a Bill, which might be talked about, or, if not, that they would encourage the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, himself to produce a short Bill, which might be the subject of discussion in this House. The Lord Chancellor's Department, as I am well aware, is always ready to assist in matters of drafting for the purpose of putting such a Bill into proper form. I think it will be better to concentrate upon this comparatively small point as compared with the very large and difficult questions that might arise if one tried to deal with the whole of the Royal Commission's Report in a single Act of Parliament. I fancy that agreement might be more easily obtained if existing clubs were left alone and the bad ones were eliminated gradually by the Police; if we started with the registration of any clubs that might be set up and so nipped in the bud the movement before it becomes a still greater scandal. It is sad to see newspaper headings such as "The scandal of the clubs," to read almost daily of some bogus club that has been repressed only after very difficult work on the part of the Police, very often by the Police having to follow the very undesirable method, if it can be avoided, of disguising themselves in order to gain admission and see how the club is conducted. I trust that the answer of the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government will be that the Government smile upon Lord Amulree's Motion, and I hope that in the very near future encouragement will be given for the introduction of a Bill to be discussed by your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I shall intervene for a short time only in this debate because there seems to be general agreement in support of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Amulree. I should like to associate myself with the appreciation which has been expressed of the value of his services as Chairman of the recent Licensing Commission. I think I am stating what is universally admitted when I say that it is owing to his tact and judgment and his absolute impartiality that such a full measure of agreement was reached on the recommendations one of which he is submitting to your Lordships' House to-day. I naturally take a somewhat special interest in this Motion. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, to the Licensing Commission which sat under the presidency of the late Lord Peel from 1896 to 1899. I had the honour of being a member of that Commission and I should like to say that I rather deprecate the apparent disposition in these days in certain quarters to belittle the use of inquiries by Royal Commissions. Going back to my own experience of over 35 years ago, I feel a certain satisfaction in remembering that a large number of the recommendations which we made as a Commission at that time have by to-day found their way to the Statute Book.

There is one point I should like to emphasise with regard to this recommendation and the other recommendations which were practically unanimously supported by the recent Royal Commission. That is the thoroughness with which the Commission did their work, the way in which they heard evidence from every section of the population and every shade of opinion. The fact has already been commented upon by a previous speaker that the Commission was made up of men and women of every kind of opinion and experience, and that as a result of their inquiries, extending over a considerable time, the Commission upon this point arrived unanimously at the conclusion embodied in the recommendation upon which the noble Lord asks the Government to introduce legislation.

I should like to associate myself with what has been emphasised by every previous speaker—namely, that in asking for a change in the law in regard to the control of clubs we do not do so because we do not recognise to the full the essential place of clubs in the social life of our country. We have no objection whatever to the extension of clubs. In fact, I think that we shall find that their numbers will still further increase as time goes on. The point which I think demands the early attention of Parliament is that as a result of the registration of clubs a large number of bogus clubs, and clubs that are not really clubs in the right use of the word, have been created. That has resulted in a state of affairs in which you find in this country a large measure of unrestricted drinking facilities on club premises, side by side with the strictly regulated consumption of drink upon licensed premises. It is that palpable injustice which the noble Lord who has moved this Motion desires to remedy.

Before I conclude I should like to say that the country which I know best, Wales, has a special interest in the recommendation that there should be further control of clubs. As some noble Lords may remember, I have on more than one occasion in the past taken the opportunity of drawing the attention of this House to the special position of Wales in regard to licensing reform, a position based upon the very strong convictions of the great majority of the people of Wales. I should like to point out to your Lordships that in regard to clubs. Wales has a special grievance. It is a little more than fifty years since the Sunday Closing Act for Wales was passed, an Act which has, by general consent, been of real benefit to the life of the country. The people of Wales are especially concerned for the effective administration of that Act. What is the present position in regard to Sunday closing in the areas in Wales in which these clubs happen to be registered? It is simply this. In these areas, owing to the fact that the law in regard to drinking in clubs on Sundays in Wales is at present the same as that which prevails in England, the result is that in those particular areas in Wales where those clubs happen to be formed, Sunday closing becomes in large measure inoperative. I hope very much that that fact will be noted when the Government takes in hand legislation on the question.

I may say that evidence upon this point was put before the recent Royal Commission on Licensing, and as a result of that evidence a recommendation was made that the consumption of intoxicants in clubs in Wales on Sundays should be generally prohibited, subject to the qualification that the registration authorities should have power to grant special exemption in cases in which they think such special exemption should be granted. I think that makes it clear that so far as the evidence which was put before the Royal Commission went, there is a very strong case for legislative action upon that point. I do not desire to take up further time in this debate. I know very well how crowded the programme of the Government is at the present time, and the enormous difficulties which lie in the path of legislation, but I do venture, in common with the other noble Lords who have addressed the House to-day, to express the hope that before the end of this Parliament a Bill dealing alone with this point may be brought forward, because I believe that there is such a general measure of support behind it that they will find it not altogether difficult to pass it into law.


My Lords, I think that the case which we have heard against these so-called clubs is so overwhelming that no further words are required to prove it. The worst clubs have been shown during the course of this debate to be farcical in their existence, to have no real membership, and to offer no amenities. They have been shown to be under no real control and they have been shown to be a menace to the work of the licensing justices, who dare not now reduce public-houses which they think ought to be reduced, for fear that they may be immediately reopened as clubs. We have also heard that the brewers themselves are in many cases in favour of some such legislation. But I confess that I look forward almost with some little alarm to the answer which may be made on behalf of the Government. I think it is vital that we should make clear precisely how this matter stands, and I would like, if I may, to anticipate what may be the reply of the Government.

I think it may be said that the Government cannot take up such a contentious subject as temperance legislation at this moment. It may be said that the Royal Commission made so many good and wise recommendations that if there is to be any temperance legislation it ought to be dealt with in a comprehensive sort of way. Then we may be told—and of course there is something in it—that legislation of a piecemeal character is always a little unsatisfactory and that it is better to wait for a better opportunity when the whole subject may be dealt with. May I tell your Lordships what I venture to say in reply to that? Obviously this does involve the temperance question, and a great many people are interested in any legislation which may be initiated in regard to clubs from the temperance point of view. But as I have listened to the debate as it has progressed, the impression which has been made upon my mind is that this is not really and strictly speaking primarily a temperance matter: it is really a question of respect for law and order.

Many noble Lords have spoken—and I should like to associate myself with every word that has been said upon that point—of the excellent character of clubs in general. I do not think that anybody who has listened carefully to this debate would suggest that anybody here is in favour of what is commonly spoken of slightingly as "class legislation." We all want clubs for ourselves; and in every sphere of life we want clubs where men can enjoy themselves in a wholesome manner in their leisure hours. No one can suggest that an attack is being made upon club life from any point of view. What I am trying to urge is just this: I do not think it would be a satisfactory reply for us to hear that the Government, for reasons which I have suggested, could not embark upon any temperance legislation when their programme is so crowded as it is at the present moment. Let us rather regard it as legislation to ensure that existing laws are not flouted and made to be ridiculous. Let our attitude be not merely that we would like for the sake of temperance to see these inferior clubs removed, but that it is a wrong thing to allow the existing law on whatever subject to be made ridiculous through the agency of any institutions which are designed to bring the law into contempt. I look upon this question as a very important one, not, I repeat, merely from the temperance point of view, but as being bound up with that respect for law and order which always characterises English conduct.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of what other noble Lords have said. As a magistrate for over 25 years in the St. James's division of Westminster, which as your Lordships know embraces the whole of Soho, I know that it is perfectly true that for every public-house which we reduce—a very difficult thing to do, because the question of compensation and other matters arise—a club or two clubs spring up. Clubs are entirely free from any inspection, and not only are they bad sources for the supply of drink (and I may say that I am not a teetotaler) but they are also bad centres for a good many other things besides. I really cannot see why provision has not been made for the licensing justices, who are not overworked in London, or for the Stipendiary Magistrates, to supervise the registration of new clubs.


My Lords, the question which we are debating this afternoon is one of the major problems of licensing law and administration south of the Tweed, and if I may say so, it is most fortunate that the Resolution on the Order Paper should have been moved by a noble Lord who has such knowledge and authority on the subject. I would say at once that His Majesty's Government fully appreciate the importance of the question raised. As the noble Lord, Lord Clwyd, has said, it is common knowledge that, while the standard of conduct and conditions in the genuine club is high, certain types of club exist and are increasing which are not in fact clubs at all and in many of which abuses are rife. It has been suggested that these abuses could be largely corrected by a fuller use by the authorities concerned of their powers under the present law; but I think it is generally appreciated, as I think your Lordships have heard this afternoon, that amendment of the law is the only really effective remedy.

Unfortunately, the problem is among the most acutely controversial of all the problems in the licensing field, and the solution is not, I fear, to be as simply found as has been sometimes suggested. It is perfectly true, on the one hand, that there is a very substantial and authoritative body of opinion, including the Magistracy, Police, and both trade and temperance organisations, which strongly supports the recommendations of the Royal Commission that the supply and consumption of intoxicants in clubs should, in a variety of directions, be subjected to further and stricter measures of control. On the other hand, the attitude of the clubs themselves has to be reckoned with; and it must be remembered that the clubs comprise a substantial number of the citizens of this country, and, in the words of the Royal Commission, constitute "a most valuable element in the structure of our society." The general contention of the club organisations is that the properly conducted club ought not to be interfered with at all; and up till now they have evinced strong opposition to the majority of the Royal Commission's recommendations.

It is quite clear that any measure applying all the recommendations of the Royal Commission must expect to meet with great opposition; and it is by no means clear that any more limited proposal would have a much better chance of general acceptance. It has been rightly emphasised that the main urgency of the present problem centres round the question of what is usually termed the bogus club; and it has been suggested this afternoon by Lord Askwith and others that, if the whole body of the Commission's recommendations is too difficult to contemplate, it should not be difficult at any rate to bring into force in England and Wales a scheme of discretionary registration, which in itself might go a long way towards throttling the development of the bogus club. In favour of this course it is argued that the clubs themselves, or at any rate the principal organisations representing them, have expressed their willingness to accept a scheme of discretionary registration in some form.

Unfortunately, however, whatever may be the merits of such a proposal, the prospect of an agreed passage for a Bill even on these limited lines appears to be remote. In the first place there is not, so far as I am aware, any evidence to show that the clubs' organisations would accept such a proposal uncoupled with any concession to their point of view in some other direction, which might or might not—more probably not—be a generally acceptable proposition. Secondly, my Lords, even assuming that the principle of discretionary registration were to be accepted all round, there is still room for much controversy in regard to the method of application. For instance, take the question of the constitution of the registration authority. Many hold that the justices are the proper body for this purpose, and the Royal Commission themselves suggested that a Committee of the justices should be the proper authority. The clubs, however, have expressed strong views to the contrary, and apparently favour a local authority, with appeal to some such body as the County Court—a suggestion which, on the other hand, the Royal Commission rejected. There are, my Lords, also various other points involved on which difference of opinion is bound to arise: for example, the treatment of existing clubs, the degree of discretion to be allowed to the registration authority, the statutory grounds and rights of objection, and so forth.

But even if the complications could be shown to be not so formidable as I have suggested, there are other practical considerations which, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich has foreseen, from the Government point of view must rule out any question of amending legislation at present. Apart from the fact that the Government, with so many matters of more urgent importance on hand, have not yet been able to take into general review the recommendations of the Royal Commission for amendment of the licensing laws, Parliamentary time, as your Lordships will be fully aware, is already mortgaged up to the hilt so far as the present Session is concerned; and, to put it plainly, I fear that there is no present prospect of any time being available for any substantial measure of licensing reform. This is not to say that a debate such as that which we have had this afternoon is wasted. The Government are anxious for all the guidance which they can obtain on this difficult and thorny matter, and they welcome the opportunity for public and authoritative discussion which has been afforded by the moving of this Resolution. I can confidently undertake on their behalf that the views expressed by noble Lords this afternoon will receive the close and sympathetic attention of His Majesty's Government, even though, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to explain, it is not possible for them to promise any early action.


I wish to thank my noble friend for his courteous reply. At the same time I must express my disappointment at the nature of it. It is a great pity that some time could not be afforded, if not this Session in some future Session, for dealing with this matter. But in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion by leave, withdrawn.