HL Deb 08 March 1938 vol 108 cc11-6

LORD CLWYD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are now in a position to make a further statement as to the date of the introduction of the Bill relating to clubs. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the Question which stands in my name, I may remind the House that in November last I asked a similar Question of the Government. The noble Lord who replied for the Government then stated that the Government fully appreciated the importance of the subject and that it was their definite purpose to carry out their promise to introduce the Bill during the present Session. Since I put my Question in November nearly four months have elapsed, and I think the Government will not be surprised that those who take a special interest in the measure feel some concern about the delay which has taken place in its introduction. Now let me say again, as I said when I put the Question on the previous occasion, that I fully recognise the difficulties facing any Government in a crowded Session. I know from long experience something of what those difficulties in the fitting of business into a crowded Session must be. The noble Lord will perhaps, however, allow me in a sentence once more to emphasize one or two points which give this particular Bill a special significance and importance.

First, there are few Bills for which there is such general support from all sections, or most sections, of public opinion. Then, again, as to the weight of the support behind this legislation: the necessity for an amendment to the present law relating to clubs has been year after year, for a great many years, pressed by the Magistrates' Association. I cannot help thinking that in relation to this measure especial importance should be attached to a body representing the licensing justices, who are mainly responsible for the administration of the licensing laws in the country. Another point which I ventured to bring to the notice of the House in November in asking this Question was that the recent Licensing Commission had gone very thoroughly into the question of the law relating to clubs and had made certain recommendations in support of the necessary amendment of the law. These recommendations have had the support of many other public bodies in the country. I am not going to take up any more of the House's time in emphasizing the importance of the Bill, but I should like to say that I have had a considerable experience of Parliamentary business in both Houses, and I do not remember a Bill relating to licensing which has had such a measure of support behind it as this Bill.

Before I sit down, there is one other consideration which perhaps I ought to emphasize, and it is that of urgency. Year by year, month by month there is a steady increase going on in the number of registered clubs, and the difficulties and abuses with which this legislation is intended to deal grow in weight and seriousness as time goes on. I therefore hope that it may still be possible for the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government to give me some assurance as to the possibility of introducing the Bill relating to clubs in the course of the present Session. I would venture to ask also whether, in view of the fact that at the present time and possibly for some weeks to come the pressure of business in this House is not very great, it would not be possible for this Bill to be introduced in this House. I beg to ask the Question that stands in my name.


My Lords, may I first of all reinforce the last part of the explanation of the noble Lord: I suggest that there are many Bills that could well go through the harrow of this House first. I believe we should have made a much better job of it if we had had, for example, the Films Bill first through this House, where we are not so subject to pressure by the thousands of theatre owners all over the country. But to return to the noble Lord's Question; I took a great interest in working men's clubs for a great many years, and I still do. While we welcome on this side of the House any just legislation to remove anomalies and misunderstandings about clubs, what we do resent is any sort of legislation which can be described as class legislation. What the working men feel about their clubs now—hundreds and thousands of them are regular clubmen—is that their clubs are their homes just as much as are the Carlton Club, the Reform Club or any other of the great clubs in the West End of London to their members. They resent the idea that their clubs are not properly conducted. The vast majority of working men's clubs are most respectably conducted. In many of them there is a weekly night when their wives and lady relations and friends come, and the whole of the proceedings are absolutely decorous in every way. There are just a few black sheep who run gambling clubs and what are nothing less than drinking clubs, but that is no reason why there should be anything like class legislation against the great mass of working men's clubs, and I want to put this consideration before members of the Government opposite.

In the ordinary working-men's clubs no women can enter unless on a particular night, or unless accompanied by the husband or the brother, or unless they are properly introduced. In the case of a public-house, which is the alternative, women of a certain class can come in, and unless they are too notorious they cannot be refused admittance. At a working-man's club the husband knows he is amongst friends, and he is not subject to the same temptations from unscrupulous females as he would be if he were in a public-house, and I ask the noble Lord who has asked this Question, and others who are inclined to harry the working-men's clubs, to remember that. The members of working-men's clubs may perhaps sometimes drink too much beer, but that is the only temptation that they will fall into in a well-conducted workingman's club. They are hard working, highly respectable men. They get very angry indeed if they think there is anything like class legislation against the working man, and if they cannot get in their clubs the same privileges as are provided for some noble Lords at the Athenaeum, or the noble Lord, Lord Clwyd, at the Reform Club.


My Lords, I fear it is not possible at the present juncture to add anything to the reply given to the noble Lord by my noble friend Lord Fortescue, in November of last year. As he then informed the noble Lord, it is the purpose of His Majesty's Government to carry out their promise to introduce a Clubs Bill during the present Session, but they are not in a position to give any information as to the date of its introduction. I will certainly convey the specific points raised by the noble Lord opposite to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who will, no doubt, consider them carefully before drawing up the Bill. I will also convey to the Leader of this House the suggestion that we should, in this House, have other Government Bills introduced before they go to the House of Commons. I fear that I am not in a position to add anything further, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Clwyd, will realise that the Government intend to introduce the Bill as soon as possible.


My Lords, I think the answer of the noble Earl, although not unexpected, is rather disappointing. We have had this Bill dangled before us for about three years, and it is really time it was dealt with. The noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench need not fear that there is going to be class legislation. All that is desired is to wipe out bad clubs. The noble Earl is so young and inexperienced that I do not suppose he has ever been in a night club, but there are some which are really very bad. I was recently walking down Shaftesbury Avenue when I passed a line of four sandwichmen bearing boards on which were the words "Come to the So-and-So Club—No Entrance Fee. No Subscription. Good Dinner for 1s. 6d." That seems to me not to be a right use of the word "club." You lose the whole meaning of the word if you turn the place into a cheap restaurant. There are a good many of these bad clubs in Westminster. As I have told the House before, I am Chairman of the largest bench of licensing magistrates in Westminster. We constantly have people coming before us and asking for an extension of the supper hour. When they are asked if they have an entrance fee, they say "No." When they are asked if they have any subscription, the answer is also in the negative, and so also when they are asked whether they have a committee. That class of place very frequently is damaging to the neighbourhood. In a large place like Westminster you have frequently more clubs than you have licensed premises. The licensed premises pay for monopoly value and for compensation allowance, and the clubs pay nothing at all. Such competition is unfair to the decent licensed victualler. I think that if the noble Earl would convey to the Secretary of State a suggestion that a Bill of this nature should be introduced in this House, the objects of the Government in this connection might be accelerated.