HL Deb 31 May 1949 vol 162 cc1294-322

5.10 p.m.

Debate on Motion for Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I will now turn to Part I of the Bill. When the proposals for State management of the liquor trade in new towns were made public some six months ago, it was alleged in some quarters that the country was greatly agitated by them. It was suggested that they were the first step towards nationalisation of the liquor trade and even, in some unspecified way, a dark threat to the liberties of the subject. But since then the Bill has been most carefully scrutinised and fully discussed in the House of Commons; the general agitation has died away, almost as rapidly as it sprang up, and, while the question is still one upon which there is general divergence of opinion, it is possible to consider in their true perspective the reasons for the Government's proposals and the way in which it is intended to operate them.

The new towns—whose conception owes so much to the Reports of the New Towns Committee over which Lord Reith presided—are not simply additional towns to those already existing. They are intended, in the words of the terms of reference of the Reith Committee, to be established and developed as self-contained and balanced communities for working and living. It will be generally agreed that the arrangements for the development of the new towns must include measures to secure that the places where liquor is sold will best accord in their number, nature and distribution with local needs and developments. It seemed to us, however, that the existing licensing law would be inadequate to secure that plans for the provision for licensed premises could be worked out and implemented alongside, and as part of, the general development of the new towns. The licensing justices cannot initiate proposals: they can only adjudicate on applications which come before them. In fact, the Brewers' Society themselves drew attention to the inadequacy of the ordinary law in the discussions on new towns which they initiated with the Home Secretary in 1946 and 1947. Their proposal—which is the one favoured by the Opposition—was to apply to the new towns the principles of the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Acts, 1945 and 1946, by setting up licensing planning committees, consisting of representatives of the licensing justices and the new town development corporations, who would be responsible for planning the number, nature and distribution of licensed premises. It was also proposed that some provision should be made for licences to be removed from old areas to the new towns so as to follow movements of population. The Government gave very careful consideration to these proposals but came to the conclusion that they would not be a satisfactory solution. In so far as they were based on identifying licences with movements of population, they presented very great difficulties.

As regards the first part of the proposal, while a licensing planning committee could plan the provision of licensed premises, the question whether the plan could be put into effect would depend upon the willingness of a number of individual owners and licensees to carry it out. Moreover, the Licensing Planning Acts are framed as temporary measures to meet the special circumstances of war-damaged areas, whereas what is needed for the new towns is machinery to cover long-term developments, including sub- sequent readjustments of the original plans which may be necessary.

In these circumstances, the Government came to the conclusion that, provided as they are out of public money, the best course in regard to the new towns was to extend to them the principle of State management. State management of the liquor trade is not, of course, a new conception, nor is it in fact an exclusively Socialist conception. Indeed, it had been suggested as early as 1946 by an influential deputation which the late Earl of Lytton had intended to lead. In his absence through indisposition it was led by Doctor J. J. Mallon, Warden of Toynbee Hall. As the House will recall, it came into operation in the Carlisle area and two areas in Scotland as long ago as 1916, under the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) which had been set up under an Act of 1915. When the Board was wound up in 1921, the Licensing Act of that year provided that the schemes of State management should be continued by the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland respectively. The scheme has thus been in force for over thirty years, and under Governments of nearly all Parties. The Royal Commission on Licensing, 1929 to 1931, which was very favourably impressed with the success of the Carlisle scheme, recommended that public ownership should be applied elsewhere in circumstances which would submit the system to a further test, both in a social and a financial sense.

In the light of these considerations, it will be seen how unfounded is any suggestion that the provisions of Part I represent the thin end of the wedge of nationalisation of the drink trade. Part I is confined exclusively to the new towns and the existing State management districts. Moreover, with one exception, no new power is taken by the Secretary of State. The exception is the provision in paragraph 9 of the Schedule, enabling instruments to be signed on behalf of the Home Secretary. This power has always existed as regards the Secretary of State for Scotland. In fact, the powers taken in the Bill are in some respects less than those contained in the Act of 1921.

Secondly, I would emphasise that State management does not mean remote bureaucratic control from Whitehall. Section 16 of the Act of 1921 contained provisions for the appointment by the Secretaries of State of local advisory committees in each of the State management districts to advise them as to the operation of the schemes. Subsections (6) to (8) of Clause 1 give the new town development corporations the initiative in formulating, after full consultation and public advertisement, schemes for the constitution of these committees, and in the existing districts a similar local initiative is accorded by subsection (9) to the existing local advisory committees who are themselves already representatives of the main authorities in their areas.

The Home Secretary has indicated that he expects these committees to be constituted on as wide a basis as possible. They will include, in addition to the representatives of the development corporations, those of the licensing justices and local authorities having jurisdiction in the area, of churches and voluntary organisations, of trade councils and of persons who are to be employed under the scheme. Not merely the original layout of the scheme, but any matter connected with its administration, will be within the purview of the committees, and they will have full initiative to raise any matters they wish, as well as to make recommendations on matters which may be referred to them for specific advice. There will be the widest scope for expression of local opinion, both as to the number, nature and distribution of licensed premises in the new towns, and also on the question of their type of management. In fact, the opportunity will be considerably greater than under the ordinary licensing law, where expression of public opinion is limited to supporting or opposing any individual applications which may come before the licensing justices.

As regards administration of the State management schemes as a whole, it may be mentioned that there is a State management districts council, a non-statutory body which advises the Secretary of State on matters of general policy. The council at present includes representatives of the brewing industry and of the general public, as well as official representatives. It is proposed to widen it by including persons directly representing the existing and new State management districts, who will be chosen from among nominations submitted by the local advisory commit- tees. In the earlier attacks on State management, it was alleged that the unfortunate consumer would have no choice but to drink Government beer. It is true that there is a State brewery in Carlisle, but the Home Secretary has indicated that he has no intention of brewing beer in the new town areas unless—which he trusts is a most unlikely contingency—the brewing trade should make difficulties about supplying the State management houses. So far from thrusting Government beer on the customers in the State management areas, he intends to supply any brand of beer for which there is a reasonable economic demand.

As to the position of existing licensees in the new towns, under Clause 2 (1) (a) they will be entitled to carry on their business—subject, of course, to the control of the licensing junices—unless and until their premises are acquired under the provisions of Clause 3. As already indicated, the Home Secretary will look to the local advisory committee for advice on questions of acquisition. He has, moreover, promised that as long notice as possible will be given to any licensees whose premises are to be acquired, and also that he will, so far as practicable, offer them the opportunity of continuing under State management; and Clause 4 (1) contains an express provision on this latter point. The Home Secretary also asked the development corporations if they would so far as practicable provide alternative domestic accommodation for a licensee whose premises had been acquired by the State and who was unable or unwilling to continue under State management. The corporations readily agreed, and a provision to that effect is contained in subsection (2) of Clause 4.

A word should perhaps be added about the position of clubs in the State management districts. Under Clause 2 (1) (a) existing clubs will not be affected by State management—and, unlike licensed premises, there is no power for the State to acquire or to run clubs. Under Clause 2 (1) (b) the supply of liquor in new clubs, as in the new licensed premises, will require the authority of the Secretary of State, and this will be one of the matters on which the local advisory committee will make recommendations. The case for State management in the new towns rests on the following main grounds. I believe it to be agreed on all sides that the ordinary law is not adequate to deal satisfactorily with the licensing problems in these areas. The only alternative which has been suggested to State management is a system of licensing planning committees, who would be able to plan, but whose plans would not necessarily be implemented. Under State management, on the other hand, there will be secured both the full expression of public opinion through the local advisory committees—which will be more broadly based than licensing planning committees—and the power to implement the proposals which best accord with local needs and the general social structure of the new towns. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at the outset that this Bill, unlike another Bill now before your Lordships' House, the Iron and Steel Bill, comes here after full discussion in another place—and a full discussion to which the Minister responsible has obviously listened and has, in consequence, agreed to some quite material alterations in the Bill as originally introduced in another place. Whether or not these concessions were brought about by weight of argument or by the considerable agitation which arose against the original proposal, and to which the noble and learned Viscount has referred, one does not know. But, in passing, let me say that some of the suggestions by Government supporters as to how that agitation—and there obviously was one—arose, have not in my view very much backing. Some of them have said that this was a brewers' agitation; that, I suggest, is because some of them cannot conceive that a man who has all the independence which a licensee has under existing conditions—indeed, he is called a landlord, which means that he is pretty independent—


Except when he is tied.


—does not, if I may continue my sentence, relish the idea of being a mere manager. In a large number of cases where a man is tied he is certainly secured for his supplies he is secured for the repairs and upkeep of his house. Indeed, the tied house system, if I may be led away to refer to it, is an instance of good planning, because if a brewery has a certain number of tied houses, it knows what its output is likely to be and it can keep the people in the brewery employed. That is automatic planning, and it works much better than a great deal of the State planning of which we have recently heard so much—and which in many cases has had lamentable consequences. I did not intend to say anything of that sort, but the noble Lord having interrupted me, I was led on to speak of this matter, which is slightly outside the context of this Bill. However, as I have said, owing probably to the spontaneous uprising of the licensees in the trade, and of many of the customers, the Bill has been considerably improved during its passage through another place and as it comes to us it is a much better Bill than it was when originally introduced. That is where the value of open public debate comes in, and it is an instance of democracy working properly.

We have to consider this Bill as it comes to us; and the first provision of which I should like to speak is the problem of licensed houses in the new towns. I may be one of those who are not in full agreement with the proposal made by the noble and learned Viscount, because I cannot see that a new town needs to be dealt with differently from some of the large extensions to old towns. Indeed, in some cases the number of people living in extensions to old towns will be considerably more than the whole population of one of these new towns. Let me take the case of the area comprised in the district of Southall and Uxbridge, originally in the old Uxbridge division, which I had the honour to represent. When I first went to that division in 1929 the electorate was under 50,000 people. When the division was split up at the time that war broke out ten years later, there was an electorate of nearly 200,000 people. That means that the electorate had grown four times in size within ten years. Huge areas of that countryside, as noble Lords who know it probably realise, had been built over, and almost the equivalent of new towns had arisen there. But the licensing justices, with the assistance of those who were prepared to put up new public-houses, had adequately dealt with all that new area, and the existing machinery of licensing justices had worked extremely well.

Again, had it been thought that in the new towns the development corporations—who, after all, will control all the undeveloped land—should be brought in, there were the provisions, to which the Lord Chancellor has referred, in the Licensing Planning Act of 1945. They could well have been invoked, bringing in the development corporations, the local authorities and the licensing justices—the last two, of course, are to be brought in in the blitzed areas. Indeed, there has not at any time, I think, been any criticism that the brewers are not fully prepared to do what they can to help in facilitating the carrying out of the provisions of that Act. But we are back once again to the old conception that in order to have anything nice and neat, tidy and orderly, there must be control from Whitehall.

It is true that under this plan the development corporations submit a scheme and recommend an advisory committee but in every case it is the Home Secretary who has the last word, and who takes, or does not take, as he thinks fit, the advice of this advisory committee. So the general effect of this Bill is that, in these new areas, the Government are once again limiting the powers and the responsibilities of local government, and centralising another activity in the Whitehall area—a tendency of which we have seen too much in the last four years. Indeed, the title of the district goes to show that. It is not an area that is to be managed by locally elected persons; it is called a "State management district," implying that the planning of the licensing facilities there is taken out of the hands of the locally elected people and put into the hands of State management.

In the district, as we know, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs is going to run such "pubs" as are built anew there. I myself see no great reason for this, because there are those who have been in this industry for years who can run public-houses and supply them far better than any of the civil servants in Whitehall know how to do—and, I should fancy, far better than the Home Secretary, whoever he is, knows how to do. For instance, we all know—and some of us may admire him for it—that the present occupier of that office (I am saying nothing against him personally) has been a total abstainer for years. To think of the right honourable Chuter Ede as a man who would know when a beer has gone a little bit "off" is, of course, difficult.

However, what I object to in this Bill very much more is not the Home Secretary managing the new public-houses, but the power taken in Clause 3 of this Bill. Subsection (1) says: For the purposes of his functions under this Part of this Act the Secretary of State may"— I leave out paragraph (a) because nobody can take any exception to that— (b) subject to the provisions of this section, acquire by compulsory purchase any licensed premises in a State management district … This kind of thing occurs here, and indeed it tends to occur in any Bill which deals with any kind of nationalisation proposal. And every time I read a Bill of that sort, I regard these provisions as an implicit confession that nationalisation cannot succeed unless it becomes a monopoly—because that is what this clause is intended to achieve. It cannot face free competition and, therefore, it has to take power compulsorily to acquire existing houses. Whether it is a public-house at Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead or Hatfield, if it attracts customers from these new State houses it may run the risk of being compulsorily acquired by the Home Secretary, for no other reason than that it is supplying better services to its customers and so drawing them from the State-managed "pubs." The State-managed "pubs" cannot exist unless they take over such a house—a house that has existed, perhaps, for fifty or a hundred years, or even longer than that. I think that that is really going rather far.

By all means let us see whether the State can run a public-house in reasonable competition with private and free enterprise, but to take these powers to buy out—I suppose at the district valuer's price—a house that has been doing good trade and giving satisfaction to the local populace for a large number of years seems to me an entirely un necessary provision. What would have been said if, in the past, brewers had insisted on a monopoly for an individual firm? One of the reasons why this trade has been successful is that there is competition amongst the firms. In a single town one finds a number of houses serving different brands of beer. In no town have the brewers been allowed a monopoly, in the ordinary way, so why should the State claim one?

Apart from that, another objectionable provision is the extension to these districts of the powers which the Home Secretary is taking in regard to clubs. In the ordinary way clubs have been able to register by sending particulars to the police, and if the organisers are satisfactory citizens they do not have to go through any other procedure before they can start a bona fide club. As an example, let us take the Welwyn Garden City district, which is a likely district. I think it is wrong that if somebody wanted to form a new Labour club and there was a Conservative Home Secretary, that that somebody should have to apply and obtain leave through the Conservative Home Secretary to do it. Equally it would be wrong that a Conservative club should have to get the leave of a Labour Home Secretary—I leave out the Liberal Party for the moment, if I may, because I am not sure that they have clubs with licences, and I am not sure whether they are likely to have a demand for any new members. I would like to give the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, one opening in my speech! Be that as it may, I think the principle is wrong in that respect. You might have a pacifist Home Secretary, and when a British Legion Club applied for a licence, they might be turned down. Therefore I very much dislike this new power which the Home Secretary is taking, to say what clubs shall be registered and what shall not. I think that these provisions are completely unnecessary in Part I of this Bill. I believe the matter could be dealt with better from the public's point of view, without this expansion of State management. I believe that the facilities which have been provided would have been just as good in these new towns as they were in relation to that vast increase of population which I had in my own constituency during ten of the sixteen years that I had the honour to represent it.

My Lords, I come to the least controversial part of this Bill—namely, Part II. I am entirely in favour of limiting the number of justices who sit at a licensing session. Like other noble Lords in this House, I have taken part in licensing sessions, and they nearly always attract the fullest attendances of justices. Of course that is often because the teetotal justices always turn up in such large numbers that one has to have some balance of moderate opinion.


Would the noble Lord forgive me? Does he suggest that the temperance justices provide the moderate opinion?


Not moderate. To be moderate is to take a middle course; and a middle course is not taking nothing at all. So I would certainly not say that they form the moderate element. In fact, if I may say so, living up to their convictions very often they are strenuously determined, whatever the evidence, that a new licence shall not be provided. Be that as it may (the noble Lord led me on, as I have been led on once before to-day), I appreciate the limiting of the number of justices on the licensing committees. In fact—I am not sure whether we have been right or wrong here—as the confirmation authority in the county of Dorset, we have long dealt through a licensing committee with the confirmation of licences. I hope we are in order in having done that before the introduction of this measure. I certainly think it is right to have these provisions in Part II of the Bill.

In regard to Part III, my own view is that the Home Secretary has hit upon a happy compromise. I think it was right from one point of view that there should be a uniform hour for closing in the Metropolis. There is the difficulty at present of some places closing at 10 o'clock and others on the opposite side of the road closing at 10.30. In a number of places that has led to a rush across the street, nearly always to the embarrassment of those licensees on the side of the street which closes later, because they get a sudden flood of people coming in at the last twenty minutes of their operating time: they are completely rushed off their feet and sometimes have great difficulty in keeping order when such a thing occurs. I also like the provisions for closing down these bottle parties. It is the greatest waste of money to go to one of these places, and I think that a general provision to allow the properly constructed and conducted places to keep open until 2.30 a.m. is much better than having a large number of these clubs underground—not only in one sense of the word, but often physically underground, in the worst-ventilated parts of our Metropolis.

Now, my Lords, I come to the Schedules, and perhaps I may make this comment. The provisos to the First Schedule are on page 33, but looking at the bottom of page 32 I see that paragraph 8 says: Notwithstanding anything in the enactments relating to the sale and supply of intoxicating liquor, to the sale of tobacco and to entertainments and recreation, any of the activities specified in section one of this Act and the foregoing provisions of this Schedule may be carried on by or on behalf of the Secretary of State, in premises occupied by him, without the need of any licence"— that I do not mind, but then one finds these words: and shall not be subject to any restrictions imposed by law on the carrying on of such activities. That goes a bit far, does it not? We have often heard of one law for the rich and another for the poor, but we have here a law for everyone else and no law at all for the Secretary of State or for the premises which he carries on.

A NOBLE LORD: Read on.


I know that there are some provisos, which I will certainly read. The first says: any person engaged in any such activity on behalf of the Secretary of State shall be subject to any statutory provisions affecting the holders of licences, and the occupiers of premises licensed, for that activity in like manner as if he were the holder of the appropriate licence, and to any restrictions imposed by law on persons carrying on that activity. … Is that intended to cover everything else which is not covered earlier? Is the Secretary of State going to get his beer and tobacco without paying excise duty, because these places will belong to him? We had better inquire into this matter more fully when we get to a later stage of the Bill.

A number of smaller points will occur, and or them we shall put down some Amendments, and I have not the slightest doubt that they will be dealt with here in the same kind of spirit as that in which the Home Secretary dealt with similar matters when the Bill was before the House of Commons. All I would say, in conclusion, is that, in our view, the main matter to which Part I relates is dealt with in the wrong way. The Bill deprives the people in the new towns of one of their liberties—that is, the liberty of going to the house of any person they choose. Now they will be able to go only to a house under State management. But I would also add that this Bill has been much improved in another place, and the assurances given by the Home Secretary have, equally, gone far to remove some of the mistrust which existed. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give an unopposed Second Reading to the Bill which is before us to-day, though we may have some material points to raise when the Committee stage is reached.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack for a very concise account of this Bill, to the provisions of which he has obviously devoted a great deal of time and thought. Licensing is, for any Government, both an inflammable and an inflammatory subject, and the reception given to this particular Ball was no exception to precedent. But I think it is true to say that much of the more violent criticism was directed either to provisions which were never in the Bill at all or else to provisions which have been either eliminated or substantially revised during the passage of the Bill through another place. Clearly, the gist of this Bill is in Part I. As regards Part II and Part III, they contain two provisions to which a good deal of public attention has been directed — the two to which Lord Llewellin has referred—that in regard to bottle-parties and that in regard to the extension of hours to approved hotels and restaurants. I think few people will be found to mourn the departure of the bottle party. I doubt whether in these days even the promoters of these functions will be found ranged along the graveside. The fact remains that they were, at best, ingenious devices for circumventing the law, and it does not advantage either Government or governed that the law should be successfully and systematically flouted.

As regards the provisions concerning permissible extension of hours to certain night clubs, the Home Secretary, in coming to his decision, no doubt took into account the claims of the tourist trade in that respect, and, in spite of fierce assaults from his own side of the House, he displayed, if I may say so, his usual firmness and good sense in refusing to be deflected from his decision. I say this perhaps rather sadly, but it is a good many years now since I visited a night club. In those days, however, I never found them to be the sinks of iniquity that some people seem hopefully to imagine them to be. Although, in the interval, I may have come to know more about sinks and less about iniquity than I did then, I have no reason to think that the character of the more reputable amongst them has changed. As regards the disreputable ones, the police have ample powers, and I do not doubt they would be prepared to use them as required.

With respect to the main part of the Bill—State ownership in the new towns—it does seem that the early history of this measure was a little peculiar. As I understand the position, the first step was the receipt of a communication by the Home Secretary from an organisation representing the brewing industry, and, upon receipt of that communication, discussions took place with the Home Office. That may be quite unexceptionable, but one would have expected the next step to be some consultation with the corporations which this Government established to control the setting-up and lay-out and working of these new towns. Apparently at that stage that was regarded as quite unnecessary, and, as I understand the position, again it was only at a considerably later stage that those in authority over the new towns were called into consultation at all. I confess that that seems to me to be an example of planning in its most Olympian form.

The purpose of Part I of the Bill, as I gather, is really this: that it sets out to extend to each and every one of these new towns, without consideration for the views either of the corporations or of the ultimate inhabitants of those areas, what was instituted in 1916 as a method of dealing with an urgent situation which arose in Carlisle. I profess to speak with no authority as to the success or otherwise of the Carlisle experiment. Its supporters are entitled to say that, although it has now been in existence for more than thirty years, no one, so far as I know, has advocated its repeal. On the other hand, its opponents are entitled to say that if it really has conferred all, or a major part, of the benefits which are sometimes claimed for it, it is rather surprising that there has not been a more audible clamour from other areas of the country to have those benefits extended to them. But for the purposes of this discussion let us assume that the Carlisle experiment achieved an unqualified success. Nevertheless, is it right to follow the policy of the present Bill and apply the Carlisle system, without any freedom of choice, to each and every one of the new town areas?

I suggest that what one might have expected the Government to do was to say to the corporations of these new towns, "We are prepared to extend to your areas the provisions of the Act of 1921, which gave statutory form to the Carlisle experiment which had originally been put into operation by means of Defence Regulations, if you, the corporations, decide you wish that done. If you do not wish that done, then you are free to make your own arrangements as you please." The action I suggest the Government should have taken might well have been followed up at a later stage by giving to those who came in and those already on the spot in areas designated for new towns an opportunity to express their own view, as an electorate, upon the system which they preferred to be applied in their own district. I can see the difficulty of asking the locals to opt for a "local" before they are in the locality. That is why I suggest that the initial decision should have been left to the corporations and that at a subsequent stage there might well have been an opportunity to the inhabitants of these towns to say, "Yea" or "Nay"—"We desire State management," or "We do not desire State management in these areas." I know it is an old fashioned doctrine that people should be given a measure of freedom of choice in these matters and one which is not at all congenial to planners, to whom neatness is all.

It is said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that no additional powers are given to the Home Secretary by this Bill, with one immaterial exception. Those powers, when confined in their operation to a small area, such as Carlisle or Gretna, might be of no particular moment, but as soon as they begin to be extended so that they are applicable to the very considerable areas which will ultimately be covered by these new towns, they become a consideration of some importance. It is for the House to decide whether they consider it is satisfactory that the Home Secretary should be given the additional powers contained in the Second Schedule. I am thinking of such powers as that of the brewing of beer which, as has already been indicated, might be a somewhat embarrassing occupation for the present Secretary of State for Home Affairs; the providing of soda water and soft drinks, which he may find a more congenial occupation; or the conduct and management of hotels and restaurants, as to which only time would show whether they were likely to be a "home from home" or only a "Home Office from Home Office."

Something has been said about clubs. I prefer to say no more at the moment than that I think it is a matter which might give your Lordships opportunity for consideration at a later stage whether it is suitable that clubs should be brought at all within the purview of this Bill. It is a matter for comment that neither the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, concerning these new towns, nor, so far as I know, the advice of any authoritative body, recommended this scheme, either as a whole or in part. As any scheme of this kind must have, it has the grave objection of excessive centralisation.

We are told—and admittedly it is in the Bill—that there are to be local advisory committees and that the corporations of the towns are to have a considerable say in recommending to the Home Secretary how these local advisory committees are to be constituted. It is also the case that some—but only some; not all—of these local advisory committees will have membership of the central committee. Do not let us forget that these committees are what they are said to be, advisory, and nothing more. They leave the ultimate power, unqualified and un- restricted, in the hands of the Home Secretary and of the Home Secretary alone. I say this not in any way in order merely to score a passing point in debate, but with a real sense of regret, that there are some of us who, as a result of our recent experience with the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Bill, are a little apt to suspect that, although this may not apply to the present Home Secretary, he may not be Home Secretary for ever, and there are other Ministers who are more interested in arbitrary power than in objective advice.

In the end, what I would say about the Bill is that I wish that the Government had been a little less drastic and a little more plastic in their approach to this problem. So far as noble Lords on these Benches are concerned, we think it is perhaps not quite so bad a Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was inclined at moments to contend, but certainly not so good a Bill as the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack would have had us believe.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at once that opinion in the Free Churches is divided as to the merits of this Bill. I believe that is equally true of the temperance movement as a whole in the country. Organisations whose avowed and central aim is complete prohibition of the liquor trade maintain hostility to the Bill. These are, however, I think, clear indications that many leaders in the temperance movement, particularly in the Churches, recognise that we may well be at the beginning of a new approach to the fiercely contested drink question. It is more and more widely held, I believe, that public ownership and disinterested control of the trade in intoxicants could and should open the way for a policy responsive to present-day knowledge of the action of alcohol on man, and close the door to a callous exploitation of human weaknesses.

This Licensing Bill presents a clear issue. There will be licensed premises in the new towns. Are they to be tied to the brewers or owned and managed by State? In a true sense the term "tied," I submit, is the key to the situation. Regardless or unaware of the vast change in the structure of the retail drink trade in the last half century, it is still widely assumed that the licensee whose name appears over the door of the local public house is as independent a trader as the neighbouring newsagent or tobacconist whereas, in fact, he is at best the tenant of a brewery tied for beer, probably for spirits, possibly for soft drinks and tobacco, and even sawdust. More likely, he is simply a manager, with whose services the brewery can find ways to dispense when it will. I would remind your Lordships that there are only 700 free houses in the whole of the country; 95 per cent. of the "on-licence" premises in England and Wales are brewer owned. Thus the total net profits, retail as well as wholesale, reach the brewery which owns the "tie." The present anger of the wealthy brewing interests needs no further explanation.

The new towns offer a new field for exploitation, and the Government wisely say, "No." As the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has just reminded us, the approach was made from the trade. The Home Secretary, in his Second Reading speech in another place, let in daylight on a characteristic move by the Brewers' Society. They took the initiative, not the Home Secretary. First by letter, and then by deputation, they asked for legislation to serve their ends. Assuming, that ultimately a million people will move out of London to the new towns in the Home Counties, the brewers requested special legislation to authorise the transfer of licences of brewer-owned properties in London to the new areas. Presumably they would thus escape the payment of the monopoly value which the State can claim when a new licence is granted; certainly they would get rid of properties declining in value and secure lucrative and exclusive trading privileges where the populations were re-established. The Home Secretary obviously surprised the promoters of this plausible claim with the reminder that the State was founding the new towns and that at Carlisle it had learnt in the course of a generation to run the liquor business in keeping with the public welfare and to the profit of the national exchequer instead of to the brewers. Judging by their trade Press, the Brewers' Society seem to have counted confidently on the co-operation of the Government. Even their own domestic difficulties were in process of settlement: which brewer would negotiate for which site? It is even reported that, as regards one town, the rival brewing claims had been disposed of in advance by drawing lots! And now the Home Secretary in this Bill scatters all those cheerful capitalistic anticipations. No wonder the brewers are up in arms! In my submission, the main concern of our liquor licensing code should be the maintenance of personal sobriety and public order. Carlisle has an excellent record in this respect, based on the freedom with which State monopoly can curtail known causes of intemperance and steadily advance the standard of public well-being and conduct. These things have been done. Gross redundancy of licensed premises was quickly ended; half the public-houses in the area were closed; in Carlisle City the reduction was from 119 to 59. Mixed trading in groceries and intoxicants was abolished by the cancellation of so-called "grocers' licences." Of the four local breweries, three were closed. Disinterested management was secured by ending certain incentives to sell liquor—no commissions, overt or otherwise, are paid to staffs on liquor sales, but commission is paid on food sales in public houses. Dingy bars and back-street "pubs," difficult for the police to keep under observation, have gone; so have all advertisements of liquor on licensed premises. Public health has been served by structural hygienic improvements and by provision for the supply of meals where practicable. "Soft drinks" are easily obtainable. Liquor supply in registered clubs has been brought into line with the scheme, without local friction. Police-court convictions for drunkenness throughout the last three years have averaged less than one per fortnight.

To eliminate private profit by disinterested management, thereby removing any incentive to encourage drinking, is, I submit, clear social gain and in the best interests of the community. Another gain to record is that under this Bill there will be no opportunity to obtain grocers' or druggists' licences in the new areas. Especially do I welcome the Bill's total exclusion of young people under the age of eighteen from employment in liquor bars throughout the country, and the fact that even if no wages are paid them their employment will be illegal. Incidentally, this provision will protect young persons from entering the trade prior to their call-up. The provision in the Bill to establish non-alcoholic places of refreshment is also to be welcomed, for the more of such social welfare centres we can have, the better; and in that connection I am indeed glad that the Bill provides for local advisory committees, to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has referred.

On the other hand, there are some provisions in the Bill to which I take the gravest exception, the most serious of which is the 2.30 a.m. drinks concession to certain hotels and clubs in the West End of London, albeit I agree that these special hours certificates will not be available to ordinary licensees in other parts of London or in the provinces. This extension of night club drinking facilities is indeed a retrograde step of the most serious moment. On the other hand, the fact that clubs and hotels which secure such certificates for extension of time will have to submit to police supervision is certainly a very wise provision, and much to be commended. I regret the exclusion from the Bill of the adjacent areas to the new towns, and in that connection I want to ask the Government a question. The object of the original provision, which has now been deleted from the Bill, was to protect a narrow ring round the planned areas. My question is this: How, under the existing licensing laws and town and country planning powers, will the areas immediately around the new town areas be protected from undesirable development in respect of licensed premises? In conclusion, I would express the hope that the Government, whilst meeting reasonable criticisms, will hold resolutely to the main principle of the Bill, and in that belief I support its Second Reading.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not delay your Lordships more than a few moments in winding up on behalf of noble Lords on this side of the House on the important Bill which we are now discussing. I am anxious to draw the attention of the House to one or two features of the measure in which we are now asked to concur. As my noble friend Lord Llewellin will have made already clear, we do not support the principles which are contained in Part I of this Bill, but we are fully prepared to admit that the Amendments moved in another place have done much to improve it. I trust that when we reach the Committee stage in this House, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be as receptive to Amendments as the Home Secretary was in another place.

For years now—and it will be recalled by noble Lords of greater age than mine—the Socialist Party have constantly advocated the disinterested public management of the liquor trade. That is another way for saying that what they really require is full and complete State control. In spite of the remarks which were made by the noble and learned Viscount, I can regard this Bill only as a stepping stone in that direction. I am fortified in that belief by the remarks which were made by the Minister of Food in another place upon the Second Reading of the Civic Restaurants Bill in February, 1947. I need not weary your Lordships by quoting his speech this evening, but he frankly believed in this disinterested public ownership of the liquor trade, and he also believed in the complete and full monopoly of the Secretary of State in dealing with the drink question generally. In spite of what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, I cannot believe that it is for the good of the inhabitants of the new towns that the Secretary of State should extend his control to all licensed premises and to new clubs. Nor do I believe it necessary for him to enter into this business which up to date has been almost wholly confined to private enterprise.

Attempts have been made to justify this scheme by saying that the Brewers' Society did not believe that licences in new towns could be adequately provided under the existing law. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has interpreted their view as a proof of a need for an entirely new system which in his judgment can be met only by the imposition of State ownership. It seems to me that all that the brewers had in mind was a method analogous to the principle of licensing planning, which I have always understood was intended to meet these particular cases. Indeed, having been at the Home Office in the days when the Licensing Planning Act was introduced into your Lordships' House I believe that that scheme, with certain amendments, could easily be applicable to these new towns. If it could succeed in the war-damaged areas, it could equally well have succeeded in the new towns. Indeed, one of its great advantages over State ownership is that it leaves local jurisdiction in the hands of local authorities who represent their own locality.

The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, drew your Lordships' attention to the legislation which we passed three years ago to set up new towns throughout the country to be controlled by new towns corporations. I think one would have assumed, as the noble Marquess did, that these corporations might well have played their part in the management of licensed premises. Indeed, the Act which was approved envisaged that the development corporations should be in the position to maintain public-houses and places of refreshment for the inhabitants of those areas; and I can recall no suggestion during the discussion of that Act in this House that the corporations should be restricted in any way in their management of new towns.

About eighteen months ago, as I am informed, these new development corporations received instructions—presumably from the Minister of Town and Country Planning—to refrain from pursuing further independently the problem of licensed premises. Indeed, the chairman of one corporation has stated that the decision in favour of State ownership was taken at Cabinet level, with no prior discussion whatever with the development corporations. Apparently, these new corporations finally acquiesced in the decision which was reached, but I cannot help thinking that the proposals for State ownership of licensed premises in these new towns must have been in the minds of His Majesty's Government during the passage of the New Towns Act. In any event, we are to-day asked to brush aside the responsibilities of the corporations; and the power which they might so well have exercised has been snatched from them.

It is true that under Clause 1 of the Bill there will be set up local advisory committees to assist the Secretary of State, but I believe the advice which they give will be of doubtful practical value, for the Secretary of State, as is made so clear in the clause, can ride roughshod over them in precisely the same way that he can modify any scheme they may put up. It falls to my lot to be chairman of a club organisation, and I am naturally interested in these proposals so far as they affect existing clubs and any new clubs which are likely to be set up hereafter. I can find no valid reason whatsoever which insists on the inclusion of clubs in this clause, except to screw even tighter the monopoly for which the Secretary of State has asked. It can be assumed that, after the Bill becomes an Act, a scheme similar to that operating in Carlisle will be in force; that in future it will not be possible to register any club without the consent of the Secretary of State, and that stipulations which do not exist in present club law will be made by the new State management areas.

It is interesting, in passing, to note that of the eleven clubs in Carlisle—five of which are of 1916 origin—all but three had to agree to police inspection before the State management authority in that area would grant permission for an application for registration to be made, and during 1947 the police made sixteen visits to these three clubs. Far be it from me to criticise the chief constable, or indeed the police, but I believe that their time could have been better spent than in making these sixteen visits in one year to three clubs. After all, who is to decide upon the setting up of a political club? It will be the Home Secretary, who will be subject to great political pressure as to whether a Socialist club, or a Conservative or Liberal club, or any other kind of club of a political nature, can be set up in these districts. It seems to me that the Home Secretary has taken upon his shoulders extra difficulties which he need never have assumed. He will have to remember at the same time that similar arguments would also apply to any social club or golf club which is likely to be set up in the district, and which desires to serve intoxicating liquor.

The Lord Chancellor, in the course of his remarks, was good enough to point out that Clause 3 of the Bill, which deals with compulsory purchase, applies only to licensed premises—that is to say, not to a club. But may I ask whether, when we come to the next stage the meaning of the words "registered club" will be made precisely the same as that already in existence under the Licensing (Consolidation) Act of 1910? Some of your Lordships may know that the Catering Wages Board use the term "licensed premises" to cover every conceivable building where intoxicating liquor can be sold, whether a club, a public-house, or any other such building. It seems to me desirable, for the purposes of simplification, that Departments should, if possible, use the same terms in each of their Bills or regulations.

Lastly, I turn to Clause 30, which relates to the employment of young persons under the age of eighteen in bars on licensed premises. I understand that here again, clubs are not mentioned. At a later stage we intend to move an Amendment to this clause, but I wonder whether the Lord Chancellor can tell me to-day whether it is the intention to take a club out of the expression "bar" in subsection (5) of that clause. It is true to say, I think, that many young men who wish to qualify as club stewards or publicans enter licensed premises long before they reach the age of eighteen, and I feel it would be unfortunate if no young man were able to work in any licensed premises until after he had reached the age of twenty or until the completion of his military service, whichever was the earlier. That was a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. If a young man is to start at the age of twenty, instead of an earlier age, on the work which he has selected, it seems to me to be singularly unfortunate.

There will be further opportunity and time for us to consider each of these clauses individually, but when I read this Bill I was reminded of those well-known words of Macaulay, which I will be bold enough to read to your Lordships: Nothing is so galling to a people not broken in from birth as a paternal or in other words a meddling Government, a Government which tells them what to read and say and eat and drink and wear. If Macaulay were alive to-day he would have found some other apt description for what many of us believe to be a very wild and woolly scheme.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to reply to some of the points that have been raised. I am sure your Lordships will find us most ready to consider and discuss any question of detail, but it must be clearly understood that we must stand firm on the broad principle of the Bill; that is to say, we must stand firm on the principle that we have the power to take over all the public-houses in the area of the new towns. I say the "power," because the extent to which we exercise that power and the time at which we exercise it are obviously matters upon which the local advisory committee ought to be consulted and to have a say. Although the Home Secretary must have the last word, he should obviously have the greatest regard to the views of that body.

Some of your Lordships have spoken as if it were really iniquitous that we should make up our own minds on this topic. If that be a sin we are certainly guilty of it. We have made up our minds, and made them up as clearly and firmly as we can. But it is quite wrong to say that we did not consult with the various development corporations. In fact, those consultations went on for a long time in the early part of 1947. There were six development corporations, and the net result of the consultations was that three of the six were strongly in favour of State management, one of the six was strongly opposed and two were neutral and did not know what they wanted. So we had the consultations, and after the consultations we had to make up our own mind. I venture to think that there is every case here for deciding on these lines. As I said in my original speech, these new towns are something more than merely additional towns. Incidentally, they are towns in which the taxpayers are sinking a vast sum of money.

I went down on Saturday last to my native town of Stevenage and I there had the great honour of opening a school the like of which I have never seen; it is a splendid place, built at very great cost. I should like to think there is going to be some "pub" as good as that school: if so, I hope they will call it after me. I believe that one of the solutions of the drunkenness problem is to have decent places to which a man can go and take his wife and children and get all sorts of drinks, and not be pressed at some miserable little place to drink alcoholic drinks and nothing else. I personally like alcoholic drinks and I should not go to a place if I did not get them. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, likes "soft" drinks; and I hope that in these new "pubs" we shall be able to sit cheek by jowl together, and he can have his "soft" drink and I can have my "hard" drink.

The Reid Committee recommended simply that there should be readjustment of petty sessional divisions so that the petty sessional division could cover the area of the town and nothing more. The Commission on Licensing, when they were asked whether the advisory committees' administrative powers in the Carlisle area should be extended, answered "No," and I think they were probably right. With regard to the areas outside the new towns, we hope that they will usually be green belt areas, and we have decided to rely on planning powers which are appropriate, at any rate to-day, to deal with the gap left by reason of the excision of the powers which we originally took. With regard to the tourist trade and the opening of night clubs in London until late hours, I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, is here, because he has probably done more than any other man to bring about the improved position with regard to our tourist trade, which I would remind your Lordships is by now our most important industry—even more important than the cotton industry. It is true that the actual figures for cotton are slightly more, but if the cost of the cotton that we have to buy is deducted from the total figures, it will be seen that that industry is nothing like so great as the tourist industry. Its future is of vital importance, and it is imperative that we should do everything we can to develop it. We cannot afford to be fanciful about it: we have to do it in order to live.

There are two important aspects about the tourist trade that I would mention. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, will support me here, because I had the honour to be associated with him on the Travel Association. First, foreigners like and admire immensely our very old country inns. They go to them and they listen to their history. They love being in those rather odd places. Those inns are not touched by this Bill, and I am glad that they are not. I hope we shall induce foreigners to come here to see the country and stay in these inns. Secondly, there is the province of London. Be it remembered that, from the tourist point of view, London is not England, but it is a very important part of England. Many tourists come to the country and not to London. So far as London is concerned, we must have facilities for visitors to go on dancing and drinking until late hours. Personally I want to go away from places like that long before a late hour. I want to be in bed. Late hours are no good to people of our age. However, there are some gay young things. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, when he was young, was a "gay young thing." Perhaps that is why he is now rather "down" on these things. But, from the point of view of the tourist trade, it would be unfortunate if, when these young people came to London, they found there was nothing for them to do except go to bed about eleven or twelve o'clock at night. For that reason, I personally took the view that it was most important that these facilities should be provided.

Now a word about clubs. I am going to say very little about them. It has always been a topic which any wise politician avoids. It is the skeleton in the cupboard of my Party, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. I am of the opinion that if we had had the courage to cope with this situation a long time ago, the position would now be vastly different. I think there is a problem here which needs to be dealt with. I cannot believe that any Minister of State, in making up his mind whether or not to allow facilities for a club, would let his mind be influenced by consideration whether it is a Conservative, a Liberal or a Labour club. I concede at once that I do not think any member of the noble Lord's Party would do it; nor would any member of the Liberal Party; and I claim that no member of my Party would do it. In this country, we are above that sort of thing. What one has to do is to consider whether there are reasonable facilities for the supply of drink in that area, and to ensure that those facilities reach all people. I can assure the noble Lord that I am quite satisfied that the sort of political considerations which he has in mind will not be allowed to arise. As regards his story about the police going sixteen times into three clubs, if there was a good reason for it it is excellent that the police should have gone. If there was no reason for it, then no great harm was done. But to my knowledge there have been clubs which could have done with a little more police inspection than in fact they had. Whether or not it was so in the case of these clubs I do not know.

The noble Earl asked me a question about the meaning of the expression "licensed premises." I can tell him quite categorically that of course the phrase "licensed premises" does not include a club. The fact that the words are used in the Catering and Wages Board Order, 1945, does not affect the construction of this Bill. Under Clause 2, premises or a registered club when State management came into operation will not be affected by the Bill, but the supply of liquor in new clubs will require the written authority of the Secretary of State. We think it is impossible properly to plan the facilities for the sale of drink unless that is so. The noble Earl asked a question which arose in view of the definition of "bar." I would say that, in view of the definition of "bar" in subsection (5) of Clause 30, the answer appears to be that this question will have to be decided on the facts of each particular case. However, that is a Committee point which we can discuss at that stage.

So far as the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, is concerned, about the provision in the Schedule which he thought was very wrong, it is in fact copied from the Third Schedule of the Licensing Act, 1921. But so much more tender are this Government towards the rights of the subject than were the Government then existing that, whereas that Government then said, … all such persons shall … except in such cases and to such extent as the Board may otherwise order, be subject to the statutory provisions … we have omitted those words. The result is that although the Home Secretary is not yet the person who has really to run the business he is subject to all these statutory duties. So I think that is satisfactory. For the rest, I am prepared to concede that this Bill is somewhat in the nature of an experiment. I think this is a very good subject with which to experiment. After all, those of your Lordships who love liberty will remember this. In one of these State-managed "pubs," if you do not like one brand of beer you will be able to get another. In that case, you will have exactly that freedom which your Lordships are always expressing your keen desire to have. I hope that, when your Lordships have reconsidered your objections to this Bill, I shall have the whole of the Conservative Party among my strongest and keenest supporters of this excellent measure.

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