§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time. I understand that it is regarded in some quarters as a controversial Bill. Indeed, I am told that it was subject to such continuous opposition in another place that its passage was rather unduly prolonged. That is the reason why it comes to your Lordships' House so very late in the Session. If, therefore, any noble Lord opposite feels that the time provided for its consideration by us is unduly short, I hope he will realise that it is not the Government who are entirely to blame. I must say that, as I have studied this Bill, I have found it rather difficult to understand why it has aroused this violent opposition. For, after all, if it is not an unimportant Bill, it is at any rate a Bill very limited in its scope. What does it seek to do? It reverses a decision which was formerly reached, that premises which have been licensed for the sale of drink in a small number of new towns, as they are called—most of which have not yet been built—should be State owned and State managed. And it reverts to the system which prevails, so far as I know, in every other part of the country except Carlisle, that they should be conducted by strictly supervised private enterprise. That is all there is in this Bill. And it is that very moderate proposal which, as I understand, in another place aroused members of the Party to which noble Lords opposite belong to absolute tempests of wrath.
740 A number of arguments have been used against the Bill which, I could not but help feeling as I read them, were in many respects mutually contradictory. At one moment it was implied that it was perfectly all right that there should be profit on the sale of drinks but that those profits ought to go to the State. That, at any rate, is the only possible meaning I can attach to the argument about the Bill being a "gift to brewers," which played so large a part in the discussions in another place. At the next moment, the argument was advanced—often by the same people who had advanced the other one—that the trade was so wicked and disreputable that there ought not to be any profits at all. That is a perfectly tenable view—though I do not happen to hold it myself. But in that case why has the State proposed, under the arrangement reached by the late Government, to spend very large sums in putting up State-managed public houses? If the argument I have just mentioned is a correct one, that must be both morally wrong and a waste of public money as well.
If I am told that the object of the State would be to promote moderation in drinking and that the object of private enterprise would be to promote excess, I am afraid that I should answer only, "I do not think that is true." Indeed, surely, it must be the main purpose of those who brew beer—whoever they are—to discourage excess, because, after all, any considerable increase in drunkenness, if there were such a thing, would react immediately on them in the estimation of the public. Nor, if indeed they have been attempting any such wicked thing, can they be said to have achieved any remarkable success. On the contrary, convictions for drunkenness in England and Wales—and, equally, I believe, in Scotland—have steadily and continuously fallen during the last fifty years. They are to-day only one quarter of what they were in 1900, and only about half what they were in 1925. If noble Lords want the exact figures I can give them. In England and Wales convictions have fallen from 182,000 in 1900 to 78,000 in 1925, and 45,000 in 1950. So, my Lords, if the object of the brewers has been to make people drunk, they do not seem to have succeeded. Personally, I hope that this admirable tendency continues—and 741 I do not see any reason why it should not—during the coming quarter of a century. But if it does, it will certainly be no argument for State management as against private management, for it is predominantly under private management that every improvement of the last half century has occurred; and future improvement will no doubt be the same.
Nor can I see any validity in what is called the "tied house" argument about which a great deal was said in the debates in another place. One has only to mention the words "tied house" in any context to see noble Lords opposite become scarlet in the face; or, if I may say so, to make them see red in every sense of the word. No doubt, in the case of a public-house owned by a particular brewery the object of that house must be to sell as mach of the beer produced by that brewery as it can. But, in fact, the final decision must rest largely in the hands of the public. If the customer does not like that beer and continuously asks for other sorts of beer, then those other sorts of beer must be provided, or competitors will come into existence in order to provide what the customer wants. And that, in fact, is the soundest and sanest form of public control. It is the control of choice; the best form of control which the public can ever exert. But under State monopoly the unhappy customers will have no say at all. They will have to take just what they were given, because there will be no possible alternative. That is just why we dislike this State management and State ownership of public-houses in the new towns, and that is just why the general public, I believe, dislike it as well.
I myself have the felicity to live in a new town. I hear what my fellow-citizens say. I have no doubt at all that the vast majority of the population in my own new town, the one in which I live, would infinitely prefer private management to State management, and I have no doubt that the same applies to others. That is what they are going to get—properly supervised private management—in the present Bill. After all, what does the Bill propose to do? It proposes to make the development corporations, which are responsible for the new towns in question, and the local licensing authorities jointly responsible for deciding the number, the nature and the distribution of licensed premises. 742 And I submit that that is an eminently reasonable proposal. It will ensure that the new buildings which have to be put up will be well placed for the purposes for which they are intended and will equally avoid the need for dismissing existing managers who, in the majority of cases, as we know, have done their jobs conscientiously and well. Also, it will save the taxpayer large sums of money. Your Lordships know that the late Government included a substantial sum in the Estimates for 1951–52—a sum, I believe, upwards of £1,000,000—for acquiring existing licensed premises under the proposals which this Bill is to replace. A further large sum was to be included in the Estimates for 1952–53 for acquiring the remainder. Your Lordships will be delighted to hear that all that money will be saved. These are only some of the advantages to be gained by this Bill. For these reasons I would seriously submit that any unbiased person should warmly welcome it.
Now I should like briefly to describe the provisions of the measure itself. To a great extent these are modelled on those of the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945, which has proved in practice to be a workmanlike measure, as your Lordships know. The first clause repeals the provisions which extended State management to the nevi towns. The second provides for the establishment of committees, consisting half of licensing justices and half of representatives of the development corporation, with an independent chairman appointed by the Secretary of State. Under Clause 3 the committee will have the duty of considering the requirements of their new town as regards licensed premises and the services and amenities which they should provide, and of deciding where new licensed premises are to be placed and what accommodation, amenities and services each of them should provide. The committee's proposals will be published for objections; if necessary, there will be a local inquiry and the proposals will then have to be confirmed, modified or rejected by the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Under Clause 4 the licensing authorities will be required to grant any application for a new licence or for the removal of an existing licence made in 743 accordance with the committee's confirmed proposals and will be forbidden to grant any application for a new licence or removal not so made. There is also a provision requiring the licensing authorities to grant licences for premises certified by the Secretary of State as having been approved by him, in consultation with the development corporation, before the Bill comes into force. This is to ensure that there should be no difficulty or delay about the licensing of urgently needed new premises which are already being built or have been planned. I may say that in each of the cases where a local advisory committee has been set up under the 1949 Act the site of the new premises was approved by that committee, and if it had to be approved again by a new committee serious delay would inevitably result in providing the necessary amenities for the new population of these new towns. The remaining clauses contain supplementary provisions, and your Lordships will see from the clause about the duration of Sections 2 to 4 that, when a development corporation is wound up—and, in due course, when they have done their job, they all will be wound up—the provisions of the Bill will cease to apply to the new town, in question and the ordinary law will then apply, as it does elsewhere.
I hope it will not be suggested by anybody that the purpose of this Bill is to increase the number of public-houses which should be built in new towns, or to give their building any special priority. These will be matters for the development corporations and the licensing authorities, and in practice they will depend on substantially the same factors as if the Bill had never been passed. The situation will not be changed. The rate of progress will depend on the materials and labour available after taking into account other demands upon them. There is, of course, established machinery for deciding priorities between rival claims on building resources and for awarding starting dates for construction of this kind. Any new public-houses in the new towns will be subject in the ordinary way to that machinery.
I am quite certain of one thing—namely, that there is nothing between the two sides of this House on the question of the importance of developing the new 744 towns as complete and balanced communities, with all the necessary amenities; and in particular on the need to provide them with suitable licensed accommodation without allowing too much delay to intervene between the arrival of the new population and the provision of this accommodation. The only question between us, and the only question of substance with which this Bill deals, is: Who is going to provide that accommodation? For our part, we are convinced that it will be best done by private enterprise, subject to the measure of local public control for which the Bill provides. We have no doubt that in this way the interests of the new towns will be better served than by the application of schemes of State management, which are bound to be cumbrous and inelastic.
I am afraid, if I may say so, that the opposition to this Bill in another place showed itself to be largely, I might say almost entirely, ideological, rather than practical. Behind all those elaborate, detailed arguments which were expounded from day to day in the Committee stage, the real underlying thesis of the opposition, which never changed, was that all State ownership and management must be right and that all private ownership and management must be wrong. No doubt we all have our own ideological quirks, but I do not propose to argue that broad thesis today—this is not the occasion for it. Moreover, I hope it will not be necessary, for I would submit with diffidence to noble Lords opposite that there must be, even for convinced Socialists, exceptions to every rule; and I submit that, for the reasons which I have tried to expound this afternoon, this is just one of those occasions where an exception might properly be made. The character of the authorities to whom responsibility is to be entrusted under this Bill is such that it should eliminate all danger that they could in any circumstances misuse their powers. I believe profoundly that the Government scheme is sound; and I believe, too—I regard this as important, and I hope noble Lords opposite do, too—that it is what the people of the new towns want. For those reasons, I commend this Bill with confidence to the approval of your Lordships' House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)745
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Marquess prefaced his remarks by virtually apologising to the House for the short amount of time that will be available for discussion of this Bill; but, like the good Parliamentarian that he is, he attributed the whole of the responsibility for the lack of time to the Opposition in the other place. Of course, it is quite good tactics to defend yourself by launching an attack. It therefore becomes relevant for me to expound to the House what is the real history of this measure, what is its origin, and what has happened throughout its rather adventurous career.
The House will remember that after the General Election and the debate on the Address, Parliament adjourned for a long Recess to enable the new Ministers to contemplate the scene and to decide upon their policy of action. There was a long period of rustication. When we returned, one of the first outcomes of it all, if not the first, was this Bill. There had been no reference to this measure in the Tory election manifesto; there was no mandate from the electors asked for or given; there was not even one word of this in the gracious Speech from the Throne. It may be that the particular residents of the new town in which the noble Marquess resides had expressed views about this measure—I do not know. But, after all, they are not the only people concerned. The people who are most concerned are those who are going to go there, of which there will be a large number in due course. There is no means of ascertaining their views. But, at any rate, I am right in saying that there was no mandate for this Bill, that it had never been mentioned in the election manifestos or in the gracious Speech. But suddenly, on February 5 of this year, this Bill was introduced, and it had its Second Reading on the 27th of that month.
It was introduced in an atmosphere of alleged great urgency, and it is interesting to recall—the noble Marquess did not recall it to us—what this urgency was stated to be. First of all, there had been £1,000,000 provided in the Estimates for the year for the purpose of the acquisition of licensed premises in the new towns. The noble Marquess did not tell us that not one penny of that sum had been spent. In February we were coming towards the end of the financial year, and not one 746 penny of that £1,000,000 had been spent. Therefore, there was no urgency in that respect.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I only want to say that I never said that it had been spent. I said that it had been provided; that it could have been spent, and could have continued to be spent, unless some measures were taken to stop it.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Marquess did by implication—he may have done it unintentionally—give the impression that this sum had been spent, because what he said was that for the next year another £1,000,000 was going to be provided. In fact, it would have been the same £1,000,000, if anything at all, because no part of this original £1,000,000 had been spent.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord really must not misrepresent me. I said that I understood that provision for another £1,000,000 had been made, and that I believe to be true. If the first £1,000,000 was not spent, no doubt they would entrench upon the second £1,000,000. But what I said was absolutely correct.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not want to take up the time of the House with these verbal points, but I imagined that the noble Marquess was giving the impression, when he referred to "another £1,000,000," that he was talking of a second £1,000,000; but, in fact, he meant that the same £1,000,000 would have to be provided again in the following year in case it was going to be spent then.
The second point made by the Home Secretary was that three new houses were about to be started, and that plans had reached various stages for another twelve. In fact, however, no houses had at that time been begun, and the other twelve were in various stages which could have been stopped at any moment, if necessary. The third point the Home Secretary made as grounds for urgency was that the local advisory committees had been set up in the new towns under the 1949 Act, and that they had been asked for their opinion as to which of the 205 existing houses with licences should be acquired under the State management scheme. But no recommendation had been made by February 27. Here I want to remind the 747 House and the noble Marquess that it was never intended as a matter of course that all the existing licensed houses should be acquired and run by the State. I think he rather suggested that, because he referred to the position of the managers. The fact was that it was for these local advisory committees to recommend as to which of the existing houses should be taken over by the State. The intention of the Act was, of course, that the new houses should be run by the State, but there was no decision as to what should happen to the 205 existing houses.
It is by no means clear that all these reasons really justified the high priority which has been given to this Bill. Nevertheless, it was introduced in this atmosphere of urgency and another place gave it a Second Reading after a Division. The Government took the most unusual course of referring the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, and this was agreed to without a Division. Again, I imagine that that course was taken because it was regarded as a Bill of some urgency and importance. Yet in spite of this rush and the special treatment which was given to this Bill, no further action whatever was taken upon it for four months. When the noble Marquess attributes the blame for the hurried way in which we have to deal with this Bill this week he has, I am sure quite unintentionally, forgotten this period of four months during which nothing took place, when, by normal perseverance and normal Parliamentary methods, this Bill could have been passed into law. He really must not blame the Opposition in another place for this delay of four months during which most members of the Opposition believed that the Bill had actually been dropped.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord insists in misrepresenting what I said. I said that the responsibility did not entirely rest with the Government. I think there was a joint responsibility. But, certainly, what is true is that the Opposition in the House of Commons did their utmost to delay this Bill as long as they possibly could. I am not saying that they were not justified in doing so. But that is one of the reasons why the Bill has come to us so late.
§ LORD SILKIN
I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me, but I inter- 748 rupted quietly to say "not entirely," and he did not accept that. If he is now putting it that there was a certain amount of unnecessary discussion in another place, well, that is a matter of opinion. But the fact remains—and the noble Marquess cannot get away from this—that four months elapsed and nothing happened at all during that period. Then, at the end of four months, what happened? The Government came along and said: "We have changed our minds. We do not want this Bill taken on the floor of the House at all—we want it taken in Standing Committee." They took a whole day discussing this and eventually it was agreed to. This again was a most unusual course. The last time anything of this kind happened was in 1917, in very exceptional circumstances.
However, the Bill was then taken to the Standing Committee and was considered by them during four sittings. I admit that a good deal of the time during these four sittings was taken up on questions of timetable and procedure. The Members of the Opposition felt that they could not agree to the timetables suggested by the Home Secretary. While I do not wish to weary the House with details of the dispute, one of the points was that there was an important debate in the Commons and the Home Secretary was seeking to get the Committee to sit at a time when a number of members of the Standing Committee were anxious to take part in the debate downstairs. Some time was taken on that question. At the end of four sittings of the Committee, the Home Secretary went along to the Commons and introduced a Motion for a rigid guillotine, and that was forced through the House. It passed some time towards the end of July, and the House of Commons has been operating on such a rigid and strict timetable that the Report stage of the measure in another place was taken only last Tuesday, the Third Reading last Thursday and a copy of the Bill became available to Members of your Lordships' House only on Friday, if they happened to be in London, or, if they were out of London, on Saturday morning.
Now here we are on Monday, only two days later, discussing a Bill which had been considerably amended during the Report stage. Moreover, your Lordships are expected to pass this Bill within a week. The noble Marquess has 749 agreed that this is a very contentious Bill, and in view of the use of the guillotine in another place, which resulted in several of the clauses not being discussed at all, this House ought to have all the necessary time to give the measure most careful scrutiny. Is this, indeed, not the true function of this House as a revising Chamber? Instead, we are required in practice to submit to an even more rigid guillotine—true, a voluntary one—than was exercised in another place. This is bound to result in the Bill never receiving all the consideration which a Bill of this kind, affecting so many people, should receive. I submit that it is treating your Lordships with scant courtesy, and reducing our functions to a farce. I feel bound to protest against the ineptitude, the indecision and the mismanagement which has characterised the conduct of this unwanted arid unnecessary Bill through all its stages in another place. Moreover, even here we are expected, apart from rushing it through the next stages, to take the Report stage and Third Reading on the same day—I believe that the noble Marquess is moving a Motion to-morrow for that purpose.
This Bill raises another most important question of public policy, on which I know I shall receive the sympathy of many noble Lords, irrespective of Party. The only purpose of this Bill is to repeal the Licensing Act of 1949, passed by the Labour Government. Admittedly, there was considerable opposition to that Bill at the time, just as there is opposition to this Bill. The Opposition made no secret of the fact that they did not like the Bill. But is it now to be taken as an established principle that whenever a new Government is returned—however precarious the majority; even when it has not received the support of the largest section of the electorate—it will at once turn up the legislation of its predecessors and introduce legislation to undo the work that its predecessors have carried out? I can understand that this might happen in cases where a matter of policy has been the subject of great political controversy, where the Election has been fought on it and the public have come to a decision on it. But are we to continue this process and deal with all legislation of our predecessors in this way?
750 Already the present Opposition have pledged themselves to repeal certain measures which the present Government are introducing, which themselves repeal the legislation passed by the Labour Government. Indeed, I understand that in another place one of my right honourable friends has proposed that this Bill should be dealt with in the same way when the Labour Government gets back—as of course it will before long—and that another Bill should be introduced in its place. And it is rumoured—I do not know with what truth—that the Town and Country Planning Act is going to be the next victim for this purpose. Where is this game of shuttlecock going to end? It cannot be to the benefit of the country as a whole that all this uncertainty as to legislation should exist, and that a Party should make it its first task, when it gets back into office, to undo the work of its predecessors. I ask noble Lords opposite to consider, during their short and inglorious career in office, What are the repercussions of the action they are proposing to take to-day. Do they really think it is in the national interest that we should go forward legislating, repealing, repealing again, and so on, indefinitely?
Now my Lords, let us look at the Bill before the House to-day.
§ LORD SILKIN
Well, I thought it necessary to say what I have said. The noble Marquess evidently thought it necessary to introduce his remarks with some sort of apology for the speed with which the Bill is being taken. The 1949 Act sought to carry out the recommendations which the Royal Commission on Licensing in England and Wales had made in 1932. The Commission had expressed considerable satisfaction with the Carlisle experiment, and they had recommended that public ownership should be applied elsewhere in circumstances which would submit the system to a further test in both the social and financial sense. This was not—they certainly did not intend it to be—a declaration either for or against State management. All that the Royal Commission declared was that in Carlisle State management had been successful. They inferentially said that this was by no means conclusive—and I make the same point—but they felt that the experiment 751 ought to be extended; and that was one of their recommendations. The Labour Government came to the conclusion that the new towns were eminently suited for the purpose of carrying out this extended experiment. It would probably not have been suitable in existing areas. Here was a real opportunity of doing something which had been recommended as far back as 1932. The new towns were new; the atmosphere in the new towns being built was the right kind of atmosphere for a new outlook and a new approach to the whole conception of the provision of licensed premises; and the development corporations were ready to co-operate.
Moreover, the new towns are being built with Government money, and it seems reasonable that highly profitable undertakings such as licensed premises should be used to reduce the cost to the public of the new towns. The noble Marquess made a good deal of play with the fact that contradictory arguments were being put forward—whether licensed premises should be profitable or not, and whether it was desirable that profits should go to the brewers. Let us be quite clear about the things which I am now putting forward. My view is that they should be profitable, and that in the new towns profits should reasonably go to the reduction of the cost of the new towns, rather than a present be made of these very profitable undertakings to the brewers. I should like the House to be quite clear that this is not the main case for the extension of the experiment—that is quite incidental. The real case is that a further experiment is desirable; that, without prejudice to the question of whether or not State management is generally desirable throughout the country, a further extension is desirable and that the new towns are peculiarly suited for that purpose. It was felt by the Government which was in office in 1948 and 1949 that therefore a limited (and it was bound to be limited) extension of State management should be carried out in the new towns.
No question of the principle of State management versus private enterprise is involved in this at all; and still less any question of the conduct of the brewing industry. This is in no sense a vote of "no confidence" in the brewers or in the principle of tied houses. I personally regret that in the heat engendered in 752 another place as a result of the manner in which the Bill had been conducted, certain reflections were made on the brewing industry. I regard such reflections as wholly unnecessary. I do not believe for a moment—and I am sure none of my noble friends on this side of the House believes—that brewers make a practice of adulterating their beer, or of giving short measure; or that they exercised improper influence—though it would be unrealistic to assume that they exercised no influence at all—to secure this Bill. I think that such influence as they have exercised has been such as any group of citizens in respect of a particular measure might have exercised, and it is no part of my case that this Bill has been introduced as a result of improper pressure.
I believe, further, that on the whole the brewers are as public-spirited and enlightened as most industrialists. They have undoubtedly done much to improve the character of their houses, and to keep abreast of the modern outlook on the question of licensed premises. No one who has any acquaintance with the new type of licensed house could have the slightest doubt that it represents a vast improvement on the type of licensed house which existed a generation ago, and the brewers are entitled to all credit for this. Nevertheless, there are many who believe that it is not in the public interest that the licensed houses in this country should be virtually in the hands of the brewing industry. It was stated that in England and Wales 89 per cent. of the public-houses are tied. It is no more in the public interest that 89 per cent. of the public-houses should be tied than it would be that 89 per cent. of the general shops in the country should be owned by multiple stores. I am sure that if there were any tendency in that direction as regards other types of retail sales noble Lords would do everything they could to prevent it. It seems to me that there is no stronger case for the tied house as regards the sale of intoxicating liquor than there would be for the multiple shop as regards any other type of ware. The 1949 Act was an attempt, on a relatively small scale, to try out an alternative, and there would have been no sacrifice in principle involved in allowing the further experiment to go forward.
Those who are especially anxious for the extension of State management are concerned particularly in three aspects of 753 the matter, and I think it is right that they should be stated. The first is that licensed premises should not be regarded solely as places for the sale of intoxicating drink—and still less for it to be consumed standing up. Secondly, the sale of food, beverages and non-alcoholic drink should be as prominent a feature in the conduct of these premises as the sale of alcohol. Thirdly, no person employed should be remunerated, wholly or in part, on the basis of the amount of alcohol sold. Those are the views of a considerable number of people of all Parties. Indeed, there were two eminent members of this House who gave evidence on these lines to the Royal Commission on Licensing. I think these are views which should be treated with respect.
I admit that to secure these ends it is not essential to have State management. There may be other means of doing so, and if the Government had introduced a measure in which there had been a real, effective alternative to both State management and the tied house, the measure might have had some merit. In theory, it is true, this Bill does not rule out any such alternative, but everybody in another place, Members on all sides, assumed that the only people who could provide licensed premises as contemplated in the Bill were the brewers; and the whole of the discussions on the Bill took place on that basis. I believe they are right. I believe that, if this measure is passed, practically all the new houses will be tied to one brewer or another. It seems to me a great pity that we are faced, in practice, with a choice between what noble Lords opposite regard as a State monopoly and what we on this side regard as a brewers' monopoly. I should have liked to see some alternative considered and provided for in this measure.
We do not propose to divide against the Bill. This course has become almost traditional in this House, and we are following tradition. Nevertheless, we regard the Bill—and I want to make no bones about it—as unnecessary and bad. We shall be moving a number of Amendments. We want to ask your Lordships to consider a modified experiment in State management on a smaller scale in a few of the new towns. Then there are a number of provisions in the Bill which we want to improve. We want greater and clearer powers on the part of the committees and the licensing 754 justices to deal with existing licences in the new towns where they are redundant or in the wrong place (having regard to the prospective development of the new town) or do not provide the facilities and services of the standard required in the new conditions. We shall seek to secure that the provisions for the enforcement of conditions laid down by the licensing justices are strengthened, and we shall try to widen and modify the membership of the committees to be set up under Clause 2. There are a number of instances in which the Home Secretary has promised further consideration, and we hope that this further consideration will be favourable, which will obviate the need for moving some of the Amendments to which I have referred. I am sure that this House, given adequate time and without pressure, might with profit have considered in an objective spirit what is the best method of providing for the alcoholic needs of the residents of the new towns. I can only express my regret once more, and that of my noble friends, that the circumstances and conditions under which we are compelled to discuss this matter in the next few days render this virtually impossible.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Silkin, I, too, wondered why this Bill was being brought forward. It seemed to me that, at a time when the Government were fully preoccupied with economic problems and problems of foreign affairs, a Bill of this kind would have had no chance at all of being considered. If it be true, as the noble Marquess has said, that we appear to be guided by ideological considerations in so far as nationalisation is concerned, it would appear equally true that noble Lords on the other side are guided by ideological obsessions in so far as private enterprise is concerned. If one side is to blame, then the other side is equally to blame.
My own interest in this matter is in its application to Scotland. When I read the debate which took place in another place, I could hardly realise that what Members there were describing was the conditions that exist in Scotland. It seems to me that the drinking habits of people in Scotland are quite different from those of the people in England, and that, so far as the law is concerned, legal terminology in Scotland is different from that in 755 England. The two are things completely apart. I do not know how many new towns there are in England and Wales but I believe there are only two in Scotland, and it may be years ahead before another new town is built in that country. For that reason, I am wondering whether it would not be possible to exclude entirely from this Bill any reference to Scotland. If the Government feel that in the case of Scotland a Bill of this kind is necessary, then why not introduce a Bill applying to Scotland, in order that the matter may be threshed out on the basis of Scottish experience and Scottish conditions?
When I read, for example, that it would require something like £20,000 to £25,000 in order to erect the kind of public-house or hotel that is contemplated in this Bill, I can only say that, so far as my own experience of Scotland is concerned, the statement is just unreal. I speak as one who for four years was a member of a licensing court, and for one of those years was actually chairman, and it appeared to me then that applicants with no more personal capital than £100, £200 or £300 were able to acquire licensed premises in which to carry on their business. I am perfectly sure that if a certain amount of the purchase money was provided by brewers, it would be nowhere near the figure of £20,000 or £25,000; it might be £2,000 or £3,000, but certainly not in the region of the other figures mentioned.
Further, while it is true that within recent years there have been considerable improvements in the amenities of these public-houses, and while it is also true that one must distinguish between the ordinary public-house and the hotel or restaurant, my own experience, if it is any guide at all, was a very unpleasant one. As a magistrate and as a member of a licensing court, it was my duty occasionally to do what we colloquially called "pub crawls": in other words, we had to go round to different public-houses, put our noses into the urinals and look round generally, to see whether the places were fit for the consuming of alcoholic liquors. I must say that if those we saw in Glasgow, for example, were typical of the conditions in public-houses throughout the country, they were not the kind of places that those who support this Bill would care to favour. For that reason, and without wishing to enter into 756 the merits or otherwise of beer drinking, I would ask, when further consideration is being given to this Bill, that instead of packing into one clause the tremendous amount of matter which applies only to Scotland, your Lordships should delete that clause and deal with the Bill as an English Bill. Then, if you feel that a Bill for Scotland is necessary, you should introduce an entirely separate Bill. That is all I wish to say to-day.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I do not propose to keep your Lordships long. There are just one or two observations that I should like to offer on this Bill. The question seems to me to be very simple. Provision was made in the Licensing Act of 1949 for a further experiment in the public ownership of licensed premises, which was to be carried out in new towns. The question which your Lordships have to decide is whether it is or is not desirable that that provision in the 1949 Act should be continued. This Bill proposes to repeal that Act.
The first comment that I should wish to make is to deplore the expressed intention of the Government to repeal some of the most important Acts of their predecessors in office. This is being done, as I think, without due consideration, and certainly without adequate trial of the operation of those Acts. In the past it was our pride that we had the most flexible Parliamentary system in the world, that Parliament could do anything, but that Parliament would not lightly, or without full trial and the undoubted backing of the electorate, overturn the legislative Acts passed in a previous Parliament; that when action was taken, it was more often to amend the previous provisions, retaining what was good and taking out all that had been proved by experience to be bad. Therefore, my Lords, I regret that under the present Government we seem to have entered upon an era where that tradition and practice is no longer respected, and where a Government with a very doubtful majority in the country think their main duty is arbitrarily to overturn, without trial and without any mandate, the work of the previous Government. Such a course must surely lead to uncertainty, instability, and eventually, if pursued to a logical conclusion, chaos; and certainly 757 in my submission it is a serious blow to democracy.
On the general question of this Bill, I think it relevant to refer to what was said by the Royal Commission of 1929–31—namely, that a prima facie case of considerable strength in favour of the public ownership of licensed premises had been made out, that public ownership was theoretically sound, and that experience in Carlisle had gone far to prove it to be also sound in practice. The application of public ownership elsewhere, in circumstances which would submit the system to a further test, in both a social and a financial sense, was also recommended by the Royal Commission. Should we not therefore begin our consideration of the present Bill, which really appears to be the major Bill of the present Session of Parliament, at any rate in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, by giving due weight to the recommendation of that very important Commission?
It seems to me—and I hope to your Lordships—that a new town is the one place where such a test could best be made. In a new town one starts very largely from scratch. Presumably there are few of the old type of tied houses in the neighbourhood. They may or may not be taken over. But in any event, there is a fresh and presumably a younger population, drawn from various places and forming the inhabitants of the new town; and presumably those young people desire the utmost freedom and amenity. On general grounds, therefore, it would appear that a new town is a most suitable place in which to extend and further test the principle recommended by the Royal Commission.
In the second place, new towns, as I think my right honourable friend mentioned, are provided at great public expense. They are to include shops and public amenities of all kinds. It would seem illogical and unfair to the taxpayer to select one particular trade or business where the premises are to be privately owned and where the benefit of a particularly profitable industry will not inure to the taxpayer. The noble Marquess who opened the debate made a strong point of the fact that £1,000,000 in capital expenditure would be saved if this present Bill passed through Parliament. But he overlooked the fact that, as I understand it, the Carlisle experiment resulted in a very considerable 758 profit. The purchase price of the licensed premises there was paid off in a very few years—I believe under ten—and I think the sum of £3,500,000 has since passed to the Exchequer. Therefore, whilst one may avoid an immediate capital expenditure, if the Carlisle experiment is not to be repeated very considerable losses will thereafter be suffered by the State, in that the State will not receive the profits which would otherwise be made.
Thirdly, my Lords, I believe that the public need is likely to be better met in this instance by public, rather than by private, ownership. Your Lordships know that civic restaurants were authorised by the Coalition Government for that very reason. It is true that those restaurants have not always made a profit, but it cannot be denied that in the main they fulfilled a need, and that they have been closed when that need disappeared. They have been a public service. Profit has not been the primary purpose of their existence, as of necessity, I submit, must be the case where private enterprise has been invited to own and to operate a public-house. Then there is the very important question of personal freedom, about which I differ from the noble Marquess. Every new licensed house in a new town will be a tied house, and thereby, almost necessarily I should have thought, the customers will be tied to a particular brand of beer, which they may or may not want. And if, as I undersand it, the new towns have already been parcelled out amongst the brewing firms, then the customer will have no alternative but to accept what they provide. Under public ownership, however, there will be no inducement to stock a particular brand of beer; the house will have to provide what the customer requires. That appears to me to be a very important consideration. There would, in fact, be a greater freedom in the case of publicly provided public-houses in new towns than would be the case if they were provided by the brewery companies.
Moreover, it seems to me very desirable that this particular trade, with its undoubted dangers, should be removed from the sphere of private profit. I am not a believer (far from it) in nationalising every industry, irrespective of merits, and I believe that any nationalisation should be carried out by degrees and after due experiment, with the support of public 759 opinion. Nor am I a teetotaller. But I do believe that in the case of the liquor trade the incentive to push one's wares, because the greater the sales the greater the profit, is a public danger. Public ownership is surely more likely to enable us to provide the adequate but moderate alcoholic refreshment—combined, I hope, in all cases with food where desired—which is best calculated to satisfy the needs and to tend to the continued stability, good health, productive capacity, and happiness of our people. I therefore oppose this Second Reading.
§ 3.40 p.m.
My Lords, I interpose for only a few minutes, and I do so unexpectedly, for I did not come to your Lordships' House with the intention of speaking, but noble Lords opposite have made certain remarks which I feel should be taken up by some of us on Back Benches on this side. First of all, I believe that my noble Leader is absolutely right when he says that the sole difference between us on this Bill is really a matter of ideology. Noble Lords opposite subscribe to a Party which believes in the State ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. We hold the opposite belief. Therefore, on every opportunity they see for increasing the State ownership of the assets of the country they will naturally press their view forward, whereas, in our case, we subscribe so earnestly to the opposite belief that we are likely to do the reverse. As I see them, a great many of the other arguments which have been put forward are mere camouflage to cover the main purpose, and, of course, mixed up with the arguments is the strong element which noble Lords have in their Party of opposition to alcoholic drink of any kind. Though I do not subscribe myself to that opposition, I have great sympathy with them in that matter.
I rather deplore the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Milner, who suggests that the new towns present a good field for further experiment. If I may say so, that is a very typical Socialist attitude—they want to experiment with the bodies of the people. In other words, the new towns, it is suggested, should be made a guinea-pig for further experiments on the Carlisle model. So far as I know, the new towns have not the slightest wish to be experimented with in that way. The 760 new town on the outskirts of which I live—namely, Crawley—certainly has not, so far as I am aware. Public meetings have been held on this matter and strong opposition has been expressed to the establishment of what are called "State pubs." Then the noble Lord was anxious that the consumer should have precisely that quality of beer which he required. I do not know how many public houses there are to be in each of these new towns. To judge by the scales on which public-houses are established in existing towns, they will be fairly numerous, and there is little doubt that if a consumer prefers one brand of beer to another (he is, I think, much more likely to prefer one darts competition to another, or one sort of billiards tournament to another) he will not have very far to travel in order to get his choice. In any case, why does the noble Lord express this great solicitude for the consumer of beer, when, apparently, other noble Lords think that the chief purpose of these new public houses must be to supply things other than beer? Noble Lords cannot have it both ways.
To say that it is a question of "a brewers' monopoly" against a "State monopoly" is not, in my view, factually correct. The brewers are numerous, and they compete very strongly among themselves. A visit to any underground station in London will give one some idea of the vast sums of money which they spend in competing with each other. So I think one can say it is a case of "free competition against State monopoly." That, I suggest, would be a much more correct description of the situation, and the fact that of the public-houses the majority may happen to be tied does not really lessen the element of competition, for one house is likely to compete against another in providing amenities.
One figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I did not quite follow. He said that in these new towns there are 205 existing houses which are not necessarily to be taken over by the State. Of course, the value of that factor can be determined only in the light of the total number of houses that will be likely to exist in the new towns eventually. If we left things as the noble Lord would like them, I presume there would be "X" houses taken over by the State, plus a maximum of 205 not taken over by the State. The value of the free element would 761 depend on the fraction of 205 over "X"—and I do not know the value of "X" in this matter. I do not know whether, when Amendments come to be put down by noble Lords opposite, they will prove to be what one might call "constructive Amendments" or "wrecking Amendments." But if they seek to wreck the Bill, I feel that they will be doing so in the teeth of the wishes of the population of the new towns—the people who really should have the last say in this matter.
§ 3.48 p.m.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I must preface my remarks by saying that I also did not intend to speak when I came to the House. I am sure many of your Lordships will have heard of an individual—I do not know whether he was a Peer or a Member of another place—who, whilst upending a week-end in the country, was overheard rehearsing a speech, and he began his remarks by saying: "When I came to the House to-day I did not intend to speak." I can assure your Lordships that I do not fall into the same category as that man. I wish to say a few words this afternoon, however, because I think there is a fundamental principle dividing noble Lords on this side of the House from those on the opposite side. That fundamental difference does not apply just to the question of whether there shall be State-run public-houses or privately-run public-houses; it applies to a much wider area of the retail trade. I do not believe that the real objection of noble Lords opposite is based simply on a horror of drink. I feel sure that that is not so. Nor do I think they fear that privately-run public-houses will make everyone drunk. Certainly, the level of drunkenness in this country is not all that high, and there is no earthly reason why public-houses in the new towns should make people more drunk than public-houses anywhere else do. I believe that in Sweden drink is rationed. in the same way as some foods are rationed here. To my mind that is a bad way of doing things. It is almost an insult to the individual. It implies that he does not know when to stop—and most individuals in this country do. I hope that the line of thought that noble Lords opposite are following is not one that is going to lead them eventually to such proposals.
762 Noble Lords opposite, as they showed when they were in power, believe that the governing authority, whether national or local, should be the supreme arbiter of the law of supply and demand. If a man sees an opportunity to set up a fish shop or a grocer's shop or a public-house—and perhaps he alone can see that opportunity, because he has the acumen and is in the right position—under the system advocated by the noble Lords opposite, authority has to decide. To my mind, authority can never be in the same position as the man himself to understand and interpret what the public need. This country has been built up on the basis of the individual seeing an opportunity to go into business and being able to do so at the moment when he sees that opportunity. That is the basis of our system of trade and commerce. It is that basis, on which our country depends, that this system of authority seeks to destroy. That is dangerous to the system of free enterprise on which this country depends for so much of its wealth and livelihood.
Frankly, I think that it is insulting to any business man—I do not mean the big business man but the man with the small shop, a newspaper agency or fruiterer's shop—to adopt the attitude that he should have to go to an authority to get permission to run his shop. I think it is also insulting for a man to have his public-house taken out of his very hands and run by a State body. If there are too many public-houses and shops for the public demand, there is a perfectly good remedy. If there are too many, some of them, to put it vulgarly, will "go bust." That is the risk which people must take if they see an opportunity to run their own show and go into business. If their judgment has not been correct, then they will "go broke." With most Conservatives, I believe that people should have the right to decide for themselves and should have the right to take that risk. I believe this Bill is right because it leaves with the individual the free will to control to a certain extent his own destiny and exercise his own judgment, and I strongly support the Bill.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, I cannot follow the interesting speech which the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, has just made. He regards, it as an in- 763 sult to a trader to have to get permission to run a shop. Of course, the traders with which the Bill deals, the licensed victuallers, have to get permission to run their shops. They must apply for licences, and unless they get them they cannot run their shops. I hope they do not regard that as an insult, because it is a necessary condition of running their particular trade. Therefore, I do not follow the noble Lord in the argument which he advanced in so far as it relates to the topic which we are now discussing.
LORD FAIRFAX OF CAMERON
My Lords, I was talking generally about the retail trade as a whole. I think that while it is an insult to a man to have to get a licence to run a greengrocery, it is an even bigger insult to take the running of a business out of a man's hands altogether.
§ EARL JOWITT
The solution the noble Lord apparently desires is that we should do away with the licensing system altogether, and that everybody so minded should be able to sell drink. I am not prepared to go as far as that. I differ from him.
I am exceedingly sorry that noble Lords have thought it necessary to introduce this Bill. I do not pretend to be a teetotaller: I am not. I am not passionately concerned with this Bill one way or the other. And I have no particular grievance against the brewers. Indeed, I would say that some of the building that the brewers have done recently has been exceedingly good and includes some of the best we have had in this country. I have no prejudices at all. But still I am exceedingly sorry that noble Lords opposite have brought forward this Bill. I believe there are large issues at stake here. If you are going to regard any matter which has been passed and decided upon by a previous Parliament as though it were a matter of complete res integra, which you have to consider all over again, then, of course, the net result is that one Party is going to repeal all the legislation, or most of the legislation, passed by the previous Parliament. I am bound to say that two can play at that game, but I do not believe that it will conduce one little bit to the interests of the country. What we all desire in the long run, more than any Party interest or sectional interest, is the well-being of the country.
764 Here is a typical case where you have decided simply to reverse the legislation passed by your predecessors, largely because it was passed by your predecessors. You have considered this matter as though it were completely res integra; you have never considered that Parliament has deliberated and decided on this matter. You have never said to us, "What can we do?"—because here is a case where, if you wanted a compromise, there are ample facilities for it. You could have said, "Let us differentiate between on-licences and off-licences." You could have said, "Let us differentiate between those new towns which already have a large number of licences and those new towns which have few, or none." There are all sorts of ways in which you could have met us. And, for my part, I most certainly should have been prepared to work out some compromise, because I do not believe that it will be the least bit good for this country if what is being done in this case continues. I deeply regret that you should simply have taken the easy course of wiping the tablets clean, disregarding and reversing what your predecessors have done. Do not blame me, or those who sit with me, if this example is followed. I say frankly that I think it is a bad one.
My view of what we should do is this. First of all, we should do all we can to see that the public-house is a structurally fit and decent place, the sort of place into which you would not hesitate to take your wife or daughter. I believe that that is the real safeguard against the abuse of drink. If you have decent people there, in decent surroundings, with women going in, and, if you will, children going in, a man will not then make a beast of himself, as he tends to do if the public-house consists of some wretched premises, the sort of place where he has to leave his wife and children outside. That is the outlook I have. Secondly, I would say that I am against the tied house system, so far as I understand it. I understand that Scotland, from which we can learn so much in so many matters, has not got the tied house system—and Scotland seems to do very well without it.
§ EARL JOWITT
I do not know. But I think you will also find that the im- 765 provement in the figures of drunkenness has been sharper in the last twenty years in Scotland than in England.
§ EARL JOWITT
Certainly there was more room for it At any rate, they have not the tied house system; and I do not think that the tied house system has much to do with drunkenness. I feel that it is objectionable for another reason. Here I am almost a free trader—and the Party opposite are always a Party for stressing the merit of competition. They see this Bill as a Bill restricting the freedom of the consumer. I see it just the other way. I have never been able to understand why, when I go into a public-house and ask for a glass of draught beer, I should, in practice, be limited to the draught beer produced by the particular brewer who owns that public-house. Unfortunately, I do not drink much beer now, because it does not suit me—I have more or less given it up. But I always thought it was wrong that I should have to have that particular draught beer when I might like some other beer better. The great advantage of the free house, to my mind, was that, within reason, it catered for reasonable requirements, although, of course, it could not have every sort of beer. Here may I say one other thing, greatly daring?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble and learned Earl is implying that in a tied house you cannot get any form of beer but the beer of the brewery owning the house.
§ EARL JOWITT
I am well aware of that. I was careful to limit myself to draught beer. I believe in competition. I am going to make a statement which will get me into frightful trouble, but nevertheless I will make it. I myself believe that our draught beer might be better than it is. I had a house in the country, and facilities available, and I used to take in refugees, largely from Czechoslovakia, and later from Germany, and people of the Jewish persuasion. After they had been in this country for some time I used to say to them, "Tell 766 me what your criticisms of this country are." It was difficult to get them to criticise at all, because they were so grateful for what we were doing, but when they did criticise it was always the same criticism. They said: "If you really want to know what we do not like in this country, first of all we do not like your coffee; secondly, we do not like your bread; and thirdly, we do not like your beer." I am bound to say that if I were asked I should subscribe to those three comments. I believe that there is room for improvement in those three things, in particular. I should like to know where in England I could get beer as good as the Pilsner beer or the Munich beer, although it would do me no good to drink it. I do not see why noble Lords opposite, who stand for competition, and who believe it is through competition that we shall get on, are so wedded to this English system of the tied house, where you can get only the particular draught beer which is made by the owner of the house. Why should we not try the experiment of having a free house where, within reason, you can get whatever draught beer you like?
I have told your Lordships what I think ought to be done in these public-houses The second thing I have to say is this. I believe that we ought to try to get disinterested management—in my view that is most important. I would have the remuneration of the licensee dependent, not on the amount of drink he sells, but on the amount of refreshments sold, and all the rest of it. I feel that the main object of these houses should be to provide refreshment for the people. If the people want to have alcoholic liquor, then, for my part, I should be prepared to let them have it; but my emphasis would be on refreshment in really good, healthy, clean, decent surroundings. In that way I believe that we should deal with this problem correctly. As I have said, I am sorry that you have taken the easy course—you are "drest in a little brief authority," and you can, of course, carry it through—of wiping out what we have done, instead of going to a little trouble and seeing whether there was not some compromise that we could have made in this matter. I believe that there was.
I am sorry for another reason, too. We have met you provisionally, as we always try to do, because we never try to obstruct, and we realise that the Government want 767 to get this Bill through in time for the Royal Assent at the end of this Session. But I am sorry that it comes to us in this way. We shall not oppose this Second Reading to-day, not because we are not opposed to the Bill—we are—but because we regard ourselves here as being a revising Chamber; and if the other Chamber has thought—as they have-that this Bill ought to pass, then it is for us to attempt to make it a better Bill, but not to throw it out altogether, even if we could. But that means that we must have reasonable time at our disposal if this House—and I speak as a member of the House—is to carry out effective work. I can well understand that exigencies of time make it necessary that we get this Bill through (I speak subject to correction) this day week, or thereabouts. But that means, for instance, that we have got to have our Report stage and Third Reading on the same day; and it means that the Third Reading becomes quite ineffective. And this is in relation to a Bill which has been largely guillotined, and has not been considered in another place at all. I do not think that is the right way to treat this House. I think it would have been much better to let this Bill go, so that this House could have had adequate time to perform its proper functions as a revising Chamber. With the greatest respect to the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who, as I know, is keen on the privileges of this House, it is idle to pretend that we can usefully perform the functions of a revising Chamber if we have to do it under a system of rush. That, too, seems to me a matter of the greatest regret.
I have not attempted to deal with the ideological questions. I do not believe that it is primarily those which keep us at issue. We have had the Carlisle experiment, and we have had an English Royal Commission which said that it would be interesting to pursue that experiment further. We have here a unique opportunity of carrying out the wishes of that Royal Commission and of pursuing the matter further. Parliament decided so to do. Now this Parliament comes along, at the very end of the Session, simply washing out all that the last Parliament did, and goes back to the old and not very satisfactory system. I deeply regret it. We have no option but to assist your Lordships in giving this Bill a Second 768 Reading, but we very much hope that when we come to the Committee stage the Government's mind will not be closed, and that even then they will be prepared to consider Amendments, not of a wrecking character but of a substantial character, to the Bill.
I very much fear that we shall be told, or, if we are not told, that it will be operating on the mind of the Government: "If we accept extensive Amendments at this stage, which means that the Bill has to go back to the Commons and be considered again, it will not be able to come back in time to receive the Royal Assent, and consequently the Government's mind must be closed." That is what I fear, and that is the consequence of bringing this Bill on at the very end of the Session. What your Lordships are doing is virtually making this House a rubber stamp. That is my accusation and if this House is to play a useful part as a revising Chamber I think that is a grave misfortune. I say nothing more except to repeat that I deeply regret this Bill and the way it is being passed through this House.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, ended his remarks by expressing a deep regret that this matter should be brought forward so late in the Session. We have already apologised for that and said that it is not entirely our fault. As the noble Earl may recall, on many occasions I have made speeches of the same character as that which we have just heard from him—of course, nothing like so ably, but when another Government were in power I have equally expressed regret on many occasions at the end of the Session that we had to take measures rather more quickly than we liked to do.
In general terms, I should like to thank noble Lords opposite for the moderate language with which they have received this Bill. It stands in marked contrast to some of the strictures which have been made in regard to it. I would particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for some of the remarks which he made in the course of his speech to-day. I have one or two comments to make about the noble Lord's speech where it does not, I think, quite accurately reflect certain other facts, but as to the general tone of his speech I assure him that I appre- 769 ciate very much the way in which he has spoken. The noble Lord has said that we have no mandate for this Bill. With great respect, there is not the slightest justification for that remark. I will not bore your Lordships on this subject, but may I remind the House of what my noble friend Lord Munster said when the 1949 Bill came up for a Third Reading? On July 28, my noble friend said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 164, Col. 666):…I want to make it abundantly clear…that we shall take the first opportunity that is afforded to us to amend this Bill and to abolish all the State-management areas and the arbitrary powers which at present a Socialist Minister sees fit to take upon himself.That is very clear. I would add this. Prior to the Election last year, the Licensed Victuallers Defence League wrote to all three political Parties and asked their views in regard to State management. The Liberal Party said that it was a matter for the individual conscience of the electorate. The Socialist Party said that they would put it on the agenda of their Party Conference. The Conservative Party said quite clearly—I will quote if necessary—that they were strongly in favour of repealing the provisions of the 1949 Act and eventually bringing the laws for the new towns area into line with the licensing laws of the rest of the country. I do not think there was any doubt about it. That was published in at least three daily papers, and no one need be in any doubt as to what was meant.
There is one other general matter to which I should like to refer, and that is the question of the use of the guillotine elsewhere. It is not for us to discuss the procedure in another place. It has been suggested that this Bill has been largely guillotined. The objection to a guillotine is that it suppresses discussion; it prevents people from giving free expression to interesting and important comments which they may have to make in regard to the Bill. I looked up to see how much time had been spent on the Bill, and I found that there had been twenty-three hours on the Floor of the House and twenty-five hours in Committee. Mathematically, with a Bill of ten clauses, that means that five hours could have been spent on each clause. How the other House cares to spend its time is a matter upon which we should not for a moment think of commenting. All I say on behalf of the Government is that, superficially, 770 it appears that ample opportunity was given for all valuable comments properly to be made. I would only add that at the end of the fifth session of the Committee the first clause had been finished: and the first clause, as your Lordships know, consists of five lines. Therefore, there should have been ample opportunity for this matter to be fully and thoroughly threshed out.
I should like to take one other point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made. He explained why the late Government passed the 1949 Act and gave two reasons. The first was because of the recommendations of the Royal Commission in 1932, and the second because the State had put money into these new towns and therefore, he said, the State should reap the profits. The Royal Commission of 1929–31—which is the one to which I think the noble Lord refers—was presided over by Lord Amulree. The recommendation says:We think it desirable that public ownership should be applied elsewhere in circumstances which will submit the system to a further test both in a social and in a financial sense.and it goes on to say:An area in which there is such superfluity of licences as to make it doubtful whether our reduction proposals would meet the case might be selected for this purpose.Almost by definition, these new towns have not a superfluity of licences. Indeed, we are considering the means and methods by which these licences can be extended. Therefore, I really do not think that noble Lords opposite can find support for the 1949 Act in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1932.
A further point is with regard to profit—a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Milner. I see no reason why all reasonable profit cannot now be gleaned by the corporations of the new towns. The public-houses will be let in exactly the same way to the highest bidder, so that the new towns will profit, and these premises will provide an ample rent which will help the new towns in their finances. In the same way, what is called the social profit of the district will in fact enure to the benefit of the new corporation which is developing it. I would now deal with the question what are our reasons for bringing forward this Bill. The first is that we are saving money; the second is that there are three houses which are nearly completed and a 771 decision is necessary, and the third is that the earlier measure was frankly unpopular. I ask noble Lords to look at the resolutions which have been passed by residents in a large number of the new towns. I will read them out, because this is what in fact has happened. This matter was discussed in another place on the Second Reading of the 1949 Act, when some eighty of the then Government supporters declined to vote at all, and a number voted for the Opposition. Even at that time it was not particularly popular, even amongst the members of the Government of that day. Resolutions passed in Crawley and in two or three other towns have stated that people do not like the idea of State management.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I understood the noble Earl to say that a large number of resolutions had been passed. By whom were they passed? The noble Earl has recited two or three cases, but he has not stated who passed the resolutions. I do not mind a statement being made in general terms that there have been objections, because we understand that; but when the impression is given that there has been very great objection one naturally asks for facts. Can the noble Earl give us more facts?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I willingly withdraw the word "large." But it is reported that the honourable Member for Macclesfield said in another place that he had received a petition bearing something like 4,000 or more signatures against this particular plan. At Crawley new town there was a meeting summoned at which, I am informed, 600 persons were present who passed unanimously the following resolution:—To increase State control on licensed premises would be contrary to the wishes of the people.There was also a meeting at Hemel Hempstead—
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I have no figures at hand. At Harlow, in 1951, local interests organised a poll, in which, I am informed, over 50 per cent. of the electorate voted; and 2,341 voted against State management of public-houses and 110 in favour. I am informed, further, that, on the whole, the 772 new town corporations themselves were not pleased at the loss of their powers over licensed houses. That is the extent of the information which I have.
There has been a great deal of talk on the subject of a brewers' monopoly. I believe that in the minds of noble Lords opposite the difficulty here is that they regard an industry in which there are something like 400 brewers as constituting a monopoly, whereas they themselves are defending a monopoly by a State Department, which is in fact the only real monopoly which can exist. It is in the areas which can be described as State management areas that the monopoly in fact exists. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, spoke of the competitive element—
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am informed that, as far as the State-managed areas are concerned, the draught beer provided is only that brewed by the State.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I stand corrected if I am wrong. The bottled beer would, of course, be varied, and it is probably true that any one Department running the scheme would probably arrange for supplies from two or three different brewers. But it is probable that there would not be the same variety of draught beers in the area as if brewers were running different houses in that area.
§ EARL JOWITT
Would not the noble Earl encourage us in England to have the benefit of the Scottish system of having no tied houses at all?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I was coming to that. The noble and learned Earl emphasised the advantages of disinterested management. I agree that a salary based on gross sales of beer is probably bad. I think the noble Earl will agree that probably salaries would have to be based on some sense of service, and I should have thought that a good organiser would be readily able to produce such a scheme.
The noble Earl emphasised the desirability of free houses. Well, my Lords, 773 as the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, emphasised, we do know something about free houses in Scotland. Lord Greenhill's remarks were very short to-day. I make no criticism of that. I think he knows our experience in Scotland. We have not developed there the best type of public-house—certainly not as good as I have seen in Southern England.
§ LORD GREENHILL
If I may venture to quote remarks of Mr. Henderson Stewart made last week in another place, he spoke in high praise of what was taking place at present in certain places in the Highlands of Scotland.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I hope it is not improper to comment on the remarks of Mr. Henderson Stewart. If the noble Lord will take out the word "high," as I withdrew the word "large," I should agree.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
It is difficult, under the system prevailing in Scotland at the present time, to get anyone to put up the money—that is to say, to put up the sort of building we should all like to see. That is, bluntly, the difficulty we are all up against. There is no reason at all why anyone who wants to should not open a free house. Anyone is perfectly free to do so I am sure that noble Lords who are magistrates or members of the new towns corporations would agree that free houses are much better in many ways; but the difficulty is to find people who are prepared to put money into this sort of business and to develop the sort 774 of licensed premises which we should all like to see.
The noble Lord has asked us to consider Amendments to come, and we will consider them carefully. We are all anxious that these houses should be worthy of these new towns. We agree that these new towns are very important, and we are all agreed, I think, on the sort of houses we should like to see there. We may disagree as to how they should be managed, but we are all anxious that these houses should at least be worthy of the towns which are now being built. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to cover the various points raised. I should like to add one observation. We certainly do not propose generally to repeal measures which have gone before. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, emphasised that point very strongly. I think it is impossible to make any generalisation with regard to this matter. This is an Act on which no effective action has yet been taken: it was still possible to devise what we thought to be a more effective way of dealing with the matter. I very much hope that the noble Earl's words will be borne in mind; I am sure they will be by us.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.