HL Deb 27 October 1952 vol 178 cc996-1024

2.45 p.m.

An Amendment reported (according to Order).

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of October 21):


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, we are now approaching what represents the Government's main legislative achievement of their first Session of office—I might almost say their only substantial legislative achievement. I would repeat what I said when I spoke on the Second Reading, for my feeling has not in any sense been dispelled: that there has been neither a demand nor a need for this Bill; nor have the Government had any mandate for it. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when he spoke on the Second Reading, made a valiant attempt to substantiate the claim that the Government had a mandate for this Bill. He referred to a number of factors. One was the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, on the Third Reading of the 1949 Bill. I have read that speech—indeed, the noble Earl quoted from it—and I am bound to say that, although it was obvious that the noble Earl did not like the Bill and that he contemplated the possibility of some action being taken on it, what he said was far removed from a statement on behalf of the Party opposite that, if they were returned at: the next Election, they would introduce a measure for the repeal of the 1949 Act.

He also referred to a meeting at Crawley where 600 people were present and where, I understand, a unanimous resolution was passed against the provisions of the Act. The population of Crawley is about 4,000, which includes men, women and children. It is a remarkable thing that 600 Crawley residents, if such were the case, should have attended this meeting in protest against the 1949 Act. I would respectfully suggest that a great many, if not the majority, of those 600 people were not Crawley residents at all, but were members of the Licensed Victuallers' Association, under whose auspices this meeting was held. It would be unique, certainly in my experience and I am sure in the experience of noble Lords opposite, to get one resident in seven, including men, women and children, at any meeting. I certainly doubt whether this matter was of such extraordinary interest that so high a proportion of the population of Crawley would attend this meeting.

But I would also pray in aid what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, himself said in reply to an Amendment moved by Lord Greenhill last Thursday. He said [OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 178, Col. 950]: I think it regrettable to say that the people resident at present are necessarily competent to speak for those who may come in future. The noble Earl did not say that in reference of this particular point: he said it in reference to a poll of local residents as to what kind of licensed accommodation they wanted. But the words are very apt. It certainly would be most regrettable if the few people who are at present in a new town should necessarily be considered competent to speak for those who may come in the future. Therefore I do not accept that either of those facts provides a mandate for the introduction of this measure. Lastly, the noble Earl referred to a questionnaire issued by the Licensed Victuallers' Defence League, and said that replies were given by all three Parties before the Election and were published in at least three daily papers. I imagine that one of them must have been the Morning Advertiser, but he did not say which the other two were.


I can tell the noble Lord now, if he wishes.


I do not think it matters very much, but let us assume that they were published in the two morning papers which have the largest circulation in the country—if you like, the Daily Express and the Daily Herald, or the Daily Mail or the Daily Mirror. I do not think that that really constitutes a mandate for introducing a measure of this kind. I feel that the reason for the introduction of this measure is purely doctrinal: it has nothing at all to do with the public interest. It arises solely out of the views held by noble Lords opposite—I admit quite sincerely—against any form of State management or control. Throughout the proceedings there has been no case presented to this House for opposition to State management in the new towns. We have never had a case presented on the merits. We have had the statement that noble Lords are opposed to State management. That we understand; but surely we should have received something more than that as a reason for the repeal of a measure already on the Statute Book.

We should have been told why it is in the public interest and, particularly, why it is in the interest of new towns that the Act of 1949 should be repealed and this measure should be introduced. I would ask noble Lords opposite to tell us: has State management failed in Carlisle? Is that why they want to get this Bill passed? If so, in what way has it failed? All the evidence that we have is to the contrary. We have had a Royal Commission which has reported that it has been eminently successful, and that Royal Commission has even recommended that State management should be extended elsewhere. That Report was published in 1932. Since then there has been no complaint at all about the way in which State management has been conducted in Carlisle, and everybody who has visited Carlisle has either said, at the worst, that State-managed houses there are no better and no worse than privately managed houses, or, at the best, that they are very much better. I have never heard it said that the State-managed houses were worse, or that they were so bad that it was desirable to put an end to them. If noble Lords think that they are, why do they continue the Carlisle State-managed houses? If they are so much against State management, why did they not take the opportunity to include in this measure a provision for winding up the Carlisle experiment? Is it that noble Lords opposite are willing to have an extension of State management elsewhere, but not in the new towns? If that is so, why are the new towns unsuitable? Where as an alternative, would they have these State-managed houses?

The truth is that noble Lords opposite have never given their real reasons for opposing the 1949 Act. It cannot be that that Act would hurt the brewers because in State-managed houses the beer of the various brewers is sold; and except on the assumption that less beer would be consumed in the new towns if we had State-managed houses than if you have tied houses, I do not see how the brewers would suffer. The main brews would be sold at the State-managed houses. Indeed, it could be argued, although I do not wish to argue it, that State-managed houses would be so much more attractive than tied houses that more people would come to them and possibly more beer would be consumed. I do not make that case; I do not know. At any rate, I cannot see that it would necessarily hurt the brewers. So is it not just blind unreasoning opposition to anything connected with State management? Certainly that has been the impression given to any objective person who has listened to the discussions on this Bill. That is why this Bill, after four months of inactivity, is now being rushed through, and in such a way that the proceedings in this House have really been a farce. As my noble Leader said, we have spent our time rubber-stamping the decisions of the Government.

On the Committee stage a number of Amendments were put forward from this side of the House. I make no complaint whatever about the courteous way in which they were dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. We could not have been met more courteously and, I hope I may say, more competently than we were met by those two noble Lords. It will no doubt be a comfort to the noble Marquess, whose absence we regretted last Thursday, that his case was in really competent hands and did not suffer in any way. Nevertheless, throughout the discussion it was clear that the noble Earl and the noble Viscount did not feel themselves free to consider on their merits the various Amendments that were put forward—with one exception, which had been accepted in principle in another place. Over and over again they were asked to give an assurance that they would consider the arguments put forward from this side of the House, and over and over again their reply was that the point had already been considered and they were unable to give any assurance whatever—not even a promise to consider the point again in the light of the argument put forward in this House. My Lords, if we are to have Committee stages in this House where nothing that we say makes any impression on noble Lords opposite and we cannot even get an assurance that what we say will be considered on its merits, I am bound to question the value of a Committee stage at all.

I feel that the true reason for all this was the four months' delay with which this Bill started off, and in consequence the need for rush to get the Bill through this Session. I do not understand the urgency for the Bill. That was another point that was made in another place. I do not think the case for urgency was made with very great force here. I do not think the Bill would have suffered at all if it had been left alone, and if it had had to be introduced next Session it could have been properly discussed. It would not have hurt if the planning of a number of new houses had gone forward. If noble Lords so desired it (it is entirely in the hands of the Home Secretary) there need have been no acquisition of any existing houses by the State. The £1,000.000 that had been tucked away for the purpose could have been left intact, and nothing would have happened at all. There really was no great need for hurry. It would have been far better, and far more respectful to this House, if we had had the opportunity of giving this measure full and adequate consideration.

A number of Amendments were moved, and I want to say a word or two about some of them. An Amendment was moved limiting extension to three towns. That was defeated; I make no particular complaint about it, though I regret it. I can understand the point that this might be regarded as a matter of principle. But a number of Amendments which were put forward did not affect matters of principle at all; they related to matters of -administration. They were, if you like to put it that way, suggestions or proposals for improving the machinery of the Bill, while accepting the principle, and one would have thought that, at any rate, those Amendments would have met with some reasonable response. But owing to the undue rush with which this Bill is being put through this House, it was not possible, as I have said, even to give assurances that the Home Secretary would consider what had been brought forward here.

I do not wish to fight old battles over again, but one of the Amendments was designed to ensure that if we were to have tied houses in the new towns they should be, in number, nature and distribution, as well planned as they possibly could be and, therefore, the existing houses should be taken into account. After all—and I wish to stress this point—these new towns are rapidly coming to be regarded as among this country's show places. We are carrying out, in the new towns, a unique experiment, which is of immense interest to all architects and planners throughout the world, and an increasing number of people are visiting the new towns to see what we are doing. In no other country have they started as many as fourteen new towns, and we are making a great contribution to town planning thought in the world. In that sense, the whole world is looking to us for a lead. Therefore the question of licensed refreshment houses is of considerable importance, and it is desirable that, if we are to have privately managed houses, they should be as good as they can possibly be. Many of our Amendments were designed for the purpose of ensuring that that should be the case. They were designed to ensure, for instance, that where existing refreshment houses are unsuitable or inadequate, it should be possible to take them into account in the plan and in the design of the new towns.

I am particularly sorry that the Government should have been obstinate about such matters as the putting of a limit on the life of temporary refreshment houses. Frankly, I never understood why the noble Earl was so difficult about it, unless his attitude resulted from the fact that he had been instructed that the Bill was to go through without any amendment (except that to which I have already referred) on account of the time-table, and, therefore, that however reasonable Amendments might appear to be, they were not to be accepted or any assurance given about them. Well, my Lords, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. In another place, my right honourable friend, Mr. Chuter Ede, said that we are unable to regard this Bill as a final solution of the difficult problem of licensed houses in the new towns. With that statement, I cordially agree. It may well be that in the near future—at any rate, in the future—more will be heard about this question of licensed premises in new towns, arid noble Lords opposite may find themselves putting forward some of the arguments which we have put forward on this occasion. I hope that we shall be equally courteous; but noble Lords must not be surprised if they find themselves getting similar treatment to that which we have received.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am very sorry indeed that this House missed a great opportunity of effecting a compromise on the very vexed subject of this Bill. It is surely known to everyone in the country to-day that whilst a great many political things are held in common by men and women of all Parties, there are very deep cleavages in certain respects. Indeed, it is almost becoming the fashion now that when a Government, backed by a great majority, places upon the Statute Book a measure which, in principle, is contested by the Opposition at the time, the Opposition should threaten that when they are returned to office they will sweep that measure off the Statute Book. Two such measures are promised for next year, and we have had this particular measure this year. If that sort of thing continues, whether it is carried out by Conservatives or by Socialists, it will be no good to the country in general. Indeed, it may be a very serious matter. A function, therefore, arises for this House to perform. If the elected representatives of the people are so divided, and if their actions are going to run the State into great risks, then this House must hold itself somewhat aloof and must be prepared to fashion the bridges over which, in a friendly way, members of the two opposing Parties can pass. We must, if we can, strive for continuity in progress. And that will not be achieved if we take turn and turn about to wipe one another's legislation off the Statute Book.

It is not as if members of the Party opposite did not believe in public enterprise: they do, in fact, belong to an organisation which took the first steps in public enterprise. The only thing that divides us at present is not the question of public enterprise versus competitive enterprise it is merely whether this thing or that thing should be publicly owned and controlled, or whether it should be left in private hands. That is where the dividing line comes, and I should hope that in future we members in this House shall take cognisance of it and act accordingly. This Bill has come forward, and Her Majesty's Opposition in this Chamber have sought to act upon the line I have just been explaining. We have proposed to your Lordships for consideration a series of Amendments which might help to ease the situation between us on this Bill. We have on the Statute Book a measure which provides for State ownership of public-houses in the new towns. The present Government want to sweep away entirely the principles embodied in that measure and propose to do so by this Bill. On our part, we have proposed Amendments to this Bill in order to see whether we can effect a compromise.

I mention four of our proposed Amendments in order to indicate to your Lordships the manner in which we have acted on this occasion. Our first proposal was: assuming that this Bill went through, would the Government be prepared to compromise by leaving one, two or three towns out of its provisions in order that, side by side, in the new towns, we could have an experiment of publicly owned liquor traffic and one that is privately owned. Our second took the line of suggesting to the Government that in the meantime the corporations should act on behalf of their localities rather like municipal organisations. The argument against that suggestion was that the corporations are of a temporary character and unsuitable. I think, however, that is something to be said in their favour, because ultimately, when the new towns reach their full development, municipal authorities will come into being and will then take over where the development corporations leave off. Our third proposal was this: that before the Government did anything under this Bill to alter the situation in the new towns there should be a poll of the inhabitants there. Our point was that those who are involved should decide whether in future they want to be under private enterprise or public enterprise. The fourth proposal was this. Assuming that this I measure had to go through, would the Government hold their hands in forming the local committees until the Minister concerned was able to visit the localities in turn and discuss with local representatives the kind of organisation they desired.

I think that in these four points, whether noble Lords agree with them or not, my noble friends who constitute the Opposition in this House were taking the right course for members of this House to follow. We tried to effect a compromise, in order that the new towns should continue in their proper development. Such was not the case on the Benches opposite. May I mention three statements made by members of the Party opposite in this House and in another place? The Secretary of State for Home Affairs said in another place (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 505, Col. 207): This Bill embodies our conviction that State management in the new towns was a mistake. That was Government policy. Then the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who leads the House with so much distinction, and with great favour from all sides of the House, put his opinion in these words (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 178, Col. 744): 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 which this 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. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, speaking as Deputy Leader of the House, in the absence of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said: But the simple issue before us in this Bill is … should we or should we not extend this State enterprise? The view we take is that it is not a good plan to extend this State enterprise. The Committee followed the line given by their leader. They carried the Bill with one small Amendment only. I regret this, because, it is clear that, by so doing, noble Lords on the Benches opposite followed the views of the Conservative Government and did comparatively little on this Bill to reach an accommodation with noble Lords on this side of the House. I think this is a serious mistake, and I hope that when the noble Marquess the Leader of the House comes to reply he will be able to give us some satisfaction about it.

I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time to-day, and, for the rest, I confine myself to a comparison between the attitude I have just spoken of and the attitude taken by the Labour Government on the measure which this Bill seeks to destroy. I venture to suggest that after I have completed my short survey, most noble Lords, in whatever side of the House they may sit, will come to the conclusion that, after all, accommodation, mutual consent, helpfulness, should be the guiding principles in your Lordships' House. When the 1949 Bill came to your Lordships' House it received almost a welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who was speaking on behalf of noble Lords opposite. Listen to what the noble Lord had to say about that Bill—I quote his words because they convey the point I am trying to hammer home. He said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 162, Col. 1299): Let me say at the outset that this 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. Later in his speech the noble Lord expressed the desire that as the 1949 Bill went through your Lordships' House it should receive further alterations to the advantage of the people who live in the new towns. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, speaking at that time from the Liberal Benches, also gave the Bill a partial welcome, whilst reserving to himself opinions about it. This is what the noble Marquess said—I quote his words because they are evidence that the Conservative Opposition to that Bill went a little too far (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 162, Col. 1310): So far as noble Lords on these Benches are concerned, we think it is perhaps not quite so had 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. At that time the noble Marquess was balancing himself between the two Parties, and although he did it with great effect, I regret to see that he figured in the Division list against our Amendments to the present Bill in this House the other day.

What happened during the progress of the 1949 Bill through your Lordships' House? On the Committee stage scores of Amendments were proposed by the then Lord Chancellor, at present my noble and learned friend who leads the Opposition in this place. These Amendments arose out of discussions in the other place, and I believe they followed discussions behind the scenes in your Lordships' House. They were meant to be helpful, and were received as being helpful, because not a single Amendment proposed by my noble and learned friend was refused passage in your Lordships' House—and that is saying something, when you remember the relative strength of the two Parties. But His Majesty's Opposition at that time, led on the 1949 Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, raised only five Amendments on their own part against that section of the Bill which dealt with new towns. Two of the Amendments were proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, one being of a technical matter, to provide for the safe running of the public-houses in the new towns, should the corporations fall through; and the second to prevent the State from compulsorily purchasing land in the new towns rather than using the ordinary methods of business. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, for his part, moved one Amendment and two consequential Amendments. The subject of his Amendment concerned licensed clubs, because in the Bill of that year it was proposed that before a new club was opened in the new towns the consent of the Secretary of State should be taken.

That was the opposition to the Government's 1949 Bill at that time. It was very small in its range and, I think, not representing what members opposite generally felt before the Bill reached that stage. But such was the progress made by consultation and agreement, that it became unnecessary for noble Lords opposite to move more. Those scores of Amendments of which I have spoken went back to the other place, and all but three were accepted there. Perhaps I may correct my noble friend Lord Silkin on one point, because the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, which was supposed to carry the weight of the Conservative Party behind it, was made not on Third Reading but on the receipt of the Commons Reasons for refusing the three Amendments for which he had been responsible in this House. I think it is fair to assume that Lord Munster's explanation that the Conservative Party would oppose the Bill when they came into office was not an ordered statement which he was instructed to make, but one which arose out of his disappointment that his clubs and institutes, of which he is chairman, were not to be as free as they were. I will not trespass further on your Lordships' time. I have merely compared the attitude of the Government of the day in regard to two related Bills. I do appeal, not only to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House but to every member of the House to think of this House in terms of seeking agreement and effecting compromises, rather than using majorities, or even minorities, for forcing through measures of this kind without due consideration, such as we have experienced during the last few days.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support Her Majesty's Government on this Bill, I should like to say that I believe this debate will be memorable more than one would have thought, by reason of the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on the subject of threats. I entirely agree with what he said: it is difficult and unpleasant for any Government to carry on under the threat of the Opposition. What I should like to say on that point particularly is this. A threat is an undertaking to carry out a defined action in quite undefined circumstances. Therefore, it is always a great weakness. I should be glad if the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, were to gain widespread sympathy in both Government and Opposition, because if that kind of opposition could cease entirely from this day forward I believe the state of affairs for the country would be much happier. These things come from bitter Party feelings and doctrinaire Party principles. If we could modify those two things, in my view, we should be in a much happier position.

With regard to this Bill, I am wholeheartedly in support of it, for this reason. The Bill does give a greater measure of freedom than the existing law—in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, admitted that at the end of his speech. I am bound to say that every small assertion of freedom in this country is welcomed by me. I fully believe that if the Government were to take the risk of abolishing nine-tenths of the controls under which we labour to-day, there would be such a burst of energy and hope in this country that the effects would be quite incalculable and almost unmitigatedly for our good. On that ground alone I would support this Bill. After all, the great thing that helped us in the last Election was the cry of: "Set the people free." This is a small item in that direction, and as such I welcome it.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to intervene because I think it may be for the convenience of the House. As your Lordships know, owing to illness I was unfortunately unable to be here during the Committee stage of the Bill. Therefore, I think it would be appropriate that my noble friend Lord Selkirk, who was present, should answer the more detailed arguments which were raised at that time and to which noble Lords have reverted to-day. But there is one broad question of principle which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, with which I feel it would be proper for me, as Leader of the House, to deal. I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I do that now.

As I understand it, the point is: Are noble Lords opposite, the Opposition in this House, to understand as a result of this Bill that, while there happens to be a Conservative Government in power, your Lordships' House can perform no functions of a revising character—that they are required to do so, but, in fact, are unable to do so? I hope I have not put the position unfairly. In my own mind, the answer to that question, which I agree is one of primary importance, is quite clear. Noble Lords opposite, and the House as a whole, must not understand that—at least, I certainly do not understand it. Every Amendment which any noble Lord puts forward in this House, in whatever part of the House he may happen to sit, has a perfect right to be considered on its merits, and with a genuine desire to see whether it is what may be called a constructive Amendment; and it is the right of any Government to decide whether, in their view, at any rate, such Amendments are constructive or merely wrecking. I hope, that, so long as I lead this House, they always will be so considered. In the present case, we have not the thought that the majority of these Amendments are constructive. We thought that the motives which inspired noble Lords opposite—and I am not criticizing them—were not merely practical, technical arguments in favour of one course or another, but an attachment to the broad thesis that State management and ownership is right and that any other form of ownership is wrong. We believe that is why they brought in the State management of licensed premises in the new towns, and that is the reason why they are so dreadfully pained that there should be any suggestion that the management and ownership of these licensed premises should be altered.

In effect, the broad meaning of this general principle which has been invoked, and to which I have already referred, is, as I understand it, that noble Lords fear (and in saying this I am not questioning their sincerity) that it may be, as they say, impossible to carry on Parliamentary Government if, when a Conservative Government comes into power, it reverses what has been done by the previous Government. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin—rather unworthily, I thought—had rather a sneer at this Government. He said: "This is the only piece of legislation they have achieved in a year. This is all they have done, and this is to reverse what has been done by the late Government." I do not think that was quite fair of the noble Lord. I do not want to carry the scope of this debate too wide, but the fact remains that practically the whole of the last year has been occupied, as your Lordships know, in clearing up the appalling economic mess which was left by the late Government. It is perfectly true that, as a result, we have not had as much time as we should have liked for constructive legislation. But I do not think that what the noble Lord has said is true.

Nor do I think it would be accurate to say of this Government that their whole purpose has been to reverse what was done by the late Administration; and I do not think they have done it. After all, we must remember what happened in the last Parliament. The Party to which noble Lords opposite belong came in with a great rush of enthusiasm. They believed in nationalisation as the main means of production and the general administration of the country. They nationalised the Bank of England, they nationalised the coal industry, they nationalised the gas industry, they nationalised electricity and they nationalised the railways. I am sure that noble Lords opposite have heard of no suggestion that those great industries or these great branches of our administration should be denationalised. It is not true to say that the purpose of this Government is to turn round and undo all that the late Government have done. Considering how profoundly we disagreed with it, I believe that we are behaving with extreme moderation.

As your Lordships will remember, we did not oppose those measures when they were brought into your Lordships' House, although we had a great majority. We did not oppose the measures to which I have already referred, and the present Government have shown no sign yet, at any rate, of reversing them. But if I am told that it is wrong for the Conservative Government to reverse anything at all that the late Government did, I will not accept that, and I do not believe that any sensible man would. This argument must be read in conjunction with the remarks which are being made at the present moment by some of the noble Lord's colleagues. When I opened my paper this morning I read a speech by Mr. Bevan and I read another speech by Mr. Douglas Jay. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite read the speeches of their colleagues, but if they do they must have seen that they said that the first task of the next Labour Government, if and when it is re-elected, will be to nationalise a continuous series of great industries. They put it in absolutely unequivocal words.

Does the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, really suggest that when one Party is in power it is absolutely right constitutionally for that Party to carry out a series of revolutionary and, we believe, disastrous changes, but that when the people, anxious about what has happened, put in the Conservative Party again, the new Government is not to be allowed to reverse anything that has been done, and not to be allowed to put the country on what we believe to be the right road again? I do not think anybody could conceivably argue that. I believe that if we accepted that position, it would lead the country rapidly to ruin. Some things must be reversed. I have no doubt that that will be the view of the Party opposite of some of the things which will probably be done by this Government while we are in power. They are already beginning to say that they will reverse things that we have done. I believe that that is inevitable with a Party system. Obviously, not everything must be reversed, but some things must be. I believe that, on a very small and limited scale, this is one of those cases. We do not believe that the case for (if I may use the vernacular) "nationalising the pubs" in the new towns was made when it was done, and we do not believe that there is a good case for it now. We do not believe that anybody in the new towns themselves wants it.

A most extraordinary argument was used by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. He said that he did not pay much attention to the meeting of, I think it was, 600 residents of Crawley. After all, he said, they were only the people who lived there now; and he asked, what about the people who might live there at some future time and who might conceivably think differently? We have at any rate the present inhabitants on our side, and he has nobody except a shadowy army of people created by himself.


I am sure that the noble Marquess will realise that I was quoting the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, as saying that it was not the present inhabitants who matter but the future inhabitants.


But the noble Lord did not quote anything to show that the future inhabitants would think any differently from the present ones, except on his own personal view which was founded on nothing substantial at all. If he goes to any of these towns at the present time, I believe he will find that the great majority of the present inhabitants are against State ownership and management. Therefore, I should have thought that the whole of this argument about this great shadowy army of the future, of Silkin-minded persons who are going to march into the new towns, is not really the sort of argument which could be seriously raised to your Lordships' House. As I say, we are convinced that, in this particular case, there was no public demand for what the late Government did. It was purely an ideological move, done for ideological reasons by people who had not a very great majority, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested, but a temporary majority.


The Licensing Act was passed in 1949, when Labour had a majority of 150 in another place.


If I may say so, that makes the results of the following Election even more striking, because the majority was reduced to practically nothing. At any rate, that is our view. I do not in the least complain that noble Lords opposite should hold a different view, but holding the view that we do we feel that it was necessary to take this step. It is for these reasons, now that we are discussing the Third Reading, that we ask the assent of your Lordships' House to this measure.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, as the first speaker after the noble Marquess, perhaps he will permit me to say that I, in common with every member of your Lordships' House, am glad and thankful to see him back in his old form, with such fighting spirit. His ability and courtesy are such as to make his absence felt by every member of the House, and his absence creates a gap which no noble Lord on that side of the House can adequately fill. I want to refer to only one point in this discussion on the Third Reading. While I share the regret of my noble friend Lord Shepherd about the Amendments that were not accepted, I want to express in no measured terms my appreciation of the Amendment which Her Majesty's Government did accept—I agree, after consultation in another place. That, of course, was the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor. That Amendment, as your Lordships will remember, sought that in licensed premises there should be provided, in addition to the accommodation provided for under the Bill, accommodation for the consumption on the premises of beverages other than intoxicating liquors. I think it would be difficult to exaggerate the value of that Amendment. I only hope that it will not he allowed to become a dead letter but that it will be made really operative and effective.

If your Lordships will permit me, I should like to read a brief extract from a letter which I received after the debate on road accidents which we had in your Lordships' House. In common with many other noble Lords I receive a number of letters after I have intervened in a debate in this House. This letter came from Great Bookham, near Leatherhead, in Surrey. I am not going to read the whole of it to your Lordships, but hope you will allow me to read the part which is germane to this discussion. The letter begins: My Lord, as a member of my local Accident Prevention Council, I was discussing your reported remarks, relating to drinking drivers, with my husband. Whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with what you express, my husband, who often drives home late in the evenings, pointed out that since the passing of the Catering Wages Act there are long stretches of our arterial roads where it is impossible to get a meal. The 'pubs' are the only hope for people like him. Whilst he would far prefer a good meal in a cafe with a cup of coffee or tea to keep him awake on a long drive, it takes a very hardened man to walk into a 'pub' and ask for sandwiches and a poi of tea! Beer and sandwiches are often thus forced on the late evening homecomer, for it is even more dangerous to drive feeling cold on an empty stomach, as that tends to sleepiness.… I have read that extract from a letter from a perfect stranger only to emphasise to your Lordships the value of the one Amendment that was accepted by Her Majesty's Government in this House. I thank the Government very sincerely for accepting it.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to reiterate what the noble Lord. Lord Rochester, has just said, and to say how glad I am to see the noble Marquess back again restored, I hope, to his full health. Although we do the best we can here in his absence, yet everybody in all quarters really and sincerely misses him. Having said that, I want to tell your Lordships now that I am seriously disturbed about the position of this House, as exemplified by the proceedings on this Bill and by all my experience within the last year. I drove up to this House the other day in a taxicab, and I told the driver—an ordinary, intelligent taxi-driver—to drive me to the House of Lords. He drove to these precincts and started to drive me into the House of Commons entrance. I said, "No, not the House of Commons: the House of Lords." And then, my Lords, that London taxi-driver said to me, "I have never heard of it." It is really a rather extraordinary commentary on life to-day that that should have happened only a week ago. But if to-day some people have never heard of the House of Lords, the sooner they do hear of us the better.

I had six and a half years of experience as Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords, and I say here and row that I came definitely to the conclusion that this House was of the greatest possible value as a revising Chamber—and that, after all, is our real function. We have great debates on all sorts of matters, in which well-qualified people speak, but when it comes to legislation we are a revising Chamber. Perhaps it was a good thing that we as a Government were in such a very small minority in this House. We had to be reasonable; we had to try to meet our adversary whilst we were in the way with him and agree with him: circumstances rendered it necessary. Many of your Lordships will remember that I used to have round-table conferences, at which I used to meet noble Lords opposite; I used to hear what they had to say, and to go as far as I possibly could to meet them. If I could not, if I had not the authority meet them, I used to undertake to go to the Ministers and press them; and often I succeeded in getting further concessions. That, I believe, was right, and I believe it to be one of the functions of this House to moderate the bitterness which tends to reveal itself in another place. After all, the whole thing can be summed up in words used by the noble Marquess when he was Leader of the Opposition in this House, and was confronted with a situation such as this, to the effect that this House was going to consider itself a Council of State. That I believe to be the true function of this House. It is a Council of State standing rather aloof, au dessus de la mêlée, rather apart from the bitter controversies of another place and seeing if it cannot help to bridge the gap which there develops.

Well, my Lords, the experience I have had in this last year, which shows that this Government, with its vast majority in this House, can always vote us down (which proves nothing), makes me very doubtful whether, in these circumstances, this House has any useful function whatever to perform. When I came up here this morning—and I made a very considerable journey to come up—if anybody had asked me, "Is your journey really necessary?" I should have been in great doubt. There is nothing, so far as I can see—and this Bill is symptomatic of it—which is conceded to this House. There is no step that has been taken by the Government to meet our point of view, and even our arguments are not really dealt with.

That is the accusation I make. The position was very much the same on the Health Bill, the other great controversial Bill. Take this present Bill. It came here from another place on a Friday. It had its Second Reading on the following Monday, the Committee stage on the next Thursday, and the Report stage to-day. If we desired to, we could not possibly put down an Amendment on Third Reading, because that cannot be done until after the Report stage. That is the position, and I repeat what I said the other day that this House is being treated as a rubber stamp. There is no attempt to arrange round-table talks to try to hammer out some agreement. If ever there was a case on which we might have had a compromise on a difficult matter, this is the case.

Consider the position, my Lords. There is really nothing ideological about this. We have had the Carlisle experiment in State management. The Royal Commission of 1932 thought State management had been successful and they would have been glad to see further chances being given of extending it. Here, we have a good chance of extending State management. I want to ask the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk, these simple questions. So far as I understand him, he is not at all opposed to the system of State management. I gather that from his observations on this Bill. He does not like the manager being remunerated solely on the amount of drink which he sells. He welcomes the idea that a public-house should not be primarily a place where intoxicating liquor is sold but a place where refreshments of all sorts are provided for the people. He welcomes that idea, and he comes from a country where the system of tied houses is virtually unknown.

There is one great argument in favour of tied houses and, so far as I know, only one. It is this: that it is only because a house is tied to a particular brewer that the brewer is prepared to spend a very considerable sum of money in building the house in the way it should be built. I have no objection whatever to the brewers. I said the other day, and I say it quite shortly here, that I think the brewers ought to be congratulated on putting up some really good buildings, buildings which are aesthetically and structurally good. Under this Bill the Government could have tried here to get a free house, which I should think is plainly an advantage. I ask the noble Earl that question. Does he like the free house, assuming you can get the house properly built, and assuming you can get someone to put up the money? Is it not demonstrably better than the tied house, because (I am following the noble Earl's ideology; I agree on this point) it ensures competition, and you are able, within reason, to give your customer what he wants in the way of draught beer, and are not limited to one particular brand?

If you have a free house, with a management such as I have indicated, where the manager is not remunerated only on the sale of drink but is entitled to stock whatever beer he finds the customers want, is that not a greater liberty than exists here? Surely it is. I do not understand the point about greater liberty. I maintain that here you had a chance. If the Government had met us about that idea, I should not have been in the least obsessed with any idea of a State brewery. I should have been prepared to say, "Let the existing houses remain where they are. It is not essential to this Bill that they should be taken over. Let us experiment with regard to these three new towns. One of them has no licensed premises at all: let us try an experiment there. Let us not close our minds; let us learn." Apart from the Amendment which has been indicated—and I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that it is an important and valuable Amendment—we were given absolutely nothing, nothing whatever.

Of course, I know you can vote us down; you can do that quite easily. But I do not feel that you have met the argument at all. The argument is simply this. Here you have a Royal Commission wanting this experiment extended. Here you have a chance of extending the experiment. Why not try it, with whatever limitations you like? Try the experiment, and let us all learn from the experiment. There is really no ideology about that, except this: I say, quite frankly, that if I can get an equally good house I personally prefer a free house to a tied house. I ask the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who is to reply, this question. If he can get an equally good house—I admit the difficulty that arises there—does not he also prefer a free house to a tied house? If he says he does not, I will ask him to tell me why, because I understand from the argument that he himself adduced during the hearing of this Bill that he did prefer the system of the free house, subject to the difficulty of finding someone to put up the very substantial sum of capital required.

There is our position. I very much hope that in the future we shall be given adequate time to consider these matters, that it will not be taken for granted that in the course of ten days this House is going to pass whatever edict or ukase the Government put before us. I hope, further, that the Government will try, in the difficult times of to-day, to meet the Opposition to some extent, if they can do so without giving away anything that is vital. Of course, I agree with what the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said. I am not suggesting that the Government are doing anything unconstitutional. Of course they ate entitled to repeat all the legislation of their predecessors. It is perfectly constitutional and perfectly right. Of course a Government must, in some cases, repeal the legislation which their predecessors have passed. I am not talking about what is constitutional; I am talking about what is wise.

I submit that, confronted with the position of this country to-day, when it is divided into two pretty equal halves, with an Election coming along and it depending on temporary advantage whether this half or that half is going to win the clay, if we mean to consider what is for the good of the country, the proper function of this House—as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, put it, I thought, very clearly and very well—is to try, so far as we can, to build bridges, always provided that noble Lords on the Government side do not, by building a bridge, give away something which is really essential from their point of view. Therefore, I say, if ever there was a Bill where you could quite easily have met us, and where we could have had a compromise, this is the Bill. Instead of that, you have turned down every suggestion we have made, with the one exception which I have indicated; and you have turned it down without any argument which has appealed at all to my mind. You have turned it down because you have all the big battalions behind you. Of course you have. If that is the real position, then this House at the present time, with a Tory Government in power, is performing no function of any use whatever. I say that definitely and I say that quite frankly, because I hope, still believing in this House, that in the future we shall be given the time and the opportunity to make our suggestions. I earnestly hope that the Government will do as we did in the last Parliament, and that we shall have an opportunity of having roundtable conferences before embarking on these debates in the House, and that you will do your utmost in the future to meet the wishes of the Opposition.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble and learned Earl had a misfortune with his taxi-driver the other day. It is difficult to imagine how the man in question ever passed his Scotland Yard examination. But one of my own friends, not long before that, ordered a cab to go to this House. The man said: "Thank goodness you are not going to the 'gas House!'" Of course. I cannot pretend to imagine what the taxi-man can have meant, but at any rate there are taximen who have heard of this House. The opposition to this Bill, to my mind, consists of two totally different points of view. It is an uneasy coalition between those who think that through State houses they will get better beer, and those who have a feeling that through State houses they will get less beer. To my mind, or the ordinary laws of economics, those two points of view are incompatible.

I am no spokesman for the liquor trade. I personally think that the less we drink the better for us. I believe that the habit should be attacked through persuasion, and indeed sometimes even through remorse, but not through legislation. At the moment, our people like beer, which is hardly an alcoholic drink to-day. They also like recreation. The question of refreshment has been stressed in this House, but not that of recreation. Are the people likely to get better facilities for refreshment and recreation in houses provided by the State, and either managed by a State employee or, conceivably, left to a manager, or in the buildings provided by the individual brewers, all in competition with each other in the town? As the provision of recreation is so important (the public-house is the poor man's club) I am absolutely convinced in my own mind that there will be better facilities for recreation through the competition created by the different houses—the one house providing better darts, better billiards, better competitions and so on, than the other. They all compete with each other in this matter of providing the amenities of a poor man's club.


May I interrupt the noble Lord to say that if you have one free house, run by the development corporation and managed on their behalf, you still have competition with all the other houses?


Well, we come to the point about the free houses. I am not out of sympathy with the noble and learned Earl on the subject of the free house, but he qualifies his recommendation, and rightly so, pointing out, from the economic angle, that the free house is expected to get its capital, in effect, from the public funds. And that is where I differ from the noble Earl, because I should be very reluctant to see a large amount of public funds spent in providing public-houses in these new towns. I should have thought it would be against the conscience of those who violently oppose the liquor traffic to advocate such a thing If it is immoral to have drink, surely it is very immoral for the State in any way to provide the money for such a venture. They ought to stand aside. But if we allow the brewers to sink their not unlimited capital resources into public-houses in the new towns, that means, of course, that they have less capital resources available for putting into public-houses in other parts of the country. In other words, if you have a tied house in the new town the total facilities for drinking in the whole country are likely to be less than if you have the brewers' resources engaged outside the new towns and State money put into the new towns. Nobody would disagree that it is absolutely essential that large capital sums shall be spent if the public-houses are to be of the necessary standard that people are nowadays accustomed to.

By and large, I do not think people are very satisfied with State management or State ownership in this country to-day. I am not referring particularly to liquor houses, but in general. If you could take some sort of referendum of people who use public-houses, I think they would undoubtedly opt for the houses provided by the brewers. Of course, you could never have what one might call a really fair vote on that, because the antiliquor interests will always vote the other way, and you will get a false ballot. The people who are not going to use the public-houses will certainly vote for State "pubs" because they hope that there will be less liquor and fewer customers. But it all boils down to this: that this matter should really be decided by persuasion. I am sure it is quite wrong to try and force temperance through by legislation.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and other noble Lords for what they have said about the Amendment which we did accept. Certainly, our hope is that it will be valuable, as is the wish of the noble Lord. In this matter it is for those administering to make the decision.


Would the noble Earl forgive me? I am not quite sure what he said, and it is very important. Did the noble Earl say that it was "for those administering it"? In the ultimate issue it is the Minister who administers, not the committee.


That is correct. The Minister is not expected to initiate, though I agree with the noble Lord that in certain cases he has the power to modify the regulations. I certainly accept what the noble Lord says, that the Minister carries a measure of responsibility to see that the matter is fully considered. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for saying that he thought my attitude on Committee stage was courteous, although I am sorry the noble Lord found that his arguments were not answered. If I may be quite frank, I thought the Amendments divided themselves into two categories—those which went against the principle of the Bill, arid those which were incidental thereto. I should not necessarily expect the Amendments in the first category to appear, in the noble Lord's mind, to be entirely answered but I would, with respect, say that the Amendments in the second category were pretty fully dealt with.

I do not want to recapitulate, but the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned two things—namely, the limitation on temporary buildings and the question of distribution. May I take the second point first?—I shall not delay your Lordships long on it. There was some question as to whether the proposals would lead to a redistribution of the old licences. Of course they will. What we objected to was stipulating the precise licensed premises which were to be removed. We took that view because we thought the stipulation would give the premises a premium value and would tie the hands of the corporation when it came to removing the licence. I do not want to develop this point, but I think that if the noble Lord looks at it he will see that there is something in that argument. We may be right or we may be wrong, but there is nothing to prevent the committee from stipulating the precise place, where they think it is to their advantage to do so. However, that was our point of view and I will say only that I think there is something in it.

The noble Lord has said that this is a supreme example of a 13i11 in which a compromise could be reached. I am going to submit, with respect, that this is a pretty difficult Bill about which to compromise. The noble Lord has pleaded with me about free houses. I agree with him, but one's own personal view is of limited value in this matter. In so far as I know them to be such, I like free houses, though I honestly would not always know whether I was in a free house. On Second Reading we had a discussion on the Carlisle experiment, upon which the noble Lord has based his claim for free houses. I made an examination of the question, and out of the 178 licensed premises in Carlisle I found only one that has not got State beer—and that has one barrel of Bass. I think noble Lords will agree that there is a very good example for the free house type of institution. I want to put this point again, if I may. There is absolutely nothing to prevent anybody starting a free house if he wants to. I am saying merely that the arrangement must be made which appears to the new town corporation to be the most suitable, whether it be for a free house or for a tied house. Certainly my impression is that what will happen in Scotland is that the new towns will build premises which will be taken over by a licensee, entirely on a free basis, of course. I think that in certain cases in England they will not do that, but will persuade the licensee to build the house. That is what I am given to understand.

Now if I may go one stage further, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has again raised the question of mandate. With the greatest respect, I think the noble Lord is skating on extremely thin ice. I did explain—and the noble Lord has never denied it—that it has been stated clearly that it was not in our official manifesto what our intentions were about this matter. May I read to the House what Mr. Herbert Morrison said in another place on the Second Reading of the Licensing Act which we are now, in part, repealing? Like me, he had been asked certain specific questions with regard to the question of a mandate. This is what Mr. Morrison said: I am not going to accept the argument that everything that every Government does has to be justified by specific electoral declaration or mandate. This matter arose incidentally, in relation to new towns. Certainly we had a mandate for proper town and country planning. Certainly we had a mandate, which was well within the broad line of policy of the new towns, and when we came to the actual proposals for the new towns, we had to consider what was the best way of running the licensed premises. It really is an incidental matter, a by-product of the new towns' policy, as to how the licensed premises should be dealt with. Therefore, the question of a specific mandate does not arise. This is not such a startling Bill as all that. I do not find myself greatly differing from Mr. Morrison in regard to this Bill, if I may say so. The noble Lord opposite has pressed the question of State management and has emphasised the views of the Royal Commission. Why is it that no Labour manifesto, so far as I know, has ever contained any reference to State management of public houses? Even at the last Election, the Party opposite were unwilling to give a specific answer to that question when it was put to them by legitimate questioners. I think it is a question which might very properly be asked, if the noble Lord is really anxious to come forward as the protagonist of State-managed licensed premises.

The noble Lord has asked why we are doing this. We believe it is important—just as noble Lords opposite do—that these new towns should be well run. The Carlisle experiment, as it is called, though it has, shall I say, done reasonably well in resolving the problem for which it was set up, has not proved any long-term solution to any problem. If the noble Lord had even varied the Carlisle experiment, so-called, there might have been more to be said for it. The Carlisle experiment has resolved nothing in itself. It is not particularly desirable, either from the point of view of those people who like free houses or from the temperance point of view, that it should be extended. We think that in starting new towns it is important to start them on the soundest possible basis, and that is one reason why we attach importance to doing it on well tried lines.

The second point I would make—and I emphasise this—is that to have followed out the ideas of noble Lords opposite would have demanded further public money at this time, and to undertake to sink public money in public-houses would at best be a questionable policy. Every day last week we had brought to our notice something which had to be built—whether it was hotels, prisons, or houses, does not matter much now. Noble Lords opposite would add public-houses to the long list. I say, with respect, that any Government would probably be wise in their own interests not to undertake that commitment. It is that, among other reasons, which makes us anxious to put forward this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendment, and passed and returned to the Commons.