HL Deb 23 March 1965 vol 264 cc512-24

3.13 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. To borrow a phrase used recently by a noble Lady on the Benches opposite, this is a little Bill. But, however little it may be, this in no way detracts from its merits, which I hope to prove are obvious. One of them is to do away with a purposeless monopoly that benefits no one; and it would allow all would-be licensees to apply in the usual manner to the local licensing courts.

There are two counties in Scotland, Ross and Cromarty and Dumfries-shire, which still have certain areas where the sale of exciseable liquor otherwise than by the Secretary of State for Scotland is prohibited. Your Lordships may well ask why this should be so. Of course, it should not be so; but it is a hangover from 1916, when the Defence of the Realm Act sought to control the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink. In those far-off days, the Cromarty Firth was the base for a large part of the Grand Fleet, while the Burgh of Invergordon was a dockyard employing hundreds of dock workers imported from Liverpool. This was the reason for an Act which embraced the Cromarty Firth area, together with the county town of Dingwall. In Dumfries-shire, too, the reason for this situation was the war effort, for in Gretna there were great munition works, as well as military bases. But to-day, in 1965, not one of these conditions is applicable.

Your Lordships may ask why, during the great lapse of time since 1916, this situation, which must appear as a nonsense, has been perpetuated. It is true that there have been from time to time certain small and inadequate reforms, such as the granting of a few table licences, but these are not enough. With the full support of the county councils of Ross and Cromarty and Dumfries-shire, and the burgh councils of Dingwall, Invergordon, Cromarty, and Annan, in Dumfries-shire, I ask you to give me your support for this Bill. The reason is that in both counties during the past few years there has been a resurgence of new industrial activity while tourism grows every year. The thousands of tourists who come to Scotland will not go to places such as Invergordon or Annan, where there is virtually no adequate provision for them, in the shape of enough licensed hotels. The farming community also suffers great inconvenience at sales and agricultural shows, always having to apply to the State management for a licence.

My Lords, I have absolutely nothing against the hotels run by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and this Bill does not seek to deprive him of his licence. But surely it is an anomaly, in this day and age, to have two small areas of Scotland where would-be hoteliers and merchants are deprived of the right to apply to the local licensing court for a licence. Can it be all right that in Annan the most respectable grocer may not sell drink, yet there is nothing to stop a van from Lockerbie or Dumfries taking all the orders it can get in the streets of this town?

Dingwall, as I have said, is a county town, and the most important market north of Inverness; but, through lack of accommodation, both the County Council and the Town Council, and others, frequently have to go outside the burgh boundaries for their official entertaining. Invergordon, that grand centre of progress, has one inadequate hotel which is fully licensed and belongs to the Secretary of State. My old friend the Provost (a firm supporter of the Party to which noble Lords opposite belong) desperately wants this Bill to become law, so that he can still further improve the amenities of his borough and cater efficiently for a share in the tourist trade, which in present circumstances is impossible. What would-be hotelier would put a lot of money into a first-class hotel which could not get a licence?

This Bill would in no way encourage excessive drinking. In fact, the reverse is true; as, with proper and more licensed premises, there will be less inclination to put that half-gill bottle into the pocket to drink on the streets. As in other areas of Scotland, the local licensing courts are perfectly fit to administer the licensing laws, as they do already in the rest of Ross and Cromarty and in Dumfries-shire. My Lords, this stupid state of affairs should end. It benefits no one, and retards progress. I therefore ask for your Lordships' support and that you will give this little Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cromartie.)

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, it is interesting to think that an experiment which started in 1916 is still known as the "Carlisle experiment", because when I come to look back over 49 years at what has happened in the past I must say that the experiment in State management has been quite successful on the whole. It has been too successful to be easily or lightly stopped, but not successful enough to extend. The pressure for change, as voiced by my noble friend, has been comparatively recent and, interestingly enough, has come only from North of the Border. The Carlisle people seem to be happy with their beer. It is good beer; it is brewed in Carlisle and sold North of the Border as well. I remember one report in Which? the consumer magazine, which put the Carlisle beer, brewed by the State, as one of the best in the country. So we have something to congratulate them for so far as that part of the running of their public houses is concerned.

I think that if there had been unanimity as between the North and the South, as between the Carlisle area and Scotland, change would have come earlier. But it was very difficult for the Secretary of State over the last number of years, with such geographical links across the Border, and the brewery being so good and the English wanting to keep the experiment, to try to get rid of the experiment in Scotland alone. So when we were in Government we started relaxations in the Licensing (Scotland) Act, 1962; premises with restaurant and restricted hotel certificates were put outside the scope of the State management districts.

However, as my noble friend has said, in the last two or three years there has been a great and growing pressure in Scotland for change—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not brush this off as a Party political matter; it is not a Party political matter and is most genuine. I think there are two main reasons for this. First of all, the local people demand better and more facilities for receptions and the promotion of entertainments and functions of all types. I am quite sure, because I know from my own experience, that there are many cases where people wanting to hold a rather large function in the area must go outside it to find a hall which is big enough. There are enterprising restaurateurs and caterers to-day prepared to spend money, if necessary in competition with the State pubs, in building adequate premises if they are allowed to do so. So clearly the local people in these areas are not getting the services which are available to the general public in all other areas in Great Britain.

Secondly, there are the demands of tourists. In spite of the 1962 relaxations, the local people are convinced that tourist revenue is being lost and there is still not enough to attract tourists to linger awhile. My noble friend, who spoke with personal knowledge, has confirmed this. If this debate does nothing else, it serves notice on the Treasury that they can no longer afford to be as parsimonious as they have been about building extensions and bringing facilities up to date. This is in Scotland's best interests; and Scotland's best interests demand that the pubs in these areas should be as good as, if not better than, those elsewhere in Scotland.

It was in our Party political programme for the last Election that, had we been returned, we should have brought in a Bill to sweep away altogether State management in Scotland. Suitable arrangements would have been made for the staffs, and arrangements would have been made so that the licences should be transferred and the premises sold at the best possible price as going concerns. England was prepared to retain, and wanted to retain, its State management experiment; but at least it would have gone in Scotland. So far as we are concerned, this Bill does not go far enough, but it is helpful. It is a step in the right direction; it is better than nothing. And it has the advantage that the noble Lord can accept it because it is in tune with the views of the Labour Party, and of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I picked up a copy of Hansard of another place for March 16, which reported a speech of the Secretary of State on the Highland Development Bill. He expressed the hope that, as a result of public effort—I repeat, of public effort—there would be a flow of private effort and private capital into the Highlands. If he is in earnest he needs this Bill, because without it he cannot in the Cromarty area carry out his own policy. I cannot quote exactly what the right honourable gentleman, the Secretary of State, said, but that was what he said in effect. So Scotland will be denied the public effort in the licensed trade if the noble Lord does not see fit to accept this Bill. What is right for Cromarty must be right for the areas just North of the Border. South-West Scotland is a very much neglected tourist area. If we gave more facilities I am sure that they would get more tourist money. I support this Bill and I hope the noble Lord will support it, too. If the noble Lord does not do so, we on these Benches, and Scotland, will know that, whatever the Labour Party may say to the contrary, they intend to put the interests of Socialism before the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people.


My Lords, having heard the noble Earl who moved the second reading of this Bill, and my noble friend Lord Craigton who followed him, you will be relieved to hear that I have nothing to add to what they say. I will therefore say no more beyond hoping that your Lordships will accept the Bill and pass it.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers, although I think it will be no surprise to the House to know that I wish to speak on this subject, for three years ago I tried to introduce an Amendment to the 1962 Act to enable hotels and off-licence holders to obtain licences in these areas to compete with the State. I therefore support this Bill 100 per cent. The Bill moved by my noble friend Lord Cromartie indeed goes a little further in that he would allow pubs as well as hotels and off-licenses to have this facility. I think the situation has become even worse since I spoke about it three years ago. The population of the Annan district has risen quite appreciably in the meantime. It is a fast-growing area and there is still only one off-licence in that particular area. This is for a population of about 12,000 people. As a result, vans come in from Dumfries and Lockerbie and advertisements appear in the local newspaper, which I believe is the Annandale Gazette, saying: Daily deliveries to Annan and area. No need to queue on the street for your festive season supplies of wines and spirits. Just 'phone. Then follows the telephone number—a Lockerbie number, needless to say. The advertisement continues: Order with dignity, order with confidence. Then follows the suppliers' name and address. They further say that they will deliver from their comprehensive stocks. I know that the Party of noble Lords opposite is very keen on the dignity of all minorities in this country, and I feel that in this case they have an easy opportunity to increase the dignity of that sometimes rather downtrodden race North of the Border, in parts of which area they suffer from being unable to obtain with ease even their local product.

I hope, therefore, not only that my noble friend's Bill will be accepted, but that it will be supported by the Government during the rest of its career through the Houses of Parliament. I should like also to say that this is a very important matter for the tourist industry. People in these areas, particularly in the Gretna Green area, are convinced that they can make their hotels pay only if they have licences to sell drink to non-residents, because during the six months of the winter season they have a very small residential trade and in order to keep going during that time it is necessary for them to sell drinks to non-residents. This Bill therefore has the support of the local tourist associations and of the Scottish Tourist Board. I hope that it will also have the support not only of your Lordships' House but of another place.


My Lords, I used to own land in Ross-shire and my business brought me into contact with every sort and kind of person there. When I went to attend my business, I used to have to stop at an inn which was extremely well run and where Her Majesty's Government had a monopoly. I was very well looked after and I shall never make any complaint about the way I was received. But I can say this: that the Government monopoly was felt by nearly everybody with whom I came into contact as something of a burden, as something they would like to get rid of. Therefore warmly support my noble friend's Bill, and I hope that the Government will give it friendly consideration.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I think it may be rather dangerous for a Member of the Bishops' Bench to express an opinion on something which is going to have an effect in a non-Episcopalian country. Nevertheless, I speak with some feeling on this matter, because when I was in Scotland during the War and when in the spirit of Œumenism (if that is the right word), I went to the kirk on the Sabbath Day, I was informed that a round robin was going round all the churches of the Church of Scotland there, appealing to the Prime Minister to close the pubs for the duration. As I was in a clerical collar, the beadle approached me as the first person in the kirk that morning to sign the petition for the closure of the pubs. Well, there are certain limits to which one goes for courtesy, but I felt, especially as I had been invited to a sherry party immediately after the service, that it would have been inappropriate for me to sign the petition. The eyes of everybody were upon me at the time, and when I refused there were looks of distress. So, when they asked me a second time, I just mentioned the one word, "'Piskie", and that quickly caused the beadle and others to depart.

But since those days, like other noble Lords, I go to Scotland in summer to fish. It is something to which I look forward every year. It seems perhaps a little difficult, when one is on holiday on these occasions, enjoying hours by the river, that sometimes, when one wants refreshment, it is not always so easy to get it on that side of the Border as it is on this side of the Border. Anything which may encourage relaxation and good food and good drink I firmly support, and in so far as the Bill we are discussing to day will do that, then from this Bench I have the greatest pleasure in warmly supporting the noble Lord.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my personal thanks to my noble friend Lord Cromartie for having introduced this Bill. As the House will be aware, for many years I was a Member representing in another place one of the two areas concerned—Dumfriesshire—and in that capacity I did my best, I would say frankly, to bring about some relaxation in the State management areas. If anyone had said before the noble Earl spoke that there were parts of the Kingdom in which nobody was allowed to sell a bottle of beer, for consumption either on or off premises, except the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland or persons acting on his behalf, apart from clubs and a few people especially authorised by the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland to do so, I do not suppose your Lordships would have believed it. I may tell your Lordships that those people who have come to work at Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station in the county of Dumfries, people often with high qualifications, simply could not believe it at all. The fact that this has been so for nearly fifty years did not make it any the less astonishing.

With a few exceptions, which I shall mention, there are two districts in Scotland in which anyone can go to the licensing court and get an off-sales or public house or hotel licence but will not be allowed to keep a public house or sell liquor in an hotel or shop, because the Secretary of State will refuse to authorise him to do so. As my noble friend Lord Craigton has mentioned, the only kind of certificate he has a right to use, if the court grants him one, is one of the two new certificates introduced under the Licensing (Scotland) Act, 1962 —that is to say, a restaurant certificate, under which the holder can sell liquor for consumption along with meals taken in the restaurant, or a restricted hotel certificate, by which the holder can sell liquor to someone taking a meal, for consumption with the meal, or to someone staying at the hotel for consumption in the hotel by himself or by what are described as his private friend or private friends—I have never quite known what a private friend is compared with any other kind of friend—for consumption either with or without a meal.

In the burgh of Annan, with a growing population and with a large county council housing area just outside its boundary, there was until quite recently, and I think there still is, only one shop to which people can go to buy exciseable liquor. If one wants to give a dance or a wedding reception, although one can engage a different caterer to deal with the catering side, there is only one trader able to supply and dispense alcoholic refreshment—that is the right honourable William Ross, M.P., Secretary of State for Scotland. Not unnaturally, this restrictive practice has given the State management a considerable advantage in tendering for catering contracts.

Of course, as has been said, it does not mean that nobody in these places can buy liquor for consumption at home except through the Secretary of State. The traders in the neighbouring burghs of Lockerbie, Dumfries and Langholm do very well supplying customers in the Gretna state management district. My noble friend was not right in saying that they were selling out of vans parading in the streets. I do not think that would be within the meaning of the law. Anyway, that is just another illustration of what I can only describe as the eccentricity of the present system.

This system arose for one reason and one reason only. It had nothing to do with politics or with prohibition or with temperance or with the desire of the Party opposite to have a monopoly. As my noble friend said, it arose purely out of the 1914-18 War. In due course, all the retail liquor interests were acquired and a State monopoly has been there every since, except for the relaxations that were made in 1962. I am not going to detain your Lordships by reciting the reasons for this. I would only say that when there are only four or five constituencies that would benefit from restoring a situation to normal, while at the same time it is thought that there are a few prohibitionist votes that might be lost in the remaining 625 constituencies or so, it is not very easy for a Government to find time for such legislation. That is why I think we should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Cromartie for bringing this Bill forward.

There are some exceptions to the present monopoly, and it would be as well for your Lordships to be aware of them, because I do not think one wants to overstress the argument in favour. Clubs are pretty well exempted. Those clubs that were in existence before State management districts came into effect were allowed to continue to handle liquor, and by and large successive Secretaries of State have not unreasonably withheld authority to proper clubs to dispense liquor to their members and their guests. There was one small hotel in Gretna which the Secretary of State authorised to serve liquor with meals before the 1962 Act came into operation because there was no State management hotel that sold liquor in Gretna; but, so far as I know, that is the only exception that has ever been made. The Secretary of State has power to give special permissions, but, so far as I know, none has been given in Scotland.

It may be asked why Scotland alone should be privileged to have the monopoly modified. My noble friend Lord Craigton mentioned some reasons, and I should like to give mine. The first is that I think the attitude in Scotland has for a long time been rather different from the attitude on the other side of Border. As long ago as 1927 a Commission was set up in England to report on what was known as the Carlisle experiment—it was called the Southborough Commission—and it reported in favour of the extension of this experiment in what was called distinterested management to other parts of England and Wales. Four years later the Royal Commission on Licensing in Scotland, the MacKay Commission, recommended that, with a view to bringing Gretna and Cromarty State management districts into line with the ordinary system of licensing, the State management experiment should be discontinued. What my noble friend is suggesting, as I understand it, is that in these areas the system of licensing should be brought into line with what happens in the rest of the country.

The second reason is that the licensing law in Scotland is different from that in England. And the third reason is that the matter has been examined already, and it has been found that there would be no practical difficulty in a statutory difference on the two sides of the Border. The situation, in any case, as my noble friend Lord Craigton said, is rather differerent in England, because they have a brewery which produces very good beer. But I cannot be so certain that much of that comes over into Scotland; I think it is too well appreciated in England for that to happen.

As I have said, I sought for a long time as the Member for Dumfries to get rid of State management in Scotland, and I was not alone. Later on—not quite at first—Ross and Cromarty added their full support. Now, as a former Member for Dumfries, I am very glad indeed to give my support to Ross and Cromarty as the County Council of Dumfries are giving support to my noble friend.

I, too, should like to make it clear that I am not criticising in any way the quality of the service of State management, although it was bound to suffer, to some extent, from the absence of the stimulus of competition and from the fact that the inhabitants were not in a position to compare the service given in one establishment with that given in another. The chief practical criticism is not against the State management employees but against a failure of the system to provide the hotel accommodation in the Scottish districts concerned that is needed to meet the growing demands of tourism. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will heed what my noble friend Lord Craigton said about this.

It may be said that such a criticism is hardly fair, considering that the system was intended to be the reverse of venturesome—it was supposed to be a restrictive system. All the same, so far as I am aware, no new hotels have been built in the Gretna area. One has been demolished in the course of the Carlisle-Beattock road improvement and replaced by a public house; and one has been promised at Gretna but, so far as I know, has not yet been completed. One hotel in Annan has been greatly extended and improved, but it took the best part of ten years to do it. And yet this area is at a very convenient distance from London—for example, for stopping for the night—and lies astride and alongside the main traffic North from England to Scotland.

But there is another reason which is much more cogent. I need hardly tell your Lordships that the inhabitants of these districts feel very keenly that they have as good a right as those in any other part of the country to run their own affairs, instead of having them run directly from St. Andrew's House (with the assistance, of course, of a local advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of State), as if they were incapable of running them themselves. Why should not the magistrates of Annan and of Dingwall, and the licensing courts of the respective landward districts, have the same powers over licensing as in any other part of the country? The particular needs of the First World War 50 years ago can no longer be put forward as an adequate reason for discriminating against these districts in a way that they find distasteful. And if the Government challenge my assertion that they find it distasteful, then let them put it to the test, and let the inhabitants of these two districts have an opportunity of deciding for themselves.

The inhabitants do not particularly mind the Secretary of State's selling liquor and running licensed hotels and pubs in these districts. Some think that the Secretary of State should be subject to the licensing system, like any other body; but, in my view, they are a minority. But that is is not the practical question. The Secretary of State can carry on retailing liquor if he likes, but he should not have a right to prevent anyone else from doing so. The ordinary law of the land should apply to the Gretna and Cromarty districts as elsewhere. May I remind your Lordships, in conclusion, of the ordinary law of the land? Section 32 of the 1959 Act says: Subject to the provisions of this Act, a licensing court may, at any general half- yearly meeting of the court, grant certificates for the sale by retail of exciseable liquor to such and so many persons as the court shall think fit. They can do so now in the Gretna and Cromarty districts, but the Secretary of State has power, and exercises that power, to nullify the ordinary law of the land. The applicants may get their certificates, but the Secretary of State refuses to authorise the applicants to use those certificates. It is this position that my noble friend's Bill seeks to change. He does not seek to take away the hotels and the various powers from the Secretary of State, except the power to say who else should be in a position to supply liquor in these areas. I trust that all your Lordships will support my noble friend.