HL Deb 23 March 1965 vol 264 cc529-36

4.3 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps we might now turn from the vesting of control of this House in the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to the proposal to transfer public-houses from the Secretary of State to private individuals. I should like at the start to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on the clear way in which he was ventured into this field of placing a Bill before your Lordships' House. I should have liked to be able to go all the way with him, because I feel that the method of presentation of the Bill certainly deserves a better response than he is going to get from me. Fortunately for the noble Lord, I believe that the advice which I am about to give—at least if the expressions of opinion which have already appeared are any indication—is not likely to be accepted by the majority of your Lordships. Notwithstanding that, I would say to your Lordships that I think the measure proposed by the noble Earl is not a good one. And I will give my reasons for saying so.

I believe that a perfectly strong case can be made for a continuation of the present system—in fact, a strong case can be made for the extension of the present system to other parts of the country. I should be the first to admit that an equally strong case can be made for the complete abolition of the present system; and, if I may, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, I would say that he continued to elaborate a very good case for the abolition of the present system, as he has done consistently, I believe, over many years, with many Governments and with many Secretaries of State. But this Bill does neither of these things. It imports into the law the disadvantages of both systems, and I must admit quite frankly to your Lordships that I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, gave the Bill his blessing, because he is so far round the circle from myself that I thought he would almost meet me in condemning the Bill from the opposite pole. But he has worked, as have other of your Lordships, on the basis that "half a loaf is better than no bread".

I must admit that I do not think that either my right honourable friend the Secretary of State or any of my Parliamentary colleagues expected for one moment that any one would think that the first dividend to come from the Highland Development Board should he the opening up of these areas to the private enterprise of public-houses; and while it is a useful debating point, I do not believe for one minute that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, supposed that that was the reason the Highland Development Board was being introduced.

he noble Lord referred to the fact, as I think did one other noble Lord, that just before the last Election the previous Administration decided to make it their Party policy that if they were returned they would abolish the present system. I think I might be forgiven, as a comparatively new Minister, for saying to your Lordships that in a few months of Office I have not been impressed by the importance of making the abolition or modification of State management the first item of priority of our legislation. If so persuasive a member of Government as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, failed throughout twelve years to do this, then I doubt very much whether any of your Lordships would accept the opinion expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, that it was just a change of circumstances recently that has done so.


My Lords, if he will not tell anyone else, I will let the noble Lord into a secret, and tell him what the change of circumstance was. We had at last persuaded England that we should have our freedom in Scotland.


It is a good try! But perhaps noble Lords opposite may feel now that they were unwise to give this undertaking; because, after all, there are only two constituencies in Scotland affected by it. What happened? In the Dumfries constituency the Member was returned with a considerably reduced majority, and in Ross and Cromarty the Government lost the seat. So it is not an altogether good advertisement for departing from the present set-up.

It would be a waste of time on my part if I were to try to persuade your Lordships of the merits of the present system, because, for one reason or another, noble Lords on the opposite side have persuaded themselves that it does not have any merits. It would be just as much a waste of time on my part to attempt to persuade my colleagues that it has no merits, because they would not believe that either. We had one intervention from this side of the House, but, of course, from the Bishops' Benches. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate has left, because I heard him more in sorrow than in anger. All I would wish to say to his comment is that I doubt very much whether he has hastened the day when we shall have Bishops in the Church of Scotland.

I cannot commend this Bill to your Lordship's House. In asking your Lordships, not entirely with hope, to reject the Bill, I would not wish in any way to depart from what I said at the beginning, when I congratulated the noble Earl on the way in which he has presented it. If this is a sample of what he can do, then I look forward to a second effort in a more worthy cause.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he tell us some of the merits or demerits of the proposal in the Bill, because he has left me quite ignorant of what is good in the present system that he wants to keep, whereas my noble friends have set out the evil they want to abolish.


My Lords, 1 should have thought, having regard to the fact that abolition has appeared in the political documents of the Party opposite, noble Lords would have been well aware before last October of both the advantages and disadvantages. I doubt very much whether anything I could say would alter any preconceived ideas that noble Lords opposite might have.


That is really the most extraordinary argument for turning down a Bill I have ever heard in this House, and I have been here 25 years. The Front Bench either explains or demolishes the Bill. I have never heard anybody say, "You know the arguments and it is no good producing them".


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. I have been even longer in this House and I have never heard such an argument used. There are some of us, a not inconsiderable number, who do not belong to Parties but who come and listen to arguments and make up our minds according to the arguments adduced. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be so good as to change his mind and offer some arguments to help those of us who have not made up our minds.


My Lords, I doubt very much whether I can add anything to the information already given to the House. The noble Lords opposite have explained the merits of the present system and pointed out that they were not complaining about the way in which the State management districts premises were operated. They stated that they did not complain about the quality of the service or of the products; in fact, at least one noble Lord, if not two, went so far as to express regret that certain products did not come in larger quantity North of the Border. Having said all that, they then proceeded, having stated that it was not a political argument, really to come down on the doctrinaire basis that State management is not a good thing, that private enterprise is a good thing, and that for this reason there ought to be competition between privately-owned public houses, restaurants and hotels and those operated by the Secretary of State.

I stated quite clearly that I thought there was merit in continuing the present system of disinterested management. Probably an equally strong argument could be put forward for going over to the other system of having the trade in private hands, as it is in all other parts of the country. I could see no merits in attempting, as this Bill does, to marry the two systems together. It seemed to me that to say other than that would merely be wasting your Lordships' time. I can assure your Lordships I have no intention of being disrespectful to the House, but one thing which has been impressed upon me in the short time I have been here is that your Lordships are nearly always more impressed by brevity than by long-windedness.


My Lords, will the noble Lord deal with what is to me the main argument? It is alleged that the present system is leading to a lack of new facilities, hotels for tourists, which for Scotland, I understand, is a very important industry. This is an important argument and the noble Lord never mentioned it. Will the State system give the tourist accommodation or will it not?


My Lords, it must inevitably be a matter of opinion whether any particular level of supply of hotel or licensed accommodation is adequate for the purpose. May I put it this way? There is no evidence that the increase in tourists coming into these districts is any less than it is in other parts of Scotland.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could help me and those others who have not made up their minds which way to vote if this matter goes to a Division. It has been stated by several noble Lords that those who reside in these two areas are very much against the continuation of this system. Could the noble Lord tell us whether he confirms those statements or not?


My Lords, it is very difficult, unless one takes a referendum on a particular point, to say with accuracy what people in any particular area feel on any given subject. I have no doubt at all that there are people in these areas who would very much welcome the proposal put forward by the noble Earl. Whether that is the opinion of all of the people or even a majority of the people living in those areas I have no way of knowing. I would, however, reiterate the fact that one of the people who put forward this proposal as part of his Election address lost his seat.


My Lords, would the noble Lord really expect those public authorities in the Invergordon area who have come forward against the continuation of this system to do that if they were not assured that they had the majority of their constituents behind them?


Why did that candidate not win the Election?


The noble Lord must have his tongue fairly firmly in his cheek in making that point, because he was for a sufficiently long time a member of Her Majesty's Government to know that not all proposals which came forward from local authorities were accepted by the Government of which he was a member.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Scottish Tourist Board receive many requests and letters on the subject of the inadequacy of hotels in these areas?—although I agree this may not have permeated through to the noble Lord.


That, I may suggest, is criticism of the fact that the previous Administration did little over 13 years to meet requests for improving it. It is an argument, if I may say so, for improving the hotels, not for the abandonment of the Secretary of State's monopoly.


My Lords, I am confused about the noble Lord's own argument. Either he thinks the hotel provision in these areas is adequate or he thinks it is inadequate. If he thinks that it is inadequate, then it seems to me there is a clear case for allowing somebody else to come in and raise the level. I rather gather that he thinks it is adequate. In fact, I do not see on what other grounds he can refuse my noble friend's Bill. If he thinks that the hotel accommodation is already adequate, what difference does it make to grant other people the right to come in? If there is no need for them, at least they will have a sense of justice.


I am afraid the noble Viscount rather over-simplifies the position. It does not follow that if I think the accommodation is inadequate I must agree to an alteration in the system. As the noble Earl stated in his opening remarks, there have been many requests for the provision of more facilities, particularly at the National Hotel in Dingwall. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, referred to the inadequacy of accommodation for large functions, and proposals have been made from time to time in the past without previous occupants of my right honourable friend's position being able to agree to the necessary expenditure. Such a proposal is before my right honourable friend at the present time. It does not follow that

Resolved in the affirmative. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a com-

an admission that more accommodation is necessary means acceptance of the proposition that it must be provided by a completely different authority from the present one.


My Lords, I think I am allowed to answer. I am not going to make any further speech, other than to thank those who have supported me. But I would say to the noble Lord the Minister opposite that the Election really had very little to do with it, because our present Member is a Liberal and strongly supports this Bill, as the noble Lord will find if it goes to another place. I would thank him for his very kind remarks, but I still disagree, and I ask your Lordships now to give the Bill a Second Reading.

4.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 36.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Ebbisham, L. Mabane, L.
Alport, L. Eccles, V. MacAndrew, L.
Ampthill, L. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Mar and Kellie, E.
Atholl, D. Erroll of Hale, L. Margadale, L.
Baden-Powell, L. Falkland, V. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Balerno, L. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Ferrier, L. [Teller.] Morrison, L.
Cawley, L. Fortescue, E. Newton, L.
Chesham, L. Goschen, V. Perth, E.
Colwyn, L. Grenfell, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Conesford, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. St. Oswald, L.
Cottesloe, L. Hastings, L. Selkirk, E.
Craigton, L. Hawke, L. Simon, V.
Cromartie, E. [Teller.] Horsbrugh, Bs. Somers, L.
Daventry, V. Howard of Glossop, L. Southwark, L. Bp.
Denham, L. Hurd, L. Spens, L.
Derwent, L. Iddesleigh, E. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Devonshire, D. Ironside, L. Strathclyde, L.
Dilhorne, V. Jellicoe, E. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Drumalbyn, L. Jessel, L. Tenby, V.
Dudley, L. Lambert, V. Thurlow, L.
Dundee, E. Long, V. Wolverton, L.
Dundonald, E. Luke, L. Woolton, E.
Addison, V. Faringdon, L. Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)
Archibald, L. Francis-Williams, L. Mitchison, L.
Arwyn, L. Gaitskell, Bs. Phillips, Bs.
Attlee, E. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) St. Davids, V.
Blyton, L. Hobson, L. [Teller.] Shepherd, L.
Brockway, L. Hughes, L. Silkin, L.
Brown, L. Inglewood, L. Sorensen, L. [Teller.]
Burden, L. Kennet, L. Stonham, L.
Champion, L. Latham, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Chorley, L. Leatherland, L. Walston, L.
Chuter-Ede, L. Lindgren, L. Williams, L.
Citrine, L. Listowel, E. Williamson, L.

mittee of the Whole House