§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
I beg to move,That this House, believing that the licensing laws relating to the sale or supply of alcoholic liquors should be reviewed, calls on the Government to give urgent consideration to this question.As some hon. Members may know, I belong to a family which for a number of generations has been involved—perhaps I should say, in the context of this debate, involved on and off—in the political life of this country, and one of the first things which one learns —indeed, in a political family one absorbs it almost at the nursery stage instinctively —is that one should never be photographed with a drink in one's hand and that the consequences of such temerity are very dire indeed.
As one advances in political sophistication one soon learns that one should never raise in this House any question to do with the licensing laws, the licensing laws being regarded as sacrosanct and as the untouchable class among Acts of Parliament. This cautious approach to the licensing laws may explain why, so far as I have been able to trace, there has not been a comprehensive debate in the House on the subject of the licensing laws since the end of the war and probably for many years before then.
Now the situation is changing, because the Government are pledged by a short sentence in the General Election manifesto of the Conservative Party to introduce some time during their tenure of office legislation revising the licensing laws, and it is for this reason that it seems to me desirable that the House should have an opportunity now of debating the licensing laws. All too often we in this House are faced with a 502 situation where the Government introduce controversial legislation with the Whips fully applied on every dot and comma of a Bill regarded as sacrosanct, and when there has been no opportunity given the House to debate the matter freely before the legislation is introduced and no chance for the Government to incorporate in it either the views of the House, if it is possible to find the views of the House, or the views of individual Members of Parliament.
It seems to me desirable that we should have an opportunity to debate the matter fully without the Whips applied, and particularly in this question of the licensing laws it seems to me desirable that the public, also, should be given the chance of making up their minds. We know to some extent—though there is a variety of opinion—the views of the interested parties, the views of the brewers, the views of the licensed victuallers, the views of the Club and Institute Union, and the rest of them, but, in spite of this being a controversial subject, there has been extraordinarily little enlightened public discussion of this matter and I hope that this debate may stimulate discussion which may be of assistance to the Government when introducing legislation.
I know that it is tradional to say that on these questions of social and moral issues, questions like betting, gaming, divorce, Sunday observance, the licensing laws and the rest, passions run higher than on any other kind of issue, and that where prejudices are deeply entrenched and have been long entrenched it is quite impossible to reach any measure of agreement, but whatever our views may be on the merits or demerits of the licensing laws, I believe that probably everybody in the House, irrespective of which side he sits, shares in the general feeling running through the country at the moment that as wide as possible a measure of freedom should be left to the individual to guide his conduct according to his own sense of responsibility, his own sense of self-respect, rather than that he should be narrowly circumscribed by the laws of the country.
As wide a measure of personal freedom compatible with the safety of society should be allowed, remembering always the well-being of those who are 503 not able to look after themselves. During the war we were prepared to see our liberties encroached on so that we should be enabled to defend ourselves and ultimately to defeat the far greater threat to our liberty, but today the current of opinion is in favour of a wide extension of personal liberty.
Obviously, on such a controversial issue as this, one wishes to begin by finding some kind of common ground. I think that we can find common ground, except, of course, with those who wish to drink like Frenchmen and have no licensing laws at all. I think that we can find common ground by saying that we all wish to see in this country a workable licensing system, and one which conforms to the needs of a modern society.
Having said that, I think most people would agree that the licensing system today is out of date with the thoughts and desires of society. It is, after all, a licensing system that was introduced during the First World War. It was introduced before many of the hon. Members in the House were born. The generation that has grown to adulthood since then considers that the present licensing laws belong to an era when their grandfathers were young men, an era in which they have extraordinary little interest because social circumstances are so different today from what they were.
I know that that is a trite thing to say, but immense changes have taken place since these licensing laws were introduced. If one looks at history over the last thirty or forty years, one will see that society has undergone a social revolution almost unparalleled in the history of this country. We have seen a tremendous improvement in housing conditions. We have seen a tremendous improvement in working conditions. We have seen a spread of education, an improvement in the quality of education, and a consequent broadening of people's horizons.
We have seen the virtual abolition of poverty, at least for young people, and with the abolition of poverty we have seen the growth of self-respect in all sections of the community. We have seen the emancipation of women. We have seen the provision of new forms of entertainment, the cinema, the radio, 504 and television. We have seen people beginning to take their holidays away from home. With this change and turmoil in our social life we have also seen a dramatic change in the drinking habits of society.
The important thing from our point of view in the context of the debate is that with a steadily rising standard of living we have seen a dramatic—indeed, the Royal Commission reporting on this subject in 1930 used the word "spectacular"—drop in the amount of alcoholic liquor being consumed in the country. in 1900, about 32 gallons of beer were consumed per head—that is, man and woman—every year. The figure today is 18 gallons of beer per head per year. The figures in relation to other alcoholic drinks are equally dramatic, particularly those for spirits.
While there has been this dramatic fall in the consumption of alcoholic liquor, there has at the same time been a sevenfold increase in the consumption of soft drinks. There has also been the postwar phenomenon of the milk bar and the coffee bar which find greater support among the younger generation than the licensed premises do.
In spite of these tremendous changes in the social life of our people, in spite of this dramatic fall in the amount of alcoholic liquor being consumed, we still have with us licensing laws which were designed to deal with the problems of the early 1900s, problems of which nothing but the faintest of shadows still remain. We still have licensing laws designed to deal with the appalling level of drunkenness of the first decade of this century, when there were 200,000 convictions for drunkenness every year. We still have licensing laws designed to deal with a level of drunkenness which, in the opinion of the statesmen and military leaders of the time, imperilled industrial production and impaired the efficiency of the fighting forces.
By no stretch of the imagination could one say that that is the problem today. The laws have increasingly ceased to correspond with the needs of a modern society. We in this House have had to deal ad hoc with one problem after another, one anomaly after another, created by the licensing laws. We have had to deal with licensing at international airports, and with the problem of drinks being served to young people in dance 505 halls. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has tried to deal with the problem arising from clubs by introducing the Children and Young Persons (Registered Clubs) Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) has initiated a debate on the problems of the tourist industry consequent on the licensing laws being out of date. At present we have a Bill before the House, the Registration of Clubs Bill, promoted by the London County Council. Time and time again we have had to try and deal ad hoc with problems caused by licensing laws being out of date.
The clearest indication that the licensing laws are out of date is not the problems that we have to deal with in this House. The clearest indication is to be seen outside in the steady and persistent growth of the number of clubs registered for the sale of alcoholic drinks. Many people, finding that, in their opinion, the licensing laws are unfair and unreasonable, seek to drink outside the control of the licensing laws. The easiest method by which they can do that is to join a registered club and drink without the interference of the licensing laws.
When the licensing laws were introduced during the First World War there were only 8,000 registered clubs. When the Royal Commission looked into this problem in 1930 its Report said:…if the law remains unaltered, it is, theoretically at any rate, possible that by the multiplication of clubs the effective administration of licensing law may be seriously prejudiced.We are now no longer in the realms of theory. The number of clubs has risen from 8,000 to about 22,000. What is more, the rate of increase is rapidly rising.
One can gauge the impact of these clubs on the licensing laws by recognising that at the turn of the century there was only one registered club for every 16 on-licences. Today, there is one registered club for every three on-licences. In addition, the proportion of drink being consumed in these registered clubs has increased from 1 per cent. in 1900 to 11 per cent. of the total consumed today.
That figure of 11 per cent. is a national average and hides considerable variation. In the North, in some of the towns of the industrial Midlands, and in South 506 Wales, up to 25 per cent. of the amount of alcoholic drink consumed is drunk outside the licensing laws in registered clubs. In Hull one-third of the entire population belongs to registered clubs because the people find that the licensing laws in Hull are excessively restrictive.
I have nothing against these clubs. The respectable ones serve a useful social purpose, but when one-third of the population of a town is drinking in clubs and not in "pubs" it is clear that the licensing laws in that area are on the verge of breaking down. The magistrates have no control over the registration of these clubs and over the consumption of drink in them. We can, therefore, see that the licensing laws are not applying at all. We are now faced with the position where, because the licensing laws are regarded as unreasonable, an ever-increasing proportion of the population is seeking to drink outside those licensing laws and outside the control of the licensing magistrates.
I do not deny that one perfectly logical reaction would be to say that if this is happening we must close these escape routes. I think that I am probably right in saying that that, to some extent, is the purpose of a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. It is certainly the purpose of a Bill promoted by the London County Council. I will go so far as to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy with the principles which inspired my hon. Friend, because it is quite clear that the law governing the registration of clubs should be tightened. But to tighten the law governing the registration of clubs is merely to tackle the symptom of the problem. The cause of the problem has absolutely nothing to do with the clubs. It is that the licensing laws are regarded as unreasonable by a large section of the community.
We must recognise that even were we to tighten the laws governing the registration of clubs, alternative escape routes would be found by the public. Surely it is accepted by all hon. Members and by everyone concerned with the making of law that if the law is regarded by any large section of the community as being repressive, that law will be held in contempt and evaded. That, of course, was the lesson learned most dramatically in the United States where prohibition was regarded as 507 unreasonable. Prohibition did not stop drinking; it merely drove it underground. It did not stop drunkenness; the rate of drunkenness continued to increase.
Prohibition resulted in the greatest wave of crime and violence which has ever been witnessed in United States. A by-product of prohibition was the adulteration of drink—the production of an alcoholic mixture known as "Jamaica Jake," a tincture of ginger—which resulted in 20,000 cases of paralysis in the Mid-West alone.
This kind of theme of the evasion of law can be seen in almost every country where licensing laws are regarded as restrictive. In some of the States of Australia the licensing laws are very strict indeed. I saw only last week that a visiting lecturer on alcoholism reported that he had just seen in Sydney a considerable amount of drunkenness. He saw one evening 50 women drunk on the streets. He stated:This is the greatest number I have seen in any city since the East side of London in 1926.For instance, in Sweden, where, only a year or two ago, the licensing laws virtually amounted to prohibition and to the rationing system for drink, drunkenness was high. Sweden has since relaxed the laws and there has been a consequent reduction in the level of drunkenness in that country.
One can see this same kind of theme in virtually every field at which one looks. For instance, many patrons of the theatre regard the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain as being unreasonable. As a result, they have got round it by the formation of theatre clubs. It is exactly the same principle which we see being applied to the licensing laws. People regard them as unreasonable and get round them by the formation of clubs.
If, instead of tightening the restrictions, we allowed licensed premises to give themselves a little more glamour, I have absolutely no doubt that this drift, this pressure to drink outside the control of the licensing magistrates and outside the licensing laws would cease. People go to clubs because in licensed premises they find that they are not allowed to listen to gramophone records or to sports broadcasts on the radio. 508 They go to clubs because they find that on Sundays they are not allowed to play billiards in licensed premises. They go to clubs because they find that if they play whist for a small sum they have to go through the hypocritical performance of settling up outside.
People dislike that. They go to clubs because many dislike having to gulp down their drinks sharply by 10 o'clock, thereby damaging their digestion. Even more, they dislike having to leave their wives at home in charge of the children or, if they bring their wives with them, they dislike having to leave the children at home or having to do what I have always regarded as a very squalid thing—leave the children on the doorstep of a "pub".
If licensed premises were allowed to improve themselves and make themselves more attractive for the family, I think that this rash of clubs which is growing up would die down. I believe that in framing our legislation we should aim at making licensed premises not only places for" "perpendicular drinking", which is a phrase of the 1900s, but places suitable for the family to go to for refreshment.
The first suggestion I wish to make, and probably the most controversial one, is that it seems to me reasonable that we should encourage the family—and I include the children—to seek their refreshment together. In this context it is worth bearing in mind that any child over the age of five can be served with whisky or beer, or anything else, in a club, I am not suggesting that this facility should apply to licensed premises. I suggest that in framing our legislation we should try to enable licensed premises to set aside rooms for the family into which the younger members and the children should be able to go. I believe that this arrangement would be very popular.
In my own constituency there are two new towns, typical communities, which have grown up without the provision of many centres for social relaxation. A licensed premises known as "Hilltop" has been established in Hatfield. It has been established with the utmost difficulty. In it there are 130 doors, to comply with the regulations laid down by the licensing laws. I might say, however, that in this complex of buildings 509 most of the doors are locked so as to comply with the regulations.
There is a coffee bar where meals can be served and rooms available for committee meetings and meetings of the Women's Institute, and the rest. Sunday schools are held there. There is also a community centre, where meals can be served and clinics at which doctors hold their weekly surgeries and baby clinics. There are two licensed bars where the public can normally seek their refreshment and also a room set aside for children and families where coffee, soft drinks and ice cream can be served. If the adults wish to drink alcoholic liquor they can go next door to buy it and bring it into this family room.
I suggest that this kind of segregation in licensed premises, where there is one room for the family, the children and the young people, to obtain family refreshment and another for the licensed bar, is far more attractive to people today than the social segregation practised in "pubs" up and down the country. I recognise, of course, that many people do not think that "pubs" should be places of social entertainment. This is a view to which they are perfectly entitled.
I was interested to read that when we relaxed the licensing laws in 1830 one of those who opposed the idea that licensed premises should be suitable places for social entertainment said:The Act increased the opportunities of meeting of the lower classes to discuss politics and what they called their own grievances—and this does more harm than good.I am not sure that we would entirely agree with those sentiments today, but most of us would agree that it would be nice if members of the family could take their refreshment together even if they discussed politics.
We should make public houses much brighter places than they are at present. I would like to see the granting of a licence automatically conferring upon licensed premises the right to play gramophone records, or to broadcast radio programmes. I would like to see the removal of the prohibition of playing billiards on Sundays. It may be slightly out of order to develop that point, but that provision was laid down under the Gaming Act of 1845, following so closely upon the introduction of Income Tax and also the Chartist Riots that I can 510 only assume its purpose was to prevent sedition being preached in licensed premises. This provision has very little relevance to our ordinary life today.
I do not wish to enumerate all the anomalies that exist, or to go into an excessive amount of detail on the licensing laws, but one anomaly which has worried me is that the selling of shandy in licensed premises is illegal, because it constitutes the adulteration of beer. If we could remove that anomaly we should do so.
One of the major questions regarding licensed premises, however, concerns the permitted hours. One has only to take a quick look at our licensing laws to have one's attention called to the most extraordinary discrimination against those living outside London as compared with those living inside the Metropolis. As hon. Members know, in London the final permitted hour is 11 o'clock, whereas in the country it is 10 or 10.30 p.m. I have searched my mind to think of a logical reason for this discrimination against licensing justices and public houses outside London, but I am totally unable to find one.
I do not suggest that we should make an obligatory terminal hour throughout the country; I would leave the question of the fixing of the final hour in the hands of the local justices, as it is now, but I suggest that the final permitted hour should be 11 o'clock throughout the country and not, as it is at the moment, 10 or 10.30 p.m. I am not suggesting that this would achieve uniformity. It would not, but it would comply with the political catch-phrase of both parties, which we shout at election times—equality of opportunity throughout the country.
I know that, to get rid of the anomalies of the licensing laws, some hon. Members would like to impose fixed opening and closing hours throughout the country. There is a great deal of logic behind this argument, but I am against it because it could be achieved only by riding roughshod over local prejudices, and on the question of licensing laws we must recognise that there are some very strong local prejudices. For example, it would not be right for this House to act against the almost overwhelming wishes of Welsh Members in regard to the opening of public houses on Sundays in Wales. We can doubt 511 the wisdom of our Welsh colleagues, but they are probably more capable of judging local opinion than the House in general.
Furthermore, I do not think that we should impose our views against the wishes of Members representing Scottish constituencies although, as a Scotsman, I might be permitted to say that I and many thousands of Scotsmen cannot understand the logic of the situation in which, if we want to drink in a local public house on Sunday, we have to go to the local bus station and buy a bus ticket. Further, many of us totally fail to understand the logic of the situation in Scotland that demands that if a person wants to drink without breaking the law on a Sunday he has to get into his car and drive for three miles before he can fill himself up with drink and then drive himself home again, a source of danger to everyone on the road. There can be no logic in that.
I would like to see licensing justices left with complete discretion as to which of the eight hours per day public houses in their areas should open. I would not extend the permitted hours beyond eight. A period of eight hours is fairly substantial. It is the number of hours for which most shops are open. It would mean ten hours' work for most licensees, and I think that such a period would probably meet with the general support of our people. But it is reasonable that the licensing magistrates should be entitled to decide for which of the eight hours local licensed premises should be open. They know local conditions.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Does the hon. Member realise that that would mean one hour less, certainly, than the number of hours for which many public houses in southern England are open at present? At present, they open for nine hours a day, and I would certainly regard the hon. Member's proposal as a retrograde step.
§ Lord Balniel
I do not wish to dispute the hon. Member's facts, but I believe it is true that nowhere other than London are licensed premises allowed to open for nine hours.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
Some are open for eight and a half hours.
§ Lord Balniel
I should like to see the final permitted hour extended to 11 o'clock at night. It is the very essence of good legislation that the law should be applicable to every section of the community, irrespective of race, colour or creed, or place of residence. I recognise that Wales is a law unto itself, and does not come into the principle which I enunciate. Also, I believe—perhaps paradoxically—that an extension of the final permitted hour to 11 o'clock would result in a reduction in the amount of drunkenness. Drunkenness is no longer the major social evil which it used to be in the 1900s, but drunkenness on the roads is a serious social problem, and the licensing laws are not the medium by which it can be tackled. It must be tackled by specific legislation, such as that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)—irrespective of the merits of my hon. Friend's Bill.
Anyone who goes into licensed premises at about 9.30 at night knows what a tremendous increase in drinking takes place at that time. He will constantly hear the phrase, "There is just time for a quick one," or, "There is just time for one more quick round." Many of us have seen the red-faced gentleman, who, at ten minutes to 10, orders four dirnks and has them placed before him and then, at two minutes to ten, downs them one after the other in quick succession. I believe that it is the quick drinking as much as the heavy drinking which causes road accidents. Further, there is no doubt that any law in relation to closing time is an inducement to drunkenness when it is repressive. The phrase, "the six o'clock swill" is a well-known one in certain States of Australia in which drinking establisments have to close at 6 o'clock.
I would extend the final permitted hour to 11 o'clock for a third reason, namely, the interests of the tourist trade. The British Tourist and Holiday Association is categoric in its opinion that the licensing laws are a real hindrance to its business. In its report it says:The regulations limiting the sale of intoxicants in British hotels, inns and restaurants provide a constant source of comment and criticism by travellers, particularly overseas visitors.513 One can only say, "No wonder". One has only to watch an alien coming into the aliens' area in London Airport. He emerges and then has to begin to try to understand our currency system, then our system of weights and measures, and then the weather forecasts put out by the B.B.C. After all that, it is beyond his comprehension to understand our licensing laws.
I must frankly say that I do not think that the permitted hours make much difference to the economics of the tourist trade, but we must recognise that it is facing competition from Germany, France and Switzerland, where the licensing laws are more relaxed, and undoubtedly our restrictive licensing laws have some effect on the movements of tourists. One has only to look at the exodus of desperate, thirsty Welshmen on a Sunday, pouring over the borders to Hereford, Gloucester and Chester to see that it does have some impact. Irrespective of whether our licensing laws have an impact on economics, they most certainly have an impact politically.
I am married to a lady from the Continent and I know a number of people—not heavy drinkers, I hasten to say—who live on the Continent. The constant comment that one hears from them is, "I thought that yours is a country where personal liberty is set at a very high value, yet when we wanted to get a drink with a meal at three o'clock in the afternoon we were told that that was something we were not allowed to do." The whole illiberalism of our licensing laws creates an impression overseas which, I think, is rather unfortunate.
I should like to say a word about clubs. Restrictive licensing laws have resulted in the increase in the number of registered clubs. The overwhelming majority of these, because they are run for the benefit of their members, serve some kind of social purpose. Whether it is a good or bad social purpose has nothing whatever to do with the licensing laws. None the less, the sole purpose of a number of these clubs is the evasion of the licensing laws. They are not run solely for the benefit of the members concerned but for the financial profit of one person, the proprietor.
Inevitably, when one suggests that one should try to deal with the black sheep among the clubs, one draws forth a very healthy, instinctive reaction that one must 514 not entrench in any way upon the privacy and freedom of the bona fide clubs. The very essence of these clubs is that they are entitled to unsupervised privacy and that they are an extension of a private home or, as they like to describe themselves "a home from home". I always feel that the phrase "home from time" covers a multitude of sins. Was not that, in fact, the phrase used by Mr. Squeers to describe his Yorkshire establishment Dotheboys Hall—a home from home for his boys? One might carry the analogy further. The quality of the drinks served in the worst of these registered clubs is certainly comparable with the weekly allowance of brimstone and treacle which the unfortunate boys of Dotheboys Hall were allowed.
In any legislation we introduce, we must be careful to protect the right of the bona fide clubs from being entrenched upon in any way. I do not see why we should afford the same protection to clubs which masquerade as being run for the benefit of members but which are, in fact, being run in competition with licensed premises for the personal private financial benefit of one man. If a club is being run for profit it should be placed in a position of fair competition with its competitors, the licensed premises. I recognise that the drafting of any such legislation might be very difficult. I do not know whether it is possible for the Government to discriminate in law between a members' club and the one-man or bogus club. If it is, I feel that we should bring the one-man or bogus club under the licensing laws, leaving the bona fide club entirely untouched.
I apologise if I have wearied the House by speaking so long. I should like, in conclusion, to reiterate my belief that the current of opinion now running through the country is one which would like to see a wider extension of personal liberty in which the guide rails of conduct should be our own sense of self-respect, our own conscience and our sense of decency rather than narrow restrictive laws passed by this House.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I beg to second the Motion.
Whatever our views may be on drink and licensing, I think that we shall all agree that my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) has picked 515 a very good moment to raise this subject, and I immediately congratulate him on the way in which he has done it. It seems to me that he has not only done a service to the subject by his speech but indirectly a service to the good and wise use of private Members' time by raising this topic at this moment.
We are aware that the Government are shaping fresh legislation. I believe that it is right to do this without having a Royal Commission which might well occupy two years and which might well, from the experience of the past, cloud counsel when it eventually produces its final report. It is most important, however, if we are not to have a Royal Commission, that before the drafting is completed, the Government should at least refresh themselves with the views of this House on this subject, the more so because it is some time since we had a chance to range generally around it.
There was a time when Parliament might be said to have been obsessed with the subject of drink. In the first quarter of the century, between 1905 and 1931. I calculate that 141 Bills of one sort or another were presented to this House on the subject of drink. That by no means covered all the debates that arose on the subject. In this decade, fewer occasions have presented themselves, for obvious reasons, hence the value of rehearsing opinion today, and in this rehearsal we value the presence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The fact is that up to the first quarter of this century drink was foremost among our social problems. The century opened with 100,000 "pubs" and 200,000 proved offences of drunkenness a year. Now we have 70,000 "pubs", much lower consumption, and between 60,000 and 70,000 offences a year. I am not making light of that total, but it affords some perspective. The century opened with evidence that excessive drinking was still a social and industrial menace. It is worth noting that the menace became worse during the First World War which produced many of the restrictions which are still with us. The Defence of the Realm Act and all the regulations that went with it are still the greater part of that to which people object.
We are governed today largely by the laws which that era inspired. Yet I must say, with all deference to my noble 516 Friend, that this does not at once lead one to all the consequences which one might expect. I am not seconding this Motion in the belief that all our licensing laws, despite their distant origin, are so outworn and irrelevant that they must be swept away and that we must start again. I hope that we shall not, as a result of this debate, make it appear that all the licensing laws are nonsense and in need of radical reform.
The closer one goes into this, the more it seems to me that there emerges a case not so much for drastic reform as for much remedy in details. I, like my noble Friend, do not think that much good is served by going into too much detail today. I want to confine my remarks to two or three aspects where the need for change has become obvious and desirable and to give the draftsmen of a future Bill the right atmosphere to work in. I think that we had better get rid of the notion right away that we want to provide freedom to drink right round the clock. There is no country in the world where that can be done, in spite of a good deal which has been said to the contrary, and no country in the world where any sensible person wants to do it. When we hear of what happens in Paris, Rome or New York I am inclined to think that a dinner in the other man's club always tastes nicer than in one's own.
We are told that tourists are repelled by our licensing laws. I agree that they are irritated by them frequently. I think it is probably true that they have not much against the English public house. What grieves them more is the restrictions imposed in hotels and restaurants. This is a subject which lends itself to sweeping generalisation, but when one gets down to it one finds that it is not very easy to see exactly what we shall all agree to. The publican, the consumer, the brewer, the club, the tourist, the hotel and the restauranteur have by no means identical aims or requirements. Our job will be to reconcile these things. Above all, it is necessary to produce a law which is enforceable and respected. I would put that first.
I agree with my noble Friend about licensed hours. I sense strongly, though many will not at the moment, that eight hours, with certain exceptions, will remain about right for public houses and 517 that 11 o'clock at night, again with certain exceptions, will be found to be late enough. Part of the grievance about licensed hours is not so much that a man must cease drinking in a public house at 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock but that people can go on drinking in clubs after that hour. If—as we must, and this was dealt with fully by my noble Friend—we reduce the difference between clubs and public houses, we shall remove that objection.
What I think most of us want to see is not greatly increased licence to drink but increased discretion for licensing magistrates or boards—I do not here preclude the possibility of some slightly different system from that which we have at present—discretion for whatever authority may be responsible to meet local needs and desires. I stress the term "local", which is one reason why I side with those who think that licensing divisions ought not to be enlarged by more mergers. Already they are quite large enough to represent distinctions in local requirements. Given a sensible law, less rigid than at present, I believe that the magistrate can be relied on to provide a right, but not necessarily a uniform, Pattern.
At the same time, I hope that we shall not follow the idea of staggering hours for public houses in the same district too widely. I have every sympathy with the man who comes to an hotel or a restaurant late in the afternoon, or at night, and wants a drink with his meal but cannot get it. I have much less sympathy with the man with normal working hours who objects to the compulsory termination of casual drinking at 11 o'clock. Very often he is the man who is the first to consider his own 40 hour week, and he will have to consider also the working week of the publican. Publicans will not be found ready to serve drinks in the small hours just to satisfy a minority who may think that they want it.
In my experience, publicans are not at the moment among those who have never had it so good. In my part of the world, al all events, few people work harder for a relatively smaller return. The majority seem to want the right to operate their businesses at a time when the customer will provide for them the best return. There will be some local variations in some holiday resorts, industrial areas, 518 dock areas and so on, but not many variations requiring drinking after 11 o'clock.
Perhaps one should add that public houses are not in isolation. Many are in populated areas and after 11 o'clock at night there are probably at least as many people within earshot of the public house who are trying to get to sleep as there are inside the public house trying to get a final drink.
This brings one to the question of the motorist. Most social problems relating to drink have decreased, but one or two are increasing and this may be one of them. I agree with my noble Friend that it is not so much drunkenness at the wheel as drink added to a great deal of inexperience and inexpert driving which causes the majority of the accidents. It is no good blinking the fact that this will overshadow licensing reform, and it will bedevil licensing reform unless we get one or two principles straight.
The first, in my view, is that no licensing law can be devised to prevent motorists, or anybody else for that matter, from getting into serious mischief if they are so disposed. I dislike the idea of widely staggered hours for public houses in the same district, which could lead to "pub crawling" in a motor car late at night when thirst is usually strongest and judgment weakest. But I think the remedy lies in penalties under the Road Traffic Act for drunken motorists and not in the licensing laws. The majority ought not to be penalised because of the criminal folly of the few. I do not think we should get the right result by proceeding in that direction. Of course, a discussion on the adequacy or otherwise of the road traffic legislation would be outside the scope of this debate.
The most decisive thing we shall have to tackle indirectly by legislation is the ambiguities of the public house. The last Royal Commission in 1929–31 saw them as faintly disreputable drinking dens. There may be one or two like that in various parts of the country but the vast majority of public houses are something entirely different. Particularly in the rural areas there are far too many which give me the impression of being large, rather dispirited white—not pink—elephants. I think we should be clear about how much of this is due to social 519 causes and how much to the licensing laws.
Part of it must be attributed to social causes. There are two views about this. One is that the public house should remain a refuge for men, to be enjoyed occasionally by the most devoted family man or married man without his family, and that it would be wrong to change its character. There are others who think it would be improved socially if the family could enjoy the facilities afforded by a public house. I have heard the view expressed that we should not change the character of the public houses or turn them into licensed cafeterias.
The fact is that the public house has become less and less a place of alcoholic solace and more a centre for social exchanges. I cannot believe that anyone enters a public house to drink modern beer in order to satisfy a craving. He does so in order to enjoy the company of other people, and we should not underrate the value of that. There are a good many people today who choose to make few social contacts between their work and their home. I do not think that as a nation we are becoming more neighbourly or more gregarious. We may have developed a classless society but in parts of the country there is danger that a cellular society may develop. That cannot all be blamed on the television. An hour spent in the local "pub" by some of these people would not be wasted. I am not dramatising the future of the public house but the best of them have a modest part to play in a democratic society.
There will be divergent views about this, but on balance I see an advantage in giving the family freer access, with suitable safeguards. The Royal Commission of 1930 did make a tremulous suggestion about this. I think that we shall find that the law will require much less change than one might suppose. A certain amount has been said about musical entertainment and dancing. The last Royal Commission thought that music and dancing in conjunction with alcohol was demoralising. I do not accept that. Upon investigation one finds that the laws are designed not so much to stop an Englishman enjoying himself as to provide precautions in relation to construction, and also to con- 520 form to provisions exacted by the Performing Right Society, but that is a detail I do not wish to go into now.
There is one point on which I have the strongest feelings, and that is gaming and gambling in public houses. At present no game may be played on licensed premises for money or drinks. One may play billiards, bagatelle, dominoes, draughts, backgammon, skittles, darts, and card games of skill only, for love or for a local prize. That is a great advantage over the House of Commons where I think one can play only chess. Much of this is winked at. Most of us in the House have played darts for a drink of beer as a stake, which means almost invariably that we have to buy the beer.
With the suggested reform of licensing there will be a move to loosen these restrictions. While drink has become a declining social evil during the last twenty-five years, I am not sure that we can say exactly the same thing about gambling. That is not difficult to explain socially. The abominable social conditions which existed in this country at the turn of the century caused men and women to drink as a solace. The new solace, perhaps, is to enjoy the bewildering number of other modern distractions which are available.
At any rate, we know that the trend in gambling has not in the last decade moved in the same direction as that in drink, and we must consider this in relation to licensed premises. Whether it is better to maintain the current law, by which games of skill only may be played, and to accept harmless breaches of it, or whether it is better freely to admit betting on games of skill only—that is arguable. I am inclined to support the latter conclusion. I am sure, however, that if games of semi-skill or no skill at all were admitted, with stakes, in our public houses, we should take a big, backward social step.
I know that this raises great difficulties. There is the problem of the clubs, where gambling and betting take place, and the question of gambling clubs, which may arise as a result of our activities in another sphere. There is the question whether a game of cards, of skill or semi-skill, played for stakes, may be allowed in a separate room where drinks are served, or perhaps are not allowed to be served. 521 But there is one big difference between the club and the public house. The danger to the public house is the itinerant professional gambler who makes his living fleecing fools. He is less of a menace in a club, because he must deal with the same company every night and, at worst, the club can eject him if he becomes a nuisance. But with or without him, we shall have very heavy gambling indeed in public houses if betting on all games is permitted.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I do not dissent from the views which my hon. Friend is expressing, but may I put a question to him? Consider the hotel or the modern public house which provides a room for the family and which is not intended for drinking. Provided they are willing to have rooms in which alcohol is not served, does he not feel that they might reasonably be permitted to have gaming, whether club or public house? I have in mind particularly such games as whist, bridge and the like.
§ Mr. Deedes
My hon. Friend has anticipated the point I was about to make. One fear I have about this possible increase in gambling is that it would introduce a new danger to the public house just at a time when, for many reasons, there is good cause to encourage the public house to embrace a wider social circle.
This brings me to the problem of young people, which is the last point I want to make. They are causing anxiety in other spheres and I think that they need very careful thought in this context. Dealing with the employment of young people, I think that public houses and clubs must be uniform in this respect. If eighteen is the appropriate age for work in a public house, then eighteen should be the right age in a club. The question of admission is more difficult. As the law stands it is illegal to sell alcohol in a public house to a person under the age of eighteen. In clubs, particularly in predominantly sporting clubs such as tennis and golf clubs, the young are freely admitted to the bar, and we find them drinking shandy-gaff at fourteen and upwards. It is not easy here to keep a fair balance between the clubs and the public houses and at the same time to avoid penalising those clubs with laudable objects, which 522 attract the young and where drinking plays a very small part.
Perhaps absolute parity is out of the question, but I should be willing to support a bolder approach to the question of young people and the public house, for two reasons. The first is a reason to which my noble Friend alluded—the enormously increased consumption of soft drinks, which is now one-third of the beer drunk and three times the pre-war total, and the evidence that much of this is drunk by young people. It is true that the figures show an increase in juvenile drunkenness, but let the House get this matter is perspective: 6,000 cases out of 65,000 cases last year involved people under twenty-one and 1,000 of the 65,000 involved people under eighteen. In relation to the enormously increased earnings and pocket money available to young people today, I am not inclined to regard that as a very serious or sinister trend.
That brings me to the second consideration. In my view, the danger to the young people today is not demoralisation by alcohol or contamination in the public house but social isolation, with no one to guide them in their leisure but themselves. That is the danger. In those circumstances I see no objection to the establishment of separate bars in public houses, serving soft drinks only, the demand for which is proved. Admission to these bars—I hesitate to put an age to it—I would say might be from the age of fourteen upwards. The young people would find older company there and would become part of a wider social order, not tucked away in some club, having been given ping-pong bats and told to enjoy themselves.
It might be said that this will be teaching the young bad habits. I am much less worried about the danger of addiction, which I do not think is great, than about the sense of growing isolation among so many of the young today. If we need to find space for these separate bars we might dispense in some public houses with the curious system of bars—public, private and saloon—which remains to me an absolutely unaccountable aspect of English social apartheid and which I feel is part of an entirely different era.
Turning to the age at which alcohol may be served, I would far sooner that 523 my son were allowed to drink a glass of beer with me in a public house at the age of sixteen than that he should learn his drinking habits from other companions at the age of eighteen. Ideally I should like to see the sale of alcohol permitted to those under eighteen in the company of a responsible adult. Statutorily that might not be possible. I am not quite so happy about the law for girls of sixteen, and I think that I must leave that to the Daily Mirror to solve for me.
Let me conclude by suggesting three main principles on which we should work. The first is to achieve parity between clubs and public houses by removing some of the restrictions from the public houses rather than by imposing fresh restrictions on the clubs. Bad clubs exist to cash in on the anomalies of the licensing laws. Once these are removed, the bad clubs will probably be eliminated. Let the good push out the bad; do not let the bad restrain the best.
Secondly, let the penalties for the abuse of betting and premises and the abuse of the law do their own work. Stiffen them if need be, but do not penalise the majority more than we must, as we have clone in the past, for the protection of a feckless few. Thirdly, above all let this legislation which is to come be part of a consistent pattern which we hope we are seeing begin to take shape—not more freedom to do the wrong thing or more licence to indulge but a shifting of our reliance from the statute to sense and self-discipline, which is the only shield of responsible democracy.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I have to leave for a while in the middle of the day and, therefore, miss some of the debate.
I find that I can almost wholeheartedly support the proposals put forward by the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who have made two admirable speeches, if I may say so, on a rather thorny subject. The noble Lord said that drink is a tricky subject for a politician. That is true. Like him, I am not only a politician but a Scot, and it is an even trickier subject for Scots. Indeed, I see very few of my fellow countrymen in the House 524 today. Thirdly, I represent a Scottish constituency in which local option has been and still is a live issue.
The feeling which we have to break down, however, is that if one is in favour of some reasonable reform of the licensing laws one is necessarily a satyr with cloven hooves and vine leaves in one's hair who wishes to see a free-for-all, night-and-day debauchery all over the country. As the noble Lord said, there is no reason why we should not have a much more sensible and up-to-date system of licensing without necessarily doing anything to encourage the greater consumption of alcohol.
As has been pointed out, circumstances have changed very much in the last hundred years and the consumption of alcohol as a whole has fallen. I am bound to say that expenditure on alcohol is still very heavy indeed, and this might be a problem, apart from the consumption of alcohol.
Those who support the Motion should make it clear that in doing so they are not saying in any way that the consumption of alcohol to excess is a good thing. Indeed, it may well be that we should all drink much less than we do. Probably there is a greater tendency to over-drink today at places like cocktail parties, and certainly in clubs and at other forms of parties, than in public houses. It is probably here that the habit is formed by younger people to the extent that it is formed, although I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford that it is easy to exaggerate the amount of drink taken by younger people.
In the light of that, the attempt strictly to time the closing of public houses seems to me out-of-date. Furthermore, the attempt to enforce it and the regulations which state, I understand, that you may have a drink delivered to your car but not to your house, bring the whole system of the law into ridicule, cause a good deal of unnecessary and extra work to the police and probably also make them slightly figures of ridicule in the eyes of the public, in that they have to try to enforce regulations which today are not supported by the great mass of the public.
I agree with the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Ashford that the solution probably does not lie simply in freeing the sale of alcohol all through 525 the 24 hours of the day. It used to be thought that it was the northern nations who were particularly fond of alcohol to stave off the ravages of the winter gloom, but it is noticeable that the French have a good deal of trouble with their livers and that M. Mendes-France had to carry out a campaign for the encouragement of milk drinking.
I certainly agree that an overall limitation of hours is necessary. It is necessary to safeguard the publican and the people who work in public houses. We cannot expect them to work on this rather difficult job indefinitely. It may be that eight, eight-and-a-half or nine hours is the right time for public houses to be open, but I think that this should be flexible and that, provided they keep within those limits, there should be some provision for alteration in hours. It is noticeable that there are no hours of opening or closing in the Palace of Westminster. Perhaps this is one of the things which cause the politician to believe that the public are overdrinking—
§ Mr. Grimond
I am glad that the hon. Member mentioned that. I take it that that is a limiting factor on the consumption of drink in the Palace of Westminster.
Many people these days remain looking at the television set until, say, a quarter-of-an-hour or half-an-hour before the public houses shut. They are inclined to go for a drink just before the public house shuts. If that goes on we shall have a situation rather like the Australian situation, where they go into the public houses in groups just before closing time and drink too much too quickly.
In Scotland, the need to improve public houses is glaring. I do not know whether it is because of the different system under which very few public houses are tied, or because of the licensing laws or because of the habits of the Scots. There are still many places in Scotland which are nothing more than rather dingy and squalid little buildings in which people are expected to take in as much alcohol as they can as quickly as possible.
526 The suggestion of providing separate rooms in public houses for the family is good, but a tremendous amount of advertisement is put out by the makers and sellers of drink. It may be said—as a Liberal I sympathise with this point of view—that most of the people who visit public houses are adults and, on the whole, are reasonably educated and should be able to withstand the allure of advertising. But if rooms were set aside in public houses for families and young people to frequent, there would have to be some provision so that they were isolated from the general pressure which might be brought to bear on them by advertisement and in other ways to acquire the habit of visiting public houses which might not otherwise be acquired.
I agree entirely that licensing is not the way to stop drunken drivers. A very definite line should be drawn between licensing the sale of liquor and the effects of the liquor on people if taken in excess. I would certainly support any proposals to strengthen the law against driving under the influence of drink or against assault carried out under drink. This is a very important facet of the question which we should keep in mind.
Further, while the general amount of drink taken today has decreased alcoholism is still a very serious problem. It is very often a disease. I am not clear—no doubt someone else can enlighten me—what powers the courts have to encourage, or even compel, alcoholics who come before them charged with offences to take treatment for their alcoholism. We should pay much attention to the curing of alcoholism where it exists. The work done by Alcoholics Anonymous can be very effective. There are other means by which people having a tendency to over-drink can be cured.
The discrepancies in the regulations relating to clubs are quite indefensible. I am told that in Wales some publicans have closed their public houses and opened clubs simply because they are bracketed by a club on either side and cannot find the business unless they open a club also. Some of the regulations in Scotland about bona fide travellers are also indefensible.
I hope that the Home Secretary will gather from the debate that there is a considerable body of reasonable opinion 527 in all parties which would welcome an inquiry into the subject. That opinion is not engaged in encouraging drink, but in making the law sensible and allowing people the reasonable exercise of their liberties in relation to how they spend their spare time and money.
I am pleased to be able to speak, because I do so not only as a politician and a Scotsman, but as a Liberal. The Liberal Party has a long and honourable history of advocating temperance and, indeed, advocating many of these laws which now effect the opening and closing of public houses. But times have changed. The problem today is different and those who favour temperance, as I hope that I do, must bring their thinking up to date and recognise that the solution is not the same as it was fifty or a hundred years ago.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Black (Wimbledon)
I should like to join in the congratulations which have already been expressed to my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) for his selection of this important subject for discussion this morning and also for the very fair-minded and delightful way in which he presented his ideas. I did not find myself in agreement with everything he said, but I think that very few people are likely to differ with the spirit and substance of much of his speech.
It is significant that so long has passed since the Royal Commission of 1929–31 without any comprehensive consideration being given to licensing laws. I do not imagine that any hon. Member will be inclined to divide the House at the end of the debate on the terms of the Motion. We all agree on the need for many important revisions in the law in regard to ordinary licensed premises and clubs, although we may differ as to what form the alterations should take.
I feel that there should be some comment and criticism of the statements which have been made in a spirit of too facile optimism about the alleged improvement which has taken place in the drinking habits of the people. Previous speakers have said that there has been a spectacular improvement, that there has been dramatic progress compared with the earlier years of this century, and it has been said, also, by more than one hon. Member, that drinking is no longer 528 a social evil in this country. If one makes comparison with the early years of this century there may be a great deal of substance in those statements, but if one looks at the position over the past fifteen years one finds nothing which encourages one to believe that the improvement is being maintained.
In that period there has been a very great deterioration, no matter what statistics one examines. For instance, since 1945 convictions for drunkenness have more than trebled. In 1945, there were 20,669 convictions, or 7.09 per 10,000 of the population aged 15 and over. In 1958, the number of convictions had risen to 65,058, or 18.71 per 10,000 of the population aged 15 and over.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Is not that because over that period of time we now have the police officers who can enforce the law, whereas in 1945 there were not sufficient to do so? If my hon. Friend looks back to the earlier figures he will see that what I have said is amply corroborated between pre-war and 1945.
§ Sir C. Black
I do not agree with any such reading of the situation. If one goes back to earlier times than that, the present figures of convictions for drunkenness are substantially higher than they were at the time when the Royal Commission considered this subject in 1929–31.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
My hon. Friend chose 1945. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that that is not the best year to take. The number of convictions per 10,000 in 1938, which is perhaps a more representative year, was 16.84 and in 1958 it was only 18.71. Therefore, over a range of twenty years it remained fairly static.
§ Sir C. Black
However one looks at the figures one is faced with the irresistable conclusion that there has been a deterioration. I will concede that perhaps there were special circumstances relating to 1945, but I do not think that they by any means fully account for the low figure in that year.
I will take 1950, which, I think, can be regarded as a fair year for comparison with 1958. The number of convictions in 1950 was 47,717, or 13.95 per 10,000 of the population aged 15 and 529 over. Whether one takes 1945 or 1950, the figures for 1958 give no room for the facile optimism expressed about the alleged improvement in the position.
What to many people is an equally disturbing factor is that the pattern of drunkenness appears to be changing. Whereas, in the past, it was mainly an offence of the middle aged and elderly, it is now increasingly an offence of young persons and even children. I wonder whether it is realised as fully as it should be that offences of drunkenness by persons under 21 in England and Wales have increased alarmingly. In 1953, there were 3,096 convictions. In 1958 there were 6,297. Therefore, in those five years the number of offences for drunkenness proved against persons under 21 increased by 106 per cent. It is right that we should look soberly and thoughtfully at such figures and statistics and not assume, as is so often assumed today, that we are faced with a steadily improving position in the habits of the population.
I turn to the incidence of road accidents. In ten years the number of persons killed and injured on the roads has virtually doubled. In 1948, there were 153,397 deaths and injuries; in 1958, there were 299,767. It must be recognised that the increase is due to a variety of factors, one of the principal of which obviously must be the vast increase in the number of vehicles on the road. In the light of the Drew Report and much other evidence, it is clear that the drinking of alcohol by road users is a considerable factor. I do not think that it is disputed today that only small quantities of alcohol taken before driving can mean the difference between safety and a serious accident.
Much has been said already about registered clubs. There appears to be more or less general agreement among those who have spoken so far that there is a need for additional measures of control, which need has not been seriously challenged at any time for many years past. Perhaps it would not be inaccurate to say that there is no field of legislation in which successive Governments of all parties have been so dilatory and negligent as in the failure to deal with the problem of bogus and undesirable clubs.
As long ago as 6th March, 1936, a Private Member's Bill which dealt with the club question was introduced in the 530 House. The late Sir John Simon, who was then Home Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Government of that day, gave the following undertaking if the Bill were withdrawn:… I am able to say that it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to deal with the evil of bogus clubs. We cannot do it this Session, but I am prepared to carry my assurance further on the point of definiteness and to say that we do intend to promote that legislation next Session. … the Government are prepared to say that they will introduce this legislation next Session."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1936; Vol. 309, c. 1768.]Similar undertakings were repeated in the years that followed, but were not acted upon, and when war broke out in 1939 public attention was, naturally, diverted to other matters.
No Government in the past twenty-five years has attempted to defend the present unsatisfactory condition of the law relating to bogus and undesirable clubs. Innumerable assurances have been given that the matter was about to receive legislative attention, but nothing constructive or worth while has been done. Mr. Asquith, as he then was. used what proved for him the unfortunate phrase, "Wait and see." For twenty-five years the policy of successive Governments on club legislation has been, "See and wait." The result is that in spite of the obvious growth of this evil, as indicated by much that has already been said today, nothing has been done to deal with it at the legislative level.
I should like now to suggest a few simple measures that could be taken, with a large measure of public support. They would, I think, undoubtedly improve the deteriorating position. First, I believe that all shades of opinion in the House will agree that a serious effort should be made to protect children and young persons from the evils of drink. In this respect, it is an admitted anomaly that the laws that prohibit the admission of children to ordinary licensed premises, the serving of drink to them there, or their employment behind the bar, do not apply similarly to registered clubs. This should receive priority of consideration when legislative attention is given to the present licensing laws—
§ Mr. Mellish
Would the hon. Gentleman apply that suggestion to the refreshment pavilion on a cricket field licensed, 531 say, on Saturday or Sunday, to which, perhaps at 7 o'clock at night, parents might wish to take their children?
§ Sir C. Black
That is rather a detailed matter. I am not referring of course, to those parts of clubs not actually licensed, but merely to those parts in which there are licensed bars and in which drinking takes place. Perhaps that goes some way to meet the hon. Member's difficulty.
The Royal Commission made what I believe to be a most important recommendation, and one to which nothing like sufficient attention has been given. It said that:Every child (and every teacher in the training colleges) should receive specific and systematic instruction as to the properties of alcohol so that children may at least be in possession of sound material on which to form a personal judgment when years of discretion are reached.That is a positive and constructive approach, and it is a suggestion to which the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education might perhaps be drawn.
Secondly, a great drive must be undertaken to secure a larger measure of sobriety amongst all road users. There should be much greater and more energetic participation by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in efforts to bring home to the public in general, and to motorists in particular, the necessity to accept the finding of the Medical Research Council that the consumption of any alcohol at all injuriously affects driving skill. There is an urgent need for much stricter enforcement of the law against drinking road users, and a heavy increase made in the penalties imposed.
Thirdly, I differ in a most important respect from previous speakers in that I hold that in present conditions, at any rate, most of the existing licensing restrictions need to be maintained. This is what the Royal Commission said about this:It is an essential safeguard that whatever else may or may not be done, the present restrictions on the sale and supply of intoxicants should be maintained.Referring to permitted hours, a subject on which a good deal has been said today, the Commission recommended that the permitted evening hours should be 532 up to 10 p.m., with earlier closing in certain cases.
On that point, the then Director of the Brewers' Society, the late Sir Edgar Sanders, gave evidence before the Commission. I think that we can assume that he was not a witness prejudiced in favour of a narrow view of the matter, but he said:… the present opening hours have met with extraordinary acceptance by the British public … the earlier closing hour has been a reform of the first magnitude. The last hour in the evening is always the worst whatever the period of opening is, and to get the streets clear at least an hour earlier than used to be the case has been an enormous benefit.That evidence was tendered on behalf of the licensed trade to the Royal Commission and, as far as I can see, there has been nothing in the circumstances since that time to alter the conclusion that the licensed trade had then formed—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
My hon. Friend keeps referring to the Royal Commission of 1929–31, but is he aware that some hon. Members were not even born in 1929?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
And has my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) thought of asking Mr. Edward Thompson, the present Chairman of the Brewers' Society, what he thinks about that evidence given in 1929?
§ Sir C. Black
I am confining myself to the evidence given in the years 1929–31, and to the conclusions to which that Commission came. I have no personal information of what the views of present parties may be, but as the Commission's Report has been referred to by several hon. Members today it is quite relevant, in consideration of this matter, to look at the findings of the most recent Royal Commission on this subject.
§ Lord Balniel
All this refers to such a long time ago, but perhaps my hon. Friend will also recollect that Parliament rejected the findings of that Royal Commission, in that Parliament allowed an evening closing hour in London of 11 o'clock against the opinion of the Royal Commission.
§ Sir C. Black
One is still entitled to think that Parliament may have been ill-advised on that occasion. 533 My fourth and last point is that registered clubs ought to be, and must be, brought under a proper measure of control, and that can perhaps be done by legislation similar in character to Defence Regulation 55C, which was revoked in 1952, as something clearly must be done to remedy the evils of the unsavoury and disreputable clubs which. I understand, were described to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary by the London County Council as "dens of vice."
Perhaps I may here mention the view expressed on registered clubs at the last annual meeting of the Magistrates Association. There was a considerable debate on a Motion:That this annual general meeting of the Association considers that police should have the same power of entry into clubs as they now have in respect of licensed premises.At a meeting of the magistrates drawn from all parts of the country, that Motion was carried by 246 votes to 141—very nearly a two to one majority by people who, after all, have had some experience in their respective areas of the difficulty and the evil of the bogus and undesirable club.
I agree with much that has been said about the need for a rethinking on the problems that arise out of the present licensing laws. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall not approach the matter in the spirit of optimism that some hon. Members have shown, who have suggested that drunkenness is decreasing all the time when, in fact, the statistics give no support whatever to that view, but compel one to an opposite conclusion.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I find myself in complete agreement with only one point that has been made by preceding speakers, and that is the need to do something about drinking clubs. It is possible to hold a variety of views on the merits of temperance, total abstinence, the effect of drink on the incidence of road accidents, the extent to which public houses should be improved and all that sort of thing, but I do not propose to take up the time of the House by discussing all these interesting aspects of the problem.
I have no doubt that the Motion, so excellently moved, if I may say so, by the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), and seconded with 534 almost equal felicity by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), will he carried. It merely ask the Government to give urgent consideration to the question, and I have no doubt that the Government spokesmen will say that it is being given urgent consideration; that some time between now and 1964 the Government are pledged to do something.
There it is—we shall have to be content with that assurance. Let us hope that as a result of this debate the Government may be persuaded not to wait until 1964. It is probably too much to hope that anything will be done in this present Session, but it might he possible for the Government spokesman to hold out some hope that the necessary legislation will be introduced during the next Session of Parliament.
I hold very strong views on these undesirable clubs. The London County Council has been faced with this problem for some time. It is fully aware that only a relatively small number of undesirable clubs exist but, to the rest of the community, and particularly to those people who have the misfortune to live nearby, they constitute a very considerable source of nuisance by noise and in other ways.
It may be argued that a local authority already has powers under town planning legislation to exercise some form of control, but my point is that the enforcement provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act are quite inadequate to control the use of premises as a club. The machinery is slow and ineffective, and no reliance can be put on it. One never knows what the result will be. That is why the London County Council and, presumably. other local authorities, very rarely resort to the nominal powers that that Act gives them for dealing with such matters. In the meantime, a club may be carried on with impunity, providing a good profit for the proprietor but constituting a tremendous nuisance to everybody in the immediate vicinity.
Apart from town planning powers, in the London area the powers of the London County Council do not enable that authority to take action in control of clubs unless the clubs break the law relating to music and dancing licences. Therefore, if a club does not have a music and dancing licence, it cannot contravene the law relating to the issue 535 of such licences and the London County Council has no power at all to intervene.
The other remedy, of course, is to enlist the services of the police. Here, also, the law is unsatisfactory. I shall not give the details of cases I have known in which it has taken months to bring the matter before the local magistrates, but I must draw attention to this fact. A club has to be registered with the clerk to the justices. He has no option whatever; he is bound to grant registration on payment of the fee of 5s. In other words, any scallywag can go along with 5s. to the clerk to the justices and start a registered club. In a growing number of cases, these clubs are started in the lower parts of houses in residential areas, and the noise and inconvenience to the neighbours is a serious matter.
What is the unfortunate citizen to do if, at about midnight, there is a terrific din as people leave the club? Is he supposed to jump out of bed, put on his dressing-gown, go down to the street, and start an argument with a bunch of merry-makers or people who may be either in a merry mood or a truculent mood? The police are not available. The Metropolitan Police Force is under strength to the extent of about 3,000 men at the moment. By the time the unfortunate citizen, who may not have a telephone, can get hold of a policeman to come and see what is happening, the people have disappeared and it is not possible to institute any prosecution on the ground of the noise and disturbance which has been created.
Not all clubs in private houses have adequate toilet accommodation, and people nearby rightly object when their front gardens are used as a public lavatory by the people frequenting such doubtful club premises. It is an even greater source of complaint when people living near that kind of place find used prophylactics thrown into their front gardens by members of these undesirable clubs who have been engaged in doubtful activities.
Even if one assumes that a prosecution is, at long last, to be undertaken in respect of such a place, the club can be struck off the register only on certain prescribed grounds. An immense amount of time and effort may be expended before sufficient evidence is 536 obtained. It is a very great burden on the police, particularly in the London area, to collect the necessary evidence to satisfy a stipendiary magistrate and to persuade him to cancel the registration. Even if a magistrate does make an order relating to the premises, the club can promptly be registered again and opened under a new name in different premises, perhaps even in the same building. The club proprietor has merely to move the club from one room to another in the same house.
I have referred already to the difficulty of taking action on town planning grounds. In other words, the whole state of the law today in relation to clubs is thoroughly unsatisfactory and an examination of this problem must be an integral part of any consideration which the Government give to any revision of the licensing laws.
I come now to certain undesirable trade practices in the drink trade in this country. To an ever-increasing extent, public houses are becoming tied houses and falling into the hands of the brewers. The brewers themselves are gradually becoming more and more integrated so that competition between them is becoming less and less effective from the point of view of the public. I do not suppose that much can be done about tied public houses now, but it is a serious evil that the same tied house principle is being applied to the off-licence trade.
The hon. Member for Ashford spoke of the evils of a "cellular" society, of people becoming more and more segregated, lacking social life, and that kind of thing; but he will agree, I think, that the radio and television are factors to be taken into account in this connection. I hope he will agree, also, that, if people wish to drink, they should be able to do so in their own homes, perhaps watching the television or listening to the radio, and they should not necessarily be driven to go to either a public house or a club.
The part that the off-licence holder has to play in the social life of the community is, perhaps, even greater today. with the development of television and more home life, than it was hitherto. It is, therefore, undesirable that the various restrictions which apply to the tied public house system should apply also to off-licensed premises. I hope that the representations which have been made to the 537 Government by the National Federation of Off-Licence Holders will receive sympathetic consideration when any legislation affecting the licensing laws comes before the House.
There is another evil to which attention ought to be paid. Off-licence holders are usually small people running little local shops. They can run their local shops as off-licensed premises only with the approval of the local justices. The extent to which the brewery companies are exercising a tight grip over them is greater now than ever before, despite legislation which is supposed to protect the small man. Our Landlord and tenant legislation was supposed to give a person such as an off-licence holder six months' notice if there was to be any alteration in the terms of his tenancy. One very well known brewery company ignored the law in that respect and asked its off-licence holders to agree in three or four weeks to an alteration in the terms of tenancy. When complaint was made, the brewery company said that there were really no objections and most of the tenants agreed.
If the tied house principle is to apply to off-licence holders in this way, the result will be that people generally will not have access to the full range of wines and spirits to which they arc entitled. It is wrong that the liberty of the individual should be restricted in that way. We have this unusual system, that the owner of the property has the power to decide what goods the public shall be permitted to purchase in an off-licensed shop. I cannot believe that that is satisfactory.
I hope that the Government will examine the developing situation in the off-licence trade. In America, for instance, and in many other countries, the law prevents the tied house system from operating. I shall not ask the Government to abolish the tied system as regards public houses because that would probably bring them into conflict with the brewers who, of course, have a traditional association with the Conservative Party. But if the Government believe in the small man and the opportunity that the small man should have to provide the public with a service free from the iron control which may be exercised by the big brewery company. 538 something should be done to protect the interest of the off-licence holder.
Our discussion today will serve a very useful purpose if it brings to the attention of the Government the various problems which some of us have in mind and which, we hope, the Government will tackle very soon.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on their very able opening of this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has just left his place, so I will not be too hard in my strictures on him, but I must say that I thought he was so obsessed by the evils of drink that he would seek to remove most of the pleasures of convivial society.
I have every reason to speak about the licensing laws. Wine has been imported into Bristol since almost the beginning of time. Wheeled vehicles used to be prohibited in part of my constituency, not for fear of drunken drivers, but for fear that the wine in the vaults underneath might be disturbed. Even today, every pavement in part of my constituency of Bristol, West is undermined by cellars full of "Bristol Milk," that "golden-velvet wine" which delighted Samuel Pepys, and "Bristol Cream," which earns us hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of hard currency abroad and helps to line the purse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at home.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has warned us of the dangers of "easy evenings with over-ripe pheasant and port wine," that, perhaps, if he took a glass of "Bristol Cream" after his lunch he might approach the House of Commons at Question Time in even more genial a manner than he does already.
I carried out some detailed research during the Christmas Recess and came into personal contact with many of the petty restrictions which I am sure the House would like to see removed. I bought a bottle of sherry at three o'clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, but was unable to take it away with me from the shop where I bought it. I was asked almost twice the retail price for a bottle of sherry over the bar of a hotel. I 539 know that that has nothing to do with the licensing laws as such, and I would not suggest that the retail prices should be controlled, but if it were made obligatory for anyone with a bar to sell drink by the bottle over a bar, even if he were allowed to charge what he liked, it would be a great service to the public and the price would find its own proper level.
I discovered in Bristol that I was unable to watch television or to listen to songs at the piano in any of the "pubs" that I visited. I could not even enjoy a modest hand of solo at 3d. a time, but I could play skittles and darts. There was something ridiculous about a billiards table having to be covered or uncovered—I forget which—whenever I wanted to raise my glass. During late dinner, I could eat meat cooked in wine, but I could not order brandy to be poured over my Christmas pudding because it was after hours.
I could not give a glass of beer to my guests after ten o'clock when I was resident in an hotel, although I could have sat there drinking by myself all day and all night; though I hesitate to say that I would want to do so—either the drinking or by myself. I think that we in this country have a sense of humour about this sort of thing, but some of our visitors from abroad find such restrictions rather disagreeable, and I think that it is a great disservice to the tourist industry.
I have received very many representations from people affected by our licensing laws, but I have not received a single letter suggesting that the present muddled state of affairs should continue or that more restrictions are necessary. As has been said, public houses are no longer dens of iniquity. They are now centres of social activity. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that television was not the only thing to blame, but I think that it is one of the things which has caused people to spend a great deal of time in their own houses and in their own family circle and, consequently, they have become isolated from society. I think that properly regulated public houses would do a lot to break down this social isolation.
It is no longer considered wrong for young people to go to a decent public house, and the advent of a number of new slightly alcoholic drinks has made 540 it much easier for them to enjoy themselves in a respectable fashion. A young man can take his girl to a bar and she no longer has to drink gin, or port and lemon. There are all sorts of other attractive alternatives. Anyway, most people go to public houses today for social purposes and not merely for hard drinking. There is still far too little opportunity for the enjoyment of music and harmless games or modest gambling. Why should the "smart set" in Mayfair be able to gamble away thousands of pounds when my men's committee cannot enjoy a modest game of pontoon for money in Crocker's Bar, in Bristol?
There are many absurdities in connection with the hours of opening, and here we in Bristol have a local problem. Last summer, it was possible to see flocks of motorists leaving our city and crossing the border into Somerset to get the benefit of an extra half-hour of opening time. No hon. Member has given us the solution to that. I agree that we should have local freedom to choose hours, but we must somehow get round the difficulty of people rushing from one place to another. Much prominence has been given to the question of drunken drivers, but our present laws really encourage people to go on pub and club crawls.
Hotels and restaurants also have their difficulties, as I have said, and there would seem to be no harm in making it legal for drinks to be served with a substantial meal at any hour of the day. If a hotel does not want to serve meals the question of drinking does not arise, but if a hotel wants to serve meals at any hour why should it not be allowed to serve drinks with them? A resident in a hotel who wants to entertain his friends who are not residents after licensing hours, which are too short, should be allowed to do so. If there were a slight extension until, say, eleven o'clock or perhaps midnight that difficulty would not arise.
The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has said a great deal about tied houses. This is a subject which would need as long a debate as the whole of this debate, but I want to say something about it from the point of view of people in the wine trade. As I have said, I have a big constituency interest in the wine trade. The increasing number of tied public houses and brewery-owned off 541 licences and the chains of retail wine shops owned and controlled by breweries definitely operate against the public interest. No one will ever persuade me otherwise, since it could easily happen that one would get an inferior product instead of the product which one wants.
In "pubs" a barman occasionally will try to pass off a product of his own as the real thing, and a great deal of extraordinarily unpleasant litigation has to take place to try to stop it. Producers have to take the matter to court in order to try to preserve their trade mark. The law of the jungle seems to operate here. I suggest that the case can be summed up as follows. Imagine the disgust of an American visitor going into a bar and asking for a gin and tonic and being served with a drink which did not contain Schweppes' tonic water, and was laced with a nameless gin. Nothing more foul and horrible could be imagined, and I do not think that he would want to buy another one.
I am concerned about the future of genuine wine merchants, and, in particular, the small men. With more and more retail outlets being controlled by brewers selling mainly their own products, the wine trade, and especially the small men, is at a great disadvantage. Many small firms have gone out of business or have had to go into some other form of business, such as catering, which is not their line of country at all, in order to keep their heads above water. It would be a good thing to consider whether there is a way of breaking monopolies.
The present set-up encourages all sorts of dodges on the part of less reputable wine merchants. I believe that a quite wall-known firm recently set a catalogue to all Members of Parliament, saying that they could have a 10 per cent. discount on anything in the catalogue, so desperate was it to get trade. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can answer this, but I wonder whether Ministers of the Crown had an even larger discount offered to them.
I think that it might be worth while to explore the possibilities of providing more retail outlets, thus making it easier for grocers to sell wines and spirits. Some chemists also do this now. Although many people do so only at Christmas, which does not help the genuine wine merchant. It merely takes 542 away a person's trade at a time of year when he needs it most. More outlets would break the monopolies if it is not possible to find another way of breaking them.
More than 100 years ago legislation was introduced to try to stop brewers' monopolies, but it failed. I think that the purpose of that Act was to stop brewers saying, "We will water down the beer". I think that the House has a different attitude towards drink today, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will devise a method to ensure fair play, especially with regard to the smaller members of the wine trade.
I should like to make one final point on retail sales. I have spoken of my own difficulties. There does not seem to be a good reason for continuing the practice of a retail shop being open for a quite large number of hours during the day and yet, during some hours, a person being unable to take goods away even when he has paid for them. I should be surprised if my right hon. Friend can find a reason for continuing this irksome restriction. I should like to see it re-moved completely. Hours should be liberal and at certain times of the year owners of retail shops should have the option, and not be controlled by anyone else, to say, "We will open for extra hours at Christmas". Obviously, they would have to give notice to the authorities, but I do not see why they should have to go cap in hand asking for permission.
I think that the House would agree that the days of Hogarth's Gin Lane have gone for good. Drunkenness is no longer regarded as being a particularly amusing form of entertainment, but it is not the law which will stop drunkenness. It is society and public opinion, which are against it. Our drinking habits are changing, we have been told. Bristol has always claimed—and it is proved by figures, if figures prove anything—to be the most sober city in the entire Kingdom. We are also the finest wine city in the Kingdom. I do not know whether there is any connection between the two facts. However, the House will appreciate that if one, so to speak, sits on top of a larger number of cellars than any other hon. Member of the House one is bound to be concerned with their welfare if not with their contents. I find that there are a hundred entries in the Oxford Book of Quotations dealing with 543 wine and its virtues, but only seven which speak of temperance in its grimmer moments.
It is thirty years since our licensing laws were substantially altered. The last Act was a consolidation Measure of 169 Clauses and 10 Schedules agreed in a discussion the report of which is contained in only two pages of HANSARD. Thanks to my noble Friend the Member for Hertford, we have today an opportunity to have a full and free discussion which, I am sure, will be far more productive of good than all the laws which have been passed. I would ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the many sincere suggestions made from both sides of the House. We shall hope to see when the Bill comes before us that our licensing laws are at last untangled in conformity with modern public opinion.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I shall not detain the House too long, because I recognise that there are a number of Members who want to take part in the debate and who are, perhaps, better qualified than I to speak on this subject—although let me say at once that I know something about beer.
With the speech to which we have just listened, by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) I agree almost entirely, and I am indebted to the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for introducing this very important subject. I, too, think it right that the Home Secretary should be made aware of what I believe to be the desire of the majority of hon. Members, the desire for some reform of our licensing laws.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) is with us still. I respect him very much indeed, for I know how sincere he is on this subject—although I know of no tee-to-taller who knows so much about beer as he does, and I am almost beginning to suspect him. [Laughter.] Yes, I am only joking. However, it is incredible to me how he sees such terrible vice and evil in the drinking of alcohol.
Let us take the point that the hon. Member made about children being with their parents when they take this evil 544 commodity, drink. I can go to, say, the Trocadero Restaurant with my family and have a meal and drink all I want to drink—having my children with me there, who can have their lemonade or whatever it is they want. I gather that the hon. Gentleman does not object to that. I do not understand him, for if he were to fallow the logic of what he was trying to say again this morning he would deprive me of that. He would certainly stop me, at a charity cricket match or an ordinary club match, from going afterwards into the pavilion with my family to have a drink there.
That, according to the hon. Gentleman, is wrong, immoral. There is evil associated with it, he thinks, because the children actually see their father or mother have a drink, and somehow, once they have seeen that, they become warped, twisted in mind, and out of all this comes juvenile delinquency. What absolute rubbish! The real trouble comes from the stupidity of our laws and the restrictions we impose. Consider the trouble we have over hours of opening.
It is true, as we have been told, that our social habits have changed considerably. They have in Bermondsey. Bermondsey used to be what the hon. Member for Wimbledon would no doubt regard as a black area. Things have changed even since my father's day. The dock gangs used themselves to employ what were called "beer boys" whose job was to go out every so often during the day and bring in replenished cans of beer. Even today, in my constituency, there are a number of "pubs" which are entitled to, and still do, open very early in the morning, about 5.30 for a specified time. But things have changed so much. The dockers do not now employ beer boys. They drink milk. [Laughter.] They do.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon will be delighted at that. He probably thinks it is a very good idea. Of course, I do not suggest that they do not still like beer. Of course they do, but they do not have it during working hours. There is no row about it with the employers. If they wanted it, they could have it. They do not want to have it. The social changes in that respect are probably a very good thing. It is the people themselves who have changed their social habits and it is they who would like a change in the existing 545 licensing laws, so that they may conform with the changed habits.
As for what I would call the alcoholic sort of character, who dashes from one area to another to get a drink where the "pubs" are still open and before they all close, no laws will alter his character. But people of that sort are a very small minority, and to devise our laws to change them or to stop their practices and to stop them doing wrong is to get into a hopeless muddle. Therefore, we must be concerned with the majority.
I am speaking only for myself, and, anyway, there is no party line in this matter. Indeed, there are too many Welshmen on this side of the House for there to be a party line on beer drinking. I am not concerned with the Welsh or the Scots. They do what they want. That is their business. I have enough to do in being concerned with where I come from—more than enough.
In London, the public houses are allowed to open for nine hours a day. It is difficult to say exactly what those hours shall be. In Bermondsey, for instance, they are compelled to close at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and they are not allowed to open again till 5.30. For some of them —not for all of them, but for a few—it is absolutely monstrous, because the dock worker finishes work at 5 o'clock, and the public houses do not open till 5.30. The dock worker and many other workers like to have a pint or two of beer before going home. The dock worker going home does not drink in my constituency because the "pubs" are not open. He has to go somewhere else.
This means that it is very hard for the public house keepers to get a living in a constituency like mine. There are very few customers about when the "pubs" open at 5.30. No one comes in. The publican does not see his first customer till 8 or 9 o'clock at night. But he has to open much earlier, and during all those hours when he has little or no custom he has overheads to pay for —staff, electric light, and so on. The law says, "Thou shalt open at 5.30 and thou shalt remain open to 10.30." And if they do not the licence is subject to withdrawal. It is absolute impudence when we talk about freedom.
1 regard the publican—I know that I shall have every Tory with me in saying this— as the finest example of private 546 enterprise in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I knew that I should get that cheer. I shall now say something for which I shall not get such a cheer. I regard the brewer as the worst example of private enterprise in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Analyse the publican's job. It is almost entirely a man-and-wife business. A public house is generally man-and-wife controlled. The publican works phenomenally long hard hours. He has to keep open for those hours to keep the licence alive. Think of the things he has to put up with to attract or to keep custom. He has to put up with people—like myself, perhaps—who talk a long time. He has to put up with bores, as many are, and especially the man who will tell the same story so many times. And the publican has to laugh every time he hears it. That is the life he leads to attract and keep the public, and he has to maintain his good humour and pleasantness at a high level for a long time at a time. His achievement is quite incredible.
What is the publican selling? He is selling a commodity belonging to the brewer, and the brewer has got him tied by restrictions which I think are absolutely shameful. The public goes into the house he has built un because he is a good and jovial host. He brings the "boys" into the "pub". He gives them all the attention he can, and people come to like "mine host". They could get the same beer in almost any other public house, but they go into his. If, by his ability, the publican increases the barrelage figure, the brewer who owns the public house puts up his rent. I have never seen so many people frustrated by what I call the worst aspect of private enterprise. The publican does a very good job for what we all regard as a way of life in Britain.
If there is anything that we can do to improve the publican's lot, we must do it. I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider the licensing laws in relation to tied houses. The hon. Member for Bristol, West made a relevant point about wines and spirits. I know of public houses that are not tied for wines and spirits, but the brewer has seen to it that unless the publican sells the wines and spirits provided by him the publican loses his tenancy. This is done without considering the tastes of the customers. 547 I am not suggesting that a publican does other than work for himself. Of course he does, and when he retires he sells the business at a good profit. The brewer then puts in a manager, because the public house is a profitable one. My experience is that where managers are employed the "pub" deteriorates. The publican does a very good job and we should not interfere with him. It was suggested at one time that the Labour Party would nationalise the "pubs". Let me put on record that that is one aspect of industry that we shall leave alone. If I intended to nationalise anything I would nationalise the brewers, but they have virtually nationalised themselves. A handful of them have made take-over bids for some of the best breweries.
Clubs have also been mentioned. The difficulty is to discover which club is a bona fide one. In my constituency I have a first-rate club. It gives the police no trouble, and no publican objects to it, but there is no doubt that there are some monstrous clubs. Brewers sell their beers to these clubs at lower prices than they do to the "pubs". They encourage the existence of these clubs.
§ Lord Balniel
The reason why they sell their liquor to the clubs at lower prices is a legitimate one. The clubs have no overheads as far as the brewers are concerned. The "pubs", on the other hand, have considerable overhead expenses. Is that not the reason why clubs can often buy beer cheaper than the publicans?
§ Mr. Mellish
No. The price quoted by the brewer to the club is lower. As far as he is concerned, the "pub" has no overheads. The overheads in the "pub" are carried by "mine host", who pays for the rent, the electricity and all the other expenses that go towards running the "pub". The publican can sell only that brewer's beer. The owner of a club can sell Courage's ales, Charrington's beer, or Whitbread's ale. The brewers sell their beer cheaper to the clubs and they do not care a fig whether the clubs are well run. One would have thought that if a club was not well run the brewers would do something about it, but they do not. Profit is the all- important consideration. There is a lot that brewers could do to help the public houses.
548 I support the line that in London, at any rate, there ought to be changes in the opening hours. Public houses are allowed to remain open for nine hours a day. I would not alter that, but I plead with the Home Secretary to allow those nine hours to be spread over the day, subject to agreement with the police, to suit the publican. I agree that 11 o'clock is late enough, but if, in my constituency, there is no trade in X number of "pubs" until half-past eight, but there is a demand for "pubs" to remain open in the afternoon, why can they not be allowed to meet that demand? Why can they not open at half-past seven if they want to and close at 11 o'clock? Why are we so rigid about these rules?
We all know that whatever rules we apply someone will break them, but we must use some common sense about this. Between 3 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. one cannot get a drink. Why are those hours sacred to the name of Britain? Why should it matter to anybody if I want a drink at five minutes past three, or half-past four? Why should I be stopped from having one then? Why should certain houses not be allowed to open in the afternoon if they wish to do so?
We should move into an era where there is genuine freedom—"Tory Freedom Works"—in this trade and remove some of these obnoxious laws. There are many publicans today who keep houses for no reason other than that they provide living accommodation. The amount of profit being made is infinitesimal, but the amount of work they do is enormous. We ought to help publicans. That is why I have had something nasty to say about brewers and something good to say about the best part of private industry.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Cleveland)
I want to direct my remarks to two trends which are developing rather rapidly and to plead with the Government to bear these trends in mind when framing the promised new legislation.
Off-licences have been mentioned. Modern techniques in food retailing are gathering momentum all the time. We are entering the era of the supermarket and the one-stop shop. At the same time, another trend is developing, the greater consumption of table wines, which are becoming increasingly popular. 549 In addition, one can now buy canned beer. I hope that I shall not offend the susceptibility of hon. Members if I talk about canned beer.
There is no good reason why it should be difficult for a food retailer to obtain a licence to sell table wines and beer, and to sell them in normal shopping hours. If one is buying food, surely it is natural to buy something to drink at the same time. In almost any type of shop the owner is permitted to sell tobacco. I think that the licence fee is 5s. 3d. a year. Any grocer, by the payment of 7s. 6d. and the promise to stamp his name on the carton or bottle, can obtain a poisons licence from his local council.
Many grocers resent this. The Grocer, now in its ninety-eighth year of publication, referring to "Archaic Licences" in its issue of 9th January, said:Indeed, the time has come, if it is not overdue, to ask why any licence should be required to sell a bottle of wine. Alternatively, if the revenue wants its cut, why a licence should not be granted simply on the payment of a small sum as in the case of tobacco.… Another development prompts this thought for the furtherance of the one-stop shopping idea. It is the growing acceptance of canned beers. No trade could de more for this line than the food trade, and through no other outlet could this technical development receive a better sales push. The idea of a housewife shopping for groceries and, at the same time, picking up a bottle of table wine or two cans of beer need not shock anyone. The home drinking habit is spreading, anyway, as part of the growing family and leisure trend as opposed to going to the 'local'.I would ask the Government to take note of these trends when they introduce the new legislation.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
I wish, in particular, to welcome the introduction of this subject today by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) because, of course, my constituency of Carlisle is in the somewhat invidious position of having its own Part of the 1953 Act with a complete Schedule thrown in, regarding our local arrangements in what we regard as, and which I intend to show is, a discriminatory fashion.
I hope I may be excused by the House if I make what is to a large extent a constituency speech. In his introductory remarks, my noble Friend referred to the sacrosanctity of the licensing laws 550 as a subject for discussion by a politician. I would like to tell him that that feeling also applied to Carlisle when I first started to represent it four years ago. I was told that, whatever I said in any connection, I really should say nothing about the State management scheme. I am afraid that that is something which I have been guilty of ignoring.
My noble Friend also referred to the anachronistic nature of our present licensing laws. Of course, that particularly applies to Carlisle. Our curious licensing laws under the State management scheme are founded directly on the Defence of the Realm (Liquor Control) Regulations, 1915. It would, perhaps, be worth while my quoting the exact phraseology of these Regulations which inspired our present licensing arrangements in Carlisle. The Preamble to the Regulations reads:And whereas for the purpose of increasing directly or indirectly the efficiency of labour in such areas and preventing the efficiency of labour in such areas from being impaired by drunkenness, alcoholism or excess, it is expedient to make such regulations as hereinafter contained.Today, of course, such a Regulation as that would be regarded, and rightly regarded, as an insult to the working people of this country. It would be hon. Members opposite—who I understand, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), support this scheme— who would be the first to protest about it.
It is not my intention in this debate to pursue the theme of State management of "pubs" as against private enterprise in the economic sphere. There will, perhaps, be other occasions for that and other hon. Members more eloquent than I, for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who will be better exponents than I of the economic aspect.
I wish to say how much I appreciated the unexpected support from the hon. Member for Bermondsey who, I am sorry to see, is not present to hear me offer my acknowledgment of what he said about "pubs" deteriorating under managers. That, of course, is exactly the position in Carlisle. The "pubs" are run by managers under the State scheme and "mine host", as the hon. Member for Bermondsey put it, has no 551 part whatsoever in the management and the serving of liquor to the public in Carlisle.
My main theme is the position of the licensing justices concerning which the chairman of our local bench of justices has quite recently had some forceful remarks to make. I quote from our local paper of February last year in which Captain C. N. Matthews, the chairman of our licensing justices, described the present licensing regulations in Carlisle as "intolerably absurd." In this he was echoed by the chairman of the county magistrates, and the echo has been taken up again by the Annan Town Council from over the Border, which town is included in the State management district, and from which hon. Members will all have received a communication during the last few days, on which they can form their own opinions.
What is the substance of the complaint of our justices about the operation of the present Licensing Act? They are not concerned, as justices, whether the local brewery is privately owned or is State owned. They are concerned, however, with the fact that my right hon. Friend, who is, of course, not only the principal brewer in the district but the only brewer in Carlisle— incidentally. I have to compliment him on his beer, which is much appreciated locally—has the power under Section 77 of the 1953 Act to veto any licence which is granted by the licensing justices.
We had an instance of this some little time ago, of which my right hon. Friend is aware. The Eden Restaurant was licensed by the justices in 1958. Under present legislation, that licence had to be confirmed by my right hon. Friend, and he, acting presumably on the advice of his local advisory committee, refused to confirm that licence. The justices feel that this sort of situation holds them up to ridicule and locally brings the administration of justice as a whole into contempt.
Let us suppose that the person who had the licence granted to him by the justices but who failed to have it confirmed by the Minister defied this veto and started to serve drink. In that case, he would be liable to be brought before the court and to have a penalty of £30 imposed upon him. The case would 552 naturally come before the very justices who had originally granted him the licence, thus creating what can only be described as a completely Gilbertian situation. It is this sort of situation which creates immense feeling in Carlisle.
The feeling in Carlisle is so strong that we feel that if we were coloured people instead of white—black, brown, or even yellow—the country would ring with the story of our wrongs in connection with discrimination of this kind, and that my speech here today instead of occupying perhaps a paragraph in the paper, if reported, would make headlines. Members of the Opposition, in particular, would, we do not doubt, raise so many points of order that the House would be unable to complete its business.
Let us consider the complaints of the justices against my right hon. Friend's jurisdiction. They are that, as the local and monopoly brewer, my right hon. Friend can tell a licensee that he cannot exercise his rights under the licence granted to him by the justices; he can open an off-sales department within 50 yards of the largest off-sales department licensed by the justices, without notifying them; he can build or open any number of new on-or off-premises anywhere in the area without consulting the justices; he can compulsorily acquire any premises which the justices have licensed; he can permit music, singing and dancing on premises at any hour, without a licence from the justices; he can fix the permitted hours at which he can open and close his premises to suit his convenience; he can place any member of the public on a barred list; he can change licensees of various houses at any time without notifying the justices; he can change the character of any of his licences from an on-licence to an off-licence, or vice versa, without notifying them; he can make structural alterations of any kind without notifying them, and he can even permit billiards to be played, without licence, in any type of premises controlled by him.
The local justices in Carlisle find this position anomalous and discriminatory. Quite apart from the question whether we have private enterprise or State management for our "pubs", I must tell my right hon. Friend that if, in any future legislation, Part IV and the Ninth Schedule of the Licensing Act, 1953, 553 are re-enacted they will meet extreme opposition from the City of Carlisle and the surrounding districts which are affected by the scheme.
On the whole question of the future of licensing I must challenge my right hon. Friend whether he will say, either now or at any future time, what lessons have been learned by the Carlisle experiment in the light of modern conditions. We recognise the value that it has been in the past; but what lessons have been learnt relevant to future legislation? Very few lessons of a positive kind have been learnt; in fact, the only real one is that which was pointed out by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford, who moved the Motion, namely, that there has been the same proliferation of clubs in Carlisle as there have been elsewhere, though these clubs are extremely well conducted and their managements are to be complimented on the fact that they have not taken greater advantage of the situation in Carlisle, in view of the lack of popularity of the public houses there among a large section of the population.
We hope that as my right hon. Friend is framing the new legislation, which we expect either next Session or the following one, he will bear these points very much in mind and give Carlisle the opportunity of being assimilated into the licensing system which will obtain in the remainder of the country.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I think that the whole House will agree that we have had a very useful and valuable debate. I would add my congratulations to those which have been extended by other hon. Members to the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) for the very attractive way in which he initiated the debate. Although I do not agree with all his recommendations, hon. Members on this side of the House agree that the present licensing laws are full of anomalies. They date from a time when social conditions were very different from what they are today, and we believe that they are due for overhaul. We therefore support the Motion, which calls upon the Government to give urgent consideration to this question.
The noble Lord said that it was his objective to ensure the widest measure 554 of personal liberty in this matter, consistent with adequate safeguards and security for the public, and we all share that sentiment. The licensing laws were and are primarily designed to protect the public against the evils of excessive drinking. When one looks back to the beginning of the century one agrees that, despite the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), they have, generally speaking, achieved that objective. I am old enough to have just a recollection of the quite disgraceful scenes of drunkenness, with their accompanying evils, which, at the beginning of the century, in the years before 1914, were almost a nightly occurrence after the public houses closed. We do not have those scenes nowadays. Statistics show that there are many fewer convictions for drunkenness than there were between 1900 and 1914.
Nevertheless, I agree with what the hon. Member for Wimbledon said about the convictions of young people for drunkenness, and when the Home Secretary is considering in what way the present licensing laws require to be reformed I hope that he will bear in mind that there is no ground for complacency in relation to the amount of drunkenness now occurring among people under the age of 21.
The relevant statistics are sufficiently alarming. I have here a report published by the Christian Economic Research Foundation in May, 1959, which analyses the convictions, first, in the case of 20 typical county boroughs and, secondly, in 73 police districts where statistics have been kept. They show that, in the 20 boroughs, whereas the number of convictions for drunkenness between 1950 and 1957, in respect of males over the age of 21, have hardly increased at all, the annual number of convictions for drunkenness in the case of males under the age of 21 has increased from 440 to 892.
They also show that, in the 73 police districts, whereas there has been only a very slight increase in the number of convictions of persons over the age of 21 between 1954 and 1957, there has been a very noticeable increase in the number of convictions for drunkenness of young men under that age. It does not, of course, follow that there is necessarily a direct relationship between the permitted hours of drinking in 555 public houses and the number of convictions for drunkenness; but there is a pronounced addiction on the part of modern youth to drinking.
I share the opinion expressed by a number of hon. Members that there is no general demand for any increase in the permitted hours. I think that they are quite long enough. On the other hand, I hope that the Home Secretary will bear in mind the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who pointed out that there is a strong case for giving a much greater degree of flexibility within the permitted maximum, so that public houses which do not want to open at 5.30 in the evening should not necessarily be compelled to do so.
There may well be places where they would wish to remain open to 3.30 in the afternoon and open later in the evening. Provided there is no increase in the overall permitted hours, I should have thought that there was a great deal to be said for allowing a much greater degree of flexibility than exists at present to enable individual public houses to cater for the special requirements of the localities they serve.
I also agree with the observations of the noble Lord the Member for Hertford that probably one of the greatest contributions that could be made to the cause which we all have at heart of securing less drunkenness in this country is that public houses should be made more attractive. I entirely support his campaign for "better and brighter 'pubs'." In fact, I think that one of the major criticisms of the public houses that exist today in a great many parts of the country is that there is nothing else that one can do in them except drink.
I find, for example, that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get anything to eat in a public house. One of the evils of excessive drinking, or even moderate drinking, is that unless one eats something at the same time the effects are very much worse than they otherwise would be. It is a major criticism of public houses, particularly those with which I am acquainted in the suburbs of London, that while they offer a wide variety of alcoholic refreshment, it is exceptional to find one in which one can obtain anything to 556 eat—a sandwich, a sausage or even a piece of bread and cheese.
I know from my own experience, and that of others, that there is a demand, particularly during an evening, for something modest to eat, as well as to drink in a public house. If public houses could be encouraged to serve and have available some kind of food, it would be a great advantage both to the public houses and to the public who patronise them.
I also agree that it would be an advantage if there were a relaxation of the present restrictions on public houses which make it impossible for them to provide certain kinds of musical entertainment, by gramophone records or other means, and certain games.
The Home Secretary would also be well advised to consider the suggestions made to him as to whether, in modern conditions, the existing restrictions on the access of children under a certain age call for some review. I like the idea that there should be in public houses— and I know that in some modern public houses it is the case—rooms available in which the members of a family can participate in refreshment and recreation. That is something to be encouraged, and I hope that will also be borne in mind.
Supporting, therefore, as I do, a campaign which aims at making public houses brighter, with more social amenities—and less exclusive concentration on mere drinking—and with other attractions in which members of a family can participate, I hope that the Home Secretary will bear in mind what has been said about the growth of registered clubs not only in the Metropolis but in many other big cities.
It is said that this very startling growth in the number of registered clubs is largely a protest against the existing licensing laws. That may well be, but I am convinced that something ought to be done about it. I know, from my own experience in Islington, that, although the number may not be large, there are disreputable clubs continually springing up, for the sole purpose of enabling people to drink alcohol outside the permitted hours of drinking in public houses.
I do not think that it should be impossible to introduce legislation which, 557 while not disturbing the legitimate rights and privileges and amenities of all reputable clubs which exist for social and athletic purposes all over the country, would enable the police or the licensing authorities to control this recent growth of clubs which have no other object than to enable drinking to fake place outside the permitted hours. Cannot a distinction be drawn between bona fide members clubs, and the proprietary or bogus club?
In my own constituency, I have come across circulars advertising the fact that a new club has been opened at such and such an address which enables one to drink there during the afternoon. These advertisements are put through the letter box and, obviously, have a most undesirable effect on all social work and education. I hope that something can be done to check this growing tendency.
I also feel that something should be done to relax the existing restrictions on hotels and restaurants with regard to the consumption of liquor with meals. This problem is quite different from that of the public house. I believe that in so far as drunkenness may result from continual drinking When one does nothing but drink, there is no similar justification for imposing the existing restrictions on hotels and restaurants when the primary function is to provide meals. I do not think that there is any social requirement which calls for placing restrictions on serving liquor to those who are taking meals in hotels and restaurants at whatever time they may wish to have their meal. When I say taking alcohol with a meal, obviously that must include taking it either immediately before or after a meal.
In so far as the tourist trade to this country is adversely affected by our licensing laws, I think it true to say that, although it is impossible to gauge it mathematically, the irritation results not from the operation of the licensing laws as applied to public houses, but from their operation in connection with the consumption of alcohol in the hotels and restaurants which overseas visitors frequent and where the problem is a totally different one. Perhaps the Home Secretary would bear in mind whether it is necessary any longer that the same rules should apply in the one case as in the other.
558 I wish now to turn to the question of the effect of the licensing laws on motorists and offences on the road and road accidents. The whole country is deeply shocked by the increasing carnage on the roads. It is impossible to say to what extent this is aggravated by drunkenness whether in the case of a motorist or a pedestrian. I notice there have been a great many unfavourable reactions to the rather complacent statement made the other day by the Minister of Transport indicating that only a few of the regrettably high number of accidents involving loss of life which occurred over Christmas were attributed to drink.
It is true that the Minister, when he made the announcement, added a qualification indicating that it could not be known how many other accidents were contributed to by drink. But, as The Guardian states in a leading article today:… medical research and the pattern of accidents themselves, showing a sharp increase as public houses close, are enough to prove conclusively that drink (often it may be only a small quantity of drink) has a vital bearing on a great many accidents.Having said that, I agree with what was said, I think by the noble Lord, that so far as this is a serious problem—which I am convinced it is—the most effective solution is not to be found by making any radical change in the licensing laws either on the motorways or elsewhere, but in securing a much more severe deterrent in the punishment inflicted on motorists who cause fatal or other accidents while driving under the influence of drink. If necessary, their licences should be compulsorily suspended.
Although I think that is the effective solution, the Home Secretary should also bear in mind that the licensing law can make some contribution to the problem. It is one of the unfortunate consequences of the staggering of licensing hours in different parts of the country that some public houses in a particular neighbourhood close at one hour and others close an hour or half-an-hour later in an adjoining vicinity. People tend to go from the area where the public houses are closed to the adjoining area where they are still open and obviously those people most easily able to do so are motorists. The result is that it is 559 motorists who motor from one area to the other.
A typical example, I am told, is in Leeds, where the public houses close at 10 o'clock, but remain open in the West Riding until 10.30 p.m. The mere fact that the hours are staggered in that way presents a temptation to motorists to travel fairly rapidly to an area where they can continue to drink. That must have an unfortunate effect on the number of road accidents which is causing the public such deep concern.
The serious situation which is developing because of the increasing number of off-licence houses which are tied to a particular brewery has been ventilated at considerable length by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that matter when he presents his recommendations.
I hope that enough fruitful suggestions have been made in this debate to enable the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that he will be able to introduce legislation on this subject. We do not think it appropriate or necessary that a Royal Commission should intervene to review the matter. We consider that this is essentially one of those problems for which Parliament provides the best forum for discussion. We have had a full debate this afternoon, and in view of the urgency and gravity of some of the problems which have been raised, I hope that we may be given an assurance that there will be legislation at an early date.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I am sure that we are grateful to my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), first, because of the able way in which he developed his case and, secondly, because of his choice of subject for this Motion. If I reply to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) now, I hope that my hon. Friends who may wish to contribute to this debate will not feel that they are inhibited from doing so or that the Government will not take note of what they have to say. The object of this debate is to canvass this subject in good time.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I would say that I have no intention of 560 seeking permission to set up a Commission or myself to set up any inquiry, with the exception of what I shall be saying about a certain inquiry going on in Scotland. Apart from that, I think that the hon. Gentleman was right in saying that we have the majority of the problems before us and that what is necessary is detailed consultation. I hope that the fact that we are not adding further to the list of subjects under inquiry will be a source of satisfaction not only to the hon. Gentleman but to certain of those who have written on the subject in the Press and that they will feel that we have this matter well in hand under our own roof in Parliament.
I wish to refer also to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and others who have taken part in the debate, including the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). It is some years since we debated the licensing laws and I think it opportune that we should do so now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, we have a general theme, which is the revision of the Statutes which could be described as affecting our social habits in the light of modern conditions, because many of them were brought in during periods of war or restriction or in the last century, our object being to widen personal choice and to increase the area of personal responsibility.
That is a definite theme. We made reference to it during the last election, when we mentioned the subject of licensing, and I indicated in the debate on the Queen's Speech that this was a matter which we had very much in mind. I cannot give any definite date for legislation. This will depend upon consultations. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) said that it might have to be in the Session after next, but it might come before that, and we will give an indication when the consultations are concluded. This is a matter upon which we should like to legislate earlier rather than later during this Parliament. In any case, we have a fairly full programme.
I was told, when I was a younger Member, that licensing laws are a subject into which Ministers and the House 561 of Commons do not rush without some consideration. I hope the House will agree, therefore, that when we decide to embark on the subject it will be in the interests of everybody that we have had this debate and will perhaps have further exchanges. It will be in the general interest for the matter to be thoroughly digested before we introduce a Bill.
I can also tell my noble Friend that we have already been giving a good deal of thought to the lines upon which we might amend the licensing laws. I have authorised the Home Office to circulate some tentative proposals to club and licensed trade associations and other interested bodies. It is a good thing, therefore, that I should give some indication to the House of the lines of these proposals.
We are not committed to anything which I say today as the final content of a Bill. I shall not treat this debate as if it were the Second Reading of a Bill, but I feel that it would be fair to the House for me to tell them what is in our minds, on the clear understanding that these are our first and not our last thoughts on the subject. We shall have to consider carefully everything which has been said in the debate. That will be in addition to any comments which I make during my speech.
I shall speak mainly of England and Wales, although I have conferred with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The licensing law in Scotland differs in some important respects from that in England and Wales. My right hon. Friend announced last summer the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry under Lord Guest, with what is known in Scottish parlance as a "remit," covering the law relating to the sale and supply of liquor on Sundays, permitted hours on week-days, the composition of licensing courts, and the arrangements for granting certificates in areas of housing development and redevelopment. I understand that my right hon. Friend has asked the Committee to concentrate in the first place on the question of Sunday drinking and permitted hours on week-days. He has asked the Committee to make an interim report on those two subjects in the course of the present year. So much for Scotland.
I will give an indication of the sort of changes which we have in mind. As 562 a background we should have in mind that the licensing law is a rather complex and formidable body of legislation. The Licensing Act, 1953, which consolidates most of the law for England and Wales, runs to 169 Sections and 10 Schedules. I reassure my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary that anything we have in mind will not, I hope, be quite as long as that.
On a broad view of the licensing law, I can reduce this formidable survey to three main elements. First, there is the general licensing system—that is, the control by licensing justices over the retail sale of intoxicating liquor. This has a history going back over 400 years. A Statute of Edward VI in 1552 recites this:intolerable hurts and troubles to the Commonwealth daily grow and increase through abuses and disorders arising in the common ale-houses and other houses called tippling houses.…That Act empowered justices of the peace toremove, discharge and put away common selling of ale and beer where they shall think meet and convenientand to licencein the open sessionsale-house keepers, who were required to enter into a bond for the maintenance of good order.
This is not the occasion for a detailed history of the licensing law. If hon. Members wish to study it in the course of preparing for our future activities, I refer them particularly to the Appendix to the Report of the Royal Commission on Licensing of 1929–31. I shall say a few words in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, whose references to the Report of this Commission, some of which were somewhat selective support his point of view, nonetheless can be founded on or found in that Report.
Over the years Parliament has made two experiments in what might be called free trade in the sale of drink. I should like to eliminate that possibility, because both these experiments were rather unsuccessful. The first was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, when, in order to encourage the use of surplus home-grown corn, general permission was given to anyone to distill and retail spirits from such corn. The social results of these experiments have 563 been graphically described by eighteenth century writers, such as Smollett, and have been depicted in Hogarth's "Gin Alley". Later in the century the control of the justices was restored.
There was a second experiment in 1830. On the recommendation of a Select Committee of the House, free trade in the sale of beer was established by allowing anyone to sell beer by retail on taking out an excise licence at a fee of only two guineas. This measure was prompted partly by the general laissez faire principles which were then current, and in opposition to which a part of the greatness of the modern Conservative Party was founded, and partly with a view to encouraging the consumption of beer as opposed to that of spirits. This second experiment in free trade was not too happy. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is not here to listen to this. There was a great increase in drunkenness and the consumption of spirits was, in fact, not checked. Nearly 40 years later, beer houses were again brought under the control of the licensing justices.
For some time past, therefore, the general position has been as it is now—that no one can sell intoxicating liquor by retail without a licence from the justices, whose decisions are based on their assessment of the character and suitability of the applicant, the suitability of the premises and the needs of the neighbourhood. In this connection I refer to the questions of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who spoke about permitted hours.
There is one modification in this general argument, on the first of the three points with which I am dealing, and I feel that it is worth consideration. The present law does not differentiate between an application for a licence merely to sell drink with meals in a restaurant or hotel without bars and an application for a licence for an ordinary public house. This takes up part of the point made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey. We might, I think, reasonably give any applicant a right to obtain a licence in the former case, provided that the licensing justices are satisfied that he is a fit and proper person to hold a licence, that it is a bona fide restaurant or hotel business and that the premises are suitable for the purpose. The grant of a 564 licence would be subject to the condition that drinks would be sold only with a meal. We should then have to consider the question about having a bar on the premises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) raised the question of the experiment in which he was kind enough to refer to me as the principal brewer and to refer with gratification to the quality of the ale. In passing through that city I have noticed that those who frequent these establishments are, on the whole, fairly well satisfied with the service which they receive.
There are, of course, a good many difficulties in relation to what is called the Carlisle experiment, and I do not propose to come to a final conclusion today, but I would remind the House that I am working under powers given me by Parliament. The only slight correction I should make to my hon. Friend's graphic picture of the situation and difficulties in relation to the justices is that we have to work there, even I, under the general principle of permitted hours. Apart from that, some of the difficulties to which he has drawn attention, in fact, exist. I should not like today to come to any final conclusion.
He confined himself chiefly to the difficulty arising between the licensing justices and the powers conferred upon me by Parliament. That is one aspect, but there is also the aspect of the future of the experiment. There would be great practical problems in deciding the future of this experiment, and I think that we should all do better to get together and to think about it before the time arrives for further developments. In connection with a discussion of licensing legislation, the experiment is small and comparatively isolated, and I should like to have conferences with my hon. Friend and his hon. Friends in contiguous constituencies before we reach any final conclusions on the matter.
Hon. Members have also raised the question of traffic. In general, I do not think that I can deal with motoring offences in the course of today's discussion on licensing legislation. This matter will arise in a Bill to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on 5th February, and I suggest that we concentrate attention on that matter on that day. 565 My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has raised the question of the future of the public house. I must draw attention here to the limitations on the Government in this matter. if we were to say that children should be allowed to go into bars where they can have alcoholic drinks, that would involve the intervention of Parliament, and I suggest that we think very much before we adopt any such requirements.
On the question of improved social activities, the provision of soft drink facilities for children, and the opportunities for families to go into public houses, much of that can be governed either by the proprietors in the amenities which they offer or by the licensing justices, and I hope that the owners will continue to follow an enlightened policy and to make the English public house into a centre of community life. Many of the suggestions made in the debate can be carried out under the existing law if the proprietors think them right and the justices approve.
Apart from the concession which I have already made about restaurants, if Amendments are required in the law in respect of any of the suggestions which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made to improve the position in relation to the public house, I will certainly be glad to consider them as a result of his initial remarks in the debate. One of the advantages of the debate is that it gives us an opportunity to review these matters and to think about them before we change the law of the land.
I come to the second main compartment, which is the question of the clubs. This is not only a matter of interest to the Government but a matter of controversy. Under provisions first enacted in 1902, a club in which intoxicating liquor is supplied to members or their guests must be registered with the clerk to the justices. I have noticed that there is no power in the court to refuse registration and that while a club may be struck off the register on the various grounds set out in Section 144 of the Act of 1953—including frequent drunkenness and illegal sales of liquor—there is nothing to prevent a club which has been struck off from immediately being re-registered under a new guise. It is therefore not surprising that many people, including myself, think that the law ought to be tightened. 566 We have that in mind, and I will give some idea of what we have in mind.
We must remember, however—and this affects hon. Members on both sides of the House —that those concerned with the club movement, not least the Working Men's Clubs, consider that the clubs which abuse the law are in a small minority and do not represent an evil sufficient to justify restrictions on the registration of genuine clubs. They take the view—the force of which I do not question—that an Englishman's club is his castle. I know that many of us enjoy a visit to these establishments at the weekend and derive not only physical nourishment but also much political wisdom. It is sometimes not all the way we should like it, but at any rate it maintains contact with the more intelligent and active of our constituents. I hope that that is not any offence to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. My activities are not confined to visiting clubs. I also visit other bodies whose views may not altogether agree with those in the clubs and I derive similar inspiration from them.
We must look carefully at the question of clubs against the background of homely intercourse which we all know. This is a question which cuts right across party politics and it is not surprising that over the past thirty years every attempt to tighten the law in respect of clubs has not found favour with Parliament as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon pointed out that many of our most distinguished statesmen at the end of the last century and the beginning of this shirked this issue. The issue is one with which the House will have to become familiar before we alter the law to our general satisfaction. I consider that the time has definitely come when we must look at the question again and find an approach which will avoid an abuse of the law without detriment to the rights of the individual or legitimate club interests.
A distinction can be drawn between members' clubs and proprietary clubs. The present law is right in allowing automatic registration of a genuine members' club; that is a club run by and for the benefit of members, among whom—this is the important point and reminds us of the Betting and Gaming Bill we have introduced—the proceeds arising 567 from transactions of the club, whether they be from the sale of liquor or anything else, are shared. Some proprietary clubs are also quite respectable, and some of my hon. Friends belong to them in this great Metropolis in which we live.
Proprietary clubs can be as respectable as ordinary clubs and some are carried on for years without the slightest ground for complaint. We must respect them in our legislation. But some are little more than unlicensed drinking shops. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke of a case in Wales Where a publican was obliged to discontinue his public house and change to a club because he was being positively crowded out of business by two of these undesirable types of clubs being opened, one on either side of his premises. That is an extreme example of the abuse which we have to face. It can be said that unlicensed drinking shops compete most unfairly with licensed premises, which are under the strict control of the licensing justices, and make the task of justices almost impossible. Before we come to legislation we shall have to clear up such issues as this in a way which will be regarded as fair and acceptable.
Besides the unsatisfactory clubs I have mentioned, there are some which make a quick profit for the promoters, fall foul of the law, disappear and then spring up again as mushroom clubs. The solution suggested for discussion in the circulars I have sent round is that the law should distinguish between members' clubs and proprietary clubs. If a club can satisfy the court that it is run by and for the benefit of members, it should enjoy the same right of registration as hitherto; but a club which cannot satisfy the test should not be allowed registration. If it wants to supply drink, it must apply for a justices' licence in the ordinary way.
The details of this proposal will need careful working out. It is with that sort of plan in mind that we have invited the comments of the main club associations. I hope that the House will again accept from me that it is not a final plan. It is not until I know the reactions of the clubs and associations that I shall be able finally to make up my mind. I hope, however, that this approach will commend itself to the 568 club movement as a whole. If so, we may find a durable solution of the club problem, which has been a bone of contention for so many years, and has evaded the wisdom of most of our leading statesmen during the last thirty years and more.
The third main feature of the licensing law, and one which most directly affects the public, is the permitted hours system. This was referred to by most speakers in the debate, and I was interested to note from the speeches a general desire that there shall be no radical change. What I referred to earlier as the experiments in complete free trade in liquor have not been justified in history and we should therefore be careful about going back to them.
The permitted hours system dates from 1921, with one or two subsequent modifications. The Act of 1921 was in effect a compromise between the very long pre-1914 opening hours and the drastic restrictions imposed during the First World War. Those restrictions were imposed at a time when drunkenness in the early war years was a serious detriment to the war effort. I looked up the debates and one hon. Member at that time thought that the Act was… the fairest effort to reconcile two totally irreconcilable classes—those who love freedom and those who not only love chains, but insist upon adorning other people with them".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1921; Vol. 144, c. 2670.]Therefore, it is something in between those two for which we must legislate today.
My noble Friend referred in some detail to the difference between London and the country. The broad difference is that in London the global hours are approximately nine and in the country they are approximately eight. But, as I said in a short intervention during my noble Friend's speech, there are cases where they are eight and a half. I do not want to go into detail about our plans, but what I have in mind is this. We shall have a global total of hours—this follows the speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey—and it will be in the neighbourhood of nine hours.
I have particularly in mind the desirability or possibility of meeting one point raised in the debate. That is the very great difficulty of a public house closing in one place and permitting its occupants 569 to be disgorged and to proceed by fast motor car to another, which I think is a legitimate point. I have in mind also the programmes as arranged on the T.V. We live in a new T.V. age, and are legislating in the 'sixties and not at the end of the last century or before the 1914 war. To meet modern conditions, 10 p.m. is not always the best hour for closing. As has been stated in the debate, we do not want the streets crowded up to a very late hour by people emerging from public houses, but we must at the same time remember that the present pile-up of drinkers before 10 p.m. is not necessarily a good thing in some districts.
Therefore, I hope that we shall work out some system whereby there is a global permitted number of hours. It should not be excessive, because I do not think that we want to return to the days when the public houses opened at 5 a.m., when some of the more virile of the working population would have a tot of rum and proceed to their work and the public houses then went on until after 12.30 a.m. at night. I do not believe that that would either be easy or possible for the publicans and their families, and I do not believe either that it would be desirable from the point of view so reasonably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon in relation to the possibility of over-drinking or the effect upon the morals of the country. It is, therefore, a moderate and sensible global figure which we have in mind.
The one reservation I make in answer to the hon. Member for Bermondsey is that we must have an afternoon break. That does not do violence to his ideas in dockland or anywhere else. I would rather not at this stage at the very beginning of the year go more into detail. Provided that we have an afternoon break, provided that we have a reasonable approximation of hours between London and the country, provided that we also take into account that there shall not be an excess over a certain global figure of about nine hours, we could then give such a lead from Parliament to the licensing justices as to retain a certain degree of local autonomy to meet local needs.
§ Mr. Mellish
I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the global figure, and nine hours is just about 570 right. If it was proved that some publicans could, with advantage to themselves and their customers, open some time later in the afternoon, provided that they did not exceed at the end of the day the global figure of nine hours, would not that be all right?
§ Mr. Butler
Yes, I said that I thought there should be a certain degree of local option. At this stage I should not like to tie myself down any more than that, but I should like to insist that the global figure should not be more than reasonable. That meets the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East and the hon. Member for Bermondsey. We must insist on an afternoon break, because that has been found from experience to be valuable, and I hope that it will be agreed that that is a very proper reservation to be made.
Hon. Members will therefore see that, when we approach permitted hours on the basis of the debate, there will be a certain degree of agreement, and that is satisfactory. I suggest that we can work the rest out together, and, if any hon. Members would care to consort with me and discuss it with me, I shall be very glad to do so with them.
The other matters I want to refer to are mostly the difference between holiday and tourist resorts in London, where I think we shall have to make some adjustments. We have also had representations about the inconvenience to tourists and others who are unable to obtain a drink with a late lunch where the local morning permitted hours are early. The present law already allows licensed premises and registered clubs which satisfy certain conditions to serve drinks with a meal for one hour after the end of the normal weekday permitted hours. We suggest that a similar concession should be made for lunches. While not going into further detail, I think that might help foreign visitors to understand a little more what British liberty means.
Some further suggestions are made, largely with regard to the tourist trade. The first relates to hotel residents and their guests. Under the present law, a resident at an hotel can buy a drink for himself at any time, but can treat his non-resident guest only during permitted hours. This leads to very little brotherly love. It is a restriction which 571 is irritating and senseless to most people, including visitors from overseas. Indeed, it leads to international disruption rather than amity. It is also very difficult to enforce and would need an inspectorate so large as to make the problems of the police overwhelming. Accordingly, the suggestion is that an hotel resident should be allowed to buy drinks outside permitted hours for his guest as well as for himself.
Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, the Licensing Act, 1949, amended the law to allow the supply of drink up to 2 a.m., and its consumption up to 2.30 a.m., on weekdays in the West End of London as an ancillary to meals, music and dancing in hotels, restaurants and registered clubs which fulfil certain conditions. That has caused considerable ill-feeling between the roisterers in London and outside London. In order to create a greater sense of amity I propose that this provision should be extended to the whole country, for the benefit of the tourist trade outside London. We shall then have to consider the case for Saturday evenings with great care before we introduce legislation. That may be more discussable and I will not go into detail about it today.
Then there is a proposal in the interests of the shopping public as a whole. In a shop with an off-sales licence, such as a licensed grocer or a wine store, any of us can give an order for the delivery of a bottle of drink, known officially as "intoxicating liquor", outside permitted hours, but we can buy a bottle to take away with us only during permitted hours. This restriction is overcome in a variety of ways including, as one hon. Member said, by delivering a bottle to a car. The restriction is irritating to the public at any time, and particularly aggravating during periods such as Christmas shopping. We have in mind that people should during weekdays be allowed to take away as well as to order drink from off-licence premises outside permitted hours.
These are some of the details in connection with the tourist trade and in connection with the general laws of hospitality. They must be read in connection with my proposals, which are only of a general character at this stage, for dealing with the more undesirable 572 type of club, for removing contempt for the law as it at present exists, undermining the authority of the licensing justices, and for amending, as I suggested earlier, in one or more particulars the general law of licensing as it has been passed down to us.
In the case of permitted hours, I do not suggest a free trade for all, I do not suggest that we should go back to the 5 a.m. to midnight rule. I suggest that there should be a global total of hours, that it should be enabled to be interpreted in a sensible way and that, as far as possible, there should be a little more equity, in some of the ways I have suggested, as between London and the provinces.
These are all steps in the right direction. I have not heard any speech in this debate that would suggest that any very much more radical change of the law is necessary—
§ Mr. Lipton rose—
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that I cannot deal with the hon. Member's point about off-licences now. I want to give it consideration. I am not even quite clear that it falls within my Department, but I will get in touch with the hon. Gentleman later.
These are the sort of lines on which revision can be based. They will certainly not make a considerable difference, but they will preserve that definite relationship between order and liberty without which I do not think that we should get the definite support of the House. The point of view put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, and his statistics, and the statistics that have been given about drinking among young people, must be borne very much in mind. I am not clear that this derives solely from the licensing laws, because I think that an easing of the licensing laws would not necessarily have a bad effect on these figures. They have to be dealt with in other ways, and by means of other activities in which I have to indulge.
However, one great benefit that will come to the nation from these various acts of liberation is that our social habits will have been decided in this respect and in respect of betting and gaming and other things with the general support of the House of 573 Commons, and made suitable to the age in which we live; not enacted in a period of restriction; not enacted, I hope, in a period of abnormality but, above all, enacted in a spirit of all-party interest, so that we may, in the, end, enhance our reputation for wisdom. and fortify the laws on our Statute Book.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The House has already generously, and I think rightly, paid tribute to the statesmanlike speech, if I may say so, of my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), and I am sure that the House would also like to say how indebted it is to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to his right hon. Friend for their very close attention to this debate. We are also indebted to the Home Secretary for his winding-up speech and for his assurance that any other points subsequently made will be noted by his Department.
The House has been night to regard this debate as one that invited general consideration of principle rather than matters of detail, but there are certain points of detail I should like to emphasise, and certain suggestions I should like to make to which, no doubt, my right hon. Friend will be able to give his attention in further considering the problem.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the matter of liquor being allowed to be served with meals, but I was not quite sure how far the general desire that liquor should be allowed to be served with meals at any time during the day was to be met by what he has in mind. I do not think that it will be covered by what he said about the relaxation in obtaining licences, and I rather doubt whether extending the time of licensing by one hour to public premises, as it is now extended to clubs, would meet the pint at all. I think that he might keep an open mind to the possibility of liquor to be served with meals at any time during the day. I am sure that this would be welcome to tourists and I cannot see that any ill result would flow from it.
It will be generally welcomed that the Government are likely to allow residents, in licensed hotels at any rate, to order drinks for themselves and their guests 574 at all times in the day, but my right hon. Friend did not deal with the very irksome point that residents are not at present allowed to have these drinks put on their accounts. They have to pay cash for them. I do not think that any great evil would result from a relaxation of that requirement.
My right hon. Friend did not mention something that has been brought to my notice, which is that it is possible to obtain a licence only once a year, and that if the proprietor of a hotel or restaurant misses a brewster sessions he has to wait for a whole year. That is a detail that might also be considered for improvement.
There will be general gratitude for my right hon. Friend's intention to make equal provision in London and in the provinces for the supply of drinks after 2 a.m. on weekdays if certain provisions are fulfilled, but could he not consider giving licences to premises that do not provide music and dancing, and so on. every night of the week? Many establishments would like to have late dances with music once a week. At present, they cannot have a licence on that basis, and I do not see why they should not.
Another very small point that would, perhaps, be generally acceptable is this. At present, where structural alterations are being made to premises, some of which require nothing being done to any part of the premises in which drinks are served, the licensee has to get permission for the work from the justices. That provision is quite farcical and no useful purpose would he served by preserving it.
Again, might one suggest the granting of occasional licences on Sundays and for private functions that are to finish after 10 p.m.? Such licences are at present granted only for public functions. If my right hon. Friend could give attention to these points of detail I think that his inquiry will bear even more acceptable fruit. They are, however, merely points of detail.
The House is right to consider the principles. Listening to the debate it seemed to me that hovering over us all the time has been the ghost of the English public house. The English public house has ossified into a kind of melancholy Edwardian squalor that I must 575 confess I personally find extremely agreeable. I hope, therefore, that I may be forgiven if, albeit in somewhat elegiac measure, I sing its praise.
Architecturally, it achieves a degree of ugliness almost sublime. There are notable and noble exceptions, particularly in the countryside and in country towns, but we all know those public houses that occupy these valuable corner sites and are so undervalued in the balance sheets of the brewery companies—the dado of lavatory brick in slime green and khaki of really sublime ugliness to which, as I say, I am greatly attached, but which I recognise does not really attract a generation that has not such affectionate memories of it as I have.
Structurally, we all know the famous three doors marked "Saloon", "Private", and "Public". Incidentally, those doors, with their carved and ground glass, are very often examples of by no means negligible craftsmanship and those who are looking forward to laying down treasure for the next generation might be well advised to pay some attention to them. They may be of untold value to the buyer's grandchildren, and they, also, may be undervalued in the balance sheets of the brewing companies.
Pleasant as they are, however, I doubt whether such houses should be allowed to continue. I know that each door has its peculiar magic: "Saloon", with its overtones of six shooters and spitoons; and "Private", that always seems particularly tempting, but which I have always found a little disappointing inside. I must say that my favourite is "Public".
Whichever one it is that one goes into I myself find, as I collect my wet change and put it in my pocket and look round—let me correct myself there. People do not look around them in public bars—their manners are far too good. They see around them without looking. It is one of the great charms of the institution. However, once inside one sees around one one's own people. I confess quite frankly that I never go into one of these places, which I do quite often, without consciously saying to myself, "Here we are. We are the English people, heaven help us, and we are the salt of the earth".
576 I make this confession fortified by the belief that very often private confessions of this kind, though one usually feels slightly ashamed when making them, are shared by those whom one regards as infinitely more respectable than oneself. I do not speak in terms of nationalism or jingoism, but I think that institutions like the Edwardian public house that can inspire such spontaneous sentiments of fellowship and patriotism ought not to be allowed to pass without a tear. They have a time-honoured and valued place in our affections.
But to be quite honest, Mr. Speaker, they are entirely out of date. They are finished. Their whole architectural and social structure will have to be swept away. They are out of tune with the social structure of our time. They are based upon the conception that in the public bar a man can get drunk with a total lack of elegance; that in the saloon bar he can get drunk with a little more elegance; and that in the private bar he can either discuss serious business over a little whisky, or a little business over serious whisky.
None of those structural tiers applies to society today. To most people, and certainly to the coming generation, they will be meaningless and repellent. My hon. Friend was absolutely right when he said—although I do not endorse his vocabulary, because I do not like the word—that the public house must have more glamour. That point was generally taken up. They must be made into places to which young people can be attracted, and where there can be social intercourse over a wide range of age and interest, which I do not think is the case at present.
There is a role here far Government, licensing justices and brewers, and one cannot say precisely at this stage just what is the role of each. Incidentally, every speaker has said how times have changed, but I have been glad to see that times have not changed so much for us not to have had today one or two wholehearted traditional attacks on the brewers from hon. Members opposite. The times have certainly changed when we can have such a debate as this without Welsh and Scotch participation.
Anyway, the brewers too, in their own interests, so far as it concerns them should make it the prime aim of their 577 policy—all three, Government, justices and brewers should keep this prime aim in view—to enable licensed premises to compete with clubs for public favour on terms which are relevant to modern society. Just how much legislation this would involve is not very easy to see. On the face of it, I should think that my right hon. Friend's conception that clubs should be divided into two classes, proprietary and members' clubs, is fundamentally the right standpoint from which we can hope to move towards the right kind of control.
If the clubs are brought to heel, if one may put it that way, and the wrong type of club is controlled, we shall manage to deal with one of the two problems which it would be fatally wrong to take lightly. For two considerations must dominate our thoughts here. First, there is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) has so much in mind, the undoubtedy serious increase in juvenile drunkenness. To the extent that legislation, especially legislation concerned with clubs, can check this, it should be in the forefront of the Government's mind. The other consideration is that any act of policy which may concern road safety must be given the most serious consideration. It is of prime importance. I am myself not quite sure how far any alteration in the licensing laws would improve road safety. I do not say that it would not; but I am not quite sure how, or to what extent, it would. However, I am sure that in the Government's mind this matter will be kept very safe and will be considered very seriously.
In general, the Government, in the course of pursuing their inquiries during the next few months until they are able to submit legislation to the House, ought to keep in view as the principle—I am sure that this was in my right hon. Friend's mind—that the British people really can be trusted to respond in a responsible and decent way to extensions in their social freedom, extensions which, after all, have not proved insupportable or too much of a challenge for other civilised nations.
§ 2.56 p.m
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr.Iremonger), I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home 578 Secretary for the glimpses he has given us of the way that the Government's mind is moving in this matter. No one can deny that those glimpses show an attitude which, at one and the same time, indicates a determination not to return to what my right hon. Friend called free trade in drink and a determination to try to abolish some of the anomalies which irritate so many people. including our visitors from overseas.
My right hon. Friend began by saying that any bona fide restaurant serving what are generally called, I believe, substantial meals should have the right to serve alcoholic refreshment to be consumed with the meals. He skated rather carefully over the question whether such restaurants should or should not be allowed to have a bar. This is a difficult problem. Once a bar is established separately from the restaurant, it becomes another public drinking place where people may go and drink and not stay to eat.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for proposing to remove one anomaly which annoys a great many people, namely, that one can go into a restaurant in London and find it impossible to get anything alcoholic to drink with one's meal. Yet, on the other hand, of course, the restaurants—let it be admitted—have done precious little to encourage people to help them in their struggle for recognition for licence.
I am always rather pleased when I find that a restaurant into which I have gone for a meal has no licence, because it is then usually possible to hand a small sum of money to the waiter, who will then go across the road to the nearest "pub" purchase a bottle of wine at "pub" prices, and return with it to the restaurant, where one can consume the wine upon payment of a small corkage fee.
The total cost is usually infinitely less than the cost of that bottle of wine on the wine list of a licensed restaurant. I should have thought that, if restaurants are to benefit fully from my right hon. Friend's suggestion, they will have to remember that, if one wishes people to drink wine with their meals, one should not try to make it a luxury which can be afforded only very rarely by the very rich. 579 I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, also, for telling us that, under his proposals, it will normally be possible to consume wine at table for one hour after the end of permitted opening hours on a weekday, and this would be applicable equally to lunch time as well as dinner time. I hope that he will go a little further. One of the aims of our exercise is, surely, to remove anomalies and, among other things, anomalies which annoy tourists. Nothing, I think, can annoy a tourist more, because very few things can annoy me more, than the difference between having lunch in London at a restaurant on a weekday and having lunch in London at a restaurant on a Sunday.
On a weekday, I may consume my lunch at a speed suitable for the full use and enjoyment of the digestive process, with the aid of such alcoholic liquors as I deem suitable to that process, until virtually any hour that the restaurant is willing to serve me. On a Sunday, at about two minutes to 2 o'clock, a waiter will appear at one's side and say that it is illegal for him to serve one with anything more after the next two minutes.
I have never understood why this should be so. Is it an attempt to induce the adult population of the West End to attend Sunday school? It certainly cannot be done to make them go to church on Sunday in the morning, because that time is past, and it can scarcely tempt them to attend Evensong because there are at least three hours to go before that begins. I beg my right hon. Friend to remove this anomaly, also.
We are grateful for the suggestion that a resident should be able to treat his own guests in a hotel where he is staying, but I think that we must be a little careful here. We do not want large numbers of people nominally guests of one resident virtually staying on to enlarge the licensing hours beyond the bounds of good sense. There might well have to be some kind of limit to the number of guests which any resident may have to stay after the close of licensing hours, and I am not at all sure that it should not be made obligatory, not just permitted, that the drinks ordered during that period should be 580 put upon the bill of the resident so that no cash actually passes.
In dealing with the licensing laws, one always comes back to "pubs" and clubs. I am certain that my right hon. Friend is right to take the dividing line between the members' club and the proprietary club. If he decides to make the proprietary club seek a licence from the authorities in the same way as a publican does, I hope that he will not allow the licensing justices to adopt too strictly the consideration of how many clubs there ought or ought not to be to serve a given area, particularly in parts of Central London, nor allow the justices to decide that, because the type of licence being applied for must be a publican's type of licence, these clubs cannot restrict their membership to those whom they would like to have.
My noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), to whom we are grateful for initiating this debate, was quite right in saying that people go to clubs because they are more convenient. I think that my noble Friend is a little inaccurate in suggesting that clubs do not have to close at a particular hour. In fact, they do, but they do not have policemen coming in to see that they do so within a matter of seconds. Where the club in London, above all, benefits is that it is able to serve drinks throughout the afternoon.
As long as my right hon. Friend has the idea that there must be a gap in the centre of the afternoon the drinking club will prosper, because it is possible to begin drinking at 10.30 in the morning in the Borough of Marylebone and to work one's way round the public houses until they close in the City of Westminster at 3 p.m. and then cross into any drinking club in any borough in London, as far as I can see, and drink one's way solidly round to 11 p.m. So long as this situation obtains people who wish to drink in the afternoon will do so, and it is sheer nonsense to suggest that drunkenness is prevented by having a compulsory break in the afternoon. If we are to make the public house attractive against the club, its hours must bear some relation to the hours during which clubs may open.
Similarly, we must get rid of the idea that because a person has only one bar he is limited in the type of licence for which he may apply. I think that all 581 on-licences must be full licences. The idea that we shall cater for a particular type of population by having one-room public houses with beer licences surely is something which passed away with the 1890s. Equally, because the laws relating to music in public houses were passed long before the invention of television, gramophone records and "rock 'n' roll", it is surely nonsense that people should still have to apply for licences to play gramophone records or to have the wireless on in public houses.
It is no argument to suggest that this annoys people living round about. If a public house is a source of annoyance to neighbours, just as if I, in my own flat, annoyed my neighbours, let us make certain that the laws in relation to nuisance are sufficiently clear and easy to operate, but do not let us try to penalise a public house simply because it is a public house.
I should like to say a word or two about the hours during which it is proposed that "pubs" may open. I fully agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that nine hours in a day seems to be about right, but why should we insist that every public house in a given area must open and close at exactly the same time? I know of public houses in my constituency which have to open at 6 o'clock or 6.30, or 7 o'clock on Sundays, but will not get a single customer for an hour and a half. That point has been made already by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr.Mellish).
Why is it essential that a publican should have to open 363 days a year, or 364 days a year if it is a Leap Year, like this year? Why should not he have the right to close one day in the week, which we not only allow but virtually command shops to do? Why should not publicans agree among themselves about which nights they will have off, because publicans deserve it?
If a publican thinks that he can get trade in the afternoon because of the peculiarities of the area, but will not between the hours of six and eight, why should not he close at five and open at eight instead of having to close at three and open at six? There should be flexibility not only with regard to what the justices like but with regard to what the publican and his employees like and what his customers really want.
582 I am not sure that closing time of 11 p.m. in the West End of London, where tourists tend to congregate, should not be extended. We are virtually the only capital city in the civilised world where it is impossible for a person of moderate means to get a drink after 11 p.m. If one is rich, it can be done. If one belongs to night clubs like the "400" and others, one can do it, but the ordinary middle-class tourist from America, who has spent a great deal of money to come over here and has not money to throw away in night clubs patronised by the gossip columnists, is finished at 11 o'clock, unless he goes back to the hotel where he is staying, and even then it is possible that that hotel will not have a licence.
§ Mr. Freeth
On the question of licensing laws, I think that our Australian friends lag even behind us.
One more thing about off-licences. I rejoiced that my right hon. Friend suggested that perhaps we might so order affairs that one could go into an off-licence and come away with what one wished to purchase as one could go into a grocer's shop and come away with what one wished to purchase there. I think it essential that the bottle or can with which one emerges should be sealed at the time one leaves the shop. I think that that is most important. But if on weekdays, why not on Sundays, if one happens to live in an area where the shops are permitted by the peculiar Shops Acts of our land to open on Sundays as well?
And can we not do a little about the public house and tied off-licence? The Act of 1949 seems to have been the Act which, in retrospect, we can see has had an unfortunate effect. We have made it more difficult to get an off-licence, and, therefore, we have enabled the landlords of the off-licences, that is to say, in many cases, the brewers, to have a greater control over their tenants. Surely it should be much more easy for people to get an off-licence. Any reputable shop, I should have thought, which sells groceries or cigarettes should be able, upon payment of a fee, to get the equivalent of the pre-1949 Excise 583 licence; or, if it be wished, let there be a maximum amount in a given area.
Let us see an end to this quasi-monopoly power of the landlords or the ground landlords of the off-licence premises, because otherwise we merely get the tied house growing into the tied off-licence, and the tied off-licence is not, I believe, to the benefit either of the manager or the tenant, on the one hand, or of the member of the general public, on the other.
If we can do something to restrict this type of monopoly at the same time as we remove monopolies and try to adapt our licensing laws for the stage we have reached in our progress to a maturer society, I believe that this Parliament will have done something useful when the legislation is passed.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I hope that I may not incur your further displeasure, Mr. Speaker, if I intervene in the debate now, as there are no other Members wishing to speak, to develop a few ideas along rather novel lines towards the licensing future of our country. I have tried to bring to this subject, as to betting and gaming, a closely specialised subject in each case, an understanding and a deep study. It was for that reason that I took rather longer than I should have done on the previous occasion, so I readily pay the penalty now. I hope that the previous occasion may have been useful, and I hope that this may be, too.
I am delighted that, at this very moment when I am about to start what I have to say, the Leader of the Liberal Party should have returned to join our assembly. I know that he was unavoidably absent previously. Indeed, tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis. My father and my grandfather were both in this House as Liberal Members of Parliament, and if, when my father was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir William Harcourt in those days, he had made the sort of speech which the Leader of the Liberal Party made in the House today, then there would have been trouble in Haverfordwest.
Times have changed so much that, after giving the greatest care to what he had to say, the leader of the Liberal Party was able to come to the House 584 and take, in a totally different sense of the word, a most liberal approach to these problems. That was possible because the evil of drink is absent from this country today and, therefore, a radical approach to the problem of alcohol is no longer necessary.
I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who said that to some extent the same considerations do not apply to gambling and betting, although the two problems are linked. I have studied the two problems, the one in the context of the other. There is a danger of excessive gambling in this country, but in my judgment there is no danger of excessive drinking.
I do not propose to do so now, but if, in the course of time, the subject comes up, I will be prepared to debate and answer the accusations and the statistics put forward by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) about drunkenness. Convictions for drunkenness are not a test of the amount of alcohol consumed in a country.
Let us come to the important matters. The Conservative Party must ensure that one philosophy runs through the social studies it is making for the change of our outmoded laws. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is leading the attack in developing the Conservative philosophy of greater freedom, bearing in mind the need for common sense and discipline.
We must ensure that in the legislation that we are introducing there is the same connecting thread that there was when dealing with prostitution, that there is in the betting and gaming laws, the amusement and funfairs legislation, and which I hope will be present when we deal with the Sunday observance and the shopping legislation.
Licensing requires that certain principles should obtain. The first is that we should continue with our system of the rule of law through justices of the peace. The justices should lay down the rules for licensing. The system should operate through justices of the peace in the way that the Home Secretary outlined this afternoon.
I say this not by way of criticism of the Home Secretary. The suggestions that he made this afternoon are valuable ones, but they are merely tinkering with 585 the problem. He expressly did not claim that he was laying down the Government's proposals in full. He indicated certain changes which he thought desirable. Although they are desirable they do not deal with the problem as such. To deal with the problem of licensing there is only one way in which one can get at it root and branch and that is to make sure that what applies to one licensee applies to all others. The proprietary club and the publican must be licensed under one licence and there must be the same yardstick governing the conditions for both. The publican has to show that he is a man of integrity and position, and it is unfair for him to have a yardstick that is different to that governing the licence given to a club proprietor.
The genuine members' club is a totally different animal from a proprietary club run for profit. Once we have taken the proprietary club away from the members' club, the first principle that we must pursue is that of one licence for both the proprietary club and the "pub." This is the only way in which we can tackle root and branch our licensing system. I believe that we ought to tackle it root and branch. It is quite wrong that after these many years, and having now got the courage to tackle the gaming and betting laws, not to mention the prostitutes, we should not seek to handle in the best manner possible the licensing system.
The first thing to do—it will be very popular—is to make sure that the licence, for whatever period it may be, is the same for the publican and the club proprietor alike, and, secondly, that the conditions which attach to that licence apply equally to both.
The next matter is the question of permitted hours.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
If I may interrupt my hon. Friend—I am following his argument with interest—I think that it would be wrong if he gave the impression that we would not consider any aspect of the matter at this early stage. I would not like him to feel that we are shirking any responsibilities.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I fully appreciate, of course, that all these matters are in a state of flux—I do not 586 use that phrase in any unhappy sense—at present, all subject to discussion.
May I say that I feel that another philosophy of the times has changed a good deal? Between 1946 and 1951 we had great partisan battles across the Floor of the House. Now we are in a more reflective mood and there is a great opportunity for the House and for the public to participate in that gentle pressure required to be brought on the Government in advance in order to enable both the House and the country as a whole to play a greater part in the shaping of future legislation.
It seems to me an admirable feature of modern life that we are getting back to more reflective times and to a greater opportunity to discuss matters like licensing rather than that civil servants should impose a piece of legislation with the support of the Government and then have it thrown at us on Second Reading. The great opportunity which my noble Friend has made possible today by bringing this matter before the House is that of giving the public as well as the House an opportunity for a forum of discussion concerning the type of society they want, and licensing, of course, affects that society to a marked degree.
The second point is the period of time, whether it be eight or nine hours. I prefer eight hours for various reasons. It seems to me that what we want is an eight-hour variable licence, that is to say, it should vary in flexibility in part at the discretion of the magistrates, but, in particular, at the discretion of the club or the "pub".
Let me show the House how, in my judgment, this will work. First, it will enable "pubs" to be open for a couple of hours at midday and enable the publican in the docks—the constituency of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—to open at 5 o'clock and to go straight through to eleven—twelve to two, five to eleven, eight hours.
In the first instance, the division of those eight hours will be at the discretion of the applicant for the licence. If he be a publican he will be allowed to open for eight hours and to decide what those hours shall be. That will be subject, of course, to the discretion and opposition in certain conditions of the licensing justices when he appears before them. There will be the right 587 to object if the granting of a licence affects or impairs the amenities of the neighbourhood.
First, there are the night clubs operating in London which are required for the tourist trade, and which will need to be open from 9 o'clock at night until 4 o'clock in the morning. Then there are the ordinary lunch and dinner clubs, which will want to be open from 12 to 3 o'clock in the afternoon and then again from 7 o'clock until midnight. That covers the Metropolis. Then there are the provincial cities, such as Nottingham, with which I was closely acquainted for some years. That city has no club which is open late at night. In the present state of democratic society in this country it seems wrong that Nottingham should not have either a club or a licensed dance hall which is able to open late at night on Fridays and Saturdays, until 2 o'clock in the morning.
The pattern will be exactly the same under the eight hours arrangement. The choice will be expressed on the applicant's licence. The applicant will make his choice and, subject to certain conditions—and provided he shows that he is a man of integrity and character—he will get his choice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon will at least have the comfort of knowing that all the "mushroom" clubs which have sprung up will disappear, because it will be no more satisfactory to be a private club than a public one. It will also end the ludicrous situation which obtains today, in which publicans object to a licence being given to a club or hotel, because there will be no special value attaching to that licence.
That deals with what I would call the eight-hour variable licence.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I prefer eight hours. I will give my reason shortly.
I should like to hear the views of the trade unions and the Licensed Victuallers' Association on these matters. My view is that they would both feel that eight hours is long enough. Working in a public house is not like signing off at the docks. One has to be there 588 an hour before the public house opens and stay an hour after it closes, which means a 10-hour day.
The real reason for limiting the period to eight hours is not because of the feeling of the Churches, although that period fits in with the views of the Churches in some respects. It is that nowadays, if we wish to limit ourselves to a 40-hour working week, we should not ask the publican, the licensed victuallers trade, and those who work in the catering trade all the year round, to work hours which we should not expect to have imposed upon ourselves. That is why I take the view that the period should be eight hours rather than nine.
Having got our eight-hour variable licence, however, we shall find ourselves faced with certain other problems which do not quite fall within the four corners of the two conditions to which I have referred. One concerns the off-licence trade. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of the tied house business. It is not quite always as the hon. Member for Bermondsey would have it. What he said about that matter was the only part of his speech that was not almost the best Tory philosophy that I have heard. In fact, even on the tied house aspect he was talking good Toryism because, in the ordinary way, the restriction of a tie falls in line with Conservative policy.
When applications are made to the brewster sessions for eight-hour or nine-hour licences it will be necessary to consider the question of music and dancing. That is a difficult problem, because those subjects are now dealt with by way of occasional licences. We shall also have to consider the question of the tourist trade in the summer.
I suggest that we should introduce a very simple Bill which will lay down that licensed premises shall open for not more than eight, eight and a half or nine hours in any twenty-four hours. That will be provided by one Clause, although we shall probably have to have two separate types of application which can be made to the normal sessions, the first concerning special occasional licences, such as the genuine wedding function, whose organisers wish it to be licensed outside the normal run of hours, and also the high season application, to cover the tourist trade in seaside resorts. 589 As the House knows, I am secretary of an all-party committee and we discussed this matter same time ago. It seemed to us that we would have to have some special arrangement. Under the Act as it stands, following the Home Office Circular, we are not entitled to regard the whole of the high season as a special occasion.
It seems to me, quite frankly, that in July, August and September, in Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Blackpool and other seaside resorts, we shall have a very considerable proportion of people who wish to work sometimes longer than the eight-hour period. Provided that there is a provision to meet the special occasion, I think that we shall be meeting the needs of the public. Not only shall we meet the needs of the brewer, the licensed victuallers trade, the off-licence trade, by giving them the hours which they reasonably want, the trade union movement, because the hours are not far wrong, the licensing justices, because we shall be continuing very much the same sort of system which they understand, but we shall have a flexible system which will meet the needs of various parts of the country. It will vary between Wales and the more pagan elements in south-east England.
This will meet the needs of tourist and seaside resorts and the needs of the Continental and tourist trade, because when those people come to this country they will be able to get a drink with a meal and go to any night club up to three or four o'clock in the morning. At the same time, it will not be encouraging excessive late hours to put off the working people of the country.
It seems to me that we should be able to get under this umbrella of the eight-hour variable licence, using the justices, as we have done before, and giving them a certain amount of discretion in the matter of hours. That is the most difficult part of the draftsmanship. We shall be able to achieve a licensing Act in something like 21 Clauses instead of 109. I hope that we shall be able to do this without too much difficulty for those who have to practise in this field, as I do, in trying to understand all the intricacies of the licensing laws.
It is enough to tear one's heartstrings to have to go to a first-class restaurant, putting on first-class continental food— 590 which, goodness knows, is needed in this country—and find that the brewers oppose its becoming a member of the licensed trade, although the moment it becomes a member it is tied as much as anyone else because of our absurd licensing laws.
One of the best things which the Government did was when they took away the monopoly value in the last Budget which was merely a forerunner to preparing legislation designed to enable us to deal with these laws. I hope that the Government will deal with them this year.
I do not dissent from the suggestions put out as tentative propositions by the Home Secretary, but I hope that we shall have, thanks to this debate, an opportunity to go into this matter with care and with bravery, bravery not only by the Government but, I hope, honesty and bravery by all the trade associations. I hope that they will come out into the open and say what their ease is and not be content just to send it round to selected Members of Parliament in circulars.
I get all of these circulars. I tell everyone who comes to me on this subject to make sure that they go to the former Home Secretary and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and now they will go to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel). We must bring this subject out in the open, discuss it in the Press and debate it on the television and the B.B.C. Here is a subject upon which the public will express views and want to do so.
I am sorry if I have expressed myself at too great a length. At any rate, I warmly welcome the opportunity of speaking this afternoon in the hope that we shall have from the Home Secretary, as I am sure we shall, a really radical and progressive approach to the licensing laws. I hope that the proposed Bill will be a fairly short Bill and one which it does not require a lawyer to understand.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I wish to apologise to the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and to other hon. Members because it was not possible for me to get to the Chamber until the Home Secretary had almost 591 finished his speech. I had hoped to be present earlier and to take part in the discussion. I wish to ask the Joint Under-Secretary to keep in mind what I said during the debate on the Expiring Laws Continuance Act regarding study of the licensing of an area in districts where, owing to excessive bombardment during the war, provisions of the wartime legislation still apply.
Since the war we have seen a greater shifting of the population, quite apart from the effects of the war, than ever before in the history of the country. There are a great many towns and licensing districts in which there is an aggregation of public houses and full licences but a comparatively small residential population. Within a couple of miles there may exist a new housing estate where provisions of this kind are inadequate. Any efforts to get licences there are viewed with some suspicion by the licensing justices because of the accommodation already available in places where they do not serve the population.
As chairman of a licensing committee from the time I left office in the Labour Government until I reached the age limit, I can say from personal experience that this creates a special difficulty in many areas. The licensing planning law has been welcomed in the areas where it has operated, for it has enabled new licensing provisions to meet the requirements of the population as it is now distributed.
I hope that the new legislation will enable a wide survey of the area of a licensing district to be made so that the provision of licensing facilities may be reasonable for the whole of the population. I say that as one who is not likely to make use of such facilities no matter how they are provided. Although a total abstainer, I have never seen why I should prevent any person who is not a total abstainer from getting what he requires in a way for which provision is made by the law, and so long as he does not make a nuisance of himself.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Member for Wimbledon knows my views on this matter. There are many things which 592 the hon. Gentleman does not want to do. I have no objection to other people doing them and I sometimes wish that the hon. Gentleman would be human enough to do some of them himself.
I am greatly perturbed at the figures for juvenile drinking and I wish to say this to the Churches. I was brought up as a member of a Nonconformist Church at the time when any officer of the Church would have found it difficult to retain his office were he not a total abstainer.
The habits of this country were not altered by legislation. They were altered by the work of the Churches, in the 'eighties and 'nineties of the last century and in the first few years of this century, among young people. I am certain that it is mainly the lack of the continuation of that work of the Churches which has led to the increased consumption of intoxicating liquor by juveniles. I do not want to see the kind of reaction which might possibly arise if this matter becomes worse, nor do I want to see a generation grow up which will not regard the excessive consumption of alcoholic liquors as other than disadvantageous to the consumer and to the community as a whole. But I do not look to legislation to achieve this. It must be achieved by the work of the Churches and other social workers who are alive to this issue; it is for them to deal with it emphatically in the way which was so successfully employed in the years to which I have alluded.
I apologise to the Home Secretary for not having heard the whole of his speech. He referred somewhat light-heartedly to the way in which the Betting and Gaming Bill and the Measure now contemplated will reform some of the abuses of our present circumstances. I do not think that his enthusiasm will be shared at the moment by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who knows that we have had four Sittings of the Betting and Gaming Bill in Committee and so far have not dealt with the first Amendment.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not pursue the question of the Betting and Gaming Bill.
§ Mr. Ede
The Home Secretary introduced it in a most light-hearted manner. What I want him to realise is that any effort seriously to interfere with the social habits of great groups of the population of this country requires the most careful consideration, is receiving it in the Measure to which I have referred and will undoubtedly also receive it in any Licensing Bill which is introduced.
I hope that in all these efforts to re-shape the social life of our people here will be a willingness to listen to all the views which may be expressed and the desire to see that there will not be a channelling into one particular groove of the opportunities which people desire to enjoy refreshment and social life according to their own ideas.
If we can have that spirit we may be able to make some approach towards the more reasonable part of the philosophy which the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has just been grandiloquently defining to us. I listen to him on philosophy with a respect and an admiration which I do not always find it possible to apply to some of the detailed applications which he would make of that philosophy.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, believing that the licensing laws relating to the sale or supply of alcoholic liquors should be reviewed, calls on the Government to give urgent consideration to this question.