§ LORD ARNOLD had given Notice that he would call attention to the unsatisfactory administration of Section 21 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, dealing with the levy for the closing of redundant public-houses in accordance with the Licensing Act, 1904; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it is high time that the matter which I am bringing forward this afternoon for your Lordships' consideration should receive the attention of 886 Parliament. It is, in fact, over a quarter of a century since the Licensing Act, 1904, and its administration were discussed in either House of Parliament m detail. I therefore suggest that a review of the position is not merely due but overdue. Some of your Lordships will remember the actual passage through this House of the Licensing Act of 1904, commonly known as the Balfour Act. That Act was passed to facilitate the closing of redundant public-houses. Redundant public-houses were to be closed on a scheme whereby the owners were to be compensated for the extinguished licences out of a fund which would he levied on all the public-houses in each licensing area.
§ How has the matter worked out? I begin with the year 1905 because that is the best year; it is the year following the passage of the Act. The number of public-houses in England and Wales was then 99,478. By the end of 1934, that is, in exactly thirty years, the number had been reduced to 75,955. That is a reduction of 23,523. That decrease, in my submission, is inadequate in the time. More particularly is that the case when account is taken, as it should be, of the large growth in clubs in the same thirty years. In 1905 the number of clubs in England and Wales was 6,589. At the end of 1934 the number was 15,298. There has therefore in thirty years been an increase in the number of clubs of 8,709 and I think it would be right to assume that certainly not less than half this number—probably more, something over 4,000 of that increase—was represented by what are known as drinking clubs. On that calculation the reduction in the number of licensed premises assumes a less favourable aspect, because while you have this reduction of 23,523 in licensed premises, on the other hand there is an increase of 4,000, or probably more, in the number of drinking clubs, and they clearly ought to be taken into account. If they are taken into account I think it is fair to say that the figure of 23,523 is for practical purposes brought down to under 20,000. That reduction compares very unfavourably with what was proposed, for instance, by the Licensing Bill of 1908 which unfortunately did not reach the Statute Book. Under that Bill it was proposed to reduce the number of public-houses by 30,000 in fourteen years, and that was a moderate Bill.887
§ Without deluging your Lordships with statistics I think I can very readily prove that the administration of the Licensing Act of 1904 has been slowing down to a very great extent. In the first quinquennial period of the Act, from 1905 to 1909, the average reduction of public-houses each year was 1,069. In the last quinquennial period, from 1930 to 1934, the average reduction per annum had come down to 362. Not only so, but in the last of the five years, 1934, the reduction in the number of public-houses was only 305 and that was, in fact, the smallest reduction since the Act came into operation. Therefore the position is getting worse. It may be argued, and rightly argued, that, as time goes on, the figures must be less than they were at the beginning. That is obvious; but in my submission the reduction which has taken place in the number of licences extinguished year by year far surpasses anything that can be rightly accounted for by a consideration of that kind.
§ I have already indicated in a sentence the principle of the operation of the 1904 Act. It is that redundant licences are to be extinguished, and are to be extinguished by compensation money paid out of a levy made on the public-houses in each licensing area. This levy is made by the compensation authority. In the slowing down of the administration of this Balfour Act we have actually arrived at the position that now about one-third of the compensation authorities are not making any levy at all in their areas; another one-third are making a levy at less than the maximum rate; and only about one-third are making the levy at the maximum rate. As licences cannot be extinguished without the compensation money which the fund provides, the fund raised by the levy on the remaining public-houses in each area, it will readily be realised that the slackness—I do not think that is too strong a term to use—on the part of compensation authorities in making this levy means that, in fact, the Balfour Act is now failing to carry out the policy for which it was passed.
Consider, my Lords, what ought to be done if the compensation authorities were making the levies which I submit ought to be made if the Act was being properly administered. The governing section in this matter is now Section 21 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act,
1910. I may explain to your Lordships, though no doubt many noble Lords are quite aware of the fact, that the 1904 Act is now merged in the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910. That of course does not alter the position at all. The operative section is Section 21, and it provides in precise terms—I shall read the words to your Lordships:
The compensation authority shall, in each year, unless they certify to the Secretary of State that it is unnecessary to do so in any year, for the purpose of their powers and duties under this Act as compensation authority, impose…charges at rates not exceeding…the rates…in the First Part of the Third Schedule to this Act.
These rates are what are known as the maximum rates.
Let me point out that this section is mandatory. The word used is "shall," not "may," unless, as I say, they certify to the Home Secretary that it is unnecessary to do so in any year "for the purpose of their powers and duties under this Act." In 1912 Mr. McKenna, who was then Home Secretary, gave the Home Office view on the interpretation of the law. I do not think there can be very much dispute about this matter. I think it must he agreed that what Mr. McKenna said, speaking as Home Secretary for the Government of the day at that time, was right. He said:
It appears to me that an authority cannot properly certify that it is unnecessary to impose the charges unless they are satisfied there are no redundant licences in their area.
In reply to a Parliamentary Question he also said this:
The compensation authorities ought not to reduce the charge below the maximum unless they are satisfied after exhaustive inquiry that the total sum obtainable by levying the full charge will not be required for the purpose of paying compensation in respect of licences which ought to be extinguished.
I am hoping, as the result of this debate, that some light will be thrown on what is happening, and that is why I have put the Motion down.
§ According to the words of Mr. McKenna, it seems plain that the Act is not being properly administered. Mr. McKenna says that any levy ought to be the maximum unless there are no redundant licences in the area, and I shall put facts and considerations, based on official figures, before your Lordships 889 which, I submit, make it quite plain that in a great many areas the levy is required where, at the present time, no levy is being made, or less than the maximum levy is being made. In my submission in most of those areas the maximum levy is required. As I have said, the total number of compensation authorities is about 150. I shall speak in round figures for the purpose of simplicity; they are not absolutely right, but practically right. Speaking broadly, about one-third of the compensation authorities have made no levy at all; about another third have made a levy below the maximum; and about one third have imposed the levy at the maximums. It will be very interesting to hear what the noble Earl who replies for the Government has got to say about the figures which I shall put before your Lord ships.
§ I should like at this stage to ask him this question: Did all the compensation authorities who imposed no levy in 1934, the last year for which figures are available in the Licensing Statistics Book, send to the Home Secretary the necessary certificate? Did the compensation authorities who imposed a levy, but not at the maximum, send the necessary certificate, and did those who imposed no levy, as well as those who imposed a levy at the maximum rates? Under Section 21, as I have indicated to your Lordships, they should have sent such a certificate, but if they have clone so, it would appear to me that the certificate has in a considerable number of cases come to be little more than a formality, because certificates, if they have been sent, must have been sent by compensation authorities in whose districts there are actually redundant licences judged by recognised standards.
§ It must surely be agreed that this Act ought to be administered more or less on some uniform principle. It is true that the word "redundant" or "redundancy" does not appear in the actual text of the Act, but the general meaning of the Act is perfectly clear. And redundancy is riot something quite indefinite; it is not something which is indeterminable. On the contrary, redundancy in general—there are other considerations in certain cases—is a question of population and density of population, and of the number of licences per head of the population in any particular district. That is speaking 890 broadly. Lord Peel, in his historic Report, recommended at that time that there should not be more than one on-licence to every 750 inhabitants in the towns and not more than one on-licence to every 400 inhabitants in the country districts. In Lord Peel's Report that was the utmost that was to be allowed, and that was to be statutory. In many cases there would be less than that number, but no more were to be allowed than those proportions.
§ The present position, looking at the country as a whole, is a very long way from reaching the standard or scale of the Peel Report. Let me take the towns first. One licence to 750 inhabitants means in round figures that there should not be more than 14 licences to 10,000 of the population in towns. According to the latest statistics out of 84 county boroughs 30 have fewer than 14 per 10,000, but 54 out of the 84 have more than 14 public-houses per 10,000 of the population. Then I come to the counties or, to speak more correctly, country districts outside towns. Under the Peel scale they were to be allowed not more than one public-house to 400 of the population, and they would be allowed 25 licences per 10,000 of the population, but out of e 52 counties in England and Wales only 20 are below that standard—that is, with less than 25 per 10,000 of the population—and 32 have more than 25 per 10,000 of the population. In the country districts the Peel scale, speaking generally, has by no means been attained.
§ These figures do indicate I think, beyond dispute, that there is no uniformity in the administration of this Act, more particularly as towns which are imposing no levy at all are well above the Peel scale both in country districts and in towns, while, on the other hand, some towns which are below the Peel scale deem it necessary to impose a maximum levy. If I were to take as the standard, not the Peel scale but the average in towns, there are cases in the towns well above the average of the whole country which are imposing no levy or imposing a levy below the maximum, and some towns below the average which are imposing the maximum levy. Before passing from this point I would like to remind your Lordships that drinking was much more rife in the days when the Peel scale was laid down than 891 it is now, and I would suggest that if Lord Peel was making his Report to-day he would probably not have allowed one public-house to every 750 people and one to every 400 respectively in view of the decrease in drinking since those days.
It must also be remembered, although it is very important to pay attention to total population in relation to the total licences in any area, that that is not by any means the sole criterion of redundancy, and this argument, I am aware, works both ways. Sometimes there are special considerations which would seem to make it more in keeping with our present way of doing things right that there should be more public-houses in a particular area than the population warrants, such as seaside resorts and other places to which visitors come. On the other hand, it may well be that there are some districts, some spots within a licensing area, where, speaking generally, the figures may appear to be satisfactory, but there may be congested spots inside those areas where undoubtedly there are redundant licences which ought to be extinguished by the operation of this Act. This particular point was emphasised by the Home Office some years ago in their notes on the licensing statistics. They do not give us those notes now as they used to do; they have been cut out under the economy axe, but some years ago, in different days, we had notes and the Home Office said this about the particular point which I have been putting before your Lordships:
Even in counties where population is below the average it is probable that there are places where the licensed premises are congested and stand in need of reduction.
Therefore, in estimating redundancy, each town or district ought to be considered separately in the light of its own particular circumstances. I quite agree to that, and, as I say, that argument is one which can apply to both sides of the controversy.
§ I am happy to think it will not be necessary for me to detain your Lordships at any very great length this afternoon. This is a technical subject, and I have made my remarks upon it as brief as I can. Broadly that is the case which I put forward for the consideration of your Lordships, and I submit it does indicate and does prove that the administration of the Balfour 892 Act has become unsatisfactory. Those who seek to excuse the present state of things will base their case in part upon the big growth in clubs of which I have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Askwith, has a Motion down following mine dealing with this question of the growth of clubs, and suggesting that this increase in clubs has the effect of largely neutralising the results of reducing redundant licences. It is true, as I have told your Lordships, that there has been a big increase in clubs, and probably the increase in drinking clubs in the last thirty years has been over 4,000. It is no doubt also true that that does create in certain areas a real complication for the licensing justices and for the compensation authorities. An authority may be quite reasonable in taking the view that there is not a great deal of use in extinguishing a licence perhaps with very high compensation—and some now have very high compensation paid to them—if next door, or sometimes even in the same building itself, in a very short time a club is opened which does as large an amount of trade as was done before in the licensed house if not even a larger trade than was done before.
§ I admit the force of that argument. I wish to be perfectly fair. My submission is that whatever degree of substance there is in that contention it is not a reason for what Lord Askwith in his Motion refers to as "maladministration" of the law. I do not go quite as far as that; I say unsatisfactory administration; but I am quite prepared to take the expression "maladministration of the law," and I say it is not a reason for stultifying the working of the Act of Parliament. The gravity of the club problem demands that something should be done about it and done quickly. I am hoping that as a result of this debate we may hear that the Government are to take some steps soon to deal with it. It is a very urgent problem. Nevertheless we must keep in mind the real perspective of the whole matter, and I do not think it can be maintained that the increase of 4,000 or more drinking clubs in thirty years is a sufficient reason for slowing down the action which has taken place under the operation of the Balfour Act. It is not a sufficient excuse for that, more particularly as the growth in clubs—and that is a point I venture to stress very strongly—has been mainly 893 in certain districts. There must be quite a number of licensing areas, particularly in the counties, where the club problem produces little or no complication for the compensating authorities.
I would next call attention to the fact that the Royal Commission on Licensing which reported in 1932, which was composed of men of all Parties, did not regard the club problem as sufficient justification for slowing Gown the operation of the Balfour Act. After exhaustive examination of the whole problem of redundant public-houses, the Royal Commission, composed as I say of men of all Parties, recommended that the maximum rate of the compensation levy should be trebled. Their words were:
Our conclusion is that it would be reasonable to fix a maximum love at three times the present scale. With such a scale and by borrowing upon the security of future levies over a period of fifteen years, it should be possible to deal with up to one-seventh of the licences in any area.
It is surely obvious from those words that in the opinion of the Royal Commission there is still much work to be done under the Balfour Act. I stress the point that in coming to their conclusion the Royal Commission was faced with very much the same position as we have to-day, although it was not quite so serious because of the growth which has occurred since. The Royal Commission, with full knowledge of that, and taking into consideration everything that could be said on one side or the other about redundancy, came to the conclusion which I have stated.
I think it is fair to say that in the opinion of the Royal Commission there is still in many cases much redundancy. In support of that I will quote, if your Lordships will permit me, a further short passage from the Commission's Report. It is this:
We proceed then on the assumption that a compensation scheme on something like the present lines will be retained. Its accelerated application is, however, we think indispensable…We are satisfied…that there are some areas which could not be satisfactorily dealt with except on the basis of a very greatly increased levy.
Before leaving this matter of the clubs I would point out that the increase in clubs does not justify a certificate by the licensing justices to the effect that there are no redundant licences. It is quite
true that the actual words of the certificate which the licensing justices give are that it is not necessary to act under their powers and duties; but it was really intended under the Act that the certificate should mean that there were no redundant licences, and that is what Mr. McKenna said was his interpretation of the law. But whatever may be the club problem it is obvious that it does not apply to this particular point, because if licences are redundant they are redundant whether there are clubs or not. That being so it is difficult to understand how the requisite certificates have been given—that is, if they have been given—and I shall wait with great interest to hear what the noble Earl has to say.
§ Before I sit down there is one further aspect of the matter about which I would like to say a word. I find that there are some people who take the view—quite wrongly in my opinion—that the slowing down of the 1904 Act can be excused and that there is no need to do anything about it because of the decrease in the consumption of drink since 1904. Some people seem to think that the drink problem is almost a thing of the past and that if nobody does anything in particular everything will right itself in time. I am not going to make a temperance speech but I could give statistics to show that the drink problem is very far from a thing of the past and that drunkenness in this country is increasing rapidly. Prosecutions for drunkenness have increased over four years by about forty per cent.
§ Leaving all these controversies aside, it surely is manifest that the lessened consumption of drink emphasises the need for the better administration of the Balfour Act. If the demand for drink has fallen off, that is a reason for a smaller number of public-houses and not for keeping them in existence or reducing them only very slowly. I think I have said enough to prove my general contention, and I will only add that in my view the more this matter is examined the more clear it becomes that there are not sufficient reasons to justify what is happening under this Act, or perhaps I should say, what is not happening under this Act. This Act deals with a matter of paramount importance to the welfare of the whole community, and I submit that that is a reason why Parliament should bring all the pressure it can 895 to see that the Act is properly administered. I beg to move.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if, at this point, I say a word by way of suggestion about procedure. Your Lordships will have noticed that there are two Motions on the Paper dealing with points that are indeed quite distinct, but not wholly unrelated—the Motion just moved by the noble Lord opposite and the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Askwith. The suggestion I was disposed to make to your Lordships was that it might be for the convenience of the debate to take these two Motions in debate together, and, if your Lordships felt at liberty to take advantage of our rather liberal procedure in this House, to allow a general debate on all the matters arising on these two Motions. It would, I think, lead to an economy of time if that suggestion commended itself to my noble friend and to others of your Lordships who desire to take part in the debate. Then my noble friend who will reply for the Government could reply in one speech to both Motions, and the Motion of my noble friend Lord Askwith could be conveniently dealt with by allowing him, if he wished, formally to move his Motion after the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, had been disposed of.
§ LORD ASKWITH had the following Notice on the Paper: To move to resolve, That while in agreement with any satisfactory proof of maladministration of Section 21 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, this House is of opinion that His Majesty's Government should take measures for controlling the promotion and spread of undesirable drinking clubs as having the effect of largely neutralising the results of reducing redundant licences.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be very glad to follow the suggestion made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and, if your Lordships permit, to make my remarks now, and formally to move my Motion after the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, has either got his Motion passed or has withdrawn it. My Motion is confined to clubs. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, took another field, and I am not so cognisant as other noble Lords may be of the facts to which he alluded. I can only suggest that there is an admirable account of what is called 896 the Birmingham surrender system which was given by Mr. Charles Edward Barker on Tuesday, December 10, 1929, on the eighth day of the Royal Commission. If the congested areas to which the noble Lord alluded are a difficulty, that could be got over if necessary by voluntary agreement or by a small amendment of Section 24 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, setting up wider districts or transferring surrenders from one district to another.
§ The question of clubs is engaging the attention of a great many people in this country. There is scarcely a single chairman of a licensing bench who has not said something attacking them. Parliament itself has before it on Friday next a Bill which is brought forward on behalf of the supposed interests of the clubs. I have heard rumours of other Bills on the stocks, from the temperance bodies and the trade, dealing with the same subject. It is true that in 1935 the noble Earl, Lord Feversham, alluded to the difficulty of the subject, and said that there was much work to be done and that it was a controversial matter. So it would be if the Bill were overloaded and too much were put into it. But suggestions have been made which need not necessarily imply that there should be a long and controversial Bill before Parliament, and Parliament would surely take cognisance of the complaints that have been made.
The words of my Motion are largely taken from a resolution that was passed by the Church Assembly. They passed other suggestions as well, but a Motion was made first of all by the Dean of Chichester, and that was changed in its wording by the Bishop of Kingston, and the Bishop of Kingston's Motion was adopted; but both of them, with regard to clubs, had the same wording:
That, inasmuch as the effect of reducing redundant licences is largely neutralised by the spread of undesirable drinking clubs, some method of controlling the promotion of the latter is urgently necessary.
I think those words very clearly express the view which I am asking your Lordships to adopt. The Dean of Chichester spoke clearly, and said:
If you do not organise and use the public-houses to decent ends, civilising them and letting the light into them, you will be beaten by the clubs, which of their nature cannot he so carefully controlled.
The chief licensing magistrates throughout the country have, as I have said, made some very strong remarks about them.
I will only quote a few of them, to show that the remarks are not confined to any particular district or any particular city, lout are from licensing benches all over the country. This is from the Chief Magistrate of Liverpool. He said that he made no reference to the many well-conducted political, social and athletic clubs, but he alluded to these other clubs which develop into social dangers. He continued:
No heed is paid to legal permitted hours, drinking is carried on into the small hours of the morning, young men and women are encouraged to drink more and spend more than they are justified in doing. Through the Courts magistrates are brought into touch with many homes wrecked by these causes.
He then describes another class, and mentions that:
The Chief Constable in his report states that spy-holes, electric hells, barbed wire and other contrivances are used to hinder the entry of the police. As a rule they are situated in populous working-class districts where many of the people are receiving either unemployment pay or public assistance.
Lastly he alluded to a third class, which ho hopes is scarce, but he gives an example:
The club was frequented by white, coloured and half-caste men and women. Nightly this place was the scene of excessive drinking, foul language and dancing during which the grossest indecencies took place. Between and during the dancing indecent conduct between men and women was openly indulged in. The sanitary arrangements in this den were of the most primitive character.
The Chief Magistrate of Leeds said very much the same thing. He speaks of the one-man club, and says that he does not speak of clubs which are used to promote social intercourse only, but those clubs which are frequented by women of loose character. He describes how:
This last feature is very disquieting, for reports have shown me that there is an increasing tendency towards indecency and depravity in the conduct of some clubs. In one case during the year, for example, in which proceedings were taken against a certain club, allegations were made that a number of women were in the habit of visiting different clubs to give indecent exhibitions.
And he speaks also of the sanitary arrangements.
The Chief Magistrate of Wallasey says that clubs are used as a means to defeat the law. The Chief Magistrates of Reading and Cardiff report, and the Chief Magistrate of Bootle says that the object of clubs is "to abuse and exploit the present laws to their own advantage." The Chief Magistrate of St. Helens speaks of the difficulty of getting information, which gradually trickles through to the police. At Swansea it is said:
The Bench ought to have…discretion in the matter whether they should, allow these clubs to be registered or not.…It was only when a case became so flagrant as to become a public scandal—
that the police had power to take action. I see the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, in his place, so I will say nothing of Westminster; he will speak of that himself. Reports also come from St. George's, Hanover Square, Manchester, Croydon and various other places; those are the chief ones, mostly big towns. Lord Trenchard, Chief Commissioner of Police in 1934, said:
The effectiveness of proceedings"—
that is, against club people by the police—
is often qualified by the fact that it is a simple matter for the persons concerned at once to register another club either on the same premises, if not disqualified, or elsewhere.
§ Lord Arnold has alluded to the number of these clubs that have sprung up. Looking at his figures, but not using too many, I could put the matter in a different way. The peak year was 1933, when 468 licensed premises were de-licensed but 633 new clubs sprang up. Now take the reduction. In 1906 there were sixty-eight clubs per 1,000 public-houses; in 1916 there were ninety-nine; in 1926 there were 152; in 1934 there were 202—a continual increase in the number of clubs set out against the continued decrease in the number of licensed premises, until you come to the figure that Lord Arnold cited of an increase of clubs by 8,709 and a decrease of licensed premises by 23,523. What kind of clubs are these places? I have had various instances given to me of the methods by which clubs spring up, not of the vile character that has been described from Liverpool, but clubs 899 where drink is sold without any licence, and where it is supplied to persons who have no rights, as members of a, club, to receive it.
At the seaside advertisements go out from boarding houses asking intending visitors whether they desire to have drinks supplied to them at all hours. When the visitors get to the boarding houses they find their names put up as members of a club. Without paying any subscription, and without notice of any other kind, except that their names are on a list, they can get a drink at any time. In flats it is being followed out in the same sort of way. This is an advertisement which appeared in three of the principal newspapers:
Exceptional service flats. For discriminating tenants. Providing first-class service' and valeting. Faultless cuisine at moderate charges. Very quiet building, with fully licensed club.
There was a case in the Police Court a short time ago between a taxicab driver and his fare, in which the taxicab driver demanded remuneration for touting for a club. Then again a club was raided, where a whist drive was going on. There was a penny entrance fee, 160 people were found on the premises, only sixteen were members, thirty-eight people were signed on, and forty-three people were drinking, of whom only fourteen were members. The supply to all the rest had been perfectly illegal.
§ It may be suggested that if you do complain of these things you ought to make some suggestion as to how it may be avoided. My idea is that the police should not have the disliked and difficult duty of having continually to invade and look up clubs. That is when the club has been started and the evil has occurred. Prevention is better than cure, and if prevention can be obtained by some inquiry beforehand, then it would be of great advantage. Sir Hugh Turnbull, now Chief of the City Police, came from Glasgow, and he said he had studied and known the Registration Act of Scotland, and that there were hardly any clubs of an improper character throughout Scotland. That is a very strong statement. You have got upon the Statute Book legislation which has been successful, and after all why should we not imitate Scotland sometimes? It could be adapted to this country. It is true that the Licensing Royal Commission 900 rather rejected it, but then they wanted to load on a lot of other things. They did not confine themselves to the registration point alone, and to inquiry being made of a simple character, such as a list of members being sent in by the secretary and chairman, the amount of the subscription, and proper rules to see that members were elected by other members or by a committee of other members, that drinks were paid for by members and were not supplied by a man having interests outside in the sale of drink and the resulting profits.
§ Those things are contained in the Scottish Act. Others of a simple character might be put in. I am perfectly sure you would have a gradual and afterwards accelerated stoppage of these illegal clubs being instituted if you adopted this legislation, and that those clubs which are at present in existence would gradually die out. You would not have the same difficulty that the police now have if the County Court Judge could be the authority for seeing that the registration was proper. Another matter is that it would not be any criminal jurisdiction but a simple civil jurisdiction. It would be better than putting it before a bench of magistrates, some of whom might be prejudiced, or corporations, some of whom would own their own houses and be really interested people in the amount of registration that took place. There might be difficulty in that. But I think it is for the Government, after considering all the facts of the case, to bring in sonic Bill and to take some steps upon the matter. The matter is becoming more and more urgent every day. You hear complaints in newspaper after newspaper, by Chief Magistrate after Chief Magistrate. Now I hope that the House of Lords will also express its disapproval of this class of club, and urge the Government, in the terms of my Motion, to take some action to prevent their establishment and spread.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I am sure anybody who came down to this House this afternoon might be rather frightened at the manner in which Lord Arnold put his case. Every sentence with him was a winning post, and I did not know what he was going next to announce, but we who know him better are aware that he did not really mean to be so frightening. I think we all agree that he has been the means of initiating a 901 very interesting debate and drawing attention to a very real evil. I should like to deal, as my noble friend Lord Askwith did not do so, with the complaints of Lord Arnold that the compensation levy was not sufficiently put in force. As far as I can make out, the gist of his speech was that the fact that redundant houses were not extinguished with the rapidity which he desired was the reason why drunkenness had increased of late in this country. I am afraid I do not agree with either of his premises, because I believe that the increase of drunkenness, which we must all deplore, but which is not so alarming as would appear, is really due to the extension of these unlicensed clubs. That, I think, is the real cause.
I would like to say a very few words on the first charge of the noble Lord, that the authorities in this country were not putting the 1904 Act, now the 1910 Act, into force. Having been a justice of the peace in London for a great many more years than I like to say, and having been chairman of a licensing bench—and I am thankful to think that my noble friend Lord Mersey has just succeeded me—and having been a member also of the county licensing committee, I should like to say something on the subject because I think it refutes, after all, the charge that the noble Lord has made as regards the Administrative County of London. In London there are 5,031 on-licences, including restaurants, and that works out at one house to 856 persons of the population. I think that is below what the noble Lord regarded as the proper proportion. In Westminster we have no fewer than 171 hotels out of 354 in the whole of London, and something like 366 public-houses out of 4,677. You may say that is a large number for a small area, but really I cannot agree with the noble Lord's way of putting the matter as broadly as he does on the basis of area and population. You must take into consideration the special requirements of the district.
If the noble Lord will do me the honour to come with me one day I will show him a very interesting part of London called Shepherd's Market, which I hope will long be preserved. It lies off Piccadilly, and in that small area, which I have visited myself, there are no fewer than fourteen public-houses. The noble 902 Lord, Lord Snell, who knows London quite as well as I do, laughs. I have gone into that question, because it was pointed out to me when I went on the bench that there might be too many public-houses. What happens when you go into the question is that you find those public-houses serve every class of the community. The working man goes there. You may say that in Mayfair there are not any working men, but a good many are engaged at present in tearing down buildings, and there are others. There are also different classes of people who are employed in the shops in the neighbourhood, and there are the superior gentlemen who come from Bond Street and who want a better class of accommodation than those engaged in the building trade. All those particular public-houses—they are really restaurants—have their uses for luncheon, and if you go there in the evening there is hardly any trade at all. Therefore, when anybody talks largely and airily on these questions without local knowledge, he is rather apt to make mistakes. There is another thing about the Shepherd's Market vicinity. On those great occasions when there are processions, as there often are, down Piccadilly, these public-houses play a necessary part for the public, who crowd there in thousands to get proper refreshment.
I want to point out what has happened in London. I well remember the Act of 1904 being brought into force by Mr. Balfour. Our bench took enormous trouble over the matter. We went into every house all over our district, and we found a great many matters to remedy. In many of these places there was no food supplied at all, and the sanitary system was often bad. All that has been rectified, and a good many redundant houses have been done away with. But I am not going to talk so much about Hanover Square, because the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, who is now the chairman of the bench, will say something about that. But I want to talk about what the licensing committee of Quarter Sessions has done. Since 1904 there has been spent£4,600,000 in London alone on reducing the number of public-houses, and the number of public-houses and beerhouses reduced is no less than 1,563. That is a very large percentage.
903 The maximum levy was naturally applied in 1905, when there was a great deal more to do, and I think the noble Lord himself confessed that, as a good deal had been done right through the country, the rate of progress could not be expected to be so fast as it was in the early days. And this reduction, except of course during the War, was continued. In 1933 the levy was reduced in London to one-half, and that is what it is at present. That half amounts to a good deal of money, and I think the reason of the reduction is that the bad houses in London have been got rid of. What remains to be done? There has been a programme laid out from year to year—so much to be spent in so many districts. The result has been that nearly all the poor houses have been done away with, and the other houses have consequently been improved. I do not think, therefore, that, as regards London at all events, the noble Lord has made out his case.
I should like to say one thing about the great difficulties found in practice in dealing with clubs. Every club is supposed to have a register, to furnish a signed statement of the registered names and addresses of members, and also to produce a return of the rules of the club. That has to be sent to the clerk of the local bench, but it is very doubtful whether the clerk has the legal right to advise his bench to refuse registration because there has been a default under this provision; nor could you take away a licence on that ground. Police have no right of entry, nor can they check the register in any way. So that an incorrect register can go to the clerk of the petty sessions, who has no right to advise that the club should not be registered on that ground, and the police cannot go into the place to verify whether there is a register of members or not. The only way by which police can secure entry is under a warrant on a complaint by some of the inhabitants that disorderly things are going on and that they happen to know it. It makes the thing most ridiculous because nobody can do anything, and that is one of the troubles we have.
It is, of course, extremely hard on the licensed victualler. It is really very difficult to be a licensed victualler. You have to have such a character that I almost doubt whether the most reverend Primate even would pass the test. You have to be certified, and the police have to take 904 oath that you are a right and proper person to be a licensed victualler. Indeed it is a great hall-mark of character to become one. Your Lordships may care to hear of this case. A man I know had been permanent secretary to the Mayor of Westminster, and therefore a rather respectable person. He retired, and by some good luck he was left a share in a public-house. He had to get five different people to certify that he was a proper person to hold this licence. The Mayor of Westminster signed, I signed, and two or three other very distinguished people signed. Then the police came. I thought I had done something extremely wrong, because I was told there was a policeman outside wanting to see me. He was a sergeant, and he asked, "Is this your signature?" I said it was, and added, "There are five signatures on the paper." He said, "Yes, and I have to identify every one of them." I immediately wrote to Lord Trenchard and said it was a frightful waste of time for the police to have to go round in this way. Some of the people who signed the verification of this man's character lived outside the County of London. I believe Lord Trenchard put a stop to it.
These clubs give an infinite amount of trouble to the police, and I hope something will be done. My own view is that there ought to be very strict control over these clubs. The suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Askwith is a very excellent one. Of course the system in Scotland is a little different, because the Sheriff is the man and we have no corresponding officer in England. Perhaps the Lord Chancellor can say whether a County Court Judge has too much to do at present to take the place of the Sheriff, and whether, as far as London is concerned, the Metropolitan Police Magistrate could take the place which the Sheriff fills in Scotland. In Scotland the procedure is that the Sheriff grants a licence on the recommendation of two justices of the peace. Something analogous might be done in this country, and then I think we might get over a great deal of this trouble. You would get rid of a great deal of this drunkenness in these awful places which it is so difficult for the police to control on account of the difficulties in our present law. I am grateful to the noble 905 Lord for having brought this question forward, and I hope the Government will accept the Motion of my noble friend Lord Askwith and recognise the necessity for drastic and speedy action to deal with this exceedingly important matter.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, the last thing I wish to do is to inflict a speech on your Lordships at this hour and in this somewhat scantily attended House, but I could scarcely allow the subject of drinking clubs to be brought before your Lordships' House without calling attention, as emphatically as I can, to the reality of this very grave social menace and evil. I regret I was not able to be present when the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, dealt with his Motion, and I understand that by agreement the two Motions are being considered together, but my own observations—and they will be few—will be directed to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Askwith. I wish, I confess, that his Motion, if it is to be pressed and carried, could stand., so to say, on its own legs, without any particular reference to the administration of Section 21 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910. My reason is that resolutions, even of your Lordships' House, have still some value and attract some notice, and that being so, it is well that they should be quoted as substantive resolutions without reference to particular sections of particular Acts of Parliament, even though that reference may be due to the circumstances of this particular debate. I leave that to the noble Lord's consideration.
Coming to the Motion itself, it is needless to multiply the evidence in every part of the country as to the reality and growing extent of this evil. The evidence does not come in the least from those who are sometimes, rather unfairly, described as temperance fanatics. It comes from those who are responsible for the public order of the country, from the magistrates and the chief constables, and the evidence is overwhelming that this is not a matter which a self-respecting country and, may I add, a self-respecting Government, can allow to drift. Rightly it has been considered this afternoon in connection with the withdrawal of redundant licences. As to the value of these withdrawals there may be a difference of opinion, but there is no difference of opinion that it is 906 wrong that, immediately one licence has been withdrawn, another house should spring up to take its place. It is notorious that the process is almost automatic. The registration is put through on payment of a small fee. A club is created, and then and there any persons who choose to enrol themselves as members have an unlimited opportunity of drinking at arty hour of the day and without any control. All the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, has produced about the extent to which public-houses have been reduced and licences withdrawn in London only emphasise the need of preventing that excellent reform being neutralised in this needless way.
The practice, I venture to say, is very I unfair to the decent publican. It is very unfair to the person whose licence has been withdrawn. The licence presumably has been withdrawn because it is not needed in the neighbourhood or because the house has been ill-managed, and the substitute for that is to allow a house to be opened in the immediate neighbourhood which is no more needed than the licence which has been withdrawn and where there is even less control of the management than there was in the case of the public-house whose licence has been taken away. The thing is absurd. It is not fair to the decent publican, who is transacting his trade under conditions which the country imposes, that drink should be sold elsewhere under none of the restrictions to which he has to submit. It is also unfair to the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has some say as to the number of licensed premises, but these drinking houses can be set up anywhere without the slightest consultation of the neighbourhood, and very often, as I know from personal experience and from correspondence with every part of the country, the quietude and decency of the neighbourhood are gravely injured and there is no possible redress under the law as it stands. It is unfair, I think, to the people themselves.
It is a mere commonplace to say that increasingly the future character and spirit of our people are linked with the use which they make of their leisure. Mostly we leave them to control their own leisure, but in the matter of drink, we all know, we must adopt certain 907 measures of protection, and really it is not fair that large numbers of our people of both sexes, sometimes quite young people, should be induced to spend so much money and so much time in unlicensed drinking, thus making the worst possible use of the leisure that they have. I am quite sure that this is a matter which ought not to be allowed to drift, and I hope that the good and decent working men's clubs, of which I have some knowledge, will not feel themselves in any way criticised or that any imputation is being cast upon them because of these other places which we have in mind. There are multitudes of good clubs, political and social, all over the country. It is only right that our working people should be encouraged to belong to them, and it is not fair to them that at their side, and in the same sort of way, these drinking shops should be created. Therefore I venture to hope that the Government will not merely say that this is a very difficult matter, and that they are having it under their careful consideration, but that they will say that it is a matter which cannot be allowed to drift. I think it is one which they ought to tackle during what I hope will prove to be a useful term of office.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, the most reverend Primate has said in his last phrases a good deal that I wanted to say. While giving complete support to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Arnold and to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, I did want to emphasise precisely the point that the most reverend Primate has made, that when we are talking about clubs we must try to distinguish between the types of club. The old Metropolitan Radical clubs that the most reverend Primate knew, and that I knew very well, had a long and honourable record in the education of the working classes in London, and the same is true of working men's political clubs up and down the country. I have given hundreds of very good lectures in such clubs, and I should hate that an occasion of this kind should pass without my paying that passing tribute to them.
The evil seems to be that when a licence is suppressed the brewer can help to promote a new bogus club which becomes in 908 reality another form of tied house. Those who run and support the Working Men's Club and Institute Union are not interested in the perpetuation of clubs of that kind. Therefore all that I desire to say is, let us be cautious lest because a thing happens in a club we say that it is evil because it happened there. The same thing might happen in licensed premises outside, and we must remember that all clubs should be treated alike. Very many things have happened in the Carlton Club that I very strongly object to, and the National Liberal Club, and the National Labour Club, I do not doubt, have certain similar things to their name. But I think we should be very cautious lest we fail to take note of the fact that clubs properly organised and run under responsible authorities belonging to the working class or other people fill a need, especially of the working class under our housing conditions, for a well-run club is very frequently the common parlour of the neighbourhood. It was just that word of caution that I wished to utter whilst giving support to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Arnold and to that of the noble Lord, Lord Askwith.
My Lords, I hope you will allow me to take up a little more time than I usually do in taking part in this debate. The advantage of addressing the House as late as this is that nearly all the points one has noted down in one's memory have already been taken and developed far better than one could do it oneself, but I would like to emphasise one or two. I feel obliged to mention the fact that I am chairman of the bench of magistrates in the largest division in Westminster and a magistrate in two adjoining ones which include the whole of Mayfair and Soho. In one we have actually more clubs than licenced premises. Clubs are, of course, of all sorts. It is a mistake to suggest that all clubs are bogus clubs. The number of bad clubs is probably about 20 per cent. Those 20 per cent. are pretty bad, but the remaining 80 per cent. are perfectly good, and one does not wish to interfere with them. But some of the bad ones are even worse than we have been told. At present convicted thieves and even prostitutes can go and register a club without any difficulty, and once the clubs have been registered nobody can interfere with them except 909 by going to the magistrates and asking for a search warrant. Your Lordships know how difficult a thing it is to obtain a search warrant.
Not only do the people who run these clubs sell drink but they do a great many other things. Many have, for instance, automatic gambling machines. I read in a newspaper last night of a case in which a person was fined on nine summonses for running automatic machines. He paid the money, and no doubt he will start his automatic machines again, because he finds it worth while to do so even if he is fined. Then there is the matter of bad drink. In many of these places you get bad drink and that at extortionate prices. I dare say some of your Lordships sometimes indulge in a bottle of champagne, and you probably know that you will pay at a good restaurant 25s. for champagne for which in clubs you may have to pay 35s. or 40s. In the latter case you often get very bad liquor into the bargain.
During the time that I have been a magistrate, which I am sorry to say is quite a number of years now, there has been a tremendous improvement in licensed premises. A great many are light, airy and wed-regulated, and the sanitation has been improved. They nearly always supply proper food and the drink they sell is nearly always decent stuff. The class of people who frequent them is for the most part composed of law-abiding citizens, and the licensed victuallers themselves have to be extremely careful of their conduct and character. Then there is the question of competition. Not only is the competition of clubs unfair in itself, but there is the fact that these clubs, in addition to drinking, have various forms of entertainment which are denied to the ordinary licensed victualler, and a temptation for him to break the law if he wants to compete with them. In addition subversive activities are often encouraged in them.
I do not want to appear to take the line of a kill-joy or a Puritan. I have often been in night clubs and even a member of night clubs, but that was a very Icing time ago, and they were a very different sort of night club. Their membership was limited to people who as a rule knew how to look after themselves and could afford 910 what they spent. Now you have clubs distributed urbi et orbi to which many people go, as the most reverend Primate said, who are ill able to spend the money they spend there, who have been working all day and who ought to be in bed at twelve o'clock instead of sitting up till four o'clock in the morning. Decent young people want a little reasonable amusement and it ought to be provided, but I think the magistrates ought to be supported by the Government in trying to do their duty.
I speak upon this question because I have been pressed to do so by my colleagues, and because I think that if the Government could be "gingered up" they might perhaps help the magistrates. I do not wish to put forward any detailed suggestions. That, is a matter for the Government. They have more information than anybody else, and they will no doubt be able to produce a Bill which can be debated. We often hear the argument used when a Licensing Bill is mooted that it is too big a subject arid, alternatively, that it is no good tackling the subject in bits. Therefore one is left on the horns of a dilemma. I hope that if the Resolution is passed it will not in any way prejudice any pronouncement that the Government may be going to make. If the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, is put to the House, I propose to move to omit from "that" in line 1 to "1910" in line 3, and to leave out all the words after "clubs." That will make it, I think, a very broad Resolution, and I can hardly conceive that the Government will refuse to accept it. I hope, when the Resolution is formally moved, to be allowed to move that, Amendment.
§ LORD ELTISLEY
My Lords, there is one point, and one only, to which I would venture to draw your Lordships' attention. So far as the debate has gone I think we must all be of one opinion—that undesirable drinking places should be effectively dealt with. But I hope that we shall not overlook the need of examining why it is that these undesirable clubs have increased so considerably of late. I venture to suggest with respect that it is partly clue to the fact that in many places licensing justices have not been ready enough to grant 911 new licences where new licences are really required, and if your Lordships accept the Motion, as I trust you will, I hope that it will not be used as a lever to try to put further difficulties in the way of those who quite properly apply to have suitable premises licensed.
May I give another reason why a broader view is now necessary? In the past the question whether a licence is redundant, or whether a new licence should be granted, has been very largely looked upon as a purely parochial and local matter, but the great growth in means of transport has shown, I think, that such a matter should not be regarded solely from the parochial point of view. It should be treated rather from the point of view of the needs of the community at large and not merely from that of the needs of the locality. In many cases they may not be the same. Therefore I hope that instead of further endeavours being made to restrict licences, steps will be taken to make it easier for those who need licences to obtain them. There are many cases along our great new thoroughfares of beautiful road-houses having been erected which meet a very real need, but in which people are unable to get any alcoholic refreshment. Personally I think that is a scandal. If proper premises are erected, and there is a legitimate need for refreshment of a certain character, it should be forthcoming, subject to adequate safeguards. Therefore, while supporting the Motion of my noble friend, I hope it will not be in any way used as a lever to prevent future licensing on generous lines of suitable premises.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, it will, I am sure, be generally agreed that we have had this evening a most instructive debate on an important, but also an extremely difficult, aspect of the licensing problem. No one can read the chapter of the Royal Commission's Report in which they deal with the history and working of the compensation scheme without being very impressed by the complexities that are inherent in the subject, and the difficulties in the way of remedying the defects which experience has revealed. It is not my intention for a moment to suggest that 912 the scheme has worked properly, or that there are not to be found among compensation authorities a number who have not used their powers as it was intended they should be used. At the same time it is only right to give credit for what has been accomplished. While it is true that the whole of the reduction in the number of on-licensed premises which has been effected since the scheme was launched under the Act of 1904 has not been due to the compensation scheme, the scheme has been responsible for the extinction of more than 18,000 licences, which, my Lords, is no negligible figure, even if it does fall short of what was contemplated by the authors of the Act.
I would say at this point that it is not really a matter for surprise that the rate of extinction should have slowed up of recent years by comparison with the earlier years of the scheme when the more immediate and obvious elements of redundancy were tackled. As the Royal Commission themselves pointed out, it is quite natural that in the early years of a scheme the smallest and least useful of the houses should have been selected for extinction, and that as time passed larger and more profitable houses should have come into the field, thus inevitably sending up the cost of extinction and thus inevitably slowing down the operation of the scheme. It is instructive to note that in the case of one of the compensation authorities in the list supplied by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in moving this Motion, of those which are not imposing a levy, the maximum levy was in fact imposed almost every year (except during the War) until 1932, but whereas this enabled them in the early years to extinguish an average of ten licences a year, this average was reduced to something less than three from 1919 to 1932.
As noble Lords who have studied the problem will be fully aware, there is much difference of opinion about redundancy, both in theory and in practice. There is, for instance, a school of thought which has always combated the philosophy of the compensation scheme, and which maintains that in any event the extinction of redundant licences has now passed what is somewhat curiously described as "saturation point." Licences, it is argued, are often extinguished as "redundant" in the face of proof that the house in question is in fact doing a sub- 913 stantial trade and therefore, presumably, is needed in the locality. These views, of course, open up a wide field of argument. I do not propose to enter into these arguments, but mention them in order to indicate, if indication is needed, that we are not dealing with facts or situations which are admitted on all hands, and that the path of compensation authorities is not, so to speak, strewn with roses all the way.
As I have already said, I am fully prepared to admit that the experience of the Home Office bears out arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, that there are compensation authorities who have not made adequate use of their powers to deal with the superfluity of licences which still exists in their areas. But it is very difficult to judge from external appearances how far this position obtains at the moment in any particular district; and before passing to the suggestions that have been made that the Home Office should take steps to encourage backward authorities to make fuller use of these powers, there are one or two comments which I think I should make. In the first place, as the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, I think, realises, there are pitfalls in the way of any attempt to gauge redundancy by plain, cold figures; that is, by simply looking at the proportion of licensed premises to population. The members of the Royal Commission themselves said:We do not consider it possible to estimate by any sort of statistical calculation whether there is or is not in any area a superfluity of licences.This is, I think, obvious when we look into the matter for a moment. Everyone appreciates that a rural area, with its widely-scattered population, will need more public-houses than an urban area. And of course the problem goes much deeper than that. Rural districts may differ widely from area to area in the density of their population. A village of, say, 800 inhabitants may be adequately served by two public-houses; that is to say, one for each 400 of the population. But four villages with only 200 inhabitants each can hardly be expected to accept less than one public-house apiece; and a multiplicity of such small units may result in a picture which, if viewed statistically, may look alarming but which in fact does, I think, represent a perfectly reasonable state of affairs.
914 Again, I would ask what sort of population is to be used as the basis of the calculation? Take, for example, the City of London. It would not, I imagine, be suggested by anyone that the requirements of the City should be based on its resident population of 11,000. Clearly the City must have enough licensed premises to cater for the enormous crowds of workers who enter it every day. Also, in a popular holiday resort, the population must include the seasonal visitors who gather at certain times of the year. Further, in these days of rapid and cheap transport many other towns of all sizes are liable to influxes of visitors for business or pleasure, or both. There are places which, owing to market day or a race meeting or some other specific purpose, may have to cater for perhaps two or three times their normal population. It would seem, therefore, to be clear that it cannot always be safe to measure the needs of a place by the figures of its resident population as they appear in the Census.
Another point which needs to be borne in mind is that the licensed premises themselves may, and do, as of course we recognise, vary considerably in their size. In some districts the public-houses are mainly small establishments; others are large houses any one of which may he able to accommodate as many clients as several of the smaller houses put together. Here, again, the real position of such districts in relation to redundancy cannot be judged by the figures alone. Local circumstances may also vary in a number of other ways. But I think I have said sufficient to show that, even if the Home Secretary had any jurisdiction in the matter, it would be difficult for him to judge merely by the statistical information that he has at his disposal whether a compensation authority has failed in its duty. In fact, of course, the Home Secretary has no authority in the matter whatsoever. Under the law as it stands, the administration of the scheme in each district is essentially left to the judgment of the compensation authority in the district. I agree that, in cases where the authority in any area decide not to impose the compensation levy, they are called upon to certify to the Secretary of State that it is unnecessary to impose the levy, but the Act gives no power to the Secre 915 tary of State to question their decision, and it is, in any case, extremely difficult for the Home Office to intervene, whether in individual cases or by general circular. In many cases, and for all I know in the majority of cases, there might be a good answer in one or other of the directions which I have indicated earlier; and in many instances the intervention might give rise to a feeling of resentment which would prejudice rather than promote the object which Lord Arnold has in view.
I would once again emphasise, however, that it must not be inferred from anything which I have said that we are satisfied that all is well with the compensation scheme and its administration. The Government, as your Lordships are aware, have yet to examine in all their aspects the many problems arising out of the Royal Commission's Report; and when they are able to do so the difficult questions which we have been discussing this afternoon will be closely considered in order to see what steps are possible to put matters on a more satisfactory footing. From this point of view the debate which has taken place this afternoon has been most opportune. The authoritative views which have been expressed by noble Lords in the course of the discussion will be of great assistance to the Government, and on their behalf I can express gratitude to Lord Arnold and Lord Askwith for raising the matter.
I have left to the last the question to which particular attention has been drawn by Lord Askwith—namely, the effect on the working of the compensation scheme of the growth of registered clubs. The noble Lord will appreciate that I have done so, certainly not because I underrate the importance of the club question, but because it raises much wider issues which are, in fact, under examination by the Government at the present moment. We do welcome the expression of opinion from this House and I can assure the most reverend Primate that the remarks that he has in particular requested that the Government should consider will not fall on deaf ears. Your Lordships will have observed that on two occasions during the last few weeks the Home Secretary has stated, in another place, that he has the whole question of registered clubs under most careful consideration, and the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, will, I am 916 sure, forgive me when I say that I am not in a position, at this moment, to make any more definite statement in the matter, but the noble Lord may rest assured that the particular aspect of the club problem which has been so ably set out by him and by other noble Lords will receive that careful attention that has been requested of the Government. I would, in reference to the suggested Amendment by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, say that I do not desire to oppose the principle of Lord Askwith's Motion, as amended by Lord Mersey; but your Lordships will readily understand from what I have said that I am not in a position, to-day, to pledge His Majesty's Government to take legislative action within any specified period.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, before withdrawing my Motion I should like to say a few words, but I will not detain you for any length of time. I thank the noble Earl warmly for his courteous and full reply to the debate, and to my observations. If the noble Earl will allow me to say so, we have happily in this House become accustomed to receive from him courtesy and full replies on all matters dealing with Home Office affairs, and it does much to add to the value of debates connected with that Department. Having said that, which I do say in all sincerity, I would proceed to observe that in so far as the reply was not altogether of a nature which I should like, I am not blaming him, and for once I am not at the moment greatly blaming the Government. It is true that my admiration of the Government is restrained, and yet on the occasions when I can, without doing violence to that small portion of my being which I refer to as my conscience, refrain from harsh criticism of them, it is always a pleasure to me when that happens. I do not blame them a great deal, but I shall blame them, and I am happy to think that other noble Lords who have been present will blame them, if they do not do something soon about the clubs.
If they had done that something earlier, following the Report of the Royal Commission in 1932, there would have been some distinct improvement in the situation by this time, as compared with the situation which I have ventured to 917 put before your Lordships. I do not contest what the noble Earl said—I know it is so—that the Home Office, which is part of the Government, has no legal power to compel the magistrates or licensing justices to administer this Act better in certain areas, where it is not being administered well or at all. It is also true that it is within the power of the Home Secretary to issue a circular, or to make some statement drawing attention to certain disparities, and I hope the Home Secretary, or the Government, will take that course into careful consideration. I know that Government Departments are not as a rule very enthusiastic about issuing circulars to local bodies, but the matter is a serious one, and I am not satisfied that something could not be done. At any rate I hope the Home Secretary will take the matter into his consideration. I may say that according to my information there are places where the matter of compensation has received a distinct impetus, simply owing to the initiative of one justice, or someone outside. The matter seems to depend largely upon local feeling in particular districts, or upon one or two magistrates of local benches, and I cannot help thinking that much might 13e done by initiative.
I thank Lord Jessel for many things which he said, and I am looking forward -to an excursion to Shepherd's Market with him some day. He suggested that I have not made out a case, and that particularly in London things were pretty satisfactory. I did try to be perfectly fair, and I stated that each particular place had to be considered on its own merits. It is quite true, as the noble Earl has said, that you cannot simply take population in relation to licensed premises and look at the question from a purely statistical standpoint. Nevertheless I base my case partly on what the Royal Commission has said and partly on what the noble Earl himself has said, that the Home Office is riot satisfied that in certain cases the compensation levy is being properly administered.
On the question of clubs, there has been such unanimity that I am happy to think that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Askwith, is going to be passed. Naturally I should have pre- 918 ferred it in its entirety, but it will be something to get it passed in an amended form, and I hope it will have an influence on the Government. With regard to the debate in general, I hope it will have its modest usefulness, because the raising of these questions in Parliament should not be without influence in the country. That, at any rate, is the hope with which I now ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.