Orders of the Day — Licensing Bill
Mr Arthur Jones (Shipley)
I have heard the argument raised that a State monopoly is a way of avoiding competition from public houses of not such high standards. That argument appears to have no validity, and I am glad to understand from the Home Secretary that he does not put it forward or that there is any validity in it. That being so, there seems to be no reason whatever for the powers contained in the Bill to take over houses in areas adjacent to the new towns. I have a suspicious mind in these things, and I suspected the reason for the adjacent areas provision was to be able to claw in those areas which would perhaps provide more attractive amenities than the houses inside the new towns. I am glad to hear that there is no truth in that at all.
Another objection I have to this extension and the taking over of many small public houses is that the running of a pub is a job which can be done, and is done, either part-time or by men who have retired. Retired policemen and retired soldiers have found it an occupation suitable to them in their later years. Indeed, in many villages in my constituency small houses are run by men who do other work. I find no objection at all to that, and I should be very much averse to seeing the practice discontinued.
Therefore, may I put forward what I suggest should have been in this Bill, merely to deal with the question of new towns? The development corporation already has the power to plan in conjunction with the local authority and finally to hand over to the local authority. No building can be erected without the permission of the development corporation. The corporation, as the freeholder, has the power to require that the building shall be of a certain size and of a certain nature. All the details of the plan must be submitted to the development corporation. There appears to be no objection on that score to allowing the development corporation to decide.
I would go further and say that the development corporation not only can plan, but can also build the house itself, and either let it as a free house or run it through a manager if it appears that that would be the best method of dealing with it. That being so, the whole gravamen of the case made by the Home Secretary in this Bill, that the power of State management is necessary in order to plan, appears to be without any substance at all.
Another argument against this is that, in due course, the development corporation has a duty to hand over to the local authority. I see no valid reason why a local authority should not be a ground landlord of a public house any more than it should not be the ground landlord of any other undertaking. If it is suggested that it would be wrong for the local authority to take over a house which was managed by the development corporation, then I would say that something should be done by way of setting up a local body, not a highly centralised body, but a local body to carry on the management.
I have already spoken of the need for variety in running refreshment houses of all kinds. I should like to see the tenants of houses which are built by the development corporation have security of tenure. I should like to see them have the same security which the tenant farmer enjoys today under the Agriculture Act, that is to say, he holds on to his living so long as he is efficient. That seems to be more reasonable than the three months' notice to which tenants are now subject. A further objection is—how does one deal with the licensing justices? On that I can only repeat what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby has said. Precisely the same arguments could be made against the licensing planning committee in the war-damaged areas. What is an argument in one case is an argument in the other. If it is invalid in this case, it is invalid in the war-damaged areas.
And so, reluctantly, I must say that, unless the Government will give an undertaking that during the Committee stage of this Bill they will relax on these two points that is to say, that State management shall not be a monopoly and secondly there shall be no acquisition of existing premises without alternatives being offered, I am going into the Lobby tonight against this Bill, and I hope that a number of my hon. Friends will come with me. I do not believe that this Bill is necessary for the advance of Socialism. I do not believe that it is necessary to assist in the economic recovery of this country or in order to provide for the proper planning of new towns. Indeed, I consider that the Bill is entirely unnecessary.