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Clause 25—(Restriction Of Retail Sales By Spirit Or Wine Dealers Without Justices' Licence)

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 18, line 41, to leave out "or."

This and the following Amendment—in line 43, at end, insert:
"or
(e) for the purposes of conducting a bona fide wine and spirit business supplying customers regularly throughout the year"—
fall together and, subject to your Ruling Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it would be convenient to discuss the two together.

The object of these two Amendments is to safeguard the position of persons who wish to start a wine shop or to come as new entrants into the wine trade. Under the present law, it is possible to open a wine shop simply by taking out an excise licence, paying the necessary duties to the Ex- chequer, and starting business. As the present Clause of the Bill stands, it will be necessary for such persons in future to apply to the licensing justices and obtain an off-licence before they will be permitted to start a wine shop.

The difficulty which it seems to me will follow from that procedure is this: As the Home Secretary knows, applications to the licensing justices are largely, if not mainly, based on consumer need. One of the main facts which has to be established in evidence to satisfy the licensing justices is that consumer need exists. Generally, in starting a new wine shop, it would not be possible to prove that. After all, the object of starting a shop is to work up a custom, and in 99 cases out of 100 the new entrants to the wine trade would not be able to establish consumer need. It seems to me to follow that, as the Clause now stands, new entrants to the wine business will be virtually excluded. No difficulty arises with respect to the existing wine firms who are covered by the Clause, but the effect of the Clause is largely to produce a state of affairs in which the wine business will become largely a closed shop. People with experience of this business know that in some respects it resembles a profession—the study of wine, its keeping qualities, its various vintages, and so on, is a complicated professional business—

—as those who, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), habitually drink Algerian will one day learn. It seems to me quite wrong in this sphere of business, verging upon a profession, that there should be this exclusion. As I understand it, the object of the prohibition, is the laudable object of excluding those mushroom shops which grow up in the West End of London shortly before Christmas, when it is believed that people will purchase almost anything, including, in the case of my hon. and gallant Friend, Algerian wine—although the difficulties of the Minister of Food in disposing of his stocks of Algerian wine indicate that in that respect, as in so many others, my hon. and gallant Friend is unique.

There is a point of substance here for the future. There is no doubt at all that if the Clause goes through in its present form new entrants to this interesting and important business will largely be excluded and, generally speaking, will be unable to obtain a justices' licence because they will be unable to establish consumer need. If, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to accept this Amendment, he would still be able to eliminate these temporary shops in London because it covers only the case of those who are prepared to operate their businesses throughout the year, and he will still keep this an open trade in which young and enterprising people can build up a business. There seems to be no reason why they should be denied that opportunity. There is, indeed, on general principles every reason why they should be permitted. It is with the hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has himself had considerable experience in the control and upbringing of the young, will not bar one way to youthful ambition that I move the Amendment.

I beg to second the Amendment. I have been looking at the proceedings upstairs when this matter was debated earlier, and I regret to find that a certain acrimony broke out in the Committee owing to some observations of the Under-Secretary. However, this evening calmness has prevailed and we can discuss this matter in a more detached fashion. At the time there was a Debate of some length. I see that we went into the question of what are generally known as grocers' licences, and I think it was on that occasion that the Home Secretary— who became reminiscent from time to time during this rather lengthy Committee stage—told us of some unhappy experiences he had when chastised by his father for removing dust from bottles which were said to be of a valuable and ancient vintage, quite opposed to the activities of the Minister of Food in these times. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has placed this matter before the House again tonight. The period for reflection which has passed since our Debate upstairs may well have enabled the right hon. Gentleman to alter his mind, and I hope that, as he has done earlier today on more than one occasion, he will be able to accept our proposal.

10.0 p.m.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment. As the Clause stands, a shop which held an excise licence on 15th November, 1948, and has continued to hold an excise licence from that date until an application is made to the justices, as will be required to be done when the Bill becomes law, is safeguarded to this extent; that such an application is treated as a renewal, which means that the proof of consumer need to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred is not required. Therefore, virtually anybody who has been the possessor of an excise licence between the relevant dates will automatically get the justices' licence enabling him to carry on a wine shop. But people who were not operating such a business on 15th November, 1948, will be virtually precluded from entering the business. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this position, because it stultifies the development of the trade at that point.

As the right hon. Gentleman must be well aware, the proof of consumer need for a retail shop is almost impossible to establish. It is quite different from the proof of consumer need for a justices licence for a public house, which is nearly always a geographical matter. Where there are a certain number of houses it is generally assumed that a certain number of licences are required to satisfy what is likely to be the reasonable demand in that area. A retail shop, however, is altogether different. A man who owns a retail shop may build up a goodwill attached to the shop which has no relation whatever to its geographical position. There are wine shops, for instance, in St. James' Street, Pall Mall or thereabouts who sell their wines in many different parts of England and the world. The mere fact that they are situated at that address has nothing to do with consumer need in that locality. That is, perhaps, an extreme example; but it is possible, similarly for a wine shop to be situated in one part of any town yet do a great amount of its business in an entirely different part of that town.

It would be quite hopeless for a new applicant to apply to the justices and say, "I do not have an excise licence, therefore I cannot be treated as a renewal; but I am trying to build up a business and I expect to be able to sell my wine." The justices would ask, "Where?" The applicant could only answer, "I hope by my own private enterprise to establish a thriving business." He would be told that that was not proof of consumer need, and that would be the end of his application.

Unless it is amended, the Clause will have the effect of favouring the big, established businesses which have branches in many parts of the country; they will be unaffected because they are already in possession of an excise licence. The new entrant, however, will be excluded. If the Clause is retained in its present form, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will be giving almost a monopolistic advantage to those already in the trade. I hope that he does not consider that that is a proper thing to do and that he will accept the Amendment in order to encourage new blood to enter the trade.

I hope the Home Secretary is not going to yield to the blandishments of the wine-bibbers from the other side of the House. They know all about this sort of thing and I am a mere babe in the matter, but I should like hon. Members opposite to call to mind that the establishment of a consumer need where alcoholic beverages are concerned is something entirely different from the establishment of consumer need in any other sort of commodity. The whole of the licensing laws and all we have tried to do in regard to what is known as the drink problem shows that we should be very thankful for anywhere where there is not a consumer need and that we should not try to create such a consumer need for the purpose of someone making a profit out of it. I submit that every argument advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has been based on the right of the private trader further to stimulate in the ways of wastefulness the people of this country, who can very well be saved from further expenditure in addition to the tremendous number of millions already spent on this entirely useless article.

The hon. Member said that he is a babe in this matter, but he is not such a babe as not to realise that the point we have made is a good one and he wants to see the Amendment rejected in order to prevent the extension of wine shops.

This Clause has been provided to deal with a loophole which has been discovered by certain interested parties in Section 111 (1) of the Licensing Consolidation Act of 1910 where it was possible to set up wine and spirits shops for off consumption under an excise licence for which a justices' licence was not required. The object of that Section was to enable wholesalers to sell wines and spirits incidentally by retail. How in fact it has worked out is that by getting a wholesaler's licence people have been able to deal entirely in retail without any genuine wholesale trade at all, and a further remarkable result occurred that one wholesale licence enabled the holder to obtain retail licences in any number of parishes.

The Royal Commission on Licensing recommended that this exemption in Section 111 (1) should be confined to its original purpose and we are carrying out the recommendation of the Royal Commission here. One is not encouraged to safeguard people who may have innocently embarked on this trade without realising they were evading the law when one finds that the concession is used as an argument for continuing the use of the law which has been condemned by the Royal Commission on Licensing and which in fact removes from the licensing justices the means of the control which this House intended there should be over the facilities for the sale of wines and spirits in other areas.

The case for the Clause as drafted has existed for a very long time. It was never the intention of Parliament that these rights should be acquired in the way in which they have been acquired, and I think we have behaved very generously with the people who have the vested interest, in accepting them as the existing licence holders and not insisting on them making applications for new licences.

So far as the future is concerned, the evidence of the past is not that ambitious young men who, at an early age, have acquired a sensitive palate for the tasting of wine, embark on this business. As a matter of fact, this kind of business was the principal supplier of the bottle parties. When the bottle party representatives came to see me they started off by talking as if they were independent of bottle shops. But before the afternoon ended the half dozen gentlemen who came to see me owned up that each of them was in fact connected with one of these shops and if one went to his party he expected one to buy at his shop and no other. They made the most elaborate arrangements to ensure that that process was made as easy as possible for the visitor to the party.

There is no case for recognising and legalising for the future this breach which has occurred in the law. It is right that this matter should be brought under the jurisdiction of the licensing justices, and it was only with very considerable hesitation that I included in the Clause the permission which gives to the existing shop the right to be regarded as an existing and not as a new licence on the first occasion. I think I have met any grievance that the present vested interest may have by treating them in that way, and I do not think the House would be well advised to extend a provision which has all along been a flagrant evasion of the intention of Parliament.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this? Has he applied his mind to the difficulty facing genuine applicants in establishing consumer need so long as under the present law the need to establish that consumer need exists? Has he applied his mind to that difficulty, since it seems possible that the point he has in mind and the point I have in mind could both be dealt with if there could be an application to the justices without the need to establish consumer need?

There must be some test which the justices have to apply, and normally that must be the test which is now applied to all forms of licences when an application is made for them. If it is a grocer's licence, an on-licence, or an off-licence, or if it is an application to extend a beer licence to cover wines and spirits, the test is: does the locality need it? I can see no reason for applying a different standard and a different test to this particular trade.

I do not think the Home Secretary has addressed himself to the point at issue. As I understand it, the point at issue is not the closure of these bottle shops and other detestable institutions which are completely bogus. I am sure the public as a whole, and the trade as a whole, is at one with the right hon. Gentleman in his determination to suppress them. But the point at issue is whether or not it shall be possible for people wishing to go into the genuine wine business to establish a business that may trade not only all over London, but all over Britain, without establishing a definite consumer need in the region where their headquarters lie. I may be misunderstanding the right hon. Gentleman, but I wish he would set my mind at rest in that respect.

10.15 p.m.

If it is a genuine wholesale business, Section 111 will continue to apply to it. What we object to is the pretext of taking out a wholesaler's licence enabling a person to conduct a retail business with no wholesale trade at all.

With permission of the House I should like to add that sometimes a wholesale business has, as a sort of adjunct, a retail business which is part of it. I could give concrete examples to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. It is rather hard luck on them if they are not able to start up unless they can prove a mythical local consumer's need.

I do not think that anyone on this side of the House wants any abuse which has gone on under Section 111 to continue in future. Many of us feel that there is a great difficulty in new people starting up a genuine wholesale business. As my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) said, it may be at times that one must have some local connection and build-up, but we do not want in any way to help the bottle party or to break the original Act. We feel that the law as it stands is setting up what we might call a closed shop in the wine trade. We want to make it possible for ordinary people, who desire in every way to keep within the law, to set up in the wholesale business. I do not think that the Home Secretary has quite seized that point. I hope that at some further stage in the Bill the matter will be considered to see whether it is possible to insert a provision which will allow new people to start up in business.

I do not think that the present position is satisfactory, as I will endeavour to indicate by giving an example. We all agree that we want to stop the mushroom bottle shop, and bogus ventures of that kind. We are engaged in trying to find export business wherever we can. If we get someone who has some connections abroad who wishes to start up a wine business for the export market—not necessarily wholesale but retail—as matters stand at present he cannot do that. He cannot prove that there is consumer need in the locality where he wishes to set up business. Therefore, he cannot get a licence to create what might be a new export business. I think the House will agree that it is a wrong situation. Perhaps the Home Secretary could tell me whether what I say is correct. As he does not deny it, I think I must be right.

I cannot imagine that an export business will be conducted on the basis of single bottles. I should have thought that, by its very nature, an export business must be a wholesale business.

Not necessarily. I do not believe that to be so at all. That rather confirms my fear that in correcting an evil this is going too far and it may possibly suppress new export business. I do not think that we ought to let this matter pass in the absence of an undertaking from the right hon. Gentleman that he will consider the matter from that point of view. We ought not to let the matter rest where it is.

Division No. 136.]

AYES

[10.22 p.m.

Acland, Sir RichardDavies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Hobson, C. R.
Albu, A. H.Davies, S. C. (Merthyr)Holman, P.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Deer, G.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Delargy, H. J.Horabin, T. L.
Alpass, J. H.Diamond, J.Hubbard, T.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Dodds, N. NHudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Attewell, H. C.Donovan, T.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)
Awbery, S. S.Driberg, T. E. N.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Ayles, W. HDugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. BDumpleton, C. W.Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)
Bacon, Miss ADye, S.Janner, B.
Baird, J,Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Balfour, A.Edwards, Rt. Won. N. (Caerphilly)Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. JEdwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Jenkins, R. H.
Barstow, P. G.Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)John, W.
Barton, C.Ewart, R.Johnston, Douglas
Bechervaise, A EFairhurst, F.Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
Benson, G.Field, Capt. W. J.Kenyon, C.
Beswick, F.Fletcher, E. G. M (Islington, E.)King, E. M.
Bing, G. H. CFollick, M.Kinley, J.
Binns, J.Foot, M. MLang, G.
Blackburn, A. RForman, J. C.Lavers, S.
Blenkinsop, A.Freeman, J. (Watford)Lever, N. H.
Blyton, W. R.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
Boardman, H.George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Lewis, J. (Bolton)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Gibson, C. W.Lindgren, G. S
Brook, D. (Halifax)Gilzean, A.Lipson, D. L.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Lyne, A. W.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Gooch, E. GMcAdam, W.
Brown, George (Belper)Greenwood, A W. J (Heywood)McAllister, G.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Grey, C. F.McEntee, V. La T
Burden, T. W.Grierson, E.McGhee, H. G
Carmichael, JamesGriffiths, D. (Rother Valley)McGovern, J.
Chetwynd, G. R.Gunter, R. J.Mack, J. D.
Cobb, F A.Guy, W. H.McKinlay, A. S.
Cullindridge, FHale, LeslieMaclean, N. (Govan)
Collins, V J.Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenviiMacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Comyns, Dr. L.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Corlett, Dr. J.Harrison, J.Mainwaring, W. H
Crawley, A.Hastings, Dr. SomervilleMallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Crossman, R. H SHenderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Kingswinford)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Daggar, G.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Mann, Mrs. J.
Davies, Harold (Leek)Herbison, Miss M.Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Hewitson, Capt. MManning, Mrs. L. (Epping)

After having listened to the Debate, it seems to me that the Government are doing again what they have done so often. In order to stop one or two people doing something illegal or immoral, they are putting restrictions upon the whole community. If the Government cannot find some method whereby they can stop the obvious defects without curtailing our ordinary wine and spirit retail and export business, I think they should think again.

With the consent of the House, I would draw attention to the fact that Clause 25, in page 18, line 41, contains an exemption for deliveries outside Great Britain, so that whether the trade is wholesale or retail, the prohibition on starting a business does not apply to it.

Question put, "That the word 'or' stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 235; Noes, 99.

Mathers, Rt. Hon. GeorgeRankin, J.Titterington, M F.
Middleton, Mrs. L.Reeves, J.Turner-Samuels, M.
Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.Reid, T. (Swindon)Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Mitchison, G. R.Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Monslow, W.Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Morley, R.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Wallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)Warbey, W. N.
Moyle, A.Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)Watkins, T. E.
Murray, J. DRogers, G. H. R.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Nally, W.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Weitzman, D.
Neal, H. (Claycross)Sargood, R.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Segal, Dr. S.West, D. G.
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Shackleton, E. A. A.Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)Sharp, GranvilleWhite, C. F (Derbyshire, W.)
Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
O'Brien, T.Silverman, J. (Erdington)Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Oldfield, W. HSimmons, C. J.Wigg, George
Orbach, M.Skinnard, F. W.Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B
Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Smith, C. (Colchester)Wilkes, L.
Palmer, A. M. F.Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)Wilkins, W. A
Pargiter, G. A.Sorensen, R. W.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Parker, J.Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir FransWilley, O. G. (Cleveland)
Parkin, B. T.Sparks, J. A.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)Steele, T.Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Paton, J. (Norwich)Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Pearson, A.Stubbs, A. E.Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith. S)
Peart, T. F.Sylvester, G. O.Williams, W. R (Heston)
Porter, E. (Warrington)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Willis, E.
Price, M. PhilipsThomas, D. E. (Aberdare)Wise, Major F. J.
Proctor, W. T.Thomas, George (Cardiff)Woodburn, Rt. Hon A
Pryde, D. J.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Woods, G. S.
Pursey, Comdr. H.Thomas, John R. (Dover)Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Randall, H. E.Thurtle, Ernest
Ranger, J.Timmons, J.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Bowden.

NOES

Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Harden, J. R. E.Nicholson, G.
Astor, Hon. M.Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)Noble, Comdr. A. H. P
Baldwin, A. EHarvey, Air-Comdre. A. VOdey, G. W
Barlow, Sir J.Headlam, Lieut,-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir COrr-Ewing, I. L.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. HHenderson, John (Cathcart)Peto, Brig. C. H. M
Bossom, A. C.Hogg, Hon. Q.Prescott, Stanley
Bower, N.Hope, Lord J.Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesail)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hurd, A.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. GHutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Ropner, Col. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. WJeffreys, General Sir GSanderson, Sir F.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Keeling, E. H.Scott, Lord W.
Chatters, C.Kendall, W. D.Shepherd, S. (Newark)
Channon, H.Kerr, Sir J. GrahamShepherd, W S. (Bucklow)
Clarke, Col. R. S.Lambert, Hon. G.Spence, H. R.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Langford-Holt, J.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Sutcliffe, H.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Darling, Sir W. Y.Lucas-Tooth, S. H.Teeling, William
Davidson, ViscountessMcCallum, Maj. D.Thornton-Kemsley, C. N
Digby, Simon WingfieldMcCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F
Dodds-Parker, A. D.McFarlane, C. S.Touche, G. C.
Dower, Cal. A. V. G. (Penrith)Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Turton, R. H.
Drewe, C.McKie, J. H. (Galloway)

Wane, W. M. F.

Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)Wakefield, Sir W. W
Duthie, W. S.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Walker-Smith, D.
Eccles, D. M.Manningham-Buller, R. FWheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Marlowe, A. A. HWhite, Sir D. (Fareham)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lansdale)Marsden, Capt. A.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D P MMaude, J. C.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Gage, C.Mellor, Sir J.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollak)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)York, C.
Gates, Maj. E. E.Morrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. AMullan, Lt. C. H.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grimston, R. V.Neven-Spence, Sir BCommander Agnew and
Mr. Studholme.