I have been listening to this discussion, and the result of the listening makes me come to the conclusion that from the point of view of the general interest the Minister ought to withdraw the Bill. I approach the whole question as one who believes that the general interest would be well served if there were a reduction in the number of licensed houses in the Free State, in the quantity of alcohol taken in the form of intoxicating liquor, in the amount of money spent on intoxicating liquor, and in the amount of drunkenness. I should like to see a Bill which would further those ends. The Bill as produced was an attempt—I think an honest attempt—to do something in that direction, but full of faults from that point of view, in my opinion. I wonder what all the pother is about. People talk about drastic regulations. I do not think any temperance measure, at any time, in any Parliament, was ever produced which was less drastic, in view of the needs, than this. One might well say from a temperance point of view that it is "very small beer." But the Minister, having produced the Bill, finds himself opposed from all sides. The dogs of war are let loose and he is on the run. From all the evidence, there is going to be very much more concession given before the final reading than has been indicated. What is going to be the resultant of this alleged temperance reform measure if more is given away, such as Deputies Egan and Wolfe have indicated—that there is something to come from the State towards the compensation fund—and a few odd things like that that Deputy Shaw referred to? I can see all the signs of the Minister giving away even more than he indicated. Is the measure worth it? Would it not be better to leave the compulsory endorsement of the present law for the licensed vintners to uphold? They are opposing this measure in favour of the present situation. Let them have it so. I fear that the Minister has got himself into a very great difficulty for something hardly worth while. As a temperance reform measure it is very unsatisfactory, and I am very loathe to go into detailed criticism, because I feel that any criticism now of some of the defects as to administration in the measure will seem to be merely adding to the fire of the attack upon the Minister.
I agree that there are many unwise proposals in the Bill regarding administration. I cannot reconcile these proposals regarding the reduction of licences, the compensation proposals and the area of compensation, and that all this is to be left pretty well at the control of the Minister for the time being. I think that is the flaw in the whole scheme. The Minister is proposing to accelerate the decay in the licensed trade by compensating those who are already decaying. He proposes to do it by taking 340 areas of the country, some of which might be spoken of as congested areas, some of them very much the reverse, and there is to be a submission to the District Justice that there is congestion in the number of licences in a particular area; that is to say, there is redundancy, in the phrase of the Bill. In the very congested area where the overcrowding is too great there ought to be a larger number of eliminations than in the less congested area. That proposal, as it seems to me, would require a much faster rate of diminution in those areas, and consequently a much greater levy upon those houses which remain. There is no sign in the Bill of any maximum levy. I think there ought to be. It is unfair, for instance, that in some of those congested areas where congestion is so great, and, by presumption, the evils sought to be remedied are greater, that the elimination must be at the rate determined by the state of the finances, and that the Ministry will have the control of that rate of diminution. Judging by the signs we have had of the resurrection, shall I say, of the political power of the licensed vintners, backed up by the Sinn Fein Party—just imagine that—some of the Sinn Fein Party—this phenomenon of to-day is most interesting and, I am sure, will be the subject of very close analysis by future political psychologists.
But imagine what is going to be the result of this resurrection of licensed vintners in politics as an organised force. The lever which is going to control the rate of diminution of licensed houses is to be in the hands of the Minister—not the ordinary processes of police authority. The Minister is going to regulate that rate of diminution, partly by financial considerations and partly by his view as to whether there is going to be too great a burden levied on the remaining publicans or not, and the temptation at once is there for the organised licensed trade to endeavour to get control of the Minister who is going to control. Now, I think that is a danger that we ought to take note of, and I am going to back any effort that is to be made to resist the encroachments of the organised licensed trade upon the politics and government of this country. I have met very estimable men in the business, but past experience has proved in this country, and in other countries, that the organised power of the brewer on the one hand, and of the publican on the other, is an evil in the State. That does not mean to say that they have to be treated unjustly and unfairly, and I do not take the ground that the Minister concedes that there is this vested interest and that it must be preserved at all costs. Undoubtedly there is a reasonable claim for compensating those who have been displaced from a means of livelihood.
Undoubtedly, but it applies to the licensed holder not because he has got a property in his licence but because it is a means of livelihood. On the same grounds I plead for a social responsibility for the man who loses his job at the docks and cannot get employment, and therefore cannot get a livelihood. I am prepared to do something for the man who is being deprived in the common interest of the means of livelihood through the abolition of his licence, but not on the grounds that he has a property in that licence. As the Minister has emphasised, the licence is a yearly licence. It is given on conditions, which conditions can be altered, and for anybody to treat that as something that is permanent and immutable and can be sold without reduction in value—well, the man that makes that bargain is making a foolish bargain, because it can be lessened in value at the will of the State.
I think the machinery in the Bill with regard to the reduction of licences is defective. In regard to the endorsement of licences, I think the Minister has done fairly and wisely in making the concession that he has proposed. I am not sure that it is the best way of meeting the case made by the vintners. I think they are entitled to the case that where a minor or a technical offence has been committed that that ought not to go clearly to a reduction of the amount of a man's compensation or the value of his means of livelihood. I think that on the other hand the whole history of the licence ought to be on record, and that every conviction, technical or otherwise, ought to be on the back of the licence. This may be considered to be merely a matter of debating, but it seems to me that what is required is not the abolition of the endorsement in respect to technical offences, but the abolition of the penalty attaching to that endorsement. I say that it is a desirable thing that in five, ten or fifteen years' time the authority who is examining the licence should know what the character of the licensee has been in respect to the licence. Technical or minor offences may be committed, but they ought not to carry with them the same amount of liability as major offences, quite apart from the question of fines. If there is a repetition of those technical offences, if there is a multiplication of minor offences, it is fairly good evidence of laxity, apart from deliberate breaking of the law, in the supervision of his house, and that ought to count against the licensee in proving that he is not able to fulfil the function which has been allotted to him and for which he has accepted responsibility. My suggestion on this matter would be rather that every conviction, minor or major, ought to be recorded, but that some special consideration should be given where minor offences or technical offences only are in question: that they should not have the same value and weight in respect to the abolition of the licence as a major offence which is culpable.
The question of split hours is one that has excited a good deal of interest, and I am not able to satisfy myself that much is going to be done in the way of a diminution of drinking by this method, and I think there is likely to be an increase of difficulty in the administration. I think also that there might be some unfairness in some of the towns. I take it that we do recognise the difference between a city like Dublin and, say, a town like Waterford or Limerick, which are largely market towns, where there is constant traffic in from the country and out to the country. I think that makes somewhat of a difference in the character of the trade that is done, but unfortunately there is the bona fide element to be taken into account. A man, say, comes in from the country to the City of Limerick or Waterford with a cart-load of farm produce from outside the bona fide limit. He may get a drink at any time, even during those split hours in the afternoon. If he is getting a drink it is ten to one that he is going to take a friend in with him, and that friend, as likely as not, will be a resident. I think there is going to be a great deal of difficulty in the administration of that particular portion of the Bill, and I do not think any great good is going to come from it. I would be inclined to distinguish between the City of Dublin and perhaps the City of Cork from the other towns or cities which are much more agricultural centres, and where there is a country trade concentrated. I think it is worth considering whether if this provision is to be maintained it should be made applicable to the four cities as proposed in the Bill. I am, however, doubtful altogether of the value of it from the point of view of promoting temperance.
I think, too, that on this question of the bona fide trade, it is unfortunate that we should be forced to use language in a way which really belies the meaning of the words. We are not really dealing with the bona fide trade at all. All the discussions, even the report of the Commissions, speak of the bona fide trade when they really meant the mala fide trade. I think it is essential that the bona fide trade should be retained. I think there should be a provision made for the bona fide traveller to get refreshments when he is a bona fide traveller; but what is a bona fide traveller? I do not know whether Deputy Daly has authority for his interpretation of the law, but he is an experienced man and he probably knows something on this matter. He said that a bona fide traveller, or a traveller seeking drink as a bona fide traveller, was supposed to get that drink to enable him to travel. I wonder whether, in fact, that is the legal and the right definition and if it is only allowable for the publican to serve a traveller during prohibited hours to enable him to travel further? I think if that definition could be embodied in the law we might solve a good deal of the trouble, and I hope Deputy Daly will enlighten us a little further on this question. If he can get any authority to back him up I think he will be doing the State a good service, because I do not think it requires the drinking of a bottle of stout or a gallon of stout to enable a man who has got as far as Bray, let us say, to go to Wicklow in a charabanc. He can travel in a charabanc without intoxicating liquor to assist him.
It seems to me we have a right to take into account the needs of the man who is really bona fide, but as to the rest of them, for whom we are obviously legislating in this Bill, who pretend that they need drink to help them travel, men who are really going out for the purpose of drinking, we are not solving that trouble at all in this Bill. I do not think we are assisting a solution by extending the limit from three to six miles, or from five to ten. I do not know whether it is a practical thing or not, but I am inclined to prefer the suggestion that there should be an all-round opening on Sunday for certain hours in the day. I really cannot justify to myself the proposition that a man living in Dublin may be thirsty enough to require the sustenance which a bottle of stout would give, and that a man living in Tullamore, let us say, does not need that sustenance or refreshment and so should be deprived of it. I cannot understand that and I am logician enough to make the plea that if we are going to have Sunday opening in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford at any hour, then the residents of the smaller towns are entitled to that particular privilege, if it is a privilege; to that particular punishment, if it is a punishment.
On the other hand, I would make the penalty for serving a man who is not a legitimate traveller a very severe one indeed, upon the bogus traveller and the man who serves him. I am not sure whether it would be impossible—I suppose at this stage at any rate it is hardly practicable, but I would like to see it—to devise some means, if only to deal with Sunday traffic in the outside areas, of disinterested management, so that a man who is a legitimate traveller needing refreshment could get his drink—not his drinks—and record the fact, that there should be no temptation to the publican to sell him drink, that it should not be a profitable thing for the publican that he should sell drink to the bona fide traveller, and that the bona fide traveller is going to a publicly managed publichouse where there is no interest in pushing the sale of drink and where it is really intended to provide for the refreshment of the jaded traveller. The proposition that we must increase or should increase the limit for the mala fide traveller who wants to go out into the country for the purpose of drinking does not, to my mind, help the cause of temperance very much. I really agree with those who say that the fact of increasing the limit from three to six or from five to ten miles in the city is not going to help us.
An increase from five to ten miles in Dublin makes no difference at all except to the particular publican who is just on the outside or just on the inside of the present limit. From the point of view of the consumption, I am afraid it is going to be of no value whatever. Deputy Hewat will be probably able to say if the tramway company receipts, and in the case of the railway companies those members of the Oireachtas who are directors would be able to say whether it will increase the traffic on the suburban lines. We will probably have new excursions arranged to just beyond the limit. As I say, I do not think it is going to assist the cause of temperance very much, and I would much prefer to deal with this bona fide problem on different lines altogether. The Minister quoted the report of the Commission frequently as the basis of his Bill, and I commend to him one line, page 13, which says: "It occurred to us that it was useful to require that a man in the country should walk three miles before he obtains drink." Can we do that, I wonder—that he shall not get a drink unless he can prove that he came, not in a conveyance or on a bicycle, but that he walked the distance? I commend that part of the report to the Minister so that he may embody it in one of his amendments and rely on the report in that respect, as he has relied on the report in so many other respects.
There are many points in the Bill that will, no doubt, come up for discussion if the Bill reaches Second Reading, if the Minister does not take my suggestion and decide to withdraw it, so that the licensed vintners of the country would continue to run the risk of having their licences forfeited, by a continuation of the compulsory endorsement clause. I confess that I am tempted to do a great right by doing a little wrong. If I thought there was a chance of the Minister being defeated on this Bill, I think I would do that little wrong to help that defeat. I am afraid the risk is not great. The Minister is on the run. He is going to secure the backing of the majority of his Party by concessions, and he is going to make this Bill of less use than it was when he produced it. Now if the Minister stiffens his back on this as he has done on so many other occasions, I hope to be able to support him. I shall support the Second Reading unless the unexpected happens and that my vote would turn out the Government. If that would appear to be the position I would quite gladly do it, and do a great right by doing a little wrong.