HC Deb 06 May 1822 vol 7 cc327-33
Mr. Huskisson

presented a petition, which, if the party subscribing it had taken his advice, would, he said, have been committed into other hands, but which, as the petitioner pressed it, he thought it his duty to present it to the House. It was stated in the petition, that the petitioner, Robert Churchward, a builder, undertook some years ago, to build about four or five hundred houses in the county of Middlesex, in the neighbourhood of Mile-end, near the Commercial-road: that after having built about one hundred or rather more, the inhabitants of this newly created town remonstrated against the inconvenience which they sustained from not having any public house in the neighbourhood. In consequence the petitioner built a house expressly constructed for a public house, at the expense of 1,500l., intending that it should be opened and kept as a free house. In 1817, the petitioner applied to the magistrates for a license for this House, having a recommendation signed by the minister, the churchwardens, and the principal inhabitants of the parish. Notwithstanding that application so backed, the magistrates refused to license the house. In 1818, the number of houses having increased to above 200, the petitioner again applied to the magistrates for a license and was again refused. In 1819, finding that he had not interest enough to procure a license, the petitioner entered into a treaty with a publican at Bermondsey, of the name of Brown, to whom he sold the house for 1,000l. Brown at that time dealt with Barclay, and Co.; but on removing to Mile-end, he changed to Hanbury and Co., and gave as a reason, that they had a general interest in that part of the town. A license was immediately granted to Mr. Brown by the magistrates. The petitioner continued to build houses until the number exceeded 400, when it was represented to him that it was necessary to have another place for the sale of beer and he in consequence built one, as remote as he could from the house occupied by Brown. In 1821, the petitioner applied for a license for his new house, and again met with a refusal. In the same year another person built a public house on a spot of ground contiguous to this new town, which spot of ground had some time before been made over to that person by the petitioner. That House was taken by Hanbury and Co., and although there were but very few houses adjacent, the magistrates immediately licensed it. Such were the statements of the petitioner, for the accuracy of which of course he (Mr. H.) was not responsible. He had represented to the petitioner, that if he had suffered the grievances of which he complained, he had a remedy at law. The petitioner, however, had stated to him that he could have no redress at law. The injury which the petitioner complained of then, was this. He sold the House which cost him 1,500l. to Brown for 1,100l., and the moment that it was licensed by the intervention of Messrs. Hanbury and Co. it became worth 3,000l.; and for that sum, Brown, if he pleased, could at once dispose of it. If the statements of the petitioner could be substantiated, it was clear that great abuses arose out of the present licensing system. As he saw the hon. member for Weymouth in his place, he wished to call his attention to the assurance which he sometime ago gave, that when the moment arrived at which the brewers derived any benefit from the reduction of the duty on malt, the price of beer should be lowered. What he wished to know was, whether that moment had arrived? If not he could only say that some measure must be taken to hasten its arrival.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

perfectly concurred in the opinion of the right hon. gentleman, that if the allegations in the petition were well-founded, a case of grievance was made out, to which parliament ought to apply a remedy. He felt himself much obliged to the right hon. gentleman for having given him an opportunity of seeing the petition before he presented it to the House, as it had enabled him to inquire into the subject; and he could now positively declare, that all the substantial allegations of the petition were not borne out by the fact. The petitioner said, that in 1817 he had taken a piece of land for building. In the same year he made his first application to the magistrates for a license. Under those circumstances, the magistrates might probably have thought such an application premature. The following year the petitioner made a second application; but it was refused, because the greater part of the houses which he had built were untenanted. In the following year it seemed, the magistrates had licensed the house. Now, as the petitioner complained that the house had not been licensed during the first two years, he certainly could not complain of the magistrates for licensing it in the third. In licensing it they had done, even according to the petitioner's statement, what was right; and the only charge against them therefore was, that they had done what was right from a corrupt motive. The only fact in the shape of a charge conveyed by the petition, was, the statement, that Brown had transferred his trade from Messrs. Barclay's house to that of Messrs. Hanbury; but all who knew any thing of the brewers trade would be perfectly aware that the circumstance was one of every day's occurrence, and that no inference whatever of a corrupt nature could justly be deduced from it. Now upon that showing only, the single fact stated in the petition was answered; but it should be answered still more completely, Supposing Messrs. Hanbury to possess the influence attributed to them, the House would hardly suspect them of using it for any one's benefit but their own; and he did assure the House most unequivocally, that no agreement of any description, either made or understood, existed between Messrs. Hanbury and Mr. Brown. Brown was perfectly independent: he was no more confined to his brewer, than the right hon. gentleman was to his baker; he had brought his trade to the House, and would probably continue it as long as he found himself well treated. So much for the first part of the petitioner's case. The second called for still fewer observations. The petitioner complained that (after failing as to his first house), he had built two more houses, and that licenses had been refused to them; and that, after such refusals, a house upon the same spot, in the interest of Messrs. Hanbury, had been licensed. Now, the objections to the petitioner's two houses had been these—The first stood only 200 yards from the house occupied by Brown, and the second only 160 yards. The house licensed to Spratley (the successful applicant) stood 320 yards from Brown's house, and not in the same street. Adverting to these circumstances, he begged to ask the right hon. gentleman, whether the discretion exercised by the magistrates had not been such as he would have exercised himself? But he begged entirely to deny the allegation in the petition, that the house licensed to Spratley was let to Messrs. Hanbury.—Having disposed, then, be trusted, of Mr. Churchward's petition, he now came to the question which had been put to him by the right hon. gentleman. And first, he wished to point the recollection of the House to the circumstances under which that question was asked. When the subject had first come before the House, he (Mr. B.), without an opportunity of consulting the other brewers, had been induces, by some observations from the right hon. gentleman, to pledge himself that the price of beer should be reduced, as soon as the stock on hand, brewed from malt at the full duty, was consumed. He knew what it was that government expected. They had granted a farthing, and they wanted a halfpenny. But the pledge was redeemed, for the price of beer was lowered already. [Cries of "How"; "how much?"] It was lowered a halfpenny a pot; and government had only lowered it a farthing. He knew that a prejudice existed in the House against the class of persons to whom he belonged. He knew that complaints were made, over and over again, of the extensive property in public houses possessed by the brewers. In answer to such complaints he could state one fact. The firm to which he belonged supplied 766 publicans; 105 of those customers lived in the country. Of the others, only 49 occupied houses belonging to the firm: 22 were confined to the firm by loans; but 600 were independent. A small part of that number had loans, but the greatest part of them were entirely independent. As for the feelings of the brewers with respect to restrictions upon their trade, he appealed to the hon. member for Shrewsbury whether he (Mr. Buxton) had not afforded him every assistance in the preparation of his bill, and whether he had not suggested to him that clause which prohibited brewers from purchasing or becoming the lessees of public houses? He felt that such a measure would restrain the trade; but he thought that it would be a beneficial one, and he was content to abide by the restriction. There was only one more point upon which he would take up the attention of the House; and that was the subject of the strength of beer. A gallant admiral speaking of the quality of porter, had said, that if beer were brought back to the strength which it boasted in his younger days, he should be content. It appeared by the books and records of the Excise, that the beer now made and sold in London was stronger by 25 per cent than that made 20 years ago. The hon. gentleman sat down by observing, that six parts in seven of his trade was in free house. Referring to the alleged want of sufficient competition, he wished that the hon. gentlemen complaining would themselves become competitors.

Mr. Calvert

believed, that the right hon. gentleman was satisfied with but competition existing in the country, but not with the degree in which it existed in the large towns. He (Mr. C.) thought the reverse was the fact. In many parts of the country he knew that brewers commanded an entire monopoly in their own neighbourhood, shutting out competition entirely. He had himself frequently communicated with magistrates upon the subject, and had suggested that such extensive influence ought to be restrained. If he were one of the magistrates, he should feel it his duty to see that a competition really did take place. The licensing system was open to many abuses, and he would lend any assistance in his power to remedy them.

Sir J. Sebright

said, that the licensing system, as it existed, produced the worst effects, not only on the public-houses themselves, but on the morals of those who frequented them.

Mr. Bennet

felt himself bound to acknowledge, that he received the most liberal assistance, in 1819, from Mr. Buxton. In performing this act of justice to his hon. friend, he should take the opportunity to state, that he fully agreed with him as to the effects of competition. At the same time, he must express his belief, founded upon evidence, that a great part of the metropolis was portioned out among the brewers, and that brewer applying for a licence in it destroyed every thing like fair competition. Indeed, it appeared, that when a brewer and another party applied for license, the brewer obtained it from his rival, on the ground of being a known and responsible person. With regard to the introduction of a clause into any future act, prohibiting brewers from purchasing public-houses, he deemed it to be totally impracticable; inasmuch as public-houses might still be purchased for them on trust. The point principally to be attended to in London, was the prevention of disorder in the different houses and the placing them under some specific control. With regard to the country, he must say that there was scarcely a free house in any village. They were all in the power of the brewers, who drenched their wretched inhabitants with all kinds of vile poison. The only way to remedy the evils of that part of the system was, to allow every individual to sell beer as they might bread. It was said, that the alteration of the present system would tend to the destruction of much private capital embarked in the trade. If that were the case, he would prefer giving a fair compensation to the injured parties to continuing the present system, which was as detrimental to the morals as it was ruinous to the health of the common people.

Mr. Calvert

trusted that his hon. friend would do the same justice to him as he had done to the hon. member for Weymouth.

Mr. Bennet

had great pleasure in stating, that nobody had been more anxious to correct the abuses of the licensing system than the hon. member.

Mr. S. Whitbread

defied any man to say, that the firm with which he was connected had ever used any improper means to obtain licenses. He could assure the House, they would willingly consent to any prospective measure that would tend to keep the trade open. He thought that any act of parliament would be advantageous to the public which should prevent brewers from holding the licences of public houses.

Mr. Monck

was an advocate for having the trade in beer more open, at the same time, he would not deprive the brewers of any of their existing rights and interests. He thought that the magistrates ought to be deprived of a great portion of the discretionary power which they exercised at present in the licensing of public houses, inasmuch as it was in consequence of that discretionary power that so many people were obliged to drink bad beer, and at the same lime to pay a most extravagant price for it. He had that morning received a letter from a physician at Bath, whom he had known for 30 years, in which that gentleman imputed most of the diseases prevalent there, and especially the colic, to the bad beer drunk there. He was glad to find that the licensing system had attracted the attention of the hon. member for Shrewsbury; and still more glad to find that the House generally seemed, to be of opinion that it stood in need of amendment and alteration.

Ordered to lie on the table.