HC Deb 21 May 1830 vol 24 cc951-65

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House upon this Bill. On the first Clause being moved, that "Persons desirous of retailing Beer might take out licenses, &c,"

Mr. Monck

said, that the principle of the Licensing system was not what some Gentlemen supposed, a new law, but was a part of the old Common Law of the country. It was laid down by all the writers on the Criminal Law, that indictments might be maintained against public-houses as public nuisances, not only because they were disorderly, but whenever they were inconveniently multiplied, or when they were opened in an inconvenient situation. The principle of the licensing system was preventive instead of corrective—it was, in fact, a system of previous inquiry, rather than of subsequent punishment. The evils which an unregulated system would introduce, had not been dreaded in vain. All the Statutes passed up to this time had proceeded on the principle of the Common Law. The 2nd of George II., especially stated, that many in- conveniences had arisen from the number of common public-houses; and in making that declaration it only adopted the words of the Common Law. The principle of the Common Law was openly contradicted by this Bill, for the Common Law said that public-houses might be inconveniently multiplied: but this Bill went on the presumption that there could not be too many. The Common Law said, that houses of this sort ought not to be erected in low, retired, and improper situations; but this Bill said, in effect, that no situation was improper, if the man dealing in the article paid two guineas a year to the Excise. What, he wished to know, would be the operation of this Bill with respect to Mr. Estcourt's law? That law had been well considered, and he did not think that its provisions ought to be lightly set aside. Let them suppose a person who had conducted his house in the most disorderly manner, when he came before the Magistrates to demand the renewal of his license, they were able to prevent the repetition of such conduct in the ensuing year. But under the new system proposed by this Bill that could not be done, and no check would be imposed on persons who acted in that manner. The evils of houses of this kind had increased so much from time to time, that the system had rather become more restricted than more relaxed. And what had been the consequence? Why, that the manner in which they were conducted was now much improved. The present state of good order in which these houses were was the best defence of the restrictive system, and afforded the strongest reason for its continuance. But this question was as important in the view of its relation to the property embarked in public-houses as in any other respect. In consequence of the restrictions which, for a series of years, had been placed upon the business of public-houses, those houses which had a license had acquired an artificial value, and persons had bought the houses themselves, or the leases for years; and others, who had taken this sort of property under wills or settlements, had taken it subject to the condition of making payments to the junior branches of their own families, which they would be unable to discharge, if that which had so much increased the value of these houses, were on a sudden taken away from them. But it was not only great interests, such as those of large brewers, that would suffer, the small publicans, who had embarked their all in the purchase of houses of this kind, would also be materially affected. The evil of this Bill was, that it carried the principle of competition to a new and indefinite extent. He would not advise hastily returning from the artificial system that had been created to the natural system, for such a rapid change would produce great injustice to many individuals. In his opinion, the principle of competition might be carried into full effect if men were allowed to sell Beer without their being at the same time permitted to turn their houses into ale-houses. The principle of competition, so far as it had already been carried in the town of Reading, even under the present system, had been attended with the best possible effects, for in that town there were five great brewers and seven retail brewers, and the Beer was some of the best in the kingdom. He did not think that the principle of competition need be carried further than it was in that town at this moment. The clause he was about to propose would have the effect of allowing as free a competition as existed in Scotland, where any man was allowed to sell Beer, but not to permit persons to stay on his premises to drink it. Many retail brewers and respectable shopkeepers had told him they should be quite satisfied with such a law, for they did not wish to have soldiers billetted on them, which they must have if their houses became ale-houses. They could not have all that was profitable without suffering the accompanying disadvantages. If his clause were carried, he should introduce another for the protection of shopkeepers against vexatious informations. The hon. Member then moved, that in the clause under discussion these words should be inserted—" Provided that Licenses granted under this Act should not authorise those who obtained such Licenses to allow the Beer to be drunk in the places where it was sold."

Sir T. Gooch

said, he had been one of the first to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the reduction of the Beer-duty, because he had thought it one of the best proofs of the intention of the Ministry to have recourse to practical economy; but if all men were now to be allowed to sell Beer, and it might be consumed on their premises, England, from one end to the other would be one great ale-house. He wanted perfect freedom in the sale of Beer; but let the Magistrates have some control over it [laughter]. He was not surprised that Gentlemen should laugh; but if they would hear him out, they would find that he meant only that the Magistrates should have some control over those who sold Beer. He recommended the House to try the clause proposed by the hon. Member for the space of two years, and if they found that it really imposed a check upon the freedom of trade, they might then repeal it; but it was certainly worth the trial.

Mr. Slaney

could not consent to consider this question by itself. It was in fact connected intimately with many others, and it must be viewed with reference to them. It was a curious fact, that while the consumption of every other necessary of life had increased in this country, the consumption of Malt, which was a neces- sary of life to the labouring population, had materially diminished. The agricultural interest naturally demanded the reason of this, and they found that it was caused by the heavy restrictions imposed upon the Malt and Beer manufacture, and upon the trade in Beer. The House investigated the nature of these restrictions, it found them burthensome, and it became convinced that the principle of the Malt-tax, of the Beer-tax, and of the Licensing Acts was most unjust, the restrictions they imposed falling exclusively upon the labouring population, who alone were unable to brew their own Beer. Besides these taxes there were restrictions on the sale of the article itself. These restrictions gave an artificial value to the houses in which Beer was sold, and the value of the brewers' property was increased at least one million and a half. That increased expense, of course, though paid in the first instance by the publican to the brewer, was put by the publican upon the Beer; and the combined effects of the taxes and the restrictions ultimately fell on the labouring consumer. The Ministers, much to their credit, had taken off the tax on the manufacture of the Beer; and he was bound to say, that they deserved the utmost credit for what they had done. Representations had been made to them respecting the Malt-duty; and they had certainly done much good, by removing most of the restrictions on the manufacture of that article; they would have gained the support of a wealthy and powerful party if they had taken off the Malt-tax, instead of the Beer-tax; but they had, with an honest and manly discretion, given up their own advantage, and had repealed the Beer-tax, because it was that which pressed most heavily on the labouring classes of the people. He repeated, that they deserved the greatest possible credit for the way in which they had acted, If, however, they were not seconded—if this Bill were not passed, and passed without the limitation now proposed—all that the Government had done would tend only to the benefit of the rich brewer. He contended, that hitherto there had existed a combination between the distillers and the brewers, which this Bill would destroy; and further, that if the Amendment were adopted, at least two-thirds of the benefit that might otherwise be anticipated from the measure would be prevented. The contest, in fact, was between a healthful nutritious beverage, for such Beer was, and demoralising and destructive spirituous liquors. He did not deny that, in consequence of the free trade in Beer, there might, at first, be some slight increase of inebriety; but, on the other hand were to be deducted the disorders, moral and physical, arising from the consumption of alcohol. Ale, taken to excess, might make a man dull and drowsy; but it would not ruin his health by destroying his liver. The hon. Member then adverted to the small increase in the number of Ale licenses, while, in the same period, the Spirit licenses had been multiplied to the extent of no less than 11,000. In the twelve years since 1818, it was shown, by the returns on the Table, that the consumption of Spirits had been augmented from twelve million gallons to twenty-four million gallons; and in exact proportion to the increase in the consumption of Spirits was the increase of crime. While, however, he heartily supported the measure, and resisted the Amendment, he was anxious that the change should be effected under proper guards which might be provided by alterations and additions that could be made in the Committee.

Mr. Barclay

contended, that the various reductions in the duty on Malt had not been followed by a corresponding augmentation of the revenue; and he denied also that the brewers had been benefitted by the change. In reference to what had fallen from the hon. member for Shrewsbury, he insisted that there had been at no time a combination between the London brewers and the distillers, adding, that he had himself always been an advocate for a free trade in Beer. He had been one of the first to point out the injuriousness of the licensing system, both to the public and to the publicans; and in his evidence before a committee of the House, twelve years since, he had asserted, that it would be an increasing evil. That prediction had been fulfilled according to the confession of all sides; and he now asserted, without fear of contradiction, that as far as the interests of the London brewers were concerned, the freer the trade in Beer was rendered, the better for them. With their great capitals, and the means of applying them, they need fear no competition. The country brewers were, however, differently circumstanced, and to them the measure was fraught with utter ruin; to the interests of the publicans also it would be destructive, and for this reason he should support the Amendment. There was at least 3,500 persons in London whose property would be deteriorated by the Bill, and some respect ought to be shown to the number of petitions which had been presented against it. All those who not long since had voted for the continuance of the licensing system, must feel themselves responsible to the individuals who on the faith of Parliament had embarked their property in public-houses. The licensed victuallers were not unreasonable, and would be satisfied with a very trifling modification of the proposed law.

Mr. Western

was decidedly hostile to the Amendment, and supported the Bill, because it would destroy the arbitrary and injurious power now enjoyed and exercised by Magistrates under the licensing system. Clauses might be introduced, establishing useful regulations, but he did not see what claim publicans could have to compensation, when at any he they might be deprived of their licenses by the will and pleasure of the Quarter Sessions. Even if they were to be injured, private interests must be sacrificed to a great public advantage. He was satisfied that when the Bill came out of the Committee with the clauses intended to be introduced, many who now objected to it would give it their most hearty support.

Sir E. Knatchbull

called upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in fairness, and for the convenience of proceeding, to state his views, and to open the amendments he proposed to insert.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he was at all times extremely ready to attend to the wishes of any hon. Member, relative to any measures of his own or of others, upon public business, and that he must of course be anxious to explain, in the fullest manner, any bill which it was his duty to submit to the consideration of Parliament; and if he had not done so on the present occasion, it was because he felt the proposed amendment to be so directly at variance with the principle of the Bill of his right hon. friend, that he thought it proper to ascertain what was the sense of the House upon such a proposition, before he proceeded to discuss the other details of the measure, which were comparatively unimportant. The proposed Amendment, he had no hesitation in saying, was a direct infraction of the principle of the Bill; were it carried, the effect would be this—that the public, instead of being in a situation to have an improved commodity, would remain in that respect precisely as it stood now, with the superadded disadvantage of having a two-guinea license instead of a five-guinea license to authorize the business of the retailer. He would put it to the hon. Mover of the Amendment, whether this state of things was likely to promote the object which he professed to have in view,—whether it was calculated to satisfy the wants of the people, and remedy the enormous abuses which the hon. member for Reading had himself admitted, and which were daily justifying a wider extent of complaint. The hon. Member, in proposing his Amendment, had also broached some extraordinary doctrines of law; he said, that by the Common Law, the trade had been restricted. Now he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not before aware that there were any restrictions at Common Law respecting the sale of Beer, beyond those which were necessarily implied in the preservation of the peace of the community. The Common Law left the trade free; it was the counteracting operation of the Statute-law which imposed restrictions. But the hon. member for Reading had put his view of this question upon two principles; first, as to the necessity of preserving the property which had, upon the faith of Acts of Parliament, been invested and engaged in this trade in particular neighbourhoods; secondly, as to the equal necessity of maintaining a strict police-regulation throughout the country, as referrable to the morals of the people. Now no man could feel more than he did for the well being of the pecuniary rights of this class of the community; and no man was more sensible than he was, that a certain diminution in the present value of their capital was likely to follow the adoption of this Bill—a result which he lamented as much as any man could; for from what he had seen of them, he believed them to be reputable men and well-deserving every special consideration which was not incompatible with the general good of the country. However, the only alternative before him was this,—whether he would lean towards the supposed interests of the smaller class, or towards that of the community generally. This being his situation, he could not hesitate upon the decision which he was bound to take under such circumstances. It really was unfair to look at the Bill through the narrow view which some hon. Members were disposed to take of its bearings. This measure went merely to extend the means of selling Beer for the benefit of the humbler classes of the community; but the old restrictions still continued to apply to those who sold Beer, with other exciseable articles; and it appeared from the evidence given before the committee up-stairs, that the value of dealing in those other exciseable articles was very considerable—a profit which, of course, the parties would retain, notwithstanding the provisions of this Bill. Then, as to the apprehended competition from throwing open the trade, as it was called: it was perfectly true that the increase of persons who, it was expected, would embark in this trade implied, competition, yet, was it likely that the existing possessors of large and well-conducted houses would lose the advantages they had acquired by the outlay of their capital, and the formation of a good connexion, resulting from the proper management of their business, by the mere setting-up of a few individuals with, perhaps, limited means, in the same neighbourhood? If hon. Members would look into the evidence given before the committee, they would see what was said by a gentleman who had a large public-house, in a district where a free public-house had afterwards, at no great distance, endeavoured to compete with him. When this individual was asked the effect of this competition, his answer was, that he did not fear the result; his trade continued as good as before; he took in the newspapers, he looked after the comforts of his guests, he studied their dispositions and wants, and had therefore no apprehension as to the result. What difference was there between this individual's case and others under circumstances of the like nature. The old establishments must have the advantage of experience and connexion, and therefore ought to have nothing to fear. Upon the general question he would distinctly say, let the entrance into the trade be free, and that once accomplished, let the individuals engaged in it be subject to whatever restrictions hon. Members deemed reasonably necessary. Indeed, if the larger principle were conceded to him, he was prepared with other clauses, which he was sure would obviate many of the objections made to this Bill. Among them was one to declare that none but an inhabitant householder should be permitted to embark in this trade, so as to guard against the introduction of persons without substance or a local residence, which could make them known in the neighbourhood. In the next place, he meant to propose that the householder should give two sureties, who were to be answerable for the penalties which the retailer was liable to incur. If the House would add any other regulations for the better ordering of these houses, he should willingly concur in them. But when the hon. member for Reading said, that his clause was necessary for the protection of the public, he must say, that he felt the contrary to be the fact; the clause was, in his opinion, a double delusion,—first, as regarded the orderly carrying on the trade; and next, as concerned the public. The hon. member for Reading said, that, only give him this clause, and he would find a remedy for all the other abuses of the system. He regretted that he could not acquiesce in his temptation; he should like to see the promised clause for remedying the evils of informers, and trusting in future to the informations of men of respectable character. He confessed he was unaware how this reformation was to be effected; it was a process of legislation of which he feared he must plead ignorance. From the best consideration which he had been enabled to give this subject, he believed the most unfounded apprehensions prevailed, both in the trade and out of the trade. He had seen a series of resolutions, which were agreed to on the 25th of March by the licensed victuallers of Nottingham, which, from the general intercommunication of the trade, might be taken as a fair specimen of the general understanding which prevailed in it through the country. These resolutions said, that the increase of retail-brewers was prejudicial to the public morals—and that increase of profligacy had followed their multiplication, without the slightest addition to the comforts of the humbler classes. Now, he was perfectly convinced this was true—it was the fault of the system which he sought to remedy; he was confident that the retail brewers, as at present constituted, gave no material addition to the comforts of the poor, and for this reason—that they were beset with restrictions and dangers, which impeded their exertions at every step under the provisions of the existing law. They were every moment brought by informations before the magistrates; the public morals were, he knew, outraged under the extension of the prevailing system, and that he believed must continue until the proposed alterations were adopted. He was also decidedly of opinion, that the moral control could be much better executed within than without the walls of the licensed victualler's house, and that even the contagion of bad example would be less felt when excluded from the public eye. In this respect he thought it very desirable that the consumption of Beer should take place rather on the premises than without the doors, for both the moral discipline could be, under such circumstances, better enforced, and the public nuisance, where it did arise, more effectually abated. With these opinions he must resist the clause of the hon. member for Reading. If, when the Committee decided on that proposition, they would let him go through and explain the other clauses, and then have the Bill as amended, printed, embodying the various practical suggestions which he had received, they would be better able to come to a clear view of the whole question, before their final decision: this was all he asked.

Mr. Estcourt

was a friend to a free trade in Beer, but then that trade must be bona fide perfectly free. He could not see how his right hon. friend's regulations were calculated to promote that object; on the contrary, he thought those he had mentioned would prove futile. As to the Amendment of the hon. member for Reading, he thought that instead of improving matters it would make them worse. If it were carried, he certainly should propose another Amendment, providing that the Beer should not be drank within 100 yards of the premises where it was sold. He knew this was absurd, still it was a corollary from the other proposition.

Mr. Cripps

wished the poor man to be enabled to buy his Beer wherever he chose, which it was the object of this Bill to effect, but he knew that there were reasonable apprehensions entertained in many parts of the country, that the measure would increase the number of public-houses unnecessarily. That the poor man should be enabled to buy his Beer freely was, however, different from his drinking it wherever it might be bought. Instead then of allowing him to drink it on the premises, he should wish to see him obliged to take it home and drink it with his wife and family. Besides, he was afraid that this Bill would take the control of public-houses out of the hands of the Magistrates, to the injury of the morals of the people themselves. He should, therefore, support the Motion of the hon. member for Reading.

Mr. Maberly

thought that the publicans had a right to have their case fully heard. He assented to the principle according to which the clause in the Bill was drawn up, but he had two objections to the Bill. He did not think it contained police regulations of sufficient force; and it gave no time to persons who had embarked immense capitals in the Beer-trade to retire safely from it. He had always deprecated the licensing system, but after the House had sanctioned its continuance for so long a time, and thereby induced individuals to embark property in the Beer-trade, he did not think that the House would be acting right in agreeing to any measure which would bring those individuals to ruin. At least they ought to be allowed time, and he thought five years not too much to withdraw from the trade. He felt himself therefore bound, though favourable to the principle of free trade, to vote for the Amendment.

Mr. R. Colborne

was of opinion, that if all the duty on Beer was to be repealed, a perfectly free trade in that article ought to follow, which, though at first it might create great fluctuations, would ultimately settle itself, like all other trades. He should therefore support the Bill as it was now brought forward. He wished the measure to have a fair trial, and next Session, if it were found to require some modifications they might be made. Instead of seeing the whole duty taken off Beer, he confessed he should have preferred if only 5s. had been taken off, and 1s. off Malt. By this means Malt would have been rendered cheaper, and its employment in the manufacture of Beer made general.

Mr. F. Buxton

, while admitting that the fears entertained of this measure, as far as the brewers were concerned, had been greatly exaggerated, contended that the loss to the publicans would be as great, if not greater, than was anticipated. There had only been one or two instances of petitions being presented in favour of the clause under the consideration of the House, while hundreds had been presented against it. He did not mean to say that the measure would be positively bad; but it would at any rate, be questionable. By it public-houses might be opened during all hours of the night, and in any places, and no security was given for their being properly conducted, for the fine or penalty proposed by the Bill was no security at all. At present there was some difficulty found in keeping public-houses in good order, though the publican was liable to have his license taken away, which was equal to a fine of 500l. What then would be the state of the case where the fine was only 2l. 10s. He conceived that the other parts of the Bill contained innovations, sufficient to satisfy the advocates of free-trade, and he hoped the House would refuse to accede to the introduction of any more. If at a future period it should be found necessary to make any fresh innovations, then let them be done, but he thought some consideration ought at present to be extended to the publicans. He should support the Amendment of the hon. Member, which was exactly in accordance with a clause introduced into the bill of an hon. and learned Gentleman some years back.

Mr. Huskisson

, who rose amidst loud cries of "Question," promised that he would not trespass more than five minutes on the patience of the House. He reminded the Committee, that when the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, informed the House, that the whole of the Beer-duty, amounting to 3,000,000l., was to be repealed, that intelligence, gratifying as it was, was hailed with still greater delight, because it was stated that the remission of the duty was to be by no means the only relief afforded to the country; but that the annual expenditure of a million and a half would be saved to the country by the removal of those impediments, restrictions, and obstacles that grew out of the then existing system of the Beer-trade and of licensing. It appeared to him that the proposition of the hon. member for Reading was neither more nor less than this—whether or not the House was to give up the relief of one million and a half of taxes. The present licensing system was a great evil, and if allowed to continue, the evil would only increase, and be rendered more difficult of removal. It was his opinion, that if the monopoly which the brewer at present enjoyed were to be continued, and the tax taken off Beer, that monopoly would become more complete and more injurious than ever to the public. Having promised not to exceed five minutes, he would keep his word with the Committee and sit down.

Mr. Brougham

did not think he should trouble the House so long as five minutes; but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), that he had never known a promise, such as he had, made so accurately kept before. He was perfectly ready to admit that the bill respecting Beer introduced about six years ago, contained a clause expressly prohibiting the consumption of Beer on the premises where it was sold; but the ground on which he allowed the introduction of that clause was, because he had not the slighest chance of carrying any part of the measure, unless he had consented that that clause should form a portion of it. He, however, protested against it, considering that it created a great defect in the measure, and he had not altered his opinion on the subject.

Lord Milton

thought, the House should not come to any conclusion on the proposition of the hon. member for Reading, until more information was afforded as to the mode in which the scheme of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to be carried into effect.

Mr. Monck

said, that the clause he proposed seemed to him to leave the trade sufficiently open; and he did not think that the objections of the right hon. Gentleman were as weighty as had been contended.

Sir E. Knatchbull

hoped the hon. member for Reading would postpone his Amendment until the Bill was presented to the House in a more complete form. In all large towns, the result of the measure might have been correctly stated by its advocates; but in country districts he was sure it would lead to the opening of public-houses, not for the purpose of selling Beer, but for the sale of spirits, and those too not brought legitimately into this country. Before two years should pass over, the right hon. Gentleman would come down to the House with a proposition to amend his Bill. For these reasons, and in consideration of the immense property embarked in the Beer-trade, he should support the Amendment.

Mr. Monck

said, he saw no advantage from postponing his Motion, and that he should press his Amendment to a division.

Lord Milton

contended, that it was the duty of the Ministers before they proceeded further, to state fully the whole of their intentions.

A division took place—for the Amendment 142; Against it 180—Majority against Mr. Monck's Clause 38.

The Commitee then proceeded to take the other clauses of the Bill into consideration.

Mr. Bright

said, that he could not refrain from stating his opinion. He looked on this as only a half measure, which, instead of making the trade free would merely extend the licensing system. There was a part of it which levied fines for the use of drugs in making Beer, and for using any other materials than malt and hops, and he did not see how these clauses could be carried into effect, without continuing all the excise regulations and restrictions. He contended, as the duty was taken off, that there would be no temptation to use deleterious ingredients, particularly if the duty on malt were also taken off, and therefore, he objected to continuing such sestrictions which would be very injurious, and would henceforth have no good effect whatever. Indeed if they were acted on, they would henceforth be doubly vexatious. Many shopkeepers and little retail dealers would sell Beer under the new Bill, and it would require a great additional number of excise men to look after them, though no number, however great, would be sufficient to prevent them from adulterating Beer if they thought proper to do so. He must object to this, then, as a species of impracticable law-making. Competition was the principle of the Act, and to that, not to these restrictions, ought the House to look to give efficacy to its provisions.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained that the hon. Member would find all the Excise-laws, as far as they related to the sale of Beer, repealed in the Bill for abolishing the Beer duties. At the same time he contended that restricting the brewers to the use of malt and hops in making Beer, was necessary for the sake of the Beer-drinker. The restriction on the manufacture so far he supported. He also thought that unless the prohibition against adulteration were preserved, the people would be supplied with a worse liquor than ever.

Mr. Benett

supported the clause. If a man professed to sell one thing and sold another he deserved to be punished. Such a clause was necessary for the public safety. He wished to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the present Bill affected the sale of Cider.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained, that the sale of Cider was to be put on the same footing as Beer.

Sir Thomas Acland

declared, that it would be impossible to place Cider-cellars under the same regulation as Beerhouses.

Mr. Hume

trusted, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would reconsider this opinion, and leave those who dealt in Cider as they were.

Bill, with Amendments, reported to the House.