HC Deb 05 August 1834 vol 25 cc963-70
Mr. Buckingham

brought up the Report of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the causes and consequences of the increasing evil of drunkenness.

Mr. Hawes

wished to put a question to the Chair. He did not find that this Committee had any power to make a Report to the House, but that they were merely authorised to report the minutes of evidence. He apprehended, therefore, that in presenting this Report, they were assuming a power to which they were not entitled.

The Speaker

begged to assure the hon. Gentleman, that every Select Committee of the House was bound to make Reports. The complaint usually was, that Committees assumed an unwarrantable power in not making their Reports.

The Report to lie on the Table. On the question that it be printed,

Mr. Hawes

was aware, that he was pursuing that which was an unusual course in opposing the printing of this Report; but it should be recollected, that it was not unanimously agreed to. He should not, on that account merely, have met the present Motion with any opposition, but the Report was certainly one of the most extraordinary which had ever been made. He felt, that the recommendations of this Report were opposed to the interests of his constituents, and were a most flagrant violation of private rights. It was under this conviction, that he felt it to be his duty to bring the Report under the consideration of the House, though he had been strongly urged not to take such a step. The consequence of some of the legislative and prospective remedies suggested in this Report would be, first to ruin the whole trade of the licensed victuallers, in which business no less than 100,000 persons were engaged. All those persons, if they continued to sell spirits, were to be called upon to enter into an engagement to sell nothing but spirits; spirit-shops were to be as open to the public as possible—to be kept as open as those shops in which wholesome food was sold; but the spirit dealers were not to be allowed to sell more than a quart or a pint. The Report recommended, that no spirits should be allowed to be imported into this country. What, then, he would ask, was to become of our West-India colonies? Again, it was suggested, that no spirits should hereafter be distilled but by chemists, &c., for purposes of medicine. There was a clause which proposed that beer should be brewed of a certain strength, and that the price should be defined—there was to be a reduction of duty on tea and coffee—there was to be a universal branch of education, to teach children the evils arising from spirits; and this was to be made a comfortable volume for the benefit of the public; and it was considered, that this would form a very valuable accompaniment to the Poor-law Report. In large towns the workmen were to be paid on the market days (so that they would in many instances he paid three times a week); no meetings of societies in the shape of benefit or relief societies were to be permitted in public-houses, or in places where intoxicating draughts were allowed. "But," said the hon. Gentle- man, "I could quote many more racy passages from this Report." ["Read! Read!"] No; he did not want to cast ridicule upon the Report of the Select Committee. The object of those who supported the Committee, he doubted not, was good; and if the document he had referred to could have been considered as embodying a Report which was practical, he should have abstained from all comment upon it; but, considering the ruin which such a plan, if put in force, must inflict on the rights and property of a vast number of persons—the disregard of all financial arrangements which it evinced, and the violation of all private rights, and private property which it contained—he should oppose the printing of the Report, and would divide the House upon that question.

Mr. Buckingham

said, that however much he might admire the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman in bringing forward his objections to the Report, he could not equally admire the candour evined in making the statements. Much as he knew and had heard of misrepresentation, he had never known it more plainly made use of in support of an argument than had been adopted on this occasion. ["Read! Read!"] As the hon. member for Lambeth had not followed the invitation of hon. Members to "read," neither would he; but he hoped the House would allow him to mention that the course which the hon. Gentleman had taken proved his speech to be merely a commentary on his own observations. The hon. Gentleman had attended the Committee only three or four times, and then for a short period only; and during that short period his object had been to browbeat and to puzzle the witnesses, to make it out that no legislative remedy could be applied. But the object of the Committee was to inquire into the causes and consequences of drunkenness, and to see whether any, and what legislative measures could be adopted to prevent the increase of this evil. He wished that this Report should not be taken on the showing of the hon. Gentleman, or of himself, but that it should be printed for the perusal of the House generally; for in every division which had taken place in the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman, the member for Lambeth, stood always alone. He denied that the Committee had recommended the non-importation of spirits; or that no spirits should be distilled but by chemists, &c. The Committee had contemplated these things in the ultimate results; but they had urged nothing of the kind. Now the Committee had before them witnesses of ail professions. They had had the testimony of three Police Magistrates of London, the Boroughreeve of Manchester, of three Sub-Sheriffs, of one Physician-General to the army—of three medical men in London—of a Colonel and a Captain of the army—of officers in the navy—of a spirit dealer on Holborn-hill, and of one of the Commissioners of Poor-laws, who had expressly stated, that much of the evils complained of in respect to the Poor-laws was attributable to the unceasing habit of drunkenness amongst the poorer classes. He (Mr. Buckingham) hoped, that the House would not, to meet the freak, humour, or sinister interest of any man, refuse to allow this Report to be printed.

Mr. Hawes

begged to inquire, whether the hon. Member applied the epithets "sinister interest," to him?

Mr. Buckingham

He had certainly applied his language to the hon. Member, perhaps, but he had done so hypothetically.

Mr. O'Dwyer

said, that as to the evidence of the Sub-Sheriffs to whom the hon. member for Sheffield had alluded, he believed that such a thing as a sober Sub-Sheriff was never heard of. He believed that no man could arrive at that dignity who was particularly sober. The hon. Gentleman begged that part of the Report might be read.

[The Clerk read the Report, which was accompanied by much cheering and laughter].

Mr. Baines

maintained, that the Report was not to be considered as pourtraying the opinions of those hon. Gentlemen who formed the Committee, because it did not contain their sentiments, but those only of the witnesses who were examined. If then there were anything preposterous in the Report, it must be attributed to the recommendations or suggestions thrown out by the witnesses, not by the Committee. The manner in which this Report had been received, was not respectful to that Committee, who had bestowed much time on the matter. The Report ought not to be thus treated with contempt. A more ungracious proceeding than that proposed had never yet been adopted. Surely the House of Commons were bound to pay every attention to a question upon which the people had so numerously petitioned. For his part he warmly supported the Motion for printing the Report; and when it was printed, he was sure that nothing discreditable to the Committee would be found in it.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the hon. member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) recommended very "warmly" the printing of this Report; but he (Mr. O'Connell) hoped that the House would as "coolly" reject such a proposition. The bon. Gentleman said, that this Report did not express the opinions of the Committee but of the witnesses! The witnesses? Did the Committee not understand what they had to do? To be sure they seemed to have been a little muddled—there must have been some mud in the water; and he saw that the hon. Gentleman's appearance was that of a man who drank nothing but water—nothing but solid water!—but ought the House to meet this proposition for printing the Report, when the Committee came before them with so silly, so absurd a suggestion as that of preventing the importation of spirits? And should they sit there and sanction such nonsense? This was the Report embodying the opinions of the witnesses! If such were their opinions, the Committee ought to have said, that at this period of the moon these men ought to be taken care of. When they talked of preventing the importation of spirits, he was astonished that the good sense of his hon. friend had not convinced him, that these people wanted a guard. Distillation was to be confined to the chemists only! But he begged pardon of the House for detaining them with such trash. If they allowed this Report to be printed, they would encourage every drivelling Legislator. Oh, yes! they would have some snail-paced Legislator moving for a Committee to inquire into the best means of preventing flies from destroying butter or honey.

Colonel Williams

thought the House bound to receive the Report, and have it printed. Whatever ridicule might attach to the course, he would take care to place the following Resolutions on the Journals of the House:—

"Resolved—That the petitions on the part of the people to this House for cheap bread, ought to be met by the suppression of the practice of converting human food into useless and destructive drink.

"'That (from a time to be fixed) the distillation of ardent spirits from grain should be at once and entirely prohibited in Great Britain and Ireland.

"That it can be shown that the morals and happiness of an industrious people shall by such a prohibition be promoted, the cultivators of the soil made more prosperous, the comforts of the labourer augmented, and the productive industry of the country encouraged—the public expenditure for workhouses, gaols, barracks, hulks, Court-houses, penal colonies, and lunatic asylums be greatly reduced, and the revenue diverted but not impaired. Then all objections to this prohibition must vanish.

"That the Government which should, after such evidence, authorize the manufacture and traffic of ardent spirit from grain, would lend its authority to the violation of the first principles of political economy, as the capital, materials, and labour, employed in the conversion, become a calculable and total loss in money, and an invaluable loss in the moral character and qualifications for self-government in a nation under the influence of intemperance."

If he could not act upon these Resolutions this year, he was determined to bring it under the consideration of the House early in the next Session.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, that although his name appeared as one of the Members of that Committee, he had not consented, nor could anything short of the Coercion Bill induce him to concur in that Report. He thought the wisest course on the part of the House would be to receive the evidence without the Report.

Mr. Philip Howard

had also been a Member of that Committee, but not having been able to give a due attendance upon it, he did not think that he should have been justified in interfering with the drawing up of the Report. He must say, therefore, that he did not consider himself pledged by the Report. At one examination, to which he had alluded, Mr. Fearon, a very intelligent dealer in spirits had proved, that drunkenness had not increased, and that the habits of the lower classes in the metropolis had improved. He was therefore bound to say, not only that he was not pledged by the Report, but that the evidence, as far as he heard it, did not bear out the statement of the Report.

Lord Sandon

thought the question was, whether there was anything in the Report which ought to induce them to deviate from the recommendation of the Committee as to its being printed. He had been a Member of that Committee; but he had the misfortune, from various circumstances, of being prevented from attending upon it. He found, however, that those parts of the Report which were looked upon as wild and visionary, were not the recommendations of the Committee, but merely contained the opinions of the witnesses examined. It was an easy matter to turn the Report of the Committee, or any Committee into ridicule, but the fact was, that the House could not judge of the merits of that Report until it was printed and laid upon the Table. But the printing was by no means a pledge (God forbid it should), that the House was to adopt it. But he thought that the refusal to print it would be a departure from the general usage, so great that it could not be justified unless under extraordinary circumstances. There might be, and undoubtedly was, much extravagance in certain portions of the evidence, but then there were other parts of the Report which contained much useful information. He implored the House, therefore, not to interfere with the recommendation of the Committee that the Report should be printed.

Mr. Brotherton

contended, that if the House adopted the recommendation of the Committee they would find that the happiness and best interests of the country would be greatly promoted. The evidence of the witnesses examined before the Committee went to prove the great distress which arose from the too prevalent practice of using ardent spirits, and the consequent pauperism, which it gave rise to. He admired, as every man must do, the great talents of the hon. and learned member for Dublin, but he could not help expressing his regret at finding that hon. and learned Gentleman allowing his talents to be misapplied in ridiculing a measure such as that under consideration. They were bound to be very cautious, but, above all, he thought they ought to take care, before they legislated for the punishment of crime, to remove the strongest incentives for its commission. He was by no means an advocate for coercion upon this or any other measure, but he thought it expedient, that they should, as much as possible, remove from the people that temptation Which was, in most cases, found to be too powerful to be resisted. He hoped that, under all the circumstances, the House would allow the Report to be printed.

Lord John Russell

would refer to a passage in the Report for the consideration of the House. In that passage a hope was expressed that early in the next Session his Majesty's Ministers would introduce some general and compulsory measure with reference to the distillation and use of ardent spirits. Without at all entering into the details of the Report, he had only to observe, that he, for one, could never be a party to any such measure.

Mr. Sinclair

thought, that the remedy proposed by the Committee was altogether impracticable. He had been appointed upon that Committee, and had at an early period attended its sittings, but finding that it was not likely to be attended with any beneficial result, he thought it better to withdraw altogether from it.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that some portions of this Report were absurd enough, yet still he thought it would be going too far to say, that it ought not to be printed.

Mr. Maxwell

was determined to support the Motion for printing the Report, and at the same time begged to express a hope that those who had in this instance shown themselves friendly to the measure would not be deterred from coming forward in support of it early in the next Session.

The House divided: Ayes 63; Noes 31—Majority 32.

Report to be printed.