HC Deb 17 July 1834 vol 25 cc83-90

Sir Edward Knatchbull moved that the House should go into a Committee on the Sale of Beer Act Amendment Bill.

Mr. Fysche Palmer

entreated the hon. Baronet and the House to pause before proceeding further with the measure. He would trouble the house only for a very few minutes, and that to bring to its attention a matter of great importance. The whole amount of the capital embarked was nearly 3,000,000l., and the trade gave employment, partially or wholly, to nearly 100,000 persons. He felt, quite sure that the hon. Baronet was not aware of those facts when he introduced his Bill, and he trusted that they would induce him to withdraw it. At all events they ought to be well considered, and if time were required for that purpose it would be advisable to postpone the Committee. For his own part he was extremely anxious to see the beer-shops properly regulated; but he could not consent to injure a large mass of property which had been embarked on the faith of an Act of Parliament. Let the police regulations be made as strict as possible, and let the qualification authorising persons to sell beer to be drunk on the premises be raised. To those alterations he had no objection; but let not persons who had confided in Parliament be injured. He was satisfied that his plan would answer; but, if it did not, next year would be sufficient time for the Bill of the hon. Baronet.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

said, that after the discussions and divisions which had taken place with respect to this Bill, he certainly had not expected that any opposition would have been offered to his Motion for a Committee. The hon. member for Reading was mistaken in supposing that the points which the hon. Member had urged had escaped his attention. In fact the proposition which he intended to submit to the Committee, and which he had privately communicated to the hon. Member, would show that he was anxious that the measure should not interfere prejudicially with property. That proposition was, that the operation of the Bill should be limited to towns in which the population was under 5,000. He was obliged to draw some line of demarcation, and he thought that the one which he had adopted would be deemed a fair one. The evils under the Beer Act were felt in the rural districts, and not in the great towns; and, therefore, the limitation would not so much affect the efficiency of the measure as it would prevent a sudden and injurious interference with most of the property embarked. Having stated his intention to offer such a proposition, he trusted he need say no more to induce the House to go into Committee.

Mr. Wilks

hoped that, on the 17th of July, at so late a period of the Session, and in the heat of the dog-days, the hon. Baronet would not press the Bill. Independently of this, there was another reason for delay. The longer this Bill remained before the public, the more they found that the real feeling of the public was against it, and that they had suffered themselves to be carried away by an interested and prejudiced clamour, and bad been acting under delusions, which further explanation had tended to remove. The Beer Act had effected great good. It had increased the consumption of malt, and it had promoted the temperance of the country. He asserted, that such was the fact, and that the feeling of the country was against the Bill.

Mr. Gisborne

said, the proposition was most unsatisfactory, and would render the measure extremely partial. He was anxious to see the sale of beer as free as the sale of tea, or any other article; but he was also anxious to see a high license imposed for selling it to be drunk on the premises. He must, therefore, oppose the present Bill.

Mr. Tennyson

said, he should be glad if any one could show him one single benefit which had resulted from the present Beer Bill. It had produced unmixed evil. The great difficulty was, to devise the best mode of retreating from the system which it had established, without doing serious injury to those who had embarked considerable property in speculations founded upon it. It was his intention, therefore, in the Committee, to propose, that the existence of the present measure should be limited to a certain period—say April, 1836—which would enable persons engaged in the trade to quit it without disadvantage. If that were not considered sufficient time, let the time be prolonged; only let some period be fixed at which the Act might be got rid of altogether. In some of the manufacturing districts, the Beer-shops had actually been made truck-shops; the master-manufacturers making a bargain with their workmen that they should drink their beer in particular places. He hoped the House would allow the present Bill to go into the Committee, and that additional means might there be devised for counteracting the existing evil.

Mr. Hume

regretted to see the attempt that was making to restore monopoly. He was never so well satisfied with any measure of the Duke of Wellington's Administration as with that which laid the Beer-trade open. Yet now they were going to try back, and return to their old lair. Let them, at least, wait for the Report of the Committee on Drunkenness. Perhaps that Report might point out a mode of getting rid of what the right hon. Gentleman called "an unmixed evil," without depriving the poor man who happened to have twopence in his pocket from indulging himself in the purchase of a glass of beer. It was well known, that there had been a great increase in this country during the last twenty years in the consumption of spirits, in consequence of the heavy tax that had been laid on malt, by which the production of good and cheap beer had been prevented. The consequence was, that the people had been driven to drink gin. The tendency of the Beer Bill was, to diminish this evil; and now the House was called upon to re-establish it. He perfectly agreed with the hon. member for North Derbyshire, that beer ought to be allowed to be sold as freely in shops as sugar, or any other article of necessary consumption. He wished the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could be persuaded to take off, were it only half the Malt-tax. He really believed, that the House would suffer very little from such a diminution of duty; for, when the duty on malt was only 10s. 6d., more beer was brewed than at the present moment, although with only half the population. He wished that the hon. Baronet would postpone his Bill till next Session. At least, if they passed the Bill directed against the indulgences of the poor, they ought to introduce into it some provision directed against the indulgences of the rich. They ought to put an end to clubhouses, or, at least, to declare, that there should be but one club-house in St. James's Street for both Whigs and Tories.

Lord Althorp

said, that his Majesty's Government had by no means been ignorant or unmindful of the evils which the Beer Bill had occasioned during the last three years; and, when the hon. Baronet took the subject up, they were exceedingly glad of the circumstance, and promised him their support. There could be no doubt that the mischief occasioned by the Beer-houses was more extensively and sensibly felt in rural districts than in towns. His hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, had recommended him to take off half the Malt-tax. His answer was, that he should be very happy to do so, if the state of the revenue would justify such a step. No doubt, the repeal of all taxes would be a great relief to the country; but, in the present state of its circumstances, the continuation of taxation was indispensable. It was certainly desirable that means should be devised of counteracting the evils which the Beer Bill had created, not in towns, but in rural districts. It was not law that was wanted so much as the power to carry the existing law into execution. The existing law was as severe as any one could wish it to be. He confessed, that when the Beer Bill was originally brought in, he had not expected that so many evils would result from it. Finding, however, that those evils were numerous and serious, he should certainly support the Bill, the tendency of which was to diminish them.

Mr. Warburton

wished to explain the amount of the concession offered by the hon. Baronet. The number of parishes in England was about 15,500, and of those there were 15,262, which had each a population under 5,000; so that the exemption proposed by the bon Baronet would affect only between 200 and 300 parishes. There were 6,600 parishes, each with a population not exceeding 300, and upwards of 10,000 parishes, each with a population not exceeding 500. Now, it was in those small parishes that the difficulty of finding securities would be felt. He contended, therefore, that the concession was of little or no value.

Mr. Pease

thought the concession underrated, for it would not only affect parishes, but also towns and cities. In York, for instance, there were twenty-four parishes, and of those only two had a population exceeding 500 each, and yet the whole would be exempt from the operation of the Bill. He thought the Bill might be made beneficial to all parties, and therefore he wished to proceed with it.

Mr. Baring

hoped the House would confine the discussion to the main provisions of the measure, and not then enter upon the details, which were matter for the Committee. He was decidedly favourable to a free trade in the sale of beer, and if he thought the measure before the House would essentially interfere with that, he should oppose it, much as he was convinced, that the evils of the Beer-shops required removal. It was not in the large towns, but in the rural districts, that those evils were felt; and he thought the proposition of his hon. friend (Sir Edward Knatchbull) would remove the only valid objection which had been urged against the Bill. If they did not speedily exert themselves to put down those sinks of iniquity, the Beer-shops, it would be in vain to look to the rural population of England, otherwise than as a class rapidly declining in all those qualities which in former years placed them so high in the scale of society.

Sir George Phillips

declared his conviction, that from all which had come to his knowledge, the Beer-shops had been productive of very serious evils. He read a letter which he had received from a master-manufacturer in the country, stating, that out of one hundred and seventy persons above the age of twenty-one, who worked in his factory, there were not ten who were not in the habit of visiting those Beer-houses, and there spending their time and their money in vice and debauchery. He defended the hon. Baronet from the unfounded charge which had been brought against him, of not having brought in his Bill sooner, and thought that the House would behave very ungratefully to the hon. Baronet, if, after all the trouble which he had taken on the subject, they did not allow the Bill to go into the Committee.

Mr. Tower

observed, that many persons who had been brought to punishment for criminal offences, had confessed that the idea of committing those offences had originated in Beer-shops.

Mr. Parrott

said, that although almost all the Magistrates in his neighbourhood condemned the Beer-bill, he could not concur with them in opinion. He believed that the merits of that measure were not duly appreciated. He was sorry, not only that a vulgar clamour had been excited against the Bill out of doors, but that that vulgar clamour seemed to make too great an impression in that House. He certainly did not approve generally of the measures of the Duke of Wellington's Administration, but he certainly thought that in passing the Beer-bill, they had passed one of the best measures that had ever received the sanction of the Legislature. Of course he did not impute to the hon. Baronet any such motive; but he was persuaded that the proposed Bill would be exceedingly injurious to the interests of agriculture. He hoped, therefore, that he would consent to withdraw it, and to give up all legislation on the subject. Out of thirty-six parishes where he had traced its operation, he had heard but of one case of delinquency which could in any way be traced to the Beer-shops. To the mode by which alone, in the hon. Baronet's Bill, the certificates could be obtained by the keeper of Beer-shops, he thought that great objection applied, that it might be turned to political purposes.

Mr. Hall Dare

differed toto cœ from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. If ever a measure had received the sanction of Parliament that was calculated completely to undermine the morals of the people of this country, and to increase the poor and the poor-rates, it was that measure passed by the Wellington Administration which the hon. Gentleman had so loudly praised. He had had a great deal to do with Magistrates in the country, and he was thoroughly convinced that no legislative measure had ever swelled the catalogue of crimes to so great an extent as the Beer Bill. In the county with which he was connected, the pernicious results of the Beer Bill were everywhere evident.

Major Beauclerk

declared his intention of opposing the Bill in every way that he could. They passed laws of such a nature as to prevent a poor man brewing his own beer; they thus compelled him to leave his own home, and resort to the Beer-shop, and then they came forward with an attempt still further to abridge his enjoyments. In his opinion, the sale of beer ought to be free and unrestricted; it ought to be vended like tea, sugar, or any other article of general consumption.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, the hon. Member had talked about the "vulgar clamour" which had been raised against the Bill. What did he mean by vulgar clamour?—who were these vulgar clamourers? Were they the judges of the land—the grand jurors of the counties—the magistracy—or were they to be found in that humble class more immediately interested in a reformation of the abuses of the present system? The question before the House, he begged leave to say, was one, not of principle, but of fact. They had now full experience of the working of the system which sprung up under the present Act. The experiment had been tried—it had signally failed—enormous abuses had been engendered; and it was the duty of the House at once to eradicate them.

The House divided—Ayes 105; Noes 35.—Majority 70.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. O'Connor, D.
Attwood, T. Parrott, J.
Blake, J. Poulter, J.
Beauclerk, A. W. Roche, W.
Buller, C. Roe, J.
Codrington, Sir E. Rolfe, R. M.
Divett, E. Romilly, E.
Fryer, R. Romilly, J.
Gisborne, T. Ronayne, D.
Grattan, H. Russel, W.
Gully, J. Scholefield, J.
Handley, B. Torrens, Col.
Hume, J. Trelawney, Sir W.
James, W. Vigors, N. A.
Lister, E. C. Walter, J.
Lushington, Dr. Warburton, J.
O'Connell, D. Wason, H.
O'Connell, J. Wilks, J.

The House went into Committee. The first Clause was agreed to.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

proposed, that the second clause be omitted, and that the following Amendment he inserted—viz. "That every person applying for a license to sell beer, ale, cider, or perry, by retail, intending the same to be drunk on the premises, shall, in addition to an affidavit setting forth the particulars required in the said recited Act, annually produce and deposit with the Supervisor of Excise, or other person authorized to grant such license in any parish, a certificate signed by six persons residing in the parish, and respectively rated to the poor-rates to the amount of 10l., but not maltsters; which certificate shall set forth that the applicant is of good character, and likely to manage the House in a peaceable manner; on the production of this certificate, the applicant shall be entitled to the license."

The omission of the second Clause was agreed to, and the question put on the Clause as amended.

Mr. Scholefield moved, that the word "annually" be omitted.

The Committee divided, on the Question, that the word "annually" do stand —Ayes 77; Noes 51: Majority 26.

Mr. Warburton

objected to that part of the clause which had been put, for rendering it obligatory, that in all cases the annual certificate should he signed by six rate-payers. He moved, that three, instead of six, should be inserted in the clause.

Mr. Hume moved, that the Chairman do report progress.

The Committee divided on this Motion—Ayes 40; Noes 66; Majority 26. The Clause was agreed to.

The House resumed, the Chairman reported progress; Committee to sit again.