HC Deb 06 March 1834 vol 21 cc1262-6
Mr. Gillon

said, that in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulating the granting of certificates to retail ale, spirits, wine, &c., in Scotland, as he did not expect he would be opposed in this preliminary step, he would not detain the House by going at any length into the subject, but would very briefly advert to the changes which he proposed to effect. His object was to make the machinery less cumberous, and he hoped more satisfactory to all parties concerned than at present.—1st. As to the jurisdiction; this he proposed in counties to transfer from the Justices of the Peace to the Sheriff, and he did so, because he conceived that the power of granting licenses, instead of resting with an unpaid and irresponsible magistracy, liable to be influenced by local prejudices, should be vested in a paid and responsible officer, who was besides at the head of the police of the county, and responsible for the peace of the district. Had the old system of self-election continued in the Royal burghs, he should certainly have proposed to transfer their jurisdiction also to the Sheriff; but seeing that those Magistrates were now popularly elected, that the control of public opinion was a guarantee that they would not abuse the power reposed in them, and that they had the best means of judging of the qualification of applicants, besides being responsible for the good order of their several burghs, he was disposed to allow the power of granting certificates to remain in their hands. He would introduce a clause conferring a similar jurisdiction on the Magistrates of parliamentary burghs. Having thus fixed the jurisdiction, he meant to curtail considerably the discretionary power of the Magistrate, and to bind him by fixed rules contained in the Bill, and to simplify the operation very much by dispensing with the annual application for renewal of licences on the part of those who formerly held them, and had conducted themselves with propriety. Some suggestions had been made to him as to separating ale from spirit licences, making the one cheaper than the other. This and some others did not fall within his original intention; and he did not propose to embody them in the first draft of the Bill; but they could easily be incorporated with it in Committee, should it be permitted to reach that stage. Since he had given notice of his intention to bring in such a Bill, he had received various communications from persons engaged in the retail trade complaining of the grievances under which they laboured, and suggestions similar to those he proposed. He would only now add, that he would give ample time for the consideration of the subject, and would be disposed to consult the convenience of hon. Members as to the future stages of the Bill.

Mr. Robert Wallace

would support the introduction of the Bill he had the honour to second, being well assured of some decisive step being absolutely necessary for removing the power of granting licences from the hands of the local Magistracy. No man who had witnessed the facts which were of very frequent occurrence in Scotland, would for one moment doubt, far less deny, that licences were very frequently granted, and still more often refused, on grounds altogether unjustifiable. That partiality and favour existed, with some little vindictiveness, was well known to all. Men, now-a-days, though humble of station, would not descend to curry favour and act the subservient to neighbouring Justices, or might, perhaps, be suspected of poaching or the like; and, in such cases, a refusal of licence was a certain consequence. In the county he acted in as a Magistrate, he had often seen instances of great hardship and oppression, and had often successfully opposed its exercise in the Justice of Peace Courts. He would by no means promise to support all the details of the Bill to be introduced. What he contended for was, that leave be granted to bring it in, and thereby find circulation all over Scotland, where the grievances complained of were deeply felt, whatever hon. Members might say to the contrary. The usual time for the great annual meeting of local Magistrates, and the landed interest generally, was near at hand. Scotch Members knew well that, on the 30th of April, such a measure as this would receive consideration and discussion all over Scotland by one class, while the more humble would take their own time and ways of expressing their opinion of it. He was convinced of any change being better than the present system, and therefore would cheerfully support the Motion for bringing in the Bill.

Mr. Robert Steuart

conceived the hon. member for Falkirk's Motion was contrary to correct principle, and, however reluctant he was to oppose a Motion for leave to bring in a Bill, he should certainly oppose this. The hon. Member had made out no case whatever to justify the House in interfering with an established system.

Mr. Hope Johnstone

admitted, that the system required alteration, but did not approve of the hon. Member's Motion. It implied, that the Magistrates had abused their power, which he did not believe, and he, therefore, could not give his consent to the introduction of the proposed Bill. He was not prepared to pass a sweeping censure on the Magistrates of Scotland, and therefore he opposed even the introduction of the Bill.

Sir William Rae

knew of no facts which could warrant a suspicion that the. Magistrates of Scotland had behaved improperly; and he would, though on general principles averse from opposing the introduction of a Bill, oppose this, because it cast a slur upon the Magistrates.

Mr. Hume

said, it was a mistake to suppose that the Bill cast a slur upon the Scotch Magistrates, it only reformed an improper and corrupt system.

Mr.Cumming Bruce

was convinced, that the Magistrates acted already under responsibility, and he knew of no instance in which their power had been improperly exercised. He would oppose the Motion.

General Sharpe

, in opposing the proposed measure, begged leave to say, that he was guided by convictions founded on experience—not of yesterday—and cared nothing whatever as to what was alleged touching slurs cast on the character of the Magistracy. Whatever might be the imperfections of the present system, he conceived that matters, so far from being mended, would be made far worse, were certain theoretical plans adopted. It seemed to be quite certain that, excepting where they resided in his own immediate neighbourhood, the Sheriff could know nothing of the characters of the applicants for licences; in such circumstances he would naturally enough apply for information to the neighbouring Magistrates; and, acting on the information of these Magistrates, would at once decide a question which, as it now stood, was competent to be appealed to a fuller court. He was, by the way, somewhat surprised to hear the hon. member for Middlesex lecturing his friend for assuming, as he termed it, that the law in England had been altered. Why, the hon. Member was himself totally in error, and had confounded the ale and spirit licences, the latter of which were granted in Special Sessions, which were precisely similar to the Scotch Courts. As to the argument of the hon. member for Greenock, his humble opinion was, that it was the very best argument that could be used in favour of the Courts as they stood, and he would resist any change, unless upon much stronger grounds. If the system be wrong, ask for a general revision in both countries; and, on this ground, he objected to those partial alterations, where approximation in legislation was particularly desirable.

The House divided: Ayes 22; Noes 55—Majority 33.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. O'Dwyer, A. C.
Blake, M. J. Philips, M.
Blandford, Marq. of Potter, R.
Brotherton, J. Ruthven, E. S.
Buckingham, J. S. Talbot, J. H.
Evans, Colonel Tancred, W. H.
Gisborne, T. Walker, C. A.
Hawes, B. Warburton, H.
Hume, J. Wason, R.
Jervis, J.
Lloyd, J. H. TELLERS.
O'Connell, M. Gillon, W. D.
O'Connor, F. Wallace, R.