§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
rose to move the second reading of the Sale of Beer Act Amendment Bill. He would, on this occasion, he said, adopt his usual course of brevity, and detain the House but a short time. Though the subject was one of great importance, and one that excited the attention of the country, and called for loud and determined remonstrance from various parts, yet he should not attempt to add additional force to the remonstrances made, or enlarge on the subject, by dwelling on a detail of the evils it had produced. Last Session, a Committee, which sat a long time, was appointed to investigate the subject, and was of opinion, that a provision should be made to correct the evils of the present Sale of Beer Act. Every thing that transpired since—all the com- 1111 munications made to him, and to others (indeed the communications made to him were so multitudinous that he could not answer them)—the whole concurrent testimony of all parties—satisfied him that a change was called for, particularly in the interest of the labourers themselves. The morals and the comforts of the people were concerned in a reformation of the existing law. He wished, that the poor should enjoy all the advantages conferred on them by the Act in question, which was passed in the first year of the reign of his present Majesty. He wished only for a confirmation and extension of those advantages, making the operation of the Act what its framers intended. His Bill would, he hoped, have that effect, by preventing Houses being improperly kept. With this object in view, his Bill proposed, that the person applying for a license to open a beer-house, should produce a certificate stating, that he was a fit person, to keep such a house; and also a certificate stating, that it was expedient that beer should be sold upon the premises. The latter certificate, he proposed, should be signed by six householders. With respect to another part of his Bill, it had been suggested, that the penalties proposed to be inflicted for violations of its provisions were too large. For his own part he did not think so; but if, when the Bill went into Committee, it should appear to the House, that they were too large, he would have no objection that they should be mitigated. With respect to the hours, it had been suggested, that the hours at which the beer-houses should close, ought to be the same at which the public-houses close at present. That would be, in his opinion, too large a privilege; but as that question did not materially affect the principle of his Bill, he thought it might be advantageously postponed for the consideration of the Committee. There was also a clause in the Bill, empowering the civil authorities to enter these houses at any time. These were the principal powers of the Bill, and, having adverted to them, he would move that it be read a second time.
Mr. Fysche Palmer
said, whether it were proper or not that some new police regulations should be imposed with regard to the beer-shops, the enactments of the present Bill were quite uncalled for. He was prepared to contend, that, by the fourteenth clause of the existing Act, sufficient 1112 power was given to the Magistrates to put a stop to irregularities. Under that clause, the keepers of beer-shops were liable, if they permitted drunkenness in their premises, to a penalty on the first conviction, to an increasing penalty on the second conviction, and to lose their license, and be incapacitated from opening a beer-shop again on the third conviction. Yet, strange as it might appear, there was scarcely an instance since the passing of the Act in which the keeper of a beer-shop had been subjected to those penalties. Hon. Gentlemen might doubt it; but it was a fact. He supposed the Magistrates acted towards the keepers of beer-shops on the principle described in the vulgar saying, "Give them rope enough, and they will hang themselves." He had great objections to the Bill. By the very first clause it would annihilate all the benefits derived from the existing Act, towards which he might be excused for having some partiality, as he was one of its most anxious supporters and promoters. The object of that Act was to put an end to the monopoly enjoyed by the great brewers which had become generally complained of, and thereby to secure to the consumers of beer a better and cheaper beverage. The Act accomplished that, and, at the same time, a greater amount of comfort was secured to the labouring poor. Before the House consented to the second reading of this Bill, they ought to take into consideration two points. First, how it would affect the comfort of the labouring classes secured to them by the existing Act; and secondly, the sacrifice it would involve of capital that had been invested in the establishment of the beer-shops. The Act now in force had taken out of the hands of the Magistrates the power, and consequently the patronage, they before possessed. Such being the case, the general body of the Magistracy, and he regretted to say, he must even include many of his brother Magistrates, had entered into what was almost a combination—he might at least say, that they had come to a determination to destroy the Act. This Act was highly advantageous to the public, if not to the Magistrates. If a poor man had no fire at home, he went to the beer-shop. Yes, he went to the beer-shop, where, in a comfortable house, and at a comfortable fire, he sat for an hour and refreshed himself. The beer-shops, then, 1113 had been a source of great comfort to the labouring poor. He would ask the House whether, except under very aggravated circumstances, it was prepared to say, that all the money which had been expended in establishing these places of resort, should be thrown away? Even as regarded the revenue of the country, the Act had been beneficial. It had raised the price of malt 5s. per quarter, immediately on passing, and another 5s. per quarter since. The consumption of beer had increased, and both the revenue and the agricultural interest had been benefited by the Act. Was not that a reason of some little weight why the Act should not be altered? He repeated, that the present Bill was calculated to destroy entirely the Beer Act; to require six sureties rated at 10l. each would operate, in many places, as a complete prohibition to establish a beer-shop. He should, under this circumstance, move, as an Amendment, "That the Bill be read a second time that day six months."
§ Mr. Warburton
said, he rose to second the Amendment. In confirmation of what his hon. friend had just stated, that from the first passing of the Act there was a determination or combination on the part of the Magistrates to defeat the Bill, he would appeal to the evidence given before the Committee by Mr. Bellingham, the clerk of the Magistrates of the county of Sussex, who stated, that within three months of the passing of the Act, from all the Petty Sessions, circulars were sent round to the parish officers, requiring from them reports as to the manner in which the Act had operated. Thus it appeared, that even so early the system of espionage was commenced, and persons under the influence of the Magistracy were encouraged to find defects in the Act. Was not this a strong proof in confirmation of the statement of his hon. friend? If any one looked into the Report of last Session on the Beer Act, they would see with some surprise, that of the witnesses examined, there was scarcely one of those persons interested in maintaining the cheap sale of beer. Why were not some of the consumers called? Was it proper to examine a majority of parish officers alone as to this point? Out of fifty-six witnesses, what did they find, there were thirteen Magistrates, one mayor, three Magistrates' Clerks, three police officers, three victuallers and re- 1114 tailers of spirits, and one proprietor of a beer shop,—one, mind, who described himself so, but who came, not from a country district, but a town. Some witnesses ought to have been called who were connected with the country districts, and able to speak to the convenience which the poor derived from the Act. It might surely have been expected, that a few of the labouring consumers would have been examined; but not one had been called. In the parts with which he was best acquainted, which were the towns, the Act had been productive of nothing but benefit. He observed, that the Magistrates gave as one reason why the Act required alteration, that the beer supplied by the beer-shops was bad; another reason was, that the excessive tippling which took place in them was in a high degree objectionable. Why, what inconsistency there was in all this! At one and the same time, the beer was very bad, and yet great quantities were consumed. There was another point which these same gentlemen appeared much to delight in. The beer, they said, should be home-brewed beer, and not that which the brewers supplied. Now, would the beer, if brewed at home, be better or worse? It was admitted, that the home-brewers could not compete as to expense with the public brewer. Inasmuch, then, as the public brewer could brew at a cheaper rate, was it not reasonable to conclude, that he would furnish better beer than the home-brewer could afford to brew. The contrary proposition was another of the numerous inconsistencies offered on this occasion by the opponents of the Act. It appeared to be desired to prevent the brewer from assisting in establishing beer shops; but the attempt would fail. Nothing was more general in this country than for those who were engaged in retail business to be backed by the wholesale dealers, who generally commanded the capital, and were anxious to employ it. If they rendered it illegal for the great brewer to supply the beer, he would advance the necessary capital under the pretence of supplying malt, which, of course, the home-brewer must consume. The opponents of the Act objected to what they called the tippling that resulted; but why did the Legislature sanction the establishment of such houses at all, if it were not with a view to an increased consumption of the article. Nothing 1115 could be more unequal in its operation, than the clause of the Bill now before the House, which rendered necessary the certificates of six rate payers to the amount of 10l. He would take the Return of the Poor-laws Commissioners as to the population of the parishes in this country. Out of 15,000 parishes, half had a population under 300. Now ought there to be required the same number of 10l. rate-payers to certify out of a parish in which there were but 300, as would be required from a large parish like Mary-la-bonne? But, in some of the smaller parishes, if they excluded the clergyman and excluded the Magistrates, and one or two of the principal farmers, where were the certificates to be obtained from? And be it remembered, such parties as he had named were not those who generally were very disposed to favour applications to establish such houses. Some of the witnesses examined stated, that there were parishes in which only five or six 10l. rate-payers could be found. The numbers might be insufficient, then; or, before a beer-shop could be established, every 10l. rate-payer in the parish must have signed a certificate. There was one clause of the Bill, to which he desired to call particular attention. It seemed to have been intended to make it a very stringent clause, but it would be found to be inoperative. It was enacted, that "if any person who was licensed should, with the intent to evade the provisions of the Act, permit any person to carry away any beer for the purpose of its being drunk in any other house, or in any tent, or in the open air, within the distance of 100 yards of such licensed house, the person selling the same should be subject to the penalties of the Act." He begged the House, especially to mark the words "with the intent to evade the provisions of the Act." "With the intent!"—How could the beer retailer know whether the beer was intended to be drunk within 100 yards of the premises or not? This provision would be just as ineffectual as was a similar clause contained in a former Bill.
§ Viscount Howick
concurred in one part of the argument of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down; and, also, in a part of the argument of the hon. Member who preceded him. He quite agreed with them as to the great advantages that had resulted to the public from breaking up the monopoly which was formerly possessed 1116 by the great brewers. In obtaining for the consumer a free and full supply, there was secured a great, he might say, an inestimable advantage to the labouring population of this country. But, at the same time, he must be permitted, though he did so unwillingly, to express his concurrence with the hon. Baronet opposite, who stated, that these advantages had not been obtained without there having resulted some very serious inconveniences. He had at a former period stated his feeling, that much of the mischief which was attributed to the beer-shops was occasioned by other causes, and by causes much more deeply seated in the social condition of the country, than the mere establishment of places to drink beer. But, at the same time, it seemed to him, that the evidence which had been received from so many quarters was too strong, and too completely concurrent, to leave any doubt that, if the abuses were originally to be traced to a deterioration of the morals of the people occasioned by other circumstances, this Beer-shop Act unquestionably extended that demoralization. He believed, therefore, that it was necessary that some means should be taken to check the existing mischief. They could not allow these beer-houses to continue to be made what they frequently were,—viz., brothels, gaming-houses, and places for the resort of the worst of characters. The hon. member for Reading said, if a necessity for legislative interference existed at all, it was to be attributed to the strange perverseness of the unpaid Magistrates, whose object was, to give the keepers of the houses rope enough to hang themselves; but he agreed rather with the hon. Baronet, who stated, that the defect in the existing law was the difficulty of carrying it into execution. There were offences which, in that Act, were sufficiently defined, and sufficient penalties were affixed to them; but the misfortune was, that these penalties were not enforced. The hon. member for Reading declared, that they were not enforced, because of this strange perverseness of the Magistrates, but the failure was surely to be referred to a different cause. However zealous the Magistrate might be—however sincerely anxious to put down abuses, he could not act with effect, except when information was given to him of the existence of the offence; and if they attempted to cure the evil complained of by remedying this, 1117 they would find themselves engaged in a complicated inquiry that would lead them far beyond the limits of the Bill. The want of some local machinery for carrying this law into full effect was felt, not only in this, but in a multiplicity of instances. What was every man's business was no man's business. No man incurred any responsibility by neglecting to lay an information for an offence—no man felt that such an omission was a fault. On the contrary, it was an unpopular office for any one to undertake the prosecution of offenders against the public interests. If, then, we waited for the cure of evils till this defect in the organization of the country was remedied, we should have a long time to wait. He believed, that something more immediate and more effectual was necessary. He next came to the consideration of what that remedy ought to be. It was admitted, that the various offences which might be committed by the keepers of beer-shops were provided against by the present Act; but it was notorious, that the houses were nevertheless, not properly conducted. What remained for them to do? There appeared to him to be no alternative but to adopt the principle of the hon. Baronet opposite, investing in the hands of those most interested in maintaining good order a discretionary power to prevent the opening of such houses, or their continuing them open, by persons who were notoriously guilty of the misconduct which had been imputed to the keepers of some of these houses. That was the main principle to which he understood the hon. Baronet to desire to obtain the assent of the House, and so far he entirely concurred with him. They ought not, however, to diminish the free supply of beer to the legitimate wants of the inhabitants of any district; and it was their duty to prevent the abuses at present complained of, to do which it would be necessary to place a discretionary power in the hands of the principal inhabitants of the parish. But when he came to the mode of carrying that principle into effect, there was a difference between the hon. Baronet and himself. He was as much averse to the proposition respecting the certificates, as the hon. member for Bridport could be. He believed, from the evidence which had been taken before the Committee of last year, that, to require certificates from six inhabitants, rated at 10l., would, in a num- 1118 ber of places, forbid the opening of beerhouses, however well conducted. In many parishes there were not six houses rated to that amount. There were still more in which the number did not exceed six, or eight, or ten. And there were even a much greater number in which the whole were under influences, or under the decided and immediate influence, of one or two individuals. The consequence, therefore, of this provision, as it now stood, would be to enable, in a great many parishes, one or two persons, from prejudice or caprice, to prevent either an obnoxious individual, or unexceptionable individual, from opening a beer shop, or from continuing one that had been opened. That would lead to a state of things not at all desirable. He feared, that a great destruction of capital would inevitably follow. He feared, that the loss of comfort which the labouring population would thus sustain—of comfort to which they had been now for some time accustomed—would provoke feelings that it would not be politic in the House to give rise to. He could not help thinking, that the object of the hon. Baronet must be to obtain, by means free from objection, the end he had in view. What he had to suggest was, to leave the original grant of the licences in its present state, and to give to the vestry of any parish, on complaint being made to them, a discretionary power of ordering the beer-shop to be closed, when it was notoriously necessary that it should be. The effect of this would be, to give the power into the same hands as the hon. Baronet proposed to place it in; but there would be a difference in the mode in which the power would operate. In granting licences, a man felt he was doing that which was voluntary—that there was not the smallest obligation on his part to issue the licence—that he was responsible to no law—not even his own conscience would tell him that he was doing anything improper in refusing to grant the licence. They could only expect men to sign the certificates if they were favourable; and that was too much to expect in some instances. But the very same individuals who would not actually co-operate for the opening of the house, if called on as honest men, to say whether, in their opinion, the beer house was properly or improperly conducted, would, in the majority of instances, give a fair answer. Entertaining these 1119 views, he proposed to provide, in place of the provision of the hon. Member, that six rated inhabitants should be at liberty to make a formal complaint to the vestry of any parish, that any particular beer-house was improperly conducted; and the vestry, on that complaint, should be empowered by a majority of two-thirds to order the license of that house to be cancelled. He hoped the House might thus obtain what was desired, in a manner not liable to those strong objections which attached to the proposition of the hon. Baronet. In large and populous parishes the provision he suggested, would, he believed, be a much more effective restriction, than that contemplated in the hon. Baronet's Bill. It was well known, how loosely people frequently acted in signing certificates of character. A man would do it for his friend almost without consideration. These certificates would, in general, rather prove that the person obtaining them, had six friends inhabiting houses in the parish, and paying 10l. a-year in rates, than that he was a proper person to be allowed to open a beer-shop. The course he proposed to himself on the present question was this; he would support the second reading of the Bill now before the House, and he should do so, in the hope that the hon. Baronet would concur with him in his views when they went into Committee on the Bill. He was encouraged in this hope, because they both agreed in the propriety of preserving a free trade in beer, and also, because the hon. Baronet was as anxious as himself to put down the existing abuses. He would once more repeat, that a strong opinion had been expressed in this House, that they must look to other and more effective means to eradicate that vice and profligacy which were so general in the southern parts of this kingdom. He trusted, that a measure now going through this House would do much to accomplish that object. They should put an end to this monstrous state of things, in which, not only were improvidence and vice exempted from the punishment intended for them by the natural constitution of society, but which inflicted the punishment due to those vices, on individuals who were the possessors of the opposite virtues. By the present system, the more honest and frugal labourer—because he was honest and frugal, and had accumulated a small sum of money, was 1120 condemned to pass his time in unwilling idleness. There were more instances than one, of labourers possessing means, being jeered at by their companions, who, addressing them, would say, "Ah, till you follow our example, and spend your hoard in the ale-house, you will never get work." That system, he hoped, would be put an end to, and in stopping it, they would cut up by the roots the improvidence and vice from which incalculable mischief sprung. He further relied on their pursuing the same great and beneficent end by instructing the lower orders; amongst whom, he hoped, they would spread, not that species of knowledge which was difficult of acquirement, but the more useful knowledge of their duties and true interests as members of society.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
supported the Amendment. He knew, that in towns the Beer Act had worked well. In Devonport, the people had deserted the public-houses, and, after taking what refreshment they required, at these beer-shops, they went to the Mechanics' Institution. He would never consent to have the present system broken down, because it was supposed that a few evils arose from it in country places.
would support the second reading of the Bill, but would not pledge himself to all of its provisions. He decidedly thought, that to put a stop to a full and free supply of beer, would be to injure greatly the agricultural interest. Since the present law had been in operation, the consumption of barley and malt had increased two-fifths. The hon. member for Reading had talked much of the comforts enjoyed by the poorman under the present law. He had said, that the poor man in the beer-house found a blazing fire, while he left at home a cheerless cold hearth. That might be very well for the man—but what became of the wife and the children? He denied, that that was a system contributing to the comforts or the happiness of the poor, which induced the man to leave his home. The object of beneficent legislation was, not to promote such a system, but to clothe the home itself of the poor man with comfort. Then the hon. member for Reading had talked about the Magistrates giving the beer-houses rope enough, so that they might hang themselves. He thought, that the hon. Member had taken rope enough, and fairly strangled his own ar- 1121 gument. The hon. member for Bridport had objected to interfering with the law, on the ground, that the present law favoured home production and good beer; but surely, it was rather inconsistent in the hon. Member so to argue, as he wished to introduce molasses into the making of beer. He thought, the Bill had worked well in large towns, but that in agricultural districts, the law required alteration.
§ Lord Ebrington
said, that if the measure were calculated to abridge the comforts of the poor man, he should be the last to support it; and it was with the same regard for the poor, that he supported the Bill at present in operation. But, though he would not abridge the comforts of the poor man, still the increase of drunkenness, and its consequent evils, called for some check. The noble Lord read a letter from a gentleman on whose veracity, he said, he could depend, stating that in the writer's part of the country, the evil of drunkenness had arisen to a fearful height. In some of the public-houses, the apprentices, both male and female, were accommodated with beds; that the employers could not trust their agricultural servants to take care of the cattle; and that the ploughmen were drunk in the fields, whilst their families were starving at home. It also added, that the number of improper houses had greatly increased. In this state of things, he would most cordially support the Bill of the hon. Baronet; who was, in his opinion, entitled to the thanks of the country for the paramount benefit it was calculated to confer.
Sir George Strickland
said, that no person could be more desirous than he was, to check the evil of drunkenness, which all must admit was advancing with rapid strides. But, though as much opposed to the evil as the hon. Baronet, he questioned, whether the present Bill was the best mode of meeting and checking-it. In his opinion, the best remedy would be, to subject public-houses to a stricter system of police. Was it fair, so recently after the passing of the Beer Bill, to interfere thus with the property of thirteen thousand persons; who, on the faith of that Bill, and never calculating on so quick an alteration of the measure, were induced to vest their all in business, which would be very much affected, if not destroyed, by the Bill before the House? In so short a period as three years, it was 1122 not fair to turn round, and say to those persons, "We were mistaken in our legislation—we are compelled to alter it, even though you and your property may be swamped by the change." If, indeed, the evil were so great as to produce an overwhelming necessity for legislation, there might be some excuse; but he must confess himself too conservative to induce people first to invest their capital in a certain way, and then turn round on them and say they must pay the penalty of an error not their own. Such legislation as that was not calculated to sustain the credit of the House. Another objection to the Bill was, that it was clumsy in its machinery. What was the object of taking the power from the Magistrates, and putting it into the hands of six ten-pound householders? Why, in large towns, any man, no matter who, could procure these; whilst, in less populous districts, there might not be so many ten-pound householders in the parish. The latter person, too—the man who resided in a thinly-populated district,—would be completely at the mercy of six or eight of his neighbours. This inequality in the Bill was a very severe grievance. There was another strong objection in the necessity of annual renewal imposed by the Bill, if six 10l. householders thought it "requisite." This was very vague. Now, he was one opposed to all descriptions of intoxicating liquor, wine, beer, or spirits; and, in his opinion, fermented liquors were by no means requisite; but still he would not think of preventing the opening of shops for the sale of them. The noble Lord (Lord Howick) proposed to vest the power in the parish vestry; but this was exactly the same as the 10l. householder proposition, as they were one and the same class. Let some measure be brought forward for subjecting this class of houses to a better system of police, and it would be found the best remedy for the evil. This would be a more useful mode than a return to the old licensing system. It was bad policy to press upon the beer-shops. It was but running down the small game, whilst the crying disgrace, the great and leading evil, of the gin-shops, where that destructive and nauseous poison was administered, remained untouched; and which were not only opened every day in the week, but also profaned the Sabbath with their unholy orgies.
thought it would be a far better mode to revive the old system, with more stringent severity, at the same time investing Magistrates with enlarged powers. He agreed, that it would be an extreme hardship to those who invested their property in business, relying on the former Act, if the present Bill were allowed to pass. Many interests, which had grown up under the Act now in operation would be severely affected; and he remembered the same argument having been urged when the existing Act was under consideration. Legislation should rather be directed to the public-houses than the beer-shops. [The hon. and gallant Gentleman here read a table, showing a great increase of the former as compared with the latter.] He protested against these so frequent alterations of the law; being of opinion, that bad laws fixed would be even better than these continual changes. The evil would, if means were adopted to improve the condition of the people, remedy itself. He remembered a regiment, which had been stationed for some time in the North of France, the soldiers of which, on being removed lower down to the wine-countries, were drunk every day. This continued for a month; but when the novelty wore away, the practice ceased. The practice of getting drunk was, at one period, not confined to the lower classes; and some gentlemen might remember the time when they thought it something to drink three bottles of wine, The labourer now thought there was some distinction in consuming a quantity; but it was to be hoped a better tone of society would succeed.
§ Lord Sandon
was very much surprised to hear it asserted, as it had been in the course of the debate, that beer-shops had not increased to near the extent alleged. It so occurred, that he held in his hand a petition, which originated at a public meeting held in Liverpool, over which a gentleman intimately acquainted with the working of the Beer-laws had presided. At that meeting, almost all the speakers bore testimony to the fact, not only that beer-shops had increased to a frightful extent, but that the consequence of such increase was highly detrimental to the labouring classes of the community; and a very general wish was expressed, that the Legislature would at once interfere to abate the nuisance. As the subject had been already sufficiently debated, he would 1124 not take up the time of the House longer than to say, that he gave his most cordial support to the Bill. In some few respects modifications might be expedient; but still, seeing, as he did, in the measure the elements of the greatest improvement, he thought he was justified, not only in giving it his own support, but in calling on the House—if they entertained any respect for morality—if they entertained any respect for the good of the people—to pass it through the second reading, and give an opportunity for any alterations which might be requisite in Committee.
§ Mr. Buckingham
spoke as follows:—Sir, if this were a question between the monopoly of the brewers and a free trade in beer, I should not hesitate to give my entire support to the latter. If it were a question between the sale of ardent spirits and the consumption of malt liquor, I should also give the preference to the last, as being the least noxious of the two. But it is a question between public convenience and public morality; and I cannot, therefore, for a moment hesitate as to which I should give my support. The hon. member for Reading (Mr. Palmer) eulogized the present system of multiplied beer shops, by saying, that they afforded, in their warm fires and pleasant beverage, a great, comfort and relief to the labouring man; that was his description of their benefits. Sir, I heard this with as much pain as surprise, for it indicates a low tone of morality indeed, and a lamentable degree of selfishness in the labouring population of England, if their enjoyments are made to consist mainly in a comfort and relief of which they alone are the partakers, and of which their wives and families do not participate in the slightest degree. Nay, not only do they not participate in the supposed pleasure, but they are greatly injured by it; first, by the absence of the husband and father from his natural home, and next, by the expenditure of that which would make the home a scene of comfort to all, in the wasteful and useless dissipation of the beer house. If there were no other argument than this against the present system—that it drew husbands away from their wives, and fathers from their children, and made their homes comfortless by an expenditure of what belonged to all for the selfish enjoyment of one only among the number, I should deem this conclusive, and should, therefore, hail any measure 1125 which had a tendency to correct so great an evil. The advocates of the present system, who defended it on the ground of its affording increased comforts to the poor, ought, I think, to have shown, first, that the beer now supplied for their use was either better in quality, or cheaper in price, than that furnished by the larger public houses before these smaller beer-shops were established. They have not even attempted it, and if they had, they would have failed; for it is notorious, that it is the same great brewers generally who furnish the beer, as no small brewers can successfully compete with them, from the vast advantage which large capital affords to that process; and that the quality is not improved, or the price diminished in the slightest degree. To he sure the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton), was facetious enough in his endeavour to show that the two complaints made against the beer-shops—first, that the beer was bad in quality, and, secondly, that men got drunk upon it, were incompatible with each other, and could not both be true. But with all deference to the much greater experience of that hon. Gentleman, I must say, that I can readily believe them both. It is by no means necessary that an intoxicating drink should be good to ensure its consumption in large quantities; and many hon. Members who hear me, will, no doubt, readily admit, that the very worst wines find ample consumers; and that they often produce intoxication in a greater degree than wines of a better quality. Indeed my own experience would induce me to say, that they who are most choice in the excellent quality of their wines, are generally most temperate in the use of them; while, to the hard drinker, nothing that is strong, fiery, and intoxicating, comes amiss. The beer may, therefore, be very bad; and yet there may be great tippling and much intoxication from it, nevertheless. I was somewhat amused by the sensation of surprise created by the observation of the hon. Baronet, one of the members for Yorkshire (Sir George Strickland), when he asserted, that he did not think fermented drinks of any kind at all necessary for health or comfort. It was a bold assertion, no doubt, to make in a country where beer seems to be held as one of the indispensable necessaries of life, where even the domestic servants seem to think that if the beer-barrel is 1126 exhausted, nature cannot be sustained, unless it be speedily replenished. But it has been my lot to reside for many years in countries where millions of people exist who neither use, nor are even acquainted with the existence of any fermented drinks whatever; yet, who for personal beauty, vigour, strength, health, and activity, far surpass the drunken portion of the population of our own country. But the present Bill does not go to deprive any man of the use of beer as a beverage if he wishes to have it. It merely seeks to prevent those congregational meetings for the mere purpose of drinking to excess, which the multiplication of these beer-shops has so much increased. If beer be really a necessary of life, and is so deemed by the labourer, he will surely account it no hardship to be obliged to send for it as for any other article of domestic consumption, and take it home to his own fire-side, where the presence of his wife and his children may add to his enjoyment. If he will not take this trouble, but values it only when drunk away from his home, then it is not a necessary of life to him, nor ought it to be deemed a hardship to place it under the restrictions proposed. Great stress has been laid by the hon. Baronet before alluded to (Sir George Strickland), on the destruction of property which this Bill will create; and, it is said, that after having three years ago encouraged the establishment, of these beer-houses, it is too much to turn round so soon upon the parties, and annihilate the property thus embarked. But surely this is altogether a groundless apprehension. The property embarked is not to be touched; the sale of beer need not, indeed, be at all diminished, as far as its useful and wholesome consumption is concerned, for to all by whom it is sufficiently valued to be worth the taking to their own houses to drink, it will still be as accessible as ever. But if, by its consumption on the premises, drunkenness is encouraged, and vices of various other kinds promoted (and it is well known, that these beer-shops in remote districts are the nests of immorality in many shapes)—if the peace of society, the happiness of families, and the morals of the rising generation be destroyed, it is attaching much too high importance to the rights of property to set these up in opposition to their reform. When the law, permitting these beer-shops to be established, was 1127 first passed, it was done under the hope that good, and not evil, would be the result, and under the tacit and implied condition annexed to the passing of every law, "that it shall endure as long as public opinion shall approve, and as it may be found to be not incompatible with the public weal." But the moment that a greater mass of evil consequences are proved to result from the continuance of a law, than of good, from that moment it becomes the duty of the Legislature to apply a remedy to the evil; and even if some sacrifices of property were involved in the change, (and it is difficult to imagine any improvement to be made by change in the law, which must not involve some such sacrifices), the great and paramount interests of the health, the peace, and the morality of a nation, all of which are invaded by the present system, are of much higher moment even than the rights of property, though I think the one may be preserved without any essential violation of the other. One hon. Gentleman, indeed, the member for Boston (Major Handley), has so strong an objection to change, that he thinks, even bad laws when fixed are better than good ones liable to perpetual mutation; but though change without improvement is undoubtedly an evil, and though the rights of property ought to be respected, yet, believing that the changes proposed by this Bill will be a great improvement on the one it seeks to supersede,—believing that the rights of property will not be violated, and that public morality will be greatly promoted by its passing into a law,—I shall give my hearty and cordial support to its passing into a law.
§ Mr. Rider
thought the proposed measure would, with some modifications, especially as to the licensing system, be a beneficial one. Many crimes had arisen from these beer-shops. The only incendiary fire that had taken place in the eastern division of the county of Sussex last year, or indeed, for three years past, sprung from one of these beer-shops, the criminal being the son of the woman who kept it.
§ Mr. Plumptre
was quite ready to give his support to the measure introduced by his hon. Colleague, to whom the House and the country were, in his opinion, much indebted for bringing the subject under consideration. He would not say, that it might not be possible to improve 1128 the Bill in Committee; but, as far as its principle went—and with its principle alone the House had now to deal—he thought it would prove a very advantageous and important alteration in the existing system. He quite agreed with the hon. member for Sheffield (Mr. Buckingham) that the morality of the nation should be considered of paramount interest to the rights of individual property; but rather than allow any obstacle to interfere in the passing of the present or some similar measure, he would be ready to vote for a grant of public money to remunerate those parties whose property was likely to be affected by its enactment.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
wished shortly to state the grounds on which he felt most anxious that the second reading of the Bill should take place. It had been his fate to take part in the discussion of the Bill, to amend which that under consideration was introduced, as also to have been a member of the Select Committee of last year, and from the acquaintance which those chance circumstances had given him as regarded the bearings of the Bill then in force, he did not hesitate to say, that its evils were mainly attributable to a want of sufficient attention on the part of the Magistracy to its clauses. He was however, bound in candour to say, that the impression left on his mind by the evidence taken before the Committee of last year was, that the powers vested in the Magistrates were not accompanied by those means of carrying them into operation which alone could render them effective. The principal of those means was an efficient police, without which it must be evident nothing could be done. In large towns the particular want to which he alluded was not so much felt, but in many of the agricultural parishes it had operated in a way to preclude almost altogether the success of the Bill. It appeared, by the Report of the Committee, that in those agricultural parishes the Magistrates, however desirous to execute the powers confided in them by the Bill, invariably failed, from the inability to procure that voluntary evidence which a system of police could alone secure. That being the case, it appeared to him most desirable that in those parishes where there existed no efficient police, more strictness should be exercised in the selection of persons to keep beer-houses. As far, therefore, as the principle of the 1129 measure was concerned, he was altogether favourable to it, and thought the hon. Baronet who introduced it was well deserving the best thanks of that House. With regard to the details of the Bill he thought it might be possible to suggest some alterations. He was of opinion, for instance, that it would be advisable to render a certificate for a Beer-shop where beer was not drunk on the premises unnecessary. He would not, however, enter upon the details of the present Bill in the present stage, and would conclude by simply repeating his intention of giving it his support, and expressing his hope, that it might be allowed to pass through the second reading.
Mr. Ridley Colburn
thought, that the Beer Bill had done more to demoralise and disorganise the people of this country than any other measure with which he was acquainted. They had been told, that the establishment of the beer-shops would break up the monopolies of the great brewers, and at the same time, give to the working labourer cheap and good beer. What, however, was the result of that Bill? It had completely disappointed those who introduced it. Home brewing was scarcely found to exist, and, instead of breaking up the brewers monopolies, the beer-shops found their way into the possession of those brewers. Those beer-shops held out to the labouring man an inducement to spend his time and money in the worst of company, to the serious injury of his wife and family, and frequently led him to the commission of the most heinous crimes. He had heard those opinions expressed not only by Magistrates, but by farmers and other persons more immediately connected with the labouring population. That the evil existed there could be no doubt, and he saw no remedy for it but that of preventing beer being drunk upon the premises where it was sold. If this regulation were established, and properly enforced, he cared not whether they reduced the license to 10s. or removed it altogether. It should he remembered that when the Beer Bill was first introduced, this regulation was strongly recommended, and it was to a departure from that recommendation that the greater part of the evils which had arisen out of the Bill were to be attributed.
§ Lord Althorp
would willingly support the second reading of this Bill, but he 1130 thought that it required some modifications; these, however, would more properly come under discussion in the Committee. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had also been a member of the Committee alluded to by the noble Lord (Lord Somerset) opposite, who had, with so much candour admitted, that the measure had failed in its object. But it was the opinion of the Committee and of the Government at the time, that there ought to be no restrictions, and that the watchfulness of the police would restrain anything like impropriety. He supported that measure with the hope that it would succeed, but found by experience that he had been mistaken. This being the case, he was ready to take into consideration the measure proposed by the hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Knatchbull). He agreed with him in thinking, that a certificate might be necessary; but whilst he assented to this, he would not have the power of granting it so placed as to render it in many cases inaccessible. It was proposed by his noble friend (Lord Howick), that the vestry should have the power of taking away the license upon a proper representation by a number of parishioners. He was ready to coincide with the recommendation of his noble friend, although he thought that the powers already vested in the Magistrate to take away the license were sufficient, if they were enforced, but unfortunately they were not. A great many obstacles presented themselves to prevent their being carried into execution. First, there was the difficulty of obtaining evidence, then there was the necessity of search on the part of an officer; but certainly the first and greatest difficulty was that of being able to procure evidence of any alleged disorder. This of itself was sufficient to render some other mode of proceeding necessary. He had not been much in the country since the Beer Bill was passed into a law; but while he was there, he heard complaints made against these beer-shops by Magistrates, farmers, and other persons connected with agriculture, all of whom were anxious some parliamentary remedy should be applied. He himself felt the necessity of some remedy, and he was glad the hon. Baronet who introduced the Bill had taken the matter in hand, as there could be no doubt that, from his knowledge, ability, and experience, he would render the measure effective, 1131 He admitted, that the question was one which ought to have been taken up by Ministers; but it was so surrounded with difficulties, that they could not easily make up their minds respecting it. He repeated, therefore, that he was glad the measure had fallen into such good hands, and he was perfectly ready to give him every assistance in his power.
§ Mr. Richards
was glad to hear the noble Lord opposite agree to the second reading, and he hoped, that by the removal of some little objectionable points in Committee, it would be rendered effective. He thought, that if it was required that no houses should be licensed as beer-shops which did not pay a rent of 20l. a-year or upwards, or that they were to raise the license from three guineas to five or seven guineas a-year, it would be the means of preventing the opening of beer-shops by persons of bad character in low and obscure situations. He agreed with those hon. Members who thought, that some change in the law was imperatively necessary, and he should, therefore, support the second reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, that as far as he could see, the same difficulty would exist in obtaining the information necessary to remove a license under the proposed Bill as at present; and how that difficulty was to be met the hon. Baronet had not explained. The Bill made it necessary to produce a certificate, signed by six householders, to obtain a license to sell beer; but what was to prevent six persons from combining to obtain such license for their own benefit? Besides, there were many agricultural parishes in which there were not more than six 10l. householders, and in some not so many. There was one suggestion which he wished to throw out to hon. Members in considering this question. There was a strong feeling abroad, that in legislating for the poor, the Members of that House were not actuated by very liberal feelings. He wished, that this feeling might be permitted to cool down, and not be continually fanned into a flame by new enactments. One of the grounds assigned for bringing in this Bill was an assertion, that since the present law had existed, there had been an increase of crime; but if this were the case, he denied, that there had been any proof of a connection between this increase and the establishment of beer-shops. A coincidence of events was 1132 not always cause and effect, for they very often had no reference whatever to each other. Crimes were not produced by beer-houses or by any localities, for if men were bent upon crimes, and could hot congregate in beer-shops, they would even congregate in churches or churchyards rather than be deterred from their purpose. It was not the House that made the crime, for criminals could and would concoct their crimes, if deprived of all such plaices of resort. When beer-houses had been put under control or surveillance, crime had not been found to diminish. If they passed this Bill, they ought to place licensed victualler's houses under the same restraints and on the same footing with the beer-shops. But this they would not do. The licensed victuallers were, generally speaking, rich men, and their property was held sacred; but the poor beer-shop man must be made to suffer, because he was unable to protect himself. The poor man, then, would have a right to turn upon the Legislature and say, "You have passed by the faults of the rich than because he is rich, and you turn upon me, the poor man, and punish roe because I am poor."
said, that if they were not in that measure legislating for the poor man, then they were not discharging their duty. It was unfortunately the case, that the poorer classes of society were more addicted to drinking beer than any other class of the community, and they ought to be hindered from indulging in that wretched propensity. When Gentlemen talked of beer-shops being popular in the country, and amongst the labouring population, he denied the fact; and if inquiry were to be made amongst the honest industrious class of labourers, nine out of ten, if not a greater number, would be found opposed to, and complaining of them. The House had seen that evening a petition from 220 women praying the abolition of these beer-shops, in order that their husbands might spend their evenings with them and their families. It had been complained, that the beer-shops had run to disorder, because the Magistrates did not do their duty. But if they had done their duty according to the opinions of those who found fault with them; if they had directed the police and constables to pry into every corner, and to take up every irregularity on the part of the beer-shops, what, then, would be the out- 1133 cry? Would it not be said, that they had acted with undue severity; that they oppressed the poorer classes, and deprived them of good and cheap beer? This would be the outcry of those who styled themselves the exclusive friends of the poor. The evils of these shops had now attained to such a height, as was proved by the concurrent testimony of almost all parties and persons, that the House was bound to inquire into and abate the nuisance. He thought it would be advisable not to touch the cities or large towns, as there the evil must be quite trifling. There might perhaps be some difficulty in deciding which were large towns and which were not; but this difficulty would be easily got over. Certainly there was no restriction which he should be unwilling to place upon beer-houses in low obscure situations, where they only became brothels and gambling houses. He would have the dealers in beer allowed to sell that article as persons retailed soap and candles, and other articles, as they did at present. By preventing the consumption of beer on the premises, they would force the working man to go home and share with his family that portion of his earnings which was their right. He certainly would vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
observed, that the Beer Bill had been passed for two objects, both of which had failed—the one was, to get rid of the monopoly of the brewers, which had entirely failed, for the whole of the trade and the beer-shops had fallen into the hands of the brewers; the other was, to provide cheap beer for the families of labourers, which had equally failed, for very few of the families of labourers got any beer at all. He concurred with his hon. friend in the necessity of adopting some legislative measure to protect the poor man against himself.
observed, that the hon. member for Bath seemed to think, that the drunkenness of the poor did not lead to crime. A crime itself, it produced every other description of crime. He was desirous to revert to that which had been originally intended—namely, that no beer should be drunk on the premises where it was sold; and if no one else proposed that, he would, in the Committee, move a clause to that effect. He was sorry to see that Englishmen had a great tendency to drunkenness. They were not only great beer-drinkers, but what was much worse, 1134 great drinkers of spirits. Unless this pernicious inclination could be checked, he was sure that any measures which might be devised for the amelioration of the condition of the poorer classes would be entirely fruitless.
observed, that by the report of the Committee of last year, it appeared that the advantages of beer-shops in towns had prevailed over the disadvantages; but that, in the country districts, they had been productive of much mischief. As to the question, whether incendiaries had gone out on their work of destruction from the beer-houses or not, he thought it was foreign to the discussion. The evils lay deeper. Much of them might be traced to the degrading effect of the Poor-laws, as they were at present administered. They made men idle, and, through idleness and a loss of all self-respect, they became sullen desperadoes, to whom the preserves which many Gentlemen kept on the road-side afforded temptations too great to be always resisted; but when he said this, he was not insensible to the effects of the beer-houses, particularly in country districts. There was no doubt, that drunkenness had increased in towns and manufacturing districts, but this was not owing to the beer-houses, but rather to the great multiplication of gin-vaults, and to the temptations held out for the consumption of spirits. Much of this was to be attributed to the practice of paying wages late on Saturdays. People went to market late on the Saturday night; and while the beer-houses were closed at ten, the public-houses and spirit-shops were continued open to a late hour. They were filled by those who indulged in the use of poisonous liquors, compared with which the article sold in the beer-shops was good and wholesome. They drank this poison late at night, and remained the whole of the Sunday in a state of stupid bestiality. He thought it would be a good plan to adopt the recommendation of the Committee of last year, that all houses open for the sale of fermented liquors should be placed under similar regulations.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull,
in reply, said, that he was glad of the concurrence of the noble Lord (Althorp) in his Motion, which would ensure him the support of Government. If the Government had intended to take the subject up, he would not have brought forward any measure 1135 relating to it. He did hope, that the House would concur in the Motion, and give an opportunity of considering the question in the Committee. After adverting to the Magistrates in the county of Kent, the only Magistrates whose duties he knew much of, and defending their conduct from the attacks of the hon. member for Reading (Mr. F. Palmer), as he was sure that those Magistrates had righteously done their duty, the hon. Baronet said, that all agreed that some legislative interference was necessary. He did not pretend to say, that his Bill would accomplish all which might be done on the subject. He had received suggestions from several quarters to which, as well as to any that might be made in the Committee, he was disposed to give the fullest consideration. One thing he would beg to say, that nothing could have induced him to bring forward any measure on this subject, if he did not think that it would be for the benefit of the poor.
§ The House divided—Ayes 157; Noes 27: Majority 130.
§ The Bill read a second time.