HC Deb 27 May 1834 vol 23 cc1362-5
Mr. Buckingham

having presented several petitions against drunkenness said: I have heard numerous objections raised to the prayer of such petitions as these, but I confess none have surprised me so much as that of the hon. member for Oldham, who said, that drunkenness had existed in all time—that people always had got drunk—and that they got drunk still; but he did not add (which was necessary to complete the sentence) that they would continue to get drunk in future. Sir, if the antiquity of a vice is a justification of its continuance, and a reason why no steps should be taken to put a stop to it, murder is a very ancient offence—it goes back to the time of Cain, and I believe Noah had a taste for it; and does the hon. Member mean that murder and other horrible offences, because they began at a remote period, are not to be prevented? It is not for an inquiry whether people get drunk, that the petitioners ask, for they are satisfied that drunkenness does exist to a great extent,—that it causes a vast mass of disease,—that it fills our gaols with criminals,—and is one great cause of the increase and extent of pauperism. It does appear to me, that when hon. Members think it right to attempt to correct the evils arising from beer-shops, it is monstrous to suppose, that they will not think the far greater evil of gin-shops worthy their attention, for if there be any difference in the deleterious effects of the two liquors in producing intoxication, there is no doubt that the use of spirits is much more pernicious. I hear it said by hon. Members—"What can be done by a Committee? It is in vain to expect that they can put a stop to the vice." Sir, almost every measure of improvement which has proceeded from this House, has been preceded by inquiry, and has been found to work more beneficially in consequence of that inquiry. I therefore think it is not unreasonable to suppose, that some good may be effected in this instance by the appointment of a Committee.

Mr. Cobbett

hoped it would not be supposed, that he intended to say anything in favour of drunkenness. In all manner of ways, by precept as well as by example (and perhaps that was not the least effectual course), he had all his life been the advocate of sobriety; but what he objected to was people coming to ask the House to pass laws to correct evils which no laws could correct. There must be something left to the pulpit,—there must be something left to the parents,—there must be something left to the moral teacher. They were not to make laws to correct every evil which arose in families or in society. By-and-by persons would ask for a law to make people pull their hats off on proper occasions, or some such ridiculous thing. The hon. Member forgot there was a law already to punish drunkenness, and a law quite severe enough. A Magistrate could, at any time, punish a man for being drunk in his presence; or, if he was informed of a man being drunk, he could punish him without trial by Jury or any further ceremony. Why was not that law applied? Until it were found ineffectual, why pass new laws? It never was applied because Magistrates had too much sense—they knew the law would not prevent the offence. It was a great evil,—a great moral offence. He trusted he was a moderate and a temperate man, who had never been intoxicated since he was born. No man could say, he had been intoxicated—no man could say he ever drank anything stronger than milk. He was therefore, no advocate for drunkenness—he was a great advocate for sobriety. He was certain that 10,000 parents, from different parts of England, had thanked him for having made their sons sober men from being drunkards, by his writings. Therefore, he begged to be understood by bon. Members, as not being a pattern of drun- kenness. What he objected to was, calling upon the House to pass laws which would only be laughed at, and would only expose this House to contempt, lower its character, and impair its efficiency.

Sir George Strickland

thought the observations which fell from the hon. member for Oldham were valuable, because they showed that he, who had always been a warm friend of the interests of the poor was ready to take every justifiable means to check the progress of this destructive vice amongst them. But the hon. member for Sheffield said—"Gentlemen object to this Motion on the ground that going into a Committee will do no good; but without, a previous inquiry, we shall be legislating in the dark." He differed from the hon. member for Oldham, in thinking the Committee might do good, by pointing out whether some regulation as to the sale of spirits and of beer might not be made, so as to prevent encouragement to the vice of drunkenness. He would merely mention one part. He had heard it said, that it afforded great encouragement to the use of spirits, to allow the same person to sell both spirits and beer; it would be a fit subject for inquiry before a Committee, whether the same person should be allowed to sell beer and spirits.

Mr. Brotherton

concurred with the hon. member for Oldham in thinking, that much good could not be done on the subject by legislation; still it would be useful to go into a Committee to inquire into the causes of drunkenness, which he was convinced had very much increased; and it would not be very difficult to satisfy the House, that drunkenness was the cause of much of the poverty, and crime, and misery of the people of England. He believed, that if the poor could be convinced that their own conduct was the cause of their misery, it would do much to relieve them from that slavery which they at present endured. For his own part, he thought drunkenness was the cause of the fall of man originally; and it was the fall of man still, for it degraded him to the level of the beasts of the field. He could say with the hon. member for Oldham, that both by example and precept he was an advocate for temperance; and it might be useful to the people of England to know that there were Members of that House who did not think it necessary to drink intoxicating liquors. For the last twenty-four or twenty-five years, he had been a water drinker, and he had enjoyed ten thousand times more happiness since he became a water-thinker than before; and he therefore could recommend his system to the poor. He was convinced, that by going into a Committee they should ascertain the causes of this vice, which might be a very great benefit.

Petition laid on the Table.

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