HC Deb 19 February 1840 vol 52 cc393-400

Mr. Pakington moved the second reading of the Sale of Beer Act Amendment Bill. In doing so he was bound to state the views which he entertained upon the subject, and he hoped the House would believe that, in again pressing upon Parliament the consideration of that subject, he was actuated only by a sincere desire to provide a check to the unfortunate and pernicious system which, most notoriously, and in the sight of all, in every town and county, was undermining the morals and sapping the virtue of the artisans and labourers throughout the country. He agreed with what had been said by an hon. Member opposite, that the bill was one which ought to be in the hands of the Government. He was convinced that its importance was such that it could not be carried with advantage in the hands of a private Member, and especially of one so humble as himself. He had endeavoured to persuade the Government to take it up. He had requested the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to take the matter into his own hands; but the right hon. Gentleman declined to do so, and professed to hold different views upon he subject from those which he entertained. He therefore had no alternative but to introduce the present bill, in the hope of in some degree remedying evils the extent of which were not to be disputed. He would not, on this occasion, detain the House by going into any extensive proofs of the crying necessity that existed for legislating on the subject. He had detailed those proofs at some length last session, and he thought it unnecessary to do so again after what occurred n the House on that occasion. He had then also stated fully the reasons which induced him to propose that measure, and the occurrences which had since taken place throughout the country rendered it needless to occupy any time with the repetition of them. The bill of which he now proposed the second reading was in most respects the same with that which he had introduced last year. He did not succeed last year in carrying the bill he had brought forward—he was obliged to withdraw it; but although he did not succeed he considered the result of what had taken place in that House and another place had placed the present question in a very different position from that in which it was when brought forward last session, because both Houses of Parliament had admitted that the evils of the beer-shops were great, and that some legislative measure was necessary. In that House the principle of the measure he had introduced was admitted on both sides, and by her Majesty's Ministers, but they could not concede the details. These reasons induced him not to enter so fully into the subject as he had done on a former occasion; but there were two points connected with the subject which had arisen since last session which he wished to allude to, and which would go far to strengthen the case he had to maintain before the House. Those two points were, first, the circumstance of the late rebellion in Monmouthshire, and how far the beerhouses had been the cause of it; and next, certain observations and opinions of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies. In consequence of the dis- turbances that had taken place in Monmouthshire, he had thought it his duty to obtain certain returns with respect to public and beer-houses in that county, and from those returns he found, that in Aberystwith, with a population of 6,000, there were 41 beer-houses, in addition to the regular licensed houses. In Pontypool, in which there were nine parishes, and 14,000 inhabitants, there were no less than 229 houses for the sale of intoxicating liquors; and in Duke's Town, which had been the chief seat of Chartism, the results were nearly the same. He did not know the population of that town, but the number of houses altogether was 151, and of these there were 5 public-houses and 28 beershops, making 33 houses for the sale of intoxicating liquors, or one house in every five being either a public-house or a beer-shop. No doubt he might be told that if the people were disposed to rebel, whether there were beershops or not, these disturbances would have taken place; but no man could deny, that they held out great temptations and opportunities, and he would add that, with two exceptions, all the Chartist meetings and lodges had been held in beershops. He would ask whether it could be considered essential to the comfort, the welfare, and the rational enjoyment of the working classes, that every fifth house should be a beershop or a public-house? The second point to which he wished to allude was the statement made by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, viz., that the present system of beershops was injurious to the interests of the country, and that he looked for a remedy, not to legislation, but to an improved system of police. He had stated on a former occasion that he thought the Government had conferred a great benefit on the country by the improved police system which they had introduced; but he warned them, and he warned the noble Lord, not to expect from that improved system of police a degree of benefit it was never likely to confer. It was absurd to place the youth of both sexes in positions where their minds would be contaminated, and where they would be brought into daily and hourly intimacy with poachers, drunkards, prostitutes, and thieves, and then to say, if they transgressed the law, there was a police to punish them. In his opinion, prevention was better than cure. He would now proceed to mention the provisions of his bill. It had been strongly urged by many persons to bring forward a measure for the total repeal of the existing Beer Laws. Others had urged him to do that of which his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool had given notice on a future stage of that bill, namely, to prohibit totally the sale of beer for consumption on the premises. He had refused to do either. He had no wish to restore the monopoly of the brewers, nor to return to the exclusive licensing system which was in existence before the passing of the Beer Act. He thought it would be better to get rid of the worst part of the present system without returning to the old one. The principle on which he proposed to proceed was, that no one should be allowed to sell intoxicating liquors unless they were possessed of a property qualification sufficient to guarantee in most cases their respectability. He had last year proposed two classes of ratings for qualification. The first class of rating was 18l. for large towns and 10l. for the country districts. It had been objected to this proposition that 10l. was too high a rating for the country districts. He had admitted that it might appear high for some country districts, but over and above the city districts there were large populations—as, for instance, in Monmouthshire, where there were no large towns and no municipal authorities. In these districts he did not think 10l. too high a qualification. In the present bill he should propose three clauses of qualifications instead of two, and he thought he had reason to complain of the conduct of the Government last year, when they proposed certain amendments to his measure, that those amendments had been proposed without any knowledge whatsoever of the subject. A qualification of 15l. had been proposed for the metropolis; they ought to have known that that would hardly have touched a single beer-house; 10l. had been proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the qualification for cities and towns. The right hon. Gentlemen were unaware that that had been the law of England for eight years, and had been found totally inefficient. He had proposed, in the third place, a qualification of 5l. for the rural districts; such a qualification was a mockery, and worse than useless. His wish was to avoid both extremes, and he should, therefore, propose 15l. for cities and towns, and 12l. for districts where there was a population of 2,500 persons. He could confidently assert that he had the support of all classes of the magistrates of the country—of all parties in favour of his measure. Not only were the magistrates of towns and the county magistrates in favour of the bill, but the magistrates of the new corporations were also zealous supporters of it. He implored the House, therefore, to give that effect to the wishes of the magistrates of England which they had a right to expect. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the bill.

Mr. Warburton

said, that it appared to him that the course pursued by the hon. Member with respect to this bill was liable to a preliminary objection. On the 9th of April, 1772, a standing order was established by the House, declaring that no bill relating to trade, or the alteration of any law affecting trade, should be proceeded with until it had first been considered in a committee of the whole House. The question then was, did the present bill relate to trade? It might be said, that this objection was not taken in time, as the bill had been brought in; but he could refer to the Irish Church Bill, where the same objection was taken after the bill was brought in, and the bill was withdrawn because there was also a standing order that all bills relating to religion must be considered in committee of the whole House. A new bill was afterwards brought in, and proceeded with according to the standing order. The reason of these standing orders was, that such bills went to affect great bodies of the people, and every opportunity should be afforded to discuss them, which could only be in committee, where Members could speak as often as they pleased. Now, the present bill undoubtedly affected a great body of the trading interest of the country. There were 50,000 beersellers in England, with their families depending upon this trade. He would not now go into the merits of the Bill, but would move as an amendment, "that the present bill be withdrawn, as it proposes to alter a law relating to trade, and had not been considered in a committee of the whole House, as required by the standing order of the 9th of April, 1772."

Mr. Hume

rose to second the amendment, as he was anxious to support the Standing orders. He thought it would be better at once to appeal to the Speaker on the question. These standing orders ought not to be considered useless, and great jealousy ought to be exercised by the House in respect of these rules and regulations passed for the purpose of extending to the community every opportunity of becoming acquainted with every measure affecting the trade and taxation of the country. By the bill, the second reading of which was proposed to the House, the revenue would be materially affected. He had seen several bills irregularly passed through the House, but when a blot was found in the course of their proceedings, especially upon so important a subject, involving, as it did, the interests of a numerous class, it was the duty of every Member to object. His objection to the bill, then, was upon a standing order of the House, which declared that no bill affecting the taxation or trade of the country should be introduced without having been previously submitted to a committee of the whole House. By the returns which had been laid upon the table of the House on the 2nd of February, 1839, no less than 45,394 persons were engaged in the sale of beer through out the country, who would be affected by the bill. The revenue would be also materially affected, because the income of the Exchequer from that source alone amounted to 133,775l., whereas the income from the licensed victuallers throughout the country amounted only to 95,000l. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he (Mr. Hume) had not objected, would object to the present course of proceeding, and it was for the House to say, whether, under such circumstances, and in direct violation of the standing order, they would feel themselves warranted in proceeding with the bill.

Sir J. Graham

begged to state, before the Speaker gave an opinion, that he was at least as sincere as the hon. Member for Kilkenny in a desire that the orders of the House should be maintained, and he by no means undervalued the importance of the present question or the interests at stake, and he thought that if a strict rule could be applied, the magnitude of the subject warranted its application. But the question was, did the rule strictly apply. He wished to call to the Speaker's recollection that within the last eight years the House bad twice legislated on this very subject; and he had before him the Journal of the 8th of April, 1830, by which he found that the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge introduced a Bill proposing to make an alteration in the trade to a much greater extent than that which his hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich proposed. The bill of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goulburn) was introduced, not by a resolution of a Committee of the whole House, but on the 8lh of April, 1830, "leave was given to bring in a bill permitting the general sale of beer by retail in England." Mr. Goulburn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord G. Somerset were to prepare and bring it in. He had thought it right to bring those circumstances under the observation of the Speaker before the decision of the Chair was pronounced.

Mr. Baines

said, that as this was a measure affecting the public revenue by the imposition of duties for licences, it was necessary, that it should, in the first place, receive the sanction of a Committee of the whole House. The Irish Church Temporalities Bill, in 1833, was a case in point. That bill had been read a first time, when it was objected that it ought to have originated in a Committee of the whole House, and a Select Committee having been appointed to search for precedents, that Committee of which Lord Althorp was chairman, reported that any measure imposing a burthen or charge on any class of people must first be discussed in a Committee of the whole House, on which the bill was withdrawn, and another bill was introduced on the resolution of a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Goulburn

rose amidst cries of "Chair, chair." He said that the hon. Member for Leeds had not rightly stated the case as respected the Church Temporalities Bill. That bill had in the first instance been referred to a Select Committee up stairs, but after that, in consequence of its being regarded as a bill to tax the clergy, it was thought expedient to refer it to a Committee of the whole House. The consideration in that case was different from the objection made to the bill of the hon. Member for Droitwich.

The Speaker

thought that in the case of any standing order of the House they should put a liberal construction on the words of it with respect to the introduction of a bill. The question then was, whether this bill came within the common course of legislation, or whether it came within the range of the standing order of the House respecting measures regulating trade; and if the latter was the case, whether the measure should not have been commenced in a Committee of the whole House? There were certain recent precedents which had been referred to. In 1830, a bill on the same subject as the present had been introduced, without having originated in a Committee of the whole House, but the circumstances connected with that bill had been explained by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge. Two measures were referred to, as having occurred in 1833, the first of which had been introduced, and afterwards withdrawn, by Lord Althorp, and again originated in a Committee of the whole House; and the second measure which also referred to the sale of beer, was founded on the resolutions. If he were called upon to give his interpretation of the rule of proceeding, and its application in this case, he felt bound to say, that he thought that the measure should have originated in resolutions being proposed in a Committee of the whole House, and that the bill should have been founded on those resolutions.

Mr. Pakington

said, that after what had fallen from the Chair, he should not hesitate as to the course that he should pursue, but should at once withdraw the measure. He could not, however, help complaining of the want of courtesy on the part of the hon. Member for Bridport, in not having informed him of the want of regularity in the introduction of the bill. He never recollected such a want of courtesy before on the part of one Member of the House to another.

The Speaker

was sure that the hon. Member must see how advisable it was for him not to pursue his present observations.

Mr. Pakington

would at once bow to the chair, and would withdraw the bill, but at the same time gave notice that he would to-morrow move, that the House resolve itself into a Committee, to enable him to propose resolutions on which to found a bill similar to the present.

Bill withdrawn.