HC Deb 31 March 1840 vol 53 cc300-13
Mr. Pakington

moved that the Sale of Beer Bill (No. 2) be now read a second time.

Mr. R. Alston

rose to oppose the motion. This bill, which purported to be a measure to afford facilities for the sale of beer, would, if passed into a law, effect a positive, entire, and total repeal of the Sale of Beer Act—a measure which, in his opinion, had been of the greatest possible advantage to the industry of the country. Let any man, knowing the country districts, but look to the 3rd and 14th sections of this bill, and he roust see that its effect would be such as he (Mr. R. Alston) had stated. The 3rd section disqualified a person from having a beer license who was not rated at 15l. per year—an amount unknown in many rural districts; and the 14th section provided, that no license should be granted except upon the certificate of six individuals, each rated at 12l.; so that, in fact, licenses in many parts of the country could not be obtained; and hence the present Beer Act would virtually be repealed. He could not think the amount of rating was any test of a man's respectability; and with such clauses as those to which he had alluded in the bill—clauses which could not, he thought, be altered in committee—he would not allow the bill to receive the sanction of a second reading. On these grounds, and remembering, also, that at present there were no less than 45,000 licensed beer-shops in which property had been invested by brewers who had taken up the trade to supply them—remembering, also, the interference which the bill would have with such property, he should move, as an amendment, that the bill be read a second time this day six months.

Mr. James

seconded the amendment. He admitted all the evils attributed to the present system of beer-shops, but still he thought the present bill would not have the effect of remedying those evils. The mode of improving the moral condition of the working people was not by interfering with the beer shops, but by the establishment of an improved system of police, and by the adoption of means for the better education of the people. At all events, so convinced was he of the inutility of the proposed measure as far as his county was concerned, that if the bill went into committee, he should move that Cumberland be excluded from the operation of the bill.

Mr. R. Palmer

said, he had been a member of the select committee which sat on the original Beer Act, and for one, had always been, opposed to that part of it which allowed the consumption of beer on the premises., At the same time, he had always been, and still was, favourable to a free trade in beer, provided that it should not be consumed on the premises. He thought beer ought to be sold with as little restriction as any other article. But he foresaw at the time of the passing of the Beer Bill, the evils which would follow from the establishment of beer-houses in rural districts. As chairman of a bench of magistrates he was well aware of the evils of the beer-shop system, and looking to the morality of the country, he could not but think some advantages might be gained from the bill now under consideration. He concurred in the desire expressed by the hon. Member who had spoken last for an improved system of police in the country; but as this measure would, in his opinion, be productive of utility, he should support the second reading.

Mr. Warburton

did not think the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down could have read the bill. The first clause certainly raised the tax upon the certificates of persons where beer was sold upon the premises, but other clauses raised the rating of persons who sold beer to be consumed not on the premises, and placed other difficulties in their way—what, then, became of his admission, that he wished to see beer sold freely like bread or cheese. The object of this bill was to restore the monopoly as it existed before beer-shops were established. The complaints of Gentlemen had been hitherto confined to beerhouses where beer was consumed on the premises, but this bill would put down nine-tenths of the beer-houses of all descriptions. This was a measure not for confining the sale of beer to respectable houses, but for destroying the trade entirely. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire had alluded not to the large brewers, but to those who had brewed purposely for these houses, and who had invested large amounts of capital in their trade. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to have a romantic attachment to public-houses and persons who brewed their own beer. It was nonsense to attempt preventing the same laws which regulated capital in other trades regulating it likewise in the beer trade. They heard a great deal of the immorality of their houses, but nothing of the immorality of the victualling-houses. There was tippling in clubs and in victualling-houses, and it was rank hypocrisy to talk of the tippling in beer-houses. It was proposed to put on an additional tax on the licenses. Why these houses already paid 45,000l. a-year more than the victualling-houses. He trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer never would sanction such a plan. Then with regard to increasing the rating, he would contend that property was not the test of respectability, and in this he was borne out by the noble Lord the Member for Cornwall. Every crime had been attributed to these houses. Chartism, it was said, had sprung out of them. How hon. Gentlemen blew hot and cold. If you looked to Ireland and Father Mathew, they told you temperance was the origin of all evil. If you looked to England, every crime was attributed to beer-houses, so that whether the people tippled, or whether they were temperate, there was no satisfying hon. Gentlemen. The noble Lord, the other night, in allusion to the outbreak in Monmouthshire, had said that it was not the tipplers who were Chartists—the Chartists had other objects in view. There was a Mr. Wright, who attributed all the riots in the agricultural districts to the beer houses. He was glad to hear that charge, because it showed what excellent historians hon. Gentlemen were. Those riots occurred before the Beer Act came into operation. The fact was, that hon. Gentlemen opposite wished to get back the power they had lost by this Bill. The remedy for crime was what hon. Gentlemen opposite were so averse to—a good system of police, and an extension of education. He hoped, if the bill reached a committee, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would adopt the course pursued by his predecessor.

Lord Sandon

would not follow the hon. Gentleman in attributing motives; the complaints against the Beer Bill originated not with the magistrates alone, but with all classes of the community. The whole of the Roman Catholic clergy of Liverpool had petitioned against the present beer-laws. He intended to adopt the course he had pursued last year when the bill was in committee.

The Chancellof of the Exchequer

would not attribute motives to any Gentleman. Undoubtedly, there was a great and, he believed, a most exaggerated idea throughout the country of the evils produced by these Houses. The hon. Gentlemen opposite must be aware that there was an interested and a rival party which had been very active on this subject—he meant the licensed victuallers. They had, during the course of last year, instituted a very active canvass on this subject, not on the score of morality, but because they thought by putting down beer-houses they should improve their own property. That, however, he believed to be a most mistaken view, and he thought that if a bill similar to that which was brought forward last year in the House of Lords, were to pass into a law, the result would be, that they would have annual motions on the subject, and the licensed victuallers would be placed in the same situation in which the beer-sellers were now placed: they would not know, for twelve months together, whether they could venture to carry on their trade or not. He should, with regard to this bill, pursue the same course that his noble Friend had pursued last year with regard to a similar bill, and not oppose the second reading. There were two modes of considering this question—the one was by returning to the old system of monopoly, and destroying beerhouses altogether; and the other was by the introduction of measures for their better regulation. If he thought the object of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing this bill was to return to the old system, he should feel bound to oppose its second reading—but he believed his only object was to introduce a better system of regulation. It was, however, his duty to look narrowly into the provisions of the bill, in order to guard against its having the effect of destroying, when it was only desirable to regulate. He did not disapprove of the regulations being made applicable to houses which only sold beer, as well as those where the beer was consumed on the premises, because the result of limiting its application to the latter description of houses would be, that persons would take out a license for beer to be sold out, and they would violate the law by permitting it to be consumed on the premises. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Berkshire had admitted, that those houses which sold beer for consumption off the premises ought to be encouraged; it therefore behoved them to be very careful in the examination of the provisions of this bill, as if they were of too stringent a nature, it should be recollected they would act equally upon those whom they ought to encourage, as well as upon those whom the hon. Gen- tleman wished to discourage. He was of opinion that the rating and rental were, by the proposed bill, fixed at much too high a rate. The object of the hon. Gentleman he understood to be, merely to put down those houses which were the worst conducted, and, from returns which he had seen, he did not think that object would be attained by the means proposed. He must object to the rating clause—the operation of it in the rural parishes must necessarily be, to throw the trade in beer into the hands of one or two individuals, and a great power into the hands of the squire or his steward. So also the necessity of certificates. The result would be, that no one obnoxious to the steward would ever get their licenses. The bill required six certificates from persons rated at 12l., so that if a butcher or a baker were rated at the desired amount, the applicant for his certificate must deal with them under all circumstances. If such a system was necessary, he would rather, much as he would object to going back, but if such a power were absolutely necessary, he would rather again lodge the power in the hands of the magistrates, for they were gentlemen acting openly before the public. They might pass what laws they pleased, but until they had an effectual and efficient police, they would do no good. He had refrained from bringing the question before Parliament, because the House of Lords had, last year, agreed to resolutions which showed him that they would not agree to anything but a return to the old system. He strongly deprecated the annual agitation of this question; its only effect must be, to prevent any prudent or honest man from venturing his property in a trade which he is not sure he will be allowed to continue for six months. For the reasons he had given, he would not oppose the second reading of the bill, but if it were not greatly altered in committee, he should feel it his duty to oppose it in a future stage.

Mr. Darby

expressed his determination to support the second reading of the bill, and said that something was necessary to be done to put an end to the present system. He asserted that the class of persons who frequented public-houses were very different from those who were to be found in the beershops. It was an ascertained fact that no respectable labourer would go into a beerhouse, It was in the beerhouses that nightly robberies and all other crimes were concocted. Notwithstanding what had been said about the increased consumption of malt and hops, his belief was that the farmers would be better pleased to have a greater degree of security and a less consumption of those articles. There was a growing feeling throughout the country that the nuisance of beerhouses ought to be got rid of; and, although a police force was now the panacea for all ills, he was convinced that even if they had a policeman to every one thousand persons, they could not prevent the mischief which resulted from beerhouses. The truth was, that beerhouse-keepers were men of straw, put in by brewers—they were the mere servants of the brewers; and while things remained in their present state there could be no doubt that attempts would be made to remedy an evil with which it was the duty of the Government to deal effectually. The statement of the noble Lord the Member for Monmouthshire was perfectly true; for he knew that it was at the beer-shops, and not at the public-houses, that meetings for criminal purposes were held.

Mr. Gisborne

admitted that this bill was more moderate and less objectionable than any previous measure; but although, the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had spoken of it as a measure for regulating beerhouses, he regarded it as a bill for their suppression. As this measure was totally opposed to the Act which it sought to amend, and would suppress and not regulate this trade, he felt no difficulty in determining to give his vote against the second reading.

Sir T. Fremantle

said that, although he approved of the principle of his hon. Friend's bill, he would express no opinion as to its details. Like a good tactician, his hon. Friend had put into his bill more than he wished to carry; but without discussing the nature of the restrictions which the measure proposed, it was impossible for them to conceal from themselves the fact that the beerhouses constituted a most serious evil. He attributed this to the trade being overstocked, and that the number of those houses greatly exceeded the wants of the community. Without encouraging bad characters the beerhouse-keepers could not make a living. Without touching the question as to rating being a test of respectability, he could not help observing that it was perfectly true that here were no persons of either property; or capital in this trade. They were for the most part the mere servants of the brewers. The hon. Member for Bridport had denied that the beerhouses were established prior to the disturbances of 1830. This however, was not the fact, because it was in 1830 that the bill establishing them passed, and it was in the autumn and winter of that year that riots and disturbances took place. Indeed, of the two persons who were left for execution at the Buckingham special commission one was the keeper of a beerhouse; but he mentioned this circumstance only to shew that these houses had given facilities to dishonest and wickedly disposed persons. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the reason why he did not take the matter up was because of the resolutions of another place last year; but could it be doubted that if the right hon. Gentleman were now to introduce a salutary measure it would receive the attentive consideration of the other branch of the legislature? Before the right hon. Gentleman hazarded such an assertion, he surely was bound to make the experiment.

Mr. M. Philips

had long been convinced of the policy of legislating upon this subject. Two years ago he had suggested the appointment of a Select Committee, and had that suggestion been acted upon, he was sure the House would have been enabled, even in the very same session, to have passed some satisfactory measure on the subject, because they would have had clear and positive testimony upon which to proceed. He confessed that in some parts of the country with which he was acquainted, the present system worked so defectively as to convince him of the necessity of some legislative measure, in order to protect the moral as well as general condition of the working classes. He would vote for the second reading of the bill because he thought that the principle it involved, would, if properly worked out, effect that object. He however, hoped, if the bill went into Committee, that such clauses would be introduced as would remedy the abuses which existed in agricultural districts, and at the same time afford a free scope to trade and an adequate supply to the poorer classes.

Mr. Gillon

rejoiced at having an opportunity of entering his protest against a measure of so tyrannical a nature, and of expressing his disgust at this species of petty interference with the comforts and recreations of the poorer classes. When hon. Members who supported this bill would consent to regulate the number of bottles of wine to be drunk at their own tables, then, and not until then, would he consent to such a measure as this. They first complained of the great consumption of spirituous liquors, and now that they had got a good beer bill they were not content, and wanted to drive the people back to their former habits, or something worse.

Mr. Estcourt

protested against the doctrine that those who would vote for the second reading of this bill, amongst whom was the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who thereby merely professed to be desirous of amending the present system, were by any means anxious to destroy or interfere with the comforts of the poor. He had no objection to beer-houses when they were well-conducted, but he would ask whether those beer-shops which were erected under hedges, and over which no superintendence could be exercised, could be conducive to the happiness or the morality of the people? He called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take this measure into his own hands, for the reason which the right hon. Gentleman had given for not doing so, was most unsatisfactory. The resolutions which had been passed in another place were certainly not sufficient grounds for the Government refusing to bring forward a remedial measure upon this important subject. He should give his vote in favour of the second reading of this bill.

Mr. Hume

agreed with the hon. Member who had just addressed the House, that the Government ought to take this measure into their own hands. Whatever others might do, that House was bound to perform its duty, and they ought not to be influenced by resolutions passed in another place. He approved of the principles of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he should be glad to see the right hon. Gentleman take this measure into his own hands. He trusted, that whatever might be done on this subject would be done by the Government. He could not give his consent to this measure, and he thought the people had just grounds for complain- ing of the course of legislation pursued in that House, as it too often interfered with their comforts and amusements, and exhibited a partiality for the higher classes. Why should not the poor man be allowed to spend his twopence in any manner he might think proper, as well as the hon. Member who had brought forward this measure, his half-guinea or guinea, upon wine? Why, if the principles of the hon. Gentleman were to be adopted, should not hon. Members interfere with those who spent their money and ruined their health in taverns, as well as with those who went to beer-shops? The reason was, because the hon. Member was one of that class himself. If it was light to put down beerhouses because there were some of the keepers of those houses who could not make a living, then they might just as well limit the number of butchers and bakers, because all those employed in those trades were not equally prosperous. The effect of this bill would be to create a property qualification for the sale of beer, and that was carrying the principle of a property qualification to a very improper extent. If a property qualification was to be required for the sale of beer, why should they not require grocers, and bakers, and butchers, to possess a house of the value 8l. or 10l. before they were allowed to embark in their respective trades? How was it possible to have men of property in beer-houses when every year the Legislature was threatening those houses with destruction? This bill would not put down crime, and the only way to diminish the amount of crime was to extend the means of education to the people, and in that manner they would go to the root of the evil. He contended, that the object of this bill was to keep up the influence of the magistrates in the counties. Upon the whole, he considered this a most unjust and objectionable measure, and he should certainly oppose the second reading.

Mr. Rice

would support the second reading of the bill, and his object in doing so was thereby to declare, that some measure of this kind was necessary. He, however, would pot pledge himself to support the details when the bill came to be considered in committee, and he agreed with those who wished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken the subject into his own hands.

Mr. Protheroe

supported the bill, and said, that he had gone into beer-houses, and found that the beer sold there was mere trash. The Legislature had failed, by its former Acts, in giving a wholesome beverage to the public, and he thought that in supporting a measure of this description, he should be contributing to the comforts, the happiness, and the morals of the poor.

Mr. Muntz

could not allow this bill to go to a second reading, without slating his objections to what he considered a most unjust and unnecessary measure. He had yet to learn why beer was not to be sold as other articles. His experience on the subject was very considerable, and, so far as that went, he had never seen a great increase of crime occasioned by the beer-houses. One circumstance Gentlemen had forgotten, or, rather, perhaps, never knew, when they said, that if the beer-houses were shut up, publicans would not take in the same men. They were much mistaken. All publicans had two classes of customers—one higher and one lower, and took low company as well as the beerhouses. He believed there had been a great increase of crime, and particularly within the last twelve months, but to what was it to be attributed? Not to the beer-houses, but to the pressure on the working classes, which always increased crime; but if he could agree to the general principle of the bill, there was one provision in it he could never vote for, which was the disfranchisement of those parties who now held licenses under a certain amount, which he considered would be most unjust—as unjust to the beer-house keepers as the establishment of beer-houses was to the licensed victuallers.

Sir C. Burrell

considered that a measure of this description was absolutely necessary, for the existing Beer Act had been most injurious in its operation, and had completely disappointed the wishes and intentions of the Legislature. It had; been stated that this bill was introduced for the purpose of keeping up the influence of the magistrates, and he could only say in reply to that charge, that the power of licensing beer-houses was one of all others the least desired by the magistrates. He knew that in many parts of the country the morals of the people had been greatly injured by the existing act, and he thought that it was the duty of the Legislature to pass some remedial measure of this description.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that the present beer-house system had been productive of an injurious effect upon the morals of the people in all the mining districts of the country. In that particular district where there had recently been disturbances, it was the unanimous opinion of the magistrates who had been employed for a length of time in the investigation of those disturbances, that the beer-houses had much to do with the unfortunate disposition of the people. It was at those beer-shops that the people congregated, and it was there that they read those inflammatory publications which had so strong an influence over them. That was the unanimous opinion of the magistrates, an opinion which he believed had been expressed in a communication made to the Government. In that opinion, too, the mayor of Newport, himself a Liberal, had concurred. He therefore thought that something ought to be done in order to remedy the evil which was allowed to exist, although he would not agree to all the provisions of the bill before the House. That, however, was no reason why he should oppose the bill going into committee, where alone its details could be amended. He should therefore vote for the second reading.

Mr. B. Wood

thought it was impossible that a bill containing so much that was objectionable could ever be carried into operation after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his opinion, a measure of this description ought to be taken up by the Government. The House had created the property which now existed in beer-shops, and he thought it would be exceedingly unwise should they now interfere to destroy it.

Mr. Pakington

said, that on a former occasion the hon. Member for Bridport had interfered in such a manner as to prevent the progress of this bill at that time, but the hon. Gentleman had not done so till after he had made his statement to the House. Having, then, addressed the House, at the period to which he alluded, at considerable length, he should only trouble them with a few observations on the present occasion. During the whole debate he had not heard anything which ought, in his opinion, to induce the House to refuse its assent to the second reading of this bill. The details could be amended in committee if they were found objectionable, but he thought it could not be denied that some measure of the kind was necessary to remedy the evils which were allowed on all hands to exist. A great number of petitions had last year been presented upon this subject, and the magistrates of from thirty to forty counties has come to that House, praying by petition for some alteration in the present beer-laws. These petitions were not confined to one class of politicians, for they came from men of all parties, and the magistrates had been strongly supported by the clergy and by the most influential inhabitants of the country districts. A number of petitions had that night been presented in reference to this bill, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the hon. Member for Bridport and other hon. Members, and what, let him ask, was the character of those petitions? He believed every one of them came from beer-sellers, and he therefore contended that they were not entitled to the same weight as those petitions which came from the magistrates and clergy. The mover of the amendment had said, that this was a measure of repeal, that it was of a destructive character, and that he would therefore oppose it. But let them contrast that statement with what had fallen from the seconder of the amendment. The seconder of the amendment said, that the system of beer-houses had been productive of an increase of crime, and he had opposed the bill, because in his opinion its provisions did not go far enough. Looking at these conflicting statements, he was inclined to draw the inference that this was a fair and moderate measure, and he contended he was not open to the charges which had been made against him. Some persons thought that the Beer Act ought to be repealed, and others that the consumption of beer on the premises only ought to be prohibited, but he had not adopted either of those plans, and he thought that the plan which he had proposed was reasonable and moderate. He had been charged with having a wish for repeal, and with a desire of restoring a monopoly to the magistrates, but he must deny that he was open to those charges. This was not a sweeping measure, and if it could be proved in committee that any of the provisions of the bill were unfair and oppressive, he should be ready to alter them. It had been said that this measure would do away with nine-tenths of the beerhouses, but such was not his wish, and he believed that that statement was a great exaggeration of what the real effects of the bill would be. He was convinced that if this bill were passed to-morrow, there would be no diminution in the consumption of beer. He was asked, why not deal with the licensed victuallers? But they were not within the scope of his bill, as they were under the control and superintendence of the magistrates, while the beer-houses were not. He was sorry the Government had taken the course it had adopted upon this question. He quite agreed that this was a bill which ought not to be in the hands of a private Member of Parliament. He had only taken it up because the Government had refused to grapple with the evil. At all events, it was the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, admitting, as he did, that the beer-houses required regulation, admitting the necessity of legislation, either to take the bill out of his hands, or to render him every assistance in his power to enable him to accomplish his object.

The House divided on the original question. — Ayes 110; Noes 30; Majority 80.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Estcourt, T.
Attwood, W. Evans, W.
Bailey, J. Farnham, E. B.
Bailey, J. jun. Feilden, W.
Baines, E. Fellowes, E.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Filmer, Sir E.
Barnard, E. G. Fleming, J.
Barrington, Viscount Greene, T.
Basset, J. Grimsditch, T.
Bell, M. Halford, H.
Bethell, R. Hall, Sir B.
Blackburne, I. Hamilton, C. J. B.
Blakemore, R. Hawkes, T.
Bradshaw, J. Heathcote, G. J.
Bramston, T. W. Hector, C. J.
Briscoe, J. I. Henniker, Lord
Broadley, H. Hepburn, Sir T. B.
Brocklehurst, J. Hindley, C.
Brotherton, J. Hodgson, R.
Bruges, W. H. L. Hope, hon. C.
Buck, L. W. Hughes, W. B.
Burrell, Sir C. Hurt, F.
Burroughes, H. N. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Cavendish, hon. C. Jermyn, Earl
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Jones, Captain
Chetwynd, Major Kemble, H.
Compton, H. C. Knight, H. G.
Darby, G. Lennox, Lord G.
Duffield, T. Lennox, Lord A.
Dundas, C. W. T. Liddell, hn. H. T.
Du Pre, G. Lygon, hn. General
Eastnor, Viscount Mackenzie, T.
Egerton, W. T. Mild may, P. St. J.
Miles, W. Slaney, R. A.
Monypenny, T. G. Smyth, Sir G. H.
Mordaunt, Sir J. Somerset, Lord G.
Packe, C. W. Sotheron, T. E.
Paget, Lord A. Spry, Sir S. T.
Palmer, R. Teignmouth, Lord
Parker, J. Thornhill, G.
Parker, R. T. Townley, R. G.
Patten, J. W. Turner, W.
Pendarves, E. W. W. Vere, Sir C. B.
Philips, M. Vivian, J. E.
Plumptre, J. P. Waddington, H. S.
Praed, W.T. Walker, R.
Protheroe, E. Welby, G. E.
Pusey, P. White, A.
Rice, E. R. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Richards, R. Winnington, H. J.
Rolleston, L. Worsley, Lord
Round, C. G. Wyndham, W.
Rushbrooke, Colonel Young, Sir W.
Rushout, G.
Sandon, Viscount TELLERS.
Scarlett, hn. J. Y. Pakington, J. S.
Shaw, rt. hon. F. Sanford, E. A.
List of the NOES.
Beamish, F. B. Muskett, G. A.
Busfeild, W. Pryme, G.
Duke, Sir J. Rundle, J.
Ewart, W. Scholefield, J.
Finch, F. Strickland, Sir G.
Gillon, W. D. Thorneley, T.
Gisborne, T. Vigors, N. A.
Hill, Lord A. M. C. Wakley, T.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wallace, R.
Hume, J. Ward, H. G.
Humphery, J. Williams, W.
James, W. Wilshere, W.
Johnson, General Wood, B.
Jones, J.
Marsland, H. TELLERS.
Morris, D. Warburton, H.
Muntz, G. F. Alston, R.