HC Deb 18 February 1852 vol 119 cc711-24

Order for Second Reading read.


moved that the Bill be read a Second Time, and that it should be afterwards referred to a Select Committee. He felt perfectly satisfied that if it were referred to a Select Committee, the result would be a Bill which would please all parties.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, that this Bill was opposed generally by the people of Scotland. He was extremely unwilling to take up the time of the House, but he hoped they would excuse him whilst he stated shortly why he objected to the Bill. He objected to it on principle, because it was supposed by the promoters that by limiting public-house licences the tendency to excessive drinking, which he was sorry to say had been too common in Scotland of late years, would be discouraged. He was as anxious as any individual connected with that part of the Kingdom could be that a remedy should be found, if possible, for the excessive drinking habits which obtained there; but he believed this Bill would only add to the difficulties in the way of preventing the evil, because it would give to a few persons only the power of granting licences, which they might exercise with partiality or caprice; and that proceeding would only add to the evil. He might inform the House that the Scotch Members had a meeting yesterday to consider the provisions of the Bill. Twenty-eight members were in attendance, of whom not one approved of the measure. The hon. Member for Peeblesshire (Mr. F. Mackenzie) himself only approved of one clause. All agreed on one point, that it was the duty of Members connected with Scotland to ascertain, if possible, the extent of that demoralising vice of drunkenness, and to contrive the best means of removing it. With that view the meeting unanimously agreed that a Committee should be appointed on the subject, and that they ought to have the authority and countenance of the Government in some way or other, in order to obtain a full and fair, and not a partial, inquiry. A division took place in the meeting on the point whether they ought to reject the Bill, and recommend the appointment of a Committee, not fettered by any of the clauses of the Bill, but open to the examination of witnesses in a perfectly full and fair way. That proposition met with considerable support; but on a division whether the Bill should be proposed to be read a second time or not, he (Mr. Hume) was bound to say that twelve voted in favour of it—those twelve, however, differing among themselves as regarded the merits of the Bill—and sixteen for rejecting the second reading, and in favour of an independent Committee. He thought it was important to state to the House one or two facts which he hoped would regulate the votes of hon. Members on the question now before them. The Bill proposed to appoint a Committee of Justices of the Peace, and to invest them with the power of granting licences; and that was done with the view of reducing the number of licences for the sale of spirits. He had obtained certain returns bearing on this question from two or three places in Scotland. For the last eight or ten years a Committee had been in existence in Edinburgh, who were exceedingly anxious to put down the vice of drunkenness, and through whose exertions the number of spirit licences had been considerably reduced. It appeared that the number of licences in that city in 1830 were 872, and in 1851 they were 516, showing a reduction of 356 in that period. In the county of Edinburgh the number of spirit licences in 1830 was 706, and in 1850 it was reduced to 449, making a total of 613 licences less in the city and county in 1851 than in 1830. He would now ask if, in consequence of that reduction of licences, there had been any commensurate benefit? None; the vice of drunkenness had been continued. The parties addicted to it had been driven into holes and corners to gratify their propensity, and in that and various other ways the vice of drunkenness had been carried on, and continued to increase. What benefit, therefore, could accrue from a proposition which aimed at a reduction of the licences all over the country? In Renfrewshire the spirit li- cences in 1828 amounted to 1,203, and in 1850 to 877, showing a decrease of 326; and yet the vice of which they complained had increased more perhaps in that county than in any other in Scotland, although it was but fair to say that it was attributed to the number of Irish labourers that had been introduced. Looking at those facts, he submitted, the reduction of licences would not have the effect which was expected of putting an end to drunkenness. In Sutherlandshire and Ross-shire he was told the trial had also been made, and had been equally unsuccessful. Now, let him ask the House, with those results before them, whether they were not in condition to avail themselves of the benefits of the different systems which prevailed in England? In the city of London there was no limitation in the licensing of beershops except as respected the situation of the premises where the beer was proposed to be sold. He (Mr. Hume) looked back with great satisfaction to the improvement which had taken place in this metropolis in the habits of the people. They no longer saw the streets crowded with drunken people as was the case about 1830, and as is the case now in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Twenty or thirty years ago to such a height had the vice of drunkenness reached, that no man could pass a spirit shop in London without seeing numbers of wretched creatures at the door waiting for some one to treat them to a glass of gin, or reeling away drunk. In 1831 the number of persons taken into custody by the police for being drunk was 41,736, of whom, in round numbers, 22,000 were males, and 18,000 females. Since that period considerable alteration had taken place. A great number of places of public amusement and recreation had been opened, and the monopoly in the sale of spirits and beer had been discontinued. What had been the effect? Why, an actual reduction of the number persons taken into custody for drunkenness for be found that in the course of the last year the number of such persons was only 23,6000, or, in round numbers, 13,000 males and 10,000 females. In other words, while the population of the metropolis in the twenty years from 1831 to 1851 had increased 542,000, the decrease in the number of drunken persons in it amounted to no loss than 18,000. Again, in 1831, the number of disorderly persons taken into custody in the metropolis amounted to 10,000, 7,000 males and 3,000 females; and in 1851 this number was reduced to 6,000. By allowing the unrestricted sale of beer in London, drunkenness had decreased one-half; while under the other system the vice had been on the increase in Scotland. He would therefore ask the House to reject the Bill, and to appoint a Committee instead, to inquire into the causes of the increase of drunkenness in Scotland, and of the decrease of it in England. He would offer himself as a witness before that Committee, and he thought he should be able to prove that the system adopted in Scotland was likely to increase instead of decreasing the vice. He would not at that moment go into the question of the education of the people; but he would say, that by the liberal conduct adopted in London, in opening public places of recreation for the people, such as the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the parks, they now had it in their power to spend their leisure in a safe and pleasurable way, instead of in public-houses. He admitted that there never was a man more desirous of improving the morals of the community than Lord Kinnaird, whose Bill this was commonly called; but he (Mr. Hume) submitted at the same time, with all due deference to the promoters, that they were taking a wrong course. They might reduce the number of public-houses in Scotland; but unless some other places of recreation were given to the people, experience showed that drunkenness would not be decreased. He would now say that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) did all his power to comply with a request made by him (Mr. Hume) on behalf of the people with regard to the throwing open of the Tower and our great cathedrals and abbeys. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Control, then Under Secretary for the Home Department, was the organ of communication between him and the noble Lord, and he congratulated them both on the success of the measures they then adopted, by which, as they now saw, drunkenness had been so much decreased. Let them, therefore, pursue such a course as would enable them to gain information as to the means of carrying out the same system in Scotland. He would now recommend the withdrawal of the Bill, with the view of having a Committee appointed to inquire into the question of drunkenness in Scotland, its causes, and the best means of repressing them. He was one of those who, thirty-five years ago, foretold that the making more stringent laws against public-houses would fail, unless more facilities for rational recreation were given to the people. He was of opinion now, that if the malt duty was taken off, it would have the best effect in improving the morals of the people both in England and Scotland. He wished to see the people of Scotland return to their ancient habits of industry, sobriety, and economy—which good qualities, he was sorry to say, were effaced among many of them—and with that view he would move the postponement of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, the Bill at present was only a mere skeleton compared with what its promoters hoped it would be after receiving the consideration of the Select Committee to whom it was proposed to submit it. By the appointment of that Committee, moreover, he thought the very end which the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had in view would be attained. There was a much greater likelihood of some good result if they went into the Committee with a Bill prepared for their consideration, than if they went without one. He hoped that some English Member would be appointed to serve on the proposed Committee, for, after what had been said about the drunkenness of Scotchmen, he was afraid that the House might suppose that even the hon. representatives of Scotland were not free from the taint.


said, he regretted as much as his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) that they had so much drinking in Scotland; but at the same time he probably had as much knowledge of Scotchmen as any Member in that House, and he was prepared to deny that the drinking habits of Scotland were at all on the increase. He believed that the consumption of spirits in Scotland had largely diminished, and that the habits of the Scotch people were very much improving in that respect. In 1816 the spirit licenses in Glasgow were as many as 1,651, being one out of every seventy-four in the population, which at that time amounted to 120,000; while in the present year, when the population was nearly treble, the number was 2,030, being in the ratio of one to 164. The object of the Bill was to throw the power of licensing into the hands of certain persons who were very likely to do it for improper purposes. He only wished to disabuse the House of the notion that drunkenness had increased among his countrymen, which was not the case. He wished the subject to be dealt with by a Committee comprising English and Irish as well as Scotch Members.


said, it appeared to him that the propositions on each side of the House did not differ very materially in their object. While his hon. Friend the Member for Peeblesshire (Mr. F. Mackenzie) asked to send his Bill to a Select Committee, his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) proposed to negative the second reading of the Bill, and to refer the whole question to a Committee upstairs, upon the report of which Committee a Bill might hereafter be introduced. But he thought, as the hon. Member for Peeblesshire had placed his Bill before them, whether the proposition it embodied were in all respects such as to meet the case, it was but fair that the House should send that proposition for consideration to a Committee. There were many points in the Bill from which he differed as much as his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose; but he felt assured that if the Bill were sent to a Committee upstairs, with power to call evidence, all that his hon. Friend wished would be obtained. He (Mr. F. Maule) wished that he could convince himself of the truth of the view taken of his countrymen by his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. A. Hastie), with reference to the prevalence of this sad vice. He was not one who would say anything derogatory to the character of his own country; but he could not conceal from himself that in Scotland, with a population not amounting to 3,000,000, there was a consumption of raw spirits of not less than 6,000,000 gallons a year. So that upon a calculation it appeared that for every individual, from the man who was upon the very verge of the grave, down to the infant who had just entered life, there was an average consumption of spirits of near two gallons and a half per annum. It had been stated by his hon. Friend (Mr. A. Hastie) that the number of licensed public-houses in Glasgow for the sale of spirits had decreased from the rate of one to every 74 inhabitants to one in every 164; but surely this was a most frightful state of things. The idea that in a city containing 350,000 inhabitants there should be houses capable of deriving a profit from the sale of ardent spirits in the ratio of one in every 164 individuals of that population, young and old, was monstrous, and he could only hope that some remedy might be devised for such a state of things. English gentlemen had no idea of the enormous consumption of spirits in Scotland. He rather agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, that if they could do nothing else in this matter than adopt the open system of granting licences by the Excise, it would be more preferable than the system which at present existed, which was that every grocer's shop was open for the sale of various other articles besides those of grocery. They sold bread, and they were allowed licences for the sale of spirits. Now, this had a double effect. If infringed upon the rights of the fair trader in the article of bread, because, while the honest baker sold his bread at the market price, the grocer undersold him. But how did he makeup the difference? Why, by selling at the same time that which was the bane of his countrymen—ardent spirits. It was to that system that he traced much of the demoralisation of his countrymen and of his country. It was in those grocers' shops that the servant girls first learned to taste spirits, and in which the youth of the country acquired their early taste for them; and, he said again, he would rather see the gin palaces of London established at the corner of every street in Glasgow and Edinburgh, than that this system of the sale of spirits at grocers' shops should be continued. If the sale of spirits were confined to public-houses, the lads and young women would be seen going into them, and a sense of shame would make them desist; or, if they resorted to them, the brand of infamy would be stamped upon them. Whereas at present they went surreptitiously into these grocers' shops, where they acquired a taste for raw spirits, which grew upon them, so that they went on from vice to vice, till it finally ended in their irretrievable ruin, he had been told by those who were old enough to know the fact, that the time was when beer was the general article of consumption with the people of Scotland; but he feared that if every facility were given for setting up beer shops it would fail, from the simple fact that the people would not resort to them to drink it. He thought it their duty to trace the means by which the consumption of spirits could be controlled; and if it could not be controlled, that it should at least be made more public than it was at present. The hon. Member for Montrose had very properly stated that one great means of inducing the people in large cities to forego public-houses was to afford to them sources of public amusement, where they might spend some portion of their leisure. He did not believe that there was a finer public park in Europe than in Edinburgh, to which the people might resort; but if his hon. Friend really wished to give the people these useful resorts, he must not be too parsimonious with the public purse. The people of Scotland would be most happy to establish museums, and render them accessible to the public, provided means were afforded for that purpose. But, if they were required to furnish amusements for the people, it must be at the public expense. He would entreat the House, as they had arrived very nearly at one point in opinion, to let the Bill be lead a second time. By doing so they would commit themselves only to this principle, namely, that the consumption of spirits in Scotland was great, and ought to be diminished.


admitted that the consumption of spirits in Scotland was very great, and ought to be diminished; but it was because he did not think that any legislative measure could effect the diminution desired, that he arose to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montrose. They were told in the preamble of the Bill that the number of public-houses in Scotland was excessive, and ought to be diminished. Now, if ever there was a case of putting the horse behind the cart it was this. The preamble alleged that, because drunkenness existed in Scotland, the public-houses in that country necessarily caused that drunkenness. They could not extinguish the love of ardent spirits by any act of that House; and he took the liberty of saying that this Bill was a piece of the purest humbug that he had seen in all his existence. Now, what did they propose to do by this Bill? They proposed to appoint a committee of justices of the peace, who were to put an end to the consumption of whisky in Scotland. English Members did not exactly know what justices of the peace were in Scotland. He had a great respect for that learned body (of which he was a member), but he must confess that they had very little business to do, except looking after poachers; they very seldom attended to any other business but that. It was a thing next to impossible to get a respectable working assemblage of justices of the peace at the quarter-sessions in Scotland. He was speaking of Ayrshire. The result would be, that if the House passed this Bill, they would just establish a committee of jobbers who would act in the must arbitrary manner, and be constantly subject to the imputation of partiality, whether they acted rightly or wrongly. What had they done with the burghs? In Ayrshire there was something like five royal burghs, and they would be represented in the proposed committee in the proportion of about five to twenty. Was that fair? They were were very much mistaken if they thought the people in Scotland would submit to such a proposition. The appointment of the proposed committee would take away the very means by which the putting down of public-houses could be most effectually accomplished. A committee, such as was proposed, would deprive local experience of its due weight. The local knowledge of one justice of the peace would have no avail against the decision of ten other justices, who would be found to be entirely ignorant of the matters submitted to them. He would venture a prophecy on this matter—this Bill would not diminish the number of drunkards in Scotland by so much as one; its only effect would be to give a monopoly to the existing public-houses. If this Bill were passed, the licensing system in Scotland, which was already had enough, would become a gigantic and intolerable job, from beginning to end. One of the most ardent supporters of this Bill—the hon. Member for Peeblesshire (Mr. F. Mackenzie)—admitted that he approved of only one clause in this Bill of twenty-six clauses. It would seem that the Bill was about to be referred to a Select Committee, with the view of its entire reconstruction; but was that the way in which the House of Commons ought to do business? Was the House going to delegate the whole of its functions to a Select Committee? He regretted the course which Her Majesty's Government had adopted with reference to this measure. He thought it was a matter of such importance that they ought to have taken it into their own hands. He extremely regretted that pressure of public business would deprive the people of Scotland of the active co-operation of the right hon. Member for Perth (Mr. P. Maule), whose talents, industry, and conciliatory conduct had gained for him the love and esteem of every Scotch Member in that House, of whatever shade of politics. He (Mr. Oswald) did not know whether he had said too much. Perhaps he had, but he had been carried away by a feeling of patriotic enthusiasm. He had been many years in that House, and had seen many attempts of amateur or volunteer legislation, but they had all been unsuccessful. This, he believed, was an attempt of that character, and he therefore protested against it. If the Government thought this was a measure that ought to be supported, he was sorry they did not take it out of the hands of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peeblesshire. If they did not take it out of his hands, he (Mr. Oswald) wished the hon. Member for Peeblesshire had waited until he could have brought it in himself from the other (the Government) side of the House. Yesterday there was a meeting of twenty-eight Scotch Members, including the Lord Advocate and the hon. Member for Montrose, and a majority of sixteen to twelve was against the Bill. This was an effort to browbeat and humiliate the inhabitants of the large towns of Scotland.


regretted that a single Member of the Government could be found to give his support to such a Bill as this, objectionable as it was in principle, and at variance with every sound commercial maxim. For his own part, he believed it would be utterly ineffectual as a remedy for the drunkenness which prevailed in Scotland, and that Parliament would never be able by legislation of that sort to make the people of Scotland less drunken or more moral than they now were. In his opinion, the only real mode of correcting the evil was to adopt a general system of education. Although a great deal had been said about the drunkenness which existed in Glasgow, he believed that by far the greater portion of it was to be found among the Irish in that town, or in-those other portions of Scotland where the operation of the poor-law had been carried out with the greatest oppression. Instead of this Bill, therefore, he would recommend the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into the general moral condition of the Scottish people.


said, his countrymen appeared to him to be placed in a most unfortunate predicament. For while every one allowed that a great, serious, and crying evil existed in Scotland, and that the demoralising and brutalising vice of drunkenness was increasing there; it was now urged that legislation—amateur or volunteer legislation, as his hon. Friend (Mr. Oswald) termed it—would be produc- tive of no beneficial results. But it was not in that spirit that the House of Commons had taken up and legislated upon the hours of labours in factories and employment in coal mines. It was an indisputable fact that all the great and praiseworthy efforts which had of late years been made in Scotland for the spread of education and the social improvement of the people, had been rendered utterly abortive and powerless by the prevalence of this vice of drunkenness. That was a fact which might be regarded as pretty well established, upon consulting the returns which related to the convictions for serious offences in Scotland. Mr. Sheriff Alison had devoted considerable attention to this subject, and he (Mr. C. Bruce) had it upon that gentleman's authority, that in the year 1841 the educated criminals committed for serious crimes in Scotland amounted to 2,834, whilst the commitments of uneducated criminals numbered (696—the proportion of educated to uneducated criminals being in the ratio of four to one. If, therefore, they were to wait until the spread of education supplied the means of checking the evil, 'no feared they would have to wait a very long time. The House might rest assured that the increase of committals for serious crimes in Scotland had gone on in a much faster ratio than the increase of the population of that country; and the most competent authorities ascribed that increase to the demoralising habit of drunkenness. The commitments in 1824 amounted to 1802; in 1830 to 2,329; in 1840 to 3,872; and in 1848 to within a fraction of 5.000. But in that long interval the population had increased by some hundreds of thousands only. If the House resolved to go into such a general inquiry as that which was recommended by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), of course the Committee would come down with a large blue book; but it would be treated as most of the blue books were treated in that House, it would be scarcely looked at, and any practical legislation upon the subject would be indefinitely postposed. All who were acquainted with the extent to which the vice of drunkenness was carried in Scotland would think his hon. Friend (Mr. F. Mackenzie) deserving of the gratitude and thanks of the country for giving this House the opportunity of going into Committee to consider of a practical and efficient remedy for the evil. Two-thirds of the crime and one-half the pauperism of Glasgow had been attributed by Mr. Sheriff Alison to this one cause of drunkenness alone; and he (Mr. C. Bruce) emphatically denied that legislation would not be productive of good effects. He trusted, then, that the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill, in order that it might go upstairs to a Select Committee, with power to take evidence upon the whole question. He had not the least doubt that the result of such a step would be, that a good Bill would come down to them.


regretted that the vice of drunkenness prevailed so greatly in Scotland, and among his own constituents. He would be willing to support any measure calculated to remedy this state of things; but after the best consideration he had been able to give to the subject, and notwithstanding the good motives and intentions of the promoters of the Bill, he could not bring himself to the belief that it was one calculated in the least degree to effect the object in view. He admitted that the congregation of low public-houses in Scotland had been a great evil to Scotland; at the same time he did not conceive that by authorising the justices to delegate to a small committee a summary power to diminish the number of licences, was the mode of remedying the evil. He would submit that it was better to grant licences than to encourage low unlicensed houses, to form, as it were, secret nests of little clubs of drunkards, as would unquestionably be the case if the regular public-houses were put down. Paradoxical as it might seem, In held that, as the means of the poorer classes were diminished, so did their indulgence in intoxicating liquor increase; for he apprehended that the state of the dregs of the population in our towns produced a kind of despair which prompted them to sacrifice everything for the gratification of their depraved appetites. In Edinburgh, forty years ago, New Year's day was kept as a day of dissipation and drunkenness; and on one occasion, in 1812, a frightful riot was got up on the 1st of January in that year by a knot of young men under the influence of ardent spirits, and in consequence of which three of them suffered on the scaffold. There was, however, a great difference now in the habits of the people. For several years past, New Year's day had been made a universal holyday, and he was glad to bear out what his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had said as to the benefits resulting from giving inducements to the people to assemble together in order to visit places of interest and amusement. All the objects of attraction in Edinburgh had been visited by tens of thousands of working men with their wives and families, and not the slightest injury had resulted to any one of those places of recreation. He regretted that Government had not taken the subject of this Bill into their own hands.


would support the second reading of the Bill, though he believed nothing would come of it unless the Lord Advocate took charge of it in Committee.


said, no one connected with Scotland could doubt that the Bill proposed to remedy, to a certain extent, a very great evil in that country. Whatever might have been the improvement in the morals of the Scotch people of late years—and it was great—it was, nevertheless, true that drunkenness was the crying and scandalous vice of the country. No man who was at all acquainted with the state of crime there, could fail to see that if the amount of drunkenness could be diminished even to a very small extent, the result would at once be apparent in the diminished amount of crime. And it was because he was unwilling to throw an obstacle in the way of any measure that was designed to effect a beneficial result, that he should vote for the second reading of the present Bill; though if he were asked to give his support the details, he must say that he would not undertake to do so. The subject was a very important one; and he preferred sending the Bill to a Committee upstairs, because he thought a more effectual measure would be thereby obtained than by referring the whole question to a general Committee of Inquiry. The Bill dealt only with the licensing system; and whilst he did not anticipate any benefit from a mere change of that system, he did hope much good from a thorough revision of it.


objected to the principle of the Bill, as well as to the details by which that principle was to be carried out. It was proposed by it to change the whole system of licensing, and to place the power of giving licences in the hands of justices selected by the Court of Quarter Sessions, who were to fix the exact number of public-houses in the county. This was an entirely arbitrary power; in point of fact, a man who considered himself aggrieved by the decision of those magistrates had no appeal at all; and it would open the door to a system of favouritism and jobbing which would be most objectionable. There was not one Scotch Member to whom he had spoken who did not pronounce that the Bill was utterly impracticable. No one was more sensible than he was as to the evils of drunkenness; but he objected to this Bill because he believed it would be totally inefficient to remedy those evils.


said, his intention was, if the Bill were read a second time, to move that it be then referred to a Select Committee, which should have power to send for persons, papers, and records. In that case the Bill would be kept before the House, might be altered in the Committee, and thus, when it came down to the House, they might hope to have legislation upon the subject in the course of the year. On the other hand, if they did not take that course, but appointed a Select Committee to institute a general inquiry, as had been recommended by some hon. Members, the only end would be the production of a fruitless report, and an indefinite postponement of legislation.


believed that this scheme of legislation was wholly vicious in principle; and, far from curing the evils complained of, would only increase those which at present existed.


said, that not one of the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken in favour of the second reading, had adduced a single word of argument in support of the Bill. Several had said that they did not approve of the details of the measure, and yet they asked the House to affirm it by voting for the second reading.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 67: Majority 56.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.