HC Deb 20 April 1853 vol 126 cc124-30

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


moved an Amendment, the object of which was to allow licensed grocers to continue the sale of spirits for consumption on the premises, as at present.


said, he must object to the Amendment. The object of the Bill was to put a stop, if possible, to a system which was the cause of most of the mischiefs to which Scotland was at present subject—the system of dram-drinking at grocers' shops by persons who went to such shops for the purchase of other necessary articles; and the Amendment of the hon. Baronet would but perpetuate the mischief so generally complained of.


said, he must deny that any large share of the drunkenness and immorality of Scotland was traceable to the sale of spirits by grocers, and it would be extending a most mischievous principle to the retail traders of the country if such a principle as that embodied in the Bill were to be sanctioned by the House. He should certainly divide the House against the original clause, and take every opportunity which the forms of the House afforded for preventing its passing. It was impossible to make the people of Scotland sober or virtuous by Act of Parliament: that could only be done by improving the education and social comforts of the people, and thus weaning them from the habits of secret and solitary drunkenness which prevailed to so great an extent throughout the country.


said, he felt as anxious as the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. F. Mackenzie) for the promotion of temperance, but not only would the proposed plan be inefficient for the purpose, but it would be in direct opposition to those principles of free trade which the House had pledged itself to support.


said, he was quite willing to grant that they could not make people better by Act of Parliament; but this Bill was intended to put an end to a system which encouraged the vice of intemperance, and as such he gave it his cordial support. He thought it was pushing free trade to an unreasonable extent, to say that it was right or proper to make traffic of the happiness and health both of the souls and bodies of the people of Scotland. That was a sort of free trade which he utterly and entirely repudiated. So far as the petitions he had presented to the House were concerned, they rather complained that the Bill did not go far enough, for seeing that in the city of Glasgow alone during the past year upwards of 1,200,000l. was expended by the labouring classes in drinking whisky, and being anxious to effect the suppression of the evil, with that object in view the petitioners would even go the length of putting down public-houses altogether.


said, he would suggest that, as the Government had recently consented to the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into the licensing system in England, it might be advisable for the hon. Member (Mr. Forbes Mackenzie) to postpone the present measure until the Government had decided whether or not an inquiry should also be made into the licensing system in Scotland. In making this proposal, he begged to say, that he was as anxious as any hon. Gentleman in that House to put an end to the vice of drunkenness, than the increase of which in Scotland of late years he knew of no greater evil. He (Mr. Hume) hoped the hon. Gentleman would therefore take the subject into consideration.


said, that it would be useless to wait for the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the licensing system, because it was not to the licensing system but to the mode of regulating public-houses that he objected. Besides, a Committee sat a few years ago on this subject, upon which there were many Scotch Members; and upon the Report of that Committee his present Bill was strictly founded. The clause would not interfere with the trade of the grocers, except to prevent their selling spirits to be drunk on the premises—a practice which it was absolutely necessary to restrain. The Amendment which had been proposed was at variance with the object and principle of the Bill.


said, he should support the clause, which involved no undue restriction upon trade, but would merely prevent every grocer's shop from becoming a small public-house, where every child or servant who was sent for an ounce of coffee, and had to receive a halfpenny of change, was liable to be tempted and seduced into the vicious habit of spirit drinking. It was in this way that young persons often acquired their first taste for such a depraved indulgence.


hoped that this wholesome provision of the Bill would be retained. The evil of spirit drinking prevailed to a fearful extent in Scotland; and it had been recently ascertained by a religious society, that in the city of Edinburgh, with a population of 150,000, there were 975 licensed houses including hotels, 312 of which were opened on the Sabbath, and that on one Sabbath there entered into these public-houses 22,202 men, 11,031 women, 4,631 children under fourteen years of age, and 3,032 children under eight; making a total of about 40,000. He, therefore, cordially approved of this clause; but he thought it would be better if it were to be confined in its operation to towns and boroughs, in order to prevent hardship in remote districts.


said, he considered the clause mere surplusage. The means of checking the evil were already in the hands of the magistrates, and the clause involved a censure upon that body in Scotland.


would support the clause, believing that the magistrates did not exercise the discretionary powers which were entrusted to them. The present system of licensing grocers' shops was a snare and a trap to the innocent.


said, he must protest against free trade being in any way connected with a Bill for the regulation of the licensing system. This was entirely a measure of police, and, like the Factory and other Acts, was intended to afford protection to those who could not protect themselves.


said, he thought it scarcely fair to the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Bill to ask him to defer it in order to consider the propriety of appointing a Committee to examine the general question. The object of this Bill was to check a great and crying moral evil, which almost overshadowed every other evil that existed in Scotland; but he was afraid they could not very effectually cope with it by provisions of this kind. At the same time he did not think the Bill interfered with free trade—he looked upon it as being substantially a police regulation; and although this clause might not reach the root of the evil, yet it would remove a very great temptation to which the lower classes of Scotland were exposed. He would not now inquire what was the cause of the growing intemperance among the people of Scotland—he would only say that he met with it at every turn in his professional avocations, and the criminal statistics of the country told its glaring magnitude; and certainly he was not disposed to pry too curiously into the abstract principle of any remedy that was likely to diminish the evil. Now this clause proposed that the sale of whisky across the counter should not be combined with the sale of the ordinary provisions of a household; and this suggestion was founded not merely upon the general ex- perience of the community, but also of many benevolent and philanthropic inquirers who had made this subject their anxious study, and upon whose testimony he could not doubt that the first origin of this most pernicious habit was, in the large towns, in a great degree to be traced to the fact that articles of grocery could only be obtained at shops which were licensed to sell spirits. He, therefore, could not refuse his assent to this clause, and he thought the remedy-it proposed ought to have a fair trial.


said, he was decidedly opposed to the Amendment. The drinking usages of the country annually killed 60,000 persons, and ought to arrest the attention of that House. He would be glad to see the sharp end of the wedge introduced by this Bill, and he hoped the day would soon come when the House would look upon intoxicating liquors as poison, and legislate accordingly.


said, he also would support the clause, and he could vindicate the Bill from the charge of interfering with trade. It only separated two kinds of trade which were very distinct, and the combination of which at present engendered great social mischief.


said, he never could believe that these vicious propensities were generated by the licensing system. They might depend upon it that there would be little fear of children demanding spirits at the grocers' shops if they had not had the example set them by their parents at their own homes. If he thought that they could reach the root of the evil in that way, he would be ready to support the introduction of the Maine Law (entirely prohibiting the sale of spirits) into this country.


said, he saw no reason why the rural districts should be excluded from the benefit of the operation of the clause.


said, he entirely approved of the clause as it stood, and hoped that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. F. Mackenzie) would persist in retaining it.


said,' he should support the clause, and he hailed the Bill as a step in the right direction.


said, he must defend the conduct of the magistrates in Scotland. In his own county every effort had been made by them; but they were found to be ineffectual. The great object of the Bill was to put an end to drunkenness; but the hon. Member for Liverpool had omitted to deal with one of the worst causes of that evil, the licensing of tollhouses—a practice peculiar to Scotland; and he hoped, therefore, that a clause would be added to that effect.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member who had last spoken, that the licensed tollhouses were a public nuisance in Scotland. The evils attached to the present system of selling spirits in that country, were scarcely known to the House in all their deformity. He therefore supported the clause.


said, he would give his attention to the suggestion as regarded tollhouses.


said, he was as much opposed as any man to the desecration of the Sabbath, but in his opinion the superstitious reverence paid to the observance of that day in Scotland was one very great cause of drunkenness. Some of the religious bodies regarded it almost as a sin for people to take a walk on Sunday. ["Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] He should be sorry to have to adduce instances which had occurred within his own knowledge; but he believed he was speaking in the presence of many Gentlemen who knew the truth of what he was stating; and he said, if they restrained the people from the ordinary recreations to which they were religiously entitled, they must force them to the sole remaining enjoyment for which they cared, namely, perpetual drunkenness. He spoke upon good authority when he said, that in the town of Glasgow alone, 30,000 people every Saturday night steeped themselves in whisky and opium, and lay in a state of perfect insensibility till Monday morning. Now, how was this to be remedied? Certainly not by legislation, but by the common sense of the higher orders setting their face against the absurd superstition to which he had referred; and if these classes set the example, the people would gladly follow them; and then, instead of this pharisaical paying of "tithe of anise and cummin," the weightier matters of the law would be respected.


said, he must admit that too much whisky was consumed in Glasgow; but the same charge would apply to the consumption of spirits in the large towns of England. He believed that the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) was entirely mistaken in the idea that the people were not allowed recreation on Sunday, and also that 30,000 people in Glasgow were drunk from Saturday to Monday. That charge had been made before, but had been shown to be erroneous. The clause, it was said, would have a tendency to remedy the evil that undoubtedly existed; and for that reason, although he was not convinced it would have that effect, he would support it.


said, that seeing the feeling of the Committee was against his Amendment, he would, with their consent, withdraw it.

Amendment withdrawn.

Clause agreed to; as were also the remaining Clauses.

After slight discussion, Schedules, as amended, agreed to.

Committee report progress.

House resumed.