HC Deb 10 February 1857 vol 144 cc477-88

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, that in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws relating to the sale of beer, and to regulate certain places of public resort, refreshment, and entertainment, he desired to excuse himself for presuming to take up a subject of such importance, and that he did so on the ground that the Government were overwhelmed with business, and that he had been requested to do so, and that he felt a deep interest in it. The question of regulating the sale of beer had been dealt with by Parliament on several occasions, and every attempt to improve the law had only brought discredit on the Legislature, and had only served to show that the present system was unsuitable to the wants and feelings of the country. The first Act passed in the first year of the reign of William IV. allowed any person to obtain from the Excise a licence for the sale of beer on the payment of £2 2s. That was found objectionable, and in the fifth year of the same reign another Act was passed rendering it necessary that the house should be of the rateable value of £10, and requiring certificates of good character, signed by six inhabitants and certified by the overseer. The House knew how easily certificates of character were obtained, and that even among the higher classes gentlemen were not ashamed to put their names to testimonials which were not strictly true; so that persons altogether unqualified found no difficulty in complying with the provisions of that Act. In the 3 & 4 of Vict. another attempt was made to remedy the evils by raising the rating in towns of 10,000 inhabitants to £15, and to a proportionate amount in smaller places, and requiring a certificate of rating from the overseers. By collusion with overseers the provisions of that Act were evaded. In 1834, a Committee of the House sat to inquire into the evils which arose from drunkenness. They declared that, in their opinion, the beershops were, to a great extent, the cause of intoxication, and they offered some strong recommendations, which were not, however, carried into effect. In 1849 and 1850, Lord Harrowby obtained a Committee of the House of Lords to inquire into the nature and character of beershops, and how far they had proved of advantage or comfort to the working population, it appeared from that inquiry that the comforts and morals of the poor had not been only not improved, but had been impaired by beershops. Another Committee of the House of Commons, which sat in the years 1853 and 1854, reported that the beershop system had proved a failure, that it was established in the hope that the public would obtain beer cheap and pure in houses where the disorders incident to houses for the sale of spirits would not occur, but that that hope had proved fallacious. Nothing resulted from that Committee, except a controversy on Sunday drinking, which he much regretted, and into which he would not enter, as the Bill which he proposed to introduce did not affect that part of the question. He believed that at present there were not less than 41,000 beershops in England, besides 80,000 public-houses. In Manchester one house in 35 and in Leeds one house in 45 were devoted to the sale of intoxicating liquors. In large towns there was every facility for drunkenness, and in the secluded districts, where these houses were removed from the close supervision of the police, they served as places where crime could be concocted almost without the risk of detection. When people said that drunkenness was becoming less, his answer was that there wore no statistics with respect to the increase or decrease of drunkenness on which reliance could be placed. In some towns no drunken persons were taken up unless they were riotous and disorderly; in other places, if they were taken up, they were only locked up for the night, discharged in the morning, and never brought before a magistrate. They were, therefore, unable to tell whether drunkenness was decreasing or not; but every one knew that destitute wives and children came upon the poor rates in consequence of their husbands and fathers haunting public-houses and beershops, and that there would not have been the necessity for reformatories and industrial schools of which they had heard this evening if Parliament had done its duty in protecting the morals of the people from the destructive and baneful influences of public-houses. In this view he was confirmed by Mr. Wright, the philanthropist, who said that of all destitute children there was not one whose misery and destitution could not be traced to the neglect of parents caused by drunkenness. Although the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey) referred last night to the great diminution of crime, yet, on reference to the criminal returns, he found that crimes nurtured by drunkenness—where the victim, being drunk, tempted men to rob him, or where men, being drunk, first assaulted, and then robbed—had greatly increased. In the five years from 1846 to 1851 the number of robberies was 1,951. In the five years from 1851 to 1855 they were 2,377, having increased about 21 per cent. He did not wish to make a sweeping charge against every man who kept a beershop, because he knew there were many exceptions, and that numbers in the metropolis, as stated by Sir Richard Maybe, were as well conducted as public-houses; but it was proved before the Committee of 1853–54 that beershops were places where thieves met, where stolen goods were disposed of, where burglars planned their attacks, and where poachers and sheep-stealers associated before starting on their expeditions. It seemed remarkable that, although beershops had been in existence, and the system had been complained of for twenty-six years, no attempt had yet been made to put beershops on the same footing as licensed public-houses, by taking away from the Excise the power of granting licences and placing it in the hands of the magistrates. Many complaints had indeed been made respecting the partiality shown by magistrates, but he believed that those complaints, generally speaking, had come from persons whose applications had been rejected, and that the publicans generally were contented with the present system; although some magistrates might have acted improperly, he believed that the gentlemen of England had done their duty in this respect, and he hoped they would for the future perform it even more strictly and efficiently. He might be asked, whether he could show the difference between public-houses and beershops? He said he could. The chief constable of Bradford gave a return of all the convictions of keepers of public-houses and beershops. There were 135 public-houses in the town, and 240 beershops. The offences of public-house-keepers were only 5 in the year 1856, being 1 in 27; of beershop keepers, 42, or more than 1 in 6. In Manchester the convictions of publicans were 22 per cent, and of beershop-keepers 47 per cent. Thus, therefore, it appeared that the system of magisterial licences acted far better than that of excise licences, and indeed Mr. Hogg, the chief constable of Wolverhampton, ascribed the greater respectability of publicans to their having once a year to meet the magistrates and the black book of the police. Now, what were the remedies which had been suggested for the present state of things? The Committee of 1853 had recommended that every person of good character (meaning every person who has not been convicted of any offence), should be entitled to a licence, on payment of a large fee, and that it should be obligatory on the magistrates to grunt it; and that the licence should permit the sale as well of spirits as of beer. There was another proposal—that the licences granted should be subject to a certain restriction, that no more than a certain number should be allowed for a given area, and according to the population. There were some who suggested the Maine law (prohibiting the sale of fermented liquors altogether); and then, for himself, he had a measure to propose different from all these. With respect to the first, it appeared to him that if the licences were very high, it would tend to prohibit and destroy the trade it desired to regulate, and if not too high, to leave the trade remunerative, there would be introduced into the sale of spirits the same system of unrestricted competition which had proved so injurious in the case of beershops. The chief constable of Bradford stated in the Report before referred to that there were 27 beersellers in that town who kept prostitutes in their houses, and 10 had brothels upon, or attached to, their premises. The restriction of the number of licences according to the population was impossible, because the population upon different areas was so variously distributed. With regard to the Maine Liquor Law, he had the highest respect for those who advocated it, but it would first be necessary for them to purge their own houses; and, as he admitted he was not prepared to give up either wine or beer, he should consider he was only acting a part in a system of organised hypocrisy if he attempted to compel the humbler classes to give up those beverages. It would be necessary to search the cellars of Bellamy's for spirituous liquors at the opening of each Session, as the cellars were formerly searched for gunpowder, if the Maine Law were adopted. This law could only be carried when hon. Members had adopted its principles in their own persons, and then there would be no need of any compulsory law on the subject. A great reformation in this respect had taken place amongst the higher classes. Formerly there was scarcely a German prince who did not go drunk to bed every night, and too many of the higher classes followed their example. He believed that the alteration which had taken place in the habits of the upper classes would spread to the lower, and that the time would arrive when the latter would enjoy themselves moderately, and drunkenness would be abolished. He now came to the provisions of the Bill he intended to submit to the House. In the first place, he proposed to adopt the recommendation of the Committee of 1853–4, and to respect vested interests. Where licences had been given, therefore, no alteration could take place; as, however, the 41,000 beershops now in existence changed hands, or the licences were withdrawn, they would come within the operation of the measure, and he proposed to vest the licensing in the magistracy. He proposed that beershop licences should be granted at all annual licensing meetings, and also at the special sessions, held from four to eight times a year, for the transfer of licences, under 9 Geo. IV. The new police afforded the means of investigating the character of the persons applying for licences, and also of those who certified to the character of the applicants and the amount of their rating. He proposed that persons intending to apply for licences should give twenty-one days' notice to the superintendent of police, and should furnish him with a copy of their application, and of the certificates of character by which it was to be supported. The magistrates would then be furnished with all the materials for forming a judgment. At present no beershop-keeper forfeited his licence except after a third conviction, and the magistrates had then to give the Excise notice, so that the licence might be withdrawn. But upon this point the evidence was singularly conflicting, for, while some of the magistrates stated that they were in the habit of sending information to the Excise, Mr. Wood, Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, said he could not call to mind that he had ever received one of these notices. The Excise, indeed, received the certificates and issued the licences in a perfunctory manner, since they had no means of inquiry. Thus it sometimes happened that the magistrates deprived publicans of their licences for notorious and flagrant crimes. These men then obtained an excise licence for the sale of beer, and kept open their houses under the noses of the magistrates. This was an intolerable evil and abuse. He proposed, therefore, to put all these houses under the same jurisdiction. He should also propose to carry out the provisions of what was generally called the Tippling Act with regard to beer. A petition had been presented to-night which had been forwarded and favoured by the County Judge of Salford upon this subject, and it had been stated to him that beershop-keepers sometimes sued a man for debts of £12 or £14, which the debtor declared he knew nothing about, having been run up while he was in a state of semi-intoxication. He proposed that no beershop-keeper should sue for beer drunk on the premises, unless he commenced his action within one week. It would be hard where a man had treated a great number of persons on the same night that the beershop-keeper should have no remedy. It was his intention to make the Bill applicable to another class of persons. In the report of the Committee of 1853–4, a recommendation was given that all coffeehouses should be placed under the supervision of the police. In the metropolis the keepers of coffee-houses were forbidden to harbour bad characters, but there was this great anomaly mentioned by Sir Richard Mayne, that the police had no authority to enter such houses to ascertain whether bad characters were harboured or not. He did not indeed propose to touch coffee-shops, temperance hotels, shell-fish shops, and places of that description, which were kept open during the day time; but he proposed to give the police a supervision over all those houses which were kept open between nine at night and four in the morning. It was to such places as these that bad characters resorted after they were expelled from public-houses, and in many cases they had not the least difficulty in obtaining illicit spirits. In 1854, Mr. Hogg, the superintendent of the police of Wolverhampton, who was in London to give evidence before the Committee, went into one of these coffee-shops at night and asked for some gin. They gave him some without difficulty, but not in a glass. They served it to him in a coffee-cup, and told him that if the police came he must pour some milk into the gin, and then they would think it was coffee. He proposed that these houses so open between the hours of nine and four should be licensed and pay a small sum annually, and that they should be subject to the supervision of the police in the same manner as beershops. He also proposed to levy penalties for selling spirits, for harbouring disorderly characters, and permitting gambling. A clause in the Towns Police Bill prohibited the assemblage of disorderly characters in houses of this description, and this clause was adopted in most private improvement Bills. There seemed, however, no reason why it should not be extended over the whole country. He proposed to levy fines upon drunken and disorderly persons who refused to leave licensed houses when required by the landlord or his servants; and he proposed, not only to fine the landlords for permitting spirits or beer to be drunk at unlawful hours, but also to fine those who were found drinking in these houses at such times. He was glad to hear that the Government did not intend to oppose the introduction of his Bill, and he implored the House to give the measure their fullest and most mature consideration. The aim of the Bill was to improve the condition of the poorer classes, to diminish their temptations, to promote their domestic enjoyments, to render them better husbands and better fathers, and without some such Bill as this all the efforts which were being made for the spread of education would be entirely frustrated. The hon. and learned Gentleman moved for leave to bring in his Bill.


seconded the Motion. He only knew very recently that he should be called upon to take part in the discussion, much less that his name was to be put upon the back of the Bill. But he had given his consent to that course upon the understanding that he was not to be committed to all the details of the measure, He belived that while beershops existed to such an extent throughout the country, all the efforts of clergymen, dissenting ministers, city missionaries, ragged schools, and institutions of that kind would prove failures. He had in his hand a compendium of the crimes which had occurred in beershops, and the picture was a terrible one. There had been in the course of the past year no less than 711 broils and violent assaults, 294 robberies, 237 cases of atrocious cruelties upon wives and children, 166 serious accidents, 162 actual and attempted suicides, 520 terrible deaths, and 120 murders and manslaughters, all arising from the vice of drinking. He did not go the whole length with the Alliance, which had been formed, but this he would say, that if he was to have the alternative, whether these frightful crimes were to continue or licences destroyed, he should have no hesitation in saying that he would have all licences destroyed, and the sale of intoxicating liquors entirely suppressed. A Committee was obtained and presided over by Lord Harrow by last year. Before that Committee there was given the testimony of forty chaplains of gaols, who were unanimous in attributing the vast majority of the crimes for which prisoners were convicted to the influence of the beershops. He would refer also, to the united testimony of the City Missionaries, who were so well acquainted with the habits of the people in the courts and alleys of the metropolis. They agreed that the beershop was the first step to crime, that it was there crimes were concocted, and there where the wretched people went to gloat over the wickedness they had committed.


said, he would not then enter into a premature discussion on the provisions of the Bill as other opportunities would be afforded him of stating his opinions on the subject. There could be no doubt as to the effect which drunkenness had in increasing crime, and the great point to be solved was, what was the best means of preventing drunkenness. How far the provisions of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill would have that effect would be better discussed at a future stage than at present. The Committee of 1853–54 had taken a great deal of evidence on the licensing system and the beerhouse system, and the conclusion they came to as to the expediency of abolishing the distinction between beerhouses and public-houses was the same as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but they came to a very different conclusion as to the hands in which the licensing power should be placed. It would be well if hon. Members, before the second reading of the Bill, would look into the evidence taken before that Committee, which contained much useful information on this subject. As a great deal of interest would no doubt be excited in the country by the Bill on account of the great amount of property embarked in the beer trade, as well as from other and higher causes, he would suggest that a sufficiently long interval should elapse before the second reading to allow the public to become well acquainted with its provisions.


said, he doubted whether there was any subject on which opinions were more unanimous than on that of drunkenness being the chief source of crime. There could not, he maintained, be a greater nuisance than beershops as they were at present constituted throughout the country. He was therefore glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman had undertaken the task of supplying a remedy for the evil. At the same time he must express an opinion that it ought not to have been left to a private Member to deal with the subject. He thought the country had a strong claim upon Her Majesty's Government, who should have made an attempt to deal with this great national evil. It was not by any means a new subject. For the last six or seven years the attention of Parliament had been drawn to it. In 1850 and 1851 the Earl of Harrow by conducted an inquiry into the evils of these beershops. In 1852 he (Sir J. Pakington) gave notice of a Motion on the subject, and it was taken up by the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Deedes). Then a Committee sat in 1853, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Villiers) on behalf of the Government. He, as a member of that Committee, had hoped that after that long inquiry, and after a Report had been presented to the House, Her Majesty's Government would have taken some steps to have carried through some legislative measures based upon those recommendations. But 1855 and 1856 passed without anything being done, and he believed that 1857 would also have passed by had it not been for the exertions of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had that evening asked leave to introduce his Bill. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would not be content with merely complimenting the hon. and learned Gentleman; but would do what they could towards carrying out the Report of their own Committee and bring legislation of the subject to a successful termination.


said, he rose to notice the assumption made by the right hon. Gentleman, that the limitation of beershops would necessarily be beneficial and diminish the ranks of drunkards. It appeared to him that this Bill began at the wrong end. The people did not drink because beerhouses were there, but the beerhouses were there because the people drank. There were two classes of people in this country, those who had an unbounded command over the means of intoxication, and those whose consumption of intoxicating liquors was limited by their means. Now, it was said that there was less intoxication, but that was amongst those classes who had an unbounded command over the means of intoxication. It might be true that robberies and other offences were concocted in these houses, but were counting-houses and banking-houses free from such imputations. He thought they should not prevent the people from having access to these houses when they were properly conducted. It was a mistake to impose restrictions on those who were sober, because some persons got drunk.


observed that the wish expressed by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Pakington), that the Government should carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee could hardly be realised, inasmuch as the Committee was in favour of throwing open the trade altogether, and the Bill of the hon. and learned Member proposed to limit as much as possible the number of public-houses.


believed that every additional house open for the sale of intoxicating liquors was an additional temptation. People did not begin through a desire for drink, but they went to beershops in the first instance for company. The fact was, that the number of these houses was so great that the keepers of them could not possibly get a living without additional immoral incentives besides selling drink. It was an evil that ought to have been taken up by the Government, but as they had failed, he was glad the hon. Gentleman had taken it up. He would engage that the licensed victuallers would be almost unanimous in favour of the Bill, and the majority of the beersellers also. All who had now got houses would be in favour of licences being granted by the magistracy instead of the Excise.


regarded the proposed measure as one in the right direction; but it was in direct antagonism to the Report of the Committee, and he hoped the Government would not let the Session pass without themselves legislating on the subject.


hoped the hon. Member would not suppose that because this Bill was now read the first time, with the general concurrence of the House, that it would not excite some opposition. He entirely differed from him as to the remedy he proposed. The hon. Member had greater faith in the magistracy of this country than he had, in reference to the granting of licences. He should be much more disposed to throw the trade open, and to deprive the magistrates of the power they at present possessed. He could not promise the hon. Member his support; on the contrary, he thought he should be obliged to oppose the Bill.


remarked that the source of the evil lay in the character of the people. Unfortunately their education had not been sufficiently attended to. The hon. Gentleman made two allusions which reacted against his own proposition. He said the rich class in this country had reformed themselves. And also that no restrictive laws were imposed on them; taverns were not closed, and yet education, and that which was still higher than education—religion and morals—had improved them. With regard to the working classes, they allowed no such means; but they wanted to put them down with restrictive laws. He was a friend to anything, in a reasonable sense, which might lead the people to conduct themselves better. He looked to such places as working men's reading-rooms, and places of that kind, as more likely to lead the poor classes away from these houses, and to give them higher aspirations than such measures as were now proposed.


agreed most cordially with the proposition that the granting of these licences should be taken from the Excise and vested in the magistrates. In the borough he represented there was a beerhouse which was kept up as a brothel of the lowest character, the resort of all the thieves in the neighbourhood. Representations had been made by the magistrates to the Excise; but the Excise said they had no discretion or option in the matter, but were obliged to grant the licence.


replied: He wished to maintain a distinction between beershops and public-houses, as he thought it was of the utmost importance that those who frequented beershops should not be tempted there by the sale of ardent spirits. He was surprised to hear an hon. Member say that drunkenness was not increased by adding to the number of taverns and beerhouses. The throwing open of spirit licences during the last century had produced a degree of drunkenness quite horrible to contemplate, and Lord Chesterfield denounced the Act which produced that addition as a measure which sanctioned the sale of poison. He (Mr. Hardy) was a free trader in everything but in the sale of intoxicating liquors, because he believed that a system of restriction was the only means by which drunkenness could be checked. Resolved—"That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the laws relating to the general Sale of Beer by retail, and to regulate certain places of public resort, refreshment, and entertainment.

House resumed.

Resolution reported.

Bill ordered to brought in by Mr. FITZROY, Mr. HARDY, MR. WILLIAM BROWN, and Mr. HEADLAM.

Bill read 1°,