§ VISCOUNT MELGUND
said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the laws regulating the side and consumption of Exciseable Liquors in Scotland. Since he had given notice of his Motion, which he thought was a very reasonable and moderate one, a good deal of opposition—more than the occasion justly warranted—had been excited against it. With the permission of the House, he would say a few words in explanation of his own position with respect to the question. It was now about a year since statements were made in that House by the Government and by several hon. Members that abuses of a very grave character existed in Scotland with reference to the working of the Publichouses Act; and hopes were expressed that some inquiry would be instituted into this subject. He was convinced, after full consideration, that some inquiry was desirable. Deputations waited upon the late Government urging that inquiry should take place, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth admitted that they had made out a primâ facie case for inquiry, though he could not say what course he should take. After the late Government went out of office similar representations were made to the present Government. But, nothing having been done by the Government, he felt it to be his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject last Session. Several of his friends, however, requested him, as the Session was then far advanced, to postpone his Motion until this Session, promising, at the same time, to support it when again brought forward. To that course he felt called upon to assent, and accordingly withdrew his Motion. He had hoped that the right bon. Member for Cam- 1203 bridge University (Mr. Walpole) would have been induced to take up the subject, and it would have been a great satisfaction to him if that had been done. Inasmuch as the Scotch Publichouses Act, commonly called Forbes Mackenzie's Act, was the offspring of a Committee of that House, he thought it better to proceed, in the first instance, by moving for a Committee of Inquiry into the operations of that Act than by asking for leave to bring in a Bill. Forbes Mackenzie's Act was of a restrictive character, and partook very much of the character of a sumptuary law; but that was a description of legislation which was only to be defended when it accomplished its purpose without raising incidental grivevances of as serious a character as those it was to remove. This Act, in that character, was not unprecedented, especially in Scotland; for in that country they had had a law to determine the number of dishes that should be put upon the table, and the apparel which the family might wear. Some 200 years ago a severe statute was passed against alehouses, subjecting those who frequented them to penalties, and afterwards to the jougs—the stocks of Scotland—being a kind of tackle for securing the offender to the church door when penalties had failed of their effect. That statute seems to have failed of its effect, for a few years afterwards another was passed, according to the preamble, "in consequence of the abominable and much-abounding sin of drunkenness." The chief features of the Forbes Mackenzie Act, as far as they occasioned the grievances complained of, were these:—It closed all publichouses and hotels at eleven o'clock at night, and prohibited the opening of publichouses, inns, or hotels on Sunday. It gave a discretionary power to the magistrates to limit the number of publichouses, and complaints had been made that the magistrates had not acted impartially. He believed these complaints were well-founded; the magistrates were often imbued with such strong opinions of the propriety of suppressing drunkenness by the power of the law, that when they sat judicially they were quite incapable of acting in an impartial manner. They frequently heard appeals on cases they had themselves decided. They were liable to be canvassed by bodies of men whose principles of total abstinence led them to endeavour to procure the refusal of all licences; and, when so canvassed, the magistrates often acted in a man- 1204 ner that proved they did not wish to deal with every case on its own merits. They had a general form of certificate which they required to be filled up before they would grant a licence. Any applicant for one was refused, unless he would accept certain conditions. One of these conditions was, that no licence should be granted for a publichouse if it had a back door. He did not wish to make any attack upon the magistrates, but it was extremely doubtful if men holding strong opinions of this kind could fairly be allowed to exercise the powers of the bench. A conflict was provoked, and in the Courts of Appeal one set of magistrates would admit every licence, while another would refuse them all. Whether the Forbes Mackenzie Act had prevented any drunkenness or not, the collateral evils that could be traced to it were undoubted. In the returns of the convictions under the Act in Aberdeen there were three columns, one was for persons charged as disorderly, another for those drunk and disorderly, and a third for those found drunk. If in one year there was a decreased noted under one of these heads, there was a precisely similar increase in another. The result was—that in 1852—the year before the Act passed—4,700 persons were taken by the police for drunkenness; in 1857 there were 1,760 such cases. That showed an apparent decrease; but it was made up for by the number of persons taken up for other crimes and found drunk, the numbers being 729 in 1852, and 1,520 in 1857. In Inverness the number of persons taken up by the police for being drunk in 1852 was 204; in 1857 the number showed a considerable diminution—it was only 93; but from all the private information he had received, and from the statements in the newspapers, he believed the Act in Inverness was almost a dead letter. There was an apparent decrease in the cases of drunkenness, but the facts did not tell one way or the other. In Glasgow, also, there appeared to be a diminution of the number of cases of drunkenness, but the number of persons charged with being drunk and disorderly had increased. With regard to Sunday drinking, he believed this Act had had some effect. In Ednburgh the returns gave 1,739 as the number of drunken cases on a Saturday, 922 on Sunday, and only 869 on Monday, the most sober day of the week. Taking the average of the whole year, exclusive of the Saturdays, the number of Sunday cases were quite equal to those 1205 occurring on the weekdays. The advantage of the Sunday over them was only that of 922 to 1,007. The number of licensed houses in Glasgow, in 1853, was 1,994; in 1857 they had been reduced to 1,673, but the increase of the number of convictions, in 1857, was 223. Crime had also increased. The reduction of licensed houses below the demands of the public had led to an alarming increase of illicit trade in spirituous liquors. The undoubted effect of the Act had been to decrease the number of licensed houses, and there had been in consequence a falling off in the revenue, while shebeens, or unlicensed houses, where drink could be had on all days and at all times, were become more numerous. When licences were withdrawn, the landlord usually set up a shebeen, and drove a better trade than before. One account stated that there were more persons selling spirits without a licence than with one. Another account stated that the Act was systematically broken. He believed it was an undoubted fact that in Edinburgh there were between 200 and 300 unlicensed houses where drink was constantly sold, and one evil of such places was, that persons were kept there until they were sober, whereas the publican had to turn his customers out at a certain hour, and it was his interest not to allow them to drink so much as to become noisy and quarrelsome. The profits of the illicit trade were enormous, and there were instances of persons who had paid more than £200 in fines, in a few years, and still carried on their business. Another account stated, that in one small house spirits to the amount of £200 or £300 had been sold during four months, and several accounts went to show that drinking at home had increased. All these statements, although not made upon his own authority, were sufficiently supported to justify investigation. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, an impartial body of men, stated in their Report for last year that, in their opinion, the restriction on the number of licensed houses would not reduce intemperance, and that Edinburgh and Glasgow furnished abundant evidence that it was not by such means the habits of the population could be changed. In Edinburgh, the cases of fines for keeping unlicensed houses had increased from eight in 1853 to twenty-one in 1857, and in Glasgow from two to twenty-two. The repression of shebeens and clubs had given rise to 1206 the employment of the police and others as spies. In Glasgow it had been the custom to employ the police, and a more unfortunate custom he could not well conceive. It led to a most unpleasant feeling in the minds of the people towards the police, and sometimes to riot and bloodshed. He was sorry to say that two officers of police had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for six and eight months for a violent attack on the conductors of one of these shebeens. The establishment of clubs was an invention by which people were able to obtain drink at any time, and members of them were allowed to introduce a friend. In Glasgow, Lieutenant Stupart, the inspector of police, introduced a student of divinity, named John Kirk, to some police officers; and Kirk and another student, named Bruce, introduced the officers to the Shakspeare Club, in the Trongate, both under false designations. By an expenditure of 8s., supplied by Stupart, a case was made out against the conductors of the club, who were fined £7. It appeared that Kirk was employed by the police in making out these cases, and that Stupart supplied the money to the officers, who were introduced by him, for it appeared that a person named Montgomery, the keeper of the Independent Workmen's Club, was informed against by a policeman and Kirk for selling four cigars without a licence. The policeman and Kirk had spent 18s. in five clubs in the same night. In another case two men, dressed as carters, called upon an old man named Cameron, on a Sunday, and said they had come a great distance, and should be glad of a little spirit. The old man at first refused, though he afterwards consented, but he declared on his deathbed he never took anything in payment. He was prosecuted. The two carters appeared against him in the uniform of the police. He was fined and sent to prison, where he was deprived of his clothes, dressed in a felon's suit, compelled to lie on a bard board, and not allowed to see his friends. At last he was liberated in a dying state, and only survived a few days, leaving a family entirely destitute. The vile practice of dressing the police in plain clothes had been discontinued in Glasgow, but they still employed men and women, who were known as police substitutes, received money from them, and were then left to their own devices to find out the 1207 best method to entrap their game. These were the general grounds on which he ventured to ask for an inquiry. It was undoubtedly true that immorality to a great extent prevailed in many towns in Scotland. The complaints were not, in all cases, the same. He believed the city of Glasgow was the worst place in all Scotland, though Edinburgh and some other towns were not very much better. In proposing that, consistently with precedent, the House should of itself institute an inquiry into this matter, and not delegate its powers to any other body. He was perfectly willing to leave the appointment of the Members of the Committee to the Committee of Selection, the Government, or any other impartial tribunal. At the same time, provided the investigation was fair and complete, he should be satisfied with whatever method the House in its wisdom might think fit to adopt.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquite into the Laws regulating the Sale and Consumption of Excisable Liquors in Scotland.
§ SIR ANDREW AGNEW
said, that while he acknowledged that the noble Viscount's motives were strictly fair and honourable, he was compelled to move as an Amendment to his Motion, that the proposed inquiry should be conducted by a Royal Commission, instead of by a Select Committee. It was admitted on all hands that Mr. Forbes Mackenzie's Act entailed individual hardship, and was capable of many amendments. But if a Committee were appointed the case against that Act would be put before the public in an exaggerated and too salient light; while on the other hand, due prominence and weight would not be given to the evidence in support of its good working. The testimony in favour of the Act would emanate from the quiet respectability of the country, such as magistrates, ministers, and inspectors of police, who would state in a calm and sober manner that the measure, though certainly attended with some hardships, had on the whole operated satisfactorily; whereas a few well-established grievances, paraded and made the most of by active and hostile witnesses, were likely to create a factitious impression against the law, and to put out of sight its many countervailing advantages. Moreover, there would be great inconvenience in requiring the attendance of ministers of religion, magistrates, and others, to speak of the working 1208 of the Act before a Committee of that House; and if such a tribunal were appointed, not only would a very serious expense be incurred, but there was no guarantee that political changes might not interrupt its labours and disperse its members before the blue book they had undertaken to compile was half completed. Two parties had identified themselves with this subject: those who were in favour of a Committee, and those who were in favour of a Commission; and at first sight there might appear but a little difference between them. The fact was, however, that those who supported the Motion for a Committee demanded inquiry in a hostile spirit. The friends of the Forbes Mackenzie Act on the other hand asked for a Royal Commission, which they believed could pursue its investigations continuously to a close, and collect the materials for a sound judgment, by visiting the different localities concerned, and taking the general sense of the country on the question at issue. Whisky was the curse of Scotland, and he would be a rash man who would seek to remove any practical restraint on the national vice of drunkenness. No legislation imposing restrictions of this kind could be prevented from inflicting individual hardship; but what had to be considered was, the general wellbeing of the community. There was a clear distinction between the inn or the eating-house and the dram-shop, the last was an unmitigated evil; and when the question lay between the interest of the whisky-seller and that of the poor man's family, who suffered so much from the squandering of his wages upon drink, he must say all his sympathies were with the latter. When so much was said about extending the political power of the masses, he trusted that liberal Gentlemen who were so anxious to give the labouring man a vote, would, by supporting his Amendment, show that in their opinion temperance was a most essential qualification for the suffrage.
§ MR. FINLAY
said, he would second the Amendment. He had listened to the observations of the noble Viscount with great surprise. Judging from his own experience he could hardly have recognized the Act from the description given of it by the noble Viscount. As far as the district he represented was concerned, there could be no doubt that drunkenness had been materially diminished under the Forbes Mackenzie Act, which was regard- 1209 ed as a boon to the labouring classes. His opinion was in favour of a Royal Commission, because he believed it to be impossible for a Committee to investigate the subject as it ought to be done. Hon. Members who had served upon Railway Committees knew that the evidence was prepared for them in such a way that the most acute mind could scarcely find out the truth. There would be the publicans on one side and the teetotallers on the other, and between their conflicting evidence it would be difficult for the Committee to come to a decision. Then, the expense of bringing 200 or 300 witnesses to London would be very great, and, after all, the investigation might be cut short by a dissolution. A Royal Commission could choose their witnesses and make their inquiries upon the spot, and he was quite convinced that they would come to an easier, quicker, and more satisfactory conclusion.
To leave out the words 'a Select Committee be appointed,' in order to insert the words 'an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission,' instead thereof.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he understood that the Government intended to offer no opposition to an inquiry, and it was, therefore, undesirable that the House should involve itself in a discussion as to the disputed facts relative to the Forbes Mackenzie Act. He was of opinion that the Government had acted wisely in conceding an inquiry. When at the Home Office a deputation had waited upon him to complain of time operation of the Act. He would not at that time pledge himself to accede to a Motion for inquiry until he had heard the opinions and representations of others, and he wished to guard himself now against agreeing in time denunciations of the operation of the Forbes Mackenzie Act. He had heard from many persons that the effect of that Act had been highly beneficial, and that its operation had caused a more decent observance of the Sunday in Scotland in places where drunkenness used to prevail. On the other hand, representations were made that the Act had increased the illicit sale of excisable liquors, and that while licensed houses were shut up whisky was drunk to a great extent in unauthorized places on Sundays in defiance of the law. These conflicting representations were a fair subject of inquiry, but he had heard no reason fur departing from the ordinary 1210 and universal course of conducting an inquiry into similar subjects—namely, by a Select Committee. Inquiries into the sale of excisable liquors had frequently been made by Parliamentary Committees with the greatest convenience and advantage. Not the slightest difficulty or inconvenience was felt in obtaining witnesses from all parts of the country, and the expense would be far less than that of a Royal Commission. It was a serious reflection upon the House that it could not conduct a fair inquiry upon such a subject. The hon. Member who proposed a Commission said that this would be more acceptable in Scotland; but a little longer experience in that House would have convinced him that a Committee, impartially chosen, would be the best tribunal. There would be no such waste of money as the hon. Gentleman anticipated. No witnesses would be summoned except with the sanction of the Committee, and a well-constituted Committee would not send for them till they were wanted. The expense of bringing witnesses from Scotland was not much greater in the present day than bringing them from Manchester, York, or Newcastle. But what would be the expense of a Commission? He supposed it would be in part at least a paid Commission. It must have a paid secretary. The travelling and hotel expenses of the Commissioners must be paid, and he would answer for it that the cost of the Commission would far exceed that of a Committee. Then the hen. Gentleman said he should prefer a Commission because the labours of a Committee might be cut short by a dissolution. But was that a doctrine which the Lord Advocate would sanction? Was time House of Commons called upon to abrogate one of the most important of its functions because it was possible that a dissolution might intervene? If so, let the House at once suspend all inquiries before Committees. He trusted that the Government would adhere to time ordinary Parliamentary course, and that they would not be parties to casting the reflection upon the House of Commons that they were unable to conduct an inquiry into the working of the Forbes Mackenzie Act.
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
said, he believed the operation of the Forbes Mackenzie Act had proved useful and beneficial to Scotland, but the House was not now called on to enter on a discussion which might have been proper on the second reading of the Forbes Mackenzie Act, and 1211 he should not follow his noble Friend into the discussion of the principle of that Act or the other irrelevant topics which he had introduced. The question then before the House was whether they should proceed by Commission or Committee. This question excited a good deal of interest in Scotland, and he had presented numerously signed petitions that day praying for inquiry by a Royal Commission. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth bad endeavoured to persuade the House that it could not accede to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Baronet opposite without casting a slur on the impartiality of the Committees of the House; but the petitioners disclaimed all such intention. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Walpole), had signified his opinion that the best way of arriving at a fair and full inquiry into the question would be by means of a Royal Com mission, upon which the noble Lord (Viscount Melgund) had on the instant risen and given notice that he should move for a Committee. As the majority of the people in Scotland greatly preferred, for obvious reasons, that the inquiry should be conducted by a Commission, by which alone a full and satisfactory inquiry would be conducted, so as to ascertain, by inquiry on the spot, the real wishes and feelings of the people, they had felt called on, without meaning the slightest disrespect to the House, to express their preference of the course suggested on the part of the Government by his right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State, whom no one would accuse of wishing to derogate from the character or impartiality either of the House or its Committees. It had been objected by some—and he thought that the right hon. Baronet who spoke last seemed to agree in that view—that a Commission ought not to be appointed except upon the Report of a Committee of the House; but he was told by the highest authority in the House that there was no such rule, and that, in adopting the course suggested by the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment, they would not be deviating from the ordinary course of proceeding. If a Commission were appointed it would be able to visit all the towns even as far north as Inverness and Wick, in fact, all the towns where there was any considerable amount of population, and inquire not only into the operation of the Act, but what he thought was more necessary, into the feeling of the people with 1212 regard to it. He believed there were two parties to the inquiry—first, the publicans and those unhappy persons who were given to indulging in that nectarious mountain dew, which, he was sorry to say, was apt to bring people into a state of extravagant exhilaration; and secondly, all those who felt interested in an inquiry into the matter. The latter believed that two-thirds of the crime and one-half of the pauperism of the country was owing to the unfortunate propensity for drink, and they wished to remove from Scotland the stigma that attached to it on account of this wretched state of things. As to the returns of the quantity of spirits consumed in Scotland, he thought that Scotland was not treated justly by them; for he believed that a good part of the spirits put down to them was consumed by persons on this side of the Tweed. He did not profess to be a teetotaller himself. When he was out on the moors he was not unwilling to mix the pure water of the hill-side with a little of that still purer dew which was to be found on the mountain; but he thought it was high time that the Scotch cleared themselves of the too-well founded charge of being the most drunken people in Europe. If a Committee were appointed he hoped that it would be continuous, and not broken off. He believed that the Bill introduced by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be carried through the House, and then there would be no fear of the sitting of the Committee not being continuous, and doubtless such was the opinion of his noble Friend when he proposed this Committee, and the Government might rely on his support. Still he thought he saw a small cloud rising in a volcanic region of the House which might overspread the political heavens, and drive them to take refuge in the arms of their constituents; but he was not much afraid that that would be the case. There were many things of minor importance in the Bill, besides those referred to by the noble Viscount, that would have to be inquired into. The noble Viscount's inquiries went into some matters to which the Act did not extend, but he had little doubt that the evils he complained of did not exist. If the shebeens did exist in the way that was complained of, he thought that it was owing to the negligence of the police. Thirty years ago he could have found a dozen private stills at work in the course of a morning's walk, but that had all been put down, and he did not think that such a thing as smuggling existed at 1213 all now; and it was to be remembered that in this case there was not such a violent and difficult class to deal with. He would not trespass longer on the time of the House, but would conclude by expressing a hope that the suggestion which was made by the Government, as it had emanated from the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, would be adopted by the House, and in so doing they would comply with the unanimous wish of the Scotch people.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, he would have been glad if he could have taken the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Grey) that the inquiry which, he admitted, ought to be instituted into the working of the Mackenzie act should be made by a Committee of that House, and not by a Commission; but having given the matter his most serious consideration, he believed that the preferable mode would be to issue a Royal Commission. He should have been glad if he could have relieved the Government of the responsibility of the question, but they were willing to undertake the responsibility of recommending a Royal Commission if the House should think that mode the preferable one. He did not entertain any doubt as to the impartiality of a Committee, but he hoped he might take for granted that in nominating a Commission the Government would get credit for endeavouring, at all events, to secure the services of Gentlemen who would also be impartial. It would be out of place for him to express any opinion upon the merits of the Mackenzie Act. That was a question upon which great difference of opinion existed in Scotland, and it was highly desirable, on that ground alone, that there should be an inquiry in order that the truth might be ascertained. If a Committee were appointed, the probability was that no witnesses would be tendered to it except such as held strong opinions upon the subject, and even if an effort were made to procure more reliable evidence, it could not be successful without compelling persons to come to London, who, like the masters of great works in Glasgow, for example, could not leave their ordinary occupations without inconvenience and hardship. On the other hand, a competent unpaid Commission, conducting their inquiries on the spot, visiting the different localities, not contenting themselves with listening to the evidence brought before them by interested parties, but picking out such witnesses as they thought would tell the truth, and 1214 making their own observations, could not fail to lead to a beneficial and satisfactory result. The habit of drinking to excess in which many, though he was glad to say but a small minority, of his countrymen indulged, led to a great portion of the crime which it was his misfortune to have to prosecute in his official capacity; and he trusted, therefore, that the House would consent to the proposed inquiry, which might result in a diminution of the consumption of ardent spirits in Scotland.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
remarked that English Members could form no conception of the agitation which the question as to the mode in which the proposed inquiry should be conducted had excited in Scotland. He believed he had received more letters upon it than he had upon the subject of Parliamentary Reform. It was not correct to say, that those who preferred a Committee to a Commission were in favour of publichouses and drunkenness. His own feeling was decidedly in favour of the Mackenzie Act, as he thought that, upon the whole, it had operated beneficially, but he maintained that it had been attended with very varying effects in different parts of the country. Those portions of it, for example, which related to the closing of publichouses at a certain hour of the evening were very well adapted to small villages and rural districts, but it was almost impossible to carry them into effect in large towns. We might have a curfew in thinly populated places, but even William the Conqueror would have failed to establish it in great cities like Manchester and Glasgow. A Committee was preferable to a Commission, because it was a ready and convenient mode of informing the House upon the practical operation of the Mackenzie Act, and so enabling them, if necessary, to legislate on the subject. In a Commission on the other hand, the truth would be learned amidst the mass of evidence. The nature of the subject to be investigated afforded another reason for preferring a Committee of inquiry. The conduct of publicans, magistrates and police had to be inquired into, and he entertained the gravest doubts respecting the propriety of delegating the duty of inquiring into a matter of this kind to any Commission, however fairly constituted. An investigation by the power and authority of that House was needed, and the matter would only be shelved and got rid of by referring it to a Commission.
said, he did not rise to 1215 express any opinion on the merits of the Act which had been the subject of discussion, nor did he intend to offer any opinion as to the course which ought to be taken with respect to it, but he wished to understand whether the Lord Advocate meant that the Commission should sit in Edinburgh and take evidence there, or perambulate the country and go wherever they liked. He presumed that the latter was intended, for, if not, he could not see any advantage in a Commission sitting in Edinburgh over a Committee sitting in London. He wished the House, then, to consider the expense if a Commission should be appointed. The Commission, being a roving Commission, must travel all over Scotland, and must take evidence, not only in large cities but in the most remote rural districts, because it was said that the operation of the Act differed in these different places. Now, let the House consider the volumes of evidence taken in single towns by Commissions on the corrupt practices of Members of Parliament, and reflect on the bill of costs occasioned by those Commissions. If a Commission were appointed in respect to the matter under discussion he presumed it must be a paid Commission. [Cries of "No!"] Well, he knew the expense which even unpaid Commissions bad led to. There must be a secretary and Mr. Gurney's reporters from London, for he had been told by Commissioners that they could not depend on local reporters. The Commission which went to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to inquire into the causes of the cholera there cost upwards of £2,000 and the inquiry only lasted two or three weeks. Independently of the saving of expense and of time which would be effected by the appointment of a Committee instead of a Commission, an additional advantage would accrue from the presence in this House of thirteen Gentlemen who had listened to the evidence, and who would be enabled individually to give their opinions as to its bearings. He had heard no reason in favour of a Commission but many in favour of a Committee.
said, that, if the hon. Member who had just sat down had heard no reason in favour of a Commission, he (Mr. Hardy) had heard none in favour of a Committee. He thought that the result of previous Committees which had sat upon questions of this description was unfavourable to such a mode of inquiry in the present instance. The Committee on public- 1216 houses in 1853–4 was composed of eminent men. They sat at uncertain and distant intervals, sometimes one, sometimes another Member was absent, and, in the end, they made a report, the responsibility of which nobody seemed to undertake, and which had never been acted upon. In that case, too, as would probably happen if a Committee were appointed now, the inquiry, instead of being quiet and impartial, was a conflict of partisans. The present was not the time to discuss the law on this subject; but he quite admitted that the time had come for inquiry—not such an inquiry as would elicit the evidence of interested and prejudiced persons only, but one which would guide the House to a definite conclusion. The last speaker had said that a Commission would be a roving Commission. So, to a certain extent, it would. But it would not go into any little village. It would visit all the large towns and many of the country districts. By this means many persons, not feeling violently on either side, but taking a just view of the matter, would offer themselves for examination; whereas if a Committee sat, only extreme partisans of either side would be brought up to London. He believed that a Commission would act in a judicial manner, and furnish the House with information upon which it might safely legislate.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, he was of opinion that the decision come to by the Government in this matter would give satisfaction to the people of Scotland. If the inquiry was to be by Committee, the proceedings would be a conflict between the teetotallers on the one hand, and the licensed victuallers on the other; and the opinions of the great majority of the public, and of the magistrates, clergy, and police would not be ascertained. The operation of the Act in Glasgow, and the mode in which it had been put in force by the magistrates of that city, could not very well be inquired into by a Committee up stairs. On the other hand, a Commission would very soon arrive at the truth of the matter. He had heard very few complaints of the operation of the present Act, and he could not shut his eyes to the beneficial effect which had resulted from it to the lower classes of society, nor had he met with one impartial thinking man who took a different view of the question. Those complaints which were made had their origin amongst the spirit-dealers and manufacturers. No doubt there were some defects in the Act, but 1217 they could be investigated, and where proved could be remedied by the Bill which would be brought forward after the inquiry was over.
§ LORD JAMES STUART
said, he had presented to the House a number of petitions from the County of Ayr in favour of the present Act. Every one of those petitions were from towns of considerable importance, and they were all in favour of an inquiry by Commissioners. He had also presented a petition from Buteshire asking for such an investigation, and he fully coincided in the view taken by the Government.
MR. E. ELLICE (St. Andrews)
said, he had had some difficulty in making up his mind as to the form of inquiry which should take place. He was one of those who were in favour of the existing Act; still he thought there were some of the minor provisions of it which might possibly be amended. The Act generally had been most beneficial to the working classes, and he believed the feeling was that the Act should be maintained. He believed also that the spirit-dealers and manufacturers had given up any intention of obtaining an alteration of the Act so far as it regarded the restrictions upon the sale of spirits. In Glasgow and Edinburgh there might be some aggravation of the complaints, but in the rural districts no complaints at all existed. It had appeared to him at the first blush to be a matter of little consequence whether the inquiry were conducted through the medium of a Committee or a Commission, but that he had ultimately arrived at a decision in favour of the latter, as he found the field of inquiry was to be larger than he originally supposed. No doubt all accusations ought to be inquired into on the spot, where the evidence could be properly taken, and where the parties—the accusers and the accused—could be brought before the Commissioners. There were four sufficient reasons which compelled him to come to the conclusion that a Commission, and not a Committee, would be the best form of inquiry. First, the Government had accepted the responsibility of the task, and he for one did not wish to relieve them of that responsibility. Secondly, there were the strongest possible grounds for believing that the labours of the Commissioners would be concluded very shortly. Thirdly, greater justice would be done to all parties. And, fourthly, the inquiry selected was that generally in favour in Scotland.
§ VISCOUNT DUNCAN
said, this was a question which affected the welfare and interest of the working classes of Scotland by whom, a few years ago, a large quantity of spirits were consumed. Some parts of the Act might possibly require amendment, but all that the House had now to consider was whether the inquiry should be before a Committee or by a Commission; and he humbly thought that the Lord Advocate and the Government had most wisely adopted the latter course. The inquiry could be much more impartially carried on by a Commission, and therefore he should vote for it; but he begged to protest against its being supposed that all those hon. Members who voted for a Commission were teetotallers.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, he wished to remind the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) that under very similar circumstances last year he proposed that a Commission, instead of a Committee, should be appointed. He (Mr. Kinnaird) referred to the inquiry into the Universities of Scotland. A Royal Commission would go down to Scotland and settle the question; but a Committee sitting in London would effect nothing. The objection taken by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Wilson) as to the expense of a Commission, might be answered by referring him to the inquiry into the Harbours of Refuge. The inquiry before a Committee entirely failed, for they made a most unsatisfactory Report, and then a Commission had to be appointed, and a very able Report was the result. Therefore, on the point of economy, the objection utterly failed.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said, whilst acquiescing in the appointment of a Commission, he wished to express a hope that the evidence taken would be reported from day to day.
§ VISCOUNT MELGUND
said, he wished to signify his readiness, after the discussion which hail taken place, and the views which had been enunciated on the part of Her Majesty's Ministers, to withdraw his Motion. [Cries of "No, no!"]
§ Question, "That the words proposed to wish to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words inserted.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved—That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to appoint 1219 a Royal Commission to inquire into the Laws regulating the Sale and Consumption of Excisable Liquors in Scotland.