HC Deb 17 May 1860 vol 158 cc1423-37

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 12. (Notice of First Application for a Wine Licence for a Refreshment House to be given to Justices, who may object to the granting thereof on grounds to be stated.)


said, it would be difficult to carry out the clause as it stood, and he would suggest that, unless objection were made, the licence applied for should be issued in due form of law; and a proviso might be added that where notices of objection had been given, the justices should make their decision within ten days.


thought that the objection to the applicant should be raised at one meeting of the Bench and decided at the next.


said, he could not consent to this proposal. In deference to the feeling of the Committee the Government had given way respecting the Middlesex magistrates, who, it now appeared, would not meet above five or six times a year—a circumstance which would be extremely unjust to the parties. In all cases in which there were no objections raised by the magistrates, thirty days' notice was full and ample; he admitted, however, that where objections were raised some extension of the notice was necessary. What he proposed was this, that in ease objection was taken, the magistrates should have the power to signify the same to the supervisor, transmit to him the objection, and then that a new term of thirty days' notice should begin running from that date, and until after the expiration of which the licence should not be issued.


said, he only knew of one case in which the Sessions were held monthly; and there it was impossible that a longer interval than twenty-eight days could elapse between the sittings.


said, in places where it had been only usual to hold Sessions monthly, the operation of the Bill would necessitate more frequent meetings of magistrates for the granting of wine licences. He regarded the existing machinery as preferable to any which would be created under the Bill; but the magistrates' power of taking objections ought to be limited or defined.


said, he thought that the term of sixty days, in case of objection being taken, was quite sufficient. If the plan proposed by hon. Gentlemen were adopted five or six months would elapse before a person could be sure of getting a licence.


said, the further they proceeded with the Bill the greater were the difficulties which arose. For his own part, he should decline to give any opinion on this clause until he had seen it in the shape in which the numerous additions and Amendments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would place it. It had already been once completely altered, and now the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to add a new proviso to it. Until they saw it in its complete shape it was impossible to judge of its practicability. It was quite true that most Petty Sessions met more than once a month, and many even every fortnight, but the fact was, it would take so many of these meetings before anything satisfactory could be done, The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to him to have an idea that having given notice to a magistrate's clerk, the magistrates, when they came together, were to have a kind of intuitive knowledge of every man's character in the district. Magistrates, however, could only obtain that knowledge by inquiry, and inquiries required an outlay not only of time but of money. Then, again, the caveat was to be served. Who was to pay for all this? Somebody must be paid for making inquiries, or the inquiries would be of very little use. It was not to be expected that magistrates were to go poking their noses into every hole and corner. Some machinery must be set on foot to get the required information; somebody would have to ferret the matter out and to report to the magistrates what they thought worthy of stating. He should not offer any opposition to the clause, but the sooner they could have it before them in the shape in which the Government proposed to leave it the better it would be, because they could then all see whether it would be likely to work or not.


said, he rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice on the 12th clause. The Bill, as it at present stood, would create a great anomaly. It gave the magistrates the power of refusing or placing a veto on the licence of a winehouse; but that veto was limited to two grounds of objection. He proposed to ask the sanction of the Committee to an Amendment which would give the magistrates the same power of refusing a licence to a winehouse they now possessed with regard to ordinary public-houses. If it was right to take from the magistrates all control over public-house licences, let it be done by a distinct Bill; if it was wrong that they should possess this power over the new wineshops, it must also be wrong that they should exercise it over the common public-houses. If the power was left to them over one class of houses, and not over the other, the law would be rendered impracticable and perfectly ridiculous. The establishments which the Bill would create would combine all the elements of the old public-house; they might combine the eating-house with a beer licence; and then a wine licence might be added to it. This would make the new wineshop, to all intents and purposes, a public-house; for no one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman that spirits would be privately sold at them. But these establishments were to be licensed by the Excise department; the magistrates would have no power of judging whether the requirements of a neighbourhood rendered such houses necessary. Yet the Bill made a concession of this power of deciding according to the requirements of a locality to the Chancellors and authorities of the two Universities. The number of young men attending the lectures of the London University and King's College was large; and there was the whole youth of the Metropolis to be considered. If the controlling power was retained to the heads of the two Universities from consideration of the young men residing in them, why should not the same power be continued to the magistrates in the Metropolis? If they had not exercised their power over licences properly, let the law that gave them the authority be repealed altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had alluded to a case, reported in The Times, in which a person named Langham had applied for a public-house licence, which the magistrates refused. What would be the result of such a case under the present Bill? A man whose application for a public-house licence was refused would immediately take out a wine licence, or a beer licence, with which the magistrates could not interfere, carry on his business, and laugh at the magisterial power altogether. He did not deny that the licensing power of the magistrates might have been abused; if so, let it be abolished altogether. The hon. Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley), who seemed to be an opponent of the public-house keepers—perhaps because they were opponents of his—was opposed to this magisterial power. But, as the hon. Member for Norfolk said, it was quite ridiculous to suppose that people would get pure claret and chablis in these new wineshops. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he would gladly exchange the drunkenness of London for the drunkenness of Paris; but every one who knew anything of Paris knew that a cheap liquor of the strongest kind was commonly sold in the estaminets at Paris. But he did not put the question on this ground; he thought that the law as to licences should be applied to both classes of houses, or let it be repealed altogether. But if they confided the power of licensing to the magistrates in one instance, it was only just and fair they should give them the same power in the other.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the words "Wine Licence," in line 31, to the word "respectively," inclusive, in line 39, in order to insert the words "at their discretion, and upon all or any of the grounds on which they are now entitled to refuse or disallow any Licence by virtue of the Acts now in force regulating the granting of Licences to Public Houses.


said, he could complain neither of the Amendment nor of the manner in which it had been proposed. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in submitting it to the notice of the Committee, had commented on the conduct of the hon. Member for Westminster, who, he suggested, was the opponent of the publicans probably because they were opposed to him; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should very much like to know whether the converse of that proposition held good be that, however, as it might, he could not help thinking that it was not necessary to argue at length a question which certainly was the grand question of the debate on the second reading of the Bill. Anything in the shape of restraint—anything in the way of showing cause why licences should not issue, the Committee would be willing to entertain; but there could be no doubt that the pith and marrow of the Amendment lay in opposing the principle which was adopted by the House in the second reading. The hon. and learned Gentleman had cited the example of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, but in those cases there were vested rights secured by ancient charters, from which those corporate bodies derived considerable revenues, and he was sure the House would not destroy these beneficial interests by a bye-blow. The whole question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman was involved in the three opening words of the Amendment "at their discretion," and it was the question of this discretion that was disposed of on the second reading of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, "Let us have one system or the other; let us not have a modification." But that was precisely what the House had decided. The condition of public business would alone make it obvious that the House was not prepared at present to deal with the whole of the subjects embraced in the Report of the Committee of 1854. They had been brought by a special question to this special measure. They had passed a Bill under which wine was to be admitted into this country upon terms which would place it within the reach of a very much larger class of consumers than at present. They had had to consider whether that wine ought to be restrained as regarded its supply within the channels now provided by law, and that question the House had most wisely decided in the negative. He did not think it would be advantageous again to debate the social and moral questions involved. The issue raised by the present Amendment was the question which had been decided upon the second reading of the Bill, when the House came, by a large majority, to the conclusion that the time had arrived when, at all events as far as wine was concerned, a more extended means of consumption ought to be allowed through the medium of a freer system of licence, combined with greatly improved means of control and police regulation.


said, he should support the Amendment. The discussions which had taken place on the Bill tended distinctly to show that great difficulty in carrying out the law with reference to the regulation of the sale of liquors arose from the fact that different licences were granted. The Committee of 1854, for example, had arrived at the conclusion that the establishment of beershops—and the fact of their resorting to all sorts of expedients to obtain custom, thus compelling public-houses to follow their example—multiplied the evils in connection with such places of which complaint was made. That that view was correct was rendered pretty clear by the circumstance that in country towns and villages, where a check was put on the number of licences granted, the evils which were associated with public-houses were proportionately diminished; but, while he was far from saying that abuses did not prevail under the present system, he did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was taking the best or most honest course to provide for these abuses a remedy. A great deal had of late been said about the case of Langham, to whom a licence had been refused by the magistrates on the ground of his keeping a disorderly house. Let him suppose that upon that refusal he had taken a house in the immediate neighbourhood of that which he had formerly occupied, and obtained a licence, as he might do under the present Bill. He might make it an eating-house; the magistrates could not call it a disorderly house, for it had not been previously occupied, and a licence would be granted. They might make the law as strong as they pleased, but to a certain extent it would be evaded, and their only security would be to give the magistrates the initiative. He frankly owned that his objection to the magistrates was not as to what they had done in the initiative, but in respect of what they had omitted to do by way of check. They had paid too much respect to vested interests. When houses became disorderly, magistrates had no more reason to respect vested interests. At that moment the magistrates ought to interfere most stringently; and where there were two or three convictions for a disorderly house, they should proceed against the house itself. He did not admit the right of old charters to introduce immorality and disorder into the Metropolis. Three or four of the very worst places in London wore under the free vintners, or they would long ago have been put down by the magistrates. So long as character was left out of this clause, it became an imperfect means of putting a cheek on these houses; he should therefore support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone.


said, that with reference to what had been stated of him in connection with the licensed victuallers, he begged leave to say he had that respect for the licensed victuallers of the Metropolis to be convinced that if they saw a person stand up manfully maintaining his opinions, though these might not entirely coincide with their own, they were not at all likely to form a worse judgment of him. He was bound as a representative of the people to look to the general good of the community; and his firm belief was the public would derive the greatest possible advantage from these refreshment-houses. The Amendment sought to put these refreshment-houses entirely under the jurisdiction of the magistrates, who were to have the right or discretion of saying how many houses should be licensed for the sale of refreshments. The magistrates from the agricultural parts of Middlesex had no real means of knowing what number of refreshment-houses were required in any particular district of the Metropolis, and therefore he entirely objected to a discretionary power being placed in the hands of the magistrates. The number of refreshment houses in any district would soon find their own level. Whether he lay under the imputation of acting for or against the licensed victuallers, he should certainly oppose this Motion.


said, he believed the adoption of this Motion would tend to create a new set of vested interests, and they had enough of vested interests to deal with already. If the magistrates had power to decide how many houses should have these licences, in the Strand, for instance, or Holborn, the houses so licensed would speedily acquire that mysterious value now attached to the establishments of the licensed victuallers. If they ever wished to adopt the recommendations of the Committee let them reject the present Motion.


said, he thought that this clause embodied almost more objectionable features than any that he had ever seen. The irresponsible power proposed to be lodged in the hands of magistrates would bring down a great deal of blame upon them. If they were to give magistrates any power they had better give them power under the licensing system as it at present stood, but it was not fair to throw upon them a duty which they could not exercise without subjecting themselves to blame.


said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not entitled to quote the decision of the House on the second reading of the Bill in favour of this clause; because that right hon. Gentleman had undertaken, if they only consented to go into Committee, to make all sorts of amendments, obviating almost every conceivable objection. It was said the present licensing system ought not to continue, because a Committee had recommended that it should be changed. Nothing, however, could be more unjust or more impracticable than the plan suggested by that Committee—namely, that every public-house in the Metropolis should pay £30 before it was licensed; and every public-house in other parts of the country only £8. All experience showed that the discretion given to the justices in this matter should be as absolute as that proposed by this Amendment. Since the Norman con- quest, and probably long before it, houses for the sale of beer and wine had been under the strict control of the law; and, instead of relieving them from existing restraints, those restraints ought rather to be strengthened. If the justices did not now discharge their duty in regulating these places, let us have a law to make them; or, at all events, their functions might be remitted to the inhabitants of each locality. There was no more important duty which the magistracy could per form than that of repressing intemperance; and the better portion of the working classes desired to see stringent restrictions applied to places where the people now gathered together and were incited to drink to excess. If the magistracy were not prepared to co-operate in the promotion of public morality, let their powers for this object be confided to other hands. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said they must create increased channels for the abundant supplies of foreign wines which he anticipated. That argument only showed the necessity for taking additional precautions against abuse. By their legislation they might easily prevent the setting up of any of those new vested interests which appeared to frighten hon. Gentlemen. The conduct of Government on this question was anything but frank or satisfactory. Why did they not bring in a measure to consolidate and amend the whole of our law relating to the sale of intoxicating drinks? At all events, that law ought to be left as it stood, until it was revised with a view to the end for which it was designed—the repression of intemperance, not the filling of the public coffers.


said, that in this case the Excise was to grant the licence, though a sort of veto was given to the magistrates. This hybrid form of uniting together the two kinds of licence would produce great confusion. The competition likely to be created would be pernicious to public morals, and would render it more difficult to deal hereafter with the whole subject in a comprehensive measure, framed in accordance with the Report of a Select Committee. He should vote for the hon. Gentleman's proposal, because he thought it would be well to put the matter on something like an intelligible footing.


said, they were now in a transition state. The plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was much better than that of the Beer-houses Act. It gave to the magistrates the power of regulating these refreshment-houses; and the result would be to make those places far more orderly than the existing beerhouses. The Bill gave everybody who did not wish to frequent either a beer-house or a public-house the opportunity of partaking of wine in moderation. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, it might be without moderation. But that was a point that depended entirely upon the taste of those who frequented these houses. The measure should have his best support. The Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman was one which the Government could not support, and he trusted that they would go to the division as the friends or enemies of the Bill.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 154, Noes 117: Majority 37.


said, he proposed to insert in the clause words authorizing the refusal of a licence in cases in which the applicant had within three years been convicted of any offence, or had within that period kept a common inn, alehouse, or victualling-house, and been refused a renewal of his licence.


suggested that the word "misdemeanour" should be substituted for "offence" in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.


said, he had no objection to the substance of the Amendment, but thought that it ought to have been introduced earlier in the clause.


said, he thought that "offence" was too large a term. Anything was an offence, even the infraction of a Road Act.


suggested that the disqualification should be a conviction for felony, for any offence punishable by transportation or penal servitude, or for keeping a disorderly house.


said, he thought the objection taken by the hon. Member for Sheffield was a good one. There might be offences which did not really imply criminality.


would extend his Amendment, so that the disqualification should apply to the case of persons convicted of any offences punishable by imprisonment.


suggested a further addition—"coupled with hard labour."


thought the words should be "convicted of an offence which, in the opinion of the justices, ought to disqualify him from holding a licence."


suggested that the word should be "a misdemeanour punishable by fine or imprisonment."


said, it was a misdemeanour punishable by fine or imprisonment for a person to sleep in the open air when he had no house to be in. Was that to be a disqualification to last three years?


said, a subscriber to the fund for Garibaldi's expedition would be punishable by fine or imprisonment, and if the Solicitor General's suggestion were adopted he would be unable to keep a public-house for three years.


said, he thought that the hon. and learned Solicitor General would, by the substitution of this word, lead to a division where no difference really existed. The offence referred to in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) must be a misdemeanour, as it could not be a felony or high treason.


said, though he thought the word misdemeanour was not quite applicable to the case, he quite agreed with his learned Friend the Solicitor General that there were many offences, such as offences against the Highway Act, which would not come within the class proposed to exclude a person from taking out the licence.


suggested the words "misdemeanour, or other offence punishable by imprisonment."

Amendment agreed to.


said, he proposed to add, after the word "respects," the words, "And the clerks of the said justices shall be entitled to receive a sum to be fixed by the justices, not exceeding 2s. 6d. for each licence." The object of his Amendment was to create a fund to reimburse the clerks of the justices for the extra duties they would have to perform.


said, the hon. Member for Greenwich ought to have given notice of the Amendment, but as he had not done so it ought to be postponed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved at the end of the clause the insertion of a provision rendering it lawful for the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and justices respectively pending their decision on any objection aforesaid, to transmit to the supervisor before the expiration of thirty days a notice by way of caveat against the granting of the licence, and in that case the licence should not be granted if within the further period of thirty days the objection to the granting of the licence should be confirmed by tire said Lord Mayor, aldermen, or justices, and notice thereof given to the said supervisor.


said, he would suggest that a form of caveat should be inserted in a schedule.

Motion agreed to.

On Question that the Clause as amended stand part of the Bill,


said, that in the Metropolitan districts the power which they were now granting to the magistrates would neither benefit the public nor improve the regulation of these houses. The caveat would have no beneficial effect whatever. He would prefer to see the clause expunged altogether.

Clause as amended, agreed to.

Clause 13. (Notice to be given of Application for Licence to retail Wine to be consumed on the Premises in a House not previously licensed.)


said, it was not thought desirable to provide an appeal from the decision on original applications for licences, but with respect to applications for the renewal of licences it was considered advisable to provide appeal. He, therefore, proposed to introduce words giving an appeal with regard to renewals from Petty Sessions to the next General Quarter Sessions, but requiring that notice of objection to such renewal should be given three months before the time of renewal.


suggested that such a proposition would give three months' impunity to persons who improperly conducted their business.


replied, that as to all positive offences the present law would apply, and it was only fair that some such notice should be given.


drew attention to the additional expense that would be imposed upon the magistrates to defend their decision.


observed that possibly the offence which made a renewal objectionable might occur within three months of the expiration of the licence.


admitted that might happen, but the only alternative would be to deprive persons of the power of continuing their business during the pendency of the appeal, which would not be just.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

MR. P. W. MARTIN moved the following clause— That from and after the passing of this Act there shall be repealed the 12th Clause of an Act passed in the twenty-fourth year of the reign of his late Majesty King Geo. II., c. 40, and commonly called the Tippling Act. His object was to prevent persons who bought a bottle or two of wine or spirits at a time of an innkeeper instead of a wine merchant, on credit, to be consumed in their own private houses or lodgings, from afterwards pleading the Tippling Act. The peculiarity was that this was not done by the persons described in the preamble of the Act of George II. as of the "poorer and baser sort," but persons in a class of life who ought to have known better.


said, he objected to the hon. Gentleman's proposition, because the clause in question had been found most useful in its operation, for it had prevented publicans from imposing on poor men who, sitting in their houses till a late hour, at last got into such a state of intoxication that they really could not remember what they had had, and were therefore unable to swear that they had not had the quantity of drink for which in many cases they would, but for the operation of this clause, be sued. But also if the clause were repealed it would tend to increase drunkenness, for publicans, knowing that they could not recover for small quantities of drink supplied in such a manner, refused to give credit, and so the amount of drink consumed was limited.


said, he considered the clause not applicable to the Bill, the object of which was the sale of wine. He hoped the clause would not be pressed.


said, he trusted the Tippling Act would not be repealed under any circumstances.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he would then propose the following clause:— That from and after the passing of this Act, sec. 7 of 5 & 6 Will. IV., c. 39, shall be and the same is hereby repealed. His object was to place persons who sold spirits and beer in theatres on the same footing with licensed victuallers, over whom they had now an advantage with regard to the mode of obtaining a licence.


said, the proposed Amendment referred to matters not touched upon by the present Bill, and therefore it would be improper to add such a clause to it.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Member would be able to introduce his Amendment in the Bill in another shape, as the practice he proposed to deal with was a great scandal and disgrace.

MR. HUME moved, That the Chairman report progress.


said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not persist in his Motion. He had several clauses to propose, which, if introduced, would make the Bill complete, and enable hon. Members to judge of it as a whole, and it was of importance that that should be done now.


said, the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) was believed by many to be of great importance. He, therefore, hoped it would be understood that an opportunity would be given for its discussion on the Report.


said, there would be no difficulty upon that point.


said, he hoped that the Motion for reporting progress would be withdrawn, so that they might have the Bill printed in a complete form.


said, he would withdraw his Motion for reporting progress, on the understanding that the Bill should be recommitted with the new clauses in it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) would be in order in moving his clause respecting theatres on the Report.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved a clause to the effect that a wine licence should be forfeited on a second conviction within two years.

Clause agreed to.

On the Schedule,


said, he would propose to insert in the licence that the main and chief business carried on should be the sale of food. Unless some such condition were expressed the sale of a few biscuits would entitle a person to a wine licence.


could not agree to the proposal. He did not think it desirable to make the Excise the judges whether eating was the main and chief business of the house. The Justices, too, would not look to the licence, but to the Act of Parliament. The form of licence for a refreshment-house was, after some further conversation, agreed to, as was also that for the sale of wine to be consumed on the premises.


said, he thought the objection raised by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was valid. The law would be evaded if the words were not inserted.


suggested that the sale of wine under this licence should he placed under the same restriction as to hours as that for the sale of wine to be consumed on the premises.


approved of the suggestion.


thought it would be better for the Government to bring in a comprehensive measure to regulate the new system of morality that was to be established under this Bill.


said, he hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would shut up the houses of the licensed victuallers at the same time as the winchouses.


admitted that there was some force in the observation of the hon. Member for Sheffield. They could not, however, insert anything in a schedule which they had not enacted in the clauses of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Monday next.