HC Deb 25 May 1860 vol 158 cc1787-9

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1 (Responsibility of Innkeepers).


said, he objected to proceed any further with the Bill. It ought to be styled a Bill for the protection of innkeepers. It proposed to alter the old-established law with regard to innkeepers, and relieve them from a responsibility under which the trade had hitherto been satisfactorily conducted. It was proposed that a traveller should have no security for his effects if they were above the value of £40, unless he deposited them with the innkeeper, telling him their value. Such a provision would lead to great inconvenience, and he did not see why a traveller should be required to expose himself to the risk and personal peril which such a statement might occasion. Guests had been murdered for the sake of their valuable property, and in an unfrequented district the disclosure required by the Bill might afford a temptation to the cupidity of those who were criminally disposed. Another proposal was that a person who should get "meat, drink, or lodging" at an inn, "without having the means to pay for the same," should be taken before a justice of the peace and be committed to prison for two months. Now, why should an innkeeper have the privilege of carrying his debtor at once before a justice of the peace; and, if this were a proper remedy, why was it not given to all parties? It was a most outrageous provision, and would expose a person who went into the country and forgot his purse to the risk of imprisonment. Instead of attempting to improve the Bill in Committee, he thought it better to dispose of it at once by moving that the Chairman do now leave the chair.


said, he had agreed to the second reading under the impression that there were certain cases in which the present law bore unjustly upon innkeepers. The preamble of the Bill expressed this rather curiously, reciting that, in consequence of the increase of travelling, it was desirable to diminish the amount of security afforded to travellers. But on consulting the law officers of the Crown he had come to the conclusion that it would be unsafe to make the change proposed by the Bill, and that on the whole it was better to leave the law as it stood. There was a maxim, well known in Westminster Hall, that "hard cases make bad law," and they must take care that hard cases did not induce them to make bad legislation. The conditions proposed by the Bill in respect to the custody of goods destroyed the value of the present remedy against the innkeeper, and the third section converted a debt into a criminal offence. As he feared that the Bill was not susceptible of Amendment, he had no alternative but to support the Amendment.


said, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Lewis) felt it necessary to pursue the course he had intimated it was his intention to take. He was quite willing to accept any modification of the clauses which the right hon. Gentleman might suggest, for he was confident that the Bill would afford considerable relief to innkeepers in a direction that was much required. He was willing to give up the third clause, and with that alteration he should take the sense of the Committee on the Bill.


said, he thought that whatever legislation might be required upon the subject, the proposed Bill was one so unskilfully framed that it certainly would be productive of no good, and he quite approved of the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department (Sir George Lewis). But he did not consider that there was really any necessity for a change in the existing law. The preamble stated that property taken to inns by travellers had greatly increased since the formation of railways, whereas the very reverse was the case.


said, he thought the Bill was a very simple one; it was merely the application of the principle of limited liability to an hotelkeeper. A large number of his constituents were in favour of it, and he should, therefore, support it.


said, he was in favour of the Bill, but thought it might be improved by introducing Amendments.


remarked that the Bill was badly drawn, and that it would be far better to withdraw it for the purpose of allowing the Government to introduce one of a practicable nature.


observed that it was rather hard upon his hon, and gallant Friend who had introduced the Bill that, after it had passed the second reading with, as he understood, the support of the Government, the principle of it should now be opposed, and it should he thrown out in Committee. It would he best to let the Bill go through Committee pro formâ, to allow him to make the requisite alterations, and then go on with it.


said, he doubted whether it was desirable to go in Committee merely on the speculation that something good might come of it. As he had said, he had referred to the law advisers of the Crown for their opinion, and the opinion of the Solicitor General, from his legal experience, was that there existed no sufficient cases of hardship from the present law affecting innkeepers to justify so general an alteration as was contemplated by the Bill. He, therefore, founded his opposition to the Bill mainly upon that opinion, and upon the result of some inquiries which he had made. There might, perhaps, have been a few hard cases, but generally the law did not work in an unsatisfactory manner. The preamble of the Bill stated what was diametrically opposed to the fact, as the practice of taking much luggage for sleeping at inns had diminished since the introduction of railways.


said, he believed he had made out a good case for legislation, and could not consent to withdraw his Bill, the principle being generally admitted, unless the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to propose some other remedy for the hardship inflicted by the present law.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 34: Majority 6.

House resumed. [No Report.]