HC Deb 17 February 1863 vol 169 cc394-401

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He objected to the Bill on account of the mode in which it was introduced. He contended also that it involved a proposition interfering with the social rights of the people. If any such measure were introduced, it ought to be brought forward by her Majesty's Government, and ought to extend over the whole country. The effect of this Bill would be to repeal a number of Acts of Parliament and to do that only so far as related to Liverpool. It proposed, in short, to establish complete free trade in licensing in that town, inasmuch as, if passed into a law, the magistrates would under its operation be obliged to grant licences to any number of persons in a street who were the occupiers of houses of the value of £50 per annum, and who could not be proved to be of bad character; so that the whole or any smaller number of houses in a particular locality might be converted into public-houses almost at pleasure. Now, he was as earnest an advocate of the principles of free trade as any man who listened to him; but the system of thus licensing houses in towns was one into which, in his opinion, it ought not to enter. The magistrates ought, he thought, to have it in their power to take into account, over and above the facts that the man applying for a licence lived in a house of the value of £50 and had not garotted anybody, the additional consideration whether it was for the good of society in the place that the licence should be granted. If the Bill received the assent of the House, the result would be that the magistrates would be subject to the alternative of either granting a licence to everybody, or of rendering themselves liable to a mandamus to compel them to do so. The fact was, the question had at Liverpool, as he understood, been made a party one; and if that were so, he thought it was a great mistake. The noble Lord concluded by moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he would beg leave to assure the noble Lord that he had fallen into a great mistake in supposing that this had been made a party question at Liverpool. The necessity for the Bill had arisen in the difference of opinion which existed among the magistracy of Liverpool with respect to the granting of licences; one section being desirous that certain restrictions should be imposed in such cases, while there was another section disposed to grant licences almost indiscriminately. To obviate the difficulties which were in consequence occasioned, it was deemed desirable that the present Bill should be brought in, and he thought the provisions of it would commend themselves to every hon. Member who read them. It would be found that the persons applying for licences should not only be of good character, but should find sureties for their good conduct. It was also required that no licence should be granted to a house rated at less than £50 per annum, and the cost of the new licences was to be £30 each per annum, while as to existing licences it was agreed that fourteen years should elapse before parties now possessing licences should be called upon to pay the higher rate for them. The Bill was mainly framed on the Resolutions of a Committee of that House which sat in 1854. As to the advisability of such a measure being introduced for the whole country, the particular circumstances of each locality should be taken into account; for instance, in Liverpool 1,540 licences had been granted, while in Manchester, with a larger population, there were only 600; and on a recent occasion 124 new licences had been granted in Liverpool, while at Manchester almost every licence was refused. The Bill was not a Bill promoted by the licensed victuallers of Liverpool, but it had received the general support of the people of the town; and he believed that only one petition had been presented, and that not against it, but in favour of a clause being inserted for the purpose of requiring all public-houses to be closed on Sundays. He trusted, therefore, that the House would allow the Bill to proceed.


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the important principle involved in reading a second time as a Private Bill the measure under discussion. It could not, he found, looking at the Standing Orders, which embraced forty different categories under which Private Bills might be ranged, be classed under any one of them, while there were several rules relative to the bringing-in of public Bills which had been evaded by its introduction in its present shape, inasmuch as it proposed wholly to alter certain general regulations relating to the revenue and the conduct of trade. Every measure of that nature ought to be introduced in a Committee of the Whole House; and further, any measure which imposed a charge upon the people ought to be submitted to that House on the responsibility of the Government and with the assent of the Crown. The Bill had not been so introduced, and he therefore thought it ought not to be proceeded with any further. The question for the House to consider was, whether, by assenting to the second reading of the Bill as it stood, they were prepared to take the first step in the substitution of private for public legislation on the subject of licensing. The law, he maintained, on the subject was sufficiently intelligible; and if magistrates chose to quarrel among themselves when called upon to execute it, the course to pursue was to appeal to the Lord Chancellor for redress.


said, the objection of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was that the Bill ought to have been introduced by a Resolution of a Committee of the Whole House. No doubt Bills of a public character relating to money or taxation ought to be founded upon a Resolution of a Committee of the Whole House. The reasons for such a regulation were somewhat antiquated; but however forcible they were, and although the regulation had been established long before Private Bills existed, it was not thought expedient to extend it to Private Bills. The objection, therefore, of the hon. Gentleman, he thought, wholly untenable. It had been also argued that the measure would establish the principle of exceptional legislation, which was said to be highly objectionable upon such a question as that involved. But it could not be denied that the principle of exceptional legislation had already been laid down in regard to particular bodies and individuals. The question, then, arose whether there was anything in the matter entitling the people of Liverpool to be heard before a Committee above stairs. He thought there was. Liverpool contained a population of nearly 500,000. An immense trade and commerce were carried on within the town. The magistrates of the place had expressed themselves favourable to the enactment of such a measure of police as the present Bill really was. The Bill, too, was mainly founded upon the Report of the Committee of 1854. Under all those circumstances he thought it was only reasonable that the promoters should have the power of satisfying a Committee upstairs, if they could do so, that Liverpool was entitled to this special legislation.


said, the more he considered the measure the more satisfied was he in his own mind, that it was not a question that ought to be referred to a Select Committee. He denied that the recommendations of the Committee of 1853 and 1854 were in favour of a measure of the kind under consideration. So far from the proceedings of that Committee being a ground for enacting such a measure as the present, they went to show that the difficulties in the licensing system were such as to demand a general Bill upon the subject. The measure was not merely one of police regulation, it involved the comfort and happiness of a whole population; it involved considerations of the most serious and important character. He thought that they would be establishing one of the worst precedents if they referred a matter of such a character to a Committee of five Gentlemen upstairs, who would deal with it as they thought fit, and only afford the House the opportunity of deciding upon so momentous a question upon the third reading of the Bill. It should be also recollected that the Bill was one for which the Government were actually waiting in order to found a precedent. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department had told them that he was delaying his own general licensing Bill until he saw the result of the present proceedings—that he was preparing a measure to apply to the licensing system of the whole Kingdom. Why, then, should that exceptional legislation be proceeded with? It was impossible to form a fair judgment of the results of the working of such a measure as the present until it had been for years and years in operation. In conclusion, he should oppose the second reading of the Bill on the ground that the system of licensing extending over a population of half a million of people was not one that ought to be decided by a Committee of five Gentlemen above stairs, but ought to be established by a public Bill, and submitted to Parliament in such a shape as would afford the fullest opportunities for the consideration of its principles and their effects upon the country generally. With the greatest reluctance, he felt himself compelled to oppose the Motion for a second reading.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had no intention of adopting in any measure with reference to the licensing system the principle of the Bill before the House.


said, that there was no quarrel among the magistrates of Liverpool. No petition had been presented against the Bill, which had been brought Forward with the general approbation of the inhabitants of Liverpool. He hoped, therefore, that the House would allow the Bill to go to the Committee upstairs.


said, that notwithstanding the observations of the hon. Member (Mr. Hardy), the present measure was essentially one of police regulation regarding the licensing system of Liverpool. The great reason why they enacted regulations regarding public-houses, was to protect as far as possible the morality of the people. Now, a police Bill might be very applicable to certain large localities, though not quite suited to the entire kingdom. Considering that the magistrates of Liverpool were desirous of the Bill proceeding, he thought it would be too bad to refuse the promoters an opportunity of establishing their claim for special legislation before a Committee of the House, where it would be equally open to the opponents of the measure to show cause against it. As to the objection of the hon. Member (Mr. Hardy), that the question involved was far too important to be settled by a Committee of five Gentlemen, that objection might be removed by a special Motion to refer the Bill after it had passed the Select Committee to a Committee of the Whole House, as had been done on certain extraordinary occasions. He (Sir George Grey) believed the principle of the measure to be valuable; and should it be found applicable to Liverpool, he thought it would go far to remove objections to the licensing system generally.


said, he thought a great question arose upon the proposed mode of legislation. A few years ago they had the same thing tried in respect to Manchester education. In considering that Bill the great inconvenience was felt of enacting a general principle by means of a local Bill. The same objection precisely applied to the present state of things. He thought that the subject was one which ought to be dealt with generally. He was at a loss to know by what process they could make this a hybrid Bill, by having it referred to a Committee of the Whole House after it had come down from the Committee of five Gentlemen upstairs, as the right hon. Baronet suggested. If the principle of the measure were sound, and the Government were prepared to justify it, the right hon. Baronet ought himself to introduce a general measure on the subject. If they assented to the second reading of the Bill, they would have given a quasi approval to the measure. To a certain degree they would then find their hands tied when they came to discuss the provisions of a general Bill upon what must be admitted to be a difficult subject and one of great interest to the general community. He was therefore disposed to vote against the Motion, because he did not think there was any ground shown in favour of exceptional legislation for Liverpool. The regulation of public-houses was a general principle applicable to the whole country, and he did not see any reason why Liverpool should be legislated for on a principle wholly different from every other part of the kingdom.


said, his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary no doubt contemplated introducing a Bill to apply to the whole country. At the same time, he contended that the passing of one general measure for the whole kingdom was a very different thing to the consideration of a Bill only applicable to the peculiar circumstances of Liverpool. Now, there were peculiar circumstances in the condition of Liverpool which would make it an exceedingly hard case for the traders of that town if they refused its demand for exceptional legislation. The magistrates of Liverpool had acted generally for some years past on the principle of open or free licences, and it was their practice to give licences, not on the principle which was usually observed by magistrates elsewhere, of according a certain supply of liquor to a certain amount of population, but they acted on the principle of giving licences with great freedom to all applicants who were judged qualified to conduct the business of publicans with respectability. What, then, was the effect of the system adopted by the Liverpool magistrates on the condition of the publicans? On the one hand, they continued under the old burdens in which the trade had been kept. Those who kept the old houses were still obliged to pay the factitious rents and extravagant prices for the goodwill, &c., of the establishments. On the other hand, they did not obtain the advantage accorded by the old system as administered by the magistrates of the country generally. They were, then, exposed to an unlimited amount of competition, but were denied the advantage of the law where it had been altered. Under those circumstances the Committee that sat some years ago on the subject recommended the adoption of a system totally different to that which now prevailed. The recommendations of such Committee were in a great measure embodied in the present Bill. He therefore thought that a fair case had been shown for the second reading.


said, he thought that the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer proved rather too much. They went rather to support the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) than to afford reasons for proceeding with the present Bill; for if the Committee referred to had recommended alterations in the law as applicable to the entire kingdom, then those alterations should be made co-extensive with the whole population. He owned he felt the gravest objections to private legislation of the kind. In the Manchester education case it was very properly contended that the great principle therein involved ought to be submitted to Parliament in the shape of a Public Bill, and not to be introduced to the House under cover of a Private Bill. The House ultimately confirmed that view. His right hon. Friend had made one very important admission. It seemed now that the Bill was not brought in by the Corporation of Liverpool, but at the recommendation of the publicans of Liverpool. He must say he did not think that an authority on which the House should be asked to adopt exceptional legislation.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 108; Noes 124: Majority 16.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.