HC Deb 16 July 1863 vol 172 cc928-33

rose to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the Laws under which Licences are granted for the sale of Intoxicating Liquors are eminently unsatisfactory and deficient in power to protect the public, and therefore require immediate alteration. He said, he knew the House had an objection to abstract propositions, but no one could dispute the first part of the Resolution; and if it were opposed, it must be on some such ground as this—that this was not the proper time for bringing it forward. He brought it forward, however, as a basis for future legislation. The present system had been condemned by all political authorities, by numerous Committees of that House, and by public opinion. The Chancellor of the Exche- quer had declared he had no confidence whatever in the present system of licensing public-houses; and on another occasion a correspondent of the right hon. Gentleman was informed that Mr. Gladstone was gratified to see that the faults of the licensing system were admitted. Notwithstanding all that, the system had remained nearly the same for the last thirty years. One alteration had been made by the Beer Act, and another by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he introduced the new system of wine licences. There were three different classes of reformers who professed to deal with the present system. The first class were those who were in favour of what they called "open trade," and who went on the principle, that the more the facilities for drunkenness, the less drunkenness there would be. The great promoters of that view were the gentlemen of the Inland Revenue Office, who thought the great object for which man was sent into the world was to consume duty-paid liquor. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue say they have made great exertions to extend beer-shops, but that they find themselves constantly opposed by clergymen and magistrates; and so astonished were they at this, that they placed a note of admiration after the sentence. Magistrates were commissioned to keep the peace, and clergymen were appointed to teach morality, and yet places were bylaw established which neutralized the efforts of both. Such was the "open trade" party; and he feared the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sometimes influenced by them, though at other times he spoke like a statesman, when he got free from the trammels of the Inland Revenue Office and raised his soul above his moneybags. The second party was the "regulation party," who expected to do good by raising what they called "the moral tone" of the beerhouse-keepers—but that would be a very difficult thing. The worth of a house might be found out, but there would be some difficulty in finding what the worth of a man was. The third party were those who recommended measures for the gradual suppression of the consumption of intoxicating liquors. That party was hardly represented in that House, but it was an increasing party. What was the course taken by the Government during the present Session with regard to the licensing system? At the beginning of the Session he asked the Home Secretary, who promised last year that a Bill on the same subject should be introduced in the present, what he was going to do; and the right hon. Gentleman said he was waiting until the Liverpool Licensing Bill should be discussed. That Bill was thrown out, and then the right hon. Gentleman stated that on that account he should not bring in any Bill at all. After that a deputation from Liverpool waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary, and the President of the Poor Law Board, and they reported as the result of that interview, that a general election was near, and in their opinion the Government would not deal with the question, in the fear that what they did might be used against them for electioneering purposes. If the Government agreed to the Resolution, he would regard their assent as a pledge that they desired to deal with the question; and if they opposed the Resolution, he would still think that the question stood in a better position, for the Government might then be taken to have pronounced an opinion that the present system was satisfactory. Under those circumstances, it would be open to any hon. Gentleman to bring in a Bill next year, and to prove that the public were dissatisfied with the existing system. He asked the House to agree to the Resolution with the view to strengthen the heads of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with the question, to carry out the Resolutions of its own Committees, and to lead the way to some alteration of the enormous evils which the present system inflicts on the country.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House the Laws under which Licences are granted for the sale of Intoxicating Liquors are eminently unsatisfactory and deficient in power to protect the public, and therefore require immediate alteration,"—(Mr. Lawson,) —instead thereof.


said, that at that time of the night and at that period of the Session he did not think there was any inducement to take the steps recommended by the hon. Gentleman. Neither was he prepared to accede to the justice of the hon. Gentleman's general statement, that all parties concurred in denouncing the licensing laws. The hon. Member had described the gentlemen of the Inland Revenue Department as being a kind of impersonation of the evil principle on earth, and thought that the course pursued by the Government, so far as it was influenced by that body, amed simply at the extension of intoxication, with the view of augmenting the revenue. It was impossible for any one to be more pure in his motives than the hon. Gentleman, and, at the same time, to make a charge more entirely unjust. He believed that both the Government and the officers of the Inland Revenue Department agreed with the hon. Gentleman in his object, but differed as to the means. All in that House were anxious to diminish intoxication, which they regarded as a great social and moral evil; but the hon. Gentleman had a degree of faith in restrictive and prohibitory measures which others did not share. The hon. Gentleman, though he thought that the Government under the influence of the Inland Revenue Department adopted a pernicious course of proceeding, must admit that by the successive augmentations of the duty on spirits, which had, on the proposal of the Government, taken place during the last ten years, the consumption of spirits had been greatly reduced. This result was owing, no doubt, in a considerable degree to an improvement in the habits and morals of the people; but the great augmentation in the price of the article had also been a great agent in effecting that diminution. Without again entering into an argument against abstract Resolutions in general, he might observe that for the House to adopt this particular abstract Resolution would only be to practise a delusion on themselves. He did not know what the hon. Gentleman meant by the regulation party; but there was a party favourable to opening the trade and trusting to a strict police, the licence charges, and the present heavy duty on spirits, for keeping the consumption of spirits within bounds. Another party wished to proceed by prohibition, both parties agreeing as to the end, but differing as to the means. If they differed as to the means, let them on the floor of that House urge their views temperately; but let them not, with fundamental differences, agree in using vague expressions which presented to others the appearance of concurrence when there was no concurrence at all. He saw no use of joining with his hon. Friend in this Resolution, when they would come to loggerheads immediately afterwards. If he supported the Motion, it would be with a view to amending the present law by getting rid of the arbitrary system and establishing a more open one; while his hon. Friend, on the other hand, would have in contempla- tion the abolition of the present law for the purpose of substituting one approximating as near as possible to the absolute prohibition of the sale of spirituous liquors. Abstract Resolutions were bad, but delusive Resolutions, where one party meant one thing and one another, were still worse. For these reasons, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Motion; but if he did, he must vote against it.


said, that the House was very much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing this question under its notice There certainly was a general concurrence of opinion that some amendment of the licensing laws was expedient; and if the House had any function at all, it was to frame laws that should be for the public benefit. There was no subject on which there was so general a concurrence of opinion among the magistracy as on this. As a magistrate acting for two counties, he could answer for the wishes of the magistrates of his district. The right hon. Gentleman said that abstract Resolutions were of no use; but they had had a sample of the manner in which the attempt of an independent Member to regulate the sale of liquors on Sundays had been received. He confessed that he had heard with regret the elaborate condemnation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of abstract Resolutions, and that he had not held out the slightest prospect that either he or the Government would devote their attention to this subject. There was no limitation to the number of houses that might be licensed for the sale of beer, whether regard was had to area or to population. The general feeling was that some new regulation was desirable on this subject, and, as a means of expressing an opinion upon this subject, he should vote with the hon. Member if he went to a division.


believed, that as the country was not prepared to go the length advocated by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lawson), any departure from the present system must be in the direction of free trade, and he had some doubts as to the advantage of such a change. It was impossible to prevent intemperance by legislation, however stringent; and if our working men were greater sinners in this respect than those of other countries, it was because no provision was made for their rational amusement. He opposed the Resolution, as it could do no good.


said, he should vote for the Motion, although he did not agree in the special views of his hon. Friend. But there was a general opinion that the licensing system was in an unsatisfactory state. There were three kinds of licences—the spirit licence, the beer licence, and the wine licence. The present licensing system had been condemned by the country; but as nothing could be done this Session, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division.


said, the system of licensing was not generally acceptable to the public. There was a general opinion that the licensing system should be under the police regulation, and should not be in the hands of the magistrates.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 21: Majority 66.