HC Deb 14 February 1865 vol 177 cc251-6

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend "The Public-house Closing Act 1864;" and in doing so begged to call the attention of the House to a few facts relative to that Act. It was introduced last Session for the express purpose of meeting a particular case. Great complaints had been made by the inhabitants and others as to the looseness with which certain houses in the Haymarket and its neighbourhood were conducted, and the evils arising from those houses being open all night. He had no possible objection to the Act, so far as those houses were concerned, but its operation put him in mind of the lines of the poet Cowper, in his description of Wit— Wit undistinguishing is apt to strike The guilty and not guilty both alike. And this Act certainly struck the guilty (though not very severely), and inflicted injury on many innocent persons besides. For instance, business commenced at Co-vent Garden Market at about two or three o'clock in the morning; but for hours preceding that time persons were coming from all parts of the metropolis and the suburban districts, bringing produce to the market, and although nothing was more natural than for them to desire, and before the passing of the late Act they had been able to obtain the necessary refreshment, they could not now get any, as the Act of last Session had closed not only the public-houses proper, but every kind of refreshment and coffee house. Another consequence was, that the value of these houses was materially diminished. The coffee-house keepers had made an application to the Chief Commissioner of Police for permission to open on the market day, but it was refused. Again, the Metropolitan Cattle Market commenced business about three or four o'clock in the morning, but from twelve to two or three, trains with cattle from all parts of the country were continually arriving, and herds were driven in from Herts and Essex and other counties. Before the passing of the Act the drovers could obtain the necessary refreshment, but they had no opportunity now of obtaining any—all places being closed after one o'clock—and were thus seriously inconvenienced and injured. "One touch of nature makes the whole world akin," and if he could only get the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary up to the cattle market at two or three o'clock in the morning, and keep him there for half an hour, there would be no difficulty in obtaining an amendment of the late Act which he was about to propose. Besides these two classes of innocent persons who were prejudiced by the operation of this Act, there was another class of sufferers—gentlemen of great intelligence, whose duties were very laborious, and without whom they could not enjoy the luxury of the broadsheets which appeared so regularly every morning on their breakfast tables. He alluded to the gentlemen of the press, who were engaged in setting up and preparing the morning newspapers, whose labours commenced in the evening, and lasted until from two to three o'clock in the morning. The nature of their employment precluded them from taking refreshment early in their work, as they were obliged to keep cool heads and steady hands. But before the passing of this Act what was their practice? When their labours were ended these 300 or 400 gentlemen were in the habit of taking tea or coffee, or supper, or other refreshments; but now, before setting off to their homes, many of them at five or six miles' distance, they could get no refreshment whatever. It might be said that one newspaper provided a club-room of its own, where all engaged upon it could get the necessary refreshment; but if one leviathan establishment could do this, it did not follow that the five or six other newspapers could afford, or had the means of affording, the same accommodation. The persons employed at the offices of those papers were therefore struck more severely by the Act than those persons against whom it was directed. He had stated a case of hardship on the part of three classes of persons; but there was another class who had also a good ground of complaint. It was well known that if any Bill were brought into the House affecting land, or likely to depreciate the value of landed property, compensation would be required; but the Act of last Session had really inflicted great pecuniary loss upon individuals, who were left without remedy. For instance, the persons who had taken those four large houses at the Metropolitan Cattle Market had been almost ruined. They had laid out large sums, and had lost a very considerable portion of their custom through this Act of Parliament, a large part of their business having been previously done within the now prohibited terms. Take, again, the case of the coffee-house keepers at Covent Garden. There was, he had been told, one man who had given £2,500 for his house, and it was now not worth a quarter of that sum. But it not only affected these and other places within the metropolis, but places at five or six miles' distance. He had had a letter from a person at Upper Edmonton, who had kept a coffee-house for twenty-two years, and whose trade was utterly ruined by this Act. He was an old man of seventy, not fit for any other employment, and his was a very hard case. The object of the Act was expressly to close night houses like those of the Haymarket, but not to inflict injuries like these on innocent persons. The Bill he now asked leave to bring in was to remedy the evils he had described. He did not propose to make any violent alterations. He proposed to leave the Act precisely as it now stood, with the exception of extending one of the clauses. While the Bill was passing through the House, some doubt was evidently felt that it might inflict hardship upon some honest persons, for an attempt had been made to provide some machinery by which the evils he had described might be obviated. The 7th clause had a provision to the effect that occasional licences might be applied for to the constituted authorities to meet any special occasion or occasions. He should have thought that market days at Covent Garden and Copenhagen Fields would have been special occasions within the meaning of the Act, but the Chief Commissioner of Police had decided otherwise. The Bill he wished to bring in proposed to extend this 7th clause to meet the difficulties and hardships he had mentioned, but still leaving the decision in the hands of the constituted authorities. This, he believed, would have the desired effect. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Act 27 amp; 28 Vict. c. 64, commonly called "The Public House Closing Act, 1864."


said: It is not my intention to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill; but the observations which have been made by the hon. aad learned Gentleman are such as, I think, render it incumbent on me to say a few words in reply. It is a mistake to suppose that the measure of last Session was brought forward merely to remedy those disorders which attracted so much attention in one particular part of the metropolis. The evils complained of from public-houses being kept open all night were by no means confined to the immediate neighbourhood of the Haymarket. They extended to other places. There can be no doubt that great disorder prevailed in the Haymarket in consequence of ill-regulated public-houses and refreshment-houses being kept open throughout the night. The Act applies to these and other parts of the metropolis, and to other places. For I am afraid that in all the large towns throughout the country there will be found persons licensed to keep public-houses who are anxious to make as much money as they can without being very particular as to the mode in which that is done. By the general body of licensed victuallers no opposition was offered to the passing of the measure, and its operation has, beyond all doubt, been most beneficial. Nor have its advantages been confined to London. So much appreciated have been its benefits that its provisions have been acted upon in many large towns throughout England, and ample evidence can be obtained of the immense advantages which have followed from its operation. I merely mention this to show the House what has been the effect of the Act, and in order that the Bill may be duly considered before any inroad is made upon its provisions. The hon. Gentleman complained that refreshment-houses were included within its operation, but if such houses were permitted to be kept open all night, those evils against which the Bill was directed would still continue. It was certainly intentional on the part of the Legislature that those houses were included, and I feel sure the House would not wish to exclude them from the operation of the Act. I am not prepared to deny that some cases of hardship do exist, owing to the present state of the law, but such instances must occur wherever general restrictions are imposed in the public interest. The hon. Gentleman says that the Act of last Session operates harshly on persons arriving at Covent Garden Market between two and three o'clock in the morning, who find the public-houses shut against them. It should, however, be borne in mind that these houses are not closed until one o'clock, and that, therefore, persons coming to the market would in all probability be able to procure refreshments on their way to it, while after their arrival they would find the public-houses open again at four o'clock. With regard to the drovers who are brought by train to the cattle market between one and four o'clock in the morning, the hon. Gentleman seems to forget the express provisions of the Act as to bonâ fide travellers obtaining refreshments at railway stations, and there is nothing to prevent them from procuring refreshments at the stations on their arrival. As regards the houses themselves at the cattle market, I can hardly conceive that any of them depended solely upon their early morning custom, for the market is open during the whole of the day, and of course those houses are resorted to by persons attending the market. But there is another instance about which I would wish to say a word. I admit that those gentlemen whose duties in connection with the press keep them up until an early hour of the morning may be exposed to inconvenience, owing to their being unable to procure refreshment at a public-house when their work is done. I saw some of the gentlemen connected with the press on the subject before the Bill passed through the House. They wished that power should be given to the police to sanction some particular houses being kept open, and to exempt them from the operation of the Act, and I was disposed as far as possible to meet their case. But the difficulty arose that if the police are empowerd to select some particular house or houses where those gentlemen might obtain refreshment, they would be intrusted with a monopoly in the selection which might excite great dissatisfaction in the trade. There is one great establishment which has been already referred to, and whose example the hon. Gentleman said I was not to cite; but I do not see why I should hesitate to name it, The Times office, where, as I am informed, ample provision is made, not in a public-house, but in a private room attached to the office, for furnishing those of its staff who may re- quire it with all the refreshment necessary. It may not be possible for the gentlemen connected with any other individual paper to secure a similar privilege, but if those employed, say on some half-dozen papers, were to unite together, I think they would have no difficulty in finding the means of providing for their wants without resorting to a public-house. It only remains for me to observe that if particular public-houses were exempted from the operation of the measure, they could not be restricted to the use of one set of men, but must be open to all the world, and consequently the abuses of the Haymarket would be transferred to Covent Garden or other places. I offer no opposition to the introduction of the Bill, but I hope the House will not alter the principle or the main provisions of the Act of last year.


said, that the refreshment rooms at railway stations were of no use to drovers who attended the Metropolitan Cattle Market. He had been in favour of the Act from its first introduction; but he contended that the 7th clause, which was intended to remove any injury that might arise from the operation of the Act, did not go far enough.


said, he believed that Manchester and Liverpool had almost unanimously adopted the Act, and had felt the benefit of its operation, and therefore he hoped that nothing would be done which would infringe upon the principle of it.


believed that the provisions of the Act were seriously considered last year, and it would be a breach of faith with those who had acquiesced in the Act if it were so soon altered. If a power of selecting certain houses to be exempt from the Act were given to the police, it might be made to operate most unfairly. He should like to see the example set by The Times followed in other establishments, and he hoped the proprietors of those establishments would see the expediency of suiting the convenience of those in their employment.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Act of the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth Victoria, chapter sixty-four, commonly called "The Public House Closing Act, 1864,"ordered to be brought in by Mr. Cox and Mr. GOSCHEN.