§ MR. GRAVES
said, he rose for the purpose of asking for leave to introduce a Bill for the better regulation of public-houses, refreshment-houses, and beer-houses.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is necessary that a proposition for a Bill of this nature should be first brought forward in a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Acts read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee to consider of the Acts relating to Public Houses, &C."
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he would move an Amendment that the House go into Committee that day six months.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman could not do so. The Amendment should have been proposed before the Question was put from the Chair.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I was listening as attentively as I could, and I was not aware that you put the Question. I should like to have an opportunity of moving my Amendment, and I think I ought to have it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that if there had been any misunderstanding, and if the Motion was to be opposed, the better course would be that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) should make his statement, and that the Question should be put again.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, that in consequence of the objection which had just been made in so unusual a manner to the granting leave to introduce this Bill, he would meet the case as it stood. On that day week, when he was about to make a Motion similar to that which he had now placed on the paper, he was met by an intimation from the Speaker that it was doubtful whether the subject was one which a private Member was competent to deal with. On the intimation being made he immediately withdrew that Motion, and having since had the benefit of advice from the Speaker he had been encouraged to proceed with the present Motion, which he had learnt 161 was not contrary to the rules or the practice of the House. Looking at the frequent discussions on the subject which had taken place in that House and the great interest which attached to the question out of doors, he thought it might be taken for granted that a very deep conviction existed that the time had arrived when a better system of licensing ought to be established. He knew no question more important than that to which he was about to draw the attention of the House, both as regarded the magnitude of the trades involved and its indirect bearing on the social and moral welfare of the great masses of our population. He was sure that, notwithstanding the objection taken on the very threshold of the inquiry by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), any proposal which would lead to a thorough discussion of this great subject would be received with satisfaction by the House. It was not his intention to enter on the present occasion into any lengthened explanation of the main features of the Bill, because that could be much more conveniently done on the second reading. Its main features would be found to be in harmony with the recommendations of the Committee of 1854, and with the provisions of the Bill which some two years ago was introduced into that House at the request of the licensed victuallers of Liverpool. The present Bill was not a private Bill It recommended uniformity of licence; that it should be in the power of the justices alone to grant such; that all applicants must be of good character; and that all such applicants should have a right to receive a licence, subject, however, to a veto on the part of the owners or occupiers of the houses in the neighbourhood of the applicant; that there should be a minimum of Excise duty, with a minimum sating qualification, but subject to a reduction in the duty if the house were closed on Sundays that there should be a limitation with respect to the hours of opening, with power to the local authorities in the different boroughs to make still further restrictions, There were also certain saving clauses in the Bill with regard to existing privileges. He would not say that this Bill was all that could be desired in dealing with an important and a complicated question; but it was an effort as far as it went; and he hoped the House would allow it to go into Committee and be there considered. It had been framed by the magistrates and the corporation, and was sup- 162 ported by the inhabitants of Liverpool. If the House permitted the Bill to be introduced, it was his intention to fix the second reading for a distant day, so as to enable his Colleague (Mr. Horsfall) to resume the conduct of the Bill, and to give the House a full opportunity for its examination. He now moved that the Speaker leave the Chair.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that his object was to learn the intentions and views of the Government on this question. It was a large one, and affected many interests which had grown up and been fostered by Acts of Parliament. It was also a question which largely affected the public morality. There was a class of persons called teetotallers, who supported permissive Bills in order to put down the sale of intoxicating liquors. But the Bill of the hon. Member was advocated by a different class, for it went to establish a free trade in liquors. The wisdom of Parliament had always made a distinction between the sale of commodities that were harmless and those that were not so. A bale of cotton might be passed from hand to hand without danger, and no restrictions were placed on its sale. But it was different with gunpowder. And so with regard to the sale of intoxicating liquors, which affected the public morality. Parliament had interfered for centuries, and under this interference or sanction of Parliament there had grown up large interests which this Bill went directly to affect. No private Member ought to be permitted to do this. The Government ought to take up the question, and tell the House what they intended to do. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) whether the Government, who must know what was the object of the Bill, were prepared to support it. If they were not he would withdraw his opposition; if they were, he would go to a division. He believed the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Lord Stanley) was prepared to support this Bill. ["No!"] He was glad to hear that. He had thought from some part of the noble Lord's remarks, as chairman of quarter sessions, that he was in favour of free trade in intoxicating liquors. For himself, he was entirely opposed to it. He was also opposed to the permissive Bill of the teetotallers; but he was prepared to support a judicious intermediate action between these two extremes. He wished, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would explain to 163 the House what course he intended to take in this matter, and for that purpose he moved that the House go into Committee that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "immediately," and insert the words "upon this day six months,"—(Mr. Roebuck,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'immediately' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. POWELL
said, that at any rate he thought the House ought to go into Committee to allow the hon. Member to introduce his Bill. Their present system of licensing consisted of two parts, each inconsistent with the other, and neither satisfactory. He would not say what was the right system to be adopted, but this he knew—that the country was greatly dissatisfied and disgusted with the present system. Our restraints had broken down, and if we intended to diminish drunkenness we must adopt some other means of doing so. Therefore he thought they were bound to go into Committee and consider the present proposal. It deserved so much of support if it were only for the way in which it proposed to deal with the liquor traffic on Sundays. At present every one who took out a licence was bound to keep open all the seven days of the week. He thought it would be a great improvement if the parties had the option of only taking out a licence, with a proportionate reduction for six days. It had been tried with the cabs, and found to work advantageously, and he saw no reason why it should not be equally beneficial in the case of public-houses.
§ MR. PEASE
said, that a short time ago he put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, whether he had the licensing system under his consideration, as he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he had. He was not aware the hon. Member (Mr. Graves) had intended to bring this Bill before the House. A friend of his (Mr. Lawson), the late Member for Carlisle, had also brought the question before the House a few years ago, tending to show the dissatisfaction with the present system. There were great anomalies in the present licensing system. It was a great hardship on licensed victuallers to have to apply year after year for a renewal of their licenses to benches of magistrates differently constituted. It sometimes occurred that a 164 man applied in vain year after year for a license, but ultimately obtained it on the same grounds as those which he had originally urged. The magistrates in one town proceeded on a different system from that acted on by the magistrates in another town. Thus, the Liverpool magistrates thought it their duty to grant licenses to all persons who applied for them, provided that the applicants were fitted to keep a licensed house; but the magistrates of Manchester exercised a discretion as to the number of licenses. The amount of drunkenness in Liverpool, with a population very nearly the same in number, though of a different character, was nearly double that in Manchester. He thought it would be useful to have his hon. Friend's Bill discussed; but he hoped the Government would bring in a general measure.
§ MR. WALPOLE
Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) having made such a direct appeal to me on this subject, I will give the House the reason why we think we ought to accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) to go into Committee. It is a matter of courtesy to allow a Member to introduce his Bill. It is the usual, though not the invariable rule of the House that any Member who wishes may introduce a Bill and lay it upon the table of the House. That is a very convenient practice, for it gives a Member an opportunity for explanation at a further stage; it allows him to introduce the question he wishes to bring before the House in the most convenient form for discussion. Thai being so, my hon. Friend asks us to go into a Committee of the Whole House on a most important subject. The object of going into Committee is that leave may be given him to introduce a Bill for the better regulation of licenses, for the sale of wine, spirits, and beer. I mentioned the other day, as the hon. Member for Durham county (Mr. Pease) has just reminded the House, that proposals relating to this question have come before me from various sources, which it was my duty to consider. It will be for the general advantage if the same questions are brought before the House. I may state that I have formed an opinion on the subject, and when the proper time comes I shall be prepared to give my opinion. I have made up my mind as to the kind of measure that ought to be introduced; but I am not prepared to introduce it till I have consulted with my Colleagues, and till I see that the state 165 of the public business will allow me to make progress with it, Still, as my hon. Friend (Mr. Graves) wishes to go into Committee of the Whole House on an important. measure, I think the House is bound to afford him an opportunity.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he hoped the House would not refuse to give the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) an opportunity of bringing in his Bill, though he should oppose some of its provisions, The licensing system was in a very unsatisfactory state; and there was no place in which that was felt more than in Liverpool. Last year the persons responsible for the maintenance of the peace and morality of the town felt themselves constrained to attempt to deal with the evils by which they were confronted, by means of a private Bill. The majority of the House of Commons, of whom he had been one, would not allow such a precedent to be established. But now that the measure again made its appearance in an unobjectionable form, and that the Bill no longer embodied the expression merely of the opinions of the people of Liverpool, great cause for complaint would exist if it were hastily rejected. He quite agreed that the question was one which the present or former Governments ought to have taken up. The right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary (Mr. Walpole) had proved in time past his desire to meet this question. He believed that the expression of opinion throughout the country necessary to carry a Government measure upon the subject would be much encouraged, by taking a preliminary discussion upon the Bill now proposed.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, that the rate of licences would be higher in Liverpool; but he could not say what would be the effect of the Bill with regard to other places.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, it would not be competent for the hon. Member for Liverpool to fix by his Bill the rate to be paid for licences without the consent of the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Acts considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. GRAVES, Mr. HORSFALL and Mr. HIBBERT.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 83.]