HC Deb 01 May 1867 vol 186 cc1849-53

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that in rising to move that the Order of the Day for the second reading of this Bill be read and discharged, he wished to offer a few remarks to the House to explain his reasons for taking that course. When he gave notice of his intention to introduce the Bill, Mr. Speaker expressed some doubts as to the propriety of a private Member introducing a measure affecting the revenue of the country. By a technical alteration of the Notice of Motion and by the permission of the Government he was allowed to bring in his Bill, in order that the subject might be ventilated. Within the last few days it had been intimated to him that Her Majesty's Government considered it would be their duty to oppose the further progress of the Bill, as it proposed to deal largely with the taxation of the country, and in consequence the promoters of the Bill had no alternative but to defer to the wish of the Government and ask the permission of the House to withdraw the Bill. The Bill, whatever might be its merits or its demerits, was at least a well-meant effort to deal honestly with the question. It was now unnecessary for him to detain the House in adverting to the principles of the Bill, which were intended to deal in a just and comprehensive manner with the question. The present unsatisfactory state of the law was thoroughly and fully admitted. Nothing more was wanted to make that conviction clear than to refer to the petition which he had just presented, signed by 82,000 of the inhabitants of one town (Liverpool). It was true the immediate purpose of this monster petition was not gained; but the trouble would not be thrown away, for its moral weight remained, and such an expression of public opinion could scarcely fail to strengthen, if not hasten, legislation upon the subject. The difficulty that existed in dealing with this question by a private Member, and the experience he had gained with regard to the conduct of such a measure through the House, had led him to the conclusion that in a matter affecting so largely the well-being of the community as well as the large interests that were engaged in the trade, the only chance of successful legislation was by its being dealt with by the Government. He was therefore happy in being able to state that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) had adopted that view of the question, and had given him the assurance that he would endeavour to deal with the subject by the introduction of a measure next Session. He received that assurance with the greatest satisfaction; and he would in consequence leave the matter in the hands of the Government, with perfect confidence that they would take it up and grapple with it in a most efficient and satisfactory manner. He regretted the right hon. Gentleman was not then in his place, because it was his intention to have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he had rightly conveyed the intentions of Her Majesty's Government on the subject to the House. He believed he had done so, and he might add that that determination of Her Majesty's Government had greatly aided him in coming to the conclusion that it would be better to withdraw the Bill.

Moved, "That the Order for the second reading of the Bill be withdrawn and discharged."—(Mr. Graves.)


said, he considered the hon. Gentleman had acted very wisely in withdrawing the Bill under the assurance that Her Majesty's Government would take up the subject next Session. It was the only course likely to be conducive of a satisfactory settlement of the great and important question of licensing. He certainly regretted the Home Secretary was not in his place to confirm the statement made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Graves). At the same time he (Mr. Smith) had no doubt of its accuracy, and that the Government would give its attention to this important subject. The settlement of the question was one of the greatest importance to the social and religious interests of the country. He believed that no question was in a more unsatisfactory state at present than the licensing system. He congratulated the country on the fact that it would receive the early attention of the Government with a view to its improvement.


said, he regretted the accidental circumstances which had prevented the Home Secretary from being in his place. He hoped some hon. Member, or his hon. Friend (Mr. Graves), would ask a question of the Home Secretary respecting his intentions, so that they should hear from the Treasury Bench the course which the Government exactly intended to pursue. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend was right in his impressions, and that the right hon. Gentleman had made up his mind to bring forward a measure next Session to settle the licensing question; but it was not unreasonable that they should wish to have the statement confirmed from the Treasury Bench, considering the great importance of the subject. The position in which the House of Commons stood in regard to the licensing question was not satisfactory. It was acknowledged by men of all par- ties, and by Governments of all parties, that the licensing system was the cause of much evil; yet there seemed to be a reluctance to settle—or a fear of attempting to settle—the question. He did not think that that tended to the honour either of the House of Commons or of the Government. He did not intend to question the policy of the hon. Gentleman in not pressing the Bill, though he thought it would be desirable to have a discussion upon it. There was much in the Bill of which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) did not approve, but there was one great principle in it—namely, that all houses for the sale of intoxicating liquors should be put under one licensing power—that of the magistrates.


was anxious to explain, after what had passed, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department had been summoned to the Cabinet, and that his absence did not arise from a desire to avoid answering any question, or from a failure to recognise the importance of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Liverpool. No man entertained a deeper sense of the importance of this subject than his right hon. Friend, and he had already promised to give it his most careful consideration. He (Mr. Cave) thought the hon. Member had exercised a wise discretion in taking the course he had done. It would not, of course, be proper for him to enter further into the question. There were some parts of the Bill to which he might take exception; but he concurred with the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in approving of that provision which placed the whole licensing system under one control—namely, that of the justices.


said, he concurred in opinion that it would be highly satisfactory to the public to have an assurance from the Home Secretary that Her Majesty's Government would introduce a measure upon this subject next Session. There was a desire throughout the country that it should be settled as speedily as possible. It was admitted by all that there was an evil which required a remedy.


said, he fully agreed in the propriety of the course which his hon. Friend (Mr. Graves) had adopted. He was himself satisfied with the statement which had been made by his hon. Colleague, and those who wished to have it confirmed by the Home Secretary were the best per- sons to put the question to him. It was on that assurance, in which he placed implicit faith, that he concurred with his hon. Colleague in the propriety of withdrawing the Bill. After the many unsuccessful attempts to legislate locally upon the question, he was much gratified to find that Her Majesty's Government intended to deal with it. He was convinced that no measure could be carried through the House and meet the approval of the country, unless introduced on the responsibility of the Government. He had some personal experience on this subject, for in 1863 he had, in conjunction with his late Colleague, introduced a measure which it was intended to confine to Liverpool. It was then urged against the Bill that it attempted to deal locally with what was in reality a national question, and it was thrown out by 16 votes. Tempted by the smallness of the majority, the Bill was subsequently re-introduced, but so decided was the expression of opinion in the House that it was withdrawn, without taking a division upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was the proper authority to bring in a Bill upon this subject, and so strong was the feeling of the country in reference to the question that the right hon. Gentleman would, he believed, find no difficulty in passing his measure.

Motion agreed to.

Order for Second Reading read, and discharged: Bill withdrawn.