HC Deb 09 June 1869 vol 196 cc1451-7

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, find Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. O'Reilly.)


presented a Petition against the Bill, and then proceeded to move— That, until the present system of licensing in Ireland be remodelled and placed on a new basis, it is, in the opinion of this House, inexpedient to proceed further with the consideration of this Bill, and, therefore, that the order for going into Committee be discharged. The hon. Member said this was the third occasion on which that Bill or a Bill of that nature, had been before the House. In 1867, the hon. and gallant Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) had introduced it for the avowed purpose of restricting the sale of liquors by retail in Ireland on Sundays, the purport of the Bill being to diminish and discountenance the admitted vice of intemperance which unfortunately existed both in this country and in Ireland to a large extent. In that object he (Mr. Murphy) entirely concurred. No one would be more willing than himself to co-operate with any philanthropic persons who were anxious, by legislative enactment, to abate the evils of intemperance; but, in his opinion, the measure now under consideration, so far from being calculated to effect the object proposed, would have the effect of increasing the gravity of the evil. He did not make that assertion on his own authority, for he should quote irrefragable evidence of those best qualified to form an opinion on the subject, showing that until the evil was radically grappled with and the whole system of licensing had been taken up by the Government, any such partial measure as the present Bill would be of no avail in abating drunkenness but would tend to agravate it. He did not, of course, object to the number of hours when liquor might be sold on Sundays being curtailed; but the Bill now before the House related only to those places which were licensed by the magistrates. In 1833 an Act was passed which limited the hours of trade in spirits on Sunday in Ireland from two to eleven, p.m., for consumption on the premises; but no restriction was put on the sale of non-consumption on the premises. By the 6 & 7 of Will. IV. grocers were empowered to sell for non-consumption, and a subsequent Act reduced the hours of sale in public houses on Sunday night to nine p.m. By the 27 & 28 Vict, the Excise beer-house and licensing system was introduced; and such being the state of things in 1867 the hon. Member for Longford brought in his Bill, restricting the sale in public-houses from two until nine p.m., to from two to four o'clock in the afternoon, and from eight to nine o'clock in the evening; but not dealing in any way with the beer-houses and spirit-grocers' shops, where liquor was sold under Excise licenses. By a clause in that Bill, any person who kept an eating-house might sell liquor at any hour of the day while the house was open. After being read a second time that Bill was, on his (Mr. Murphy's) Motion, referred to a Select Committee. Owing to the lateness of the Session, and other causes, that Committee never met, and the Bill was dropped for the year. In 1868, it was again introduced and referred to a Select Committee, where it underwent so much alteration that it became, what it was at present, merely a Bill to close public-houses on Sundays, except between two and nine p.m. in towns, and between two and seven p.m. in the rural districts. But, before that Committee it had been shown by Mr. John Lewis O'Farrell, the Chief Commissioner of Police in Dublin, and by other equally competent witnesses that excessive drinking did not take place in the regularly licensed public-houses, which were always open to the supervision of the police, but in the beer-houses and spirit-grocers' shops, where sales of liquor took place in evasion or in direct violation of the terms of their licenses. Mr. O'Farrell expressed his belief that the curtailment of the hours of sale with the more respectable houses would only lead, under the present system, to an aggravation of the evil by transferring the drinking from the more respectable houses to those which were less respectable, and contended that the subject should be left to the Government, by whom a general measure—including in its provisions all the brandies of our licensing system—should be brought in. The statistics showed that while 33 per cent of the public-houses in Dublin had been complained of for selling liquors at hours when the houses should have been closed, 200 per cent, of the complaints had been lodged against the beer-sellers. It also appeared that the number of complaints against public-houses had been fewer since a limitation in the hours of sale had been removed, and that there had been a diminution in the number of arrests and committals for drunkenness Taking the ease of Richmond prison. Dublin, he found that the number of committals for drunkenness in 1852 was 3,480 females, and 1,610 males, and that, in 1867, the number decreased to 1,239 females, and 525 males, making a reduction of nearly two-thirds; the total showing 5,099 committals in 1852, as compared with 1,764 committals in 1867. In dealing with the figures it was necessary to observe that the number of arrests did not represent the number of persons, because one person might be arrested many times. The whole result was extraordinary, as showing in the main that drunkenness was not increasing. The licensed victuallers themselves had no objection to the public-houses being closed at nine o'clock; but they thought the restriction of hours should be uniform throughout the country, and that the small beer-houses and spirit-grocers should be also dealt with. For these reasons he had put his Amendment on the Paper. He believed that the question could only be dealt with satisfactorily by the Government, who possessed all the necessary materials for settling the question in a manner satisfactory for the revenue and at the same time beneficial to the public. He thought the House should not agree to mere dilettanti legislation, which would increase rather than diminish the evil. He trusted the House would hear from the Chief Secretary for Ireland some expression of opinion as to the course the Government would adopt, and he believed it to be their bounden duty to deal with the question for Ireland, as the Secretary of State for the Home Department had promised to take it up for England next year.


, in seconding the Amendment, said that, in order to settle this question, a large and comprehensive measure ought to be introduced. He believed he was right in saying that every official who had been consulted or examined in reference to this measure, or to a measure substantially the same, agreed in saying that, until the licensing system was put upon some basis intelligible and fair, until the various Acts of Parliament, contradictory and complicated, which now regulated the licensing system in Ireland were repealed, and one comprehensive measure passed, no partial legislation could be satisfactory, and, therefore, he regarded this Bill as premature. It was rather a remarkable fact, but it appeared from the Returns that since the public-houses were permitted to remain open until eleven o'clock at night the actual amount of drunkenness brought under the cognizance of the courts had been much less than it was when they were closed at an earlier hour. Probably the explanation was that conviviality went on more smoothly when longer time was allowed for it, and that when greater speed was enforced less judgment was used. At any rate, the extension of the time to eleven o'clock had not brought under the notice of the magistrates an increase of drunkenness. The Chief Commissioner of Police declared that this measure was premature, and the principle of limited legislation ought to be discouraged. This Bill commenced at the wrong end, and the proper course would be to put everything in reference to the sale of liquors on a common and intelligible basis. It was unfair to those engaged in the trade that they should be subjected to legislation so complicated as that by which they were now regulated. It was only fair to them that there should be an intelligible code by which their rights and liabilities should be defined. For these reasons he seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "until the present system of licensing in Ireland be remodelled and placed on a new basis, it is, in the opinion of this House, inexpedient to proceed further with the consideration of this Bill,"— (Mr. Murphy,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he had not intended to take part in the debate so soon but for the appeal made to him by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Murphy), and the fact that the, lion. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) had not risen. On the last occasion when this measure was before the House it was his duty to make an appeal to the former Gentleman, which he took in good part, withdrawing, in compliance with it, all opposition to the second reading of the Bill, and the hon. Member for Longford was thereby able to obtain from the House an assertion of the general desirability of restricting the hours during which places for the sale of liquors should be open on the Sabbath. He hoped he should now be equally successful in a somewhat similar appeal to the hon. Member for Longford. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, in meeting the Permissive Bill and also the Beerhouses Bill, had distinctly committed the Government to the opinion that the whole licensing system of England required careful examination and revision, and had given an undertaking that that should be effected. It would be his own duty to undertake something of the same kind with respect to Ireland. His own feeling was known to be favourable to the principle of this Bill, and the suggestions he now offered were conceived, therefore, in no hostile spirit, nor with any wish to give the go-by to the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork. Since he sat on the Committee it had been his duty to look closely into the subject, and he had seen the state of confusion into which the whole licensing system of Ireland had been allowed to fall, and the absolute necessity, both on this ground and in relation to impending legislation, that the matter should be taken up the Government. He assured hon. Members that before next Session the matter would be taken into serious consideration, and every part of it examined, including that which related to the hours of closing on Sunday. He hoped, on the part of the Government, to introduce next Session a measure which should put an end to the anomalies and evils of the licensing system in Ireland, a measure which he trusted would go far to accomplish the object aimed at by this Bill.


said, he was glad to hear that the question was to be taken up by the Government on its own responsibility. He believed that only a measure proposed by the Government would give general satisfaction.


said, the hon. Member for King's County (Mr. Sherlock) was under a misapprehension in supposing that the officials—stipendiary magistrates and others—who had been consulted believed that legislation in the direction of this Bill would be premature and unsuccessful; for, with the single exception of Commissioner O'Farrell, whose evidence applied solely to the metropolis, they had expressed contrary opinions. He cheerfully and proudly acknowledged the fact that there had been a great decrease of drunkenness of late years in Ireland, and especially in Dublin; and he appealed to that as evidence that it was practicable and desirable to limit the hours for the consump- tion of intoxicating drinks, and as a proof that this Bill was in consonance with the good feeling of the people. He maintained that it was a proper and logical thing to deal with the hours of sale without going into the whole licensing question. In regard to one point, he wished to call attention to an answer of Mr. Commissioner O'Farrell, who said that it was years since the question had been submitted to the Government, and who also expressed the opinion that the passing of a Bill like this, even if it proved inefficient, would have the result of hastening an amendment of the licensing laws. He hoped that even the bringing forward of this Bill would expedite that result, more especially as in the Committee which had sat on the Bill the Chief Secretary for Ireland voted in favour of licensed houses being closed at the hours named in this measure. He inferred, from the statement by the Chief Secretary, that the Bill to be introduced would seek to attain the object of this Bill by restricting the hours of sale on the Sunday; and if he were not, to draw that inference he should be inclined to press this Bill.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.