HC Deb 09 March 1869 vol 194 cc989-95

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said that he would not trouble the House with any lengthened statement with regard to it. He must, however, make a few remarks, as notice had been given of an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. Great interest had been for some time felt respecting the limitation of the hours for the sale of intoxicating liquors in Ireland. Three years ago, in consequence of the representations made to him, he undertook to bring in a Bill on the subject, which he did as a tentative measure. This measure, which was similar in its object to the present Bill, although unlike in its provisions, passed a second reading. It was then ordered to be referred to a Select Committee; but July having arrived, it was too late to begin to take evidence, and the Order was discharged. Last year he again introduced a Bill, which was read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, who examined a number of witnesses, upon whose evidence the present Bill had been drawn. He would now point out how far the authority of the Select Committee might be quoted in favour of the Bill. The Select Committee proceeded by Re-solution, and they first resolved that— The hours for the sale of intoxicating drinks on Sunday, and the other days enumerated in the Bill be from two p.m., to seven p.m., except in the towns to be hereafter defined. They next resolved that in other towns to be afterwards defined the hours to be from two p.m. to nine p.m. These Resolutions were passed unanimously. They had then to define what constituted a town under the second Resolution—whether a population of 2,000 or 5,000—and after a division the latter was carried. The evidence conclusively proved that it was desirable to diminish the hours for the sale of intoxicating drinks, and that these hours could be shortened to the advantage not only of the consumers, but of the sellers. All; the witnesses, with two exceptions, were; in favour of a limitation of the hours. They consisted of stipendiary magistrates and others, and ministers of religion, although ho would not rest his case on the evidence of the latter class, as they might be supposed to be prejudiced in favour of sobriety. Mr. Ralph, President of the Association of the Spirit Grocers of Dublin, was in; favour of limiting the hours even more than was proposed by the Bill. The Mayor of Cork, a gentleman largely engaged in trade, was of opinion that the public-houses might advantageously be closed at an earlier hour in the country, and that even in Cork they might be; closed at eight or nine o'clock. Mr. Barry, President of the Cork Vintners' Society, assented to the hours being fixed at from two to nine on Sunday. Two witnesses, indeed, stood out against any diminution. One was Mr. Gary, President of the Licensed Victuallers of Dublin; and, even he, when pressed with the question whether the hours might not be safely reduced, replied that he thought if there was to be any alteration it would be the best course. As to the other adverse witness, Mr. Porter, an ex-police magistrate, as he was against any restriction whatever on the sale of liquors on Sunday or on any other day, his testimony would probably not be considered of much importance. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Murphy), in opposing the measure of last year, took this ground—he considered it undesirable to make any change in the hours of selling intoxicating drinks in Ireland until the system of licensing houses for the sale of intoxicating drinks had been altered. Now, he (Mr. O'Reilly) believed all who had studied the question were agreed that the whole licensing system, both in Ireland and in England, was in a very unsatisfactory state, and he had urged the Government to bring in a Bill to re-organize and regulate that system. But he protested against its being said that they should not diminish the hours of selling intoxicating drinks on Sunday in Ireland until the very large and complicated question of licensing had been settled. At the same time, if the Secretary for Ireland gave him the assurance that he was in a position to grapple with that question, and desired that this Bill should be postponed until he could deal with it, he would at once accede to the suggestion. His present proposition was only to diminish the number of hours for the sale of intoxicating drinks by two hours in the evening in towns and by four in the country. The last two hours in the public-house were useless for the labouring class, who required to be early at work the following morning; and those hours were also the most productive of drunkenness. Public opinion in Ireland was strongly in favour of the Bill. Only two petitions had been presented against it, one from Cork and the other from the City of Dublin. The petition from Cork was signed by 700, but of these 500 were publicans, leaving only 200 to represent the general community. There had also been a petition from Cork, signed by 700, presented in its favour. He confidently appealed to the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he was not aware, as the result of his large experience, that public opinion there was greatly in favour of the principle of the Bill. If the principle were affirmed by the second reading, the Bill could not go into Committee before the middle of May; and in the meantime those who were interested in the matter would have ample opportunities for considering its particular clauses.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. O'Reilly.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that, if the measure had been a simple one to close public-houses in Ireland at nine o'clock on Sunday, and would have been made applicable to the country parts as well as to the towns, although it might have aggravated, under the present system of licensing, the evils complained of, he should not have moved an Amendment to it. He reminded the hon. and gallant Member (Mr. O'Reilly) that neither the Bill of last year nor the Bill previous to it passed a second reading as a matter of course, but were referred to a Select Committee, before whom a considerable amount of evidence had been taken. Now, one of the main reasons for my agreeing to the appointment of a Select Committee on this subject was the expediency, and indeed necessity, of inquiring into the general system of licensing, with a view to the correction of the abuses which it is believed that system has engendered; and the hon. and gallant Member must no doubt recollect the opinion expressed by me, and the appeal I made to Lord Mayo, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, as to whether the Select Committee then to be appointed had scope or power enough to deal with the subject and report thereon. The noble Lord's opinion was that the Committee would have such a power, but the result, however, disclosed the contrary, and in fact the Committee did not report at all on the subject. However, amongst other witnesses who had been examined before the Committee was the Chief Commissioner of Police in Dublin, who stated that the legitimate business of the public-houses in Ireland had been trenched upon by the beer-houses and spirit grocers' establishments, and who gave it as his opinion that any alteration of the law in the direction indicated by the Bill ought to be accompanied by a considerable change in the licensing system. He did not admit that the Committee had agreed to the principle of limiting, pure and simple, the hours of keeping open public-houses in Ireland, and he, therefore, differed from the construction which the hon. and gallant Member had put on their Resolutions in that respect. He had last year consented to the second reading of the Bill solely upon the understanding that it was to be referred to a Select Committee, which should inquire into the whole system of granting licenses, and he was very strongly of opinion that such a Bill should not be agreed to until some legislation had taken place with respect to licensing. He was quite convinced that, until some alteration was effected in the licensing laws, it would be perfectly useless to restrict the hours for the sale of liquor as was now proposed. It would be better, therefore, he thought, to wait until the whole subject could be grappled with by the Government than to deal with it by means of bit-by-bit legislation, which could only aggravate the evil which it was intended to remedy, Independently of this consideration, however, the Bill contained a principle which he could never sanction, and that was what was called the permissive principle. This, if carried into execution, would enable two-thirds of the ratepayers to dictate to the minority in the matter of drinking, which was an infringement of the liberty of the subject he could not sanction. The Bill would in short restrict I no less than 5,000,000 of the population of Ireland to the hour of seven o'clock in the evening as the hour at which the public-houses should be closed. In his opinion this legislation was useless and irritating, I and believing that it would be better to relegate the whole subject to the Government and let them deal with it, he moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Murphy.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he regretted that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Murphy) had continued his opposition to this Bill, which was calculated to do much good. He was in hopes that the hon. Member, after listening to the evidence given before the Select Committee on this question, would have come to the conclusion that a measure of this sort was necessary. The provisions of the Bill appeared to be of a most harmless character, and to embody legislation which was loudly called for. A most moderate restriction upon the sale of liquor was proposed, and in the interest of morality and order he hoped that that restriction would be agreed to. There was reason to fear that drunkenness was on the increase in Ireland, especially in large towns, on the Sunday; and as the interests of travellers and the general convenience were consulted by the Bill, which enlisted the support of Presbyterians and Catholics alike, he hoped that the opposition to the second reading would not be persisted in.


said, that the medical profession and the justices of the peace had testified that the great amount of ardent spirits which was consumed tended largely to the increase of disease, pauperism, and crime, and thus indirectly to the increase of the public taxation. That being the case, it was time that the House interposed with some legislation on the matter. It had been said that such a measure as this ought not to be introduced until the licensing system was remodelled; but if they did so they would then be told to wait until some restriction was proposed upon the opening of the licensed houses. It was the old story of Lord Chatham waiting for Sir Richard Strachan, and Sir Richard waiting for Lord Chatham. If Parliament were responsible for the punishment of crime, there was no harm in their trying to prevent crime, and on that principle he should support the second reading.


said, that two points had been clearly established by this discussion. One was that the present licensing system was seriously defective and gave rise to well-grounded complaint; the other, that there was a widespread desire in Ireland in favour of some further restriction upon the sale of intoxicating liquor on Sundays, that feeling not being con-| fined to one class or creed, but being shared, as the hon. Member (Mr. Dawson) had stated, by the Presbyterians of the north as well as by the Catholics of the south. These statements were true, whatever effect they might have upon the ultimate fate of the Bill, and they both supported the appeal which he should make to his hon. Friend (Mr. Murphy)not to reject the Bill at its present stage, but to allow it to go forward to Committee. As to the licensing system, he did not know that he could reply in very definite terms to the appeal of his hon. Friend (Mr. O'Reilly); still, when he, sitting on the Treasury Bench, admitted that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory and mischievous, this was a tolerably plain acknowledgment that it was incumbent upon the Government, in; due time and at the proper opportunity, to deal with that system. Without going any further at present, ho should be glad of time to look into the matter and see whether he could, upon a subsequent occasion, state his opinions more definitely to the author of the Bill and the House. As to the strong feeling which existed in favour of the Bill, that was also a reason why his hon. Friend (Mr. Murphy) should give the people of Ireland further time to look into the provisions of the measure and consider them before the House finally decided respecting them. Although his hon. Friend was not sanguine of any good to be effected by restrictions upon the sale of drink on Sunday, until the licensing laws were placed on a better foundation, he did not refuse his assent to a certain amount of restriction in this direction. There being, therefore, evidently some room for a compromise, and the proper time to deal with such a compromise being in Committee, he would recommend his hon. Friend to allow the Bill to reach that further stage.


said, that, after the appeal just made to him by his right hon. Friend, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 26th May.