HC Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc1058-64

in rising to call attention to the operation of the valuation sections of the Licensing Act upon the property now invested in existing Beer Houses; and to move That the owners and occupiers of beer-houses who have invested their money in premises licensed previously to the passing of the Act of 1872 ought not to be subjected to the forfeiture of their property by the imposition of new and more onerous pecuniary conditions in respect of the renewal of their licences, said, he wished he could consistently take the same course as the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) who had just postponed his Motion; but the grievance to which he desired to call attention should be remedied at once, if it was to be remedied at all. In the Licensing Act of last Session various regulations were made with respect to beerhouses which placed them in a different position to other licensed public-houses. The point at issue was, whether those beerhouses should continue in the exceptional position which it appeared they had been placed in by that Act. He believed that it was not the intention of the Legislature to place those houses in the position the owners now found themselves—that the legislation was intended to operate in futuro, and did not apply to houses which previously possessed licences, but who might rind it difficult, if not impossible, to find new premises or extend the old ones, so as to comply with the new regulations as to rateable value. By the Act the rateable value had been changed to the annual value of the premises; but in taking that annual value, they excluded the fact that the house had a value above the annual value in consequence of being a public-house.


said. the hon. and learned Member misapprehended the real state of the case. The point referred to affected public-houses, and not beerhouses.


contended that in consequence of the decisions which had been arrived at last September a great hardship and injustice had been inflicted on the owners of beerhouses. Whether it was desirable that those houses should exist or not was not a question into which he was going to enter. All he contended was, that having under the old law obtained a certain status, and having invested their capital and applied themselves to that occupation as a means of living, they ought not to be arbitrarily and unjustly deprived of those means by a new system of valuation. He might refer to the debate which had just closed as an illustration of the injustice which had been and would be done to beerhouse keepers. In the case of officers of the Army, it had been agreed not only to pay regulation prices, but over regulation prices, in consideration of previous existing facts. Why should the occupiers of beerhouses be treated in a different spirit? But he did not ask any favour for them; all he asked was that they should be treated justly, and that, by what he thought was an accidental and unintentional operation of a particular clause in a Bill, those people should not be deprived of their means of living. Last September many of those, houses were closed under the operation of the Act. Next September, when the licensing sessions were resumed, unless some action were taken in the matter, the whole of them would be shut up without any fault on the part of the occupiers. That would be the case in every parish throughout the country, and those houses would not be the worst, but the best of their class. He did not believe that the advocates of the Licensing Act themselves intended this to be the result of their legislation, and he confidently appealed to the Government for an immediate remedy to an urgent grievance.

The hon. and learned Member having been informed by Mr. SPEAKER that according to the Forms of the House his Motion could not be put—


said, he could not understand the object the hon. and learned Gentleman had in view in bringing forward this subject. An Act of Parliament was passed last Session making certain provisions with respect to beerhouses. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had carried that Resolution of which he had given Notice, what effect would it have on the proceedings before the Justices at the next Brewster Sessions? When the Bill he referred to was introduced, notice of it was given to the keepers of beer-houses throughout the country, and that particular provision was distinctly mentioned by Lord Kimberley in introducing the Bill in the House of Lords, and although objection was taken to many parts of the Bill, no objection was taken to that one. When the Bill came down from the other House he (Mr. Bruce) also referred to the provision in terms as distinct as those of Lord Kimberley. Some discussion was raised on the Motion by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Dickinson; but only with the view of making the restriction greater, by excluding from the rateable value for qualification that of any fields which might be attached to the House. In the case of public-houses, it had been assumed that magistrates would exercise their functions to ensure that these houses would be of the proper rateable value; but the case of beerhouses was different—a low class of beerhouses had come into existence, and so strong was the feeling on the subject, that not the slightest objection was taken to this provision as regarded beerhouses in either House of Parliament. Then, did they act harshly with the beerhouses in calling on the magistrates to see that they possessed the rental required by the Act of Parliament? That was done in the case of public-houses; but in that of beerhouses, the only security they could have was by seeing that they were of the proper rateable value, and requiring them to bring their houses up to the required rateable value within a given time. To him it seemed a just and fair provision. And when his hon. and learned Friend compared the case of the beerhouses with that of the officers, he would remind him that the officers were at least of some value to their country, and that it was just they should be compensated—which could not be said of these houses. He failed to see any advantage that his hon. and learned Friend proposed in bringing forward this question.


said, he was astonished at the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, for anything more unjust he had never heard in his life. His remarks might very well apply to the state of things which originally existed, when the beerhouse licences were first issued 30 years ago, when they were not under the control of the magistrates. That was not their fault, and the Government were now taking advantage of a sin of their own creating. But the Home Secretary ought to have recollected that that did not apply now, for the beerhouses had for 12 months previously been placed under the control of the magistrates, and he would appeal to the testimony of any Chief Constable to say whether they were not as well conducted as the fully licensed houses if they were to require a beerhouse to come up to a certain standard of value, they would in many country districts require a very large place; but it was monstrous to place such a restriction upon a poor man, who intended to sell beer to poor men. The result would be that the whole trade would be handed over as a monopoly to the brewers. They had only to look to the Act to see that it was only intended to deal with future licences, and that there was not the slightest idea or intention of making it retrospective. He had recently purchased a beerhouse, and if the licence was refused on this ground he intended to try the case by applying for a mandamus, and he had been advised by eminent counsel that he had a good case. All this showed with how little reflection the Act of last Session was passed. When once a dog was given a bad name it was as well to hang him, and that was the principle on which the Home Secretary appeared to he dealing with the beerhouse keepers. The Act was so unjust that it could not possibly last. He would appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) to say whether the beerhouse which supplied beer to the poor man was half so bad as the full licensed house which supplied spirits; and he should call on the hon. Baronet to support the Motion, which he regretted could not by the Forms of the House be put. If it could, he was certain the Home Secretary would have been left in a minority.


said, that if his recollection of the debates of last year was correct, there was a general desire to avoid any possible mistakes. It was certainly his belief at the time the Bill was under consideration last year, that its object was, as far as possible, to protect existing interests, and that the clauses under consideration were not to affect the old, but only new licences, and he was convinced that they were discussed by hon. Members under the impression that they were only dealing with the new, and not with the old beerhouses. He believed if it had been generally known when the Licensing Act was before the House, that so large an amount of rateable interests would be affected by the change proposed, there would have been more minute discussion, they would have taken greater care of those vested interests, and they would have guarded against the mistakes which had been made. During the discussion on the Bill the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) had called attention to the fact that in many mountain districts there were only a few houses of low rateable value that practically afforded to a comparatively large population any accommodation whatever. For many years previous to the passing of the Licensing Act, in some districts the rateable value of beerhouses was made up of many ingredients, and practically the value of those houses was of low standing indeed. That state of things, however, did not apply to a large number of beerhouses which the passing of the Licensing Act affected. In many towns an immense number of houses would be swept out of existence at the next licensing sessions. In that case, a great injustice would be done. In many towns, at the corners of streets laud could not be had for the purpose of extending existing beerhouses, so that it was perfectly impossible to bring the annual value up to £15. Though they were conducted respectably for generations, they would be refused licences, because they were below the required rateable value. It did seem a great hardship, indeed, that houses of this character should be swept away. In one town within his own knowledge, at least 200 such houses would be swept away, as they could not build up to the rateable value required by the Act. The Legislature would act wisely, if the attempt were limited to wipe out beer-houses or public-houses. The question of renewing licences ought to be affected by the fact whether they had been properly conducted. If they had been badly conducted, then he was free to confess that their licences ought not to be renewed; but when they had been respectably conducted for generations—when they had been carried on within the legal requirements of the Act—it did appear to hint a very great hardship indeed that they should be swept away simply on the ground of rateable value. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said, he could not see what good could result from the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford as, practically, it was too late to take action in the matter. But that was not the first time during the present Session that the attention of the Government had been called to the grievance complained of. He (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) had himself urged the necessity of doing something in the matter; but he felt as a private Member the difficulty he would have, unaided by the Government, in dealing with the question. He thought the Home Secretary would act wisely if by a short Act passed during the present Session, he and his Colleagues in the Administration rendered impossible that which must be admitted to be a great injustice.


said, the language of the 46th section of the Act was so clear that it never could have been for one moment doubted by anyone who paid attention to the Bill when before the House that the Licensing Act was intended to have a retrospective effect on the point of rateable value with regard to beer-houses. He knew there were cases where from the houses having changed owners injustice would be done, at the same time it must be remembered that if the value of the house had been properly stated when the licence was granted, no injury could be done. There must have been misrepresentation in obtaining the licence, which was frequently done when the licence was granted by the surveyors of taxes. He thought that some discretion should have been left to the magistrates in dealing with this particular class of houses instead of binding them down as they were by the 46th and 47th sections. At the same time, he could not concur in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford.