HC Deb 28 April 1876 vol 228 cc1886-92

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to restrict, and in a certain degree prohibit, the granting of licences for the sale of intoxicating liquors for consumption off the premises. The provisions of the measure were simple. In the first place, he proposed to confine the operation of the Bill to England, and it did not in any manner apply to or affect premises licensed by a justice authorizing the sale of intoxicating liquors where the licence was in force at the time of the passing of the Act, and kept in force continuously by renewal with or without transfer. The 2nd clause contemplated an amendment of the 8th section of 32 & 33 Vict. by placing the refusal of licences authorizing the retail sale of beer, cider, or wine, not to be consumed on the premises, at the discretion of the licensing magistrates, and repealed so much of the section as limited that discretion. It further amended by repeal the major portion of the 68th section of the Licensing Act of 1872 so as to prevent the grant of further spirit licences to grocers and other persons of that description. The important Return which, through the kindness of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he had been able to obtain, showing as it did the opinion of the magistrates of quarter sessions and of chief constables in many of the principal districts of the country on the wide-spreading evils arising out of the sale of spirits under grocers' licences, more especially in Cheshire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire, demonstrated the necessity for adopting the course recommended by the Bill he then submitted for the approval of the House. He was sorry time would not allow him to place the figures before hon. Members, but hoped on a future occasion he might be more fortunately situated in that respect. Those magistrates and officials were unanimous that, as far as possible, the sale of spirits in those shops should be discontinued, and that was the very best testimony that could be adduced in favour of his proposal. It might be urged that the class of places to which the Bill made special reference afforded opportunities for obtaining spirits that were of convenience to the public; but if there were advantages of that nature, they were outweighed by the disadvantages. There could be no doubt that drunkenness was very much on the increase—a fact that was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Speech when he alluded to the augmentation of the Revenue derived from the sale of spirits. If the Bill were a dangerous Bill, interfering with vested interests, he should have hesitated to propose it; but it did not apply to premises licensed at the present moment. It merely placed a certain limit on the discretion of magistrates. He had not ventured to initiate legislation deterring magistrates from granting facilities for the sale of beer and wine. Had he done so, he might have been met with the opposition of that powerful, wealthy class, the brewers; but he did not hold that the sale of beer and wine was by any means so detrimental as the unlimited sale of spirits. It was not, in many parts of the country, the grocers alone who obtained those licences, but frequently butchers, shoemakers, and other descriptions of shop- keepers were accustomed to apply for and did obtain them. It could not be contended that no practical control on their part should not exist with regard to licences of this description. It was the universal opinion of the clergy that it would be far wiser to diminish the facilities for the sale of drink than to give an opportunity for their increase. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would not offer any opposition to the second reading of a Bill which was calculated to promote the cause of law and order by preventing the multiplication of facilities that brought about such disastrous results, and he earnestly appealed to hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative side of the House to assist him in carrying the measure. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Harcourt Johnstone.)


in moving the adjournment of the debate, said, he objected to the second reading at that late hour. The hon. Gentleman said that he had many figures to produce in support of his proposal, and, holding them in his hand, he expressed a hope that at some future time he might be able to bring them before the House. But he (Mr. Onslow) thought they had had quite enough, at all events for the present, of this liquor legislation, and he set his face against it. He hoped the House would agree with him, and support his proposal that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Onslow.)


said, that perhaps it might be as well to adjourn the debate, but he could fully confirm the hon. Baronet's satement respecting the evils which resulted from the facilities afforded by grocers' licences, and he wished to draw attention to the fact that the magistrates of the West Riding of Yorkshire at their quarter sessions had unanimously adopted a resolution on the subject and forwarded it to the Home Secretary. He did not know that they had sufficient information as to the power of the magistrates to prevent abuses arising by the granting of these licences, and it was very desirable that some measure should be taken by the Government on the subject. There had been very little legislation on this part of the subject during the present Parliament; and before they added to the number of shops opened for the sale of intoxicating liquors, they ought to have better information as to what was likely to be the effect of opening a number of small shops for the purpose, over which the magistrates and the police could not possibly exercise any effectual control.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would not assent to anything that would add to the present monopoly in the sale of intoxicating liquors without further inquiry. They had not any reliable information on the subject; they all knew that there was a class of tradesmen who had a very large interest in the maintenance of that monopoly. But there were certain facts to which it was desirable to call attention. In the borough of Liverpool, some years ago, the system of what was called free trade was introduced, or, in other words, open shops for the sale of drink. That system lasted for three years, and there was a general belief that the increase of public-houses had led to a great increase of drunkenness, and curiously enough the large body of magistrates in the borough were not alive to the fact that there was no such increase. Inquiries had, however, been made two years later, the result of which was to show that the amount of drunkenness had actually been less in proportion to population than previous to the adoption of the open licensing system. That showed that there was no relation between the amount of drunkenness and the number of open houses for the sale of drink. The county magistrates in the neighbouring district of Prescot and Much Woolton, who were not so subject to be influenced by the popular opinion of the day, maintained their ground, and until this day the open system was carried on in that district to the entire satisfaction of the magistrates and police. At the same time he admitted that, though his own opinion was very decided upon the point, he thought the House was not in possession of sufficiently reliable information to warrant further legislation at present, and he would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that a Select Com- mittee should be appointed to collect and carefully sift the evidence before they proceeded to legislate further. He was most anxious that they should not increase the existing monopoly, which was already too strong.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) that they were not in possession of sufficient information on the subject to warrant further legislation; but certainly the statement that in proportion to the increase of public-houses drinking had decreased, would require confirmation before it could be believed. He (Mr. Dalrymple) was interested in the present Bill as it contained provisions similar to one which had been introduced in reference to Scotland. When a Bill of moderate character was brought forward it might fairly be asked that it should receive the attention of the House, and it ought to be observed that the present proposal avoided the objectionable characteristics of the Permissive Bill, which was directed against even a moderate use of intoxicating liquors.


said, the last Act had been in operation but a very short time. It had not been proved that for its purposes it had failed. With respect to the present Bill, it would be recollected that great objections had been made to the grocers' licences, and it was alleged that great evils had arisen from their existence. The Bill would, if agreed to, increase that evil. He could see no reason why the settlement come to two years ago should be disturbed, and he thought that, of all persons, the licensed victuallers had the least reason to complain of it. On the whole, it had worked well, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would discourage the attempt to re-open it thus early.


said, that the question raised by the Bill was a large one, but the immediate question before them was, whether they could entertain the subject at that late hour of the morning, and he was strongly of opinion that they could not. He gathered that from the speeches made on the Bill on the other side of the House. First, the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said he had information to give to the House on the subject, if the House was inclined to listen to him; but he himself admitted that the hour was too late. Then the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) said he had facts and figures to lay before them. He had shown them to him (Mr. Cross) and had also given him the reasons that had induced him to come to the conclusions he had. He (Mr. Cross) could answer for it that there was a great deal in them, and that those facts and figures ought to be laid before the House; yet when the hon. Member proposed to do so, he was stopped by the voice of the House. A considerable part of the Bill was in the measure of his hon. Colleague who sat near him (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson); and it would have passed into law had it not been for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. The Bill was a short and attractive one; but he ventured to say that after it had passed its second reading, it would come on the Paper with Amendments as thickly as the Merchant Shipping Bill had done, and no point would be left untouched that was gone into two years ago. He was bound to say, however, that many addresses on the subject had been forwarded to him at the Home Office that were well worthy of consideration; but if the Bill was gone on with, it should be at an hour when there would be ample time for discussing its merits.


thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was, of all Members of that House, the one best able to give information on the subject. He was, or ought to be, in a position to afford the House the information which it needed, and he was rather surprised at his pleading insufficiency of information. Memorials had come in to him from all parts of England, and these were the very bases of the case he had to submit to the House. He could not put it on any stronger grounds than that of the remonstrances which had emanated from the justices of the districts chiefly affected by the present state of the law; and if there were any desire to check that traffic, he could not conceive why it should not be the wish of the House that the Bill should be read a second time. He hoped that if the Bill were not dealt with now, a further day would be given for its consideration, for he was sure the House would very much regret, at the end of the Session, that some measure had not been passed to restrict it.


said, he was afraid he could not give any assurance to the hon. Gentleman that the Government would give him a day for the purpose; but he could promise that when it did come forward, he should be willing to give the House such information as he possessed, and to discuss the memorials he had received if time admitted of going fully into the subject.

Question put. The House divided: Ayes 73; Noes 40: Majority 33.

Debate adjourned till Friday next.

House adjourned at a Quarter after One o'clock till Monday next.