HC Deb 14 February 1877 vol 232 cc361-9

, according to Notice, moved for leave to bring in a Bill to prohibit the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday in England and Wales.


said, that he had no intention of offering any opposition to the introduction of this Bill. He certainly would not attempt to discuss a measure which was not in the hands of Members; but while it was still in a plastic state he wished to call the attention of the hon. Member who had introduced it (Mr. C. Wilson) to the inaccurate description which had been given of all Bills of this kind which he had ever seen. The object of this Bill, they were told, was to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday in England and Wales. Of course he could not tell what the provisions of this measure might be; but in all similar Bills which they had discussed in that House there were clauses which exempted travellers—bonâ fide travellers—and lodgers from the action of the Bill. These Bills closed the public-houses to those who lived to the immediate neighbourhood, but not to those who lived far off. He ventured to say that many Members of this House, and certainly nine out of ten who signed Petitions in favour of Sunday closing, thought that they were advocating a system of closing public-houses in such a way that liquor could not be bought on Sunday any more than they could buy a coat or a hat. That was a distinct and intelligible issue. There was much to be said for it and against it; but it would clear the ground very much if that issue were distinctly raised, and if the lion. Member would bring in a Bill in reality for preventing the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday, and not a Bill which really meant something very different. Up to the present time, in discussing these Bills, they had been talking of one thing and endeavouring to do another. He should not offer any opinion upon the merits of the Bill, but he should like to see that issue brought plainly before the House and the country.


said, the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) seemed to have forgotten altogether the experience of this country in dealing with the Sunday closing of public-houses. He wished not only to close the public-houses as the Bill proposed to close them, but he wished to go further and exclude even the bonâ fide traveller from obtaining refreshment. The hon. Member must have been singularly unobservant of the history of this question if he was not aware that legislation similar to that which he proposed had produced rioting throughout the length and breadth of this country, and had to be repealed within a year, and he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was confident that a similar result would ensue if the Bill of the hon. Member for Hull should become law, even in a modified form. He (Sir Charles W. Dilke) did not believe that the Bill would receive the assent of the House for the reason he had given; and the proposal of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) would be opposed to the good sense of that House and the wishes of the country, and would certainly lead to the consequences he had described. In 1854 it was proposed to close beerhouses and public-houses during more hours of the day than they had been closed up to that time; and when that proposal went before the country—a proposal for which the opinion of the country was not prepared—there was serious rioting in London and other towns in England, and that legislation was altered within a year from the time it was passed. Mr. Wilson-Patten brought in that Bill; it had the general assent of the House; and yet in 1855—only a year after it was passed—the change of hours had to be put back again almost as before, and Parliament presented the humiliating spectacle of having to undo in the greatest haste what it had done only a year before. He knew it had become a custom not to oppose the introduction of Bills, and he supposed that Members were not prepared to vote against their introduction; but certainly he believed there would be a very strong case for opposing the introduction of the present measure. It did not seem to him, when they knew what the measure was just as well as if it were actually in their hands, that there was any good reason why they should not discuss it and decide upon it at once, instead of allowing it to remain a long time upon the Order Book, and then to discuss it. But if that course were not taken upon the present occasion he thought it would be wise to adopt it in future years, not in regard to this Bill alone, but in regard to many of a similar character. The discussion might just as well take place on the first reading as months afterwards, when the Bill came up for second reading.


said, he quite agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), that it might be a wise course on the part of this House to adopt to oppose in future Sessions the first reading of Bills of this kind, which on their face enunciated principles which — even if the House were to pass them—it would be practically impossible or unwise to carry out. But that would not be in accordance with the custom which had recently, within the last few years, crept into the Business of that House, of always allowing a Bill to be introduced and read a first time as a matter of course. That was not, he believed, always the best course. At the same time, he did not feel disposed to oppose the first reading of a Bill of this kind after the Session had begun; because, to his mind, there were many other Bills equally open to the objections which might be taken to this which had already been allowed to be introduced to that House without opposition. For that reason ho should not offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill, however much he was opposed to the principle upon which he imagined it to be based. But he thought the course suggested by the hon. Baronet would be a wise course for that House to adopt on a future occasion, and to come to some resolution that they would allow a Bill which was proposed, and the principle of which the House was not in favour of, being opposed on its first reading.


said, he was very sorry to hear what had fallen from the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Henry SelwinIbbetson), who gave strong reasons why this Bill should not be thought of for an instant, and yet said he was desirous of listening to another debate upon it. [Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON: I did not say that.] Well, at any rate, that was the purport of his remarks. Although the hon. Baronet objected to it entirely—and not merely this Bill, but a great many others that had been brought forward—yet he thought they ought to be introduced, or, at any rate, not opposed on their first reading. Now, he (Mr. Locke) could not understand at all why this Bill should be allowed to be brought forward. It seemed to him the most ridiculous thing possible. He was sure that the hon. Gentleman—he did not exactly know who he was—who brought forward the Bill must be aware that on a former occasion a Bill was introduced to take away, he thought, only one hour from the time during which on Sundays people might drink some beer if they chose. Now, what was the consequence? That Bill was referred to a Committee, and he had the honour of being upon it. The subject was thoroughly inquired into, an immense deal of evidence was taken—he forgot how many weeks or months it extended over—but what was the result they arrived at? It was decided that the Bill should be entirely thrown out, and that not even five minutes' alteration should take place. That was with reference to England; and, therefore, why was it to be supposed that at the present time, when a question of this sort was raised, there should be any difference of opinion to that which previously prevailed? It was extremely inconvenient that these questions should be re-opened year after year. His hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) brought forward his Bill year after year as soon as the house met; but the principle involved in that measure was not half so absurd as that which was now proposed, inasmuch as if a certain majority of persons in a particular district chose to say they would have no drink, it would give them the option of carrying out their wishes. But the present Bill was to this effect—that this House was to come to the determination that no person whatever throughout this land should have the opportunity of having anything to drink on Sunday. He was quite satisfied, and he was sure the great majority of those he was addressing would be of the same opinion, that such a law as that could not be desired by any reasonable person in this country. He really could not understand why, when it was admitted that almost everybody was decidedly opposed to the Bill, it was considered that it ought not to be thrown out on the first reading. It was not necessary for him to do more than say he should oppose the Bill—at least, it was not a Bill yet—and he sincerely hoped everybody else would do the same.


desired to remind the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken that when a cognate measure, not now unpopular, was before the House with reference to the sister country the hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to that measure had taken every opportunity of voting against it, and he had not the slightest doubt that if they could have effected the object now sought to be enforced of a division on the first reading, it would never have reached its present stage. That Bill was carried on the second reading, because of the discussions which took place upon it in that House. He did not know much of the merits of the Bill now proposed to be introduced, but he thought it would be an extraordinary proceeding if they were prevented from discussing its merits. It might be that, although the second reading might not be carried this year or next, if discussions took place upon it, public opinion would be formed on the subject, and eventually the Bill might become law. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark had spoken of the Committee which sat on this question some years ago, but he seemed to forget that public opinion had made great advances during the intervening period, and it was not to be assumed that because certain antediluvian Committees threw out a similar measure a more modern Assembly would do the same. He trusted the House would extend the usual courtesy to his hon. Friend, and allow him to introduce the Bill.


said, it was always understood that, as a matter of courtesy, when a Member sought to bring in a Bill, he should be permitted to have it read a first time. At present he could not decide for or against the Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Hull. He thought the intentions of the hon. Member were good; and as none of them at present knew what the Bill was to be like, it would be only kind, fair, and according to the rules and custom of that House, that he should be permitted to introduce it. The question whether the rule with regard to the introduction of Bills, which had been in existence a long time, should be altered was a fair subject for discussion, but he hoped it would not be put to the test on this occasion, as it would be a little hard on a private Member.


said, he believed that, though he was junior in years to the hon. Baronet who had just preceded him, he was his senior as a Member of the House, and ho must accordingly explain that in the earlier days of his Parliamentary experience the custom of the House of Commons in regard to the Bills of private Members had been directly contrary to what had been just stated. At the period to which he referred it was a usual and well-understood practice to take a debate on the introduction of a Bill. In those days the Member who brought in a measure made himself acquainted with his own brief. He did not bring in a dummy Bill, and wait to find out how other Members wanted to have it filled up, but in offering his measure he gave a statement as to what he intended it to effect. A discussion ensued, and a division might afterwards be taken. A contrary custom had, however, grown up since then to a considerable extent; but Estill it was a custom which had many exceptions. He remembered, for instance, of being himself instrumental in the House a few years ago in relieving Mr. Auberon Herbert from the trouble of taking further steps in connection with a Bill which he desired to bring in. It would, he was sure, tend very much to shorten the Session and to make their proceedings really beneficial if they were to revert to the old practice. There was only one fact which it was necessary to mention in order to show to what extent of complication the present system had led the House. That day was the 14th of February, and the Wednesday list was filled up to the 25th of July. That fact alone should surely be quite sufficient to induce the House not to be so kindhearted as the hon. Member opposite (Sir Andrew Lusk) desired, but to consider their own time and the relative value of the respective measures.


had always opposed these restrictions, and could hold out to his hon. Friend no hope of support upon the second reading. But he felt bound to say that he could not join in opposing the introduction of the Bill. He believed the question had not been discussed during the present Parliament; it was one upon which many persons felt strongly, and it would be an act of discourtesy to his hon. Friend, representing as he did a large constituency and desiring to ventilate this important question, if they should refuse him the opportunity of doing so. In the other House of Parliament Bills were introduced as a matter of right, and he did not see why Members of the House of Commons should not, within due bounds, be allowed a similar right.


said, the statement which had been made by the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope), that the practice of the House in former years in connection with the introduction of Bills had been different from what it was at present, was undoubtedly correct; and it might be a matter for discussion whether it might not be desirable for the House in another Session to revert to the old practice. His own opinion was that a great many Bills were brought in which had not the slightest chance of becoming law, but which, nevertheless, took up a great deal of time, and whether they ought not to revert to the old practice might be a very fair subject for discussion. This Session pretty nearly 100 Bills had been brought in by private Members, and that perhaps might show the necessity of exercising some discretion in bringing measures forward. But he thought it would be somewhat discourteous, without the slightest notice, to pick this particular Bill out from the 100, and say that it should not be read the first time. There was another reason why the House should object to the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite. He was quite sure that, under the existing circumstances of this being an isolated Bill, picked out for this purpose, a division would not give anything like a general expression of the opinion of the House on the merits of the case. It would probably give an expression of opinion quite the reverse of the feeling of the House as to the merits of the Bill, which would be misleading out of doors. He, for one, should certainly oppose the Bill on its second reading, for reasons which he hoped lie should be able to show to the satisfaction of the House. He hoped, therefore, that the Motion would not be pressed, and, at the same time, he hoped the House would take into consideration whether it would not be wise in future to revert to the old practice.


asked to be allowed to explain a misapprehension under which the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), and other hon. Members seemed to be labouring. He had guarded himself expressly against giving any opinion for or against Sunday closing. He merely wished to see the question clearly and distinctly raised, and, in his opinion, that had never been done by any of the Bills before them.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to prohibit the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday in England and Wales, ordered to brought in by Mr. CHARLES WILSON, Mr. BIRLEY, Mr. M'ARTHUR, Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN, and Mr. JAMES.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 83.]