§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. J. COWEN,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, briefly explained that its object was simply to take all matters connected with licensing out of the hands of the magistrates, who 1472 were an appointed body, and to place licensing, and all the powers connected with public-houses, in the hands of boards elected by the ratepayers.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. Cowen.)
§ MR. RODWELL,
in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, he thought the House was probably tired by that time of the statements that were bandied about as to an increase of drunkenness in the country. It was taken as an axiom that drunkenness was the parent of crime and pauperism, and when he found, on looking to various parts of England, that crime and pauperism were rapidly diminishing, he was at a loss to know why it should be said that drunkenness was on the increase. It was incumbent on the promoters of the Bill to show that the present system of licensing, which had been in operation for only a short period, had proved unsatisfactory, and had been the subject of complaints. It was certainly a very great improvement on the former system. The licensing justices, he believed, discharged their duties with perfect fairness; and in these days, when so many watchful eyes were observing the conduct of the magistrates, and particularly the unpaid magistrates, it was certain that if there had been any ground of complaint the House would have heard of it. It could not be said that the number of licences increased under the present system. On the contrary, there was the greatest reluctance on the part of the justices to grant new licences. It was an advantage, moreover, that the justices were not elected by the people, for they were able under the existing system to act with independence. Nothing, in his opinion, would be more objectionable than to place the granting of licences in the hands of an electoral body, because it was evident that for months before the elections of the licensing boards, publicans would engage in a regular system of treating in order to influence the composition of that licensing board. It was also inopportune to bring forward a Bill of this nature, because there had been no case made out for any change, or that the present system had not proved so far to have been successful in exercising a judicious power over the public-house trade. Besides, 1473 when he looked at the clauses of the Bill it seemed to him to be really a hybrid measure, something between the Permissive Bill and the Gotten burg proposal, and it contained some of the provisions of each. But the House had expressed its views as to each of these schemes, and he could hardly think it would assent to a measure which combined the evils of both of them. He was disappointed and sorry that his hon. Friend (Mr. Cowen) did not, in proposing the second reading of the Bill, give at greater length his reasons for adopting the principles of the measure and altering the present system, because it put the opponents of the Bill in the position of being compelled to fight with shadows; but one thing was very certain, it would involve the country in a very large expenditure. It would be necessary to have superintendents and an endless number of other officers in each local unit: so that it would not only keep the country in continual turmoil and convulsion, but would involve it in very considerable expense. This measure, he presumed, was brought forward to diminish drunkenness; but what guarantee was there that if it were passed into an Act it would diminish drunkenness in the slightest degree? It might do so in a few places where publicity could be brought to bear upon the working of the system, but even in those cases the effect would be only spasmodic—they never could obtain a uniform system. He thought it would be much better to leave licensing in the hands of those in whom it was at present placed, and he begged, therefore, to move the rejection of the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Rodwell.)
§ MR. PEASE
said, the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rod-well) had raised an issue upon the narrowest possible ground. It was admitted that there were great evils to be encountered. One of those was that three-fourths of the pauperism and 80 per cent of the crime of the country could be traced to the effects of intoxicating liquors. He refused to regard the representatives of the ratepayers under this Bill as simply the representatives for licensing purposes. They hoped to 1474 have a Bill on the subject of local government generally, and he should hope to find the Board created under the Bill exercising other authorities, because they were found to be the best men for all general purposes. The present Government had been taunted with having come into power through the assistance of the parsons and the publicans. He never joined in that taunt, and he believed they were anxious to do something to check the evils which so plainly existed. One effect of the existing law had been to increase drunkenness among women, the power of the magistrates to restrict the number of licences having been nullified by the power exercised by the Excise. The number of licences to sell off the premises had enormously increased. In Manchester the effect of this had been a very large increase in the number of cases of drunkenness among women, and in the West Biding a similar result had been produced. It was things like these that the country complained of. Such matters ought to be placed under a licensing authority. The question was simply how best to regulate a great monopoly. As to the hours of closing, he had always protested against any universal rule; it should be guided by local feeling and local wants, and it might well be left to the decision of the local authorities. The magistrates, of whose action so far as it went he did not complain, were not so suitable a body to take it up as the representatives of the ratepayers, not appointed solely for licensing purposes, as for the general purposes of Local Government. Almost universally throughout the North of England the opinion was that in a great many cases a shortening of hours was very desirable. What they wanted to realize was a maximum of taxation with a minimum of drinking; but this could not be attained unless the present law was altered in the direction of diminishing the number of drink traps at present existing in the country.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, the hon. Member who had just addressed the House (Mr. Pease) had dealt with matters which did not arise in the Bill. The object of the measure was simply to supersede the authority constituted, after due consideration, by Parliament two years ago for the licensing of public-houses—to supersede the committee of magistrates in favour of a local body. 1475 That body was to be elected by the ratepayers. What would be the effect? They would have contests right and left, and the most influential parties in such elections would be the publicans themselves. The result would be that the representative body would be to a great extent composed of the nominees of this class. Those who doubted that such would be the case could not have seen the influence publicans exercised in the present municipal and borough elections; and if that were the case, would they not strive every nerve in order to secure the constitution of the licensing boards in their own interests? Had any case been made out, or any grievance even alleged, against the present licensing committees? He had heard no charge of dereliction of duty. He ventured to think that before they attempted to supersede the existing authority, the authors of the Bill were bound to show some cause for it, and some very grave dereliction of duty on the part of the present authority before they could expect the House to assent to the second reading.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he would not detain the House more than a few moments, and had no intention of interposing between the division which the promoters of the Bill appeared desirous of taking; but he thought it right that the views of the Government should be plainly stated in regard to the measure. As he ventured to state to the House last year, it was an entire subversion of the principle upon which the present licensing system was conducted. This proposal was that, without showing any case against the existing authority, without proving that they had in any way neglected their duty, they should sanction the appointment of a body of men elected by the ratepayers. He believed the proposal would be liable to all the objections which could be urged against the Permissive Bill. It would produce continual turmoil in the neighbourhood, inasmuch as there would be constant endeavour to change the character of the representation. It would,also bring into play such uncertainty in regard to licences as to withdraw capital from the trade, upon which very much.of its respectability depended. He would also venture to bring under the notice of the House that the whole of the clauses of the Bill were full of possible expendi- 1476 ture, and consequently that vast sums of money would have to be spent in connection with the frequent election of the boards it proposed to establish, and consequent burdens in the shape of taxation would be imposed upon the ratepayers. He did not think any case had been made out for altering the principle upon which they had acted for the last two years. The effects pointed out were the subject of consideration at the present moment, and had been submitted to the consideration of a Committee in "another place," and he did not think it was possible—in fact, it would be unwise—to deal with the matter until the evidence they had taken was in the hands of hon. Members. He therefore thought the House would exercise a wise discretion in rejecting the measure.
§ MR. WATKIN WILLIAMS
was disappointed at the shortness of the discussion, but he was anxious that the position in which he stood with regard to the Bill should be made clear. He intended to move Amendments which he believed would meet every objection raised against the measure. The main principle of the Bill was to transfer to an elective body the power of granting licences. He was prepared to suggest a modification of the proposal, under which one-half the licensing authority should be elected by the ratepayers, the other half consisting of magistrates of the localities. He most cordially gave his vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 133: Majority 48.—(Div. List, No. 234.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Beading put off for three months.