HC Deb 07 May 1878 vol 239 cc1540-3

MR. PEASE rose to call the attention of the House to the manner in which Licences for the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors are now issued, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is inexpedient to issue in England and Wales, between the present time and the next Session of Parliament, any new licences for the sale of wine, beer, or spirits, 'to be consumed off the premises,' without the sanction, in the case of each new licence, of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department. The hon. Member said, he was aware that the question had been a good deal before the House during the last few years, and he desired as briefly as possible to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Home Secretary) to one particular point in connection with it. He would first say, however, that the system under which the principal licences were granted was most confused; indeed, any system more confused, it would be well nigh impossible to imagine. There were licences for selling strong beer of not less than 4½ gallons, retailers' licences to sell beer not to be consumed on the premises, licences to sell spirits not less than two gallons, licences to sell foreign wines not licensed to retail beer or spirits; retailers of wine rated under £50 to be consumed off the premises, and many others. Any Government that turned its attention to the subject of licensing should endeavour to effect a much more simple method of dealing with what were called "on" and "off" licences than at present existed. His present object, however, was to address himself more particularly to the granting of off-licences, which enabled the sale of liquors to be consumed off the premises. It was proposed to deal with these licences in the Bill which the present Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) introduced in 1868 or 1869; but the clauses bearing on the subject were lost in Committee. Since that time these licences had increased in an enormous ratio; in fact, unless their issue was stopped, the country would be flooded with them, The Returns before the House showed that, whilst the magistrates had hardly licensed any fresh houses, the licences granted by the Excise had increased in an enormous ratio. He would give the figures showing the increase in the granting of licences during the past seven years. The licences for selling strong beer in quantities of not less than 4½ gallons had increased from 6,510 in 1870 to 7,595 in 1877. The licences to retailers in beer not to be consumed on the premises had actually increased between the years 1870 and 1877 by upwards of 100 per cent—from 3,078 to 6,690—and the dealers in beer and foreign wine not licensed to sell by retail had increased by about 25 per cent. The Home Secretary had often asked whether drunkenness increased in this country? A Return, moved for by the right hon. Gentleman the late Member for Oxford-shire (Mr. Henley) of the convictions between 1871 and 1876, showed, that contemporaneously with the increase of off-licences, drunkenness had greatly increased throughout the country. The figures were as follows:—In Bradford 43 per cent, in Gateshead 159 per cent, in Halifax 122 per cent, and in Nottingham 363 per cent. On considering the Re-ports of the Inspectors of the Northern, Southern, and Midland divisions, one was driven to the conclusion that drunkenness had increased in the same proportion as the increase of licensed houses. Licences were granted by the Excise with scarcely any control on the part of the magistrates. The local authorities also stated that there had been an enormous increase in drunkenness amongst women. For instance, in Manchester, between the years 1858 and 1876, while the percentage of convictions of men for drunkenness decreased from 83 to 71, the percentage of convictions of women had increased from 16 to 28.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


, in resuming, said, the remedy he suggested for the evil he had described was what Lord Aberdare had proposed when he was unable to pass his licensing measure—namely, to suspend the power of magistrates to grant licences except with the consent of the Home Office. If, he would say in conclusion, Her Majesty's Government were ready to agree to the course proposed in his Resolution, he would best consult the convenience of the House by moving it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, it is inexpedient to issue in England and Wales, between the present time and the next Session of Parliament, any new licences for the sale of wine, beer, or spirits 'to be consumed off the premises,' without the sanction, in the case of each new licence, of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department."—(Mr. Pease.)


said, he did not wish in the least to dispute the assumption of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Pease), that drunkenness had increased in this country; though, as he had always stated, he looked with suspicion on figures, which it was easy to manufacture with reference to any towns or villages. With regard to the general question of granting off-licences, he was aware that a considerable number of complaints had come from magistrates throughout the country for some years past that their powers were limited under the Act of 1869, and that they were practically compelled to grant those licences almost broadcast. Under that Act, the magistrates were compelled to grant licences when certain conditions were complied with, and there was no question that a large increase in the number of licences granted had taken place. He had no reason to differ in the main from the opinions which he expressed in 1869. He held, then, that if the magistrates were to be entrusted with a discretion as to the granting of licences for the consumption of drink on the premises, it was no unreasonable thing to say that they were capable of dealing with all classes of licences; but it was not the pleasure of Parliament to adopt that view of the measure, and the present system was adopted giving the discretion to magistrates only in cases where the drink was to be consumed on the premises. He was prepared at this moment to admit that a great deal could be said for dealing with off-licences regarding the sale of spirits and beer in open vessels; but, since 1869, his experience had convinced him that with regard to the sale of beer in sealed vessels, and of wine in bottles, the difficulties he foresaw then as to the general sale under "off" licences did not apply. He believed the wine licence was not abused to the extent of the spirit licence, and did not to any extent affect drunkenness. Two years ago, a Select Committee of the House of Lords was appointed to investigate the whole of the question. An immense mass of evidence had been submitted to that Committee; but it had not yet presented its Report, and it would, therefore, be unwise until it did to attempt to legislate on that subject. Another consideration which, in his mind, militated against the Motion, and which could not be overlooked, was, that at this period of the Session, they could hardly hope to deal with much advantage with any further measures than those already before the House. In those circumstances, and not from any hostility to the general object which the hon. Member opposite had in view, but because the present was not an opportune moment for dealing with the subject, he begged to move the Previous Question.

Previous Question moved, "That that Question be now put."—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)


, in reply, said, he had been in hopes that the hon. Gentleman would have so far supported him as to bring in a Suspensory Bill with respect to licences for the sale of beer and spirits in open vessels. He had done his best in calling attention to the subject. He had no wish to take any further responsibility in the matter, and he left it on the shoulders of the Government, feeling perfectly assured that either the present Government or their Successors would have to deal with this very important question.

Previous Question put, and negatived.