HC Deb 16 June 1880 vol 253 cc159-63

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that within the last eight or nine years several attempts had been made to reform our Licensing Laws; but they had failed to supply a proper solution of the question. In 1871, and again in 1872, he and those who acted with him approached Lord Aberdare (then (Mr. Bruce) upon the subject. He proposed similar clauses in the Government Bill; but they met with opposition and were withdrawn. In again introducing the principle, he wished it to be understood that it in no way interfered with the Resolution of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). On the contrary, while it was supposed to militate against his views, it actually enlarged the scope of his measure. While the Bill of the hon. Baronet aimed at nothing more than the prohibition of licensed houses in a neighbourhood without the consent of the ratepayers, this measure proceeded on the old lines, and would retain the magistrates, associated with five elected ratepayers, as the tribunal which should determine where and to whom licences should be granted. On the ground, then, that this Bill admitted the principle that the ratepayers should have a voice in the matter, it ought to receive the hon. Baronet's support. It emanated from a highly Conservative body, the Church of England Temperance Association, the same body which two years ago took special care of the inquiry into intemperance before a Committee of the House of Lords, and it was founded upon the recommendations of that Committee. Therefore, so far as the Conservative Members were concerned, the Bill ought to have their fullest support, unless as regarded those who were themselves engaged in the trade. It was unnecessary for him to say that the brewers, the licensed victuallers, and all who were so engaged were vehemently opposed to it. A body known as the Good Templars, great promoters of sobriety, were equally violent in their opposition to it. If, then, it was so thoroughly abused on both sides, the House might be sure there was some good in it. One set of persons blamed it because it went too far, and others because it did not go far enough, all which went to prove that it was a truly moderate measure. There was, no doubt, a strong feeling throughout the country that the ratepayers should have a local option in respect to the granting of licences, and he had in the Bill yielded to that feeling; but, at the same time, he thought it desirable to retain the jurisdiction of the magistrates. With this arrangement the control of the ratepayers would be still as complete as it would be under the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlisle. All, however, that he at present wanted was that the House should affirm the principle of the Bill, which introduced local option in a measure of Conservative reform.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a secondtime,"—(Sir Harcourt Johnstone.)


in supporting the Motion, stated that he fully approved of the proposal that representatives of ratepayers should be associated with the magistrates in the issue or withdrawal of licences of public-houses. Such a scheme was in accordance with constitutional principles, and had been followed long ago in the constitution of the Courts Leet which controlled the alehouses in feudal times. It was true that during the last 400 years such matters had been left under the direction of the magistracy alone, and he ventured to say that they had conducted the licensing system very well upon the whole. But it had become absolutely necessary to satisfy public opinion in regard to the perfectly reasonable desire that those who were so much interested in the issue or withdrawal of licences should have some share in the management of that which was now intrusted solely to the magistrates. That was the great and leading principle of the Bill which had been adopted by the Church of England Temperance Society, partly in deferenoe to the opinions and views enunciated by the Convocations of the Provinces of Canterbury and York. There was a second part of the Bill which had not been mentioned, but which deserved some attention, for it sought to provide for a fund out of which compensation could be given for the withdrawal of licences in certain cases. He thought that would be found more practicable upon examination than it might appear to be at first, and he believed that the result would be to close many houses of a class which it was generally admitted ought not to exist. He would not detain the House by going into the many other questions of interest which were connected with this Bill; but he trusted the House would assent to the second reading.


begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He wished to explain to the House the reason why he asked them to adopt this course. They had been told by the hon. Baronet who introduced the measure that already two very powerful associations were opposed to the Bill, that the licensed victuallers were opposed to it, and that it was equally opposed by the Good Templars. It was the custom to represent the licensed victuallers as the friends of intemperance. But they had no interest in being so. On the contrary, in the interest of their business, it was their policy to promote temperance; and he protested against the manner in which they were held up to opprobrium. Because he opposed this Bill he was not to be set down as an advocate of intemperance. There was no man a greater opponent of intemperance than himself, and what he said practised. He was neither a licensed victualler nor a Good Templar. Those whom he represented were all friends of temperance, although they were opposed to the use of coercion to keep men sober. Those, however, who were always meddling and interfering with the comforts of others were the real promoters of intemperance. The Bill was a slight upon, and an insult to, the magistracy of England. The question raised was whether the House had confidence in the magistrates, and whether they had done their duty in the past? ["No, no!"] The two hon. Members who cried "No!" might have no confidence in them; if so, they could not approve of the Bill. But the House had confidence in them, and so had the country. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) had admitted that the magistrates had exercised their functions with discretion and for the good of the public. If so, why were they to be checked by the association with them of elected ratepayers? The magistrates had the greatest interest in maintaining the moral and social well-being of the people, and were not likely to grant licences in any locality where public-house accommodation was not required. From their interviews, too, with their neighbours, they knew who were and who were not fit to be intrusted with such a privilege. They had hitherto exercised their jurisdiction with care and judgment; and therefore it was that he asked the House, by rejecting this Bill, to show that they had still confidence in the magistrates. If the House had not confidence in them, then it ought to do away with them. The House would show its want of confidence in them if it gave the local five assessors chosen out of the ratepayers, without saying whether those elected were to pay rates to the extent of 1s. or £100. The licensed victuallers and brewers were not to be elected; but did the House suppose that the licensed victuallers would not take an active part in the election so as to secure the return of their own friends, so that there would be an agitation kept up all the year round? And if they succeeded, would not they be more anxious for the granting of licences than the magistrates were at present? The magistrates had no special inducements to grant licences. They were residents in the districts, and had due consideration for their families and neighbours; and it was an advantage that they were not dependent upon popular election, so that they were not unduly influenced by the popularity or unpopularity of granting or withholding a licence. He should not complain then that the trade was to be harassed; every trade was harassed, and every interest, every landed proprietor, and every country gentleman, by those hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were never happy unless they were harassing somebody. The hon. Member was still speaking, when—

It being a quarter of an hour before Six o'clock, the debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.