HC Deb 30 June 1880 vol 253 cc1167-81

Order for Second Beading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was not his intention to enter upon the general question of Sunday closing, which had been so recently under the notice of the House, and which he thought, it would be admitted on all hands, had been pretty well threshed out. He was quite sensible of the disadvantage under which he laboured in bringing forward a Motion somewhat similar in character to the recent Resolution of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson). If that Resolution had been more specific, and if the Government had given any promise that, in the course of next Session, they would introduce a comprehensive measure dealing with the United Kingdom, he might not have pressed his Bill on the present occasion. The feeling in Wales was so strong, so thorough, and so unanimous, and there were so many complications and difficulties connected with the question of closing public-houses in England on Sunday that did not exist in Wales, that he felt it to be his duty to ask the House to lose no further time in passing a Bill which would be distinctly applicable to the Principality of Wales. There were two points he undertook to demonstrate. The preponderating opinion of the great majority of the people of Wales was in favour of this measure, and no sufficient reasons could be brought forward for objecting to the wishes of the people of Wales being carried out. All the religious denominations, the magistrates, and the boards of guardians were in favour of Sunday closing. Again and again they had petitioned the House. Nowhere was there greater interest felt in the progress of the Irish Sunday Closing Bill, which proved so satisfactory in its result, than in Wales; and he might say that the passing of the Irish measure, more than anything else, had prompted the people of Wales to ask for similar privileges for themselves. In North Wales a house-to-house canvass had been instituted for the purpose of ascertaining the opinions of the people with reference to the Bill now under discussion. According to the Census of 1871, the number of householders in North Wales was 101,500. Returns had been received from 78,600. If to the numbers an addition were made, on the one hand, for an increase of population, and if, on the other, a deduction were made for persons who refused to make returns, or who were absent from home, he believed he should be within the mark if he said that four-fifths of the householders of North Wales had given a written opinion upon this question. Out of the 78,600 householders who had thus given a written opinion, no fewer than 75,666 had pronounced in favour of total Sunday closing; only 991 had given an opinion against it; and only 1,943 were neutral. In 37 of the larger towns of North Wales, 24,110 householders were in favour and 647 against, proving that the towns were very little behind the rural districts. In Wrexham, remarkable for the goodness of its ale, and where the publican interest was very strong, the Returns showed 1,691 in favour and only 119 against. A remarkable fact connected with the canvass was that it showed that the working classes were the most unanimous in favour of Sunday closing. These figures referred only to North Wales; but when the Members for the Southern District came to speak, there was little doubt that they would be able to give an equally satisfactory account for South Wales. During the first Session of this year 403 Petitions, signed by 175,300 persons, had been presented to the House in favour of the Bill. Up to the 22nd of June, in the present Session, 52Petitions, with28,334 signatures, had been presented; and other Petitions numerously signed had been presented since that date. In fact, he might safely say that out of 700,000 people of the age of 16 and upwards in the Principality of Wales, Northern Division, 250,000 persons had petitioned the House in favour of this measure, which, he might remark, was supported equally by both political Parties in Wales. It was true that the noble Lord (Viscount Emlyn), who represented in his own person all the Conservatives of South Wales, had given Notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill. He regretted to learn that indisposition would prevent the noble Lord from attending to perform that duty. The noble Lord, however, did not represent the Conservative feeling of either North or South Wales in this matter. At the last General Election not only all the Liberal candidates who were now Members had declared in favour of the present Bill, but most of the Conservative candidates did the same, and a similar course was pursued in South Wales. He was not sorry, in one sense, that the noble Lord (Viscount Emlyn) was not there to move the rejection of the Bill, because his presence might give a Party aspect to the question where the Conservative inhabitants of Wales equally with the Liberal inhabitants were anxious for legislation in the direction proposed. When the Irish Sunday Closing Bill was under consideration great stress was laid on the fact that three-fourths of the Irish Representative body were favourable to that measure; but in Wales the proportion of Representatives was as 29 to 1, and it should be borne in mind that those Members very recently had been in close and constant relationship with their constituents, and, therefore, had the best opportunity of becoming acquainted with their feelings. All these facts which he had stated made out as strong a case as could possibly be presented to the House for legislation. What were the objections? It might be said that separate legislation for Wales was objectionable. But this could not be regarded as separate legislation, for the principle of the Bill had been recognized by the Legislature with regard to the United Kingdom, not only in Ireland, but in England, Scotland, and Wales, by sanctioning houses to be kept open in different localities at different hours, and making a difference between London and the rest of the country. All they asked was that in this Bill the House should recognize the principle recently affirmed by the present Parliament. Well, if they had separate legislation for London, why should they not have it for Wales? It was well known that the people of Wales had the reputation of being the most loyal, peaceable, and well-conducted of Her Majesty's subjects; and if Parliament passed this measure, it would not lessen, but, on the contrary, would strengthen, the ties which existed between England and Wales. The Prime Minister had laid down the principle that it was the duty of the Government to follow public opinion; and, looking at the facts before the House, he hoped that the Government would follow the public opinion of Wales on this question. There was no danger, so far as Wales was concerned, of legislation on the Sunday question being in advance of public opinion. This Bill was not brought forward by him as a crotchet, but at the earnest request of the people of Wales. He hoped that the Government would support the Bill. Had the Home Secre- tary been present, he might have confidently appealed to him in favour of the measure, as the right hon. Gentleman had voted for the Resolution that affirmed the principle of Local Option. The passing of this measure would give them great satisfaction. It would tend to promote peace and order on the Sabbath, give a day of rest to the publicans, of which they ought not to be deprived, and conduce to the happiness and contentment of the people without causing serious inconvenience to individuals. The hon. Member concluded by formally moving the second reading of the Bill.


I rise, Sir, to second, or, if that be unnecessary, to support, the Motion of my hon. Friend, and, at the same time, to congratulate him on the marked ability and success of the speech in which he has introduced the question to the House—of the speech which is, practically, his maiden speech. There is one advantage we have now in taking up this question of Sunday closing, and it is this—that we are not advocating a hypothetical good, for we have the benefit of 27 years' experience of the working of Sunday closing in Scotland, and we have considerable experience of the same thing in Ireland. The result of this Sunday closing has shown the plan to be, in every sense, satisfactory and beneficial. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) has furnished me with some facts in reference to the operation of this measure in Scotland, which amply confirms the statement I am making. He has sent me an official Report from the Procurator-Fiscal of Edinburgh prepared for the magistrates and council of the City, showing the results of Sunday closing so far as that City is concerned. The Report gives a table showing the number of cases of "drunk and incapable" on Sundays in Edinburgh from 1852 to 1878. In the year 1852, which was the year before the passing of the Forbes-Mackenzie Act, the number of people found drunk and incapable in Edinburgh on Sundays was 729; but in 1878 it was only 207. There was another Return showing the number found drunk between 8 on Sunday morning and 8 on Monday morning, and from this it appeared that in 1852 it was 401, and in 1878 only 67. But there is evidence with regard to the good effected in the whole of Scotland. Bailie William Collins, Lord Provost of Glasgow, has taken great pains to collect statistics in this matter; and from his statement it appears that in 17 of the largest towns of Scotland, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Leith, Perth, Greenock, and so on, the cases of drunkenness on Sunday during the three years before the passing of the Act in 1853 was 11,471, as compared with 4,299 in the three years after, showing a decrease of 7,172, or nearly two-thirds of the entire number. With regard to Ireland, the O'Conor Don moved for a Return of the number of arrests made on Sundays for drunkenness during the six months immediately after the passing of the Act in October, 1878, and a similar Return for the corresponding six months in 1877. The result was that in 35 counties the number of arrests before the Act came into operation was 2,364, and after the passing 707, showing a diminution of 70 per cent. We may, therefore, take it for granted as a fact established beyond dispute upon ample evidence and experience that the closing of public-houses on Sundays has had the effect of diminishing drunkenness and disorder and crime in Scotland and Ireland, and has had the further effect —we may safely assume—of adding largely to the domestic comfort of the working classes. Now, it is generally recognized that in questions of this kind affecting the moral and social condition of the people great weight is due to the preponderating opinion of the people themselves. This was the principle acknowledged in connection with the Irish Bill that we had so long under discussion in this House. The Prime Minister stated that this alone should have induced us to support the measure—the unanimity with which it was demanded by the Irish people. These were his words. He said— He held most strongly the conviction that, apart from the mere moral and social objects they had in view, the question was very important indeed whether on those subjects which they conceived to be of a local character—he meant local as opposed to Imperial—they were to give the same fair play to the people of Ireland—to have the same regard to their well-understood wishes which they would give to the wishes of the people of England and Scotland. I only want to substitute the name of the people of Wales, and the applica- tion is perfect in all its forms. As my hon. Friend has said, the Home Secretary the other day adopted and affirmed the same principle. Now, my hon. Friend has given the House some very striking facts with reference to the state of opinion in North Wales regarding this matter, and he has referred to me as prepared to furnish somewhat similar evidence in regard to South Wales. Well, the evidence for South Wales was not quite so complete and so full of details as that with regard to North Wales, but it was sufficiently clear and conclusive. In November last a Conference was held in Swansea, presided over by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. H. Vivian), which was attended by a large number of delegates from all the counties of South Wales, including men of all classes and conditions and creeds— Members of Parliament, magistrates, clergymen of the Church of England, Roman Catholic priests, Nonconformist ministers of all denominations, large employers of labour, and the representatives of the working classes. I myself presided over a public meeting in the evening, and I never attended a meeting at which there was more absolute unanimity and enthusiasm than there was at this meeting held to advocate the total closing of public-houses in Wales. The Petitions that have been presented from South Wales, with more than 100,000 signatures attached to them, also indicate the same state of opinion. I find that from Glamorganshire Petitions have been presented signed by 65,917, and from Carmarthenshire—the county represented by the noble Lord who has given Notice of opposition to the Bill—there have been Petitions signed by more than 18,000 persons in favour of Sunday closing; and it is deserving of remark that not one Petition has been presented from Carmarthen against the measure, nor, so far as I know, has there been from all Wales more than one Petition of an adverse character presented. Nowhere is the feeling in favour of the Bill stronger than among the constituents I have the honour to represent. In one large part of the borough I represent—the town of Aberdare—the subject has been brought to a crucial test by a house-to-house canvass; and here I must refer to a remark which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease), in his speech the other night. He said, in endeavouring to diminish the weight of the Returns from the house-to-house canvass, that there were only 4,069 houses, out of a total of 6,500, visited by the convassers at which replies were received. But that is not correct. The number of canvass papers filled up was 5,051, and this must represent nearly the whole of the inhabited houses in Aberdare, for I am sorry to say that, owing to great depression in trade, there were nearly 1,000 nouses vacant at that time in that part of the borough. What was the result of this canvass of 5,051 houses? Why, this was the result. We found that 4,659 persons were in favour of Sunday closing, 210 were against it, and 182 were neutral, showing 92 per cent of the householders for closing, 4 per cent against, and 4 per cent neutral. Out of 85 publicans, 45 were in favour of closing on Sunday, and 25 were against, while 12 were neutral. An analysis has been made of the Return, showing the classes of persons who were canvassed; for it is constantly urged against this agitation that it is not promoted or desired by the working classes, but only by those who assume to be philanthropic champions of the working classes. Well, what was the result of the analysis of these Returns from Aberdare? Amongst those who gave this vote were 2,138 working colliers, of whom 1,976 approved of Sunday closing, while 91 opposed it, and 71 were neutral. Of artizan householders, 776 were for closing, 74 were against it, and 23 were neutral. Of labourers, hauliers, &c, 659 were for closing, and 28 were against it, while 24 were neutral. Of farmers, 33 were for this Bill, none were against it. Of railway servants, 176 were for, 10 against, and 14 neutral. This proves conclusively that the great body of working men themselves desire this measure to be carried. The same thing was the result when the canvass was made in other parts of South Wales. There was a house-to-house canvass made in Merthyr, Cardiff, Swansea, Haverfordwest, Aberystwith, Brecon, and in portions of Radnorshire, and this showed 93 per cent of the entire householders—including publicans—in favour of total closing on Sundays. All religious bodies in Wales are united on this matter, and that is a significant circumstance, because so large a proportion of the people of Wales happily belong to one religious body or another, that an expression of opinion on the part of the religious bodies in Wales is an expression of opinion on the part of the great bulk of the people. The Church of England Temperance Society has pronounced in favour of the measure, also the Congregational Union, the Baptist Union, the Calvanistic Methodists' Association, and Wesleyan district meetings; all have proclaimed with absolute unanimity in favour of closing on Sunday, and they have all worked hard in getting up Petitions. Boards of guardians, town councils, school boards, boards of health, and various working men's organizations have united in the same expression of opinion. But then we are told you cannot legislate for one part of the country differently to the manner in which you legislate for another. The answer to that is—as my hon. Friend has pointed out—"You do that already." You have legislated separately for Scotland and for Ireland —nay, more, you have legislated differently for different parts of England and Wales; and the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary, when he brought forward his Licensing Bill, said that he threw overboard the principle of uniformity altogether. And so we now come, as my hon. Friend has stated, representing the whole of the Principality of Wales—for with the exception of the noble Lord the Member for Carmarthenshire (Viscount Evelyn), and he is Member for that part of Wales simply by mistake on the part of the Liberals, all the Members from Wales support the Bill—the whole of the Representatives of the Principality are unanimous in soliciting this boon from the House of Commons. We ask for nothing that will do England any harm. On the contrary, if the measure passes it may do England some good by giving it a salutary example. We ask for nothing that will imperil the unity of the Empire or alienate Wales in any degree from the other part of the United Kingdom. We ask for power to deal with a great evil, which is corrupting our people, desolating our homes, and exercising a disastrous influence upon our highest social and moral interests; and if the House of Commons will grant us this boon I can promise that they will add still further, if that were possible, to the contentment and loyalty of the most contented and loyal as well as one of the most moral and religious portions of Her Majesty's Dominions.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Roberts.)


said, he felt much gratified at the able manner in which the case for closing public-houses on Sundays had been presented to the House, and he would content himself with bearing testimony to the good that, had been effected in the North of Ireland by the Irish Sunday Closing Act. This Bill had the unanimous support of the clergy of all denominations, and he trusted it would be carried.


said, that though he had presented Petitions in favour of Sunday closing, yet this was a subject which required much consideration. He questioned whether the Legislature had not already gone to the fullest tether of restriction, and contended that drunkenness was diminishing. No one, he felt sure, who had seen the smoking chimneys of a large manufacturing town would grudge the working man a glass of beer after his Sunday's walk into the country. He had visited the Northern States of America, and although the Americans were not a drunken people, he must say he observed more drunkenness there on Sundays than on other days; perhaps the stolen lump of sugar was the sweetest. If this Bill were passed he foresaw great difficulties in bringing the police to bear upon the people in this matter, as there was nothing to prevent the working man having his club and cellar key. He would remind hon. Members of the couplet— Muzzle not the ox which treadeth out the corn, Nor grudge the honest labourer his pipe and his horn.


in moving the rejection of the Bill, said, he did not wish to throw the slightest doubt on the sincerity of those who had taken the trouble to get up all the statistics which had been referred to; but the question really was, were they to have fractional or national legislation? They all highly respected and loved Wales; but, after all, it was but a small part of England, and he hoped this Bill was not a prelude to a further national division such as their Irish friends had formed. This was an attempt to let in by a kind of side wind the principle of Local Option. If the working men were to be allowed to decide these questions by vote then there would be an end to legislation, and there would be set up in its stead pure democracy. He rose for the purpose of making a practical suggestion. If the feeling among the working men of Wales was so overwhelming in favour of total closing on Sundays, if out of 78,000 there were 75,000 against drinking on Sundays, why did they keep on drinking on Sundays? If there was no demand for Sunday drinking he should imagine the publicans, in their own interest, would shut up their houses, and so save the great expense of keeping them open. There were six-day licences in Wales as well as in other parts of the Kingdom; but no statistics had been placed before the House to show that there had been any increase in the number of that class of licences. The Welsh people were described as the most moral and religious in the country; and at the same time it was said that drink was desolating their homes. Unless that was an oratorical flourish he confessed he could not understand it. It seemed to him that the very excellence of the Welsh people rendered this measure unnecessary. As an opponent of Local Option, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

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. Warton.)

Question proposed, That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


confessed that he felt some difficulty in rising to addresss what was, for the time, practically a Welsh Parliament. It was clear there was a very strong consensus of opinion on the part of Welsh Members and the constituencies they represented on the subject, and their unanimity was rendered more striking by the absence of the noble Lord who, he believed, had intended to move the rejection of the Bill. He was informed, however, that the cause of the noble Lord's absence was illness, which he much regretted. He wished to enter a protest, which he hoped would not be misunderstood. He thought they were getting into somewhat of a strange position in regard to the licensing question generally. They had already passed a number of abstract Resolutions, and abstract Resolutions of a particularly abstract character. The other night the Resolution on Local Option was carried by a majority which he thought was unexpected, and which reversed the opinion come to by the last Parliament. They had also passed a Resolution on Sunday closing in uncompromising terms. It was quite true that immediately afterwards an Amendment was passed unanimously, or at least without a division, recognizing the importance of making a distinction between the country and the Metropolis, and of legislating specially for the Metropolis and for the requirements of particular districts in the country. But in the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease), which was accepted, there was contained a warning which ought not to be without effect on the House. That warning was that they were not to go beyond public opinion in this matter; and the hon. Member, in speaking on this Bill, had recognized that principle when he said that legislation ought not to be in advance, but if possible a little behind, public opinion. The danger of over-stepping, by however little, public opinion in this matter, was that they would excite a re-action out of all proportion to that slight excess, and would encourage opposition to measures which the House and the country now almost universally regarded as salutary in their restrictive operation. It was, perhaps, necessary to remind the House of what the Prime Minister had said, that the question of licensing would form an essential portion of the work to be done by the present Parliament, and the right hon. Gentleman went further, and said that in his opinion an integral portion of that measure would have to be Local Option. Now, by passing such abstract Resolutions as had been passed, and by passing this Bill, they would heap up such a multitude of recorded opinions of the House that it would be extremely difficult to deal with, the whole question when it was taken in hand. Hon. Members would, perhaps, say that it was a technical and official objection. He was aware that the point made by hon. Members from Wales was that this was essentially a Welsh question. But he did not know that it had been hitherto recognized that Wales should be treated in a different way from other portions of the Kingdom, and he could not but see great difficulties likely to arise from passing a Bill which laid down, in a sweeping manner, that all public-houses in Wales were to be closed during Sundays. In Ireland exceptions were made in favour of certain large towns, and in England exceptions would have to be made. Were there to be no exceptions made in Wales? ["No!"] All these things, which were accumulating on those who were responsible for dealing with the matter, tended to increase the difficulties of solving the Licensing Question. The Sunday Closing Question came up repeatedly; but, in his opinion, there was a great deal yet to be said with regard to Saturday closing. He recollected a learned Judge referring in these terms to drinking and it consequences on Saturday—"Why is it that all these offences and crimes are committed on Saturday? Because Saturday is wage day, wage day is drink day, and drink day is crime day. He (Mr. Arthur Peel) would ask the House where they were to stop? If they stopped the Sunday traffic in intoxicating drink altogether in an integral part of the United Kingdom, why should should they not stop the traffic on Saturday? He had heard a consensus of opinion which had astonished him, and he felt the difficulty of resisting it. But for the reason he had given—that all these Resolutions increased the difficulty of ultimately dealing with the question as a whole—he could not vote for the second reading of the Bill. He did not wish, however, for a moment, to put himself in opposition to its principle, or in antagonism to the hon. Members who had spoken so strongly in its favour. He should not vote for the Bill on the simple ground that, if he accepted it, he should be imposing an obligation upon those who bad to deal with the general question. Of course, if the House liked to accept the Bill, that would be a fact that must be taken into consideration, and the consensus of opinion from twenty- nine-thirtieths of the representation of Wales, must be a powerful factor in considering how to deal with the question. He should not oppose the second reading, as he did not wish to be regarded as setting himself against the expressed opinion of the Welsh Members, or as wishing to hinder the great social and moral improvement which, for aught he knew, might result from the measure.


said, there could not be a better argument than the last Election to show that the Bill was not in advance of public opinion. He believed the public had made up its mind to have this temperance question settled, and settled in a very decisive way. He believed that he owed his return for Monmouth district greatly to his promise to vote for Sunday closing. In Newport, which was one of the contributory boroughs to Monmouth, he was opposed by the London Trade Organization; but in Usk three-fourths of the publicans were in favour of the measure. A deputation from Newport had an interview with the members of the Trade in Usk, and sought to induce them to vote against him, on the ground that he was in favour of Sunday closing; but the publicans of Usk replied that that was the very reason why they intended to vote for him. The question had been asked why the working men of Wales, if they disapproved of Sunday drinking, did not abstain. The simple answer to that was that, the temptation being there, they yielded to it. What they demanded was that the temptation should be removed.


supported the Bill, and referred to the moral, social, and physical results of the Irish Sunday Closing Bill, which had been in operation nearly three years. The consumption of liquor had fallen off in Ireland £1,250,000 per annum, and the convictions for Sunday offences had decreased 70 per cent. Every Judge on the Bench for the last two years had strongly expressed his belief that that was owing to Sunday closing. It might be said that the decrease in the rate of consumption was due to the great distress of the present period; but during the Famine years of 1846, 1847, and 1848, there was a large increase in the consumption of beer and spirituous liquors. He therefore trusted that, as the results of Sunday closing in Ireland had been so beneficent, the principle would be extended to Wales.

Question put, and agreed, to.

Main Question put, and agreed, to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.