HC Deb 14 February 1884 vol 284 cc981-93

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend and render perpetual "The Sale of Liquors on Sunday (Ireland) Act, 1878."


said, he could not allow the Bill to be read a first time without uttering a word of protest against the manner in which the Government had dealt with the Irish Sunday Closing Question. He had hitherto been in favour of Sunday closing, and he was now in favour of it. He was in favour of the object of this Bill, which was to extend the provisions of the Irish Sunday Closing Act to the five large towns which had hitherto been exempted from the operation of those provisions; indeed, he would be in favour of closing public - houses on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as on Sunday. At the same time, he could not help thinking that the Government, and especially the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, had managed the Irish Business singularly unfortunately. It was extremely unfortunate that in everything they did with regard to Ireland they aggravated the Representatives of the Irish people. The measures for Ireland promised in the Queen's Speech consisted of a scheme for Compulsory Education, which was very badly required by the country, and a scheme for Sunday Closing. It was very naturally supposed that both Bills would be introduced early in the Session, and be proceeded with pari passu. It was well known that there were a number of hon. Members who were viciously opposed to Sunday closing in any form, and that the Irish Sunday Closing Bill, which the Government had said they intended to bring in, would be made by those hon. Members an occasion for the most virulent and vehement opposition. The result would be that at the end of the Session it would be found utterly impossible to proceed with the much-needed Education Bill, and the Government would throw the blame upon the Irish Members, and say—" Oh, the Irish have got so much this Session they cannot expect us to take up time by the Education Bill." As a matter of fact, there were several other measures which were seriously and urgently required by the Irish people—measures which had been rejected by the House of Lords Session after Session, yet a Bill was now introduced which must necessarily consume an amount of time far out of proportion to its importance. Sunday closing was in operation in every part of Ireland, except the five largest towns, and in those towns even the public-houses were only open from 2 o'clock until 7 o'clock. When the Irish Sunday Closing Bill was originally brought in, the whole Tory Party joined with a small section of Irish Representatives to oppose the measure. The Tory Party, having taken upon themselves to champion the Irish publicans, kept the House sitting from morning till night, and all through the night, to prevent the Bill passing. It was just possible that there might be a repetition of those proceedings, and that the Government would shelve the Education Bill, sacrificing it to the Sunday Closing Bill. He would remind English temperance people that, in point of fact, there was no real Sunday closing in Ireland, except where the police wanted to put down a National publican; and that any Sunday closing scheme would absolutely fail unless police pensioners, or their wives, were prevented from taking out seven day licences. If ox-policemen wanted licences, let them take out six day licences. At present, whenever it was at all possible, favouritism was shown, and breaches of the Sunday Closing Act winked at. What happened in the City of Dublin? There were certain officers of police who took largo bribes from particular publicans, and in consequence allowed those publicans to keep open, and winked at their misconduct. It was only the publicans who had incurred the disfavour of the authorities, because of their popular opinions, who were arrested and prosecuted by the police. In reality, the Sunday Closing Act had never been in operation in Ireland for the prevention of drunkenness, but only for the punishment of persons holding Nationalist opinions. They found the most miserable prosecutions carried on under the Act. His hon. Friends the Members for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) and Westmeath (Mr. Sullivan) went down to a meeting at Bandon, and they were entertained at dinner after the meeting by a few friends. The police came in, turned the house upside down, and the few people who were sitting at the dinner table were seized, and afterwards fined by the magistrate, and an attempt was made to obtain an endorsement of the publican's licence. The same thing occurred at Charleville. Some other hon. Friends of his attended a meeting there, and at a dinner held subsequently the same system of espionage went on. He should oppose this Bill tooth and nail, unless the Government gave them an assurance to the effect that where meetings were being held, or where the houses were not kept open for the purpose of disposing of drink indiscriminately, persons would be enabled to get their dinner and entertain their friends without molestation at the hands of the police. It was not to put down the sale of drink that the police acted in this manner; but simply to annoy people who held Nationalist or popular opinions. As a matter of fact, the Sunday Closing Act in Ireland was used as an engine of annoyance and oppression. He once wrote a letter to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, complaining of the way an ex-policeman in County Clare was allowed to keep open on Sunday a public-house he had taken. Strange to say, the right hon. Gentleman, de-parting from his usual courteous manner, did not vouchsafe him a reply. He knew the Chief Secretary to be a Gentleman thoroughly in favour of temperance; but when he (Mr. Healy) brought a similar charge against an ex-policeman, in Kilrush he thought it was, he received no reply from the right hon. Gentleman. Men of particular opinions belonging to the police force were allowed to take public-houses, and keep open just as long as they pleased; whereas publicans who espoused the National cause were treated with very great severity. He should oppose the Bill for two reasons—firstly, because Sunday closing in Ireland was enforced with political animus; and, secondly, because the Bill was given an undue importance. There were other measures of more pressing importance. As he had already said, they were promised in the Queen's Speech an education scheme. That ought to be put first. It was mentioned first in the Speech; and he thought, therefore, the Government must have had some idea of the relative importance of the two measures. He would point out to English Members, who alleged that this Bill was intended to put down intemperance, that a great deal of the opposition levelled at the publican party in Ireland was due to the fact that all the men in Dublin who were temperance men were Whigs or Conservatives, and all the men who were working actively or subscribing money to carry on the temperance agitation were men of the Orange class. ["No, no!"] He repeated, that all the chief men of the Temperance Association in Dublin belonged to the Whig or Conservative Parties; and they know full well that the publicans were chiefly Catholics, and therefore Nationalists. Certainly, the publican's secretary was a most bitter opponent of Nationalist opinions; indeed, it would be hard to say who was the greater enemy of Ireland—the secretary of the temperance party or the secretary of the publican party. Under the circumstances, the Chief Secretary must not be surprised if, when his Bill came to be discussed, a certain amount of political considerations were introduced. As he (Mr. Healy) had previously hinted, unless the right hon. Gentleman gave them some assurance that this Bill would proceed pari passu with the education scheme, he would find that his efforts to press this measure would not be very Successful.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of opposing the introduction of the Bill; but merely to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant to give them some explanation of its provisions, as it was a very important one. It was essential that some arrangement should be made to enable single young men in different parts of Ireland to obtain their dinner beer. If this Bill passed there would be no chance for young men who were in the habit of arranging with their landlords for bed and breakfast getting a single glass of beer for their dinner. Such young fellows would neither be bonâ fide travellers nor lodgers within the meaning of the Sunday Closing Act. He would ask that there might be more time granted before the introduction of this measure, as there was an Amendment to be proposed which was not yet on the Paper, and because there was a Motion for Returns on a subject connected with the Bill which the hon. Member for the City of Dublin (Dr. Lyons) proposed to move to - morrow. The Return would, he believed, show that drunkenness had considerably increased in consequence of the Sunday Closing Bill. If the Government did not want to increase drunkenness in the cities, as it had been increased in the country places, they should not make the Bill so strict. If they made it too strict, parties who were anxious to drink on the Sunday would be driven to low public - houses and shebeens if they could not get what they wanted in respectable places. The bonâ fide traveller arrangement was a great humbug, for anyone with money in his pocket was always able to get drink if he was not particular where he went for it.


said, he should also like to ask for some explanation of the Bill. He desired to express his deep regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, through a mistaken opinion as to the views of the great majority of the people of Dublin, had been misled so far as to desire to make the Sunday Closing Act applicable to the cities which had been excluded from its operations. The right hon. Gentleman had acted in the teeth of the representations of the Members for the City of Dublin, and had gone in opposition to the views and matured opinions of the Roman Catholic clergy. ["No, no!"] The right hon. Gentleman had gone in the teeth of the opinion of one of the wisest and most prudent and experienced and able men—the Head of the Irish Church. The right hon. Gentleman had miscalculated popular opinion on this subject; and he (Dr. Lyons) regretted to be obliged to say that it would be his duty, and the duty of his Colleague, to give to the Bill very strenuous opposition. For reasons stated by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. O'Sullivan), this Sunday Closing Bill would occupy ground that would much more profitably have been given to other and more pressing subjects. This was a fancy Bill, to meet the strained views of some persons who, he was free to confess, however, were actuated by the best of motives. He regretted that in a Session which was so crowded with pressing Business, and in which they could not reasonably hope for much special attention to the many important Irish questions to be raised, the right hon. Gentleman should throw away—for it would eventually come to that—so much valuable time, which could be given to the settlement of questions on which there was very nearly a consensus of opinions, and upon which there might he practical legislation this Session. This was one of the instances in which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen coming to Ireland without a full acquaintance with the feelings and wishes and motives of the Irish people were led into practical errors. Having been present during the expression (views put before the right hon. Gentleman, he could only express his great surprise and very great regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have been led into the adoption of this mistaken system of legislation. However, all he would say was, that this Bill, though it was about to be introduced, and although it might be a long time before the House, was not yet, and might never become, an Act.


said, he viewed with great astonishment and regret—he might almost say with sorrow—the opposition of the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) on this most important question. Whatever might be said about that hon. Member, whatever drawbacks there might be about him, it certainly could not be said of him that he had not the welfare of his countrymen at heart. There was no one in the House, he believed, more anxious for the moral and social advancement of his countrymen of every class; and there was no one who would, he was sure, make more sacrifices to bring about their advancement. It was, therefore, with great regret that He (Mr. Blake) saw a man of what he believed to be so high a character in that respect standing up to oppose in any way this measure. He (Mr. Blake) believed that there was no measure ever brought forward in the House of greater importance than this. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh; I but that was his opinion; and there was certainly no Irish measure now before the House at all approaching it in importance—so far as the moral and social welfare of the Irish people were concerned—this Sunday Closing Bill. It was far and away beyond everything else in importance. The great, the besetting sin of many of his countrymen was too great a propensity to drink. ["No, no!" and "Oh, oh!"] Yes; he was speaking the truth—that was the besetting sin of many of them. One of the greatest misfortunes under which Ireland suffered was the vast consump- tion, and vastly-increasing consumption, of spirits, save in those districts where the Sunday Closing Bill was in operation. ["No, no!"] Well, he thought the hon. Member for Monaghan would not deny that where the Sunday Closing Bill was in operation it had been productive of great benefits; and he was sure the hon. Member would go with him in saying that if the Act were in more extended operation the benefits would be in proportion. He must entirely dissent from the hon. Member for the City of Dublin (Dr. Lyons), when he said that this Bill was at variance with the feelings of the Roman Catholic clergy, and others, in Ireland. He emphatically denied that, and he possessed ample proof, and would produce it at the proper time, that the vast majority of the hierarchy and clergy and people of Ireland were in favour of this measure, and were amongst its strongest advocates. Now, on the part of the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Sullivan), and others, there was a great deal of opposition offered on the plea of the deprivation of one of the comforts of the people in having taken away from them their Sunday drink. It was said that it was unjust to deprive the public of the opportunity of getting drink whenever they might want it. He thought they had ample proof that where the people had had courage enough to give up drinking the very greatest benefits had resulted, and they had in no way suffered in their health. All that was required was the courage to take the first step in abstaining. He would give them one illustration from the many he might offer. He had an old uncle—now gone to his place of rest, which was not an astonishing circumstance looking at his (Mr. Blake's) own years—and this uncle was in the habit of consuming six tumblers of punch every day. At one time he (Mr. Blake) became a teetotaller—a very earnest one—and he wrote to his uncle saying— My dear Uncle,—I should very strongly recommend you to give up drinking, because, in addition to the many advantages that would accrue to you, amongst others it would he sure to lengthen your days. In about a fortnight he received a reply, and in that reply his uncle said— I received your very dutiful letter, and I was so impressed by what you said about my giving up my six tumblers of punch, particu- larly as you mentioned to me that, amongst other things, it would be sure to lengthen my days, that on Friday last I gave them up. You said it would lengthen my days. I believe you, my boy for by my word it was the longest day I ever spent in my life. The hon. Members for Limerick and the City of Dublin would look upon this as an argument in their favour; but the fact was, he at length induced his uncle to become a teetotaller. He became a most decided one, and his days were lengthened in the land, and he often admitted to him that those days were by no means dull ones. That, no doubt, in the end, would be the history of a great many people in Ireland if they could only be induced to give up this drinking. And he very earnestly appealed to the Chief Secretary not to yield to anything that might be said by the hon. Member for Monaghan or the hon. Member for Limerick, or any other Member, but to persevere with this Bill; because, with every respect for those Gentlemen, they represented in this matter the minority of the Irish people. He (Mr. Blake) represented, on this occasion, the vast majority of the people of Ireland, when he said there was nothing more earnestly desired throughout the length and breadth of the country, and particularly in the excluded places, than this Sunday Closing Bill, in order to include the five towns that had not the good fortune now to have their drinking shops shut up on Sundays.


said, he agreed with what the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) had said as to the importance of the Education Bill; and he hoped that the Chief Secretary, in whatever he might say, would make it plain and clear to the House that the introduction of the Sunday Closing Bill, and the pressing of it forward, would in no way interfere with that measure. He was sure there was no such idea in the mind of the Government as that the introduction of the Sunday Closing Bill would interfere with the other measure. He also agreed with what the hon. Member for Monaghan had said as to the inequality of the Sunday Closing Law in Ireland; but he would point out that that was the fault of the administration and not of the Act. He had found fault with that administration time after time, and had pointed out to the authorities that it was not properly enforced. This matter, however, they could go into in Committee.


said, the speech of the hon. Member behind him (Mr. Blake) was eminently worthy of that to which it referred—namely, punch—in which it would, no doubt, one day appear. As the Bill before the House, he should not only like to see public-houses closed on Sundays, but he should like to see them closed on every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. He did not, however, think that people would ever be prevented from frequenting public-houses by penal measures of this kind, as much as they would by measures directed to the advancement of education, such as that referred to by the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), which the right hon. Gentleman had so unaccountably postponed. He should have expected from a Chief Secretary like the present, who was remarkable for many things, and especially for his literary attainments, that he would have held by the sequence in the Queen's Speech in putting Orders down. Drunkenness seemed to him (Mr. Dawson) to be a effect, and not a cause. He believed it to be the effect of ignorance—the outcome of ignorance and idleness; and he had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, in his Education Bill, would have aimed a blow at ignorance and idleness, by giving increased occupation to the people by the promotion of technical education in Ireland The only kind of trade in Ireland that was at all flourishing was the public-house trade—all other trades were trivial compared with it. Besides that there were no industries or manufactures, and in it were obtained the only approach to fortunes that were secured in Ireland. The public-house was, therefore, the main resort, as a trade, of those young men who came up to Dublin and the cities to make their way in the world. They opened public - houses for the simple reason that the Predecessors of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Ministerial Bench had never fostered, encouraged, nor promoted the industries of the country. Added to that, ignorance drove the people into the public-houses. Outcast Dublin, as well as outcast London, were driven to the public-house for the only little comfort they could get—only the outcast part of the population in Irish cities were more ignorant and wretched than their brethren in England. The people who would endeavour to stop drunkenness by measures of this penal character were like those who would stop a torrent at its height, instead of attempting to dry it up at its source by educational and industrial measures. Statistics showed that none of these penal measures had had the desired effect. The grievance had gone on in spite of them; and he did not think it was possible, by deductions from former legislation, for the Chief Secretary to justify the postponement of educational measures in favour of a penal law of this kind. He (Mr. Dawson) had always advocated that "the best way to eradicate a vice "—that of drunkenness—would be to do what an eminent English author had recommended, "put up a virtue in its place." Let them raise up the people in the social scale. What drove them to vice was this—that they were cut off and divided by walls of brass from everything that was elevating and ennobling, and were hunted to those places where they could obtain drink, and which were their only refuge and common resort. If, without education providing that technical instruction which generates manufactures, the right hon. Gentleman was led into this measure, he would find the evil brought down from one platform, where it was evident, to another and more hidden platform, where it would lead to far more disastrous results.


said, the hon. Member for the County of Limerick (Mr. O'Sullivan) certainly had not risen for the purpose of giving an explanation of the course which he took yesterday; and it was obvious, from the course which the debate had taken that evening, that there were several Members who were interested in the question who would be very unwilling to allow the Motion to pass in silence, especially after the speech of the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy). The debate which had occurred had not been altogether unsatisfactory, although it had not been so much in reference to the Bill then before the House as in reference to a Bill which was at the present moment in the pigeon-holes of the Irish Office. He confessed that after what had just occurred, he should be able to proceed with that Bill—the Education Bill—with much greater heart and hope than he might otherwise have possessed; because he found that it was expected by hon. Members opposite, with an amount of favour, interest, and hope which appeared to throw somewhat into the shade a measure like the one he was now asking leave to introduce, notwithstanding the fact that he believed the measure to be extremely and justly popular in Ireland. The hon. Member for Monaghan condemned the Government for having given this Bill precedence over the Education Bill, and that was, he apprehended, the real point he had to answer. He need not remind hon. Members that there was a great deal of Business to be done by the Government in the course of the Session, and he could only expect to have a limited portion of the time at their disposal. His experience in that House had taught him this—that the best way of making real progress was to take one Bill at a time; to pass that Bill, and then to go on with another; and, further, that in giving precedence to any Bill they should be careful not to break faith with anybody. Then, he thought, as a matter of faith, that the present Bill had a decided preference over the Education Bill. Hon. Members who had spoken of education seemed inclined to expect a Bill relating to compulsory education. Now, the first thing in which anything like a promise was given by the Government as to compulsory education was on the Motion moved by the late Member for the City of Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), and it was made as late as March in last year. At that time the question of compulsory education was in such a crude and inchoate state in that House, and was so little understood, that even the hon. Member himself put forward no complete scheme. On the other hand, the question of Sunday closing in Ireland might be said to be a question already cut and dried. It had been worked out by the experience of a good many years. It had been promised for the last 18 months, and a Bill which was intended to carry it out in every respect was introduced into the House of Lords early last Session, and was before the House of Commons during most of last Session. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Gentlemen who had no objection to the Bill in itself, but who were only anxious to get to the Education Bill—among whom the hon. Member for Monaghan might be classed—would show their zeal by giving the Bill a passage through the House as rapidly as possible. The hon. Member for the County of Limerick (Mr. O'Sullivan) said he hoped the House would have a long debate before it was called upon to pass the second reading. He (Mr. Trevelyan) was quite certain that the second reading would occupy some portion of the time of the House, because he had no expectation of being able to get it without a discussion. The day which he proposed to put down for the second reading was that day week. As to the Returns which had been asked for, they had already been promised to be laid upon the Table. Her Majesty's Government were not afraid of statistics. The statistics of this year fully bore out the statistics of last year and of previous years, and they showed that in the towns where Sunday closing did not exist, the Sunday drunkenness was in a percentage of 20 to 1, as compared with the towns in which Sunday closing did exist. Indeed, there was nothing whatever in the statistics which in regard to Sunday drunkenness would in any respect alter the conclusions which had been drawn from the statistics of previous years. He hoped that hon. Members would now, after the discussion which had already taken place, allow the Bill to be introduced and laid before the House once more; and he was not without hope that the discussion on the second reading of the Bill would prove that Sunday closing was now, as he believed it was last year, and for some time before, a cause which, upon the whole, the majority of the Irish people had at heart.

Motion agreed, to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. TREVELYAN-and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 109.]