HC Deb 14 May 1884 vol 288 cc383-93

Order for Second Reading read.


In rising to move the second reading of tins Bill I shall be briefer than I should otherwise have been, because, Private Business having taken over four hours, there remains very little of the Sitting left to discuss this Bill. It has, however, been already so fully considered by the House that I hope much it will be seen fit to give it a second reading before the Sitting concludes. In the county of Cornwall the feeling has always been very intense in favour of Sunday closing; but it was not until 1881 that it was decided to bring in a Bill of our own. The Sunday Closing Association of Cornwall was then formed. The gentlemen of position who now head it first ascertained, before joining, that the feelings of the majority—the overwhelming majority, I may say—of classes concerned in the county was in favour of Sunday closing. Well, Sir, at the head of the Association was the Lord Lieutenant —the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe—and among the Vice Presidents the Bishop of Truro, the High Sheriff, and all the Mayors of the boroughs except one. The names of the four county Members were on the back of the Bill of 1882, and are still so; and I may say, Sir, as a proof of the feeling of the county, and I think a very significant proof, 11 out of the 13 Members from Cornwall are in favour of the Bill. And there is another proof, Sir, of the feeling in Cornwall in the fact that every candidate for Parliamentary honours since the introduction of the measure has announced his intention most cordially to support the Bill in Parliament. I hope Gentlemen on the other side of the House will bear this in mind, before they talk the Bill out, that the candidates of both Parties, one and all, have expressed themselves decidedly in favour of our Sunday Closing Bill. We have clergy and ministers of all denominations in our favour. I presented in 1882, the first Session of in- troducing the Bill, a Petition with over 120,000 signatures in its favour. I am quite aware objection has been taken to that Petition, and it is said there were many signatures in duplicate; but after having been gone through with the utmost care, I am happy to say we still had 119,485 good signatures. Now, Sir, the population of Cornwall in 1881 was 330,685. Only those over 16 years of age signed that Petition. By the Registrar General's Returns it appears that 60 per cent may be taken as the proportion of a population which would be above the age of 16; therefore, there would only be 198,000 people above 16 in the county; and, considering that the population of Cornwall is so scattered, and that there are so many seafaring men who would be away on their duties, I think so large a proportion as 120,000 out of 198,000 possible signatures shows that the feeling in the county is very intense for this measure. It has been alleged that some of these signatures were of lunatics. That was a startling assertion, and certainly deserved the closest investigation. But when this was looked into, it was found that the signatures which came from the lunatic asylum were those of the attendants. I must say the attendants in a lunatic asylum are certainly well entitled to sign a Petition in favour of temperance, when they see around them such frightful examples of the results of intemperance. Well, Sir, our opponents endeavoured to get up some counter meetings; but, as far as I could see by the accounts in the public papers, these meetings were all very badly attended, and almost entirely by those connected with the beer interest. It is true, Sir, that a counter Petition was got up, which had nominally 22,042 signatures attached to it; but when the Petition was overhauled it was found that many of these signatures came from, outside the county—from such distant parts as the Principality of Wales; not only that, but there were many signatures of persons absolutely unknown, and of persons who had been dead for years. That shows pretty well, I think, that this counter Petition of 22,000 was of very little value indeed. Very late in the Session of 1882 I was able to get the Bill before the House; and after a lengthy debate, in which endeavours were made to count the House out, we got a Division, and the second reading was secured by 41 votes to 8. That was on the 13th of August—too late to go on with the Bill that Session. Last year I endeavoured to bring the Bill before this House, and was very unfortunate in the ballot. Consequently, it was introduced into the House of Lords. It went through all its stages without opposition until the third reading, and then a sudden division was taken against it, resulting in a tie, which, under the Rules of the House of Lords, involved the rejection of the measure. Last year 181 meetings was held all over the county of Cornwall, to endeavour to gauge whether the feeling for the Bill continued, and at all these meetings Resolutions were passed in favour of the measure. In fact, at none of the meetings was there any opposition at all. This year the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, before we came to Parliament, was again very anxious to ascertain for himself the feeling of the county with regard to the Bill, and he addressed a private letter to 227 parish clergymen of the Church of England. The letter was as follows: — Rev. Sir,—As the Sunday Closing (Cornwall) Bill will be re-introduced next Session in the House of Lords, it will be a great assistance to me to know how far the feeling of the county continues to be favourable to the measure. I shall, therefore, be much obliged if you will kindly tell mo whether, irrespective of your own personal opinions, you have reason to believe that the feeling in your parish is in favour of it or the reverse. Of those 227 clergymen, 188 replied, of whom 162 were in favour of the Bill, 16 were doubtful, and only 10 against. That shows pretty well the feeling in the parishes of Cornwall. But, in order to test it still further, the Association, being anxious to, work only on the real feeling of the classes concerned, sent 152 letters to the Nonconformist ministers. They received 118 replies, and these replies were all in favour of the measure, pressing the Association to do their best to get passed into law this Bill, which is so earnestly prayed for by the people. I know there will be the old arguments against this. Yesterday I received a Memorandum from the Licensed Victuallers' Parliamentary Committee with eight reasons against the Bill. Their first objection was that this is piecemeal legislation. Of course there is no denying that; but I must say this—that the county of Cornwall is singularly adapted for piecemeal legisation. It is isolated, having the sea on three sides and a great river along a great portion of the fourth side. Another point is that we have no large towns; for the largest town in Cornwall has only 13,600 inhabitants. This is a great consideration as to the working of such legislation. The second objection raised by the Licensed Victuallers is that the Lords' Committee was against Sunday closing — that is, of course, against the general Sunday Closing Bill, for the question of a local Bill did not come before the Lords. The third reason is the most extraordinary, and I cannot understand how it can be put forward. It is that Cornwall is already so sober we are not to have the benefit of this legislation. My humble opinion is that it is because the people are so law-abiding, and so peaceful, and so temperate, that they regard with more jealous eyes the existence of the temptation to drink on Sunday. We are proud of being so sober in Cornwall; but I think it is very unhandsome to urge this reason against the Bill. The fourth reason is that the Welsh Sunday Closing Act is not successful. [Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!] I have been myself, as it happens, living in Wales for a good many weeks of the past winter, and I can say from experience that the Sunday Closing Act in the rural districts is a very great success. I have several letters here which I could quote, but time will not allow of it. I may say, however, that one of the strongest proofs in favour of the Welsh Act is this—that many of the employers of labour will tell you their men come to work on a Monday morning much more regularly than they did before the Sunday Closing Act. I am aware that in the large towns of Wales, such as Cardiff, with 85,000 inhabitants, within three miles of the Border of England, where those who are determined to drink can go over and get drunk, it is very difficult to work the Act. In Swansea, too, with its 65,000 inhabitants, and a railway running down, with a return ticket for 4d., to a seaside village, where people can go and get drunk, the case is the same. But these are not faults of the Act; they come, as I am told, from a misunderstanding of the bonâ fide clause of the Act. But, even if it was other- wise, in Cornwall we have no large towns, so that the argument against the Act from Cardiff and Swansea does not apply. The fifth argument against us is that about the Petition, and I think I have dealt with it already. As to the Petition, against the Bill presented by our opponents, in the 10 small towns which happened to be gone into it was found that 412 of the signatures were unknown, 82 were those of strangers, and 152 were forged; 44 had signed twice, 4 three times, and 1 four times. There was the signature of a gentleman who had been dead four years. The sixth reason against our Bill is— That it is absurd to assert that those depending on the public-house supply are in favour of that supply being stopped. That is a general and loose assertion, to be taken for what it is worth; and that I think is very little. The seventh argument against the Bill is that the working men of the Metropolis are against it. I cannot speak for the working men of the Metropolis, to whom this Bill does not apply; but I know that of the working men in Cornwall an overwhelming majority are in favour of this Bill. As a proof of this, I may state that there is a large iron foundry at a place called Hayle. That place was canvassed, and out of 549 men employed 87 per cent were in favour of our Bill, 8 per cent only against it, and 5 per cent neutral. The last reason against the Bill is that if it becomes law those who have invested capital in the drink trade will suffer. Then, Sir, it resolves itself into this—that this House is asked not to grant this measure to an overwhelming majority of a peaceful, law-abiding population of the county of Cornwall, because a certain number of gentlemen, strangers to the county, who have their money invested in the drink trade, think it is an attack on their interests. I feel confident, Sir, that if we have the opportunity of going to a Division—and I really hope we may be allowed to do —the House will support the earnest prayer of the overwhelming majority of the classes concerned, and grant them this measure, which they believe is for the benefit of themselves and of those who are near and dear to them.

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


said, he opposed the Bill because he thought a general measure might be brought in with regard to this question. His objection to the present Bill was that it would interfere very much with the happiness of the working classes. His hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Arthur Vivian) said that Cornwall generally was in favour of the Bill; but they should look back to what had followed the introduction of this measure in Scotland; and he thought that if the same principle were carried out in Cornwall and in other counties it would lead to that most pernicious of all vices —secret drinking. There was no doubt that Irishmen, as compared with Englishmen, had many opportunities of obtaining whisky privately on Sunday; but there was no doubt also that if in England they deprived the working man of his beer on Sunday, the only day when he was at home with his family, they would find it turn out to be much more disadvantageous than the present system. There was no doubt, at the same time, that it was desirable to have some change in the law. He quite admitted that the hours on which public-houses were open on Sundays should be limited; but he could not see how it could accrue to the advantage of Cornwall, or, indeed, England generally, that there should be a total closing on Sunday. He earnestly hoped that the House would carefully consider the question; because whilst in favour of limiting the hours during which public-houses were open on Sunday, he was of opinion that the total closing of them would prove more disadvantageous than under the present system.


said, that the hon. Member for West Cornwall (Mr. Arthur Vivian) had moved the second reading of the Bill with such moderation and courtesy, expressing, no doubt, what were the deep convictions of his heart, that he was reminded of the story of a Judge who, when a member of the Bar conducted a case before him with similar courtesy and good feeling, said to him—"Mr.—, I am greatly pleased with the manner in which you have now pleaded; and, if anything could warp my decision, it would be your courtesy." In the same manner, a sense of duty constrained him (Mr. Warton), notwithstanding the courteous manner and temperate speech of the hon. Member, to protest strongly against this Bill. He did not charge the hon. Member with wishing or attempting by unfair means to interfere with the enjoyment of his fellow-creatures; but he would maintain that it ought not to be allowed to such a majority as was here contemplated to press tyrannically on the minority. That was the broad ground on which he based his opposition to this Bill. This very simple Bill involved an important principle. If the whole of the people desired Sunday closing it might be a very different thing. If all the people of Cornwall desired it, he might say that, so far as Cornwall was concerned, there would not be a tyranny of the majority over the minority. But it had been admitted that 22,000 signatures had been obtained against the measure. Was it to be supposed that these 22,000 had no right to have any drink whatever? What he would like to press upon his Radical Friends was, that until they changed their views in regard to this question, they had not learned the first idea of politics—namely, that individual freedom was the right every man had to do what he chose, so that he did not interfere with the rights of others. Supposing he (Mr. Warton) wanted a glass of beer on Sunday, and had no desire to break the peace with his fellow-creatures, why should he not do this? Why was he prevented from doing it? What harm would he do in obtaining the drink if he injured no one? He said it was absolute tyranny. It was undue interference with his liberty, undue interference with his undoubted right to gratify a reasonable desire. And, therefore, he said the legislation was opposed to a broad and general principle. He did not rest his case on minute details; but he asked the hon. Member for Cornwall if it was right that he and his 150,000 should prevent him (Mr. Warton) and his 20,000 from going into a public-house on Sunday and having a glass of beer? Much had been said about the difficulties in pressing forward this Bill in previous years. He sympathized with his hon. Friend when he said, with such touching pathos, that the life of a Member in charge of a Bill was not worth living. But he hoped that when he came to introduce a Bill, interfering as this Bill did with the liberties of his fellow-subjects, that he should be treated in the same way. The measure was not only an interference with National freedom, but it was also an interference with individual freedom. He wanted his Radical Friends to feel happier at that fact, and go away fully persuaded that as long as Englishmen lived they would protest against tyranny. He was afraid some hon. Gentlemen could not comprehend this. God forbid that he should impute motives to hon. Gentlemen. He believed they were actuated by the most proper feeling. But it often happened that a great deal of harm was done by good men. Indeed, it was not so much evil men as good men who could not restrain their own goodness that produced harm — good men, who tried to force their ideas into other people's minds — good men who tried to control ordinary men by their own ideas. It was these good men who did very much harm to their fellow-creatures, and it was only because they were so good that they were able to do so much harm. He had the misfortune, or good fortune, to have been imbued with the principles of law; and the first question he asked himself in regard to this subject was the nature of the wrong and the character of the remedy. What was the state of Cornwall at present when it was proposed to pass a law almost unexampled in its severity? He did not believe any hon. Member in the House would get up and say that one in 500 Cornish men was accustomed to get drunk on Sunday. He defied the hon. Member for Cornwall to contradict him when he said that there was not one in 500 people there who got drunk on Sunday. Was it, then, a wise piece of legislation to provide for an evil so small, a remedy so severe? Four hundred and ninety-nine out of every 500 people were sober and good. They did not get drunk on Sunday. And so this majority of 150,000 were going to prevent the 20,000 having any drink at all, because less than one in 500 men got drunk. He had given the hon. Member credit for possessing the innocence of the dove. He would now also give him credit for possessing the wisdom of the serpent. He knew what might be said in regard to the operation of this Bill in Wales, and he tried to anticipate its force by reference to the rural districts. The hon. Member belonged to a school which never learned from experience. In the discharge of his (Mr. Warton's) duty he gave to the Welsh Sunday Closing Bill his most earnest opposition; but it was at last passed, though its operation was suspended through bad draughtsmanship for another year. It had now been tried, and the hon. Gentleman knew the results; but perhaps they did not care for facts when facts were so clearly against them, or perhaps they argued, "So much the worse for the facts." They had now obtained proof, overwhelming proof, from the most responsible authorities in Wales, not from those quiet rural districts where the hon. Member appeared to refer for proof of the working of his Bill, but from places "where men do congregate." He found, according to the Report of the Chief Constable of Cardiff, that there had been established no fewer than 13 clubs since the passing of the Act in 1883. These clubs were resorted to since the Act came into operation. He asked this question—whether it was better, in the interest of temperance, that these clubs should be opened and drinking carried on in them without restraint, or that in licensed houses everyone should be allowed to take his liquor like a man? The hon. Member made much of the signatures of the clergy to the Petition in favour of his Bill. He noticed a difference in the proportion of Nonconformist ministers to clergy of the Church of England. The clergyman of the Church of England was more independent on account of his social position than the Nonconformist minister; and the Roman Catholic clergyman was more independent because of the support he received from a powerful organization. Indeed, Nonconformist ministers were more like flocks of sheep in the manner in which they were driven by the influence of their congregations. He noticed that these ministers were unanimous; but that was not so with the clergymen of the Church of England.


There were only 10 against.


said, he had got the figures. It appeared that, out of 227 clergymen written to, 162 answered in favour of the views, 39 did not answer at all. 16 were neutral, and 10 were against. But they ought to mark the form in which the Lord Lieutenant put the question, which left it a matter of doubt whether he desired to have the personal opinions of the clergymen, or the opinion of the parish independent of the personal opinion of the clergyman. He should now like to bring before the House the opinions of two or three Roman Catholic clergymen as to the working of the Act at Cardiff. First, he would bring before then Father Richardson. He said it seemed to be the practice on Saturday night to get in as many barrels of beer as they could in the shebeens. That seemed better by their virtuous friends than taking a glass on Sunday morning, and he said a more terrible sight could not meet the eyes of a clergyman than the vice which was thus encouraged by these virtuous people. Neighbours were at the same time handing their jugs in over the wall. It was considered more virtuous, but some people would not learn by experience. Again, he found in some of these places young girls sitting on the knees of young men with their arms round their necks, and both girls and mom the worse for drink. Little children were taken into the room and dosed with beer until they got drunk. It was one of the features of a properly licensed house that drink should not be supplied to a child under 16 years of age; but these little children were allowed to get drunk in this way in this wretched shebeen. A more abominable thing-people could not suppose possible to be inflicted on a town. Next they had clubs. These places were not only drinking-places like the shebeens, but they did their work in a more methodical way. They were not the rendezvous of friendship, but dens of terrible drinking, and sometimes gambling, which was commenced on Saturday night, and continued till Sunday morning. These were all facts stated by Father Richardson. He was at one time in favour of this legislation, and he signed the Petition for it; but he did not know what the result would be. Yes, he signed the Petition; but his experience had changed his opinion, and he now felt that no Act of Parliament could make people sober. It was quite true that no legislation could make people sober, but they could regulate the sale of drink, and by these prudent and cautious regulations they could prevent the rise and abuse of these clubs, which were such horrible dens of infamy. Let them hear some further evidence; another Catholic clergyman, Father Butler, expressed his opinion in about 10 words. He wondered that the Sunday Closing Bill for Wales was not called a Sunday Opening Bill. There were only five clubs before the Act came into force, and there were then over 30. They had thus increased six-fold, and his district was infested with them, and he added, there was more drunkenness, more sin, more iniquity of every kind committed in Cardiff than ever there was before. He would trouble the House with only one more authority. Father Williams—

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