HC Deb 22 April 1885 vol 297 cc398-412

Order for Second Reading read.

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


in rising to move the rejection of the Bill, said, of all the rapid surprises which had ever come under his observation this was far and away the most surprising; and he greatly regretted to find becoming infectious the habit so persistently pursued by those who sat in front of the hon. Gentleman—namely, that of placing measures before the House without offering any observations whatever in explanation of their purport. Here was a great, a grave, and an important question, whether the sale of liquor on Sunday throughout England should in a great measure be suppressed; and the Government, who were responsible for the conduct of Public Business, had their minds so occupied with foreign questions that they failed to give their supporters a hint to avoid wasting valuable time at this period of the Session, and in the midst of a war-impending crisis, in Pro- muting the discussion of Bills of a frag- mentary character. One Member ventilated his hobby by proposing legislation for Durham; another took Northumberland in hand; a third directed his attention to Cornwall. In point of fact, they had quite a plethora of those narrow-minded and exasperating schemes interfering with popular rights and, privileges. He was under the impression that the Bill which the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. T. Richardson) silently sought to pass through the House was one of those local county Bills—how could it be otherwise when DO explanation was given of its object? —but he now found that it was a general measure applying to the entire length and breadth of England, and of the most arbitrary character. It was a most disreputable mode of proceeding, and paying a very bad compliment indeed to the common sense of the House to ask it to accept such an important measure without offering one single argument in favour of the deteriorating and unjust alterations of the existing law for which he demanded Parliamentary sanction. Why should any trade or interest be perpetually harassed or vexed in this cruel manner? The law recognized the highly honourable but anxious occupation of the publican. On the faith of British law the licensed victualler devoted his energy, time, and capital to the carrying on his business in a respectable manner, yet they found that the trade was more harassed than any other by perfectly well-meaning Gentlemen bringing forward Bills of this description with the object, as they foolishly imagined, of preventing drunkenness. Men tried to signalize themselves, and some liked to appear at least better than other people. In this country there was a great deal of hypocrisy; but he was quite at a loss to know what were the arguments on which the hon. Member for Hartlepool, whose name, by the way, did not appear on the back of the Bill, sought to justify the legislation he now asked. It was nothing short of hypocrisy on the part of those who took a glass of drink, and had every comfort around them in their homes, good cellars filled with wines of the choicest vintage, comfortable clubs to go to when they pleased, not only on week days, but on Sundays at all hours of the day and night, to say that the labouring man or the hard-struggling clerk should not have the opportunity at reasonable hours of getting on the Sabbath whatever liquor or refreshment was required. He did not know what were the personal habits of the hon. Member for Hartlepool. He might be either a thorough abstainer or a moderate drinker; but, regarding him as an impersonal abstraction, he was driven to ask with what object he had brought forward this Bill? Some people, no doubt, were entirely opposed to the consumption of intoxicating liquors; but it should be remembered that there were others of an opposite opinion. In his view, it was little short of narrow-minded despotism for hon. Members, because they abstained themselves, to seek that those who moderately indulged should be placed in the same category by legal enforcement. Such an assumption of virtuous morality was neither more nor less than downright tyranny, based on an affectation of moral superiority, and a monstrous invasion of the rights of individuals. In the absence of explanation from the hon. Member for Hartlepool, he was driven to speculate and to look at this question as one which might be brought forward in the interest of those who were called total abstainers. But the hon. Gentleman possibly might be-long to those who thought temperate drinking permissible. If that were so, he appealed to him as a moderate drinker to know what right had he to lay down any rule as to the restriction of Sunday drinking? Beer was the Englishman's natural drink. Some time ago one of the Liquor Alliance Leagues offered several large prizes, ranging from £700 down, to the person who would produce the best non-alcoholic beverage to take the place of beer. In spite of those repeated and, as they were considered at the time, brilliant offers, the League never succeeded. There was no liquor so suitable, so palatable to the English taste, so pure, so invigorating, or so cheap as beer. It was, therefore, in his opinion, nothing short of absolute cruelty to deprive the public from getting beer when they required it on Sundays. The poor man was unable to afford laying in a stock of bottled beer, and malt liquor purchased on a Saturday night for consumption on Sunday lost its excellent flavour and became flat, if not tasteless. In fact, those who proposed such an arrange- ment displayed an utter ignorance of the national habits, and he was inclined to assume that the hon. Member for Hartlepool participated in that ignorance. At present public-houses on Sunday were regulated by law, and certain hours were fixed, both inside and outside the Metropolitan Police district, as well as throughout the country, for the sale of liquors. These rules and limits were arrived at after careful examination, and might be regarded as the result of compromise. He did not ask that public-houses should be kept open the whole of Sunday; but what he contended for was that there should be at seasonable periods ample time given for the purchase of beer, so that the comforts of an Englishman's family might not be in any degree either encroached upon or interfered with. On the principle of Christian charity, they ought to shrink from curtailing the pleasures of the thousands of young men, clerks and shopmen, in London who resided in lodgings. How often did they find the arrogance of science united with the fanaticism of religion? They knew how medical opinion changed on this subject of liquor. Some doctors prescribed a good deal of brandy as likely to benefit the patient. At other times they pronounced brandy to be poison. On one occasion the physician said it would be well for the patient to drink whisky; within 24 hours he declared it must not be touched. It need not be said that all over the world some form of exhilaration was required. The necessity and the habit of taking some stimulant was ingrained in many people's constitutions. They knew there was a virtue in generous liquor, and that it did them good and not harm. Were they to be put on the same level as persons who drank to excess for the mere sake of drinking, and simply because a number of fanatics drank nothing at all? Whichever of the latter two classes it was that was represented by the voiceless Gentleman who had charge of this Bill, he had very little respect for them. He should like to know what the hon. Gentleman would think if a Bill were brought in to compel him to drink so much liquor? The hon. Gentleman would doubtless say it was a terrible violation of private rights; but it would be only a fair counterpoise to the action of the teetotalers; for if A had a right to say that B should not drink at all, surely B had an equal right to say that A should drink a certain quantity. What he (Mr. Warton) wanted was a fair recognition of individual and personal rights. If a man drank too much and made a noise in the streets, he rendered himself amenable to the police; but if a man did not interfere with the public order, he ought not to be meddled with. Moreover, the effect of this kind of legislation had been to increase rather than to lessen drunkenness, and there was far less excuse now for introducing these Bills than there was five years ago. The House knew what had happened in regard to Wales. There was more Sunday drunkenness in Wales since the passing of the Sunday Closing Act in that country than ever there was before. In Cardiff, Swansea, Denbigh, and Mint Sunday clubs had increased immensely, and the police all testified to the evil results of the Act. At Cardiff there had been disgraceful disclosures. Two or three Catholic clergymen came forward and gave the most revolting evidence as to the dens of infamy which had grown up in Cardiff since the Act came into operation. The advantages of drinking in a public-house over drinking in these secret dens were obvious. In the one case, there were the securities of law and order; in the other, there was every facility and incitement to law-breaking and crime. At Cardiff it was shown that young girls were debauched at these so-called clubs, and the priests to whom he had referred called attention to it in the interests of humanity. The private drinking clubs in Wales had quintupled since the passing of that wretched pharisaical piece of Sunday legislation; and hon. Gentlemen who brought in these Bills year after year showed a strange disposition to shut their eyes to the facts. Looking at the deserted condition of the Treasury Bench at the present moment, he thought it was rather disgraceful that no Member of the Government was present. He would particularly like to see the Home Secretary in his place, in order to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the answer which he gave some time ago with regard to the Police Report from Flint. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that because the Mayor of Flint was interested in the liquor trade, therefore the Inspector's Report as to the tremendous increase of Sunday drunkenness was not deserving of attention, and must be pooh-poohed in the Home Secretary's grand manner. But he (Mr. Warton) strongly objected to that manner of answering a Question, and he now quoted the incident as having a bearing upon the subject under discussion. He did not know whether any Welsh Members would take part in this debate—he noticed that most of them had discreetly kept away; but he challenged them to deny that since the passing of the Act there had been an immense increase of drunkenness, and terrible scenes had taken place. Hon. Gentlemen who promoted these Bills did not seem to understand human nature, or they would know that prohibition often lent a stimulus to enjoyment. The fact that Sunday drinking was prohibited and difficult would make lots of people more anxious to drink on Sunday, for "stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." To be told not to do a thing was a great temptation to go and do it. He advised hon. Gentlemen to study the fable of the hen and her chicken. The hen warned the chicken not to go near the well. The chicken would not have thought of going there; but, of course, directly he was told not to do so, he went and tumbled in; and his dying words were—— Hadn't it been for prohibition I ne'er had been in this condition. The hon. Member who brought forward the Bill seemed now to have retired into an obscure corner of the House. He hoped they should have a few words from the hon. Member, and he would appeal to him to try and grapple with those facts with regard to Wales. Personally, he felt bound to condemn the Bill as an unnecessary and unwarranted interference with a great and respectable trade, an infringement of private rights and liberties, a measure incompatible with the spirit of true Englishmen, and inspired only by a canting, fanatical, and sanctimonious hypocrisy. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Warton.)

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


The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) has referred to the operation of the Sunday Closing Act in Wales, and has incidentally alluded to myself in relation to that matter; but I have to state that the information I possess on the subject leads me to take a totally different view from that expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is 'very true, as he has stated, that in Cardiff, which is a place where certain exceptional circumstances may be cited as against the operation of the Sunday Closing Act, the measure had not been so successful as I have every reason to believe it has been throughout the rest of the Principality of Wales. I can certainly say, without hesitation, that within the limits of my own constituency the Sunday Closing Act is regarded as an incontestable boon. There is hardly a single person in my constituency, unless among the publicans—and I am told that there are many even of them who appreciate the advantage of having a holiday on Sunday—but, at any rate, I believe there is hardly anyone in my constituency, and very few to be found in the constituencies of other hon. Members representing the interests of the people of Wales, who do not regard the Sunday Closing Act as a measure which has been productive of great and most valuable results. With respect to the town of Cardiff, which has very naturally been put in the forefront of the argument used by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport, there are, as I have already stated, peculiar circumstances which have caused the Sunday Closing Act not to be so successful there as it has been in other parts of the Principality. The hon. Member was, no doubt, quite right in saying that a great deal of drinking goes on in unlicensed houses, such, for instance, as sham clubs, which it will probably be the duty of the Legislature to put an end to, if the means of so doing can be found without further interference than is desirable with the convenience of the public. Among the peculiar circumstances that exist in Cardiff, one of the most noticeable is that there is in that town a large and constantly floating population, composed of seamen from all parts of the world, who do not know what to do with themselves on the Sabbath day, and who indulge, to a great extent, in the pernicious habit of drinking. In this respect Cardiff undoubtedly differs from most other places in Wales; and there is another circumstance which tends to place that seaport in an exceptional position as compared with other places in the Principality—namely, that the town is situated within about a mile and a-half of the English Border, so that on Sunday, during the hours the public-houses are open in England, it becomes a sort of amusement and bravado on the part of certain portions of the Cardiff population, finding the public-houses in their own town all closed, to walk across the Border into the neighbouring county of Monmouth for the purpose of having a drink. There can be no doubt that this custom has engendered a certain amount of drunkenness, and that a certain number of persons who thus go into England, and who begin to drink by way of joke, often end in taking a good deal more than they intended when they first set out from the place in which the Sunday Closing Act is enforced. In this way a good deal of drunkenness among the Cardiff population may be accounted for; but, notwithstanding the energetic appeal made to me by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport, I am not able to say what the total effect of the Sunday Closing Act in Wales has been. No doubt there is some evidence in support of the view the hon. and learned Member has taken. He is right in saying that one of the Roman Catholic pastors in Cardiff has made statements adverse to the Sunday Closing Act; but I may mention that after the Easter holidays I happened to be returning to town, through Cardiff, by train, when several gentlemen of that town, one or two of whom I was well acquainted with, got into the carriage in which I was, and I asked them what they considered to have been the effect of the Sunday Closing Act in Cardiff. I am sorry to say that their opinion was that, as to Cardiff, mischief had been done in the way of promoting the establishment of the sham clubs and unlicensed houses, and thus producing a good deal of Sunday drinking. Two of the gentlemen I have referred to, whose testimony I think I could rely upon, said, notwithstanding the statement of the reverend gentleman, or any other evidence that may have been ad- duced, that they believed that on the whole the Sunday Closing Act had been productive of a balance of benefit. In Cardiff, as I have already shown, the matter stands on peculiar and exceptional grounds; but in other places throughout the Principality—and I do not think that even Swansea can he termed an exception, although as a large seaport with a great many sailors constantly reckoned among its population it might be so—I am of opinion that there is no exception to the general rule. I am quite confident that, for the reasons I have mentioned, whatever may be the case with regard to Cardiff, the Sunday Closing Act throughout the whole of the rest of Wales is greatly appreciated by the inhabitants. As the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) did me the honour to refer to me, I have thought it right to give my testimony on the question; and, in conclusion, I may express my belief that the more the matter is inquired into, as far as the operation of the Act in regard to Wales is concerned, the more clearly will it be shown that I am right in the views I have expressed.


said, he thought the House would agree that there could be no two opinions as to the inconvenience of an hon. Member moving the second reading of a Bill of which he was not in charge. Up to the present moment the House had had no explanation whatever of this Bill, and the two hon. Members who had addressed the House had been discussing a different measure from that which was before the House. He would proceed, therefore, to tell the House what this Bill was. It was a misnomer to call it a Sunday Closing Bill. It was realty a Bill for further restricting the hours during which public-houses should be opened on Sunday. A distinction was drawn between public-houses in the Metropolitan district and in towns and populous places; but he could not find that the expression "a town or populous place" was defined in any part of the Bill. He was of opinion that if it was desirable that public-houses should be opened for the sale of liquor during a portion of the Sunday in a populous place, it was desirable that they should be permitted to be open throughout the country for the same purpose. However, this Bill provided that if the premises were situated in the Metropolitan district they should be open on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3 o'clock, and on Sunday evenings from 7 to 10; and he did not suppose that any one would take exception to that limitation. If the premises were situated outside the Metropolitan district, but within the Metropolitan Police district or a town or populous place, then they were to be open from half-past 12 to half-past 2, and from 7 to 9. That he thought was a very reasonable limitation, and so far as it went he could support the Bill. But then it was provided that if the premises were situated outside a town or populous place they should be closed altogether, except for the sale of liquor to be consumed off the premises. There might be a considerable divergence of opinion as to whether that was not too large a limitation. He must ask those in charge of the Bill to define what they meant by a populous place, whether it was a place of 1,000 or 2,000 inhabitants, and to undertake to insert that definition in the Bill? If the hon. Member for North Durham, whose name was on the back of the Bill, would give an assurance that in Committee Sub-section (b) of Clause 1 should be extended so as to allow the sale of liquor off the premises in rural districts during the same hours as its sale was permitted in towns, he would not oppose the second reading. But if he found that this Bill was merely another phase of the Alliance Bill, and was meant to prevent the sale of liquor throughout the country on one of the days of the week, he would oppose the second reading.


said, he thought that the House had some reason to complain of the manner in which this Bill had been brought forward. The general subject of Sunday closing had been discussed; but that question did not really arise, because they were considering a Bill which, proposing a certain definite change in the law of licensing, did not attempt to bring about the complete closing of public-houses on Sunday. That, therefore, was not the question they had now to consider. The Memorandum which had been printed with the Bill in order to explain the measure stated that it was not proposed to alter the present law relating to the bonâ fide traveller or to railway refreshment rooms; but he found no exceptions of that nature in the Bill. The fact was a Memorandum on a Bill of this character was out of place, and they ought to have had the Bill explained by some hon. Member who was responsible for its production. The whole Bill had been drafted in the most vague terms possible, and it was difficult to forecast what its exact effect would be, while its Preamble entirely misdescribed its objects. Moreover, he was of opinion that a question of this kind was far too large a question to be taken up by one or two private Members. If anything of the nature of Sunday closing or the alteration of hours on Sunday was to be carried out, it ought to be by the Government; and the House would be perfectly justified in resisting, without reference to the merits of the proposal, any attempt in this direction by a private Member. The truth was that these so-called Temperance Bills went upon a wrong principle altogether. More good would be done by cultivating a taste for non-intoxicating liquors than by continually interfering with the sale of intoxicants. He suggested that an inducement should be offered to the keepers of public-houses and refreshment-houses, by allowing them longer hours for the sale of non-intoxicants, which would be an inducement to them to improve the quality of those beverages. He objected altogether to the way in which licensed victuallers were regarded by the promoters of these Bills, who appeared to look upon them as a sort of criminals, or, at any rate, as persons only to be barely tolerated. Hon. Gentlemen appeared to wish to make licensed victuallers as uncomfortable as possible, and to drive all the best men out of the trade. He thought that was a most unfair and unwise policy, and that Parliament ought not to lose sight altogether of the interests of the licensed victuallers. In putting the trade under restrictions they ought to have regard to the conditions under which the licensed victualler carried on his business, and they ought not grievously and without due reason to hamper him in the exercise of his trade. The scheme proposed by the Bill was a crude one, and if adopted would lead to considerable inconvenience. He should, therefore, vote against the second reading of the measure.


said, the second reading of the Bill being moved to-day had undoubtedly taken the House by surprise; and he could not but regret that the other hon. Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill were not present to take part in the discussion. The hon. Member who had just sat down had devoted the whole of his speech to criticizing the manner in which the Bill had been drawn. He (Mr. Charles Palmer) did not wish to follow him in that respect. He wished to say, as his name appeared on the back of the Bill, that those who had brought it forward regarded it as a sort of compromise between the existing condition of things and the extreme measure of total Sunday closing. When hon. Members saw on the back of a Bill the names of Members on both sides of the House, they had no difficulty in believing that there was some likelihood of its being generally accepted. He could assure the House that if it was allowed to pass the second reading stage there would be no difficulty in amending it in Committee, so as to put it in such a form that it would meet with general approval. He did not propose to go into the whole question of Sunday closing; but this he might say, that the question was one which affected the working classes peculiarly, and that if he did not think that the majority of working men—especially in the North of England—were in favour of such a measure as this, he should be the last to recommend it. If even a large minority of working men were against it, he should not be found supporting it; but he believed it was accepted by them as a move in the right direction—towards temperance. As a large employer of labour, he could only say that if they could get rid of this Sunday drinking it would conduce very materially to their men coming to work with certainty and regularity on Monday mornings. That, however, was a very large question, and he did not propose to go into it. He only wished to assure the House, as one whose name was on the back of the Bill, that if it was allowed to go to a second reading, he should be quite prepared to assist in amending it so as to meet the general wishes of the House.


I had no intention of taking any part in the discussion when I came down to the House this afternoon; and I am sorry to say that so little did I think the Bill would be taken to-day, that I did not read it before coming down. However, I have read it since I have been here; and as there is no one else to speak upon it from this Bench, and as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) has made allusion to what he calls the failure of the Welsh Sunday Closing Act, I ask the indulgence of the House whilst I make two or three observations. The hon. and learned Gentleman is altogether incorrect in his statement, and I agree with what has already been stated to the House with regard to the Welsh Sunday Closing Act —namely, that it has proved a great boon to Wales. It is, indeed, felt—particularly in the Border Counties, one of which I have the honour to represent—that it does not go far enough. That opinion, I believe, is also entertained in Cardiff. The evil consists in people going for drink from the Welsh counties, where the public-houses are closed on Sundays, into the English counties, where the public-houses are open. They walk sometimes four or five miles, and think at the end of the journey that they have a right to indemnify themselves for it by drinking more than is good for them. Such increase of drunkenness as there has been on Sunday has, I believe, taken place in districts which are within easy reach of public-houses which remain open on Sunday. But to come to this Bill—it really is not a "Sunday Closing Act" at all. It establishes three different systems of closing. In the Metropolitan district it fixes the closing hours at from 7 to 10. It specifies another closing time for other populous places; and it is only in the rural districts where public-houses are to be closed during the whole of Sunday, except for certain purposes. With regard to the alleged difficulty of defining the words "populous places," I think the fears on that head are altogether groundless. My impression is that the words have received either a statutory or a judicial interpretation; but if not it will be easy to find an acceptable definition when we get into Committee. On the whole, I do not think the Bill is open to the objection which has been taken to it. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Charles Palmer), who is the only Member present whose name is on the back of the Bill, has met hon. Gentlemen who are inclined to take exception to it in a very fair and liberal spirit. He has promised that all the Amendments which may be put down for the Committee stage shall be carefully considered, and that modifications may be introduced. Under the circumstances, the Bill being a fair one, as well as a short and simple one, I think the House should affirm its principle by giving it a second reading, and should leave all objections to it to be dealt with in Committee.


said, that if it were proved that the great majority of the working classes were desirous of having the Bill passed, he would not say one word against it. He had taken the trouble to search in the Library for Petitions respecting it, and he had found one Petition signed by one person in favour of it, and one Petition signed by one person in opposition to it. Under those circumstances, how could it be said that the masses of the middle and the working classes were in favour of this Bill? He spoke with all due deference of, and even with sympathy with, those who desired to promote temperance in this country. In fact, all right-minded people were in favour of promoting temperance. But what Members present but teetotallers were there who did not take wine or beer on Sundays? Let them have no hypocrisy on that subject. If the Act were brought to bear upon public-houses, and the working and the lower middle classes were to be deprived of their beer or their spirits on Sundays, then let the Clubs—the Carlton, the Reform, the Devonshire, and others—be closed. Public-houses were the clubs of the poor; and a certain amount of political capital was being made out of this question by the one side or the other, which ought not to be the case. Were they prepared to apply that restriction of liberty provided by the Bill for one class of the community without applying it to the others. If so, why did they not say so? The truth of the matter was that they dared not do so. It was a dangerous thing to make laws to prescribe the liberties of any one Class, while they did not apply them to themselves and to other classes. While he believed if all others as well as the working classes The Judge Advocate General agreed to go without intoxicating liquors on Sundays they would be none the worse for so doing, at the same time, so: long as Members of that House thought fit to drink wine or beer on Sundays, they had no right to object to the middle and the working classes being in a position to get their beer, wine, or spirits on Sundays. He should; oppose the second reading of the Bill.


in moving the adjournment of the debate, said, he could not understand why, if the rich man could have wine and beer or spirits at his house on Sunday, the middle and the working classes should not be allowed on that day to procure such beverages at the only place where they were in a position to obtain it. He could not support the Bill, because it was only of a partial character — it merely aimed at partially closing public-houses on Sundays. He was not only in favour of the total closing of public-houses on Sunday; but he was, also, in favour of Local Option as advocated by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), whose absence and the cause for it they all so much deplored. At the same time, he was not in favour of such a measure as the present. He begged to move the adjournment of the debate.


in seconding the Motion, said, that so long as there were several millions of men who were interested in the subject who had not been consulted, and who had had no voice in the matter, it was only fair that the debate should be adjourned. The Bill, as presented to the House, was of a hybrid, imperfect character, which ought not to be allowed to pass in its existing form. If they were to stop drinking on Sundays lot them begin at home. Let them begin at that House. [Laughter.] Well, lot them begin at the Clubs. Why were the Members of the Clubs to have their beer, wine, and spirits, while the poor man was not allowed to go for a walk into the country and have his glass of ale or spirits?

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gourley.)

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Wednesday next.