HC Deb 02 April 1886 vol 304 cc645-50

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [10th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

And which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months,"—(Mr. Addison,)—instead thereof.

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

Debate resumed.

VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)

said, he thought before the House came to a decision on this very important question they were entitled, on the part of the promoters of the Bill, to a very great deal of information which had not yet been given. The Bill before the House, as was shown on a former occasion, was very incomplete, and open to very serious objection in detail; and the case in favour of the Bill was, in his opinion, not proved. He did not say that the spirit which dictated the proposal now before the House was not one with which he had very great sympathy. The object of the hon. Gentleman opposite, in his own view, was, undoubtedly, the cause of morality in this country; and he was very far from saying there were not many respects in which the law might be altered with advantage. But what he would venture to say was that they knew, in a very short period, there would be a measure dealing with the general question of local government in this country brought before the House which had been promised by the Leaders of the Conservative Party, and promised, he understood, by right hon. Gentlemen opposite; and they were also aware that the question of the Liquor Laws would be referred, in a very great measure, to the Local Bodies to be created by that Act. Under those circumstances, he thought they ought to look upon any proposal for dealing with Sunday Closing with very great caution. It was very much better that a question of this kind should be dealt with by Local Bodies rather than by such a Bill as was now before the House; because if they passed the Bill, and it appeared afterwards that upon experience it was not successful, in order to alter again the state of the law back to its present condition they would have to pass another Act of Parliament. If it were in the hands of the Local Bodies, and it were found that Sunday Closing was not successful in any particular district, the Local Body would be able to alter that state of things without the difficulty and well-nigh impossibility of passing another Act of Parliament. He thought that was a most powerful reason for avoiding, if possible, dealing with this question by an Act of Parliament. It was far better that it should be left to the Local Bodies who were to be created under the Local Government Bill. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill on the 10th of March dealt with it most inadequately, because half the House was composed of new Members who could not be supposed to know or understand very much about the subject. There was in his speech absolutely no information whatever. There was, however, a very great deal of information available. A Committee of the other House and a Royal Commission had reported upon the subject; and, therefore, the least the hon. Member could have done would have been, he should have thought, to give them the conclusions to which those Commissions had come. But, on the contrary, he did not believe the hon. Member mentioned the one or the other in the whole course of his speech; and hon. Members, in order to know the facts of the case, would be obliged to refer to those Reports themselves. He had had occasion to refer to the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords upon this subject; and he found this very remarkable fact, among other things—that the intoxication which was said to have been due to the opening of public-houses on Sunday was, in a large measure, due not to the opening of public-houses on Sunday, but to the opening of public-houses on Saturday. By that he meant to say that the cases which came before the magistrates were those which occurred before the public-houses opened on Sunday morning, so that the intoxication must have been due either to private drinking or to the drinking on Saturday night. Saturday was the great day for paying wages, and it was upon that day, therefore, that the most drinking took place. Argument, therefore, pointed not to a Sunday, but to a Saturday Closing Bill. These were reasons why he thought they should insist upon more information being given by the promoters of the Bill before they consented to the second reading. They had had experience to guide them in determining as to whether such a measure would be an advantage to the community, for Sunday Closing had been the law in parts of the United Kingdom already—in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. It was alleged—and he believed with perfect truth—that in Scotland the diminution in drunkenness had been no greater than the diminution in England, where there had been no Sunday Closing. So far as Ireland was concerned, there was a strong case against the Bill; and as regarded Wales, if they were to believe the reports, the case against Sunday Closing was absolutely crushing. It had been such a failure that in an enormous number of cases the people who favoured the passing of the Welsh Sunday Closing Act were now strongly opposed to it, and laid it down as beyond the reach of argument that, before anything could be done to remedy the state of affairs, it would be necessary entirely to repeal the Welsh Sunday Closing Act. In view of such very strong arguments as these against Sunday Closing they ought to look with great hesitation upon a proposal of this kind. He did not propose to discuss the details of the Bill at this stage; but he would like to say that he was very far from being altogether opposed to any change in the law in respect to Sunday Closing. He would, for his own part, be very glad to consider any proposal which was adequately supported by the facts, either in one direction or the other. It had been said—with some truth, perhaps—that it would be better to reduce the hours in London on Sunday from 11 o'clock to 10 o'clock. That might or might not be so; but the hon. Gentleman had given them no facts whatever to enable them to arrive at a conclusion on the subject. There was one very obvious criticism to be made upon the Bill. Why was such an enormous distinction to be made between the Metropolitan district and the country? He heard the hon. Member's speech, and had referred to it since; but he could find no adequate defence for the distinction. It appeared to him there was no reason why the Metropolis should be treated in regard to Sunday Closing so much more mildly than the other parts of England, unless it be that the people of London were very much opposed to Sunday Closing. That brought him to an argument which was used in the debate on the 10th of March both by the hon. Member opposite and by the Home Secretary. They both spoke of the necessity of not going too fast, because they said total Sunday Closing was in advance of public opinion. Of course, that argument could only lie in the mouths of people who were in favour of total Sunday Closing. If they were not in favour of total Sunday Closing they would not pay any attention to public opinion on the subject. Supposing that were the case, they could only conclude that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill and the Home Secretary were really in favour of total Sunday Closing. Now, whatever view some of them on his side of the House might hold with respect to partial Sunday Closing, they were—he spoke for himself, but there were many who agreed with him—absolutely opposed to total Sunday Closing; and as they must judge a measure not merely by what it actually said, but by the intentions of those who introduced it, it made them look with still greater hesitation upon the Bill. He thought the strongest point which was made by those who were in favour of Sunday Closing was the point that the amount of labour which was thrown upon the employés in public-houses in the course of the week was so very much greater than that in many other trades that they should be protected from Sunday labour as well. He believed the hours during which young men and women were employed in public-house bars in the course of a week were very numerous indeed; and any proposal which tended to restrict the number of hours of labour for women in public-houses in the course of the week he would be willing to consider very favourably. But he did not see that, even supposing they were to restrict the number of hours in that respect, it would necessarily lead to Sunday Closing. Hon. Members on his side of the House looked at the matter with an unprejudiced view, and were willing to entertain any legislation which would really be of advantage to the community; but they were, on the whole, opposed to this Bill, partly on the merits of the case, and partly on the total inadequacy of the speeches with which it had been supported; and therefore if his hon. Friend went to a division on his Amendment he would certainly vote with him.

MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

said, he was in the House during the late discussion on this Bill, and he had hoped that before the debate closed that evening they would have heard a little more of the intentions of the supporters of the Bill with regard to the partial closing of public-houses on Sundays in the country. For his own part, he did not at all feel disposed to give his vote against the Bill; but he was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that some alteration might be made in regard to the closing hours in the country. He would like to know what that alteration was to be? If it should be a fair one he would vote for it; but he objected to the entire closing of public-houses on Sunday.

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

explained that the hours in the country during which public-houses would remain open on Sunday would be from half-past 12 to half-past 2, as at present, and from 7 o'clock until 9 o'clock, instead of from 6 o'clock until 10 o'clock, as at present.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 101; Noes 41: Majority 60.—(Div. List, No. 59.)