HC Deb 17 June 1886 vol 306 cc1822-5

Bill, as amended, considered.

MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

With the indulgence of the House, I would move that the Bill be now read the third time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Everett.)

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I should like to explain my position in regard to this Bill, though, before doing so, I must apologize for my unavoidable absence yesterday when the measure came on. With reference to that, I will only say that, had I been here yesterday, I should have taken a division on Amendments that appear to have been agreed to. The Amendments were, in the first place, substituting "supply" for "sell," which, it is said, was to make the measure conform to the Scotch law. Well, we all know that the Scotch law has been interpreted so as to limit the scope of the operation of the Act that exists there. But the principal Amendment agreed to was as to "consumption." All I can say with regard to the alteration which was effected is that all the good which was in the Bill has been taken out of it, and that the measure, as it now stands, in the opinion of its promotors, is hardly worth the paper it is printed on. So far as I am concerned, though I do not propose to offer opposition to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Suffolk, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I wash my hands of the measure completely. I cannot be a party to this legislation that is little more than a sham, because everyone knows perfectly well that there is not one child in 10,000 who ever goes to get liquor for his or her consumption, under the age of 13 at any rate. I am acting in this matter not from a desire to be obstructive, but in the interests of those who asked me to bring forward the measure. It is the strong feeling of those who promoted this measure that rather than sanction its passing—that rather than give their approval to it in the ridiculously limited scope to which it has been reduced by the introduction of these words—they should allow it to slide this Session, and wait for next Session, when we hope to have public opinion inside as well as outside Parliament in our favour. We may expect, I think, to see a change of feeling on this matter, and may look forward to having the Bill passed as we originally intended it. The other Amendment I should like to comment upon is as to Section 3. I understand that, contrary to the understanding that was arrived at with Gentlemen on the other side of the House as to Ireland, the measure has been extended so as to affect Ireland. At an earlier stage of the Bill I expressed my desire to meet the wishes of the Irish Members, thinking that the subject was one which would be better dealt with from a Home Rule point of view. However, to that Amendment I do not intend to offer resistance by opposing the third reading of the Bill. In case it should be said that there has been no strong feeling in favour of this measure in its original form outside this House, I may say that only this evening I received a numerously-signed Petition in support of it, and that hardly a post passes without bringing me letters from every part of the United Kingdom, containing most urgent appeals to me that I should in no case depart from the principle of the Bill as originally laid down. In view of the numerous Petitions I have received, signed not only by individuals, but by public bodies and public meetings in the most important centres of the country—after these strong representations, I should consider it a dereliction of duty were I to be any party to the passing of this Bill in such an emasculated form as was sanctioned by the House yesterday afternoon. I hold in my hand a letter—I will not read it—the effect of which is as I have stated. I am willing that the measure should go up to "another place;" and all I can say is, that if noble Lords there can see their way to improve it and make it more worth passing than it is, it will be one of the few instances in which, in my knowledge, Gentlemen in "another place" have done anything in the way of improving a Bill.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

"Without agreeing in all that has been said by the hon. Member, I wish, with the indulgence of the House, to draw attention to the real motive of this Bill, which I think has been falsified by the Amendments accepted. The motive of the Bill, which has been indorsed by a large number of Petitions, signed by 70,000 persons in the country, is to defend children from being exposed to immorality and temptation. It deals a blow at one of the great curses of this country—hereditary intemperance. I should have much preferred if the House had attempted to deal with the Bill in that spirit. I cannot, agree, however, with my hon. Friend (Mr. Conybeare) that we have nothing in the Bill. We must be content with the result. Perhaps in "another place" some noble Lords who are interested in the question may deal with it in that spirit. I regret that I was not in the House yesterday to protest against the passing of these Amendments, which have defeated the main object of the Bill.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman who proposed this Bill that, if it is to be passed at all, it should be in a shape in which it will be effective for the purposes intended; and I believe that the measure as originally drafted would have been effective to meet the object in view. But I desire emphatically to repudiate any desire to emasculate the Bill. It was only because we thought, as the Bill stood, it was inapplicable to Ireland, and not required by the state of the case there, that we pressed on the Amendment to which reference has been made. If Ireland had been exempted, we should not have pressed on any alteration in the clause; and I desire, for my own part, to repudiate all wish or inclination to damage, or, as the hon. Member puts it, "emasculate" the measure. No doubt, as the hon. Member says, it has been emasculated by other Amendments, and for that reason I quite endorse his proposal to withdraw the Bill. In the event of its being withdrawn, if it should again come before us at some future time, I should be glad to give it every support in my power—that is to say, in the original form in which it made its appearance here and in which it is proposed to apply it to England only, where these dangers seem to exist and where there seems to be some necessity for it. If, however, it is to apply to Ireland, I should like to see it recast.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

I hope the hon. Gentleman will not withdraw his Bill. I was not here yesterday, or I should have objected to its being emasculated, and I should have objected to having Ireland excluded from its provisions. I think the hon. Gentleman must see that there will not be time to move that the Bill be recommitted to have these Amendments reconsidered; and I would suggest to him the desirability of sending the measure up to "another place," where it is very possible their Lordships will put it into its original shape. We shall then have an opportunity of reconsidering the matter in a practical manner some day next week. It is, no doubt, desirable to bring the Bill to a third reading, even though it may not come up to the hon. Gentleman's idea of what the Bill ought to be. It would be a pity to lose the result of all the labour that has taken place on the Bill. I would suggest that it should be sent to "another place," and then, if they improve it there as hon. Members here desire to see it improved, we shall be able to come to an agreement with the Lords' Amendments, and the Bill will then serve the purpose for which it was intended.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.