HC Deb 23 August 1887 vol 319 cc1676-84

Lords' Amendments considered.


In page 2, line 22, to leave out "ten of the clock at night of any day," and insert "such hour at night of any day, not earlier than ten and not later than eleven, as the licensing authority may direct,"

the first Amendment, read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Mark Stewart.)

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

I rise for the purpose of opposing the Motion which has been made, and at this hour of the morning I shall be very short indeed. It is right that I should explain to the House the position in which the Bill now stands. When the Bill left this House, the hour of 10 o'clock was fixed by it as the universal closing hour for spirit shops in Scotland. At present the hour of closing is 11 o'clock. According to the Amendment introduced by the other House, the hour of closing in towns with a population under 50,000 is made 10 o'clock on the opinion of the Local Authority, while in towns with a population exceeding 50,000 it is to be exactly as at present, 11 o'clock. Now, Sir, according to the view taken by this House, it was considered that in Scotland the hour of closing might reasonably be 10 o'clock, especially in the country districts, and that is the point with which I propose to deal at present—with the case of country districts where the population is under 50,000. In Scotland the feeling and the habits of the people are all in favour of the hour of closing being 10 o'clock, and it is a remarkable circumstance that not a single Representative for Scotland will rise in his place at the present moment and state that the feeling in his constituency is in favour of 11 o'clock. As regards places with under 50,000 inhabitants, I believe the universal opinion in Scotland is in favour of this earlier hour of closing, and no representation which I have had during the progress of this Bill, even on behalf of the licensing interest, was in favour of 11 o'clock in the country districts. They were quite satisfied with 10 o'clock. But the Lord Advocate went further than we are now asking the House to go, because he thought that in country districts the closing hour should be 9.30. I hope, therefore, that the House will fall in with the universal feeling in Scotland, and in face of the fact that there is really no opposition on the part of any Scotch Member, and that this is not a Party question at all, will agree to disagree with the Lords' Amendment.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

As I took some part in the discussion when the Bill was previously in the House I may be allowed to say a few words. And, first, I would remark that Her Majesty's Government consider this Bill as that of a private Member upon which each Member is free to act on his own opinion. I had formed a decided opinion that the Bill as it left the House of Lords is an excellent Bill, and I have heard nothing from the hon. Member to induce me to change that opinion. I do not understand him to suggest any Amendment in regard to towns with a population above 50,000, and therefore I may consider that that matter is settled. In support of his opposition to the Lords' Amendment in reference to other places, I was somewhat astonished to hear his line of argument. He has told us that it is his belief that it is the unanimous opinion in Scotland that in boroughs of population under 50,000 the closing hour should be 10 o'clock. Well, if that is so, the Bill as it left the House of Lords gives the power to carry that opinion into effect.


If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will pardon me, the present Licensing Authorities are not elected by the ratepayers at all, so it is impossible that the ratepayers can have any means to influence the Licensing Authority by their opinion.


I do not see that that alters what I have stated. The hon. Member says it is the unanimous feeling of Scotland that in boroughs with a population under 50,000 the closing hour should be 10 o'clock. Then that will be attained. ["No!"] If the feeling is unanimous, it must be so. I do not see how an unanimous feeling can find expression in any other result. By the proposal here, it is open to the Licensing Authority to meet the requirements of particular districts, many of which, if the hon. Member is right, will undoubtedly adopt the 10 o'clock hour. My hon. Friend, I believe, is in favour of local option, and this is a stop in that direction. It is the nearest we can get at this time. I argued, on a previous occasion, that we ought to wait until the establishment of the new Local Authority. But that will very shortly come about, I hope, and the new authority will exercise power under this Bill. Therefore, I see no reason why we should press for an alteration of the Lords' Amendment. The result will be that which the hon. Member desires, if we agree with the Amendment; while if we refuse to accept it the Bill may be prejudiced, and we may lose the reform which it might effect in our licensing system.

MR. MASON (Lanark, Mid)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken advantage of my hon. Friend's statement, which is not absolutely correct in a technical sense, that the feeling is unanimous. It is quite true that in those districts where the people have a voice in the appointment of the Licensing Authority, these give effect to the wish of the locality; but we know that, in many instances, the Justices act quite contrary to the popular will in regard to licences. Though it is not quite correct to say the feeling is unanimous, I am bound to say that it is very largely in favour of adopting 10 o'clock as the hour throughout Scotland. I believe public opinion would sanction the passing of a measure making the hour 10 o'clock throughout all Scotland, large towns included. I hope the House will not agree with the Amendment made in "another place." Let us restore it to its original shape, or I fear the Bill will be of little practical use.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

There is another principle at stake, whether the Representatives of the Scotch people are to be governed by a small Committee of the House of Lords acting as a Publican's Defence Association. That is really what it comes to. I think the House of Lords, having had its way with a measure of first-class importance for Ireland last week, might have left this small Scotch measure to be worked out by the Representatives of the Scotch people. Though I am not a Scotch Member I am a Scotchman, and have interests in Scotland, and I protest against the House of Lords taking this measure to pieces, and defying the almost unanimous wish of Scotch Members.


I think the argument of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate is about as weak as it could be. He tells us the Bill is re- turned to us an "excellent Bill." Why? Because the desire of the people of Scotland, as represented by their Members here in the Commons, is thwarted and negatived by a certain irresponsible body of hereditary legislators. I never knew a Bill yet come back to us, after having been sent to "another place," that was not spoiled and mutilated by their Lordships over the way. I think the mere fact of any Amendment being made by the Lords in a Bill of this nature, which is the outcome of the wishes of the Scotch people, is quite sufficient justification for our rejecting it. I certainly hope our Friends from Scotland, who are practically interested, will go to a Division, and that we may teach noble Lords a lesson. Another argument of the Lord Advocate was a mere bit of special pleading. He takes exception to the expression that Scotch opinion is unanimous in favour of the 10 o'clock rule, and says if it is unanimous then it must take effect. What is the provision inserted by the Lords? It is to take away the hard-and-fast rule desired by the Scotch people, and to give to certain Boards, not responsible —not directly responsible—to the people whose interests are at stake, a discretion to shift this rule from 10 o'clock to 11 o'clock, or any intermediate time. Now, what the people of Scotland want is that they should be able by legislation of this kind to lay down a rule for their own guidance and interest, and all I can say is that it is our duty to take a stand in a matter like this against what I do not hesitate to call the insolent interference of the Lords.


Order, order! The hon. Member has used an expression not consistent with the ordinary courtesy of this House towards the other House. That is a word that ought not to be applied to the other House of Parliament.


I certainly withdraw the expression, Sir, and I will substitute the word unwarranted.

MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)

The Amendments proposed in "another place" will practically amount to a nullification of the Bill. By one Amendment the Bill will not apply to any place with more than 50,000 inhabitants; but other places with less than that population may settle for themselves, by means of the Licensing Authority, whether the hour shall be 10 or 11. But it so happens that in the large places, if the optional rule applied, many would choose 10 o'clock, because it is the wish of the people by whom the Licensing Authority is elected. But in the smaller places, where the authority is not elected, or certainly in a large number of instances, the hour will be left as at present—11—though this would not be the will of the people at all, but the will of a nominated, not an elected, Licensing Authority. The Lord Advocate, when he speaks of the opinion of Scotland, would almost make us think he had never been in that country. If there is one subject on which the Scotch people have made up their minds, it is the subject of temperance. I say, without hesitation, that he cannot produce any evidence from Returns or statistics to show there is any difference of opinion in one part of the country from the other. I believe the whole of Scotland desires that 10 o'clock should be the hour for closing public-houses. Any statement to the contrary is purely imaginary. Facts and literature made public in Scotland in reference to this question leave no doubt on any man's mind who will take the trouble to read. I do not speak as a teetotaller, for I am not one, nor am I connected with any society of that kind. It is usually considered by others that teetotallers are fanatics, and their authority is not always accepted; therefore it is I mention that I am not a teetotaller, nor, so far as I know, likely to become one. This Bill is advocated by the teetotallers, and among the temperance party in Scotland the feeling is very strong indeed in favour of the measure; but if you limit it to the temperance party, you will not include anything like the number of Scotch people who are in favour of it. The feeling is universal throughout Scotland in favour of the Bill. And now, just to touch on another point. If the Bill passes in its present form, which of course it will not, for we will not have it so, you will have places in which on one side of the road public-houses will close at 10, and on the other side at 11. Was not this point discussed and settled on the second reading? Was not an Amendment and Schedule rejected by both sides, because of the irreconcilable inconsistency of this position? I have said the feeling in Scotland is uni- versal, and strongly in favour of the Bill, and I may say the feeling is as strong against accepting it in any form, but that in which it left this House. Unless we get it so, we would rather not have it. We might as well be told by the Government that they do not care what the Scotch Members think; they might as well tell us we do not represent the opinion of the people, which has a much better representation in the other House; and I am sure such language would not be farther from accuracy than some statements we have heard against the Bill.

Mr. MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)



said, he would remind the hon. Member that he had no right of reply. He had moved to agree with the Lords' Amendment.

MR. M'LAGAN (Linlithgow)

I am surprised that an attempt should be made to support the Amendment by the argument that it is a step in the direction of local option. Local option promises that effect shall be given to popular opinion; but it is well known that in many instances the action of the Licensing Authority is in direct contravention of the wish of the people. If the whole Bill were constructed on the principle of giving a discretionary power to all Licensing Authorities I should have less objection; but it is to the invidious distinctions I strongly object, and I shall oppose the Amendment.

MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)

I agree with all that has been said to the effect that Scotland is practically unanimous in favour of this Bill; and I believe, also, that exception may be taken to the action of some Licensing Authorities in country districts. But, nevertheless, I am anxious that we should not lose the Bill altogether, for it still contains what will be valued in a great part of Scotland—in my own constituency, for instance. If the Bill becomes law, the Perth Licensing Authority will make use of it immediately to fix the hour at 10 o'clock, and we should have 30,000 people drinking for one hour less. I believe, also, that although licensing magistrates in the country have shown themselves often very unready to listen to the voice of the people in the matter of issuing licenses, yet on this question of shorter hours they, in a large num- ber of cases, will go with the people. I beg hon. Members not to run the risk of losing the Bill altogether.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

I trust the Bill may be lost altogether, or passed into law in the form in which it left this House. As we passed it, it would do something useful; it decided that public-houses should close at 10 o'clock instead of 11. If it passes with these alterations, it lays down the principle that a certain number of magistrates sitting as a Licensing Authority, shall be at liberty to do what the other House will not permit this House to do. That is an intolerable state of affairs, against which we ought to make a stand.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

Just one word upon this question. We have heard the expression of the opinion of Scotch Members, and I presume they are the best judges of their own business. Speaking for myself, and with no particular insight into this question, I say it is one that would be best left for settlement to the Scotch Representatives, who are here in considerable numbers, and I call on other Members of the House, who probably know as little of this question as I do, not to vote upon it, but to leave it altogether for Scotch Members to deal with.


Just a word before the Division is taken. I do not represent a Scotch constituency; but I claim to know Scotland as much as any hon. Member, and I must say I think very unjust aspersions have been thrown on the county magistracy by some of the things that have been said. What is the meaning of these statements that the justices go against the feeling of the people? I know something of the work of Licensing Authorities, and I can say that the great effort of the justices is to keep down the number of public houses, and they continually refuse licences for that purpose. They are as much interested in the cause of temperance and moderation as any body of men can be. If we are to have Local Authorities of a more representative character some day, surely here is a question that it is only reasonable to leave to the decision of those best acquainted with the local circumstances in each place? If there are steamers coming in with travellers late at night, and it may seem desirable to keep open an hour longer, surely the Local Authority should have the power of doing that, instead of our laying down a hard-and-fast line. It is splitting straws to say the Bill is not worth having, because it gives the Licensing Authority power to make distinctions between 10 o'clock and 11 o'clock, according to circumstances. This measure as it comes to us from the House of Lords fairly meets the wishes of the people of Scotland, and each place will fix the hour as suits it best.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

My experience of the action of county magistrates is the very reverse of that of the right hon. Baronet. In our large towns, when the borough magistrates, who are responsible for the borough, refuse licences time after time, the county magistrates come in in overwhelming numbers, and grant the licences in spite of the strong protests of the bailies and local magistrates. For that reason we object to the clause, as well as the manner in which it has been inserted, and we shall oppose it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 38: Majority 19.—(Div. List, No. 416.)

[2.50 A.M.]

Second Amendment agreed to.


In page 3, line 8, to leave out" ten of the clock at night of any day," and insert "such hour at night of any day not earlier than ten, and not later than eleven as the licensing authority may direct,"

—the next Amendment, read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Mark Stewart.)


I have to ask now that this debate be adjourned. I think in a matter of this kind, which is a very important matter to the people of Scotland, at 3 in the morning, and with the small attendance the Division has disclosed, we should agree to adjourn.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Caldwell,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Friday.