HC Deb 22 March 1893 vol 10 cc821-30

Order for Second Reading rend.

MR. BOLITHO (Cornwall, St. Ives)

, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said his task was rendered easy by the fact that two important topics which were dealt with in the Bill had lately been under discussion in the House. The Local Veto Clause of the Bill did not differ in any important points from the proposal made in the measure recently introduced by the Government, except that he adopted five years instead of the three years proposed by the Government. The present measure proposed, in the first instance to constitute a licensing authority. He had no quarrel with the present authority, of which he himself had been a member for a number of years, but at the same time he felt that popular election did give confidence in any authority. The licensing board which was to be set up under the Bill would consist of not less than seven, or more than twelve members, and the exact number would be settled by the town council in a municipality, or by the local authority outside a municipality.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present,


went on to say that one-third of the licensing board would be nominated by the licensing justices, and the remainder would be elected by a popular vote. The powers now possessed by the licensing justices would be delegated to the board. It was proposed that public-houses might be closed in any district by the board at 10 o'clock, and that the board might decree that on one day in the week, not being Sunday, the houses might be closed at 8 o'clock. If there were no provision existing in a district with regard to Sunday closing, the local authority would have power to decree absolute or partial Sunday closing. He might say that he intended to support the Second Reading of the Government Bill, although he was not certain that what was hoped for under that Bill would be achieved,—indeed, he believed that in very many cases expectations would be altogether disappointed. There was no other certainty whatever, that if, reliance were placed simply on the local veto there would be such a reduction of the number of licensed houses as all Members of the House more or less desired. Under the present Bill it was proposed that there should be immediately after it had passed an enforced reduction of the number of licensed houses, in accordance with a certain scale, which was open to revision, one for every thousand of population in towns, and one for 500 of population in rural districts. The method of diminution would be left to the licensing board. It was proposed to give some recompense to those whose livelihood was interfered with under this provision. Before the local veto came into operation the owners of such houses as the licensing authority thought ought to be suppressed were to receive a recompense at the hands of the fortunate survivors. A percentage of the value of the liquor sold in the district, whether in public-houses, hotels, clubs, or elsewhere, was to be handed over to the occupiers of the suppressed houses, and this payment would take the form of an annuity extending over 10 years. Of course, he knew that the very word compensation was objected to, and he himself had voted against the compensation scheme of the late Government. It must be borne in mind, however, that in that case the compensation was to have come from the pockets of the ratepayers, whilst under the present Bill the money would come from the license holders who remained in the district. Such a proposal appeared to him not to be irrational or unbusiness-like. It was proposed that all the licensed premises within a mile of the suppressed houses should contribute to the annuities. In conclusion he had only to say that he hoped the Bill would be regarded by the House as an honest attempt to solve a most difficult and at the same time most pressing problem, and he trusted that the Government would not set their faces against it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "that this Bill be now read a second time"—(Mr. Bolitho).


said he had waited for a Member of the Government to rise, but as no one had done so, he wished to offer a few remarks. He noticed that in one important particular the Bill differed materially from that recently introduced by the Government, inasmuch as it introduced the principle of pecuniary compensation to those who would be deprived under the operation of the measure of their means of livelihood. The hon. Member said that he had voted against the Compensation Clause of the Local Government Bill of 1888, because it provided that compensation should come out of the rates. He must remind the right hon. Member, however, that the compensation was to come out of a tax which was levied upon liquor for the purpose. Many Members thought that that tax ought to have been long ago repealed, inasmuch as its proceeds had not been devoted to the specific object with which it was originally levied. Under the present Bill the area dealt with was that of the Parliamentary Divisions. Enormous incon- venience would result from the adoption of such a proposal where the Parliamentary Divisions were comparatively small, and close together as in London. In the case of his own constituency, the Division for nearly two miles adjoins that of North Camberwell, which was represented in Parliament by an hon. Member who, as he was a supporter of the Government, would probably support the Government Liquor Bill. If this Bill passed, North Camberwell would probably put its provisions into operation, if he might judge from its political views as expressed at the General Election. Brixton, however, to judge from the verdict given at the General Election, would not put the Bill in force, and the result would be that numbers of people would be continually crossing the boundary from North Camberwell to Brixton, simply because the public-houses were shut in their own locality. One result, therefore, of passing such a Bill would be to produce chaos and confusion in different districts, and another result would be to multiply bogus clubs. He could not believe that such a measure would do anything for the cause of temperance reform. Under these circumstances, he felt compelled to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.


formally seconded the Amendment.

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

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


Whilst the noble Marquess was waiting a short time ago to see what view was taken by the Government of the Bill, I was waiting to see what was the view taken by the consistent opponents of all temperance legislation, of whom the noble Marquess will allow me to reckon him one of the chief. The Bill is one which, if carried, would do a great deal for the temperance cause, and there cannot be any doubt as to our attitude with regard to it. The Bill proposes to establish licensing boards. The establishment of such boards is a matter which the Government have always desired. These licensing boards are to have the power not only to abolish, but to reduce licenses.


The duty, not the power.


Yes, the duty. That is a duty which we should like to see imposed upon some authority. Then comes the question of local veto, and, of course, the Government have entire sympathy with the principle of local veto. I will not, however, waste time by going into the details of the Bill. The hon. Member who introduced the measure called attention to the clause relating to compensation. I need not go into particulars on that subject, but I observe that compensation is only to be given at the first annual general licensing after the commencement of the operation of the Act, and not on any subsequent occasion. That being so, there is of course a very limited amount of compensation in the measure, and all I can say is, that as far as the Government are concerned, they will certainly support the Second Reading.


failed to understand exactly, in view of the course which the Government had previously taken, what practical course they intended to take with regard to this Bill. Did they intend to support the Second Reading or did they not?


We will support it.


said, then it seemed to him strange that this should be so, because this Bill was a most capacious, greedy and portentous one, and one which swallowed up the Local Veto Bill of the Government, the Welsh Veto Bill, and also the Club Registration Bill, which they had that day read a second time, and, to a great extent, the Ballot Act itself, for it laid down the most minute regulations as to the way elections should be conducted under it. The first thing which the Bill did was to establish a licensing board in substitution of the present licensing magistrates, and he could understand, now that the Government had entered upon a course of making magistrates from political motives, that there would not be so much confidence in them as there had been in the past. Then this Bill provided, as every honest Bill should do, for compensation, but that compensation was to be levied upon the houses that were allowed to remain licensed. He did not think the brewers and publicans would very much object to that, because if they had 10 houses in future where there were now 20, it was probable that the 10 would do as much trade as the 20 did, and consequently could afford to pay something for the removal of their competitors in the trade. But the provision of the Bill which appalled him was that the licensing board was to have power to take offices and appoint a clerk and armies of inspectors, and the whole cost of this was to be also borne by the houses which remained licensed. So that not only were the remaining houses to be taxed for the suppression of the superfluous number, but they were also to be taxed for their own inspection, and for the whole machinery of tyranny that was to be imposed upon them. He thought this campaign against beer was a mistake. The regard of the people for the British Constitution, and their desire for reform, might be strong, but their determination not to have their beer interfered with was stronger, and, therefore, as a friendly critic, he advised the Government to give up with what grace they could this campaign against beer, and address themselves to the more important business of the country.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I wish to recommend this Bill to the House as an honest attempt to deal with a very difficult question, a question which has disturbed Governments in the past, and may disturb Governments for years to come. The Bill is not conceived in any party spirit, and it appears to be drawn in a workmanlike manner. I am glad the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer has decided to support the Second Reading, which I hope will be carried before the sitting closes, and the Bill referred to a Select Committee. The Bill is not promoted in rivalry to the measure of the Government, In one important part it coincides with that measure. It contains the principle of local option, but fixes the limit before which the local option shall become operative at five years instead of three, as in the Government Bill; but the question of time is not essential, and may be left to the consideration of the Committee. We all know that, in spite of the alarm raised by different persons in the House and in the country, local option will be of restricted application, but there is a very general feeling that, although the liquor traffic could not be suppressed, the facilities for obtaining liquor are far too numerous. This Bill proposes that the number of public-houses shall be reduced so that there shall be only one to 1,000 of the population in towns, and one to 500 of the population in rural districts. This imperative duty is cast upon the Licensing; Board. The Board will be constituted to the extent of two- thirds of elected members, while one-third will be nominated by the Justices, thus giving the Board the experience of the present authority and the strength derived from popular election. Such a body will be capable of dealing with the extremely difficult task of selecting and determining what public-houses shall be suppressed, and what public-houses shall be allowed to exist. The Bill contains a further provision which ought to commend itself to both temperance reformers and representatives of the liquor trade. It is proposed that holders of licences suppressed at the first licensing session, in order to bring the public-houses within the requisite number, shall be compensated by an annuity for 10 years levied upon the public-houses that remain open within a mile of the houses suppressed. Naturally, the consumers at the houses remaining will provide these funds, and that will last for 10 years, unless, in the interval, local option, pure and simple, shall be carried, when the annuities will cease, so that the creation of these annuities will in no way be an obstacle to local option. I regard the influence of such a Bill as this as being likely to be most fruitful in the reduction of public-houses. The Licensing Board shall have the important function of determining whether Sunday closing shall be operative in its district, and further, a matter which is novel, viz., whether on one day in the week all houses shall be closed at an hour not earlier than eight o'clock in the evening. It is possible that in some districts Saturday may be fixed as the early-closing day, and temperance friends will realise the immense significance involved in such a reform. This Bill, as I have said, is not laid on party lines. It deals with a difficult question which has wrecked Governments in the past, and which is troubling the Government now. It deals with a subject that probably will never be settled by any Government, and will have to be approached independently of party considerations. Its principle is such that the House may accept it on the Second Heading, and the promoters are willing that its details shall be most carefully examined and sifted by a Select Committee.


also asked for further information as to the position of the Government in regard to the Bill. He was going to vote for its Second Reading, and-it surprised him to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was also going to vote for it. He approved of the Bill because it differed so largely from the Bill of the Government. It contained three important provisions that were omitted from the Government measure. It would reduce the number of licences without abolishing them, which was a most important thing; then it dealt with the question of clubs; in the third place, it provided a system of compensation. He gladly recognised that hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial side of the House wore really trying to deal in a constitutional way with this difficult question, and he should vote for the Second Reading of the Bill in the hope that it would be sent to a Select Committee, together with the Government measure, in order that the Government might consider whether it would not be possible to amalgamate its provisions with those of their own Bill.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

supported the Bill. He had always favoured compensation, and was determined not to recede from that position. He was satisfied that the House would not consent to do away with a number of public-houses without a farthing of compensation, considering the millions of money and the tens of thousands of people engaged in the business. It was absolutely ridiculous to suppose that the House of Commons should turn all these people adrift merely to satisfy the crotchets of the Temperance Party. The Bill, in some faint way, carried out his views on compensation, and if it could be strengthened in that respect in Committee he would be pleased. He supposed they had heard the last of the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, otherwise the right hon. Gentle-man would not have been so eager to catch at this Bill as at a straw like a drowning man. If the areas for the election of the Licensing Boards were made large enough, he had no fear of any tyranny. But the Government Bill did no such thing; it gave power to prohibit drink being sold in any parish or ward, whereas this Bill gave an option to limit the number of public-houses only. Neither the English nor the Scots people, he was convinced, would submit to public-houses being absolutely abolished, and it was certainly as well that they should have public-houses here and there as the people should consume the drink in their own houses.

At twenty minutes past five,

MR. COSMO BONSOR (Surrey, N. E.)

said he did not think one hour was enough for the discussion of a Bill of 50 clauses, and moved the adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

hoped the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would not object to the Motion. He would, no doubt, realise that a Bill of this importance ought not to be rushed through after no more than an hour's discussion.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 219.—(Division List, No. 34.)

Original Question again proposed.

It being after half-past five of the clock, Mr. Speaker proceeded to interrupt the business.

SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)

I beg to move that the Question be now put.


I cannot regard that request, and for this reason. The Bill is one of very large scope, and involves novel principles; it has only been discussed a short time, and in the interests of the minority, whose interest I have to regard under the Standing Order, I do not think they have had a sufficient opportunity for discussion.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.