HC Deb 09 March 1900 vol 80 cc517-35

Order for Second Reading read.

*MR. SOUTTAR (Dumfriesshire)

I beg leave to move the Second Reading of this Bill. There is a great amount of interest taken in it not only on this side of the House, but also on the other side, and there is a general consensus of opinion that something should be done. The whole Bill is contained in one clause, which is almost word for word the recommendation which has been made by Lord Peel's Commission, both by the majority and the minority. That Commission was practically unanimous that the age at which intoxicating liquors should be supplied to children should be raised to sixteen. It is not necessary for me to give many arguments in its favour, because the infinite mischief which is being done in this country at the present time by the sale of intoxicating liquors to children of very tender age is very well known to hon. Members, and great mischief is done by such children going for liquor to public-houses. I know very well that the friends of temperance on the other side of the House are also very anxious that something should be done to minimise this evil.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I beg leave to move, "That the House do now adjourn." I think this motion is justified on the ground that there was an understanding that the House should adjourn after the Government business had been disposed of.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(The First Lord of the Admiralty.)

MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

I protest against this course being taken, and I do not think we ought to assent to this proposal. I know of no such understanding as that which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded to. The only understanding I know of is that the House should devote Friday evenings to Supply. If the Government, for reasons of their own, can appropriate Friday evenings for Government Bills, why on earth, at twenty minutes to six o'clock, when all the Government business is disposed of, should the House be prevented from discussing a Bill of great importance to the social interests of the people? This Bill is founded upon the unanimous recommendation of a Royal Commission, and I do not think, under these circumstances, that I am not using too strong language when I say that it is little short of a scandal that the House of Commons should be asked by the Government to assent to this proposal to burke this most useful and most important measure.


With what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife has just said I think the majority of the House will cordially agree. It certainly does seem an extraordinary state of things that, because the Government have had their business facilitated this evening from every quarter of the House, they should now wish to prevent private Members from proceeding with Bills of this kind. Does the right hon. Gentleman object to the recommendation of the Royal Commission, which has the approval of all sections of the House? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife has used the word "scandal," and I do not think it is too strong a word at all in regard to this proposal. I ask what will the people of the country at large think if they are obliged to read in the newspapers that, at a quarter to six o'clock, because the Government had done their business, they insisted upon adjourning the House without giving private Members an opportunity of dealing with this Bill. Certainly this session there has been no Bill proposed of more importance than this now before the House. It is a temperance Bill, and it is one which I do not believe those connected with the drink trade in the country would object to very seriously themselves. Are we now to be told that a Bill of this kind is to be strangled and blocked not because a majority of the House is against it, but because the Government desire to have a night off? I dare say private Members in this House are just as anxious to have a night off as hon. Members opposite, but it is a monstrous thing to say that the Government should come here and prevent those willing to remain to do some useful work from doing it because the Government work has been disposed of. Private Members occupy a different position to members of the Government. It is the duty of the members of the Government not only to see that Government business is done, but to give private Members assistance upon occasions like this. So far this session private Members have had absolutely no opportunities, and a private Member might as well have been absent from the House altogether. The Government have transacted their business without consulting the wishes of private Members at all, because they have appropriated almost every hour of the time of Parliament since the session began. I hope, under these circumstances, hon. Members will oppose the motion for the adjournment, and let this Bill be considered. I believe a Bill which has for its object to prevent young children going to public houses, where they would probably learn to drink and become demoralised, will be passed by an enormous majority. I see the hon. Member for South Belfast in his place. On some questions of temperance legislation he and I have not always agreed, but this Bill I heartily support, and I appeal to the hon. Member, in the interests of the temperance cause, which he is always so ready to support, to oppose this motion. The proposition of the First Lord of the Admiralty is so unreasonable and preposterous, that I do not believe the House will sanction it, and if it does it will be universally condemned throughout the country when it is known that, instead of allowing private Members to discuss a Bill of this kind, the Government, having voted all their money, want to go off to spend the evening at the Empire or the Alhambra.

MR. TRITTON (Lambeth, Norwood)

May I appeal to Her Majesty's Government not to persist with this motion. I do not know a more important measure than the measure which has been referred to, or one which the best people in the land more earnestly desire to see passed into law. Both the minority and majority Reports of the Royal Commission which was appointed by Her Majesty's Government to inquire into the Licensing Laws, and which gave three years hard labour to the subject, were unanimous in support of this measure. I can hardly imagine that Her Majesty's Government are going to burke discussion on such a Bill, and in making a most earnest appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury I can assure him that hundreds and thousands of the best supporters of the Government are thoroughly in favour of this Bill. It is only ten minutes to six o'clock now, and we have an opportunity of passing the Second Reading of a Bill which will be beneficial not only to the present generation but to all future generations in the country. I most earnestly appeal to Her Majesty's Government, which is anxious to be known as a Government desirous of promoting domestic legislation, to give us an opportunity of discussing the Bill to-night, otherwise I will certainly be under the painful necessity of voting against the motion.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)

After the appeal of the hon. Gentleman, I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will see his way to withdraw the motion of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It is very clear that there is a general concensus of opinion in favour of the Bill. I submit this question to the First Lord of the Treasury. Their great majority was given to the Government in 1895 for a specific purpose, and that was that they were to devote their attention to matters of social legislation for this country. Are we to understand now that this great majority is to be used for the purpose of stifling a measure which touches the young life of the country, and would prevent children of twelve or thirteen years of age being sent to public-houses, where they would come under the evils and the vicious influences of the drink traffic? Will the Government, in face of the emphatic opinion expressed in this House, insist on the motion for the adjournment? The Bill can be discussed in about an hour. There is not any serious difference of opinion upon it, and it has not been sprung newly upon the country. The hon. Member for East Clare talked about the Alhambra and the Empire. I do not think the Government are acting from any such motive, but I think that they have not realised the great volume of opinion against selling drink to children. I make an appeal to the Government as one knowing the people of this country. I come from a great industrial centre—one of the most congested industrial centres in this country—and I know the feeling of the people on this question, and I do not think that the Government, if indicted at the bar of public opinion, can give any satisfactory justification for the course they now propose to take. I appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury, now that he has heard the opinion on his own side of the House—an opinion which is strongly shared on this side—to withdraw the motion for the adjournment.


I join in the appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury not to crush the first attempt made this session to carry temperance legislation with a measure which had the unanimous approval of both the minority and majority Reports of the Royal Commission. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to celebrate the Queen's visit to London by allowing us to carry a measure which is in the best interests of the Queen's younger subjects. I regret exceedingly to take up a position of even apparent hostility to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, but on this occasion, feeling intensely for the cause for which I have been working all my life, I join in the appeal to the Government. I should regret extremely to be under the necessity of voting against the motion.


I wish to associate myself with the appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury to allow this Bill to be proceeded with. Having served on the Royal Commission, I can say that, of all the disputed questions we had to consider, the practical proposal in this Bill was received with entire unanimity, and was supported not only by temperance; reformers, but also by those who do not ordinarily work for temperance reform. It is one of those questions which appeals to every man. The Bill would prevent the degradation of young children in this country by removing the opportunities which they have at present of visiting public-houses in a way which I am sure no one wishes. The opportunity having accidentally occurred, I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will allow us to deal with this Bill. I am a little afraid Her Majesty's Government are not very active in bringing forward some of the reforms—


Order, order! The only question is the adjournment of the House.


I will only appeal again to the First Lord of the Treasury to give us this opportunity.


I need not say that I thoroughly understand the motives which have influenced my hon. friend who has just sat down, my hon. friend the Member for South Belfast, and hon. Gentlemen opposite in appealing to the Government to allow this Bill to go on. Their reasons are not based on reasons of procedure; they are based on an earnest desire that this opportunity should be taken to help to carry into law what they believe, and what certainly I am not going to deny to be, a great temperance reform. I am not going to discuss the merits of the Bill, because it is not in regard to the merits of the Bill that I should be disposed to support the motion. But the general convenience of procedure is a motive which should not be lightly thrown aside by hon. Members because of their predilection for any particular measure. It will be remembered that it was the desire of the Government that the Factories Bill should be brought on to-night, and if it had been taken I suppose we should have a long and interesting debate on it. An appeal was made to me by hon. Gentlemen interested in that Bill to defer it on the ground that they preferred a longer time to consider its provisions. That Bill also deals with the health and social condition of the people; it is, moreover, a measure of the very greatest importance, but we were appealed to by various hon. Members interested in it to put it off for some time longer in order that they might have a better opportunity of considering its provisions in detail. Why is the same justice or injustice not to be meted out to the private Member as was meted out to the Government?


The Government can take a day any time they like.


The Bill we are now asked to consider came on, by the admission of my hon. friend, accidentally. Not a single hon. Member interested in the Bill yesterday conceived that this measure would come before the House of Commons to-day. I have my doubts whether of the ten or twelve hon. Members whose names appear on the back of the Bill there is one now present.


Four Members at least are present.


They are Mr. Souttar, Sir Robert Reid, Sir James Haslett, Sir Thomas Gibson Carmichael, Mr. Herbert Pease, Mr. Whittaker, Mr. Herbert Roberts, Mr. Provand, and Mr. Douglas. I do not consider that on Friday nights it is for the general convenience of the House that these Bills should be allowed to come on without notice. That principle has been pressed on me by hon. Gentlemen opposite Friday after Friday, and I do not think it is in accordance with the general judicious conduct of our debates that we should depart from a rule which, so far as I know, has been universally accepted during all the sessions in which Fridays have been devoted to the purposes of Supply. The Bill itself is one whose object, at all events, everybody in the House would desire to see carried out. Its object is to promote temperance among the young, and I cannot conceive a more important subject; but, whether this Bill provides the proper machinery to carry that object out, or whether it is a Bill which, in its present form, ought to pass, is a question on which I am quite incapable of giving an opinion, because, like the rest of the House, I had no idea that it was coming on, and therefore I did not prepare myself for the discussion of the subject. My case is that, I am sure, of the great mass of those who are listening to me; it is the case of a large number of gentlemen who are not here, but who would have been in the House had they thought the Bill was coming on. Under these circumstances I should not advise the House to dissent from the motion of my hon. friend.

Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)

The argument with which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has just concluded his speech is an argument that would apply to any Bill on any Paper except the first two or three, which are usually Government measures, and which the House expects to come on. The right hon. Gentleman puts forward the best plea he can; but if I had any regard, which I have not, to any party advantage over the right hon. Gentleman, I should very much like to go to a division now, and let the country see that we have, on the one hand, an opportunity of debating this undoubtedly useful Bill carrying out the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission, and, on the other hand, we have the somewhat pedantic and little considerations which the right hon. Gentleman has just addressed to the House. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that a Bill of this sort, in ordinary circumstances, is not expected to come on on a Friday; but who is it that has "un-Fridayed" this particular Friday? Who is it that has unfrocked the Friday? It is the Government themselves, not from any fault of their own, because I quite admit that we have no right to blame them for any confusion into which their business has fallen owing to the lamented illness of one of their numbers—the Member in charge of the Army Estimates. But the right hon. Gentleman having no Estimates which he could propose to the House to-night, took a stage of three important Government Bills, which was unexpected except for the very short notice given at midnight last night, and which could have had no effect on those hon. Members interested in these Bills, who had gone to the country for the week end. Surely, these small considerations to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and which are out of place to-night, because, as I have said, the Government themselves have departed from the usual Friday practice, will not prevail with the House. I trust the House will take the advantage of this opportunity, which we hail with satisfaction, of passing a most important and vital stage of a measure which is universally accepted by all shades of opinion on the subject of licensing as a reform urgently required in the interests of young people.

MR. HOBHOUSE (Somersetshire, E.)

I am not one of the promoters of this Bill, but I most certainly say that I shall vote against the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, on the ground of the rights of private Members alone. I ask whether this session there is to be an understanding that private Members are to have no legislation at all. This is the second time this week that the Government have supported a motion for adjournment immediately on the conclusion of their own business. The old practice used to be when I first came into the House that, if there was no Government business, private Members got the advantage. Why on earth should not private Members have the crumbs which fall from the Government table? At any rate, if this rule is to be laid down, let it be an open and well established rule. It was said that this Bill came on unexpectedly, and that hon. Members were therefore unprepared for it; but the proper way to meet that was to move the adjournment of the debate, not the adjournment of the House. This is really a question of the rights of private Members. If, as a matter of course, we are simply here night after night to register the decrees of the Government in granting them Votes in Supply, I for one, as a loyal supporter, would have been ready and willing to do so; but I do think that when private Members get a chance, as they have this evening, they should not be deprived of their rights and privileges by the Government.


If my hon. friend will allow me to say it, he seems to think that the action of the Government is directed against private Members. I can assure him that is not the case. We may be right or we may be wrong in the action we have taken; but we conceived ourselves to be acting as the guardians of the rights of private Members in taking care that a measure which private Members did not expect to come on should not be taken on a day when such measures are not usually discussed.


If this is the way the Government propose to protect private Members' rights, I can see that very soon private Members will have no rights to protect. There is another consideration. All of us have been struck within the last few months with the tone adopted by a large section of the press of the country in regard to the attitude of the Government to the House. I think that that attack upon the House of Commonswill be to a large extent justified if we abrogate in this way all the powers of legislation by private Members. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are a large number of Members, even on this side of the House, who strongly object to the threatened extinction of all private Members' rights, and especially the action of the Government in doing their best to adjourn the House the other night and to-night.

*MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

The right hon. Gentleman has taken credit that the Government did not go on with the Factories and Workshops Bill to-night. I do not think the Government can claim any credit for that; for it is a very large and complicated measure, and was only received by Members yesterday morning. I am surprised that the Government, which professed at the general election to be such advocates of social reform, should have blocked a measure of social reform by moving the adjournment of the House. This is not the first time that this has occurred, because on Tuesday last a very useful measure introduced by my right hon. friend below the gangway (Sir C. Dilke) was also blocked. I protest against the action of the Government.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

I make a very strong appeal to the Leader of the House to give way in this matter. My name is on the Bill. I am one of those who had the honour to serve on the Royal Commission, and heard the evidence from beginning to end, and I wish to urge the strength of the evidence in favour of the single operative clause of this Bill. The House of Commons may well spend an hour in discussing a measure which will be of undoubted benefit to the community.


I oppose the adjournment of the House. It is a monstrous thing that such a large House as is present should be asked to adjourn in daylight, when there is a Bill before it for discussion in which so many Members are interested. It is a non-contentious Bill, and, from my own knowledge, the trade in Ireland do not oppose it. I may say without any disrespect that the First Lord of the Admiralty has blundered in moving the adjournment of the House. The First Lord of the Treasury is almost always happy in difficult situations, but to my mind he did not make out a good case for putting off the discussion of this Bill. I would therefore appeal to the First Lord of the Admiralty to ask leave to withdraw his motion, which I am sure will be given. After all, the discussion will not take so very long, and the Second Reading may be agreed to on the understanding that the Bill goes to a Committee, where it may be improved. Probably some of the members of the Government want to go to some entertainment. If so, they can go, and leave us here to do the business of the nation. I appeal to the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who takes such a deep interest in temperance, to induce the First Lord of the Admiralty to withdraw his motion.

*MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have entreated the Government to withdraw the motion on the ground that this is a good Bill, but whether the Bill is a good one or a bad one is not the question. The question is whether we shall alter the procedure of adjourning on Fridays after Government business, a procedure which has obtained for the last four or five sessions, and which has worked well. It would be impossible, after Government business, to consider whether or not there happened to be a Bill down which, in the opinion of the few Members generally present on Friday evenings, was a good one, and therefore should be taken; or whether all the bills were bad, and therefore should not be taken. If the procedure is altered, all Bills, whether good or bad, must be taken, and the result would be that many Bills would obtain a Second Reading which ordinarily would be rejected. The late Home Secretary said the Government had "un-Friday'd" Friday. That is true, but it was done in the interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite; and, had the Factory Bill, which was to have been taken, and which also was abandoned at the request of hon. Gentlemen opposite, been proceeded with, the whole evening would have been taken up.

MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

The fact that there are such a large number of Members in the House is a sufficient answer to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Without going into the merits of the Bill, which touches a subject of great importance and excites a great deal of interest throughout the country, I think it would be almost a disgrace to the House of Commons to adjourn at a quarter past six on a Friday afternoon, when we expected to be here the whole evening, and not to afford time to discuss this Bill. If it passes the Second Reading, and should turn out incapable of amendment in Committee, it can easily be thrown out on the Third Reading. We should expose ourselves to the charges of cowardice if, having this Bill brought before us, we could not afford time to discuss it. It is always with great regret that I go against the Leader of the House, but unless the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty withdraws the motion, I shall be compelled to vote against the Government.

CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

I only want to point out that this Bill is practically unopposed. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No, No," and "Agreed."] There is scarcely a Member in the House who would venture to go before any constituency in the country and say he opposes the Bill. It is the manifest wish of the majority of hon. Members present that the Bill should be discussed, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the advisability of meeting the wishes of the House.

MR. H. P. PEASE (Darlington)

I would suggest to the Leader of the House that the question should be put to the House without the Government Whips taking charge of the division.


I do not think that my hon. friend's suggestion would be a proper one, for the motion was made by a member of the Government in my absence, and it would have been made by me had I been present. I wish, however, the House to understand that, while I give them the best advice in my power, it is not my intention to attempt to drive the House. According to my judgment the course pressed upon me is not a very wise one, and possibly there may come a time when the Leader of the Opposition would come to see that himself. The only wish I would utter at the present moment is, that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will recollect that his view is that if a Bill is down on the Paper, even if it comes on in a most unexpected manner, there is no reason why it should not be fully discussed by the House. I will remember it.


That might be a very good reason for moving the adjournment of the debate on an individual Bill, but not the adjournment of the House.


I really do not see any distinction between the two. There were two Bills which came on absolutely without notice, and the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there is no reason why they should not be discussed, and that he would take the same view, whether the Bill was a Government Bill or a private Member's Bill. I take a different view, and I only wish that the doctrine now uttered by the right hon. Gentleman from his responsible position will recur to his mind on some subsequent occasion when the Government is desirous of passing a Bill which, owing to some Parliamentary accident, has come on somewhat earlier than was expected, or on an occasion not anticipated. However, so far as I can collect the general view of the House, it is that they are so desirous of this particular measure that they are prepared to abandon the general principle of procedure which usually appeals to their minds. I do not agree, as I have said, but if they take that view I shall not insist on the motion for which I am practically responsible.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Motion again proposed.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

I cannot help thinking that this Bill, coming on without warning, has put some of us in a somewhat unfortunate position, for we have not had time to consider it, or to read the evidence of the Royal Commission on which it is based. Everybody will agree that it is wrong to sell intoxicating drink to children, but whether this Bill will effect the object for which it is intended I think is extremely doubtful.

MR. MIDDLEMORE (Birmingham, N.)

I think the House will approve of the very few words I have to say. At the first glance this Bill seems admirable, but on mature consideration it appears to be less admirable. My objections to it are twofold. In the first place, a very large number of children under sixteen years of age represent themselves as over sixteen, and those who value truthfulness should not put temptation in the way of children to make them untruthful. In the second place, I wish to point out that this is not in my opinion temperance legislation, but legislation to prohibit children under sixteen years of age from purchasing drink. Now, who sends the children to purchase the drink? Their parents. Who will fetch the drink in future if the children do not? Why, the parents. [An HON. MENBER: Who will drink it? The parents.] Is it not likely that the parents will remain in the public-houses to drink, and that will not promote drinking at home? They will, therefore, drink very much more than if they drank it at home. It seems to me that an evil, which I recognise, is going to be superseded by an evil which, for anything I know to the contrary, will be greater. If I were a publican I would support the Bill, because more drink will be consumed if it is passed than at present. Hon. Gentlemen may say that the parents will send children for the drink who are over sixteen years of age, but I would far rather send a child of thirteen or fourteen to a public-house than a child, especially a girl, over sixteen.


I must admit that, like the rest of the House, I have been taken completely by surprise by finding that I am expected to deal with this subject this evening. As hon. Members very well know, the question before us is not devoid of difficulty, and is one which has occupied the attention of the House before. It was referred to a Select Committee of the House some years ago, and a Bill was brought before the House in a different form from that now before the House, in which very considerable alteration was made. I am told that an argument is derived from the recent Report of the Licensing Commission, where both the majority and the minority of the Commission agreed at all events with the principle of this Bill. When I look into the details of this Bill I am almost inclined to think that they go beyond the provisions which ought to be made. To say that children of fifteen or sixteen are not under any circumstances to be at liberty to fetch their parents' beer is going a long way in the direction of interfering with the liberty of the working classes, who would be the first to complain if this or other measures were passed hastily on the strict lines which the Licensing Commission has taken. Although I regret I have not had further time to look into this matter, I may say that, so far as the Government is concerned, they will offer no opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)

I think the House would do well on this occasion to let this Bill go through without a division. We are all agreed that the sale of drink to children under sixteen for their own consumption is wrong, and it is quite possible that the Bill may be so amended as to condemn the sale of drink to children for their own consumption while not preventing them from fetching their father's dinner beer. If that were done the Bill might be a useful one.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

I do not think that anyone will say that I would oppose any measure tending to promote temperance and thrift, but in a measure like this we are very liable to run away with sentiment and overlook the practical bearing of it. Are we prepared to say it is a crime for a working man to have beer with his dinner? If it is not a crime, can it be said to be a crime for him to send a member of his family to get it? You say it is a great evil to send younger children, therefore he must send the older ones. But it seems to me you are increasing the danger by making this age limit of the child sixteen. It is a most impressionable age, especially in girls, and in my opinion it would be far more dangerous to send girls of between sixteen and twenty, who are liable to temptations from which younger children are exempt. I am fully in accord with any measure to promote social improvement, but on this occasion I take the same line as that taken by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, who, when some years ago a similar measure was proposed, opposed it on those grounds. I regret the heat which has been imported into the discussion, which cannot by any possibility be a party measure, and I am strongly of opinion that this change, if effected, will not benefit those people whom we wish to benefit.


said he understood that in order to discuss this Bill hon. Members had been prepared to go to the verge of beating the Government. No explanation had been vouchsafed from the other side in reply to the arguments which had been put forward, and in the absence of arguments in favour of the Bill he should vote against the Second Reading. Of course this was a well-intentioned Bill; every Bill was that did mischief. Intoxication was not the only or the most serious vice in the world, there were others which had more serious and material effects, and the Bill as it was framed might lead to serious evils. Of course nobody was in favour of intoxication, unless it were the Kitchen Committee, and he did not suggest that even they approved of it. If the Bill simply prohibited the sale of liquor to children for their own consumption he should be prepared to vote for it, but having regard to the vagueness of its language, he was not prepared to take that course.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

I cannot understand why this subject should take the Home Secretary by surprise, for it is one with which the man in the street is very well acquainted. Neither is it a surprise to the magistrates, or chairmen of quarter sessions, or the Royal Commission which inquired into the subject. If this question was put to working men's political clubs of all shades of opinion the unanimous answer would be, "Let us save the children from this temptation." Whether the age of the children should be fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen is a point for a Committee, but on the broad question as to whether children should be allowed to go into beerhouses and off-licensed houses, hon. Members will agree that children should be kept from the baneful influence of such places. There is another point. Intemperance, though decreasing among working men in poor neighbourhoods, is increasing very rapidly among the women. There is a class of women, commonly known as "soakers," who lose self-respect and put on slatternly habits, who are given to secret drinking, and who regularly employ children between the ages of nine and thirteen to fetch their drink at various public-houses. The result is that in some districts scores of boys and girls earn money regularly by fetching drink for these women, who would not but for the children be able to indulge their craving. By frequenting the public-house children mix in evil associations which influence them in later years. I appeal to the House to revert to its instinctive common sense, and to pass a Bill which the Commission recommended, and which everybody interested in the welfare of the people has long demanded.

MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Alban's)

complained that the Bill had been sprung on the House, and said that although hon. Members had stated that everybody was in favour of the Bill, it was not in fact a good Bill. No age could be worse than sixteen for girls to go to a public house—an age when children were most impressionable, and most likely to be influenced by their surroundings. He also thought that it was a monstrous thing that the publican should be compelled to decide as to the age of children who came to his house. He was not in a position to discuss the Bill at any length, and concluded by moving the adjournment of the debate.


I think that I ought not to accept that motion. The unanimous decision of the House to allow the motion for the adjournment of the House to be withdrawn is substantially the expression of a desire to continue the debate.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc."—(Mr. Souttar.)


The whole object of this discussion was to pass this Bill, which was supposed to be so short and simple. That being so, there is no reason to remit it to the Committee on Law. A Committee of this House is quite competent to judge the age at which a girl shall be allowed to enter a public-house.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

I hope there will not be any disposition to press this motion upon the House. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would have opposed the Bill if they had thought it was not going before a Committee of the whole House.

SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

said that if the motion were accepted the Home Secretary would have an opportunity of considering the details of the measure.


said that he hoped the motion would not be pressed. The general sense of the House was in favour of the Bill being discussed in Committee of the whole House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.