HL Deb 06 September 1831 vol 6 cc1168-72
The Bishop of London

presented Petitions, praying for an Amendment in the Beer-Act, from the Magistrates and Clergy of Manchester and Salford, two from the Magistrates and Clergy of certain districts of Gloucester, and one from the inhabitants of Islington. Some of these Petitions stated that nothing less would do than to put these Beerhouses under the control of the Magistrates, both as to license and good conduct, in the same manner as other public-houses.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells

presented a Petition from part of his Diocese, to the same effect. The petitioners stated the demoralizing effects which had resulted from the Beer Act, of which he had no doubt their Lordships were fully aware, from the readiness with which those noble and learned Lords who were members of his Majesty's Government had listened to the suggestions that had been made to them on the subject, He therefore, hoped that one especial amendment would be made in the Bill, which was, that these beer-houses should be placed more under the control of the Magistracy. The calumnies that had been thrown out against the clergy for their interference in regard to this Act were unworthy of an answer. It was their duty narrowly to watch the effect of the measure, and to get the proper amendments introduced.

The Petitions to lie on the Table.

Viscount Melbourne

proposed that the receiving of the report of the beer bill should be postponed for the present, and in the meantime he would take leave to throw out certain suggestions for the consideration of their Lordships. It had been proposed that these houses should be closed at certain specified hours; but it ought to be considered, that town and country were in a different situation in this respect, and that an hour which would be too early in town would be too late in the country. In order the better to enable their Lordships to understand this matter, he would state how the law had of late stood as to the ordinary public-houses, licensed by the Magistrates. Before the passing of the Act 3rd George 4th, cap. 77, the shutting up the houses at stated hours was left to the discretion of the Magistrates, who took upon themselves to decide at what hours public-houses should be shut in their several districts, under the provisions as to disorderly houses. The Act 3rd George 4th appeared to be founded rather on a suspicion of the Magistrates, and to limit rather than extend their discretionary power. It was there stated as a duty on the Magistrates, to take care that public-houses should not be kept open at a late hour in the night, or early in the morning, except for the reception of travellers. So the law stood from 1822 till the Act of 1828, which gave the Magistrates a discretionary power to interfere with such publicans as kept disorderly houses, and said nothing as to hours. Some Magistrates, therefore, thought that they had no right to interfere as to the hours at which a house was kept open, being of opinion that, under this Act, these houses might be kept open at all hours. Other Magistrates thought that they had still a right to interfere under the clause relating to disorderly houses, being of opinion that a house kept open at improper hours was to be considered a disorderly house. But in the new law nothing was said about hours, but only applied to persons wilfully keeping disorderly houses. Now he suggested to their Lordships whether it would not be better to revert in this respect to the Act of 3rd George 4th, cap. 77, and leave it to the Magistrates at their discretion to settle the hours at which public houses and beer-houses should be shut, of which hours the Magistrates might be bound to give due notice. This he threw out merely as a suggestion.

The Duke of Wellington

had no objection to the Magistrates deciding on the hours, but at the same time he thought that as to public-houses, they had the power, and ought to exercise it, of inserting in the license an obligation on the person to whom it was granted, to comply with the directions of the Magistrates. But there was this difference between the public-houses and the beer-houses that it was requisite that the public-houses should be licensed by the Magistrates, while the beer-houses were licensed by the Excise, and the Magistrates had not the same control over them.

The Earl of Harrowby

doubted whether the noble Secretary's proposed Amendment would answer his own object, for different opinions as to their power to interfere in the particular of hours might still prevail amongst Magistrates. If, therefore, the noble Secretary reverted to the provisions of the old law, it would be necessary to introduce an amendment; and if the hours were left to be settled by the Magistrates, an ultimate hour ought to be fixed by the Act. Then, as to Sundays, as the law at present stood, public-houses were to be shut between the hours of ten and one o'clock, and between the hours of three and five. By the former law they were directed to be shut during the time of morning and afternoon service. That appeared to be better than naming the hours, for the time of service might be different in different places; and then, under these words, it might be imperative on the keepers of public-houses to shut their houses between six and eight o'clock in places where evening service was performed in that interval.

The Marquis of Salisbury

thought the Magistrates had always the power to interfere as to hours under the words respecting disorderly houses. But if a doubt existed it ought to be removed. But there could be no fixed rule as to all houses, more especially as to the hours of Divine Service; and it would be better to leave the matter to be settled by the Magistrates. He would ask the noble Lord, whether the taking of sureties should not be placed in the hands of the Magistrates with respect to persons keeping these beer-houses, as with respect to those keeping public-houses.

Viscount Melbourne

would consider that point.

Lord Suffield

thought, that care ought to be taken that gambling for money should not be allowed to prevail in these houses. The people ought to be made to under- stand, that gambling for money was unlawful; but he would not wish that it I should be stated in the Bill what particular games were unlawful. It would be much better to leave that to the discretion of the Magistrates. He was surprised to hear that a charge of hypocrisy had been preferred against those who had contended that gambling ought to be prevented among the lower orders, merely on the ground that this practice prevailed among a portion of the higher ranks. There was nothing that so much depraved the heart and morals as this vice. The bad effects of it was seen even in high life, among those who were addicted to it, and the effects were much worse among the lower orders, who were more liable to be driven to theft and depredation. Among the higher orders the gambling was carried on in private houses, and because these could not be got at, that was no reason why the poor should be permitted to gamble at public-houses. They might carry it on in private houses as well as the rich; but he certainly thought, that gaming ought to be put down in these public-houses and beerhouses.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells

observed, that some Magistrates certainly did think that they had no power, under the present law, to interfere with public-houses as to the hours at which they should be shut, and therefore it would be a most salutary provision to introduce into the Act a clause which should define the powers of the magistracy with reference to these houses.

Lord Tenterden

said, if there were any doubts as to the powers of the Magistrates in that respect, the doubts ought certainly to be removed, but after conferring the power on them to shut up these houses at particular hours, the matter ought to be left to the discretion of the Magistrates. He had no objection to apply the same rules to the public-houses and the beerhouses; but there was this difference between them, that the licenses for the public-houses were subject to the control of the Magistrates, while the licenses to the beer-houses were not.

Lord Teynham

begged to suggest, that the hours of shutting should be so regulated that the poor man might get his beer when his work was done.

Viscount Melbourne

said, the beer-shops ought to be put on the same footing, he presumed, as gin-shops or public-houses. The motion for postponing the receiving of the Report agreed to.

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