HL Deb 15 April 1834 vol 22 cc762-6
Lord Wynford

presented a Petition from Yatton, complaining of the evils occasioned by the multiplication of beer shops, and praying for the repeal of the Beer Bill. He was anxious to know what the Government intended to do on the subject.

The Lord Chancellor

said, he had received so many applications of the same kind, as that which the noble and learned Lord had now made, not one-twentieth of which he could answer, that he conceived it necessary to state shortly his opinion on the subject. The reason why those persons were now disposed to take an anxious interest in this question arose from the circumstance of many of them being Magistrates, and most of them country gentlemen. The subject was certainly one of importance, and deserved to be considered. The plan which he had originally proposed to the House of Commons, with reference to beer-shops, had been most materially altered. The measure, as first introduced by him, proceeded on the principle, that beer should not be consumed on the premises. That measure did not succeed; and the House of Commons, disappointed in that respect, had addressed themselves to the consideration of a larger measure. A Committee was appointed, at the head of which was the late Mr. Calcraft. That Committee collected much evidence, and a great deal of valuable information; and it finally came to the conclusion to recommend the introduction of that Bill, which was ultimately carried. That Bill, which contained a provision allowing beer to be consumed on the premises, though it was moved that such provision should be struck out, was passed into a law. He thought at the time, that it would encourage or open the door to practices of a very injurious description. Nevertheless, after consulting Mr. Goulburn, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Calcraft, who were intimately acquainted with the subject, he was led to think that the Committee had come to a sound conclusion. No doubt could, however, be now entertained that considerable abuse had grown up under the system. One great cause which he believed had led the House of Commons to agree to the Bill was, that it was expected that it would tend to check the evils attendant on the then existing system of licensing public-houses. It was affirmed that licenses were granted, refused, or taken away, in many instances, rather with reference to personal feeling and interest, than to the good or bad conduct of the individual applying; and it was anticipated that that evil would be corrected. The result of the measure, however, had been to excite very numerous complaints—complaints that were not confined to one class of the community, but which came from the middle classes as well as from the country gentlemen and magistrates. He, however, was of opinion, that no precipitate measure should be adopted, but that a little further time should be given, to see if a remedy could not be found for those causes of complaint, and to ascertain correctly whether the existing Bill were so extremely pernicious in its effects as it had been represented to be. He knew that many classes of society cried out against beer-shops; but, in condemning them, one part of the question had been overlooked. Did those beer-shops do any mischief in cities, in great towns, or in towns even of moderate extent? He doubted it very much, unless they selected some town in which every second house was already an ale-house, some instances of which might be found in remote parts of the country. He did not think that any mischief was likely to result to a town where there were ten houses in which ale and spirits were retailed, if two houses were added where ale only was consumed. There was, however, a class of houses which the Magistrates and country gentlemen strongly pointed at, and with respect to which, as their information and experience were very large and extensive, their representations ought to be particularly attended to. He alluded to those beer-houses which were opened on the edges of commons, and in lonely and remote country places, where no such establishments were ever known before. He believed, that the number of such houses erected under the Act was very considerable, and he could not help thinking, that the whole measure had got a bad name in consequence of that part of it which encouraged the establishment of beer-houses in solitary and lonely places, where depredations might be secretly planned. It might be necessary, therefore, to resist the establishment of beer-houses in solitary and unfrequented places; although, with respect even to them, there might have been exaggeration. He was, however, disposed to believe, that to a certain degree the charge against those houses, and consequently against the measure, was well founded. He should now merely throw out the suggestion whether a modification of the kind to which he had alluded would not be proper—whether an effective visitation of those houses should not be provided for, at the same time that a due limitation should be preserved with respect to the power to be exercised by those to whom the visiting power was intrusted,

Lord Suffield

had been intrusted with a petition, signed by all the Magistrates of the quarter sessions of the county of Norfolk, against the Beer Bill; and he must then say, that it was impossible for him to find language sufficiently strong to describe the extent of the evils, and the ramifications of the evils, which this measure had produced, and was producing in the rural districts.

Lord Kenyon

said, he had expected that some measure would before this have been brought forward to correct this great and crying evil by the noble Viscount opposite. As the noble Viscount had not brought in any Bill, and as no other noble Lord had given any hopes of introducing a measure for the amelioration of the system, he would give notice, that if the subject were not taken up in that House by some one else, he would himself bring forward a motion relative to it. The policy on which the Sale of Beer Act proceeded, was to give the best article to the working classes, at the most reasonable rate. Now, he contended, that the proposed benefit might be gained, and all the evils be removed, if the hours during which it would be legal to serve individuals were placed under severe restrictions.

The Bishop of London

hoped, that when their Lordships endeavoured to correct the evils resulting from the number of beer-shops, they would also turn their attention to the mischiefs arising from gin-shops, the multiplication of which had tended greatly to the increase of crime and immorality.

Lord Ellenborough

expressed a hope, after what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that either he or the noble Viscount (the Secretary of State) would turn their attention to this subject. It was one which he thought ought to be left in the hands of his Majesty's Government.

Viscount Melbourne

said, his Majesty's Government were most anxious to remedy any mischief that was alleged to have grown out of the present system. It was, however, a most difficult subject to deal with. He could not see how any effectual remedy could be proposed, short of the repeal of the present Bill, and a return to the old licensing system, which had been so much complained of. It was very difficult in this, as well as in other cases,—not to enact penalties that (was easy enough,) but to render those penalties effectual. With respect to the suggestion of his noble and learned friend, he feared that much difficulty would be experienced in discriminating between beer-houses in towns and villages, and in unfrequented places, so as to prevent them from being established in improper situations. From the information which he had received, he was inclined very much to doubt whether the evils complained of went to the extent which had been represented. The increase of intoxication was one source of complaint; but certainly it had increased much more in cities, where the Beer Bill had comparatively little effect than in small towns and villages; and he saw not how the evil could be checked, unless a great change for the better was effected in the morals of the people.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that the observations which had been made by the noble Viscount, convinced him the more, that some modification at least should be made in this measure. The mischief which it had produced was so great, as made it the bounden duty of Parliament to take the subject up. If the system were not effectually altered, it would utterly destroy the virtue and morality of the whole people. A discretion should be given to the Magistrates with respect to the establishment of beer-houses, directing them in their duties, at the same time, by the words of the Act of Parliament, so as to prevent any abuse of their power.

Petition laid upon the Table.

Back to