HL Deb 22 April 1834 vol 22 cc1078-82
Lord Suffield

presented a petition from Norfolk, signed by all the Magistrates at Quarter-Sessions, complaining of the evils arising from the multiplication of beer-houses and praying, that a proper remedy should be devised. Some individuals, who were ignorant of the facts, asserted that it would be better, if the Magistrates, instead of com- plaining of these beer-houses, would exert themselves in putting down the mischiefs to which their existence gave rise. Now, the truth was, that the Magistrates were anxious to do so, but they did not possess the necessary power, and they would be well pleased if they were armed with sufficient authority for that purpose. As the second reading of a Bill on this subject was to come on to-night, he begged leave to throw out two suggestions for the consideration of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Kenyon), who had introduced the Bill. In the first place, he was of opinion, that if proper security were required for good conduct, it would have the effect of placing a better description of persons in beer-shops; and next, it appeared to him, that it would be productive of very good effects, if, when an individual applied for leave to open a beer-shop, his petition must be recommended by a number of housekeepers, as was required in the case of public-house licenses.

The Earl of Malmesbury

was perfectly aware, that the greatest mischief to the morals of the people had flowed from the establishment of beer-houses; but he doubted much, whether demanding a high security would check the evil; because those houses having, in many instances, fallen into the hands of brewers, they would be ready to give security to any amount. He approved of the suggestion, that when application was made to open a beer-shop, that application should be backed by the testimony of the neighbouring housekeepers, as to the good character of the applicant. The Magistrates, he could assert, did not, on their own account, regret any loss of power which they had sustained under the existing Bill; but they certainly did regret on account of the public morals, that they had not authority to repress the evils which were complained of on every side. It would be an alteration attended with inestimable benefit, if beer were not allowed to be consumed on the premises. In that case, the labourer would take it home to his family, instead of spending his time in those haunts of vice; the owners of which, in order to entice unfortunate labourers to expend their money in them, encouraged gambling and dances, the consequence of which was, that those who frequented them remained till the most unseasonable hours, whilst their families were neglected and left destitute.

The Earl of Winchilsea

, expressed his strong hostility to the Beer Bill, which had occasioned incalculable evil. He had been attending the Petty Sessions in the county with which he was more immediately connected, during the last four months; and he could of his own knowledge assert, that crime had greatly increased in consequence of the multiplication of beer-shops. The speculation on which the Beer Bill was founded—namely, that it would be the means of giving a better beverage to the working man—had completely failed. The beverage had become worse instead of better; and he believed that ninety-nine out of 100 of the beer-shops in his county were in the hands of brewers. The labourers, for whose benefit this measure had been introduced, had reaped nothing but evil from it. Some good would be effected if no beer-shops were allowed to be opened, unless the sanction of a certain number of respectable persons were previously obtained. As the system at present stood, many of these beer-shops were kept by persons of bad character, who, under pretence of selling beer, sold spirits; there the working classes of society were induced to assemble, and there they proceeded to plan crimes. Only last year, in Lincolnshire, an individual coming from one of these beer-houses murdered a man in open day, and the defence of the culprit was, that he was intoxicated. The system ought to be totally new-modelled; and he was sure, that their Lordships could not do a greater act of kindness to the labouring population than to take this question under their consideration.

Lord Wynford

believed, that instead of the poor man's beverage having been improved under this Bill, the beer had, in fact, become more deleterious than it was before. His reason for supporting the Bill originally was, because he believed that it would put an end to the monopoly of the brewers. He was sorry, however, to find that he had been completely mistaken, for the measure, instead of diminishing, had, he believed, increased all the evils of monopoly. He should again press upon the House the suggestion which he had thrown out the other night, and which, if acted upon, would, he conceived, be attended with beneficial effects. At present the constable could not go into a beer-shop unless to put down a breach of the peace. He would give to the consta- ble the power of entering those houses for the purpose of ascertaining what sort of company was harboured in them, and whether good order were preserved. This was no more than what the exciseman and the constable could do at present as to regular public-houses, and involved no serious infringement of the liberty of the subject. He thought, it was right, not only that the constable should be invested with that power, but that he should be obliged to exercise it.

Lord Suffield

, to prove the ill effects which grew out of the present system, stated, that for two days a lottery had been going on at a beer-house in his neighbourhood. The consequence was, that a scene of the most abandoned drunkenness and riot had been kept up all night; and it was so difficult to obtain the necessary information relative to the commission of the offence, that he, as a Magistrate, found it impossible to act so as to punish any individual.

Lord Kenyon

should merely express the great satisfaction he felt at hearing the sentiments of the several noble Lords who had spoken on this occasion. He could assure his noble and learned friend near him, and every other noble Lord who took any interest in the subject, that he should be most happy to receive any suggestion or amendment with which he should be favoured. One great object of his measure was, to diminish still more the hours at which those beer-shops should be allowed to be kept open, without, at the same time, attempting to interfere with the comforts of the labouring classes. His Lordship concluded by proposing, "That this Bill be now read a second time."

Viscount Melbourne

said, although he very much doubted the dreadful increase of crime which had been described, still he should feel it to be his duty to vote for the second reading of the Bill. The Bill, however, as it now stood, did not, in his view, afford a sufficient remedy for the mischiefs about which so much had been said. One of the principal objections related to houses established in lonely and remote situations; but there was nothing whatever in the Bill to remedy any mischief which could be ascribed to that circumstance. All the legislation which was formerly directed against public-houses generally, was now, it appeared, to be directed exclusively against the beer-shops. But if the whole subject were to be considered, with the view of introducing, generally, a more preferable system, he would put it to the noble Lord, whether it would not be necessary to extend the system of securities, which he meant to apply to beer-shops, to the lower sort of licensed public-houses, which, after all, were in no respect better conducted than those houses that were established under the new Act. He threw this suggestion out for the consideration of the noble Lord. He did not believe, that all the evils which were enumerated flowed from the one source; and he was not very sanguine in thinking that this Bill was likely to remove them.

Bill read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee.

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