HL Deb 27 July 1854 vol 135 cc801-6

Order of the day for the House to go into Committee read.


in moving, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee," said, that there were two or three Amendments which he proposed to introduce on the bringing up of the report. The object of the Bill was to impose certain restrictions upon the sale of liquors in public-houses on the Lord's Day, and the question was how this could best be done without interfering with the comforts and convenience of the people. The measure, so far as the limit upon the hours during which those places should be opened on the Sunday morning was concerned, had, he believed, received the approbation of all parties, as tending to the promotion of public order and morality. Under a recent Act public-houses were closed altogether in Scotland on the Lord's Day; and though a law going to that extent might interfere with the notions of liberty entertained in this country, yet he believed that Act had given universal satisfaction to the people amongst whom it was in force, and the Magistrates had declared that since its enactment the amount of crime had very sensibly diminished. The Bill did not propose to follow up that example to the full extent, but to allow houses of public entertainment in England to be open during part of the Sunday, in order to enable parties to obtain beer and other such refreshments as they might require. It had, however, been suggested by persons engaged in the trade that the object of the Bill might be answered by the adoption of somewhat less severe restrictions, and that by allowing the houses to remain open for a somewhat longer period the public would be subjected to less inconvenience than if the Bill remained as it was. Considerable communications had been held with a body of persons called the Licensed Victuallers' Protection Society, upon the subject of the restrictions it would be most desirable to introduce; and, in consequence of those communications, the hours during which these houses should be opened had been fixed from 1 P.M. to 2 P.M. in the middle of the day, and from 6 P.M. to 10 P.M. in the evening. Subsequently the question had arisen, whether that was sufficient, especially in the case of houses situated in the suburbs; and on further consideration he was not sure whether it would not be desirable to extend the period for opening from 1 to half-past 2 P.M. in the middle of the day, to enable the working classes to provide themselves with beer for dinner, and in the evening to allow the houses to open at 5 P.M. instead of 6 P.M., in order to provide for the convenience of persons who made excursions into the country, and, of course, required refreshments on such occasions. It had further been represented to him that the closing hour of 10 P.M. would be impracticable in those public places and gardens where thousands of persons frequently assembled together in the summer months, the difficulty being to get rid of them at so early an hour. There would be no objection, however, to the service of refreshments being closed at 10 P.M., provided the premises were allowed to remain open until 11 P.M. This, he believed, would satisfy all parties, and at the same time tend to provide for the public convenience. He admitted that the question was extremely difficult to deal with; but he trusted the alterations he had indicated his willingness to make would attain the object he had in view; and whilst promoting quiet and social order on the Lord's Day, do so without trenching upon the comforts and convenience of the people—the working classes particularly.


owned that he regarded with very great satisfaction such relaxations of the Bill as his noble Friend proposed to introduce, believing, as he did, that those relaxations would to a great degree get rid of the main objections to the measure. He meant no offence to the authors of the Bill when he said he felt bound honestly to state the repugnance which he entertained at legislation which had its pressure upon one part of the community, whilst it did not press at all upon another. The part of the community upon which the Bill had a tendency to press, if it had not an actual pressure, was the working classes—the common people—what used to be termed the lower classes—the great body of the people. It was upon them that the measure tended to press; whereas the upper classes, and even the greater part of the middle classes —but at all events the upper classes—were not in the slightest degree affected by it. The Bill did not prevent him from going, if he chose, to any of the clubhouses in St. James's Street or Pall Mall. They were open at all hours on Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas Day, and every other day, just as well as in the week. [The Earl of HARROWBY: They are private houses.] He was afraid they could hardly be called private, for they were open to 600 or 700 persons, and to a certain degree were, therefore, public, though not so public as that any person whatever had a right to enter them. But he did not mean to dwell upon this objection, because, knowing as he did the very strong prevailing feeling of the country in favour of some measure of this description, he certainly for one was disposed to gratify that feeling, considering also that he was told the experience of Scotland was that the more general and stringent measure in operation there had had an excellent effect in checking the various social disorders which formerly existed in that country on Sundays.


said, he did not wish to throw any obstacle in the way of the Bill passing; but he wished to draw the noble Earl's attention to certain words in the Bill which bad already raised a practical difficulty in the Act that had been passed for Scotland. He held in his hand a petition from the proprietor of a public-house in Glasgow. The petitioner complained that there was a great doubt entertained as to the meaning of the words "bonâ fide travellers," and that the justices of the peace were not agreed as to what constituted a "bonâ fide traveller." If, for example, a person were going from this to the Crystal Palace or to Hampstead Heath, some of the justices would say that he was a bonâ fide traveller, others that he was not. Now, he (the Lord Chancellor) could not but think there was weight in this objection. He would suggest to the noble Earl to use some more comprehensive words to express his meaning as to "bonâ fide travellers."


said, he had intended to call attention to the same point. He considered that this Bill was one which ought to be most carefully and attentively considered, inasmuch as it had the appearance, to some extent, of being an infringement on the liberty of the industrious classes. There was no country in the world in which the industrious and working classes had so little real recreation as the working classes of this country had, and we ought certainly to pause before we hastily deprived them of any little they might possess. The subject was one of very great importance, not only in such cases as the noble and learned Lord had alluded to, but also in reference to that very large class of persons who at present travelled by excursion trains on Sunday, to whom the word "traveller" was generally held not to apply. Surely it was a great hardship that these persons should not have the same advantages as other ordinary travellers, and surely it was very unjust to deprive them of the ordinary means of recreation and refreshment. Since these excursion trains had been brought into use there were many people who went down on Sunday to the seaside, arrived at their destination in time for church, and, after attending morning service, devoted the other part of the day to innocent and rational enjoyment of the country; but if we put too great restrictions on these men in the way of refreshment, we should be doing them a very great injustice, and be unnecessarily taking upon ourselves to interfere with their enjoyments. It was absolutely necessary that the meaning of the word "traveller" should be properly defined, and it was a monstrous notion that we should go out of our way to call a man by one name when he travelled for pleasure, and another when he travelled for business, and treat him in a totally different manner.


said, he quite understood the difficulty and doubt in reference to the general question of legislation upon that subject at all; —it was a subject of great difficulty and delicacy. At the same time he had no doubt of the immense benefit resulting to the working classes from the operation of the stringent Act already passed. A much more stringent Bill was passed last year restricting the sale of liquors in Scotland upon the Sunday, and he had lately seen remarkable statements from sheriffs of counties and magistrates of boroughs, as to the advantageous effects produced by that Act in diminishing drunkenness. He quite concurred with the noble Marquess in thinking that they ought not to interfere with the amusements and recreations of the working classes; at the same time he did not think that the going into beer-houses was a recreation.


considered it would be very difficult to introduce any positive definition of "travellers" into a Bill of the present description, and feared that we must leave the matter, as it now stood, to the vague common sense of those who were most interested in obeying the law and those whose duty it was to enforce it.


said, he did not see why a particular class of persons should be admitted into public-houses at particular times, and other classes should be excluded.


considered that this Bill, specifying particular hours for closing public-houses on Sunday, would be the means of preventing many difficulties from arising in respect to these places. The last Act specified that public-houses should not be opened on Sunday during afternoon service, and, on account of the obscurity of the expression, constant instances of confusion arose, from the different hours during which different churches and chapels performed their services. It was much better to specify, as this Act proposed to do, particular hours. The Bill would be of great service to the men belonging to the working classes, but the good it would be to the women and children would be incalculable. He was not at present inclined to recommend the adoption of the "Maine Law," although, perhaps, we might come to that, but he felt bound to say that he went all the length that the proposed Act did.

House in Committee accordingly; Bill reported without Amendment; and to be read 3a To-morrow.

House adjourned till To-morrow.