HL Deb 06 August 1855 vol 139 cc1850-6

THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE rose to move to resolve— That the Select Committee appointed by the House of Commons having recommended an immediate Amendment of the Sale of Beer Act of 1854, the Circumstances which render Legislation essential on the Subject Matter of the Bill which has been passed by the House of Commons are of such Urgency as to render the immediate Consideration of the same necessary. The noble Marquess said that this was a measure which affected the well-being of a large number of the people, and it was important that the Session should not terminate without the question being settled in some manner. The Act of last year was only passed at the end of the Session, and came into operation in August. Great discontent was at once excited, and the question was raised early in the present Session, but as the Government were unable from the pressure of public business to take the matter into their hands, a private Member of the other House was obliged to take the initiative and on the 26th of June a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the working of the Act. They made their Report on the 26th of July, and the present Bill, founded on their recommendation, was immediately introduced, and passed through all its stages in the other House with little or no opposition. Their Lordships would gee that it was impossible for any Bill to come before them with greater recommendations for urgency. This Bill came before them recommended by the Government and by the almost unanimous voice of the other House of Parliament, the two Commissioners of Police, and fourteen out of sixteen police magistrates of the metropolis had given evidence in favour of an alteration of the law, and during the present Session the petitions in favour of it presented to the other House of Parliament, had been signed by the enormous number of 442,536 persons. The consideration of this Bill was a measure essentially of urgency since its existence seriously affected the comforts of a very numerous class of persons. Let their Lordships consider the inconvenience suffered by persons who were in the habit of travelling by excursion trains. The returns showed that sometimes 12,000 persons arrived by these trains on Sunday evening too late to get any refreshment if the public-houses closed at ten o'clock. It might be said they ought to go home instead of to the public-houses. That might do very well for their Lordships, who had something better than water, at home, but the great majority of these people had nothing in their houses but water, and that such as he should not like to live upon. They ought to do everything in their power to promote the recreation and excursions of those people who had to labour hard for six days in the week, and an alteration in the law was now urgently required, as these excursions were most frequent in the months of August and September. The present law was a source of great hardship to the large class of persons in the metropolis who kept no liquor in their houses, but were accustomed to send to the public-house for what they required. The Act of last Session had not in the least decreased drunkenness. Even if it had, they had no right, in order to prevent a few persons from indulging in a reprehensible habit, to subject thousands and tens of thousands to an inconvenience which they felt most strongly, and with which they were most seriously discontented. There could be no doubt that the recent demonstrations in the metropolis had been greatly increased and strengthened in consequence of the grievances created by the present law. The closing of the public-houses at ten o'clock produced no practical good, as the evidence showed that drinking in improper and disreputable places had greatly increased, as well as in private houses; this was proved by communications from Rochdale, Stock-port, Manchester, Sheffield, and other places. They could not prevent Sunday intoxication altogether for many years to come; but a great improvement had been going on rapidly for many years, and it would proceed still further if the people were allowed to enjoy other modes of recreation, and to indulge in innocent amusements after the hours of Divine worship. There could be no more useful or beneficial amusements than those afforded by the excursion trains to which he had already re- ferred People went to Chepstow, Salisbury, and other places at a considerable distance from London, for recreation, and it was impossible to get back before ten o'clock. On these grounds he begged to move the suspension of their Lordships' Resolution in respect of this Bill.


said, their Lordships had to decide whether this was a case of urgency, and he confidently asserted that no case of urgency had been established by the noble Marquess. The question was, had there been that extent of urgency felt by the House of Commons that should induce their Lordships to proceed without any inquiry? Certainly not. On the 26th of June, the House of Commons did not think the case so urgent that the Bill should be introduced, and they appointed a Committee to inquire into the state of the law, and see if any alteration should be made. That necessitated their Lordships to look to what had been done by that Committee—and what did they say? The Committee reported that they had not been able to prosecute their inquiry to an extent that would enable them to come to a conclusion; but they recommended a compromise, and the result was the introduction of the present measure. It was no light matter to set aside the Order of their Lordships' House without due cause, and they should not adopt it if they did not deem it fit to be maintained. It was agreed that the Order had worked well; and were it not for it, the public business would not then be in such an advanced state. There were about twenty-six witnesses examined before the Committee, and twenty-five of them were connected with the metropolis; so that the inquiry had as yet only reference to the measure as it affects London. But the chief constable of North Wiltshire, on being examined, was entirely in favour of the law. As regarded the excursion trains, the inconvenience would not be felt after next month; and, besides that, many of them did not arrive until between eleven and twelve o'clock, and, therefore, even if the present measure was agreed to, there would still be people as dissatisfied as ever. He appealed to the Government to support the Order of the House, because in fact no case of urgency had been brought forward.


said, that the more important the measure, the more it required to be considered. The urgency should be indisputable to justify them in suspending the Order of the House. The measure was only recommended by a Committee of the House of Commons, and he apprehended their Lordships would not take that as a sufficient ground of urgency. They should have a reference to a Select Committee of their own House. He did not contest the Bill at all, but that was a different matter from the question now under consideration.


said, it appeared to him that the word "urgent" applied when there was a strong political or public reason why legislation on a particular point should not be delayed for another year, and he felt that there was a very strong degree of urgency for the passing of this Bill. He could not quite agree with what had fallen from the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. He, understood the noble Lord to say, that the Report of the Committee was a compromise; but, if he had been rightly informed, that was not at all the state of the case, for the Report was almost unanimously agreed to, there being only one dissenting Member, and the opinion of the Committee was, that upon two points it was desirable to frame a law which should immediately take effect. These two points were, first, the excessive inconvenience suffered by the public; and, secondly, the doubtful state of the law, and the conflicting decisions given by different magistrates upon it. Could anything be more urgent than that a law bearing upon the humbler orders should not be differently interpreted in different places? The inconvenience caused to the public had been proved before the Committee quite as satisfactorily as it could have been, had witnesses been called from every part of the country. The evidence of the superintendents of police at Bristol, Southampton, and Portsmouth had been taken. ["No, no!"] Such, at least, had been his impression. With regard to the Standing Order now proposed to be waived, nothing should have led him to assent to it if he had supposed that it was meant to bear the absolute construction now sought to be put upon it. Urgency was altogether a matter of degree; and it was open to every Member of that House to exercise his judgment as to the amount of urgency which should induce him to vote for proceeding with a particular Bill, notwithstanding the order on this subject. For the reasons he had given he should support the Resolution moved by the noble Marquess.


would not say that the law might not be amended, but he considered that on the 6th of August their Lordships should stand by an Order of that House on the faith of which so many Peers had left town, in the belief that no measure of importance was to be brought under discussion. Granting that a certain amount of inconvenience might exist from the present state of the law, still it could not be contended that there was any urgent reason why the alteration of that law should not be deferred until the next Session of Parliament. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) had totally failed to make out the shadow of a case of urgency in support of this Resolution, and the Select Committee of the other House had reported in the same spirit, declaring that, owing to the advanced period of the Session at which they were appointed, it was impossible to carry out their inquiry to its full extent. If they could have so carried out their inquiry, they would have found that there was no urgency whatever in the matter. In truth, there was no other urgency than this—that, unless the Act were repealed this Session, it would not be repealed at all. If the House of Commons deemed it necessary to have an inquiry into this very important measure—the opponents of which admitted it to have done a considerable amount of good, although the noble Marquess seemed to argue that it was an unmixed evil—why should not their Lordships regard an inquiry on their part as equally necessary? and, if so, how could this course be pursued within a very few days from the end of the Session? The advocates of the existing Act offered evidence to the Committee, but it was declined, and most important evidence tendered by friends of his own was also rejected; while, on the other hand, out of thirty witnesses summoned from the country only one was examined. How could it be maintained that this was a ease of urgency when the evidence was taken only on one side, when those who took that evidence themselves admitted that it was imperfect, and when evidence was refused which, if received, would have proved that there was no urgency in the matter, and that a very large proportion, if not an actual majority of the working classes of this country were in favour of the present law? Therefore, without asserting that the Act might not admit of amendment or relaxation, their Lordships, nevertheless, had a perfect right to inquire into this subject for themselves—a proceeding quite impracticable at that season of the year; and if, in cases of this kind their rule was to be suspended, the functions of that House would be reduced to the mere registration of the decrees of the House of Commons, without any power of independent action. He should, therefore, certainly take the sense of their Lordships on this Motion.


explained that the Committee had rejected evidence tendered upon both sides of the question, and not on one side alone. No Committee could ever get through its duties if it were bound to accept all the evidence offered to it, whether material to elucidate its inquiry or otherwise.


said, he felt some difficulty in making up his mind upon the subject. He was desirous of supporting the Orders of the House; but, at the same time, he thought that there were some parts of the present law objectionable. He, therefore, thought that under the circumstances it would he a proper thing to relax the law, and for that reason he would support the Resolution of the noble Marquess. He never was one of those who thought that they should adopt any very stringent measures in regard to public-houses; believing that they would, by such a course, be interfering with the ordinary comforts of the people. It was, no doubt, most advantageous that public-houses should be closed during Divine service, and, perhaps, at such a period of the night when all classes, particularly the working classes, ought for their own interests to have retired to rest. In other respects, he thought that the law ought to be relaxed. He would, therefore, support the Resolution of the noble Marquess.


said, he thought this was considered as a case of urgency by a Committee of the House of Commons; but their Lordships could exercise their own discretion, after looking at the evidence, whether this was a Bill that should be supported or not. Reserving his opinion on that point, he should support the Resolution.


, after full consideration, was prepared to support the Motion for a relaxation of the Resolution their Lordships had lately passed. The Committee of the House of Commons had reported that this was a matter of pressing importance.


said, that the public had now five hours and a half to buy their Beer on the Sunday—that was to say they took five hours and a half from the publican's Sunday. It was now asked to take away eight hours of his Sunday. The real question then was one of the public versus the publicans. The present law was founded on the Report of a Committee which sat for two Sessions, examined fifty witnesses, and reported in favour of closing the public-houses an hour earlier than was now the case. He was opposed to the Sunday Trading Bill, but this measure had nothing in common with the Sunday Trading Bill.


said, a very large number of the publicans had petitioned in favour of this Bill.

On Question, their Lordships divided:—Content 25; Not Content 16: Majority 9.

Bill read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.