HL Deb 11 June 1869 vol 196 cc1583-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, this Bill, which the House of Commons had passed unanimously, practically repealed the change in the Licensing Law, effected by the Duke of Wellington's Government in 1830, by what was called the Beerhouses Act. Under the old law all public houses wore licensed by the justices; but the Act of 1830, the object of which was to secure to the public the benefit of a reduction in the duty on beer, vested the licensing of houses for the sale of beer in the Excise. This change had not worked satisfactorily, and only nine years after its passing, a Bill for its repeal, introduced by Lord Brougham, passed this House, but was rejected by the House of Commons. A Select Com- mittee of the House of Commons—which sat, sometime ago, under the presidency of Mr. Villiers—reported that the system had proved a failure; its object having been to secure the public cheap and pure beer, and to dissociate beer-drinking from drunkenness, and to induce the establishment of a class of refreshment houses free from The disorders supposed to attend exclusively on the sale of spirits. That Committee further expressed their concurrence in the Report of a Select Committee of this House, which sat in 1849, that the beer-shops were for the most part in the hands of the brewers, that they were notorious for the sale of an inferior article, that the consumption of ardent spirits had not diminished, and that, instead of its being a been to the lower classes, the comfort and morals of the poor had been seriously impaired by the measure. Now, the present Bill proposed that beer-houses, like public-houses should be licensed by the magistrates, who would withhold their certificate in the case of any house which was the resort of bad characters—and it was notorious that in many of these places all kinds of crimes were planned. The Government had accepted the measure; but, holding that a more comprehensive Bill was necessary, they had restricted its operations to two years, so that it was merely suspensory and tentative, and Parliament could retrace its steps before any mischief could happen in the event of its not working satisfactorily.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, he did not object to the measure, but he desired to call attention, with a view to ulterior measures, to the conflicting principles on which benches of magistrates acted in granting or refusing licenses. At Liverpool great difference of opinion existed on this matter; and while some of the magistrates held that the eligibility of the house and the responsibility of the applicant were the only considerations, others considered likewise the question whether or not the wants of the district were already sufficiently supplied. Thus, a slight difference in the constitution of the bench made all the difference in granting or withholding the license, for one bench of magistrates sometimes granted a license, while another in a precisely similar case refused it. This anomaly ought to be removed, and a uniform principle laid down.

THE EARL OF MORLEY, on the part of the Government, supported the Bill as a suspensory measure, paving the way for legislation on a larger scale. No fewer than thirty-two Acts at present existed regulating the sale of excisable liquors, many of them being obsolete or redundant, and the Act of 1839 had not fulfilled the expectations of its promoters. Some restriction was evidently necessary; and, though the Government did not pledge themselves to adhere to the principle of magisterial licensing, on which much difference of opinion existed, as shown by the congress which had been held in London this week, they accepted the Bill as a measure which would arrest the spread of the evil and prevent the creation of now vested interests which might hinder the adoption of a more extensive scheme. An apology was hardly needed for the question not having been dealt with this year; but next year, or, at least, the year after, the Government hoped to deal with the, whole licensing system.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 22nd Instant.