HL Deb 12 May 1876 vol 229 cc481-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to assimilate the law of Scotland relating to the granting of licences to sell intoxicating liquors to that of England. Their Lordships, no doubt, to some extent were perfectly conversant with the system which prevailed at present in Scotland, which was, in fact, very much the same as that which prevailed in this country before the passing of the Licensing Act. Certificates were granted at the statutory meetings held in counties, and by the borough magistrates at similar meetings. There were a great many objections to the system, one of the chief of which was that it rendered the obtaining of licences too easy, and that the cases were not as thoroughly sifted as they required to be. There were two other objections, one of which was that the magistrates were very much troubled with canvassing for their votes; and, secondly, that as regarded the granting of certificates, it very often happened that the magistrates assembled at the county and other meetings had really no voice in the matter, because an appeal lay to the Quarter Sessions to grant licences over their heads. Now, it stood to reason that the local magistrates must have a far greater knowledge of the requirements of the neighbourhood than those who resided at a distance. In fact, things had gone so far that in 1873 there were as many as 250 licences granted on appeal which had been rejected by the local magistrates—that was to say, that one-seventh of the whole number of licences granted in Scotland in 1873 were granted on appeal to the Quarter Sessions. This Bill had passed the House of Commons with the concurrence of the Scotch Members on both sides. To remedy these objections he had stated, the 5th clause provided that no appeal from the magistrates of counties and burghs refusing any application for a new certificate should lie to Quarter Sessions, but that the refusal of the local magistrates should be final. The 6th clause, another important clause in the Bill, provided that the grant of a new certificate in any county in Scotland should not be valid unless it was confirmed by a standing committee of the justices, called the County Licensing Committee; and as to burgh licences, by the 8th clause the new certificates were not to be valid unless confirmed by a joint committee of the burgh and county magistrates. The 7th and 9th clauses provided for the constitution and procedure of the County Licensing Committee in counties and of the joint committee in burghs. There was one provision also which it was necessary to introduce to assimilate the law, and that was as re- garded the rights of owners of property to obtain a provisional licence for any premises about to be constructed or altered for the purpose of being used as a licensed public-house. It was felt to be a very great hardship upon owners of property who were constructing public-houses suited to the neighbourhood if, after they were completed, such certificates should be refused at the last moment. In England the practice was for the owner to obtain provisional licences, which would be subsequently renewed if the magistrates were satisfied that the wants of the neighbourhood required such additional accommodation, and that the house itself was suitable for the business. The 13thclause accordingly provided for the granting of provisional certificates by the county and borough Licensing Committees; but such provisional certificate would not be of any validity until it should have been ordered to be exchanged for a certificate under the Public-houses Acts Amendment (Scotland) Act, 1862. The only other clause to which he need refer was the 16th, which dispensed with the personal attendance of the person holding a certificate when applying for the renewal of the licence. It had been found that this provision worked very well in England, and there was no reason why it should not apply in Scotland. The Bill, in fact, was a very simple one. It had been proved by experience to work well in England, and having met with the approbation of the other House, and being asked for by the majority of the Scotch Members, he hoped that no objection would be raised to it in their Lordships' House.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Stanhope.)


said, that he did not rise to express any adverse opinion to the Bill, but in the first place to present a Petition placed in his hands from the Commissioners of Supply of the county of Renfrew, in which the Petitioners expressed their opinion that the Bill would remove much of the objection felt to the present system. With regard to the main object of the measure—that of changing the system of granting licences by the whole body of the magistrates and placing it in the hands of a small Licensing Committee, he had no doubt whatever it would prove a great improvement in the law, and remove many of the objections to which the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) had referred. With regard to another portion of the Bill—that relating to provisional certificates in respect of new premises—which made a very important change in the law of Scotland, he confessed that he entertained considerable doubt. Under the present law in Scotland, they could only grant licences to the tenants of houses actually existing, but by the English system they could be obtained by landlords in respect to houses not yet built. That did not exist in Scotland, and they now proposed to introduce it into that country for the first time. He doubted whether it would be an improvement; at all events it was a very great change in the law, and he could not help thinking that some time ought to be allowed to elapse before going into Committee on the Bill, in order to give an opportunity of ascertaining the feeling of the people of Scotland on the subject. With regard to the first part of the Bill, there was no doubt whatever that it would be a very valuable change in the law. It was not a very common occurrence for a Bill of such importance as this to be introduced by a private Member, and he believed that the people of Scotland, seeing that it was in the hands of a private Member, had come to the conclusion that it was not likely to pass; but at the last moment, when it had actually passed the House of Commons, when they found that it had to a certain extent the sanction and support of the Government, they had begun to alter that opinion. There were a number of Amendments proposed to be introduced in the Bill which he had reason to believe had been suggested by the Lord Advocate. He should like to ask the noble Earl opposite whether he would give them some assurance, before going into Committee on the Bill, whether he was disposed to accept the Amendments—because this was a matter of considerable importance, and ought not to be hastily dealt with.


concurred in the observations of the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll). He thought that the evils of the present system had been made the most of by the supporters of the Bill, and he knew that, so far from the licences being granted by a very large body of magistrates, there was often considerable difficulty in getting a sufficient number of justices together to decide upon the local merits of the candidates for licences. It might probably be an improvement to form Licensing Committees, but so far as regarded the granting of provisional licences, he quite agreed with what the noble Duke had said. Hitherto in Scotland licences had always been granted to the tenant or occupier of the house, and not to the owner—and on this plain ground, that the tenant or occupier was the person really responsible for the manner in which the house was conducted, and not the owner, who probably was a long way off, and had nothing to do with the management. He very much doubted the expediency of extending this provision to Scotland. This provision was not originally in the Bill, but was added to it while passing through the House of Commons, and he was informed that the opinion of the Scotch magistracy generally was averse to it. The great difficulty they had to encounter in respect to increase of public-houses, was the want of courage on the part of the magistrates to refuse licences when applied for, and thus reduce the number granted. He was disposed to think that the number of licences granted to grocers and other trades people to sell spirits was the cause of a great deal of drunkenness in Scotland. He fully concurred with the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) that ample time should be given to communicate with Scotland before going into Committee.


said, he agreed with his two noble Friends who had last spoken that time ought to be given before going into Committee on the Bill, so that the various Amendments might be considered. Nor did he think his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) would lose time by taking that course, and he would insure that the measure would be made more complete and perfect. There was no question that the scope of the Bill, especially as regarded the provisional certificate clauses, was at variance with the practice which now prevailed in Scotland. The noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) had alluded to some Amendments which he had before him. These Amendments had been under the consideration of the Lord Advocate, who, he thought he might say, was favourable to several of them. He would suggest to his noble Friend in charge of the Bill not only that he should give time for consideration before going into Committee, but that he would put himself in communication with the Lord Advocate, so that they might agree on what Amendments might be inserted. Many of the provisions of the Bill were well worth his support and would unquestionably be an improvement to the law as it now stood.


said, he was quite aware of the importance of having the measure fully discussed, but he must say a word as to the time which the measure had already been before the country. His hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), who introduced it in the other House, brought it forward last Session; therefore, the country had had it before them since that time. Moreover, his hon. Friend represented a very large constituency, to whom the subject was of great importance. He quite admitted that the introduction of the principle of granting provisional licences to owners of houses was a novelty, but he would remind the noble Duke that the clause was qualified by restrictions which he thought would be sufficient.


said, that the noble Lord had not answered the question as to what time he proposed the Bill should be committed.


proposed to fix the Committee for that day fortnight.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday the 26th instant.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Five o'clock.