HL Deb 02 July 1880 vol 253 cc1366-80

in rising to call attention to the Report of the Select Committee of the House on Intemperance, and to inquire, Whether Her Majesty's Government intend to introduce any further measure to carry into effect the recommendations of that Committee? said, he had to regret that some more important Member of their Lordships' House had not called attention to the matter. The Committee in question was appointed in 1876, on the Motion of the most rev. Primate (the Archbishop of Canterbury). Since the Committee reported, three of its most important Members, including the noble Duke who was its Chairman, had become Members of Her Majesty's Government. This fact was a further inducement to him to ask what were the intentions of the Government with reference to the recommendations of the Committee. The Archbishop of Canterbury had moved in the matter in consequence of a Memorial to the Bishops from a very large body, both of the clergy and laity, of the Established Church. There was no question that, at that time, the consumption of intoxicating liquors had increased in the country; and during the year 1877 there were no less than 200,000 persons charged with being drunk and disorderly; but these did not include those who were too drunk to be disorderly or not drunk enough to be incapable. It was fair to say that the consumption of tea and sugar had increased to a still larger extent in proportion to the population; but there could be no doubt of the fact that intemperance increased with the advance of wages, and that the crimes of violence increased in proportion to the apprehensions for drunkenness, though they were not actually coincident with the increase of drunkenness, but subsequently to it, as if it required some years of bard drinking to bring the working classes to their greatest depravity. It was one of the results of habitual intoxication. The Acts of 1869 and 1872, supplemented by the Act of 1874, had materially improved the condition of things; order in the public streets had increased, as had the vigilance of the police; and the severer penalties imposed made the publicans more careful in the conduct of their houses. But much remained to be done, and the Select Committee, which had collected a great deal of information and statistics, made numerous recommendations. One was that some legislative facilities should be given to those Local Bodies who were desirous of making an experiment in the direction of repressing drunkenness in the localities for which they acted. It was a mistake to suppose that this had any reference to the Permissive Bill. The whole spirit of the Report was antagonistic to the Permissive Bill; the recommendation of the Committee aimed rather at the possibility of giving a trial to some such scheme as the Gothenburg or Mr. Chamberlain's. The former consisted of giving the municipality power to sell the whole of the licences in the town, which, in the case of Gothenburg, they did to certain philanthropic persons, who conducted the business solely on the principle that no individual should derive any profit whatever from the sale of intoxicating drinks; the only advantage they were allowed to derive being from the sale of food and non-intoxicants. Mr. Chamberlain's scheme differed slightly from that, as he proposed that instead of the Corporation selling the licences to a company they should become the purchasers and managers of the houses. The Committee were not convinced that either of these schemes would be an infallible remedy; but they thought powers ought not to be refused to those Local Bodies who were prepared to try them, so that, if they were found to be successful in a limited area, they might be extended to the whole country. As he had said, the Committee declined, in any way, to recommend the permissive system, and he (the Earl of Onslow) concurred in that view, because he thought that such a system was opposed to the whole spirit of our legislation; but there was much to be said in favour of some such plan as the Gothenburg system, or a modification of it. The principle of giving power over the licences was not a new one. In 1835, Lord John Russell introduced in the Municipal Corporations Reform Bill a clause to enable municipalities to obtain the control of licences. That clause was rejected; but, now that municipalities were allowed to purchase gasworks and waterworks, and were intrusted with great powers under the Artizans' Dwellings Act, there seemed to be no good reason why they should not be allowed to conduct a traffic which was productive of great increase to the rates, and which might be most injurious to the inhabitants of the locality. Why should they not be enabled to purchase public-houses, to insure good management, and that nobody should be tempted to drink to excess? The merits of this plan were that it would provide due compensation for existing interests, and would enable the public to supply their wants at houses conducted in the most respectable manner. He did not mean to assert that any one of the different schemes for municipal action in the matter would be effectual; but he maintained that power should be given to the municipalities to make the experiment, while the Legislature should stand by, watch, and gain experience from their experiments. Another branch of the subject which had engaged considerable attention on the part of the Select Committee was that of grocers' spirit licences, which, though they had been a convenience in some respects, had, it was feared, promoted in other respects drinking habits. The number of grocers' licences had increased from 3,546, in 1871, to 5,821 at the present time. Those licences could be refused only on four statutable grounds—either that the person or the house was not qualified for such a licence. Hitherto they had trusted to the high price of the grocers' licences to restrict their abuse, the grocer having to pay £28 14s. on a £100 house, as against £15 10s. 8d. paid by the licensed victualler on a house of the same value; but under the new system of licensing duties now proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this would be materially modified, and the two classes of licence placed on an equal footing, as the publicans' licence would be increased to £30, whilst the grocers' would remain at £28 14s. It appeared to him that, under these circumstances, there was a danger of a very large increase in the number of grocers' licences. There was an objection to those licences being granted by magistrates, because of the invidious position in which these functionaries must be placed if they had two applicants of equal respectability from the immediate neighbourhood; but he should be willing to see a power given to magistrates to fix the maximum number of grocers' licences which they would permit within a district, and to put all those licences up to public tender, so that the fullest value would be paid by the grocer for his privilege. In that way the number of grocers selling spirits would be kept down. It was a convenience to many persons to be able to buy spirits in the shops of their grocers; but it had been stated, in evidence to the Select Committee, that much mischief was caused by the facility for the purchase of spirits which the shops afforded to women, and that some of the grocers consented to enter as "goods" the spirits had by women. Indeed, one gentleman told the Committee that this was so common in Scotland that whenever he found the entry "goods" in a grocer's account he at once understood it to mean "bads"—that was to say "drink." Referring to another point, he believed that public opinion was at this moment ripe for some slight increase in the restrictions on the trade, especially as regarded Saturdays. He thought it would not be too much to oblige publicans to close their houses at an earlier hour on Saturday evenings, when the working people left off work earlier, and had more cash to spend. It was stated that women in Glasgow said they never got their eyes blackened on Saturday nights till after 10 o'clock. He did not think this country was prepared for Sunday closing. In Ireland there was a strong feeling expressed by the publicans in favour of it; but there had been no such manifestation of public feeling in this country. One important question was as to giving greater power to magistrates to refuse the renewal of licences where the character of the premises had been altered; such, for instance, as in the cases where proprietors of old inns had taken the adjoining premises, and converted them into gin palaces, which proceeding had been ruled not to be an infringement of the licence. He thought that they should have greater power; above all, he looked to the results of the establishment of counter attractions to public-houses. The opening of coffee public-houses, working men's clubs, and even temperance music rooms was to be regarded with pleasure; but he sincerely hoped that, whatever legislation might be undertaken in this matter, none of those who had so earnestly and successfully laboured for this object would relax their efforts. Legislation, on its present lines, had been carried almost to the limit, and he did not believe it would be possible to carry restrictions very much further. If they were to have legislation on this subject, it must be an entirely new departure. The subject was one which was attracting considerable attention throughout the country; and after the utterances of the Premier in Mid Lothian on this subject, which he trusted he had no idea of retracting, he hoped for a favourable reply from the Government. He begged, in conclusion, to ask the Question of which he had given Notice.


said, the Committee was appointed on a Motion of the most rev. Primate the (Archbishop of Canterbury) as the result of a very extensively signed Petition by the clergy. That Petition, in effect, asked the Bishops, as such, to introduce further legislation upon the subject. It was universally felt by the Episcopate that it was not for them to introduce a Bill dealing with the question. It did not seem to them that the Episcopal Bench was the most hopeful quarter from which such a Bill should proceed; but they also felt that it was impossible to turn a deaf ear to a Petition made so heartily and disinterestedly in relation to a subject upon which, if any portion of the community was well informed, it would certainly be the clergy, seeing that they had very ample opportunities of knowing the mischief caused by intemperance. The noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) had referred to the fact that there had been a change in the condition of Parties since then, and that several of the most distinguished Members of the Committee now occupied the other side of the House. That was a very important point to refer to, because it was not right to consider that the question of temperance or intemperance belonged to one side more than the other. It was a monstrous supposition that a Party of one colour was more interested in temperance than a Party of a different colour, and he did not believe there was in that House any such division of the two sides with regard to this question. But it so happened that a number of distinguished statesmen who were now on the Government side of the House were at that time—if he might use the expression—out of work, and were available to serve on the Committee, and he could bear testimony to the admirable, laborious, and conscientious manner in which they went into the subject. He trusted that noble Lords on that side of the House would now, in their prosperity, not despise the child of their adversity. A great many of the recommendations of the Select Committee were so simple and obvious that he did not see any difficulty in the way of their adoption. Why should not the entering of spirits as "goods" be treated as a fraud, punishable by loss of licence, as it now was in Scotland? and why should not the selling of spirits to boys or girls under the age of 16 be made penal in Ireland and Scotland as it was in England? Then there was a recommendation concerning the bonâ fide traveller. It was frequently assumed that the definition of such traveller was a man who, on the preceding night, had slept at a distance of not less than three miles than the place at which he was served; this was not really so; it was still left to the judgment of the magistrates to determine whether a man was a bonâ fide traveller or not; and the Lords' Committee recommended that this point should be made clear. There could be no doubt that "Local Option" created great interest throughout the country, and in the other House of Parliament a Resolution in its favour had recently been carried; but the question now to be decided was what local option meant. There was a wide distinction between law and Lawson, and when Local Option came to be converted into a hard law then would come the difficulty. Sir Wilfrid Lawson would like to translate his Resolution at once into the Permissive Bill; but they must all agree that that translation was neither a possible nor a desirable thing. There was a form of Local Option which the Committee in their Report called "local adoption," which was, perhaps, a more suitable term; but he (the Bishop of Carlisle) confessed he was not very hopeful as to that recommendation, although the experience of the Gothenburg system in Sweden, where it had been adopted in town after town, was a very strong practical argument in its favour. The proposal made before the Committee was not so much the Gothenburg system as that modification of it which was devised by Mr. Chamberlain, which was that the towns should have the power, if they pleased, to buy up the interests of the Licensed Victuallers, and should take the whole business into their own hands, as was now the case in many towns with respect to gasworks and waterworks. Having heard the evidence given on that plan, he did not go the length of asserting that it was possible; but he did say that it was very well worth the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and that he did not see any better method of dealing with the liquor traffic in large towns. The evil of the existence of a very unnecessary number of public-houses in some of those towns was great. A case was brought before the Committee in which a sailors' home had been established, and in which every avenue leading to that institution was lined with public-houses. As to Sunday closing, after the decision in the other House regarding Wales, the Legislature seemed distinctly to be committed to a consideration of the question, although he did not think it was simply one of the suppressions of intemperance, Sunday being by no means the most drunken day of the week. It should be borne in mind that this was not a question of the rich man against the poor man, but was the question of the poor man defending himself against an evil, the pressure of which he knew from experience. There could be no doubt that there was a growing opinion that it would be an advantage to have the public-houses closed on that day. It had been shown that of the whole num- ber of householders canvassed on that point, amounting to nearly 800,000, 640,000 were in favour of Sunday closing, 80,000 against it, and 50,000 neutral. That result showed a very large majority for the measure, while, no doubt, a very large minority would have to be considered as not being of that way of thinking. It was a remarkable fact, however, that the majority for the greater part was composed of working people, and not of persons who had their wine cellars and clubs. He did not think public opinion was far enough advanced in that direction to warrant the belief that a measure for the entire closing of public-houses on Sunday would be generally acceptable; but he believed that the moderate recommendation of the Select Committee might be adopted—that the hours should be shortened—and in some parts of the country there might be entire closing. Those recommendations were were so simple and so full of common sense that he could not conceive there could be any difficulty in introducing them into any Bill which might hereafter be brought forward on the subject. He sincerely trusted that the Report of the Committee would have due consideration from the Government whenever they had the opportunity of going into the question; and that early next Session they would have some proposal to legislate upon it.


as a Member of the Committee which had sat upon the question, hoped the Government would be able to state to the House whether they intended to take up that question. It was highly desirable that they should speak out upon the point, for it was a matter of too much importance for anybody else to take up. So long as it was doubtful whether they were going to deal with it, therefore, the reticence of the Government prevented any progress. He believed that there was no question of greater importance affecting the well-being of such a large body of the people. The interest in the question was shown by the large number of temperance societies which had been established, the meetings which had been held, and the money which had been subscribed for, among other things, the establishment of coffee-houses and labourers' clubs throughout the country; therefore, he trusted that the matter might be taken fairly in hand by the Govern- ment; but he must confess that he had his misgivings on that point, in consequence of the inaction on the part of the Executive which had followed the labours of other Select Committees and of Royal Commissions. His experience was that Committees and Commissions were appointed readily enough, but that, unfortunately, no legislation resulted from their labours. There had been a Committee on Railway Accidents and one on Noxious Vapours; but, beyond the collection of evidence, where was the legislation on either subject? There were many among the 20 recommendations made by the Select Committee on Intemperance, the adoption of which might be effected with great public advantage and without delay or difficulty. Such were the recommendation that beer licences should be put on the same footing as spirit licences; that transfers of licences should be refused on the same grounds as renewals were now; that no transfer of a licence should be granted without an opportunity of objection having been afforded to the inhabitants of the locality; that there should be a further restriction as to the hours at which public-houses were open in the early morning, when they afforded a temptation to men going to work; and the question of Sunday closing should be dealt with. He thought that the practice of taking out six-day licences could only be carried out by a general law, for it was hardly to be expected that a landlord would take out a six-day licence when all his rivals took out one that would enable them to supply his customers on Sunday. Such a system should be made general; and he was also of opinion that all convictions, as a matter of record, ought to be endorsed on the licences. The recommendations of their Lordships' Committee were plain and simple, and could be easily included in a short Bill which would receive the support of the country.


said, that the question before the House was one of those the importance of which the Government felt as strongly as the noble Earl who had opened the discussion (the Earl of Onslow). The Report to which the noble Earl had alluded emanated from a Committee of their Lordships' House, composed of men who had sat for three Sessions, and given great attention to the difficult and delicate social creations involved in this matter, and whose opinion could but carry great weight in their Lordships' House. He must, however, confess that, on rising from the perusal of that Report, one's feelings were of a somewhat mixed nature, and he might even add of some confusion. There were in this voluminous Report no less than 20 recommendations; but the one which seemed to him both the shortest and the clearest was undoubtedly number 7, which said in rather less than a line that a considerable increase should be made in the licence duty. Those of their Lordships who had followed the Financial Statement lately made by Mr. Gladstone in the other House of Parliament would be aware that that recommendation had been acted upon at the very earliest opportunity, and that it was now proposed to make a very considerable increase in the licence duties. On one point they must all be of one mind, and that was that it was their duty to do everything in their power to mitigate the evils of drunkenness that were only too prevalent in this country. Upon that point everyone agreed; but when they arrived at that point of agreement, temperance reformers joined issue on almost every detail. Some were in favour of total suppression of the liquor traffic, and others were in favour of what was called free trade in liquor; while others again put forward schemes of varying complexity, such as the Gothenburg system, and the more practicable proposals connected with licensing boards. However interesting and admirable the Report was, unfortunately it was hardly possible to find in it any one complete scheme which the Legislature were invited to adopt. The entire suppression of the liquor traffic was hardly possible or practicable in the present state of the public mind, nor would the policy of perfect freedom be likely to recommend itself to any largo section of the community. The question of the hours of closing was one which had been under the consideration of successive Governments, and was one in which they had introduced many alterations of various sorts. For his own part, he very much doubted whether these changes really very much affected the general questions of the temperance or intemperance of the people. With regard to the Gothenburg system, of which we had heard so much lately, that seemed to him one more interesting to study than easy to adopt. He begged their Lordships to consider for one moment the enormous difficulties surrounding such a scheme. They were all aware of the complicated questions which arose on the comparatively simple proposal to buy up the eight Water Companies of the Metropolis. Could anyone imagine calmly the gigantic dimensions of a proposal to buy up and manage the thousands of public-houses in the same area? Perhaps the most promising part of the subject was that which was connected with the whole question of licensing, and how far the power of granting licences should be vested in the ratepayers, or in Boards directly elected by them. The last General Election had shown that the temperance forces in the country had considerably increased, and that there was a growing feeling in favour of some sort of Local Option, and possibly in favour of some restrictions in the Sunday liquor traffic. But he would venture to say that it was hardly fair or reasonable to expect that a Government which had been so short a time in Office, and had had, in the ordinary course of affairs, so many and such great questions pressing simultaneously for immediate solution, could have already elaborated a legislative proposal on a subject which had preeminently baffled the ingenuity of successive Administrations. Those who were most earnest in the cause of temperance reform would admit that it was hardly one of those questions in which it would be wise to go far ahead of public opinion, as any excess in the direction of restraint might have the opposite effect to that which they all wished, by causing a reaction to set in. For, after all, they must not lose sight of the redeeming features of this distressing subject. Recent legislation, upon the whole, had had a beneficial effect throughout the country by producing good order in the streets, and, probably, it was possible to do still more in that direction. Drunkenness had not increased in the rural districts of England and Scotland, nor in Ireland. As a rule, the higher classes of artisans were becoming more sober, drunkenness being more confined to the lowest grades of the community, where education had not yet kept pace with the growth of wages. It must also be recollected that the police arrangements were far better than in former years, and that, consequently, they heard of more apprehensions for drunkenness. While, on the one hand, with increasing prosperity, the expenditure in alcoholic liquors per head of the population had undoubtedly increased, yet, on the other, the consumption of tea, sugar, meat, and tobacco had increased in a far more notable ratio. The Select Committee itself, indeed, pointed out that a large proportion of the increase was owing to commercial prosperity, and to the increased consumption of alcoholic drinks by those who might be described as temperate drinkers. In conclusion, he wished to say that the Government were both earnest and anxious in this question, in the direction of its advancement. The whole matter was under their consideration. They were noting the various changes which had taken place, and were now taking place in public opinion, and they hoped at no distant date to introduce a measure which might mitigate some of the worst features of this lamentable evil.


said, he had for a long time taken a deep interest in this subject, and would be rejoiced to see it dealt with in a large and comprehensive measure. They must all feel the necessity of watching carefully all those changes in legislation which were being made with regard to the opportunity of making local experiments respecting the time of opening and closing public-houses, and it was essentially desirable that public opinion should be consulted in this matter as much as possible. The early closing movement in Liverpool had been attended with great success. He did not ask the Government for any declaration of their intentions with respect to any future legislation they might have in view upon the subject, for he thought it was far better at present that they should not be called upon to express any opinion whatever, seeing that they had not yet had sufficient time to come to a conclusion on the subject before their Lordships. He (Lord Aberdare) quite shared in the difficulty with which the question was surrounded. In his opinion, there were insuperable obstacles to the adoption of the Gothenburg system in this country. All he wished at present was that localities where a desire existed for the trial of experiments, such as those which had been carried out in Birmingham and Liverpool, should be empowered to gratify their wishes, for it was only by means of experiments that they could hope to arrive at a practical solution of the existing difficulties.


said, he was very grateful to his noble Friend (Lord Aberdare) for saying that he did not wish the Government to pledge themselves to any particular course of action in connection with the Licensing Laws. The subject was one of considerable complexity, and though the Committee appointed to inquire into it had been able to make a number of small, but not uncalled for, recommendations of a not unimportant character, there still remained several points upon which it was very much more difficult to form a conclusive opinion. Allusion had been made to the question of Local Option, and the position which that question had assumed had been pointed out to their Lordships. One thing only was certain with regard to it—namely, that there was a very great and increasing desire throughout the country that, in some shape or other, power should be given to the inhabitants of a town to determine how many licences ought to be granted in the locality. Beyond this point the question as yet had not passed. Everyone who had examined the question thought that the wishes and opinions of the inhabitants of a locality, and especially of the working classes, ought to be very fully considered; but, on the other hand, no one had yet suggested a practical scheme for satisfactorily carrying this principle into effect. The Committee were unable to make such a suggestion; and, therefore, they declined to publish any positive recommendation on the subject. One suggestion made to the Committee was that power similar to that exercised in the Gothenburg scheme should be given to a municipality to deal with local licences by purchase. He had voted against that recommendation, because, though some such scheme might work in large towns, in small ones its successful application would be very doubtful. One thing would be apparent to anyone who read through the evidence that came be fore the Committee—namely, that it was almost impossible to establish a conclusive theory as to the causes of the prevalence of drunkenness. It was important that this point should not be lost sight of, because people were very apt to adopt, in accordance with their predilections, cut and dried theories as to the causes of drunkenness, and forthwith to imagine that it was in their power to furnish a remedy. In the evidence given before the Committee would be found a strong corrective to such views. The Committee, in the first place, found that drunkenness was to a great extent geographical, and that a curious line might be drawn from East to West, to the North of which drunkenness was very prevalent in large towns, and to the South of which it was much less prevalent. Another point worth attention was, that while it was generally assumed that drunkenness must vary in proportion to the number of public-houses in any particular place, the evidence before the Committee by no means verified the notion. Judging from the statistics relating to apprehensions for drunkenness, the Committee found that there were striking instances in which a very large proportion of public-houses in a town was not accompanied by a relative proportion of drunkenness. That showed that a mere diminution of the number of public-houses was not so certain a cure for drunken habits as some supposed. One of the most valuable results of the deliberations of the Committee was, that they had shown that the measure introduced by his noble Friend behind him (Lord Aberdare) was, on the whole, a most successful police measure. The next point to which he would refer was one in which the noble and learned Lord who sat on the Woolsack took great interest. His noble Friend (the Earl of Onslow) had said that there was a great deal of evidence from constables, clergymen, and others as to the great mischief done by shopkeepers' licences. Well, he was bound to say that, in his opinion, and in that of the majority of the Committee, the evidence given before them completely failed to prove that any appreciable increase of drunkenness could be ascribed to those particular licences. They were licences which were possibly liable to attack on various grounds; but no direct evidence had yet been produced of an immediate connection between them and the prevalence of drunkenness. He had not found the assertions with regard to alleged increase of drunkenness among women supported by the evidence, and as to grocers' licences, they were only some 5,000 out of a total of nearly 100,000 licences for the sale of intoxicating drinks. He merely made these remarks to show the noble Lord that he had not lost his interest in the subject. He did not now think it desirable to express any decided opinions on the subject, as he wished to, come unfettered to the consideration of the matter, if the Government should think it proper to bring in a Bill.