HL Deb 02 August 1883 vol 282 cc1299-302

, in rising to move for Copy of any minutes recently made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England upon the subject of public-houses of which they are the owners, said, that he did so in consequence of a letter which was written in July of last year by Canon Basil Wilberforce, and which was remarkable for the courageous emphasis with which the author expressed his convictions, and for an important extract which it contained from a lively periodical called The Sword and Trowel. Almost the last public letter written by the late Archbishop of Canterbury was to express his opinion that some notice ought to be taken of that letter; and in the month of November the Ecclesiastical Commissioners appointed a Committee to consider the subject. The Report of the Committee had been made after full and careful consideration. In the extract to which he had alluded, two distinct charges had been made, one of which was of a sensational character, which had been copied into the newspapers, and had been made the subject of an elaborate attack in an American book of travels just published. It was to the effect that the Bishop of London, as he travelled from his house in St. James's Square to his Palace at Fulham, passed at least 100 public-houses built on Church property. It was impossible to meet that statement, because the route which his Lordship might take was not indicated; but it was stated, upon an authority which their Lordships would regard as supreme, that as a matter of fact the right rev. Prelate, in travelling from London to Fulham, passed by two public-houses upon ecclesiastical property. The other statement was, that there were four public-houses on ecclesiastical property, two of which wore earning 10,000 a - year. Two gin palaces were stated to be in Knightsbridge; but those houses had never come under the control of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They were let some years ago by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster on a beneficial lease, which had still 16 years to run. With respect to the "Royal Oak" public-house, at Notting Hill, which was said to bring in an enormous revenue, it was not on the Commissioners' estate, or in any sense on Church property. As to the "Hero of Waterloo," it was sold to the South-Eastern Railway Company by the Archbishop of Canterbury 23 years ago, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners never had any kind of control over it. The public-house property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners might be divided into three categories. In the first category were the houses of which they had only the reversion, and of which the beneficial lessees were practically the landlords. Of at least one-half of these, the Commissioners had not yet come into possession. The majority of the leases extended to the year 1900, and had 50 or 60 years to run. The Commissioners received only a very small ground rent from these properties; the leases gave them very little control; and they had no power of buying out the lessees. In the next category were public-houses on old building estates. In regard to these, he had to inform their Lordships that vigilance and discretion were exorcised in re-letting those houses as the leases fell in. Within the last two years 21 cases of re-letting had been considered. Of these, nine had been suppressed, 11 extended, and one not dealt with at all. In the third category were public-houses on now building estates recently laid out and leased by the Commissioners. On these estates the public-houses were few, and liberty to lessees to erect public-houses was sparsely granted and strictly limited. The Commissioners owned 19 building estates in the Metropolis, including 1,154 acres, and 4,500 houses. On nine of these estates there were no public-houses at all, and on 10 there were 24. Of course, if it was to be admitted as an axiom that it was an offence against society, and a grave moral evil, either to manufacture or sell intoxicating liquors, then the Commissioners must be held to be culpable in granting or renewing these leases; but, perhaps, their Lordships would be of opinion that that was philanthropy gone mad. It was not the practice of the Commissioners to let as a public-house a house which had not before been used as such. They suppressed beerhouses as much as they could, and had already suppressed many. The Commissioners were clearly of opinion that their interest in this class of property should be diminished as far as practicable. The Commissioners further recommended that where it could be advantageously done progress should be made in selling public-houses and in declining new leases, and that no more considerations of income should induce them to sanction the extension of public-houses maintained by the sale of intoxicating liquors. The Commissioners could not, however, promise that no public-houses should be erected on estates which were in process of development. He trusted that when the Report came into their Lordships' hands they would consider that the Commissioners had been acting properly under the duties and responsibilities laid upon them. He begged to move the Motion which stood in his name.

Moved, That there be laid before the House— Copy of any minutes recently made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England upon the subject of public-houses of which they are the owners."—(The Lord Bishop of Rochester.)


, on behalf of the Commissioners, said, that he had no objection to the publication of the Minutes referred to in the Motion. After the comprehensive statement of the right rev. Prelate, it was not necessary for him to enter into the details of the public-house property held by the Com- missioners. He might observe, however, that some important hotels, such as the Westminster Palace Hotel, belonged to that Body. The Commissioners dealt with their public-house property very much as large private owners of similar property dealt with theirs; and, like the Duke of Westminster, they had in the last few years suppressed, actually or prospectively, a great number of public-houses. That very day a recommendation had been made by the Estates Committee of the Commission, with a view to the suppression of a public-house in St. Saviour's Parish, Southwark, on the ground that there was already too large a number of such houses in that parish. He hoped their Lordships would consent to the Motion and printing of the Papers asked for.

Motion agreed to.