HL Deb 21 May 1886 vol 305 cc1638-48

House in Committee (according to order).

Clause 1 (Premises in which intoxicating liquors are sold to be closed on Sunday).


drew attention to the position in which the clause would place members of the North-Eastern Circuit. His attention had been called to the fact that that Circuit held their mess dinner at one of the hotels in the city of Durham on a Sunday; but, under the operation of this Bill, if it were passed in its present form, this would be prevented—the Bar would be prevented from having their dinners on Sundays. He hoped that something would be done to prevent the operation of the Bill having this effect. The mess usually provided their own wine; but even food could not be supplied under the Bill. The Government, he thought, should look into this matter. No doubt, many members of the Bar stayed at the hotel, and they would be all right; but three-fourths of the members of this old Circuit were compelled to find lodgings in the city, and as they would not be bonâ fide travellers, they certainly would not be able to get their dinners at the hotel. He hoped that the members of this old Circuit would still be given the opportunity of meeting together and would not be inconvenienced in this matter, and that the case would have the favourable consideration of the right rev. Prelate in charge of the Bill.


, who had given Notice to move that the city of Durham be exempted from the operation of the Bill, said, he desired for a few minutes to refer to a point raised by the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) the other evening. The noble and learned Lord, in reference to the Petition against the Bill, told them that he happened to take a stray shot at it, with the result that his stray shot had brought down game, inasmuch as he held then in his hand a Petition from a well-known teetotaller, asking that his name might be struck off the Petition, as he had been induced to sign the Petition against the Bill when he thought that he was signing for it. The name of the person was stated to be Mr. Edward Close, of 3, Paradise Street, Durham. He (the Earl of Wemyss) held in his hand a letter from this well-known teetotaller, a gentleman of the mature age of 17, who, in the presence of four witnesses whose names were attached to the letter, said—"The mistake was entirely my own, and no attempt whatever was made to deceive me." In these circumstances, he trusted that the promoters of the Petition would be held quite guiltless of any mala fides. With regard to the Amendment of which he had given Notice, he intended not only to ask their Lordships to support it, but he intended to claim the votes of the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Durham) and the other occupants of the Episcopal Bench. This he should do solely upon the grounds which had been put forward by the right rev. Prelate who had charge of the Bill. The right rev. Prelate said— He knew there was little chance of their carrying a general Bill dealing with the whole country; and, therefore, he would ask them to deal exceptionally with the question, and he urged that they might well do this where they found a county anxious and even praying their Lordships' House to have all public-houses closed on Sunday. Upon this principle he asked them now to exempt the city of Durham. Let the promoters of the Bill have the same principle by which they supported the measure applied on the other side. Let the right rev. Prelate and his Friends apply their own principle to the city and town of Durham. On the second reading they were told that out of 16 Members representing the county of Durham 15 were in favour of this measure and one was not. But who was the one Member opposed to it? The Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Milvain), and as he protested against the measure they might be sure that his constituency also objected to it. They were told that Members were guided by the feelings of their constituents; and he had a right to assume, therefore, upon the argument of the supporters, that the majority of the inhabitants of the city of Durham were opposed to the Bill. He did not think the right rev. Prelate would deny that the inhabitants of Durham City had wholly repudiated the Bill, and would have nothing to do with it. But this he could assure the right rev. Prelate—that a Petition was being promoted against the Bill, and he had expected that it would have been in time for him to present it that evening. It had, however, been very numerously signed. But if there was any doubt on this question, there was more positive evidence of the state of feeling. On Monday last a great mass meeting was held in the Market Place at Durham to protest against it. There were between 5,000 and 6,000 people present. The utmost enthusiasm prevailed, and the object of the gathering was to protest against legislation which would shut up public-houses on Sunday. They passed resolutions opposed to the Bill as a most unwarrantable interference with the rights of individuals, and as promoting piecemeal legislation. A rev. gentleman, who, perhaps, was chaplain of the right rev. Prelate, and some of his friends, were present at the meeting, but were so hustled that they were compelled to take refuge in the Town Hall. That was the state of feeling on the Monday. On the Tuesday, not discouraged by what had taken place on the Monday, the supporters of the Bill summoned a meeting by handbill for that day, and from the tone of those handbills he was not surprised at the result. They certainly were not likely to tend to the peace of the meeting. He would read to the House from the published reports an account of the proceedings, from which their Lordships would see that the speakers were quite inaudible, owing to the noise and singing that went on, and that, finally, the speakers themselves were compelled to beat a hasty retreat amid a shower of rotten eggs and other unsavoury articles. They were told that the chairman declared the resolution carried; but no one heard it put to the meeting, and if it had been no one would have known what they were asked to vote about. The promoters, again, were compelled to seek refuge from the hustling of the crowd. These were the grounds upon which he requested the votes of the right rev. Prelate and the other occupants of the Episcopal Bench in exempting the city of Durham from the operation of the Bill. The resolution which the chairman of the second meeting declared to be carried stated that this meeting protested against the exemption of the city of Durham from the provivisions of the Durham Sunday Closing Bill, on the ground that it was exceptional legislation and an undue interference with individual liberty. This was the ground taken up by all those who objected to the measure, and he asked the right rev. Prelate to support his Amendment, which was thoroughly in accord with the strong public feeling in the city of Durham. He asked them to avoid the possibility of such scandals as those meetings which had taken place in the town. He was of opinion that the feeling now aroused would continue if the Bill were passed and Durham not exempted from its operation, because, do whatever they would, they could not prevent the minority—and there would be a large minority—feeling that these laws were unjust infringements of an Englishman's privilege, and they would do their best to avoid and prevent these measures which were opposed to their liberties and instincts being passed.

Amendment moved, In page 1, line 11, after ("In,") insert ("all parts of,") and after ("Durham,") insert ("except the city of Durham.")—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


said, he was probably more closely interested in the city of Durham than any other Peer present. He was sorry he could not support the Amendment of his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss), but that he must give his strongest opposition to it on the same grounds as he opposed the measure itself. He did not believe there was anything like a unanimous feeling in the county in favour of Sunday closing. The principle of the Bill had been referred to, and he would say that his objections to it were that it was exceptional and one-sided, and that it must necessarily create grievous anomalies and much injustice, as it was surrounded by counties which were not subject to the same legislation. His noble Friend desired to create an anomaly within an anomaly. Let them look at the question of population. In Durham there was a population of 15,000; the population of Gateshead was nearly five times that; and if they exempted Durham how could they help exempting Gateshead and South Shields, and the other large towns in the county such as Stockton and Darlington? The Amendment would create an anomaly within an anomaly even more grievous than the anomaly of the exceptional Bill itself. The city of Durham had had a very long life, and in its historical and ecclesiastical traditions it stood second to none in the Kingdom; and as a magistrate and resident in the county, he objected to the city being made a drinking centre of the whole county. He believed that opinion was very much divided on the subject, and he showed that by giving his vote against the second reading. He hoped that the noble Earl would not receive any large amount of support on his Amendment. He regretted to disagree with the noble Earl, because he went entirely with many of his arguments, and detested the unnecessary interference with liberty of which he had spoken. He was perfectly convinced that by that kind of piecemeal legislation they would encourage rather than cheek the very evil they wished to eradicate. The people beyond its frontiers would go from Durham to other counties, and those counties would suffer from increased Sunday drinking.


said, as the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) had referred to his connection with Durham, he would like to make a few remarks. He admitted that the opponents of the Bill had brought forward strong arguments; but strong arguments could also be adduced on the other side. He had never sought to depreciate the strength of the opposition, but was strongly of opinion that, if the Bill passed at all, it ought to pass without any such exception as that proposed; he would rather see the measure rejected altogether. His noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss) said that they were dealing exceptionally with the county, and they might as well deal exceptionally with that portion of the county. He was not sure that the county would be in an exceptional position for long; other counties would adopt the measure if it proved, on the whole, to be advantageous, as he believed it would. They might as well propose to exempt a single street. Exceptions of that sort would be absolutely impossible, and would make the measure ridiculous. His noble Friend wanted to make it ridiculous—he was perfectly aware of that. An absolute and complete opposition to the Bill, its entire destruction, would be far better, and would serve its opponents' ends better than the Amendment. He was not prepared to admit that the city of Durham viewed the matter in a different light to other parts of the county. His noble Friend said the city of Durham was opposed to the Bill; if that were so, it must have changed its views, for when he declared that he was going to vote for the Bill it elected him by a great majority to represent it. But what was the evidence of the change? The public meetings had been referred to. It was a remarkable fact that there were no such meetings before the question came before their Lordships' House, and his noble Friend had denounced it as an infringement of the rights of Her Majesty's subjects. The Bill had been before the country for years; it had passed through the House of Commons, and there were no meetings against it. It was not before it had been opposed in this House and narrowly escaped defeat that such meetings were held. What was the origin of those meetings? Spontaneous exhibition of public feeling? He was not perfectly satisfied of that. Reference had been made to a Petition got up by the Brewers' Association, which said that the effect of the Bill would be to diminish the drinking on Sunday; but it was a little inconsistent with the argument also used against the Bill that it would not diminish the consumption of drink at all, but would lead to drinking in another form. Had not the meeting a somewhat similar origin? Knowing the inhabitants of Durham as he did, he declined to accept the people who received the speakers with rotten eggs, and would not hear them, as the true representatives of the city. It was not such people whom he had the honour of representing, and when he was the Representative of the city people did not exhibit their sentiments in such a way as that. He declined to accept the decision of that meeting as the public opinion of the city. It was perfectly easy to get hundreds together. [The Earl of WEMYSS: Thousands.] Thousands was easily said, but he knew the size of the market place, and he doubted very much if there were 5,000 or 6,000 people there. The whole population of the city was only 15,000, and, that being so, the meeting might be taken to represent the minority throughout the county, and not in the city alone. One could easily understand how such meetings could be got up, and it was not difficult to see what the origin of this meeting had been from their behaviour. A resolution was passed at the meeting, and the source from which that resolution came must be patent to everybody. It was almost word for word taken from a pamphlet presented to each Member of the House, and issued by the Liberty and Property Defence League, of which the noble Earl was so prominent a member. For his own part, he certainly would not admit that this meeting represented the views of the city of Durham. When one considered that the city had only 15,000 inhabitants, and that the population of the county was 900,000, it was a very strong indication of the feeling with regard to the Bill, and of the favour with which it was received, that out of a population of 900,000 his noble Friend only suggested that there were some 15,000 who desired to be exempted from its operation. He trusted that, whatever might be done on the third reading, the Amendment would not be agreed to, and that the city of Durham would not be excepted from the action of the Bill.


said, the House had read the Bill a second time, and confirmed whatever was the principle of it; but he could not understand the principle under which that part of the country between the Tees, the sea, and the Tyne, was to have no more drink sold on Sunday within it. If it was the principle of fulfilling the wishes of the majority, there was no doubt that the majority of the inhabitants of the city were opposed to the Bill. He had no doubt of that, not because of the foolish mob which misbehaved itself, although that was rather a reason why their desire should be granted, for who could doubt that after the debate yesterday that a little lawlessness was an aid to legislation. That majority had shown by its vote in behalf of the Gentleman who represented them in the House of Commons that they disapproved of the Bill for the city. He was in a difficulty in the matter. He had a letter from the Member for the City (Mr. Milvain), in which he said— I understand an Amendment is proposed to exclude the city of Durham from the operation of this Bill. If so, I would humbly beg that it be not persisted in, for, while regretting the additional drunkenness which must necessarily accrue on the borders of Northumberland and Yorkshire, I would not like to see the cathedral city the scene of such drunkenness if such Amendment were carried into law. That was a very natural desire on his part; he would like Durham drunkenness to be spread fairly over the county. His noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) said that the Petition had been got up by the country brewers, and that it did not show that they thought the Bill would not put a stop to drinking. He inferred that they did think it would put a stop to the drinking of beer, because gin and other spirits would be drunk instead. Under all these circumstances, he felt considerable difficulty in voting for the Amendment of his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss). The hon. Gentleman who wrote to him also put in a word for the North-Eastern Circuit, that they might not go dinnerless on Sunday. He was not sure that they were not bonâ fide travellers, but did not know what would happen to them or the publicans if they opened the doors of their houses. Perhaps his noble and learned Friend in his zeal for the city of Durham would also have some consideration for the Circuit which he so admirably and ably led for some time.


said, perhaps he could throw a little light on the meeting at Durham. The population of the city of Durham was 15,000, and there were 114 places for the sale of intoxicating drink, or one to every 131 of the population. The fact, however, to which he particularly wished to call their attention, was that 64 of these were within a radius of a quarter of a mile from the market place, where the meeting in question was held. They knew what the effect was upon people of those beverages which, in deference to the noble and learned Lord, he would not call intoxicating but fortifying; and if the meeting had been somewhat unruly it was no more than was to be expected. He protested, however, against such behaviour being considered a type of the conduct of the good orderly people of Durham; and if their behaviour was not a type, why should their opinions be taken to represent the opinions of Durham? The statistics all went the other way. Three years ago there was a house-to-house canvass, and the result was that 1,449 householders voted in favour of a Sunday Closing Bill, 201 were neutral, and 857 were blank, or not returned at all. This day he had presented to their Lordships two Petitions in favour of the measure, one of which was signed by the clergy of the Church of England, by Roman Catholic clergy, and Nonconformists of divers denominations. The signatures represented every single parish but one—in which there was not a single public-house—and every religious denomination. The other Petition was signed by 1,800 inhabitants of Durham, and had been got out within the last four days, for it was only late on Saturday night that Durham awoke to the fact that exceptional treatment was contemplated in its case. The noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) had claimed his vote; but he had a greater claim to the vote of the noble Earl. The noble Earl objected to the Bill that it was piecemeal; he objected to the noble Earl's Amendment that it was atomic. There were seven or eight towns in Durham the population of which was considerably larger than that of the city of Durham—the population of Sunderland, for instance, was eight or nine times as great—and he could not see on what ground Durham should be excepted. He had endeavoured, during the few days that had elapsed since the second reading, to find out if he were really mistaken when he said that the general mass of working men in the county were in favour of the Bill. Through his clergy, who had ample opportunities of learning the truth, evidence had been volunteered to him from various quarters, and his deliberate conviction was that the great mass of the artizans and working men of Durham were strongly in favour of the Bill.


said, he voted with considerable diffidence for the Bill on the second reading, and the discussion which had taken place tonight showed how very difficult it was for their Lordships sitting in London, and unacquainted with the locality, to enter upon that class of piecemeal legislation. It was because he thought a distinct opinion had been expressed by the inhabitants of the city of Durham, or a certain proportion of them, that they should not have that legislation thrust upon them, that, notwithstanding the vote he gave on the second reading, he should support the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss).


said, the Bill as introduced was to prevent Sunday drinking without any limit whatever; but the Amendment which the right rev. Prelate in charge of the Bill (the Bishop of Durham) had put down on the Paper would limit its operation to four years. That reduced the Bill to an experiment, and he ventured to suggest that if they were to try an experiment they should do it thoroughly; it was no use to try a partial experiment. If the Bill were to operate for four years only, it was absurd to spoil what they were going to do beforehand. If the city were exempted, and the Bill failed, the promoters would say that that was due to the exemption of the city; if it succeeded, the opponents of the Bill would say it was due to the exemption of the city; and so there would be no satisfactory result either way. The proposal to throw the Bill out on the third reading was on a very different footing, and he could understand the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) asking their Lordships to rescind the vote of the other night; but he thought it would be a great mistake if they were to legislate in the form now proposed and adopt the Amendment.


said, it was clear, upon the face even of the statistics which the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Durham) had quoted, that there was a large minority whose rights required protection, and he hoped they would receive attention.

On Question, disagreed to.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Commencement of Act).

Amendment moved, in page 1, line 18, leave out from ("on") to the end of the clause, and insert— (The eleventh day of October next, and shall, unless otherwise determined by Parliament, expire on the first day of July one thousand eight hundred and ninety.")—(The Lord Bishop of Durham.)

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Monday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 123.)