HL Deb 05 August 1887 vol 318 cc1343-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the object of it was to alter the hour of closing from 11 to 10. That, was the whole effect of the measure. He asked their Lordships to remark that this Bill was not prepared for any portion of Scotland, but applied to the whole of that country, and in that respect dealt exactly alike with all legislation in regard to intoxicating liquors. In bringing forward this Bill, he was sensible of the difficulties surrounding the subject, and the great variety of opinion that existed in regard to any question of this kind. He had considered the matter contained in the Bill very carefully, and he felt certain that the majority of their Lordships, at all events, would be of the same opinion as himself in this matter—namely, that it was very desirable to deal cautiously and sensibly with questions relating to licensing. He did not himself retain any extreme opinion in regard to the licensing question, and he wished particularly to say that he had no feeling whatsoever against licensed victuallers, or against any of those who found their occupation in the sale of intoxicating liquors. On the contrary, he believed that the great mass of licensed victuallers and others engaged in the trade were as respectable and as desirous of maintaining order as any other class in the country. But, at the same time, they could not disguise from themselves the fact that this liquor question was attracting a very large amount of attention in the public mind, and their Lordships must keep themselves abreast of public opinion in this as in other matters. The best test he could find was in regard to what had happened in the other House of Parliament. When this measure was brought forward for second reading in the House of Commons a Motion of Adjournment was made, the object of which was, of course, to got rid of the Bill, and 31 Scottish Members voted for the Bill and only three against it, and in consequence the second reading was carried. After the Bill had been read a second, time, there was a conference of Scottish Members, at which it was decided by general consent to proceed with the Bill; and when the Bill was brought on again, a Motion was made to exclude a certain number of large towns. That Motion was negatived by 125 votes to 73; and out of the number who voted. 42 Scottish Members were against the Motion, and only seven voted for it. Therefore, their Lordships would see that, so far as this measure was concerned, it had been supported by a very large majority of the Scottish Members of the other House of Parliament. After placing this Bill upon their Lordships' Table, he thought it his duty, and that it was a better course to consider the Bill carefully, and hear all that was to be said against it. He had had an opportunity to hear the objections that were urged by a variety of interests against the Bill, and he would endeavour, as far as he could consistently with the principle of the Bill, to devise some means of meeting those objections. Therefore he wished to say at once to his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss)—who, he understood, took exception to the measure—that he was perfectly ready, on going into Committee, to propose an arrangement which he thought was a very sensible and practical compromise, and which he should now deseribe to their Lordships. He proposed to take the hours of 10 and 11 named in the Bill, and to give the licensing authority in each district a discretionary power in dealing with the closing hour, so as to enable them to make any time between 10 and 11—not earlier than 10, and not later than 11—the closing time. One reason which had weighed with him a great deal in proposing this arrangement was that he thought there was a general agreement that when a measure was introduced, by whatever Government, dealing with the question of Local Government, a proposal would be made to transfer the licensing question to the Local Authorities. Well, when that came to be done, it would be perfectly easy to transfer the discretionary power which he proposed to give to the Local Authorities, to the now local governing bodies; and in any circumstances, he thought the effect of the Bill, altered in the way he had suggested, would only be to an- ticipate, by a few years at most, legislation which he thought was tolerably certain to meet with the approval of Parliament. There was another reason which he had had in his mind—namely, that an arrangement of this sort was actually the law from the year 1872 till the year 1875. Mr. Bruce's Act of 1872 gave discretionary powers to the Local Authorities, and in the year 1875 a change was made by the noble Lord opposite (Viscount Cross).


It was in 1874.


said, that the Act of 1874 defined hours for towns according to their population. He believed that great legal difficulty was experienced both in the passing of the Act and in its operation. What he proposed was to revert in this particular case to the arrangement which was sanctioned by the Act of 1872. If his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss) would allow the Bill to be read a second time on that understanding, he was perfectly prepared to take the course he had indicated.

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


said, he held very strong opinions upon these questions of licensing. He did not find fault with the principle that licences should be regulated. It was ail very well to regulate a trade; but they might regulate it off the face of the earth. He was in favour of liberty which did not go to the length of local option and prohibition, the Maine Liquor Laws, and those sort of things, as he thought they were contrary to the spirit and genius of the Constitution; and, therefore, he was inclined to view with disfavour any measure that tended in that direction. Public-houses should, no doubt, be regulated in a reasonable way; but the persons who ought to be dealt with were the drunkards. Let them tine and take up the drunkards who were going about the streets, and fine, by taking their licences from, them, those who manufactured drunkards by adulterating the drink they sold. This question of drunkenness and sobriety he held to be a mere matter of police. Every year the people of this country were becoming more and more sober. With regard to the Bill, he had to say that he was not prepared, on the part of those who took the same view as he did, to oppose the second reading of the Bill. He thought that the compromise suggested by the noble Earl was one that might not be unreasonable; but he could not now say whether those whom he represented would consider it as entirely satisfactory. When the matter was discussed some time ago by those interested in the question, the compromise that he put before them was a double one—it was that this discretionary power should be in the hands of the magistrates; but should only apply to towns in the country below a certain number of inhabitants. The view was that that might easily be provided for by leaving out the great towns with upwards of 50,000 inhabitants. There were only, he thought, eight large towns in Scotland with over 50,000 inhabitants; and he thought those ought to be exempt from the operation of the Bill. After the remarks of the noble Earl he would not oppose the Bill being read a second time.


said, he had no desire to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill; but he wished to point out that if the noble Earl would look at the Act of I874 he would find the principle of the Act was that in the country towns all public-houses should be closed at 10 o'clock, and in populous places at a later hour. Great difficulty was felt under the Act before that as to the action of the magistrates in fixing what hour the public-houses should be closed, and it was thought hotter the large and populous places should be mapped out where the hour might be later. It was impossible, of course, to say what view they took of this Bill after what had fallen from the noble Earl, as it appeared that many changes were to be made in it; and, therefore, he would reserve what remarks he had to make until he saw what changes were proposed. But he must say he would be more inclined to adopt what had fallen from the noble Earl on the Cross Benches.


said, he greatly feared the Bill would tend, not so much to the suppression of excessive drinking, as the encouragement of what were called shebeens, which had been hitherto the universal result of restriction in this direction, He was told that in Glasgow since the introduction of the Forbes Mackenzie Act these shebeens were counted by thousands, and what the police were about to allow them to continue he did not know; but before the Forbes Mackenzie Act they were unknown in Scotland. He thought it was most monstrous tyranny to say that in towns of over 20,000, but not reaching 50,000 inhabitants, no human being was to obtain refreshment after 10 o'clock at night. It was surely enough to say that people should conduct themselves with propriety, but to say that people going home from theatres or other places of entertainment were not to be able to obtain any refreshment after 10 o'clock was only another specimen of that modern legislation which interfered with everybody.


said, he might, perhaps, be allowed to say a word with regard to the question which had been alluded to by the noble Earl who had just spoken. He admitted that the question of shebeens was one of the difficulties which attended any measure connected with licensing; but that, after all, was merely a matter for the police. [The noble Earl was about to reply to the observations of the Earl of Wemyss, when he was reminded that he was not in Order, and he resumed his seat.]

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.