HL Deb 26 March 1889 vol 334 cc814-25

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I shall not trespass very long upon your Lordships, because the object of the measure is very clearly stated in the Bill itself. I may, in the first place, state that I am not actuated, as some seem to think, by any hostility to the licensed victuallers. They are a most respectable body of men, and men for whom I entertain the greatest possible respect. Some years ago I had the honour of carrying through your Lordships' House a measure interesting to them, and I well know how respectable a body of men they are. The Bill is presented in the interests of the large body of persons who are travellers by railway in this country. No one can deny that railway companies, in issuing tickets to their passengers, are bound to provide proper and reasonable accommodation beyond the undertaking to convey persons to their destination, and it seems to me that there ought to be no want of adequate shelter against wind and storm, and the inclemencies of the weather. I have no doubt when railways were first established waiting rooms were provided at every station, but by degrees they have been gradually diverted from their original purpose and have become refreshment rooms, which are not accessible to the ordinary passengers, in the way they enjoyed them before the change. As I have said, I am not actuated by any hostility to the licensed victuallers or to the refreshment rooms themselves. I will go farther, and say that I am the last person to initiate any legislation for the purpose of unduly controlling or limiting the enjoyments or amusements of the people of this country; but railway passengers are entitled to much better accommodation and protection against wind and weather than that which they obtain at a refreshment room. It cannot be denied that the accommodation is not always forthcoming. My Lords, the object of the Bill is to provide that from and after a certain date, the Justices, in granting or renewing licences for refreshment rooms at railway stations, shall not do so unless they are satisfied that proper accommodation is provided for passengers other than the accommodation for the sale of liquors. My Lords, that is the whole proposition involved in the Bill, and I think your Lordships will say it is a very simple one. Your Lordships may object to the machinery for carrying out the provisions of the Bill; you may think that the penalties are too severe, or that the time for reverting to the old state of things is too short; you may think that limitations might be imposed so as to exclude more or less the Metropolitan area; but all those are matters of detail which do not affect the principle of the Bill. There is no doubt that a licence for the sale of intoxicating liquors is a very valuable property to those to whom it is granted; and, therefore, I do not think it at all unreasonable or too much to ask that those to whom are granted should be called upon to take care that the licences should be used properly, and not to the annoyance of other persons. In many cases passengers are compelled to wait for long periods at railway stations; sometimes they arrive at a station too soon, sometimes too late, and at junctions the arrangements are such that passengers are often kept waiting a considerable time; and I think it certainly is a most serious grievance that they should, under those circumstances, be put to the great inconvenience and annoyance of waiting in a room where refreshments—including intoxicating liquors—are being served, and where, perhaps, all the company are not in that state of tranquillity or sobriety which might be desirable. Parliament has enacted conditions preliminary to the granting of licences, such as that the premises shall be of a certain value, that certain accommodation should be provided, and regulating the sale of liquors, and so forth; and I do not see why similar or the necessary provisoes should not be insisted on with regard to railway refreshment rooms, so that they should not be used to the inconvenience of the great body of railway passengers. Circulars have been sent out to the public, and it has been said that there is no widespread demand for this measure. My Lords, I have always wondered at the absence of complaints and at the apathy of the public; but of railway passengers it may be said that "sufferance is the badge of all their tribe," and the absence of complaint is probably due to the want of any kind of organization among railway passengers. Railway passengers are not an organized body, and it is obvious they cannot be, But there is no reason whatever why Parliament should not take the circumstances of the case into their consideration, and relieve railway passengers of the inconvenience and annoyance to which they are exposed by the sale of intoxicating liquors in the only places of accommodation for waiting at railway stations. My Lords, we have been told that this grievance does not exist, and that waiting rooms are always provided, but such a statement could only be made by those who are not acquainted with the facts of the case. The cases of which I complain are either many or few. If they are many, I suppose that it will be conceded that the grievance requires a remedy; but if they are few, where is the hardship in requiring the few to bring up the level of the accommodation to the adequate arrangements of the many? My Lords, I do not think it necessary to encumber my case by further reference to the argument which is addressed to the invariable providing of waiting accommodation for railway passengers. I do not know whether it would be possible to obtain from the railway companies particulars with regard to the waiting accommodation they provide for the public, and also particulars as to the licences granted for those premises. It is a matter upon which it is hardly possible to get statistics which would be at all reliable. But when all is said and done, I think it is a matter which, in the interest of the public requires Parliamentary interference. My Lords, the principal objection to the Bill appears to be that it would include the stations in the Metropolitan area, but it is a matter for your Lordships to consider, and I should not withdraw the Bill if the Metropolitan area was excluded. It has been urged that the Bill means the suppression of the licences at all the Metropolitan stations, where no such accommodation as that mentioned in the Bill is required, because the stations are all covered in, and passengers have only a few minutes to wait. That argument really seems to me to concede the whole case, and one paper had said that it was impossible to tell what the result of this legislation might be if it was applied to the railways of the Metropolis. My Lords, I should have thought this was a very dangerous argument to advance, because it admits that they do provide refreshment rooms, and they do not provide waiting rooms. The passengers, having only a few minutes to wait, have not much time to devote to taking refreshments; and it is obvious to all that immediately adjacent to every Metropolitan station there is ample accommodation for the sale of intoxicating liquors and refreshments. But if your Lordships see fit to exempt the Metropolitan area from the operation of this Bill, I, for one, do not think you should refuse to consult the convenience of railway passengers in this matter all over the United Kingdom. It is not my purpose to argue the question from a temperance point of view, but I do think it is rather hard, when you reflect upon the infirmity of purpose of many classes of mankind, that a man who has no particular desire for refreshments, and having, perhaps, an hour or so to wait for a train, should have to wait in a refreshment room. There might be misgivings in the mind of some as to the desirability of allowing such a state of things that people could not wait even a few minutes at a railway station without having intoxicating liquors brought immediately under their notice. I think it is desirable that persons who are merely waiting for a train, and desiring to obtain shelter from the weather, should be able to get it and to warm themselves at a fire without being exposed to temptation or being placed under an obligation to "take something for the good of the house." I hope your Lordships will see that in the passing of this Bill you will be promoting the convenience of the ordinary railway passengers, and that you will be removing from them a severe temptation to which there is no reason why they should be exposed. The paper of which I have spoken points out that railway companies let their rooms to contractors, and that it would be impossible to make them responsible for the waiting rooms. My Lords, if the railway companies have not sufficient control over these premises, I do not think that is any reason why your Lordships should not interfere, or refrain from making proper legislative arrangements in the matter. But that is all matter of arrangement; and as part of the scheme provision might be made, if it were thought proper, for the railway companies withdrawing those contracts with regard to the refreshment rooms. The companies would be liable to compensate the licence holders, in case the contracts were put an end to, and Parliament will act most injudiciously if it refuses to entertain a Bill which is otherwise proper merely because the companies nave made arrangements for withdrawing their waiting-rooms from their own control. Railway companies have no right, for the sake of making valuable concessions of this kind, to deprive the ordinary travellers of the shelter and accommodation which is necessary. Providing refreshment rooms for the sale of intoxicating liquors is no part of the business of railway companies, and it is the convenience of the public alone which should be studied in this matter. My Lords, the position is shortly this—shelter is necessary as a part of the railway accommodation, and refreshment rooms are not a necessary part of the railway accommodation. They are a great convenience to the public, no doubt; but if we are called upon to choose whether proper shelter shall be afforded to railway passengers, or whether refreshments shall be provided for them, there is an advantage and an obligation in providing waiting rooms. If one of those things can be provided for, and not both, I think, my Lords, there can be no doubt that the shelter should be provided for the ordinary passengers, and that the refreshments should have to be sought at a little ins convenience by those who wished to drink elsewhere. My Lords, I beg to move that your Lordships should give a Second Beading to the Bill.

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


My Lords, as no noble Lord appears disposed to rise I would like to say a few words on the public aspect of this Bill. I had hoped that the Government would have considered the difficulty of dealing with the Licensing Laws in a fragmentary manner, and would have undertaken the responsibility of moving the rejection of the measure. The noble Lord has stated that in promoting this Bill he is not actuated by any hostility to the licensed victuallers, and that his whole consideration is for the accommodation of the ordinary traveller. What I wish to point out, and what I think this Bill proves, is that even those who are actuated by the most benevolent intentions very often in carrying them out produce the greatest inconvenience, especially when the object of those intentions is to interfere in some way or other with the public. Misdirected benevolence is sometimes productive of very great inconvenience. This Bill is very curious in this respect—it seeks to punish one party for the alleged misconduct of the other, and proposes that when railway companies have let to responsible persons refreshment rooms at their stations, those persons are to forfeit their licences if the railway companies do not afford proper accommodation for waiting rooms, adjacent to the refreshment rooms, over which the person possessing the licence has not the slightest control. That is a rather curious feature of the proposed legislation, which I do not think your Lordships will be at all disposed to adopt. The Bill is drawn in a most extraordinary manner; and, however good it might be to have waiting rooms everywhere, your Lordships, I think, must look at the question from a practical point of view. At many stations there is only the most limited accommodation possible, and I would ask your Lordships whether it really is a hardship for any one of the travelling public that he should be required to stand in the same room with a man who may be drinking half a pint of beer or a bottle of ginger-beer where only a limited space is allotted for refreshments? It is proposed that these licences should be forfeited rather than that anyone should be exposed to so slight an inconvenience. My Lords, it appears to me that this is an absolutely useless Bill, and only deals with a fragment of a very great subject, which your Lordships have already dealt with in one sense, and with which you will probably be called upon to deal again by transferring the granting of licences from one body to another. At the present moment the Licensing Justices make the fullest inquiry into every case—they invariably insist upon having plans of the premises sent to them, and it is not at all an easy matter sometimes to satisfy the requirements which the Justices impose. Almost in every case the licensed victuallers in the immediate neighbourhood of the station oppose to the utmost of their power applications for licences to railway refreshment rooms, because they take away trade from themselves, and I should have almost suspected that my noble Friend is not actuated so much by zeal and love for the railway passengers as for the licensed victuallers who are robbed of a considerable amount of custom by these rooms. Railway travellers ought to be able to obtain refreshments without being driven to seek them outside the station, and at the same time obtain shelter while waiting for their trains in public-houses. Especially is that the case on the Metropolitan lines, where passengers ought not to be compelled to leave the stations and perhaps cross the muddy streets in all kinds of weather for the purpose of obtaining the refreshments they require. Now, what does my noble Friend practically say in supporting this Bill? Practically, it comes to this—that the Licensing Magistrates have not done their duty. My Lords, although it is said, that "you should never prophesy unless you know," I venture to prophesy that the County Councils will have to deal with these matters before long. It is not improbable that the powers now exercised by the magistrates will be transferred to the County Councils before long, and why should your Lordships overweight the County Councils with the extraordinary provisions of this Bill? I think your Lordships may be satisfied with the way the Councils would perform these duties; but why should you step in and by a little peddling, trifling piece of legislation like this hamper the action of these bodies? Some of the provisions of the Bill were really very extraordinary. I have not Lad the opportunity of seeing the paper to which my noble Friend has referred, and which, I have no doubt, contains much stronger arguments. But I almost wonder that my noble Friend did not go further, and propose that the railway companies should provide that hot water should be ready for any passenger who might desire to have it in a room apart without the addition of brandy and soda, or anything. What a condition those who should be responsible would be in under this legislation! A man might enter a refreshment-room at night and find no fire, and under those circumstances the licence would be forfeited. This is not the kind of legislation your Lordships' House should indulge in or Parliament accept. It is totally unwarranted, is not asked for by a single individual, and would only cause considerable inconvenience. I have no doubt that my noble Friend's intentions are of the most benevolent character, as I should expect from him, but I do hope your Lordships will reject this legislation as not suitable to be entered upon by your Lordships' House, and as only inflicting a grievance on a not inconsiderable section of the public. My Lords, I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not give a Second Reading to the Bill. The noble Lord who brings it forward says there are no statistics known or possible to be given as to the numbers of refreshment rooms and waiting rooms on the Metropolitan Railways. I should think it is hardly necessary to go into that, but I may mention that on the Metropolitan District Railway there are three refreshment rooms which were put up for the special purpose of meeting demands made by the public after the railways had been started some length of time—namely, at Mansion House, Victoria Station, and Sloane Square Station. In addition to that, certain portions of the railway are used under joint powers between the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District, and on that portion there are also three refreshment rooms, namely, at South Kensington, Gloucester Road, and High Street, Kensington. That makes altogether six refreshment rooms on the Underground Railway. At all the stations, however, there is proper waiting room accommodation both for ladies and men. There is, consequently, no ground for saying the wants of the public are not properly looked after in this matter. If the Bill be passed, there is not much doubt that the refreshment rooms which I have enumerated would ultimately be taken away, because, by Clause 2, the powers are made retrospective; and it is provided that, unless it was proved to the satisfaction of the magistrates that these rooms have been properly kept up during the preceding twelve months, no licence is to be given or renewed. The Metropolitan systems are different from any other railway system in this country; and I think I am within the mark when I say that some 500 trains pass through the stations in a day. The system of rapid traffic prevailing on the Underground Railways in London is one which does not require extensive waiting-room accommodation. The public do not go into a railway station simply to sit down and wait; the trains pass too frequently for that; and at all the stations, especially those on the higher level, there is ample accommodation in the way of waiting rooms.


My Lords, the noble Earl, in explaining the objects of the Bill, said it was for the purpose of inducing the licensing authorities to obtain proper information, before granting licences, as to the accommodation provided. Now, my Lords, as a matter of fact, the authorities do make very careful inquiries on the subject at the present time; but the noble Earl, by his Bill, seeks to throw the whole onus probandi upon the unfortunate person, who is anxious to lease the refreshment rooms, of proving that there is sufficient and proper separate waiting room for the accommodation of passengers of all classes—general accommodation for the passengers of the company. He expects information to be given to the Licensing Authorities by the person wishing to take a licence as to the accommodation afforded by railway companies for the many thousands of passengers travelling along their lines. I do not know how he is to get that unless the railway company supply the information. So much for Clause 2. Then Clause 3 seems to be a still more exacting provision. Clause 3 provides that the licensing authorities shall call upon the lessee to prove that this accommodation has been maintained during the whole period that the licence has been in force, and, in the case of a new licence, during the preceding year. I do not know how the lessee is to do this in the case of new licences required for new railways. The whole machinery of the Bill seems to be very cumbrous. Clause 4 is also very extraordinary. This clause says that if at any time the Company does not keep its waiting room in a proper condition, or the fire or gas is allowed to go out, the lessee is to be deprived of his licence, and to be deemed to be selling intoxicating liquors on unlicensed premises. My Lords, I cannot see how such a clause as that could possibly be carried out; for it would give to any cantankerous passenger who happened to find a fire gone out the right of proceeding against the licence-holder to deprive him of his licence. The Bill, it seems to me, would be monstrously unjust, and I cannot conceive how the machinery could possibly work in any satisfactory way. Feeling that, and having heard the explanation of the noble Lord as to the way in which it would work, I must say, my Lords, that I cannot support this measure.


My Lords, although I can undoubtedly see strong objections to some of the details of the Bill, I am not altogether so strongly opposed to it as the noble Earl who has just spoken. I cannot help saying that I think there is something to be said in favour of the principle of the Bill. I do not think anyone will say that it is a desirable thing that the drinking bar at a railway station should be the only room to which passengers can resort. As a matter of principle that cannot be denied; but, whether it constitutes any large or crying grievance at the present time, I am not in a position to express any confident opinion. I think that the noble Earl who has brought forward the Bill is entitled to say that the object of it is a sound one in itself. With regard to the machinery of the Bill, some of the objections to it are very strong, though I cannot agree with all of them. It does not seem to me to be such a mischievous thing as was made out that the person applying for the licence should have the onus thrown upon him of proving that there is accommodation for the travelling public at the station, because, in point of fact, no one could apply for a licence without the concurrence and agreement of the railway company, who would consequently prove that there was proper waiting-room accommodation. I cannot see the slightest hardship in that. But beyond that I do not see any necessity to go. I can quite conceive that some Bill might be passed which would be of advantage in the direction pointed to by this measure; but I cannot vote for this Bill in regard to its machinery, nor do I think we have before us sufficient evidence as to the actual state of accommodation provided by the railway companies to justify such legislation.


My Lords, in reply, I would point out that the person applying for a licence is the agent or tenant of the railway company, and, therefore, I fail to recognize any hardship whatever in imposing on him the obligation, and showing that ample waiting-room accommodation is provided. Then it has been said that the magistrates satisfy themselves as to the accommodation afforded before granting a licence. It is true that the magistrates have to satisfy themselves as to the accommodation for refreshment rooms, but not as to proper accommodation outside the refreshment rooms for the general purposes of the public. My Lords, I am quite satisfied with the discussion, and recognize that it is a difficult subject on which to legislate properly. I would rather now, therefore, ask permission to withdraw the Bill, reserving the right to bring it forward in some other shape, fortified by the support I have received from the noble Earl on the front Opposition Bench (the Earl of Kimberley).

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Original Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.