HL Deb 05 May 1893 vol 12 cc177-89

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

*LORD O'NEILL, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, explained that its chief object was to make permanent the Irish Sunday Closing Act of 1878, and to extend the operation of that measure to the five large towns which were excluded from it. That small Bill, as it might be called, without in the least minimising its importance, had conferred great good upon the country in the direction of temperance. The Bill also provided for the earlier closing of public-houses on Saturdays, and would effect some change in the law concerning travellers. In former Sessions legislation in this direction was proposed when the four years during which the Act of 1878 was to remain in operation were coming to art end. Lord Carlingford brought in a Bill on the subject, and in moving the Second Reading on l5th March, 1883, in the House of Commons, stated that "public opinion in Ireland was much in favour of the Bill; "that Sunday drunkenness had greatly decreased, and that the arrests from that cause had been at that time reduced as much as 50 per cent. That legislation was approved in their Lordships' House and in the House of Commons; but it had not been proceeded with in consequence of the pressure of other Business. The Bill was brought in again in 1884, when Sir George Trevelyan, in moving the Second Reading, said, after careful study of the statistics, he had come to the conclusion that Sunday Closing had been a great and unqualified benefit to those parts of the country where it had been in operation, and that it might be conveniently extended to the five exempted cities. For the same reason, however, that Bill again went no further in 1884. In 1887 Mr. T. W. Russell brought in a Bill for the earlier closing of public-houses on Saturdays. That Bill and the question of the working of the Act of 1878 were referred to a Committee. The subject was considered by the Committee in 1887, and the present Bill was based upon their Report. That Report stated that the evidence was overwhelming in favour of making the Act perpetual, and that it was advisable to extend Sunday Closing to the cities and towns now exempted. It further stated that there was little difference of opinion as to earlier closing on Saturday night, and that much of the excessive drinking and waste of wages would be saved if the public-houses were closed earlier on that day. Allusion was also made in it to the difficulty of applying any test but that of mileage to the bonâ fide traveller, and of preventing other persons from availing themselves of that clause. The next step was that Sir Thomas Lea brought in a Bill on this subject, and carried it to a Second Reading in the House of Commons on April 23, 1890. Mr. Madden, the Chairman of the Committee, now Mr. Justice Madden, the then Attorney General for Ireland, took part in that Debate, and declared that there was an almost unanimous expression of opinion in favour of the Bill on the part of every class of society in Ireland. Sir George Trevelyan stated that Sunday Closing had led to no increase in "shebeenism." He had given their Lordships the history of that Bill, and he hoped they would give it a favourable reception. Politics did not enter into the question, and it would be a scandal if a measure of so simple a kind should any longer be put off in the face of an earnest desire so generally expressed. Many excellent people in Ireland who were neither bigots nor fanatics rejoiced in the success of the Sunday Closing Act, and thought that at some time within the last 10 years Parliament ought to have passed some Bill of this sort. This measure had nothing to do with any of the other Temperance Bills now before Parliament, and as compared with them had in its favour a successful 15 years' experience of the working of the existing Act. He trusted their Lordships would not refuse to take the step which would make that measure perpetual, and which would enable the good work hitherto done to still be carried on.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord O'Neill.)

THE EARL OF WEMYSS moved the rejection of the Bill. He remarked that strange to say on that very day, in another place, precisely the same Bill stood for Second Reading. Such a course was unusual, but he would ask the promoters of the Bill with which horse they intended to win, and whether they intended to win on this Bill and let the other in another place he scratched? His only apology as a Scotchman to noble Lords from Ireland for taking part in the discussion on a measure only affecting Ireland was that, happily as yet, Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord had stated that the Bill was the result of the deliberations of the Committee in another place; but he believed the recommendation had only been carried by a bare majority.


had intended to state that the Chairman was not in favour of including the large towns.


said, they had then, at all events, the fact that the Chairman of the Committee was against some of the provisions in the Bill. It was proposed to bring the five largest towns in Ireland within the provisions of the Bill; but, so far as he knew, Belfast was the only one of them that strongly advocated the Bill. He found it stated in a paper sent round to their Lordships that there was practically no public demand for the measure in Ireland; in fact, the manifestations of public opinion proved the contrary. The Corporations of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Water-ford had all passed resolutions against Sunday Closing. Archbishop Walsh, in a speech he made on February 23, strongly deprecated such a measure being applied to Dublin. The danger from it was that it encouraged illicit drinking in the shebeens. Sunday Closing in Cardiff and Glasgow had been a notorious failure. In Glasgow Sunday Closing had made the law-abiding Scotchman a lawbreaker at last. The drink sold in the shebeens was horrible. As an Irishman not long ago said, "it was like a torchlight procession going down a man's throat in the dark." If the South of Ireland did not want Sunday Closing, why on earth should Belfast be so anxious that the Bill should be extended to all parts of Ireland? He could only understand it on one of two grounds— first, that the people of Belfast were in intimate connection with the people of Scotland by blood and religion, and were anxious on a great Imperial question to secure their votes. Geographically, the North of Ireland was only 11 miles from Scotland. Perhaps another reason why the people of Belfast were in favour of the measure was in order that they might give an object-lesson in Home Rule by putting on the South of Ireland a Bill which the Southerners disliked just as the South was now putting legislation on the North which the Northeners disliked. He could see a solution of the difficulty. Within the last 24 hours they had been told that there was an idea of exempting Ulster from the scope of the Home Rule Bill, with the concurrence or assent, it was said, of the South. Let their Lordships apply the same principle to this Bill. Why should the Southern towns, which objected to this measure, not be exempted from its operation? Why should it not apply to Belfast only? The proposal to-close the public-houses at 9 o'clock on Saturday evening was simply intolerable tyranny and class legislation, the effect of which would be to deprive the poor man of his beer, while the rich man would have in his cellar as much wassail as he wanted. With regard to the question of the bonâ fide traveller, he saw no reason for extending the limit to six miles. It was hard that a working man who wished to walk, on a Sunday, to> some pleasant place near his home should not be able to wet his whistle at the end of a three miles' distance. Take their Lordships' case. Suppose their Lordships wished to take a recreative and healthy walk to Hampstead Heath, which was just three miles from that House, would they not think it very hard if they could not refresh themselves there without having to come back the whole way along the dusty road and get what they wanted at the refreshment bar of the House? He felt very strongly that this kind of legislation was wrong, and that it was a puritanical attempt to coerce men's natural feelings and tastes. It had been tried before, and the result was that the law had been, as such legislation always would be, evaded. He-was not in favour of drunkenness, but he was in favour of liberty and justice. He had attended great meetings, composed of men of all ranks and creeds and politics, in Glasgow and Manchester, and these gatherings were unanimous in their determination to resist veto legislation. He would venture to offer a word of advice to those who were dealing with such questions. So strong was the feeling in favour of liberty and justice in connection with drink questions that whoever wanted to have a good majority at the next General Election should carefully avoid flirting with the Alliance or coquetting with the Veto. The Government had already put their foot well into it as regarded their Veto Bill, and it did not matter now whether they went on with it or withdrew it. It was not by infringing liberty or outraging justice in the way that the Veto Bill did that drunkenness would be cured. The evil must be met in other directions. They might imitate the method adopted in the Colonies in granting licences in proportion to the population. They must also look to the assistance which could be rendered in the matter by the police. Let men found drunk in the streets be fined and imprisoned, and let the licences be taken from public-houses that manufactured drunkards. Other powerful influences also existed in the pulpit, the Press, and public opinion. These were the weapons on which they ought to rely as elements of reform, which had brought about great and good results in the past, for not one of their Lordships who went about the streets in our towns could fail to be aware of the enormous improvement which bad taken place in regard to the decrease of drunkenness among the great mass of the population in this country. Two right rev. Prelates took entirely different views in this matter, and were now running different Bills for the Alliance Stakes; but be would beg them to remember that it was not by substituting for their croziers the baton of legislation that they could make men sober. Men were not to be made sober by Act of Parliament. Upon that point he would quote the opinion of an able lawyer and eloquent Member formerly of their Lordships' House—Lord Cairns— There was no question which at the present time more deeply touched the physical and religious welfare of the country as that of temperance. It occupied the attention of moralists, statesmen, and divines. It had been under investigation by Parliament, and statistics had been obtained of the poverty, suffering, and crime it was causing in this land. And then Lord Cairns went on to say— I have little hope myself of making men sober and temperate by Act of Parliament, and look rather to other causes and influences. I look to the power and force of persuasion, of conviction, of example. I look to the change in habits, feelings, and tastes which comes when there is brought to bear on the hearts of men the light and power of the Gospel of our Saviour. I look to the efforts for better training the rising generation, and especially to the young men of England, in whose hands the future of the country is placed. He thanked their Lordships for their kind attention, and begged to move the rejection of the Bill.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


felt that this subject interested Englishmen as well as Irishmen. When it came before a Committee of their Lordships' House evidence upon this drink question was given to show the great improvement that had followed the imposition of further restrictions with regard to the hours of closing. He differed in toto cœlo from Lord Wemyss, who had given no proof whatever that legislation on this subject affecting Ireland had, as he alleged, signally failed. The question had been before the country many years,, and the great mass of opinion in Ireland, as evidenced before the House of Commons Committee in 1888, was strongly and overwhelmingly in favour of making; the Act of 1878 permanent instead of renewing it year after year. The greatest amount of drinking in this country, and in Ireland especially, took place on Saturday; and, as wages in Dublin and the other large towns were paid between 2 and 3 o'clock on that day, there was practically a half-holiday. The early closing proposed would still enable people to get what drink they wanted, and be considered it was sufficient to allow the public-houses to remain open until 9 o'clock that night, instead of until 11 o'clock as at present. The evidence given before the House of Lords Committee was conclusive as to the desire for closing at an earlier hour on Saturday. All the successive Secretaries for Ireland had been in favour of further restrictions' and of Sunday Closing. He should have thought it better that the public-houses might be allowed to open for two hours on Sunday, and that was the opinion of Mr. Madden, the Chairman of the Com- mittee; but upon the evidence the majority of the Committee were m favour of total closing on Sunday. No proof was given that shebeening had increased, but if shebeening did increase it would be necessary to take measures against that form of drinking. He regarded the Bill as a reasonable Bill, and he trusted that their Lordships would assent to the Second Reading.


would not, after the very full treatment of the subject by the noble Duke and by the noble Earl on the Cross Benches, detain their Lordships with any discussion of the details of the Bill. Lord Wemyss had tried to persuade their Lordships there was really no public demand for this measure in Ireland.


had not said that, but that resolutions had been passed in the four towns, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, objecting to be put under the Bill. That was all.


accepted the correction, but had so understood the argument. His reason for supporting the Bill was that he believed there was an overwhelming demand for it in Ireland, perhaps not shared to so great an extent in the exempted large towns; but both in Limerick and Cork resolutions had been passed at public meetings in favour of the Bill. The noble Earl also said that the experiment had failed in Cardiff, and had appealed to Lord Aberdare's experience of its working in Wales. In Ireland the Act had been tried for over 10 years with success, and they were better able to judge in Ireland upon that point than people on this side of the Channel. He and others objected to the Act being kept in a state of suspended animation, and continued from year to year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The opposition of Archbishop Walsh was entirely confined to the case of Dublin, and among the Roman Catholic Bishops there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the Bill. He appealed to their Lordships' House very earnestly not to listen to the arguments of the noble Earl, and thought that, the Bill being supported so largely from Ireland, it would be a great misfortune if the wish of the Irish people of all Parties were over-ridden by their Lordships.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a few words on this subject, both as representing the Government on the present occasion and the view which they take of the Bill, and also as having taken considerable interest in the measure when I was in Ireland. I rejoice that on one subject, at least, there is no Party difference in this House. When I had the honour of being in Ireland I received various deputations on the subject, and was constantly told of the great necessity for a measure of this sort, and the importance to all classes of having some limit placed on the trade in intoxicating liquor on Sunday. After the existing Act was passed by a Conservative Government, I had again a deputation before me urging that the measure had been of the greatest possible utility, and that, therefore, it should be made permanent. As far as I can gather, there has been practically no change in the evidence since that time. My noble Friends referred to the Report of the Committee which sat on the subject in another place in 1888. That Committee very nearly unanimously reported in favour of the continuance of this measure. Now, if your Lordships look at the statistics, you will find they are very remarkable. After the passing of the Act of 1878 there were 2,000 arrests for drunkenness, whereas before that time they amounted to 4,000; and other instances might be quoted of the marked effect of the Act in the diminution of drunkenness. Nor is there any evidence to show that shebeening has increased in the districts where the Act is in operation, or that any other serious drawbacks have occurred in the administration of it. I, therefore, still think as I did before, that it would be of great importance to continue the Act for the benefit of the Irish people. In my opinion it is a scandal that a matter of such great importance should be left to the chance of getting the Act included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. There are provisions in the Bill as to which there may be difference of opinion. My own leaning would be in favour of the provisions contained in the Bill; at the same time, there are important considerations with regard to them. There are questions as to whether we should enforce the application of the Bill to the towns which deliberately oppose it, or whether we should only apply it to those towns which are in favour of it. Those, however, I should say, are questions which should be left to Committee. Then comes our old friend the bonâ fide traveller question. My noble Friend on the Cross Benches thinks people cannot walk three miles without the necessity for refreshment. I think my noble Friend's powers of endurance, judging from what I remember of him in earlier years, are much larger than that: and I am sure he would still, under the proposals of the Bill, be able to take that exercise for which he was formerly so renowned. The question of the bonâ fide traveller, however, and also that of the hour of closing on Saturday night, are eminently questions for Committee. My noble Friend is in favour of not interfering at all in matters of this sort by legislation; hut under the existing law we limit the hours during which public-houses are open, and it is a mere question of degree whether the principle of limitation ought to be still further extended. As far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, they are anxious to see the Second Heading passed by your Lordships. I therefore sincerely trust the House will not follow the lead of my noble Friend on the Cross Benches, but will accept the proposals which my noble Friend opposite has brought before your Lordships.


My Lords, after the speech which has been made by my noble Friend opposite, I hope the noble Lord (Earl Wemyss) will not think it necessary to go to a Division on the Second Heading. It is quite clear that throughout the whole of the legislation with regard to public-houses in these countries there is always the question of degree as to the amount of regulation to which they should be subjected. They are, of course, upon a different footing to ordinary trades, and the liquor trade has always been dealt with by local and other regulations in a different way to others. It appears that no one takes exception to the existing law in Ireland in reference to Sunday Closing everywhere except in the five large cities; and with reference to them my noble Friend, speaking for the Government, has left that question for considera- tion in Committee. It seems to me, therefore, that my noble Friend who has made this Motion has really obtained all he desires in the declaration by the Government that the points in which he is mainly interested are questions for Committee, and will be left open to him for discussion hereafter. I trust, therefore, the House will give a vote, in accordance with that declaration, for the Second Reading.


would certainly not have risen to speak on this subject had he not been twice challenged by his noble Friend. He thought it might be useful if he stated his views of the success which had attended like legislation in the Principality. He had had a great deal to do with this kind of legislation, and in his opinion Parliament ought to proceed very carefully in the matter of restriction. He would be prepared at that moment to oppose any attempt to enforce absolute prohibition of Sunday drinking over the whole Kingdom. Yet when a Bill relating to Sunday Closing in Wales was introduced and passed through the House of Commons, he did not hesitate to take charge of that Bill in this House, because, in the first place, he wished to act in accordance with the feelings of his fellow-countrymen, and, secondly, because he wished to see an interesting experiment made. A Conservative paper of large circulation in Wales sent a very able man to make inquiry into the direct effect of this restrictive law in Wales. It came out that while the Act was acceptable to Welshmen generally, and had worked satisfactorily in the rural parts of the country, there certainly was a very great failure in the large and dense populations, especially where those populations had been brought together very recently. He referred more particularly to the Rhondda Valley, where there was now a population of 120,000, where he remembered a population of very few thousands. In the Rhondda Valley alone, every Sunday upwards of 60 brakes drove out to take people just about three miles from their place of residence, and Sunday was consequently desecrated in a very gross manner. In Cardiff the measures of repression were not effective, and the consequence was that there was an outburst of Illicit drinking in the place. These facts were clearly brought out, and he stated that unless some vigorous attempt was made to enforce the law he certainly would not vote for its continuance. What had happened at Cardiff made him doubtful of applying such a doctrine to Dublin. The object of all law, he imagined, was not merely to punish offenders, but to prevent the commission of offences. According to a return published in a Cardiff newspaper, there had been within two years about 400 convictions for keeping sheheens on Sundays. It was clear, therefore, that the law, although it had punished, had not succeeded in repressing illicit drinking; but he believed the Local Authorities were doing their utmost to put down this defiance of the law. Therefore, while he should certainly vote for the Bill, he was doubtful of applying such a law to a city like Dublin. He had at one time to inquire into the condition of crime there, and found that in 1874, when the population was about 360,000, Dublin contained more criminals of a grave character than the whole of the rest of Ireland. Its ordinary crime was more than double that of Birmingham, with about the same population. In the Act of 1872, which he had the honour of passing through Parliament, it was provided that the Local Authorities, in all towns except London, should have the power of closing public-houses at any time between 9 and 11 at night if, in their view, such a course was required. The experiment of closing at 10 p.m. was tried at Liverpool and several other large towns with much advantage and without the slightest manifestation of discontent. Unfortunately this opportunity of trying a useful experiment was repealed by the Licensing Act of 1874. Power as to the opening and closing of public-houses should, within certain limits, be given to the Local Authorities. They should have the right to make the experiment. He would be glad to see a clause embodying that principle contained in the Bill. Subject to those remarks he would support the Second Reading.


said, that the speech of the noble Lord (the Earl of Wemyss) would have been an excellent speech if it had been delivered 15 years ago. But now they had an experience of 15 years, from which it appeared that in the whole of Ireland, with the exception of the five towns to which the Act did not apply, Sunday Closing had been a very great success. Some time since a house-to-house canvass had been made for the purpose of finding out the opinion of the five exempted towns with regard to Sunday Closing. In Dublin there were 34,000 householders who said "Aye" and only 8,000 who said "No"—that was a majority of 26,000 in favour of this measure.


Out of a population of——


did not think that was to the point. Then, in Belfast there were 23,900 "Ayes" and only 2,900 who said "No," or a majority of 21,000. In Cork there were 9,605 who said "Aye" and only 1,807 who said "No," or a majority of 7,000. In Limerick there were more than 5,600 "Ayes" and only 560 "Noes," or a majority of upwards of 5,000. In Water-ford there were upwards of 3,000 "Ayes" and only 290 "Noes," giving a majority of more than 3,000. If that was not an emphatic expression of opinion on the part of the householders and ratepayers of those cities in favour of Sunday Closing he did not know what an expression of opinion was. The noble Lord had spoken a great deal about what members of the Alliance had said. But noble Lords who represented the vast majority of the people of Ireland, and who did not claim to represent the Alliance, asked the House to pass this Bill, which, as Irishmen, they believed would be for the benefit of their country. The noble Lord had told them that this legislation had been a failure in Wales and Scotland, but they had nothing to do with that in this connection regarding Ireland. The Union was for Imperial purposes, and they did not want to know what was happening in Glasgow and Cardiff on this subject. The noble Lord alluded to the subject of grocers' licences, and had passed it by somewhat cursorily; but the noble Lord must know that these licences were the greatest curse. Women went into grocers' shops and got behind a partition, where they were supplied with drink unobserved. He was very much pleased to hear that Her Majesty's Government were going to support this Bill, and that the Members of the late Government in their Lordships' House would also give it their support. The majority of the people of Ireland were in favour of the principle of the Bill. There was no division, either political or religious, on the question. Protestants and Catholics, Home Rulers and Unionists alike, were united in favour of the Bill, and therefore all Parties in their Lordships' House could support it. Neither Party could afford to oppose the measure. The Unionists certainly could not do so, for they would by doing so be putting an argument into the mouths of their opponents, which later on it would be very difficult for them to refute.


said, that after the intimation given by the noble Earl (Earl Spencer), that the Government regarded the provision making permanent the Act of 1878 as the main principle of the Bill, he begged to withdraw his Amendment, and leave the measure open to be dealt with in Committee upon the questions of four towns, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, being brought under the Bill, the 9 o'clock closing and the bonâ fide traveller. He would, therefore, not put the House to the trouble of dividing upon the Amendment.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Original Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committ of the Whole House on Thursday the 18th instant.