HL Deb 28 February 1896 vol 37 cc1362-4

presented a Bill to amend the Licensing Act, 1872. He described the measure as the complement of that for which the noble Earl had just obtained a First Reading. The object of the noble Earl's Bill was to prevent magistrates from refusing to renew old licences on the ground that there were too many licensed houses in the district already. [The Earl of WEMYSS: "Without compensation."] The noble Earl thought that the renewal of old licences ought only to be refused on the ground of misconduct or abuse; he proposed at the same time that magistrates should have full discretion to refuse new licences on the ground that there were enough licences out already or on any other ground. Both these proposals had his approval. He thought they might fairly say that licences which had been renewed for a long period from year to year had created something in the nature of a vested interest, and ought not to be interfered with, unless justly forfeited by misconduct or abuse. He also held that magistrates should have the amplest discretion to refuse new licences on any ground they deemed just. It was, of course, very difficult for anyone to say how many licences were wanted in any given place. It would be difficult to say how many bakers' shops there ought to be in any locality; but in the case of public houses the difficulty was still greater, as the supply was excessive by a vicious demand, involving drunkenness, rioting, and adulteration of drink. What really ought to be done was to find out means by which to prevent this wicked abuse, and to adjust the supply of licences, as far as possible, to a legitimate demand. If public houses were arranged so as to meet a legitimate demand only, they would cease to have a bad repute, and would be as useful institutions in the country as any clubs or refreshment rooms. What they wanted, therefore, as a complement to the noble Earl's Bill, was a more efficient mode of preventing abuse and misconduct. The law at present was inoperative, not because the penalty that could be imposed was too light, but because it was too severe. The penalty for the abuse of a licence was nothing short of forfeiture, and disqualification of the licensee for a number of years. That penalty was so severe upon property that magistrates would not exact it. He proposed to give the magistrates a discretionary power in the case of persistent misconduct and abuse, to impose, instead of forfeiture and disqualification, a fine not exceeding £100, and to require the licensee to enter into recognisances for better conduct in future. This penalty he believed would be operative, and the great brewers who owned tied-houses could not complain of the exaction of a limited fine for the persistent misconduct of their servants. At the same time, the wretched pot-houses, of which there were so many, and which did so much mischief, might be reduced in number by even a mild infliction of a limited penalty. The subject was one closely affecting the morality of the country, and he was sure that their Lordships would recognise its importance. Alternative proposals had been suggested, but they were not practicable. One was that another body, not so good as the present, should be entitled to say how many licences were required. Another was the adoption of the Gothenburg system, which Parliament had condemned as inapplicable to this country.

Bill read 1a.— [No. 19.]