§ *LORD NORTON,
in moving the Second Reading of the Licensing Bill, said that he hoped their Lordships would perceive that there was nothing in this measure to make it merit the fate that had befallen the last two Liquor Bills that had been brought forward, of being handed over to the spectre of a Royal Commission, of which their Lordships knew nothing, they not having the least idea whether it would ever sit, or what its terms of reference would be. The habit of shelving questions by referring them to a Royal Commission was a growing one; but in the present instance there was an improvement in the system, because the Commission to which these Bills were to be referred had no existence, and it was merely a means to hang up questions of indefinite relevancy. The Bill which had been moved yesterday by the Most Rev. Prelate had practically nothing whatever to do with the subjects that were said to be referred to the Commission, as far as their Lordships had any indication as to the nature of those subjects. They might suppose that the Commission was intended to consider the various proposals that were now afloat with 256 reference to the licensing of public-houses. But the Bill of the most Reverend Prelate referred to the use of houses however licensed, and had nothing to do with the mode in which they were licensed. Nevertheless, their Lordships had referred that Bill to the Commission in question. He hoped that the Government would not allow the present measure to be stopped by referring it to the same Commission. The present Bill merely proposed to render operative a certain penalty upon the abuse of a licensed house by drunkenness, rioting, or the adulteration of drink. This was a matter that had nothing to do with the licensing law, and merely concerned police regulations. The existing law provided that where there was a continued abuse of rioting, the proprietor of the licensed house should incur the forfeiture of his licence. The penalty had been regarded as so severe that the magistrates had not enforced it. He thought that their Lordships would allow that an inoperative law was a disgrace to the Statute-book, and that it ought to be either repealed or made operative. The proposal in the Bill was, by mitigating the penalty, to make the law operative, and that the magistrates should have the discretionary power, instead of requiring the licence to be forfeited, to impose a limited fine and to take security for better conduct in the future. He did not suppose that the great brewers, in whose hands the majority of public-houses were, would complain of a moderate fine if their servants were restrained from continued and persistent making these houses great public nuisances. This Bill would not affect any of the proposals for altering the licensing laws. Local option, by which it was proposed to put it into the power of an electioneering majority to deprive an out-manœuvred minority of wholesome food, was not suggested. It did not propose a still less possible judgment of the number of licensed houses wanted. Nor did it throw out for trial in this great and free country the stock-taking of the trade as had been found scarcely tolerable in a stunted little community. As this was simply a question of police, he hoped their Lordships would consider it a matter that might be decided without reference to the Commission which was now shadowed before them. This 257 Commission would be a sort of debating society, as they were told yesterday by the fanatical champions of each of these proposals. If every question, however remotely connected with public-houses, was to be hung up until this Commission came to a conclusion, it would be a very serious state of things.
§ *LORD NORTON,
continuing, said, that the passing of this Bill would, to a great extent, clear the general question of licences. It would remove an inoperative penalty. It would, for the first time, afford an effectual treatment of the abuse, and leave the use of the trade to settle itself as it would. By putting down the abuse they would release the trade to the natural relations of a legitimate supply and demand. The evils would cease, the trade would become a legitimate trade. The abuse being removed, the use would settle itself on right principles, and most likely the conclusion of the Commission, if any was ever come: to, would be that no change in the law of licensing was required. He hoped their Lordships would consider this proposition, disconnected altogether from the Commission, as a mere matter of police. He, therefore, asked their Lordships to deal with the Bill, for which he now asked a Second Reading, on its own merits entirely.
§ LORD BELPER
hoped that the noble Lord would not think him discourteous if he did not go at any length into the merits of the Bill. It was, as the noble Lord had said, a small Bill dealing with a question with regard to licences, and giving a discretion to magistrates to impose a fine and recognisance on the owner of premises, instead of necessarily requiring the forfeiture of the licence. He thought, perhaps, the noble Lord would not be surprised to hear that the Government thought that, although this was a smaller matter than the other they had been discussing, it would not be desirable to 258 discuss such a Bill now, when it was intended to have a Royal Commission, and that it should follow the course already adopted in the two other cases. He would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to consent that the Bill should not be read a second time now, but that the matter should be considered when all the other questions with regard to licences were dealt with by the Royal Commission. He moved the adjournment of the Debate.
§ Further debate adjourned sine die.