HL Deb 20 June 1901 vol 95 cc874-7

Order of the day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Bishop of Winchester.)


My Lords, I yield to no one in my desire that those who are guilty of the vice of drunkenness should be curbed as much as possible; but, at the same time, I cannot allow this Bill to be passed without entering my protest against the extreme stringency of the clause which makes it an offence, punishable by fine, for a man to obtain, or to attempt to obtain, even a glass of beer within three years of his having been convicted as an habitual drunkard. I do not think it would be right to enact such a clause, and I doubt very much whether it is supported by public opinion. As the Bill has been through the Standing Committee of your Lordships' House, I do not propose to move an Amendment; but I could not allow the Bill to pass without entering a protest.


My Lords, I do not wish to enter into a discussion on the merits of this Bill, but merely to point out that it has been treated in a very remarkable way; for, though it remains in the name of the right rev. Prelate, the noble Lord who represents the Home Office has practically cut out all the enacting clauses and inserted clauses which represent the views of the Government on the subject. I am very anxious to know whether, when this Bill goes to another place, it will be called a Government Bill. I think I may almost claim that, though it is not a Government Bill here, it will be taken up as a Government Bill in the other House. No doubt the noble Marquess opposite will be able to tell me whether or not the Government intend to press the measure forward. It is the custom in another place for the Leader of the House to state at a certain period of the year what Bills are intended or hoped to be passed. We have never, so far as I know, had such a statement in this House; but I think we have a right to know whether this is one of the Bills which the Government intend to pass, or whether it is not. So far as I can see, it is not referred to by the Leader of the House of Commons as one of the measures which the Government intend to pass. In the Speech from the Throne it was stated that legislation had been prepared for various things, including the prevention of drunkenness in licensed houses and public places. I imagine that the description would apply directly to this Bill as altered by His Majesty's Government. As it is a matter of deep interest, I venture to ask whether this is practically the Bill which was mentioned in the King's Speech, and whether the Government intend to press it forward in another place and try to pass it into law.


My Lords, I cannot help repeating what I said on a previous occasion—hat I believe the noble Earl is too punctilious about this matter. It does not seem to me to matter very much whether this Bill passes with the name of the right rev. Prelate on the back or the name of Lord Belper. My impression is that there has never been any jealousy about this subject in this House, and that such interchange of procedure as may seem to be dictated by the convenience of the moment has always been readily adopted without being made the subject of exception on the part of the Opposition. I cannot conceive what objection can be made to the procedure that has been followed, and what advantage those who object will think to come from the statement of such objections.


I did not object; I only criticised the procedure.


Of course, if the noble Lord draws that strong distinction between an objection and criticism, I am bound to accept it; but of course I am rather stepping out of my place. It is not my business—it would be impertinent of me, perhaps—to take into consideration the criticisms of the noble Earl; but the objections of the noble Earl it is undoubtedly part of my duty to refute. But, treating that matter as one of exceedingly small importance, and one that is not worth discussing, I come to the graver point of the noble Lord's opposition, which is a question as to what treatment we shall assign to the Bill when it leaves these walls. The noble Lord seemed to think himself in some degree wronged because my right hon. friend the Leader of the House of Commons, in stating those Bills which were to be dealt with in that place, did not mention this Bill. But it has never been the practice to mention what is to be done with Bills in either place of the Legislature until those Bills are on the Table of the House which is to deal with them; and it would have been highly improper for my right hon. friend to assume that this Bill would pass this Souse and to announce his intention of dealing with it.


My point was that it was mentioned in the King's Speech.


That, of course, does not affect the question of how it was to be dealt with in either House of Parliament. I am bound to say I wish I could give the noble Earl more abundant information than is in my power; but his experience of public affairs is almost as long as mine, and it must have often occurred to him to notice that Ministers frequently hope to pass Bills which they are ultimately unable to pass. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," and more vigorously in the ministerial breast than in any other. But again and again have I seen the hopes of February and March dashed by the realities of June and July. I am unable to tell the noble Lord whether this Bill will be passed or not. The Government strongly desire it to pass. It will appear as a Government Bill, and will have that mysterious asterisk, which means so much in the other House, fixed to it on the notice Paper, and whatever opportunities the Government may have of passing it they will undoubtedly avail themselves of. But whether the time at the disposal of the Government—at the disposal of the House of Commons—is adequate to the strain that will be put upon it by this and other Bills is a matter in regard to which I am unable to prophesy. I think it depends more upon the action of many persons with whom the noble Earl opposite has more political connection than I can pretend to have. He, I have no doubt, would desire that we should pass this Bill; and if he could spread his hopeful and sanguine spirit and hearty co-operation to all those who profess to follow the leading of the party to which he belongs I have no doubt that we should pass this Bill. Whether that will happen or not is a matter which must be left, like other subjects of prophecy, for actual experience of events to show.

On Question, agreed to: Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed, and sent to the Commons.