HL Deb 14 July 1903 vol 125 cc519-23


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in the few remarks which I shall make in commending this Bill to the attention of your Lordships it is not my intention to touch on the question of drink, in regard to which, I think, many foolish attempts have been made at legislation. It is rather to a question of justice that I shall venture to call your attention—justice to a body of traders who carry on a trade for the benefit of the public which produces enormous revenues to the country. I think altogether the liquor traffic, in one form or another, brings in £34,000,000 a year, and these traders who carry on this business are now subject to what I hold to be a very grave injustice, for they may at any moment lose their licences through no fault of their own, but through the fad or crank of some teetotal magistrates. The Bill which I now ask your Lordships to read a second time is not my Bill. When I presented it I stated that it was Lord Bramwell's Bill. What is the history of this Bill? I find in the last page of the "Memoirs of Lord Bramwell," by Mr. Charles Fairfield, these words— Trial of the appeal case in the House of Lords of Sharpe v. Wakefield having brought to light some flagrant injustices possible under the Licensing Acts, Lord Bramwell drafted a short Bill to remedy those injustices. That is the Bill which I venture to present to your Lordships to-night. It was, I think, in the early part of 1894 that Lord Bramwell drafted and brought in this measure. At that time there were meetings of what is commonly called "the Trade" in all directions, and the Government and the Members of the Opposition were approached upon it. Lord Salisbury, who was then in Opposition, when asked to support the Bill, advised those who were promoting it not to press it at that time, but to wait patiently until after the General Election, when, he said, there might probably be a change of Government, and the Government who would then come in would look with favour on this kind of legislation. A dissolution took place in 1895, and a very large majority was given to Lord Salisbury's Government, but they did nothing to remove this great injustice except to appoint Lord Peel's Commission. They shunted the question on to the shoulders of a Commission, which is not an unusal practice. But that Commission did not at all touch this question of licencees losing their licences in the way I have described. As a result of nothing having been done, cases are constantly occurring of magistrates, from no cause whatever, except their antipathy to drink, refusing to renew licences. This property, I would remind your Lordships, is one of the assets of the Government. Licences are assessed for the death duties like any other kind of property, but notwithstanding this we have these licences taken away without any justifiable cause. It was the case of Sharpe v. Wakefield which drew Lord Bramwell's attention particularly to this injustice. Since I presented this Bill there have been 187 petitions in favour of it. These petitions have not come from individual licence holders, but from the chief associations connected with the various branches of the liquor trade in all the big towns throughout the country—from Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Bradford, etc. The petitioners, in their petition, submit— That the trade or business of a licensed victualler or beer retailer has existed a great number of years and has been the subject of a great many Acts of Parliament having for their object the regulation of such trade; that the latter section of the trade—namely, beer retailers—has enjoyed the special protection of an Act passed by the Legislature in 1869, whereby magistrates have no power to refuse the renewal of a licence then in existence except on such grounds as are therein inserted to protect the good order and well-being of society without in any way limiting the natural operation of legitimate trade, and all licencees in Ireland enjoy a similar protection; that recently great uncertainty has been experienced by licenced victuallers or holders of full licences, inasmuch as by the law as it now stands, as laid down on appeal before your Lordships' House in the case of Sharpe v. Wakefield, a licencee has no legal security for the renewal of his licence, and is now subject to the arbitrary caprice of the licensing authority. In this petition reference is made to the state of the law in Ireland. We hear a great deal about justice to Ireland, but what I ask for in this case is justice to England and Scotland. Your Lordships' House is the highest Court of Appeal in all questions of justice, and I appeal to your Lordships to do justice in tins case. I have not the least idea what action His Majesty's Government propose to take with regard to this Bill. I know it is impossible to carry a Bill in opposition to the Government. In another place Sir William Hart Dyke has brought in a Bill to suspend the power of licensing justices to take away licences, but I understand that the Government have given him no hope of support. I would remind the House that the Bill now before it is not of my drafting. It is the Bill of that great lawyer and wise man, Lord Bramwell, who thought it absolutely necessary in order to secure justice to licence holders. By his death we have lost one of the wisest men and a man who put common sense before sentiment in legislation, a thing very rare and much wanting in these days. The Bill, the Second Reading of which I now move, provides that— Licencing justices shall not be at liberty in the case of premises licensed at the time of the passing of this Act to refuse the renewal or transfer of a licence for the sale of any intoxicating liquors in any such premises except upon one or more of the grounds specified in Section 8 of the Wine and Beerhouse Act, 1869, but nothing herein contained shall limit or extend their discretion in the grant or refusal of applications for a new licence. When an application for a renewal or transfer of a licence is refused the justices shall specify in writing to the applicant the ground of their decision.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will not put your Lordships to the necessity of dividing on this Bill. I can assure him that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce a Bill upon the subject as early as possible in the approaching session, and the only object of dividing your Lordships on the question to-day would be prematurely, I think, to ask your Lordships to commit yourselves to some sort of legislation on the subject which might be inconvenient afterwards. As I can assure my noble friend that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to deal with this subject at the earliest possible moment next session, I trust that he will not put your Lordships to the necessity of dividing.


After what has fallen from the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack I will not put the House to the trouble of dividing. It was with a view of ascertaining what the Government intended to do in the matter that I moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I thank the Lord Chancellor for his assurance that a Bill will be introduced by the Government at the earliest possible moment next session.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.