§ On the Motion of Mr. ATHERTON, Act read.
§ Motion agreed to; House in Committee.
§ MR. ATHERTON
rose to move, that the Chairman be directed to move the House. That leave be given to bring a Bill to explain and amend the Act to regulate the granting of licences to keepers of inns, alehouses, and victualling houses, in England. The Bill, he said, would be rather a declaratory Bill, to define what the present law really was, than designed to introduce any radical or important change. The system of licensing was regulated by the 9th of Geo. IV., cap. 61, the principle of which was, that the power of granting licences should be placed in 1181 the hands of local justices of the peace. Now, the object of the Bill which he asked for leave to introduce was, to remove all doubt as to the law, and so to frame it, that in boroughs in England having a separate commission of the peace, but not a separate court of quarter sessions, the borough justices should be licensing justices. There were three distinct classes of magisterial jurisdiction. There was the county jurisdiction in which the power rested unquestionably with the county justices; there were the boroughs, established under the Municipal Reform Act, where there was a separate commission of the peace, and a separate court of sessions—and here, undoubtedly, the borough justices were the persons to grant the licences; and there was another class of boroughs which had a separate commission, but had no distinct quarter sessions, and it was with regard to them that the doubt had arisen. To show how important was the subject, he might state that there were no less than seventy-seven boroughs in England which answered to that description, and which were represented in that House by ninety Members. Practically speaking, in seventy-one out of those seventy-seven boroughs, it had been assumed that the law actually was that which he now sought to make it, inasmuch as the borough justices had within those boroughs exercised a licensing authority. It had of late, however, been suggested that it might possibly be so determined in the courts of law, upon a strict construction of the Act of Geo. IV., that the county justices were the licensing justices within the boroughs in question, and that the borough justices had no jurisdiction of that nature within them. Now, that was a state of things which would be clearly at variance with the spirit of the Act, inasmuch as the House must be well aware that the borough justices, as being the magistrates who sat upon the bench in those towns from day to day, and who had laid before them all complaints preferred against the proprietors of public-houses, were, as a consequence, the fittest tribunal to decide whether a licence should or should not in a particular case be granted. Great inconvenience resulted from the present system, and not the least was that which had been described by Lord Kenyon as "the indecorum of a race for jurisdiction" as prevailing between the county and borough magistrates in particular cases. The subject was one with respect to which 1182 he had received various communications from towns in the north of England; it was one of considerable importance, as, if the doubt which at present existed with regard to the licensing of borough justices were well founded, then all innkeepers who held licences from such justices were liable to be proceeded against for a penalty of £20, and he therefore trusted the House would accede to the Motion.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he should I offer no objection to the introduction of the Bill, but he at the same time felt bound to say that he had received no representations to the effect that the result of the existing system was—as the hon. and learned Member had stated—a race for jurisdiction between the county and borough magistrates. He had not been aware, until he had heard the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that any doubt existed as to the jurisdiction which ought to be exercised in the instances to which reference had been made. When the Bill was before the House, however, they would be in a position to form a better judgment upon the question.Resolved, "That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave he given to bring in a Bill to explain and amend the Act to regulate the granting of Licences to Keepers of Inns, Ale houses, and Victualling Houses in England.
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution reported.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. FITZROY, Mr. ATHERTON, and Mr. WARREN.
§ Bill read 1o.