§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
(who rose with Mr. AYRTON) said, he was sorry to interpose between the hon. Member and the House, but he believed he was in order in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the hon. Gentleman 1302 might move the postponement after he had addressed the House.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, this is not the first time I have heard the language of the petition just presented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool (Mr. J. Ewart), that this is a Bill for confiscating the property of the Licensed Victuallers of this country. It is very difficult to discuss this question without more or less indicating an opinion with regard to the present system under which drinking houses are licensed and managed in this country. I am afraid that, as far as my opinion is concerned, it is very unfavourable to that system, but at the same time the Government have been very anxious in framing this Bill to keep in view a particular and limited object, so as to avoid anything that could be fairly described, in the language of the petition from Liverpool, as a confiscation of property—to avoid, in fact, every interference with the interests of the Licensed Victuallers or of those who hold licences for the sale of beer, by any legislation, direct or indirect, beyond that which is absolutely necessary to the scope and success of the particular measures before us. There was much pressed on us by the sellers of beer, there was great authority due to the Report of the Committee of this House, which must become at some time or other a question of serious consideration, and which proposed to deal with the whole system under which the sale of strong liquors is regulated in this country. Our whole object was, as we were not able to undertake this year to propose a complete and final settlement of that important question, to proceed as far as possible without prejudice to any of the interests involved, and entirely to avoid, as we hoped, any occasion of hearing the Bill described in the terms which the Licensed Victuallers of Liverpool have thought proper to adopt. I can assure the House that the Bill has been framed in the spirit that I have described. Now, Sir, this is a Bill of very great practical importance, and one into which no considerations of party spirit or purely political motive ought to enter. It is a measure of importance as a fiscal measure, and takes its rise immediately from a fiscal proposal, for it would have been absurd to propose a great diminution of the wine duties, involving a sacrifice of the public revenue, and to hold out any 1303 hope to the House that that revenue would recover rapidly, unless we were prepared at the same time to submit a measure by which the channels for the sale of wine, and for carrying it to the houses of the consumers, could be enlarged and altered. But, although fiscal considerations formed the immediate necessity for the measure, I will admit that it is not to be decided upon entirely fiscal grounds. It has important bearings on the social condition of the community, upon the great question of public sobriety, and the ground on which I earnestly commend it to the House, is, not its importance for fiscal ends or for fiscal; security, but on the ground that it is a good and wise measure, not only with regard to the comforts of the people, but also, in the second place, for the promotion of temperance and sobriety as opposed to drunken and demoralized habits. In the discussions I have had with various parties who view this measure with suspicion and aversion, I have found it necessary to hold firmly by those two conditions. Those parties have been two, and although they have for the moment acted in partial conjunction, yet it appears to me almost to be a jest to mention them together in the House of Commons. One of those parties has been the Licensed Victuallers of this country, who represent in some humble degree the sale of beer, in some greater degree the sale of wine, and far above all, the sale of ardent spirits, because that is the main, and I am afraid I must say the favourite, portion of the trade. The other of those parties is a body of gentlemen of whom I cannot speak either here or elsewhere without profound respect, as gentlemen who are earnestly endeavouring to lay the axe, as they think, at the root of a great social evil. I mean the members of temperance societies. I must at the same time avow a broad difference of opinion with them, and a belief which I presume to entertain as an individual, and which this House has always acted upon in its legislation, that so far as wine is concerned there is a use of wine as apart from the abuse, whereas those gentlemen draw no distinction between the use and the abuse of wine, and in their view it is just as easy to talk of the legitimate use of theft and perjury, as to talk of the legitimate use of wine. I am bound to say that of these two classes of opponents I cannot I doubt from which the most formidable opposition is to be expected. I frankly own that those who represent the National Temper- 1304 ance Society have it as much in view to acquit their consciences, to liberate their souls, and to wash their hands of all responsibility as to prosecute a real and earnest opposition to the Bill of the Government. They do not hesitate to say that they object to anything that is calculated to increase the means of access to wine or other strong liquor, but they admit also that this Bill is a great improvement upon any legislative system that exists with respect to the sale of spirits or beer. I am sure that the House will pass a fair and just judgment on this Bill upon grounds of public policy and public morality. Those who have made representations adverse to the Bill have varied, both in their grounds and in their proposals. But the answer given to them on the part of the Government has been this,—that there are two conditions from which we cannot depart. We cannot consent to leave the increased importation of wine at the reduced duties dependent only on those channels of access to the consumer which now exist. That is one of the fundamental propositions on which the Bill has been based, and that proposition rests on grounds that may be shortly and simply stated. In the first place, the channels for the distribution of wine are in some respects most improperly, nay even ludicrously restrained. Because, setting aside for the moment the question of what facilities the House should give for the consumption of wine on the premises where it is sold, the system is highly restrictive with regard to the sale of wine not to be consumed on the premises; and it is absolutely necessary to afford greater facilities for the sale of wine as an article of retail trade not to be consumed on the premises, but for ordinary family use. The other fundamental ground on which we proceed is that the channels for the sale of wine are unduly restricted in proportion to the channels for the sale of other descriptions of strong liquor. A very numerous and influential deputation of licensed victuallers who came to plead the sufficiency of the present channels for the sale of strong liquors said, "What can you desire? Why, there are now 63,000 of these licensed houses." And certainly, when one hears such a number as that named, it sends a kind of shudder through the frame; and it certainly does appear at first sight reasonable, without entering into the question of quality, that the quantity of the existing channels should be found sufficient. But when we 1305 come to examine the state of the case we discover that, including about 40,000 or 50,000 now licensed for the sale of beer, there are in this country considerably over 100,000 houses licensed for the sale of strong drink to be consumed on the premises. But then we are in this strange predicament. One would say, if you look at beer, wine, and spirits, that the scale ought to adjust itself in this way:—Beer is the great national drink of the population, and evidently requires much the largest number of houses to be licensed for its sale. But next to beer I should think those who are anxious for public sobriety would naturally desire that greater facilities should be given for the sale of wines as compared with spirits. On the contrary, such is the state of your law that at this moment no man can have licence for the sale of wine unless he has a licence for the sale of spirits also. You give a positive preference to the sale of spirits, because a man may have a licence to sell spirits without one also for selling wine, but he cannot have a licence to sell wine without one also for selling spirits. I appeal to the advocates of temperance whether it is possible to justify legislation so absurd as that. And how does it work? Is it only a theoretical distinction, whereas in practice all those who sell spirits sell wines also? On the contrary, those who are licensed to sell spirits exist as spirit-sellers to the extent of 63,000; and only 25,000 of that number hold licences to sell wine at all. So that you have in this country 38,000 persons licensed to sell spirits who are not licensed to sell wine. It is under these circumstances that with the most confident anticipation of the favourable judgment of the House I ask them to join us in considering and digesting the provisions of a measure offering increased facilities for the sale of wine. And I am bound to say, with regard to the quality of the wine supplied to the public, that I think it indispensable to alter the channels of distribution, so as to introduce that principle of competition which is so essentially necessary in this country. By enlarging the sale of wine through new channels, we shall improve the wine sold through the old ones. We all know what sort of an article is sold as wine in this country. Excepting hotels of a certain class, where at very high prices the most excellent wines are to be obtained, and speaking generally, what pen or tongue could adequately describe the liquors now 1306 sold as wine in ordinary public-houses to the British community? Why, the white wine is a mixture of fire and water, while the red wine sold as port, is made of the juice of the sloe, and various other products, perhaps not so harmless, together, no doubt, with a considerable infusion of some kind of spirit. We have seen, then, that it is absolutely necessary to provide new channels for the sale of wine; and the second proposition that I have laid down as fundamental for any useful and salutary measure is this—that, whatever we might do with regard to establishing the control of the magistracy and police, the Government will not be reponsible for reproducing, in a new form, the evils existing in the present licensing system. It is no reproach to the magistracy, to say that when the provisions of this Bill are examined, it will be found that they have been framed in a spirit of ample, I might add, unlimited, confidence in the general competence, intelligence, and integrity of the justices of the peace of this country—a confidence which, I believe, they well deserve. There may be exceptions, there maybe particular quarters where private interests come directly into play; but what I state is, that this measure proceeds on the principle that you may safely repose in the magistracy any powers which fairness of intention and ability of mind will enable men to exercise in a satisfactory manner. But your present licensing system imposes on magistrates duties which it is impossible for them to discharge. It makes them judges of the quantity of liquor that a given number of human beings ought to consume. How absurd is that; and how absurd the inequality it produces! In a particular place the magistrates frame a certain estimate of the capacity of human organs to receive, digest, and dispose of strong liquors; and if they are inclined to form a narrow estimate of that capacity, they determine that the number of public-houses shall be a fixed and limited number. In another place the magistrates, taking a different view of the question, and thinking that with an increasing population there should be increasing facilities, go on enlarging the number of licensed houses. In Manchester one view prevails, and, accordingly, in that city there is now a smaller number of these houses than there was, I believe, twenty years ago. In Liverpool, on the other hand, the magistrates do not look at the subject in the same light; and although the population does not greatly 1307 differ from that of Manchester, there are threefold more public houses than in that city. There is, then, an inequality dependent on private and personal discretion which ought not to exist. The matter ought to be regulated on intelligible principles, operating with something like uniformity in different parts of the country, and producing contentment by its equal dealing with one district as compared with another. Not only, however, is the present licensing system unequal, but it engenders the greatest heartburnings and suspicions. I am not about to enter into that evil. I only mention it as one of the reasons why the Government are unwilling to be responsible for reproducing it in a province where it does not now exist. For moral purposes, I must say, the system is entirely inefficient. What do the licensed victuallers of Liverpool, who oppose this Bill, tell us as to the operation of the public-house system in that town, the magistrates of which, it may be remembered, petitioned for its alteration. In their printed statements they declare that in Liverpool there are 1,526 licensed public-houses, and that there are public-houses known by the police to be the resorts of thieves and prostitutes, but still annually licensed by the magistrates to the number of 178. That is the system with which, upon moral grounds it may be, we are requested not to meddle. It has also a tendency to create monopoly; and it is evident that where there is monopoly, proprietary—or what is called "vested"—interests grow up in the licence of every public-house. There is a property in every public-house in respect to the licence, apart from the other elements which make up its value in the market. The existence of that property constitutes the most formidable impediment to the exercise of police and magisterial control, and renders it almost practically impossible to apply that control on account of these vested interests. Well, when it is proposed to roar up a new class of houses, having licences given in a similar manner, subject to similar arbitrary restraint, the answer is obvious, that if we were to accede to that proposition, these wine licences, like those of the licensed victuallers, would become the root and nucleus of a new mass of vested interests, and would also effectually obstruct the authority wielded by the police, and the magistracy for the maintenance of good order and the prevention of social evil. That I think is a conclusive reason why we should 1308 decline to present to the House any Bill, which, while attempting to provide a system of licences for the sale of wine, should subject those licences to the kind of discretion which is now exercised by magistrates with regard to public-houses. Short of these two propositions—the one that we should rest contented with the present licensing system, and the other that we should create a new licensing system dependent simply upon the discretion of the magistrates—there is no proposal tending simply to giving stringent powers of control and punishment both before and after, both by way of prevention and by way of penalty, for the maintenance of good order, that we shall not be ready to entertain, with every desire to adopt it. Having said thus much of the general views with which the Bill is undertaken, I will now describe its main objects. These objects are three, and with regard to two of them I anticipate perhaps even the unanimous concurrence of the House. One of them A is to give enlarged means for the sale of wine not to be consumed upon the premises. I think there can be no doubt I that the sale of wine in that way, where it would merely enter into families for the domestic use of the people is, generally speaking, both unexceptionable and I desirable. We shall, therefore, propose that, subject to the payment of a moderate licence duty, retail shopkeepers shall be entitled to take out licences for the sale of wine, not to be consumed upon the premises. I do not intend to argue that part of the question, because I apprehend that the reasonableness of the proposal will, in all likelihood, be universally admitted. I pass on to what undoubtedly is socially a more important part of the Bill. The Bill proposes to attain one great and important object of police control, which has no connection whatever with strong liquors. We propose that all houses whatever, in which any description of refreshment is usually and ordinarily sold, shall be brought under the control of the police, and shall with that view be made liable to the payment of a small licence duty. The ground on which that proposal is made is that many of these houses are both the receptacles of disorderly characters and the scenes of very disorderly transactions. It is likewise stated with some probability of truth, that in many of them strong liquors are surreptitiously sold. I do not think it necessary to enter into any detail upon this subject, because I 1309 think I may say that there is a public opinion established to the effect that it would be desirable to bring the whole of this class of houses within the sweep of the special control of the police. There is, however, in this part of the measure, one point to which I wish to invite the attention of the House. We propose to exempt all houses below £10 in value, in places containing less than a certain population. In villages and even in small towns, there are often a number of houses in which certain slight articles, which may be called refreshments—ginger beer and oranges—are sold, but the sale of which does not constitute a trade such as to make them the resort of any persons at all, or to render it necessary to subject them to the control of the police. I think that whatever may be the proper limit to this exemption, as to which there may be some doubt, that the reasonableness and propriety of the exemption itself will be generally admitted. The third part of the Bill is that which refers to the licensing of eating-houses for the sale of wine; and here I must be permitted to draw a very important distinction, because an idea has gone abroad that all refreshment houses are to be licensed for the sale of wine. There could not be a greater error. On the contrary, it is a fundamental principle of this Bill to draw a distinction between refreshment houses generally and those refreshment houses which are really eating-houses, and that for reasons upon which I will presently dwell for a moment. In licensing eating-houses for the sale of wine we have had in view the creation of a system more healthful, more sane, and attended with much less even of the contingency of evil than any part of the system which is now established by law. It appears, Sir, to be pretty obvious that in the case of man nature intended that the functions of eating and drinking should be carried on together, or in immediate connection one with another. You have contrived, however, a system of law which does everything short of absolute enactment to separate them one from the other. You have, therefore, got in England some 70,000 or 80,000 drinking-houses that are not eating-houses at all; and not only that, but what else have you done? You have constituted a monopoly in the sale of drink, and to those who hold that monopoly you have not given a monopoly of the sale of victuals. What has been the consequence? That the trade in drink has been fostered, favoured 1310 and prosecuted by those who have the monopoly of it, to the comparative neglect of the trade in victuals, which, not being the subject of a monopoly, has gone forth and become the property of a different set of parties, the social result of which is, that you have done everything in your power, by the construction of your law, to separate the business of eating from that of drinking. I do not want to enter into a discussion of the constitution of human nature, and perhaps my opinion that the functions of eating and drinking ought to be joined together, may, in the view of some gentlemen, be open to dispute, although it appears to me to be a reasonable one; but, at any rate, I see this, that persons of the upper class who have power to make arrangements for themselves take care to make provision for it through the medium of their clubs. That which I am now going to ask for the people we, who sit in this House, and those of our station in life have taken very good care to provide for ourselves. We are not content, if we want to drink a glass of wine, to be dependent upon that which is purchased from a licensed victualler. We can buy for our 4d., 6d., or 1s. a glass, half-a-pint, a pint, or whatever quantity we want; and not in London only, but in Liverpool, in Manchester, in Edinburgh, and I know not where, the upper classes, recognizing the reasonableness of this arrangement, have, by means of clubs, formed for themselves that system which, as far as possible, we have by our laws placed beyond the reach of the common people and of the middle class. Well, Sir, with respect to these eating-houses, is it not perfectly obvious that the old system of separating eating and drinking is the most unwise one that we could possibly pursue if we want to promote sober habits? People who go to eat are not permitted to drink at the place where they eat,—that is to say, there is a complicated machinery of sending out to the nearest public-house for the particular jug or glass of this or that, which imposes impediments, obstacles, and trouble that operate almost as a prohibition, and practically we know that, except in inns and hotels, in all eating-houses properly so called eating and drinking are, as a consequence of our laws, effectually disjoined. What is the consequence of that? You do not get rid of the desire for drink; you cannot quench or extinguish that by forbidding a man to get drink where he eats, but you compel 1311 him in order to indulge his desire for drink to go to a place of which drinking is the special business. If you wanted to contrive and devise a scheme for promoting drunkenness would it be possible to devise a better one than is presented to you by such a state of the law? Then, I am told that this Bill ought not to be supported because the Beer Bill has failed. Why, what was the Beer Bill? It was totally different in principle from this measure. The main object of this Bill is to reunite the business of eating and drinking; the object of the Beer Bill, on the contrary, was to create new houses, of a different description from those which existed, but still essentially, and, indeed, almost solely, drinking-houses. I may here venture to mention to the House what I have learnt, and I think it is a fact of some interest, with regard to what has lately taken place in Sweden. We all know that the Swedes are a people of very great intelligence, and one with whom Englishmen are very glad to claim a kindred of blood; but they are also a people among whom the vice of drunkenness has very extensively prevailed. Of late years great efforts have been made, with very considerable success, to restrain that vice, and one of the measures which have been adopted for that purpose has been a provision or a plan which has, I am told, been universally adopted in that country, that spirit should not be sold in any house except those where victuals also are retailed, and I am glad to be able to quote a case of experience of that sort in support of the principle upon which this Bill is founded. Besides reuniting the business of eating with that of drinking, from which it has by a fatal error been separated, there is, I think, undoubtedly great advantage in the substitution of milder for stronger drinks. I do not believe that the extended use of wine will act very powerfully in limiting or restraining the use of spirits, still less do I believe that it will act powerfully in limiting or restraining the use of beer. We have an increasing population, we have a population that is not only increasing in numbers, but is growing, and has been rapidly growing, in wealth; and with the increase of numbers and of wealth, there is a legitimate sphere for an increase in the consumption both of wine and beer, apart from any trenching of the one upon the other; but still, comparing strong liquors with weak ones, I think is an advantage in this Bill that it will give to 1312 the people a much easier access to a mild liquor than they have hitherto enjoyed. I have read to-day a long letter addressed to me, complaining that there are many drunken people in Paris. I should be very glad to exchange the drunkenness of London for that of Paris. I would gladly take the drunkenness of Paris, if we might be permitted to make them a present of the drunkenness of London in exchange. In fact, it is a universal principle that no country where wine is abundant and cheap is a drunken country. On the other hand, it is, I am afraid, almost equally safe to assert the converse—namely, that countries where wine is not abundant and cheap, but where the use of other liquors extensively prevails, are universally, in Europe at least, drunken countries. Besides the advantage of reuniting eating and drinking, which is the main principle of our Bill, it provides a much better and more effective system of control than any which exists at present, whether with respect to licensed victuallers or with respect to beer-houses. Let me state the leading provisions of the Bill relative to that control. Every one who keeps a refreshment house, subject to certain limited exemptions, will be compelled to take out a small licence, and will so come under the control of the police. All those who keep eating-houses will be entitled to apply to the Excise for a wine licence, but before it issues, the officer of Excise must make known the fact to the magistrates, who have power under the Bill—very large and even arbitrary power, I admit—power which cannot be justified unless you have confidence in their integrity and intelligence—to object to the issue of the licence, and to put an absolute veto upon it, provided they can assert either that the house is not an eating-house within the meaning of the Act, or that it is a house kept or frequented by disorderly persons. The reason why I have given such a power with respect to the application by the magistrates of the definition of an eating-house is, that if you were to entitle the parties themselves, upon undertaking to sell bread and cheese, to call themselves eating-house keepers, and to invest them on that ground with a title to take out a wine licence, the effect would be that you would give licences to drinking-houses under the name of eating-houses. The object of the Bill is to give a wine licence only in cases where the business of drinking is so far subsidiary to the business of eating that the house can be declared to 1313 be kept open for the purpose of selling victuals. It is necessary for that purpose that the magistrates should have stringent powers, and therefore we have given them powers which, though large, I hope the House will in the main approve. Moreover, we have given them an equally stringent power with respect to anything of a disorderly character appertaining to a house; and I propose also to give them power to object to the licensing of a house on the ground that it does not correspond with the rental or value provided by the Act, or that the tenant has been disqualified in some other place under the provisions of the Act. These, I think, are efficient restraints upon any undue facility in the first issuing of the licences. Let me now state what the Bill provides in regard to the subsequent management of houses. In the first place, the licence must be renewed from year to year, and, though it would not be just to impose upon the party who wants a renewal of his licence the necessity of going through the same process of giving notice that he had to pursue when he first obtained it; yet the Bill, duly requiring the magistrates to take the initiative, gives them the same powers, to be annually exercised, if they think fit, in the case of renewals of licences, as they are to exercise upon notice received from the party in the case of the original granting of a licence. I mention these stringent powers thus particularly because they are so large and considerable that the House ought not to confer them without having its attention drawn to them in the plainest and most pointed manner. They are justified, I think, by the nature of the case, especially in making the first trial of a new system; but they are stringent to the last degree, and, I believe, will prevent persons from applying for wine licences who are not conscious that their conduct is beyond suspicion or doubt. So much for the first issuing of the licences, and likewise for the restraints upon renewals. There is, besides, in the Bill a system of penalties. This portion of the Bill has been copied in general from the Beer Acts, which contain very severe penalties; but they have been improved and made more workable by changes of various kinds. I intend myself to propose an Amendment at the commencement of the 26th clause, of which the necessity will at once be recognized. The words of that clause have been taken from the Beer Act, and provide that everybody licensed under the Act who 1314 shall permit any person to be guilty of drunkenness or disorderly conduct in their houses shall be subject to certain penalties; but, oddly enough, the section which makes it penal to permit drunkenness or disorderly conduct does not make it penal to be guilty of drunkenness or disorderly conduct. I propose, in Committee, to make an Amendment to that effect. The House will see that I have endeavoured to make the penalties as effective as possible, but I shall propose, in Committee, to introduce a form of penalty which does not appear in the Bill as it now stands—namely, the disqualification of houses under certain circumstances as well as the disqualification of persons. This provision may undoubtedly be attended with a good deal of difficulty, as a landlord may sometimes be unfortunate in a bad tenant who has misconducted himself, and may wish to displace him by a good tenant carrying on the same trade in the same place; but, on the other hand, there has been so much evil attending the substitution of men of straw for men who have been disqualified on conviction that, upon the whole, I think it better to give the magistrates power to disqualify houses as well as persons. We have also provided that the penalties shall be absolute, without appeal, except upon the third conviction. I am persuaded that, if the penalties err, they do not err on the side of lenity. They may be thought too stringent in some cases, but that is a matter for consideration in Committee. I have now explained the general scope and effect of our Bill, and the principal provisions which it contains. As I said at the commencement, so I say at the close—I do not propose this Bill with the intention of making it the precursor of an attack upon the privileges, if they be privileges, now enjoyed by licensed victuallers or by beerhouses. That question stands upon distinct and independent grounds, and, no doubt, will some day or other call for the attention of the House. The present Bill I recommend as a Bill which will have a decided tendency to the promotion of habits of sobriety among the people, and which will have that effect both by the establishment of a far better system of control than any which now exists, and especially by offering the people the means of reasonable access is the refreshing influences of liquor in conjunction with the meals they are required to take. It is, therefore, not only a wise and judicious fiscal measure, but a measure well calculated to encourage 1315 among the people habits of no common importance with respect to all their social and moral relations.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. WYLD moved the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ MR. AYRTON
supported the Motion for Adjournment on the ground that the Bill gave effect to the imposition of certain taxes which had not yet received the sanction of the House. If the House should not give its assent to those taxes, it would be necessary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce a very different Bill from that which he had just submitted to its consideration. The best way would be to take the taxes first and the Bill afterwards. No more important financial question could be proposed to the House than that of levying a tax upon the keepers of shops of a certain class. He trusted the House would allow the debate to be adjourned, until, in accordance with the usual course, a Resolution had been passed in Committee.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he would agree with the hon. Gentleman's conclusion if he could agree to his premises. There could not be a greater mistake than to suppose that this was a taxing Bill. The licences were wholly incidental to the great social objects which the measure had in view with respect to the use of wine; and it would be absurd to consent to a tax of this kind until the House had had an opportunity of considering the plan of granting the wine licences. Under these circumstances, he could not consent to the adjournment.
§ MR. LIDDELL
thought that when the Government proposed a Bill of this kind involving a totally new system of taxation they should show some cause for it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this Bill was intended to promote the public convenience and comfort; but he (Mr. Liddell) contended that the public themselves were the best judges upon that subject. There were upwards of 1,100 petitions objecting to this measure, and there had not been one petition in its favour. He therefore disputed the locus standi of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was a Bill to promote the public convenience and comfort. He believed that this was a Bill not required, and that ample 1316 channels at present existed for the sale of intoxicating liquors. They all knew that in the kind of houses now proposed to be licensed a vast quantity of illicit liquors were sold; and those channels would be enlarged by this Bill. He believed also that the Bill was an injustice to existing interests.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, this was in its terms a money Bill, for it proposed to inflict a tax on refreshment houses whether wine was sold or not; and he believed that the objection taken by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was perfectly tenable.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
observed that he thought the objection taken was a valid one; but whilst he was of opinion that the Government had been guilty of an informality, the real fact was that they had abandoned a certain portion of revenue, and they wished to recoup themselves by a new tax. The inducement to this Bill was not really that these wines should come into general use, for the reduction of the duty would effect what was required; the Government wanted revenue, that was the real point, and all the restrictions and other things in the Bill were only intended to sweeten the new tax.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, he thought that the measure was one which required the most serious consideration. If the trade in the sale of beer were to be thrown open, let that be avowed; but he believed that the feeling of the country was the other way. He himself had presented a petition from his constituents, who had assembled in public meeting, with the Vicar of Sheffield in the chair, to protest against it. He thought that the Bill would diminish the control of the magistrates over the sale of liquor, and would prove as pernicious as the Bill which permitted the establishment of beershops. At any rate the measure was too important to be discussed at nearly midnight.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
said, he was of opinion that no one could read the Bill without coming to the conclusion that it was a money Bill, though introduced under the disguise of a measure for the promotion of social benefit. The words of the Bill were that for making additions to the public revenue "the following duties should be charged." It seemed to him that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was right in his facts, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should, according to his own proposition, agree with him in his conclusion.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman could only have formed his idea from his inexperience of the forms of Parliament. The House was precluded from considering, on the second reading, the taxing clauses, which were printed in italics on that very account. In fact, technically speaking, they were not then a part of the Bill, and omitting those clauses, the Bill did not come within the category of a taxing Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 122; Noes 150: Majority 28.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. AYRTON
said, if the Government intended to press the debate on the Bill he should move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, if the hon. Gentleman desired to discuss the Bill, of course the Government would not oppose the adjournment of the debate, though they must oppose the adjournment of the House. The Government had opposed the hon. Gentleman on the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, because it was raised on the objection that the Bill was a taxing Bill; he was glad the House had supported him against that proposition. But nothing was more reasonable than that those hon. Members who opposed the measure should have an opportunity of expressing their opinions. He had, therefore, no objection to the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he would now propose that the debate be adjourned, and would suggest that the House should meet on Thursday at twelve o'clock to resume it.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the reason given by the hon. Gentleman would be a reason against a morning sitting at any period of the Session. It was always the practice to have morning sittings when business was pressing. He therefore trusted the House would agree to the proposal.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he must protest against the course proposed as unconsti- 1318 tutional. He knew no case of a morning sitting being required before Easter. As far as he could calculate, there was ample time, without sitting on Thursday morning, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry before Easter all the real and pressing business of the country; but if the Government chose to bring in measures in which he believed neither the House nor the country were at all interested, it was naturally a matter of grave consideration whether the business of all the Committees should be suspended, in order that the attention of the House might be given to a question of that kind. No doubt they could do their business as Committee men and all the other business, without being deprived of the Easter holidays. The truth was, there was other business before the House—nobody cared to inquire why it was introduced, or wanted to know what would become of it—and which interested the feelings of only one or two individuals; and this impeded and embarrassed the real business of the country; and now the House was called on to suspend the valuable labours of all the Committees in order that this caprice of legislation might have another opportunity of being held up to the scorn and derision of the country. The farce, he thought, had already been carried to too great a length. He was not himself of opinion that the Bill before them was a Money Bill, and he wished to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer every support in carrying the measure, but he could not agree that they should suspend all the valuable labours of their Committees in order to meet on Thursday morning.
§ MR. EDWIN JAMES
said, he would remind the House that Her Majesty's Government were asked at beginning of the Session when they would introduce their Reform Bill, and were warned that delay would be productive of embarrassment. Instead of having a great constitutional measure laid in time on the table of the House, they had been engaged for night after night in discussing the duty on corks squared for rounding, and other such like matters. This had embarrassed the business of the House, and he did not think it fair that hon. Members should now be seriously inconvenienced because the Government had delayed to introduce this great constitutional measure.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
observed, that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire did not state what measure it was which he considered of such slight import- 1319 ance, and which he and the country regarded with such entire scorn and derision that he could not now accede to the proposal for a morning sitting. The House would recollect, however, that there was a measure introduced last year by the late Government, having reference to that despised question, the representation of the people; and the right hon. Gentleman must remember that he held the measure of such importance that he not only demanded its discussion, but put hon. Members to the inconvenience of a general election on the subject. He hoped that the House of Commons would have the decency to show that it did not look on the question of the representation of the people as trifling, paltry, and utterly contemptible, but assent to what was necessary for the conduct of business—a morning sitting on Thursday.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the right hon. Gentleman had overlooked the fact that the measure of the late Government to which he referred was a Bill for the real reform of Parliament; but, looking at the way in which the Reform Bill of the present Government had been introduced, and how it had been deferred night after night by the Government themselves, it was no unreasonable assumption to suppose that neither the Government nor the House regarded it as important, or thought it necessary to read it a second time before Easter. He deemed the proposal to have a morning sitting to consider the important Bill relating to refreshment houses and wine licences as most astounding. The noble Viscount, it was true, had treated it with that charming indifference with which he treated most questions; but it was a proposition quite unusual, and would be most inconvenient to the members of Committees.
§ MR. BEAUMONT
remarked that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire spoke with contempt, not of the representation of the people, but of the Bill introduced by the Government. He had voted last year for the Reform Bill of the late Government, but he could not help thinking that the present Reform Bill was not one which should be forced on to a second reading before Easter. He objected to meeting on Thursday morning in order to enable the Reform Bill to be afterwards unduly pressed on.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he would remind the noble Lord (Lord J. Manners) that the Reform Bill of last year, which he called a real one, had been rejected by a large majority of the House of Com- 1320 mons; while to the second reading of that introduced by Her Majesty's Government not the slightest opposition had been attempted, though the unprecedented course was resorted to of endeavouring to defeat by delay what could not openly be attacked.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite had thrown new light upon the subject. Her Majesty's Government, it appeared, were invited and pressed to introduce the Reform Bill, and he could well conceive with what reluctance and pain, they had brought forward the measure which had turned out to be an abortion. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth quite mistook what had taken place. The Bill of the late Government was not rejected; the Gentlemen who now sat on the Treasury benches refused to allow that Bill to be discussed, and, in the spirit of enlightened liberality, for which they were so distinguished, they carried an abstract Resolution against its being heard. They then brought in a Bill themselves, but would have been delighted to escape from the necessity for doing so, and they would be equally glad to escape from their own Bill at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman said hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House wished to delay the measure. They wanted to discuss it. There were twenty-five Gentlemen of ability and eloquence who were most anxious to discuss it; and though the right hon. Gentleman himself had been heard, there were other Members who were desirous of acquiring more detailed information with regard to those classes which it was proposed to enfranchise. If the Government had set their hearts on carrying this measure, let them throw aside all other business, foreign and domestic, and discuss the Reform Bill day by day; but they certainly should not be at liberty to change the constitution of the country without hearing the opinions of that party whom they were determined not to hear when their Bill was before the House. He recommended the right hon. Gentleman to preserve that good temper which he always exhibited, and to allow them to meet in the usual way and to separate at the usual time before Easter; and, in the meantime, the confident opinion which he entertained of the good sense of Ministers led him to believe that the House would hear nothing more of the Reform Bill.
§ LORD FERMOY
said, Her Majesty's Government had only themselves to blame 1321 for the present complication of public business, having needlessly postponed the introduction of the Reform Bill for six weeks at the commencement of the Session. He desired to have a discussion on the Bill, he did not agree with what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Bill of the late Government was a contemptible Bill, and the present Bill was all that was good. He thought they each of them contained something that was good, and something altogether the reverse. With regard to the day sitting on Thursday, it was impossible that hon. Members who, like himself, were acting on important Committees, could also take part in the deliberations of the House, which were to proceed simultaneously.
§ MR. BENTINCK
said, the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey), that because there had been no division on the second reading of the Reform Bill, therefore there was to be no discussion, was a most monstrous one. The existing difficulties had arisen entirely from the inefficient manner in which the Government conducted the business of the House. Members were quite in the dark as to the probable result of the Reform Bill, if carried, and the details which had been given by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, he believed, would prove altogether erroneous. He was a Member of an important Committee which sat at one o'clock on Thursday, and he could not be in two places at once. He therefore protested against a morning sitting before Easter as quite unprecedented.
§ MR. BRISTOW
said, that he regretted the difficulty into which the Government had got by the delay in introducing the measure, but he much more regretted the semi-contemptuous tone in which Members on both sides of the House spoke of a subject of such vital importance as Reform in the representation of the people. They had had discussion enough about corks, about French wines, and lately they had heard from day to day about the inconsiderable territory of Savoy, and no time appeared to be too long to discuss these and similar subjects; but when the question was Reform, when the subject was the representation of the people, the enfranchisement of the working classes, the toiling millions of their fellow-countrymen, then (he said it with a feeling of shame) the House on all sides seem to recollect that it was close to Easter; and time, and convenience, and Committees, became all-im- 1322 portant, and Reform and the people were to be put aside, The hon. Member said that this was not the time to go into the merits or demerits of the Government Reform Bill. He could not say much more in its favour than it was a step—a hesitating and feeble one—in the right direction; but, anyhow, it ought to be discussed, not shelved, and he, for one, would, at any sacrifice of time or personal inconvenience, devote morning and evening to the consideration of a question which was all-important. If the Government had the moral courage to divide upon this question, he should go in the lobby with them cheerfully.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
likewise expressed a hope that the Government would not persist in forcing a morning sitting on Thursday on the House.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SALOMONS
said, he also protested against a morning sitting on Thursday, which would interfere with many important Committees.
§ MR. W. E. DUNCOMBE
said, that the question of the Treaty took up more time than an ordinary Budget, and after all it was only a scheme for robbing Peter to pay Paul. He objected to the proposed morning sitting, as, considering the Money Bills which must be passed before Easter, it was impossible even with that assistance to discuss so important a measure as that of Parliamentary Reform.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he would accede to what appeared the general feeling of the House against the morning sitting on Thursday. This Bill would, therefore, be proceeded with on Monday. It might become necessary in consequence to sit on Wednesday, or even on the Thursday before Good Friday, but probably the House would not object, under the circumstances, to this arrangement.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.
§ House adjourned at One o'clock.