HC Deb 06 May 1864 vol 175 cc168-75

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to impose restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquors between eleven o'clock on Saturday night and six o'clock on Monday morning. The hon. Gentleman said that some explanation might be necessary with regard to this Bill, as it was different from that of last year. Last year his Bill proposed the total closing of public-houses on the Lord's Day. He gathered from the debate which occurred on the occasion of the second reading of the Bill, that the House thought some time was necessary to enable the public to get their dinner and supper beer on Sundays, and the absence of any such provision seemed to constitute the main objection to the Bill. But by the present measure he proposed to give an hour for getting the dinner beer, and he also proposed to allow an hour between eight and nine, for getting the supper beer. The House would, no doubt, consider that, provision having previously been made for travellers and lodgers, and two hours being allowed for everybody else, it could not be for the benefit of the working man and his family that he should have six hours extra for drinking in public-houses. Let them remember that the working classes prayed for this Bill. The number of persons in favour of the total closing of public-houses on the Lord's Day was 903,987, or about one in twenty of the whole population of England and Wales. The great bulk of those who signed the petitions he was referring to were of the working classes, who, most of any, were directly interested in the passing of the Bill. A working man said to a London clergyman, "People say we working men show that we are weak when we ask the Legislature to close public-houses on Sundays, because then we have our wages in our pockets, and nothing to do;" but do not the aristocrats pray every day, "Lead us not into temptation," and should not the working men also be preserved from temptation when they beg it as a favour at our hands? The convictions from Saturday and Sunday nights exceeded those of every other day in the week. Sunday was the high day of England's drunkenness, caused by spending the wages that should go to the wife and family. If they wished the working-men to get their dinner beer and supper beer, the Bill gave them two hours for that purpose. Such a measure as this had been said to be an interference with the liberty of the subject. Look, however, at the case of Scotland. Would any one say that Scotland was behindhand in the love of liberty? And yet that country had found that a severer measure than that which I propose was not incompatible with such a sentiment. She preferred to preserve the liberty of thousands by closing public-houses on Sunday—those thousands who, in the absence of such restriction, would find themselves on Monday morning in the hands of the police. In New York for years the public-houses had been closed on Sundays, and such had likewise been the case in Sydney and in other of our colonies. These facts went to show that this measure is not the offspring of a society, or of a people unmindful of the blessings of liberty. Seeing the impatience of the House, he would not trespass further upon their attention, but would simply more for leave to introduce a Bill for restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquors between the hours of eleven of the clock on Saturday night and six of the clock on Monday morning. He would not trouble the House with further details and statistics on the question, which would be unusual at this stage of the Bill; but he trusted that after the petitions, signed by thousands, which had been presented in favour of the larger measure, the House would not deny to them the present modicum.


begged to second the Motion. The subject of the proposed Bill only required to be better understood to be better appreciated. It had been proved to demonstration that the chief difficulty all our religious and philanthropic institutions had to contend with arose from the drinking customs of this country. Such wag the deliberate opinion of the judge upon the bench, the clergyman in the pulpit, the Sabbath School teacher, and others acquainted with the habits of the lower classes. The proposed Bill had on the face of it something so reasonable that he wag satisfied the House would allow it to be introduced, and he was persuaded that on further examination it would be found that the objections relative to an alleged interference with the private rights were not so cogent as some hon. Gentlemen supposed. He had the honour of representing a large constituency, and all classes had joined in requesting him to support the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for restrictions on the sale of Intoxicating Liquors between the hours of eleven of the clock on Saturday night and six of the clock on Monday morning."—(Mr. Somes.)


said, he would not detain the House for many minutes, for there were two considerations which compelled him to be brief—one the lateness of the hour, and the other the fact that the introduction of a Bill was supposed to be a mere matter of courtesy. He had no fanatical hatred to the proposed measure; his only desire was to protect his countrymen in the fair enjoyment of their rights and liberties. As for the question of courtesy, he begged the House to recollect that though the present was said to be a different Bill from that which was decided last year, it was, in reality, the same. [Cries of "No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen might cry "No, no," but before he had done he would prove "Yes, yes." The ground of that Bill was twofold. There was a body of people in this country who were Sabbatarians; there was also a body of Teetotallers. Those two muddy streams of sentiment had united. Running side by side for a long time, they had at last united their waters, and now they formed one foaming, muddy river, which it was difficult to stem, and very disagreeable to see. [An hon. MEMBER: And to smell.] Aye, and to smell. Those two sets of people had joined their forces on the present occasion. Why did he oppose them? First and foremost, because that was a law for the poor and not for the rich. A rich, well-to-do man could have his own beer or wine in his own house, he could draw his beer or uncork his wine when he chose, but that was not the case with a poor man. Parliament began with fiscal regulations. It had put a tax upon malt, and he had always voted with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that subject, but he had always felt that he was preventing the poor man having his own beer in his own house and driving him to the public-house. He wished the House to understand that every man who went into a public-house was not a tippler. The poor man who was compelled to go to the public-house was like the gentleman who sent down his butler for his glass of wine when he wanted it. If the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Somes) and his friends were really in earnest—if they were anything more than canting hypocrites—they would propose a law for the rich as well as the poor. Not only would they shut up every public-house—not only would they shut up the Star and Garter at Richmond, and the Trafalgar at Greenwich, but they would also shut up every club in London. Would they dare to introduce a Bill for that purpose? If not, how could they presume to say that they were the friends of morality and justice? He spat upon their paltry pretence. He had no hesitation in saying that those who were endeavouring to bring in that Bill under the guise of being the protectors of morality, were merely carrying out their own individual views respecting the enjoyments of others. "We are virtuous," they exclaimed, "and, therefore, you shall have no more cakes and ale." The introduction of that Bill would create dissension throughout England. [Cries of "No, no!"] "Yes, yes;" it would create the necessity on the part of hon. Members who thought, as he did, of sifting the sentiments of the people of England, as they did last year. The seconder of the Motion had talked of representing a large constituency. He represented a still larger constituency, and he opposed this Bill. Last Session he presented a petition signed by 20,000 people, and when he went down among his constituents during the year what occurred? Several gentlemen came to him and said, "Oh, this is a people's measure, and you must support it." His reply was, "Prove that to me and I will vote for the Bill." They had a meeting in the open air, and it was carried against them by a majority of thousands. So much for the present being a popular measure. He represented a set of hardworking men who were confined to a smoky town all the week, and, as he said to those gentlemen, if he lived in Sheffield he should be very glad to get out on a Sunday to breathe a mouthful of fresh air. A working man who had expended his week in hard labour was naturally glad to get out of Sheffield for a few hours on Sunday, but if the hon. Gentleman's Bill passed he would find the door of every public-house shut against him. That man was riot necessarily a tippler. What right had they to say to that man that he should only have his luncheon at one o'clock, and not at three, if he liked it best then? Public-houses in the country were only open now from twelve to three, and from five to eleven. What harm was there in that? A working man in London went out on Sunday for a few hours' recreation, and then those sour Gentlemen turned round on him and said, "You ought to be at church." That was their creed— that if they kept a man out of the public-house they sent him to church. If a man were religiously inclined he went to church before he took his walk into the country; and was it not a way of worshipping the great Creator to walk among His works and admire their beauty? The Bill would not put an end to drinking; it would force men to break the law. There would be just as much drunkenness as ever, and a great increase of hypocrisy. The hon. Gentleman had quoted the example of Scotland. Scotland was an ascetic country, with a peculiar flavour for what was called Sabbath observance, and it was the most drunken country on the face of the earth. A friend of his who had been in Scotland on a visit had brought back a very good story. He was stopping in the neighbourhood of a very beautiful waterfall, and when. Sunday came round, there being an interval between kirk and dinner, he said, "I'll go and see your waterfall." "Gude mon," said his host, "it's the Sabbath." "What, then," replied his friend, "can't I see God's works on God's day?" "Oh, no," replied the host; "You maun stay here; you can't break the Sabbath." And in deference to his host the gentleman staid indoors and they sat down to spend the day in tippling. That was a well-to-do house, where they could drink their own beer and whisky without having to send out of the house for it. Did the hon. Gentleman believe that lie would make men worship God more completely by compelling them to abstain from walking abroad? What he wanted was to turn this nation into a sour, ascetic, hypocritical people. The Bill was the same in substance as that which was introduced last year, and the hon. Gentleman was honest enough to say that the modifications which he had introduced were against his will. That was exactly the principle of the promoters of the Bill—they thought a thing was wrong, but still they did it. The Bill last year was rejected with ignominy, and to prevent the dissension and dissatisfaction which were occasioned then he would ask the House to mark its sense of it by refusing leave to introduce it.


said, he thought that the House ought to allow the Bill to be brought in, if it were only out of respect for the immense number of petitions which had been presented in its favour, more especially as various important modifications had been introduced into it in deference to the opinions expressed in the House last year.


said, that although he had the greatest respect for the hon. Members the Mover and Seconder of that Motion, and lamented equally with them the inclination to drink existing in this country, yet he hoped that the House would not sanction the commencement of an agitation such as had taken place before, in consequence of the course they were about to adopt. Eight years ago there was a sort of émeute among the three millions of the population in this metropolis, which led Parliament to change a recently-passed law with more haste than was altogether seemly. A compromise was then agreed to, which had satisfied the public and; licensed victuallers. He hoped the Government and the House generally would pause before embarking on a project like the present, which was calculated to bring about a repetition of those scenes. What was proposed was that the poor man should only be allowed two hours out of the twenty-four on Sundays to get his beer. A working man might not be able to get out till late in the afternoon, and it was not right that he should be deprived of the opportunity of enjoying his only holiday in the week. This proposal did not take into account the state of three millions; and those hon. Members who supported the measure had not visited the working man's home. He believed the measure was one likely to cause great dissatisfaction both in the metropolis and throughout the country, and would, if carried, cause the same agitation as it did on a former occasion, and hon. Members would very likely end (as they nearly did before), by seeing all the restrictions as to opening public-houses on Sunday swept away.


said, that last year, in deference to the strong opinions expressed by a large number of persons in the country, and from a desire that the subject might be fully and fairly discussed, he gave his vote for the introduction of the Bill. He had no reason to regret that he did so, for the advocates of the measure had an ample opportunity of stating the grounds on which it could be defended, and the House rejected it, on the second reading, by a numerous majority. Therefore he did not think he could now be accused of any want of respect to the supporters of the Bill if he declined to follow the same course again. The proposal before them was substantially the same as that of last year. As had been remarked, if the Bill were allowed to be brought in and the second reading were fixed for a fortnight hence, the interval would be spent in canvassing and agitation, and in the end, he was confident, the House would reject the measure. It was only a few years since the existing restrictions were adopted, and he could not but think it was inexpedient to attempt to disturb the arrangement then come to. He should, therefore, vote against the Motion.


said, he must express his surprise that the House, as an assembly of Gentlemen, should have tolerated the language of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck). The hon. and learned Member had no right to stigmatize nearly a million of his fellow: countrymen as "canting hypocrites," or to apply that epithet to any Gentleman in the House. He was astonished, also, to hear him say he spat on the Bill. He thought that such language was not becoming the dignity of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had told them that he stood up for the rights and privileges of the people; but he seemed to ignore the claims of the poor barmen, who had petitioned Parliament in thousands to afford them relief. He appealed to the House to comply with their request. The hon. and learned Member undertook to prove that the Bill was precisely the same as that of last year, but had neglected to do so. The fact was, the Bill was different from its predecessor. His hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Somes) consulted him on the subject, and he recommended him not to submit the same Bill to the House, but to defer to the opinions then generally expressed, and allow two hours a day. His hon. Friend had taken that advice. He regretted that the Home Secretary had not seen fit to grant the courtesy of a first reading, but hoped the House would not yield to the influence of the Government in the matter.


said, that the Bill confounded the innocent with the guilty, and deprived the sober man of his beer because others got drunk. That was a kind of legislation the House ought never to agree to. The case of Scotland was entirely different to that of England. There malt liquor was not the beverage of the people who drank whisky, which could be kept at home, whereas beer could not. He should vote against the introduction of the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 123: Majority 36.

House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock, till Monday next.

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