§ Acts read—Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
, in rising to move—"That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to the sale and consumption of Intoxicating Liquors," said: I am quite aware of the great difficulty of dealing with the subject which I am now approaching on behalf of the Government, and if the Government do not meet in this Bill the wishes of the Committee, certainly it will not be for want of suggestions, for we have had them made to us by every section of the community. I am also aware of all those suggestions—some happy, and some otherwise—which were made to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I think that those which have been made to the Government through my- 1226 self certainly exceed the number of those which were made to him, and if they exceed in number, I also think they exceed in differences of opinion. I do not think I have had, out of all the deputations that have waited upon me, two who were of the same opinion upon this subject; and certain of the members forming more than one of these deputations entirely disagreed amongst themselves. Therefore I am left with the pleasing reflection quot homines, tot sententiœ.
In approaching this subject, perhaps, I may at once state that I do not wish to weary the Committee with a great number of statistics or figures on this matter, for they have been so constantly brought before the House that I do not think I shall be justified in taking up much of your time in laying further statistics before you. There are however, one or two which I must give, in order that the Committee may be aware, in the first place, of the magnitude of the subject, and, in the next place, to remove that false impression which has gone abroad upon one or two facts which have been based upon statistics. I must, however, remind the Committee, that there is hardly anything so delusive as figures, and you may draw almost any conclusion from them if you look at them from one point of view only. Before putting these figures before you at all, however, I may say that I do not intend to detain the Committee by dilating at any length upon the evil effect of drunkenness, nor upon the crime, misery, and wretchedness which undoubtedly spring from it. There is hardly a Judge who in charging a grand jury at Assizes has not something to say on the subject, and, certainly, no one more than myself feels the truth of a great many of the observations that are made on these occasions. And when we look at the facts which shortly I shall have to place before the Committee, in their broad outline, we must acknowledge that they certainly do present a rather appalling state of things; for I find that in the year 1873, in England alone, no fewer than 182,000 persons were proceeded against for drunkenness, and that the consumption of intoxicating liquors during that year amounted to the sum which I am just going to place before you—namely, there were consumed very nearly 63,500,000 bushels of malt, and nearly 40,000,000 gallons of British and Foreign spirits, 1227 and 18,000,000 gallons of wine. Therefore, I think I may assume that the Committee will agree with me in this—that if the people of England and the United Kingdom in general did not spend quite so much money upon these intoxicating liquors, there would be more health, more wealth, and more happiness than at present exist in the country. [Opposition Cheers.] Well, I was quite prepared for that cheer coming from the other side of the House. I will go one step further, and say this—that the consumption of spirits—speaking of British and Foreign spirits alone—has undoubtedly increased rapidly in the last few years; for in 1866 I find the proportion of spirits drunk throughout the United Kingdom was 1.01 gallons per head of the population, and in 1873 if was as much as 1.21. Therefore, there is certainly a large increase in the last few years. But that being so, we must not run away with that bare fact uppermost in our minds. Hon. Members would do well in these cases, as in many others, not to draw their conclusions from a small number of year's, and think that because there has been an increase in the consumption of spirits, it is likely to run on in the same proportion; and if they will look back for a longer period of years than 1866, they will find some crumbs of comfort, at all events; in this fact—namely, that in taking a period of 20 years, say 1853, and comparing it with 1873, the difference is not so great as the few years I have named would be likely in the first instance to load them to infer. In the year 1853 I find the consumption of spirit, proof, amounted to as much as 30,163,933 gallons, but in the year 1869—although, as I need hardly say the population of the United Kingdom had in the meantime largely increased, and although this increase had gone on gradually and there was no sudden jump from one period to another—the consumption was 30,114,594 gallons, which was considerably less in 1869 than in 1853. Indeed, it is not until you come to 1871, that you find the proportion of gallons per head, which is consumed by the people of the United Kingdom, really amounts to the same figure that it did in the year 1853. And another fact has to be remembered. You must consider not simply the increase of population between these two years, but also the number of public- 1228 houses which existed in the year 1853 and in 1869. In 1853 the number was 87,625; in 1866, 93,593; and in 1873, it was 97,132. [An hon. MEMBER: Is that licensed victuallers?] Licensed victuallers and retailers of spirits. And therefore, although the amount of spirits consumed in 1853 and 1869 was exactly the same—indeed, rather smaller in 1860 than in 1853—the number of public-houses increased considerably during that period. The Committee, therefore, will see that they must not jump to the conclusion, too rapidly, that the consumption of spirits grows with the number of public-houses or licensed retailers of spirits. There is also some comfort which I think I can put before the Committee in connection with this subject of the quantity of spirits consumed, and that is the improved condition of those places where spirits are sold. And you may find that in many ways. You may consult the police reports, and the reports made by the magistrates in different parts of the country—both from the mayors in one case, and the police in the other—you may look at the number of convictions of the public-houses and publicans and beer-house keepers in the year 1853, and compare that with the latter period, and you may also look at the number of forfeitures which have taken place in the licences of those persons who have been licensed to sell intoxicating liquors, and in all these quarters, wherever you look, you do find a vast improvement in the character of the places where these liquors are sold. I find in 1869 there were as many public-houses in England as 61,893, whereas in 1873 there were 62,261, which is a considerable, though perhaps not a very large, increase. But when we come to the number of convictions, we find that in 1869 they were as many as 3,152, whereas in 1873, although the number of public-houses was considerably larger, the convictions were only 2,297. When you come to beer-houses, you will find the same striking difference still. In 1869, the number of beer-houses was 46,298, and in 1873 there were only 40,923, showing a large decrease. You will agree that not only is that so, but that it is a good thing it is the case. But when we come to the number of convictions, you will see they have decreased in a much larger proportion than the number of houses, for in 1869 the 1229 number was 6,871, whereas in 1878 it was only 1,495. Then, again, if you look not only at the number of convictions, but at the number of licences forfeited, you will see a much larger discrepancy still; but as regards beer-houses, no doubt, that result is owing to the operation of recent legislation. In 1869 there were 127 public-house licences forfeited, and in 1873 that number had dwindled down to 13. Of the beerhouses there were in 1869 no fewer than 1,951 whose licences were forfeited, and in 1873 only 14. I think, therefore, we may judge that the conduct of these houses has been gradually, and I may say rapidly, improved, and I hope the conduct of these houses will be still more improved. I am quite sure it is for the interests of those who keep them that it should be improved; and, so far as we are concerned, we ought to do all that we can to enable them to improve the condition of their houses. However, the result of the figures I have placed before the Committee shows that the public-houses, and all houses where intoxicating liquors have been sold, have been fewer in number than in 1869; that they have been much better conducted; that, in consequence, the streets have undoubtedly been much more quiet and orderly; that there have been much fewer publicans convicted; and that there have been still fewer licences forfeited for the houses being badly conducted. Nevertheless, although this is the case, we have still this appalling state of things, that although public-houses have been well conducted, and although the number of beer-houses has been reduced, and the public-houses slightly increased, yet still the consumption of beer and spirits has largely grown. The consumption of spirits in 1873, as compared with 1869, has grown from 30,114,594 gallons in the latter period to 39,132,207 gallons in the former; while if you take the quantity of beer which has been consumed during the same years, calculating it by the bushels of malt used, you will find in 1869 it was 52,000,000 bushels as against 63,500,000 in 1873; and, in the case of wine, I find it has grown from 14,500,000 to more than 18,000,000 of gallons. It is to be noted that the convictions for drunkenness also have very much increased during the same period. Now, the question is, how are we to account for this? Be- 1230 cause, in the first instance, we find that while the public-houses were increasing in number the quantity of spirits consumed gradually decreased; and certainly it has happened, although I do not place much stress on the fact, that when the number of public-houses has decreased the quantity of spirits consumed has largely increased. Well, I account for it in several ways. I believe a great deal has arisen from the increased care and attention which the keepers of these houses themselves have given to their trade; a great deal of it has arisen from the activity and vigilance of the police; but I believe still more it has arisen, so far as the consumption of spirits is concerned, to the wealth of the lower classes of this country. And when I say "wealth," I mean the largely increased wages they have received, and not simply from their largely increased wages, but from the suddenness with which they have increased. I also believe it has grown not merely from the large amount of wages, but from the increased amount of leisure they have enjoyed. Taking the case of my own county—and I take it because in that district wages have greatly increased and have, too, suddenly increased, so that it may be fairly taken as a test—I find that in that county the proceedings taken for drunkenness in 1872 were 13,135, and that they increased in 1873 to 13,6–18. Comparing that with 1871 the increase is still larger, as in that year they were under 12,000. The same state of things has taken place in the metropolis, and the conclusion I arrive at from these facts is this—that the increase of wages, and the suddenness of that increase, and the want of other sources of enjoyment for those persons who found themselves in possession of comparative wealth without being educated how to best spend it for their own happiness and that of their fellow-creatures, have led them to go into the only pleasure with which they were acquainted, and they have spent it in drinking. There is one further reason which I hope the Committee will bear in mind, and it is, that although we may speak of drunkenness as the cause of crime and of many attendant evils, it has a primary cause, and it is one which the working people of my own county feel still more deeply—I mean the want of a happy home. When you are trying then, to get at the bottom of this evil, 1231 do not stop with the amount of drunkenness. If you want to go to the bottom of the evil, yon must go further; you must improve the education of the people, and try and induce them to learn that there are other enjoyments than the mere sensual enjoyments of the moment, and you will do this if you make their homes happy and comfortable. Therefore, I do believe that the movement set on foot to provide the labouring classes with what they can well appreciate—improved dwellings, will do more to promote sobriety than any measures you may pass to prevent the sale of intoxicating liquors.
Still there is a large amount of misery and unhappiness that hon. Members wish to do the best they can to prevent, and these group themselves into three distinct schools of thought, differing in their view of the way in which this ought to take place. The first is that school of thought so ably represented in this House by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and his friends. They think they can improve the matter by putting a stop absolutely to the sale of intoxicating liquors. I need not say for myself that I consider that is an impossible plan. I do not believe that in these matters, more than any other, you can legislate beyond public opinion. If you do, public opinion will not bear you out, and the laws which you will pass will be broken, as they have been in other countries in which they have been tried, and therefore I hold that it is better not to pass any such law, as the frequent violation of it will be sure to create a disregard for law altogether. I am quite willing to give the hon. Baronet, and those who act with him, credit for the best possible intentions, and they do a great deal of good in a particular way. I can speak of a great number of the labouring classes in my own county who have taken up this matter very warmly, and who in their own particular society exercise a wholesome influence over their relations. That is the good they can do, and if they will only leave alone the good they cannot do, and follow out the good they can do, it will be a great benefit to the country. What they do is this—They endeavour to ripen public opinion on this matter; and what I want to see brought about is, that people should look upon being 1232 drunk as a matter of disgrace, and when you can get them to so look upon it, you will influence the classes among which drunkenness now prevails, just as the higher classes were influenced some years ago. I have always said that the people of England have no right to come to this House for legislation for the mitigation of an evil, until they have done their best to cope with it without legislation; and in this case, the working men in their building societies and clubs have the remedy in their own hands if they choose to make use of it. They can, if they please, form themselves into building societies, build their own houses, and not allow a public-house to be among them. There are a great many places where I believe the working classes have taken this course, and, notably so, near the City of Canterbury. On the same plan, there is the Shaftesbury Park Estate, where it is possible they may get a number of persons to live together without having a public-house among them. That is, I consider, a legitimate way of influencing public opinion. The second school of thought is represented by those who take quite the opposite view—who say that all restrictions are improper, and that you ought to have free trade in intoxicating liquors, as you have free trade in other articles of consumption. There are a great many very thoughtful men who take that view of the case. Well, that has been tried in the town of Liverpool. The magistrates granted licences to all who asked for them, and the result was, that drunkenness increased to such au enormous degree that the inhabitants in large numbers petitioned the magistrates to make an alteration in the borough rules. They did so and there was less drunkenness than before. Then we come to the plan which the House of Commons has always adopted, and which I am sure it will continue to pursue, and which is to regulate the monopoly of the trade. When we talk of a regulated monopoly, we must be all aware that it is easy to make the law, but it is not so easy to get it properly administered. Various plans have been tried. It has been referred to the Town Councils, it has been referred to the magistrates, and some of you wish to refer it to the ratepayers. The complaint is that the Town Councils and the magistrates have administered 1233 it in the sense of their own particular bias, and not as it was intended by Parliament that it should he administered; and the same would rake place with a still stronger feeling, if it were to be referred to the ratepayers, which I hope it never will. Everyone would act according to the bent of his own mind, and in proportion as his opinion was warped by any bias, so he would impose restrictions on the sale of intoxicating liquors. You have therefore, when considering the Act of 1872, to see if it has been worked out fairly and honestly, as it was intended should be done. I do not intend to make any imputation upon the magistrates, to whom Parliament committed the administration of that Act. I do believe that they honestly meant to carry it out in its integrity; but they have, through the bias I have mentioned, been led to give a complexion to that Act which the judicial mind would not do in any other matter which might come before the bench.
Now I come to the particular point to which I wish to call the attention of the House. That is the liberty given to the magistrates, by the Act of 1872, to enlarge or limit the hours of closing. I have before me a Return made to the House on the Motion of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Melly) on this subject, and it shows that although to a considerable extent the magistrates have left the hours fixed by the statute unaltered, we yet find that in 200 out of 890 licensing districts a change has taken place by the act of the magistrates: and, although I do not wonder at their being puzzled to decide upon the subject, yet I confess I do not know on what principle they have proceeded, for when we look to the list of the towns, we find that while in some large towns the hour for closing is 10 o'clock, in other and smaller towns it is 12 o'clock. I certainly cannot see why the circumstances of one town should differ so from the circumstances of another town, and I think that any hon. Member who looks through the Return will agree with me that although the magistrates have done their best to administer the Act fairly and justly, they have not arrived at the same conclusion; and when we come to the country districts we find a still greater divergence in the limitation of the hours. This is a considerable evil, for I find that while in one 1234 village or one licensing district the public-houses have to be closed at one hour, they are in the adjoining village or licensing district closed at another, and the result is this—that it induces the inhabitants of one village or parish where the houses close early to go to another village or parish where they are not so well known, and drink as much, if not more, than they would have drunk if the public-houses in their own parish had been kept open. I think, therefore, that Parliament should take upon itself to regulate this monopoly. And here the Committee must remember that for a very long time there was no restriction in respect to hours at all; but Parliament has—and very wisely as I think—determined that such restrictions should be imposed, and that being the case, the House is bound to take upon itself the responsibility of fixing the hours. The first Proposition the Government has to propose, therefore, is that the hours at which public-houses shall be closed shall be fixed by statute, and not left to the discretion of the magistrates. That being so, the next question that arises is—What shall the hour be at which public-houses shall be closed? Well, that is a very difficult question, and I can honestly tell the Committee that that is a point on which all the deputations which came to me totally differed, and as this House is merely a representation of the persons who formed those deputations—["No."] Well, I will put it another way—I believed that all the persons who formed those deputations have Representatives in this House. Therefore, I cannot propose for a moment, that any hour which the Government propose will be entirely satisfactory to every Member of the Committee, any more than to every member of those deputations. But we have made every inquiry we can into this matter, and, among others, we have obtained the views of the publicans and beer-sellers, like everybody else. But, remember, this is a question which must not be determined in the interests of one body or of another; but we must fix the hours in the interests of the public, and not simply of the publicans. When we came to ask the trade what they had to suggest in this matter, their answer was very plain, very simple, and very intelligible, but I question much whether it was a very wise one they said they 1235 thought the best thing we could do would be to have uniform hours from one end of the country to the other—that is to say, whether the hours are fixed in the great City of London, or in the country towns, or in the smallest villages, they should be absolutely uniform. I confess myself that I cannot see much logic in that answer, because although you do not want to fix the hours exactly according to the habits of the people—which you may almost turn any way after a time—yet the business of a great town is totally different from the business of a country place. In both, there are certain hours which the people cannot help following, and the hours which are necessary in the City of London are totally different from those which are observed by agricultural labourers in the country. We have therefore come to the conclusion, with which I hope the Committee will agree, that the hours should not be uniform, but should vary according to certain circumstances which I am now going to mention. First, let me say, when we come to the question of hours, that it is not the intention of the Government to alter either on Sundays or on week-days the hours at which beer-houses are kept open, beyond taking away the discretion of the magistrates. Publicans, however, stand on a different footing. They are under different obligations to the public, and they are established for a different purpose. Now, I go one step farther, and say we do not mean to make any alteration in the hours during which even public-houses are kept open on Sundays. We think the Sunday hours have been fairly followed, and no great complaints have been made to us concerning thon. On Sundays, then, the hours will be left as they are. But when we come to the hours on weekdays, we find a considerable difference of opinion. Let me take the case of London. In the case of London, the hour of closing at night, as the Committee is aware, is fixed at 12. Looking at that, it was found quite necessary that a distinction should be made for those persons who are in the habit of attending theatres, and therefore could not reach those houses in time to get their refreshments; and therefore power was given to the Commissioner of Police to grant what are called "exemption licences," and he has granted under that 1236 power about 54 such licences to different; houses up and down the town. They are dotted up and down in the neighbourhood of the theatres. The Commissioner, acting under advice, has not felt himself justified in saying, "I shall open every house within a certain radius around a theatre." but he has given those licences to as many houses as he thought necessary. The result has been that one or two or three, or four houses in the neighbourhood of a theatre, as the case may be, have been allowed to keep open till 12.15, instead of 12, and then later for persons who have gone in, to consume what they have ordered before. That arrangement was made in order to accommodate persons going to a theatre. A more invidious power placed in the hands of any man, especially a Commissioner of Police, I cannot imagine. I must, however, speak of Colonel Henderson in terms of great praise. I believe he exercised the power very carefully with regard to the houses he selected for those particular licences. But no man—I do not care who he may be, could act on an Act of Parliament such as that and give satisfaction to everybody. The result has been that the keepers of all the houses which are closed at 12 are perfectly entitled to think that their customers have just as much right to go to their houses after 12 as to go to the exempted houses, and they believe they have a reasonable ground of complaint. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that the wise course is to put a stop to all these exemptions in London, and to place all the public-houses in the metropolis exactly on the same footing. When we came to the matter of hours we found there was a considerable difference of opinion among the licensed victuallers of London on that point. The great majority of them had joined with the country members of the trade, and agreed to ask that the houses should be closed at 12 o'clock. Then came the question of the special exemptions, and when we considered the question it became clear that 12 would not do at all. We also found there was another and considerable body of licensed victuallers, a body numbering some 1,000, who stoutly maintained that 12 o'clock would not do; and when we asked what would be the hours that would satisfy the wants of the public, the answer we got from 1237 them—and it put the hour at the latest—the hour that would satisfy everybody in the metropolis was 12.30. Now that is the hour we have placed in the Bill for closing the public-houses in the metropolis. [Mr. MELLY: Are beer-houses to be allowed to be kept open until that hour?] No. I have already stated that we do not propose to make any change in the beer-houses as to the hours of closing. We will now go to the country. The country is in an entirely different position from the town, and we do not see that the country, cither in the large towns or in the country itself, requires that hour. Indeed, it has not been asked for from any quarter, from one end of the country to the other. It is not population that should be the sole guide of the wants of a town and of an agricultural population. The guide should be not only the habits, but the nature of the occupations of the people, and the consideration whether these occupations require later hours or not. Large towns other than London should have later hours than villages. One Member of the Committee, if asked, would probably suggest one hour and another another, but the hour which I believe, from all the representations made to us, would really satisfy all the wants of the public, not simply in small places, but of people in the towns, taking as the definition of a town any place that has really some importance and authority, a town such as would be named in the Public-house Closing Act—a place, in fact, where there is a Corporation, an Improvement Commission, or a Local Government. Board, so as to distinguish it from a mere aggregation of houses, and where the population is over 10,000—the hour we have stated in the Bill for closing in those places is 11.30. In the country, looking at the Returns obtained on the Motion of the hon. Member for Stoke, and considering that in these places the hours are practically lengthened from their not being included under all the restrictions that apply in the case of towns, and the fact that the magistrates have made no alteration, we have left the hour as it is stated in the old Act—namely, 11, so that the hours we suggest are these—in the metropolis, in the district over which the Metropolitan Board of Works have jurisdiction, enlarged by one or two parishes where the population is so great or so dense 1238 that the arbitrary rule of a four or five miles radius could not be satisfactorily applied, the hour would be 12.30; in the large towns it would be 11.30; and in the country the hour would remain as at present, 11.
There is one other matter which flows out of this subject, and which has been much pressed upon us as far as London is concerned. The Committee will remember that, under a particular Act, passed some time ago, certain houses were left open, which go by the name of "night-houses;" and in London there are over 1,000 of these night-houses, which have a licence to keep open the whole night. They do not actually sell intoxicating liquors; but when the Public-house Closing Act was passed, it was found that these houses were really the resort of persons who went there simply because they were driven out of the public-house, and there congregated to do mischief. Therefore the Public-house Closing Act made this regulation—that all these houses shall be closed at 1 A.M. when the public-houses closed. And now we find from the police, that the night-houses which now exist are not resorted to in the least by people who want refreshments, but are simply frequented by persons who have been turned out of the public-houses, and who go to them the moment the public-houses are closed. The result I have from the police may be summed up in these words—that these refreshment-houses are simply the resort of prostitutes and their companions; that they carry on an illicit trade in spirits; that the persons who frequent them remain till the last moment; and then rush out in a boisterous and disorderly state into the streets, which they disturb for an additional hour. We propose, as the Public-house Closing Act suggested, that they should be closed at the same time as public-houses, and as we suggest that public-houses should close at 12.30, that these houses should be closed at the same time. We also propose to give a publican the right of keeping his house open for the full number of hours, if he chooses to do so, or of closing at an earlier hour on complying with certain conditions. There are some very large districts in Wales where that optional power will be useful and where the public-houses might be closed at 10 o'clock instead of 11. As 1239 this appears to result from the wishes of the inhabitants, we do not think we have a right to force the publican to keep his house open any longer than anybody wants him; but we think it better that the right to do this should be regulated by a fixed principle rather than be left to the discretion of a magistrate or magistrates. The Committee will also remember that in 1872 the Bill which was proposed gave the option to licensed victuallers to take out six-day licences instead of seven, and make a proportionate reduction for the days on which the house was closed. Following the example of the law in this respect, we propose—and competition is likely to prevent this being acted on, except where the population is favourable—that any publican who chooses may close one hour earlier than the regular hour, provided that when he applies for his licence, he declares his wish and desire, and has that inserted in his licence; and further, the gross amount of hours being about the same, that the same allowance shall be made for the hours during which the house shall be so closed as is made in the case of six-day licences. Of course, a man taking out such a licence will be subject to a penalty if he does not close at the hour agreed upon. I may mention that the experiment of those six-day licences seems to be working very satisfactorily. In the first year after the Act was passed, there were only 6,000 licences of this description applied for; they got on very slowly at first, but in the first six months of the second year, the number has risen to 9,000, and there is every probability that they will increase in numbers, and thus in a very beneficial manner regulate the trade according to the wants of the locality without external interference. I believe these early closing licences will be found in practice very beneficial to all parties.
There are other provisions in the Bill which I ask leave to introduce, which refer to matters which undoubtedly, in our opinion, do press very hardly upon persons connected with this trade, and the principle upon which we think it right to deal with them is the principle applied to persons connected with all other open and legitimate trades. Our object should be to get the best and most honourable houses we can; and though, no doubt, there has 1240 been a considerable improvement since 1872, yet it cannot be denied that the very stringent regulations of that Act have a tendency to prevent persons from entering the trade, whose capital and personal character would render them fit and proper for the business in all respects. A great variety of suggestions have been made to us on this point, all of which have been carefully considered. One proposal on which much stress was laid was, that the houses should be classified, and licences granted accordingly, distinguishing large and commodious places from small ones, where men go at night and get drunk; but the Committee would see that it was utterly impossible for the Government to make any arbitrary rule as to either large or small houses, or to distinguish between well-conducted houses that might be frequented by the rich or the poor. We therefore came to the conclusion upon this point that everything must depend upon the personal character of the person to whom the licence is granted. I do not mean by that to say that any jealous or improper inquiries are to be made as to the antecedents of a person who applies for a licence—the present regulations seem quite sufficient; but simply to say that the continuance of the licence should depend upon the manner in which its conditions are observed. The only test of a house is the character of the man who keeps it and it must be the wish, not merely of the public, but of the publicans, that the trade should be adopted by honest and well-conducted men. Indeed, many deputations—to their credit be it said—laid stress on that point. That brings me to another important and practical point. We do not think that a magistrate should be bound to impose a minimum penalty of 20s., no matter how little the defendant may have been to blame. In some cases a man has been extremely careful to give every possible order to conduct the house properly, but through the carelessness of some of his servants he incurs conviction. We propose to leave the fine for the first offence at the discretion of the magistrate; in case of another conviction we leave the law as it stands. Then there is the endorsement of licences, which the trade feel very deeply. Under the present Act, the magistrate has no option but to endorse any conviction of a pub- 1241 lican his licence for an infraction of its conditions, and for fines ranging from £1 to £20. Three of such endorsements subject the holder to forfeiture of the licence, and it may lead to the loss of a large capital, and good business, under circumstances of great hardship, and for offences which it was impossible to prevent. The magistrate has, of course, a discretion as to the amount of fine, but he has none as to the endorsement of the licence, and so the case may occur of a licence being marked with three separate fines of £1 each, or £3 in one for trivial offences, that would involve the forfeiture of the licence, whereas in the case of two fines of £10 and £20 each for serious offences, no such forfeiture would follow. It is true that the magistrate may order the conviction not to be endorsed on the licence, but he thus steps out of the ordinary course of law. We propose therefore that the endorsement shall not be binding—that the magistrate may reduce the penalty; and in other things we leave the statute as it stands, the endorsement in any case being done by the special order of the magistrate. Some years ago an Act was passed by which it was provided that after a second conviction for felony, prisoners, after the expiration of their sentence, should be placed under police supervision for seven years, unless the Judge otherwise ordered. The result was that in 99 cases out of 100, persons found themselves placed under police supervision. The consequence of this was, that a very short time afterwards an Act was passed abolishing supervision, unless specially ordered by the Judge. That being very intelligible, we propose that in this case the same principle shall apply as we propose with respect to endorsements, with the exception that the record of conviction will always be kept in the petty sessional division, so that when the magistrate inflicts the sentence he will have it before him, and will form an opinion whether the conviction should be endorsed or not. We do not think there should be any special legislation affecting this trade if it can be avoided. Now, when the adulteration clauses were inserted in the Act of 1872 everybody expected great results from them, and the Government of that day were quite right in passing them, for the general Adulteration Act at that time in existence was almost unworkable; but the 1242 Licensing Act received the Royal Assent on the very same day as a general Act respecting the adulteration of food and drinks. A sort of stigma was thus cast upon the publicans in subjecting them to special provisions unlike any other trade, and what has been the result? In the metropolitan district, as far as I can ascertain, there has been no prosecution, and the Reports of Inspectors of Police show that in the Northern district, where adulteration was most likely to occur, no conviction has been obtained. In one instance in Cumberland, and another in the North Riding, liquor was seized, and sent for analysis, but proved to be unadulterated. The adulteration clauses have thus been a dead letter, and now that there is a general Act on the subject, the improvement of which is about being considered by a Committee, to be moved for by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth), we may fairly repeal those clauses. The legislation with respect to adulteration has in its operation given rise to a great amount of discontent and ill-feeling. The Committee are perhaps aware that since the reign of William IV. the police have had power, for the purpose of enforcing order, to enter the licensed premises; but in the Act of 1872—and clearly having reference to the object of putting down adulteration and the seizing of adulterated liquors—the police obtained power, in the expectation that such liquors would be sold, not in the usual place but in rooms ordinarily devoted to the family, to enter upon and search that portion of the premises—a power which has, as I have said, given rise to a great deal of ill-feeling. The words run thus—The constable may at all times enter on any licensed promises, and examine every room and part of such premises, and take an account of all intoxicating liquors found therein.That provision was adopted with a view, as the result has shown, that the police should have power to examine every room, and the power has certainly been arbitrarily executed. And therefore it is that we have endeavoured to wash out that colour—to remove the blot which has been put upon the old law; and for that purpose to give the constable power to enter the premises only for the purpose of enforcing order, unless it is absolutely necessary he should do so in 1243 the execution of his duty—a fact, the proof of which will lie upon himself. That, I believe, will afford a great relief to the trade, while it will not stand in the way of order being thoroughly protected.
I have already said that all those premises ought to be subject to be licensed in the way I have mentioned. We are also of opinion that all premises which are licensed for the sale of drink should be subject to the same laws. I take the case of occasional licences. Where such are granted by the Justices, it has been ruled that the police have not the same power which they possess in the case of other licensed premises. Now, we do not see any distinction between the one and the other, and are of opinion that all alike should be subject to the supervision of the police. There is another matter in which not only the publicans, but the public have much reason to complain, and it has reference to fairs and races which are held up and down the country. The local publicans, who are well known, do not go to these places unless with the sanction of the magistrates; but, on the other hand, a vast number of people who have nothing whatever to do with the locality, and who are not known to the police or the magistrates, come down and sot up booths, which for the most part are conducted in a disorderly manner. We think that those places ought to be subject to the rules relating to licensed premises, and that the persons setting up the booths should be compelled to go for licences to the local magistrates, and ought not to have any advantage over the licensed victuallers of the locality. Further, we are of opinion that if they obtain temporary licences they should be under the same regulation as the regular trade are subject to. This provision will, we think, tend to the promotion of quiet and order at all those fairs and races.
The Bill contains a great many more details, with which I shall not now trouble the Committee, except one which is certainly of considerable importance. A man now goes to a large expense, say £3,000 or £4,000, in building a public-house, and when it is finished he goes to a magistrate and says—"I have built a house at a great expense, which I mean to be a public-house. Will you grant me a licence?" But the magis- 1244 trate says—"No; we have public-houses enough in this neighbourhood, and do not require any more." Now, that in our opinion is a very great hardship, and we propose that any person who chooses to build a public-house may go to a magistrate and say—"I have got or purchased this piece of land, and if you grant me a provisional order for a licence I will build a public-house according to the plans I now lay before you." We propose to give him the power, if he should think it right or necessary, and approves of the plans submitted to him, to grant this order, which would of course be confirmed at the proper time. That seems to us a fair proposition, obviating any risk of loss. In conclusion, I have only to say that in dealing with this subject, we have considered only two questions—first, to see that the just wants of the public were supplied; and next, to do justice to those engaged in the trade, and to induce the most respectable men to come into it by doing away with every unnecessary and unjust restriction. These are the sole objects we had in view in preparing the Bill. I feel obliged to the Committee for the patience with which they have listened to my statement; being, as I fear it is, of unwarrantable length; but before I sit down I may state that I am extremely sorry, from the shortness of time at my disposal, that I am unable to lay on the Table a Consolidated Bill on the entire subject. The number of statutes bearing on it are so innumerable, that it would be impossible for me to do so. In fact, very few persons have any idea of their number, and to consolidate the law as it now stands would take the whole of a Session; but when this matter is settled, it will be my anxious wish to bring in a Consolidated Act on the whole subject.
§ Moved, "That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave he given to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to the sale and consumption of Intoxicating Liquors."
§ MR. MELLY
regretted that the Government had felt it necessary to introduce a measure to unsettle what had been passed with much agreement on both sides of the House. He had nothing to complain of in the very lucid statement made by his right hon. Friend. He extended the hours of the metropolis for public-houses to 12.30, leaving the beer- 1245 houses closed as at present, at midnight. In the provinces he extended the hours of closing for public-houses from 11 to 11.30 P.M., leaving the beer-houses to be closed at 11 o'clock in towns of over 10,000 inhabitants. The unanimous cry of the licensed victuallers and beer-sellers had been for uniformity of hours of closing and opening. The right hon. Gentleman ought, therefore, to have made 11 the uniform hour of closing. Nothing had been said about the time of opening—[Mr. CROSS: I propose to leave that as it is.] If the Bill had fixed 6 A.M. to 11 P.M. for every district, he could not have complained, for the Return that he had moved for had shown that there were 890 provincial districts; in 13 of which the hours of closing were 12 or 11.30; in 75, 10 or 10.30; and in 802, 11 o'clock, as suggested by the Act of 1872. Five insignificant towns, with a population of 200,000, had extended the hours of closing; 13 small towns, with a population of 300,000, had shortened the hours; but 154 boroughs, with a population of 6,000,000, now close at 11. All that was to be disturbed. In all these boroughs there were to be two hours of closing. The public-houses were to close at 11.30, the beer-houses at 11. Thus the drunken customers of the beer-houses would cross the street at 11 to top up with gin at the spirit vault, and the police would have nothing to do from 11 to 11.30, but to watch their future captives crossing the street to make themselves still more disorderly. There would, he thought, have been no serious objection to fixing 12.30 as the hour for closing in the metropolis, but he had hoped to see a provision as to uniformity elsewhere. The Act of 1872 had been universally approved. He believed the public, the magistrates, the police, and even the trade itself, preferred the earlier hours. The Budget figures also showed that they had done no diminished trade. The three chief Inspectors of Police in the Northern, Midland, and Southern districts, had reported most strongly in favour of the working of the Act; 49 superintendents of county, and 117 chief superintendents of borough police had, in their reports to the Home Secretary himself, used these words—"The Act works most satisfactorily," "well," or "beneficially." One superintendent complained of the want of 1246 uniformity in hours; but no officer of police made any other complaint. There would, however, now be diversity of hours in the lane of every county and the street of every village and town in England and Wales. There were 40,000 beer-houses and 67,000 spirit-houses to be closed at different hours, and so strongly did he feel as to the increased drinking to which this extension of spirit-houses must necessarily lead, that he should oppose the Bill. All experience had shown that the diversity of closing hours led to great disorder, and largely increased the labours of the police; and he was convinced that the Justices of the Peace and others charged with the maintenance of law and order, would object to his right hon. Friend's proposals. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not thought proper to propose that grocers' shops where drink was sold in small quantities, to be consumed off the premises, should also be closed at 11. That, however, was not the time to deal with the minor concessions proposed to be made to the drinking interests. When the Bill came to be considered by the country, the universal verdict would be, that instead of the proposal of the Government, there should be absolute uniformity of hours for the whole trade in each district, He begged to give Notice that on the second reading, he should move the following Amendment—That, in the opinion of this House, no measure for the regulation of the sale of Intoxicating Liquors will be satisfactory which affords increased facilities for drinking, and which deals unequally and unfairly with a considerable branch of the liquor trade.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with great regret, because he thought the changes he proposed to effect in the present law would be most unfortunate. The licensed victuallers had had a monopoly in which the interests of the public were ignored, and the improvements which had been secured were worth retaining. He had no doubt that the endorsement provisions had a considerable effect in the improvement of the conduct of the houses to which reference had been made. He thought the alteration proposed in respect to those endorsements was an injurious one, and would result in strengthening the vast and gigantic monopoly of the liquor trade.
§ MR. PEASE
looked upon the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman as a retrograde step in legislation, and would reserve to himself the right of opposing, on the second reading. Some portions of the scheme he had heard with sorrow, and he believed the country would read them to-morrow with alarm. He regretted that nothing was proposed calculated to bring houses which were doing much harm, more fully under the control of the magistrates than they were now. In case this Bill ever came to a second reading, he should move, in Committee, further restrictions with regard to grocers' licences, and to give the magistrates more discretion over those houses in which the drink had to be consumed off the premises. Altogether, the statement had produced a most unfavourable impression upon his mind, and he trusted that in several particulars the right hon. Gentleman might see it his duty, in the interest of the country, to re-consider his plan.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Melly) had made unfavourable comments upon the measure proposed, in which he could not join. He thought the Bill would do much to secure the uniformity required, and would meet the wants both of the publicans and the public. There had been need of some extension of the hours, and he did not think the boon would be abused. He knew it was a difficult subject, but he would reserve what he had to say until the second reading.
§ SIR HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
thought the right hon. Gentleman had failed to produce a measure which would be satisfactory to anybody. Very few persons found fault with the hours of closing fixed by the Act of 1872, and that, he might say, applied to the persons engaged in the trade as well as the general community. The hours of closing at 12 o'clock in London and 11 in the country, with 10 for the smaller places, were late enough for all proper purposes. To extend these hours as the right hon. Gentleman proposed, instead of doing a public good, would, in his opinion, create a great mischief. Experience showed, that earlier hours under the Act of the late Government produced greater quiet. They had abundant evidence of the fact, and he must express his regret that, with such a 1248 gratifying experience, the Government should be induced, from any considerations, to submit proposals for the lengthening of the hours. Had the Government really consulted the feelings of the country on the matter, they would not have been led into such a course. The fact, however, was that they had not consulted the wishes of the public so much as they had the wishes of an agitating section of the publicans.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he would not attempt at that hour of the night to enter upon any discussion, or to criticize the details of the Government measure; but there was one point on which the right hon. Gentleman laid considerable stress—namely, the distinction—he might say the unfounded and unfair distinction—which was drawn between the houses of licensed victuallers and beer-houses. Beer-houses as a class were not less respectable than public-houses. No doubt there were discreditable beer-houses and discreditable licensed victuallers' houses, but to stamp the former as a class to be put in a different category from that of the licensed victuallers seemed to him most indefensible. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out the injustice and unfairness of exempting from the existing Act licensed victuallers who carried on their businesses in the neighbourhood of the theatre, and he pointed out that circumstance as one of the reasons for the amending Bill he had introduced. So it was with regard to exceptional treatment for the higher class of hotels. Very fairly, the right hon. Gentleman objected to any distinction between classes of houses for the rich and the poor. He (Sir William Harcourt) could see no fairness in saying that the time of closing for the licensed victuallers should be fixed at one hour, while the beer-houses were to close at another. One of the practical consequences of that would be, that when people left the beerhouses, they would proceed direct to the licensed victuallers' and procure spirits there. It seemed to him to be a sort of class legislation which recognized the aristocracy of spirits as against the democracy of beer, and that was a view he felt by no means willing to accept. He had always protested against the unfairness of the treatment to which beerhouses had been subjected, more especially as regarded their valuation. This 1249 was a matter on which he should certainly challenge the judgment of the House.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
said, there was no harm whatever in drawing a distinction which had some justification. It should be remembered that licensed victuallers' houses were established in a great many instances for the purpose of eating as well as drinking, while beer-houses, as the name implied, were intended for drinking beer only, and notwithstanding the Utopian view advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the City of Oxford (Sir William Harcourt), every person who resided in the country knew full well that frequenters of beer-houses were, speaking generally, not the most desirable section of the community. He regretted the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease), whose opinions were entitled to respect and consideration, thought the country would view the measure with alarm. He (Mr. Talbot) could not but think that on the whole, it would be taken, as it deserved, as a moderate measure. There ought, in his opinion, to be a further classification in population. There ought to be some distinction between places of 2,000 and towns of 10,000. Many persons did not want a late hour. Publicans were in the country often engaged in trade or work, and had to rise early, and one of them had told him (Mr. Talbot) that early closing was the greatest boon he ever enjoyed. The time of closing for small places with a population under 2,000 ought to be 10 o'clock instead of 11 o'clock. The hours of closing on Sundays, as he understood the Bill, were to remain the same as they stood under the present Act. If he should find it necessary when the Bill went into Committee he should move Amendments in the direction he had indicated. Before he sat down, he should like to know if it was intended to alter the present hour for closing on Saturday nights.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
No. The whole of the houses in London will be closed at 12 o'clock at night on Saturdays.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
Mr. Raikes—The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cross) has not met with much approbation for the Bill which he has just introduced. Nobody has, so far, said much in its favour, except the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney). But I 1250 hardly know whether I ought to join in the general chorus of dissatisfaction, because I am convinced that there has never been a speech delivered in this House or elsewhere which will do more to promote the cause with which I am especially associated, for it will go forth to the country, and open up their eyes to what is intended. We have seen a strange thing to-night. In the early part of the evening an hon. Member (Mr. Hanbury) made a speech touching Africa, and over and over again he denounced the sale of spirits to the Natives of that country. It seems horrible thus to ruin Blackman; but now, down comes the Homo Secretary and proposes to extend that very trade among the White men of his own country. Sir, I have been watching the course of the present Administration since its formation, and I had begun to wonder in what respects it was any worse than the former Administration. I began to think that I should be one of its supporters. But to-night a mystery has been revealed to me. I understand, at last, the real meaning of the "Conservative reaction." It means half an hour more drinking at night. But how wonderfully the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with this whole question. The cry of the trade has been, for months past, for uniformity of hours in respect to houses, if not of districts. But what does the Bill do? It makes the hours, so to speak, more un-uniform than ever. The right hon. Gentleman does not dare to lengthen the hours for beer-shops, and what is the result? Why, in Lancashire—his own county—there will be 7,000 beer-shops closing at 11 o'clock, or earlier, and 8,000 public-houses keeping open, most of them, until half-past 11. So far from promoting uniformity, the Bill will establish six—[An hon. MEMBER: Seven]—yes, no less than seven varieties in the period during which drink maybe sold in various places. So much for the uniformity notion; and how strangely it is proposed to be met by the process of Parliament fixing a great variety of hours for different regions, and, in addition to that, different hours for different classes of houses on opposite sides of the streets, or even next door to each other. That is the way of removing the "discretion of magistrates" as to the hours; and the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to give the opportunity of increasing variety by 1251 allowing the publican to fix his own hour shorter, with an allowance if he exercise it so wisely as to produce a want of uniformity. It passes all comprehension. As to adulteration, I am not much disturbed by the right hon. Gentleman's intentions in that direction. I always knew that the cry of adulteration was a red herring drawn across the trail. You cannot make the stuff much more mischievous than it is itself. As to heavy penalties for drunkenness, I am no great advocate for them. I am more anxious to punish the drunkard-maker than the drunkard. The hours of sale are the real points. By lengthening the time during which drink is sold you simply increase the temptations to drinking. It is said that a good man struggling with difficulties is a spectacle for the gods. For my part, I viewed with pain the spectacle of a good Member of Parliament, like my right hon. Friend, struggling under the weight of the worst cause which ever anyone undertook. I have always given my right hon. Friend credit for prudence, but a more extraordinary speech from a Home Secretary has never been presented to the House than that which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, after the reports of the three Inspectors of police, all telling him how admirably the late Act has worked—an Act which he now seeks to repeal. The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech that he proposed to legislate in the interests of the public; but he has proposed legislation entirely in the interest of the publican; he also talked about improving the people by leading them away from sensual enjoyments, but he has proposed to do this by opening public-houses half an hour longer in the evening.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that considering the evils which the right hon. Gentleman described as attending want of uniformity in closing public-houses, he failed to see how he had persuaded himself to propose no less than six or seven different hours, all of which might in some places be in force within a very short distance. But he did not rise to criticize the proposals of the Government, but to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give as long a time as he could between the introduction of the Bill and its second reading, so that its provisions might well be considered by the magistrates and all who took an interest in the question 1252 throughout the country. There were strong opinions upon this question, which there should be ample time to apply to the particular proposals now made, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give at least three weeks or a month before the second reading.
§ MR. FOTHERGILL
said, that one consideration seemed to have been lost sight of by every speaker, and that was justice to the publican. A stigma had been attached to the vocation, and the result was, that the best men who would otherwise be got in London did not enter on it. Looking, however, at the temptations to which they were exposed, it was, he thought, remarkable that they so seldom went wrong. He considered that the measure propounded by the right hon. Gentleman accorded with his practical good sense, and that if he were able to carry it out, its effect would be to introduce the best class of men into the trade. He, however, regretted that a difference was made in the hours for closing beer-shops and public-houses, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman might be induced to modify that part of his Bill, for as it stood, it was immeasurably absurd.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Melly) had complained that there should be different hours of closing in different places, but common sense dictated that such should be the case. It was perfectly absurd to say that in the metropolis, with between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 inhabitants, the hours of closing should be precisely the same as throughout the whole country. When the matter came before the Committee, it could be decided what hours would be applicable to towns with given populations. There was one thing he rather regretted, and that was that the hour of 1 was not fixed for the time of closing in London instead of half-past 12. He was greatly pleased to find that his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had nothing particular to complain of, excepting that the publicans set their backs against everybody. They knew the hon. Gentleman was a kind-hearted person; and although he would not allow licensed victuallers to retail wines and spirits, yet he (Mr. Locke) had been told that he was hospitable to his friends to a large extent. However, from what his 1253 hon. Friend had said that night, he could clearly see that he was coming round, and he was exceedingly pleased to find him in that happy condition.
§ MR. STORER
hoped some conclusion would be arrived at so as to settle the bonâ fide traveller question. Persons arrived at small villages in trains and on bicycles, and in all manner of ways, and the publicans were obliged to open their houses at all hours of the day, not being able to distinguish the travellers from other people.
§ MR. D. DAVIES
thought 10 o'clock in the country would be late enough for public-houses to keep open, and urged that if they were kept open later the working classes got so much less sleep, and were not so well able to get to their work in the morning. He thought the extension of hours in London was desirable, and had nothing to say in objection to the proposal; but understanding the country places in Wales, and sympathizing with the working men, he objected to lengthen the hours of the public-houses and beer-shops.
MR. G. H. WILSON
said, that the seaport which he represented (Hull) could be very injuriously affected by the proposals of the Government. They had fixed hours earlier than those named by the right hon. Gentleman. Both public-houses and beer-shops closed at half-past 10; and if he understood the proposal the uniformity would be destroyed, and public-houses and beer-shops would both be lengthened in their hours and yet be different. That he regretted very much, as the present hours gave general satisfaction. It was also the case with the port of Liverpool he understood. He hoped the proposals would not be carried as submitted.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
hoped that the Bill would be printed immediately, and that it might be circulated throughout the country, so that it might be discussed and public opinion taken upon it. He also wished to call attention to the fact that in several large towns there were working men's clubs of one kind or another which met at public-houses to transact their business, and that as they could not assemble until late in the evening they ought to have time to go through it satisfactorily. He also thought that some provision should be made for the supply of refreshments to 1254 the men and women working on the night shifts.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
asked if the man who took out a six-day licence, and also took out an early-closing licence, would have two-sevenths of the amount remitted to him, as in either case he would have a remission of one-seventh?
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
I am rejoiced to find that although there seems to be considerable difference of opinion upon some points of the Bill, its main principle, which is that Parliament should fix the hour, meets with general approbation. I never expected there would be unanimity of opinion in respect to the hours. With respect to the double remission, one-seventh on the six-day licence and one-seventh on the early-closing licence, it is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say whether a publican could take out a licence for the double character of six days and of early closing, and thereby obtain the double remission. I have now. I think, touched upon every part of importance in reference to the Bill. With respect to its second reading, the Bill will be delivered to hon. Members in a few days, and we will put down the second reading for next week. ["Oh, oh!"] Nominally then, to-night I will put down the second reading of the Bill for Thursday week, but I will consult my Colleagues, and give the House early information on the subject.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not press on the second reading so early. There were many towns now closing at 11 that would not like to close at half-past 11, and which should have an opportunity of considering the Bill.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
observed that he had no desire to hurry the Bill on. He wished the House to fix the hours on a full consideration of the matter.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Resolution agreed to and reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. RAIKES, Mr. Secretary CROSS, Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBRETSON, and Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 83.]