§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Secretary Cross.)
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a third time that day three months, said: Sir, in proposing the Amendment of which I have given Notice, I know that I act under some disadvantage, and I may perhaps be allowed to say that I am not a very suitable person to bring forward the Amendment, because I see it stated in the newspapers that I am an impracticable Utopian fanatic. But knowing that this House is almost the only assembly in the world which will patiently and candidly hear both sides of a question, I beg the House to discard all prejudiced views relating to it. This Bill, of which the third reading has just been moved, it is hoped will be an improvement on the existing law, and not a measure to injure it. I hope, however, to make out to the satisfaction of the House that the measure is injurious to the existing law, and that it embodies proposals which will not tend to the advantage of the public; and if I make that out to the satisfaction of the House, the House ought to vote against the third reading of the Bill; but if I do not succeed in making that out, then the House ought to vote for the third reading of the measure before us. I will refer the House to what happened a few years ago on the subject. Mr. Bruce, then Secretary of State for the Home Department, brought in a Bill to 230 regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors. The Government of the day, and both sides of the House, considered it all important that the question should then be settled before a General Election, in order that it should not be made a party question, and accordingly, the party then in Opposition, but now in power, while offering a most strenuous opposition to all the other measures brought forward by the Government of which Mr. Bruce was a Member, energetically assisted in making it as perfect as possible. Unfortunately it was not so settled. The Bill was passed, a change of Government took place, and with it, it was expected that a change of policy would take place also. The late Government had succeeded in passing important measures, including the Irish Church Act, the Irish Land Act, and the Ballot; but the present Government, now they have returned to power, the measure which they choose for Amendment is the one they assisted in passing, leaving untouched those to which they showed so determined a front. On the 10th of April, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary came down to the House and made a speech upon the evils of drunkenness and of the present licensing system. But whereas Mr. Bruce was endeavouring to do something good, it soon appeared that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was endeavouring to do some harm. No doubt, the course which the right hon. Gentleman took, coupled with what had taken place before, has made him popular with a certain portion of the community, and I have even heard that a song has lately been composed in his honour. I do not know much about it, but I am told that the chorus runs as follows—For he's a jolly good fellow,Whatever the Rads may think;He has shortened the hours of work,And lengthened the hours of drink.That song, I believe, is sung very much in the public-houses and gin-shops of London by the class which has been called the "residuum." The right hon. Gentleman's measure, however, has not earned the approbation of many other sections of the community, for the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, that when his Bill was brought in, there was such an overwhelming and unanimous public opinion against it as has 231 seldom been equalled in England, and when we get more official information—when we get the Returns from the police—if the right hon. Gentleman dares to produce them—we shall then see that the Act of 1872 was working well, and that we ought not to have rejected its provisions. The right hon. Gentleman unfortunately declines to produce those Returns, which I am sure would very much strengthen my case against the present measure. Well, after that unanimous expression of opinion, we went into Committee upon the Bill, and division after division took place in favour of making it more restrictive than it is at present; because it was always a noticeable fact that when a division took place with the object of making the Bill more restrictive, the Government majority was the smallest. There can be no doubt the Bill, when it got into Committee, had been very much improved, and when it came out of Committee, it walked about under false pretences. Next, Sir, we went into discussion on the Report; and the Bill emerged from those discussions just as bad as it was when it was first introduced. Now let us consider for a moment what the Bill really does. The Government know as well as I do, and if I misstate the case they can set me right. Well, this wonderful Bill, in the first place, will have this effect in London, that it will open 8,000 drinking houses, nearly 3,000 of them being beer-shops, for half-an-hour longer than before—namely, until 12.30 at night instead of 12 o'clock. And be it remembered, that in the four mile circle around Charing Cross beer-shops have, nevertheless, for the last 30 years been open after 12 o'clock. Again, in the metropolitan police district, which is the outer circle of 15 miles from Charing Cross, the existing beer-shops will be opened an hour longer than heretofore—namely, from 10 to 11 o'clock at night. That is bad enough, but then we come to another case which I will point out—namely, that of the large towns. It is well known that in Liverpool, Warrington, Hull, Birkenhead, and other places or towns containing upwards of 4,000 houses, at present, by the will of the magistrates, public-houses and beer-shops are kept closed until 7 o'clock in the morning; but under the Act we are now passing, these houses will all have to be opened at 6 o'clock, notwithstanding the remonstrances 232 of hon. Members who represent those towns. With reference to the hour of closing at night, hon. Members also have begged and prayed that a fresh nuisance should not be inflicted upon them by Parliament, contrary to the will of the magistrates as proposed by the Bill; but with what result? Why, here we are, in spite of everything, passing what we were asked to strike out. Well, now, as to Sunday closing in the country, the hour is to be postponed from 9 until 10 o'clock, which will give an hour more drinking on every Sunday in those large districts, which I consider to be an extraordinary thing for the House to insist upon in the face of public opinion. Some people say we get something out of the Bill by closing the public-houses at 10 in these districts on week days; but the whole effect and benefit of that is counter-balanced by the number of beerhouses which will be opened for an extra hour, which I consider is a good indictment against the Bill. Indeed, the more it is looked into, the more it will be seen how admirably it is calculated to increase a public nuisance. I know the right hon. Gentleman will get up presently and defend his Bill, but let him dispose satisfactorily of that point. Again, we are told that, by Clause 6, the publican may, by paying 1½d. a-week less, obtain a six days' licence; but as the saving will be so insignificant, no one will think of availing himself of it, and the extraordinary part of the matter is that the discretion is to be left in the hands of the publicans, and not in those of the magistrates, the country gentlemen who are almost to a man supporters of the present Government. The 9th clause is called the drink-up clause; but it will not do much, and the 11th deals with the case of night houses, being, as I suppose, preliminary to the right hon. Gentleman's threatened measure for putting down illicit drinking in private houses. To be fair, however, I must say that the Bill will effect a change in some places where the magistrates have gone in for longer hours. At Oxford and Cambridge, for instance, where people seem to be given to late drinking, they will have to close earlier—which will, no doubt, be very heart-rending to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford. I would ask, what do we, the friends of sobriety and order get out of this Bill? Very little, indeed; and 233 I think we can indict it as a nuisance. A great cry has been raised about the endorsement of licences, and I think a step has been taken in the wrong direction in this respect. I will not, however, be hard upon the right hon. Gentleman upon this point, because he gives a discretion to the magistrates there. What I complain of is, that he gives no discretion to anybody in reference to the hours of opening and closing. Then with regard to the penalties which have been mitigated by the Bill, I have no complaint to make, because I believe the certainty of punishment is more effective than it would be were the penalties too severe. Neither do I care much about the adulteration clauses, because from what I hear, I do not believe that drink is adulterated so much as the articles of food which we consume—although, perhaps, looking at the matter from my point of view, the drinking of adulterated brandy may be the best cure for intemperance. The right hon. Gentleman has also relaxed somewhat the police clauses, and I shall not say anything about that if he thinks he can carry on the Act without them; but what I complain of is the lengthening of the hours and increasing the temptation to people to indulge in drink. On the face of that, everything else sinks into insignificance. The right hon. Gentleman said, in his opening speech, that the cause of drunkenness was the leisure and the high wages which people received. I agree with him, that it is the opportunity which causes most of the drinking; that has been my doctrine all the way through. The right hon. Gentleman also said that many people do not know how to spend their money for their own benefit and for the benefit of their fellow creatures; and so he has brought in a Bill, to enable them to spend more of their money in public-houses and beer-shops, out of which no one can receive an iota of benefit but the keepers of those houses. When we come to legislation of that kind, I think we ought to see that there is some demand for it. We ought to know who is asking for it. Have the Bishops and clergy asked for it? Certainly not. They have remonstrated against it, and I hope when the Bill reaches "another place," they will show that they are in earnest about the matter. I venture also to affirm that it is not the Conservative rank and file 234 who have asked the Government to bring in this Bill. I will quote the words of one of them, who represents the important city of Manchester (Mr. Callender), and who received the distinguished honour of being selected by the Prime Minister at the opening of the new Parliament to second the reply to the Address. This Gentleman, in addressing his present constituents, two or three years ago, declared that the present system was destroying, body and soul, tens of thousands of our people, and, therefore, our only plan was to destroy it. What he wanted was, that there should be fewer hours and less opportunities for intemperance; and that could be most effectually done by sweeping away the houses, and therefore the opportunities for intemperance altogether. In accordance with the terms of that speech, I hope the hon. Gentleman will go with me into the same Lobby this evening. Do the Conservative working men want this Bill? I believe the Conservative working men have as much regard for the welfare of their wives and families as any of the Liberal working men, and it is an insult to them to believe that they want it. Can it be, then, that the 20 Conservative brewers, who sit on the opposite side of the House, have made an appeal to the Government to pass the Bill? [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh as if it were so; but it is not, for I find that the hon. Member for Warrington, who has sat in this House as far as the memory of anyone present goes back, only the other night made a speech against one of its provisions. By some, again, it is alleged that while the late Prime Minister sought to descend upon the constituencies in a shower of gold, the present head of the Government has launched his barque upon an ocean of beer, and has succeeded in safely landing at Downing Street. I have, however, watched what has been said on the subject by the right hon. Gentleman, and I have read his letters, and, as far as I can see, he has never by a single word, either spoken or written, committed himself or the great Conservative party to the publicans on this question. I know that once the right hon. Gentleman stated that he was on the side of the angels, but he has never declared himself to be on the side of the spirits. In that very odd and celebrated Bath letter, which had more wisdom in 235 it than was supposed at the time, the right hon. Gentleman talked of harassed trades and worried interests, but then, he had never said what those trades and interests were. The publicans cannot, therefore, justly contend that he meant them, and it is well to recollect that when the Bill of Mr. Bruce was under discussion two years ago, the right hon. Gentleman never came down to the House, or said a word on the subject. To-night, however, he will have to speak, for the Licensing Bill is the great measure of the Session, and he will have to tell the House what benefit he expects the people of this country will derive from its operation. I, for my own part, have no hope that I and those by whom I am supported will succeed in defeating the Bill. I have said what I think of the Bill, and how fervently I condemn it; and I know it is of no use appealing to this side of the House for any strenuous support in throwing it out. The friends of temperance are "few in number;" we are "incoherent in argument;" and we are "inconsistent in action." I look along the front Opposition bench, and I see arrayed upon it the imaginary leaders of an imaginary party; and I know well from what has taken place during the past week, that whenever a contest comes on between the public and the publicans, some of the ablest of them always vote with the publicans. I have but one hope, and it is a feeble hope. I would earnestly appeal to the Conservative Members—to the country Gentlemen, the old traditional friends of order and good government—and I would ask them whether they can bring their consciences to support this Bill for the increase of drink-shops throughout this country? Can those who came in to support the present Government encourage that which will destroy all good government in the country? Will they open wider than they now are the floodgates of demoralization? I know that we are an Assembly of rich men, to whom it will make little difference, personally, how long or how short a time the houses are kept open. We suffer no inconvenience; but what about the women and children of the working classes, to whom it will be an unmitigated curse? Surely they should be regarded! If, then, the House should reject the present Bill, hon. Members will not only gain, by such a vote, the 236 approbation of their own consciences, but the gratitude of posterity as well. For that reason, I beg to move its rejection.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Sir Wilfrid Lawson.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
feared he should lay himself open to some blame in the eyes of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle in asking him to temper justice with mercy. None, however, could say that the hon. Baronet had not been impartially just, for he had treated with equal severity the first measure introduced on the subject, and also the second and third measures which had been substituted for the first. He asked his hon. Friend to abstain from his design of throttling at the very moment of its birth the first poor child of the Conservative Administration—this weak offspring of a strong Government. He could see in his mind the appeal that would be made by the Government. They would say "Sorely against the grain, sorely against the declarations of our own supporters at the hustings, and sorely against our own original proposals, we have succeeded to a certain extent in restricting the hours of drinking; but we have kept as near the Act of 1872 as public decency permitted." That would be, if not a just, yet a plausible appeal on the part of the Government. On the other hand, the hon. Baronet might say, "I know you gave the hours of closing to be scrambled for by the House, but even my thanks for that concession are considerably diminished by the fact that after a certain party had been successful, the Government tried to wrest that success from them." Some of the supporters of the Government had endeavoured to induce the Home Secretary to move in the direction indicated by the hon. Baronet; but why, he might ask, at the time of the Elections did they not show the same spirit? Bad, however, as the Bill was, it was not so bad as it was when it was introduced by the Government. He would advise the hon. Baronet, then, even at the expense 237 of the Bill to enable them to got rid of the publican and of the idea that the drinking of a glass of beer had a political effect. The Government started in such a position when the Bill was introduced, that the country would have felt more anxious upon this matter, but for the successful effort made by the House to improve it. There was a new Government, a new Parliament, a new majority, and a new Home Secretary, with regard to whom it was worth remembering that even the Liberal Press received the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman with courtesy. ["Oh!"] The leading journal had spoken in favourable terms of the appointment, and had remarked that even those who had not been chosen to the office, would give the suffrage of Themistocles, and admit that next to themselves he ought to have been chosen. He thought the right hon. Gentleman himself had quoted the appreciative terms in which he had been dealt with by the Liberal Press. [Laughter.] It was all very well for hon. Members to laugh, but that was not the treatment which Liberal Members of Parliament had received from the Conservative Press. The right hon. Gentleman commanded an innumerable host against the small army of the Liberal party, and with all these advantages, and this immense power, what had the Government done on that licensing question? They had produced this poor miserable Bill, of which they themselves were obliged to say that it was scarcely important, and amended merely in detail the Act of 1872. It was because the Bill, with all its faults, did not differ so greatly from the Act of 1872 that he believed it would be an unwise course to vote against the third reading. They could not, of course, forget the many changes of opinion which had passed over the mind of the Government in the course of these proceedings. They knew the three great stages through which the Bill had passed. First, the stage of expansion, when they proposed, what no one in the House could be found afterwards to support, that every public-house in the Kingdom should practically be open half-an-hour later. Then, there came the second stage, when, frightened at what they had done, and finding they were not supported by any great interest or party outside or inside the House, they came into Committee, and there surrendered, mainly upon the question 238 of hours, changing from 11.30 in the large towns to 11 in all places of above 2,500 inhabitants, and to 10 o'clock below that line. During the progress in Committee Government supported generally all the Motions restricting the hours, and as soon as they had passed the Bill through Committee they changed their mind again. And then, during the consideration of the Report from day to day, with the shortest possible notice, and in many cases without giving any notice at all, they introduced important changes—if not, indeed, vital changes'—into the Bill. It was in that stage, after having fixed the closing hour for all places under 2,500 inhabitants at 10 o'clock, they introduced again the principle of discretion which they had discarded, while they declared, in doing so, that they had made absolutely no change at all. After having proposed that there should be in towns and populous places a limit of population, they surrendered, at the instance of the hon. and gallant Colonel opposite (Colonel Barttelot), the limit of population, and throw the whole thing open. After an adjournment, which they most unwillingly conceded, they again found out that they had made a mistake, and consented to a population of 1,000 for both towns and populous places. These were some of the changes which had been brought about by a Government that charged Lord Aberdare with not knowing his own mind. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the late Government did not understand their business when they dealt with the licensing question. It seemed to him (Mr. Goschen) that he might, with every confidence as to the result, venture to contrast the conduct of those two Bills through the House. There was not a single hon. Gentleman opposite who was not astonished at the changes of opinion which had come across the mind of the Government during the course of these proceedings. He wished to point out that there were only the towns of between 2,500 and 10,000 inhabitants, besides the metropolis, where the Government had not proposed different hours at different stages of the Bill. He would say on behalf of many who sat on the Liberal side of the House, that they were not responsible for this farrago of opinions. They might have been responsible, if the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself to stating that the hours would I be settled by the House; but he could 239 not deny that during the progress of the Report, he used his majority as strongly as he possibly could, again to change the hours which had been deliberately settled by the House in Committee. Now, let the Bill pass on to "another place," and they might possibly see some more changes of opinion before they had done with it, which would recommend themselves to the acceptance of the House. He could not conclude without making one emphatic observation with regard to these changes of opinion. Changes of opinion founded on evidence placed before the House of Commons were not only justifiable, but commanded approbation; but changes of opinion made without the production of any evidence, or sometimes even in spite of its production, could not command the same esteem. What evidence had the Government produced? On the second reading of this Bill, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary stated that the original hours of the Bill were founded upon opinions received from the magistrates, the police, the clergy, and the publicans themselves. How much of that evidence had been seen by the House? Of the evidence of the clergy, the magistrates, and the publicans they knew nothing. The House only knew that when they saw the Bill, they repudiated the hours which the hon. Member stated had been fixed on their authority. And as regarded the police, and those celebrated Mayors who were thrown over by the right hon. Gentleman because they had not reported in favour of the Bill, when the House saw the documents, they found that so far from justifying the hours which had been fixed by the Government, they went in the teeth of those hours and recorded the success of the Act of 1872. The evidence of the police they had never seen, and never would see, as the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister rescued the Ministers from the difficulty in which they found themselves; but they had reason to believe that that evidence was in favour of shorter and not longer hours. He thought, therefore, he was not without justification on that the third reading, in protesting against this manner of dealing with the evidence on questions of the highest importance. Not only was the evidence not given to them, but quotations were made from it in support of the other side; so that if it had not been for the 240 pertinacity evinced by hon. Members on the Opposition benches, and for which he hoped hon. Members opposite would forgive them, they would never have known that the bulk of that evidence was in favour of shorter and not longer hours. They knew the state of confusion through which they had passed during several stages of the Bill. Every-body knew how, during the debates, the publicans first lost hope, then hon. Members opposite lost confidence, next the whole House lost its way, and how, finally, the right hon. Gentleman opposite lost his equilibrium. They knew how, in the next stage, he endeavoured to rescue himself from that confusion, and how he succeeded in doing it. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle had shown how many imperfections there were in this Bill, and hon. Members on his (Mr. Goschen's) side of the House had endeavoured to remedy many of them, and he (Mr. Goschen) trusted the Government would so far do justice to the House of Commons, as to admit that every attempt had been made to assist them in passing this most difficult Bill. It would never be possible to obtain a unanimous agreement upon questions of licensing, and taking it that they had come to a compromise upon the matter, he thought that on the whole, it was best they should allow the Bill to go to the House of Lords. It was not for hon. Members on his side of the House to consider whether hon. Members opposite had paid the publicans, their friends, in depreciated coin; neither was it for them to consider whether the publicans had changed their opinions. [Cries of "Order!"] He hoped he had not exceeded the privileges of debate on an occasion of this sort. He was venturing to point out that they must throw the responsibility of the measure upon Her Majesty's Government and their supporters, as it was not for that side of the House to consider why they had first recanted, again recanted, and then recanted their recantation. When that Bill wont to the House of Lords it would be followed with very little enthusiasm, and with no respect at all; but he thought that on that side of the House, they should allow it to pass with contemptuous acquiescence.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
thought that if hon. Members opposite reviewed the whole history of the measure, they would 241 find that, sick bantling as it was presumed to be, it was obliged to be brought forward as an Amendment of the Act which the late Government succeeded in passing. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) had asked them to contrast the mode in which the Bill had been passed with that in which the Bill in 1872 was passed. They could indeed well afford to recall to their memories the circumstances connected with the Act of 1872. They know that it was at the close of the Session, when a great many of the Members of the House had gone away, that a number of clauses were put in, and a compromise effected with reference to this very question of hours; the House being assured that the judgment of the Government was not intended to be binding as to the particular hour, but that it was to be left entirely to the discretion of the justices. Speaking on behalf of the present Bill in an entirely unprejudiced manner, he wished to refer to two or three points in which the Act of 1872 necessarily required amendment. First of all, with regard to hours in the metropolitan districts. That Bill was passed through Committee in so great a hurry that there was no hour fixed at which public-houses were to close, and it was only by mere inference that the magistrates were able to come to a decision upon that matter. But it was said that the present Bill made no great alteration in respect to the hours of closing. That was true, but what they had done was this. It was known that directly the Act of 1872 was passed, a great question was raised as to whether it was intended to give the magistrates a discretion with reference to the hours of opening and closing; and what they now said was, that it was better there should be no discretion, that Parliament should take this duty upon itself, and fix the time at which public-houses should open and close. In doing away with that discretion, the Government took the House completely into their confidence, and did not make any recantations. Each side had stated their opinions, and every hon. Member who had spoken had been most attentively listened to by Her Majesty's Government. Having said what they thought about the hours, the House had come to the conclusion that 12.30 should be the time absolutely fixed for closing in the metropolis, instead of leaving the matter in a state of 242 indefiniteness; that it should be 11 in towns and populous places, and 10 in the country. They had also said that exemptions in favour of theatres should be done away with, and that although it was a little hard that no time should be allowed a man for the consumption of liquor, they had refused him any grace in the matter. Although exemptions had been discontinued in the case of theatres, they had been added where they were absolutely necessary, as in the case of harvesting. But there was one clause in the Bill which he was indeed glad to see, and which he hailed with a great deal of pleasure, because it was a step in the right direction, and that was the clause which gave to all landlords power to choose what hour earlier than specified they might close their houses, and which induced them to do it by taking off one-seventh of their licence. He should be glad to see that principle further extended, so as to induce persons to close their houses at 8, 9, or even 6 o'clock, taking off a proportionate part of the licence. It was worth while to pass the Bill, if only for the introduction of that clause. Then there were several other matters. There was, above all, the question of giving to the publican power to protect himself against a malâ fide traveller. They had laid down a definition, as far as they could, to protect the publican. They allowed him to go before a magistrate and throw the onus upon the pseudo-traveller, if he had deceived the publican, and to put the burden on the right horse. There was one other point to which he would call attention, and that was a matter with which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford said he would deal. Under the Act of 1872 policemen had power to go into any licensed house, and might examine "any room or part of such premises." The publicans naturally resented that, looking upon it as an interference in every way with their private establishments. In the 15th clause of this Bill, the policeman was put in the right direction, and it was not in any way suggested that he should interfere with the private rights of the publican, as he did under the Act of 1872. He had really thought they were to dissociate that matter entirely from questions of party, and, in fact, he understood that they were to discuss it as between men who had the interest of public morality at heart, and the protection 243 of the rights of the publican. He therefore regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London had addressed them in a very different spirit that evening. He hoped the House would look at the Bill as a whole. They had endeavoured to consider by what means they could regulate the liquor traffic, so as to prevent drunkenness without injuring the vested or any other rights which the publican might have. He had found that the; publicans who had come to consult him on this matter were men who had de-sired to conduct their houses orderly; and he had found amongst them rather a desire to limit the hours than to extend them. He hoped, therefore, that the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle would not be accepted. The Bill would go to "another place" for further consideration, when what was bad in the drafting of it would probably be amended; but as regarded the principle of the Bill he thought it was a great improvement on the Act of 1872.
§ LORD GEORGE CAVENDISH
said, he was not surprised that the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, with his opinions, should have moved an Amendment, but he hoped he would not press it to a Division. He thought that in the main the expression of opinion on both sides of the House would pretty much coincide with words attributed to a dignitary of the Dublin Corporation—that bad as the Bill was when it was originally brought in, it was equally worse now. The Public-house Bill would perhaps jostle up against the Bishops' Bill on its way down from the Lords; and if they had the power of speech the Bishops' Bill might take counsel with the Publicans' Bill. If it were true that there was an alliance—as had been said at the last Election—between the Church and the Beer-barrel, then the Bishops' Bill, rather nervous as to its reception in the Lower House, might ask the Licensing Bill, in what temper the House was when it left. The Licensing Bill might say, that it had been conceived by a grateful Government under the exhilarating influence of a successful Election; but that its parturition had been protracted and painful, and it had at last come forth shorn of its due proportions; that it had not expected much favour from the Opposition side of the House, but that on the other side, opinions had been by no 244 means unanimous, and that the Home Secretary even had been on several occasions at sixes and sevens with himself. Never having held office himself, he felt no antagonism to those now in power, nor was he disposed to blame them for their mode of dealing with a question which had many inherent difficulties. He had long recognized the ability of the right hon. Gentleman at the Home Office, who had immediate charge of the measure; and he also fully appreciated the tact with which the Prime Minister had imported good humour into the discussions on the Bill. It was all very well for hon. Members to say that Lord Aberdare, or the right hon. Gentleman now at the Home Office, had equally made a botch of the Licensing Bill; but his own belief was, that anybody who held what he would call that most odious office, would be just as likely to make a botch of a measure of that character. Indeed, if an angel from heaven were to come down and bring in a Licensing Bill, he would find it too much for him, and the result would be just the same. The moment they began to legislate upon questions affecting the social habits of the great masses of the people, with which they were but imperfectly acquainted, they found in the way almost insuperable difficulties. Again, be would appeal to the hon. Baronet not to press his Amendment.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that the Bill had certainly not been introduced for any purpose of satisfying the wishes of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, nor did he think the hon. Gentleman could expect any greater concessions, after the Bill which he so persistently brought before the House himself. Neither was the Bill brought in on the part of her Majesty's Government to satisfy the expectations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London. They had not—though once or twice in the debate they had heard to the contrary—received much help from the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends towards arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. He admitted, however, that they had no right to expect any. The right hon. Gentleman had a perfect right to lie by for a time, and when the labours of the Committee were satisfactorily concluded, come down to the House on the third reading of the Bill and find all possible fault with the House, the Bill, and himself (Mr. Cross). He 245 hoped his shoulders were strong enough to bear any blame which the right hon. Gentleman might throw on them, and he hoped before he sat down to be able to show the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, that it was not easy to arrive at a sound and satisfactory conclusion relative to one part of the Bill before it was brought to its present state. The right hon. Gentleman had asked why the Government had not left matters alone, and what fault they had found with the Bill of Lord Aberdare. He (Mr. Cross) believed no one in that House had spoken more strongly than himself in defence of the view with which the measure of Lord Aberdare was proposed; but complaints were urged that he made great mistakes in that measure. Those mistakes were before the country, and were the grievances complained of. It was complained that under the Bill there was no security for property invested in the trade, and no security for the character of a man engaged in carrying it on. Those were grievances which he believed they had met by the Bill. In the Bill they made tolerably secure, both the property of the owner and also the character of the occupier, if he conducted his business respectably. They had come to conclusions which, embodied in the Bill, would be a great protection to capital invested in the trade, and to persons interested in it, and which at the same time would tend to make the trade itself as respectable as it could be. In the former Bill there were several harsh provisions. There was a provision of a minimum penalty; there was a provision for the forfeiture of a licence under certain circumstances; there was a provision for taking away the discretion of the magistrates with regard to endorsements; and after three endorsements a licence was to be forfeited. Well, they had by the Bill protected not only the property which was invested in the trade, but the character of the man who was engaged as the occupier of a house in carrying on the trade. They had further done away with exceptional legislation with respect to the trade, and endeavoured to put it on the same footing as all other trades, without particular legislation attaching to it, in order that it should be carried on and dealt with with the same fairness and impartiality as other trades. They had swept away all the adulteration clauses, from which 246 such odium attached to persons engaged in the trade, and in doing so they were enabled also to sweep away the clause which empowered the policeman and the exciseman to enter any part of a public-house and search it. But they also took care that ample power should be reserved to the police to enter such a house and interfere in the interests of public order. He believed that they had done great things for those who were engaged in this trade. They had given their definition of a bonâ fide traveller. They had placed all classes of the trade on the same footing. They had allowed that privilege which he believed publicans valued very much—namely, that of entertaining their private friends, and they had done away with the exceptional licences which were so invidious in the metropolis, and which he believed caused much dissatisfaction in the trade. They had also taken away from the magistrates throughout the country the power of fixing at what hour these houses should be opened and at what hours they should be closed. They were gradually getting into a very undesirable position in reference to this and other matters; and a belief was spreading over various parts of the country that the magistrates were exercising those powers, not for the purpose of adapting these houses to the wants of the particular localities in which they were situated, but were acting perfectly bonâ fide, yet still with a bias on their minds, which led them to the conclusion that the best thing they could do was practically to shorten the hours to the utmost extent allowed bylaw. That was, in point of fact, what the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle desired to do, and it was a course fraught with mischief. On the other hand, they; had taken security for order, and had done a great deal towards promoting early closing of licensed houses. They had closed the night houses in London, which were a source of untold mischief in the metropolis. They had placed the occasional licences under the same supervision of the police that every other licensed house was before; and they had provided that at all fairs and races every person who obtained a licence to sellintoxi-cating liquors should be placed under the control of the local magistrates, like every one else who sold intoxicating liquors. With the one exception of a question of a half-hour, the provisions of the original 247 Bill had not been disturbed. He believed that in its present state the Bill would prove of inestimable benefit to both the trade and the public. That which kept them so long in discussing, but upon which, as he said in introducing the Bill, no two persons could think alike, was the fixing of the precise hours at which public-houses should be closed. On that matter he should like to say a word or two. When it became evident that the wish of the country was against closing, in the large towns, at 11.30, then there immediately disappeared any reason why public-houses and beer-houses should not be placed distinctly and practically on the same footing. Then came the question what hour should be fixed for the towns and what hour for the country. They had now fixed 12.30 for the metropolis, 11 for towns, and 10 for the country. Next came that question which everyone had admitted to be of the greatest practical difficulty—namely, how they were to distinguish in an Act of Parliament by a suitable definition between town and country. It was easy to pronounce at once in the case of towns of large population. In the case of towns of 10,000 or 20,000 inhabitants, for example, they could at once be distinguished as towns; but when they came to towns of small magnitude in which it was obvious that public-houses should be closed at an hour at which no one would think of closing houses in the larger towns; in the case of those small places it became a matter of the greatest difficulty to distinguish between town and country. He confessed he thought at first he could have made the distinction by means of a definition contained in some other Act. That he had, perhaps, too long clung to the definition of an urban sanitary authority, and to the old well known "parish" or "township." This difficulty presented itself, however, that they always found some perverse individual who had built his house just over the bridge, or otherwise designedly placed his house outside the boundary. It became necessary, therefore, to delegate to some other local authority, not the question at what time public-houses should be closed in the neighbourhood, but simply what was the boundary of the town in every direction. They had done, in fact, precisely what was done in determining the powers of the Boundary 248 Commissioners under the Reform Acts. Having thus settled that question, the next matter was to define the difference between town and country. He had endeavoured to find, but without success, how that could be done, but he found that it could not be done without the assistance of the local authorities being called in, as it had been for the purpose of defining the boundaries of towns, just as was shown by the Census Commissioners in 1861 and 1871, and he had, at last, fallen back upon the term "populous place," well known to the Scotch Law in Acts relating to police, and introduced this very Session into a Scotch Licensing Bill by the hon. Member for Fife. By adopting, therefore, the phrase and the user from the people of Scotland, and by allowing the licensing committee to define populous places as well as towns, they had, he believed, found a practical way out of a difficulty which stood in their way, because they had all along been agreed that in towns the hour of closing should be 11, and in the country 10. The question was a difficult one, and had taken a long time to solve, but it had at last, he hoped, been solved to the satisfaction of the House. The Bill, if it became law as it now stood, would, he thought, be satisfactory not only to the House, but to the country at large, and he hoped it might be a long time before Parliament would be again called upon to consider a Licensing Bill.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 328; Noes 39; Majority 289.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.