HC Deb 27 January 1897 vol 45 cc645-58
MR. J. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

rose to move the Second Heading of the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act (1881) Amendment Bill.

MR. W. J. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

, interposing, asked Mr. Speaker's ruling upon a point of order in regard to the Bill, which he said was only delivered to Members at ten minutes to 1 o'clock that day. The precedent on which he based his request occurred on March 9th, 1892, when the Places of Worship Enfranchisement Bill was before the House. The hon. Member for the Oxford University then asked Mr. Speaker Peel's ruling upon this point, and Mr. Speaker Peel, in reply, said:— What has passed shows the inconvenience of discussing a Bill only very recently in the hands of hon. Members. I cannot interfere, however, on a point of Order to stop the Debate, though of course it is an argument against a Second Reading Debate, if hon. Members have an imperfect knowledge of the provisions of a Bill. And, further on, Mr. Speaker Peel said:— I make no complaint whatever against the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire for pressing the Second Reading. What I said did not amount to so much as a suggestion to the hon. Member. In ordinary circumstances I should not consent to put the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate, but I shall do so now as I think it is essentially a matter for the House to decide whether the comparatively short time that has elapsed since the Bill has been placed in the hands of hon. Members, and the alterations that have been made in the Measure since last Session would militate against the fair discussion of the Bill, and that it is proper that the discussion on the Second Reading should not now take place. In view of that ruling he (Mr. Galloway) wished to ask whether he was in order in moving that the Debate on this Bill be now adjourned.


It will be observed that Mr. Speaker Peel said there it was not a question of order. Moreover, he was speaking after the Second Reading of the Bill had been moved, and a Motion for the Adjournment had been made. It was only a question as to whether or not he ought to consider that Motion as an abuse of the Rules of the House. The time for raising such a point has not yet conic.


then moved the Second Beading of the Bill. The Bill had, he said, for six successive Sessions been introduced into that House in identically the same terms, but this was the first opportunity they had had of bringing it under the notice of the House. The House would remember that in 1881 the Welsh Sunday Closing Bill was introduced and passed through all its stages and it became law the next year. Behind that Act there was a very strong body of opinion in Wales. After seven year", at the instigation of a certain party, and for reasons which he would not go into at the present moment an agitation was got up in order to prevail on the Government to send a Commission to inquire into the operation of the Act. That was in 1889. That Commission was appointed by the Conservative Ministry of the day, and out of the five Commissioners four held the political views of the Government, and one, Sir John Hibbert, held opposite views. He mentioned that because the present Bill was virtually and substantially the recommendations of the Commission. He did not think the Government could possibly take up a very hostile attitude towards this Bill for the reason he had just given. It might be said that there was now sitting a Commission to inquire into the general licensing law, and that was a reason why legislation on this point should be postponed. He would reply to that argument that the Report of this General Commission ought not to be allowed to override the Report of the Special Commission which was specialty sent down to Wales to inquire into this particular matter. This Bill did not propose any new legislation whatever. It only proposed to make what they regarded as necessary amendments of the existing law. In their Report the Commissioners pointed out that the result of their inquiry in Wales had been to leave no doubt on their minds that throughout Wales as a whole the general opinion and feeling preponderated largely in favour of the policy of the Act. Evidence was given to show that, in the first place, there had been an increased improvement in the order in the streets on Sunday in the Principality; secondly, that there had been increased regularity at work during, the early days of the week; and, thirdly, that it had done something to conduce to the greater comfort and had improved the conditions of the people generally. It might be said that in certain districts it had been followed by an increase of the number of Sunday convictions. But the Commission remarked— We cannot regard these statistics as conclusive one way or the other. We are driven to conclude that the increase in Sunday convictions arises from some cause peculiar to the state of things prevailing on that day. He presented some of the main difficulties that had rendered necessary the incorporation of these recommendations into the Bill before the House. First, he referred to the ever-present difficulty, not only in Wales but wherever Sunday closing was carried out, the difficulty of the bonâ fide traveller. The Commissioners on this point made a very important statement. They said— Undoubtedly it is the case that in the existing state of the law, interpreted as the bonâ fide traveller clause usually is, anything like a general prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday has not yet been enforced. In other words, with the law as it is at present, it is impossible that any Sunday-closing Act in any part of the country can be really effective. This was a very important statement, and proved to his mind conclusively that the failure—if failure there had been—in the operation of the Act in certain districts was due, not to mistaken policy, but to defective law. This difficulty had been got over in Scotland by a system of Sunday licences, which the Commissioners recommended should be carried out in Wales, and the recommendation had been included in the Bill. He believed a similar difficulty had been met with in Ireland. The Act had been evaded in four main points. First, there was the operation of the bunâ fide traveller clause; secondly, in relation to clubs which were not genuinely clubs; thirdly, in reference to shebeens—and this was frequent in the populous centres of South Wales; and fourthly, in reference to the wholesale beer trade. Taking these four points, he should show how they were proposed to be dealt with in the Bill. First, in reference to the bonâ fide traveller clause, it was proposed—and this on the special recommendation of the Royal Commission—that no occupier of licensed premises should sell to travellers on Sunday without a Sunday licence. Further, it was proposed that the licensing authority shall have power to grant these licences, but the premises used for the purpose shall be above the rateable value of £25. Also, in accordance with the suggestion of the Royal Commission, these licensed holders would be required to keep a book and enter therein the names of travellers served. The point in reference to illegal clubs was met by a clause imposing fines where it was proved that such clubs were constituted for drinking purposes. A higher scale of fines was provided for breaches of the law in reference to she-beens. Lastly, in reference to the wholesale beer trade—which had been the cause of considerable difficulty to the police in Cardiff and elsewhere, owing to the unsatisfactory character of those who held the assize licences and the unsatisfactory character of the buildings in which the beer was sold—it was proposed to meet the evil, first, by registration by the County Councils and by fixing a minimum rateable value of £15. The last provision of the Bill he referred to was one which prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sundays in refreshment rooms at railway stations. This was not in accordance with his own view and opinion, but it was a specific recommendation of the Royal Commission. He admitted at once that there were formidable difficulties in the position, but he asserted that these difficulties had been caused entirely by defects in the Act, not by the policy of the Act. He did not disguise for a moment that there had been a feeling, especially in Cardiff, that the Act should be relaxed in different districts, or, perhaps, in certain portions of the Principality, repealed altogether; but the real factor in the case was this, that the Commission had, in unmistakable terms, expressed the opinion that the Act should not be repealed, but continued and strengthened, and it was beside the question for anyone to make a suggestion in that direction. He quoted a reference in the Report, in which the Commission dealt with a suggestion that in certain districts public-houses should be open during limited hours— We are, however, so convinced that a change in this direction would be so unwelcome to so vast a majority of the population in so large an area of the Principality that we do not think it ought to be carried out. This was a plain statement of the utmost value. It meant that, in the judgment of the Royal Commission, the moral sentiment of the country should not be sacrificed to—he did not use the word with any offensive meaning—the liquor interest of Cardiff or any portion of South Wales. Before concluding, a remark was necessary in reference to the border difficulty—undoubtedly one of the most grave obstacles in certain districts to the strict operation of the Act of 1881. As many Members would know, the border-line between England and Wales was exceptionally unfortunate, because it passed through a populous mining district in parts of Glamorganshire and Monmouth. He would not go into details, but this had been the cause of a very large proportion of the evasion of the Act, and consequent agitation against the Act in these districts. The Commissioners, on their part, were not able to say anything as to the advisability of including Monmouth in the scope of the Act, because they would have been out of order in doing so—that being outside their terms of reference. But feeling in Monmouth was unmistakably in favour of inclusion, and therefore in the Bill it was proposed that the county of Monmouth should be part of Wales, so far as the Sunday-closing Act was concerned. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, had had the opportunity of testing the feeling of the majority of his constituents on the subject. In conclusion, and summarising the points he had made, he asked the House to believe that this was in no sense or degree a partisan or political Bill; it was the embodiment of the deliberate and unanimous opinion and judgment of the Royal Commission, founded on evidence taken in the Principality itself. This Commission was appointed by a Conservative Government and at the instigation of a Party hostile to the policy of Sunday-closing in general, and to Sunday-closing in Wales in particular. It was no new piece of legislation proposed; there was no question of principle involved; it was simply amendment of an existing Act. The feeling in Wales was undoubtedly getting stronger in favour of Sunday-closing, and the votes of the Parliamentary representatives of Wales would prove this. If there were in England the same body of public opinion in favour of this legislation, no doubt it would soon be carried. He appealed to the Government, and hoped they would see the injustice of refusing to support what was, after all, the recommendation of their own Commission. He did not claim support of Members on party grounds, and not on extreme temperance grounds; he claimed the support of the House generally to the changes contained in the Bill, because they had received the seal of the Commission he had referred to after careful and impartial inquiry, and because he believed if these amendments were carried into law they would conduce to the moral welfare of the people of Wales. [Cheers.] He moved that the Bill be now read a Second time.


rose to occupy only a minute or two, thinking that by so doing he would best serve the cause of the Bill. The Bill was founded almost literally on the lie-port of the Commission of 1889, and, as his hon. Friend had said, this Commission was appointed by a Conservative Government, and it was a Commission whose opinion carried the greatest possible weight. He did not know if his hon. Friend had given the names of the Commissioners, but he would mention them. The Chairman was Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and the other Commissioners were Lord Emlyn, a Tory landlord much respected in Wales; Judge Horatio Lloyd, Judge Harrison and Sir John Hibbert. It was impossible to mention a list of names more qualified to pronounce on this question. There was a most careful consideration of evidence taken on the spot, and the Bill, he was justified in saying, was practically a transcript of the Report of the Commission. This was quite enough to recommend the Second Reading to the House. He would press upon the House that in a matter of this kind they should give the Bill a Second Reading, reserving any criticism on particular clauses till they reached the Committee stage.

MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Cardiff)

observed that, personally, he could not accept the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the Bill should be allowed to be read a second time without a division. Whilst recognising the moderate way in which the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had recommended it to the House, he thought his statement contained some very questionable propositions. He said, in the first place, that no new legislation was intended by the Bill. But this was as strong a Bill as he had ever read for the manufacture of new crimes and criminals. The hon. Member in his statement said that the Commissioners made very important exceptions as regarded the operation of the Welsh Sunday-closing Act in a borough like Cardiff, and he then went on to say that the Commissioners recommended that the moral sentiment of the country generally should prevail in the town of Cardiff.


said that was his own expression, and not the recommendation of the Committee.


remarked that the Commissioners did not go so far as that, and he was glad to find that this was only an expression of the hon Member's own opinion. What were they to think pf the sacred principle of Local Veto when, in a town of nearly 200,000 inhabitants, they were to have the opinion probably of the majority of that town overridden by the moral sentiment of the people in the country districts. Was not that a wonderful application of the principle of local option? The hon. Member said that a certain body of people in Cardiff were opposed to Sunday closing as it now existed. Yes, there was a very considerable body indeed. Only three years ago a plebiscite was taken, under circumstances which prevented the possibility of any wrong opinion being formed, and the issue was that a clear majority of those who voted were in favour of the abolition of the Welsh Sunday-closing Act. He might mention that the figures of the majority on that occasion very nearly reached 8,500, or almost exactly the figures by which he was returned as Member for Cardiff two years ago. He thought there could be very little doubt, considering the strong views he himself took on this question, that the prevailing opinion in the borough of Cardiff was against the Sunday-closing Act as it now existed, and it would be still more strongly opposed to the much more stringent provisions which the hon. Member proposed to introduce by this amending Bill. The hon. Member said that the Welsh Sunday-closing Act had only failed so far because it had not been carried out. Could the hon. Member point out to him any place in the world where prohibition had succeeded? Was there any place in America where it had not been successfully evaded? Such an iniquitous and demoralising law as the Welsh Sunday-closing Act, applied to a great town like Cardiff, could not remain on the Statute Book in face of the resolute opposition of the people were it not for the fact that a law of that kind could always be successfully evaded. When he saw such oppressive legislation put in force, he could understand why in the old days, when oppressive Customs duties were imposed upon the entrance of foreign goods into this country, the whole sentiment of the people became strongly in favour of smuggling. The same thing took place under an Act of this kind, and every possible means were used for the purpose of evading its operation. However many amending Acts they passed, and however stringent they made their provisions, he said that the sentiment of freedom—the right of a man to drink a glass of beer when he wanted it, or a glass of spirits—was so strongly implanted in the breasts of the people of this country that they would never be able to enforce a prohibitive law of this kind. This measure which the hon. Gentleman had introduced, and which he said the Radicals of Wales were going to vote for, how different it was from any Sunday-closing Bill ever proposed for England! Had anyone in his senses ever proposed that there should be a universal Sunday-closing Bill for the whole of England, applicable to London and other large towns? Why, everybody knew that if it were proposed there would be a revolution in London to-morrow. Let them try it, and they would soon find out that that was the case. Why, then, should this experiment be tried in Wales? Were all their sentimental experiments to be tried there, and great towns like Cardiff to be treated as nobody dared to treat London and other big cities? He should like to call attention to some of the provisions of the Bill. He had only had an opportunity of reading it since he came into the House about an hour ago, but some of the provisions were familiar to him. Just let them see what was to become of that unfortunate gentleman—the bonâ fide traveller. In future he was not to get any kind of refreshment at all unless he had travelled a distance of not less than twelve miles for some purpose other than that of obtaining intoxicating liquors. He must travel the twelve miles first, and then he must set out afresh, when he was hungry, thirsty and tired, in order to obtain refreshment, and the burden, even then, was upon him of proving that he was a. bonâ fide traveller. The clause went on— No person shall be proved to be a traveller unless the evidence given in that behalf is corroborated in some material respect by a person or persons not charged or interested. So that the poor man was to go about, after travelling twelve miles or more to find some person to prove that he was a bonâ fide traveller. That was the kind of legislation run mad which some hon. Gentlemen proposed to carry through Parliament. But those were not all the provisions that struck him as exceedingly grotesque and likely to produce very bad consequences. He would take Clause 10, which referred to illegal association. That clause said— From and after the commencement of this Act any association of ten or more persons existing only for the purpose of supplying intoxicating liquor to its members, or if for any other purpose only ostensibly or colour-ably for such other purpose, shall be deemed an illegal association, and each and every member of such association shall be liable upon summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £5, or to imprisonment for any period not exceeding three months. One of the means by which this Sunday-closing Act had been successfully evaded in populous towns in Wales was by the formation of an immense number of clubs of one kind or another, some numbering several thousand persons; and there was no doubt that the popularity of these clubs depended to a very considerable extent upon the fact that anybody belonging to them could go into his club and get refreshments on Sunday just as a Member of that House went into his club for the same purpose. ["Hear, hear!"] Under this clause every such club would be liable, on the information of spies or detectives—whom it seemed to be the purpose of hon. Members opposite to use in order to report on the conduct of every human being in this country, and to take care that he came up to their standard of what they deemed to be morality—every such club would be liable to be reported upon, and possibly to be shut up, under this clause. Then he passed on to shebeens. Here they had a specimen of the new drastic punishment which was to be introduced under the Bill— Every person who keeps a shebeen shall be liable for the first offence to a penalty of not less than £10, or imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not less than two months. Hard labour played a very great part in the Bill. If the offender was convicted a second time he would be liable to a penalty of not less than £20, or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not less than four months, and to be prohibited from holding a licence for a term not exceeding live years. Were ever such monstrous proposals brought forward in any Bill introduced in such a modest and reasonable way as this was by its author? It was not only the people who kept shebeens who were to be punished in this way, but actually when they came to the final part of this clause they found it worded in this way— Any person found drunk, or having had drink supplied to him on premises where intoxicating liquor is had or kept for sale by retail without a licence, shall be liable to a penally not exceeding five pounds, or to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding one month. Really, was it possible that in that House of Commons any largo body of men would be found ready to vote for sentencing to hard labour any man who drank an illicit glass of beer? He put the proposition to the House, and it seemed to him to surpass in absurdity any proposition brought before them. He need not go any further into the Bill. It proceeded on the same lines right through. The final clause was one regarding railway stations. It said— Section 4 of the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act, 1881, is hereby repealed, and from and after the commencement of this Act, no intoxicating liquor shall be sold on Sunday at a railway station to persons arriving at or departing from such station, by railroad or otherwise. The hon. Member told the House that that was a clause proposed by the Commissioners, and they had heard a good deal about the high respect, ability, and impartiality of those Commissioners. [Opposition cheers.] It seemed to him that those Commissioners could hardly realise that many thousands of people arrived and departed on Sunday in places like Cardiff at the railway stations. Were these people to be prevented from having any kind of refreshment? In Cardiff a great number of people were opposed to the Sunday-closing Act, and often moderate men had gone so far as to say that they were in favour of opening public-houses on Sundays for a limited time in the middle of the day. Surely that was a reasonable rule to apply to all public-houses, without distinction, in great towns. Still more should it apply to railway stations, where it was sometimes necessary, for the preservation of health, that refreshment should be obtained. Was it right or reasonable that travellers arriving at or departing from a railway station should be deprived of the opportunity of obtaining any refreshment whatever? His constituents were very largely interested in this subject, and he should resolutely oppose the application of a Bill of this kind to the whole of Wales. He regretted that any, such Bill should have been brought in, and if it were pressed to a division he should certainly vote against it.

MR. W. T. HOWELL (Denbigh Boroughs)

protested against the proposal that they should pass a Bill of this kind blindfold. No doubt this Bill was absolutely similar to Bills that had been printed in former Sessions; but his experience of the House of Commons taught him that unless the subject-matter of a Measure was likely to be debated, Members did not read the Bill when it was circulated. There was also the reasonable probability that a Bill distributed in a former Session had been mislaid. It was only at 12.30 or 12.45 p.m. that day that the House had the opportunity of seeing in black and white what were the exact provisions which it was now proposed to add to the Statute Book. Members could not be expected to form a judgment and to come to a conclusion upon a matter of this kind without having taken the advice of people who were specially qualified by their position to give advice upon it. He was not himself a brewer or licensed victualler, but he knew certain people upon whose advice he could rely, and before forming a definite opinion on such a Bill as this he would like to hear what they had to say. A Royal Commission was at present inquiring into the whole subject of the Licensing Laws for England and Wales, and it seemed to him that they would be rather forestalling the conclusions at which the Commissioners might arrive by legislating before those Commissioners had reported upon the evidence laid before them. He admitted that Sunday closing had done good in certain districts in Wales, but in others it had done immense harm. Believing that, he was of opinion that they ought to be very careful about what they did, either to extend the existing law or to amend it. In little villages the closing of public-houses on Sundays meant that liquor was not sold on those days but to imagine that in Cardio' and other great towns the Sunday Closing Act had stopped the sale of liquor would be perfectly absurd. One could not go into the streets without becoming convinced of that. It was a very serious thing to put upon the Statute Book a law which could be easily evaded. Legislation ought to be effective. In Wales the existing Act had been evaded in several ways, and chiefly by the establishment of bogus clubs. In places of the size of Cardiff and Swansea it was absolutely impossible to put down these bogus clubs. The present condition of things was unjust to the licence-holder, who had to manage his premises according to the regulations of the police, and to construct these premises in conformity with the demands of the" Licensing Justices, and who had heavy duties to pay for his licence and other things. The proprietor or manager of a bogus club, on the other hand, had not the same heavy outlay and expense, and yet was able to make a profit on Sundays which the licenceholder was prevented from making. He was afraid that the Sunday-closing Act in its results had not altogether fulfilled the prognostications of its friends. The figures in the Government Returns for 1892 were very interesting. Sunday-closing was in force in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but not in England. The Returns for 1892 showed that in Ireland the arrests for drunkenness on Sunday were 111 out of every 100,000 of the population; in Scotland the arrests were 100, and in Wales they were 68; but in England, where the public-houses were only closed for certain hours of the day, the number of arrests per 100,000 of the population was only 51. Some very urgent explanation of these figures vas wanted from those gentlemen who wished to extend Temperance Legislation as affecting Sunday closing. The promoters of this Bill proposed to put down shebeens by increasing the punishment to which shebeen proprietors were liable. In his opinion the only effect of that provision would be that the shebeen proprietor would charge more for the beer which he sold. If there was a demand for liquor it would be supplied, and the greater the danger of supplying it the higher would be the price charged. He thought it would be well for the House to hear what had been said on this subject by the Cardiff stipendiary magistrate, who had had much experience of prosecutions under the Sunday Closing Act. Speaking in January 1895 of his experience on the Bench under the Sunday-closing Act, he said—

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

moved that the question be now put.


I cannot put that Motion, considering that the discussion has not lasted an hour, and that the Bill only came from the printers after the hour when the House met.


said that the observations of the magistrate to which he wished to call attention were the following:— On the day when licensed houses are closed there is a demand by a large section of the community for intoxicating liquor, and that demand— And it being Half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday, 9th February.