Skip to main content

Bill 57 Second Reading

Volume 202: debated on Wednesday 29 June 1870

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order for Second Reading read.

, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, expressed considerable disappointment at the inability of the Government to take up the measure; but said he could not blame the Government, because it was evident that they had more to do than they could get through this Session. He believed he was justified in saying that there was a strong feeling out-of-doors in favour of the Bill, and that public opinion was tending in the direction of restricting the sale of drink on Sundays. He did not know whether the hon. Member for the City (Mr. Alderman Lawrence), who had given Notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill, represented the licensed victuallers; but, if so, the publicans were taking a very unwise course, which would have the effect of driving many who only desired moderate reform in this matter to support the legislation advocated by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). His only object was to limit the evil which existed; and he thought it monstrous that, while all other places of amusement and occupation were closed on Sunday, public-houses should be left open to tempt the working classes to indulge in a vice which not only robbed them of their earnings, but interfered with their ability to obtain money by their daily labour. When hon. Members said that if this Bill passed clubs ought also to be dealt with, he must tell them that the objection did not come from the poor themselves. He was in a position to state to the House that a canvass which had been taken in various parts of the country showed that in many of the large towns there had been a very considerable manifestation of opinion in favour of Sunday closing. In one case, where the canvass extended over a considerable number of towns and populous localities, the result was that, out of the entire number of householders, no less than 350,000 heads of families expressed themselves in favour of the Sunday closing of public-houses; about 60,000 were opposed to it, and 37,000 declined to express any opinion on the subject. In some of the towns there was a considerable number of the publicans themselves who expressed themselves in favour of early closing. In Liverpool, in 1860, there was a separate canvass, and the results were of the most important character. The number of inhabited houses was 65,000; returns were obtained from 60,000, of which the heads of families in no less than 44,000 were in favour of entirely closing public-houses on Sunday; 3,330 were opposed to it, and 6,417 were in favour of partial closing or increased restriction on the sale of intoxicating liquors on the Sunday. In Birkenhead, also, the result of the canvass was very favourable, showing how large a number of persons were in favour of closing the public-houses on that day: 3,204 working men, and 1,356 belonging to other classes of society—making a total of 4,560—were in favour of Sunday closing; while the number of persons who expressed an opposite opinion was only 186 working men, and 236 of other classes of society—making a total of 422. At Runcorn, out of 903 houses visited, the heads of 844 were in favour of Sunday closing, only 33 against it, and 26 declined to sign either for or against it; and, out of 19 public-houses canvassed, 13 were in favour of Sunday closing, 4 against it, and 2 neutral. At Welshpool a mutual agreement was almost come to among the landlords to close their houses on Sunday; but the movement failed from the resistance of two landlords. At Bradford 90 per cent of the working population were in favour of Sunday closing. If the working men in such large bodies were in its favour, he did not see why, because there happened to be some idea of the desirableness of keeping open the clubs—with which no one desired to meddle—they should raise difficulties which had not been raised by the working men themselves. He ventured to say that, if this measure were adopted, the people who would be most benefited would be the working men. Men would not be led away by impulse, finding the public-houses open, and thus they would be able to spend a considerable time in harmless recreation instead of in a foolish and reckless manner. In reference to Sunday drinking, one great reason which he had for pressing this Bill on the House was the fact that the evidence proved that there was a much larger amount of crime arising out of drink in consequence of keeping open the public-houses on Sundays, and that the number of cases which had to be dealt with on the Monday by the police magistrates was larger than on any other day of the week. He held in his hand the Returns, signed by the chief constable, of the city of Manchester; from which it appeared that, in 1866, there were taken into custody, on charges arising from drunkenness, on ordinary days of the week, 22 on the average, but on Sunday, 40. In 1867 the number reported as being taken up for this crime was 28 on ordinary days, and 40 on Sunday; in 1868, on ordinary days of the week, 24, and on Sundays, 37; and in 1869, on ordinary days, 29, and on Sundays, 42; so that every year showed a great increase of drunkenness on the Sundays, as compared with any other day of the week; and, to show that the evil was not decreasing, it was only necessary to turn to the records of the police, which would show that not only was there no diminution in the number of cases, but that they increased exactly in proportion to the facilities afforded, and the temptations thrown out to men to drink; and that they diminished on week days, when the working men were occupied at their work. To say nothing of the evidence of the results of legislation to repress drunkenness during the last 20 years, he would only point to that which had been furnished, by recent legislation; and he would ask any reasonable man in that House to say whether they could, by legislation, very materially diminish the evils of drinking? Hon. Gentlemen might say that they could not shut men's mouths and put a stop to drinking by law; but those who made such an assertion could only be very imperfectly acquainted with the facts of the case. The hon. Member for Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) introduced an admirable Bill on this subject last year; and he had already seen the fruits of his labours, because there could be no doubt that there was a considerable diminution in the drunkenness and crimes arising out of the houses which his Bill affected. By diminishing the number of hours during which a public-house or drinking-shop was allowed to be open, they would always produce a corresponding benefit by the diminution of crime; and, therefore, he appealed to the Government and to the House to support him in this Bill—a Bill which he believed, if carried out to its full extent, would be of great advantage, not only to the working classes, but to every other portion of the community. The great evil and vice that degraded the people of this country was the vice of drunkenness. He did hope that that household Parliament would do something to preserve them from it, and feel that judicious legislation could do a great deal to alleviate the evil, and thus elevate the moral, social, and religious condition of the people.

, in seconding the Motion, said, that probably no question had excited so much interest among the working classes in the manufacturing districts, and among those who were interested in their welfare, as this one of imposing a check on the liquor traffic. This was proved by the Petitions which had been presented, and the Returns which had been referred to. Sunday drinking was a plague-spot in the life of our labouring classes. How was it that on the Monday, the day after the day of rest, the working classes had more difficulty in getting to work than on any other day of the week? And how was it that there was more vice on the Sunday than on any other day? The Beershop Act of 1830 was intended, not to give facilities for tippling during the whole or the greater part of Sunday, but to enable the working man to procure a wholesome and unadulterated beverage and carry it home to his family. Its operation had, however, been quite contrary to what was anticipated. It had been argued that any further attempt to restrict the opening of public-houses on Sunday would not be efficacious; but, in answer to that objection, he would merely refer to the Wilson-Patten Act, which, although only in operation for 10 months, confessedly diminished to a large extent the amount of drunkenness on Sunday. The general desire of the working classes for a measure like this, and the acknowledged fact that a vast amount of crime was owing to the drinking habits of the people, ought to be arguments sufficiently weighty to induce the House to pass the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read the second time."—( Mr. Rylands.)

, in moving that the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months, said, he gave the supporters of the Bill credit for their desire to prevent drunkenness; but he thought they were committing a great mistake in bringing forward this Bill. He felt convinced that drunkenness could not be prevented by the passing of an Act of Parliament, while from restrictive legislation evils of a kind that were not foreseen would arise. He admitted, indeed, that the Act of 1839 had been productive of great advantages; but it should be remembered that it was passed by the common consent of the people in all parts of the country, and of the licensed victuallers themselves. The statistics which had been brought forward went to show that the working classes in the North of England were lapsing into habits of drunkenness and profligacy. He trusted the statistics were inaccurate; but, however this might be, it was certain that in the metropolitan district drunkenness was annually diminishing; and, therefore, for London, at all events, a measure of this highly restrictive character was quite unnecessary, nor would it be supported by public opinion. In 1854 Colonel Wilson-Patten's Act was passed, which limited the opening of the public-houses on Sundays from 1 to half-past 2, and from 6 to 10 in the evening. There was great discontent in consequence of the passing of that Act, and it was repealed in 10 months, and the Act of 1855 was passed, which provided that the houses should be closed till 1 on the Sunday, and again between 3 and 5, from which latter hour they were to be open till 11 at night. That Act had worked well. This Bill was of so sweeping a nature that it would be impossible for any Government to carry it out. The case of Scotland was not at all analogous, for the Scotch people drank whisky, which could be kept in bottles; whereas the English were accustomed to drink beer, which could not be conveniently kept in that manner. If the object was to prevent drunkenness by closing public-houses, why was not the further and more effective step taken of preventing the manufacture of intoxicating drinks? The Commissioners of Police attributed the diminution of drunkenness in the metropolis to the greaterk facilities of travelling, and to the open spaces set apart for the people. The hon. Member was proceeding to enumerate the conflicting definitions given of a "bonâ fide traveller "by various legal authorities, when the clock pointed to a quarter to 6, and, in accordance with the Standing Order, Debate adjourned till To-morrow.