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Bill 139 Adjourned Debate

Volume 220: debated on Friday 19 June 1874

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( Mr. Raikes, Mr. Secretary Cross, Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [18th June],

"That the words 'and any collection of houses adjoining a town as so defined shall, for the purpose of the provisions of this Act with respect to the closing of licensed, premises, he deemed to he part of such town' he inserted after the words 'one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two,' in page 11, line 4."—(Mr. Assheton Cross.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

moved to add, at the end of the previous Amendment, after the word "town," the words—

"After it has been declared so to be by an order of the licensing committee having jurisdiction in the place where such houses are situated."

asked the right hon. Gentleman to explain why he had altered "licensing justices," to "licensing committee," who had no power to refuse a licence without the authority of the whole county bench? Was it understood that they were to fix what were populous places without referring their decision to the whole county bench?

thought the hon. Gentleman misunderstood the case with regard to the licensing committee. There was no appeal from their decision. They were appointed by the quarter session to deal with those cases sent up to them from the petty session of their own district. It was thought that the licensing committee who represented those who were most conversant with the licensing subject, would be a fitter body to deal with the setting out of the boundaries than the local justices, who might be subject to local influences.

considered that that was an important alteration. The original proposal was that the licensing justices should undertake the duty. They were the justices of petty session, who were conversant with the affairs of the locality, and surely, as they granted the licenses to public-houses, they were best qualified to set out the boundaries. That was the original purpose of the Government. There was then an Amendment put down to transfer that duty to what was called the licensing committee, which, as he understood it, was a committee of quarter session. The licensing committee was not, it seemed, a Court of original jurisdiction, but an Appellate Court, and in many cases knew nothing whatever about licensing; and, in fact, never granted licences at all. Matters only came before them by appeal, the party who dealt with licences being universally, in the first instance, the justices at petty session. Then, what a slur it was that they were going to pass upon the licensing justices, to say that the very men who had a discretionary power to grant licences were not the proper persons to set out and determine the boundary of any district, and to decide what were populous places. Some hon. Member, in the course of the discussion on the question, had accused him of speaking disrespectfully of the justices; but it was now said, on the other side of the House, that they were subject to local influences, and that they ought not to be trusted to settle these boundaries. But if they were trusted with the power of granting licences, why not entrust them with the duty of marking out boundaries? The alteration proposed would cause a great deal of inconvenience. Take, for instance, the county of Oxford. Supposing that in the north of Oxfordshire, in Banbury, the question arose whether a particular district or village was a populous place, the people would be compelled to go 20 or 30 miles to Oxford to have the matter decided, instead of its being left to the petty session. This was a change of an extraordinary character, altering the whole tribunal of the boundary commissioners.

thought there was a good deal in the argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the City of Oxford. The local tribunal of a potty sessional division was likely to know better the requirements of a place than the licensing committee of quarter session. Take, for instance, the North Riding of the county of York, which extended about 80 miles from east to west, and they would have justices from the borders of Westmoreland settling the boundary of a district in the neighbourhood of Scarborough. When they came to these large county divisions, it would not be so easy for the licensing committee as for the local justices to decide on the matter.

said, that no slur whatever was intended to be cast upon the justices of petty sessions. Indeed, his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stated on the previous day his reasons for making the alteration with respect to the licensing committee. In most counties with which he was acquainted, the licensing committee was a representative committee for different petty sessions; and therefore it would consist of those who were acquainted with all parts of a county. There would, therefore, be some uniformity of action. Many districts where there were populous places were divided into different parishes, which might not be in the petty sessional division.

Amendment agreed to; words inserted.

, in moving the insertion of a Proviso—

"That no urban sanitary district whether including such adjoining houses or not should he deemed a town unless it contained 1,500 inhabitants,"
said, it would be very hard on those large villages the inhabitants of which had almost to a man petitioned against an extension of hours to have that Act pressed upon them, not only against their wishes, but against their interests.

Amendment proposed,

In page 11, after the last Amendment, to insert the words "Provided always, That no urban sanitary district, whether including such adjoining houses or not, shall be deemed a town unless it contains one thousand five hundred inhabitants."—(Sir Harcourt Johnstone.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Question put.

The House divided:

The Tellers being come to the Table, Mr. Dyke, one of the Tellers for the Noes, stated that several Members had remained in the Eight Lobby without voting:—Whereupon Mr. Speaker directed such Members to come to the Table; and Mr. Morley, Mr. Richard Davies, Mr. John Holms, and Mr. Waddy, having come to the Table, were asked by Mr. Speaker if they had heard the Question put, and the Honourable Members having stated that they had heard the Question put, and having declared themselves with the Ayes, Mr. Speaker directed their names to be added to the Ayes.

The Tellers accordingly declared the numbers; Ayes 142: Noes 230: Majority 88.

said, the case was one almost without precedent—certainly without precedent in his experience of the House. His hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir Harcourt Johnstone) had made a Motion of the most important character, and no Minister had risen to speak on the very necessary Amendment which had thus been moved, and upon which the division had been taken. It appeared to him that under the circumstances it was necessary that the House should know exactly how they stood with respect to the question, and in order that they might have an opportunity of reconsidering it, he would propose what he considered a very moderate Amendment in the shape of a Proviso to the clause, in order that they might get out of the very dangerous and mischievous results which would otherwise arise from the division which had just taken place. He did not wish to revive the feelings which had been exhibited last night, or to indulge in any recrimination on the subject; but he could not help pointing out the very unfortunate position in which they would be placed if the clause were passed as it now stood. Up to last night, at all events, the Government proposition was that they should except from the general limit of 2,500 inhabitants such places as the justices should declare to be populous places, towns to be defined in the manner provided by the Public Health Act of 1872—namely, as urban sanitary districts. Yesterday the Government carried the omission of the figures "2,500," the effect of which would be that in every town, even under 2,500 population, the public-houses and also the beer-houses would be open till 11 o'clock. A town was to be defined as an urban sanitary district without any limit of population, and urban sanitary districts were in many cases mere villages with only two, three, or four hundred inhabitants. There was nothing to prevent the whole of England being carved out under the Local Government Board into urban sanitary districts, and thus the whole of the villages in the Kingdom might be turned into towns for that purpose, and would come under the 11 o'clock rule. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members said "Hear, hear," but let there be no misunderstanding. Did they mean that public-houses all over the country should be allowed to keep open till 11 o'clock? ["Hear, hear," from Members on the Ministerial Benches.] Now, there could be no misunderstanding. Hon. Members who cried "Hear, hear," were going to vote against the Amendment he was going to propose, because they wished the public-houses all over the country to be kept open till 11 o'clock. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen were cheering a proposal which was certainly opposed to the original intentions of the Government they supported, and he could not believe that the Home Secretary himself would, upon full consideration, allow the matter to rest where it was. He held in his hand a list which showed that there were 39 of what were called urban sanitary districts with less than 1,000 inhabitants, and from residential experience, he knew one in Yorkshire which had only 207 inhabitants, while there were several other instances throughout the country in which the population was less than 300, all of which would come under the provisions of the Local Government Act, and if the clause passed in its present shape, they would be entitled to keep all places for the sale of liquor open until 11 o'clock. Not only that, but in addition to these towns, districts might be declared to be populous places, and have the same privilege. How would the justices be able to refuse a parish with 800 inhabitants the privilege of keeping open till 11 o'clock when a village with 400 inhabitants or less had that privilege? He did not believe that was the intention of the Government, and he therefore hoped that they would accept the very moderate Proviso with which he would conclude. The proposal he made was this—

"Provided that no urban sanitary district, whether including such adjoining houses or not, hall be deemed a town unless it contains one thousand inhabitants."
If the proposal were not agreed to, the discretion of the magistrates would be set aside in the case of all places designated as towns under the Local Government Act by the Board of Health. He hoped the Government would accept the Proviso as being in accordance with the spirit of their own Bill.

thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) had shown good cause why there should be some such limit as he had proposed, and that something between 1,000 and 2,500 would be sufficient to guard against taking in small places which it might not be desirable to include amongst those allowed to keep open till 11 o'clock.

also expressed his approval of the Amendment, and trusted that the Government would see their way to accept it.

thought that the right hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment had not made allowance for the discretion of the magistrates. He opposed the Amendment on the ground that it would cut down the hours of public-houses to 10 o'clock, while, in other places, it would increase the hours of beer-shops from 10 to 11 o'clock. He had no doubt that, to a certain extent, a case had been made out with respect to the very small places to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He objected, however, to drawing too hard-and-fast a line, for there were many small places in the South of England—railway stations, market towns, and watering-places—where the shutting up of public-houses at 10 o'clock would cause very great inconvenience, and he hoped the Government would not assent to the proposal of the right hon. Member for Pontefract.

hoped that the Government would accede to the Motion, because it drew a definite line between towns and small villages.

said, there were many small places divided by a river, in close proximity to each other, where the proposal would cause great inconvenience.

objected to the Motion, because it would take away the discretion which it was proposed to vest in the magistrates. Moreover, he believed that if the number were fixed at 1,000, as proposed, the inhabitants of every town with a population above that number would think themselves treated unfairly if they were not allowed to have their public-houses open till 11.

said, that as to the discretion of the magistrates, it was just because they would have no discretion that the Amendment had been moved. He supported the Amendment, because it would obviate the difficulty caused by the creation of urban sanitary districts into "towns" by the Local Government Board. His right hon. Friend had referred to one village in Yorkshire, near which he had lived all his life, and which had a population of only 207. The justices in that case would have no option but to regard it as a town within the meaning of the Act, and surely to give such a village the privilege of having its public-houses opened until 11 o'clock was altogether uncalled for. He really did not think-there was any substantial difference of opinion on the subject.

said, he was of the same opinion. His right hon. Friend was mistaken when he said that there were 39 of these places. He had a list made up by the Local Government Board, and it appeared from that that there were only some 30 urban sanitary districts in England with a population under 1,000, and many of these had a population of 700 or 800. It was a small matter altogether, and it was not worth quarrelling about. His right hon. Friend was also wrong when he thought that these places would go on increasing. The Local Government Board had very wisely passed a rule that they would not, except under very special circumstances, make any place into a sanitary district which was under 2,000 inhabitants. The matter was hardly worth the time which had been occupied in discussing it, and he should be willing, if that was taken as a final conclusion of the question, to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to; proviso inserted.

, in moving an Amendment which stood on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton), and as to which he signified the willingness of the Government to accept, said, that objection had been taken to the term "populous place," and it had been said that there would be difficulty in deciding what a populous place was. But he had to remind the House that it was no new thing to fix what was a populous place. If any hon. Member would look back to the Census taken in 1861, he would see that the persons charged with making out the Census wanted to find out how many towns there were. They simply applied to the Clerks of the Peace of each county, and on the Returns which the clerks made they had no difficulty in ascertaining the number of towns. Magistrates would just have to do now what the Census clerks did then.

Amendment proposed,

In page 11, to leave out lines 5and 6, and insert the words, "'Populous place' means any area which by reason of the number and density of its population the county licensing committee may by order determine to be a populous place.
"At a meeting especially convened for that purpose as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, the county licensing committee shall consider all the cases within their jurisdiction with respect to which it is incumbent upon them to make orders in pursuance of this section, and they shall make orders accordingly, and shall specify therein the boundaries of such towns or populous places.
"The county licensing committee may also at any subsequent meeting especially convened for that purpose, make with respect to any town or populous place within their jurisdiction, any like order not restrictive of any order previously made,"—(Mr. 'Assheton Cross,)

—instead thereof.

Question, "That lines 5 and 6 stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Question proposed,

"That the words 'Populous place' means any area which by reason of the number and density of its population the county licensing committee may by order determine to be a populous place.
"At a meeting especially convened for that purpose as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, the county licensing committee shall consider all the cases within their jurisdiction with respect to which it is incumbent upon them to make orders in pursuance of this section, and they shall make orders accordingly, and shall specify therein the boundaries of such towns or populous places.
"The county licensing committee may also at any subsequent meeting especially convened for that purpose, make with respect to any town or populous place within their jurisdiction any like order not restrictive of any order previously made,"

be inserted, instead thereof.

wanted to know how the last part of the Amendment would apply to towns once populous, but which might ultimately fall under the limit which might be fixed? The constituency which he once represented was gradually diminishing, and there were many villages in the West of England which, though they had not yet fallen under what was now considered to be a populous place, were losing their population, and would ultimately do so.

, in moving to insert in the second line of the Amendment, after the word "population," the words "not being less than 1,000," said, the insertion of those words would give the magistrates some idea of what the House intended, and would be fair both for the House and to the justices, and to the country.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, after the word "population," to insert the words "not being less than one thousand."—( Colonel Barttelot.)

hoped the alteration proposed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not be pressed. If it were pressed, it would act injuriously in many places, such as small towns in which were railway stations, and seaside resorts, where the magistrates ought to have some discretion in the fixing of the hours.

supported the Amendment. The suggestion of the hon. Member who last spoke would amount to giving power to keep open all the inns at all the small places in the country.

thought that his acceptance of the previous Amendment had already answered the purpose intended to be carried out by the Amendment now under discussion. He would, however, accept the limit proposed.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Words, as amended, inserted.

wished before the House passed from the subject to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to the system under which Acts of Parliament were at present drawn. When it was proposed substantially to alter an Act of Parliament, the best course would be to repeal the Act altogether, and to re-enact it as altered. If this was too heroic a course to adopt, at all events, single sections might be so dealt with. Much of the present Bill was almost unintelligible, especially Section 9; and if ever there was a Bill which required to be drawn so that he who ran might read, it was this. He really thought, also, that the gentleman who drew these Bills, should also, as much as possible, keep clear of meaningless verbiage.

quite agreed with the hon. and learned Member. The 9th section was unintelligible, and many parts of the Bill were equally so. The owner of the licensed house was expected to understand all these sections, and when he came up before the Queen's Bench, the Judges would tell him that they could make nothing out of them.

said, that the present Bill was really a mass of unintelligible stuff. The handbooks picked up at railway stations were models of perspicuity when compared with it. He had hoped that the Act to be passed this Session would have been a digest of the licensing law, such as that which had once been suggested by the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, instead of a trumpery Amendment Bill, which itself required amendment to be understandable. Bill to be read the third time upon Monday next, and to he printed. [Bill 160.]