Page images
PDF
EPUB

one firm to another. Practically, however, this is seldom done. It is impossible to calculate the sums advanced in this way ; but when we say that one firm of spirit dealers has half a million of money on loan in London at this moment, our readers may easily see how vast are the pecuniary interests involved. All these interests have grown up on the faith of the secure perpetuity of licences. There are millions upon millions invested by trustees and mortgagees all over the country, not as traders, but as mere lenders, which would have been swept entirely away if Mr. Bruce's Bill had passed. Nor had there been any reason to doubt but that these vested interests would in any future legislation be respected.*

The policy of Parliament had, in past times, been far more in favour of an extension than of a contraction of the licensing system ; so that when it was announced that seven out of ten of existing public-houses and beer-houses would be closed in ten years' time, the alarm and indignation of those interested, was, as may be imagined, violent in the extreme. The value of public-house property fell one-half or two-thirds, and for purposes of sale vanished altogether. Many brewing firms which had extended their business by buying public-houses, with even very probably borrowed capital, saw ruin staring them in the face; and the wretched publican, who had invested his all in his trade, was no better off than his landlord. Many, moreover, of the minor regulations of the Bill were distasteful in the

It was felt that every advantage was to be taken, by keeping up penalties and organising a system of espionage, in order as quickly as possible to regulate the publican off the face of the earth. The additional licence-rents were looked upon as extortions. But the ninth clause,-abolishing all existing licences at the end of ten years, and throwing the whole of the licences then to be granted into a sort of hotchpot of spoliation where everyone was to scramble for a privilege which, after all, would be so burdened with restrictions as hardly to be worth scrambling for,--the ninth clause was the active occasion of as wide-spread and genuine an agitation as we ever recollect. The London brewers, to a certain extent, temporized. They were better off than their country neighbours, for, at all events, they were mortgagees with a considerable margin. But the country brewers acted. They did not content themselves with letters

extreme,

* It would be very unjust to deprive those engaged in that trade of their right to sell, without giving compensation. The publicans were encouraged by Parliament to make those investments, and they should not be deprived of the value of those investments.'—Speech of Mr. Secretary Bruce, in the debate on the Permissive Bill, July 13, 1870.

and and petitions ; but they came up to London in the flesh, and made the lives of Members of Parliament a burden to them during several weeks.

One of the peculiarities of that vast Italian palace with Gothic ornamentation, which stands between Westminster Abbey and the Thames, is this,—that it is absolutely unfitted for the minor but still practical and necessary uses for which it was designed. There is a House of Commons, but it will hold only a little more than half its members. There are Committeerooms, but they are so constructed that it is almost impossible to hear either counsel or witnesses; and these rooms, although actually within a few yards of the House, are approached by corridors and staircases which wander deviously about the enormous building and lead to a gallery itself nearly a quarter of a mile long. Hence, unfortunate members when on Committee, if summoned to a division—as often takes place during morning sittings—have to run, weighed down by years and duties, a distance not far shorter than two sides of St. James's Square. But until the last year there was absolutely no room, even of the most modest description, in which members of Parliament could hold intercourse with their constituents. All that could be done was to sit in a row on a cold stone bench in the outer lobby—the Member in the middle place—and discuss longitudinally the question which had brought them together. Mr. Ayrton, however, whose love of torturing seems perfectly Oriental, and who, on the principle of incongruities, has been entrusted with the charge of a building constructed, to a certain extent, according to the rules of architecture which he grudges, and of art which he despises, bethought himself that he might make up for the good deed of constructing Refreshment-rooms and a News-room by providing a Chamber of Horrors for infuriated constituents to worry their representatives. Far worse for these representatives than the cold stone bench is the Deputation Room, which carries double, admitting two deputations at a time; and here, last Session, successive cohorts of country brewers, day after day and week after week, trooping up to London, dinned into the ears of their Meinbers—the more pertinaciously when any misfeasance was suspected-the real and fancied grievances and losses to be entailed upon them by Home Office legislation. Nor were the publicans idle; they swarmed in Whitehall

, and buzzed irritably and pertinaciously in the lobby. And they did more than this. In every public house they placarded Mr. Bruce's evil deeds, and made it perfectly clear that no previous political pledge or prepossession would secure their votes for any candidate who was rash enough to support the measure they so detested. They had opportunities of putting their threats in practice. There was a contested election for Norfolk. The Liberal candidate was the eldest son of a landed gentleman who had himself represented the county. He was influential and popular. Nay, he had not pledged himself to anything more than a general support of the Government. His chances of success were good, although his predecessor had been a Conservative. But the publicans were active, and he lost his election. The case of Durham was still more remarkable. There the vacancy was caused by the sudden and premature decease of a man against whom his political opponents had not a word, and whom his many personal friends held not only in regard but affection—the late Judge-Advocate, Mr. Davison. Many reasons existed to mitigate party feeling. But the cry at Durham- —a cry fatal to the Liberal candidate—was a cry of • Down with the Licensing Bill!' We do not hesitate to affirm that a General Election during last spring would have made a difference of fifty seats to the bad’ for a Liberal Government from this cause alone, And judging from the result of the East Surrey election, where the publicans were most unwisely challenged from the hustings by the proposer of the Liberal candidate, this cause has by no means ceased to operate.

support

Our readers will see that we entertain strong opinions as to the unfairness, the injustice-nay, we will say the cruelty-of Mr. Bruce's bill. But does it follow, therefore, that nothing should be done, or do we mean to assert that the Licensing system is absolutely perfect? We say nothing of the kind. We say that owing, in great measure, to the evil working of the Beerhouse Acts, facilities for intoxication have been multiplied, and the number of licences has been increased far beyond the requirements of the population. But it is remarkable that the measure to which we have so often referred provides in no way, except indirectly, for any speedy diminution of this admitted and acknowledged evil. For ten years to come every publichouse and beer-house in the kingdom would have a vested interest in its licence, and could only be closed in consequence of the misconduct of its holder. And yet the owners of public-houses, nay, and the occupiers also, are aware of this evil and ready to assist in the remedy. Nor is this remedy far to seek: in fact, the machinery of Mr. Bruce's bill itself suggests a means of attaining it. The licence-rent therein proposed supplies that Ineans. Let any police regulations which are necessary be enacted for the purpose of securing good order in public-houses and of detecting adulteration. But let the expenses of such policearrangements be paid in the case of supervision of public-houses,

Vol. 131.–No. 262.

2 E

as

as it is paid in all other cases, out of the rates of the district ; then take the licence-rent, and use it as a sinking fund to buy up existing interests. As proposed in the bill, it was to vary between 11. and 61. As there are more than 120,000 public and beer-houses in England alone, a licence-rent of 21. would produce nearly 250,0001. a year. If this were applied in the purchase of licences, as those first offered would, of course, be in general the least valuable, it is probable that at least 5000 might be extinguished in the very first year; so that by the end of ten years, when Mr. Bruce's plan was to begin, some 30,000 licences would have been in this way put an end to. Be it also remembered that many licences lapse from various causes, and that owners of public-houses would in many cases close superfluous premises when once they were satisfied that there was no chance of fresh licences being granted in the neighbourhood. Arrangements also might easily be made for the transfer of licences to new neighbourhoods. When we consider that London increases by the size of a town not much smaller than Brighton, and larger than Southampton, every year of its existence, and has within the last ten years added 60,000 to its houses and 600,000 to its population, we may easily see that in London alone, to say nothing of other towns where the same process is going on, there would be great room for the immediate transfer of licences. the rate, for instance, of one public-house to 500 of the population—which is only double Mr. Bruce's evidently inadequate calculation—120 licences would have to be transferred to new London districts in every year, or one every three days; so that by the end of Mr. Bruce's ten years the existing 10,000 publichouses of London would be spread over an area considerably larger and applied to a population about one-fifth more numerous. And if we assume, which we may well do, that a considerable number of licences lapse or are forfeited every year, taking these at only 5 per cent, in ten years' time we should have 6000 licences left for London with a population of some 4,000,000.

It must, however, be remembered that, short of absolute prohibition of all dealing in fermented liquors, it by no means follows that paucity of public-houses implies sobriety. Cases will be quoted, like that of Liverpool, where unlimited licensing is said to have been followed by drunkenness and disorder unequalled even in that sink of marine debauchery, and it will be argued, that when there were fewer public-houses there was less intoxication. Still, if statistics prove anything, they prove that drunkenness is partially, at all events, attributable to other causes than this. Liverpool, by a return of 1869, had one public-house or beer-house to every 166 of the population ; 32.55 per

thousand

At

thousand were proceeded against for drunkenness. Sunderland had 1 to 149, and only 7.32 per thousand were so proceeded against. Salford had 1 to 156, with 6.21 per thousand proceeded against, and Sheffield 1 to 132, with only 5.51 per thousand proceeded against. These startling differences may be ascribed in part to differences of police activity; but when we find Manchester and Sheffield with an equal proportion of publichouses to population, and more than five times as many police cases for drunkenness in Manchester as in Sheffield (28:19 against 5:51 per thousand), it is hardly possible to believe that this is the sole reason. A story is told of an anxious wife, who wished for fewer public-houses because, as she said, there were five which her husband had to pass, and after piloting him safely by four of them he was always sure to go into the fifth. If there had been only one, it is by no means evident that he would have been coaxed past that one, for the desire of indulgence varies but to a small extent with the means of satisfying it. Craving for drink, moreover, goes hand-in-hand with misery. It is not altogether because there are so many gin-shops in St. Giles's or the New Cut that there is so much drunkenness there. Give the inhabitants fresh air, water in constant supply, less crowded lodgings, a healthier life, and much of the craving for drink will disappear. This, alas ! is only partially possible. But to shut up even a large proportion of the gin-shops, while the other conditions of life remained the same, would mainly result in additional prosperity for the gin-shops which were left

. It is not, however, by any means clear that

any

such arrangements as we have indicated above will be necessary, in order to correct with considerable rapidity the existing superfluity of public-houses. There is a constant struggle for life' going on in all trades. If no new grocer's shops, no new haberdashers were allowed, and the old ones left to die out, how rapid would be the diminution, no police regulations here coming into play. By the Bank Charter Act of 1844, ņew Banks of Issue were for the future prohibited, leaving to all such existing banks their permission to issue notes. Since 1844 how many Banks of Issue have disappeared or become absorbed in Joint-Stock Banks? Here was a valuable privilege—that of issuing notesconfined to certain establishments, just as a valuable privilege, that of selling exciseable liquors by retail, is confined to certain other establishments. There is every inducement to keep these establishments open ; but time and chance work unexpected changes, and the same causes which have decimated the old County Banks will act, with other very important special causes, 2 E 2

in

« PreviousContinue »