THE LICENSING LAWS.
A deputation from the Otago Synod, consisting of the Revs, Dr Stuart, J. E. Chisholm, Will, and J. M. Sutherland, Messrs A. C. Begg and James Adam (elders), waited on the Hon. T. Fergus at 10.30 this morning in connection With the administration of the Licensing Act. they were introduced by
Mr Downie Stewart, M.H.R., who explained that the deputation attended in the interests of the Presbyterian Church of Otago and Southland in reference to the question of temperance, had been occjpying a good deal of attention in the Synod for eome years past, and had lately been under discussion. Mr Chisholm, as convener of the Temperance Committee, would explain the objects of the deputation. The Rev. Mr CHlslioLM said that tho Temperance Committee's report came beforethe Synod yesterday morning, and doubtless the Minister was aware that the Presbyterian Church covered the whole of Otago, and that their ministers and elders were, perhaps, in a better position than others to know about the working of the Licensing Act. In speaking to tho report almost every speaker had had something to say about the lax way in which the Licensing Act was enforced throughout the province, chiefly in connection with the Sunday trafllc. It seemed to be the very unanimous opinion of the Synod that great laxity existed in connection with Sunday trading, and with selling liquors after the hours for closing. The Synod were very anxious—although perhaps they did not anticipate any very great direct benefit from their action—to give all the moral weight they could to the strict carrying out of the Act. The deputation had been appointed by the Synod to bring tho matter under tho Minister's notice. The Rev; Dr Stuart had much reason to believe that there was a good deal of trilth in the Statements made by Mr Chisholm as to dram selling on Sundays. He presumed that the publicans found it a very difficult thing to refuse customers who had been a little top heavy overnight and needed something to put them right. However, the fact remained that drink was sold on Sundays—he would not go so far as to say in every hotel—but certainly in many licensed houses in Dunedin people could get drink early in the morning and in the afternoon. He thought that if the Minister in charge of the department wore to give somewhat positive instructions to the polico to attend to this matter, tho evil would be abated. In Connecticut (America) recently attention was directed to the breaches of tho law by Sunday trading, and thehotelkeepers unanimously resolved to sell no more, and mado public their resolution. Who knew but that if the police in this colony got positive instructions that the law must be administered—strictly administered, but without undue severity—who knew, he asked, but that the publicans of Dunedin, many of whom were very decent people, would not come before the public of Dunedin and say : "Wo have sinned by Sunday selling in the past, but have resolved to be good boys in the future"?—(Laughter.) Mr Adam said that when Sir R. Stout was in olHce representations were made to him as to the prevalence of sly grog-selling up country. By his instructions prompt and decisive action was taken, and tho whole thing was snuffed out in three weeks. If the General Government would only say to their officers tho matter of breaches of the Licensing Act must be investigated thoroughly, the whole cause for complaint would collapse in a month. He (the speaker) did not know whether the present Government were anxious to take decisive action, but from his own personal knowledge he could say that this community was now being demoralised through Sunday trading. Mr Begg said that tho previous speakers had referred principally to Dunedin. He had noticed that in country hotels—more especially where there were two or three hotels in one township—temptation was put in the way of men with a view of detaining them after hours, so that they might spend their wages. The consequence was that tho bona fide traveller was prevented from getting his night's rest. If the Government were to give hotelkeepers to understand that trading during prohibited hours would be punished the offence would be put down very easily. Country hotels had every latitude—they were licensed till ten or eleven o'olock—and yet men were induced to stay there drinking till the small hours of the morning, wasting their wages and ruining their health, and the result would be that in time they became fit subjects for coming on charitable aid.
Mr Stewart was of opinion that when a policeman was located in a particular district for a number of years he became paralysed to a gicat extent in the discharge of his duties—that was to say, influences of different kinds were brought to bear on him that it was difficult to defy. He believed that occasional changes of the policemen from the district in which they had been been would help to the carrying out of the law with more impartiality and strictness. That was the result of his observations. The Rev. Mr Sutherland took up tho ground that the law of tho land being trampled on necessarily had a demoralising effect on the community. The Rev. Mr Will did not think it was necessary to add anything to what had already been stated ; but he had to some, extent realised what Mr Begg had referred to. In a number o! the country hotels it was impossible to get rest till early in the morning owing to the drinking, noise, and quarrelling which went on in the house. The Hon. T. Fergus said that since the deputation waited on him the other day a number of publicans had been to see him, and without exception everyone of them disclaimed any wish to sell on Sunday. They said that they were as entitled to a day's rest as any class of the community, and they had no wish whatever to sell drink on Sundays or to open their places of business in any shape or form.—(Hear, hear.) Of course, at the present time a traveller was entitled to demand refreshment after having walked a certain distance, and that was in itself a weakness of the Act. If the traveller demanded refreshment on Sunday the hotelkeeper was obliged to serve him. He (the Minister) certainly that if we had laws they ought to be administered, and if they were non-operative the sooner they were repealed the better.—(Hear.) It was, however, advisable in these matters to draw the strings as gently as possible, so as not to make the thing break down entirely. Mr Adam had referred to sly grog-selling, and as to how effectively it had beenputdown. He (Mr Fergus) had got a pretty extensive knowledge of the country, and he doubted whether the suppression had been as sure as Mr Adam thought. Only recently, when travelling in a district in the Northern part of the other island where there was no public-house, he was informed by the inspector of police that a great deal of sly grog-selling was carried on. The inspector had imported men specially into the district to try and detect the offenders, but had been baulked in many cases. He (the Minister) would consider it his duty to bring the representations of this and Wednesday's deputation before the Minister of Justice and the Cabinet; and he could assure the deputation that on the part of the Government there was no intention whatever nor any wish —to prevent punishment for any violation of the law. On the contrary, they recognised that the law must be upheld. He had not the slightest doubt that there was an attempt, as had been suggested, to hamper the police in administering the licensing laws; but, on the other hand, every assistance was given them in carrying out the law. Dr Stdart did not think that there was much sly grog-selling in Dunedin at the present time.
The Hon. T. Fergus said he had intended to convey that by drawing the strings too strongly just now sly grog-selling would be created. In tho district in the North which he had referred to the suppression of publichouses had raised up a crop of sly grog shops, which were a bigger curse than the licensed house could possibly be.
Mr Begg complained that hotelkeepcra did not inquire from a man, who represented himself as a traveller, whether he was really a bona fide one. If a man said he was a traveller and wished refreshment his word was accepted, without inquiry, though in some instances the hotelkeeper knew the statement to be a mere subterfuge,
The Hon. Mr Fergus : As I said before, that is a weakness of the Act. The Rev. Mr Sutherland said that reference had been made to the suppression of sly grog-selling oa the Otago Central Railway on the part of the late Government. There tho matter Was absolutely in the hands of the Government, and they could compel the police to remove a hut where they knew demoralising influences existed. The ukase went forth, and in a few weeks there was not a sly grog house from Nenthorn downward?. The Hon. Mr Fergus said that such was the case, and further the officials got instructions not to give work to men frequenting these sly grog establishments, As to the matters mentioned by the deputation he might state that theie had been an enormous decrease in the consumption of spirits in the colony. We did not now import within a couple of thousand gallons of spirits what we did ten years ago. The consumption was going djwn very rapidly. A member of the deputation suggested that illicit distillation was carried on. The Hon. Mr Fergus: I don't think so. There is a little more smuggled than is distilled illicitly. At least that is the opinion of the Customs authorities.
After a little more desultory conversation the deputation thanked the Minister for his courteous reception of them and retired.
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DEPUTATIONS., Evening Star, Issue 8053, 1 November 1889
DEPUTATIONS. Evening Star, Issue 8053, 1 November 1889
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