THE CLUTHA LICENSING MUDDLE.
THE PREMIER OFFERS SYMPATHY BUT NO ENCOURAGEMENT. .THE REPRESENTATION COMMISSIONERS CENSURED. [Frojj Our Parliamentary Reporter ] WELLINGTON, November 10. As surmised, the deputation representing tho Balclutba hofcalkeepers received but little encouragement in their request for an amendment of the law to enable a direct issua to be put to tho Olutha eleotors on the licensing question, though very considerable sympathy was expressed with them. Within a couple of hours of my yesterday's wire being despatched the' deputation comprising Messrs John Dunne, M'Corley, and M'KeDzie —had an interview with the Premier. They were accompanied by the following members of the House:—Messrs R. M'Kenzie (Buller), Lawry (Parnell). J. W. Thomson (Clutha), Gilfedder (Wallace), Sligo (Dunedin), Parata (Southern Maori), J. A. Millar (Dunedin), and E. G. Allen (Waikouaiti). Mr Thomson introduced the deputation and explained the position of licensing matters in the Clutha licensing district. - Mr Dunne, who acted as spokesman, said that the hotelkeepers in the district were placed in a very distressing situation. He referred to the alteration in the boundaries prior to the last General Election, which had resulted in a small public-house being included in a corner of the' district. The effect of that inclusion was to deprive the electors of the benefit of taking a poll under the second schedule of the Alcoholic Liquors Sale Control Act, 1895, which provided for putting the plain issue—license or no license —and permitted of the voice of the people being taken as to the restoration of licenses in prohibited districts. The result was that the poll had to be taken under the third schedule, which provided for three issuesfa) Continuance ; (&) reduction ; (c) no license. He asked the Government to appoint a royal commsiion to inquire into the working of local option in the Clutha. The deprivation of licenses meant that many respectable hotelkeepers who had been living in the district for years would be pauperised unless some amending legislation was passed. Even the Prohibitionists in the district thought that a straight issue Should be put and the question fairly tried. Ho mentioned that the sum of £I,OOO had been imposed in fines since Prohibition was carried in 1893, and £4OO had been spent in law expenses. Even Sir R. Stout admitted that a grievance existed, as the law stood. Mr M'Corley spoke in a similar strain. He asked the Government to pass a Bill providing for remedying the defect in the existing Act. He, too, suggested a royal commission to xnquire whether Prohibition had been a success.
. Mr R. M'Kenzie said the Government would no doubt recognise that a defect existed in the law. In the second schedule of the Act of 1895 there was a provision that all Prohibition districts should have the right to consider whether a license should be restored or not. He understood that in the corner tacked on to the Clutha, which now contained the only licensed house in the district, there were only some hundred electors. Only that afternoon he had mentioned the matter to Sir R. Stout, who took an impartial view of it, and expressed regret for the muddle that had occurred through a flaw in the law.
Mr Lawry backed up the previous speakers. He urged that a grave injustice bad been done to the people of the Clutha themselves, who had been deprived of their rights. The Premier wanted to know why it was that the Representation Commissioners went oub of their way to include the corner with a hotel in it in the Clutha distriot ? Mr Thomson: I suppose they could not get the necessary number of eleotors without it
Mr M'Corley said they did not take the trouble to inquire about that. Mr Thomson complained that when the Ttifce was taken last December the returning offioer looked upon the Clutha as a licensing district because it had this one hotel within
its boundaries. He held that the question should have been submitted whether it was a licensing district or not. Mr Gilfedder thought a royal commission to inquire into the working of Prohibition in the Clutha district would ba of little use. The only thing to do was to bring in a short amending Act so that the people could give a straight vote on the direot issue—license or no license.
Mr Sligo pointed out that the people of the Clutha electorate had been deprived of the opportunity of saying whether the Clutha should be a Prohibition distriot or otherw isa. That, he concluded, was against the spirit of the 1595 Act. Mr Roddy M'Kenzie said that the deputation did not wish to take any advantage of the Premier. All they wanted was fair play. Mr M'Corley urged an alteration in the law, so that prohibited persons who asked for drink, and those who encouraged licensed persons to sell on Sundays, should be equally liable with the hotelkeeper for breaches of the law.
The Premier, in reply, said that they must be aware that what the deputation and members had asked could only be done by an amendment of the licensing laws. He understood that there was a desire on the part of members to get home at least before March next—(laughter)—but if a Licensing Bill were occa introduced there would be no chance of confining it to the one particular question that had been brought before him, for there was certain to be a desire on the part of the House to discuss the whole liceusing question. He could not understand the conduct of the Representation Commissioners in including the small locality in which a licensed house was within the Prohibition district of Clutha. It seemed to him that, in doing so, they had done wrong. He could not promise any legislation this session. As to the question of a royal commission, that would have to be considered by the Cabinet. He expressed every sympathy with the deputation, and admitted that there was injustice, and that it was a very hard case. He was sorry, however, to hear from the deputation that the present system only created a disregard for the law, and that it brought the law into contempt. He agreed with the suggestion that prohibited persons obtaining drink, and also those who connived at breaches of Sunday trading, should be equally liable with publicans ; but that, of course, would necessitate a change in the law. This was the first opportunity he had- had of expressing an opinion regarding the Representation Commissioners. They should have endeavored to have left the district as it was, without including this hotel within its boundaries. Ho deprecated frequent changes in the electoral districts, as changes often led to the inclusion of localities with which members were not in touch. Though no legislation could be introduced this session, it might be done next session, when the whole question of licensing might come under review.
Mr Lawry asked if, in case an agreement could be come to with the Prohibition party and the other side of the House, that in the event of a short Amending Bill being introduced the discussion should be confined to this case, would the Premier introduce such a measure?
The Premier laughingly replied that if Mr Lawry was able to get any agreement of that sort from members he would do more than he (Premier) had been able to do, and would accomplish a great feat. Mr Lawry said it was not a question of sentiment with the hotelkeeper3 as it was with the Prohibitionists, but a matter of hard cash. The deputation then withdrew.
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THE CLUTHA LICENSING MUDDLE., Evening Star, Issue 10472, 16 November 1897
THE CLUTHA LICENSING MUDDLE. Evening Star, Issue 10472, 16 November 1897
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