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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Plea in Behalf of Compensation

Plea in Behalf of Compensation.

It is contended by the friends of the liquor traffic, that whenever the Government, for the good of the State, takes from a man something which legally belongs to him, it is bound by custom, if not by law, to pay him the value of the thing taken. As a rule this is true; but it only applies to cases where the Thing Taken does Belong to the man from whom it is taken. If the State, having granted to a man a license to sell alcoholic drinks during a specified year, were to put an end to his license before the year was over, no doubt it would be just and equitable that he should be compensated for the loss of his business for the unexpired months of the year. But if after the year had expired, and his license had run out by lapse of the time for which it was granted, the State refused to grant him Another license for Another year, what claim would he have to compensation? The State has taken nothing from him. He would have no more right to a new license than any member of the community who had never had one. On the day when his license expired it was irretrievably gone. The State did not take it away from him; the State simply did nothing, but left him in the position in which he and all other unlicensed persons stand, that is—prohibited by law from selling intoxicating liquors without being licensed to do so.

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That such is the position of the publican when his license expires has been decided many times quite recently in the highest Courts by the best Judges in Great Britain. Judge Field, of the Court of Queen's Bench, in the case of Sharpe v. Wakefield, in 1882, said, "The Legislature recognises no vested right at all in any holder of a License." Baron Pollock says, "The notion that there is a property in the landlord as licensee, cannot be considered law." Chief Justice Coleridge and several other Judges have emphatically said the same. In New Zealand, numerous decisions, involving the same point, have been given by Judges Richmond and Williams, and the late Judges Johnston and Gillies, of the Supreme Court. But, perhaps the point has been put the most clearly of all by Mr. Nash, Q.C. and Standing Law Adviser of the Licensed Victuallers' Society in England. He wrote thus, in 1883: "I am sorry to say, having looked into the question exhaustively, that there cannot be the smallest doubt, that no such thing as a vested interest exists, and that the magistrates can refuse to renew the license of the largest, most useful, and best conducted hotel In England. I dare say that this will stagger many owners, but it is high time that they recognised their position. The mere tern: vested interest infuriates every court of law from the Queen's Bench downwards."

As a matter of fact, every year, for centuries past, the Licensing Justices have refused renewals of licenses in England, Scotland and Ireland, very often on no other ground than that they were not required for the good of the place where they were. In one town alone (Newcastle-on-Tyne) about 100 renewals were refused in about seven years, and similarly in other cases. Innumerable licensed beer shops have also been suppressed. But in no case has any compensation been either granted or asked for. The same has been done to a considerable extent in New Zealand under the existing Licensing Law. Why, when a power of that sort already exists, and has always existed, should a change be made, and a new vested interest be created in the publican's favour, merely because it is proposed to transfer the power now entrusted to the elected Licensing Committees, into the hands of the people themselves at the ballot box? Why should a mere change in the machinery make a fundamental change in the relations between the State and the licensed victualler? Why should he be allowed the opportunity of slipping in at such a chink as this a substantial claim to enormous grants of money, the right to which the existing law entirely ignores?