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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

[introduction]

The power to grant or renew licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors has, ever since the foundation of the Colony, been invested, first in the ordinary Justices of the Peace, then in Boards nominated by the Government, and latterly in Committees elected annually (now triennially), by the ratepayers of every licensing district, into which the whole Colony is divided by the Central Government.

The colonial law has never recognized any right to compensation for refusal to renew licenses, and from time to time a considerable number of renewals have been refused, on the simple ground that they were in excess of the requirements of the district. In none of these cases has any compensation been paid or even asked for. For more than 50 years, the public mind has been familiar with the fact that the law provided no compensation for the refusal to renew publicans' or any other licenses.

When the existing Licensing Act was passed in 1881, creating the elected Licensing Committees, it was expected that a very great reduction in the number of licenses would take place. After nine years it has become evident that the Licensing Committees considered that, in conformity with their name, they are created only to license, and at all events not materially to suppress the excessive number of existing houses. Outside influences no doubt also operated to prevent them taking any decided action in that direction. In the course of nine years, out of 1,500 licenses, they have only refused to renew 25 to 30, on the simple ground that they were in excess of the wants of the people, and about as many more on the grounds of misconduct, or for other reasons; while they have added a considerable number of new licenses.

In the session of 1889 a resolution was carried in the House of Representatives by a majority of 36 to 26, in the following form: "Whereas the enormous direct expenditure on intoxicating liquors in this Colony—amounting annually to more than two millions sterling—contributes largely to the existing depression, adds materially to crime and poverty, and reduces the capital available for reproductive industries; and whereas the people under the existing law are powerless to remove the principal cause of these evils, it is, in the opinion of this House, imperative that the Government should, without delay, introduce a Bill giving power to the people, page 3 by direct vote at the ballot box, periodically taken, to prohibit the sale of such liquors within the district in which they reside." The Government accepted this resolution, and undertook to bring in a Bill to give it effect. This it did in the subsequent Session of 1890, which was generally accepted by the Temperance party, in and out of the House; but owing to the pressure of other business, the Bill did not reach its second reading, but with many others fell through without discussion. It is presumed that during the next Session it will again be introduced, and there is reason to believe that it will receive general approval.

The above resolution, and the Bill introduced in furtherance of it, contain no reference to the payment of compensation to the publican or any one else, in the case of the refusal to renew any license. It is, however, by no means improbable that interested parties may raise the question when the Bill comes on for discussion. The object of the present memorandum is to shew that, whether tested by reason or by the experience of Great Britain and Ireland, of the other British Colonies (with one exception), or the United States of America, there is no precedent, and no reason whatever why compensation should be paid to anybody for the refusal to renew a license, which on the face of it shews that it was granted only for one year, and which on the expiration of that term is in law and in fact absolutely null and void. It is proposed to examine such pleas as have been urged in behalf of compensation.