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British Gothenburg Experiments


IN attempting in an earlier volume (The Temperance Problem and Social Reform, 9th edition) to sum up the broad conclusions to which their investigations had led, the present writers endeavoured to concentrate attention upon a few important points which they believe to be fundamental in any effort to solve the problem of intemperance.

For the convenience of those who have not access to the last edition of the earlier volume, and to prevent misunderstanding, the summary there given is now appended:

1. Summary of leading propositions on which legislation should be based

The propositions which we have attempted to establish are chiefly these:

(a) That the present consumption of intoxicants in this country is not only excessive, but also seriously subversive of the economic and moral progress of the nation.

(6) That the enormous political influence wielded, directly and indirectly, by those interested in the drink traffic, threatens to introduce "an era of demoralisation in British politics," and that this menace to the independence of Parliament and to the purity of municipal life can only be removed by taking the retail drink trade out of private hands.

(c) That when the retail trade is taken out of private hands, regulations for its conduct can be quickly adapted to the special needs of each locality, and reforms now difficult to attain, such as Sunday closing, reduction in the number of licensed houses, the shortening of the hours of sale, the non-serving of children and of recognised inebriates will then become easy of accomplishment.

(d) That in the present state of public opinion the adoption of prohibition in the large towns is to be regarded as impracticable, although it is possible that local veto might be successfully exercised in a suburb, or ward, of a town.

(e) That in no English-speaking country has the problem of the intemperance of large towns been solved.

(/) That an examination of the causes of alcoholic intemperance shows us that, whilst some of these are beyond our reach, others that are of the utmost importance are distinctly within the sphere of legislative influence.

(g) That we must recognise as among the chief causes of intemperance the monotony and dulness—too often the actual misery—of many lives, coupled with the absence of adequate provision for social intercourse and healthful recreation.

(h) That it is unreasonable to expect to withdraw men from the public-house unless other facilities for cheerful social intercourse are afforded. Such counteracting agencies, to be effective, will cost a great sum—estimated by the present writers at £4,000,000 per annum.

(i) That this sum can be easily obtained if the retail trade is taken out of private hands, but that it is not likely that the necessary funds will be furnished either from municipal taxation or the national revenue.

2. The proposed lines of action and how to safeguard them

A careful attempt has been made to frame practical proposals in harmony with the foregoing propositions. The proposals made frankly recognise : First, that reforms to be effective must be constructive as well as restrictive. Secondly, that they should reach as far as the progressive spirit of the community will allow, and should be consistent with further advance. Thirdly, that they should educate and set free the latent progressive resources of each locality.

The present writers are well aware that objection has been taken to schemes for the municipalisation of the drink traffic, on the ground of the possible danger of the trade being run for profit in order to reduce the rates. This danger is, however, not merely remote from, but absolutely destroyed by, the present proposals.

These proposals provide for a system of local restriction and control from which all that is commonly objected to in schemes for public management has been effectually and of set purpose excluded.("I have argued for years against every form of municipalisation. I have denounced it in a hundred towns. But Messrs. Rowntree and Sherwell's scheme has met all the objections which I have ever urged, and for the first time we are presented with a plan which the sworn prohibitionist can adopt without compromise of deep conviction and without fear of ultimate danger and loss."—REV. C. F. AKED, Paper read at th« National Council of Free Churches, March, 1900.)

It is provided:

(a) That localities shall have permissive powers to organise and control the retail traffic in liquor either directly through the municipal council or through a company (as in Norway), but always under the direct supervision of the central government and only within clearly defined statutory limits.

(b) That the whole of the profits shall be handed over to a central State Authority for disbursement, the first charge upon such profits to be the provision and maintenance of adequate counter-attractions to the public-house, the balance of the profits being pni-.l into the national exchequer.(In any scheme for the disbursement of profits regard would of course be had to necessary appropriations for sinking-funds, etc. )

(c) That the sole benefit which a locality shall receive from the profits of the traffic shall be an annual grant from the State Authority for the establishment and maintenance of recreative centres, the primary object of which shall be to counteract the influence of the drink traffic— such grant to be a fixed sum in ratio to population and not in ratio to profits earned.

(d) That similar grants shall be made to prohibition areas, all inducement to continue the traffic for the sake of the grants being thus effectually destroyed.

(e) That where municipal councils adopt the system and elect to control the traffic, they shall, as in the case of the present technical education committees, invite the active co-operation of a fixed number of influential citizens, other than members of the council, in the work of local management. (That the scheme, in its provision of recreative agencies, would require for its full success the active co-operation in each locality of earnest citizens is certain. But the experience of School Boards especially has shown that there is no lack of high-minded and gifted men and women willing to devote time and labour to well-devised schemes of social service.)

(f) Finally, the right of prohibiting the traffic is placed within the power of every locality.

It is evident, therefore, that the conditions would be such as to destroy the risk of municipal corruption. That the scheme, by enlarging and enriching the idea of municipal responsibility, would have an entirely opposite effect could, with equal explicitness, be shown. As Lord Eosebery has admirably put it: " The larger the sense of municipal responsibility which prevails, the more it reacts on the corporation or the municipality itself. By that I mean this, that the men outside the municipality, or who have hitherto held aloof from municipal government, when they see the higher aims of which the municipality is capable, when they see the wider work that lies before it, when they see the incomparable practical purposes to which the municipality may lend its great power, are not inclined any longer to hold aloof." (Glasgow Herald, January 24th, 1898. )

3. How the scheme could be carried out

But it may be asked, How is this scheme to be carried out ? What obstacles stand in the way of its adoption ? There can be but one reply. It is the question of compensation that blocks the way to all far-reaching temperance reforms. Neither the proposals advocated in this chapter, nor local veto, nor any other important scheme of reform, can be carried out until the question of compensation has been settled. The present writers believe that this settlement must be effected upon the basis of a national time-notice. On this ground, therefore, if on no other, it would seem eminently wise for all practical temperance reformers to endeavour to secure legislation upon the lines of Lord Peel's Report, so that at the end of the time-notice " no compensation of any kind would be given, and . . . the field would be clear for any further legislation, experimental or otherwise, which Parliament might be disposed to enact." (Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing Laws, p. 270.)

Supposing, then, the time-notice to have expired, what are the localities to do ?

The alternatives which would be open to them would, broadly speaking, be as follow:

1. They might continue the present system of private licence, either with or without high licence in some one of its forms.

2. They might adopt prohibition.

3. They might take the trade out of private hands and introduce a system of local restriction and control, to be exercised by either

(a) A disinterested company, or (b) The municipality.

It is with the third of these alternatives only that we are at this point concerned.

(a) If it were proposed that local control should be exercised through a company, as in Norway, a body of resident citizens organised, or ready to be organised, as a company, would make application to the licensing authority to take over for a specified term of years (The period would coincide with the period allowed by law for the recurrence of a prohibition vote.) the whole of the retail licences in the place, undertaking that the shareholders should not receive more than the current rate of interest (as defined by law) and further undertaking that all conditions attached by the licensing authority to the licences should be carried out. If more than one company applied, it would be for the licensing authority to determine which body would be most likely to carry on the work of effective control with disinterested intelligence.

If the licensing authority declined all applications from companies, then the inhabitants of the place could by a popular vote compel the adoption of the Company system at the first subsequent issue of licences.

(b) If a municipal council desired to work the controlling system by taking the traffic into its own hands, it could do so by formal resolution. But if a municipal council was unwilling to take the initiative, or the licensing authority to sanction the application, then the inhabitants of the locality could by popular vote compel the adoption of the system at the first subsequent issue of licences.

Local control, whether exercised by a company or by a municipality, would of course be carried on in conformity with the requirements of the central government, to whom all profits would be handed over for disbursement.

4. The limited alternatives open to temperance reformers

It is well to remember that the alternatives open to temperance reformers are very few. There is a growing feeling that the enormous monoply profits which at present attach to the Trade, and which must grow, rather than diminish, with an increasing population and a diminishing number of licences, ought not to be reaped by private individuals, but be used for the benefit of the community. The question to be decided is, How best may this be effected ? One method of effecting it is by allotting the licences to those who tender the highest licence fees, or—if this method be objected to—by largely increasing the statutory fees; in other words, by adopting, in one or other of its forms, a system of High Licence.

But apart from the fact that this suggestion touches part of the problem only, its defects, as we have seen, are obvious. It not only fails to destroy the political influence of the Trade, but it gives the licensee an even greater incentive to push his sales. The increased cost of his licence must be met by increased sales.

Where prohibition is impossible, the only alternative scheme to private licence is to take the traffic out of private hands. This can be done either as in Russia, by a system of State monopoly, or by a system of local restriction and control as proposed in this chapter. The former system is clearly inadmissible. Its defects are too obvious to call for further comment. We are therefore shut down to some such scheme as is here proposed— a scheme of local management carried out under strict statutory safeguards. This being so, the only remaining question to be decided is the appropriation of the profits. Here again the alternatives are simple and clearly defined. The profits might be devoted to (a) the relief of local rates; (b) the subvention of local charities, as, until recently, in Norway ; (c) State or Imperial purposes; or (d) the provision—as is here suggested—of efficient counter-attractions. The first of these alternatives is so inherently vicious, and would encounter such overwhelming opposition, that it need not be further considered. The second and third proposals, although far less objectionable, are still open to serious criticism. Their inherent defect is that they would deflect and absorb, for quite other purposes, resources that are needed for directly combating the evils of the traffic. The fourth alternative is free from these defects. It starts from the position, which few will question, that the public-house problem is largely—by no means entirely— an " entertainment of the people " problem ; that it has its roots in ordinary social instincts as well as in depraved and unenlightened tastes; and that it can only be effectively solved when provision is made for adequate counter - attractions. It is claimed for the present proposals that they make such provision possible in a form that would powerfully contribute to the highest interests of the individual and the truest progress of the State.

(An objection is sometimes taken against municipal or company control on the ground that it would involve the community in complicity with a demoralising traffic. The responsibility, however, is one that already exists. At the present time both our national and local exchequers are directly and substantially recruited from the proceeds of the sale of intoxicants. Not only is a vast sum, amounting to thirty-four millions sterling (or nearly one-third of our entire national revenue), annually appropriated to national purposes from Customs and Excise duties on alcoholic liquors, but a further sum of two millions, annually raised from licence fees, is applied to local purposes in direct relief of rates ; while a still further sum of one and a half million, derived from additional taxes on liquor, is allotted to local councils, chiefly in support of technical instruction. To add to these vast sums (or any remnant of them) the further sums represented by the profits on such sales as must for the present continue, is not therefore to introduce a new principle, or to create a complicity which does not already exist. To take a single illustration: Leeds already receives from its liquor licences, in direct relief of local taxation, an annual sum of £15,000, together with a further sum of £7,000 representing its share of the special duties on beer and spirits imposed by Mr. (}oschon in 1890 and subsequently allotted to local councils in support of technical instruction, etc. The use which Leeds has made of this latter sum in the last two years is shown in the following table:

To the extent of £22,000 per annum, therefore, Leeds has at the present time a direct complicity in the liquor traffic in its midst.

To allot to Leeds, as is here proposed, an annual grant out of the aggregate national profits of the liquor traffic, for the maintenance of effective counter-attractions to the public-house, is not, therefore, to create a complicity. The complicity exists already. Moreover, it must continue to exist under any conceivable licensing system. The only way to eradicate complicity in the liquor traffic would be to abolish all licences and all Customs and Excise duties on liquor, and to throw open the traffic to anyone who chose to engage in it—a proposal that is manifestly utterly impracticable.

But the question is really a practical one. We are all agreed that for some time to come a considerable volume of trade in alcoholic liquors will continue. Is it better that it should continue under a system which aggravates the evils of the traffic and produces the maximum amount of social demoralisation and loss, or under conditions of restriction and control which reduce the evil effects of the traffic to a minimum ?

As Lady Henry Somerset, in discussing the present proposals (Contemporary Review, October, 1899), pertinently asks: "Are we to be regarded as ' having complicity' with a trade for the reason that when we cannot suppress it altogether we desire so to change its form and character that we deprive it of three-fourths of its power to harm, but permit a fourth of that evil to continue for a time 1 I hold that it is our duty to restrict the evil as far as we can, and I hold that we are responsible only for the amount of harm which we could prevent, but allow to continue." )

5. Final appeal

The final appeal may be made in the eloquent words with which, twenty years ago, the Lords' Committee on Intemperance summed up the argument for local management and control. Referring to the objections urged against both the Gothenburg system and the system of direct municipal control, the Committee say : " We do not wish to undervalue the force of these objections; but if the risks be considerable, so are the expected advantages. And when great communities, deeply sensible of the miseries caused by intemperance, witnesses of the crime and pauperism which directly spring from it, conscious of the contamination to which their younger citizens are exposed, watching with grave anxiety the growth of female intemperance on a scale so vast and at a rate of progression so rapid as to constitute a new reproach and danger, believing that not only the morality of their citizens, but their commercial prosperity, is dependent upon the diminution of these evils, seeing also that all that general legislation has been hitherto able to effect has been some improvement in public order, while it has been powerless to produce any perceptible decrease of intemperance, it would seem somewhat hard, when such communities are willing, at their own cost and hazard, to grapple with the difficulty and undertake their own purification, that the Legislature should refuse to create for them the necessary machinery, or to entrust them with the requisite powers." (Report of the Lords' Committee on Intemperance, 1879, p. 25. )

The reasonableness of this appeal will probably be generally accepted, and its force may justly be claimed in behalf of the present proposals. That these proposals would solve, absolutely and definitively, the entire problem of intemperance, is neither claimed nor believed. This no single scheme can effect. But that they offer a reasonable basis for co-operation to all who are concerned to achieve such a result, and would powerfully contribute to bring it about, is fully and earnestly believed. If the proposals fall short of the full aim of the idealist, they in no way conflict with his ideal; they simply lay the foundations upon which he and others may build.

NOTE.—The wide acceptance of the leading principles and practical proposals outlined above is indicated by the opinions which follow - Some Personal Opinions.


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