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British Gothenburg Experiments



IN considering some of the preceding schemes, and especially the Public-House Trusts, it must be frankly stated that they suggest the idea that the promoters look to the present normal consumption of alcohol continuing, though under less dangerous conditions than at present, rather than to a substantial reduction. If such an idea really exists in the minds of the promoters, then it marks at once a fundamental defect in the schemes as instruments of reform. Nothing is clearer than the fact that the present consumption of intoxicants in this country is not only excessive, but seriously subversive of the economic and moral progress of the country, and no scheme of reform can be regarded as satisfactory that is not solidly based upon a clear appreciation of this fact and a determined intention to alter it. In the judgment of the present writers the most decisive test of any scheme of temperance reform is its ability to effect a considerable reduction in the national consumption of alcohol. The good conduct of the traffic is certainly a consideration of high importance which no careful reformer will underestimate; but no one who studies the public-house problem in its relation to the economic and moral progress of the people and the present and ultimate needs of the State, can fail to see that much more is required than what is ordinarily understood by the good conduct of the traffic and the discouragement of flagrant intemperance. The advancement of civilisation, accompanied as it has been by an increasing severity of international competition, has necessitated a stricter inquiry into the conditions of national success and well-being, with the result that we now see how seriously the welfare of the State is threatened by the present excessive expenditure upon alcohol.

The facts ascertained cannot fail to have far-reaching effects in modifying the national attitude toward intemperance. While there is nowhere a disposition to restrict the rightful prerogatives and freedom of the individual, there is a growing appreciation of the power of law and of social arrangements in educating public opinion and tastes, and especially in directing thought and effort towards moral development and self-control. Good management may make the public-houses respectable, and it may also diminish flagrant intemperance and disorder ; but if it accomplish no more than that it will fail to make any important contribution to the solution of a grave and pressing problem. The chief test of any scheme of temperance reform, let us repeat, is its ability to bring about a substantial reduction in the national consumption of alcohol. It is not a small or unimportant fact that if the consumption of alcohol per head of the population in this country could be brought down even to the level of the American consumption, our national drink bill would at once be reduced by £66,000,000 per annum!


Another essential requirement in any scheme of reform is that it shall leave localities free to work out their own salvation from the evils of the drink traffic. It is one of the condemnations of existing licensing arrangements that they fetter and retard the progressive instincts of a community, whereas substantial progress can only be made under a system which will quickly register such progressive sentiment and give it full opportunity for effecting reforms. At the same time, security must be taken that local interests shall not alone determine the policy to be adopted; and especially is it necessary that the State, by explicit legislative provisions, shall make it impossible for municipal or local cupidity to take the place of private cupidity. In such a matter as the appropriation of the profits it would obviously be unsafe to give absolute freedom of action to the locality. The theory that only by allowing a wide variety of practice can we hope to discover the best method of appropriation overlooks the fact that already a large body of decisive evidence has been established. Experience shows that, in the absence of explicit legislative provisions, methods of appropriation are likely to be adopted that would injuriously affect the cause of temperance in certain localities by offering inducements for the continuance of the traffic (in the form of subsidies and other local benefits) which even an advanced temperance sentiment could hardly hope to withstand.

We would suggest that the true lines of policy to be adopted in proposals for the public management of the liquor traffic are suggested by the principles followed in much of the best modern social legislation, and especially in such cases as the Poor Law, Public Health legislation, and the Education Act. All of these Acts have one feature, or, more strictly, one general principle in common. In each case the broad lines of policy are explicitly defined and are subject to central supervision and control, but the details of the policy and the actual administration of the Acts are reserved as matters of local arrangement. In this way local initiative and energy have been powerfully called out, and release has been given to the progressive sentiment in a community. In the judgment of the present writers the promoters of public management will move upon the lines of safety by observing the general principles of the Acts named above. If supervision and control by the Central Government are needed in regard to the matters covered by those Acts, still more must they be needed in connection with the control of a monopoly so dangerous as that of the drink traffic—a traffic which, while it enriches private persons, throws heavy burdens upon the State.

The first step is clearly to ascertain in the light of available experience the limits within which localities should be free to undertake experiments, and then, when the necessary limitations and safeguards have been imposed by law, localities should be left free to work out their own salvation in their own way.


But there is another point that must be considered. The facts of intemperance are eloquent of moral enfeeble-ment and economic waste. Do they not also testify to a deep-lying moral and intellectual need ? In our estimate of the problem hitherto, have we sufficiently allowed for the fundamental needs of human nature, and for the compelling force of those social and recreative instincts whose legitimate gratification is a part of the scheme of progress ? It is the conviction of the present writers that no scheme of temperance reform can be satisfactory that does not include a full recognition of these social and recreative instincts. The attractiveness of the public-house for tho average man or woman has results that are often disastrous; but any one who has knowledge of city and even of village life knows that at bottom the public-house problem is largely (by no means wholly) a question of forgotten needs—the revolt of certain neglected qualities in men which, when allowed favourably to expand, become the instruments of progress. It may be well to abolish the public-house, but it is ill if our effort end there. But can it end there ? What is to take the place of the public-house ? This is a question which is by no means premature, and which cannot afford to wait. The social instincts of the people will not be denied, and we shall be wise as a community to recognise this and to give them their legitimate place in the scheme of human progress.

It is for this reason that the present writers attach so much importance to the provision, in any scheme of temperance reform, of adequate and efficient counter-attractions to the public-house. Their criticism of the arrangements made in some of the foregoing schemes for the appropriation of surplus profits is not merely based upon the fact that such appropriations are in themselves inexpedient or calculated to hinder progressive temperance reforms, but that they overlook or give inadequate attention to one of the fundamental facts in the problem of intemperance. So long as no really effective challenge is given to the public-house as the working-man's club and meeting-place, so long will it be comparatively useless to expect an improvement in popular tastes and an appreciable diminution of intemperance.

But here again it is necessary to observe that any attempt to meet this need by associating recreations and amusements with the sale of liquor must certainly fail of its object. Such an arrangement might conceivably lead to reduced drinking in the case of a few regular frequenters of the public-house, but any good that it might accomplish in this direction would be far outweighed by the temptations and inducements it would offer to multitudes of youths and girls who have not yet learned to frequent the public-house. If the problem of reform be really to break a tyrannous national habit which has grown to disastrous proportions, it would seem self-evident that nothing must be done that would make the attractions of the public-house more seductive. The aim and effect of temperance reforms should be to draw men away from, rather than attract them to, the public-house.


Further, in the working of the Company system it is essential to its full success that a Company should take over the whole of the retail licences in a town. A partial experiment covering the operation of a few licences only will necessarily be hampered by competitive conditions. Even if no actual disaster arises, an experiment working under such conditions can give no sufficient demonstration of the possibilities of public management. In such a matter as the retail sale of liquor, competition does not make for betterment, but, on the contrary, is calculated almost in the nature of things to lower the standard of management. " The chief test of competition," according to Mr. Sidney Webb, " is success in attracting the consumer." Gresham's law of currency — namely, that bad money drives out good — is, in Mr. Webb's opinion, " equally applicable to all forms of competition. In the matter of municipal competition in the drink trade the private drink-seller would drive out the municipal one." A company or municipality could easily enforce stringent regulations if it had a monopoly of the local traffic—i.e. when the choice open to the customer lay between stringent regulations or no liquor. But when it is a case of unattractive and carefully regulated sale versus attractive and free sale, the former will have no chance.

It would, for example, be of little use providing that in the Company houses no credit should be given, that no female bar-tenders should be employed and that no adventitious attractions should be added, if in their near neighbourhood ordinary licensed houses existed in which none of these restrictions were enforced. The full measure of the competition which such isolated experiments must encounter is made plain by the number of licensed premises which already exist in the towns, of which we append a few examples:

In view of figures such as these, which reflect a condition of things universal in the towns, what important results can be expected from isolated experiments which control a few licences only? So, too, in the matter of those constructive agencies which are now so widely seen to be needed in the struggle against intemperance. Few now dispute the fact that if important success in temperance is to be achieved one chief factor in such success must be the provision of efficient counter-attractions to the public-house. But such counteracting agencies, even if they could be provided on a scale far greater than is likely to be possible in the absence of a monopoly, would be placed under very unfavourable conditions for success if they were exposed (as they would be) to the competition of privately conducted public-houses in which adventitious attractions were provided. In this connection it is to be rioted that the experience of the United States, together with recent declarations in the English Trade journals, point to a possible wide extension of " attractions " in the public-houses of this country. The Licensed Trade News, for example, in its issue of December 1st, 1900, in referring to proposals for the establishment of counter-attractions to the public-house, said: " There is a growing disposition to meet the publican ' with his own weapons,' it would seem, and what the Trade has to do is to imitate the national attitude in this warfare, and see that it provides itself with the best weapons wherewith to meet the new competition. ... It behoves us to see that we meet this new attack with bold effectiveness. . . . The law very rigorously prevents cards, billiards, and games of chance, and perhaps, with the sporting inclination strongly developed in our masses, the restriction at times is as judicious as at others it is galling. But cards or no cards, billiards or not, the public-house still contains a perfect fund of unexplored possibilities, which the competition of well-meaning ' enemies' will compel us to expose to view. If drinking is to be subsidiary to rational entertainment, as indeed it should be, and the working-classes, in whose electoral hands the power is, want to extend the opportunities of the smoke-room, or will wisely and well avail themselves of what the Trade, prodigal in speculation, will offer them, we have not a shadow of fear as to the future of the public-house. We can respond to every call the legitimate opponent can put forth."

Nor must it be forgotten that limited and partial experiments will fail altogether to secure that release of the progressive sentiment in a community which is one of the primary aims of reform. They may, indeed, while inspired by admirable and absolutely disinterested motives, actually commit themselves (as in Kelty) to lines of action disapproved by an important and even preponderating body of local opinion. They are in any case prevented from securing the unity in method and administration which is urgently needed in the local conduct of the liquor traffic.

The promoters of these isolated experiments are evidently well aware of the limitations that attach to partial control, and they would probably unite with the chairman of the Glasgow Trust in suggesting that the raison d'etre of such experiments is "the despair of receiving any early or effective help from Government" which would make monopoly possible. But while such a consideration appeals powerfully to many earnest reformers at the present time, and has much on the face of it to commend it, it should not be allowed to divert thought from a common effort to remove the only serious obstacle to monopoly by securing a Declaratory Act which would solve once for all the vexed question of compensation. The real hindrance to monopoly, as to all effective temperance reforms, is the reluctance of the community summarily to dispossess the private publican without notice or compensation. This being so, it is clearly imperative that temperance reformers of all schools should unite in compelling a settlement of this difficulty by the enactment of a national time-notice, accompanied by a provision for money compensation (raised from the Trade) if the time-period should be anticipated by the action of the community. Once this were secured " the field would be clear for any further legislation, experimental or otherwise, which Parliament might be disposed to enact."

Meantime, if these isolated experiments are to proceed, it is desirable that they should proceed upon lines that will not ultimately prejudice the larger undertakings that their promoters desire to see inaugurated.


The evidence we have given of the number and rapid extension of companies worked upon " Gothenburg" lines will be sufficient to show that the system has taken firm hold of the public mind, and that, for good or evil, it has come to stay. The hindrance at present to its wide extension arises from the difficulty of obtaining new licences. Were the ground once cleared by the adoption of a time-notice such as is proposed by Lord Peel, the Company system would probably receive immediate and enormous expansion. And if the system were once established on a wide scale without adequate safeguards, legislation with regard to it would become extremely difficult; communities which had for a few years found themselves in possession of large incomes from the profits of the trade would certainly be unwilling to surrender them. The peculiar danger of the system as carried on in the town of Gothenburg, of making the people interested in the maintenance of the traffic by using the profits in relief of rates, would then be experienced in this country. A very few years might suffice to give the system such lodgment that it could not afterwards be displaced. It cannot, therefore, be too strongly urged upon temperance workers, and not least upon those who are hostile to the Company system, that the question is no longer whether there shall be Companies or whether there shall not, but it is simply whether there shall be Companies under wise and adequate control, or whether they shall exist without such control ? The present is the " psychological moment" which the Temperance party may either take or neglect. They have it, we believe, now in their power to make sure that any form of the Company system that may continue or come into existence after the years of notice to the Trade have expired, shall be upon wise lines. It may be useful and necessary that they should criticise with the utmost keenness the experiments now in force. But if temperance effort ends with these criticisms, and if no effort is made to unite the temperance forces in favour of some policy for securing adequate control over these Companies, the golden opportunity will soon be passed and it is difficult to see how it can return. On every side there is evidence that the nations will not much longer allow the monopoly profits of the drink trade to pass into private hands. One country after another is appropriating these profits for public purposes. The State Spirit Monopoly which Eussia tentatively applied to four of its provinces in January, 1895, has from July 1st of this year been extended to the whole of European Eussia. In Sweden and Norway since the seventies the retail sale of spirits has been in the hands of Companies, while under the Dispensary System four of the States of the North American Union have more or less taken the sale of liquor into their own hands. ( As we write, evidence reaches us that in South Australia proposals are being pressed for State control of the retail liquor traffic, and, as is known, the " South African Alliance for the Reform of the Liquor Traffic " is urging that a Government monopoly of the traffic should be established in the Transvaal and the Orange Kiver Colony. It is also noteworthy that, more recently still (July 9th, 1901), a motion that the Natal Government should introduce a Bill for the municipalisation of the liquor trade at Durban was carried in the Legislative Assembly without a division.)

The inevitableness of this national movement and the policy to which it so clearly points were thus referred to by Lady Henry Somerset in the Contemporary Review for October, 1899:

"Four-fifths of the amount of the profits from the drink are monopoly profits, unearned by those who at present enjoy them; and if they must be earned at all, they are rightly the property of the nation. The people are awakening to this, and soon they will claim and obtain their own. Would it not, therefore, be well, while yet there is time, to ally with the inevitable transference of the monopoly profit of the liquor trade of the nation a scheme which, with the people's sanction, would restrict the mischief of the trade within the narrowest limits, and use the profits arising from it for the promotion of the people's well-being, instead of, as at present, allowing it to be used for the poisoning of local self-government, the degradation of politics, municipal and national, and the throttling of the Commonwealth?"


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