In the last third of the 19th century alcoholism in the lower urban classes had become a problem in the United Kingdom. The industrial revolution was already coming of age and alcohol legislation was a big political issue, particularly in Northern Europe, the United Kingdom and the USA.
In Cognac there was a very enlightened and savvy entrepreneurial class, global avant la lettre, who monitored carefully legislative trends and, when needed, managed to mute into a lobby. In any case, the following article, published in 1879, is a descriptive and thorough analysis on the various political currents in the UK on the matter of regulation of alcoholic beverages.
The habits of intemperance and the influence of recent legislative measures in the United Kingdom
The committee of the House of Lords, named to make an investigation respecting the habits of intemperance and the influence exercised by the recent legislative measures and other causes arising from these habits, have just printed their report. The investigation has been long and conscientious; the depositions of numerous witnesses have been received the representatives of all opinions have been heard members of the United Kingdom Alliance for the suppression of the liquor traffic, brewers and distillers, police officers, medical men, manufacturers, economists, etc., have brought the results of their observations, either to defend their interests or to express their aspirations.
The question of intemperance is one of the most grave that the legislator bas to consider. The State finds in the duty on liquors one of its principal sources of revenue, and if, from one day to another, the population were to become converted by the doctrines of temperance societies the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find himself in a singularly embarrassing position; he would then be obliged to entirely reconstruct the bases of his budget. The Committee of the House of Lords have had the sense to regard the question from an entirely practical point of view they have carefully avoided plunging into philanthropical utopias. The conclusions to which they have arrived show nothing striking in the way of novelty or audacity.
The legislation which controls the sale of liquors was modified in 1869, 1872 and 1874. The changes introduced have diminished the number of hours during which the establishments could remain open, raised the licensing tax for new establishments, and aggravated the penalties. It is known that the licenses are accorded or renewed by the magistrates (justices of peace in session) when it is a question of selling by retail. The licenses for wholesale sale are in the hands of the excise authorities.
Fewer Beer Houses and higher per capita expense
The effects of the new laws are considered as most beneficial by all the witnesses interrogated. The magistrates show themselves more severe in their functions of according licenses, the public houses are better kept, and, in the large towns there is more order in the streets. The number of beer houses frequented by the poorest classes has considerably diminished (44,501 in 1870 38,875 in 1876). This unanimity ceases when it becomes a question of deciding if drunkenness has augmented or not during late years. The elements which allow an opinion to be formed on this point are 1st. The quantity of intoxicating liquors consumed; 2nd The reports of the police giving the number of arrests for drunkenness.
In 1860 the expense in intoxicating drinks was 2 £ 17 sh. per inhabitant; in 1870, 3 £ 16 sh. in 1876; 4 £ 9 sh. The Committee remark that the augmentation in the amount expended must not of itself be considered as a proof that drunkenness has augmented in an equal proportion.
Probably the moderate consumption made by moderate persons comes in for a good part of it. With increasing revenues the faculty of expending has augmented in all classes; a higher level of comfort has been probably reached. In the same way that the consumption of meat has extended, that of drinks has also done so, without implying necessarily excess on the part of individuals. The use of tea, sugar and wine has augmented much more rapidly than the use of alcoholic drinks or beer, which is partly explained by the abolition of the duty on sugars and the reduction of the duties on tea and wine.
The statistics of the police do not allow us to arrive at a conclusion, the facts being confused. In one town the police is more strict than in another? However this may be, in a period of nine years, the number of arrests had more than doubled, whilst the population had augmented from 30,334,999 to 32,749,167 and the number of retail stores had diminished.
Why did intemperance increase?
In general the progress of intemperance is principally due to the rapid increase of salaries and to the greater amount of leisure time of the miners and workmen in factories. Salaries have lately decreased, but the habits contracted in years of prosperity are nevertheless kept up. It appears however that the more respectable portion of the working classes is less given to intemperance than previously. The intemperance is not the same in all the regions of the United Kingdom; there is a geographical distribution, according to which England may be divided into two districts the North being decidedly more addicted to drunkenness than the South. The great coal mining districts are the most intemperate. In the towns, where the population is more dense, drunkenness in more frequent.
It is curious to observe that the North of England contains fewer public houses than the South, and yet the number of drunkards is greater in the North. Drunkenness has not undergone any increase in the rural districts. In London and in the grand centres it may be remarked that it is more frequent among women than it has been for several years. There are five different systems in question of which the promoters desire to change the legislation now existing to 1st free licensing, that is to say, complete liberty of trade; the 2nd permissive prohibitory liquor bill; 3rd and 4th the Gottemburg system, and Mr Chamberlain’s bill; 5″ the introduction of licensing boards. These may be divided into three great divisions; absolute liberty, complete or partial restriction and regulation.
Public Opinion against “Free Trade” of Liquors
There is no part of the legislation that places in theory, any obstacle against according a license to anyone who asks for it, provided they fulfill the desired conditions. Public opinion is against a “free trade” in the sale of liquors, the tendency being rather towards a restrictive policy. This latter is represented by the permissive prohibitory bill which Sir Wilfred Lawson vainly endeavors to get adopted by Parliament.
This legislative measure would give the right to the taxpayers (1) of forbidding the sale of drink in the parish in which they reside, if two thirds of them voted in favor of suppression.
The duration of the prohibition would be for three years.
Those who violated this prohibition would undergo the penalties in force against the illicit sale of drinks. The Committee of the Lords pronounce energetically against the permissive bill. The principle of the measure appears to them full of inconsistencies it is unreasonable to ask Parliament to simply interdict the sale of articles of consumption, while the manufacture, importation and possession of them remain perfectly legal. The manner of execution also raises numerous objections. This would cause a dangerous precedent to be introduced, in virtue of which the majority of the taxpayers would have the faculty of opposing themselves to the exercise of a profession, trade or creed, in the case where such profession, trade or creed might not be popular.
The system practised in Sweden, and known under the name of the town of Gottemburg, where it was applied for the first time, gives the right to municipalities to sell for three years the license for the sale of liquors, under certain conditions or to enter into an arrangement with a public Company. In 1866, the municipality of Gottemburg resolved to try the organisation of the liquor traffic upon a new base: no individual, whether proprietor or agent, could derive any profit from the sale ot spirits. A public Company with a capital of 275,000 fcs, received the monopoly of the sale under these conditions. The annual profit amounted to a million, francs, which after a deduction of 5 % interest upon the capital, was placed among the funds of the town for the school budget. This system has been adopted in all the towns of Sweden, whith the exception of one only. Intemperance has diminished, but not to such a degree as might have been expected.
Mr Chamberlain, the Brimingham representative in Parliament, two years ago proposed a bill authorising the municipalities in England to take the sale of liquors upon themselves- without confiding it in the hands of a public company, on condition that no personal profit should be made in the sale.
The present sellers would be dispossessed and would receive a compensation. The municipalities would procure the necessary funds by the aid of loans guaranteed by the revenues of the town and would carry the profits of the sale of drinks to the school budget. The advantages of the Swedish system and of that which Birmingham desires to adopt are to augment the control of local authorities, to diminish the number of retail sellers, and to permit the arrangement as well as the nature of articles consumed to be ameliorated, and, to conclude, to eliminate the rôle of the publicans in elections.
Probable Trial of a New System
The Committee have recommended in their report that facilities should be accorded to make a trial of this system.
The changes they counsel that should be introduced in the legislation are, as have been already stated, not very ambitious. They would tend to regulate the sale of liquors in a more rigorous fashion and the price of the licenses would be raised.
Outside of the metropolis the public houses would be opened only at seven o’clock in the morning during the week, and be shut an hour earlier than at present. In this way the temptation to commence the day by drinking would cease for those men going to work. On the other hand the greatest consumption is made in the evening, and the last hour is the worst.
As to Sundays the number of hours would be further reduced.
At present the retail shops and restaurants in London are open from 1 to 3, and from 6 to 11 o’clock. In future, from 1 to 3, and from 12 30 to 2 30 would be the time allowed in the day for the serving of liquors which are to be consumed elsewhere than on the premises. Only in the evening could drink be consumed on the premises. To conclude, in Scotland and in Ireland the law should be introduced which forbids the serving of spirits to young persons under 16 years of age.
The Parliament will keep account without doubt of the advice of the Committee of the Lords. However, people may be skeptical, and may not believe that intemperance can be efficaciously put down by legislative measures. The development of public instruction and moral education furnishes more powerful arms. The great mass of English workmen goes to the beer shop because they have nowhere else to go. On Sundays the museums are closed.