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MUNICIPAL DRINK TRAFFIC.
Few can be found to deny that the drinking customs and licensing laws of England need drastic reform. With the teetotal movement, so far as its methods are personal and moral, we have no quarrel and no present concern. Our subject is the political aspect of the drink question and the amendment of the law of licensing.
Neither of the great political parties has reason to be proud of its experiments in legislation for the regulation of the drink traffic. The Conservatives proposed a scheme of reduction of licences with compensation, which was swept out of existence by a storm of public anger; and now they venture on nothing more serious than a Royal Commission, destined to produce the same results as most other Royal Commissions. As for the Liberals, Sir William Harcourt, in preparing his ill-advised and badly planned measure, blindly followed the lead of the militant teetotal party, and ignored the views of his late chief, who, with his usual wisdom, had but a poor opinion of mere limitation by reducing the number of licences," and favored the Gothenburg system, or, as an alternative, "free trade with adequate taxation."'*
The Local Veto Bill. The Government Bill of 1895 was crude local veto, a plan workable perhaps in the Australian bush, but quite unsuited to Lancashire and London. It gave a majority of two-thirds of the voters the power of veto, and a bare majority power to reduce by one-fourth the number of licences issued. The area selected was the smallest possible, namely, the ward of any parish or borough where wards existed. Sir William seems to have read parts of Mr. Fanshaw's American Report, and a tract or two on the Gothenburg system, and with this mental equipment he set up as the leader of the Liberal Party on its new teetotal crusade. The House of Commons did not reject the bill, and the country in consequence rejected the House of Commons.
Prohibition a Failure. The fatal objection to any scheme permitting the prohibition of the sale of liquor is that wherever it has been tried it has proved a failure, unless the prohibitive district contains only a thin rural population. In such districts, and in a few exceptional places, it may occasionally be enforced; but it has never succeeded in any large town other than a place such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is practically a suburb of Boston. Attempts to enforce prohibition result in immediate reaction and repeal of the law, as in
Letter from Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone to Mr. Snape, quoted in Pall Mall Gasette, 4th October, 1895.
Iowa and ten other American States, and in Canada under the Scott Act, or else in an enormous expansion of illicit trade. In Portland, the chief town of Maine, during twenty-one years, from 1872 to 1892, there were only two years (1874 and 1892) in which less than 1,000 persons were arrested for drunkenness, and, in 1875, as many as 2,400 such arrests were made. The population increased from 31,413 in 1870 to 36,425 in 1890, and, on the average, less arrests were made in the later years. But the fact remains that prohibition in Portland does not prevent drunkenness. In Bangor (Maine) the law is openly defied, and there are said to be 300 drink shops for a population of 20,000. Kansas is a prohibition State, but in its largest town, Kansas City, the law is a dead letter. In Leavensworth, with 21,000 inhabitants, there are 125 saloons which are regularly fined once a month. In Iowa, in 1885, under prohibition, according to a special report by Senator Sutton, there were 1,837 open saloons; and Mr. Fanshaw, author of an admirable report on American liquor legislation, from which much of our information has been derived, found that liquor was sold there in 1893 without any sort of concealment, and a "grand masquerade ball given by the saloon-keepers and bar-tenders of Davenport" was billed on all the hoardings. In Fulton County, Georgia, which under local option had strict prohibition, 57 persons took out Federal licences to sell liquor in 1887. This is but one example of a very common practice in America. The Federal licence law is strictly enforced, and is obeyed even where obedience is ipso facto evidence accessible to all of disobedience to the State law. In Des Moines, another prohibition town, the visitor can get liquor freely at his hotel, but the card on which he writes his order is headed "pharmacy" instead of “wine list."*
The Report of the Committee of Fifty,t issued last year, on the results of Prohibition in the United States, is almost conclusive.
PROHIBITION. Prohibitory legislation has succeeded in abolishing and preventing the manufacture on a large scale of distilled and malt liquors within the areas covered by it. In districts where public sentiment has been strongly in its favor it has made it hard to obtain intoxicants, thereby removing temptation from the young and from persons disposed to alcoholic excesses.
But prohibitory legislation has failed to exclude intoxicants completely even from districts where public sentiment has been favorable. In districts where public sentiment has been adverse or strongly divided, the traffic in alcoholic beverages has been sometimes repressed or harassed, but never exterminated or rendered unprofitable. In Maine and Iowa there have always been counties and municipalities in complete and successful rebellion against the law.
Liquor Legislation in the United States and Canada. By E. L. Fanshaw. (Cassell, 1895); pp. 112, 137, 153, 325, etc.
This Committee, formed in 1893, includes the leading economists and sociologists of the United States. The Liquor Problem Sub-Committee (Charles W. Eliot, Seth Low, and James C. Carter) employed Messrs. F. H. Wines and J. Koren to make the investigation embodied in the book, The Liquor Problem in its Legislative Aspects (Boston: Houghton, 1897; and Gay, London-6s.). The passage quoted above is from the introduction (pp. 4, 5 and 6), and is signed by the sub-committee of three already named.
There have been concomitant evils of prohibitory legislation. The efforts to enforce it during forty years past have had some unlooked-for effects on public respect for courts, judicial procedure, oaths, and law in general, and for officers of the law, legislators, and public servants. The public have seen law defied, a whole generation of habitual law-breakers schooled in evasion and shamelessness, courts ineffective through fluctuations of policy, delays, perjuries, negligences, and other miscarriages of justice ; officers of the law double-faced and mercenary, legislators timid and insincere, candidates for office hypocritical and truckling, and office-holders unfaithful to pledges and to reasonable public expectation. Through an agitation which has always had a moral end, these immoralities have been developed and made conspicuous. The liquor traffic, being very profitable, has been able, when attacked by prohibitory legislation, to pay fines, bribes, hush-money and assessments for political purposes, to large amounts. This money has tended to corrupt the lower courts, the police administration, political organizations and even the electorate itself. Wherever the voting force of the liquor traffic and its allies is considerable, candidates for office and office-holders are tempted to serve a dangerous trade interest, which is often in antagonism to the public interest. Frequent yielding to this temptation causes general degeneration in public life, breeds contempt for the public service, and of course makes the service less desirable for upright men. Again, the sight of justices, constables and informers enforcing a prohibitory law far enough to get from it the fines and fees which profit them, but not far enough to extinguish the traffic and so cut off the source of their profits, is demoralizing to society at large. Au legislation intended to put restrictions on the liquor traffic, except, perhaps, the simple tax, is more or less liable to these objections; but the prohibitory legislation is the worst of all in these respects, because it stimulates to the utmost the resistance of the liquor dealers and their supporters.
Of course there are disputed effects of efforts at prohibition. Whether it has or has not reduced the consumption of intoxicants and diminished drunkenness is a matter of opinion, and opinions differ widely. No demonstration on either of these points has been reached, or is now attainable, after more than forty years of observation and experience.
It seems therefore that, except in rural districts, a Prohibitive Liquor law cannot be enforced. The police will not arrest offenders; the magistrates decline to commit them; the juries refuse to convict. We do not want to establish in England the habit of passing laws and then neglecting to see that they are obeyed. Nothing is so demoralizing to a people as defiance of the laws which they themselves have made. If, therefore, prohibition cannot be enforced when enacted, let us set our faces steadily against enacting it.
Other Objections to Local Veto.
A CLASS MEASURE. The first result of allowing any ward of an electoral area to veto the issue of licences would be that respectable residential districts would still further protect themselves from the "lower orders " by driving out the public houses in their midst. South Kensington electors have their clubs in Pall Mall, their resorts in the City, and well-stocked cellars at their houses. The cab-drivers and dustmen, the grooms and greengrocers, who are obliged to live and work in the West End, would be forced to go elsewhere for the refreshment they desire. This is no imaginary objection. It is exactly what is happening in Massachusetts. The growth of "a no-licence régime in that State is solely attributable to the action of cities and towns within a radius of twelve miles from the centre of Boston," * So in
• The Liquor Problem, p. 227.
London the wealthy wards of Hampstead and Kensington, Wimbledon and Chiswick, would protect themselves at the expense of the already over-licensed central districts, just as Edgbaston already is protected by its owner to the detriment of the rest of Birmingham.
INEFFECTIVE LEGISLATION. By its essence local option and veto would not affect those districts where a reduction in the number of licences is most wanted. The glaring gin-palace is dangerously attractive to dwellers in the neighboring slums; the low public-house fosters the growth of criminal classes. What good would local veto do amongst such populations ? Does any sane person suppose that wards in Whitechapel or Soho, or the dock districts of Hull and Liverpool, would give a majority of teetotal voters ? Legislation on the principle of asking the blind to lead the blind is not up to the standard of modern political science.
THE PLAN OF REFERENDUM. This is not the occasion to discuss the place of a referendum or popular vote in modern political machinery. It is enough to say that experience (as under the Scott Act in Canada) shows that the "local option" vote is singularly unstable; and constant change from licence to no licence (or, as the American phrase is, “ from a wet to a dry vote") would in our opinion in no way suit the temper and habits of the British people. Especially unsatisfactory would be such instability in the event, which is not improbable, of the adoption of a compensation scheme in any bill for reduction of the number of licences. It would be a grand pull for the publicans to be ousted and compensated in the liberal English_fashion) one year and reinstated the next by a popular vote. By a little skilful wirepulling and canvassing the big brewery companies could thus gather å rich harvest from their tied houses.
LOCAL OPTION FOR REDUCTION OF LICENCES. There is some show of argument for taking a popular vote on the question of veto. There is no reason at all for asking each locality to determine by a vote whether or not it will reduce by onefourth the number of its licences. At present the justices exercise their discretion, and grant such licences as in their opinion are required. The right principle clearly is to continue this discretion to the licensing authority, but to limit it by a maximum and minimum fixed by general law. The total number of licences is not usually a matter of the first importance, and in those districts which at present are debauched by an excess of drink-shops, reduction can only be carried out by an independent authority, which should be responsible to the electors of a much larger area, and should be guided by a general limitation statute. The right number of licences for a district is a matter which should be decided on evidence by a representative body acting on full information laid before it. Even doctrinaire democrats would not propose that the number of police in each ward should be determined by a local vote, in order that the wishes of the criminal districts might be adequately carried out.
PRIVATE INTEREST IN DRINK SELLING. Even more important is the objection that local veto does not touch the more serious evils of the present system. It does nothing to remove the private element in the trade which in our view is the root of the evil. The profits of the trade would still flow into private purses, and the consumer would pay huge dividends to brewery companies, because the law banishes free competition. We do not desire the increase of competition or the decrease of prices, but we object to the creation of a profitable monopoly by law, and the appropriation of its profit by private people. Nothing is done by local option to remove from the retailer the incentive to encourage his customers to drink. The private licensee remains as anxious as ever to make his living out of the excesses of his victims.
" THE TRADE" IN Politics. Local veto increases the concern of the liquor dealers in politics but takes no step to deprive the trade of the malign power which at present it exercises so vigorously. Local option is to social reform in the same relation as charity to social suffering. As the ignorant and well-meaning person attempts to cure poverty by giving coppers to beggars, so the local vetoist tries to cure drunkenness by shutting public-houses ; and he adopts a popular vote because it is the easiest form of machinery to devise, and transfers responsibility of action from the legislator to the elector, just as the donor of charitable doles saves himself the trouble and responsibility of deciding on the complex but real remedies for the distress which he cannot ignore.
Other Reform Projects. Local option and local veto hold the field as temperance remedies. They have been put forward by Ministers of the Crown and have achieved the overthrow of a party. But there are other proposals seriously advocated which merit a short notice.
In 1893, the Bishop of Chester introduced a bill into the House of Lords "for establishing a system of retail sale of intoxicating liquor by an authorized company.” It provided that any district might decide by a ballot to adopt the Act ; that on adoption by a bare majority no new licences should be issued except to a company; and after five years all licences should be handed over to the company, which meantime should have power to take over existing licences on payment of full compensation. Profits over 5 per cent. were to go to old age pensions, public libraries, hospitals and the like. In other respects the bill is a close copy of the Gothenburg system. It is a carefully thought-out scheme and its draftsman deserves much credit for it, but of course the House of Lords threw it out on the second reading.