Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Scottish Temperance Act, 1913

Licensing legislation - who isn't fascinated by it? I know, everyone but me. Not to worry. I'll plough on anyway, like a runaway bus smashing through a market, dragging stalls in cacaphoic chaos.

You can guess what types of interests would have come up with an Act with the word "temperance" in it. They'd stopped even pretending that the legislation was about anything other than closing pubs and creating dry zones. This was the law that allowed districts in Scotland to vote on the type of licensing regime they wanted. Voters got three options: No change, Limitation of licences, No licence.

The temperance movement had long dreamed of this type of legislation. They saw it as a means of gradually snuffing out the drink trade. Their expectation was that more and more districts would vote to restrict or completely prohibit licenses. That didn't happen. For one very simple reason: a majority were against the removal of licenses and voted to retain pubs. You have to wonder at the naivety of the temperance campaigners in expecting the working classes to vote to abolish pubs.

The legislation turned out to be the high watermark of the temperance movement. The restrictions in pub opening times and the reduction in beer strength took the wind out of their sails. They were increasingly marginalised. When in WW II they began the same sort of agitation for prohibition they'd tried in WW I, they were basically told to bugger off by the government.

"Meanwhile, the greatest test of public opinion ever known in these islands in relation to liquor legislation was in progress. Despite the fact that the Scottish (Temperance) Act, 1913, had, since its inception, taken away from the licensing courts the right to demand structural alterations; that many of those best suited to carry on the business of licence-holders had been kept out of the trade by the uncertainty of what would happen at the end of the lime limit; despite the fact that the loss of their licences with no compensation was an incentive to licensees to adopt questionable trading methods; and although drunkenness is far more prevalent north than south of the Tweed, and the Churches and the teetotal organizations had been working with accumulating force for seven years to subdue the trade — in the face of all these adverse factors the people of Scotland have delivered a crushing condemnation of "no licence." Even "limitation of licences" by 25 per cent, has had relatively little support, despite the fact that practically no reduction has taken place in Scottish licences since 1913, whereas in England and Wales in the same period 5,801 on-licences and 1,509 off-licences have been eliminated. The Scottish Elections reflect public opinion throughout the land, and as the only practical effect of the 1913 Act has been a definite retardment of progress both in the way of the elimination of unwanted houses and the structural modification of others, it is recognized that it would be extremely foolish for the Government to jeopardize its existence by the inclusion of Local Veto in the long-delayed Licensing Bill which they now promise to introduce later this year."
"Brewers' Journal 1921", page 1.

As was so often the case, the legislation didn't have the desired effect. More than that: it had the opposite effect, by limiting the actions of licensing courts. Temperance activists hoped that the scheme would be extended to England. Thankfully, that never happened. Given the Scottish experience, it's debatable how much effect it would have had anyway.

Take a good look at those figures of licence reductions in England and Wales. 5,801 pub licences in 8 years. That works out to about exactly two pubs per day over five years. Remember that next time someone tells you that pubs a currently "closing at an unprecedented rate". They aren't. It was much worse in the first two decades of the 20th century.

"drunkenness is far more prevalent north than south of the Tweed" There's a statement I wouldn't dare make.

I've loads more on the Scottish Temperance Act. Not sure how much of it I'll torture you with. Probably most of it.


Steve Lamond said...

2 pubs a day is much lower than the 5 pubs a day we saw in the height of pub losses though...

Ron Pattinson said...

Steve, for how long were 5 pubs a day closing? Where do the figures for that come from?

As I've recently got my hands on the BBPA's latest Statistical Handbook I'll be able to see exactly how many pub licenses have disappeared over the last few years. My guess: nothing like 5 pubs a day, not even 2 a day.