Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Scottish Temperance Bill

Back to obscure licensing legislation. Always a real crowd pleaser. Don't worry, there's still loads to come. This time it's some background on the legislation, its aims and how it worked.

Let's dive straight into the pool of joy:

"The Bill which ultimately became law as the Temperance (Scotland) Act, 1913, and introduced the principle of local option in Scotland was originally a private Member's Bill, and was adopted by the Liberal Government, doubtless with the primary object of annoying their political opponents. The Bill passed the Commons in 1912: the Lords made substantial amendments, nearly all of which were rejected by the Commons, and for that session the career of the Bill came to an end. In the following session the Bill was reintroduced in the form in which it left the Commons in 1912, with the inclusion only of some minor amendments made by the Lords and accepted by the Commons, the avowed intention being to pass the Bill, if necessary, under the provisions of the Parliament Act, 1911, under which a Bill passed by the Commons in three successive sessions and rejected by the Lords may nevertheless be presented for the Royal Assent. It became unnecessary, however, to resort to the machinery of the Parliament Act as a compromise was effected, and the House of Lords finally passed the Bill in 1913, with agreed amendments of some importance."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938" page 13.

I hadn't realised that it had started life as a private Member's Bill. I'll explain what that means for the non-British audience. While most of parliament's time is taken up with government-sponsored legislation, some is set aside to consider Bills sponsored by an individual MP. Not many ever pass. The time for debate is limited and it's easy enough for opponents to talk it away without there being a vote.

It was a big deal that the Liberal government adopted it, as it gave it an infinitely better chance of becoming law. The Liberal party had close ties with nonconformist religious denominations (many of whose members were abstainers) and the temperance movement. While the opposition Conservative party was big mates with business, including brewers. Hence the "annoying their political opponents" remark. The House of Lords has a built-in Conservative majority which explains its attempts to change or block the Bill.

Lord Balfour, a Conservative politician, summed up succinctly the failings of the Act:
"In its passage through the House of Commons the Bill was represented as being demanded by a large majority of Scottish electors, but the real nature of the influences behind it was not concealed from the veteran Scottish statesman, the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who in his speech on the third reading in the House of Lords on July 31st. 1913, said: "I should be the last person to say anything harsh or bitter about those who have worked hard for this Bill. At the same time. I believe that they are in an infinitesimal minority among the people of Scotland. I pay them the tribute of saying that they are earnest and hard-working and self-denying, and that they are much in evidence in local organisations and very skilful in bringing their influence to bear. If the passing of the Bill in the form In which it passes they have their reward. In my opinion, they will find that they have won from their point of view, a useless victory. It is my belief that the voting under this Bill will prove that they have over-estimated their power and their influence, and that, although in some cases there may be a reduction, in very- few- instances, indeed, will they gain their real desire of total prohibition. I go further and say that where the change is most needed I believe it will not come under this Bill either with the rapidity or with the good effect with which it might have commit a more sensible course had been pursued. It is my humble belief that, except in some sparsely peopled areas where it is not required, prohibition as a policy will not be adopted by the people of Scotland." The striking confirmation in practice of Lord Balfour of Burleigh's prognostications of the effect of the Act in operation justify the conclusion that he was equally accurate in estimating the nature and strength of the forces behind the Bill."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938" page 13.
As it turned out, Balfour predicted accurately what would happen in the post-war years. The temperance movement was wildly optimistic about the level of public support for the restriction of licences.

This describes the technicalities of how the Act operated:

"The Act of 1913 is described in the long title as "An Act to promote temperance in Scotland by conferring upon the electors in prescribed areas control over the grant and renewal of certificates." It provides that at Specified minimum intervals a poll may be demanded by a requisition signed by not less than one-tenth of the electors in the area, and that at the ensuing poll the electors may vote for one of three resolutions: "No change," which means that the powers and discretion of the Licencing Court shall remain unchanged; "limiting," which means that the number of certificates for the sale of excisable liquors shall be reduced by one-quarter; and "no licence," which means that no certificate for the sale of excisable liquors shall be granted except for Inns and hotels or restaurants in special cases as provided in the Act. To carry a no-licence resolution, at least 55 per cent, of the votes recorded must be in favour, and not less than 35 per cent, of the electors on the register must have voted for it. A limiting resolution is carried by a bare majority if not less than 35 per cent. of the electors are in favour, and a no-change resolution in deemed to be carried if the majority of votes are recorded in its favour, or if no other resolution is carried."
"The Brewers' Journal 1938" page 13.
Looking at the provisions, you can see why so far districts ever became dry. Requiring 35% of the registered electorate to vote in favour meant there was only a chance of success if the turnout were high. Whereas the  killjoys best hope was low a turnout where only their fanatical supporters bothered to vote.

I'll continue by looking at what the effect of the legislation was in reality.

No comments: