|Temperance Conference at Rushden
Interesting Discussion - Kill or Cure?
Among the many suggestions at present so eagerly discussed by social reformers is the advisability of dropping the plan of giving the people a direct popular control over the sale of intoxicants. In such a teetotal stronghold as Rushden it is not surprising that the temperance and social reformers of the town should take an early opportunity of discussing this important subject. For this purpose a conference was convened in the Public Hall on Monday evening. Mr. J. Jaques presided at the commencement of the meeting, but the Rev. J. Scarborough arrived late and occupied the chair during the later stages of the conference. There were also present: The Revs. M. E. Parkin, A. L. Fillingham, and Messrs. G. Denton, C.C., J. Claridge, C. Bayes, W. Clarke, B. Vorley, F. Vorley, T. C. Clarke, J. F. Debow, T. Linnett, W. Desborough, G. Capon, Johnson. W. Packwood, J. Knight, and J. Sargent. Mr. R. P. Moncrieff (member of the W.K. Alliance Executive) and Mr. J. T. Nowell (Derby) attended to introduce the subject "Shall we drop popular control of the liquor traffic?"
Mr. R. P. Moncrieff spoke first of the evil effects of drink and the report issued by the Parliamentary Committee in 1834, and asked if it was to be wondered that people required some means to protect themselves against these evils The simplest and best method was direct veto as proposed by the United Kingdom Alliance. The speaker then proceeded to describe the provisions of the Direct Veto Bill, and also to explain the main features of the Local Control Bill. The tyrannical veto, as it was called, was simply an extension of the liberties of the ratepayers. They had to pay the piper, and why should they not decide upon the question of licence or no licence? The Veto Bill had been put forward as the cause of the Liberal defeat at the last election, but they maintained that many causes accounted for the defeat. They now found in the bye-elections that the seats gained by the Liberal party had been won by veto supporters. (Applause) If veto was rejected in many districts, he believed that the beneficial effects resulting to the places where drink was prohibited would be so marked in other places that entire prohibition would be accomplished in course of time. It was said that drink caused three-fourths of the
and why should not the drink trade pay three-fourths of the poor rates? The liquor houses were also under assessed, and added to this there was the cost of maintaining the police, which force was necessary for keeping the drink trade in order.
Mr. J. T. Nowell remarked that everyone recognised the unutterable evils springing from the drink traffic, and these evils could be prevented. On one occlusion the Prince of Wales was speaking at a large agricultural meeting in this country, when disease had broken out amongst the cattle. He then made use of a very remarkable sentence. He said if this disease can be prevented, why is it not prevented? They said the same about the evils of drinkwhy were they not prevented? They were there that evening to advocate a plan which they thought would, to a large extent, prevent these terrible evils springing out. The drink problem they had to face was not a new one; for hundreds of years the nation had been regulating and restricting. They had been passing Acts of all sorts and all kinds simply for the purpose of striving to prevent the terrible drunkenness which arose from the drink traffic. The liquor laws that had been passed or their administration by the magistracy throughout the length and breadth of the land had proved unsatisfactory to the great mass of the people. They had at the present time in their midst a band of men and women who
Called Themselves Licence Reformers.
They were everywhereamong brewers and among publicans. They said that they were the true leaders of temperance, and if they would only leave everything to them they would see that an improvement took place. (Laughter) But the improvement they had manufactured all along the line had been most detrimental to the very best interests of some generally. They found these licensing reformers in every town and village putting the blame on one section of the community. They found them blaming the magistrates because they did not do their duty in administering the law for fear of offending some brother magistrates. There were others who placed the blame on the sellers of drink, and who said that if they could only make the fees higher for licences which were granted by the magisterial board they would be able to the make traffic prohibitory, and the result would be that fewer would apply for licences. This was was known in America as the "high licence system". There were others who thought they were making the stuff which was sold a good deal too poor, and so they were introducing a poor beer measure in the House of Commons. (Laughter) They had lately been reading at the inquiry that the whisky sold in Ireland was a vile concoction, and did a great deal of harm, and now some were asking for a Bill to sell pure whisky among the inhabitants of this country. Others, again, complained that they ought to have a more strict police, supervision over the sellers of these intoxicants, and so on everv hand someone was being blamed for the laxity which prevailed with regard to the drink traffic. Everyone there would be glad to see a stricter regulation of the traffic, and would be quite prepared to go in for stronger administration of the present laws, but he did not suppose any of them would object to the prohibition of the sale of drink to children under thirteen years of age. (Applause) They thought it would be better for public-houses to be restricted in the hours of opening and closing, and many thought it would be better to have the houses restricted to opening at eight o'clock rather than six in the morning, and closing at eight o'clock instead of at ten and eleven o'clock. Home went further, and said it would be better if they were prohibited
One Day Out Of Seven
but at the present time they should have a controlling power over the drink in the localities in which they resided. They thought they were better judges whether a licence for the sale of intoxicants was wanted in the immediate neighbourhoods in which they lived, and that control, or local veto, was the best method to adopt of any licensing system that had been brought into operation. (Applause) What was the licensing system? It was prohibition. It prohibited 249 persons out of every 250 from selling intoxicating liquors in the land, and Parliament and the legislature of the country had recognised, for the past 400 years at least, that the traffic in intoxicating liquors was a dangerous one, and because it was
A Dangerous Trade
they had restricted it in this way. Therefore they said the plan they desired as temperance reformers was the right of every Englishmen to be able to protect his own locality and his own neighbourhood from a trade which was dangerous, by giving the inhabitants of the district the power to say at the ballot boxes whether they wanted drink in their midst or not. Then they came to what had happened in recent years. They looked back to the year 1892 and found that in that year a general election took place in the country and a great historical party in the State recognised the truth of the principles which for over 40 years the United Kingdom Alliance had been advocating throughout the length and breadth of the land, namely, the right of the people in their several localities to decide this great question for themselves. They found the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone in the memorable speech which he delivered in the town of Chester saying that "so far as the Liberal party are concerned they are determined as one man to place in local hands the power of putting an end, under fair provisions, to the traffic which they thought in a multitude of instances to be detrimental in the highest degree to the social and moral as well as the physical life of the community". (Applause) Right throughout the general election campaign the Veto question was brought prominently before the country by various parties seeking Parliamentary honours. The other parties in the State ranged themselves against this question of entrusting the people with a new power, a new development of liberty. They placed themselves in antagonism to this question and they found the people in that election rising gallantly to the occasion and sending back the Liberal Government with a majority of two hundred thousand votes and giving them a majority in the House of Commons of 40 seats. The great measure of Sir William Harcourt’s was introduced in 1893 and passed its first reading. He (the speaker) wished it had been brought up for a second reading and had been properly discussed. For that year it was dropped and re-introduced in a slightly altered form and presented to the House of Commons, but never carried to the second reading. If it had been brought to a second reading its true provisions would have been laid before the public in such a manner that they would not have run back on the election of 1892, in 1895. They had a few months ago the son of a great statesman making a complaint that the Local Veto defeated the Liberal party at the last general election (Laughter) If it did, what then? Were they to abandon the principle they had been proclaiming for over 40 years, because it had been defeated once at the poll? They were quite sure of this at any rate that at the 1892 election the Veto was brought prominently to the front, not to benefit any political party, but as
A Measure of Justice
and as a measure of righteousness, and the United Kingdom Alliance had been working for it for nearly half a century. It was because it was gaining prominence in the country that the Liberal party adopted it and placed it in their programme and if it defeated the Liberal party at the last election he did not think it any reason why the Liberal party should drop that measure which would benefit the whole nation. Had the Liberal party in the past adopted the same kind of course with the other measures they introduced? Had they abandoned them? He remembered there was a Bill called the Home Rule Bill brought forward by Mr. Gladstone. He was defeated on that great question when he appealed to the country in the 80's, but did he drop that measure because he suffered defeat? Did he abandon it became it caused a split in his party, which put back temperance legislation for a quarter of a century? Then they asked why should a certain section of the Liberal party advocate the dropping of these great and important questions which they had put their hands to? There were many other factors, in 1895, which contributed to the defeat of the Liberal party, and how came it that they now had a combination within the Liberal party to upset this great temperance question? He did not think it began with the election of 1895, but rather that it took shape between the years 1892-5 by a clique of brewers whom they could number on their fingers. He knew one of them personally because he had to do with him when he became a candidate in the eastern counties. The inference they could draw was that these persons
Refused To Help Their Party
unless this question was dropped and this was at the bottom of the whole question. They found men like Mr. Ferguson and the member for Bolton, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, and the present member for West Stafford going against temperance legislation and edging round from the principles they promised to support in times past, and it was this section which was asking their leaders to drop the question, of local veto. The licensed victuallers were, in arms against the veto party on all points. In their blue hook they said that had the Local Veto Bill been passed it would have been a fatal blow to the liquor traffic. They knew the measure of reform was calculated to injure the liquor business. It would not do for the Liberal party to throw over this important question. One great leader had said it would not only be a crime but a great blunder to drop this subject. The great temperance reformers had been foremost in the fights at the bye-elections, and it was this question which had won those elections. Let the Liberal party alienate the temperance party from their ranks and they would have destroyed the great moral force within their party, and there would not be any chance for the Liberal party's return to power for many years. They could sum up Mr. Herbert Gladstone's objections very soon, by saying "Give us the law" and then they would see whether it was applied to many districts in the land. They were quite persuaded it would be folly for the temperance party to be led away by such side issues and that the only straight and honourable course left was to press for popular control of the liquor traffic in their own localities and protect their families from the dire effects of the liquor traffic. (Applause) Mr. Cross denounced the liquor trade as the dirtiest, most diabolical, and most devilish traffic in England, and said that if the Liberal party was prepared to adopt local veto, he would be quite prepared to vote for the Liberal party.
Mr. G. Denton said that if they dropped the Local Veto Bill they had not been shown anything which would take its place. They were not go enamoured with any particular scheme, and if they saw a better one than they had at present they would adopt it. (Hear, hear) Proceeding, Mr. Denton referred to the correspondence in "Truth" between Sir Wilfrid Lawson and Mr. Labouchere, in which the latter said: "The temperance men were not wrong in supporting Sir William Harcourt's Bill, because it was, to all intents and purposes, their Bill. But they were tactically wrong in making their Bill one which was not likely to be carried. It is, moreover, bad tactics to make support of a Parliamentary candidate depend upon his agreeing to vote for a scheme of dealing with the liquor traffic, which experience shows is not generally popular, even amongst Liberals. The scheme involves a plebiscite which, whether a good or a bad thing, is novel, and therefore indisposes thoseand their number is largewho prefer the existing system of legislature through representative bodies. The Bill made each ward in a town a separate area. This would, were public-houses prohibited in one ward, have
Increased The Drinking
in the adjacent wards. The inhabitants of the area might allow public-houses or put an entire end to them, but they could not reduce the number, or regulate the hours of sale. This would have left things precisely as they are in most parts of the country, for in very few areas would a required two-thirds majority be obtained for total abolition. The Bill outran the scent". Mr. Labouchere went on to allude to Mr. Herbert Gladstone's plan, and stated that he (Mr. Labouchere) would give to all municipalities and to all District Councilsor, if it was desired, to all Parish Councilsthe full right to deal with the liquor traffic and all concerning it within the areas of their respective jurisdictions. He would also pass a general law that the man who sold beer on licensed premises must be the bona-fide owner of the licence, and that no one man could hold directly or indirectly more than one licence. (Applause) Mr. Labouchere continued: "Grant to the bona-fide owner of a licence and the vendor of beer in the licensed premises a right to have his licence for, say, five years, provided that he does not misuse it. At the end of this time let him have no right to any compensation if his licence is not continued. Should the municipality, or Council (township or village) decide to put an end to the licence before the expiration of the five years, then allow him to claim compensation for the period not elapsed. The money for this compensation might be provided by a tax on all remaining public-houses in the area when only some in it are suppressed. When all are suppressed, it might come in towns from the ratepayers of the town; in counties from the ratepayers of the county. It is true that the holder of a licence has no legal right to its renewal from year to year, but as a matter of fact this right is generally, indeed almost invariably recognised in practice. I am only suggesting a plan broadly. It would, of course, have to be carefully worked out in all its details. (Laughter) Were it law, all temperance men will, I think, admit that it would be a change for the better on the present state of things.
All Radicals who believe in local self-government, whether temperance men or not, would vote for it. So would all those who, without wishing to close all public-houses, yet believe that much might be done to reduce the temptations to intemperance by regulating the liquor traffic. I confess that I do not think that the cause of temperance, on the lines of the Harcourt Bill, is promising. Rightly or wrongly, many of the Liberal candidates who were defeated at the general election ascribe their defeat to having advocated It. Many, too, of the Liberals in Parliament, who got in by the skin of their teeth, are
Inclined To Throw It Over.
I doubt whether it is likely to become a plank again in any Liberal programme. Under these circumstances it seems to me, apart from the merits or demerits of the Harcourt scheme, tactics somewhat akin to knocking our heads against a shut door, to continue to fight on the lines of the Harcourt Bill, instead of seeking to discover some other and easier road to the attainment of our object. It is a mistake to become so enamoured by the means to a given end, as to subordinate end to means. What is the end desired? That the people in a locality should have authority over the liquor traffic, just as they have authority over many other local matters. How do they obtain this authority over other matters? By authority being placed in the hands of their elected representatives. The bedrock of our scheme of government is the delegation of power to elected representatives. Why, then, not work on this line? It is the line of the least resistance and this, in my humble judgment, is always the best line to take. For years and years there has been a zealous and persistent warfare on behalf of temperance. Not one step in advance has been made by legislation in this direction. Surely this tells its own tale". Whether, said Mr. Denton, it was possible for a scheme of this sort to be worked out remained to be seen, but in the meantime it seemed to him that they, as temperance reformers, had no cause to lower their flag. He, and possibly they, might feel somewhat discouraged that they had advocated temperance reforms for so many years, and did not see much result. But the cause was a right one, and, believing that right would ultimately triumph, he would stick to the old flag until something better could be put in its place.
The Rev. A. L. Fillingham, speaking of the causes of the Liberal defeat, said that he believed that the disestablishment of the Church was the strongest and most powerful. Churchmen voted for Church first and temperance second. He believed if every Free Churchman throughout the country would publicly proclaim that they were willing to say never another word about disestablishment, but to have one united ChristianityNonconformity and Churchthey would gain the desired end. If, however, the Church disestablishment question had given way there were many Churchmen who would have voted Conservative. It was born in them, and was part of their traditions. They were objects of pity rather than objects of derision; they had no conviction, and, in some cases, had no brains. (Laughter, and slight expressions of dissent.)
Mr. Debow asked whether under the proposed Veto Bill, £20 was paid to the returning officer to demand a poll, by the temperance party, would the money be returned to them if they were victorious?
Mr. Moncrieff said that if half the electors voted, the £20 would be returned; if not, it would fro towards the election expenses. In reply to a further question, Mr. Moncrieff said that all on the burgess roll would be allowed to votemen, women, and lodgers.
Mr. G. Capon then moved, "That this meeting recognises no effective scheme except that of local veto being before the English nation, reaffirms that its principles are the only ones that will be of any effective service in destroying the unutterable evils arising from the liquor traffic".
Mr. T. E. Clarke questioned whether it would not be wise to drop their agitation and go in for free trade in drink. (Laughter) The question would get to a climax sooner. It would be so appalling for a few years that it would kill itself. (Laughter)
Mr. B. Vorley seconded the resolution. They in Rushden, he said, would be different to other towns in the number of public-houses; they were, he thought an exception in the whole of England. The number of public-houses had not risen since the place was a village of 2,000 inhabitants. But they had other places rising up that were alluring the young away, if they supported local veto he hoped the clubs would be dealt with.
Mr. G. Lenton, referring to Mr, Clarke's remarks, said that if it was seriously considered he thought he would be disposed to support it. He had been looking at the matter carefully and had come almost to the same conclusion as Mr. Clarke. He believed that war, under some circumstances, was necessary and as he had read history he had realised that although in itself it was diabolical and loathsome it had been necessary that war should take place. If they took the muzzle off the drink traffic and let it do its devilish work it would be so revolting that people would rise up against it. Now they covered it up and checked it like a chained lion and kept it respectable. They put it in a false position and in doing that were prolonging its existence and enabling it to do more hideous work. Seeing the little progress they had made he thought it would work a cure more effectually than making the trade appear respectable.
Mr. F. Vorley said that if they had free trade there was something to be said in favour of it for they would not be able to raise the cry of compensation.
Mr. J. Sargent said that they would never gain anything by dropping their principles. He thought they should stand firm.
Mr. Packwood asked whether anything would be done in regard to the clubs? Besides the public-houses, would any veto be put on the clubs? They were the greatest curse, greater than public-houses, because they were under no control and were alluring young people and would do a great harm to the future of the country. Mr. J. T. Nowell replied that he thought it possible in the next Bill which would be laid before the House of Commons that a clause dealing entirely with the club question would be inserted. He thought they could entrust their leaders to see that this remedial portion of the Bill was inserted. The club question was a serious one. It was a menace to good order.
The resolution was then put to the meeting and carried unanimously.
Mr. J. Claridge then proposed a vote of thanks to the speakers, and Mr. J. Jaques seconded.
The vote being accorded, the speakers replied, and the meeting terminated.