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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Licensing and Temperance


THE conclusions at which I have arrived may be summarized as follows:
1. That there is no possible analogy between the conditions which led to the inauguration of the Gothenburg System in Sweden and Norway (where, following mainly on the indiscretions of rulers and Governments, the entire populace had given itself up to the drinking of native spirits) and the existing conditions in England (where the national beverage is beer).
2. That the success claimed for the Gothenburg System, as already applied in Sweden and Norway, is mainly based on inferences drawn from incomplete statistics, especially in regard to alleged decline in consumption, such statistics relating only to sales by the particular company, and leaving out of account the very large and obviously increasing sales by retail merchants or in other directions.
3. That the effect of restrictions on the bar trade is less to decrease the total consumption than to lead people to purchase by the bottle or the half-bottle over the retail counter, and that the sales in this direction are increasing out of
all proportion to any possible decline in the business done at the bars.
4. That further results of the same policy are (a) much secret drinking, and (b) the substitution of vile and most harmful substitutes for genuine spirits.
5. That the statistics of drunkenness in the two countries, high as they are, probably do not represent anything like the actual amount thereof, owing to the fact that so much of the drinking goes on in private, where those affected would not come under the observation of the police.
6. That the enforcement of the Gothenburg System involves interferences with personal liberty and the establishment of a class legislation which would be intolerable to the English people.
7. That, except in regard to early closing (which, however, seems to have little or no effect on the total consumption), the system of control is in no way superior to the very strict supervision exercised by brewing companies Over their ' tenanted ' or ' managed' houses in England, while the bar-rooms themselves, however superior to previously existing public-houses in Sweden and Norway, are not even equal to the average types of public-house property in England.
8. That, whilst the system was originally started with the best of motives, it has developed mainly into an attempt to secure the profits of the business for State or local purposes, so as to effect a direct saving to the pockets of members of the community.
9. That, to this end, while there is much talk about restrictions, good care is taken (especially in Sweden) that the business is worked on thoroughly business lines.
10. That, owing to the acuteness of the scramble for the profits, the system has had to be reorganized in each country, so as to spread the distribution over a larger area, and give the towns less direct interest in the financial success of the enterprise.
11. That the whole business is assuming the proportions of a huge Municipal Trust, which already has its periodical national conferences of managers to decide on the lines on which the business can best be conducted.
12. That the reproduction of any such Trust in this country would involve an interference both with personal liberty and with national finances which, apart from the questions of principle involved, would be in no way warranted by such very dubious success as that which is claimed for the system in Sweden and Norway.
My first recommendation is to the British public, and is to the effect that they would do well to trouble no further about the Gothenburg System, but to study the Copenhagen System instead. The latter came to me as a revelation, for I had neither read nor heard of it before, though a previous study of Danish agricultural conditions had quite prepared me for any further example of the practical common-sense of that plucky and enterprising little nation. The way in which, without any demand for State interference, and without any cry for heroic changes in licensing laws so liberal that they amount
almost to free trade in liquor, the Danish societies just set quietly to work to convert the people from the use of ardent spirits to that of light and palatable beer, as the most practical and the most effective temperance measure of which they could think, is an example for the nations that is quite as much deserving of attention as any of Denmark's earlier achievements in the way of agricultural organization.
My second recommendation is addressed to members of the temperance societies of Great Britain, who, I think, would do well to follow the example of the societies in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and other Continental countries, and, in the interests of genuine ' temperance ' rather than of extreme teetotalism,* make a distinction between spirits containing a considerable percentage of alcohol and malt liquors which have only a small percentage thereof. In effect their members do, already, 'take', alcohol. Ginger ale, for example, a well-recognised temperance drink, is a fermented liquor containing (besides chemicals) 2 per cent, of proof spirit; while in the report of Dr. Thorpe, the principal chemist of the Government Laboratory, on the work of the Laboratory during the year ended March 81,1906, there is the following paragraph :
'HERB BEERS AND OTHER BEVERAGES SOLD AS " TEMPERANCE " DRINKS.—Nine hundred and twenty-four samples of ginger, herb, and botanic beers were purchased in various parts of the country to ascertain if the proof spirit present was within the legal limit of 2 per cent. It was found that 349 contained spirit in excess of the legal limit, and of these 58 contained 3 but less than 4 per cent, of proof spirit, 35 contained 4 but less than 6 per cent, of proof spirit, and 8 contained 6 or more, the highest containing 9'5 per cent, of proof spirit.1
One must conclude from this that the very individuals who are most keen in raising the bogey of alcohol, and who seek to frighten people, and especially school-children, into the belief that the imbibing of liquids containing even the smallest amount of alcohol will do them incalculable harm, are themselves systematically taking alcohol under such guises as ' ginger ale,' 'hop ale,' 'oatmeal ale,' 'treacle beer,' 'spruce beer,' ' stone ginger beer,' ' dandelion stout,' and so on. Thus the whole question really resolves itself into one of degree. It would be pleaded in defence of these temperance drinks that ' the amount of alcohol they contain would not hurt anyone'; but that is precisely what the ^temperance drinkers of light beers on the Continent say of the beverages they take. Fundamentally the point of view is the same in each case, the difference being that the English teetotaller, while accepting what are really alcoholic drinks if called by a fancy name, tabooes ' beer,' irrespec-
tive of its alcoholic strength, simply because it is beer. The actual position, therefore, is one of prejudice rather than of principle, and this attitude is the more open to question because it handicaps the progress of a real ' sobriety' movement, as distinct from an extreme 'total abstinence' movement, though the name given to the latter, judging from Dr. Thorpe's report, is a complete misnomer. Looking again to the Continent, one finds that the temperance societies there, co-operating with the brewers, secure for, and even supply to, their members what is understood to be a distinct want in teetotal circles in the United Kingdom—palatable but harmless beverages other than the so-called 'mineral waters,' arid suitable for all possible occasions. Thanks to this broad-minded policy, the societies in question are making substantial advance, alike in their own numbers and in the cause of national sobriety; whilst the teetotal societies in England are showing little progress at all, and are ever looking to Parliament to ' do something' for them. It is, of course, too much to expect that the English societies will be prepared at once to effect so radical a change in their policy merely on the strength of the statements here made. But what I strongly advise them to do is, instead of sending any more deputations to Gothenburg or Christiania, to delegate some of the most liberal-minded of their members to go to Copenhagen and study thoroughly what is taking place there—and also throughout Denmark—seeing the establishments provided by the Danish societies for their light-beer-drinking members, and comparing the social life going on there with the cold platitudes of an ordinary ' temperance hall' in England. That they will at least get a cordial welcome from the Danish societies, I can already assure them ; for when I mentioned in Copenhagen what I intended to recommend on my return to England, there was an immediate response : ' Yes, do tell them that; and let the English people know that we shall be delighted to welcome as many of them as care to come over and see what we are doing.'
My third and last recommendation is addressed to the British Government, and it is that they, too, should study Scandinavian conditions, and learn therefrom the important lesson that the sobriety of a nation is much more likely to be promoted by encouraging the consumption of light and harmless beverages, of a kind acceptable to the people at large, than by merely seeking to enforce oppressive and coercive measures on either consumers or suppliers.

* The real meaning of the word ' temperance' is ' moderation.' If we say of a man that he is temperate in speaking, we do not imply that he abstains from speech, but that he shows moderation therein. Nor, when told that a person is temperate in eating, do we assume that he has left off taking food. If the one be ' a moderate speaker' and the other ' a moderate eater,' then the ' temperance' advocate in regard to beverages should be ' a moderate drinker.' In effect, total abstainers may be teetotallers, but they cannot, properly speaking, be described as ' temperance' people.

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