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ON THE UNITED KINGDOM ALLIANCE AND ITS PROSPECTS OF SUCCESS.∗ - William Stanley Jevons, Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers 
Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1883).
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ON THE UNITED KINGDOM ALLIANCE AND ITS PROSPECTS OF SUCCESS.∗
In October last, the Bishop of Manchester delivered a speech at the Annual Meeting of the Church of England Temperance Society, in which he expressed his intention of voting in favour of the Permissive Prohibitory Liquor Bill, if it should ever reach the House of Lords. His Lordship, if he was correctly reported, told us that “no doubt the most effective remedy that was suggested at the present time, was the Permissive Bill;” but he went on to explain that we must not expect the Bill to become law “within any calculable time,” and he added his opinion that, if it did become law, it would certainly produce a chronic condition of tumult and anarchy.∗ It may well be questioned how a Bill, which is not to become law within any calculable time, and is then to occasion a chronic condition of tumult and anarchy, can be considered the most effective remedy for intemperance at the present time. An effective remedy surely means one that can be carried into effect, and will then effect its intended purpose.
The Bishop's speech brought strongly to my mind an argument against the policy and conduct of the United Kingdom Alliance, which for some years previously I had frequently considered. Before the Alliance can carry into effect their benevolent intentions, they must bring about three events, which seem to me substantially separate and independent. First, they must pass their Act; secondly, they must get localities to adopt it; thirdly, they must carry out the provisions of the law in those localities. Success in any one or two of these steps is useless and worse than useless without success in all three. But then the probabilities accumulate in a very serious manner against any course of action which thus involves several independent contingencies. This may be illustrated by an imaginary calculation. Taking a view of the case which many persons will think far too favourable to the Alliance, let us suppose that there is one chance in ten in favour of carrying the Permissive Bill during the next twenty years; supposing it carried, let us take one chance in five as the probability that it would be widely adopted by localities, after the interval of tumult and anarchy predicted by the Bishop. The Act being at last in force, let us take one chance in two as representing the probability that it will work satisfactorily, and suppress excessive drinking. If these events are independent and separate, we get the probability that they will all happen in succession in a manner favourable to the purposes of the Alliance, by multiplying together the separate probabilities. This gives us one chance in a hundred as expressing the probability that the well-meaning supporters of the Permissive Bill will ever achieve in this way the desire of their hearts.
This view of the matter, having been stated in a letter published by The Manchester Examiner and Times of October 28th, 1875, drew forth several able replies from members of the Alliance, among which the letters of the Rev. Mr. Steinthal and Mr. William Hoyle were the most formidable. Both of these gentlemen strike at the very root of my argument by asserting that the probabilities are not really independent of each other. “In England,” as Mr. Steinthal says, “No measure can pass the Legislature which is not backed by public opinion, and the agitation which is being carried on throughout the United Kingdom in favour of the Permissive Bill is at one and the same time preparing the localities to try its beneficent provisions. . . . The Executive of the Alliance know that there are many places where the Bill would be immediately applied if it were to be passed next year.” Mr. Hoyle says, nearly to the same effect, “It will be impossible for the Permissive Bill to pass the House of Commons, unless the country generally be educated upon the question, and the education which secures the passing of the Bill in the House will to a very general extent ensure its passing in the country.”
While admitting that these members of the Alliance have selected the right mode of meeting my argument, I am still disposed to regard my view as substantially correct. It was not adopted by me on the spur of the moment, but had been maturely considered during several years.∗ I have, therefore, sought this opportunity of giving a fuller answer to my critics than would be possible in a letter to a newspaper.
I do not pretend to say that the three events in question, the passing of the Permissive Bill, its adoption by localities, and its successful operation, are wholly and absolutely independent events; no doubt, in a majority of cases, those who vote for the Bill do so on the belief that it will be carried out, and then be successful; but so wide are the discrepancies, especially in legislation, between what man proposes and what he can effect, that I believe there is substantial independence.
The terms of the Permissive Bill appear to me to confess this independence, and even to take advantage of it. If the Bill cannot be passed before the people are educated to accept it, what is the use of making it permissive, and interposing the vote of local ratepayers? There are obvious objections to the partial application of such an Act, and one parish which maintains its public-houses will, to a great extent, defeat the benefits of prohibition in the neighbouring parishes. Why not then make the Bill a Compulsory Prohibitory Bill as it was in the early days of the Alliance? Because, as the Alliance very well knows, there would not be the slightest chance of passing such a Bill. There is a delightful uncertainty as to what would or would not happen after the passing of the Permissive Bill, and many contribute to the funds of the Alliance with the vague idea that they are promoting temperance, who do not really bring home to their minds what would be involved in the immediate suppression of the public-houses in their own borough or district.
I will speak presently of the probability that the Permissive Bill, as at present drafted, ever will pass the House of Commons; but I deny that, if passed, we could in the least predict the action of the ratepayers. Nothing is more uncertain and inexplicable than popular votes, especially those in which the mass of the population have the predominating voice. Even after the poll is published, no one can surely tell why the electors so voted. No one will ever be able to show by what precise influences Mr. Gladstone's Government was driven from power in 1874. It may have been a genuine Conservative reaction, or disgust at the sudden dissolution, or the combination of the publicans, or more probably a union of these and other causes; but my point is that no one could have calculated upon the event. All that we can be sure of in popular votes is that we cannot estimate the motives in action, or the results to be expected. The Alliance say they have ascertained, by house to house inquiry, that in some places two-thirds or more of the ratepayers are willing to vote for prohibition. But I attach little importance to such inquiries. It is really less trouble to sign a voting paper or a petition than to refuse, when the person, if he knows what he is signing, must be aware that no practical result will follow the Act. In the case of Bristol, the publicans showed how readily they also could get signatures. It is one thing to sign papers which can have no effect—good or bad—during the present generation; it would be quite a different thing to sign such papers if the immediate result was to be the dreadful state of tumult and anarchy in the neighbourhood, so confidently expected by the Bishop of Manchester.
I am inclined to fear that on this point the Bishop is right. There is undoubtedly a substratum of English population always ready for riot, if any pretext can be found. And what better pretext could be given to them than the closing of their public-houses? The very number of the drunken is a main obstacle to sudden prohibition; it would be the easiest thing in the world for publicans to stir up such a tumult in boroughs or parishes adopting prohibition as would effectually deter the ratepayers of other parishes from voting for prohibition. Does the Bishop seriously believe that, if the application of the Act gave rise to tumult and anarchy, two-thirds of the ratepayers would be found willing to render the anarchy chronic by continuing to veto the sale of liquors in small quantities, while the more wealthy voters were for the most part consuming liquors with their accustomed freedom? The application of such a law would give too good a pretext for disorder, and I altogether deny that the inquiries of the Alliance give any ground for predicting the action of electors, in face of the various events which might happen. Moreover, the events which would follow the passing of the Bill would probably induce Parliament to repeal the Act with great expedition, as in the case of Colonel Wilson Patten's Sunday Closing Act. Various instances might be quoted in which too stringent measures for the repression of drinking have been followed by a disastrous reaction, and if we could, for the sake of argument, imagine the Permissive Bill carried, a reaction in public opinion and legislation would be almost certain to occur.
In another respect there is a great difference between passing the Bill and putting it in action. The Alliance say that they must educate the country before they can pass the Act; but the Act is passed by a bare majority, elected by only a fraction of the whole ratepayers of the country. The application of the Act would require the vote of two-thirds of the ratepayers. The Alliance have in late years adopted what seems to me the fatal and most blamable policy of recommending their followers to vote only for Members of Parliament who will pledge themselves to support the Bill, irrespective of other social or political questions. It is evident, then, that if the Alliance had in rather more than half the constituencies of the United Kingdom a majority of loyal supporters, they could carry their Bill. It follows that one quarter of the whole number of electors, if disposed in a certain way among the constituencies, could certainly pass the Bill. We should have to allow, on the one hand, for the fact that the supporters of the Alliance are scattered in various proportions through all the constituencies of the kingdom, and, on the other, for the vast number of voters who do not go to the poll, and for those who, without approving of the Permissive Bill, vote on other grounds for supporters of it. No calculations on this subject could have the least pretensions to exactness; but, making the best judgment I can, I should say that, with one-quarter of the electors at their back, the Alliance could carry their Bill, and probably a less number would suffice. To carry the law into general operation, however, would require a majority of two-thirds in every parish or voting district. Now, two-thirds is two and two-thirds times as great as a quarter, and it comes to this, that the Alliance must educate the people between two and three times as much to put their law into action as to get it passed. This is one of the many grounds on which I would assert, in opposition to Mr. Steinthal and Mr. Hoyle, that the accumulation of probabilities is against the Alliance.
I decline to enter upon the question whether a prohibitory law, if really put in operation, would work successfully and diminish intemperance in a great degree. To adduce evidence for or against the probability of such a result would be quite impossible within the necessary limits imposed upon this paper. I take it for granted that anyone is justified in entertaining doubts upon the subject, and I think it is very favourable to the Alliance to assign one-half as the probability of prohibition suppressing drunkenness. The evidence derived from America or the colonies upon this subject is of the most conflicting character, and even if we allow that the closing of public-houses has been a blessing in one or two States of the Union, and in many rural parishes of England, it does not in the least follow that the same measure will be practicable and beneficial in great cities and among a population of very different nature. In countries where the people are educated up to the point of accepting prohibition by a very large majority, prohibition would probably work well; but I deny that the main body of the English people are anywhere near this point. There could be no objection to the Alliance educating people as much as they like or can; what I object to is the obstacles which they place in the way of more practicable measures, while they are striving after an object which cannot be carried out “in any calculable time.”
To judge of the probability that the House of Commons will pass the Permissive Bill, we must look at the results of the divisions which have taken place. They are as follows:
Probably the fairest mode of measuring the preponderance of votes against the Bill is to calculate the ratio of all who voted against it to those who voted for it, which gives the following results:
The votes in the three last divisions, especially in the last of all, seem to me to show a strong desire on the part of a vast majority of the House of Commons to convince the Alliance of the hopelessness of its agitation. Up to, and perhaps including the year 1871, the prospects of ultimate success were flattering but deceptive; the supporters were continually rising in numbers, and their opponents were stationary or fluctuating. But in 1873, 74, and 75, we find the supporters reduced to their earlier amount, being almost exactly the same in 1875 as in 1869, and in 1874 actually twelve less, while the opponents of the Bill have presented themselves in little less than double their former numbers.
If an unprejudiced statistician or meteorologist, accustomed to the examination of varying phenomena, were to examine these numbers, he would unquestionably conclude that the Alliance was a phenomenon which had passed its maximum, and was on the wane. For nearly twenty-three years the Alliance has always been making progress according to the statements of its own organs, and yet, between 1871 and 1873, we find its supporters in Parliament reduced by 30 per cent., and its opponents increased by 90 per cent. The last three divisions, and especially the last of all, evince a fixed determination on the part of the vast majority of the House not to pass the Bill, and not to allow any encouragement for the hope that it ever will be passed. Having regard to the hopeless and obstructive position of the Alliance, I may venture to express a hope that the next division will even more unequivocally show the opinion of the House upon the subject.
It may be said in favour of the Alliance that, even if its Bill never be passed, the efforts made to pass it enlist the interests of many persons in the temperance cause, and lead to the passing of minor restrictions on the liquor trade. The Alliance has, no doubt, made itself the head and front of the temperance bodies generally; it is a rallying point for all who are earnestly desirous of remedying the main cause of evil in the country. Members of Parliament and even Governments which will not actually vote for the Permissive Bill will yet, it may be urged, be induced to concede important measures against the publicans, and the publicans on their part will the more readily accept legislation in fear of the power of so formidable a body as the Alliance. But it is quite a question to my mind whether the agitation kept up by the Alliance does not act in just the opposite manner.
Surely, as regards the publicans, the action of the Alliance is most unfortunate. It teaches them to look upon all temperance reformers as utter enemies, and the struggle as one without quarter. The Alliance wish to suppress the trade of the publicans in a sudden and arbitrary manner, and they offer no compensation to those who have in many cases spent large sums in buildings and trade fixtures, in a business licensed by the Government. It is true that licenses are withdrawable on proof of delinquencies, and are only granted for a year; but there is the greatest possible difference between the mode in which licenses have hitherto been terminated and that in which the Alliance proposes to revoke them. Vested interests are, no doubt, a very great obstacle to all reforms, and any precedent which recognises their existence, and affords compensation, throws so much more weight upon future reformers. But I fear that sufficient precedents have already been created. The great sum paid to slave-owners in the British Colonies was quite a case in point. Military officers have been compensated to a very large amount for money invested in the purchase of commissions even beyond the terms of the regulations. Before the telegraph companies were suppressed they received two or three times the value of their property, the greater part being avowedly claimed for the goodwill of their business. Now, publicans may be good men or bad men, but at any rate they are men, and subjects of the Queen, and they have families to support, and can we suppose or expect that they will acquiesce in their own suppression and ruin? I must express very much doubt whether it would be right and just to suppress a trade in the way proposed by the Alliance without some provision for compensation. But if the ratepayers before voting for prohibition are aware that it will add sixpence or ninepence to the rates, I should like to know where they will get their majority of two-thirds. A rate of not more than a penny has proved in most places a sufficient bar to the adoption of that most inoffensive law—the Public Libraries Act. In the parish of Withington, where I reside, a bare majority of the ratepayers could never be got to vote for so necessary an expense as the lighting of the streets. This has lately been done under the authority of the Local Government Board; but I regret to say that the ratepayers still decline to incur the expense of mending the roads.
But whatever ratepayers may think about the Permissive Prohibitory Law, there is no doubt as to what publicans think. To them, if put into operation, it would be Domesday, and the result of the persistent agitation of the Alliance is to make the publicans band themselves together in opposition to all reforms. The publicans, like every other large body of men, include all kinds of characters, but I refuse to believe that they are wholly unreasonable and unwilling to acknowledge the evils which flow from their trade when badly regulated. If assured that license reform was not intended as a step towards their suppression and ruin, but that it would tend to the elimination of the less respectable members of the trade, I cannot believe that the publicans generally would oppose reform as bitterly as they do at present. The true mode of reforming the sale of liquor is to diminish competition, and to weed out the ill-conducted houses, until the value of the remaining licenses has been so far raised that their holders will not dare and will not have sufficient inducement to tolerate abuses.
The following are the terms in which the Alliance describes its attitude both towards the publicans and towards other schemes of licensing reform: “As the United Kingdom Alliance is constituted for the annihilation of the liquor traffic, and not for its sanction and regulation, your committee cannot, in loyalty to the trust imposed upon them, enter into any licensing scheme whatever; and they are bound, in self-defence and consistency, to look with coldness and even suspicion upon any proposals that favour the obnoxious policy of forcing licenses into communities in defiance of the people's wishes and petitions.”∗ Thus the Alliance distinctly and expressly places itself in opposition not only to the publicans as a body, but to all who propose in any way to sanction the sale of liquors.
The matter has been made all the worse by the recommendation to vote for no Member of Parliament who refuses to support the Bill. The adoption of such a policy must surely be considered as an act of desperation, but in any case, it cannot be sufficiently reprobated and repudiated by all who wish well to the progress of civilisation. Compromise is of the very essence of legislative change, and as society becomes more diverse and complicated, compromise becomes more and more indispensable. It is the only modus vivendi, as tastes and opinions gradually diverge. It need hardly be said that reforms of all kinds must be immensely retarded if the supporters of each measure insist upon getting their own scheme first through the House of Commons. Mr. Bright happily protested against trying to drive half-a-dozen omnibuses abreast through Temple Bar, but this is what it will come to if we have many bodies like the Alliance, each trying to have the road to itself. It is especially unfortunate when the first one is a heavy, impracticable machine, which can neither go forward nor be got out of the way. Yet such I believe the Permissive Prohibitory Bill to be, and the proceedings of the Alliance altogether strike me as the best possible example of how not to do things in legislation.
On these grounds I hold that the United Kingdom Alliance is the worst existing obstacle to temperance reform in the kingdom. It absorbs and expends the resources of the temperance army on a hopeless siege, and by proclaiming no quarter, it drives the enemy into fierce opposition to a man. The Alliance has already been in existence and active operation for twenty-two or nearly twenty-three years; it has had the most zealous leaders, and the most faithful followers; it has spent great sums of money, probably greater sums than any Association of the kind ever spent before, amounting to something like a quarter of a million sterling; its publications have been sown broadcast over the whole country; its petitions to Parliament have been numberless; and every Member of Parliament and every body of electors have been vexed by its persistent agitations. Yet I venture to say that it is as far from its goal as ever.
Before concluding I will go a step farther and assert that the whole policy and principles of action of such a body as the United Kingdom Alliance are mistaken and inexpedient. They set forth a definite scheme in a Bill, and demand this or nothing. The remarkable success of the Anti-Corn Law League has had, I believe, one evil effect. It has led many zealous people to believe that if they only band themselves together with sufficient determination, if they deliver enough speeches, scatter enough tracts, in short agitate with sufficient energy, they will ultimately carry public opinion with them. But we must not argue too readily from analogy in such cases. The Anti-Corn Law League aimed at an object which could unquestionably be effected by the mere passing of an Act. There was no permissive legislation in it. The actual results of the abolition of duty on corn were as well understood by economists and by all unprejudiced persons of moderate intelligence as any question in social science can be. The mass of the people were readily induced to join in a cry for cheap bread, even if they did not clearly understand how it was to be secured. The struggle was thus one of the mass of the people against a body of landlords taking a selfish and mistaken view of their own interests. The success of the League was substantially accomplished in five or seven years.
In the case of the United Kingdom Alliance everything is different. The real struggle would not begin until the Bill was passed; the mass of the people would in most cases be against the law, and the operation of the law, as I maintain, must be altogether a matter of uncertainty. When we know so many useful legislative changes which might be passed, and which would be sure to have a more or less favourable effect, it seems to me a most deplorable fact that twenty-two years should have been spent upon one impracticable Bill. So considerable are the chances against the success of any legislation, as could easily be proved by an examination of the statute book, that we should not spend a quarter of a century on any one law, unless, perhaps, we are perfectly assured of the success of that law when passed. It would not be difficult to point out certain definite principles which should guide a wise reforming legislator in the selection of the laws he should advocate. Solon, when asked whether he had given the Athenians the best laws he could devise, replied: “Ay, the best laws that they could receive.” He has often been blamed, but the progress of Sociology is establishing his wisdom. We now know that laws are not good or bad with respect to any invariable standard, but in reference to the changing character of society and man. The successful reformer is one who sees for what legislative change the people are ripe, and concentrates the popular energy upon it. But the members of the Alliance are wrong at every point. They try to force upon the country a law for which it is certainly not ripe; they absorb forces which might be most usefully employed in immediate action upon a scheme which, if carried at all, must be a thing for the future. They allow that they must educate the people for the measure (this is admitted by Mr. Steinthal and Mr. Hoyle), but they confuse together the agitation and the education. It is one thing to educate people for a future change of legislation; it is another thing to ask them to pass the law next year, and in the meantime to look coldly upon all other projects of reform.
There is no use attempting, at the end of this paper, to discuss in detail the measures which will probably be passed by the general consent of the community as soon as the Permissive Bill is out of the way. Were that Bill a forlorn hope—the only measure by which we could hope to repress drunkenness—I should be among its warmest advocates; but, as a matter of fact, it stands in the way of some dozen reasonable and practicable proposals. The Sunday Closing Bill, if passed, would probably decrease drunkenness by a fourth or fifth part, without interfering in any appreciable degree with the due freedom or convenience of any person. The refusal of all new licenses to publicans or beer-shop keepers, so long as the number of the houses exceeds one to five hundred inhabitants, seems to me a very proper and workable measure. It was among the proposals of the National Union for the Suppression of Intemperance. The rule might have to be relaxed in the case of thinly populated districts, along the course of important highways, and in great centres of trade and traffic, and various details would have to be considered relating to the boundaries of districts, and the mode of estimating the population—whether, for instance, by the last census, or, as I should propose, by the number of houses on the rate books, counting five inhabitants for each house. But I see no considerable difficulty in applying such a maximum to strengthen the hands of the magistrates in their use of the licensing power.
Another measure which appears to me absolutely indispensable, and to admit of no delay, is the entire revocation of grocers' licenses. The granting of such licenses was no doubt a well-meant step; it was supposed that people would be drawn away from the public-house by the facility with which they could obtain liquors of better quality to consume at home. But I fear that for one who is drawn away from the public-house, twenty or fifty will ultimately be drawn to it. The mistake thus committed was only exceeded by that of the Beershops Act, another well-intended measure, which was to wean people from the use of strong liquors by the facility of getting weak ones. There is the most overwhelming evidence to show that free trade and competition in the liquor trade lead to disastrous results. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could ever have looked upon facilities for the distribution of liquors as a mode of diminishing intemperance. Competition in all other trades tends to the healthy development of the trade, and the consequent increase of the quantity sold. But in the case of liquors our object is to decrease, not to increase the sale, and we must therefore take the opposite course, and place obstacles in the way of the trade which will make liquors dearer and more troublesome to get. At present the only difficulty is to avoid buying them, so numerous are the shops at which they are pressed upon the customer. It is worthy of consideration whether there ought not to be an inflexible rule established that, where any kind of intoxicating liquor is sold, no other commodity shall be sold for consumption off the premises. I am inclined to think that the trade should be restricted to two classes of dealers—first, licensed victuallers and innkeepers selling mainly, if not exclusively, for consumption on the premises, and selling nothing else except the ordinary victuals for guests; and secondly, beer, wine, and spirit merchants, allowed to sell liquors in any quantity for consumption off the premises.
I may also suggest that the time has probably arrived when a further addition may safely be made to the duty on spirits. The last change was made in 1860, when the duty on British spirits and on rum was raised from 8s. to 10s. per gallon, and that on brandy was reduced from 15s. to 10s. 5d. per gallon. We should remember that since 1860 prices in general have been rising much, the wealth of the purchasers has been considerably increased, as indeed is sufficiently shown by the augmented consumption. With the increased efficiency and number of the police force there can be no fear of any serious increase of smuggling or illicit distilling. An addition of 2s. per gallon to the duty on spirits would produce a handsome sum for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would at the same time aid in repressing the worst form of drinking.
The proposals of the License Amendment League of Manchester for the regulation of the traffic also deserve the most careful consideration.
I mention these measures merely to show how many comparatively easy steps could be taken if the weight of temperance reformers were united to support them, instead of being wasted on the Permissive Bill. No doubt it will be plausibly answered that if free trade in liquors leads to drunkenness the proper step is to prohibit the sale of liquor, and it is inconsistent to advocate a regulated traffic instead. But the retort is easy, that the United Kingdom Alliance do not venture to be consistent and thorough-going. On their own principles they ought to adhere to the Maine Liquor Law with which they began, and agitate for real prohibition of the sale of liquor. As it is, they only venture to ask for the capricious action of separate parishes and boroughs in suppressing the public sale, while leaving all individuals free to get their own supplies of liquor by purchase elsewhere. I cannot avoid the conclusion, then, that nearly a quarter of a century of time and a quarter of a million of money have been wasted in advocating one of the worst devised measures which was ever brought before a legislature. The Permissive Bill, we are told, will not be passed in any calculable time; I venture to assert that it will never be passed at all.
[∗]The following is a quotation from the Bishop's speech, as reported in The Manchester Guardian: “Supposing the Bill were passed, he looked with extreme apprehension at the chronic condition of tumult and anarchy which would be certain to prevail in attempting to carry it out in the large and populous communities. He could not conceive any state of things more terrible than possibly would ensue from the strife which would be engendered by that measure. He thought public opinion must ripen very much more fully than it had yet done before there was any chance of the Permissive Bill becoming an effective law; and he believed Sir Wilfrid Lawson felt that himself.”
[∗]Since publishing the letter in The Examiner and Times, I have become acquainted with the publications of Mr. Joseph Livesey on the same subject. These are entitled: “Free and Friendly Remarks upon the Permissive Bill, Temperance Legislation, and the Alliance;” Preston, 1862; and “True Temperance Teaching, showing the Errors of the Alliance and the Permissive Bill.” London, Manchester, and Preston, 1873. (Heywood.)
[∗]Nineteenth Report of the Executive Committee of the United Kingdom Alliance, 1870–71, p.34.