A NEW LICENSING PROJECT.
SWEDEN, it is notorious, has no claim to be reckoned a sober country. So very different is her reputation, that it must beget some surprise to hear of a grave proposal for going thither to get a lesson that might be advantageously copied in our laws bearing on the sale and use of intoxicating liquors. Nevertheless, this strange thing has happened, not altogether without reason. Instead of being held up as a "frightful example," Sweden has of late, at sundry times and in divers manners, been extolled as presenting a model worthy of imitation. Her general law as respects the distil- lation and retail of spirits has been highly applauded by men of well-balanced judgments who have studied its working. A particular instance which has sprung up within the law, taking avail of its provisions and turning them to unexpected ends, has been recommended with much earnestness and urgency as a veri- table demonstration how great part of the good sought for by the advocates of the Permissive Bill may be attained, wholly apart -from the tyrannous and impracticable theories of which they are enamoured. Gothenburg, the second town in Sweden, is the scene of this highly interesting experiment, to which a success so meritorious has been ascribed,—rather prematurely, per- haps, though certainly not without a colour of rational justifi- cation. It was referred to by the late Home Secretary when introducing the first, and best, of his Licensing Bills, some features of which were borrowed from it, though the operation was carried out in that tentative, half-hearted way which is the fault of Lord Aberdare, both as politician and administrator. It has found an enthusiastic expositor and advocate in the pages of Macmillan's Magazine, who this month devotes a second article to explaining its method and clearing away objections. Mr. Carnegie, of Stronvar, in Perth- shire, a retired merchant, who has business relations with Sweden, has started a crusade in favour of obtaining legislative permission to get it tried in Scotland, and his exertions have already attracted a large measure not merely of hp-sympathy, but of energetic co-operation. He has been encouraged to get his proposals thrown into the form of a draft Bill, which, backed by four Members of Parliament, a brace from each side, was presented to the House of Commons before the last session closed, while its name figures in the Order-book among the schemes to be brought under consideration at the earliest opportunity. Deputations from Scotland have gone to Gothen- burg in order to examine and judge for themselves, bringing back reports of an extremely diversified nature. The project,
in short, has taken a place in public view, has been canvassed and tested with that abundant keenness which the Scots are apt to display in regard to whatever interests them, is pretty sure to be the subject of much animadversion and debate during the coming winter, and is really well worth understanding as a curiosity, though it may fail to win acceptance as a pattern.
The popular drink in Sweden is breinviit,—a liquor distilled from grain, sometimes from potatoes, closely resembling Scottish whiskey. During the first half of the century the trade in it was almost free, a tax upon each distillery being the only fiscal impost that was exacted. The necessity for some re- straint was shown by practical proofs of the most overwhelm- ing cogency. In 1850 it was estimated that the annual pro- duction of branvin came little short of thirty million gallons, —that is, almost ten gallons per head of the population, or five times the amount consumed even in Scotland ! In 1855 the general law was passed. placing the retail trade under stringent regulations. Passing over those minor arrangements which prescribe legal hours for selling, guard against adultera- tion, and provide for the protection of intoxicated persons (ofverlastad, "overloaded," is the expressive Swedish phrase), it is enough here to fasten attention upon three essential char- acferistics,—that a duty is imposed upon the retailer according to the quantity he disposes of; that the magistrates of every town and district have, after conference with the municipal or district council, to report annually to the Governor of the province as to the numbers of licences proper for their locality ; and that, when fixed, the number recommended being capable of reduction, though not of increase, their possession is put up for sale, the bidder who offers to become responsible for the statutory duty upon the greatest quantity being preferred. Ten years later the Gothenburg scheme was organised. A limited-liability company was started, who have bought up all the licences allowed for the town except some few which, as being held on a burgher qualification, are inalienable,—who, keeping them- selves within the number they have bargained for, plant their houses, which are roomy, well lighted, well ventilated, and clean, where they will create the least nuisance,—who supply good liquor for ready money to anyone who has not had more than enough, cooked victuals being likewise procurable at moderate prices,—and who hand over the entire profits to the local authorities, to be applied in defraying police and poor- rates. This last is the hinge of the whole system, its governing principle, its master motive. It clears the Company from any risk of being outbidden and superseded ; it extinguishes, or at least weakens, any inducement to take avail of their mono- poly in order to push their trade ; and while thus tending to abate the evils which have always been found inseparable from the drink traffic, it goes so far towards providing the means for punishing the crime and relieving the poverty which, even as here conducted, that trade may occasion. The condition of the town has been assimilated to that of the districts wherein our own licensing system is seen at its best, where the magistrates in petty sessions are vigilant in the discharge of their duties, and the great brewers who have a monopoly are careful as to the characters of their tenants ; while the contribution made to the rates from the business, averaging of late £10,000 a year, is clear gain. The plan of adaptation to our circumstances which has been proposod consists in eliminating the private element from the working of the plan, even more entirely than is done under the Swedish system. Pass the proposed new law, then it will remain for the ratepayers of any district to say whether they will have it. Should the answer be "Yes," the local authority—belt Town Council, or Police Commission, or any other corporate association having a definite name and function--must then nominate a Board to carry out the wish thus expressed. This Board will have the power of determining how many licences should be granted for the district, subject to appeal directed to the resident magistrate for the county, on the ground that an inadequate number has been chosen; of buying up the existing public-houses, avail being taken in eases of dis- agreement as to price of the cheap and ready provision now in existence for getting the verdict of a jury upon disputed values in compulsory sales ; and of drawing upon the rates for the capital and the compensation-money which may be required, the accruing profits being devoted one-half to the extinction of debt, and the other to the treasury of the local authority.
The merits of this scheme are conspicuous. They 'will be generally recognised, and the recognition cannot fail largely to affect the final judgment of the public as' to its feasibility. Of course, its grand recommendation is that if utterly disowns the prohibitive crotchet of your fanatical "Parmissiviettr.P It refuses to treat the question as if it were capable of being solved in the simple and direct manner that might apply to the choice of Hercules. It takes another ground from that of regarding it as a question between virtue and vice, virtue being typified in the austere respectability of the Permissive Prohibitionist, and vice in the portly form of the Publican. So far we deem it rational and well considered. The public- house, in its popular and practical meaning, is one of the most firmly-established institutions in the country. It is sustained by a strong and ineradicable craving, the force and meaning of which many well-intentioned people grievously misapprehend, though the conditions of life among our men of handicraft
tend irresistibly to strengthen it. In the workshop, or in the factory, the strict discipline that prevails, or the din and clatter of the noisy machinery, or the very nature of the task in hand, may effectually prevent all interchange of re- mark, save what relates to the common occupation of the • moment. But all the more, the very rigour of these con- ditions imparts a stronger inclination, once they are escaped, to seek the more genial atmosphere of an easy and friendly sociality. Workmen have many things to talk about ; and no one can have visited a genuine workmen's meeting without -remarking the nimbleness of their converse, the animation and rapidity, with which talkers and listeners change functions, he 'seen impatience, as of men bent on making up for lost Anse, which-they; go at the subject of their discussion,— and this when the ia_no trace of the excitement belonging to inebriation. Iirrepogx,daing and providing ler, this want the „promoters of the scheme occupy etrong ground. , Not less un- assailable is the propriety cif meeting the demands of those .dram-drinkers who will, to a certainty, get their thirst assuaged in some way. So long as no charge can be substantiated against the method in which the business is conducted, those who denounce it on the score of its success only give unwitting testimony to its value and benefit, But on the other hand, it is not alone therbelievers in the Governmental gospel of • 4188ex-fare—the disciples of what used to be styled "anarchy plus the constable "—who may harbour doubts as to the pro- priety of Town Councils or Boards of Guardians acquiring, or striving to acquire, a monopoly of the liquor trade within their respective jurisdictions. People who bestOW no heed _upon the abstract question will be staggered by such con- .siderations as the amount of money which would be needed to make an effective start in any remarkable place, the openings lorjobbery which would attend the acquisition of a business footing, and the temptation there would be, were a commences ment fairly made, to force business in order to enhance the returns. Is there no risk that drinking would come to be voted respectable ? We do not state such objections as con- clusive against the plan, but they are the objections with which its promoters must prepare themselves to grapple.