6 SEPTEMBER 1919, Page 12


[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."] SIR,—The great question of national sobriety would seem to be entering upon a new phase. Between the Licensed Trade, if it asks for the withdrawal of all the existing restric- tions upon the sale of alcoholic drinks or for a liberty as little restricted as possible in the sale of such drinks, and the extreme Temperance Party, if it aims at the prohibition of all sale of alcoholic drinks, whether generally or locally, without compensation, there can only be war to the end. If either of these parties should win a temporary success within the next few months or years, it would not improbably create a strong reaction. The hope of reform lieS in a more•moderate feeling on both sides.

For a good many years past it has seemed to some advocates of temperance; among whom you yourself, Sit, hold a conspicuous place, that the nationalization of the liquor traffic —a policy not inconsistent with the trend of thought or feeling in public affairs at the present time—would afford the best opportunity of mitigating the evils of drunkenness, without doing an injustice to the vested rights and interests of the Licensed Trade. That is my opinion too. But Lord D'Abernon in his recent speech at Carlisle-said with much force that " the example of the U.S.A. and of Canada, where the drink trade has been suppressed without compensation, cannot he without its effect on public opinion in this .country. When action of this kind has been carried out by an advanced community on the other side - of the Atlantic, it becomes increasingly doubtful. whether public opinion in this country, in a time of severe-financial pressure, would consider the payment of a sum like £500,000,000 -to the trade as either sound finance or generally expedient."

If the nationalization -of the liquor traffic, then, is at present impossible or improbable, it is to national control that -good citizens will turn their eyes. During the war the Central Control Board has, as Lord D'Abernon argued, demonstrated the possibility of ensuring "a, high standard of sobriety" by regulations not incompatible with a high degree of prosperity in the Licensed Trade. The natural inference is that the new authority which the Government has decided to institute for the control of the liqUor traffic will lessen the difficulties of its inevitably difficult task,' if it can succeed in arriving at a measure of agreement between the Temperance Party and the Licensed Trade. It is not moderate drinking but drunkenness which is the chief enemy to the welfare of the State. No good citizen can wish that the country shall revert to " the appalling condition of - drunkenness and inefficiency which," according to Lord D'Abernou, " existed in 1915, and which blighted and paralysed -the war efficiency of the country." It is here that the signs are more encouraging than they have been. To take one example only; I noticed that Mr. W. Waters Butler at the annual meeting of Mitchells and Butlers Company bore witness to the great valise of the service which the Central Control Board under Lord D'Abernon has rendered to the country. After speaking of "the splendid records of sobriety the country had shown during the war," he added: " We may differ as to the causes which produced such excellent results, but is it not to the advantage of the trade to maintain this splendid record? There is nothing I fear more than a renewal of the old-time unhealthy competi- tion." The Central Contiol Board,. if it has not done—and perhaps could not do—all that such a body as the 'United Kingdom Alliance would wish it to do, has yet not failed in laying down the lines of practical reform- in the interest of national sobriety'; it has won the confidence of modetate men in the trade as well as in the Temperance Party, and there is every reason to wish, and I think to hope, that the control exercised over the liquor traffic during the war will be relaxed in peace so far, but EO far only, as the habits of the people may justly demand or expect, without diminution of the general sobriety which must be regarded as indispensable to the physical and moral and even to the commercial prosperity of the nation in the coming days.—I am, Sir, &c.,