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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

What Claim have the Dealers in Intoxicating Liquors to Compensation in the Event of Legislative Changes Affecting the Profits of Their Trade?

What Claim have the Dealers in Intoxicating Liquors to Compensation in the Event of Legislative Changes Affecting the Profits of Their Trade?

[Abstract of Paper by Mr. Samuel Fothergill, read at the Social Science Congress Leeds, October, 1871.]

1. The liquor sellers hare no title whatever to compensation. The cry of "confiscation" raised by the Home Secretary, and echoed by the publicans, has introduced a vicious element into the discussion. They have no case for compensation. No part of their property is taken from them. They are deprived of no right. They are simply deprived of a privilege granted conditionally for the public benefit, and liable at any time to be withheld from them, as it now is from all the rest of the community. The tenure of the license has been made to hold only from year to year, for the express purpose of enabling the Government of the country to keep a very tight reign upon a trade which, in all ages and in all countries, has proved itself a nuisance, and a source of moral and social deterioration. The only plea now held out as the ground of a supposed "vested interest" is the culpable leniency with which the Government and the magistracy have long treated the holders of licenses. To make the supineness of Government, and still worse its complicity with acknowledged abuse, an excuse for further leniency towards those who profit by it at the expense of society in general, would be a most dangerous innovation in the principles of legislation. The license-holder knows the exceptional risks of his trade—he calculates on its exceptional profits—and he has therefore no more title to compensation than would any other tradesman whose business fails to answer his expectations.

2. But the liquor trade is an acknowledged nuisance, only tolerated because of its supposed necessity. It would be contrary to all precedent and all justice to offer compensation to the perpetrator of a nuisance. On the contrary, he is saddled with all the expenses attendant on its removal, and is also liable to heavy damages for the injuries he has already inflicted. If, as Mr. Bruce said, "all existing interests" are to receive "full and fair consideration," then must the victims of public-house temptation, the drunkards, their wifes and families, the sufferers from drunken violence, the tradesmen whoso businesses are page 24 injured, the neighboring property depreciated by the proximity of a public-house, the excessively taxed ratepayers, be permitted to advance their claims. When the liquor sellers have met these long-standing claims, it will be quite time enough for them to advance their own.

3. The conditions on which licenses are granted and the liquor traffic tolerated are notoriously not fulfilled. Witness the aggravated and alarming evils of intemperance and the urgent call for a remedy. It is impossible, in fact, to carry on the trade without both permitting and encouraging drunkenness, and thus defeating the purpose for which the trade is placed under special control. The publicans having failed to fulfil the design of their special privilege, its withdrawal would be simple justice. It is thus withdrawn from some every brewster's sessions.

4. But the trade will not suffer to the extent that is generally supposed. Even if the sale of strong liquors were totally prohibited, the legitimate trade of the publican and hotel-keeper would remain unimpaired. Entertainment and refreshment for man and beast would be as much needed as ever, nay more, for trade would be immensely improved, travelling for pleasure as well as for business would increase with the growing prosperity, the hotels and public-houses would flourish, property in them would be little if anything impaired in value, and a disagreeable and demoralising business would be transformed into one that is thoroughly respectable and eminently useful to the community.

5. The plea put forward of the enormous wealth of the trade, and the number of persons supported by it, is totally fallacious, if the trade is ruinous to the best interests of society, it would be the height of injustice, it would be monstrous to perpetuate it for the sole benefit of a class of men willing to profit by the suffering and ruin of a large number of their fellow-citizens. The greater the wealth of the trade, the worse for the argument,—for so much the greater is the wrong to society. A sense of shame, had it existed, would have kept back this plea.

6. But further, no class of the community will be so much benefitted by the proposed change as the liquor sellers themselves. Publicans are not a prosperous class. They suffer most of all from the peculiar evils of their trade. They are oftner in the bankruptcy list than any other trade. They are notoriously short-lived. They and their families fall victims to intemperance with fearful frequency, and help to swell the lists of pauperism and crime. In fact, any check to drunkenness, and to the number of license-holders, effected by a change of the laws, will be as much for their benefit as that of any class whatever. The privilege which they have long enjoyed for the convenience of the page 25 community has proved to society, and still more to themselves, a terrible curse. The known facility with which men part with their money when under the influence of liquor, and the consequent diversion of wealth into this demoralising channel, has proved to men greedy of gain a powerful temptation. But the penalty they have paid has been terrible. They require to be protected from themselves and from the unreasonable demands of the drinking community, who, for the gratification of their depraved tastes, require from the liquor seller a service which, in a way to an extent that has few parallels, degrades and injures those who carry it on. The only compensation that could benefit the liquor-sellers, or have a shadow of justice, would be their effectual protection from the temptation held out by the licence system to embark in a ruinous and demoralising traffic.