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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

No. VI

No. VI.

The Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.

King Lear.

3. The remedies of total prohibition and the Gothenburg system have been alluded to. These are now in actual operation in America and Sweden, and the friends of temperance will watch with much interest, during the next few years, the result of the experiments. In the meantime the strength of the abstainers in England has, for a considerable time bye-past, been applied to secure the passing of the Permissive Bill into law, but hitherto success has not attended their efforts. The principle of this Bill is, that the power to grant or refuse licenses, instead of being vested in the magistrates or in any special court, shall be vested in the rate-payers of the district. The soundness of the argument in support of such a measure cannot be gainsaid. The inhabitants of any district are surely the best judges what public-house accommodation they require, or whether they need any at all. Such a measure to be effective implies a high moral standard on the part of the residents, and our social reformers have to do much in the way of enlightenment of the public upon the merits and demerits of the liquor traffic, before such a law, if passed, could be effectual in limiting the extension of the liquor trade. Although the temperance reformers in England have hitherto failed in their efforts, we in New Zealand are somewhat in advance of them, inasmuch as the Permissive principle is embodied in our Statute Book. In the "Licensing Act, 1873," which was passed mainly through the indomitable efforts of the Hon. W. Fox, great facilities for objecting to the granting and renewal of licenses are given. In particular, sec. 23 is to the following effect: "No certificate shall be granted if a memorial against the granting of the same, signed by at least two-thirds of the adult residents in the district, be presented to the Court." This enactment grants the power to the inhabitants to veto any application for a license. It is much wider than any measure limiting the power to the ratepayers only. The word "adults" includes all the males and females in the district, who have attained twenty-one years of age. This important privilege is rather in advance of public opinion. Although it has been in force for nearly four years, no instance of its having been brought into operation has come under my notice. Indeed the very reverse is the case, and persons building hotels in districts having as much need of them as a cart has for a third wheel, have no difficulty in loading the table of the Licensing Court with numerously signed memorials, shewing reasons why the license should be granted. I am hopeful that in course of time public sentiment will be worked up to the proper level, and that the statutory power will be brought into operation. At present there is a difficulty in the way of the districts being too large. The friends of temperance find the duty of getting up a memorial in a city containing thousands of inhabitants too arduous a task. The districts in this enactment should be defined, so as to contain a population not exceeding 2000. It is questionable if the zeal of those opposed to additional public-houses is sufficieutly enthusiastic to enable them to encounter the trouble and expense in getting up such a memorial. Abstainers are not able of themselves to do it. They must enlist in such a cause all those who, although not abstainers, are yet desirous to restrict the traffic to the narrowest possible bounds, and who would like to remove the temptations of a public-house from their own immediate neighbourhood. The clause as it stands is an excellent provision in favour of temperance, and it is very desirable that it be amended by greater facilities being afforded for its being brought page 17 into effective operation. In another Colony, the Dominion of Canada, the Permissive Bill is now law. A correspondent of a London Paper, writing from Toronto, last December, states that the Dunkin Act of Canada, which enables a majority of ratepayers to veto the sale of liquor in any municipality, is causing considerable stir throughout the Province of Ontario. It has been carried by large majorities in the Counties of Prince Edward, Mississiquiti, Grey, Lennox, Addington, Lambton, and Frontenac.

At present the Licensing Courts throughout the Colony have given satisfaction. They have shown no desire to allow an undue or indiscriminate enlargement of the drink traffic, and upon the whole the law has been administered in a fair and reasonable manner. This public confidence may have operated so as to render the resort to the veto unnecessary. It seems expedient, nevertheless, that some amendments be carried, and under this head I suggest the following:

1. Districts under the 23rd section of the Licensing Act to be defined, so as each to include a population not exceeding 2000.

2. No new license to be granted unless approved of by a memorial signed by two-thirds of the adult residents in the district.

3. The number of licenses not to exceed one for each 500 of the population.

In Dunedin there are 103 public-houses, and 39 bottle-licenses, being a public-house for every 250 of the population. As one-half of the population is under 21 years of age, the startling fact appears, that it takes only 125 adults to support a public-house. It is not surprising that we have so many drunkards, or such abounding misery as results naturally from such a state of things.

The principle of the Local Option Bill is precisely the same as that of the Permissive Bill. It proposes to leave to the electors in each district, once in three years, to determine the question whether there should be licensed houses in the district at all or not. If the voters resolved that there should be licensed houses, then it was left to the Licensing Court to fix how many, and to whom certificates should be granted. Mr. Stout, M.H.R., succeeded in getting a measure of this nature read a second time last Session. It is to be hoped that he will return to the question this next Session. No measure of any importance, introduced by a private member, was ever passed into law without repeated attempts having to be made.

Akin to the Permissive and Local Option Bills, is another proposal which has been made under the name of the "Suspensory Liquor Bill." An endeavour has been made to secure the passing of such a measure applicable to Scotland. The main principle of the Bill is, that the power of transfer should be abolished, and existing licenses allowed to drop on the death or disqualification of the holder. The heads of the Bill are as follows:

"I. That it shall not be lawful to consider any new application for license in any district so long as there is more than one licensed house to every 750 of the population; that no application for extension of premises shall be entertained; that the power of transfer by the licensing authorities shall cease; and that all licenses shall be finally cancelled on the death, bankruptcy, or conviction of those holding certificates.

"II. That in districts where no licensed house exists, and in other districts where the licensed houses are from any cause below one in 750 of the population, no license be granted without the sanction of a majority of the ratepayers, and that all courts of appeal be abolished.

"III. That no place of amusement, recreation, instruction, railway station, river or coasting passenger steamboat be licensed to sell intoxicating liquors.

"IV. That all licenses held by grocers, bakers, and confectioners shall be at once abolished; all beer licenses issued by the Excise, and special licenses issued by the Magistrate, shall at the same time cease."

page 18

Having now glanced at the. various [unclear: remedies] suggested, the most practical [unclear: course] will come under our consideration [unclear: n] the last place, and that is adopting the [unclear: existing] law as a basis what amendments [unclear: an] be suggested thereon, which shall encourage the formation of temperate habits among the people, and at the same [unclear: time] lessen temptation to the unthinking, [unclear: and] check the downward career of the [unclear: improvident]. In considering this [unclear: mater] it should be kept in mind that colonial life has its peculiarities, and that legislation suitable in England may not be suitable for ourselves. Our legislature is too [unclear: pt] to follow in the wake of the Imperial Parliament, without due consideration whether the Imperial measures are in every way adapted to our circumstances. Our statute books contain many examples of such absurd plagiarism. Even our temperance reformers are occasionally chargeable with this want of adaptation. The wave of thought, emanating from head-quarters, extends itself to the utter-most part of the British dominions, and a cry for a particular measure is reiterated in a parrot-like fashion, whether it is applicable to our circumstances or not. We have in the colonies our own special difficulties to encounter, and our thoughtful men should apply their minds to strike out paths for ourselves with some degree of originality. Owing to the new position in which we are placed, many of the advantages of the old country are denied to us. Young men are forced to live in hotels because accommodation in the way of lodgings cannot be obtained elsewhere. The fluctuating character of society renders hotels a social necessity. The effort, therefore, should be, not in the direction of an indiscriminate attack upon all hotels, but in the way of bringing the whole trade under proper regulation. A gradual improvement in the law will be more likely to command general support than a wholesale onslaught upon all and sundry who differ from those teetotallers whom nothing else will satisfy than an immediate and total prohibition. In the remainder of my communication I shall offer various suggestions in the way of amendment of the law, and in doing so I shall confine myself more to leading principles than to minute details.

1. There should be a new classification of licenses. Those at present in use are, "Wholesale license, publican's license, bottle license, and packet license." There is no separate license for hotels. Every hotel consequently is not only a place for the accommodation of travellers or lodgers, but is also a common public-house. Hotels may be a necessity, but there is no reason why each of them should have a public bar, thus unnecessarily increasing the number of mere drinking places. A stranger visiting any of our leading hotels cannot but be annoyed at the motley groups he has to encounter quenching their habitual thirst, at the bar counter. The facilities for locomotion are now greatly increased, and families, including ladies, are often travelling about in pursuit of pleasure or health. Why should they be exposed to the noise and disagreeable scenes appertaining to a public bar, "frequented by all the loafers in the district?" Hotels should be maintained by their own legitimate trade, and should be independent of the less legitimate profit arising from the sale of nobblers to all and sundry. I propose, therefore, to classify the licenses as follows: Wholesale licenses, hotel licenses (no public bars to be allowed), public house licenses, and retail licenses.

Until public opinion has acquired a higher standard, public-houses, where liquor can be obtained for consumption on the premises, must be tolerated in order to check sly grog-selling. Such houses should, however, be subject to minute regulation in regard to details, no liquor to be supplied to children, intoxicated persons, or prostitutes; each public bar to be fitted up in a particular manner, so that one-half of the space may be devoted to the sale of tea, coffee, and light refreshments. The apart- page 19 ment should be large enough to permit parties requiring refreshment to sit down at small tables. No drinking to be allowed in any other part of the premises.

Persons desirous to retail liquor, not to be consumed on the premises, should be licensed as retail dealers, and not permitted to sell anything else. All bottle licenses to be withdrawn. The trade in liquor is exceptional, and is not a necessary adjunct of a grocer's or confectioner's business. Haifa-dozen retail shops properly situated are quite sufficient for the wants of a large population, such as Dunedin, instead of the 39 bottle licenses now held, in addition to the 103 publicans. It is only by this means that the retail trade can be kept in proper order. At present the bottle license is often an excuse for a sly public-house; and families are injured by the facilities with which intoxicating liquor can be obtained at the grocer's shop upon credit. It is to be feared, also, that sometimes an unsuspecting husband has to pay for "goods" entered in his monthly bill which, if the truth were known, were really unmitigated evil.