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The Case for the State Control of the UK Brewing Industry and its Extension in 1920 and Beyond

by Philip Talbot

The ideals of Temperance can be traced to the Protestant work ethic of self-discipline, self– determination and frugality that eventually sought to promote its ideals beyond those who practiced self-regulation to the wider population through enforced regulation. Moreover the successful advance of nineteenth century industrial capitalism arising out of the Protestant work ethic appeared to indicate that the consumption of alcohol produced immorality, idleness and weakened the entrepreneurial success that had resulted in growing social wealth. In Great Britain the rise of the Temperance Movement in the nineteenth century initially in religious bodies, such as Methodism organised themselves in 1853 under the militant ‘The United Kingdom Alliance’, to secure the immediate and total legislative suppression of the traffic in intoxicating liquors and beverages. In 1884 a more active and influential organisation ‘The National Temperance Council’ was formed. Insobriety amongst the working classes was perceived as a major problem in Victorian Britain and public houses were recognised as ‘citadels of Satan’ by the most extreme Temperance supporters. The nearest the Temperance Movement came to partially realising their objectives manifested itself in the State Management Scheme better known as ‘the Carlisle Experiment’, 1916-1974, (see JBHS Number 108, 2002, pp.4-28).

The initiation of the ‘Experiment’ generated intense critical debate by all parties. Included in this debate was a text by Arthur Greenwood, ‘Public Ownership of the Liquor Trade’, published in 1920, which formed one volume of ‘The New Era Series’ of politically leftwing essays. This series it was argued arose from a wider and increased political awareness, the need for enlightenment and an opportunity to learn from the foremost exponents of the ‘new ideas’, which included State Management. Greenwood's text is instructive because it reflects a reasoned and argued case for the extension of State involvement in the Trade and because it contains as an appendix the report of a Trade Union and Labour party committee following a visit to Carlisle. Some of the counter arguments that arose in that year are included outside the confines of Greenwood's text in order to provide an overall critical balance to the paper.

Arthur Greenwood (1880-1954) had become a Labour MP in 1922 and remained in the Commons until his death. He was Minister of Health (1929-31), Minister of Reconstruction (1941-42) and Lord Privy Seal (1945). He was at the date of the publication in 1920 secretary of the Labour Party Research Department that was influential in formalising party policy. The Labour Party of the immediate post Great War period was a radical political party and reflected some extreme views on many matters including the Brewing Trade. Within and outside the Labour party the ‘Prohibitionist Movement’ was encouraged by developments in the USA with the passage of the Volstead Act, which was not repealed until 1933. In particular in Scotland Prohibition was a powerful force and the 1920 Annual Conference of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) held in Glasgow voted in favour of the total prohibition of manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor rather than public ownership, and a similar vote was carried at the Scottish Trade Union Congress of the same year with trade unionists being incited to vote for ‘no license’ candidates in the forthcoming elections. The prohibitionist cause was less strong in England and Wales where public ownership tended to be favoured but at the Labour Party annual conference (the ILP became disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932) this was narrowly defeated in favour of a less controversial measure. (Table 1).

Reproduced by courtesy of the "Sunday Dispatch".

Table 1

Vote for Public Ownership of the Liquor Trade – 1920 Annual Labour Party Conference

For the resolution 1.352,000
Against the resolution 1,672,000

An amended conference resolution provided that localities should be empowered to,

which was passed by 2,003,000 to 623,000 votes. Greenwood noted however that the option for the provision of public control could be interpreted as municipal ownership. Thus the potential of public ownership of the Trade was not precluded.

The major objectives for the public ownership of the entire drinks trade are carefully argued in an entire chapter of the book, some thirty-six pages whilst the counter arguments are also allocated a chapter but only comprise some nine pages, which reflects the inherent political bias. The main points for proceeding with Public Ownership on the Carlisle model may be summarised thus,

Consequently the Carlisle Experiment was championed as the genesis of a restructured liquor trade although for extreme prohibitionists this was seen as unacceptable compromise. Carlisle attracted many visitors especially during its early years to witness at first hand the operation of the ‘Experiment’ and in 1920 a Trade Union and Labour Party visit was one amongst many, but conspicuously absent are any form of representatives from the brewing industry, (Table 2).

Table 2

Trade Unionist and Labour Party Committee Members – Carlisle Visit 18th December 1920

Name Affiliation
Charles G Ammon Union of Post Office Workers
Dr Ethel Bentham Labour Party Executive
A Boyd National Warehouse and General Workers Union
Fred Bramley Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary Committee of the TUC
Miss Mary Carlin Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Workers Union
D Carmichael London Trades Council
H H Elvin National Union of Clerks
Harry Gosling Transport Workers' Federation
J Henderson Scottish Farm Servants' Union
John Hill United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders
P C Hoffman National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehouseman and Clerks
J M MacTavish Labour Party
J S Middleton Labour Party
J W Ogden Weavers, Winders, and Reelers' Association
Edward R Pease Fabian Society
G Ridley Railway Clerks Association
Robert Young M.P Amalgamated Society of Engineers

The report after an introduction and description of the history and initiation of the Carlisle Scheme reiterated many of the objectives outlined by Greenwood, i.e. the reduction of licenses and the abolition of private profit. The elimination of publicans' bonuses linked to alcohol sales in favour of fixed salaries was particularly identified as noteworthy since it was linked to preventing excess drinking occurring, which was one of the main features of ‘Disinterested Management’. An area of reform supported by all advocates of the Experiment was the provision of food and light refreshments in public houses, which the financial results indicated was a profitable venture. Indeed the overall apparent financial success of the Scheme was emphasised but this acknowledgment of capitalist triumph was tempered with a footnote that,

It is worth noticing that some of the houses under the Board are not paying propositions: they are retained to meet local needs, and because they are traditional social centres.

Nonetheless this professed lucrative venture and apparent State efficiency was not accepted by the Scheme's opponents and a series of vociferous criticisms were launched in Parliament. Thus Sir J D Rees stated in the liquor debates that,

Carlisle greatly favoured, took over all shops and breweries, the whole trade, killed competition, called it profits and then showed no better results than any other part of the country. If any hon. Member doubts that I have the figures here … Carlisle was always a sober town. Now it is more than a sober town. It a dismal one.

Parliamentary Debates Commons 24th February 1920, Vol 25, p1613

Indeed profitability was perceived by some as inevitable arising from the local monopoly enjoyed by the Scheme.

It is not all difficult to make a concern show a large profit when you have absolute powers of expropriation and absolute authority to make orders as you please … the State is trading and the private individual is absolutely crushed out.

Major C Lowther Parliamentary Debates Commons 24th February 1920, Vol 25, pp1632-1638

The committee report singled out several public houses for praise, (Table 3)

Table 3

Public Houses Observations
Gracie's Banking, Annan. There is no bar at the inn; all drink is served for consumption at small tables. There is a billiard room, a soda fountain and confectionery store. It resembles a club and is a centre of social activity. Indoor and outdoor activities have put the sale of alcoholic liquor into its rightful place as a subsidiary function of the public house.
The Globe, Longtown. A rebuilt house offering accommodation, the provision of meals with an adjoining bowling green. The architecture and fixtures are reminiscent of William Morris and is a worthy example of what places of public resort should be like.
The Gretna Tavern, formerly the old Carlisle Post Office. A large popular restaurant, the Lowther Hall room was available for meetings of various kinds.

The committee noted satisfyingly that one redundant house had been transformed into the ‘The Trades Hall’ and formed the headquarters of the majority of Trade Union branches in Carlisle.

Unsurprisingly the observations and conclusions of the report were overwhelmingly in favour as to the merits of the Experiment. The provisions of remodelled public houses was lauded as an impressive achievement that was accentuated by the new houses standing alongside the older and meaner houses that had provided ‘miserable accommodation … (and the) violation of all hygienic considerations made it unworthy of the patronage by the working class.’ The Carlisle houses were considered to have been converted into houses that possessed a ‘certain dignity and beauty.’ This dignity was partly achieved it was stated by the withdrawal of all internal and external liquor advertisements, which financially benefited the Experiment by saving on advertising expenditure and at the same time it removed the inducement to drink.

Reproduced by courtesy of the "Sunday Dispatch".

The report commented on the enhanced conditions of employment for the Central Control Board workers compared to those provided in the private sector although it was admitted some managers were financially worse off than they had been under the previous regime where liquor sales were directly linked to wages. However, the report stated that a comparison with private sector remuneration should not have conditioned the wages of those employed by the scheme because,

We hold that they should be adequate to maintain a reasonably comfortable standard of life and that in a publicly owned service; the State is under a moral obligation to prove itself a model employer.

The general rule of payment by commission was deemed to be inappropriate for the Experiment except when linked to the sales of non-intoxicants and food. The committee believed that this reflected the increased levels of sobriety in Carlisle compared to the rest of the country. This provision of food did not escape criticism although it was for ideological reasons rather than the quality of the provisions,

Though you could not get liquor in Carlisle you could at least go to the Government establishments and get a very good dinner – at the expense of the taxpayers. It took the bread out of the mouth of the hotelkeepers of Carlisle and of the public in Carlisle who disliked it too; but it enabled the temperance folk to quote the great and glorious experiment.

Sir J D Rees

Parliamentary Debates Commons 24th February 1920, Vol 25, p.1614.

The conclusions of the report contained both resolutions and conclusions. The two resolutions of the Carlisle Trades Council and Labour Party, of 8th November 1919, which were carried by 220 votes to 1 were repeated.

Resolution 1 - It affirms its belief in Public Ownership and Control of the Liquor Trade, and urges all local Labour Parties and Trades Councils to press for the extension of the principle of State Ownership and Control to the whole country, subject to modifications in the administration as experience may have shown to be necessary.
Resolution 2 - Urges the Government to continue the principle of Public Ownership of the Liquor Trade in the Carlisle area, and further extend it to the whole country, with provision of such machinery as will ensure proper effect being given to public opinion in various areas.

The conclusions held that the Scheme was not inefficient and that the abolition of private profit had eliminated waste and that the imaginative pursuit of objectives had achieved greater levels of sobriety in Carlisle. The report finished by appealing to the organised Labour movement to press for an immediate extension of the principles of the Carlisle Scheme to replace the system of private ownership, which thrived at the expense of the workers. The M.P for Carlisle, Mr Carr naturally supported the Experiment and he considered it to be the framework for further national developments,

We ought to regard the Carlisle experiment…not as final, but as giving us some constructive ideas in the management of the drink traffic in the future.

Parliamentary Debates Commons 24th February 1920, Vol 25, p.1633.

The ideals of the Public Ownership lobby of the British liquor trade were never to be realised and the 1920s were to witness the zenith of the movement. An unfulfilled second attempt in the form of the New Towns Act 1946 and the Licensing Act 1949 was made to extend the Scheme to the New Towns2 after the Second World War by the Labour government. Although an initial administrative structure was created to replicate the Carlisle model the plans were abandoned for similar reasons that had dissuaded the earlier expansion of the Experiment, costs were prohibitive and the more immediate economic and social problems of peacetime demanded attention. The concept of a State controlled liquor industry was never again seriously entertained. By the time of the abolition of the Scheme in 1974 the political climate and social imperatives that had permitted the State to intervene in the liquor trade had disappeared with the initiation of an era that exalted the disciplines of private sector capitalism, individualism and the freedom of consumer choice, which had rejected the notions of direct involvement by the State.



Disinterested Management was an imprecise term that became defined as,

the conduct of a public house by a manager with a fixed salary and having no commission on the sale of food and non-intoxicants. They (the Committee) took as types of disinterested management, Public House Trusts and Associations and State Management.

Southborough Report 1927.

The idea of Disinterested Management principles can be traced back to the late nineteenth century Swedish ‘Gothenberg System’, see Haydon, P, (2001), Beer and Britannia, Sutton, pp.224-225.

This included in England, Ayecliffe County Durham, Corby, Northants, Basildon, Esex, Bracknell, Berks, Crawley, Sussex, Harlow, Essex, Hatfield, Hets, Hempel Hemstead, Herts, Peterlee, Durham, Stevenage, Herts and Welwyn Garden City, Herts.

In Wales this only included Cwbran, Monmouthshire.

In Scotland it included East Kilbridge, Lanarkshire and Glenrothes, Fife.

Copyright © 2004 the Brewery History Society