Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

(3) Period 1913–1918

(3) Period 1913–1918

During the period covered by the years 1913 to 1918 we enter upon what may justly be regarded as the most important and fruitful years of the Prohibition movement. Thanks to the energetic and intensive work of previous periods, there had grown up a steadily increasing sentiment against the beverage traffic in liquor. That sentiment was solidly founded and at the opening of this epoch was developing at a rate that justified the highest confidence on the part of the Prohibition forces and the undoubted alarm felt by the liquor traffic. The movement was still labouring under legislative page 112 handicaps. The undemocratic three-fifths majority requirement had been in force for over twenty years. The leaders of the movement felt that the time was more than ripe for securing the abolition of this handicap. That their judgement was justified is evident from the circumstances that the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. W. F. Massey, actually introduced a Bill in the 1913 Parliament and proposed to substitute a 55/45 majority in place of the three-fifths. The Bill was, however, only circulated on the last night of the Session and it did not get even a first reading. The legislative demands of the New Zealand Alliance in 1913 are of interest and indicate the factors that were then prominent. Those demands were as follows.


That the simple majority shall decide all issues on the licensing question.


That the four years delay after Prohibition has been carried be reduced to the lowest limit.


That each licensed house shall be limited to one bar.


That all bars should be closed at 1 p.m. on the day of the half holiday.


That wine makers shall sell only to licensed persons.


That persons convicted of sly-grog selling shall be sent to gaol without the option of a fine.


That the original proclamation for the King Country shall be adhered to, and that the Government provide that liquor shall not be carried on the railways and thus keep faith with the Maoris in the solemn covenant entered into.


That it be enacted that no more brewery licenses be granted.

W. H. Judkins, Several years organizer for New Zealand Alliance; seven years editor Australian ‘Review of Reviews.’

W. H. Judkins,
Several years organizer for New Zealand Alliance; seven years editor Australian ‘Review of Reviews.

F. Campbell Spratt, Lifelong worker: and present Chairman Standing Committee N.Z. Alliance

F. Campbell Spratt,
Lifelong worker: and present Chairman Standing Committee N.Z. Alliance

Capt. W. H. Hawkins, Ex-M.P., and many years a notable prohibition campaigner

Capt. W. H. Hawkins,
Ex-M.P., and many years a notable prohibition campaigner

Hon. A. S. Malcolm,A stalwart in the fight both in and out of the Houses of Parliament

Hon. A. S. Malcolm,
A stalwart in the fight both in and out of the Houses of Parliament

W. G. Bassett, Many years Chairman of Wanganui Prohibition League

W. G. Bassett,
Many years Chairman of Wanganui Prohibition League

C. M. Luke, Ex-Mayor of Wellington; foundation member N.Z. Alliance; forty years' varied public service

C. M. Luke,
Ex-Mayor of Wellington; foundation member N.Z. Alliance; forty years' varied public service

Hon. J. Hanan, M.L.C., Ex-Minister of Education, favourable to temperance teaching in the schools

Hon. J. Hanan, M.L.C.,
Ex-Minister of Education, favourable to temperance teaching in the schools

Rev. J. K. Elliott, Many years notable figure in the Presbyterian Church, and supporter of prohibition movement

Rev. J. K. Elliott,
Many years notable figure in the Presbyterian Church, and supporter of prohibition movement

page 113

One good feature developed during the 1913 Parliamentary Session was an amendment to the Beer Duty Act, which gave to the Minister for Customs the power to veto the granting of any further brewery licenses. Until this amendment was made the Minister had been compelled to grant brewery licenses provided application was made under the prescribed conditions.

The Alliance demanded also at this time the introduction of the precinct system of voting, as adopted in Australia and elsewhere with a view to obviating undoubted abuses then existing in connexion with the rolls. The scientific teaching of temperance in the day schools was another demand made by the Alliance. An effort to provide facilities for the sale of intoxicating liquor in the Cook Islands was, by the opposition of the Alliance, defeated. The Annual Report of the Alliance for that year has reference to one of the numerous attempts made to secure the abrogation of the covenant made with the Maoris whereby no licenses were to be granted in the King Country.

The Strike. Industrially, the year 1913 was one of great unrest. The city of Auckland was one of the storm centres and upon the outbreak of the strike steps were taken to close the city hotels. As a matter of fact, they were closed for sixteen days, and during that period the city had a remarkable exhibition of the beneficial results which developed from the closing of the open bar. During the first six days that the bars were closed there were only eight cases of drunkenness before the courts, whereas, during the first six days of the strike, before the bars were closed, there were forty-five cases. The whole sixteen days during which the bars were closed produced only twenty- page 114 nine cases of drunkenness, but there were thirty-eight arrests for this offence during the first eight hours after the hotels re-opened. When the magistrates' order for closing the hotels was first issued, it suited the hotelkeepers, because there was a strike among hotel employees, but afterwards they were persistent and insistent in their efforts to secure the withdrawal of the order.

The War Years. The year 1914 was a fateful year not only for those implicated in the War, but for the Prohibition movement in New Zealand. A study of the facts justifies the inference that if there had been no war there is the very strongest probability that the liquor traffic would have been voted out by the people of the Dominion despite the three-fifths handicap in the year 1914. In June of that year one of the most striking demonstrations ever seen in the Dominion was provided by the march on Parliament of nearly one thousand people, four abreast, without flags, banners, bands, or any of the other accessories usually associated with this type of procession. It was a march of those who felt that the time had arrived when the Government should give the people the opportunity to decide this great question on the same basis as they decided other great questions. It was undoubtedly an impressive demonstration, but unfortunately bore no fruit. When the War broke out, there developed an agitation for the postponement of the general election and the abandonment of the licensing poll. This induced an uncertainty that had a disastrous effect upon the Prohibition forces. When it was finally decided that the poll should be taken, there were so many new factors and so much disturbance and dissipation of energy that the result was page 115 disappointing. The campaign included visits by the Rev. Dr. Sheldon (author of In His Steps), Mr. Philip Snowden, Labour M.P., with his wife, and the Rev. R. B. S. Hammond, from Sydney. Lady Stout conducted a number of meetings in the King Country and South Auckland, and there was altogether an exceptional effort put forward by some, although there was not the united and concentrated effort that had been made in previous years. This combination of circumstances, together with the general atmosphere engendered by the War, undoubtedly explains why, on that occasion, the vote showed a decrease. The position, as contrasted with 1911, was as follows:

Valid votes 471,681
Continuance 237,025
No-License 234,656
Valid votes 503,879
Continuance 274,405
No-License 229,474
32,194 Increase
37,380 Increase
5,182 Decrease
National Prohibition:
Valid votes 465,604
Continuance 205,661
Nat. Prohibition 259,943
Valid votes 504,659
Continuance 257,442
Nat. Prohibition 247,217
39,055 Increase
51,781 Increase
12,726 Decrease

The reasons given in the Annual Report of the Alliance for the difference in the vote were:— 1, the War; 2, the Campaign for and against the Bible in schools; 3, our efforts to secure as members of Parliament, regardless of party politics, men pledged to remove or at least substantially reduce the fifty per cent. handicap; 4, the increased efforts of the straight-out Trade supporters by means of men, money, and misrepresentation; 5, the subtle page 116 and misleading efforts of the Moderate Party so called.

Naturally, the widespread antagonism to the liquor traffic that developed out of the War provided encouragement for the Prohibition forces here, as elsewhere. The circumstance that Lords Roberts and Kitchener issued special pronouncements bearing upon the matter, that the Czar of Russia abolished the vodka monopoly, and that His Majesty the King set an example of total abstinence, all helped to place the gravity of the liquor evil forcibly before the people of all lands. Despite, therefore, the disappointment sustained with regard to the vote, concentration of attention upon the liquor problem was a distinct gain to the Prohibition forces.

The War Period. It was matter for congratulation that the authorities in New Zealand set their faces against the ‘wet’ canteen, and so saved the young men in training from the constant temptation of the liquor bar. A strong feeling developed in favour of the closing of liquor bars at six o'clock, and, in the year 1915, a petition with over 60,000 signatures, praying for this, was presented to Parliament. This petition was talked out, but, undismayed, the Prohibition forces kept at it and a second petition, signed by over 100,000 voters, was presented in 1916. A parliamentary committee was set up to consider the matter. It was only by the casting vote of the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. H. J. H. Okey, M.P. for Taranaki, that the committee agreed to present a favourable report to the House. A strong deputation waited on the Prime Minister, but in spite of all that had been done, the proposal was rejected in the House by a vote of twenty-five for, page 117 to thirty-four against. Still undaunted, the temperance forces maintained an agitation for six o'clock closing, and it was eventually adopted under the Sale of Liquor Restriction Act, and came into force on December 1, 1917. The provisions of the original Bill were that during the War and for six months thereafter, all liquor bars should close at 6 p.m. This was maintained, but after the War it subsequently became a permanent part of licensing legislation and six o'clock closing, with nine a.m. opening, is still in force. The effect of this was very remarkable, resulting in the reduction of drunkenness convictions by almost one half.

Along with the agitation for the earlier closing of the liquor bars there was a strong movement in the direction of regulations aimed at suppressing the pernicious habit of ‘shouting’ or treating. This effort was supported by large numbers who were not sympathetic to the aims of the Alliance so far as the liquor traffic was concerned. Anti-treating regulations were adopted and came into force on August 28, 1916, and whilst it is true that there was considerable evasion of the law, there can be no question that this also had a beneficial effect.

The demand for temperance teaching in the schools and training colleges was kept prominently to the fore and received sympathetic consideration by the then Minister of Education, Hon. J. A. Hanan.

The Efficiency Board. The New Zealand Government, like other Governments, was driven, by the stress of the War, to examine very closely the effect of the liquor business on industrial efficiency. The National Efficiency Board was set up on February 7, 1917, with the duty of making recommendations in order to secure ‘the organiza- page 118 tion and development of industries, the enforcement of public and private economy, and generally increasing national efficiency.’ The Board reported on July 9, 1917, after having examined a large number of witnesses, and its recommendation was that, ‘The Board finds that the two chief factors in the continuance of the liquor trade are public custom and the financial interests involved. The Board is satisfied that the greatest efficiency would be attained both for the nation and the individual by a state of complete Prohibition, but the Board recognizes that Prohibition is a people's question and should be determined only by an expression of the voice of the people. It, therefore, recommends that legislation be passed submitting the question of National Prohibition to a vote of the people at the earliest possible moment, and that such vote should be upon the basis of immediate Prohibition accompanied by reasonable compensation to the interests affected. Any compensation paid to those engaged in the liquor trade would for the greater part remain and be invested within the Dominion, and thus be used for production and trade.

‘In conclusion, the Board places on record that whilst at first it looked into this matter from the point of view of war conditions, yet as the inquiry proceeded it became apparent that in the interests of national efficiency the Board had to consider the liquor question also from the point of view of the efficiency of the State and of the individual, both during the War and afterwards, and it has therefore submitted its recommendations so as to promote permanent national efficiency.’

page 119

The recommendations of the Board were subsequently given effect to as will appear in the next section under the year 1919. The point of significance in connexion with this report is that the Board came to the conclusion that the abolition of the liquor traffic was desirable in order ‘to promote permanent national efficiency.’ Its findings, therefore, had a bearing on the normal life of the community, quite apart from war conditions.

The year 1918, so far as the Prohibition cause was concerned, seems, in retrospect, to have been similar to the conditions governing the cessation of the World War. That year was notable for amending licensing legislation which incorporated some things that constituted a victory for the Prohibition forces, the advantages, however, being offset to a considerable degree by the conditions favourable to the liquor traffic. The legislation adopted gave effect to the recommendations of the National Efficiency Board for a special poll upon the question of National Prohibition with compensation. The provisions in the licensing legislation were not entirely satisfactory to either the Prohibition forces or the liquor traffic. The points conceded to the prohibitionists were the abolition of the three-fifths majority and the substitution of the bare majority in place of it, the abolition of the four-year interval between the carrying of Prohibition and its going into effect, and the substitution of an interval of six months after the poll, which would make Prohibition effective in the June following. Features not satisfactory to the prohibitionists were the abandonment of the local No-License vote, while permitting votes for the restoration of licenses to be taken in the No-License districts, and the addition page 120 of a third issue, State Purchase and Control, which was to be added to the ballot paper in the event of Prohibition with compensation not being carried. This provision meant that future polls except the special one on Prohibition with compensation, would be taken with three issues on the ballot paper, and to be carried it would be necessary for Prohibition to secure more votes than the other two issues combined. The addition of this third issue to the ballot paper was resented by the Prohibition forces, and they have never ceased to protest against it. It has proved to be merely an astute device intended to offset the granting of the bare majority principle. The second reading of the Bill was carried by fifty-five votes to eight, showing how strong was the sentiment in favour of the general aims of the Bill. It may be mentioned that an attempt to strike out the Compensation Clause was defeated by forty-four votes to fourteen. An effort to secure preferential voting on four issues was defeated by forty-five votes to fourteen. An attempt to reintroduce the three-fifths majority was defeated by forty-five votes to nine.

The introduction of the Bill created most critical conditions for the Prohibition movement, as there was undoubtedly a very strong sentiment adverse to the abolition of the local No-License vote. Very strong feeling developed but, finally, it was decided that, whilst protest should be made against the undesirable features of the Bill, the country should be given the opportunity of voting on the National Efficiency Board's proposals. The decisions taken at that time were undoubtedly taken with the very best of intentions, and although subsequent events appear to have justified some of the prophets of ill-omen who raised their voices, it has always to page 121 be remembered that it is easy to be wise after the event, and decisions have to be made on the facts and in the conditions that exist at the time. In the light of events, it appears to be abundantly clear that whilst the prohibitionists were ostensibly being given a bare majority vote, they were actually being fobbed off with a Bill that incorporated the principle of the artificial majority under the guise of a three-issue ballot paper. Subsequent events have demonstrated only too emphatically how these provisions have operated to the interest of the liquor traffic.