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Scottish Review

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The Rise and Progress of Whisky-Drinking in Scotland
By Duncan M'Laren


The Act usually known in Scotland as the Forbes M‘Kenzie Act, 16 and 17 Victoria, cap. 67, came into operation May 21st, 1854. The bill, about which so much has been said, as bearing on the cause of sobriety and good order in Scotland, was introduced into the House of Commons by the gentleman whose name it bears; but having vacated his seat before the measure had made much progress, it was watched over, and carried through, mainly by Mr Cumming Bruce. In the House of Lords it was under the charge of Lord Kinnaird, and, as I once stated at a public meeting in Edinburgh, his lordship also did a great deal privately, by his personal exertions, to promote its passing through the House of Commons; and he may thus be said to have been the chief author of the Act. Its short title is 6 Public-Houses (Scotland) Act.’

I need not state to the people of Scotland that the leading provisions of the Act are two in number—(1,) That there shall be no selling of intoxicating drinks on Sundays, except to bona fide travellers, and (2,) That there shall be no selling of such drinks during any day of the week after eleven o’clock at night. These two provisions are so manifestly just in themselves, and so conducive to the welfare of society, that I am happy to say they have commended themselves to the great body of the people of this country.

There is, however, an active and influential section of the community who have always been opposed to these provisions, and who have been using all the means in their power to get the Act modified or repealed; and they have endeavoured to procure the appointment of a Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the working of the Act, with a view to accomplish their object in this indirect way. The ostensible movers in this cause are a committee of Glasgow publicans and spirit dealers, but they are privately receiving the sympathy and support of influential distillers, and other persons who do not publicly come forward to advocate their cause. They are also supported in their efforts by a portion of the public press, and by a small number of Scotch members of Parliament.

Being always more anxious to know what opponents haye to say against any cause of which I have formed a decidedly favourable opinion, than to know what friends say in its favour, I have read and heard much against the ‘ Public-Houses Act;’ and if I understand the objections of its opponents aright, they may be classed under these heads :—

They say that, both as regards the requirements for shutting up public-houses during the entire Sunday (as compared with the former law, which required them to be shut only during the hours of divine service), and as regards restricting the business hours on week-days to 11 o’clock at night, they are novelties in the legislation of Scotland, of a Puritanical character, and interfering with the liberty of the subject; that they are unjust to the persons engaged in the spirit trade; that they have proved injurious in their operation as regards all classes; and in particular, that in place of diminishing drunkenness, they have increased it—causing an enormous increase in the consumption of whisky, amounting to nearly two millions of gallons annually. These allegations have often been made, and those last mentioned were embodied in an official memorial recently prepared by the Glasgow Committee, and presented by them to Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, with a view to induce him, on the part of the late Government, to appoint a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry.

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