Getting your beer on the state

Related tags John grogan mp World war ii World war i

The recent suggestion by John Grogan MP that we should celebrate next year the defeat of the 1908 Licensing Bill to nationalise the brewing industry...

The recent suggestion by John Grogan MP that we should celebrate next year the defeat of the 1908 Licensing Bill to nationalise the brewing industry (which the House of Lords threw out, after it had successfully passed two votes in the Commons) does not take account of subsequent history. Not only was nationalisation actively pursued by Lloyd George after the First World War, but it actually came into effect in three areas of the country in 1916.

The most famous of these was the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme, under which four breweries and some 235 pubs in Carlisle, Gretna and Annan were nationalised by the Central Control Board.

There was no doubt that the munitions factory at Gretna, with a high proportion of Irish workers and nothing much to do in the evenings, contributed to Carlisle being known as "a city under the influence". Late evening disorder and mayhem were rife. Heavy-handed policing did not help, but there was certainly binge-drinking to a huge extent.

So the state intervened. Three of the four breweries were closed, and by 1918 the number of pubs in Carlisle had been reduced by half. At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, the opening hours of pubs had been drastically cut (in London, would you believe, the terminal hour in 1913 was 12.30 am).

So controlling both the hours and the types of drink (no spirits on Saturday) was seen as a way of helping to win the war. Two other areas - Enfield Lock in north London and Cromarty Firth in Scotland, were also nationalised at the same time.

Even after the Second World War, the Atlee government certainly toyed with the idea of nationalisation, first of all in the new towns and then throughout the country, with Home Secretary Herbert Morrison paying a visit to Carlisle to see for himself. But the idea was shelved for ever when the Conservatives took over in 1951.

Believe it or not, the Carlisle scheme continued for another 20 years after that, right through the 1961 and 1964 Licensing Acts, up until 1971 when an Act was passed allowing breweries and others to buy back the existing pubs and obtain transfers of the licences. The scheme was only finally wound up in 1974.

So nationalisation is not such a distant memory after all, John. There are still those who think that the experiment was something of a success. Will you be mentioning it to Gordon?

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