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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Red Biddy

I've been reading the Hansard report of the Second Reading of the Methylated Spirits Bill from 1934.  It's an interesting read, a battle between the desire to control a comparatively minor but distressing evil and a desire not to interfere with the legitimate uses of methylated spirits. The purpose of the Bill was to reduce the highly unpleasant effects of methylated spirit addiction, succinctly stated by Miss Horsbrugh

But in bringing forward this Bill I would point out that it is not a temperance measure. Already the Government and all right-thinking people have realised that it is bad for health to drink mineralised methylated spirits, and they wish to have that stopped. 


However, Miss Horsbrugh also seems to be convinced that the Bill is only necessary because other spirits are rendered too expensive by alcohol duty.

I ask the representative of the Government and those who are opposing this Bill to give me any real reason why we restrict all these other alcoholic beverages as to the hours in which they are sold and the methods under which the public can obtain them, and yet allow an unrestricted sale in many of our shops of this poisonous alcohol? Why should the Government frown on "Johnnie Walker" and give the glad eye to "Red Biddy"? Why is the tax so excessive on whisky when up and down the country social workers tell us that if only the methylated spirit drinker could get away from this poisonous spirit and get a taste for a decent spirit, there is some chance of him being cured of his appalling vice.


A Mr Frederick Macquisten also supported the Bill and made some interesting additions to Miss Horsbrugh's observations.

I listened with interest to the evidence that was said to be given by the principal Excise Officer. He has a good salary, and no doubt he drinks good whisky. It is very unlikely that he drinks methylated spirits, and it is extremely unlikely that anybody who could afford to buy whisky would drink methylated spirits. No doubt the same applies to the hon. Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little), but everybody is not so refined as he is, and liquors which appeal to other people would not apeal to him or to me. The practice of drinking methylated spirits is the illegitimate child of the Whisky Duty. If that duty were not so high, this evil would never exist, but it does exist because the duty hits the poor at the expense of the rich, and nobody seems to care what happens to the poor— Rattle his bones over the stones, He's only a pauper whom nobody owns. Nobody seems to remember that a definite temptation is put in the way of the very poorest of the population. This Bill will prove to be a hindrance to the sale of this stuff...

Methylated spirit drinking is a definite evil. It is no use telling us that the convictions of people for getting drunk on methylated spirit are infinitesimal in number. People do not get it in public houses. They buy a bottle of it and get a bottle of Spanish red wine, and in that way make their own "Red Biddy" and get intoxicated in their own homes, and as they do not venture out—because they are in a state of coma for twelve hours or so afterwards—the police do not find out...


Generally I object to restrictions of all kinds. I believe that if we had perfect and absolute freedom in all matters the difficulties would soon solve themselves. The degenerates, the people who cannot control themselves, would all pass out, and we should be purged of them in a generation—a rather hectic generation, I admit. Look at the mass of restrictions against the drinking of wholesome whisky and wholesome beer...

The Bill should have a Second Reading and if any Clause gives trouble it can be dealt with in committee. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, but I would say that it lies in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the Bill unnecessary by the reduction of the whisky duty.

What strikes me about all this is the way it straddles two very different social attitudes. On the one hand we have a desire to leave ordinary people in peace and allow them to live their lives as they see fit. On the other hand, even the hard-nosed Mr Macquisten was in not in favour of doing nothing if something constructive could be done.

Yet could this be said today?

Generally I object to restrictions of all kinds. I believe that if we had perfect and absolute freedom in all matters the difficulties would soon solve themselves. The degenerates, the people who cannot control themselves, would all pass out, and we should be purged of them in a generation—a rather hectic generation, I admit.

No I don't think so either.

The whole thing is both a harbinger of meddling times to come and an interesting insight into our own bureaucratic tangles and taboos. The Salvation Army was in favour of the Act of course, but they saw Red Biddy in action.

3 comments:

Demetrius said...

For Red Biddy read Red Bull?

Michael said...

This report from the Lib Dems' 'conference', has been spiked for some unknown reason!

There were three people in the auditorium at the time, and one of those was the bloke on the stage!

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I don't know, mixing up the two could lead to a nasty surprise.

Michael - is there a link in there?