"In lieu of the duty of excise payable in respect of beer brewed in Great Britain or Ireland there shall, as from the twentieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-two, be charged, levied, and paid, the following duty (that is to say):—
|For every thirty-six gallons of worts of a specific gravity of one thousand and fifty-five degrees||3||10||0|
and in lieu of the drawback of excise payable in respect of beer exported from Great Britain or Ireland, as merchandise or for use as ship's stores, there shall be allowed and paid in respect of beer on which it is shown that the increased excise duty charged by this Act has been paid a drawback calculated according to the original gravity thereof (that is to say):—
|For every thirty-six gallons of beer of an original gravity of one thousand and fifty-five degrees the drawback of||3||10||3|
and so, as to both duty and drawback, in proportion for any difference in quantity or gravity."—[ Mr. R. Richardson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."12. M. In 1914 the standard barrel of beer was subject to a duty of 7s. 9d. per barrel; to-day, because of the war, that tax has been raised to £5 per standard barrel. In the ordinary finance of the working man that means that the tax on a pint of beer has been raised from 0·72d. to no less than 4£16d., and let the Committee reflect what that means. It means that the man who consumes only one pint of beer per day will, at the end of the year, Shave paid a tax on it to the sum of no less than £7 13s., and surely, in view of the unemployment and dire distress that are obtaining throughout the country, some relief ought to he given him. This is the workers' Income Tax, and if relief can be given in respect of the Income Tax of one class of the community, surely something ought to be done for the working people. I am one of those Members who believe that the easiest way to set the wheels of industry going again is to reduce the burden of indirect taxation, for all that is saved in taxation of that sort will be spent on the necessaries of life, and more people will be employed in consequence. Many concessions have been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year, but every concession that has been given has been in the interests of the well-to-do. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Surely hon. Members will agree that the workers have at least some cause of complaint that, of these millions that have been saved by the reduction of expenditure or by other means, all has gone to one class of the community. They can with truth say that, in the making of the laws there is one law for the rich and another law for the poor. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not saying that it is so, but examine what has been done and see whether that is not the case. Again, I have a complaint against those who make the beer, and I believe that they could have given the working man some relief. I desire to speak plainly to the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger). In 1920 prices of everything were at their height, but to-day great reductions have taken place in the prices of all the commodities that go to the making of beer and in the wages of the men employed in making beer, and yet no reduction in price has been given to the consumer. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make sure that any reduction that may be made goes to the consumer, for we all know that as the tax was increased on beer, something more than the tax was extracted from the consumer. I sincerely hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to give us some relief, and I want to plead with him to see that whatever is given is given to the consumer and not to the brewers. May I ask my hon. Friends who are connected with this trade to consider their position and to do what justice demands that they should do. Let us have a chance, so that the man who wants a pint of beer can have it at a reasonable price, for surely my temperance friends will not say that £7 13s. 0d. a year on a pint of beer a day is not an excessive tax. Indeed, if no more than a pint of beer a day were consumed by every individual, there would be no need for prohibition or even for local option, and that is the sort of thing that we are pleading for. With the present price of beer, if one man meets another and says, "Are you going to have a glass of beer?" the other has to say, "I will have one, but I cannot afford to pay for two, and consequently I must go by myself." [Interruption.] I am not a Member who talks about nothing; I always have a case when I speak to this Committee, and I intend when I have got a case to make my voice heard.
There is among large sections of the people of the country a very strong feeling that the price of a pint of beer is too high. That feeling though not very vocal is felt and expressed strongly amongst the agricultural population of the country. The wages of the agricultural labourer have been reduced 30s. a week, and it is very difficult for a man on that wage to pay 7d. or even 6d. for a pint of beer. The agricultural labourer has been deprived of a beverage to which he thinks he is entitled. The consumption since last Christmas has been falling—I think the Chancellor must realise that—and this must mean a falling revenue. No reduction—it is obvious—of less than one penny per pint is of any use to the consumer. Those officially connected with the industry say that nothing less Shan 30s. reduction is of any use. About that point I am not myself convinced. I had put down an Amendment to reduce the tax not by 30s., but by 15s., with a view to seeing whether there was not some figure at which an arrangement could be come to. Since then I have received communications, both verbal and written, from many different people in many parts of the country, and I have tried to make these figures fit.The result of my investigation is that at present I am in a complete fog, the chief reason being that the different sets of figures have been worked out in relation to different grades or standards of beer. In one case I am told that the average gravity at 7d. a pint is 10·40, and in another that it is 10·44; this makes a difference of 7s. 3d. in the tax on the barrel. I am informed that in the one case, the 10·40, a 30s. reduction will mean 24s. on the barrel—exactly a penny per pint—and in the 10·44 it would be 21s. 10d., or less than a penny a pint to the consumer. These written and verbal communications are rendered still more conflicting when people definitely connected with the trade have told me that the trade could make very big concessions if the Treasury would meet them some part of the way. On the other hand trade officials say they can make no concessions at all. The differences arise between the trade estimates and the way the matter is calculated does not help matters. The result is that to find these things out from the point of view of one having no connection with the trade at all is an impossibility. One has to try to look at the matter from the point of view of common sense and common knowledge. The price of beer has not been reduced since 1920, when 30s. per barrel was put on. The cost of production must to some extent have come down, but it has not come down to the extent of other things. Wages are still according to the figure sent to me by one of the trade associations, 140 per cent. above pre-War; the cost of malt is 125 per cent. above pre-War. Rut there must have been some reductions of some kind since the peak prices of 1920. In regard to profits up to this year, at any rate, I do not think that the shareholders of brewery companies need have been under any undue anxiety. Undoubtedly since the beginning of this year, owing to the reduction in consumption, those profits must have been dwindling, and the revenue as a consequence must also have dwindled. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must have figures as to the profits and the cost of production. My own view is that there must be some figure less than 30s., and possibly higher than the 15s., which I have put down in my Amendment at which the trade and the Treasury could possibly strike a bargain. This would be an apparent sacrifice to both, but I doubt whether the sacrifice would be real, because even if it were not a case of increasing consumption it would have the effect of checking the reduction in consumption, and this would bring money to the trade and the Treasury. I am sure it is too elementary a statement for me to make to say that five multiplied by four is the same as four multiplied by five, but that would be the effect of what I suggest. In other trades where wages have fallen and profits have dwindled the policy of cutting down prices has been adopted. I suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he might set up some independent committee of business men to consider this question from a purely business point of view, and to find out whether there is something less than 30s. which would give a reduction of a penny a pint to the consumer. The trade might be met on the question of gravity which would allow a slightly lower quality of beer at a penny a pint reduction, and by means of increasing the turnover or preventing a further fall in consumption this might pay the revenue in the end. Undoubtedly there is a feeling, although I do not share it, that there is behind this high taxation some ulterior motive. There is a feeling amongst a large section of the community that this high taxation is being kept up in order to enforce abstinence and prohibition by means of taxation. An expert committee such as I have suggested would be able to satisfy public opinion that we are not trying to introduce so-called temperance measures by means of taxation. I do not think that this is a temperance question at all, because it is not beer that is responsible for drunkenness, but other liquors. Good beer has never been responsible for turning men and women into drunkards. With the lower-priced beer which is being sold now it is impossible for anyone to get drunk and even with the better class beer it would be a very expensive matter indeed. With regard to this Amendment I cannot vote for the 30s. reduction, because I am not convinced, on the merits, that 30s. is necessary in order to reduce the price by 1d. per pint, and it would not all benefit the consumer. Again I am inclined to think that the 30s. would cost more money than the Chancellor of the Exchequer can afford and it might entirely upset the finances of the Budget. A suggestion has been made that we should vote for this 30s. reduction with a view to moving Amendments afterwards to reduce it, but I cannot accept that view. In the first place, I do not think that we should ever get in this Parliament an opportunity of dealing with Amendments to this new Clause if it were carried. It is quite possible that the Government could not accept a defeat upon an Amendment of that sort. In the second place, as it has been definitely stated by those who speak for the trade that nothing less than 30s. is any use, I do not see that it is any good discussing that proposal. Next we come to the argument that we should vote for this Clause as a protest or a demonstration against the high taxing of beer. If that is so I think we ought, before we vote, upon this Amendment, to consider the consequences of such a demonstration being successful. Personally I have no hesitation, when I think I am right in so doing, in voting against, the Government, as I felt bound to do last night, but to force a general election upon the price or taxation of an article of refreshment, however excellent it may be, is not in the best interests of the country. When there are a number of other things to be discussed which are vital to the interests of this country and the Empire, for the people of the world to know that the Government of this country had been defeated and had appealed to the country upon the question of the price of an article of refreshment would not raise the dignity of this country abroad. I do not think that it would be in the interests of this country itself that an election should be fought with that question as the main issue. We all know that at an election this is bound to come in as a side issue. We also know that there are many votes probably will be turned by the Division which is about to take place, but for an election to take place on the price of any article of food or drink as the main issue would be very bad, and it would be putting the worst side of human nature forward. Such an election would turn upon the question of the price of food or the excessive taxation of drink when other far more important things ought to be considered. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will realise that many of those who will support him in the Lobby on this Amendment feel very strongly that something ought to he done; that he will realise that those who are supporting him are making big sacrifices in their own constituencies and are turning away hundreds if not thousands of votes; and that he will say something, either on the lines that I have suggested of an expert committee, or, if he cannot accept that, something to give us some hope for the future that this burden of 7d. a pint on the agricultural labourer may be relieved.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken, and who has so lucidly put before as the influence of this tax, but I would draw the attention of the Committee, if I may, to the enormous in-crease—something like 13 times—in the tax upon beer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in giving the remission in the tax upon clubs, which we all welcome and thank him for, did so because, he said, the increase was five times; and surely a reduction is even more justifiable when the increase is 13 times. Listening the other night to the Debate on the tea duty, I was struck by the argument of an hon. Member on the benches opposite that a remission of the duty on tea would cause the wheels of industry to be once more set going. I confess I could not altogether follow that, but I understood that he meant to say that the remission of the tea duty would give tea drinkers more money to spend, and therefore would increase trade. We do not produce tea in this country, but in appealing for a reduction of the duty upon beer, I am appealing for a means by which we may increase the production of this country and increase the demand for labour in this country. Practically all of the ingredients of beer, except sugar, are, or should be, produced in this country, and the very large taxation which has been piled up upon beer has not only reduced the consumption of beer, but has also made it more difficult for our agriculture to flourish and prosper. I, personally, have very little knowledge of the cultivation of hops, but I know that the reduction in the amount of beer consumed is a very serious matter indeed in the production of hops, and, I understand, is causing the Hop Control much anxiety. That is equally so in the case of barley, and if by taxation the consumption of beer is going to be reduced, it means that the output from our lands of England is going to be reduced, and the employment that can be given on those lands. Therefore, every time the duty upon beer is increased, the wages fund that there is for paying the agricultural labourer is reduced. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) has alluded to the very high price that it is for the agricultural labourer to pay. Quite so; and it is a high price for anyone to pay.I fully realise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has very great difficulty in meeting the loss that would accrue to him if he gave the whole of the asked-for reduction of 30s., but I hope myself that he is going to meet us by giving a partial reduction. The hon. Member for Hereford said he could not vote for this Amendment because he thought it was too large, but he warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that many of those who would vote with him would do so with grave misgivings. I cannot follow him there. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot see his way either to reduce this tax or to give any suggestion that he is going to meet us, I, for one, cannot support him in the Lobby. I feel convinced that, if he will meet us, say to the extent of a 20s. reduction, the profits of the trade can surely bear the balance which would make up the 1d. a pint. Looking at the reduced consumption now as compared with pre-War, it will be found that there are something like 4,000,000 barrels less consumed than pre-War, and surely a large amount of the tax could be got back if the pre-War consumption were resumed. I am not advocating that men should get drunk by consuming beer, and, indeed, as has been said, it is practically an impossibility at the present time; but I do feel that if a reduction of this tax involves a loss on the one hand, there will be a gain on the other. I personally am a beer drinker, and always used to have a pint of beer with my lunch, but to-day I have half a pint. If the Chancellor will give us that reduction I cannot guarantee him his £26,000,000, but I will guarantee to drink my pint again, and I shall be very glad to do so. What is true of me is true of many a man throughout the country, whether, like myself, he works at agriculture, or whether he works in the mine. I should like to see this consumption of honest, good beer come about, because I believe that not only is beer a refreshing drink, but it is even also meat. I urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put a little pluck into himself, and, if necessary, have a little bit of a gamble. He said that no one could guarantee that he would get back his loss by increased production. Of course, no body of men could possibly give a guarantee such as that, but if he looks at the past he will see that consumption has always increased when taxation has been reduced. Look at the effect that the Postmaster-General has found by reducing the cost of postage. Immediately there is a very large increase in the postal service, and immediately he sees a prospect of a very large increase in revenue. So I think it will be with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but that is not my great point. My great point is that by reducing this tax and increasing the consumption of beer he will increase the demand for labour on our lands of England, and will increase the output from those lands by the home production of an honest, straightforward beverage.
I am very hopeful the Government in this matter will stand by the terms of the Finance Bill, and refuse to yield to pressure, although that pressure has been brought to bear in an organised form. The Amendment will have practically the effect of torpedoing the Budget. Those who are advocating cheaper beer are confronted with this dilemma: Assuming there is no increase in the price of beer, one of two results must follow. Either there will be a loss to the Revenue of £22,000,000, or there must be a large increase in the consumption of beer. Although the hon. Member who has just spoken may contemplate with equanimity a large increase in the consumption of beer, there are many in this House and many throughout the country who would look upon any large increase as a menace to our social well-being.
More beer, more drunkenness.
I hear someone use the term "Pussyfoot." I think it is generally understood that the larger consumption of beer, the more trouble there is throughout the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I had no wish to carry on the argument along these lines except to affirm the opinion that I have just expressed that there are many in this House and many outside who look upon a large increase in the consumption of beer as being inimical to our social well-being. If the duty on the standard barrel be reduced from 100s. to 70s.—that, I understand, is the proposal—and the Revenue is maintained, the consumption must increase—and I ask the Committee to remember these figures—from 18,896,000 standard barrels to 27,000,000 standard barrels—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]—or from 24,170,000 bulk barrels of 43 degree gravity to 34,500,000 barrels, an increase of over 10,000,000 in bulk barrels. There are these further figures that I would ask the Committee to remember. The cost to the consumer would be between 40 and 50 millions of money in the course of the year to maintain the present Revenue, that is, out of the pockets of the people, at a time of financial stringency, when so many homes are suffering because there is an insufficient amount of money coming in for the ordinary purposes of food and clothing; about 22 millions would go to the Revenue and the balance would go to the Trade—a Trade that has already been able to look after itself, and which, when a duty was imposed in 1920 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an increase of 30s. upon a barrel was able to make a profit out of the increased tax that had been put on. These figures, I think, are indisputable when the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1920 thought the position of the beer trade would warrant an increase of 30s. upon the barrel. Although that duty was imposed, the beer trade made a considerable profit. The increased consumption of beer has been freely prophesied, and I gather from the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat that he considers there would be no loss to the Revenue in consequence of the increased consumption following upon the reduced price, making that fear of the Exchequer groundless. I have here one of the trade papers, the "Morning Advertiser," for Monday, 27th February, 1922, in which there was a leading article on "the Budget and the Beer Duty." They stated in their leading article that the reduction in the price of beer would be followed by increased consumption, and would probably enrich the Revenue instead of impoverishing it. In the end they conclude with these words—they are trying to meet the suggestion that something should be spent upon education rather than a sacrifice of a reduction of the Beer Duty—
The suggestion is that we can find by the increase in the consumption of liquor a short cut out of the economic difficulty and that we may be able to drink ourselves into national prosperity. Last week in this House there was a discussion in which I ventured to express the opinion that there was no comparison between the respective claims of a reduction of the Sugar Duty and a reduction of the Beer Duty. Presumably we have not enough money to bring about both reductions, and those who supported the Amendment to bring about a reduction in the Sugar Duty were not able to muster 100 in the Division Lobby. There cannot be, I submit, any comparison between the respective claims for a remission upon sugar and a remission upon beer. The only difference is that the consumers throughout the country of sugar are unorganised; the housewives have no organisation at their back; the children of the country, who are mainly affected by a remission in the Sugar Duty, have no organisation and cannot bring any pressure upon this House. But on beer, when a remission of the duty is asked for, there is a strongly organised demand. Will Members of the Committee consider what are the respective claims? When circumstances have arisen, and there is some abatement of our financial stringency there must be a reduction of the tax upon beer. But we are dealing with this question simply upon a fiscal basis. I cannot understand the attitude of those Members who refuse to remit any part of the tax on sugar this year and suggest an enormous remission upon the tax on beer. I hope the claim of the women and children will have first consideration. There are a great many men who drink beer and a great many who do not. They ought to have equal consideration. There are some women who drink beer and a great many who do not. Fortunately there are no children who drink beer, but all men, women and children take sugar. My suggestion is simply this. If we have so much money for the purpose of the lessening of taxation we ought to consider, first of all, the giving of a concession that will relieve every home before we make a remission that will only touch some homes in the country."A reduction of the Beer Duty would he, far more likely to render the Geddes cut in the Education Estimates unnecessary than to make it imperative."
You have had something off tea.
I admit there has been something off tea. But, even so, I do not think the remission upon tea will meet the claim of the children in the way that sugar does. We are all sugar consumers and may not be all tea drinkers, and in that respect sugar has the greater claim. That is my contention. I hope others will be supporting me in this matter. If we are going to relieve any homes in this country we should first see to the remission of taxes that will touch every home and not remission that will only touch some of them.
One observation which the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat made was that, in starting, he suggested that if the Government were to accede to the principle of this new Clause, it would cause a great deal of unrest in the country. I rise for the purpose of informing the Committee of the experience I acquired during the war. Whilst serving as Minister of Labour, it was frequently represented to me by both employers and trade union leaders that one of the great causes of industrial unrest was the high cost of beer in the country. Moreover, the Government were bound to recognise that fact. When I was transferred to the Food Control I was there made responsible, Parliamentarily, for the doings of the Liquor Control Board. The Government were then confronted with growing unrest, and we had this experience occasionally that in certain parts of the country men were detailed to follow deliveries. They would then go back and report to their workmates, and the men would leave off, and go to the public-house that had secured supplies. Time was consequently lost, and the production of munitions was frequently menaced. I will not take second place to anyone in my desire for a temperate population, but in my view temperance is not to be forced upon our people. The only sound temperance principle is by the education of the people, the gradual development and uplifting of character. Drunkenness in the country is becoming rare, and it is a libel on our people to suggest that even were beer cheaper, there would be universal drunkenness. The great mass of the people are decent and self-restrained, and do not indulge to excess. All this talk of drunkenness is a phantasy to the mind of the temperance fanatic and is an insult to the great mass of the British people.Now let me make the point I want to impress upon the Committee. In order to alleviate unrest, and to encourage our workpeople to proceed with the manufacture of the munitions of war, I, as Food Controller, had to be entrusted by the Liquor Control Board, acting on behalf of the Government, with supplies of beer that could be diverted into those districts where unrest was manifest, and without which supplies that unrest would have become so acute as to involve a check on the manufacture of munitions. These are facts—I am narrating my own experience—and I say that rather than a reduction in the price of beer resulting in unrest, I have every reason to believe that there is no more irritating influence in the country than the present price of beer. I am of the opinion of previous speakers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may not find it possible to yield the amount necessary in order to effect a reduction of one penny per pint. Anything less than a penny per pint is impracticable, because there would be no assurance that the consumer would get the benefit. But I have reason to believe—and arising out of the experience I have had at the Food Control I am confirmed in my view—that the brewers were prepared.
After all, I have found the brewer I have met to be as eminently respectable and worthy of consideration as Members of this House, and just as disinterested as most of us. But I had hoped that negotiations were proceeding. I believe some have taken place, and I had been led to the belief that the result would be that the brewers would have been able to make such an offer to the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer—
That is the belief that was conveyed to me—that a small concession on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have resulted in a reduction being effected. If my right hon. Friend says that such is not the case, I agree that he may not be in a position to give away the large sum of £18,000,000 or £20,000,000 involved in the reduction of 30s. On the other hand, I am of the opinion that the brewers, in the main, are well able to give something away towards making a substantial contribution to the relief of this problem.I did not intend to introduce the question of temperance at all, as that is beside the point in this discussion. But there is one point I want to make. It is unfair to endeavour to pose us as being in favour of a remission of the duty on beer, and opposed to a remission of the Sugar Duty. I had hoped, and many of us had, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been in that favoured position in which he might have made reductions in the main articles of food. But the point is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unwilling to make a concession in respect of sugar. As far as I understand it, he might have made a reduction there without any warranty whatever that the consumer would have derived any benefit. World conditions in respect of sugar supplies are such that in my opinion the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this occasion would have been but playing into the hands of a number of American speculators in sugar, and the consumer in this country would not have derived any advantage from a reduction in the sugar duty this year. Therefore, I say it is not fair to pose us as being opposed to a reduction in the price of children's sweets, and in favour of a reduction in the price of beer. I have made these few observations in view of the experience I have had, apart from my own predilections, because I have been associated with temperance nearly the whole of my life. On the other hand, I believe that the great mass of the people like and enjoy a glass of beer. Many of them find it to be a necessity, and I think it ought to be placed within their reach.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said quite rightly that the object of us all is to reduce taxation to the utmost possible degree. There is no question that taxation to-day in this country is very great, and in some respects almost intolerable. If it were within my power at present to reduce, for example, the taxation upon sugar, which was most represented in the early Debates in connection with the Finance Bill, it would have been the desire of my life to effect that reduction. The increase in sugar taxation has been very great, and it has been represented in quite moderate terms as one of the staple foods of the country. One would wish, if it were possible, to reduce the taxation on sugar, not merely because of itself, but because it affects the price of so many things into which it enters. One of the great commodities which it affects is the one which we are now discussing, and I should desire for that reason, among others, that I should reduce the taxation on sugar.The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), who spoke very moderately, spoke of the consumption of beer as bad for the country.
A large extension.
I accept the correction. He said that a large extension of beer drinking is bad for the country. Nevertheless, the hon. Member recognises that beer is one of the first commodities on which a reduction must be granted. He puts sugar first, but he recognises that beer equally is entitled to very considerate treatment.It has been suggested by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts), who spoke very eloquently on this matter, that there are people who imagine that there are some sinister intentions on the part of the Government, because of the high taxation at present imposed upon beer. I am sure it is quite unnecessary for me to give the Committee an assurance upon this matter. One is guided at the present time by financial considerations. I certainly am taking no part in a controversy as to whether beer is good or bad. So far as my own personal opinion is concerned, I take the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts), that experience has shown in very dark times that a great disadvantage may be suffered if you deprive the people of this legitimate enjoyment to which they have been accustomed. Accordingly, I hope it will not be suggested that, in anything I have said, I am taking up a controversial attitude as to whether beer drinking in this country is good or bad. It has to be taken seriously into consideration that the duty on beer has risen, within a very short period, from 7s. 9d. on the barrel to 100s. That is an extraordinary increase, but it is not more extraordinary than the increase in the duty on sugar, and in both cases it is a very burdensome increase upon the price of the commodity. Accordingly, I agree that beer deserves the early consideration of the Government. But what does this particular Amendment mean? It proposes a reduction of 30s. in the duty on the standard barrel of beer, which is 24s. on the bulk barrel. That would represent a reduction of a penny on the pint of beer, and I agree with what has been said by several hon. Gentlemen to-night, that nothing less than a penny reduction would have any effect upon the price at which beer would be sold to the consumer. I have taken very particular pains to discover what is the truth with regard to that assertion, and from every side the information comes to me that if you reduce the duty by anything less than a penny on the pint, it will never reach the consumer at all. I am sure that the Committee does not want to do anything which would have so inadequate a result as that. That means, undoubtedly, the full extent of this reduction of 30s. a barrel. What would that cost the Exchequer in a year? The sum of which it will deprive us is twenty-two million pounds sterling. That is not merely on the estimate of consumption which we put in this year's Estimates; it is upon the belief that the reduced price would result in an increased consumption of 10 per cent. over our previous Estimate. I have not yet found anyone, no matter however optimistic, who was prepared to say to me that, in the present time of bad trade and unemployment, there is likely to be a greater increase of consumption than 10 per cent. Accordingly, you have to take it, in considering this topic, that if you are to propose this reduction of 30s. it is to cost the Exchequer twenty-two million pounds. Quite frankly, I must say to the Committee that I do not know where to find the money to make up that duty. It is suggested that some arrangement might be made with the brewers, by which they would bear a proportion of this reduction of the duty. That is another matter into which I have gone very closely and carefully with every desire to find some solution which would be agreeable to a large body of opinion in the House and in the country. The result to which I have been compelled to come is that it is impossible to make any such arrangement. I have had very extensive conversations on this matter, and I have gone into such figures as I could obtain. I have no such information as my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) in the way of the actual cost of production and so on, but beer is a matter of free competition in this country. There is no doubt that the brewers in this country, like every other type of business man, is anxious to make his trade pay in competition with his neighbours. There is no suggestion that there is any ring of brewers to keep up prices; there are too many types of brewers carrying on business in different ways, each anxious to make his business pay in competition with those around him. So far as I can gather, it is impossible to suggest that there is not a sufficiently active competition to keep prices down to the lowest economic level. This can be proved by anybody who inquires into the circumstances under which the trade is carried on. It was demonstrated to me that it was quite impossible to effect any arrangement by which the brewer would bear any appreciable portion of this reduction in duty. There is no longer any control in this country, and I do not imagine anyone in this House would suggest that we should go back to control. I have, heard a good deal this afternoon about bureaucratic interference, and I do not imagine anyone wants to go back to bureaucratic interference, nor do I believe it would be possible, even though we could carry out the modest suggestion that we should set up some special Committee to inquire into what it is possible for the brewer to do. If you once admitted that inquiry in regard to one trade you would immediately have to admit its propriety in regard to every other trade in the country, and I do not know any business man in the House who is prepared to submit his trade to that scrutiny. 1.0 A.M. The only result, as I am sure after very careful consideration, of admitting a smaller reduction of 15s. in the duty in the belief that public clamour would force the brewer to reduce the price by 1d. a pint—the only result of such action would be, in my definite opinion, that you would have produced again au inferior quality of beer and that we should be blamed for having done something to give the working men of this country the quality of beer that he despised in the course of the War. Not only would the consumer fail to obtain any advantage from that, but the Revenue would suffer. The yield of revenue depends on the, gravity of the beer. Every reduction of a degree in gravity results in diminution of revenue by something like two million pounds per annum, and therefore the result of any such action as has been suggested would only be to give the consumer a weaker quality of beer and give the State less revenue. Having considered the matter from every point of view, and I am sure the Committee will realise that, not with lack of desire to bring about a change which many Members wish to see brought about, I have found it impossible to meet this demand at the present time in any degree whatsoever. I admit that it involves a very serious burden upon a very large mass of the people of this country. On the other band, I have got to look at the state of the revenue. I have told the Committee that the reason why we could give no reduction in the Sugar Duty was because it cost so much. A reduction of 1d. on the Sugar Duty would cost £11,000,000. The reduction of ld. in the price of the pint of beer would cost £22,000,000. I see no other way of making up that revenue than by reimposing 1s. on the Income Tax. [HON. MEMBERS "Sixpence."] Sixpense will not do it in the present year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cut your expenses."] I would beg the Committee to face these facts, drastic as they are—the facts with which you must deal. It is no good talking about reductions of that enormous size unless you are prepared to face the consequences. I certainly have got to face the consequences, and I tell the Committee, quite frankly, that after applying the whole of my mind to the matter to the best of my ability I have found myself utterly unable to discover any way by which I can grant this remission.
Is it not the fact that the Chancellor has to-day between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 carried over from last year into this year on Income Tax and Super-tax which has not yet been paid, tax which has already been fixed and settled, but the demand notes for which have not yet been presented? If he will bring that into account this year he can give the money to the remission of this tax.
Although we may not do all that we ought to do, we do not omit to consider a fact of that kind, and the estimate of the Revenue for the past year takes all that fully into account. There are no items of that kind left out of the account. I only wish I could think there were some adventitious sums, such as he has suggested, to drop into my lap. If there were, many other things besides beer might have obtained a remission of taxation, but I am giving the Committee my considered opinion, after having discussed every form of possible revenue and saving. I hope, indeed, to make important savings in the course of the year; but you cannot give such a large remission of taxation as £22,000,000 upon the possibility of savings that you hope for. I am sure the Committee would regard that as very bad finance on the part of the Chancellor. I need not say any more, I think, in order to make the Committee thoroughly understand the position in which we find ourselves, and the reason that it is impossible to accept the Amendment proposed.
After the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one feels all the more inclined to press for a reduction of the tax. The Chancellor tells us that if he could only see any possibility of making good the apparent loss of revenue of £22,000,000 he would not hesitate, and he admits there is a real grievance in connection with this extraordinary tax upon this particular commodity. Of course, he is aware that the output is reduced by pretty well twothirds—it was in 1917 and 1918—and that it will become a lessening quantity so long as this extraordinary tax is maintained. I know something of it, because I am the Vice-chairman of a Whitley Council dealing with the brewing trade in a very large area—I represent the employés—and we know that month by month there are reductions taking place by reason of the reduced output. Some hon. Members rather questioned the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) when he said the question of the shortage of supply and the impossible price put on the workmen's beer were contributory causes of the unrest or disgruntledness among the men. As a, matter of fact, that is a statement that holds good to-day, whatever those who advocate temperance or prohibition may think of the modest pint per day that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson). Most of us here perform sedentary duties, but I would ask the Committee to remember the case of the men engaged in the heavy and hot trades of the country. They have been subject to the greatest reductions in wages. In the iron and steel industry, men working about the furnaces have had their wages reduced to almost pre-War level. It is not a sin for a man to confess that three pints of beer a day, according to his inclination, are not more than is sufficient to enable him to get through a day's hard, heavy work in front of the furnaces or down the mine. When, as a reasonable man, that citizen finds himself confronted with the almost impossible price of beer his discontent does begin to show itself, whether it be in the home circle or at work. He has a perfect right to say that in submitting to rapid wage reductions he has made his contribution to the recovery of industry. On the other hand, the State, which has placed this burden on this beverage, has retained an embargo that, added to the falling wages, adds to his discomfort beyond all measure of the discomfort of those who have Income Tax grievances. Had this duty been put on beer drinkers as direct taxation you would have had much more noise and much more trouble than you have now, when it is put on in this indirect manner. Some hon. Members rather think the men engaged in the trade itself might help by suffering reductions in wages. Reductions in wages have taken place, but if you were to wipe out all the wages altogether in the breweries of the country you would not, even with the reductions that are going on in the price of the raw materials that go to the manufacture of beer, enable the beer to be sold to the people at a penny a pint less. Wages are, perhaps, the smallest item in the brewing industry.I want to say, through this Committee, to the population and to this House, that if it is thought that the men are going to sacrifice their wages in order to help to cheapen this commodity, the brewers and the public must realise that there is going to be strenuous opposition to any further reductions in wages till, by some lightening of the taxation, there is joint sacrifice all round such as will enable a reduction to be made in the price of beer to the consumer. Until then, wages are going to remain at their present level rathen than go below it. This is the greatest single item of indirect taxation in the whole country, because of the great number of the consumers who bring this revenue into the State. If when this tax was originally increased there had been only a quarter of the consumption, I question whether the tax would have been further increased at all. The burden would have been shifted on to something else. The tax would have been kept low in order to encourage the development of the industry, so that it might be a real revenue hearing industry for the Chancellor. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must realise that if the tax is retained at its present high level, not only will he get less revenue, but there will be more trouble. There will be a greater number seeking unemployment benefit, there will be less rateable value for assessment by the local authorities, there will be a general falling off all round, and it would be much wiser, by an easement of of the taxation, to let the industry develop. I want to see it develop. I am not ashamed to say that I have worked in hard trades, and been glad of my three pints a day. It is all very well to say to people working in a hot, heavy industry in the summer time that they should drink cold tea or cold water—that will give them the stomach ache—or oatmeal and water—that will overheat the blood much more. If anything could be done to give us beer of a higher gravity, stronger beer, it would be welcome. I do not believe that the trade, with its workpeople, is capable of bearing the full brunt of the reduction of a penny a pint in the price of beer, but I do believe that if they had a reduction of £1 per standard barrel in the taxation the other 4s. could be provided by the brewers as a result of the lower price of materials used in the manufacture of beer.
I cannot help but feel that all the newspaper readers in the country will be very disappointed tomorrow when they read the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered a few moments ago. I hope he will relent before the Finance Bill is finally passed, and that, at any rate, some reduction will be given on this very high duty. I gathered in listening to the speeches that many who have preceded me are beer drinkers and possibly some of them shareholders in brewery companies. I am neither, and although I am not prepared to promise, like the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), that I can do my three pints a day, or like the hon. Member for Mid Bedford (Mr. Townley), to double my consumption if a reduction be made, I would admit that beer drinkers and those interested in breweries have a right to be heard. If I speak to-night, it is because I believe that those who are not strictly interested owe it as a duty to their constituents to protest against the Chancellor of the Exchequer keeping up the Beer Duty to 13 times the level it was in 1914. I understand from the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) that drinking of beer is not a good thing, but whether it be a bad thing or not, we must admit that beer is the Englishman's national beverage. One can claim with fairness and without any undue boasting that the beer-drinking Briton is at least as good a citizen as the wine-drinking Frenchman, the coffee-drinking Turk, the whiskey-drinking Scot—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I am stating my opinion—the vodka-drinking Russian, or the iced-water sipping American. During the War, when wages were up at a very high level, it may have been proper to raise the Beer Duty to its present extortionate height, because at that time the high Beer Duty took away from the workers to the State a large proportion of their increased wages, pretty much in the same way as the Excess Profits Duty took away from manufacturers for the revenue their inflated profits. But to-day we all know that the Excess Profits Duty has gone altogether, and the time has come when the Beer Duty should at any rate be reduced from the high level of £5 per barrel. All connected with industry know that the wages of engineers, iron-founders and miners, as well as agricultural labourers, have gone down enormously since the Beer Duty was fixed at 100 shillings per barrel. I would ask whether either Mr. Pussyfoot or any Member of Parliament believes that the manual labourer's thirst lessens automatically with the lowering of his earnings.The right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) has said that during the War it was found and proved that scarcity of beer added to the difficulties of certain trades, and, although there may be no actual scarcity to-day, we know that the duty, if retained at the present high level, makes an artificial scarcity of beer to many wage earners of this country. Many weeks ago, when Members were agitating for a reduction of 2s. in the Income Tax and the complete abolition of the Corporation Profits Tax I felt it my duty to put down a Motion on the Paper of the House in the following terms:
I did so because I felt that if at last the Chancellor of the Exchequer found himself in a position to remit taxation, it should be done in such a way as would give some measure of relief to every man, woman and child in this country; and if the reduction of 50 millions had been shared out between a reduction of Income Tax and some remission of the beer, tea and sugar duties I claim it would have given some relief to every inhabitant of this country. A reduction of Income Tax, however desirable—and we all admit it is desirable—still makes it necessary to admit also that it does not reach every family in this country. Last week I voted with the minority for a reduction in the sugar duty. I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer remitted some of the taxation upon tea, and to-night, although I usually support the Government, I shall refrain from voting for them if they insist in keeping on this duty of 100 shillings per barrel as suggested when the Budget was introduced on 1st May. I hope that when the division is taken to-night the Committee will compel the Chancellor to reconsider his declared intention of continuing the beer duty at the high level fixed in war-time. In this way we can plainly show that unless we have a remission in the duty we cannot hope to see a reduction in the retail prices. Nearly all other commodities have fallen in value. Would anybody think of paying boom prices for house-building materials, clothing, coal or articles of food? To-day tea is cheaper, coffee is cheaper, milk is cheaper, champagne is cheaper, but a small bottle of beer still remains at 8½d. Does anybody think that a price like that is reasonable or just? I think, therefore, that the Committee would do well to lessen the amount of the injustice. A reduction in the beer duty should receive support from almost every quarter of the House. I believe a well-known politician once defined beer as liquid bread. I am not sure whether you, Sir Edwin, or I would go as far as that, but we will admit that beer has some nutritive value, and all our friends who want to reduce the tax on food should help to reduce the duty on beer. Other Members wish to see a reduction in the entertainments duty, and they also should support some reduction in the beer duty. Most Members of this House are members of one or more clubs and pay an annual subscription of anything from one to fifteen guineas or even more, and they pay the annual subscription in order to meet their friends and discuss with them finance, politics or sport. Our working men constituents cannot possibly afford to pay such a membership fee, so, instead, they go into some friendly hostelry where by purchasing a pint of beer, they may meet their chums and discuss no doubt the speeches of hon. Members or other less important or would some say more important topics. I ask whether anyone can truly say that 7d. a pint is a reasonable price for a pint of beer? Some years ago, long before the War, I happened to be President of a Conservative club where beer was sold at 2d. per pint and the annual trading accounts of that club showed such a huge profit that the members induced the committee to reduce the price from 2d. to 1½d. a pint. I can assure the Committee that there was still a margin of profit shown on the trading accounts of that club. I sometimes wonder, when one talks of the good old days, whether it dates back to the time when decent beer could be bought at 2d. or 1½d. per pint. I do not know, Sir, whether you know Yorkshire well. But there is a saying which is pretty commonly used, "There is good beer and better beer, but. no bad beer." To-day the true rendering of that would be, "There is dear beer and there is weak beer, but there is no cheap beer." I had hoped that the discussion on the beer duty would, at any rate, if it did not give cheap beer would give cheaper beer than has existed for some time. In conclusion, may I point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the consumption of beer steadily fell in 1921, and is still decreasing. Therefore, I would urge the Committee to see to it that we do not drive the working men and women of this country away from drinking their national beverage—beer—to something less wholesome and more mischievous."That in the opinion of the House it is desirable that there shall be no reduction in the rate of Income Tax unless accompanied by a. reasonable corresponding reduction in the beer, sugar and tea duties."
The hon. Member who has just set down, when be gave some indication that he was bringing his remarks to a close, elicited such obvious tokens of disappointment to the Committee that I think I ought to add a few observations. All I want to do is to express the hope that the Committee will not feel themselves intimidated by the speech which was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor told us, after expressing very great sympathy with the Amendment before the Committee, that the only possible way of replacing the revenue which would be lost by accepting this Amendment was by reimposing a shilling on the Income Tax. But a reimposition of a shilling on the Income Tax cannot be done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It must be done by the Committee, and I hope the Committee will take the attitude which I intend to take and to vote for this Amendment with the strongest possible resolution not to allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make up the revenue from the reimposition of a shilling Income Tax. I do not believe there is any such necessity. To begin with, as one hon. Member has already suggested, I believe it will be found that the Budget of this year leaves a very much larger margin of revenue than the Chancellor of the Exchequer has yet acknowledged. But even if that were not so, there are many other sources of revenue which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not yet tapped. My hon. and learned Friend who is now representing the Government will remember many Debates which we have had in the House in the past on the question of enlarging the basis of taxation. That has never yet been done, but the resources of civilisation in that respect have not been exhausted. It is not for me to suggest the way that revenue could be obtained, because, as my right hon. Friend knows, it is not open to a private Member of this House to move a charge upon the taxpayer. That is the duty of the Government. But do let the Committee realise that there are a great many sources of indirect taxation which might perfectly well be resorted to if the necessity should arise. Feeling as I do, as much as any hon. Gentleman who has spoken of the absolute necessity of putting the national beverage—for it is that—of Englishmen into their hands at a more reasonable price than they have recently been paying, it is the incumbent duty of the Government to find a substitute for the revenue which they will lose in this respect.There has been a certain amount of opinion expressed this evening that it would not be to the advantage of the country if there was any large increase in beer drinking, and it has been assumed that you cannot largely increase the consumption without leading to excess drinking by the individual. That is the greatest possible fallacy. I entirely share the view of the hon. Gentleman who spoke a moment ago from the Labour Benches, that some three or four pints a day of good beer is not excessive drinking, especially in some of the more exhausting employments in which men are engaged. The amount, of course, an individual can take without harm to himself or anybody else is a matter for his own judgment. But let us bear this in mind—you can increase the consumption of beer very largely without increasing the individual consumption of any man, because there must be very large numbers of people now who, owing to the price or for other reasons, abstain altogether from taking beer, may take a small quantity without any harm to themselves or to anybody else, and would give the revenue which the Government wants. Therefore, do let the Committee make up its mind that we are not necessarily on the horns of the dilemma which the Chancellor of the Exchequer put before us. Let us vote boldly for this reduction in order that we may get our beer for lunch or dinner a penny a pint cheaper, in common with the rest of our fellow-countrymen, and let us not allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one moment to carry out the threat that he has made, and let us demand from him that, he shall make the revenue good, if it is required, out of some sources which have not yet been disclosed, if at the end of the year it is found there is not already sufficient margin to meet the deficit that will be caused.
The most important statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer made was that if this reduction of a penny per pint, which the Amendment seeks to bring about, took place, the consumption of beer would only go up 10 per cent. This means that you are going to relieve the beer drinkers of this country, who are, after all, in the great majority manual labourers, of a taxation of nearly nine-tenths of 22 millions a year. Where is that money going to which will he lost to the Exchequer in taxation on beer? It is going to he spent by them more largely on their families. They will be able to afford more and better food. They will be able to take their families to amusements. They will be able to spend more on clothing. This will mean about £20,000,000 worth extra trade in the country, because the people who will get this relief are not the class who spend money abroad. They are the class who spend it in the home market. Although, apparently, we shall lose a certain amount of revenue, we are bound to gain by better trade, which means better Income Tax receipts; by less unemployment, which means less; paid out in unemployment relief. Altogether there will not be a loss of £20,000,000 or anything like it. The next point which was very strikingly made, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the only means of making good the relief in Beer Duties demanded by the people of the country was by taxing some other class or imposing some other duty. The question of savings or even an alteration of policy which would lead to savings apparently has not dawned on the Cabinet. I intend to make it clear, as far as my own constituents are concerned, and as far as any other constituency I address is concerned, that the Government is unable to give this relief to the consumers of beer because their policy will not allow them to save. I am also going to point out where savings could be made without any loss to the country, and where a great deal could be gained by a change of policy in withdrawing from parts of the world where we have no business to be. That is as much as I will say on that subject now. A change of policy would make this saving possible.I am going to vote for this Amendment because I consider that the tax is extremely unfair to a class of man who is suffering, particularly at the present time, namely, the unskilled labourer and the casual labourer. I am as strongly in favour of Temperance Measures as anyone in this House, but I think it is extremely unfair to make men teetotallers by compulsion, and that is what you are doing at the present moment in thousands of cases throughout the country. There is the added danger that, by making it expensive to drink beer, the men who want alcohol will turn to spirit drinking, with worse results. A man who wants alcohol will take to spirit drinking, and is doing so now in many cases, I am advised, with harmful result [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] This is the first time I have addressed the Committee to-day, and I do not think I should he interrupted by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Sturrock) or any of his Friends. One of the most powerful speeches made by an opponent of this Amendment was that made by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) who told us that if we were to beat the Government there would be an election on the beer issue. The hon. Member does not understand the Prime Minister, who is quite capable of inventing some other cry which would bring more credit to himself and he does not know the present mood of the people of the country, who have many other things to discuss besides the question of beer. We need not he afraid of that and our dignity before foreign countries. Let us give the Chancellor of the Exchequer a lesson, and the only way to do that is in the Division Lobbies. It is only by votes that any impression will be made on the Government and bring relief to men who are being very hardly and unfairly treated.
I do not think we ought to go to a Division without considering one very deserving class of people, namely, the agricultural labourer. An hon. Member opposite laid down that a man doing heavy work ought to have, quite legitimately, three pints of beer a day. What can the agricultural labourer possibly get at the present moment? His wages have fallen from 46s. a week to 30s. If he has to pay even 6d. for a pint of beer and takes one a day that would take 3s. 6d. out of his small wage of 30s. The agricultural labourer has a very hard time. He has few amusements, he has few prospects for advancement, he very often has a large family, and I think the Committee ought to consider whether by keeping this heavy tax they are treating this deserving class of man really fairly. You are practically preventing the agricultural labourer having his one solace during the day. You are preventing him having what he is entitled to in order to carry on his work. The farmer are unable to give him higher wages owing to the depression in agriculture, and that is a condition which ought to be in the minds of hon. Members when they go to a Division.
It would be an act of cowardice on my part if I did not explain why I shall vote for the Government in resisting this Amendment. So far there has been only one speech in favour of the Government. I do not want to discuss beer as a beverage, or the amount a man may with advantage drink. I am not going into extraneous details as to my own habits. All I would say, as one who is privileged to employ a few people to assist in certain enterprises, is that I know for myself which class of person I find most efficient in their work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which is it?"] Those who do not take beer or any other alcoholic beverage to excess. That, however, is a matter of opinion, and I do not intend to go into it. The speech which impressed me most in this Debate was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts). It was a speech which I was sorry he found it necessary to make. It was a speech which I regard as a most serious indictment of the working classes; a speech which told us that during the tragedies, anxieties, and terrors of the War there were those at home who did not go out to fight, but who were not content to work because of the amount of beer that they could drink. I consider that to be a libel on the working man. I have many friends among the miners of Northumberland and Yorkshire and among other workers, and I say a statement of that kind is not one which is fair to them. I believe in this matter we should look upon it largely as a fiscal question. The question of sugar has been raised. No remission of taxation on sugar has been possible, and sugar is practically a necessity. It enters into the food of practically every section of the community. It is also used for many manufactures. But beer is, and must be admitted to be, in the nature of a luxury. The beer tax is in a sense a sumptuary tax. No man is compelled to pay it, and if a man finds it necessary to drink beer, then he must at a time of financial necessity make his contribution to the welfare of the country.I resent exceedingly and regret very deeply the kind of pressure which has been put upon Members with regard to this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich spoke of the brewers and all those engaged in the sale and manufacture of drink as being disinterested. I do not agree with him, but I want to say that I believe a great deal of the agitation and resolutions we receive from the clubs, and professedly from working men do not come genuinely from the working men as a class, are engineered and circulated by those interested in the sale of liquor.
Everyone knows that.
The hon. Member is not helping the cause by the interruptions she is now making. I regret exceedingly, and I think it is a degradation of Members of Parliament that 150 Members of this House pledged themselves before the Debate, and before they heard what the Chancellor had to say, to vote for this Amendment. That is a pressure and degradation that should not he put upon Members of Parliament.
There are one or two points in regard to this question which have not been touched upon. The tax upon beer has been increased during the last few years to the extent of 13 times. In pre-War times the tax on beer, when we could get it at threepence a pint, was a farthing; now, when we have to pay sevenpence a pint for what is called beer, the tax is 3½d. I suggest it, is in the interest of the Government themselves as business men to reduce this taxation. There is one other point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the reduction of one degree in the gravity of beer would mean a reduction of two million pounds of revenue, but I think, in fairness to the Committee, he should have told us the other side, which is that since 1919 every increase in the gravity has brought in an additional revenue for each degree, and we have been consuming twenty or thirty million barrels.Very few hon. Members have tried to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he is going to get his money, and it is perhaps unbecoming on the part of so young a Member as I am to try to do so. I am not going to point out where he might get the twenty-two millions, but I am going to point out where I think he has already got it. I may be wrong, but unless I get an answer to this statement I mean to vote against the Government. If I find I am wrong, I will support them. One hon. Member spoke about twenty million pounds of unpaid Excess Profits Duty. I think it is between fifty and sixty millions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says he has already taken that into account. I do not suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer manipulates and controls the money markets of the world or of the. Empire, but when he introduced his Budget he was paying for the Floating Debt interest at the rate of 5 per cent. Since the Budget. I think he has been paying for Floating Debt interest of 3 per cent. Where is the money representing that difference, between 3 and 5 per cent. on 850 million pounds?
There is a disparity between the interest on the Floating Debt at the time the Budget speech was made and the present rate, which is not so much. But we have calculated in the present year, before the Budget was presented, that there would be a lowering of interest in the course of the present year, and we have made all allowances for that which we considered would be justified.
Having received an answer to his question, the hon. Member cannot be allowed to continue a general discussion on that topic.
One other point ought to be cleared up. The Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the Committee that he had been in conversation or communication with members of the trade and that he was in hopes that he could meet them by the State giving up some of the taxation and the trade meeting them in the balance, and be informed the Committee that he had been unable to arrive at a solution. I think that is a very serious statement. I put the entire onus of this inability of the Government to reduce this taxation on the trade themselves, because I really think that it is possible for the Chancellor to make a reduction and for the trade to make a reduction. I really think a solution could be found if we could get a Committee set up to go into this thing with the Treasury Bench and the trade.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to me to be placing the supporters of the Government in a position of very great difficulty. I am one of those who have supported the Government almost consistently and in almost every division of this Session, and I think that we are entitled to some further information as to the negotiations which have taken place with the brewers on the question of the extent to which they are able to make a reduction in the price of beer. I have had conversations with a number of brewers in which they thought they could reduce the price of beer. I understand that there is great division of opinion among the brewers concerned and that they can reduce the price of beer. I have been going into some figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I am going to finish what I have to say.
Circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that a reduction of 1d. on the pint of beer would result in a loss of £24,000,000 to the revenue. [HON. MEMBERS: "£22,000,000!"] I think I am correct in the way I am putting it.
You are more royalist than the King.
I think that is allowing for the 10 per cent. increase in the consumption. If, instead of taking off 30s. per barrel, you were to take off only 15s., it would mean a loss to the revenue of only £12,000,000. I believe the brewers can easily afford a reduction in their profits amounting to £12,000,000. I believe they are making very large profits. I have gone into the figures very extensively, and I find that their profits are very much larger than £12,000,000, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only take a bold line, and a plucky line, it would result in a reduction of ld. per pint to the working people of the country and would cost him only £12,000,000. Out of that £12,000,000, £4,000,000 would come to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the form of Income Tax, and therefore the total loss to the revenue would be only £8,000,000. As to his statement that the brewers would reduce the gravity of their beer, I think public opinion is so strong on the point that we should see not only that there was a reduction of 1d., but that the gravity remained at the present level. I am sure that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would only take a strong line on this question that he might be quite sure the loss to the revenue which he fears would not exist.
My apology for speaking is in some of the speeches that have gone before. This is a very unfortunate Motion that has been made; it is very unfair to Scotland. The question of the duty on beer should have been taken in conjunction with the duty on whisky. It is very unfair of Englishmen to steal a march on the Scotsmen. I believe that beer is a food. Undoubtedly whisky is a medicine. I admit that Scotch people take their medicine with great regularity and, indeed, many Members of this House have acquired the Scotch practice. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not expect to lose much on the beer duty through the falling off in consumption. From the fiscal point of view he has a great deal to say for himself on the subject of beer; but on the whisky duty he has lost £7,500,000 last year, and he will lose £15,000,000 in the year to come. It is perfectly clear. I have a bundle of newspaper cuttings here—I will not read them—setting forth the illicit distilling that is going on. In a question a few weeks ago I put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that one distillery had been discovered capable of turning out 250 gallons per week. The duty on that would be £1,000 a week, or £50,000 a year. I suggested to him that here was probably an explanation of the falling off in the Whisky Duty. I was told—in fact, the Procurator Fiscal said—it was a very high quality of whisky that was produced. I suggested to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this still had been in existence for a considerable time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he had no reason to believe that it had been in existence for any length of time, but when one of the staff of the distillery was fined he admitted that he had joined the staff Is months before. The judge said this kind of thing must be put down with a strong hand and fined him £300, or a third of one week's duty. This whisky is being sold all over the place; they are selling it at £2 a gallon, and it is going like the wind. There is no doubt this is spreading all over the place, and when people have such enormous funds at their disposal it is not difficult to get matters hushed up. They even managed to connect direct with the gas mains, so as not to show the amount of gas they were consuming.
The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the beer duty.
I am simply using this as an illustration of a fiscal argument.
It went beyond an illustration and became an argument.
On a point of Order. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has pointed out that he cannot find revenue if this Amendment be carried. It is not open to an hon. Member to show that revenue is being lost through the process which he has described, and that if the revenue authorities were more vigilant in collecting the whisky duty, they would have the money to reduce the beer duty?
I am afraid it would be quite out of order to explore that source of revenue on the Motion that a Clause as to one particular duty be read a Second time. The hon. Member would see how far we could go in that direction.
This duty is levied on alcohol, and there is alcohol in beer. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Withdraw!"] I admit it is almost impossible to identify it in present-day beer; it requires almost a chemical analysis to identify it. We do not want to have anything in the nature of prohibition either by taxation or legislation because it would only lead to us becoming a nation of "boodlers," like another great branch of the Anglo-Saxon race. We do not want "boot-legging" and the illicit brewing of beer to become one of our principal industries. I suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should remember the words of the Old Book—
If he could see his way to give something of a reduction I believe he would find that the consumption would increase enormously. What chiefly brought me to my feet were the remarks of the hon. Member for Morley (Mr. Prance). He made a serious attack on the right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) because he told of his experiences as Food Controller, and how people resented the reduction in the supplies of beer. I disagree with him entirely. The people did not believe these were bonâ fide reductions, and they resented the attempt which was undoubtedly made to take advantage of the crisis of a great war to push a particular piece of fanaticism. That is what they resented. They resented the insult of "the lure of drink," and other cant phrases that were used to explain the shortage of munitions, when it was really the Government's own mismanagement that brought about that state of things, and they put down their feet stubbornly. An effort was made either to nationalise the drink trade or to enforce prohibition. The thing was tried in parts of Scotland, and you could buy drink by the gallon where you could not buy it by the gill. That is what caused dissatisfaction. I think the right hon. Member for Norwich gave a perfectly faithful illustration. I would like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us some hope for the future—something that we could look forward to in the way of reduction."There is that scattereth and yet increaseth."
Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 102; Noes, 184.
Division No 182.]
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gretton, Colonel John||Nall, Major Joseph|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||Grundy, T. W.||Naylor, Thomas Ellis|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Banton, George||Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W.(Liv'p'l,W.D'bv)||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen, J. (Westminster)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Barker, Major Robert H.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||O'Grady, Captain James|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Hartshorn, Vernon||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Hayday, Arthur||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Hayward, Evan||Polson, Sir Thomas A.|
|Blane, T. A.||Hills, Major John Waller||Rae, Sir Henry N.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hirst, G. H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Bromfield, William||Holmes, J. Stanley||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Bruton, Sir James||Hurd, Percy A.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Irving, Dan||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Cairns, John||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Jephcott, A. R.||Seddon, J. A.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Clough, Sir Robert||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||Kidd, James||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Kiley, James Daniel||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Lawson, John James||Swan, J. E.|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander Harry||Lunn, William||Sykes, Sir Charles (Huddersfield)|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Macquisten, F. A.||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.|
|Falcon, Captain Michael||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Foreman, Sir Henry||Manville, Edward||Wignall, James|
|Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Martin, A. E.||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Mosley, Oswald|
|Gillis, William||Murchison, C. K.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Myers, Thomas||Mr. Robert Richardson and Mr. Frederick Hall.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Jameson, John Gordon|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Davies, David (Montgomery)||Johnstone, Joseph|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Du Pre, Colonel William Baring||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Edge, Captain Sir William||Jones, J, T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Ednam, Viscount||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George|
|Atkey, A. R.||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Evans, Ernest||Lane-Fox, G. R.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Larmor, Sir Joseph|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Foot, Isaac||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Ford, Patrick Johnston||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)|
|Bellairs, Commander Canyon W.||Forestler-Walker, L.||Lorden, John William|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Forrest, Walter||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell||France, Gerald Ashburner||Lowther, Maj.-Gen. Sir C. (Penrith)|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)|
|Birchall, J. Dearman||Fremantle, Lieut-Colonel Francis E.||McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Gee, Captain Robert||M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian)|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Mallalieu, Frederick William|
|Brassoy, H. L. C.||Gould, James C.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington)||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Briant, Frank||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)||Morrison, Hugh|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Sir Hamar||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.|
|Brotherton, Colonel Sir Edward A.||Grenfell, Edward Charles||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E.||Murray, Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Guthrie, Thomas Maule||Murray. Rt. Hon. C. D. (Edinburgh)|
|Burgoyne, Lt.-Col. Sir Alan Hughes||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hamilton, Sir George C.||Murray, John (Leeds, West)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Neal, Arthur|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Haslam, Lewis||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)|
|Casey, T. W.||Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Hinds, John||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Child, Brigadier-General Sir Hill||Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G.||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Spender||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hope. Sir H. (Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn,W.)||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington)||Palmer, Major Godfrey Mark|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Hopkins, John W. W.||Parker, James|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Cope, Major William||Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Cory, Sir C. J. (Cornwall, St. Ives)||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Pickering, Colonel Emil W.|
|Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Starkey, Captain John Ralph||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Pratt, John William||Sturrock, J. Long||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)|
|Purchase, H. G.||Sutherland, Sir William||Wilson, Col. M. J. (Richmond)|
|Raffan, Peter Wilson||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Winterton, Earl|
|Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)||Wise, Frederick|
|Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Thorpe, Captain John Henry||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Tryon, Major George Clement||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Turton, Edmund Russborough||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge & Hyde)|
|Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur||Wallace, J.||Worthington-Evans. Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D||Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
|Shaw, William T. (Forfar)||Watson, Captain John Bertrand||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.||McCurdy.|
|Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[ Sir R. Horne].
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow (Wednesday).