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New Clause—(Reduction Of Licence Duty On Certain Liquor Licences)

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1922

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The duties chargeable on the following excise liquor licences, that is to say, retailers' on-licences for spirits, beer, or wine, retailers' off-licenees for spirits, beer, or wine, shall be reduced by fifty per tentum.—[Colonel Sir A. Holbrook.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause, I hope, will meet with the sympathy of the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer, because it affects mainly a very large number of men who cannot he in any way regarded as profiteers—ex-service men who on retiring from the navy or the army have invested their all in a small public-house or beer-house. The character of these men as a rule is beyond question, because before they take these houses they have to pass an investigation of character by the brewers and the police, and, except in the case of Carlisle which is under the control of the Government, they have to go before the magistrates and get the permission of the justices before they can take over their licences. They are deserving of sympathy in all respects. The present rates of these duties were imposed by the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, at a time when retail licensed houses were entitled to remain open for periods varying according to the locality from 19½ to 17 hours on weekdays. Under the operation of the Licensing Act, 1921, the corresponding hours vary from 9 to 8 hours. The hours on Sundays have been reduced in similar proportions. The principle has always been accepted by the Legislature that licence duties should he imposed with reference to the number of hours during which liquor could be sold under the licenses. For instance, the Licensing Act, 1872, provided that for a licence under which liquor could not be sold on a Sunday the duty should be reduced by one-seventh. Again, the Licensing Act, 1874, made a similar provision with regard to early closing licences under which the sale of liquor had to cease one hour earlier than in ordinary circumstances. Finally, the Finance Act (No. 2), 1914, granted a rebate of licence duty in respect of those houses where hours of sale were curtailed by the orders of the Central Control Board and this was gradually increased until it reached 75 per cent. of the full duty. On this principle which is obviously fair, seeing that the present permitted hours of sale are about one-half of those in force when the present heavy rates of duty were imposed, the claim that these duties should be reduced by a similar proportion seems unanswerable. The provisions of the Licensing Act, 1921, having reduced the hours of trading, equity demands that a revision of the license duty charge should he considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the principle of the Finance Act, 1917, Section 7, given effect to in the form of a reduction of charge, instead of, as then, a rebate where hours had been reduced, and I therefore ask for reduction as a quid pro quo for lessened trade as the outcome of over 50 per cent. less trading hours. I would point out that in present circumstances, owing to the houses being closed for the greater part of the day, the holders of licences for wayside inns situate in the Division which I represent lose much of the travelling trade which they held under the old system, and have to depend therefore on the village trade alone. If the Chancellor cannot see his way to making a 50 per cent. reduction of present license fees, I hope that at any rate he will display the same sympathy as he has done to clubs, and grant a very deserving class of men some relief from their present burdens.

I am afraid I cannot agree with the proposals made by my hon. and gallant Friend.

If you cannot give me the whole reduction, can you not not give me 25 per cent.?

I am afraid I cannot. The proposal which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made would cost the Exchequer over £1,750,000, so that I am afraid it is impossible in the situation to-day. May I just say one word on the view that the restricted hours should involve compensation in respect that it is not as easy to make a living. In point of fact, the reduction in the hours does not really operate to any appreciable extent. It is true of this as of every other trade. It is suffering from the diminution of the earnings of the people, and therefore of their spending power, and the result is that not so much is being spent on liquor than was the case a year ago. But I think it is true that the public have accommodated themselves to the new hours, and that there is no real reduction due to the lessened hours, but due to the depreciation of trade from which we are suffering. When we recover from the trade depression the question of the restricted hours will no doubt get attention.

There is one issue I want to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend. He has given a concession to the clubs earlier in the Debate, and there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among licensed victuallers upon the competition of these clubs, and I should like the Chancellor to consider carefully that injustice and to reconsider his decision in the light of the facts.

Whereas in the same period the increase in the levy upon clubs has been from £6 to £34, the increase in licence duty on public houses was only from £35 to 237, so that while the duty was increased almost six times in the case of the one the increase in the case of the other was infinitesimal.

There are many public houses who are hard hit by the restrictions. Perhaps the Chancellor will remember the great canals throughout the country, and that many of the public houses on the banks of these canals are in great stress because the people who use these houses want to use them when they pass the house. Another thing is that, as far as my constituency is concerned, it is a fact that unless a man who keeps a public house has some other enterprise, so that what he loses on the swings he gains on the roundabouts, he is in danger of going very shortly into the bankruptcy court.

Having regard to the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.