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Spirits (Excise)

Volume 415: debated on Wednesday 31 October 1945

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First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Are we not to have any explanation of this complicated Resolution?

3.30 p.m.

I will gladly give the House any explanation within our power. It is, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, a very complicated Resolution. The effect of it will be to save the Revenue about £1,000,000 in a full year. It is a Resolution which was introduced last April by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget. Some considerable time ago, under the old law, a prohibition was put upon brewing and distilling at one and the same time. The result was that those engaged in brewing and distilling felt that they had a grievance because it involved them in extra expense. It was in those days felt to be essential that brewing and distilling should not take place at one and the same time, for the protection of the revenue. Times have changed, and it is now felt that it is possible to protect the revenue without having to insist on brewing and distilling taking place on different occasions. Up to now an allowance of 3d. has been made to the distillers to meet their extra charges in this direction, but as the prohibition has come to an end it is thought that the allowance also should be withdrawn. A White Paper setting forth the whole story was issued last April, and hon. Members who desire to have further information on the matter and to know exactly why the Chancellor has decided to end the allowance will find that explained in that White Paper, which is Command Paper 6622.

I should like to say a few words about the Resolution, but before doing so I feel bound to declare my own private interest in this matter, because my family business happens to be one of the two or three independent businesses engaged in the manufacture of industrial spirit which are referred to in the Command Paper mentioned. We are independent of the combine, so I think it is important that our views should be heard. I think the withdrawal of these drawbacks is absolutely justified and ought to have been done a long time ago. The withdrawal now is consequent upon the Government's decision to repeal the Spirits Act, 1880, and to control the manufacture of spirits under regulations that will be promulgated by Order. It is an interesting commentary on the change in the business proceedings of this House that in 1880, 65 years ago, the House was prepared to spend a very long time upon the discussion of regulations that were purely technical. It is an excellent example of the great improvement brought about, of legislation, in this case by Order, as against ordinary Acts of Parliament. I wish to say something more about this Command Paper. Without going into technicalities—I must say that we did not give evidence before it, and I am not personally involved in this at all—I must say that it is disturbing to note that it seems to have been a most undignified inquiry. A number of witnesses behaved, to my mind, in a very undignified manner, and the Commissioners themselves retorted by what was, in effect, a very unfair bias in their report. I very much regret that, but I feel bound, speaking as a neutral person interested in this trade, to make these rather harsh comments on the conduct of witnesses and of the Committee itself.

Having said that, I have said all I mean to say except that I hope the House will agree with this Resolution, because it is entirely justified and the drawbacks should have been withdrawn long ago. I would only add that I think any Government will have to make up its mind whether the manufacture of industrial alcohol in this country is of national advantage or not, because it is quite possible that it will be found that it is more economical to manufacture industrial alcohol in, say, the West Indies or other sugar producing areas, rather than import the raw molasses into this country and make it into alcohol here. I just sound this note of warning, because that is a difficulty with which this Government and every future Government will be faced. I support the Resolution.

I am sure that the House is going to give the Government this Resolution without undue delay or debate, which would not have been the case if we had still had the pleasure of the company of the Noble Lady who used to represent the Sutton division. I imagine that this Resolution is part of the Government machinery for the protection of dollar exchange. Whisky, whatever its merits or demerits, is a very popular export to the United States of America and I am sure the Chancellor has that in mind in framing this Resolution. The stop which was put to double distillation during the war was a wartime measure, and we welcome this change as a harbinger of peace, as one of the ways in which we are ready to march forward; and as a Member representing an agricultural area which supplies some of the raw material for the distillation of whisky I wanted to say, on behalf of my constituents, that I welcome this Resolution and hope it will be passed.

Question, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.