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New Clause—(Reduced Customs Duties On Tea)

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 29 November 1945

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

(1) The duties of customs chargeable on tea under section one of the Finance Act, 1936, shall be at the following reduced rates that is to say:—

Tea not being an Empire product the lb. 8d.

Tea being an Empire product … the lb. 2d.

(2) This section shall be deemed to have had effect as from the twenty-fourth day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-five.— [Mr. Butcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I now ask the Committee to turn their attention from the intricacies of the law as it affects large company taxpayers to the claims of the vast majority of the citizens, indeed, the claims of almost every citizen except the holders of babies' ration books, and even they, I think, have some share in the tea rations. It has been almost an axiom of our taxation that when benefits were given to the direct taxpayers by means of the amelioration of taxation upon them that some benefit should be conferred also upon indirect taxpayers, and the purpose of this new Clause, which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Stanley Holmes) is to give the Chancellor some opportunity of keeping the customary balance between these two classes of taxpayer. I appreciate the Government's difficulty in these matters. It is not an easy thing to remit large slices of taxation at any time, and particularly now. That, indeed, has been an argument which has been coming from the Treasury bench throughout the Committee stage, but I hope that this is one particular claim to which the Government will be really eager to accede.

This new Clause proposes to reduce the duties payable on tea. I know that in ampler days, in 1929, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) entirely abolished the tea duties in his Budget. They were re-imposed later. This was not regarded with favour by the benches opposite, and I do not blame them. I do not think there is any great party feeling over this question of the tea duties. I have merely amended suitably the wording of an Amendment which was moved in June, 1939, by the present Minister of War Transport, and now that Members opposite have the opportunity of controlling the financial affairs of the nation, and in view of the fact that in 1929 the Conservative Party entirely abolished that duty, and that in 1939 hon. Members opposite moved a reduction, I suggest we could choose this psychological moment to act together and bring the tax down. This is the reason why this is the psychological moment. The tea ration is at its very lowest and, therefore, it is at this precise time that the cost of remission will be smallest to the Chancellor. If he allows the tea ration to be increased without making any remission of taxation the burden to be faced will be far greater.

I hope that the Financial Secretary is not going to give another of those sympathetic promises to consider this next April. The people of this country are going to expect a lot more tea between now and April, and if he takes advantage of the opportunity that I am giving him, it will cost far less to do it now, in November, than it would cost him to do it in April. In view of the distinguished parentage of this new Clause, I would remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of War Transport based his claim on three classes of people who had not received any benefit under the 1939 Budget. There are the old age pensioners. What have they received from the Socialist Government in their first Budget? The answer is, "Nothing." There is unemployment, and the figures for unemployment are already rising. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Jean Mann), in showing concern for her own constituency, has drawn from the Minister of Labour the information that unemployment in her area is 11 per cent. And then there is the widow. The right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Transport, in 1939, said:
"The imposition of the Tea Duty does represent actual distress if not to the majority of the citizens of this country, at any rate to a fairly considerable proportion.— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1939; Vol. 349, c. 766.]
That was his position in those days and he was supported—I am sure that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be interested in this—by two hon. Gentlemen who have since been closely associated with the Treasury. I refer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge), now a Junior Lord of the Treasury, and to an hon. Gentleman equally prominent on the Socialist benches, the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R.J. Taylor). The case which these hon. Gentlemen put in 1939 convinced many of their colleagues, and indeed, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who was the Financial Secretary at that time, was hard put to it to resist the argument, and nothing but the fact that we were engaged in a heavy rearmament programme prevented him from accepting the Amendment. I hope that the Financial Secretary is in no way embarrassed in feeling that he might accept this Clause during the absence of his Chief. I can assure him that he will not get into trouble at all. In the Division on that occasion no fewer than 31 Members of the Government voted for the kind of Clause I am now commending to the Committee, and they included the present Chancellor. They are not only my views. Thirteen of them were what are called Cabinet Ministers or Ministers of Cabinet rank, so that the Financial Secretary need not worry about sending for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will be quite safe in accepting this Amendment off his own bat, and he will please his hon. Friends who sit behind him and hon. Member on these Benches.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman how he voted on that occasion?

I felt it my duty on that occasion—perhaps because the arguments were not put forwardso well as on this occasion—to vote against it, because I thought,.on balance, that the most convincing argument on that occasion was that of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). Perhaps it was not altogether the way in which the arguments were presented at that time, but I have had the opportunity of pondering them in recent days, and I have been convinced of their worth. I believe that this is the psychological moment to do it at the cheapest cost to the National Exchequer. It will bring a benefit to the old age pensioner, the unemployed and the widow, and I fail to see why the Government, having advocated it in 1939 when they were in a minority, should not now, when tea consumption is at its lowest, be consistent and accept the Clause.

:I would say a word or two in support of the convincing case put by my hon. Friend. If we think for a moment of the six years through which the nation has just passed I am sure everyone will agree that the greatest consolation the people of the country had during that period was the cup of tea. One heard that said in blitzed areas, by men coming home after a hard day's work in factories, and so on. We are often told by the Chancellor, and also by the Financial Secretary, that certain things must not be allowed to become cheaper because it would mean an increased demand in a market which was not capable of meeting it, but that does not apply to tea. Tea is rationed and, therefore, if the tax is reduced it will not make the price go up, and the whole benefit will go to those who want a cup of tea, particularly the poorest people who are often spoken about by hon. Members opposite—the people in the lowest strata of society, as it were. Now comes the new Clause, and I call on my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends opposite to implement by their vote today what they believed to be desirable in 1939, and what is even more pressing now than it was in those days.

My hon. Friend referred to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1929, abolished the Tea Duty and in his speech at that time reminded the House that the Tea Duty had remained in being since the time of Queen Elizabeth and that he was glad to be the instrument to abolish the tax in the reign of King George V. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has now a great opportunity, the opportunity of voting for the very Motion he voted for in 1939. He has a similar opportunity to that which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford had in 1929, of abolishing once again the Tea Duty in the reign of King George VI.

9.15 p.m.

:This new Clause of the two hon. Gentlemen who make up a fair proportion of the Liberal-National Party, is rather an interesting, one. The interjection by my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) put the Clause in its true perspective. I do not think that either hon. Gentleman expects that the Chancellor will accept it. If the Government accepted it, the effect would be to reduce the duty on Empire tea by 4d. per lb. At the present moment the existing duties are 8d. a lb. on foreign teas and 6d. a lb. on Empire teas, the

Division No. 37.

AYES.

[9.20 p.m.

Agnew, Cmdr.P.G.Byers,Lt. Col.F.Fletcher, W. (Bury)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Armagh)Carson, E.Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone)
Amory, Lt.-Col. D. H. Clarke, Col. R. S. Gage, Lt.-Col. C.
Baldwin, A. E.Cooper-Key, Maj. E. M. Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Gates, Maj. E. E.
Bennett, Sir P.Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. 0. E. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G.
Birch, Lt.-Col. NigelCuthbert, W. N.Granville, E. (Eye)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.(Wells)Digby, Maj. S. WingfieldGridley, Sir A.
Boothby, R.Dodds-Parker, Col. A. D.Grimston, R. V.
Bowen, R.Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Hare, Lt.-Col. Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)
Bower, N.Grayson, Capt. G. B.Harvey, Air-Cmdre A. V.
Boyd-Carpenter, Maj. J. A. Drewe, C.Haughton, Maj. S. G.
Braithwaite, Lt. Comdr. J. G. Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C. of Lond.) Headlam, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Eccles, D. M.Hollis, Sqn.-Ldr. M. C.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Erroll, Col. F. J.Howard, Hon. A.

difference of 2d. being due to the preference under the 1939 Agreement with India, when that preference was guaranteed. At the present time, and for a very large part of the war, we have had little or no foreign tea coming into this country. It has all been Empire tea, and the effective duty on Empire tea has been about 6d. a lb.

As tea is rationed, none of us gets a great deal—I think it is 2½ ozs. per week—and, therefore, the burden of the Duty is not great. How long rationing will continue it is difficult to say, but I think I can say that it must continue for some little time, and certainly beyond April next, when, if hon. Members opposite desire to press their case, they will have all the opportunities they want.

The duty now works out at about 1d. per head per week, and the incidence of that on the cost of living is very small. About one-third of the duty is offset by the subsidy. There is a subsidy of about £3,500,000 on tea, so that it offsets the Duty, and the result is that the actual effect on the old-age pensioner's or anybody else's cup of tea or even that of Ministers who have occasionally to go out and refresh themselves, is infinitesimal. If we had to accept the new Clause the cost to the Exchequer in a full year, dating back to 24th October, which is the suggestion contained in the Clause, would be £7,000,000 a year. We suggest to the Committee that the Chancellor, whoever he may be, can do with that amount of money, whereas the reduction of the duty would make little or no difference to anyone. I, therefore, ask the Committee to reject the new Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second Time '

The Committee divided: Ayes, 107; Noes, 247.

Jeffreys, General Sir G.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)Sluart, Rt. Hon. J.
Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W.Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)Studholme, H. G.
Keeling, E. HMorrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester)Sutcliffe, H.
Kerr, Sir J. GrahamMott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Lambert, G.Neven-Spence, Major Sir B.Teeling, Flt.-Lieut. W.
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Lindsay, Lt.Col. M. (Solihull)Osborne, C.Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Linstead, H. N.Peake, Rt. Hon. 0.Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Lipson, D. L.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.Turton, R. H.
Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)Pitman, l. J.Vane, Lt.-Col. W. M. T.
Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Lyttelton, Rt. Hon, 0.Poole, Col. 0. B. S. (Oswestry)Walker-Smith, Lt.-Col. D.
MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.Ward, Hon. G. R.
Mackeson, Lt. Col. H. R.Raikes, H. V.Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
Manningham Buller, R. E.Roberts, Sqn.-Ldr. E. 0. (Merioneth)Wheatley, Lt.-Col. M. J.
Marlowe, A. A. H.Robinson, Wing-Comdr. RolandWillink, Rt. Hon. H. U.
Marples, Capt. A. E.Ropner, Col. L.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Marsden, Comdr. A.Ross, Sir R.Young, Maj. Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Marshall, Comdr. D. (Bodmin)Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Maude, J. C.Smith, E. P. (Ashford)

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Mellor, Sir J.Stanley, Col. Rt. Hon. 0.Sir Stanley Holmes and Mr.Butcher.
Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.Stoddart-Scott, Lt.-Col. M.

NOES.

Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)Dodds, N. NKirby, B. V.
Adamson, Mrs. J. L.Douglas, F. C. R.Lang, G.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Driberg, T. E. N.Lavers, S.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)Lawson, Rt, Hon. J. J.
Alpass, J. H.Dumpleton, C. W.Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
Attewell, H. C.Durbin, E. F. M.Levy, B. W.
Awbery, S. SDye, S.Lewis, T. (Southampton)
Ayles, W. HEde, Rt. Hon. J. C.Lindgren, G. S.
Ayrton-Gould, Mrs. B.Edelman, M.Lyne, A. W.
Bacon, Miss A.Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)McEntee, V. La T.
Baird, Capt. J.Edwards, John (Blackburn)Mack, J. D.
Balfour, A.Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)McLeavy, F.
Barstow, P. G.Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Macpherson, T. (Romford)
Barton, C.Ewart, R.Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)
Battley, J. R.Fairhurst, F.Manning, Mrs L. (Epping)
Bechervaise, A. E.Farthing, W. J.Marquand, H. A.
Belcher, J. W.Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)Mayhew, Maj. C. P.
Berry, H.Follick, M.Messer, F.
Beswick, Flt.-Lieut. F.Foot, M. M.Middleton, Mrs. L.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Foster, W. (Wigan)Mikardo, Ian
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.)Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)Millington, Wing-Comdr. E, R.
Binns, J.Gaitskell, H. T. N.Mitchison, Maj. G. R.
Blackburn, A. R.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Monstow, W.
Blenkinsop, Capt- A.Gibson, C. W.Montague, F
Bottomley, A. G.Gilzean, A.Moody, A. S.
Bowdcn, Flg.-Offr. H. W.Gooch, E. G.Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Goodrich, H. E.Morley, R.
Braddock, Mrs E. M. (L'p'l, Exch'ge)Grenfell, D. R.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Grey, C. F.Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)
Brook, D. (Halifax)Grierson, E.Murray, J. D.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Nally, W.
Burden, T. W.Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)Neal, H. (Claycross)
Burke, W. A.Gunter, Capt. R. J.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)Noel-Buxton, Lady
Champion, A. J.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Oldfreld, W. H.
Chetwynd, Capt. G. R.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Oliver, G. H.
Clitherow, R.Hardy, E. A.Orbach, M.
Cluse, W. S.Hastings, Dr. SomervillePaling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)
Cobb, F. A.Haworth, J.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Cocks, F. S.Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)Palmer, A. M. F.
Collick, P.Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Pargiter, G. A.
Colman, Miss G. M.Holman, P.Parkin, Flt.-Lieut. B. T.
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.Hoy, J.Paton, J. (Norwich)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Peart, Capt. T. F.
Corlett, Dr. J.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Perrins, W.
Corvedale. ViscountHughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lhampton, W.)Piralin, P.
Crawley. F't.-Lieut. A.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Platts-Mills, J. F. F.
Crossman, R. H. S.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Popplewell, E.
Daines, P.Janner, B.Porter, G. (Leeds)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)Pritt, D. N.
Davies, A. E. (Burslem)Jones, A. C. (Shipley)Proctor, W. T.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jones, J. H. (Bolton)Ranger, J.
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Jones, Maj. P. Asterley (Hitchin)Rees-Williams, Lt.-Col. D. R
Davies. S. 0. (Merthyr)Keenan, W.Reid, T. (Swindon)
Deer, G.Kenyon, C.Rhodes, H.
Delargy, Captain H. J.Key, C. W.Richards, R.
Dobbie, W.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Ridealgh, Mrs M.

Robens, A.Soskice, Maj. Sir F.Weitzman, D.
Roberts, G. 0. (Caernarvonshire)Sparks, J. A.Wells, Maj. W. T. (Walsall)
Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)Stamford, W.White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Rogers, G. H. R.Stewart, Capt. M. (Fulham, E.)Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Royle, C.Strachey, J.Wigg, G. E. C.
Sargood, R.Strauss, G. R.Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Scott-Elliot, W.Swingler, Capt. S.Wilkes, Maj. L.
Segal, Sq. Ldr. S.Symonds, Maj. A. L.Wilkins, W. A.
Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Shawcross, Cmdr. C. N. (Widnes)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Willey, 0. G. (Cleveland)
Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Shurmer, P.Thomas, I.0. (Wrekin).Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Silverman, J. (Erdington)Thomas, John R. (Dover)Willis, E.
Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)Thorneycroft H.Wise, Major F. J,
Simmons, C. J.Tiffany, S.Woodburn, A.
Smith, Capt. C. (Colchester)Tolley, L.Wyatt, Maj. W.
Smith, Ellis (Stoke)Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.Yates, V. F.
Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)Turner-Samuels, M. 'Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W)Ungoed-Thomas, Maj. L.Younger, Maj. Hon. K. G.
Smith, T. (Normanton)Walkden, E.Zilliacus, K.
Snow, Capt. J. W.Walker, G. H.
Solley, L. J.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Sorensen, R. W.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Mr. Pearson and
Mr. Collindridge.