HC Deb 18 April 1888 vol 324 cc1668-73

WAYS AND MEANS—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed That, in addition to the Duties of Customs payable on Wine before the twenty-seventh day of March, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, there shall, where the Wine is imported in bottles, be levied and charged the Duties following (that is to say):—

Upon every dozen bottles of Wine—

£ s. d.
If in imperial half-pint bottles or bottles of less capacity 0 1 3
If in bottles of capacity exceeding imperial half-pint bottles and not exceeding imperial pint bottles 0 2 6
If in bottles of capacity exceeding imperial pint bottles and not exceeding imperial quart bottles 0 5 0
If in bottles of capacity exceeding imperial quart bottles and not exceeding two imperial quarts 0 10 0
If in bottles of capacity exceeding two imperial quarts 1 0 0
—(Mr. Jackson)

said, he desired to ask whether the Government had considered the inequality this proposal would make in respect to certain humble but very sound wines? It was all very well in regard to such wines as champagne; they could bear the burden of 5s. a dozen. The charge on each bottle being slight in proportion to price did not matter much. But there were Greek and Italian wines imported in bottles, or in flasks, protected by wicker work—familiar to the eyes, if not to the taste, of hon. Members—on which the charge would weigh with very great severity. Some of these wines were introduced in barrel, and bottled in England; but a very large proportion of wines, such as Barolo and Chianti, were imported in flasks such as were used for olive oil. The proposed duty would revolutionize the trade, and compromise the interests of a large number of persons who dealt in these articles. The amount of such wine drunk in London was very much larger than many hon. Members would suppose; in fact, he had a very strong suspicion that more bonâ fide Italian wine was drunk in London than bonâ fide champagne. A great deal of stuff was not only bottled, but made in England, and passed under the name of champagne; the amount of real champagne drunk was a very measureable quantity, but the consumption of bonâ fide Italian wine was larger than that of real champagne. To throw on that wine the charge of 5s. a-dozen was altogether out of proportion to the same charge placed on champagne. The bottles were sold, he supposed, at from 1s. 10d. to 2s. 5d. a-piece, and to put 5d. on the price was equal to a duty of 20 or 25 per cent ad valorem, in some cases more; while the charge on champagne amounted to only about 8 or 9 per cent. That difference of treatment was very serious, and he would ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether the Government had considered the inequality of the incidence of the duty, and proposed to make any modification in the arrangement?


hoped the hon. Gentleman would not ask him to go into the merits of the question. As he was aware, the Resolution now proposed was merely to correct a little inaccuracy in the former Resolution, or an oversight. It was overlooked that there were bottles larger than two imperial quarts, and the Resolution had been amended to cover the larger and smaller bottles. He believed the question raised by the hon. Member had been under the consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the hon. Member would agree that a more convenient opportunity for discussion would be in Committee on the Budget Bill. He knew his right hon. Friend had given attention to the subject; but in his absence he would rather not answer the question of the hon. Member.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

asked, had the Government considered the possible effect of this duty on our commercial relations with foreign countries, especially France, and whether those relations appeared to be in any way insecure, and whether the reports in the newspapers had any foundation, and there was any reason to suppose measures of retaliation might be adopted? When the proper time came, he hoped those questions would not be lost sight of. He made these observations in consequence of remarks that fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he put his proposals before the House. In an unwise moment, the right hon. Gentleman gave expression to an opinion that we had not received much consideration from foreign countries, and might therefore act with a certain amount of liberty in this matter. All he (Mr. Illingworth) would observe in this connection was, that England would suffer infinitely more in her international fiscal relations by these paltry interferences with trade, and they were putting into the hands of Protectionists of other countries a powerful weapon by putting on this tax, accompanied by such observations as those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he had alluded to.


said, he should not like these remarks to go forth without observation. He was rather sorry the hon. Member had taken that opportunity of raising the question, and upon such very slight and uncertain information. The Government had no knowledge of, nor any reason to anticipate, any of the difficulties the hon. Member seemed to apprehend so far as France or any other country was concerned. It was not likely that any difficulty would be created by the financial proposal.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, he was afraid the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jackson) had hardly been watching what was going on in France. But, passing from that subject, he wanted to ask, had the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered the effect of the duty oun or Colonial wine trade? The Australian Colonies were growing sound wines, and sending them to England in increasing quantities, mainly in bottle. The imposition of this duty on light wines in bottle must needs much affect that trade. On this Colonial trade, as well as on the Tuscan wines, the duty would be almost prohibitory. So, also, the wines of Austria, Hungary, and Greece that were imported in bottle. Those were useful wines; they were cheap—[An hon. MEMBER: And nasty.]—he did not share that opinion of his hon. Friend. Some who had drunk the wines could endorse the praise that Robert Browning gave to "good Chianti and old Barolo." There was less objection to the tax on champagne, but the tax would have a mischievous result on our commerce in other respects.


said, he was not qualified to discuss the merits of the wines in question; what he had to say had reference to other points. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a demand in the Resolution which he was not present to support, and the Secretary to the Treasury, usually so profuse in explanation, had given no reason why there should be this mechanical tax on wines imported in bottle. What was the danger of importation in that form, and was it an extraordinary thing to put the same tax on a bottle of wine, whether it cost half-a-crown or half-a-guinea? This was proposed, too, at the very time when the instincts of every man who professed to desire the advancement of international relations between this and other countries should dictate to him to teach foreign nations that protective duties were bad in principle. But the Government imposed a Protectionist tax that he must say was of a stupid character, for it was based on the mere mechanical calculation of quart and pint bottles. The Committee was entitled to some more urgent reasons than had been given by the Secretary to the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman said the Resolution was only supplementing some previous mistake. [Mr. JACKSON: A correction.] He accepted the correction, but must express his own opinion that the Resolution only supplemented a previous mistake, and carried it further. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have been present to say why the charge was proposed, as to which the Secretary had not enlightened the Committee. This was more than a mere question of a duty on champagne; the cheaper light wines were concerned, and were to be taxed 25 or 30 per cent, because they were imported in bottle. It could be conceived that it would be better for the wine to be bottled in the country where it was grown, and by the people who understood its qualities, than that it should be manipulated by people in London, as it would be, to avoid the tax of 5d. per bottle, or 6 d. as it would be to the consumer. On other points the proposal was objectionable; but he did not wish to occupy time. No explanation had been given to the Committee why debateable matter should be pressed on within a few minutes of the close of the Sitting. There was ample time before the House—the Government had not foreshadowed the close of the Session. To those who believed in Free Trade, these taxes had a Protectionist tendency, and this at a time when there were indications of possible foreign complications, indications that a time might be at hand when those who professed such anxiety for the integrity of the British Empire might find that Empire in danger, or at least in trouble. This was no time for proposing what at the best was but a petty, paltry tax, but which might endanger our commercial relations with our neighbours, and give the Government the colour of advocating Protectionist principles.


said, he was sorry if the hon. Member misunderstood him. He intended to point out that the Resolution was really to correct an omission in the previous Resolution in reference to wines in bottle. No reference was made in that Resolution to bottles larger than two imperial quarts. The present Resolution raised no new question—it was a mere correction of a Resolution already passed.

MR. CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

said, in view of the importance of the subject he would move that the debate be adjourned.


said, the proper form of carrying out the hon. Member's intention would be to move to report Progress; and he would point out that if that Motion were seriously moved, he must, of necessity, under the Six o'clock Rule, leave the Chair.


said, he would make that Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Craig.)


said, he hoped that the Motion would not be pressed. If the Resolution were not passed, the previous Resolution remained in its present form. The present Resolution simply applied to certain bottles that were left out of the list, and there was no ground for such omission.


asked, was it not a fact that the Government were now levying the new duty?




said, that aggravated the difficulty, and he objected to further progress.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.