HC Deb 05 June 1888 vol 326 cc1182-5
MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, If he would be able now to state the result of the arrangement which had been come to with reference to the Wine Duties?


With the indulgence of the House, I should like to make a statement on the subject. The House will remember the main principles on which I founded my proposals with regard to the Bottled Wine Duty. I regarded it as a rough way of reaching the higher class wines, and I looked to derive a revenue of £125,000 from the tax. I was aware that it would not reach all the expensive clarets, and on the other hand, that it would ftall heavil on some cheap wines, which could noy like the bulk of cheap wines, be imported in casks instead of in bottles. This consideration led me to accept the suggestion to modify, and, as it were, correct the inequalities of the tax by introducing a limit of value, provided the examination, which I undertook to make, should prove that it was possible to find a workable plan for giving effect to such a limit. I have now concluded my investigations, and they have proved the following points:—(1) That the total amount of wine imported in bottles is far more considerable than from the best calculations we were previously able to make it was possible to discover. (2) That of this wine imported in bottles by far the greater part is sparkling wine. The increase in the consumption of champagne of late years has greatly modified both the proportion of the amount of bottled wine to wine in cask, and of still bottled wine to sparkling bottled wine. It is this increase in the consumption of champagne which necessitates a great modification of the statistics based on the state of things existing when the old Bottled Wine Duty was in force. (3) The third fact which I have ascertained is that the proportion of high-priced still wine imported in bottle to low-priced still wine imported in bottle is very much smaller than that of high-class champagnes to cheap sparkling wines. The result of these facts is as follows:—As more wine is imported in bottle than previous statistics led me to expect, the total revenue which I should derive from the tax, as it stands, would be very much larger than that which I assumed it would be in the first instance. The second result is that only a small portion of this revenue would be derived from still wines, and a very small portion indeed—in fact, a quite inconsiderable sum—if the lower-priced still wines were exempted. It must be remembered that all still wines, even the highest qualities, can be imported in cask, and they come in cask even now. If the duty were to be maintained, the amount of high-class still wines imported in bottle, which is already small, would become absolutely insignificant. I may here say that I have received the strongest possible representations from the English wine trade with regard to the difficulty which an attempt to draw a limit between high and low-class wines would entail. I do not for one moment accept the statement that there would be such a degree of fraud and misrepresentation as is declared to be inevitable. But I am anxious to confine the difficulties of the limit of value to the smallest possible area. To return to still wines, the facts which I have explained seem to indicate that, with a limit of value, there would be a prospect of a minimum revenue and a maximum difficulty in collecting that revenue. With regard to sparkling wines the case is different. A far greater proportion of these are wines of high value, and there are far greater facilities for determining the value. I propose, therefore, to bring in a Bill whereby the additional duty of 5s. a dozen shall be limited to sparkling wines; while, in order to meet the case of Saumur and other cheap sparkling wines, power will be taken to reduce the duty to 2s. a dozen where the wine can be proved to be less than 30s. a-dozen in value on its arrival in England—that is to say, there will be the original tax of 5s. a-dozen on sparkling wine above 30s. in value, and a tax of 2s. a-dozen on sparkling wine below 30s. a dozen in value, in addition, of course, to the duty on the alcoholic scale previously existing for all wines. The duty on this basis will give me at least £100,000, and probably the full £125,000 originally estimated. I do not propose a total exemption of the cheaper class of sparkling wines for two reasons. In the first place, I think that cheap sparkling wine can fairly bear the additional tax of 2s. a-dozen, which is 2d. a-bottle. In the next place, the fact that even the cheaper wines pay something will largely diminish both the temptation to and the possibility of fraudulent representations as to the value of sparkling wines. In order to forestall any possible inquiries, I may state at once that I do not propose to return the extra duty paid since March 27 on the kinds of wine which will in future be exempted. It would be impossible in many cases to discriminate as to who would be entitled to such a return, as the additional tax has been paid partly by the importers and partly by the consumers. I have only still to add that the duty will be levied, according to the universal desire of the trade, on the gallon, and will not vary according to the size of the bottles—that is to say, the duty will be 2s. 6d. a-gallon on sparkling wines above 15s. a gallon in value; and 1s. on sparkling wines under 15s. a gallon in value.


It has been somewhat difficult to follow the Chancellor of the Exchequer through his long statement. May we take this as a summary—That no additional duty whatever will be imposed on bottled still or non-sparkling wines, however valuable, though there will be ditties of 2s. 6d. and 1s. 3d. a gallon respectively on the dearer and cheaper classes of sparkling wines? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, considering the novelty of the proposal, whether he has any Papers of any kind on the subject to lay on the Table?


There is no great novelty in the proposal, for a proposition to tax bottled wines was made in 1880 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and modified by him after a certain time. A tax upon bottled wines also existed for five years in this country under the financial auspices of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. I will see what Papers can be laid on the Table. There are none in my mind at present, but if there are any I will produce them. It would be easy for me to embody the result of my investigations in a Statistical Report, which I should certainly feel it my duty to lay before the House if it were desired. The right hon. Gentleman has correctly described the effect of my proposals; there will be no duty on still wines, and there will be a duty on sparkling wines of 5s. on the higher class and 2s. on the lower.