HC Deb 07 July 1896 vol 42 cc963-9

(1.) In addition to the duties of customs payable on and after the first day of July one thousand eight hundred and ninety six, on beer of the descriptions called mum, spruce, or black beer, imported into Great Britain or Ireland, there shall be charged, levied, and paid, on and after that day, the duties following (that is to say):—

£ s. d.
For every thirty-six gallons of beer where the worts thereof are or were before fermentation of a specific gravity—
Not exceeding one thousand two hundred and fifteen degrees 0 2 0
Exceeding one thousand two hundred and fifteen degrees 0 2 4

(2.) This section shall extend to Berlin white beer, and other preparations, whether fermented or not fermented, of a character similar to mum, spruce, or black beer.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved to leave out the words "of the descriptions called mum, spruce, or black beer." He said the Amendment was intended to raise the question whether duties ought not to be taken off light beers. He suggested that the same policy should be pursued in regard to beers that had been so successful with regard to light wines. The cheapening of light wines had led to their becoming more popular, and in the interests of temperance he thought light beers should be made cheaper and more popular. A man might spend a whole evening drinking lager beer and not be much the worse for it.


pointed out that the Amendment would not effect what the hon. Member desired. The term "lager" beer was unknown as far as English beers were concerned, and as regarded foreign beers "lager" was only a beer of a particular kind. The effect of adopting the Amendment would be to differentiate duties in favour of lager beer and not to exempt the lighter kinds of beer brewed in England which were entitled to equally favourable consideration. Lager beer was already more lightly taxed than heavier beers, the duty varying according to the specific gravity, which was the rule on which all beer duties were paid. He would consider whether anything further could be done in favour of light beers.


said he was glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would further consider the subject. Like his hon. Friend the mover of the Amendment, he had always been interested in the cause of temperance [laughter], and he had always thought that one of the great things to promote temperance was to lower the capacity for causing drunkenness of the beer drunk. In Germany it was the habit to drink lager, and he believed it was impossible to get drunk on lager. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER signified dissent.] Had the right hon. Gentleman ever tried it? [Laughter.] Perhaps he would try it when he came to further consider the matter. [Renewed laughter.] He had frequently seen a student in. Germany consume 15 quarts of lager beer and walk home perfectly well. In the music gardens in Germany they would see whole families collected round a table drinking lager, and yet in the agricultural districts where beer was mostly drunk would they see people drunk? It was the same in Munich. There was drunkenness in Berlin and some other towns where a largo amount of spirits was consumed. There was not the slightest question about it, that one of the first steps towards preventing drunkenness in this country, which ran to such an unfortunate height, was to reduce the capacity for drunkenness of the liquor drunk. If a substantial distinction were made between the cost of light and heavy beers, the public would soon drink light beers. The brewers said London people would not drink light beer "because they like something they can bite in it." [Laughter.] The taste for heavy beers was an acquired taste, and the public would soon acquire a taste for light beers. The difference was not alone in the specific gravity, but there was a great difference in the way of brewing German and English beer. Hops were used more largely in the brewing of the former. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would look further into this matter, and that next year he would suggest some plan to carry out what would be an excellent reform. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he was informed by the Customs Authorities that the lager beer imported was in point of alcohol very nearly as strong as English beer.

MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)

said they ought to know what was meant by the lager beer the mover of the Amendment spoke of.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said the meaning of the word "lager" was unimportant. The words "light beer" might be inserted in the Amendment, leaving the Chancellor of the Exchequer to decide what light beer was. What was wanted was some relief to the lighter beer, which was of a comparatively harmless character, and was a great luxury to the working classes. Anything that could be done to induce the working men to drink the light rather than the heavy beer or spirits, would be productive of great public good. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would carry out the suggestion that had been made. ["Hear, hear!"]


said the Amendment was based on a fallacy, and he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be influenced by it. It was founded on the same fallacy which led to the Beer Act of 1830, through which the country was flooded with beerhouses on the ground that, if the people were provided with beer, they would not drink spirits, and that in that way temperance would be promoted. But so unsatisfactory was the operation of that Act that a Parliamentary Committee was appointed to inquire into the matter, and the result of their investigation was that further legislation was passed to counteract the evils caused by the previous Measure. The legislation of Mr. Gladstone, by increasing the facilities to obtain the lighter intoxicating drinks had been most disastrous to the cause of temperance in this country. ["Hear, hear!"] Facilities for obtaining cheap liquor did not lead people to give up the use of stronger drinks, but rather induced them to drink more. Beer begat the desire for stronger drinks, and in Gothenburg drunkenness was far worse than in any town in this country. He trusted the Inland Revenue would be stricter in regard to their supervision of their lighter liquors. Some of those liquors were made of herbs, and were not temperance drinks, though they were sold as such. They were in fact intoxicating, and led to drinking because they were cheap. He only hoped that the Inland Revenue Authorities would take notice of the fact. ["Hear, hear?"]


said he would remind the hon. Member for the Spen Valley of Yorkshire that the question before the Committee was of a fiscal and not a temperance character. As to the drinking of light beers leading persons on to take heavy beers, and from heavy beers to spirits, the experience of more than one country on the Continent disproved the contention.


said he was satisfied with the assurance on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would consider the matter and see if anything could be made out of the suggestions which had emanated from both sides of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On the Question, "That Clause 2 stand part of the Bill,"


said: I cannot allow this clause to pass without calling the attention of the Committee to the very different aspect presented to-night on the subject of the Beer Duty from that which I remember occurred two years ago. Then the whole Unionist Party were ready to resist the imposition of the 6d. duty on beer. It was, they alleged, a proposal which was inspired by a malignant disposition on the part of a Liberal Government for the purpose of injuring the agricultural interest. The additional 6d. on beer, they represented, was a duty which amounted to 4s. a quarter on barley, and hence it meant ruin to the unfortunate and distressed agriculturist. An hon. Member on the other side pointed out how mischievous and wicked was the proposal, even for a single twelvemonth, to put an additional 6d. on beer. "We remember all these arguments, and how by a very narrow majority upon that subject the Liberal Government survived for a time. [Laughter.] One of the leading Members of the Conservative Party who denounced that wicked proposal was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Cheers and laughter.] That appeal induced me to make the imposition temporary, and I feel sure that it was only because, in his financial conscience, he wished to reserve for himself the right of making the duty a permanent one. [Cheers and laughter]. I remember that at the time I said that the exigencies of the public service and the great additional Votes for the Navy made it necessary for me to find the money required, and that if there was a surplus I should be only too willing to remit the 6d. duty on beer. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has inherited a surplus of five or six millions, and he took the opportunity of making the 6d. duty on beer permanent, notwithstanding the possession of that surplus. [Cheers.] At the former time we were the atrocious people who were robbing the poor man of his beer. That was the cry raised at the Election which gave you your great majority [cheers], and that, together with bimetallism, the Voluntary Schools, and many other things, helped to swell your majority. [Cheers.] In order that the House and the country might not forget the different manner in which things were dealt with at the last Election and the manner in which they are dealt with now, I have made these observations upon the second clause of the Bill, which I assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer I shall be quite prepared to support. [Cheers.]


I do not quite see what bimetallism and the Voluntary Schools have to do with the Beer Duty. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not begrudge the right hon. Gentleman his congratulations upon the fact that I have felt able not only to continue, but also to make permanent, the additional duty of 6d. on beer. I will only venture to remind him that there is not an unimportant difference in the circumstances between this year and the last. The additional Beer Duty was resisted by the representatives of the agricultural constituencies, especially of those agricultural constituencies where the barley-growing interests largely prevailed, for obvious reasons upon which I need not dwell. However, the right hon. Gentleman proposed the additional Beer Duty without paying the slightest heed to the remonstrances, the arguments, and the objections of these agriculturists who were deeply affected by the agricultural depression of the time. We, Sir, have not followed that example. We have availed ourselves of the surplus at our disposal, and, whether the right hon. Gentleman approves of it or not, we believe the course we have pursued will be a substantial relief to agriculture, and therefore we have felt justified, with universal assent, in continuing and making permanent this duty. [Cheers.]

*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

said the Chancellor of the Exchequer had reminded them of some of the circumstances connected with the additional duty on beer. There was another circumstance. It was pleaded on behalf of the additional 6d., that it would be paid by the brewer and not by the consumer, and that, therefore, the consumer would be no worse off after the imposition of 6d. than before. If that were a sound doctrine then, it was a sound one now, and therefore the arguments adduced in favour of a reduction on certain kinds of beer were of little avail.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6,—