HC Deb 12 December 1911 vol 32 cc2298-302

Notwithstanding the provisions of the First Schedule of The Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, and the scale of Licence Duty payable for off-licences for sale by retail of excisable liquor, the total annual Licence Duty payable by an off-licensed retailer in Scotland, in areas which are not urban, and in urban areas with a population of less than ten thousand, for the sale of spirits, beer, and wine, inclusive, shall, where the annual value of the licensed premises does not exceed thirty pounds, be according to the following scale:—

Annual value of licensed premises not exceeding £10 £5
Exceeding £10 and not exceeding £20 £10
Exceeding £20 and not exceeding £30 £15

I protest against our having to discuss this matter at this hour of the morning. This particular Clause was put down on the Paper for yesterday, and as no opportunity was given for moving it then, it is to-day again on the Paper. The idea of this new Clause is to remedy what I consider an error in the Finance Act of 1909–10; if it was not an error, then it was an injustice to retailers of wines and spirits in Scotland. Under that Act those who sold liquor in rural districts, who had retail licences in the form of off-licences or grocers' licences have to pay in Scotland a minimum Licence Duty of £14. The idea of this Clause which I am moving is to put the holders of grocers' licences on the same footing as publicans who are in the same district. Publicans' Licence Duties in rural districts and in urban districts under 10,000 population are, I think £5 for rentals of £10; £10 for £15 rentals, and £20 for £30 rentals.

It seems to me to be a gross injustice that grocers who are only permitted to sell liquor for consumption off the premises should be called upon to pay a minimum Licence Duty of £14, whereas publicans in the same neighbourhood who are permitted to sell liquor for consumption both on and off the premises should be granted licences at a much lower figure. The result of this minimum duty of £14 is that a grocer in these districts who pays, perhaps, a rent of £10 has to pay for his Licence Duty a higher figure than his rental, and often more than double what the publican tradesman has to pay in the same town. Now the cost to the State, if my Clause is adopted, will not be very excessive. It will not amount to more than £5,000, and when we take into consideration that the Licence Duties have realised much more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated when right hon. Friend anticipated some-he introduced his Budget, this amount is not much for him to abandon. My thing like £2,100,000 would be realised from licences in Great Britain, but, instead, something like £2,600,000, or an additional £500,000, has been realised by the State. In these circumstances I venture to think the sacrifice of this comparatively small sum of £5,000 in order to remove a gross injustice to these grocers is not much to ask my right hon. Friend. I therefore beg to move my Clause.


I have the same Clause down later on, and therefore I propose to second the Motion of my hon. Friend. This is only one more of those extraordinary anomalies of the Licence Duties which we spoke of yesterday. It only requires mention to show how absurd and what a scandal it is that a man with a fully licensed house should have a £5 duty to pay, while a man with the same rent should have to pay £16 for a restricted sale. There can be no justification for it. The only answer that can be given, or sought to be given, is that when the licensed grocers came to London to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer some two years ago the right hon. Gentleman appears to have made some sort of arrangement whereby, if they agreed to his duties, he would restore the quantities, which there was a proposal to cut down, but the small grocer is unable to derive advantage—I am speaking, of course, of people in little townships of 2,000 inhabitants. Here are three cases which I have given to my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury. One is that of a £14 house, in respect of which £11 is paid for a spirit licence, £2 10s. for a wine licence, and £2 10s. for a beer licence, or altogether £16. I asked that man how much wine he had sold, and he said 2½ dozen, to sell which he pays £2 10s. duty. What reason is there why a full licence holder should pay only £5, and in the very same place a man with a restricted sale should be charged three times as much? There is really no justification that I know.


Whilst I find myself unable to agree with my hon. Friends who have brought forward this Clause, I admit that there are anomalies in connection with these licence duties. At the same time I hope that hon. Members opposite who have so constantly pressed upon us temperance reformers the dangers of grocers' licences are not now going to support my hon. Friends on this side by giving preferential terms to grocers' licences. What is the case? In England and Wales before the Finance Act of 1909–10 the grocer had to pay thirteen guineas. There was a special privilege to the grocer in Scotland. He had the advantage of paying a smaller sum, which, nevertheless, was rather larger than that which my hon. Friends propose at the present time. Still, it was a reduced sum.


We are quite prepared to strike out Scotland, and make it apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.


Yes, that is exactly what you would have to do if you carried this new Clause. Directly after carrying a Budget which unifies the whole of these licences for the United Kingdom, you could not make a special exemption for Scotland, and the thing would have to be extended to England—that is to say, you would be encouraging these grocers' licences, and cutting down the licence duty, which has hitherto been charged as a minimum of thirteen guineas to £5. That is, I venture to say, entirely wrong. We cannot go into licensing matters too much in these discussions, which rest upon finance, but Lord Peel in his report did suggest that these particular licences should be abolished——


Well, abolish them.


But what my hon. Friend is trying to do is to get a special privilege in Scotland which must be extended to England, and in that way encourage these grocers' licences, the evils of which are being perpetually pressed, especially by hon. Members opposite. That being so, I trust that the Government will stand firm. I quite agree that there is a difference between the off-licence and the on-licence, but in my opinion the minimum licence duty of the on-licence is far too low—ridiculously too low. There are many parts of the United States where the minimum licence duty is £200. If my hon. Friend will propose to level the on-licence up to the same level as the off-licence, I will support him, but in his desire for Scottish uniformity he is taking the wrong method, and levelling down instead of levelling up. Therefore, I hope the Government will resist this pressure which comes from my hon. Friends.

1.0 A.M.


I think the House will agree that it would be impossible to consider this question as affecting Scotland alone. It is a very serious proposition to enter upon at this hour of the night considering that it involves a complete reconstruction of the whole scale of grocers' licences. This is a proposal to introduce a new basis. The real grievance is that the off-licences of grocers were increased. It is not that the difference of the proportion between them and publicans' licences is a new feature; it is that the licence has been increased. But it is impossible for us to deal with this matter by itself as affecting only this small class of licences in Scotland. It is necessary that we should deal with the thing as a whole and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has shown his desire to deal with the matter by a fairer way, namely, by taking the quantity of liquor sold.


The right hon. Gentleman has raised the vexed question of the basis on which this Licensed Duty should be charged. He evidently forgets that that special process is already embraced in Clause 44 of the Budget. The House has accepted the principle of charging annual value licence based on the amount of the traffic. It is entirely due to the fault of the Government that that process is not now on the register. I regret this Amendment is not a general Amendment covering the whole country. Undoubtedly the grievance is a very clamant one. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. C. Roberts), with his desire to increase the duty on everyone who has anything to do with the liquor traffic, I have no doubt desires to increase the duty on everything except barley water. It is absurd that a man with a full licence, next door, it may be, to an off-licence, should pay less for the larger privilege than the other pays for a restricted privilege.

Proposed new Clause negatived.


moved that the following new Clause be read a second time:—