HC Deb 13 July 1915 vol 73 cc766-71

Section nine of the Finance Act, 1914 (Session 2), (which provides for a reduction of licence duty where hours of sale are curtailed) shall, in addition to the cases therein specified, apply to cases in which the holder of any retailer's on-licence proves to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise that, during the continuance of and in connection with the present War, the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor on his premises has been suspended during any normal hours of sale either—

  1. (a) voluntarily at the request of any-naval, military, or civil authority; or
  2. (b) under any order made under Section sixty-three of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, Section twelve of the Temperance (Scotland) Act, 1913, Section twenty-one of the Licensing (Ireland) Act, 1833, or Section thirty of the Refreshment Houses (Ireland) Act, 1860.


I beg to move, after the word "apply" ["in addition to the cases therein specified, apply to cases"], to insert the words "to cases of off-licences, and."

4.0 p.m.

This Section makes further provision for relief of licensed houses by reason of the time they are closed by the operation of the Defence of the Realm Act or by voluntary closing or otherwise; but in all these cases care has been taken, by that strong representation the brewers have in this country, to limit it to on-licences. My object is to allow a rebate to be made in favour of off-licences as well. I do not know why, but the grocer's licence is a heavier licence than the publican's licence. It is far heavier for small rents. When the rent is £20 the publican pays a licence of £5 for selling on or off; the grocer pays £14 for selling off. These restrictions affect the grocer just as much as they do the on-licence holder, and yet you have a man who pays £14 getting no relief, while a man who pays £5 gets it. I think that is absolutely wrong. It may be said, and I believe it is said, that a man will not drink so much if the public-house is only open till 10 o'clock. Whoever advances that argument forgets that the public-house has an off-licence as well, and if a man wants to drink he could get the drink to take away just in the same way as he would from a grocer. I do not see the slightest ground for suggesting that the grocer should not have the same rebate if he can prove "to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise that during the continuance of and in connection with the present War the sale or consumption of intoxicating liquor on his premises has been suspended during any normal hours of sale." I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to meet this case and include the off-licence as well as the on-licence, and thus give them both the benefit they are entitled to when they can show the Commissioners of Customs and Excise that they have lost trade by these various restrictions.


I wish to say a few words in support of this Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen-shire (Mr. J. M. Henderson) has dealt very fully with the cost of these licences, and he has shown that the off-licensee has frequently to pay more than the on-licensee. My hon. Friend has dealt with the financial aspect of this question, but I desire to deal with another aspect, namely, the question whether a loss of trade is sustained by a restriction of hours in the case of off-licence holders. I have in mind the case of grocers' licences in Scotland. I brought this point before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman last year, and after due consideration he came to the conclusion that the off-licensees suffered no loss by the restriction of hours, and he pointed out that the hours which were cut off from the off-licensees were hours when very little or no trade was done. He also pointed out that the trade which used to be done under the old hours would be done during the hours the shops were open. If his contention is right, then the-off-licensees would be unable to prove to the satisfaction of the Commissioners that they have suffered a loss. Therefore last year's arguments and last year's circumstances do not apply on this occasion. If these off-licence holders who are suffering this injustice in view of the restriction of hours can prove a loss—and the onus of doing it is on their shoulders—then they are entitled to the compensation granted to on-licensees. If the right hon. Gentleman, who is not paying the slightest attention to my argument, will point out to the House the difference that exists between on-licence holders and off-licence holders in this respect, and if he can make it clear that the loss in one case is greater than in the other, I will submit to his contention. I think, however, that he will be unable to do so, because if the hours of one class of trade are restricted, and they incur a loss, the other class is; precisely on all-fours.


It has been said that the holders of off-licences have not the same weight of influence, but that is a poor compliment to my hon. Friend's powers of advocacy judging by the many legislative triumphs which he has achieved during the time he has been in this House. On this occasion I am afraid that the hon. Member has failed to convince me of the merits of his case. As he knows, I have taken some pains to investigate this matter, and I have had the honour of receiving a deputation on the subject. There is one fundamental difference between on and off-licences in this respect. It does not necessarily mean a diminution in sale if you keep your shop open a fewer number of hours for the sale of something which has to be carried away from the shop. On the contrary, it may mean that you do the same amount of business more economically because you concentrate your business into shorter hours, and therefore the expenses of administration become less. On the other hand, if you carry your mind to a public house and see a man consuming liquor for consumption on the premises, and you suddenly turn him out at eight o'clock when he would be accustomed to go on drinking until ten o'clock, however well disposed he may be, however gallant his efforts, or however Scottish he may be by descent, he cannot consume as much by eight o'clock as he could have consumed if he sat there till ten o'clock. That is the difference in principle between the on and the off-licence. There is no analogy between the two cases, and I therefore suggest that this relief was properly confined to the on-licence holder, and in spite of the eloquence of my hon. Friend, I think the House would do well to resist his arguments.


Undoubtedly there is a great deal of force in the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, but may I remind him that he is dealing with the question from the English point of view, and he forgets that the Scottish grocer carries on a wholly different kind of business. One very important difference between the two is that the English off-licence holder is obliged to sell a bottle at a time and he cannot sell any less, whereas in Scotland he can sell the smallest possible quantity he can divide into a glass. They have a habit in Scotland, not perhaps a very good one, of going repeatedly to the grocer, not only for their food but for their drink, and they take away the drink in small quantities because a great many object to having a stock of drink in the house, and therefore they desire to obtain it in small quantities and do not like it left about the house as a temptation to anybody else. I once heard the hon. Member for Inverness say that it was a dangerous thing to keep whisky in a Scottish house, because it was one of those articles that did not keep. Probably the Financial Secretary to the Treasury does not know that there has been entire closing in certain parts of Scotland for three or four weeks, and this applies to all licences. Does he suggest that the grocer has no complaint in that case? Whatever the right hon. Gentleman's argument is, it does not affect that state of things, and therefore I think there is a good claim for consideration provided a man can show that he has suffered, and no doubt the off-licence holder can show that he has suffered. I do not think this Amendment can be fogged off so easily as the right hon. Gentleman seems to think. I believe if he knew the difference between the two cases he would agree that the Scotsman has a strong claim for relief, because the off-licence holder often pays a larger licence duty than the on-licence holder.


It is somewhat surprising to me that the Treasury never seem to grasp the fact that there are other licences besides grocers' off-licences. I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I told the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer that there were thousands of premises in this country, in every village and in every town, in which there are off-licences which are not held by grocers at all, but which would ordinarily be called beer-houses or public-houses with only a licence to sell beer off the premises. They are open for the same hours as ordinary on-licence public-houses, and therefore all the arguments that apply to the on-licences apply to the off-licences of the small public-houses, and therefore what the right hon. Gentleman said does not apply to them. They are the smallest and the poorest of the people upon whom these heavy duties fall the hardest, and this is a case where if relief is given to the on-licences it should in logic and fairness be extended to them. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has never contemplated these off-licences. I pointed this out to the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he seemed to be surprised to hear that there are thousands upon thousands of these public-houses which have only an off-licence. I know the grocers have been able to interview the Treasury, because they are people who are very well off, but I am pleading on behalf of small people who have no organisation and no money to spend in order to come to London to address the Treasury, and therefore they are not in a position to make any impression upon the Government. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this case. In these cases they do not drink beer upon the premises, and as a rule they do not take it home, but they drink the beer within a certain distance of the licensed house and take it away in a pot. If you shorten the hours during which that drink can be sold in this manner, then you are diminishing the income of these off-licensees, and if you give relief to the on-licence people because the amount of drink that can be drunk is diminished you should give the same relief to the off-licences because their hours are also diminished. I have brought my case directly within the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman which he put so forcibly just now. As regards the grocers, there is a good deal to be said which I know he has thrashed out with the trade affected, but he has not had the case of the off-licence holders put before him, and I ask that these people should be put upon the same basis and treated in the same way as the on-licensed public-houses.

Amendment negatived.


The next Amendment, standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. J. M. Henderson), to leave out the word "on" ["retailer's on-licence"], is consequential.


I should like to say the late Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that if the hon. Baronet and myself would give him some hard cases he would consider them. We gave him some forty hard cases, but no amount of hardness apparently has any affect upon the Treasury or softens them at all.