HC Deb 09 March 1915 vol 70 cc1370-4

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury tell, us the arrangement for business for the rest of the week?


Tomorrow we shall take the Committee stage of the Defence of the Realm (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, the Legal Proceedings Against Enemies Bill, and the Customs (War Powers) Bill.

On Thursday we shall take the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill, and, if possible, the Adjournment Motion.


I should like to ask what is the intention of the Government with reference to the Welsh Bill which has been passed, at the instance of the Government, by the other House. I do not want to revive any controversy, but I must say frankly that if there is any question of not proceeding with that Bill during this Session, we shall regard ourselves as having been deceived.


Perhaps the Noble Lord will put that question to the Prime Minister to-morrow?


Yes, I will.

9.0 P.M.

Sir J. D. REES

I venture to trouble the House upon a subject which must be mentioned by somebody before the House rises, because as soon as the House resumes the Budget will be introduced, and I want to make a few remarks which I trust will be considered when the Budget is considered. This is not a time for con- trasting the statements of one Minister with another, but certain statements have lately been made which I think may properly be touched upon, because they relate to domestic concerns which seem to lead to the probability of further taxation being raised upon the liquor trade, which has already been very hardly hit, and has been subjected to very severe restrictions during the War. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently spoken about "the lure of the drink." This is the Minister who has to prepare and bring in the Budget, and therefore particular significance attaches to his statement.

I find that he says that drink is doing us more damage in the War than all the German submarines put together. Then he asks: "What has Russia done?" and he deals with what Russia has done. I wish to protest against the absurd assumption that the position in Russia is anything at all corresponding to the position here in regard to the consumption of liquor. The Russian drink vodka is an exceedingly fiery, above-proof spirit which when consumed invariably produces a maximum amount of intoxication in the shortest period of time. The staple drink in this country, beer, is one which in no respect can be contrasted with the Russian spirit. It is a notoriously light, healthy, useful drink, and I regret that a further attack is to be made upon it by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer declares that Russia has said "I must pull myself together" and so forth, and she stops the drink. We have been told that absinthe plays the same part in France that whisky does in this country, but it does not, and there is not the slightest resemblance to it. If whisky is as damaging in this country as absinthe is in France, why has the Chancellor of the Exchequer taken steps to increase the consumption of whisky and reduce the consumption of beer? Why does the right hon. Gentleman describe whisky as being on the same plane as absinthe, and why then does he take the action which he has taken to increase the consumption of whisky? I find that a Bishop has been making some strong remarks about prohibition of the sale of vodka. It is the grossest kind of misunderstanding and exaggeration in which any man could possibly indulge. It is quite absurd to suppose that the industrial output of this country is reduced 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. or that the position is such as to justify any action like that taken in Russia. I welcome all reasonable restrictions, but I am bound to say that these words coming from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and followed as they have been by questions put upon the Paper, and which are to be answered to-morrow, lead me to think it is necessary that somebody should deprecate any further action of this description before the House rises and before the Budget is prepared. Any drink can be abused. It would be possible for a man to use water so as to drink himself into a dropsy in the vain effort to placate the extreme advocates of temperance in the House. Even water is capable of abuse.

The action already taken by the Exchequer in respect of the taxation of drink has proved a failure. So far from the House of Commons having encouraged, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the drinking of lighter beer, the drinking of all beer has been largely discouraged, and the drinking of whisky has increased, whisky which the Chancellor of the Exchequer says—I deny it—plays the same part in this country that absinthe plays in France. He said on 17th November that nobody would dream of taxing beer on the same basis as spirits, but I submit that is very much what he has actually done. Then he said that his action was not to interfere with any productive industry, but it has interfered with malt and hops, with the saccharine material trades, with the manufacturer of the machinery of the brewing trade, with the distribution trades, and with many other trades, and it would not be difficult to show that it has actually interfered with the milk trade, because the milk trade depends to some extent upon the consumption of brewers' grain by the milch cows and the supply has been very much reduced, as the production of beer is reduced, on account of the over-heavy taxation, as I submit, already imposed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, on 24th November, that by the time the next Budget came in he would be in a better position to know the effects of the duty and to adjust the asperities of the tax. That showed some saving grace in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hope that he will take to heart what has already been sufficiently proved, and that he will be prepared to make such adjustments as may be just and necessary, instead of acting upon, I must say, the wild, whirling statements he makes about the possibility, the probability, and the propriety of taking action against the drinks which are customary in this country similar to that which has been taken in Russia, where, as anyone who knows that country is well aware, the consumption of vodka was a great national calamity with which nothing that goes on in this country can with justice be compared.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated that the consumption of beer would fall by 23 per cent. It has fallen up to a certain point by 60 per cent. I will ask the hon. Gentleman to lay that fact before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to see that he is properly posted in the representations I make, though I am afraid the fact that I make them will not particularly commend them to him. I hope that he will verify them in such manner as may appear best to him, and take them into account when he is preparing his Budget. The trade has been hit in every possible direction. The times of day at which the public drink beer are the hours in which these licensed houses are now shut. No proper compensation has been arranged for to make up for these restrictions, and I confess that as I find a disposition to make use of the requirements of the War in order to hit a trade unpopular in some directions, I rather dread that some further interference with the trade is in prospect. I therefore determined, although the hour is late for our present Session, to say a few words which I hope will have some effect at the Treasury. I note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a lucid interval one day described beer as being in alcoholic strength just above ginger ale. Why does he not give effect to that in his legislation, and why does he talk about the position in this country being such as it was in Russia before the great measure was taken, when, as a matter of fact, it is in no way comparable? The extent of drunkenness in this country is similarly exaggerated for political reasons, and, although I welcome all legislation for removing temptation from the troops, I do think, from the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to which I have referred, that there is a danger that again this honest, legal trade will not have fair justice.

I do not see anybody representing the Board of Education here, but I do not complain at all, because I was going to speak on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and there has been a change of plan. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who sits on the Front Bench (Mr. Acland) will be so very kind as to represent to the President of the Board of Education the very few words I have to say. They regard the School of Oriental Studies. This is a matter which I think may very properly be raised in war time, for the study of Russian is a study intimately connected with our present Russian alliance. Ten years ago I was one of those who went to see the then Prime Minister, and I made a speech, amongst others, upon the necessity for this School of Oriental Studies.

Ten years have elapsed, and when I asked the President of the Board of Education a question, he said that this school would be opened in January, 1916. I can I hardly think that the delay is inevitable. The delay has been really more than is tolerable, and I should like to represent that view, and to say that many others like myself who are interested in Oriental languages think that the delay has been unreasonable, and that some effort should be made to give effect to the frequent protestations of the Government. I also asked the President of the Board of Education whether Russian was to be included in the curriculum of this school, and he told me that it was. Since then he has written a very polite letter to say that he was mistaken, and that Russian will not be included in the languages to be taught there. That is a pity, and I am sorry that he was not right when he said that it was to be included. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to bring that matter before him.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members not being found present, the House was adjourned at Seventeen minutes after Nine o'clock till to-morrow (Wednesday).