HC Deb 29 September 1915 vol 74 cc867-71

Resolution reported,

7. "That on and after the twenty-second day of September, nineteen hundred and fifteen, until the first day of August, nineteen hundred and sixteen, there shall be charged on sugar made in Great Britain or Ireland the following duties of Excise, that is to say:

£ s. d.
Sugar of a polarisation exceeding 98 degrees, the cwt. 0 7 0
Sugar of a polarisation not exceeding 76 degrees, the cwt. 0 3 4
and intermediate duties varying between 7s. and 3s. 4d. on sugar of a polarization not exceeding 98 and exceeding 76 degrees;
Molasses (including all sugar and extracts from sugar which cannot be tested by the polariscope):—
if containing 70 per cent. or more of sweetening matter, the cwt. 0 4 5
if containing less than 70 per cent. and more than 50 per cent. of sweetening matter, the cwt. 0 3 2
if containing not more than 50 per cent. of sweetening matter, the cwt. 0 1 7
solid, the cwt. 0 5 11
liquid, the cwt. 0 4 3
£ s. d.
Saccharin (including substances of a like nature or use), the oz. 0 3 0
and so in proportion for any less quantity."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I desire to ask why the Excise Duty in this case is lower than the Customs Duty? The Customs Duty on sugar is 9s. 4d. and the Excise Duty is only 7s. The same applies to mollasses and other sugar articles. There is a very considerable protective effect in the difference between the Customs and Excise Duties. That does not prevail in any of the other cases. In tobacco, for instance, Customs and Excise Duties are exactly the same, and so it is with motor spirit. There is a protective effect in the Excise Duty on sugar of 2s. 4d. per cwt., or £2 7s. 6d. per ton in favour of sugar produced in this country.


May I ask, is an Excise Duty being collected on glucose at present, and under what authority?


My hon. Friend (Mr. Molteno) will find, if he looks at the old duty of 1s. 10d., that there was no corresponding Excise Duty at all. Excise Duty was not charged on the experimental manufacture of sugar in order to allow the industry to be started under conditions of particular advantage. We have merely continued the former practice in regard to this particular business. No doubt when the business becomes self-supporting, then will be the time to consider whether there should be Excise charge.


I hardly expected to live to hear from a Free Trade Chancellor of the Exchequer the infant industries argument. There is a distinction of 25 per cent., I take it, between the duty on the finished article coming from abroad and the Excise Duty on the finished article made here. We actually have a Gentleman whom I have looked upon as one of the very high priests of Free Trade, and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who understands a little about political economy, getting up this afternoon and using an argument that is used in the case of every beginning of every protection in every country where it is introduced.


I merely stated the historical fact with regard to the late duty. I did not state it as an argument, but as the fact that the late duty of 1s. 10d. did not carry with it an Excise Duty for the reason which was then given.


I am very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman disclaiming that argument. Therefore I misunderstood him. We have had some talk about this before. We have some small industry beginning to make beet sugar in this country. The reason a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, gave for not taxing it with Excise was the old argument of the girl with the illegitimate child, when she said, "It was a little one." The old duty was 1s. 10d. and now it is 9s. 4d., while the Excise Duty is 7s., which gives an advantage of 2s. 4d. I think that is a very instructive commentary on a good many other things. I am sure that those who really believe, as I believe for one, that Protection is an injury to the industry to be protected, and I am speaking from a knowledge of from thirty to forty years of its effects in the United States, must regard this introduction of the principle of protecting our home industry by a differential duty between an article made abroad and made at home as a very dangerous innovation. I did not intend to get up at all this evening and speak about the Sugar Duty. I object to the Sugar Duty entirely, because I think it is a tax on existence. This bonus of 2s. 4d. to the home industry is no more deserved by the producers of sugar in this country than by the growers of tobacco. Some time ago I was in a beautiful valley in Yorkshire, and I read in a guide book that a great deal of tobacco had been produced there. "There is a great deal of land in this country that undoubtedly ought, with proper scientific and agricultural arrangement, to be producing, in competition with other countries, beet sugar. Anything in the way of helping the industry of a legitimate character, such as technical education and organising it on a scientific basis, I should be very happy to support. The recognition of this 1s. 10d. as a bonus, and the canonisation of it and the insertion of it into our tariffs as a principle of our taxation, is not, I can only say, justified in any way by any profession of the Government hitherto used, and we have had no reason at all for expecting it. All I can do is to protest against it with all my heart.


I press for an answer to my question as to whether the right hon. Gentleman is or is not collecting an Excise tax on glucose at present? Clearly there is no statutory authority for it.


We are collecting a Glucose Tax at the rates of 1s. 2d. and 10d.


The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno) asserted that there was no preference given to any other article but sugar. I think he is wrong, and that there is a preference in the case of tobacco. There is a differential duty between the raw leaf and the manufactured tobacco, but that is not perhaps analogous. There has been, however, direct encouragement to tobacco growing in Ireland. I was very pleased that that was instituted by the late Government, and I hope it will be continued. When we come to consider the question of tobacco I shall be quite pleased if the Government see their way to do in the case of tobacco what they have already done for sugar. With regard to what was said by the last speaker, I would like to remind him that I feel a certain amount of diffidence in speaking about the matter, and I think he ought to do so because he accepted a bribe from Germany on sugar of £1 10s. per ton for many years, and by accepting that bribe he absolutely precluded his own countrymen from growing that sugar under equal conditions. I claim that all the people in this country were guilty of accepting the bribe, because it was nothing but a bribe when the German Government gave £1 10s. on every ton of sugar they exported out of Germany. That was done for no other reason but to ruin our Colonies and to prevent us in England from growing sugar. Having been guilty of accepting that bribe and hurting our own people, I think the least the hon. Member can do, or that any of us ought to do, is to be satisfied when an act of justice is being done to our own people, and that there should be no voice in this House raised against it.


I wish to join with those who have protested against this differentiation of duties, on the ground that it is the thin end of Protection. What arises out of this proposal is, that it allows private individuals to make a profit behind the tax by acting as private tax-gatherers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that we have to submit to a large increase of taxation, and he calls upon individuals to make great sacrifices, while at the same time he selects a certain section of producers and allows them to become pensioners upon the Exchequer, for that is what this protection of sugar producing in this country means. I know that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to propose an Excise Duty on the ground that it would destroy an infant industry, but I think that we might have hoped for something better from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. It shows that this is a compromise Budget, and that these duties are sops given to the Tariff Reformers in the Cabinet for the purpose of getting their acceptance of other taxes. During a time of war, of all times, when people are thinking in the main of what is happening in the field, it is most unjust that a system of taxation which has been twice rejected by the people should be sneaked in in this manner.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution reported,

8."That there shall be charged on a licence to be taken out annually by a manufacturer of sugar an Excise Duty of one pound."

Resolution agreed to.

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