HC Deb 06 July 1916 vol 83 cc1691-6

(1) Any licence holder in so far as he is not bound by any covenant, agreement, or undertaking to obtain a supply of beer from any particular brewer, and who has at any time during the year ended the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixteen, been supplied with beer by any brewer or brewers, shall be entitled to obtain from such brewer or brewers, particulars of the quantities and gravities of the beer supplied, and also a, certificate or certificates stating the total number of standard barrels represented by the beer supplied during each quarter of the year ended the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixteen, or such shorter period as the supply has continued.


I beg to move, to leave out the words "quantities and gravities of the," and insert instead thereof the words "number of bulk barrels of each description of."


I should like to ask whether the hon. and gallant Member would consent to some form of appeal in these cases. It is quite impossible for the licence holder to take for granted the accuracy of the certificate, because it expressly says, in the Definition Clause at the end, that the standard barrel means a barrel of the original gravity of 1,055. Therefore, unless the gravity is stated, it will be impossible for the licence holder to take for a certainty the accuracy of the certificate. If there should be any dispute I think the licence holder would be very glad to have some right of appeal, and I would ask whether, under the present circumstances, the hon. and gallant Gentleman could not see to allow an appeal to the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, who have, I presume, all the particulars as to gravity, and so on. They are, therefore, the suitable people to which to make this appeal. I suggest it might be wise to allow that appeal only on the ground of dispute as to the accuracy of the certificate.


I have great sympathy with the suggestion put forward. I have very carefully considerd it, as it has already been made to me. I am afraid, however, I cannot adopt it because, in the first place, the Commissioners of Excise are purely a taxing authority, and have no judicial functions. They would very much object to having any judicial functions placed upon them. In the second place, I do not think it is necessary. What will happen will be that the customer, the free buyer, will have two things: he will, first of all, have the number of bulk barrels of each description of beer in the words that I now propose to insert—that is to say, to leave out "quantities and gravities," and to insert "number of bulk barrels of each description." In Committee I undertook to consider whether words of that character could be substituted for those already in the Bill, and after going into the matter very carefully, I came to the conclusion that the words I propose could be substituted, because it would create very great technical difficulties if every brewer in every case where there was a question of the certificate had to furnish these gravities. Therefore, it seemed to be sufficient to ask that they should give the number of bulk barrels of each description, with the certificate showing the standard number supplied. Every customer will be able roughly, in his mind, to apply the one to the other, and see whether they tally. If he thinks they do not tally, it will be open for him to go to the brewer and to say so, and ask him to try and explain the discrepancy. If he cannot explain the discrepancy, then it will be open to the customer to seek his remedy in the Courts, and to show there that the certificate does not show the number of standard barrels as compared with the number of bulk barrels. It will then rest with the brewer to make good his claim that the certificate he has given really does accurately correspond with the number of bulk barrels with which he has supplied his customer. Under these circumstances I do not think that the Amendment is either necessary or desirable. I think, as the Bill stands, it will meet the requirements of the case.

Amendment agreed to.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I will detain the House only for a very few moments. The principle of this Bill, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, is not a sound one. There are other ways in which the importation of foreign materials might be minimised. You might resort to the principle of prohibition. That has been done, in fact, in the case of hops. It has not been very satisfactory. It might have been decided to limit the use of foreign imported materials in the mash-tubs of the brewer. This would have led to no great difficulty, for these mash-tubs are under constant observation by the Excise officers, and records are kept of what is being used. The Government have not seen fit to do that. There are two things which will most certainly happen as the result of this Bill. One is that no more than 26,000,000 standard barrels of beer will be brewed in the United Kingdom during the year, or the corresponding period during which this Bill remains in force. The second is that the revenue will lose an amount, approximately, of £4,000,000. These are two certain results.

The result which is not certain, and for which this Bill does not fairly and adequately provide, is the limitation of the importation of foreign materials. It goes upon an assumption, and I am going to ask the Government, or the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill, if he can give a pledge that, if the Government find later that the Bill is not carrying out the limitation they require, and preventing materials coming into this country, and if they revert to some other system, that this Bill thereupon shall be repealed and not remain in force concurrently with another system. Given the vicious and inadequate principle of this Bill, the Government have met the objections to it most fairly. It will undoubtedly inflict a great deal of hardship, but the trade generally has not, I think, complained that they should suffer some hardship on account of the War. The attitude of these persons has been reasonable, and I think, on the whole, helpful to the Government. So far as I am personally concerned, I wish to thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the very courteous and adequate way in which he has endeavoured to meet the objections and smooth the asperities and hardships of the Bill. It is a much better Bill than when it was introduced into the House. Some of its defects have been removed and others lessened during the process of examination by this House. I do not move the rejection of the Bill. I only desire to make these few remarks, and especially to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to consider the request that I have made that this Bill should be repealed if any other system of limitation of brewing material has to be resorted to.


I wish to take the opportunity of expressing my thanks to the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite for the manner in which he has met us and the brewing interest generally in these negotiations. I congratulate him upon the extraordinary facility with which he dealt with a question of a most technical character, and in connection with a business which he, to start with, certainly did not know anything about. He has shown a marvellous adaptability in this matter. We have seen that before in this House, but I do not think I have ever before seen that facility more marked than in this particular case, in which also the hon. and gallant Gentleman has surpassed himself. He knows now almost as much about the business as the hon. Member beside me (Colonel Gretton). I agree that this measure is an unfortunate necessity. Nobody, I think, likes the principle of this Bill, but in the present circumstances it was thought to be the better way, or the best way, of restricting the import of these foreign materials, and I can only hope it will be successful. I think it should be. I do not see any reason why it should not be. I hope there will be no need for further tinkering, or further methods of any kind adopted in connection with this matter. I cannot conceive it possible, if this method fails, that it will be kept in being longer than necessary for it to be replaced.


As one who took considerable part in the discussion in Committee on this Bill, I should like to join in the expression of thanks which has been accorded to the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill for the straight and fair way in which he has met us throughout the Committee stage. I, like my hon. Friend below me, knew nothing about the technicalities of gravities and so forth; I am, therefore, able to appreciate to a very considerable extent the way in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made himself familiar with this subject. I was asked to take some part in the discussion by the holders of free licences, and I think they have a special reason to congratulate themselves upon the very large concessions which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made to them. In some particulars, though he did accept some Amendments which I brought forward on their behalf, it was like remodelling the whole Bill. I quite agree with my hon. Friend below me that the whole Bill has been remodelled, and that it has been very much improved. While on the one hand the object of the Bill has not been in any way interfered with, I think that the machinery has been made satisfactory.


I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the hon. and gallant Gentleman for having extended to clubs the same privileges that he has given to free licences. Though the scheme, to our great surprise, was altered at the last moment, and although I really have not had time to get the opinions of the clubs upon it, I have no doubt in my own mind that the scheme will work. The only thing I regret is that all those who put down Amendments on the basis of the original Clauses of the Bill, were led into a trap, and prevented from considering these Clauses owing to the alterations decided upon at a late hour.


I must thank my hon. Friends very much indeed for the very kind way in which they have helped me throughout the passage of this Bill. I have been the pupil of the hon. Baronet and he the instructor in all the technicalities of this Bill, and I have to thank him very much for all the help and the information he has given. As I said to the House, I believe on Second Reading, the sole object of this Bill is to restrict imports. This appeared to be the only way in which that could be effectively done, and, when that was done, the only object the Government had was to carry it out with the least possible injury to any of the interests concerned. It was not until the Bill was printed that the different-interests concerned really realised how it affected them. During the whole passage of this Bill I have found but one feeling, namely, that whatever we suffer by it, we have to accept it as part of the national necessity. But accepting that freely, we do desire that those interested shall be met with the least possible injury to themselves. The passage of the Bill through' the House, I think, has been marked with nothing but unanimity as regards the principle, and we have only had to deal with alterations in detail, on which I have to be very grateful for the information I have received.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.