HC Deb 21 June 1916 vol 83 cc187-90

There shall be charged, levied, and paid on a licence to be taken out annually, when required, by persons who sell table waters and by persons who sell cider or perry, an Excise Duty of ten shillings.


I beg to move to leave out the words "when required" ["annually, when required"], and to insert instead thereof the words "in cases where such a licence is required under Section six of the Finance (New Duties) Act, 1916."

I understand there has been a certain amount of suspicion about the Clause as drafted, in case it should give the authorities uncontrolled power to require that licence shall be issued for the sale of table waters and ciders whenever they thought fit. In the Finance (New Duties) Act, passed earlier in the Session, the Commissioners have power to make Regulations under which a licence will be granted, and it is only in connection with those Regulations that a licence can be required.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


I wish to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a certain class of people selling table waters. I have letters from my Con- stituents on the matter. There are people who are selling herb beer, the tax on which 1s 4d. a gallon. Herb beer is sold for 6d. a gallon, whereas mineral waters cost 6s. a gallon, and the tax on mineral waters is also 4d. I submit that this is a most unequal tax—4d. on a liquid which is 6d. a gallon, and 4d. on liquids which are 6s. a gallon.


This Clause does not deal at all with the duty on herb beer.


It seems to me that this very small class of people who make herb beer ought to be safeguarded. Fourpence a gallon on herb beer costing 6d. a gallon is so onerous that already 7 per cent, of their business is gone. Those who are affected are a small class of poor people, who have got together a small business in the sale of herb beer, from which they really have their livelihood. They are being very unjustly treated, and very hardly hit by the tax, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to kindly consider whether he can in some way mitigate the tax on herb beer or put on none at all.


As far as I understand, the hon. and learned Gentleman is making a speech on the subject of herb beer. That is not in order upon this Clause.


I understand that this is a duty on table waters; however, I have finished now, and I hope the Financial Secretary will give me some reply.


The Clause deals only with table waters, in which herb beer is included, but it does not deal with the duty on herb beer. My hon. and learned Friend asks me to tax herb beer lighter or not at all, but that does not come within this Clause, which simply deals with the licence for making.


I think my hon. and learned Friend has made a good point in mentioning herb beer, but it is important to take generally the question of the Licence Duty of 10s. which is being set up by the Clause. Lemonades and table waters are still being manufactured by people in all parts of the country, and anybody selling these beverages without a licence will be committing an offence, and may be locked up. That is a very-serious grievance, and I think the Government ought to justify their proposal. Is this Licence Duty necessary for protecting their revenue? Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country, small people, make a little living by the sale of these beverages, and they are to be suddenly obliged to take out a licence, the Licence Duty being 10s. per annum. I think the matter might very well receive a little more consideration.


If it is in order to go into the whole question of the taxation of these articles which come within the definition of table duties, then there is a good deal more to be said than has already been said during the course of the Debate on this point. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I would point out that he has chosen a rather unfortunate example, because lemonade which is sold by the glass does not come within the definition of table waters at all. It does not pay the tax and no licence is required under this Clause. Under the Finance (New Duties) Act, the authorities are empowered to licence all manufacturers and sellers of articles coming within the definition of table waters, and this Clause limits the amount of the licence to 10s. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the Amendment which he has moved, because that makes it perfectly clear that the Commissioners can only require a licence from those they were empowered to require it from under the Bill which we passed the other day. The Clause as it now stands, with that Amendment is, I think, in so far as the tax and licence are advisable, a satisfactory Clause.


Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell us how much he is going to get from poor old women who sell lemonade and ginger beer to cyclists. Apart from the question of still lemonade, one sees lots of little cottages where ginger beer and lemonade is sold, and if you make this charge of 10s. en those poor women for selling that refreshment they may be obliged to shut up their tiny shops, and you will force people into patronising public-houses. I suggest that there is no need to impose a Licence Duty on the good woman of the cottage who often sells lemonade and ginger beer.


The difficulty with the hon. Member is simply due to the fact that he comes into this controversy at an old stage, and deals with a question which was amply discussed a few months ago. Let me remind my hon. Friend of exactly what occurred. My right hon. Friend the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer imposed a duty on mineral waters which was to be collected by a stamp. The whole of the trades concerned came in deputation to my right hon. Friend and myself and begged that it should be done by a tax upon their output. We pointed out that it was difficult to do that, because we felt there were so many manufacturing these waters that we should lose revenue. We warned them, when we made the promise to suit their conditions, that we must ask for a Licence Duty with a small charge, in order that we might know by the application of the Licence Duty exactly where the taxed article was being made. Therefore the imposition of the Licence Duty was part and parcel of the alteration we accepted after argument in this House and outside. All those points about the small seller of still lemonade and the small woman who keeps a ginger-beer shop and the cottage which sells lemonade were brought to our notice and instanced in this House. There is not the slightest intention of asking them to take out a licence, because this licence will only have to be taken out in accordance with Regulations which are going to be laid on the Table of the House. With regard to mineral waters, in no case will a Licence Duty be asked unless the person manufactures them and then sells them. The case of the person who sells without manufacture was only inserted in order to cover the case of cider, where we made a concession to meet the objections of those who represented the position of people who grew apples. In those cases we propose to make Regulations to enable us to collect the duty from the seller and not the manufacturer. I think that is the only case in which we should have to collect from the seller. In no case will anybody be asked to pay a licence who is not liable to duty.


The persons who sell herb beer make it, and therefore you will be putting this 10s. Licence Duty on them. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that case?


May I suggest that the hon. Member is not really concerned about the Licence Duty at all, but what he wants to do is to remove taxation? Why does he not put down a new Clause, when we can debate it as an issue before us and not one which lies behind?