HC Deb 21 June 1922 vol 155 cc1438-47 In lieu of the present Customs Duties, drawbacks, and allowances in respect of sugar, molasses, glucose, and saccharine, there shall as from the first day of September, nineteen hundred and twenty-two, be charged, levied, and paid the duties specified in Part I of the First Schedule of this Act, and there shall be paid and allowed the drawbacks and allowances set out in Part TT of that Schedule.—[Mr. Holmes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The reduction of the duty on sugar which is proposed in this Clause is a matter on which most Members of this House could speak for at least one hour, but having regard to the fact that to a certain extent there is a bargain with the Government and that we had a very full discussion on the indirect taxation embodied in the duty on tea, which is very similar to the duty on sugar, I will not detain the Committee long. Many arguments were advanced last Monday in favour of reducing the duty on tea, and all these arguments can be also advanced with regard to sugar in addition to many other arguments which do not apply to tea. Sugar is far more used than tea. Tea is used by itself. Sugar is used for making all sorts of things, including, as I am reminded by an hon. Member, the manufacture of beer. From the point of view of children it is far more important to reduce the duty on sugar than that on tea. The Chancellor of Exchequer may say that it is more difficult for him to give a reduction in the duty on sugar, but that does not weigh very heavily with us. I read up the last Debate on sugar this morning, and there were so many suggestions there for speeches which would occupy time that I tried to avoid bringing any notes to the House, but the subject is so familiar, and we have discussed it so often, that it is not neccessary for me to say any more.


The proposal involved in this new Clause would cost the Government in a full year £14,000,000, and no doubt the hon. Member had that figure in his mind. As he has said the arguments in favour of the reduction of the duty on sugar are so familiar that he did not think it necessary to mention any of them. Would he think it discourteous on my part if I were to suggest that the still more conclusive arguments against the reduction of the duty at the present moment are so familiar to every Member of the House that I may venture to pay him the compliment of flattering him by imitating him and saying no more on the subject?


I think this Amendment has been treated by the Government with a little less respect than it deserved. The Mover should not have been impressed so much with the necessity of fulfilling the supposed bargain with regard to the Budget as to prevent him bringing forward some of the arguments in favour of the Amendment. If carried, the Amendment would bring benefit to every family in the land. People are beginning to realise that sugar is a food. In the old days they thought it was a luxury. It has now become the food of the poor. It is one of the best sources of energy for human beings. If the Solicitor-General were playing golf for a whole day he would get on much better if he took with him a bag full of sweets rather than a flask of whisky.


That is what I do.


I felt sure that the learned Solocitor-General must be using sugar instead of a flask on occasions of that sort, and it is the use of sugar, probably, which enables him to sit here until 4 o'clock in the morning "without turning a hair." Seriously, this is an important Amendment. The Government ought to address themselves to the necessity of reducing the tax on sugar. It has been the aim of all Chancellors of the Exchequer, at least, of all Liberal Chancellors of the Exchequer, gradually to reduce the taxes on food. The reduction of the tax on tea will be of practically no use to the consumer, but a reduction of the tax on sugar would be a decided benefit to every family in the land. It would increase the purchasing power of the people, and the use of more sugar would mean that the workers would have more energy and that there would be more production in almost every way. I hope that hon. Members who are interested in the Amendment will compel the Government to treat the matter with more seriousness.


I admire the modesty of my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of this new Clause. He was certainly very brief. It was my privilege on Tuesday to speak on the remission of the tax, so far as the sugar factories at Kelham and Cantley were concerned, and I quoted to the House a telegram which had been sent to me when the Budget was first introduced. I trust that in quoting that telegram again I shall not be taking too much liberty, but I feel justified in re-reading it because of its importance, and as a means of drawing attention to the fact that there were certain manufacturers, wholesale distributors and retailers of sugar who had gone so far as to prepare for a reduction of the tax. It is a telegram from a very big firm, and reads as follows: Rumours here that Sugar Tax will he reduced, to operate on some deferred dates This would be serious mistake for everyone. Have prepared for reduction being effective from to-night. If deferred, all the great inconvenience of preparation for reducing stocks etc. will have to be repeated. That telegram is indicative of the mind of those who are engaged in the sugar trade.


Would the hon. Member say from whom that telegram came?


I shall have pleasure in handing it to the Solicitor-General.


Would he state to the House who sent it?

10.0 p.m.


It was from the English Co-operative Wholesale Society, Manchester. I do not think anyone will deny that, as far as sugar is concerned, they are in a responsible position, and can speak with authority. They were prepared for a reduction, as I said, and from information which has been given to me they were not the only people who were prepared. As far as the Sugar Tax is concerned, it is well known that had we been able to secure a penny off sugar it would have meant, roughly speaking, £12,000,000. The Solicitor-General said £14,000,000.


The Amendment would cost £14,000,000. A penny off the tax is about £11,000,000.

10.0. P.M.


The Government in their wisdom or otherwise have reduced the taxation upon tea, which means about £5,000,000 loss to the Treasury. That is indirect taxation. As far as direct taxation is concerned, the Government are prepared to lose more than £30,000,000. As has been said, here is a commodity which is used by every living soul in the country. No Member of this House can go to his table and enjoy even ordinary fruits without the question of sugar arising. It is not merely the taxation on the ordinary sugar one has to consider, but its effects on the breakfast table. In connection with confectionery, tinned fruits, mineral waters and other things, it is extensively used. I wish the Committee to realise the benefit that would accrue from some reduction in the tax. I do not wish to dwell on the exigencies of the moment as they affect the Government, but I submit that on principle, this Sugar Tax is inherently bad. It is an outrageously heavy tax upon the indirect taxpayer. I may quote a few figures to show how the tax has risen. In 1901 it was 4s. 2d. per cwt. In 1908 it was reduced to 1s. 10d. In 1915 it jumped up to 9s. 4d. In 1916 it went to 14s., and in 1918 it was increased to £1 5s. 8d. per cwt. Can the learned Solicitor-General give any other ease in which a tax on food has risen to such an alarming extent as that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Beer"] Some of us differ as to whether or not beer is a food, but sugar is admittedly a food and one upon which everybody in this country depends. I ask the Solicitor-General to reconsider this question before the Report stage. We have become accustomed to appeals of this kind. One or two of them fell not upon deaf ears, but upon sympathetic ears. I do not know the number of times the Chancellor has given way to appeals, but I am rather anxious to see what the new Finance Bill will be like when it comes up on the Report stage, if all the promises made are fulfilled.

The increase in the Sugar Duty has a tendency to reduce consumption. In 1913 there was consumed in this country more than 34,500,000 cwts. In 1919, when the tax had risen, the consumption decreased to 30,500,000 cwts. In 1920, the last year for which I have the figures, with the extensive taxation placed upon this main commodity, the consumption had decreased to just over 22,000,000 cwts. There we have a proof that the increased tax is bearing heavily upon the greatest class of the consuming public, which is the working class. I therefore make this appeal to the Solicitor-General, though candidly I do not make it with any confidence. He will at once ask how he can sacrifice £11,000,000, and it would be out of order for me to show him the avenue by which, if he cared to tread it, he would be able to compensate himself for the loss. We have given advice on more than one occasion which might have saved the Government from some of the most difficult positions in which they find themselves, but the House in its wisdom refused that advice coming from these benches. In submitting a sincere and earnest demand for the abolition of this tax, I might suggest some compensating revenue, but I would be out of order in doing so. I believe the advancement of trade, the general prosperity, and even the moral and social welfare of the people, can only be brought about, when we are prepared to give some relief in indirect taxation. The more we increase the spending power of the great majority of the people, the more will trade increase and the more we increase the staple trades of our land, the more it will eventually encourage trade abroad. I could easily show my right hon. Friend a method of securing this £11,000,000 if he relieved us of this tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not merely to consider the point of view of the Super-tax or even that of the ordinary Income Tax payer. There is another aspect of the question. He has a moral right to look at if from the point of view of the social well-being of the community, neglect of which now may mean in a few years' time a greater drain on the revenue of the State. To-day if there is one plea which stands out more than any other, and to which the Government of any country should look seriously, it is the plea that something should be done to mitigate the hardships of the poor. I appeal to my right hon. Friend, without a great amount of hope, but with all sincerity, to see if he cannot devise some means to relieve the people from this tax, and in doing so he will confer a boon and a blessing on hundreds of thousands of the poorest people of our land, who deserve far greater consideration than this Finance Bill is giving them.


Nothing in the Budget statement of the Chancellor caused more disappointment throughout the country than the announcement that no relaxation was to be made in the very heavy burden represented by the Sugar Duty. Had it been possible for the Chancellor to make some slight remission in this respect it would have been welcomed in practically every home in the country. No tax bears so heavily on the people and no tax affects every member of the community as does this particular tax. I was hopeful that when the Solicitor-General replied, he might have been able to suggest that while a remission was impossible this year it was the serious intention of the Government to see that the next remission of indirect taxation was in this direction. Great pressure will be brought to bear, later on, for a reduction of the tax on beer. No arguments can be produced for a reduction of the tax on beer that can carry anything like the same weight as the arguments in support of a reduction of the sugar tax. Even the welcome reduction of the tea tax was not so generally welcome, as would be a reduction of the sugar tax. Every member of the community would he immediately affected. The burden on every home would be immediately lightened. It is a most unfortunate thing that just prior to the introduction of the Budget, there was not an organisation of the demand for a reduction of the sugar tax, as there was organisa-

tion in favour of a demand for a reduction in the Income Tax. Petitions poured in from every direction as a result of an organised appeal, and if we could have ascertained what the real wishes of the housewives of this country were, I am sure there would have been a much more widespread demand for a reduction in this respect than for a reduction in Income Tax. While the Solicitor-General was able to hold out no hope of a remission in this respect, and while he talked of the impossibility of effecting a reduction of £14,000,000, it might have been open to bring about a small reduction, which would be welcomed, particularly by the children, whose sweets are so costly that it is only the more well-to-do children who can afford them. If hon. Members of about the same age as myself will compare what a child can get in a shop for a penny to-day with what a child could get in a shop for a penny 35 years ago, I think they would find that the children of this country would be very much interested in this Debate, seeing that 30 or 35 years ago, when some of us were children, we were able to get four times as much as our children can get to-day for the same amount. Therefore, seeing that there is no tax remission that would cover so wide an area, relieve so many burdens, and affect so many homes as a remission in this direction, I hope the hon. Member will press his Amendment. I shall certainly support him in the Lobby, and I believe there will be behind his action the general approval of the country.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 79 Noes, 227.

Division No. 171.] AYES [10.18 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Entwistle, Major C. F. Irving, Dan
Banton, George Finney, Samuel John, William (Rhondda, West)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Foot, Isaac Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Barnes, Major H (Newcastle, E.) Galbraith, Samuel Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas Gillis, William Kennedy, Thomas
Bromfield, William Graham. D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.
Brown, James [Ayr and Bute] Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne) Lawson, John James
Cairns, John Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Lunn, William
Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield) Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hltchin) Grundy, T. W. Mallalieu, Frederick William
Clough, Sir Robert Guest, J. (York, W.R., Hemsworth) Murray, Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)
Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock) Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)
Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe) Halls, Walter Myers, Thomas
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Harmswerth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Nall, Major Joseph
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Hayday, Arthur Newbould, Alfred Ernest
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Hayward, Evan O'Grady, Captain James
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Hirst, G. H. Parkinson, John Alien (Wigan)
Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South) Hogge, James Myles Raffan, Peter Wilson
Randall, Athelstan Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough) Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.
Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Spencer, George A. White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)
Roberts, Frederick O. (W. Bromwich) Sutton, John Edward Wignall, James
Robertson, John Swan, J. E. Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Rose, Frank H. Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Royce, William Stapleton Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Sexton, James Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock) Tillett, Benjamin Mrs. Wintringham and Mr.
Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince) Holmes
Sitch, Charles H. Waterson, A. E.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Goff, Sir R. Park Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Gould, James C. Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington) Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John
Armstrong, Henry Bruce Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick W. Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William
Baird, Sir John Lawrence Greenwood, William (Stockport) Parker, James
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Greer, Sir Harry Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G. Grenfell, Edward Charles Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Barker, Major Robert H. Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon Frederick E. Pennefather, De Fonblanque
Barlow, Sir Montague Guinness, Lieut.-Col Hon. W. E. Perring, William George
Barnett, Major Richard W. Hailwood, Augustine Pickering, Colonel Emil W.
Barrand, A. R. Halt, Rr-Adml Sir W.(Llv'p'l,W.D'by) Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray
Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund Robert Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Pratt, John William
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes) Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton) Prescott, Major Sir W. H.
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Harris, Sir Henry Percy Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.
Bann, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Haslam, Lewis Purchase, H. G.
Betterton, Henry B. Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston) Rae, Sir Henry N.
Blgiand, Alfred Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Randles, Sir John Scurrah
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.) Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank Rankin, Captain James Stuart
Blair, Sir Reginald Hinds, John Ratcliffe, Henry Butler
Blake, Sir Francis Douglas Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. N.
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E. Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Remer, J. R.
Brassey, H. L. C, Hood, Sir Joseph Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)
Breese, Major Charles E. Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian) Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington) Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Briggs, Harold Hopkins, John W. W. Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Broad, Thomas Tucker Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Moseley) Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury) Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford) Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)
Bruton, Sir James Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead) Rodger, A. K.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Howard, Major S. G. Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Butcher, Sir John George Hurd, Percy A. Rutherford, Colonel Sir J. (Darwen)
Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington) Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Casey, T. W. James, Limit.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Cautley, Henry Strother Jodrell, Neville Paul Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur
Chamberlain. Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm.,W). Johnson, Sir Stanley Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood) Johnstone, Joseph Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Churchman, Sir Arthur Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Scott, Sir Leslie (Llverp'l, Exchange)
Clay, Lieut,Colonel H. H. Spender Joynson-Hicks, Sir William Shaw, William T. (Forfar)
Coats, Sir Stuart Keliaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Cobb, Sir Cyril Kidd, James Simm, M. T.
Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips King, Captain Henry Douglas Smith, Sir Harold (Warrington)
Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale Larmor, Sir Joseph Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander
Cope, Major William Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale) Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)
Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South) Leigh, Sir John (Clapham) Stanton, Charles Butt
Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.) Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales) Steel, Major S. Strang
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd) Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.
Daiziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton) Lindsay, William Arthur Stewart, Gershom
Davidson, J. C. C.(Hemel Hempstead) Lister, Sir R. Ashton Sturrock, J. Lang
Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green) Sugdem W. H.
Davies, David (Montgomery) Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tlngd'n) Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.
Davies, Thomas (Cirencester) Lorden, John William Sutherland, Sir William
Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.) Loseby, Captain C. E. Sykes, Sir Charles (Huddersfield)
Dawson, Sir Philip Lyle, C. E. Leonard Taylor, J.
Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander Harry Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Terrell, George (Wilts, Chippenham)
Doyle, N. Grattan McLaren, Robert (Lanark, Northern) Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)
Du Pre, Colonel William Baring Macnaghten, Sir Malcolm Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Edge, Captain Sir William McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury) Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell (Maryhill)
Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Tryon, Major George Clement
Evans, Ernest Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.) Turton, Edmund Russborough
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Marriott, John Arthur Ransoms Waddington, R.
Falls, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Matthews, David Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor
Fell, Sir Arthur Middlebrook, Sir William Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)
Fildes, Henry Mildmay, Colonel Rt. Hon. F. B. Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)
Flannery, Sir James Fortescue Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Ford, Patrick Johnston Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.
Foreman, Sir Henry Moreing, Captain Algernon H. Watson, Captain John Bertrand
Forestier-Walker, L. Murchison, C. K. Weston, Colonel John Wakefield
Forrest, Waiter Murray, Rt. Hon. C. D. (Edinburgh) Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.
Fraser, Major Sir Keith Neal, Arthur White, Col. G. D. (Southport)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter) Williams, C. (Tavistock)
Ganzoni, Sir John Newson, Sir Percy Wilson Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud
Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster) Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)
Windsor, Viscount Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Winterton, Earl Woolcock, William James U. Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.
Wise, Frederick Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L. McCurdy.
Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon) Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)