HC Deb 16 June 1925 vol 185 cc464-6

Section three, Sub-section (2), of the Finance Act, 1920, shall have effect as if for the words "nineteen hundred and twenty," in line three, "nineteen hundred and twenty-five" were substituted, and as if for the words "three pounds twelve shillings and sixpence," in lines six and seven, "two pounds" were substituted.—[Mr. Macquisten.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

This Clause, I think, will assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer to recover more duty. The present tax upon whisky is 72s. 6d. a gallon, which absolutely prohibits a great many decent, respectable people with small incomes from having what they had in the past, namely, some spirits. Even under doctor's orders they cannot get it, because they cannot afford it. It is a very great hardship, and it is felt very keenly. To a well-off man it may only mean £50 a year more, but to the man with from £200 to £300 a year who desires his one whisky a day, this is prohibition by taxation, is class legislation, and is a very unfair tax to put upon these people. It was only intended as a War tax. Revenue is being lost by it, and I am certain if the tax were reduced sales would go up to such a degree that the loss of revenue would be replaced. I am sorry to say many people have taken to more noxious compounds, and I believe there is a good deal of illicit distillation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] We have heard of a good deal in different towns. My hon. Friend comes from one where there were nine cases in three weeks.

The consumption of whisky has been decreased by one-half. A retired officer of the Inland Revenue told me that on account of the advantage to his health, he always had to have a little spirits at bedtime, but now it was so costly that he had very seriously cut down his consumption of what was, to him, a necessity. The unfortunate thing is that there is not much support for this Clause to be got from the distillers, because they find it is much better that the duty should be high in this country, as they get a very much larger price by exporting spirits. The chairman of Messrs. Alexander Walker boasted, about two years ago, that since prohibition was introduced in the United States, his firm was forging ahead in America, or words to that effect. I think it is very hard that prohibition should be imposed upon the working-class by a backdoor in this fashion by taxation, and I think it is a cause of industrial unrest. As I have said before, if members of the Carlton, Reform, and Constitutional Clubs had the same difficulties as the working men in buying refreshment, they would all be Bolshevists in about six months.

I do not think my proposal, if adopted, would have the least effect on the sobriety of people. The consumption of whisky has never exceeded one gallon a head of the population, and it is now down to half-a- gallon. It was intended as a medicine, and should be used as a medicine, as a good many Members of this House so use it. I, therefore, want to enter my protest against using this duty, not for Revenue purposes, but entirely for the purpose of prohibition, and I hope another year this will be discontinued.


The hon. Gentleman has perhaps not fully considered the effect of his proposed Amendment and its results to the Exchequer—


The Amendment only applies to spirits produced in this country.


The result of any alteration of the taxation would mean a considerable transfer of the consumption of foreign spirits to home-made spirits, and we should, on a full year, lose revenue to the extent of £14,000,000. The hon. Member will, therefore, see that it is impossible to accept the Amendment.


I would take this opportunity to join my hon. Friend opposite in making a protest against the retention of such a very high duty. I believe a bottle of whisky, 50 per cent. under proof, now costs 12s. 6d. Of this, 8s. 5½d. represents the duty. Once there might have been a smile when one raised a point of the sort, but one may fairly draw attention to the fact that spirits are as much used medicinally as in any other way. Those who say otherwise speak without knowledge of the actual facts, for during the late influenza epidemic, if there had been more within the reach of the poorer people, a good deal of unnecessary sickness might have been prevented. I am sorry that the time does not give me a proper opportunity of speaking at length upon this matter, and also that it precludes me from moving an Amendment dealing with the duty on beer. But the remission of these two duties is long overdue.

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