HC Deb 07 July 1927 vol 208 cc1576-81

As from the first day of August, nineteen hundred and twenty-seven, there shall, in lieu of the Customs Duty theretofore payable on Empire brandy, be charged, levied, and paid on Empire brandy imported into the United Kingdom for every gallon computed at proof—

£ s. d.
In cask 3 5 4
In bottle 3 6 4
[Sir Cooper Rawson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

11.0 p.m.

I will endeavour, as briefly as possible, to state the facts in support of this proposal, which is intended to increase the Preference on Empire brandy. The amount of revenue involved is comparatively insignificant. Already the Preference given on other Empire productions has had an enormous effect in the direction of stimulating trade between this country and various parts of our Empire, and it is hoped that if this remission is made on Empire brandy it will stimulate production and encourage trade between this country and different parts of the Empire. The half-a-crown duty at present enjoyed by Empire brandy is inadequate to break down the prejudice in favour of French brandy, and it is felt, if this half-a-crown is increased to ten shillings, it will bring down the price of Empire brandy within the reach of people who are not able to pay for it at the present time; and brandy, one has to remember, is not so much a beverage as whisky, but is used medicinally to a large extent not only in hospitals but also privately; and it is hoped that if the price is reduced, the cost to the hospitals will naturally be reduced proportionately.

I shall probably be met with the excuse from the right hon. Gentleman, who is replying, that this cannot be done. I put a question recently to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Empire brandy, and his reply was that an increase in favour of Empire brandy would involve a similar treatment for whisky, gin, rum, and other spirits. I submit that brandy stands in an entirely different category to whisky. There is no competition in any part of the world with Scotch whisky. There is no or little competition with rum, most of which comes from Jamaica. There is little or no competition with what is known as London gin, and, therefore, brandy stands in an entirely different category; and I submit that special treatment might be afforded to it by the Chancellor with a view to encouraging the production of brandy in Australia, South Africa, Cyprus, and also in Palestine. For the reasons I have given, I beg to move the Clause.


It is rather fortunate that there are not many inebriates in this House, because since Four o'clock we have been listening to nothing but the merits of brandy, whisky and wine. The time of the Committee is supposed to be very precious, but still the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) thought it proper to take about 45 minutes urging a reduction of the Whisky Duty, and now the hon. Member, who has just sat down, has urged a reduction in the duty on brandy. I notice the name of the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) is down to this new Clause. His name appears to be down to every Amendment concerning alcoholic drink—even sacramental wine. It is a little remarkable that all these hon. Members, who are trying for a reduction of the duties on alcoholic drink, have not been at all anxious for the reduction of the duties on tea and sugar.


On a point of Order. There were 20 or 30 other names, but six only are allowed on the Paper.


My complaint was that the hon. Member does not seem so anxious to have the duties removed on the necessities of life, such as tea and sugar. The point which I desire to submit is this. All along the line we have had appeals for various reliefs from taxation, and also preferences, but hon. Members who made these proposals did not mind whether it was reducing the right to sell a bottle or a half-bottle, whether it was the extension of hours, or the reduction of duty. We even found the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) saying that although it was against his personal interest to support a Clause of this character, nevertheless he did so in the interests of liberty. The whole object of these proposals ought to be exposed. It is this. If there be one breach made in the line of restrictions which have been built up in the face of the most bitter hostility of the most powerful interests since the War, the whole beneficent fabric of post-War licensing legislation will be endangered. I appeal to the Attorney-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to allow that breach to be made, as the strongest protection against any unwarrantable extension is to be found in the reasonable restrictions that now exist.


I rather regret that the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) has taken this particular line on this subject, because it has nothing to do with the point in regard to home consumption or home trade. It is simply a request that the Government will consider giving an advantage to certain parts of the Empire in the matter of brandy. This was established and agreed to by, certainly, the official Opposition. They have agreed all along the line that where you can reduce duties in favour of the Empire, it is a thing that you aught to do. It is simply on those lines that this proposal is put forward. I believe I am right in saying that the total import of brandy at present is only about 5,000 gallons, and the loss of revenue would be a very small sum in itself, about £2,000. At the same time, we should be establishing a principle to which both the responsible parties in the House are pledged. If the Attorney-General cannot give us a pledge that this will be done, I hope he will consider it by the Report stage, because the moral value would be very great if he could give assistance in this respect. Already, hospitals are buying South African brandy because they find it cheap. The least we can do in return for the very substantial preference we receive from South Africa is to assist their trade.


In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), I wish to say that his memory is a little short with regard to the attitude of the Opposition to this proposal. It is well within my memory that in the last Parliament the Government of the day, now represented on the Front Opposition Bench, not only stood up against the proposal but actually risked their existence in four separate Divisions on one night, when four of the biggest Divisions held in that Parliament took place on the reduction of duty on Empire products. There were 10 Motions on the Paper to increase the duty and four to reduce it.


I cannot quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) that we have been spending all our time in discussing alcoholic stimulants. Some time was spent, for instance, on a proposal to stimulate the production of babies; also on another proposal to stimulate the consumption of sugar; and just now we were discussing the importation of silk. No doubt, inasmuch as the alcoholic duties form a very substantial part of the Budget, it is not altogether unnatural that some time should be taken in discussing the proposals for reducing their amount. In spite of that, I am afraid that I cannot accept the new Clause. There is at this moment an existing preference on Empire brandy of no less than 2s. 6d. per gallon. The proposal is to make that 2s. 6d. into 10s. The same 2s. 6d. per gallon preference is given in the case of other Empire spirits, and that that stimulus is sufficient to enable Empire products to increase in consumption is proved, I think, not only by the statement of my hon. Friend just now that there was an increasing demand in the hospitals for South African brandy because it was cheap, and I believe also that it has been proved very strikingly in the instance of rum, where foreign, non-Empire, rum, has dropped from 24 per cent. of the total consumption in 1920, which was the first full year of preference, down to 4½ per cent. in 1926–27, showing a very remarkable response to the 2s. 6d. per gallon preference granted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer feels that it would be impossible to grant a bigger proportion of preference in the ease of Empire brandy without at once creating a demand for equally favourable treatment from the Home Country and those Dominions which produce other spirits, such, for instance, as rum from our sorely-pressed West Indian Colonies. That would not cost a mere £2,000. It would run into £2,500,000, or something of that kind. Therefore, although I entirely agree that we ought to give this preference to Empire products in the case not only of brandy but of other Empire products wherever we can, and wherever there is a duty, I am afraid I cannot hold out any substantial hope that a larger preference will be given in the case of the production of brandy than has already been given in that case and in the case of all the other spirits which are subject to similar classes of taxation.


I must say, with profound respect, that I am not greatly impressed by the arguments of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General. He says that we have a preference of no less than 2s. 6d. a gallon; 2s. 6d. on the present tax of about 80s. That is a preference of three per cent. On tea, to which the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) referred, we are giving a preference of 33⅓ per cent. The preference is so ridiculously small that there can be no resistance to our proposal on the ground that preference is already so generous. Then, with regard to the case of rum; of course, we import 94 or 96 per cent. of our rum from within the Empire, because, broadly speaking, rum is not produced anywhere else to any large extent.


I pointed out that the consumption of foreign non-Empire rum was now 4½ per cent., but that six years ago it was 24 per cent. of the total consumption of rum.


The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the consumption of non-Empire rum was 24 per cent. six years ago. Broadly speaking, it is the case that Jamaica is the main source of the rum that is consumed, not only in this country, but in other countries. Those who have paid a visit to France, where apparently they drink a lot of rum, will always see this British rum there. Jamaica and the British West Indies are the main sources, and obviously there is no competition whatever between brandy and rum because in the particular kind of complaint for which brandy is the solution, I do not think that rum would be taken as the alternative. Although it may be impossible for the Government to make this concession on this occasion, I hope they will do something to assist a product imported from four parts of the Empire—two Dominions, one mandated territory, and one Crown Colony. Although on this occasion they may not be willing to sacrifice £2,000, I hope that before next year they will change their minds.


South African brandy has been spoken of as cheap. South African brandy for the last 10 or 15 years has been produced under the most modern conditions. It is brandy of the highest class which is produced in the whole world. I sincerely hope that no member of the Committee will be left under the impression that South African brandy, given a reasonable preference, cannot hold its own in our market against any other brandy in the world.

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