HC Deb 24 April 1928 vol 216 cc860-1

In order to balance the extra fiscal burden which this tax on kerosene may throw upon the consumer, I propose to reduce the existing duties on sugar in a way which will ensure, it is true a small reduction, but still an appreciable reduction, of ¼d. per lb. in retail prices. The precise changes proposed in the Sugar Duties will be found set out in detail in the White Paper. In brief, I propose to reduce the duties on all imported sugars of a polarisation not exceeding 98 degrees in the case of foreign sugar, and not exceeding 99 degrees in the case of home-grown and Empire sugar all these being usually described as raw sugars, by the equivalent of ¼d. per lb., and on home grown and Empire white or refined sugar I propose a reduction of a slightly smaller amount. Foreign white or relined sugar with a polarisation of over 98 degrees will continue to pay the existing duty. By this means it is also possible to afford assistance to the British sugar refining industry. The Committee are aware that the refiners have long complained that while Empire sugar producers have been assisted by the preference on sugar, and while the home-grown beet industry has been helped by the subsidy as well as by the preference, they themselves, the British refiners, have been left to engage without assistance in an unequal struggle against their competitors, whether domestic, Empire, or foreign. They and their workpeople have certainly suffered considerably in the process—a quarter of them have lost their employment in the last four years.

The new scheme of duties is designed to encourage the importation of raw sugar, which must undergo a refining operation in this country, rather than the importation of the white sugar which is refined abroad. The British refiners have undertaken that if this scheme is accepted by the Committee, the normal difference between the prices of raw and refined sugar will be reduced by the full equivalent of the duty reduction, namely, 2s. 4d. a cwt—that is ¼d. a pound. Since these refiners will largely influence the market here, I am led to believe that the retail price of sugar will fall by that amount. The change in duty will take effect from tomorrow. The estimate of the cost to the Exchequer is £2,300,000 this year and £2,900,000 in a full year. The reduction of price ought to reach the consumer in a few days. I may add that an all-round reduction of the Sugar Duty equivalent to a ¼d. a 1b. would have cost the Exchequer £4,000,000 a year and that this £4,000,000 a year is the true measure of the relief to the consumer. This is more than is exacted by the tax on kerosene over the whole field of its use, industrial as well as domestic. I have done the best I can in that sphere.

I want to be quite plain with the Committee, because we are at the beginning of long arguments, and perhaps hotly pressed controversy, and I want to start quite fairly. I am not going to hazard any prediction about future price movements, either of sugar or of kerosene. I do not know how the world markets will move. No one knows. All I know is that just as the tax on kerosene will continue to be an adverse factor in the price to the British consumer, so the sugar remission will be a favourable factor in the price to the British consumer, and I believe that they balance each other.