HC Deb 30 April 1930 vol 238 cc328-38

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Consideration of Resolutions.


I beg to move, in line 3, to leave out the word "duties" and to insert instead thereof the word "duty."

I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I explain one of the other Amendments on the Paper while I am dealing with this particular Amendment. The object we have in view in raising this question is to call attention to the curious fact that in the Budget, as it now stands, you have a Financial Resolution in which you are raising the duty on certain curious forms of beverages. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take advantage of this occasion to explain to the House exactly the position of the Government in regard to the beverages which are now named.

As far as certain beverages are concerned some of them are of very great antiquity from an historical point of view. It will be noticed that the Resolution proposes to raise on every 36 gallons of worts not exceeding 1,215 degrees a duty of 12s.; and in the case of worts exceeding 1,215 degrees a higher duty of 14s. Then there is a provision that in the case of every description of beer other than those specified in the second Resolution for every 36 gallons where the worts were before fermentation of a specific gravity of 1,215 degrees, there is to be a duty of 3s. We can understand the 12s. for the lower strength on the first-named beverages, but we do not quite see the reasons for the 3s. on the other form of beverage. I have been tempted to try to find out precisely what these beverages are. I had never heard of them, and it seemed to be of some interest to look up the information. I may say that the word "mum" has nothing to do with the virtues of the Member for Torquay, but I find that this beverage is called after a distinguished gentleman who resided in Brunswick in the year 1487. That is according to a gentleman named Abelard, but this is severely discredited by another German at a later date, who does not think that this drink was invented by that particular individual. I discovered that, although it was very largely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—and those rather antique times would naturally appeal to anyone with the temperament of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose views are rather out of date—at the present time it is only mentioned in history and in Customs tariffs. Could the right hon. Gentleman give some information as to the amount of this beverage that is used at the present time, and is it really necessary to bring in a separate Resolution to deal with one or two of these beverages?

Having dealt with the Brunswick beverage, I now come to the Prussian beverage, and I have found in the course of my research that this particular beverage is a very powerful diuretic. I also find that it is most useful as an anti-scorbutic, and that it was recommended at one time for scurvy and also as a stimulant; and, moreover, and this is most valuable from the Chancellor's point of view, it was recommended many years ago as a most wholesome beverage for the summer months. I have no doubt that he will require a wholesome beverage during those months to keep him cool; but I find that it is also advised that it should be taken with ginger nuts and dough nuts. That is all that I can find about this beverage in the dictionaries. Having dealt with two of these beverages and given the Chancellor some ground on which he could excuse their taxation or otherwise, I would now like to ask why one particular beverage is left out in this case. It is one in which the right hon. Gentleman has shown occasionally a rather absorbing interest.

The beverages that we have been considering are mainly imported, and I am wondering if it is a sign of grace in the Chancellor that he has left out of this list a beverage which is manufactured in this country, and which some people might think ought to be included, because, after all, into the making of a part of it, at any rate, fermentation would enter. That is the beverage which the Chancellor of the Exchequer shows such coyness if anyone asks him about it—that is the Scotch beverage known as Red Biddy. Why is that left out on this occasion? It is an old friend of the right hon. Gentleman and, from that point of view, I hold that possibly the position as it now is is not quite complete. I only bring it in because I hope it will give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of showing that at last the Government have done something to encourage one particular industry. I am not sure that in these days it is really necessary to bring this up year after year. Would it not be possible, in order to save time and other things dear to the hearts of many of us, to bring it up in some less complicated form? For this reason and for the others that I have mentioned I move the Amendment.

Captain BOURNE

I beg to second the Amendment.

Those who were Members of the 1924 Parliament will recollect that Sir Charles Wilson, who then represented Leeds, made an eloquent speech in Committee on the Finance Bill and showed why these drinks should not come under the Beer Duty at all. He pointed out that they were used largely as cordials, that they are not fermented liquor and that it is merely because they happen to be called beer that they come under the very heavy duty which is levied on alcoholic liquor. What is more, the right hon. Gentleman, in replying to that speech, said the hon. Gentleman had made out a very good case, and subsequently he introduced a Clause giving a rather heavy rebate. I believe their words are more likely to appeal to him as a Yorkshireman than to me as a South countryman, because I understand it is only in Yorkshire and in the North that these drinks are consumed to any large extent. I have been extraordinarily puzzled as to why the right hon. Gentleman has found it necessary to include mum in the Customs Resolution. According to the Clauses which were put into the 1924 Finance Bill, there are very heavy penalties on any brewer who brews black beer, spruce and mum and mixes them with any ordinary beer. I think any brewer doing so is liable to a penalty of £50 for each offence. I do not know whether this Resolution indicates a change of heart, I am afraid a very small one but none the less welcome, and that the right hon. Gentleman is at last imposing a preferential duty in favour of home production. Presumably he found it necessary to impose penalties in 1924 in the case of any brewer who brewed these drinks and mixed them with others, so that there must be some home production. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman has not thought it necessary to impose an Excise. I take it as a sign of grace that he has at last realised that it is possible to put a tax on imported goods without at the same time imposing an Excise on goods made in this country. I shall be glad if he will answer the point.

Also I do not quite understand why he has found it necessary to put a duty on imported black beer. If it is possibly a protective duty I welcome it, and in that case I certainly do not desire to press the Amendment. I merely wish to ascertain what is at the back of the mind of the right hon. Gentleman and to say that if it is a protective duty I for one shall do all I possibly can to assist him to pass it into law.


The two speeches in which this Amendment has been moved have had little or no relation to what the effect of the Amendment would be. The Amendment, in effect, is the abolition of the increase in the duty upon imported black beer and the other kinds of beverages which are mentioned in the Resolution. As a matter of fact, there is no beverage of this character now imported, and I think that that is an answer to the later observations in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne). I can assure him that there is no departure from my orthodox Free Trade principles in submitting this Resolution to the House. I would like to point out to him what would be the effect of the acceptance of this Amendment provided there were importations of these beverages. The effect would be that these beverages produced in this country would be subject to a very heavy Excise Duty while similar beverages imported from foreign countries would come into the country free from the increase of duty now proposed.

This question of black beer and the other enumerated beverages has, as the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford said, often been raised in the course of our discussions upon the Finance Bill. The incident to which he referred which arose on my Budget in 1924 simply arose out of the reduction of the Beer Duty in the preceding year. It will be remembered that the reduction took the form of a rebate upon a bulk barrel of beer. In view of the heavy gravity of black beer, and these related beverages, that worked very disadvantageously to the manufacturers of these kinds of beverages, and what I did was to give them a further rebate which would equalise their position with that of the brewers. The Customs Duty upon these beverages, if imported, is a very old one. It dates from about 1869, and it takes two forms, one for gravity slightly below 1215 degrees, and a higher duty for gravities above that figure.

It is quite true that black beer is a beverage which is manufactured in Yorkshire and is mostly seen in the North of England. I well remember when I was a boy having to submit to the indignity of black beer when I happened to develop a bad cold. It was regarded as a great cure for colds. It has this other attribute, from the point of view of the revenue, that it can be very easily mixed with ordinary fermented beer. For that reason, it has always been necessary from the revenue point of view to place it in the category of beers. One hon. Member asked why there was such a heavy increase up to 12s. a barrel, in some cases, as compared with 3s. on ordinary beer of a standard gravity of 1055. The explanation is that it is not ordinary beer. The duty varies proportionately with the gravity. In some cases where beer is light the proposed increase will not amount to more than 1s. 7d. per barrel, but where the gravity runs as high as 1080 it may be 4s. or more. The ordinary gravity of black beer is about 1220 and that is why it runs up to something like 12s.

I think I have dealt with all the questions put to me, certainly not so humorously as the hon. Member who is responsible for the Amendment, but at any rate I have tried to meet the points and objections raised. There is a relation, of course, between this Amendment and two subsequent Amendments, but, as this one falls to the ground, I hope that the hon. Member will not persist with the other Amendments. As a matter of fact, I am quite sure it is not the intention to press the Amendment, because the effect would be to allow imported beverages of this character to come into the country free from the increase in duty at the same time that the home-made commodity was subject to the increase.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give the figures for which I asked?


I cannot give the exact figures of the revenue from black beer. As far as I know, there are only three firms which manufacture it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I understand the Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) and myself, in line 4 to leave out the words "either from a source external to the vehicle, or" is not quite in order. Therefore, as the Question has been put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in this Resolution," may I put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The Amendment was put on the Paper in order to elucidate exactly what this refers to. As far as my hon. and gallant Friend and I have been able to make out, there is no reference at all to it in the Budget speech. It is obviously quite a small matter, but we are not quite clear what it refers to. The heading "Licence duty on certain motor vehicles" appears to be inaccurate. In the Finance Act, 1920, Second Schedule, which is referred to in the Resolution, the heading is "Duties on mechanically - propelled vehicles," which the ordinary person would think was a more accurate description. I should have thought that a motor vehicle is not the same thing as an electrically-propelled vehicle. The phrase, "mechanically-propelled vehicle" would be the correct one. According to the Resolution, there is going to be a limited description of what is an electrically-propelled vehicle. Apparently the source must be from something external to the vehicle or that there must be an electrical storage battery, and if the vehicle gets its power from either of these two sources, I understand that the licence duty is to be chargeable according to the Finance Act of 1920 which, under the Second Schedule, is £6.

What does the Resolution exclude or, alternatively, is it intended to bring something into the Schedule that has not been there hitherto? Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer taking power to exclude the new kind of omnibus which I understand has been invented, the petrol-electric omnibus, which gets its electricity from petrol. Messrs. Tilling-Steven, I understand, make this particular kind of vehicle. Is it intended to bring them under the ordinary charge for motor vehicles and call them motor vehicles and not electrical vehicles, or is it intended as may appear from the particular reference to "a source external to the vehicle" to bring in the trackless trolley vehicle? Does it mean that there are to be brought under the £6 standard all the vehicles that are called trackless trolley vehicles? There are many towns in which these vehicles are the means of transport, a means which has developed since 1920. I do not think that in 1920 there were any trackless trolley vehicles; there were ordinary tramways which ran along lines, but the lines have been taken up and to-day what appear to be ordinary omnibuses are actually electrical trolley vehicles, with an overhead system for getting power. It may be, I do not know, that that particular kind of vehicle is already charged as a motor vehicle, or it may be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer by this Resolution is making them into electrical trolley vehicles. Is he bringing into the category of electrical trolley vehicles a great number of vehicles which hitherto were called motor vehicles, or is he excluding from the electrical trolley vehicles the new kind of omnibus which gets its electrical power from petrol? The right hon. Gentleman's explanation will decide our attitude upon this occasion and on later occasions.

11.0 p.m.


I shall have pleasure in trying to remove the difficulties of the hon. and gallant Member. This Resolution arises out of a decision of the Law Courts on the very class of motor vehicle to which the hon. and gallant Member referred—that is, where petrol generates electricity. In the Finance Act of 1926 a concession of 50 per cent. is given to electrically-driven vehicles on account of their lightness and other things. It was assumed that that type of motor vehicle, the petrol-electrical vehicle, would not be entitled to the concession. The firm to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred took the case to the courts, and eventually it went to the House of Lords, where it was finally decided in favour of the company. The purpose of the Resolution is to exclude that type of vehicle from the concession. The trolley vehicle is, of course, entitled to the concession, because it derives its electrical power direct.

Captain BOURNE

I agree with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing in regard to the vehicle which uses petrol in order to generate electricity as driving power, but I am sorry that he is extending the concession to the trackless trolley. Under the 1920 Act the tramcar pays 15s. per annum for licence duty, but the tramcars is responsible for maintaining its own track, and therefore any damage that it does to the track has to be paid for by tramway company or municipality. After all, the object of these duties is to repair the damage that a vehicle causes to the highways, and the payment is through the Road Fund. The trackless trolley has not a special surface on which to run, and it does at least as much damage to a roadway as a motor omnibus. The motor omnibus is liable to full taxation, and in some cases—I am speaking from memory—it has to pay as much as £70 per annum.

This discrimination in favour of the trackless trolley is unfair. It is extraordinarily difficult to argue that one vehicle does less damage to the road than the other. The only possible ground on which we should give exemption from motor taxation is that the particular vehicle which is exempted does in fact, cause less damage to the road. It seems to me that where you have a vehicle like a trackless trolley, which can be heavily loaded, which must have large wheels and tyres to carry that load, which is able to go where it pleases in the roadway, and which uses brakes and stops to avoid traffic, and thereby does damage, it is very difficult to see what case can be made out for the exemption of such a vehicle from the ordinary rate of duty. I cannot see what justification there is for giving it a privileged position as against the ordinary petrol vehicle. I agree with the object of the Resolution but I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has extended it to cover the trackless trolley.


The exemption with regard to the trolley electric vehicle only extends to goods-carrying trolleys. The ordinary passenger trolley is on exactly the same footing as the ordinary vehicle.


Under the ordinary law?


If a tramway company changes from an ordinary tramway system to a trackless trolley, they have to pay the extra duty?


That I could not say.


I think it would suit the convenience of the House if we were to adjourn now. Considering the interruption, we have made very good progress.

Ordered, "That Consideration of the remaining Resolutions be now adjourned."—[Mr. P. Snowden.]

Fourth and subsequent Resolutions to be considered To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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