HC Deb 19 June 1933 vol 279 cc557-60

Notwithstanding anything in the First Schedule to the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, with respect to the minimum quantity of spirits which may in England be sold by a person holding the off-licence to be taken out by a retailer of spirits, a person holding such a licence, being a licence granted to him under the authority of a justices' licence, may sell a quantity of spirits equal to one reputed pint bottle, if it is sold in a single container.—[Lieut.-Colonel Applin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.11 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

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

This is a Clause which for nearly 20 years has been before the House in one form or another, with a view to removing an anomaly. The removal of that anomaly I venture to think, will be an enormous boon, particularly to poor people. This Clause would permit off-licence houses to sell a half-bottle of spirits. At present they are debarred by the Act of 1910 from selling anything less than a whole bottle. Obviously it would not be to the advantage of the off-licence holder to be able to sell half-bottles where he could sell whole bottles, but it is enormously to the advantage of the British public, particularly to those of us not blessed with much means, and to those who have sick people in their charge. It is a common thing to-day to find men and women suffering from heart diseases who are ordered to carry a small flask of brandy, which costs 15s. a bottle at least. That is a very large sum of money for a poor man or woman. By this Clause a poor person would be able to get a half-bottle of brandy. For that reason I trust the House will support this Clause. Such a Clause formerly has always been combined with another Clause to grant on-licence holders a remission of excise duty. That has been withdrawn by on-licence holders, and we are now in a position to ask for this particular boon.

7.14 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

The Clause has an extra advantage which, I hope, will commend itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All new Clauses which have been asked for up to this time have involved certain financial sacrifices. This Clause involves no financial sacrifice to the Exchequer, and it may so happen that there will be a small increase owing to these half-bottle which may bring a little extra revenue in the current year. My hon. and gallant Friend has spoken on the subject of price. We mention in the new Clause the Finance (1909–10) Act. At that time the best whisky was 4s. a bottle, and 2s. a half-bottle. Now the duty is so much higher that the bottle is 12s. 6d., and the half-bottle 6s. 3d. Even if this concession is granted, the cost will be greater than that of the whole bottle 20 years ago, when this arrangement was first made. I hope that the public, who have felt this keenly, especially those with smaller incomes and who cannot affaird 15s. for a bottle of whisky or brandy, will now receive this concession.

7.15 p.m.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

The question dealt with in this new Clause has been before the House for a great number of years, and I think that in general public opinion has moved in the direction which the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Lieut.-Colonel Applin) advocates. What has stood in the way of removing this embargo on the sale of the half-bottle has been the fact that it has been coupled with the question of the licence, and licensed victuallers have expressed the view that if they are to forego the monopoly of selling half bottles they ought to have some corresponding reduction in the amount that they pay. As the hon. and gallant Member has said, he has now received a letter from the representative body, the National Consultative Council of the Retail Liquor Trade, in which they have put on record that they no longer object to the concession to off-licence holders, and, in these circumstances, it does not seem that there is any necessity for my considering that the two things are any longer bound up together. I am bound to say that I have received a letter from one of the constituent bodies of the national body, from which I understand that they do not share the view of the national body, but I must take the opinion as expressed by the national body as being the final and considered opinion of the trade as a whole, and in these circumstances I am prepared to accept the new Clause.

7.17 p.m.


There are certain other points which I should have thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have mentioned in dealing with this matter. This is not merely a question of revenue. It raises a number of questions which are occupying the attention of the Royal Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be aware that the Royal Commission have directed attention to this matter and have, in fact, considered evidence upon the point. The opinion is held by many people that it is not in the temperance interests that the sale of liquor should be made more readily available in this way. I do not want to deal with the evidence which was given, but it was considered of sufficient importance to receive the attention of a great number of witnesses before the Royal Commission. But the point is that there are other questions besides that of revenue concerned in this matter, and I should have thought that they would have received some attention from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as the purely revenue considerations. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thought it necessary to make this concession.

7.19 p.m.


The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) has introduced an entirely old but, nevertheless, irrelevant note into this matter. If this question is to be viewed from the temperance standpoint, I whole-heartedly support the Chancellor of the Exchequer in accepting this new Clause, because it will mean that in our industrial areas children who have to be sent out for small portions of alcohol will be able to get it at some off-licensed premises rather than have to go into the fully-licensed house and thus come into contact with those evils which are propounded from temperance platforms throughout the country.


I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member—


If you do not wish to interrupt, there is no reason to do so. I think that the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be to direct to the off-licence premises much of the traffic that has been compelled previously to go to the fully-licensed house and, therefore, that many young minds will not be open to the dangers of the drink traffic in public houses as in the past. For many other reasons, I am sure that all our industrial areas will thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for this concession.

7.21 p.m.


I hope I may be pardoned for an Irishism in saying that I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Member. But he is very far astray in his statement in regard to young children getting alcoholic liquor from licensed houses. I do not know any part of the country where young children are served. Every hon. Member will know that no child will be served, or can be served, in a licensed house. I am not a fanatic on the temperance question and I had not intended to speak until the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) rose, but to talk about poor people going about with half-pints of brandy in their pockets is foolish. If you see a Scotsman going about with half-a-pint of whisky in his pocket it is no indication that he is suffering from heart disease. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about an Irishman?"] An Irishman will have it inside him; he does not require to carry it about in his pocket. Nobody is anxious to create greater facilities for drinking for any class of people, and I should have thought that there are enough licensed houses already at various street corners without giving this further opportunity to off-licence houses to sell half-pints. You can get half-a-glass, or a glass any time you require in an ordinary house. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] You can get half-a-glass or a noggin any time you like. I do not see that it is going to be any benefit to allow a doctor to certify for a half-pint bottle; I should have thought a pint bottle would have been sufficient.

Clause added to the Bill.