HC Deb 25 May 1933 vol 278 cc1413-7

I beg to move, in page 16, line 32, at the end, to add the words: For the purpose of the said Sub-section (9) spirits described as gin shall not be deemed to correspond to that description unless they have been obtained by distillation in the United Kingdom from a mash of cereal grain saccharified by the diastase of malt and flavoured by redistillation in the United Kingdom with juniper berries and other vegetable ingredients, and spirits described as London gin shall not be deemed to correspond to that description unless they have been so obtained by distillation in the United Kingdom and so flavoured by redistillation within the administrative county of London. This Amendment does not touch any principle. The Clause is designed to prevent fraud by a false trade description of Scotch whisky. I desire to add words which will also be applicable to gin and London gin. The Amendment will not do injury to the revenue. If it prevents fraud from false trade description it may assist the export trade, which I have particularly in mind, and therefore will benefit the revenue. The Amendment has one object only, and that is to give a definition of gin and London gin which is acceptable to the officers of the revenue. The reason why I ask for such a definition is this: English distillers do a valuable export trade in gin and London gin with foreign countries, but the trade suffer injury because foreign makers have for some time been exporting to our markets abroad where English gin is sold a beverage which is called gin and even London gin, but is certainly not made in England or in London. This foreign beverage is being sold under a false trade description.

When the English distillers draw the attention of foreign authorities to this dishonest system of trading under a false description the foreign authorities say they want a proper and authoritative definition of "gin" and "London gin." They go so far as to say—and it is quite true—that the British Government provides no definition of the words "gin" and "London gin." It will be observed that in this Clause, the Government are now providing a proper definition of "Scotch whisky." The Amendment therefore asks Parliament to equip the British revenue authorities with a cor- rect definition of gin, so that when our distillers protest against foreign beverages being sold under a false trade description of "gin" or "London gin" they will be able to support their complaint that the competition is dishonest, by placing before the foreign authorities, a definition recognised by the British revenue authorities. My suggestion is that on the Customs export papers there should be a statement, which has been proved and substantiated that the article exported, described as "gin" or "London gin" is truly described in accordance with the formula now proposed.


Will the hon. Gentleman explain the meaning of the words a mash of cereal grain saccharified by the diastase of malt.


That question should not be put to me. If the hon. Member will examine the Bill, he will see that I am merely adopting the words put down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to define "Scotch whisky."

11.8 p.m.


This Clause contains a provision that spirits shall not be deemed to be properly described as "Scotch whisky" in Excise permits or certificates, unless they comply with the definition. Excise permits and certificates are documents which, must accompany consignments of spirits on removal from one place to another, the object being to enable the revenue officers to verify the source of consignments, when? on the look-out for illicit or smuggled spirits. Hitherto, whisky has been described in these documents as "British plain spirits." The Clause would not make it compulsory to describe any spirits as "Scotch whisky" on permits and certificates, but will make it permissible so to describe spirits which comply with the definition and no other. My hon. Friend wishes to give the same advantages to gin. I express some resentment at his proposal at once because the Committee will observe that while he wishes to define "London gin," he has left out the gin made in my constituency, namely "Plymouth gin." That is almost a sufficient ground upon which to ask the Committee to reject the proposal. There is a difference between gin and whisky. It may not be perceptible to my hon. Friend, but it is to me. Whisky is under the continuous control of the Excise Department. Gin, on the other hand, is made from something that has already paid an Excise Duty. Consequently, we do not have the same close watch over makers of gin that we have over makers of whisky, and if we gave these certificates in the case of gin, we should have to extend the Customs machinery. That would not be practicable as an immediate proposal.

I must inform the Committee that until this Amendment had been put upon the Paper no representations whatever from the gin interests had been made to my right hon. Friend or to the Customs authorities that this facility should be given. I do not say that it is necessary that their request should be rejected upon that account, but it cannot immediately be accepted. It would entail, as I say, additional Customs supervision, and it would require a discussion with the gin interests as to the kind of supervision that we could properly exercise. In these circumstances I hope my hon. Friend will be content with an assurance that if the gin interests themselves make this proposal, my right hon. Friend, or the officers who serve under him, will, before the next Budget, be ready to discuss with the gin interests some manner in which their desires can be met.

11.12 p.m.


As a gin distiller, I cannot help complaining of the inaccuracies in the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I cannot allow them to go by unchallenged. I assure him that the adoption of this Amendment would not entail the slightest bit of increased supervision on the part of the Customs officers. The Excisemen have free access to any distillery or rectifying house at all hours of the day or night, and every single operation is under their close supervision. I quite see my hon. Friend's point of view that nothing could be more fatal to a Government Department than to do anything promptly, and that they would like 12 months to consider it, but this proposal has constantly been made to the Excise authorities in the past, and owing to the fact that there was no official definition of whisky, it has not been thought right that such a definition should be adopted for gin.

I am disappointed in the hon. Member's attitude, but I wish he would accept my personal assurance that this is no ramp. There are very few gin distillers, and they are unanimous as to the need of this sort of definition, and I am rather surprised at his refusal to adopt it simply because there has been no log rolling of the sort with which this House has become so familiar during the last few hours. I assure the hon. Member Sincerely that this is a perfectly genuine attempt to secure a reasonable definition for an article which plays, certainly, not a very important part in our export trade, but which is exported in considerable quantities and is suffering greatly from lack of a suitable definition. I hope he will accept my assurance, as one who has been engaged in the gin business, not only myself, but many generations behind me, that this is a perfectly genuine Amendment.

11.14 p.m.


I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his assurance. I take it that what he means is that if I give him time, he will consult those for whom I have the honour to speak with a view to seeing if he can do something for the single purpose of preventing fraud and false description. I take it that if I bring to him representations from the trade he will deal with the matter.


I have given my hon. Friend the assurance that my right hon. Friend will between this year and next consider any representations that are made to him. I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), should not have been satisfied with that, but the fact is I am assured that representations have not yet been made. If they are made, they will be considered.


If the hon. Gentleman wants log-rolling, I can assure him that the gin trade can provide as good log-rolling as any other.


It is barrel-rolling.


Why between this year and next, and not between the Committee stage and the Report stage?


Why on earth have these got to be private representations made when an Amendment is moved in this House?


I gave the Committee a brief explanation. The official machinery for verifying these descriptions and permits for certificates is not in being at the present time. No representations have been made before, and before such certificates can be issued it will be necessary to consult the trade. They are asking for a facility which in principle is not objected to in regard to whisky. If they make the same representations we will discuss with the interests the best method of protecting them.


Does it mean that Clause 20 as it stands will entail additional machinery in the case of whisky?




It will not in the case of gin.


As the Financial Secretary has given a fair assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.