HC Deb 12 June 1934 vol 290 cc1650-3

The duties on the following excise liquor licences, that is to say, retailers on-licences for spirits, beer, or wine, retailers off-licences for spirits, beer, or wine shall be reduced by twenty-five per centum.—[Lieut - Colonel Applin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.40 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

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

This new Clause proposes a reduction of 25 per cent. on excise liquor licences, for off-licences and for on-licences, in respect of spirits, beer and wine. A reduction of these duties is long overdue and their continuance at the present rate is causing great hardship in the retail trade, the members of which feel that they have been unjustly treated. This proposal is to a certain extent a hardy annual, but I would remind my right hon. Friend that his predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) admitted that these licence duties were far in excess of what they ought to be in normal circumstances. I need not recall that it was as a result of the War that these duties were raised to just twice what they ought to be. When they were imposed in 1909–10 the number of hours on weekdays was from 17 to 19½ per day, whereas under the Licensing Act of 1921 the hours are reduced to from eight to nine per day while the duty remains the same. The principle that the duty should be in accordance with the number of hours was laid down in 1887 when Sunday closing was first introduced. On the closing of public houses on Sundays the licence duty was proportionately reduced and that established a precedent to which I think my right hon. Friend should have regard in this instance.

I do not know whether the financial position of the country would permit the Chancellor of the Exchequer to grant this concession but if it is at all possible I beg of him to grant it as a simple measure of justice. I am only asking for a reduction of 25 per cent. though really the reduction should be 50 per cent. I realise the difficulties with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is faced and I do not ask him to do something which is impossible. But if this reduction were possible, it would be an enormous help to trade. I would also point out to him the effect of these duties. The reduction in the price of beer has not been passed on to the consumer and consequently the public house has very little advantage from that reduction. An examination took place a short time ago into the affairs of 24,000 tenants in. London and the provinces, and this revealed that no less than 42 per cent. had been obliged to receive financial assistance to enable them to carry on their business. The reduction in the price of beer has most certainly stimulated the trade, because I believe it has enabled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to obtain no less than £5,000,000, but I do not think that either the on-licence or the off-licence has really benefited very greatly by that reduction, so I beg the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question very seriously.

9.46 p.m.


I should like to support this Clause. I am confident that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is sympathetic and knows that the licensed victuallers have been treated, I will not say unfairly, but in a sense unjustly. The taxes that the licensed trade pay have been based upon the valuation of the house. The tendency, I believe, throughout the country during the last 20 years has been to improve the public house, and therefore the valuation has gone up, and the licence-holder has had to pay an increased licence while the trade of his house has been diminishing. That is not fair. It certainly has been promised that this case should be looked into, but the exigencies of national finance have probably been the cause of its not receiving that treatment to which it can justly lay claim, and I think the time has now arrived when the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be prepared to give to the licensed victualler his due. He should be treated in the same way as any other section or trade, but he has always been looked upon as something different from an ordinary trader. He is nothing of the kind. He is a man who has heavy responsibilities and very heavy taxes to-pay, and he should certainly receive our sympathetic consideration. I noticed a few days ago these words in a review of a book. It is a quotation from Sir Edwin Lutyens, the eminent architect, who says, in the preface to the book called "The Modern Public House": The Church is to the spirit as the inn is to the flesh, and if good they baulk the devil himself.

9.50 p.m.


My hon. Friends have put their case with a brevity and moderation which disarm criticism. Indeed, I have only one comment to make upon the observations of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Enfield (Lieut.-Colonel Applin), and that is on his statement that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) gave this concession in his Budget. He did not; if he had, it would not be necessary for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to ask for it now. What he did was to say that if the Government of which he was a Member were returned to office again at the election which was then impending, he would give the concession. The result of that was that they did not return him to office, so that is not a very encouraging example to follow. Let me say that, while I cannot accept this Clause now, because it would cost me about £1,000,000, which certainly therefore would not come within my possibilities, I do not deny that there is a good case for a reduction of the duty when circumstances permit it, and though again I cannot speak for any future year in which I might not be here, my hon. and gallant Friend may perhaps be satisfied for the moment with that assurance.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.