HC Deb 24 June 1935 vol 303 cc873-5

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.—[Mr. Wise.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.30 p.m.


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

This proposed Clause is an old annual, but I should like to urge my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to take it into extremely favourable consideration this year. It would not cost a great deal of money, and I think he will agree that in principle it is sound. When these licence duties were originally imposed they undoubtedly, in the mind of the Government at the time, bore a relation to the number of hours in which these commodities were able to be sold. It was stated on more than one occasion that that relation existed. Since that time the hours in which a public house can open have gone down from 19½ before the War to eight to-day. It, therefore, seems only fair that there should be some reduction in the licence duty which has to be paid. Licensees to-day have to face considerable competition which was not envisaged when the licence duties were first imposed—the competition of the so-called club which, for a very small licence fee, is able to sell drink for the same period as a public house can. Indeed, in many cases, by a little judicious evasion of the law, it can sell it for many more hours in the year.


These people are not licensed at all. They simply have to pay a registration charge of 5s.


It is true that there is only an annual registration, and that, I think, makes my case stronger, because these clubs, which are in many cases neither more nor less than concealed "speakeasies" and have practically no qualifications for membership, are competing unfairly with people carrying on a legitimate business. I would like the Committee to remember that licensees have a considerable standard of cleanliness and order to maintain in public houses. They are subject to constant police inspection, if necessary, and to a heavy penalty if they supply liquor to a man who is slightly inebriated. None of these things apply to their competitors, and it is only fair that some effort should be made to reduce their burdens. If we are to have drink sold at all in this country—and most of us think that it is not only necessary but desirable that drink should continue to be sold—we should encourage the conditions under which it is purveyed with the greatest respect for public health and public comfort. For that reason I would ask my hon. Friend to see whether he cannot seriously consider this proposal this year. I cannot give an estimate of what it would cost, but I do not think that a 25 per cent. reduction in these licence fees would unbalance an otherwise sound Budget.

6.35 p.m.


The hon. Member has moved his proposed Clause in very reasonable terms, and I acknowledge at once that the proposal is perfectly reasonable. I think that a great deal of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in reply to the last new Clause will apply equally to this. The hon. Member was not able to give an estimate of what it would cost, but we are advised that it would probably be £1,000,000, which, the hon. Member will understand, we cannot afford to give this year. We have done something in another Clause for the smaller holders of licences, which I hope will be of real benefit to them, and I trust that the hon. Member will not press us to do anything more during the present financial year.

6.36 p.m.


I spoke two sentences on this subject during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and acknowledged the concession which the Government had made to the holders of smaller licences. It was a sensible and most acceptable concession. This question of a reduction in retail licences has been placed before the Government more than once, and more than one Chancellor has admitted that the retail licence duties are too high having regard to the changes that have been made in the licensing laws. They are now excessive. We have had many words of sympathy from the Government that something will be done—but never this year. I agree that it is hopeless to expect to carry this proposal to-day, but I desire to support the protest that has been made against the duties as they stand and, as far as possible, to earmark this subject for consideration on the first available occasion. As my hon. Friend in proposing the new Clause pointed out, licensees have to face competition which they had not to face years ago when the amount of licence duties was fixed. Moreover, there has been a considerable reduction in the sales of the articles, which it is their business to purvey to the public, owing to heavy taxation and other causes, and there can be no doubt that this is a case which claims very early attention. Sympathy without action in this matter is not very comforting and carries us no further, and I trust that something will be done in the forthcoming Budget.


In view of the kindly sympathy of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and the hope that something will be done when we are less burdened with Supplementary Estimates, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.