HC Deb 01 July 1937 vol 325 cc2311-4

Section forty-three of the Finance Act, 1910, section six of the Finance Act, 1927, and section five of the Finance Act, 1928, shall not apply to the manufacture or sale of mead made from honey produced in Great Britain or to such mead sent out from the premises of a maker of sweets for sale.—[Mr. Turton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.56 p.m.

Mr. Turton

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

This is not a hardy annual; it has occurred only once before when my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Rickards) raised the point in a new Clause last year. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister, said in reply that he would give the matter further consideration if he could have proof of the commercial production of mead. In compliance with that suggestion I sent to him a half-bottle of mead. I had a private letter from him in which he gave me a description of his feelings after drinking the half-bottle of mead, but it would not be in order for me to give to the Committee the full details of that letter. I hope that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer may be able to make this concession if a full bottle is sent.

What is the justice of this case? Mead was always free of duty or licence until the 1910 Budget, when, without being mentioned, it was brought within the ambit of the Section which I wish to repeal. Mead has a long history. It was the staple drink of the Greeks and Romans, and they thrived upon it. It was the drink on which our ancestors in this country used to live, and it was the basis of Merrie England in mediaeval times. I find mead even later than that. I have a large encylopaedia of mead quotations, of which I will read only one. In 1850, when Sydney Smith was writing his "Moral Philosophy," he said these words: Every clergyman's wife makes mead wine of the honey. I am afraid that, since the 1910 Finance Act, clergymen's wives have no longer made mead wine from the honey, because of the duty of 1s. 6d. per gallon and a licence of £5 5s. for making mead for sale. These sums may seem small to hon. Members, but they are a real prevention to mead being commercially made in the villages. It is the ancient village drink. It is not intoxicating and is medicinal. Mead is a great cure for rheumatism and gout. That was one of my reasons for sending it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Hon. Members may know that the cure for rheumatism or gout is to be stung by bees; but it is a far more pleasant way to drink a half-bottle of mead. I do not believe there would be any loss to the Revenue, because these duties are so stifling the production of mead that people dare not sell it now. We make it in Yorkshire, and we could make it in far larger quantities if only the duty was taken off. At present we have to make it in small quantities and give it away to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of Parliament and people of that sort, and it is very bad for the trade of the North Riding of Yorkshire. Mead is also made in Wales. I believe the Welsh people have a happy knack of not paying these Excise licences.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that it is the practice of hon. Members opposite to send presents to their chiefs?

Mr. Turton

I fear that I did not make myself clear to the hon. Member. He will probably remember that in the Debate last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, quite rightly, said that he would require proof that mead was commercially made. I thereupon sent him a bottle. [An HON. MEMBER: "A half-bottle, you said."] Well, a small bottle, with the proper label on it, and he drank the contents. I sent it to show its medicinal qualities, and it had such an effect that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer has now risen to the greatness of becoming Prime Minister.

Mr. Stephen

Send us a bottle.

Mr. Turton

If I send a bottle from my constituents, they will get no money for it, or the Chancellor will come down and require five guineas for making it and is. 6d. per gallon licence duty. That is the hardship. We want to help the rural industries in the country, and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make this small concession and give pleasure to these people.

12.3 a.m.

Sir J. Simon

We have had a delightful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), filled with the murmuring of bees, the gathering of honey, and all the delightful associations of the country, and I am afraid the fact remains that mead is an alcoholic drink and that it is made by the fermentation of honey, and the liability that rests on the makers and sellers of alcoholic drinks to pay a duty is undoubted. I apologise to my hon. Friend, but so unimaginative is the language of the Parliamentary draftsman that this beverage is in fact included in the Statute Book under the expression "sweets." There really is, I am afraid, no reason why it should be omitted from the scheme of the taxation of alcoholic liquors, though the qualities ascribed to it by my hon. Friend and the considerable publicity which it will thus have received will, I hope, be quite sufficient to make this delectable beverage well able to bear any duty that may be imposed upon it. As my hon. Friend has offered to let me have a little, I shall be more than pleased to receive it. I recall a passage from Milton's "Lycidas." I cannot quote too much of it, but there is a part of it which bears apparently on this subject. One of the passages is about how in the end fame in all these matters depends on the view of all-judging Jove; As he pronounces lastly on each deed, Of so much fame in Heaven expect thy meed.

12.5 a.m.

Mr. Davidson

I am very pleased that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken a firm stand against the tempting offer that has been made to him by the hon. Member. I hope, however, that in his poetical quotations in future he will show the evil of this particular item, and I think that Omar Khayyam has given him, right through his poems, a very good indication of the evil of accepting gifts of this description. I would utter a word of warning to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in case he may change his mind in the future on this subject. It has been intimated that the present Prime Minister received a present of this particular commodity, and I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take very grave warning from the type of baby he is now holding as to the effect of mead.

12.6 a.m.

Mr. Turton

I would point out to the hon. Member that his party went into the Lobby last year in favour of taking off this duty on mead, so that he is acting in contradiction of the policy of his party last year. I should like to ask one question before asking leave to withdraw the Clause. If I sent the Chancellor of the Exchequer a bottle, will he reconsider this matter before the next Finance Bill?

Sir J. Simon

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Turton

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.