HC Deb 03 July 1939 vol 349 cc953-5

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. Craven-Ellis.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Daggar

On a point of Order. May I ask why a new Clause—(Extension of Section 19 of Finance Act, 1920)—which stands on the Paper in my name and that of other hon. Members has not been called?

The Deputy-Chairman

It has been considered but has not been chosen.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

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

This is by no means the first time that this subject has been brought before the Committee. The Finance Act, 1910, as is well known no doubt, increased the licence duties by something like 100 percent. but I would draw the Committee's attention to the fact that at that time licensed premises were permitted to remain open from 17 to 19 hours daily. That is a period of opening which I do not approve, but I think it necessary to draw attention to those hours because when premises were open from 17 to19 hours daily the duty was 100 per cent. lower than it is to-day. The Licensing Act, 1921, reduced the licensed hours from 17 and 19 to nine per day. The House has already accepted the view that the licence duties are an unjust burden upon the licensing trade. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), when Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing his No. 2 Budget, which in fact did not get on the Statute Book, made this statement: For many years it has been contended that the liquor licence duties which were imposed in 1910 stand at too high a level, in view of the curtailment of hours of sale. I stated on last year's Finance Bill that this contention was justified so far as on-licences are concerned. There is an admission that this duty is too high. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, did make some very slight modification when the off licence trade was permitted to sell half bottles of spirits. The point to which I would direct attention is the fact that there was an understanding that if the opposition to the introduction of the' half-bottle trade was withdrawn, the licensees would be given a 25 per cent. reduction. That promise has existed for 10 years and I think it is time that it was implemented. No one will deny that the licensees are a very loyal section of the community and are fully conscious of their responsibility at this critical time, but having regard to the fact that a promise was made to reduce this duty by 25 per cent. it is contended, and I think with reason, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even in present conditions, should give some consideration to implementing that undertaking.

4.7 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Crookshank)

The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) has raised a question which, as he reminded us, has been before the House and the Committee on several previous occasions. He went back to the proposals of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in 1929, and, as he pointed out, those proposals were not subsequently enacted, owing to a change of circumstances over which my right hon. Friend had not then complete control. It is true that concessions have since been made with regard to half bottles, but on this point of reducing licence duties, both on and off, by 25 per cent. the present Prime Minister in 1934, speaking on the Finance Bill of that year, said in Committee: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th June, 1934; col. 1653, Vol. 290.] The matter has been raised again from time to time both with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the Prime Minister, since 1934. It is therefore clear that the case for an eventual reduction has been submitted and has been considered. In fact the words of the Prime Minister himself, which I have quoted—that there was a good case when circumstances permitted it—is the position, I am afraid, in the year 1939. The hon. Member for Southampton has perhaps done a good service to a very good body of men who serve the public all over the country, in keeping their case before the Committee and so showing that the question is still alive and of interest to any Chancellor of the Exchequer who will find himself in a position to reduce taxation, but I am afraid that this year we are not in that happy position, and on behalf of my right hon. Friend I must ask the Committee not to give a Second Reading to this Clause.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

In view of the answer that this duty is one which should be removed at the first opportunity, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.