HC Deb 14 June 1951 vol 488 cc2653-68

Subsection (2) of section three of the Finance Act, 1920, shall have effect as if for the words "nineteen hundred and twenty," there were substituted the words "nineteen hundred and fifty-one," and as if for the words "ten pounds, ten shillings and tenpence," there were substituted the words "seven pounds, seventeen shillings and sixpence."—[Colonel Gomme-Duncan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.15 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

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

I am grateful for the opportunity of bringing forward this question on behalf of the whisky industry in Scotland. May I at the outset assure the Committee that I never in any circumstances drink whisky. Whatever may be the merits or otherwise of the case I am attempting to put forward, no one can say that it has any personal interest. Recently we had a debate on a White Paper published by His Majesty's Government called "The Programme of Highland Development."

Whisky, as is no doubt well known, is one of the vitally important industries in the Highlands of Scotland. In dealing with the Highland problem, the Government White Paper says, in paragraph 3: Fundamentally the Highland problem is to encourage people to live in the Highlands by making it possible to secure there, in return for reasonable efforts, proper standards of life and the means of paying for them. The depopulation of the Highlands has long been viewed with concern. The Secretary of State for Scotland—and I am glad to see the Joint Undersecretary of State is here tonight—was most emphatic in that debate in stating how vitally important it was that everything possible should be done to preserve life in the Highlands and to restore it where it is in danger of failing. He said that he had no hesitation in affirming that: The industries most likely to flourish in our Highland counties are those ancillary to the basic occupations of agriculture, fisheries and afforestation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 408.] Later, he said that there was another source from which assistance may be given to industry in the Highlands, and that was the Development Fund.

I know that he said that the Development Commissioners are authorised and prepared to make advances to local authorities for building factories, and so on; but these are all proposals for the introduction of new industries to the Highlands. Side by side with the appeal of the Secretary of State that everything possible should be done to restore Highland industries, is the Chancellor's devastating tax which is rapidly killing one of the greatest industries in the Highlands—the Excise duty on whisky.

It may not be known to some hon. Members that the present tax on whisky is £10 10s. 10d. per proof gallon. We suggest that that figure should be reduced to £7 17s. 6d. There is nothing sacrosanct in the figure we have chosen. It was chosen with a view to bringing to the notice of the Government the very serious state of this great Highland industry due to excessive taxation. I should like to put a little more clearly the effect of this on agriculture in Scotland, because whisky is a product of agriculture. Distilling is the best market for malting barley which, as everybody knows, is a high grade barley which grows particularly well in parts of Scotland.

This tax of £10s. 10s. 10d. per proof gallon represents the positively staggering figure of a tax of £1,000 per acre of barley grown in Scotland for distilling. I think that everybody will agree that that is a positively staggerng figure for agriculture in the Highlands to have to face.

Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

You are all staggering already.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I beg the hon. Gentleman to take this problem seriously. The approximate yield of barley per acre is 19 cwts which, if it is good quality barley, will make 100 proof gallons of whisky. If that is multiplied by £10 10s. 10d., the answer is almost exactly £1,000 per acre of barley grown.

A healthy home market is absolutely essential if this great Highland industry is to be kept alive. We must have greater supplies at home than we have now, and it is essential that those supplies at home should be cheaper. They cannot be cheaper so long as this terrific tax remains upon what, after all, is one of the most important industries in the country. It cannot survive on foreign trade alone, although everybody will admit, and you, Major Milner, I am sure are aware, that the part which whisky distilling has played in our dollar earnings, for its size, exceeds that of any other industry in this country. But it cannot go on if there is no home market as well.

In the last two years, 30 million proof gallons of whisky have been made. It is not yet ready for sale, but when it is it will have to be realised that the foreign market cannot absorb it and that it must come on to the home market, which will make sales impossible if the price remains as it is at present, because people cannot afford to pay 35s. per bottle for whisky. I am talking of people of moderate incomes, who are the vast majority of the people of this country and those upon whom this trade depends.

Before 1914, a man earning £2 a week could easily afford a bottle of whisky a week, because it cost him 3s. Today, if he is earning £5 a week or more, he has to pay 35s. for a bottle. It is no good hon. Members laughing at this; these are facts, and they are very vital facts to the case which I am trying to put. This is a home product. Why should this home product suffer more than imported products?

Let me give an example, very briefly, by illustrating the difference between the prices of cigarettes and whisky. Before 1914, 20 cigarettes cost 6d.; they are now 3s. 6d., which is a sixfold increase. For whisky, it was 3s. a bottle then, and was also much stronger than it is today. [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the hon. and gallant Gentleman know?"] I can assure hon. Members that, although I do not drink whisky myself, I do meet other people who do. What is more, when I very generously stood them a whisky in 1914, I knew what I paid for it, and I appreciate the difference between what I paid then and what it costs me now. Today's price of 35s. a bottle represents more than a tenfold increase, as opposed to the sixfold increase in the case of cigarettes. Of that tenfold increase, eight-tenths is in respect of Excise Duty. Why should this be? Tobacco is grown by foreigners and is imported, while whisky is a home product, produced in this country by British people. Why should it be selected for this positively killing taxation?

I hope the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary will give serious attention to this matter. I realise that his financial position is very difficult, and I will not go into the reasons for that, though it is a fact, and I realise the difficulties of reducing taxation. I also realise that the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, the Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking for the Government of which he also is a Member, has said that everything possible must be done to restore prosperity to the Highlands, and that whisky is one of the most important items in that plan. That is an inescapable fact which his right hon. Friend is advocating and which, presumably, the Chancellor will also support, and, I hope, the whole Cabinet.

Our proposal would mean a reduction of about 7s. in the price of a bottle of whisky. Why must this vital industry in the Highlands pay 400 per cent. taxation at the wholesale level when even luxuries like diamonds, which nobody really needs, pay only 100 per cent? Honestly, I tell the Committee, I cannot understand the point of view of the tax collector or tax imposer—400 per cent. on a vital industry based on home grown materials, and 100 per cent. on luxuries like diamonds. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to realise that I am not appealing from the point of view of drinking whisky, but from the point of view of an important Highland industry, which is in very serious danger of failing altogether because of high taxation.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

In supporting this Motion, I want to give my reasons for doing so. They are briefly these. When I was very young—it is a long time ago—I often failed to achieve the high hopes of both my parents and my teachers. In fact, the only prize I ever won at school was for scripture, and it was won. I must say, to my own intense surprise and that of my teachers. We were always told that when one failed, the only thing to do was to try, try again, to remember the old adage of Bruce and the spider.

Therefore, for the sake of hon. Members opposite who have not, perhaps, been in the House so very long, I would recall that for 10 years now we have been waging a forlorn fight to help the Scottish whisky industry. In 1942 we secured one slight crumb from the Chancellor's table, but it was very small. Then the fight was taken up again in 1945 and 1946 on the Finance Bills, and yet again in 1947, but with no results whatever. Therefore, we come once more to the efforts of my hon. and gallant Friend to try to enforce the opinion of Scotland as well as the opinion of this Committee on the Economic Secretary, that only by some effort on the part of the Treasury can this vital industry of Scotland be kept alive.

I, too, am not personally interested, though not for the same reason as that given by my hon. and gallant Friend. But I have a nostalgic memory of those happy carefree days when, after a long day's work in the House of Commons, or elsewhere, I went home and had a very small whisky and soda, small because even in those days it was rather expensive. Like my hon. and gallant Friend, I also am thinking of posterity. Some day people will once again want to drink whisky, as indeed they do today if only they could get it. If it were made possible for our children to enjoy some of the things that we are being denied—and, surely, that is something for which hon. Members opposite should have a paternal fondness—I am sure we should all be glad.

My hon. Friend referred to one thing that will, possibly, not affect many English people, particularly if they are strong tea-drinkers. It is that the whisky manufacturing industry is one of our most important dollar earners. It could also be one of our most important sterling earners if given the chance. May I make a constructive suggestion to the Committee? At present our foreign exports are the only means by which the whisky industry of Scotland can be maintained. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is made so expensive at home that nobody can afford to buy it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]

10.30 p.m.

Therefore, instead of sending our whisky abroad so that people in America and Canada may enjoy it, why not keep it in this country, through a reduction of the Excise Duty, and use it as a bait to bring American and Canadian visitors here? We have tried many methods of inducing American and Canadian visitors to come and spend their dollars here. We have even gone to the length of something like £9 million in establishing a Festival. I will tell the Committee something. [Interruption.] Whisky does not seem to be so scarce as I thought.

Any hon. Member who goes to any of the great stores in London today will find that trade this summer is not so good as it was last summer, or, on the average of several summers. That is true; I can prove it by figures. The reason is that we are not getting the American and Canadian visitors we had hoped we would get through the Festival. Therefore, we can assumed that, as a dollar earner, the Festival so far has not been a success.

But here we have in whisky a commodity we can manufacture without spending £9 million in doing so. All we want is that slight reduction in Excise-Duty which will enable whisky to be manufactured and sold in this country in such quantities that foreign visitors will be glad to come to this country to drink it.

I see that hon. Members are in a frivolous frame of mind and possibly unable to appreciate fully the great importance of this Motion. My hon. and gallant Friend has given the figures. A series of Chancellors have given a little crumb of comfort every year. They have always said, "Not this year, but possibly next year." The years pass and this great industry is likely to fade away; but one day, when it will be needed again and when this country will have recovered its taste for Scotch whisky and the ability to buy it, once more it will be the great fortification of the Treasury.

I ask the Economic Secretary and the Financial Secretary to pay heed to these figures. They can note that Scotland today feels it is slightly divorced from the attention of the authorities in Whitehall. Self-government for Scotland is making great inroads among some of our people. They feel they are being neglected and that this great Scottish industry is being neglected. The Chancellor can do more to kill the Scottish Covenant by accepting this new Clause than by any other single act.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Scotland has given much to the world. There is no doubt that three of the greatest gifts she has bestowed on mankind are herrings, oatmeal and whisky. I do not think the Committee realises what a dollar earner whisky is to this country. In comparison with the amount of labour that is employed and the amount of money involved, the amount of dollars we get back is fantastic. The amount of dollars earned per man-hour is far higher than in any other industry, and the whisky industry is one of the greatest dollar earners of any industry—including the Cunard Line.

This is a fantastic tax. I cannot call it punitive; I can only call it ridiculous. It is preventing the consumption of whisky in this country, and I maintain that one cannot expect to have this vast export trade in dollar areas indefinitely without some kind of home market. I believe that to be a perfectly serious and valid point. I would also point out to the Financial Secretary and the Economic Secretary that this is class legislation of the most shocking and shameless kind.

The very rich can afford whisky, they can afford to get it and to drink it, but the working class cannot. [HON. MEMBERS: "They never could."] Yes, they could. They could afford whisky when the best whisky was 3s. 0d. a bottle. If hon. Members opposite think that the working class of Scotland never could afford to buy whisky to drink, all I can say is they know nothing at all about it, and do not know their Scotland. [Interruption.] I did not say a bottle of whisky. It has not been a matter of a bottle since the halycon days before the First World War. It is an extremely healthy drink.

I remember going with a deputation to see Sir Stafford Cripps three years ago about the duty. One of the leading spokesmen on the deputation waited until the very end to bring forward the formidable point in the whole of our armoury. He said, "It is a point, Sir Stafford, which must appeal to you," and raising his voice to a hoarse whisper he added, "The younger generation in this country is losing its taste for whisky." I must say that Sir Stafford was not frightfully enthusiastic. He saw the point, but without much enthusiasm. It is true, and it is a great pity. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is tragic."] I agree, it is tragic.

We are running a grave risk of losing a great industry, which brings much prosperity to the North of Scotland and to the farmers there, and also brings an immense amount of dollars to this country. But there are limits, and if the Government wish to impose this penal and class taxation in favour of the rich and against the poor, I suppose it is their look-out. If the present tax on whisky is maintained it may ruin one of the greatest industries of the country.

Mr. Jay

One always approaches this subject with pleasure, if only because it brings the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) into the Chamber, and deters him from chasing hares outside. I should not like this opportunity to go by without someone from these benches joining in the tribute to the whisky industry for its remarkable export record since the war.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) a short time ago very rightly gave high marks to the motor industry for the proportion of exports it had, but he was wrong in saying that it had the highest proportion of any industry. The highest marks of all go to the whisky industry, and if one measures it in terms of dollars its record is far more remarkable and better than that of any other industry. It is a remarkable feat by this great Scottish industry, employing, as it does, so comparatively few people, to have earned this high amount of dollars and yielded so much revenue to the Exchequer at the same time.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan), who rightly said this is a very high duty, proposed a rather drastic reduction. He wants to reduce the figure from the present level of £10 10s. 10d. per proof gallon to £7 17s. 6d. That would actually mean a reduction in the price, according to my information, of 6s. 2½d. a bottle. In the present circumstances I think there could be only two reasons for the Committee accepting that proposal. The first would be that this industry, owing to lack of total demand at home and abroad, was in danger of collapse or serious decline, and the second that consumers of whisky were particularly in need of tax relief.

As to the first argument, although a very high proportion of whisky is exported, according to all the information at our disposal, it is the fact that, in spite of the high price, the demand at home still exceeds supply on the home market. Therefore, at the moment, there is no sign of the possibility of the industry being in serious difficulty owing to lack of demand.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

This is important. The Financial Secretary says there is no sign. I had hoped that I had made it clear that 30 million gallons per year have been distilled for the last two years and there are dangerous signs that when that is ready to go on the market, the home trade will not be able to absorb it and the industry will begin to fade out because it cannot get rid of its stuff.

Mr. Jay

If that arises in future, there may be a case for doing something about it. As to the consumer, this concession would cost over £8 million and if one extended it, as I think one would have to do, to home-produced gin, it would cost something like £17 million. It seems to us in all the circumstances of this year, and having regard to other claims both on the taxation side and on the social services side, a relief of that magnitude is certainly not one of the first priorities before us on this Bill.

Mr. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)

It seems to me that the Financial Secretary was not seized of the extremely serious situation that has developed for the distilling industry. Figures have been given and I should like to dissect them a little further. Production per year at the moment, encouraged by the Government, is 30 million gallons. The total disposals both for home and export added together, are only a little more than 12½ million gallons. Therefore, we are piling up whisky in our bonded stores at the rate of approximately 17 million gallons a year.

That was desirable over the last three or four years, for during the war and in the years subsequent to the war distilling was restricted and in some cases stopped entirely. Our bonded stores were exported and we had to make up that leeway. But what people in the trade want to know is what is the intention of the Government about the future of this industry when bonded stores are again full, as they will be in a very few years from now.

It is imposible suddenly to create a demand for whisky if one has deliberately cultivated people's palates away from it for years, and by this punitive duty on whisky today we have deliberately educated the home market away from whisky to all kinds of foul concoctions that do no one's stomach any good. I want to quote a few words from a speech made by the predecessor of the present Financial Secretary when we were debating this very matter in June, 1949. He said: Whisky has now been put out of the range of the great mass of the people, because of the duty and the price. It is also outside the range of many people who normally one might suppose could afford it. How much more is it true today. Later in the debate he added: It may well be that as the years go by, when things become normal, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day may want to pay much more attention to the home market, if he is seeking revenue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 1011, 1024.] Today the Chancellor is seeking revenue, and I suggest that if he tried to put more whisky on the home market at the present price the sales would not reach his expectations. He is now going to see the diminishing return of over-taxation. That is what I wished to say about the home market.

10.45 p.m.

Now I want to say a word about the effect of this penal taxation on exports. The fact that the Government put a duty of 400 per cent. on whisky is an incentive and an incitement to every foreign Government that imports whisky to do something of the same sort. I remember last year and three years ago warning the Government of what would happen if they kept on with this rate of taxation, and I have here a list of countries—there are 11 of them—that have raised the import duty on whisky by somewhere from £2 to £7 a case during the years 1950 and 1951. It is only when the Government reduce our own duty on whisky that they can with a clear conscience and with a good case go to our customers and say, "Take your duty down. We want to sell you more whisky."

I ask the Financial Secretary to say a word about the long-term intentions of the Government about the whisky distilling trade. The bonded stores are only a certain size, and it will not be long before they are full. The workmen, many of whom live in my constituency, want to know what is their long-term future. Surely the Government must have a policy in this matter. Do they wish to discourage production so that we can absorb, at any rate, most of our annual production, or do they take the view that, having filled the bonded stores, they will deliberately cut down production to our yearly consumption, which would mean a reduction by more than half? I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abandon his present teetotalitarian attitude and give this trade a little encouragement.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I have some trepidation in entering this debate, but I am encouraged by the fact that English Members particularly will indulge me because on Tuesday last Scottish matters were relegated into oblivion and no attempt was made to discuss them. Questions were made impossible because of the extension of the Parliamentary Sitting. So if Scottish Members claim the attention of the Committee on this important question, it is because they have a right to do so, since this is a peculiarly Scottish question.

Whisky is not manufactured in England or Wales. There is a substantial manufacture in Northern Ireland, but in the main this is a Scottish matter. The Scottish Members are here to tell the Chancellor, as we have told every Chancellor, that this is a special industry which he handles at his peril. One day, if we are not careful, this industry will go, and with it will go one of the most valuable things from the English economy.

I do not think Members treat the subject with sufficient seriousness. Whisky is a benevolent spirit which lightens the heart of man, I know, but it is also a serious economic matter. It is not enough for Scots to hear from successive Chancellors what a wonderful contribution we make to the English revenue. We know we make an important contribution to the English Revenue, and we get little recognition of the real facts of the situation. If the burden of taxation which is borne by whisky were borne in like manner by Lancashire, we would hear a good deal from Lancashire and the cotton Members.

If the burden of taxation which Scotland carries exclusively on whisky were borne by the light engineering industry in Birmingham, we would hear a good deal from English Members opposite. That naturally is what is happening. If the pottery trade carried a like burden in the export and the home fields to that which the whisky industry carries we should certainly hear a good deal from the pottery industry about it. It is because this is a peculiarly Scottish industry that Englishmen, who naturally, concentrate upon their own virtues, are uninterested.

We in Scotland think that this selective tax on what is a real Scottish industry is unfair and unjust, and punitive and selective in the extreme. Excise alone produces £30 million a year. When I hear the Economic Secretary say that consumption is still large, I would remind him that at the turn of the century 30 million gallons were consumed in the United Kingdom—30 million gallons in 1900—while today the consumption in the United Kingdom is 3 million gallons. Thus, in 50 years we have dropped from a consumption of 30 million gallons to a consumption of 3 million gallons.

According to the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton) that is a good thing. It will not be such a good thing for my teetotal friend on the other side of the Committee when he has to pay taxation now paid by whisky consumption and the whisky industry. Shall we not hear him squeal—as he has squealed on previous occasions? There is nothing more nauseating than the complacent, pretentious superiority of a person who drinks ginger pop—an excellent drink—or orangeade, but allows my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) and me to pay his taxes for him by our consumption of whisky, and who then has the astounding impertinence to look upon my hon. Friend and me as immoral men for that reason. That hon. Gentleman opposite and others like him come here with this nauseating nonsense—these expatriates from Scotland—because they are unable to get any Scotsmen to return them to this Chamber and have to rely on English constituents.

What would a Frenchman think if any French Government, whatever its colour, placed a punitive tax on wine? The hon. Member would not like it very much—to express the result in understatement. We in Scotland do not much like the way the Government put this punitive tax upon our national drink. We believe very seriously that we are now possibly facing a contracted market. There is a good deal of evidence to justify that view. The United States is one of the largest consumers of Scotch whisky, but the consumption of the United States of Scotch whisky is only 5 per cent. of the product. We are coming through the rye in more than one sense. Rye whisky is encroaching on the demand for Scotch.

While we are talking of the United States, let me point out to the hon. Member for Norwich, North—the expatriate from Scotland who almost abhors this whisky as a deleterious fluid—that his party's Government's Productivity Committees—composed also of Americans—give reasons why United States productivity is greater than our own—and, be it remembered, the United States is one of the largest consumers of Scotch whisky, and that may well be one of the factors contributing to superior productivity in the United States. I certainly submit that thought for very serious consideration.

The tax, I certainly think, should be reduced for sound economic reasons. I myself am not likely to consume much more whisky, nor are my fellow countrymen, at the price it is today. The tax ought to be reduced lest it cause bitterness between the Scots and English peoples. But Mr. Dooley said: Drink never made any man better, but it has made thousands of men think they are better. I feel sure I am appealing to the moral character of the right hon. Gentleman—an aspect to which I rarely make any appeal—when I appeal to him, if he is not going to look at this matter from the business or economic point of view, to look at it from the moral point of view, for surely he does wish—as all hon. Gentlemen surely must wish, whatever their political party—to make the world a better place; and even if whisky will not make it a better place, it certainly could make it a little better. This specialised product which Scotland gives not only to the English but to the world at large should be preserved, fostered and encouraged. If it is not so conserved, fostered, and encouraged England will be the worse off afterwards, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be very much the poorer.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I want to intervene only for a few minutes. I must first declare my interest in this matter, because I am a distiller of gin and a dealer in whisky and other spirits. This is just as much an English matter as it is a Scottish matter. I cannot approach it with the wit or levity of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling). Gin is even harder hit on the wholesale side. I wonder how many hon. Members realise that more than fifteen-sixteenths of the wholesale price of gin is represented by duty. The danger of the position is—and I look at it purely from the fiscal angle—that if the present rate of duty on spirits is raised there is the real possibility that the Exchequer will suffer-heavily from the Revenue angle.

I have the feeling that people are going more and more off the drinking of spirits and are drinking beer and other unwholesome liquors of that sort. I do not approach this from the trade or Scottish angle but from the Exchequer angle, and I must give the Government a solemn warning that the goose that lays the golden eggs is in danger of being killed if the present high rate of duty is maintained.

So far as gin is concerned, I do not claim that consumption is declining, but that revenue will decline if the duty is increased, which may well strike a serious blow at the Excise returns. Personally, being interested in this financially, I shall not vote for this Clause if it is pressed to a Division. I only give a warning to the Exchequer that we are treading on thin ice. By a suitable reduction of the duty the yield can be increased. It is becoming too common to think that spirit can bear any amount of duty. It cannot, and I hope the Exchequer will bear in mind what I have said.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I should like to intervene for a very brief moment. I am sorry it is the case that when Scotch whisky is mentioned it always creates a certain amount of amusement. It is right that my hon. Friends should have raised this matter tonight, because many parts of Scotland, particularly the Highlands, depend on whisky. Many are agricultural districts depending on the manufacture of whisky and the outlet it gives to their product. We talk a great deal today about the rehabilitation of the Highlands, and we should bear very much in mind the part that whisky plays in maintaining the population of the Highlands.

The Financial Secretary said that what was being asked for was a reduction of 6s. 2d. on a bottle and that that was entirely excessive. It would reduce the price of a bottle of whisky to 28s. 9d., or something in that region. He also said that consumers were in no need of a reduction in tax. I would take him up on that point. Many of us know old people to whom a glass of whisky is almost a necessity. Many old age pensioners in my division come to me and say that if they could only have a tot of whisky now and again they would feel all the better for it, and there is no one who would deny that.

When the Financial Secretary says that a reduction of 6s. 2d. would be excessive and that consumers are not in need, I take him to task, because it shows a complete lack of realisation of the situation of certain people in the country. I can only hope that the Government will consider seriously what has been said tonight, because it was meant seriously and the matter is a serious one for certain districts in the north of Scotland.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Is the hon. Gentleman stating as a serious argument that if this is not done the farmers will not be able to dispose of their barley?

11.0 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I do not wish to delay the Committee any longer, but before I ask leave of the Committee to withdraw the proposed new Clause, I want to say to the Financial Secretary that I regret very much that he took such a light-hearted view of what I tried to say. I particularly said that the actual figure of £7 17s. 6d. was not sacrosanct, but that it was an endeavour to get the matter properly discussed. Yet the only matter upon which the Financial Secretary fastened was the financial effect of that figure. He gave no answer to what I tried to put forward as the most important thing, and that was the effect upon Scottish agriculture and industry. I do not think that that shows a proper appreciation of what is, after all, a very serious matter.

While I do not intend to press this matter to a Division—and my hon. Friends agree with me in that—I wish to put it on record that I hope sincerely that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend will before next year give this consideration, because it is a matter for which we are entitled to ask some further consideration. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.