HC Deb 11 July 1956 vol 556 cc439-43
Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, to leave out from "April" to the end of line 33.

The Chairman

It would also be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendment in the hon. Member's name: in line 43, at the end, to insert: (4) In so far as this section restricts the class of intoxicating liquor to which any retailer's on-licence or retailer's off-licence extends it shall not have effect before the first day of June, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.

Mr. Godman Irvine

The Committee will be happy to know that the purpose of the Amendment can be explained in a very few words. Clause 2 deals with Excise Duty on strengthened cider and perry. I was interested to note that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) said only a few moments ago that he thought nobody could object to a tax on alcohol. Anyone who heard the debate on this Clause in Committee could hardly have formed that view. The result of Clause 2 is that cider will be divided into two classes—cider below 15 degrees of proof and cider over 15 degrees of proof. Cider which is over 15 degrees of proof is by the Clause deemed to be sweets.

Two things follow from that. One is that the cider drinkers will have the privilege of paying the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the benefit of drinking these beverages. The second is that they can be sold only in premises where there is an adequate licence. A large quantity of cider is sold in premises which hold a beer-on or a beer-off licence, and it follows that after 18th July those premises will not be able to provide their customers with the beverage which they like. The licensing point is dealt with in Clause 2 (2, b), where it is provided that a licence would not be required before 18th July. When I first read the Clause I was unable to follow why the date 18th July was mentioned. The Financial Secretary explained that it was thought right that people who had a stock of this cider should be allowed to dispose of it before the provisions came into force with full weight.

What is not provided for is what is to happen between 18th July and the next brewster sessions. As the Committee knows, the general annual licensing sessions take place only in the February of each year. Last February it would not be possible for anybody who wanted to sell cider to foresee that he would need a sweets licence between then and the next brewster sessions. The position therefore arises under the Clause that from July until next February he would not have a licence and would be unable to apply for a licence to sell this beverage until next February. The Amendment has been put down to deal with that.

The result of it is that Clause 2 (2, b) would be deleted, and there would be a new subsection (4) to provide that a licence would not be needed in order to sell this class of liquor between now and the next time the general annual licensing session is held.

The Financial Secretary said that he had had no representations about this matter from the trade. I have been able to represent the case of only one cider manufacturer—a man in my constituency; and I raised that matter on Second Reading. I am putting it only on that basis today, and I am not representing the trade. The Financial Secretary is probably right in what he says on that subject.

I am told, however, that this licensing point might be quite a serious matter for this manufacturer—and there may be others. It will not have escaped your notice, Sir Charles, that the financial arrangements under the Clause are quite clear, and it may be a coincidence that the licensing part of the Clause is not quite so clear. I therefore put forward the Amendment, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to give us some assistance on the point.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I must confess that until this Budget I knew very little about cider, but, as often happens when I want to discover the interests of the younger generation, I went to my young Conservatives. With them I made a tour and found out a little of the feeling in Sussex on this point. I discovered that there are two organisations—the Merridown Wine Company and Church Farm Ltd.—which supply this cider which is a little stronger than others. The two gentlemen who started the Merridown cider business were prisoners-of-war in Germany where they obtained the recipe, or whatever we like to call it, for this apple production. They brought it back from Germany after the war. Since then they have made a tremendous success of the business and have found that the Americans in this country like their cider very much. The business has been going ahead for quite a time.

I also found that in my constituency there is a gentleman who is concentrating more or less on selling this form of cider. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine), I think there are only one or two people who are dealing with it in their respective areas, but this man was making quite a lot of money out of it. His solicitor has corresponded with me and also with the Treasury, and, roughly speaking, this is what his solicitor has told me.

About 60 per cent. of Mr. Traynor's sales are in vintage ciders produced and sold by the two companies which I have mentioned. Mr. Traynor has been selling these ciders for over three years and has built up the business based on their sales. Since his stocks of vintage cider were used up two months ago, he has steadily lost business, and goodwill is being lost by failure to supply these ciders to many persons requiring them. If the sale of these ciders continues to be impossible as a result of the Finance Bill, Mr. Traynor will be forced to close the business, because it is impossible to carry on "The Cider Bar" in Brighton on takings of 40 per cent. of the turnover prior to 5th April.

He had a certain amount of stock left over at that date, but I am afraid that the Treasury were wrong in thinking that it would last until the middle of July. It was consumed in a fortnight after the actual date of the Budget, since when this poor man has been unable to do anything because he cannot get the required licence until the next brewster sessions which will be held next February or March.

I am sure that it was not in the mind of the Chancellor to do what is a definite harm to this business. Therefore, I feel that it would be a generous gesture on the part of the Treasury to agree to this Amendment and make it possible for this man to carry on at least until the date of the brewster sessions when the justices can decide whether or not he should have a licence.

5.30 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)

The question here is whether we can avoid an injustice. My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) raised this matter at an earlier stage of our debates after the Budget announcement, and pointed out, quite rightly, that there seemed likely to be a gap between the date when the retailer exhausted his stock of cider or 18th July, three months after the Budget date, and the time of the next brewster sessions when the retailer can make application for the licence which will hence-forward be needed if he wishes to sell strengthened ciders.

This was discussed again in Committee, and at that time I gave an undertaking that I would consult with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, because the licensing justices might have an interest in this, and one thing upon which we in this House are all agreed is that we should not wish to do anything which might prejudge their decision or render their work more difficult. There is no doubt that unless the Clause is amended, certain retailers and their customers will have a legitimate sense of injustice against Parliament, because, through the operation of the Finance Act, we shall have created this period during which no power is available whereby a man can regain his opportunity to sell this cider legally until he applies to the brewster sessions next spring.

I have carried out my pledge, I have consulted my right hon. and gallant Friend and also my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. They do not feel that the House would be creating a difficulty regarding the work of the justices were it thought fit to make this change. I must emphasise this very strongly, because were the House to accept these Amendments, it must be perfectly clear that it is solely to avoid, as it were, a chance dislocation of trade by allowing the position to remain unchanged for the sale of strengthened cider until the necessary application for a licence could be made to the licensing justices next year. It would not be intended, and must not be considered, as in any way an attempt to prejudge the consideration by the justices of such applications in the ordinary way. Indeed, if the Clause is thus amended, the justices will be completely free to reach their own decisions on the merits of the case in the future as they are in the case of other applications.

Having said that, and subject to those safeguards, I recommend the House to accept the Amendments. Otherwise, I think that injustice would be caused to a small number of individuals, and that is something that no hon. Member would desire.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 43, at end insert: (4) in so far as this section restricts the class of intoxicating liquor to which any retailer's on-licence or retailer's off-licence extends it shall not have effect before the first day of June, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven.—[Mr. Godman Irvine.]