HC Deb 07 July 1959 vol 608 cc1271-6

11.0 p.m.

The House will remember that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) proposed an Amendment in respect of the licence duty payable by small clubs which wished to sell intoxicating liquor mainly as a sideline to their social, sporting or athletic activities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor undertook to see to what extent he could give some relief to the small clubs, though not, of course, in the exact form proposed by my hon. Friend, because that proposal was defeated.

The Amendment is the result of my right hon. Friend's study. Briefly, it means that a small club whose purchases of liquor during the course of a year amount to £200 or less will be entitled to claim a refund of half of the club licence. Thus, if its purchases are less than £200 it will be able to claim a refund of £2 10s. on the total cost of a £5 licence.

It might help the House if I gave some of the results of our analysis of the problem. There are rather more than 23,000 clubs registered in Great Britain for the sale of intoxicating liquors. In 1958 just under 5,000 paid less than £5 club duty and about 3,000 paid less than £2 10s., and of those 3,000 about 400 did not buy any liquor at all during 1958. The Amendment would provide a relief for some 3,150 clubs, and it would also mean that the 400 or so clubs which, although registered, did not buy any intoxicating liquor would be able to claim as a refund the whole of the licence duty.

Another point which I think it worth mentioning is that we chose the figure of £2 10s. because it was halfway between not paying anything at all and paying £5. It seemed that a halfway house was about right in this context, because what might seem at first sight more attractive, namely, a rebate of £3 10s., making a payment of only 30s. necessary, would unduly restrict the scope of relief, and going to £2 10s. enables a larger number of clubs to benefit, though some of the smaller ones will not benefit quite so much.

I hope that the House will approve the Amendment, which goes some way to meet the wishes expressed during the earlier stages of the Bill.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 7, to leave out from the beginning to the second "the" in line 10.

It seems to me that the machinery proposed by the Government to deal with this matter is altogether too elaborate. As part of the reason for having the £5 flat rate in dealing with these small clubs was that it would avoid a lot of bookkeeping, I am bound to say that I was very surprised to find the requirement being an application made in such form and containing such particulars as the Commissioners may direct and supported by the production of such accounts, invoices, receipts or other documents relating to purchases of intoxicating liquor as the Commissioners may require and (in any case) accompanied by the licence … If the secretary has mislaid the licence or for some other reason it has disappeared—perhaps somebody has used it as a pipe-lighter; all sorts of queer things go on in these small clubs—what is to happen then? For this small thing, to have invented so elaborate an apparatus appears to me to be quite out of place.

I had drafted an Amendment before the Government's Amendment appeared. I have now submitted a series of Amendments with a view to simplifying the whole thing so that a statutory declaration by the appropriate officer of the club shall be sufficient; and the penalties for making a false statutory declaration are certainly heavy enough to deter anyone from monkeying about. The hon. Gentleman has the great advantage that when it comes to the supervision of clubs every publican is on the look-out to see how he can prove that a club which he assumes may be interfering with his business can be brought within the ambit of the law.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I read how the Chancellor's Amendment would read if the Amendment and my following Amendment, in line 10, were adopted. It is entirely an effort to simplify the arrangement to secure that what I gather everyone wants to do is done. (6) Where, on an application to the Commissioners made by the person in possession of a club licence—

  1. (a) within one month after the licence ceased to be in force or such further time as the Commissioners may allow, or
  2. (b) on his surrendering the licence at an earlier time,
the Commissioners are satisfied by the production of a statutory declaration made by that person—
  1. (i) that during the period for which the licence was in force the purchases, if any, 1274 of intoxicating liquor to be supplied in or to the club or on behalf of the club to the members thereof did not exceed the amount of four hundred pounds,
the Commissioners shall repay if there were no such purchases, the duty on the licence or, if there were such purchases, threepence in the pound in respect of every pound of difference between the total of the purchases and the said amount; and any such repayment shall be made to the applicant. For the purposes of this subsection the duty on a club licence shall be taken to be the duty payable on the grant of the licence less any amount falling to be repaid or remitted under the foregoing subsection. All of us acquainted with this class of club and the Chancellor's aim to help, which I have tried to help a little further, will be quite sure that under such an arrangement what the Chancellor requires can be done with a minimum of burden on the secretary and other officers of the club.

Mr. Erroll

We had considered something on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), but we think that detailed returns would be required from all clubs unless one accepted also the suggestion for a statutory declaration. The plain fact is that a statutory declaration would not be satisfactory, because repayment does necessitate proper verification of the trader's statements.

We ask for the licence to be surrendered to make sure that the repayment is made to the person to whom it is properly due, and production of the licence shows that it is the right person.

Mr. Ede

If he loses the licence what happens?

Mr. Erroll

We would take the necessary steps to deal with a situation of that sort. It might well be possible to verify from our own records that he had paid licence duty.

In our own Amendment we lay down that the statement may be made in such form and containing such particulars as the Commissioners may direct … That does not mean that in all cases they will have to see the full records, and that is one of the advantages of our proposal as this is a flat-rate relief. Where a club is selling a much smaller quantity than £200 in a year all that will be necessary will be a simple statement to that effect. Only a detailed verification will be required in a borderline case where they hoped to be just below the £200, but, when one looks into the matter, it is just over. That is why it is necessary to examine the trader's own statement in such cases.

Mr. Mitchison

If, in one club, the amount is £199 and in another club it is £201, the £199 man will get £2 10s. benefit and the £201 man will get no benefit.

Mr. Erroll

I think that that type of marginal case is inherent in any flat-rate relief scheme. The alternative is to do it on the basis of a poundage refund, which would mean that all clubs would have to submit full returns, all of which would have to be verified, and that would be very much more difficult to adminster.

For the reasons I have explained, it would not be practicable to rely on a statutory declaration where the amount to be refunded would vary in accordance with the amount of liquor consumed and so declared. I hope that the House will agree that it would not be right to accept the Amendments to the proposed Amendment because, so far from making matters simpler for the clubs, in many cases they would add to their difficulties.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

I listened to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) with great interest, because I am certain that all hon. Members would welcome any means of simplifying the effect of legislation on the individual, but I must admit that I could not see that the suggestion would simplify the legislation. One thought which occurred to me while the right hon. Member was speaking was that a statutory declaration would have to be sworn before a commissioner of oaths, which would cost 5s.—

Mr. Ede

Or before a justice of the peace. I have done many of them for nothing.

Mr. Hall

Perhaps a justice of the peace could not be found round the corner.

I rise to thank my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary for the great trouble he has taken to try to find a way to meet the point raised in the Amendment which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Colonel R. H. Glyn) and I put forward in Committee. I wish to thank my hon. Friend for having arrived at a compromise which, while it does not meet all the points we had in mind and go all the way to meet the substance of that Amendment, will help a great deal. I am sure that my hon. Friend's Amendment will be very much appreciated by many clubs throughout the country.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.