HC Deb 18 May 1960 vol 623 cc1303-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Hon. Members will notice that I have put down an Amendment to the Clause, in page 2, line 5, at the end to insert: (2) For the purpose of this section sweets shall not include intoxicating liquors which are made from apple or pear juice and which, if of fifteen degrees proof or greater strength, would, except for the passing of section two of the Finance Act, 1956, be cider (which includes perry) and not sweets within the meaning of the Excise Acts. I have suggested to you, Sir Gordon, that the point I intended to make is more than adequately covered in the new Clauses and Schedules and Amendments to the Seventh Schedule and the now Schedule put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and others of my hon. Friends. Those, of course, were not put down until last night. In my view, they will be much more effective in doing what I wish to do.

I should like to make a few observations at this stage, however, in the hope of being able to give my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer plenty of warning of what I have in mind. His experience as Minister of Agriculture will have taught him that he can expect a rapidly increasing production of apples from the plantings of recent years, it taking about seven years for a tree to bear full fruit for the first time. Many of the trees planted just after the Second World Wax are about to come into ever-increasing yield year by year. There is, therefore, a serious problem for the British apple grower.

There is no doubt that there was an adverse effect in the take-up of apples as a result of Section 2 of the Finance Act, 1956. That was the Section which classified as sweets cider and perry over 15 degrees of proof and limited cider only to apple or pear juice with one fermentation from fruit which had been in its natural state at the start of the process and did not contain any ethyl alcohol obtained from any other substances.

4.45 p.m.

The effect of all that was to impose a duty of 10s. 6d. per gallon on still cider under 27 degrees proof, and 18s. 6d. if it was over 27 degrees and £1 8s. 6d. on the sparkling cider, of whatever proof. I do not know what the result of all that has been. I am told that the Treasury had in mind to raise a sum running into millions of pounds from that duty, but that from the reclassified cider it has, in fact, produced under £100,000. If the original duty has failed in achieving its object, there is good reason for making considerable alteration. I will leave my remarks concerning the degree of the alteration until we discuss the appropriate new Clause and new Schedule.

It is, however, worth bearing in mind from the viewpoint of the horticultural grower that the British cider manufacturers have done their best to take as much as possible of the cull apples from the main crop in this country. A firm operating in East Anglia takes many thousands of tons of apples from my constituency. It has not been greatly helped by the 1956 Finance Act. Some concession should be made especially to enable these firms to compete adequately with some fierce competition which they are meeting.

Some companies are putting on the market a drink which is made largely from imported pulp. Certainly, I wish to give no encouragement to those people. When we have a surplus production of apples and pears, it is wrong to start importing pulp and making fruit juice into drink, which is then sold to the public who, I am sure, if the choice were available, would much prefer home-grown fruit. I hope that my right hon. Friend now has in mind what we intend to do and I am grateful to the Committee for having heard me.

Mr. Redhead

Obviously, the Clause, so far as it is consequential on Clause 1 in making corresponding reductions for British wines, will not be resisted from this side of the Committee. I wish, however, to add a word of commendation of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), to which, I hope, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give his attention.

Beyond that, I ask the right hon. Gentleman once again to consider the archaic and somewhat misleading title of "Sweets". It gives rise to considerable confusion in people's minds. Even hon. Members have inquired whether it means that there is a duty on confectionery under this heading. In common parlance, all that it means is British wines. I notice that in reporting upon the matter, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise adopt that nomenclature and I urge that in future legislation the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be persuaded to do likewise and drop the archaic form.

Mr. Barber

I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). If it is agreeable to my hon. and gallant Friend and to the Committee, it would be preferable to deal with the point of which he has spoken and of which my right hon. Friend and I have taken note, when we reach the appropriate new Clause. I should, however, correct something that my hon. and gallant Friend said, no doubt inadvertently, about the duty on strengthened cider. The duty on strengthened cider is limited to any cider or perry of a strength of 15 degrees proof spirit or more. Therefore, anything under that is not liable to duty.

I want to make an admission to the Committee, in view of what the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) said. After my right hon. Friend had introduced his Budget and the Resolutions were being put, I heard a reference to a duty on sweets, and for one terrible moment I thought that a wrong power had been taken and that for once I had slipped up.

Mr. H. Wilson

After that alarming confession by the Economic Secretary, perhaps he will tell us what he intends to do about it. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will agree that there is something in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) that this is a very old form of words. Would the Chancellor think about it again and perhaps amend the Bill on Report? I do not suggest that it is a substantial point. Can he not get rid of this archaism now and replace "Sweets" by the clearer title of "British Wines", as suggested by my hon. Friend?

Mr. Barber

I agree that it is somewhat of an anachronism and is very misleading. I am not sure whether it would be possible to do anything this year on the Report stage, but I can give the undertaking of my right hon. Friend to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) that between now and the next Finance Bill we will look into the question and consider whether it is possible to make this definition in some way which is more palatable and more understandable.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the hon. Gentleman satisfy my curiosity about one of the sweets? It is called metheglin. What is it? Is it a fertile source of revenue?

Mr. Barber

I could not answer that "off the cuff". I can only tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that our revenue comes from all British wines, which includes that one, which I have not myself tasted.

Mr. Wilson

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is asking us to pass the Bill without having studied the very learned discussions which we had on this subject two years ago? Does he not recall that there were some very authoritative speeches on metheglin? Was it not then widely understood in the Committee—I hope that it is still the case—that metheglin was much favoured in the Principality, being very similar to Cornish mead, or, at least, mead made in other parts of the country? Is not that so?

Mr. Amory

I am advised that it is spiced mead.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.