HC Deb 27 May 1970 vol 801 cc1834-7

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Chapman

I take this opportunity to thank the Treasury Ministers—and particularly my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary—for the concession contained in the Clause. The justification for the Clause and the main point of it may not be so widely understood as they should be, and perhaps I may therefore be allowed to spend a few moments in expressing my thanks and explaining why some of us have pressed so hard for the inclusion of this concession.

I began leading deputations to the Treasury on this issue about two years ago. Although it has been a long struggle to convince the various Ministers of the merit of this concession, they have now handsomely repaid us by a straightforward admission of our case. I therefore thank my hon. and learned Friend most warmly.

In a sense, the problem is a double one. First, the Clause is concerned with a product peculiar to the small island of Trinidad. The subject of the Clause is not a palatable spirituous beverage—something that can be drunk on its own —because if a person tried to drink more than a drop or two with his gin, or with whatever else he might like, he would probably be physically sick. It cannot be called a spirituous liquor or beverage in the usual terms. It is simply a flavouring; but because of its high vegetable content it has to have in it the kind of alcohol, as a base, that makes it attract tax as a spirituous beverage.

That was the dilemma; it was one thing under one definition—in ordinary use it is a flavouring—but by Treasury and Customs rules it became a spirituous beverage, and has, therefore, been bearing a fantastic amount of tax.

This product could not be made in any other way. It is a peculiar one-island, one-product issue. Angostura had to face the difficulty that there was no way round the problem without a straightforward recognition of its peculiarity and of the need for a concession. The first reason for the concession is that it will be of some small help to the Island of Trinidad. That island has been much in the news in recent weeks. It is in the news because of the enormous social problems that arise in a growing island of the West Indies. It has a population of 1 million in which about 25 per cent. of the young people are unemployed.

The first effect of the concession, which will cost only a small amount, will be to help exports from Trinidad and, there- fore, to help solve its unemployment problem in a small way. For that, the whole of the West Indies is grateful. The Prime Minister of Trinidad has spoken to me frequently about the problem and he and the rest of the West Indies thank my hon. and learned Friend for recognising it—and the symbolism of the concession in the circumstances that now exist in the West Indies.

The second reason why the concession is appropriate is that at present we are practically the only advanced country that has not already made it. Australia, Canada and the United States have already exempted angostura bitters and after 1972 all the E.E.C. countries will do likewise. If we had not done it now we should have been the only advanced country that had not recognised the problem and made the concession.

The concession will mean a considerable reduction in the price of this product in this country: the cost might fall from as much as 31s. 9d. to 15s. a bottle. That might make it more widely used, as it is in other parts of the world, as a general flavouring in cooking of all kinds. It is not only useful in alcoholic drinks. The reduction in price may help to boost the sales of this product beyond the immediate prospect in the first year by encouraging its more general use for culinary purposes.

I therefore repeat how grateful are those of us who keep an eye on West Indies matters that our small lobby, on this small issue—which, nevertheless, will have an immense impact on a small island where the product is made—has received sympathetic consideration. The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) has been waiting all day to join me in thanking the Treasury Ministers, but he has had to slip away; he has asked me to say that he joins me in thanking the Treasury for this concession and saying that when we drink our pink gins, or whatever it may be, in the future, we shall be raising a glass to the Treasury for at least once in our lifetime.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) is another hon. Member we shall very much miss after the next election—retiring as I believe he is, to Trinidad, or perhaps Jamaica.

We may regard this concession as an epitaph to the Government. At the end of six years it is one tax reduction that the Government have been able to offer. No doubt every hon. Member opposite will emblazen it in his election address —" At least we reduced the price of angostura bitters."

Mr. Taverne

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I, also, want to say how sorry I shall be not to see him here in the future. My hon. Friend has expressed far more eloquently than I could do the reason for this concession.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 7 and 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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