HL Deb 10 June 1941 vol 119 cc349-63

LORD ARNOLD rose to call attention to the large amount of foodstuffs being used in the manufacture of beer; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is, I think, the first time that the drink problem and the question of foodstuffs in relation thereto, apart from mere question and answer, has been raised in Parliament since the war began. One reason why these matters have not been brought up before is that the attitude of the Government and of the Minister of Food in relation to them, when representations have been made, has been very discouraging. However, the food position is becoming more difficult, and I have felt it my duty to raise this question in your Lordships' House.

In this war, in sharp contrast to what happened in the last war, the Government seem to have made up their minds that little should be done to deal with beer, apart from heavier taxation; but that heavier taxation has not really been effective in reducing consumption, and, in fact, the consumption of beer has recently slightly increased. I would explain to your Lordships that the brewers were allowed to take as a datum year the twelve months to September, 1939—broadly speaking, the year before the war. That was—and this is important—a year in which the largest number of standard barrels was brewed for ten years. In the following twelve months, the twelve months to September, 1940, the standard barrels brewed were reduced by about 33/4 per cent. as compared with the datum year; but in the six months to March last—the six months from October 1, 1940, to March 31, 1941—brewing actually exceeded that of the corresponding six months in the datum year of 1939. It exceeded it by a very slight percentage, it is true, but still it did exceed it.

We arrive at the astonishing result, therefore, that whereas the taxation of beer has since the war been increased by threepence a pint, the consumption went down only very slightly, and has recently been, as I have said, actually higher than in the corresponding six months of the datum year. Whereas many vital foodstuffs are now severely rationed, beer remains in a position of unique and apparently unchallengeable supremacy. As we all know, the consumption of meat, tea, sugar, butter, bacon, cheese and jam has been greatly cut down, but beer has had no such rationing. There has been no decline worth speaking of in its consumption, while recently there has been a very slight increase. All this means that a large amount of foodstuffs is being used by the brewers, chiefly barley and sugar, and I should like to deal with those two commodities.

I will take barley first. The amount of barley now being used by the brewers per annum is probably about 600,000 tons. That is sufficient to feed some 36,000,000 hens, and I think that it is very important to consider this matter of the barley consumed in brewing in relation to the problem of hens and eggs. Before the war the total number of hens in the country was, in round figures, 72,000,000. The Government have deemed it necessary that by next autumn that number should be cut down to about one-sixth, that is, to about 12,000,000. If the barley used by the brewers, taking it at 600,000 tons a year, was available for feeding poultry, it would keep about 36,000,000 hens, thus bringing the total number of hens up to 48,000,000, instead of the 12,000,000 envisaged by the Board of Agriculture.

I am not suggesting that matters should be carried as far as that. It is not a practical proposition to stop brewing, but it is within the sphere of practical politics to reduce the amount of beer brewed, because that was done in the last war. In the last war, the standard barrels of beer were cut down from 35,324,000 at the beginning of the war to 12,791,000 in 1918; that is to say, in the last war the standard barrels of beer were reduced by the Food Controller of those days by nearly two-thirds. How does the matter stand now? The number of standard barrels now brewed is probably between 18,000,000 and 19,000,000 barrels per annum. My suggestion is that this number should gradually—it cannot be done all at once—be halved. In view of what was done in the last war, there is nothing unreasonable in that suggestion, and it would be a less severe rationing than has taken place in the case of several other commodities.

If the standard barrels of beer brewed were by degrees halved, the barley saved in that way would be sufficient to feed about 18,000,000 hens, so that the 12,000,000 hens envisaged by the authorities as the number which we should have in the autumn would be increased to 30,000,000, or two and a half times as many. Of course we should hope—and it would naturally be so—that eggs would be increased proportionately. That would make a vast difference to the people of this country, many of whom do not even see an egg. Actually 18,000,000 hens should provide somewhere about 2,000,000,000 eggs. These eggs would be very useful to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, in his problem of rationing eggs. They would be sufficient to provide somewhere about four eggs per family a week throughout the country.

I am quite aware that the brewers are making, or are said to be making since last February, a voluntary contribution to meet the serious position of cereal supplies and the need to economise the use of shipping space. It was stated on February 9 last that the brewers were reducing by 10 per cent. the cereals used in the brewing of their beer. If this cut has been fully made, especially taking into account the cut in sugar, to which I shall refer in a moment, how is it that the number of standard barrels manufactured in the three months to March last, shows an increase over the corresponding three months of the previous year and is even slightly higher than in the datum year? Moreover, if this 10 per cent. voluntary cut announced on February 9 is being generally applied, how is it that in the Brewing Trade Review for June, 1941, published only a few days ago, there is this statement which I am going to read? The statement says: It was the desire of the authorities that beer should be available where it was required up to the limit which had been laid down, which was the standard barrelage brewed in the twelve months ended 30th September, 1939. I suppose that is correct. I should like to ask the noble Lord, is it the desire of the authorities that beer should be available to that limit? The statement also says that so long as that aggregate standard barrel-age was not exceeded over the whole country, there was no limitation to the output o£ any individual brewery, and there was no necessity for any brewer to restrict his supplies of beer for reasons of supplies of materials. I should like to ask the Minister of Food, is that correct? It is very difficult to reconcile these words with the 10 per cent. voluntary cut in cereals being in operation. Can the Minister say if that 10 per cent. voluntary cut is fully in operation?

I now leave barley and come to sugar. For the first few months of the war the brewers were not cut down in sugar at all. From April, 1940, they had a ration of 70 per cent. of their pre-war supply, and in June, 1940, the 70 per cent. was reduced to 60 per cent. Nevertheless the brewers were, and still are, in respect of sugar, in a very favourable position compared with other manufacturers using sugar. Actually the brewers are still consuming about 130,000,000 lbs. of sugar a year, and that is equal to about six weeks' sugar ration for the whole population. Again, proceeding on the assumption that the beer now being brewed is in due course—I do not say it can be done all at once—cut down by half, then the saving in sugar would be equal to about three week;' sugar ration for the whole population. This would mean that for a family of four there would be enough sugar available to make about twelve pound pots of jam. As it is, I think I am correct in saying that there is no sugar available to private persons for making jam unless they can save some out of their meagre ration.

Surely the policy which I have outlined as regards the brewers and sugar is not unreasonable but is very reasonable, having regard to the fact that no persons engaged in the making of foods requiring sugar are getting as much as the brewers—at any rate none are getting more, and in most cases they are getting less. For instance, those making pudding and sponge mixtures, custard powders, and infant foods are only getting 50 per cent. of their pre-war rations, and those making fruit juices, syrups, squashes, and mineral waters, which are non-alcoholic, are only getting 40 per cent. of their pre-war rations. Moreover, here is another question which I should like very much to ask the noble Lord. Art; the brewers actually cut down to 00 per cent. of their pre-war sugar? Is that happening? I ask this question because of an article which appeared in the Brewers' Almanac of 1941, which was recently published. The Brewers' Almanac has an article on sugar which contains these singular words: The allocation of sugar to the brewing industry as a whole is 60 per cent. of the quantity used in the year ended September 30, 1939, but the allocation for each individual brewer is fixed from time to time by the Minister and is at present 70 per cent. If these words are correct they are very mysterious. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain what they mean, and what the actual position is in regard to the cut of 60 per cent. in sugar for brewers.

Before leaving the problems of barley and sugar, I should like to ask the Minister a further question. In February of last year it was announced that the consumption of sugar for brewing would be reduced as from April to 70 per cent. of the normal requirements, but it was also stated that supplies of cereals would, if necessary, be available to meet the deficiency. Very well. If cereals have been supplied to the brewers to meet their sugar deficiency, and in view of the fact, as I have said, that brewing for the six months to March last was actually in excess of the corresponding six months of the datum year, are not the brewers, taking everything into account, actually getting about as much barley as they were doing before the war? I am only asking the question; I want to know. If that is so, or if they are getting nearly as much barley as before the war, it is surely a wrong state of things in view of the food shortage from which the whole country is suffering, especially, as I have indicated, in the matter of eggs.

There is one argument I should like to deal with on the other side if your Lord-ships will bear with me. The argument that can be advanced by the Government in support of their beer and drink policy, if I may so call it, is that revenue is received from it. The total amount of revenue got from beer now in the course of a year, on the present taxation, is about £151,000,000. That is out of a total revenue in a full year, on the basis of existing taxation, of somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,900,000,000. Thus the revenue from beer amounts to little more than is. 6d. in the £ of the national revenue. The yield from the tobacco duty is a good deal more than the yield from beer duty. The yield from tobacco is no less than £183,000,000. That is an astounding figure. It is nearly as much as the whole national expenditure thirty years ago when I first came to Parliament. That is the estimated yield during the current twelve months. As I have said, the proportion of the total revenue which is got from beer is not a large one, being only about is. 6d. in the pound.

I have not proposed that beer drinking should be abolished altogether. As I have said, that is not practicable, but if the beer barrelage were halved, the loss of revenue would be about £75,000,000 a year. In normal times this would soon be made good from other sources, and even in war-time most of it would, I think, be made good. The Liquor Control Board in the last war—we have no Liquor Control Board in this war, but we had a very efficiene one in the last war—referred in their reports to the increased efficiency of the workers as a result of restrictions on drinking. Thus, if drinking were reduced owing to the beer brewed being cut down by one half, the increased efficiency of the workers would mean that the national income would be higher. This would mean a bigger yield from the Income Tax and Surtax. Before long, there would follow a higher yield from the Death Duties owing to greater capital values. Then the yield from the Entertainment Tax and the Purchase Tax would be increased as there would be more money to spend on cinemas and so forth. No doubt also the yield from the tobacco duty would be increased because there would be more money to spend on tobacco.

Moreover, may I remind your Lord-ships that there are two sides to the national accounts, revenue and expenditure, and if the beer bill were halved the Chancellor of the Exchequer would benefit, not only on the receipt side but also on the expenditure side? Crime would be less, which would mean a saving in the cost of prisons and the administration of justice. The improved health of the people would advantage the health insurance scheme, with beneficial results all round in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would share. Moreover, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that some of the money available owing to the smaller expenditure on beer would find its way into savings certificates, and that is something which the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would welcome. Altogether, then, I think that a good case can be made out for the view that the national finances would not suffer if the revenue from beer were cut down by half. I am not going to pursue this subject further now because this is not the Motion for it. I will only say that several Chancellors of the Exchequer and financial and economic authorities have taken the view that the revenue from drink is dearly bought. In fact, Sir George Murray, when he was Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, said: It is impossible for the State to make out of the liquor traffic, the profits never balance the losses.

I must draw to a close, but let me make one or two points quite shortly. In the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House on financial and cognate subjects it has again and again been stressed that if the finances of the country are to be kept on a sound basis and inflation avoided personal consumption should be further reduced. Now, so far as food is concerned the Government have already done a good deal to cut down consumption by rationing, but they have up to the present time done very little to ration luxuries. Beer may certainly be described as a luxury and I think this view was taken by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, himself in a letter which he wrote to a correspondent last April. Furthermore, one of the tragedies of the drink problem is that all these valuable foodstuffs, barley, sugar and others in a lesser degree, are almost entirely wasted from the point of view of nutrition. Surely, that is an important matter for the Ministry of Food.

In point of fact, there is practically no nourishment in beer. Beers vary somewhat, but speaking generally there is only about as much nourishment in a half pint glass of beer as there is in about half an ounce of bread costing less than one-eighth of a penny. Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, O.M.—and you could scarcely have a higher authority—used these words, speaking of beer: I have, to say the truth, hardly patience to deal with the often suggested and sometimes vaunted nutritional value of that beverage. The claim when not wholly insincere is ridiculous. A pint of beer mostly sold to-day contains some carbohydrate material with a fuel value only equal to that of about one ounce of bread, but even this material is so much altered by fermentation that we do not know whether it has real value as food. Therefore it seems doubtful if the tiny fraction of carbohydrate material in beer has food value, and in any case the amount is so small that, as I have said, there is practically no nourishment in beer.

I do not think it can be argued that the present high consumption of beer is necessary in order to maintain the morale of the workers at its present level. This is an important point about which there might be much argument, but the experience of the last war in my submission is the answer to any such contention. There was a reduction—a big reduction. As I have told your Lordships the standard barrelage was cut down by nearly two-thirds in the last war. That was a big reduction. The Food Controller and the Liquor Control Board acted sternly and the morale of the country did not suffer in any way that mattered. In fact, I think it is fair to contend that the efficiency of the workers was increased. I think that must be sc because, as I have told your Lordships, the Liquor Control Board re-ported about the increased efficiency of the workers as a result of restrictions on drinking.

This is practically my last point, but I must deal with it because it is one of the chief defences of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for not dealing with beer consumption. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, if he will allow me to say so, has in so many ways done such splendid work in his very difficult task; but one of his chief detences in this matter of the drink problem is this. He said it would be entirely wrong for him to use his power to introduce social reforms of one kind or another. I think that is a strange argument. The effect of some other Government regulations and restrictions is in the direction of reforms which have been favoured by certain sections of the community. Also, I would remind the noble Lord, his argument about social reform cannot be an adequate one for refusing to deal with beer drinking because it did not stop action, and very drastic action, being taken in the last war.

No, my Lords, the question is not one of social reform but: of what is just and fair as between one citizen and another. This favoured treatment for brewers is, I think, all the more difficult to defend because more than half the population, taking into account children—and of course they should be taken into account where matters of food are concerned—do not drink either beer or spirits and are teetotallers. Is it right, is it fair, that those who do not drink should suffer in this matter of food, especially as regards eggs, because those who do drink and who are the minority of the nation are receiving what I do not think there is any exaggeration in describing as favoured treatment? Surely, if there is to be favouritism shown to any industry it ought to be to one that caters for the people as a whole and not one like the drink industry with which more than half the population has no dealing. Finally, may I remind your Lordships that in the last war Mr. Lloyd George said: Drink is doing more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together. And later on in the war he stated: We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these three deadly foes is drink. That is why drastic steps were taken by the Food Controller and the Liquor Control Board to restrict the amount of beer drunk during the last war. It is very difficult to understand why so little has been done to deal with these matters in this war. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think it might help the debate if I intervened at an early stage in order that your Lord-ships may have before you the salient facts of the situation as His Majesty's Government see it. I have had much pressure brought to bear upon me by temperance organisations to deal drastically with the consumption of alcoholic liquors. I speak not only with respect, but with admiration for all bodies that are seeking to advocate temperance habits among the people of this country: they have been engaged on this beneficent work for very many years, and I would now beg them not so far to falter in their faith in their own course of temperance as to urge upon His Majesty's Government that the process of education should give place in this matter to the process of compulsion.

The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, will forgive me saying that he has done me just a little less than justice by stopping in the middle of a quotation from a remark that I made. I did say to a deputation of gentlemen, who came to urge upon me that the brewing trade should be closed down, that it would be improper for me to use the very great powers that Parliament has conferred upon Ministers of the Crown to introduce by means of enactments under the Defence Regulations a social reform that would not pass the House of Commons or the House of Lords. I have always held that this problem of the drink trade was a very highly controversial one, and it would be grossly improper for me to use the very great powers that you have given Ministers to take action which, if it were submitted to a free vote of either of the Houses of Parliament, I know quite well would be defeated. The noble Lord did not complete the full statement that I made.


It was not designed. That was the quotation that I heard.


I am very conscious of the statement I made. I think that my personal record will show that I have every sympathy with social reform, but I have no sympathy with dictatorial powers of Ministers that would not meet with the approval of Parliament. I think, my Lords, that it is inevitable that we should constantly consider doing again in this war what we did in the last war, but in so far as the drink trade is concerned the present circumstances are very different from what they were in 1914. In 1913 nearly twice as much raw material was converted into beer as in 1939: we therefore began this war on a totally different basis. Let me give you precise figures. In 1913 1,554,000 tons of cereals and of sugar were used in the making of beer. In 1939 only 795,000 tons were used. The actual saving in raw materials effected as a result of the drastic reduction to which the noble Lord referred in 1918, as compared with 1913, amounted to 900,000 tons, whereas the total we were using in 1939 was only 795,000 tons. In 1914 we brewed in this country 36,000,000 standard barrels. In 1939 we brewed only 18,000,000 standard barrels, and, moreover, the beer that was brewed in 1939 was of considerably lower gravity than that which was brewed in 1914.

Not only is the quantity of beer brewed to-day so much smaller than in 1914, but it is, in fact, of lower gravity than was reached at the lowest point in the last war. Side by side with these facts, it should be remembered that the population of this country to-day is greater by three millions than it was in 1918. At the outbreak of war, therefore, His Majesty's Government decided that the output of beer should continue at the level of the output of standard barrels for the year ended September, 1939. The brewing industry was, therefore, given permission to brew up to 19,000,000 barrels in 1940. In fact, they only brewed 18,000,000. The output for the first six months of the current excise year has reached 8.7 million standard barrels.

I would like now to draw your Lordships' attention to the financial side of this business. In 1914 the duty on beer was 7s. 9d. per barrel; in 1918 it rose to 25s. per barrel; in 1939 it was 80s. per barrel, and it is now 165s. per barrel—seven times what is was in 1918, and twice what it was at the outbreak of this war. Receipts from Customs and Excise revenue on beer amounted in 1940–41 to £139,000,000 and on all alcoholic liquor to £194,000,000. Income Tax and Super-tax for the same year amounted to £524,000,000. Consumers of alcoholic liquor, therefore, paid into the revenue more than one-third of the amount which Income and Super-tax payers have paid.

There is one further fact that I would like to place before your Lordships, and that is the restriction that has been placed on the use of raw materials. Brewers are only permitted to use home-grown barley, and the allocation of sugar to them has been reduced to 60 per cent. of pre-war usage. By controlling the purchase of cereals for brewing we have saved between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of cereals that have been diverted from brewing to animal feeding-stuffs in the current cereal year.

Those, my Lords, are the facts. I have brought them to your Lordships' notice in order to show that whilst His Majesty's Government have not indeed been as drastic as the noble Lord would have liked them to have been, they are at any rate exercising some control over this trade, and I ought to state that they have throughout met with the co-operation of the trade in the process of exercising that control. I know of course that there are many people in this country who share the noble Lord's view that the production of alcoholic liquors should be considerably controlled during war-time. There are also very many people in this country who believe that a glass of beer does nobody any harm, and that if we are to keep up anything approaching the normal life of the people in this country, then beer should continue to be in supply even if it were beer of a rather weaker variety than connoisseurs would like.

It is the business of the Government not only to maintain life but also to maintain the morale of the people of the country, and I do beg to differ from the noble Lord when he says that the restrictions which were placed on the consumption of beer in the last war—when in fact the barrelage went down to about 13,500,000—had no effect at all on the morale of the people. There was indeed a very considerable amount of industrial disquiet as the result of the inability of the people to get beer. On all these food questions with which I have to deal there arc constantly competing pulls. Some people say that it would be better to have eggs. Some people say that sugar would be better in this place than in that place. All that I can do is to listen to all the advice that I get—and indeed I get a very great deal of advice—and, with my colleagues in the Cabinet, try to come to a balanced view as to what is the best way in which I can use such food supplies as we have. My colleagues and I have given great consideration to this question just as we have to the whole of our supply position. On the question of alternative uses to which supplies can be put, we have come to the conclusion that, at any rate for the time being, it is in the public interest that the production of light beers should continue and should continue to the present amount. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that in certain parts of the country there are complaints of shortages of beer. In the small village in which I spent Sunday night I was told that they were able to keep the public-houses open only for an hour on some days of the week on that account.

With respect, I would say, do not let us exaggerate this problem. We are not facing the same problem as the Liquor Control Board faced—incidentally I was very fortunate to have some association with that body in the last war to a minor degree. We are not, as I say, facing the same problem they had to face. There is no great amount of drunkenness in this country at the present time. There is not the slightest evidence, I submit, that the amount of beer available at the present time is doing anything at all to reduce the output of munitions or to curtail the amount of work that is being done by the public. I submit, moreover, that there is no evidence to show that excessive drinking is leading either to crime or to bad health on the part of the public. It is because we are in the fortunate position of having a sober and, as I think, a temperate nation that we have decided that at any rate for the time being—and in-deed I will not commit myself any further than the immediate future because it would be folly for anyone to commit himself to a supply position for more than a few months ahead—we have concluded that it is wise to allow the present production of beer at this reduced gravity to continue.

If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, I know that the reasons which have caused him to raise this subject are indeed of the highest and that he is thinking merely of the well-being of the public of this country. I, too, have had those considerations in my mind and, rightly or wrongly, my colleagues and I have come to a conclusion which is different from that which the noble Lord draws from present circumstances.


My Lords, before withdrawing the Motion perhaps you will allow me to say one or two further words. I had not the slightest intention of misrepresenting the noble Lord in the quotation which I gave. That was the quotation as I had it, and I gave it quite honestly. I do not think that it makes any material difference to put the addition which he named. The point is this: in the last war the Liquor Control Board and the Food Controller—for the Food Controller was actually responsible, I think—cut down the barrelage by nearly two-thirds. He did not ask for majorities in the House of Commons or in the House of Lords. The country accepted the cut and the country would accept anything within reason which the noble Lord enacted in regard to this problem, just as it has accepted a great many other things. I do not think that point particularly helps this discussion. When the noble Lord tells us that the quantity of beer brewed in 1939 was less than in 1914 and that the gravity was less, that is perfectly true. But is it not also the case—and I think his own Parliamentary Under-Secretary said this in another place—is it not unfortunately the case that the food position now is more acute than it was in the last war? That is something which should not be forgotten in considering this quesion. The noble Lord also said that the population was 3,000,000 more now than in 1918.


The population in this country.


The population in this country. He has left out the Free State. The Free State is taken away. Therefore the total population is less than in 1918. The noble Lord has not replied to the specific question which I put as to whether, taking into account compensatory conditions created because of the cut in sugar, brewers are now receiving as much barley as before the war. He does not reply to that and I am sorry. I put it as moderately as I could, and I think it is important. Nor did he deal with the passage I put from the Brewers' Almanac about the 70 per cent. allowance of sugar. However, he has given us a full reply in certain respects, for which I thank him. It does not, however, from the point of view which I advance, carry matters much further, which I think is unfortunate. I am not without hope that as time goes on there may be some alteration in the directions which I have urged. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.