New Clause.—(OFF-LICENCES, MINIMUM QUANTITY OF SPIRITS TO BE SOLD.) (Hansard, 18 June 1951)
HC Deb 18 June 1951 vol 489 cc61-77

(1) Notwithstanding anything in the First Schedule to the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, with respect to the minimum quantity of spirits which may in England he sold by a person holding the off-licence to be taken out by a retailer of spirits, a person holding such a licence, may sell any quantity of spirits equal to less than one reputed quart bottle.

(2) Section twenty-two of the Finance Act, 1933, is hereby repealed.—[Sir H. Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I understand that this new Clause is creating a certain amount of interest outside, both friendly and otherwise. I could not be here on Friday when the House were discussing monopolies, but had I been I might have been able to base a part of my speech on this Clause then, because the industry affected by the Clause is, up to a point, a State created monopoly.

Intoxicating liquor cannot be sold on any premises without a licence—and there are certain difficulties about that—nor off the premises without a licence. Therefore, it is a State monopoly. There is a conflict between those who sell "off" and those who sell "on." Having regard to this conflict, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has also tabled a new Clause, to which I have attached my name, which seeks to give a countervailing concession to those who sell liquor on the premises. I hope that in due course the Chancellor will agree to accept both these Clauses.

It really is rather stupid that, because of an agitation in the past, if one goes to a grocer or to a wine and spirit merchant who has a licence to sell for consumption off the premises, one is compelled to buy more than one wants. I do not know whether, in the past, that was done in the interest of teetotallers. I remember their agitation on the subject of retail price maintenance, when they objected to what is called the "long pull," in other words, one must not have more beer than one pays for. The long pull was abolished, though I do not remember whether by Act of Parliament or through agitation. Recently, of course, the reverse has been true; manufacturers and wholesale distributors of whisky and gin have done all they can to prevent retailers charging above the published price.

The Chairman

I wonder if it would not be convenient to the Committee, having regard to what the hon. Gentleman has just said, if the two Clauses, that in his name and that in the name of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), were discussed together.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

With respect, Major Milner, I would point out that the two Clauses deal with entirely different points. Quite frankly, I am not prepared to proceed with my new Clause, because I understood that it was to be called a good deal later. I was not even in the Chamber when my hon. Friend moved his new Clause. Had I known that was the suggestion, I would, of course, have taken a different course.

Sir H. Williams

I quite appreciate that what my hon. Friend says is quite correct. The two Clauses do represent two very different issues. What I said was that the Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield is a concession to those opposing this Clause, and it is only in that sense that I made reference to it.

I have no connection with this industry, except as a moderate consumer. It is perfectly true when I tell hon. Members that I have never had any interest in the licensed trade. It seems to me to be quite stupid that if somebody wants to buy a moderate quantity of liquor, he can only do so if they go into a pub. I personally have no hesitation about where I go, but there is a large number of people who like to consume alcohol who never go into a pub, and who, if they want to buy liquor, go to the grocer. A very valuable trade has developed in the sale of concentrated spirits in quarter bottles. A great many people like to have a drop of brandy in the house; they regard it as the universal remedy for all sorts of troubles. I think there is something to be said for that point of view; I have found it so on a large number of occasions.

There is a considerable number of people who drink very little alcoholic liquor indeed, but, as I say, who like to have a drop of brandly in the house. When I was a boy, "Three Star" brandy used to cost 5s. 6d. a bottle. It now costs two guineas, and the quarter-bottle costs 12s. That is a very substantial investment for anybody who just wants to have a drop of brandly in the house, and lots of those people do not like going to the pub to buy it.

5.0 p.m.

The publicans do not like this Clause very much because they think—and it is a legitimate point of view—that if it becomes part of the Bill they will lose a certain amount of trade. I believe that they are wrong. The people who buy their stuff in a bottle to take home because they want to have a drop of brandy in the house are not the people who, in the ordinary way, go into public houses. We have to accept that fact although the great mass of people and certainly the great mass of hon. Members have a drink in a pub, occasionally under political pressure. What is the use of pretending otherwise? I see an hon. Member opposite shaking his head. He must be unique.

If I want to go to a public house I go, and I remember the challenge made to Mr. L. S. Amery when he was standing at a by-election. His opponent said he had seen Mr. Amery coming out of every public house in Wolverhampton. Mr. Amery replied, "If my opponent had watched me carefully he would also have seen me enter every place of worship." I thought that was a very good retort. There is a great trade in miniature bottles at Christmas time. People try to buy a few small bottles. They do not want to buy a whole bottle of Benedictine which costs, I am told, £2 10s. and brandy at £2 2s.; but they like to have a little on their table on festive occasions. As the law now stands these people cannot do that if they go to the grocers, which is the normal source from which they buy for consumption in their homes.

These people do not like being seen going into a public house. I think that is a false sense of pride, but it exists and we have to accept the fact. Why should these people who want a relatively small quantity of liquor be deprived of the opportunity of obtaining it? I remember the battle which took place, I think 18 years ago, when we carried the "half-bottle Amendment." Before that Amendment was carried one had to buy a whole bottle. Now one can buy a half-bottle. Having regard to the monstrous inflation now in being under the custody of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite I think we ought to get a little lower in the alcoholic scale and permit people to buy smaller quantities than a half-bottle.

Is not this rather childish, quite apart from anything else? One goes to a shop full of bottles of all sorts and of all sizes and shapes and the man behind the counter says, "I am very sorry but an Act of Parliament says I cannot sell you the small bottle. You must have a lot of booze if you want any at all." This is childish, it is the legislation of a lunatic asylum. We should be more sensible. We all know about this liquor business and the agitation by teetotallers, brewers, publicans, and off-licence holders going back over many years. There is no reason why we should not behave as adults and not say to the moderate consumer, "You shall not buy liquor unless you buy twice what you need."

Sir H. Williams

This is not the economics of a sane Parliament, but of a lunatic asylum. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Tory Government."] Whether one can call the Government of 1933 a Tory Government or not I am not quite clear. It was certainly not as Tory as I should have liked. [Laughter.] I was bitterly opposed to the formation of the Ramsay MacDonald National Government. I did not like it any more than hon. Members opposite. It was a great disaster for this country that we did not have a Tory Government in 1931. However, I must not go into that, Major Milner. I am glad that your attention was diverted because I have been saying things that were out of order; but I have been provoked by the hilarity opposite.

I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will agree to this new Clause. I have not the slightest doubt that he has been under counter-pressure from all directions. The characteristic of a great statesman is that he resists counter-pressure and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will show himself to be a great statesman.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

This is one of the ultra rare occasions on which the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), has put before the Committee a point which deserves consideration. It is a little foolish that this hangover should still be in existence. I have consulted one or two of my publican friends in my constituency about this proposal. It is true that the publicans as a body are officially opposed to it but the publicans I consulted told me quite frankly, off the record, that it did not matter two pins to them whether this concession was made or not.

In those circumstances, and as this will be a great convenience to old maids living on their own in working class areas who want a drop of something and do not want to go into a public house for it, I hope that the representatives of the Treasury will be favourably disposed to what is, in all the circumstances, a reasonable suggestion.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I was glad to notice the careful wording of a written answer which the Financial Secretary gave on this subject just over a week ago. He said that representations had been made to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he introduced the present Bill, but that he had not felt able to introduce the change into the Bill. Now he has an opportunity to make an alteration to this effect, and I trust that the cautious wording of that reply indicates that the mind of the Government is not closed on this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), pointed out that in 1933 the minimum permitted quantity of spirit which could be sold under off-licence was reduced to a half-pint. Since 1933 there has been a great alteration in the circumstances, and particularly in the absolute and relative cost of spirit. I might perhaps illustrate that best by taking the case of brandy, which is perhaps the spirit of most public interest in this connection. The minimum quantity of brandy which can be bought at off-licence premises at present, namely, a half-pint, costs no less than £1 2s. 9d. Even a quarter-bottle is 11s. 9d. and the very popular flask, the typical small brandy flask which so many people like to have available in the household, costs 6s. 4d. The miniature to which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, referred, costs 3s. 6d.

I suggest that the modern range of prices shows that the limitation imposed in 1933 is now quite out of place and it is absurd that at off-licence premises it should be impossible to buy a less quantity of spirit than would cost £1 2s. 9d. I have heard it suggested that the public do not suffer any appreciable inconvenience from this limitation and so I made a certain number of investigations which led me to the opposite conclusion. I made inquiries in a number of off-licence premises in my constituency. In one, which I entered during the evening, I asked whether there was any demand at those premises for these smaller bottles which cannot be sold. I was told by the proprietor that that very evening he had turned away no fewer than three customers who had asked for these small flasks and whom he had had to tell to go to a public house.

In that case it so happened that the nearest public house was half-a-mile away thus the public are, by this limitation, placed under three separate disadvantages. In the first place, they cannot buy the small quantity of spirit which they need from their normal supplier. In the second place, they have to go to a public house, which may be at some distance and which in any case many people object to frequenting even for an off-sale. Finally, if they do not care to do that, they are obliged or are induced to spend more than they need, in many cases more than they can afford, in order to buy a half-bottle. It seems perfectly clear, therefore, that this limitation, this minimum laid down by the law, imposes some appreciable inconvenience and hardship upon the public; and it particularly imposes that hardship upon small householders who need only minute quantities for household purposes.

That brings me to the second aspect from which this proposal can be considered—that of the on-licence holder. It is absurd to suggest that the sales taking place on on-licence premises will suffer at all if the present law is altered. A person who drinks spirits in any quantity, does not buy it in a miniature bottle or small flask and go home with it. The demand for these small bottles is of a quite different type and comes from a different sort of customer from the demand for "drop" sales over the counter in on-licensed premises, which some people appear to apprehend might suffer. We are here catering for an entirely different demand, an entirely different class of purchaser.

We shall be removing what is really an absurd anomaly and an anomaly which the public certainly do not understand; and their failure to understand it affects prejudicially the off-licensee. One can go into Lyons in Oxford Street, into what is to all intents and purposes a normal grocer's shop, and can buy any of these small or miniature bottles of spirit. One can do that because there happens to be a licensed restaurant attached to these premises. Yet the part of the premises where the bottles are being sold is a perfectly ordinary grocer's shop, and the public, seeing the small bottles on sale there, are at a loss to understand why, when they go to their own grocer or to the off-licence premises round the corner, they are told that it is against the law for them to purchase these small bottles. It is an anomaly that the bottles should be sold in the off-sales department of a public house or the grocery departments attached to a licensed restaurant while they cannot be bought from purely off-licence premises.

While I believe that the on-licence trade would not in any way be affected by this alteration in the law, I suggest that the public stand to gain appreciably from it, and that a cause of grievance, which at present is legitimately felt by the holders of off-licences, would be removed. I hope, therefore, that the Government will agree to take a course which is unusual in that, while considerable advantages attach to it. it has no disadvantages for anyone.

5.15 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) wishes to sweep away restrictions, and I must say that my personal bias in a case like this, where I think we might say that no very important national resources are at stake, is in favour of sweeping away restrictions and letting people do what they like. That was one reason why I defended the proposal which we discussed last week for allowing mobile shops to sell tobacco, although on that occasion the Opposition were in rather a restrictionist mood and opposed it.

Nevertheless, as the hon. Member himself said, there is a real conflict of interests here. It is, indeed, a historical controversy with rather a long background. The on-licensees can argue with some force that they have been given some sort of semi-monopoly by the State, in return for which they pay a licence fee; and they pay a larger licence fee than the off-licensee. I think that is the basis of their argument. They would, therefore, argue that if the degree of their privilege is to be diminished, then some reduction should be made in the fee which they pay. That is, indeed, I gather what the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) suggests in his new Clause later on the Order Paper, if I may refer to it.

This is a year in which, for obvious reasons, we could not give a special tax concession to holders of licences for selling alcoholic liquor. For those reasons, and in particular because there is no clear agreement about this—there is a considerable difference of opinion between the various interests concerned—we felt that, on the whole, the case had not been made out in present circumstances.

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what would be the cost involved?

Mr. Jay

It is impossible to estimate the cost because it is impossible to estimate the effect on consumption. Some people may argue that more alcohol would be consumed, while others may argue that less would be consumed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It might be argued that less would be consumed on the grounds that at present people buy more than they wish to buy so that, if an alteration were made, consumption would be reduced.

That is, indeed, another of the aspects of this question upon which there is no agreement at the moment. It could be argued one way or the other as to what the effect on consumption was likely to be and, indeed, whether it would be a desirable effect or an undesirable effect. Therefore, while we do not say that we have very strong feelings on the subject. we have come to the conclusion that, so long as these differences of opinion exist, and so long as there is no clear agreement among the public as to what should be done, the case has not been made out.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)

I make no excuse for continuing this short debate in view of the reply which has been given from the Treasury Bench and which, I think, has caused widespread disappointment. I should not be one to argue that our Scottish licensing laws are in all respects superior to those South of the Border, but in one respect at least they are very much superior to those which obtain in England, because in Scotland there has never been any restriction whatsoever on the sale of spirits by holders of off-licences. or what we usually call grocers' licences. I think it is true to say that bottles need not even be sealed.

Be that as it may, it is an absurd distinction which is made in England—even more absurd, I think, than was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), because I believe he said that the smallest bottle one can obtain from off-licence premises in this country is a half-bottle. That is not true; one can buy a quarter-bottle or a miniature, provided one also buys a full bottle of the same class of spirit at the same time.

It is an extraordinary thing. If we go back to the time when the half-bottle concession was originally made, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) pointed out, the rate of duty on spirits at the time of the Finance Act of 1933 was such as imposed a price of 12s. 6d. a bottle. Today—and I am speaking particularly of whisky—the tax alone amounts to 24s. 7d. a bottle and the retail price is 35s. a whole bottle and 18s. 3d. a half-bottle.

In theory the high prices should lead to such a limitation in the demand for whisky that there will be adequate supplies for all, but in practice the amount available on the home market is so limited that quotas are imposed by all who sell it. It is almost impossible to buy whisky unless one has established a quota by having been a customer before the war, or something like that.

There is a medicinal need for spirits, especially whisky. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] I do not think one need argue that. It is agreed by everyone. Equally, I think it is agreed by everyone that, rightly or wrongly, a stigma is felt by some people who have to enter a public house to buy a small quantity of whisky, or any other spirit which they require for medicinal purposes. It is much easier to go to one's grocer and collect it or to have it delivered with the rations.

I do not think that the Financial Secretary did anything to defend the monopoly position of public houses. He referred to it frankly as a semi-monopoly. It seems to be an almost complete monopoly. The only defence was that, at some distant time in the past, something more—which he was not able to define—some element in the licence duty was paid in respect of their right to sell quarter and miniature bottles of spirits. Surely this cannot be a very valuable concession. Present arrangements seem to most of us here to be indefensible, hopelessly complicated, and extremely difficult to enforce. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Gentleman to have another look at this matter.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)

The Financial Secretary said a few minutes ago that the Government have no strong feeling on this matter. I think that we can fairly add that he produced no strong arguments against this new Clause. As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he leaned with comfort on the strong differences of opinion between those who hold on-licences and those who hold off-licences. But is that really the case?

I do not know what has been the experience of other hon. Members. We all have licensed victuallers in our constituencies and I have never found them to be backward in voicing grievances. I have never found them slow to make comments on Finance Bills. This new Clause has been on the Order Paper for a long time, and I have received not a single communication from any licensed victualler in opposition to it. It may be that other hon. Members have had a different experience, but I represent a fairly large urban division, and no opposition to this suggestion has come my way.

I wonder whether the Treasury have made any attempt to discuss this matter between the two representatives—the licensed victuallers and the grocers—to see if there really is this strong feeling which the Financial Secretary suggests. After all, here is one of the very few proposals with which the Government have to contend between now and the end of the Committee stage, which, as far as I can discover, will not cost the Revenue much at all. The hon. Gentleman did not adduce the argument that there would be a loss of revenue if he were to give this concession.

The arguments put forward from both sides of the Committee have not received the consideration which the Government might have given to them. I should have thought that the case had been made out by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that we have now moved into an era where the cost of alcohol is such that the half-bottle concession made in 1933 has largely ceased to benefit those who buy spirits from off-licences.

I can well remember a Somerset publican discussing with me three of his customers. He told me that A was no good to him because he used to go in and buy one half-pint of beer, get hold of the evening paper and take two hours to drink the half-pint, depriving anyone else of the use of the paper; and that B drank five quick pints, got quarrelsome, created trouble in the bar, and was no good. "My best customer," said the licensee, "is C, the teetotaller, who comes round to my back door, buys half a bottle of Scotch and gets out of it quickly." In this instance, C would be catered for by the acceptance of this Clause.

I am sure that my hon. Friends are right when they say that there are still people who think that there is some kind of stigma attached to going to a public house. I well remember my mother, who was a teetotaller, saying that she felt that she had lost social caste by going to the public house to get brandy for the Christmas pudding, because she was asked if she was going to drink it on the spot or take it home. Many people feel in that way. This is not a question confined to this side of the Committee. I was about to say that I do not think that the argument used by the Financial Secretary holds water: it does not hold alcohol. I suggest that the Government should have another look at this question before we reach the Report stage.

The Chairman

I hope that the Committee will assist the Chair to make progress. We have a great many new Clauses to dispose of, and I hope that perhaps we may come to a decision on this one now.

Sir T. Moore

The Financial Secretary advanced so few, if any, arguments as to why he should not accept this Clause that it is left to the rest of us who feel strongly on this question to see whether we can produce further arguments to cause him to change his opinion. I really cannot understand the attitude of the Financial Secretary. Why does he refuse the persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)? It is simply because he says there is a difference of opinion between off-licence holders and on-licence holders. There is no question of principle, no question of loss or gain to the Exchequer, but simply a difference of opinion between two sections of the trade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, made such a convincing case that there is nothing more to be said except that possibly he did not tell the whole story. It may be said that this is largely an academic discussion since many of us have long since failed to see the contents of these bottles, either big or small; but one day we will come back to the possibility, the capacity and the ability.

Therefore, I shall try to deal with this question from two angles which have not yet been mentioned. My hon. Friend asked that the restriction on off-licence holders should be removed so that they may sell small bottles. His argument convinced the Committee, and I should imagine that it convinced the Financial Secretary himself, if he had the courage to say so.

While I agree that this restriction should be removed from the off-licence holder, at the same time we must realise that it would create a certain amount of injustice to the on-licence holder, in view of the respective licence duties which each has to pay. The off-licence holder only pays up to a maximum of £50 a year. The on-licence holder has to pay anything up to one-half of the annual value of his premises. Obviously, that cannot be fair. Therefore, why not either increase the licence duty on the off-licence holder, who will get more profit if this new Clause is accepted—because he will get more trade and there is no reason why he should not pay for it—or, alternatively reduce the licence duty on the on-licence holder to compensate him for the trade he loses? I imagine that the latter suggestion would be of far greater value both to the general public and the trade.

5.30 p.m.

Every speech on this Clause, each from its own angle, has been convincing in its favour and the Financial Secretary has made, as I have said, no convincing statement whatsoever as to why he opposes it. So I would ask him and the Chancellor—they are both intelligent men—to think again, and to arrive, possibly, at a different conclusion.

Mr. John Lewis (Bolton, West)

Neither the Chancellor nor the Financial Secretary—nor, indeed, any Member of the Opposition—presumes that any of us on this side of the Committee who feel very strongly on this matter intend to go into the Division Lobby against the Government. However, having listened to the arguments—and I speak not only for myself, but for many other hon. Members on this side of the Committee—I am bound to tell the Government and the Committee that we are convinced that this anomaly should not be allowed to remain.

It has seemed to me for a good many years to have been an absurdity. All I am asking the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary to do is to tax their ingenuity in this matter. I do not ask them to make a decision now, but I hope that they will examine the suggestion put forward about increasing the licence in one case so as to be able to reduce it in another, to compensate for any loss. Many of us sitting on these benches think something should be done about this matter. We are not going to vote against the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course not. We are not pre- pared on an issue of this kind to bring down the best Government this country has ever had. We do ask that the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary should examine the position to see if anything can be done about it on Report stage.

Sir J. Mellor

The Financial Secretary said that if this concession were granted to the off-licence holders there would be a demand for a reduction of duty by the on-licence holders. That might well follow, and probably would, but what I want to make clear is this. I have on the Order Paper a new Clause—(Increased reduction of duty on publicans' licences.) I understand that we shall have an opportunity of debating it later on. The Financial Secretary rather implied that that was the object of my new Clause.

I should like to make it entirely clear that the demand of the on-licence holders for a reduction of duty rests on a far wider basis than that, on general grounds of equity and not merely upon the issue whether or not this concession now requested for off-licence holders is granted. I thought it desirable that I should clear that up now so that it may be appreciated that, when the time comes for my new Clause to be discussed, we shall not be concerned with the issue under discusion at the moment.

Sir H. Williams

I am in somewhat of a difficulty because, in order to facilitate the convenience of the Lord Privy Seal—or the Minister of Materials—I am paired all day, so that I cannot initiate a Division; but in view of what has been said, I think that the Chancellor and his colleagues should look at this matter again. I think the fears of the publicans are not really justified. This will be of advantage, as has been pointed out, to the old dears who like to have a supply of brandy in the house in case of illness, and so on.

Possibly on Report stage the Government may do something about it. I cannot take part in a Division, and it is not for me, therefore, to make any suggestion that there should be a Division on this; but having regard to the unanimous view about this matter in the Committee, I would say we should not divide now, in order that the Chancellor may have an opportunity of turning the matter over in his mind, and of consulting with his on-licence friends to see whether he cannot induce them to agree with what is obviously the desire of virtually the whole of the Committee.

Mr. Jay

It is quite a mistake to suppose that all the licensees do not oppose this proposal. We have in the past year discussed it with both sides of the trade and the on-licensees, so far from being indifferent to it, oppose it, and oppose it very strongly. Indeed, I should not like to say that there is no force in their argument, for precisely the reason which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) gave just now, that they would contend that if there were to be some diminution in this advantage they should get an advantage by way of reduction of licence duty. I am not suggesting that that is the only reason that could be advanced in favour of the new Clause down in the name of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, but clearly that is an argument that might be used as strengthening the argument put by the on-licensees.

Therefore, the fact is that we have a clear conflict of interest, and that is why we came to the conclusion we did. In the course of the next year I see no reason why we should not hold similar consultations again, and if there were to be any sort of agreement whereby the conflict would be diminished, then, of course, a different situation would certainly arise.

Mr. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I did not intend to intervene, but in view of the Financial Secretary's statement, I think that something else ought to be said from this side of the Committee. If my hon. Friend is going to wait for an agreement to be arrived at between the on-licensees and the off-licensees, then before he has finished waiting for it he will be a very old man. But this is common sense. If the on-licence people had their way they would not allow any off-licence people at all.

However, forgetting all the nonsense about the old girls who like a little nip and all the stuff about medicines, the position is simply that one can buy a half bottle but cannot buy any bottle smaller than a half. Did any of us ever hear anything so silly? It does not need any imagination to see that this is an anachronism that should be wiped out. I appeal to my hon. Friend to look at this matter again. Do not let us wait for the brewers to tell us what to do. Let us tell the brewers.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborouah)

The case for this new Clause is overwhelming, and the Government will have seen that there is support from all sides of the Committtee for the proposition that in these days, whatever may be the history of the business, it is perfectly ridiculous that a certain number of people cannot sell smaller bottles whereas other people can sell smaller bottles. If nobody could sell any small bottles, there might be something to be said for the other argument. One could argue that it was dangerous to allow people to buy spirits in those minute quantities, and all the rest of it. But whereas one class of licence holders can sell the smaller bottles, another class of licence holders cannot because of an accident of the law.

It seems to me that this is a matter to be looked at again. Of course, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, there is a conflict of interest between the on-licence holders and the off-licence holders, and some of the on-licence holders by this concession might lose some of their custom. It is part of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) that there are some customers—a small number of people—who would not go to an on-licence holder simply because for one reason or another, they do not like to go to a public house. That may be very true, but it is not an argument for doing nothing.

If the argument of the on-license holder is that the publicans ought to be compensated, it may be that their compensation could be through a reduction of the duty. It may be that, as a consequence of the reduction, there would be a fractional increase In consumption, and if there were that increase in consumption the right hon. Gentleman would benefit, and so get back on the roundabouts what he lost on the swings.

I hope that, even though he cannot concede it today, there is still time before the Report stage for further investigation to be made, in view of the unanimous view which has been expressed. Nobody has said anything to the contrary. Not even the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), has turned up to defend his well-known point of view. Indeed, hon. Gentlemen who support him hold exactly the same opinion as ourselves. Probably the right answer is to look at the position of both on- and off-licence holders to see whether at the end of the day this sensible suggestion may not be adopted.

Sir H. Williams

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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