Saturday, 12 January 2013

Deplorable Fluid Sold as Beer

They aren't my words, but those of a wartime Labour MP. A bit unfair, in my opinion.

And a bit surprising, as he had presumably lived through WW I, when beer quality got much, much worse than it was in 1943. Average gravity was 1034.34º in 1943*. Not that much lower than the 1037º average of when I started drinking in the 1970's. Though admittedly they weren't making brewers use flaked oats and other crap. In the 1970's the brewers threw in all the nasty adjuncts voluntarily.

A Labour M.P. (Mr. Wilmot, Kennington) told the Commons to-day that he had heard many complaints about "deplorable fluid sold as beer" and said the heavy tax involved some obligation that the beer should be of reasonable quality.

His remark was made during a debate on the Budget, when the Finance Bill was considered in Committee.

Sir William Wayland (C., Canterbury) moved an amendment to omit Clause One, which dealt with the duty on beer. Since 1914, he said, the duty on a standard barrel had risen from 7s. 9d. to 28s.

The duty bore most hardly on old age pensioners, the poorer section of the middle classes, and agricultural workers.

He asked the Chancellor to arrange for beer and tobacco to be sold at reduced rates to old age pensioners in exchange for sweet points.

"I cannot understand why the Chancellor allows cider to go free. It often contains more alcohol than mild ale," he added.

Sir Ernest Shepperson (C., Leominster): "It is not the industrial workers who are poor. It is we who are poor, workers have money spend luxuries.

Sir Kingsley Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that he was not a temperance reformer or a killjoy.

"I desire to see as many people as possible, within reasonable limits, enjoying themselves in this way, as I do occasionally myself.

"This Budget might go  down as the pay if you like Budget because no one need pay any of these taxes."

He would call Sir William Wayland a "beer diehard." He was sure that between now next year a reasonable consumption could be provided.

Production of cider for 1940 was a rather small figure, some 12.5 million gallons, a considerable number of farmers made cider, and to see that they all made returns for the collection of the tax might cause difficulties. Sir William, Wayland withdrew his amendment."
Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 02 June 1943, page 1.

There's something reassuring about the continued political squabbling in parliament during WW II. Was it indicative of a desire to get on with life as normal or were they just incapable of behaving any other way?

Some of the debate is slightly odd. Like the way a Tory MP sticks up for pensioners and agricultural workers. And their right to drink beer. But hang on, he was MP for Canterbury. In Kent. Which gives him a vested interest in the brewing trade. I quite like his proposal, though, that pensioners should get cheap beer in return for their ration coupons for sweets. That would have been perfect for me, aging, non-sugar-eating pisshead.

That stuff about the beer tax having gone up from 7s 9d to 28s is also odd. Wrong, I should say. Wildly wrong. The tax hit 100s. per barrel in 1921. It was 80s at the outbreak of WW II and 240s 7.5d in 1943. So he was out by almost a factor of 10 in the current tax on beer. Weird. How could he be so poorly informed when they were discussing legislation on that very topic?

I like the reason for not taxing cider: too much trouble. It's difficult today to remember how little cider used to be produced in the days before it was industrially manufactured. 12.5 million gallons is a little under 350,000 barrels. To put that into context, 26 million barrels of beer were brewed in the UK in 1943*.

* Brewers' Almanack 1955, p. 50.

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