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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to present a Petition on behalf of 98 British residents in Oporto, Portugal, referring to the great decline in the consumption of port wine in Great Britain as against the pre-war period and pointing out that this is most discouraging to the British port-wine producing firms in Portugal with an invested capital of over £12 million and is most discouraging to an increase in the reciprocal trade with Portugal.
The Petition concludes:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that urgent consideration should be given to an early and substantial reduction in. the British Customs Duty on heavy wine in general and
on port wine in particular so that it would be restored to its proper pre-war relationship with.the rate of duty on light wines.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
I beg you, Mr. Speaker, to instruct the Clerk of the House to read this Petition to the House.
The Humble Petition of British subjects resident in Oporto, Portugal.
That the decline in the consumption of Port Wine in Great Britain as against the pre-war period is a cause of deep concern to all persons interested in the wellbeing of firms of British origin long established in Portugal and engaged in the production and shipping of Port Wine.
That in their opinion the major cause of this decline in consumption from over 4 million gallons a year to about 1½ million gallons a year is mainly due to the increase of the British Customs Duty on Port Wine from 8s. a gallon pre-war to 50s. a gallon today—an increase of not less than 525% and an increase very much greater over the same period than on Light Wines (127%) or on Spirits (only 184%).
That this increase of duty, particularly in relation to that on other classes of Wines and Spirits imported into Great Britain, is unfair and penal so far as the Port Wine Trade is concerned and has had the effect of pricing Port Wine to a very large extent out of the British Market and particularity out of the valuable public house market where some 90% of Port Wine imported into Great Britain pre-war was beneficially enjoyed by millions of working-class men and women.
That it is most discouraging for British Port Wine producing firms in Portugal with invested capital of over £12 millions, to find a product so carefully developed by themselves and their ancestors for many decades past to meet the exacting standards set by consumers in Great Britain now deprived of this most important market by a penally high customs duty, with the result that many of them have already been priced out of business.
Wherefore your Petitioners Pray that urgent consideration should be given to an early and substantial reduction in the British Customs Duty on Heavy Wine in general and on Port Wine in particular so that it would be restored to its proper pre-war relationship with the rate of duty on Light Wines.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever Pray, etc.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I and, I feel, other hon. Members would like guidance on this matter. Is this not an abuse of the rights of Members in presenting Petitions? Should not a distinction be drawn between a Petition of this character, which represents a limited sectional interest, and Petitions presented on behalf of a very large number of persons in the country? Also, would it not be appropriate that an hon. Member in presenting a Petition of this rather special character should declare his interest?
With regard to the question of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I fear that I have no power in the matter to prevent a Petition, which is in proper form according to the practice of the House, from being presented by an hon. Member.
In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I have previously expressed the hope that hon. Members presenting Petitions will not insist on their undoubted right to have the Petition read, because all that time comes off Questions. I can only express a desire and a hope. I am powerless to do more.