Medicine Stamp Duties.

Orders of the Day — Financial Statement. – in the House of Commons on 25th April 1939.

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There is a troublesome question of long standing to which I propose to give a final quietus. It is that of the Medicine Stamp Duties. These duties have a long history, and the present law, which mainly dates back to 1812, has been described by a learned Judge as "a mass of confused and obsolete verbiage," in which it is often difficult to decide which medicines are liable to duty and which are exempt. I may illustrate the archaic character of the legislation by quoting one of the exemptions, which still applies to-day. The exemption from duty extends to all drugs named and contained in the Book of rates subscribed with the name of Sir Harbottle Grimston, Baronet, and mentioned and referred to in the Act of Tunnage and Poundage made in the twelfth year of the reign of King Charles II I think that that establishes that these are rather archaic duties. A Select Committee of the House, to whose labours I am greatly indebted, exhaustively examined the subject and produced a new scheme, in which the main test of liability of medicine for taxation would be whether it was advertised or recommended in some form or other, but this test, as it seemed to us, did not serve to relieve from tax all medicines of real healing value. Even with the exemptions which the Select Committee proposed, a large number of genuine medicines would be brought under taxation. I have received many representations as to the objections to which a tax on these lines would be open, and I think it must be admitted that there would be real difficulties in administering it. I have therefore reached the conclusion that the only satisfactory solution is to repeal the tax entirely, and I propose to repeal the duty, and the concomitant licence duty of 5s. payable by medicine vendors, as from 2nd September next. I suggest that date because, firstly, the licence normally runs till 1st September and it is desirable that the duty and the licence should terminate on the same date, and secondly, because it will give ample opportunity to the majority of the interests concerned to dispose of their stamped stocks and adjust their prices to the new conditions. The cost will be £590,000 this year and £770,000 in a full year.