Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1955.

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Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West 12:00 am, 16th November 1955

It is a short point. It is exactly what the Financial Secretary said, "I have two or three explanations; they all conflict; they cannot all be true because they are completely conflicting." Today's explanation is now reinforced by the suggestion, "Anyhow, people pay the tax and they are reasonable, so I should not worry." The point I was making on the story is that of the counsel who said to the jury, "You can take any explanation you like. I do not mind which it is as long as you believe one of them." He was putting a point which, on the whole, it is not proper for counsel to put; and when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury put the point that it is no responsibility of his because somebody did it before he came into office—"It is no interest of mine because it happened years ago; I am not responsible for Christmas cards; that is contained in the Budget of 1946, 1947 or 1948"—he is putting an argument which no responsible Minister ever ought to advance.

We are really getting a little tired of it. The other argument is that it has been said, "Everybody knew that there were economic difficulties even if we lied about it in April. We lied about it in April for the best of reasons, because we wanted to win the Election." My Conservative opponent did not know that there was an economic crisis, because he was promising great expansion, new schools, and so on. When I read his Election address I felt my own modest contribution of suggested reforms, weakened, perhaps, by my personal predilection for never being quite sure that any party I do not lead myself will implement my suggestions paled into insignificance.

Now, having dealt with the two minor points, I come to what is the major point. The articles which mainly fall within the scope of the present Amendment are the articles classed as toilet requisites and cosmetics. Here I wish to say seriously that it is easy to be facetious about cosmetics. It may be that they are not in great use in the House of Commons. But the toilet compact today is as much the equipment of the average factory girl as her dress, or her brush and comb, or anything else. It is part of the ordinary amenities of her life. It has come and it has come to stay.

When the Russians had to face this problem in 1918 they had to put a ban on cosmetics altogether, because they wished to concentrate on other forms of production, and they used that mechanics to try to divert production to another source. No one is suggesting that today. Today, the little toilet compact that a girl carries about with her, and which attracts 75 per cent. tax, is just as much a part of her equipment as is the razor to the average man. It is just as necessary to her and she would be lost without it. Therefore, this is quite an unnecessarily vicious tax which benefits no one. And here again the Financial Secretary has shown an economic ambivalence, on the one hand estimating what we shall get from this tax and, on the other, how it will reduce the purchases of these things.

Who will benefit by that? Will labour be driven from the cosmetic factories into the production of motor cars—or armaments? No, of course not. It will merely cause pockets of unemployment and difficulty and I imagine that people will go on buying cosmetics in spite of the 50 per cent. tax and economise on something else—probably food. But I have little doubt that they will go on buying them.

Group 32 is even more difficult because under the heading of "cosmetics" the thing has been set out by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for the guidance of the trade including cosmetics and preparations of a comparable character. Really, these are genuine trade difficulties. What is a "cosmetic" and what is not. What is a "preparation of comparable character"? What is a disinfectant and when does it not disinfect, and so on? It includes: Face cream, cleansing creams, massage creams, including slimming or flesh forming creams, and all other toilet pastes and creams. The unfortunate thing is that we are inclined to laugh about these things, but some of them are medicinal preparations used in industry. What about the man with dermatitis? What about the man in the cotton spinning industry who wishes to avoid spinners' cancer? These things are used and they are costly. It goes on: Astringent lotions; 'after shaving' lotions, blocks (excluding blocks made substantially of alum … dusting powders, tinted or perfumed, except as specified under paragraph 2 above; face powder in all circumstances; talcum powder, except when it is of an alleviating character and untinted and unperfumed. e.g., foot powder (chargeable under Group 32 (b) (ii))); all dusting etc. powders (other than untinted and unperfumed alleviants chargeable under Group 32 (b) (ii) … Baby talcum powder, as I understand it—