Clause 4. — (Tobacco.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd June 1964.

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Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 2nd June 1964

I shall try not to repeat myself, and I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reply, but I do not think that he has answered the argument. The hon. Gentleman says that the Treasury is not interested in maximising cigarette or tobacco smoking, but one could put the proposition in a slightly less strong form and say that if every member of the community became convinced tomorrow morning by the reports of the medical profession it would be a bad day for the Treasury. The revenue would take a sudden nose-dive and we should be in difficulties.

7.15 p.m.

I am trying to prepare the Treasury against that day and to deal with the situation which will arise in two or three years' time when we shall have a financial crisis because people will understand what the medical profession is saying. The financial position of the Treasury in a few years' time is a supremely academic question for the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the situation will arise when a sufficient number of people will believe what the medical profession is saying. Therefore, the Treasury should take precautions well in advance to reduce its dependence on this single form of tax, which is being piled ever higher.

The hon. Gentleman says, "On, no, this matter should be dealt with by various forms of propaganda." He should consider who the contestants are in this battle. We have the Treasury, with a huge vested interest in the sale of tobacco. We have the advertising profession with a huge vested interest and the newspapers with a huge vested interest in the sale of tobacco. We have all these powerful vested interests interested in or actively trying to persuade more people to smoke, and on the opposite side we have the Ministry of Health spending £32,000 and the still small voice of the medical profession.

My secondary argument in introducing the matter was to remove at any rate one vested interest from the battle, that is the Treasury, so that increasingly by my arrangement of setting aside £100 million out of revenue collected by taxation each year and putting it in a separate fund, which would not deal with the normal expenditure of the nation, we should decrease the vested interest of the Treasury in seeing that tobacco smoking was maintained.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman answers that argument by saying that this is merely a tax on expenditure and that if the Treasury were not taxing this form of expenditure it would collect the tax on some other form of expenditure. That amounts to saying that it does not matter how one taxes and that if the Treasury did not have the tobacco to tax for revenue it would find something else to tax. This position is highlighted in the Budget, in particular, because more and more the Government have to concentrate their taxation on fewer and fewer objects, and one of the commodities on which the Government concentrate their taxation is a commodity which has been exposed as highly dangerous to the community that consumes it.

I do not believe therefore that the hon. Gentleman has answered the argument. It is not a sufficient answer to say that each individual must make up his own mind in this situation. Each individual makes up his mind whether he is going to smoke partly because of the influence brought to bear upon him, and the influence of the most powerful vested interests in the country is brought to bear upon an individual to try to persuade him, and particularly the young person, to smoke. I ask that that individual be given a better chance to make up his own mind on the evidence instead of having the pressures of vested interests apply to him.