HC Deb 11 April 1927 vol 205 cc93-4

Now I come to an even more serious subject than wines. Notwithstanding the heavy increases in Duty which took place during the War, the consumption of tobacco is approximately one-third greater than in 1913. It is a remarkable fact, which I have already mentioned, that the consumption in the last financial year, despite the trouble, was about the same as the year before. The great accession to the ranks of the users of tobacco from the other sex has supplied a continual reinforcement to the tobacco revenue. In the present unhappy circumstances, tobacco must be called upon to bear an increased Duty. I propose therefore as from to-morrow that the Duty on imported unmanufactured tobacco shall be raised from 8s. 2d. to 8s. 10d. per pound, an increase of 8d. The rates on the other kinds of tobacco will move proportionately. This increased tax will, I estimate, produce £3,400,000 in a full year, and £3,100,000 in 1927. I may add that I have no reason to believe that the whole increase of this tax will be passed on to the consumer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish!"] We shall see. [HON. MEMBERS: "We shall see."] The restrictions on the clearances of tobacco which have been enforced during the past month will be removed as from tomorrow.

6.0 p.m.

Such are my proposals in respect of ordinary indirect taxation. Nothing but a national emergency of the gravest character would induce me to augment the Duties on sugar and tea. Luxuries, indulgences, conveniences of all kinds, especially when imported from abroad, may well be called upon to bear a heavier load in these difficult times, but the basic comforts of the mass of the people and the poorest of the poor should only be further loaded if the public safety were in danger and every other resource had been exhausted. To sum up, these various increases of ordinary indirect taxation yield a total increased revenue in the present year of £5,880,000 and in a full year achieve a revenue of over £6,500,000. That leaves only about £30,000,000 for us to find.

I now quit for the time being the zones of permanent revenue and I enter the area of windfalls, or once-for-all receipts, which, while they afford no foundation for the permanent finance of the country, are suitable for bridging the gap in our fortunes caused by the present emergency. I shall propose to the Committee certain expedients. Objections could be urged against each, but I wish to make it perfectly clear that the choice lies between accepting them, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, of either failing to carry out our policy of maintaining the Sinking Fund, or imposing heavy and injurious taxation. Let the Committee weigh these alternatives carefully before they make up their minds on these proposals.