§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Commander OLIVER LOCKER-LAMPSON
The question which I put down the other day on the subject of insulin was answered in a most unsatisfactory way by the representative of His Majesty's Government. The decision of the Tariff Commission to impose a duty of 33⅓ per cent. upon imported insulin was a mistake in morals as well as in medicine. A small and unrepresentative committee came to this decision and recommended legal action. This Committee consisted of chemists and was presided over by a lawyer and, after hearing the evidence only of other chemists, it decided that insulin was a fine chemical and, in accordance with the legal regulations, this duty was imposed. In- 1728 cidentally, it would be interesting to find out what considerations influenced the Committee in deciding whether or not a chemical is fine. One might ask when is whisky fine, or water, or when is that chemical the weather, fine, or otherwise? The truth is that a committee, upon which neither the doctors nor the public nor the inventor was represented, sat and imposed, by a technical trick, this tax upon poverty and disease.
The imposition of this duty has kept out foreign insulin. Before, it was sold from Denmark and could be purchased at about 6d. After this duty was imposed insulin could only be purchased in this country for 1s. 10d. or occasionally 1s. 6d., although this drug can be made at a cost of 2d. a dose. This is the real gravamen of the situation. In ordinary illnesses there are many ways of getting well. There are many rival drugs which can be purchased in competition, each of which may achieve a cure. But in the case of diabetics there is only one treatment, that is insulin. They must buy it or die. They have no choice but to take insulin every day, in order to ward off the pale messenger. To-day there are 100,000 of these helpless and otherwise hopeless victims whom this tax not only exploits, but, if I may say so, blackmails. I beg the Government to reconsider their decision. We remitted the tax on wireless to blind people; we do not tax the blind because they cannot see. Why should we tax diabetics because they cannot live? Let the Government take over the making of insulin itself and stop the commercialisation of misery.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Shakespeare)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised a point of great importance, but his presentation of the facts is not in accordance with the facts as I see them. There was a time when I might have argued as he has argued. Our experience since the introduction of Safeguarding has shown that the imposition of a tax does not necessarily mean an increase of price, but, on the contrary, has enabled home manufacturers to produce articles at a steadily falling price. When insulin was first manufactured in this country at the beginning of 1923, the price was 25s. per hundred units. It rapidly fell to 2s. 8d. Imported insulin 1729 was made subject to the general 10 per cent. duty until 1933. Two firms in this country were in 1933 producing it at two shillings, and the third firm at 1s. 8d. per hundred units retail price. The retail price of imported insulin was 1s. 5d. After the inquiry was held, it was decided that insulin was really a fine chemical, and the result of the imposition of the 33⅓ per cent. duty has been as follows. There has been a reduction of the British price, and instead of 2s. per hundred units two firms are now producing it at a retail price of 1s. 10d., and a third firm is actually retailing it at 1s. 5d. per hundred units. The price of the imported product has not risen in spite of the duty. It remains as before, at 1s. 5d. per 100 units. That being so, it is difficult to agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
The price of the imported article, as a result of the duty—or at least, following the duty—remains the same; the price of the British-produced article has fallen. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it could be produced at twopence per dose; I have no evidence on that point. All I can say is that insulin is cheaper in this country, probably, than in any country in the world except possibly Scandinavia. Quite recently, representations were made by American and Canadian producers to British producers that if the price were reduced any more it would be impossible to compete and to produce at an economic level. Only last year, a few months ago, the price of the American article was 4s. 9d. per 100 units, as compared with 1s. 10d.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
No, the retail price from Denmark is 1s. 5d. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member is thinking of this: Apart from this retail price, insulin is supplied by a British firm at 1s. per 100 units to all the hospitals, and every person suffering from diabetes who is an insured person gets the insulin free. 1730 In view of the fact that the Americans cannot produce it at anything like our price, and that it is cheaper here than anywhere except Scandinavia, I cannot see any reason for the apprehension of my hon. and gallant Friend. One can only hope that the stabilisation of the duty will enable the home producers of insulin to do what other producers have done, and, by a reorganisation of production behind the duty and with an assured market, steadily reduce the price of the commodity. I can only express that hope, but I have the evidence of other commodities on my side.
§ Mr. WILMOT
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the price of the cheapest foreign product, plus the duty, is 1s. 5d.? If that is so, and that is the price of the British-produced article, it follows that if there were no duty of 33⅓ per cent. the price of the cheapest foreign-produced article would be 33⅓ per cent. lower than it now is.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
When there was a 10 per cent. duty the price was 1s. 5d. With a 33⅓ per cent. duty the price is 1s. 5d. still. One need not go into technicalities about the pancreas of the pig and so forth. There are reasons why Denmark, with her strong organisation of the pig industry, can produce insulin more reasonably than other people. One can only hope that, with the growth of the pig industry at home, there may be greater facilities for the insulin industry here to bring down the price. We at the Ministry are watching the matter and there is no cause for apprehension. On the contrary, I think we can congratulate ourselves that, in spite of the duty, the price has fallen and is falling.
§ Mr. WILMOT
I think the hon. Member misunderstood me. My point is that the new price is 1s. 5d., of which 5½d. represents the tax. If you take off the tax, you get the article at 5½d. per unit less.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I think the hon. Member will see that, since the duty was put on, the only effect has been to stabilise the supply of imported insulin, which is probably only about 10 per cent. 1731 of the whole consumption; and steadily to diminish the cost of the British produced article. Meanwhile the revenue is gaining.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I am surprised at the arguments used by the Parliamentary Secretary. He commenced by saying that since he had occupied his present office his fiscal views had changed. Then he said that the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Lieut.-Commander Locker-Lampson)—whose fiscal views he now holds—was wrong in assuming that the tax had raised the price. He concluded by saying that behind the protection given by the tax, the British industry would be built up. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim that the price has not risen and at the same time claim that behind the protection given, you are going to build up the industry. The two things are incompatible. Coming back to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) I am not au fait with all the facts, and did not know that this question was to be raised. I have had letters asking me to appeal to the Government to take off this duty because of the increased price which it has caused. As I say, I am not competent to decide whether the facts are as stated or not; I can only say that I have received these letters from doctors and from sufferers from his disease, asking me to protest against the duty. If the duty has not increased the price, what can be the purpose of keeping if? Surely it is not the policy of the Government to build up an industry of this description on the backs of those who suffer from this dreadful disease? Members of all parties ought to strive to help the sufferers from this disease to obtain what has unquestionably saved the lives of thousands of people since this discovery was made. I cannot accept the argument that the duty decreases the price, and at the same time gives such adequate protection that you can build up an industry behind it.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
This is the first time that I have ever taken part in a Debate on the Adjournment, and I did not know that the subject of insulin was 1732 to be raised. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) does not seem to understand the elements of Protection. Protection is most successful when it does not raise the price, because ultimately it compels the foreign competitor to give up selling at a loss.
With regard to insulin, for weeks before the inquiry by the Board of Trade Committee the "Star" newspaper of London ran a most discreditable campaign, terrorising the sufferers from diabetes about the dreadful consequences which would happen if the duty were imposed. It was imposed, but no change occurred in the prices of either British or foreign insulin. Messrs. Boots were selling at 1s. 8d., and the other manufacturers sold different qualities at 2s. The Danish was being sold at 1s. 5d. The duty came into operation. No change was made in the price of Danish insulin, and if they could have sold it cheaper I would inform the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) that they must have been profiteering before. They were not proposing to reduce the price below 1s. 5d. when there was more or less Free Trade in insulin. The duty came on, and the price remained at 1s. 5d. Since then Messrs. Boots, knowing they had now security, reduced their price from 1s. 8d. to 1s. 5d., and the other firms who manufactured insulin from the pancreas, otherwise the sweetbread, of other animals have reduced it from 2s. to 1s. 10d.
What interests me above all is that insulin was discovered by Dr. Banting as a result of a series of experiments at either Toronto or McGill University, at which he asked for the use of ten dogs subject to what was called vivisection, afterwards from the pancreas of dead sheep. It was a discovery resulting from vivisection. The "Star" is one of the most bitter opponents of vivisection. It praises sky-high the brilliant successes of insulin, and the Liberal and Socialist parties are more bitter opponents of vivisection than most Members of the Conservative party. I am glad on this occasion to have tributes from Liberals and Socialists to the brilliant successes resulting from a method of treatment derived from vivisection.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
It is a new claim to be made on behalf of the Conservative party that they are more conservative 1733 than the vivisectionists. I did not know that the hon. Member claimed a monopoly in the science of vivisection; but that is not the point. Neither is the point that of Free Trade versus Protection. If the hon. Member opposite is right in regard to the effect of tariffs, and if they are only successful when they prevent competition from foreign countries——
§ Mr. GRENFELL
They are not successful in this case if the revenue from this product is going up. I would urge the Minister to have regard to the kind of correspondence that all Members have had, which is not due to propaganda by the "Star," a most estimable paper, with a very fine circulation, probably the largest circulation in the City of London, but most of the correspondence I have received is far removed from London. I have had correspondence from sufferers from diabetes who consume large quantities of insulin. They are able, I gather, to administer it themselves. It is a very valuable drug, and they do it in their own homes, many of them poor people, and it makes a considerable expense.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
They were. There is definite evidence, which I will submit after the Debate. The Minister started by saying this was very expensive at the beginning. Whatever can be said about that, the effect of the tariff is to prevent further cheapening, and the Minister can only claim to say he is now receiving the production from other countries at the same price as before the duty was put on. There are very strong complaints all over the country. Perhaps the apprehensions are not fully founded or confirmed, but there is no doubt that a large number of sufferers from diabetes write to Members in all parts of the House, and I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health to go into the matter, and to consult those people who are distributors of insulin to find out whether there is not a grave difficulty on the part of the poorest people who suffer from the disease in obtaining adequate supplies. The correspondence to me bears that out, and I would like to put that to the Minister.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.