HC Deb 04 June 1934 vol 290 cc623-47

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

5.46 p.m.


I have just supported the Government, with very great pleasure, on the last Clause, which amended the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921. Therefore, I regret all the more that on Clause 5, which also amends the Safeguarding of Industries Act, I find myself in opposition. To-day I was rejoiced to read that, on the advice of His Majesty's Government in the Dominion of Canada, Dr. Banting, the discoverer of insulin, has been honoured with a knighthood. It seems to me a little in-appropriate that on the very day that that honour is announced we should be asked to pass a Clause which will have the effect of probably handing over to a foreign monopoly the manufacture of this important drug, if I may so describe it, discovered by this young and distinguished Canadian medical man.

May I remind the Committee, as I did on the previous Amendment, that the object of the Safeguarding of Industries Act was not protection in the ordinary sense but security in time of war; to make certain that there should always be available to our people certain commodities of which during the late War we experienced a great shortage. Here is a new commodity which did not exist, I think I am right in saying, when the Safeguarding of Industries Act was passed in 1921. Under Part I of that Act a duty of 33⅓ per cent. is imposed on foreign goods in certain categories, and one category was devoted to fine organic chemicals. The list of fine organic chemicals is very numerous and the number is constantly being added to. Accordingly, it was laid down that the Board of Trade should publish a list of the goods covered by that general description in the Schedule to the Safeguarding of Industries Act. The original list consisted of some 6,000 fine organic chemical products. As discoveries are made that list is augmented.

Under Section 10 of the Finance Act, 1926, which continued those duties for another 10 years, power was given to the Board of Trade, where necessary, to remove an article from the list if it appeared that it was not being produced either in this country or in any part of the British Empire. That was a wise provision because it prevented the continuation of the duty on an article where there was no competitive supply for the time being, which represented in those circumstances a burden without any advantage. There was a provision that as soon as the production began either here or in an Empire country the duty should come back into operation. Insulin did not exist in 1921, and therefore it did not appear in the first list. It did not appear in any list published by the Board of Trade, because they apparently took the view that it was not a fine organic chemical.

There was a provision in the Act of 1921 for the determination of doubtful cases, modified by Section 10 of the Finance Act, 1926, whereby such cases were referred to a panel of scientific advisers. Ultimately, in the autumn of last year, on the application of certain British manufacturers, the question whether insulin was or was not legally within the definition of a fine organic chemical was referred to a panel. The opposition did not come from any British interest but from the representative of a foreign institution, the Nordish Insulin Laboratorum, or their London agent. It was not that there was any British organisation against the inquiry or against the proposal that insulin should be classed as a fine organic chemical and become liable to a duty of 33⅓ per cent. As it had not been treated as such, it was paying the ordinary duty of 10 per cent. under the Import Duties Act.

The committee came to the conclusion that, legally, insulin was a fine organic chemical and, accordingly, the Board of Trade automatically made an order classing it on 14th December, 1933, as a fine organic chemical. In that matter the Board of Trade was not taking a political decision. They had no option. They were merely carrying out a statutory duty. If their view was that the duty was undesirable I suggest that an announcement to that effect ought to have been made at that time. However, the duty came into operation. For some months before the duty came into operation a very vigorous newspaper campaign was conducted against the duty and denouncing the Government for contemplating it. I was one of those who took some part in an endeavour outside this House to attack the Government. Once or twice on the public platform and several times in the public Press I contributed my views on the subject. I thought that the Press agitation was a rather disgraceful one, because its object was to try to terrify sick people. I do not think that anyone who took part in that agitation has anything of which to be proud. They led the people to believe that if a duty of 33⅓ per cent. came into operation the price of insulin would be raised.

Insulin was first manufactured in this country in 1923, and the initial price per 100 units, which is the way in which it is sold, was 25s. The price fell with very great rapidity, and before last autumn, or up to about 18 months ago, it had fallen to something like 2s. 8d. per 100 units. Up to last autumn two British firms were selling at such a price that the consumer could go to a chemist's shop and buy insulin at 2s. per 100 units. Another British firm sold insulin at 1s. 8d., while the Danish insulin, made by the institution which I have mentioned, was sold at 1s. 5d. So far as sufferers were concerned, if they were getting hospital treatment they got insulin free, and the hospitals were paying 1s. per 100 units. Persons insured under the National Health Insurance Act were getting insulin as a benefit under the Act and it cost them nothing. Therefore a very large proportion of the actual sufferers from diabetes were not primarily affected by the price. It is interesting to note that the price had fallen very heavily.


Were the hospitals using British or foreign insulin?


I understand—I speak without full knowledge—that in the main the hospitals were buying British insulin and doing their best to support manufacture in this country, because they realised how important it was that there should be an adequate supply produced in this country. The rise in duty from 10 per cent. to 33⅓ per cent. took place on 14th December last. Having taken an active part in the controversy, I occasionally took the opportunity when I was in a chemist's shop to ask if anything had happened with regard to insulin, and I discovered that there was no rise in price, thus bearing out the contention that I had put forward. Insulin is not the only product covered by the Safeguarding of Industries Act. There are a very large number of products bought by the public to-day at a much cheaper rate than in pre-War days when we were dependent solely on German supplies. Therefore, there was some analogy to work upon. The price at which insulin has been selling in this country is much lower than the price in the United States of America, where it is as high as 4s. 9d. There was no evidence, therefore, some weeks after the duty came into operation, that any sufferer in this country had been prejudiced.

There came a time, I forget the exact date, but it was towards the end of January or some time in February, when the two British firms who were selling at 2s. announced a reduction to 1s. 10d., and the other British firms who were selling at 1s. 8d. announced a reduction to 1s. 5d. Therefore, following the imposition of the duty, after about two months, these British firms, after considering the situation and realising that they had a degree of security and protection which they had not enjoyed before, were in a position further to lower the price. The lowest British price quoted by one firm was brought down to the price at which the Danes had been selling prior to the duty. Therefore, the view that I had expressed had been verified and the contention of the newspapers had been falsified. On 12th February of this year, for the first time, the matter was raised in the House on the Motion for the Adjournment by the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson), who has always been an active Protectionist, but on this occasion was supporting what I might call the Free Trade side. The original decision of the Board of Trade, as I have said, was not a political decision but the carrying out of a statutory duty. When the matter was raised in Debate by my hon. and gallant Friend there was a good deal of inaccuracy in his speech. I do not know whether he is present; I should be sorry to criticise him in his absence. The response on behalf of the Government was made not by the Board of Trade, not by the Exchequer, but by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health who, in pre-crisis days was on the Free Trade side while I was on the Protectionist side. He delivered a most robust defence of the duty, and was criticised by some of his former colleagues for so doing. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) was one of his critics. May I quote what the Parliamentary Secretary said, because I agree with it? He said: 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1934; col. 1730, Vol. 285.] That was a strong statement. He was not sheltering himself behind a mere technicality. He was not saying that because this thing came into operation by a chance and because of the way in which the law had been prepared, he was going to repudiate it. Kb. He quite properly took up the view that even if this might have come into operation by chance, nevertheless it was a good thing, a justifiable thing and, speaking not as a private individual but as a Minister of the Crown responsible for the health of the people of this country, he defended the duty. That made it all the more surprising to me that when this Finance Bill was published, without any intimation, we suddenly discovered a Clause wiping out something which started on 14th December last, and was robustly defended by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health on 12th February. Yet without one word of warning, it is to be wiped out. That is not going to be of any good to sufferers from diabetes in this country.

The Danish institution, which at the moment is under-cutting every other producer in the world, is a rather unusual institution. It was created, apparently, by some act of the Danish Government, and is a semi-official institution. It does not trade with a view to making a profit in the general sense, and it has the supreme advantage that it pays no Income Tax. Apparently, it is staffed by people who are paid from other sources. This Danish institution, although not directly subsidised, appears to enjoy certain financial advantages which place it in a more favourable position than institutions in this country engaged in the production of insulin. In addition, insulin, although discovered by experiments on sheep, experiments dealing with the pancreas of the sheep, is to-day mainly made from the sweetbread of the pig, and on account of the large bacon industry in Denmark the Danes have at their disposal very large supplies of pig sweetbreads from which insulin is prepared. In this country we are hoping, and I think with some justification, to see a larger bacon production and, therefore, there will be available for our own people much larger supplies of the raw material from which insulin is prepared. The chances, therefore, are that circumstances in this country are going to be more favourable.

I am not hopeful of success in opposing this Clause. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to call to his aid all the hon. Members opposite and also hon. Members on the second bench below the Gangway, where the Government will have almost super-national support. But that does not alter the fact that a Clause if this kind ought not to go through without debate or without an adequate statement on behalf of the Government as to why they have suddenly changed their policy. I spoke briefly on 12th February, after the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health had spoken, and I found myself supporting the policy of the Government. That is not long ago. I am supporting the same policy now, but I find myself opposing the policy of the Government. I find it a little difficult to change my direction with such rapidity. This is what I am really concerned about. Let me assume that the Clause comes into operation and that the 33⅓ per cent. duty vanishes, as will also vanish the 10 per cent. duty, because insulin is placed on the Free List under the Import Duties Act. That will not debar the industry from making an application to the Import Duties Act. That will not debar the industry from making an application to the Import Duties Advisory Committee if they wish to do so in the future. Therefore, this matter may come before the House of Commons again. Personally, I hope they will be able to establish a case.

But let me assume that for political considerations—and we are dealing with political considerations—that the duty is not restored, and also that supplies from Denmark are cut off. The Safeguarding of Industries Act was passed on the regretable assumption that circumstances may conceivably arise in which we shall be involved in war. We hope they never will arise, but they might, and, therefore, what is going to be the position of the diabetic people in this country—100,000 of them—if the industry in this country has been destroyed and their supplies from abroad cut off? The spectacle of 100,000 people slowly dying from excess of sugar because the one thing to prevent it has been taken away from them IS a position which, I say, is too terrible to contemplate. But that is the position we must contemplate, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to devote their minds to it. What security are we going to give to these people if a war should cut off those remedies essential for their existence? It is an essential element in the national defence. It may be that they are afraid there is going to be profiteering. I know that the Danish institution have made a further cut, a propaganda cut, in order to enlist support for the Clause, but if for some reasons which cannot be overcome the cost of production is higher in this country than in Denmark, instead of risking the possibility of destroying the industry it is surely wiser to make some other provision. It is not a difficult matter to do. It is horrible to contemplate an industry in this country being destroyed and 100,000 diabetic people, a number which, I regret to say, is increasing as a result of the changing habits of civilised people, being placed in a position of extreme peril. It is because I hold these views that I take up a position of opposition to the Clause.

6.7 p.m.


I am not concerned at all with the technicalities of this matter, nor am I in any way convinced or moved by the last remarks of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). I can see no reason why the English industry should not develop without this protection, or why it should not produce insulin at the same price as the Danish institution. I took part in the Debate of 12th February, when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health replied for the Government. When I saw this Clause in the Finance Bill I was agreeably surprised. I am not at all concerned as to why the Government have changed their mind; I am grateful that they have done so. This is not a subject which can be treated purely as a commercial proposition. The reason I took part in the Debate on lath February was because I had received letters from doctors and from people suffering from this dreadful disease, and I took the line then which I take now, that anything which will deprive a sufferer at the cheapest possible price, of something which has proved itself to be probably the only real cure and remedy, I must oppose with all my power.


Will the hon. Member tell me whether any of his correspondents told him that they had had to pay more?


They did; but I am coming to that point in a moment. The hon. Member is always saying that the price has not risen. What price? That is the whole question. Some English manufacturers were producing insulin at 1s. 8d. and some at 2s. I am not suggesting that there has been an increase in the price of 1s. 8d. or 2s., but I do suggest that the sufferer from diabetes, when the duty was on, had to pay 3d. more; those are the words of the hon. Member himself. He said that the price of Danish insulin was 1s. 5d. and that the English price was 1s. 8d. and 2s., and he went on to say that because of the duty no one had had to pay an increase of the English price.


Nor of the Danish.


But the fact remains that the person who was purchasing Danish insulin at 1s. 5d. was thrown on to the English price of 1s. 8d. or 2s.


The Danish product continued to be imported and those who wished to buy it were able to buy it still at 1s. 5d. No price of insulin was raised by anybody.


The Danish people, in order to meet the duty, pulled down their price, but the purpose was to put it up to the English price. In that case, where is the protection to the English producer? The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He then said that the English price came down to 1s. 5d. and also told us that the hospitals of this country were purchasing insulin at 1s. per 100 units of British make. If those who make it in England can supply hospitals at 1s. per 100 units why cannot they provide the individual sufferer with it at the same price? The hon. Member for South Croydon told us that there were 100,000 persons in this country suffering from this disease, and that the number was increasing. It is perfectly fair to say, therefore, that there is a likelihood of there being an increased demand for insulin which should enable it to be produced at a cheaper price. The hon. Member also said that with a development of the bacon industry the raw material for insulin would be much more available. Therefore, I can see no grounds whatever for a retention of the duty.

I know that in several cases the foreign producer has pulled down his price in order to meet the duty that has been levied, and very often the English producer has pulled down his price in order to meet the competition. What has always puzzled me is why the price could not have been pulled down before. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that he has stuck to his position. I agree, he has; but I want to compliment the Government sincerely and honestly on this Clause. I know that the hon. Member is a sincere believer in Protection, but I would suggest that there is something far beyond a question of Protection in this matter of insulin, and that this Committee should try to give sufferers from this dread disease every opportunity of procuring the remedy at the cheapest possible rate. I am prepared to wait for the day when this country does go to war. I believe we shall find a means of meeting the demands of these sufferers should such a calamity befall us, and if the British industry sets about its business in a proper way, I can see no reason why they should not produce insulin at the same price as the Danish institution.

6.15 p.m.


Perhaps I have a right to say something on this question, because in 1920 I was sent to Montreal to represent the Trade Union Congress at a conference of the American Federation of Labour, and was taken ill on the voyage; and when I landed in Montreal I was sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital, and much to my surprise I was informed by the examining surgeon that I was a diabetic, suffering from sugar diabetes. Up to then I thought I had been suffering from other kinds of infirmities. I was in the hospital for seven weeks. I came home six stone lighter than when I went out to Canada, and the suit of clothes I had prepared fox the purpose of showing myself off in Canada—we all try to swank when we go abroad—would make two suits of clothes for me when I came back. My wife did not know me. She met me at the Liverpool landing stage. When I slapped her on the back and asked, "How are you, Kate?" she replied, "It is not you, Jack." I answered, "I hope it is." I was, of course, suffering from the first spasms of the disease. The doctors told me that the first thing I had to do was to get to London and to consult a specialist. I could not consult a specialist, because it takes £5 to open a specialist's mouth and about £10 to close it. Instead of doing that I consulted my union. It said: "We will see to you. Go up and see a specialist on this particular disease and we will do what we can to help you."

I went to see a doctor in Portland Place, and after examining everything he told me. "You will have to be very careful. You had better leave off this and leave off that, and live on this and live on that." I replied, "Doctor, I would sooner be dead than carry out your instructions." I broke every rule that he laid down for me. He gave me a long list of things that I ought to eat and ought not to eat, and what I ought to drink and ought not to drink, and I am still alive. Right opposite the hospital in Montreal where I had been were the two doctors who discovered the value of insulin. I ask hon. Members who oppose this Clause in the Bill, "Are you prepared to defend a system which would make it difficult for poor people to get a cure; do you want to compel the poor to pay a higher price for the insulin?" I have had this treatment, the injection, A patient has to go every day or twice or three times a week, to a doctor to get the injections. How can the ordinary worker pay a doctor twice or three times a week to have the insulin injected into his blood? Hon. Members have talked about buying insulin in bottles. The ordinary man might buy it in a bottle, but he would kill himself very likely before he had learned how to administer the stuff properly. It is not merely a question of buying the stuff, but the administration of it that is important.

Anything that stands in the way of sufferers getting the insulin or the treatment cheaply ought to be abolished. Consequently we are supporting the policy of the Government in this connection. We say that medicinal treatment, from wherever it comes, if it is good, should be welcomed. I do not care whether it is German medicine or any other kind of medicine. If it is good for the people, it ought to be allowed to come in free. I happen to be an illustration, though perhaps not a good one, of the result of treatment for the disease. The more sugar I have the better I like it, and I get it in various forms. I would sooner the with the medicine I like than with the medicine I do not like. I want to see everyone who wants this medicine able to get it. Diabetes to me has been a revelation. I never knew I was so healthy until I had it. I have lived 13 years longer than the doctor said I would live. They gave me six years to live and it is now nearly 14 years since I was first told that I was a victim of the disease. I am 14 years older and I think I am 14 years younger, and I am going to carry on.

6.23 p.m.


I should be very sorry to see the insulin trade in this country deprived of the protection which it has enjoyed during the last few months. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) has stated clearly the history of what has been happening, but there are one or two things from the medical point of view that I would like to bring forward. I do not know whether Members of the Committee are aware of it, but this country to-day produces a finer and purer insulin than any other country in the world. Our rivals are the Danes. It was our chemists here who generously taught the Danes how to manufacture insulin as we know it. Little did they think that the tables would be turned on them, as they will be turned if this protection is removed. If people say that insulin will be cheaper if the protection is removed, they are wrong. While protection has been operating the insulin has steadily become cheaper and cheaper.

We run a great risk to-day because Denmark is able to produce insulin more cheaply than we are, partly because of the subsidised nature of the manufacture, partly because of the ease with which the pancreas can be obtained, and partly because of its cheapness in Denmark. It has been suggested that if there were a very big pig production here we would perhaps be able to get the pancreas as cheaply as the Danes, but it takes a long time to cure a habit in the people, and as our people have long been in the habit of eating Danish bacon it will take a long time to turn to the home-produced article instead. While we are getting rid of that bad habit of eating Danish bacon we shall be getting into another bad habit, and that will be the habit of instilling Danish insulin into our people. Once we get the habit of using the Danish variety of insulin it will be extremely hard to get rid of the habit. In the hospital with which I have connection no insulin except British insulin is used. That is not entirely for patriotic reasons. It is not because the doctors insist on using British insulin, but "because they say it is the best. That is a very interesting fact. Other kinds have been tried, and of course the hospital authorities wish to use the cheapest insulin they can get as long as the doctors are satisfied that it is as good, but none is as good as the British.

Since the Finance Bill has been published there has been great activity amongst the Danish emissaries in this country. The danger we run is that it would pay Denmark to sell her insulin at a loss over a period if the Danes could succeed in closing down our chemical works here. In this country there are three firms which produce insulin. I am informed by the chemists here that insulin is sold to-day at 9½d. and that they cannot produce it at a less price. Since we had the benefit of this protection not only have we got a market here, but there has been an increase in our exports. British insulin is becoming world famous, but if we have to produce it at a loss and the industry is not subsidised, it is obvious that the manufacturers will have to shut down. There are two difficulties ahead. If the manufacturers have to shut down there will be, first, the difficulty of again training people to turn out this very complicated product. There will be, secondly, the great difficulty of changing bad habits, for once the hospitals of this country have got used to Danish insulin it will be very difficult to get them to change to the insulin produced in this country. We have been told about the working man having to pay for insulin. Is that true? Does not the workman who is insured get his insulin free through the panel system of the country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not all workers!"] Not all workers, but the majority. The case which has been brought up was the case of the man who was working.


The hon. Member must remember the very large numbers of unemployed workmen who, because they have been unemployed so long, do not get medical treatment.


They get treatment from the hospitals, I presume. It may seem inconsistent to put on a duty, then take it off and then put it on again, but there is sometimes virtue in a certain amount of inconsistency. In any case, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot see his way to allow this protection to remain, I hope he will appreciate the great part which the chemists of this country have played in the past, and will now encourage them to apply, before it is too late, to the Import Duties Advisory Committee to see that this trade, which is so essential to us, shall be preserved. I am fearful that if there is no protection there will be an enormous increase in the amount of Danish insulin used in this country. As I have said, it is not, in my opinion, as good as the British insulin. I also think, that if we can produce the best in the world at the same price as the foreign product English people would prefer to use the British article.

6.31 p.m.


I hope that in defence of this Clause, the Government will be able to present a better case than that which was given to the House by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), whose defence consisted of a repetition of unfounded and unjustified assertions. I deplore any tendency to introduce in this Debate questions of Free Trade or Protection as principles. I think the object of all Members is the same, namely, to secure to those who suffer from this disease the best and cheapest possible supply of this vital drug. The point on which we differ from all those who have spoken in favour of the Clause so far, and on which we seek enlightenment and explanation from the Government is that we do not believe that that object can be achieved by the removal of the duty. I do not wish to cover again the ground already so ably traversed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). He has given the Committee a history of this insulin trade and of insulin prices under the operation of the duty. The fact remains that, so far from the price having risen as was supposed, it has actually fallen, there has always been a supply of foreign insulin, at the same price, for those who choose to buy it and there is no reason whatever why any person in this country, under the operation of the duty, should have to pay one farthing more for insulin.

I wish in this connection to advert to one argument and one question submitted by the hon. Member for South Bradford. He said, and we agree that insulin was sold to the consumer at 1s. 5d., but we are told that hospitals were purchasing it at one shilling and the hon. Member asked why could it not be sold everywhere at the same price? The answer is that one price was the wholesale price and the other was the retail price and, as the hon. Member knows, between those two, there is always a great gulf fixed. The hon. Member also put forward this peculiar query. Why was it, he asked, that when there was a duty and when foreign manufacturers reduced their prices, the British manufacturers frequently followed suit? Why should they not, he asked, give the lead? This is the answer and herein, in our view, lies the virtue of the duty. They can only do it in so far as they have a guaranteed market. We contend that the value of a duty is that it gives manufacturers in this country a secured market which would encourage them to go on manufacturing the drug, and they could still sell it at a price, not higher than that of the foreign manufacturers and of a quality superior to that of the foreign manufactured article.


If the hon. Member's assertion is correct, that the English product can be sold at the same price as the foreign product and of a quality superior to the foreign product, why should the English manufacturer have any fear as to his market? I have always found in my business that if I could sell a thing as cheaply as my competitors and of a superior quality, there was never any question of making a sale.


The hon. Member has failed to follow the point of my argument. The British manufacturer, we contend, can only produce the article as cheaply as the foreigner if he has a guaranteed market secured to him by the duty, and once the guaranteed market is removed, his price has to go up because he is not certain of his turnover. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is our contention, and, in spite of the "noises off" indulged in by hon. Members opposite, I venture to suggest that that is the fact. One other point to which I would allude concerns the question of the desirability and, as we submit, the necessity of having a working insulin industry in this country. Both the hon. Member for South Bradford and my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon in their remarks, only contemplated a shortage of insulin in the case of war. I suggest that the thing goes much deeper than that, I hope, remote eventuality, and that it is not sound policy to have a commodity of this sort in the hands of a foreign monopoly. Suppose that the Danish producers by selling below cost price were able to capture the English market and make it their monopoly, they would be able to raise the price on the English consumers to their heart's content.

Further, it is undesirable that a commodity of this sort should in any circumstances be used as a bargaining weapon in negotiations between nations, and there is the possibility, if we allowed this commodity to become a foreign monopoly, that it might be so used. I have sufficient confidence in His Majesty's Government to hope that all these points have been taken into consideration by them, that they will be able to assure us that if this Clause is passed the British industry will not be endangered and that they will be able to give us some greater reason for that belief than the somewhat vague aspirations of the hon. Member for South Bradford. I hope very much that they will bear in mind the facts which have been mentioned in this Debate and that they will not, as a result of an ill-informed and not too scrupulous newspaper campaign, be led into leaving the sick—for whom the opponents of the Clause feel just as much as hon. Members opposite—at the mercy of foreign monopolies who might, I fear, be less scrupulous in their treatment of those in need of the drug than our own people.

6.40 p.m.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

It is evident from the speeches in this discussion that it is extremely difficult to separate this matter from the general question of Protection and Free Trade. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) that it is desirable to do so, although I am not certain that he was completely successful in his endeavour to carry out his own maxim. It is important, however, as this Clause has been debated, that I should make clear what its history has been. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who is always, I am glad to say, anxious to support the policy of the Government, has not on this occasion been quite certain of what that policy is, and it would be very awkward if in our endeavours to support the policy of the Government we were to support something which was not their policy at all, owing to a mistaken impression. If the history of this question be examined, it will be seen that the imposition of the 33⅓ per cent. duty upon imported insulin under the Safeguarding of Industries Act was a kind of accident. It was never intended by the Government at all. Insulin was not picked out by the Government as an article of such importance in war-time that it must be safeguarded.


It did not exist then.


It did not exist then, but it existed at the time when the list was published by the Board of Trade of articles which they regarded as coming within the designation of fine chemicals. What happened was that that list of articles comprised within the term "fine chemicals" was published and the Board of Trade did not include insulin. Their omission to do so was challenged by the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers. The Board of Trade took up the challenge. They opposed the inclusion of insulin in the list and, therefore, they opposed the imposition of the duty of 33⅓ per cent. upon imported insulin. Under the procedure which has been described, the matter was taken before a tribunal, and the tribunal decided that insulin must be included in the list of fine chemicals. But what was the purpose of the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers in taking this question of insulin to the tribunal? It was not that they were particularly interested in insulin itself. It was that they were anxious to establish what they considered to be an important principle to them, namely, that certain biological and glandular products should be defined as "fine chemicals." Having obtained the establishment of that principle, which they did by the decision of the tribunal, they were not particularly interested in the question of insulin which is not, from their point of view, of very great importance.

That being so, it will be seen that the imposition of the duty which is to be repealed by this Clause, was not, on the one hand, part of a deliberate policy of the Government to include insulin among the products which came under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, nor, on the other hand, was it the result of examination by the Import Duties Advisory Committee as to whether insulin was a product which ought to be protected in the interests of the manufacturers in this country. It can only, I think, be described as a sort of accident which arose out of the attempt by the British Association of Chemical Manufacturers to establish their principle. Having received the decision of the tribunal, the Board of Trade had no option in the matter. They were obliged at once to impose a duty of 33⅓ per cent., and automatically then insulin ceased to be liable to the original ad valorem duty of 10 per cent., which had been placed upon it before the safeguarding duty was imposed.

I do not want to suggest that this Clause is introduced into the Bill because of any improper behaviour on the part of the chemical manufacturers of this country. There is no suggestion in any quarter, I think, that they have actually exploited the situation or, indeed, that the consumer has not in fact had the benefit of successive reductions in price, in spite of the duty. That is true, and I think it is very much to the credit, if I may venture to say so, of the British manufacturers that not only have they continuously reduced the price of insulin, but that they have also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) said, succeeded in producing insulin of a quality which has established a special reputation, not only in this country, but in other countries as well, and which incidentally has enabled them to get a price for that specially pure article.

Why then do we repeal this duty? I must admit that I am personally responsible for the initiative in this matter. I have had representations made to me on the subject from the country, from various quarters, to the effect that diabetics felt that the price of insulin was higher than it otherwise would have been in consequence of this duty, which, as I have said, had been accidentally imposed upon it. I made inquiries when these representations were made to me, because I felt that the case of insulin and the case of the diabetics was quite different from the ordinary case of the person suffering from a disease for which there is a remedy and which can be cured and after cure requires no further supply of that remedy. As everybody knows, the case of diabetes is a case of a deficiency which has to be supplied, and supplied continuously throughout life, by this particular drug, which is the discovery of the celebrated doctor who has been honoured in the list published to-day.

I think one hon. Member said there were 100,000 of these sufferers. My information is that there are very considerably more than that, but it does not matter whether the number be 100,000, 200,000, or 300,000. At any rate, to these people insulin is a matter of life and death, and even if they thought, mistakenly if you like, that they were in a position where they had to pay more than they ought to pay, or more than it was necessary that they should pay, for this necessity to them by reason of a duty put on by the Government, I think they would have a just cause for complaint. As a matter of fact, since the announcement that the duty was to be repealed, there has been a further reduction in the price of insulin, and that leads directly to the benefit of the diabetics.

What then is the reason why we should keep the duty on? I have shown that it is not because we consider this is a matter of policy. The only reason that I can think of is the reason which I understand is adduced by those who have been criticising this Clause, namely, that once you take away the protection which is now given to the British manufacturer, he will lose his home market, he will thereupon gradually be driven out of the business, we shall be left at the mercy of the foreign manufacturer or importer, and then the price may go up, and the diabetics' last state may be worse than the first.


Hear, hear!


I appear to have correctly described the argument. Let us assume that that is true. The first effect is the reduction in the price, the next effect, according to the argument, is the gradual disappearance of the British manufacturer, and the third and last is the putting up of the price of the drug.


And the cessation of supplies during war.


I will not discuss war time just yet. I think the other is perhaps the more general argument. Observe what the effect of the repeal of the duty will be. It immediately frees the manufacturer and allows him to make application to the Import Duties Advisory Committee for the imposition of a new duty, not necessarily the present duty, but an ad valorem duty and an additional duty if the Import Duties Advisory Committee think that that is desirable. Then there will be an inquiry into the facts of the case, it will be investigated as to whether it really is the case that the interests of the diabetics themselves are threatened, and if the Import Duties Advisory Committee came to the conclusion that they were, I imagine that they would make a recommendation accordingly. Certainly I may say at once that the Government would not contemplate with equanimity a situation such as that which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend, and if the recommendation were made to them, supported by the evidence, that the process was actually taking place, I do not imagine that the Treasury would have any hesitation in making an Order which would put on the appropriate rate of duty.

I say this in conclusion, first of all, that the actual duty which is now in existence has not been put on in consequence either of an examination into the case or because it was a deliberate part of the policy of the Government, secondly, that other things being equal, I think one should try to remove from the minds of diabetics the fear that they are being made to pay more than they need do for what is an essential of life to them, and in the third place the position is now left, if the Clause is passed, so that it is always possible for the manufacturers to make an application to the Import Duties Advisory Committee, and the procedure will be gone through with which the Committee is already so familiar.

6.53 p.m.


On this side we wish to tender our appreciation of the Government's action in this matter, and we do so unreservedly. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) was, quite right in his anticipation that we should be congratulating the Minister on this Clause. We should have done so readily, without hearing the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we find no occasion to dissent from a single Word that he has said, and we are very anxious indeed that the Committee should wholeheartedly approve of the Clause. The hon. Member for South Croydon is too technical, as he has been to-night, and in taking this opportunity to review the history of this matter, he has given the Committee information no doubt, but he has removed himself and all those who agree with him away from the realities of this very urgent question. There are Members of this House who are themselves victims of diabetes, and who could say from their own experience what a great blessing this great discovery has been to them. We hold the view very definitely that the lowering of the price of insulin has conferred more benefits, medically, upon the masses of the people of this country than any other thing that has happened in recent years. The figures have been given. There are anything from 200,000 to 300,000 victims of this disease, rich and poor, all manner of men, all equal in suffering and all equal before the onslaught of this disease.

Particularly is this concession to be welcomed because it brings equality of opportunity for relief. The cheaper the price of insulin, the more widespread are its advantages and the greater the universal advantage which is derived from it. We welcome this concession, and we hope that it is an instalment of larger measures which are to follow, by which pain and suffering will be relieved as freely and as promptly as medical science permits. Circumstances, position, means should not stand in this matter. It is a question of humanity, not of the trade interests of which we have heard tonight. We deplore very much having heard to-night the consideration of trade interests in regard to this vital matter.


From whom have we heard of trade interests?


I have heard three speeches where trade interests have been stressed.




That is the construction that I put upon them. Other hon. Members can put their own construction upon them. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this was not a drug in the ordinary way, and certainly not an object of profit making. One hon. Gentleman said that this was more a food, a daily food necessity for the people of this country, and we regret very much to hear that 200,000 or 300,000 people who are victims of diabetes and who are in daily need of this necessity should be deprived of it because of any artificial interference with the cheapening tendencies which we welcome so much in these days. This Committee does not know what insulin costs. The hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt) said that it is the hospitals which provide insulin. If a hospital does provide it in some cases, it does not in all cases. I know a very large number of people who inject two or three times a day into their own blood-stream from 50 or 60 to 100 units a day, an enormous quantity.

The hon. Member for South Croydon, who does not want to listen to anything except his own voice, must remember—he himself gave figures and said that 100 units cost 1s. 8d. or 2s.—that to working people in this country who have to use 50, 60, and up to a daily dosage of 100 units, that is an expense of 1s. 6d. to 2s. a day in extreme cases, and there are very large numbers of working people who have to provide for an expense of 5s., 6s. and Vs. a week in this way. It is a matter of vital importance to these people. There are people who have written to me, whom I have not known, but whose acquaintance I have made because I asked questions in this House of the Minister of Health some months ago on this very important matter, and, having received that correspondence, I feel it my duty to stand up here for the most generous provision of insulin possible. I welcome this Clause with its very valuable concession. It is not a thing written in large figures, but it is a thing written large in terms of relief of pain and suffering. For that reason, we welcome the concession and thank the tight hon. Gentleman for it.

6.59 p.m.


Before we pass from this subject, I wish to protest most emphatically against the absolutely unfounded suggestion of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) that this matter is affected by trade interests. As far as I am concerned, I have no connection with that or any other trade. I may be liable to error, as the hon. Member opposite is, but my view is advanced from the same motives as his own, because I believe it is in the interests of the diabetics. I may be wrong, and I may be right, but I emphatically protest at any suggestion that anything other than the pure interests of the diabetics were underlying my intervention.

7.0 p.m.


I think the hon. Gentleman probably misunderstood the way in which my hon. Friend used the term "trade interest." The point is that the hon. Gentleman and his friends consider that a necessary product of this kind should not be profit-earning through a trade interest. We believe that articles as essential as insulin should be produced by the State, as apparently the Danes are producing it through some semi-State institution which does not run on a profit-earning basis, and which is, therefore, able to provide it at a cheaper rate. There is no need why, if people need it, they should not all have a cheap supply of it, but that cannot be done by trade interests; it can only be done under a proper system of Socialist distribution. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) is nodding his head at me. May I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what was the most magnificent Free Trade speech I have ever heard, showing that essential food commodities must not be taxed on coming into the country.


Does it not follow that anybody who does not agree with that theory of economics is to be accused of defending trade interests?


It is not a question of defending trade interests. It is a question of approaching, the problem from a point of view; that is, the policy of making a profit out of supply and demand.

7.3 p.m.


I think the hon. and learned Member was a little unwise to answer somebody else's question for him and then to proceed to explain the interpretation he put upon it. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) put on trade interests an ordinary interpretation and not the extraordinary one expounded by the hon. and learned Member. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not think that this is necessarily a closed matter. He has indicated that he will not resist a reimposition of the duty, a very important declaration. Obviously, the position is a changeable one. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said quite clearly that, if the Import Duties Advisory Committee, after taking all factors into account as they would, made a recommendation, the Treasury would not hesitate to make an Order. Reimposition of the duty is not ruled out. Whether it will come about depends on circumstances. That takes away from us all necessity of registering our protest by voting in the Lobby. I am not one who hesitates to support my views with my vote when necessary. It does seem to me, however, a clumsy way to do this. If the Government did not desire the report of the inquiry that has been made, if this interest had made an application under the Import Duties Act to which they were entitled, we could have avoided the report, putting the duty on, taking it off, and putting it on again.