HC Deb 22 June 1939 vol 348 cc2574-606

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

9.43 p.m.

Mr. Graham White

This transition from Clause 6 to Clause 7 is illustrative of the extraordinary vicissitudes that take place in the House of Commons in the course of Parliamentary discussion. We leave this edifying and entertaining subject, and now come to one which has aroused great interest in all sections of opinion. The subject-matter coming before us now is one of those which have aroused the greatest interest in connection with the Finance Bill. I do not propose to make any great claim upon the indulgence of the Committee because I spoke upon this subject during the Second Reading of the Bill, and at that time the House seemed to be in opposition to the proposals of the Clause.

This afternoon we have been inviting the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to weaken the revenue by giving way on some of the proposals which have been made. Now I come to the much more congenial task of asking the right hon. Gentleman to fortify the revenue by refraining from repealing the Medicines Stamp Duties, duties which would benefit nobody by their remission, but, on the contrary, seem likely to raise serious controversy. Since the Second Reading I have given further consideration to the subject-matter of the Clause, and the more I think of it the more inadequate seem to me the reasons for abolishing these duties at this time. I gather that that is a process of mind which has been shared by a very large number of Members of this Committee in all quarters of the House. The chief reason, if my memory serves me aright, why it was proposed to abolish these duties was that the Government were in serious difficulties with regard to the administration of the law. The enactments were described, I believe, as a jumble of legalistic anachronisms, and their distinguishing feature was their inconsistency and ambiguity.

One of the things which has excited my admiration in recent years in connection with the Finance Bill has been the resource and the ability of the Treasury in dealing with difficult situations. Particularly in their efforts to overtake the tax dodger, they have displayed a very high degree of skill and resource, and I cannot think it is beyond the capacity of the Treasury, especially under the leadership of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his great legal experience, to devise the necessary changes in the law which would be adequate to deal with the difficulties apprehended. In any case I would submit that it is not the duty of the Government to abandon revenue simply because they have reason to apprehend difficulties in administration. If the tax is a sound one and productive of revenue, it is their duty to alter the law in such a way as to get rid of the difficulties, and that is what I hope the Government will proceed to do.

The situation which will result from the abandonment of the duties is one which is giving rise to very considerable apprehension in many quarters. I should have hoped we were steadily moving in this country towards the adoption of a nation-wide medical service, but if we are to throw over these duties and allow the sale of remedies of one kind and another to go on without let or hindrance as to place, quantity, or description, that can only be an attack upon the national health service of the country. I noticed in the "Times" of 8th June a statement made by the chairman of one of the largest proprietary medicine businesses in the country to the effect that the proposed abandonment of these duties was one of the most important things that had happened in the country to the great medicine business, and he said it opened up an entirely new vista. I am inclined to agree, but the vista, so far as I am concerned, is anything but a pleasing one. What in fact does it mean? The health of the people of this country is, I am glad to believe, steadily improving in all directions, but if there is to be a great expenditure of money upon advertising nostrums, quacks, and remedies of one kind and another, or even beneficial remedies, it can only mean that that advertising and expenditure are being devoted to making healthy people consume more medicines or more remedies of one kind or another.

We had occasion to consider in this House, in the early part of the Session, a Measure which gave rise to considerable controversy, but which was, I think, in the main beneficial, and that was the Bill for organising treatment and efforts in connection with the dreadful disease of cancer, and the Minister of Health in that connection deplored the use of advertisements of quack remedies and nostrums of one kind and another. If these licence duties are done away with, the way is flung open for any slot machines or any nostrums or devices or remedies in any quantities that anybody wishes to sell. This is a matter which has aroused wide interest in every section of the House, and there are many Members who wish to speak upon it. I can only express the hope that on this occasion we shall invite the Chancellor to fortify the revenue instead of weakening it by acceding to the wishes of a majority of the Members.

9.51 p.m.

Sir Arnold Wilson

I do not think there can ever have been an occasion in this House within living memory when more than 200 Members have begged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to continue a tax and not to repeal it. I am one of more than 200 Members in all quarters of the House who put their names on the Order Paper to that effect. As my right hon. Friend intimated in his Budget speech, there is general agreement that the present duties are archaic and should go, and I may add that there is general agreement that they should be replaced by something better and more effective. The proposal to leave out the Clause will give the Government the opportunity during the next 12 months to reconsider the whole matter. It has been going for 100 odd years and can very well go over for another year and meanwhile they will be in a position to reconsider the whole thing in all its bearings, which are much wider than those merely of the revenue. Meanwhile the status quo, which the Commissioners of Customs and Excise have negligently allowed to remain, although they knew the difficulties into which they were getting, can well remain until we can reconsider the whole question.

The desire on the part of the House, signified by more than 200 Members, to defer repeal has a further significance. It is the expression of a conviction that the removal of the Medicine Stamp Duties will, unless others are substituted, facilitate the expansion of a trade which, to put it mildly, urgently needs control and restriction. I should like to mention that the Commissioners of Customs and Excise on 27th or 28th April, within two or three days of the Budget, issued a circular to the trade in which they intimated that the duty was to be repealed, in which they gave the full details—I have the circular before me, and I shall be glad to show it to any hon. Member— and in which they intimated that there would be a refund in certain circumstances of Stamp Duty and of stamps already in the possession of members of the trade.

Mr. Fleming

What was the date of that circular?

Sir A. Wilson

1 am told that it appeared in the pharmaceutical papers on 28th April, but the date is a blank. I think the Commissioners of Customs and Excise might have waited at least until the Finance Bill had been in print and had received a Second Reading. There was no Financial Resolution necessary, and I apprehend that this, particular procedure is not covered by what is known as the Bowles Act, the Provisional Levy of Duties Act of 1913, although it may possibly be so covered by the practice of the House, but that is incidental and by the way. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in announcing this decision on 25th April, was at pains to emphasise the archaic nature of these duties, which no one questions, and gave three reasons why alternative duties proposed by the Select Committee were unacceptable. The three reasons were (1) genuine medicines of real healing value would be taxed; (2) there would be difficulties in administration; and (3) he had received many objections to the proposals of the Select Committee. A month later, he gave two other reasons: The Select Committee's alternative scheme is not practicable; that the present duties are unworkable and we are challenged whether we are working them lawfully. I am advised that it would be impossible to say that they are being worked lawfully as a practical scheme." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th May, 1939; col. 2597, Vol. 347.] I propose to deal with each of these three points separately. With regard to the first, the taxation of genuine medicines of real healing value, we are all agreed that they would be taxed under the Select Committee's scheme and to a greater extent than at present for they are in many cases taxed at the present time. Whatever the original intention was in regard to the duty 130 years ago, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise do not in practice maintain any attempt to distinguish between the relative values of the various drugs. I can see no objection to taxing proprietary medicaments and preparations, whether medical or quasi-nutritive, whether aids to beauty or to health, to sleep or to relieve pain. Broadly speaking, taxation is necessary. The line will always be hard to draw, but it can be and should be drawn; it has not proved difficult to do so elsewhere. We shall be the only country in Europe and almost the only country in the world except the United States of America, certainly the only part of His Majesty's Dominions, where patent medicines and proprietary medicines are not taxed.

The Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health in his Annual Report for 1934 almost invited the taxation of medicines, even of the sort prescribed by doctors. On page 69 of his report he says: A considerable proportion of the total outlay on drugs prescribed by the medical profession, averaging 3s. per head, could be limited without detriment, indeed with advantage to the proper treatment of the people. A year later in his report he said: In some areas insured persons have acquired a habit of medicine drinking which the practitioners of those areas are reluctant to control. It has been stated by representative practitioners that a very large proportion of the present physicing of the population is wholly unnecessary and that if all doctors felt themselves free to order only such medicinal treatment as in their unfettered judgment they considered necessary, the total cost of prescribing would at once fall spectacularly. It is difficult to reconcile ourselves to the wasteful expenditure on drugs of large sums which otherwise would be available for more effective means of treatment. He did not, however, go as far as Oliver Wendell Holmes who told Harvard Medical School: If the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind, and all the worse for the sea. My nurse put it more succinctly: Remember, child, that doctors think More men have died from drugs than drink. We do not object to taxing medicines on a reasonable scale, whether of healing value or not. Better tax them than sugar and tea.

The second objection of my right hon. Friend was in regard to difficulties of administration—both of the existing taxes and of those proposed by the Select Committee. I will not differ from my right hon. Friend or from his Department on this matter, but the latter has in the last 2£ years made no attempt to devise an alternative scheme. Is it to go on record, that no scheme can be evolved by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for a reasonable tax on medical preparations? We are accustomed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White) said, to admire the Treasury's unequalled skill in drawing lines and making distinctions. Has the drug trade defeated them? I find it hard to believe.

Has my right hon. Friend discussed alternatives with the trade interests concerned? I am assured that there have been no consultations, officially or unofficially, with representative interests. Some of the largest druggists in the countries have stated that they were not consulted. The National Pharmaceutical Union and the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain were not consulted. If the Commissioners of Customs and Excise will bestir themselves to devise a tax they can do so. Difficulties of administration there must be but I cannot believe that the difficulty of devising a workable tax is insuperable. If there are difficulties of administration to-day, the blame lies with those who for the past 20 years have seen the revenue from this tax steadily decreasing owing to forms of avoidance. Fifteen years ago the tax was bringing in £1,360,000 and to-day £770,000. The blame for that lies on those who have allowed that to happen without in the meantime revising the law.

My right hon. Friend's third point is that he has in the past 2£ years received many objections to the Select Committee's proposals. He has not disclosed the nature of those objections, nor their authors, but I am assured that there is no responsible body in the drug trade who would not prefer a revised tax to repeal. Several trade organisation associations have made that clear. His fourth point is that the Select Committee scheme is impracticable. Again, I will not venture to differ from him, but I suggest it is for his Department, taking that view, to devise an alternative. He seems to think that the Members of the Select Committee, of which I had the honour to be one, feel aggrieved that their recommendations have been rejected and that their labours have come to naught. May I reassure him? We are well accustomed to Departmental Committees which, having sat for perhaps two years, produce an unanimous report and in due course see it pigeon holed. Inquiry into what has taken place during the last ten years in regard to the reports of the Departmental Committees, would show that more than half have led to nothing. We are quite inured to such experiences.

The Select Committee was not assisted to make alterative proposals by his Department, but the Commissioners of Customs and Excise did not suggest to the Committee that revision was impracticable. They sent their solicitor, who, I am sorry to say, has since died. He told us that our proposals were technically sound. More than that he could not say, and it was not really our business to go further than that. The Committee were not asked to consider whether the tax should be abolished. Their terms of reference were to say how it should be reformed. They were aware that a letter had been written by my right hon. Friend's predecessor to a member of the Committee saying that the Treasury could not contemplate abolition, on the grounds of revenue. If that was the case in 1935, surely it is still more the case to-day.

Lastly, my right hon. Friend says: "Not only are the present duties unworkable—they are being worked unlawfully and our action has been challenged. The firm which has thrown down this challenge is Messrs. Woolworth, whose managing director appeared before the Select Committee, to give evidence. He was very frank. He handed to the chairman of the committee the pleadings which he had put forward in the action. Their action against the Crown was abandoned when the committee was set up. The action "— I quote from the committee's proceedings— was discontinued as it was no longer worth while to indulge in difficult and prolonged litigation as to the true construction of what it is hoped will be amended and clarified as a result of the present investigations. What has happened since then we do not know, but it seems clear that this firm has got a claim for damages which the Law Officers of the Crown considered might be good. I have heard from other sources that its prospects were regarded as rather doubtful by other good lawyers, but the Law Officers of the Crown, from whom I should never venture to differ, felt that if it went to a jury, as it might, on a claim for damages, a verdict might be given against the Crown. If ever there was an example of the potential danger of these great monopolistic organisations, it is the fact that a single one of them can be paying so much duty on a single type of goods that it may, on a purely legal technicality, be in a position to put a pistol to the head of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The managing director said he wanted to sell more drugs, and he could sell far greater quantities in 2d. or 3d. packets than in 6d. packets, and the Stamp Duty prevented him selling in smaller quantities. He instanced aspirin; and he hoped to extend the drug trade very greatly. So it comes to this, that every child who is old enough to go to Woolworth's or some similar institution—I do not want to pillory Woolworth's as such—might be able to buy any drug provided it was not on the list of poisons. I accept the statement of the Chancellor, based no doubt on the opinion of the Law Officers, that taxes were being levied which could be successfully challenged in the courts, but many of us would have preferred to have seen the Government lose the action even if it involved a large refund. I doubt whether Woolworth's have ever paid in any one year more than 5 per cent. of the total taxes on drugs—it seems unlikely—but even if it were 10 per cent., and had the law been altered, the sum they might get from the jury would not have been large. I understand it was an action for damages and not for a refund of the duty, but perhaps I shall be corrected on that point. We should have preferred to have seen the Government introduce retrospective legislation, with which the Inland Revenue has made us painfully familiar. We do not like it in principle but, in practice, if a single firm which makes bigger profits and pays lower average wages to its employés than anyone in the country puts a pistol to the Chancellor's head, we should willingly come to his support.

I turn now to the reasons why proprietory medicaments in the broadest sense of the word should be taxed. There are two. In the first place they are a suitable subject for taxation, which will bring in anything from£3,000,000 to £5,000,000, or more if cosmetics were taxed. The other is that taxation will facilitate control. Control without taxation is impossible. My right hon. Friend says this is a matter for the Minister of Health and it is for him to bring in a Bill, but he quoted him as saying that he does not think the repeal of the Medicine Stamp Duty need have any adverse effect on the nation's health. I can only say that the Minister of Health's loyalty to the Chancellor has led him to a view which is inconsistent with anything that his own Department has said and contrary to the opinion of every medical man I know. It is not the view of Lord Dawson or Lord Horder, who have unburdened themselves very freely on the subject in another place. It is not the view of the chief medical officer of the Ministry of Health nor of the British Medical Association.

Taxation would have the effect of limiting the sales of drugs to some extent to pharmaceutical chemists by cutting out the 3d. pack, and the removal of the tax will create a fresh vested interest which it will be exceedingly difficult to ignore in future. Does anyone seriously believe that it will not have an adverse effect upon national health? I know of no responsible medical man or common-sense individual who does not view it with alarm. I gather from the intervention of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) on 25th May that he is inclined to regard drugs as ordinary commodities which have hitherto been a protected market for the pharmaceutical chemist. I agree that they have had a certain protection hitherto, but we 200 Members hold that they should have that protection. Pharmaceutical chemists are as necessary as doctors. They are an integral part of the National Health Insurance service. They are, by agreement with National Health Insurance committees, under contract to be available seven days a week in turn in various areas. The co-ops—in various areas. The co-ops—

Mr. Alexander

I do not want the hon. Gentleman's argument to be spoilt by the interruption, because we have 250 pharmaceutical departments with qualified chemists.

Sir A. Wilson

I make no reflection on them—they dispense drugs wholesale and retail besides making them. They have 250 qualified men who are available in case of emergency. They are a valuable element. It is not right in our view by abolishing this tax to put such men at a disadvantage. They ought to be pro- tected in some degree from competition by grocers, cheap-jack stores and hawkers.

The repeal of the tax will discourage the publication of formulae. This is a matter of real importance. There was sold in the United States three years ago an elixir which caused 93 deaths in three months. It was not on the list of poisons. It was made by a very reputable firm and placed on the market, and before sales could be stopped it had killed 93 people. Here again the chief medical officer of the Ministry of Health says in his 1937 Report: This regrettable occurrence well illustrates the dangers that may arise from the distribution of new drugs or new forms of known preparations without adequate experimental chemical tests. It also emphasises the absolute necessity in all such cases of full disclosure of formulae. In this instance, had the presence of certain chemicals been disclosed some at least of the physicians who prescribed the preparation would have refrained from doing so. He goes on to say that it is essential that there should be genuine disclosure because a bottle was recently marked with a single word of 40 letters. My right hon. Friend will doubtless say this is a matter for the Ministry of Health, but most of us have lost all hope that the Ministry of Health will promote a Bill dealing with proprietary medicines. Such a Bill was put forward in 1920 and it went through all its stages in another place. The Ministry of Health was then in the first flush of youth and was interested in health. It was virtually an agreed Bill and one of the greatest value. It passed through all its stages on 6th August, 1920, in another place, and then a hidden hand strangled it. We never heard of it again. At least 10 attempts have been made by private Members since then to get a Bill on that subject through Parliament. They have all failed, and now the Postmaster-General has taken a hand.

In the 5s. stamp booklets to be bought at Post Offices, you will find drugs being advertised which have been specifically and deliberately banned by name by the whole Press of Fleet Street as being too fraudulent for any Fleet Street newspaper—and they are not in all cases squeamish. There are other advertisements accepted by the Postmaster-General, which would not be accepted by any reputable paper in Fleet Street, although they have not actually been banned. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General will say that it is a matter for the Minister of Health. He ought to bring in a Bill to prevent his colleague from advertising medicaments which are notoriously dangerous, and may cause suffering, misery or death to His Majesty's subjects, in advertisements which until quite recently were circulated under the Royal Arms. We are grateful to him for removing the Royal Arms and using the words "G.P.O." We would sooner have the Royal Arms back and the advertisements out.

I beg of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at this matter, not from the point of view of a purely revenue matter, but as a matter affecting the health of the whole nation. It is impossible, as I see it, to differentiate between taxation in this matter and control. We beg of him to let the tax remain for another year, or until he can devise a new remedy, and then willingly we will give our wholehearted support to him in any reasonable taxation which will cover proprietary medicines as a whole. The health of the nation is at stake. It is impossible for the Minister of Health to do anything without the co-operation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Customs and Excise, and I must repeat, that many of us have the strongest objection to having a pistol put to our heads by a single firm. Wool-worths abandoned their action two and a-halt years ago, and they have now revived it. We do not know what the sum at stake is, but we would far sooner lose it than have this pistol put to our heads. We object to a single firm being in a position to dictate to this House what the taxation should be. If there have been what is known as gentlemen's agreements, I hope that they will be revised by the Gentlemen of this House.

10.18 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest

I feel that I must begin by adopting the unusual course of complimenting that Member of the party opposite who has just spoken on the admirable survey he has made of the whole situation. I intend to deal with this matter purely from the health point of view, because I believe, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said, that this is preeminently a health matter, but I would put it more strongly still. I would say that the repeal of this tax amounts to an attack upon the health of the people of this country. I do not propose to give an elaborate survey, as the hon. Member has covered the ground so fully, but I want to give some simple statements that have been made to me. Many hon. Members will have received a great deal of correspondence, some of it in the form of duplicated letters, which become monotonous if you read one or two of them, but I would like to read one paragraph from a written letter from a chemist in my constituency which really puts the matter in a very simple form indeed. He says: I feel that the repeal of this duty will be greatly to the disadvantage of the general public and, in addition, it will be a great injustice to all young pharmaceutical students who are spending much time studying the properties of drugs. That is really the essence of the whole thing. The repeal of this duty will be a grave injury to the health of the people. It will, of course, be of tremendous advantage to certain large interests. The indication by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was proposing to repeal this duty was received with a whoop of joy by certain circles in the City, and everyone who has studied the prospectuses of the patent medicines trade knows that there have been some big financial flotations, not to say financial inflations of a really disgraceful character in the patent medicine racket. It is these companies who now welcome the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with such wholehearted enthusiasm. Whether he is pleased with those who are supporting him I do not know. The work of the patent medicine vendor is based on an exploitation of fear, and is buttressed by the prostitution of medical terminology in the service of boosting quack remedies. That is a plain statement of the situation. There is a great amount of money in it. The Select Committee point out in their report, published two years ago, that at a moderate estimate the trade amounts to £20,000,000 a year. How is that trade built up? I quote from the Select Committee's report: It is built up by making the people, largely the poor and the less well educated, spend more money than they can afford on remedies of little or no efficiency with an accompanying indirect danger to health as a result of their not seeking medical and surgical treatment in time. … This trade is based on an appeal to fear. Why should the Chancellor desire to repeal this duty without substituting some method of control upon a trade which eminently needs, and ought to have, some control? If the Chancellor desires to contribute to human happiness, is he going to do it by making them consume more of these patent medicines? Would it not be much better to take off something more from the Entertainments Duty rather than give an opportunity to them to buy patent medicines which are of no use to them? If this duty is repealed what will be the effect? Let me read the moderate statement of a pharmaceutical organisation: Unless some further change in the law is made any person or persons can, from September next, make and supply medicines to the public through any vendor or automatic machine, without disclosing the composition of the medicines sold. This will most likely result in a great increase of so-called cures of unknown content for self-medication, which would constitute a grave public danger. The only method of sale they have not adopted is the method adopted by the ice-cream companies, who have young men on tricycles going round with a notice "Stop me and buy one." If this proposal passes the Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be immortallised in the future as the "Stop me and buy one Chancellor of the patent medicine industry," and I am sure it will give great satisfaction to him to realise that he has thrown open the whole gamut of fraudulent and spurious patent medicines to be purchased by any person. It is a perfectly scandalous proposal. It is a danger to the public, and a grave injustice to the pharmaceutical chemists. It will further depress their status. That status is already depressed by the very unfair competition of huge chain-store organisations, and it has long been the opinion of a good many medical people that the status of the trained chemist and druggist ought to be raised. In France, they are on a higher professional level than in this country, and to them is confided the whole business of making up and prescribing medicines. I think we should be in a very much better state in this country if that were done rather than that we should throw the gate wide open to every kind of adulterated and patent medicine of a secret kind and of unknown composition. I agree, as I think everybody who has looked into the matter will agree, that it is absolutely necessary that the whole question of the Licence Duty and the method of control of patent medicines should be carefully looked into and revised. Let me quote the final words of the report of the Select Committee, which stated that there was a need for a system of examination and registration of all advertised medicines and appliances. That applies not only to medicines, but to medicinal beverages, semi-nutritive foods, deaf-aids and a large number of other appliances of that character which at the present time are palmed off on to uneducated and ignorant poor people at grossly exaggerated values, and which do damage to them. That is a very serious injustice, and I cannot see any possible justification for the Chancellor bringing forward this proposal. Of course, it will be of benefit to the multiple companies of all kinds, but it will be a serious danger to the general public; especially the poorer and less educated members of the public. If the Chancellor persists in his desire to repeal this tax, there ought to be given from the Government Front Bench an unequivocal undertaking and understanding that they will bring forward legislation to control the whole of the patent medicine and patent instrument industry, for only in that way can they justify what otherwise will unloose a very serious danger against public health.

10.29 p.m.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

Hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate have used so many strong and powerful arguments against the Clause that it is. rather difficult to find anything new to say, and at this stage of the Debate I shall not attempt to do so. I have no doubt that the whole Committee will be very interested to hear the reply of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the arguments that have been adduced so ably, strongly and convincingly, and which I venture to suggest do represent a very strong feeling in the country. The retail chemists unquestionably have a very definite grievance under this provision of the Finance Bill. After all, the retail chemists are a statutory body. They have a course of training of many years. They have to submit to certain regulations, and to pay a registration fee, licence fees, and so on. The retail chemists are a definite protection to the-public. As the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) explained so clearly, they have been given a statutory position in the State, because they provide facilities. of a character which cannot be provided by any other class. I consider that the provisions of this Clause will have a very serious effect upon retail chemists. Not only the retail chemists, but all the drug trade and all the medical profession, and, as far as I am aware, a large body of public opinion in this country, are at the moment completely mystified as to why at a time when the State is in greater need of revenue than it has been in living memory, we should throw away a matter of £1,000,000 a year, while at the same time, according to the best recorded thought and opinion that I have been able to gather, jeopardising to a great extent, the public health of this country.

10.32 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill

For the first time, I think, since I have been a Member of the House, I find myself in hearty agreement with my colleague who has just addressed the House. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to think very carefully before insisting upon a Division on this Clause. Some time ago, when we were debating Clause 3, the right hon. Gentleman told the Committee that he had decided to withdraw the tax on films, because, as he explained, it had taken time for his experts to discover just what the repercussions of that proposal would be on the country. I ask him whether his experts have decided and have informed him what the repercussions of this Clause will be on the country. I feel that we all forgave the right hon. Gentleman in regard to Clause 3. He made such a pitiful plea to the Committee that we agreed it was, perhaps, impossible to anticipate what might happen when that tax was applied. I feel that the Chancellor in this case ought not to wait for the expert's decision to make up his mind. He ought to realise to-night, what the sense of the Committee is. This Committee is not a body of experts. It is a body of men and women of average ability, but they are people, I believe, who understand this question, and, in my opinion, the person of average ability is sometimes even better than the expert in these matters.

I am not exaggerating when I say that if the Chancellor allows Clause 7 to stand he will be aiding and abetting a gigantic swindle throughout the country. In fact, in my opinion he will be a party to defrauding the public. This may sound like exaggeration, but in my view the language is not adequate to the occasion. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman realises that if this tax is repealed an opportunity will be given to every bogus patent medicine vendor to flood the market with any preparation he likes, without any obligation to put the formula on the box. That is the crux of the situation. It is curious how gullible the public are. I have no doubt in my own mind that there are many Members who have bought a certain preparation, sold for 5s. a box, which guarantees to cure varicose veins and diseases of the blood, kidneys and heart. This preparation, which is to be found in any chemists's round about this House, actually contains .05 per cent. of sugar of milk and just a trace of calcium phosphate. Sugar of milk is 2s. a lb., and this particular preparation costs 2£d. to make up, and the gullible public, believing that their varicose veins will be cured, pay 5s. for it.

That is only one example of what happens to-day, when there is some strictness. Imagine when the whole market is flooded with these people, who are just waiting to deceive. I do not worry a bit about the varicose veins of anybody who pays 5s. a box to have them cured. What I am worried about are the sick and the poor, who need protection against these exploiters. I have heard it said that chemists want this because, after all, they gain as a result of the Medicine Duty. That is a complete fallacy. The chemists will gain much more if this duty is repealed, because they will have a hundred more quack preparations in their shops which they can sell to the poor and the sick over the counter. What is the attitude of the chemists? Chemists oppose the repeal for this reason, that they have spent many years in becoming qualified, and many of them feel that they are prostituting their science to these bogus patent medicine vendors. Not only that: I feel the patent medicine manufacturer uses the chemist as a part of this great confidence trick on the public; because the simple man or woman who goes to the counter to buy some mixture feels "It must be all right, because this nice looking man in the white coat behind the counter would not deceive me."

Then there is the question of the formulae, which is extraordinarily im- portant. The Chancellor of the Exchequer feels, perhaps, that the public are prevented from getting poisons because of certain regulations, but that is not so. A few months ago there were certain preparations on the market containing iodine which were being used by young girls for slimming purposes. It is all very well, perhaps, when the middle-age spread is approaching, to use these iodine preparations, but it is exceedingly dangerous for young girls to use iodine preparations. I would remind the Chancellor that there were two or three fatal accidents as a result of overdoses, and these preparations were withdrawn. Now we are opening the market again to those who put on to it these harmful drugs. I would remind the Chancellor of a horrible stuff called Yadil and of a paper called the "Daily Mail," which revealed the fact that Yadil was being used and was having a very bad effect on the health of the people because it contained formalin. Here, while there is an agitation to limit the operation of these manufacturers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aiding and abetting these people, who are, in my opinion, a danger to the public.

Another point is with regard to the cough mixtures which are sold to the public and which are entirely valueless. A manufacturer knows that if, as the result of giving an overdose of his cough mixture to a child, a fatal accident occurred, the sale of that particular preparation would cease forthwith, and it is a fact that there are on the market at the moment cough mixture preparations which are so useless that a baby a year old could swallow the whole bottle without any ill-effect. People ask, How is it done? Why is it that these preparations have such a colossal sale. As regards prices, it will have been noticed that there are many preparations which appear to have a standard price, and, in the case of many of them, the standard price is 1s. 3d. That is made up somewhat as follows. The preparation itself and the packing generally costs about I£d. The distribution costs five-eighths of a penny, show cards about 1d., the wholesaler gets 2d. and the retailer 3d. That leaves about 5d. or 6d., which is spent on advertising. In other words, these colossal sums of money are used simply to deceive the public.

If people believe the advertisements which we see on our hoardings and in our newspapers, it shows that there is something sadly lacking in our educational system. But they do believe them. They believe that certain beer is good for you; they believe that, if you drink a certain something at night, you will be able to make your speech the next day. They believe all these curious slogans. These things are not sold because of their intrinsic worth, but because these people whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now going to aid and abet employ the finest advertisement experts and psychologists in order, in my opinion, to mislead the public. Therefore I ask the Chancellor to protect those people who are in need of protection, and who will be exploited if he allows this Clause to go through.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Alexander

This has been quite a long Debate, and the Chancellor is faced with a difficult position in not having had, so far, a single Member of any party in the House speaking in support of this action on his Budget statement. I think it would be wrong for anyone who appeared, as I did, before the Select Committee as a witness, and gave evidence in accord with the Chancellor's decision, not to say so in this Chamber when the matter is being considered. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who has spoken for the Amendment, was also a member of the Select Committee, and I hope that hon. Members, in deciding how they will vote on this matter if it goes to a Division—I do not know what the Chancellor's attitude is going to be—will consider, not merely the parts of the report of the Select Committee which he put before them, but the whole of that report.

Certainly, I have never had any interest in serving Messrs. Woolworth's. I represent an organisation of 8,500,000 people mainly of the working class, and we have no room for support of a small limited company with more or less of a monopoly existence. We have a pretty wide experience of these sales of patent medicines. We are aware that there is a certain amount of misleading advertising of these medicines. We have always been against the wide advertisement of worthless remedies. We are prepared to say that in our long experience in two classes of business—with ordinary stores which have a licence to sell patent medicines over the counter, and with proper pharmaceutical establishments with qualified assistants in charge—the great danger is that to hand the medicine over with a Government stamp will give it an imprimatur in the eyes of the uninformed.

Sir A. Wilson

Is it not a fact that no guarantee is written on the stamp?

Mr. Alexander

I know that that is perfectly true, but no doubt the same thing happens as with many a workman who signs a receipt for workmen's compensation and does not know what he is signing. I can only speak from the testimony that we have had from those who have been experienced in the business for a long time. It is from that point of view that I put this case. [Interruption.] I hope the Committee are prepared to listen. After all, some of us who do not agree with the point of view of those who spoke against this remission have listened to them for a long time, and nobody has spoken in support of the remission. I put the case to the Select Committee that the range of duties was unnecessarily high, and ought to be reduced or abolished. We who appeared as witnesses were never informed of what the hon. Member has said, that there was never any question of the Select Committee being allowed to abolish or revise the duty; but we said that we were in favour of abolition or revision. We pointed out that the duty on many remedies that people were entitled to have was as high as 25 per cent. Who can justify that? What check is it on a remedy which is worthless? None at all, because if people can continue to have those remedies on sale without giving any formula, the duty stamp, so far from stopping the sale, will lead many people to buy these things.

I would say to the hon. Member that, amongst other reasons—it is not the whole reason—for the reduction in the quantities sold, one is that working-class organisations like our own have established pharmacies very widely, under qualified control. Because large numbers of those remedies no longer have to bear a stamp, much of the duty that used to be paid is no longer paid. From the moment that you are prepared to put on the label what is the formula of your content you no longer have to pay the Stamp Duty.

I think the real remedy for the position is not to reimpose the duty which the Chancellor wants to repeal because it has no effect at all on the question of health. What ought to be done is what I myself recommended to the Select Committee, that where the formula of secret remedies is not disclosed to an independent and qualified body that particular commodity should be banned. If you want really to have control of patent medicines in the interest of the health of the people such commodities whether dispensed by a pharmacist or not should be banned altogether.

Mr. Holdsworth

Why not disclose it to the purchaser?

Mr. Alexander

So far as we are concerned —

Hon. Members: Who is "we"?

Mr. Alexander

So far as we are concerned —

Hon. Members

Who is "we"?

Mr. Alexander:

I will wait until you have finished altogether. So far as we are concerned —

Hon. Members

Who is "we"?

Mr. Alexander

The witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee with me on behalf of the co-operative interests.

Hon. Members


Mr. Holdsworth

I asked a question, why the formula should not be given on the bottle to the purchaser and not merely to a professional society?

Mr. Alexander

I am entirely in favour of that. In respect of all the preparations of the organisation I have mentioned we print the formula on the bottle and from that point of view there is no need to pay a duty on those commodities. But there is a Stamp Duty which is very often charged on common preparations. From the point of view of health I emphasise that the proper course is for the Minister to tackle this question and set up an independent body and to ban any article which does not come within their approval. I want to make this clear. There has been a very widespread agitation with regard to this matter and it has clearly been engineered by the professional associations concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If I may use the personal pronoun in this case may I say that I have had so often to appear in regard to pharmaceutical questions on Home Office and other deputations and committees where the professional persons are concerned that I have got to know them and their organisations. I have seen the steps taken to bring this matter before the House of Commons. I have, of course, copies of letters sent to various Members of Parliament but I have also a copy of a document which has not been sent to Members of Parliament but has been circulated to chemists telling them of the steps to take to get the matter before their Members of Parliament.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

What do "we" say to that? [Laughter.]

Mr. Alexander

I do not begrudge hon. Members their little hilarity at this time of night, but if they wait a moment they will see what my argument is. At the moment it has not come to the notice of Members of Parliament that in the document to which I have referred was the instruction that they were on no account to make the document public or to bring it to the notice of their Members of Parliament because they had to remember that the interests of the Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmaceutical Union in the main was not that which would appeal most to Members of Parliament. What they had to concentrate most upon in coming to the Members of Parliament was the question of public health.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

An Hon. Member

Is that a crime? Is anything wrong with that?

Mr. Alexander

From the point of view of the pharmacists nothing wrong at all. I only wanted just to make clear the line on which that body have conducted their campaign. I want also to say that there is a very strong movement in this direction because the pharmacists themselves want to retain the duty. The lesson that we learn from the speech of the hon. Member for Hitchin is that they want to retain the duty because it brings an immediate protection to the particular profession. [An Hon. Member: "Why?"] I thank the hon. Member for that question.

Mr. Loftus

A skilled profession such as the medical profession has its protection; why should not a skilled profession like that of the chemists also have protection?

Mr. Alexander

I am quite aware that the medical profession have protection and I am also quite well aware of how well they do out of the public. There is this further point with regard to the pharmacists. Let me quote a paragraph from the report of a Select Committee which has not been used at all in this Debate. These are the words: While the original intention of the Act of 1783 was to tax the ' quack ' and to exempt from taxation those ' bred to the profession of physician or apothecary ' your Committee are unable to agree that this original exemption is good ground to-day for giving the modern chemist or registered pharmacist a very valuable preference in the sale of preparations which claim the ' known, admitted and approved remedy ' exemption, What the pharmacists want on this occasion is to have the Chancellor of the Exchequer turned back from his course, to get the immediate fiscal protection. I am convinced that they would not be too concerned about the other aspect of the matter if they could get the fiscal imposition of the duty maintained. The real remedy in the interests of public health is nothing of the kind. What you want to do is to get the prevention of sale altogether of the quack remedy which has not a proper formula and which is liable to be harmful. As far as I am concerned, and I speak for myself on this matter — [HON. Members: "Not for ' we '?"] I do not suppose it is the first time that this has been said, but certainly there are not going to be any Whips on to-night. Members of the party on this side will discuss this matter and vote as they like. I should not be doing my duty to my own party if I did not say so when I am speaking. So far as I am concerned to-night, speaking for myself, I should welcome, not in the interests of a monopoly, but in the interests of the great mass of the consumers, a removal of taxation on properly accredited and approved remedies and patent foods, but I would also welcome to-morrow, if the Government would at the same time give it, a pledge to the House, the kind of pledge which the hon. Member for Hitchin was entitled to ask on the history of the industry, the kind of pledge for which we have been waiting ever since the report of the Select Committee of 1914 and for which we have been renewing our demand ever since the report of the Committee of 1937, and that is that the real health of the people should be safeguarded, not by putting on another tax, but by controlling to their good the quality and the healthfulness of the commodities which are purveyed.

11.2 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

This has been an exciting evening, and much that has been said, all of it in very good temper, puts me in the position, which I find very unusual, that I should have desired in the Finance Bill to lose a little revenue and that quite a large number of hon. Members obviously wish to present me with the revenue which I was prepared to lose. I hope I may have universal support for this proposition, that it is not very likely at this time of day that I want to lose revenue, and I should think everybody must recognise that when this proposal was put in the Finance Bill it was put there because, at any rate in my view, there were very strong reasons for putting it there. I must be allowed, late as the hour is, to state to the Committee what those reasons were. I shall not make any attack on anybody, I shall not describe anything as scandalous, I shall not accuse anyone of trying to support any particular interest; I shall simply try to tell the Committee what the situation was which I found and with which I had to try to deal in the best way I could.

The position first of all is this: These Medicine Stamp Duties, I think we might all agree, are in fact one of the curiosities of the Statute Book. They are in fact, I am bold to say, of such a character that nobody, not even my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), with his great mastery of the subject, could possibly tell the Committee, without constant reference to a book, what they are. They have been described by a learned judge, one who was very skilled in these matters of taxation, as "a mass of confused and obsolete verbiage." They are 130 years old. They were carried at a time when ideas about medicine and cures were very, very different from what they are to-day, and the attempt to maintain them, beyond all question, involves all sorts of ridiculous distinctions. I will not go into them at any length, though I have tried to re-read most of the Sections, but consider the effect of legislation which provides that there is to be a duty paid if the remedy refers to an ailment of an organ of the body, but there is to be no duty paid if the remedy, the same remedy, refers only to the organ of the body and does not mention the ailment. If you offer kidney pills, there is no duty for anybody, but if you call them "Backache kidney pills," you have to pay tax.

I could give endless examples of the absurdity of the present law. I will give one further example. Numerous drugs— I am not using the word with medical precision—can be sold under fancy names, recommended for the relief of human ailments, and they will escape any tax, because they fall within a definition, more than 100 years old, of a single drug. This law is riddled with absurdities from one end to the other. When the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) spoke, I could not help feeling that a large part of her speech which called attention to these absurdities and disadvantages really went to show that the present law under which all these things have happened is obviously a law which nobody in his senses could justify.

The Select Committee, presided over by my hon. Friend, did work for which I have said we are very grateful. They did a tremendous lot of detailed, hard work which has been a mine of information to me. The first result of their reflections was this: Your Committee reached the following conclusion, that the existing Stamp Acts, passed over 100 years ago, are out of date, largely obsolete and quite inappropriate to modern requirements. Then they went on to make a recommendation for a new duty. I think the Committee will agree that I am justified in laying emphasis on the fact that the first conclusion of this Select Committee was that the existing Stamp Acts were obsolete and quite inappropriate, and when they came to their recommendations, the first was, that the Acts of 1802, 1804, 1812, and Section 2 of the Finance Act, 1927, and the other existing legislation on the subject of Medical Stamp Duty should be repealed. They went on to propose other duties.

I think I have satisfied the House and any reasonable person and therefore I must have satisfied the Committee that so far as the existing bungle of ancient statutes on this subject are concerned they are little more than a lot of incomprehensible irrelevancies.

Dr. Guest

Is it not a fact that the Select Committee recommended other measures of control beyond new taxation, in the last paragraph of their report?

Sir J. Simon

I will refer to that last paragraph in a moment. I will tell the Committee quite plainly the first recommendation to which I am calling attention. In those circumstances it cannot be very surprising that the Department over which I preside has been greatly concerned about these duties. There was a second reason for our concern, that whereas originally they produced a much larger sum of money than to-day, various methods have been evolved in the course of time by which in many cases the duty has been evaded, for reasons which were not really good reasons but which were within this ancient legislation. It is true that the administration by the authorities of this tax is challenged, and it is a very serious thing for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow a challenge to go against a tax which his officers are collecting, and all the more so when the advice I am given is that my position in the matter is exceedingly doubtful. The truth is that it is impossible to apply the Acts as they should be applied. When these ancient statutes were passed a chemist was required to be a person who had been apprenticed by apprenticeship deed. Chemists to-day are not apprenticed by deed but pass examinations.

There are all sorts of difficulties in the way of this legislation. I therefore turned to the Committee's Report in the hope that I should find in it an alternative solution, which I should be very glad to embrace. I do not agree with my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment when he proclaimed frankly his own view that medicines in general should be taxed. At this time of day I think that is a very astonishing proposition. When one thinks how absolutely essential certain remedies are, it is going rather far to say that they should be taxed. I find myself in close agreement with the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough. I can well understand that there are questions of public health and public control involved here, but I do not agree that it is a sound view, and I do not think the House should stand for it, that medicines are a good subject out of which to raise taxation.

Sir Francis Fremantle

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the medical profession, does he say that medicines that refuse to declare their contents are proper things to avoid taxation?

Sir J. Simon

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman cannot have been following my speech. The hon. Member for Hitchin said very frankly that his view was that medicines generally were a suitable subject for taxation and I say 1 do not agree with him. I turned to this report to find out if I could get, as I hoped to get, the necessary alternative. I hope that my hon. Friend who put a question to me, does not think that I am saying anything unduly critical when I say that I was greatly disappointed not to find it. What I found in this document was that their view was that there should be imposed a duty on a very wide range of medicines and remedies, practically all medicines and remedies, except those made up from the prescription of the doctor. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!] If that is the view of the Committee as a whole, and it is the right: view, it certainly does not agree with the view that I am disposed to form. I cannot think that it is right to say that on practically the whole range of medicines you can put on such a duty—my hon. Friend says you would get £4,000,000 or £5,000,000—except where there is a prescription written by a doctor. That was the nature of the proposal that was made. I hold the view, and I think the Committee as a whole will agree with me, that really that was not a good alternative. I did not exclude the thing immediately on that account. I did my best, with such advice as I could get, to see if I could find a modification that would be tolerable, and I have to admit that I failed.

What was the nature of the Select Committee's proposal? They took the opinions of a large number of people, including witnesses speaking for the British Medical Association who strongly took the view that the existing taxes were not justified, and asserted that, if one wanted to try and discourage quack remedies, the right way to do it was not by taxation. But having taken evidence, the Select Committee proposed, as I have said, a new scheme of duties. And please observe these points. The Select Committee's proposals had this result. First of all, under their proposals there would have been no preference to chemists at all. The duties would have been applied just the same whether the bottle or the box or whatever it comprised was sold by a chemist or whether it was sold by anybody else. Any idea. —my hon. Friend, as Chairman of this committee, was the champion —of applying an exemption from duty in the case of chemists in connection with the sale of these articles is quite unfounded. I have the actual words of the report: All dutiable remedies should be sold on equal terms by chemists and non-chemists.

Sir A. Wilson

In these circumstances, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why Messrs. Woolworth, who had abandoned their action 2£ years ago then revived it and announced their intention of pressing it, in view of the fact that the Select Committee's report, which they were awaiting, and in consideration of which they abandoned their action, had not in fact differentiated against them?

Sir J. Simon

I naturally cannot explain anything of the sort, but I can read what the Committee recommended. That is the point. On page 9 of my hon. Friend's Select Committee's report are these words: All dutiable remedies should be sold on equal terms by chemists and non-chemists. When I turn to their conclusions, they say: It is undesirable the same product should be sold by different vendors, stamped and unstamped. There was to be equality for everybody; there was to be no difference between chemists and anybody else. The next thing I noticed in the report was that there was no recommendation whatever requiring a disclosure of the formula. It may be that to some people these formulae have a very important and controlling effect. I must say that they are printed in such small type and such long words are used that I am not very much wiser. But there is no suggestion in the Committee's report that there should be any disclosure of the formula.

Mr. Lathan

Was not that due to the fact that it was outside their terms of reference?

Sir J. Simon

I find that very surprising. The Committee, I have no doubt, kept within their terms of reference, but they indicated what they thought should be the principle of a new duty.

Mr. Lathan

They were constantly restricted by the terms of reference.

Sir J. Simon

I will gladly accept the explanation of the hon. Member.

Mr. Alexander

When we endeavoured to offer evidence before the Select Committee on the formula and control of the formula we were never ruled out.

Sir J. Simon

I find it hard to believe that. The Select Committee were authorised to recommend a new duty, together with all its conditions and terms, but by some mysterious circumstances they were told never to mention the word "formula." Finally we were in this difficulty in examining the report, that a whole range of things would have been brought under the duty, in fact, anything except a doctor's prescription. According to the last words in their report, it would appear that they contemplated the possibility of not only taxing medicines, but all sorts and kinds of foods which might be sold as medicines. For example, they say: Your committee would urge consideration of the propriety of taxing foods and certain appliances (such as deaf aids), beverages (alcoholic and otherwise) and other preparations widely advertised as possessing properties beneficial for health. Is it really the general view of the Committee that I should have adopted that alternative? Those were the considerations which came before me. Naturally I did not neglect, nobody would in the circumstances, the public health aspect of the matter. The Ministry of Health were asked whether in their view the repeal of the Medicine Stamp Duties was calculated to have an adverse effect on the health of the nation. The Ministry of Health said, no, they did not think that the repeal of the Medicine Stamp Duties should have an adverse effect on the health of the nation, and they went on to say that the question whether any further control should be imposed either on the sale or on the advertisement of proprietary medicines was another matter and one which was engaging their attention.

Sir A. Wilson

It has, for 20 years.

Sir J. Simon

That is only one-seventh of the time that these absurd Medicine Stamp Duties have been on the Statute Book. I quite recognise what the hon. Lady said about the sense of the Committee. I am appealing to the sense of the Committee when I ask it to observe what is the situation, therefore, in which the authorities are placed. On the one hand, this is not the time for me to lose any taxes that I can get, and on the other hand, I have, in the case of this duty, overwhelming evidence that the amount which it produces is out of pro portion to the trouble it causes. It does not, in fact, protect the public health at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes it does."] I am only expressing my humble views —

Dr. Guest

Against all the medical and pharmaceutical profession.

Sir J. Simon

I do not think I can be accused of that, since I am relying upon the evidence given by a spokesman of the British Medical Association, Dr. Bone, who, before the Committee, stated that he did not consider that the interests of health were to be served by putting taxes on things, but by regulations.

Dr. Summerskill

I do not want the Chancellor to mislead the Committee in that way. When a doctor makes a statement of that sort, it does not mean that he has circularised the profession and asked their views in any way. He is not speaking for the whole profession by any means. They are his own views.

Sir J. Simon

I could not help feeling, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman who interrupted just now and said that I was making an assertion which was contrary to the views of the medical profession, possibly had not the means of knowing that. I am asking the Committee to observe what is the situation. I am asking the Committee to help me. It is plainly not right that we should simply allow this Debate to finish by my saying that these things had better go on indefinitely. There is a case against them, a very serious one indeed, supported by a Select Committee. I have not myself found it possible to adopt the recommendations made by the Select Committee as an alternative. I hope I have shown those who took so much trouble about it that there are really strong reasons for thinking that the remedy cannot be quite along those lines. At the same time, the sense of the Committee evidently is that they would like, if it was at all possible, to get some new mode of treatment, com- bined with the repeal of the duties. I have no doubt that is the feeling of a very large part of the Committee. I do not myself feel at all confident that that can be done.

I am perfectly willing to take up with any other Department concerned a further consideration as to whether it can be done, and I think that, in the circumstances, having shown the Committee the seriousness of the case and asked that these duties should not be regarded as things that can be justified and go on as before, I shall be acting in the way which the Committee as a whole would desire, if I say that I am willing to maintain these present duties for another year. But we must see whether it is possible to examine the position, both as regards the possibility of this or any other tax and also as regards the aspect of public health. If that is the view which is taken by the Committee, I am prepared to accept it. I believe that in taking the action which I suggest, I shall be doing what the hon. Lady opposite suggested, and consulting the sense of the Committee.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

I should have voted against the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal if there had been a Division; but I wish to call attention to the fact that His Majesty's Government are becoming extraordinarily weak in the art of government. Here we have a Finance Bill before the House of Commons, a Measure upon which Government's usually stand or fall. and to-day we have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this Government, with their extraordinary majority, having to collapse twice on two important proposals. [Interruption. ]

The Chairman

I must ask hon. Members to allow the right hon. Gentleman to proceed.

Mr. Morrison

I cannot remember, on the spur of the moment, any precedent of a Chancellor of the Exchequer collapsing twice in one day on important Budget proposals. I suggest that it is an indication that the Chancellor put these proposals into his Budget without proper thought, without proper investigation, without proper consideration. I suggest that it is an indication that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is utterly unfit for the high office he holds. Moreover, it is an indication that the Government are not particularly fitted for the art of government. They themselves are humiliated by this double surrender in one day. I am pleased, personally, at the final decision which the Chancellor has reached, but I do say that he only reached that decision because he knew that if he went to a Division the Government would probably be defeated. There would have been a great risk of a Government defeat and Governments cannot be defeated on Finance Bills without resigning. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman gave way. But I wish to place on record that this Government, with its vast majority, this Government whose Members go about the country with an assumption of political and mental superiority over everybody else is clearly a Government which is not entitled to think much of itself. It is a Government which is incompetent to govern and it has a Chancellor of the Exchequer who does not know how to handle the finances of the nation.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. White

As the Mover of the Amendment, I should like to express our satisfaction that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, as he said, yielded to the views and the common sense of the House and adopted the course which he has announced. This matter was raised by us and by others at the very first opportunity and we have followed it all through its stages, and I would express the hope that during the coming 12 months a satisfactory method may be found of giving effect to the wishes of the House.

11.36 p.m.

Sir Stanley Reed

May I ask the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) whether he wishes it to go forth from this House and from his party, the democratic party, that there is something humiliating to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's accepting the almost unanimous opinion of the House of Commons on a matter on which we all feel so strongly?

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"

put, and agreed to. — [Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.