The Sketch: Hellfire sermon on tobacco leaves House in difficulty

SOME ADDICTIONS last longer than others, it seems. Yesterday's session in Parliament was dominated by the Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson, in a hellfire sermon about the demon weed.

But it began with a tax history lesson in which Willie Ross, the Ulster Unionist Party MP for Londonderry East, pointed out, during a discussion of hypothecation, that income tax had originally been hypothecated too, after it was introduced in the 1890s for the express purpose of building battleships.

Tory backbenchers roared approvingly. It may have been, of course, that they were applauding this pertinent footnote - a fair warning that ring- fenced taxes are rarely safe for long from those ravening wolves in the Treasury. But it sounded more like the nostalgic groan of a former 40- a-day man when someone describes the tarry delights of an unfiltered Capstan. Battleships! God, weren't they marvellous! Gave them up long ago, you know, though it took a while. Had to wean myself on to light cruisers first (barely like having a battleship at all, to be honest) and then kicked the habit altogether.

Patricia Hewitt, the Labour MP for Leicester West, interrupted their happy memories of the days when you could buy 10 dreadnoughts and still have change out of 2m guineas, to venture a correction. She had always been under the impression that income tax had been introduced to pay for the Napoleonic wars.

Tory members faltered slightly. Should they be against Bonaparte or for him? Perhaps he counted as a proto-Pinochet, a military statesman whose detention counted as an unconscionable act of prejudice against strong leadership. On the other hand, hadn't he been a rather dogmatic advocate of European union, tax harmonisation and all?

The House staggered back to the present day, or at least that erratic simulation of it offered by questions to the Chancellor. Target of the day for the Opposition was the Paymaster-General, Geoffrey Robinson.

It looks as if Mr Robinson has already lost some of his civil servants; where other ministers come to the dispatch box with a neatly arranged ring binder, replies and witticisms colour-coded for instant reference, the Paymaster-General has only an untidy sheaf of crumpled papers. Perhaps his political troubles arise out of nothing more blameworthy than simple muddle. He didn't mean to sell that company to Mr Maxwell at all, just signed the wrong bit of paper by mistake.

Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, described Mr Robinson as a "highly effective minister" and declared that he looked forward to working with him "for many months to come". Tory members jeered happily at the circumspection of this forecast. Mr Byers can bluff with the best of them, but he knew that "many years" would have been pushing it.

Then it was time for a breath of fresh air. Frank Dobson rose to read out an uncompromising statement on the evils of tobacco.

Most Tories found themselves in some difficulty. Since smoking hits the poor and the dispossessed hardest you might argue that it's not just anti-social, but anti- socialist.

But it doesn't do to say this aloud and it has to be left to the true zealots of the free-market to man the barricades for the drug-dealers.

There is always one to oblige, and yesterday it was Eric Forth, the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, asking the Health Secretary whether the loss of tax revenues had been taken into account. Never mind the fact that golden goose eggs are killing up to 120,000 taxpayers a year, that 24-carat bird must be protected.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect