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Sugary Drinks (Taxation)

Volume 574: debated on Tuesday 28 January 2014

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on introducing an additional tax on drinks with a high sugar content. (902213)

There are difficulties of principle and practice with using tax instruments to promote public health. Unlike smoking, where any level of consumption can have damaging effects, the consumption of most drinks in moderation can be to the benefit, rather than the detriment, of an individual’s health. The Government are instead working with industry to reduce the nation’s calorie intake.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks, stating that it would provide enormous health benefits and yield £1 billion to the Treasury. We spend £9.8 billion a year on dealing with type 2 diabetes and its complications. Will the Exchequer Secretary consider that idea for inclusion in the next Budget? At the very least, will he meet a delegation of those who want to make the argument in favour of such a tax?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks. This is a problem of over-consumption and tax can often be a blunt instrument in dealing with such problems. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be more than happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman and a delegation to discuss the matter.

Does the Exchequer Secretary agree that tackling obesity in children should be a matter for parents, teachers and others who work with children, and that any tax increase such as that proposed by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) would be seen as a Treasury tax grab on those who enjoy Pepsi cola, Coca-Cola and Fanta?

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. It is right that the Government take steps, through the public health responsibility deal, to encourage companies to reduce calories in their products, and that we encourage participation in sport. That is more effective and targeted than a tax increase.