Yes, Prime Minister (1986) s01e03 Episode Script

The Smoke Screen

Frank, the problem is all new Prime Ministers want to cut either taxes or public expenditure.
Thank you.
That's what Hacker wants, too.
Politicians are like children.
You can't just give them what they want.
It only encourages them! But let's be clear about this, Humphrey.
The entire system hinges on you as Cabinet Secretary controlling the PM and on me as Permanent Secretary at the Treasury controlling the Chancellor.
- Right? - Right.
And on both of us keeping an agreeable tension between them, mistrust, hostility.
Mind you, I think they'd manage that all right even without us.
The Chancellor will never forgive the Prime Minister for beating him to Number 10 and the Prime Minister will never trust the Chancellor.
- One never trusts anyone one has deceived.
- Perhaps not.
But tax cuts unite them.
They get them both votes.
Yes, but surely this tax cut is contingent upon the Prime Minister's fantasy about cancelling Trident and switching to conventional forces.
Nevertheless, he is giving away £1.
5 billion of our money! It's unthinkable, even if only proposals.
I had a real job getting the Chancellor to oppose it.
How did you do it? I used the one about our needing the money for hospitals, schools and old people.
- The kidney machine gambit.
- The caring Chancellor - Yes, that one.
- It usually works.
But would a tax cut matter all that much? It's only £1.
5 billion.
I agree, it's not much in itself.
My worry is about you letting it get through so soon.
If I were in your shoes at the Treasury, I'd be much more worried about the state of the economy, low productivity.
That's not our fault.
It's the British worker - fundamentally lazy, wants something for nothing.
The figures for absenteeism are going up and up.
Nobody wants to do an honest day's work.
- Shocking! I must rush.
- Busy afternoon? Yes, indeed.
I gather England are 70 for 3.
Whoa, whoa! Easy does it, Gerald.
Plenty more where that came from.
Cheers.
To the Civil Service! To the British Tobacco Group and its chairman.
Thank you.
Ah! I do love a good afternoon's cricket.
You know, you chaps at BTG are national benefactors really.
We like to think so.
You know, Gerald, I've got a small favour to ask on behalf of the Royal Opera House.
Now, as you know, Covent Garden is more or less run from the Cabinet Office.
I know he wants to twist my arm on behalf of Wimbledon or Brands Hatch or something.
Covent Garden We'll see what we can do.
Oh, I don't know where we'd all be without you.
Tell me, have you ever invited Peter Thorne? - The Minister of Health? - You always included them.
This one's been got at by the anti-smoking lobby.
Oh, silly man! Very silly.
He hasn't got much clout in Whitehall, has he? None at all.
He's just a minister.
Good shot! Was he out? Humphrey, this paper says that if we cancel Trident and bring in conscription, we shall have £1.
5 billion for tax cuts, and what do I find? - What do you find, Prime Minister? - The Chancellor opposes me.
A great chance to be popular with the voters and he says no.
Doesn't that surprise you? No.
Why doesn't it surprise you? He's advised by the Treasury and they don't believe in giving money back.
- It's not theirs.
It's the taxpayers'.
- That's not the view the Treasury takes.
- Not once they've got it.
- But if they don't need it? - Sorry? - If they don't need it.
- Taxation isn't about what you need.
- What is it about? The Treasury doesn't work out what they need to spend and then think how to raise the money.
What DOES it do? They pitch for as much as they think they can get away with, then think what to spend it on.
If you start giving money back because you don't need it, you're breaking with centuries of tradition.
- What would happen to the British Navy? - We still need a navy.
We have four capital ships, so we need only four admirals and one Admiral of the Fleet.
- How many Admirals have we got? - 60.
The Treasury's the most powerful department as it controls all the money.
If you take away its money, you take away its power, so they resist.
- How will the Treasury agree to tax cuts? - Get the Chancellor to agree.
- How will the Chancellor agree? - Get the Treasury to agree.
- This is impossible.
- Yes, Prime Minister, it is impossible.
- We must be able to force the Treasury's hand.
- Yes, by forcing the Chancellor's hand.
- How do I force the Chancellor's hand? - By forcing the Treasury's hand.
Can't YOU persuade the Chancellor? He's your Cabinet colleague.
That's the point.
I need help from somebody who's on my side.
The Minister of State at the DHSS is here.
- Show him in.
Thank you, Humphrey.
- Thank you, Prime Minister.
- Dr Thorne, Prime Minister.
- Peter, come in.
Sit down.
Now, you wanted to talk to me about? - Cigarettes.
- Ah, yes.
- You read my paper? - Yes, absolutely.
How did you react? Well, Iwonder if you could summarise it in your own words.
Those WERE my own words.
Yes, yes, exactly, of course.
But the Prime Minister often finds that a brief summary focuses on the salient points.
Salient points, precisely.
Well, briefly, I'm proposing that the government should take action to eliminate smoking, a complete ban on all cigarette sponsorship and advertising, £50 million to be spent on anti-smoking publicity, a ban on smoking in all public places and progressive tax rises over the next five years until a packet of 20 costs about the same as a bottle of whisky.
Isn't that rather drastic? Absolutely.
It should reduce smoking by at least 80%, 90% if we're lucky and drive tobacco companies out of business.
Yes.
Well, Peter, of course, you know I agree with you basically.
Smoking should be stopped.
No question.
And we will stop it in due course.
At the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of time.
- You mean forget it? - No, absolutely not.
But we must be realists.
You and I weren't born yesterday.
- No, and we didn't die yesterday.
- No.
What? 300 people did prematurely as a result of smoking.
100,000 deaths a year at least.
It's appalling, but you know what the Treasury would say? They'd say that smoking brings in £4 billion a year in revenue.
- You can't beat the Treasury.
- Not with financial arguments.
But this is a moral argument.
Yes, but even Wait a minute.
I've got an idea.
This could be a way to beat the Treasury.
- You mean you'll support me? - You've made your point.
We'll give it a try.
I'll even read your report.
Again! This could be very interesting.
Thank you very much indeed.
But will you support me? Yeah, well, not publicly.
It would undermine my position, undermine the argument if I supported you from the start.
I have to be seen as the impartial judge swayed by the force of the argument.
Yes, I see that.
But off the record, I'd like to see this pushed very hard indeed.
Make some speeches on it.
Peter, thank you very much indeed.
Thank you for your cigarette paper your paper on cigarettes.
- Is this serious? - What do you mean? It's always been the practice to discourage anti-smoking speeches by ministers and not to distribute them.
Well, I want Peter's speeches distributed.
I want everybody to know.
Yes, Prime Minister.
Do you think you will win this one? The tobacco lobby is very powerful.
Well, some you win, some you lose, Bernard.
This one I shall definitely lose.
Then why? If you were the Treasury, would you rather do without £1.
5 billion in tax cuts or £4 billion in lost tobacco tax revenue? The tax cuts.
Exactly.
That's what I want and that's what I shall get.
- Can Sir Humphrey have a word? - Of course.
Yes, come in, please.
- Prime Minister - Humphrey.
Did you have an interesting chat with Dr Thorne? Yes.
He proposed the elimination of smoking.
By a campaign of mass hypnosis perhaps! By raising tobacco taxes sky high and simultaneously banning all advertising.
- I think his position is admirably moral.
- Moral perhaps, but extremely silly.
No man in his right mind could contemplate such a proposal.
I'm contemplating it.
Yes, of course, Prime Minister.
Please don't misunderstand me.
It is quite right that you should CONTEMPLATE all proposals that come from your government, but no sane man would ever SUPPORT it.
- I'm supporting it.
- And quite right too, Prime Minister.
The only problem is that the tax on tobacco is a major source of revenue for the government.
And a major source of death from diseases.
Yes, but no definite causative link has ever been proved, has it? - The statistics - You can prove anything with statistics.
- Even the truth.
- Yes No! It says here, "Smoking-related diseases cost the NHS £165 million a year.
" Yes, but we've been into that.
It has been shown that if those extra 100,000 people had lived to a ripe old age, they would have cost us even more in pensions and social security than they did in medical treatment.
So financially speaking, it's unquestionably better that they continue to die at about the present rate.
"When cholera killed 30,000 people in 1833, we got the Public Health Act.
"When smog killed 2,500 people in 1952, we got the Clean Air Act.
" A commercial drug kills half a dozen people and we get it withdrawn from sale.
Cigarettes kill 100,000 people a year and what do we get? £4 billion a year.
25,000 jobs in the tobacco industry, a flourishing cigarette export business, helping our balance of trade, 250,000 jobs related to tobacco - newsagents, packaging, transport - These figures are just guesses.
- No, they're government st They're facts.
So your statistics are facts and my facts are merely statistics? I'm on your side.
I'm merely giving you some arguments you'll encounter.
Humphrey, I'm so glad to know we'll have support such as yours.
It will be pointed out that the tobacco companies are great sponsors of sport.
Where would the BBC sports programmes be if cigarette companies couldn't advert couldn't SPONSOR the events that they televise? We're talking about 100,000 deaths a year.
Yes, but cigarette taxes pay for a third of the cost of the National Health Service.
We're saving many more lives than we otherwise could because of those smokers who voluntarily lay down their lives for their friends.
Smokers are national benefactors.
So long as they live! Not that any definite causal link has ever been proved.
It's time for your next Cabinet committee, then the Minister of Sport wants an urgent word.
- What about? - Sponsorship.
Who tipped him off? He's one of the tobacco lobby.
A member of YOUR government? Yes, he's Minister for Sport.
He has a vested interest.
He's also an MP for Nottingham.
Did you tell him? How did he know? The grapevine perhaps.
Prime Minister Tell the minister I'll see him at 2.
30.
- With pleasure, Prime Minister.
- Not with pleasure, but I'll see him anyway.
The Minister for Sport, Prime Minister.
Oh, Leslie, my dear fellow.
Hi.
Do you mind if I smoke? Prime Minister, it's about the rumour that you intend to make a personal attack on the tobacco industry.
- I hadn't heard that rumour.
- It's not true? The Minister for Health is considering the matter.
There's no smoke without fire.
You'd be consulted.
As Minister for Sport, you have an interest.
Never mind sport.
There are marginal seats in Bristol, Nottingham, Glasgow, Basildon and Northern Ireland, all with tobacco workers.
I've got 4,000 tobacco workers in my constituency.
What about my seat? What about your lungs? My lungs are fine.
He doesn't breathe through his seat.
Oh, your seat, I see, I'm sorry.
Thank you, Bernard.
I see the difficulty, but if something is right for the country, surely the government must pursue it.
The government must do what's right, but not if it affects marginal constituencies.
- There is a limit.
- No decision has been taken.
For the good of the party, you can't do this.
Weren't you a paid consultant to the British Tobacco Group? Of course, the fact that the BTG did pay me a small retainer, it's totally beside the point.
They're a very generous corporation with a strong sense of responsibility to the community.
Look at all the money they give to sport! They just do it to sell more cigarettes.
No, they do it as a service to the community.
Oh, that's all right, then.
They can go on giving the money anonymously if they like.
Well, I'm sure they'd be happy to, provided they could publicise the fact that they were doing it anonymously.
Is it true that Peter Thorne is also trying to change the government health warning? Is it? He's proposing something like "Dying of lung cancer can seriously damage your health".
It is not true! If we do nothing, in the next ten years, in this country we'll have one million premature deaths.
Yes, but evenly spread.
Not just in marginal constituencies.
Listen, Jim, there is no conclusive proof of any causal link between smoking and We at the DHSS are profoundly worried about smoking.
And we agree it's our duty to help the Prime Minister achieve his objective, but with a third of the voters as smokers, I can't raise taxes too high.
The Chancellor won't commit electoral suicide and the inflationary effect is considerable.
There is a moral principle involved.
Moral principle, yes.
We understand the PM's concern.
In fact, we earnestly believe in the moral principle.
But where £4 billion of revenue is at stake, I think we should have to consider very carefully whether we have the right to indulge ourselves in the rather selfish luxury of pursuing moral principles.
Where would the arts be without tobacco sponsorship? At the mercy of the Arts Council.
Exactly.
Then those silly pressure groups and fanatics like the Royal College of Physicians! Fanatics! They want the government to have a policy on the matter.
It would be different if the government were a team, but in fact they're a loose confederation of warring tribes.
If only the PM could meet the tobacco people, he could see what really nice chaps they were.
And genuinely concerned about the health risks.
There can't be anything wrong with them.
BTG have an ex-Permanent Secretary on their board.
- And could well have more.
- In the fullness of time.
I think we ought to raise some questions about your minister, Ian.
What does he know about the subject? Peter Thorne is only a doctor.
His sole purpose is keeping people alive! Must be biased.
Seeing your patients die must emotionally distort your judgement.
It's very understandable, but a great handicap to cool decision-taking.
Very true, but can we find something a bit stronger? Frank, I think the crucial argument is that we're living in a free country.
We must be free to make our own decisions.
Government shouldn't be a nursemaid.
We don't want the nanny state.
- Very good.
- Excellent.
The only problem is that is also the argument for legalising the sale of marijuana, heroin, arsenic and gelignite.
Maybe that's a good idea if we put a big enough tax on them.
- Politically difficult.
- Pity.
Yes.
Got it! When the Prime Minister was Minister for Administrative Affairs, I used to get him to accompany me on regular visits to Lord's, Wimbledon and Glyndebourne as a guest of BTG, so he's thoroughly implicated in receiving hospitality worth hundreds, possibly thousands from them.
Now, if that were to leak shocking though a leak would be - Oh, shocking.
- Shocking.
It'd be profoundly embarrassing for the Prime Minister.
I can't think why I didn't think of it before.
Nor can I.
- Well, Bernard.
- Well, Prime Minister.
Very well.
Things are going very well indeed.
Oh, good.
I've got the Treasury on the run and the Chancellor.
Is that good? He's in your own government.
Of course it's good.
They've got to learn to come to heel and learn to co-operate.
- What do you mean, co-operate? - I mean obey my commands! I see.
That's what "co-operate" means when you're Prime Minister.
Why are these tax cuts in your interest? It's your government too.
Bernard, it's simple.
Cutting taxes by £1.
5 billion is going to win us masses of votes.
My ministers are interested in getting money for their departments, not in supporting me.
I'm using my support for Peter Thorne as leverage on the Treasury.
- Your loyal support? - Precisely.
In order to get THEIR loyal support.
After you get the tax cut, you will withdraw your support from Peter Thorne? Bernard, how can you be so cynical? I shall simply rearrange my priorities.
Sir Humphrey's waiting to see you outside.
Send him in at once.
Yes, Prime Minister.
Your word is my co-operation.
- Humphrey! - Prime Minister.
- Everything all right? - Everything is very far from all right.
- What's the trouble? - Your anti-smoking legislation.
What about it? Notwithstanding the fact that your proposal could encompass certain concomitant benefits of a peripheral relevance, there is a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude, involving your personal complicity and corroborative malfeasance, with the consequence that the taint and stigma of your former associations and diversions could irredeemably and irretrievably invalidate your position and culminate in public revelations and recriminations of a profoundly embarrassing and ultimately indefensible character.
Perhaps I could have a précis of that.
- There's nicotine on your hands.
- What do you mean? All the hospitality that we've enjoyed at BTG's expense.
Champagne receptions, the best seats at sporting and cultural events.
- What's the problem? - The tobacco companies may tell the press.
So? I've had drinks at the Soviet embassy.
That doesn't make me a Russian spy.
Oh Well Oh.
- Does it? - Well, no.
Let them do their worst.
Anything else? Well, Prime Minister, there is another vital point to bear in mind.
A lot of eminent people, influential people argue that such legislation would be a blow against freedom of choice.
Rubbish! I'm not banning smoking.
Does every tax rise represent a blow against freedom? Well, it depends how big the tax rise is.
Fascinating! Does 20 pence represent a blow against freedom? - Prime Minister - 25 pence? 30 pence? 31? Is something a blow against freedom simply because it can seriously damage your wealth? I must warn you of the difficulties.
I foresee all sorts of unforeseen problems.
Such as? If I could foresee them, they wouldn't be unforeseen.
You just said you COULD foresee them.
If we could set up an inter-departmental committee, a Royal Commission, perhaps a Treasury Committee - Don't talk to me about the Treasury! - Why not? The Treasury are blocking my plans for a £1.
5 billion tax cut.
If only they could be moreflexible.
Oh Well, I don't think they're fully committed on that other matter yet.
Really? Absolutely not.
Oh, no, I'm sure they could find a way.
Could they? The only stumbling block would be if your anti-smoking proposals went through, they'd be too busy with those to find a way to help with the other cuts.
Well, of course, my anti-smoking proposals, important though they are, don't have nearly such a high priority as defence.
Ah.
The Minister of State for Health is here.
Prime Minister, if I might have one or two minutes to make some phone calls.
Thank you.
Show him in, Bernard.
- Dr Thorne.
- Peter, what can I do for you? I've just had some very exciting news.
We've got full backing from the BMA and eight top scientific and medical colleges.
Marvellous.
But your legislation can't be put through immediately.
It is announced as government policy within three months, with a White Paper in a year.
Yes, since we spoke, I've encountered a few problems.
The Treasury, you know.
- Can't be anything you didn't know already? - Yes.
I mean no Well, yes.
Peter, it's not as simple as you think.
Jim, I really am serious about this.
It's the one really important and worthwhile thing I believe I can do in politics.
If you stall it, I'll have to resign.
And say why.
Excuse me, Prime Minister.
Could Sir Humphrey see you urgently just for a moment? - Would you mind waiting outside, Peter? - Of course.
Prime Minister, it's quite all right.
The Treasury have looked at your proposal again and they can encompass your tax cut, provided no work is needed on the anti-smoking proposal.
That's fine, but there is another complication.
Peter Thorne is going to resign if I drop it, go to the press and have me condemned by all the doctors and scientists in Britain.
Oh Help! You still have that government vacancy in the Treasury? You mean? It's a very big promotion, a very rapid one.
Nevertheless, for a very able minister.
Bernard, get Peter back in here and then get on to the Department of the Environment.
Get Leslie Potts over here at once.
Prime Minister, I think I'll just, erm If you'll excuse me.
Dr Thorne.
Peter, I've just remembered we still have that vacancy at the Treasury.
I've been racking my brains how to fill it, but your work on this paper has impressed me enormously.
You're not trying to get rid of me? Definitely not.
Quite the reverse.
It's a terrific step up.
But thoroughly merited.
How can I take it if it means dropping my bill? Peter, sit down.
Let me be absolutely honest with you.
This legislation would have beenwould be will be very difficult to get through.
The Treasury is the stumbling block, not the Department of Health.
It'll take longer, but if you were inside learning the ropes, we'd have a much better chance of a watertight, foolproof Act when it gets to the statute book.
- Believe me.
- So my proposals aren't dropped? Absolutely not.
- OK.
I'll take the Treasury job.
- Good.
Thanks a lot.
Goodbye, Prime Minister.
That leaves us with a vacancy at the Department of Health.
Now The Minister for Sport is here, Prime Minister.
- Come in.
- Mr Potts! Leslie! My dear chap.
Sit down.
Now How would you like to be Minister of Health? - Me? - Yes.
Well It's a considerable promotion.
But thoroughly merited.
You're very suitable for the job.
You're not one of the medical lobby like Dr Peter Thorne.
Well, of course I can't refuse it.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
Humphrey, meet our new Minister for Health.
Oh, congratulations.
I don't want the job if it means attacking the tobacco industry.
Ah, but it wouldn't.
You see, Leslie, we in government have to be realists.
I want you to work WITH the tobacco industry.
They're only trying to sort out the problems.
They've got huge resources, nice chaps, caring people and really fabulous employers.
They are really trying to help.
I want you to work with the industry, not against it.
All right? What did he say? I think he said, "Yes, Prime Minister.
"