HC Deb 02 March 1995 vol 255 cc1169-70
5. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent representations he has had from the brewing industry regarding levels of excise duty.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I received several representations from the brewing industry prior to the last Budget. Since then, various members of the brewing industry have written or made representations to me and other Treasury Ministers.

Mr. Sheerman

The Opposition are never sure which of the Treasury Ministers are good Europeans but, given that many of them indulge in a drink, may I ask the Paymaster General whether he is concerned about the fact that the brewing industry is being harmed by the duty differential and the high level of illegal importation, or smuggling? Is it not about time that he and his colleagues did something to protect an industry that is a job creator and a wealth creator and deserves his attention and help?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Brewing is indeed an important industry, and we wanted to keep excise duties stable in the Budget. It was when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends voted down the second stage of the imposition of value added tax on domestic fuel that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor sought to recover the revenue by increasing excise duties on tobacco, alcohol and road fuels, which was very much a second-best option. The brewing industry may well want to know why the hon. Gentleman forced that option on the Government, against our original intentions.

Mrs. Lait

When does my hon. Friend expect the European Commission to publish its paper on excise duties on tobacco and alcohol? Does he expect our continental neighbours to engage in constructive discussions on the subject?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I cannot say when the discussions will be properly under way, but my hon. Friend knows, I hope, that we believe that other member states should increase the minimum rates of duty to help to close the gap between our higher duty rates and theirs. That gap is the cause of much of the cross-border shopping, and some of the smuggling, that is currently taking place.

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