HC Deb 15 January 1998 vol 304 cc478-9
10. Mr. Mullin

What recent discussions he has had with other European Community countries regarding the convergence of excise on alcohol and tobacco; and if he will make a statement. [21060]

Dawn Primarolo

I have had no discussions with representatives of other EU member states regarding the convergence of excise duties on alcohol and tobacco products. The mechanism for progressing convergence is through the European Commission's biennial reviews of the minimum rates of excise duties. The reports on the current alcohol and tobacco reviews are overdue.

Mr. Mullin

Is my hon. Friend aware—I am sure that she is—that a vast black market has grown up in cheap booze and tobacco from the continent and that much of it is sold out of front doors and car boots to under-age youths who then cause mayhem in the communities where they live? That black market is also doing tremendous damage to our domestic brewing and tobacco industries. I appreciate that there are no easy answers to the problem, but will my hon. Friend give an assurance—I am not sure that I detected it in her first answer—that the problem is being seriously addressed?

Dawn Primarolo

I can assure my hon. Friend that in their negotiations in the European Union, the Government continue to press the case in relation to minimum rates of duty on both alcohol and tobacco. In addition, the Government have conducted a review of alcohol and tobacco involving smuggling, cross-border shopping, crime, health and competition. The report of that review will be with me soon. The industry has co-operated with us fully in order to target exactly the sort of measures that my hon. Friend identified.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Is that not a typical reaction from this bossy, authoritarian Government—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Be authoritarian, Mrs. Bottomley.

Mrs. Bottomley

The Government are moving hastily to ban tobacco advertising as a knee-jerk reaction, although it is well known that price is a more significant factor than advertising in tobacco consumption. I suggest that the Government take the steps that we set in hand to try to persuade other European countries to increase the price of tobacco rather than ban advertising.

Dawn Primarolo

This is not a bossy, typical reaction as the right hon. Lady suggests. We are taking a positive step, in partnership with the tobacco and alcohol industries and through the review that has been organised and led by Customs and Excise to tackle the very real problems of smuggling, particularly of tobacco products. The Government continue to negotiate in Europe on the minimum rates. The right hon. Lady is right to say that taxation is a tool in our health policy on tobacco, as is the ban on tobacco advertising.

Fiona Mactaggart

Is my hon. Friend aware of the number of jobs in constituencies such as mine that depend on duty-free shopping? What plans does she have to try to secure those jobs in view of what will happen to duty-free shopping?

Dawn Primarolo

I understand my hon. Friend's point about jobs. Ending duty-free shopping, however, is not solely a decision for our Government. Decisions on duty free require unanimity in the European Union—a unanimity that does not exist at present. The Government's position, therefore, continues to be to support the demands for a review of the impact of the duty-free regime ending in June 1999.

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