HL Deb 18 November 1997 vol 583 cc462-3

3.4 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration they have given to curbing the amount of beer imported into the United Kingdom for illegal resale.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, this Government take excise smuggling and fraud very seriously. Customs are currently deploying additional officers to frontline work in the Dover area to counter those involved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a review of alcohol and tobacco fraud involving a working party with the key trade associations to look at the effect of commercial fraud, smuggling and cross-border shopping. The Financial Secretary has set the review team a very challenging deadline of 31st December to present options for addressing those issues.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that over 1 million gallons of beer are imported into Britain from France every single week? A great deal of it is then resold illegally in this country. Is the Minister aware that because of that criminal activity there are substantial job losses in pubs, working men's clubs and breweries and even a number of closures?

Does my noble friend accept that the prime reason for the smuggling is that the duty on a pint of beer in Great Britain is six times greater than in France? If that is the case, can he explain to me how putting another penny duty on a pint of beer will help stem the tide of beer coming into the country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend is very sure of his figures. I am less sure about how much beer is entering this country illegally, mainly because those who do it do not declare it to the statistical authorities.

As to my noble friend's supplementary question about the difference between our duty and that in other European countries, he is quite right. But the cost of reducing our duty to French levels—and I note that the brewers are not suggesting it— would be over £3 billion. That would be equivalent to an extra 1 per cent. on VAT or 2p on income tax. As for the increase in duty in the last Budget, that was simply in line with inflation.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Brewers Association of Scotland has identified the fact that seven lorries a week are known to be illegally selling beer in Edinburgh? Can the Minister tell me how that can be an economic activity, considering that the lorry would have to travel 800 miles in order to complete its task?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we touched on those issues when we discussed the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on whisky at the end of June this year. I am unsure how anyone can know that seven, six or eight lorries are entering Scotland illegally. If those who have the figures are certain of them, I wish they would inform us. We should be glad to know.