The drinks industry has received heavyweight support from the House of Lords for its stance against the introduction of strip stamps on bottles of spirits.
A report from the Lords’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs has criticised the government’s plans to introduce the anti-fraud measure in 2006 and raised concerns over the government’s fraud statistics.
Strip stamps, proposals for which were formally announced in Chancellor Gordon Brown’s recent annual Budget, had been justified by estimates from HM Customs & Excise that the level of spirits fraud was £600m in 2001-02 and rising.
However, studies by the Joint Alcohol & Tobacco Consultation Group put the figure at £160m to £200m and the Select Committee said it was concerned and surprised by the gulf in difference between the two estimates.
“If fraud is not as high as estimated by HMC&E or is reducing, it puts into question whether the measure is necessary and whether industry compliance costs will be proportionate to benefit,” the report stated. “Clearly, the question whether the compliance costs of duty stamps represent a reasonable burden depends in part on the extent of the fraud.”
The committee said the counterfeiting of stamps could also add to the overall burden of costs of the measure. And it hoped that an outcome would be found to protect the interests and livelihoods of small producers and importers.
Quentin Rappoport, director of the Wine and Spirit Association and a vocal campaigner against strip stamps, said: “I hope the Treasury reads and thinks about the report.
“The size of the problem is key. If the figure is wrong then the strip stamps measure is based on nothing.”
Sean McAllister