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Smuggling

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what steps he plans to take to (a) reduce levels of alcohol and tobacco smuggling and (b) implement Article 15 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on illicit trade in tobacco products; and if he will make a statement; (253581)

(2) what steps the UK has taken at EU level to reduce the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco products; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what mechanisms are in place to monitor the effectiveness of HM Revenue and Customs in tackling the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco products; and if he will make a statement;

(4) what evaluation he has made of the effectiveness of (a) tobacco and (b) alcohol industries' responses to smuggling of their products; and if he will make a statement;

(5) what recent discussions he has had with EU counterparts on the smuggling of alcohol and tobacco products; and if he will make a statement;

(6) what assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of smuggling of (a) alcohol and (b) tobacco products;

(7) what the estimated losses to the Exchequer from (a) tobacco and (b) alcohol smuggling were in each of the last five years.

At the time of the 2008 pre-Budget-report, the Government published a new integrated strategy for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the UK Border Agency (UKBA); ‘Tackling Tobacco Smuggling Together’. The strategy document is available in the Commons Library. This sets out the Government's plans to build on the considerable progress that has already been made in driving down tobacco smuggling and reducing revenue losses. The strategy takes full account of work being done at EU level and at international level through the World Health Organisation's framework convention on tobacco control. As a party to the convention, the UK is committed to seeking an agreement on an illicit trade protocol under article 15 by 2010. The strategy also sets out a clear framework for co-operation between law enforcement bodies, regulatory authorities and the public health sector. It also reinforces co-operation with the tobacco industry, which remains crucial to tackling smuggled and counterfeit tobacco.

The respective roles of HMRC and the UKBA, details of how UKBA performance will be monitored and objectives for tobacco seizures in 2008-09, are set out in the UKBA Partnership Agreement with HMRC, which is published on the UKBA website.

At PBR 2008, the Government also announced a review of HMRC's alcohol fraud strategy. The review will look to strengthen work to tackle spirits fraud and extend this approach to other products affected by fraud. A further announcement on this will be made at Budget 2009.

The most recent estimates of the losses attributable to alcohol and tobacco fraud and smuggling were published by HMRC in November 2008 in a report ‘Measuring Indirect Tax Gaps—2008’, which is also available in the Commons Library.