Examination of Witnesses(Questions 300-319)|
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
300. Two do not, one does. My other question
relates to loss of revenue which is the equivalent to 2 pence
on the standard rate of tax all of us have to pay because of the
extent of tobacco smuggling. We have heard from the Chairman the
unease in which Excise hold you in the way you have participated
with them in trying to counter smuggling. There are charges around,
as you must know, that some of the companies have an interest
in the promotion of smuggling to extend their sales. How would
you react if the Chancellor said to you that in the next Budget
he wanted to cut income tax by one pence in the pound and that
your share of the smuggled market was the equivalent of that lost
revenue and he was going to charge you that as an excess levy,
and then it would not matter the sources from which smuggling
came, the revenue would be paid and you would have much more interest,
would you not, in controlling those outside sources from which
(Mr Davis) I have to reiterate the point, I think
that belies the fact that we have ceased trading with a vast number
of customers so in no way would I want that to be minimised because
it is a very serious and responsible step to have taken. In respect
of the hypothetical situation you put to me, I think it would
be quite unfair and quite unacceptable in the sense that we as
a tobacco company are not smuggling. We supply to bona fide
distributors who are respected throughout the world. They handle
other major consumer products in their particular markets. Somewhere
down the chain of distribution, because of the huge tax-induced
differentials we have in this country it is profitable for smugglers
to hoover up stock and smuggle it into this country. We cannot
police that, we are not policeman.
301. You have no incentive to police it because
the cigarettes are sold and you get your revenue.
(Mr Davis) There is an incentive to us because we
sell less in this country.
302. But if the price is lower you sell more,
do you not?
(Mr Davis) It depends on the particular market but
certainly in most countries of the world the retail prices are
cheaper than in Britain because we have far and away the highest
taxes in the world.
303. Can I put that question in a different
way to you. From what you said to the Chairman in your opening
statement the extent of the smuggling of your product costs every
taxpayer in this country one pence on the standard rate of tax.
Do you think that is a burden they should bear?
(Mr Davis) I do not think that is a burden they should
bear. It is in all our interests in terms of ourselves, in terms
of Customs to co-operate as fully as possible to stamp out the
scourge of smuggling. It is a scourge.
304. Would you think it unfair if the Chancellor
levied an excess levy on those tobacco companies who Excise said
were not fully co-operating in trying to counter smuggling?
(Mr Davis) One has to test out the assumptions or
statements that we are not co-operating with the Excise authorities.
I think we would have to challenge that very seriously. I hope
to have the chance to be able to do that today because, as I say,
I think our track record of co-operating bears the closest of
scrutiny. Coming back to your hypothetical point, no, I think
it would be grossly unfair for the Chancellor to do that. I suspect,
for instance, that the alcohol industry would think it equally
grossly unfair if he were to levy money on them for beer and alcohol
smuggling that comes into the UK. It is the same situation. We
are not smuggling.
305. Could I ask Mr Wells whether the company
we are discussing today is as co-operative as other tobacco companies
are in trying to counter tobacco smuggling.
(Mr Wells) I think, as my Chairman said at the previous
hearing, we have not suggested we receive no co-operation from
Imperial Tobacco. It is rather that we receive less than full
co-operation or that is as we perceive it at the present time.
Certainly we have not considered the co-operation we have received
to be as great as we have received from some other companies,
which is why we have signed a memorandum of understanding with
one other manufacturer but not to date with Imperial. I think
it is also fair to say that we have said to Imperial we wish to
review the co-operation we receive from them and if the improvements
that we would like to see could be made we would certainly be
willing to look again at a Memorandum with them.
306. So, Mr Davis, the threat of a £1.5
or £1.6 billion levy on you might encourage co-operation
with Excise, might it not, and save the rest of us one pence on
the standard rate of tax?
(Mr Davis) I have to come back to you and say that
is not our perception of the co-operation. I can only ask one
simple questionI know I am here to answer questions but
if you will permit me to ask oneall I want to know from
Customs is what are other tobacco companies doing that we are
not? Tell us and we will do it.
Mr Field: We might ask Customs that and
the other companies that but thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Mr David
307. Do you believe you have a duty to try to
reduce tobacco smuggling?
(Mr Davis) Yes, I think we do because our prime duty
is to our shareholders and to our employees and, quite frankly,
smuggling, looking at it in its pure economic perspective as it
affects us as a company, as I said earlier on, is certainly a
double whammy. It is arguably a triple whammy because it means
we sell less in the UK, which is a profitable market for us. If
there is substitution of a smuggled product for a bona fide
product we lose money on that and that is not good for our shareholders.
The fact that we are trying to create international markets and
exporting our products to bona fide distributors, investing
in advertising and promotion in those countries where we are able
to, investing in sales infrastructure in those countries, it is
a totally wasted investment for us, which is bad for our shareholders
and employees. When we have seen, as we have of late, a lack of
product available to be smuggled into this country then we start
to see counterfeit product coming in. It is a triple whammy for
us. It does us no good whatsoever, it does us tremendous damage.
We do have a duty to our shareholders and our employees to try
and stamp out smuggling.
308. I am interested in your answer from two
points of view. Firstly, you seem to think that part of your duty
is to make sure that smuggling is reduced otherwise we may get
more counterfeit product, which does not seem a particularly moral
reason for trying to reduce it. The other is that all of your
answer was in terms of economics. You do not seem to have any
feel that your company has any duty to try to make sure that the
law of this country is properly obeyed. It does surprise me that
you do not feel as a company that you have some sort of ethical
duty to try to make sure tobacco smuggling is reduced as well
as a purely financial one.
(Mr Davis) I perhaps concentrated on the economic
answers obviously in terms of duty to our shareholders and our
employees but, yes, there are other aspects to it as well. You
would misrepresent me if I were to let that statement stay on
record that we do not care about the other aspects. We genuinely
do. Smuggling undermines the legitimate UK market which was a
very orderly market. I am very pleased to see that smuggling is
coming down at a fast accelerating rate at the moment. It undermines
309. You have made the point now that you do
think you have a moral or an ethical duty to cut smuggling.
(Mr Davis) I was in mid-answer
310. I have heard what you are trying to say.
You were asked for brief answers. May I go on and ask what you
have done to try to reduce smuggling as a company?
(Mr Davis) I have covered a number of issues already.
We have worked, we believe, very co-operatively with Customs.
From our point of view as a company, as I say, we have ceased
trading with 30 distributors since December 1999. These were in
countries that were sensitive or targeted by smugglers.
311. How many of those distributors were brought
to your attention by Customs and Excise?
(Mr Davis) I think I am right in saying it was 13
red carded and four yellow carded so 17 of the 30 distributors
but some of them had already been dealt with by the time the red
card was issued.
312. What was your reason for deciding to cease
to distribute to the rest?
(Mr Davis) There were a number of reasons but primarily
the reason was we had a flow-back of stock (obviously not from
that initial distributor but lower down the distribution chain
in those countries and the smugglers were hoovering it up) and
we could not get guarantees it would stop coming back. It was
not sticking in the market so we ceased supply. Basically the
measures we have when we get stock coming back are we either suspend
supply, we cease supply or we review the brands we supply and
take out sensitive UK brands. In terms of the dominant action
it is to cease supply.
313. You have said on more than one occasion
already in answer to other questions that we have by far the highest
rate of tax in this country than any other country in the world
and that is one of the main reasons for smuggling.
(Mr Davis) It is part of the economic incentive to
314. What is the overall percentage tax take
on the price of a pack of cigarettes in the UK?
(Mr Davis) On a pack of premium cigarettes, it is
just under 80% and for lower priced cigarettes it is about 90%.
315. Do you know what it is in the Republic
(Mr Davis) Around about 70%.
316. My understanding is that it is 78%, in
France it is 76%, in Belgium it is 73%. It is not that different
to the tax take in this country.
(Mr Dibble) May I respond as Economic Affairs Manager.
The percentages for tax comparisons can be quite misleading because
100% of a very low figure is a very low amount, therefore you
have to look at the price differentials. That is why smugglers
smuggle. So a packet of Regal sells at £4.40 in the United
Kingdom but the same pack sells at £1.54 in Spain, for example,
where it is much lower taxed. Clearly the percentage tax burden
in Spain could be very similar but the absolute tax burden is
317. Why are you selling to your distributors,
presumably at a much lower basic price in Spain than you are in
the United Kingdom? That is the real problem. What you seem to
be saying now is that the real reason for smuggling into the UK
is that the base price is higher. Surely that is something you
(Mr Dibble) I am not saying that at all. What I am
saying is that we do make more profit in the United Kingdom. We
cannot make quite so much profit in Spain because there is more
competition and there are historic reasons of a monopoly situation
where the industry did not make a profit, but the figure to concentrate
on is that over 80% of the price differential between the United
Kingdom and Spain is tax. Tax is the big absolute differential.
318. It is only accounted for tax because the
base price is so much higher in the UK than it is in Spain. The
percentage increase is roughly the same, they are both over 70%.
(Mr Dibble) UK tax is levied predominantly as a specific
amount not a percentage of the price and therefore the absolute
amount is the absolute amount.
(Mr Davis) Perhaps if I can clarify, if you look at
the period between the November Chancellor's Budget in 1996 and
the March 2000 Chancellor's Budget, the excise tax on cigarettes
was increased by approximately 84 pence per 20, which is the equivalent
of about 64 euros per thousand. That is an increase over a three
and a half year period. That equates to the total tax target of
all the countries in the EU by the year 2008, and by 2010 for
the accession countries. UK tax is hugely above anywhere else
in the rest of Europe.
319. The absolute level of the tax, I certainly
accept that, but the figure that we have been givenand
I would be interested if you wish to deny themis that the
retail price in the United Kingdom is £4.40
(Mr Davis) There is an Appendix in our submission.
1 Ref Figure 3, page 10 of the Report. Back