Examination of Witnesses(Questions 320-339)|
WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE 2002
320. The tax on that is £3.51 which is
79%. In Spain it is £1.54 per packet and the tax on that
is £1.09 and therefore the tax percentages are very similar,
it seems to me. If you were selling at your base price in Britain
the same as you were selling it in Spain you might not make so
much profit but that is the main reason why tax and the overall
price therefore seems to be so much higher in this country. It
seems to me it all comes down to what base price you are selling
at and therefore to blame the tax rates for your problems when
the problem lies with your base price is grossly unfair and it
is just an excuse.
(Mr Davis) You have misunderstood the whole situation
Sir. If we could explain it again.
(Mr Dibble) If you would be good enough to look at
our Appendix II, we clearly set out for the Committee the retail
price comparisons within the EU. This is for the same brand, Regal.
We have listed the absolute price difference of the pack of cigarettes
in each country. We have listed the absolute total taxation on
those cigarettes in each country. As you can see, we have included
our tax exclusive price. Our tax exclusive price in the United
Kingdom is some 44 pence higher than it is in Spain. If we added
44 pence to the price of the pack in Spain you would have a figure
of £1.98, still substantially lower than the £4.40 in
321. But the rate at which the Government will
levy the tax is similar in each country. That is the point. The
overall rate works out at over 70% in both cases but the Government
is not doing you any more damage in percentage terms in this country
than in Spain.
(Mr Davis) With respect, sir, your point is not relevant.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Rendel. Mr Barry
322. Mr Davis, the reason that you are here
today is because members of this Committee believe that you are
complicit in a smuggling operation that costs this country £2.8
billion a year. Do you or your company know the maximum penalty
for tobacco smuggling in this country?
(Mr Davis) To be straightforward with you, sir, no,
I do not know the maximum penalty.
323. It is seven years. Mr Davis, in your opening
statement you said your company's stated strategy has been to
grow internationally through an export-led approach and you reinterated
that in your reply. Yet the export data that you supplied to this
Committee I would have thoughtthese are the ones I am talking
aboutmust have made pretty appalling reading to any of
your shareholders. It is a catalogue of incompetence, is it not?
They see-saw around from £72 million to £338 million
the next year back down to zero the next year, from £8 million,
to £24 million, down to £36 million the next year, from
£397 million up to £869 million, plummeting to £99
million in the next year. There is no stability there, is there?
A market strategy such as you have talked about, such as you have
put in your annual report implies that you identify who your customers
are and that you invest in marketing to them. Where have you launched
these marketing campaigns, these advertising campaigns to increase
your sales abroad? How much have you spent in those export markets.
What rises in those markets were (a) predicted by you and (b)
(Mr Davis) I think there are a number of questions
inherent in what you say there. The first point to make is that,
yes, our initial approach was very much export-led and our strategy
is to grow our international business organically and by acquisition.
In the early days it was very much skewed to export led. We have
made several international acquisitions since 1996. That is demonstrated
by the number of people we now employ.
324. What I am talking about is your export
market. I am not talking about your acquisition of Reemtsma, which
is the single largest brand, West, that is smuggled into Germany.
That in itself may make an interesting topic for the Committee
at a later stage. That is not what I am asking about. I am asking
about your own exports from the United Kingdom.
(Mr Davis) Our exports from the UK are all produced
in our Nottingham facility.
325. Answer the question please.
(Mr Davis) I am coming to it.
326. You are taking a long time about it.
(Mr Davis) I think it is helpful that you understand
327. I know the background; I want you to answer
(Mr Davis) We obviously export our cigarettes which
are manufactured there to a number of markets.
Mr Gardiner: I have asked you specific
questions. If you cannot answer them in Committee please provide
written responses. I want to know, Chairman, how much has been
spent, in which market, what were the sales predicted and what
were the sales achieved. I presume that you can provide a written
response to this Committee on those points.
328. Can you provide a written answer on those
(Mr Davis) We can certainly provide written answers
which will be in confidence to the Committee. Please let me have
one kick at the ball. I can only say to the point you make that
the sales have see-sawed, yes they have, and they have see-sawed
because we have stopped them; we have discontinued trading relationships
329. You talked about an export-led marketing
strategy; you did not talk about export-led marketing chaos! Let's
pass on to the next question. Customs say that you put 12.2 billion
to export. They also say that eight billion ends up back in the
UK. That implies that you do not know where two-thirds of your
exports are going. Is that correct?
(Mr Davis) No, it is not correct.
330. Can you explain to me how you know who
the end users are of the eight billion that end up back in the
(Mr Davis) I think I have to say, first of all, that
these are not precise estimates. The numbers are based on Customs'
seizures and the eight billion is an extrapolated figure and is
an estimate. We find that a difficult number to reconcile because
331. Mr Davis, I will give you a couple of billion,
it is still a hell of a lot of cigarettes you are not tracking
in your marketing strategy.
(Mr Davis) Because in terms of the sensitive countries
where stock has come back from, we have sent three billion. It
is a difficult figure for us to reconcile. That is all I am saying,
Mr Gardiner. If we look at those sensitive markets, the discontinued
relationships and cessation of trade, it is virtually zero.
332. Would you be happy then to say to your
shareholdersand they will be watching this and they will
knowthat you do not know where let's not even call it two-thirds
let's call it half of your export market is going? Is this a marketing
strategy and you do not know where half of it is going to end
up? How can you possibly advertise in those markets? How can you
possibly expand those markets? Your shareholders must be tearing
their hair out. It is incompetent, is it not?
(Mr Davis) We are a late starter in terms of international
growth because of our previous history and one cannot claim to
be successful in every market that one enters. We have been successful
in some markets but not in others but in these particular cases
where there has been seen to be constant flow-back we have acted
and discontinued the relationship. I do not see what else we could
333. You keep on saying that you have discontinued.
I am talking about what you did. You are now telling me, "We
think we may have got it wrong and we stopped doing it."
That implies that your export-led marketing strategy has now gone
down the pan because people like Customs and Excise have got on
your back. That is another question. Mr Davis, when you supply
a legitimate wholesaler, company A, who operate as a wholesaler
for Regal and Superkings into Belgium, that wholesaler would get
pretty upset if you also supplied another wholesaler, company
B, who undercut them in that market. Can you explain to the Committee
the way you take steps to protect company A, because you do, do
(Mr Davis) Could you go through that again, I am not
quite sure I understand your point.
334. Yes. I asked when you sell to a wholesaler
abroad and you know that that wholesaler may be the wholesaler
providing a particular market like, let's say, Belgium, you take
steps, do you not, to protect that wholesaler that you have supplied
from being undercut or in competition from another wholesaler
who might seek to go in the Belgian market with Regal and Superkings.
What are those steps?
(Mr Davis) In our case, with particular export markets
we have a solus supply type situation with what would be a distributor
rather than a wholesaler.
335. Of course you do, Mr Davis, but you know
very well what I am getting at. What I am getting at is you put
trackers on the packs that you sell elsewhere to make sure nobody
can sell outside the market they are supposed to, do you not?
(Mr Davis) We put codes on our packs.
336. Exactly, so you are quite capable of tracking
the cigarettes that reach that market and you are therefore able
to protect company A against company B. Mr Davidson is providing
you with a prompt so you had better read it before you answer.
(Mr Davis) Mr Davidson is pointing out that we have
solus or exclusive distributors for certain markets. In
other markets we may have more than one distributor who may have
different brands. I do not see this
337. Mr Davis, you have already conceded that
you have put codes on your cigarettes so that you can track them
through the market. I want to cut the crap because I have only
got two minutes left and I do not want to waste them. What you
do then is if one of the wholesalers you supply starts competing
in an area that you have already franchised out somewhere else
you will stop supplying company B, will you not? You impose obligations
on company B when you sell it to them not to on-sell in such a
way that it ends up undercutting company A. Is that not correct?
(Mr Davis) Broadly, yes.
338. That means that you should have absolutely
no problem in doing exactly the same thing with all the eight
billion sticks that are coming back into the UK. Why do you not
(Mr Davis) I think I would have to argue that we have.
I do not want to repeat the point about distributors again, but
339. Mr Davis, finally you said that it is no
benefit to you to have the smuggling going on. Can I just put
it to you that there are several reasons why you profit from the
illegal trade. One, it sells the product to overseas wholesalers
and you make your profit at the start of the distribution chain
that feeds back on to the black market. Two, it keeps cheap cigarettes
on the UK market and keeps smokers smoking that would otherwise
have quit. Three, it also exercises downward pressure on the Chancellor
because the fact there is an illegal market undercuts his ground
and it takes away the revenue that he would otherwise be putting
into things like the National Health Service to clean up the mess
that you create. I do not see that you can really say you do not
benefit in any way. It also helps with your competition with Gallahers.
Is that not true?
(Mr Davis) I do not think any of the points you make
there are accurate or true at all. It does us no good at all.
Mr Gardiner: Unfortunately my time is
up for the moment, maybe I will try and get five minutes at the
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