MPs name and shame cheap cider and defend bingo halls

May 7, 2009 at 2:27 pm Leave a comment

by Tony Grew

“Frosty Jack’s cider costs £3.39 and has 7.5 per cent. alcohol. A bottle holds 22.5 units.

“For pocket money prices, a man could drink his entire recommended weekly intake from one three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s.”

Stuart Hosie used yesterday’s debate on the Finance Bill to call for a more “sophisticated approach” to alcohol duty.

The SNP MP accused the government of using the Scotch whisky industry “as a cash cow and building on last year’s two damaging rises that amounted to more than 13 per cent.

“We need the fair taxation of alcohol, by referring to three drinks with exactly the same alcohol content: a half pint of beer at 4.93 per cent. volume incurs 23.06p in duty; a 125ml glass of wine at 11.2 per cent. volume incurs 26.75 in duty; and a modest 35ml measure of Scotch at 40 per cent. volume incurs 31.7p in duty.”

Conservative MP Rob Marris said he was disappointed that the duty on beer also went up in the Budget.

“Some 39 pubs in the United Kingdom are closing every week and breweries, such as Marston’s in my constituency, are also affected.

“Does he support an approach that involves a minimum price for alcohol, given that in large parts of the country a man can have his weekly alcohol intake of 21 units for about £2.30 if he buys chemical cider?

“If he went into a public house, however, he would get only a pint of beer for about that price.”

Mr Hosie raised the example of Frosty Jack’s.

“Minimum pricing in shops and supermarkets is an important and sensible policy.

“I am not sure whether the duty regime is the mechanism through which to tackle the issue, but the hon. Gentleman has raised a genuine point, which I support.

“I am sure that he will encourage his colleagues to support the Scottish Government in their drive to address the issue.”

Mr Hosie also attacked taxation on another national pastime.

“Bingo is a massively significant sector for many communities. Well run, licensed bingo clubs and halls provide a safe social environment, particularly for women in working class communities.

“It is deeply unfair that when other forms of gaming—perhaps I should call it “gambling” now—are effectively taxed at 15 per cent., licensed bingo clubs should be singled out for a 22 per cent. rate.

“I am sure that we will address that issue as the Bill progresses.”

Tory MP Graham Stuart also condemned the bingo tax.

His colleague Tobias Ellwood said:

“Some 8.5 million people play bingo every year, one third of bingo operators or companies are under threat due to the 46 per cent. tax increase, and I urge the Minister, through my hon. Friend, to reconsider what is happening.

“This is not just about dear old ladies who go out, although it is their one evening out all week. If such places shut, the social fabric of many communities will change, and the Government ought to reconsider the matter.”

He added: “There was a system of double taxation that was unique to bingo. The industry was hit by gross profits tax and VAT, but when the industry gets what it wants and VAT suddenly disappears, it is hit by an increase in gross profits tax, from 15 to 22 per cent. The Government have given with one hand and taken away with the other.

“The consequence of that is an increase in taxation of about 46 per cent.

“That may be a cunning way to make money, but the Government do not fully understand the consequences that it will have for our communities.”

Philip Hammond, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, made the connection with public houses.

“Many Members from all parts of the House look at the challenges to the bingo industry and pubs in the same way: a vital piece of the community’s infrastructure is in jeopardy, and that will change for ever the nature of the towns, villages and communities in which we live.”

Winding up the debate Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said:

“On bingo, which came up in the debate, we have increased the rate of bingo duty, but withdrawn VAT on participation fees.

“The overall consequence of that is to reduce the rate of tax on bingo from 24 or 25 per cent. to 22 per cent. I am sure that change will assist those in the bingo industry.”

photo – Frosty Jack’s fansite.


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