Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has defended his vote against a Labour MP’s amendment to the government’s Finance Bill calling for value added tax on tampons and other ‘sanitary protection products’ to be scrapped – a tax he called one of the EU’s ‘worst examples of sexual discrimination’.
The so-called ‘tampon tax’ stands at 5 per cent, far below the EU average of 17 per cent, and occurs because tampons and other sanitary products are classified as non-essential ‘luxury’ goods – even though, as Stella Creasy MP pointed out during the House of Commons debate on Monday evening, men’s razors, pitta bread and Jaffa Cakes are all exempted from the tax.
Although Mr Loughton voted against the amendment, which was defeated 305-287, he agreed that the tax was unjust and said after the debate: “Given that shaving materials and other products are zero rated it is particularly iniquitous that women should have to pay a premium for what is hardly a ‘luxury’ item.”
Explaining his vote, Mr Loughton pointed out that during the debate in the Commons David Gauke MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, promised to bring the issue up with the European Commission – rendering the amendment, he insisted, unnecessary.
“Labour MPs then displayed a disgraceful degree of churlishness and forced a vote (on the amendment) anyway,” he added.
Legal obstacles prevent the government from unilaterally removing the tax without the assent of the European Union’s twenty-seven other member states.
Upon its accession to the European Economic Community in 1973 the UK’s ‘Purchase Tax’ was replaced by VAT, standard across other European states.
Terms of membership allowed the UK to retain zero-rates on those goods already exempt from consumption tax, but limited its ability to remove it from those goods already taxed – such as sanitary products.
And while an EU directive gives member states the discretionary power to lower VAT on tampons and sanitary towels they must be taxed at a minimum of 5 per cent – the current UK rate, lowered in 2000 after a campaign by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo.
“We are going to bring pressure on our EU partners where it can actually make a difference,” explained Mr Loughton.
“On that basis, I was happy to support the Minister and it was not necessary to carry on with the amendment.”
The government’s promise to bring up the issue with the European Commission comes as the Prime Minister seeks to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership ahead of the in-out EU referendum, likely to be held in 2016 or 2017.
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