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Published:  23 July, 2008

The Wine and Spirit Association (WSA) and other industry figures have called upon the Government to reduce excise duty on alcoholic products, following the High Court's ruling against HM Customs & Excise's heavy-handed' approach towards cross-Channel shoppers. The WSA's director, Quentin Rappoport, said: We're totally against smuggling, but harassing ordinary shoppers is not the way to stop it. Concern about revenue loss is at the heart of the recent clampdown on cross-border shopping, but the Government must realise this is the wrong approach.' The case was brought against Customs & Excise by Hoverspeed. James Sherwood, president of Sea Containers, Hoverspeed's parent company, said: No longer will HM Customs & Excise be entitled to stop passengers at random. They will only be able to do so if they have specific grounds to suspect passengers are acting unlawfully.' EU guidelines for acceptable imports for personal use stand at 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine and 10 litres of spirits. Westminster has interpreted these guidelines as a maximum, authorising Customs to demand an explanation as to why passengers need so much alcohol and to impound a car if they are not satisfied. Criticising the decision, Alan Toft, director-general of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said: This decision will open the floodgates to a new flood of smuggled cigarettes and alcohol. This ridiculous judgement will damage the legitimate trade of wholesalers and independent retailers.' However, Jonathan Butt, media co-ordinator for First Quench, backed the WSA, calling for parity with Europe' on duty. Rappoport also feels that the Government could raise revenue if it adopted a more measured approach: The experience of other high tax countries, such as Switzerland, where excise has recently been cut, shows that a reduction here could give long-term revenue gains for the Government, as well as stopping the long-term decline of the drinks industry,' he said.