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VAT on tampons is 'vagina added tax', says Labour's Paula Sherriff

By Richard Wheeler, Tim Sculthorpe and Arj Singh

Published 26/10/2015

Tampon tax: Labour's Paula Sherriff said the amendment would begin to tackle the
Tampon tax: Labour's Paula Sherriff said the amendment would begin to tackle the "outrageous" situation

Ministers have been told to stop women needing to pay "vagina added tax" by changing European Union rules on sanitary products.

Labour's Paula Sherriff insisted David Cameron has a chance to "deliver a victory for women across the continent" as part of his EU reform negotiations by ending the so-called tampon tax.

A dozen Tory MPs have signed an amendment to the Finance Bill, tabled by Ms Sherriff which, if passed, would require the Government to draw up a strategy to change EU rules and remove VAT on women's sanitary products.

Moving her proposal, Dewsbury MP Ms Sherriff criticised the situation which sees tampons taxes as luxuries rather than essential items.

She told the Commons the 5% VAT charge on tampons "hits the poorest the hardest", saying: "Imagine, for example, being homeless when that time of the month comes. Think what it's like to face a period without even having a bathroom."

Ms Sherriff went on: "The minister told us during the committee stage of this Bill he was sympathetic. But we don't need to be patronised with tea and sympathy and platitudes - we're demanding action."

She added: "Frankly, VAT on tampons is the vagina added tax. Tax on women, pure and simple."

Labour cut the rate from the then standard rate of 17.5% - imposed in the 1970s - to the lower rate of 5% in the 2000 Budget, but was prevented from going any lower by European rules.

An amendment tabled to the Finance Bill, which is also backed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, would require Chancellor George Osborne to publish within three months a strategy for negotiating an exemption - and an update on progress by April next year.

Concluding her remarks, Ms Sherriff said: "We turned our clocks back on Sunday, let's not turn them back even further tonight. Period."

Before the debate, Tory Steve Baker (Wycombe) said the EU diktat - which prevents the government from changing the VAT rules on individual items - represented a tangible example of the influence of the EU on British law.

Eurosceptic Tory MP Sir William Cash, who has signed Ms Sherriff's amendment, said he did not believe the proposal was "strong enough".

The MP for Stone said a "progress report" would not end VAT charges on tampons, adding a provision is needed to override EU law to achieve the objectives he and Labour MPs wanted.

Concluding, Sir William said: "This is, I'm afraid, wishful thinking because the reality is you don't need a report you need action.

"You need action to return to this Parliament the right to be able to determine its own levels of taxation, it's a very simple question and therefore I regard the proposals as put forward in this amendment as being aspirations without substance.

"And yet I do actually agree with the principle that lies behind it, which can only be dealt with... by an effective piece of legislative change to the Finance Bill, whereby we take back control over our own affairs and govern not only the men but also the women of this country in the way in which they'd like."

Labour former minister Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) said: "Actually, this is really one of those basic, ridiculous things that the European Union does and what we need is to get control back in our own country of how we levy our VAT, which is why we should be voting to leave the European Union."

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