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Tampon tax: 'Outrageous there is a levy on women's feminine hygiene products'

Tory eurosceptics could join forces with Labour MPs to consign David Cameron to defeat over the so-called tampon tax in the Commons tonight - just as peers do battle with the Government in the Lords.

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

Dewsbury MP Ms Sherriff said the amendment would begin to tackle the "outrageous" situation where women are forced to pay tax on essential items.

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.

Ms Sherriff's report stage amendment is due to be called to a vote at about 9pm, hours after peers are expected to try and hold up tax credit reforms with a series of dangerous votes for the government in the upper House.

Speaking to Sky News, she said: "It is absolutely outrageous there is a levy on women's feminine hygiene products of 5%.

"Things like pistachio nuts, chocolate chip cookies - they are all VAT exempt or 0% VAT, so why should women have to pay a levy on things that are absolute essentials?

"Things like tampons, they are not luxuries."

On the same programme, Mr Baker said: "The reality is what Paula has done is absolutely right, it is outrageous and there is great cross-party agreement.

"The reality is within the EU, Parliament can't just decide for itself to zero-rate them and that's the fundamental issue.

"What's really notable about this issue is at last we have found an issue which makes real to people what it means to give up sovereignty.

"We would like to reduce VAT to 0% on feminine hygiene products and we can't do it because of EU rules."

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.

On Sunday, a Treasury spokesman said: "The UK has set the VAT on sanitary products at the minimum rate permissible under EU rules."

Any change would require a Commission proposal and the unanimous agreement of all 28 member states.

There appears to be little or no appetite for such a move in some other EU countries, however.

The French parliament recently threw out a bid by socialist MPs to cut tax on sanitary products from 20% to 5.5%, which the Paris government said would have cost it £40 million in lost revenues.

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