Clarke's Christmas cheer

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The Independent Online
DRINKERS will be making a mistake if they rush to stock up on alcohol before the Budget on Tuesday. The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, has pledged to carry out his predecessor Norman Lamont's promise not to impose higher alcohol duties until 1 January, writes William Kay.

'The Chancellor wants everyone to enjoy Christmas,' a Treasury aide said in a burst of bonhomie. The truth is a little more pragmatic. When beer and spirits producers heard that the Budget would be switched to late November, they lobbied Mr Lamont to give them a breathing space because of alleged 'difficulties in repricing at a time of maximum seasonal demand'.

But the breathing space does not extend to smokers or motorists. Taking off his Santa Claus beard, the same Treasury source snarled: 'There are no special reasons for departing from the traditional Budget day implementation for tobacco, hydrocarbon oil or vehicle excise duty.'

So fill your spare room with cigarettes if that is your preferred poison.

While Mr Clarke has not actually said he will put prices up, the duty will apply to stocks taken from bond after 6pm on Budget day if he does. 'It's ridiculous,' a spokesman for the Tobacco Alliance moaned. 'Why favour one industry rather than another? We contribute more to the Exchequer than do drinks manufacturers.'

Duty free for all, page 6