HC Deb 06 May 1971 vol 816 cc1639-41
Q7. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Prime Minister what representations he has received from the public that he set up a Ministry with exclusive responsibility to safeguard the interests of the brewing industry.

The Prime Minister

None, Sir.

Dr. Gilbert

Is this not due to the fact that the public realise that the entire Conservative Party is there to represent the interests of the brewing industry? How does he reconcile his views on the value of competition with the fact that the quality of British beer is going steadily down year by year?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman, so newly come to the House, should not allow himself to be captured by the outmoded shibboleths of his own Front Bench. If he is suggesting that there should be some additional control over beer, all I can tell him is that the British public have no desire for further interference in their public houses, least of all from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware, following his strictures on my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert), that my hon. Friend has had an opportunity since coming to this House of sampling some of the best beer in the country, and that that beer did not come from private brewers?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to buy what he wants.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Prime Minister aware that the brewing industry has the pathetic record of 1 per cent. exports—which, compared with the export figure for Scotch whisky, is abysmal? Does he realise that it exports only 1 per cent. because in comparison with foreign beers and lagers our beer is nowhere near as strong or as good value for money? This is the sixteenth biggest industry in the country. Is it not time the Government inquired into the way in which it has been monopolised by seven breweries?

The Prime Minister

I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman thinks he is encouraging exports of British beer by running down good British beer. I find that it is as good as any I can get in Europe and North America, and I would always stick to British beer.

Sir G. Nabarro

As a representative of a hop-growing constituency, would my right hon. Friend recognise that the only thing which is wrong with British beer is that it is taxed too heavily? As a supporter of a value-added tax, would he also recognise that if beer is included in a value-added tax the price of it to British men and women will drop dramatically?

The Prime Minister

In addition, of course, any value-added tax on beer can be removed when it is exported, in accordance with the desire of hon. Members opposite. I have sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has said because I come from the best hop-growing county.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is the value-added tax intended to replace the Excise duty on beer or not?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must await my right hon. Friend's final proposal.