HC Deb 13 May 1999 vol 331 c402
4. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

What assessment he has made of the impact of changes in cider duty announced in the Budget on producers of bottle-fermented cider. [83191]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

Discussions with the National Association of Cider Makers suggest that there are fewer than 30 producers of bottle-fermented sparkling cider, some of which are exempted from paying any duty because their production is below the registration threshold. Of those who pay duty, most also produce mainstream traditional ciders and are not, therefore, reliant solely on bottle-fermented sparkling cider production for their livelihood.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the Financial Secretary, but is it not the case that in order to deal, rather ineffectually, with an infraction proceeding from Italy for a rather unpleasant-sounding beverage, she is driving out a traditional British product of high quality, which is made in my constituency? Is it beyond the wit of the Treasury to devise an exemption that would maintain the production of bottle-fermented cider? If it cannot do that, is not the inference that, for the Treasury, far from small being beautiful, small and rural industries simply do not count?

Mrs. Roche

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, who I would have expected to know rather more about the subject. [Interruption.] I say that only because his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), his party's spokesman on this matter, said during a debate on the Finance Bill: The vast majority of cider makers will not be affected … the industry as a whole is not worried. It has been consulted, and has agreed with the Government's approach."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 4 May 1999; c.41–3.] [Interruption.] I remind Conservative Members that the process started in 1996; they started it. We consulted widely in the industry. This proved to be the only way forward, and it was certainly supported by the vast majority of cider makers.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What can the Chancellor possibly have meant when he told the House during his Budget speech that there would be no increase in alcohol duty this side of the millennium?

Mrs. Roche

I know that it is a bit early in the morning, but the hon. Gentleman clearly did not hear my earlier reply. There was no new increase; the increase was started by the Conservatives when they were in government. The then Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), initiated it in 1996, nearly four years ago, and the industry knew all about it. Let me tell the Conservative party that it is no good doing another U-turn; Labour Members are far too used to that.

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