Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Stephen Crabb.)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I am delighted to have secured this topical and most important debate in the run-up to this year’s Budget. Since I was elected to the House, I have taken part in a number of debates of this kind, and they are usually extremely well attended. Despite the fact that there are huge pressures on parliamentary time this morning, given the plethora of Select Committees, it is good to see how many hon. Friends and Members are here to support this debate. Given the debate title, I intend to keep to the narrow issue of the beer duty escalator, and I urge colleagues to do likewise. Just as none of us would want our beer watered down, I do not want us to temper our arguments by being distracted from the issue of beer duty.
I will set out a simple, clear case for why the beer duty escalator should be scrapped and beer duty should not be increased in the forthcoming Budget. In making that case, I will discuss the impact of the escalator on the beer and pub industry and the negative effect that the escalator is having on our economy and communities across the country. I will also discuss the positive story that our beer and pub industry has to tell and the reasons why that industry should not be compromised by further rises in the already excessive beer duty rate.
In the UK, 30 million adults drink beer each year and 15 million visit the pub each week. From my postbag, I know what an important issue it is for many of my constituents. Campaigns organised by the Campaign for Real Ale, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Society of Independent Brewers, the National Farmers Union, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and The Sun newspaper have captured the spirit—I probably should not use that word in a debate on beer—of public opinion. The campaigns have chimed with the breadth of public opinion on the subject, and the strength of feeling involved has been expressed by the 108,000 people who recently signed an e-petition calling for the beer duty escalator to be scrapped.
From my postbag, I know that popping down the local for a pint is becoming more and more expensive and out of reach for many of my constituents. Incomes have been squeezed over the past five years or so, and the cost of a pint has become more and more unaffordable. Beer is fast heading towards being a luxury item.
On the economic impact of the escalator, the beer and pub sector is vital to our country; nearly 1 million people across the UK work in the industry. Some 46% of those are younger people aged 16 to 24. The beer industry is also a true success story for British manufacturing: 87% of all beer consumed in this country is made in the UK. If only we could do the same for other products that we consume, our economy would be far more balanced. That is one reason why we should encourage the beer and pub industry and the manufacture of great British beer in our country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the speech that he is making. The pub industry is a fantastic way to get young people into work, give them work experience and teach them the business model. Does he not agree that supporting the pub trade is a fantastic way to tackle our problems with youth unemployment and young people not in education, employment or training?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Young people can enter the beer and pub industry at the bottom by pulling pints behind the bar, an extremely important role, and work their way up within companies to become managers or work for pub companies and breweries. It can be an extremely fulfilling and constructive career for many. We should encourage the industry to take on more and more young people.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important to many of our constituents. He mentioned the manufacturing contribution that beer makes to the economy. Does he agree that it is not just made by the big brewers—the Carlsbergs and Tetleys—but by the microbreweries popping up across the country? In my constituency, I have a brewery in Buxton and the Howard Town brewery in Glossop. They are also part of the local economy, particularly in rural areas such as mine.
I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely pertinent comment. I will come to that.
In my constituency, the sector accounts for 1,441 jobs, employing 431 young people. It also contributes £33.7 million in gross value added to the local economy. Nationally, the sector adds £19 billion to the UK economy, and it currently contributes £10 billion in taxation to the Treasury. Since the previous Chancellor introduced the beer duty escalator in 2008—my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor continued it in May 2010—beer duty has risen by a staggering 42%. If the planned increase is effected in April following the coming Budget, beer duty will have increased by an eye-watering 50% in five years.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He mentioned that the escalator principle of the beer duty was introduced by the last Labour Government. Does he not agree that there is something profoundly un-Conservative about having a tax that automatically increases year after year? Would it not be a mark of a Conservative Government to scrap that principle on both the fuel duty and the beer duty?
Absolutely. It is not a Conservative principle to impose taxes such as the escalator year on year without reassessing the effect of such a tax. He is right that it would be an excellent move for a Conservative-led Government to scrap the escalator and freeze beer duty this year. That is in the context of the challenge for hard-pressed UK citizens, who now pay 40% of all Europe’s beer duty despite drinking only 13% of the beer consumed in Europe.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he agree that one purpose of Government alcohol taxation policy is to drive consumer behaviour, and that reviewing and changing the beer duty escalator could encourage drinkers towards lower-strength British-made drinks such as beer, which I am sure is made in his constituency as it is in mine?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. It is nice and extremely refreshing to be able to agree with comments made by an Opposition Member. She has made an extremely pertinent point. Beer is a lower-strength product, and it is far better for people, if consumed in moderation, than higher-strength drinks, which may well be more damaging to health if consumed in excessive quantities.
The increases in duty are having a disproportionate effect, in particular on our pub industry and if we compare on-sales with off-sales, especially off-sales made in supermarkets. Before the escalator was introduced, drinking in a pub was four times more expensive than drinking at home; now, after a few short years, it is eight times more expensive, which shows the disproportionate effect on the great British pub.
I join the chorus of MPs who are congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Is there not a real danger—a point he touched on—that we are in an ever-increasing downward spiral? Beer sales are falling and pubs closing; consequently, the revenue to the Treasury is going down. Given that, should not the Treasury focus on the overall tax take and the wider benefits to the economy?
I think that my hon. Friend has probably read my speech; he has made a pertinent point which I completely agree with. Since the escalator was introduced, beer consumption in the UK has fallen by 17% overall and by nearly a quarter in our pubs; almost 6,000 pubs have closed their doors for the last time and more than 60,000 beer-dependent jobs have been lost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) mentioned, we are still seeing 18 pubs close per week, which is extremely alarming when we are trying to encourage economic growth and want to get people into work.
I can recount the pubs in my constituency over the past few years that have had to put the towels on for the last time, such as the Fox and Crane, The Graziers Arms or The Boot Inn, not to mention the many social clubs that have also ceased to exist. Notwithstanding the financial benefit of the beer and brewing industry, pub closures are having a detrimental effect on the fabric of our society, due to the high social impact when a pub closes. Our pubs offer a unique leisure experience, are a great addition to the social fabric of our country and are often at the heart of our local communities; they are akin to community centres for their areas. They offer a safe environment in which drinking can be supervised and highly regulated, which is in stark contrast to much of the street drinking and pre-loading culture that has developed since drinking in our pubs has become more expensive.
Pubs are also great places to meet friends and to make new friends. I met my wife in the Chetwynd Arms in my constituency back in 1997. Although 1997 was obviously a dreadful year in many ways—[Hon. Members: “Particularly for your wife.”] Especially for Mrs Jones. The year had one shining light: I met the future Mrs Jones.
Pubs are also a great place to do business. Many small business people such as tradesmen who frequent the local pubs in my constituency often secure new work from going into the local for a pint, by way of word of mouth, with other customers speaking to relatives and so on and so forth.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) mentioned, local pubs are also a place where many young people get their first taste of work. I had one of my first part-time jobs in my local pub and found it an interesting experience; at the tender age of 16, and very green at the time, I did not realise some of the things that go on in life, although it became absolutely obvious that they do. Not only was it a great learning experience but it taught me how to deal with people. The experience I gained then has stood me in good stead ever since and is extremely important to my work as a Member of Parliament.
Community pubs sustain many positive community activities. Many of our pubs, their licensees and customers contribute towards the funding and running of all sorts of sporting and other activities, such as football, darts, dominoes and cribbage. I could go on with a long list, but a large number of community activities are run because of our pubs. Also, pub customers are extremely generous people; they contribute financially to charities to the tune of £120 million each and every year.
I have set out why our beer and pub industry is so important economically and socially. Finally, I want to start on the road of appealing to the Minister. He is a listening Minister and takes the concerns of Back-Bench Members of this House extremely seriously. I appreciate entirely the Government’s work in reducing the deficit, which has given us far lower interest rates, helping the whole economy and in particular those people who want to frequent our pubs. I appreciate the freeze on council tax for the past three years, which has helped with the cost of living, and the freeze on fuel duty, which has no doubt helped the beer and pub industry because when the fuel duty goes up the price of a pint goes up. I appreciate the other measures that the Minister and his colleagues are taking to reinvigorate the economy as well, but I also urge my hon. Friend to assess the beer duty escalator and beer duty in general to see if the effect is disproportionate. I and many of the industry bodies believe that the negative effect on the industry is disproportionate. Furthermore, as he knows, estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility expect £100 million less from beer and cider duty in 2013-14, despite the proposed 5.1% duty increase.
My hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor want to build on the 1 million private sector jobs created under this Government and to keep the momentum. They do not want to see jobs lost unnecessarily as a result of the planned beer duty increase, but the British Beer and Pub Association, as I know from speaking to it, estimates that up to 10,000 jobs could be lost in the industry if something is not done about the tax on beer and the escalator.
I ask the Minister to give our great British beer and pub industry a break by urging the Chancellor to scrap the beer duty escalator and not to increase beer duty this year. If the Chancellor makes the right decision and backs our British pubs, we will hear the clinking of glasses throughout the country on the night of the Budget, and he will be cheered in every pub in the land.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I hope that you, the Minister and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) will understand if I have to disappear for part of the debate to attend a meeting relating to my work on the Environmental Audit Committee, but I hope to be present for the closing speeches.
I congratulate wholeheartedly the hon. Member for Nuneaton on securing this timely debate. Only last week, in relation to a briefing in the Palace of Westminster, many of us sent postcards to the Chancellor, with the support of CAMRA and the Society of Independent Brewers, to say that the time has come for the Government to review the escalator. As the hon. Gentleman set out, the debate is relevant not only to the Chancellor and the Treasury but to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, because we are talking about British manufacturing and a sector that is at the core of all our constituencies. During the preparations for the Budget, it is vital that the sector’s contribution to the economy is recognised. In recent years, we have had lots of leaks in advance of the Budget statement, but in this instance I hope there might even be an early celebration of the Government looking again at what needs to be done.
In my constituency, the brewing and pub sector is a historic yet dynamic and vibrant part of the local economy; it creates jobs and is at the centre of the local hospitality industry. It is part of our cultural heritage and the social life of every community. For those reasons alone, the Minister should listen hard.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on taking part in the all-party beer group’s campaign to get MPs to work behind the bar of their local boozer. I know that she learned a great deal from that. Almost 100 MPs took part in that scheme. Does she agree that that shows how strongly MPs want to support our local pubs and that they value them greatly?
I am grateful for that intervention. Many hon. Members belong to that all-party group and regularly attend its functions. I do not know, Mr Caton, whether you are one of them, but I know that you have many wonderful pubs in your constituency of Gower.
Members of Parliament join all-party groups not just to go along for half an hour or so, but to represent their constituents. They would not be part of such groups or put postcards into a barrel to send to the Chancellor if hundreds of people had not contacted them by e-mail and letter and through local pubs. I have visited many local pubs in my constituency and, as a Member of Parliament, have become involved in resolving all sorts of issues. If he listens to anyone, the Minister should listen to Members of Parliament who have first-hand experience of how important the issue is.
My constituency has 93 pubs and one brewery, and I want to speak on behalf of that brewery—the Titanic brewery. It has won awards and works alongside local pubs. The total number of jobs in the beer and pub sector in my constituency is 1,290, of which 668 are direct jobs and 327 are direct jobs for 16 to 24-year olds. It is very much part of local business. The total value that it adds to the local economy is a grand £32.1 million with £0.9 million invested in the local economy.
I am particularly proud of Titanic, and of Keith Bott and the employees, who play a leading role in the Society of Independent Brewers and have been at the forefront of campaigning for the Government to consider their industry during this economic recession. Times have changed since the escalator was introduced, and the Minister should tell us what progress he has made on the review since the last debate in Parliament back in October or November. I hope that he will give assurances on that.
Titanic plays an important and vibrant role in the life of my constituency. It is 27 years old and has grown from two to more than 130 employees, including 35 jobs in Stoke-on-Trent North alone. I draw particular attention to the Bulls Head, where anyone who wants to taste good real ale goes, particularly before a good football match.
The majority of that employment has been enabled by investment in pubs. It is worth noting that although the hon. Member for Nuneaton wanted to talk about the escalator, the value of the small breweries relief has made an enormous difference to many small breweries all over the country. If ever there was evidence that investment in a sector can bear fruit, it is that small breweries relief, which has made such a difference since its introduction back in 2002. The Government should now go one step further and examine the escalator.
The current policy of increasing duty above inflation may seem to be one way of raising revenue, but the Treasury’s figures show that that is misguided. They forecast a very small increase in duty revenue from this policy—small enough that no additional revenue is predicted. The policy is changing societal behaviour. An unintended consequence of duty increases—we heard about this during interventions—is that more and more people are choosing to drink at home or on a park bench, unregulated and unsupervised, and they are switching from beer to wine and spirits. Part of my career many years ago was working with homeless alcoholics, and I cannot stress enough the importance of having supervised places where people may drink responsibly. Pubs are such places.
This debate is critical not just for small breweries such as Titanic, but for the beer and pub industry as a whole, and the supply chain that contributes to it. Since the introduction of the beer duty escalator, excise duty has increased by at least 20p a pint. Beer sales in pubs and clubs have fallen by 23% and more than 6,000 pubs have closed. Beer taxation now costs the average pub around £66,000 a year. Instead of that, we should be creating more jobs, employing more people, and creating more wealth locally. That is possible if we do not have excessive taxation, which is simply not working in a time of economic austerity. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will listen to what is being suggested today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) on securing this debate. He is a big supporter of beer and pubs and it is a great pleasure to be working again with him and colleagues from across the House who support our national drink and our community pubs. This seems to be a case of here we are again, and here we go again.
As chair of the all-party save the pub group, it is always a pleasure to discuss these issues, but I hope that this is the last time we have to discuss the beer duty escalator in Parliament, because I hope that in two weeks this ill-conceived tax—it has not done what the Chancellor in the previous Government predicted, but has caused damage and held back our brewing industry—will become a thing of the past and that we need not ever discuss it again.
I am pleased to see the Minister in his place, and I thank him for the way he has engaged in the matter and listened. He is a supporter of beer and pubs, and he has acknowledged the important role of the brewing sector and pubs, and the opportunities for growth and to be part of getting the British economy back on its feet. I warmly welcome that. He has been listening carefully and reflecting, and I hope that that can also be said for the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I urge coalition Members particularly to ensure when we bump into them in the Lobbies that they are also listening. However, the listening must be coming to an end, because there has been a lot of it, as well as a lot of reflecting and campaigning. It is now time for action, and the message from this debate is that nothing other than announcing the abolition of the beer duty escalator in the Budget in two weeks will be acceptable. We urge the Minister to ensure that.
I want to emphasise to the Minister, the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that this is a hugely positive opportunity. Too often in debates, MPs say that they want a tax break here and a tax break there, or a favour and a leg-up. That is not what this argument is about. It is simply about two things. From an economic point of view, the tax simply does not add up. It does not make sense. Even the Treasury’s figures have shown that if the predicted rise in beer duty goes ahead in two weeks’ time, the revenues from beer duty will fall, yet we do not need to be geniuses to see what effect the duty is having on brewers, particularly medium-sized brewers. We need to remember that the tax is a producer tax; it is levied on brewers at the point of production, so it directly affects that sector. Taking it away would lead to a change in investment decisions by those companies.
I had a very powerful and stark conversation with Lancaster brewery—it is not in my constituency. The brewery has done incredibly well to get above the level of small breweries relief, to the extent that it is helping either very little or not at all. I heard about how much the brewery would have to pay in duty, and where it would spend that money otherwise. It would spend it on investment, on employment, on increasing production, on taking on more people, and on supplying more beer around the region, and no doubt, around the country.
If the Minister wants clear evidence—I know that he is both a pub lover and a very capable economist—he only has to look at the astonishing effect of small breweries relief since it was introduced in 2002, and I am not churlish enough not to give credit to the previous Government for doing that. I did so at the time, and it has been hugely important. Some people have the idea that small breweries relief is simply something that has helped small breweries—these cuddly microbreweries—to brew beer, and that that is great for beer lovers, but actually, we are talking about incredibly powerful facts.
Figures from the Society of Independent Brewers—SIBA—show that volume sales of locally brewed SIBA beer, against a declining level of sales in the on-trade, were up 6.8% in 2012. Those local brewers already employ nearly 5,000 people, and the really stark figure is that on average, SIBA brewers invested 23% of their turnover back into the business, and into employment, increasing production, and growth. Clearly, there is a direct link between the level of beer duty and the level of investment that brewers are able to make into their business, and that has a huge knock-on effect. As the chairman of the all-party save the pub group, I am deeply concerned about the number of pub closures in this country. It would be wrong to suggest that that is down to one factor, when a number are involved, but clearly the unfair level of beer duty is a factor, and it is time to address it.
The reason why pubs are affected in a powerful way is that supermarkets can absorb any increase in duty that the Treasury throws at them. They have ways of doing that and even now, they are selling alcohol at a price that many people believe is not responsible. The difference between the price of a pint in a supermarket and a pub is now tenfold—it is ten times cheaper to buy alcohol in a supermarket, compared with in the controlled, sociable environment of the British pub, which as we know, provides community value. The Institute of Public Policy Research published an excellent report, which estimated that the wider social value provided per pub was between £20,000 and £120,000, on top of the economic benefits. An interesting fact for the Treasury and BIS about the local pub is that for every pound spent in a pub, compared with a supermarket, twice as much is then circulated and invested in the local economy.
Therefore, it really is a win-win situation. We all know that the Budget has to focus on growth—I look forward to some of the excellent suggestions from Lord Heseltine being included—and here is a simple opportunity to send the message to Britain’s brewers that we want them to invest, to continue to succeed, and not to fall into the trap that we currently have with small breweries relief, where if brewers start to be too successful, they find themselves being penalised.
I also ask the Minister to look carefully at the levels of duty for all drinks, because when it comes to beer, there has been a blind spot that many of us simply do not understand. Beer has been seen as a cash cow for the Treasury, and that must end. However, I also urge the Minister and his colleagues to look at other levels of duty, and particularly to consider the situation with cider. Cider is, of course, another wonderful drink, which is often produced by small producers. There is also a relief for small cider producers, but interestingly, it does not go as far as the relief for beer.
However, I need to bring the Minister’s attention to the situation we have in which huge, mass-produced cider brands—the likes of Magners and Bulmers—pay a fraction of the duty that equivalent large beer brands pay, and that is simply because of the idea that all cider is produced by small producers. I am afraid that there is a lot of dishonesty in the cider market. When it comes to Magners, so-called “Irish cider”, if it really was Irish cider made from Irish apples, every Irish apple would be making something like 20 litres of cider. Some marketing kidology is going on—I say that as someone who used to work in marketing—and there is a profound unfairness.
I want to see a way of helping our wonderful small cider and perry producers. That is absolutely important, and perhaps the relief to them could be extended, but we must also ensure that someone buying a pint of Marston’s Pedigree or Fuller’s London Pride is not paying significantly more—currently more than double the duty—than someone buying a pint of Strongbow, Magners or Bulmers. There is no justification for that, and that inequality must end.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important and strong case. Does he share my concern about figures that I have recently discovered showing that one of the largest producers of cider in this country imports 77% of the apples that it uses in production? On the argument that we need to support the cider industry with special pleading because of its importance to UK apple production, does he not agree that those figures demonstrate that all we are doing is subsidising apple production overseas?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is what I was alluding to when I mentioned the marketing claim that Magners Irish cider is made with Irish apples, when it clearly cannot possibly be.
A pint serving of beer is subject to 41p of duty, whereas cider is subject to 19p. I want to reiterate that when we are talking about those wonderful, small producers of cider and perry, they should have our support, but we cannot have a situation where the huge producers—as the hon. Gentleman has said, many of which are not using British or Irish apples—are being given the subsidy that they are getting, frankly, from overpriced beer. As well as protecting small producers, we need that issue to be looked at.
We need to remember that the beer duty escalator is not the only issue facing pubs, and I am delighted that the Government have now pledged to deal with the behaviour of large pub companies. I reiterate the message that the Minister must send to the large pub companies, which is that if the Government go ahead, as they must, and get rid of the beer duty escalator, pub companies need to pledge that they will pass on the reduction in duty and cost directly to their lessees on their so-called wholesale and list prices. That is fundamental, or frankly, those pubs will not see any benefit, because the money will simply deal with the debts that the companies have got themselves into. The Minister must put that message out, as well as listening carefully to the figures on investment that have been put in front of him, when considering the effect of his decision.
To help our hon. Friend the Minister, we know that money is short and that taking this action will cost the Treasury money, so what suggestions does the hon. Gentleman have on how the Government can make countervailing savings? It is unfair for us to go into a Budget discussion and ask the Government to make a cut in the duty that will be raised without coming up with suggestions on how the shortfall will be made up.
The first point is that this tax does not make economic sense, because it is not bringing in what it is predicted to bring in. That simply is not sensible. A great deal of work has been done—this was a conversation that happened after last year—to show the effect that it will have on investment. In the end, we all agree that taxation is there to encourage. That is really what we would like taxation to do—to encourage positive decisions. What we are saying is, “Get rid of this tax and have fairer beer duty to encourage the sort of investment that has been demonstrated at the smaller end, where people do have lower and slightly fairer beer duty.” The prediction is that 10,000 new jobs would come from doing that. Then there would be the employment tax and the increase in business rates.
At the moment, instead of that, we have declining sales, which means lower duty and lower VAT. We have pub closures, which means a loss of business rates, council tax, employment tax and so on. We must turn this vicious circle into a positive one, and this is an opportunity to start to do that, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must be focused on those economic issues. Let us look at the unfair subsidy provided to the huge producers of mass-produced cider. That would be one way of equalising things. We need to take the opportunity to look at that.
I have had conversations with the Minister about specific ways to assist pubs through the tax system. I hope that he has been looking at that. I hope that he has been trying to find a way, perhaps through rates, to have relief for the community value of a pub. I hope that he will continue to look favourably at anything that can encourage people to consume alcohol responsibly in pubs, as opposed to buying it from supermarkets.
I hope that this is the last time that we need to discuss this issue. It is great to see the faces supporting this campaign around the table, but I genuinely hope that the next time I see them will be with the Minister and that we will all be able to have a pint of excellent, locally produced British beer, knowing that it no longer has been subject, at the point of production, to the unfair, unnecessary and illogical beer duty escalator.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) on securing it. We have spent much of the past year working together on beer, as we both took part in the all-party beer group’s inquiry into the smuggling of beer to try to get round the UK duty rules. That issue has not yet been raised much in this debate. One reason why we do not get the increase in revenue that we would expect from the beer duty escalator is the increasing amounts of beer that are brought over in what we could euphemistically call white vans. I suspect that they are actually large trucks, sneaking through our border, so that the beer can be sold round the backs of industrial estates.
It was quite scary, when we took evidence from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to hear exactly what the scale of the fraud was. It was something like the equivalent of all off-sales outside supermarkets in the UK, which is a seriously large volume. I am not saying that every small shop selling beer is selling non-duty-paid beer; that was just to show the scale of the problem that we have. We have to consider whether, all other things being equal, a policy that just generates extra rewards for people smuggling and avoiding beer duty is sensible when we are trying to encourage the legal trade.
I agree with what everyone else has said. I think that everyone has used the useful statistics that we have for the debate. The idea of increasing beer duty by more than inflation every year was probably wrong when it was introduced four or five years ago. In fact, various members of my party and the Liberal Democrats said at the time that it was wrong. It is a pity that taking on the chains of office means that we change our mind on some of these things.
It was intriguing to see that the present Secretary of State for Health was not happy with the policy when he was in a shadow role five years ago. I hope that that is something that my right hon. Friend has taken with him into the Department of Health and that we can see a reduction in the rather scatter-gun and unfair efforts to stop ordinary, reasonable people having an ordinary small amount of drink every week. It is right that we tackle excessive drinking, but we should not be trying to tackle the ordinary drinker and push the cost up for them.
If we are trying to tackle excessive alcohol consumption, which we clearly should, it is important to point out that the beer duty escalator targets people who drink, in pubs, pints of British-brewed beer. I suspect that that is not the biggest health problem caused by alcohol that this country has. We should be encouraging people to drink a nice, relatively weak pint of beer, rather than sitting at home drinking a litre of spirits or whatever. That is the direction of travel we should be looking at—encouraging the supervised drinking of British-brewed products in pubs and discouraging the drinking of imported cheap spirits.
I am not convinced by the arguments for the health benefits of this policy and I am probably even less convinced of its economic advantages. The forecast in the Red Book last year showed that the expected increases in this Budget would not actually raise any more money. I accept, and I will happily make the argument, that we are pretty desperate for revenue to reduce our deficit, but it seems bizarre that a policy would be introduced that raises no money and actually does damage to a pretty important industry that is a significant employer throughout the country. While I am on that issue, I should join the list of hon. Members praising their small local breweries. I can think of a fair few—Amber Ales, Leadmill, Bottle Brook, Coppice Side and Marlpool. I have to say that I think I have drunk quite a lot of all their beer. I made a special effort to have a barrel of beer from the Marlpool brewery at my engagement party a few weeks ago, which went down very well, so I am happy to say that I will do my bit to support my local brewery trade.
We can see that the number of these breweries is growing every year. Every time we drive round an industrial estate, we find that a new brewery has sneaked up round the corner. We should be supporting this trade. We should be supporting our pubs. They generate employment and they provide a community facility that we value. Therefore, I do not believe that the original case for increasing beer duty by more than inflation holds water any more. We should at the very least be stopping that above-inflation increase. I can see the argument that all other costs go up by inflation, so why should not the duty element? I cannot see the argument for putting it up by RPI plus 2%.
I happily agree with all the other hon. Members who say that beer duty is too high now and it is doing great damage. We have had a 42% increase in beer duty in the past four years. We have had enough. Let us try to support people and freeze it. If the Government cannot quite go that far, let us at least announce in two weeks’ time that we are scrapping the escalator and we will have to deal only with inflationary rises each year. That would at least be a fair situation from which to go forward.
Thank you for allowing me to speak in the debate, Mr Caton. I feel very much like a new boy: I have been listening to hon. Members who have been involved in this issue for a long time. I came along to the debate today because it is very important to my constituency and I want to add to and perhaps build on points with a local perspective that other hon. Members have raised. Of course, like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) on initiating the debate.
We are talking about the rapidly increasing level of duty, and I want to refer to the impact that the rapid changes in cost have on the social life of my constituency. I join others in appealing to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to my hon. Friend the Minister who is before us today, to think not just of the economic impact, although that is hugely important, but of the social impact.
In my constituency, there is a social impact to discouraging people from using the local pub, which is still a huge part of the local community. Montgomeryshire is a very rural constituency, and traditionally the social life in small villages is only about the local pub. The situation is not what it was when I was young and the whole of village life centred on the young farmers club and the local pub, but today the pub is still very important, particularly to elderly people. I believe that visiting the pub is a very good way of counteracting the loneliness that often arises because people are living so much longer; the social life associated with a pub can often be helpful in counteracting depression and perhaps even dementia. I believe that social activities do have an impact. That is an important issue for us to consider.
I agree with my hon. Friend that in a rural community very small micro-breweries and pubs are very important. My constituents in Devon are great supporters of Teignworthy, Isca, Hunter’s and Red Rock. However, we need to look at something creative. Has my hon. Friend considered looking at the EU rules in this area? We all seem to be saying that pubs need our support and that if beer in pubs was taxed less than the beer in supermarkets or wholesale, the situation would improve. As I understand it, EU legislation does not prohibit that distinction, but it does not make provision—
Thank you, Mr Caton. I was enjoying that intervention, although I must admit that I had some initial doubts about the reference to involving the EU and introducing regulations. I have always found myself nervous about encouraging that; we have rather too much of it already. There are instances in which the EU can be useful to us in achieving our objectives, so I will have to consider how that could happen.
A Treasury Minister will respond to the debate today. It could be said that it is an appeal before the Budget—it seeks to influence the Budget. We are talking about a reasonable level of taxation on beer. Most people think that the level of taxation is unreasonable. Due to its negative impact, it does not even produce extra income that might interest the Treasury, because it has risen incredibly quickly.
I felt some association with the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), who said that the policy was un-Conservative. I do not want to draw a distinction between a Conservative policy and a policy from the other side, but it must be un-Conservative to seek to introduce social change in our country through the escalator’s year on year additional taxation, over and above what might be considered an inflationary increase by the Treasury. It is incredibly un-Conservative and I very much hope that we will see the end of it next week.
A lot of hon. Members have talked about the economic impact. It is a great British industry. Even in my constituency, which has had no tradition of brewing at all— the Eagle Brewery was the last major brewery, and that closed in the 1980s—there are new micro-breweries. They are employing people. One of them has taken over a local pub that was in danger of closing. Monty’s Brewery and the Waen Brewery are the subject of conversation. They are not employing a lot of people, but the potential for micro-breweries across Britain is huge. They are an important part of British industry, and we should not clamp down on them or discourage them.
My last point is that the British beer drinking industry—if I may call it that—is hugely important to the agricultural sector. Not so much in my constituency, where most of the barley grown goes into feedstock, but in England in particular and in some parts of Wales and Scotland, growing malting barley is a massive part of agriculture, and we need to act to protect it. In south-east England, the hops industry is important and a huge number of jobs are involved.
We are used to and accept a reasonable level of taxation, but a 50% increase in five years is not reasonable and not sustainable. It causes huge damage—social damage—across the country and in the end it will cause economic damage to the Government as well. The Minister should sit down with the Chancellor, have a long discussion about this issue as they prepare to deliver the Budget, and bring the beer escalator duty to an end.
I am grateful to be bringing up the rear in the debate today. I am mindful that time is short; it always frustrates me when I sit in a debate and the Minister has less time to contribute than the others who have spoken, so I will keep my comments brief. Everybody knows that I bang on for Britain about beer.
We are at the culmination of a hard-fought campaign to support British brewing and save the great British pint. I do not think that we can overestimate what a perilous situation our brewers and publicans find themselves in. It is for that reason that so many people have come together in support of the campaign. We all recognise how important it is for the future of British society, as well as being an important part of the economy.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wish him a gool Peran lowen—a happy St Piran’s day. In regard to his point about traditional British culture, does he agree that the British brewing industry is looked at by other parts of the world for its innovation and the diversity of its products? There is a huge export market and we need to encourage the growth of the brewing industry.
Gool Peran lowen to my hon. Friend. He has been fantastic in supporting the British brewing industry and the all-party beer group. He is right to say that massive innovation is taking place in British brewing. Only this month, a beer innovation summit organised by The Publican’s Morning Advertiser was held in my constituency at St George’s Park. It showed the depth and breadth of new ideas and the potential for the industry to export a great British product overseas. It is interesting that almost 90% of all the beer brewed in this country is drunk in this country. That is because we recognise brilliance and what a great product it is. We can export it overseas and create jobs as a result.
The campaign has brought together the British Beer and Pub Association, the Society of Independent Brewers and the Campaign for Real Ale, and all those we would expect to support the brewing industry, but it has also brought others together. The TaxPayers Alliance has got on board and put together a fantastic campaign—“Mash Beer Tax.” I encourage hon. Members to go online to www.mashbeertax.org. The TaxPayers Alliance has a reputation for standing up for the British taxpayer and has done a great job in getting behind this important campaign.
Hon. Members will have noticed the support we have from The Sun, which has launched its own campaign to scrap the beer duty escalator and save the great British pint. I am sure that the Minister will have noticed the contribution to the debate yesterday, made by Sabine from London on page 3, “News in Briefs.” She railed against the unfairness of the duty that British beer drinkers pay compared with what Spanish beer drinkers pay, and quoted:
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
The Minister could make a great many people across the country happy at the Budget by scraping the hated beer duty escalator.
Let us look at the impact of the beer duty escalator since it was introduced by the previous Government. Sales are down 17% in the off-trade and sales are down 24% in pubs. That equates to 1.5 billion fewer pints sold in pubs across the country. Those are jobs. Every time we do not sell beer, jobs are lost in my constituency and in constituencies across the country.
I notice that we have had a fantastic game of “brewery bingo” today; hon. Members have named the breweries in their constituencies.
Since the beer duty escalator was introduced by the hon. Lady’s Government, we have seen beer duty increase by 42%, and anybody can work out that that will have a very damaging impact. I am a little disappointed that she is trying to score political points. The debate has been notable for its cross-party support.
This important debate has united the House. Some 151 MPs from all parties have signed my early-day motion on the beer duty escalator, and it has support from across the House. It is notable that when we debated the matter on the Floor of the House, only one Member spoke in favour of the beer duty escalator, and I hope that the Minister will repent and change his mind, because he was isolated in that debate.
In the final quarter of last year, 138 million fewer pints were sold in this country compared with the previous year. That is significant, and that is why we must support the brewing industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) asked from where the money would come to replace the beer duty escalator. I will say two things: first, it is clear that the beer duty escalator is not raising money, because it impacts on beer sales. Beer sales are plummeting, and the Treasury is not raising the money that it expected from the beer duty escalator. Secondly, let us look at the sectors that are growing: cider is in substantial growth, and vodka, which is the drink of young people now, is in growth. We need to have fairness across the duty system that encourages a great British manufacturing success story.
I will point the Minister to some important facts. In his constituency, 2,370 people are employed in the brewing and pub trades, and 898 16 to 24-year olds in his constituency are employed as a result of brewing and pubs. That could be boosted; the brewing and pub industries could help support growth and employ young people. We all recognise the importance of brewing in our constituencies as an economic driver and employer. We also recognise the cultural importance of the great British pint.
There has been some talk today about the impact of drinking on health and antisocial behaviour. I think that the great British pub is the answer here, not the problem. Drinking in a supervised environment with a landlord who would tell someone, “I am sorry. I think you’ve had too much. I am not serving you any more,” is a far better way for young people to be introduced to alcohol than, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) mentioned, drinking on a park bench or unsupervised at home when mum and dad are not there.
Drinking a pint of beer in a great British pub is one of life’s simple pleasures. It should be enjoyed by every British man and woman across the country and they should do it more often, but they are being priced out of that simple pleasure.
The point about the beer duty escalator—or any escalator—is that when one reaches the top, it is time to get off. We have seen from the falling revenue and sales and the number of pubs that are closing up and down our country that it is time to get off the beer duty escalator. By scrapping it in the Budget, the Minister will be able to promote growth and jobs and put a smile on the face of British drinkers across the country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Caton. I thank the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) for securing this important debate. As a number of hon. Members have suggested, there is a certain sense of déjà vu, given the number of debates that there have been on the issue, but the timing of this debate, ahead of the Budget, is critical.
I stress at the outset that a number of my hon. Friends have let me know that they would have liked to participate in this debate, but they were not able to do so because of other parliamentary business or commitments that they had already made. I hope that we can continue with the generous spirit in which the debate has been conducted, and focus on a number of issues that Members on both sides of the House would like the Minister to answer—although that is not to say that I will not make some reference to the previous Government’s position or press the Minister on some questions that I think all of us would like to be answered.
It is important to recognise, as many hon. Members have, the organisations that have briefed Members and allowed them to make visits and listen to representatives of the industry in their constituencies. Those organisations include the British Beer and Pub Association, the Society of Independent Brewers, the all-party groups on beer and on pubs and the Campaign for Real Ale. I have worked closely with CAMRA in my constituency; I had the joy of judging one of the beer competitions at a local real ale festival, for which I thank the local CAMRA organisation. We also heard about representations made by the TaxPayers Alliance and The Sun.
I always enjoy such debates, because they allow us to have, as one hon. Member suggested, not just a brewery bingo, but a pub bingo. They give us a list of places to visit when we travel around the UK when not involved in parliamentary business.
A number of hon. Members have talked about the importance of the wider brewing industry and of manufacturing. There is also, of course, the bottling sector, from which representations have also been received. We have discussed small and medium-sized enterprises, micro-breweries, the rural economy, and the focus of the pub trade as a base for the local community. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) recognised the impact on elderly people and the important social role that pubs play in the community. We also heard about the charitable events and the various activities that pub goers regularly get involved in.
In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Nuneaton praised the Minister as a listening Minister. He recognised the need to deal with the deficit and welcomed, as I have, some of the actions taken on fuel duty. He urged the Minister, as other hon. Members did, to assess whether the escalator was disproportionate. I will return to that issue with some specific comments for the Minister to consider.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) talked about responsible drinking, which is important. Like her, I spent some time working in the voluntary sector before becoming a Member of Parliament. I have worked in a project that dealt with homeless people with drinking problems. I have also spent some time, when I was a social work student, working at a drinking problems unit in a psychiatric hospital. I have seen the difficulties and problems that emerge when people get involved in problem drinking. One theme that has come out from the discussion is the importance of the pub sector in providing a different ethos, culture and way for people to consume alcohol enjoyably and responsibly. We are all concerned to ensure that that continues.
Whatever regimes are put in place—this is where there is a VAT issue—to support responsible drinking, we all want to ensure that supermarkets are not given an unfair advantage over the pub sector. A number of hon. Members have talked about that. Regarding VAT, I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) intended to make a hugely party political point—perhaps a slightly party political point. This important issue needs to be addressed.
The Opposition believe that the Government made a mistake in 2011 in increasing VAT, which had an impact not only on the pub trade, but more widely on families and businesses around the country. That rise, which was equivalent to a 12% increase in tax for the industry, was in the same year that the coalition introduced the biggest ever pence per pint increase in beer duty.
We all know that the last Labour Government left a crippling deficit for this coalition Government—I am being slightly party political—who have had to clear up the mess that they left behind. The escalator increases taxes on working people who enjoy a pint. Does the hon. Lady think that it was a mistake in principle for the last Labour Government to introduce that to our taxation system?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the deficit, but the last Labour Government had a very good reason for doing what they did at the time; the circumstances are now different. Far be it from me to try to defend the Minister or give him a way out of dealing with the difficult issues, but I say gently to hon. Members that, as a responsible Opposition, with a stream of people saying, “You must not raise this, tax that or do anything else,” at the same time as dealing with the deficit, there are hard choices to be made.
In the debate in the Chamber on 1 November, I said that it was right, in the present economic circumstances, for the Government to undertake a review of the economic impact of the escalator. Indeed, I have called on them to do the same on a range of other matters, one of which is air passenger duty, about which many people are making representations. I simply make that point because we must address the wider economic issues.
The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do the history of the increase, and I simply say that it was at that stage. This Government have to accept responsibility for the decisions that they have taken: they have not chosen to change the escalator that was introduced by the previous Government.
I am all ears to hear what the Minister will say this morning. I have heard a couple of such debates. In the last one in the Chamber, he was in “listening mode”, as he reassured us several times. He said that
“as an incoming Minister who is new to this portfolio, I plan to keep nothing on the shelf. I will be looking at everything, which includes all duties and taxes for which I have responsibility. That would be a sensible thing for any Minister to do.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 439.]
I agreed with that at the time, because I thought that it gave him the opportunity to introduce changes.
As has been mentioned, The Sun is undertaking a campaign about the increase. In a recent article, a Treasury spokesman was quoted as saying:
“Revenues from alcohol excise duty make an important contribution to reducing the deficit. But where we can take action we have.”
I want to hear from the Minister whether that means that any change has been ruled out or is still being considered. I also want him—I will give him plenty of opportunity to respond—to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) about the amount of savings and the effect on investment. Is it not now the time for a proper review of the economic impact of the escalator, to give us an evidence base in today’s economic climate? Will the Minister give us his latest assessment of the economic impact of the cancellation of the escalator? Will he simply give us the information that he and his officials have already worked on? Will he address what the impact would be of the Government acceding to our request to cut the rate of VAT temporarily?
We are at the stage in the parliamentary cycle when the coalition Government must absolutely take responsibility. Hon. Members who are in government have the power at this time. As I have said, the then Chancellor took that decision on the basis of the economic circumstances of the time, as Ministers must do today.
I simply hope to extract some information from the Minister about what assessment he has made and what the current thinking is. I would not expect a Minister to say what will happen in the Budget. It would clearly not be right for him to do that, but he could give us some information about his thinking and perhaps about what he has ruled out, and I look forward to his speech.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken the time to speak in the debate. As I have said, the fact that only a few Opposition Members could take part this morning does not in any way suggest that they do not take the issue seriously. We look forward to hearing from the Minister.
May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mr Caton?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) for, and congratulate him on, securing this important debate. I note with interest that he is holding this debate only 15 days before the Budget, so I congratulate him on his excellent timing. I thank all hon. Members—I counted seven—who contributed to the debate. I recognise the work done on this subject by institutions outside Parliament, particularly the British Beer and Pub Association, CAMRA and the TaxPayers Alliance. That work adds to the quality of the debate, and that quality is always welcome in our debates in Parliament.
My hon. Friend made some excellent points. One of the most interesting, which I recall from the debate in November, was that he met his future wife in a pub. That shows that pubs really are rich institutions that play an important role in social cohesion, a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). His focused point was on how the issue is about not just the economy or the cost of beer but the social contribution of pubs throughout the country, particularly in rural communities—like his and, I might add, mine—in which pubs are a key part of the local community. Pubs and brewers up and down the country should be assured that they have some passionate advocates in Parliament.
In the time available, I will try to respond to all the issues raised today about beer duties, the actions taken by the Government to help pubs and brewers in general, and the Government’s alcohol strategy. In response to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) said that, understandably, he wanted this to be a cross-party discussion. I think that that is right, so I will not point out that I did not hear the hon. Lady apologise for introducing the escalator in the first place.
I will first focus on beer duties. The Government inherited the current rises in alcohol duties from our predecessors, as has been said. The 2008 Budget announced that alcohol duties would rise by 6% that year, and then by the retail prices index plus 2% in the next four years. The Budget in March 2010 extended those rises for a further two years, until 2014-15. If the Government were to cancel the planned 2 percentage point rises for beer, it would cost the Exchequer £35 million next year and £70 million the following year. Given the current public finances and the sums involved, it would be prudent for the Government to think carefully about the consequences of making any such tax changes. The Government continue to keep all taxes under review and regularly monitor the impact of alcohol duty rates on both the industry and consumers.
At present, our monitoring suggests that the decline in the nation’s beer consumption predates the increases in duty and is a reflection of how consumer tastes have changed. Beer’s share of the total alcohol market has declined by nearly 30 percentage points since the mid-1970s. More than 85% of the beer consumed in the UK is brewed in the UK, which was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, and we want to continue to support such business.
Brewers will benefit from a number of actions this Government have taken to support all businesses. The reduction in the rate of corporation tax and the temporary increase in the annual investment allowance, for example, will enable them to invest in new machinery. As my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) highlighted, the small breweries relief supports microbreweries by reducing their beer duty by up to 50%, and it has contributed to an increase in the number of such breweries. Both consumers and pubs benefit significantly from the diversity of products produced by the 730 microbreweries in the UK, and the Society of Independent Brewers estimates that small breweries relief has increased the number of jobs by 1,000 since it was introduced in 2002.
There are many ways in which the Treasury supports brewers. For example, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury recently helped to launch the Ginger Rodent beer at Aviemore brewery. Perhaps that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton meant when he mentioned innovation in the industry. We must recognise, too, the contribution made by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in helping to promote and popularise that product.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for his support for the industry. He will know that beer and pubs pay £11 billion in tax, and that some brewers are paying 50% of their turnover in tax and duty. If we compare what those brewers are paying with what some UK businesses pay, perhaps he should consider scrapping the beer duty escalator and introducing a coffee tax.
My hon. Friend is always full of innovative ideas, but he makes a serious point about tax avoidance, which this Government take very seriously and will continue to do. Clearly, the more we clamp down on tax avoidance and tax evasion, the greater our scope to act more flexibly with measures such as beer duty. May I take this opportunity to thank him for the work that he does in chairing the all-party beer group and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) for his work in chairing the all-party save the pub group?
The Government recognise the importance of brewers and the contribution that pubs make to our local communities and the wider economy. Unfortunately, the number of pubs has been declining for decades, but that reflects the changes in consumer tastes and in lifestyles. The number of pubs continued to decline in the early 2000s, despite relatively flat alcohol duties in real terms. None the less, we continue to support pubs through our policies. For example, the drop in the small profits rate from 21% to 20% in April 2011 has supported thousands of small businesses such as pubs. About a fifth of pubs currently receive a reduction in the business rates they pay. Small pubs can also benefit from small business rates relief or rural rates relief, and the Government have extended the small business rates relief holiday until March 2014.
The majority of pubs have also benefited from the reform of gaming machine taxation introduced on 1 February, and they have the opportunity to benefit from the Live Music Act 2012, which came into force last October, making it much easier for pubs to put on live music events. On top of that, in January the Government announced plans for a statutory code alongside the independent adjudicator to ensure fair practice between large pub companies and their tenants on issues such as rent and the price publicans pay for their beer. The Government will be consulting on those plans shortly, and I hope that Members present will make pubs and publicans in their communities aware of the proposals.
Let me talk about our wider economic policy, which includes the strategy to reduce the record budget deficit that we inherited. That strategy has led to lower interest rates, which benefit people who have mortgages. If interest rates were just 1 percentage point higher, the average mortgage would go up by almost £900 a year, which is money that could be spent in pubs, and companies up and down the country would pay another £10 billion in interest in servicing their loans. Clearly, low interest rates have been helping companies, especially small and medium-sized companies. Our record increase in personal allowances has also put more money in people’s pockets, which they can use in their local pub. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) mentioned the change in fuel duty, which means that rises that we inherited from the previous Government have not gone ahead, and that again has meant more money in people’s pockets.
I want to say a quick word about our alcohol strategy. Moderate alcohol consumption can be positive for people’s well-being, but the Government are committed to tackling cheap alcohol and irresponsible alcohol consumption. We have therefore reformed beer duty to support responsible drinking. In October 2011, duty was halved on low-strength beer, while duty on high-strength beer increased by 25%. That was warmly welcomed at the time by many hon. Members and by CAMRA.
The Government have also had a consultation on minimum unit pricing, and we will be announcing the results very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton made some excellent points about responsible drinking.
In the interests of time, I shall conclude my remarks. I am glad that we have had the opportunity to discuss beer duty, brewers, pubs and the alcohol strategy, and we have had, I think, a constructive debate. I hope that I have reassured hon. Members that the Government fully support pubs and brewers. As I have shown in some of the examples that I have cited, the Government have already taken action in that regard, and, despite our tight fiscal situation, I am keen for them to go further. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot make any specific commitments on action; we have to leave that for the Budget. None the less, as one of my hon. Friends mentioned, I like to be seen as a listening Minister, so please be reassured that I take the matter seriously, and that today’s debate has served to underline its importance.