I thank my hon. Friend for his question and note the constructive meeting we had just yesterday with representatives from across the beer and pubs sector. In addition, the Treasury has received representations from several other organisations and individuals with suggestions for what should be in the Budget, including measures on beer duty.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the great contribution that the great British pub and great British beer make to local economies, employing nearly 1 million people and contributing £10 billion in tax. The Government have a proud record: in the last three years, we have scrapped the hated beer duty escalator and cut beer duty for three consecutive years. Will she seriously consider continuing the good work by cutting beer duty?
As the Chancellor just said, I will take that as a Budget representation. Of course we recognise the contribution of the beer and pubs industry across the UK—I am particularly aware from my previous job of the role pubs play in promoting responsible drinking— but it is worth noting that the public finances assume that alcohol duties rise by retail prices index inflation each year, meaning that there is a cost to the Exchequer from freezing or cutting alcohol duty rates. As I say, however, we consider all representations carefully.
When considering beer duty, will the Minister maintain, or at least not further erode, the differential with cider duty? Labour’s lower cider duty has led to a fantastic renaissance in both cider drinking and orchard planting in England, but if the differential is narrowed any further I am afraid it will do untold damage to our cider makers.
I am well aware of the sensitivities around the duty bands, on which we have received a number of representations, and of the renaissance not just in the industry to which the right hon. Gentleman refers but, for example, in respect of the number of microbreweries and the flourishing investment in that area. There have been a number of good news stories in this sector in recent years.
I am extremely well aware of the points my hon. Friend makes, not least, as I say, because of the role I last held in government. We look carefully at all these things, particularly the issue of white cider.