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Cider Industry: Duty Changes

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2021

I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. That is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to take a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they are coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done at the testing centre in the House or at home. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.

I will call Bill Wiggin to move the motion. I will then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention in 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the cider industry and duty changes.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I welcome the progress the Treasury is making on cider and alcohol duty. It will be helpful to hear what the Minister thinks the direction of travel is for the industry, and how the Treasury is helping. The announcements by the Chancellor in his autumn Budget on alcohol duty were largely welcome. His five-point plan will simplify the tax brackets. It is supposed to come at an overall cost to the Treasury of £555 million by 2027. The number of bands at which different duties are levied will be cut from 15 to six. That ambition is tremendous. However, I hope the debate will be helpful in ironing out some of the issues with the proposed changes.

I want to draw attention to the traditional small-scale cider makers, who make up roughly 80% of the country’s cider makers. I also wish to draw the House’s attention to the announcements on flavoured cider. My constituency of North Herefordshire is home to many small-scale and large-scale cider makers. The cider orchards of Herefordshire are said to produce more than half the cider consumed in the UK.

The call for evidence document in the Government’s alcohol duty review consultation sets out three objectives:

“a) Simplifying the current complicated system;

b) Making the basis of alcohol taxation more economically rational, with fewer distortions and arbitrary distinctions; and,

c) Reducing the administrative burden on producers when paying duty and complying with excise requirements.”

Alcohol duty was harmonised under EU law, but now we have left the EU and its onerous legislature, it is right that we consider how the duty system works. The stated aims from the Treasury are welcome, but why are the Budget announcements made only to have a consultation occur afterwards? Should it not be the other way around? On a positive note, I can report that the consultation has been managed in a way that cider manufacturers found very helpful. However, one cannot help but feel that all this could have been ironed out before the Chancellor rose to his feet.

UK cider producers sell to more than 50 countries over five continents, and that trade is worth more than £100 million a year to the economy. I hope that the duty reforms will encourage cider producers to go beyond the hobby level to become sustainable businesses and increase those figures.

What the Chancellor announced in relation to alcohol duty is welcome. However, looking a little further, there are some discrepancies, and I hope the Department will not mind me bringing them to its attention. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor proclaimed that this would be the

“biggest cut to fruit ciders in a generation.”

Fruit cider is currently treated as made-wine for excise duty purposes, and it is taxed at two and a quarter times the rate of apple cider. The proposed tweaks in the duty rate leave made-wine with a proposed excise duty two and a half times the duty rate for packaged ciders, and more than twice that of keg ciders. That is probably because flavoured ciders have a 22.8% market share of the UK’s £2.1 billion cider industry. Helpfully, the flavoured cider market is established at 4% ABV, or alcohol by volume. They are some of the lowest-alcohol ciders on the market—obviously, excluding the no and low-alcohol ciders—but they are charged a premium in excise duty.

Under current proposals, the duty on 4% packaged fruit cider bought from a shop will change from £91.68 per hectolitre to £90 per hectolitre. To put that in context, the duty on a hectolitre of apple-flavoured cider will move to just over £35. That is a difference of £55 per hectolitre. The higher rate of duty for fruit cider was introduced to protect apple cider made using British apples. However, many fruit ciders now simply have an apple cider base, made with British apples, with flavourings or colour added. The excise duty rates seem to be hampering innovation and growth in this sector—a sector that can offer much safer, lower-ABV ciders. Producers such as the ones in North Herefordshire want to increase innovation and diversity across the cider category.

At present, flavoured cider has not been included in the Government’s consultation. I hope that the Minister will agree that it can be added, as I am sure many producers would like to have their say. Helpfully, the anomaly was recognised in the Chancellor’s statement. Paragraph 2.11 of the consultation, under the heading “Anomalous and arbitrary”, notes:

“Larger cider makers felt that the duty differential between flavoured and non-flavoured cider impeded innovation in the market.”

However, paragraph 2.12 suggests that craft and small cider makers are supportive of a higher rate of duty for flavoured ciders. That is not right; in my frequent discussions with producers, I get a very different picture.

Fruit ciders, rosé ciders, mulled ciders, cider with honey, cider and elderflower and spiced cider are all treated as made-wine. Such ciders have been made for centuries, and there are records of them going back more than 400 hundred years. They are firmly part of the traditions of cider making. Many small and craft cider producers make such variants using traditional methods, and the market for them is increasing. Each household is reported to buy fruit cider an average of six and a half times a year.

The demand is also there to support local, small-scale producers, many of whom would like to tap into the fruit cider sector. Those small and craft cider producers still use traditional fermentation processes to create fruit cider, and then work with other local fruits to produce their local version of fruit cider. What does stifle innovation is the fact that when making cider through the natural process, rarely does a product come in at under 6.5% ABV. Fair enough—that changes slightly each year, depending on how much sugar is in the apple crop. Because of the way the fermentation process works, unless the cider is diluted, it will probably come out at above 6.5% ABV. My own cider, when I made it myself, was above 7%. The benchmark ABV is 4.6%, so someone wishing to make a fruit cider using traditional methods, without dilution, is likely to be hit with an excise rate too high to justify that diversification. Traditional cider makers using natural fermentation from apple juice could see upwards of a 40% increase in duty, and it could be even higher if they venture into fruit versions.

The proposed changes to flavoured ciders will only truly benefit the makers of large, mass-produced flavoured cider in the established 4% ABV market, selling in 50-litre kegs. That is Kopparberg, which is Swedish; Heineken, which is Dutch; and Aston Manor, which is French. Those manufacturers, with their foreign-owned parent companies, are destined to benefit the most from the excise duties at their current levels—the same duties that are meant to be championing the local little guy.

Would the Treasury not see benefits in bringing fruit cider in line with the apple cider rate, which is better known as notice 162? If the fruit cider market is opened up and brought into line with its apple-only equivalent, growth will occur. Flavoured ciders lead many global cider markets, so encouraging the growth of lower-ABV flavoured ciders can help the rejuvenate the industry and expand our global reach in the sector.

The changes to alcohol duty rightly address concerns about problem drinking. A recent survey asked 20,000 people about alcohol consumption in 2019 and 2020, and it found a spike in high-risk drinking following lockdown, from around 25% to 38%. According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally.

It is no secret that white ciders—the type sold in 2.5 litre bottles at a cheap price—have exploited the current duty system. A report by the charity Thames Reach found that of the 8,096 people found sleeping rough by outreach teams in the capital, 43% had an alcohol problem. Of those, an astounding 98% are primarily drinking high-strength cider and super-strength beers. Popular brands include the 7.5% Ace cider, which comes in a three-litre bottle and contains 24 units of alcohol, but retails at only £3.99. This is clearly wrong and dangerous, so I understand the Government's commitment to increasing the duty on this type of cider.

However, there are concerns that such products are conflated with those made by the producers I am championing today. I will quote a company in my constituency called Little Pomona, which has visits to its cidery during the tourist season:

“With over 1,000 visitors over the last year, we have never had any instances of over-drinking. We don't serve our cider in pints. Purely as thirds, halves of pints, and wine glass measures. Our ciders are served in restaurants, from modest bistros to Michelin starred establishments”.

The point is that the consumer who indulges in a craft, artisanal, small-batch cider is different from the consumer who buys a £4 bottle of white cider. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can point the industry to how it can best maximise its potential safely, and tell us how the Government see the industry progressing.

I declare my interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary cider group, and I support my hon. Friend in his argument. I know that the Minister takes a keen interest in this issue, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that cider is an incredible, world-beating British product. He has laid the case out beautifully. Does the Minister agree that we, as a Parliament and as a Government, need to do much more to highlight the benefits of responsible cider drinking? We have Glastonbury in Somerset, and we do not get drunks on Glastonbury. It is not cider that causes the problem; it may be other things, but it is not cider.

I will have to take my hon. Friend’s expertise on that matter at face value, but I agree with all the good things he said and I thank him for his work as the chairman of the all-party group.

The cider industry in this country is unique. Family-owned companies such as Westons in Much Marcle, which has 240 employees, contribute so much more than just delicious cider from local apples. People such as Helen Thomas, to name just one of many, ensure that my constituency leads the way. That spirit of innovation and history needs to expand as we forge new relationships with nations around the world. Fruit ciders produced by a craft cider maker in North Herefordshire should be in stock behind bars from Armenia to Zimbabwe, in a truly global British fashion.

From my discussions with relevant local stakeholders in the cider industry, I know that most of their concerns could be addressed via the consultation. I hope that any additional points are taken as constructive and that the Minister will be able to provide reassurance to cider makers in Herefordshire, and indeed nationwide, that their historic and significant craft will be nurtured and given the boost that the recent announcements have set out to achieve.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I raise a metaphorical glass to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing this debate, and I thank him for his constructive tone and his welcome for many of the announcements on alcohol duty in the Budget.

It is clear that my hon. Friend is indeed a true friend of the many cider producers in his constituency. I know that this is an industry with a long history in Herefordshire. In fact, as far back as 1724, Daniel Defoe wrote of the county’s people that

“they have the finest wool, and the best hops and richest cider in all Britain.”

As a Kent MP, I know that other parts of the country might dispute that claim, at least when it comes to hops. Today, as my hon. Friend pointed out, Herefordshire is home to many cider makers, small and large, producing drinks that are enjoyed both in this country and around the world. Although Herefordshire is a centre for the industry, the economic benefits of cider production are felt nationwide.

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight cider producers’ contribution to the national economy and the many jobs that the industry supports. I am sure hon. Members can understand why the Government want this fantastic industry, which has been with us since at least Roman times, to go on to even bigger and better things.

Before I address the detailed points raised by my hon. Friend, I will briefly run through some of the changes we are making, which we believe will help the industry to go on to achieve further success. First, I will discuss alcohol duty reform. Quite frankly, reform of our alcohol tax laws is long overdue. They have barely changed since the 1990s. As my hon. Friend said, that is largely because of incoherent and prohibitive European Union rules that have hindered much-needed change. However, now we have left the EU, we have an unmissable opportunity to create alcohol laws that are simpler, fairer and indeed healthier, and by doing so we can help cider producers—along with British brewers, wine producers and spirit makers—to innovate and grow. That is why in the Budget we announced a series of major reforms to our alcohol duty laws, including the biggest reduction in cider duty for 98 years. Our new draft relief will cut duty on draft cider by 5%, encouraging people to choose to purchase cider in our great British pubs.

We look forward to working with the industry to understand how keg size and distribution methods can best support small producers and cider makers. We are also cutting duty on craft sparkling cider by up to half, so that anyone buying a 75 cl bottle of such cider that is 6.5% alcohol by volume will pay £1.25 less duty. This boost is a clear benefit of the Government’s decision to introduce a common-sense approach to alcohol duty and to remove the arbitrary and unfair premium rates on sparkling ciders and wines in the current system.

The new lower duty rates for ciders below 3.5% alcohol by volume will incentivise cider producers to innovate and develop healthier alternatives for consumers. As the Chancellor said at the Budget, sales of fruit cider have increased from one in 1,000 ciders sold in 2005 to one in four sold today. As has been mentioned, we are also cutting duty on such drinks by 13p a pint in the pub.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire was right to highlight the health risks of white ciders. Although we are reducing the cost of lower-strength ciders, we are increasing duty on high-strength drinks, including harmful white ciders. Under our reforms, people buying superstrength ciders will pay 7p per 500 ml can. We believe that, together, such measures will not only boost British craft cider producers, but give consumers more choice, with healthier, lower-alcohol alternatives. They will boost community pubs by incentivising people to drink at their local instead of at home.

Beyond the duty changes, we are supporting the traditional cider industry in other ways. Although we are listening closely to the industry as part of our consultation on changing minimum duty requirements, we are keeping the definition of “cider” as a drink made wholly from apples and pears. My hon. Friend pointed out that we need to champion the little guy, and I agree. That is why all the measures will be underpinned by a new small producer relief for businesses making cider that is less than 8.5% alcohol by volume. That will build on the duty exemption that the smallest cider makers currently enjoy and help smaller, innovative craft cider makers and other producers, such as those found in Herefordshire and Somerset, to expand and grow their businesses without facing substantial tax increases.

On consultation, I want to stress that the reforms announced at the Budget were part of our review on alcohol duty last year. That involved a call for evidence and received over 100 responses from the industry and other groups. We spent almost a year carefully considering the feedback from cider makers and other producers. We have been closely discussing our proposals with the industry throughout the policy development process. The consultation will be published in October and remains open until January, and I welcome the industry’s views on the questions raised in the consultation documents and on the points covered by my hon. Friend during the debate.

I take on board my hon. Friend’s point about the difference in duties between flavoured and non-flavoured ciders. We believe that maintaining this difference helps to safeguard traditional cider’s valuable contribution to local heritage and agriculture. As I said a moment ago, there is also the small producers relief, which is a very important support for our smaller cider makers.

I recognise that the changes outlined at the Budget are significant, and we will continue to listen to the sector. I have heard the arguments that my hon. Friend has made, and I look forward to working with him and other colleagues on this matter.

In the context of promoting high-quality cider in the spirt of this commendable debate, which was secured by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), would the Minister look at minimum unit pricing for drinks from a healthcare perspective? That would actually clear out and stop the production of dangerous white ciders, which are part of the problem that feeds alcoholism and alcohol dependence in this country. Would she take that suggestion away and look at it?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I hate to pass the buck, but the question he asks about minimum pricing in shops and supermarkets—I was asked about this issue in correspondence recently—is a Home Office matter. From a Treasury point of view, and as he will have seen from the policies that I have been describing, our reforms to the alcohol duty system take a public health approach to changing the current system, in which higher-strength drinks sometimes enjoy a lower duty. We are moving to a system whereby higher-strength drinks will pay more duty, encouraging the production and, relatively, the consumption of lower-strength drinks, and therefore healthier options.

In conclusion, once-in-a-generation duty cuts, new incentives to grow and innovate, and a boost for pubs—our reforms spell exciting times for cider in this country. These steps will not only put more money in people’s pockets, but encourage people to try new healthier and, may I say, delicious drinking choices. I am confident that together these measures will support our wonderful, traditional cider industry for many more years to come.

Question put and agreed to.