Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 29th March 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Conservative, Burton 5:38 pm, 29th March 2011

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I begin by paying tribute to the Budget that was delivered by the Chancellor which has been warmly welcomed in many parts of my constituency. It was particularly warmly welcomed by the people involved with the Staffordshire air ambulance, who feel that they will benefit greatly from the changes to charitable giving. As the president of the East Staffordshire Community and Voluntary Service, I have been contacted by many charitable and third sector groups that believe this is a real way for them to build for the future and offer more help and support in the community.

The Budget was also well received by businesses in my constituency. The changes to corporation tax will be a big boost to growth. Businesses were delighted to hear talk of manufacturing, which they feel has been overlooked and forgotten for so long in this country. To hear a Chancellor and a Government talk about manufacturing was a boost for businesses and they are excited about the future.

The Budget was welcomed by families in my constituency. The poorest families were pleased that many of them will now be taken out of tax completely. More importantly, it was welcomed by many in my constituency who feel that it reinforces what many of them consider the most important plank of what we as a Government are trying to achieve—that is, to make work pay. The decision within the changes to personal taxation to make it more rewarding to go out to work and to support people back into work has been welcomed not only by those who do the right thing, pay their taxes and work hard, but by many people who are desperate to get back into work and feel that this is a great opportunity which will make it more financially viable for them to do that.

However, there is one element of my constituency where the Budget was not so well received. It is fitting that the former chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group should be in the Chair when I make these points. I must declare an interest as the MP for Burton, the home of British beer—the home of Marston’s Pedigree and Carling Black Label, and Punch Taverns, the largest pub company in the country. Brewing and the future of pubs are hugely important. This is an issue on which there is usually agreement across the Chamber. The need for us to support the brewing industry and pubs is recognised in all parts of the House.

We regularly have debates, particularly in Westminster Hall, about what we can do to support pubs and the brewing industry, and there is general support across the House, even from the shadow Minister with responsibility for pubs, Chris Williamson, who in a recent debate admitted to us that not only was he teetotal but that he did not use pubs very often. Even he recognises the need for us to support pubs and the brewing industry.

I recognise that the Chancellor was hamstrung when he inherited a massive deficit—£120 million a day in interest payments alone—and a decision to increase beer duty by means of the beer escalator by 7.2% this year. It was somewhat unfair of the Chancellor to say in his statement that there would be no changes to beer duty in the Budget. Whether it was his fault or not, we will see an increase in beer duty equivalent to about 10p a pint. That will impact on brewers across the country and on publicans in each and every one of our constituencies.

We all support the community pub. We all recognise that a pub is a safe environment for us to enjoy alcohol and for us to encourage young people to drink safely and responsibly. Increasing beer duty by 7.2% is a major problem, particularly because beer duty in the UK is already 7.9 times greater than in France, 12.4 times greater than in Germany and 12 times greater than in Spain. We have the second highest beer duty in Europe. I hope the Government will look again to see what they can do to support brewing and the beer industry in this country.

For instance, the Government could look at the inequality between cider and beer. Why is it that a pint of cider attracts half the duty that is charged on a pint of beer brewed in my constituency? I welcome the Government’s decision to reduce tax on beer of 2.8% strength. That is very useful, but I urge them to go to Europe, fight the case on behalf of British beer, and raise that 2.8% to 3.4% or 3.5% so that we can have some great British beer and support our pubs in the process.