I did not catch the hon. Gentleman’s final word, but I use that analogy because when I was at school we used to have home economics, and we have to make difficult decisions at home. I was merely making the point that we all have difficult decisions to make. That analogy applies not only to families throughout the country, but to the Government. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not feel it is a good analogy. Perhaps I shall wait to hear his speech and comment on it.
I welcome the Chancellor’s steps to return balance to the country’s finances and to continue the Government’s commitment to take the lowest earners out of tax altogether by raising the personal allowance to £11,500. I sat on the Work and Pensions Committee in the previous Parliament, when the Government’s mantra was helping to make work pay. That is the right course of action to take.
I come to a subject that is very close to my heart, and I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on beer. I welcome the relief of £1,000 for pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000, which will benefit 90% of pubs. I also welcome the discretionary fund, which enables local authorities to make awards to businesses in their areas on a case-by-case basis. However, I am somewhat disappointed about the inflationary rise in beer duty, which is now 43% higher than it was a decade ago, 13 times higher than the rate in Germany, and significantly higher than those of our major brewing neighbours in Europe. None the less, the Government do have a proud track record of three reductions in beer duty, a beer duty freeze and the removal of the hated beer duty escalator. Although I welcome the introduction of duty bands to target high alcohol-by-volume white ciders to encourage responsible drinking, it is important to remember that 70% of the drinks bought in pubs are beer.
The current bracket for reduced-rate beer sits at 1.2% to 2.8% ABV. However, current HMRC duty receipts demonstrate that, in the six years since the policy was introduced, such beer represents just 0.15% of the market. I know that the Minister will be aware of the cross-industry campaign to split general beer duty rate into two tiers— 2.8% to 3.5%, and 3.5% to 7.5%—and to reduce the duty rate for 3.5% ABV beers, which have much less alcohol in them than the UK average and are highly drinkable for UK consumers. I hope that we can work together on this matter over the coming month to encourage a broader selection of lower strength beers to become part of the norm in UK drinking culture. I will be encouraging the industry to step up to the plate with lower strength beers that can be drunk and enjoyed in the great British pub.
This Government have a plan to build an economy that works for everyone, and the Budget continues with that plan by building on the foundation of our fundamental economic strength. It makes sure that our economy remains strong so that we can properly fund our public services, it helps ordinary working families to make ends meet, and it makes it clear that Britain is open for business.