Beer Taxation and Pubs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:56 pm on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader 2:56 pm, 28th March 2019

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate Mike Wood and other Members on ensuring that this debate took place. I thank the Backbench Business Committee and all those who have contributed to what has been a very good-humoured debate with very little disagreement. We need to support our local pubs, and we need appropriate taxation regimes that ensure, in particular, that responsible drinking can take place.

I want to talk about a few issues in relation to Scotland and make some wider points on tax. In Scotland, we pioneered minimum alcohol pricing. It mostly affects cheap supermarket alcohol and ensures that, for example, incredibly cheap high-alcohol-content ciders that are sold in supermarkets have to be sold at a higher price. That, however, is not what we would in an independent Scotland. In an independent Scotland, we would be looking for a comprehensive review of alcohol taxation overall. In fact, we asked the Government to do that, and we moved such a provision in a previous Finance Bill. We can only look at individual elements of alcohol taxation for a few years before an overall review is needed. We think that that review should be based on the amount of alcohol in each drink, and that taxation should therefore be levied on an appropriate basis.

I know that this debate is about beer and the taxation of pubs, but in pubs 42% of alcohol sold by value is wines and spirits, so it is important that that is considered in any decisions made. Given that women consume three times as much wine as beer, it is important to consider wine in this context and not just beer. As someone who likes a pint rather than a glass of wine I am on the other side of this argument, but I understand that an awful lot of people are concerned about wine taxation.

On post duty point dilution, which has been mentioned by a number of Members, I am pleased the Government are bringing forward a review. I have been approached by constituents who are keen to see a change. It would be useful if the Minister, in his summing up, could let us know what is happening with the timescale for that. I am not clear about the timescale going forward, although the Government may have talked about it in the past.

I think there are three different reasons for taxation in general: to generate revenue for the Government; to discourage negative behaviour; and to encourage positive behaviour, particularly in the case of reliefs. In assessing taxation on alcohol and pubs, the Government need to think of those three things going forward. What do they want to encourage? What do they want to discourage? How much revenue do they need to generate from any decision that they take? I think the view around the House is that responsible social drinking is the way forward, rather than people drinking at home and choosing drinks with incredibly high alcohol volumes.

On business rates, in Scotland we have the friendliest environment for business rates in the UK. Two out of every five pubs in Scotland receive the small business bonus and pay zero or reduced business rates as a result. In Scotland, 90% of properties also pay a lower poundage than they would if they were in the rest of the UK. We have done everything we can to ensure that we have the most competitive taxation regime for properties.

Let me just say a wee bit on the contribution of beer and pubs to the economy in Scotland, which is £1.7 billion a year. The brewing and pub industry supports the employment of 60,000 people in Scotland, which is significant. In my constituency, although I do not have breweries, I have the first pubs for Fierce Beer, six°north and BrewDog, so it is nice to be able to give them a shout-out.

I appreciate the tone in which this debate has taken place. If the Minister could answer my question on the post duty point dilution review, that would be incredibly useful. If he could also commit to a review of alcohol taxation in general, that would be great, but I am not sure that he will be able to go that far today.