Independent Brewers: Small Brewers Relief

– in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 6th September 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Adam Holloway.)

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip 6:16 pm, 6th September 2022

It is good to see such an amazing turnout for tonight’s Adjournment debate and such an interest in small brewers relief!

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members please leave quietly, because if they do not, we will not be able to hear the Adjournment debate?

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Take two. Politicians like to talk about how everything, in one way or another, is political. We would say that, wouldn’t we? But I think it is genuinely true; decisions taken in places such as this set the scene for our broader social and cultural lives. How we answer questions such as what gets support, what is left to the whims of the free market and how much is something taxed can have a direct impact on how people live, what products they use, what they eat and what they drink. That is certainly the case when it comes to beer.

When we look at Scotland and the UK’s independent brewing scene today, we see diversity and growth, but this is not how it has always been. Only 20 years ago, there were only about 400 brewers in the UK, whereas today the number stands at about 1,900, which is five times as many, with nearly one in every parliamentary constituency. Midlothian, my constituency, punches well above its weight when it comes to brewing, as it does in many other regards; to name just a few local companies, we have Stewart Brewing, Cross Borders, Top Out, Otherworld and Black Metal. The overall picture in recent years has been a booming sector coming out of nowhere and making a huge economic impact.

According to the Society of Independent Brewers, which is represented here tonight with Barry Watts, Keith Bott, Eddie Gadd, Roy Allkin and Greg Hobbs in the Gallery—I am delighted to see them here and I thank them for their support in campaigning on this issue—small independent breweries contribute about £270 million to GDP each year and employ about 6,000 full-time staff. That is an average of 4.1 employees per brewery. A great deal of that success is precisely because in 2002 the Government of the day recognised that existing policy—beer duty—was artificially holding back a sector. In addressing that, politics has enabled craft beer to flourish, to the point where it is now embedded in our culture. Much of this is thanks to small brewers relief, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year. Conveniently, today of all days, the Five Points brewery in Hackney hosted a 20th anniversary celebration to mark the good that SBR has done. Sadly, parliamentary business meant that I could not make it along, but I am told that it was a roaring success, and I hope the Minister will join me in congratulating the organisers.

SBR was introduced to help smaller craft brewers compete in a marketplace dominated by large and global brewers. It allows smaller breweries who make less beer to pay a more proportionate amount of tax, as with income tax. For those who produce up to 5,000 hectolitres a year, which, for clarity, is about 900,000 pints and enough to supply around 15 pubs—or one Downing Street Christmas party, perhaps—SBR means a 50% reduction in the beer duty they pay. Above 5,000 hectolitres, brewers pay duty on a sliding scale, up to the same 100% rate that the global producers pay. This enables brewers to invest in their businesses, create jobs and compete with the global companies.

However, SBR has always had a major glitch. Once a brewer makes more than 5,000 hectolitres, the rate at which duty relief is withdrawn acts as a cliff edge. As a result, instead of empowering small brewers to grow, SBR puts up a barrier, and all because of a wee technicality. It is not the sort of thing that should take years and years to address, but sadly that is exactly what has happened.

As far back as 2018 the Treasury announced a review of SBR to address the cliff edge. Since then, brewers have been barraged with a review in 2019, a technical consultation in 2021, a call for evidence on the alcohol duty system, and a consultation on yet another new system this year.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

I think a number of us were discussing this matter back in November 2020. One of the drivers then was the sense that we needed to support small, independent brewers coming out of covid. Here we are almost two years down the road. We need to support them in relation to covid and in relation to energy. The need to incentivise support from this Government—we all agree how important the brewers are to our communities, as well as to the economy—is just as important now as it was then, if not more so. We would welcome a supportive response from the Government.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I will speak later about some of the issues that businesses currently face with regard to energy costs.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

In my constituency, as in the hon. Lady’s, we have breweries. I am reminded of Bullhouse Brewery in Greengraves Road in Newtonards, a local family business. It produces an incredible product that sells well, but it is a small brewery. It really is in that category. Without the assistance of small brewers relief, there is no guarantee that our independent brewers would be able to survive. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that to ensure that our local brewers are able to reman comfortably on their feet, there must be greater relief on their beer duty to ensure that they are not penalised by crippling tax in years to come? The very fact of what local brewers do means that they are intensive users of electricity so the costs for them are multiplied to a place where they may not be able to survive.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Many small family brewers are so much a part of their local communities. It is not just about the business, it is what they do for their local communities.

Each proposal that the Government have brought forward so far has been a step up from the last, but has missed the mark in crucial ways. So let us look at the most recent reform package that the Treasury has put on the table—what it gets right, which it does, and where we still have some way to go. I welcome last year’s announcement that the 50% rate would be reduced to 2,500 hectolitres. This came off the back of a great deal of lobbying from campaign groups and Members across the House, and demonstrates the cross-party willpower to get this right for our brewers. That is not to mention a public petition of more than 50,000 signatures. But issues remain.

Brewers cannot wait any longer for another half-right, half-wrong proposal. This time, the Treasury must listen to brewers’ calls, act decisively, and implement that decision. No more leaving brewers in the lurch. They have a right to know the final details of what the Government are planning and when it will be introduced so that they can be prepared for the changes. So, having spoken to SIBA and to local brewers in Midlothian, I am asking the Treasury to address the following problems in its most recent proposals with transparency and urgency. I and many small brewers have serious concerns about the ways in which these reforms could turn small brewers relief into big global brewers relief. Time and again, the current proposals open the door to benefiting the big players, and it is almost starting to look as if that is a feature, not a bug. For one, the Treasury needs to scrap its plan to set the start and end point of relief depending on the UK’s average alcohol by volume. This nationwide average is heavily skewed towards global brewers, and it needs to be the average of small brewers instead. Then we have the fact that the reduced rate of SBR will be widened from 2.8% to 3.4% ABV, at £8.42 instead of £19.08.

SIBA has told me that it is concerned that this allows large brewers to undercut smaller ones—they could easily cash in on the benefits by altering their recipes to a lower ABV. Not only would that cost the Treasury an estimated £200 million a year in lost revenue, but it would fundamentally go against the spirit of SBR. On top of that, we have the Treasury’s decision to maintain the Farmgate exemption, which exempts 80% of cider makers from paying any duty. Small cider producers absolutely deserve parity of support, but there is no getting round the fact that the cider sector has a very different landscape. Global producers account for 87% of the cider sold in pubs, so it is global producers again that disproportionally benefit from the Farmgate exemption.

According to SIBA, taxing cider at the same rate as beer could raise £360 million a year for the Treasury, so why is it not happening? Are the Government scared of upsetting big business yet again? Using SBR reform as a means of opening the door to advantaging global brewers just does not make sense, yet it seems to be the direction of the Treasury. At best, this is an honest oversight. At worst, it is as if the Treasury is trying to stick to these plans no matter what. I think that questions need to be asked about what communications and hospitality the Treasury might have received from some of these large global brewing companies. I urge the Minister to ensure that that is not the case and that small brewers relief is genuinely to support small brewers and not be that in name only.

Aspects of the latest proposals for SBR reform also undo some of SBR’s spirit of innovation and growth. When calculating a producer’s average ABV, the proposed new small producer relief will include everything the producer makes—beer or otherwise. I am sure that it has not escaped the notice of the Minister or others in the Chamber that many small brewers are branching out and not simply making beer but also spirits such as gin or whisky, and this innovation should be welcomed. However, under the current plans, producing spirits will send a brewer’s average ABV skyrocketing. Small producer relief will act as a roadblock to innovation. Instead, the average ABV calculations should only include products of up to 8.5%—the same amount that actually qualifies for relief.

The Treasury also needs to urgently clarify some issues around its simplification of ABV bands surrounding SBR. It is welcome that SBR will now apply to beer below 2.8%. That can only encourage a trend of lower alcohol beer to aid in healthier drinking habits. However, will this affect brewers that currently receive up to 50% relief on beer between 2.9% and 3.4%. There is zero clarity on this and brewers need an answer. I urge the Minister to address this in his response.

Furthermore, under the current proposals, the Treasury is planning to introduce a reduced rate of about 5% for draught products below 8.5% ABV in large containers of at least 40 litres. This is a positive step forward, but why stop there? The Minister will be aware of SIBA’s “make it 20” campaign. Small brewers and community pubs often use 20 or 30 litre containers to keep the beer fresh. Even some of the larger pub chains are using that size of containers because of the freshness of the product. Will the Minister commit to expanding the reduced rate to include containers of that size? Go on, prove that the Treasury does actually care about the wee guys after all. Crucially, the Minister needs to guarantee that this is full SBR, by ensuring that relief fully applies in cash terms to the lower rate, main, higher and the draught products rate so that small brewers can continue to compete.

On top of this, the way in which the small producer relief is calculated is a completely untested system. Rather than using a simple percentage, brewers will have to consider different cash reliefs at different alcohol bands, based on hectolitres of pure alcohol. It is unnecessarily complex and could act as a cash cap, once again discouraging brewers from innovating.

Brewers do not just need solutions to those issues; they need them to happen now. Frustratingly, however, delay and confusion have been the name of the game so far. First, brewers were promised an announcement on the final details of SBR reform before the summer, but it would appear that the Government have been a bit too busy over the summer to have got around to it, so it never happened. I hope the Minister will take today as an opportunity to give a long-awaited update and maybe even a date of publication for it. Secondly, SBR reform has been rolled into the wider alcohol duty review. Small brewers simply cannot wait for that review’s findings, so I hope the Minister will listen to calls for the reform to be progressed on its original timetable for February 2023.

This is not good enough. The urgency of supporting the brewing sector is possibly more serious now than ever before. Under this Government, the mass closure of pubs and breweries is more likely than it has ever been. The industry is facing a multi-faceted crisis of covid recovery, energy price hikes, Brexit and climate issues.

The brewing industry was one of the pandemic’s worst-hit sectors, with pub closures locking it out of 80% of its sales. Production fell by 40% in 2020 and remained 16% below 2019 levels in 2021. On average, each small brewer came out of the pandemic with £30,000 of debt. The Scottish Government’s brewers support fund provided millions of pounds of direct support for the sector, but there was no equivalent from the Westminster Government, whose wider package of hospitality support failed to include hundreds of brewers. As a result, the UK lost 160 active brewers during the pandemic and has lost between 40 and 60 more this year.

Yet there is a growing consensus in the sector that the current crisis is far more worrying than even at the height of the pandemic. Skyrocketing energy bills are putting brewers’ futures at risk. One Midlothian brewer told me that their electricity bill was currently triple what it had been a year ago, at an unimaginable £90,000 a year. They estimated that by next year it would reach £180,000. Another local brewer is paying £21,600 more on energy this year than it did last year, almost enough to hire yet another a new employee.

The energy crisis also has indirect effects on the supply chain, as the energy cost of producing certain materials skyrockets. For example, I have been told that the price of buying cans to put beer in has risen from 9p to 14p, leading to massive increases in costs.

Then we have Brexit, which has created not only product movement issues, but a change of attitudes among buyers on the continent. At a time when the cost of living crisis could mean people spending less money in pubs, the last thing brewers need is a complicated export processing system, but that is exactly what Brexit has given them. A brewery in Kent that was chosen by the Department for International Trade as a Brexit export champion recently revealed that it only has one EU customer left. When EU buyers look at the paperwork needed to trade with UK brewers, it seems the conclusion they come to is, “Why bother?”.

The climate crisis is also wreaking havoc on the industry. With the recent high temperatures and drought, hop harvests in Europe are expected to be down 20% to 40% on last year, which means higher prices yet again in the coming months. As if that picture was not worrying enough, there is yet another shortage of CO2, a key part of the brewing process, again partly due to energy prices.

There are glimmers of hope that I have seen when speaking to local businesses throughout the summer. Many are responding to energy prices and CO2 shortages by installing green technology to help with renewable energy generation, storage, electrolysis and CO2 recovery. The Government might not be engaging with long-term planning to adapt to this crisis, but local businesses in Midlothian certainly are. They are turning up the dial on the green revolution in the place that matters most: their own back yards.

However, that kind of long-term investment is exactly that—long term. The up-front costs can be prohibitive for many, while Government funds such as the industrial energy transformation fund are again aimed at larger businesses. Distilleries benefited from £11 million to help them to go green, so I would be grateful if the Minister would consider further steps to help small and medium-sized enterprises such as small brewers to cover the up-front costs of some of those innovations.

I am here because of Midlothian, to fight the corner of its residents and businesses. That is why I have been talking to local businesses over the summer to understand the issues they are facing in the midst of this crisis, and it is why I am standing here today to communicate those messages to the Government. That is how the system is meant to work. It would be a huge failure of the system if the Treasury were to shrug its shoulders and plough on with these poorly thought-out plans regardless.

Midlothian is blessed with many independent brewers, which are a huge asset to the local economy, the community and its culture, but the Treasury’s current proposals for SBR reform seem to put global producers first. They undermine the incentive to grow and do not go nearly far enough to support these valued businesses through the energy crisis, which is existential for many. The back and forth of four years of fiddling with SBR reform simply has to end. We need the Government to act today to give brewers clarity on what reform will look like, to address the concerns about SBR reform benefiting global companies and discouraging innovation, and to deliver urgent support for energy bills and switching to green energy production. That way, I hope that we can continue to raise a glass to our independent brewers for years to come, because they give so much to all our communities.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy 6:35 pm, 6th September 2022

I congratulate Owen Thompson on securing the debate on this important issue. I know that brewing generally is of great interest to many colleagues.

My constituency of Aberconwy is home to some of the finest—I might say the finest—local food and drink producers anywhere in the UK. I am proud to support that industry and sector in my constituency. I welcome the bold reforms to alcohol duty, and the support for pubs and brewers, in the last Budget. I am also proud to SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, in its “Make it 20” campaign, which seeks to apply a 5% reduction in beer duty to 20 and 30-litre kegs. I will briefly outline why the campaign is important to small breweries by using the example of the Wild Horse Brewing Co in Llandudno.

The company is in my constituency and sells more than 70% of its annual production in 20 and 30-litre kegs. As it has grown, it has made a significant investment in 600 30-litre kegs. Most of its beer is sold to small independent bars, pubs and restaurants, which rely on smaller containers in order to offer variety and keep the beer fresh. Given that most of the brewery’s beer is sold in 20 and 30-litre kegs, it will not benefit from the 5% reduction in beer duty, and because none of its beers is under 3.5%, it will not benefit from the widening of the lower duty bracket. This is a business that, with support from the UK Government, has overcome the challenges of the pandemic, and has invested in its future and in the town of Llandudno in my constituency. Over the last 18 months, Dave Faragher, the managing director and founder, has increased his team from seven to 10 employees, two of whom originally started with the UK Government’s kickstart scheme.

Breweries and pubs are businesses that are vital to jobs and communities throughout the UK, especially in constituencies such as mine. Llandudno is known as the queen of resorts and is one of the largest resort areas in Wales. It is important that such businesses are supported and their contribution to the economy recognised, yet there can be no doubt that these same breweries and pubs have faced unprecedented challenges over the last three years. The sector bore the brunt of the economic consequences of the lockdowns and the trading restrictions of the pandemic. It now faces the challenge of rising costs of ingredients and energy—issues of huge concern for such an energy-intensive industry.

Just this weekend, small breweries learned of a threefold increase in CO2 prices and a likely supply crunch at the end of September. Production of CO2 in Billingham—one of the largest producers, which is responsible for about 60% of UK production—will end and Ensus will stop its production for three weeks. As we know, CO2 is vital not just for breweries, but for the entire food and agricultural sector, which falls within the purview of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I therefore must take this opportunity to call on DEFRA to take urgent action, as happened last year—it has shown itself able and willing to do so—to secure CO2 production and supplies, and to reduce costs.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The crucial factor is that either the small brewers relief scheme is enabled to help small businesses, or there will be closures and job losses, with no money from those wages going into the economy. The Government and the Minister need to enable the small brewers relief scheme in a way that helps those businesses now, as energy rises. It is a straightforward decision—one way or the other.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think it is fair to say that businesses, and I count breweries among them, are not looking for charity. They recognise that the Government are not here to give recompense for loss of profits and the like. They are looking for the help they need to get through these tough times.

I am deeply sympathetic to businesses that are facing challenges and working to overcome them, day in, day out. I believe that most are not looking for charity or a hand-out. They just want help to get through another set of challenges. I urge the Government to review the arbitrary nature of small brewers relief and to make 20-litre and 30-litre kegs eligible for the 5% reduction in duty. Small brewers and hard-working small businesses at the heart of our communities, such as the Wild Horse brewery in Llandudno, deserve that consideration.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 6:40 pm, 6th September 2022

I thank Owen Thompson for securing the debate and allowing other Members to participate, now that we have a little longer for this Adjournment debate.

I will not detain the House long because I have spoken on this issue many times before. I initiated the small brewers relief review as a Treasury Minister, quite some time ago. I did so because during preparation for the 2017 Budget, I spoke with brewers large and small. There is clear affection for the industry across this House; every constituency has examples of businesses that reflect the ingenuity, creativity, enterprise and character of the area. These businesses are deep in the DNA of our country, so a taxation regime that disincentivises the sector needs to be corrected. One of the most depressing conversations I had in the run-up to the 2017 Budget was with a small brewer who said they had stopped their export operation simply because they had reached the top of the threshold for relief. We have a taxation structure that disincentivises activity when we want and need growth, particularly in exports. That is where this proposal came from.

I tried to ensure that we had an industry-wide solution, with the industry coming together, because frankly this has been the source of some dispute. That was not to be—the industry could not come together—but significant work has been done by successive Exchequer Secretaries, resulting in proposals that have brought the industry together and are broadly supported. That is a good thing. This has been a good piece of work, done as part of a broader alcohol review, and I have a couple of points to make to my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary.

We need to get on and implement the findings of the review, simply to end the uncertainty that has dogged the sector. Robin Millar are right to have articulated the challenges and broader business pressures facing the sector, so let us act in the one area we can control and implement the review right away. As I said, this is part of a broader alcohol review, other parts of which have not landed quite as well as the beer category. I urge the Minister not to delay implementing the beer review while work on other parts of the sector is refined. Get on with implementing these findings, because I think it would be a popular move and end uncertainty. I am thinking in particular of activity that will incentivise growth. People are stopping product and market development when they hit a top threshold. The proposals will go a long way to make that problem disappear.

We also have proposals in mergers and acquisition for production to absorbed over three years rather than one, so that businesses can make accommodation for that. That is a good thing. We have seen depressed M&A activity in this sector, because of the historic rules, but the proposals will correct the problem.

I have spoken with local brewers in Harrogate and Knaresborough and beyond in the past few weeks, and the message from them is, “Please get on with it.” We need to create a regulatory taxation platform that encourages growth and corrects the problems that the existing SBR had created, while recognising that, as the hon. Member for Midlothian articulated, it has driven new entrants into the market. We are good on start-ups, but bad on scale-ups—we can correct that by implementing the review.

Photo of Alan Mak Alan Mak The Exchequer Secretary 6:45 pm, 6th September 2022

I begin by congratulating Owen Thompson on securing the debate and commending him for his ongoing advocacy on behalf of the brewers and distillers from his constituency. I join him in congratulating the organisers of the 20th anniversary celebration he mentioned. As he said, he has some notable examples of beer and gin producers in Midlothian. I understand that brewing in Scotland dates back to the neolithic period—truly some very small brewers indeed.

As the Member for Havant, I too am proud of the brewing heritage in my constituency. In fact, the combination of a thriving local malt trade and fine spring water meant that beer was a mainstay of Havant’s local economy for centuries. Although it is many years since the final kegs rolled out of our last active brewery, that legacy is still visible in some of our town’s buildings.

Let me also thank the other hon. Members who have taken the time to contribute to this debate, and who represent all four nations of the United Kingdom, which reflects the appeal and significance of our first-rate alcohol industry. I particularly recognise the contribution of my predecessor, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who played a key role in initiating the review.

Before I address the various points raised today, I will briefly explain the wider reforms, the rationale for them and why they are important. The key point is that the Government are making changes to outdated alcohol tax laws—laws that are arbitrary and inconsistent. Crucially, the result of these reforms will be a system that is much fairer, simpler and more aligned with public health goals than the system we inherited from our membership of the European Union. EU law contains many inconsistencies and barriers to simplification, including, for instance, preventing member states from taxing all types of drink in proportion to their alcohol content.

In contrast, the Government’s proposed reforms, as set out in last year’s autumn Budget, radically simplify the system and tax all products in proportion to their alcohol content, which ensures that higher-strength products pay proportionately more duty. We are also introducing new reliefs to support pubs and help small producers to expand and thrive. The Government remain committed to delivering alcohol duty reform. We are considering the feedback that we have received and we will respond in the coming months.

Put simply, the reform of alcohol tax laws is long overdue. These laws have barely changed since the 1990s, partly because the incoherent and prohibitive EU rules that we experienced in the past have hindered that much-needed change. In the current system, for instance, a high-strength white cider pays less duty per unit than a low-strength beer. Sparkling wine—a sector in which the UK is starting to lead the world—pays much more duty per unit than still wine, even when it contains substantially less alcohol. Fortified wines, which are made with the addition of spirits, pay less duty than a liqueur made with spirits, even if they are the same strength.

The plain fact is that we inherited 15 rates from the EU across five different products with three different methods of taxation. As such, the current system is complex and archaic. In fact, the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank has said that it “defies common sense”. For their part, producers, importers and exporters in this country have called the system “distorted” and

“perversely incentivised to produce stronger drinks”.

They have welcomed the opportunity for reform.

Now that we have left the EU, we have an opportunity to create alcohol laws that are more rational, and that support the many and varied producers and traders in this country. At the autumn Budget last year, the then Chancellor laid out the significant benefits we planned to introduce with our reforms, which include a radically simplified system that slashes the number of bands from 15 to six and taxes all products in proportion to their alcohol content; taxing all products in the same way, which is a rational policy that was banned by EU law; ending the premium rates on sparkling wine and equalising them with still wine, and substantially reducing duty on rosé; introducing new rates for low-strength drinks below 3.5%, which will encourage innovation and reflect consumer preferences for low or no alcohol drink alternatives; and cutting duty on a 3.4% beer by 25p a pint.

We are also modernising the taxation of cider, targeting unhealthy and problematic white ciders while cutting the duty for lower ABV, craft and sparkling ciders; freezing duty rates for the third Budget running, saving consumers £3 billion over the coming years; and, of particular interest to Members tonight, we have introduced small producer relief, supporting the many small artisan alcohol producers who continue to create world-beating products in this country.

The hon. Member for Midlothian asked about the possible behaviour and role of global producers and the cost of reducing the rate for beer below 3.5% ABV. The Government’s intention is to encourage reformulation and innovation in lower-strength products, including by larger brewers, and this proposal received broad support from the sector during the call for evidence. The costs of these alcohol duty reforms were published at autumn Budget 2021, and they took account of the impacts of reformulation between bands. A tax information and impact note will be published alongside the draft legislation in the usual way.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that, since 2002, small brewers relief has provided reduced rates of beer duty for small producers. The rapid and successful growth in the sector since that relief was introduced has undoubtedly contributed to the diversity and quality of beers on the market. This is good for producers and good for consumers. However, we must also recognise that responses to the technical consultation the Government ran on SBR pointed to flaws in the system. Some called it “too generous”, going beyond the relative cost disadvantage experienced by small producers. Others called it “distortive” and “flawed”. Alongside our other generational reforms, we have the opportunity to improve on the positives of SBR and extend those benefits to other industries.

While no final decisions have been taken, the new relief we announced at the Budget includes expanding the relief across all categories, allowing small producers to diversify their product range to other products below 8.5% ABV, while still benefiting from reduced rates; introducing a more progressive taper, removing the cliff edges from the previous scheme, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned; expanding the scheme to products below 2.9%, encouraging innovation in the growing low or no alcohol market and in turn helping consumers make healthier choices while still supporting our outstanding alcohol industry; and, let us not forget, introducing draught relief, a move that directly supports the great British pub with reduced duty rates on draught beer and cider so that consumers can enjoy the fantastic products made by our small producers in their favourite local.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the point was reinforced by my hon. Friend Robin Millar, the issue of container size, and the fact that small independent brewers and community pubs often use 20 and 30-litre containers for their beer. I want to assure them both and the wider alcohol community that, while I cannot make any announcements tonight, we have listened and we understand their point.

The hon. Member for Midlothian also raised the issue of help for the sector as it recovers from covid-19. While the final design of the alcohol duty reforms will be confirmed shortly, I want to reassure him that the Government recognise the pressures facing the sector. I remind him that the Government have already introduced a range of measures that continue to provide significant support for businesses, including cutting business rates by 50% for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in this financial year. He asked about support for energy costs, and as he will have heard from the Prime Minister this afternoon, announcements will be made this week and in the coming weeks, so I reassure him that he can look out for those.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the full SBR rate will be maintained at the new lower rate, whether total production across all alcoholic products will be used to calculate the SPR and whether the SPR will be launched at the same time as the other alcohol duty changes. I reassure him that the Government recognise the success that SBR has brought to the industry, and we look forward to seeing the benefits shared with other sectors. While I cannot make any announcements tonight, I hope he understands that the Government are carefully considering the feedback stakeholders shared with us through the consultation and we will publish our response shortly.

The benefits I outlined earlier would not have been available to this country before we left the EU. The reality is that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve an outdated system, providing new incentives for producers to grow and innovate and a major boost for pubs. Our reforms are more rational, fairer, better aligned to public health goals and more in tune with consumer preferences, and they support the Great British pub and the small producers delivering fantastic world-class products.

Let me again thank the hon. Member for Midlothian and all hon. Members across the House who have contributed to this evening’s debate. I also wish to assure them that we will soon confirm the details of these wider reforms and publish the draft legislation, alongside the Government’s response to the consultation.

If, indeed, we have been brewing alcohol on these islands for thousands of years I see no reason why we should not continue, with even greater success, for thousands more. Given a chance, I am sure those neolithic producers of beer would have enjoyed the benefits afforded by small brewers relief, and they would almost certainly have welcomed the opportunity to expand their operation with the reformed small producer relief.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.