Cider tax – the popular insurrection grows

Here’s what I said on the subject of cider tax in the budget debate yesterday:

5.37 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):

My main bone of contention-[Hon. Members: “Cider!”] I make no apologies for being a clichéd Somerset Member-I am going to stand up for the cider makers and apple growers of my constituency, because if I do not, who will? To increase cider duty by 10 per cent., as has been suggested, and for the leader of the Conservative party to stand up and boast that it was his idea, which the Government had filched, are things I find very difficult to take.

I do not know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer means by saying that there is anomaly when it comes to cider. The anomaly can be found in the fact that people have work, jobs and livelihoods in my part of the country, where this is a significant industry, and that the direct result of this change today will be to reverse the expansion of the industry over the past few years, to put people out of work, to close down cider makers and to grub up orchards. That is a disastrous consequence of an ill thought through policy.

If the Government’s intention was to deal with the sort of high-strength industrial alcohol that has barely seen an apple in its lifetime-that has only seen a little bit of concentrate-they should have done that. Let them deal with the stuff that is sold in the supermarkets too cheaply. However, what they have done instead will affect the artisan traditional cider maker. It will put them out of business. It could have been avoided if there had been a quota or a volume limit, so that the tax did not apply if production was below a certain volume. They decided not to do that; they did not listen. They do not understand that cider orchards take a long time to plant and to bring into production, and that the return and yield on the capital takes time to mature. All of that has been put at risk by what the Government have decided today.

I have precedence on my side. In my constituency, near Curry Rivel, there is a monument called the Burton Pynsent monument. It was erected by William Pitt in thanks to Sir William Pynsent, who had given over the estate to William Pitt as a thank you for opposing cider tax back in the 18th century-

Rob Marris: Is that what you’re up to?

Mr. Heath: I am not saying that I want another monument-what I want is equity and fairness for the cider makers and apple growers in my constituency. If I succeed and they want to put up another monument in Curry Rivel, I shall be delighted.

This is a retrogressive step that I bitterly oppose, and I know that it will be enormously resented by people in the west country. They will simply say that this is vindictive, that the Labour Government do not understand the west country and that they think, “Cider? Who cares about cider? We will have a go at them.” For the Government to have colluded with the leader of the Conservative party in doing this is a disgrace. I, for one, will remain a revolting peasant and stand up for the people in my constituency who will be affected by this and who will lose their jobs. I shall say no.

5.58 pm

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