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Mr. Bercow: I will do that.

Mr. Boateng: Good. The hon. Gentleman is going to take me on. He will have plenty of time in Committee to share with us the outcome of his research.

Mr. Edward Davey rose

Mr. Boateng: I must make progress, because I want to come to the points that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) raised.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the limit has been set at 30,000 hectolitres. It is an interesting question, because there are at least 115 reasons in an early-day motion that show why the limit should be set at 30,000 hectolitres. The early-day motion has been signed by Members on both sides of the House, including leading members of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Bercow: Is there such a thing?

Mr. Boateng: Yes, there is. We must be fair to the Liberal Democrat party. It has some distinguished members, and a number of them have signed the early-day motion. However, I do not see the signature—perhaps I have missed it—of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Still, all who signed the motion call for a limit of 30,000 hectolitres, and that is not surprising. They show a great deal of good sense by calling for that limit, because it is supported by the Society of Independent Brewers. Hon. Members know that that society rather than any other represents small local brewers. It is the voice of the small local brewer and the measure is designed to support them.

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The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said that he does not know much about the beer industry but thinks that it is divided into three sectors. It is possible to do that. The 400 microbrewers and the local brewers are usually described as small brewers. If we link them with the 40 regional brewers and the handful of national brewers, that makes three sectors. It is, of course, also possible to divide the industry into four sectors if we disengage the microbrewers and the local brewers, as some people would prefer.

We know, however, that the 40 regional brewers and the handful of national brewers have a different interest from the local brewers and microbrewers. We need to be open and up front about that. The measure is designed to benefit local brewers and microbrewers. Although there is undoubtedly some overlap at the margins—perfectly fair points can be made about that—it is generally accepted that the break between local brewers and regional brewers is at about 30,000 hectolitres.

Mr. Bercow: I think I have got the point.

Mr. Boateng: Good, because in that case the Conservatives will not divide the Committee.

Mr. Bercow: We will divide the Committee.

Mr. Boateng: So the Conservatives will divide the House even though they have got the point. That simply does not make sense.

Mr. Boris Johnson: I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman can repeat that the measure is intended to benefit local brewers when it is clearly playing a part in expediting the demise of Brakspear's brewing in south Oxfordshire, something that it has done for 200 years. How can that be helping local brewers?

Mr. Boateng: I understand and applaud the hon. Gentleman's perseverance on behalf of his local firm, but when he reflects on the measure and the figures, he will realise that the suggestion that it will put his local brewer out of business is a travesty of the truth.

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng: I want to finish the point. At 30,000 hectolitres, brewers have a turnover of more than £2.5 million. It is fair to say that a measure to benefit small businesses should focus on a break-off point of about £2.5 million. I do not think that that is unreasonable, as I hope the House will recognise in the fullness of time.

Mr. Davey: The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government have listened to the Society of Independent Brewers. I do not want him or his colleagues to doubt that we applaud the fact that, unlike the last Conservative Government, they have listened. In that spirit, therefore, and as part of their desire to be open to argument, will he agree that if the amendment is withdrawn and there is no Division, he will consult the brewing industry further to

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determine whether the welcome reduction in beer rates can be extended in the small way that is proposed, and allow us to debate the matter again on Report?

Mr. Boateng: No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman did not table the amendment and he is in no position to make such an offer. I see no response to his suggestion from the hon. Member for Christchurch. It is Liberal Democrat presumption at its height.

Amendment No. 17 attempts to reduce the amount of beer that is taken into account when assessing eligibility for a scheme by excluding exports. Whatever its merits, it would have the fatal drawback of being outwith EC law, the very law that Opposition Members pray in aid in relation to the higher limit and the very law that governs the scheme.

Mr. Bryant: Is it not also true that the argument of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) holds water, or perhaps beer, only if Brakspear is determined that any competition from microbreweries—those we are keen to support—will be a problem for it, so it is trying to prevent competition?

Mr. Boateng: I must maintain my self-denying ordinance and not comment on the tax arrangements for specific sectors and companies in the industry, but my hon. Friend makes a trenchant point in his usual trenchant way.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I simply want to confirm to the Minister that I have today spoken to the Society of Independent Brewers, and it has confirmed that this measure will help independent brewers to survive and flourish. Furthermore, they have been fighting for this measure for over 21 years; indeed, this Bill will amend the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979. Year after year since then, at Budget time the society made suggestions to Conservative Governments, but those suggestions were rejected and the society was not listened to. Now we are introducing the measure that will help independent brewers, and that is exactly the moment when the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) opposes it.

Mr. Boateng: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I could not have put it better myself. On that note, I ask the Committee overwhelmingly to reject the amendment.

Mr. Chope: The Minister says that amendment No. 17 would not work because of European law, so obviously I accept that and I will seek to withdraw the amendment.

The problem would not be so bad if the limit were lifted from 30,000 to 200,000 hectolitres. I am disappointed that the Minister has not addressed the point about small local breweries. The Ringwood brewery is a small local brewery; it is also a successful brewery, which is why it can produce as much as it does with only 44 employees. If the Minister takes the view that a brewery with 44 employees is the equivalent of a regional or international brewery and should be exposed to unfair competition from much smaller breweries, he has failed to address the arguments. Ringwood is a founding member of the Society of Independent Brewers and of the campaign for progressive beer duty, and it falls pretty hard on it now to find itself disadvantaged by the measure.

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The Minister was unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), because he was articulating the views of the management of that fine brewery, Brakspear, not off the top of his head but as they were expressed in a press release on 19 April. Jim Burrows, the chief executive, said:

He went on to say how vulnerable his firm will be to unfair competition from microbreweries.

The Government are obsessed with microbreweries' competition with slightly larger breweries, such as Ringwood and Brakspear. The biggest problem in brewing and the pub trade is the dominance of the very large breweries. By accepting amendment No. 4 and the other consequential amendments, the Minister would enable this great cohort of expanding independent brewers to expand even further and to make an even larger collective impact on the market. They would be able to take on the large breweries that get a great deal of protection because they can offer deep discounts.

I am disappointed by the Government's response and the fact that they have not listened to our points; I hope that the Committee will vote for amendment No. 4 and, when it has a chance, will look at early-day motion 1047, to which the Minister did not refer; 61 Members support a duty on production of up to 200,000 hectolitres, with a concession for brewers producing beer less than that volume. The signatories include quite a lot of Labour Members; it will be interesting to see whether they join the Minister in the Lobby or vote for amendment No. 4, which is consistent with the early-day motion.

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 17.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 112, line 2, leave out "30,000" and insert "200,000".—[Mr. Chope.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 206, Noes 316.

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