The Chairman: Order. I understand that hon. Members need to communicate with each other, but there is a limit to the number of private conversations that this Chairman is prepared to tolerate.
Before I ask the Financial Secretary to respond, it has been pointed out that some of the matters raised apply to clause 3. It is inevitable in such a debate that arguments will interrelate. It is up to the Financial Secretary whether he chooses to respond to some of the issues relating to alcopops now, or to reserve that response until the proper debate on the subject under clause 3. I am fairly relaxed on the subject.
Mr. Boateng: I am grateful to you, Mr. Gale. I am looking forward enormously to the debate on alcopops, and I shall address the wider points on them then.
Hon. Members have asked me to give a rationale for the Government's approach to the taxation of alcoholic drinks. That is to be found in paragraph 5.88 of the Red Book, and is that we seek to take ''consistent steps to deliver'' what we describe as
We are not motivated, in introducing the proposals, by the rosy recollection of our youthful drinking habits. We are not summoning up the happy memory of 14 pints a day, which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) shared with us. It might well be that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) can beat that—I do not know. Perhaps there is a macho competition among Opposition Members to determine who can drink the other under the table. I know not, and I do not particularly care. It is not for us to base our policy on alcohol taxation on the fancies, foibles, fads and fixations of right hon. and hon. Members.
Chris Grayling: I have to say, representing a constituency in which antisocial behaviour is becoming an increasing problem and where my constituents are very concerned about increasing trouble caused by the over-consumption of alcohol, that they will listen to the Financial Secretary's comments with some dismay and think that he should take the subject more seriously. Does he accept that the much greater presence of strong alcohol in our society, which has increased during the past 20 years or so, is a significant contributor to the troubles in town centres across the country on Friday and Saturday nights?
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Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman is going to spend many more weeks in close proximity to us all and I suggest, for his own happiness and that of the rest of us, that he lightens up a little. Be that as it may, of course we take seriously antisocial behaviour and binge drinking. What we are addressing here, on the basis of the rationale that I have outlined, is our specific decision about cider.
Why cut the duty on cider? Cider makers' production costs are higher than those of beer makers. Cider makers face the same problems in bringing their product to market as small brewers. A cut in duty will give them a much needed boost in a traditional industry that accounts for half of UK apple growing, forms an important part of the rural economy and has given a commitment to seek to increase the amount of UK apples that it uses to 67 per cent. The hon. Member for Christchurch made the legitimate point, as I should expect of him on the matter, that the industry could do more. It has given an undertaking that it will.
Mr. Jack: Could the Financial Secretary confirm that it has also given an undertaking that the full value at retail of the tax reduction will be passed on to the consumer?
Mr. Boateng: No, I cannot. As I said before, on a very interesting and widely followed debate on beer that we had on the Floor of the House, that is a matter for the industry. The right hon. Gentleman would be the last person on earth to expect the Financial Secretary to go around dictating to brewers or cider makers how much of any particular cut in duty they pass on to their customers. That would not be sensible. It is a matter for the markets and for decisions by individual brewers and cider makers.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale.
Will the Financial Secretary circulate a copy of that undertaking? It would be interesting if members of the Committee could see it.
Mr. Boateng: I shall certainly drop the hon. Gentleman a line about the basis on which I can tell the Committee that the cider industry has pledged to increase the amount of UK-grown apples that it uses. If the matter is of interest to other members of the Committee, they should see the note too. I can see at least one Liberal Democrat Member—the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton—who, I should have thought, would normally have a discourse with the hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to send the hon. Gentleman a special copy to share with him.
It is welcome news and an assurance that the Committee is perfectly entitled to seek from the industry, because we want the rural economy to be supported in every way possible. One would want to see that without the cynical motive suggested by the hon. Member for Christchurch. I hope that, in light of that news, the clause will find favour with the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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