Westcountry cider could be exempt from price crackdown - minister
Traditional cider could be exempt from a Government crackdown on cheap alcohol if it hits jobs in rural areas, a minister has suggested.
Farmers in the cider heartlands of Devon and Somerset have warned they will go out of business if a proposed minimum alcohol price of 45p per unit gets the go-ahead.
Questioned in the House of Commons by Devon MP Ben Bradshaw on the "devastating" impact the plan could have on the cider industry, Environment Minister Richard Benyon – whose department champions farming – said: "We are working on the issue with the Department of Health and the Home Office.
"We will raise with those departments any instances in which the measure would have a pernicious effect on the rural community, and exceptions may be forthcoming."
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Cider makers have complained that drink sold directly from farms - or "farm-gate" production - will double in price to £13-a-gallon, making their business unsustainable.
When the policy was announced last week, Julian Temperley, the Somerset-based producer credited with reviving the art of cider brandy production in Britain, said the plan risks "destroying" a cornerstone of Westcountry rural life.
The Government wants to outlaw ultra-cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets, tackling binge-drinking blighting Britain's high streets.
Under the plans, a pint of ale could be sold for no less than around £1.08 and a bottle of wine close to £4.05.
Mr Bradshaw, Labour Exeter MP, said exemptions were unlikely to work and the Government should instead ditch the idea in its entirety.
He said: "Ministers have finally been forced to admit minimum alcohol pricing will have a 'pernicious' impact on Westcountry cider makers.
"They make vague references to possible 'exceptions' to protect cider makers – they must now publish the legal advice on this.
"I have serious doubts that it will be possible to draft exemptions for cider in general or farm gate sales in particular that would withstand legal challenge.
"It would be better if ministers were honest about this, stood up for our cider makers and stopped this damaging proposal now."
In the Commons, Farming Minister and Somerton and Frome MP David Heath confirmed – as reported in the Western Morning News last week – he is prohibited from speaking on the issue because of the large number of cider makers in his Somerset constituency.
Mr Bradshaw went on: "He made a ridiculous spectacle in the Commons by refusing to answer questions on cider makers because he has some of them in his constituency while answering several questions on other types of farming also well represented in his constituency.
"Are education ministers now not to answer questions on schools if they have some in their constituency?"