Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Angry cider drinkers launch Downing Street petition

Man drinking cider
The tax rise has caused uproar among cider drinkers

Cider drinkers angry at the government's decision to raise tax on the drink are petitioning 10 Downing Street for a reversal of the policy.

In his Budget on Wednesday, Chancellor Alistair Darling said duty would go up by 10% above the rate of inflation.

The online petition says cider brewing is a "British tradition that needs help to stay alive".

The government said on Thursday that almost 400 of the UK's smallest cider producers would not be affected.

Mr Darling told the BBC he was bringing the taxation level into line with that levied on beer.

'Super strength'

The increase in duty takes effect from midnight on Sunday, with the Campaign for Real Ale suggesting the pub price could rise by 20p a pint.

The Treasury estimates the change will bring in an extra £30m.

From 1 September, it says "the technical definition of cider will be changed to ensure products that more closely resemble made-wines [the strongest types] are taxed appropriately".

These products have been an integral part of British life for centuries. So they should be protected by the government by way of being given tax breaks.
Downing Street petition

Ministers argue that raising the cost of "super-strength" varieties will help deter teenagers from binge drinking.

But the Downing Street petition says: "The level of taxation... is too high and is a stumbling block for small producers of cider, beer and ale.

"These products have been an integral part of British life for centuries. So they should be protected by the government by way of being given tax breaks.

"These incentives should be exclusive to real cider, beer and ale, not mass-produced products."

More than 1,800 people have signed the petition.

'Distinction'

Lovers of the drink have also set up a campaign on the social networking website Facebook.

The Leave Our Cider Alone group states: "What concerns us the most is that the stronger cider happens to be the locally sourced stuff - this is not good for the historic industry."

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Jeremy Browne, who is also the MP for Taunton in Somerset, where much cider is brewed, said the government's plan was "wrong" and would damage small businesses unfairly.

On a trip to Somerset, his party leader Nick Clegg described it as a "smash and grab tax on an industry which is immensely important to many people here".

And in the Commons on Thursday, Conservative MP Bill Wiggin asked environment minister Jim Fitzpatrick how he had "the nerve" to talk up agriculture, while the government hiked up duty on cider.

He added: "There are 600 businesses in Herefordshire alone producing this exclusively British drink. How are you ever going to persuade anybody to take anything you say about British agriculture seriously again?"

Mr Fitzpatrick said there was a "small cider makers' exemption" to the increase for firms producing less than 7,000 litres a year - he estimated it meant nearly 400 UK cider makers would not be affected by the duty rise.

Speaking on BBC 5 Live Chancellor Alistair Darling said: "I like the occasional glass of cider as much as anyone else...

"What I've done in relation to cider, most ciders, is to bring its duty more or less into line with the taxation rates we have for beers.

"Historically it's happened that there's been less tax paid on ciders."

Mr Darling added: "There's a distinction to be made. There are some drinks sold as cider which have a very, very much higher alcoholic content."

He said this was "different from the stuff that's made in the West Country and other parts of the country."



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