MINISTERS have raised the prospect of exemptions for cider from minimum booze pricing after Exeter's MP warned of the 'devastating' impact it would have on the industry.
Exceptions may be made where the planned move aimed at tackling cheap alcohol would have a "pernicious effect" on the rural community Ben Bradshaw was told at Westminster.
It came as the Labour MP became embroiled in a spat with the Farming Minister and Somerset MP David Heath, who said he could not respond to Mr Bradshaw's questions because of his constituency's strong links to the industry.
He had handed over ministerial responsibility for cider to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
The Government plans to introduce a 45p lower limit for a unit of alcohol, as part of a raft of measures to tackle binge-drinking including a ban on multi-buy deals in supermarkets.
Ministers say it will cut consumption, reduce crime and hospital admissions, and lead to fewer alcohol-linked deaths.
But Mr Bradshaw has warned it will 'clobber' responsible drinkers and traditional cider makers.
Tackling the Minister in the Commons, Mr Bradshaw said: "Does the Minister accept that the Government's ill-conceived plan to regulate for a minimum alcohol price will have a devastating effect on Westcountry cider farmers?"
Responding, Mr Heath said: "He is very well aware that, because of my constituency interests, I cannot answer that question in a ministerial capacity."
The exchange led to commons Speaker John Bercow to intervene.
Mr Bradshaw again pressed the point later at environment questions.
He said: "Unless every Defra Minister with a farm in his constituency is now disqualified from answering a farming question, will one of them now try to answer my question about the devastating impact of the Government's proposed minimum alcohol price on the cider industry?"
In reply, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said; "I shall be delighted to answer his question about the cider industry. The Minister (Mr Heath) has been told that he cannot speak on the issue because of the preponderance of cider farmers in his constituency, but I can assure him that 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."