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Scotch Whisky Association

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association; what subjects were discussed and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the association's public affairs committee last November. Among the issues discussed were taxation policy as it relates to spirits and the problems encountered in exporting whisky to Japan.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is still considerable concern within the association on this vexed question of the tax and duty treatment of Scotch whisky imports by Japan? Will he undertake to keep a close interest on behalf of the Scottish Office in the progress of the GATT case against Japan? If no satisfactory progress is forthcoming in the foreseeable future, will he consider it for possible inclusion on the agenda of the Heads of Government summit later this year?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, which I am sure will certainly be considered. I pay tribute to his close interest in this matter, which is so important in his constituency. I also congratulate him on his recent initiative with the Japanese ambassador. As he knows, the Government and the European Commission are taking action under article 23 of the GATT to seek the rapid removal of discriminatory barriers. We hope that this will be successful in the case of Japan.

When the Minister next meets the Scottish Whisky Association, will he remember that the DCL-Guinness organisation is the largest single member of it? Therefore, will he ensure that stability in that firm is sustained and that it will not be at the expense of the possibility of introducing bulk export of malt whisky, which would endanger the long-term future of whisky, the bottle-making industry and the packaging industry, with which the whisky industry is so closely aligned?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are restrained on these matters anyway by the GATT and by European Community commitments. We certainly maintain contact with Guinness.

Has the Scotch Whisky Association made any representations to my hon. Friend about the severe disadvantages suffered by the industry due to the fact that it is now controlled from London by an Irish brewery conglomerate whose only genius was to acquire these brands by deception?

Despite the problems to which my hon. Friend refers, total exports have now exceeded £1 billion. I hope that my hon. Friend is pleased at the transfer of Distillers home trade operations to Perth from the south of England.