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Guinness Plc

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what follow-up discussions he has had with Guinness plc since the statement by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to the Scottish Grand Committee on 17 July 1986.

My right hon. and learned Friend has met representatives of Guinness on three occasions since 17 July 1986. I have also been involved in meetings with the company. These discussions, which are continuing, have ranged over a variety of matters related to Guinness's activities in Scotland.

Why did the Secretary of State for Scotland not answer the question? Is it because he realises that it was unfair of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to upstage the leader of the Liberal party last July during the Scottish Grand Committee debate on industry when he gave an assurance that the Secretary of State was on his charger as far as the Guinness company was concerned? We know that the Secretary of State is accident-prone in regard to horses. He falls off them. What more is the Secretary of State doing to get the company to locate in Scotland and bring the promised jobs?

We shall miss the hon. Gentleman's carefully modulated tones in the next Parliament. I wish him the best of luck in his future career

As my answer demonstrated, my right hon. and learned Friend and I keep in close touch with Guinness. We are watching the continuing developments involving the increasing location of its activities in Scotland.

When my hon. Friend discusses matters with Guinness, will he discuss broken pledges and pledges that may not as yet have been fulfilled? Will he consider any pledge that was given to the leader of the Liberal party who robustly came out in defence of the Guinness attempted takeover of Bell's, Scotland's best performing whisky company at the time, on the basis that Bell's was in need of Guinness's assistance? We now see what that assistance has produced. We should like to know exactly what the promises were.

I am sure that the leader of the Liberal party can speak for himself, once he has cleared the matter with the leader of the Social Democratic party.

My hon. Friend will be glad to know of Guinness's expanded activities in Perth. Britain's leading spirits organisation, covering the marketing and sales of all United Kingdom brands, will be located there and will create 50 new jobs.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Guinness is suffering from a marked shortage of genius and that it would not require much at all to fulfil the commitments that were made many times in Scotland last year to move its headquarters and jobs to Scotland? Will he tell the House what the members of the Guinness board are saying about those commitments?

I hope that the amount of genius on the Guinness board has increased now that the chairman and chief executive and also two leading non-executive directors are Scots. As my hon. Friend knows, the chairman's office is in Edinburgh. The chief executive of the group and the chief executive of the new united Distillers group also have offices in Edinburgh.

Will the Minister give us some assurance in relation not only to the headquarters of Bell's and other aspects of the Guinness subsidiary being located in Scotland, but the manufacturing base? Some of us have misgivings. We were given assurances by the previous management of Guinness—assurances that can bear no weight. Some hon. Members who have bottling plants in their constituencies are extremely worried about such assurances. What approaches have been made by his right hon. and learned Friend to ensure that not only the headquarters but the productive capacity and throughput of Bell's subsidiary are located in Scotland?

We are certainly in touch with Guinness on a continuing basis. The closure of bottling plants is regrettable, but some rationalisation of that kind was almost inevitable, regardless of ownership. All distilling, blending and bottling in the group is now centralised in Scotland.

Setting aside the whiff of City scandals, will the Minister explain to the House, as the Secretary of State has declined to do so, what happened to the pledges made on behalf of the Secretary of State on 17 July by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary? What happened to the pledges about jobs? What happened to the firm, documentary commitments? What happened to the plan for location in Scotland? Above all, will the Minister tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the people of Scotland are now somewhat discouraged with his ill-founded optimism which has been shown most recently and notably in regard to Caterpillar?

I have already told the House of a number of developments to the advantage of Scotland in connection with Guinness. I can also point to the Glenochil yeast plant being retained in preference to the Bristol plant, thus saving 300 jobs; to the modernisation of the Johnny Walker bottling plant at Kilmarnock, where there are 800 jobs; and to the expansion of Gleneagles as an international leisure centre.

With regard to what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) said about me, will my hon. Friend confirm that I was simply putting on record the position on 17 July in the interests of the people of Scotland and of all Scottish Members of Parliament? Does my hon. Friend agree that, irrespective of other matters, the whole of Scotland is full of admiration for the way in which Sir Norman Macfarlane has acted as chairman of Guinness?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I entirely agree with his latter remarks.

I called the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) because he was mentioned, so I shall call one more Opposition Member.

Because of the amalgamation with DCL, Guinness now owns almost the whole of the Port Dundas area in my constituency. The White Horse bottling plant has been lying empty for well over a year now, and steps should be taken by the Government to find out what will happen to that plant.

I dare say the hon. Gentleman will already have taken up that matter with the owners. I am sure that he shares my satisfaction at the continuing success of the whisky industry. Exports in the last year for which we have figures exceeded £1 billion in value.