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Orders Of The Day

Volume 131: debated on Friday 15 April 1988

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Scotch Whisky Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 3

Interpretation, Orders And Consequentialamendments

9.37 am

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 39 at end insert—

'(c) and in the production of which water of a high quality derived from a Scottish source has been used.'.

There may be some amusement in discussing the Bill, in that the only amendment relates to water and normally we call Scotch whisky usquebagh, the water of life. Most people look upon water as something that they add to their dram, especially those who do not have the courage to drink the golden liquid neat. Experts tell us that In drinking water with whisky we should use separate glasses, one containing whisky and the other containing water, and that alternative sips should he taken. They say that it is sacrilege to add anything to whisky as soon as the bottle has been opened.

The amendment is vital, because the quality of the water used in the production of Scotch whisky is of great significance. The amendment seeks to ensure that the water used in the production is of the highest quality. Right hon. and hon. Members who served on Standing Committee C will recall that I mentioned the effects of afforestation on the quality of the water used in the distillation of Scotch whisky. It will be helpful for other hon. Members to know why I wish to amend the Bill; for that reason, I shall summarise my arguments in support of the amendment.

The quality of the water used in the production of whisky is vital to its distinctive taste. Water is important to the preparation of the maltings—the process by which t he barley is taken through various technical processes and then distributed to the distilleries. It is also vital to the mash and the distillation itself. The springs, burns, rivers and lochs of Scotland partially account for the distinctive flavours of the malts and blends that are produced. There is, for example, the peaty flavour of the whiskies produced on the Isle of Isla, of which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) spoke on Second Reading. There are also the lighter flavour whiskies that are produced in my constituency.

The Scotch Whisky Association has stressed the importance that it attaches to the quality of water. It has produced a booklet about Scotch whisky and question 14 says:
"What gives Scotch Whisky its distinctive flavour and bouquet?"
The answer is clear:
"Water is probably the most important single factor and a source of good, soft water is essential to a distillery."
Question 15 states:
"Why do whiskies produced in different distilleries vary in flavour? … Most people would agree that the water used is the decisive factor. Adjoining distilleries which draw their water from different sources are known to produce whiskies that are quite dissimilar in flavour."

Given the number of distilleries that I represent, I believe that I can speak with some authority about the distinctive flavours of whisky. In the Speyside area of my constituency, distilleries stand shoulder to shoulder along the valley of the Spey. Each one, albeit they are only 100 yards apart, produces a malt of a distinctive flavour. When people think of Glenlivet, they do not take into account that various Glenlivets are produced in the braes of Glenlivet. I must confess that my own particular malt whisky comes from that area; I will not tempt the fate of falling out with the many other distilleries in my area by naming that specific one, but it has a distinctive flavour.

Laboratory technicians are employed in all the distilleries, not just to monitor the whisky as it goes through its various processes, but to monitor the quality of the water that is added at the various stages of the process. They have a major responsibility to analyse the quality of the whisky.

It is important to ensure the non-acidity of the water used. I am not a scientist—I did not take science after my second year of senior school; I opted for languages—but I understand enough of the technicalities to appreciate that water is measured by pH factors—pH1 is the most acidic, pH7 is neutral and pH14 is the most alkaline.

In the past few years there has been a great deal of concern about acid rain and its impact on the environment. It has been assumed that acidic rain is caused by the sulphuric emissions of industrial complexes. Recent research has suggested, however, that in Sweden, for example, the high level of afforestation has in some way contributed to the acidity of the rainfall. I have little doubt that substantial afforestation will affect the geochemical content of the water used in the whisky industry. That is especially true of the Dufftown area of my constituency. There is a saying that Rome was founded on seven hills and Dufftown was founded on seven stills. That demonstrates the significance of the whisky industry to that area.

9.45 am

The Aberdeen Press and Journal of 9 January stated:
"The pure, sparkling mountain water which helps to make Dufftown one of the main centres of distilling in Scotland could be drastically affected if a new tree planting proposal goes ahead."
That warning came from the director of the north-east river purification board, Mr. Ferris Little. At a meeting with members of the distilling industry in my constituency he explained that, in addition to changing the chemical content of the water, the trees could also take up a significant amount of it, affecting particularly those distilleries that relied on smaller catchments. He gave that warning with his authority as director of the purification board.

The effects of rapid and widespread afforestation on the supply of water to the whisky industry is an important matter. Is the hon. Lady satisfied with the efficacy of the monitoring performed by the purification boards?

The north-east river purification board has been extremely helpful to the distillers in my area; I can speak only of that board. I am concerned about the general monitoring of the impact of afforestation and I shall pursue that matter in greater detail later.

It is important to stress that the distilleries that I represent do not wish to enter into a conflict with the forestry industry. They do not want to prevent the development and expansion of afforestation. We recognise that forestry plays a vital role in the rural communities of Scotland. Moray is one of the most afforested areas of Scotland and provides a large amount of employment for the area. Anyone passing along a road should realise that most of the telegraph poles are produced from the forests of my constituency. The distillers want to live side by side with forestry, but they ask that no one industry should be expanded at the expense of the other.

We should legislate to ensure that a compromise is reached between the two industries. The distillers of my area have been working extremely hard to reach such a compromise, perhaps because of the implications of the Glen Rinnes afforestation scheme.

The distillers have held meetings and exchanged letters with the Forestry Commission because that commission has a major role to play with regard to private or public afforestation. The Malt Distillers Association of Scotland, which is based in Keith in Banffshire in my constituency, wrote to the Forestry Commission expressing its concern about the matter. A fairly substantial reply—I have sent a copy to the Under-Secretary of State for his information—was received by the association.

Dr. Nisbet of the Forestry Commission said:
"The only way to provide conclusive proof of any association"
between afforestation and the acidity of water
"is to carry out long-term studies monitoring the level of stream acidity before, during and after afforestation."
It may appear that the Forestry Commission has made a major concession and has taken on board the anxieties expressed. We are worried, however, that long-term monitoring may take so long that we shall lose some of our distilleries in the process because their supply of water has been adversely affected.

In reply to that letter the president of the Malt Distillers Association, Mr. McBain of Strathisla distillery of Keith, said:
"It is not very reassuring to be told that in 30 years our fears might be proven right—or wrong, by that time some of our distilleries may be put out of business, but the results of the scientific evidence would he interesting!"
The Scotch whisky industry cannot afford to wait 20 or 30 years for hard scientific evidence to be placed before the House. The local community is concerned because of the significance of the industry for employment opportunities. The Government must also be concerned when one considers just how much the whisky industry of Scotland contributes to the Exchequer. If we were to take whisky revenues away from the Exchequer, it would cause severe financial problems for the country.

Some of that concern has been reflected in comments by members of the district council, which, of course, is the local planning authority. There are no legal requirements for planning permission for afforestation, although the Forestry Commission consults local planning authorities. It is perhaps significant that, in June 1987, the director of planning for Moray district council, Mr. Robert Stewart, referring to Ben Rinnes afforestation, said that there was a need for
"all efforts to safeguard this asset and to reach a satisfactory compromise."
That view has been reflected by other organisations within the constituency, such as the Speyside council of social services, which is directly involved in the community.

We are concerned that the urgency of the matter is not recognised at this stage.

Some distilleries own land on which springs rise and streams flow, but other distilleries do not. Even if they wish to purchase land, there would be complex legal discussions about how it could be done. They face difficulties. I seek a clear message that the House is concerned about the effects of afforestation on the whisky industry's water supply. I ask that the House takes account of the whisky industry's desire to work with forestry. There is a strong case for negotiation and discussion, and there is potential to reach a compromise. It is not our wish in any way to create conflict.

The House should make it clear also to the forestry industry that measures that are not particularly complex or difficult can be taken. For example, we could ensure that planting takes place only a certain distance from any known source of water supplying a distillery. It has been suggested that leaving 30m on either side of a spring, river or burn would be enough to protect the supply. Scientific evidence has been gathered on that point. Indeed, continuous monitoring is taking place. The loss to forestry would be minimal, but maximum security would be offered to the whisky industry. Surely that is what we wish to achieve.

We should not place the whisky industry in a situation in which it will face complex legal wrangles. In the medium term, we can seek legislation and planning controls, but in the long term we may face the loss of our industry. If the forestry industry were to act now, we would save ourselves a great deal of trouble in future. I hope that that message will be accepted in the constructive way in which it is put forward, not only by me but by representatives of the whisky industry in my constituency.

This is a modest amendment. It provides a constructive approach to a major problem and will enable two important industries to live together in co-operation, and provide employment and wealth for local communities. If the amendment is accepted, we shall make it clear to both industries that the House views the matter seriously. By acting now, we can avoid any future destructive or negative conflict.

The House has listened with great respect and interest to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). She showed not only concern but considerable expertise and knowledge of the problem to which the amendment refers. I support the hon. Lady's amendment. She recommended a certain method of consumption of water and whisky. The hon. Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart) will confirm that the part of Glasgow that I represent is not noted for that method of whisky consumption. The tradition is rather more of the half-and-half variety, which is probably not terribly beneficial to health.

Of course, water quality is central to the Scotch whisky industry. There is concern about several environmental effects of certain types of afforestation, notably sitka spruce and Scots pine. The hon. Member for Moray will confirm that she is concerned about those types of afforestation.

This week, I wrote a letter to the chairman of the Forestry Commission, and sent a copy to Lord Sanderson of Bowden, the Minister of State, Scottish Office, about a certain environmental problem that forestry might create in my constituency. The hon. Lady will be reassured to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in the Chamber. He is concerned about the effects of afforestation on water acidity.

We are talking about three problems. There is a qualitative problem, a quantitative problem, and the problem of the effects on such an important industry if the first two problems continue. The qualitative problem is the effect of afforestation on water acidity levels. The quantitative problem is the effect on distilleries that rely on small water catchments and springs. Quality may be unchanged, but, because trees inevitably use considerable amounts of water, the total water supply will be affected. A quality image is crucial to the industry's success. The Scotch whisky industry operates in a hard international commercial world. A continuing problem would be used by the Scotch whisky industry's international competitors.

As the hon. Lady has said, the Forestry Commission has a mechanism for dealing directly with the problem. I agree with the hon. Lady's suggestion in Committee that industry together with land use, recreation, agriculture and so on, should be taken into account in the Forestry Commission's consultative procedures. The traditional method of dealing with developmental and environmental conflicts is the planning system.

In theory, one way of dealing with the problem would be to make developments above a certain size require planning permission before they can go ahead. That may be a blunt weapon, and I suspect that it could not come within the compass of the Bill.

Although there may be technical problems in accepting the hon. Lady's amendment, there will be no dispute that she has raised a most important point. I look forward with great interest to the Minister's reply.

I support the amendment. I share the interest of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) in the main product in her constituency.

Five factors are involved in the production of whisky. The hon. Member for Moray referred to the production of malt whisky in her constituency. That is not specified in the Bill. I shall be grateful for some guidance from the Minister or from the sponsor of the Bill on the reason why there has been no differentiation between the definition of malt whisky and of grain whisky, which is used to make the blends that are drunk in this country.

10 am

Of the five factors, water is the key issue. Peat plays a part, both in the flavour that it imparts to the whisky and in the acidification of the water. It also imparts flavour through the treatment of the barley prior to mashing and distillation.

The cask in which the whisky is matured is important. as minor, or even major, flavour differences can be produced between distilleries that are relatively close geographically, or even within the products of one distillery. Oak casks that have largely been used for the maturation of sherry before the whisky is laid down—for example, Fino, which is of a relatively light character—can impart the flavour of that sherry into the whisky, which then adopts similar characteristics. If it is an Oloroso, which is a richer sherry, the whisky adopts a richer flavour. I am sure that this is of great interest to the Bill's sponsor, the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), although I understand that he does not drink whisky, or even sherry.

It is all the more noble, therefore, that I should sponsor the Bill.

Indeed it is.

The time spent in the cask is crucial. A minimum of three years is specified for grain whisky, but for malt the more usual minimum period before sale is eight years. Some of us are lucky enough to drink malt whisky that has been laid down for 10, 12, 14 or even 18 years—

That is very lucky, but perhaps it is getting a little weak by that time.

Those of us who enjoy drinking malt whisky like to do so in the way that was intended—as it comes from the cask, and any water is taken with it, but separately. I suppose that that is a different definition of a "half and half".

The addition of water is important, and the expertise of the stillmen and staff is crucial. It is critical that the water is of a suitable pH balance. I shall refrain from asking the hon. Member for Moray to define pH. Perhaps I shall ask the Minister to do so—although that might not be fair. The pH balance is critical not only because of its effect on the flavour but because of the natural process that involves the breaking down of starches in the grains by enzymes to produce sugars which, in turn, are acted upon by the enzymes in the yeast to produce ethyl alcohol. It is vital to monitor and acidity of the water used because natural reactions take place only within a certain defined pH. Very broadly, that is between about 6·8 and 7·2, the mean natural pH being about 7. Any lower than that, and there is a risk to the enzyme action. That would have a critical effect on the production of whisky. I do not suggest that it would be right to standardise the pH balance by the addition of alkaline such as lime, as that would not enhance the quality of the spirit.

Malt whisky is produced from copper stills whereas stainless stills are generally used for grain whisky. Stainless steel resists chemical attack, but copper does not. Over-acidity of the water used in the production, especially at the temperatures involved, allows copper to leach into the solution and contaminate the spirit.

The amendment is both reasonable and important and should be accepted. It is not simply a matter of local forestry, although I accept that that gives rise to local friction. It is also relevant to the general problem of pollution in our society and the deposition of oxides, sulphur and nitrogen into our water from the production and burning of fossil fuels and the effect of that on the local environment. I commend the amendment and hope that the House will accept it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on giving the House an opportunity to debate a vital aspect of the production of Scotch whisky. She will not be surprised to hear that I agree with her, although that is a rare occurrence. That is the marvellous aspect of such a Bill—it unites the Scots in an unusual and unique way.

We share an interest in what happens in our hills and glens. The three industries that are affected—agriculture, forestry and whisky production—are the principal employers throughout the Highlands of Scotland, and each has an interest in the other's activities. Agriculture supplies two of the essential ingredients of whisky—produce that can be turned into oatmeal and put into a form of distillation. That is linked with barley, and at the end of the process there is a splendid product.

Forestry interests are directly linked because the forests have to share the same water courses as the distilleries. It is the effect of forests on the water courses that lies behind the amendment.

I must tell the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) that the differences between various forms of distillation have not been spelt out in the Bill because it is enabling legislation. The details of the processes will be spelt out when the orders are laid before the House. Various aspects will be interesting for some people, and controversial for others. I think that they will be interesting and that common sense will prevail—as it always has in the production of Scotch whisky. It is one reason why Scotch has survived and is the principal export industry of Scotland. There has been common sense in the production, the blending, the bottling and the sale of Scotch whisky throughout the world. The industry exports more in percentage terms than any other industry in the United Kingdom. Would it not be lovely if Britain exported more than 90 per cent. of its car production? Sadly, it does not. However, Scotland exports more than 90 per cent. of its Scotch whisky production, which is a great record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) rightly said that quality was all-important and referred to the consequences if that was not maintained. He mentioned the effect of water and drew attention to the fact that our honourable Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) was sitting on the Front Bench. Although he will not be speaking in the debate, his constituency has many large forests that affect the water courses that, in turn, affect the quality of the whisky. Therefore, care must be taken in monitoring the quality of the water used in the production of Scotch whisky.

On the important question of the supply of fine water to the industry—the hon. Gentleman touched on other industries in the Highlands and Islands, but I think that he is principally concerned with the Highlands—is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the whisky distilleries are utterly and completely immune to the problems of pollution generated by the burgeoning industry of fish farming? I accept that the average fish farm is sited in a sea loch, but, nevertheless, is he satisfied that the distilleries are immune?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the important thing is to strike the right balance between what is necessary to have effective and profitable fish farms and what is necessary to ensure that they do not impinge on the water courses in a way that will damage the interests of the distillers and blenders. We must not ignore the fact that water is used in the blending process, because that is important. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, he will see that I shall discuss the freshwater laboratory at Pitlochry, which is in my constituency, and the interest that it takes in this matter. I shall link that to other things, so the hon. Gentleman will realise that I am concerned about that aspect. If I inadvertently did not mention the islands, that is not because I do not believe that the whisky industry does not have an interest in the islands. Of course it does; it has many fine distilleries in the islands and some fine malts come from our islands. Anything that I say about the Highlands applies to the islands also.

The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the growth in fish farming. Although he is correct in saying that the bulk of the fish. farms are in the sea lochs, it is also true that there are hatcheries further up the streams which could have an impact. That is where the freshwater laboratory's activities are so important.

Other bodies have an interest in what happens in the production of Scotch whisky. The actions of the Forestry Commission have an impact, but we must not ignore the private forests because more and more forests in private hands are being planted. The Forestry Commission must respond not only to the property in its care and stewardship, but must effectively oversee what is going on in the private forests. In that sense, the Scottish Landowners' Federation is an important body. It must be brought into the discussions and consultations, and made aware of the duty and responsibility that everyone has to ensure that they do not damage Scotland's most important export industry.

10.15 am

In terms of supervision and overseeing, the Countryside Commission, which is based at Redgorton in my constituency, also has an important role to play. As the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy said in his speech, we are concerned about the effects of pollution on our atmosphere. We all know that what produce the water with the fine and pure quality and the rare ingredients that make it so valuable and essential as a source in the production of Scotch whisky are the heather and peat of Scotland's mountains and islands. The heather and peat produce a rare water with a distinctive quality and taste which cannot he reproduced artificially. God has created it that way. However, it can be changed substantially by the influence of man. As the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy properly remarked, it is man who changes the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and other things.

We must be careful that we do not overlook that important aspect. That is why the work that is being done by the freshwater laboratory into acid rain, the acidity of water and the impact that that has is important. Fertilisers, for example, are used on the land. Such things can and will affect the water courses. Therefore, it is important that we recognise that one cannot have pure water and allow man, unfettered, to continue with practices that could damage the quality of the water.

As I mentioned earlier, it is not just at the distillery point that we are concernd with pure water. It is also important for bottling and blending. I cite the example of a plant that is just inside my constituency—the Dewars bottling plant on the outskirts of Perth, which draws its water from the river Almond. It is important that that river is not polluted by practices upstream. It is important that we recognise that it can be affected by forestry and intensive farming.

The high-quality water—that is what the amendment refers to—must be from a Scottish source. I cannot imagine us ever importing water into Scotland because we are rarely short of rainfall and get plenty of snow in the hills and mountains in the winter, which helps to provide a constant flow of water. However, as has been said, it :is true that other operations will begin to use water in different ways for other areas of production. Trees were given as an example. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood referred to that. That problem shows how important the amendment is.

However, it is unfortunate that, as tabled, and in the part of the Bill in which it is tabled, I understand that the amendment is likely to be technically defective, but that does not change in any way the fact that it is important. I am sorry that we have been unable to find a way of incorporating it in the Bill because the subject of water is important. As I said earlier, this is an enabling Bill and I hope that, in the future, when it becomes an Act—I certainly hope that it will—and orders are tabled, we shall bear in mind the importance of water. It is because of that that I should like to repeat my thanks to the hon. Member for Moray for tabling the amendment. Her point about planting trees, especially 30 ins from water courses, was important and I hope that it will be kept in mind by the legislators of the future, by Government Departments and all the bodies that I have listed, which have an important part to play.

It is at that time that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood about planning could well be taken on board. He is right to say that this is not the right Bill for planning matters. However, it is important that we get the balance right in Scotland. It is important that we recognise that although whisky has properly been described as the water of life, the pure Scottish water that goes into the production of whisky should be protected.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be unable to accept the amendment because of the Government's attitude. I am unable to accept it as it would make the Bill defective, but I support everything that it attempts. The hon. Member for Moray has heard my views and those of the other hon. Members who have spoken. Although my hon. Friend the Minister has yet to speak, I hope that he will be as supportive as the rest of us, and I look forward to hearing him.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Donald Thompson)

I am delighted that we have reached this stage of the Bill with such accord. As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said, Scotch whisky is not a game; it is hard commerce. Scotch whisky competes with what the Scots would say are inferior brands of spirit, such as champagne, port and sherry, which are protected fiercely by their nations.

The Bill is about the ingredients of whisky. The main ingredient is water. I agree with the hon. Lady that I would rather have my whisky in one glass and my water in another than both in the same glass.

It is a remarkable Bill that unites all parts of the House—teetotallers and whisky drinkers from Scotland—and it is a paradox and oddity of this place that I, a Yorkshireman, represent the Government today. I am going to Scotland on 22 July, and it is a red-letter day when I go there because usually it is a pleasant occasion. I am going on behalf of my party, but I am sure that I shall be cheered through the streets and that the Opposition will garland my way simply because of this Bill. But do not worry, I shall not tempt fate.

When I am there I shall see again the lovely forests of Scotland. Do protect them. All the forests that we had in Yorkshire are now moors. We chopped the forests down a hundred years ago to weave a bit of cloth, and they will never come back. Indeed, conservationists would say that they should never come back. Perhaps the conservationists are all less than 150 years old.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland sitting on the Bench. We have discussed the amendment and he is here to listen to the debate. When I was a Whip I used to tell hon. Members not to listen to debates because they might be swayed by the arguments. Now that I am a Minister I find that what I said was true. The points in today's debate have been clearly put.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood made a helpful speech and pointed out the importance of the quality of whisky, as did many others. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) first asked about a separate definition of malt whisky, and I have noted what he said about deliberately defining malt whisky as against Scotch whisky and the distinctive blends of whisky, all of which are precious. Each little blend is, as they would say down here, an export earner on its own, and that is as it should be. Eighteen-year-old whisky is extremely important. When the order is made under clause 3(1) we shall consult as widely as possible so that we know the wishes of the industry and all hon. Members who so ably represent it. Then we can see whether there is a strong will and wish to define malt whisky separately from blended whisky.

When I say "we," I emphasise that we, the Government, will support this private Member's Bill when it becomes law even more strongly than we have done so far. We recognise that it is a strong Bill. I have already given promises of consultation, and I renew them on that specific point today. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was clever enough to raise it on this amendment.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy went on to talk about pollution other than that from afforestation. Since the Clean Air Acts, the countryside and the towns have been hugely cleaned up. Before those Acts the moors in Yorkshire and the forests throughout the country were affected by coal pollution such as we can no longer remember. That does not mean that I agree with the hon. Gentleman or that we should not be diligent. The Clean Air Acts, together with small-bore central heating, have made habitable many houses in Scotland that were remote and too large to heat and live in. On the moors the environment was also dirty. Those two factors are bringing people back to such houses. We must ensure that the environment is clean. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), with his vast knowledge of the Bill, can perhaps speak more authoritatively on this part which deals with water, although he has done well on the rest.

I do not wish to be unnecessarily alarmist, but I wish to ask the Minister the question that I put to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker): is his Department and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland satisfied that the problems of pollution emanating from fish farms have no effect on the water supply to the Scotch whisky industry, both distilling and blending?

I will not invent an answer to that question. It would be discourteous and needless. To be honest, I have no knowledge that such pollution is affecting the Scotch whisky industry. I undertake, together with my Scottish colleague, to look into that specific question, and we shall come back to the hon. Gentleman on it.

It is right that we should balance the competing needs of forestry, fish farming, deer farming, intensive farming and sheep farming. Even through the grazing of sheep water courses can be polluted, and, indeed, that is happening in some parts of southern England. We must watch that all the time.

There are always planning conflicts. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy find it difficult to imagine importing water. I always ask for Highland Spring. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If some of my hon. Friends involved in the milk industry were present, they would tell me that I pay more for a pint of Highland Spring than for a pint of milk and that it ain't fair. So I should not be too sure of what we shall see in future. My constituency used to export water to make beer.

The hon. Member for Moray knows that we have been in correspondence with the Scottish Office. There is a legend in England that it is possible to walk from one end of Scotland to the other on the tops of the new electronics factories which fill all the glens and valleys, and that there is so much inward investment that it is hard to find a proper old Scotsman any more because the new technocrats have wandered in. If that is true, I hope that one of them will supply the Scottish Office with a proper duplicating machine, because the standard of duplicating of this letter is similar to what one saw at the age of 15 when some little lad shoved a bit of paper at one.

10.30 am

Nevertheless, if you will bear with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall read from the letter, because it is important, and I take the amendment very seriously. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have discussed it, and he is here to see what can be done.

In my letter, I said:
"I know that you are very aware of this issue. Indeed, I understand that both the Malt Distillers of Scotland and United Distillers Group have raised this issue with your department. You will be well aware of the importance which they attach to this matter."
I shall be reading extensively from the letter, but some of it may not be verbatim. Parliamentary terms allow me to miss pieces out, but I am not trying in any way to mislead the House or the hon. Member for Moray. At some later date, the hon. Lady may obtain a copy for her further information, and she will see that I have no intention of misleading anyone.

The letter to me said:
"I am enclosing copies of recent correspondence between the Forestry Commission and the Malt Distillers' Association of Scotland concerning in particular the proposed afforestation at Glenrinnes on Speyside."
This appears to have been copied for the hon. Lady, so I assume that she has seen it.

The letter continues:
"You will see from the Commission's letter that the fundamental thesis that coniferous afforestation inevitably leads to acidification of the burns and rivers which run through the plantation is not proven scientifically."
I took the hon. Lady's point that if we wait for scientific proof, we may find that we have waited too long—the thing may have rotted on the day that the litmus paper turns a colour that we do not want.
"Dr. Nisbet was not so uncharitable as to point out also that the Association has not presented any evidence to support their assertions, nor does it appear that the distilleries have records of water quality in the past which could be used to monitor any changes in the future."
That is all fair enough. We could have argued in Committee that the association had better start keeping such records on 16 April, which would at least provide a base line from which we could work. Doubtless, however, those fears should be taken seriously, and indeed they are being.
"In the situation where we cannot state categorically that afforestation will or will not result in adverse effects on water quality although the Forestry Commission take the view that in general this is unlikely the distillers have been presented with the option of 'sterilising' whatever area of land surrounding watercourses they consider is necessary by entering into voluntary agreements with landowners, so that such areas will not be planted with trees."

I also understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North that not only the Forestry Commission, but the private foresters who seem to appear so often in the tabloids nowadays, need to be persuaded.
"Until such time as we have firm scientific evidence that there is a problem or likely to be one in future it would not be justifiable to take action to prevent afforestation taking place, given the Government's clear policy of encouraging the expansion of forestry (and indeed Mrs. Ewing has acknowledged the economic significance of forestry in the area)."

Every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate—and I am sure that my Scottish colleagues are listening—has asked for a balance so that we do not kill off one with the other. It would be ridiculous to do so.

The hon. Member for Moray also raised the question of water quantity. The letter says:
"Studies suggest that mature trees may take up more of the rainfall than say grassland, but perhaps not much more than heather and bracken covered moorland. The Forestry Commission estimate the proportion might be of the order of a one to two per cent. reduction in the overall yield of water supply for each 10 per cent. of a catchment (assuming it was formerly grassland) that is afforested. In the unlikely event of 100 per cent. afforestation of such a catchment area the result would be, at the extreme, a reduction of 20 per cent. and more likely 10 per cent. There could only be a problem if a distillery were using a surprisingly large proportion of the water in a particular burn, and in any case there are of course significant variations in the rainfall from year to year."

The hon. Member for Moray mentioned such problems in her opening speech, and she is obviously well aware of the problem, as are other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North. That factor must be taken into account in balance with all the others. I agree with the hon. Lady that the Exchequer cannot do without the cash, nor does it wish to—and I do not want to do without the whisky.
"It follows from the foregoing that the nature of the consultative procedures followed by the Forestry Commission in considering applications for planting grants is not really an issue in this matter. In accordance with the normal consultation procedures for developments of this kind, the Forestry Commission invited views on the proposal from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, the Red Deer Commission and Moray District Council, as the local planning authority. After undertaking extensive local consultations, Moray District Council relayed the concerns of the distillers. As a result of these representations several meetings were held involving all the interested parties, including the distillers. Agreement was finally reached that the application should proceed on the undertaking that the owners left unplanted until the end of 1987 the areas of immediate concern. This was done to allow the distillers time to consider a number of possible avenues open to them. These included the outright purchase of the area or taking an option to purchase the area at some future date after they had been planted and the effects assessed. I understand that some at least of the distillers concerned have now reached an agreement with the owners.
I was interested by the hon. Lady's suggestion—taken up by others—of a "cordon sanitaire" in the form of a 30-ft gap on either side of the streams, and I hope that it will be noted more widely. There is increasing pressure for access to our woodlands, and such a strip would help, having a dual purpose.
"In the particular case of the Chivas Brothers Distillery it was orginally claimed that Allt-a-Bhainnc would close if the scheme were to go ahead. However, 12 years ago the company negotiated a 'sterilisation' agreement with the Glenrinnes Estate in order to protect the water supply. The area covered by this agreement has been excluded from the planting scheme. As Mrs. Ewing acknowledged at Committee stage, research is currently proceeding into the possible connection between afforestation and increased acidification of water. The only way to provide conclusive proof of any association is to carry out long-term studies monitoring the level of acidity before, during and after afforestation and a number of such studies are currently being undertaken by various bodies including the Forestry Commission. Although it is early days these studies have not so far revealed any significant increase in acidity or aluminium resulting from afforestation."

Much of the research is financed by the state. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government have no intention of reducing the state finance that is given to those bodies to carry out their research?

The research is, of course, peculiarly Scottish. This year, we are spending £93 million on research and development in agriculture and food, and we do not intend significantly to reduce that amount in cash terms in the years to come. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will have taken on board the important point made about research. It must be monitored constantly so that we may be alerted quickly if something is discovered.

The letter continues:
"The consultation procedures followed in the Glen rinnes case did allow the distillers to make known their concerns over water quality. Provision was made for distillers to buy the parts of the estate which they considered should be kept free of trees in order to protect their water supplies and several distillers appear to have done this. It is not reasonable to expect the Forestry Commission to impose on applicants a restriction on planting trees within 30 metres of a watercourse in the complete absence of any evidence to suggest that this is either necessary or helpful."

Having thought further about the matter, I believe that the Forestry Comission should reconsider its position. I agree that it is unreasonable to impose such a restriction on the commission, but there are many environmental as well as scientific reasons why such action may be sensible.

Although I understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Moray about the possible effect of afforestation in Scotland on the quality of water used by Scotch whisky distillers, I cannot accept the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North also mentioned technical difficulties. As it stands, the amendment would require Scottish water to be used for any whisky, including Irish whiskey. That may mean a huge increase in the export of spring water, but I do not intend to tangle with the Irish on what water they should drink.

The hon. Member for Moray wishes to preserve the quality of the water used in the distillation of Scotch from any adverse effects of afforestation. She will accept that the Bill is not the appropriate place for considering restrictions on afforestation proposals. But, as I said in Committee, I understand her anxiety and have drawn it to the attention of my Scottish colleagues. I read long extracts from the letter so that we may be clear about their reaction. They have made it clear to me that, in most cases, distilleries have made, or will be able to make, arrangements to safeguard their water supplies. In addition, developments in forestry techniques should help considerably to reduce the effects on local waters. But we have not yet received any firm scientific evidence linking afforestation adversely with the water supplies of the surrounding area. That does not mean that we should stop looking.

This important issue is subject to a monitoring programme which so far has produced no support for those fears. None the less, the Government recognise that such fears must be taken seriously and studies are continuing so that the Government can be kept abreast of any changes. I assure the hon. Member for Moray that I have paid close attention to the points that she has made, as have Scottish colleagues. With my assurance that the Government take the subject as seriously as she does, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.

10.45 am

I put on the record how helpful and courteous the Parliamentary Secretary has been to me since I raised the issue with him. It is much appreciated by the representatives of the whisky industry in my area. I also thank those hon. Members who spoke in support of the amendment.

We shall have to do some more hard work on monitoring. The Forestry Commission believes that it is difficult to prove a link scientifically and that it will be a long-term matter. I emphasise the need to ensure that we do not wait too long and lose the whisky industry in the process. The distilleries are undertaking limited research in conjunction with local organisations, and I am sure that they will be happy to share any information with the Ministry. I shall take that message back to them. Aberdeen university is helping to conduct such a survey. Limited information is already available, and now that the matter has been put on record in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I hope that that information will go back and forth between the Departments involved and the distilleries to ensure that we can take action when it becomes necessary.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned some of the local issues in my constituency. During the Easter recess, I asked some members of the industry for their views on the current position. They accept that the concessions made on the Ben Rinnes afforestation were helpful. Chivas Brothers Ltd. is the company that owns Allt'a Bhainne distillery. Some time ago, it purchased the land that protects its springs, but the company is worried that many other distilleries are not in that fortunate position. The companies are meeting regularly through the association to ensure that distilleries are offered advice by those who have taken similar steps to protect their livelihoods.

Worries remain about the acidity of the water. The issue will not go away soon. If the whisky industry—I can speak only for my area, which has the lion's share of the industry—continues to be dissatisfied about any matter, we will no doubt be able to rectify it in the orders that will be laid following the enactment of the Bill.

Will the hon. Lady clear up the confusion in my mind about the so-called cordon sanitaire? Is it proposed to be 30 m, or, as the Minister said, 30 ft.?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that point. The Parliamentary Secretary said 30 ft. instead of 30 m, which is the distance that has been suggested. That may not be a perfect measurement, but at least it is a step in the right direction. I appreciate the voluntary agreements that are being reached with landlords to observe this requirement.

I am glad that so many right hon. and hon. Members have understood this vital issue. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his helpful attitude and the representatives of the Scottish Office who have attended today. I shall keep the matter before me in the months and years ahead. When the Parliamentary Secretary visits Scotland on 22 July, I hope that he will visit Moray, where he is assured of a warm welcome. He could have fruitful discussions with the representatives of the industry in my area, and I should be happy to organise it for him. He may even be given a golden dram at the end of those discussions.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

10.50 am

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is an appropriate time to place on record my thanks to hon. Members, particularly those who served on the Committee, for their support and work that they have done to get the Bill to this stage. I should also like to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, their civil servants and the Clerks of the House, who have been so helpful with the Bill and to the Scotch Whisky Association for its briefing material, guidance and the help that it gave me and other hon. Members.

It is important to get the Bill on the statute book because, as I said on Second Reading, the industry is important to Scottish industry. It employs 16,000 people and has a long history of good industrial relations. Its exports amount to £1,000 million a year and the taxes that it pays to the Exchequer in excise duties and other taxes amount to a further £1,000 million. My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government did not intend to reduce that level of revenue.

It is an appropriate time to say that we in Scotland appreciate the fact that in his recent Budget the Chancellor understood the problems of the Scotch whisky industry—the differentials that exist in the different liquors on the market. He has recognised those problems in the past two Budgets and has not increased the tax on Scotch whisky. That is appreciated by all those who have an interest in the industry, not least the 16,000 people who work in it.

There is now a new and interesting era in taxation. Many new mixed drinks are coming on to the market that have different basic alcoholic contents, be they based on vodka, whisky or whatever. Perhaps the time has come for charges by the Revenue to be based on alcoholic strength rather than the alcoholic-spirit content. It should be based on the alcoholic content of the drink rather than the amount of whisky when it is a minor ingredient. In Scotland, we are experimenting substantially and using whisky in all sorts of liqueurs. It is important that the Government accept and recognise the changes that are taking place.

I was interested to note some recent figures showing—all Scots must be pleased about this matter—that exports of bottled-in-Scotland brands have increased substantially. That is encouraging because it means that the bottling and blending plants, where many of those 16,000 employees work, have seen their share of the market increase.

We must always keep in mind the commercial considerations that affect the range of activities of the Scotch whisky industry. Some people should like to place restrictions on the way in which Scotch is sold, whether it be in bottles or in bulk. It is important to recognise the fact that if Scotch is to maintain and improve its share of the world market—that is the intention of the Bill—commercial considerations must always be firmly in the forefront of everyone's thinking. Hon. Members must not attempt to second-guess the commercial considerations that are taken into account as Scotch continues to maintain its share and penetrate world markets. World markets are constantly changing and presenting new challenges to exporters.

Those of us who take an interest in the Scotch whisky industry are sad that in recent times it has been substantially dominated by the Guinness saga. I do not wish to make any comment about that matter other than to say that Guinness is not the only company that employs people in the whisky industry. There are many fine firms that are managed extremely well by competent, capable and caring individuals, which is why the industry is the premier exporter in Scotland. The combination of good, efficient, effective and caring management and the good, sensible industrial practices of the trade unions is an example to almost every other industry in the United Kingdom. That is why the Scotch whisky industry has maintained its premier position.

There is no question but that hon. Members are united in their support of the Scotch whisky industry. That support has led to Scottish Members being present on a Friday, when normally we would all be leaving for our constituencies.

It is important that hon. Members understand what motivated me to introduce the Bill. When I was fortunate enough to come second in the ballot for private Member's Bills, I was exposed, as are all hon. Members, to all sorts of temptations. People told me of the Bills that they wanted to put on the statute book, but I was determined that whatever I did would be good for Scotland, my constituents and myself. Although I do not drink whisky, I have benefited from the massive amount of taxes that are paid by people who do, and I am sure that many hon. Members in different ways, contribute in that regard. That is why I had no hesitation in bringing forward the Bill.

As I said, the Bill is good for Scotland, my constituents and myself, but, most important, it does something that does not happen enough in Scotland—it unites us in common interests. We live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The quality of life in Scotland is better than in any part of the United Kingdom, which is why tourism is such an important industry. I mention the tourist industry because we do not want it or any other industry to impinge on what happens in the Scotch whisky industry. It must be recognised that while it is important that people can and do visit distilleries—they are interesting places to visit—it is equally important that it is understood that the Scotch whisky industry is vital to the well-being of every Scot and everyone in the United Kingdom. It makes a massive contribution to jobs and taxes.

That is why, when I was fortunate enough to come second in the ballot, I decided to introduce the Bill. I am pleased to say that there was no shortage of volunteers to be sponsors of the Bill—to them I say, thank you—nor was there a shortage of volunteers to serve on the Committee. The Bill must almost be unique in that the only hon. Member to have minor reservations is the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). We understood his reservations because of his constituency interest, but he contributed positively to the good-natured and reasoned debates in Committee. I thank the hon. Gentleman. It was important that the views of the companies in his constituency and others were properly considered. I was pleased with the pledges on consultation given by my hon. Friend the Minister. The legislation will give Ministers the power to bring forward orders and it is then that these matters must be properly discussed.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comment about my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). My hon. Friend has been unavoidably detained elsewhere but, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, he supported the Bill in principle.

I thank the hon. Gentleman; I was about to allude to that point. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley made it known to me in plenty of time that, regrettably, other parliamentary duties kept him away today. I do not wish anyone to think that I have not properly considered that information. We conducted all our negotiations and discussions on the Bill on that basis. Sometimes I wish that we could do so in every matter, as it would make for a mote pleasant life for all of US.

The Bill's objectives are, basically, to prevent the production in Scotland of whisky other than Scotch whisky, to prevent the sale anywhere in Great Britain as Scotch whisky of any spirits that do not meet the definition of Scotch whisky and to enable Ministers to set a minimum alcoholic strength for Scotch whisky at some future date as well as to lay down other parameters through Orders in Council. All three aspects will be enforced by civil remedies. We discussed this matter in Committee and outside and many useful constructive meetings helped to clarify points. We decided that civil remedies were the way to deal with any transgression.

The impetus of the Bill was a proposal for an EEC Council regulation which will contain a definition of whisky within Europe. That definition could be less rigorous than the current United Kingdom definition in the Finance Act 1969. We were afraid that this more relaxed definition could provide the opportunity for the emergence of a lower quality whisky industry in Scotland and products that could be marketed as "Whisky Product of Scotland". The Bill ensures that it will not be possible to produce "Whisky Product of Scotland" and market it in such a way that it could be confused with or be thought to be Scotch whisky. Because of the premier importance and quality of Scotch whisky it had to be protected. It would be damaging to Scotch whisky if any whisky exports or sales in the United Kingdom reduced its quality image.

When the Bill is passed, all whisky products will have to satisfy requirements set down in subordinate legislation. The Bill provides that any whisky produced in Scotland other than Scotch whisky will be liable to be forfeited. In addition, the Bill provides that Scotch whisky producers or their organisations may apply to the Scottish courts for an interdict prohibiting other producers of Scotch whisky in Scotland from continuing to produce such whisky.

The Bill was designed also to protect the name "Scotch whisky". The Bill makes it unlawful to sell as Scotch whisky any spirits that do not meet the requirements for Scotch whisky laid down in subordinate legislation., As such sales would take place throughout Great Britain, the Bill provides for enforcement by interdict in Scotland and by injunction in England and Wales. That would be done on the application of a Scotch whisky producer or an association of Scotch whisky producers.

These restrictions on sales will apply also to Scotch whisky below an alcoholic strength, which will be specified at a later date in the subordinate legislation as and when Ministers decide that it is an appropriate time to bring forward such measures. The Bill does not specify a minimum alcoholic strength—there has been some confusion about this point—because full consultation with all interested parties will be required before an appropriate level can be determined. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister alluded to this a number of times. We had many interesting talks on this issue because it seemed to be one matter on which there might be differences of view and some controversy, but I am pleased that we finally reached agreement in Committee.

The definitions in the Bill include the definition of whisky. That definition is based on the projected Euro-whisky definition. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) would have been tagged on to the end of that definition, but it could not be accepted, as my hon. Friend the Minister said. The Bill provides for the definition to be amended by subordinate legislation. It is necessary to allow the definition accurately to reflect the final text agreed in Brussels without requiring other primary legislation, which would be wasteful of parliamentary time. An important ingredient in the Bill is the flexibility that it gives Ministers when Brussels determines its definition of Euro-whisky.

The Bill applies to England, Scotland and Wales but does not extend to Northern Ireland. As we said in Committee, the corresponding legislation for Northern Ireland can be made by Order in Council under the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The House will be pleased to note that the Bill has no public expenditure or Civil Service manpower implications, apart from the fact that it protects a source of revenue for the Treasury, and I hope for that reason that some day recognition is given to all of us who served on the Committee.

My hon. Friend said that he felt it appropriate that the Bill should provide only for civil remedies and not for criminal remedies, but he did not expand on why he thought that way. I am sorry that I was not present during the Second Reading debate, but will my hon. Friend explain why he feels that mere civil action is adequate?

After consultation with the relevant Government Departments on the problems and complications which could be involved in criminal proceedings, it was felt that the right way to proceed was for the aggrieved parties—the whisky producers—to bring forward measures to deal with what aggrieved them. That was felt to be a much more satisfactory method than criminal action. It meant that frivolous or silly matters would not take up the time of the courts. Having discussed the matter at some length with all the interested parties and Government Departments, we were confident that this would be an effective measure. The whisky associations and the industry were satisfied with it. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend's point.

Clause 1 is central to the Bill as it prohibits the production or keeping for maturation in Scotland of whisky other than Scotch whisky. The definitions of whisky and of Scotch whisky are provided in clause 3. The intention is to prevent the erosion of the quality image of Scotch by lower quality whiskies produced in Scotland, causing consumer confusion both at home and overseas.

The enforcement of the measures would be through civil actions by Scotch whisky producers or an association of Scotch whisky producers such as the Scotch Whisky Association. In addition, any whisky produced in contravention of the clause would be liable to forfeiture by Customs and Excise.

It was important on Second Reading and in Committee that we understood exactly what we were talking about. A definition of this lovely product is contained in the splendid red book of questions and answers that we have all been given by the Scotch Whisky Association. Frankly, I find that book fascinating; it has told me things that I simply did not know before. It says:
"Scotch whisky means whisky distilled and matured in Scotland. Whisky is distilled in Scotland from barley in pot stills and from malted and unmalted barley or other cereals in patent stills. The well known brands of Scotch whiskies are blends of a number of pot still and patent still whiskies."
It was important that those of us involved understood that.

There has been some talk about the difference between Scotch whisky and other whiskies, particularly Irish whiskey. In this Bill we are not concerned about what happens in the production of other whiskies throughout the world, but we need to recognise that it is the difference between Scotch and those other whiskies that is so important. As I understand it, it is different on the palate and in its smell and taste, and we need to protect that difference for the benefit of the consumer. It is important to maintain the unique character of Scotch, and that is why we needed to spell out clearly what we were doing.

How do we go about making Scotch whisky? Malt whisky is made by malting, mashing, fermentation and distillation, and I am told that malt whisky is distilled twice. During my inquiries and investigations I discovered many facts about the production of Scotch whisky that were completely new to me. For example, I never understood why it was so important to mature whisky in wooden casks and why the wood had to come from abroad. Charring is equally important because it ensures that the whisky is produced in its final form in the manner that makes it so enjoyable to the consumer.

All that was new to me, and I was very pleased when I was given the opportunity to go to the laboratories at Menstrie because there I learned one aspect of whisky production that I had not previously understood. I had always assumed, in my ignorance, that all that happened when water was added to whisky was that the minimum alcoholic strength was reduced. I thought that the whisky did not change. It was only after my visit to the laboratories that I realised that filtration is a critical part of the process. If one adds more water during filtration some of the important ingredients produced by putting the malt into the charred casks are removed, which substantially changes the taste and quality of the product. It was important that I should understand that as promoter of the Bill and it was essential that the members of the Committee also understood it quite clearly. We may discuss the matter at some length when we get round to the legislation that will follow from the Bill, and I look forward to that. However, while we are not laying down a minimum alcoholic strength and have no intention of doing so, and while there will be full and proper consultation, it is important to get rid of the myth that if one adds water one does not change the whisky. Adding water in the blending and the bottling process does, indeed, change the whisky. Those who argue, "It is the same whisky with some water added", are wrong.

If one gets a glass of whisky in a pub and adds water to it, it may be the same whisky. It will not be going through filtration—unless filtration takes place in one's kidneys, at which point the benefits of the whisky will have been absorbed. I am a bit of an amateur in these matters as I have no first-hand experience. I have had to rely on the advice of my colleagues who helped me in Committee, and there is no shortage of such advice. Indeed, I was somewhat astonished at the depth of knowledge displayed by hon. Members in Committee.

Clause 1(2) deals with a Scotch whisky producer or an association of Scotch whisky producers taking the matter to court if it is felt that the provisions have been contravened.

Clause 1(3) provides that any whisky produced and kept for maturation in contravention of subsection (1) shall be liable to forfeiture. We felt that that was important because we did not want whisky produced in contravention of the subsection to be slipped into the market place at a later date.

The general purpose of clause 2 is to prevent the sale of spirits as Scotch whisky if they do not meet the requirements for Scotch whisky laid down by order under clause 3—

Perhaps my hon. Friend can answer two questions. First, why has it been deemed necessary to restrict those who can apply to the court to

"any person carrying on the business of producing Scotch whisky or … appearing to the court to be representative of any group of such persons".
Surely, the aggrieved person could be the customer. The customer asking for a Scotch whisky who finds himself given an inferior product may feel aggrieved and may wish to take the licensee to court. Why should not the customer have the right to bring proceedings?

Secondly, to satisfy my curiosity, could my hon. Friend tell the House what tartan he is wearing?

I shall certainly do that.

My hon. Friend has asked an interesting question and for once I feel competent to answer. Because of my lack of first-hand knowledge of the product I have not always felt so competent. My hon. Friend is probably aware that before coming to the House I ran a group of department stores and I therefore know something about consumers and their rights. Legislation already provides adequate protection for any consumer who buys any product and feels aggrieved. There is adequate protection in consumer legislation for individuals who believe that they have bought a product that is not fit for the use and purpose for which they bought it. That is the answer to my hon. Friend's first point.

In answer to his second question, I should explain that my full name is William Connell Walker. The clan Connell is part of the MacDonnells of Glengarry. The tartan that I am wearing today is the MacDonnell of Glengarry hunting tartan. I feel that the hunting tartan is appropriate to one of my disposition, as I usually seem to be trying to locate some prey or other. We have had some good-humoured debates about Scottish affairs and about Scots. I have no difficulty in wearing the kilt and showing my allegiance to Scotland as for many hundreds of years all my forebears have been Scots. Occasionally one is accused of not speaking for Scotland, but I hope that it will be accepted that even though I do not agree with some people on some matters we are all entitled to speak for Scotland as a result of our common heritage.

Clause 3 defines the terms used in the Bill, including the definition of Scotch whisky. As a contravention of clause 1 can take place only in Scotland, clause 3(1) defines "the court" as the Court of Session—the equivalent of the High Court in England and Wales, which is included with the Court of Session for the purposes of clause 2. Subsection (1) also defines "Ministers" as including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My hon. and very helpful Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is present today, has come in for many interesting comments, all constructive and helpful, some extremely humourous, but all highly appreciative of the help that he has given all of us during the passage of the Bill. Clause 3(1) also defines "sell" in the terms commonly used for food legislation.

Subsection (2) empowers Ministers to amend the definition by order. This is important as the text of the proposed EEC spirits regulations has been finalised and the definition in the Bill will need to be amended to reflect any changes in the final text. If that were not possible by order, primary legislation would be required.

Clause 5 states:
"This Act may be cited as the Scotch Whisky Act 1988."
There was a period in my parliamentary career when my interest in aviation and airports led some of my colleagues to describe me as "Airports Bill". I hope that they will decide in future that I would be more appropriately known as "Scotch Whisky Bill." That would certainly help me in my constituency, which is always a matter of concern for every constituency Member.

As for my motive in introducing the Bill, when I was first adopted as parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Perth and East Perthshire, as it was then called, one of my first visits was to the whisky firms in the area because I had heard that they were extremely good employers and there was clear evidence that they had been great benefactors to Perth in the past. The very fine company of Arthur Bell and Sons contributed handsomely to the setting up of the Gannochie trust which is responsible for many leisure and recreation failities and the theatre that Perth city enjoys. That is the history and background of the firms in my constituency. Other hon. Members will be able to speak of those in their constituencies. That is why the Bill is so important to all of us. When I called on those companies I found that they were good employers with good industrial relations, and, although people might move between firms, it was rare for them to leave the industry, and most stayed throughout their working lives.

Another interesting factor was the level of motivation and the startlingly high level of management skills and practices, especially at Arthur Bell and Sons at that time. I put that down to the fact that Bell's was then led and managed by Mr. Raymond Miguel, who is a remarkable man. Since losing control of Bell's—I shall not comment on that as the matter is under investigation—he has again established himself in the city of Perth. I draw attention to this because he is setting the kind of example that the whisky industry has set for Scotland in the past by keeping its head offices in Scotland. Mr. Miguel is now with the Bellhaven company and has again established his central office in Perth.

One of the real lessons of recent times is that if we Scots are to protect our Scottish interests in the way that we are all doing collectively today, we must ensure that business people in Scotland maintain their Scottish dimension and Scottish interests. Sadly, in recent times, certain Scottish financial interests have not practised what some of them preach and have not supported indigenous Scots industry as they should. I hope that what we are doing for the whisky industry today will be appreciated by all with an interest in Scotland and that they will ensure that the offices and management and, so far as possible, the control, is maintained in a Scottish dimension. The Scotch whisky industry is so important to the people of Scotland, to the Treasury and to the 16,000 people who work in the industry that the Bill, as amended in Committee, should be allowed today to move on to another place and to make further progress.

I conclude my remarks at this point. Later, with the leave of the House, I may seek to respond to any comments made by hon. Members.

11.28 am

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his initiative in bringing in the Bill. As he said, it has all-party support. The hon. Gentleman deserves our thanks for that.

The hon. Gentleman's feats are legion. Previously he has been described as Scottish defence spokesman, as well as father confessor to the Prime Minister. Who knows what other roles lie ahead? For me, however, he will be known affectionately from now on as a "golden oldie" as he has done such a good service to my constituents by introducing the Bill. More than 2,000 of my constituents depend on the Scotch whisky industry for their livelihood.

I wish briefly to stress some of the most important aspects of the Bill. First, it prohibits the production of Scotch whisky other than in terms of what is known as Scotch whisky in Scotland. Secondly, it restricts the sale as Scotch whisky of spirits which are manifestly not Scotch whisky. Thirdly, a tight definition of Scotch whisky is provided for the trade.

We have much to fight against on behalf of the industry. In the last 10 or 15 years, it has lost its premium position and a number of issues are on the European horizon about moves towards harmonisation of the tax on alcohol. There is a threat from cheap substitutes, especially from Japan and, to a lesser extent, from Spain. Japan also exercises discrimination. In Britain, there is a threat from substitutes, especially white spirits. Many young people are taken with such drinks, and it is up to the Scotch whisky industry to regain its position and to market itself aggressively.

The Bill goes a long way towards helping the industry. It is not just about minimum alcohol strength, although that is mentioned in the Bill. I thank the Minister and place on record my appreciation for his consideration of the Scotch whisky interests. He has said that he will consult everybody about the minimum alcohol level, and that is a worthy aim.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is interested in this subject. As several hon. Members have said, he is not here for the debate, but that is because he has been unavoidably detained on parliamentary business—I believe in Central America. He is sorting out the concerns of the world, and I am sure that he will be involved in the peace processes that are taking place in Central America. I am told that he has a secondary and secret agenda. If a Contra, Sandinista or a president or a diplomat is drinking adulterated whisky, my hon. Friend will take it out of his hand and pour it down the drain. He is a true ambassador for Scotch whisky and is serving our interests just as much by being in another continent as by being in the Chamber.

As I have said, the Bill is about not just minimum alcohol strength, but quality—and that is the key word in the Bill. The initiative by the hon. Member for Tayside, North will maintain the quality of Scotch whisky. He has given me some hope because only a few days ago I took a number of my constituents to a bar in the House and found that two of the prime products of my constituency,J and B whisky and Ballantine's whisky, two of the finest blended whiskies in the land and two of our finest exporters, are not on sale in the House. I shall follow the example of the hon. Member for Tayside, North and fight long and hard in the House for J and B and Ballantines to be on the shelves, so that everyone can experience the pleasure of those lovely blended Scotch whiskies.

The Bill will help to preserve the purity of Scotch whisky and sustain the reputation and image on which its sale depends. In addition, it will retain a great many jobs in my constituency. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tayside, North on introducing the Bill.

11.34 am

In moving the Third Reading of his Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) thanked a number of people for their help. The House will be aware that I am the parliamentary adviser to the Scotch Whisky Association and, accordingly, I declare an interest. Perhaps, on behalf of the association and the industry generally, I could express my thanks to my hon. Friend for his work in getting the Bill as far as he has.

Piloting a private Member's Bill through the House involves a good deal of attention to detail. We have had some demonstration in the debate of my hon. Friend's mastery of detail. He was unduly modest about his clear knowledge of the industry. It also requires a clear understanding of parliamentary procedures and, of course, the skill of a diplomat. I do not think that my hon. Friend will be offended when I say that he is not always the most uncontroversial Member of the House. I admire the way in which he handled potentially awkward situations in a most effective and diplomatic manner. Our thanks are especially due to him because he is a teetotaller. How noble and unselfish can one be? Perhaps the appropriate expression, if it is not too corny, is that he is displaying a fine generosity of spirit.

The Bill is extremely valuable to the industry, but is also of great service to the consumer. It will ensure a clear definition of Scotch whisky, so that there can be no possible confusion with any other product that is simply called whisky and, by definition, is therefore inferior. The Bill will enable regulations to be made about the strength of Scotch whisky. On Second Reading, I drew attention to the way in which purchasers of whisky can be misled by apparent bargains, bottles that are smaller than standard and contain a watered-down product, a whisky of lower than normal strength.

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of the industry and on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Scotch whisky drinkers throughout the land who will continue to enjoy a quality product. If he wishes, my hon. Friend may toast his success in orange juice. I shall drink to him and to what I suppose will be known as "Bill's Bill", which will in due course hopefully become the Walker Act. I shall do so with a dram or two of the superb product that is the subject of the Bill.

11.37 am

Like other hon. Members, I should like to place on record again my thanks to the promoter of the Bill. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has done his part to protect not only the Scotch whisky industry but part of the heritage of Scotland.

It was a privilege to serve on the Committee, because the debates were very good-natured. They were well conducted and I found the Minister most helpful in his explanations about why some of our amendments were out of order, incorrect or too far-fetched to be considered. The deliberations were carried on in an atmosphere of good spirit—one might say, full-strength spirit.

We all know the purpose of the Bill. It offers protection to the reputation and value of Scotch whisky. There is nothing to be ashamed of in offering such protection. It is not done with any inward, blinkered look, because it is quite proper to protect part of the heritage of Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is necessary to arm our Ministers for the discussions that will take place about European legislation. It will help them to have that necessary protection outlined and already understood by everyone. Perhaps that sums up the significance and importance of the Bill.

We ought to deal, if only for a short time, with the legal definition of whisky. I do not intend to read from the red book that has been mentioned, which deals with the Scotch whisky industry and is extremely well written and most informative. Other hon. Members have mentioned their constituency interests, but I shall refrain from doing so, other than to say that I come from Kilmarnock which, as everyone knows, is the home of Johnnie Walker, the world's brand leader in whisky exports. I am sure that someone will be happy to hear that.

I received my copy of the booklet from Dr. Kell, the production director at Johnnie Walker. It is an extremely useful document. I shall quote from that document and I shall also quote in local dialect. That may cause some concern to the Hansard writers, but before they get their undergarments in any sort of disarray I promise that I shall send up all my quotes, including the quotations in local dialect.

It is worth mentioning the legal definition of Scotch whisky as the Minister skipped round the Irish part of the legislation. I can understand why. The legislation states:
"The expression 'Scotch Whisky' shall mean whisky which has been distilled and matured in Scotland and the expression `Irish Whiskey' shall mean whiskey which has been distilled and matured in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland or partly in one and partly in the other".
I can understand the confusion that may arise from that and why the Minister skipped that part of the legislation.

It is worth considering the history of duty on whisky. I have studied the amount of money that the Exchequer draws in from the production of Scotch whisky. In 1987, the money received will most certainly exceed £1 billion; £1,000 million in excise duty and VAT is an extremely valuable aid to the coffers of the Exchequer. The only part of the Budget with which I found any joy was the favourable treatment which the Chancellor gave to excise duty on Scotch whisky. I should like to think that the all-party early-day motion put down in my name had some small influence on the Chancellor's actions. That favourable treatment has saved many jobs in Scotland. and not just the 16,000 jobs of those directly employed in the Scotch whisky industry. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 35,000 jobs are directly or indirectly connected with the whisky industry in Scotland. It is important that. we protect those jobs.

With regard to the history of the duty, I discovered with some interest that the Scots Parliament of 1644 passed an Excise Act that fixed the duty at 2s 8d per pint of aqua vitae or other strong liquor. I thought that that duty was a large amount for the time, but I went on to discover that the Scots pint was approximately one third of a gallon. In those circumstances, such a duty was not too excessive.

For the remainder of the 17th century, various alterations were made to the types and amounts of duty collected. After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, English Revenue staff crossed the border to begin their lengthy attempts to bring whisky production under control. Some 90 years later, the excise laws were in such a hopeless state of confusion that no two distilleries were taxed at the same rate and illicit distilleries flourished— one can hardly believe that in Scotland. Smugglers saw no good reason for paying for the privilege of making their native drink. How times have changed.

With reference to the duty imposed in 1644, was it Scots pence or English pence? There was quite a difference between the two.

It was Scots pence.

Even in those days, the public did not like the idea of paying any duty and one can understand why.

When researching the history of excise duty, I also managed to dig up, with the help of a kindly lady in the Library, Miss Andrews, who seems to know a lot about these things, a piece that was written by Robert Burns, who, we all know, was the Ayrshire bard. At some time he served as an excise man and I do not believe he ever forgave himself for that. I will not read out all the poem, for two reasons—first, because of its length and, secondly, in deference to my predecessor who is a renowned expert on Burns; thus the less Burns I quote, the better I might stand in his eyes. The poem is entitled:
"The author's earnest cry and prayer, to the right hon. and hon. Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons".
It is extremely pertinent. Although Robbie Burns refers to the right hon. and hon. Members as the "Scotch representatives", he meant representatives from Scotland and not those who were paid by the Scotch Whisky Association—if, indeed, that association was in vogue at that time.

In the poem, Burns makes several excellent references to whisky. I shall do my best to recite it. The poem refers to the quality of whisky—not the flavour—but the qualities with which it can endow a person who has imbibed. It says:
"But bring a SCOTCHMAN frae his hill,

Clap in his cheek a highlan gill,

Say, such is royal GEORGE'S will,

An' there's the foe,

He has nae thought but how to kill

Twa at a blow.

Nae cauld, faint-hearted doubtings tease him;

Death comes, with fearless eye he sees him;

Wi' bluidy hand a welcome gies him;

An' when he fa's,

His latest draught o' breathin lea'es him

In faint huzzas."
Even in his death throes, that Scotsman—having taken two for every one—died in a dignified fashion, according to the enemy, with the haze of his breath having taken with the marvellous dram.
"SCOTLAND, my auld, respected Mither!

Tho' whyles ye moistify your leather,

Till when ye speak, ye aiblins blether;

Yet deil-mak-matter!

FREEDOM and WHISKY gang thegither,

Tak aff your whitter,"
Burns knew the value of the joys of life in more ways than one. In his poems he was able to establish a love for whisky. In another poem he said:
"John Barleycorn was a hero bold,

Of noble enterprise,

For if you do but taste his blood,

'Twill make your courage rise."
What a marvellous sentiment.

I well remember an occasion when I stood on the hallowed slopes of Hampden when Scotland were playing England. It was one of those rare occasions when Scotland scored first. There was a tumultuous roar from the assembled crowd. For some reason that I cannot explain, in this horde of kilted and tartan clad patriots among whom I stood there was one solitary white bonnet worn by an Englishman.

He must have been overcome by the noise around him and the fact that Scotland had scored, as he looked a bit sad. A huge Scotsman dressed in a kilt that was two feet below his knee who was absolutely properly dressed with a replica Scottish jersey and a Glengarry with a pheasant's feather about nine feet tall on the top said to him, "Jimmy, don't be afraid to cheer your team on. Nobody hear will bother ye. In fact, we'd like ye to join in our celebrations." He offered the rather pale Englishman a large dram in a none too clean glass. The man turned an even whiter shade of pale and he said in a low voice, "Well, actually, I don't drink." I swear that 90,000 pairs of eyes turned to glower.

Discretion being the better part of valour, the Englishman said, "On the occasion of Scotland scoring that goal, however, I will partake of your national drink." With a shaking hand, he closed his eyes and downed it in a one-er. He turned 40 shades of green. It was just as well we were not at the Ranger's end at Ibrox. The big Scotsman said, "Well done, Jimmy. Did you like that?" "Yes," lied the Englishman. "Well," says he, "there's another." Nevertheless, the last that I saw of that Englishman, he was arm in arm with a huge Scot. He had obviously enjoyed the rest of the match, which, incidentally, ended in a draw, one's up.

That is part of what we think Scotch whisky is all about.

On the serious side, we seek measures to protect not only part of our heritage but an important part of the commercial side of Scotland—jobs. It would be unforgivable if anything were to happen to the Bill between now and its going on to the statute book. The vast majority of my constituents—indeed, the vast majority of Scots and, to be fair, the vast majority of the population of the United Kingdom—wish the hon. Member for Tayside, North every success with the passage of his Bill. We owe him a debt.

Scots will be suitably reminded of that debt, but we are not sure how we shall honour it. As the hon. Gentleman is a teetotaller, his gesture is all the more noble. I know him as a next-door neighbour. If he ever feels an inclination to partake of a small libation of our national drink, he can rest assured that, next door, there is a bottle of the Macallan, what is left of a bottle of Cardhu, and some other unmentionable drinks of which he may partake. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that all hon. Members join me in doing so. I know that he will have success with his Bill and will receive congratulations not only from the House but from the population of Scotland.

11.51 am

It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Mckelvey), and it has been a particular pleasure to do so this morning. He is proving himself to be a most worthy successor to Lord Ross of Marnock. I hope that my hon. Friend sends his quotations to Hansard, for the benefit of posterity and for getting them right. I am sure that he will confirm that his friend at Hampden park watched a match that took place before the passage of the 1981 legislation. lie would be the last person to suggest that a typical Scotsman would seek to break the law of the land.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his wisdom in introducing the Bill. My hon. Friend the member for Tayside, North referred to the pressure on hon. Members who are successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills. Of course, such pressures are particularly great the higher up the list an hon. Member goes. My hon. Friend chose to bring forward a measure of great benefit to a crucial Scottish and, indeed, British industry, and he has received all-party support. However, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) had reservations on a certain point. All hon. Members accept the reasons why the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley is not able to be present today, although I did not quite share the insouciance of the hon. Member for Dumbarton at the prospect of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley spreading sweetness and light in Central America, by jerking glasses of adulterated whisky out of the hands of local political leaders and hurling the contents down the nearest drain. I am sure that, during his sojourn, he will do his best for the industry.

As several hon. Members have said, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North is not generally regarded as a consensus figure in Scottish politics. There have been occasions on which I have entirely agreed with what my hon. Friend has said, but I have had a feeling that we were in a fairly small minority. However, he has rightly united the House today. I congratulate him also on his success in steering the Bill through Committee—a most interesting Committee—and on his comprehensive speech on Third Reading. It has been followed by a good debate this morning.

I hope that the televising of parliamentary proceedings will not ignore the importance of debates such as this. Of course, adversarial politics take place in the House—that is right and necessary—but Fridays are traditionally given over to this kind of constructive debate, across party lines. It is important that television viewers appreciate that that is part of the activities of the House.

I have the honour to be one of the sponsors of my hon. Friend's Bill. I was not a member of the Standing Committee that examined it. I was originally nominated, but, somewhat to my surprise, I was removed from membership, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) was my replacement. Initially, I thought that it was confusion because not only does "Sherwood" sound like "Eastwood", but my hon. Friend and I share the same surname and the same initial. The consequences are interesting. Many letters arrive at the House addressed to "A. Stewart, MP". The result is that I am extremely knowledgeable about affairs in Nottinghamshire, and my hon. Friend is extremely knowledgeable about affairs in Eastwood. Occasionally, the confusion leads to difficulties. Recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and I turned up at a most prestigious, large dinner, to discover that they had been expecting one A. Stewart, MP, and not two. However, I am glad to say that we were made welcome, and, in the course of the evening, we did our best to boost the sales of the industry that is the subject of the Bill.

My hon. Friend was put on the Standing Committee in his capacity as parliamentary private secretary to the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Several hon. Members have specific and important constituency interests in the whisky industry. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) takes the record for the most distilleries in her constituency—37. Opposition Members have many interests. The hon. Members for Dumbarton and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) represent my clan whisky, Stewart's Cream of the Barley. I hasten to say, with some regret, that I have no pecuniary interest in its production. There is a bottling plant in Eastwood. Many of my constituents work in the whisky industry and in industries that depend on it. That point was ably made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun.

As I said, it was not my pleasure to be a member of the Standing Committee, but I congratulate all its members on their expertise. Scottish hon. Members are sometimes accused of not knowing what they are talking about, but that allegation cannot be levelled at members of Standing Committee C. The highlight of their experience was, perhaps, when the hon. Member for Dundee, East was asked by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun what "saccharify " meant. Without blinking an eyelid, he replied:
"`Saccharify' means to convert starch into sugar, and `diastase' means any group of enzymes that hydrolyse starch into maltose. 'Hydrolyse' means to subject to or to undergo hydrolysis, and maltose is a disaccharide of glucose which is formed by the enzymic hydrolyis of starch and, I believe, is also a nutrient in infant feed."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 20 January 1988; c. 9.]
As a demonstration of immediate expertise, that takes some beating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North said that the Committee also debated the important subject of the effect of adding water to whisky. Many consumers are under the impression that adding water to whisky at the blending stage does not make any difference to the anal product, other than to the alcohol content.

I was also interested to read the explanation given in Committee of the historic background of the word "proof'. Apparently it originally related to whisky and gunpowder being mixed and ignited. If the gunpowder flashed, there was sufficient whisky in the mixture to cause ignition, and the whisky was then held to be "proof".

Since the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, that process no longer happens.

The hon. Gentleman has once more exhibited the depth of his expertise on an industry that matters so much to his constituency.

The background to the Bill goes back to June 1982, when the European Commission submitted to the Council of Ministers proposals for a regulation that would, inter alia, contain a definition of "whisky". Of course, products called "whisky" are produced in parts of the European Community other than Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I often holiday in Spain, which has a locally produced whisky called Dyc. I have never tasted it, but it is widely on sale. Because of the proposed definition of Euro-whisky, there was clearly a need for a proper and up-to-date definition of Scotch whisky. That is desirable in itself, but it also strengthens the hands of Ministers in the negotiating process. I am sure that we can rely upon my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to be very strong in the negotiations. I draw to his attention the ministerial career of Jim Hacker, which was transformed when he moved from being a Minister to the Prime Minister, entirely because of his defence of the British sausage against proposals for a Euro-sausage. I do not think that the negotiations in which my hon. Friend will be involved will necessarily lead to such a dramatic conclusion, but who knows?

An important improvement to the Bill made in Committee was the addition of subsection (1)(c) to clause 1:
"to keep or use in Scotland for the purpose of blending."
I understand that that ensures the prohibition of whiskies other than Scotch whisky being blended in Scotland with other whiskies. Without that important addition, a blend could have been legitimately described as a whisky product of Scotland or a whisky blended in Scotland. That would have misled consumers both at home and abroad because the average consumer would assume whisky with such labelling to be genuine Scotch whisky. The amendment went to the heart of the purpose of the Bill, which is to protect the reputation of Scotch whisky—not so much in the United Kingdom market, but in the world markets.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst emphasised, about 85 to 90 per cent. of Scotch whisky production is exported around the world. Over the years, the industry has had a constant battle against unfair competitive practices in many of those markets. It has had to spend substantial amounts each year identifying counterfeit practices and seeking legal retribution in foreign courts. Perhaps the most publicised example during recent years has been Japan. The industry can be proud of its input to the EEC's case to GATT on the liberalisation of the Japanese spirit market. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister can tell us the up-to-date position on that.

The contribution of the Scotch whisky industry has been fully described by hon. Members. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) described it as the three "Es"—Exchequer, exports and employment. I want to underline what my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said about the recent treatment of the industry by the Chancellor. In successive Budgets, he has clearly recognised the importance of the industry, and I am sure that he will continue to do so.

During his Budget speech, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that he was not in favour of paper profits. Is it not important that we recognise that that is, effectively, the result of taxation on stocks of Scotch whisky? I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with that in a future Budget.

I share my hon. Friend's view—indeed, the all-party group has pressed for changes in the taxation of stock. The industry is in the unusual position of having to hold stock for at least three years, and sometimes considerably longer for some malt whiskies, before it can go to the market place. However, on the duty aspect my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has clearly recognised the concern of the industry.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North about duty because it must be logical to tax drinks such as whisky—and, indeed, all the products of the drinks industry—more directly in relation to alcoholic content. The industry's contribution to exports is a massive ·1,000 million a year.

I should like to underline the importance of what was said by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun about indirect employment. The figure of 16,000 has been quoted as being the number of jobs that are directly dependent on the industry, but a substantial number of jobs are more or less indirectly dependent on the industry. Those jobs are in the manufacturing and service industries. I have constituents who are involved in, for example, the packaging industry. That industry does not receive a great deal of attention but, in Scotland, is an example of an efficient industry, that can respond quickly to the kind of demands for export markets that the Scotch whisky industry puts on it. There is also a range of jobs in the service industries, such as marketing and advertising, which depend more or less on the industry.

In conclusion, we are giving the industry the kind of protection that other products such as port and cognac already have. The Bill is a practical measure that will help to ensure the prosperity of our leading industry. I wish it well and hope that it will have a safe and secure passage through the other House.

12.10 pm

Like other hon. Members of all parties, I should like to pay my warm congratulations to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for bringing forward the Bill. As a late convert to the joys of whisky, I must say that the Bill's Committee stages were educational and extremely informative, none more so than a visit that many of us paid to a laboratory in Menstrie where scientists demonstrated the work that they do to help to keep whisky to such a high standard.

Although many eloquent speeches were made on Second Reading and in Committee, none was more eloquent than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who sends his apologies because, unfortunately, he cannot be with us today because of pressing parliamentary business. In Committee many hon. Members waxed lyrical about the magic properties of the amber nectar. As a late convert, I could only sit in awe at my colleagues' superior knowledge on this subject. They knew so much about it that I could not add anything further to their adjectives, which can be read in Hansard.

In these difficult times in the House, when tempers have risen and there has been anger on the Benches—no one will know that better than Mr. Speaker and his colleagues—it has been inspiring to see, for the first time in a long time, unity and cross-party support for a Bill, and to see genuine concern about the quality of the product and the employment prospects of the many people who are involved in the whisky industry. That point cannot be emphasised enough. As we have heard, about 16,000 jobs are directly related to the industry and a substantial number have been created in some of the more remote parts of Scotland. Anyone who has the good fortune to travel through Scotland, especially through the north of Scotland, will appreciate that and understand the importance of the Scotch whisky industry to those communities. I hope that on the way back from such a tour, people will stop off at Glasgow where they can visit the Glasgow Garden Festival and enjoy a glass of White Horse or Long John. I shall not plug my constituency as other hon. Members have plugged theirs during the debate.

As well as the obvious importance of whisky to jobs, whisky is also important as an export earner. As one of the country's most consistently successful exports, Scotch whisky makes a substantial net contribution to Britain's foreign exchange. Export earnings have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey). Until 1983, whisky contributed about ?860 million per annum to the Exchequer. That figure is much more inflated today and everyone who is connected with the industry is to be congratulated on it. Therefore, it is of tremendous importance to Scotland and, indeed, to Britain to have the definition of Scotch whisky revised, in terms of the reputation of the product and in relation to exports, as it affects the livelihoods of so many people.

I do not wish to add anything to the debate about the minimum strength of Scotch whisky, except to say that I sincerely hope that any dissent will not deter the Bill from becoming law as soon as possible. Our main concern must be to have a strong definition of Scotch whisky, of an accepted strength, distilled and, in my opinion, preferably bottled, in Scotland. It is a product of the highest quality, with a uniqueness of flavour. Its production is based on the purest natural produce such as malt and barley, and other cereals for grain whiskies, not to mention the pure Scottish water which was debated earlier. Much of that cereal is produced in Scotland and generates employment and income.

Another vital element in the process is time, and, as we have heard, three years is the very minimum maturation time, although the best malts are matured for 12, 15 and even 20 years. Inferior products that purport to be called "whisky", especially the Euro-whiskies, allow the use of enzymes and other chemicals to speed up the fermentation process and, therefore, turn out an inferior product in less time. We cannot allow those developments to take place in Scotland. I hope that the Bill will help our campaign within the EEC to have that practice halted.

We have heard that the Bill is supported by the trade unions as well as by the Scotch Whisky Association. It is imperative that it is passed as quickly as possible because, as we have heard, Scotch whisky is one of our most important exports. It is important that its role as a quality product of a unique character, is not eroded either by a lack of adequate legislation to protect its role, or by usurpers offering an inferior product.

All that the Bill seeks to do is to give Scotch whisky the same protection of law as is enjoyed by champagne, cognac and Harris tweed—surely that is a modest request. I hope that the Bill can proceed today, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Tayside, North once again.

12.17 pm

For the record 1 should say that the exchanges are occurring between hon. Members who are either teetotal or who take whisky in extreme moderation. It is a fine product, but it is to be taken in moderation.

I advise the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that I welcome the Bill. Many members of my trade union are employed in the industry. When the hon. Gentleman talks about the good industrial relations in the industry, he should pay tribute to the fine work that is performed by both the professional and lay trade union representatives. I welcome the Bill and compliment the hon. Member for Tayside, North on promoting it.

I compliment also the Minister for his characteristic courtesy and especially on his announcement of the visit to Scotland. I should like to ask him whether he intends to visit Port Glasgow—not that we distill or even blend or bottle whisky in Port Glasgow—but I thought that he might show his characteristic civility and offer a contract or two for the building of a couple of fisheries research vessels to the first-class yards in my constituency.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is in Scotland today and he will undoubtedly bring back an enlarged portfolio on that matter.

That was a teasing intervention and the Minister should go further, but I am grateful for his comment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart), I have been pleased by the civility of the exchanges in the Chamber and in Committee.

As hon. Members have emphasised, whisky is an important indigenous industry, together with agriculture, fisheries and forestry. As the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) said, our distilleries play a useful part in our tourist industry as many tour operators include in the itinerary of coach tours a visit to a distillery. They are of growing importance with their distinctive architecture and products.

I do not wish to strike any discord, but we should not be too sentimental about the Scotch Whisky Association. I regret that much of this excellent product is transported to southern English ports before being loaded on to ships for destinations throughout the world.

I only wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. He spoke of southern English ports, but most whisky is exported from Teesside, which is a northern English port.

I am glad of that intervention. The hon. Gentleman has not been here for more than a few minutes, but at least he has some interest in the debate. A great deal of whisky is shipped from southern English ports, such as Felixstowe among others, but. I accept that some of it goes from Teesside. We have important ports in Scotland, such as the Greenock container terminal and Grangemouth, which would benefit from the transshipment of the product.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) was a member of the Committee on the Bill and that he has an interest in this matter, as we all do?

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee, but I am sorry that he was not present earlier to listen to some of the excellent speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He might have shown interest in the fine amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Moray.

As many of my hon. Friends said, the whisky industry is important as an employer of highly skilled labour. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) emphasised the skills of the still man and his staff, and there are other traditional skills to be found in our distilleries and elsewhere. The hon. Member for Moray highlighted the importance of the relationship between the industry and other rural indigenous industries, and the connections between the industries.

Agriculture and forestry can affect the supply of fine water to the industry. I suggested that dangers may emanate from the uncontrolled development of fish farming—perhaps from those located away from sea lochs. That presents a genuine potential danger. At present, that problem may not affect the whisky industry, but it is right and proper that we bring it to the Minister's attention because it causes considerable anxiety to employers and employees in other indigenous industries, especially in our maritime communities.

The hon. Lady has a mixture of interests to represent. Two weeks ago, at a conference in Inverness, all the delegates from fishermen's associations around the Scottish coast and on the Islands expressed their considerable anxiety about the effects of pollution from fish farming because of its haphazard growth. Curiously, it is controlled by the Crown Estates Commissioners. Their powers in relation to the industry's development should be severely curtailed.

I welcome the development and growing importance of fish farming, but it is a long way behind the whisky industry; if the development of fish farming affects the long-established whisky industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland must take swift, incisive and decisive action to restrain or reduce that form of pollution where it is seen as a threat.

I had a telephone call from Mr. Patrick Stewart, secretary to the Clyde Fishermen's Association, who said that in remote communities—for example, in Argyll— there is anxiety about the pollution problem. The point that I am labouring is that research into pollution in this industry should not be in any way reduced. The state funding of this element of agriculture and forestry reserch—I should like to add, fisheries research—must be maintained by the Government. The research should not be measured by criteria adopted or adapated from the so-called market place. Our indigenous industries of agriculture, forestry, fishing and whisky need to be assisted by realistically funded research and development programmes. That means that state funding must continue at an acceptable level.

Finally, on behalf of the Opposition, I offer my sincere thanks to the hon. Member for Tayside, North. This is a fine Bill about a fine product. As the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) pointed out, the industry employs many people directly and indirectly. So this is an important Bill which will strengthen this industry. I also thank the Minister for his co-operation and characteristic courtesy

12.28pm

I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart) was a recent convert to the delights of Scotch whisky. When he and I attended a number of meetings late last year, I thought that he was an expert on a drink called rum punch, but perhaps his attentions have moved on.

I, however, have no interest to declare. I do not represent any Scotch whisky producers, and I do not speak as a consumer either.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for not wearing a kilt, because, through my maternal grandmother, I am entitled to wear the Fraser tartan. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that he used to run department stores. If he can obtain for me a Fraser clan kilt or tie, I shall gladly reimburse him.

I hesitate to shake the concordat that has settled on the House, but I feel that legislation which seeks to impose restrictions needs continual justification. Although I have an open mind on the issue, I feel that we have a right to question the necessity for the Bill. Let us make no mistake: it is a protectionist measure, and, as one who believes that we should go in for free trade as far as possible, I feel some unease about its provisions. I am concerned lest we create a dangerous precedent.

However, not only do I need to be convinced that the Bill is necessary; I need to be convinced that, if enacted, it will be effective. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North that, at this stage, I am not so convinced, and I hope that when he replies he will be able to answer a specific question.

If the Bill is passed as now drafted, what will happen in the following circumstances? Let us suppose that a company—I shall call it the Nippon Whisky Company—decides to open its operations in the Borders, and produces a product called, say, Tam O'Shanter Whisky. If the company then labels the product "Tam O'Shanter Whisky—produced from the Borders of Scotland", will that fall foul of the Bill?

I can answer that question now. The border between Scotland and England is clearly defined, and if the company is on the Scottish side, it will be illegal for it to act as my hon. Friend suggests. If it is on the English side, there is no way in which it can make such a claim. That would contravene other legislation covering sources of origin and consumer protection. Either way, it would be a contravention.

I am reassured to some extent, but, as I understand it from something that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said earlier outside the House, there is a certain village in the Borders that crosses over from England into Scotland. It occurred to me that if a company set up its operations there and did not put on the label that the whisky was produced in Scotland, but used the words "Borders of Scotland", that would be a clear attempt to pass the whisky off. I do not think that the Bill would cover that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North mentioned the Orders in Council that will be necessary. Will he explain why so many matters are being left to subordinate legislation? I feel that the House has a right to know what it is approving, and the final state in which the Act will be enforced. As I understand it, the Orders in Council will not require the affirmative process in the House, so there will be no opportunity to debate those important matters further.

I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend said about the Bill giving only a civil power. I accept that that is the right way to proceed, and I think that it would be wrong for the police to be involved in pursuing breaches of the Act. I am. however, concerned about a matter that I raised during my hon. Friend's speech.

Clause 2 deals with restrictions on sales, and with who is entitled to take the matter to court. Subsection (2)(a) and (b) make it clear that the only person who can make a complaint is
"any person carrying on the business of producing Scotch whisky; or … any person or body appearing to the court to be a representative of any group of such persons".
In my view, my hon. Friend has got that part wrong. If we are interested in consumer rights—I know that my hon. Friend said in reply to my earlier intervention that consumer rights were covered by other Acts—I feel that those rights should be underlined and enforced by being included in this legislation. There should be no objection to widening clause 2, and I wish that my hon. Friend had included the right of a customer to institute proceedings.

My hon. Friend overlooks the most important reason why the Bill was introduced. More than 90 per cent. of what is produced by the Scotch whisky industry is sold outside Scotland. We wish to prevent the manufacture of whisky that is not up to standard. My hon. Friend should remember that consumer legislation already exists to protect United Kingdom consumers. The Bill is intended to protect the industry from outside intervention.

I am grateful for that intervention. I hope that that will be the case and that my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure the House that the consumer who is served with an inferior product after he has asked for Scotch whisky has the right to pursue the matter further.

Provided that my fears are answered adequately—my hon. Friend has already answered some of them—I shall not impede the passage of the Bill.

12.36 pm

I hesitate to introduce a sour note into such a benign and friendly debate, but I shall do my best. It may seem odd to hear praising the drinks industry someone who, since he came into the House, has been closely identified with speaking about the ill effects of alcohol and its abuse, but I see no inconsistency. There is nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation. I am not a teetotaller. I have not been so since my middle teens, and I have no intention of becoming so in the future.

I wish to focus on some of the problems that will be caused by the Bill. I am sponsored by the Co-operative party, and I have had a longstanding interest in the activities of co-operative societies. They have expressed considerable anxiety about the provision for the minimum strength to be applied in later regulations. A minimum strength of about 40 deg. has been suggested. The Co-operative Wholesale Society is a major producer of whisky at 37·5 deg. Therefore, I wonder whether the Bill is an example of a restrictive practice rather than a legitimate standardisation. I find it difficult to tell the difference in flavour or quality between whiskies at 40 deg. and 37·5 deg.

The hon. Gentleman should visit Menstrie. That may help him to understand the differences. The minimum strength has been decided as a result of the experience of maintaining the quality and look of the whisky at different temperatures throughout the world. It is important to recognise that only a tiny amount of the Scotch whisky produced is consumed in the United Kingdom. The Bill is intended to protect the industry because of its massive contribution to exports.

During the past 20 years the biggest assault on the market share of Scottish Scotch whisky, as opposed to foreign-bottled whisky, has come from whisky brokers selling bulk supplies of malt whisky to foreign blenders, which has undercut our world market. It is not a reflection of the strength of the product.

I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to a tasting that Decanter carried out towards the end of last year of four under-strength and four standard-strength whiskies, at which one of the under-strength whiskies came second. Taste is all that counts; we drink whisky for its taste, not its alcoholic content. If there is no discernible effect in taste, I do not see why there should be any difference in the standard, provided it falls within a relatively narrow range.

I accept that there is a need for a narrow range, but we are talking about four groups of whiskies—over-proof whisky, which I prefer to refer to as full-strength whisky and the strength that I drink, the standard strength of 40 deg., low-strength whiskies, which go down to a level of 37·5 deg., and the vile whiskies that are produced abroad, which fall below that figure. The argument, therefore, is between standard and low-strength whiskies.

Scotch whisky has come under market pressure in the past decade, particularly from white spirits such as gin, vodka and types of rum. I well remember, about 15 years ago, that I had the good fortune to frequent a public house near Stobhill hospital in Glasgow. One of my medical colleagues had the temerity to ask for a gin and tonic, whereupon the barman took some money from his wallet:, called "Hey, Jock," to an old gentleman sitting in the corner, and asked him to go to the off licence for a bottle of gin and two bottles of tonic because he did not have any on the shelf. Times have changed and, increasingly, white spirits are intruding into the overall market.

What is the argument against low-strength whisky? It does not taste any different. Most people buying standard-blended whiskies will mix them with other drinks, which will disguise any difference in taste quite considerably. I fail to see what legitimate concern there could be about standardising a product that is well diluted to 40 deg. for bottling.

The hon. Gentleman is confusing a number of different issues. It is important that he should recognise that, unless a minimum strength is laid down—low-strength producers accept this fact—we may reach a level of 20 per cent. proof. The substantial differences in the quality of the product can be understood only if one goes to the laboratories and sees the effect of removing ingredients by filtration. That is the critical factor because., as I said earlier, it is of importance what the product looks like as well as how it tastes in all climates throughout the world, from the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica to the hot temperatures of equatorial Africa.

I do not think that the Scotch Whisky Association is very concerned with sales in Antarctica, although it may be concerned about sales in Australia, where, as I am sure the hon. Member for Tayside, North is aware, whiskies are sold at a strength of 37·5 deg.

Like the hon. Member for Tayside, North, I have studied Scotch whisky and the industry for many years. Given the benefits of my scientific training, I am perfectly familiar with the processes by which it is distilled, blended, treated and filtered before being bottled. I need no lectures about that matter from any hon. Member.

The argument is about restrictive practice. I agree that there should be restrictions on the strength of Scotch whisky, but I fail to see why a minimum should necessarily be specified rather than a band at which it could be sold. That is an alternative that might be worth considering.

Despite my strong support for the Bill, I shall listen with interest to the Minister's remarks before deciding whether to support the Bill or to divide the House.

12.44 pm

On Report, the Minister seemed to suggest that the funding of the agricultural research and development institutes in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, which make a valuable contribution, will be preserved. There are three major research institutes in Aberdeen, the southern half of which I am proud to represent. They are the Rowett, the Macaulay and the Torry fisheries research institute. All are in some turmoil because they have learned—not because the Government have told them or made the news public, but from the grapevine on which these matters become known—that the Government are reviewing research and development.

If the debate has highlighted one important fact, it is the valuable contribution that research and development make to agriculture, food and fisheries. We must remember throughout the debate that the Scotch whisky industry not only makes a valuable contribution through exports, trade and employment but is a major consumer of the services of these research and development facilities. There is concern in my constituency about the threat posed to these institutes by the Government's dogma and ideological views that the public sector is a bad thing and that much more private money should be put into those institutes.

I take some comfort from the Minister's statement earlier and hope that he will confirm that my comfort is well placed and that there is no intention to cut the moneys that the Government have ploughed in to these valuable centres, which contribute to British industry across the board, especially to the food, agriculture and fishing industries, to the rural parts of Britain and to Scotland, about which I am concerned.

12.46 pm

Like virtually every other hon. Member I shall add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on presenting the Bill and on his work on it. I wish the Bill a speedy and easy passage through its remaining stages. Everyone who has spoken on Second Reading, in Committee or in today's debates has stressed the importance of the whisky industry, and there is little need for me to rehearse those arguments.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) drew our attention to the lower percentage proof blends. As a representative of a constituency which has almost 40 distilleries within its boundaries, I shall closely pursue the 40 per cent. rule. That rule is needed to protect the industry from unfair competition. If we do not have it, there will be a danger of the industry being undercut and undermined by poor substitutes because of European legislation. It may seem strange for a member of the Scottish National party to argue firmly for a 40 per cent. rule while previously, on other legislation, being very much against 40 per cent. rules. The producers in my area and organisations that represent producers are in no doubt that we need the 40 per cent. level.

I hope that the Minister will respond to the query of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) on Japanese taxation. The general agreement on tariffs and trade directive has not worked as we would have hoped or as quickly as we would have liked. We hope that Scotch whisky will not cost—80 a bottle in Japan but will compete fairly with Japanese products. That discrimination against Scotch whisky must end. Like many others, I welcomed the Budget decision not to increase the excise duty, but there is still a question as to the taxation on stock. Has the Minister any thoughts on that matter?

I had intended to make a tourist brochure-like run through my constituency on various whisky processes, starting from agriculture and continuing through to the packaging and bottling of our major product, but I shall not, as my views on the area are well known and are recorded in other places.

Some hon. Members may have thought it strange that a teetotaller should have introduced this Bill, but we must note that the whisky industry has always adopted a very responsible attitude to alcohol abuse. It has contributed widely to research and encouraged people to enjoy alcohol in moderation. Whereas in the past one might have been offered a dram when leaving a distillery, nowadays one is offered a miniature—a move to try to discourage people from drinking and driving. The industry shows a very responsible attitude on the matter.

All of us have stressed the need to take the product in extreme moderation or perhaps to follow the lead given by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but what about alcohol rehabilitation treatment for employees at distilleries? I hope that the hon. Lady will tell the House that the industry looks after those of its employees suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse or alcohol misuse.

I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member. We are very conscious of the work that has been done in that respect. It is sad that more rehabilitation centres have not been set up—not just for people who have suffered because of their work but for those who may have misused or abused alcohol for other reasons. It is unfortunate that we do not have the facilities and detoxification centres that are so desperately required. Nevertheless, the whisky industry has shown a very responsible attitude over the years and we should commend it on that.

I have already invited the Minister to come to Moray. I should now like to extend that invitation to other hon. Members and to anyone who has listened to this debate or who may read about it. If people visited Moray, they would learn a great deal about the whisky industry. They would be sure of a very warm welcome from the people of the area. They would have the opportunity to taste a dram in the places where the whisky is made and, in case anyone has any doubts about the weather, let me remind the House that Lossiemouth was the warmest place in Britain on Easter Monday.

12.51 pm

As has been said, the television cameras will soon be coming in, and I hope that, when they do, events such as this will be televised. I am reminded of my friend, Matthew Parris, who was formerly the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West, saying at about this time on a similar Friday that he was delighted to be called to speak in the debate on the Imprisonment of Prostitutes (Abolition) Bill. He told the House that he had had to cancel a very imporant engagement and that he had sent a telegram to say that he could not attend the Conservative ladies' luncheon because he was looking after their interests in the House of Commons. He was not re-elected.

First, I thank the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for his kind words at the beginning of his speech and his characteristic defence of his constituents and his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is in Scotland today. I have no idea what he is looking at or what he will bring back, so the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow must not allow his Scottish newspaper friends to read too much into my interjection. Nevertheless, I am pleased to be able to emphasise that I am not the only Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who knows where north of the border is.

I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about tourists visiting distilleries and other places to see how people work. If he comes to my constituency, he will find that the clogworks is open and he will be shown how clogs are manufactured. Incidentally clogs are still widely used in industry; they are not just a quaint and outdated form of footwear.

The hon. Gentleman made a plea about pollution and for what amounts almost to the harmonisation of all industries to ensure that there is no cross-pollution and that the rise of one industry does not lead to the demise of another. I take his point on that and it is something that we should consider centrally. Planning is very often a local matter, and planners, too, should take that into account at all times, when they are even considering an extension of another business. I do not want any business to be inhibited, but if one rises and another falls we are not even swapping two halfpennies for a penny. That just will not do, and I hope that planners in Scotland and in England will take heed of the wise and serious words that the hon. Gentleman saw fit to repeat twice today.

appreciate that some hon. Members have to leave and that some have already done so, so I will deal first with the points that individual Members have raised before dealing with other specific questions and finally making a general tidying-up statement on the Bill as a whole.

I join in the thanks expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for introducing the Bill. I agreed with his emphasis on the importance of the regional headquarters of regional firms remaining in the regions. At present, the country's three most profitable industries are the three great drinks businesses. It is important that those huge enterprises should recognise the source of their strength and, wherever possible, keep their headquarters there. In my area, the neighbouring constituency of Halifax still has the headquarters of the Halifax building society. People of all academic abilities can thus find jobs there and go on to use that expertise throughout the country and, indeed, the world. The same applies to mining, shipbuilding and engineering and, especially, today, the whisky industry. I therefore echo my hon. Friend's emphasis on the importance of that aspect.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) was also kind enough to thank me. He mentioned his constituents and was worried about cheap imports threatening the market wherever whisky is sold and drunk.

If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) were not in Central America, I should no doubt be speaking even later today. He must be paying for part of the trip himself. If someone else were paying, no doubt he would have come here to make his speech and then gone back. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) made his points firmly and severely, and I will deal with them later. I take his threat to divide the House seriously, but I hope to be able to persuade him to stay his hand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and I had the pleasure of drinking whisky in Hong Kong when we went to investigate that booming economy. My hon. Friend looks after the Scotch whisky industry in the House, not just on high days such as today but day by day and week by week, and he does so extremely well. He made a good point about the benefit of the Bill to the consumer, not just in this country but throughout the world. I do not regard other consumers as any less intelligent or able than Members of Parliament. Many are experts in their own fields, but Parliament must ensure that when busy people who are in haste when they go to the pub or the club, or when they go to the supermarket or store and reach for a bottle from the shelf, they get exactly what they pay for in terms of strength, quality, quantity, and so on, and that if the product is cheaper they know that it is not so strong or of poorer quality, or of a quality that is neither better nor worse but simply different. That is the basis of a great deal of our food legislation. I shall deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) about that in due course. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst for his contribution and for making that point.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)—I almost called him my hon. Friend, and I hope that he is a friend—was, as usual, delightful. I thank him for his nice comments. I like to be included in his continual commercial for Johnnie Walker. When I leave this place, perhaps I shall get a job there. We know about the man who first brought Johnnie Walker down here and about the grocers who decided to give bottles of whisky away at Christmas, hence the demise of gin and the rise in whisky. However, there may be doubts about that.

I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the hon. Gentleman's praise for all that my right hon. Friend did in the Budget. According to the hon. Gentleman my right hon. Friend was very sensible not to tinker with the duty. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's early-day motion was the peppercorn in the scale that was instrumental in swinging the Chancellor. I can imagine my right hon. Friend saying on the night before the Budget, "In view of this early-day motion, I shall not touch the tax on whisky." I always enjoy listening to the contributions by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun. Hon. Members who were not here and missed his two snatches of verse which typified the spirit of the Bill missed a great deal. I am sure that the verse will not come out as sharply in its Hansard translation. When I take a dram with the hon. Gentleman I shall remember not to take him to the Loyal George, although I doubt whether there is one in Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is still in the Chamber and is often mistaken for the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, made a sensible contribution, especially about television in the House. He also asked about the up-to-date situation in Japan, as did the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). The latest position on the GATT case about the Japanese taxation system, which discriminates strongly against whisky, and which has been attacked by Governments of all complexions for many years, is that the response of the Japanese Government to the criticisms of the GATT panel is, would hon. Members believe, still awaited. In the meantime, both the European Community and the Government have left the Japanese Government in no doubt that we expect them to review their taxation system and to modify it so that it completely removes discrimination against Scotch whisky and enables our product to compete under fair conditions in their market. By our product I mean, of course, Scotch whisky. There is no doubt that when it is given a reasonable chance to compete it does well.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart) apologised for the absence of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). Many hon. Members who served on the Committee have constituency engagements today, and many of us fulfil them as well in taking part in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) has left the Chamber. The Opposition were a bit hard on my hon. Friend, who contributed to the Committee, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Ashby), for Winchester (Mr. Browne), for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kincross (Mr. Fairbairn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro). They all did what they could to make sure that the Bill reached this stage. I make no apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, who is sitting in a corner seat reading the Bill, when I say that this is a protectionist measure. The Government reasonably and honestly do not believe in protectionism.

We are now part of Europe and as such it sets no precedent. Other hon. Members and I have commented on the fact that cognac, port, champagne, sherry and other drinks are protected. The precious investment that we have in Scotland that has arisen as a result of the nature of the water and the peat—the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Moray gave us the important opportunity to discuss those factors for 90 minutes this morning—must be protected. The Government and I make no apology for looking after our own, in this case, the Scotch whisky industry. If my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North wishes to divide on the measure he will need someone else to be a Teller and I do not think that he will find anyone.

I know that my hon. Friend is interested in non-profit making clubs. He does a great deal of work for all sorts of people who like to spend their evenings in non-profit making clubs—working men's clubs, Labour clubs, Liberal clubs, Conservative clubs and the rest. Perhaps those people are the consumers of whom he is thinking.

On 20 January in Committee when we were discussing clause 1 of the Bill, the hon. Member for Carrick and all the rest of it—I mean no disrespect—asked whether consumer groups were entitled to apply for an interdict under clause 1. That question has been repeated today. clause 1(2) and clause 2(2) provide for injunctions against the sale as Scotch whisky of spirit that does not meet the requirements of Scotch whisky laid down by order under clause 3 and against the sale of Scotch whisky below the minimum alcoholic strength whenever that is prescribed.

Under both Scottish and English law, the applicant for the injunction is required to show sufficient interest in the issue before the court will listen to the applicant's case. The purpose of clause 1(2) and clause 2(2) is to remove that initial requirement from a Scotch whisky producer or an association of Scotch whisky producers.

Clause 2(2) does not prevent consumers or consumer group associations from bringing an action in respect of activities that are made unlawful by the Bill. In practice, it is unlikely that they would wish to take proceedings in the civil court, but it is possible that they may wish to do so. In that case, they would have to show that they had sufficient interest and if they succeeded in showing that the court would hear the case.

No change is proposed in the Bill to the substantial body of existing food legislation that provides for the protection of the consumer by trading standards officers and in particular the way in which they enforce the food labelling regulations. Schedule 7 to those regulations covers misleading descriptions and it prohibits the use of the words "Scotch whisky" unless the product conforms with the definition in the Finance Act 1969, which is being amended by the Bill. That is still the most appropriate means of providing consumer protection.

My hon. Friend can be assured that discussions have taken place—not just in Committee—between hon. Members and the promoters of the Bill as to what if and the rest of it. That is one reason why we introduced blending in the Bill, so that Scotch whisky cannot be diluted by a blend of another whisky-type drink emanating from somewhere else.

My hon Friend's remarks about consumers' rights have more than satisfied me. Therefore, I have no intention of dividing the House, even though the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) keeps winking at me. I take that to mean that he wishes to act as a Teller.

One down, one to go.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. The first part of his speech related to alcohol misuse. He knows that, along with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, I am a member of the alcohol misuse committee, under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House. We are taking that job very seriously indeed. The alcohol misuse committee sees no inconsistency in the Bill. Alcohol misuse should disturb everybody. Ninety per cent of the occasions on which I can remember whisky being drunk have been happy occasions. They have been a wedding, a christening or a meeting of friends—a celebration. Unfortunately, there are cases of misuse. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy is concerned about misuse of alcohol.

I have listened with interest to the debate and to my hon. Friend the Minister's remarks about the way in which whisky is extremely helpful on convivial occasions. Does he agree also that there are certain life-giving properties associated with that admirable drink? Does not the very name derive from a Gaelic expression, "The water of life"? Will my hon. Friend expand on that idea?

Madam Deputy Speaker would not like me to expand on that idea. I thank my hon. Friend for his interest, but the water of life matter has been referred to several times already.

Hon. Members who were present on Second Reading will remember other interesting advice. I have been trying ever since. If we could just get the right amount to drink every day, we shall live for ever. We experiment.

The Minister is making a serious point. There is no doubt that the incidence of alcohol misuse and abuse is high in the liquor industry. The Minister will agree that, regrettably, high levels of misuse are to be found in journalism. Some people have suggested that there should be an alcohol treatment centre for Lobby journalists. I do not offer that suggestion. Is it not important that all firms, whether or not they are in the Scotch whisky industry, should have treatment programmes for their employees?

The hon. Gentleman made that point a few moments ago. It is quite right and proper.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy's point bringing our attention to alcohol abuse was right and reasonable. He is a physician. Therefore, I listened carefully to what he said. The Government view alcohol misuse seriously. We know that the proper use of alcohol will be enhanced by the Bill. People will know what they are buying as they take it from the shelf.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about various whisky strengths—45, 40, 37·5, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. I shall refer to that matter later—[Interruption.] Not much later, I hope. I know that Opposition Members have to go home.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) referred to the importance of research and development and to Government and private sector contributions to that. All Government programmes are continually under review. I cannot go further than that on his specific constituency points, and I do not think that he expects me to do so. We are grateful to the Scotch Whisky Association and the Brewers Society for the amount of information that they have provided on alcohol misuse and for the money that they have contributed to research and development.

Various hon. Members asked about taxation and referred to the need for excise duties on mixed drinks to be based on alcoholic content. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. During the recent Budget, my right hon. Friend announced a new excise category for mixed drinks, which I understand will be subject to taxation according to alcoholic strength. It is true that some alcoholic drinks—spirits—are taxed at a higher rate due to their alcoholic strength than drinks such as beer and wines. I note what hon. Members said about all alcoholic drinks being taxed equally on the basis of their alcoholic strength. The tax changes that my right hon. Friend has introduced in recent Budgets have significantly narrowed the difference between excise duties chargeable on whisky and other spirits and those chargeable on beers and wines. That is good news for the whisky industry, which is no doubt grateful. I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to move ahead on that basis.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North dealt with the clauses, I do not need to do so. I think that I have answered hon. Members' specific questions. I have been glad of this opportunity to debate the Bill on its Third Reading. Hon. Members have underlined the importance of the Scotch whisky industry and their pride in it. As I said, the industry has behaved responsibly on the problem of alcohol misuse. We are legislating for a drink that Ls universally recognised as the hallmark of quality, which is why I am willing to consult anybody about the strength of whisky before it is laid down in the orders.

Whisky is produced in many countries throughout the world, and many countries have long traditions of producing their own distinctive types of whisky to their own standards. Unfortunately, some countries are less concerned over what they permit to he produced and marketed as whisky, and, worse, some permit their so-called whiskies to be marketed in a way that suggests that they are Scotch. The Bill will help to curtail that.

Any fine product is, of course, vulnerable to imitation and to counterfeiting, and Scotch is often attacked in such a way. The industry has been vigorous in identifying and prosecuting imitations and counterfeiters throughout the world and has devoted considerable resources to protecting its product. However, I heard what the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy said about exports of bulk whisky. It will certainly go on doing so with the same vigour in the future, but there is now an undeniable need for some further statutory backing aimed at preventing the production of cheap imitations by opportunists, even in Scotland itself—on the industry's own doorstep.

We all recognise that the great producers depend on their reputation for quality. Production techniques are faithfully preserved, secret recipes closely guarded, and short cuts properly rejected. Added to the tradition is a great deal of mystique. For example, in the making of malt whiskies, I am told that the shape of the pot still is of particular importance. No two pots are exactly the same shape and when they wear out replacements are made to exactly the same design to ensure the same taste to the spirit. No one knows exactly how the shape affects the products, but they dare not risk changing it. That is an example of mystique, if ever there was one.

For all that tradition, the Scotch whisky industry is not hide-bound. It has developed and kept pace with changing tastes and demands. The original single pot-still malt whiskies are still far too strong sometimes for fainter hearts such as I. The lighter grain whisky was produced which, when mixed with the malt whiskies, produced the blended whiskies we all know, such as Johnnie Walker, Famous Grouse, Teachers, Bells, Cutty Sark, Ballantine's and Grant's. There are still pubs all over the world that take a pride in having many bottles of genuine whisky. One can be lucky enough to walk into one in Spain, France or anywhere.

while appreciating the intrinsic virtues of the product—on which we have spoken today—we must not forget the economic importance of the industry. Scotch is exported to nearly 200 markets. Over a third of our exports are now to Europe. Export earnings are now worth over £1 billion per year. The industry is Scotland's largest export earner. I shall not remind the House how much Scotland contributes to the Exchequer. Such facts have been reiterated throughout the morning.

We explained on Second Reading and as we have proceeded through Committee the situation that we face in the European Community, which is considering proposed legislation which defines all the major spirit drinks, including whisky. The whisky definition proposed, and likely to be agreed, quite reasonably reflects the standards of production that prevail in other member states—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should stop whispering. I would get on quicker if I were left on my own.

However, the proposed regulation also permits Scotch whisky to be defined in our own national legislation to a higher standard, in the same way as it would allow cognac to be defined in French law—I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is in his place—to a higher standard than the European Community definition for brandy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach of defining the generic products, whisky, rum, brandy and gin, providing national laws are drawn up to meet the existing standards.

There is a great deal at stake here. The solution cannot lie only in stricter controls over labelling. Our domestic labelling laws are not enforceable in overseas markets.[Interruption.] I shall miss out the hard bits and get on with the rest. The Bill therefore prohibits the production of whisky in Scotland which does not measure up to the definition of Scotch whisky. It is a severe restriction, but one which is judged to be justified in the new circumstances that are expected to arise when the EEC legislates to define whisky as a generic name.

There is anxiety about minimum alcoholic strength. That excited a great deal of debate in the House and in Committee. Many people would accept a strength below the traditional 40 per cent. alcohol level, and many people sell fine brands of whisky below that strength which are accepted by consumers. Some hon. Members vigorously defend the right of those people to continue marketing their products, and others, including the hon. Member for Moray, argue with equal vigour that Scotch whisky should not be marketed at below 40 per cent. alcohol level.

I emphasise to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that my right hon. Friend the Minister has no intention of specifying any minimum strength until he and I have consulted all interests concerned. Indeed, I undertake yet again for the 10th, 11 th or 12th time—who cares how often?—that we shall not reach our decision until we have discussed the matter with all interested parties. Moreover, in reaching a decision the Minister will necessarily have to take full account of the position reached on the negotiations in Brussels on the proposed regulation defining spirit drinks. That proposal lays down minimum strengths for all major spirit drinks, so must be taken into account when we eventually decide on the minimum for Scotch.

We have discussed the main provisions of the Bill. I have mentioned the Japanese taxation of spirits and various other protectionist measures, such as those of the Canadian liquor boards. The Bill is fully deserving of the House's approval.

1.27 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to make some comments in reply.

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his clear explanation and support of the Bill. Sadly, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) cannot be with us today because he is in hospital recovering from an operation. He would certainly wish me to draw attention to the fact that he is with us in spirit—in all kinds of spirit—and we wish him a speedy recovery. He would also expect me to mention, as others have properly done, our constituency interests. In Perth, he and I enjoy several whisky companies. I have mentioned Bells and Dewars, and I should mention The Famous Grouse, which is equally famous in the marketplace and a fine whisky.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who told me that he would have to leave because of constituency demands, mentioned how pleasant it was not to be facing me today in my role as the Conservative party's defence spokesman in Scotland. It is equally pleasant for me that today we both agree, as we are not often in agreement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) properly drew attention to the Scotch Whisky Association, which he represents in the House. I thank him for his help and assistance in the preparation and passage of the Bill, and I thank John Hedley and Quintin Stewart who have given me professional advice and back-up, without which it would have been extremely difficult to steer such a Bill through the House. I also thank Colonel Bill Bewsher for his support.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), my next-door neighbour—we have adjoining flats—made one of the interesting and good-humoured speeches that we have come to expect from him. His contribution to Scottish affairs and Scottish life is, in many ways, larger than life. One endearing feature of the hon. Gentleman is that, even when he is being rude, he does so with a twinkle in his eye that makes it extremely difficult to fall out with him. He is, indeed, the ideal next-door neighbour. He also knows very well that I keep a stock of Scotch in my flat. Although I do not drink and never have—I make no special claim about that; it is just that I never started—I am not hostile to the practice, as everyone must realise. Many of my best friends enjoy a dram, and the way to enjoy it is in good company. We often do that in the flat.

Let me also say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments on the red book that he and I have found so useful—the one called "Scotch Whisky—Questions and Answers". I shall not attempt to emulate his quotations from Burns, because he is plainly a past master. Certainly, his story about Hampden park is a classic which will be remembered by us all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) referred to the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985, which made it illegal to take alcohol into Scottish football grounds. We know that the events in the story happened before that Act. He mentioned that the issue of blending was brought in as an important amendment to the Bill. He also told us about the problem of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) being mistaken for him. I can think of many things over which mistakes could be made, but all that my hon. Friends have in common is their name. Each has his own endearing characteristics, but they are quite different.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McTaggart) is, after the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, probably the most important chap on the Opposition Benches where I am concerned, as he and I are paired. Whatever he says, therefore, must obviously be of a very high quality, and, as ever, he did not let me down today. He mentioned both the quality of debates in the House and the growth of export sales. The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of what is going on in the industry is very important, and I join him in congratulating the industry on the growth of its export sales. I am sure that both Glasgow, Central and the Scottish whisky industry are in very good hands.

In answer to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) let me say that, if I did not make it clear that I was also congratulating the trade unions on the industrial relations record of the industry, that was entirely my fault. I would not wish to exclude them. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to repeat that I consider them a model for other trade unions. We should recognise that all trade unions, and all employers, are neither all black nor all white. There are bad employers and good employers; there are good and bad unions. However, on both sides of the industrial fence, the representatives of the Scotch whisky industry are in many respects a model for other industries, and I have a high regard for both the professionals and the part-timers holding office in the unions.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say that visits to distilleries could be an important aspect of the development of tourism. Blair Atholl distillery in my constituency has a marvellous reception centre, and I commend anyone with visitors from overseas to visit it. They will be extremely well looked after there.

I am delighted to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) is a member of the Fraser clan, and I am sure that Lord Lovat will be delighted to hear that one of his clan is a Member of the House. My hon. Friend suggested that if I obtained a tie for him he would reimburse me. As a good Scot, I would expect to be paid before I handed it over, but I assure him that I will get the tie for him. I am pleased that, as he said clearly during the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister, he is now happy about the matters that he mentioned.

I intervened several times in the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) to make it clear that I did not intend to suggest that he was not knowledgeable. We recognise his training and expertise. I was not being frivolous when I mentioned Antarctica. I am assured that one of the things that keeps the chaps going in our research station on South Georgia and in other parts of the Antarctica is a wee dram, and it is important that those wee drams are in no way affected by the climatic conditions.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) mentioned the Japanese market. As always in such debates, she made an important contribution when she drew attention to the responsibility of the industry with regard to alcohol abuse and the provision of rehabilitation centres. I associate myself with her comments. I have had a lifelong interest in the problems of people with alcohol difficulties. Sadly, it is part of our heritage in Scotland that some people have alcohol problems, but that does not mean that we should be hostile to the industry. The problem is not the spirit, but the individual.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) made a fairly narrow constituency point with which he would not wish me to deal.

I conclude my remarks by quoting my comments on Second Reading which sum up my views and those of many others about Scotch whisky. I said:
"Scotch whisky is more than a whisky. It is part of Scotland's heritage and folklore. It is used as a medicine to cure many ills. As a toddy, it can dispel colds and 'flu. In porridge, it can drive out the freezing cold or Scotland's winters. It lubricates the larynx and helps parties go with a swing."—[Official Report, 11 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 686.]
On Easter Saturday, my daughter was married and we had the best party that I can remember; it went on until midnight. We must thank the Scotch whisky industry for the substantial contribution that it made.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Consumer Arbitration Agreements Bill

As amended, considered.

Clause 3

Contracting "As A Consumer"

1.40 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—'but on a sale by auction or by competitive tender the buyer is not in any circumstances to be regarded as entering into the contract as a consumer.'

The intention of the amendment is to resolve the question of the type of arbitration agreements covered by the Bill. As currently drafted, only consumers, as defined in the Bill, are covered, and that remains the intention throughout the Bill.

For the purposes of the Bill, the definition of a consumer has been taken from the Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977. There is a specific provision in that Act that excludes its application to auctions or contracts made by competitive tender. To ensure that there is a harmonious approach between the Act and the Bill, it is necessary to keep the same form of words. The amendment introduces the appropriate wording to ensure that that is the case.

Being Leader of the Opposition (Fridays), if only for 50 minutes, it is tempting to seize the opportunity to make a long speech. However, it would probably be better for us to restrain our egos. The amendment is a little inelegantly worded, but I see its purpose and support it.

The amendment seems to be attracting warm support among hon. Members, so I should like to add mine.

The Bill, in rather a short period of time, was subjected to amendments in Committee and on the Floor of the House. As often happens in those circumstances, some subsequent tidying-up became necessary. The amendment falls into that category.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) is right to say that it is desirable that the definition of contracting as a consumer is brought into line with the provisions of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. That is achieved by the amendment and I commend it to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6

Arbitration Agreements: Scotland

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 42 after "cannot", insert

'if it is a domestic arbitration agreement'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 3.

To take up the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Minister, this is a further tidying-up amendment. It will be noted that it concerns a clause relating to Scotland. It ensures that the Bill deals only with domestic arbitration agreements that have no international flavour. The position, therefore, in Scotland will be precisely the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Amendment No. 3 is a further tidying amendment and is of a somewhat technical nature. It follows, quite naturally, the preceding amendment and provides for Scotland a definition of domestic arbitration agreements to make effective the preceding amendment.

It falls to me to provide the harmony and unanimity, to which we are becoming accustomed with the Bill.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said, these are two further tidying amendments. They are desirable to put the Bill into proper shape and to speed it on its way on to the statute book. I support the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8

Construction Of Sections 6 And 7

Amendment made: No. 3, in page 4, line 29 at the end insert'and "domestic arbitration agreement" has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Arbitration Act 1975'. —[Mr. Pawsey.]

Order for Third Reading read.

1.44 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I had not realised that success in a ballot for private Members' Bills would be so demanding. Steering a private Member's Bill is time-consuming and labour-intensive, but it has given me a valuable insight into the workings of the House which I would not otherwise have possessed. Having steered the Bill, with much help from a number of different sources, through Second reading, Committee and Report, I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third reading.

I should like to record my disappointment on one issue, and I shall speak gently, with tongue in cheek. On Second Reading we had the benefit of an extremely knowledgeable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden). He referred to the fact that he is the author of an extremely helpful book entitled "Bowden on Contracts". I was disappointed to find that, when I went to the Library of the House of Commons to obtain a copy of that admirable book, unfortunately it was not there. I hope that the appropriate authorities will contact my hon. Friend to repair that obvious deficiency.

Perhaps I may be of some help. The book is at present going into a second edition and I shall ensure that a copy is available in the Library when it is published.

My hon. Friend's offer is in keeping with his nature, but I heard the aside of my hon. Friend the Minister who suggested that such a copy be made at full cover price—a Scottish observation, if ever I heard one.

The aim of the Consumer Arbitration Agreements Bill is to enhance consumer protection. At present, it is possible for a consumer to enter an agreement with, for example, a builder or remover and for the contract to include a clause, usually on the back of the agreement and in small print, which specifies that, in the event of dispute, the dispute will be referred to compulsory arbitation. That is unfair to the consumer, because it takes from him the right to obtain redress from the courts. The Bill will have the effect of drawing the teeth of that clause, and it therefore gives the consumer added rights. The Bill concerns only arbitration between consumers and traders. It does not affect commercial arbitration agreements. It does not relate to arbitration agreements that emanate from abroad.

The Bill as originally drafted gave the consumer the absolute right to pursue his case through the courts. My right hon. and hon. Friends' attitude to that simple proposal was, at best, somewhat reserved. Following discussions with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, the Bill has been amended and it now operates on three tiers. It provides that where a claim is under £500 the case may be referred by the consumer for consideration by the small claims procedure in the county court. The current limit for such claims is £500. For those claims between £500 and £5,000, the consumer will have the right to take the case to the county court, with a discretion for the court to enforce the arbitration clause. That will enable courts to enforce arbitration in those cases where it is in the consumer's interests to do so. It is worth underlining the phrase, "where it is in the consumers' interests to do so". For sums over £5,000 any arbitration clause written into an agreement and signed by the consumer would stand and be legally binding and enforceable exactly as at present.

I have to be honest and tell the House that I cannot take credit for the three-tier idea. It came as a result of the Bill being referred to the departmental advisory committee on arbitration. That committee, under Lord Justice Mustill, conducted a swift investigation into the merits of the Bill and made its report to the Department of Trade and Industry in a matter of weeks. Together with a number of other interested parties, I submitted evidence to the full committee and I now understand better how Ministers must feel when they are subjected to grilling by a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and I serve on the Committee that deals with the Parliamentary Commissioner and it has fallen to us on many occasions to investigate witnesses at some length. I now understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of such an interrogation.

Lord Chief Justice Mustill and his committee listened with courtesy to the various points put to them during the hearing and I freely acknowledge that the Bill is better for their advice, consideration, expertise and recommendations.

On Second Reading, I was accused of introducing a Bill that was the product of the nanny state. I think that that is unfair. I am one of those who voted, in a free vote, for the introduction of seat belts. The introduction of seat belts could perhaps also be described as a product of the nanny state, yet it has saved a great many lives. This Bill, while not saving lives, will undoubtedly save consumers a substantial amount of time, inconvenience, trouble and, not least, money.

It will perhaps help the House if I quote from a letter from the Director General of Fair Trading, Sir Gordon Borrie QC to Lord Justice Mustill. It is a long letter so I shall not weary the House with its full contents. I shall simply refer to a couple of passages. The letter says:
"I see an advantage in the consumer being able to choose between binding arbitration or the court and would not wish to see any inadvertent restriction of this choice."
The letter continues:
"I am aware that some contracts (rather than codes) may contain a compulsory arbitration clause. This practice 1 oppose because I do not think it desirable for consumers to be deprived of their right of access to the court . . . the Bill, if enacted, would go some considerable way towards assisting my policy goal."
I believe that to be an extremely important and powerful letter from a well-respected organisation, and no doubt the House will give it proper weight.

The reason why I am anxious to reinforce consumer rights is that, in the majority of disputed cases, the consumer is inevitably the weaker party. It seems to me that in all fairness and in all equity the choice of which path to pursue—arbitration or the courts—should lie firmly with the consumer. My reason for that belief is simple. The consumer is usually engaged in legal activity as a once in a lifetime experience and is thus the classic one-shotter, often pitched against a repeat player who is more powerful and more experienced in litigation.

The House will be aware that the trader has behind him not just the possibility of previous experience in the courts but, in many cases, a trade association which is available to provide guidance, advice and expertise. It seems to me, therefore, that the dice are unfairly loaded against the consumer. Additionally, as was pointed out several times on Second Reading, compulsory arbitration can be an expensive process, especially as compared with the small claims procedure, and no legal aid is available.

It has been suggested that the Bill is a sledgehammer to crack a relatively small nut and may be addressing one particular trade. If that impression exists, I am happy to correct it. I have selected three letters from the considerable number received from constituents and others objecting to the manner in which compulsory arbitration clauses work. I have selected these three as being of particular interest to the House. They relate to three different trades and one comes from a trader rather than a consumer.

The first letter, which is addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, reads as follows:
"We are in dispute with a local manufacturer over numerous faults in two settees delivered to us in April 1987."
The letter describes at length the arbitration clause which appears on the back of the agreement and in the usual small print. The letter continues:
"Not only does this clause take away our rights to go to court, it replaces it with an alternative which is a complete unknown as regards expenses arid rules, i.e. who pays the cost of Counsel, Solicitors and expert witnesses and the Arbitrator himself? With such experts this could run-up a tidy bill. (A frightening thought!)"
I agree that it is, indeed, a frightening thought.

The letter goes on:
"We now find ourselves in a ridiculous situation whereby we cannot go to court, cannot get our money back and the manufacturers are ignoring us. We have two two-seater settees which we are afraid to use for fear of them being marked or damaged."
The second letter comes from a company of aerial engineers. It reads:
"Dear Mr. Pawsey,

Your Consumer Arbitration Agreements Bill is in the very best interests of the small contractor who does not have and cannot afford the time nor the staff to defend himself with the aid of his own trade association's arbitration machinery. If I was a big firm, I'd relish arbitration!"

By coincidence, I received the third letter only today. It was addressed to me and it reads as follows:
"My local Member of Parliament Mr. John Hannam has supplied me with copies of your Private Member's Consumer Arbitration Bill."
I shall not mention the name of the company involved because it does not have an opportunity to reply. I shall simply describe it as X. The letter goes on:
"Their advertised claims were false and my goods were delivered as a part load in a loosely packed lorry. There was extensive damage and deterioration caused by damp storage conditions. This was witnessed by an independent assessor and a representative from X. Their subsequent offer of recompense only serves to add insult to injury. I have to accept the arbitration clause does exist even though X delivered my goods without any actual signing of the contract by me. The BAR"—
That is, the British Association of Removers—
"have advised that I cannot take X to court and must use arbitration. Not to be deterred, I pursued the issue of their misleading advertising with the Advertising Standards Authority who discovered that they had judged X's advertising as being unfair back in 1985. I had personally collected copies of this advertising since 1987 and have subsequently submitted it to the ASA. In spite of X's blatant indifference to the ASA ruling I am still advised by BAR that I can only refer the matter to arbitration. Their arbitration clause would appear to allow them to do what they want, including the perpetration of unfair advertising."
Those three cases dealing with different trades underline the necessity for the Bill. When I introduced the Bill I intended it to be a modest and simple measure. Since then, and for the best of reasons, it has become a little more complex than I first anticipated. However, it is still uncomplicated, easy to understand and easy to operate.

I should like to acknowledge the assistance provided by officials at the Department of Trade and Industry who were prepared to draft the amendments to the original Bill. These changes proved to be rather more extensive than originally envisaged because of the necessity to ensure that the Bill referred to Scotland. The majority of the amendments moved in Committee were designed to ensure that the Bill should apply fully and effectively to Scotland.After all, why should the Scottish consumer be less well off than his counterpart south of the border?

It was not possible, as had been envisaged when I introduced the Bill, for it to apply to England and Scotland with precisely the same wording. It is evident that, because of the differences between the legal systems in those two parts of the United Kingdom, a different approach to Scotland was necessary. That was to ensure that the Bill applied there just as it does in England. For that reason only, separate clauses referring to Scotland now appear in the Bill. For that I have to thank those who advise the Government on Scottish affairs for their work in drafting the appropriate clauses about Scotland.

As I have said, the Bill may be a little more complicated than originally intended. If it is to provide a reasonable balance between consumer and trader and to provide legislation covering the whole of the United Kingdom, the amendments moved and agreed in Committee and subsequently on Report are necessary.

The Bill now enjoys the support and, I think, the blessing of the Department of Trade and Industry. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend and neighbour the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs in his customary place on the Front Bench. I pay tribute to him for his help and guidance and, not least, for his forbearance. The Bill is indeed the better for his advice. I cannot help thinking that, to some extent, my hon. Friend has acted as a midwife in the general development of the Bill. He may seem to be an unlikely character for such work, but I assure the House that he has a sensitive and helpful touch.

I shall not pursue the matter further.

Although the Bill has been regarded as my baby, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has certainly been the midwife. In the future, I am sure that he will become known as Mr. Secretary Maude, but I shall always think of him as Mr. Midwife Maude!

May I also thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for his help in conducting the Bill through the Committee stage that was taken on the Floor of the House, something that I believe is unique. Without his kindly and expert assistance I would not be moving the Third Reading today.

If the House approves the Third Reading the Bill will proceed to the other place, and I am optimistic that it will receive a reasonable degreee of support and enthusiam, if only because the Bill had its origins there in 1977 during the passage of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.

The Bill enjoys the support of the Consumers Association and I acknowledge the help that has been so freely made available to me by its legal adviser, Mr. David Tench. The Bill also enjoys the support of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, the Office of Fair Trading, as well as the Department of Trade and Industry. With such support the Bill has a respectable pedigree.

The Bill enhances consumer protection in an area where there has been some abuse. It extends the principle of fairness, increases choice and helps to redress the imbalance between the consumer and the supplier. It does not take away anyone's rights, because the right of arbitration remains, albeit in a permissive rather than an obligatory form. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.7 pm

I should like to commend the Bill to the House and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on the aplomb with which he has piloted this legislation towards the statute book. I also congratulate him on the clarity of his advocacy in presenting the purpose and merits of the Bill.

The Bill is a further step in an honourable course of law towards the protection of the weak against the strong, the protection of the small consumer against the big battalions of industry and commerce. The Bill follows a tradition that draws from every aspect of law-making. It follows from judge-made law, notably the contribution of Lord Denning, towards the protection of the consumer in contracts and statutes made in this House. That progress has now produced this private Member's Bill, which is one further step in the right direction.

The purpose of law is not merely to regulate society, but to make sure that justice is done. There is a definite feeling that injustice occurs when a small consumer deals with a big operator and when a one-off transaction for one person is a multi-purpose transaction for another. The Bill seeks to redress that inequity.

I am conscious that the promoters of the Bill have been accused of denying the right of choice and of ousting arbitration as opposed to litigation as a means of redress. That is not the case. Arbitration has a place and a part to play in any form of resolution of disagreement. It is appropriate that, in cases in which proponents are of equal contracting status—for example, if they have some trade secret that they do not wish to publicise or some dispute that they wish to keep to themselves, most notably building contracts and insurance contracts—disagree-ments can most efficaciously be solved by arbitration. But the system has been misused. Cheapness, efficiency, speed and privacy have been misused by many operators to try to exploit their rather superior contracting powers against consumers.

For that reason, the Bill has a notable part to play. I hope that it makes swift progress to the statute book. I say that with a certain point in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth was kind enough to refer to a text in which I have some interest. That text now approaches its second edition. I should hate this legislation, which makes such a contribution to consumer affairs, to be omitted from that second edition. For that, if for no other reason, I commend it to the House for swift enactment.

2.10 pm

One would not recognise it from our sober, sombre expressions, but this is 50 minutes of pure pleasure for many hon. Members, not only because the Scots are now out of the way—that is always pure pleasure—but because I can now slip into my role as Leader of the Opposition (Fridays). That role is now from 1.40 pm to approximately 2.30 pm. That is pure pleasure for me.

Today's proceedings are an example to the House of Commons. Indeed, if my speech is brief, at this pace we shall probably have time to consider another three Bills. That is a much better pace than that at which the Scotch whisky measure was dealt with. It is certainly an example to the Government. If the Government were to propose less controversial, silly legislation and adopted more sensible measures such as this, which we can get through at great speed, we would be much happier and would serve the purposes of the people much more effectively than we do on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on bringing forward the Bill. It is a great achievement to get a private Member's Bill through the House. We assume that there will not be many obstacles in the House of Lords and that the Bill will go through today. It is a satisfying achievement, and it applies to far too few hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman was successful because he made a wise choice of measure. He had the good sense to work with the Consumers Association and, particularly, its legal officer, David Tench. Over the years, he has probably been responsible for better legislation than that produced by the Department of Trade and Industry. Because of their enormous circulation and wide range of contacts in the community, David Tench and the Consumers Association have the gift of spotting gaps in the legislative framework and developing small measures that are necessary to improve the lot of ordinary people, particularly the consumer—the Government have neither the time nor the insight to do that—and introducing them through private Members' legislation. Having worked with them is one of the hallmarks of the hon. Gentleman's success.

The measure is important. It protects the weak from the strong and the small against the big battalions. That is a major part of the function of the House. We are certainly furthering that function today. The hon. Member's measure completes the achievements of the Labour Government from 1974–79. Had it not been for the particularly tough political climate and the obstructive operations of the Conservative party at the time, the measure would have come into effect in 1977. It was frustrated then only by the tactics of the then Opposition. It is not the final chapter of the history of that Labour Government—I have not yet completed my book on it—but it rounds off their achievements. It is an important measure, simply because, although effective, the arbitration procedure is expensive. It is really designed for weightier causes than those of the small consumer. The British Association of Removers estimated the cost at £200 a day, and if the individual loses he carries the cost of arbitration. Therefore, it is right to take the smaller cases out of the arbitration procedure. If it has the added advantage of dealing a severe blow to the legal profession, so much the better.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said that the Minister was the midwife. I am not sure that I like the image, but we must not forget that the main part of the achievement was his. I hope that that is not considered to be male chauvinism. On Second Reading the Minister embraced the Bill and threw caution to the winds. An agreed modification was made in Committee that narrowed the Bill's scope somewhat, and I should have preferred that that had not happened. However, I understand the pressures to get the Bill through its passage.

I am glad that the proposals put forward by the British Association of Removers were not accepted. It made a deeply moving—I make that pun for the second time, and it has gone down as badly as it did the first time—plea for low-cost, but still compulsory arbitration. The small claims procedure is good and effective and we are delighted that it is being extended to Scotland. We urge that the limits be raised to £1,000, as was proposed in the Lord Chancellor's consultative paper. We do not understand why that is being delayed. The sooner that it happens, the better. In the meantime, this measure will provide an important and useful procedure. The House has spent on it the best-employed 50 minutes of its time.

2.17 pm

It is a pleasure, as well as a tradition, warmly to congratulate my hon. Friend the member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on his skilful piloting of this measure through its Commons stages. I am sure that it will be equally skilfully handled and dispatched in another place. It is a somewhat different measure from what it was at its birth. My hon. Friend said that I was the midwife. It has undergone some transmutation since then, and it is now a more acceptable measure.

My hon. Friend has been both temperate and sensible and has consulted fully my Department and outside interests. That has undoubtedly lent the measure a helpful degree of consent. My hon. Friend may not have achieved the fame or notoriety of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but he has made real progress towards putting his Bill on the statute book.

As has been said, the Government are not unsympathetic towards the Bill—indeed, they have assisted in its passage. Since its birth two months ago, it has grown at the hands of the parliamentary draftsman and his Scottish colleague, with the result that the Bill sensibly reconciles the competing principles at stake. On the one hand, as now amended, the Bill will prevent arbitration clauses being used as an unfair means of dissuading consumers with genuine claims from pursuing their disputes. On the other hand, however, it should avoid unnecessary interference with arbitration, which the Government have no wish to discourage as a mechanism for resolving disputes.

It will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth if I say that I retain, in a small part of my mind, an anxiety about the principle pursued in the Bill. I do not believe that it is being unduly legalistic to support the principle that parties to a contract should be bound by the explicit terms of that contract. That is an honourable and important principle, which is important for the cause of justice about which the hon. Member for Great Grimsby spoke. It is also an important principle in the pursuit of fairness. In the ordinary course of events it is perfectly fair that parties to a contract should accept that they are bound by the terms of that contract. The principle that one should allow the courts and the legislature to overset the explicit terms of a contract, even in highly restricted circumstances, needs to be treated with great caution. For those reasons, it is right that the Bill should be restricted in its ambit to exactly the mischief that has been identified, but that it should go no further than that.

I retain an anxiety that the more that the courts and the legislature interfere, overset and override explicit terms of contracts, the less the onus appears to be upon consumers to read the terms of the contract to which they are committing themselves. We all make jokes about fine print on contracts and about how unfair it is, but most of us will accept that we are bound by the terms of contracts, which may be set out in fine print. We accept that we should read what the contract says before accepting it. It is no good the consuming public becoming accustomed to the fact that if they sign up for something which afterwards they do not like, the courts will intervene to help them.

In a sense, the Minister is praising with faint damns because that is an unduly legalistic interpretation. We must take into account the relative weight of the parties. If a consumer is in a weak position and the person putting forward the contract is in a strong position, the odds are not equal. That is the main consideration by which we should be motivated.

With respect, it is not a narrow legalistic approach, it is a broad philosophical approach, which I am happy to say, is entrenched deep in the fabric and history of English law.

Well, it may be a conservative approach, but I make no apology for that. Certainty in the law is highly desirable, and the principle that one should be bound by the terms of a contract that one signs should be overset only in very restricted circumstances.

It may help the House if I comment briefly on the Bill as now drafted. Clause 1 provides that an arbitration clause cannot be enforced against a consumer without the consumer's consent if the proceedings would fall within the jurisdiction of a county court. In other words, it covers disputes up to the present county court limit of £5,000. If that figure rises in the future, the new limit will automatically apply to the Bill.

The next two clauses apply certain exclusions and definitions to ensure consistency with the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and other statutes.

The effect of clause 4 is to give the court the discretion to enforce an arbitration clause in county court disputes if they are above the small claims limit—in other words, disputes between £500 and £5,000 at present. The court may exercise that discretion only if it is satisfied that arbitration would not be detrimental to the interests of the consumer, having regard to all the relevant factors, including the availability of legal aid. Clause 4 does not give the court discretion to enforce an arbitration clause if the dispute falls within the small claims limit, which is at present £500.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby asked whether the limits would be increased. The consultation paper issued by the Lord Chancellor's civil and justice review canvassed the possibility of raising the limit of the small claims jurisdiction and of removing the general county court limit altogether. Although an increase in the level of the small claims limit could be made by statutory instrument, the removal of the county court limit altogether would require primary legislation and could not be implemented for at least two or three years. We accept that if the small claims limit is raised it would be reasonable for the new limit to continue to apply to this Bill. If the county court limit were to be removed entirely, the Bill would be one of a number which would require consideration whether it should be amended. I doubt whether we need to anticipate that possibility now.

Some specific illustrations may help to elucidate the Bill's effect and rationale. Let us suppose that I wish to sue a trader for £200 in the small claims court, but he wishes to enforce an arbitration clause. The maximum cost of proceedings in the small claims court is £43, but the cost of arbitration would depend on the scheme specified in the contract. It could be as high as £200 or £300 if I lost. The Bill would allow me to insist on suing the trader in the small claims court and would give the court no discretion to enforce the arbitration clause. Clearly, if the trader could insist on arbitration and the arbitration scheme was an expensive one, I might well be discouraged from pursuing the dispute because the potential costs would be too large in relation to the sums at issue.

Perhaps I wish to sue the trader in court for £2,000. That sum exceeds the small claims limit and the case would therefore fall within the normal procedures of the county court. The Bill allows the court discretion to enforce the arbitration clause in cases of this financial magnitude. But if I was eligible for legal aid for the court proceedings, it is unlikely that the court would enforce the arbitration clause against me because at arbitration I would not receive legal aid and a reference to arbitration, relatively speaking, would be detrimental to my interests. I am assuming that there are no compelling technical or other reasons for preferring arbitration.

If, on the other hand, I was not eligible for legal aid at the court proceedings, it is possible that, on application from the trader, the court would enforce the arbitration clause. Indeed, it is possible that if I tried to resist the reference to arbitration in the county court and was unsuccessful, I might run up costs in addition to those associated with the arbitration. I would obviously be well advised to consider carefully whether it was likely to be worth my while seeking to take advantage of the Bill's provisions before I risked incurring extra expenses in court.

The Government do not wish the Bill to interfere with arbitration to the extent that it allows the consumer to insist on court proceedings in cases where the operation of the arbitration clause would not cause him unfairness.

Finally, let us suppose that I wish to sue a trader for £20,000. The Bill would not affect such a dispute because the sum is above the county court limit. My Department's advisory committee on arbitration law took the view that there was no case for allowing arbitration clauses to be overturned in cases involving sums of this amount, and I share that view. The terms of a contract for this amount should have been carefully considered by the parties before signature and I do not see the case for allowing a consumer to overturn his contractual agreement in these circumstances. Moreover, my Department's advisory committee received no evidence that arbitration clauses in contracts for large sums in practice operated unfairly.

Clauses 6 to 8 contain provisions for Scotland similar to those for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland in the earlier part of the Bill. The main difference arises because there is no direct equivalent in Scotland to the £5,000 jurisdictional limit of the county court. The Bill is restricted instead to cases falling within the summary cause process of the sheriff court. At present, that extends the proceedings for debt or damages not exceeding £1,000.

The provisions for Scotland are slightly different from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. If experience shows that this is an anomaly which gives rise to unfairness or indeed that any of the limits defined in the Bill are unsatisfactory, it will be possible for the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor or Lord Advocate, as appropriate, to specify higher limits by order.

The Bill strives to ensure that the consumer is not deprived of access to justice by means of arbitration clauses. At the same time, it seeks not to interfere unnecessarily with arbitration, which is an efficient dispute resolution procedure of great value in helping to reduce the work load of the courts. As amended, it achieves a good balance, and the Government do not wish to oppose it.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Private Member's Bill

Companies (Political Donations) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Transplant Notification Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 8 July.

Environment And Safety Information Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned

Debate on Second Reading [5 February.]

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a junior Government Whip to block a Bill in this fashion when the Government themselves have said that the Bill is a worthwhile measure that may well do some good?

It is not for me to distinguish between a junior and a senior member of the Government, but it is perfectly in order for an hon. Member from the Government Front Bench to object to the Bill.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I name Friday next for continuation of Second Reading?

Debate further adjourned till Friday next.

Smoke Detectors In Houses Bill

Order for Second Reading read

With the leave of the hon. Member concerned, Friday 6 May.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 May.

Coal Mining Subsidence (Damage And Arbitration) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Right Of Privacy Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 8 July.

Coal Mining Subsidence (Prevention And Public Awareness) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Bill has come back to the Floor of the House a number of times, and it seems that the House spends an inordinate amount of time trying to delay or stop private Members' Bills of this type from coming forward. Today, only two Bills have managed to come forward. I think that at least my constituents—and the many constituents of other hon. Members on both sides of the House who suffer from the effects of subsidence damage from coal mining—should have the right to know the names of those who have objected to the Bill

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration, especially in view of the area that he represents, but I cannot at this time allow speeches that are in fact debating the issue.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. First, I must express my deep feeling of outrage that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)—

Order. I am in the Chair. I remind Ministers that I am the one to call order. Will the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) sit down?

My point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, is this. As the promoter of the Bill, can I seek your advice? The Government Whip acts on behalf of the Government. Will he tell the House whether he is acting on behalf of the Minister in opposing the Bill? If so, let me tell him that he has betrayed the hundreds—

Order. Again, I perfectly follow hon. Members' frustrations when they have worked hard on a Bill of this nature, but this is not the moment to debate it.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that it is in order for any hon. Member to object to any of these Bills being passed without debate and, indeed, without disclosing either their identities or their reasons?

Will you also confirm that there is no reason in the Standing Orders of the House why any hon. Member should not volunteer at that stage or indeed later, not only his identity, but—particularly if he is a Minister, by letter to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill—the reasons for his objection to the Bill's being taken without debate?

I could not have put it better myself. Therefore, I have no intention of repeating exactly what the hon. Gentleman said.

Unfair Reporting And Right Of Reply Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 May.

Scottish Constitution (Referendum) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Companies (Audit Committees) Bill

Read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Sir Brandon Rhys Williams.]

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that this is a most unusual procedure, but as there is no objection I am willing that it should go ahead.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You said that this was an unusual procedure, and I think I owe the House an explanation. I have tried to introduce a measure along these lines during every Session since 1970—

Order. No explanation is necessary now. We are all very familiar with the fact.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the procedure through which we have just been on an excellent and worthwhile measure, going through all stages at once with no debate, would have been open to any of the other Bills that were listed for consideration today? Will you draw the attention of the Government to the restraint shown by Opposition Members on this matter? Perhaps the Government will show similar restraint in relation to equally worthwhile measures introduced by Opposition Members.

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that many of the Bills have not been printed. We could not have gone through the business with the speed that we have shown today if that had not been the case.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps Opposition Members have not worked quite as hard as my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams), who has been involved—

Order. We are all aware of how hard the hon. Gentleman has worked, and his Bill is quite familiar to us. It has been before the House on a number of occasions.

Horses, Ponies And Donkeys Bill

order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 6 May.

House Of Commons Members' Fund

2.39 pm

I beg to move,

That in pursuance of the provisions of Section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and of Section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981 the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may he made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under Section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied as from 1st April 1988 as follows:

(a) for paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended, there shall be substituted the following paragraph:

1. The annual amount of any periodical payment made to any person by virtue of his past membership of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,556 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £4,703 per annum whichever is the less; Provided that if, having regard to length of service and need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,929 or such sum as, in their opinion, will bring his income up to £7,076 per annum, whichever is the less:

(b) for paragraph 2 of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraph:

2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £1,281 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £3,428 per annum, whichever is the less: Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £2,463 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £4,610 per annum, whichever is the less:

(c) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words 'the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words:

`the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £1,281 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £3,428 per annum, whichever is the less:

Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his needs, the Trustees think fit, they make a larger payment not exceeding £2,463 or such sum as in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £4,610 per annum, whichever is the less:

(d) in Section 2(1) of the said Act of 1981, for the words from the beginning to the end of paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the words:

`the annual rate of any payments made under Section 1 shall be—

(a) £1,488 if the payments are made to a past Member; and

(b) £744 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member."

With this it will be convenient to take the second motion on this subject.

That the whole or any part of the sums deducted or set aside in the current year from the salaries of Members of Parliament under Section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, and the whole or any part of the contribution determined by the Treasury for the current year under Section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, as amended by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, be appropriated for the purpose of Section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by Section 12 of the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984.

The motions stand in my name as chairman of the managing trustees of the House of Commons Members' Fund and those of right hon. and hon. Members, who share with me the responsibility, as fellow trustees, for administering the fund.

The purpose of the first resolution is to provide for an increase in the present levels of grants and payments which may be made under the Members' Fund legislation. These were last revised in April 1987 and we propose to increase them, from 1 April 1988, by approximately 4·2 per cent. in line with the increases approved from this month for public service and state retirement pensions.

Unlike those of us who now have superannuation benefits as of right, former colleagues who left the House before 1964, and their widows and widowers, have no pension entitlement. They are a dwindling number and many of them live in straitened circumstances, not least some of those who are now of advanced years and their dependents, but the help which my fellow trustees and I are able to provide from the Members' Fund is extremely modest.

One of our problems is that the whereabouts of our former colleagues, or their widows or widowers, is not always known to us. I shall be most grateful, therefore, if right hon. and hon. Members could get in touch with me if they become aware of any former Members or their dependants who need help. I make that appeal especially to our new colleagues if they know of cases in their constituencies.

I need not detain the House at length today, since the provisions for which the trustees seek approval are set out in detail in the resolutions on the Order Paper. These can be briefly summarised as follows. Paragraph (a) deals with the provision for grants to ex-Members. Here it is proposed to increase the basic annual grant to £2,556, subject to an income limit, including the grant, of £4,703. In the case of ex-Members with longer service who need help from the fund, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £4,929, subject to an income limit of £7,076.

Paragraphs (b) and (c) deal with provision for grants to the widows and widowers of ex-Members. It is proposed to increase the basic annual grant to £1,281, subject to an income limit, including the grant, of £3,428. Similarly, in the case of widows or widowers of ex-Members who had longer service and need help from the fund, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £2,463, subject to an income limit of £4,610.

Paragraph (d) refers to the "as of right payments" from the Members' Fund to ex-Members who had 10 years' service before October 1964, and to widows and widowers of such Members, provided for by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981. It is proposed to increase these annual payments to £1,488 in the case of ex-Members and to £744 in the case of widows or widowers. The additional annual cost of the above increases is estimated to amount to £5,300.

Obviously, every hon. Member is interested in the Members' Fund because we all pay into it. What is the current income of the fund?

It is £204,600, including hon. Members' contributions at £24 per annum, the grant in aid and gross income from investments. If there is any further information that my hon. Friend, or indeed any other hon. Member would like me to provide, I shall be glad to help if they will write to me.

The second motion relates to section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 which authorises the trustees of the Members' fund to make
"such periodical or other payments as they think fit"
to ex-Members, or the widows, widowers or children of ex-Members, for
"the purpose of alleviating special hardship

This section of the Act, together with section 1 of the 1957 Act, as amended by section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981 and by the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984, provides that this House may in any year by resolution direct that there shall be appropriated, for the purpose of the section, the whole or any part of the current year's contributions of Members plus the whole or any part of £22,000 of the current year's contribution by the Treasury.

Members' contributions amount to approximately £15,600 per annum and with £22,000 of the Treasury grant, give a total of £37,600 per annum. As of now, eight grantees receive payments totalling £10,230 per annum under this section and the moneys to be appropriated are needed both to continue these payments and to fund any further cases which may arise.

Finally, I wish to record our warm appreciation to Mr. J. L. G. Dobson, Mr. F. W. Brewer and their colleagues in the Fees Office for their skilled and unstinting help to the trustees and for their humane concern for those whom we seek to serve. I commend the motions to the House.

2.46 pm

I said earlier that there is an obvious interest in this matter for Members of Parliament because we all contribute to the fund to help those people in need. It is necessary, on behalf of Members and the people who benefit from the fund, to thank those who work hard, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and his colleagues. I thank also the fund's administrators—the people who do not sit in this place—who work very hard too. That work is in the interests of all of us.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That in pursuance of the provisions of Section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and of Section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981 the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may be made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under Section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied as from 1st April 1988 as follows:
(a) for paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended, there shall he substituted the following paragraph:
1. The annual amount of any periodical payment made to any person by virtue of his past membership of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,556 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £4,703 per annum whichever is the less:
Provided that if, having regard to length of service and need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment

not exceeding £4,929 or such sum as, in their opinion, will bring his income up to £7,076 per annum, whichever is the less:
(b) for paragraph 2 of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraph:
2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £1,281 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £3,428 per annum, whichever is the less:
Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £2,463 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £4,610 per annum, whichever is the less:
(c) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words 'the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words:
'the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £1,281 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £3,428 per annum, whichever is the less:
Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his needs, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £2,463 or such sum as in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £4,610 per annum, whichever is the less:
(d) in Section 2(1) of the said Act of 1981, for the words from the beginning to the end of paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the words:
'the annual rate of any payments made under Section 1 shall be—
(a) £1,488 if the payments are made to a past Member; and
(b) £744 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member.'

Resolved,

That the whole or any part of the sums deducted or set aside in the current year from the salaries of Members of Parliament under Section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, and the whole or any part of the contribution determined by the Treasury for the current year under Section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, as amended by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, be appropriated for the purposes of Section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by Section 12 of the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984.— [Mr. Alfred Morris.]

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Bearing in mind the information given by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about objections to private Members' Bills, may I ask that you direct that the Conservative Members concerned inform me in writing as to the reasons for objecting to those Bills?

There is no Standing Order by which I can direct any hon. Member to do any such thing.

Mrs Manchanayake (Children)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

2.47 pm

I welcome this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the case of my constituent, Mrs. Manchanayake and her two children, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving up his Friday afternoon to reply. I know that he has taken a close personal interest in this case.

Mrs. Manchanayake was born in Sri Lanka in 1954, but came to England in 1965 and has lived here ever since. Sadly, she was born deaf and therefore depends to a large extent on others to be her advocates. She is now a British Citizen. In 1974, she married and had two sons, now aged nine and eight, and called, somewhat confusingly, Alick and Alex. The marriage was not a success, and, again sadly, there was violence—both to Mrs. Manchanayake and to the children. I understand that her husband has a conviction for carrying an offensive weapon. In November 1986, her husband left the family home in Acton to live with another woman in Perivale. In February 1987, Mrs. Manchanayake applied to the courts for interim custody of the children, which she was awarded. Her husband appealed against the interim custody, but lost. Both the school report and social services report supported the mother's application. A neighbour gave evidence at the hearing and supported allegations of violence by the husband. None the less, the husband was granted access to the children every other weekend. The interim custody order was challenged by the husband and was due to be heard in September last year. In the meantime, the children were made wards of court. The father made no financial contribution to the children's upkeep during this period. He exercised his right of access to the children on 18 July, but never brought them back. Probably using illegal documents, he took them to Sri Lanka. The older boy's passport is still here; the younger one never had one. They have remained in Sri Lanka ever since.

The children do not speak the language. Their education has, of course, been wholly .disrupted, and severe emotional damage has been done as a result of their forcible separation from the parent with whom they were living. For her part, the only meaningful relationships that the mother had have ended and she is even more isolated than she was.

To the mother's credit, she has done all that she can to get her children back. She flew to Sri Lanka in October, returning in January. I have seen her on several occasions since her return and the news is depressing. It is likely to be four to eight years before the action that she has initiated in the Sri Lankan courts is heard. Friends and relatives are paying for the barrister and her air fares. The children are not living with their father any more, but now live in what their mother describes as "digs" with strangers—70 miles from their father. They seem to have the minimum of supervision, and certainly lack the love and affection of a close relative. They desperately want to come back here. The father is out of work and apparently also unhappy at living in Sri Lanka. He dare not come back here in case he is arrested and is contemplating going to Canada. What will happen to the boys if he does is not clear.

Until January, the boys attended no school in Sri Lanka. They are now attending school, but, of course, this is in Sri Lankan. If too much times elapses before their return to their home country, they will have lost valuable time at our schools. In cases such as this, children are often told by their fathers that the mother has abandoned them and does not want to see them again. After a time, in this case, that propaganda may come to be believed. Children of this age—eight and nine—become bewildered, distressed, aggressive and simply do not know who to believe or what is happening.

Mrs. Manchanayake has turned to me as her Member of Parliament for help. I have been in touch with the Lord Chancellor to see whether we can get legal aid for her case in Sri Lanka, with the Home Secretary because of the offence of child abduction in breach of the court order, and with the Foreign Office, which represents the interests of British citizens overseas.

Again, it is not, I fear, a happy story. Let us remember that we are talking of two British citizens taken against their will from the only country that they have known, in breach of the order of a British court. Surely Her Majesty's Government can help.

Legal aid is not available to British citizens to pursue a case such as this one in a foreign court. The Home Secretary might be able to do something if the father returned to this country, but he is not going to do so. The Foreign Office reaction is best captured by a quote from the letter that my hon. Friend the Minister wrote to me on 23 December last year:
"I am afraid that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office cannot intervene in what is primarily a family dispute."
My hon. Friend went on to say that Mrs. Manchanayake must apply for custody through the courts in Sri Lanka because that is where the children are. But the children may be adults before that case is heard, and in many countries, the local laws give all rights to the father. The only action that my hon. Friend mentioned in his letter was an unofficial approach through our high commission out there for a welfare report. He said that he would let me know the outcome of such an approach, but nearly four months later, I have heard no more, so I assume that nothing has happened.

My hon. Friend will know that I expressed disappointment at what I described as a feeble response. In his last letter, dated 26 January, in reply my hon. Friend simply confirmed the rather depressing news that he had already conveyed. The Sri Lankans regard the children as Sri Lankans as well as Britons, so we cannot intervene officially . Sri Lanka has not ratified the relevant Hague and European conventions on child abduction, so the procedure set up under that protocol cannot be activated.

I have also approached the Sri Lankan authorities, contacting a contemporary of mine at Oxford, who was deputy Foreign Secretary there, as well as the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court to see whether the case might be expedited, but I have had no reply from any of them.

Is my hon. Friend really saying that, confronted with this manifest injustice and the human suffering that goes with it, there is no action that Her Majesty's Government can take but to ask for a welfare report? Why cannot our high commissioner in Sri Lanka take the issue up at a senior level with the Sri Lankan Government instead of just asking for an unofficial welfare report? Sri Lanka is a friendly Commonwealth country with close links with the United Kingdom and behind whose Government we have firmly stood in their present difficulties. Why cannot my hon. Friend talk to the high commissioner here about the case? The Foreign Office rightly gets upset about the flouting of our car-parking laws in London. How about some protests about shielding child abducters? The crime simply does not seem to rate a high priority. What pressure are we putting on Sri Lanka to do as other civilised countries are doing and to ratify the relevant convention? Why can we not ask for the case in the courts to be expedited on humanitarian grounds?

I am sure that if—perish the thought—my hon. Friend's children were illegally abducted, he would be jumping up and down until they were returned, and rightly so. These are British children, too, and their mother, who cannot plead their case herself, looks to me and to this House to get her children back. In a moving article on this subject in The Guardian last month, Polly Toynbee made it clear that political pressure can be and has been used, and with success. I hope to be in touch with Mrs. Manchanayake later today. What can I tell her that the British Government are doing for her children?

2.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

It is especially appropriate that we debate this particularly sad case with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, in view of your long connection with Sri Lanka, and I very much respect and admire the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) has followed this case through so closely on behalf of his constituent.

It is an extremely sad case and I have every sympathy with Mrs. Manchanayake. Sadly, it is not the only such case that has come to our attention. I hasten to add that the others relate not to Sri Lanka but to various other countries. I have to deal with almost all the consular cases which come to the Government's attention, and there is no doubt that cases which involve the splitting of families, often in circumstances similar to those described by my hon. Friend today, are tragic in their consequences, both for the parent who often is left in this country, and for the children.

If it were possible to take action to alter the circumstances in this or any of the cases at present on my desk, should immediately seek to do so. I shall consider carefully the detailed points made by my hon. Friend today and look again to see whether there are areas that he has pinpointed in which we can take action. I shall write to my hon. Friend on the subject early next week.

Sadly, we must recognise that there are an increasing number of marriages between British and foreign nationals that go wrong. The increase in marriages between people of different nationalities may result, in part, from the rapid growth and ease of international travel. Where marriages cross national boundaries, the partners may have different cultural and religious backgrounds and different traditions which can lead to strains and stresses in the family unit. The break-up of a marriage, as with other domestic disputes, is essentially a family matter. Similarly, the decision about the custody of any children should primarily be a family decision. If the family cannot reach a mutually agreeable solution, it is for the British courts, not the Government, to decide what should happen to the children.

While the children are in the United Kingdom they are, naturally, subject to British legislation and the jurisdiction of British courts. Once abroad, the children are removed from British jurisdiction and are subject to the jurisdiction of the country in which they find themselves. The children's return to the United Kingdom can then be achieved only through the courts of the country to which they have been taken. We are constrained, however regrettably, by the basic fact that courts in one country have no obligation to recognise custody orders made by the courts of another country. That is the very real and fundamental problem that we cannot overcome.

That problem has been recognised by the international community, and two conventions have recently been brought into being to remedy the problem. They are the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction and the European convention on recognition and enforcements of decisions concerning custody of children and on the restoration of the custody of children. These were implemented in the United Kingdom, when the Child Custody Act 1985 came into force, as recently as 1 August 1986.

These conventions are a major step forward. Of course, they apply only to those countries that are signatories to them and they are mainly, but not all, Western nations. We are using our best efforts to persuade other countries to become signatories to these important instruments. For example, in 1986, at the Commonwealth Law Minister's conference in Harare, the United Kingdom presented a paper on the conventions. It was agreed at that meeting that they represented the best way forward. We have also prompted discussion in the European Community. Our embassies abroad make regular inquiries of host Governments about ratification of the conventions. We hope that eventually as many countries as possible will become signatories. Of course, the conventions also cover children who are abducted to this country.

These two conventions provide that each country that ratifies them must establish at least one central authority to be responsible for the administration of the conventions. The 1985 Act provides for the establishment of two central authorities in the United Kingdom: for Scotland, it is the Secretary of State for Scotland, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is, as my hon. Friend has said, the Lord Chancellor.

Since the 1985 Act and when the conventions came into force in the United Kingdom, the Lord Chancellor's Department has become a focal point for people requiring information, advice and assistance about child abduction. I am told that the Department has received details of about 150 cases involving children who have been abducted or who are in danger of being abducted both to and from the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton may be interested to know that so far 17 children have been returned to the United Kingdom. They have come from Portugal, France, Australia, Switzerland and Cyprus. In the Cyprus case, it took a year simply to find the child.

Can my hon. Friend say whether the welfare report to which he referred in his letter to me of 23 December was ever received by the high commission, and whether the high commission has been in touch with the children in any way since they arrived? Has my hon. Friend any up-to-date information on their condition? Is his Department in touch with them?

I shall return to that specific case towards the end of my speech.

In the Cyprus case, for example, it took a year to find the child. In addition, 18 children have been returned to their homes abroad from this country. A number of cases did not go to court because the parents were able to resolve their differences amicably.

The Hague convention was drafted to deal with the immediate problem of abduction. It requires the summary return of the child to the country of its usual habitual residence so that custody can then be decided in the courts of that country. Under the Hague convention, a court order does not need to be in place for legal procedures to start, although that can expedite processes.

Under the European convention, an enforceable order issued by a court must exist for the legal process to begin. It can be made subsequent to the child's abduction. A number of countries have already signed the two conventions and West Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States have said that they intend to ratify either one or both of the conventions.

Signatories to the convention, however, may make reservations and sometimes they can be significant. Spain—where a number of British children are involved—has made the reservation that it is not bound to recognise custody orders made after the date of the abduction.

When children are taken to countries such as Sri Lanka, which are not signatories, no international framework exists within which the return of children can be pursued. That is one reason why we urged, at the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting, that all Commonwealth countries should become signatories. Action can only be taken through the courts of that country, which may or may not take account of the existence of any British court order in respect of the child. Diplomacy or the work of consular officers abroad have, sadly, a limited role only in the fate of a contested child. Just as the British Government have no influence on the workings of the judiciary of the United Kingdom, so we cannot be expected to have influence on the workings of a court in a foreign country. Indeed, it would be improper for the British Government to seek to interfere in the administration of justice in a foreign sovereign state.

There is a further complication. Most children of a marriage between people of different nationalities acquire the nationalities of both parents. In those cases where children have dual nationality and are in the country of their second nationality, as in the case in Sri Lanka, we and our embassies or high commissions are prevented by international law from making formal—I stress formal—representations to the Government of that country. Such children are viewed as being in their own country and are subject to their own country's law. There is a note to that effect at the back of all British passports.

I would not wish to paint too negative a picture in setting before the House constraints on the type of assistance that we can offer. Ratification of the Hague and European conventions is just one of the positive steps that we have taken to provide a framework for the return of abducted children. Our consular officials will try to be as helpful as possible in practical ways to a parent separated from a child. It is possible that they can act informally on behalf of a parent.

Consular officials are under instructions in such cases to provide lists of local lawyers to enable a parent to pursue their case through local channels; secondly, if asked, as they have been in the case described by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, to try to obtain a report on the child's welfare from the local authorities. I should add that that can often be a difficult and lengthy process and is solely dependent on the co-operation of the loyal authorities. Thirdly, consular officials are instructed to give any assistance that they can in connection with granting access to children including, if necessary, offering a room where a meeting with the children can take place; fourthly, officially or unofficially, to draw to the attention of the local authorities information about British court orders affecting the children; fifthly, to do what they properly can to help to bring about a speedy conclusion to any legal proceedings dealing with the child's custody; and, sixthly, to approach the local authorities for help in tracing abducted minors.

I shall now return to the particular case that has been raised by my hon. Friend. The two children find themselves caught up in just the sort of situation that I have described. They are wanted in two homes by their separated parents, and those parents are 5,000 miles apart.

As my hon. Friend said, despite a court order in favour of Mrs. Manchanayake, their father took them to Sri Lanka in July 1987. Our high commission in Colombo reported to us on 31 August that Mr. Manchanayake had taken the children, allegedly on false documents, as my hon. Friend mentioned. Our high commission cannot take action formally—I stress formally—with the Sri Lankan authorities for the return of Alick and Alex. They will have acquired Sri Lankan nationality by descent from their father. Therefore, they are citizens of Sri Lanka and subject to the laws of Sri Lanka. They are, of course, subject to the jurisdiction of Sri Lankan courts. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is not one of the signatories to the relevant conventions, despite the fact that, at Harare, we brought to its attention the desirability of signing such conventions. Mrs. Manchanayake must therefore continue to pursue custody through the Sri Lankan courts. Only the courts can decide the issue. A local lawyer is best placed to advise Mrs. Manchanayke on local procedures and how she can best present her case.

My hon. Friend is aware also that we cannot make legal aid available for legal proceedings that take place outside the United Kingdom. That is because the significant number of arrests and detentions involving British nationals worldwide would involve us in considerable expense. For instance, in 1987, 1,400 Britons were in detention at any one time. We could not contemplate taking on the considerable financial burden that would be entailed in making legal aid available overseas.

I sympathise with Mrs. Manchanayake and the many other families who find themselves in similar circumstances. Our high commission has approached the Sri Lankan authorities informally on Mrs. Manchanayake's behalf to obtain a welfare report on her two children. The reason why I have not followed up my December letter with further information is that we have not had a reply to our request for a welfare report, despite the fact that we have reminded the authorities about that request.

I shall ensure that the record of the debate is made available to the relevant officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo. I shall also write to our high commissioner in Colombo, reinforcing the need that he and his staff should follow up the case on every available opportunity with the Sri Lankan authorities.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for the fullness of his explanation. Is he saying that the high commission authorities have not visited the boys and that they do not know where they are?

I shall recheck the matter and if I am incorrect, write to my hon. Friend, but my understanding is that they have not been directly in touch with the boys; they have had contact, in so far as there has been contact, only through the Sri Lankan authorities. I am afraid that that flows directly from the point that I made earlier. They are of dual nationality, they are in the country of their second nationality, and, therefore, our consular officials have no authority and no standing to intervene. I am afraid that that is a problem that we get into throughout the world.

My hon. Friend said that they are Sri Lankan citizens. They were born here, they are British citizens, they were at school here, and they have been taken out of this country illegally, in defiance of a British court order, yet the British high commission in Sri Lanka, whose job it is to look after the interests of British citizens, has not made contact.

I tried to explain to my hon. Friend that, when in Sri Lanka, they are regarded by the Sri Lankans and, indeed, by the British Government, because of the international conventions, as being not British citizens but Sri Lankan citizens. If the two boys had been taken to any country other than Sri Lanka and we were asked to contact them and take up their case directly we could do so. That procedure has been agreed internationally and must be adhered to.

I stress again that we will do everything that we can on an informal basis. I will ask our high commission to take a personal interest in the case, and a record of this debate will be passed to the Sri Lankan authorities. I shall keep my hon. Friend in touch with matters as, I hope, they develop.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes past Three o'clock.