The Scotch whisky industry is of massive importance to the Scottish economy, and that is why the Government have announced steps to enhance the protection of Scotch whisky. Exports of Scotch whisky are worth £2.5 billion annually to the Scottish and UK economy.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are soon to bring forward new legislation to protect the Scotch whisky industry, especially in the important overseas market. Can he assure me, and the House, that that legislation will be relevant solely to the Scotch whisky industry, rather than being part of wider regulation, so that the industry can be better protected in the vital overseas market?
I recently had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency to see the importance of the whisky and related industries to the economy of his area. While I was doing that, my hon. Friend the Minister of State was engaged in continuing discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the issue that he raises—the translation into legislation of a European directive to protect the intellectual property rights of Scotch whisky. We had already announced that we as a Government would consult on the legislation, and we are determined that it will be in the best interests of the Scotch whisky industry. Like everyone else, my hon. Friend will have to wait until we announce and publish the legislation that will be consulted upon, but I suggest that all of those who share the best interests of the Scotch whisky industry are unlikely to be disappointed by the legislation.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the duty the Chancellor charges on whisky is far higher per unit of alcohol than on wine. Will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor to equalise rates of duty in the next budget to create a level playing field for the Scotch whisky industry?
I suppose I should declare an interest in this matter, because I have one of the biggest Scotch whisky bottling plants in my constituency—the world-famous Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock. I have a long-standing interest in ensuring a level playing field for Scotch whisky in the United Kingdom and throughout the world. I am pleased to remind the hon. Gentleman of what he already knows, which is that since we came to power, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has frozen the duty on Scotch whisky year on year in order to achieve that very competitiveness.