Priti Patel responds to debate on the Scotch Whisky Industry

12th February 2015
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): I congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) on securing this debate, and I thank him for the constructive points he has raised today. Anyone who has enjoyed a dram will recognise the historic whisky producing names in his constituency. Islay and Jura in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has some of the finest malt whiskies in the world, and that is something that we should all commend, celebrate and be proud of. The world-famous whiskies and distillery experiences on offer are also key contributors to the tens of thousands of visitors who come over every year. I absolutely understand the significance of tourism in his constituency thanks to the whisky industry, which translates into jobs.
There is no doubt, as we have heard from both the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), about the wider economic benefits of Scotch whisky to the Scottish and British economy. They are significant and have also been highlighted in the report by the Scotch Whisky Association. It is only fair and right that I should pay tribute to everybody who has spent time engaging with me, including all hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon and the all-party group. In particular, I thank them for highlighting that Scotch whisky is the biggest food and drink sector in the United Kingdom, representing nearly a quarter of our food and drink exports.
The industry supports, both directly and indirectly, more than 40,000 jobs, 92% of which are in Scotland. The significance of the industry is phenomenal, with a contribution of in excess of £3 billion directly to UK GDP, and an overall impact of £5 billion.
Distilleries and visitor centres add an additional £30 million to the Scottish tourism industry every year. Of course, this is also about the tremendous image that the industry presents of both Scotland and the United Kingdom across the world. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute talked about the export markets, and in particular the work of UK Trade & Investment, the work we do across Government to ensure that Scotch whisky is a major economic asset to Scotland and the UK, and why it is important that we keep it in its unique position.
For example, we have introduced the spirits verification scheme to protect the integrity and high reputation of Scotch whisky brands in the export market, which is where 90% of Scotch whisky ends up. It is about having high standards and setting standards on production and labelling for producers to sign up to. That particularly helps with non-compliance in the industry, ensuring that those who buy Scotch get the real deal. That is of course a step change and we have worked in conjunction with the SWA. The hon. Gentlemen will be very familiar with that work. Of course, UKTI has an important role to play in supporting Scotch whisky across our worldwide network of embassies and in bringing it to new and emerging markets, from Lebanon to India to Taiwan, all of which have seen exports increase by more than a quarter in the past year alone.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute was right to talk about the lobbying on the abolition of the hated duty escalator in the Budget last year. I campaigned for that myself, so I am familiar with the campaign. Of course, it demonstrates that we should not punish a successful, world-famous industry with excessive taxation. The all-party group on Scotch whisky and spirits has been very good in its representations and I thank it for that. It is fair to say that although I am naturally not in a position to discuss anything to do with the Budget at this stage, I have heard clearly from all Members this afternoon the arguments that have been made about the level of taxation on whisky, particularly when compared with other alcoholic drinks. Those points have come out in my meetings with stakeholders and the industry, too.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I speak not as a producer but as a drinker of whisky, as are many of my constituents. The archivists at HMRC and the Treasury might be able to dig out the meetings some of us had with the then Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), back about 19 years ago, when he was convinced that it was better not to increase and to drop the whisky duty. That led to an increase in revenue, so was fair to drinkers, to producers and to the Revenue, which seems to be a sensible thing to do, and we look forward with confidence to the Budget.
Priti Patel: I thank my right hon. Friend for his recommendations and advice to go back and look in the archives. I shall certainly do that.
I need no persuading of the considerable impact that the industry brings to Scotland and the United Kingdom. Obviously, all decisions on taxation are under constant review, and we are particularly receptive to helping industries flourish in some of our most remote regions. As I have said, decisions on the duty will be made by the Chancellor at the Budget, and I do not wish to pre-empt anything in relation to the Budget. We want to ensure that Scotch whisky continues to be enjoyed around the world for many years to come, and we want Scotch whisky to continue to be a great flagship brand.

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