HC Deb 18 June 1953 vol 516 cc1160-2
14. Mr. Stokes

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the margins allowed to importer, wholesaler and retailer on a bottle of Scotch whisky sold in the United States of America are respectively 3s., 3s. 8d. and 10s. whereas we only received 6s. 8d. nett for each bottle shipped to the United States of America; and whether he is satisfied that the arrangements for distribution in the United States of America are in the hands of those organisations best able and willing to pay and obtain the best possible price for Scotch whisky thereby contributing as much as possible to the closing of the dollar gap.

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. Before the Minister answers this Question, as the last part of it relates to matters for which the President of the Board of Trade has no responsibility whatever— the control of distribution in the United States—may I ask why that part of the Question was permitted to remain on the Order Paper, Sir?

Mr. Speaker

I understood that the part of the Question to which the hon. Member has drawn attention, and the criticism—if any is implied—is directed to producers in this country who have their distribution organisation overseas.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The answer to the Question is: Arrangements for the sale and distribution abroad of whisky, as of other United Kingdom exports, are matters for which the exporters themselves are responsible, and which, I think, are best left to their judgment, in the light of their considerable experience and knowledge of the market. The Board of Trade are, of course, always ready to give all the help they can to any exporters who wish it on the arrangements for selling their products overseas.

Mr. Stokes

Is the President aware that I have received that sort of silly answer for a very long time now—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Well, it is a silly answer. Has the President examined how this distribution takes place? Is it not a fact that the majority of the whisky sold by this country in the United States is in the hands of American competitors? Does he think that that is the right way to go about it?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The truth is that the methods of distribution are decided by the producers over here, and it is in their interests to adopt the best methods available to them. The margins taken by the distributors are the same for Scotch and American whisky.

Mr. Stokes

Has the President really satisfied himself on that point? Does he really say that there is no greater margin on the sale of Scotch whisky in America than there is on American whisky?

Mr. Thorneycroft

So I have been informed.

Mr. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend resist all blandishments, from whatever quarter they may come, to interfere with the normal processes of industry and commerce?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Minister aware that enormous profits are being made out of Scotch whisky, and that "Johnny Walker" is advertising itself in the United States as a great national institution? Does he not think the time has come when the whole question of whisky should be referred to the Monopolies Commission?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That may be so, but the complaint of the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is that the profits are not high enough.

Mr. Stokes

I want an answer to the Question, which I have already addressed to the Minister of Food and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will somebody in authority in the Government examine the question whether or not distribution is the hands of American competitors? If it is, we shall never get the right prices over our competitors.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I cannot add much to the answer which I, the Chancellor and the Minister of Food have given to the right hon. Gentleman. If he has any specific proposals about how distribution should be organised in the United States perhaps he will tell us.

Mr. Stokes

In view of the fact that the President has asked me what I would suggest, may I suggest that it would be far better if the distribution were not in the hands of competitors? Will he look into that question?

Mr. McCorquodale

Is it not likely that those who have been engaged in the trade for many years know more about this subject than the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes)?