HC Deb 12 July 1982 vol 27 cc814-6 4.15 am
Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 12, leave out lines 12 to 31 and insert—

  1. '(1) The Treasury may by order—
    1. (a) substitute for the period of three years or that of two years referred to in subsection (1) of section 31 of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 (restriction on delivery of immature spirits for home use) or for both such periods such shorter period or periods as they think fit;
    2. 815
    3. (b) amend the said section 31 so as to exempt rum from any restriction imposed by that subsection; and
    4. (c) repeal the said section 31.
  2. (2) An order under subsection (1) above shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be laid before the Commons House of Parliament and shall cease to have effect at the end of the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which it was made unless it is approved by resolution of the Commons House of Parliament before the end of that period (but without prejudice to anything previously done in pursuance of the order or to the making of a new order).
In reckoning that period no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which the Commons House of Parliament is adjourned for more than four days.'. The purpose of the amendment is to give effect to an undertaking which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) in Committee that I would introduce an amendment designed to achieve the purpose of that intended by the amendment introduced by my hon. Friend in Committee and remove from the Bill the original clause 8, which would have phased out the three-year immature spirits rule applying to whisky and cognac and the two-year immature rule applying to rum and replaced it with delegated legislation. I undertook to introduce on Report an amendment to achieve that purpose and that is precisely what the amendment is designed to do. It meets the anxieties of the Scotch whisky industry about the immediate phasing out of the immature spirits rules, which have been in existence since the First World War.

I have given further thought since our proceedings in Committee to the position of one other interest which was not discussed. I refer to the rum producers. The existing provisions regarding the restrictions on rum are different from those for spirits generally in that there is a two-year so-called maturation period as against a three-year period for spirits generally. In consultations, the United Kingdom rum importing interests strongly supported the idea of a phased repeal of the restrictions. They have since made representations to me that their case was not represented in Committee and that it is a matter of great importance to them that the restrictions on them should be phased out.

Therefore, it is the Government's intention to recognise those representations by using the powers contained in the amendment to phase out the restrictions on rum alone in a manner akin to that originally proposed in the Finance Bill, when the Bill receives Royal Assent. That will have no effect on the position regarding other spirits.

The timing of the phasing out of the restrictions will be a matter for consultation with the rum interests. The firm intention is to lay an appropriate order before the House as soon as practicable in the next Session. The House will have an opportunity to discuss the content of the order as it will require an affirmative resolution. On that basis, I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Mr. Cook

The Economic Secretary explained that the amendment was tabled in response to an amendment tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock). As the Economic Secretary will recollect, an amendment tabled by the Opposition went further. I would not describe it as a wrecking amendment because if it had been it would not have been selected. However, it tried to preserve the Scotch whisky industry and other distillers in the United Kingdom from the removal of what provides modest protection to home-produced spirits.

We recognise that because of EEC constraints the Economic Secretary could not accede fully to the terms of our amendment. We accept his adoption of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn, which was originally suggested by the Scotch whisky group as the fall-back position. It is the best that we can hope for in the circumstances. Therefore, we accept, albeit reluctantly, this modest concession towards our anxieties.

In relation to any order that would phase out the period of three years' maturation for spirits other than rum, we would not be keen to see that order brought before the House. We hope that the Economic Secretary will not strive officiously to introduce one in the immediate future. If he does, it is liable to meet with opposition, not simply from the Opposition but possibly from the Government Benches. I hope that that consideration will help to temper his enthusiasm for bringing in such an order.

Amendment agreed to.

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