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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Whisky report makes short measure
MPs distilled the report into five pages
A fact-finding mission to two foreign countries by a committee of MPs - taking in some of Scotland's finest distilleries on the way - has yielded a report just five pages long.

The Conservatives accused the Labour-dominated Commons Scottish affairs committee of wasting taxpayers' money on the five-month investigation into Scotland's drinks industry.

As much as I love Islay, when you're there in March in the pouring rain, it isn't that jolly

Irene Adams MP
The report makes no recommendations - despite visits by the 12 members to Belgium and Switzerland - and risks gathering dust on the shelves of the House of Commons library.

Defending the brevity of the report, the MPs said the investigation proved more complex than originally thought and they wanted to produce preliminary findings before the impending general election.

Conservative Scottish spokesman Dominic Grieve said: "In view of the amount of time they have taken it is rather pathetic."

He suggested the reason for the lack of recommendations was that the Labour members on the committee did not want to embarrass the government by calling for a reduction in tax on spirits just before a general election.

"They should have planned their schedule - they knew there was likely to be an election."

Alcohol concerns

The investigation began last November into long-standing concerns that the 2bn a year whisky industry was being over-taxed - it generates 1.5bn a year from VAT and duty to the Treasury.

It also took in concerns from the bottled water, gin, vodka and brewing industries.

Irene Adams MP
Irene Adams defended the brevity of the report
Leaving no stone unturned, the MPs flew to Islay to visit a distillery, examined breweries and took evidence from the European Commission in Brussels and the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.

The report published on Wednesday refers to the high level of duty in the UK, red tape and bureaucracy.

But the nearest it comes to a recommendation is the observation that reducing excise duty may increase alcohol consumption and have an adverse effect on people's health.

Committee member Irene Adams, Labour MP for Paisley North, denied the three-country tour was a "jolly".

Rain dampens spirits

"As much as I love Islay, when you're there in March in the pouring rain, it isn't that jolly," she said.

The cross-party committee would have criticised the government's duty levels if they had found it necessary, Ms Adams insisted.

She said when the inquiry started, it soon became apparent it would take longer than envisaged.

In view of the amount of time they have taken it is rather pathetic

Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP

"To do it justice, we would have to have spent another six months. It was clear that that was not going to happen."

She said that compared to the 300 weekly cost each of sending 70 Scottish MPs to and from Westminster, the cost of the investigation was small.

A spokeswoman for Scottish distillers expressed disappointment at the report, but hoped the work would be taken up by the new committee after the election.

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See also:

12 Apr 01 | Scotland
Whisky bosses bullish over exports
07 Mar 01 | Scotland
Whisky leads mix of Budget reaction
15 Nov 00 | Scotland
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