14 Nov
2003

MCCONNELL AND MPS INTERVENE IN INDUSTRY RIFT OVER SINGLE MALT

Scotch whisky industry leaders were warned last night that they must reach a compromise as the row over Cardhu "pure" malt whisky raged on.

It followed a second meeting between the all-party Commons scotch whisky group and Diageo directors in an attempt to heal a serious rift in the industry between those anxious to preserve the integrity of "single" malt brands and the decision of Diageo to replace its former single malt Cardhu with a blend of malts, calling it "pure malt".

And Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell intervened in Holyrood, insisting that the labelling should be "crystal clear" to protect the reputation of Scotch whisky.

Moray SNP MP Angus Robertson, who chaired the Westminster meeting, said afterwards: "Sooner or later agreement has to be reached. Everybody is in the same boat as producers, promoters or supporters of Scotch.

"There are tremendous prospects for increasing sales at home and abroad and everybody has a vested interest in settling this issue."

He claimed Diageo did produce new proposals "which we believe to represent movement by the company towards achieving a solution".

Mr Robertson said he will be writing to Tony Blair to brief him on the meeting following the interest the Prime Minister expressed in the issue in the Commons on Wednesday.

Jonathan Driver, Diageo global malt whisky director, described the meeting as "useful".

He said: "What came out of it was affirmation by MPs of the critical role of the Scotch Whisky Association as the forum for resolving this issue.

"We feel the MPs recognise the significant steps that Diageo has taken with the SWA in seeking a resolution and reuniting the industry.

"We are grateful for the time that the all-party group has dedicated to support the industry."

The meeting was attended by officials of the whisky group, including Ochil Labour MP Martin O'Neil, chairman of the influential Commons trade and industry committee, and senior Diageo directors.

Malt producers opposed to the marketing of Cardhu as a "pure malt" to indicate that it is made up of a blend of malts are meeting to decide what to do on December 4. The issue is expected to come to the crunch at a meeting of the SWA on December 14.

Mr McConnell told the Scottish Parliament that he and his staff have been in contact with the parties involved.

Speaking during First Minister's questions yesterday, he revealed his involvement in trying to settle the dispute but refused to give a commitment to Moray SNP MSP Margaret Ewing that he was prepared to change legislation, or look at EU directives regarding labelling.

"My office has been in contact with the Scottish Whisky Association as a result of recent developments and will continue to do so until those issues are resolved," he said.

"I have personally spoken to some of the participants in the current discussions. I believe there will be a resolution to this current issue."

The First Minister added: "I don't believe we should do anything that would add to any possible difficulties that the industry might have.

"What we should do is support the association in maintaining standards and resolving the difficulty."

Highlands and Islands Tory MSP Mary Scanlon asked Mr McConnell if he would agree that Cardhu is unique and "quite different to a combination of selected-malt whiskies albeit from the same area", and that a blend should be clearly stated.

Mr McConnell answered that the SWA does an excellent job in ensuring that the industry maintains its international reputation, and that the highest standards are applied - not just to whisky but its marketing as well.

"It is very important that as part of that the way in which the product is described is crystal clear, and I hope that any current issue that may arise in relation to that can be properly dealt with by the whisky association in consultation with the company involved.

"But they can ensure that whatever happens the reputation of the industry remains high worldwide."

Whisky supports 50,000 jobs and is the UK's fifth largest export earner

Article Courtesy of The Press & Journal

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