Fears of a wine and spirits supply crisis hitting Christmas celebrations have been played down by the Government.
Labour warned of “major delays” on deliveries, given the shortage of HGV drivers, and pressed ministers to detail how many of the 5,000 temporary visas have been issued to non-UK drivers.
After trade minister Ranil Jayawardena said he was “not going to provide a running commentary on numbers”, he was pressed further on supplies of alcohol to the UK.
Shadow trade minister Bill Esterson said it was “extraordinary” that Mr Jayawardena could not provide a visa update.
“The reality is that the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warns of delivery chaos, of major delays on wine and spirit delivery times – up to five times longer than last year – and increases in freight costs; no doubt it won’t affect parties in Downing Street.” he said.
“I have to ask the minister: does he want to be responsible for cancelling Christmas celebrations elsewhere, because if he doesn’t, he needs to give a much better answer than the one he’s just given.”
Mr Jayawardena, in his reply, said: “We continue to see businesses thriving, including the wine and spirits industry – as (Conservative MP Philip Hollobone) pointed out at the beginning of questions.”
Mr Hollobone earlier highlighted the success of a gin distillery in his Kettering constituency and the opportunities presented by new trade deals.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association last week reported that it is taking some businesses 15 days to process shipments compared with the two to three days it previously took.
It also highlighted increasing costs linked to driver retention and added that companies have found drivers and vehicles are “increasingly unpredictable in their arrival times”.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the trade association suggested an extension of the temporary visa scheme to a minimum of one year, for improvements to the routeing of freight from ports, and for regular updates on DVLA processing of HGV driving tests and licences.
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