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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People, Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, Protection of War Memorials


Contents


Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-04938, in the name of Mairi Gougeon, on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill.

Members who wish to participate in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible. I call Mairi Gougeon to speak to and move the motion.

17:04  

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

I very much welcome this opportunity to open the stage 3 debate on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. I begin by thanking members from across the Parliament for their keen interest in the bill. It is very clear to me, from discussions around the good food nation and from the number of amendments that were lodged at stages 2 and 3, that there is widespread support and passion for improving the lives of the people of Scotland when it comes to the food that we buy, grow, cook and eat.

I also take this opportunity to thank the wide variety of food organisations and businesses from across the entire supply chain that enthusiastically engaged with me, as well as with the committee, on the bill. With their continued support and efforts, we in Government can deliver on our good food nation ambitions.

I also want to recognise that the bill’s delay due to Covid-19 was a huge disappointment to organisations such as Nourish Scotland, the Soil Association, the Trussell Trust and many more—they are too numerous to name. I hope that today all supporters of the bill will join me in celebrating a really significant step on our good food nation journey.

Food is central to all of our lives. It sustains and nourishes us, both physically and emotionally. In sharing food around the table with family and friends, we see the importance of food in how we socialise. Food production is woven into the very fabric of rural and coastal life in Scotland. Food is part of our shared culture and heritage, and it is a cornerstone of the Scottish economy, with food and drink being Scotland’s top export sector year after year.

Given the importance of food in our lives, it is incumbent upon us to effect a positive change across the food system. The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill represents our opportunity to take that world-leading and innovative approach to food policy and to improving outcomes in health, the environment and biodiversity, the economy and many other areas.

The good food nation has attracted significant international attention. It was a privilege to have the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food give evidence on the bill, commenting that the

“good food nation bill is a timely and exemplary response to ... deep-rooted challenges”

that are seen in every country’s food system.

This framework bill puts in place the necessary structures to ensure that public policy relating to food is planned on a long-term basis, to help us secure the sustainability of our food supply chain for future generations. The bill will make our ambitions and plans around food central to a host of Government activities and decision making. It also creates important links between the national and local levels, to enable a more joined-up approach to improving people’s lives when it comes to food.

It is worth stating, though, that the bill does not mark the beginning of our good food nation journey. Work on many aspects of food policy is already under way across the Scottish Government.

For example, Scotland already offers the most generous provision of universal free school lunches in the United Kingdom, with pupils in primaries 1 to 5 and in special schools already benefiting from the offer of universal free school meals. We will continue to work with our partners in local authorities to plan for the expansion of free school lunch provision over the next academic year. In addition, the Scottish milk and healthy snack scheme expands and improves upon the UK nursery milk scheme, which it replaced in August 2021, promoting better health outcomes for children through a nutritious and varied diet.

This Government is ambitious when it comes to the health of the people of Scotland. We are taking wide-ranging action to support healthier choices, as set out in our 2018 diet and healthy weight delivery plan. We intend to introduce a bill in this parliamentary session that includes powers to restrict promotions of food and drink that are high in fat, sugar or salt, and we are already consulting on out-of-home calorie labelling. The bill underpins the work that we are already doing across Government, and it provides the additional framework for our work on the good food nation.

I recognise and welcome the importance that many members who are here today, as well as organisations and businesses across Scotland, place upon the good food nation. I have met with members from all parties across Parliament in recent weeks to take on board their views on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill and on how we go about creating and sustaining real change in our food system. I have also listened carefully to the considered views of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee in its stage 1 report.

That is why I lodged amendments at stage 2 that set out the Government’s high-level principles for the good food nation, while recognising that specific food policy targets, outcomes and initiatives will be more appropriate in the good food nation plans that will follow. That approach is in line with the committee’s recommendations.

In the stage 1 debate, I committed to dealing with the question of an oversight function by the end of the bill process. I took the time to carefully listen to voices from inside Parliament and from organisations from across the food system in making a decision about how best to deliver adequate scrutiny of our work on the good food nation. I also recognised that, at stage 2, there was strong support for enhanced scrutiny provisions from all the parties and from organisations such as the Scottish Food Coalition.

After considering all available options, I was pleased to announce last week that I would support the creation of a new Scottish food commission, as set out in amendments that were lodged by Ariane Burgess. That decision and those amendments are the culmination of close co-operation that was undertaken as part of commitments that were set out in the Bute house agreement.

I thank Ariane Burgess for working with me on the issue, and I thank members from across Parliament for meeting with me to share their views on it. The amendments set out the terms on which a new Scottish food commission will be created and strike a balance between the need for independent scrutiny of our good food nation plans and implementation, with the need to take into account the budgetary constraints that we face. The amendments will create a food commission that will be streamlined, efficient and focused on the key tasks that will help us to realise our good food nation ambitions.

I look forward to the work that I and my ministerial colleagues will do in setting out our ambitious food policies, objectives and outcomes in the future national good food nation plan. I also look forward to our continued work with local authorities and health boards in relation to food, because that co-operation will only be enhanced by the bill.

Most of all, I look forward to the bill enabling the change that we all want in our food system and to affecting people’s lives in a real and positive way. I firmly believe that the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill will ensure that we have in place the necessary framework, structures and organisations to do just that.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill be passed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I advise members that there is absolutely no time in hand and that I will vigorously enforce the time limit for each speaker.

I call Rachael Hamilton, who has up to six minutes.

17:12  

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I am pleased to speak in today’s debate on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill, which provides an opportunity to address some of the key issues that we face as a nation today. Before I cover that, I would like to thank my colleagues on the RAINE Committee for the time and effort that they put into the bill. I also thank all those who gave evidence, and the clerks, who supported our work most magnificently throughout the process of bringing the bill to the chamber for debate today—it comes after six years of waiting but, thank goodness, we are here now.

I also thank the Scottish Government for meeting me to discuss some of the amendments that I proposed and to work towards a shared approach to important additions to the bill, such as the amendments on inclusive communication and matters to be taken into account in preparing plans. I know that the cabinet secretary will be disappointed that she cannot be here today, but I am sure that we all send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to action.

As I said, the bill is an opportunity. The amendments that I moved yesterday will, I hope, help Scotland to move towards becoming a healthier nation that understands food, where it comes from and how it impacts our bodies, communities and environment. The bill is also an opportunity to address inequalities, overhaul procurement strategies, and support our fantastic food and farming industry, from producers to purveyors, and enable it to play a leading role in helping Scotland to become a fantastic good food nation.

As I said in the committee at stages 1 and 2, we know that Scotland is not a healthy nation.

Presiding Officer, I keep looking at the screen, expecting Mairi Gougeon to be there, but she is not. However, I have George Adam in front of me, although I am not going to look at him now.

Sixty-five per cent of our adult population is overweight or obese, and that figure will continue to rise without intervention from the Government. Malnourishment has been highlighted as a key issue that the Scottish Government must do more to address and, during the evidence sessions, the stakeholders favoured education on healthy eating. As always, we know that the bill will not be a magic bullet that will miraculously and suddenly solve all those issues, but it clearly has potential to start addressing issues in earnest.

The theme of healthy eating in addressing poor health outcomes relating to diet shone through in many of the amendments in yesterday’s stage 3 proceedings, and I was, to be quite frank, a bit shocked that the Government opposed a number of amendments that sought to address that issue.

The bill could have established

“an integrated food policy, tackling the health, social and environmental impacts of food.”

It could have obliged the Scottish Government to

“reform procurement law to oblige public kitchens to source food from more small local businesses and organic producers.”

It could have obliged the Government to

“fund local emergency food and food resilience networks, ensuring everyone can access good food in times of crisis.”

If any of those points sound familiar, it is because they are straight from the Green Party’s manifesto. That is the same Green Party that shamelessly decided to vote against some of the crucial amendments that would have delivered those aims. The philosophical inconsistency and outright duplicity of its voting record yesterday were palpable. Nonetheless, my party will continue to do the right thing by calling for those important issues to be addressed.

I turn to one of the key points that I mentioned. When our national health service is under such sustained pressure, tackling obesity—an issue that has led to a higher number of Covid deaths and a prevalence of chronic diseases that sap our NHS resources and lower productivity—should be a priority for Scotland at every opportunity. We need to throw everything at tackling the issue. Instead, through the bill, the Government decided to kick the can down the line. According to Obesity Action Scotland, the wider economic cost of not addressing the issue could be up to £4.6 billion every year, which is almost a third of NHS Scotland’s budget.

Another key issue in the bill is tackling malnourishment by ensuring that children have access to nutritious food, but amendments that sought to address that issue were rejected by the Government. I was grateful to Opposition members for their support; I was very pleased to be working with Labour and Liberal Democrat members who had similar intentions. I have spoken a lot about the opportunities that the bill presented. However, despite our best efforts, those opportunities have been missed. I specifically thank Monica Lennon and Beatrice Wishart for working so collegiately on some of those issues.

I will touch on school breakfasts, which are an integral part of the bill and on which Brian Whittle and I lodged amendments. I ask the cabinet secretary—if she can hear me—why her Government has not laid plans on a timescale for the provision of breakfasts for children in primary and special schools. I would like to know why her party is not delivering on its manifesto pledge to pilot the provision of free school breakfasts in secondary schools. That is part of the party’s DNA and was part of its manifesto, so the Government should be delivering on it. That needs to happen as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, I will finish on a more positive note. The cynic in many of us might have worried that the bill might end up being nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for the Government. However, as amended, the bill will amount to something a little bit more than that. We have worked across the parties to agree to some very important amendments that will allow the bill to fulfil some of the aims that I have discussed. I do not feel that the bill has been perfectly allowed to fulfil its potential, though, so we must step up our game to deliver the changes that are needed in this country.

Thank you very much, Ms Hamilton. I am sure that we all agree that George Adam is the very embodiment of a good food nation.

I call Colin Smyth.

17:18  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

It will be hard to follow that.

We have come a long way since the Government challenged the very idea that we need legislation to underpin our ambition to be a good food nation; today, the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill will be voted into law—unanimously, I am sure. We have also come a long way since stage 1, when the bill was more of an empty frame than a framework bill. The final bill has improved during the parliamentary process.

Positive changes to the bill have been made that will strengthen parliamentary scrutiny and consultation. The inclusion of plans—long supported by Labour—for an independent food commission, thanks to the tenacious campaign by members of the Scottish Food Coalition forcing the U-turn from the Scottish National Party and the Greens, is a positive step forward. However, the failure to set out proposals for the commission until last week—on the very last day on which stage 3 amendments could be lodged, and four years after the Government began consulting on the bill—meant that there was little opportunity to properly scrutinise the detail, including the limit on the number of commissioners being as few as three.

The final bill has many omissions. For example, it fails to include any meaningful measurable objectives. Yesterday, Ariane Burgess said that the bill should not have targets because it is a framework bill. So, too, was the Climate Change Act 2008. It is a good job that the Greens were not in Government when it was passed, or we would never have had the target of net zero emissions by 2045 in that act.

To quote a phrase, “That’s what happens” when the Greens are in Government. That is the reason why small but nonetheless important amendments, such as the inclusion of integration joint boards as relevant authorities, were voted down, when the Greens would not have thought twice about voting for them in Opposition.

That is why an amendment from the Opposition to consult people with lived experience of food-related issues—including trade unions that represent food workers and charities that tackle obesity—when preparing good food nation plans was voted down, because it apparently singled out groups. However, the Government passed an amendment that gives big private food firms preferential treatment during consultations on implementation of the plans.

That is why we have had to settle for the weak commitment to merely “have regard to” the principle of the right to food. The bill could, and should, have unequivocally enshrined in Scots law the right to food. Delivery of that right should drive everything about Government food policy. That common purpose and clear vision would have set the direction of travel for building the fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system that Scotland desperately needs.

It remains to the shame of all of us that, in a country that has so much fine food and drink, so many children will still go to bed hungry tonight and so many families will continue to rely on food banks. I do not just want to “have regard to” food poverty; I want it to be eliminated.

In a country that leads the world in fine food and drink products and businesses, it is a disgrace that so many people in the sector are still employed in jobs that are insecure and poorly paid. I do not just want to “have regard to” fair work standards—I want to end the scandal of many of the people who make and serve our food having to choose between heating and eating.

In a country that has plenty of land and sea and so many talented producers, too many of our farmers and fishers cannot make a decent living. I do not just want to “have regard to” the climate and nature emergency and animal welfare—I want those issues to be at the very heart of our food policy and of a new agriculture support system that delivers sustainable fishing and farming.

Our current food policies are not working for Scotland. The bill takes a step, but not the giant leap that we need to deliver a better and fairer way to feed ourselves that does not damage our people and our environment.

The progress that we have made in delivering the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill is a step forward that is due in no small part to the members of the Scottish Food Coalition who have led the debate about how we can transform Scotland’s food system in order to end food insecurity and ensure that everyone has access to healthy and sustainably produced food.

For far too long, far too many people in Scotland have lacked adequate access to food; that situation has exposed the gross inequalities that we face today. I genuinely hope that the bill kick-starts a debate and the development of good food nation plans that will ensure that Scotland’s food policy delivers environmental sustainability, healthy eating, better animal welfare and fair work standards for our food and drink workers.

Ultimately, I hope that the legislation begins a process of rethinking how we approach access to food in this country, and of recognising that access to food is a fundamental right that every single Scot should enjoy.

17:23  

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I am pleased to speak today at stage 3 of the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Liberal Democrats have supported the creation of a good food nation bill for some time, and included it in our manifesto. I am pleased that the bill has now reached stage 3.

As deputy convener of the RAINE Committee, I add my thanks to the clerks and bill team for their work, and to my committee colleagues and convener Finlay Carson. I thank all witnesses who gave evidence, organisations that provided briefings and Professor Mary Brennan for visiting Shetland on behalf of the Scottish Food Coalition. I also thank the cabinet secretary for meeting me to discuss various issues.

With the bill, Scotland has an opportunity to reform our food system and to lead the way in sustainable food, food security and local food production. The good food nation plans must address food-related issues including tackling food insecurity and poor health by increasing access to healthy food and harnessing the potential of local food production through short supply chains and a focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly food. To achieve those aims, sharing of good practice across various aspects of the food system and good linkages between local areas for regional supply chains will be needed.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government listened to calls from stakeholders and MSPs, including me, to establish an independent Scottish food commission. That new body must harness good practice and provide overall structure for the food policy arena, which has been described by witnesses as “fragmented”. The new commission will be dedicated to overseeing implementation of the legislation, and it must co-ordinate the activities of relevant authorities, foster good practice and monitor activities using dedicated resources while taking a cross-cutting approach and drawing on expertise from across the food sector.

The right to food is the right of everyone to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate, and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably. Fulfilment of that right is key to addressing food-related issues in Scotland, so I am disappointed that the Scottish Government rejected cross-party calls to set out fulfilling the right to food as the explicit purpose of the bill. Our becoming a good food nation must include deliberate steps to ensure that everyone in Scotland can realise their right to food. I hope that, in implementing the legislation, the commission, Scottish ministers and relevant authorities will place the right to food at the forefront of their vision. I understand that the Scottish Government intends to introduce human rights legislation that will include incorporation of the right to food; I trust that it will ensure that there is coherence and links between it and the bill that we are debating.

Had an amendment in my name been passed, it would have required local authorities to allow for flexibility in meals provision, which would have particular relevance for school hostel residents. In island communities such as Shetland, young people whose homes are beyond commuting distance live in a school hostel during the school week. It is their home from home. While we ensure that the food that is provided is healthy and nutritious, it is also important that people can make choices about their meals because enjoyment of food and the social aspects of meals are significant, especially for young people who are away from home. I hope that the relevant authorities will bear that in mind when they make their good food nation plans. Today’s young people will, after all, be the first generation of Scots to benefit in the long term from our being a good food nation.

The Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill must not be seen in isolation. It is laying the foundations for future related legislation on agriculture, the environment, public health, the circular economy and human rights. The Scottish Parliament must continue to play a crucial role with legislation, so I look forward to scrutinising future good food nation bills as implementation gets under way.

Today, I and the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill.

Thank you, Ms Wishart. We now move to the open debate. I call Jenni Minto to be followed by Brian Whittle. You have up to four minutes, Ms Minto.

17:27  

Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

It is a privilege to speak in the stage 3 debate on our Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill. I thank my committee colleagues, the clerks and our witnesses. I also wish the cabinet secretary a speedy recovery.

I want to focus on the positive difference that the bill will make to Scotland. Last week, I was proud to join the pupils, teachers, staff and their partners at Dunoon grammar school, where it was announced that the school has been shortlisted for the prize of world’s best school for community collaboration. During Covid, Dunoon grammar school, like others across Argyll and Bute and Scotland, recognised that being at the heart of its community meant that it could pivot its resources to ensure an appropriate community food response that went wider than offering free school meals. The school embraced the community food process, and worked with the local supply chain and local producers. The school illustrated what can be done by getting out there and doing it—working sustainably, making whole families healthier and bringing communities closer together. As the world’s best school prizes website says, it created

“a ripple of change that spreads from schools to society making both stronger.”

That is exactly what our Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill will do by providing an overarching framework for a clear, consistent and coherent future Scottish food policy. It will be a fresh approach that seeks to embed food within the wider landscape of public policy.

In the stage 1 debate, I talked about how one of my own staff recalled lunches that he and his friends enjoyed when Dunoon grammar school provided food that was nutritious and delicious. He also reflected on how the meals were especially important to youngsters who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The saying goes that “You are what you eat”, but increasingly for many families, you are only what you can afford to eat. The bill will go some way towards offsetting Westminster’s cruel attack on families—on children, in particular.

During stage 2, amendments were agreed to include the addition of a new set of principles that the Scottish ministers and relevant authorities must “have regard to” when preparing national food plans. Those principles acknowledge the systematic nature of the food system and supply chain; the role of sustainable food production in mitigating climate change, reversing biodiversity loss and improving animal welfare; the importance of adequate and appropriate food for physical and mental wellbeing; that adequate food is a human right; and the importance of the food business sector in Scotland. All those principles improve the bill.

It is fair to say that the area on which there has been most debate is oversight. I am pleased that, following careful consideration and discussion with members across the chamber and organisations outwith it, including the Scottish Food Coalition, the cabinet secretary has decided that a statutory food commission will be established. That further strengthens our good food nation legislation.

On Monday, I met Jayne Jones from Argyll and Bute Council, who provided the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee with compelling evidence in support of the bill. She is passionate about food and making sure that Argyll and Bute gets its food strategy right—from the local butcher on Islay who provides meat for the island’s schools, which Mary Brennan also visited, to producing with Assist FM the first-ever Scottish school meals recipe book.

Will the member take an intervention?

Jenni Minto

I have just about finished my speech.

Jayne Jones believes that the bill will ensure that appropriate food plans can be developed for Argyll and Bute and Scotland—plans that recognise local needs, from early years learning through to care homes, and the strengths of local supply chains and local producers. She also believes that the establishment of a Scottish food commission will pull together everyone who is involved in food in Scotland, provide the necessary strategic oversight and ensure that all partners across Scotland engage.

The expression “oven ready” has—justifiably—fallen out of favour. Thanks to Brexit, we know that “oven ready” really means “half baked”. However, I believe that the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill is fully baked, nutritious and wholesome. I urge members to support it.

17:31  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted that we have reached the stage 3 debate on the bill. Given how long it has taken us to get here, I was becoming concerned that I might succumb to old age before I had a chance to speak on it.

This week, I wrote in my athletes’ training programme, “If you don’t eat according to your goals, don’t expect to reach them.” I think that that is true of achievement in any aspect of life, not just sport. Therefore, reducing food inequality should be the absolute priority of the Scottish Parliament.

Few bills in Holyrood can so appropriately be described as “better late than never”. A good food nation bill was first promised by the SNP in its 2016 manifesto, and again in its 2021 manifesto, in between which we had five years of the SNP promising it and never quite delivering it.

However, the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill has arrived, and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. Members will know that one of my greatest bugbears is how poorly Scotland does when it comes to getting our superb local produce into our schools and hospitals. We all know—not least because I have said it often enough in this chamber—that a healthy, balanced diet brings very real benefits for physical and mental health. That is no more important than in schools, where we can encourage the next generation to eat more healthily and to live longer as a result, and hospitals, where a good diet can aid recovery.

What an opportunity has been missed. Although I welcome parts of the bill, not least the recognition that we must do better when it comes to encouraging local food procurement, it falls woefully short of what it could and should have been. As members will know, I lodged various amendments—which were supported by NFU Scotland and farming communities—with the aim of having stronger, better-defined targets: targets on increasing local procurement, including for free school meals; reducing food waste; increasing local food processing; and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. We are looking to have an impact on the health of the nation, to improve educational standards, to reduce the attainment gap and to tackle climate change, all of which the bill could have gone a long way to address.

However, that would have required a plan with substance and a definite route map to success. The Scottish Government has always been good at offering world-leading, headline-grabbing targets without providing a reasonable plan for hitting them but, this time, it has even dropped the idea of targets. Instead, we have woolly words and promises about doing better tomorrow and asking councils to develop plans, without having any way of measuring their success or otherwise.

Most disappointing, as has been alluded to, is the Greens’ response and their abandonment of their own principles. It seems to me that they were oh-so-comfortable when they were in opposition, smugly lecturing the chamber on their green credentials, only to quietly capitulate to whatever the SNP decided was best. It is left to the Opposition to bring forward progressive green policy ideas that are bold and measurable. The truth is that the Greens are green in name only.

Indicating plans is a positive step forward, but a plan is only as good as its implementation. After all, this Scottish Government made plans for new CalMac ferries, green jobs, eliminating student debt, giving every child a bike and an electronic device and closing the attainment gap, and it has made many plans for economic growth. All have failed.

It is disappointing that the Scottish Government opted not to accept my amendments, which would have strengthened the bill and ensured that when good food nation plans are produced, they are not just another exercise in woolly language.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the passage of the bill at decision time, not because we believe that it is the best that it could have been, but because a small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

17:35  

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I thank all those who have campaigned for years to get us to this stage, particularly my colleagues Elaine Smith and Rhoda Grant, and I thank those in the Scottish Food Coalition who have worked hard to persuade the Government to be more radical.

Today is a good result, because we do not have just a bill; we also have the food commission, which as Colin Smyth argued, is critical to ensuring the implementation of the bill and a joined-up approach to delivering it in communities across Scotland.

I very much welcome the SNP Government’s last-minute U-turns, which we got used to in the previous parliamentary session—for example, on tied pubs and on period products—when we led the way in arguing for ambitious legislation but were knocked back, with the Government withholding support, only to cave in at the end of months of discussion.

Like other members who have spoken today and yesterday, I think that the bill could have gone further. As Rhoda Grant said yesterday, the bill should have included the clear purpose of enshrining the right to food in law. We need to make the best use of the Scottish Parliament’s powers, and I want to focus on what comes next.

We need a joined-up approach and stronger political leadership to focus on ending the poverty that leads to many families having to rely on food banks. This is about access to affordable and nourishing food, and to decent incomes. Much more needs to be done—for example, on ensuring that school students get the free school meals that they need without stigma. As Monica Lennon said yesterday, the Scottish Trades Union Congress supports that for good reason.

Will the member take an intervention?

If it is incredibly brief.

Monica Lennon

I will be quick. I was keen to say this to Jenni Minto. It was great to hear about Dunoon grammar school and its achievements, but does Sarah Boyack agree that we need to do everything possible in the immediate days and weeks ahead to ensure that children in Dunoon grammar and elsewhere have access to free school meals without stigma or shame?

Sarah Boyack

The critical issue will be the funding that follows, which the SNP-Green Government needs to get sorted.

WWF Scotland made good points about supporting farmers and food producers to speed up the delivery of food that benefits our climate, nature and people. Colin Smyth’s points about fair work are also hugely important.

As I come to halfway, or more than that, through my speech, I want to focus on the impact of community gardens and how they can transform people’s lives. In Edinburgh, some fantastic work has been delivered by projects such as Edible Estates, the Bridgend community garden and the crops in pots project in Leith links.

The back greens initiative could be learned from across Scotland. The space between tenements in Gorgie, Dalry, Marchmont and Leith has been brought to life by local residents, and the gardens have been made attractive and productive again. Political leadership is needed to deliver those benefits, work with local councils, share best practice and think about how we manage our parks and brownfield land.

With the right funding and support, community gardens can help to address food insecurity among low-income urban communities. They will not solve the cost of living crisis, but they need to be on the agenda for the commissioners who are appointed. Community gardens give physical, social and ecological benefits to volunteers, where they live. We also need to think about how we spread that knowledge in our schools to the next generation of young people.

As we pass the bill, we need the food commissioners to be appointed swiftly, so that we can make the progress that is needed, with a more inclusive and accessible approach, so that everybody can be informed to help to deliver the legislation.

We need cross-sectoral support, so that everyone gets access to affordable, nutritious food, regardless of their income, while we address our climate and nature crisis. We need to end the need for food banks. Everyone has the right to dignity and to be able to afford the food that they need to sustain themselves and have a healthy life. That is what the bill must deliver.

17:40  

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Many civil society organisations have worked hard for years to help to assemble the ingredients for this bill. I especially acknowledge all the member organisations of the Scottish Food Coalition, which kept the issue of good food on the table. I also thank my colleagues and clerks on the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, which led parliamentary scrutiny of the bill. In that process, I put the bill under the grill. Today, after months of engagement with the Government under the Bute house agreement, I am proud of what we are serving up.

Scotland has so much good food to bring to the table, but it is clear that most of our country is not well served by the food system. The motivation that is baked into the global food system, which is to produce the most calories for the least cost, is profoundly damaging to people’s health, to nature and animals and to our climate. It also drives injustice. Many of our farmers, food producers and supply chain workers cannot afford to buy the food that they produce, and many people struggle to put food on the table, while big retail corporations make comfortable profits.

Will the member give way?

Ariane Burgess

I need to make progress.

The bill is an opportunity to forge a different path and to change Scotland’s food system for the better, so that everyone has access to high-quality, nutritious and sustainably produced food that is good for people, for animals and for the environment.

That is why I supported calls to add principles to the bill. I am proud of the contributions that I made to those principles, including through the amendment in my name that made clear the importance of sustainability across the system, from food production to consumption and throughout the supply chain.

It is also why I contributed to the list of high-level outcomes to which ministers and relevant authorities must have regard when producing good food nation plans. My stage 2 amendment that added a focus on climate change and wildlife will help to focus minds on how the food system can help us to achieve net zero and meet future biodiversity targets.

Even with those improvements, it still felt as if a crucial ingredient was missing from the bill. How would public bodies be supported to develop the right policies? How could we ensure that the plan development process would be inclusive? How would we measure and support progress? I was convinced by the arguments from numerous stakeholders, including the Scottish Food Coalition, that an independent body is required to perform those roles.

Will the member give way?

Ariane Burgess

I need to make progress.

I persisted in making the case for such a body and I am delighted that the Greens and the Scottish Government agreed that an independent food commission, with broad expertise and understanding of all aspects of the food system, is the best way to provide effective oversight and drive fundamental change. An amendment that I lodged provided that the food commission will be streamlined and efficient. It will deliver significant benefits across portfolio areas.

Instead of contributing to existing problems, our food system can contribute to solutions, helping to improve health and wellbeing, strengthen national security and local economies, provide good jobs, reach net zero and ensure that everyone can enjoy the world-class food that our good food nation produces.

However, the work does not stop here. It is crucial that we ensure that the food commission benefits from the right people with the right expertise, and supports an inclusive and effective process of plan and policy development, so that we all have a seat at the table. This will be an opportunity to get people excited about food, empower local communities and demonstrate leadership. I look forward to seeing the fruits of our efforts as we continue the journey towards making Scotland everyone’s good food nation.

17:44  

Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of what is one of the most important pieces of legislation that we will pass during this parliamentary session.

As WWF Scotland has pointed out, the way in which we currently produce and consume food represents one of the biggest drivers of the climate and nature emergencies that we face across the globe.

This legislation will be an important foundation to support and advance existing Scottish Government commitments on health and wellbeing, including the extension of free school meals and the halving of childhood obesity from its current rate of 29 per cent by 2030.

Obesity Action Scotland advised that healthy food can cost up to three times as much in deprived areas. The poorest one fifth of households need to spend 40 per cent of their disposable income to eat healthily, as opposed to just 7 per cent for the richest one fifth. Making good food affordable and accessible will be a primary objective of the good food nation plans that the Scottish Government and local authorities will be obliged to produce.

I note my sympathy with Monica Lennon’s amendments that related to the extension of the free school meals provision and the incorporation of UNCRC article 24 into Scots law. That article states that children and young people have the right to high-quality, nutritious food.

The Scottish Government will extend the free school meals provision from all primary 1 to 5 children to all children in primary and special schools during this parliamentary session. That is a significant commitment, with funding identified to deliver it. Further extension would require funding to be identified from a fixed budget. However, it is an ambition worthy of serious consideration should our future circumstances as a nation change.

The Scottish Government has made clear that it is committed to incorporating the UNCRC into all Scotland’s laws, within the limits of devolution. In the meantime, it is significantly increasing funding for child poverty and children’s rights-related action. I look forward to an update on work on incorporating UNCRC at the earliest opportunity.

Just as the food that we eat is fundamental to our health and wellbeing, the bill has the potential to underpin a range of policies from healthy eating and equality of access to good food to meaningful improvements in school meals and hospital catering, and from supporting local food producers and food production to taking responsibility for how our food system impacts on the environment. Those outcomes are urgently required. That is why organisations such as the Trussell Trust, Glasgow Community Food Network, Nourish Scotland, the Soil Association, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and many others have campaigned so hard and so effectively for this legislation.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s acceptance of the amendment from Ariane Burgess, which requires the establishment of a Scottish food commission to oversee preparation and implementation of the plan.

Evie Murray, the founder and chief executive officer of Leith-based charity Earth in Common and long-term member of the Scottish Food Coalition, pointed out that

“It is very significant that the Scottish Government has recognised the importance of an independent food commission to oversee the implementation of the Good Food Nation Bill. Without it, the bill would have been toothless—not a good thing when it comes to food!”

Evie went on to say:

“With such a commission, Scotland is setting an example to the rest of the world. I believe that this cross-cutting, commission-backing legislation will produce multiple benefits for the people of Scotland and that other countries will follow suit.”

You need to finish now, Ms Stewart.

17:48  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I am relieved that we have a bill in front of us that is much improved from the one that we were presented with before. As Colin Smyth said, the major improvement is putting in place a food commission that will oversee the drawing up of good food plans. May it also be independent of Government, which will allow the Government to focus its mind on how we implement our human right to food.

The amendments that relate to the food commission were lodged by Ariane Burgess who, bizarrely, voted against similar ones at stage 2. I thank her for having the conscience to change her mind and stance—Sarah Boyack also thanked her for that.

However, credit for the commission being established lies elsewhere. First, it lies with Elaine Smith, and I pay tribute to her work in campaigning to have a commission set up. She wanted to create legislation that the Government refused during the previous parliamentary session. I am sure that she will be delighted that her hard work paid off.

Credit also goes to all the others who fought for a commission: the Scottish Food Coalition, the Co-operative Party, the Trussell Trust and many other organisations and individuals too many to mention, many of them working to bring food to people who cannot afford it. I thank them for their help and advice during the consultation for my proposed bill.

The cabinet secretary gave credit to them, too, and included the UN rapporteur but ignored their pleas to enshrine the rights to food in the bill where it rightly belongs. That is a major omission from the bill and, even at this stage in the process, Ariane Burgess failed to mention it in her speech. Again, we see the Greens abandon their principles—a theme that runs through the process. To be frank, without the right to food enshrined in it, the bill is half baked.

Colin Smyth talked about the fact that the bill could have set targets to eliminate food poverty and has not. Rachael Hamilton, Beatrice Wishart and Brian Whittle expanded on that point and talked about where those targets could have been set. Beatrice Wishart spoke clearly and passionately about the right to food and her hopes that the food commission will deliver where the Government has not. Sarah Boyack talked about how the bill could have gone much further in dealing with food poverty. That was echoed by Monica Lennon in her intervention.

When the commission is set up, a lot will fall at its door to deal with the things that the Government has omitted to do during the passage of the bill. The bill should bring us a step closer to ending hunger in Scotland but it really needs the Government to act. Its unambitious bill does not fill me with confidence that it will do so, but I live in hope. The Government needs to understand that failure to end hunger costs us all. It costs in health inequalities in Scotland, where life expectancy depends on your postcode and can vary by 20 years and where children, who are our future, are failed due to hunger.

I dream of a world that is better than that: one that is free of the need for food banks and where no one faces the inability to feed themselves and their family. The Scottish Government can realise that dream if it really wishes to.

17:52  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I am pleased to contribute to the stage 3 debate on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill.

As the convener of the committee that considered the bill, I put on record my thanks to the committee clerks and committee members for their hard work and my thanks to the hundreds of stakeholders who waited patiently—and not so patiently—for this much anticipated bill. Many stakeholders expressed frustration at the level of ambition articulated in the bill. As Professor Mary Brennan from the Scottish Food Coalition highlighted in her oral evidence to the committee:

“Our food system offers huge potential to be unlocked. The governance of the system must be organised to reflect not only the gravity of the challenges but the scale of the positive outcomes that we can achieve.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, 19 January 2022; c 2.]

From the outset, the committee questioned the framework nature of the bill and was disappointed that the bill as introduced provided little detail relating to the purpose and direction of travel for Scotland’s food system or a coherent cross-governmental framework of food-related policies and legislation. Indeed, the committee was unequivocal that the national good food nation plan should articulate and reflect those wider ambitions when laid before the Parliament.

At stage 1, the committee concluded that effective oversight of the good food nation policy and accountability for the statutory good food nation plans would be essential to achieving the good food nation ambitions. It recommended that the bill be amended at stage 2 to strengthen the oversight function by giving the Parliament a greater role in relation to the good food nation plans and requiring parliamentary approval after the national good food nation plan has been laid.

The Scottish Government confirmed that any oversight role identified would be dealt with in the bill. However, the formal response to our stage 1 report included no further information other than to say that the Scottish Government was carefully considering the points that the committee had made.

I remind the chamber that the Scottish Government’s response to our stage 1 report was not received until weeks after the stage 1 debate—weeks after the Parliament had to decide whether to agree to the general principles of the bill. That is simply not acceptable.

At stage 2, the committee welcomed amendments to make the regulation-making powers under section 4 of the bill subject to the affirmative procedure, providing additional parliamentary oversight.

A number of members proposed amendments to the bill that would have introduced a new Scottish food commission. At that time, as at stage 1, the cabinet secretary said that she was not in a position to support the amendments but that the intention was that the oversight would be addressed conclusively by the Government by the end of the bill process. There was, after all, time for any proposal to come to the committee before stage 2.

At the time, I expressed my disappointment at the way in which the process had been handled. The Scottish Government had ample time when drafting the legislation to consider the inclusion of a food commission, but it opted not to do so. If the inclusion of a food commission was integral to the governance of the good food nation plan, why not include the commission in the bill so that the committee and stakeholders could properly scrutinise proposals?

That sets a worrying precedent whereby we are presented with framework legislation containing limited detail and using plans that are defined in secondary legislation to drive policy development. A major addition to the bill was then announced only days before the stage 3 debate, which provided limited scope for scrutiny. The cabinet secretary wrote to the committee and confirmed her intention to support a food commission; however, the letter included no information to assist the parliamentary scrutiny of those legislative proposals.

The RAINE Committee believed that an oversight function was essential to the effectiveness of the good food nation plans and that it was vital that the Parliament had the information and time to consider the proposals. However, it was only after being asked for further information and only hours before the stage 3 debate that the cabinet secretary confirmed that the new food commission will be a non-departmental public body with an anticipated running cost of less than £1 million a year.

Although I was grateful for the response, I maintain that it would have been helpful if the committee had been able to properly scrutinise proposals for a food commission when it considered the bill at stages 1 and 2. Stakeholders and members had minimal input to the scrutiny of the amendments that were passed yesterday, and I would recommend that the Scottish Government give due consideration to how proposals for a new commission can be developed collaboratively.

Secondary legislation to make the more detailed provisions relating to the commission will be subject to the affirmative parliamentary procedure and the committee will, I am sure, want to scrutinise that in detail. Ultimately, we all want to see Scotland become a good food nation. We all want to see the legislation work in support of that aim.

I want to assure stakeholders, particularly those who have expressed concerns about a lack of oversight, that the committee will continue to monitor the progress of the plans for the new food commission, to ensure that we develop a food system that is resilient and that supports those people who are most in need.

17:57  

Mairi Gougeon

I thank members for their contributions to the debate. I also thank them for their well wishes today and yesterday. I assure the Parliament that no one is more disappointed than I am that I am not in the chamber for the final stage of the legislation. Undertaking a stage 3 while you have Covid is definitely not an experience that I would recommend.

The passion that members feel for the bill is absolutely clear from the contributions to the debate on a huge range of food-related topics. I am also grateful for the weight that so many organisations across Scottish society have placed on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill.

I know that the bill has taken time to finally reach the Parliament, having been disrupted by the pandemic, but we now reach an important milestone on our good food nation journey. The bill will enable everyone who is affected by food policy decisions to hold the Government to account. It will create new and innovative national and local food plans that will fulfil ambitions, on a long-term basis, for the betterment of everyone in Scotland and for our health, our environment and our wonderful food and drink industry. That is important because of the global challenges that we face, from climate change to the supply chain disruption that we have seen through Brexit, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

We must effect the changes that are needed to address those challenges, both on a national scale when it comes to our food system and in our food culture in how we think about food and in the food that we choose to eat. That will be achieved only through long-term planning that effectively links the Government with public bodies at a local level. The bill will give us the tools to do that.

Many points have been raised in the debate, which I will try to touch on. I hope that I manage to cover them all. I will start with universal free school meals. There has been much discussion about the provision of universal free school meals. I stress again that the Scottish Government takes the issue of school meals seriously. We are already committed to funding the expansion of free school lunches to all children in primary and special schools during the course of the Parliament, and, as things stand, all children in primaries 1 to 5 are offered universal free school lunches during school term time.

Yesterday, I asked Parliament to reject amendments that Monica Lennon lodged on the issue because they would have created unclear legal effects on public bodies such as health boards and local authorities. Again, I want to be absolutely clear: this Government is committed to the expansion of free school meals. However, the right way to expand universal free school meal provision is to work with our partners in local authorities to plan for that expansion, and we will, of course, continue to do that.

Rachael Hamilton put a couple of questions to me today. In response to those questions, I say that, in the coming year, we will develop plans to deliver free breakfasts to children in primary and special schools and will start a pilot provision. We know that delivering free breakfast provision in primary and special school settings will improve the equality of access to nutritious food for children, and, in order to effectively deliver an expanded breakfast offer, we need to better understand the extent of current breakfast provision across local authorities. This year, our priority is to map that existing provision and plan what the delivery of a future breakfast offer should look like in order to best meet the needs of children and families in Scotland. That sort of work will be important for all our good food nation plans. As I said yesterday, those plans are the best place for that detail to be.

The right to food was raised by Colin Smyth and others. As is the case with other comments of his, he mischaracterised the Government’s position on that, because the Scottish Government is committed to the right to food and to enshrining it in law—there is no question about that. However, as I have said before, there are complex interdependencies between a host of human rights, which is why we cannot take a fragmented approach to their incorporation. That is why we will bring forward a human rights bill during this session of Parliament. However, I strongly believe that, although that incorporation is important, it is through the kind of initiatives that we intend for the good food nation plans that we will make access to healthy, local and nutritious food a reality for everyone, which will really give effect to that right.

I will touch briefly on the use of language in the debate today as well as in the bill. Colin Smyth made much of the bill having regard to various provisions, and he really downplayed that phrase. It is important to remember that we use that language and that legal text for a reason.

Cabinet secretary, I ask you to pause briefly. I am aware of several conversations going on in the chamber at the moment. I would be grateful if members would ensure that we can all hear the cabinet secretary.

Mairi Gougeon

The language that we have used is important, because it has legal effect, and the Scottish Government can be held to account—and has been, in the past—because of the use of that particular language. It is important to highlight that.

There has been a lot of discussion of the food commission. I thank my colleagues in the Green Party for working with me to ensure that we arrived at a position that allows for real scrutiny of the Government’s work on the good food nation goals while respecting the budgetary constraints that we are operating within. I have listened to a range of viewpoints on scrutiny in the context of the bill, and I have met members of all parties in Parliament in recent weeks to discuss their views. Having considered all the options, the views of stakeholders and the support for a commission from all Opposition parties at stage 2, I decided to support the creation of a new food commission. I believe that the independent and expert advice that will be provided by the new food commission will be valuable for relevant authorities in the creation of their plans.

Finally, I will touch on the issue of targets, which have been the subject of much of the debate today. Having listened to the points that have been raised by members across all the parties, I have to say that we are not far apart on the aims that we ultimately want to achieve, whether they involve health, education or tackling poverty. I completely understand the motivation of those who have sought the inclusion of those targets in the text of the bill, and that question was discussed at length during the committee’s evidence sessions. Many stakeholders gave a range of examples of targets that they would like to see in the bill. I want to stress that each of those targets is important in its own right, but we firmly believe that the best place for such targets is in our plans, following widespread and inclusive consultation with all stakeholders. That was also the view that the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee expressed in its stage 1 report.

Please conclude, cabinet secretary.

Mairi Gougeon

I am just drawing to a close, Presiding Officer. In doing so, I again make the point that, of course, food is important and is central to the lives of everyone in Scotland. We have the unique opportunity today to take an important step on our good food nation journey that will help us to address the many challenges that we face today in relation to food security, supply chain resilience, health and climate change. The bill that we have before us now is one that Scotland can be proud of, because we are taking a novel approach to food policy development and we are doing so in the international spotlight. I believe that, using the tools and structures that the bill gives us, we will lead the way in creating joined-up and long-term changes in our food system, our supply chain and our food culture.

That concludes the debate on the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill.