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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 03 April 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, NHS and Social Care Staff (Workplace Support), Health Education, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Recall of Parliament, State Pension Changes (Compensation for Women)


Health Education

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-16710, in the name of Brian Whittle, on health education. I would like a wee bit of quiet.


I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives.

I thank all the organisations that sent in briefing documents. I was struck by the opening sentence in the briefing that the Scottish food coalition submitted, which is:

“Our food environment promotes and normalises unhealthy diets.”

It has to be noted that our farmers produce the highest-quality food, are charged with custodianship of the countryside, pay at least the living wage and ensure the highest animal welfare standards. However, when it comes to public food procurement, we find that a high proportion of the food in our schools and hospitals—much of which could be sourced locally—is cheaper imports. I have said before in the chamber that only 16 per cent of Scotland Excel procurement contract food is sourced from food that is grown by Scottish farmers.

Brian Whittle mentioned food in our hospitals and schools. What is his view on processed meats that contain nitrites being served in hospitals and schools? Should there be a shift to nitro-free meats in our schools and hospitals?

If we followed the path of procuring food that is sourced as locally to the school as possible, that problem would be solved in one fell swoop.

The Government cannot be satisfied with the lack of support for our food producers. That contrasts with the gold standard in East Ayrshire, where nearly 75 per cent of ingredients for school meals are sourced locally. There can be no excuse.

We will support the Government’s amendment but, in doing so, we note that it is rather high on platitudes and light on positive action. It is not enough to note that schools are a place of education—that is hardly a revelation. We need to afford pupils the opportunity to apply that learning. However, Education Scotland has reported that, following 109 nutritional inspections of secondary schools, it was found that some 70 per cent of school meals failed to meet nutritional standards. Platitudes will not solve that problem. We need to create an environment in which the learning that pupils receive in schools can be applied in the real world. I am pretty sure that, if it were left to pupils to deliver the learning that they receive, the system that they would come up with would not look much like the current one.

Apart from regurgitating the point that there is a higher prevalence of fast food, alcohol and tobacco outlets in more deprived areas—that is one of the main reasons why we are having the debate—there is little substance to the Labour amendment. In fact, there is the usual one-dimensional approach. When a person drives past any fast food outlet near a school at lunch time, are the huge queues of school pupils that they see the result of a lack of money or austerity? Is the fact that so many pupils who are eligible for free school meals still choose to join the fast food queues an austerity issue? Labour has chosen to avoid the issue in favour of ploughing a tired political line in search of some kind of relevance.

Mr Whittle must surely understand that young people want to spend time with other young people. If their friends are going out for lunch, they might wish to join them. Surely the best thing for us to do is to ensure that everyone has enough income so that they are not stigmatised. Some young people feel stigmatised because it is known that they receive free school meals. That is part of the issue.

I will let you make up your time, Mr Whittle.

I will flip that point on its head. Most people do not know who gets free school meals, because children have a card to get that school meal. We should encourage more schoolchildren to stay in school and get a healthy meal, so that they do not need to go elsewhere.

An obvious first step is to understand what drives that behavioural pattern. Key to that will be ensuring that the food on the plates in schools is of the highest quality and, preferably, is sourced from local farmers. Allowing pupil input into menu choices, as part of that education, will enable buy-in, so more pupils will stay in school. Planning has a part to play, as I think Labour tried to indicate in its amendment. We need to stop food vans from camping outside schools and to be more selective about which outlets are granted licences near schools. How else will pupils be dissuaded from rejecting school meals in favour of fast food? It is not rocket science; we just need the courage and will to act.

We all know that, along with physical activity and inclusivity, a healthy diet is one of the cornerstones of health and wellbeing. Policies on many of the issues that we debate in the chamber—such as mental health, eating disorders, preventable cancers, diabetes, educational attainment, the preventative agenda for health, musculoskeletal conditions and obesity—should have nutrition as a key component. I have yet to hear a minister mention nutrition as being part of the solution in any of the plethora of ministerial statements that we have been bombarded with recently.

For example, the research is clear about the impact of a basic healthy diet on mental health. The Mental Health Foundation’s report “Food for thought: Mental health and nutrition briefing” says:

“One of the most obvious yet under recognised factors in the development of mental health is nutrition ... There is a growing body of evidence indicating that nutrition may play an important role in the prevention, development and management of diagnosed mental health problems including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ... and dementia.”

Getting it right from day 1 has to be the goal. It is much easier to influence people at an early age than to try to change behaviours later in life. Many health and education pathways are already set by the time children reach school age, so the importance of early good practice cannot be overstated. Education is a crucial background, not just for tackling the obvious attainment goals but for securing better health outcomes. Sir Harry Burns stated:

“the way in which we nurture children, the way in which we bring children into the world, and the way in which we look after them in the first years of life is absolutely critical to the creation of physical, mental and social health.”

It is little use understanding what programmes need to be delivered if there is no delivery mechanism. It will be our healthcare professionals, our teachers and those in the third sector to whom we will turn, and the evidence tells us that, if they are given adequate support, we can provide the space for creativity and innovation.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am sorry, but I have only one minute left.

The cabinet secretaries for health, education and the rural economy should have been sitting on the Government benches for this debate. The fact that they are not speaking in the debate highlights the Scottish Government’s continuing lack of understanding of the complexities of the issue. Until the Government is prepared to deliver a whole-systems, cross-portfolio approach, it will continue to make little progress in this policy area.

We are talking about a significant system change, the benefits of which will take time to realise. Therefore, if the current Scottish Government implements that change, it will not get the credit; subsequent Administrations will take the plaudits. However, as I said in my first speech in Parliament, we can achieve anything as long as we do not mind who gets the credit.

More than at any other time, the Parliament is capable of meaningfully affecting Scotland’s long-term rising health and education crises. Nutrition is a key pillar of good health and education, which helps to tackle the much-discussed health inequalities and problems with attainment. The solutions lie entirely within the competence of this Parliament. It is time that the Scottish Government grasped the nettle, stopped the endless pontificating and tinkering around the edges, and delivered effective change.

I move,

That the Parliament pays tribute to all those who work in the NHS and social care services for the care and treatment that they help to deliver for patients and families across Scotland; notes the ongoing NHS workforce crisis, which sees high vacancy rates in nursing, consulting and mental health posts, as well as high absence rates across the health service; understands the pressures that NHS and social care staff face and believes that there is a need to improve the holistic care and support provided to them in their workplaces, and calls on ministers to review NHS and social care staff workplace support services in order to improve and promote wellbeing and look after those who look after people in Scotland.


I thank Brian Whittle for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. I wanted to go on to say how heartened I was by his contribution because, in general, when we have debated the subject in the past, we have managed to do so in a cross-party manner. I had hoped that that would be the case again today, and I hope that it will be the case for the rest of the debate, but I was genuinely disappointed by the tone of Brian’s Whittle contribution, because it did not reflect how we have debated this important matter in the past. I hope that we can get back to working together across the chamber on this very important issue.

I genuinely think that we all share my ambition for

“a Scotland where we eat well, have a healthy weight, and are physically active.”

Eating well in childhood impacts on the quality of our later lives. Last year, we published the comprehensive “A Healthier Future—Scotland’s Diet & Healthy Weight Delivery Plan”, which has a strong emphasis on the early years. If we can get it right then, we can prevent ill health in the first place. The scale of the problem that we face is significant: 26 per cent of children in Scotland are at risk of being overweight or obese, half of whom are specifically at risk of obesity. A baby who is born to an obese mum is more likely to become obese in childhood and remain so as an adult. Those are the stark facts.

Right across Government, we are taking a joined-up approach to drive the improvements that we need. To focus minds, we have set ambitious targets: to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and significantly reduce diet-related health inequalities. However, the Government alone cannot solve the problem. We must, and will, provide leadership, but it is a shared responsibility—citizens, business, the national health service, local government and the third sector must work across society.

We want to make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices. Personal responsibility is important, but making good decisions is tough when we are constantly bombarded with messages that encourage us to impulse buy and overconsume junk food.

I am pleased that we are making progress. We have already consulted on proposals to restrict junk food promotions, Food Standards Scotland is working on proposals to improve food and drink out of home and, later this year, we will explore whether planning policy could be used to improve the food environment. I know that the areas around schools are of great concern to members across the chamber.

I will talk about ensuring that children in Scotland, no matter where they live, learn and play, eat well and have a healthy weight. Schools, nurseries and out-of-school care all play an important part. By August 2020, we will increase the number of funded early learning and childcare hours and ensure that children receive healthy meals and snacks, as well as take part in active play and learning. We have consulted on important changes to our school food regulations, informed by the latest evidence, and will publish the results later this month. We will soon consult on our plans for out-of-school care, ensuring alignment with the high standards of our school food.

I want to acknowledge the importance of education. We want young people to leave school equipped to make good choices about their health and the food that they consume. The curriculum for excellence provides opportunities for learning about food and nutrition, but our plan recognises that parents and children have contact with many other professionals. They, too, have a responsibility for promoting healthy eating, especially in the early years.

At the outset, I highlighted our ambition to reduce diet-related heath inequalities. Many of the actions that I have referred to will contribute to improvements, but we must also tackle the root causes. We are determined that people have enough money to feed themselves and their families, as too many people in Scotland face food insecurity. That is why we continue to challenge the United Kingdom Government’s punitive welfare reforms, promote the living wage and take a rights-based approach to the design and delivery of Scotland’s social security system.

Will the minister enshrine a right to food in the forthcoming good food nation bill?

Through the good food nation bill, we will look at how we can give better effect to a rights-based approach in practice, as we have done with social security.

Improving our diet and weight at any age can make a massive difference to our health and quality of life. For people who have or are at risk of type 2 diabetes, healthy weight is of particular importance. The disease can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. It is largely preventable, yet we spend about 9 per cent of the health budget treating it. Here, too, we have ambitious plans. We are investing £42 million over five years to help people to make sustained changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Finally, I acknowledge the importance of physical activity. Last year, we published our delivery plan to support people in Scotland to be more physically active. Actions include more opportunities for young people to participate in sport before, during and after school.

It is vital that we all get behind the work to deliver what I hope are our shared ambitions to improve our food environment, making it easier for all of us to make healthier choices; to give children the best start in life; and to help people to become more active, more often.

I move amendment 55M-16710.2, to insert at end:

“; shares the aim to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030, including through action to transform the food environment to support healthier choices and reduce the excessive consumption of food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt, and notes the valuable contribution that schools make to educate children and young people about all of these vital issues.”


I congratulate the Conservative group on selecting health education as its topic for debate this afternoon. I agree with the bulk of Brian Whittle’s opening speech, which stressed the importance of nutrition, not least in tackling the pandemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes. In my remarks, I want to focus on the preventative health agenda and look at the bigger picture—the role that austerity and health inequality play in Scottish health education.

Last year, as joint convener of the cross-party group on diabetes, I was invited to visit young people at Charleston academy in Inverness to talk about diabetes. The class that I spoke to had an in-home app that could read the bar codes of supermarket products and translate a food’s composition into the amount of sugar that it contained. As an experiment, the young people scanned a large box of Jaffa cakes; it contained 32 lumps of sugar, which is, of course, a major contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes.

As we have heard from Brian Whittle and the minister, being classed as obese or overweight is a significant contributing factor to developing type 2 diabetes. With our obesity crisis, it is—unfortunately—no surprise that the figures on the condition make for bleak reading: over 257,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and a further 500,000 are at risk of developing it. As we all know, with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can come serious complications including a risk of blindness and amputation. As the minister said, the NHS spends almost £1 billion on tackling diabetes, and 80 per cent of that goes on managing avoidable complications.

When faced with the complexity of our obesity and diabetes problems, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Some of us—I note that Stewart Stevenson is not in the chamber—may longingly hark back to the good old days, when food was less processed and children played outside rather than sitting playing “Football Manager”, but nostalgia is not a solution. The key is an approach that does not just restrict unhealthy foods, which is negative, but that makes a balanced diet a much more practical option. We all know that the growth of out-of-home eating means that any strategy needs to have a consistently strong approach to the labelling and marketing of foods by restaurants and takeaways.

However, the environmental shift needs to encompass more than just our food culture. Although the nature of our public health challenge may look modern, under the surface the root causes are the same old story: poverty, social deprivation and inequality are significant contributors to people being overweight, and it is the least well off who are most at risk. For example, a quarter of children who live in our most deprived areas are at risk of obesity compared with only 17 per cent in the least deprived areas. The problem was captured very well in the Health and Sport Committee’s “Report on Health Inequalities” in 2015, which states:

“A boy born today in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, can expect to live until he is 82. Yet for a boy born only eight miles away in Calton, in the east end of Glasgow, life expectancy may be as low as 54 years, a difference of 28 years or almost half as long again as his whole life.”

Therefore, our health inequalities are just inequalities; they cannot be explained away purely as being about the food choices that individuals make. As food prices have risen, it has become harder for families on a tight budget to buy meals that are both filling and nutritious, and evidence shows that consumers want to buy healthier food but think that it is more expensive. Regulation of product promotions needs to be more ambitious than merely reducing the number of unhealthy foods that are on offer.

Placing restrictions on the formulation, sale and advertising of food products is beneficial, but it is also complex and tricky. Reversing our obesity crisis will require a cross-Government commitment that is realistic about the impact that poverty has on individual health. It is fine to talk about active travel, but what if it is not safe to walk or cycle in a local neighbourhood? It is fine to talk about healthy eating, but what if fresh fruit and veg cannot be bought at local shops due to rising food prices?

Will the member give way?

I am sorry, but I am in my last minute.

The member is just closing.

It is fine to promote a balanced lifestyle, but what if a person on the minimum wage with a zero-hours contract needs to grab a fast-food dinner during a split shift? Being serious about improving the health expectations of all our citizens means being more determined to eradicate poverty in Scottish communities. As my party and the Scottish Co-operative Party have argued, we need a right to food in a good food nation bill. That is why Labour believes that tackling wealth inequalities is at the heart of the health agenda and, indeed, all policy agendas. All that we need is to have “the will to do” and “the soul to dare.”

I move amendment S5M-16710.1, to insert at end:

“; contends that unhealthy diets are often the result of families’ inability to afford fresh healthy foods; acknowledges the saturation of fast food, alcohol and tobacco outlets in Scotland’s poorest communities and supports the promotion of healthy environments through the restriction of advertising of alcohol products around schools; believes that austerity and the severe welfare policies imposed by the UK Government have driven children and families across Scotland into poverty, exacerbating health inequalities, and calls on the Scottish Government to tackle food insecurity by enshrining in law an enforceable right to food.”


I welcome today’s debate and I am sure that there is much in the motion that the whole chamber will agree on.

Good nutrition and access to it should be at the core of our health, education and food systems. I welcome the mention in the Labour amendment of the “right to food”, because Greens have long backed the call to enshrine the right to food in Scots law, and I look forward to upcoming debates on the food nation legislation, with which we will be able to make that a reality. It needs to be a priority of Government—of multiple ministers, from the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and of the entire cabinet.

The right to food is not simply about delivering emergency food supplies; it is about enabling people to purchase, cook and enjoy high-quality healthy food, no matter their circumstances in life. I welcome the recognition in the motion of the need for high-quality

“local produce in early years settings”

and of the fact that public procurement can be used to boost the local rural economy, which is something else that the Greens have pushed for in good food nation legislation, with targets for local procurement and a full national rollout of the excellent food for life programme in all councils, as a minimum. However, I take issue with the Conservatives’ motion in that their actions at local government level in Scotland do not match up to those fine words.

Earlier this year, the Conservative-led Perth and Kinross Council voted to close all its school kitchens, putting 50 local staff out of a job, and to prepare meals centrally in a kitchen in Dundee before blast freezing and shipping them to schools to reheat at a later date. The last time I criticised that plan in the chamber, I was invited to taste test the school meals to see how much the pupils will enjoy them—I do not doubt that; I enjoy chicken nuggets from time to time, but it does not mean that I want my children to eat them for lunch every day.

How do ready meals that are made in a central kitchen contribute to health and nutrition education in schools? How do they support local producers through public procurement or increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that our children consume? How do they encourage pupil choice and involve pupils in designing menus and their experience in our schools? A local councillor in Perth and Kinross described the plan as a

“job-killing proposal that puts the viability of a mega-kitchen in Dundee above the needs of kids and our local, hardworking catering staff.”

If the Tory motion today means that local councils will be instructed to reverse plans such as those, I will be delighted to vote for it, but I fear that the debate is hypocrisy from a party that puts financial saving over our children’s health and wellbeing.

Will the member give way?

I am tight for time, so I will not be able to give way in this debate.

On the wider context for the debate, learning outdoors, in a play-based environment, is a key part of an active lifestyle for our children. However, one in four Scots says that the quality of their green space has declined in the past five years, and council spending on parks and green spaces has reduced by a quarter in the past six years. The declining quality of Scotland’s natural environment is taking away the right of children to take part in outdoor activity and exercise.

We also need to address the environment that our kids grow up in, where they are often surrounded by high-fat, high-sugar, ultraprocessed foods, and to consider a levy on the multiple retailers and caterers that promote poor-quality food.

Lastly, we cannot ignore the fact that child poverty and child health are inextricably linked. Families who are dependent on income support are likely to be the most in need of additional resources to ensure good nutrition. While we acknowledge the positive impact of schemes such as healthy start, there are a significant number of barriers to involvement in the scheme, including eligibility and awareness of the process.

The good food nation bill must provide the foundation stone for a healthier nation—one that links producers with citizens, and citizens with quality, healthier food. I look forward to the Government finally introducing an ambitious bill to Parliament.


I, too, am grateful to the Conservatives for securing time for this debate on an issue of such importance to the health of our nation. I will come later to why that is the case.

I am slightly confused, though—I will just come out and say this—because I find it odd that the self-styled natural party of government, which once boasted that it was the most successful party in western Europe, should choose, at this moment of national crisis, its topic for debate to be recipe suggestions for five-year-olds. However much it tries, the party cannot hide away and escape its disastrous Brexit policy.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am in my first minute. If I have got time, I will come back to the member.

The MP Mark Francois, who has been one of the most visible Conservative spokespeople in the past couple of weeks—given that all the moderates have left—has been comparing Brexit to the second world war. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the Scottish Conservatives are extolling the wartime virtues of locally foraged food for school dinners and digging for victory—or, if not victory, apocalypse survival. My fear is that with trade barriers and tariffs, the Conservatives may be raising a generation of children who will never get to see a tangerine or a banana until the rationing ends.

Has the member thought about what he has just said? Is there anything more important than the young people of Scotland today?

I was thinking about them with every word that I said, because there is no greater threat to young people in this country than the crisis that the Conservative Government has plunged us into.

I digress. Food matters, and while I may take exception to the timing of the motion, I take no exception to its content. As a member of the Health and Sport Committee, I remember hearing with great interest a senior physician’s view that the six most important doctors are in fact sleep, exercise, sunlight, water, fresh air and vegetables. While I may pour scorn on the Conservatives, I salute them for bringing this important and significant debate to the chamber.

There is an acute imperative for us to take nutrition and healthy living seriously. We know that £4.6 billion a year is spent on the cost of obesity in our hospitals and that obesity is responsible for 10.8 per cent of case load in the national health service. As many as 300,000 people in this country are diabetic.

There is a socioeconomic multiplier to this issue. In the Scottish index of multiple deprivation, the areas ranked highest in the tables are often those that are furthest away from fresh produce and where people lack independent living skills and a basic understanding of how to prepare healthy, home-made, cheap meals on a daily basis. Therefore, I very much support the good food nation bill and the Government’s efforts in that regard. Like the rest of the chamber, I want to see our aspirations underpinned by legislation. Because of their circumstances, one in five households in deprived areas frequently skips meals or prioritises things other than putting food on the table. The Trussell Trust challenges us to consider, initially, the eradication of hunger. Sustenance is a human right, and I support the Scottish food coalition’s call for a statutory right to food and ask the cabinet secretary to tell us, in his closing remarks, where that fits in the legislative context.

Food nutrition is vital, not just in society and our homes but in our caring environments. I quite publicly raised the issue of an ill-prepared hospital meal that was served to a friend’s mother a few weeks ago. I thank the cabinet secretary for the action that she took; I recognise that that was an exception, but it was important to shine a light on the problem. She has dealt with it well, and I hope that we see a renaissance across our hospitals of food production and food quality.

I thank the Conservatives—I was perhaps being facetious earlier—because this is an issue that should unite the chamber.

We move to the open debate. Time is very tight, so please come in at under four minutes.


I declare an interest as a farmer, a food producer and a founder of farmers markets in Ayrshire and the west of Scotland.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on health education. For me, the debate started as far back as 1996, when, as a minister in the Scottish Office, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton—who is still remembered with affection by some in the Scottish Parliament from the years that he spent here—first introduced the Scottish diet action plan to improve the health of the people of Scotland.

Ten years later, the Scottish diet action plan was reviewed by Professor Tim Lang for this Parliament, under the Labour-Liberal coalition Government. The problems that were caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices had worsened. The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 was passed by Parliament and, at that time, I and others encouraged the then minister, Andy Kerr, to introduce a national procurement plan, so that only local Scottish food would be used in our schools, prisons and hospitals. However, little happened. Mark Ruskell was probably alluding to that in his speech.

Around 2010 or 2011, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, looked at the problem again, and the statistics had deteriorated still further. Today, here we are wringing our hands again and asking what is to be done, as life expectancy has now started to reduce in Scotland. We are confronting the results of inertia over the past 12 years by the Scottish Government in this area of its responsibility.

That Scotland is a country with one of the poorest records on health in Europe should be a matter of shame for the Scottish National Party Government. Children from deprived areas are currently almost twice as likely as children from more affluent backgrounds to become obese. Dietary goals have been missed for 20 years, with only 15 per cent of children eating their five a day, and Scotland has one of the worst obesity records in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with two thirds of adults being overweight. Still, the Government does nothing.

The Scottish Government has only tinkered around the edges and has made no effort at all to improve public health through diet in the 12 years for which the SNP has been in office. The problems continue to grow.

Today, the Scottish Conservatives suggest again that, as a starting point, only locally produced Scottish food should normally be available in our schools, hospitals and prisons.

Will John Scott give way?

No. I am sorry, but I do not have time.

About eight to 10 years ago, East Ayrshire Council valiantly introduced such a policy, having recognised the huge need for improved diet in East Ayrshire and the consequences of poor diet—namely, the poor physical and mental health that were evident in what is now part of Jeane Freeman’s constituency.

“Buy local, eat local” was first used as a strapline by me on a leaflet that the Scottish Conservatives distributed more than 10 years ago. It is still what needs to be done today.

In addition, exercise is the new wonder drug, as I have rediscovered for myself in later life. Physical activity should be a core part of children’s lives from nursery school through to leaving school. Exercise improves physical and mental health, and the lack of exercise in the lives of our children and young people is one of the causes of many of the problems that are being encountered by all age groups. Exercise does not need to be overthought or expensive, and could be added to school curriculums at little or no cost. The daily mile initiative is a good example of that: I salute Elaine Wyllie for creating it.

The problems that we face today could in the simplest way and in large part be solved by better diet—preferably, of food that is produced in Scotland—and by more exercise. It is time to get our sleeves rolled up and to get started on—for once—an uncomplicated agenda, because all the evidence points to straightforward solutions.


I thank Brian Whittle for his important motion and for securing today’s debate. I am pleased to speak in the debate to reaffirm the need for people all over Scotland to have the means to live a healthy and active life—in particular, by ensuring access to our country’s finest and freshest produce.

I agree with the motion. Since my election in 2016, I have continuously worked on health and rural economy matters, so it is good to link together those two aspects of policy.

A healthy and balanced diet leads to a healthy life and, as a nurse and clinical educator with over 30 years’ experience of caring for patients, and now as an MSP in caring for and supporting constituents, I am a huge proponent of social-prescribing approaches to tackling and preventing health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancers and other diseases, as the motion says.

I support the Scottish Government’s healthy weight plan, which aims to ensure that everyone can access projects that are in place in different parts of Scotland. One of the projects is the daily mile, which John Scott mentioned. We have spoken many times in Parliament about the daily mile, which was pioneered by Scottish headteacher Elaine Wyllie in Stirling. The Scottish Government, alongside local authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway Council in south Scotland, are working to build the daily mile’s community with schools, sports bodies and other supporters. I participated in the daily mile when my sister’s weans were at Ecclefechan primary school. I am pleased that 57 out of 63 schools—more than 90 per cent—across Dumfries and Galloway are signed up to doing the daily mile.

Another social prescribing nutrition and weight-loss initiative that I have been supporting was seen on the “Fixing Dad” television programme, about which I have spoken in Parliament. “Fixing Dad” was about Anthony and Ian Whitington and their family helping their dad, Geoff, to lose more than 7 stone—almost 45 kilos—by focusing on nutrition, cycling and family support and encouragement. I encourage everyone to watch “Fixing Dad”. I would welcome feedback from the Scottish Government about its merits and the evidence that has been gathered from it.

I am pleased that we have a similarly focused established company called Our Path coming to present at the cross-party group on diabetes, which I co-convene with David Stewart and Brian Whittle.

Decisive action must be taken to tackle the overall environment that makes it difficult for people to make the right food and nutrition choices for our kids. I was pleased that the Scottish Government published “A Healthier Future—Scotland’s Diet & Healthy Weight Delivery Plan” in July last year, following wide consultation of stakeholders, to which I contributed. The plan has 67 actions, and reiterated the ambition

“to halve child obesity in Scotland by 2030.”

The plan also committed to “significantly” reducing diet-related health inequalities, as well as acting to restrict promotion of junk foods. The Scottish Government is investing an additional £42 million over five years to support weight-management interventions for people who have, or are at risk of having, type 2 diabetes. That is all extremely welcome.

I do not have much time left, so I will highlight the importance of young people—from urban and rural areas—knowing the provenance and source of the food that they eat, as well as having access to fresh local produce. The Royal Highland Education Trust aims to provide the opportunity for every child in Scotland to learn about food, farming and the countryside. That is achieved by farm visits by schools, classroom speakers and talks by volunteer farmers. Last week, I attended the RHET event at Wallets Marts Castle Douglas Ltd, which 150 kids attended in order to see the provenance of the food that goes fae ferm tae fork.

Close, please.

I encourage the Scottish Government to continue to look at social prescribing, as well as to value the importance of the Royal Highland Education Trust.


I am happy to contribute to the debate on healthy eating, active lifestyle and the importance of health education for the wellbeing of Scots.

In particular, I will focus on healthy eating. Most of what Brian Whittle suggested in his opening speech was absolutely practical and sensible. His suggestions do not feel terribly radical. I am, therefore, surprised that he has been so aggressive to members of other parties in the debate. However, if we only said those practical and sensible things and did not work out why people do not follow the advice, we would not get very far.

I say to the Tories that the issues cannot be seen in a vacuum. Tory economic and welfare policies have a great deal to answer for through having impoverished people, having created uncertainty as a daily reality for all too many people, and having brought about greater inequality across our communities.

We should also be aware of the consequence of a UK Government economic strategy that is based all too often on employment without job security, but with flexibility that prevents people from planning their lives and having insecurity at its core, which is a significant factor in creating ill health. Anyone who has ever watched a delivery person arriving at the door with a parcel, then running to the next place and the next, will know the impact that that has on people’s lives.

I say to the Scottish Government that if it is to be seen as being serious about tackling inequality, it must reassess its choice to target local councils for disproportionate cuts, given the potential role for local services—especially schools—in health education, in fitness and healthy eating projects and in providing support for families who need a bit of help, to address those questions. We have lost so much of that already. I think that it is because there has not been an honest conversation in Government about why local government budgets need to be protected.

In my short speech, I want to highlight a campaign by the Scottish Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Party across the UK. I declare an interest as a Labour and Co-operative MSP. The campaign for food justice is tackling food poverty locally and campaigning for a more strategic approach nationally. It brings together the practicalities that Brian Whittle talked about and expresses the importance of understanding the problem in context.

Figures tell us that 8 million people across the UK are having trouble putting food on the table and are food insecure. We know that that is a problem for all too many families in Scotland, which is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to incorporate a right to food in the proposed good food nation bill. That point has been highlighted by other members, so I hope that the minister will respond to it.

We know from Co-operative Party research on the statistics for the most recent year that are available, that more than 150,000 of the crisis grants that were issued by the Scottish welfare fund referred at least in part to the need for food. We also know about food banks. I have been privileged to see first hand the work of Glasgow South West Foodbank and Glasgow SE Foodbank. They are run with dignity and compassion and meet real need—not just for food, but for support, advice and perhaps a bit of companionship for people in very challenging times. The indignity of having to go to food banks is addressed by the people who run them, who try to make the experience as dignified as possible. We do not want food banks to have to exist, and neither do the volunteers who work there, but while they do, I urge the Government to ensure that they are properly funded.

You must close, please.

I urge government at every level to come together to address the whole question of food and healthy lifestyles—not just through education, but across the responsibilities of government.


I thank Brian Whittle for securing the debate. It is really important that people—young and old—are educated about healthy living and healthy eating. I will concentrate on local issues and initiatives in my area, as Johann Lamont did for her area. From local, these things grow—if members will pardon the pun. They happen not just in schools but in other areas.

I want to mention some of the charitable organisations that have improved the lives of many people in my area. The Woodlands Community Development Trust has achieved lasting benefits for the area and for the people who live, work or study in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency. It helps local residents and businesses to contribute to the economic improvement of the Woodlands area and promotes the health and wellbeing of local people. It also promotes learning and education within the Woodlands community.

The trust’s projects include the Woodlands community garden and cafe. Each year, 50 households grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs in the garden’s raised beds, and dozens of local people maintain and improve the garden through twice-weekly garden volunteering. The garden is open to visitors and people do not have to have a raised bed in order to volunteer. The cafe opened in 2014 and since then it has provided a space for 70 to 80 local people to meet on a Monday evening to share a healthy, home-cooked meal and get to know others in their community.

The cafe is run on a pay-what-you-can basis and is free for people on low incomes. It has been fantastically successful in helping to reduce isolation in the Woodlands area of my constituency and supports people who are going through difficult times. New visitors receive a very warm welcome and people enjoy the cookery and wellbeing workshops that are run throughout the year. The vegetarian food, which is grown in the community garden, is tasty and nutritious. I think that that is fantastic.

The Children’s Wood on north Kelvin meadow is a community-led organisation that provides safe open spaces for children and members of the local community. Children from nursery and primary schools can go to the meadow for storytelling, exercise, healthy eating and other activities. It is a fantastic place. The benefits are not just educational. Being outside in the fresh air, even just to play or whatever, can reduce children’s anxiety and increase their self-esteem and their attention span, as Brian Whittle mentioned. Adults also benefit from such outdoor activity.

The Annexe healthy living centre, which has worked with the local community in Partick for a long time, delivers wellbeing initiatives from its base. In 2008—I think that Johann Lamont mentioned this—Annexe Communities received money from the NHS and local government through the local health and care partnership to deliver healthy eating initiatives in four neighbourhoods across the west of Glasgow. During that time, the organisation worked very closely with residents to make sure that they could access programmes that met their needs, building up support in those areas. With additional funding from the Glasgow community planning partnership and Glasgow City Council, it now delivers weekly health clubs across central Glasgow, runs nutrition and healthy eating courses and promotes healthy living.

One of the new kids on the block is G3 growers, which is a community garden between a couple of tenements in Brechin Street. It used to be a dumping site, but now it has five large raised beds, two greenhouses, a tool shed and a mini orchard. All the produce is grown collectively and shared among members. There are open days, too.

You must close, please.

I think that that is the way forward. We should also consider the health benefits of water.

I call Peter Chapman, to be followed by George Adam. I ask you to aim for three and a half minutes, please.


I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business. Having spent my whole life on my farm, growing up there and then working to produce high-quality crops and meat, which involves being active all day, I appreciate the necessity of a healthy diet and a healthy, fit body. Eating good, healthy food was my fuel for long days on the farm.

However, since becoming an MSP and sitting in an office three days a week, I have seen at first hand how a change in lifestyle can affect weight. A fly cup and a funcy piece each afternoon is still appealing, but now I have to make the choice not to have them. That is what this debate is all about: choices, and the need to teach our future generations to make the right choices with their diet, their exercise regime and, ultimately, their weight. People must take responsibility for their own health choices.

We have a crisis in Scotland, whereby 65 per cent of the population are classed as overweight and 29 per cent are classed as obese. Obesity is leading to a type 2 diabetes crisis, which is hitting hard and costing our NHS huge and increasing amounts of money. That is so disappointing in a country with such a rich history of quality food. Our farmers work tirelessly to produce the best food to the highest standards. Our fishermen brave dangerous seas to bring us a variety of fresh wholesome fish, and our biggest food export is salmon. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and some of the best farmers. Good local food is abundantly available, and it should be obvious that we should shop locally and eat healthily, and that fresh local produce should take precedence over imports in food procurement for our schools, hospitals and prisons.

I was impressed to see the development in Aberdeenshire Council’s school meals provision of the engagement that parents can have with their kids about what they eat and why. Aberdeenshire Council uses an online payment system that enables parents to top up their kid’s account and look at an online menu for the week ahead. That allows parents to sit down and talk to their child about what option to pick for a particular day and provides a great opportunity for parent and child to consider healthier choices.

Aberdeenshire Council’s school catering service currently holds the Soil Association bronze food for life catering award. That means that meals contain no undesirable food additives or hydrogenated fats; that 75 per cent of dishes are freshly prepared; that meat is from farms that satisfy United Kingdom welfare standards; that eggs are from cage-free hens; that menus are seasonal; and that training is provided for all catering staff. That is all good, but there are still improvements to be made. Figures released last year under freedom of information showed that the shared national procurement service, Scotland Excel, spends just 16 per cent of its budget for school food on food sourced in Scotland. That is a shocking figure that must improve quickly. Why on earth are we importing chicken from Thailand to feed our school kids? The figure for Aberdeenshire is higher, as 26 per cent of spend is on food originating in Scotland, but there is still a long way to go.

I appreciate the point that members from across the chamber have made that we need to educate our youth about an active and healthy lifestyle. That education can come in many forms. It can be through physical education lessons, cooking lessons or hearty school meals that use local produce; most important, it can be through children learning that good, healthy home-produced food is good for them, physically and mentally.


I am pleased to speak in the debate, which is on an important issue that we must all come together to tackle. We are frequently divided in the chamber, especially right now during these difficult times, but we can all agree that the health and happiness of our children—and, for some of us, our grandchildren—must be a primary concern.

Obesity is a serious public health issue that cannot be ignored, but Scotland’s vision is simple: it is to be a country where everyone eats well and we are all a healthy weight. I believe that many young people are aware of the need for healthy eating and of the choices that they have. It is a work in progress, but the situation is so much better than when I was younger or when my children were younger. However, we must show leadership and continue to make progress.

As always, I will bring up what is happening in my constituency. There are many examples of successful education programmes in Paisley. In one Renfrewshire Council programme that promoted healthy choices and affordable eating, families were shown their options for buying affordable healthy food. That was really good because, in many cases, it led to families sitting down at the table together to have dinner, which they had not done before.

I have previously mentioned St Mirren Football Club’s training scheme in which fathers from various backgrounds were taught to cook healthy dinners for their families in the club’s corporate hospitality unit. That is a good example because, although the programme could have been done elsewhere, the core target group was more likely to get involved through a football club. The children would go out and play five-a-side football while dad learned to cook a healthy meal, and then they would all sit down and have that meal.

Schools in Renfrewshire are also getting in on the act with healthy school meals. Through the hearty lives school menu initiative, young people are having a say on the food that is on their plates and helping to develop healthier high school menus. Healthy food choices are now more prominently displayed in serving areas and catering staff are encouraged to nudge pupils to make healthier choices. Young health ambassadors were responsible for finding out nutritional facts about different foods and then creating nutritionally themed displays in the canteen to make their fellow pupils aware of the health benefits of the food that is in front of them. Similar work is being carried out in all high schools in Renfrewshire, and work experience is being offered in some kitchens. Renfrewshire Council is working in partnership with West College Scotland to deliver a bespoke cooking skills training course that is open to all catering staff and designed around the school menu.

As a nation, we consume too much food and drink that has little or no nutritional benefit but which contributes high calories or salt to our diet. Every day, we are inundated and tempted by junk food promotions and the marketing of unhealthy food through things such as multibuys, which encourage overconsumption. That can lead to diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and other illnesses, putting immense pressure on our NHS, other vital public services and our economy.

We must all do what we can to ensure that the issues of children’s health and accessible healthy food remain at the top of our agenda. It is important for all of us to get together on those issues, particularly those of us who are of a certain age and should know better.

We move to the closing speeches.


This has been an excellent debate, with well argued and informative speeches from members of all parties.

The Labour amendment emphasises the bigger picture, such as the role that health inequality and austerity play in creating food insecurity. I should declare my membership of the Scottish Co-operative Party.

The key element in the debate, which a succession of speakers mentioned, is that nutrition plays a crucial role in fighting, head-on, the growing cost of preventable health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.

As the minister Joe FitzPatrick, Mark Ruskell, Alex Cole-Hamilton, John Scott, Emma Harper, Johann Lamont and George Adam said, more than a quarter of adults in Scotland are obese, which increases their risk of developing potentially serious health conditions. As we all know, the risk of obesity varies across Scotland. The rate among women who live in affluent areas is 21 per cent, compared with 37 per cent in disadvantaged areas.

Excellent points were made in the debate. I did not agree with all Brian Whittle’s comments, but he made sense when he talked about locally sourced food. He made the interesting point that 70 per cent of school meals fail to meet nutritional standards, and he made the important point that there is a link between nutrition and the management of mental health.

I agree with the minister on the importance of Scotland being a place where people eat well and are of healthy weight, on the prevention of ill health and on the need for a joined-up approach, with informed, healthier choices.

Mark Ruskell made a strong point about the right to food, which I echoed in my speech, in the context of my comments about the good food nation bill. He also talked about the worrying decline in green spaces and the important link between child poverty and child health.

Alex Cole-Hamilton adopted a Churchillian role when he talked about digging for victory and the cost of obesity. He made important points about the need to develop independent living, particularly in schools.

John Scott, who is a very experienced farmer, made good points about the campaign to source and buy local food, with which I strongly agree, and about the magic pill of exercise, which we should use a lot more. I was not aware of the Scottish diet action plan, which is another important issue to emphasise.

Emma Harper made excellent points. In particular, I share her view on “Fixing Dad”—I was also at the presentation that she mentioned. For members who have not followed it, the programme offers an effective way of reducing, if not quite curing, type 2 diabetes. Emma Harper also talked about the important role of social prescribing and the vital importance of a balanced diet.

Johann Lamont made excellent points about healthy eating. She said that we can all talk about a practical and sensible approach; the difficulty is how we enact it on the ground. She also talked about the impact of UK economic policy and stressed the importance of the Scottish campaign for food justice.

Health inequality is at the root of this debate. Poverty, social deprivation and social inequalities are significant contributors to people being overweight; it is the least well-off who are most at risk. Why should someone’s postcode determine their life expectancy? Why should not the right to food be a basic human right? As Martin Luther King said:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”


I welcome the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Government and to confirm to Brian Whittle, if he had not noticed this, that there were two education ministers and two health ministers on the front bench for the entirety of the debate.

I accept the significant role of the Government in taking forward the debate on health education, which is why issues to do with health and nutrition are central to broad general education, as part of curriculum for excellence. The curriculum recognises the importance of young people having, at every stage of their learning opportunities, from the early level that commences with early learning and childcare, and right through their school education, access to an understanding of the relationship between food and health and the importance of making positive choices about diet and their own wellbeing.

There is an extra dimension, which is the role of wider players within our society and in particular our communities. I commend my colleague Sandra White on a beautiful speech that set out the work of the Woodlands Community Development Trust. It was a vivid example of what community organisations can do to marshal a spirit of good will and constructive activity at local level, to make a profound difference and to provide the benefits that Sandra White cited of social interaction, the role of the community garden and the health and exercise regimes associated with those. It was a powerful illustration of the fact that there are players within our society and outwith Government that can contribute significantly to the debate, and I welcome that.

I thought that Johann Lamont made the very fair point that the Conservative arguments in the debate essentially glided past the social and economic impacts of austerity, and she vividly illustrated the choices that those impacts inflict upon individuals.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

No doubt Brian Whittle is about to answer that point.

My whole point is that the education system is the one in which we have the greatest amount of impact, and it is where we should be focusing the biggest intervention, and the ability for food—I am going on, but that is the point that I was trying to make.

That is where I started my speech and accepted that responsibility of the centrality of curriculum for excellence. However, if we are going to have a complete debate about the issues, we have to reflect on the fact that there are wider impacts on people’s lives, most of which come from the austerity agenda that Mr Whittle spectacularly ignored in his contribution to Parliament today. [Interruption.]

Excuse me, Mr Swinney.

Can we stop the private arguments please? Take them outside if you wish.

John Scott normally makes well-informed contributions to debates, but I felt that he was pretty wide of the mark today. In his attack about young people not being as active as they should be, he ignored the fact that the percentage of school pupils benefiting from schools’ commitment to two hours or periods of PE per week has risen from 10 per cent in 2004-05 to 99 per cent in 2018. He also managed to ignore the fact that almost 70 per cent of children participate in sport each week, which is a very encouraging level of participation. I cite those points to balance the debate a bit.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Of course I will.

In that case, why is obesity a growing crisis, and why is it a fact that many young people will die before their parents because of type 2 diabetes? That is also an acknowledged fact. What is the answer? Exercise is certainly part of the answer, Mr Swinney.

Part of the answer is having a complete debate about the issues. I am simply citing that there is good evidence to show that there is good active participation in sport within Scotland, and we should celebrate that. There is also good active participation in our schools and we should celebrate that—we did not hear that from the Conservatives in the debate this afternoon.

A whole host of things come together. The way in which the Government is expanding early learning and childcare and the way in which we entrench the ideas and issues around food education within curriculum for excellence are all essential to ensuring that we support young people in Scotland to take forward a healthy diet and exercise regime.

I will conclude with one other statistic: in the last ten years there has been a 41 per cent increase in the Scottish products that are included in school meals contracts—a 41 per cent increase. That is a good start by the Scottish Government. We want to go further. We want to encourage more, and that is exactly what the Government is going to do in its forward agenda.

I call Liz Smith to wind up the debate. Six minutes will take us to decision time.


I begin my remarks with a reference to the countryside learning conference, which took place a couple of weeks ago. I had the privilege of speaking at it and I say to Sandra White that one of the interesting groups there was the Woodlands Community Development Trust, whose work I pay tribute to.

That conference was primarily about what we have to do to increase collaboration across all the groups that are involved in outdoor learning. However, a great deal of the focus on that day was on the wellbeing of our young people and how the rural communities are crucial in that respect. I was struck by the fact that, apart from the educational opportunities that we discussed, food and nutrition were the recurring themes throughout the conference. That is an important point. I say to Alex Cole-Hamilton that that is exactly why we picked this topic for debate. I am glad to hear people such as George Adam supporting that position, too.

Several speakers have talked about a lot of different local initiatives, but I want to emphasise in my remarks the issue of involving young people in the decision making. In the parliamentary session from 2007 to 2011, the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee spent a huge amount of time considering the subject of free school meals. The committee took evidence and examined evidence that had been presented elsewhere, including that concerning many deprived communities. We considered a project in Hull, which was cited as one in which young people had had significant involvement in the decisions that were made. For example, pupils, parents and teachers were all involved in the creation of the school menus and were given opportunities to participate in making and serving some of the food. That project—eat well, do well—was also the source of a lot of lessons that can be learned about raising attainment, behaviour and concentration. There is a lot to be said for initiatives that do just that.

Brian Whittle referred to the Mental Health Foundation’s assertion that one of the most obvious yet under-recognised factors in the development of mental ill-health is nutrition. I agree with that. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that nutrition plays a key role in the prevention of mental health problems. That is surely an important message in an age in which concerns about mental wellbeing have such prominence, and rightly so.

Of course, we know from evidence that we have taken in this Parliament that the early years are vital. The cabinet secretary and the minister are correct in saying that they should be the focus of our attention. Those are the years before children reach an age at which they know what is good for them. As the minister rightly said in his speech, the education of parents and those who care for our youngest children—people in nurseries and across childcare, as well as health visitors—matters a great deal, as their input could hardly be more important.

Several speakers have flagged up the Scottish Government’s Scottish health survey, which was released in September last year and which showed the deeply worrying statistics that members have spoken about. I will not rehearse those numbers, but it is particularly worrying that as few as 15 per cent of young people are getting their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and that the recent statistics from Food Standards Scotland show that Scots are still eating as much sugar as they were eight years ago. Those statistics could hardly be more damning.

The issue should not just come down to cost. David Stewart made an important point about that. I would challenge anyone who says that healthy food has to be expensive. It does not. However, we need to change the culture and educate people to understand that and to be able to take advantage of the absolute richness of Scotland’s local produce. Obviously, we are in an age when the buying of convenience foods is increasingly easy, so I do not doubt the extent of the challenge. We have a big job to do to ensure that people can eat healthily and inexpensively.

The Scottish Conservatives’ healthy lifestyle strategy, which was released last year, concentrated very much on a cross-portfolio approach. I recognise that ministers from different portfolios have been present in the chamber, but what is important is collaboration and their joining together, as many members have said. We need to concentrate on an overall strategy. I do not think that there is a party-political divide there.

In my final minute, I will speak about some of the issues that the cross-party group on sport has taken on board, because sport and physical fitness are part of this issue. At many of the evidence sessions of the cross-party group, it has been put to us that we must consider the availability of sports facilities. That is why we in this party have been recommending a comprehensive analysis of when school facilities are available and whether we can make better use of them at weekends and during holiday times.

I hope that it is not too late for the Scottish Government to consider what the impact of all of this might be, given some of the recommendations in the Barclay report. There has also been much debate about the access—particularly of our young children—to a PE specialist, particularly in an age in which teacher shortages have been exposed to the full. Those PE specialists can have a huge influence on our young people and their physical activity and exercise.

A third issue that has come up at that cross-party group is the need to make our leisure centres more family friendly, in relation both to the experience of being in the leisure centre and the charges for entry. I see that my time is up.

Nobody is saying that the answers are easy. However, it is important to have the debate to ensure that we are not frightened to bring up what may be the most challenging issues, so that we can work collaboratively to deal with them.