Meeting date: Thursday, September 13, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 13 September 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Nae Pasaran!, Food and Drink, Decision Time
Food and Drink
Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13876, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on celebrating Scotland’s food and drink success story.
Let me seek to be helpful by re-emphasising the Scottish Government’s commitment to providing legislation to underpin Scotland’s status as a good food nation. I am pleased to reaffirm today our clear commitment to introduce legislation in the current session of Parliament.
This week, we published a programme of measures setting out our progress all across Government. A considerable volume of good work is being carried out or is planned, showing that we are well on course to meet the objective of Scotland becoming a good food nation. I am grateful to the Conservatives for welcoming in their amendment that good solid contribution.
I will write to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to seek its views on the programme and on the good food nation concept generally, because I wish to obtain parliamentary input. After all, there is no instruction manual for or agreed definition of what makes a country a good food nation. The concept and the reality are relatively new. It is therefore right and, I believe, necessary that we take time to deliberate on how to achieve our aims.
In the spirit of seeking to maintain a broadly consensual approach across all the political parties, I am pleased to say that we shall agree to the Labour, Lib Dem and Green amendments. I regret, however, that we cannot extend our support to the Conservative amendment because it would delete the part of our motion that points out that a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit would put at risk the success of Scotland’s food and drink sector.
Some of the points in the Labour and Green amendments provide helpful guidance on where to point the consultation on legislative proposals. It is crucial that we still consult the public and key stakeholders in order to further the shape and content of a good food nation.
It is fitting that the debate is taking place during Scotland’s food and drink fortnight. This important annual event supports and promotes Scottish produce and the people who grow, make, cook and sell it. Once again, the event has provided a wonderful opportunity for the food and drink industry to showcase its achievements.
This year, the food and drink fortnight is aligned to the year of young people, and is themed around the future of the industry. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that young people have the skills and support to allow them to play a full part in the success of the industry. I was delighted to meet some of Scottish food and drink’s new young ambassadors at the launch of the fortnight. Those inspiring young people give me great confidence for the future.
The food and drink industry is vital to Scotland—it creates jobs and wealth, it impacts positively on health and sustainability, and it helps to attract visitors by promoting our food and drink around the world. I pay tribute to our farmers, crofters, fishermen, brewers and distillers who produce our high-quality food and drink.
The industry is now worth about £14,000 million annually, with turnover up 35 per cent since 2007. Exports reached a record £6,000 million last year, which was up 70 per cent from 2007. That success shows no sign of slowing down. First, the rate of growth of turnover in food manufacturing in Scotland is double the rate of growth in England. Secondly, the birth rate of new businesses in the food and drink sector is higher here than it is anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, whisky, which is one of our most famous and most enjoyed exports, continues to be a global phenomenon. We ship from our many distilleries 39 bottles per second every day to 182 global markets. I am indebted to the person who computed that particular interesting statistic. Those are hugely impressive statistics, Presiding Officer, as I am sure you will agree.
At the heart of that success has been our reputation. Our brand, which is founded on provenance and heritage, is increasingly recognised at home and in premium markets. None of its success could be achieved without the passion, dedication and entrepreneurship of the many people working across the industry, whose skills and commitment I value. Those qualities will be required in abundance as we face the considerable challenges that will be presented by the UK’s likely exit from the European Union.
The Scottish Government has always supported the closest possible relationship with the EU—a relationship that avoids tariffs and other trade barriers for our food and drink products. As is made clear in our motion, part of which the Conservative amendment would delete, a no-deal Brexit would be deeply damaging and disruptive for the food and drink sector, and would affect our protected geographical indications. It is inconceivable that our brands, including Stornoway black pudding, Arbroath smokies and Scotch whisky, not be properly protected. It is vital that we secure a sensible outcome, and I will continue to express our concerns to UK ministers.
In relation to Scotch whisky and PGIs, is it not also vital that we preserve the minimum three years that whisky is kept in bond, which is an important contributor to the quality of the product? We know that there are pressures from other markets, notably the United States, to get the minimum reduced to one year in order to level the playing field with, for example, bourbon and other American whiskeys.
Mr Stevenson has made a very good point, with which I agree. It is vital that we get a sensible outcome with respect to geographical indications, so I will continue to express our concerns to UK ministers when I meet them once again on Monday next week.
It is exactly a year since I stood in Parliament and spoke about the exciting new food and drink strategy—called ambition 2030—that is being led by the industry. That ambitious plan of action, from an ambitious industry, aims to grow the industry to £30 billion by 2030. I have every confidence that with the help of this Government’s long-established commitment to the sector, and the £10 million of direct investment that has been provided to support ambition 2030, the strategy can succeed.
Much has been achieved during the year, including continued efforts to promote and showcase the industry in Scotland and abroad at trade shows in Brussels, Boston, Japan and Hong Kong, and a range of programmes to support businesses, including the supplier accreditation programme, which seeks to help businesses to achieve British Retail Consortium standard.
There has also been on-going investment through our European grant schemes. Among our largest grants have been grants to Albert Bartlett for a new packaging facility and to Scotbeef for a new abattoir and processing facility. Those world-class facilities are being assisted by support from the Scottish Government.
We have published a number of sectoral action plans covering fruit and vegetables, pigs and—just last week—venison. More will follow over the coming months. They represent a series of practical actions to drive economic growth in the sector.
Outwith the ambition 2030 strategy, we have been busy with many new policies that contribute to the development of the food and drink sector. In August, the First Minister was in Arran to launch our new food tourism action plan, which aims to double by 2030 the amount that visitors spend on food and drink. We recently launched a regional food fund of £250,000 to support growth in Scotland’s local and regional food and drink sector. We have appointed Gary Maclean as our national chef to showcase our quality produce and encourage understanding and use of healthy and sustainable food. Gary has done great work since his appointment—not least in encouraging an interest in cooking in schools and the wider community.
There has clearly been a lot of work done, and a lot of groups have been commissioned and appointments made. When will the cabinet secretary respond to the Scottish food commission’s recommendations, which he received in December 2017?
I will come to that later in my speech, so I will deal with the matter then, if that is in order.
The programme for government last week underlined our on-going commitment to the future of the food and drink sector. We announced a range of actions including that we will, by March 2019, publish a new food and drink five-year export plan and bring forward new measures to promote and market our produce overseas. We will expand the number of sectors that are covered by food and drink sectoral plans to include beef, sheep, dairy, poultry and craft beer. We will take action to streamline and simplify our support for food and drink businesses in order to ensure that they can access the right support quickly and effectively.
The programme also highlighted our future plans for a policy area that I know is of particular interest to many members: the good food nation. Our vision is for Scotland to be a good food nation by 2025—a place where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food that they produce, buy, cook, serve and eat. Our exciting new agenda for establishing us as a good food nation sets a real ambition for improving not just the health and wellbeing of all the people of Scotland, but its economy and environment. In February 2015, we established the Scottish food commission to support the work on the good food nation policy. I attended the commission’s final meeting in June and thanked the commissioners for their important work to develop proposals for taking forward the good food nation agenda.
Recommendations that have been submitted by the commission have provided me and my colleagues with valuable options for the direction of travel on this important policy. In considering options for the future, it has become clear that legislation is not the only answer. So much excellent work is already being done across the Government and local government and across Scotland to contribute to the good food nation agenda.
This week, I published our “Good Food Nation Programme of Measures” progress report, which sets out the full range of work that is under way. It is a fantastic record of the commitment that we have to the food and drink industry, to the education and health of our people, to the sustainability of the environment and to the vibrancy of the sector’s contribution to our economy. I am proud to have published a document that provides such overwhelming evidence of the wide-ranging work that is going on across the Government to deliver on the good food nation ambition.
We are not complacent—we want to do more. The programme therefore highlights a number of specific new policies that we are planning to help us to meet our good food nation ambition. For example, we have consulted on the recommendations of the review of school food and drink regulations, which aim to bring the regulations into closer alignment with the Scottish dietary goals. Included are proposals to reduce sugar further and to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables.
We will increase the fair food fund budget from £1.5 million to £3.5 million in 2019-20, which will enable us to continue our work to promote food-delivery models that embrace the principles of dignified food. We plan to create more opportunities for more primary school children to have the chance to visit a farm in order to raise their awareness of where their food comes from, and of the role that farmers play as food producers and custodians of the countryside. We continue to work towards our target of reducing all food waste in Scotland by 33 per cent by 2025, against a 2013 baseline. Suggested measures to achieve the target will be published in our food-waste action plan later this year.
Those are all great examples of policies that contribute to the good food nation agenda, and I confirm that we are committed to consulting on the detail in the autumn. I welcome the contribution of Parliament, individual parties and, of course, the Scottish food commission, which has provided a solid basis of recommendations, which will be explored further in the consultation.
I have had the opportunity to visit many food and drink businesses, which is a great pleasure. Just this morning, I visited Glasgow-based Lomond Fine Foods Ltd, which was set up 21 years ago by Sam and Barbara Henderson and is now thriving with great growth and success. The company supplies many of Scotland’s excellent convenience stores, including with food to go, on which it is a leading supplier, and is taking effective action to reduce its carbon footprint. That company and many other businesses are a true credit to Scotland and offer great opportunities for the future.
The evidence is there for all to see that the food and drink industry in Scotland is a real success story and is worthy of celebration. So much is being achieved in terms of supporting and growing the industry, and it is in a good place. The industry makes an excellent contribution to our work towards becoming a good food nation—work that is supported right across the Government. Our good food nation progress report is an excellent summary of the work that is being done and is planned to ensure that we continue to deliver on our vision.
I commend the motion in my name and hope that members can support it.
That the Parliament welcomes Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight and its campaign this year to encourage more people to buy, eat and promote Scottish food and drink and to champion the role that young people play in the sector’s success; notes that these aims are reflected in the vision of Scotland as a Good Food Nation; notes that legislation underpinning the Good Food Nation vision and ambition will be introduced in the current parliamentary session; acknowledges the importance and value of the Scottish food and drink sector to the Scottish economy and the people of Scotland, particularly through the growth in sales within the UK and overseas since 2007; notes that, in 2017, food and drink exports to the EU were worth £2.5 billion; is concerned that the prospect of a hard or no-deal Brexit increasingly puts this success at risk, not least because of the threat to the geographical indication status, which provides economic benefit to many important Scottish products, and urges the UK Government to ensure that Scottish produce can continue to benefit from geographical indication status in the UK, Europe and internationally.14:45
I refer to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which mentions my farming and aquaculture interests and the fact that I am a non-executive director of Murray Income Trust, a company that has food and drink investments.
I am pleased to be able to open for the Scottish Conservatives in this important and timely debate on an issue of significance to not only the Highlands and Islands region that I represent, but the whole of Scotland. I share many of the sentiments that the cabinet secretary expressed and I hope that—with some exceptions—this debate will generally be consensual, because Scotland rightly prides itself on the high-quality offering in our food and drink sector.
That was evident at last night’s event in the Parliament, which was hosted by John Scott and attended by many members, including the cabinet secretary, and where there was a small but impressive showcase from what is an incredible sector. I was particularly impressed to hear from four young people who work in the industry. They are all optimistic about their future and offer the inspirational message to other young people that this is a thriving industry.
There is clear evidence that the food and drink sector is growing and thriving. During this debate, I am sure that we will be treated to a smörgåsbord of delicious examples of food and drink from across Scotland. The most recent statistics show that exports from the manufacture of food and drink increased by £270 million to £5.5 billion in 2016 and that turnover is up by 36 per cent over the past decade. The Food and Drink Federation Scotland estimates that a further 27,000 jobs will be required in the sector over the next 10 years. That highlights the growth opportunities in food and drink. These are phenomenal achievements by the sector, which all sides of the political divide will surely welcome.
I could talk about the Highlands and Islands for ever, but I will talk about the region briefly. Whenever I visit a local food and drink business, people talk optimistically about their future. For instance, it is well known that the Highlands and Islands has seen a boom in gin production, with new distilleries opening in Barra and on Harris, Tiree and Mull over the past few years. I do not want to be accused of favouritism by naming certain products, but I think that it is instructive that the Scotland Office has noted that 70 per cent of gin production in the UK comes from Scotland. That is an incredible feat for our country.
Whisky, of course, should be mentioned. Some members will be delighted to know that on Islay, the new Ardnahoe distillery is practically in full swing. Other new distilleries are mooted, so it might be that the number of distilleries on Islay will go back into double figures for the first time in a long time.
On a national level, my party welcomes the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of help to grow the food and drink sector further. We support the aim to deliver an additional £1 billion to Scotland’s economy by 2030 via the food tourism Scotland action plan to which the cabinet secretary referred. We all know and recognise the importance of continuing to grow the Scottish brand world wide and targeting new and emerging markets for the various products that we have to offer. For example, whisky exports to Africa were boosted recently by the successful registration of Scotch whisky as a trademark in South Africa, and last year we had the welcome news that haggis can now be imported into Canada. Scotland’s offering to the world is growing, which is plainly to be welcomed.
Conservatives and, I think, members of other parties are concerned that the proposed good food nation bill appeared to have been downgraded into a programme in last week’s programme for government. A good food nation bill is an important measure, which would not only support the growth of Scottish food and drink abroad, but increase domestic access, which is fundamental. The introduction of such a bill over the next year would present a great opportunity to join up the Government’s approach to food and drink, in the context of agriculture, environment, health, education, planning and licensing, for example. In our view, a good food nation bill has the potential to make a difference in the fight to make Scotland a healthier and more sustainable nation.
The fact is that if the Scottish Government wanted to embody the bold ambition to which the First Minister referred prior to announcing her programme for government, it would commit to introducing the bill sooner rather than later. After all, the bill was mooted back in the 2016 programme for government and in last year’s programme for government, and it was in the Scottish National Party’s manifesto in 2016. Where has that ambition gone? Why the delay? I welcome the cabinet secretary’s words at the start of his speech, and I genuinely have no doubt about his and the Government’s sincerity when it comes to their support of the policy, but I do not understand their reticence and reluctance to get going now.
Questions have been asked by many individuals and organisations outside Parliament about the rationale for downgrading the plan. Others will question why there is not a more concrete commitment to legislate soon. WWF Scotland has said:
“A Good Food Nation Bill would provide the legislative means to tackle the significant challenges of Scotland’s current food system.”
Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland said that it
“would set a new direction of travel for food in Scotland ... Scotland has all the ingredients to deliver this, and the public are behind it. We just need the political will.”
Both those charities are part of the larger Scottish food coalition, whose chair described last week’s announcement as “disappointing”.
We believe that, given the positive support for legislation in the programme for government, there was an ideal chance for the Scottish Government to introduce some new legislation and to be bold, radical and brave. We do not understand why a bill that commands such wide cross-party support and the backing of charities, the agricultural sector and the wider public looks as if it will be kicked into the long grass.
Does Mr Cameron welcome the fact that we are having a public consultation on this, using as a basis the food commission report and the progress report, and that it is surely sensible with something that is novel, and for which there is no instruction manual or kit, that we take time to get it right, that we deliberate and, above all, that we consult the public and the stakeholders, including all political parties in this Parliament?
I absolutely agree that we should consult the public, but I do not think that that is a reason to delay introducing the bill.
Scotland has one of the worst obesity records among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with two-thirds of adults in Scotland classed as overweight, stark health inequalities and, in many cases, a lack of access to good-quality food. That is why the legislation is so important. Although the legislation might not necessarily deliver the change, it is the key to unlocking or enabling change.
In the time remaining, I will mention geographical indicators, because we recognise the serious concerns about geographical indicators, particularly in the context of the UK’s exit from the European Union. I do not dispute for a moment their vital importance to the sector, to prevent cheap international imitations and to preserve the history of products and their heritage, from Stornoway black pudding to Arbroath smokies. I am encouraged that the UK Government has stated clearly in its document, “The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union”, that
“The UK will be establishing its own GI scheme after exit ... and will provide a clear and simple set of rules on GIs, and continuous protection for UK GIs in the UK.”
I also draw Parliament’s attention to the evidence of the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, who told a committee of this Parliament last week:
“Our intention is that the existing arrangements with the EU will remain exactly as they are, that we would have such arrangements in any future trade deals and that we will make arrangements in our laws in Scotland and the United Kingdom to ensure that protection.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 6 September 2018; c 22.]
I know that the cabinet secretary is meeting David Mundell next week, and I hope that that is an item for them to discuss.
I acknowledge entirely the concern about GIs, and that is why we have mentioned it at the start of our amendment, because the continuation of a GI scheme is not just beneficial for businesses in Scotland, but important for businesses across the United Kingdom.
In conclusion, we think that there is a cross-party consensus to see major change in the way that we think of food and the way that people have access to it. There is disappointment that the SNP Government has downgraded the good food nation bill in its programme for government and we believe that, if the SNP really wants to drive forward change, it will introduce a good food nation bill over the next 12 months, and we will work with the Government to ensure that it delivers for the people of Scotland.
I move amendment S5M-13876.1, to leave out from “is concerned” to end and insert:
“recognises the importance of geographical indicators to the Scottish food and drink sector; believes that any replacement scheme for geographical indicators must ensure at least an equivalent level of protection once the UK leaves the EU; acknowledges the innovative approach set out in the Good Food Nation policy document; believes that this needs to be underpinned by legislation to ensure that Scotland’s food policy maintains coherence and visibility over the long term within a framework of common principles, and consequently, regrets the omission of a Good Food Nation Bill from this year’s Programme for Government, and calls on the Scottish Government to introduce such a Bill within the next 12 months.”14:54
The food and drink sector is immensely important to our economy and to the people of Scotland. It contributes £5.5 billion to the economy each year, which is double the figure that it contributed in 2007, and makes up almost a fifth of our total manufacturing turnover, turning over £14.4 billion a year. Scotland’s 18,850 food and drink businesses employ more than 115,000 people. There has been incredible growth in the sector over the past decade, and Labour fully supports the aims that are set out in the Government’s “Ambition 2030” paper, which outlines a bold and ambitious vision to double turnover to £30 billion by 2030.
The food and drink industry is particularly important to rural communities such as the south of Scotland, which I have the privilege to represent. I will give members a taste of what I mean. My home region of Dumfries and Galloway is home to a thriving food and drink sector. Our farmers produce more than 40 per cent of Scotland’s dairy, and we can boast a range of fantastic artisan products from across the region. As a result of the importance and potential of the sector, the local Labour-led council has announced the development of a regional food and drink strategy that seeks to double the value of the region’s industry to £2.5 billion by 2030. That is an ambitious target, but it is one that the region is more than capable of realising, because, across Dumfries and Galloway, food and drink initiatives and businesses are creating new jobs, bolstering the local economy and attracting more tourists to the area than ever before.
As a local councillor, I launched the Dumfries and Galloway food trail, which invites people to eat and drink their way around the natural larder of the region to discover the artisan food and drink that are produced by some of the most passionate people in the business. I am talking about companies such as Cream o’ Galloway near the food town of Castle Douglas, where David and Wilma Finlay are leading the way in ethical farming by proving that there is an alternative to the export of live calves and, along the way, are producing some of the most amazing ice cream and cheese. Another such business is Loch Arthur, which I recently had the privilege, as the chair of Dumfries and Galloway’s Fairtrade steering group, of awarding Fairtrade flagship employer status, which helped to deliver Fairtrade status to the region.
The trail takes people behind the scenes at food and drink producers, including Annandale Distillery, which, after three years, is now producing its first whisky. I can personally vouch for the product. The region also boasts some of the busiest farmers markets, such as the new market at Dumfries railway station. We have some of the best food festivals and celebrations in the country, including the Stranraer oyster festival, which begins tomorrow. It celebrates not only Loch Ryan’s world-class oysters but the area’s culture and heritage.
With outstanding restaurants, cafes, guest houses and hotels, Dumfries and Galloway is the place to do business when it comes to food and drink, and it is playing its part in Scotland’s food and drink success story.
However, we are not without our major challenges. As the cabinet secretary is acutely aware, in fish processing the region is currently dealing with the economic tsunami that is being inflicted on the town of Annan by Young’s Seafood’s decision to close the Pinneys of Scotland factory, leading to the loss of 700 permanent and temporary jobs in a community with a working population of just 5,500. An action plan is being developed and the proposals for economic renewal that it puts forward must be backed by Scottish Government funding.
The region’s food and drink sector—along with the rest of Scotland—also faces the uncertainties of Brexit, which threatens our tariff-free access to markets as well as access to workers.
Before Mr Smyth leaves the extremely important matter of the future of the employees of Pinneys in the town of Annan, would he acknowledge that the south of Scotland agency has stepped up to the plate by providing a proposed programme of assistance of £250,000, and that the jobs fair that has been held—another is to be held in October—has provided useful opportunities for former employees to find alternative employment? We are, of course, continuing to work hard to find out whether other employers can be attracted to the area to take over some of Pinneys’ operations or to create new ones. I emphasise how important that is to the Scottish Government.
The £250,000, which was requested by Dumfries and Galloway Council, is important, but it will be used to develop an action plan. It is crucial that the proposals from that action plan, whose cost could come to several million pounds, are backed by the Government. That is what will create jobs in the area, not the plan itself.
I return to the issue of the future after Brexit. What will replace the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy post-Brexit remains largely unanswered by the UK and Scottish Governments for a sector that relies heavily on long-term planning. As has been touched on, we also face the threat to geographical indication status, which provides legal protection against imitation and is estimated to increase a product’s value by a factor of 2.23.
Geographical indication is particularly important to the Scotch whisky industry, which is our biggest food and drink export. The industry is worth £4.36 billion a year and accounts for almost three quarters of our exports, highlighting the need for a Brexit deal that retains geographical indication status. The economic importance of our food and drink sector is enormous and so, therefore, is the potential impact of Brexit.
The importance of the food and drink sector goes beyond its crucial economic importance. It impacts on our health, our environment and our record on animal welfare. A lack of adequate access to food for far too many people exposes the gross inequalities in Scotland today. In a nation that provides so much outstanding food and drink, it is to our nation’s shame that so many children in Scotland still go to bed hungry at night. Although our food and drink sector in Scotland has grown, so too has the scandal of food poverty. Just last week, the Food Foundation revealed that more than 200,000 children in Scotland live in households that are unable to afford a healthy diet. It is absolutely right that we celebrate the successes of Scotland’s food and drink, but we need to rethink how we approach access to food in this country. That means recognising that access to food is a fundamental human right.
It is deeply disappointing that last week’s programme for government did not give a commitment to introduce a dedicated, comprehensive good food nation bill that would put tackling food poverty at its heart, despite previous pledges by the Scottish Government to do just that. That is a kick in the teeth for the many stakeholders who worked with the Government on our good food nation ambitions and who now believe that they have been betrayed. More importantly, it is a kick in the teeth for those 200,000 children who live in households that are unable to afford a healthy diet.
Would Mr Smyth accept, in the spirit of good will, that I have reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to bring forward legislation that will underpin Scotland as a good food nation but that some of the action to tackle food poverty is dealt with more effectively by programmes? For example, our fair food funding has increased from £1.5 million to £3.5 million. Programmes such as that can make further progress in tackling what is a serious problem, as Mr Smyth argues.
Of course, a good food nation bill is not the only solution to the problems that we face, but it is a necessary part of that solution. It has—or rather, it had—unanimous cross-party support, and much of what should be in such a dedicated bill is already clear. That is what the Government should consult on, not more process.
A bold good food nation bill is an opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in environmental sustainability, health eating, animal welfare and working with our trade unions to drive up terms and condition for our food and drink workforce who, too often, are some of Scotland’s lowest-paid workers. Crucially, a good food nation bill is an opportunity to enshrine in law the right to food, paving the way for a duty on our public bodies, with clear targets for action that would be backed by an independent statutory body to ensure that action is delivered. We have still not had a commitment from the Government to do that. The Government must renew its commitment to a dedicated, bold good food nation bill that has tackling poverty and the right to food at its heart. I therefore call on the Government to do so and move amendment S5M-13876.4, to insert at end:
“, and calls for a Good Food Nation Bill that has tackling food poverty and the right to food at its heart, ensuring a joined-up approach across government, local authorities, trade unions and public bodies to realise Scotland's Good Food Nation ambition.”15:03
On any night of the week in the Parliament, events, receptions and cross-party groups celebrate the success of Scottish food and drink. We are dripping with opportunities to celebrate that success, but it is time that we also faced up to the areas where we are failing.
We are failing on animal welfare when we ship thousands of three-week-old calves each year on six-day journeys to the continent. We are failing nature when wild salmon stocks and farmland birds, such as the lapwing, are in rapid decline, with no firm plans to reverse those losses. We are failing to address the obesity epidemic, with 65 per cent of adults and nearly a third of children either obese or overweight. We are failing on affordability, too, with the poorest households needing to spend nearly two thirds of their income on food if they are to meet nutritional guidelines. It is time to see action on those crises to turn problems into opportunities, and the Greens, alongside all the Opposition parties, agree that a bill is the only way to achieve that.
We all understand the threat that Brexit poses to protected geographical indications and the need for continued, if not improved, protection after withdrawal—there is no disagreement there. However, today we need to move the debate on and commit to what we can achieve through wider food policy and what our aims are for future powers that may come our way.
I welcome the Scottish Government publishing, late on Tuesday evening, its good food nation progress report. At least it gives us an insight into what the Government meant when it downgraded good food nation from a bill to a programme last week. However, the report fails to give us any real update on progress. It is merely a list of ideas and intentions, along with a summary of existing schemes with a food theme. Many of those schemes—which are well intentioned—were already in place when the SNP proposed a good food nation bill before the 2016 Holyrood election. If the Government was content with them, why did it propose legislation in the first place?
The progress report gives us very little data, and makes no attempt to track progress against the indicators for a good food nation that were put together by the food commission in 2015. This report is an attempt to say, “Trust us—we have got this in hand.” I am sorry, but I am not convinced.
That is why my amendment calls for targets to be required by legislation, because we cannot report on progress if we do not know what we are trying to achieve and by when. I hope that we can all agree on the areas of policy that should be covered by those targets, because the wording of the amendment is lifted directly from the Scottish Government’s 2014 good food nation paper. I will quote it, because it has been around for some time and there has been a lot of good thinking on it. It stated:
“there is consensus on the key concept areas: health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, local economic prosperity, resilient communities and fairness in the food chain”.
The other key benefit of legislation is that it places a clear responsibility on ministers to take forward those plans. Leadership and political will have been sadly lacking on this in recent years. We should give recognition to the former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, for his drive and vision in the original good food nation policy in 2014. He understood the challenges in tackling the wide-ranging nature of food policy, but he was not afraid to take them on and he brought together a coalition of political and civic society support.
Since 2016, however, not only have we seen the issue of food dropped from the cabinet secretary’s title, the vision of the good food nation has been steadily eroded until what was left was largely just an industry marketing programme in last week’s programme for government.
Both the 2016 and 2017 programmes for government promised a consultation on a bill—not an approach—which never emerged. The cabinet secretary has had three reports provided to him by the food commission and, in December last year, a set of 10 recommendations for a good food nation bill. He has not published his response to those recommendations, yet he felt comfortable with disbanding the food commission and relieving it of its duties at the start of the summer, a move which he failed to inform Parliament of.
The Government should consult on a bill now, not just on an approach, as the minister announced in this debate. So much excellent work to prepare the ground has been done, and not just by the food commission. The Scottish food coalition has brought the public and the food and farming sectors together to develop innovative ideas to feed into the bill. We are ready to go on this now. We have the ideas and the understanding.
In June this year, at the final meeting of the food commission, the minutes state that the cabinet secretary told the commission that
“a silo problem still existed across Scotland and that this made some legislative options difficult to achieve in a minority government”.
The amendments from all four Opposition parties today show that we are more than on board with this cross-silo legislation. The sticking point is not parliamentary support, but political will from the cabinet secretary himself. He needs to get out of his economic silo, get moving and draft this bill or make way for someone who will.
I move amendment S5M-13876.3, to insert after “parliamentary session;”:
“agrees that this legislation should be broad-reaching and include measurable and time-bound targets for areas of policy on which food impacts, including health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, local economic prosperity, resilient communities and fairness in the food chain, as well as new powers that the devolved institutions might receive as a result of exiting the EU, such as animal welfare, food standards, and public procurement;”.15:09
I am glad to speak in this debate, which has been designed by the Scottish Government to celebrate the success story of our food and drinks industry. There is indeed much to celebrate.
Before I move on to my amendment, I, too, want to mention our whisky industry. With more than 10,000 people directly employed by the industry and with the highest ever level of exports, the industry is thriving. About 30 new distilleries are being planned to add to the 128 that are already well established, and with the industry accounting for more than 70 per cent of Scottish food and drink exports, it is good news all round. However, in the time that I have, I want to focus on some of the threats that we face when we are trying to grow our food and drinks industry.
The Scottish whisky industry is all about quality, and that is the main reason why it accounts for more than 70 per cent of our food and drink exports. It is all about the perception and the reality of quality.
Now, I want to focus on my amendment. Scottish farmed salmon also has a reputation with consumers around the world for being quality produce, and part of our job is to ensure that it remains so and to provide for the proper regulation of the industry, so that it is fit for purpose.
Members will be aware of the short inquiry by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which concluded that the status quo surrounding the regulation of our farmed salmon industry is not acceptable. The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has conducted its own inquiry, and we are now working on our report. Obviously, I make no comment on the discussions around the draft report—it would be wrong to do so—but I can comment on my own view of the evidence that was presented in public session.
We should all want a thriving and effective salmon industry. There should not be two opposing sides—the farmed salmon industry and those who are involved in our river fisheries. It is surely in everyone’s interests that the environmental issues facing our fish farms are effectively addressed as soon as possible. If the problems are ignored by the regulators, there is a danger that consumer confidence will be adversely affected. That would be tragic for all concerned, but especially for those who are employed in this growing and important industry.
I have every confidence that our committee, after taking evidence over so many weeks, will come to a balanced and constructive view as to the way forward, but we will have to wait for our report to be published in due course.
Unfortunately, there is another issue that threatens to undermine our food industry’s reputation for quality. On Monday, BBC Scotland showed a documentary about the export for slaughter last year of more than 5,000 young cattle that were only three or four weeks old, with some of them reaching slaughterhouses outside the EU, with all that that means. In the chamber on 6 June, I said to the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, as others did, that the concern was not about direct exports from Scotland but about Scottish animals ending up in Spain and north Africa for slaughter.
Will the member give way?
In a moment.
Fergus Ewing avoided answering my question, so I will be delighted to give way.
I thank Mike Rumbles for giving way. There is an important point to clarify here. He talks about the BBC documentary, but does he recognise that the calves that were shown in it were not Scottish calves? NFU Scotland has raised that point and I would like it to be recognised, because that is not what was shown on that programme.
What I am talking about—and we raised this before the programme was broadcast—is not just the facts, but public perception, which is important. Ministers must grasp that. I am disappointed by that intervention. I thought that the Scottish Government was now responding, even if it was too little and too late. I hope that ministers are not rolling back from what they said to us in the chamber just the other day.
If we find anything that threatens—in the minds of the great British public—the high quality and the very highest level of animal welfare standards of Scottish farmed produce, we have a duty to act swiftly. Ministers should not quibble about the facts. The facts are important, but—[Interruption.] The point that I am making is that public perception is extremely important, and it is the job of ministers to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the quality of our produce. [Interruption.]
The member is deliberately creating distortion between fact and perception. [Interruption.]
I am astonished by the interventions from a sedentary position from some senior members of this Parliament.
The two issues of farmed salmon and the export for slaughter of three and four-week-old calves must be addressed now, before consumer confidence is badly affected. That is the point that I am making.
The Liberal Democrat amendment, which is in my name, focuses on the fact that the regulatory regime that covers our fish farming industry is not fit for purpose. That is the direct responsibility of the minister. If our amendment is agreed to, the Scottish Government will be duty bound to take action to reform the regulations in order to ensure that consumer confidence in our fish farming industry is second to none. The wellbeing of our fish farming industry requires action, and action now.
I move amendment S5M-13876.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises the reputation and quality of Scottish farmed salmon; notes however the published concerns of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee regarding the environmental impact of salmon farming in Scotland, and agrees with its finding that the regulatory status quo is not an option.”
We move to the open debate. It will be speeches of five minutes, but there is time in hand for interventions.15:15
As the cabinet secretary outlined, Scotland’s food and drink sector is one of its stand-out economic success stories. The sector is estimated to be worth around £14 billion each year to Scotland’s economy. It accounts for one manufacturing job in five and around 115,400 people are employed in one of the 18,000 food and drink businesses in the country. I will say something about what the industry means nationally and to rural constituencies such as mine.
Last year, the First Minister joined the Scotland Food & Drink partnership to launch ambition 2030—the industry’s objective to more than double turnover in the sector, with the aim of reaching £30 billion by 2030. One way to unlock the £30 billion potential of the industry is by raising its attractiveness as a career and investing in the workforce.
To risk singling out one of the dozen islands that I represent, the Isle of Harris is a case in point and has already been referred to. The distillery in Tarbert, which was established with Scottish Government assistance, has resulted in a focus on Harris as an increasingly clear brand for gin, as it will soon be for whisky. It is no exaggeration to say that, taken together with the growth of tourism, the resurgence of Harris tweed and the presence of a marina and other small businesses, the distilling industry has helped to transform what remains one of the most fragile rural economies in Scotland.
In Lewis, the Abhainn Dearg whisky has had success of its own in the Japanese market and elsewhere, which shows what even the smallest of distilleries can do to create a name for the whisky brand worldwide.
Ambition 2030 is also partly about the supply chain and ensuring that farmers, fishermen, manufacturers and buyers work in close partnership to ensure that greater profitability is shared across the industry. Again, I inevitably think of Hebridean examples. In recent years, the marag—Stornoway black pudding—has capitalised in that way to some extent, as have the prawn fishing and processing industry and several successful smokeries. There are high-quality food and drink manufacturers in the Outer Hebrides that take advantage of the islands’ exceptional produce. That includes fresh and smoked seafood, meat, game, confectionary and jam. I will not continue indefinitely. Suffice it to say that producers are as varied as the Hebridean Brewing Company, Kallin Shellfish, Stag Bakeries, MacDuff Shellfish and Barratlantic. However, there is still more that we could do to bring some of our excellent produce to a wider public knowledge. As an example, I think of the crofting communities and Lewis lamb.
The food and drink sector in my constituency is growing, and it currently employs around 300 people. In 2012, it accounted for £18 million in gross value added by the islands’ economy. In many ways, the industry is closely related to the tourism sector in the Outer Hebrides, which was worth approximately £53 million in 2013.
Two of the most recent and successful small businesses in the islands make another point in their own way. They are both food and drink related, and I will name them without any favours having been sought from them. They are the Hebridean Mustard Company and the Hebridean Tea Store. I mention them because both are run by EU citizens—a fact that brings me seamlessly to my concluding point.
Forty percent of Scotland’s food and drink exports are destined for Europe, a fact that is not lost on Hebridean prawn fishermen, whose live exports of shellfish cannot afford to be delayed on international borders and who, as yet, have little clear explanation of how such a scenario can be avoided. Many Scottish products, including Stornoway black pudding and other products that have already been named in the debate, currently have EU protected food name status, which provides legal protection against imitation across the EU. As other members have said, that is not a trivial point. It is estimated that, on average, PFN status more than doubles a product’s value. It is far from clear how, outside the existing schemes, measures could successfully be taken to prevent imitation products from entering the market.
My constituency—like many others—provides lessons on why Scotland’s food industry relies equally on Scotland the brand and Europe the market. As a Parliament, we owe it to the industry to protect both.
I remind members that I have allocated five minutes for each speech; however, I can be slightly elastic with the time, although not so elastic that the elastic is stretched too far—if you follow me, Mr Mountain.15:20
That was an indication to stretch it as far as I like.
You are in dangerous territory—that is you down to five minutes exactly, Mr Mountain. I will keep you to that.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I declare an interest in that I am a partner in a farming business.
On my more than 2,500-mile summer surgery tour, I saw clear evidence of how the Highlands are contributing to Scotland being a world-renowned producer of high quality food and drink, from the award-winning beers of Black Isle Brewery to the award-winning Dunnet Bay Distillers in Caithness, who lovingly hand fill each bottle of Rock Rose gin.
In the remotest corners of the Highlands one will find many companies that have transformed their passion for food and drink into a prosperous business. The Spice Route near Cape Wrath is one such business, which I visited on my summer surgery tour. Mike and Lucy Goodwin have taken their love of regional Indian cuisine and now sell authentic prepared meals and teach cookery courses. Their business is a perfect example of croft diversification, where the produce is grown and marketed locally in innovative ways.
With businesses from those niche producers to long-established manufacturers such as Walkers Shortbread, the food and drink sector is absolutely vital for the Highland economy, creating some 32,000 jobs and generating more than £1 billion for our region.
We cannot forget Scotland’s biggest export success: whisky. As the cabinet secretary pointed out, 2017 was a record-breaking year with exports reaching a total value of £4.36 billion. The knowledge that 39 bottles are shipped overseas every second is truly inspirational.
In the summer, I visited the Pulteney distillery in Wick and the Clynelish distillery in Brora and saw for myself how distilleries are taking every opportunity to grow their customer base at home and abroad. With new names such as Torabhaig distillery, the Brora distillery and the Isle of Raasay distillery set to join old favourites, Scotch whisky is becoming more complex and nuanced and is increasing its world appeal by becoming more local.
However, this year, distillers might be running low on high-quality Scottish barley. It has been a very tough year for our farmers and many of them are struggling to achieve the quality of barley demanded by the distillers. One must always remember that Scotch is called Scotch for a reason and I am sure that we would all like to see a situation where distilleries source more local barley.
Given the extremely dry summer, I know that many farmers will go into the winter struggling to secure bedding and fodder for their livestock in order to produce the quality meat for which Scotland is famous. There is a genuine fear that much-needed feed will be in short supply; however, that is an area where our distilleries might be able to help. We might be able to encourage distilleries to consider whether it is right to burn the draff that they produce in biomass power plants when livestock farmers would welcome the opportunity to feed that rich source of protein to their cattle.
We should also be concerned about the continuing decrease in breeding livestock numbers in Scotland. I have heard of many farmers who are reducing stock numbers, not just because of a lack of forage but because of poor farm-gate prices that do not reflect the costs of production.
I agree entirely with everything that Mr Mountain has said—I did not think that I would find myself saying that. He has set the scene very well in relation to the serious problems that farmers throughout many parts of Scotland have faced over the summer. Does he agree that bringing forward the loan assistance scheme as quickly as we possibly can will at least help to provide some financial certainty to farmers and crofters who are facing the financial difficulties that have been caused in the way that he described?
I always welcome payments being brought forward. The fact that they have been brought forward a month from where they were five years ago is welcome, but farmers expect the payments to be brought forward to November.
I will make an observation about the amendments to the motion that have been lodged. As the convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I believe that it would be improper for me to vote on Mike Rumbles’s amendment, which concerns salmon farming, if I am to maintain the impartiality that the committee expects of me as convener. I will therefore abstain on the vote on that amendment.
If we are to grow our food and drink industry so that it is worth £30 billion by 2030, we need the Scottish Government to match the ambitions of the farmers and producers that I have mentioned. To reach that target, we need a good food nation bill that will strengthen the position of farmers and producers in the supply chain and ensure that local produce is favoured in public sector procurement.
In the past, I have always welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention to deliver the good food nation bill, but I now really question the strength of the Government’s commitment to it. Let us not forget that last year the Government promised that it was working towards the bill. We waited and we waited, but it never came. That led the head of Nourish Scotland to state that any attempt to drop the good food nation bill would represent a failure. I call on the Government to think carefully about what it is doing and to introduce a good food nation bill, which all the Scottish people heard it talk about and believe that it should deliver.15:26
We might not automatically associate my constituency of Mid Fife and Glenrothes with Scottish food and drink fortnight. Having been built to accommodate a coal pit in the 1940s, the main town is today still synonymous with industry. However, Glenrothes was built on the site of rich farmland. Farms such as Caskieberran and Collydean became the names of the new precincts when the town was being built almost exactly 70 years ago.
In 2016, some 2,500 people in my constituency were employed in the food, drink and hospitality sector. Today’s motion asks us to acknowledge the
“importance and value of the Scottish food and drink sector to the Scottish economy”.
Every day, I see that value and the future possibilities in the communities that I represent. Scottish food and drink fortnight is therefore an appropriate opportunity to celebrate the success stories of the different constituencies that we all represent in Parliament.
In May, I was privileged to attend the kingdom of Fife real ale festival in Glenrothes. It was a fantastic showcase that celebrated the ingenuity of local brewers from all over Fife. The Coul Brewing Company has its headquarters in a small residential garage in Glenrothes, but that did not stop it scooping third prize. The company is part of a wider movement in microbrewing that is happening all over the country. I spoke to the sales director, Robyn Duncan-Dean, ahead of today’s debate. She told me:
“The growth in the beer industry in Fife has been fantastic. We have the opportunity to bring back Fife’s rich brewing heritage and make Fife a real centre for craft beer in Scotland. Scotland’s Food and Drink Fortnight is a vital platform to help showcase the diverse talent and quality products of Fife businesses on a national stage.”
Microbrewing in action is a real science, and attention to detail is vital in the production of a quality product. However, what I found so impressive about the Coul Brewing Company story was the spirit of enterprise that allowed it to happen in the first place. The company is a family business with a love of Fife at its heart, as can be seen by the distinctive swan logo that it uses. Coul reservoir, from where the company takes its name, was built in 1890 as a water supply to the Haig bottling plant in Markinch. The reservoir is well known for its fearless swans, and that is where the unique swan logo comes from.
Fife is also well known for its history when it comes to spirits. In fact, the earliest record of Scotch whisky was in 1494, with a direct commission from King James IV to Father John Cor of Lindores abbey. In more recent history, John Haig & Company’s distillery was established at Cameronbridge, just outside Leven, in 1824. Today, the company is owned by Diageo and makes Smirnoff vodka, Gordon’s gin and Bell’s whisky to name but a few.
Recently, I met lain Brown and his wife at the Bowhouse food festival in St Monans. Both of lain Brown’s grandfathers were publicans in Fife, and his father spent 20 years working with Diageo. His new company—Lundin Distilling—caught my eye because of its connection to Lundin Links, which is in my constituency. I visited the company premises in June this year to learn more about the distilling process, and it was absolutely fascinating to see that in action. lain Brown uses gorse flowers from Lundin Links golf course to make distinctive gorse gin that celebrates the Fife coastline. The gin is made using 18 botanicals in total, including elderflower, chamomile, grapefruit, juniper and locally foraged wild Fife gorse, from which the gin takes its name.
lain Brown has a background of over 20 years in law. Ahead of today’s debate, I asked him what brought him back to Fife. He said:
“Fife is where I grew-up and it felt right to start a new business here. I love the contrasts found in Fife—within a stretch of only a few miles you can be transferred from once hard, industrial, mining towns to incredible arable land and picture-perfect fishing villages. There are few places where the contrasts are so starkly stunning, and I think this influences the people and businesses within Fife”.
Celebrating the food and drink of our respective areas is important, particularly for constituencies such as mine, which suffer disproportionately from the impact of poverty. Along the road from the wild gorse stands Levenmouth academy, which was the recipient of the second-highest level of attainment funding from the Government last year.
While we celebrate ingenuity, we should be cognisant of a disconnect in opportunities when it comes to the food and drink sector. The sector undoubtedly creates job opportunities and employment in hospitality, but Scotland needs a food and drink sector that can be accessed by everyone. We need the inventors of the future to create the new drinks, the new dishes and the new opportunities for the next generation.
My constituent Nicholas Russell has owned and managed Fife’s Balbirnie House for over 25 years. That hotel is the 12-time winner of Scotland’s wedding hotel of the year. It was Scotland’s 2016 national hotel of the year, and it was defined in 2017 in the Haute Grandeur global hotel awards as number 1 in Europe in four hospitality categories. Balbirnie House has always employed circa 20 per cent of the workforce from European Union countries. As Nicholas Russell told me ahead of today’s debate:
“Scotland’s Hospitality sector is facing profound and concerning implications stemming from any form of Brexit”.
The motion specifically mentions the geographical indication status of Scottish produce, but I urge all members to reflect on the people at the heart of our food and drink sector: the people who work in our hotels, the people who pick our fruit, and the people who we need to make our food and drink sector a success.15:32
Last week, I chaired a debate that was held by Scotland’s Futures Forum—our very own Scottish Parliament think tank—on food and building a positive, healthy and sustainable food system in Scotland by 2030. Despite the varied backgrounds of the 60-plus people in the room—they ranged from primary producers to researchers to campaigners to retailers to, of course, consumers; we are all consumers—there was an encouraging level of consensus on the way forward, particularly on the need to join up the positive work that is already going on.
Challenges were highlighted that we continue to avoid at our collective peril. Why are so many primary producers struggling when the food and drink industry is doing so well? We have heard about that today. How do we fuse the environmental, social and economic imperatives of land use for true sustainable development and match the United Nations sustainable development goals? How can public procurement and planning decisions drive better access to locally sourced and sustainable food? How can we ensure that everyone in all our communities has access to healthy and nutritious food?
We deliberately did not talk about Brexit because, as I stressed as chair, whatever happens, we must address the challenges that we face and make the necessary changes to our food culture at all levels. We were encouraged to be proud of how we produce food in Scotland and to make changes if we are not proud of what we do.
Why do we need a good food nation bill? First, we need it for producers. We proudly promote our Scottish produce for export and, just as important, for home consumption. However, if things go wrong, we must quickly and boldly tighten regulations in order to make the sector sustainable.
I strongly support the Lib Dem amendment. The sea lice scandal, for example, has gone on for too long. Five years ago, I lodged an amendment to the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill that would have challenged the industry and demanded that real-time farm-by-farm reporting become mandatory. The time to act was then. Now, here we are with a published committee report and a pending committee report. Let us be sure that the reputation of Scotland’s farmed salmon is not corrupted by continued Scottish Government inaction on sea lice, or on other regulatory matters.
Let us not risk the jobs in our coastal communities either, whether it be those of farmed salmon workers or of those who work in the wild salmon tourism industry.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will—but a brief one.
Does Claudia Beamish accept that the industry and the Government are working together to tackle those admittedly serious challenges, that progress is being made, and that the industry has spent, I think, £70 million on the issue? We have published “Scotland’s 10 Year Farmed Fish Health Framework”, through which we are working in partnership to ensure that the future of our aquaculture industry is based on a sustainable footing, and that it tackles successfully the challenges of sea lice and amoebic gill disease, which I believe it is doing.
I have to disagree with the cabinet secretary. Where we are is not good enough, and the matter needs to be sorted. I am happy to continue the dialogue, but I know through the reports of the committees—this is certainly the case with the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, of which I am a member—that the status quo is not an option. The Scottish Government has been very tardy on the issue.
However, much good practice already takes place, so let us celebrate it, as I did in South Scotland this week when I visited Damn Delicious, which is a local family-run farm business in Clydesdale. It has an on-site butcher, bakery and farm shop, and it has a successful online presence, which is important. The livestock is free range and grass fed. The business employs a team of five, some of whom have come through the apprenticeship route. The owner, Michael Shannon, has strong views about how Scottish producers should take every opportunity to champion our green credentials and the quality of Scottish produce. We also discussed the fact that it is not just about our global appeal: we need also to connect better with people at home and take the opportunity to encourage them to think about where their food comes from and its quality.
This afternoon, we have heard examples of good practice. We need to prioritise good practice systematically and identify what works and what the innovative practices are, such as agroforestry, which I have tried to champion in my small way and which supports our climate change targets while providing a useful way forward for smaller farmers. We will then be able to share good practice together, and Scotland can shape a subsidy system that will not go on rewarding outdated practices but will facilitate the transition to agroecology that fuses production and custodianship.
It is disappointing that the good food nation progress report does not mention organics. Will the cabinet secretary comment on that in his closing remarks?
Most important of all, as is stressed in Labour’s amendment and Colin Smyth’s speech, is that the right to food is a fundamental human right. We need to have a food nation bill in order to address the terrible blight of food poverty in a respectful way. Bring on the bill. Perhaps the cabinet secretary can think again. I do not know what the precedent is for doing this, but maybe we can still have a bill in this session to provide for, above all else, food justice.15:38
Our food and drink sector with its reputation for quality is the envy of the world, and its importance to our national economy cannot be overstated.
It is estimated that more than 22,000 people are directly employed in the food, drink and agricultural sector across Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen city and Moray.
The north-east accounts for half Scotland’s fish landings. I have only one fish processing factory in my constituency—Macduff Shellfish in Mintlaw—but it has considerable international reach. Anyone who goes into any South Korean bar will find that the most popular bar snacks there are the cockles that are exclusively prepared by Macduff and shipped from Mintlaw. I love that fact.
This year, to celebrate the 2018 year of young people, Turriff show gave eight young business owners free exhibition stands, with support from entrepreneurship social enterprise Elevator. I met young people who were setting up businesses in baked goods production and drinks events planning. They are taking local ingredients and looking at innovative ways to reach new audiences. I have already told Elevator that it should consider making that a regular event at the show, beyond the year of young people, because the legacy is as important as the year itself.
Aberdeenshire is also fortunate to benefit from Opportunity North East, which aims to deliver business growth in the region. Its drink and agriculture arm has a business growth programme that is designed for owners and managers of small food and drink businesses that have growth potential, as well as for future leaders from larger family-owned businesses.
Of the 13 companies that are participating in the programme this year, two are from my constituency and both are distillers of gin. Teasmith Spirit Company Ltd gin was created by Nick and Emma Smalley from Udny Green and has already won awards at the prestigious international wine and spirit competition. Blackford Craft Distillery Ltd is a family-run enterprise that makes gin and vodka near Rothienorman. We could spend a pretty good day doing a gin tour of my constituency—obviously with a designated driver. Every month, it seems, a new ginery is established, the latest of which is, delightfully, just around the corner from my house and is called House of Elrick Gin Ltd, in Newmachar.
My constituency of Aberdeenshire East is also home to the Glen Garioch distillery, which is the most easterly whisky distillery in Scotland, as well as one of the oldest. The distillery partnered with other food producers including Barra Berries and Barra Bronzes from Oldmeldrum, Mackie’s of Scotland, and Mossie’s Pork from near Tarves. Together, they have created the “Legends of Garioch” tour, which takes visitors through the area, sampling some of the best it has to offer before finishing at the award-winning Meldrum House hotel for dinner.
I am keen to encourage the growth of food and drink tourism in the north-east. I recently hosted a well-attended VisitScotland event at Fyvie castle to promote and encourage development of agritourism and food and drink tourism.
Many local food producers are embracing innovation and environmental sustainability. For example, 23-year-old Ellie Sinclair of the Veg Company from near Ellon won third place in the inspirational food and drink awards. Ellie grows her award-winning tomatoes and chillies on the family farm, using only renewable energy. On a somewhat bigger scale, Mackie’s of Scotland generates three quarters of the energy it needs for production through wind turbines. It also uses solar panels, biomass boilers and has a 150-acre arboretum to soak up carbon emissions.
Mackie’s and BrewDog are, of course, the huge international exporters in my constituency, and are household names right around the globe. However, for many smaller companies, EU countries are the most important destinations and the EU has offered the easiest and most efficient route to internationalisation. I echo Alasdair Allan’s comments about the importance of that for small producers.
In that context, it is crucial that membership of the single market and customs union be retained. In evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee this week by representatives of agricultural groups, it was abundantly clear that a no-deal Brexit would be a nightmare scenario.
Will the member take an intervention on that point?
I am afraid that you are into your final minute.
I apologise to Mr Carson; I would have taken his intervention if I had more time.
World Trade Organization tariffs of 46 per cent on Iamb and 50 per cent on beef would, overnight, render two of our most important agricultural products uncompetitive.
As well as concerns about tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit, there are worries about access to labour. Soft fruit producers and fish processors in the north-east rely on migrant labour from the EU to keep their businesses going. SNP members have been raising that issue for more than two years. Macduff Shellfish was able to set up only because of eastern European countries gaining membership of the EU and many of their people moving to the area. The previous fish factory had shut down due to lack of local labour.
The north-east of Scotland has so much food and drink to offer. We must protect our high standards, and our market access and we must shout loudly about the tourist experience that we can offer, and the quality of the goods that we can export. Above all, we must resist the hard Brexit that has the potential to damage all that severely.15:43
I begin by declaring an interest as a food producer and farmer, and a pioneer of farmers markets.
I, too, welcome the debate today and salute and congratulate Scotland Food and Drink on its amazing achievement in growing the sector. Who would have believed that, 11 years since its beginning, the partnership would be celebrating an industry that has a turnover of £14.4 billion per year? Who would have believed that our food and drink sector would be exporting £6 billion of goods, when just over 20 years ago, beef and lamb was almost unsaleable because of the BSE crisis, and the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 was still to be overcome? To say that the industry has moved on is an understatement. It is the resilience and drive of the people in our food and drinks sector that have taken us to this position. All credit should go to them.
There has recently been welcome news in the fruit and veg sector, with the UK Government providing a pilot seasonal-workers scheme to allow and encourage migrant workers to come here. I think that we will need more than 2,500 of them, but I give credit to Kirstene Hair MP and others.
Only yesterday, the UK Government launched its Agriculture Bill setting out its vision for the future of rural England, and it has certainly proved to be a talking point.
It is perhaps just as well that the sector is resilient, because a difficult future lies ahead for our industry in Scotland. Will there be sufficient Scottish primary produce to satisfy the growing demand from our processors and retailers to sustain and grow the turnover of our food and drink industry? The barriers to maintaining and growing the supply of primary produce that sustains the industry will yet challenge the processors and retailers in a way that has not been seen in recent times.
Last winter’s livestock losses that were caused by the blizzard that was delivered by the beast from the east, and livestock losses that were caused by prolonged wet weather and other factors will significantly reduce the numbers of available stock going to market this autumn.
The lack of silage and reasonably priced straw and distillers draff, which were previously by-products of our industry, will continue to ensure a growing cost base in our livestock sector. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s understanding of the problem, as we heard in his response to Edward Mountain.
If we also factor in the proposed cuts in less favoured area support scheme—LFASS—payments, and the fact that there is no commitment as yet from the Scottish Government to match existing funding, the viability of most livestock units, which is already in question, will very soon be non-existent. That will most affect our tenanted sector; many livestock farmers will simply leave our industry this year or next, as the banks say no to further increases in overdraft lending.
Another industry barrier to sustaining our food and drink sector is that there will not be a new entrants capital grant scheme next year, as the scheme has now been closed. Ironically, it has been cut short by 18 months in this, the year of young people, which certainly now has a hollow ring for our young farmers. With no replacement scheme in sight, the early closure of that scheme sends all the wrong messages to our young people, who are keen to take the industry forward and whose enthusiasm was much on display at the food and drink reception last night.
Yet another barrier to the sustainability of the industry is the lack of a good food nation bill in the programme for government that was announced last week, which again sends dispiriting messages to our optimistic and can-do food and drinks industry. Donald Cameron has already spoken about that.
A further known unknown is what our Scottish Government’s plans are for the shape of future support for our industry in Scotland and what the implications are for food production in Scotland. We forget at our peril that the primary purpose of land use must be food production, if we are to feed our people.
We know that climate change itself and climate change carbon targets will add additional costs to an already overborrowing industry, with its indebtedness to banks running at about £2.4 billion: 20 years ago the figure was just around £1 billion.
We also know that our renowned farmed-fish industry might face an increased burden of regulation and, therefore, costs following parliamentary inquiries, and that all the farmers, crofters and fishermen in our remote and peripheral areas will need all their tenacity and resilience if they are to hang on over the next few years. Certainly, many rural business people, when asked what their future objectives are, reply that it is just to be in business at all in three years.
Today, we note and congratulate our successful food and drink industry, but we also genuinely regret the failure of the Scottish Government to give our industry the leadership and legislation it needs so much in order to take us forward. That is why I ask Parliament to support the Conservative amendment at decision time.15:48
I am delighted to take part in the debate. As members know, the food and drink sector is hugely important to our national economy. The 44 per cent increase in turnover between 2007 and 2017 to more than £4 billion tells the success story. It also highlights the excellent work of the former cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead MSP, in championing the sector to increase awareness of the opportunities for it and the quality of the produce.
Last night’s Scottish food and drink event in the Parliament proved once again that the sector is successful, ambitious and focused on delivering even more delicious food and drink from Scotland’s larder.
I will deliberately focus my attention on the opening part of the Scottish Government’s motion, which states:
“That the Parliament welcomes Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight and its campaign this year to encourage more people to buy, eat and promote Scottish food and drink and to champion the role that young people play in the sector’s success”.
When colleagues think of Greenock and Inverclyde, they quite rightly think of shipbuilding, marine tourism, the stunning scenery and former industries such as heavy engineering, sugar and electronic manufacturing. However, another set of opportunities is now on offer in food and drink. We have farming, including beef and lamb. The Ardgowan trout fishery in Greenock sells locally produced meat in its cafe. I visited the fishery during the summer recess and saw what it means to its customers, including the father and son who regularly travel there from Paisley.
We have not one but two confectionery factories in the constituency. The Golden Casket Group in Greenock manufactures Buchanan’s toffees, millions, Ferguson’s chocolates and many other products, and we now have the New Chocolate Company, based at the Kelburn business park in Port Glasgow, which I visited on Monday. We are not allowed props, so I want to make everyone aware that every speaker in the debate, including the Presiding Officers, will have a chance to sample the New Chocolate Company’s products later, when they are delivered to their offices.
You may have another 30 seconds. [Laughter.]
I can give you the chocolate now, Presiding Officer.
The company, which was set up in the past 12 months, offers more than just the end product. It has chocolate-making classes for adults and provides customers with bespoke products. Joanne and Brian Dick employ two young people and have ambitions to grow the business and engage with local schools.
Kelburn business park also contains the Start-Up Drinks Lab, which is part of the craft soda community and was founded by Hannah Fisher and Craig Strachan. When I visited the business a few months ago, I saw two young people with their own business and a passion for the industry of their choice.
This week, it was announced that the business park has another tenant, Nutcrafter Creamery, which makes vegan cheeses and is run by a couple who hail from the USA and Italy. The company has moved from Bridge of Weir to new premises in Port Glasgow to grow the business.
Kelburn business park was created by Riverside Inverclyde. Its head of business investment operations, Andrew Bowman, is doing a wonderful job in helping to create desirable locations to help grow our food and drink offer. The business park is a £5 million development that was part funded by the Scottish Government and is now fully occupied, apart from one unit.
Riverside Inverclyde is building a pioneering food and drink incubator unit, which is also supported by the Scottish Government. Work has started on Baker Street Food & Drink Enterprises in Greenock. The unit will help to create future food and drink opportunities.
In Wemyss Bay, we have the multi-award-winning McCaskie’s butcher, which recently completed an £800,000 investment in expanding its plant. During my visit there on Monday, I was pleased to help Nigel Ovens and his team promote Scotch lamb.
Inverkip will join the whisky trail soon when the Ardgowan distillery is built. I mentioned the distillery to the cabinet secretary in a debate a few months ago.
Gourock continues to lead the way as Scotland’s strongest performing town for independent traders, cafes, restaurants and bars.
Inverclyde is open for business. It is creating a food and drink offer with long-lasting and positive economic and training opportunities. I encourage members across the political divide to visit Inverclyde and taste what it has to offer. I also encourage all members to go to www.tasteinverclyde.co.uk to learn more about Inverclyde’s growing food and drink sector.
You have done Inverclyde proud, Mr McMillan.15:53
I welcome Scottish food and drink fortnight and the opportunity that it gives us to showcase Scotland’s quality produce. It is also a good opportunity to thank all the food producers and manufacturers, the retailers and distributors, and those in our farming and fishing industries, who work hard all year round.
We have seen significant growth in the sector in recent years. Our food and drink export market is strong and we are seeing growth in innovation, provenance and variety.
In my region, there is an increasing number of locally owned businesses, which are gathering recognition. We often worry about the future of our high streets, but local, accessible, attractive food and drink businesses can offer the economy of our high streets an injection from which other businesses can benefit.
I live in Burntisland, where I have seen a renaissance in the High Street in recent years, with a UK award-winning local butcher, Tom Courts; a Scottish award-winning greengrocer, Macauley’s; an independent fishmonger, C & M Seafoods; and an independent ice cream parlour, Novelli’s.
There are more independent cafes in other parts of the region, offering an alternative to the dominance of the high street coffee shop chains. Retail is not an easy area to work in, but the passion and ambition that I can see in the local food and drink sector are very welcome. We should think about incentives to support businesses in which individuals are prepared to take a risk and invest in their communities.
As part of Scottish food and drink fortnight, I visited the buffalo farm in Fife. It was a pleasure to speak to the owner, Steven Mitchell, who has worked hard to establish the business and who now has 35 full-time posts and the recently opened Bothy cafe and bistro. This year, the fortnight has a focus on young people, and it was great to meet Adele Stevenson, who started as an apprentice at the age of 19 and who is a great example of an enthusiastic, bright and welcoming young person getting on in the food and drink industry.
There is a skills shortage in some areas. Food and drink manufacturers report to me their difficulty in recruiting a good and reliable skilled workforce. For some producers in the food and drink sector, Brexit will add to that challenge. We need to do more to encourage people of all ages to see the sector as an attractive option. We also need to encourage the sector to provide good, well-paid jobs with career opportunities and progression. We need to address any issues that are holding back growth.
It is right that we celebrate the success story, but a good food nation is about more than sales and export figures. I have spoken many times in the chamber about food poverty, which is a fact of life in our communities that is not going away. The UK Government’s approach to benefits and austerity is driving the issue. It is about poverty—the lack of food is a consequence of poverty—but we have a tension in our food policy, in that we celebrate the production of high-quality produce that too many of our constituents cannot buy. They are not able to participate in the food renaissance. Across my region, demand for assistance from food banks is increasing. As we near challenge poverty week, I will hold a round table in my region to discuss how we can tackle holiday hunger for children, who miss their school meals.
Alongside the concerns about poverty and lack of food are those about the child and adult obesity figures, which are increasing. Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer. For too many people, that is the sharp reality of our good food nation. I remember talking about the launch of the good food nation as an ambition at the cross-party group on food in 2014. The good food nation ambition must be holistic and inclusive of all areas of food policy, but I have to say that policy development in the area has been frustrating, as each area of food policy still feels as though it sits in isolation.
There is widespread disappointment that a good food nation bill was not announced in last week’s programme for government, with Nourish describing that as a “missed opportunity”. It is four years since the launch of the good food nation and two years since the Government announced its intention to bring forward a bill, and the Government has recently received work from the food commission. However, there is still little evidence that concerns about a lack of cohesion across Government on food policy are being addressed.
That lack of a strategic approach that recognises and deals with the tensions and different objectives across departments and responsibilities hampers us in addressing the issues of sustainability, diet, food poverty, production and access, among others. The cabinet secretary made no mention of “A Healthier Future: Scotland’s Diet & Healthy Weight Delivery Plan”, which was published this summer, and the debates on obesity and diet make no mention of the good food nation agenda. It feels as if there is no joint working.
The Parliament has previously been bold in areas of public health. We may not have always agreed, but we have introduced legislation to tackle smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. When the First Minister announced in May a commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030, that sounded like an ambition that would be at the heart of a good food nation bill.
The progress report that was published this week makes a commitment to
“separate consultation this autumn on how best to create and deliver an appropriate statutory framework.”
That does not inspire confidence. Those are measly words where there should have been a clear commitment to an ambitious food bill. A whole-Government approach needs to be adopted, with clear goals and leadership. We need a radical bill—one that could transform Scotland’s food culture and improve health, the environment and the economy for Scotland’s people. I urge the Government to get on with it.15:59
I welcome the debate, which takes place during food and drink fortnight, and I am pleased to speak in it. As the cabinet secretary said, Scotland’s food and drink industry is vital to the rural economy, and I am delighted to welcome the Scottish Government’s ambitious plan to expand it further. Building brand Scotland is key to achieving that aim. Many people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance to the industry of provenance, sustainability and country of origin labels—an issue that was again raised with me by NFUS leadership during the summer.
In my South Scotland region we have outstanding local produce, such as Galloway beef and the award-winning cheese that the ethical dairy produces. The ethical dairy has gained much publicity this week because of its practice of keeping calves with their mothers, and Mairi Gougeon agreed this week to visit the dairy. I encourage engagement with the many other dairy farmers who want to share their different on-farm practice.
This weekend, along with the minister, I will be pleased to celebrate Loch Ryan oysters at the Stranraer oyster festival.
Members might be surprised to learn that in Dumfries and Galloway, Garrocher Tea Garden grows and blends tea, and Professor Pods and Galloway Chillis grow chilli and make jams, chutneys, marmalades and salad mixes.
Our award-winning dairy produce ranges from amazing ice cream to specialist cheeses and yoghurt—and I must not forget to mention the world-famous Ayrshire tatties.
From farm to fork, the food and drink producers in the south-west are extremely talented and innovative people who make an invaluable contribution to the local economy. For example, Station House cookery school in Kirkcudbright is engaging people in cooking their meals and getting round the table.
All those businesses should be supported and celebrated. I regularly attend the Dumfries farmers market and buy local products there. The farmers market was recently awarded £5,000 from the Scottish Government’s regional food fund.
The SNP Government is to be credited for helping to make Scotland’s food and drink industry what it is today. The industry’s turnover has increased by 44 per cent since 2007, and it is great that exports have increased by 56 per cent, reaching more than £6 billion last year. Our manufacturing growth rate for food and drink is twice that of the UK.
Key to unlocking the £30 billion potential of the sector is support for the workforce. Our fishermen and our farmers, growers and pickers—and everyone who works in our agricultural sector—need to be supported. I spent the summer recess visiting farms, attending agricultural events and speaking to farmers who are on the front line. I found that the future of staffing on many of the dairy farms is a huge concern.
Fergus Ewing promised us a good food nation bill back in May 2017, and the commitment to the bill was included in the 2017 programme for government and maintained in January, but this year’s programme for government does not include a good food nation bill. Many of the amazing food producers in Galloway that the member has mentioned think that that is a missed opportunity.
Does the member agree that the SNP Government likes to create headlines about what it is going to do, but a year or two down the road fails to deliver?
That was a long intervention. I will give Emma Harper a little extra time.
Mr Carson knows that I cannot speak for the Government; I am not the Government. However, I am sure that the Government has heard him. Let us move on.
The UK Government has made a commitment to bring 2,500 seasonal agricultural workers to the country, but that will not address the issue of full-time workers on our dairy farms, who are not seasonal workers but live here and are part of our rural communities. It is important that immigration be devolved to Scotland so that we can do what we need to do about our growers, pickers and dairy farm workers.
As we face the hard and worrying realities of a Tory Brexit, we must do everything possible to support our rural industries to become more sustainable and resilient. Some 69 per cent of Scotland’s food exports go to the EU.
Donald Cameron mentioned what the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said last week in the Finance and Constitution Committee, of which I am a member. In relation to protection of PGI status, David Mundell said:
“We are determined to achieve that.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 6 September 2018; c 22.]
However, the very day before that, George Hollingbery, the UK Minister of State for Trade Policy, attended the committee and said:
“there are several other products that we would like to protect that just do not have sufficient market penetration to warrant GI status in that market. The GI issue is not particularly straightforward.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 5 September 2018; c 18.]
Those are not the reassuring words of the secretary of state. Members of the UK Government maybe need to talk to one another and decide how best to support PGI status.
I echo the industry’s concerns over support post-Brexit and encourage the Scottish Government to continue to press for the best possible outcome for our farm-to-fork businesses.16:04
Before I begin, I must declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.
Parliament has been back after summer recess for only two weeks, and already I have met with some of the key players in Scotland’s food and drink success story. Last week, I attended a reception held by the Scotch Whisky Association. In 2017, Scotch whisky enjoyed record-breaking exports, which grew in volume and value, to a total of £4.36 billion. Last night I attended an event hosted by the Food and Drink Federation Scotland to discuss the diversity of careers available in that ever-growing sector. The food and drink sector now employs more than 45,000 people, which equates to an astonishing 25 per cent of Scotland’s manufacturing workforce.
The target to grow our food and drink industry’s worth to £30 billion by 2030 is ambitious, and it is wholly reliant on the production of the raw materials on which our iconic food brands are built. Those raw materials are, of course, produced by our farmers and fishermen. However, our farmers are rightly concerned that until now they have not shared in the food and drink success story or seen any reduction in the continued pressure on their margins.
The Scottish farming industry must grow and prosper along with the rest of the sector, and the prize that Brexit offers is the opportunity to design our own support system—one better suited to our farmers’ needs. We all know the common agricultural policy is flawed, and we can do better. However, that opportunity has not been grasped by the Scottish Government. Rather, Brexit is being used as a delaying tactic and a scare tactic. Let us be clear. I believe that the SNP wants Brexit to fail to further its own political agenda.
I have to say that I absolutely object to Peter Chapman’s statement. At every stage, this Government has done nothing but go out of its way to work with the UK Government at every level, to try to work in the best interests of the people of Scotland, and at every turn we have been ignored.
I completely and utterly reject that. That is not what we have seen at all from the SNP. The SNP has done everything to build up grievance between this place and Westminster throughout the whole process.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, not at all.
Let us be clear. I will say it again. I believe that the SNP wants Brexit to fail to further its own political agenda. That was clear in June when, months behind schedule, it released another consultation with more questions than answers. Our farmers need a clearer outline of how the SNP Government will structure and develop its agricultural and rural policy.
Will Mr Chapman take an intervention?
I have no time. I am sorry.
It is true that stability is needed in the short term, but where is the long-term vision for the industry? In the past two weeks, the Government has cut the new entrants capital grant scheme, with nothing to replace it, and the cabinet secretary has warned that LFASS will be cut by 20 per cent in 2019 and 80 per cent in 2020. That is another scare tactic, as it is in his hands to decide what support Scottish farmers should receive. I therefore call on the cabinet secretary to start making decisions and stop scaremongering.
I remind Mr Chapman that I have said in this chamber—and I repeat it now—and I have said to local farmers and NFUS members that we are absolutely committed to finding a way to avoid that 80 per cent reduction in LFASS.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s words. I hope that he gets on and does exactly what he says and makes something happen.
The announcement that farmers will receive 90 per cent of the basic payments in October is also helpful, as that will provide a much-needed cash injection to many who are under pressure due to the huge rise in feed and fodder prices caused by the summer drought. Although I welcome that, it is no more than was done last year, so it in no way addresses the serious increased costs that livestock farmers face this winter. Our farmers deserve better. Our farmers deserve more.
For example, I wrote to Mr Ewing asking him to support the NFUS proposal to request from the European Commission a derogation of the three-crop rule and a shortening of the ecological focus areas fallow period. Those measures would have had a significant positive impact on our farmers’ ability to plan ahead and to alleviate the extreme shortage of winter feed. They would have cost the Government nothing, yet no action has been taken; I have not even received a reply.
Where do we go from here? The fact that there is no mention of an agriculture bill in the threadbare programme for government shows complete disregard for our farmers.
In the short time that I have left, I need to speak about the important role that our fish sector plays in our food and drink industry. Many people are unaware of the fact that our biggest food export is not beef or sheep, but farmed salmon. We produce 177,000 tonnes of salmon, much of which is exported to 60 countries right across the world. Our fishermen work hard in often dangerous conditions to put food on our tables. Two thirds of the world’s langoustines are sourced in Scottish waters.
Come to a close, please, Mr Chapman.
I will come to a finish.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the NFUS have got behind the UK Government’s Chequers plan, which is the only plan on the table. It will deliver friction-free and tariff-free trade across Europe.
You must finish, please, Mr Chapman.
If the SNP was in any way supportive of a deal—
You must finish now, Mr Chapman.
When I ask members to finish, there is a reason for that. I do so in the interests of the debate, and I would expect members not to continue for two or three paragraphs after I have made such a request.
I apologise, Presiding Officer.
Thank you, Mr Chapman.16:11
It is interesting to hear a Tory member talk about the Chequers plan and demand that the SNP gets behind it. I will be interested to hear when the Conservative Party gets behind it—it has at least six different views on the Chequers plan. However, I am not going to waste time on the Conservative Party’s internal difficulties, which at every turn it tries to deflect on to others who are trying to do the right thing for Scotland.
Our food and drink fortnight is an excellent example of Scotland coming together—mostly, members have done that in this afternoon’s debate—to promote the great-quality food that we produce in our country. I agree with Mr Chapman about the importance of salmon farming, although it is by no means the only food and drink export that we have, as we have heard from others.
The vision of Scotland as a good food nation is one that, in this year of young people, we should relate to the contribution of future generations, in particular. James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:
“Now is an exciting time to be involved in the sector in Scotland and the opportunity for the next generation to raise the bar even higher is hugely compelling.”
I absolutely agree.
On Tuesday this week, Austin Wilkins from the United States joined me as a new intern. He has told me that, at secondary school, he participated in the Future Farmers of America, which is an organisation that seeks to educate people on where their food comes from and to help them to value their food better. When it surveyed a group, one person asked whether only brown cows could make chocolate milk. That is a classic, albeit humorous, example of the disconnect between people’s understanding of food and the real importance of food.
Scotland has almost 20,000 food businesses that employ well over 100,000 people, but whatever the outcome of Brexit will be, it is currently overhanging our industry and its success. I need only cite the example of live langoustines, the premium product that comes largely from the north-east. They go on the buggy to Boulogne-sur-Mer market once a week. If they arrive at 8 o’clock in the morning, they get the price that they command by virtue of their quality, but if they are delayed only until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they get half the price that they would have got at 8 o’clock in the morning. The challenge lies in how long they will have to wait in the queues to get into France and reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. That is an example of the practical risks that we face if we do not get Brexit right.
Geographical indication status is very important to many of our great Scottish products, particularly Scotch whisky, which has been well regarded around the world for more than a century. Since the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, for which my cousin was responsible in Parliament, the whisky has been kept in bond, which has improved its quality. Previously, I referred to the American whisky industry’s desire to have us abandon that three-year storage and go down to one year, to level the playing field.
Whisky has challenges around the world. Many years ago, when I first went to Nepal and walked down Khatmandu’s main street, the Durbar Marg, in the windows was something that looked superficially like Vat 69 whisky. However, it was Kat 69, with the “K” carefully drawn to obscure the fact that it was Nepalese whisky. We are copied all over the place: India has a huge second-hand market in Johnnie Walker bottles; and when I asked for whisky in Burma 40 years ago, what I received was purported to be Scotch whisky but had the faint flavour of paraffin—it had been made out the back the night before.
A great industry in my constituency that sounds as if it is simple is seed potatoes, but it is an eight-figure-a-year industry. It is one of many. Let us support them all.16:16
How pleased I am to be speaking in this debate, as Scotland’s food and drink is certainly worth celebrating. As we have heard from previous speakers, Scotland has an incredibly successful food and drink sector that is worth billions to our economy and provides thousands of jobs across the country.
From growers and producers to processing and end-product services, our food and drink have much to offer the world. I have not shared previously with the chamber the fact that my own family history had a part to play in Scotland’s food and drink success story, having produced Stornoway black pudding for more than eight decades. That black pudding got a wee mention yesterday during rural economy portfolio question time, when Dave Stewart stated that his fondness for Stornoway black pudding—or marag in Gaelic—had not affected his waistline. Sadly, I cannot say the same, but it is fair to say that I play my part in boosting our economy by buying and consuming Scotland’s first-class products.
We wound down our wholesale and retail meat businesses in Stornoway in the mid-2000s, due mainly to competition from supermarkets and the resultant changes in purchasing habits on the islands, but I am glad to say that three black pudding producers in Stornoway still valiantly produce the marags and seem to be going from strength to strength. All that is at risk if we fail to keep protected geographical indication status for Stornoway black pudding and 13 other Scottish products. Unfortunately, UK ministers have failed to give an assurance regarding PGIs and the protected food name scheme. The UK Government’s lack of clarity, coupled with frequent media reports on discussions of future trade deals in which apparently PGIs are an afterthought or not deemed to be important, is creating real concerns among many stakeholders across Scotland. I hope that there is no truth in the rumour that the UK Government sees Scotland’s produce with protected geographical indication status as a bargaining chip. However, I suspect that it is correct; I guess that we will know fairly soon whether it is.
Closer to my home these days is Falkirk district, and it would be remiss of me not to mention our local successes. From early beginnings, with Robert Barr producing the first Iron Brew in the 1800s and Rosebank distillery producing the undisputed king of the Lowlands whisky as far back as 1819, to modern-day production at Malcolm Allan butchers and Mrs Tilly’s Scottish confectionery, Falkirk district has much to offer and be proud of.
Malcolm Allan butchers, for example, produces 54 per cent of Scotland’s Lorne sausage, which is an average of 50 tonnes of sausage a week. Over Christmas and New Year, it provided Lorne sausage and steak pies to soldiers from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who were stationed in Cyprus, to ensure that they had a reminder of home while on tour of duty. It has moved on from running a couple of family butcher shops in Falkirk and Kirkintilloch to supplying most of Scotland’s major supermarkets, and it is clear that only the best produce, a lineage of quality service and a family ethos have ensured Malcolm Allan Ltd’s success in becoming one of our most loved household names.
If you have more of a sweet tooth, perhaps, after your Malcolm Allan steak pie, a wee bit of Mrs Tilly’s tablet will cure the craving. We all know that tablet, especially those treats made by Scottish Government ministers, can send certain members of opposition parties into a sugar-induced frenzy, so before I continue, I say to all: everything in moderation, as part of a healthy balanced diet.
Mrs Tilly’s originated in my friend and colleague Keith Brown’s constituency in Tillicoultry. However, it has expanded across the Forth valley to Larbert. From early beginnings, it has become one of Scotland’s success stories.
With that success, however, comes the responsibility of creating the environment in which our food and drink sector can develop, expand and continue down the path of sustainable success. Scotland has a reputation for quality produce, ranging from our salmon and whisky industries to our meat and soft fruits. Inevitably, Brexit poses a threat to our industries and the continued uncertainty is not good for anyone. That is why we should be taking steps to ensure that our industries are underpinned by the security of access to the single market and customs union. I reiterate calls upon the UK Government to take the steps that will secure Scotland’s industries and provide the certainty that is so badly needed right now and for the future.
There is a lot more to say. In closing, I had hoped to touch on some good practice in Denmark, as an example of where we should be looking to go. However, time is limited, so suffice it to say that our food and drink sector’s success is down to its high-quality produce and focus on sustainability that are known the world over.
You must close, please.
We can, and should, do everything in our power to ensure that the industry is protected from whatever threats are on the horizon, and to ensure that the success is replicated and sustained, for the future of the industry, the nation and our citizens.
We move to closing speeches. It is disappointing to note that not everyone who contributed has returned to the chamber for the start of those speeches.16:22
I did not want the debate to be focused yet again on Brexit, although some contributors tried to do that. We all know the threat that Brexit poses. I wanted to ensure that the debate was focused where it should be, on supporting our quality food and drink industry and on what the Scottish Government needs to do now to ensure that we maintain our deserved reputation for both quality and the highest level of animal welfare.
In my opening speech, I identified two areas where the Scottish Government needs to take action urgently. In particular, it needs to ensure that we have an effective regulatory system for our fish farming industry. The system is currently not fit for purpose. I appreciate the Government’s support for the Liberal Democrat amendment. That must be followed by action, rather than just a vote, to put the regulatory system right.
Donald Cameron focused on the Parliament’s concerns about why the good food nation bill was dropped from the programme for government. All four opposition parties are united in not wanting to see that bill kicked into the long grass. That is why we will support all the amendments before us today. Colin Smyth rightly used his time to focus on tackling food poverty and jobs in the industry, as did Claudia Beamish.
I take the opportunity to thank Mark Ruskell for working with me and others to get the Parliament to focus on what the Scottish Government can do to support our food and drink industry and to get the Scottish Government to act to address the problems and introduce legislation. He worked very well, and, if it had not been for Mark Ruskell, perhaps we would not all be supporting the amendments. I do not know whether my compliments to Mark Ruskell will help or hinder him within his parliamentary group: I notice that the other members are not here, so it may be that they have not heard. I think he is all right.
I was astonished by Mairi Gougeon’s intervention in my opening contribution to the debate, when I raised the issue of the export for slaughter of over 5,000 young calves last year, many of which ended up going for slaughter outwith the EU, in North Africa, with all that that entails. I could not quite believe it when she said that the calves on the BBC programme were not Scottish. She did not comment on the fact that, last year, 5,000 such calves were Scottish. When I said that the facts are important but equally important is public perception, I was—unbelievably—barracked by some MSPs on the SNP benches, and one in particular, who is not in the chamber at the moment. I will not name him because I thought it was rather poor.
My goodness—that is the whole point of my amendment. That we have quality produce raised to the very highest welfare standards must not only be true, but be seen to be true. The perception of the great British public is really important. If we and our Government ministers do not understand that, our food and drink industry could be compromised very quickly indeed.
Members throughout the chamber are agreed, surely, on the importance of our food and drink industry and on the fact that it is a real success story. Every contributor to the debate has made that point. However, we fail in our duty if we engage only in back-slapping about how well our industry is doing in our constituencies or regions. Surely this is our opportunity also to highlight problems that we are facing, and solutions to them. There are problems, and if we do not address them as soon as they arise, we do nobody any favours.
I repeat that we have a good story to tell about our Scottish food and drink industry, but it can all be undone by failings in one or two areas. As soon as problems appear, the Scottish Government must act quickly to put things right. I identify one of those issues in my amendment, which I urge all members throughout the chamber to support.16:26
In effect, we have had two debates this afternoon. One has been about celebrating the success of our artisan food producers across Scotland, and members have mentioned many examples of that, and the other has been about the Scottish Government’s policy direction and, perhaps, the lack of progress that we have seen there.
Members have taken us on a heady tour. We have been to gin and whisky distilleries, we have heard about black pudding and we have had offers of toffee from the SNP back benches.
It is important that the Scottish food sector is inclusive. Jenny Gilruth raised the disconnection of opportunity, particularly for young people who want to find livelihoods working in the food sector, and Claire Baker highlighted the skills gap that exists and the opportunity to bring disadvantaged young people into this success story.
It is important that the indicators of success for the Scottish food sector are not just about gross value added and the size of the sector. They must also be about what it actually does. The Scottish food commission commissioned an interesting piece of work back in 2015—a lot of good work has been going on here—on what the indicators of success should be in our food sector. It pointed out that good indicators would be the proportion of jobs for which people are paid the living wage and the incidence of skills gaps in the sector. When we consider its success, we must define that not just in terms of the size of the sector, but in terms of what it does and how inclusive it is.
A number of members focused, rightly, on the need for primary legislation: a good food nation bill. The cabinet secretary said that there is no instruction manual for this. I agree, but some very good work has been done by bodies such as the Scottish food commission and the food coalition, many of which were set up with the support of Government ministers. We need to carry that through.
Colin Smyth talked about the scandal of 200,000 children going to bed hungry and Claire Baker talked about the holiday hunger that many families in our communities face. That is why it is important that we have a good food nation bill that contains a right to food and provides that public bodies that look after vulnerable people must ensure that that right is met, whether that is through education, programmes around cooking or the provision of high-quality school meals during term time and, potentially, during holiday periods as well. It is important that a good food nation bill addresses those issues of social equality.
I turn to the protected geographical indicator scheme. It is welcome that the cabinet secretary has put pressure on multiple UK Government ministers to move on that. I welcome the fact that the Tory amendment commits to strengthening a replacement for the PGI scheme post-Brexit. I hope that, if that amendment is agreed to, the Tory members will follow through on that and lobby the UK trade ministers. If the amendment is agreed to, they will have a united voice from the Parliament to embolden them to make the case that we need to ensure that, as Angus MacDonald said, the PGI scheme does not become a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.
One PGI that we have and that has been a huge success is Scotch beef. I say to the new minister that taking some leadership on the accreditation of rose veal and how that might fit with the Scotch beef label could provide part of the solution that she is looking for in relation to dairy calves. It should not just be about shipping or shooting; we could have an ethical product and we could even sell it in the Parliament.
Mike Rumbles and Claudia Beamish made some thoughtful points about the quality and sustainability of our food. I recognise the importance of the salmon farming industry to our Highlands and Islands not only for this generation but for future generations. That is why we are all concerned about the deep-seated problems that the industry has. I refer to animal welfare, disease, sea lice—which Claudia Beamish accurately predicted several years ago that we needed to monitor; we did not do that and look where we are now—the culling of seals, which could lead to an export ban for Scottish salmon in the US, and the impact on our wild salmon stocks.
We await with interest and bated breath the report that will come from the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, but it must not just sit on the shelf. That is important. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is undertaking a sector review of salmon farming in the months to come. It could change the way that the sector is regulated to protect the environment. It is important that the Parliament continues to get a grip on the issue. Although we have an iconic product in Scottish salmon, it is in trouble, as is consumer confidence. We need to address the issues.
We must take the vision of a good food nation and make it an economically successful, socially inclusive and environmentally responsible reality. Let us see a bill in the next year.16:32
This has been an interesting debate. A number of good points were made across the chamber. There are many areas on which we can all agree, not least our world-class product, which many speakers—such as Emma Harper, Claire Baker, Jenny Gilruth and Stuart McMillan—highlighted.
However, there has also been disagreement and controversy, particularly due to the Government’s backtracking on the proposed good food nation bill. I hear what Fergus Ewing said, but the concept of such a bill was one of the many so-called radical announcements in last year’s programme for government. Like Donald Cameron, Mark Ruskell and Mike Rumbles, I do not understand what the delay is but, in a spirit of co-operation, I say to the cabinet secretary that the bill should address sustainability, food poverty and healthy eating. In doing so, it should encourage links across Government portfolios.
Specifically, as Colin Smyth mentioned, the bill should incorporate the right to food into Scots law. If it does not, Scottish Labour would lodge an amendment to that effect. We have a right to food in international law but, without protection in our law, it cannot be enforced and cannot underpin policy and practice. It is not good enough to have bits and pieces of legislation; we need an overarching bill.
The right to food is a right for everyone to be able to eat well and to have a system that treats people, livestock and the planet fairly. That means that food should be available to everyone, regardless of any geographical or financial barriers that they might face. In other words, everyone should be able to have access to, and pay for, food.
Not only that, but the food that is on offer should be nutritious, safe to eat and respectful of the many cultures that make up modern Scotland. Food production in Scotland should be sustainable, ethical and carried out using methods that protect and preserve our natural environment and resources, so that we can produce food now and into the future.
That will require a whole system approach to supporting our farmers and food producers so that they can be part of that transformation. As yet, none of that is a reality in Scotland.
We absolutely need a right to food in Scots law, to create a legal framework that, to quote Nourish Scotland,
“respects, protects, and fulfils food rights.”
We have heard today about food poverty. Like Claire Baker, I want to spend some time on the issue of food poverty, which is particularly important given that figures show that more than 200,000 children are now living in households that are unlikely to be able to afford a healthy diet.
We know that one area of growth in our towns and cities is food banks. Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust reported a 17 per cent rise in the use of food banks in Scotland compared to the previous year. Low incomes, benefit changes and benefit delays were cited as significant factors for people who find themselves having to seek help to satisfy the fundamental human requirement of having enough food to eat.
Despite the fact that the Trussell Trust describes universal credit as being “a significant factor”, the Tories in Westminster still refuse to halt the roll-out. In the Scottish Parliament that policy is supported by the Scottish Conservatives. In areas where universal credit has been rolled out, the number of people using food banks rose by 52 per cent and that includes thousands of hard-working families.
For the life of me, I cannot understand how the Scottish Conservatives can claim in the Parliament to want to end food poverty when they will not call for a halt to one of the major contributors of food poverty in Scotland—the roll-out of universal credit. If they genuinely want to address food poverty in Scotland, they must make it clear that we need a halt to the roll-out of universal credit in Scotland. While they are at it, they also need to speak out against failed Tory austerity, which is causing widespread food poverty in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
Without doubt, our food system is failing many of our citizens, from those experiencing food uncertainty, food poverty or working in the food industry with low wages and insecure working conditions, to those struggling with diet-related ill health and obesity, as well as the large numbers of food producers who are struggling to make a living.
As pointed out so passionately by Claudia Beamish, food is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss, and is driving global soil quality loss and antibiotic resistance.
An overarching bill could change that, by underpinning a fair, healthy and sustainable food system that could specifically tackle food poverty. That is why Scottish Labour lodged an amendment that I hope that all members can support. Surely no member of the Scottish Parliament wants to vote against tackling food poverty? I urge support.16:38
I am delighted to speak in tonight’s debate celebrating Scotland’s food and drink success story. As we have heard, Scotland showcases some of the world’s finest food and drink, which is one of the reasons why visitors come to Scotland. Is it not amazing that so many members have an inside knowledge of whisky and gin from their own regions and constituencies?
In summing up, I want to give some credit where it is due and I will also set out why the Scottish Conservatives have misgivings about the Scottish Government’s ambition.
I hope that you will indulge me for a moment, Presiding Officer, while I celebrate the success of the food producers in my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Their tenacity and determination to put the best of the Borders on the Scottish food map is second to none. There is no shortage of achievement in my constituency. Companies enjoyed great success in the great taste awards, including Giacopazzi’s in Eyemouth for its ice cream and yoghurt, Katy Cloud Marshmallows, Jarvis Pickle for its Cullen skink pie and Laprig Valley for its gorgeous apple juice.
Last night, we enjoyed the Food and Drink Federation reception, which many members have mentioned and which was hosted by John Scott. The cabinet secretary was there to see and hear the breadth of talent, particularly among young people with their fantastic achievements through receiving education and skills in the food and drink sector. I will pick up on that point later.
We can definitely go further in promoting Scotland’s unique food story. We must seize the vast opportunities that tourism can bring in promoting our food and drink industry. The Scottish Conservatives welcome the Scottish Government’s aim to grow the food and drink sector by £1 billion by 2030, via the food tourism action plan.
We have heard so many members talk about success. It is outstanding that exports were by £275 million to £5.5 billion in 2016 and have increased by 70 per cent since 2007. The amazing figures go on; I do not need to repeat them, but they are outstanding.
As we go forward with Brexit, we have a unique chance to craft an export plan that could take Scottish produce even further. Many members have lauded the success of the whisky and salmon industries on the world stage. However, there is so much untapped potential out there that could thrive in a global market.
With all our wonderful locally grown and high-quality food, it is no wonder that people are a little disappointed at the SNP Government’s decision to, in effect, ditch the good food nation bill, which many of the parties have talked about. We are saddened that the SNP has decided to drop the bill from its 2018-19 programme for government. Fergus Ewing promised that there would be a good food nation bill back in May 2017, and the commitment was included in the 2017 programme for government. The new programme for government mentions only proposals and actions. There was cross-party consensus, so why drop the bill? What kind of message does ditching the bill send out? What sort of message does it bill send out to families, crofters, farmers, fishermen, our valued food producers, our schools and our planet? How can we begin to properly shape Scotland’s food policy without robust and considered legislation?
I reaffirm that we are committed to introduce legislation that will underpin Scotland as a good food nation. However, might I just correct Rachael Hamilton and previous Conservative speakers? We did not say in a previous programme for government that we would introduce legislation; we said that we would consult the public on good food legislation. That is exactly what we will do.
To clarify, the cabinet secretary told Parliament:
“Decisions on the bill timetable will be taken in the context of the Government’s overall legislative programme.”—[Official Report, 25 May 2017; c 1.]
I do not know how that squares with what the cabinet secretary has just said. [Interruption.] I am being urged to declare an interest. In the register of members’ interests, I state that I own a local hotel, in which I sell food and drink. I do not know whether that is relevant, but I have said it to make sure.
On the good food nation bill, public sector supply chains and food procurement that involve Scottish producers could have been set out in the legislation. I presume that that is what the cabinet secretary is talking about with regard to the consultation. We could have introduced legislation to improve children’s health and promote healthy eating. That will now not come to fruition unless the SNP brings back the bill. Mark Ruskell has urged the cabinet secretary to do so and to get out of his economic silo, and many members want the cabinet secretary to reconsider.
Food producers are acutely aware of their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment. Numerous producers, from whisky distillers to fruit and vegetable growers, work with mother nature to enhance not only their products but the environment and biodiversity. For example, in the whisky sector, pure clean water is crucial to the quality of the finished product, and the industry is carrying out some excellent work with SEPA to ensure that pollution in watercourses is kept to a minimum. I am sure that that good work will not be ignored, but a good food nation bill could address regulation and some of the quality standards and issues in other sectors of the food industry that we have talked about.
The Scottish Conservatives recognise the importance of geographical indications. That is why we included them in our amendment. The Scottish brand is world renowned, and it is important that we ensure that our brand is protected and that any replacement scheme for geographical indications must provide at least an equivalent level of protection once the UK leaves the EU. I was interested in Colin Smyth’s comment that it increases the value of products by a factor of at least 2.23.
Excuse me, Ms Hamilton. I do not know whether my hearing is particularly acute today or whether voices are carrying more than usual, but I feel that I am part of conversations and am understanding them—it is that bad. I ask members to be a bit quieter.
It is like being a school teacher just before the bell goes.
Intellectual property is of huge value to producers. I urge the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to support food producers.
Members have talked about many diverse subjects. John Scott welcomed the six-month trial scheme for seasonal workers to tackle the labour shortages in the fruit industry and other food production units. However, it is worrying that the new entrants capital grant scheme closed to new applications at the end of August. New entrants who started to farm in 2017 should have expected a scheme to be available for three years, but that has been cut short by 18 months. How are we meant to attract the next generation to pursue a career in agriculture and produce more food if those opportunities are taken away from them? Last night, the cabinet secretary was happy to support young people at the Food and Drink Federation event. Why is he now not announcing new support for an entrants scheme to encourage young women and men to get into farming?
To conclude, we must remember that, at the end of the day, it is the fishermen and the farmers whom we must thank for producing the excellent raw ingredients on which the Scottish success story is built. A good food nation bill could have enshrined the importance of food production in legislation. Quite frankly, there has been a kick in the teeth for the fishermen and the farmers.
We simply cannot rest on our laurels. The hard work of farmers, fishermen and food producers cannot be taken for granted. It is time that the SNP Government realised that and pulled out the stops to support the industry and ensure that we can take Scottish food and drink to the next level. A good food nation bill would have done that.
We have ended up with a couple of extra moments. A speech of 12 minutes should take us up to decision time, minister. I am sure that there will be a little space for interventions.16:47
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will certainly see what I can do.
At the outset, I want to address the points that Mike Rumbles raised in his opening and summing-up speeches. Contrary to what he might think or believe, facts are important. We cannot allow a situation to continue in which completely misleading statements are made and footage is displayed without trying to clarify or give the truth. I took a number of questions about the matter in the chamber on Tuesday, and I care deeply about it. I am actively trying to do something about it, and will repeat what I said then: no one is happy with the situation.
On calves being transported outwith the EU to third countries, as I said in response to Mike Rumbles earlier, we did not see any Scottish calves in the documentary footage. I am not saying that that makes it okay; I am saying that we specifically said to the BBC that, if it has any footage or evidence of the practice, it should give it to us. If members have any footage or evidence, they should give that to us.
We must not get confused about this. I said that the facts are important, but public perception is as important. The BBC programme made it clear that the calves were not from Scotland. That does not take away from the fact that 5,000 were exported last year. What is the minister doing about that?
I feel that Mike Rumbles is conflating a few issues. Yes, 5,000 calves were exported, but in his statements, he makes it sound as though 5,000 calves were exported outwith the EU to those third countries. [Interruption.] But that is exactly how he makes it come across. He talks about public perception being important. That is exactly why I am trying to clarify the matter and get it right. I said that I am actively working to do something about the matter—and I am genuinely doing that.
Colin Smyth rose—
I will take an intervention in a moment.
I said that I would engage with the dairy industry. Again, I say that no one is happy with the situation and we want to try to tackle it.
Mark Ruskell made a very good point in his closing speech about rosé veal. I understand and accept where he is coming from. I will meet any member who wants to discuss the issue seriously with me and try to find a way forward.
Will Mairi Gougeon accept that, as long as we continue to have exporting of live animals for fattening and slaughter, the Government cannot guarantee that calves will not be exported from Scotland that could ultimately land in countries whose processes are far inferior to our own?
That is exactly why we are undertaking research. We are doing so to make sure that that is not happening. We do not believe that it is happening, but I say again to members that if they have evidence of that happening, please give it to me, because I want to see it. I put that call out: give me the evidence, so that we can act on it and do something about it.
I could not agree more with Mark Ruskell that this was a tale of two debates. I will probably move between the two as I progress through my speech.
I wanted to start my speech by saying that it is good to have the opportunity to take part in the debate and bring it to a close in my new capacity as minister for rural affairs. If I am learning one thing in this role, it is that it is certainly not without its challenges.
There are areas in my portfolio, such as food and drink, where there are challenges, which I will come on to, but where there is also a great deal of opportunity and excitement. Who cannot get excited and passionate when it comes to Scotland’s food and drink?
Now is the time to celebrate and enjoy that passion as part of food and drink fortnight, which runs until the end of this week. As part of the fortnight, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of people, businesses and organisations to see the innovation that takes place and the action that the Government, in partnership with others, is taking to support not only production but learning, training and career development in this vital sector.
Last week, I met Bob and Jane Prentice at Downfield farm in Fife to launch the venison strategy. The strategy is the culmination of the work of those who are involved in the sector. For the first time, all the key representatives from across the supply chain, covering both wild and farmed deer, worked together to develop a plan to grow the sector.
The strategy has many aims, including improving and establishing new supply chains, building and strengthening skills, and looking at how to support new entrants to deer farming. The venison sector in Scotland is growing and we have an opportunity to develop it further.
We have heard a lot about last week’s Scotch Whisky Association event. I spoke at that event, which celebrated the association’s successes, including in particular the fact that there are now 128 distilleries across Scotland, from the old to the new and the truly historic.
Jenny Gilruth talked about Lindores abbey, where the first distilling is said to have taken place. Now, 500 years on, we have seen the rebirth of whisky production there through the vision of the McKenzie Smiths.
Whisky is one of Scotland’s great success stories, which is evident when we look at last year’s exports and see that the sector was worth £4.37 billion, which is up 55 per cent from 2007.
On Monday, I visited Forth Valley College in Stirling, which is, with the Springboard Charity, undertaking work with secondary schools across the region, focusing on hospitality, food and tourism. It aims to show young people the wide variety of careers and opportunities that are available across those sectors by giving them small tasters of each.
I was able to take part in a session with Historic Environment Scotland and then we had a mocktail-making session with the team from Andy Murray’s Cromlix hotel—for everyone’s information, I make a cracking Shirley Temple. We also had a session with the chef, during which we competed in an omelette challenge. I was devastated to learn that I make an omelette more slowly than Jamie Hepburn and Fiona Hyslop. All that I can say is that their omelettes must have been completely inedible given the time that they took.
Across those three sessions, it was fantastic to see the enthusiasm from the young people and from those who were delivering the sessions, who really brought the jobs and careers to life. If we want to grow and develop our food and drink sector and fully realise all the opportunities that we hope to realise on our way to becoming a good food nation, it is vital to have the skills and the enthusiasm.
Does the minister recognise the great disappointment of many companies and the food sector in general that a good food nation bill has not been included in this year’s programme for government?
We have plans to legislate in certain areas, but this is not just about legislation. We can take a number of actions without legislation. James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink emphasised that point today.
This Saturday, I will visit the Stranraer oyster festival to celebrate and enjoy that fantastic product. Colin Smyth and Emma Harper highlighted the oyster festival in their speeches.
The talent, enthusiasm and dedication of all those involved in our food and drink sector across the country are clear for everyone to see. We heard about that from members across the chamber when they talked about their constituencies.
Colin Smyth talked about Cream o’ Galloway and about Dumfries and Galloway having 40 per cent of Scotland’s dairy. We heard about special South Korean bar snacks from Gillian Martin’s constituency, and about microbrewing in Fife from Jenny Gilruth. We heard about award-winning butchers and grocers in Burntisland from Claire Baker. Stuart McMillan talked about the trout fishery and the vegan cheese makers in his constituency, and the little treats that he has left in all our offices today.
Will the minister take a brief intervention?
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
In addition to Dumfries and Galloway’s dairy, Emma Harper also mentioned the Galloway chillis, which I look forward to trying. I cannot talk about all this without mentioning Stornoway black pudding, which was mentioned by Alasdair Allan. It fuelled Jenny Gilruth and me on our run around the Stornoway half marathon, and Angus MacDonald knows how to make it—that is good knowledge.
There is also no way that I could talk about all this without talking also about my own constituency and the amazing work that is being done there. We have talked about the food tourism strategy, which is perfectly encapsulated in Brechin. From Brechin, we can catch the Caledonian railway’s sloe train—a steam train that goes to Dun, where Gin Bothy gins can be sampled.
Laurencekirk is home to Allison Stewart’s Cakes by Alli-Baba, which was winner of the best baked goods in Scotland award earlier this year at Scotland’s business awards 2018. In Montrose, we have the restaurant El Tajin, which was established by Mexican chef Martha Doyle and her family, who use the best of local produce to inspire their Mexican menu. They use all the best that the area has to offer.
There are the smokies in Arbroath, the geese from Inverbervie and the goats from Inverkeilor, where such truly original creations such as goat tacos are made. I encourage anybody who is in the area to take the time to visit.
As I said, it is hard not to be passionate about the sector as a whole. At the same time, however, we have to be aware of the challenges, one of which is Brexit. Mike Rumbles thinks that we do not need to talk about it and Peter Chapman sees it as an opportunity; I beg to differ.
I realise that Brexit is not the only challenge that we face, and others were articulated by members across the chamber. Claudia Beamish talked about access to healthy local food and our food culture. Edward Mountain and John Scott talked about livestock and the challenges facing farmers. A number of members raised concerns around health and food poverty not being linked with our health strategy, including Claire Baker, Colin Smyth and Mark Ruskell. That link is intrinsic to our work towards becoming a good food nation. I want to highlight that. It is discussed in the progress report that was published this week and it will be integral to our work as we move forward. I hope that the fact that we will accept the majority of the amendments to our motion shows members that we recognise the concerns that have been raised across the chamber and that we want to work together to do something about them.
Donald Cameron and Mark Ruskell raised concerns about political will. I assure members that the political will is there. Food poverty, health, food production, access to local food, education, access to job opportunities in the food and drink sector, valued jobs in the sector, skills and having top-quality produce available in our local communities in Scotland and abroad are all vitally important issues that are interlinked, and they are exactly the issues that we want to tackle and address on our way to becoming a good food nation. I am committed to that, the Scottish Government is committed to it, and I hope that we can see some consensus and co-operation across the chamber to make it happen.