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I am pleased that the Parliament has set aside time today to discuss the implications for Scotland’s food and drink industry of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union—specifically, the catastrophic impact if we were to leave without a deal. That is important because the food and drink industry is one of sectors that will be most adversely affected by Brexit, which will threaten the economic growth of the industry and—even worse—undermine its ambition to double its value to £30 billion by 2030.
Our food and drink industry is economically and culturally vital to Scotland. It is one of our largest employers, sustaining jobs in some of our most fragile and rural communities, and it is underpinned by our farming and fishing industries, providing markets for the raw material that primary producers harvest, cultivate and catch. It is also increasingly becoming the bedrock of our tourism offer and is one of the reasons why people enjoy marvellous holidays in our countryside—which, as we see today, is constantly sunny. Further, it continues to be the star on the international stage, with our whisky and seafood being exported to more than 100 markets across the world.
The statistics speak for themselves. Exports are at record levels and are now worth £6.3 billion, which is up 78 per cent since 2007. Sales of Scottish brands across the UK market have risen by 37 per cent since 2007. Investment by Scottish businesses is up 72 per cent since 2007, and the birth rate of new businesses has risen by 86 per cent in the past eight years.
Today, I can share the news that the latest turnover statistics measuring the overall value of the industry in monetary terms have been published and show that turnover in Scotland’s food and drink sector is now at record levels. Turnover for 2017 was valued at £14.8 billion, which was an increase of £836 million on the previous year—what a tremendous tribute to all those who work in the sector.
The success has been helped by the continued and substantial support from the Scottish Government. Since the EU referendum result of June 2016, the Scottish Government has provided £90 million of grants to the industry through the European maritime and fisheries fund and the food processing, marketing and co-operation programme, which have supported more than 600 projects the length and breadth of the country. That support has given businesses the confidence—even in the face of uncertainty—to invest and to grow their ambition, workforce, product range, productivity and reputation.
Scotland’s reputation, which is founded on provenance, quality and heritage, makes Scotland stand out from the crowd. However, success in those markets has been hard earned. It did not come easily or overnight; it required substantial effort to build a customer base and even more effort to maintain it in the face of fierce competition. For some sectors, such as seafood, the supply chains have been finely honed to ensure maximum speed and efficiency, which is facilitated through trading arrangements that have been built up over a number of years.
Last month, however, we came perilously close to jeopardising all that success. As members know, the European Council has extended the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union until 31 October. That extension rescued us from the nightmare scenario. Had it not happened, the impact on the food and drink sector would have been catastrophic. There would have been severe disruption to our supply chains, the imposition of punitive tariffs, the loss of markets and the introduction of complex and costly non-tariff barriers, including the requirement for export health certificates. Thankfully, we were spared that.
However, as things stand, if an agreed way forward is not found soon, the risk of a no-deal Brexit will rise again, with the potential for more money, time and effort to be wasted. Of course, the UK Government could remove that risk by making it clear that, if the only alternative is a no-deal Brexit, it will revoke article 50 instead. That is in its gift. Until that happens, the Scottish Government will continue to do all that it can to support the industry in its preparations. Over the past six months, we have worked extensively with stakeholders from across the industry to minimise the damage that would be caused if we crashed out. Today, I will update members on that work.
I have spoken about the success of the industry, and I contend that our trading relationship with the EU is at the heart of that success. Last year, more than two thirds of our food exports went to the EU, and seven out of 10·of our top export markets are in the EU. The EU is the largest market for Scotch whisky, and 64 per cent of our seafood exports go to the EU, the majority of which rely on just-in-time supply chains across the channel. France alone accounts for a quarter of our red meat exports. In addition, our seafood industry is heavily reliant on EU nationals, many of whom have made a life in Scotland. Indeed, in Grampian, more than 70 per cent of the workforce are from elsewhere in the EU.
The implications of leaving the EU are so severe because the food and drink industry is significantly more important to Scotland’s economy than it is to the rest of the UK’s economy, particularly that of England. Food and drink exports are four times more important to our economy than they are to England’s economy. Seafood exports account for 58 per cent of our overall food exports, whereas seafood exports from England account for only 6 per cent of its food exports. The seed potato industry, which exports more than 30,000 tonnes annually to the EU, is unique to Scotland. Therefore, the cumulative impact of leaving the EU without a deal is estimated to be a £2,000 million loss of sales for Scotland’s industry. Those figures were calculated by the industry, using the UK Government’s economic projections.
I have conveyed that information to the UK Government. Indeed, I wrote to Mr Gove on 19 February, setting out 10 clear and practical asks. Those include guaranteed continued protection in the EU for our iconic products that hold protected geographical indication status, which is absolutely essential for high-quality Scottish produce; negotiated market access to the EU and third-country markets; the facilitation of frictionless supply chains by allocating space on the Government-funded ferries for seafood and other time-sensitive products; a derogation from the EU being sought to avoid the need for export health certificates, which it is estimated would cost the industry up to an extra £15 million per annum; and financial support for livestock producers, particularly sheep farmers, who are likely to be completely shut out of export markets because of the impact of tariffs.
Despite those and other compelling arguments, which I also conveyed in person, Mr Gove’s response was, sadly, non-committal.
Michael Gove gave evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee yesterday, and, when he was asked about the problems that face the sheep industry, he said words to the effect of, “I am waiting for the cabinet secretary, Fergus Ewing, to come to me, and we will listen to all his proposals.” Has the cabinet secretary gone to Michael Gove with specific proposals? Will he lay those proposals out for us, so that we can understand them?
Not only have we gone to him to discuss an appropriate compensation scheme, but we have had several discussions about the matter face to face, around the table, including about a scheme based on headage that would provide an element of compensation to hill farmers in Scotland.
I am pleased to say that there is apparent agreement; however, there are no specific proposals from the UK Government. Indeed, the minutes of the devolved Administrations and UK Government meeting at which Brexit costs were discussed will record that Mr Gove undertook, on behalf of the UK Government, that the UK Government will meet all the Brexit costs. That was confirmed in the minutes, which were not challenged at the subsequent meeting, which I also attended—Ms Gougeon was with me at the time. However, when we came to discuss who would pay for the compensation scheme for our sheep sector and how that would be done, which is absolutely essential to know, the paper that the UK Government submitted said—wait for it—that each devolved Administration must pay its own costs.
Yes. I thank Mr Mountain for the opportunity to put that on the record. Obviously, I do not wish to make any comment that could be construed as partisan or party political, but I feel that, when I am challenged, I should respond in order to set the record straight. I am delighted to have been given that opportunity by Mr Mountain.
While we receive warm words but no action from the UK Government, we continue to work with and support the industry through our food sector resilience group, which we convened back in December. Represented on the group are organisations from across the industry and the wider supply chain, including retailers, grocers, wholesalers, hauliers and the public sector. We have undertaken a range of work to minimise the impact. It is important to say that this is hard, hard work that is being carried out over thousands of hours by civil servants who could have spent those hours on many, many other things to take our rural economy forward but have been diverted because of the need to plan for no deal and to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
That work includes developing sector plans to identify and pursue a range of actions for each sector; working with industry to develop a tailored, risk-based approach to meet the EU requirements for export health certificates; scoping out options for alternative supply chains, including the feasibility of air freight; undertaking a detailed assessment of infrastructure around export capability; identifying alternative market opportunities in international markets through our excellent network of 14 in-market specialists; extensive engagement with retailers to scope out the potential for increasing their Scottish sourcing in the event that export markets are disrupted; the development of a new online advisory service, prepare for Brexit; and many other things. I have sought to give a lead on all those matters. I have done much of that work myself, with our hard-working officials, and I will continue to do such work, including on Monday next week. Despite all those efforts, we know that many businesses are not as prepared as they might be.
Taking the intervention took up some of my time, so I will conclude. Our view is that the best way to break the deadlock is for the UK to put the issue back to the people, with an option to remain in the EU. I believe that Mr Rumbles may expand on that theme further, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr Rumbles and his colleagues on the matter. In the interim, we are doing much to support this exciting sector in Scotland. We are doing the day job, and the future is positive—the figures show that. If we do not jeopardise it through the political agenda of the UK Government in London, the food and drink sector will continue to thrive and prosper as it richly deserves to do.
That the Parliament acknowledges the significant contribution that food and drink makes to Scotland’s economy, society and reputation; notes analysis and warnings, including from the food and drink sector, of the disastrous impact of a no deal Brexit that would result in the loss of freedom of movement and trade, harming food and drink businesses and exports of quality meat and seafood; recognises the importance of growing markets for Scottish produce internationally, across the UK and here in Scotland, and considers that this can best be achieved through continued membership of the EU.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In my haste to get the cabinet secretary to correct a statement that he made, which he was unable to do, I failed to declare that I have an interest in a farming partnership. I know that members are aware of that, but I want to put it on the record, so that I have not misled anyone.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which mentions my farming and fish farming interests and the fact that I am a non-executive director of Murray Income Trust, which is a publicly listed company with food and drink investments.
I welcome the opportunity to talk about Scotland’s food and drink industry. I pay tribute to the sector, which is one of the bastions of the Scottish economy and is highly significant. In that sense, I agree with the cabinet secretary’s warm words in support of the sector and the people who work in it. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I know only too well the importance and value of the products that we produce, both locally and nationally, and the important jobs that come from the industry, which support many people in the region and beyond.
Food and drink are Scotland’s largest international export industry, with the manufacture of food and beverages accounting for exports that are worth around £6 billion, according to the latest figures. As we know, the industry’s overall value is around £15 billion, and we have long supported the Scottish Government’s ambition to double that value to £30 billion by 2030. That ambition is right, proper and achievable.
Unlike the Scottish National Party Government, we see Brexit as an opportunity to aid that ambition. Undoubtedly, the Brexit process is proving to be challenging. We want to see a deal pass that respects the referendum result and allows us to trade with other countries, boosting our own goods in the process while maintaining trade and positive co-operation with our friends in the European Union. The existing withdrawal agreement would allow us to do that, and it is clear from the wide support that it commands across Scottish industry that it is the most preferable outcome, which respects the vote. It is an outcome that would allow us to grow our burgeoning food and drink sector.
Let me remind the cabinet secretary what the sector said of that deal. The Scotch Whisky Association, which talks on behalf an industry with an export value to Scotland of £4.7 billion, said:
NFU Scotland said that the deal,
“while not perfect, will ensure that there are no hard barriers on the day we leave the European Union, and will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food & drink to continue throughout the transition period largely as before. This opportunity needs to be taken.”
Perhaps the cabinet secretary thinks that they are wrong.
Of course, we agree that a no-deal Brexit should be avoided, and we agree with the industry that it presents a risk. However, we are not the proponents of that outcome. We want a deal and we support the deal that is on the table, which the EU has said is the only deal on the table. The reality is that it is other parties, such as the SNP, that have wanted Brexit to fail from day 1 and are risking a no-deal Brexit becoming a reality.
I do not have time, I am afraid.
What grates for members on the Conservative benches is that one of the greatest threats to the growth of the food and drink sector is the SNP’s recent announcements relating to a second independence referendum. That is the reality. Independence threatens the UK’s single market, which accounts for around 60 per cent of Scottish exports. Not only that, the UK market is three times more important to Scotland than the EU market.
The SNP’s plans for an independent Scotland to quickly ditch the pound in favour of a new Scottish currency would put our food and drink businesses at significant economic risk. We are shortly going to waste valuable parliamentary time on legislation for such a referendum, which just one in five Scots wants to see in the next two years. That time could be spent debating food and drink policy, a good food nation bill and a Scottish agriculture bill. It ill befits the SNP to come here and preach about the dangers of Brexit when the policy of independence would wreak havoc on Scotland’s food and drink sector.
Of course Mr Allan would prefer to divert attention from the lack of ambition that his party and his Government show in this Parliament. That lack of ambition is clear today. A pattern has emerged when it comes to a Brexit debate—it is simply a smokescreen to hide the failure of the SNP Government to come up with anything novel or radical when it comes to policy.
NFU Scotland’s director of policy said recently of the Scottish Government’s agriculture approach:
“There is no vision ... We have not got a clue at the moment.”
That is a pretty damning indictment.
If we are to succeed in delivering an even more successful food and drink industry, we need to drive policy in the industry from farm to fork, ensuring that each stage of the process is properly supported by Government, where appropriate, and tailored to specific needs.
I thank Mr Cameron for giving way—he can have one of my minutes.
Last summer, the farming industry, and fruit farmers in particular, found it very difficult to recruit workers. Given the botched visa scheme that the Government at Westminster has proposed, what needs to happen to ensure that there are workers this year and we do not have fruit rotting in the fields?
I am very grateful, Presiding Officer.
My answer to Mr Rowley is that I hope that the UK and Scottish Governments can work together on a system that will help seasonal workers. There is a pilot at present, which is a step towards that. I hope that it succeeds and that it will expand.
We want to succeed in delivering a more successful food and drink industry, and we have a great opportunity to grow the sector and tailor policy to benefit Scottish producers and businesses. However, we and others in this Parliament are still waiting for a good food nation bill. We are sympathetic to what both the Labour and Green amendments say in that regard. WWF Scotland has said that such a bill
"would help Scotland navigate this period of change and tackle the multiple environmental, social and economic challenges of the Scottish food system and harness the opportunities.”
On the subject of our excellent, unique produce, it is important to recognise the work that is going on to protect some of our most iconic brands. In addition, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said in March:
“leaving the Common Fisheries Policy will enable us to elevate the UK onto the world stage as a sustainable seafood harvesting and marketing nation.”
Those are all important steps to give the many people who are involved in our food and drink sector confidence going forward.
There are many opportunities for our food and drink sector, and the Scottish Conservatives believe that, if we get Brexit right, it can be a critical part of plans to grow the sector. However, we are deeply concerned that it could be a missed opportunity if the SNP Government continues in its attempts to prevent a Brexit deal. We believe in our food and drink sector and we know that it can thrive even more with the right support and if we grasp the opportunities that are ahead.
I move amendment S5M-17304.1, to leave out from “notes analysis” to end and insert:
“recognises the importance of new international markets for Scottish produce, as well as continued access to the UK market; supports leaving the EU with a deal; notes the challenges to society, the environment and the food and drink sector from other related issues, including climate change and food insecurity, and recognises the need for change, regardless of the outcomes of Brexit, in order to create a resilient food and drink industry that is sustainable in Scotland both today and in the future.”
Like others, I want to highlight the economic benefit of the food and drink industry to Scotland. There is no doubt that Brexit looms large over the industry. A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster, and that prospect is causing uncertainty and concern.
Import tariffs would lead to higher prices in the supermarkets and shops, and delays at the border. Depending on the level of tariffs, they could lead to a shortage of certain kinds of food and—as the cabinet secretary said—put exports at even greater risk. We must do everything that we can to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and I ask the Scottish Government to do everything in its power to ensure that it does not happen. The Scottish Government needs to set aside its constitutional wrangles, stop using Brexit as a lever for independence and work for the best interests of the Scottish people.
I read in the papers recently that indyref2 is the First Minister’s top priority. How sad that, when engulfed by the chaos of leaving a political and economic union, she looks to add to that chaos by leaving another. If Brexit is bad, independence would be four times worse. We already see the difficulty that the Scottish Government has in putting in place systems to deliver devolved tax and benefits—those powers are being handed back to Westminster. How much more difficult would it be to unravel the whole of the United Kingdom?
I thought that the title of today’s debate was the “Impact of Brexit on Scotland’s Food and Drink”. I also thought that the member would have been able to support the many important businesses and workers in that sector in her constituency, who will be crying out for their voice to be heard in this important debate.
I simply ask the Scottish Government—come what may—to use its devolved powers to put us in a better place. It is simply wrong that, in a rich country, we have people who are going hungry and children who are suffering from diseases and malnutrition that our parents’ generation thought they would never see again.
The Scottish Government has the power to legislate for the right to food. It is a human right, so let us legislate to enshrine it in our laws. That would enable us to ensure that no one goes hungry and to hold ourselves and the Scottish Government accountable if they do. The scourge of malnutrition and obesity could be dealt with and, with that, the unnecessary chronic health problems and pressures that they would otherwise store up for the national health service in the future.
We also need to face up to climate change. I think that we are agreed that this is a climate emergency. Although we hear that agriculture is the biggest contributor to climate change, we seldom hear about what it sequesters. There is no credit for the forestry that our farmers and crofters plant, or for the grasslands that they manage, yet both those activities sequester carbon. We hear that we should get rid of livestock, sheep and cows. However, no cognisance is taken of the fact that those animals protect the very grasslands that sequester more carbon than forestry. Livestock also protect biodiversity, which is already suffering because of a lack of stock in the hills.
As a matter of urgency, the Scottish Government must draw up a new subsidy scheme that helps farmers and crofters to work to sequester more carbon and greenhouse gases. If we are to meet the targets that it has set, we cannot go on with the schemes that we have.
Soil management is good not only for the environment but for production. It is a win-win, helping the climate and helping to make farms more productive. However, it can be expensive for crofters and farmers. We therefore need a scheme that recognises that, and helps them with those costs. It will be too late to meet the interim targets if we delay devising a new scheme until post-2021.
Although there is uncertainty surrounding Brexit, we cannot simply sign up to climate change targets, declare a climate emergency and then do nothing to deal with it. Our farmers and crofters are seeking leadership from the Scottish Government. They need a measure that takes account of the greenhouse gases that they produce but also of what they sequester, so that they can move to net zero. We need subsidy payments to reflect that, along with the other public goods that agriculture provides—public money for public goods.
We need to set a direction of travel that gives producers a clear indication of what they can and cannot expect help with in the future. We need to seek reassurance about a no-deal Brexit—and yes, staying in the European Union would be the best way to support the status quo. However, we had a referendum and we need to try to honour the democratic will of the people.
That said, I do not believe that people voted for the chaos that we now face. We therefore need to find the best outcome possible. Governments cannot alone overturn the will of the people. If they seek to do that, they need to go back to the people to give them the final say. However, we need to consider that a majority may still vote to leave the EU, so we need to have a reasonable deal in place to prevent further crisis before we take that step.
My reasons for campaigning for remain are exactly the same as they are for campaigning to stay in the United Kingdom. Our food and drink sector and the country as a whole are better served as part of a larger alliance that allows trade and assistance to flow, whether that be the EU or the UK.
A good food nation bill that takes account of environmental issues, farm-to-fork agricultural support, health and hunger, and a comprehensive subsidy scheme would not only give reassurance to the food and drink industry in a time of upheaval but set a direction of travel that we want for the country. That is the direction in which we must go.
I move amendment S5M-17304.2, to insert at end:
“and remaining part of the UK; believes that, should the UK leave the EU, any Brexit deal must protect the UK’s close relationship with the EU, and further believes that the Scottish Government should bring forward a Good Food Nation Bill that enshrines a right to food, and, in light of the climate emergency, must also, as a matter of urgency, bring forward a new agricultural support scheme that assists farmers and crofters to become carbon-neutral.”
I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate the impact that Brexit will have and, in many cases, is already having on our food and drink sector.
In leaving the EU, we stand to lose economic benefits and much more. For two generations, Scotland’s food system has been defined by European regulations, policy levers, and funding streams underpinned by the common agricultural policy. Greens have long been critical of the CAP, but hard-won reforms over the past two decades have at least succeeded in ensuring that every country in Europe directly supports agri-environment measures that have led to the production of much greener food.
There is a strong European consensus that the future of our food system and the future of our environment are inextricably linked. I doubt that we would have achieved that unanimity without the driving force of the European Union. Greens, of course, would argue that that needs to go further. Climate change and environmental protection should be at the very heart of our farm support system, rather than stuck on the fringes and, while the UK has been embroiled in the never-ending Brexit row, the rest of the EU has been considering just that system. The current CAP round finishes next year and, from 2021, we will have a new, revised system. Scottish members of the European Parliament should be around that table, negotiating a united European approach to addressing the climate crisis and providing a strong future for farming communities. Instead, they have been disempowered by the UK Government and sidelined from the process.
Greens from across Europe have been participating. They have brought together 10 priorities for the future of the CAP, which include harmonising agricultural policy with health, environment and climate change targets; fairer distribution of CAP subsidies to support our small and medium-sized farmers; a refocusing on extensive rather than intensive food production; and a comprehensive public goods audit for all public funding and investment.
The majority of parties in the chamber have said that they want to remain in the EU. That means that we should be having parallel discussions right now about what a CAP for the climate emergency should look like, whether or not we end up being part of it. As my amendment makes clear, if we act now, we can turn a crisis into an opportunity for Scotland’s food and drink sector.
In the past few decades, public attitudes to the food that the public buy, cook and eat have shifted radically with an increasing understanding of the environmental impact of our diets. For example, the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled since 2014. Concern for the environment and concern for health are the top reasons that people give for changing their diet. Many more people are looking to make more gradual changes, with 35 per cent of British consumers reporting having meat-free days throughout the week.
The recent UK Committee on Climate Change report worked on the assumption that we would see a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption in the coming years. In evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on Tuesday, the UKCCC admitted that that is a very conservative estimate and is based on the consumer patterns that we currently see. There is no need for a big push for behaviour change to achieve that 20 per cent because people are already making the change. However, the report said that a 50 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption would make a net zero target more achievable, and even that would still mean people eating more meat and dairy products than are recommended by public health guidelines. If we were all to eat according to the model that Public Health England has recommended, we would see a total reduction of meat and dairy consumption by more than 80 per cent.
We should not fight against those recommendations and the growing consumer trends that they reflect, nor should we see them as a threat to our food and farming sector. We need to embrace the opportunities. Scotland’s climate and land mean that we can produce carbon-neutral meat and dairy, and there is an appetite for highly sustainable, ethical food. Imagine the opportunities at home and globally if, eventually, we were able to say that all Scotch lamb and beef was carbon neutral. That will, however, require significant change and investment, including mainstreaming techniques such as holistic pasture management to lock more carbon into our soils; incorporating more trees on our farms, not just as patchy windbreaks but as integrated silvopasture systems; and, like it or not, reducing herd densities and switching to more extensive farming.
The reward will be a premium price for a desirable, sustainable product and more land and resources to invest in growing climate-friendly, plant-based foods. Other countries have already recognised that. Ireland’s successful origin green scheme highlights the most environmentally sustainable food that the country has to offer and accounts for 90 per cent of its food and drink exports.
It is time for Scotland to adopt a similar approach. I hope that our future lies firmly in the EU but, whether we stay or not, the climate crisis and our ability to respond to it will determine whether, in the years ahead, Scotland’s food and drink sector thrives or just survives.
The final part of my amendment is a reminder to the Scottish Government—Donald Cameron and Rhoda Grant have already given one—of what the chamber agreed last September. We know that the cabinet secretary inherited his role as champion of the good food nation bill, but Opposition parties recognise the desperate need for a joined-up food policy that brings together multiple strands, from health to land use and social policy. Parliament expects primary legislation this year, so the Government must deliver soon.
I move amendment S5M-17304.3, to insert at end:
“; notes the role that the EU has played in reducing the environmental impact of Scotland’s food and drink through the Scottish Rural Development Programme, and the protection provided through world-leading food safety and quality standards; recognises the future opportunities for the food and drink sector that will come from adopting climate-neutral farming and food production measures, and calls for the Scottish Government to make this a core principle of its approach to Scotland becoming a Good Food Nation, including through legislation to be introduced within the next year.”
Food and drink are at the heart of our culture and traditions in Scotland. Generations of farmers and thousands of European Union workers have contributed to our world-class food and drink sector, particularly in my North East Scotland region; they have built it into the genuine success story that it is.
As we have heard, the food and drink sector is vital to our rural economy; it brings much-needed employment and business opportunities to families and communities all over rural Scotland.
However, our producers are on the front line of the greatest threat to our economy for many years. I do not say that lightly. We have just heard from the cabinet secretary that Brexit could cost our farming, fishing and crofting sector some £2 billion per year. I am astonished that the Conservatives do not think that that is a major threat. There is no doubt that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our rural economy. I questioned Michael Gove on that yesterday, and he is inexplicably relaxed about a no-deal Brexit. The man who is in charge of agriculture south of the border refused to confirm that he would do everything in his power in the UK Cabinet to avoid at all costs a no-deal Brexit. It is astonishing that the Conservatives have failed to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
We will support—absolutely—the Scottish Government’s motion. As far as the amendments are concerned, the Liberal Democrats prefer the Government’s motion as it stands; it properly reflects our position. We are the only party in this chamber that wants to stay in both our unions. Therefore, we will not support any of the amendments, because they all dilute the message that we want our Parliament to send out.
By far the largest market for our food and drink remains the rest of the UK, for which 61 per cent of Scottish exports are destined. Cheap, low-quality imports from countries outside the EU would undermine all the good work of our producers and endanger our progress towards green and sustainable land use. For that reason, our food and drink industry’s reputation for quality must be protected.
Scotland’s food exports are sold across the European Union, and the removal of the common EU framework could have a serious impact on our trade. On top of that, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, non-tariff barriers with the EU could cause administrative delays that would be particularly detrimental to our trade in fresh produce. In addition, we are now seeing how important non-UK nationals are for agriculture and our wider food and drink industry. It annoys me intensely that the UK Government is just ignoring that. Although the UK Government has allowed 2,500 visas for migrant workers, the NFUS has reported that, this year, a staggering 10,000 vacancies will be left open across the UK as a whole. What will happen to our fruit growers if those jobs cannot be filled? The answer is simple: thousands of tons of food will rot in the fields because of the lack of workers. That is a deliberate policy of the Conservative UK Government.
Currently, a third of the labour force for Scotland’s food and drink sector comes from EU countries. I fail to see how those numbers can be replaced without free movement across the continent. I know that many of my Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee colleagues believe that it is important to have free movement across the continent, but they seem to be silent in this debate.
A no-deal Brexit would write off some of our best producers and damage many rural communities. Until now, the Scottish food and drink industry, assisted by the Government, has been going from strength to strength, and we have a duty to support it. There is, of course, more that the Scottish Government could do to mitigate the damage that Brexit will inflict on our rural economy. I have said many times in the chamber that I want a bespoke system of support to be developed for Scotland, one that will offer continued financial support for the foreseeable future, and I know that the cabinet secretary is making progress on that. However, as long as Brexit—in particular, the threat of a no-deal Brexit—remains on the table, the UK Government and the Conservative members of the Scottish Parliament who support it will have a great deal to answer for and a great deal of responsibility for the damage that will be thrust on our rural economy.
I will end on a positive note. The Liberal Democrats believe that the continued success of our food and drink industry—it is hugely successful—can, as the motion before us says,
“best be achieved through continued membership of the EU.”
It is now nearly seven weeks on from the date on which the UK was originally expected to leave the European Union. Many of us in this place simply cannot believe that we came as close to the precipice of economic catastrophe as we did. That said, even to this very day, the UK Government will not categorically rule out leaving the EU without a deal, despite the fact that even its own analysis says that that would severely hit the Scottish economy. As we see in the media reports, the Tories are intent on putting this country through the wringer of despair yet again by attempting to resurrect May’s deal from the dead. They have learned nothing from the months and months of purgatory that they have put our citizens and our businesses through and which they are continuing to hold them in. It is clear that Westminster is incapable of finding a resolution, so I agree with the cabinet secretary—it is time to let the people decide.
Before I am tempted to get into full European Parliament election mode, I had better move on. Excluding oil and gas, in 2017, we exported £14.9 billion-worth of goods to the EU, which represented a 13.3 per cent increase on the previous year. The EU remains our fastest-growing trading partner. Of course, our biggest export success story is the food and drink sector. As recently as March this year, we learned that Scotland’s overseas food and drink exports had increased in 2018 by £293 million—an increase of 4.9 per cent—to an impressive record high of £6.3 billion. As the cabinet secretary said, the EU remains the destination for two thirds of our food exports.
Despite those impressive figures, I am pleased that the Scottish Government has shown its determination to grow our export business even more, with an ambitious growth plan that aims to increase the value of exports from the current 20 per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product to 25 per cent of our GDP over the next 10 years.
“A Trading Nation—a plan for growing Scotland’s exports” sets out how Scotland can add about £3.5 billion to GDP and create 17,500 jobs. In the face of EU exit uncertainty, “A Trading Nation” gives a clear signal of Scotland’s ambition to remain an open, progressive nation where our businesses trade in global markets, particularly in food and drink, with extra support for that sector included in the plan.
Make no mistake, that growth, trade and aspiration will be undermined by the threat of leaving the European Union. Those who support crashing out of the EU without a deal tell us that they want the UK to trade with the rest of the world, as if that will happen by waving a magic wand. There is a very good reason why we have built a single market with our closest international neighbours: they are our closest neighbours. Having a single market with your neighbours makes it so much easier and makes much more sense for fresh products, such as Scotch lamb and beef and Scottish Salmon. It is clear that any tariffs applied to those products for sale in the EU would have a devastating impact on Scottish farmers, including those in my constituency.
Moreover, the UK Government’s planned abandonment of the free movement of people presents a real and present risk to our food and drink sector. EU immigrants make an incredible contribution to the sector, all the way through from the farm gate to processing, marketing, retail, and indeed the hospitality business. Scotland’s economy needs that constant stream of inward migration from our neighbouring countries, but that is being threatened by the UK Tory Government.
Another important area that I will touch on briefly is the European Union’s protected geographical indications. I put on record my gratitude to my colleague Emma Harper, who has raised the issue time and again in this place. PGIs are the best way to ensure that products specific to locations in Europe do not suffer from the competition of, as Mike Rumbles suggested, cheap copycats of much lower quality and non-existent provenance. PGI status ensures the integrity of Scottish products bought and sold across the entire European single market and throughout countries that have trade deals with the EU.
Of course, the only real way to retain the protected status of Scottish products is to remain in the European Union. Presiding Officer, if I could be so bold, the best way of ensuring that we remain in the EU is to vote for the SNP at next week’s European elections.
I declare my registered interest as a partner in a farming business.
In the Brexit referendum, I voted to remain. Nevertheless, as soon as I heard the result, I was committed to make it happen. Unfortunately, we all underestimated how difficult Brexit would be; as of now, we have, obviously, not left and we do not know what deal will gain Parliamentary support.
I want to leave with the only deal on the table, as do NFU Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association and virtually the whole business community, but uncertainty abounds. Most of us agree that we do not want a no-deal Brexit. Let me be clear that the only sure way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to vote for the deal that is on the table.
Our food and drink industry is a vital part of our economy. Since 2007, the industry has grown by 44 per cent to £14 billion. Our exports are up 56 per cent and are worth £5.5 billion. The food and drink industry has grown at twice the rate of the rest of the manufacturing economy. That is a great success story for Scotland. To be honest, it is no surprise that our food and drink industry has grown at that rate, because we have such a diverse natural environment and some of the best farmers, businesspeople and fishermen in the world.
We do not need free movement, but we do need to allow in the people who will grow our economy—and that is exactly what we will achieve.
Accounting for around 80 per cent of our food and drink exports, Scotch whisky is not just Scotland’s but the UK’s largest net contributor to our balance of trade. It is a premium product that is sought worldwide, and it is growing in value and volume year on year.
With its obsession with independence, the Scottish National Party would like us all to forget that our biggest and best export market for food and drink is the rest of the UK. For example, 80 per cent of Scotch beef is sold into England. The UK single market is more than three times more important to Scotland than the EU single market—Scottish exports to the UK are worth £48.9 billion, against £14.9 billion in exports to the whole EU.
I have no time.
EU exports are important, and if we vote for the deal on the table, which aims for frictionless and tariff-free trade, there is no reason why we cannot keep all those exports—and, indeed, grow them.
We must also recognise that there are markets for our produce all around the world. To name just two, I point out that America takes large amounts of our salmon, and the far east is now a premium market for much of our shellfish. We should be debating how we can make more of that happen instead of debating how we can go back on a democratic vote.
With the food and drink sector aiming to grow to £30 billion by 2030, we must continue to support our farmers, fishermen and salmon producers who produce the high-quality food and raw materials on which our world-renowned goods are based. I have said time and again in the chamber that Brexit offers the prize of being able to design a system of support that suits our farmers and our environment here in Scotland. However, the Government has done precious little to attempt to seize that opportunity.
Future support must also focus on our already strong animal welfare and environmental standards, and we must never undermine such high standards by allowing imports that are produced under systems that are illegal here.
The Scottish Government motion makes it abundantly clear that it does not respect the views of Scotland’s fishermen. Continued membership of the EU would be a disaster in respect of taking back control of our waters, but the debate shows that taking back control is not a priority for the Government. It wants to maintain the status quo and to stay in the EU and the hated CFP. Tell that to our north-east fishermen and see how the message goes down. Fishing matters to the Conservatives: we are the only party that recognises, and is fighting to obtain, the sea of opportunity that Brexit will bring, and our fishermen know it.
I know that many people here today have been left disappointed by the SNP’s delayed and discredited promise to deliver a good food nation bill. It could have used this slot to bring that to the chamber instead of using another parliamentary debate to scaremonger about Brexit. It is clear that it wants only one thing, and pushing for a chaotic Brexit is just another tool that it is cynically using to achieve it.
I am pleased to speak in the debate.
At the outset, I want to highlight the important role that the sector plays in my Cowdenbeath constituency. In fact, Mowi—which members might know under its former name of Marine Harvest—has a salmon processing plant in Rosyth, where it employs 636 full-time-equivalent workers, and accounts for about 11,200 tonnes of product sold and £165 million in sales.
As for the Scottish salmon industry itself, its turnover is just over £1 billion, and the gross value added is £365 million.
International exports are worth in excess of £600 million, and the EU remains the largest single regional market, with exports increasing year on year, and the first quarter of 2019 being up 22 per cent on the first quarter of 2018. It is clear, therefore, that the Scottish salmon sector is a hugely important industry for the Scottish economy. It is a premium award-winning product, and the sector has seen tremendous growth.
However, the continuing Brexit uncertainty is casting a considerable shadow over it. The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has said—I quote—that
“The Scottish salmon sector believe a no deal Brexit would be the worst outcome”.
The SSPO has also said that
“A no deal Brexit would put barriers in the way of our biggest single export market jurisdiction and would present major new problems in getting our fish to the European market”.
It has identified key problems in this regard, including non-tariff barriers.
At present, export health certificates are not needed for exports to the EU, but under a no-deal Brexit, the possibility of there being a requirement for anything up to 200,000 certificates per year looms very large. Where would we rustle up all the extra environmental health officers and vets that would be required, and what would the cost be? We have heard that the cost has been estimated at up to £15 million per annum extra. How would that impact on the need to get the product to market in a timely fashion?
Then we come to transportation, which is another key concern for the salmon industry. With the prospect of total gridlock in the south-east of England, a delay of even just a few hours will make it impossible for fish to get from Scotland to France with one driver, given the restrictions on driver hours. A delay of more than 12 hours will make it difficult to reassure customers that they will still be getting fresh fish, which is a key consideration for the buyer.
Although the French seafood hub of Boulogne-sur-Mer has put in place arrangements to fast track fish once they have been cleared, the possibility of lengthy queues in south-east England poses a real threat. To date, the approach of the UK Government has been extremely unhelpful: it has rejected the possibility of special lanes for hauliers of perishable goods. The UK Government has also failed to provide any clarity as to whether new driving licences and permits will be needed and, if so, how many will be available.
The situation is untenable and it is unacceptable. No-deal Brexit must be taken off the table. That is called for in an open letter from the chief executives of organisations including Scotland Food & Drink, NFU Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, the SSPO and others. The letter states:
“There is no tolerance for No Deal as an option. It must be rejected now.”
At the same time, the UK Government must alter its anti-EU immigration policy plans. If adopted, the plans would be extremely detrimental not just to the Scottish salmon industry, which relies on EU nationals, but to the entire Scottish food and drink sector. Why does the UK Government not listen to the NFUS? It has stated:
“NFU Scotland is very concerned about the obstructive position of the UK Government” with regard to the future immigration system after Brexit. Why does it not listen to the director general of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, who said just this week that the UK’s “immigration plans don’t work” for Scotland, and called for “flexibility”?
What does the anti-EU-nationals rhetoric say to EU nationals from the EU27 who are currently employed in my constituency? What certainty can they have? What about their families? What about their plans to send their children to school and to see their wider families over the years? Why is the UK Government disrespecting those workers?
A no-deal Brexit is bad news for Scotland, and a hard Brexit is bad news for Scotland. In fact, any Brexit is bad news for Scotland. Scotland did not vote to come out of the EU: 62 per cent voted to remain in the EU. Scotland wants to be in the single market and customs union—Scotland is for Europe.
In closing, I echo my colleague Bruce Crawford’s call on the people of Scotland to send that message loud and clear by voting SNP next Thursday at the ballot box.
I was under the impression that we are not allowed to advocate how people should vote, but if it is part of the debate today, I ask people to vote Labour next Thursday.
As we have heard, the food and drink sector is vital to our economy and to the people of Scotland. It accounts for a fifth of our manufacturing turnover—some £14.8 billion a year, with exports alone worth over £6 billion.
The nearly 19,000 food and drink businesses employ more than 115,000 people directly, and many more people have jobs in the supply chain, often in some of our most fragile rural economies. In my home region of Dumfries and Galloway, the sector is worth £1.2 billion to the economy and employs more than 9,000 people.
As a local councillor, I had the privilege of launching the Dumfries and Galloway food trail, which invites people to eat and drink their way round 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. An example is Cream o’ Galloway, near the food town of Castle Douglas, where David and Wilma Finlay are delivering an ethical farming model that shows that there is an alternative to exporting live calves and are, along the way, producing some of the most amazing ice cream and cheese.
Another such business is Loch Arthur Camphill Community Ltd. I had the privilege, as chair of Dumfries and Galloway’s Fairtrade steering group, of awarding it Fairtrade flagship employer status, which helped to deliver Fairtrade status to the region.
The food trail takes people behind the scenes at food and drink producers including Annandale Distillery, which after three years is producing its first whisky—a product for which I personally can vouch.
The region boasts some of the busiest farmers markets, including at Dumfries railway station. We have some of the best food festivals and celebrations in the country, including Stranraer oyster festival, which celebrates the area’s culture and heritage and, of course, Loch Ryan’s world-class oysters.
As a result of the importance and potential of the sector, the local Labour-led council has just published a new regional food and drink strategy that aims to double the value of the region’s industry to £2.5 billion by 2030.
As is the case across Scotland, however, that ambition is under threat as a result of Brexit—especially a no-deal Brexit. Some 96 per cent of businesses in Dumfries and Galloway are small businesses or microbusinesses, which means that the impact of Brexit could put their very existence at risk. With everything from trading terms and tariffs to labour supply now uncertain, it is hard to overstate how damaging Brexit could be to the sector.
Increased congestion at ports such as Cairnryan poses a serious threat to Scottish food exports, especially of perishable products such as seafood that rely on just-in-time delivery.
An end to freedom of movement without a proper and adequate replacement will weaken the workforce across the supply chain.
Leaving the common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy without any idea at all from the Government of what will replace them leaves those who are at the heart of our world-class food and drink sector in a state of uncertainty.
One of the key challenges for the Scottish food and drink sector is the potential loss of geographical indication, which provides legal protection against imitation and is estimated to more than double the value of products. From Ayrshire Dunlop cheese to Teviotdale cheese, many of our food and drink products benefit from that protected name status. It is especially important for Scotch whisky, which is by far our biggest export. The industry is worth more than £4 billion a year and accounts for almost three quarters of our exports. Retaining geographical indication status is therefore vital to Scotch whisky. However, the protected status of our products is under threat from Brexit and the consequential trade deals that might be negotiated in the future.
The importance of food and drink, however, goes beyond economic importance. It impacts on everything, from health to the environment to the fight against poverty, here and beyond our shores. In a nation that provides so much outstanding food and drink, it is to our shame that so many children in Scotland still go to bed hungry at night, as a result of child poverty levels being on the rise. Our food and drink sector has grown, but so, too, has the tragedy that is food poverty. That is why, irrespective of the outcome of the current impasse over our future in the EU, we should be better prioritising the fight against food poverty, including enshrining in law a statutory right to food through a good food nation bill, which Parliament has consistently voted for and which the Government needs to get on with delivering.
I will conclude with this point. The fight against poverty goes beyond our shores. Scotland is a proud fair trade nation, and many businesses and consumers in Scotland support and trade Fairtrade products. If the UK leaves the EU, the next few years will see our trade rules being rewritten and new trade deals being negotiated. That will mean big changes for all of us, but for millions of farmers and workers in the world’s poorest countries who rely on trading with us, it will be make or break. The Fairtrade principle of a fair price for a fair day’s work therefore must be at the heart of those trade deals. If it is not, that will be yet another example of the damage that Brexit will do to the food and drink sector, here in Scotland and around the world.
Before I vacate the chair, I will say a few words. I have heard rumblings and had notes about what has been seen as electioneering in the chamber. All I will say is that it has ever been thus; we are all political people from political parties. Members will excuse my saying that we are all big enough and ugly enough to know what is and is not sensible. I ask everyone to take a bit of care about being overtly blatant, and to recognise that all members have political things to say. Perhaps we can all get on quite well with that.
I will look in the mirror to see whether I fit the description that you just used, Presiding Officer.
I declare that I have a share in a very small registered agricultural holding for sheep.
A number of points have been put before us about the UK’s planned departure from the EU—Brexit. Donald Cameron said that we must vote for the deal that is available because it is the only deal. There is a reason why it is the only deal—it is because it is the only deal that Theresa May asked for. In her Mansion House speech in 2017, she drew the red lines that constrained the ultimate deal to the deal that is before us.
The deal is rather opaque, because the proposed withdrawal agreement bill has not been shown even to the UK Cabinet yet. I predict that it will not be published until after 23 May; Theresa May is trying to keep publication until as late as possible in the debate, because the bill will cause internal chaos in the Tory party and she knows that she does not command her party’s support. In those circumstances, it is hard to work out why anyone else should support the bill. The only on-the-record reference that I have is from Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee and who said today—
I think that I started with the word “Brexit”, which is core to the debate, whereas it was four minutes and 33 seconds before the previous Labour contributor mentioned that. However, I have listened to what you said, Presiding Officer.
Until we see what the withdrawal agreement bill says, some of the impacts on food and drink will definitely not be clear. However, it is clear that being out of the single market and the customs union will have severe impacts on food and drink. Proposals were made on that in December 2016, which was a month before the Mansion House speech. Our food and drink sector’s future success will be determined largely by what happens in the UK’s departure from the EU.
In every constituency—be it urban or rural—we all have important food and drink interests. Summerhouse Drinks is a small company in my constituency that is a particular favourite of my wife, who loves its lemonade. That touches on something, because we do not grow terribly many lemons. A lot of the company’s drinks are entirely local products—it uses lavender and mint that are grown locally—but the lemons are imported. Who knows what will be the condition of the lemons that Claire Rennie from the Rennie family farm can import and what price she will have to pay for them?
It is worth saying that a lot of preparation is associated with Brexit. We in the Parliament have done a great deal. The prepareforbrexit.scot website that has been established to help Scottish businesses talks about a number of issues for food and drink businesses and others. Exporters and importers might face huge increases in costs; 53 per cent of goods in the UK are imported, and they include many materials that the food and drink industry requires.
On recruitment, we have heard that the fruit industry cannot get people into the country. Yesterday, Michael Gove gave us no meaningful assurance that people will be able to travel to the UK and particularly Scotland to harvest our excellent fruit and continue to support our excellent fish-processing industry.
I brought the debate on the sea of opportunity to the Parliament, because leaving the CFP—into which the Tories took us—will certainly benefit the fish-catching industry, in so far as it can catch more fish. However, we will be denied the economic benefit if our processing industry is unable to process the extra fish that are caught. If we catch 50 per cent more fish and earn half the value of that, we will actually be worse off. We have to get our processing industry in a good place.
As for my three whisky distilleries, if—as the Americans want to negotiate—we abandon our three-years-in-a-warehouse position, the quality product that earns so much for our food and drink industry will be devastated.
We have heard today that Scotland’s food and drink industry has been a success story for many years now, and that it continues to grow and grow. Food and drink is Scotland’s largest international export industry with a strong reputation—whether for Scottish whisky or fine Aberdeen Angus beef.
Farmers are at the heart of food production, and as we leave the EU, we have the fantastic chance to design and construct an agricultural support system that really delivers for Scotland. Our amendment recognises the need for change and to move to a system that promotes environmentalism—as Mark Ruskell mentioned—drives productivity, increases food production and ensures that farmers can innovate to be ahead of the technological curve.
Under years of the CAP, farming has not necessarily had the chance to properly thrive. Its one-size-fits-all policy has to suit farmers and producers from the Arctic circle to the Mediterranean Sea and everywhere in between. The CAP has taken us so far, but with rising farm debt and falling incomes, it is starting to ring alarm bells. We need a new system that continues to support and grow agricultural output, which in turn drives our food and drink sector further—which is the Scottish Government’s ambition.
However, so far, we have seen very little progress from the SNP Government, which has left farmers in the dark by refusing to include Scotland in the UK Agriculture Bill. The SNP said that it would bring forward its own bill, but it has not included it in the programme for government.
Agriculture is devolved and will be devolved for many years to come, but the Scottish Government needs to get its act together and get the ball rolling on the bill. To top it off, it has even closed the new entrants scheme, pulling up the drawbridge to new talent, which could have boosted our food and drink industry. The SNP has effectively prohibited entrepreneurially minded people from entering the agricultural industry, which is quite astonishing when we hear the cabinet secretary routinely remind us that the average age of a farmer is 59. Scotland’s food and drink sector is a welcome success, but its biggest threat is this Government and its lack of action.
If we are to engage the next generation in food and drink and get the sector to grow even further, that must start in schools. I have raised that issue before in the chamber, when I called on the Scottish Government to consider introducing a national 5 qualification in agriculture. We need to see lessons to improve the tackling of food waste and the education of children on the provenance of their food. For far too long there has been a disconnect between the classroom and the farmyard, and we need to engage our younger generation to realise the potential of the food industry.
In my constituency next week, the Border Union Agricultural Society will run its schools day, which is an invaluable way of reaching school children. I urge local authorities across the whole of Scotland to take the issue on board.
With our wonderful locally grown and high-quality food, it is no wonder—as many members have mentioned today—that people are disappointed that the good food nation bill has been ditched. It would have brought tremendous benefits to the food and drink industry and potentially put Scottish farmers at the heart of local procurement. Scottish schools currently spend more than £1 million sourcing meat from outside Scotland, including hundreds of thousands of pounds on chicken from Thailand.
On that issue in particular, we need local authorities to offer more contracts to local producers, not only to boost the economy but to reduce food miles and tackle climate change. Imagine children learning about locally produced ethical food in the classroom, visiting the farm and then enjoying that food every day in the canteen. Would that not be fantastic?
It is entirely possible, if the SNP would just bring back the good food nation bill, not just for the sake of the children but to tackle the rising obesity levels and to provide much-needed stimulus for the rural economy.
Scotland’s food and drink sector is an integral and extremely valuable part of our economy, but it could be much more. We have a unique opportunity to grasp the significant opportunities that Brexit will bring. We must place Scottish products on an international stage, and we have this opportunity to build a tailored farm support system that encourages better farming practices and puts farmers at the centre of driving innovation and productivity in their businesses.
At the end of the day, it is the farmers who we must thank for producing the excellent raw ingredients for the Scottish success story. We must also commend the entrepreneurialism, the determination and the hard work of Scottish producers, who never fail to amaze us in their constant pursuit of exciting new products.
In Scotland, we rightly pride ourselves on our world-class food and drink sector. It is worth billions, and we have set ambitious targets to double growth by 2030. Whisky and salmon are our two biggest exports, and their production employs many people in my constituency.
No one knows whether we are to leave the EU with a deal. Indeed, no one knows whether we are to leave the EU at all, such is the mess that the Westminster Government has made of the negotiations. However, there is no doubt that, in every sense, whether we leave with a deal or not, Brexit is the biggest current threat to our rural areas, our tourism and our food and drink sector. We have thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and producers, and a worldwide reputation for excellence.
Within that sector, we have products that have been given special EU protections and PGI status, as Bruce Crawford has already mentioned. That geographical indication, which is protected in the EU, represents an agricultural, food or drink product with deep local roots, whose protection under EU law has generated significant value for its producers and the local and national economy and includes products such as Scotch whisky, Scotch beef, Scotch lamb, Orkney cheddar and Arbroath smokies.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK Government has stated that existing holders of protected status should prepare to reapply to the EU for protection and use of the EU logo. That is significantly different from the previous position, which sought to reassure current holders that their status would be maintained and protected, irrespective of our future relationship with the EU.
Yesterday, when the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee questioned the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, I asked him about that issue and, specifically, whether costs would be incurred as a result of that process and, if so, who would pay for them. He replied that the UK Government would cover any unnecessary costs. What “unnecessary costs” are remains to be explained.
The industry body Scotland Food and Drink has stated that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the sector. Its chief executive, James Withers, said:
“Any form of Brexit is a backward step for the Scottish food and drink industry. At best it will hit our ambition to double the industry’s turnover by 2030. But if it's a No Deal Brexit it will pull the rug from underneath the business.”
A no-deal Brexit would be unthinkable for the sector.
Just at the start of this year, as Annabelle Ewing said, industry representatives from Scotland Food and Drink, the Food and Drink Federation, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Quality Meat Scotland, Scottish Bakers and the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society wrote to Theresa May to implore her to take a no-deal Brexit off the table. She refuses to do so. The Westminster Government’s own projections say that that will result in an estimated annual loss to the industry of £2 billion.
This is a sector that relies on migrant labour. Research by Skills Development Scotland has said that the food and drink sector will need to fill 27,000 jobs by 2022, but that is before the impact of Brexit, which is expected to have a significant effect on the availability of labour, is taken into account.
Another question that was put to Mr Gove yesterday concerned how we are going to fill those positions when the immigration proposal from Westminster is that, in the future, people coming to work in Scotland will need to be earning at least £30,000.
Unfortunately, Mr Gove’s response was less than encouraging. He said that he recognises that we need people to work in the sector, but the Westminster pilot project, which is lauded by Scottish Conservatives, has fallen woefully short of providing the number of workers that are needed in the sector. Although it was encouraging to hear that Mr Gove has raised the issue with the Home Secretary, there was no reassurance that the concerns and needs of the Scottish food and drink sector will be taken into account. We need control over our own immigration policy.
Despite what others will say, nothing has been as divisive as Brexit. The sooner we can get certainty for our people, our businesses and our economy, the better.
The potential impact of Brexit on the food and drink sector is huge, whether it is in relation to trade, inward investment, labour and employment or policy and regulation. Brexit is a concern for not just UK food producers but any food manufacturer—whether they are in the EU or not—that serves the UK market.
With more than 50 per cent of the UK’s food currently being imported, there is no definitive blueprint for what a new trading relationship would look like. Even if a deal were to be agreed at Westminster, it would take years to put the detail in place. Donald Cameron talked about another independence referendum, but I do not believe that we would be in a position to hold any type of referendum within the next year other than a second EU referendum, because we would need to find a way forward to put all the regulations and so on in place. However, the fact that the UK is dependent on 50 per cent of our food being imported should ring some alarm bells.
A no-deal Brexit might lead to higher prices and food shortages. To ensure that Scotland’s people are protected from the worst effects, surely we need a good food nation bill that enshrines the right to food. The cabinet secretary needs to pull together the plans for where we are heading in such a bill. Scottish Labour supports Scotland’s food and drink strategy—ambition 2030—but continuing uncertainty over Brexit will make meeting that target challenging.
James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:
“Any form of Brexit is a backward step for the Scottish food and drink industry. At best it will hit our ambition to double the industry’s turnover by 2030. But if it’s a No Deal Brexit it will pull the rug from underneath the business.”
When I hear Conservative member after Conservative member declaring interests as farmers or as working in the food industry, I cannot for the life of me understand why they defend the Westminster Government and the shambles that it has made of Brexit, which has created such uncertainty.
A few members have talked about the elections next week. As I have found when I have been out campaigning—I also found it when I was in a newspaper shop in Kelty this morning—people are sick to the back teeth. Brexit has led to people not being sure about who to believe. The real threat is the threat to democracy and the rise of the right, because politicians have told so many lies and got us into such a mess over these issues and the threats that come from them.
As Mark Ruskell said, this is already an uncertain time for the food and drink industry, as climate change, biodiversity loss and concerns about public health change how we produce and consume food.
Mark Ruskell pointed out that, regardless of Brexit, other countries in Europe are starting to work out what a new common agricultural policy will look like. I am not sure that in Scotland we have even got to the starting line when it comes to examining how we move forward and what a good food nation would look like.
More than 200,000 children are in families that are unable to afford to eat healthily, and there are food banks in communities up and down Scotland. Surely it is for the Government to introduce a bill that enshrines the right to food, so that everyone in Scotland can access food.
Agriculture accounts for 26.1 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions. How can we address the climate emergency if we are not addressing that?
When I was a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, members of the committee who are farmers would say that the farming industry wants to address those issues and adopt best practice. However, I am not sure that the Scottish Government is at the starting line of addressing these issues—
In this chamber, we often talk about how food and drink are a significant part of Scotland’s economy. The Parliament cannot say that too often; we need to keep saying it until the point is more widely understood.
Like other members, I will shamelessly mention examples from my constituency. In Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the food and drink sector accounts for £18 million in gross value added to the islands economy. In many ways, the industry is closely related to the tourism sector in the Outer Hebrides, which itself was worth approximately £53 million in 2013 and has almost certainly grown considerably since then.
Stornoway black pudding and Harris gin are among the best-known island products. Harris is soon to produce whisky and beer, too. Lewis has its own small distillery, as North Uist will have soon. The Western Isles are famous for salmon, seafood, lamb and venison, as well as being home to a biscuit factory and many smaller food enterprises. Behind much of all that lie crofting and fishing, making the sector’s overall impact on the community much wider.
The food and drink industry faces many challenges, not least of which is—I am sorry to have to mention this so early on in the conversation—Brexit. The industry nationally has assessed that leaving the EU without a deal will result in the loss of £2 billion in sales annually. That assessment was based on the UK Government’s economic projections. Moreover, the industry says that businesses have already invested millions of pounds in time and money to try to mitigate and minimise the consequences of leaving without a deal.
Even if the Prime Minister’s bad deal were to go through, we would still be leaving the EU without any of the benefits for the food and drink industry that the EU single market provides. The shellfish industry, in particular, needs that market and has to be able to get live shellfish very quickly from the Outer Hebrides to Spain, without waiting at international borders. Island seafood exporters already face enough obstacles to getting their produce to continental markets in time; the last thing that they need is the addition of further barriers to trade as a result of Brexit. I should also say that non-tariff barriers are a concern to the salmon industry.
I would have serious concerns if Brexit had an effect on the diligent workforce that presently staffs much of our fish processing industry. Many of those workers are from other European countries—largely they are from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia—which demonstrates the sector’s dependence on its European workforce. Any moves to limit migration have the potential to seriously harm our rural and remote communities and will have a major impact on the future success of the food and drink industry.
A point came up in the debate that I feel is relevant to how the industry would operate in the islands. I understand the motivations that lie behind the Green Party amendment, but I ask Mark Ruskell, who moved the amendment, to understand that asking crofters in my constituency to move from livestock to arable farming is no small ask. With only 8 per cent of Scotland’s land mass being suitable for commercial arable farming, I respectfully suggest that it would be a tall order to achieve what the Greens are asking for nationally.
In the past few days, at least one EU member state has shown a bit more interest in its farming community, and that is Ireland. Ireland has offered €50 million to its farmers by way of apology for the mess that Britain has caused with Brexit. I look forward to the United Kingdom Government offering a similar apology to our farmers and crofters.
As an EU member state, the UK participates in the EU’s approach to PGIs and many members have mentioned PGIs as an important feature. I could list all the PGIs that apply to the Western Isles, but I will not, and others have mentioned those that apply elsewhere. I understand that the Scottish Government has written to the UK Government on a number of occasions over the past year, spelling out the vital importance of the protected names, and I hope that meaningful replies are being received from Westminster about that, but—on the Scottish Government’s behalf—I do not hold my breath.
I declare an interest as a farmer, a food producer and a pioneer of farmers markets; other interests are set out in my entry in the register of members’ interests.
I note with regret the gratuitously divisive and negative tone of the Scottish Government motion, which talks down the future of our food and drink industry. That Fergus Ewing’s motion does so needlessly is a surprise to me, because Mr Ewing is a not an unreasonable man. He is an arch-pragmatist, and he well knows that many of the concerns that he and his SNP colleagues have raised today are in his and their grasp to resolve, but he and they choose not to do so. By that I mean that the many fears that he raises over a no-deal Brexit could be resolved by voting for the Brexit deal that the UK Government has negotiated with the EU.
Time after time, we hear SNP MPs, led by Ian Blackford, but driven by the First Minister, dismiss the UK Government’s proposed deal with the EU without ever offering any credible alternative. Bruce Crawford reinforced that attitude today. Therefore, we know that the Scottish Government is not serious about wanting to help to create a solution to the many potential problems that the SNP Government highlighted today. We on the Conservative benches realise and, certainly, people in rural Scotland fully understand that the SNP wants to sow only divisions and discord with a view to using Brexit to break up the United Kingdom.
I have always respected Mr Scott’s knowledge and appreciation of and support for Scottish agriculture, and I will continue to do so, but we have previously made alternative proposals for a Brexit deal, although we do not think that Brexit is the preferred option. More than two years ago, we suggested an option that was ignored at the time. We profoundly believe that Brexit is not the best way ahead for Scotland, but I agree with John Scott that it is preferable that debates happen in a reasonable and constructive fashion. It is useful to reiterate that.
As I come from the Turnberry area, I remind Mr Ewing of Robert the Bruce’s stricture: “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.”
In today’s debate, the people who really matter are the farmers, processors, retailers and the tens of thousands of people who have to live in the real world and whose jobs are at stake, who have all backed the UK Government’s negotiated deal. NFU Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce have backed the deal, as have individual companies such as Diageo. Scottish fishermen back the deal. Scottish salmon producers do not want a no-deal Brexit, which is apparently almost advocated today by the SNP. History will remember and judge this SNP Government’s unwillingness to compromise and work with the UK Government to find solutions or offer meaningful ways of improving and sustaining the UK Government’s negotiating position within Europe.
On the other hand, the UK Government has guaranteed support to our farmers until 2024, but this SNP Government chooses not to believe that offer. It knows that it cannot make such an offer to Scotland’s farmers, crofters and land managers without the support of the UK Government standing behind it; and in the meantime, the SNP Government pursues independence.
Similarly, the declaration by the First Minister of a climate change emergency makes for a great headline, but the First Minister knows, as does her cabinet secretary, that the cost of meeting the targets that the Committee on Climate Change has suggested cannot be met, as things stand, by the Scottish Government without the UK Government and UK taxpayers providing the finance for the SNP Government’s objectives.
No, I will not. Thank you.
Even if the SNP Government refuses to see or offer anything positive in this debate, Scottish Conservatives know how important the views of our food and drink experts are—and will remain—in Scotland. With over 60 per cent of our exports already going to the rest of the UK, that market will remain and grow unless the SNP Government deliberately sets out to make it harder to access. Our food and drink exports will continue to grow, particularly our whisky exports. Again, the UK Government has delivered practical financial support to the industry by freezing the duty on spirits in the most recent budget. On the other hand, the actions of this SNP Government are driving many producers, particularly red meat producers, to the wall and reducing the amount of basic produce that is available to our food processors for them to come even close to meeting the food and drink industry 2030 targets using home-grown primary produce.
Failing information technology systems; the rewilding of Scotland’s landscapes; a determination that farmers and landowners should be portrayed as not pulling their weight in the efforts to reduce climate change, with no effort to recognise the contribution that they make—all those things send signals of discouragement to an industry that, under this SNP Government, is becoming less profitable and daily more indebted to high street banks.
Parliament should today reject this divisive SNP motion, which is calculated to further talk down rural Scotland and Scotland’s food and drink industry, and accept the Scottish Conservative amendment as the way forward.
It is instructive to compare and contrast Scotland’s ambition for its food and drink industry with the chilling effect that Brexit imposes. As we have heard, the Scottish Government aims to double the value of food and drink to £30 billion by 2030. That is setting the bar high, but aiming high is what we should be doing.
We have made so much progress already. Our overseas food and drink exports have increased by 78 per cent, or £2.8 billion, since 2007. However, all that progress is in peril. The EU is without a doubt Scotland’s largest market for our food and drink.
No, I will not. I do not have time.
In the area that I represent, the south of Scotland, the success of food and drink reflects the national picture—indeed, more so, because it is an agricultural area. The high quality of our natural produce helps to underpin many businesses. As Colin Smyth mentioned, almost half—48 per cent—of Scotland’s dairy herd is in Dumfries and Galloway. Almost one in four of all cattle in Scotland can be found in the region.
As has been said, Dumfries and Galloway Council, which is led by an SNP and Labour coalition, recently launched a food and drink strategy—an action plan for the region—mirroring that national ambition. The strategy is absolutely clear about the biggest threat to the growth of the region’s food and drink, and that is Brexit. We have heard the reasons for that from colleagues today; they include access to labour, geographical indications, just-in-time production and trade barriers.
However, I will focus on one issue that my committee has been considering recently, and that is causing me particular concern; the effect of future trade deals on the food and drink sector in this country.
We know that future trade deals—particularly with America—could result in a diminution of standards in our food and drink industry and lead to the flooding of the market with poor-quality products. International trade experts who gave evidence to the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee made clear that consultation at every level of Government and across all sectors is absolutely essential to reach a suitable agreed negotiating position that will protect economic sectors—such as the food and drink sector—that have a strong geographical footprint, in that they are more important to some areas of the country than others.
The UK Government has still not outlined how it will include the devolved Administrations in determining trade priorities, and its record on that is not good. In March, a unilateral decision was taken by the Department for International Trade at Westminster to drop tariffs in certain key sectors of the economy in the event of no deal, which was ostensibly to ensure that we kept supplies coming in. For clarity, however, it meant that imports would not face tariffs, but that our exporting producers would. The UK Government said that the sectors that it chose for liberalisation were chosen because they were not considered to be vital areas of the economy. However, one of the affected areas was the dairy industry, which is—as I have said—of huge importance to the south-west of Scotland. EU most-favoured nation dairy tariffs are currently 72.3 per cent on average. In the event of a no-deal scenario, the UK Government proposes to drop that to zero per cent. We have absolutely no guarantee, of course, that the EU will reciprocate.
During the committee’s evidence taking, Dmitry Grozoubinski, a former Australian World Trade Organization negotiator, told us that
“it is entirely possible, that without adequate consultation and feed-in”—[
Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee
, 28 March 2019; c 5.]
dairy was just not considered important enough. We later took evidence from the Scottish Government’s Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, Ivan McKee, and asked him about how he had been consulted on the liberalisation of those tariffs. He told us that, the night before the decision was announced, he was pulled out of a dinner with his officials on Calton Hill to hear a voice down the line from Westminster explaining that the announcement would be made the next day. That is the level of respect and consultation that the UK Government shows the Scottish Government and vital areas of our economy, such as the dairy industry. If that is the way that it intends to proceed in the future, I have very great misgivings about the future of not just the dairy or food and drink sector but the whole of the Scottish economy after Brexit.
I suppose that, true to form, we will always divide over constitutional questions, particularly given that there is an election next week. However, I will reach out to Donald Cameron and Rhoda Grant, because I agree with them in some ways.
I believe that the Scottish Government needs to get on with the day job and deliver with the devolved powers that this Parliament has. It needs to deliver a good food nation bill with a strong right to food in it, tackle disadvantage and protect the environment. Although it also needs an agriculture bill, an agriculture strategy and an environment strategy, it is important that the Government delivers that vision to show what this Parliament can achieve even with the limited powers that it has. I believe that, if we can show the people of Scotland what this Parliament can achieve even with its limited powers, we will build the case for Scotland to have all the powers of a normal independent country.
On creating that inspiring vision of what we can be, a number of members have talked about the real leadership that is being shown by many people who work in our food and drink sector.
Colin Smyth spoke passionately about the work of David and Wilma Finlay at the ethical dairy. They are tremendous food pioneers who have developed high-welfare and highly innovative forms of organic farming. They are also incredibly productive, with products that are much loved in Scotland’s food economy.
Rachael Hamilton spoke very well about the link between innovation and environmentalism, and the need to bring new entrants into our food economy and our farming economy. That is what the green new deal is all about. It is all about transformation not just in the oil and gas sector, but in our food and farming sector. That needs an active state—an active Government—that invests and drives innovation forward with the private sector.
I say to Alasdair Allan that I recognise the particular challenges of the crofting communities, but there are strong opportunities, as well. There are opportunities to recognise the public goods that farmers in the uplands and crofting communities are already delivering; we simply need to find a better way to support them through financial mechanisms and the market. There are ways forward through innovation, reducing stocking density and valuing the carbon sequestration that can happen on common grazings. We need to support that.
What else have we learned this afternoon? We have talked a bit about freedom of movement and have learned that Mr Chapman does not like it, although he is a big fan of letting people into Scotland, which is great.
We have heard from lots of others who want to let more people into Scotland. The National Farmers Union, for example, has pointed out that we have let only 2,500 people into the UK as seasonal workers, although we needed to let 10,000 people in. Gail Ross spoke about that issue as well.
It is quite clear that we cannot have a withdrawal deal that is based on protecting only one of the European Union freedoms. We need to defend freedom of movement. That is why I say comradely to the Labour Party that its position on protecting a customs union but not embracing the single market is deeply flawed. We need only look at the issue of the food service sector. We have talked a lot about trade in fantastic products that we all enjoy, such as whisky and salmon, but the food service industry is, of course, also hugely important. Employing 1.7 million people, it is the biggest employer in the UK food supply chain. Forty per cent of those who work in food services are migrant workers. That point was highlighted by the cabinet secretary and Alasdair Allan in relation to seafood.
Alex Rowley raised the image of ungathered food rotting in the fields while hungry children have to wait outside food banks in Fife. That is an utter disgrace.
We need to ensure that Scotland remains an attractive place to welcome European Union citizens into. I was very proud to work with my friend Bruce Crawford and with Ben Macpherson recently in organising a meeting in Stirling, at which we threw open the doors to European Union citizens. More than 60 people from widely different backgrounds came along and talked about their experiences. They talked about how hard it is to get settled status and the fact that people have to prove who they are, where they have lived, their worth and their citizenship. That is disgraceful and is no way to treat people. It is a hostile immigration policy.
Many things worried me at that event but, in the context of this debate, what worried me in particular was speaking to people who work in the food industry and are now thinking about voting with their feet and leaving this country. That is absolutely disgraceful. We should be defending their rights all the way.
Many members have rightly talked about the importance of food and drink to the Scottish economy. Some have taken that a step further and used the debate as an opportunity to name check every food and drink organisation in their constituency. I represent the Highlands and Islands and, if I did that, I would have well exceeded my time. Therefore, I will not—suffice to say that I think we top the tree with good food and drink businesses in the Highlands and Islands.
Another major point of agreement in the debate was that nobody thought that a no-deal Brexit could be a good thing. Everyone agreed that because of the damage that it would do, not only to the food and drink industry but to all our industries, it should be avoided at all costs.
A further point of agreement was the support for a good food nation bill. It seems that the whole Parliament supports it, so there is no reason for delay. The bill would get a fair wind through the Parliament and I urge the Scottish Government to bring it forward. It will be a complex bill, because it will take time and discussion to simplify the food chain. The sooner the Government brings forward proposals, the sooner the discussion can happen with all the parties in the Parliament around the table. The good food nation bill is backed by the Co-operative Party, of which I am a member, and the food coalition, which is made up of non-governmental organisations, trade unions and organisations that deal with people who suffer from poverty.
Colin Smyth pointed out that poverty is on the rise—200,000 children in Scotland are brought up in families that cannot afford to eat healthily—and Rachael Hamilton talked about obesity. However, all of this is storing up problems for the future, when poor health and diseases related to malnutrition will come back and life expectancy will fall. We desperately need a good food nation bill that deals with all those issues. Alex Rowley also pointed out the impact of Brexit on food and how that could further contribute to the hunger that we already see in our communities. Therefore, we must have a good food nation bill, it must be a Government priority and it must enshrine a right to food.
Climate change is another issue on which members are genuinely agreed. Everyone has signed up to the fact that climate change has presented us with an emergency. Alex Rowley and Mark Ruskell talked about a new CAP and how the European Union is already looking at what needs to be in the post-2021 CAP scheme. Whether we are in or out of Europe, we need to bring forward a scheme and we also need now to look at what that scheme would be. We have not started to put a framework in place for that. Farmers and crofters need to know what the scheme will look like, and at its heart, it needs to tackle climate change. As Alex Rowley pointed out, the new scheme must be linked to a good food nation bill, because, if we are going to deal with climate change and food poverty, we must recognise that the two things work hand-in-hand.
Colin Smyth raised the issue of fair trade. Nobody else raised it but it requires emphasis. We pride ourselves on supporting fair trade, and we must ensure that that does not get lost in Brexit negotiations and that Brexit does not lead to the imposition of huge tariffs on businesses and countries where there are vulnerable producers and workforces. We must make sure that, although we are concerned for ourselves and the dangers that we face, we never forget to protect those who are weaker than us.
Colin Smyth, Gail Ross and Bruce Crawford talked about PGIs, which, as someone who has campaigned for a long time for protection for Stornoway black pudding, are close to my heart. I do not want that protection to be watered down in any way. Any deal must look at the protections that we already have. If we are trading with the European Union, those protections must exist throughout the union and, if need be, further afield to protect our excellence in producing food.
A number of speakers spoke about workforce issues, in relation to which there are several concerns, including concerns about whether migrant workers will come to Scotland for the farming industry. Berry picking is a big issue, for example. Farmers need reassurance. If they are going to plant a crop, they need to know whether they will have the workforce to harvest it or whether it will rot in the ground.
Our fishing community talks about the huge opportunity that coming out of the common fisheries policy will provide. However, unless we invest in the workforce and make sure that it is in place, we do not have people to process that fish. Fishermen in Shetland tell me that there is no capacity in Shetland to do the processing. We need to look elsewhere in Scotland, because, if Brexit happens, that is an opportunity that we should not miss.
Our amendment is very simple. As well as adding to the Government’s motion a point about the importance of our EU and UK markets, it emphasises the need for a good food nation bill to simplify the food chain and end hunger, and a subsidy scheme that will take us to net zero emissions from the agriculture industry. I do not know how other parties can vote against it. I wonder how the Liberal Democrats will explain that to their members, and I urge them to change their minds.
I welcome the debate, as it has given Scottish Conservative members another opportunity to say how much we support Scotland’s food and drink sector. We have a vision for ensuring that Scotland’s food and drink industry goes on to achieve more success—we published that vision in our document “A New Approach to Scottish Farming” some months ago—and it is time that we had some vision from this Scottish National Party Government. In my view, that has been sorely lacking.
As the cabinet secretary knows, promises are easily made, but they are more difficult to deliver. Where is the good food nation bill that was promised back in May 2017? Where is the Scottish agriculture bill that was talked about more than two months ago? They are nowhere to be seen; they are not even in the SNP’s programme for government. It is no wonder that farming and food experts are beginning to lose confidence in the Government. I do not need to remind the cabinet secretary that, only last week, Jonnie Hall, the NFUS’s director of policy, stated:
“In many senses there is no vision in Scottish Government in terms of where it wants to be”.
I could not agree more. I agree with Jonnie Hall, and I agree with the farmers in the countryside.
If we are to grow our food and drink industry so that it is worth £30 billion by 2030, as we all aspire it to be, we need to ensure that the Government’s ambitions match the ambitions of farmers, fishermen and producers across the whole of Scotland. I call on the cabinet secretary to stop dithering and start delivering. That point was made by Donald Cameron and Peter Chapman, who highlighted that the common fisheries policy has been bad for Scotland and that there will be plenty of opportunities once we get out of it. They also highlighted the fact that it is clear that the Scotch whisky industry is supportive of the exit deal that has been put forward, and they reiterated that the Scottish Government lacks vision, which is being said in the fields across Scotland.
I am afraid that I am very pushed for time. I might give Mr Brown an opportunity to intervene later in my speech.
Like Peter Chapman, I believe that farmers are optimists and that they always seek to grasp opportunities. I believe, too, that they have the highest standards of production, which is what makes all food producers in Scotland world leaders. Rachael Hamilton made the point that the CAP has not delivered, and I agree that it would be much more beneficial to bring farms to the classrooms to ensure that our children and future generations are educated.
I am quite short of time; I will see whether I can give way when I come to the member’s party’s contributions.
I also agree with Rachael Hamilton’s point that we should be using more Scottish produce in our schools; it is one that Conservative members have hammered home on every possible occasion. However, we are still taking chicken from Thailand. That is not good enough.
I agree with the points that John Scott made. It is clear that the UK Government has a vision, whereby support will continue in its current form till 2024. The Scottish Government has not made that point.
I do not always agree with the cabinet secretary, but there is one point on which I agree with him: it is the farmers who make our countryside worth visiting, and we should be proud of their hard work and their success in shaping the countryside and the environment. It is a pity that we have heard nothing about why the cabinet secretary is not prepared to accept the inclusion in the UK Agriculture Bill of a schedule to support our farmers.
Bruce Crawford said that a no-deal Brexit would not be good for farmers. I agree. I also agree with what he said about the importance of PGIs. Michael Gove agreed with that point yesterday in his evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and said that he did not think that there was any chance that that would change.
A link to the
Official Report has just come through on my phone, so I have read what Michael Gove said about no deal. He said:
“the UK could get through the initial turbulence that no deal would cause”.—
Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee
, 15 May 2019; c 39-40.]
Does the member agree with him?
As far as a no-deal Brexit is concerned, I have made my position clear: I believe that we should have a deal, that we should work hard to make that happen and that it is up to every single party in the UK Parliament to find compromise and to work together.
I also believe that it is a pity that, when discussing this issue this afternoon, so much of what members said in their speeches was not directed at farmers. As my time is short, I will pick up on a couple of Mark Ruskell’s points, which I think are very important. We should never forget that farmers are doing an excellent job on the environment. We need to recognise what they are doing and encourage them to do more. I agree with his point that the Scottish Government needs to get on with the day job.
Having a vision is easy. Implementing that vision is where it gets hard, and that is proving to be too hard for this Government. That is not good enough for farmers. We need a good food nation bill and a Government that will work out what will happen to farming not next year or the year after but in 10 years’ time. We need to work together to help the industry. I know that industry well, and it thrives with innovation and hard work. Let the cabinet secretary and the Government rise to the standards that the industry has set on innovation and hard work, because, at the moment, they are not meeting them.
There have been some very good speeches in the debate and some other ones. There is a consensus that the prospect of a no deal will be devastating for the food and farming industry and the wider food and drink sector.
Mike Rumbles set out the arguments clearly and cogently. On the impact of Brexit, he quoted a figure for the loss of £2,000 million. As I understand it, that is not a Liberal Democrat or SNP figure but one that is based on the UK Government’s own modelling.
Michael Gove, who is nothing but unfailingly courteous and polite to everybody, has recognised in speeches such as the one at the Oxford farming conference, and in his discussions with me and, no doubt, with many others and perhaps with the committee yesterday—I have not had the chance to read the
Official Report yet—that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for farming and the rural economy. To my mind, that makes it very frustrating that that devastatingly bad option for Britain has not been removed from the table, when there is the power to do that.
It is relevant to point out that the reason why the no-deal option has not been removed from the table is that it acts as a lever to force us to go into what we might consider to be the Brexit frying pan instead of the Brexit fire of a no-deal option. There is something pretty seedy about using that as a device and allowing an option that is admitted to be extremely damaging to remain on the table as a compulsator to try to persuade people to accept something that we see as being damaging but not perhaps immediately so. That is an unusual if not unique feature in British politics—I cannot think of a parallel.
There have been excellent speeches and, as always, I apologise for not having the time to deal with all members’ points. With respect, I do not agree with Rachael Hamilton’s view about new entrants, but I do not have the time to go over the stats— that would just use up all the time. However, I will write to her setting out the facts, which show that Scotland has helped hundreds of young people as new entrants. I will set out the statistics and point out that we have had a better—
I am very sorry, but I just do not have the time if I am to do justice to everybody.
Colin Smyth made the kind of speech that we are more used to hearing, giving examples from his region of positive contributions to the rural economy. I was pleased that he did that, as, indeed, did many other members, who mentioned their constituents.
In his closing speech, Mr Ruskell put forward a very telling argument for the importance of freedom of movement. I entirely agree with Mr Ruskell—I do not think that I have uttered that phrase before, but there is always a first time. To be serious, I think that he set out very clearly the conundrum that we have to deal with, which is, on the one hand, the plain desirability on an economic, social and, indeed, human level of maintaining the welcome that Scotland has given to people from other EU countries and, on the other, the apparent message that is being sent by the Brexiteers.
Many members, including Gail Ross, in particular, and Bruce Crawford, Rhoda Grant and Dr Allan, mentioned the importance of PGIs, with specific examples given. It is easy to forget that PGIs are massively more important to Scotland than to any other part of the UK. Gail Ross made a point that I have not heard recently but which is absolutely right when she said that the UK Government initially seemed to be inclined to support the broad continuance of PGIs but that, of late, that message seems to have changed somewhat. I hope that we can come back to that point and debate it in more detail.
Much was made by the Conservatives of the Scottish Government’s perceived failings. I just do not accept that the picture is as black, as bleak and as depressing as they paint, and I think that it does them an injustice if they ignore some of the very positive things that are being done and which are being appreciated by rural Scotland and the food and drink sector. We have provided support in respect of trade shows in Dubai and Boston as well as the world’s largest—the seafood expo in Brussels—and we have supported two regional showcasing events and another in Gleneagles that I will be attending later this year. We have also provided a further round of funding for our regional food fund.
As far as Scottish agriculture is concerned, we made loan payments worth £241 million on 5 October last year, the earliest date that we have made that funding available. In fact, farmers here received payments in many cases months ahead of farmers elsewhere in the UK. I think that that is a positive thing. Obviously, I cannot divulge confidences—and I am not looking at anybody in particular when I say this—but one or two Conservatives have privately indicated that that has been appreciated by farmers. Why, then, can the Conservatives not just tell the truth and say that it is not all bad? Before I came to this place, I was a lawyer for 20 years, and if I had used arguments so flawed, so fallacious and so unfounded on fact, I would have been shot down by the sheriff in a nanosecond. What we get is this partisan political argument that seems to allow a complete ignorance or perversion of facts—[
Can you please pause for a minute, cabinet secretary? I know that you are in full flow but, grand though it is, I have to say to the chamber that the level of little chitty-chatty going on is rising and rising. I am finding what the cabinet secretary very interesting, as we all are, so let us hear him.
Well, I strongly disapprove of chitty-chatty.
This is free advice from a non-practising solicitor to the Scottish Tories: stop being so negative. They are not getting anywhere with it. What is happening is that they are in an alpine crevasse of their own creation; there is no rescue team; and they are freezing to death. Their political prospects have frozen over—they have discovered political permafrost.
We are here to celebrate Scottish food and drink.
For lunch today, I had a tin of Baxters cream of chicken soup with some Graham’s butter on a Scottish morning roll. I have not yet had the opportunity to have my second course: the Tunnock’s caramel wafer. It says on the wrapper that more than 6 million of these biscuits are made and sold every week. All of those things are prime Scottish produce, and I am proud of them all. We are here to celebrate them all—so for goodness’ sake, let us, even the Tories, be positive about Scotland.