Making sure that our nation has a safe and steady food supply is one of the Government’s key responsibilities. It is as important now as it was when the emperor Hadrian was worrying about losing access to north African grain-producing regions. Of course, Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine has brought into sharp focus how vulnerable global food supply chains still are to unexpected shocks. In addition, key supply chains are still recovering from the impact of the global pandemic.
However, that is a shorter-term issue. Of much greater long-term concern is the completely avoidable disruption that was foisted on Scotland through Brexit.
It was the Tories’ choice to pursue a hard Brexit that removed us from the European Union, the single market and the customs union. As well as causing trade disruption, it has created significant workforce recruitment and retention issues for Scotland’s food and drink sector. Of course, now Labour, too, is committed to Brexit and apparently thinks that it can make the unworkable work, despite all the evidence that shows that Brexit is making our economy poorer.
Brexit has weakened our food and drink sector in so many ways.
One of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that it has given us the opportunity to take up the technology of gene editing, the current European legislation on which is, according to the European Commission’s “Inception Impact Assessment”,
“no longer fit for purpose”.
Does the cabinet secretary agree with those words?
I am surprised that the member can find even one benefit of Brexit. We will come on to discuss some of those issues later in the debate.
Many exports to the EU have fallen. For example, there has been a 38 per cent fall in fruit and vegetable exports.
I am rather surprised that the Conservatives’ extremely lengthy amendment to the Government’s motion, which is in fact longer than the Government’s motion, contains absolutely no mention of Brexit. Does that perhaps lead us to believe that the Conservatives are now embarrassed by the impact of Brexit on the Scottish farming economy?
That is exactly the point.
As I was saying, our exports have fallen, with a 38 per cent fall in fruit and vegetable exports, and a 7 per cent fall in dairy and egg exports between 2019 and 2022. Thanks to the Tories’ hard Brexit, products including seed potatoes and chilled meats can no longer be exported to the EU at all, entirely cutting high-quality Scottish produce out of that important market and having a knock-on impact on food security in those countries. Most of all, Brexit has harmed our trading relationship with the EU, our most important trade partner and one of the world’s biggest agrifood producers.
Those shocks and challenges mean that we must focus more on national food security and build resilience into Scotland’s food system as we seek to become a good food nation. We must anticipate and adapt to shocks and challenges as much as we can, and develop policies to try to mitigate them and reduce their likelihood.
That was the aim of the short-life food security and supply task force that I set up last year, in partnership with industry, immediately following the invasion of Ukraine. The task force enabled us to monitor, identify and respond to disruption to our food supply, and its report included a series of short, medium and longer-term recommendations to mitigate impacts, resolve supply issues and strengthen food security in Scotland.
Those recommendations have been substantively met. Most significantly, we now have a food security unit up and running in the Scottish Government. The unit is taking forward the legacy activity of the task force and will develop evidence-based monitoring for supply chain risks, including gathering and co-ordinating the best intelligence about risks and emerging issues.
The supply chain is complex, with every part, from producers to packagers and purchasers, reliant on others. Monitoring and horizon-scanning will provide Government and industry with better insight into global supply chain performance and will help to improve responsiveness to potential short and longer-term crises and challenges.
There is a further long-term challenge for us all to adapt to and address: climate change. In recent years, increasingly severe weather events have impacted the established rhythm of farming practice. Climate change is already affecting our food security and that will only become more acute if we do not transform our land use. If we want to create a more sustainable food supply for Scotland, we must produce more of our own food and do so more sustainably.
Scotland’s food and farming sectors have a critical role to play, producing food for consumption in Scotland and for trade, with exports of food and drink worth £8 billion a year. Scotland’s seafood producers, farmers and crofters produce fantastic food. Our manufacturers, processors and distributors ensure that high-quality, sought-after products are prepared, packaged and distributed to a wide range of markets and audiences. We also should not forget the amazing fortitude and resilience that our food chain showed throughout Covid-19.
The Scottish Government is committed to supporting our nation’s producers, which is why we will maintain direct support payments for food production.
That is exactly why we set up the agricultural reform implementation oversight board, which will help us to look at and implement those recommendations. The recommendations from the farmer-led groups are the absolute foundation of our future policy.
Our vision for agriculture has food at its heart, making clear our support for the farmers and crofters who provide the country with healthy and nutritious food while ensuring Scotland meets its world-leading climate and nature restoration targets. Co-development with the sector, through forums such as the agricultural reform implementation oversight board that I just mentioned, will enable the achievement of our shared objectives.
Protecting our natural environment and restoring biodiversity are essential to sustainable and regenerative agriculture. As Parliament agreed on 15 March, the agriculture reform route map shows that there is no contradiction between producing high-quality food and doing so in a way that delivers for climate and nature restoration.
Scotland’s marine environment and our seafood sector play important roles in domestic food security and our economic security. Exports of Scottish fish and seafood were valued at £788 million in 2021 and Scottish salmon is the United Kingdom’s biggest food export. Our marine environment contributes significantly to our good food nation, with local seafood forming part of the healthy sustainable diet that is the ambition of the local food strategy.
Our “Blue Economy Vision for Scotland” recognises the key role that Scotland’s seas and coasts should play in contributing to the nation’s future prosperity, especially in remote, coastal, rural and island communities.
However, as Seafood Scotland highlighted last year, Brexit continues to damage the sector’s competitiveness, with a knock-on impact on the economy of our coastal and island communities.
In addition, however much the Opposition tries, we cannot escape the fact that Scotland remains vulnerable to the impacts of policies, omissions and poor decision making by Westminster, whoever is in power there. Energy is one such reserved issue, and we have called for energy price setting in the gas and electricity markets, as well as the powers and resources that are needed to tackle rising costs on the scale that is required—powers and resources in the areas of access to borrowing, welfare, VAT on fuel and energy bills, taxation of windfall profits and regulation of the energy market.
We remain concerned that the UK Government’s energy bills discount scheme for businesses represents a significant reduction in funding for organisations that are already struggling with their energy costs.
I will not, at the moment. I need to make some progress.
We also need Westminster to act on migration or, better still, to devolve those powers to Scotland. Migration is crucial to our future prosperity and current UK policy is damaging our economy and society. The labour shortage is particularly harmful to Scotland’s soft fruit, horticulture and seasonal vegetable production. In those sectors, more than 60 per cent of seasonal workers were recruited through the seasonal workers scheme in 2022, and producers experienced a 50 per cent fall in the return of EU settled status or pre-settled status workers in 2022 compared with 2021.
I have written repeatedly to UK ministerial counterparts to highlight those challenges for Scotland’s food supply, but I have yet to see any meaningful engagement—and, judging by Suella Braverman’s speech earlier this week, it is hard to see how or when that might happen. Last year, we contacted the UK Government about our proposals for a rural migration pilot—an initiative that was welcomed by the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid—but we have still not even received a response.
However, I am ever the optimist, and I acknowledge the commitments that the Prime Minister made in the “Farm to fork” summit that he hosted at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. It would have been nice to have been invited, given the focus on matters that are of devolved competence, but I welcome his focus, not least on standards and the trade priorities. We want the UK Government to secure coherent trade deals that are nuanced, that protect vital yet sensitive agricultural producers and that deliver in line with our vision for trade.
However, we need the rhetoric to be put into practice in a way that avoids the situation that the former Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary George Eustice MP referred to when he admitted:
“We did not need to give Australia or New Zealand full liberalisation in beef and sheep—it was not in our economic interest to do so”.—[
, 14 November 2022; Vol 722, c 424.]
It is therefore essential that the UK Government develops a coherent UK trade strategy that directly addresses the link between trade, the protection of domestic food production and food security. I hope that the constructive approach that the Prime Minister set out on Tuesday will translate into that positive action—and, of course, into hard cash, too, because funding to support food production now comes from Westminster. Since Brexit, the Tories have cut that and shown no willingness to agree a multi-annual funding framework, which we had when we were in the EU.
I am just closing.
I am afraid that, however much the Opposition tries to ignore the elephant in the room, securing a sustainable food supply for Scotland will always be more challenging outside the EU than it was in it. This is a complex issue because we are part of a complex food system and we have to try to balance very different considerations to meet short-term shocks as well as the long-term challenges, not least the climate and nature crises.
Recent challenges demonstrate the need for nuance and for Government to work with sectors and industry to create the right environment, in its widest sense, to support our food supply. We need a healthy natural environment and a highly skilled, motivated workforce, and we need to be able to support farmers, crofters and land managers effectively. We need opportunities to create prosperity through profitable trade deals and more affordable and accessible ways for people to access high-quality food at home. We need technology, innovation and efficient distribution. Haulage is a vital part of the supply chain and I am acutely aware of how important that sector is to our aim of a sustainable food supply for Scotland.
Across the Scottish Government, cabinet secretaries and ministers will do all that they can to achieve that, but it will always be done with one hand tied behind our backs, because only with independence will we have all the powers and levers that we need to focus on the needs and interests of our population.
Crucially, independence will allow us to undo the damage of Brexit: to remove the uncertainty and insecurity that it creates for our food producers, our manufacturers and our people. Brexit demonstrates clearly that rejoining the EU at the earliest opportunity as an independent country represents the best future for Scotland, particularly for our food security.
That the Parliament commends farmers and crofters, seafood and aquaculture industries, food manufacturers and producers for the role that they play at the heart of rural, coastal and island communities in contributing to Scotland’s £15 billion food and drink industry; notes that the hard Brexit negotiated by the UK Government has created serious, long-term harms for the food and drink sector, creating labour shortages, new barriers to trade and failing to prioritise Scottish interests in third country trade deals; understands the growing impact that the climate emergency is having on food production in Scotland and globally, and applauds the progress that is already being made by the sector to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change; recognises the important work of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, and the co-development of effective models to enable producers to produce while delivering for nature and the climate; welcomes the creation of a new, dedicated Food Security Unit as a result of the work of the Short-life Food Security and Supply Taskforce, established by the Scottish Government and industry to consider short- and long-term risks to food security; is concerned at current levels of food inflation; recognises that the UK Government holds the majority of powers and levers to support consumers and the food sector and urges it to act immediately to help them during the cost of living crisis, including with energy costs, and acknowledges that Scotland will need to further adapt how and what is grown and produced to address and mitigate climate change, as well as produce more food more sustainably, to meet Scotland’s commitments to be a Good Food Nation now and in the future.
The warm words from the cabinet secretary are cold comfort when they are not followed up with Government action to help food producers, farmers, coastal communities and rural areas. Today, therefore, I will pick apart some of the glaring inconsistencies between the Scottish National Party’s words and its actions, and I will then move to the positive steps that we as a Parliament could take to secure a sustainable food supply for Scotland.
Unfortunately, the Government motion has again made it clear that the SNP Government is more interested in stoking division than in doing anything positive to help rural communities. When the SNP Government has nothing positive to say, out come the excuses. Every other sentence is an attempt to create grievance with the UK Government. We hear the usual refrain that it does not have the powers that it needs, despite the fact that this place is one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. Ministers point the blame elsewhere—it is everybody’s fault except the SNP’s. It is the same old SNP story.
However, I tell the cabinet secretary that food producers—farmers and workers in Scotland’s rural communities—are tired of hearing that. They know that the SNP ministers are acting not for the benefit of rural Scotland but as though they do not care about rural Scotland.
The harsh reality is that the Government sees farmers and fishermen as an inconvenience. It treats them with disdain and it ignores them, and at no point can the Government honestly claim to have put farmers, the fishing industry or the rural community first in any of its policy making. The SNP Government may claim all it likes that it is focused on securing our food supply, but the reality is apparent on the ground in rural areas and is far different from the alternative reality that the SNP Government tries to present. The inconsistencies between the Government’s words and its actions are crystal clear. Those actions are not designed to support farmers, crofters, seafood workers, the agricultural sector or anyone in rural, coastal or island communities.
What does Rachael Hamilton say to NFU Scotland’s horticulture convener, Iain Brown, who has commented on the fact that crops are rotting in the fields of our country because there are not enough workers to harvest those products and who said that the Home Secretary’s rhetoric is making the situation worse?
The SNP needs to use the powers that it has. We heard today from my colleague Murdo Fraser that there is more inward migration than ever. Even the First Minister recognised that and said that we need to attract more people to Scotland to live and to work. We support that. I say to the First Minister: sort out the issues of depopulation and lack of housing for rural workers, and actually support the economy.
The SNP talks about developing a sustainable food supply, then acts in a way that would wreck our food supply. We know one of the reasons for that. The words are spoken by the cabinet secretary but, unfortunately, the actions of the Government are dictated by an extremist Green Party. It seems to be their way or Humza’s majority hits the highway. Policies on food security are being drawn up by people at Holyrood who have absolutely no understanding of farming, fishing or any such crucial elements of the rural economy—
I apologise. I will call Humza Yousaf the First Minister of Scotland.
I will take first the most obvious example: the proposals by the SNP and the Green Party for highly protected marine areas, which would ban fishing in large sections in Scotland’s seas. How exactly would reducing the amount of fish that we catch right here on our shores and, instead, flying in costly imports from abroad secure a sustainable food supply? Before it was consumed, our food would have flown more miles than the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture in an average week. Fishermen made their feelings very clear when they heckled the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands last week, and I hope that she reflects on the strength of feeling that she encountered.
Then there is the apparent contradiction between the Government’s talk of supporting island communities and the SNP’s disastrous handling of the ferry-building contracts. It may be 10 years before vessels 801 or 802 are finished. During that time, islanders face cancellations and delays that are damaging businesses and ruining their way of life.
The gap between SNP words and actions does not end there. The Government talks of producing more food locally but will not even consider gene editing, which would keep food prices affordable while supporting farmers to earn a living. The Government’s opposition to gene editing is based not on science or evidence but solely on political and ideological grounds, because the SNP wants to comply with whatever the EU says.
Maybe the most clear example of the SNP’s confused rural policies is the fact that it keeps trying to split up the country, which would create a hard border with our biggest trading partners and rip up the internal market that the success of food production relies on so much. Nothing would do more damage to Scotland’s food security than separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.
All those examples demonstrate the issue that rural and coastal communities have with the SNP and the massive gulf between rhetoric and reality. The reality is that SNP policies will mean that Scottish people get higher food prices and reduced quality—-[
.] We will not meet net zero targets, as we will need to import more costly food from abroad. [
Jim Fairlie knows full well that food inflation has happened because of Putin’s invasive attack on Ukraine. There is no acknowledgment of that.
By contrast, at the recent Scottish Conservative conference I launched a paper entitled “Scotland’s food future”—[
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The paper is about how we can support farmers and agricultural workers to keep producing the high-quality local food that is grown right here in Scotland and for which we are highly renowned. Our positive plans would bring more local jobs to rural communities, keep food prices as affordable as possible and give farmers support.
The proposals in “Scotland’s food future” would also help to meet our net zero and climate change targets, because food that we support farmers to grow locally is better for the environment. It is vital that we focus on food security, because it means that we will have access to a wide and healthy range of first-class food without—as I said—having to import costly food that is flown in from abroad.
We also put forward plans for a Scottish genetic technology bill to help Scottish farmers and crofters by giving them the ability to grow more food with the same land. Our plans would also create a rural investment bank to provide an alternative source of investment for innovative farmers and support the wider rural economy. We would also set a 60:60 target for local procurement so that mainland councils are required to look locally for the bulk of their food.
The Scottish Government could take all those steps and I urge it to do so immediately, because food security really matters, but it does not matter to the SNP anywhere near as much as it claims that it does.
I move amendment S6M-09014.1, to leave out from “for the role” to end and insert:
“, horticulturalists and the agritourism industry for the role that they play at the heart of rural, coastal and island communities in contributing to Scotland’s £15 billion food and drink industry; notes the significant importance of the UK internal market in ensuring that Scottish farmers can maximise the benefits of their relationship with Scotland’s closest trading partners in the rest of the UK, including access to a £30 billion agricultural market; understands the growing impact that the climate emergency is having on food production in Scotland and globally, and applauds the progress that is already being made by the sector to adapt to, and mitigate, climate change; recognises the value of the recommendations from the farmer-led climate change groups, including the important work of the Suckler Beef Climate Group, as well as the work done by the Food and Agriculture Stakeholders Taskforce (FAST), and the Agricultural Industries Confederation, in developing well-evidenced strategies to enable food producers to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change without compromising production; understands that proposals have recently been launched by the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, which would support Scotland’s rural communities to secure jobs, livelihoods, and a viable future for farmers, crofters and fishermen, placing food production at the heart of the new Agriculture Bill, whilst investing in producers to keep food prices affordable for consumers, allowing farmers to produce more top-quality food in Scotland, whilst bringing in more local jobs for processing and transport and bolstering support for technology, including genetic technology and innovation, to help improve the UK’s world-leading standards on health, the environment and animal welfare; notes that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in global food inflation; recognises that the UK Government has recently announced steps to mitigate this, including a review of fairness in horticulture and egg supply chains, and welcomes the £2 million investment in boosting agricultural exports and £1 million for boosting seafood exports, in addition to the previously-announced £100 million Seafood Fund and £42.2 million for fisheries funding.”
The Scottish Government’s motion is factually correct; however, we have concerns about its tone, which is complacent and passes the buck.
The Trussell Trust distributed 259,744 emergency food parcels in Scotland between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023—that is more than a quarter of a million, and almost one third of them were delivered to families with children. That is the largest amount of parcels that it has ever distributed and represents a 30 per cent increase on the year before. Those statistics represent families that are unable to feed their children. They represent people desperate for food—people who will have their health and life expectancy damaged because of poor nutrition. Can any one of us imagine what it must be like to be so desperate for food that you need to go to a food bank?
Although the work of food banks is a lifeline—and I pay tribute to the organisations and volunteers who provide that lifeline—it is dehumanising to be forced to depend on them. It is equally unacceptable that many of the people who do also work in industries that provide the food that we eat.
The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union has surveyed its members and found that a third depend on family and friends for food and 17 per cent had used food banks. Imagine working in a bakery and smelling bread baking but going home to empty shelves and hungry children.
The Scottish Government has levers to change that. It has promised a national plan for ending the need for food banks. It published the consultation responses in January 2022. At that time, it promised a final plan to end food banks that winter. That has still not been published. In the circumstances we face, that is not good enough. The Government must urgently produce its plan to end the need for food banks in Scotland.
During the passage of the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022, the Scottish Government also had the opportunity to enshrine the human right to food in our legislation, but SNP and Green members voted that down. They also voted down empowering the Scottish food commission to realise that ambition. That could have made a practical difference, but they voted it down.
We agree with the motion that the Conservative Government should do much more. We also agree that Brexit has been deeply damaging. However, we cannot turn the clock back, and re-entry to the EU is not an option at this time. The SNP knows that, but Brexit and independence are simply two sides of the one nationalist coin. For the Scottish Government simply to blame the UK Government without doing everything in its power to change the stark situation that our citizens face is hypocritical.
For one thing, I do not think that it would have us back.
The Scottish Government could use procurement to ensure that people are paid the real living wage. It could insist that companies with which it contracts pay at that level and do not use zero-hours contracts or subcontract to companies that do. With one stroke of a pen, that would change the low-wage, insecure work patterns in Scotland—practices that force workers to food banks.
Although energy costs and the energy market fall to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has failed to use its powers to protect the poorest in society. Energy usage is very much in the hands of the Scottish Government. The fastest way out of fuel poverty is to reduce energy usage, but the Scottish Government does not have a strategy for that. It offers insulation loans, but people who live in fuel poverty and are dependent on food banks do not have the money to pay off loans. Instead, the Scottish Government insists that any heating assistance is invested in heat pumps, which simply do not work in homes that are not well insulated.
The Scottish Government set a ceiling for ScotWind licences, forgoing billions of pounds. It also did not insist on community benefit. Had it done so, that money could have been used to provide low-cost fuel for communities and funds to insulate homes.
The Government could also use its procurement powers, as well as agricultural subsidies, to ensure that food is procured as locally as possible and sustainably. That would not only cut carbon used to transport food long distances but sustain local farmers and crofters.
With the powers that the Scottish Government has, it could make a huge difference to people’s lives, but it does not.
That is slightly above my pay grade because I am not standing for the UK Parliament and neither do I intend to next year. I will leave the matter to colleagues who are better placed to do those negotiations.
The Conservative amendment appears to be taking a leaf out of the SNP-Green Government’s playbook by being very self-congratulatory in the face of the grim reality that is faced by our citizens. Although there are things in the amendment that we would support, there are others that we cannot. The Conservatives appear to blame the war in Ukraine for all our inflation problems. That is clearly not the case, so we cannot support their amendment.
I move amendment S6M-09014.2, to insert at end:
“; believes that it is unacceptable in the 21st century, in a resource rich nation, that so many people are living in food poverty and relying on food banks; notes that many of those who are living in food poverty are those who work in the food industry; urges more action on addressing low pay, zero-hours contracts and insecure work for those producing Scottish food; recognises the powers that the Scottish Government has that could be used to mitigate the cost of living crisis; believes that food production and a sustainable environment can work hand in hand for the benefit of both, and do not need to be at the expense of one or the other, and further believes that the right to food should be enshrined in Scots law, and that the Scottish Food Commission should be empowered to realise that policy urgently.”
I, too, would like to commend and acknowledge the work of all food producers, whether they work on land or sea, and their contribution to Scotland’s food and drink sector.
The generations of fishing, crofting and farming families who are transitioning to newer ways of working and food production through innovation are all crucial players in Scotland’s food industry and are vital to the communities in which they work and live. They are the beating heart of rural and island communities and Scottish life; they care about the environment in which they work and seek to protect it. We are thankful to them and to the others who support our £15 billion food and drink industry.
We know that Scotland produces high-quality, nutritious food and drink, whether for local consumption or export—lamb, beef, salmon, seafood, vegetables and berries of all descriptions—and one cannot mention Scottish drink without highlighting whisky and gin.
My amendment covers several issues. The first is Brexit, which has impacted labour supply across all aspects of Scotland’s food and drink. There have been shortages of agriculture workers to pick the fruit and veg and of lorry drivers to deliver the produce, and there have been shortages in the hospitality sector, where Scotland’s produce should be at the top of the menu.
The second issue is that of unreliable ferry services, as we have seen on the west coast. The failure to have a resilient service and an on-going programme of ferry replacement has, at times, cut off not only the inward supply of food to islands but the ability of island exports to reach mainland Scotland and be transported further afield. The financial impact is considerable; so, too, is the impact on people’s wellbeing.
On the northern isles route, freight capacity issues have been well documented for years, with increasing seafood and salmon exports from Shetland. However, the known pinch points in freight capacity around the autumn livestock sales seem to come as an annual surprise to Transport Scotland.
The third issue is the impact that the Scottish Government’s highly protected marine area policy proposals could have on our fishing and aquaculture industries, which are so important to our coastal and island communities around Scotland. Our fishing fleet and the aquaculture sector play a crucial role in providing a sustainable low-carbon high-protein food source. Salmon is in demand across the world: with exports to 54 countries in 2019 at a value of £618 million, it makes a significant contribution to the Scottish economy.
Mussel farmers rely on healthy clean seas in which to grow shellfish. Growers obviously want to protect the marine environment to ensure that they have a sustainable business for the future. Two thirds of Scotland’s mussels are grown passively around my constituency; the mussel sector is a form of food production with a low carbon footprint, which has much to offer.
What has been put to me, though, is that the uncertainty and risk that the HPMA proposals have introduced are harming companies’ abilities to plan and invest even now. Without offshore sites, companies cannot produce or sell mussels and will not be able to generate sales; they are asking how they can invest if they might not have a future.
Those concerns have been well expressed in previous debates.
There are already worries about spatial squeeze: a profusion of offshore windfarms will create fishing no-take zones in all but name in the footprint in which they will stand, which will increase pressures on the catching fleet.
As I said in the chamber earlier this week, the HPMA proposals have united fishing and coastal communities who are anxious about the future of their livelihoods and the communities in which they live. Concerns over the proposals are already having a negative impact on businesses.
The opposition is not to the need to protect the marine environment and address biodiversity loss and the climate emergency, but to the way in which the policy was developed before engaging with those people who make their living from the sea and the communities that depend on them—the very people who produce food for Scotland.
Those communities include people in the wider supply chain in which they are all interdependent: the processors, hauliers, marine engineers, net makers, feed suppliers, the electrician repairing the fishing boat and the crofter who is also a fisherman and might also deliver the post. They are communities that are viable because of fishing and aquaculture, that keep working-age families in a place and keep the school roll up and the local shop open, often in fragile areas. That diversity—with tradition, heritage and innovation—is a huge part of what Scotland is, and we should be doing all we can to work together to support it.
I move amendment S6M-09014.3, to insert at end:
“; recognises the high-quality and nutritious food that the fishery and aquaculture industries provide, the importance of producing fish and shellfish sustainably, and the interdependence of rural businesses; notes with concern that these sectors, major contributors to Scotland’s food industry and the livelihoods of coastal and island communities, are at risk of disruption from Brexit, unreliable ferry services and the Scottish Government’s approach to Highly Protected Marine Area proposals, and calls on the Scottish Government to guarantee that any work that directly affects coastal and island communities should always be undertaken in partnership with them to ensure that livelihoods are protected.”
One of the many privileges involved in representing the beautiful constituency of Perthshire North is the opportunity to appreciate and value the enormous contribution of the various communities and sectors to the production and promotion of food in Scotland. My constituency contributes a formidable proportion of the potatoes, cereals and vegetables that are grown in Scotland, the exquisite soft fruit that is synonymous with east Perthshire and the high-quality beef and lamb that are nurtured with care, invariably on the hill farms of Highland Perthshire, Strathardle and Glen Shee.
The strength of that activity contributes to the very highest-quality offering within the tourism, hospitality and food production sectors of our economy. That ranges from the work of the drinks industry in whisky, gin and new spirits that are based on traditional foraged crops—pioneered by Highland Boundary on Alyth hill—to the diversification success stories of Stewart Tower Dairy’s ice cream and the outstanding research work of organisations such as the James Hutton Institute, which is based in Invergowrie and recently became one of the first recipients of a King’s award for enterprise in sustainable development, and Intelligent Growth Solutions, which is also based in the JHI and has developed important work on vertical farming, which is becoming one of Scotland’s enormous export success stories.
There is much to be proud of, and much to celebrate, in the contribution of my constituency to food production in Scotland. I want to see that continue and to thrive.
I know that the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government share that aspiration and are committed to working with the industry to address the twin challenges of the climate emergency and the development of an agriculture support regime after the Brexit process. I am sure that the decisions that the cabinet secretary has taken to proceed with that work in partnership with the agriculture sector through jointly chairing the process with my constituent, the president of the NFU Scotland, Martin Kennedy, will ensure that that focus on sustainability will be central to the decision making that is involved.
Mr Swinney mentioned Martin Kennedy, the president of the NFUS, who has called for the return of the £33 million that was allocated to Scotland following the Bew review but which was swiped from the rural budget when John Swinney was finance secretary. Where is that money, and when will it be returned?
Rachael Hamilton knows full well that those resources had to be deployed in order to assist in balancing the budget in the previous financial year because of the hyperinflation that was created by the Conservative Government in its September 2022 mini-budget. At that time, ministers gave a commitment—I believe that it still stands, although I am no longer a serving minister in the Scottish Government—that that money will be inserted into the budgets in due course, when the requirement is there for it to be paid. Therefore, I do not think that Rachael Hamilton should be going around the country spreading scare stories in the fashion that she has just done. [
Despite that willingnes s to engage in dialogue, it is necessary to recognise that there are many threats and challenges to be addressed in ensuring sustainable food production in Scotland. I want to concentrate on two: the cost of production and the availability of labour.
In preparing for this debate, I asked a number of my farming constituents for information on the costs with which they are wrestling. Fertiliser costs have risen by 200 to 300 per cent and electricity costs for essential refrigeration activity to sustain crops have often risen by the same margin—in some cases, individual businesses are having to find an extra £50,000 to £100,000 to meet just the cost of increased electricity.
Some of those cost pressures are a consequence of global events, especially the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but some are as a direct consequence of the policy disasters that have been Brexit and the UK mini-budget last September.
Brexit has made the cost of trading with our nearest partners increase and has placed obstacles in the way, especially in key and valuable markets such as the seed potatoes market. As the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice told us all, replacement trade deals have disadvantaged agriculture. The mini-budget last September has created the most difficult investment climate due to the increased cost of borrowing arising out of those catastrophic policy errors. The punishing effect of that folly is being felt by consumers, many of whom are now facing unprecedented hardship in putting food on their tables in 21st century Scotland. Rhoda Grant talked about that. The Scottish Conservatives have, of course, supported both acts of spectacular folly—Brexit and the UK mini-budget.
I wonder whether Mr Swinney remembers that, pre-Brexit, I did a survey of where all our food in the public sector—in schools, hospitals and Government buildings—came from. That highlighted that a lot of our root vegetables, dairy produce and meat was being imported from the EU. I wonder what families in Mr Swinney’s constituency would think about only 16 per cent of the central Scotland Excel contract being fulfilled by Scottish produce.
The problem that my constituents now have, which I am just about to come on to, is that they cannot find the labour to pick the vegetables from the fields. That is a consequence of the stupid Brexit policy that the Conservative Party in the Parliament has supported. That is my second point: crops are not being picked and high-quality food is going to waste at a time when many consumers are struggling to feed their families. That is all because of the ideological obsession of the Conservatives.
The position just gets worse with the hostile comments of the Home Secretary, which show a devastating escalation of the obstructiveness of the UK Government. I know that Parliament will be sceptical about those comments from me, but I suggest that members listen to NFU Scotland’s horticulture chair, Iain Brown, who is a soft fruit and vegetable grower from Fife. Mr Brown said:
“The Home Secretary’s comments around training and recruiting a local workforce to pick our crops shows a significant degree of naivety over the reality of the current situation. In recent times, the Home Office has consistently failed to understand the challenges that the industry faces around sourcing labour.”
He went on to say:
“We need migrants to get the food that is grown on our farms onto our plates, and not rotting in our fields. We need the government to move away from anti-migration politics and rhetoric to make good policy.”
So there it is: blunt words from the farming sector about the obstacles that it faces.
I encourage the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government to continue their engagement with the sector and to press the UK Government to move away from its disastrous positioning on migration and on Brexit. If it does not, there will be real threats to the sustainability of food production in this country, and the responsibility will lie fair and square at the feet of the Conservative Party.
Let us return to the real world.
I am delighted to speak in this hugely important debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. As most members will know, I have a particular interest in the topic, and I have spoken about it many times in the chamber. I had hoped to have a constructive debate, because I know that the cabinet secretary can also have a pragmatic approach to the topic, and we have had many constructive conversations in the past. However, the fact that Mairi Gougeon had to stand up in the chamber and defend the most ridiculous motion from the Government must surely leave her embarrassed. All the things that we could have discussed and all the actions that we could take in the Parliament to positively address the issue—many of which I know the cabinet secretary supports—have been swept away under the SNP-Green mantra of, “Not our fault, guv.”
Far from improving our food security, the Green-driven Government agenda is making it increasingly difficult for our food producers to continue. According to the noisy minority, farms need to decarbonise, stop producing as much beef and plant more trees, and they must diversify—all with a lack of support from the Government, of course.
This week, I met representatives of the agritourism sector—by the way, I was the only politician from the five invited who turned up to listen to them and answer their questions—and a wonderful visit it was, too. The retail value of agritourism has increased by almost £50 million in the past year, rising to over £110 million. They are such an enthusiastic and resilient bunch, taking the blows that have been landed on them by the Scottish Government, getting back up and finding a way to keep developing.
However, some farmers have been forced into diversification to make ends meet because simply producing food is not good enough any more. These are the people who produce our food. Farmers have been left on their own to sort out their local food chains. Smaller businesses find it hard to access public procurement and have little guidance on how to establish co-operatives.
Yes, I understand that and, as I said, what a wonderful bunch they are, despite the policies of this Government. During that visit, I was told by those in the room that it feels as though there is no policy or financial support for agritourism from the Scottish Government.
That is exactly why I wanted to intervene, because I am really sorry to hear that the member has had that feedback. I ask the member to recognise that we have contributed nearly £0.5 million to ensure that we can run more agritourism monitor farms, in recognition of the importance of agritourism.
I also co-chair a board with Caroline Millar. We absolutely want agritourism to grow in Scotland, which is why we have made that financial commitment.
Interestingly, we mentioned agritourism in our amendment, and one of the things that the sector raised was that planning policy is developed predominantly by those in urban areas and by urban MSPs—it is too stringent, slow and bureaucratic, with some policies being not fit for rural areas because they prevent diversification and development of the rural economy.
Given the SNP-Green vilification of our farmers, perhaps a solution would be to eat more fish. Wait a minute, though—apparently, the SNP-Green coalition has decided that our fishermen have to stop catching fish, they have to develop better methods of protecting the environment and they have to innovate, although, again, the Scottish Government is not going to help them. In fact, the SNP-Green Government has apparently decided that HPMAs will be imposed on 10 per cent of our seas but it will not tell us where that will happen or where that percentage came from.
I have already taken one from the cabinet secretary.
Of course, there is no scientific evidence or data to back up that policy, according to the cabinet secretary herself in an answer that she gave to a question in the chamber. Retrospectively, the Government carried out a consultation on HPMAs and then it wonders why coastal communities are up in arms and why fishing communities are so universally against the policy.
After introducing all those anti-food-producing policies, which are coming from predominantly urban-based politicians, the Government seems surprised that this cack-handed way of treating our food producers is so unpopular. How does the Scottish Government expect people in the sector to invest in their businesses and how can it not recognise the impact of the uncertainty on recruitment and retention?
It is almost as though the Scottish Government has forgotten that we actually need to eat food and that the more pressure that it puts on our food-producing sector, the more that sector will disappear, requiring more and more of our food to be imported, which is exactly the opposite of food security.
The Greens are a one-dimensional ideologically driven bunch with no grip on reality; I do not know what colour the sky is on their planet, but it is definitely not green. Their policies, far from delivering a more sustainable economy, are adding to the climate emergency, and they have this delusion of adequacy. The SNP is blindly following them for the sake of the Bute house agreement.
Let us talk about food security—let us consider the difference that it would make if we focused on real policies that would have a real impact. How about the fact that we waste a third of our food? If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the USA. It takes an area the size of China to produce the food that we throw away.
Let us consider the issue in terms of the increasing squeeze on land use and Scottish Government policy that is specifically putting our food producers’ land under pressure. How about reducing the number of transport miles that their food undergoes? I have spoken about that issue since I entered Parliament.
What about public procurement of our food, making sure that the fantastic quality produce that we get from our farmers and fishermen and women makes its way into our school meals, our hospitals and every other Government building? That would reduce greenhouse gases considerably and contribute to the reduction in road miles—another of the Scottish Government’s targets that does not have a route map—as well as getting our pupils used to eating local produce, which would support our food producers and improve our poor health record. That would be joined-up thinking.
What about recognising the sea as three dimensional, which would mean that we could use the surface area for certain industries such as floating wind, as well as using the depth for seaweed farming, creating reefs and sea-grass plantations that would act as fish nurseries and carbon sequestration areas? There is no need for the Government to impose HPMAs. We need joined-up three-dimensional thinking.
However, instead of thinking outside the box by encouraging and rewarding innovative solutions that are already being deployed by our food producers—solutions that would tackle food security directly, all the while supporting our rural economy and impacting the health of our nation, as well as encouraging more pupils to consider a career in the rural economy—the cabinet secretary finds herself in a position of having to defend the Scottish Government’s motion, which is content to wash its hands of any responsibility. The Scottish Government blames the UK Government, food producers and anyone else, which means that it does not have to take any positive action. The SNP’s policy is being dictated by the Green Party, which lives in a dreamland—a Green Party that is the least green of any Green party on the planet. It is time to start being a Government and realise that policies actually have to be delivered.
Climate change and global population growth are often cited as major challenges to ensuring that our food supply is sustainable. Africa remains the most affected by the climate crisis, with rainfall increasing by around 30 per cent in wet regions and decreasing by 20 per cent in dry regions, which is a potent formula for failing crops and agriculture. To date, the African continent has experienced a 34 per cent overall drop in agricultural productivity as a result of climate change, according to the United Nations. However, it is not just on moral grounds that that should worry us, as we import fruits, vegetables, coffee and chocolate.
We appreciate the effect that climate change is having on rainfall and droughts. Does the member agree that we have the opportunity through gene editing to produce potatoes and crops that are far more resilient to droughts and floods and that we could provide that technology to the global south to help to mitigate those circumstances?
I thank the member for bringing that up. I remember the debate that was led by Stephen Kerr on gene editing, which I believe referred to potatoes and lemons. I will come back to that.
As well as fruits, vegetables, coffee and chocolate, we import fish—yes, fish—beef and nuts, to name but a few, from Africa. That is at a time when the United Nations predicts that the global population will increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050. I remind members that we are in 2023, and that is only 27 years away—some of us will be around for that. We are faced with more people and less food to feed them. We must sustain a healthy earth so that our earth can sustain a healthy us.
Added to the challenges that we face on food security across Scotland and the rest of the UK, as my colleagues have mentioned, is a hard Brexit that we did not vote for and do not want. The Centre for Economic Performance has confirmed that Brexit has caused the cost of EU food imports to increase by 6 per cent over a two-year period, in addition to global events that have caused many commodities to skyrocket in price. If we are having a serious discussion about future food sustainability, then aligning ourselves much more closely to our European neighbours, breaking down trade barriers and reversing Brexit must always remain on the table.
There are lessons that we can learn from our European partners, too. The European green deal has a farm to fork strategy at its centre. Like Scotland’s good food nation approach, it acknowledges that food sustainability is tackling climate change and that tackling climate change is promoting good food sustainability. Importing and exporting food and drink is our country’s past, present and future but, importantly, we must change our attitudes about where our food comes from. The nearer the farm is to the fork, the more sustainable that is by far as a way to keep our nation fed.
As I was previously a teacher, members would expect me to say that I firmly believe that education is the key to making healthy and sustainable choices about food. When people understand where their food comes from and when they develop an affinity with it, they make healthier choices about their consumption.
I would always agree with that. The more we invest in our local producers, the better.
Every single member of this place will have grown up being taught about where their food comes from, whether that be through rhymes about Old MacDonald and his farm, about Little Bo-Peep, who lost her sheep, or about Mary and her little lamb, and let us not forget my favourite—“The Jeely Piece Song”. Unless young adults choose to pursue courses in home economics, hospitality or nutrition, our education about food seems to come to something of a stop after second year in high school.
In adult life, it is harder to make healthier and more sustainable food choices, particularly when the opposite of that is the more affordable option. In a cost of living crisis, that is a bit of an outrage. We must make healthier and more sustainable choices, and making better choices does not stop at what we buy and eat; it is also about how much we waste.
Given Kaukab Stewart’s comments about food education, food science and people’s ability to cook for themselves, does she agree that such education should continue all the way through to the senior phase, so that our young people leave school with a self-reliance that, sadly, they lack at the moment?
I absolutely agree. It is a shame that, many years ago, Conservative and Labour Governments undermined and took away kitchen facilities in schools. Maybe we can look at reinstating such facilities.
Last week, I raised the importance of farmers markets in nurturing people’s relationships with food, particularly for people who live in urban settings. They provide a direct link to where the bulk of our home-grown food comes from. The Woodlands Community Development Trust’s community garden, which is in my constituency, gives locals the ability to grow crops and enjoy that food together communally as a community. I have spoken with a number of businesses—particularly hospitality businesses—that have advocated the use of urban allotments, which would be transformational for our growing communities.
During the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—I took part in an event at the Woodlands community garden, where delegates from Ghana told me how urgent they see the climate change situation as being. One delegate said, “Everyone is talking about climate change action for the future, but it is our present right now.”
Even food that is grown in Scotland has started to face volatility. Last year, low river water levels threatened crops, and the searing summer temperatures had an impact. That is why I bring my speech back to the point that, although we can talk about the food that we import from all corners of the globe and grow on our doorstep, if we do not slow down, stop and reverse the impacts of climate change, we will not be living in a world where our food is sustainable.
Our very ability to eat relies on our taking action to tackle climate change; action to deliver on our net zero obligations; action to ensure that retailers, producers and our schools educate all our children; and action to support our local farmers and producers.
It is right that, at this time, we are debating food security and sustainability in this Parliament, and it is right that we are scrutinising the commerce of our food supply and the economics of food poverty.
However, we also have to scrutinise the politics of food security, the politics of food supply and the politics of food poverty, because everywhere we look in our food production chain, we find injustice and inequality. The top 1 per cent of farm owners in Scotland accumulate 10 per cent of all farming support, and RSPB analysis shows that the top 20 per cent pick up almost two thirds—62 per cent—of Scottish Government farming support. Too much public money is going into the private pockets of Scotland’s already wealthy corporations and landowners, and not nearly enough is going to give a helping hand to our tenant farmers, smallholders, crofters and farm labourers.
The same is true of the grant and investment schemes for forestry, where we are also witnessing the rapid emergence of speculative finance capital interest shamelessly—shamelessly—hoovering up public money so fast that the market for carbon credits is becoming a racket. Instead of stepping in to help the speculators to extract wealth and opportunity from our local communities, the Scottish Government should be stepping up to give those local communities access to land for food production.
Then there are the tax reliefs and tax exemptions for farm owners—relief from fuel duty on red diesel, exemption from VAT, agricultural land and buildings being exempt from business rates, and special exemptions from capital gains and inheritance tax. Again, all those measures benefit most the richest owners of the biggest agricultural holdings and estates—the ones who need it least.
I will tell members what will happen in that rigged economy. As farm input prices rise, agri-inflation is at 18.7 per cent and farmers who face uncertainty will be out of business or will simply bought up by bigger and more powerful interests, with the result that, instead of having a flourishing and diverse rural economy, we will have a widening gap between the rural working poor and the all-too-often absentee idle rich.
Then, there are the agribusinesses. Yes—of course yields have gone up exponentially over the years, but so have the profits of the fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers, the animal feed suppliers and the oil and gas companies.
In stark contrast, have a look at the chilling report that was published just last week—“Food Workers on the Breadline”—by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which once again surveyed its members and found that more food workers are relying on food banks, that more than half say that they are worried about running out of food, and that two thirds say that their wages are insufficient to feed themselves and their family with good food. As the report concludes,
“the people who grow, distribute and supply our food are often unable to purchase the very food that they produce.”
It is like we are living in the depression-era novel “The Grapes of Wrath”, in which John Steinbeck wrote of the children of farm workers and the children of fruit cannery workers “dying of pellagra”, who must die of malnutrition because food must be forced to rot,
“because a profit cannot be taken”.
He presciently warned that
“the line between hunger and anger is a thin line.”
Let me repeat that warning today, because the line between hunger and anger is still a thin line.
I am glad that the Government wants a sustainable food supply for Scotland, and I agree with the NFUS that the idea that we can just import our food must be exposed as naive in the extreme—although I fear that too many cabinet secretaries and ministers in this Government and the UK Government still believe in the credo of free trade and still cling on to the theory of comparative advantage, when we should be investing in an import substitution strategy and when, if we want a sustainable food supply, we need to invest in the food industry’s workers. Where is the minimum £15 an hour wage for undervalued low-paid food production workers, which their unions are demanding?
We have the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022, which speaks to local food plans, but where are they? When will we get to the day when food security and nutrition are a basic human right that we meet? When will we reach an understanding that food security and net zero are not competing demands and that we cannot have one without the other?
Of course, the change that we need will be conditional on a redistribution of wealth and power—not in the direction that it is going at the moment, which is the wrong direction, but in the right direction, from those according to their means to those according to their need. It will rest upon the conviction that to win sustainability and security, we need to win greater democracy, and the conviction that it is not only our food; it is our land as well.
Today’s motion, on securing a sustainable food supply for Scotland, got me thinking—do we not all have a role to play in securing it?
When I say all of us, I mean every man, woman and child in the country, because we all need to eat every day. I mean every school, college and nursery; every farmer, crofter and horticulturalist; every hospital or care setting; this Parliament; caterers; and, without any doubt whatsoever, the major supermarkets and retailers that dominate 90 per cent of grocery sales in this country.
With that in my mind, I thought that I would try a different approach today by finding the areas that we can agree on and celebrating some of the real positives that we currently have in our communities. I have a list of the many allotments and urban growing spaces in my and John Swinney’s constituencies, which demonstrates the desire of many people to have their own growing spaces. Twenty years ago, they could barely give those plots away.
Last night, I attended a meeting of the cross-party group on food, at which we talked about dietary health inequalities, especially in areas of deprivation. As I have already said, fabulous work is going on all around the country, where small groups of mainly volunteers are doing things to educate, grow and create fabulous food-based initiatives.
One example in my constituency, which I have cited before, is Comrie primary school, where kids are taught to make soup, which they then enjoy outside during outdoor learning sessions. Under the guiding hand of John Castley from Wild Hearth Bakery, the school has also now established breaducation, whereby the pupils grow heritage wheat, harvest and mill it and then go into the kitchen to bake bread. It is a fabulous initiative, but it is not some middle-class privilege thing; it is about basic life skills and an appreciation of our food source. We should continue to encourage folk to adopt that culture in all our education settings.
Through the growing food together initiative, there are growing initiatives in urban Scotland, too. Urban spaces all the way from Aberdeen to the Borders have been turned over to grow food, with people taking up the opportunity of Scottish Government funding. It never ceases to amaze me what a few dedicated and determined individuals can achieve when they set their minds to it. Those people can really help to shift and change the culture.
There is no doubt but that it is for the Government to direct the national food policy, but it is up to us as a society to take that collective responsibility and to rebuild connections with our farmers, growers and producers, and vice versa, so that we change our cultural and societal attitude to food, given its importance to our communities—both urban and rural—our local environment and our overall personal health.
Although I accept that the issues that I am citing are small scale and will never be the panacea for food resilience, they demonstrate that our culture is moving in the right direction. It amazes me that folk in my children’s age group now take for granted that they can go to a farmers market to get local food. Such markets did not exist in Scotland until 1999. Farm shops are now a staple normal source of local food, but 20 years ago they were regarded as a special day out and not somewhere to just pop out to for food.
Richard Lochhead’s 2007 national food and drink policy for Scotland was a major turning point in our journey as a good food nation. When James Withers said,
“If we want to be seen as a good food nation, we have to actually be a good food nation”, he was absolutely spot on. This Government’s record over many years has proved that we are committed to being the good food nation that we want to be.
Securing sustainability is the aim of us all, but it is not something that can just be given to us by the Government. It is a cultural and societal issue, it is for our personal physical and mental health, and it is our contribution to helping our environment to recover and flourish. Having buy-in from the public will mean that our policy will be far more readily accepted when the public are ready to go with us.
Jim Fairlie talks about policies, but the policy proposals and recommendations of the suckler beef climate group were published in 2021. That was two years ago—two years in which we could have made progress on delivering carbon-neutral beef, as other countries have done. Fergus Ewing was right behind that. Does Jim Fairlie not think that the Government needs to get on with this so that we can bring the public along with us?
Rachael Hamilton is well aware that we are about to start our scrutiny of the bill, so I do not know where she is going with that.
Despite some of the political rhetoric that comes from Tory members, I am sure that they realise that the Scottish Government has an enviable track record of being good partners of the Scottish farming and fishing sectors. It works in collaboration with them to deliver policies that allow them to produce the food that we need to be sustainable and to tackle our climate and biodiversity challenges. Never was that level of trust and collaboration needed more than now, with Vladimir Putin reminding the world that it takes only one deranged ideologue to upset the balance of food security internationally. Ensuring that our domestic supplies are robust is essential.
To that end, I broadly welcome the food summit that Rishi Sunak held in Downing Street this week, which was a welcome change in the UK Government’s direction. However, in the spirit of collaboration of which we are constantly reminded by all other parties in this Parliament, I wonder why our Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands did not receive an invitation from the Prime Minister to attend such an important conference while we develop the policy that will help to shape agricultural security in Scotland for years to come.
That hardly demonstrates a willingness to work with, or respect, the devolved Administrations’ elected offices or this Parliament.
I will see how much I can cut from my speech.
I would genuinely like to offer the Tories, who know what I am saying is correct—I say this in particular to Douglas Ross, who has once again written to farmers in my constituency to say that he will be their voice—the opportunity that is provided by this debate to make a plea to their Westminster masters to provide the certainty and security of multiyear funding, which the industry was guaranteed from the EU. The industry cannot hang on without knowing whether funding will be provided after 2025 by the UK Government. I say that because, although we could build the best policy that Scotland has ever seen—we could tick every box and cover every angle—if we do not get at least the current level of guaranteed annual funding beyond 2025 from the UK Government, the policies or practices that we try to deliver here will come to nothing, and the resilience that we all say that we want will vanish.
It is another productive day—perhaps afternoon would be more accurate—for our food producers. Farmers and fishers are busy toiling to keep us fed and to fuel our rural economy. However, I am not so sure that the same can be said about us. Here in Scotland’s national Parliament, we go through the motions—literally, the same old motions—with little to show for it. Scotland’s rural and coastal communities have been poorly served in the devolution era, with decision making and decision makers more remote than ever before.
Unlike some members, I am not keen on quoting US founding fathers or Greek philosophers, but I note that it is often said that people get the Government or politicians that they deserve. Sadly, that is not true for our farmers or fishers and, in the case of my constituents, they have a Government that they did not vote for. Indeed, if our farmers operated to the same standard of productivity as this Government’s, we would all be very hungry. They do not need a task force or working group to get on with it; they make the best of what they have. They complain—my inbox testifies to that—but not nearly enough, because there is no doubt that the endless dithering, delay and denial of accountability of this Government cost them and make a difficult job harder.
I have said it before, but Jim Fairlie enjoyed it so much the first time that it is worth repeating: Scotland’s farmers are the beating heart of not just our rural economy but our way of life. They are central to food security and provide the one energy source that we cannot live without. They are the champions of our natural landscape and the true custodians of our environment. As I said before, the good news is that Scotland’s farmers are up for the challenge.
I have been listening closely and thinking about what you are saying. You have talked about all the things that the Scottish Government has not done. Do you think that what the UK Government has done through the trade deals with New Zealand and Australia has been good for Scottish farming?
That demonstrates the point that I was making. Jim Fairlie has made the same intervention that he made the last time I spoke on the subject. As I said then, the trade deals with New Zealand and Australia offer advantages to Scottish farmers, with whisky tariffs coming down. As far as I am aware, a significant amount of grain that is produced in Scotland goes into those products. If we sell more of them, there will be more opportunities for Scotland’s farmers.
The SNP is so interested in self-isolation that it wants to put up yet another border with our biggest trading partner and bar the most important market for our farmers—it is laughable. That is how we know that the Scottish Government is not really behind our farmers.
We should be in no doubt about the fact that our farmers will find a way to survive and to manage and overcome the challenges that they face, but that should not be enough for us. In a country that has as many opportunities and as much agricultural potential as Scotland has, we should be looking to help our farmers to thrive, rather than talking them down and using them as a political football.
Farmers should be the SNP’s first partners when it comes to driving change and its aspirations for rural Scotland. Sadly, that is not the case. In their seats in the Scottish Government sit the so-called Greens, whose answer to everything in the countryside is to ban it. I was probably unfair the last time I spoke on the issue, because it was discourteous to ask the Greens how you eat a Sitka spruce when they were not here to tell us. Obviously, that would involve them leaving the comfort of their Edinburgh wine bars. However, I have many farmers in Dumfriesshire who would be very happy to host them for a demonstration—not the kind where you hold up a banner, shout or glue yourself to a cow. What they are looking for is for the people in power—those who hold ministerial office—to face up to the reality of what their policies mean on the ground.
As good agricultural land in my constituency gets carpeted in commercial forestry, with no balance being provided and no thought being given to local communities, let alone to our ability to feed ourselves as a nation, the many excuses and diversions in the Government’s motion ring hollow. The idea that, somehow, Westminster or Brexit are to blame for all the struggles in our rural sector is a myth.
What does the member think about what Save British Farming had to say yesterday? It said:
“farming is the sacrificial lamb of Brexit ... We had the best trade deals in the world in the EU ... Brexit torched trade and now British farming is on its knees.”
I recognise that there are challenges for farmers, and that that is one of them, but I do not accept what SNP members, including the former Deputy First Minister, have said about food inflation. I used to think that Mr Swinney was a serious politician, before his transition to back-bench flunkey, in which role he has tried to suggest that the biggest challenge when it comes to food inflation is the action of the UK Government. It is well known that there is high food inflation across the rest of the UK.
I say to Gordon MacDonald that I will not take lectures on leaving the EU from a party that, despite being so wedded to the EU, when opportunities such as gene editing come up, will not even listen to the EU’s advice. Nor will I take lectures from urban MSPs who tell me that leaving the EU has been universally bad for our farmers, when farmers in my constituency have been pleased to have their less favoured area support payments restored.
Our coastal and rural communities know that the Brexit and Westminster myth is exactly that, because they have lived through this urban central belt anti-countryside Government’s attacks on their way of life every day.
They see how fishing and farming are under attack.
They see the fall in populations where lack of housing and poor infrastructure mean rural clearances by stealth and by design and they do not appreciate motions like today’s, which suggest that the problem lies somewhere else.
It is unacceptable that, in 21st-century Scotland, we have a fantastic food resource but have people living in poverty. The cost of living crisis, which members from across the chamber have talked about, is making people’s lives even worse and there is a cruel irony in the fact that many of those who help to produce our food are themselves living in food poverty. Those points were very powerfully made by Rhoda Grant and Richard Leonard.
We must think about how Scotland’s food is produced. We need to ensure that those who produce our food—from farmers to people who work in factories—actually get a fair deal, that their work is valued and that they have decent terms and conditions. That should apply right across our food sector. We have mostly talked about food in Scotland, but I highlight the globally important Fairtrade mark, which speaks of good standards and decent pay for people in developing countries who make the food that we use. We must think about the people who produce our food.
We must also ensure that our food is produced in a way that respects high standards of animal welfare, cares for natural resources and supports our environment. Scottish Labour is clear that we want to support the sustainability of the sector. There are 39,000 jobs in food and drink manufacturing in Scotland and that sector indirectly supports 300,000 jobs that are key to our communities.
We must maximise the use of public sector procurement. I was really disappointed that the cabinet secretary did not mention procurement in her opening remarks, because it is a key way of supporting our food sector in Scotland. Procurement is linked to food standards and the environmental impact of production and can maximise supply chains for local food producers, enabling them to focus on producing good quality, healthy food for us all and giving them the opportunity to plan ahead.
I was going to weave that issue in towards the end of my comments but can introduce it into what I am saying about procurement. The public sector can be critical in buying food, influencing attitudes about food waste and thinking about how to avoid food waste, which is unacceptable. Food waste has an environmental impact, and there is something that is just wrong about throwing away food when people are starving.
We must take a strategic approach and must also ensure that we maximise the purchasing power of Scotland’s public sector. At the same time, we can influence the private sector to ensure that the money that is spent on food is spent well.
I am also very keen that we support agritourism, which has been mentioned during this debate and is an opportunity for us to market our fantastic produce to those who visit Scotland. We must not miss that opportunity. I am looking forward to getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to visit Craigie’s Farm in my constituency to see what it is doing.
We need a strategic approach and must make sure that we are delivering the best value for food production and for our environment. That means supporting farmers to ensure that they are able to meet our nature and climate standards and that they can be resilient in adapting and mitigating to address the coming climate and economic changes.
An adaptation strategy is absolutely critical. The Scottish Government must see that as a high-level issue, particularly when it comes to land use and farming. Statistics show that, in 2017-18 alone, extreme weather contributed to losses of £161 million from the farming sector and that soil erosion is costing about £50 million a year. We must support our natural environment, and food must be part of that joined-up approach.
Rather than just having good words about the ambition, we need to talk about how we are going to deliver in practice, and today’s debate gives us an opportunity to do that. We passed the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill last year, but we need to address food poverty now. A quarter of Scotland’s children are living in food poverty and 69 per cent of those kids live in working households. We need to join up the inequalities and social injustice. Colleagues across the chamber have made some good points about that. We have the highest gap in life expectancy between the most affluent and the worst off in our communities since 1997, so we really need action.
One of the ironies about the cabinet secretary’s speech is that she mentioned energy powers but she did not talk about the many more things that the Scottish Government could do to maximise community benefits in our rural areas, or about the ScotWind failure whereby we have failed to deliver the economic opportunities. I also note that we still do not have the publicly owned energy company that was promised. More action is needed.
We need to focus on what our communities are doing and give them more support. None of us wants to have food banks. Those who provide them do not want to have to do that. They do a fantastic job, but last year there was a 25 per cent increase—
I thank the cabinet secretary for setting out how the Scottish Government is working to increase sustainability in the food system and food security in Scotland. I would like to expand on the concept of food security and add food sovereignty to the mix.
Building food sovereignty can boost food security and the sustainability of our food system at the same time.
Food sovereignty is built on six pillars: food for people, valuing food providers, localising food systems, putting control locally, building knowledge and skills, and working with nature. I will take each pillar in turn.
Food for people means a few things. It means ensuring that everyone has sufficient healthy and culturally appropriate food, which is why the Scottish Government and Greens will bring forward a right to food in the forthcoming human rights bill. It also means shortening the chain between food sources and people’s plates, using resources efficiently to provide more food with less environmental impact. That means supporting farmers who want to grow food for people over crops for livestock or alcohol to do so; it means putting venison larders in place so that that sustainable meat can be processed locally; and it means eating more wild-caught fish from sustainably managed Scottish fisheries instead of importing fish to feed farmed salmon.
I am not going to take any interventions, because we have been told that we are tight for time.
The second pillar is valuing food providers. Those who work on our land, on the coast or at sea to provide food for the nation are some of our most vital key workers and they need to be supported, but their livelihoods are being undermined by post-Brexit trade deals made by Westminster that encourage imports of food that has been produced to lower standards. Meanwhile, low-impact fishers who are rooted in their communities are being squeezed out—not by the call for fish nurseries, which will make fish more abundant, but by the trawl and dredge businesses that put profit over people, which are currently railing against the visa changes that will protect their workers from exploitation.
How can we support our food providers? We should put pressure on supermarkets to give providers a fair price for their product. We should invest in other ways for farmers to get their food to market, such as community-supported agriculture and local authority procurement. We must also incentivise and support providers to produce food as sustainably as possible.
Many farmers and crofters are already producing food through nature-friendly farming, but big changes are coming as diets change, UK funding changes and the climate crisis becomes ever more urgent, so we must design the farm payment framework to accelerate the necessary changes in land use and land management. Strong conditionality will make what is right for the planet right for farm businesses and livelihoods, too. That support must be available to all who want it—not just large landowners but small-scale farmers, crofters and tenants, including those without livestock.
In the marine space, we must support fish farms to clean up their practices in line with the forthcoming vision on sustainable aquaculture—limiting pollution so that the surrounding fisheries, too, can thrive.
The next pillars are about local food systems and putting control locally. The good food nation plans from local authorities and other public bodies are key mechanisms for that. It is crucial that the process involves working with local communities to develop food resilience and build community wealth.
The fifth pillar is about building knowledge and skills, which is a key element of food sovereignty. The Farm Advisory Service should be scaled up and refocused to support the vision for Scottish agriculture, investing in pilots of new approaches such as indoor horticulture in less favoured areas, woodland crofts with food production, and high-welfare practices such as cow-with-calf systems.
A wider range of specialist organisations should be funded to deliver advice. That should not be top down. Peer-to-peer knowledge exchange is the most effective way to extend innovation and regenerative practices across all farming systems. I am aware that that already takes place and is welcomed by farmers.
The sixth pillar is working with nature. That must be done at scale. I look forward to the upcoming regional land use partnerships’ presentations of the frameworks from their pilot projects, because that is an essential way to go. However, working with nature should not be addressed separately. Everything that I have outlined will bring us closer to working in harmony with nature, not against it.
I will add two things. Farming and the food system must be shaped by our commitment to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030; and we will need more people working on the land to produce food, working on our coasts in shellfish and seaweed farms and in sustainable fisheries, and working to restore nature everywhere so that it continues to provide for us as we become a more self-sufficient, sustainable and secure good food nation.
I represent a hugely rural region that has many of Scotland’s hard-working farmers, so I wanted to speak. As does the Government’s motion, I applaud the progress that has been made by the agriculture and aquaculture sectors to adapt to and mitigate the impact of the twin global climate and biodiversity crises.
Our farmers face huge pressure in the media and, as NFU Scotland has pointed out, often feel vilified and blamed for causing climate change. That isnae the case. Our farmers and fishers are our food producers. They work incredibly hard to mitigate the impact of climate change. The evidence shows that, particularly in Scotland, our farmers, crofters and food producers have already hugely adapted to the practices that have been mentioned in order to protect our environment and reduce their carbon footprint.
Much of that change has been made possible through investment in agricultural sciences and emerging technologies. I have witnessed much research—for instance, the dairy nexus at the Barony campus of Scotland’s Rural College, and vertical farming, which has been mentioned by John Swinney.
I know from farmers in Dumfries and Galloway that they are installing on-farm renewable energy production, such as solar panels and wind turbines; that they are minimising the use of petroleum-based fertilisers and pesticides; and that they are reducing dependence on fossil fuel inputs for their farming, storage and transportation of crops and livestock. They are increasing soil health by increasing plant matter, and building soil fertility through practices such as compost application, the planting of cover crops and reduced-till or no-till cultivation.
My constituent Christopher Nicholson, chair of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, who farms at Whithorn, has not ploughed or deep-cultivated for more than 20 years. He says that not only is there a big cost saving in fuel and machinery, there is improved soil health and a higher level of soil organic matter. Soil health is crucial for food security. Kaukab Stewart spoke about that.
The Scottish Government’s vision is for Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. There is no contradiction between high-quality food production, food security and the production of food in a way that delivers for the climate and nature.
The Scottish Government continues to support food production and secure food supply in this country. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of maintaining support for the sector. That is why it has committed to maintaining direct payments. Additional support is provided to the food producing sector by ensuring payments through the basic payment scheme and greening payments, which were made in advance. Annually, the Government provides around £420 million through those schemes.
However, in the face of the support that the Scottish Government is giving to support our food producers, we are continually hammered by UK Government policies. As the motion states, the food and drink sector in Scotland and across the UK has borne the brunt of the clarty—yes, clarty—Brexit that was pursued by the UK Government, particularly due to the loss of free trade and free movement.
Martin Kennedy, the president of NFU Scotland, said that the Brexit dividend has certainly not come about at all and that all the things that it was concerned about—the whole reason why we backed remain at the time—have come to fruition. Scotland’s food and drink sector lost many of the benefits that it once had when we were trading with the European Union and part of the single market. Many Scottish food industries, including seafood and cheese producers and livestock transporters across Galloway in my South Scotland region, have suffered from reduced exports to the EU. At a time when food security faces unprecedented threats, it was appallingly reckless for the UK Government to place our trading relationship with the EU in jeopardy.
I absolutely welcome the food security unit that the cabinet secretary established in response to the war in Ukraine. The unit will look at current and future threats to ensure food resilience across Scotland, and I welcome the fact that the cabinet secretary established it.
Brexit means that the Scottish Government no longer has long-term certainty of funding. That the unilateral choices that are being imposed by the Treasury provide insufficient replacement EU funding is a huge concern.
The Scottish Government has been clear and consistent in its position. It expects full equivalent replacement of EU funds to ensure that there is no detriment to our finances and it expects the UK Government to fully respect the devolution settlement in any future arrangement. However, the Scottish Government has no clarity about the future budget and already faces a shortfall of £93 million because those guarantees have not been honoured.
I am proud of our farmers in Scotland. We should all be proud of our Scottish farmers. They are our food producers and the custodians of our land, and they deserve our thanks. I will support the Scottish Government motion at decision time tonight.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Please could the chamber have some clarification on the length of the debate. We were told by the Deputy Presiding Officer that there is no time for interventions and two of the last speakers have not taken interventions, saying that their time is restricted.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I seek some further guidance. My understanding was that we were out of time, so I cut my speech short and did not take any interventions. I normally do, but the last time I took interventions, members went on and used up half of my speech time. I am conscious that I had some time in hand at the end. I seek clarity, as my understanding was that I did not have enough time.
The Presiding Officer:
My understanding is that there was time during the debate and that other members had shared that time. At this point in time, we are on time; there is no additional time. Whether a member accepts an intervention is therefore wholly up to them. We are certainly not in the position of cutting time short.
We move to winding-up speeches.
It is fair to say that we have had a robust debate that has shown the passion in communities across Scotland for ensuring our food supply. Should my amendment be agreed to, that will signal to communities around our coasts that the Scottish Parliament is listening to the strength of feeling about the Scottish Government’s HPMA proposals.
As I previously mentioned, communities that are concerned about HPMAs are not against protection of our marine life—quite the opposite. Aquaculture and fishing can continue alongside evidence-based policies to protect our seas, natural habitats and life.
Rachael Hamilton highlighted the work across the food and agriculture sector to develop strategies to tackle the climate emergency without compromising production. We can improve our land and sea environments in conjunction with the people who work in them and we can bring them along with us.
We know that the impact on food prices of the cost of living crisis has been stark, as Sarah Boyack and others said. Rhoda Grant spoke about the many people, including those who work in the food industries, who rely on food banks, while Richard Leonard spoke of the thin line between hunger and anger. Our sustainable secure food supply must be affordable for consumers while giving farmers and growers a fair deal, too. After all, without a home-grown farming sector, we will be far from keeping consumer costs down.
Food security was spoken of but little before the invasion of Ukraine, but policies from both Scotland’s Governments have had negative impacts on achieving it. Food prices have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, but the UK Government’s Brexit deal has left us having to tackle higher inflation than there is in comparable countries, where inflation rates are lower.
Without the willing workers who used to come from the continent, food has been left to rot in the fields, as John Swinney outlined in his speech.
Brexit enthusiasts told us that we would be first in line for top trade deals and that countries would queue at our door to sign deals with us. However, the UK Government’s approach to trade deals has risked undermining Scottish and UK agriculture and is undercutting the goods that we produce to high environmental and animal welfare standards. NFU Scotland has described post-Brexit trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand as
“one sided, with little to no advantage for Scottish farmers” and as posing
“a long term threat to key Scottish agricultural sectors, such as beef, lamb and dairy”.
Scottish Liberal Democrats want to reaffirm that all trade deals should meet UK standards in environmental protection and animal welfare.
Brian Whittle spoke of reduced food miles and joined-up public procurement, which would bring about improvements to health. Kaukab Stewart spoke about the global situation and the importance of education for making healthier choices.
Scottish Liberal Democrats call on the Scottish Government to build on the initial agricultural transition funding that was won by our party and which rewards environmental stewardship and helps agricultural businesses to make investments that will rapidly reduce emissions. We will look closely at and support means to keep farming profitable and sustainable with a focus on the need to ensure that food is on tables and shop shelves throughout the country.
In their opening remarks, the cabinet secretary and her colleagues laid the blame for harvests rotting on the vine on Brexit and its impacts. It is, to be frank, embarrassing that seven years since that vote the Scottish Government continues to wring its hands instead of rolling up its sleeves and getting to work.
Scottish Government ministers know that a country’s economy cannot be based on importing labour from overseas. Of course, we must always welcome new neighbours, but that must be in addition to, not instead of, developing our own labour strategy, because without an industrial strategy for a sustainable food supply chain that recruits, trains and values workers through unionised jobs and excellent pay and conditions, we will all go hungry.
It is telling that the intervention from the SNP back bencher focuses on Westminster politics. It demonstrates that the SNP knows that, at the next election, there is a choice between only two parties and it can continue to support the rotten Tory Government or get behind Labour and give Scotland the Government that it needs.
We heard from Rachael Hamilton that our food security issues are entirely the fault of events elsewhere—never mind the Tory Government’s decimation of the economy, its unwillingness to tackle the gross inequalities that are at the heart of our economic system and its overseeing of the rising food bank use that shames us all.
Food producers, agriculture workers and every single one of our friends and neighbours who are donating to and accessing food banks weekly have one thing in common—failed Tory economics that allow supermarket profits to soar unchecked while children go hungry, and which allow our food producers to be undercut by the party’s disastrous post-Brexit trade agreements. Tories then have the audacity to stand up in Parliament and claim to advocate for rural mental health and rural repopulation and livelihoods. Whether it is denial or delusion, that is utterly shameful.
I enjoyed the start of the member’s speech more than this section.
Does she agree that there is absolutely no reason why we are not building enough houses in rural Scotland, which has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit?
It has everything to do with the economy. Mr Mundell’s Party is totally failing in that regard.
It does not have to be this way. Many of our producers are leading the way with high nature value farming, conservation grazing and a wide range of measures that will have a positive impact on the local and global environments and the economy.
However, the current systems do not reward those steps enough. We need radical actions to address the injustice and harm that our current system is doing, because until no child in Scotland is hungry and no food banks are needed, we cannot call ourselves a good food nation.
The Social Justice and Social Security Committee recently took evidence from Cara Hilton from the Trussell Trust, who said that
“the Scottish child payment is a great example of a policy that is” absolutely working and
“starting to make a difference”—[
Official Report, Social Justice and Social Security Committee,
4 May 2023; c 20.]
because there has been a reduction in the number of food parcels that are going out to those children, as is clear in the trust’s statistics. Does the member welcome that information?
We welcome the Scottish Government coming behind Labour on our call for that increase.
As I was saying before that intervention, we cannot call ourselves a good food nation until no child in Scotland is hungry and no food banks are needed. That is why Labour is calling for the right to food to be enshrined in law and empowered through the food commission, and why the next Labour Government will end use of the zero-hour contracts that so blight our food supply chains and economy.
Labour would see every child fed, every worker heard and every flower bloom.
Seven years after the vote to leave the European Union, the SNP-Green coalition is still dithering on what will come next for our food sector, and the clock is ticking.
Recently, 300 farmers gathered outside Holyrood demanding that food production be at the heart of the new agriculture bill. Despite George Burgess, the director of agriculture and rural economy, describing the event as a celebration of Scottish food, make no mistake that it was a protest to send a clear message to the Scottish Government that secure and sustainable food production needs to be at the heart of the new agriculture bill.
Farmers are desperate to continue to invest in and to protect a sustainable and secure food supply across the whole country, and that goes hand in hand with meeting biodiversity and climate change goals. Scotland’s farmers have already taken great strides towards reducing their emissions, despite the lack of any significant support from the SNP-Green Government, but farmers know that there is still much to be done, and the industry relishes the challenge, provided that people are kept fully informed of what is expected of them and know what the end game is, which is something that has been seriously lacking up to now.
We have had many different pieces of legislation being lined up for this Parliament to consider, concerning the biodiversity plan, the climate change plan and land reform, as well as the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill. However, worryingly, despite being asked repeatedly throughout her time in office, Mairi Gougeon has failed to answer this straightforward question: is she proposing an agricultural policy that takes note of environmental biodiversity and emissions targets, or is she planning to have environment, biodiversity and net zero policies that agriculture sits behind?
Well, we all know the answer now, because it is clear that agriculture is just trailing in behind the overriding environmental policies that are being influenced by the unevidenced policies driven by the urban dwelling, extreme Greens, whose chamber contributions do not even stand up to scrutiny. We can see that in the hated HPMA policy. Where is the economic impact assessment of that approach, which we could use to determine the damage that is being done to Scotland’s rural economy?
Since 24 June 2016, when many of us first discussed the implications of leaving the common agricultural policy at the Royal Highland Show, we have said that there would be a need for a new agriculture policy, and this Government should have been right on to it. However, we have had seven years of dilly-dallying and consultation after consultation with no clear direction of travel or outcome.
To make the impact of delaying worse, it comes at the same time as we undoubtedly need to rapidly implement far-reaching policies to address climate change. Some great work has been done by the farmer-led groups, which were established to develop advice and proposals for ways in which the Scottish Government could cut emissions and tackle climate change. They reported in March 2021, and the good news is that many of the recommendations that were adopted are now delivering tangible results.
However, the bad news is that those recommendations are not being delivered or adopted in Scotland. It is the Irish who appear to have implemented many of the actions from the FLG report. The Irish Government has backed measures to encourage and promote suckler beef production in Ireland to the tune of €265 million over five years, and that is to our detriment. Furthermore, 41,000 farmers in Ireland have signed up to the lime subsidy scheme to condition soils and improve productivity and therefore reduce inputs. Here, however, the Government has attracted fewer than 200 farmers to sign up for a £500 deal to take soil samples. What an abject failure—a failure not on the part of our farmers, but on the part of the SNP Government.
I touched on the recommendations of the farmer-led groups. There was also the important work of the suckler beef climate group, the food and agriculture stakeholders task force and the Agricultural Industries Confederation. Our academics and research organisations are doing an amazing job in developing well-evidenced strategies to enable food producers to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change without compromising production. However, we need the Government to play its part. Right now, there is no sign that it is stepping up to the mark anywhere near fast enough or with adequate resources.
It is only right that we recognise the role that horticulturists and the agritourism industry play at the heart of rural, coastal and island communities, and the £15 billion contribution that they make to Scotland’s food and drink industry. As Brian Whittle mentioned, the retail value of agritourism has increased by more than £50 million to more than £110 million. With farmers facing many pressures, they need to diversify simply to make ends meet—producing food is simply not enough, and farmers are left to sort out situations, including their local food supply chains. The Government should have dealt with that many years ago, but many insist that it still feels like there are not enough policies, adequate policies or financial support in this expanding sector, and that more needs to be done to promote the sector and advertise the value of local food chains and Scottish rural businesses.
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s proposals will support Scotland’s rural and island communities by securing jobs and livelihoods and creating a viable future for our farmers, crofters and fishermen. Scottish Land & Estates recognises that Scotland’s land is essential to produce food, sequestrate carbon and enhance biodiversity, and it urges the Scottish Government to stand up for Scottish farmers and rapidly realise opportunities from new free trade agreements and the development of agriculture support schemes.
We have a whole range of different opportunities. The problem with the Scottish Government is that it would rather put constitutional grievance above getting the day job done. We have had seven years since we left Europe to make the best of the job. Whether or not we agree with Brexit, the SNP Government has failed to step up to the mark.
We have heard again today that Scottish salmon are an extraordinary global success story that supports thousands of jobs and contributes millions of pounds to the UK economy. Scottish salmon have among the lowest carbon footprints of any farm-raised animals, as the evidence from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tells us. However, the SNP-Green coalition is planning to introduce mandatory HPMAs in 10 per cent of Scotland’s waters when over 40 per cent are already subject to restrictions.
With the biodiversity and climate emergencies and rising food costs and inflation across the globe, there is the risk of a perfect storm. The SNP Government must bring forward strategies and policies as a matter of urgency to allow proper and thorough scrutiny, with proper peer-reviewed science at the heart of them, to ensure that we have a future agriculture policy that has sustainable food production as a focus. It is only with that approach that we can hope to deliver for the future health of our communities—that is, health in the widest sense and the long-term health of our planet.
I thank members for what I think we can all agree has been a very lively debate—as it should have been. That shows the level of interest in the issue and demonstrates the importance of food security to all of us. I also thank the organisations that contacted us with briefings for the debate.
There is an awful lot of ground to cover. I will try to get through as much as I possibly can and will address as many of the points that have been raised in the debate as I can.
First, I will touch on each of the amendments that were lodged. There are elements in all of them that we would welcome.
On Beatrice Wishart’s amendment, we absolutely agree on the importance of our fishing and aquaculture sectors. Scotland’s fishing industry is the lifeblood of our coastal communities. It supports jobs and businesses, sustains a unique heritage and way of life, and contributes substantively to our wider economy through processing and exports. We will see fish and seafood become even more important to our food security in the future. That is why we have continued to work to secure £486 million-worth of fishing opportunities through our international negotiations, why the marine fund Scotland is supporting the innovation that we want to see in those sectors, and why we spend over £9.7 million on science.
I will come on to address the point that Finlay Carson has raised. However, it is a bit rich of him to talk about fishing opportunities, considering all the promises that were made to our fishers during Brexit, which have yet to materialise.
I fully recognise the concerns that have been raised in the chamber today and that have been aired in a series of debates in the past few weeks about HPMAs, in particular. The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition and I have made it clear that we are listening and that we will carefully consider the results of the consultation. We will also engage with communities and the fishing industry. When I was in Shetland earlier this week, I took the opportunity to do just that, as well as engaging with other bodies, including Shetland Islands Council, to discuss more of the issues that Beatrice Wishart had raised.
I welcome the fact that, in her amendment, Rachael Hamilton at long last acknowledges the progress that the Government and the food and drink sector are making on transforming how we farm. I am more than happy to remind her and the Scottish Tories that the SNP is keeping direct support for farmers and crofters while it is their party that is removing such support in England.
We are seeking clarity on the funding that was announced on Tuesday. I trust that, should that be new money, Rachael Hamilton and her colleagues will support my call for a fair share of that funding to be devolved to Scotland, for us to determine how to spend it on Scottish priorities in food security.
There were some points in Finlay Carson’s closing speech that I need to address, in relation to his assertions and the lack of support for our industry. Again, this Government committed to direct payments instead of withdrawing that support, as the UK Government has done down south. I wish that Mr Carson would actually take the time to read the information that we have published—our vision for agriculture and our route map, as well as the list of measures that we published alongside that. I think that it is clear from his closing speech that he has not taken the opportunity to do that, because the list of measures that we published alongside the route map, which sets out when the key decisions will be made and when we will be providing more information, is based on the work by the farmer-led groups. As I said, that is the foundation for the policy that we are taking forward, and the list of measures is evidence of that.
Both Finlay Carson and Mercedes Villalba seem to have forgotten about the Scottish Government’s commitment to stability and simplicity in the key period between Brexit and now, so that our farming industry has had that certainty and stability as we progress to a new policy.
Turning to Labour’s amendment, Rhoda Grant’s contribution focused on food security as it affects people and households. We agree that affordability is a key issue. We know, from the latest Office for National Statistics estimates, that, in the 12 months up to March 2023, average food prices for UK households rose by almost 20 per cent. That is why we have allocated almost £3 billion to support policies that tackle poverty and protect people, as far as possible, during the on-going cost of living crisis. We know that that is providing vital support—including by helping people to access emergency cash in their local communities—while, in the long term, we seek to ensure that people have sufficient income to buy a diverse range of healthy and nutritious food.
Rhoda Grant’s amendment also highlights just how limited our powers are in this regard and how much is still reserved to the UK Government. I welcome Scottish Labour’s recognition of these issues and the limits to what we can do currently, and I hope that Scottish Labour will now join us in arguing for more powers, more funding and more levers to tackle food insecurity and employment.
I was speaking about the Scottish Government using its own powers. For example, its consultation on ending the need for food banks in Scotland was supposed to come forward with a plan of work last winter and it has not. When will we see that plan of work?
Ms Grant has taken my next point from me, because that was exactly what I was coming on to. The statistics that Ms Grant highlighted from the Trussell Trust and the truly shocking figures that she presented on the amount of food parcels that are now being delivered shows how stark the situation is.
She mentioned the plan for ending the need for food banks. Since consulting on the plan, the context in which that consultation was done has changed considerably, given the cost of living crisis, among other factors. The plan will be published shortly, showing the actions that we will take to tackle food insecurity, but I would be happy to follow up with the member and give her more information on that.
We have touched on the importance of local food and local food supply chains, and we are working to create more food security locally for people, businesses and communities. Through the food for life programme, we are providing a further £480,000 of funding over the next financial year to the Soil Association so that more local authorities can be accredited to deliver more locally sourced, healthier food in schools. We have also provided over £700,000 since 2020 to the Scottish Grocers Federation for its go local programme, which is helping to transform convenience stores, with dedicated display space for Scottish produce.
We are also working with key stakeholders to finalise our local food strategy to connect more people with local food, to connect Scottish producers with buyers and put more local food on local menus, and to harness the power of public sector procurement.
I am sorry, but I need to make some progress.
That brings me to the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022. So many of the issues that were mentioned by Brian Whittle and Kaukab Stewart will be fundamental to the good food nation plan that we must produce. Food links so many different areas of policy in Government, and we will pull all of those—food waste, education, improving health, resilient supply chains and procurement—together in that key document. Procurement is an issue that the member has raised with me on previous occasions, as well as being focused on by Sarah Boyack in her contribution today, and it is important to all these discussions, too.
Not at the moment—I need to make progress.
Jim Fairlie made a really important point today, because, in talking about how food links all these different areas, he made the point that food impacts each and every one of us.
Richard Leonard asked about the progress of the good food nation plans. We have set out the timescales for bringing those forward in line with what is set out in the legislation.
I will touch on a key point that has been raised in a number of contributions. Rachael Hamilton and the Tories have a brass neck to talk about reducing the amount of costly food that is being flown in from abroad. It is their party that is allowing imports to come into this country completely unimpeded. It voted down a motion that would have seen our high animal welfare standards protected in trade deals, which its own DEFRA minister admitted sold our producers down the river. The same party repeatedly pushed back import checks, with the very real biosecurity risks that that would present, particularly to vulnerable sectors such as our pig sector, which faces real threats from the likes of African swine fever.
No, I will not take an intervention. The member has heard that I must close.
I agree that there may be benefits for the whisky industry, but we should never be looking for benefits for one sector over another. He completely forgets about the beef and lamb producers in this country, who have been completely sold down the river by his UK Government.
As much as we do to make food supply more sustainable and secure at all levels in Scotland, we do that with only a fraction of the powers, levers and funding that we need. We need more powers so that we can do more to protect our own people from the ravages of food inflation, use our own energy resources to benefit our own people and businesses and, frankly, help more of them to keep the lights and the machines on.