– in Westminster Hall at 4:48 pm on 16th November 2016.
Before I call Mr Parish to move the motion, I should say that no fewer than five Government Members have asked to speak. I am sure that Mr Parish will introduce the debate with his customary eloquence and brevity and allow his colleagues to get in.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the English wine industry.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I am glad you have such confidence in me. I am very pleased to have been asked to be an English wine champion in Parliament by the United Kingdom Vineyard Association. I am also glad that my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies is my counterpart for the Welsh wine industry.
Ever since Roman times, UK landowners, monks and noblemen have all tried to cultivate a domestic wine industry, but to little or no avail. During the Norman era, almost 1,000 years ago, the Domesday Book recorded vineyards in 42 separate locations. However, the colder and wetter weather of the middle ages soon put an end to that, and so our Norman conquerors continued this country’s long tradition of importing wine. In fact, to this day we still import more of our wine from France—more than £900 million worth every year—than from any other country.
In 2008, when I was in the European Parliament and we were talking about the wine regime, I said in one great moment of bravado that we will actually produce more wine than the French. I rather fear that I may not live long enough to see that happen, but we do know that English wine production is going in the right direction.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. We all see wine in the context of France—our nearest neighbour and obviously a major producer—but does he agree that British wine has a unique taste? It is naturally effervescent and has a delicate mineral presentation to the palette. It is an excellent product, worthy of international acclaim.
My hon. Friend is so right, is he not? It is the best wine in the world; there is no doubt about that. I have never undersold anything in my life, and certainly not when it comes to English wine and Welsh wine—is there even a little Scottish wine somewhere? Hopefully not. Seriously though, it is great that we have this wine. I will come to this, but we have a very new wine industry, so we have the very latest equipment and the very best methods—and some great soil and some great grapes—so we have every chance to have good wine.
English wine is now the fastest growing agri-sector in the UK and last year alone it added £100 million to the UK economy. There are now more than 500 commercial vineyards in the UK, with as many as 5,000 people being employed across the sector. The acreage of planted vines has doubled in the last decade and by 2020 the UK wine industry is expected to produce about 10 million bottles a year, with 25% of English wine being exported, and that is a very conservative estimate.
With those great figures, does my hon. Friend agree that one way to promote English wine would be to serve it in all our embassies around the world, and in Parliament and all our Government buildings? For example—to take one completely at random—Giffords Hall Rosé from Suffolk, or indeed Copdock Hall Rosé from Suffolk, would make a great addition to any of our fine embassies.
Obviously there is great wine from Suffolk, as there is across all our counties of England and Wales, and it is right that we promote it in our embassies and in Parliament, in the restaurants and when we buy wine from Parliament, especially sparkling wine but also others.
I commend my hon. Friend. I was made a snipe champion, so I rather think I have drawn the short straw, given that he was made a wine champion.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Should we not put our wine together with all our other amazing produce, such as our cheese, our cream and our butter, to promote tourism in the UK, perhaps with the Great British Food Unit behind it, so that we sell our great food and drink much better—Staplecombe Vineyards produces some of that wine; it is in Taunton, so obviously it must be good—and really make it part of our sales pitch?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is right, and we are conducting an inquiry at the moment into rural tourism, so this is very much about the food, the drink, the wine—everything is there. We can compete with our continental cousins extremely well. Let us go out and actually do it.
There are as many as 50 wineries and vineyards in Devon alone, with UK vineyards appearing as far north as Yorkshire. From growers in East Anglia reporting higher yields to Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall having a
“fourth good year in a row”,
the English wine industry is going from strength to strength.
Let me turn to the reasons for that growth. Many parts of England have always had the same chalky limestone soils as the Champagne region, but now English wine makers are catching up because our climate is improving. In blind tastings, some English wines are now beating the great Champagne houses at their own game. Therefore, with climate changing, we have every chance to produce the very best sparkling wines; dare I say—I will probably be sued—almost champagnes?
Not only are we beating them in competition, but the French are now admitting, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” because the houses of Taittinger and Pommery have both bought acreage and joined up with English vineyards in the United Kingdom to produce English sparkling wine that is better than French champagne.
My hon. Friend has obviously been looking at my speech, because I shall mention that in a minute. There is no doubt that they are buying up land. We have to be careful; we do not want to be entirely overrun by France, especially given the history. Seriously, though, what the French are bringing is the investment and the expertise, so if we can work together, I believe that English wine, in particular sparkling wine, has huge potential.
There is some more good news. Statistics produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that an additional 75,000 acres of land are suitable for producing English sparkling wine. That is equivalent in size to the whole of the Champagne region, which just shows how much potential there is for growth.
Only last year, the champagne producer Taittinger purchased some land in Kent to establish its first UK vineyard. Prime vineyard land in the UK is actually much cheaper than in France and many of our arable farmers are also beginning to see that attraction. Vineyards are quickly becoming part of farm diversification, and with the added bonus of shops, cafés, tours, weddings and wine tastings, vineyards and wineries can provide a much needed boost for agri-tourism and rural jobs.
Further to that point, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sharpham Wine and Cheese, which does just that? It is not only producing fantastic wines but fantastic cheeses and is providing a welcome tourist centre for tours, sharing expertise and creating valuable local employment.
I very much commend the Sharpham vineyard, because, once again, it is reaching out. It is producing a good wine, and then we can have good local food and bring more and more tourists down to the south-west, provided that we dual the A30 into Honiton while we are it and along the A358 to Taunton—that was not part of my speech.
English wine is now of such a good standard that our Government and embassies are confident of promoting English sparkling wine across the world—I am sure we will hear much more about that from the Minister. I even heard on the grapevine—sorry about that—earlier this year that Chapel Down in Kent had become Downing Street’s official wine supplier. Unfortunately, however, less than 1% of wine drunk in the UK is from our shores, so for a start let us ensure that a variety of English and Welsh wines are sold in Parliament, Government buildings and our embassies, and are not just found in Downing Street.
Parliament’s bars and restaurants are selling French champagne and Italian prosecco, as well as wines from Chile to New Zealand. It is great to have these wines here, but we really must have our English wine here. Even worse, the House of Commons-branded wine is not actually from the UK. If we are going to promote English or Welsh wine globally, we really should get our own House in order first.
It is true that English wine is generally a little more expensive, so the Government must look at what can be done to create a level playing field. In the UK, as much as 60% of the cost of an average bottle of wine goes on tax—so I expect our great Minister here to reduce the tax on our wine immediately. That 60% in this country compares with about 21% in France. Excise duty is too high in this country and punishes domestic wine producers the most, who pay duty even before the wine is sold. At the last Budget in March, all other drink sectors received duty freezes, but the wine industry saw a duty rise. There is therefore a serious point to be made: our growers of wine and grapes should be treated fairly. If wine continues to go unnoticed and unprotected by Government, there will be a growing impact on the industry right across the board, from small to large producers.
It is also vital that the UK rejoins the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, the OIV, which is the global organisation for science and technical standards in the wine trade. The British Government left the organisation in 2005, citing cost, but all the big wine producers are members, including most of Europe. OIV members account for some 80% of global production. We need a seat at the top table to help to construct the rules covering this global trade. Will the Minister commit to the UK re-joining the OIV? In addition, the English wine industry reports that there are not enough approved pesticides. The green book of UK-approved pesticides gets thinner every year. Any assistance or reassurance that the Minister can give us and the industry that the issue will be given close attention will be much appreciated. We need a level playing field with our European counterparts.
I want English wine to be a big Brexit success story. The Government are committed to boosting British exports to growing markets around the world. Where better to start than English wine, where many of the top export markets are in Asia? When negotiating a new trade deal with the EU, the Government should look to secure tariff-free access for wine produced in the UK. That should also be a priority for trade deals with other nations. We also need a national scheme equivalent to the EU’s protected geographical status. We must protect our names and the particular association of English sparkling wines as being a high-quality product. The protected geographical indications currently cover British products such as west country lamb and Exmoor Jersey blue cheese. I was pleased therefore to hear that the Government were considering registering the name “Sussex” as a kitemark brand for sparkling wine. What progress has been made on that registration? Where does Brexit leave the opportunity to have protected regional brands? We also need to focus on training and skills. Vineyards must get the necessary labour post-Brexit to realise their full potential.
Finally, if we allow our producers equal competition against subsidised wine industries in other countries, we will definitely need a new farming support regime. We must help and encourage those who produce and export the very best English wine. Minister, there are a lot of them. There is so much more we can do to encourage this growing industry, whether through promotion, name recognition or making tax changes to help exports. English wine can be an even better success, so let us uncork its great potential.
We have five Members wishing to speak. I want to get everyone in. I will start with Nick Herbert, but I want every speech to be a brief sip and not a long swill, please.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing it. I am particularly pleased to be speaking in it because my constituency, which I am proud to represent, has more wine producers than any other. We have 17 producers that I am aware of, including award-winning producers such as: Stopham, whose wine was served on the Queen’s barge in the diamond jubilee celebrations; Wiston; Nutbourne; and, perhaps most notably—arguably it is the finest English wine—Nyetimber, which is a premium brand that is increasingly exported globally.
First, I want to add to what my hon. Friend said about the importance of the Government getting behind this industry in relatively easy ways. It seems to me absolutely obvious that the Government should showcase English wine at its major events. I am glad that Downing Street is serving English sparkling wine. I hope that the Foreign Office is also doing so at appropriate events, and I hope our embassies will be encouraged to do the same. I recognise that English sparkling wine is relatively more expensive, but it says something about our country and this emerging industry if we can serve the wines. It would be a talking point.
I make a plea to the Minister to look at the normal procurement rules and to perhaps give a say and an opportunity to the variety of English sparkling wines that are produced. The Government should not just land on one or two, which I understand is the case in Downing Street at the moment. These are all emerging brands, and there are some particularly fine ones among them that win blind tastings. I understand that Clarence House adopts a slightly different approach in how it serves English wine. It has blind tastings and has arrived at serving rather more English wines as a consequence. The opportunity should be shared around more, and the Government should approach the issue in that way so that other areas of the country and other wines can benefit. Indeed, the Government may need to do that if they are to serve such wines more, which seems to me to be a relatively cheap way in which they could help the industry.
Secondly, I endorse what my hon. Friend said about wine duty. At the moment, wine duty applies across the board because we are in the European Union. It is not clear whether that would continue in the future, but there is a case anyway for reducing wine duty in the same way as has happened for beer duty. It has been shown that that has a beneficial impact, and wine has rather lost out in the argument in recent years. Wine duty was frozen at one point, but generally it has increased, and that has a negative effect that could be addressed. I hope that the Minister will join us in making representations to the Chancellor to support the industry by lowering wine duty.
Thirdly, I endorse what my hon. Friend may have said—I am not sure whether he did, but I will say it anyway—on the Government’s producing a welcome roundtable. The then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, now Lord Chancellor, held a roundtable on how English wine is promoted, bringing together the various interests in the country. It would be welcome if the Government continued with that initiative and held another roundtable. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about that.
English wine is a potential success story. It is no longer a joke. People are talking about it. It is a potential source of alternative rural employment and a good, environmentally friendly land use. It seems to me far better to grow vines than to grow ugly things on agricultural land that might have been farmed in other ways in the past. It is a great opportunity for the country. At a time when many of us may be utterly miserable due to global events, I can think of no better way to drown our sorrows than for those of us who drink—sadly, I am no longer one of them—to raise a glass of English wine and toast its success.
I do not hold with those who say that English wine should be a Brexit success story. Nor is it necessarily the case that tariff-free access for wine will be an answer in itself, because tariff-free access would imply a reciprocal arrangement and tariff-free access for wine that we import. As so often, the glib solutions are not necessarily the most straightforward. There are ways that the Government can get behind the industry, and I hope that they will, because it is an important and exciting one for this country.
I will briefly break into this commercial break for English wine and produce to congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing this debate on an important success story. It is already a success story.
I declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on wine and spirits—it is an arduous task that I am delighted to carry on my shoulders—and as someone who spent his youth working at the English Wine Centre in Sussex in the 1980s. In those days, the English wine industry was not such a quality industry. Having been rejuvenated in the 1950s by the great pioneer of English wine, Guy Salisbury-Jones at his Hambledon vineyard, English wine in the 1980s was not an easy sell. We had to invent the “Great English Wine Run”, taking English wine bottles to Paris in a reverse of the Beaujolais wine race to try to promote that rather questionable project and product, but things have completely and utterly changed. English wine is now a quality product recognised as a premium brand around the world. It is part of the great British contribution to quality food and drink. We must not underestimate it.
If I could correct my hon. Friend Julian Knight, this is not British wine. British wine is a filthy product made of imported wine concentrates from abroad. It has nothing British about it. The correct terminology for what we are talking about is English and Welsh wine.
There are not yet any Scottish vineyards that I am aware of—but if climate change continues, the way that the new President of the United States may wish, we may be having Château Edinburgh before the decade is out.
The success story of English wine is huge. We are now producing some 5 million bottles of English wine per year and that will at least double by 2020, to 10 million bottles, with half a dozen vineyards each producing 1 million bottles of English sparkling wine, which is now three quarters of English wine production. That is a huge growth success story, and it is not just the wine production—there is also the cottage industry and tourism aspects to it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton said. Most of the vineyards are open to the public, have restaurants attached and have vineyard tours.
English wine is a quality product, so much so that it has now won no fewer than 175 awards in prestigious international wine competitions, constantly winning blind tastings, in particular up against some of the best French champagnes. I absolutely echo my hon. Friend’s words that we need to have protective marks. The Sussex kitemark in my area would be great progress towards that.
Alas, I do not have any vineyards in my constituency, but my constituents certainly drink a lot of wine. Around me we have vineyards such as Ridgeview and Bolney, as well as Plumpton College, which now has the only wine department in the whole of the country, where a Frenchman is teaching English students how to produce wine. My favourite local vineyard, and one of the oldest in the country, is Breaky Bottom, which is marketed as probably the best bottom in the world. That vineyard now produces a very fine product.
The Government need to take account of some points. We need to encourage investment. Setting up a winery in the UK is an expensive business, much more expensive than on the continent where they have a better climate for it. There are no real tax advantages and there is a particular tax disincentive—because of their size, most vineyards will send their grapes somewhere else to be made into wine and so they are not counted as agricultural premises. The tax treatment of the English wine production chain needs to be looked at and restrictions on planting vineyards need to be relaxed.
Only 2,000 hectares of land are under wine production in this country; there are 35,000 in the champagne region in France alone. Up to now, under the EU, we have been restricted from planting new vineyards. Those restrictions have been relaxed until 2030 but technically we are allowed to plant only an additional 1% of vineyards a year—another good reason why we are coming out of Europe as early as possible. That was a very protectionist measure from the days of wine lakes on the continent. We certainly do not have any surplus wine in the UK because it is lapped up as soon as it is produced.
We need some help on planning. We also need some help on duty. This year, wine was the only alcoholic product to receive a duty rise. Duty on wine has gone up considerably over the last 10 years. The duty per average bottle of wine was £1.33 in 2007; it is now £2.08. English wine producers have to pay tax at the same rate as continental wine producers, who can produce it much more cheaply.
I agree with all my hon. Friends’ comments, and we need to lead by example. Every embassy around the world should be serving, as the normal staple, English wine and sparkling wine. Many enlightened ambassadors do that already, and the Foreign Office should make the supply chain for that much easier. It is crazy that the House of Commons bar does not regularly serve an English wine. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton will support a campaign to get an English guest wine in the House of Commons bars on a regular basis, as already happens with British guest beers. We should be putting our money where our mouth is in this place and supporting a fantastic quality English and Welsh product that is going to be the envy of the world. I am very proud to have been there in the early days, when it was actually not much cop—but it is now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Edward, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing today’s debate.
We are here to discuss and highlight the merits of the English wine industry. I have two fantastic examples in my constituency of North Cornwall. I thank the Camel Valley vineyard near Bodmin and Trevibban Mill vineyard in St Issey near Padstow for sending me their feedback ahead of today’s debate, to highlight the challenges for and successes of the industry.
Trevibban Mill started in 2008 on an organic farm and its first wines were produced in 2011. It opened its doors to the public in 2015 and now produces 20,000 bottles a year, including some excellent, award-winning wine. Its Black Ewe organic red recently won a silver medal in the International Wine Challenge.
Camel Valley, an internationally renowned vineyard on the banks of the River Camel, was established in 1989 and continues to produce some fabulous wine. In 2009, Sam Lindo from Camel Valley won the trophy and gold medal at the International Wine Challenge for the Camel Valley Bacchus, also winning the gold medal in the December World Wine Awards for his sparkling Cornwall Pinot Noir. Camel Valley finished second in the Sparkling Wine Championships, behind Bollinger, which is a fantastic achievement for a Cornish business. The vineyard produces around 120,000 bottles a year and has managed to tap into American markets, with its wine being exported to 14 US states.
I am delighted that so many amazing success stories are coming out of North Cornwall’s food and drink sector and Camel Valley and Trevibban Mill are two excellent examples. The wine industry in the south-west is definitely the bowler hat to the food and drink sector.
Some concerns have been communicated to me by the vineyards and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed them. The first concern is the difference between British wine and English wine, a point also raised by my hon. Friend Tim Loughton. Will the Minister tell me why wineries can import concentrate from abroad and call it British wine and why vineyards in England that grow their own wine have to label their wine as English? Both vineyards said that the difference between British and English wine is not clearly explained to the public, which means that consumers will sometimes buy British wine under the assumption that the grapes are grown in Britain. British wine is also cheaper than English wine, so consumers will often opt for British wine rather than English without understanding the difference.
On that point, the quality of British wine is often so poor in comparison with that of English wine that it damages the reputation of English wine almost by osmosis—as well as damaging your guts.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Of course, the sector would welcome a cut to duty. A suggestion communicated to me is the possibility of a duty to fund promotion of the wine industry. If 1p per litre of wine duty could be diverted to the wine associations, they would have a huge boost to their ability to support and promote the wine industry in the future. That would also make the Treasury very happy, because it would mean increased revenue through sales.
I would also like to put forward the idea of a more staggered system along the lines of income tax, where wine producers do not pay any duty on their first 7,000 bottles—the cider industry already has a similar proposal on the table. That would be a huge help to some of our smaller wine producers, which struggle to expand and have very high overhead costs, which have already been mentioned.
Our wine industry in England is going from strength to strength. We should continue to support these fine businesses, as we have done today with this debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward.
I am proud to have one of the most northerly English vineyards in my constituency: the Holmfirth vineyard, which is on the outskirts of the town that used to host the long-running BBC TV series “Last of the Summer Wine”. Last year it was the busiest and most visited vineyard in the north of England, with 37,778 visitors—an average of 103 per day—on vineyard tours with wine tasting. It employed 18 full-time staff, with up to six part-time summer staff at any one time. It has quality apprentices, highly trained and qualified staff, an on-site winery, a 40-seater restaurant, seven self-catering apartments and seven acres of vines—all of which help to promote the English wine industry. It plans not only to expand the Holmfirth site next year but to plant 30,000 vines at its new site at Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It makes wine out of Solaris, Regent and Rondo grapes; its white and rosé wines have both won awards. Like other vineyards mentioned by hon. Members today, its biggest problem is that wine duty and VAT are too high: the wine duty is around £2.70 per litre and VAT is at 20%. That makes its wine uncompetitive against wine shipped in by supermarkets.
Hon. Members have made some excellent points today. I will not go on any longer, but I emphasise that Holmfirth vineyard is the ultimate in farm diversification. It has gone from being a failing farm to a popular tourist attraction that brings in much-needed tourists and revenue into my part of West Yorkshire and is part of a vibrant and expanding English wine industry.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing this debate.
We may be the fifth largest economy in the world, but sadly we are only the sixth biggest wine-drinking country, so there is some making up to be done. Let me cite some figures that I have found on the English Wine Producers website: there are 502 vineyards over 4,500 acres throughout the UK and production is growing—it is now at 5 million bottles a year, but that is really just a drop in the vat, because 1.6 billion bottles per year are consumed in the UK. The average size of our vineyards is just 10 acres—they are very small and very niche, which may prove to be a weakness rather than a strength. However, we are seeing stratospheric growth: in 1975 there were just 600 acres under vine, but we are now at 4,500 acres, and the figure has doubled in the last eight years alone.
As we have heard already, competitions repeatedly rate English sparkling wine as a world-class product. Despite what we have heard about vineyards in the north of the country, much of the production is around Kent and Sussex, which share the soil and chalk characteristics of the Champagne region. We have a long way to go to reach the production levels of France, but let us aim to get there.
My hon. Friend mentions vineyards in the north. Like my hon. Friend Jason McCartney, I represent a northern constituency—probably the most northerly English constituency that is represented in this Chamber today. I am happy to represent Ryedale Vineyards, which produced the fantastic Strickland Estate 2013—an award-winning vintage. I join other hon. Members in asking for a small producers scheme like the one we have seen in the beer industry, because that could turbo-charge the wine industry and accelerate the fantastic growth in wine production in England.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There are a lot of tax proposals that could be introduced, such as small producers schemes, which would get a lot of small producers off the ground.
I want to mention the experience of Phillip and Sally Watts, who took over Barnsole vineyard, which is situated in the village of Ash, between Sandwich and Canterbury. They are new producers; they have invested heavily and are now producing a significant premium product. They produce just 10,000 bottles of still wine a year, both red and white—the industry has to recognise that still wine is a problem for UK producers generally. It is the sparkling wine market that is growing: production in Phillip and Sally’s small vineyard is now up to 12,500 bottles per year and they hope to get to 20,000 in a year or two.
When I spoke to Phillip this afternoon, he highlighted the problem in competing with bigger producers. At the heart of that problem, as we have heard from many hon. Members, is the duty rate. The duty rate since
In summary, English wine has a great future. It has the opportunity to enhance UK agriculture, away from the increasing threat of monoculture, of which we are seeing far too much. It also has the opportunity to create employment and to bring business to rural areas, which often need that support, and we should salute those investing in it. I pay particular tribute to Phillip and Sally of Barnsole vineyard and I wish them well in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. If I may be so bold, you are the occasional ray of light on your party’s Benches among the madness. It is nice to have you in the Chair.
One of the delights of being a Scottish MP is getting to come down and have a debate about English wine. I must admit that I have enjoyed it. It has brought Members out in force. I congratulate Neil Parish—I want to call him the right hon. Member; he seems like a right hon. Member because of all his work on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. He gave an excellent introduction.
The most important thing in a debate such as this is to voice constructive ideas about how the Government can help what could be a significant and important industry. Nick Herbert made an excellent contribution and raised some interesting points about tariffs—I saw a few ears prick up at that point in his speech.
Tim Loughton mentioned Scottish wine. I googled Scottish wine, which I confess I have never tried, and found a headline that said:
“Scotland’s first wine branded ‘undrinkable’ by critics”,
but that was in the Telegraph, so I would take it with a pinch of salt—the report, not the wine. He also mentioned the tourism perspective. I will go on to make a few comments about whisky and our experience with it, because I think there are lessons to be learned about taking an industry and making it global. We have found that tourism is a huge factor: as you build a brand and gain global recognition for it, you get as many, if not more, jobs through tourism as through production.
Scott Mann raised an issue close to my heart: labelling. It is really important that consumers can buy with confidence. Jason McCartney mentioned farm diversification, which is another particularly important subject. Craig Mackinlay raised some interesting points about small producers. With industries that are starting to go mainstream but are still in their early days, it is important that small producers are given as much help as possible.
When I first heard that I would have to sum up in this debate, which I was delighted about, I had hoped to be able to talk about the football and sour grapes. However, given the way that went, I will move on swiftly. Instead, I will tell Members something they may not know: claret was once the national drink of Scotland. In 1295, in an effort to fight against English expansionism, we signed what is known as the Auld Alliance with their French friends and neighbours. As part of the deal, we got access to the finest wines of Bordeaux, and so some of the oldest vaults in the UK are in Leith in Edinburgh.
Another consequence, of which hon. Members may or may not be aware, was that while we consumed the finest wines of the continent, and down here people supped on beer and mead, we started to ship the barrels back to France. We put what was then the poor man’s drink, whisky, into the barrels, and so discovered that ageing whisky changes its characteristics. We therefore developed the foundation of a global success story, which is Scotch whisky. So I thank England for indirectly helping Scotland to start on its whisky journey.
Food and drink in Scotland was worth £14 billion last year. It is the largest manufacturing sector in Scotland, employing 34,000 people, and whisky is the anchor and a huge part of that. We have been able to build on whisky and expand into other areas. Our advantage, of course, is that whisky is a product of the environment, of the water and the landscape that we live in, and it has a provenance of centuries. It has desirability.
I then considered English wine more carefully and looked at the challenges faced by that industry. One challenge is climate, which shapes the kind of grapes that can be grown, and that creates another challenge, because some of the grapes that are suited to the climate and soils of the region are in fact less desirable and less well known. That may change over time, with global warming—let us hope not—but it is a challenge. So the grape types are less fashionable or desirable, and climate is a problem, but there is also the scale of production. When I speak to the people at Villeneuve, the wine shop in Peebles that I frequent on occasion, they tell me that one of the challenges is not so much the quality, but the quantity. Anyone who wants to sell wine on a large scale needs to get the quantity up as well.
The big opportunity and success has been with sparkling wine. The three grapes that make a classic sparkling lend themselves well to the chalkier soils that we heard about and to the cooler climate. As hon. Members know, the key to sparkling is not to over-ripen the grapes, but to have a high acidity level. The climate therefore plays to advantage in that regard and so, with the chalky soil, England has a product that is winning awards, as has been said. The challenge now is for the Government to take that potential and to look at how to support and scale it.
Traditionally, the Government are reluctant to support individual industries, preferring nationwide schemes for business as a whole. There is, however, a strong case for taking something with so much potential, in particular in the current environment. The Scottish Government have led the way in many regards by taking food and drink as an entirety and looking at how to complement products. I have met food production companies with the Scotch whisky industry to look at how we can leverage the success of whisky into selling complementary products off the back of it. That is the kind of thing that we should look at.
Since 2007, the Scottish Government have collaborated extensively with the food and drink industry. The Overton report was commissioned and it produced more than 30 recommendations, which involved skills, innovation, supply chains and the whole support landscape, including the creation of a national food and drink campus in Scotland to host all the key industry and public sector bodies. That is the kind of thing we need to look at. To go off at a complete tangent, Google chooses to continue putting jobs into London not only because of the people and the skills there, but because of the ecosystem that exists in London, the complementary businesses in place. We should consider the same best practice for food and drink.
One last point to echo is the importance of geographical indication, or GI status. A lot of our existing protections are through the European Union and EU trade deals. If we consider that 90% of Scotch whisky is sold outside the UK—I am sure the aspiration of the wine trade is to be as big—it is critical for us to have protection as we do global trade deals. We must ensure that when we have a quality product and have built a brand and a reputation, it must be able to be bought with confidence not only in the UK, but the world over.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate Neil Parish—my friend and, his new title, the wine champion—with whom I served on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the previous Parliament.
We started and continued the debate with some history lessons, which showed how important wine is in this country and worldwide. It is something to be enjoyed, as well as being an important industrial product. From the excellent speech made by the hon. Gentleman, I picked out the importance of skills and how we hone and grow them, as well as the tourism on top of the wine trade.
Many hon. Members spoke about this good news story and, indeed, it is nothing but a good news story: a growing industry that makes high-quality products for national and international markets, exporting to countries around the world, including those with their own wine production. We can be proud of our wine industry and of the fact that it has achieved international accolades, including those that show English wines to have a quality that can be enjoyed worldwide. We are fortunate, but the industry is growing because it is being developed by people with skills and talent. As has been emphasised in the debate, we need to foster that and to hone the skills. As was asked for in the symposium earlier this year, the Government need to support the increase in skills and the colleges that want to provide the opportunity for people to develop them.
Hitherto, I have had little knowledge of English wine, like many other people I know, but I can say to Nick Herbert that my only experience has been drinking Nyetimber. It was two or perhaps three glasses—it was so enjoyable that I cannot remember—but I had a very nice afternoon in the wine bar in Selfridges. That was an experience that I will always remember—I managed to get back down the stairs though, which is a good thing.
I was also ignorant of the difference between British wine and English wine, which was highlighted in particular by the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). That is clearly a particular issue for our wine producers, who rightly believe in the need for a clear distinction to be made between the quality of British wine, which is industrially fermented from imported grapes, and their own home-grown, high-quality produce. That distinction must be made clear not only in this country, but abroad, where it can be equally confusing for wine drinkers. I hope that the Minister will discuss how that confusion can be cleared up, considering that the reputation of our home-grown produce and our home-grown wines depends on their excellence and quality.
According to the British Beer and Pub Association, wine accounts for a third of all alcohol consumption in the UK, with 12.8 million hectolitres of wine being consumed last year alone. As pointed out by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, only 0.1% of that was produced in the UK. Although well-known retailers such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer stock English wines, and the Co-op is beginning to do so, in my area in the north-east—in North Tyneside—I have not noticed any promotion of English wines in the aisles of the stores. That might be due to the fact that there are no vineyards north of Yorkshire, because one important factor in the retail world seems to be the sustainability of locally produced wine. It is a big hit with consumers when they know it is a local product.
With the hectarage of planted vines set to increase and production of wine due to double by 2020, I hope that we see a commensurate rise in wine sales in the domestic market. Members have referred to the round table event hosted earlier this year by the former Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss. That proved very positive, especially as she committed to helping the wine industry to meet its expansion and export goals via the Government’s Great British Food unit and facilitating access to data on soil types, water resources and infrastructure networks to ensure sustainability. I expect the recently appointed Secretary of State to continue that commitment and go even further with some of the things that have been asked for today.
Good weather conditions have ensured good vintages in recent years, but there is little that the Government can do to ensure good weather in future years, although reference was made to what the American President-elect may do to influence that. However, the Government can help the industry in other ways, as many Members have stated. UKVA representatives and UK wine producers want the Government to commit to rejoining the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, which, as has already been stated, the Government left in—
Order. Mrs Glindon, will you please leave time for the Minister? You have been going for six minutes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing this popular debate. I studied commercial horticulture at college, and one thing I learned was how to spur-prune vines. I remember people saying in the early ’90s that English wine could become a great, world-beating industry. At that time, although we were starting to win awards and break through, that still felt a long way off and a little far-fetched, but in the past two decades English wine has been a fabulous success story. It has become one of the most entrepreneurial areas of our food and farming industry. As many Members have said, there are lots of fantastic niche products out there.
My hon. Friend said that he thought there were some 500 vineyards. I am reliably informed that there are now 640 registered vineyards and 133 wineries, which shows how fast the industry is growing. I thought at one point that we were going to hear them all listed. Many of them were, and it is clear that hon. Members have a lot of pride in the vineyards in their constituencies.
English wines have picked up around 28 awards, including one gold award at the 2016 International Wine Challenge and three silver awards at the Effervescents du Monde. In August, a container bound for the USA left Southampton with more than 5,000 bottles of English sparkling wine from key producers across the country, including Digby Fine English, Hush Heath Estate, Bolney Wine Estate and Camel Valley. That is the beginning of a great export business, which we hope will grow.
Earlier this year, the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, held a round table event at which the industry committed to and said that it expected a tenfold increase in wine exports—an increase from 250,000 bottles to 2.5 million, or from £3.2 million to more than £30 million in value terms—by 2020. English producers also have an ambition to grow the area planted from 2,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares. This industry is growing in leaps and bounds.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, there was also discussion at that round table event about soils and how the weather in this country was improving. DEFRA committed at that event to make available 3D LIDAR data to help the industry pinpoint the best areas for production. That was announced in October 2015. We are also compiling data on soil moisture content. Following the event and at the industry’s request, DEFRA appointed a single Government contact point for the industry to discuss funding matters, which several hon. Members raised.
We are working with the UK Vineyards Association in two key areas: simplifying and streamlining vineyard and production data collection with the Food Standards Agency, and providing a forum with the Health and Safety Executive to allow the sector to discuss concerns about pesticide availability, which was also raised by several hon. Members. Perhaps the most notable response at that event was the industry’s confident commitment to a tenfold increase in exports and a dramatic increase in hectares grown.
The sector’s growth and the outstanding quality of our wines have not gone unnoticed by the international wine production community. Earlier this year, I was given the honour of opening the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium in Brighton. That was the first time that the UK had been chosen to host that major international event, and only the second time that it had been hosted by an EU country. I am pleased to say it was an outstanding success, attracting more than 30 international speakers and experts from some of the most innovative and forward-thinking wine producing regions, and more than 500 visitors from across the globe, all wanting to learn and share their knowledge and experience.
The Government have played a big part in promoting our wines. A number of hon. Members asked what we are doing, and we are trying to ensure that all our embassies stock English wines. I take on board what my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert said about ensuring that we spread it around and do not choose just a single brand, but celebrate all the great brands that we have. Our Great British Food unit has designated 2016 the year of Great British food. While I was in Japan at the G7 Agriculture Ministers meeting earlier this year, I took the opportunity to promote our sparkling wines at the British embassy, and we have hosted similar events in the USA and Paris, and indeed at No. 10, to raise awareness of our excellent wines and top-quality British produce.
I want to move on to some other issues that hon. Members raised. Many hon. Members invited me to get involved in the issue of duty on wine. They will all know that that is a matter for the Chancellor. A number of hon. Members mentioned the idea of a small producers’ scheme. I understand that if we were to do something similar to what pertains for beer and cider, there may be some state aid rules involved, but, given that many hon. Members raised that, I am sure Treasury officials will study the debate and look at some of the representations made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton also mentioned the International Organisation of Vine and Wine—the OIV. One of the issues with that is, under the duty of loyal co-operation, which was a requirement while being in the EU, even if the UK had been on the OIV it would have been required by EU law to do what the European Commission told it to do. That, for a number of years, meant that the benefits of rejoining were questionable. However, obviously as we leave the EU, regain our seat on many international forums and are able to speak freely again, that is something we will look at again.
A number of hon. Members mentioned protected food names. English and Welsh wines are protected. I believe that, as we leave the EU, third countries can continue to use protected food names, and this will be one area of all those we have to discuss where it will be relatively straightforward to roll forward some kind of geographic recognition similar to what we have now. We are also exploring the possibility of using trademark regulations and the Intellectual Property Office to protect certain brands and certain specific recipes.
My hon. Friend Tim Loughton mentioned Plumpton College. I commend the work it does in training, which is important. He also mentioned some of the restrictions on growing, which he put down to the EU. I am told that, actually, the EU restrictions on planting do not apply to the UK. I have to say that, like him, I was on the leave side and normally I would not pass up the opportunity to blame the EU for things, but, in the spirit of all being nice to one another in future, I feel I should point out that those restrictions do not apply here.
Finally, a number of hon. Members mentioned the issue with British wine, including my hon. Friend Scott Mann. The practice of introducing vines dates back to Roman times—right back to the beginning—but, as well as a provision in EU law for British wine to be recognised with imported grapes, there are also horizontal regulations in UK law that require it to be clearly labelled for what it is and for the ingredients to be labelled. I am however conscious that there has been increasing conflict and pressure given the advent of English wine and Welsh wine and, as we leave the EU, there may be opportunities to introduce clarity there.
We have had a fantastic debate in which we have covered many different issues. I am out of time, but I hope that I picked up many of the issues raised by hon. Members.
I thank all hon. Members, the shadow Minister and the Minister for their contributions. This is a very good news story. We have some of the best sparkling wines in the world and we can produce good white and red wine. Like I said at the beginning, I look forward to us, in a few years’ time, producing more than France. Hon. Members and the Government can help by making sure that our wines are in our embassies and here in the House of Commons and promoting them wherever possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the English wine industry.