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Promotion of British Food and Drink

Volume 599: debated on Thursday 10 September 2015

We are committed to expanding exports and promoting British food and drink, which is a £100 billion-a-year industry. We want to make better use of the GREAT brand and will be running trade missions this autumn to Germany and China.

The Secretary of State saw on her visit to Matthew Walker in Heanor the importance of exports to delivering growth, as well as the great attraction that great British products have overseas. What more can her Department do by working with UK Trade & Investment to help small businesses start to export their food products?

I thank my hon. Friend both for his question and for the excellent puddings that we enjoyed at the Matthew Walker factory. We certainly filled our boots that day! I was amazed to hear that that company supplies 96% of the UK’s Christmas puddings, and ships puddings all the way to Australia. I want to champion fantastic businesses such as that through trade missions and the Great British Food Unit, as well as integrating more closely with what UKTI does.

In view of the need for further promotion of food and drink, and in light of the volatility in milk prices, what further markets will be explored by the Secretary of State and her ministerial team, as Northern Ireland exports some 85% of its milk products?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that Northern Ireland has a great record in exporting. On my last visit to China, I had Northern Irish representatives with me to promote its products. There is more that we can do, particularly on dairy, to get products into the Chinese market and across the world.

Fruit farmers in mid-Kent support the living wage, but they expect it to increase production costs. Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with supermarkets about their willingness to pay more for British fruit or talked to colleagues at the Treasury about the impact of the living wage on fruit farmers?

The farming Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has discussed that matter with the industry. Of course, to help firms with the increased cost, the employment allowance will increase from £2,000 to £3,000 in April 2016, which means that a farmer will be able to employ four people full time on the national living wage and pay no national insurance contributions.

New Zealand lamb producers are in direct competition with Welsh and British farmers in this season. New Zealand lamb is sold as fresh alongside Welsh lamb in supermarkets, despite undergoing a 17,000-mile sea voyage in refrigerated containers, which means that the meat can take up to three months to reach the supermarket shelf. What steps are the Government taking to allow consumers to make an informed choice about the freshness of lamb meat, at a time when Welsh sheep farmers are selling their animals at market at a loss?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I have discussed this matter with my Welsh counterpart, and we are working on how we can better use the GREAT brand with supermarkets and work with them to ensure we are promoting our British produce.