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House of Commons Hansard
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04 February 2016
Volume 605
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5. What the role is of the Great British Food Unit in promoting British food (a) in the UK and (b) overseas.

[903449]

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9. What the role is of the Great British Food Unit in promoting British food (a) in the UK and (b) overseas. [903453]

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10. What the role is of the Great British Food Unit in promoting British food (a) in the UK and (b) overseas. [903454]

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We launched the Great British Food Unit in January. It brings together expertise from UK Trade & Investment and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to create a team of 40 people in London and teams around the world, including five people in China, to promote great British food. I am pleased to say that food and drink manufacturers have already agreed to expand their exports by a third by 2020.

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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I am concerned that the Secretary of State is anti-European, because she is denying our European colleagues the opportunity to drink great British beer. Although we imported £418 million of beer last year, we exported only £494 million of beer. Given that we brew the best beer in the world, that figure should be much higher. What is she doing to promote the British beer industry and to encourage our European friends to sup up?

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I know that beer is my hon. Friend’s passion, and I congratulate him on his role as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on beer. Also, his constituency is home to some of the finest water in our country that produces some of the finest beer. In fact, Lord Bilimoria, one of the founders of Cobra, is one of our food pioneers helping to promote great British beer not just in Europe, but in India and China—we recently promoted great British beer at the Baker Street brew pub in Chongqing.

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We are all now better informed.

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The success of the food industry, not least in counties such as Essex, is largely down to the innovation and skill of the workforce. How will the Great British Food Unit encourage more people into the industry, particularly through apprenticeships?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are fantastic jobs to be had in the food industry, from farming to engineering and food technology. Food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector, and we need more apprentices in this vital sector. We have an ambition to triple the number of apprentices by 2020, and I will be holding a round table shortly with some of the leading figures from the industry to make sure they commit to that goal.

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The Great British Food Unit and the enthusiastic Secretary of State will know that some of the greatest food on earth comes from the Gloucester Old Spot pig and from Gloucester cattle, including the single Gloucester cheese, which is famously used in the annual cheese rolling race. There is no better place to see these and 130 other great Gloucester producers than the Gloucester services on the M5, described by The Telegraph as probably the best service station in the UK. Were she to find herself near the M5 in the near future, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and I would give her a warm welcome and a Gloucester Old Spot sausage. [Laughter.]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his extremely kind invitation. It is one of the best offers I have had all year. [Laughter.] Next time I am driving along the M5, which I frequently am, I will be very happy to meet him at this amazing service station.

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The Secretary of State has made the hon. Gentleman’s day, possibly his month and conceivably his year.

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To hit a more serious note, after that interesting and humorous exchange, may I say to the Secretary of State that to produce great British food, we need great British technology? The news yesterday that Syngenta, our leading European food innovator, which produces wonderful technology and innovation and has a large plant in my constituency, is to be taken over by ChemChina means that overnight the European capacity for innovation in food technology and much else will be wiped out. Should the House not debate that very seriously before it goes through?

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We are investing in science and technology. Last year, the Prime Minister announced a food tech innovation network, and, in terms of DEFRA’s capital budget, we are doubling our spend on investment in science and animal health research precisely so that we can take advantage of these huge opportunities.

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The Great British Food Unit depends on great British farmers producing the goods for the unit, but many farmers are still experiencing problems with the Rural Payments Agency. One of my constituency farmers was only told late on Sunday afternoon of the failure to issue his payment, and even then it was done by email. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure that farmers are properly supported by the RPA?

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The hon. Lady is right: farmers are facing difficult cash flow at the moment. We are doing all we can to get those payments out as soon as possible. It is the most complicated common agricultural policy that has ever been introduced. We were still getting the final details of it in February last year, but up to 77% of farmers are now being paid, and £1 billion has gone out the door to farmers. We are working to make sure that the farmers get their money as soon as possible.

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Scotch whisky is a great Scottish and UK success story, with exports totalling £4 billion annually. Does the Secretary of State agree that reducing the 76% tax burden on an average bottle of Scotch in the coming Budget would send an important message that the Government support the industry? Will she speak to her friend the Chancellor and ensure that such a reduction is included in his statement?

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I am sure that the Chancellor and the Treasury team have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say. I agree with him that Scotch whisky is our top international export. Other products such as Scotch gin, which I promoted recently with the Scottish gin trail, taking people from the golf clubs of St Andrews to the distilleries around the north of Scotland, can also play a massive part. We have fantastic products in Scotland and fantastic products right across the UK. The Great British Food Unit is all about promoting them around the world. I am happy to work with the hon. Gentleman on that.

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17. In supporting Dorset food and exports internally and across the world, will my right hon. Friend pay particular tribute to some notable producers in my constituency: Fudges, the Blackmore Vale dairy, Sixpenny Handley brewery and the Langham estate? Without wishing to outdo my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), I should also add to that list the manufacturer of Dorset knobs, which I am very happy to offer the Secretary of State. Will she also take into account in all that her Department does the burden of regulation and the impost of the living wage, because many of these producers are very small, so those burdens fall particularly heavily on them? [903462]

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I would be delighted to visit some of the fantastic producers in Dorset that my hon. Friend mentions, such as the Blackmore Vale dairy, and to see what they have to offer as well as using the Great British Food Unit to promote them both here and overseas. We are working to reduce regulation on our food and farmers, and over the course of this Parliament we are looking to reduce the costs by £500 million, so that we can see more new businesses opening, more exporting and more selling their fantastic food here in Britain.