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Regional Food and Drink

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 7 July 2016

We launched the Great British Food Unit in January to promote our fantastic British produce around the world. In April, I was in the US working to open the market for beef and lamb, as well as promoting fantastic British products such as the classic gin and tonic.

That sounds good, but for me it is a bit early for gin and tonic! Food and drink exports, not least the world-famous Cheshire cheese, are very important for the Cheshire economy. Given this country’s decision to leave the European Union, how important is the role of the Great British Food Unit in helping farmers in my constituency and indeed throughout the UK to get the necessary export markets?

In my opinion, it is never too early for a gin and tonic! I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Now that the British people have made the decision to leave the EU, the Great British Food Unit is even more important. We already have missions planned for the Gulf, China and Japan to open more markets for fantastic British food. I am going to increase the resources going into the Great British Food Unit to make sure that we turbo-charge our efforts to export more British food right around the world.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Essex is home to some of the finest food, drink and countryside in the nation? What does she think is the link between food and tourism, and what more can be done to promote it?

We know that for a third of all visitors, food is a major factor in deciding where to visit. It is hugely important, which is why DEFRA is backing food tourism. We recently backed the “tour culinaire” to Yorkshire, which accompanied the cycle race and featured fantastic Yorkshire products such as liquorice. I would be delighted to discuss with my right hon. Friend how we could do something similar in Essex in respect of fantastic products such as Tiptree strawberry jam.

The Secretary of State will be delighted to learn that, since she visited Gloucester Services in February, it has been given both a sustainability award and the first Royal Institute of British Architects award ever given to a motorway services station. Famously, while she was there she enjoyed a Gloucester Old Spot sausage for breakfast. I hope that she will now confirm that, during our renegotiations with the European Union, she will seek to extend the protections given to Gloucester Old Spot meat, Single Gloucester cheese, and other great British foods.

I thank my hon. Friend for a very enjoyable visit to Gloucester Services. I am delighted that its chief executive, Sarah Dunning, has agreed to be one of our food pioneers, promoting Great British food around Britain and around the world. I look forward to talking to my hon. Friend about how we can protect these great products when they are not just a matter for the European Union, but are more widely known around the world.

Cheers, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] I am glad that the food unit is showing success. However, while the Secretary of State boasts about her support for British food, DEFRA headquarters sources almost half its food from overseas, and other Departments are falling even further behind. Why is DEFRA not ensuring that Departments back our great British food?

We absolutely are ensuring that Departments are backing British food. For example, more than 90% of the dairy products sourced by the Government come from the United Kingdom. There are, of course, some products, such as coffee, that we cannot yet produce in the UK, although now that we are able to produce our own aubergines, tomatoes and chillies, I am sure we are not far away from that.

One of the items on the Great British Food website is the promotion of the EU protected food name scheme. According to the site, 73 products in the United Kingdom are protected under the scheme. What will replace it once the UK Government have dragged us out of the European Union?

I think the number of protected food names has risen to 74, but the website may not have been updated.

This is an extremely important issue, and it is one of the issues on which we are working at the moment. However, I hope that we will develop a British protected food names status in the future.

Armagh apples, Comber potatoes, Irish whiskey and Lough Neagh eels are just some of the protected food names that we have in Northern Ireland. What discussions has the Great British Food Unit had with Food NI to help promote those great foods and drinks throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I was delighted to visit Belfast and the huge show there, and to taste some of those products for myself. They are truly outstanding, and I am working closely with the Northern Irish Minister on promoting them throughout the world. They were heavily represented on our recent trade mission to China, and we will certainly be doing more work on that in the future.

As a Member has just left the Chamber while exchanges on the question to which he contributed were ongoing, may I gently point out to the House that Members should stay in the Chamber until all the exchanges on their question, or the question to which they contributed, have been completed? It is quite an elementary courtesy.