02 October 2014

S4M-11048 Food (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11048, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Food (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is a great privilege to represent the people of the north-east of Scotland, and of course it allows me to indulge my palate and pamper my digestion.

As I look across my constituency, I can eat smoked salmon from Portsoy that has been smoked using redundant whisky barrels from the local whisky industry with a variety of flavours. Is that not wonderful? I can go to my supermarket—I can go to any supermarket in these islands—and buy a ready meal that has been produced in Fraserburgh to high standards. I can eat haddocks that have come from Peterhead, and I can eat excellent beef, lamb and other meats—and increasingly the greengrocer has been supplanted by the butcher across my constituency.

Perhaps what I particularly enjoy is to go to Whitehills and buy, for a pound, the Cullen skink Scotch pie, which, popped in the microwave, under the grill or in the oven, is the most delicious Scotch pie people will ever have in their lives. If, perchance, the shop there is shut, I can go to the chip shop where Billy Gatt serves excellent fish and chips. I know that it is excellent because he also has a fishing boat that provides the fish. In the north-east of Scotland, we can do extremely well.

Bob Doris: I know that we have some time in hand, Presiding Officer, so I hope that you do not mind me making this intervention: does the member ever bring some of that produce to the Scottish Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: I will take orders later. Downies of Whitehills will be delighted. I will say to members that they can go online and Downies will send orders to them. I genuinely encourage members to do that. The pie is superb.

For tonight’s tea, I will have a boiled egg from a chicken that is kept in an Edinburgh garden. A friend gave me the egg two nights ago.

Not all outcomes of consuming our excellent Scottish produce are entirely predictable. Once, as a very young lad, I was so attracted to the Victoria plums growing in our garden that the doctor had to be called because I had turned a rather delicate shade of purple—the plums were found to be the cause.

Richard Simpson talked about the demise of porridge. It has revived. I was brought up in Cupar in Fife, and Scott’s Porage Oats were produced on the doorstep in Cupar. Scott’s now produces excellent microwave porridge—it takes two minutes in the microwave and it has a little bit of soya in it to stop it boiling over. It is well worth trying. There are other suppliers; I do not focus just on that one—I hope that I have not cawed the feet from under my colleague who represents North East Fife—but porridge is still there and it is excellent. I have it every single day of my life, often with fruit, particularly Scottish berries.

We have talked about how difficult it is to cook. I was in the boy scouts—I will not be alone in that regard—and I started my cooking career there without a single implement of any kind: I threw an onion into a fire. I waited until it was really charred, then fished it out, peeled off all the burnt bits and was left with a semi-cooked onion that I could chew on. That was really very good for you, if not very good for your love life, but there we are. I can see looks of horror from members around the chamber. We moved on to wrapping potatoes in tin foil and throwing them in the fire; we could make baked potatoes without any implements.

Seriously, though, colleagues, let us show our youngsters that they can make a start in the business of cooking with the simplest of resources by just using what is to hand. What I described sounds funny, but it got the idea into me that I could cook. I hope that the FSS will do some work in that area, and I say to Jayne Baxter that people do not necessarily require any equipment in order to cook.

Let us have a wee think about some of the things that happen in our communities, particularly in rural areas. There is a lot of home-made produce—for example, jams and scones—found at coffee mornings, and home-made soup and sweets are a particular feature of life in the north-east. When we set up a regulatory regime, it is very important that we do not end up in a position whereby the sale of home-made food products becomes difficult. The vote in the recent referendum and in all elections in my area takes place in the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute hall at Hilltown, in the middle of nowhere, but the WRI has wonderful strawberry teas and so on there. Let us be careful that we do not do anything that might compromise that kind of voluntary activity.

There have been quite a lot of references to the quality of the Scottish food product. Unintended side-effects sometimes come from certain actions, and I refer particularly to the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915. That act was brought forward at the behest of Lloyd George to restrict the supply of spirits. They were kept in bonds for three years so that those in military towns and factories would have less spirits available and that sobriety would rule and productivity would rise.

That is neither here nor there, though, because the reality is that the 1915 act eliminated cheap rotgut whisky from the offering and laid the foundations for the export industry that is an important part of our economy to this day. Indeed, some brands of whisky still have the information on their label that they are

“bottled ... under British Government supervision.”

That all stems from the 1915 act. Therefore, although it drove up the cost of whisky and created a certain set of problems, it ended up creating an industry with a worldwide reputation. As my intervention on Bob Doris illustrated, that industry is much copied, so we need to protect it very hard indeed. Claire Baker in particular raised that issue.

I suggest that the new FSS—food standards Scotland—has a role to play that I am not sure that I have seen clearly articulated in the work that has been done on the subject so far: it is how the FSS will respond to innovation in the food sector. We will not stand still in that regard, because if we do not move forward and continue to innovate, others will outcompete us.

I therefore think that the FSS must have more than simply a duty to regulate; it must also have an element of a duty to help and assist. In other words, as with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency now, it cannot just knock on someone’s door and tell them that they have a problem; it must work with people in the industry to help them develop a solution to the problem and take it away and share it with others in order to help them. That is one little point that the minister and others who are involved in the work on the FSS might care to think about.

I must say that I envy the minister because I have a suspicion that he will find himself visiting food producers in the course of his work, as I did when I was a minister. Perhaps he has done so already. When I was a minister, I got taken to a community garden in Monimail, which is in my colleague’s North East Fife constituency, where I was presented with a basket of fresh organic vegetables that had been harvested that day. The taste of that when I took it home was such that my wife said, “Where did you get this? Can you get some more?”

I regret that, as is usual, MSPs are not allowed to be appointed to the board of the new body, because I foresee the position of board member being greatly sought as they will be so close to the wonderful food that we produce in Scotland.

Like others, I am happy to see the bill brought to Parliament. I look forward to the debate here on in, and I will support the bill every inch and every bite of the way.


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