English Wine Industry

Nick's speech in the Westminster Hall Debate


Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing it. I am particularly pleased to e 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 etter 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.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (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 aying 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 the Member for South West Norfolk (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 ost 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 the Member for Arundel and South Downs (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 eographic 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 the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (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 the Member for North Cornwall (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.


You can read the full debate here: http://tinyurl.com/hmpv7yk

Nick Herbert