Food Prices and Food Poverty
Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day]
Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Meriden, Conservative)
Let me start by welcoming the opportunity to debate this important matter. World food prices are volatile and the Government should do all they can to help families, but if we are to have a grown-up debate we need to start by acknowledging what the Government can and cannot do. Contrary to the rather Dickensian impression the hon. Lady seeks to convey, food price increases are not a direct result of the Government’s political composition, and a Government cannot be held responsible for what Mrs Moon cited: the abandonment of families by the main breadwinner, the misfortune of a house fire or domestic violence perpetrated in the home. Food prices are the product of many complicated and interrelated factors, many of which are globally driven.
In order to have a fully informed debate, I will turn first to the specific issue of the groceries code adjudicator, which this Government, unlike the previous one, are introducing, and put the current situation in context. No one underestimates the difficulties families face in balancing household budgets when bills are high. As a veteran of the weekly shop, I see at first hand the impact of food price rises, as I am sure many of us do. Let us set the record straight. Last summer food price inflation overtook general inflation, but by November the reverse was true. In the coalition Government’s first year in office, food prices increased by less than the average annual increase in Labour’s last five years. Between 2007 and 2008 food prices rose twice as fast as they did between 2010 and 2011. Although Mary Creagh has a new-found interest in food prices, which is to be welcomed, it comes a little late.