Food Prices and Food Poverty

Part of Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:37 pm, 23rd January 2012

This has been a very good and wide-ranging debate, and all in all I think that we have had 12 speakers, if my maths is good—although maths is not my strong point.

Miss McIntosh spoke eloquently on behalf of farmers, and pressed the Government on farmers’ genuine concerns about currency and exchange rates and rising costs. She spoke also of, in her phrase, “the climate of fear” in the supply chain, and we recognise that. She pushed the Government, as she has in her role as Chair of the excellent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to give real teeth and power to the adjudicator. She also almost referred to “good” and “bad” retailers, so I look forward to her contribution to the Labour Left review or to Progress magazine.

Laura Sandys also spoke well, and said that the era of cheap food is coming to an end. Perhaps it is, but if so I am sure we all agree that we need the fairest prices for consumers and fairness throughout the food chain. She mentioned her involvement with, if this is correct, “Tasty but ugly like you.” I do not mean you, Mr Deputy Speaker, of course. I hesitate to lay the words “tasty” or “ugly” on you—[ Interruption. ] No, I will stop there.

Fiona Bruce, who represents a lovely part of the world which I know well, made a very good contribution that could have been called, “The Plot Thickens”. She talked about the importance of grow your own, and I too stress the role of allotments—given that the chair of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, a very good gardener, lives in my constituency—and the need to protect and enhance them. The hon. Lady talked of giant leeks, which we see also at Wales rugby matches, and she advocated growing produce in one’s garden or in one’s neighbour’s garden—although in the latter case it is always best to ask permission.

Mr Nuttall said that there was no mention of “food poverty” in the motion. There is: it is in the title. Neil Parish recognised the real problem of food poverty, on which I congratulate him, and he took issue with his hon. Friend Philip Davies about the nature and purpose of the adjudicator, on which we agree. There was also a thoughtful contribution from Dr Wollaston.

Andrew George made a good contribution. He welcomed much of our motion and many of our remarks. I can clarify that we want the adjudicator in the next parliamentary Session. Will he support us? He should not let a drafting error get in the way of our emerging coalition on this matter.

My hon. Friend Robert Flello spoke extremely well for his constituents, describing a “heat or eat” scenario—or, worse, neither heat nor eat. He went into detail on food banks and mentioned clearly that they did not exist in great numbers under Labour because there was not the need for them on the scale at which they are now emerging.

My hon. Friend Pat Glass spoke powerfully for farmers in her area and the early introduction of a powerful groceries code adjudicator in the next parliamentary Session. We agree. “Fairness across the food chain”—her phrase—is a good rallying cry. My hon. Friend Nia Griffith paid tribute to the work of our hon. Friend Albert Owen on the groceries code adjudicator and called for an urgent introduction of an adjudicator with clout. She said, stirringly, that it is a disgrace that anyone should have to rely on charity to feed their family.

My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy focused expertly on food poverty, the growth in the number of food banks in Bristol and the work being done to mitigate the problem of food poverty. My hon. Friend Luciana Berger described the national scandal of rising food poverty, coupled with the rise in broad poverty issues throughout the UK. She gave direct evidence of the human tragedy for her own constituents, not least because of the late payment of benefits, something echoed by my hon. Friend Nic Dakin.

The Secretary of State talked widely about global issues, but did not focus on the particulars of food poverty and food banks. Labour Members picked up on an astonishing complacency. She described food banks as a triumph for the big society, rather than a tragedy caused by the Government’s social and economic policy. How many more food banks do we need before we can proclaim the big society a resounding success?