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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:06 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 9:06 pm, 3rd February 2020

Apart from Stonebridge City Farm, there are no farms in my constituency. However, like all the other Members in the Chamber, I represent people who need food to eat and a healthy planet on which to live, and a deregulated, race-to-the-bottom Brexit will put both at risk.

We have less than a decade in which to save the planet from climate breakdown. To do that we need post-war scale investment in infrastructure, and we need to decarbonise our economy by 20% every year in every industry, yet there are no targets in the Bill for the agriculture sector to reach net zero. Will the Minister explain why, despite the clear will of organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Bill contains no targets for net-zero emissions in farming? In fact, while providing many powers, it provides very few duties for the Secretary of State to do anything.

I welcome the principle of a farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, but why are environmental public goods only possibilities for the Secretary of State, rather than requirements? Why does a Bill about agriculture not recognise sustainable food production as a public good? This Bill is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to take a lead on agroecology. It fails to prioritise sustainable food production, despite experts’ warnings about our future food security. It could have given us a chance to enshrine in law the “right to food” that Labour has promised, promoting the local growing and distribution of food to bring people closer to food production.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Government have chosen to ignore the crisis in food poverty. More than a million people are being forced to use food banks as a result of their calamitous work and pensions policies. How can we rely on the Secretary of State’s good will to end that crisis when her own colleague, the Foreign Secretary, has dismissed people who are forced to turn to food banks as merely having a temporary cashflow problem? In Nottingham, more than 26,000 people, including nearly 11,000 children, have used food banks for emergency supplies in the last year, and, shamefully, there are more food banks than branches of McDonald’s in this country. While we subsidise food in Westminster, outside this building there are children going to school and to bed hungry. In the sixth richest country in the world, this is a political choice. It is also a political choice to remain silent on this issue in the Bill before us today. We know that many Conservative Members—like the one sniggering over there—fantasise about a deregulated post-Brexit world where laws and regulations on food and the environment are weakened, but the fact is that my constituents and those in constituencies up and down the country do not want chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.