Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee 3:30 pm, 13th May 2020

This is an important piece of legislation. It has huge consequences for how we are going to feed our nation and protect our environment, and, as many colleagues have set out, there is a lot to support in it. However, my constituents have huge concerns that the Bill does not go far enough to ensure our high standards for food, animal welfare and protection of the environment and climate that we all value.

The Bill would not do enough to prevent imports of food that do not meet those high British standards, and it would be devastating news for British farmers, who would be left at risk of being undercut when they are doing the right thing to produce good quality food and to protect our environment. That would make a mockery of the value that we place on those standards. I urge the Government to listen to the concerns of the public and support Labour’s amendments today, which would enhance this Bill and provide important protections for British farmers and the standards that we all value.

I want to turn to food insecurity and the difficulties that some of the poorest families in my constituency are facing during this crisis—a crisis that has exacerbated the pressures that many people are already facing in trying to feed their families. The continuing problems with free school meal vouchers are now familiar to all of us, yet the Government have failed to get a grip on the problem. Just this morning, another school in my constituency contacted me to say that, again, its vouchers were late. Staff faced similar problems last week. They worked over the bank holiday weekend in their own time for the children who need that support. It is a common story across schools: far too many staff are listing endless problems in trying to use a system that is clearly not fit for purpose. When they try to make contact to address the problems, the helpline is permanently engaged and their emails go unanswered.

Although I know that we needed to put in place a system quickly to get food to those children, the decision not to put the contract out to tender was a poor one. I urge the Government to get a grip on this situation, because it is just unacceptable that children are being left to go hungry and families are being left without the most basic support to enable them to feed their own children. Across the board, too many people are falling through the gaps and are unable to access the food and supplies that they need. Much of that support is dependent on supermarkets—whether it is access to delivery slots or the pricing of their food. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that the price of high-demand food and sanitary products has risen by 4.4% since the lockdown measures began. Will the Government put supermarkets on notice that any profiteering from this situation will not be tolerated?

I wish to finish by highlighting the need of kinship carers, too many of whom are finding access to food a challenge. These are people who have stepped up to do the right thing by the children they are raising, and they face unique challenges. Many kinship carers are elderly grandparents, often with long-term health conditions, raising children who have often experienced trauma and have health challenges of their own. The cross- party parliamentary taskforce on kinship care, which I chair, conducted some research into this group and has recommended that the Government work with supermarkets to ensure that kinship carers are included on the priority list for supermarket deliveries. Is that something that the Government can consider urgently?

In conclusion, we have a huge opportunity in this Bill to protect British farming, to maintain high food and environmental standards and to support the most vulnerable in our communities. Let us not waste it.