Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector: Competitiveness

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 17th June 2021.

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Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

What steps he is taking to help ensure the competitiveness of the food and drink manufacturing sector.

As the Minister knows, the food and drinks manufacturing sector is the largest in this country, employing more than 400,000 people directly. It is a major innovator and exporter. My concern is that the sector may get too much red tape and regulation. If we look at the obesity strategy, for example, there could be a lot of regulation with very little gain. Can she reassure me that there will be proper scrutiny of any legislation, and that the minimum burdens will be put on this sector, which is vital to our economy?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you, Mr Speaker; we will manage.

Our manifesto was clear that we want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British. We are lucky to have, as my hon. Friend referenced, a fantastic network of manufacturing businesses, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, so we are very alive to the needs of those businesses and the difficulty of excessive regulatory burdens. I am quite sure that we will debate the new obesity strategy fully, both in this House and outside. Some of the legislation can be made using powers in the Food Safety Act 1990, and other parts in the health and care Bill. We meet regularly with the sector and are keen to engage with it on a practical level as to how regulation will affect its businesses.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Given that the Australian trade deal is predicted to save the average household an incredible £1.23 per year in the long term, while destroying agriculture and businesses and opening us up to similarly lowered standards and bad deals with the US, Argentina, Brazil and so on, perhaps the Government are counting on that extra disposable income making up for an uncompetitive sector. What protections are intended to be put in place to make sure that our farmers are not undercut by cheap imports?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

One thing that I have just said in reference to this question is that we are very keen to promote the buying of British produce. We have a plan to promote domestic products, and we are further strengthening export support. On the other part of the hon. Lady’s question, we will have a chapter in the new Australia deal to deal with the protection of animal welfare standards. I encourage her to get engaged with the details as they emerge in the course of this year.