Cost Increases: Food Producers and Consumers

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 8th September 2022.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities)

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of rising costs on (a) food producers and (b) the cost of food for consumers.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of rising costs on (a) food producers and (b) the cost of food for consumers.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I also pay tribute to the previous Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team, who did fantastic work supporting UK agriculture, the environment and rural communities.

I can report to the House that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused huge ripples around the world in spiking energy and food costs. Food costs rose by 12.7% in this year to July, but the Government have already taken action to support farmers, pulling forward this year’s basic payment scheme payments and making sure that consumers are supported with their energy bills, with a huge package to support people with the cost of living.

Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Disabilities)

I welcome the Minister to his new place. National Farmers Union of Scotland president Martin Kennedy has urged the new Prime Minister to immediately, on behalf of all food producers and consumers,

“address the brutal ‘here and now’ facing farming and food production whilst delivering an unequivocable commitment to the importance of food security across the UK”.

Given that the Prime Minister was formerly a DEFRA Minister, what funding support is being considered for Scottish and UK food producers, and what plans are there to ensure that affordable food is secured for consumers?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I hope the hon. Lady will recognise the contribution of UK farmers across generations to keeping the UK and Europe well fed for decades, which will of course continue. The Government are committed to supporting UK farmers through the use of taxpayers’ money, and I am sure that will also continue, but this is a challenge that we take very seriously and she will see that support over the coming months.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I welcome the Minister to his new role. Will he encourage the large supermarkets to enable community food projects such as Threehills Community Supermarket in Glasgow South West to purchase much-needed top-up supplies in bulk from their depots at as discounted a cost as possible, and can he assure the House that community food projects will be given top priority in his Department?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that retailers will play a huge part in solving the challenges we face, not only in the United Kingdom, but across the whole world, with the price of food going up. The Government continue to engage with those food retailers, and we will support them in any way we can to try to help our consumers. He also highlights community projects, which have a huge part to play in meeting the challenge.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

Local food partnerships could play an important role in providing resilience and healthy, cost-free produce to the local community. In this time of drought and water restrictions, however, South East Water has not made an explicit exemption for such partnerships, and that will really curtail their activity. Will the Minister join me in calling on the company to revisit its position—in line, I believe, with other water companies?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Of course those water companies have other responsibilities as well, but the use of water for agricultural food production will be fundamental to our success. My hon. Friend may be aware that there is a debate in Westminster Hall later today on food infrastructure, and she may want to come and contribute to that debate.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I warmly welcome the new Farming Minister to his place. I am delighted to see that he has been appointed during Love Lamb Week; he certainly knows his way around a lamb dinner. The sheep farmers in my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency produce world-class food that is good for our health, our environment and the rural economy. Will he take this early opportunity to restate his commitment to the red meat sector, and may I invite him to visit one of the seven livestock markets in my constituency?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I contemplated denying liking a lamb dinner, but I do not want to start by misleading the House. We recognise the huge contribution that Welsh farmers make not only to lamb production, but to food supplied to our country, and I would be delighted at some point, if my diary allows, to visit Brecon and Radnorshire to see one of those livestock markets.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

First, may I welcome the new Secretary of State, Mr Jayawardena, 54and his Ministers to their place? I look forward to a constructive relationship, but it will be a testing relationship, as we work through the catalogue of failures left by his predecessor.

Rocketing food costs have pushed inflation to a 40-year high and, according to the Bank of England, households and food producers are set to face harder pressures yet. Last week, I received a letter from a family bakery who are extremely worried that their energy bills are increasing by 380%, potentially risking the viability of some of their stores. An energy crisis, a food security crisis, a labour crisis and an import cost crisis—how much worse is it going to get for businesses and the 7 million people already in food poverty?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and look forward to working with the Opposition Front Bench. I would strongly push back at his comments about the previous Secretary of State. The work he did to support rural communities and UK agriculture was fantastic, and we should pay tribute to him for that. Of course, Vladimir’s invasion of Ukraine has caused massive ripples. It is a global challenge, but we are in a position where the UK economy is fit, and that puts us at an advantage compared with some of our competitors around the world. We will be able to intervene to try and assist people. We have already committed to £37 billion of support for consumers, and if the hon. Gentleman waits, he will be able to listen to the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box later today setting out her plans to support those businesses and people across the country.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you ever so much, Mr Speaker. It feels like business questions. I thought I was getting away from the right hon. Gentleman, but there is seemingly no escape. May I welcome him to his new role and congratulate the new Secretary of State? I know they have a huge inbox—they do not have to seek problems. As we have heard, there are rocketing prices for the rural economy and astronomical price rises for the consumer, and on top of that there is a fertiliser crisis, agflation in the sector and a harvest that remains unpicked because of the lack of seasonal labour. So is this the right time to pick a fight with the EU over the Northern Irish protocol, with the real risk of tariffs being introduced for the sector? Is now not the time to climb down, negotiate properly and get the best possible solution for our farmers, our producers and our consumers?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; I, too, thought I had escaped him. He will be surprised to know that there is another method available to us, which the SNP does not understand. We do not have to pick a fight with everybody; we can actually talk to people and negotiate, and that is what we are doing with the EU. We are trying to build relationships rather than pick a fight with the whole world.