Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 25th May 2023.
What recent discussions she has had with supermarkets on ensuring that reductions in wholesale food costs are reflected in food prices.
The Department meets regularly with food retailers to discuss a range of issues, including the impact of food inflation. Most recently, on Tuesday the Chancellor and the Secretary of State met a number of food and drink manufacturers. We will continue that engagement to ensure consumers have access to a range of affordable food, in recognition of the pressures people are feeling at home.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituents in Lichfield and Burntwood, and people in the rest of the country, are enduring high food inflation, as are those in the rest of Europe. What controls—if that is the word—do we have to ensure supermarkets do not take unfair advantage and excess profits from wholesale prices?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Retailers work to ensure strong that competitive pressure remains in the marketplace. However, the Competition and Markets Authority announced last week that it is looking into the grocery sector to see whether any failure in competition is contributing to prices being higher than they would normally be. The CMA will focus on areas where people are experiencing greater cost of living pressures. My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Groceries Code Adjudicator will remain separate from the CMA and can take up investigations should it choose to do so.
Food price inflation remains at the eye-wateringly high level of 19%, causing misery to millions. The UK Farm to Fork summit provided an opportunity to tackle inflationary pressures across the supply chain, but the Secretary of State’s written statement did not mention inflation once. Can the Minister say if there is a plan to rapidly reduce food price inflation—and if not, why not?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the Prime Minister’s main targets is to reduce inflation. Clearly, food makes up a huge part of that inflationary pressure. Pressures in global markets are driving up energy and food, not least because of Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, but we are working closely with retailers, producers and processors to ensure we can strip out as many of those pressures as possible.
Food inflation is running at almost 2%, lower-standard imported eggs are on supermarket shelves because our producers are being undercut, and today record immigration numbers are announced, but the wrong people—we do not have the people to produce food in our fields. What are the Minister and the Secretary of State, who are responsible for our food system, doing about all that? Are they just innocent bystanders?
Once again, the hon. Gentleman is a little disingenuous. The immigration figures were partly driven by people coming from Ukraine and Hong Kong. I recognise that we need help and support in the labour market. That is why the Government have issued 45,000 visas, with an extra 10,000 top-up not only for this year —we have already have stated we will do that again next year—to give growers and producers the opportunity to source the labour they need to harvest vegetables and fruit.
I call the Scottish National party spokes- person.
Last week’s most vaunted Farm to Fork Summit, from which the Scottish Government were excluded, was described as an “empty meeting” by food and farming industry representatives, with no action on price or food inflation discussed, and one that
“did not touch on the fundamental problems of food price inflation”.
In addition, Ministers offered no commitment in response to a call by the National Farmers Union to stop Britain’s self-sufficiency in food slipping below its current level of 6%. Does the Minister agree with the National Farmers Union’s assessment of the summit? If not, what concrete outcomes does he think it achieved on food price reduction?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady lives in a different universe, because the NFU welcomed the food summit. It requested it and it was grateful that it took place. It was a huge success, pulling together retailers, processers and primary producers to get under the skin of the challenges that we face as a country. We will solve those challenges by working together. Many people celebrated that Farm to Fork Summit, as should she, rather than criticising it.