My Lords, I too welcome that, at long, long last, this report is being debated. It really is a scandal that, after all the hard work put in by members of the committee, they have had to wait nearly a year to have their report debated, especially as food prices change daily if not hourly. I add my congratulations to my noble friend on a really superb maiden speech. I remember well his father’s maiden speech and how proud he would have been today.
I have done several stints on what was Sub-Committee D and several under three very distinguished chairmen, although two are now on leave of absence. I well remember being chastised one Wednesday morning for missing a meeting. I got on to a train to visit my very ill mother and was taken aback by all the racegoers on my train. I am sure that the chairman thought I was skiving to go racing at Royal Ascot, which I was not. I never missed a Wednesday meeting again.
We went to Brussels several times—and Aberdeen and invaded the fish market—but my best memory of all was, after a very early start, we had the best breakfast I have ever had in the Fishmongers’ Hall having been to Billingsgate Market. We even had the chance to address the European Parliament—each of us for just 90 seconds. It was there that I met my childhood hero, Lord Plumb, who, had he not retired from the House, would have made a powerful contribution to this afternoon’s debate.
Forty years ago, 47% of the weekly wage went on food; today, it is in single figures. In other words, food is very cheap today. I have been involved in the food industry all my walking life and one of my earliest memories is helping my father to herd his pigs just after I learned to walk. I even have a photograph to prove it. We live in crazy times when water is more expensive than milk.
When I returned from working for my father in Belgium, I started working for my mother trying to run a small farm in one of the most beautiful parts of the Scottish Borders with fabulous views to the Cheviot hills in England. I took on 17 employees and was latterly farming a bigger acreage with just three men, all of whom were born and brought up at home and of whom I am immensely proud. I remember 25 years ago during lunchtime at harvest time, the telephone was seldom silent and being offered £165 a tonne for low-nitrogen malting barley. Oh to be offered that today, especially when one takes into account the huge increase in staff wages and in all inputs, not least of all the price of fuel.
I am fortunate to have known the Minister long before he was ennobled, and it is encouraging to know that he has at heart our countryside, which we farmers do our very best to look after for the public’s enjoyment, and long may we be able to try to do so.