I start by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for taking me back to my student days in Dundee and reminding me of the fruit picking I did across Tayside. The shortage of labour, both migrant and domestic, during the current health crisis is causing a shortage of workers on farms. Farmers have warned that up to 80,000 positions need to be filled, or we risk a large proportion of British produce going to waste. With 1.6 million people having to rely on food banks, it would be shocking if the Government allowed a large amount of produce to go to waste, especially when there is such a need for it. The lack of labour has put the British farming industry at serious risk. As one industry expert recently said, this will finish off farms: there will not be the fruit and veg in the shops.
A shortage of fruit and vegetables will have severe consequences. It also carries the risk of the further spread of Covid-19 as a result of malnutrition and people’s immune systems being weakened, increasing the likelihood of infection. The Government need to do all they possibly can to avoid that with initiatives to mobilise people and to support farmers and farms of all sizes. As someone who grew up on a smallholding on the west coast of Scotland, I am working with Ayrshire potatoes and delivering them to local suppliers and local families. The benefit of having small farmers producing locally and supplying locally should not be underestimated. If the Government fail in this regard, they will put the health of millions at risk as well as the future of the agricultural industry. That needs to be avoided at all costs. What plans do the Government have in place to make sure that does not happen?