My Lords, as always, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. This debate is extraordinarily timely because the Agriculture Bill passed the other place last night.
We should learn from Covid-19. Having left the European Union, now is a good moment to reconsider the strategic importance of food security. The coronavirus crisis has taught us to value more highly a number of essential parts of the nation’s life. During lockdown, only purchases of pharmaceuticals and food have been considered absolutely necessary. We now—correctly —consider farmers, farm workers and those who process and distribute food essential workers in a way that we have not done since the war.
We will never be self-sufficient in all food products, but it is surprising that we have a net trade deficit in meat products of £6 billion a year. It is precisely the livestock farmers who feel the most anxious at the moment. Our lamb producers, particularly in Wales and Scotland, need tariff and regulation-free access to the European market. Livestock farmers will suffer badly if we leave in December without a deal.
At the same time, the farming industry faces the prospect of a free trade agreement with the United States of America. The price for this may well be free American access to our food market. Present government policy is to support farmers for so-called public goods, but is not the provision of home-grown, quality food a public good? To increase food supply and food security in this country, the taxpayer should be prepared to support more home-grown, sustainable food production. Food security should now be a national priority.