Food Supply and Security - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:29 pm on 14th May 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers 2:29 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, during the current crisis, people have become very focused on food. Families have been relying on food parcels from voluntary groups and food banks, which are particularly important for people whose children are not receiving free school lunches. They have very little food security, especially if they cannot go shopping because of having a vulnerable person at home. Others are realising that the best way to ensure food security is to grow your own, which also has the advantage of reducing food miles. Of course, this is available only to those with some outdoor space.

We are very reliant on our farmers and the horticultural industry. Both have been experiencing extreme difficulties during the lockdown. Many horticultural businesses which supply plants for garden centres lost their customers until this week, and their vegetable plants have been left to die. These losses have been disastrous for them. Can the Minister say what proportion of the industry has qualified for help under the Government’s business support schemes and who is responsible for ensuring that we still have an industry after the pandemic crisis is over?

Farmers and salad growers had problems before the current crisis because, since we left the EU, workers from Europe have not been coming here in sufficient numbers to pick, pack and process the crops. No clear commitments have been given to these workers and no trade deals have yet been negotiated, so the security of homegrown fresh food is in a perilous state. Many Brits who volunteered to do the jobs left after a day because they found the work too hard and there is a limit to what can be done through automation, which of course also requires investment. Does the Minister agree that farmers will need a whole season to recover their businesses, so we need to extend the transition phase before they have to face the consequences of its end, and possibly tariffs?