Amendment 49

Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

49: Clause 17, page 14, line 20, after “must,” insert “on or before the relevant day and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires the first report under Clause 17 to be prepared on or before the relevant day. The definition of relevant day is inserted by a related Government amendment to mean the last day before 25 December 2021 which is a sitting day for both Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 51, 54 and 56 in my name.

I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this topic in Committee. I gave the matter considerable thought following your Lordships’ remarks then. The importance placed by noble Lords on the food security reports is shared by the Government. In Clause 17, the Government are making an important new commitment to analyse relevant statistical data by publishing a regular report on the crucial subject of food security. The food security report will be a significant body of work that will use a set of core measurements and indicators for each of the key topic areas. This will include a range of areas covering both global and domestic food security including, although not limited to, supply sources of feed, resilience in the supply chain and household food security.

As I set out in Committee, the Government have no intention of waiting until the end of that five-year period to publish the first report. I and other Ministers have listened closely to the points made by your Lordships and have been persuaded that there is merit in changing the frequency of reporting in the Bill to require reports to be published at least every three years. We have also been persuaded to include a duty in the Bill that the first report be published on or before the last sitting day before 25 December 2021 for both Houses of Parliament. This first report will include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the UK. The amendments that I have tabled reflect the importance of this new duty while maintaining the great benefit of allowing reports to cover long-term trends. I hope your Lordships will recognise that the Government have heard the feeling in this House on this issue and have acted. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:15 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50 in my name. Attentive colleagues will have noticed that our Amendment 50 is very similar to the amendments now being proposed by the Minister. We are very pleased that the Government listened to our arguments on this issue in Committee. At that time we argued that, particularly in the light of the Covid experience, regular reporting on food security was essential. We know that when we leave the EU transition period there will be an even greater need for a focus on the reliability of the food supply chain and our capacity to guarantee that the nation will be fed, so regular reporting to Parliament is essential. It is good to see the Government taking this issue seriously.

I know there are other noble Lords who believe that the report should be published more frequently. We think this is a fine judgment, but on further reflection we continue to believe that a first report to Parliament within 12 months followed by every three years thereafter is the right balance. It would make the three-year report a substantial intervention rather than an annual routine occurrence, it would enable us to have a significant debate on the consequences of any shortfall, and it would ensure that the report stood out from the voluminous annual reporting cycle that Governments are required to issue without any real analysis. So we support the Government’s amendments, and I hope they show the true intent of the Government to make the food security reports a major contribution to future policy direction in this sector.

I also welcome the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who rightly raises the issue of “household food insecurity”. It is clearly important that any analysis of food security should look at the national picture but also at issues of distribution, equal access and food poverty of the individual. This is an issue that we hope to address in our national food strategy amendment, which we will come to later.

The amendment by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, rightly flags up that measures on food security are meaningless unless there are also reliable sources of livestock feed available either domestically or through being imported. The amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans makes an important case for any food security report not just to be aesthetic analysis but to be a document with objectives and targets for the future.

All these amendments are making an important contribution to the shape and substance of any future food security reports, and I hope the Minister is able to take them on board in his response. In the meantime, we thank the Minister for his helpful amendments. We hope this is a sign of the seriousness that the Government will assign to these reports and any action that will need to follow.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Jones, there is a great deal of agreement between the Opposition and the Government on the importance of the Government’s amendments. The only point that I would make in strong support of what my noble friend has said is that food security is such a vital issue and that things can, through unforeseen circumstances, change so rapidly that, if we are to make what we are attempting to achieve through these amendments effective, shorter time spans are not only necessary but absolutely essential. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, both of which I have attached my name to.

I start with Amendment 53, which concerns adding household food insecurity to the matters on which the Government must report. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, noted earlier, adding to our remarks last week, although we can treasure the contribution of people who donate to food banks and the volunteers who work in them, food banks themselves are a national disgrace. No one should have to rely on charity to feed themselves. The government reports on food security and insecurity should also include not just what food is available but whether everyone has access to a full, healthy diet, and whether it is available to them financially, physically—I am thinking of things such as food deserts—and practically. On that latter point, do they have the cooking facilities and the energy they need to prepare the food?

On Amendments 50 and 52, I agree with an earlier comment that the question of whether the Government should report every three or five years is finely balanced. I welcome the fact that the Government agree that reporting every five years is not nearly often enough. I think that there is an argument to be made either way, although I can probably live with a three-year reporting cycle, and I hope it is something that we can get a real national focus on. Food security is one of the central roles of government—surely making sure that people do not starve has to be right up there.

I did a little survey of the news this morning, looking at what is happening around the world. I discovered that the Chinese corn crop is expected to fall by 10 million tonnes—nearly 4%—from the latest government estimates after heavy wind and rain toppled crops in major production areas in the north-east corn belt. That follows the events in America in August, when, across Iowa, 14 million acres of insured crops were damaged by what is known as the derecho—that is, conditions very similar to those experienced in China. I do not need to rehearse for your Lordships’ House just how difficult a year this has been for our farmers. The idea that we can simply rely on buying food on the global market is a very dangerous approach for all kinds of reasons, but food security has to be top of the list.

Just this morning I was at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference on the future of agricultural land use. There was a very interesting contribution from Adrian Aebi of the Federal Office for Agriculture at the Swiss embassy in the United Kingdom. I was interested to learn that Article 104 of the Swiss constitution provides that the agricultural sector shall sustainably make

“an essential contribution towards … the reliable provision” of food and

“the conservation of natural resources and the upkeep of the countryside”.

Mr Aebi also informed us that the Swiss Government have clear targets for local food supplies and for improving diets, and they have expressed their intention of pushing towards a more plant-based diet for both environmental and human health reasons. I do not have the information to judge exactly where Switzerland might sit on a global league table of food policy but the UK clearly needs to do better. The Government keep saying that they want to be world leading in these areas, so we need to see clear targets from them on such things, particularly in relation to England.

It is interesting that reference to this issue is made in the Swiss constitution. Of course, we have our unwritten, accidentally accreted over many centuries, constitution that lacks such provisions. That is perhaps something to think about for the future.

I welcome the progress that we have made in this area. We have moved forward but we need to keep focusing on food security as a crucial part of government policy. Seeing all the work that is happening in your Lordships’ House on this issue, I am confident that certainly we will keep working on it.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for recognising that the House was very uneasy about there being a five-year period between the initial and subsequent reports. If I understood him correctly when he spoke to this group of amendments, the Government will report at least every three years. However, if, for example, there is a shortage of food supply at home and a big fall in our self-sufficiency from the current 60%, and if, at any time after 1 January, there is any threat to the level of food imports into this country that could cause a future shock or crisis, I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to review this matter and report more frequently than every three years. However, I thank him for listening to the House and to those of us who raised these concerns at Second Reading and in Committee.

I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his Amendment 57, to which I have appended my name. It would require the Government to specify food security targets and implement actions to ensure that those targets were met. I hope that my noble friend would in the course of natural events seek to do that in the reports to which he has referred.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening and I thank noble Lords who spoke in Committee about the need for more frequent reporting on food security. It is important that we have more frequent reports on food security. Only this year, the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, of which I am a member, published a reported entitled Hungry for Change. It detailed the need for regular reporting and to address inadequate supply chains, which will be exacerbated not only by Brexit but by Covid. We need to address the effect of this global pandemic on the current levels of food insecurity in the UK, the developing world and other areas on which we rely for food.

I also support Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I regard as probably an interim measure. I was happy to put my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. She and I well recall our time as members of the EFRA Select Committee in the other place, of which she was chair. The committee found that levels of food security and food insecurity were equally inadequate and required to be addressed. Perhaps now we are getting to grips with this issue, which will have been made worse by Covid and Brexit.

On food provenance, it is important that we know where our food comes from and that it is properly controlled. People should receive an adequate supply of food and should no longer have to resort to food banks. However, the reality is that many people rely on them. We have to try to ensure that people have access to the right benefits, and in that regard there should be a review of the whole universal credit system.

Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to address the issue of food security? It is a global issue as well as a domestic one. We need specific food security targets to be set on an annual basis, although I welcome the move to a three-yearly basis. Relevant reporting to Parliament is also required every three years, although I would also prefer to see that on an annual basis. We have to see what is actually going on, and when we have witnessed that, surely Parliament, working with the Government, can take appropriate action to address deficits in both food security and insecurity.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 3:30 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have supported my amendments and also the Minister, who has been listening long and hard to all of this. I feel that the Government have come a long way on the issue.

Household food insecurity is very different from national food security and we should measure both. I should say that measurements of household food insecurity are already being taken. The Family Resources Survey does this as a part of its work every year while the Food Standards Agency collects data on household food insecurity as part of the Food and You survey. These measurements are being made and while I realise that taking them every year seems like a lot, if you are hungry, three years will seem like an extremely long time.

Quite frankly, if you are poor and cannot afford to buy food, it does not matter to you if the supermarkets of Chelsea and Westminster happen to be well stocked for those who have enough money in their pocket. The Trussell Trust produced a report this week saying that by Christmas, it reckons that 670,000 more people will be coming to food banks as the furlough scheme is lifted. We have a great deal of household insecurity, which can lead to incalculable damage.

I thank the Government for this amendment and I support it, but I would like to keep the channels open. People cannot wait three years to find out whether the food system is going to be made better for them and their children.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and then to Amendment 57 tabled in my name. I am grateful for the way in which the Minister has listened closely to the House and brought forward amendments. This is immensely helpful. On Tuesday, several noble Lords rehearsed the reasons we need the highest levels of food security possible, and I will not repeat those arguments now. Although I agree that this is a difficult call, my personal view is that annual reporting would be preferable. Nevertheless, I shall listen carefully to the arguments as they are made.

On Amendment 57, while I welcome the Government’s commitment to produce a regular report on food security, it is vital that this is a means by which Her Majesty’s Government can express their policy targets and mechanisms to address any issues in this area. Currently, the provisions in the Bill envisage a fairly static output that merely reports on the current food security situation rather than a more dynamic report which seeks to set out an agenda for change where change is required. There is little point in the Government merely producing a report of which Parliament is required to take note; we need a platform for evaluation, repurposing and, of course, to inform future actions. At the very least, it will be essential to ensure that food security targets are both met and monitored. Where the report indicates that there are issues with aspects of our food and environmental security, the Government must come forward with their plans and policies for addressing those shortcomings.

This amendment would provide the necessary architecture for the Government to take the matter forward and ensure responsibly that the UK is adequately prepared for any future uncertainties. It would be a failure if, having taken the time to consider the importance of having a food security report, we do not also ensure that it is used to inform changes in policy and procedures. A statutory requirement for Her Majesty’s Government is needed to address these issues and it needs to be included in this Bill.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I support Amendment 53 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which recommends that government reports on food security should take into account measures of household food insecurity. As the noble Baroness has just pointed out, it would be anomalous if in isolation, on its own, some assessment of national food security were to have a good reading while at the same time, United Kingdom household food security might have a poor one. That inconsistency would be prevented by this amendment, which requires the Government’s report to consider household food insecurity alongside food security.

I am also in favour of Amendment 57, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on specifying food security targets so that thereafter, actions can be taken to ensure that they are met. The prescription within the amendment is irrefutable, for how can we proceed efficiently and competently if we do not state and specify targets in the first place? If we do not use targets at all, how then can we properly calculate any future level of progress and judge whether we have acted correctly to attain certain levels of food security in the United Kingdom?

I come now to Amendment 55 in my name on supply sources of livestock feed as an input to food production and the reliance on the food supply chain. As I pointed out in Committee, there are three major disadvantages from imported animal feed. First, these imports undermine the country’s food security. Secondly, there is the carbon footprint arising from their production and transport. Thirdly, there is the environmental damage which their cultivation causes in certain countries, notably soya beans in Brazil and Argentina.

In 2019, imports of animal feed broke a record by exceeding £2.4 billion. The feed is mostly soya or intensively produced grain being grown by companies that are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. If we use feed from land that should be forest, we are adding to the destruction of an ecosystem which sustains our climate and biodiversity. Regarding the resolve to increase our own homegrown animal feed supply as much as possible, my noble friend the Minister has already referred to the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, a project due to end in 2023. Its aims include the production of better quality animal feed and to discover alternatives to imported soya beans. Based on the existing level of research, can my noble friend say what targets can already be set both for the reduction of imported feed and an increase in homegrown feed?

Meanwhile, United Kingdom importers could be encouraged to buy feed from countries that demonstrate similar environmental standards to those of the United Kingdom, and perhaps guided in this endeavour by international certification bodies. Does my noble friend agree with that? If so, what steps might the Government now take to buy from certain countries rather than others and to make use of international certification bodies?

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. What we are talking about is very important and it is heading in the right direction but the approach should be much more about management by exception, as they say in the private sector. Crucial targets and standards should be set and there should be reporting when things go wrong. It should not be a matter of waiting a year, two years or three years. There should be indicators and then the Government should report to Parliament when things are going wrong. It means doing that at the earliest time and saying what is being done to put it right. That is slightly similar to how, in the private sector, companies are required to give profit warnings if the track they indicate they are following is being deviated from. There should be a much more dynamic approach to this question. I would like to see standards set and reports produced when the standards are not being met.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward his amendments on this issue. I would still prefer the reporting to be annual, but he has made a move towards us, and I will not dispute his suggestion of three years.

My noble friend Lord Dundee made some interesting and useful points about animal feeds and the damage caused when growing them in other countries, particularly in Brazil, as we have seen recently on television in the Attenborough programme. It is a matter of concern.

More generally, I am concerned about getting too detailed about food security. We must remember that a great many British farmers rely on exports, and if we are restrictive on our imports, it is going to be very easy for other countries to be restrictive on our exports. As the situation stands, I fear the EU could be extremely difficult about our lamb and beef exports in the not-too-distant future. That would have a profound effect on farming, and it is something my noble friend will have to be aware of. Overall, we are not doing too badly on producing our own food. We import an awful lot we do not need for our own diet, but we are lucky to be rich enough to afford it.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 53, of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in this group because it relates to food insecurity. The point I want to make today, when shortly we are to debate the whole of the food strategy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is that the issue of food insecurity for our poorest households—but not exclusively poor households—is a whole food chain issue. That is why I was a bit disturbed on Tuesday, when it was suggested that this Bill was about the agriculture sector’s relationship with government and government subsidy or support to deliver public goods, expressed primarily in terms of farming’s relationships to the environment, the countryside, biodiversity in the countryside, animal welfare and, perhaps, the wider rural economy.

Those are all vital issues, but arguably the biggest public good is the contribution to the delivery of a safe, accessible and healthy diet to our population. That involves the relationships of farmers not just with the Government or the environment but the whole apparatus of the food chain with which farming trades. Together, they need to deliver an effective food strategy to improve our population’s diet, drastically reduce obesity and other food-related disorders and make healthy food available to all at affordable prices. Food insecurity exacerbates poverty and disease and explains, in large part, the escalating dependence on food banks. That is why we need a national food strategy.

Like others, I served on the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. The work of that committee, together with that of Henry Dimbleby’s food commission, will hopefully form the basis of that new government strategy. But it will if society recognises the crisis of unhealthy diet is an important one we are all facing, which has to be addressed, in part, through the relationship between farming and the other key players in the food chain.

Much of the regulation on food focuses on farmers, who are generally small businesses, and final outlets—restaurants, cafés, food shops and takeaways—which are also, largely, small businesses. But the nature of the food chain—the economics of it and, to some extent, its whole regulatory structure—is determined by the substantial companies in the middle of the journey from farm to fork, such as processors, wholesalers and supermarkets. These sectors are highly oligopolistic, but their decisions affect the price and standards to which farmers produce, as well as the tastes of consumers and the price and availability of food. They influence via their advertising budgets and their store displays in a way that affects price, diet and the availability of healthy food. These industries spend 20 times more on advertising highly processed food and confectionery than they do on fresh fruit and vegetables. Farmers and consumers need fairer, more balanced, greener contracts as we trade throughout the food chain.

That is why, when we come to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Grantchester on the groceries ombudsman, I hope the House will support him. I will strongly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in advance. I will refrain from speaking on those amendments myself, but Amendment 53 in this group does, by implication, raise all these issues.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative 3:45 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 52 and my noble friend Lord Dundee’s Amendment 55 concerning

“supply sources for livestock feeds as an input to food production and the resilience of the feed supply chain.”

Further to my Amendment 12, which did not find favour with the House, I believe the issue of food security is vital, having highlighted the UK’s lack of self-sufficiency in fruit, vegetables and potatoes in that amendment as well as the figure of 30% of our food coming from the EU.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Amendment 50 to make reporting at least every three years, rather than every five. But, with the transition phase now ending and a volatile food supply possible if there is no trade deal with the EU, I believe that a report on food security every three years is still too limited, particularly when we are having continual cases of extreme weather and perhaps future virus outbreaks. I hope that in Amendment 51 this will be covered as a case for further reports more than once every three years.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, my interests in this Bill are published in the register. This has been a good debate. I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords in support of the Minister’s proposed amendments to Clause 17, which recognise the strength of noble Lords’ feelings, expressed particularly in Committee. That is why the Government have committed to publish the first report on food security before both Houses rise for the Christmas Recess next year, with successive reports in future every three years.

The first report will include the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on food supply, which will be a critical aspect of it. It will give a particular and important emphasis to the report. As noble Lords will be aware, there is a wide range of statistical data on food supply and consequent security that is already made available annually. However, the whole point of the exercise is to evaluate the longer-term trends in these reports and recognise those in the sound compromise of a three-year cycle.

I may seem like a crowd cheerer for the Minister, but I believe that my noble friend should be thanked and congratulated on reading the mood of the House accurately and acting on it.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 51, in which I join the Government. It was an amendment I proposed in Committee, so I thank the Minister and Government for agreeing to it. I very much appreciate the reaching of a consensus on this point.

I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Farming is, obviously, key, and its main focus is the provision of food. It is important that the House has reached consensus on this point. I do not agree with the point made that we need a more regular food security report; it is proposed that it should be annual. An annual report will result merely in a cut and paste of data and little consideration. The three-year cycle is key, because you can pick up trends and some novel work can be put into the process between or during each reporting cycle.

Finally, with respect to food security, I caution that we should not merely focus on the volume of food available. High-volume, low-cost and low-quality food is exactly what we do not want; obviously, we want sufficient volumes of food, but it needs to be food of a quality that will keep this nation healthy. We have all seen over the past six months how important good health and good diet are to the nation’s ability to deal with this terrible coronavirus.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon. This is a vital group of amendments covering food security, and I agree that the main purpose of our agriculture is to provide healthy, nutritious food. I welcome the Minister tabling amendments that require the first report on food security to be prepared before 25 December 2021, so long as it is a sitting day of both Houses. A further amendment requires reporting every three years. Others have tabled amendments pressing the case for more frequent food security reports.

I welcome the change in the Government’s position and thank the Minister for his introduction. I have added my name to Amendment 50 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. This is a similar amendment, which requires that the first food security report be laid within 12 months of the passing of this Bill. It is important that the first report on UK food security should be completed within 12 months of the implementation of the Act and every three years thereafter. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a very powerful case for why it is important to get on with this matter. Food security is important to everybody in the country.

The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Boycott, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans would like this food security report to be produced annually. We are all concerned about the state of food security, as we should be. However, I appreciate that the production of this report will be bureaucratic and is likely to take a good deal of data collection. I wonder whether the production of a yearly report would create such an administrative burden that the information contained in it would be insufficiently detailed to be meaningful. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this.

On Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, it is important that household food security is considered. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw huge food shortages being experienced by households, including those of people working for the NHS who were unable to get to the supermarkets at a reasonable time. As we approach a second spike, food security will again come into focus.

I support the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on the impact of importing animal feed specially grown in what were previously rainforests in Brazil.

It is a terrible thing to be hungry. We are one of the richest countries of the world, and we must have robust measures in place to ensure that we can feed our own residents. Food security targets are one way to monitor this, alongside an implementation plan to ensure that targets are met. I fully support the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and I support the Minister’s amendments and look forward to his winding-up comments.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I should in the first instance have declared my farming interests, as in the register.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I think there is a general feeling, even from those who would have preferred an annual report, that we have come to a good House of Lords consensus on this matter. I particularly want to acknowledge what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said in speaking to Amendment 50, and all those who supported that amendment.

I turn particularly to what my noble friend Lady McIntosh and others said about Amendment 52. I understand the desire to publish yearly. We feel that it is very important to allow sufficient time to observe longer-term key trends from a variety of sources. We do not think that this would be as well met if it were necessary to publish reports each year. Producing reports at least every three years will allow proper consideration of trends from data. This is what we will put into statute, but if circumstances required earlier reports, of course we would produce them. That is why we very much feel that a report next year, given corona and, indeed, any other circumstances, will be very important.

Such trends may include, for example, the cost of food commodities; the sustainability of natural resources required for food production and supply; and the diversity of entry ports into the UK for food and drink imports. Some of these trends are slow-moving and do not change significantly year on year, but they may well do so over a longer period. That is where we must have that degree of analysis.

I say to all noble Lords, although I am particularly mindful of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, on the continuing work and vigilance, if there are issues of concern, I—and, I am sure, ministerial colleagues in the other place—would want to bring them before the House if there were certain crises. When there have been issues of concern, whether flooding or resilience because of Covid, we of course want to air them and bring them, in my case, before your Lordships. This is a particular point for the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie: much data on food security will be available on an annual basis. Data that will be used in the food security report, such as the Government’s Agriculture in the United Kingdom, the Family Resources Survey and the Living Costs and Food Survey, are published and made publicly available annually. Of course, Defra officials routinely track to spot any unexpected or significant changes. That is all daily work. The reports required under Clause 17 will consider the data produced through these surveys, in addition to less frequently produced data, to provide deeper analysis to help us provide an accurate picture of the UK’s food security to support the development of policy for the future.

On the important matter of the topics to be covered by the food security reports, we shall draw on established statistics, such as those I have mentioned, but officials will also want to monitor new data sources and emerging issues.

On Amendment 55, I reassure my noble friend that the food security report will already cover—under Clause 17(2)(b), regarding UK availability and access—the capability of UK agricultural production of crops, livestock and fisheries produce. This will include the availability of inputs, such as animal feed products. I was very mindful of what my noble friend Lord Caithness said in embellishing on what we are seeing in certain parts of the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred to keeping the channels open. As far as I am concerned, I will ensure that the channels she wishes to have open will be, to her and your Lordships, because this is a very important matter. I assure her that the Government will already consider household food security among the themes covered in the report. This is covered by Clause 17(2)(d), as household food security comes under “household expenditure on food”. We will consider the findings of these reports carefully and use them to help inform policy response and appropriate actions, along with anything before the report. Again, I impress on the House that this is not the only matter in this area. It is a continuing, daily issue that we need to work on.

In producing the food security report, the Government will set out analysis of relevant sets of statistics relating to UK food security, ranging from the global UN data to UK national statistics such as the Family Resources Survey. Food insecurity is an issue that we all must—and, I believe, do—take very seriously. I could bandy figures such as the £95 billion a year for working-age welfare benefits. Of course, we all recognise that there is more to be done but I would put it in this context: this is not about no resources going into it. What we all have to resolve is how we do it even better. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, asked whether I would take these matters back to the DWP. Of course I shall, because all departments want to do their very best to help people who are in extreme difficulties.

I turn to Amendment 57. I note that the report is intended to provide a detailed and evidence-based assessment of the current position and developing longer-term trends. Our food security depends on supply from diverse sources, with strong domestic production as well as imports from stable sources. I say to my noble friend Lord Northbrook that my figures are that we produce 64% of our entire food supply need, but that it increases to 77% for indigenous food that we can grow or rear here in the UK for all or part of the year. My understanding is that these figures have been pretty steady over the past 20 years.

My noble friend Lord Caithness made a good point: it works both ways. UK consumers have access to food products that cannot be produced here, or at least not on a year-round basis, through international trade. We definitely have a strong future in the export of our excellent, high-quality food. These imports from overseas supplement domestic production, while ensuring that any disruption from risks such as adverse weather or disease does not affect the UK’s overall security of supply. Indeed, the response by the food supply chain to the coronavirus from our domestic farmers and producers and overseas suppliers, along with the role of our distributors and retailers, has demonstrated that diverse sources of supply have helped ensure resilience.

The Government will continue to monitor all this data alongside the range of analysis in the food security reports to feed into the development of policy. This report must not be just worthy. It is all about how that report, and the analysis of it, feed into how we do things better. That development of policy will go across the wide spectrum of food security.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that in the end this is about healthy food. Wherever that comes from, it is about having a good relationship and respect for the production of food. I hope that, given what we have done in the government amendments and through my replies to noble Lords, I have taken on board all the points made in this debate. Not only that; I will take back the varying comments that have been made as we all seek to do better. In the mean- time, with the reassurance I have given, I ask that Amendments 49, 51, 54 and 56 in my name be accepted.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:00 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I have received no request from any noble Lord to ask a short question after the Minister’s reply, so I shall now put the question.

Amendment 49 agreed.

Amendment 50 not moved.