Moved by Lord Krebs
58: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—“National Food Strategy(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the steps that Her Majesty’s Government proposes to take to—(a) increase sustainability of food production,(b) support food production and consumption, and(c) improve dietary health and reduce obesity,in the United Kingdom.(2) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(a), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) incorporating the environmental sustainability of food into the Eatwell Guide,(b) ensuring that domestically produced food meets environmental sustainability standards,(c) ensuring that food waste is minimised,(d) ensuring that public procurement meets both health and sustainability standards, and(e) providing increased funding for research and development into sustainable agriculture.(3) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) supporting local and regional food identities,(b) supporting procurement of food produced in the United Kingdom where appropriate and sustainable, and(c) developing an assurance scheme for food produced in the United Kingdom to enhance consumer confidence in the safety, quality and sustainability of such food.(4) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(c), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) ensuring the reformulation of less healthy foods using fiscal and other appropriate means,(b) restricting the marketing, promotion, and advertising of less healthy food both in retail outlets and through the media,(c) reducing food insecurity, food poverty, and obesity in the lowest income groups,(d) standardising and mandating food labelling relating to nutrition, and(e) improving children’s diets.(5) Before publishing the strategy under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must develop a standardised set of reporting metrics on health and sustainability across the food system by which progress on implementation of the strategy can be measured.(6) The strategy in subsection (1) must—(a) set out proposals for independent oversight of aspects of food policy covered by the strategy, and(b) consider whether responsibility for such oversight should be given to—(i) a new non-departmental public body, or(ii) an existing organisation.(7) In preparing the strategy under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant Ministers of the Crown,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers, (d) the Northern Ireland Department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK agricultural and food sectors.(8) In this section—“Eatwell Guide” means the United Kingdom’s national food guide entitled the “Eatwell Guide”, as produced by Her Majesty’s Government;“food waste” means waste of agri-food products by households or the food service sector;“less healthy food” means foods high in fat, salt and sugars.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister and his officials for spending time yesterday in discussion with all four of us who have signed this cross-party amendment. Amendment 58 seeks to put into the Bill something that the Government are already committed to doing. The Government have said that they are
“committed to ensuring our food system delivers safe, healthy, affordable food for everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, and which is built on a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector.”
This is precisely the purpose of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke eloquently a few moments ago about the nature of our food system. He anticipated a number of points that I will make in my short introduction.
The amendment would ensure that the Government put in place policies that will, in combination, help to tackle the dreadful burden of ill-health in this country that is caused by poor diet, particularly among the poorest in society. The Covid-19 epidemic has brought the cost of obesity into stark relief. The Government have spoken of it as a wake-up call. The new obesity strategy, launched on
The amendment would also ensure that our food system is more environmentally sustainable, underpinned by the latest science, while supporting farmers by encouraging local food, where appropriate. The fact that this country is one of the most depleted in the world in its biodiversity shows how unsustainable we have been up to now. I anticipate that the Minister will say in his reply that the Government have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to prepare a report on the national food strategy and are committed to publishing a White Paper within six months of his final report, and that this amendment is therefore unnecessary. However, this process may well take us into mid-2022. Any actions that follow would not only be uncertain; they might not arise until some distant future.
Fixing the failures in our food system is too urgent for further delay. If the disagreement is about not whether but when, let us get on with it now. Neither the children whose lives will be blighted by ill-health from unhealthy foods nor the environment that is being damaged by food production can wait any longer. I will listen carefully to the debate and the Minister’s reply but if he is not able to give a commitment to act sooner rather than later, I will wish to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and it has been an enormous pleasure to serve on the committee of which he was the chair. I think that our report has been invaluable and is extremely thorough, and I know that, like him, we are a little disappointed by the Government’s reaction. However, also like him, I very much thank the Minister for the time he has spent with us.
It is roughly 12 years to the day since I began work as the chair of the London Food Board—appointed by our current Prime Minister, in fact. I have worked for many years in this area: I have loads that I could talk about and loads of things that I have done. However, despite all the effort of so many people working across the sector—charities, Governments, think tanks, consultancies, agencies, doctors and health departments—the situation has not got better. Actually, it has got worse.
Next week, the Food Foundation—of which I am a trustee—publishes the updated version of its annual publication, The Broken Plate. It makes for terrible reading. I will give the House just a few snapshots. Within food advertising budgets, out of a rough spend of around £300 million, 14% is spent on soft drinks, 17% is spent on confectionery, 17.7% is spent on snacks and just 2.9% is spent on fruit and veg. The poorest 10% of households would need to spend 76% of their disposable income to meet the Government’s recommended diet, the “eatwell plate”. Since last year, this has risen by over 2%.
If you are a baby born today, these are your life chances with the system we now have. At age five, 13% will be overweight and 9% will be obese. At age 21, 21% will be overweight and 25% will be obese. However, at 65, 22% will be overweight and a staggering 57% will be obese, and they will have a range of illnesses: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and osteoporosis, as well as really bad teeth.
Why on earth do we let this carry on? I have been asking myself this question repeatedly for 12 years. I have also been involved in many measures to fix it: little moves that perhaps make something a bit better; bits of Sellotape over this problem or that problem. But the thing is—and this is why this amendment is so important—it is not about fixing one little thing here or another thing there; this is a system that is largely outside the Government’s control. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, it is a system run by a few very giant companies that have become very rich at our expense.
If you apply simple capitalism to the food system, this is what you get: sell more products made from ever-cheaper ingredients. It is easy to see it when you talk about clothes or cars, but it is also what we do with food, and these are the results we see around us. We have foods that contain chemicals, that have necessitated cutting down rainforests and that have deprived orangutans of their homes. In short, we have created a system that is out of control. What we have is the politics of the market and not the politics of health.
If we want to make proper improvements, we have to support this amendment. It is only by having a proper food strategy—one that cuts across government, involves all the departments and is treated with the serious attitude that it deserves—that we will make the proper changes that we need. When noble Lords are thinking about voting on this, I ask them to please remember that food is also the major driver of our biodiversity. That is why it belongs here in this discussion about agriculture.
It is not just that we are getting ill from our food system: insects are dying, while animals all over the world are losing their habitats. Right now, roughly 65 billion animals are sitting in some sort of cage somewhere on our planet, eating food that, as was said, often requires deforestation to make, and waiting to be killed and processed on the journey to our plates. This is a really lousy way to run such an important system. It is a tragedy, because nature gives us healthy food—amazing and extraordinary stuff. I believe that we all have a right to it, wherever we live and whatever we own. I beg noble Lords to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
I very much welcome the requirement for a national food strategy being given a statutory basis, as outlined in this amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for having cooked it up—if that is not the wrong word to use about a food strategy amendment. I applaud its twin aims of environmental sustainability and health. I would probably add a further aim: the eradication of food poverty. As highlighted by Henry Dimbleby’s interim report, our most disadvantaged children are often those in receipt of the poorest diets.
Farming and food production has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on the environment, even where farmers are committed to good environmental performance and where mitigation measures have been put in place. Farmland birds and plants have suffered some of the greatest declines over the last 50 years: in the case of birds, there is on average a 48% decline among species, with some species declining by over 80%. Land use, including agriculture, accounts for 12% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Food has a huge impact on health. One example is the rising tide of type 2 diabetes, which is a serious condition that is now the most prevalent cause of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and adult blindness. Some 5 million people in the UK have diabetes and many more are at high risk of developing it. One in five people in a hospital bed has diabetes, and it consumes 10% of NHS resources. It is directly linked, primarily, to being overweight. Some 29% of adults and 20% of 11 year-olds are obese. One-third of all children leaving school, and a staggering two-thirds of adults, are now overweight. Diabetes causes 500 premature deaths a week—and that is every week. This is far more than the number of Covid deaths, apart from during that very high period in May, and yet very little song and dance is made about the appalling death rate. However, remission of type 2 diabetes is eminently achievable. Losing 10% of body weight can turn diabetes off, and for those at risk of developing diabetes it reduces their risk by 50%.
We urgently need a joined-up national food strategy to tackle these desperate twin challenges of sustainability and health. It needs to be joined up from food to fork, involving farmers, food manufacturers, retailers, schools, hospitals, employers, the hospitality sector and government procurement. I welcome the Government’s obesity strategy, but it shares with previous government attempts the qualities of being piecemeal and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has outlined, shies away from really tackling some of the big players on the stage who have resisted moves towards a sensible food strategy.
The Government have indicated that they will produce a White Paper on food strategy six months after Henry Dimbleby’s final report next year, but we cannot wait that long, as both the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, have said. This amendment very sensibly enshrines a food strategy that hits the right targets, is joined up, is statutory and would be in place within 12 months. I hope your Lordships will support this amendment if it goes to a vote.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I hope it will go to a vote and that we will pass it, because it is so important and requires further discussion, and it would be very helpful for the House of Commons to have to discuss it.
This amendment is like the proverbial good pudding—it is full of good things or plums, or whatever you want to say. In particular, I pick out the question of food waste, which is such an important issue—everybody says it is important but nobody does a huge amount about it. How important it is to support local and regional food identities in the production of quality and diverse food. On restricting the marketing, promotion and advertising of less healthy food, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has said.
There has been huge political, economic and commercial pressure in this country in recent years for cheap food. A lot of food in this country is in fact, by historical standards, incredibly cheap—but being cheap does not necessarily mean that it is good food. It can be: in Trawden, an old weaving village just up the valley from where we live, there was no shop left, but a group of volunteers got together to set up a community shop that provides an astonishing range of really good, diverse, nutritious food which is incredibly cheap. Of course, most of the staff there are volunteers; you can do it on that basis, but it is not a basis for everywhere.
On the other hand, in June, when I came down before the recess, the facilities here were not all that great, due to the position that we are in. So I called at a convenience store on the way in and bought a couple of what, from the pictures on the packet, looked like rather nice ready meals. I could not believe how ridiculously cheap they were—less than a couple of bags of crisps, really. I put them in the microwave in the pantry on our corridor and thought I would have my tea. I have not eaten such nasty food for a long time. It was awful. You can tell that I do not do much shopping, given that I was buying these things. Nevertheless, it was an eye-opener as to how nasty cheap food can be.
The problem is that people who are living on the absolute minimum income—the sort of people whom the Minister was talking about earlier, who rely on the DWP—have to buy the cheapest food that they can get, because of their circumstances. So, for the people who buy a lot of the cheapest food because they cannot afford more, not only is the food cheap, it is not good. This is so important.
This amendment, in a way, underlines the whole Bill. We have talked about food production; the environment in which it is produced; the effect of food production on the environment; the quality of food; the standards that will be applied to food that is imported and to the production of that food—and all the rest of it. But where is the food strategy itself? What is the Government’s view on the food strategy? The Minister spoke of “safe, healthy, affordable food” and was quoted again by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. But we do not know what the present Government’s overall strategy will be when it comes to the trade-offs between incomes for farmers, quality of food, price of food and where it all rests with international trade. We are still waiting for the Government to tell us.
We know what the different systems can be. First, if farmers are to produce food in this country, they must have sufficient income—that is pretty obvious—but the question is how that income will be put together. We know that the existing CAP system, which is mainly, though not entirely, based on the area of land in a farm, will be replaced by payments for public goods. In Committee, I tried to tease out from the Government a definition of “public goods” but such a definition was not forthcoming. It means different things to different people, according to what they think is important. I think that access is an important public good; other people do not necessarily disagree but put more priority on other things—even I might put more priority on other things. What is a public good? Is the production of good, healthy, affordable food a public good or is it, as the Minister said several times previously in his replies on this Bill, a private good, because it is something that can be left to the market and the price that farmers and producers get for that food is a private, not public, good? There is a muddle about this.
You can put tariffs up, which is basically what the Common Market did originally. It protected the European farmers behind tariffs in order to provide food security in Europe. That then turned into production subsidies and a level of intervention in the market that resulted in the famous beefs mountains—which people out there still think are part of the CAP, although they disappeared long ago. Then it was all decoupled from production and the farm payments were based on land; that is the system that we have more or less got to now, with some environmental bells and whistles added. Now it is going to be decoupled from land and based on public goods. That is all very well, but none of that says what our trade relationships with other countries will be—the countries that we import food from and export food to—or what trade arrangements we will have. Deal or no deal, we will have arrangements with the European Union and with countries in the rest of the world. The nature of those arrangements and how they will work will have as much effect on the future of farming and of food—the price and what we get—in this country as everything in this Bill. They must be looked at together.
I would say that we need to concentrate on fair trade, health and well-being and environmental sustainability, putting the whole trade thing in the context of the environment. One of the best books I have read in the last year or two was Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth, an economist. She puts economics into the framework of society and the environment, rather than at the top. I recommend it to all noble Lords—and to the Minister. I hope he can tell us what our strategy for food will be in the future, in relation not just to all the things in this Bill but to our trading relationships with the rest of the world.
My Lords, I rise to offer the Green Party’s wholehearted support for this amendment. I reflect, as I did yesterday with the immigration Bill, that the current system of a maximum of four signatures does not allow the full breadth of cross-party support for an amendment to be shown on the Marshalled List. This is something that I may be raising with the House authorities.
I begin by returning to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in introducing this amendment: neither human health nor the environment can wait any longer. That made me think of Oral Questions yesterday when the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, in a supplementary question, asked the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, where our peat strategy was. This is an extremely urgent climate matter. I heard the chief scientist from Defra reflecting this morning on how crucial this was, how the UN will soon be including peat emissions in its global calculations and how we need to act. Yet we are still waiting. We have no legislative framework and we do not know when we will get this delayed strategy. When we are talking about the food, health and diet of the nation and the well-being of our agricultural land, we cannot afford to leave this hanging.
It is often said that we are talking about creating, for the first time, a food strategy for England. Wales and Scotland have been well ahead of us in this area for many years—particularly Scotland. But we do have a food strategy. Our current strategy, although it is not written down, is to let supermarkets and multinational manufacturing companies decide what we eat. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, set out in her extremely informed speech—she is of course your Lordships’ House’s expert in these areas—how that has given us a truly dreadful diet and a truly dreadful environment. We have to give people the chance to eat well and healthily, which simply is not available to them at the moment through our current food strategy.
There are many good things in this amendment, but I want to focus on just a few of them. One of them is that it focuses on the need for standardised metrics. I am a little surprised not to see the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who extolled the virtues of such an approach yesterday, speaking in support. The amendment speaks about restricting marketing. We all see how regularly ultra-processed food or junk food—call it what you like—is pushed on all of us, but particularly on our children. I ask your Lordships to reflect on when they last saw an advertisement for an apple or for cooking at home. The last time I saw that was a couple of years ago in Paris in a government advert there.
The amendment refers also to the need to fund research into sustainable food production. I hear again and again from the farming community and small producers of food how desperately they feel the lack of independent agricultural extension and advice. So much of the advice that is available to them is tied to the people who provide often very expensive inputs. This slants the way in which our food is grown. I have met many growers who are essentially forced to take all their advice on how to grow from the supermarkets, producing not in the interests of the land or of a healthy diet but in the interests of supermarket profits.
Another element of this excellent amendment is about improving children’s diets. I know that there is often a great throwing up of hands and a feeling that this is all too difficult, but I point noble Lords to the excellent HENRY scheme in Leeds, which offers a great case study of how parents can be helped to improve their children’s diet. It is very successful. Why have we not seen it already rolled out around the nation? It is something that this amendment could help direct the nation towards.
As is always the case when one supports an amendment that one did not write, I might write somewhat differently
“high in fat, salt and sugars.”
I do not think that phrase adequately identifies both desirable and undesirable foods, or the problems; “ultra-processed food” is perhaps a better identifier. However, that is a minor quibble with an excellent amendment setting out a framework which says to the Government, “This is a key role of your job as a Government and we need to see a food strategy for England as soon as possible.” I think that we have all been impressed by the work of Mr Dimbleby on the interim food strategy—that is lovely and could obviously feed a big part of producing the strategy envisaged in the amendment—but it is just one more privatisation. Relying on a private individual appointed by the Government with no legislative framework simply is not good enough for this crucial area. I urge all Members of your Lordships’ House to back this amendment.
My Lords, my heart always cheers when I see an amendment to any legislation by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. He brings experience, wisdom, knowledge and insight in a disciplined way to our proceedings, and I thank him warmly for this amendment. I am also glad to see my noble friend Lady Jones in full support.
We can in this House sometimes sound a bit like a Greek chorus, wringing our hands about what is wrong, social evils and the things that are failing to deliver the kind of society we all claim to want to see. The great thing about this amendment is that it takes the opportunity of this Bill to bring in a comprehensive and disciplined way some muscle to what we are going to do—demanding plans for action in specific areas by specific dates.
I have just looked through the list in the noble Lord’s amendment and think of all the hours that we have spent in this House discussing these things:
“increase sustainability of food production … improve dietary health and reduce obesity”— how we lament obesity, but here is a firm suggestion as to what we should do about it. The list continues:
“incorporating the environmental sustainability of food into the Eatwell Guide … ensuring that domestically produced food meets environmental sustainability standards … ensuring that food waste is minimised”— the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke powerfully on this point; I too become appalled and disgusted when I see the mountains of food that go to waste. The amendment further calls for:
“ensuring that public procurement meets both health and sustainability standards … providing increased funding for research and development into sustainable agriculture … supporting local and regional food identities … supporting procurement of food produced in the United Kingdom where appropriate and sustainable … developing an assurance scheme for food produced in the United Kingdom to enhance consumer confidence in the safety, quality and sustainability of such food … ensuring the reformulation of less healthy foods using fiscal and other appropriate means … restricting the marketing, promotion, and advertising of less healthy food both in retail outlets and through the media … reducing food insecurity, food poverty, and obesity in the lowest income groups”— how we profess our concern about this grave social issue, but in the midst of our society we have these areas in which food insecurity, food poverty and obesity are so prominent.
I could go on, but I quote at length from the amendment because the points in it need to be spelled out for all to hear. I am very glad that the amendment has been moved. It is a helpful way of bringing the production of food and the whole system of agriculture into a direct relationship within a comprehensive strategy for dealing with many of the social and immediate problems which confront us. It is a terrific amendment and I shall be glad to support it.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on moving this amendment, which on the face of it has much to commend it and covers a wide-ranging issue. In his introduction, he stated that he wanted to put in the Bill what the Government are committed to doing to deliver safe, healthy and affordable food to all. I cannot imagine that any Member of your Lordships’ House would disagree with that.
We are very fortunate to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is, of course, a member of the advisory panel on the national food strategy, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, all of whom have signed this amendment.
The noble Lord also went on to say that the Government are committed to publishing a White Paper six months after the publication of part 2 of what I call the Dimbleby report on the national food strategy. After that, Mr Dimbleby is invited to review progress six months later. My concern with the amendment, and I look forward to what the Minister will say in summing up the debate, is that it pre-empts part 2 of the national food strategy. It is not always that I say this, but again I commend the Minister in this regard, because the Government seem to be on the side of the angels and have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to produce his report. I pay tribute to Mr Dimbleby and all those who have contributed, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, Minette Batters and a host of others who have huge expertise and add great value in this field.
I understand, looking at the first part of the national food strategy, that the recommendation covers two main themes: making sure that a generation of our most disadvantaged children do not get left behind, that eating well in childhood is seen as the very foundation stone of equality and opportunity, and so it goes on; and then the second part of part 1, which I am going to draw on heavily when I come to later amendments. Mr Dimbleby talks of the essence of sovereignty being freedom, saying that this is a one-time opportunity to negotiate our new trade deals, that the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justifiably proud, and so it goes on.
So I am slightly confused, because I do not disagree with one iota of what is in this amendment. But there are many issues that I have found cause to criticise the Government on, and my noble friend has been patient in the extreme in listening to this, both outside and inside the Chamber, and I thank him for that. But when the Government have gone to the lengths of commissioning a national food strategy, are we not being a little pre-emptive in Amendment 58 before the House this evening?
My Lords, I support Amendment 58 on the national food strategy in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, connecting as it does to the useful Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which we have just debated and which recommends that government reports on food security should include assessments of household food insecurity.
As has been said, healthy food and a healthy environment are central to the Bill; therefore, it would be consistent with the Bill if the Secretary of State should present a food strategy to Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has indicated, its aims should be to increase sustainability of food production, to support food production and consumption and, not least, to improve dietary health and reduce obesity. I hope the Minister will back this proposal.
The new clause is titled “National Food Strategy” and I think the word “national” is important. I shall touch on only three points. Subsection 2(d) concerns public procurement. We do need central control to do something about public procurement. We have devolved so much to bodies such as schools, prisons, the MoD and the NHS in terms of the budgeting. Trying to get national policy without dictating the detail to them is very difficult and needs a cross-government effort. I know how difficult it is to do because I tried and failed. So that is one issue.
My second point concerns paragraph 3 and “developing an assurance scheme”. There needs to be a good government kitemark assurance scheme. To be honest, what we have is not satisfactory, whether it is Red Tractor or the RSPCA. They are all over the place. The public need to have something they can be absolutely confident about, and I therefore think that an assurance scheme that the Government have developed —in consultation, obviously—would carry an awful lot of weight.
My third point concerns the fourth paragraph, on marketing and promotion. Something like 40% of the food in the supermarkets is on promotion. On restriction, I am also in favour of the voluntary changes in reformulation. When I joined the Food Standards Agency, it was almost at the end of its programme to launch the reformulation to reduce salt, which was on a voluntary basis and was incredibly successful. The UN supported it at its conference in London because of the work of the FSA. That work was then removed to the Department of Health behind closed doors by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and that was the end of it, in a way. The reductions we have had are nowhere near as good as in the past.
That brings me to my final point. Much of what was required on obesity, and changing the attitude to promotion and marketing, was set out years ago. I only reluctantly mention the names of civil servants, but they have said things in public. Dr Alison Tedstone of Public Health England, who was formerly at the FSA, had all this planned out. She spoke to all-party groups about it when Theresa May was Prime Minister. Theresa May dumped it all—absolutely dumped the programme in terms of advertisements before the watershed and the obesity programme for children. So it is all there; we do not have to invent anything.
My final point ties in with what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said. I have been in the Minister’s place, getting up to say to the House, “Well, it’s in the Bill, we’re going to do it, you’re pre-empting something”, when deep down I really know that if I can get this in the Bill, it will be so much easier when I am back in the department to actually get the policy through. Because I do not believe the timetable that has been set out following Dimbleby 2 can be maintained unless there is a real parliamentary push, and the way to do that is to adopt Amendment 58.
My Lords, I too had the privilege of sitting on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee—and I am grateful to the Government for their response to our report. I would classify it in English as “disappointing,” in Scottish as “peely-wally,” and I think the amendment before us goes a long way towards implementing what was unanimously agreed in the report. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that to have it in the Bill now is the right way forward to help Defra in the future.
The quality of the food we eat is costing us all billions—costing this country a great deal of money, and unnecessarily. We are the processed food capital of Europe, and that is a number one spot that we should not be holding. It was the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who said that we want to encourage the production of good, healthy food. I argue that the farmers do produce good, healthy food now: it is the industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, that turns decent, good food into the poison that we are fed by supermarkets—all this ghastly processed food. Some of it is absolutely delicious, and you have to go for a second helping, but it is poison: it is doing us no good and it is costing the NHS, in due course, one heck of a lot of money.
So it is the industry. I remember that on one occasion we were interviewing Judith Batchelar of Sainsbury’s and then the British Retail Consortium. I pressed hard and it took a long time to get a final answer from Judith Batchelar, but she did finally say that Sainsbury’s would not sell chlorinated chicken. The British Retail Consortium, on the other hand, said, “Oh, no, we have no control over our members”. In other words, “We are not going to say anything, and we are certainly going to produce the cheapest food that we can find on the market.” The industry will be called to the table kicking and screaming against any change.
As so much of the food we eat is either fast food or from restaurants, we have absolutely no idea what we are being served. It is one thing to buy something with a label on it in a supermarket or a shop, but it is quite another when we eat outside our home and have absolutely no idea where the food comes from.
On a point of nitpicking detail with the amendment, I would have liked in subsection (4)(d), on food labelling, to have included the effects of climate change. I mentioned this quite a lot in Committee, and I hope my noble friend has read the book by Professor Bridle that I recommended to him, or at least his officials have and given him a precis of it.
Another point we raised in Committee which is hugely important to the whole of our national food strategy is what I would term Whitehall governance. It is not just Defra; there are numerous departments within government that are all involved in the food we eat, whether it is education—through schools—or the National Health Service, or whoever it is. Whitehall governance has also got to improve. It was quite clear from the number of Ministers we had to interview to get any sort of idea of what the Government were trying to do that it is not a joined-up process.
I believe this amendment would go a long way to push that in the right direction. I do not think my noble friend Lady McIntosh is right in saying that it will pre-empt part 2; it will strengthen the Government’s hand when part 2 is published. By that stage, the Government will be a little bit more ahead of the game than they are at the moment.
My Lords, this amendment would include in the Bill a new clause introducing a national food strategy. I understand that Henry Dimbleby’s team will publish part 2 of their review before the end of the year, and that the Government have committed to publish a White Paper within six months of that. I therefore believe this is the wrong place and the wrong time to try to legislate, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. However, I do agree with many things he said in his introductory speech. In this instance, I tend to agree with my noble friend Lady McIntosh rather than my noble friend Lord Caithness.
I believe that the best way to encourage people to improve their diet and reduce the problem of obesity—which seems to me also worthy of being described as a pandemic—is to produce policies that will maximise prosperity for all. The lower the proportion of household income that basic necessities such as food account for, the more people will choose to buy higher-quality and healthier food products. The creation of another non-departmental public body with powers to influence food policy, including the reformulation of less healthy foods by fiscal means, would run the risk of creating a vast, unaccountable bureaucracy, which would cause distortions in the market.
As noble Lords are well aware, the economy has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and unemployment is rising. Does my noble friend the Minister not agree that it is the wrong time to restrict the marketing, promotion and advertising of what the amendment calls “less healthy foods”? Surely it is not good for your health to eat large quantities of certain foods, but modest consumption of many foods containing salt does not harm most people in any way. I worry that a new body, or an existing organisation, that the noble Lord wishes to have oversight of these matters might overstep the mark, besides the obvious risk of tempting the nanny state to be overzealous, which would reduce personal responsibility for matters such as choice of diet and possibly even have counterproductive results.
I think that Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy can make an important contribution to public understanding of the importance of diet. However, the best way to ensure that a wide range of healthy food is available at reasonable prices is to ensure that our food markets will be free of the distortions that exist today as a result of our membership of the common agricultural policy.
My Lords, I wish to speak to this amendment, to which I have added my name, along with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for so excellently setting out the rationale for this amendment, and I declare my interest as the mother of a dietician. I am grateful to the Minister for his time, and that of his officials, in providing briefings.
In Committee we had a long debate on this issue, with a large number of speakers raising the issues around the need for a national food strategy. We were headed off by the Minister on the grounds that we were waiting for Henry Dimbleby to produce his first report. This has now happened, and I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this is unlikely to be actioned without something in the Bill.
I am sure the Minister will again try to head us off by wanting to wait until part 2 of Henry Dimbleby’s report is produced some time next year—it will not be produced this year, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, thinks. After the second report has been produced and digested, the Government have promised to produce a White Paper consultation on the food strategy within six months. After that consultation, a food strategy will appear at some time, but this could well be in 2022. I ask the Minister to give some clarity on the timescales in his response.
There cannot be many in the country who do not know that a healthy diet and exercise are vital if we are to avoid the rigours of diabetes and obesity or avoid falling victim to Covid-19. However, for many people, knowing that a healthy diet and exercise are needed does not necessarily mean that they fully understand what a healthy diet is, what foods they should avoid and which they should eat more of. Other noble Lords have produced really frightening statistics on the health of the nation.
The amendment is specific: nutritious, healthy food must be readily available. The rise in the popularity of television cooking programmes shows that people are interested in the preparation of interesting-looking food made from fresh ingredients. However, many TV adverts we see scheduled, especially from large supermarket chains, often feature food that is high in fat, salt and sugars, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has referred.
Beefburgers are a prime example. To me, the images on the screen are not that appetising, but I am sure that for those who regularly consume beefburgers, they are enticing and encourage them to fill their supermarket baskets with them. There is nothing wrong with beefburgers, eaten occasionally, made at home with fresh meat and without the addition of salt and sugar. However, when eaten on a daily basis, as they will be in some households—especially those who are on low incomes and cannot afford electricity to cook meals, and find it easier to go to the takeaway— they do not improve life chances. My noble friend Lord Greaves has given examples of ready meals and their quality, and I am sure that most of us have had one of these at some stage in our lives. Getting manufacturers to reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar is key to improving diet—the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has said it all so much better.
In this House, we have a duty to do all we can to improve the diet of the nation. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, my daughter is a dietician and frequently says to me, “What are you doing about it?”. Alone, I cannot do a great deal, but together we can make a difference. This amendment is one way in which we can make a difference. On our virtual Benches we will support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I urge your Lordships to support this amendment, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to this amendment, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and I thank all noble Lords who have added their support in this debate.
In Committee we tabled an amendment calling for a national food plan to complement the previous clause on food security, and we had a very useful debate which highlighted the need to anchor a food strategy to the funding of farming for the future. Since then, considerably more thought has gone into what the shape of a national food strategy should be, and we believe that this amendment sets out a clear road map for the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made clear, it was well informed by the excellent Lords report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food, a substantial piece of work which highlights the need for action in many of the priorities set out in this amendment. It makes the link between the food we grow, the environmental impact and the public health consequences of a poor diet and emphasises the need for a standardised set of reporting metrics on health and sustainability as well as an adherence to procurement standards. It also calls for the establishment of a national food strategy, backed up by the establishment of an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, with responsibility for strategic oversight of its implementation. That is what this amendment seeks to deliver.
I have to say that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, seemed determined to ignore all the evidence, which shows that a lack of access to healthy food, along with poor diets and poverty are driving up levels of diet-related obesity and non-communicable disease. This adds something in the region of £6 billion a year to the NHS bill. There is a cost to this nation from inaction and a benefit to the agricultural sector if we can shift the solution to healthier food production and away from ultra-processed food. The Government need to address these issues.
In parallel with the work of the Lords committee, we know that Henry Dimbleby has also been working on a national food strategy. His interim report was published in July, and a more substantial final report covering many of these issues is due next year. We welcome that initiative. The Government have committed to publish a White Paper within six months of its publication and to follow up the recommendations, which is obviously a welcome step forward. However, there is no obligation on the Government to agree or to enact his proposals, or indeed to follow up the recommendations in our own Lords report. My noble friend Lord Rooker rightly reminded us that Governments have form on not following through on excellent reports of the past. Our amendment therefore seeks to provide legislative assurance that these proposals will be followed up with actions.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that we are not attempting to pre-empt or prejudge what the recommendations will be; we went to great lengths not to do that. We are asking only that the Government take them seriously and come up with their own food strategy within a set timeframe. Our amendment requires that the strategy be laid before Parliament within 12 months of the day that the Bill is passed, which we believe is reasonable and achievable. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made clear, it is too urgent for any further delay.
For all the reasons articulated by noble Lords, a national food strategy, based on the issues set out in our amendment, is vital for improving the health of the nation. It is essential that our future agricultural policies are aligned with policies that deliver healthier food to feed the nation. It is a fundamental responsibility of government to act on this issue and to ensure that its agriculture, environment and public health strategies are all joined up on this issue.
I also thank the Minister for his helpful meeting yesterday. We had hoped to persuade him to make this a government amendment, and I still hope that we have persuaded him and he can make that commitment today. However, if that is not possible, I ask all noble Lords to support this amendment if it is put to a vote.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords. I am well aware of the mindset of many of your Lordships, having had discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and other noble Lords yesterday, as well as from what has been said today.
However, I open by saying that the Government are committed to developing a food strategy. I thought that in some of the contributions it appeared as if this was not the case so I point out that commitment, which will support the development of a sustainable, resilient and affordable food system, support people to live healthy lives, and protect animal health and welfare. I say to my noble friend Lord Dundee—without any chiding—that that is why the Government have already commissioned an independent review into the whole of the food sector. The review was launched in June 2019, and in July this year the first report was released, dealing with some of the most urgent questions raised by Covid-19 and EU exit.
The final report from Henry Dimbleby’s review is expected to be published in 2021. It will provide an opportunity to analyse the food system in this country and put forward—yes—an ambitious and comprehensive plan for transforming it. Although it will be for the independent team to develop its final report, it will examine the food system from root to branch, analysing in detail the economics and power dynamics that shape it, the benefits it brings and the harm it does. In doing so, it will look across the interwoven issues of health, climate change—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Caithness—biodiversity, pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases and the sustainable use of resources.
The Agriculture Bill is a framework Bill, and it is unusual to put detailed commitments into this enabling legislation. The Government have been very firm on their commitment to publish a food White Paper within six months of Henry Dimbleby’s final report—my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to that. It is only reasonable to say that we will need that time to reflect and secure agreement from all government departments ahead of Henry Dimbleby’s final recommendations.
We must also be careful not to pre-empt the contents of the final report, providing the independent team the opportunity to assess independently which measures would be most effective for our food system. Specifying what the White Paper must cover at this stage brings with it the risk that it directs thinking in a certain way, which could lead to new and innovative ideas being missed. It would therefore be premature to set out exactly what the Government’s food strategy must cover in the way that the amendment prescribes. The Government also have an issue with fixing a timetable without certainty on the publication date of the final report.
I also see this amendment in the context of the food security reports. Matters such as food supply and consumption, food safety, the resilience of the supply chain for food and household expenditure are already stated as being within the scope of these food security reports. The first report is be published on or before the last sitting day before Christmas for both Houses of Parliament. This report will also include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the United Kingdom, which was a key focus of the first report from the national food strategy. These reports will therefore certainly support the development and fulfilment of an ambitious food strategy.
I am also grateful for the Hungry for Change report, published this July by our Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment. We will of course be building on a wide range of work as we develop our food strategy, including that report and many others.
I will cut in here and say that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned diet, but only one noble Lord referred candidly to exercise: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, obviously has a lifetime’s commitment to access and walking. Again, this is not just one thing but a combination of many issues that we have to grapple with.
Tackling public health and food issues properly requires a joined-up and practical approach across government departments, which goes beyond this Bill alone. During the Covid crisis, collaboration between government departments has been vital to ensuring that the food system receives the required support. We set up a joint ministerial food and essential supplies to the vulnerable taskforce, and throughout the crisis this example of cross-government working ensured that vulnerable people had access to food.
We are committed to continuing this level of collaboration and engagement across government to develop and deliver a new food strategy, as will be set out in the White Paper. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness, for example, that Defra is already working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that improving public health is a core priority of government policy.
Covid-19 has brought the risks of obesity and other health issues into sharp focus. As we all identify, it is more important than ever that people achieve a healthier lifestyle. The Government launched their new obesity strategy on
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to his concern about “sooner or later”. I understand that, of course. There is an imperative about the Government’s work in seeking out Henry Dimbleby to bring this forward, and our promise remains to bring forward a White Paper within six months of the final Dimbleby report. If we are on target, Royal Assent to this Bill is probably in October. Advancing this amendment, we are voting, if that is noble Lords’ wish, for something the Government will have to reject in the other place in the end—I must not conjecture on what the other place will do—because of the timing.
I say honestly, and can commit this across government, that I am fully confident that the plans already in place by the Government to develop a comprehensive food strategy will deliver the intent behind this very laudable amendment. There are issues, as in all these things. My noble friend Lord Caithness said he would have liked this or that. There are issues in putting something in the Bill now, but I think we are all united in wanting to ensure that our food system is fair, affordable, healthy and sustainable.
I understand the mood of the House. I think I assess the mood of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, although I must not pre-empt him. I ask him to withdraw his amendment because of the points I have made genuinely. The Government are developing a food strategy; it is an issue of timing. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has been engaged in the Dimbleby report. She, more than anyone else, can confirm that this is a report of the utmost depth and rigour. The Government will want to have at least six months—or within the six months, as I have said—to make sure we get cross-Whitehall collaboration to bring forward something of lasting value to every person in this country.
My reasoning for asking the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to withdraw his amendment is not to reject his and other noble Lords’ very distinguished role in bringing this matter forward but to be honest in saying that I think there are difficulties because of the timing. I respect whatever the noble Lord does, but that is why I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and the Minister for his careful and considered response. Overall, there has been very strong support for the amendment, with some excellent speeches. I will mention just a few points; I cannot really do justice to them all.
My noble friend Lady Boycott made the important point that, in spite of all the efforts made in recent years, things are still heading in the wrong direction. The Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report highlights some stark statistics to support this. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also emphasised the urgency and pointed out that the current strategy is to let the industry rip. She also highlighted, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the importance of metrics and measurements to ensure that we know whether we are moving in the right direction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, spoke eloquently on type 2 diabetes and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on food waste. As the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rooker, said, this amendment brings muscle to matters we have discussed many times. With his ministerial experience, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, put it like this: the Government have been sitting on it for years. We know what needs to be done but simply have not been acting on it.
There were those who invoked the infamous principle of the unripe time: the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the Minister. As I—and, I believe, others—have said, the principle of the unripe time is always a way of putting things off. This problem is too urgent to defer indefinitely into the future. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, when people put it to us, we have to ask ourselves, “What have we done about it? What are we doing about it? Are we content to sit on our hands, delay and wait for Dimbleby’s report and whatever the Government may do afterwards, or are we determined to try to press for action now?”.
As the Minister said in his very careful and considered response, the Government are committed to the development of a national food strategy via the Dimbleby report and it will be a thorough report—but we have heard no guarantee that the report will be implemented in full, nor that there will be some long-term independent oversight of the implementation of the strategy. Although the Minister has done his very best to reassure us and to give as strong a commitment as he can, for me— and, I believe, many other Members of this House— the issues are of such urgency that we cannot wait. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 280, Noes 218.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 59. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 18: Declaration relating to exceptional market conditions