Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 1:45 pm, 21st July 2022

My Lords, I am deeply grateful, as always, for the piercing analysis and persistent pressure of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He consistently reminds not just the House but the country, especially the Government, of what matters most to the heart and the mind. I also say at this juncture—I hope not just on my behalf but on behalf of the whole House—that we hope this is not the last time the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, answers a debate of this nature. He is hugely loved and appreciated across the House and we hope he stays in post—please note, those who have responsibility.

This is a difficult debate. We are talking with huge anxiety about issues we can barely affect. One of the reasons for that is the ineptitude of the United Nations as an organisation. I encourage the Minister to depart from his brief, if he feels able, and express a view. The UN Security Council, which ought to be able to discuss and decide how to respond to crises of this nature, has a permanent member whose veto will ensure that no action is possible. We may continue to wring our hands for the next few years or decades, but do we not need to come to a point at which the free countries of the world, which we hope will maintain a generous engagement and involvement in the world’s development for the poorest, make a decision about the right to reside in the UN Security Council?

At what point does the post-war settlement have to change? What thinking have Her Majesty’s Government put into the prospects of a long war in Ukraine, driven by Russia’s evil intentions and our inability to take action? We must stare at our enemy across the circle in New York and simply utter platitudes that cannot get decisions. That is not something that I or any of us can give a straight answer to, but if government is not thinking about it, we are all in trouble. Government needs to think about it.

Two friends asked me this morning why I am speaking in a debate on Ukraine; it is not my normal area of interest. Africa definitely is, however, and I remind the House of my roles as a vice-president of UNICEF, an ambassador for Tearfund, the chairman of the council of ZANE, the Zimbabwe aid agency, and a governor of the M-PESA academy in Nairobi, Kenya. One of our students, a wonderful young man from Somalia, graduated three weeks ago. He went back to the Kakuma refugee camp and immediately found that his mother was unable to afford his existence, simply because food prices had rocketed to such an extent in the matter of weeks that he had been absent—he was born in a refugee camp and lived with refugee status—that his mother was unable to feed him. We assisted and all will be well, but it brought it home in such sharp relief: ordinary people struggling with difficult and complex backgrounds are fighting again for the basics of survival.

As always, and as we have heard in so many other speeches, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a litany of statistics that have come in the endless briefs, which are incredibly helpful. There is no need to repeat them, but I want to press two other points. We are conscious that at the moment we are looking at a mass food distribution problem, not just because of the limitations of food available from Ukraine and Russia but simply because our world has become used to waste.

I decided to spend some time this morning checking what and how much we waste. A third of all food produced in the world is wasted, 55% of it by those of us in the North. The European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States account for some of the largest wasters on earth. By percentage levels, Belgium comes in just after the United States. That is ironic, as Belgium is the headquarters of many esteemed institutions that ought to be better resourced in how to deal with that waste. Some 3 trillion meals are wasted every single year. Were we to galvanise our efforts with the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted in the world, that would represent 10 meals per day for every starving child or adult to whom we have referred in this debate.

Why is this important for us? This has to become a moment of national effort. This morning we heard that the gas has been turned back on for Germany, but Germans are being encouraged to save gas to be ready for the autumn lack. It may get more difficult. It may become impossible to light their gas fires or even to power up their electricity supplies. Saving gas is a way of saving the country’s impending problem.

We need a national effort to save food. We need a European effort to save food. We need a G7 effort to save food. We need a G20 effort to save food. I am not aiming to be political in any way at all, but this is why we need alliances such as the European Union—so that we can save on the things we waste so easily and freely. If we do not save food and we continue to throw and trash it, 52.5% of all food in the United Kingdom will continue to be thrown away daily from restaurants, supermarkets and households. We are wasting while others are starving, and we need an effort driven from the centre and from the top—not just by NGOs but by the Government—to save and redistribute food. At the moment we have nothing at all from government on that issue.

We also need to consider how we think about loose resources, not necessarily gained by ill means but thrown around in a careless society where waste is so evident. Yesterday I noticed the EuroMillions lottery win of £195 million. That is $234 million, which represents $2 for 117 million people—that is the population of Ethiopia. One person will benefit with largesse and extreme gain, while millions will starve. I hear some saying, “But come on, you can’t take away the free-gotten gains of individuals”. How long will we watch millions starve, as Putin may wish, so that we become desperate in our alternative foreign policy options?

I note also—this may be uncomfortable for the Minister, but I hope not—that his current boss announced this morning that she could find £30 billion of tax cuts to be announced within the first week of her premiership, should she get there. It is worth noting, as Iain Duncan Smith did in campaigning for Liz Truss yesterday, that there is now tax headroom for substantial cuts. This year and last the United Kingdom cut our aid budget by £5 billion each time, meaning that when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable we are stripping ourselves of the ability to do so.

This should be a moment for stateswomanship or statesmanship at the helm of the Conservative Party, the Government and our nation. As we watch Ukraine drop down the headline list, and as we become more careless about what happens because we are more interested in how hot our homes are than in how desperate their lives are, we have to ask ourselves what kind of world we are creating in which we can watch such great waste, such careless abandon about public resources, such self-interest in public policy and such disregard for the destitute.