Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 2:00 pm, 30th October 2018

I rise to support amendments 70 and 51. In response to the hon. Member for North Dorset, I should say that it is unfair to say that either amendment places an onus on the producer regarding what goes on to the plate of individuals who decided what or what not to buy.

Both amendments, in particular amendment 70, seek to increase the availability, affordability, diversity, quality and marketing of fruit, vegetables and other items. The Bill seeks to take a wider view of the agricultural sector—to see it right from the start to the end. We are looking now at where the Secretary of State can place moneys to emphasise and promote. When we talk about public health, one aspect is the food itself but another is the overriding story—and I use that word carefully. There is the mental health approach that flows from good quality food, when people understand the nutritional value of the purchase and the story back to the individual farm or farmers who produced it.

This country’s health should be broader than just the narrow nutritional value and include children’s understanding of where their meat, vegetables and fruit come from. One aspect, raised and agreed across the House, is the importance of the educational element. That is the responsibility of farmers but also of communities, parents and the Government. Should our farmers not benefit financially if they open their farms, against some very strict health and safety protocols, to allow children in to see where the potatoes and carrots grow in the fields, as they do in my constituency of East Lothian? That is an important element of growing up that, along with seasonality, has become separated from a lot of children’s and citizens’ understanding of the availability of food.

Both the amendments, in particular amendment 70, lend emphasis to that, to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to provide support to that wider educational and nutritional need. It is not a case of the Secretary of State dictating what does or does not go on to somebody’s plate or what they choose to do with food when they purchase it; the issue is about the ability to put that holistic view envisaged by the Bill and to allow farmers to receive payments and support for the good work that they can do at their stage.