Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:15 pm, 30th October 2018

As a Government, we have set out our approach and what we intend to do with these powers. We have already published some policy papers alongside this Bill, which address many of those issues. The Secretary of State has talked about public access to the countryside and the role of farms in educating children, so we have set out clearly in the policy documents that accompany the Bill what we intend to do with these powers. Come the next election, I am sure that the Opposition will have manifesto commitments that will set out their approach and what they intend to do with the powers.

Another issue was raised by a number of hon. Members: that, fundamentally, the decisions about public health and healthy eating are very much around consumer understanding, consumer knowledge and consumer choice. That is why Public Health England has the “Eatwell” plate that it promotes. We have obviously already implemented the first chapter of the childhood obesity plan. We have introduced a levy on sugary soft drinks. We are currently working on the sort of second chapter of the childhood obesity plan.

We take the issue very seriously. Work on it is led by the Department of Health; it is very high up on that Department’s agenda. It is for the Department of Health to lead on and for us to support, and it goes outside the scope of this particular Bill, which is very much about schemes to support farming, the farmed landscape and our environment.

I will give a final example about sugar, which was raised by some Members. When quotas on sugar beet production were removed, some people said, “Shouldn’t we keep sugar beet quotas? That would be a way of restricting the growing of things that we think are bad for public health.” However, the reality is that the most powerful thing was the introduction of a levy on soft drinks; the value of the sugar that goes into a soft drink is actually tiny, and messing around with the price of sugar is not what delivers the outcome. What delivers the outcome is a levy on sugary drinks that drives policies of reformulation, and that is why the levy has been a success.

We know that some of these measures to try to mess with the supply side of the chain are actually blunt instruments when it comes to delivering public health outcomes.