Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45 pm, 30th October 2018

As I said at the outset, this is—from us, at least—a probing amendment, so we will not push it to a vote. I was intrigued by some of the Minister’s arguments; the nuance between self-sufficiency and food security was interesting. I have always thought that with more self-sufficiency came greater food security, but maybe I am naive about that. The Minister dealt with the issue of farmers’ lack of forage during the recent drought. It does not matter whether farmers are more self-sufficient or trying to work out a more secure supply—the reality is that there was no supply. It is all well and good to talk about open markets, but farmers were looking everywhere for sufficient forage for their animals for the winter. Lots of them are facing real financial difficulty; if they bought at the wrong time, they are paying through the nose because of their problems in not being able to get sufficient grass from their land.

I take the Minister’s point—it is a clever argument, but when it comes down to the practicalities, I am not sure it is one that I would buy completely. Likewise, he lauds the fact that, for some of our foodstuffs, there are greater movements towards what I would see as self-sufficiency. The market I know best is milk, because I have a former Dairy Crest factory at the bottom of my garden, which is now owned by Müller Wiseman. The milk industry is classic—we should be 100% self-sufficient, and we are not only because of the craziness of the relationship between the farmers, the processors and the retailers. The reality is that it is a very difficult market, and we cannot provide enough of our own milk because that relationship has never been good. That is a reason why, right at the beginning, we had the milk marketing boards, which functioned well for many years. They were seen as very state-led, but we produced enough of our own milk, as was reflected in the price.