Reports on impact on consumers

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 15th November 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:45 pm, 15th November 2018

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We have done some good work today, Mr Wilson. The new clause deals with what we make no apology for saying is a deficiency in the Bill. It is more to do with the consumption of agricultural products than their production, but it is to do with affordability, accessibility and sustainability—or any more abilities that we might want to include. It came out of the oral evidence sessions, and in particular that in which Erik Millstone and Terry Marsden—if Tim Lang had been available, he would have been there as well—referred to the three pillars: ecological farming, environmental protection and the link to food security and through to public health. That should be the triad underwriting the whole Bill.

We have been critical of the fact that, even though we are considering a Bill on agriculture, food rarely gets a mention. Health has disappeared completely, although, as I have said on a number of occasions, the original consultation paper was called “Health and Harmony”. It is disappointing that health has played such a limited role in the way the Bill has been constructed.

Millstone and Marsden talked about the need for some vision for a post-EU food system. The vision should include a mix of ecosystems and social and public health challenges that we should meet, of which the central one is food security. I know that is an issue that seems to have disappeared from everyone’s radar—in the noughties it was the issue, and we got very worried, on the back of BSE, foot and mouth and some of the horrible avian diseases that came our way, about our lack of food security. We seem to have allowed it to disappear from our mind so we have not paid due account to where it should be in the Bill.

This is not just something for me to wax lyrical about. There is huge support from the public, and they want leadership on food security. The public want to know that they have safe, secure and, dare I say, good food, produced with the highest animal welfare standards while meeting all the environmental protection legislation that we should be meeting as part of the EU. There seems to be a view that it will all be right when we leave at the end of March, but if we could secure some of the issues through legislation—presupposing the Bill gets through the House of Lords—we would not have to worry. The obligations would have to be met if they were in statute.

This is an important new clause and one for which I hope to achieve a degree of support across the Committee. Green and farmers organisations talked a lot, both in the oral evidence sessions and especially in written evidence, about the availability of food, who should have access to it and the need to recognise food poverty. We were disappointed that new clause 1 was not selected, because it would have provided an interesting debate on food poverty and who has access to good-quality, affordable food. If we cannot address that in an agriculture Bill, where can we do it? The Government should have started with a food strategy. It would have been sensible to move from that food strategy to the Agriculture Bill. The legislation would follow what we wanted to do with food, crucial as it is. Sadly, that has not transpired, so we have to do it this way.

The new clause is not particularly onerous. It does not ask the Government to do anything other than to report, but report they should, so that we know that we are moving in the right direction. The Bill is all about environmental standards and about changing the nature of the payment system—public money for public goods. Nothing could be more fundamental than deciding on what food is produced and for whom, on whether they can afford it, and on whether it can be distributed more efficiently.

I do not want to say much more at this stage. It is important for us to have a debate on the issue and to have some clarity on the Government’s thinking. If we had had a food strategy plan, as we have the environment 25-year plan, we would not have had to suggest an amendment to the Bill at this stage of its consideration. I hope the Government will at least recognise why we tabled our new clause. This is widely popular with not just the organisations but the public, who expect us to be doing such things. I hope that the Government will accept the change.

On affordability, dare I say it, even the Chair of the Select Committee, Neil Parish has said that food supply and food security have been “taken for granted”, that that “needs to be highlighted” and that it is a lot “about home production”. If he says that, let us put it into the Bill so that we can show that what is widely accepted across the House is something on which we are prepared to legislate.