Food and Farming: Employment Opportunities — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 25th April 2017.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 2:30 pm, 25th April 2017

I was talking about a story that was written several decades ago, but the hon. Gentleman is right. What encourages me is that, when I am out and about on farms or visiting food and farming businesses, I see a number of young people engaged in them, particularly girls. I am a member of the Science and Technology Committee, which is doing a huge amount of work to understand how we can encourage more girls and young women into STEM subjects, because there is a shortage of them and they provide a viewpoint from which we can and must benefit.

My next point might help to reassure the hon. Gentleman. The Department for Education must encourage schools and careers services to work with the industry. It is vital that the Department understands that, although the five GCSEs that we all want our young people to achieve are important, we need to work equally hard within our schools to help young people to realise the opportunities that are available to them outside the school gates in their local area. That would be of huge benefit in addressing some of the challenges that exist. It could allow young people to avoid the pressures of getting into student debt, which I know concerns many people. I am asking the Department for Education to work with the industry to promote farming as an aspirational career, and to establish better links between farming and STEM subjects and their applications.

To conclude, the agricultural industry has been incredibly resilient and courageous in facing numerous challenges in the past. The problems it faces today require the same approach to be adopted. We must be able to maintain the vibrancy of the rural economy and we must also continue to meet our food security needs. Overseas conflict and increasing population growth mean that British farming must have the capability to produce the lion’s share of the food we need to feed this nation, and young people—both girls and boys—offer us an opportunity to meet that challenge. The fishing industry also needs fresh blood. Ensuring that youngsters are recruited to fill the jobs available is crucial not only for the future of south-west Cornwall, but for the future of the entire UK fishing fleet.