Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham 3:39 pm, 31st March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. To start with, I have no formal interest to declare but, for transparency, I should put it on the record that my wife’s family are arable farmers and occasionally, for no remuneration, I help out on the family farm. Indeed, in the last summer recess, I thought that I had found a time when I would be able to enjoy the harvest, but, in inclement weather, it greatly amused my father-in-law instead to send me deep into the bowels of the combine to clean it out from the previous harvest—a job that I wish on nobody else.

The debate is important, and I congratulate Deidre Brock on initiating it. I did not agree with every word she said and I expect that she would be pretty appalled if I did, but, as food security is a subject facing our nation, it is absolutely right and proper that we debate it this afternoon. Actually, I have agreed with a lot of points that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have made. I particularly enjoyed the more ranty elements from Luke Pollard. I agree with him: we should be growing and producing more food domestically and we absolutely should be wasting considerably less, if not wasting no food whatever, here in our United Kingdom. Where I think we will probably diverge and disagree is in my belief that trade deals and the outlook of global Britain will be part of the categoric success, prosperity and future of British agriculture. As my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall said, we can export more and drive farmers to a point at which our debates about subsidy will not be relevant anymore, because we will have British agriculture in a place where it is genuinely profitable and sustainable. Subsidy is absolutely essential for the time being, but the end point must surely be profitability in British agriculture.

On the debate on how we produce more food in this country, I will not repeat many of the points eloquently made by other hon. and right hon. Members, not least the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Neil Parish, but my concern right now, which I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to work on across Government, is how we protect more of our agricultural land for food production.

This week, in the Government’s welcome announcements about the use of urea and the farming rules for water, in which they also set out more detail on the sustainable farming incentive, they have shown that they can be flexible and rise to the challenge of global factors and other things that impact on our farming community. That flexibility needs to be shown not just in how we get to the end point of ELMS—the environmental land management schemes—but on the other factors, which are not necessarily in the gift of DEFRA but are in the gift of other Departments, that relate to protecting that land.

My example is solar farms. We had a good debate about large solar farms in Westminster Hall some weeks ago. There are a lot of applications for them in my constituency. The vast majority of people accept the need for the renewable energy sector to develop that technology and get us off fossil fuels. However, that cannot be at the cost of hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land—certainly thousands of acres of agricultural land in my own constituency. I must say that I take the planning consultants’ defence that sheep can still be grazed underneath the solar panels with a very large pinch of salt, because of course if the fields have been covered with the plastic, glass and metal that make up the solar panels, I am not sure how they expect grass to grow underneath them. I urge the Minister to work with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in particular to work out a way to ensure that we get the solar technology that we need in this country, but on rooftops, factories and brownfield sites rather than taking away the precious agricultural land in our rural communities.

Very powerful and good points were made on both sides of the Chamber about food poverty. We are doing other things in Government—particularly through some of the provisions in the Health and Care Bill, which is on its way through Parliament—about high in fat, salt and sugar, products, about “Buy one, get one free” offers and about where shopkeepers can and cannot place certain products in their shop and how they may be advertised. We need to acknowledge that that will have a huge impact on the price of food and on the food bill when families get to the checkout. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members want to do something about the problem of childhood obesity. However, we must not do that in a way that, first, will not work, as the Government’s own data shows—the advertising restrictions save only 1.7 calories a day—and will also drive up food bills. If we are to have food security in this country, and have affordable food for everyone, we must be wary of the unintended consequences of other policy areas.

We must look to other sources of meat. In the business statement earlier, I was happy to raise the point that six NHS hospitals are getting more game meat into their menus. I am sure that Kerry McCarthy will be delighted to hear this; we need to get more game meat into the food chain.