Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:45 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 3:45 pm, 31st March 2022

I am grateful for the intervention. That is a very important point. There will always be conflict over land use; there will always be competing purposes, and we must be aware of the perverse incentives to take prime agricultural land out of food production. That would leave us more vulnerable to international shocks and not more resilient. We must put food production far higher on our agenda.

We have seen action after action that has made farming more difficult because of political decisions. The sector was already reeling from Brexit and covid, and now the dreadful events in Ukraine have every single light on farming’s dashboard flashing red. The input costs for feed have gone up, and supply is becoming more difficult. Fuel costs—red diesel and gas—are all going up. Fertiliser costs are rocketing. Labour shortages are real, and are increasing costs—in fact, I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on the increase in the hourly wage to £10.10 an hour for seasonal workers, because that also increases costs, already, with labour shortages. Finally, UK trade policy—which always puts the interests of farmers first, but it is a shame that those are farmers in other countries—is weakening our food production domestically.

The SNP’s position is clear. It is a discussion for another day, but we have a clear agenda that we want to achieve: we want to get back into the European Union, the single market and the common agricultural policy. We think that would be far and away the best solution to support agriculture. In the last couple of weeks the EU has just announced a €1.5 billion support fund for farmers. The UK needs to match that urgency and priority, but other things need to be done, too.

In Scotland we have maintained pillar 1 payments and the drift of policy in England is regrettable and needs to be reversed. I would like to see pillar 1 payments retained and reintroduced as policy, or, if not as policy, as an emergency measure to get farmers through the crisis. We need to reduce red diesel duty to zero and address energy costs via a price cap on input, and we urgently need to review immigration policy to ensure labour supply. I urge the Government to consider loan guarantees along the lines of the covid support for agricultural businesses that face a short-term—hopefully—crisis in their cash flow. We need to prioritise agriculture in future trade deals, and anything that undermines indigenous food production must be viewed with scepticism. We need to see proper scrutiny of supermarkets and the role of multiples in the supply chain.

My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine. Our interdependence and international solidarity have come into sharp relief lately, but so has our lack of resilience. That lack of resilience and the social consequences of rising food costs are affecting every community that we all represent. If the Icelandic volcano in 2010 was a wake-up call, the events in Ukraine show that our resilience must be prioritised more, and food production must be at the heart of that resilience. There is lots that we can do, and I will work with anybody to help promote that agenda.