|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I want also to touch on some of the comments made by Members. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) made a tremendously thoughtful speech, much of which I agree and sympathise with. I do not go all the way with him, however. He is a strong supporter of the organic movement, and it has a great part to play, but what he did not doI would welcome a debate on
this on another occasionis address the fundamental dilemma that organic production has lower yields than conventional systems. If we are worried about food security and total production, that crucial dilemma must be dealt with.
The hon. Gentleman also rightly referred to the abuse of words such as fresh, natural and pure. I am reminded of the recent Cardhu whisky case involving the difference between pure malt and single malt whisky, which eventually had to be resolved by legislation. There is clearly room for a lot more work there.
My hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury and for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), both former promoters of similar legislation, made clear their understandably intense anger that the Government have not taken the matter forward. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk referred to the operation of the market and the need for the Government to push much harder in Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) put forward a number of other issues, including tuberculosis, regulations and the cider tax, all of which need to be addressed. The TB issue was also referred to by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson).
Finally, my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) and for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) again emphasised the importance of local food and proper labelling, and my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury made a pertinent comment about the export of cruel and lower standards to other countries if we operate ahead of others.
Much has also been said about food security, and I hope the Minister who responds to the debate will answer some fundamental questions. The Secretary of State has been in post for more than one and a half years, yet all that seems to have changed is the rhetoric. His predecessor, the current Foreign Secretarypresumably until the present Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gets promoted, as seems to be the fashion in this Governmentsaid in this House that food security was achieved by importing from many different countries. That was met with laughter and astonishment. We have had new rhetoric from the current Secretary of State, at the Oxford farming conference and last week before the National Farmers Union, that he wants to increase domestic productionno ifs, no buts. That is what he said.
What are we to make, however, of DEFRAs website? We find pages dedicated to further reform of the common agricultural policy and to the document published in December 2005, A Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy, which was signed off by the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, and the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, now the Minister for Housing. That document is still published on DEFRAs website as the Governments vision for the CAP, and I quote, as I have before in debates in this House, the following statement:
domestic production is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for food security.
The Secretary of States argument is to increase domestic production, no ifs, no buts, as long as the consumer wants it and it is environmentally sustainable. We support that. Who in their right mind would not support it? However, the Secretary of State left out in his proclamations of the last couple of weeks a number of other ifs and buts: If you can comply with all the regulatory burden; if you can afford the extra storage to comply within the nitrate vulnerable zone regulations; if you can find time to do any farming after you have filled in all the Government forms. There are also a few more buts: But the Government wont help you to combat TB; but they will charge you for disease control; but you still wont get your money when other countries do; but we will demand repayment if we overpay youyoull pay up at once; but we wont demand British standards for public-procured food; but you will have to face increased integrated pollution prevention and control or IPPC, you will have to face electronic identification or EID, and you will have to face the availability of pesticides.
There are a lot more buts that the Secretary of State left out, one of which is that we are at the butt end of this Government. They are content to remain in office until the very last moment, but we have learned from this debate that they are prepared to let farmers and consumers suffer while they twiddle their thumbs. The final but is that it is time for the Government to butt out.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I thank the House for a generally balanced and interesting debate. Once again, I welcome the Opposition spokesmenwith one exceptionto their new roles. Comment was made that this Front-Bench team was charming. I was going to begin my remarks by saying that the Opposition Front Benchers were charming and a little disarming, although those last comments were not.
The debate has covered an issue that is of concern not only to all involved in the food sector, but to consumers in this country. Rightly, food and how it is produced has never been so high on the public agenda. Why is that? It is because the food market is changing rapidly, and people want and rightly demand healthy, nutritious products produced with a low environmental impact, from sustainable sources and with high standards of animal welfare, clear provenance and environmentally sound distribution. Many of those factors have been raised in this debate. We must also be cognisant of the fact that people also want their food to be convenient and good value. That is a challenge, but for those across the supply chain it is also a unique opportunity. We want to support producers, farmers and everyone in the supply chain to take advantage of this opportunity. That is the only way in which we will build a healthy, thriving agricultural sector.
Opposition Members provided some interesting examples of where they feel that labelling has gone wrongindeed, there was almost product placement of Marks and Sparks, Birds Eye, and the Co-op and the farmers market in Arundel, which I know we shall all be visitingbut I think that we all agree on the main principle: that we should do all that we can to help British consumers make an informed choice about what they buy and to buy British and support British farmers by choice.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) made a speech that was very thoughtful in places, but he seemed to be urging us to go back to the sixties a bit, with price fixing at farm gates. His contribution was well-meaning and thoughtful, but consumers will take note and will probably panic at the idea of a Lib Dem Minister pricing the pork off the dinner table in times of economic downturn. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who I believe is in his place, in an intervention urged him to think again, but in another re-run of decades ago suggested that the solution was getting out of Europe. Both approachesturning our back on Europe or turning our back on the hard-pressed consumerare a retreat from reality.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) suggested that when Labour came to power we not only had an antipathy towards rural areas, but we actually despised them. That would come as a surprise to the chair of my local farmers union. In 1997I know that the hon. Gentleman arrived in this place two years laterthere were 120 Labour MPs representing rural seats, all advocating hard on behalf of their constituents. He also urged us to show leadership. Is that leadership to get out of Europe or into isolation in Europe? Which would be the better for farmers and which would be the better for consumers?
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), with whom I have regularly debated various issues in different roles, was very angry. I wondered what my right hon. Friend the Minister had done to wind him up, because he is not normally so angry. We were urged to show determination, and I agree that we need to show determination, as this is a real issue. The hon. Gentleman also spoke up for Hereford beef, which is indeed world class. Together with Welsh Black beef and others, it is recognised for its quality and how it is produced.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) raised valid concerns about the pig industry. He made some thoughtful comments, but in an apparent Freudian slip he said that it has not had the protection. He instantly corrected himself, saying that that was not the right word, and he was right. I hope that the House agrees that the last thing that would be in the interests of our farmers, producers, retailers and consumers would be to withdraw into some sort of protectionist mentality. The hon. Gentleman insisted that we will not argue the case with the Commissioner [ Interruption. ] We will argue the case with the Commissioner, but let us do so on a case with which we have a scintilla of possibility of success, as opposed to the wording of the Conservative motion.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) is the chair of the all-party cheese group. I would have dearly loved to have recommended to him my father-in-laws pecorino and ricotta, which were lovingly made from sheeps milk on a farm nestling in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, but it is unfortunately now out of production, and I do not have to declare an interest. The hon. Gentleman made some thoughtful and useful comments on nutritional information that enriched the debate that we have had this evening.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) paid tribute to the lamb from his constituency. He knows that Welsh lamb as a brandlike Hereford and othershas
succeeded in overcoming many obstacles by clearly identifying its origin as a mark of quality and integrity. That is why people search it out. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) spoke with passion about mandatory labelling, but the Oppositions proposal is unworkable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) rightly reminded the House of the importance of food security, which can often get lost in technical debate, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), in an intelligent and cogent analysis of the issue from the common-sense perspective of the consumer. His speech was wide ranging: he managed to combine the car industry and the Cumberland sausageI hesitate to say it, but they are two good examples of British bangers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South argued for a mandatory system to counter the exploitation of labelling and the consumer. There are several ways to do that. We can do it through working with the EU, as we are doing. We can do it by working with producers and the food chain in the UK, as we are doing. We can also explore what else can be done on mandating, but not as in the proposal in the Opposition motion, which would be bound to fail. The question for the Opposition is whether they want us to ignore the ways in which we can make progress nowin Europe and with British retailers and farmers. The problem is that sitting here as legislators, they see legislation and regulation as the only answer. It is the classic issue of a workman who has only a hammer in his toolbox, so everything looks like a nail. We need to use all the tools at our disposal.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has made clear, we need to help people to buy British if they wish and if they choose. For the past 10 years, the Government have been at the forefront of helping consumers to make informed choices. We have established the Food Standards Agency, we have brought into being the traffic light system and we have set out tough guidelines on country of origin labelling
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|