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Rory Stewart: Yes. As the hon. Lady will realise, the challenge of setting the right target is that it is difficult, thinking forward to 2030, to work out what is desirable, feasible and affordable, and what the different cost-benefit calculations will be. There will always be a tendency on the part of any Government, whether the previous Labour Government or ours, to set targets that are achievable. Equally, we need to be pushed to work harder; we need ambitious targets to make us get out of bed in the morning and shove towards them. I am happy to sit down and examine those targets in detail and talk through the constraints.

The more good ideas people have and the more technological solutions are developed, the easier it will be for us to meet those targets. To take an example from the debate on Tuesday with the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about targets for nitrogen dioxide emissions, a leap forward to electric vehicles would totally transform our ability to meet those targets if we do not make enough progress in 10 years. It is not quite the same with food waste, but there are many ideas. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) pointed out the numerous innovations in food that could help us reach those targets. I am happy to discuss that in more detail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) discussed fantastic models for community shops. I want to talk about that more generally at the end of this debate. Much of what the Department is taking away from this debate is that the best examples are at local level. It is not a question of civil servants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or Ministers having all the bright ideas; we should be listening much more attentively to what is being generated by the NGO sector, community shops and individual constituencies, and learning from them.

My hon. Friend made a good point about the French model. He and the hon. Member for Bristol East discussed the astonishing statistics and why France appears to be able to conserve such a staggeringly high proportion of food. One thing that I genuinely do not know and would be very interested to talk about is the extent to which French fiscal instruments, particularly the French ability to count food donations and donations in kind against their tax bills, does or does not provide a perverse incentive; we need to focus on that. If the result of those instruments is to increase the amount of excess food that the French produce, because they are confident that they can then receive donation-in-kind tax benefits from disposing of it, that is not something we would want to encourage. We need to be very careful with these tax incentives to ensure that trying to do something that we want to do—making sure that that food gets to people who really need it—does not end up encouraging people, in a perverse way, to produce more food than they need to.

Kerry McCarthy: In response to the Lords Committee’s inquiry, the Government said they would not reassess their opposition to fiscal measures to increase food redistribution before considering the European Commission’s communication on sustainability of the food system. I understand that that communication has now been shelved—we had waited quite a long while for it to be published—and that a more ambitious circular economic strategy will be

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published later this year. Will the Minister take part in discussions on whether we can include incentives for food waste distribution in that strategy? I appreciate that it is very early days for him in his job, but I urge him to do so.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, and I will take on that message. However, having got into trouble on Tuesday for speculating about Treasury fiscal measures, I will not say anything about that issue at all. Nevertheless, the point is taken; we need to concentrate hard on this matter. Basically, the way that we will make progress on this issue is by sitting down with people who know a lot about the subject, such as the hon. Lady, and getting them to hold us to account and push us to do better. I am very happy for that to happen.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion talked about farm-gate food waste; we discussed how whole-crop purchasing should help, and it will be interesting to see whether we make as much progress on that as we hope to. We talked a little about the French model. It would be interesting to know whether there are things that the UK can contribute to other countries, as well as things that other countries can contribute to us. For instance, I would be interested to know whether our supermarket ombudsman model is something that we might want to share with other European countries as an example of best practice. There are things we can learn from other countries, but there are things that the supermarket ombudsman here is doing well to cut down on food waste, even by signalling to retailers in advance the dangers of a supermarket ombudsman intervention. Perhaps other EU member states could learn from that.

The hon. Lady asked what my Government colleagues were doing on food poverty, food waste and charities. The answer is that the Cabinet Office is joint chair, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of a redistribution food round table; the Department for Education has a school food plan, having introduced, as she will know, universal free infant school meals last September; and the Department of Health provides “eatwell plate” guidance. There is also an NHS Choices website, which helps with menu guides.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West gave a really good series of examples from Zero Waste Scotland. I would like to talk a little more about this issue in detail at the end of the debate, but Zero Waste Scotland is a very good example of the range of initiatives across the UK, some of which are funded by Government, some by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and some by philanthropic donations, which are changing the way we look at food waste.

I was particularly struck by the hon. Lady’s intervention on the subject of composting. It is absolutely true that traditionally, when we look at the hierarchy of waste in relation to food, we prefer to eat food; our next preference is to have animals eat it; and then we eventually consider how we might extract energy from it, for example through anaerobic digestion. However, her point that food put into composting can save endangered peatlands is a very important environmental argument, and a real reminder that we need to keep looking at issues really broadly. One of the dangers in a lot of discussions in this area is that we can miss potential environmental benefits by getting so tightly attached to a particular

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model or hierarchy that we fail to consider, for example, the relationship between composting and peatlands. I do not want to move to a world in which we encourage people to over-invest in composting at the expense of eating, but it is worth bearing in mind that composting has not only an anaerobic digestion energy benefit, but a benefit to endangered habitats. I also liked the reference to doggy-bags; the hon. Lady made a very good argument for them.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said that there were many challenges, and many things with which she was uncomfortable or unhappy. Of course, I am delighted that she welcomes the 25-year strategy, although I note that she has concerns about its content. So long as I am fortunate enough to be a Minister, we shall not step back from the subject of waste. A great deal of progress has been made. I would be delighted to meet the industry representatives she mentioned.

The hon. Lady asked specific questions about Europe. I am going to the Environment Council in Luxembourg on Monday. Clearly, European negotiations are extremely complex and we must ensure that we get different Government Departments to agree, so I am not in a position to make promises about exactly what we can deliver. However, our Department will certainly try to be thought-leaders and challenge other people in this field, and we will try to get what I hope will be ambitious responses from that European process.

The specific question about the Waste and Resources Action Programme and its charitable funding brings me to the core of this whole discussion. WRAP is a really impressive charitable organisation. It receives Government funding; this year, it received about £13 million. It employs about 200 people. The Government are not in a position to make promises about continuing funding a specific charity. However, WRAP seems to do a very good job, and on the basis of its performance to date, I reckon that it would be in a very strong position to continue to bid for support. WRAP has also been very good at diversifying and finding in-kind donations, which has had an added benefit: in some ways, it has pursued programmes in quite an edgy and creative way, which it might not have done before it applied to broader sources of funding. WRAP is certainly very impressive.

The Back-Bench Members who have spoken in this debate and are still sitting in front of me—my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and for Bristol East—represent four different parties in Parliament. I am surprised that the fifth party is not present; I am not quite sure where the Liberal Democrats are in this debate. Nevertheless, I am very proud that there is a Conservative representative, a Green representative, a Scottish National party representative and a Labour representative here in Westminster Hall. Their presence is a reminder of how much importance we should attach to parliamentary work on this issue. The hon. Member for Bristol East pointed out how landfill tax, for example, has totally transformed recycling and waste. That is a very good example of the fact that Parliament has some levers and can bring about change.

The hon. Lady gave a good example from Belgium that shows that civil society and Government working together, rather than alone, is the key to resolving these

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issues. She talked about how petitions drove the Belgian process. To put that in context, the 200,000 people who signed that petition in Belgium, which is a country with a population of—

Kerry McCarthy That was in France.

Rory Stewart: Ah. So there was no Belgian petition?

Kerry McCarthy: The Belgians were the first to pass the law on food waste in May 2014, but the example I gave about the bleach being poured into the skips and the related petition was from France, and the French law on food waste has just gone through.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Lady; I stand corrected. I was getting my Belgian and French petitions confused. But the conceptual point I wanted to make is that this process, whether in France or in Belgium, is about driving civil society actions, through petitions, alongside Government action.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the Minister for his response, and for the detail that he is going into. Will he clarify what he thinks the obstacles would be to a piece of legislation that looked something like the Bill that the hon. Member for Bristol East brought before the House, or like the French model? Are they technical obstacles, which we can clarify, or are they ideological obstacles to do with regulation? It would be really helpful to know.

Rory Stewart: I am a little bit reluctant to get drawn into the detail of all this at the moment, but a series of questions would have to be answered before we could go ahead with that legislation. Take the good samaritan legislation in the United States. Given that it has not been challenged so far; given that most retailers in the UK do not seem to be indicating that the major obstacle to taking action or improving performance is a concern about being sued over food safety issues; and given that the Food Standards Agency would have to continue to exercise its legislative powers anyway, and that if someone unfortunately got food poisoning from food that had been disposed of, it would remain a responsibility of the Government—and, unfortunately, indirectly, of the retailer, probably—it is not clear to me at the moment that a good samaritan Act is necessarily the way to go.

I am being shifty about the next set of issues, because they relate to the Treasury and to fiscal instruments, which are for the Treasury to consider, and I do not wish to get whacked for speculating on them.

That brings me back to civil society and central Government. The key to all this— we have made more progress than anyone else in Europe in this respect—is the impressive role played by NGOs, such as the Real Junk Food Project, mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion; WRAP, which the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge mentioned; FareShare; and Feedback. The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned Tristram Stuart, who is an extraordinary phenomenon. He has succeeded in combining his own personal lifestyle as a freegan with leading the collection of waste food and writing a best-selling book, and with his understanding of the intricacies of both national and European Union legislation and his attachment to technology. That is a really good example of where Britain is doing well.

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The consequences of the work done by NGOs can be seen. We should also pay tribute to the previous Government for their funding to get WRAP off the ground. That is another good example of how things can be driven forward, and of the way that legislation, UK performance and global indicators can be shaped by such civil society debates. The app piloted by Tesco is the latest great example of people coming up with creative technological solutions that can go straight into a retailer. In addition—this is the point at which I sound like a crusty old Tory—this stuff is also good for the UK economy, because a lot of people are now exporting these ideas as consultants, taking British thought-leadership to other countries and showing how our approach to food waste can be replicated in other places. Of the extraordinary and impressive 21% reduction in household food waste that we have achieved, probably 40% has been achieved through the kind of awareness campaigns and civil society campaigns that have been mentioned. We do not want to minimise that in any way.

A decade of work to tackle food waste has given us much more knowledge of why and where food waste happens. We have tried and tested approaches that have delivered significant reductions. We now need to go further. Waste must be tackled across the whole value chain, and not just in the UK. We may need to start thinking about the value chain stretching into other countries. For example, if we are eating Kenyan food we have a moral obligation, in a sense, to the Kenyan farmers producing it, and to food waste in places where our supermarket ombudsman cannot stretch at the moment.

Food waste has a close relationship with sustainability and food security. The subject is central. Food, metaphorically and literally, is the energy of our lives. It is intimately connected to our soil, water and air, and to our habitats and our landscape. Again, speaking as a crusty Tory, it is also important to our economy. Millions of people work in this sector.

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Angela Smith: I am listening with great interest to the Minister. He is coming remarkably close to endorsing Food 2030. May I ask once again, what is the Government’s strategic plan on food and farming, and when will we hear more detail about it?

Rory Stewart: The answer is that I am going to evade that question. We do not yet have that plan, and I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Lady a deadline on it, but I promise her that we are thinking hard about the subject. I am happy to sit down with her and talk about where we have got to with that thought and take on any suggestions that she has.

Food to the value of £108 billion and the one in eight jobs connected to food and farming in the UK are connected to what every hon. Member in this Chamber deeply believes in, whether it be poverty alleviation, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys; the legislative programmes advocated by the hon. Member for Bristol East; the important arguments on the environment and resource depletion advanced by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion; or the civil society examples from Zero Waste Scotland produced by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West.[Official Report, 15 June 2015, Vol. 597, c. 1-MC.]

I want to end with a huge invitation. I do not see why this need be a party political issue. There is obviously an enormous amount of knowledge in this room and I should be delighted to sit down with anybody who has good ideas about what we could do to tackle something that matters deeply to British citizens, the food industry and the packaging industry, and which matters deeply in respect of the resources on which our biosphere depends.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered tackling food waste.

4.26 pm

Sitting adjourned.