Monday 13th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
19:31
Lord Benyon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Environment Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s food strategy. Recent events have been a reminder of the importance of domestic food production. It gives us national resilience. Throughout the pandemic, those working at every stage of the food system, from farming and fishing to manufacturing, distribution and retail, did not let us down. The food industry has shown tremendous commitment and ingenuity in the face of recent international events.

The UK is largely self-sufficient in many products, including wheat, most meats, eggs and some sectors of the vegetable industry. Overall, for the foods that we can produce in the UK, we produce around 74% of what we consume. That has been broadly stable for the past 20 years, and in our food strategy, published today, we are committing to keep it at broadly the same level in future, with the potential to increase it in areas such as seafood and horticulture. For instance, we are exploring policies to incentivise the use of surplus heat and carbon dioxide from industrial processes in a new generation of glasshouses here in the UK producing salad crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

With the cost of agricultural commodities linked to global gas prices, we recognise concerns around the cost of food. Through this strategy, we are setting out long-term measures to support a food system that offers access to healthy and sustainable food for all. It will complement the measures that we have already taken to support those struggling to afford food and help them to live healthily, through the Healthy Start scheme, breakfast clubs and the holiday activities and food programme.

The food industry is also present in every part of our country. It is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK—bigger than automotive and aerospace combined. Food manufacturers provide employment opportunities in areas where there might otherwise be deprivation, they offer apprenticeships and opportunity, they invest in research and development and they give local areas a sense of pride and identity. None of our food manufacturers could succeed without the farmers and fishermen who supply them with high-quality produce.

Our fresh produce industry has always required access to seasonal labour, and I am pleased to announce today that we will bring forward another 10,000 visas for the seasonal workers route and expand the scheme to cover poultry. On this side of the House, we are clear that we want people at home and abroad to be lining up to buy British. Our food strategy sets out our intention to consult on ensuring that the public sector sources at least 50% of food locally or produced to higher standards.

There are new challenges to address that will require the characteristic ingenuity of our food industry. As Henry Dimbleby’s independent review highlighted, poor diet has led to a growing problem of obesity, particularly among children. Good progress has been made on reformulation in some categories. Industry-backed initiatives such as Veg Power, which conceived the successful Eat Them to Defeat Them campaign, have shown the value of positive advertising to promote vegetable consumption among children. But there is more that must be done in future, with government and industry working in partnership on a shared endeavour to promote healthier diets. The Government accept that they have a role, and new regulations regarding the position of retail displays of foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar will take effect later this year.

One of the key recommendations of the Dimbleby review was the formation of a new data partnership between industry and government, which we will be taking forward. Food manufacturers and retailers have a wealth of data and behavioural insights that can help to identify solutions. This will provide consumers with more information about the food they eat while incentivising industry to produce healthier, more ethical and sustainable food.

Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, our strategy acknowledges that the food system has a significant impact on the environment. We are therefore taking forward the recommendation of the Dimbleby review for a land use strategy. Our future agriculture policy will seek to financially reward sustainable farming practices, make space for nature within the farmed landscape and help farmers reduce their costs. From precision breeding techniques that reduce the need for pesticides, to tractors fuelled by methane captured from slurry stores, and new feed additives that can significantly reduce methane emissions from ruminants, technological solutions are developing at pace. Our future farming policy will support innovative solutions to the environmental challenges we face.

To conclude, our food strategy will set us on a path to boost food production and ensure that everyone has access to healthy and affordable food, produced in a sustainable way. I commend this Statement to the House.”

19:37
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement this evening. We have waited a very long time for this food strategy to be published—and what a disappointment it has turned out to be. It has provoked a united response, but for all the wrong reasons. It has been roundly criticised by Henry Dimbleby himself, by farmers, by food campaigners and by environmentalists, for being vague and unambitious. Henry Dimbleby has said that it is not a strategy and has warned that more children will go hungry. Minette Batters has said that the proposal to help farmers increase food production has been “stripped to the bone”. The Soil Association has criticised

“a narrow-minded ideology which believes government should not intervene to reshape diets”,

and Greenpeace has said that the proposals

“only perpetuate a broken food system”.

Sadly, these proposals are a disservice to the excellent, well-researched report produced by Henry Dimbleby, which took a holistic approach to the farm-to-fork journey and its impact on our health. It highlighted the terrible damage that poor farming practices could do to our planet. It called out the complicity of food manufacturers whose drive for profits is pushing highly processed junk food on to the nation in the full knowledge of the ill-health consequences, and it warned of an obesity crisis that would overwhelm our health service if urgent action were not taken. The UK is now the third fattest country in the G7, with almost three in 10 adults obese, while children are going hungry because our school food system is failing so many of them in need.

The Dimbleby report was radical and challenging. As it says:

“Change is never easy. But we cannot build a sustainable, healthy and fair food system by doing business as usual.”


It seems, however, that this is exactly the approach the Government are taking. The Dimbleby review consisted of almost 300 pages, yet this response covers barely 10% of it. It has not even responded to the 14 very well-argued recommendations in the report. All the difficult questions have been ducked. Instead, we have a statement of vague intentions and a rehash of existing policies, not a blueprint to tackle the major food issues facing this country.

The Minister’s Written Statement talked about the need to work across all government departments to deliver the strategy but, frankly, such cross-departmental working should have been put in place before the White Paper was drafted. Where are the policies that would address the 7.3 million people living in poverty, including 2.6 million children? Where are the policies to make food banks a thing of the past, instead of our facing a 95% increase in food parcels being handed out since 2015? Where are the policies to tackle the rise in adult obesity that is putting our health service under such strain? Why have the Dimbleby plans to improve child nutrition been ignored? Why have the proposals to extend entitlement to free school meals been rejected, despite widespread support from teachers, health workers and campaigners?

We know that food prices are rocketing and the food system is under strain, but this White Paper gets nowhere near addressing the root causes. Costs are dramatically rising for farmers and food producers, putting further pressure on food price inflation, and the closure of the UK’s biggest fertiliser plant last week will add to food costs. Meanwhile, crops are rotting in the field and over 40,000 pigs have already been culled because of labour shortages.

So, where are the plans to support British businesses and ensure that British food is affordable? Where are the plans to support our farmers and stop them being undercut by imports with lower animal welfare and environmental standards? Why was the commitment to tackle low-quality imports taken out of the paper at the last minute? What message is that sending to farmers? Instead, we should have a plan to ensure that we buy, sell and grow more of our great British food, entrenching Britain’s reputation as a beacon for quality food, high standards and the ethical treatment of animals.

The Dimbleby report was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our food strategy for the future. It tackled the difficult issues, knowing that not everything would be agreed. So, why did the Government not feel able to give the recommendations in that report the detailed response they deserved? Does the Minister recognise that as a result, we have a White Paper that pleases no one, lacks ambition and represents a missed opportunity? I very much look forward to his response on these issues.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, there is much to say about this “Let them eat venison” food strategy—although there is not a lot of meat in it. It is full of vague intentions and grand promises such as a school food revolution. It seems to me that when this Government want to hide the fact that they have chickened out of doing something really revolutionary, they call it a revolution. Sadly, they have failed to do justice to Henry Dimbleby’s thoughtful, realistic and ambitious national food plan. No wonder he is disappointed that only half his recommendations have found favour with the Government.

Our national food system is broken. If your Lordships do not believe me, ask the NHS workers who are forced to use the food bank set up by the hospital where they work. Ask the person who has three jobs, trying to put food on the table but able to afford only cheap food or ready meals because there is no time left to cook. Ask the doctors who treat the 40% of overweight children and the 64% of overweight adults. Ask the nurses who treated the large number of people with obesity who died of Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic.

Henry Dimbleby recommended a food system to make people well, not one that would make them sick, while at the same time protecting the environment. Yet what do we have in response? Twenty-seven pages that ignore evidence-based measures such as introducing a sugar and salt tax, an idea that the soft drinks industry levy has shown to be an effective way of incentivising manufacturers to reformulate and reduce sugar in order to avoid the tax. Tonnes of sugar have been cut from the diets of children and teenagers, while people drink just as many soft drinks and the industry has not suffered at all. However, despite that success, the amount of sugar the average person eats is continuing to rise because of the increase in consumption of junk foods laced with sugar, salt and other appetite stimulants. So why will the Government not follow the sugar tax idea with other foods? Can the Minister say who has been lobbying the Government to ditch this recommendation? Is it the same people who succeeded in persuading the Government to delay the implementation of the ban on TV and online advertising and volume promotions of HFSS foods before the ink was dry on the Health and Care Act?

The price of food is rising but there is no evidence that a salt and sugar tax would increase it. I spoke yesterday to someone in the food industry who was convinced that it would encourage reductions in salt, and particularly in sugar, without price rises. If the Government want to reduce taxes, perhaps they should start with the inflated amounts of VAT that are flowing into their coffers from our fuel and energy purchases; that would help families directly.

During the passage of the Health and Care Act, there was a great deal of talk about what the new integrated care systems could do to address the health inequalities crisis. We know that obesity is more common among poorer people, yet this so-called strategy will do nothing to help them afford healthy food. We are told that a healthy diet would cost five times what the poorest families can afford, but the sugar and salt tax could pay for some of the measures that Dimbleby proposed to balance things out. Extending the Healthy Start programme and eligibility for free school meals and the holiday activity and food scheme would help to get fruit and vegetables into the diets of poor families, yet there are no proposals about that. Why not?

The Government talk about willpower, information and education for consumers, yet we have had health education in school for years, as well as food labelling. It has not worked. When the soft drinks levy was introduced, Liz Truss objected, saying that people should be free to choose. However, the problem is that people are not free to choose healthy food because they cannot afford it; they can only afford cheap calories. In some housing estates, almost the whole row of shops consists of junk food outlets. Where is the choice there? It is a matter not of will power but of affordability and availability.

The Government have a responsibility here. I was amazed to read in the White Paper that the cost of food is not a matter for government. Does the Minister really believe that? Of course it is, when people are getting sick, putting pressure on the NHS and costing the taxpayer a lot of money. I do not expect this Government to care about poor people losing years of life because of poor diet, but I would have thought they would understand the economic case for ensuring a healthy and productive population. Achieving the Government’s own ambition of five extra years of healthy life by 2030 is nowhere near on track, especially in the lower demographic groups.

Neither is there anything concrete in the White Paper to help farmers produce good food more efficiently, while protecting the environment. Farmers are already up in arms about what they are being asked to do without extra support, and worried about competition from large farms in Australia and New Zealand. Subsidies have been cut by 20% and the Government are still not clear about the details of the environmental land management payments.

Your Lordships’ Science and Technology Select Committee, in its report on nature-based solutions to net zero, said that farmers need a free and independent expert advice service to help them improve their productivity while improving biodiversity, but all we have is an alphabet soup of schemes and funds—and nowhere in the food strategy could I see the word “soil”. Another of Dimbleby’s recommendations that is notable for its absence is that we should aim to eat at least 30% less meat, given that 85% of our agricultural land is used to feed animals. Apart from the ridiculous “Let them eat venison” proposal, I see nothing practical to achieve that.

We are offered more research on things that we already know and more reviews about things that do not need reviewing—nothing but delay and equivocation. What a missed opportunity.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am grateful to the two Front-Bench spokesmen for their responses, but I wonder whether they have read the same report as I have. On food poverty, the first point that I would make is that I hope the noble Baroness does not really believe what she just said about poor people, because I find it extraordinary to assume that people like myself do not care about people on low incomes. That was a very direct statement and one that, in time, I hope she might recant.

A great many families are suffering at the moment for a variety of reasons but principally because of other constraints on household incomes, particularly in terms of energy. It is for that reason that the Chancellor recently announced £15 billion of support for households and continued other measures right across the concerns that households have about their incomes. Food is a significant part of household expenditure, though it is actually lower in this country than in many others and has stayed stable, at around 16%. It is creeping up, which is a matter of genuine concern for people on all sides of this House. We want to do what we can to help those families tackle these problems.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned free school meals and eligibility. The threshold must be set somewhere. We believe that the level we have selected, which enables more children to benefit while remaining affordable and deliverable for schools, is the right one. For a typical family on universal credit, the current £7,400 earned income threshold, depending on exact circumstances, equates to an annual household income of between £18,000 and £24,000 when benefits are taken into account. To be effective, welfare benefits should encourage people to take up work while supporting them to do so. We need to avoid creating a cliff-edge disincentive whereby people cannot afford to take up work, which is what a significant increase in the scope and funding of free school meals is likely to do. However, from 24 March this year we have made permanent the extension of free school meals eligibility to include some children from groups who have no recourse to public funds.

The noble Baroness asked about crops rotting in the fields. We work very closely with the industry on the demand for seasonal workers. For that reason, we have increased the number of seasonal workers visas, by 10,000, to 40,000. She will be aware that a large proportion of our seasonal workers came from Ukraine, and that is why we have spread out the countries where we are offering these visas to fill that gap. Let us be frank: many of those people are remaining to fight or have other reasons as they deal with that tragedy in their country.

The noble Baroness talked about trade. I would just add that we are keeping to our pledge that we will maintain animal welfare and environmental standards on the imports that we receive under trade deals.

The unsexy thing to talk about in this place is data, but data actually matters and the food industry has access to a large amount of data. By working with the food industry and through the food data transparency partnership, we are giving consumers the information they need to make more sustainable and ethical, and healthier, choices. We are talking to the industry about expanding animal welfare labelling to help consumers, but it is important that people have that data on what they are eating, where it comes from and what it contains.

On dealing with unhealthy foods, which were rightly pointed out in the Henry Dimbleby report, the Government are taking forward a variety of policies. For example, we have seen the amount of sugar in cereals and yoghurts reduced by 13% since we brought in changes there, while the addition of calorie counts on menus is making choice better for people. Later this year, we are also bringing in a ban on poor quality foods being available at checkouts.

The noble Baroness for the Liberal Democrats made a point about subsidies being cut; no subsidies have been cut. The support system for agriculture is ring-fenced at £2.5 billion to the end of this Parliament. That is a commitment that was given and will continue to be given. We are developing a range of supports encouraging farmers to be innovative and to tackle the ardent ambition that more quality food should be produced from home.

Finally, on the noble Baroness’s point about soils, I could bore this House for weeks about what we are doing on soils. She only has to look at our soils standard in the sustainable farming incentive to see how important soils are in trying to reconnect some in agriculture, who have lost that connection with the soil, to produce healthy food and make ecosystems and the environment function as two sides of the same coin with food production.

19:56
Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I wonder whether I could first apologise to the Minister because I do not think this is his report. I do not think he wrote it or, indeed, that he does not misunderstand that it is not actually a food strategy. That is contrary to the standards which we would expect of any business. As chairman of the Climate Change Committee, I think it does not actually address any of the issues which we have put down as necessary for Defra to address on food. As a member of the food sector council, which is a government board, I have to say it does not address many of Henry Dimbleby’s very good proposals. It is a collection of vague promises and partial answers, but it does not address the fundamental issues. It therefore is not a strategy, which is what we needed. We have waited over a year for a strategy, and we have not got one.

As chairman of the Climate Change Committee, I really want to know: what is the answer to the fact that we cannot expect farmers to do what we want if we have trade agreements which mean that they are competed with by people who do not have to meet those standards? What about what we have to do, for example, on the restoration of peatlands? We are going so slowly that we will get nowhere near the necessary figures by 2035. What about the question we have raised about reducing the amount of meat that we eat while eating better meat? What about answering those questions? They are not here.

I do not think this is Defra’s fault, but it is a government fault. These things have been removed one by one, because the Government will not face up to the fact that these are difficult questions that need to be addressed. This so-called strategy does not address them.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am sorry that my noble friend does not feel that this hits the button. I hope that, as we take it forward, he will see that we are serious about ensuring that we reflect on what Henry Dimbleby produced in his two excellent reports—for the first time linking the food we eat and the health of our nation with how it is produced, and how we avoid the huge and extremely regrettable percentage of the food we produce that we waste.

As my noble friend knows, the Government are committed, because it is the law, to reaching net zero by 2050. We published our Net Zero Strategy last year, which sets the UK on a clear path to achieving that. The food strategy supports the delivery of a net-zero strategy, for example by making clear our commitment to publishing a land-use framework. This will play a critical role in setting out how we can best use land to meet net-zero and biodiversity targets, as well as helping our farmers adapt to climate change.

I hear what my noble friend says about peatlands. I was in the Peak District National park last week looking at extraordinary levels of peat restoration, which will gladden his heart and perhaps make him feel that, working together with land managers, we are going to get to the target his committee sets.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I was going to raise a question about the land use strategy, which I welcome—a small crumb of thanks, if I may put it into this pudding of a strategy. However, I cannot ask that question because I am so appalled by how awful the strategy is. When I was chief executive of Diabetes UK, we worked endlessly with the supermarket sector on any information that it gathers in profusion. It became abundantly clear to me that that was a tiny part of tackling the epidemic of poor health in this country, which is killing the health service. Diabetes is now the biggest cause of premature death, from heart attacks to strokes. It causes blindness. People’s legs fall off. A shedload of things are draining the resources of the National Health Service as a result of obesity, which is simply solved if people can access the right food at the right price. I do not believe that this strategy will do that.

I will ask my question on the land use strategy, nevertheless. I am very grateful that we are going to have one. I am worried that we should not just focus on climate change, biodiversity, the environment and agriculture because there are other things that land is important for, such as the built environment, infrastructure, energy generation, flood risk management, health and mental health. How will these other objectives be taken into account in preparing the land use strategy—for which I am very grateful, with my small crumb of thanks?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her support, but I understand that that support is conditional on it being a good land use strategy that reflects the wider uses of land in a property-owning democracy, which is what we are. You cannot order farmers and land managers to use their land a certain way. You can regulate them in certain ways and you can control them through the planning system but, most of all, you can incentivise them.

It is not only the Government who are doing that. I was talking to a dairy farmer the other day who told me that he was way ahead of the Government in getting to net zero, not because the Government were telling him to do it, but because to continue to sell his milk to a particular buyer he had to get to net zero. That made him make land use decisions that were in the public good. There is a lot happening, but it does need pulling together in a clear, coherent strategy and I hope, working with people on all sides of this House, we will get a land use strategy that will be fit for the decades to come as we tackle the huge challenges we face.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, this strategy has chapters on levelling up and trends in diet and obesity. However—here I declare my role as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm—it says absolutely nothing about alcohol. Yet alcohol is highly obesogenic; one glass of wine is equivalent to two Jaffa cakes. When we look at levelling up, we know that there is a much higher rate of alcohol-related mortality in the north-east of England. It is more than 20% higher than in the south-east of England. Alcohol is associated with 45% of all violent crime and 39% of domestic violence. Every day there are about 80 alcohol-related deaths and every year there are about 6,000 alcohol-specific deaths. Given the high source of calories in alcohol products across the board, why has alcohol been completely omitted from a strategy that talks about obesity and levelling up, when it is a cause of levelling down and ongoing obesity?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness eloquently identifies a very serious societal problem, but to say that the Government are not addressing it because it is not specifically mentioned is not the case. The Department of Health and Social Care, working with other departments, has a very clear view about how we can help reduce the problem she identifies. She is right to say that it affects more challenged communities much worse than others. We are working across government and working with local government, education and in a variety of other different ways to tackle it. We will always be open to her expertise and knowledge in trying to make sure that those are felt right across government.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, does the Minister really think that this is a strategy about healthy meals or healthy profits for a few multinational companies? The first paragraph of the executive summary says:

“The food and drink industry”


is the biggest “manufacturing industry” and creates

“£120 billion of value for the economy every year”.

Does the Minister think that food is something you manufacture or something you grow and produce in the natural environment? You have to get to paragraph 7 on the second page before health or sustainability are mentioned. It is described as a government food strategy. Would it not be better described as a corporate strategy to produce profits? Why does it not focus on healthy local fruits and vegetables? The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said that alcohol is not mentioned, but it does get mentioned once. The very first product mentioned is Scotch whisky. It then goes on to mention

“Worcestershire sauce, the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie … Cornish Clotted Cream”—

all lovely treats, I am sure. But where is the food to healthily feed people? Why, when we are talking about fruit and vegetables, do we focus on tomatoes and lettuces? Where are the root vegetables, the apples, pears, nuts and pulses, and the things we can do to help give people healthy stable food grown here in the UK?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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On her last point, I refer the noble Baroness to the points we make about expanding horticulture and our investment in new technologies to produce sustainable fruit, vegetables and leafy greens from a variety of different new sources, not only vertical farming. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but it is in there.

On the other point about the food industry, every job is liberating and household-supporting, which is fundamental to a family. That is the point we are making. This is not some corporatist point; it is about the individuals working in these businesses. Every single parliamentary constituency in the country, with the exception of Westminster, has a food processing or manufacturing company. They are agents for levelling up. They give people apprenticeships, skills and an income. They pay taxes, which build hospitals and schools—we need to be reminded of that occasionally.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, getting food to market is also a factor.

“Reducing barriers and bureaucracy following Brexit”


is crucial and contained in the report. That will be most welcome to many. However, a food strategy must include a well thought-through freight and logistics programme. I understand that there is a White Paper to be distributed on Wednesday. We all look forward to that and we will be scrutinising it with great care in the months to come.

I am co-chair of the parliamentary group on the future of UK freight and logistics, which has the sole objective of receiving submissions from all regions of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the individual regions of England. As an example, the east of England could, with good reason, be said to be the breadbasket of fruit and vegetables in this country, but it expresses concerns about logistics, with roads in particular requiring a well thought-through upgrade programme. What can the Minister offer so that freight can operate on a much-needed, efficient distribution network within our United Kingdom?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Viscount raises a really important point: our food industry and food distribution network is one of the 13 items listed in our critical national infrastructure. It was shocking, in 2010, when we came into government to find that there was no national infrastructure database and no drawing together of all the important points, including the ones made by the noble Viscount. I am sure that it is not right yet; we have to connect up where we need things to be in this country with the best and most sustainable means of getting there. This will continue to mean that we will have to move things on roads. Hopefully, we will move things in a much more environmentally friendly way in years to come, but there are alternatives as well. We should be building for the future to fit in with our net-zero ambitions.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I declare my interests as set out in the register. It is to be welcomed that the Government recognise the importance of food, but the strategy should be more dynamic. There are widespread problems throughout the food system which Henry Dimbleby has done well to identify and express in his report, but they have not been dealt with adequately by the Government. There is great anxiety from the widespread uncertainty engendered by government policy across many areas.

I will concentrate on one area for integration across government—quality food—and say that farmers are very good at responding to opportunities, once co-ordinated into quality marketing schemes. How is the Minister’s department working with farmers, growers, processors and the food chain to ensure that domestic initiatives—such as quality branding, product of designated origin schemes and other marketing schemes—are better integrated with the Department for International Trade to develop export opportunities in food and trade deals, where deals are not to be focused merely on opening up the UK to imports? Will Defra set up a new taskforce to build on this integration, reducing emissions and adapting to climate change? These are both key challenges for sustainability.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we are not only feeding ourselves, and maintaining the dependability of what we grow ourselves, but looking at markets abroad. There are a number of shining examples of our export potential, including exports of quality food from these shores. I hope that, in the years to come, we can see exports—not just to the European Union but to the rest of the world—benefitting from a new trading environment where farmers can benefit as a result. I am not sure that it requires a new taskforce to be set up, because I consider that taskforce to be the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs working with the Department for International Trade. However, I am open to any ideas that will oil the wheels of export potential for our farmers and growers.

Baroness Stroud Portrait Baroness Stroud (Con)
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My Lords, the strategy rightly points out that the Government have a role in addressing health inequalities. The concern I want to raise with my noble friend the Minister is regional health disparities. We know that the levelling-up agenda is committed to addressing these regional health disparities, but we also know that a 65 year-old in, say, Kensington and Chelsea lives for a further 24 years, while someone in Manchester may live only for another 18 years. In Halton, 78% of the population are experiencing obesity, but in south-west London, the figure is only 42%. These are real health disparities that we were hoping the Government’s food strategy would have a part in addressing. We are led to believe that a number of recommendations have been removed from the report. Can my noble friend the Minister outline why he is still convinced that this strategy will address such health disparities?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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To my noble friend I say that the Government have stated in their policy that they wish to see life expectancy rise across the population. However, she is absolutely right to point out that there are some areas where the life expectancy, and indeed other health outcomes, are vastly different. It is not just in the report that we are looking at the health of the nation; it is in the whole Government’s levelling-up agenda. I sit on a committee with Ministers from other departments who are absorbed by these issues and want to see a change so that the life expectancy, as well as the life opportunities, of people in deprived areas are addressed. If we are not getting that message across, we must do better, because it is an absolutely key ambition for this Government. We want to see the inequalities that have existed for too many decades change in fast time on our watch.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I will follow up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who referred to the Government’s attachment to the word “revolution”. The strategy offers £5 million to deliver a “school cooking revolution”. I believe that there are about 24,000 schools in England; with a rough bit of maths, that is about £200 per school. Is that how the Government plan to deliver a revolution in school cooking?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Leading on from the last question, it might be more important that those lessons in supporting young people in making the right diet choices are targeted at the places where there is evidence of the worst food choices being made. That is not a preachy way of doing it. We want to deal with the problem where it exists, recognising that there are very serious health issues around the diet choices that people make. Without pointing fingers or doing this in a way that has not worked in the past, and looking to a different way of approaching it, tackling the problem in schools is really important.