Groceries Supply Code of Practice

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 22nd January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and to follow the powerful speech by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). I thank the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for the powerful way in which she opened today’s debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. As has been mentioned, the petition has been signed by over 112,000 people. Although I have no formal declaration of interest, I draw the House’s attention, for transparency’s sake, to the fact that my wife’s family are farmers and I chair the all-party parliamentary group on farming.

In fear of replicating some of the arguments that have already been made by other hon. Members, the point I really want to land today is that this is fundamentally about fixing a broken market. It is about ensuring that there can be a functioning market between our farmers and those that buy their produce—be that food processors, retailers or the supermarket giants. It is clear that we have a market that has become broken in many respects, and which needs extra regulation so our farmers have an extra tier of safety. The groceries supply code of practice should be a cornerstone of fair dealing in our agrifood supply chains.

Before I come on to those arguments, it is important to recognise the indisputable impacts of the covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the effects of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Those have resulted in a storm of challenges that have tested the resilience of all our farmers and our agrifood supply chain, and posed an existential threat to the very fabric of British agriculture. I see that in my own constituency: 335 square miles of north Buckinghamshire, where 90% of the land is agricultural. I talk to farmers regularly, and I have seen at first-hand the impacts that some of those hard-working farmers—deeply rooted in agriculture—are grappling with. The surge in input costs, not mirrored by a rise in prices from processors and retailers, has pushed many to a tipping point.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I declare an interest as well, as I am a Riverford customer. The hon. Gentleman mentions the recent impact of external events, but does he recall that the adjudicator’s code was tested before these events, particularly with regard to below-cost selling and marketing in the baking sector, which had its ramifications for farmers as well? Although there were interventions by the ombudsperson at that time, the code was nevertheless found wanting in that instance, as evidenced by the submission made by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union to the EFRA Committee last year.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do fundamentally agree with him that this problem predates covid and the war in Ukraine. The market has been broken in some sectors for a very long time; perhaps from even before the right hon. Gentleman’s time in this House, let alone mine. This code was meant to—I highlight the phrase “meant to”—fix some of these problems. However, it has not, and that is why we are in Westminster Hall this afternoon arguing, with a fair deal of consensus across the political divide, that action needs to be taken.

The Promar report of December 2023 attests to the severe cost increases within the horticulture sector: energy costs have soared by 218%, fertiliser by 47%, and labour by 24%. In addition, in 2023, for example, egg production in the poultry sector fell to its lowest level in over nine years, culminating in the evident shortage of eggs on the shelves in 2022 and 2023. Meanwhile these spikes—and this is the important bit—are not being reflected in the prices the tertiary sector is willing to pay. That blatant mismatch has all but erased profits, leaving consumers with stark consequences: a diminished output, shelf shortages and the regrettable loss of over 8,000 agricultural businesses in recent years.

The groceries supply code of practice was instituted with the aim of promoting a functioning market—a fair market. But, as I think we have all agreed this afternoon, its reach falls short, and its grasp lacks the precision needed for effective oversight. As it stands, the GSCOP regulates entities with a turnover exceeding £1 billion. That threshold, as others have said, is disproportionately high, leaving countless suppliers—and by extension, our farmers—unprotected. An adjustment is desperately needed. It is imperative that we prioritise lowering the threshold to, I would suggest, the NFU’s ask of £500 million; although we can always debate the precise numbers around that. That change would increase accountability and ensure more comprehensive coverage.

To secure our agricultural backbone, we must also adamantly support the extension of the GSCOP’s reach, if not for the sake of fairness in our markets and the wellbeing of our invaluable farmers, then for the preservation of our nation’s food security and rural economy. The reach must expand beyond supermarkets to encompass processors, the hospitality sector and manufacturers, which are key players in the supply chain that can exert just as much pressure on our farmers as the largest retail giants. The foundation laid by the Agriculture Act is robust, but it is not the only solution. It is but the ground upon which we must build that fairer market, and we must not falter in doing so.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 7th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Research shows that PM2.5 can be 3% to 8% higher in electric versions of heavier applications, such as buses and trucks, than in their internal combustion engine equivalents. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in order to get clean air and cut down PM2.5, we need an eclectic future that embraces all technology and our great innovators, not just battery-electric?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I have said, I will always welcome innovation when it comes to improving air quality, not only in transport but in the implications of industry and commercial operators. It is clear that, through the Environment Act 2021, the Government introduced the legally binding targets to reduce PM2.5. We have a set goal to reduce exposure to PM2.5 by 35% by 2040.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was heavily involved in this wide-ranging trade deal, which covered not just agricultural elements, but a number of services. Our FLEGT—forest law enforcement governance and trade—regulations, which we are still processing, will be an effective way of making sure that the supply chain is sustainable for any products brought into the country that it covers.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Although showing some progress, the NFU’s latest digital technology survey reveals that only 21% reported reliable mobile signal throughout their farms and fewer than half have adequate broadband for their business. What is my right hon. Friend doing with her counterparts in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to ensure that rural businesses are prioritised for increased connectivity.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: of course we need good broadband and good connectivity across rural areas. We continue to have conversations with our friends in the Department to make sure that this is delivered, as it is a priority of the Government.

Open Season for Woodcock

Greg Smith Excerpts
Monday 27th February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Caroline. I will not take too much time, because repetition—as I was reminded when Timmy Mallett joined me at a charity event in my constituency yesterday—can bring that famous foam hammer down on one’s head.

The point I really want to make—which builds on the arguments made by my hon. Friends the Members for North Herefordshire (Sir Bill Wiggin) and for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—is to ask: why? Why do we need to legislate for something that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire has just said, is not actually a problem?

The shooting community shoots up and down the land. I fully accept that there are one or two irresponsible shoots, which we need to clamp down—the sort of shoots that bury the birds afterwards, rather than putting them into the food chain. However, the vast majority of shoots are entirely responsible and entirely focused on, yes, shooting the birds and getting them into the food chain, and more than anything else they are focused on conservation: looking after our countryside and ensuring that these habitats are there, not just for woodcock but for every species we could care to imagine.

That is clear from the statistics already quoted this afternoon. As it is, and with a very high rate of compliance, shoots up and down the country are not shooting woodcock until after 1 December. With an ever-expanding statute book in the United Kingdom, I put it to hon. and right hon. Members that there is no good reason to add to it yet further. Shooting in the United Kingdom, as has already been said, provides a massive net benefit to our economy and many thousands of jobs. As is clearly evidenced by the Aim to Sustain coalition, which involves the BASC, the Countryside Alliance, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and many more, the shooting community is involved in a voluntary transition from lead to steel shot. Indeed, many game dealers will not take meat from shoots that do not have British Game Assurance accreditation, which requires that birds by shot with steel, not lead.

This voluntary transition is leading to much sounder and more sustainable shooting in the United Kingdom. The longer that transition is left as voluntary—I stress the word “voluntary”—then the future benefits of shooting will be all the greater, not just to the economy but to getting more game meat into the food chain. I should say in passing that it is sometimes overlooked and forgotten that game meat is often healthier and a better protein than many of the meats we all buy from supermarket shelves. More people should be encouraged to eat game; I am encouraged by BGA’s success in getting more game meat served on national health service hospital wards, providing healthy protein.

We must ask ourselves this question: what good would it do to put another piece of legislation on the statute book? What would it achieve? Would it change anything on the ground? The answer can only be no. As others have said, between 1.4 million and 1.6 million woodcock migrate to the United Kingdom annually. The International Union for Conservation of Nature red list clearly lists the woodcock as a species of least concern, with a stable global population trend. This is not a bird that is about to die out or on the precipice of extinction; shoots and famers up and down the land look after the habitats that sustain all these species which we care so much about.

While the petition looks at specific dates around the shooting season, there is no question but that there are those out there who want to stop shooting altogether. They want to stop the British public shooting game and, more importantly, eating that healthy, nutritious source of food. But there is a reality that underpins that mission, and it is fantasy-land politics to believe that, if it were successful and we no longer shot and ate game, that would suddenly lead to a massive growth in the woodcock population or any other species—that somehow deer will neatly pat down the soil around newly planted saplings, or that predatory birds would bring down tasty worms and gift them to the woodcock.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds understands the importance of predator control? In 2018, it controlled 598 foxes and 800 crows, and it also controls barnacle geese and Canada geese to protect terns and avocets, so it understands the importance of managing the countryside in the way that gamekeepers have done for generations.

--- Later in debate ---
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend; he is spot on. The deer population in Buckinghamshire is now completely out of control, and damaging farmland, habitats and the safety of biodiversity across the county, left, right and centre. Of course, foxes and other predatory animals do enormous damage to our wildlife.

That is the point I was building up to. These factors are so much more important in the decline of the native species. If we take shoots and people interested in shoots who have a passion for conservation out of the picture, the habitats will get worse, not better. I respectfully disagree with the petitioners that this is a problem that needs legislation. Conservation is inherent to the shooting community in the United Kingdom. If shooting declines and more and more unnecessary restrictions are put on the shooting community, species will go into a much worse decline.

UK Food Shortages

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the hon. Gentleman should withdraw the words and phrases he used, because I did not use those words at the Dispatch Box. We recognise this particular issue, right now, which is why the Department is already in discussion with retailers, and why the Minister will meet retailers. This incident is driven by aspects of the supply chain, and the primary source for goods right now is an area that was affected by very unusual weather before and after Christmas. To have snow, and the amount of heat that was there, and adverse weather, is pretty unusual and something that the supply chain has to try to manage. Right now supermarkets have chosen a particular way. That is why we will continue to meet them, and I am hoping that this will be a temporary issue. This volatility is unwelcome, but I am conscious that our supply chain is resilient and that we will continue to invest in our farmers for generations to come.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

The Secretary of State is absolutely right in pointing to the factors that she has in answering this urgent question. May I push her a little further on the question of energy, and urge her to work more closely with the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero to see whether we can reclassify what is energy intensive industry within our support schemes? Agriculture and horticulture are incredibly energy intensive, yet they have not had the same support as some manufacturing sectors. That could revolutionise British farming and keep businesses afloat.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am conscious of what my hon. Friend says. Industrial glasshouses in particular are an emerging industry, not a long-established one, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will always be looking to consider who should be eligible. We will continue to make the case for why we think this is an important sector. I am conscious that there is a significant scaling back, recognising other issues, such as the wholesale price of gas which has fallen, and we expect to see a reduction in energy prices coming through.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know how passionately the hon. Lady feels about the issue—I do too—but we have to get it right. We are still analysing the responses to that call for evidence. Great care has to be taken when considering something flushable, even if it does not have plastic in it—where does it go, where does it end up and what happens to it?—so we have asked for extra information about that. It is critical for wipes to be flushable, but I urge people not to flush things down the loo, because that is how we get blockages and fatbergs. I recently went to a nursery where they were making homemade wet wipes out of kitchen roll, none of which went down the loo. If hon. Members want to see my video on that, they should go on to my Instagram.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

15. What steps her Department is taking to support farmers through environmental land management schemes.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We published an update on our environmental land management schemes on 26 January. We have worked to ensure that there is something for everyone; we are expanding the sustainable farming incentive offer and launching a new round of the landscape recovery scheme this year. We will expand and enhance our popular countryside stewardship scheme later.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. The £168 million farming investment fund, the six new standards in the SFI and the ELMS prospectus are good news and good progress, but I know from the National Farmers Union conference this week and from conversations with the Buckinghamshire committee of the Country Land and Business Association that detail is still missing that would give farmers the long-term certainty they need. I urge him to get the full detail of the schemes on the table as soon as possible.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will continue to publish more information on our environmental land management schemes this year. That includes further details by the summer on the new actions that will be made available through the sustainable farming incentive and the countryside stewardship scheme.

--- Later in debate ---
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is similar to the question the hon. Lady raised earlier. The Department for Education has responsibility for free school meals, and many millions of children benefit from them in this country. I am conscious that we want to ensure that food is affordable. Food price inflation is very challenging right now, and that is why we have acted to help with aspects of food production. We continue to try to ensure that we get through this challenging time. That is why there is support through things such as the household support fund, as well as other opportunities, to make sure that no child needs to go hungry.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It was a pleasure to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) to Manor Farm in Chearsley last month, to see how farmer Rose Dale, the River Thame Conservation Trust and the Freshwater Habitats Trust have created new floodplain freshwater wetland habitats. Will she congratulate everyone involved in this hugely successful project? What steps are being taken to create further such wetlands?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was the most enjoyable and informative visit that I took part in with my hon. Friend; I ask that he pass on my thanks to Farmer Rose. The visit demonstrated the value of bringing water into the landscape; it has value for habitats and, in many other places, for flood control. Such nature-based solutions are one of the key planks of not just our flood policy but our habitat restoration project.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important to recognise that there are many foodstuffs we enjoy that we simply cannot produce in this country; it is simply not physically possible. It is important that we continue to have that world trade. My hon. Friend is the trade envoy to Brazil, which is a very important partner for our Government in agrifood, climate and biodiversity, as I learned on my recent trip there.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest challenges to UK food security is the competing demands for the very land needed to produce the food from housing and commercial organisations and the latest scourge of solar farms? Will she therefore join me in welcoming the increased protections for agricultural land in the consultation on the new national planning policy framework?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend made the case strongly during the passage of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in this House and was able to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and secure some changes that are being consulted on. It is critical that we look at the use of land, and that is why we have committed this year to producing a new land use framework, in which the issues he raises are very important.

Oral Answers to Questions

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 8th September 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

1. What steps the Church is taking to help support Ukrainian refugees.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. What steps the Church is taking to help support Ukrainian refugees.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Six bishops and hundreds of clergy have Ukrainian evacuees living with them, and the Church of England is using vacant vicarages in a number of places. Churches are also actively involved in recruiting new hosts where needed.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- View Speech - Hansard - -

Over the summer, I was delighted to meet Reverend Peter Godden at St Dunstan’s church in Monks Risborough—England’s oldest recorded parish—to hear at first hand about some of the incredible work that the church and wider deanery is doing to support 130 Ukrainian refugees who have been welcomed to the wider Princes Risborough area in my constituency, such as English lessons, a conversation café and a children’s summer week. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all our churches for the work they are doing to support our Ukrainian friends? What more can the Church of England do to support churches such as St Dunstan’s in their work?

Food Security

Greg Smith Excerpts
Thursday 31st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

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 the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (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 the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (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 the Member for Totnes (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 the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (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 the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) will be delighted to hear this; we need to get more game meat into the food chain.

--- Later in debate ---
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) on securing the debate.

I have spent the last six minutes pondering whether to respond to the bait laid by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith), and I thought, “Why not?” So, just very quickly, it was very interesting that his underlying intention is to remove agricultural subsidies, which is what I have always suspected the Tories wanted.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- Hansard - -

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was quite clear that the hon. Gentleman said that he ultimately wanted to see a situation where we would not subsidise farming.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I did not say that there was a need to remove agricultural subsidy. I clearly said that agricultural subsidy was absolutely essential right now, but we must surely get to an end point where all agriculture is profitable.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Exactly. The hon. Gentleman said that the end point he wanted to get to was the removal of subsidies and to leave everything to market forces. We know there is a need for subsidies—about 60% of farmers’ incomes depend on subsidies. His end point is so far into the future that to have it as an underlying policy objective is not a great idea. I do not agree with him on trade, but I will come to that later. I do not agree with him that the sugar tax or action on obesity would have the impact that he suggests, because we know from the soft drinks levy that what it has led to is the reformulation of products and people choosing to buy other products. If it works, people will not pay more because they will change their diets accordingly.

On game meat, a study that has just been released from Cambridge University showed that 99.5% of pheasants killed contained lead shot. I hope the Government will look at that figure with a view to banning lead shot. I certainly would not want to see that being served in our hospitals. However, all that has taken up more time than I had hoped, but I can never resist.

The impact of the rise in the cost of living and the absolutely desperate situation in which many people find themselves is a really important debate to be had, but I want to talk about food sovereignty and what we grow in this country. According to the national food strategy, we are about 77% self-sufficient in food that we can grow in this country—64% self-sufficient overall. Importing more food, changing diets and eating more exotic foods is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember when spaghetti was considered exotic in the 1970s. It is good that we have far more varied diets and that we can buy fruit and veg out of season, but there is a point at which declining food sovereignty starts to have a significant impact on food security and our vulnerability to global food shocks is exposed. We have heard about Ukraine and Brexit, and we all remember the empty shelves and rotting food caused by trucks getting stuck at borders earlier this year. There is also the ever-present threat of climate change and the impact that it could have on future harvests.

A national food strategy recommendation is that we should have reports to Parliament on food security every year rather than every three years, as specified by the Agriculture Act 2020. Given the vulnerabilities that we have spoken about, it is really important that we do that so that there can be a quicker response. I would also be interested to know whether there is a target to increase food sovereignty in this country and for us to grow more, as several Members have said. That should absolutely be a goal of our policy. Instead, what we seem to have underpinning the policy is an almost desperate touting of ourselves around the world as we try to secure trade deals, which would have the impact of not just lowering food standards in this country but undermining our farmers and, in some cases, putting them out of business—particularly if the hon. Member for Buckingham has his way—further down the line.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords]

Greg Smith Excerpts
Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. Often rivers can meet an acceptable standard but in reality not be healthy places, particularly as regards biodiversity and wildlife. The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point and makes the case as to why the increased scrutiny that the new clause would bring about is that much more important.

The ambition of the Environment Act, which was given Royal Assent last year, is open-ended. There are no meaningful targets or timescales to prevent water companies from dumping raw sewage into our rivers, harming fish and other animals. In 2020, water companies made £2.2 billion in profits. At the same time, as I said, they were dumping sewage in our waterways on 400,000 separate occasions. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of justice is that? What kind of impact is that having on our wildlife? The new clause would expose that.

Between 2018 and 2021, there were only 11 prosecutions of water companies for dumping sewage in our lakes and rivers. United Utilities, which serves Cumbria and the rest of the north-west, was responsible for seven out of the 10 longest sewage leaks in 2020, but, outrageously, was not fined even once. Despite the damage done to the ecology and animal life in rivers such as the Leven, Crake, Brathay, Kent, Lune, Sprint, Mint and Gowan, discharges are permitted either because Government will not stop them or because hardly any of the offenders are ever meaningfully prosecuted. The meres, tarns, waters and lakes of our lake district are all fed by rivers into which raw sewage can be legally dumped. I am particularly concerned about the ecology of Windermere and the failure to take sufficient action to protect the animal and plant life that is so dependent on England’s largest and most popular lake. The new clause would hold Government and water companies to account so that our wildlife and our biodiversity is protected.

New clause 6 addresses the impact of trade deals on the welfare of sentient animals. This country has concluded trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, and any scrutiny of those deals is now effectively meaningless because the Government have already signed them. Yet the impact on sentient animals will be enormous. Free trade is vital to liberty, prosperity and peace, but trade that is not fair is not free at all. These trade deals are not fair on animals and not fair on the British farmers who care for our animals. In Australia, for example, huge-scale ranch farming means the loss of many times more animals than in the UK because of the absence of the close husbandry that we find on British family farms. Some 40% of beef in Australia involves the use of hormones that are not allowed in the United Kingdom. Cattle can be transported in Australia for up to 48 hours in the heat without food or water. These are clearly lower animal welfare standards. By signing these deals without real scrutiny, the Government have endorsed that cruelty and enabled it to prosper at our farmers’ expense. Lower standards are cheaper, so these deals give a competitive advantage to imported animal products that have reached market with poorer animal welfare, thus undermining British farmers who practise higher animal welfare standards. That is why the new clause is important—because it seeks to hold Ministers to account and to limit how much they can get away with sacrificing the welfare of sentient animals at home and abroad in order to achieve a politically useful deal.

Despite this, this Bill has much to commend it. However, the new clauses would allow the Government to look the British people in the eye and say that they were prepared to take on powerful vested interests in order to protect animals and our wider environment. In seeking to press new clause 5 to a vote, I urge Members in all parts of the House not to take the side of the most powerful against those creatures that are the most defenceless.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I rise to speak in favour of amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), and new clause 4, amendments 3 to 22, and new schedule 1, which are in my name.

From the outset, and for the avoidance of all doubt, I am not, through any of these amendments, arguing against animals being sentient or being able to feel pain. After all, the sentience of animals has long been recognised in UK law, as evidenced by animal welfare legislation passed over the course of nearly 200 years. The purpose of amendment 2 and the other amendments in my name is to help the Government to avoid the main dangers and unforeseen consequences posed by the undefined aspects of the creation of the new Animal Sentience Committee. Crucially, under the unamended version of the Bill, it remains unclear who will be on this committee and what direct powers it will have. The unamended Bill’s draft terms of reference seem to suggest that the committee could have a role in scrutinising the substance of policies and not just the processes that led to those decisions being made. The Secretary of State will have the final sign-off on the committee’s composition, but what mechanisms will be in place to ensure that it is made up of dispassionate and genuine scientific animal experts and not ideologically driven animal rights activists with political agendas?

The amendments would protect against the Bill clumsily becoming a Trojan horse for what I would consider an extreme agenda that the Government could live to regret in years to come. Indeed, passionate supporters of the committee’s creation have already talked publicly of its not excluding animal rights extremist groups such as PETA. My amendments, especially amendments 3, 10, 11, 12, 18 and 21, new clause 4 and new schedule 1, suggest some statutory structure for the committee, how appointments to it are to be made, and how it might operate. The amendments would clarify that the committee is concerned with the process by which current policy is being formulated and not with policy decisions taken or suggesting policy changes, whether proposing new policy or changes to existing policy.

The amendments would also help to address the question of the Bill’s retrospective effect. The current drafting, confirmed by the draft terms of reference, would allow the committee to report on past policy decisions. Without my amendments, there will be no limit to how far back the committee can look, which would, in practice, allow it to draw attention to policies that have already been decided and implemented, or are being implemented. I fear that in doing so, it could start to drive a policy agenda of its own. Far from ensuring that in the process of policy making all due regard is had to animal welfare, it could raise policy issues that are not under current consideration or have already been decided, or decisions made before Ministers were expected to take account of animal sentience.

The current draft terms provide little clarity, and there is little if anything binding on Ministers, whether current or future. To rely on terms of reference to provide detail in these areas is not desirable for a statutory body, as they are non-binding and can be changed at will without any parliamentary oversight.