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Domestic Food Market

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 2 March 2017

3. What recent assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of its support to British farmers in increasing their share of the domestic food market. (909000)

Mr Speaker, I apologise for being a little late. I was at the Gulfood exhibition in the Gulf and my plane was sadly stranded because of fog.

The Government want the UK to grow and sell more British food and drink. Through the introduction of a new plan for Government procurement, we have sought to enable Departments to source more local food, and recent successes include the Ministry of Justice implementing the plan in prisons. Last year, exports of food and drink increased by 9% to £20 billion.

West Sussex is home to our finest food and drink, including the superb Sussex Charmer, produced by our exceptional Rudgwick cheesemakers. What further opportunities does the Minister foresee to promote high-quality, well-branded food of local provenance?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The quality heritage of our local food, such as Sussex Charmer and all the great wines produced in the South Downs, is second to none. That is why we have set up the great British food unit—to promote our food at home and abroad. It is also why I have just returned—late, sadly—from Gulfood, the world’s largest annual trade fair.

I remind the Minister that we do not want food at any price. As we have heard this morning, another seven species are in danger in our country because of intensive farming. When will we have good, productive, sustainable farming and start importing less?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As we design domestic agriculture policy after leaving the EU, we will be looking to ensure we have sustainable farming, so that we get the benefits of farming sustainably, while improving productivity.

8. Will the Minister join me in celebrating the success of Wight Marque on the Isle of Wight? There are now more than 450 food and drink products on the Isle of Wight, and Wight Marque is being used to promote the island as a speciality food destination. (909006)

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. Wight Marque celebrates the Isle of Wight’s brilliant range of food, from locally produced milk to a vast array of fruit and veg. It is a great example of how a little public money and the support of partners can really celebrate the provenance of our local food.

Farmers are facing a critical shortage of seasonal labour, and some are afraid that our food will rot in the ground this year. The Government have been asked to reverse their decision to scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, and Ministers say that they are reviewing the issue, but can a decision please be made as a matter of urgency?

While we remain members of the EU, we still have free movement, and fruit farms and farmers can still source their labour from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. We are aware that some have raised concerns about agricultural labour after we leave the EU, and we are listening carefully to their representations.

Does my hon. Friend share the view expressed by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation that leaving the EU can both help farmers increase their share of domestic products and improve animal welfare by preventing the import of goods produced under circumstances not permitted in the UK?

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government have a manifesto commitment to place a stronger recognition of animal welfare issues in the design of future agriculture policy and to promote higher standards of animal welfare in international trade deals. We intend to implement those manifesto commitments.

Yesterday during a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee, we heard evidence from Gary Mitchell of National Farmers Union Scotland, and two things were made very clear: access to migrant labour for seasonal work is essential for our agriculture sector and the Government are yet to the respond to the representations made by NFU Scotland over these concerns. Will the Minister commit to looking into this and providing an urgent clarification to the agriculture industry on where they stand on migrant labour?

I have regular meetings with NFU Scotland. Earlier this year, we had a meeting and engaged on a wide range of issues pertinent to future agriculture policy in Scotland, including labour.