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Food Strategy

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022

5. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the Government food strategy published in June 2022. (900675)

Before answering this question, I would like to take this opportunity to correct the record. In an urgent question to which I replied on 19 May, I stated:

“We are largely self-sufficient in wheat production, growing 88% of all the wheat that we need.”—[Official Report, 19 May 2022; Vol. 714, c. 839.]

In fact, we produce 88% of the cereals that we need and the figure for wheat is a little lower, at 81%.

In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, let me say that the food strategy has themes that are cross-cutting and have effects on policy in many other Departments. I can therefore confirm that the process of securing collective agreement meant that this issue was discussed exhaustively with Cabinet colleagues and other Departments.

I thank the Minister for that response. Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy was an

“excellent plan to help people escape the ‘junk food cycle’”.

That is what the former Conservative leader William Hague said when he was writing in The Times a few weeks ago. He went on to describe the Government’s U-turn on implanting any of the recommendations in that strategy as

“intellectually shallow, politically weak and morally reprehensible”.

Was he right?

No, he was wrong, because we have implemented new point-of-sale restrictions, which take effect later this year, in October. That is already driving reformulation; so we have put in place policies that deliver on the issues highlighted in Henry Dimbleby’s report. As for advertising and bans on promotions, we do not believe that that is the right thing to do in the context of rising food prices.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for issuing reports on food strategy, but I am still not entirely convinced that we have a long-term sustainable policy on the production of indigenous fertiliser in this country. Will he put into the House of Commons Library additional information for us to share with our farmers on this very important issue? Given the rising costs of fertiliser and the concerns about potential closures of fertiliser plants, may we have these assurances?

Although CF Fertilisers has confirmed its intention to close the Ince plant, it is maintaining production at the Billingham plant, which is the largest of the plants, and I understand that it has full order books until later this year.

On CF Fertilisers, may I thank the Secretary of State for the time he took yesterday to discuss the future of the site? I am pleased to see that there is interest in purchasing the plant. Does he agree that despite the ongoing challenges that the industry faces, with a parent company that increased its dividends by 33% in the first quarter, there is no reason why the plant cannot be sold as a going concern?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman; although CF Fertilisers has chosen to consolidate its UK operations into Billingham, the Ince plant remains viable and the best commercial exit from that plant for CF Fertilisers would be to progress an offer based on selling it as a going concern. There are many skilled people in his constituency who have been working at that plant, and the best outcome for all concerned would be for it to be sold as a going concern.

The Secretary of State has just mentioned that we lack total self-sufficiency in wheat production. Presumably, given the skyrocketing prices in the wheat market because of what is happening in Ukraine, the Government food strategy is more about producing more of our own wheat. I do not ask him to comment on a particular planning application, but what does he think of an application to build a solar farm covering 7,000 acres of good agricultural land in my constituency? I am not asking him to comment on that proposal around Gainsborough, but will he consult his colleagues to ensure that we maximise food production on our farmland?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some years ago, we changed the planning guidance from the chief planning officer in the then Department for Communities and Local Government to make it clear that there should be a powerful presumption against the construction of field-scale solar on the best and more versatile agricultural land—that is defined as grade 3b land and above. I am aware that there are concerns that in some parts of the country that advice is no longer holding and applications are being approved, and we are discussing that across Government.