Debates between Lord Clark of Windermere and Lord Marlesford during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 14th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Lord Clark of Windermere and Lord Marlesford
Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first declare again the interests I declared last week, as in the register.

I am delighted with this set of amendments, because they put right a fundamental flaw in the Bill, which was to make a false distinction between food production, food and agriculture on the one hand and the environment. This is dangerous, because it plays into the hands of those who say that all that matters is the environment, which irritates the people who see their main job as producing food.

This debate has really brought back a unity and a recognition that food production is not simply a private good but very much a public good; I hope this is able to be incorporated in the Bill in some way on Report. We have seen two main reasons given, both very relevant: security and, of course, obesity. Security has come to the front recently because of Covid, and everybody who happily took the instant availability of anything they wanted from anywhere in the world got a rude awakening; we all did. I was taken back to my childhood days in the war. At home in Suffolk we managed to get a fortnightly delivery from Waitrose because we were locked up. My wife had ordered a bunch of bananas, and what actually arrived was two bananas—serves us right. The point is that food security means something: using what we have, not what we do not have.

The next important thing is obesity. It is the biggest epidemic we have, bigger and probably more important than Covid-19. This is absolutely a matter of better eating and eating more natural foods. I am not a vegetarian, but I believe that the simpler the food we eat is, the better. One of the great changes was when people stopped having porridge for breakfast. All sorts of sophisticated cereals were introduced—Corn Flakes, Grape-Nuts, Weetabix and so on—and very delicious they were. However, they soon became adulterated with far too much sugar and salt. Then we copied the Swiss and introduced muesli, which was originally simple grains, mixed, cold and raw, which you ate with your milk in the morning, but which has been adulterated and become a terrible product called Alpen, which is stuffed with sugar and fats and is quite revolting.

We must recognise that healthy eating is very important and the key to it is getting the consumer and the producer close together and making as many consumers as possible into producers. I very much support the remarks that have been made about horticulture. I will very quickly give one story of the first time I went to China, in December 1965, just before the chaos of the cultural revolution descended and swept away the Mao dynasty. I noticed when visiting a commune that the people who were happiest and who paid the most attention to life were those working their private plots in corners, which were very small and intensive, producing a great deal of food which obviously they ate themselves.

Small is beautiful, in farming as well as in modern technology, but we must spread the word of people getting involved in agriculture and getting consumers and producers together. Years ago, when I was on the Countryside Commission, the urban fringe was doing very badly. We had what we called Groundwork to clean it up. It was a great success. It got local people excited, and changed the nature of deprived and grotty, dirty, litter-filled areas, polluted ponds and so on. It is the same principle as the remarks that have been made about urban farming on this set of amendments. I am in favour of all that. The big lesson from this group of amendments is in exposing the false distinction between public and private good, in which food production is relegated to being a private good. Let us get together to improve our food, ensure the security of our food supply and, most of all, encourage the beating of obesity by the sensible eating of natural foods.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and very much go along with the sentiments that he expressed. This is an ambitious Bill, which I find exciting. It deals with agriculture for this moment in time and for the future.

Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am full of admiration for farmers, who work so hard, usually in inclement conditions, to put food on our plates, by which we all live. We should never forget that.

What has come through this series of debates—and it is perhaps the nature of the hybrid system that so much time has been spent on Clause 1—is that Clause 1 sets the tone of the Bill and its moment has come. Words and titles are important. When I became the principal Opposition spokesman on agriculture in 1987, one of the first things I did was to change the title of my job from the Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to the Shadow Minister for Food and Agriculture. It has always been important to mention food. Time has shown that that was right, and I am delighted that we now have a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because it is very important.