Olivia Blake MP
Olivia Blake MP

Unfortunately, Olivia was unable to make her contribution to the Agriculture Bill debate due to time constraints. Here’s what she would have said –  

Thank you Mr Speaker, many people in my constituency have contacted me about this Bill, especially to express support for the NC1, 2 and 6 amendments.

For the last few weeks, government representatives have taken to the airwaves to insist that we need a “new normal”.

But Mr Speaker, I’m worried the new arrangements will only exaggerate the worst bits of the “old normal”- because the situation before the public health crisis wasn’t working for my constituents or the people of this country. That’s no more apparent than in the issue of access to food.

Before this crisis began, it was obvious that many people were living in food poverty. The Trussell Trust’s ‘State of Hunger’ report says that around 8-10% of households have suffered through food insecurity. Since the 2008 financial crisis – and after a decade of the austerity agenda vocally supported by the government benches – the distribution of food parcels from foodbanks has increased by 1.5 million units.

So it’s clear that going into this public health crisis, the situation was already very bad. It was just a few weeks ago that we were debating the Marmot review and the impact this has had on health inequalities in the country. Food poverty has obviously played a role in that.

The pandemic has shone a light on these weaknesses in people’s ability to access food. Three weeks into the lockdown, the Food Foundation said that over 1.5 million people have reported not eating for a whole day – the significant drop in incomes we’ve seen since the onset of the public health crisis has meant that many people are unable to afford food. They have to choose between paying rent and eating. We’ve consequently seen the use of foodbanks continue to sky rocket.

The Bill we’re discussing today was the opportunity to tackle this shocking situation. What we need is a plan to get food and supplies to the people who are going without – but there’s nothing in the Bill that speaks to these issues. Instead, we have a commitment, every five years, to do a report of food poverty in the country. Every five years. There’s a food crisis now – the figures are out there, in the public domain, and they speak for themselves.

But food poverty isn’t just about if people eat; it’s about what they eat, too. The NFU are right to draw our attention to food import standards. There’s nothing in this bill that stops a sweetheart deal with Trump from putting chlorinated chicken on the menu. We need guarantees that standards will not be undercut by food imports. It’s good for our farmers, and good for the health of all our people.

Because we all know who suffers from eating cheap, poor quality food imports. Eating healthy nutritious meals should be the right of everyone – not only the people who can afford it.

Mr Speaker, I’ll end on this: I’ve been a member of parliament since December and in that time I’ve seen an Environment Bill that does nothing to stop us falling behind the rest of the world on environmental protections, a budget that expands road and airport infrastructure, throwing more CO2 into the atmosphere, and now an Agriculture Bill that only encourages action to tackle the climate emergency, rather than making it compulsory.

Why is this government so averse to proposing any obligatory measures to meet our net-zero target? If we’re serious about tackling the climate crisis, why not add a target for net-zero emissions in agriculture?

Mr Speaker, the “new normal” cannot be a euphemism for exaggerating the worst defects of the “old normal”. As we move out of this crisis we need a new settlement for our agriculture sector and the supply of food – one that enshrines a commitment to zero-carbon emissions in the sector, that brings an end to food poverty and insecurity, and that supports British farmers and the health of all our people by protecting food standards.

I’m sorry to say that this Bill falls short on all three counts.

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