HAYES IN THE HOUSE: In all of our interests to buy British food

John Hayes, Conservative MP for South Holland and the Deepings
John Hayes, Conservative MP for South Holland and the Deepings
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Much of the food Britons consume is grown here in Lincolnshire as the hard work of local farmers, growers and those that work for them fills the shelves of shops across the nation.

Now, as we look forward to leaving the European Union, with its inefficient Common Agricultural Policy, they deserve the chance to do even more.

The nonsense of the costly CAP, combined with the commercial capriciousness of greedy supermarkets, has led to a decline in the UK’s food self-sufficiency, with just 58 per cent of what we eat produced in our country, 16 per cent less than 20 years ago.

Our departure from the EU provides the opportunity to rethink our agricultural policy, improving food security while maintaining support for farmers. The current system of area based payment leads to too many errors, with applicants for payments often waiting too long for the Rural Payments Agency to send them what they are due.

Instead, we should reward farmers more directly for the work they do: feeding the nation and maintaining the land.

Fair rewards are crucial, and farmers need to know where they stand as soon as possible. Before the wretched European Union, agriculture was supported by a system of “deficiency payments”, whereby farmers received support as and when they needed it, in well understood, uncomplicated, easy to manage process.

But beyond all this, the most straightforward means of supporting British agriculture is to choose to buy British produce. Having long believed that the public sector could do better, I am delighted that the Government has now, through new procurement guidance, committed to buying more British food for hospitals, schools, servicemen and prisons

A key feature of these new rules is the so-called “balanced scorecard” for procurement decisions which weighs simple criteria such as cost against more complex themes of resource efficiency, animal welfare, health and wellbeing.

In so doing, the Government is providing a clear message to suppliers as to what is required, which should enable more small producers and local suppliers to compete for contracts and so grow the rural economy.

It is crucial that we protect the interests of the primary and secondary food producers so disadvantaged and weakened by large retailers and their ilk. The Groceries Code Adjudicator – the establishment of which, in Government, I encouraged – enforces the Groceries Supply Code of Practice and promotes fair play by preventing large retailers from transferring excessive risks or unexpected costs on to their suppliers.

The GCA has the power to levy substantial fines — of up to one per cent of annual turnover — upon supermarkets which breach the code. We must now consider whether the Adjudicator needs wider powers to do more.

All of this embodies time-honoured principles – supporting the familiar, local and home-grown against faceless, over-mighty conglomerates. After all, Napoleon described us as a “nation of shopkeepers”, not a venue for careless, corporate power. Knowing from where our food comes, who makes it and how, provides consumers with reassurance and domestic production sustains the countryside. It is in all our interests to back Britain by buying British food.