HC Deb 12 December 2001 vol 376 cc840-1 3.36 pm
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to publish and implement a strategy for abolishing food poverty; to require the setting of targets for the implementation of that strategy; and for connected purposes. The origins of the Bill are to be found in the Rowntree report of 1999, which drew the attention of the House and the country to the stark reality that there are 4 million people in Britain at the moment who do not have access to a healthy diet. The reasons for that are complex. They include a combination of inadequate income, insufficient access to safe and fresh food and misinformation about nutritional standards. However, the outcomes of that misunderstanding and lethal cocktail are equally stark. In each of our constituencies, up to 5,000 people are malnourished. Those people account for four in 10 hospital admissions. One in 10 of those who are admitted are caught in what is referred to as a malnutrition carousel, in which they make their way back and forth between the national health service and home, unable to sustain themselves on a healthy diet in order to get well and stay well.

The question is what we should do. It is clearly unacceptable for the House or the country to have a strategy that does nothing, and it is not the position of the Government to tolerate that view either. We already have a commitment as a Government to a strategy that will eliminate child poverty. As a Parliament, we have committed ourselves to a 15-year strategy that will eradicate fuel poverty. I believe that the Bill will complete the anti-poverty strategy, so that we have a coherent and comprehensive picture to address.

The Bill is simple and comprises two basic elements. First, it places a duty on the Secretary of State to present to the House a strategy for the elimination of food poverty. Secondly, its implementation mechanism would require local government to set up its own local food authorities, which would be expected, first, to conduct an audit of food poverty as it emerges in their area; secondly, to develop a strategy for eliminating food poverty; and, thirdly, to construct local partnerships to provide the mechanisms for the strategy and for eliminating a national scandal.

Clearly, Parliament and the Government have a duty to set out the framework for such a strategy, but the delivery mechanism must be local. It will draw on the diverse, dynamic and locality-based ideas in local communities and local government. It will go down several different paths, which I do not wish to prescribe. We may choose to try to follow the lead of the Women's Institute, which, in its sweet way, is almost the Khmer Rouge of the safe food campaign. It establishes local food markets around the country, and sets standards for food freshness and food accountability that the rest of us would do well to follow.

We may choose to support and extend the burgeoning growth of farmers' markets, which involve local food production and accountability. We may choose to fund food co-operatives that are currently supported by several health authorities around the country. Whatever collection of ideas we pursue, we will have to consider incentives for dealing with places in almost all our cities and communities that have become food deserts where one cannot find fresh food outlets that are accessible to the food poor.

I am tempted to suggest that, rather than offering discounts to supermarkets for zero ratings on their car parks, we should explore the possibility of allowing local authorities to offer 50 per cent. business rate reductions to food outlets where the food has been produced within 50 miles of the urban locality.

There are a myriad possibilities for tackling the scandal of food poverty that continues to blight the social landscape of this country. We may invite the local food authorities that local authorities establish to negotiate safe food contracts between the hinterland of food producers in the agricultural communities that surround urban outlets and the urban concentrations of food consumers.

More than a century ago, local government greatly transformed the quality of life of working people by setting standards for sanitation and food hygiene. They genuinely improved the life and health of working people throughout the land. We now need a different vision that revisits the issue and applies to the challenges of the 21st century.

Throughout the country, swathes of the public are establishing their agendas for food safety, food accountability, food security and food sustainability. The challenge to Parliament is whether we can catch up with the public. One of the exciting aspects of the food justice campaign that the Bill launches is that it crosses party boundaries. In many respects, the formal party political agenda has failed to grasp a political challenge that the public have set for Parliament and every party that is represented in it.

I doubt whether the Bill will make its way into law in this Parliament, but I am certain that, as with the warm homes campaign to end fuel poverty, in five years' time, the House will pass primary legislation to eliminate food poverty from Britain. I am therefore proud to present the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alan Simpson, Mr. Don Foster, Mr. David Amess, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. David Drew, Tom Brake, Dr. Howard Stoate, Peter Bottomley, Ms Diane Abbott, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mr. Tony Colman, Mr. David Chaytor.