On 14th May 2020 a virtual sitting of the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Boycott, “That the Virtual Proceedings do consider food supply and security in the United Kingdom in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for this debate and I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. It is often said that the primary duty of government is the defence of the realm: equally important is the need to feed the population. When a crisis hits, we can survive for a considerable time without importing computers and machinery, but without food we last only a few weeks. Fortunately, during this pandemic the food chain has held up relatively well, although a number of shortages in the early days of the lockdown acted as a salutary warning. Within days of the lockdown, many of our churches here in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire had set up food banks or parish pantries, not just in poorer areas such as Stevenage or Farley Hill, but in wealthier villages such as Flamstead and Ponsbourne.
Farming is different from other industries, because you cannot keep land in reserve and bring it back into production at the flick of a switch; you cannot keep milking cows in storage to bring out when there is a shortage. Our farmers are some of the best in the world and need our support, not just for their own livelihoods but because they provide an essential public service—that is why we need to help them get the workers they need to bring the harvest in. Will the Minister support the idea that we should dedicate one of our Thursday evenings to outdoor applause for British farmers and food producers? Will he commit Her Majesty’s Government to increasing the level of food security in Britain, both now and to protect us in the future?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con): …Seasonal labour was raised by many noble Lords…There has been a strong response from thousands of British people expressing their interest in agricultural work in the coming months. Work is currently in hand on the government/industry digital hub “Pick for Britain”. We think that, for some of the early weeks, labour has been covered, but we are conscious that from the end of this month and beyond we need ever more people to come forward. We are working on the promotion of the website…