The Senedd Bill’s consultation process has ended. It may influence the debate about the Agriculture (Wales) Bill and emerge as a remarkable legislative outcome from an opposition MS.
When beef farmer Peter Fox MS introduced a Food Bill into the Welsh Parliament last year, he was surprised that this Conservative Private Member’s Bill would be passed to the next stage. In July, in CLA Cymru’s marquee at the Royal Welsh Show, Peter outlined his vision for this at our political breakfast event on farming and food resilience. In September the Bill’s consultation process closed. A final version will be published in December.
“Throughout its development, Wales’ emerging Sustainable Farming Scheme has focused on continuing support for farming, but also more to meet net-zero, environmental and conservation goals. ‘All-well-and-good…,” says Peter, “…but recent events and our domestic health and nutrition issues mean that a more sustainable food system requires higher levels of food security, healthier diet and an improved food procurement system. The Bill will provide a framework to deliver a coherent government policy on food realised in all relevant policy areas – including international trade deals.”
“It’s a Welsh initiative but it’s not parochial,” Peter adds. “I liked much of what I read in the Dimbleby Report and England’s Food Strategy. I want to make synergies with it, notably in increasing consumption of local, fresh, better quality vegetables and soft fruit. What meat we eat should bear all these qualities – it’s the poor quality processed products that we need to set aside.” Peter adds, “I’m most concerned that here in Wales the majority of procurement is driven 70 per cent on price, but only 30 per cent on quality – equally true in parts of England, I expect.”
Peter would like to address other problems too. He’s concerned about structural “silotisation” in how government department remits manifest themselves: the food supply chain, public procurement, health and social services.
The Welsh Government is committed to update its’ Food and Drink Strategy and infers that many of the Peter’s Bill’s themes can be delivered within existing legislation. Any loose ends might be tied-up in the Agriculture (Wales) Bill and other legislation.
“Critically this piece of legislation means that Government will be required to act and it will provide a structure for that action.” Peter explains.
“It elevates the presence of a food strategy from a chapter in the economic development remit - to a legal requirement that can be probed, tested and measured.”
To do this job a Food Commission will monitor strategy and performance, work in procurement with health-boards and local authorities, scrutinise food plans, collect data and report. “It will be a critical friend to government,” Peter says. “It’s not realistic to build in a mechanism to hold a democratically-elected government to account. What it can do is censure central or local Government.”
Despite being introduced by a Conservative MS, there’s a great deal in the proposals that can appeal to Welsh Labour Members, Plaid’ and our one Welsh Liberal Democrat member. Peter concludes, “As things stand, the Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs continues not to support the need for this legislation, so my next task is to try to use the feedback heard throughout the process to convince the Minister to work with us to pass the Bill. Regardless of whether it ultimately becomes law or not – the Bill’s generated a lively debate about the type of food system we want in Wales in light of the challenges that we continue to face.