Page last updated at 20:59 GMT, Monday, 23 January 2012

Labour: 'Disgrace' that British families go hungry

It is an "utter disgrace" that families should go to bed hungry in modern day Britain, the shadow environment secretary has told MPs during an opposition day debate on food prices.

Opening the debate on 23 January 2012, Mary Creagh said the fact that increasing numbers of people were being forced to use food banks meant there was a problem that had to be looked "squarely in the face".

"It is an utter disgrace that we are the seventh richest country in the world and yet we are seeing thousands of people going hungry to bed at night, many of them children," she told MPs.

She called for the swift implementation of a grocery ombudsman to create a "fair and competitive" relationship between suppliers and supermarkets and introduce clearer labelling to help consumers make better food choices.

Ms Creagh also urged supermarkets to hand unused, in-date food to charities "to ensure it goes to a good home".

"We ignore the perfect storm of rising prices, falling incomes and food poverty at our peril," she concluded.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman sought to reassure MPs that the government was taking action, but said high food prices were not ministers' fault.

"Contrary to the rather Dickensian impression created, food prices are not a direct result of the government's composition," Mrs Spelman said.

"Food prices are the product of many complicated and inter-related factors, many of which are globally driven," she continued.

The environment secretary criticised the Labour party for "doing nothing" to introduce a grocery ombudsman while it was in power.

"Despite 13 years spent doing nothing about it, you feel this is a credible basis on which to criticise us for not having completed this process in just over 18 months," Mrs Spelman said.

Conservative Anne McIntosh, who chairs the environment committee, highlighted the plight of small-scale farmers and growers, arguing that they had "virtually no protection" from supermarkets.

She called for producers to be able to make anonymous complaints to the adjudicator.

Llanelli MP Nia Griffith spoke of a "dramatic drop" in the purchasing of fresh produce by the poorest families.

The Labour MP said there should be a simple formula so consumers could easily compare prices, telling MPs that loose items like fruit and vegetables made it difficult for people to work out how much they would be charged.

Liberal Andrew George called for the grocery adjudicator to have the power to fine supermarkets.

But Conservative David Nuttall disagreed, and called on ministers not to interfere with food retailers.

He told MPs that competition between food retailers had led to "a huge choice of food that previous generations could only dream of", driving down prices "to the benefit of all consumers".

MPs went on to reject Labour's motion by 70 votes.

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