Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:42 pm, 10th October 2018

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House, whilst recognising that on leaving the EU the UK needs to shift agricultural support from land-based payments to the delivery of environmental and other public benefits, declines to give a Second Reading to the Agriculture Bill because it fails to provide a strategy to safeguard the nation’s food supply at a time when food poverty and foodbank demand are rising rapidly alongside an epidemic in food-related health inequality, fails to recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply, leading to a greater reliance on imports, while failing to provide for controls over the production methods, working conditions, or animal welfare and environmental standards in countries from which the UK’s food is imported, and, when the natural environment is in crisis, with species decline at an alarming scale, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change, provides the Secretary of State with wide-ranging powers but no duties or legally enforceable environmental protection targets, whilst giving Parliament limited ability to scrutinise any changes in the regime, and fails to legislate for current funding to continue until 2022 as Ministers have promised;
and is of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill.”

This country is in desperate need of an Agriculture Bill that provides certainty and clarity for our food and farming industry, but instead the Secretary of State has laid before us nothing but a huge missed opportunity. There are no targets for environmental improvements or reducing carbon emissions; there is no commitment to producing healthy, home-grown food in a post-Brexit world; and there is no commitment to protecting the people of this country from food poverty at a time when thousands rely on food banks. We need an Agriculture Bill, but we need it to be better than this.

The Labour party absolutely agrees with the need to shift financial assistance in the way proposed by the Bill, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment. This has been rightly welcomed by environmental campaigners as a real turnaround in the Government’s thinking. I join those campaigners in applauding the Secretary of State in this regard, because—make no mistake—our natural environment is in crisis, with soil degradation, species in alarming decline, increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions, and air pollution that has remained at illegal levels since 2010. But does the Bill actually match up to the scale of the environmental crisis facing us?

The Bill provides only powers. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State “may” give financial assistance for environmental purposes—there is no duty or requirement for him to actually do anything. The environmental outcomes we need delivered are not prescribed. There are no targets and no mechanism for setting any targets. No funding is identified in the Bill. No delivery or regulatory bodies will be resourced by it.