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 thank the right hon. Gentleman for that important contribution. It is disappointing that the digital roll-out came before farmers could access it. I would add that mobile connectivity is as important, because when farmers submit their application online, they are sent a text message with a code that they need to put in; if they do not have a mobile signal, they cannot continue with the application. All these things need to be considered before we move forward.

We praise all our farmers for the important role that they play in environmental stewardship. The Secretary of State talked about the fact that the food and drinks industry is such a huge manufacturing sector. It is incredibly important that we get more support for our farmers than the Bill currently offers. At the moment, the Bill offers our family farmers just a payoff, which we believe risks leaving our fields to ever larger, more intensive factory farms run by global big business.

It worries me that the vision of the UK as a leading free trade nation with low tariff barriers is completely at odds with the commitment to thriving British food and farming sectors. Combining and delivering those two objectives will be a considerable challenge for this Government, who are and always have been in favour of more deregulation and who have a blind reliance on the free market to deliver social outcomes. Labour will oppose any free trade deal that threatens existing standards: we will fight any such deals tooth and nail.

In conclusion, the development of a new post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside. Never has it been more important to lift our line of sight and to talk proactively about what we want to see as part of a long-term strategy for food, farming and the environment. Sustainability, above all else, has to be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.

It is right that we shift agricultural support for land-based payments to the delivery of public and environmental benefits, but the Bill sadly falls short in a number of areas. There is no strategy to safeguard our nation’s food supply or recognition of the importance of sustainability to reduce the reliance on imports. There is no provision for controls over production methods, working conditions, animal welfare or environmental standards in countries from which our food is imported. The Bill hands wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State but includes no legally enforceable environmental protection targets, and there is no provision for current agricultural funding to continue until 2022, as Ministers have previously promised.

This House should have had the chance to conduct proper prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill. What we are discussing here is fundamental to the future of British agriculture, and getting it right is crucial. For those reasons, I am afraid that Labour cannot support the Bill’s Second Reading, and that is why I strongly urge colleagues to vote for our reasoned amendment tonight.