Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 2:14 pm, 10th October 2018

Which is of course the very point we are making. I thought that everyone would welcome the opinions of the Scottish National party and the people of Scotland, because of course in this precious Union surely we are all equals, although I will come to points that directly affect Scotland shortly.

DEFRA admitted to the NAO that it will be unable to handle the increase in export health certificates needed for farmers to carry on exporting their produce to the world’s largest single market because it is currently done on a spreadsheet that only one person can operate at a time. The Department’s long-term ambition is to get up to the same standard of e-certification that other nations use, but the Treasury has not yet seen the business justification document in order to approve it. I will lay odds that the costs of sorting that out will be more than the spare change down the back of the DEFRA sofa.

If anyone thought that animal exports getting done over was enough bad news, they had better not look at animal imports. The UK will lose access to the EU’s TRACES, or trade control and expert system. Data on animal imports will have to be entered manually at border inspection posts, so we can expect higher error rates, delays at borders while manual checks are carried out and an increased biosecurity risk, according to DEFRA’s report card from the NAO. Potentially, we will have high-quality beef sitting on one side of the border waiting for its turn on the spreadsheet to get a health certificate for export, while the supermarket lasagne is sitting on the other side waiting for a border guard to punch its information into the system. In the meantime, farmers will be watching their livelihoods disappear, while every truck in the game is held up at the border.

There are two points, parallel to those issues, that are vital to Scotland’s food production and marketing. The first is the need for seasonal workers. My hon. Friend Pete Wishart will go into our concerns about that at length, but I will quickly add that the pitiful pilot scheme announced recently for seasonal workers would have been laughed at, had we not already seen crops rotting in the fields this year for want of workers to pick them. The other issue is the need for protection in global markets. Those needs are being ignored in Whitehall.

The position on geographical indicators and other protections is similar. The EU currently protects Scottish produce in international markets, including Scotch whisky, Scotch lamb, Scotch beef, the cheeses, Stornoway black pudding, and so on. There are similar products elsewhere—the Melton Mowbray pork pie springs to mind, along with Fenland celery and Yorkshire rhubarb. The Minister of State for Trade Policy gave evidence to a Committee of the Scottish Parliament last month, and said that Scotch whisky would continue to be protected because of the importance of Scotch whisky exports to the UK economy, but that the others were basically up for grabs. He said:

“PGIs present quite serious difficulties in free-trade negotiations because some nations regard them as unfair protection or non-tariff barriers to trade.”

He went on to say that the issue is not straightforward in trade negotiations because we would have to demonstrate market penetration or recognition. In other words, protections in international markets for goods produced here will be negotiating chips on the table in each new trade deal that the UK looks for. Scotland’s farmers, having built a reputation for quality and traceability that helps to sell their products across borders, are about to see their market share threatened, even if they can get through the border posts, because they will be losing easy access to the world’s biggest single marketplace, but also because the protections that the machinery of the EU afford will be stripped away as the UK struggles to learn once again how to negotiate trade deals and negotiates away any protection that our unique products might have had.

It is notable that the briefings on the Bill that I have received from organisations in England are broadly in favour of it, while the briefings from organisations in Scotland are not.

In this, as in so much else, Scotland and England are different, and the differences cannot be easily reconciled. There was a time when Ministers in Whitehall acknowledged and accepted those differences and to an extent celebrated them as part of the diversity of the UK they sought to govern. Acknowledging that diversity and respecting its history could be achieved by respecting the devolved Administrations. There is no need for a power grab. There is no need for the centralisation of responsibility in Smith Square. Indeed, we know, and I am sure the Secretary of State will concede, that the plans being made for agriculture in England and the policies already being implemented would not suit Scotland; they will be harmful to Scottish food producers.