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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:56 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 8:56 pm, 3rd February 2020

Although the Bill includes some welcome provisions for the future of our farming, including supporting public money for public goods, if the Government are serious about tackling the climate change crisis and putting the environment at the heart of our agriculture industry, they must go much further than this.

According to statistics from the Welsh Labour Government, agriculture contributed 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Wales in 2017. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended a target of a 95% reduction in carbon emissions in Wales by 2050, due to our reliance on our farming, steel and power industries. I praise the Welsh Labour Government’s work and commitment on that issue in promising to go even further and reach net zero before that date.

The Welsh Government are working with a number of agricultural organisations on policies for reaching net zero in agriculture and are consulting on their clean air plan for Wales, with consultation due to be completed next month. That is an example of what can be done under a Labour Government—one who truly recognise the severity of the climate emergency and put the wellbeing and futures of their citizens and industries first.

I am unable to see any such targets for reaching net zero emissions for the agriculture industry in the Bill, but the Government must address that if we are truly to tackle the climate change crisis, especially at a time when extreme weather is regularly impacting on our farming and food production across the UK. The Government’s track record on missing key environmental targets does not give me a great deal of hope, but I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take the decisive action that is necessary, set a target for net zero emissions in agriculture and show that we are serious about tackling the climate emergency.

With regards to food standards, we have heard—and as has been noted by various agricultural organisations, including NFU Cymru—that it is alarming to see nothing in the Bill to legislate against importing food produced to lower standards. Vague manifesto promises that we will not have chlorinated chicken and hormone or antibiotic-fed beef in our supermarkets, and that our agriculture industry will not be undercut by cheaper imports from abroad, are not enough. I urge the Government to rethink this now and work with the dozens of farming organisations that have voiced their concerns to provide real, legal safeguards for our food and environmental welfare standards as part of the Bill.

If the Government will not set up a trade and standards commission and will commit only to monitoring international standards, how will the Bill protect our farmers from being undercut in the trade deals that the Prime Minister plans to make with other countries? Will it encourage people to buy Welsh and British produce? How will it ensure that Welsh and British farmers can compete on a level playing field post Brexit? I hope that the Minister can give some answers this evening.

I pay tribute to initiatives in Wales and across the UK, such as Crucial Crew, that do great work to educate our young people on the vital issues of safety. I recently attended a Crucial Crew event with two schools in my constituency, Pantysgallog and Coed-y-Dderwen, where organisations such as the Food Standards Agency and other partners provided interactive workshops and important messages on issues, including food safety, for pupils to take onboard and apply to their daily lives.

As we have heard, there is in the Bill an alarming lack of consideration given to tackling food poverty. After a decade of harsh Tory austerity measures, the number of those living in poverty and relying on food banks continues to rise in Wales and across the country, while the latest figures from the Trussell Trust show an increase of almost 20% in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in 2018-19 compared with the previous year. There are more than 2,000 food banks in the UK, which means there are now more food banks than McDonald’s outlets, of which there are only 1,300. This is clearly unacceptable in Britain in the 21st century, and it is disappointing not to see any robust commitment in the Bill to addressing food poverty or any measures to promote and improve access to healthy and sustainable food.

Farmers in Wales and across the country have also had to deal with serious labour shortages since the Tories’ decision to scrap the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. This is another missed opportunity in the Bill. It could have been reinstated in the Bill, rather than the Government’s replacement scheme, which will allow for only 10,000 seasonal workers to come to the UK. The Bill does nothing for agricultural workers. It could have taken that step and reinstated the Agricultural Wages Board, which was scrapped by the coalition Government in 2013. Although the Welsh Labour Government quickly reinstated the board in Wales, despite operating on a budget from Westminster that has been cut by £4 billion since 2010, there are still many thousands working in the agricultural industry in England and the Bill does nothing for them. I urge the Government to take on board these legitimate concerns and give us reassurances this evening.