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Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:30 pm, 3rd February 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are valid questions about some of the farming methods used by some of our key trading partners and the reasons why they are used.

I do not want the legacy of high standards to be ripped apart by the introduction of cheap, low-quality foods following our exit from the European Union. Britain has a brilliant diversity of growers, farmers and producers. Our rural communities define what it is to be British. Our rural landscapes are beautiful, but they are not frozen; they are working environments. Our rural areas are an inheritance that we pass to our children, and that is why the rules that govern our stewardship of farms, fields, rivers and hills and valleys are so important.

Before I embark on my main argument, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I again declare an interest? My little sister is a sheep farmer in Cornwall, and I have been asked by my old man to add that he keeps a few chickens. I overlook the Pollard chicken coop at my peril.

There is much in the Bill that Labour supports. Public money for public goods is a philosophy that Labour backs. I am no fan of the common agricultural policy—it is probably one of the few areas where the Secretary of State and I agree. Incentivising farmers to protect wildlife, enhance biodiversity and restore habitats is a good thing, which my party supports. At what pace and by what mix of payments is still to be determined in detail. How this move will help smaller farmers as well as large producers is still uncertain, but the direction of travel is one that I welcome. Farmers have been looking after the land for generations, and it is not if they should do so but how that matters, especially as we scrutinise the Bill further.

As my hon. Friends Mike Amesbury and for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) have said, the Bill is silent regarding the big promises the Prime Minister has made on standards. Indeed, this very morning, in his speech in Greenwich, the Prime Minister promised the British people that

“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards”,

but the Bill contains no legal guarantee to put those words into law. So many of the Prime Minister’s promises have been broken, words twisted and responsibilities shrugged off. For any of those promises to be believed, they must be enshrined in law. For the British public, for our farmers and for anyone we do trade deals with in the future to see clearly, there must be no regression on standards—no undercutting of British farmers with food grown to poorer standards, poorer animal welfare, more damaging environmental impacts or poorer protections for workers.