It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on such an important Bill—the first new Agriculture Bill in many years. I welcome the Bill and want to outline the key areas and then move on to amendments that would tighten and improve it.
The principle behind public moneys for public goods is sound, and it is excellent that animal health and welfare and environmental protection and management are clearly articulated as public goods. It is welcome that food production and security are recognised within the Bill, and that the Secretary of State is able to help support improving agricultural productivity. The covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharp relief the importance of food security and the need for the UK to be able to produce sustainable, local and accessible food for its population. The Bill’s requirement for the Secretary of State to produce a status report on food security every five years could perhaps be reviewed to make it more frequent. As we move to this new way of paying farmers, I stress the need for a smooth transition of payments so that there are no cliff edges. The Government have guaranteed the same level of payment over the duration of this Parliament, but it is important, as direct payments are phased out, that farmers are given the time and security to adapt to the new system.
Moving on to the amendments, as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee I am happy to support new clauses 1 and 2. As a vet, it will come as no surprise that I am passionate about animal health and welfare, and it is so important that we uphold our high standards. I was proud to stand in Penrith and The Border on a Conservative manifesto that said:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
These amendments to the Bill will ensure that any imports are equivalent to or, indeed, exceed our domestic standards. We can send out the message to our future trading partners that if they want to trade with us, they need to meet the standards that the people of the UK insist upon. That will benefit not only our own farmers and animals but, ultimately, farmers and animals around the world.
Now, some Members will say today that that will complicate trade deals, but I do not hold with that. In the Department for International Trade and the Foreign Office we have the best negotiators and diplomats in the world. In any negotiation there is give and take and, as has been seen with Brexit in recent months, anything can be achieved.
Provisions on animal welfare have been included in free trade agreements, such as those between the EU and Chile and South Korea, and in fact that led to improved slaughter standards in Chile—an important animal welfare improvement. Welfare at slaughter is only part of the story. Members will say that the WTO rules will guarantee welfare standards at slaughter, which is good, but we all know that much more needs to be considered earlier in an animal’s rearing and transport.
I have heard the argument that the amendments will compromise trade deals with the developing world and Commonwealth partners, but that too can be solved. I am proud that our Government allocate 0.7% of national income to international aid. It would be an excellent use of some of that budget to export British expertise and training to help farmers in the developing world to raise their animal husbandry and farming standards. The UK can be a beacon.
I wish to address the chlorinated chicken debate, which is—if Members will forgive the mixed metaphor—a bit of a red herring. Chlorinated chicken is rightly banned in the UK and EU. Some say that the disinfection process is safe, but it may not be the panacea. A 2018 study published by the American Society for Microbiology reported that the chlorination process was not 100% effective at killing food-borne pathogens and merely led to their being undetectable in the lab. But that ignores the true reason why we should not import such products: this carcase-disinfection process merely covers up and tries to mitigate substandard animal welfare standards in the rearing of poultry.
To conclude, I welcome and support this excellent Bill, but very much hope that Members will join me in supporting the amendment to protect and uphold our high animal health and welfare standards. I see this as an opportunity to raise animal welfare and food-production standards both here and around the world. We should seize it.