Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:15 pm, 13th May 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed the debate this afternoon. I do not think that that is just because it is my first time out of the house for some weeks. We have heard from passionate colleagues on both sides of the House—colleagues who are passionate about farming, food and food security. We have heard from distinguished former Secretaries of State. We have heard from farmers. We have heard from those from farming families. We have heard from many Members who represent farming constituencies. We have heard from a vet, and we have heard from a number of colleagues, some mentioned by Daniel Zeichner, who love both food and food security. We also heard, indirectly, from the cows of Wantage.

I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Members that the Government understand the importance of agriculture to the nation. I know that British farmers are the best in the world. The Bill will ensure that they receive the support that they need to give us the food that we need and enjoy; to protect and enhance our beautiful rural landscape; and to ensure the health of the wider rural economy.

We have had a robust debate, which was well-intentioned on both sides. I need to reiterate at this point that there can be no question of sacrificing the UK livestock or other farming industries for the US trade deal. To the contrary, it is our view that a US trade deal is perfectly compatible with a thriving UK farming industry and very high standards. We have heard mention of the dreaded chlorine-washed chicken several times, and I would like to reassure the House that under existing regulations, which we will put into English law at the end of this year, chlorine-washed chicken is not allowed, and only a vote of this House can change that.

I think I also need to restate that the Government are willing to commit to a serious and rapid examination of what can be done through labelling, to reassure colleagues. It may well be that that would help colleagues to understand that we do intend to promote high standards and high welfare across the UK market. I agree that we must consider the case for consumer choice more fully when we look at this in some detail. I agreed earlier in the debate, and reiterate now, that we will consult on this at the end of the transition period. It is important that we look at how it would affect both the industry and consumers, and indeed retailers. I am keen to take that forward.

I thank my predecessor—now the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend George Eustice—for making the Agriculture Bill such a great piece of legislation. We will hear from him later, on Third Reading. I would like to gently tease the hon. Member for Cambridge about this. Isn’t it great that we have a Secretary of State who stands up for high standards of British farming; and isn’t it great that this framework Bill, and what has been said by our trade negotiating teams, and indeed by the Prime Minister and in the Conservative manifesto, again and again has reassured that champion for high standards in farming, who is behind this Bill, as I am sure he will tell us very shortly?

I am very grateful to the members of the Public Bill Committee for their diligent scrutiny. It is fair to say that this Bill has evolved, and indeed improved, during its passage through the House. I am so sorry that many of them have not been able to speak in this debate, but I think that given the hybrid nature of the proceedings we have had a pretty good go at discussing the issues that, as the hon. Member for Cambridge said, concerned the Committee.

I would like personally to thank especially our Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Department. They have been towers of strength at a difficult time, when it is difficult to communicate with colleagues in a way that we would like to and are used to. I express my thanks and gratitude to all the civil servants who have worked on the Bill, especially Nathalie Sharman, the Bill manager, who is in the Box this afternoon.

I thank, more widely, those across the four nations who have worked hard on the Bill to get it to this stage. During the work that we have done in the taskforce for feeding the vulnerable over the past four months, we have worked very closely with my colleagues across the four nations, and I hope that we can continue with that spirit of co-operation as we take these policies forward.

I would also like to thank the Clerks and the House authorities for helping us to make history as the first Bill to be voted on using electronic voting. I hope I have not spoken too soon, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that it works!

This is, as we have said many times, a framework Bill. We have a long, long way to go, and many tests and trials, before the agricultural transition period comes to an end in 2028. I would like to reassure farmers that the Government will support them and ensure that consumers will continue to have access to great-quality British food to eat. We very much hope that that will mean consumers from all over the world.

Farming is more than a job. We must cherish the deep personal connection felt by those who farm the land to the soil and landscape they care for, and build upon it in the reforms that we make. This Bill gives us that framework for the future for farming and for our countryside outside the EU. It will allow us to reward public goods such as environmental improvements, it will support investment in technology and research to improve productivity, and it will help our farmers to produce the high-quality food that they are renowned for and that we all so enjoy eating. I commend this Bill to the House.