Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 8:15 pm, 12th October 2020

You might be surprised to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that one third of the land in Sheffield Hallam is agricultural land, and my husband is the trustee of a city farm. Farming in all its forms is of great interest to me.

The Government have insisted that when we leave the EU, our trading standards will be world-leading, world-beating, the best, the greatest, and the most fantastic in the world. In fact, they have started to sound a bit like the President of the US, and they obviously want to make a sweetheart deal with him. Our farmers are not convinced. I have been contacted about the Bill and the amendments under debate by hundreds of constituents, farmers and producers alike, and every one of them is concerned about the future of our trading standards on food, animal welfare and the environment, as well as the impact of that on their farms and what is on their plate.

That is no wonder, because although Ministers talk about high standards, without the amendments nothing will protect British farmers from being undercut on food and animal welfare standards. The rhetoric about protectionism is reckless; we are talking about people’s incomes. The Minister may say that we do not need to worry about food such as chlorinated chicken because the EU withdrawal agreement has carried over existing standards, but my constituents do not trust the Government on that. We have seen what respect the Government have already shown to this issue, and there is nothing to stop bans on such products being overturned through secondary legislation. If the Government want to set minds at rest, why will they not accept amendment 16 to guarantee that those bans will not be lifted without proper scrutiny in Parliament?

In any case, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products that are prohibited because they breach our standards on food safety, not those on animal welfare and environmental protection. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said when highlighting the issue of sow stalls in California, it is right to ban such things in the UK. That cruel and inhumane method of producing pork should also be banned from all our imports on animal welfare grounds. We need explicit guarantees on animal welfare, but so far we have none.

Given that UK farming accounts for roughly one tenth of our national CO2 emissions, we need a Bill that enshrines action on climate change. Why the Government are so averse to proposing any obligatory measures to meet our net-zero targets is beyond me. We need the Bill to be more robust, to enshrine the commitment of zero-carbon emissions in the sector, and to support British farmers and the health of our people by protecting food and animal welfare standards. Without the proposed amendments, the Bill will fall well short of that.