Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses) 8:30 pm, 12th October 2020

I wish to declare an interest: I have several relatives who are farmers.

I rise to speak in favour of the Lords amendments. I realise that time is pressing, so I will address the needs and concerns of consumers rather than those of farmers, although I acknowledge the importance of the Bill to the farming community. I would like to mention some of the very serious concerns that have been raised by my constituents in both Reading and Woodley and to call on the Government to listen to those concerns, even at this very late stage.

The central point that has been raised with me is that the Bill as it stands will open a backdoor to food that is produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards. I wish to address both of these related issues in turn. On environmental standards, it is very important to remember that agriculture is responsible for a significant proportion of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, and that there are also a series of other issues associated with the industry however hard farmers both here and around the world are trying to address them. The same also applies to animal welfare, which has been led by British farming. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said earlier, there are opportunities for us in this country to influence animal welfare standards around the world by asserting our own rights now as an independent trading country.

These amendments would also allow for closer scrutiny of trade deals. Another point that has been made quite eloquently to me by residents in my area is that we should not shy away from having the same approach that legislatures in other parts of the world have to trade deals. As I said earlier, consumers value the hard work and dedication of UK farmers, and they want to see high standards upheld. However, it is important to understand what UK consumers are able to effect and where the Government need to intervene. Consumers do care deeply about British farmers and about maintaining high standards, and they will raise issues with us as elected representatives. However, consumers are struggling to follow a range of complicated pieces of information about food standards already, and they do rely on the Government to intervene in the market and to try to make things clear for them. They rightly believe that the Government should regulate and that Parliament should hold the Executive to account as part of its constitutional role.

I am conscious of time, Madam Deputy Speaker. Maintaining high standards is important to our country. Serious concerns have been raised by consumers, and there is an obvious need to maintain proper regulation. Given all that and the needs of the farming community, I hope the Government will now, even at this very late stage, listen to the concerns that have been raised and think again.