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 Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 8:30 pm, 12th October 2020

This Bill could well be among the most significant pieces of legislation that we debate in this Parliament. It covers our farming practices, environmental protections and food supply chains. If the food shortages in supermarkets at the beginning of lockdown have taught us anything, it is the importance of food security and traceability. Our constituents know this. Recent polling by Which? shows 95% support for maintaining existing food standards, and over 1 million people have now signed the NFU’s petition—yes, the NFU: that radical and dangerous organisation, according to Bill Wiggin—calling for food standards to be enshrined in law.

The most frequently raised issue recently by Bath constituents has been the Agriculture Bill. They want reassurances about the quality of the food they eat. They care about animal welfare standards and environmental protections. They want to know that British farmers will not be undercut by cheaper, lower quality products from countries with fewer regulations. Like many others, I have been supporting local businesses during lockdown. We are lucky in Bath to have an excellent supply of locally produced food from Somerset, and it will be British families like these who will be left unsupported.

This pandemic has also underlined the importance of healthy eating and good nutrition for our general health and wellbeing, yet we risk exposing hundreds of thousands of families to low-quality food, undermining the Government’s own obesity strategy. We must be mindful, too, of the agricultural sector’s role in getting to net zero. Lower food standards encourage poor production practices, and the result is massive damage to the environment. Unless these standards are legally enshrined, the risk remains that this Government will compromise on environmental protections and food and welfare standards, as they head out in a desperate search for trade deals after Brexit. Just last week, the US Agriculture Secretary said:

“We absolutely will not agree to policies that restrict our methods of production to any other standards outside of this country”— the US. How can we ask our constituents to rely on nothing more than ministerial assurances?

The Government argue that enshrining food standards in the Bill would undermine trade negotiations. That is not true. This morning, the Future British Standards Coalition published its interim report, with evidence that it is possible to reject low food standard imports, remain WTO-compliant and still strike trade deals. The Government want Britain to be a global leader in trade. Why not be a leader that encourages trading partners to adopt higher standards? I urge Members across the House to support the Lords amendments, particularly amendment 16.