Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:15 pm, 12th October 2020

Yes, I will be getting on to that in a minute, too. Members will see that Lords amendment 16 has a large number of conditions that, were it to pass, would apply to continuity—so, rollover agreements—and to any new agreement that we signed. One of my concerns, just to give the hon. Gentleman an example, is that the amendment would require other countries to abide by exactly the regulations that we have in this country. Those might not be appropriate because of climate, for example, or the way a country is physically. Our hedgerow regulation, for example, would look fairly odd in parts of Africa, but that is just one example.

I will make a bit of progress. We have high standards in this country, of which we are justly proud, and there is no way the Government will reduce those standards. Our clear policy, in fact, is to increase them, particularly in the area of animal welfare, and I hope to be telling the House a lot more about that next year.

It is important that our future trade agreements uphold those high standards. We can ensure that with a range of safeguards, parliamentary scrutiny being one of them. My right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has today confirmed in a written ministerial statement to the House that there will be a full scrutiny process for the Japan deal and all other agreements that we strike. When it is agreed in principle, a copy of the deal will be issued to the International Trade Committee. It can then report on that, and I know that it will scrutinise the deal carefully.

The Government are committed to transparency and to aiding scrutiny. That includes publishing objectives and initial economic assessments before the start of any trade talks, which has been done to date. We have also provided regular progress updates to Parliament. For example, we recently provided updates on the conclusion of negotiation rounds with the US and Australia, and we are engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee in the other place. That includes sharing future trade agreements before they are laid in Parliament through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Today, the Secretary of State set out how that is happening for the Japan deal.

We will always endeavour to ensure the Committees have at least 10 sitting days to read through the deals or potential deals on a confidential basis. We are also sharing a full impact assessment, which covers the economic impacts along with the social, environmental and animal welfare aspects of any deal, and that impact assessment has been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee.

Finally, at the end of negotiations, we are committed to ensuring that the final agreement text is laid in Parliament for 21 sitting days under the CRaG procedure, which will ensure that the House has sufficient time to scrutinise the detail of any deal. I know that there has been some debate in both Houses on the effectiveness of CRaG, but it is the established procedure under our constitution. Our overall approach to scrutiny goes beyond many comparable parliamentary democracies.

Further important scrutiny is provided by a range of expert groups that advise the Government on trade policy. They include the Department for International Trade’s agrifood trade advisory group, which was renewed in July and includes more than 30 representatives from the food industry—I nearly said “heavyweight” representatives, but I would not want that to be misinterpreted. DEFRA also continues to run various supply chain advisory groups such as the arable group, the livestock group and the food and drink panel. They provide expert advice as we negotiate, which is fed directly in to those negotiating.

We also listened carefully to powerful points made by Members of this House and the National Farmers Union, which is why we established the Trade and Agriculture Commission in July. The commission is working hard. It has met six times and set up three working groups covering consumers, competitiveness and standards, bringing more than 30 additional representatives to help with its work. Recently, the commission launched a call for evidence to 200 relevant parties, which asked several questions, including on how standards can best be upheld while securing the benefits of trade. Its report will come before Parliament later this term to be debated.