Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:45 pm, 12th October 2020

I agree. At least British Ministers will not have to utter the phrase, “It won’t get through Parliament,” because Parliament has, sadly, voted itself out of having a say, making it one of the few Parliaments in the world that will not have a say on any trade deals with Britain.

Let me address briefly some of the reasons the Minister gave for not supporting the amendments, because it is important that we consider the arguments. Last week I heard the International Trade Secretary say that if we have high standards, that would risk having a crippling effect on agricultural exports from developing countries such as Kenya. I know that Members are concerned about that, but the problem is that it is not right. At the moment, thanks to our membership of the EU, the Government have nine trade deals with sub-Saharan African countries, and so far not a single one of them has been rolled over. We risk losing those trade deals with sub-Saharan Africa if we do not renew them by 31 December. If we care about our agricultural exports, that should be the priority. The Minister also knows that the Government should have a better plan for improving the post-Brexit UK version of the EU’s generalised scheme of preferences, which sets lower tariffs for developing countries in exchange for meaningful protection of human rights, labour rights and the environment.

What else is used as an excuse for the Government not putting their promise into law? The Minister mentioned labelling. I have spoken proudly from this Dispatch Box about the need to buy local. I want consumers to look out for the red tractor and other local accreditations when they are making purchasing decisions. But let us be real: an extra label will not stop lower-quality food being sold in Britain. It offers a meagre apology on the packaging, but only where there is packaging. Ministers know that 50% of our agricultural production does not go into retail. It goes into food service—to cafés and restaurants, food processing and the like—where the origin of the ingredients is, at best, hidden. That is precisely where chlorinated chicken would be sold and eaten first. It would go to big caterers and into mass production—places where consumers cannot tell where their food has come from or know the standards it is produced to. It would go into hospital food and into meals for our armed forces and our schools. The Government claim that the amendment is unnecessary because standards are included in the withdrawal Act, as we have just heard. However, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products banned on the basis of safety and, as was mentioned earlier, they do not deal with animal welfare or environmental protections, which is what this amendment seeks to do.

There is one more excuse, which has not been spoken about so far, that is absolutely key to the Government’s future trade strategy, and it is about taxes. Could not Ministers just tax these products a wee bit more with an extra couple of pence on tariffs and let the market decide? This is something I have heard and read about in Tory-leaning media, but let me be clear with Ministers, because all those in this place know what the Treasury and the Department for International Trade are planning. Charging a few extra pence on lower-standard food import tariffs while public anger is at its highest will give Ministers a convenient soundbite to offer a nation ill at ease with the Government’s policy. They will then be able to drop those tariffs through secondary legislation when the anger dies down. The end result will be that we still have chlorinated chicken and food produced to lower standards on sale, whether it is for a few pence more or a few pence less. That will not stop those products being sold in the United Kingdom. It will authorise and legitimise it, and it will sign the death warrant for farm businesses the nation over. That is why we want these standards put into law.

In the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, it is imperative that we have a clear road map for agriculture to reach net zero. The NFU has done a good job in its work so far, and I want to thank farmers for the efforts they are making to cut carbon emissions, which are a sizeable chunk of UK emissions. That is why we back efforts to have clear, sector-specific plans that farmers can follow, and we also back efforts including the amendment tabled by Lord Whitty in the other place on pesticides. That matters because of the impact not only on the environment but on human health.

I fear that, in seeking to disagree with these amendments tonight, the Government might be trying to hint at the Salisbury convention, which is that the other place should not interfere with manifesto commitments. However, the Lords are doing something different from that: they are doing a reverse Salisbury. They are asking the Government to stick to their manifesto commitments. In such circumstances, the Salisbury principle does not apply, and the Lords should ask the Commons to reconsider these amendments on food safety and on the Trade and Agriculture Commission again—and again, if necessary. Every time this House votes on these amendments, more and more farmers will be looking at the voting list to see which Members support the farmers and which have chosen not to. We cannot take any votes for granted, and I warn Conservative Members against doing so.

Just last week the Leader of the Opposition and I visited the farm of the NFU president, Minette Batters, in Wiltshire. That was our second meeting with the NFU president in a month, but the Prime Minister still refuses to meet her. I would be grateful if the Minister could pull a few strings to get the PM to meet farmers to talk about this issue.