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

Where the Leader of the Opposition leads, the Government follow. I am grateful for that. That visit to Wiltshire was not in vain, I see—[Interruption.]

What kind of country do we want to be? [Interruption.] I do not think that a country whose MPs shout at each other in a debate like this is a country that is good—[Interruption.] I have not heard that from this side and I encourage those on the Conservative side to recognise that as well. There are people watching this debate in farming communities up and down the country. They are tuning into BBC Parliament and parliamentlive.tv for the first ever time, and they should see parliamentarians performing at our best in this debate.

I want Britain to be a nation of quality—[Interruption.] Let me start that again, because the people at home might not have heard me over the chuntering. I want Britain to be a nation of quality, of high standards, of ethical treatment of animals and of stewardship of our landscapes; a custodian of high environmental standards; and a nation that challenges other nations to compete with us fiercely but to do so on a level playing field. I want Britain to be a beacon country with our values proudly on show, not just in soundbites and manifestos, but in our laws, trade deals and behaviours. That is what the amendments on food standards seek to achieve. It is a moral compass that this Agriculture Bill desperately needs.a It is because of that, and because Labour backs our farmers, that we have voted at every opportunity against the Bill, which singularly fails to protect our farmers from being undercut by food produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards abroad. Our farmers are not afraid of competition but, when we maintain high standards for them but allow potentially food produced at lower standards to be imported, that is unfair. It is not a level playing field. That food would be illegal for British farmers to produce here, but somehow it would be okay to have it through the back door. That cannot be allowed and that is why our food standards must be put into law.

No party should take rural communities for granted. I respect an awful lot of the voices on the other side, who I have not heard shouting today, for their work in standing up for their farmers and in trying to convince DEFRA Ministers and, importantly, the Ministers who hold the whip hand in the Department for International Trade to recognise the importance of putting our standards in law. It is a fight we must continue. It is a fight that must be continued by those on the Opposition Benches, but equally I encourage those on the Government Benches to do so, too. There is a cross-party concern about food standards. There is cross-party support broadly for the words in the Bill about changing our farm support methods, but the words that are missing—those that would put our food and farming standards into law—are the ones that we need to focus on. That is why we will be voting for the amendments with pride, passion and patriotism tonight.