Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer 7:15 pm, 12th October 2020

I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interest in the register.

I want to speak in support of amendment 16. I had also hoped to speak in support of amendment 18. I commend the Government for introducing amendments 2 and 5 to 8 in the Lords. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, which sponsored Lords amendment 275 on improving regulation of gene-editing techniques, I thank the Government for responding positively to this with the offer of a public consultation this autumn, meaning that we do not have to discuss that amendment here today.

Having called on Report for producers to have more time to plan and restructure their businesses under the new agricultural policy, I warmly welcome the Government’s Lords amendment 2 mandating the publication of multi-annual assistance plans at least 12 months ahead of implementation. I also strongly support the Minister on Lords amendments 5 to 8 responding to the calls from me and others on Second Reading for the Government to report on British food security more frequently than every five years. Personally, I would have liked the Government to go slightly further, but the three years that is now proposed is a step in the right direction, and I welcome that.

I firmly back the broad aims of the Bill and believe that the Government have improved it in the Lords in response to suggestions from the sector and parliamentary colleagues. However, I continue to support amendment 16 and will vote for the proposed changes in line with the principle of the amendment. This is an important piece of legislation and we have to make sure that we get it right. Amendment 16 has the same intention on food import standards as the Commons amendment tabled on Report by members of the EFRA Committee, as touched on by its Chair, my hon. Friend Neil Parish. I believe that our arguments remain now as strong as they were then, if not stronger. Ministers have frequently suggested that this is not a trade Bill, but I would reiterate that the issue of fair terms of trade for high standards in British agriculture simply cannot be separated from farming and environment legislation, which is what we are discussing.

I have listened closely to what the Minister has said, I have been encouraged by her words, and I know that she has worked extremely hard on this, but, as I said, I will vote today to write concrete legal protections into the Bill. I hope that a continued stand on this issue will encourage the Government to put our manifesto commitment to maintain UK standards on to the statute book—something that will reassure consumers as well as the industry on this issue.