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 Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, Chair, Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union 7:15 pm, 12th October 2020

I, too, listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say, and I have to say that I agree with the hon. Members for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), because I do not understand the Government’s resistance to putting these sensible changes into legislation. The problem the Government have is that the more they claim to want to do what the amendment is seeking, but then say, “But we can’t do it”, the greater they raise in the minds of everyone watching—farmers, consumers and others, as well as colleagues on both sides of the House—the idea that something else is going on here. So, let us be honest about this.

We all know how trade negotiations work and the pressure that trade negotiators come under. Let us consider the United States of America—with which the Government, to be fair, are very keen to get a trade agreement, because they have decided to move away from the best trade agreements they have, with the European Union. The fact is that that pressure will exist regardless of who wins the presidential election next month. I think Steve Brine put his finger on it when he read from the letter, in which it appears that Ministers are saying, “Well, don’t do this because it will make it more difficult”. But how is doing what the Government promised to do in their manifesto more difficult—and it is only fair?

The Minister talked about undesirable side effects. I listened very carefully but I heard her give only one example, which was her reference to hedgerows in Africa. I understand the point she was trying to make, but it does not really work when we look at the new clause in amendment 16, because subsection (2)(b) talks about standards that

“are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to” the areas we are discussing. Furthermore, the very next subsection gives the Secretary of State the power to determine what those standards are equivalent to. The argument made by the Minister, for whom I have great respect, that somehow there will be a fixed process that would lead to absurdities does not really wash when we read what is actually in the amendment that their lordships have put together.

I want to talk about sow stalls, which were banned here in 1999. No doubt the Minister will be aware of the new cruel confinement law, as it is called in California, which not only bans the use of sow stalls in that state, but bans the sale in California of pork produced in other American states that still use sow stalls. I am advised that that includes Iowa and Minnesota. Could the Government please explain why it appears that California is able to ban food products produced by what we regard as cruel means in other states of the United States of America, but that we somehow have difficulty in doing the same in deciding our new rules?

The final point I want to make is on the new clause in amendment 17. Again, I do not understand the Government’s argument. The Minister said that sector-specific targets were not really helpful, but the basic and obvious point is this: if we are going to meet our climate change targets, as Caroline Lucas pointed out, we are going to need progress in every single sector of the economy, agriculture, land use and forestry included. Therefore, it seems that it would be really helpful to have an interim target to help the farming industry to make the changes that we know will have to come. I am pleased to hear that quite a few Government Members will vote for them, but I urge the Government at this stage to think again.