I agree wholeheartedly. As I said at the last stage, flooding our market with cheap imports and cheap produce will have a disastrous impact on our farmers. We cannot claim to back British farming one day and not protect our farmers in law the next. I am conscious that since the Bill was last before the House the Government have made many verbal commitments on this issue, so why not put them into legislation? What is the justification for saying something outside this House if they will not enable it through legislation within the House?
We, as Members of this House, have a duty to act in the best interests of our constituents at all times. To do that, we must ensure that the food that our constituents eat, from the youngest to the oldest, is of the highest standard and that our agricultural industry—the cornerstone of our society—is protected in law. It is extremely disappointing that Lords amendment 18 was ruled out of scope. My colleagues and I would have supported it on the basis that it would allow this House to scrutinise trade Bills, their impact and the standards being allowed with our new trading partners. This House should be accountable for every food product imported into the UK.
Farmers in Northern Ireland, with a farming model largely based on family farms where the work is hard and the margins are by no means guaranteed, look at the Government’s reticence in legislating on standards with suspicion, and I share such suspicion. For the Government to demand the highest standards of their own farmers, at considerable cost, financially, socially and mentally, but refuse to make it law that importers will face those same demands is just bizarre. I urge the Government to think again. We need the Bill to allow our local Department to administer direct payments from 2021, and, as such, we will support it overall, but we do so in protest, and out of our farmers’ need to receive that much needed financial support.
In closing, let me touch on the amendments and the provision in the Bill relating to environmental standards. The farmers I represent and those I spoke to regularly are wholly committed to the highest environmental standards—standards that will far exceed those in many countries with which the Government will seek to do trade deals. However, in return for a focus on sustainable agriculture those farmers need the Government to recognise that they cannot do it alone. They need the Government to support them, and thus far support has fallen far short. That must be addressed. This House has a choice today. I will stand up for British farming and its world-class standards, and I hope that others will join me.