Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport) 7:30 pm, 12th October 2020

As I think you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you have often been in the Chair, I have been closely involved with the Bill at each stage of its seemingly interminable progress through the House. I spoke on Second Reading on both occasions, and I served on both Bill Committees, in this Parliament and the last. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak once again today to make the case for rewarding good stewardship of our land—I believe that is what the Bill does, for the most part—and for maintaining high standards in food production. Obviously, we are here to discuss why the Bill falls short on that front.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the Government are again set to oppose attempts to protect British food and British farmers. These Lords amendments are supported not just by peers in the other place but by farmers, consumer groups and the vast majority of the British public. Anything that unites me and the Chair of the Select Committee, Neil Parish, on farming has got to be the right call.

The amendments are also in line with the Government’s own manifesto promises. As many Members have said, if the Government do not intend to allow food standards to be undermined in future trade agreements, they have nothing to fear from legislating for that. I have sat through so many debates in Committee and in the Chamber where we have had assurances, but people simply do not believe that the Government want to protect our British food and our British farming standards. If the Government do mean what they say, I have yet to hear a decent explanation why we cannot legislate.

The Future British Standards Coalition has advised that legislating to ensure that food imports meet British standards would not only benefit the health of UK citizens and our environment but encourage higher standards in nations that wish to export food products to the UK. That was the case with the state of Punjab in India, which banned nine pesticides to boost basmati exports to the EU and the UK. That was a victory for both global trade and our environment, and it shows what can be done if the will is there.

The UK should embrace this opportunity, not run from it. We need far more ambition on this issue at the World Trade Organisation. I do not see why the UK should not lead the way so that other nations follow suit, orientating their trade policy around the environment and public health. We know that there is a public health crisis in this country and in many others; we ought to lead from the front and restore our food system so that it is about health and sustainability rather than a race to the bottom.

When we compare those potential global benefits with the risk of not upholding our standards, the choice is not only stark but obvious. Rather than promoting high standards around the world, we could see UK markets flooded with low-quality, unhealthy food. Not only could that represent a serious threat to public health, but domestic farmers would struggle to stay competitive against cheap imports from abroad. They could not have made it clearer how worried they are about that.

I therefore implore Members—particularly Government Members—to think carefully about these amendments and what kind of nation we want to be. We have a choice between supporting our agricultural industries to produce sustainable, high-quality food and becoming a world leader in environmental protections, and undermining our health and our farmers by choosing cheap, low-quality imports and that race to the bottom. I know which side I will choose to be on today, and I hope that the rest of the House will join me in supporting legal guarantees of high standards.