I am the son of a Berwickshire farmer, and I am proud to represent one of the most fertile parts of rural Scotland. The food producers in my borders constituency are the best in the business; the quality of our produce is second to none. Others have spoken in this debate on both sides of the question, particularly around food standards, and they are all just as passionate about their own local areas.
What this debate has shown more than anything is the consensus that exists across the House, reflecting the views of people across the country, that our high UK standards of environmental protection and food production are the right ones and that they must be preserved. Where there is disagreement, it is about how we can best do that in the years ahead.
I understand why some hon. Members will support these amendments from the House of Lords, and I understand why a number of my constituents got in touch to ask me to do the same, but I will not, for three main reasons. First, I do not believe that they are in the best interests of farmers and producers in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. We are in this position because we have left the EU, and we will soon be outside the common agricultural policy and the common commercial policy. It is worth taking a moment to remember that these matters were settled when we were members of the EU. The EU did not, does not and will not ask its trade partners to adopt all its environmental and food standards, as the amendments would ask the UK to do in the years ahead. The trade deals we now enjoy, which we hope to roll over, were signed on that basis. Making the proposed changes would put the continuation of those trading relationships at risk.
Secondly, the amendments are not necessary. The law already forbids the things they seek to guard against. Chicken washed in chlorinated water is banned in the United Kingdom. Growth hormones in beef are banned. In the last few decades, it was the EU that signed trade deals, and this House had no role in agreeing them. In the future, the House will be a player in that process. The UK Government will conduct the trade negotiations, and this Parliament will scrutinise the Government and hold them to account. In the end, Parliament can block an international treaty if it so chooses.
Thirdly and finally, I fear that these amendments would be harmful to some of the world’s poorest people. Requiring every country we do a trade deal with to match all our rules would make it virtually impossible to reach agreements with developing countries. Those countries might lack the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure to meet all our reporting requirements, or the rules designed for a rainy island in the north Atlantic might just not be suitable for their climates.
I do not doubt the sincerity of anyone supporting these amendments; I simply disagree that the amendments represent the best way forward. They are not in the interests of food producers, they are not necessary to protect food standards and they would be bad for trade. Free and fair trade is what allows us to enjoy food and drink from around the world that our great-grandparents had never heard of. It allows our producers to sell their exceptional quality products globally. It is what is lifting the most vulnerable people in the world out of poverty. Trade is a force for good, and with the high standards that we set in law and the enhanced scrutiny that this House will provide for years to come, we have nothing to be afraid of.