Clause 4 - Multi-annual financial assistance plans

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 12th October 2020.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 7:45 pm, 12th October 2020

Until the last speech, I was going to say how lovely it was to feel a common view coming from the Government and Opposition Benches. Let me just say why I think the last speaker was wrong. He said that if we adopted Lords amendment 16, for example, we would be imposing standards on developing countries that they could not reach. In fact, the EU has all sorts of arrangements with poorer countries precisely to be able to support them in improving their standards. There is nothing here that would inflict inappropriate standards on some of the poorest countries. The hon. Gentleman also said that our standards are safe, but they are not safe if they are going to be undermined by cheaper imports that do not meet those same standards. That is tantamount to handing a knife to our farmers and asking them to cut their own throats. It is not a sensible strategy.

I want to speak to some of the amendments from the other place and particularly to Lords amendment 9, on the national food strategy. The amendment stipulates what that strategy should contain, including things such as the sustainability of food production and consumption, improving dietary health, reducing obesity, minimising food waste, ensuring that public procurement supports a shift towards sustainable farming, and so on. It is significant that cross-party support for the amendment in the other place was strong.

The letter the Minister sent to MPs last week explained that the Government object to amendment 9 because it would

“impose arbitrary timetable requirements for objectives the Government has already committed to fulfil”.

I hope she will forgive us, but we want to see that commitment in the Bill. We have seen already in the debate that we do not trust vague commitments, and certainly not vague commitments that do not even have a timetable to them, given that, as I said earlier, the Environment Bill is already 200 days late.

Lords amendment 11 is about protecting people from the adverse health impacts of pesticide use. It addresses what crop pesticides are currently permitted in the localities of homes and schools, as well as the exposures, the risks and the acute and chronic adverse health impacts for rural residents. It does not specify the distance required between pesticide use and nearby public space—that is for secondary legislation—but I can tell the Minister that we had a lot of support from the Clerks in both Houses in the drafting of the amendment, and we are convinced that it is an effective amendment to protect human health. It is very significant that Lord Randall, who is a former environment adviser to the former Prime Minister herself, has said how vital the amendment is.

Recent events have revealed that the precautionary principle is one of the most important scientific principles we have, and we should be implementing it here. It does not substitute for the overall shift that we need to see towards agro-ecology, but it would do something to protect rural residents who look out of their windows right now and see farmers in protective equipment in their tractor cabs, protected from the impacts of the crops they are spraying, while those rural residents have no protection whatever. We should be standing up for them and protecting them, and that is what the amendment would do.

The Lords amendment on the climate emergency is vital. It would require the Secretary of State to have regard not just to the UK’s net zero target of 2050, but to the Paris climate agreement and the critical importance of acting now to drive a steep reduction in emissions by 2030. Right now, the Government are showing their world-beating ability to set long-term targets on climate change at the same time as demonstrating a world-beating ability to utterly fail to accompany them with either the policies or the funding required to deliver them. That amendment would put that right.

Finally, as others have said, it was laid down in the Government’s manifesto that they would maintain standards, yet when they are put to the test, they fail again and again. Those standards should not be put on the altar of a trade deal with the US and sacrificed; they should be implemented. That is what the Government promised in their manifesto, and that is what they should deliver.