With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendments 2 to 8.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 10.
Lords amendment 11, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 12, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 13 to 15.
Lords amendment 16, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 17, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 18.
Lords amendment 19 to 46.
I should begin by declaring my interests; my family have farmed near Banbury for many years.
This Bill represents a decisive break with the common agricultural policy, as we move to a system that will deliver both for farmers and for the precious environment for which they care. I was delighted to see the Bill pass its Third Reading in the other place, led by my wonderful colleague Lord Gardiner of Kimble. It has now enjoyed over 100 hours of parliamentary debate in its current incarnation, and, of course, had already passed its Committee stage in 2018. Rarely has a Bill been so scrutinised. Although there remain areas of disagreement, it is heartening to hear the loud support for British farming from all parties at both ends of this place. I will speak to each amendment in turn.
I thank the Minister for giving way; I spoke to her before we came into the Chamber.
Last week I had a Zoom meeting with Lakeland Dairies, which is one of the major agrifood businesses in my constituency. The company is keen to understand the complexities of east-west and west-east movement, as well as north-south movement—from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland—for its products, which are milk products in liquid form. It is really important to have clarity on this complex issue. I have asked the Secretary of State for a meeting, because he has had various meetings with me in the past. I just want to ensure that we have a meeting with him so that we understand the process before we move forward.
If I may, I will make a tiny bit of progress, otherwise we really will be here for another 100 hours.
The purpose behind Lords amendment 1 is to demonstrate the connections between this Bill and the Environment Bill. I am pleased to say that these connections very much exist already. Environmental improvement plans will already definitely be taken into account when determining the strategic priorities that sit within the multi-annual financial assistance plans in clause 4.
It is lovely to see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, in her place. She and I work very closely together. Ours is a very united Department, and we view farmers and environmentalists as often very much one and the same. Our future farming policies will be a key mechanism for delivering the goals set out in the 25-year environment plan, but we can take the steps we need to improve biodiversity only if the majority of farmers are firmly on side.
On Lords amendment 9, I would like to reassure the House that work is already taking place in this sphere. We have already commissioned an independent review of the food sector, led by Henry Dimbleby, and his interim report was released in July. We take his recommendations very seriously. We have made a firm commitment to publish a food White Paper within six months of his final report, which is expected next spring. This could well lead to a report sooner than is actually proposed in the amendment.
Does the Minister realise why some of us would be a little bit sceptical about her reassurances on timescales, given that the Environment Bill has gone missing for the last 200 days? Why should we believe her when she tells us that this is going to come forward shortly? Why not just accept this amendment? It is going in the same direction as she says she wants to go, so she should just accept it, and it would make it a lot easier.
I am currently on amendment 9. I wonder if the hon. Lady was talking about the previous amendment; I am not sure. Nevertheless, I am delighted to say that enjoying at the moment I am what my predecessor referred to as my loaves and fishes week: I have agriculture today and fish tomorrow. I would say that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs legislation is very much front and centre in the business of the House this week. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is looking forward very keenly to bringing forward the Environment Bill, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will have further news on that shortly.
On the subject of loaves, can I bring a message from the county of Lincolnshire, which produces 2 billion of them a year? It is the bread basket of England. This is a general point, but I was talking to farmers and I think they just want to be reassured on this point. They are the most efficient farmers in the country, and they want to be assured that when we do free trade deals, our competitors under these deals will be working under the same regulations as our farmers. That is all they want, and that was the whole point of the Lord Curry amendment about a Trade and Agriculture Commission with teeth. If the Minister can just give that commitment, they will be reassured.
My right hon. Friend will be very pleased, when I come on to that section of my speech, to hear the reassurances that I hope I will be able to give him.
The response to the pandemic has demonstrated again and again the resilience of our UK food supply chain, and I am really pleased with how well Government and industry have worked together. I would like to thank everyone in the food industry—from our farmers to those in retail and everybody in between—for responding so quickly and efficiently to some very challenging conditions.
It was a real privilege to chair the cross-Whitehall ministerial taskforce, which tried to ensure that food and other essential supplies reached the vulnerable. We worked with industry to smooth the way wherever possible, including relaxing competition laws and drivers’ hours. We have also worked with retailers to massively increase the number of online delivery slots. We are all too aware that many find themselves in food poverty for the first time. As the taskforce, we were able to secure £16 million, which we gave to frontline charities that are directly helping get food to those in need, and we allocated £63 million to local authorities so that they can provide direct support to people who cannot afford food.
The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently did a covid report, and the £63 million and the £16 million were really important in getting food out to those in society who need it most. May I have an assurance that if it is needed again, we will move very quickly to get it there? Unfortunately, after covid there will be a higher number of unemployed and great pressure on food and food security.
I met the Trussell Trust and the Children’s Society last week to discuss how effective that local authority grant was. I know that my hon. Friend, who has done so much work in this space, has also taken evidence to that effect. I cannot give him the assurance that he seeks right now, but I assure him that I will make sure that those comments are fed through and, if the need is there, that that is seen as one of the options available and a very direct way of getting money to those who are in food poverty. The Trussell Trust is itself preparing a report on how effective that grant has been.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned on this matter for some time. He has heard what the Department for Education has to say about that. The scheme that I am discussing is the £63 million scheme, which of course did not go just to families with children, although they were heavily represented among the recipients of that scheme. We will pass on those comments and those of the Trussell Trust and, of course, the EFRA Committee when considering how we tackle food poverty directly over the course of this winter. We all know that this is going to be a difficult time for many.
Returning to the Bill, we already have powers in what was originally clause 17, which commits the Government to
“lay before Parliament a report containing an analysis of statistical data relating to food security” in the UK. We listened to the concerns raised regarding the frequency of the food security report and, through Lords amendments 5 to 8, reduced the minimum frequency of reporting from five years to three years. Of course, we can still report more often than that, and in times of strain on food supply that might well be appropriate.
Turning to Lords amendment 11, I recognise the positive intentions behind the amendment, but I am afraid I take issue with the drafting. The Government are committed to reducing the risks from pesticide use. We have already tightened the standards for authorisation and withdrawn many pesticides from the organophosphate and carbamate classes. Integrated pest management will be a critical part of future farming policy. Under our existing legislation, the use of pesticides is allowed only where a scientific assessment shows that it will have no effect on human health, including that of vulnerable groups.
The amendment, although undoubtedly well intentioned, is far too broad. It extends to any pesticide and any building, and would include pesticides that are important for productivity but pose no danger whatsoever to health. Even worse, it also extends to any open space used for work, which on my reading would prohibit the use of pesticides in fields entirely. I encourage hon. Members to read the amendment carefully before supporting it.
The Minister will know that Lords amendment 11 is based on one that I tabled, which the Lords supported. I think she misrepresents the amendment. It is perfectly clear that it would be possible for the Government to bring forward regulations to specify exactly the minimum distances. It is no coincidence that Lord Randall himself has said how important it is that this amendment is passed to protect human health. That is what we need to do. The Government could go away and design the regulations, but this is the overarching amendment to achieve that.
I am afraid I do disagree with the hon. Lady’s reading of the amendment. My case would be that we already have regulation in place to protect human health from risks, including those in the vulnerable sectors of society, which I mentioned.
Lords Amendments 12 and 16 relate to trade standards and will, I am sure, be a major part of this afternoon’s debate. I know that there are genuine concerns across the House and in our constituencies about the effect of future trade deals on farmers and on the standards of the foods that we eat. I am truly grateful for the wise counsel of my hon. Friend Neil Parish. I assure him, and Members across the House, that the Government are firmly on the side of British farmers and high standards. Where the balance should be between protectionism and trade, and between high welfare and price, has been discussed many times in this House over the past 200 years, and it is a debate that I for one have always been keen to have.
I will not just at the moment, but I will later.
I am afraid to say that, despite the considerable thought that has gone into the amendments, we have not yet found a magic form of words that will address all the concerns and avoid undesirable side effects. In asking the House to reject the amendments, I will set out the set of solutions, both legislative and non-legislative, that I hope will allay the fears that Members have expressed. In my view, this range of measures, and constant vigilance on the part of Government and, indeed, consumers, are of more use than warm words in primary legislation.
I will start by reiterating that, alongside my colleagues on this side of the House, I stood on a clear manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards. As I have said many times, our current import standards are enshrined in existing legislation.
They include a ban on importing beef produced using artificial growth hormones and poultry that has been washed with chlorine. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 carries across those existing standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety. Any changes to that legislation would need to be brought before Parliament.
It falls to our independent food regulators, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, to ensure that all food imports into the UK are safe and meet the relevant UK product rules and regulations. The FSA’s risk analysis process is rigorous, completely independent of Government and based on robust scientific evidence, along with other legitimate factors such as wider consumer interests and the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security.
I want to be very clear: the concerns that people have about the Bill and the Government’s decision not to accept the amendment are not about the quality of food. We understand that the product is not a danger. What we are concerned about is the production and the impact on the producer. If we undermine animal welfare and environmental standards, we may well have quality food to eat but we will damage our farmers and the integrity of our farming industry in the process.
The hon. Gentleman is partly right. Many of the concerns expressed, perhaps more wildly, in the tabloid press—possibly not by the farming sector—are indeed about the safety of food. I seek to reassure everybody that those regulations are in place, and there is no danger to safety or to the existing standards that we enjoy, and have enjoyed for many years as members of the EU. When we come on to the next argument, which we could perhaps characterise as a more protectionist argument, we need to balance the competing factors of trade deals that we already have, continuity trade agreements and trade deals that we want to enter into in the future, and work out how we scrutinise those trade deals to ensure that our farmers are getting a fair deal. I will go on to set out some of the ways that we hope to do that.
In the letter that my hon. Friend sent to all MPs on
“would make it very difficult to secure any new trade deals.”
That is the bit that makes people suspicious. I do not doubt for one second her sincerity. I have known her for years and she is a Minister of the utmost integrity, and I do not doubt anybody in her Department either, but is the view that she has expressed at the Dispatch Box today shared in heart and mind across the whole of Government, including the Department for International Trade?
Yes, those in the Department for International Trade stood on the manifesto that my hon. Friend and I were also proud to stand on. We are absolutely committed to high standards.
My hon. Friend has helpfully set out the very high standards that any imports will be required to meet coming into this country. Therefore, is there any reason why this House should not be given proper opportunity to scrutinise any free trade agreements before they are signed, so that we can ensure that those agreements do not enable produce to come into this country that is lower than those standards?
If my hon. Friend can contain himself, I will get on very shortly to a long section of my speech that details how Parliament will be able to scrutinise future trade agreements. It is important, and I think that we do do that, but I will set that out very shortly.
Just to refer back to the letter that the Minister sent last week, the Government’s response to the Lords amendments is that they would create a vast set of conditions that do not apply to current EU trade deals. Will she explain that a bit further, please?
Yes, I will be getting on to that in a minute, too. Members will see that Lords amendment 16 has a large number of conditions that, were it to pass, would apply to continuity—so, rollover agreements—and to any new agreement that we signed. One of my concerns, just to give the hon. Gentleman an example, is that the amendment would require other countries to abide by exactly the regulations that we have in this country. Those might not be appropriate because of climate, for example, or the way a country is physically. Our hedgerow regulation, for example, would look fairly odd in parts of Africa, but that is just one example.
I will make a bit of progress. We have high standards in this country, of which we are justly proud, and there is no way the Government will reduce those standards. Our clear policy, in fact, is to increase them, particularly in the area of animal welfare, and I hope to be telling the House a lot more about that next year.
It is important that our future trade agreements uphold those high standards. We can ensure that with a range of safeguards, parliamentary scrutiny being one of them. My right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary has today confirmed in a written ministerial statement to the House that there will be a full scrutiny process for the Japan deal and all other agreements that we strike. When it is agreed in principle, a copy of the deal will be issued to the International Trade Committee. It can then report on that, and I know that it will scrutinise the deal carefully.
The Government are committed to transparency and to aiding scrutiny. That includes publishing objectives and initial economic assessments before the start of any trade talks, which has been done to date. We have also provided regular progress updates to Parliament. For example, we recently provided updates on the conclusion of negotiation rounds with the US and Australia, and we are engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee in the other place. That includes sharing future trade agreements before they are laid in Parliament through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Today, the Secretary of State set out how that is happening for the Japan deal.
We will always endeavour to ensure the Committees have at least 10 sitting days to read through the deals or potential deals on a confidential basis. We are also sharing a full impact assessment, which covers the economic impacts along with the social, environmental and animal welfare aspects of any deal, and that impact assessment has been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee.
Finally, at the end of negotiations, we are committed to ensuring that the final agreement text is laid in Parliament for 21 sitting days under the CRaG procedure, which will ensure that the House has sufficient time to scrutinise the detail of any deal. I know that there has been some debate in both Houses on the effectiveness of CRaG, but it is the established procedure under our constitution. Our overall approach to scrutiny goes beyond many comparable parliamentary democracies.
Further important scrutiny is provided by a range of expert groups that advise the Government on trade policy. They include the Department for International Trade’s agrifood trade advisory group, which was renewed in July and includes more than 30 representatives from the food industry—I nearly said “heavyweight” representatives, but I would not want that to be misinterpreted. DEFRA also continues to run various supply chain advisory groups such as the arable group, the livestock group and the food and drink panel. They provide expert advice as we negotiate, which is fed directly in to those negotiating.
We also listened carefully to powerful points made by Members of this House and the National Farmers Union, which is why we established the Trade and Agriculture Commission in July. The commission is working hard. It has met six times and set up three working groups covering consumers, competitiveness and standards, bringing more than 30 additional representatives to help with its work. Recently, the commission launched a call for evidence to 200 relevant parties, which asked several questions, including on how standards can best be upheld while securing the benefits of trade. Its report will come before Parliament later this term to be debated.
I am afraid that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not within my gift; it is a matter for the Department for International Trade whether the work and life of that commission is extended. Further to the point of order made earlier about our inability to discuss Lords amendment 18 this evening, there is no need for any amendment to the Bill in order to set up or continue the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It was done without any need for legislation, and it will be perfectly possible and proper for Members to talk to the Secretary of State for International Trade if they wish the commission to continue.
The commission was set up with a fixed term and a tight scope, which was a deliberate decision, to avoid duplication of the work of the agencies and other groups that I have just set out. It was set up in order to feed directly into our trade negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand. We remain open to listening to any concerns about the operation of the commission and will continue to co-operate with DIT to ensure that it meets expectations.
My hon. Friend is speaking laudably about the Trade and Agriculture Commission but then somewhat passing the responsibility to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is not with us today. What assurances can she give us that her voice will count in those discussions about the Trade and Agriculture Commission? That body is central to the Bill we are discussing, yet the Secretary of State is not here to answer questions.
I must politely disagree. I do not think that there needs to be any amendment to the Bill in order to continue the great work that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is undertaking. It was set up without the benefit of legislation; it does not need that. I have just set out why it was set up in a time-limited way, in order to produce a report that will be debated in the House this term, which is useful, as it will feed into the negotiations. It was set up with that timescale in mind. Whether we want to set it up for future trade agreements is something to discuss another day, but I do not agree that it has anything at all to do with the Bill.
I accept that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not my hon. Friend’s responsibility. However, on amendments 12 and 16, if the Government could come forward with a proposal to extend its life or to set up a smaller commission to deal with individual trade deals, they would see off any possible rebellions tonight.
Oh dear. I remain very fond of my hon. Friend, who continues to tempt me, Madam Deputy Speaker, down routes that we really do not need to go down in discussing this legislation—indeed, we are all busily debating amendment 18 as if it were before us.
To return to what we are meant to be talking about, if amendments 12 and 16 remained in the Bill, they could create a long list of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet. Such conditions do not exist under any agreement that the UK or the EU have to date, and they could also apply to trade already taking place, which we very much hope will be the subject of roll-over deals.
We will drive a hard bargain for access to our market, and existing import conditions will need to be respected. However, trading partners would be extremely unlikely to agree to all the potential new requirements in the amendments. The amendments are also not totally clear on what we would be asking of our partners. For example, what is relevant to protect the environment in the UK will surely not be what is relevant to other countries with different climates or conditions. From rules on nitrates to rules on hedgerows, our standards are sometimes bound to differ from those abroad.
Given that uncertainty, I am concerned that the amendments could jeopardise the 19 currently unsigned agreements that we are seeking to roll over. Trade, of course, already takes place under those agreements, with existing import requirements met. Unpicking those and demanding the numerous extra conditions in the amendments could upset the current deals if partners refused and walked away. In the worst-case scenario, that could affect whisky exports to Canada, worth £96 million, potato exports to Egypt, worth £30 million, and milk powder exports to Algeria, worth £21 million.
I think the hon. Lady said a moment ago that the problem with the amendments was that they would impose conditions that the EU has not sought to apply to any existing trade agreements, but is that actually the case? Is it not true that the free trade agreement between the EU and Chile in 2003 explicitly included a reference to animal welfare—the point made a moment ago—and that when the EU negotiated a trade deal with the Mercosur countries last year, it made the reduction of tariffs on egg products conditional for the first time on the countries concerned, namely Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, keeping their hens in line with EU animal welfare standards? If the EU can do that, why are the Government resisting us doing that when we take back control?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, the EU has been able to put welfare standards of various kinds and levels in different trade agreements over the years. That is a perfectly proper thing to do, as long as it is done in compliance with international law. The point I was trying to make—I apologise if I did not make it sufficiently clear—is that it would be unwise, particularly in the agreements we are seeking to roll over in very short form, to add a set of conditions that, to my reading at least, are not entirely clear and that are broadly drafted. It would be difficult to agree with the partners with whom we already trade as part of these continuity agreements a whole new set of conditions and, indeed, a method of assessing those conditions in very short order. That might well put them off agreeing a deal with us. That is my concern.
In summary, the tools we have to ensure high standards are, as I have tried to set out, many and varied. They are strong enough to protect standards, even under pressure. We have existing regulation under retained EU law, which is watched carefully and controlled by the Food Standards Agency. Parliament can scrutinise new trade deals, as indeed the Select Committee on International Trade is about to do for the Japan deal. Other experts, including those on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, can advise us on trade policy. Last, but by no means least, we have the buying power of the British consumer, who is increasingly committed to high standards of animal welfare.
We will carry out a serious examination of the role of labelling in promoting high standards and high welfare across the UK market. We will start to consult on that before the end of this year. That combination of measures will protect producers of high-welfare British food, while allowing us to import when we wish.
Turning to amendment 17 on emissions reduction targets—
I have turned, I fear.
Amendment 17 is another well-intentioned amendment, but it would add an unnecessary layer of complication. The Secretary of State is already required to have regard to the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero under the Climate Change Act 2008. The Government have also introduced carbon budgets, which cap emissions over successive five-year periods. If we are to achieve the UK’s net zero target, emissions reductions will be needed in all sectors. Not setting sector-specific targets allows us to meet our climate change commitments in the best and speediest way. Agriculture has an important role to play in reducing emissions, but we must recognise that planting trees and restoring peatland will take a very long time—probably not my lifetime—to deliver the best results.
We will continue to work closely on that issue with the NFU and others, including the greenhouse gas action plan partners.
Given that emissions from agriculture have not decreased—they have remained static for years—there is every good reason to focus on the role of agriculture in driving climate change. It is not just a question of planting trees, which, as the Minister says, takes a long time. She could start by not burning the peatlands, which is leading to more and more climate change right now. That is the kind of immediate measure that could be in the Bill.
I am sorry if I did not explain myself clearly enough. Of course we are committed to reducing emissions from agriculture, which produces about 10% of emissions, as the hon. Lady knows. It is important to work on that. I commend the NFU, which has set an ambitious target for doing just that. Many measures will be set out in the Environment Bill, which will come before the House shortly. Of course, the Agriculture Bill will be a key part of delivering net zero, as our future farming schemes are a powerful vehicle for achieving that goal.
Perhaps the counter-argument to that of Caroline Lucas is that farming needs long-term stability and sense. Governments sometimes change, but this target will remain. How does my hon. Friend balance the requirement for the dexterity that she has described in the Environment Bill with the overarching target, which could provide some stability as we achieve some of the goals that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion has asked us to achieve?
That is exactly what I am trying to do. I am seeking a balance between a laudable aim that we are all signed up to and not setting sector-specific targets, for which amendment 17 provides. I do not think that would be helpful. However, I agree with Caroline Lucas that we need to do everything we can in the agricultural sphere to work on this important issue.
I will now deal with the Government amendments. Amendment 2 requires all new multi-annual financial assistance plans introduced after the end of the agriculture transition period to be published 12 months before coming into effect. The first multi-annual financial assistance plan, which covers the seven-year agricultural transition, will be published by the end of this year. All subsequent plans will be published at least 12 months ahead of their coming into effect. Those in the other place felt strongly that building in time between the publication of multi-annual financial assistance plans and their coming into effect would allow farmers to prepare for them and adapt to any potential changes. The Government agree and are pleased to propose that amendment.
Amendments 5, 6, 7 and 8 change the frequency of reporting on food security—to which I spoke briefly earlier—by requiring reports to be published at least every three years. The first report will be published before Parliament rises for Christmas next year, 2021. This report will include an analysis of statistical data relating to the impact of coronavirus on food security in the United Kingdom.
Amendments 10, 13, 14 and 20 to 29 were requested by the devolved Administrations and reflect the positive working relationship that we have with our counterparts there. I am pleased that each of the devolved legislatures has given legislative consent to the Bill.
Amendments 10, 13 and 14 require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of the DAs before making regulations within their competence under clauses 32 or 37. Amendments 20 to 29 give the DAs the power to make supplementary and consequential provisions in all areas of the Bill for which a legislative consent motion was sought. Amendment 15 removes the provisions in clauses 42(4) and 42(5), as devolved Ministers have assured us that they are not required in law.
Amendments 3, 4, 19, 30, 31, 45 and 46 are technical amendments that ensure that clauses 14, 15 and 16, as well as their equivalent provisions in the schedules for Wales and Northern Ireland, will operate as intended. The clauses rely on a body of retained EU law being created at the end of the transition period. We have recently been advised that that may be necessary to allow us to continue to fund existing common agricultural policy legacy schemes.
Finally, amendments 32 to 44 enable legislative powers created by the Bill to be exercised on or after the day on which the Bill receives Royal Assent. This will enable us to act quickly to ensure that there is no gap in the powers required to operate existing schemes and to provide financial assistance to farmers.
Order. I am sure that colleagues will be aware that this debate must finish at 9 o’clock and there are still two Front-Bench contributions to come. I will therefore set an immediate limit of four minutes on Back-Bench speeches, although I fear that may have to go down if we are to have any chance of getting everybody in.
I rise to speak in support of Lords amendments 1, 11, 16 and 17, and on amendment 18 I send my best wishes for a speedy recovery. I declare an interest: my little sister is a farmer in Cornwall. I thank all farmers for their work throughout the covid-19 pandemic.
This is a crucial moment for British agriculture. Today, Members on both sides of the Chamber are given a choice about what kind of country we want Britain to be. Do we want to be a nation that shines as a beacon around the world, standing up for our farmers, for the welfare of our animals and for the environment? Or do we want to throw all that away, just for the vague promise of a trade deal, so that poor-quality food is served to our children, standards are undercut and carbon and animal-welfare responsibilities are exported? I do not want to see Britain be the kind of country where our farmers are forced out of business, decimating our proud rural tradition.
I do not think anyone in this House wants lower-quality food on our plates, but unless the Government show some leadership and back British farmers, there is a real risk that that could happen. Labour has been clear that the Bill must include legal guarantees that our high UK food and farming standards will not be undercut in post-Brexit trade deals, whether with the USA, Australia or any other country. That is because Labour backs British farmers. In calling for food standards to be put unequivocally in law, I wish to speak not only for Labour but on behalf of the 1 million people who signed the NFU’s petition on food standards and, of course, on behalf of British farmers from Cornwall, Plymouth and Devon to the east of England, to Wales and to Scotland when I say: put high food and farming standards into law. Do it now—do it today.
It may seem a long time ago, but less than a year ago the Conservatives made a pledge on food standards in their manifesto. This is how it started:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
This is how it is going: our farmers risk being undercut by cheap imports from abroad within months. If the Government are serious about keeping their manifesto promise to safeguard standards, they should put that guarantee into law. If that promise was good enough for the Conservative manifesto, why is it not good enough for the Agriculture Bill, this Government’s flagship piece of legislation on food and farming? I say to the Minister that refusing to put that piece of the manifesto into law raises the question as to whether thar part of the manifesto was truly meant and whether that promise can be believed.
Undercutting our farmers at the very moment that farm support payments are being radically overhauled creates a lot of uncertainty for those working in agriculture. Farmers are already facing massive uncertainty over our trading relationship with the EU, our biggest export market for agricultural products. They are up for the challenge of decarbonising food production and they largely back the new farm payment scheme, as Labour does, although more detail on that, to be published shortly, would go a long way to building support among farmers for it. However, all that good will is going to be for naught if Ministers allow the economic foundation of farming to be washed away. They will do that by rightly holding our farmers to high standards, but opening a back door to the import of lower-quality food.
Labour MPs will tonight back amendments that protect Britain’s food standards, not just because that is the right thing to do, but because we have listened to farmers and we stand alongside them. The Conservative party, save for a courageous few, must look carefully at what they will be voting for tonight. This Bill needs cool heads, not firm party Whips. I saw a lot of Conservative Members pose for photos for Back British Farming Day in September—every day should be Back British Farming Day. On this day, when our farmers need us, we have a chance to see who are the real friends of farming, who are there when the weather is bleak and a job needs to be done, and who are there only when the sun shines.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it gives me a chance to say that we back our British farmers. Tonight, they will be looking at the votes cast in this place to see whether Members of Parliament that represent farming communities, be they red or blue—these communities are represented on both sides of this House—support British farmers or choose not to do so. That will be a decision for each and every Member, but let me be clear: farmers are watching what happens in this debate tonight and what votes are cast, and their votes are not secured for the next election. Their votes are to be played for. I look forward to that competition.
The hon. Gentleman is making a great series of points. I am sure he would humbly accept that in the election last December the Conservatives made gains from his party in many urban parts of Britain because of the characterisation that Labour had taken those seats for granted. Is the same thing not here on the table tonight: large swathes of blue in rural Britain that the Conservatives assume will vote for them come what may? Is it not the lesson of tonight that at the next election many Conservative MPs will be in the same position as his colleagues were in December?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The important thing I have taken away from my discussions with farmers in Devon and on visits to farms up and down the country is that their votes are not guaranteed. The votes of rural communities are not guaranteed and are there to be won, but they need to be won through a strong vision and through delivery. Taking votes for granted is not a good electoral strategy anywhere. We need to look at what farmers will benefit from and what will they not benefit from. I worry that leaving a back door to their being undercut in trade deals is neither a good economic strategy for our country, nor a good political strategy for those people advocating it.
I expect the amendment to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission to be redrafted in the Lords, and I hope it will come back to us soon. Amendment 16, on strengthening the trade commission, and amendment 18, on food standards, are a one-two—they are a classic British double act. I do not believe that the temporary and fragile Trade and Agriculture Commission would be able to stop the International Trade Secretary, Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister signing a trade deal with America that would include imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. That is why we need that one-two—strengthened scrutiny of trade deals and protection for our farmers—in law.
The agrifood sector is very important to Northern Ireland. We have built up a regulation and a standard that we have sold the world over. I hope the shadow Secretary of State will press Lords amendment 16 to a vote, because it would ensure that our products retained their standards the world over and that they would not be lost in this deal. Does he share my concern?
I share concerns about the quality of food that could be imported after a post-Brexit trade deal is done, unless there is a legal lock.
I absolutely support my hon. Friend’s points about the importance of farming and of a long-term vision to support our farmers. I think that tonight’s debate is significant for us and for the farming sector in the future. Does he agree that consumers are very concerned not only about the quality of our food and the risk of things being done by the back door, but about the viability of our farms?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I agree with those concerns. British consumers have spent decades arguing for increased animal welfare in our agriculture production, and putting their faith in those brands, supermarkets and products that have higher levels of animal welfare than others. That concern exists.
I want a trade deal with America, but it is really important that we do not pay for that trade deal with the livelihoods of our farmers. That is why the commission needs to be strengthened, providing extra scrutiny of standards, and we will need an amendment that locks those standards into law. I want the commission, as Anthony Mangnall hinted at in his intervention, to be put on a permanent statutory basis and to produce a report on every trade deal so that this House can vote on it. Our farmers feed the nation. The least they should expect is that their elected representatives have the opportunity to vote on whether to accept a trade deal that could devastate the economy. The Minister is right that a Bill is not required to set that up, but that means that the only thing required is a choice—and that is a choice that the Government have chosen not to make.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is an important point. Increased accountability would actually strengthen the hand of UK negotiators. I remember scrutinising the TTIP deal between the EU and the US in Washington, and one of our last meetings was with members of the food lobby, who told us, “Nothing is going through Congress unless we agree with it.”
I agree. At least British Ministers will not have to utter the phrase, “It won’t get through Parliament,” because Parliament has, sadly, voted itself out of having a say, making it one of the few Parliaments in the world that will not have a say on any trade deals with Britain.
Let me address briefly some of the reasons the Minister gave for not supporting the amendments, because it is important that we consider the arguments. Last week I heard the International Trade Secretary say that if we have high standards, that would risk having a crippling effect on agricultural exports from developing countries such as Kenya. I know that Members are concerned about that, but the problem is that it is not right. At the moment, thanks to our membership of the EU, the Government have nine trade deals with sub-Saharan African countries, and so far not a single one of them has been rolled over. We risk losing those trade deals with sub-Saharan Africa if we do not renew them by
What else is used as an excuse for the Government not putting their promise into law? The Minister mentioned labelling. I have spoken proudly from this Dispatch Box about the need to buy local. I want consumers to look out for the red tractor and other local accreditations when they are making purchasing decisions. But let us be real: an extra label will not stop lower-quality food being sold in Britain. It offers a meagre apology on the packaging, but only where there is packaging. Ministers know that 50% of our agricultural production does not go into retail. It goes into food service—to cafés and restaurants, food processing and the like—where the origin of the ingredients is, at best, hidden. That is precisely where chlorinated chicken would be sold and eaten first. It would go to big caterers and into mass production—places where consumers cannot tell where their food has come from or know the standards it is produced to. It would go into hospital food and into meals for our armed forces and our schools. The Government claim that the amendment is unnecessary because standards are included in the withdrawal Act, as we have just heard. However, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products banned on the basis of safety and, as was mentioned earlier, they do not deal with animal welfare or environmental protections, which is what this amendment seeks to do.
There is one more excuse, which has not been spoken about so far, that is absolutely key to the Government’s future trade strategy, and it is about taxes. Could not Ministers just tax these products a wee bit more with an extra couple of pence on tariffs and let the market decide? This is something I have heard and read about in Tory-leaning media, but let me be clear with Ministers, because all those in this place know what the Treasury and the Department for International Trade are planning. Charging a few extra pence on lower-standard food import tariffs while public anger is at its highest will give Ministers a convenient soundbite to offer a nation ill at ease with the Government’s policy. They will then be able to drop those tariffs through secondary legislation when the anger dies down. The end result will be that we still have chlorinated chicken and food produced to lower standards on sale, whether it is for a few pence more or a few pence less. That will not stop those products being sold in the United Kingdom. It will authorise and legitimise it, and it will sign the death warrant for farm businesses the nation over. That is why we want these standards put into law.
In the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, it is imperative that we have a clear road map for agriculture to reach net zero. The NFU has done a good job in its work so far, and I want to thank farmers for the efforts they are making to cut carbon emissions, which are a sizeable chunk of UK emissions. That is why we back efforts to have clear, sector-specific plans that farmers can follow, and we also back efforts including the amendment tabled by Lord Whitty in the other place on pesticides. That matters because of the impact not only on the environment but on human health.
I fear that, in seeking to disagree with these amendments tonight, the Government might be trying to hint at the Salisbury convention, which is that the other place should not interfere with manifesto commitments. However, the Lords are doing something different from that: they are doing a reverse Salisbury. They are asking the Government to stick to their manifesto commitments. In such circumstances, the Salisbury principle does not apply, and the Lords should ask the Commons to reconsider these amendments on food safety and on the Trade and Agriculture Commission again—and again, if necessary. Every time this House votes on these amendments, more and more farmers will be looking at the voting list to see which Members support the farmers and which have chosen not to. We cannot take any votes for granted, and I warn Conservative Members against doing so.
Just last week the Leader of the Opposition and I visited the farm of the NFU president, Minette Batters, in Wiltshire. That was our second meeting with the NFU president in a month, but the Prime Minister still refuses to meet her. I would be grateful if the Minister could pull a few strings to get the PM to meet farmers to talk about this issue.
Where the Leader of the Opposition leads, the Government follow. I am grateful for that. That visit to Wiltshire was not in vain, I see—[Interruption.]
What kind of country do we want to be? [Interruption.] I do not think that a country whose MPs shout at each other in a debate like this is a country that is good—[Interruption.] I have not heard that from this side and I encourage those on the Conservative side to recognise that as well. There are people watching this debate in farming communities up and down the country. They are tuning into BBC Parliament and parliamentlive.tv for the first ever time, and they should see parliamentarians performing at our best in this debate.
I want Britain to be a nation of quality—[Interruption.] Let me start that again, because the people at home might not have heard me over the chuntering. I want Britain to be a nation of quality, of high standards, of ethical treatment of animals and of stewardship of our landscapes; a custodian of high environmental standards; and a nation that challenges other nations to compete with us fiercely but to do so on a level playing field. I want Britain to be a beacon country with our values proudly on show, not just in soundbites and manifestos, but in our laws, trade deals and behaviours. That is what the amendments on food standards seek to achieve. It is a moral compass that this Agriculture Bill desperately needs.a It is because of that, and because Labour backs our farmers, that we have voted at every opportunity against the Bill, which singularly fails to protect our farmers from being undercut by food produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards abroad. Our farmers are not afraid of competition but, when we maintain high standards for them but allow potentially food produced at lower standards to be imported, that is unfair. It is not a level playing field. That food would be illegal for British farmers to produce here, but somehow it would be okay to have it through the back door. That cannot be allowed and that is why our food standards must be put into law.
No party should take rural communities for granted. I respect an awful lot of the voices on the other side, who I have not heard shouting today, for their work in standing up for their farmers and in trying to convince DEFRA Ministers and, importantly, the Ministers who hold the whip hand in the Department for International Trade to recognise the importance of putting our standards in law. It is a fight we must continue. It is a fight that must be continued by those on the Opposition Benches, but equally I encourage those on the Government Benches to do so, too. There is a cross-party concern about food standards. There is cross-party support broadly for the words in the Bill about changing our farm support methods, but the words that are missing—those that would put our food and farming standards into law—are the ones that we need to focus on. That is why we will be voting for the amendments with pride, passion and patriotism tonight.
It is great pleasure to follow Luke Pollard and to speak in this debate. I say clearly that I shall be supporting amendments 2, 12 and 16 tonight and I will explain why.
This Agriculture Bill goes exactly in the right direction. As we have left the common agricultural policy, we can now move in a more environmental direction. We can bring in much more rotation of crops and go back to traditional types of farming. We can reduce nitrates and pesticides, plant more trees, capture carbon in more grassland, have more grass-fed beef and lamb, and produce poultry and pigs to very high standards. We are reducing all the time the amount of antibiotics used, and we are creating a much greater and better product. Animal welfare is at the centre of our production.
I welcome the fact that our farmers have produced such excellent food throughout this pandemic, and I pay tribute to the food processing industry, which is worth £120 billion to this country. It is the largest manufacturing industry in this country and 60% of the food that is processed is produced in this country under very high standards. So the whole direction of the Bill is right, it has to be the case and I very much support it and the way that we go. It gives us the independence and sovereignty to do it. Likewise, we now have the sovereignty to develop, argue for and produce our own trade deals. So why are we not a great beacon of animal welfare and the environment as we negotiate these trade deals? We have in our manifesto a commitment both on animal welfare and the environment. Would it not be right for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have the armour of Parliament’s backing to say, “I can’t negotiate away that particular part of the deal with you because it is written down in law”?
Does my hon. Friend agree with me on the frustration that hon. Members feel that, when it comes to trade deals, we are told at one time, “Well, it can be in that Bill,” and at another time, “It needs to be in that Bill”? Would it not have been helpful if the Department for International Trade had been here today?
It would indeed. My hon. Friend is right. If we try to amend the Trade Bill, we get told, “That is not the place to put it.” If the Agriculture Bill is not the place to put it either, where is the place to put it? The place to put it is in this Parliament. I will very much support this, as do my hon. Friend and many Conservative Members. We want to negotiate very good trade deals, and not only with Australia, New Zealand and America. Do not forget that this is about not today and tomorrow, but probably several years down the road. What about when we start to do trade deals with Brazil? Brazil has burned down 2.5 million acres of rainforest this year and what do they do? They grow sugar beet and soya, they produce poultry intensively and they destroy the rainforest. When they have destroyed 2.5 million acres of rainforest every year, they will move on to another bit of land. They have destroyed the fertility of that land. They do not even farm the land in the right way. They destroy the environment and the land for farming and if we are not careful, that is exactly where we are going to take it.
Instead of that, we—the British—believe in animal welfare. We believe in the environment. All the signatories to the NFU petition agree on the way forward. So do the Government. I have every respect for the Government and the Minister. But, for goodness’ sake, get the backing of Parliament. Yes, we will get a certain amount of scrutiny of the trade deals when they are done, but the deal will be signed and then presented before Parliament. There will then be the option of objecting to it, or voting it through.
That is why the work has to be done. We do not need the whole Trade and Agriculture Commission; we could have a slimmed down version that could consider every individual deal over the years, as we sign it, to ensure that we do not trade away those standards, and that we improve standards across the world—that we raise the standards of animal welfare and the environment. Surely that is laudable. All of us can support that, irrespective of our political party. I urge the Government: instead of saying, “We’ve got the power. We can vote it down and stop those rebels whatever happens”, we want something really positive from the Government. I support the Minister very much in what she is doing, but let us get this measure in, so that we can actually support trade and trade deals in the future.
It is a pleasure to follow Neil Parish, who made a passionate speech.
I rise principally to speak in support of amendment 16, although I will have a few words to say about the missing amendment 18. Amendments such as Lords amendments 9 on a national food strategy, and 11 on pesticides, are clearly devolved matters and properly decided by our Government in Scotland. However, in solidarity with our friends in England, I wish to express disappointment that this Government have chosen simply to strike all the amendments down, rather than to amend them and use them to improve the Bill. I cannot understand why they have not taken that opportunity. Regrettably, however, I think I am right in saying that very few—if any—Opposition amendments or new clauses were accepted by the Government throughout the course of the Bill, so perhaps I should not be so surprised.
I welcome Government amendments 10 to 15 and 20 to 29, which mean that the UK Government will have to gain the consent of the devolved authorities in further areas such as organics, but once again I contrast that approach with the bulldozing of devolved competences in the internal market Bill. I wonder if one hand of the Government is aware of what the other hand is up to.
There remains plenty to be worried about in the Bill, and the dismantling of England’s farm support system, to be replaced by some amorphous idea of payments for public goods, must rate high on that list. The issue that causes the most concern to food producers in Scotland, and to Scottish consumers, is that of food standards. The extra scrutiny measures that the Minister has announced are of course useful, but I look in vain for something with real teeth that can quell the very real concerns that we hear from all corners of the House.
One provision that has been inserted into the Bill will do something to address that gap and place the issue of food standards in the Bill, and we should keep that provision. Lords amendment 16 relates to clause 42 of the Bill, as it was bounced back here from over there, and it should be kept in the Bill. It is not perfect but it is serviceable and it offers some protection against what are sometimes appallingly poor standards of food production in other countries.
Shoppers have some idea of the quality of what they buy in the shops because of the regulations in place to ensure the quality of food from farm to shelf. Those regulations—those safeguards—will be dumped if this Government get their way. We know that because there have been plenty of opportunities to put protections and guarantees into legislation. This Bill, the Trade Bill, the withdrawal Bill and the internal market Bill have all been passed up by the Government, denied, done down and refused.
This Government sometimes seem hell-bent on reducing the quality of our food supplies and, frankly, it is not entirely clear why. Some have suggested that it is to secure a trade deal here or there, but that seems too high a price to pay. I am left considering only the possibility that they simply have not thought this through because the alternative explanation is that they intend to drive down food standards and consumer protections. Some say that that is because they have the wealth to ensure sufficient high-quality food for themselves and so give not a jot for the health and wellbeing of others. That, frankly, would seem a strange attitude for elected representatives to have. However, I see few other explanations for the refusal at least to replicate our existing food protections. The former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, promised us several times that UK food standards would not be undermined by future trade deals. Here is the best and very possibly the last opportunity for this DEFRA Secretary and his Minister to do something about it.
I must say a few words about the rather hamfisted use of parliamentary tactics by the Government to prevent debate and a vote on Lords amendment 18, which would require the Trade and Agriculture Commission to make a report on recommendations for policies to protect food standards, domestic production, the environment and animal welfare, and the Secretary of State to lay the report before Parliament. It has long been suspected that the Trade and Agriculture Commission was created so that the Government might evade the wrath of their Back Benchers and a likely defeat in this Chamber. Here was an opportunity to create a Trade and Agriculture Commission with some real purpose and strength, instead of leaving us with the weak sop to the Government’s MPs that it is currently. Instead of creating a commission that had the ability to overturn any decisions made by Governments that might threaten the viability of our farming and food and drink sectors, we have a body that is frankly nothing more than a poodle of the International Trade Department. It looks like yet another internal battle between the Department for International Trade and DEFRA has been comprehensively won, or lost, once again.
We in the SNP have repeatedly expressed concern about the body over its lack of any real teeth and the lack of regard for the devolved authorities. These proposals do not go far enough, or did not go far enough, as reports do not provide concrete protections or requirements for the Government to act, but they also do not reflect the reality of devolved competences, and we insist that the devolution settlement be considered and respected in any reports so produced. With all that said, the Tory Government are offering nothing more than empty words as a protection for food standards and a report by the Trade and Agriculture Commission would at least do more than that to protect food standards. However, as we see tonight, even that wee bit of protection has been blocked by the Government.
All Scottish MPs received a letter signed by dozens of farming, health, environmental and social justice organisations recently pleading with us to support higher food standards through these amendments—from the National Farmers Union Scotland, to Citizens Advice Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, the Leith Community Crops in Pots, Unite Scotland, Unison Scotland, the Trussell Trust and many, many more. The question for me is: will the Scottish Tories ignore them all?
I note from the most recent survey of Which? on the subject that some 95% of the respondents from Scotland who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 called for food standards to be maintained, with around three quarters of them saying that they were uneasy, first, because the UK Government had not entirely ruled out for good lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef; and, secondly, because such bans could be lifted with a vote in Parliament. Again, I call on the Scottish Tories to do the right thing by all their constituents—to give them the protection that our citizens look to their elected representatives to provide and vote for this amendment to stay within the Bill. We challenged Scotland’s supine six to do the right thing by their constituents and by the people of Scotland at the time of the Trade Bill debates, but they meekly followed their Westminster leader through the Lobbies once again. Will they finally, this time, do their jobs and represent the interests of the people who elected them to this place?
The SNP has voted to protect food standards almost a dozen times over the course of the debates on the Trade and Agriculture Bills, and we will not stop there, unlike this Government. The very latest poll released this weekend showed once again that Scotland has tired of enduring a series of Governments we did not vote for dragging us into situations we do not want to be in. I am delighted to say that it showed once again clear majority support for Scotland making its own way and deciding its own priorities for vital issues such as the quality of the food we eat and protections for our environment, our animals, and our food and drink and agriculture sectors. It is clear that the Conservative party had better get used to it.
I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interest in the register.
I want to speak in support of amendment 16. I had also hoped to speak in support of amendment 18. I commend the Government for introducing amendments 2 and 5 to 8 in the Lords. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture, which sponsored Lords amendment 275 on improving regulation of gene-editing techniques, I thank the Government for responding positively to this with the offer of a public consultation this autumn, meaning that we do not have to discuss that amendment here today.
Having called on Report for producers to have more time to plan and restructure their businesses under the new agricultural policy, I warmly welcome the Government’s Lords amendment 2 mandating the publication of multi-annual assistance plans at least 12 months ahead of implementation. I also strongly support the Minister on Lords amendments 5 to 8 responding to the calls from me and others on Second Reading for the Government to report on British food security more frequently than every five years. Personally, I would have liked the Government to go slightly further, but the three years that is now proposed is a step in the right direction, and I welcome that.
I firmly back the broad aims of the Bill and believe that the Government have improved it in the Lords in response to suggestions from the sector and parliamentary colleagues. However, I continue to support amendment 16 and will vote for the proposed changes in line with the principle of the amendment. This is an important piece of legislation and we have to make sure that we get it right. Amendment 16 has the same intention on food import standards as the Commons amendment tabled on Report by members of the EFRA Committee, as touched on by its Chair, my hon. Friend Neil Parish. I believe that our arguments remain now as strong as they were then, if not stronger. Ministers have frequently suggested that this is not a trade Bill, but I would reiterate that the issue of fair terms of trade for high standards in British agriculture simply cannot be separated from farming and environment legislation, which is what we are discussing.
I have listened closely to what the Minister has said, I have been encouraged by her words, and I know that she has worked extremely hard on this, but, as I said, I will vote today to write concrete legal protections into the Bill. I hope that a continued stand on this issue will encourage the Government to put our manifesto commitment to maintain UK standards on to the statute book—something that will reassure consumers as well as the industry on this issue.
On amendment 16, my hon. Friend—and neighbour on this Bench—is absolutely right. Is not the wider point that we would be sending out a message that we want the rest of the world to change their practices? It is not just about what we do domestically; it is about Britain being a beacon for the right thing elsewhere in the world.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend.
On that issue, it would be helpful for the Minister to address whether the legal guarantee regarding amendment 16 would impact on the UK’s progress towards our climate change and net zero goals. I think it would, and without that guarantee, it would be much easier to bring in Brazilian beef, for example, which would increase the carbon footprint for a family shop—it would be much higher. That does not even touch on the issue of palm oil or the destruction of our rain forests, which have already been mentioned.
I will finish by talking about the fate of amendment 18. I really do think that the Minister should look at strengthening the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in the way the amendment suggests. I know that, technically, we cannot vote on it or debate it tonight, but I do think, as she has already heard from Members across the House, that this issue is not going to go away, and it must be addressed.
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.
Farming and the future of the agriculture industry are subjects that I am incredibly passionate about. Before entering this place, I had been involved for my whole life in the farming sector, and I use this opportunity to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It is my view that for far too long our agriculture industry and the entrepreneurial spirit that the sector undoubtedly encompasses have been restrained and stifled by the workings of the common agricultural policy. Through the CAP, our agriculture industry has become less competitive through ill-thought-through subsidy schemes that have impeded productivity, stifled innovation and failed to protect the environment as much as we could have. Let me be clear: this is the fault not of the farmer, but of the system they have been constrained by. A change is required and this Bill goes a long way to shaking up the system and achieving that, which is great news.
I will use my time to talk about Lords amendment 16. This has rightly received much attention and I have given it immense thought as I want to ensure that our agriculture industry thrives and is truly sustainable long into the future. However, as we look to adopt new legislation, it is vital that we scrutinise the detail and the anticipated consequences.
Let us be clear about the current position: the Bill does not lower food safety standards. Of course, the amendment goes much further and obligates that any agri-environmental food import must be produced and processed under standards that are equivalent to the UK for animal health, plant health and environmental protection. We must ask ourselves: while the intentions are entirely laudable, in reality, what will the consequences be for the supply of food that we wish to import, such as the vast amounts of tea imported from Kenya, bananas from the Dominican Republic or coffee from Vietnam?
Let us take environmental standards, for example. If Vietnam and other developing countries, such as Ghana and Indonesia, that export coffee beans to the UK were expected to provide evidence that they meet UK carbon emissions targets, I can see that that would have a dramatic impact on the UK retail and hospitality sector, as I suspect that countries would not be able to meet such requirements. Equally, it would not make sense for the UK to require trading partners with certain climates and environmental conditions, which are very different from those here in the UK, to meet our specifications, such as the UK’s requirement for nitrate vulnerable zones, which are specifically adopted to UK conditions. It is vital that that level of detail must be explored and considered at this stage, to see whether it is practical to try to enforce this amendment to a domestic piece of legislation abroad and to see whether it is workable in law. I want to see a thriving agricultural sector.
My hon. Friend’s argument is that we must not put in a standard because we will stop imports from certain countries, so is he suggesting that we just go to a lower and lower common denominator to allow food in from anywhere? When we do a trade deal, we can write this into law. We could actually write this into law with all the least developed countries to give them preference in trade with us, rather than throwing out our trade to Brazil and Malaysia.
I believe that a totally protectionist approach is the wrong one for the success of our agricultural industry in the long term. We have a huge opportunity available to us. This amendment would constrain our agricultural food sector’s ability to grow, expand and meet the new export opportunities that will come from our country setting out on the world stage and negotiating new trade deals, which we should be bold and optimistic about for our UK farming sector—for example, expanding whisky exports to Canada, potato exports to Egypt and milk exports to Algeria. I am proud to say that British beef is back on US menus for the first time in more than 20 years, and that market opportunity needs to be explored.
Of course, this is not all about export. What about our domestic market? To provide some reassurance to our UK farmers, the existing protections will remain. Food coming into this country will need to meet existing import requirements, as the EU withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions to the UK statute book. We have a great opportunity, but I believe that stronger labelling and a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission will help, and I am sad to see that Lords amendment 18 is not coming to the House.
Let us start with some common ground. I am pretty sure everybody in the House thinks that the paying of public money for public goods is a good thing and that the environmental land management scheme is—in principle, at least—a good thing. Of course, by the Government’s own admission, the environmental land management scheme, or ELMS, will not be accessible to all farmers until 2028. We are three and a half months away from the scheme that it replaces beginning to be phased out, and 85% of the profitability of livestock farmers in this country is based on the basic payment scheme. My first ask is that the Government be mindful of that. They must not take a penny away from the BPS until ELMS is available to every farmer in this country. Given that fragility and that upcoming change in payments, it is all the more important that we do not put British farming at risk as a consequence of the new arrangements for trade.
Paying for public goods is vital. Those public goods are biodiversity, food security, access, education and so many other things, including the landscape that underpins the lake district’s tourism economy. All of them are at risk if we make the wrong decision here. Amendment 16 is so important because it underpins, and prevents the Government from undermining, British values when it comes to animal welfare, the sovereignty of this place in scrutinising and reviewing legislation and trade deals, and the future of farming itself.
What is the USP of British farming’s food exports? It is quality. If we allow the undercutting of our farmers through cheap imports—cheap because of the poor quality of their production—we undermine our reputation and our ability to trade internationally and be successful. It is important for Members to understand that amendment 16 is about strengthening Britain’s hand in negotiations. If our negotiators say to the US negotiators, “We’d love to help you out, but we can’t because Parliament won’t let us,” that is real strength which allows us to get the kind of deal that is good for British farmers, for the environment and for animal welfare. It would strengthen this Parliament. The Minister said that we have spent 100 hours debating the Bill. That contrasts very worryingly with the length of time we will have to scrutinise trade agreements that will last for generations. It will strengthen our standing and reputation as a country if we write into the Bill our determination to ensure that we uphold animal welfare and environmental standards, as so many Members on both sides of the House have said.
The only reason that the Government would resist the enforcement of minimum standards in the Bill is if they wanted to allow themselves the freedom—the wriggle room—to sell out our farmers. In a letter publicised last week, the Minister said:
“Such conditions would make it very difficult to secure any new trade deals.”
In other words, “If you don’t allow us to throw our farmers under a bus, we’ll not get the trade deal that we want.” If we care about not only farmers, animal welfare and environmental protections but the communities that those farms underpin, such as mine in Westmorland, we are letting down generations of farmers and the heritage that they promote and have protected if we allow the Government to throw all that away in negotiations. If Members want to back British farmers, they cannot just wear a wheat badge once a year—they must vote for the amendment tonight.
I rise as a Member of Parliament for a very agricultural constituency, and as the product of a farming family—in fact, I think I still have a place on offer at Harper Adams if this career does not work out—as well as a former Minister for agritech, former trade envoy, and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture.
This is a major moment, when we take back control of our farming policy from the EU after 40 years, and of our trading destiny and sovereignty. It is on a par with 1947—the last great reset of agricultural policy—or, indeed, the corn laws. I welcome the Agriculture Bill, and the work of DEFRA Ministers and officials in setting out a framework that supports commercial British farming—a great British industry that is leading in the world—and recognises that its important environmental work, which involves managing 70% of our land area, requires additional support. In broad terms, I strongly welcome the Bill.
I welcome even more strongly the Conservative party’s commitments, both in our manifesto and over the last 18 months from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers, who was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the time of the general election. I also welcome everyone who asked about our commitment to ensuring that we do not in any way undermine those standards. The Prime Minister put it beautifully when he said,
“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards…
We will not engage in some cut-throat race to the bottom…We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards”.
He could not have been any clearer.
For that reason, I welcome the comments of my friend and neighbour, the Secretary of State for International Trade, my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, her agreement to the Trade and Agriculture Commission and her personal commitment to ensuring that we do not negotiate away any standards. This really matters: to the great industry of British farming and agriculture; to consumers watching today, who want to know that we are looking after their interests; to voters, to whom the Conservative party gave those solemn commitments last year; and, dare I say it, to this party, which I have always seen as a party of the countryside, of stewardship, of rural community, and of high standards in animal welfare and environmental farming. That is what is on the table when we vote tonight. Either we are that as a party, or, in the countryside, we are very little.
This should be a hugely exciting opportunity for us to set out an ambition and lead globally, to use our trade leverage to promote fair trade around the world, to give our farmers a level playing field, to embrace variable tariffs, and to ensure that we support growers around the world to follow the standards that we need them to embrace. We have to double world food production on the same land area with half as much water within 20 years. That is a massive opportunity for our agritech industry. Imagine if we used our tariffs variably to say, “We won’t accept food that breaches our minimum standards. We will lower tariffs on decent food, but we’ll zero tariff food produced in ways we know we need as a global community.”
But there is a major problem: the Government, despite endorsing all of that vision, are today stripping out the proper establishment of the commission that the Secretary of State for International Trade herself agreed to, carefully negotiated in the House of Lords. They are asking us to rely on CRaG—a process agreed decades ago that was not designed for this purpose, and which will mean that this House will not have a say on trade deals—and asking us to rely on the WTO, which specifically prohibits animal welfare and food production standards as a legal basis for any trade restrictions. We are saying that we defend farming and the standards that we support, but denying this House the means to guarantee them.
What else has my right hon. Friend done about how he feels about this matter? Has he written to anyone about it?
I am grateful to my distinguished hon. Friend. The truth is that we can talk about standards, but if we expose UK farmers and growers to imports coming in at a lower price because they are not fulfilling those standards, they will not be able to compete and we will be throwing away the opportunity of having a great industry that leads the world. Lord Curry, who tabled the amendment in the other place, said:
“Under the current terms, the commission will set up for six months and will submit an advisory report to the Secretary of State, which will be presented to Parliament. It will then be disbanded and disappear into the mist. There is no obligation on the Secretary of State to take its recommendations seriously”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 805, c. 145.]
If we, as a Government and as a party, are seriously committed to honouring our commitments, I would like us to go further. Why do we not commit to enshrining our standards properly in some form of schedule—the standards that we will not undermine or allow any Minister of any Government to negotiate away? Why do we not give this House the power to ensure that it can scrutinise properly? Why do we not embrace a trade policy that is fit for this 50-year opportunity, which puts the British flag at the top of the mast for standards, and go out into the world and say, “We’ll use our trade leverage and variable tariffs to support the good, benign practices that the world urgently needs”?
This is a vital piece of legislation, and it is symbolic. This is the drawing of a new era for the United Kingdom and our agriculture industry outside the European Union, with the ability to shape our own policy on food production, standards, the environment and animal welfare. It is a test, therefore, of what our standards will be, what value we place on our farming and agrifood sector, and how the sector can prosper while we ensure that our environment is protected for future generations.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, the focus has rightly been on standards, and I make no apologies for bringing my remarks to standards again today. I welcome Lords amendment 16, which, if added to the Bill, would provide the legislative assurances needed for consumers, farmers, processors and retailers that the Government are committed to protecting the standards that we all value, enjoy and want to see protected, not eroded.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important that steps are taken to ensure that food imported into the UK under future trade deals is produced to equivalent standards to what we have been producing in Northern Ireland for the last number of years? It is so important to retain and build upon the qualities that we, in Northern Ireland and across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, have had over the past few years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After that rant, I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I have to commend my hon. Friend John Lamont, because I think he gave one of the most outstanding speeches I have heard in this House.
I start by drawing attention to my declaration of interest as a farmer. I have lived with this subject for some 67 years of my life—my father was a farmer. I have a passion for the countryside, I have a passion for British farmers producing high-quality goods, and I have a passion for British farmers managing the British countryside in the way that it is, and that is the way the public want to see it continue to be managed. The Bill gives us an ideal opportunity, through the way we are going to purchase public goods, to continue to raise the standards of British agriculture.
I have been in this House for 29 years. I have not seen a single free trade agreement negotiated by the EU that has damaged British farming standards, and I do not believe that will happen in the future. I have listened to every word that my hon. Friend the Minister has correctly said from the Front Bench. What we do not want to do is jeopardise the 29 or so roll-over free trade agreements from the EU by passing legislation in this House tonight that would do such a thing.
While being passionate about maintaining high standards, I do not think that Lords amendments 12 and 16 are the way to do it. The way to do it, as was so rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, is through variable tariffs that make clear to our trading partners that if they do not adhere to our high standards, we will raise the tariffs on their goods. That is the way to do it.
The second way to do it is to beef up the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government can do that unilaterally without any legislation. They can simply renew the term of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I urge her to have serious talks with the Department for International Trade to see whether that can be done. It does not need to be put in the Bill. We do not need amendments to the Bill. We might need to look at it in the Trade Bill if the Government are not sympathetic to my arguments, but that is a different matter for a different day, and I might well support amendments of that sort if I do not see progress.
There are lots of things I do welcome in the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Minister has been right to mention them, particularly Government amendment 2, which relates to multi-annual assistance plans for farmers. That is absolutely vital for how we will support our farmers in the 21st century. We want them to be producing more of the food that our British consumers eat. While I have been in this House, I have seen more and more goods imported into this country, whereas if our farmers could start to produce more, all those imports—things such as yoghurt and cheese—could be replaced with goods produced in this country. If we keep up our high standards, we will continue to export more and more to other countries. Recently, we have seen our pork and milk powder go to China and my excellent Cotswold lambs go to France. There is a huge opportunity around the world if we keep our standards up. That is the way we need to go: not dumbing everything down, but keeping standards up.
I am delighted that some of my ideas on food security are in amendments 5 and 6 and will be included in the Bill. That is important and gives our farmers the stimulus to produce more of the high-quality food we want to eat. One thing that the coronavirus lockdown taught us was that the supermarkets, such as Waitrose and even Lidl, that went out of their way to promote British food did best and are now prospering in a way that they had not previously.
The Government should not accept amendments 12 and 16, but they should act through tariffs.
In following Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, I will try not to resort to impolite comments such as that which he directed at Caroline Lucas. He could not see the embarrassment on his colleagues’ faces when he made that comment.
I rise to speak in favour of amendment 16. The clarion voice of the people is at issue here and it is our responsibility as MPs to convey the horror with which our constituents view the Bill and its in-built opposition to their ambitions for food safety that respects the environment and safeguards the welfare of our animals.
The people of Scotland have spoken clearly in rejecting the Bill and its aims, and Ministers would do well to listen. If the Minister is listening for the voice of Scotland, I can assure her that she will find it over here on the SNP Benches, not over there on the Tory Benches. Scottish Tory MPs do not even speak for Scottish Tory voters, 95% of whom backed calls for food standards to be maintained, according to Which? People are asking why the Tory Government and the majority of their Back Benchers do not listen to the people—[Interruption.] That includes those who are chuntering from a sedentary position right now. Perhaps if the risk was of chlorine-washed chanterelle mushrooms or hormone-injected foie gras, Tory Ministers would have less of a deaf ear than the one they have turned to those of us who are happier dining on chicken fried rice and mince and tatties.
So much for taking back control, the newly independent, yet strangely impotent UK cannot specify the standard of food we will import going forward: John Bull under the heel of Uncle Sam right enough. That pitiful transatlantic asymmetry rings truer now than at any stage in Anglo-US history. The Tory Government have demonstrated in the most humiliating and unedifying way possible that nothing will get in the way of a US trade deal—in and of itself a highly questionable negotiating position.
The Government have betrayed civil society across these islands and ignored valid evidence and well-documented concerns about the Bill and its shoddy back door, leading to a food standards horror show. The will of the people of these islands is ignored by a Government who have purposely allowed the DIT tail to wag the DEFRA dog on food standards.
That highlights a betrayal that will take some beating—all in the name of breathing life into the Brexit myth of no global trade without Brexit. Meanwhile, Mercedes, Zara, Airbus, Heineken, Volvo and L’Oréal all sell big from within the EU to the US without the need for European Governments to betray their populations and farmers through the food that they produce and feed to their children.
The Government are capable of listening to industry as we saw during covid, when they listened intently to the supermarkets about food supply and to the private supply chains about food distribution. So why will they not listen to farmers on this issue? Farmers have been very clear on matters of provenance, the risk to their business of an any-price trade deal, and the supply of seasonal labour.
Why do the Tory Government seem to hold our farmers in such contempt? The question is rhetorical. We all know that it is because of the twin Tory totems of Brexit and immigration, which, for the hard of thinking, are one and the same thing. On a post-Brexit trade deal, the DIT speaks for Government. The Home Office speaks for Government on immigration, specifically their disastrous approach thus far to access to seasonal labour from abroad. No wonder many are beginning to ask what exactly DEFRA speaks for.
If the Government persist in proscribing the most basic protections for our food supply from the Bill, no amount of watery, weasel words will hide the simple fact that a Government that cannot act as guarantor for the food we eat cannot act as guarantor for anything. Scotland is taking a different route.
It is a pleasure to follow Dave Doogan, just as I did after his maiden speech. May I say that he needs to allow a little more of his Scottish charm to seep into his speeches? I need to declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, particularly as a breeder of Hereford cattle. Some 88% of Herefordshire is farmland, and 10,200 people work on our 2,812 farms.
On amendments 12 and 16, let me say that farming is not a religion; it is a business. We need to increase farm incomes, cut NHS expenditure on obesity, lose the need for food banks, and ensure that we behave towards our livestock in the way that we behave towards one another: with respect, kindness and, most of all, understanding of the huge challenge all this presents. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Green party, Extinction Rebellion and many others have their own agendas on how to run the landscape, so their contribution is not surprising, but the NFU’s is surprising, because it has gone far too far in trying to wrongly frighten people. We must remember that the Agriculture Bill is primarily a continuation Bill. The amendments would put strict conditions in place when the EU negotiates a free trade deal, whereas when we, as part of the EU, negotiated free trade deals with other countries, none of those restrictions were in place. If we impose strict food requirements, America will challenge and win at the WTO. Opposition Members may rejoice at that, but the EU will not be able to accept those terms either.
I agree not only with my hon. Friend but with my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who said he made an excellent speech—he did. Our two largest trading partners would be gone, threatening £22 billion-worth of exports of food, drink and feed—everything we are selling. The EU has already threatened to ban animal products, a trade worth £3 billion, only last year. That should be no surprise. Trade deals with non-EU countries would be gone too: the hard-fought trade deal with Canada and 43 trade agreements with 70 other nations. We think that our food standards are very high, yet we allow religious slaughter, we are gassing pigs in our abattoirs, we do not insist on catering or welfare standards labelling, and we fudge our grass-fed labelling—
In 2018, 25% of the sheep slaughtering in this country was done without stunning. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is totally unacceptable and that, before we start preaching about other nations, we should look at our own animal standards after animals have left the farm?
Rightly or wrongly, it would become illegal, if we follow these rules, to bring anything from the EU that did not allow that into this country. My hon. Friend is right to raise that; it is wrong. Food labelling is the solution, and to have a grass-fed label that allows 49% of the feed to be grain is just not right.
We need to be an outwardly global, free trade-friendly but sensible country. These amendments are much more to do with stopping subsistence African farmers rather than Texan ranchers. It might surprise some of the supporters of these amendments to learn that we are already importing illegally produced food through the EU. Supermarkets sell Danish bacon—with English-sounding farm names, to fool customers—from pigs whose mothers are kept in sow stalls, which were banned in the UK in 1999, on the grounds of cruelty.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that when we banned those sow stalls and tethers, Europe did not, and it decimated our pig industry in the meantime? Therefore, if we do not get the trade considerations right, we will trade away all our food production, like we have already.
I do not get any extra minutes for that intervention. I ask Members also to think about our stocking density for chickens, which is 39 kg per square metre, as opposed to 42kg in the EU. German hop growers use chemicals that would not be allowed in this country, and apparently the French will give a derogation for neonicotinoids so that their farmers can produce oilseed rape. That is outrageous. Where are the objections to buying Danish bacon? Where are the people kicking off to protect our pig farmers? My hon. Friend Neil Parish is absolutely right: when we did the right thing, we were decimated.
I want us to achieve everything that my hon. Friend the Minister talked about. We should have proper food standards and better labelling. The people we should be putting our faith in are the consumers. They do not want hormone beef; they want to know that what they are buying is good, clean and proper, and they are grown up enough to make their own decisions.
There is room for everybody. We produce 61% of food eaten in this country and 75% of that which we are able to grow here. The remainder—more than £47 billion-worth—is all imported. We have the capacity to pay our farmers more, import from international markets without substitution for lower standards, and ensure that we produce the best and healthiest food at a cost-effective price.
The Prime Minister has called on us to find the inner, or thinner, hero inside us and shed those pounds. That is spot on. If we can lower the price of healthy food in this country, we could not only see our nation lose weight but address the need for food banks. With better food prices, innovation can progress in the agricultural sector, and we can have what we always wanted: farmers receiving public money for public goods.
I want the Minister to commit to ensuring that farm incomes grow on the back of the environmental land management scheme, and not be diminished. I want the Bill to allow us to protect the environment and produce food, while ensuring that our food producers’ incomes rise, consumers buy healthier food and the need for food banks goes. These amendments will not achieve those goals or what our great farmers, consumers, constituents and future trading partners want: prosperity and a better diet.
Order. As colleagues will appreciate, there is still a lot of pressure on this debate, and if those who have already spoken intervene again, somebody else will not get in. In view of that, after the next speaker I will reduce the time limit to three minutes.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Deputy Speaker. On your warning, I will keep my comments brief and focused on amendments 16 and 17.
Colleagues will be aware that amendment 16 aims to protect something that, thus far, the Government have shown very little regard for. Specifically, it aims to ensure that imported food must meet UK animal welfare, environmental and public health standards. Bluntly, I struggle to see how Conservative Members can do anything other than support it. We have all seen the horror stories about hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken hitting our supermarket shelves, but those headlines are no longer just desperate attempts by the press to grab our attention. Sadly, without this amendment, that could be the extremely unwelcome reality for us all in the near future.
It is vital that the Government use this pivotal opportunity to commit to greater animal welfare standards. It is clear that there are ways to farm animals ethically. I am proud of farmers locally in Wales and across the UK who are committed to the sustainable, ethical treatment of their live produce.
I want Britain to remain a beacon of high standards in the ethical treatment of animals and environmental protections. The Government talk a good game on climate change, but we are yet to see any solid evidence or change that will have a positive and substantial impact. It cannot be denied that we are in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency. It is imperative that we have a clear roadmap for agriculture to reach net zero, and greater oversight of pesticide use. The Government must commit to an ambitious strategy to achieve that.
When will the Government get a grip, finally take a page out of the fantastic Welsh Labour Government’s book and commit to a consideration of flooding prevention mechanisms in their agricultural policy? In Wales, all new developments are now required to include sustainable urban drainage systems, which are designed to mimic natural drainage by managing surface run-off as close to source as possible. We also need a commitment to active agricultural land management to prevent run-off, which can cause flooding further down in the catchments. Colleagues may be aware that the issue of flooding and surface water is close to my heart, not just because I am the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary water group, but because residents and businesses in Pontypridd saw their livelihoods decimated by the flash flooding earlier this year. The recovery effort still continues, albeit sadly with no support from the Government, despite the Prime Minister’s promises. The Government can take small steps to support flooded communities by taking the lead and encouraging or incentivising farmers to take flooding-prevention steps as part of a robust climate change action plan.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept the amendments on a topic that she must receive many messages about. I urge her to spend just 10 minutes looking at my inbox, which receives hundreds of emails every day from concerned constituents worried about their future food standards. Ultimately, we would be doing ourselves and future generations a huge disservice if we did not uphold our stringent food and animal standards or commit to a robust strategy to meet net zero by 2050.
It is always a pleasure to speak in debates such as this. I thank the Minister for the time she has spent informing Members from all parties about the course of the debate and for her work with many of the farmers in my constituency.
There has been a huge amount of fear-mongering in the House regarding the importing of chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, and it has to stop. We all know that if SPS standards were to be changed, this House would have a say in doing so. That is something about which the Opposition do not seem to be informing the general public. We have heard that on the Government side but not on the Opposition side. I hope that will be reinforced in the closing remarks.
Since the introduction of the Bill and in my time as a Member of Parliament, I have asked for two things. I asked for a commitment on labelling, and the Minister stood at that Dispatch Box and committed to the consultation. I accept that, as Luke Pollard said, there are difficulties around that, but we must not see it as an impossibility. There are opportunities for us to create a labelling system that can promote the “buy local” argument throughout the country. I hope we might see from the Opposition the opportunity to develop that labelling system into something that is internationally recognised and copied.
We have also heard ideas about what scrutiny we could apply to trade deals. Deidre Brock said that the International Trade Committee did not have enough teeth; given the fact that it is led by her colleague, Angus Brendan MacNeil, if she feels it does not have enough teeth, we should either find another Chair or elect a new Member for it. The whole point is that the Secretary of State for International Trade has now given Parliament an extra degree of scrutiny.
I personally have asked about the idea that we might look at where we operate the trade commission. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport was kind enough to mention me in his remarks, and although I am not sure it helps my career when he does that, we do need to look at extending that commission. If the Bill goes back to the Lords and then comes back to this House, my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and I will be looking keenly at extending the remit and length of that commission’s existence. It is important not only for what we say to our constituents but that the House has something that gives an extra layer of scrutiny.
I will support the Government tonight, but I will be looking to see what comes back from the Lords. I hope that we get some assurances from the Minister on the trade commission.
It is a pleasure to follow Anthony Mangnall, although I fear I am about to disagree with some of the points he made.
This evening’s debate presented an opportunity for the Government to reassert parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and to put into law their rhetorical support for UK agriculture. During the course of this debate, we have seen valid concerns about the importance of maintaining a level playing field for domestic producers and about importers given short shrift. It is disappointing that the Government will not support the measures in Lords amendment 16, which would address those concerns, as well as enhance parliamentary oversight of trade agreements.
I understand that we cannot vote on Lord Curry’s amendment 18 this evening, but the Government should nevertheless ensure that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is made permanent. That would improve the transparency of negotiations, give much-needed reassurances that the interests of food producers will be championed in negotiations, and offer some redress to farmers whose concerns have, I am afraid, often been dismissed as mere protectionism—allegations that are, frankly, an insult to the commitment and professionalism of farmers throughout the UK.
The Government have not sufficiently explained their approach to the sensitive matter of standards in trade negotiations or how they will reconcile different production systems. We have heard mention of measures being introduced in the Trade Bill but we have yet to see them in practice. Against such a confused backdrop, this Bill’s failure to require agricultural imports to meet equivalent domestic standards of production should concern all the political parties. If we fail to ensure a level playing field between domestic production and imports, we run the risk of endangering the viability of many of our producers. We need only think of the experience of the UK pig industry to understand the consequences of allowing imports that are produced to standards that would be illegal for domestic production. The Government have tried to claim that such a requirement is unnecessary, as they have no intention of allowing imports of lower standards to enter the UK, but at the same time we hear Ministers claim that such a requirement would tie the hands of UK negotiators. These are irreconcilable claims.
This Government have long talked up the benefits of taking back control and of how, post-EU, we will be able to set the terms of our trade with the world. Those terms should be quite simple: UK market access for imports should be dependent on meeting equivalent UK food production standards. I fear that this Bill fetters the success and the future of Welsh farming. I urge the Government to reconsider their position on amendment 16, as the Bill in its current form misses a golden opportunity to safeguard the long-term success and viability of our food producers.
I feel like a bit of an interloper in this debate, because many Members have talked about their heritage in farming and agriculture, and the constituencies they represent have vast amounts of farms and fields, but I am a city boy and represent a city seat. I have no farms in my constituency. I have two fields and no sheep. I have two horses, which sit at the side of the beautiful Kings Norton nature reserve. To my shame, I do not even own a pair of wellies.
As a regional MP from the west midlands, my hon. Friend is always welcome to join us in Shropshire, where we have the best farming in the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In fact, my family name comes from Shropshire, so I have a little bit of agricultural heritage.
The reason I am speaking in this debate is that many people across the whole country, in cities and in rural areas, care deeply about standards in food and especially deeply about standards in animal welfare. It makes us proud to be British that we have such high standards, especially towards animals. That is why I was proud to stand on our party’s manifesto, which was incredibly clear in stating:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Indeed, all the EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, would be transferred into UK law via the withdrawal agreement Act, as their removal would require new legislation. That is why I am supportive of the Government tonight. I take the Minister and the Bill at their word, because I feel passionately that we are going to deliver on these things.
Time and again, we hear the same old arguments and scaremongering from the Opposition Benches. To me, this boils down to two things that we regularly hear. One is the hatred of Brexit and the resistance to acknowledging that that vote took place. The other thing that worries me is the growing anti-American tone that we hear seeping through from the Labour Benches, and especially from the Benches of the separatists. That really does concern me. We hear it in the arguments about chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef all the time, yet those things are already prevented by law from being imported into this country. The Bill does not change that in any way. I can reassure my constituents, who care deeply about these issues, that that will not change.
The article that my hon. Friend Anthony Browne wrote over the weekend was an excellent way of describing the situation that we are in today. Are we really going to pass a law that would harm many of the world poorest people? That would be the indirect consequence of these Lords amendments. The EU does not have the levels of protectionism that these amendments are suggesting. Are they really saying that EU standards are too low? I will be supporting the Government today and voting against the Lords amendments.
You might be surprised to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that one third of the land in Sheffield Hallam is agricultural land, and my husband is the trustee of a city farm. Farming in all its forms is of great interest to me.
The Government have insisted that when we leave the EU, our trading standards will be world-leading, world-beating, the best, the greatest, and the most fantastic in the world. In fact, they have started to sound a bit like the President of the US, and they obviously want to make a sweetheart deal with him. Our farmers are not convinced. I have been contacted about the Bill and the amendments under debate by hundreds of constituents, farmers and producers alike, and every one of them is concerned about the future of our trading standards on food, animal welfare and the environment, as well as the impact of that on their farms and what is on their plate.
That is no wonder, because although Ministers talk about high standards, without the amendments nothing will protect British farmers from being undercut on food and animal welfare standards. The rhetoric about protectionism is reckless; we are talking about people’s incomes. The Minister may say that we do not need to worry about food such as chlorinated chicken because the EU withdrawal agreement has carried over existing standards, but my constituents do not trust the Government on that. We have seen what respect the Government have already shown to this issue, and there is nothing to stop bans on such products being overturned through secondary legislation. If the Government want to set minds at rest, why will they not accept amendment 16 to guarantee that those bans will not be lifted without proper scrutiny in Parliament?
In any case, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products that are prohibited because they breach our standards on food safety, not those on animal welfare and environmental protection. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said when highlighting the issue of sow stalls in California, it is right to ban such things in the UK. That cruel and inhumane method of producing pork should also be banned from all our imports on animal welfare grounds. We need explicit guarantees on animal welfare, but so far we have none.
Given that UK farming accounts for roughly one tenth of our national CO2 emissions, we need a Bill that enshrines action on climate change. Why the Government are so averse to proposing any obligatory measures to meet our net-zero targets is beyond me. We need the Bill to be more robust, to enshrine the commitment of zero-carbon emissions in the sector, and to support British farmers and the health of our people by protecting food and animal welfare standards. Without the proposed amendments, the Bill will fall well short of that.
I welcome the Minister’s opening speech, which I listened to carefully. It did a lot to assuage the concerns of my constituents in Stafford, which is a rural constituency, and of many farmers across the UK. However, I also understand the sentiments of colleagues about the amendments under debate. I sat on the Trade and Agricultural Bill Committees earlier this year, so I had the opportunity thoroughly to question stakeholders and Ministers, as well as to scrutinise the Bill line by line. I feel that the Bill now provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an effective agricultural scheme that backs British farmers.
I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) when they said that the previous scheme for agriculture, the common agricultural policy, has been a failure. From an agricultural perspective we have seen sluggish improvements to productivity, poor farm incomes, regressive distribution of funding to the largest landowners, ineffectual rules, and a failure to encourage the next generation of farmers. I believe that Staffordshire farmers deserve better, and this Bill will be better.
Early this year I invited the International Trade Secretary to my constituency, and we held a joint roundtable with local farmers, who directly raised their concerns with her about animal welfare standards post Brexit.
I believe that British farmers have some of the highest food standards in the world, which is something that we should be extremely proud of. From my meeting with Staffordshire farmers and local NFU members just last month, I do appreciate that maintaining these high standards comes at a high financial cost for the producer. British farmers must absolutely not be put in a situation where they are having to compete with lower quality food from abroad. I was very pleased that the Government listened to the views of the NFU, myself and other colleagues earlier this year and have now established that independent Trade and Agriculture Commission, which was referenced in Amendment 18.
I have frequently raised in this House and with the Government the importance of maintaining high food standards, and I will continue to back Staffordshire farmers in this House. I also believe that this Bill recognises the important and primary role of farmers as food producers. The coronavirus pandemic has emphasised to residents across the country the very vital role that British farmers play in feeding the nation. Tonight, I will now be backing this Bill unamended, as I do believe that the measures set out will reward our farmers properly for the work that they do.
I wish to declare an interest: I have several relatives who are farmers.
I rise to speak in favour of the Lords amendments. I realise that time is pressing, so I will address the needs and concerns of consumers rather than those of farmers, although I acknowledge the importance of the Bill to the farming community. I would like to mention some of the very serious concerns that have been raised by my constituents in both Reading and Woodley and to call on the Government to listen to those concerns, even at this very late stage.
The central point that has been raised with me is that the Bill as it stands will open a backdoor to food that is produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards. I wish to address both of these related issues in turn. On environmental standards, it is very important to remember that agriculture is responsible for a significant proportion of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, and that there are also a series of other issues associated with the industry however hard farmers both here and around the world are trying to address them. The same also applies to animal welfare, which has been led by British farming. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said earlier, there are opportunities for us in this country to influence animal welfare standards around the world by asserting our own rights now as an independent trading country.
These amendments would also allow for closer scrutiny of trade deals. Another point that has been made quite eloquently to me by residents in my area is that we should not shy away from having the same approach that legislatures in other parts of the world have to trade deals. As I said earlier, consumers value the hard work and dedication of UK farmers, and they want to see high standards upheld. However, it is important to understand what UK consumers are able to effect and where the Government need to intervene. Consumers do care deeply about British farmers and about maintaining high standards, and they will raise issues with us as elected representatives. However, consumers are struggling to follow a range of complicated pieces of information about food standards already, and they do rely on the Government to intervene in the market and to try to make things clear for them. They rightly believe that the Government should regulate and that Parliament should hold the Executive to account as part of its constitutional role.
I am conscious of time, Madam Deputy Speaker. Maintaining high standards is important to our country. Serious concerns have been raised by consumers, and there is an obvious need to maintain proper regulation. Given all that and the needs of the farming community, I hope the Government will now, even at this very late stage, listen to the concerns that have been raised and think again.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this vital debate, much of which has understandably focused on Lords amendment 16. I am sorry to disappoint the House, but being as unoriginal as I am I, too, will be restricting my remarks to that amendment.
I have the pleasure of representing a constituency in Aberdeenshire, which is, as I am sure the House will agree, home of the best beef, lamb, berries and cereals produced anywhere in the United Kingdom. Of course these Lords amendments have given me pause for thought, just as the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) did. I have listened to representations about the Bill—by email, phone, over social media, and in person yesterday at the door of the church—from farmers and food producers in my constituency. I want to put Scottish and specifically north- east farmers first—first in the queue to benefit from the trade deals that we are negotiating right now. In the next 30 years, the supply of food needs to rise by about 50% to meet the needs of a wealthier, growing global population. I do not want anything that would stand in the way of our high-quality, world-leading Scottish products reaching the shelves of consumers around the world.
In attempting to enshrine in law, as this well-meaning amendment would, that food imported to the UK
“be equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations”,
we would put at risk our ability to sell our products overseas and put in serious jeopardy our ability to carry on importing many of the foodstuffs we do at the moment. We already import a large quantity of goods from developing countries. This includes products sold directly to consumers, such as bananas from the Dominican Republic, and goods processed into final products, such as tea from Kenya, coffee from Vietnam and cocoa beans from Ghana. We do all this under existing European Union rules, and as my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin pointed out, we should not even get started on Danish bacon.
None of the transition EU FTAs has exported domestic welfare production standards. This amendment would mean that the existing mandate for our European Union trade deal—a deal we all, goodness me, want to see succeed—would have to be altered. No current imports to the UK are required to meet our domestic production standards. It is precisely our high standards and high quality of produce that make our produce so attractive to the outside world. Because of that and because we believe in high welfare standards, the Government have given their commitment that in negotiating these trade deals, we will not allow our domestic welfare production standards to be in any way diminished. We will protect, defend and enhance our food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards, and we will actively seek to export these world-leading standards and our expertise to new partners around the world.
This country is a world leader on animal welfare and food production standards. We are champions, or at least should be champions, of free trade. These two principles are the foundation of what I believe global Britain seeks to be. These are the pillars of who we are. Therefore, for all these reasons, and because I support Scottish farmers and want to see our produce sold and enjoyed across the world, I cannot support the Lords amendments before us.
This Bill could well be among the most significant pieces of legislation that we debate in this Parliament. It covers our farming practices, environmental protections and food supply chains. If the food shortages in supermarkets at the beginning of lockdown have taught us anything, it is the importance of food security and traceability. Our constituents know this. Recent polling by Which? shows 95% support for maintaining existing food standards, and over 1 million people have now signed the NFU’s petition—yes, the NFU: that radical and dangerous organisation, according to Bill Wiggin—calling for food standards to be enshrined in law.
The most frequently raised issue recently by Bath constituents has been the Agriculture Bill. They want reassurances about the quality of the food they eat. They care about animal welfare standards and environmental protections. They want to know that British farmers will not be undercut by cheaper, lower quality products from countries with fewer regulations. Like many others, I have been supporting local businesses during lockdown. We are lucky in Bath to have an excellent supply of locally produced food from Somerset, and it will be British families like these who will be left unsupported.
This pandemic has also underlined the importance of healthy eating and good nutrition for our general health and wellbeing, yet we risk exposing hundreds of thousands of families to low-quality food, undermining the Government’s own obesity strategy. We must be mindful, too, of the agricultural sector’s role in getting to net zero. Lower food standards encourage poor production practices, and the result is massive damage to the environment. Unless these standards are legally enshrined, the risk remains that this Government will compromise on environmental protections and food and welfare standards, as they head out in a desperate search for trade deals after Brexit. Just last week, the US Agriculture Secretary said:
“We absolutely will not agree to policies that restrict our methods of production to any other standards outside of this country”— the US. How can we ask our constituents to rely on nothing more than ministerial assurances?
The Government argue that enshrining food standards in the Bill would undermine trade negotiations. That is not true. This morning, the Future British Standards Coalition published its interim report, with evidence that it is possible to reject low food standard imports, remain WTO-compliant and still strike trade deals. The Government want Britain to be a global leader in trade. Why not be a leader that encourages trading partners to adopt higher standards? I urge Members across the House to support the Lords amendments, particularly amendment 16.
I come from a farming background. It was all I was ever interested in at school. I grew up on a farm where my dad was a farm worker and I had a passion for dairy cows—Holsteins. When I was thinking of future careers, the only green in my life was the grass that the cows ate in the fields rather than the Benches I now sit on. This is something that goes through my veins. Representing a rural constituency like Moray makes it a hugely important issue for me, both locally and nationally.
I want to say from the outset that this debate is not about chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-injected beef, which are banned in this country and will continue to be banned in this country going forward. There have been scare stories in the media and throughout the debate, which I have watched from the office and then, when seats became available, in the Chamber. We have to get past that. This is also about what our Moray, our Scottish and our UK farmers have done for years and through generations in building up their world-leading and respected animal welfare and food safety standards. They have done so much, through generations of farmers, to build up the reputation that we now proudly have as a country.
I know how passionate the Minister is about upholding these standards, as I saw when watching her opening remarks. Indeed, that passion is shared by those right across the Conservative Benches. We were all elected on a manifesto commitment to uphold those standards. I know that every single Conservative Member believes that and continues to believe it, no matter how they vote tonight. For some, it will be delivered through an unamended Bill because, they will rightly say, the Minister has said, and repeated Ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister have said, that this Bill does not reduce animal welfare or food safety standards. Others on the Conservative Benches and around the House will say that it needs to be enshrined in law and put into the Bill. I do not believe that either is wrong. We all want to get to the same destination, but we could potentially take different routes. Some may choose the unamended Bill to uphold animal welfare and food safety standards, and others will choose to amend the Bill, as amendments 16 states, to call for agriculture and food imports to meet domestic standards.
The passion that we all have to meet that ultimate aim is shared; it is just that the route to get to the destination is different. Having thought long and hard about this, I have decided that the best way to do that—the best way to stand up for my Moray farmers, Scottish farmers, and farmers around the country—is to get this measure into the Bill. I agree with and support amendment 16 because I want to make it absolutely crystal clear to farmers up and down the country—to send them the message—that the Government, and I, as the local MP in Moray, have their back and will support them in continuing their efforts to uphold the outstanding standards that they have built up through years and generations.
In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised not to compromise on food standards in future trade negotiations, saying:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
They have not put this commitment into law. The Bill does nothing to prevent British farmers from being undercut in post-Brexit trade deals with countries with lower animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. The Government argue that all current legal protections have been carried over by the EU (Withdrawal) Act as retained EU law, including bans on chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, but this can be overturned in secondary legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.
Our membership of the EU kept our food standards high, but we are currently negotiating with other countries whose standards are substantially lower than those in the UK. These products include chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef from countries such as the US and Australia. Australia still uses farming methods that are currently illegal in the UK. Hormone-injected beef, for example, is currently banned under EU law due to concerns about public health as well as animal welfare, yet the US and Australia are reputed to be pushing for the UK to accept imports of hormone-injected beef. Chlorinated chicken masks salmonella and E. coli, and causes poor animal welfare conditions in barns and abattoirs. Negotiations are left wide open to pressure on Ministers to use their powers to relax standards. Without a clear and unequivocal guarantee in an Act of Parliament, the Tories’ manifesto promise is worthless. The US and other countries have made it clear that they will expect the Government to accept lower-standard foods currently banned in the UK and the EU such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.
The temporary Trade and Agriculture Commission that the Government have established in response will produce only one advisory report and not a continuous assessment of individual trade deals. Its terms of reference should be widened so that it is able to review all trade deals, in a meaningful way, and its recommendations should be made subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I support Lords amendment 18, which would put the commission on a statutory and permanent basis.
Differential tariffs are not the answer, as they risk tariff wars. That would harm British farmers but still allow food produced to a low standard to be sold in the UK. I support our UK farmers, whose industry could face a final blow if such trade deals go ahead. More than 1 million people have signed a National Farmers Union petition calling on the Government to hold to those standards. That is why I support Lords amendment 16, to protect our farmers and consumers from lower animal welfare, environmental and public health standards. I urge the Government to commit to their 2019 manifesto pledge and to accept all six of the Lords amendments.
I want to discuss Lords amendment 17. Although I believe it has good intentions, it is ill-thought-through and unnecessary, and would unfairly burden farmers who are already doing fantastic work to reduce carbon emissions.
The amendment would force the Secretary of State to introduce an interim climate change target for 2030, and make the Secretary of State commit to that target through regulations within six months of the Bill gaining Royal Assent. Although I agree that farmers should play their part in tackling climate change, I believe that the amendment is designed as a throwaway political point rather than something necessary.
First, the amendment would set a net zero target for farmers, but it provides little detail on how that could actually be achieved, despite its demand that regulations be introduced within a short 12-month timeframe. How could that be done? As has been highlighted in other debates in the Lords, unless there is a miraculous scientific breakthrough within a year, farmers will have no option but to produce less food in order to meet this new target. I do not understand how limiting the amount of British food on our shelves would be of any benefit, as it would negatively affect both farmers and consumers.
Secondly, the amendment would prevent the Government from focusing on other ways in which we can reach net zero. By having non-sector-specific targets, the Government can reduce our greenhouse gases in ways that are efficient and that mitigate any negative trade-offs. This amendment would unfairly punish farmers by making them reach a net zero target 20 years before other industries, many of which are more polluting than the agricultural sector. I do not understand the logic in that, and I am sure that farmers across the country will see it as deeply unfair, as agriculture is responsible for only 9% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It should also be highlighted that the National Farmers Union has its own 2040 net-zero target, so the demand that it should somehow be reached by 2030 is not backed by either scientific evidence or our farmers.
I would like to end by reminding this House that we were the first major economy in the world to establish a net zero carbon target, and we can be proud of that. Let us also not forget that from 2010 to 2019, UK CO2 emissions fell by 29%, while our GDP grew by 18%. Although there is more to do, let us celebrate our achievements and continue to support sensible legislation which will ensure that we remain a world leader in reducing our carbon footprint.
I have received hundreds of emails from residents in Leicester East who are gravely concerned about the future of food quality and environmental protections after we leave the EU. It is therefore crucial that this Bill includes legally binding guarantees that high UK food standards will not be cut in post-Brexit trade deals, whether with the USA or other countries that produce food to lower standards.
Despite their own 2019 manifesto commitment, the Government have so far refused to do that. The Government have repeatedly said that they will not weaken food standards as part of any trade deal, but they are refusing to make a legal commitment that would guarantee that. They insist that bans on lower-standard foods such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef have been carried over into UK law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but the fact is that those bans can easily be overturned in secondary legislation without proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Government know that, and they are already under pressure from new trading partners, including the US, to allow lower-standard imports in trade deals.
It is all very well the Government opposing the lowering of food standards in the realm of hypotheticals, but when faced with a concrete opportunity to enshrine that in law, they refuse to act. As with NHS privatisation, the Government are repeatedly asking the public to blindly trust their promises, despite passing up the opportunity to support legal regulations to achieve their aims, rather than flimsy incentives. Based on the Government’s track record of privatisation and prioritising corporate profit over public health, I do not see why my constituents should believe them on this occasion.
I support amendments 1, 9, 11, 16, 17 and 18, which would strengthen the Bill in crucial areas such as food standards and environmental sustainability. I urge the Government to adopt those reasonable amendments, which are in line with their own stated aims. Otherwise, the Government must make clear today the reason why they want to drive down food standards and not support British farmers. During a climate and ecological emergency, it is imperative that we have a clear road map for agriculture to reach net zero carbon emissions, yet there are no targets in the Bill for the agriculture sector to achieve that. Across the board, this legislation fails to protect our food standards, our environment or the health of residents in Leicester and across the country.
Unlike many Members here, I have just one small farm in my constituency, but a large number of constituents have written to me expressing great concern about the implications of the Agriculture Bill, particularly if the Lords amendments are not incorporated. My constituents expect Parliament to scrutinise the detail of all trade deals, but Parliament is yet again to be cut out of full scrutiny and agreement on trade deals—a trend that is becoming something of a habit for this Government.
After listening to some Government Members, I really do wonder about their understanding of the dynamics of trade deals. Many of my constituents fear that the Bill and the Government’s approach to trade will open up our consumers to chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-impregnated beef and so on. The Minister said at the start of the debate that we should not worry about standards falling because British consumers will choose good-quality food, but as consumers we do not see the labels for much of our food, because almost half the food we eat is made up of processed ingredients or is catered and therefore hidden from consumer vision. As many Members have said, cheap imported foods with standards lower than the EU’s threaten the viability of many British farmers.
If the Government actually believed in the climate and environmental emergency that this Parliament declared a year ago, the Bill would set a clearer path for our farmers to reach net zero. Why do the Government not accept Labour’s amendment 17, which would set interim net zero targets for the agricultural sector?
If we do a trade deal with the US that has no conditions on animal welfare, our farmers will be at risk, because they will have to compete with low-cost agricultural mega-corporations, such as those US pork farmers still using sow stalls. To prevent the cruelty of practices such as sow stalls, we need a law which says that, in all trade deals, any imports must meet the same standards of animal welfare that British farmers are required to meet. Britain has historically often led the world on food standards, but sadly, this Bill means that our food quality is at risk, our farmers’ future is at risk, our environment and our climate are at risk, and the welfare of farmed animals are at risk. I support the Lords amendments.
We have had a treat this evening—we have had Cotswold lamb, mince and tatties, Aberdeenshire beef, and berries and all sorts of other things. I, for one, have particularly enjoyed hearing farming voices this evening. We heard from my hon. Friend Neil Parish, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who is basically in favour of the Bill. He was able to explain clearly how it would help the farmers of the future. We heard from my hon. Friend Douglas Ross, who very much enjoyed growing up with fields green with grass. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), who both spoke in quite quiet, but experienced, passionate farming voices about how the trade of the future was going to help others in the industry.
We heard from my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, and we had perhaps the quote of the evening from my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin, who said that farming is not a religion; it is a business. I would like to reassure him that I see a bright future for British farming under our new agricultural policies. Productive, environmentally sustainable food production—that is what we are going to support, and businesses.
We heard from my hon. Friend George Freeman, and I am looking forward to a glittering career for him at Harper Adams. I think we will all benefit from what he learns there. We heard from my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy. I was pleased to speak to him a great deal about gene editing earlier in the year and I am glad that we will be consulting on that. These were experienced farming voices, passionate about trade.
There have been other speeches of note, including from my hon. Friend Gary Sambrook, who was proud to say that he does not earn a pair of wellies but he cares about standards, and about trade. We heard from my hon. Friend Theo Clarke, who has served on the Agriculture Committee, and who spoke thoughtfully about the cost of production and the work that she had done to take the Secretary of State for International Trade to her constituency to speak to her farmers.
My hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall is right: the fear-mongering must stop tonight. We are not going to be importing chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-treated beef. That is the law of this land. [Interruption.] There is no question of “Not yet”. This Government are not going to change it under any circumstances. We have said very clearly that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards.
We have a range of tools to protect us. We have the existing regulation. We have parliamentary scrutiny, which I detailed earlier, including the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I, for one, think is significant. We have other experts feeding in, including the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which many Members have spoken about. It was designed to be helpful, to feed into the trade negotiations we are conducting at the moment. There is nothing to stop it being stood up again if it was felt that that would be helpful. There is absolutely no need to put this in the Bill. I am very happy to take as an action from tonight that I will discuss this with the Secretary of State for International Trade. Given what she said in her written ministerial statement to the House today, I am not anticipating that she will be surprised by that conversation, but I undertake to conduct it.
I also think that consumer labelling is important, while understanding that, of course, a lot of products are not directly labelled at the point of consumption. I think, however, that our consumers are canny and that they can make many of their own decisions. We also heard one other tool discussed this evening in favour of differing tariffs—my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Norfolk and for The Cotswolds both spoke about that—and that is something that we should perhaps think about in future.
You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that children play mummies and daddies or going to the shops. They tend to ape what the adults around them do. Well, my sisters and I played going to NFU meetings, because that was what the adults around us did. I welcome the work that the NFU has done to get consumers talking about standards, but we do not need primary legislation to have a Trade and Agriculture Commission. Amendment 16 does not enshrine these standards in law; rather, it obliges the Government to impose a wide and, in my view, slightly ill-defined set of conditions on new and roll-over FTAs. And if Labour Members truly are champions of farming, they should not support amendment 11, which bans the use of any pesticide in any field.
This Bill is great. The future of agriculture in this country is great. I commend it to the House.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.