Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:45 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 13. The purpose of my amendment is extremely clear: to seek to maintain our present high standards of UK agricultural products. At the same time, however, I support other amendments in this group regarding animal health, hygiene and welfare standards and wider environmental concerns. I regard this issue as extremely important not just for the present round of trade treaty rollover negotiations, which of course it is, but as a signal for the future. I felt that the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, were very pertinent to this point. I want to make it very clear to both present and future trade negotiating partners that we in the UK intend to maintain our present high standards in a number of areas such as agricultural products and food standards.

I too am grateful to the Minister for meeting me last week. She made it clear that her priority was to get these current trade deals finalised with as much speed as possible—yes, the word “continuity” was mentioned—and said there was a necessity for flexibility in the negotiations. I understand all that. The problem, as we have heard today, is that not all the parties to these negotiations may just agree to roll these deals over; they may want to look at some things again. I want to signal to the Government as strongly as possible how important we feel our present high standards to be.

Ministers apparently agree with me, because on a number of occasions they have been asked about our present high food standards and they all say that they have no intention of departing from them and intend to stick them. If that is the case, then surely we have no problem in writing that in the Bill. What is the problem? If we all agree that these high standards are essential, then I do not understand why they cannot be in the Bill. I understand that my inadequate attempts to formulate the appropriate proposal may be the problem. I would then say to the Government, “Fine. You can see what I and other people are after. Take that sentiment away and put it in whatever form meets your requirements”. I cannot understand how they can just ignore this important issue. If Ministers share my views on high standards, there must be a way of encapsulating this in the Bill in some form. I am very flexible; I do not mind how it appears in the Bill, but I really feel that it should be there.

Food standards and the negotiations about them are going to be a major issue not just for these rollover trade deals but for the future. We keep hearing talk about the possibility of us joining the Pacific trade group. I think there was a meeting with people from New Zealand or Australia only today and we hear again about this possibility. But that would inevitably mean moving away from EU standards and our current high standards for food and agricultural products. Therefore, every time we hear these sorts of discussions about joining this group, we are alarmed; we want to know, if that is the case, will we then lower our standards? We cannot have it all ways. We also know how American agribusinesses are hungrily eyeing British markets. We know perfectly well that they want to flood our country with cheap chlorinated chickens and other food that does not meet our present high standards. Therefore, I believe we have to make it clear from the outset that we will not agree to this.

The Government should be left in no doubt whatever about the strength of feeling across the country on this issue. I ask them to make it clear in negotiations taking place now and in the future that food standards will not be lowered in any way. I strongly believe that everybody in this country will want this to be acknowledged. That is why I have tabled this amendment.