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 McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 8:45 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 14 and I join in supporting Amendment 13 and much of the sentiment behind Amendments 9, 25 and 26. I thank my noble friend the Minister for the meeting I had with her. I entirely support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, as to why it is important to have these points in the Bill. If you look at the gross value added of agriculture, it contributes over 10% to the economy of the Yorkshire and Humber region alone. Exports of food and drink from the UK are worth £16.4 billion per annum.

I would like to say a word about marketing. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, raised a very important point here, which I discussed in the private meeting I had with the Minister. Our exports to China, for example, have grown by over 60% because the agricultural attaché in Beijing is paid 90% by the industry levy and 10% by the Government. If we are doing so well there, surely we should heed the requests from the NFU, farm organisations and the food and drinks industry to have similar specialists in other key markets. The sooner we do that, the better. I am half-Danish and it is a source of some surprise to me that Denmark exports a higher share of its food to countries such as China than we do. It is a country of 6.5 million; we are a country of 60 million. We have a lot of catching up to do, but we are clearly on the right track with the agricultural attaché.

In supporting the theme of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I would like to put two questions to the Minister before we return to this on Report. First, if the Government are not prepared to put this in the Bill, what commitment can my noble friend the Minister give the Committee this evening that in any free trade agreement the Government conclude with overseas trading partners, all food imported to the UK will be produced to food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection standards which are at least the equivalent of those currently required by producers in the UK? Secondly, can my noble friend explain how the Government intend to set out, in clear and unambiguous terms, how they propose to ensure that food imports into the UK will adhere to our environmental and welfare standards, in the context of WTO obligations? I will not repeat the examples that have been given, but over 20 or 30 years and under different Governments—many noble Lords have served as Ministers for Agriculture—we have increased the cost of food produced in this country, at the consumer’s will, to have the highest environmental, welfare, food safety and hygiene standards. Those cannot now be swept aside in this bid to have cheap food. We have to pay the cost of producing that food.

I notice that we will discuss amendments to Clause 6 relating to other bodies, such as the European food standards agency, but I hope the Minister will agree to our continuing participation in the European food safety alert system. The horsemeat scandal could have led to casualties. People could have died if it had been a food safety issue. Fortunately, it was passing off—it was a form of fraud—but we need to commit on a continuing basis to the food alert system that we have in place. To date the Government have been silent on that. I hope my noble friend will take this opportunity to commit to it.

I hope that when the Minister sums up the debate she will give a formal commitment and agree to write into the Bill those verbal agreements that have been made by the Secretaries of State for Defra and International Trade. Amendments 9, 13 and 14, grouped with Amendments 25 and 26, go to the heart of ensuring that the food safety, food hygiene, environmental standards and welfare we currently enjoy will continue once we have left the European Union.