Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Non-affiliated 9:00 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 250, 251 and 252 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Amendment 253 in my name.

As the noble Baroness said, there is tremendous and as yet largely untapped potential in labelling, not least in the use of QR codes. With technological advances, such codes contain so much information and have such positive uses for producers, consumers and indeed everybody in the chain. This takes me to the purpose behind my Amendment 253. It is in the marketing section of the Bill but is about more than that. It is about what we can do in agriculture and horticulture for all the products in this Bill, and speaks to products way beyond it in terms of the digital opportunity to drive efficiency and information for all in the chain.

When I speak of digitisation, I do not mean what is all too often the case, where a form gets put on to a database and that is called a digital transformation. That is doing nothing different; it is merely taking something on paper and putting it into electronic form. We need to consider what data is required, whether on welfare, provenance, ingredients, or the type of soil where the product was grown. What do we need, how can we then best collect it and at what stage of the production or supply chain can it be best provided?

Amendment 253 relates specifically to VI-1 forms for wine products to give a specific example but also to underscore the point that this is about all agricultural and horticultural produce. Indeed, it is about all goods and services. It could not have more resonance for the autumn and winter that we are about to go into. Currently, wines coming into the UK from Europe do not have to go through the VI-1 process or have lab tests. Given that 55% of the wine coming into this country comes from Europe, come 1 January, this is absolutely what will be required.

I am grateful for the background notes from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which makes these points extremely clearly. It should be noted that the British wine trade is worth some £19 billion and provides 130,000 jobs. In fact, wine is the UK’s sixth-biggest export in the food and drink classification. We are a world hub for wine import and export. With this amendment, rather than just going for a form that would impose extreme levels of friction on the process, we have the opportunity for a digital solution: digital passports for wine coming into the country, leaving it and going anywhere in the world.

I point the Minister to the Chainvine project, which has amply demonstrated that this is not a theoretical possibility but a tried and tested reality. The project used new technologies, including distributed ledger technology, the internet of things and tracking and tracing products in real time—in this case wine from Australia all the way to the UK—to show us how digitisation can transform the way we do business and the collaborations with the producers, government departments, the FSA and HMRC. Would he agree that this possibility should be seriously considered by the Government?

In a Written Answer, the Government said that the cost to industry of VI-1 forms being introduced in January was negligible or nil. The reality is more like £70 million in costs for business, and over 600,000 forms. I know that the Minister is absolutely against red tape. Does he agree that in no sense do we want to introduce this cost and ridiculous red-tape bureaucracy on to this fabulous industry?

If this amendment is not accepted, we will be effectively increasing the price of wine and lowering the choice for consumers, and missing the opportunity of taking positive steps in a specific area to demonstrate how digitisation can transform how we do things, not just in agriculture but as a nation state. Will the Minister seriously consider Amendment 253 and the wider issues that it sets out?