Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 10:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, Amendment 247, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, seems sensible and I applaud his attention to economic conditions and to the expectations of consumers, as specified in the common market organisation regulation. I support his purpose, that regulations are only brought in for legitimate purposes.

I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Lucas in his Amendment 249, which seeks to explore the reasons why live poultry, poultry meat and spreadable fats are excluded from subsection (2)(j).

I am sympathetic, to a point, towards the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which seek to increase the amount of information available to consumers by labelling and QR codes, but I expect that my noble friend will not want to go beyond what is proportionate and justified in terms of cost. For that reason, I prefer Amendment 258, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, which is the right way forward to deal with the animal welfare concerns which are often, misleadingly, confused with food standards.

I trust that the Minister will reject Amendment 256, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which would bind the UK to dynamic alignment with EU animal health, hygiene or welfare standards over which, even in this current implementation period, we have no influence whatever. As my noble friend knows, she and I are on opposite sides on EU alignment. I point out that these standards are not necessarily higher or lower—they are multidimensional. Her perceptions of standards do not take sufficient account of equivalence of outcomes.

Besides, we need to take up the opportunity that Brexit offers to improve our domestic regulatory environment. At present, the playing field for British cattle and sheep farmers is very uneven. Their French competitors receive €1 billion of voluntary coupled support payments every year. In the UK, the equivalent is a mere €39 million available to Scottish crofters. The threat to British beef is highly subsidised French and Irish beef, not American beef. Amendment 256 would make it much more difficult for the UK to enter into a good free trade agreement with the US and other third countries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is a tireless campaigner for higher animal welfare standards. However, Amendment 266 in her name would directly conflict with the aim of Clause 40, which is to ensure that the UK, exercising its rights as an independent member of the WTO for the first time since 1973, must be compliant with the Agreement on Agriculture. The UK now has a chance to establish itself as a global campaigner for free trade and it is important not to deny British farmers the opportunity to export high-quality products to markets such as the US, Australia and New Zealand. Does the Minister agree that the amendment would put the UK in violation of WTO rules in these and other areas where we do not have an EU protected sector, such as olive oil?

Almost 50 countries have made a submission complaining about the EU’s SPS rules, including many poor, developing countries as well as the major agricultural exporting countries. Those who argue that the UK should maintain its illogical ban on the import of chlorinated or even peracetic acid-rinsed chicken should answer three questions. First, would they not think it a good idea if the incidence of campylobacter in the UK could be lowered to the average level of occurrence in the US, a little over one-fifth of the level here? Secondly, are they aware that the American maximum stocking density for poultry, as my noble friend Lord Lilley explained, is broadly equivalent to our own? Thirdly, are they aware that the UK imports chicken from Poland —an EU member state—Thailand and Brazil, in all of which poultry stocking densities are higher than those found in the US or the UK?

Finally, I turn to Amendment 263, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which requires the Government to seek an agreement for the continued protection of UK speciality food and drink products. The Government announced in February last year that they will set up their own geographical indications scheme in fulfilment of our WTO obligations. Does my noble friend think this amendment would help him achieve his objectives?