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 Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, this group of amendments covers a wide range of areas that relate to standards, labelling and speciality foods, and to how the market will operate after transition, not least in the different parts of the United Kingdom. There are some very important amendments here.

This section of the Bill is full of words such as “may”, not “must”, and in some places noble Lords are seeking to rectify this. This is extremely important if we are to maintain the standards that the Minister says we will have now that we have left the EU and will not compromise to do trade deals.

Amendment 236A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, the first amendment here, is slightly different from others in this group, most of which seek to maintain standards. The noble Baroness is seeking to move standards forward to address climate change. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in Amendment 253A also takes up climate change issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, wishes to ensure in Amendment 247 that reasons for regulations should be, as now in the EU, clearly defined as necessary—as one would certainly hope they would be.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was commendably brief, emphasising the importance of labelling for full transparency and proposing smart labelling, animal welfare and traceability. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, adds wine in his Amendment 253.

Crucial in this group is Amendment 254 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. Here they have scooped up key points in this permissive section to make it into a provision which says that Ministers “must” take action. So much in this Bill is permissive and does not specify what “must” happen. They seek to specify here that origin, transportation and method of slaughter should be transparent to consumers, but I note that my noble friend Lord Palmer and the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Deech, are concerned about this.

Then there are the amendments ranged around the country. Amendment 255 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and my noble friend Lord Bruce, would ensure that the Secretary of State consults the devolved Administrations and other bodies on regulations relating to marketing standards and the nature of the potential internal market in the UK. Amendment 263A from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also explores the balance in devolution and the risks of trade deals agreed by the UK Government which might be unacceptable and destructive, for example in Wales, damaging the union itself. The Minister was going back to think about devolution. He will need to examine this as well.

We now come to an extremely important amendment. It is because we are dealing with “may” clauses that we need Amendment 256 from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which specifies that these provisions should not have the effect of reducing animal health, hygiene or welfare standards below those currently of the UK or the EU. I note that she has adapted this extremely important amendment from the Trade Bill. I know that the noble Lord keeps reiterating that standards will not fall. In which case, putting this provision into the Bill will be, and must be, totally straightforward. The noble Baroness, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie, made completely unanswerable cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, is right to say that the issue of standards will not go away.

In Amendment 258, the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord De Mauley, are seeking more specification in labelling, including mandatory labelling for meat, milk and eggs, including those produced using intensive farming methods and slaughter. They lay down a timetable for this. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is especially concerned whether products coming in as a result of trade deals will indeed be at the standard that the Government claim, and that there should be transparency for consumers, including those for whom religion dictates that meat, for example, fulfils various requirements. Nevertheless, Amendment 256 is stronger than Amendment 258.

Amendment 263, in the names of my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Bruce, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, took us in another important direction. That amendment requires the Government

“to seek an agreement for continued protection of UK speciality food and drink products.”

This is yet another area where we seriously risk losing out from leaving the EU. We have granted this protection to EU specialty foods but seem to have failed to secure the same guarantee for British regional products on the continent, including Scotch whisky, Cornish pasties, clotted cream and so on. Those guarantees strengthen their market position. Is this really the case? My noble friend Lord Tyler and my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace certainly made their case powerfully. However, given the quote from the Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, must find it easy to grant this amendment.

What will happen in new trade agreements? In all these amendments, a common theme runs: British agriculture is at risk in this new environment where the identity of its products and high standards may be undermined and undercut as we seek trade deals with countries beyond the major market of the EU. Those standards matter. I therefore look forward to the Minister’s response to this variety of amendments.