Amendment 236A

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:00 pm, 23rd July 2020

I thank all noble Lords for their amendments in this group on marketing standards. The large number of amendments reflects many thoughtful contributions around the scope of the provisions in Part 5, Clauses 35 to 37. As previously, I declare my agricultural interests as recorded on the register. I congratulate my previous colleague and noble friend Lady Worthington on leading the group with her late amendment, Amendment 236A, on a consultation regarding the climate change impacts of agriculture. It is forward-looking and under proposed subsection (a), agriculture needs to be aware of its emissions if it is to become subject to a carbon levy on greenhouse gas emissions. However, a lot of analysis needs to be provided beforehand.

Agriculture takes its responsibilities seriously. As a member of the Tesco supply group, my carbon footprint of business operations is measured and assessed annually. I was happy to encourage and explore how accurate measurements from the initial development of the Dairy Roadmap many years ago could tackle this challenge. However, it will take many years of analysis to fully understand what is happening behind the statistics and how robust they may be. It is easy to overemphasise the role of agriculture in climate change, but that does not lessen the recognition of the need for agriculture to play its part in reaching net zero by 2050, mitigate its carbon footprint in its energy use and mitigate GHG emissions from the livestock sector with innovative schemes to redirect them to more positive outcomes.

Similarly importantly, agriculture can fulfil the desire to mitigate climate change through payments for schemes to reduce other industries’ and general impacts, as well as providing carbon sinks and upland water storage to reduce flood risk. The noble Baroness also makes a good point in the last aspect of her amendment, concerning drawing attention to the effect of food purchases from overseas and the need to recognise the impacts of their agricultural systems and production methods.

The noble Baroness’s amendment is echoed by Amendment 253A in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. This amendment and Amendments 248, 250, 254 and 258 concern labelling and providing information to the consumer. Matching on a label the food contained within with an accurate description that does not mislead the consumer is heavily prescribed in legislation. Consumers are arguably the most well informed about food that they have ever been.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on their Amendment 250, which suggested the use of quick-response QR codes as a way of supplementing physical labelling with additional digital content. This is perhaps something that Defra could look at as a way of bringing in the extra subject matter these amendments would provide to the consumer, be that carbon footprints, welfare standards, transportation methods, or methods of production and slaughter.

Traceability is already part of the food chain operations concerning livestock products. Labels are already challenged for space. On the regulatory side, it is important that we have clear rules that can continue to evolve as the information required becomes more sophisticated. To answer these demands fundamentally, altering existing requirements should proceed only on the basis of proper and widespread consultation with producers, the supply chain and the consumer to ensure an appropriate balance.

Consultations form the basis of Amendment 236A, as discussed, as well as Amendments 263A—in the name the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—and 255, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch has added her name. The latter two are concerned with proper consultation with the devolved Administrations. I appreciate and thank the Minister for constantly reminding the House that his department has developed the Bill’s proposals in full consultation with the nations of the UK. However, we remain concerned about the quality of that dialogue. The areas of devolved competence also remain the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and were expressed by my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport in the debate on an earlier grouping of amendments concerning provisions with regard to Wales.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked questions about the operation of the internal market in food across the UK. Amendment 256 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, my noble friend Lady Henig and others is concerned that regulations and provisions may have the effect of lowering production standards below those already established in the EU and UK. We agree with this, and this is why we will be introducing amendments later to enshrine production standards in law around Amendment 271. The immediate priority is to ensure that the Government do not use their suite of delegated powers to water down the EU-derived provisions that consumers have demanded over so many years.

Amendment 247, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, seeks to enshrine the wording of the CMO regulation—EU Regulation 1308/2013—into the legislation. The Explanatory Note to the Bill signifies that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 does that. The pertinent EU Council regulations are listed. But may I ask the Minister whether food information to consumers directives—FICs—notably Regulation 1169/2011, on labelling, are included in the list provided, and therefore also covered by the withdrawal Act?

The list of EU Commission-delegated acts covers the various product sectors, including wine, the subject of Amendment 253, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. I thank him for highlighting the importance of the wine trade. These Commission-delegated regulations under the withdrawal Act also include country of origin, protection of designation of origin, geographical indicators and traditional terms—the subject matter of Amendment 263, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. He and I had independently tabled similar amendments to the Trade Bill last year, when the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, confirmed the Government’s commitment to continue implementation of these PDO and PGI schemes.

Can the Minister reconfirm that, and also confirm that this will be a key part of the future trading relationship that the UK seeks with the EU? Producers in this country will be keen to understand whether this will be an agreement with the EU covering mutual recognition of brandings that will require only one application to apply in both the UK and the EU. The adding of value to local specialisms is a crucial element in encouraging niche products to be protected by branding IP. This encourages skills, pride and prestige in rural entrepreneurship.

Finally, I commend the diligence of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her examination of Clause 32, inserting traceability of animal produce into the context of the devolved Administrations in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, in her Amendment 248. Cross-referencing to other pieces of legislation can be very confusing. I thank her also for Amendment 266, which returns us again to the key concern of animal welfare standards, this time under the WTO provisions of the Bill. Under WTO rules, this will be very difficult.

The noble Baroness’s Amendment 248 seems potentially to contradict the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his Amendment 249, concerning poultry. I await the Minister’s resolution of this, and his many responses to all the issues that have been mentioned under this group. I wish him good luck.