Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
270: After Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—“International Trade Standards Commission (1) The Government must establish an International Trade Standards Commission within 12 months of the passing of this Act. (2) The International Trade Standards Commission must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as or higher than standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for agricultural goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(3) “Agricultural goods” under subsection (2) includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to—(a) animal welfare,(b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and(d) plant health.(4) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the United Kingdom unless satisfied that the criteria established by the International Trade Standards Commission under subsection (2) have been met.”
My Lords, I am delighted to open the group of amendments leading off with that in my name and to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for lending their support to this amendment.
It is very timely, as today we learned that the official launch of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission has taken place. We learned that the commission will report directly to the International Trade Secretary and will produce an advisory report at the end of its six months’ work. I congratulate my noble friend, his department and the Department for International Trade on recognising the wish for such a commission. I hope he will look kindly on the need for Amendment 270 and possibly some of the other amendments in this group.
A million people have signed up to say we would like to support our farmers. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, people care much more about where their food comes from and the standards to which it has been produced. In Amendment 270 I ask that the Government establish an international trade standards commission within 12 months of passing the Act. At the time I drafted and submitted this amendment, we did not think even in our wildest dreams that there would be such a commission, so obviously the name change is not reflected in this amendment.
My disappointment is that the trade commission is not permanent; its work will wind up after only six months. We were told at its official launch that it will function as an advisory board to the Department for International Trade and the Secretary. I make a plea that the advice and recommendations given by the international trade commission be as binding on the Government as those of the Migration Advisory Committee. We heard from our noble friend Lady Williams at the Second Reading of the immigration Bill that the Home Office follows the MAC’s recommendations very closely indeed. That is the sort of recommendation-following I would like to see from the new Trade and Agriculture Commission.
I believe that it should be permanent and that the model we should look to is that in other countries with which we seek trade agreements. For example, why not model it on the US International Trade Commission, which is independent, non-partisan and quasi-judicial? It is a federal agency fulfilling a range of trade-related mandates, providing analysis of international trade issues to the President and Congress and adjudicating on intellectual property and trade disputes. We could look to similar trade commissions that are also permanent and independent in New Zealand, Australia and other such authorities.
In proposed subsection (2) of Amendment 270, we say:
“The International Trade Standards Commission must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as or higher than standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for agricultural goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.”
I congratulate and thank my noble friend the Minister, who confirmed on Thursday that Britain will not lower its high standards of animal health, welfare and environmental protection, but today I make a plea to my noble friend: we need fair competition and a level playing field. We need to give our farmers an assurance that they will not be undercut by imports of substandard farm produce and that their good husbandry will be recognised. It is good husbandry in particular that we should take cognisance of, rather than necessarily the processes.
A number of figures on stock density were bandied about on Thursday. I put it to the Committee that in the US—it is a matter of note—there are no federal laws on the control of stock density for pigs. In nine states, sow stalls are banned. In the remaining states, it is legally permissible to keep sows in stalls for the entire 16-week gestation period. Similarly, sow stalls are legally permitted in Brazil. I applaud the fact that in the UK we have a gold standard for stock density for pigs and that we currently have a relatively level playing field with our competitors in the European Union.
Proposed subsection (3) refers to:
“‘Agricultural goods’ under subsection (2)”,
“includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to … animal welfare … protection of the environment … food safety, hygiene and traceability, and … plant health.”
On a personal note, I will probably be accused of being protectionist. I am protectionist. I am protective of the chicken, the cattle and the lamb produced under potentially inhumane and intensive conditions that we would simply not tolerate in this country. Their production frequently bears no resemblance to ours, and those imports should not have any place against the produce we currently produce to our high standards in this country.
In proposed subsection (4), we go on to say:
“A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of agricultural and food products into the United Kingdom unless satisfied that the criteria established by the International Trade Standards Commission”— now the Trade and Agriculture Commission, obviously—
“under subsection (2) have been met.”
That encapsulates my wish that the commission will give binding advice and operate independently and that the advice will be followed by both the international trade and agriculture departments. At the moment, it appears that every time a press release is issued by the new commission it is issued from the department, and that does not demonstrate any act of independence whatever. I hope my noble friend’s department, Defra, and the Department for International Trade will look at this.
You cannot have a perverse situation whereby farmers continue to meet our high standards of trade, welfare and environmental protection, only to be undercut by potentially substandard imports from third countries. I have a question for my noble friend. I understand that we have probably left the expert trade in agriculture group, which meets fortnightly under the auspices of the EU Commission. What will replace it? I hope the replacement will be the new Trade and Agriculture Commission but if not, which body will hold the Government’s feet to the fire as they set out the detail and criteria that will be followed in negotiating international trade agreements? In my view, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be the best place to do so but should have sight of trade texts and provide detailed feedback, which is why Amendment 270 is so badly needed. If the commission is to wind up after six months, that is not satisfactory.
I will comment briefly on two of the other amendments in this group. Amendment 271, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and other noble Lords, is well thought out, but my concern is that it does not set out the role of the international trade commission or who would draft criteria against which the international trade agreements being concluded would be measured. Subsection (5)(b) of Amendment 271 just refers to a take-note report submitted, presumably, to both Houses. I believe that there should be full scrutiny through the normal means of Select Committees, assuming that the trade commission will be a permanent body.
Amendment 279 again has been well thought out and is commendable, but I believe it is fatally flawed. Having read it, I wait with great anticipation to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Curry, says. It is not satisfactory that the report will have been submitted but we cannot revert to the Trade and Agriculture Commission because it will already have been wound up by then.
In summary, we must not have a credibility gap. I am enthusiastic about the launch of the Trade and Agriculture Commission today, but it must be allowed to do its duty. It must be a permanent body and accountable to the relevant bodies, particularly Select Committees of both Houses. It should have comprehensive terms of reference, which include current and future trade talks. Its recommendations should be mandatory, in the same way as those of the Migration Advisory Committee. I beg to move.
If there is one strong theme running through many of the amendments, it is that of standards. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have raised concerns, whether on animal health and welfare, on husbandry methods in agriculture and horticulture, on environmental and climate aspects, on food, nutrition and labelling the final product, or on intra-UK relationships and international aspects at the WTO. They are all important, because they all matter.
This country has decided. The answer is that the UK wants to bring back control, so that decisions are made at UK level. This group of amendments determines how our standards will be set, at the outset of our EU exit, and how they will be maintained.
I shall speak to Amendment 271, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson and Lady Bakewell, for adding their names in support. This amendment is needed, as the Agriculture Bill is a domestic measure setting a new approach to food production support by setting new domestic standards in law. That includes all present laws and regulations that pertain in the UK. All food, wherever it comes from, must adhere to this basic threshold. It is important that domestic agricultural production is on a level playing field with all production of food available and sold to UK consumers. Let us be clear: these are food production standards, not just food safety standards. British consumers have constantly demanded high production standards even, at times, in excess of standards within the EU.
It is not just my postbag that shows concern about the lack of application shown by the Government. Which? has conducted extensive research on the matter and produced a report that finds that 95% of respondents agree with the statement that it is important for the UK to maintain existing food standards. Interestingly, Which? finds that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely than those from higher socioeconomic households to believe that imported food produced to lower standards is available in the UK—11% compared to 16% in more affluent households.
Amendment 271 puts domestic standards into the Agriculture Bill and ensures full accountability for the process with which imported food must comply in the UK’s parliamentary system. It takes the Parish amendment, which was deliberated by the Commons earlier, and makes various key improvements. For any chapters of a trade agreement relating to agri-food, the original Paris Agreement prohibited ratification of the entire trade deal unless certain steps were taken, including regulations being laid to specify the standards that would apply to food imports. A trade deal does not only have to be, on balance, beneficial to the UK in its provisions.
Given that this is the Agriculture Bill, this amendment narrows the scope of the Parish amendment to food, but still requires the same regulations to confirm which standards would apply. It would also require the Commons to approve formally the relevant chapters of trade deals and for your Lordships’ House to debate them. This follows the same model that was used for the Brexit ratification process, so that any constitutional conflict would be avoided and the decision to rest made in the House of Commons. This would ensure better accountability of the process for maintaining food standards, with the formal setting of standards across the United Kingdom and the full participation of the devolved Administrations. This would avoid conflict arising between the reserved matters that the Government may claim and devolved outcomes that the devolved Administrations may reject.
This side of the House believes that Amendment 271 to enshrine domestic standards into law is a demonstrable first step that must be taken, so that future production and trade policy decisions do not result in a flood of substandard food on to the UK market. We do not believe that provisions contained within the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 are sufficient to safeguard against future regulations, under the Specific Food Hygiene (Regulation (EC) No. 853/2004) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and others, which could dilute UK standards.
This amendment has nothing to do with any trade commission and is set up independently of the other amendments being tabled on a trade commission. The simplest way to decide this matter is by enshrining the UK’s position here in law. The Conservative voters who read the Conservative Party manifesto can be forgiven for thinking this is what they were going to get, when they voted to get Brexit done. The Conservative Government are happy to enshrine Brexit twice in legislation; they are happy to enshrine the position on Huawei into law and to do it again on wearing face masks. I would welcome the Minister’s U-turn on food standards as well, as soon as he can make it.
My Lords, here we are on day seven of four—Douglas Adams would be proud of us. But seven days in Committee, for a Bill of this importance and relevance, with the huge impact it will have, is not particularly long.
My Amendment 273, which is supported by the noble Lords, Lord Randall, Lord Greaves and Lord Addington, for which I thank them, is relatively simple. It would simply ensure that UK standards regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare cannot be undermined by imports produced to lower standards. That seems self-evident to me. In fact, this group of amendments is one of the most significant in the whole Bill, because it is the one area that is strongly supported by the public. It is a fact that the Government have managed to ensure that there is an opposition of green groups, farmers, NGOs, producers, supermarkets—a whole mix of people who would not usually share a particular view. If the Government tried to ignore this issue, I hope there would be a Back-Bench revolt, because it is incredibly important.
There is huge recognition out there that trade deals are a threat to standards. We need protections in law to ensure that these standards are not undermined. The US Secretary of Agriculture has described our environmental and animal welfare standards as protectionism which should be removed in a trade deal. Well, I am with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on this: I want to protect. That is a very good word and we should all be proud of and want to use it on issues that the majority of Britons really care about. I am terrified that our Government, desperate for the political victory of securing a US trade deal, will give in to the Americans on this issue. It is not just the United States, of course. What about future dealings with, for example, Brazil, which burns huge swathes of the Amazon rainforest to make way for cattle pastures? Trade policy is a huge tool for international diplomacy. Your Lordships must be able to trust the Government to make the right decisions when they make these deals.
The merits of these amendments aside, we will have to have this same fight again on the Trade Bill. The Minister might even say that the Trade Bill is the proper place to discuss these issues. But one has only to read Hansard on the Trade Bill in the other place from last week to see that Ministers told MPs that the Agriculture Bill had dealt with all these issues and that MPs had nothing more to worry about. It is normally considered out of order to refer to proceedings in the other place, but it is very important when the Government simultaneously tell each House the opposite thing. That is exceptional and needs drawing to your Lordships’ attention.
I hope the Minister will commit to working constructively to bring forward an amendment on these issues on Report. I am certain that we will pass one of these amendments, and it might as well be one that the Government can accept. We will pull together on this, along with the British public, to make sure we protect our farmers, our farming regimes, our standards on animal welfare and the way our food is produced.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said about public interest in this particular issue. I also follow my noble friend Lord Foulkes in thanking the Minister, the public Bill staff, the Government Whips and the broadcast facility staff for their marathon effort and courtesy.
My Amendment 276 would require new international treaties on the import of agricultural and food products to comply with World Trade Organization safety rules and the UK’s own standards. It was first proposed by the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, the Conservative MP Neil Parish, and is backed by the British Veterinary Association, the National Farmers’ Union, the RSPCA, the Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Soil Association and the World Wide Fund for Nature. It reflects a lack of trust that we can rely on the Conservative Party manifesto, which promised:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Sadly, the amendment was voted down by government loyalists in the other place. We note that whenever Ministers have been challenged in debates on the Bill to back up this pledge with legal protections, all that has been offered have been vague aspirational murmurings. I hope I do not give any offence to the Minister, who is diligent on these matters, but that is the truth.
The legal protections that European Union membership provided in these and many other areas, including agricultural workers’ rights and targets for reaching net-zero emissions for the agriculture industry, are nowhere to be found in the Bill. It has become clear that the Government regard such protections for our farmers and the environment as a barrier to a trade deal with the United States. So desperate are the Brexiteers to declare UDI from the EU that they are prepared to prostrate themselves at the door of Donald Trump’s “America first” trade and sell out our farmers, while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards abroad.
Now we are no longer part of a major trading bloc —the biggest trading bloc in the world—the Brexiteers’ sacred cow of sovereignty will not prevent Washington using its superior economic weight to set the terms of any deal with an isolated United Kingdom. British farmers and our food processors would be undercut by imports of food whose production is banned here. Of course, cheap, poorer-quality US food imports will remain cheap only as long as our domestic production proves viable enough to provide a meaningful competitive market. Farmers would face a choice between lowering standards and seeing their livelihoods destroyed. Minette Batters of the National Farmers’ Union has said:
“Farmers are going to feel betrayed … I don’t recall anyone selling a vision of post-Brexit Britain as one involving lower-standard food filling shop shelves while British farmers … go out of business.”
If UK agriculture cannot survive, prices of imports will rise, leaving the country dependent on imported food of dubious quality.
Lowering UK standards will, in turn, create barriers to agreeing a trade deal with the European Union, which is needed to preserve farmers’ important EU export markets, since US food standards are incompatible with those of the EU. Europe is not only the most significant destination by far for our agricultural exports; in addition, the EU has negotiated international trade agreements on our behalf with our most important non-EU trading partners, so replacement deals will also have to be negotiated to ensure continued agricultural access to those markets. The EU is also our largest source of food imports, providing fully 30% of our food supplies, so more empty shelves could be in store.
Even before the Brexit decision was made, UK farming already faced major challenges, including increasing globalisation, international competition, changing consumer expectations and preferences, accelerating technological innovation, and longer-term pressures brought about by climate change. As everyone knows, farmers are subject to price volatility and market pressures that continue to put their livelihoods at risk. The added uncertainty of future trade deals with the EU puts their future export markets at risk. The EU provides a vital destination for UK food exports, with the Irish Republic, France, Germany and the Netherlands being the principal markets.
A trade deal with the US would also threaten the National Health Service and would be imposed without consent. The Trade Bill, which had its First Reading in your Lordships’ House last week, makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of future trade deals and will grant the Government Henry VIII powers to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. The devolved Administrations do not have any role in negotiating or approving international trade treaties.
Rather than taking back control, the UK could even become a satellite state of Donald Trump’s US in a race to the bottom. That is the reality of these harmful plans for a hard Brexit, which threatens not just our food producers but animal welfare and the environment. The pandemic has shown the importance of food security, a healthy diet and a harmonious relationship with nature. These plans need to be opposed before it is too late.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, and other noble Lords for their perseverance. The Minister has been granted the patience of Job. I fear that his patience may be frayed when we reach Report, but we thank him, the Public Bill Office and others for their enormous work in this marathon.
I will speak to Amendment 278 in my name, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for lending his name to it. It is clear from this group of amendments that an underlying fear exists. I want to see trade deals with third-party countries, but on the basis of helping the United Kingdom grow its economy and be more efficient, not of undermining significant parts of our industry. Over the last 40-odd years, the Government, consumer bodies, processors, retailers and farmers have expended an enormous amount of time, energy and money ensuring that UK food is produced to the highest standards possible. Why we would suddenly allow very inferior food products produced to a much lesser quality and standard into the United Kingdom to compete against our own superior goods I do not know, but it is possible.
I thank the Minister for arranging a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and others, so that we can at least hear his point of view, and that of the Department for International Trade, but there are too many straws in the wind that concern me. We hear talk of tariffs being applied to imported products, whether from the US or elsewhere, to level the pitch, but what is introduced one day can be taken away the next. The Minister must understand that not all parts of the United Kingdom are playing on the same level pitch. My part of the country is still in the EU and, pertaining to the previous group of amendments, we are still subject to state aid rules. Who will negotiate and implement those, and who will deal with any infringement of those? It is unclear. From our point of view—this has resonance for other parts of the UK—the standards we will be required to adhere to will be the standards of the European Union. There is nothing wrong with having different standards, provided there is an equivalence, and that can apply also to finance and other things, but who is to determine the equivalence?
This goes back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, when she introduced this debate. A flash-in-the-pan commission will certainly not be able to do it. With no disrespect to the Minister and his colleagues, last October, when the withdrawal agreement was being made, promises were made about the arrangements not only to people in Northern Ireland but to the whole country. Those promises were not kept. Many of our representatives ended up endorsing a proposal that produced a border in the Irish Sea, and yet there continues to be a denial of this. Lest someone from the Box sends the Minister a note telling him that Northern Ireland will have unfettered access to the UK market, I point out that this is not guaranteed, because it is subject to negotiation with the European Union, which at present could require us to make export declarations if we are sending products to Great Britain. The Minister needs to bear that in mind.
We do not want to make life difficult for our international trade negotiators, but if a situation arose whereby our farmers were confronted with different and lower standards in Great Britain, then because Great Britain is our biggest single market, automatically our farmers would be uncompetitive, and that would apply also to those operating in less favoured areas, such as the Scottish and the Welsh. This is a very serious business that we are discussing. I know that the Minister will be anxious to reassure us, and I have absolutely no doubt that he is sincere in that undertaking, but between
Someone who has been in the system for a long time knows that when an amendment comes, it can be argued that “Now is not the right time, we are in the middle of negotiations” or “This is not the right vehicle because we have another vehicle coming down the track which would be a more suitable location for it.” We can deal only with the vehicle that is in front of us at any point in time. What might come around the corner is fine, but if there is a sincere commitment to maintaining current or equivalent standards, it should have no difficulty being written on to the face of the Bill. Consumers and producers throughout the United Kingdom are basically supportive of that. Were it our tradition in this House to vote on amendments in Committee, I would pursue that today, but another opportunity will arise on Report in the autumn. I urge the Minister to ensure that there is a positive response then.
Some of us find ourselves left in the EU and required by an international treaty, supported by the UK Government, to adhere to EU regulations, even though we will have no input on them, which is another matter. There is so much at stake here, and we believe that maintaining our standards is good for the health of our nation, our producers and our food security and supply, and for allowing the sector to reinvest and be efficient. However, if we decide, for whatever political reason, to cut and run, which could happen, and since decisions can be made overnight, as we have seen in recent months, we need some legal assurances that we are not going to be left in such a position in the future.
I appeal to my noble friend the Minister to ensure that when we come to Report, he and his colleagues consider the widespread views in this House and ensure that our agriculture sector, food processing and all the welfare issues that have been addressed are not forgotten about, and accept that a nod and a wink will simply not be sufficient.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. It is a huge privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I appreciate the comments of all the previous speakers on this group of amendments.
I will speak to Amendment 279 in my name, and thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his support. I apologise in advance for taking slightly longer in introducing this amendment. It is impossible and would be quite wrong to run groupings of amendments in order of importance, but this group is among the most important we have debated over the seven days that we have spent on the Bill this month.
While having my long-awaited haircut last week, the hairdresser asked, “Are you involved in this chlorinated chicken issue?”, as it has become known, such is the level of public awareness. I am slightly concerned about being accused of jingoism in this wide-ranging debate about our production standards. Having farmed all my life, I know that our production standards are not always perfect. However, over the past 35 years that I have been involved at national level, we have striven to respond to consumer concerns, and even anticipate changes, and react accordingly. This is a dynamic space, and the standards of crop and livestock husbandry, including animal welfare, food safety and care for the environment, that we have in place today have been hard-won and are being delivered every day on our farms.
Standards are reviewed every year to make sure that they are relevant and appropriate. We absolutely must not undermine consumer confidence in our food. I experienced the consequences of that in the 1990s with BSE in beef when I chaired the MLC: beef sales dropped by 30% overnight. Scaremongering over hormones in imported beef could have a similar impact.
It is important to state that I had been working on this amendment and had it ready to table before the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, announced the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which has been launched today. Subsequently, the membership was also disclosed. I then found myself in a slight quandary. Do I table the amendment or not in view of the announcement? After careful consideration, I decided to proceed with the amendment for reasons that I will outline in a moment.
I was delighted by the announcement that the Government plan to establish the commission and I commend the Government for taking action. It was a pragmatic and sensible response to the rising tide of public concern about this issue. The appointment of Tim Smith as chair of the commission is an inspired choice. I know him well, as I do many other members of the commission. I am absolutely confident that, under Tim’s leadership, the commission will be thorough, will carry out its task with diligence and integrity and will seek additional expertise and advice if needed, which it will be, to ensure a good understanding not only of the issues at stake but the global marketplace that we are trading in and stakeholder views, in particular those of the environmental NGOs and consumer organisations. So I welcome this commission.
I have three fundamental concerns, hence my reason for deciding to proceed with this amendment. The first is the authority and influence of the commission. The second, linked to the first, is the role of Parliament and the obligation on the Government to respond to the commission’s initial report. My final concern is the longevity of the commission. There is no question that when the Secretary of State announced the establishment of this commission, it was an attempt to head off pressure to include a standards clause in the Bill. Much public comment since the announcement has described this as a sop and described the commission as toothless. This must not be a sop. The role of the commission is hugely important. It has a critical role, not only in defending our existing domestic standards but, importantly, in influencing future global standards of international trade. The current terms of reference understate the importance of the role and the influence of the commission.
Under the current terms, the commission will set up for six months and will submit an advisory report to the Secretary of State, which will be presented to Parliament. It will then be disbanded and disappear into the mist. There is no obligation on the Secretary of State to take its recommendations seriously or respond positively, and no clear indication that Parliament will be given dedicated time to scrutinise and debate the recommendations of the commission. The amendment addresses that weakness.
Finally, on longevity, I fully understand the Government’s reluctance to create another quango, but I disagree with the short-term remit of the commission. In response to comments earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I refer to proposed new subsection (14) of my amendment. It states that the Secretary of State
“may … confer further functions on the TSC”— the trading standards commission—after its initial report has been published. Under proposed new subsection (15), the Secretary of State can amend the initial period of six months,
“provided that such an extension is agreed by the TSC.”
I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness about the need for it to have a continuing role. As the noble Baroness said, similar bodies exist in New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States and they have an ongoing role. That is critical and we should follow the proven example of other trading nations. The task of the TSC for the first six months is to set out the road map—to define the terms under which trade deals should be negotiated. It would be irresponsible then to leave matters hanging in a vacuum and have no independent scrutiny of the deals negotiated to ensure that they conform to the recommended framework.
I have one other important point. Agreeing a trade deal and having our global trading partners sign up to an agreed standard is the first easy step. It is not the end of the journey. There is a need for an ongoing monitoring role to ensure compliance with the agreed standards. I am deeply concerned about that. Every farm in Britain that is a member of an assurance scheme —the vast majority—whether organic schemes, LEAF or Red Tractor, is inspected every year to ensure compliance. One of the commission’s tasks would be to ensure, as far as possible, that that element is included in an ongoing monitoring role. Agreeing standards is, as I said, easy. Verifying that those standards are in place will be a huge challenge.
In conclusion, I reiterate what I said at the beginning: I welcome the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and its membership. The amendment is not proposed to replace the commission with an alternative body, but preferably to strengthen, enhance and extend its role as already announced. It is very much in the Government’s interests to accept the amendment, and I hope that the Minister will be able to do so. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, my Amendment 280 is in this group, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for his support. It is slightly different from the groups of amendments that we have already heard about, although I support most of the comments made in support of those amendments.
The specifics of this amendment relate to the lamb and beef sectors, which potentially face an existential threat in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The amendment therefore calls on the Government in that event to produce a report for Parliament to deliver their analysis of the impact on the lamb and beef sectors within three months of no deal having happened.
The situation for cattle and sheep farmers in the event of no deal, or indeed a hard Brexit, is unclear and complicated. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has produced a series of reports outlining the challenges facing these key livestock sectors, which are crucial to the uplands of England and pretty well the whole of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
According to ADHB, around 82% of beef exports and possibly more, amounting to £400 million to £500 million a year, goes to the EU, while 89% of lamb exports, worth more than £400 million a year, also goes to the EU. That is not only crucial to the profitability of UK livestock farms, but disruption could dramatically upset the supply and demand balance in the domestic market. There is also a significant export market in live calves and lambs for finishing, which contributes to the viability of many farms.
In the weeks after the referendum result, I was informed that in some livestock markets, lamb sales for export fell by 80%. Although demand recovered, because by definition there was no alternative source to be found at short notice, it gives an indication of how things will change. Of course, in the meantime, EU importers have had a chance to plan.
In the event of no deal, tariffs will be imposed at levels which could make the trade uneconomic. The tariff on a beef carcass is 92% and on a lamb carcass it is 45%. Not only that, there are additional tariffs on cuts which can add up to over 100%—more than the cost of the cut itself. In addition, even if we secure a tariff-free agreement, all meat products entering the EU from third countries, which will be us, have to be veterinary approved to EU standards and inspected at the point of entry. Without such approval, we will be banned from exporting lamb and beef to the EU altogether. Will the UK be able to secure EU-approved health certificates by
The European Affairs Committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am a member, looked at the Brexit arrangements being put in place by the Port of Dublin at a cost of more than €30 million. They involved substantial changes to the port layout to provide time and space for inspection plus back-up lorry parks off-site to manage the flow through the port. At the moment, a beef sandwich for sale in Marks & Spencer Dublin is shipped in from Liverpool. How will that have to change in the event of a hard Brexit? How will cross-border movements be managed? It will surely depend on trust, and the refusal of the UK Government to allow the European Commission to have an office in Belfast does not bode well. The unique arrangement of the Irish protocol, and the need for cross-border movement of beef and lamb, can work only if the origins of the products are clear and transparent.
Prices of beef and lamb may fall, which may seem to be to the benefit of the British consumer in the short run. However, if there is a large-scale welfare cull by farmers unable to feed the animals with no market in prospect, much of the stock may never reach the shelves. In any case, in that situation the UK lacks the cold storage to absorb a mass cull on this unprecedented scale. At the same time, if it sees the rearing of sheep and cattle undermined and bankrupt farmers—some of them will be bankrupt in these circumstances—leaving the sector, it could lead to future shortages and a radical change in the landscape, especially of our uplands. To prevent that happening will require rapid and substantial government intervention.
It is argued that we can find new markets, but in a fiercely competitive international marketplace we will not be able to replace the volume and value of the EU market any time soon. On day one, we lose the trade deals in place for the EU, with in most cases no successor deal in play or in short or even medium-term prospect. In any case, what is the cost and environmental logic of shipping meat across the world instead of to our neighbours? I know New Zealand does it, but on a radically different agricultural regime which we cannot match. For UK farmers, it may not even be profitable. If we leave the transition without a deal, the disruption will be immediate and catastrophic. We will not have significant alternative trade deal markets. The likelihood of any deal with the USA by then is nil. If a deal is ever negotiated, it will be on “America first” terms, and if we end up importing products that do not meet our own or EU standards the EU will insist on rigorous measures to prevent them reaching its markets.
Obviously, this is a probing amendment, but it has serious intent. No deal would plunge the sector into immediate, and for many farmers existential, crisis. A report within three months will not be enough without immediate action, but at least farmers will know that there will be a quick assessment. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment or to propose a similar government alternative. We are facing not just the prospect of millions of lambs for premature slaughter but the decimation of a sector which dwarfs the fishing industry in its importance in terms of jobs, value, heritage and landscape, yet is largely ignored by Government and the media. I hope the Government and the House will recognise that no deal will be so disruptive in this sector that it will transform British farming for a generation and change the landscape of much of the United Kingdom.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie. At the outset, I join others in thanking the Minister for his patience, tolerance and good humour throughout the seven days of this Committee. It is much appreciated across the House.
I shall speak to Amendment 270, to which I was happy to put my name, and I am very pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who moved it so ably. We have already heard this afternoon that the Government have set up their own Trade and Agriculture Commission. Unlike the ones envisaged in these amendments, it is a bit of a makeshift. It will sit for only six months in the first instance, draw up an advisory report for the Government and then disperse. However, many of the issues it has been charged with advising on are extremely relevant to the Bill. For example, one of the tasks is to look at what sort of
“Trade policies the Government should adopt to secure opportunities for UK farmers, while ensuring the sector remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined.”
Another of its tasks is:
“How the UK engages the WTO to build a coalition that helps advance higher animal welfare standards across the world.”
These are important issues and show that the Government agree with many of the sentiments expressed in this amendment, but, unfortunately, at the moment the Government’s commission is to help them to navigate the next six months only. The Government’s commission has no parliamentary oversight, as we have heard, and the RSPCA commented that it will not protect in any effective way United Kingdom animal welfare standards, so I think we must try to push the Government further along this road.
At the moment, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, there will be little chance to scrutinise the trade agreements which will have such a major impact on United Kingdom farming and agriculture and there is no parliamentary oversight of such agreements. Taking control of agricultural policy from the EU should not mean the Government taking more control with no oversight and no role for Parliament or any of the other agencies. There has to be the opportunity for more scrutiny and debate than is at present being proposed.
On Thursday, I spoke about strong public support for existing standards of food production and animal hygiene and welfare, and that has been supported this afternoon by other speakers. We heard, very importantly, from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that Northern Ireland will retain its existing high standards in these areas, and I have no doubt that Scotland and Wales will wish to do so as well. That seems to be a very strong argument for a body such as is being proposed in Amendment 270 to uphold and oversee the standards regime. We have heard that other countries have such bodies. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, told us about Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America. It is found to be extremely useful in those countries. We in the UK at the moment have no such machinery. I think we need to find a way of establishing a standards regime with regard to food, animal welfare and hygiene—a regime that then becomes part of our governmental and parliamentary machinery.
I recognise that these are relevant to the Trade Bill as well as to this Bill, but because they will have such a profound effect on all the issues discussed in this Bill, I think we have to discuss them in the context of the Agriculture Bell as well as the Trade Bill. We may well hear the argument that the Government have a set of powers in negotiating trade treaties and that they must not be undermined. We have heard that argument before and I am readying myself to hear it again at the end of this group of amendments, but we have to find a way of promoting consensus on standards across not just England but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have to do it in a non-partisan way. That is why a commission along the lines set out in Amendments 270 and 279 could play such an important role and why I put my name to Amendment 270 and hope that the Minister and the Government give it their most urgent support.
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 271 with a degree of sadness, just as, I am sure, the current Defra Secretary of State did when he was temporarily out of office last year. He put down his own, similar amendment to the Bill as it was last year and wrote an article in the Guardian supporting his views.
As others have said, the problem lies with the Government’s manifesto commitment, saying:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”,
and then trying to reconcile that with achieving a trade deal with America and, inevitably, other countries. To make the situation more complicated, at the same time we are trying to prove to the EU negotiators that, if anything, the standard of products available in the UK, and thus possibly available for re-export to the EU, will go up and not down—that there will be no regression on what has become known as the level playing field. A further factor of course is that the British public are adamant that we should support our farmers against cheap imports. There is absolutely no wish, out there, for a race to the bottom. Having had numerous assurances from numerous Ministers that there is nothing to worry about, it seems odd to me that we cannot have something on the face of the Bill.
As far as I am concerned, this is not a food safety issue. The Food Standards Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs have all the powers they need to audit and control the quality and safety of the food being sold in this country, so there is no need to worry, for instance, about chlorinated chicken as such. It is the production methods, not the product, that matters. If the President of the United States and his regulators think that disinfectant is the cure for all ills—including, apparently, Covid 19—then that is up to them.
However, if certain states—and it is only certain states—allow their farmers to breed their chickens with a higher density than is legally allowed in the UK and they do not have to clear out the litter between batches, and we are then forced to accept their product as imports, that is something that we should get hot under the collar about. Under their sub-standard regulations, production costs are much cheaper. Capital costs per head, for instance, are some 13% cheaper. Therefore, if our farmers are to compete on an equal footing, they have to risk going to prison for breaking our laws or we have to change our laws in a race to the bottom—or, best of all, we should just insist on some form of certification indicating that the US farms supplying us with chickens are breeding to our standards. It is not a very difficult thing to do. Every farmer in this country supplying a supermarket has to have every aspect of their farming processes supervised and certified by that supermarket.
Similarly, hormones in beef are not really a problem in the human diet—although they might undermine consumer confidence, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has just said—but many would argue that their use is an unnatural way of rearing meat. Again, the main point is: do we lower our standards, which have been in place in this country for some 35 years, or do we just say no? Ractopamine in pigs is another matter altogether, of course. It is an additive used to manipulate growth and is known to cause lameness, trembling and shortness of breath. It should not be used to produce pork eaten in this country. If we were to import such pork—not that I think we will—it would be tantamount to exporting animal cruelty.
This is not a party-political issue. The Government are aware that farmers have the people on their side. More than a million people signed the NFU petition, and voters will not forgive the Government if they sell our farmers down the river. I think their gut feeling is that, if it were the other way round and the US was insisting that we raised our standards before we could export to it, there would be absolutely no doubt that we would jump to it without a murmur. That is what happened in the 1980s when New Zealand wanted to sell its lamb to China. New Zealand had to produce an entirely different product. That is the way these things work. Who on earth wants to market their goods on the basis that they are cheap and dodgy?
Turning to the letter from the DIT on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, I have to say that I am not overly impressed. Both the commission’s terms of reference and its output would be at the beck and call of the DIT, its short life would hardly allow its members to get their feet under the table, and its recommendations would be only advisory. In other words, it would have no teeth and a very short-term say. I fear that it is more of a PR sop than a genuine effort to provide a solution to this problem.
Personally, I am not fussed which solution we as a House support: this detailed amendment—Amendment 271, to which I have put my name—the rerun of the Neil Parish amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or Amendment 279 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. However, on the latter, like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I would have to insist that his commission was given, on the face of the Bill and not just at the whim of a Secretary of State, an extended life to continue its work on trade deals into the longer-term future. Anyone who thinks that all trade deals will be wrapped up in a year or two is fooling themselves. I suspect that the key period will be from three to 10 years from now, so it is vital that this commission can still do its work during that time.
Let us think what a difference we could make. As the current Secretary of State at Defra said in his Guardian article last year:
“In the US, legislation on animal welfare is woefully deficient”.
Maybe we can help with that. We should note, for instance, that in the EU free trade agreement with Chile, the EU insisted on animal welfare provisions in the agreement, and Chile’s animal husbandry and slaughter standards have indeed gone up since. We should remember that we in the UK are the third biggest market for food imports in the world, and countries will remain very keen to sell their products to us, even if we stick to our guns—maybe especially if we stick to our guns. Being able to sell into a quality market is no bad advertisement for your goods, so perhaps we can make a difference to the way livestock is reared in all parts of the world. Let us be ambitious about this.
My Lords, if the Government are not too keen to listen to the voices from Opposition Benches or even from expert Back-Benchers on their own side, they really ought to listen to someone like the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who speaks in this House as the voice of the countryside and of farming communities.
This group of amendments is very important. Even though we are now on the seventh day in Committee on the Bill, it is one of the most important groups of amendments that we will discuss. That is why I was very happy to put my name to the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, which between them cover food standards on the one hand and animal welfare, plant health and the environment on the other.
I repeat those four things because they sum up just why politically this is such an important issue for the Government. This is an extremely unusual issue, in that it unites a whole series of people in the country who would not normally march down the street together. I know that this Government are rumoured to take daily opinion polls and have a focus group every 10 minutes to work out what people think about things, so they must know that what I am saying is true and that somehow they have to draw the line and put it into legislation, otherwise people will never be satisfied.
This is also an issue that unites the media, and not just the farming media or the liberal-left minority media who normally get involved in this matter. It also includes the right-wing tabloids—the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the rest of them—and the Daily Telegraph. We have seen what happens when they get behind a campaign such as this: the Government cannot win unless they are able to satisfy them that everything is okay.
I ought not to be giving political advice to the Government; I ought to be telling them to do hopeless things that allow me to go out on to the streets to campaign and say what rotten folk they are. However, this is too important for that. I know that Ministers in this House are not the final decision-makers on what they can and cannot do; they are working for their bosses in other places. Nevertheless, we have here a Minister who has influence and authority in the department, and we are relying on him to come back with something that will satisfy us and the country. I say that in all honesty, although perhaps he does not want to hear it.
On issue after issue, we now have a country where a large number of people are very frightened about their health, because of Covid and everything that has happened. A lot of people are scared to go out of their house, and if they are willing to do so they will want to wear a mask for the next 10 years. A lot of other people are on the side there, but a lot of the people who matter are very frightened. We also have a Prime Minister who has just launched a campaign to make sure that we are all a bit less fat. I can appreciate that and I will join his campaign, but these issues are all linked: good health, good food, relying on good farming and good production processes, and all within a good environment that allows people to go out and enjoy themselves and get exercise.
It seems a long time since we started this Committee. When we were discussing access, perhaps on the first day, and people were worried about the speed at which we were going, I said, “Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet”. For good or for bad, I have been in your Lordships’ House now for over 20 years, and I have to say that seven days in Committee for a Bill of this complexity, importance and size is not unusual; it is normal. I do not think it is because we have had to operate within this hybrid system. I join everyone who compliments the staff, the leadership and everybody else who found a way for us to have something that approximates to a Committee. Even though I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said earlier in the House about the need to get back to a new normality—if that is not a contradiction—because we have to make more progress, nevertheless we have had something approximating a Committee and everybody needs to be congratulated on that. However, I do not believe that this Committee a year ago it would have taken less than seven days; in fact, it might even have taken a bit longer.
To go back to the amendment, I am not an expert on a lot of the things in this group, although I know about the environment, but they are so important to people. Everybody cares about food. Increasingly they care about good food, increasingly they care about the environment and increasingly they are realising that the future of farming is in jeopardy unless we get it right.
I beg the Government to listen to what is being said here today by voices across the House, by voices from the rural parts of Yorkshire and Northern Ireland, by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, from the countryside—people who know what they are talking about. Unless something comes back, I think the Government will suffer serious defeats on Report. Another old tradition of the House is that ping-pong goes on for longer than two days, and this may be a sufficiently important issue that we might even get back to proper ping-pong.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, said that the tradition in this House is that we do not vote in Committee. That is absolute rubbish. It is a modern invention by Governments trying to have an easy time. There are traditions and traditions in this House. I do not know whether Lord Palmerston would recognise our House today as the one that he presided over, but I do know that for the first 10 or more years that I was a Member here we always voted in Committee. I am not suggesting that we should in hybrid, because that is a bit different, but voting in Committee is a very good way of getting shot of some issues early, one way or the other, and allowing the major issues to go to Report. So when people tell you that what happened last year or the year before are the traditions of this House, it is bunkum. The traditions of this House go back longer than any of us—even those of us who have been here rather longer than we ever thought we would be.
My Lords, I start with an apology to your Lordships, and particularly to the Minister. On Thursday evening I implied that my contributions to this Committee would be at an end. My excitement at seeing the light at the end of the tunnel made me forget that there was this group of amendments—so I apologise for that.
I do not think I need to add to what has already been said. I have been listening to lots of speeches, some of which are rather like those pieces of classical music that you think are going to end; they carry on a bit and carry on, and only eventually do they come to an end. I do not want to do one of those. I just want to say to my noble friend and to Ministers generally that I understand where the problem is: there is perhaps a conflict between two departments, the department that the Minister represents and that of trade.
I would also say, with the experience of having been a Whip in the other place for a long time, that sometimes you have to read the Room, and I would say that there are things the Government could be looking at. If they thought the establishment of the commission was a good compromise, it was a good start, but I am afraid its composition leaves many people a little wary and, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh said, the short period for which it is going to be in existence is also a concern.
I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that I was always taught in business that if you are having a problem with cash flow, it is rather like a car that is heading towards a brick wall: it is better to either slow down and then go round that brick wall or to stop. It is not a good idea to go rushing at full speed, hoping that you can brake at the last minute and avoid a crash. I would say that a little more has to be offered.
This is important. I understand the arguments and I support Amendment 273. Things have moved on a bit, but we need to see a little more, otherwise I am afraid that things will not be all that easy for the Government in this regard.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I note his constructive comments on brick walls and the dangers of driving at them at speed, and I am sure the Government too will have noted them. I again draw attention to my entry on farming matters in the register of interests.
My name stands on Amendment 276 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Amendment 278 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and Amendment 280 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I am delighted to support all three noble Lords who have spoken and I will not repeat the comments that they have made, save to pick up the very important thread that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has introduced previously and repeated today: namely, the real dangers in the present climate for hill farmers. I am concerned about them in Wales, but of course that is an equal concern in other parts of the United Kingdom. I certainly am not prepared to see them sold down the river in order to secure a trade deal with Trump’s America. That is where I come from on this bank of amendments.
I very much endorse the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in introducing Amendment 270 and her comments on the need to avoid unfair competition from subsidised imports and the need for there to be a level playing field. I agree with the comments made earlier regarding the vital importance of this amendment made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and repeated by Lord Greaves; this may be the most important bank of amendments in Committee.
I pick up the point concerning the commission that has been announced today. It may last for only six months and it may not have real teeth, but it gives an indication of the direction in which we should be moving. Perhaps it may be a main thread for us, when we return to these matters on Report, to take up the weaknesses in the commission suggested by the Government, put it on a permanent basis and give it real teeth. If we are able to do that, we might be able to introduce some safeguards, which undoubtedly people the length and breadth of these islands want with regard to the security of the food that comes on to the market and that they will be consuming.
I also endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about the range and width of the bodies which support the aims of these amendments. With such a cross-section of bodies, the Government would clearly be very ill advised to ignore their comments.
All these varied amendments underline the real concern in all parts of these islands, but also all parts of the Committee, with regard to the significant dangers of food being imported whose standard is below that required of UK-produced food. I accept that Ministers in both Houses have given assurances on these matters but, to my mind, there have to be safeguards in the Bill—in legislation—to underpin any assurances of this sort. They have to be on a statutory basis if they are to have some meaning. That is why I hope very much that we may have some indication from the Minister today that the Government will still consider further steps, over and above the commission announced today, in trying to meet the real fears described by so many noble colleagues in this debate. Finally, I join others in thanking both the Ministers for their diligence during Committee. I look forward to returning to many of these issues on Report.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and to support Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I have added my name. I also support the other amendments in this group.
This debate on food and trade standards is one of the major issues in the Bill. It directly correlates with the debates we had last week on food security and insecurity. If we have strong food standards, as we do, and which we do not want undermined or undercut in any way, it therefore relates back to the issue of food security. The major issue then was that, as a result of Covid, many people were experiencing insecurity and an inability to access that sound food supply.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I welcome the establishment today of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I welcome its official launch as it contains representatives from the farming unions and the hospitality sector throughout the UK, including the devolved regions. Where I am disappointed is that it does not have a statutory base, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, is time-limited and will simply report after six months. Like him, I see it as a staging post for the Government. It should be a means for the Minister, who has been very gracious in all his responses to us during the seven days of debate in Committee, to have talks within the usual channels and with ministerial colleagues in Defra on how they can put this commission into the Bill and give it the required statutory basis.
None of us, particularly our farmers and those involved in food production and the food supply chain, wants to be undermined by cheap imports of lower standards from other countries. Coming from Northern Ireland, I definitely do not want to see that. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has referred to the peculiar and different situation of Northern Ireland, which for agricultural purposes will still be subject to the state aid rules of the EU. In that respect, because there has been little movement on the development of the protocol, will the Minister have conversations with ministerial colleagues to find out what discussions have taken place between the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, particularly the executive office, about not only the implementation of the protocol but what efforts are being made on a no-deal Brexit? What discussions have been taking place generally about Brexit? It is my understanding that, because of divisions within the executive office on policy and stances, such discussions have not yet taken place.
However, there is the facility of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and I, along with former Ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive would be fully aware of. That would be a very good mechanism for ironing out difficulties because, at the end of the day, we want to see proper trade and agricultural standards right throughout the UK, and with our neighbours as well. But we do not want to see unfair competition or any undercutting of our farmers; we want to see good husbandry and the very best agricultural standards.
I want to see the commission become permanent, like it is in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Any advice that comes from the commission should not be advisory; it should be binding on the Government, as is the case with the Migration Advisory Committee; and the commission should be independent of government. There is such a wide range of people already on it that it has the ability and capacity to do that.
In supporting Amendment 270 I thank the Ministers, the Front-Bench teams for the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, and the Cross-Benchers, for all their work during these seven days. I thank them for their advice and support. I support the general thrust of the amendments on underpinning good agricultural standards. That is what we all want to see. I urge the Minister either to accept the amendment today, subject to the name change, or to come back with a revised amendment on Report, indicating that the Government are prepared to put this commission into the Bill and give it the statutory basis that is required.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who has eloquently articulated the concerns that are the theme of this group of amendments and referred to the ways in which they might be effectively addressed.
I speak in support of Amendment 279, which contains a proposed new clause on a trade, food and farming standards commission. The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, tabled this amendment and has comprehensively described it. He also indicated the flexibility in it, to address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. But I take on board the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, about why it might be better to have any extension of that commission in the Bill, rather than it being in the hands of the Secretary of State. That can be considered before we reach the next stage.
As explained in the Marshalled List, the purpose of this new clause is to give real substance to underpinning the Government’s manifesto commitment
“not to compromise on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards through its international trade policy”.
I note that my noble friend Lord Greaves speculated that this might be the kind of issue which would go to more than one or two rounds of ping-pong in subsequent stages, later in the year. It might be pertinent that what we seek to do in some of these amendments is actually to give substance to the Government’s manifesto commitment.
In a letter last month to MPs the president of NFU Scotland, Andrew McCornick, urged support for the kind of trade, food and farming standards commission set out in this new clause. He argued that as the UK embarks on negotiating future trade deals,
“it is vital that future trade deals do not curtail our ability to grow our reputation as a nation of provenance and quality by undercutting domestic production with imported produce with which we cannot compete on price and production method.”
Subsequent to that letter, the Secretary of State for International Trade announced a Trade and Agriculture Commission and, on
The intention behind that may sound good; the proposals are promising and undoubtedly a step in the right direction but, of course, the proposed commission lacks a statutory basis. While it must report to the Secretary of State, who says she will send the advisory report to Parliament, that falls short of the comprehensive proposals set out in this proposed new clause. Not only does the commission proposed in it have a wider remit, it also gives Parliament a more direct role in dealing with its recommendations and the Government’s response to them.
I have no doubt that, when the Minister replies to this debate, he will seek to assure us that the Government do not intend to permit lower standards and we should trust them on that. But there’s the rub: many people, farmers and consumers simply do not trust them. I emphasise that this is not personal to the Minister—who I regard as one of the most respected members of the Government Front Bench—but rather to the Government as a whole. Why should people trust them?
As recently as Monday of last week, the Government voted down an amendment in the House of Commons that would have set a requirement for imported agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards at least as high as those that apply to UK-produced agricultural goods. This followed the rejection of a similar amendment tabled by the Conservative MP Neil Parish—as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain—during proceedings on the Bill in the House of Commons. This rejection prompted a Perthshire farmer, quoted in the Scottish Farmer, to say
“it’s very easy to see the direction of travel that this Tory Government is taking.”
One Orkney beef and sheep producer who contacted me said:
“Whilst ideally we would like all food products coming in being produced to equal standards it is clear to see that this Government don’t think like this.”
My noble friend Lord Greaves has mentioned that this is an issue that has united so many people, and it is this vein that Scottish Land & Estates, in its briefing to noble Lords recommending support for this new clause, said:
“This issue has united farming, consumer, environmental and animal welfare organisations and codifying the commitment in law would strengthen the Government’s hand in trade talks and create a line that could not be deviated from. If this is not addressed, we face a very real prospect of British farming being undermined by imported food which can be produced to a standard which would be unacceptable, disproportionately cheaper and illegal in the UK. All we ask for is a level playing field.”
Therefore, the Minister must spell out why the Government seem so reluctant to accept amendments such as these when failing to do so merely fuels suspicion and fears about the Government’s true intentions.
Responding to the announcement of the Government’s commission and its membership and terms of reference, the RSPCA chief executive, Chris Sherwood, described the commission as a potential “Trojan horse” for reducing our outstanding farm standards and asked whether:
“When the commission publishes its report, Parliament needs to have the opportunity for transparent debate on its recommendations and the ability to pass a binding resolution”.
That is what this proposed new clause seeks to do: to give Parliament the opportunity for transparent debate and the ability to pass binding resolutions
This proposed commission is not a regulator; it will not spawn a bureaucracy or have a veto over trade deals. However, it would ensure that, against a backdrop of anxiety about producers being undercut by diminished standards, Parliament would have a voice. Surely, that would give real substance to “taking back control”?
I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and will speak to Amendment 271 in my name, ably spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and also in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. We represent many sides of the House.
However, before doing so, I add my voice to those thanking my noble friend the Minister for his courtesy and patience through this long marathon of a Committee stage. I also thank the Public Bill Office and Government Whips’ Office for all their hard work. I know they have spent many hours making sure that we could debate this.
As others have stated, the Bill gives us the chance to ensure that we support our farmers by not allowing products into this country that have not been raised to the same standards that we insist on here. It is blatantly wrong to insist on standards for our farmers and then to let in food not raised in that way that undercuts our domestic production.
At Second Reading, I was struck by my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have enormous respect, talking as though all is in order now. The fact is that, at the moment, we are letting in food not raised to the same standards. As others have observed, the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto contains an important commitment:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
This is particularly important in the case of meat, where we not only undercut our own farmers but at times encourage poor welfare standards in other countries by buying their products. If we believe in good welfare standards—and there is a real moral case for this—we should not be turning a blind eye to what is going on in other parts of the world.
There has been a lot of publicity about chlorinated chicken, but the more concerning issues are the stocking densities and the amount of antibiotics pumped into them to keep them healthy. Of course, it is not just chickens from the US but those from other parts of the world, where we know even less about the quality of the production systems.
I gather that some of the Government’s opposition to this proposed new clause hinges on the UK’s lack of ability to produce enough to answer demand. In the case of chicken, this mainly revolves around the fact that British people like to eat breast meat rather than the dark meat. If more dark meat was eaten, we could probably more or less answer our domestic needs.
However, surely we need to tell those countries that want to export to us that we require a certain standard of welfare in their food production. During this time of Covid, we have realised how important it is to produce our own food, and our farmers have continued to work throughout. Surely, we should be looking after our farmers and encouraging more production in this country?
Others have commented on the new Trade and Agriculture Commission and I do not propose to do so too. All I will say is that sometimes commissions can be a way of kicking issues into the long grass. This issue really needs addressing because, as others have stated, it has such enormous public support. In a recent poll, over four-fifths of people—81%—said that they think the Government should block food imports that do not meet the UK’s environmental and animal welfare standards, even if this could mean that consumers miss out on lower food prices. Please let us take this opportunity, not only to support our farmers but to ensure that, if we believe in welfare standards, we stop importing food that does not meet them.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in support of Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which I have also signed. I also support other amendments in this group with a similar intent.
In their joint letter to MPs and Peers dated
“will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.
However, when asked in a House of Lords debate about trade deals that could allow imports farmed to less rigorous standards, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew of Oulton, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Treasury, stated that
“there has to be a balance between keeping food affordable for people ... to ensure that they are able to eat healthily, while not undermining in any way the quality of the food we eat.”—[
This second statement seems to leave wiggle room, so what is the Government’s position?
As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and other noble Lords, said, the Government are unwilling to make a legally binding commitment to not dilute standards of imported food. As my noble friends Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Lord Cameron of Dillington, and many other noble Lords, said, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will not have enough teeth or last long enough to do the job that is needed. I also note that it has no consumer representative among its members.
My concern is this: assuming that the Government do allow food produced to lower standards to be imported—which I think is inevitable—who will end up eating it? The boss of Waitrose has already said that his stores will not sell food produced to lower standards, such as chlorinated chicken. It is very likely that other supermarkets will follow Waitrose’s lead. The same will be true of the major restaurant chains, which will wish to protect their brands. So where is the lower-standard food most likely to end up? It will probably be in the small, low-end independent restaurants and in fast-food takeaways such as fried chicken shops. It will primarily be eaten by less well-off consumers. I therefore ask the Minister to unequivocally state that the Government will not allow a two-tier food system to develop in this country in which poor people eat poorer quality food produced to lower standards.
My Lords, as I have listened to this debate my speech has got shorter and shorter. If ever there was a person ringing a bell and saying: “Press officer beware”, it is my noble friend Lord Greaves. I find myself strongly agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who said that the Government are getting into trouble here. Will they please do as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said and honour their own manifesto? That is all we are really asking for, and any of these amendments would take steps towards making sure that we know the standards are there.
It is an old cliché that we trust this Minister implicitly but the one who follows him could be the devil incarnate. However, the closest we get to binding anybody to anything is to put it in to law, even though, ultimately, it can be changed. If we do not get something on the face of the Bill—and I cannot see any other bit of legislation it could go into—there is no other way of at least making the Government stand up and say: “Yes, we are changing it because …” That is what this is about.
I hope that the Minister is taking this on board. As my noble friend Lord Greaves also said, there will be ping-pong; a backhand, a forehand and the odd smash might be involved in this one. The House could get involved in a long discussion, asking the Government to honour their own manifesto commitment. I would not have thought any Government would want that.
My Lords, I share the concerns about how standards will be maintained when negotiating new trade agreements and therefore, in principle, support what many of the amendments in this group are trying to achieve. In that context, I welcome the establishment by the DIT and Defra of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission. However, at the same time, I strongly support the important point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Krebs, and others. A trade standards commission needs to be more than a temporary body with a six-month lifespan. It should be a permanent body with a continuing and influential role in any and all future trade negotiations, as is the United States International Trade Commission, among other examples.
The UK’s enviable reputation for high standards in food and farming has been achieved through the support of successive Governments for a national framework of standards, conformity assessment and accreditation, collectively referred to as the UK Quality Infrastructure. Here, I declare an interest as the chair of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, which is the UK’s national accreditation body and a key component of the UKQI. UKAS accreditation is central to ensuring the effectiveness of standards in the UK food and farming industries, through underpinning their implementation with a robust verification and certification system. As the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, said, verification of compliance with standards in respect of imported products is going to be a huge challenge. I therefore support Amendment 279 in his name, proposing that the remit of the proposed trade, food and farming standards commission include any relevant recommendations on the testing regimes, assurance schemes and certification bodies that might be needed to ensure that imported agri-food products sold in the United Kingdom are produced to appropriately high standards. A standing trade standards commission with this remit would be able to determine how accreditation and linked, mutual cross-border recognition arrangements that underpin standards could be used as a central part of future trade negotiations and agreements.
Before closing, I record my support for Amendment 271, which would require agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards, and Amendment 273, which would ensure that UK standards on food safety, the environment and animal welfare cannot be undermined by imports produced to lower standards. In doing so, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, which also supports these amendments.
My Lords, I support the spirit of these amendments, all of which seek to enshrine the Government’s manifesto commitment in the Bill. Recent polling shows that over 75% of the public think that it would be unacceptable to import food from the USA produced to lower standards. There would be pressure on our farmers to compete by lowering standards in this country. I am sure that the Minister will offer a number of assurances. He will say that the Government have repeatedly guaranteed, in statements, that the manifesto commitment will be observed. I would prefer something on the face of the Bill. As other noble Lords have said, Ministers and Governments come and go. The Minister may also say that the Trade Bill is the place for any statutory requirement on standards. However, that Bill is silent on this issue so far and I am sure that, when it comes to this House, noble Lords will be told that it is out of scope. Here and now are the place and time for statutory assurances on standards.
I will focus on environmental standards. Compared to the UK, substantially more highly hazardous pesticides are allowed in several of the major countries that we are seeking to do trade deals with—India, the USA and Australia. These pesticides are highly poisonous to pollinators, aquatic ecosystems and apex predators. Stocking densities can have a huge impact on air quality and habitats. It is worth while safeguarding our environmental standards as well as food safety and animal welfare.
The third thing the Minister may say is that import standards are against WTO rules, although I think I heard him reassure us earlier that he would not say that. I am sure that sensibly designed and properly justified import restrictions can be made compatible with WTO rules, and the UK should be taking the lead on this. However, we get a clue from the US and Indian negotiating mandates, both of which reveal that they see harmonising UK import standards as a threat. For “harmonising”, we should read “lowering”.
The Minister may also say that the same effect in protecting standards can be achieved by differential tariffs for products produced to a lower standard than our domestic one. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has talked about this as well. Differential tariffs would need to be prohibitively high—that would be the whole point of them—to influence behaviour, so they would almost certainly be rejected by negotiating partners. We also hear that Secretary of State Truss is inclined to phase out such differential tariffs in general.
The Minister might also say that we could take a labelling solution: food labelling could safeguard standards and the public could then choose whether they wanted higher standards at higher costs. This would not work, because much of this food will go into ingredients for the out-of-home catering sector, where ingredients standards are rarely visible.
As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, outlined, it would be pretty invidious if the better-off could choose to buy food produced to higher standards while those on a lower income would have to buy what they could afford, regardless of standards. This is not even Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake”; it is worse—it is “Let them eat crap”. Apart from that, the US trade vote is against unjustifiable labelling. So we need provisions on standards on the face of the Bill, not just a labelling solution.
I turn briefly to the Trade and Agriculture Commission; I agree with much of what has already been said. The Government have already shown how little their commission would consider environmental standards by announcing a membership primarily about food and farming, with a tiny, last-minute concession of one person with an environmental background. Those representing human health and animal welfare standards do not get much of a look-in either. As has been noted, the Government’s commission is also flawed in having a limited term of six months, being purely advisory and reporting solely to the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is a fig leaf and we should not trust it.
I support the alternative commission promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, in his Amendment 279. It would persist beyond six months to scrutinise future trade deals and would be additional, not an alternative, to having the maintenance of import standards in the Bill. Most importantly, the commission proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, would report not to the Secretary of State for International Trade but to Parliament, and there would be a requirement that its recommendations on the vital issue of trade standards would be fully debated in Parliament.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Mouslecoomb, that the Government have driven pretty much all interest groups on to the same side of this issue. No one thinks that the Government’s commission is anything other than a fig leaf. I hope the Minister will concede that he has a losing hand and can bring a decent amendment forward on Report.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister and all his colleagues for their stamina and good temper all the way through this mammoth Committee. I must declare an interest as a member of the NFU. My younger son is a free-range farmer in Lincolnshire, and he is extremely concerned—along with many of his colleagues in the free-range egg-producing world—about foreign imports produced to lesser standards.
The Minister will not be surprised to learn that I was going to speak to Amendments 270 and 271. But, having listened to the debate, I support virtually all the other amendments and I agree entirely with all that was said by the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Curry, and by my noble friend Lady Hodgson. The Minister will be very aware of the groundswell of opinion throughout the country: well over 1 million people signed the food standards petition, run very well by the NFU, with huge media coverage.
I welcome the establishment of the international Trade and Agriculture Commission, but it must have real teeth and I too would prefer it to be permanent—we must keep it in the future. I do not want it to be giving advice to the Secretary of State of which they can take not a blind bit of notice. It must be there to guide the Secretary of State and Parliament on the standards that we need to keep and enhance in the future. We are a world -class act in the standards we produce in our agricultural industry; we must keep that up and go even further.
In my view, nearly all the arguments have already been stated on numerous occasions, so I will not repeat them. Suffice it to say that my brief words are simply to keep up the pressure and to hold Her Majesty’s Government to their pledges on food standards and to ensure that they do not compromise them in any ongoing or future trade deals.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the Minister for the superb way he has replied to so many of our debates in this marathon Committee.
I want to speak to Amendment 271, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 280, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. Amendment 271 goes to the heart of our anxieties about the future of agriculture and, indeed, the food we eat. Having heard a great deal of the arguments in the course of the Bill’s passage, there is little I can add, so I will be comparatively brief. As my noble friend Lord Grantchester put it so succinctly, this amendment is of vital importance and should be enshrined in law. I welcome an assurance given in the past, but this is so crucial that it should be put on the face of the Bill, as so many other noble Lords have indicated.
I am a member of the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee of this House, and we are examining future trading agreements in detail; it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. I am particularly concerned with proposed new subsection (2)(b) in Amendment 271. It would be intolerable if we lowered our standards of agricultural food imports so that we imported at a lower standard than our existing domestic standards in animal health and welfare, food safety and hygiene and liability in general. I would be firmly opposed to any lowering of our standards.
I also support Amendment 280, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Wigley. As I said at Second Reading, many of my family have been, and are, sheep breeders—my family has been doing this for centuries. Some of them may regard me, given my occupation as a lawyer and not a sheep breeder, as the black sheep of the family.
As agriculture was among my responsibilities as Welsh Secretary—indeed, I got responsibility for this transferred to the office—I attended most, if not all, of the meetings of the EU Council of Ministers whenever sheep were discussed. I did so because sheep and livestock farming were so important to Wales.
The price of lamb is heavily influenced by how much we can get from exporting, and the price of exports reflects back on the domestic market. A tariff would put many sheep farmers out of business: the economy and their viability are fragile enough as it is. Many of them have no alternative, hence the need for a report in the terms of the amendment if no agreement is reached, so that this House can give proper consideration to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has rightly put the case of a catastrophe if no deal is reached. Specifically, I would like to hear the Minister’s views, and if, and to what extent, he dissents to the case put so admirably by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce.
My Lords, I agree with those noble Lords who have called this probably the most important group of amendments we have discussed on the Bill; I concur with that. I say to my noble friend Lord Trenchard that, just because we support these amendments, it does not mean that we are anti-American, any more than he is anti-British because he does not like our side of the argument. That does not add to the value of our discussions.
I would like to congratulate the Government on creating the commission today, but I ask the Minister to clarify what it is called. The government press release today refers to the “Trade and Agriculture Commission”, and also to the better-named “Agriculture and Trade Commission”. Which is it? If the Government cannot make up their mind, perhaps the Minister could clarify this for them.
I was pleased to see that the chairman, Tim Smith, said that its report will give evidence-based advice. That is hugely important, but it begs the question that so many noble Lords have raised: what is going to happen to that advice, and what will happen when it has given that advice? The launch of the commission today is just the first stage, which is why I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle—indeed, my noble friend Lady McIntosh has another amendment—which would prolong the life of the commission. It needs to be there, it needs to report to Parliament and it needs to have its advice acted upon by the Secretary of State.
I notified my noble friend that I was going to ask him some questions on this. Can he reassure me that the appropriate structures have been set up to determine the standards of any food that is imported into this country, how it is produced and that the labelling of the food is done to the highest standards? It concerns me that the US trade negotiating team has stated that it does not think that the labelling is a good idea in any sense. Can he reassure me that the US team is wrong about that? Will he also comment on the threat of the enforcement of trade deals by offshore tribunals, which would allow corporations to sue the Government if domestic law affected their anticipated profits? That is surely a very serious consideration that we need to be informed about.
My third question concerns the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about tariffs. Will my noble friend confirm that if the deal that is proposed with the US goes ahead, tariffs will automatically end after 10 years, so they are just a temporary sop? Will the same apply to other trade deals?
I thought the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made a very good point, which I support from the evidence we got on the Committee on Food, Health, Poverty and the Environment. When we were questioning the industry, we finally got a commitment from Waitrose that it would not sell cheaper, imported food created to lesser standards—but I am hugely suspicious of the food industry as a whole, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is absolutely right that unless we have the necessary protections, we will develop a two-tier food system in this country, which will not be good for those who are poorest and least able to afford the food that they should be having.
My Lords, I have heard my county of North Yorkshire mentioned a number of times in Committee and I want to speak particularly to Amendment 271, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because of the fear I have of our having to accept WTO rules as a result of crashing out of the EU without a decent trade deal. Our farmers in North Yorkshire, as elsewhere, will bear a great deal of pain if that happens. The Government made clear manifesto commitments, as we have heard repeatedly throughout the passage of the Bill, not to compromise, inter alia, animal welfare or food standards in any future trade deals, yet they offered no amendments to the Trade Bill, which we will have to rigorously scrutinise when we return to Parliament in September. This Bill is a foretaste of what may well yet happen unless we make sure that this legislation is absolutely watertight.
Our food must maintain the very high standards we have come to expect, ensuring that animal welfare and environmental protection remain at the very heart of our food production. The director of policy for NFU Scotland, Jonnie Hall, said:
“The UK Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation and it must safeguard the sustainability of domestic food production and the integrity of domestic food consumption.”
As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, Waitrose, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, M&S and the Co-op have all now said that they will never sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef from the US—where, incidentally, 50 million Americans get sick each year from the food they eat. As Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which? said:
“We do not want to import these unacceptably high rates of foodborne illness into our health system”.
Chlorine-washed chicken is barred from the EU because it is used to disguise farming practices that increase the risk of such infections as salmonella and campylobacter. There is also ractopamine, a horrible drug fed to pigs to make them grow fatter, which is banned in the EU and in 160 other countries, including China and Russia; 17-beta estradiol, another growth-promoting hormone, which EU scientists believe is a complete carcinogen; and bovine somatatropine, given to cows in the US to increase milk yields—again, banned in the EU, Canada and Japan on animal welfare grounds as it is associated with increased lameness and mastitis in cattle, which leads, of course, to greater use of antibiotics, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, and others, but is used and approved in the US. All these drugs have been banned in the UK, thanks to EU regulations, but they are quite legal on the US factory farms.
More than 1 million people have already signed the NFU petition to promote sustainable models of production and consumption across the world and I end with its concluding sentence, which calls on the UK Government
“to put into law rules that prevent food being imported to the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here.”
We must not sell our farmers out to the United States or other countries whose animal welfare and food production standards are so far below our own.
My Lords, I repeat my declaration of interests as stated in the register. Since the Government announced the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission on
“as high as or higher than” those which apply now. The rather more detailed Amendment 279 is surely similarly redundant and would undoubtedly shackle UK producers to the restrictive EU regime, although it does contain two important concessions: new subsection (4)(e) recognises that,
“different production systems and regulatory approaches” may produce equivalence of outcomes; and new subsection (4)(g) acknowledges that import restrictions may be detrimental both to consumer interests and to developing countries.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh just said, in her eloquent speech, that she wishes to retain the level playing field between EU and UK farmers. If she believes that such a level playing field exists, I fear she is mistaken. As I pointed out on Thursday, French livestock farmers benefit from €1 billion in voluntary coupled support every year. This compares with the mere €39 million available to Scottish crofters. I agree with my noble friend that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was right to confirm that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in all our trade negotiations. However, rules that enforce precise standards may be unnecessary or disproportionate. Standards are not two-dimensional: low or high. Outcomes may be similar but reached by very different rule books.
Among the problems with our EU standards is that some introduce distortions to the market without bringing any benefit. In the words of the Prime Minister in his Greenwich speech in February:
“There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules”.
The Prime Minister also said:
“But I must say to the America bashers in this country, if there are any, that in doing free trade deals we will be governed by science and not by mumbo-jumbo because the potential is enormous.”
I have heard quite a number of America bashers, including several of my noble friends, express their views during our debates on the Bill. I ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm categorically that we will diverge from EU rules and standards, at least in order to be able to adopt an SPS regime which does not violate the WTO’s rules. The EU is in violation of WTO rules on GMOs and hormone-treated beef. The UK will also be in violation of WTO rules in these and other areas, such as those where we do not have a sector which EU rules protect, such as olive oil.
Amendment 271 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rightly requires the UK to ensure that any new trade agreements will conform to the WTO’s SPS agreement. This allows countries to maintain standards that are stricter than international standards if those standards are justified by science or by a non-discriminatory lower level of acceptable risk that does not selectively target imports. I worry that proposed new subsection 2(b) may conflict with proposed new subsection 2(a) because it would appear to target imports selectively in cases where the exporter’s rules or standards violate the WTO’s SPS rules.
Similarly, Amendment 273 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Amendment 276 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and Amendment 278 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, all require, in effect, the Government to import food only from countries which apply hygiene, animal welfare or environmental standards which are equivalent to or exceed those currently allowed in the EU or UK. However, if we were to insist that our trading partners meet our welfare standards, many currently available imported goods would be prohibited from sale in the UK. If we try to restrict our trade negotiators in the ways these amendments would require, we will fail to make good trade agreements with other countries and we will not be able to secure the great benefits that our independent trade policy can deliver in many other areas, such as financial services, digital and data. We would lose the opportunity to improve our domestic regulatory environment and we would render Brexit largely meaningless.
As for Amendment 280 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, I understand that the Government remain confident that they will successfully negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU prior to the end of the year. This amendment is not appropriate for inclusion in a Bill which sets out new, long-term future arrangements for agriculture.
My Lords, I will speak particularly to Amendment 271 but I broadly support most of the amendments in this group, which are all about maintaining standards. There has been quite a lot of repetition. I am afraid I will also be guilty of that to some extent, although I will try to be brief, and there will be repetition in the future as the debate continues. I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to the Ministers —the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—who have maintained great courtesy throughout and have given us detailed answers to our many questions in Committee.
In negotiating a free trade agreement, the Government have repeatedly stated, as has been said, that they will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. But Ministers and Governments come and go, and as long as there is no statutory commitment to this goal, there is bound to be uncertainty. The commitment to create a Trade and Agriculture Commission is a step in the right direction but as currently proposed it is advisory and ephemeral.
The arguments for high standards are widely agreed but we need to ensure that these can be maintained in a global trading environment; that our farming industry is not unfairly undermined by creating an unlevel competitive playing field; and that we can help improve international standards by levelling them up, as was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Cameron. It would be folly to kill off our own industry, which safeguards our food security while maintaining high standards, and to essentially export poor welfare and poor environmental standards.
It has been said several times that this is protectionism about a US trade deal. I am concerned about much more than the US. This is about numerous trade deals in many countries in the years to come. It is about far more than chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef, although I will return to those in a moment. We should be concerned about, among other things, animal housing and husbandry standards, welfare at slaughter, transport, and antibiotic use and misuse—which, apart from animal welfare implications, have huge public health consequences. We should also be asking questions about what amount of environmental degradation has been involved to produce certain foods.
The Government may argue that there are legal or WTO limits on what can be done but it seems to me that there are some inconsistencies in this argument, and I would be grateful for answers to the following questions. Let us take the issue of hormone-treated beef: personally, I am content to eat it; indeed, I and anyone who has been to the USA will almost certainly have eaten it. There is data suggesting that 90% of all the beef in the US has been so treated. But I accept that many people will not want to eat it and I do not disagree with that ban. I am also aware that WTO rules do not allow methods of production to be a means of limiting importation of food products that satisfy sanitary and phytosanitary regulations. So how is it possible, for example, to ban the import of hormone-treated beef and yet not define standards for the use and misuse of antibiotics, which have arguably much greater animal welfare and public health implications? Why can we not ban beef from cattle reared on cleared rainforest, which has far more serious environmental consequences than hormone-treated beef does?
Another argument that will be deployed against this amendment is that it ties the hands of our negotiators. I am not persuaded by that argument. Are not their hands strengthened by having a clear mandate, with red lines enshrined in our legislation, consistent with the Government’s own manifesto? After all, we have already partly tied the USA’s hands with chickens and beef, have we not?
In conclusion, I am content with the current stance on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef, but our ability to maintain that ban raises questions as to why we cannot go even further. I would very much appreciate an answer to these apparent inconsistencies in order to understand and accept the rejection of this amendment.
As many noble Lords have mentioned, the Government have pledged not to reduce health, animal welfare or environmental standards in this country. I am sure they will honour that pledge, not least because no other country is asking us to reduce our standards.
The issue confronting us with the amendments is on what terms we will trade with other countries which may have different standards from ours. Amendments 270 and 271, among others, would prevent any trade deal which does not exclude all imports of agricultural products which have not been produced and processed according to standards which are equivalent to or exceed EU standards.
It is quite reasonable for farmers to seek a degree of protection or financial support if it is necessary to enable them to compete with foreign producers who face lower welfare costs or who enjoy subsidies, but the amendments do not seek a proportionate level of protection or support—they propose a total ban on imports produced to different standards from our own. That is despite the fact that, in practice, our farmers, through greater efficiency and higher quality, compete successfully within the EU without tariffs or subsidies with French beef farmers who, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, receive £1 billion of subsidy, and with Polish farmers who produce poultry to higher densities than ours. Both the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron said that only a minority of American states have welfare standards lower than ours, but that does not seem to prevent farmers in other American states competing with them successfully.
However, the arguments used in favour of the amendments often claim to be based on concern for animal welfare and human health rather than protection of farmers, and do not address the practical consequences of banning all relevant imports from countries with lower animal welfare standards than our own.
I want to raise a few questions with both my noble friend the Minister and the proponents of the amendments. First, can my noble friend confirm that restrictions of the kind implied by Amendments 270 and 271 would be against WTO rules? The WTO has never allowed import bans based on so-called ROMP rules—rules on methods of production. That may be right, it may be wrong; but we have to accept the rules or face retaliatory tariffs.
Secondly, can my noble friend confirm that if we adopted the amendments, it would make it impossible to reach a free trade deal not just with America but with the EU, for the simple reason that some EU member states do not impose as stringent animal welfare rules as we do, and they certainly would not allow us to police their rules domestically? We have happily traded with some member states despite their lower standards for decades, so it is a bit odd that we should raise this obstacle now.
Thirdly, can my noble friend confirm that WTO rules allow countries to ban products that are a threat to human health, as long as the ban is based on objective scientific and medical evidence? Consequently, there is not the slightest likelihood that the UK Government or Parliament will alter our laws to allow sale of food which is contaminated with substances dangerous to human health.
Fourthly, I ask the authors of the amendments to clarify whether their desire to ban American chicken treated with pathogen-reduction agents or hormone-treated beef is based on concern for the welfare of the animals in America or concern for health of humans in Britain? If the latter, do they also want to outlaw the use of dilute chlorine washes of salads, which are permitted at present, and to ban the use of chlorine in swimming pools and to make water potable? If the former—i.e., if they are really basing this on animal welfare—do they accept that they will simply be acting against WTO rules? The EU realised it could not base its ban on chlorine and other washed chickens on the ground of concern about the cost of production in America or the welfare of American chickens. It had to base it on fears of a supposed threat to health of humans, but that was found by a WTO panel to lack scientific evidence.
Fifthly, what is the logic, I ask the authors of the amendments, of continuing to import agricultural products which have not been produced or processed under standards as rigorous as the UK’s from countries such as Thailand, Argentina, Brazil et cetera, while seeking to ban them under deals which we may do in future with the EU, the USA and so on?
Finally, I ask the authors of the amendments why these bans would apply only to future trade deals, including those where we still have to ratify continuity deals? Are they aware that this might put at risk continued preferential access for UK exports to more than 22 other markets—for example, putting at risk over half a billion pounds of Scotch whisky exports? If they are really concerned about the health of British industry, and the agricultural industry in particular, they should think very carefully about the amendments.
My Lords, I declare my interest in a small farm holding, which is in the register of interests. I also pay tribute to the courteous and patient manner with which the Minister has dealt with a very wide range of amendments debated since the Bill has been in Committee.
I appreciate that the Bill deals primarily with the needs of England, but it contains powers which are relevant to Northern Ireland and provides certainty for the distribution of direct support to local farmers for the forthcoming year. The continuity provided by the Bill will afford the devolved Minister time and space to bring forward new proposals for longer-term farm support in Northern Ireland.
It is, however, of great regret that the other place rejected the inclusion of measures which would have upheld standards of imports in a number of areas, including food, welfare and environmental standards. The amendment tabled in the other place would have been a welcome addition, and this House must right that wrong and give protection to consumers and farmers. It is vital that we do not outsource our food production to countries which do not have the same high standards as our farmers have to comply with. The Bill should be sent back to the other House reflecting this. That is why I support Amendment 271, which places an obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure that the standards to which any agricultural or food product imported into the United Kingdom under a trade agreement are processed and produced are equivalent to or exceed the relevant domestic standards and regulations relating to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene, traceability and plant health. The standards that British farmers adhere to, with significant cost implication for them, leaves them at a price disadvantage compared to cheaper imports.
It is also worth noting that producers and agri-food businesses stand to be doubly hit if the threat from barriers within the UK internal market stemming from the Prime Minister’s disastrous agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol are not mitigated. Therefore, I also strongly support Amendment 270 on the creation of an international food standards commission with legal standing to scrutinise import standards for food. This would help to ensure a level playing field for our farmers and no future dilution of standards.
While the establishment of the UK Trade and Agriculture Commission and the inclusion of the UFU representation is a welcome step in ensuring that the interests of local producers are represented, it must be more than a talking shop. There must be legislative protection. Advisory reports are not legally binding, and although Ministers Eustice and Truss in the other place have indicated they wish to act in good faith, agriculture needs firm guarantees.
The recent pandemic has demonstrated the importance of food security in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is evident that there is growing support for British produce. The Government’s approach to trade talks and funding must reflect the desire of any local farmer to maintain exemplary standards, to produce safe food and to ensure that our environment is safeguarded for future generations.
In the current climate farmers need certainty and continuity. Agriculture is the cornerstone of job creation and growth in the Northern Ireland economy, sustaining approximately 100,000 jobs and adding value in the region of £1.5 billion to that economy. That contribution must be sustained for the future. We welcome the Government’s commitment to retain the same level of direct support to farmers until the end of this Parliament. However, we must have the same commitment around replacement funding for rural development funding. I trust the Government will listen to the views clearly expressed by numerous Members of your Lordships’ House and will make the necessary changes to this Bill.
These amendments collectively require us to impose our own standards on others. That is a perfectly legitimate objective, but none of this Bill is about lowering standards; that is a fiction. What we are confronted with here is a raft of amendments that will throw our food security into doubt by making trade negotiations far more difficult. We need new trade deals; we want new trade deals—not any deals but fair, equitable deals. But why would any trading partner agree to sign trade deals with us that imposed our standards on them without any chance of negotiation or discussion?
Of course, we care about animal welfare and plant welfare and the environment. These are hugely important causes. We also care very much about the future prosperity of our farms. But will these amendments guarantee all these things? Of course not. The provisions of any Bill have to be more than a collection of good intentions; they have to be practicable. We could get all sorts of certification put in place and paperwork about standards signed, but paperwork itself and on its own is not the answer. We cannot root out sweatshops in the centre of Leicester so how can we realistically promise to set standards in chicken coops on the outskirts of Hanoi?
There is a balance to be struck between the operation of the market and the support of sensible regulation. We have a tremendous interest in the production standards of our trading partners, but are we, for instance, going to refuse to buy foodstuffs from desperately poor third- world countries, those most in need, because they find it impossible to meet all our standards of production or environmental requirements even though they satisfy all our food safety and hygiene requirements? That would seem an extraordinary unintended consequence.
Maintaining and improving production standards in many of our trading partners is a process of evolution, wholeheartedly embraced and backed by well-informed consumers in this country. I think the questions from my noble friend Lord Caithness about sensible labelling were very well put. Better-informed consumers will do much more to raise standards in the long term than the undeliverable demands of these amendments. Nothing in the Bill requires us to buy or to eat anything we do not want, and if my noble friend Lord Lilley had not made his excellent speech, I would have been happy to do it for him.
The Bill is not an attempt to lower standards, to force cheap and dodgy food down the throats of unsuspecting consumers, and least of all to sell out to cruel foreigners. These amendments, as high-minded as they sound, will not achieve their stated objectives. What they are likely to do is undermine the market system that has steadily and hugely effectively delivered food of a higher quality, of a wider choice and at a lower price to our consumers over many, many years. These amendments will not even help our own farmers in the long term because their logical conclusion will be to cut off future export opportunities by making trade deals very much more difficult to negotiate; they might even make them impossible. I would suggest that the desire to make a post-EU future difficult or impossible may well be the hidden agenda behind so much of what we have heard.
My Lords, I, too, to acknowledge the tolerance, patience and courtesy that the Minister has shown throughout this debate. It has been long and, I suspect, quite tiresome for him at times, but it is appreciated. I speak in general support of Amendments 270 and 271, which call for the establishment of an international-UK food trade and farming standards commission. I say at the outset that I think it is regrettable that the Prime Minister agreed to the calamitous Northern Ireland protocol which will disadvantage and have a negative effect on the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland and on trading in general. It is most unfortunate and will require close scrutiny in the days ahead.
The strengthening of the Bill is essential so that the frequency of reporting on food security is increased to an annual requirement. The establishment of a food and farming standards commission would go some distance towards achieving that. I cannot overemphasise the importance of the agricultural industry to Northern Ireland. It sustains some 100,000 jobs, with a value of approximately £1.5 billion to the local economy. The Government’s commitment to retain the same level of support to farmers until the end of the Parliament is to be welcomed but we all have a duty to look beyond this. A long-term strategy is vital. Any future trade deals must ensure that agricultural imports meet our environmental, animal welfare and food standards. The Government need to clearly define how they intend to achieve this. The Bill will shape our agricultural industry for years to come and must ensure that food imported into the UK is produced to standards that are at least equivalent to those required of producers in the UK. I trust the Government will see the merits of a trade and standards commission, which will add transparency.
I have little doubt that many in your Lordships’ House are in receipt of representation from across the UK urging support for the inclusion in the Bill of vital safeguards for food safety, environmental protection, and the welfare of animals. It cannot be ignored; public interest in this issue is immense. The UK is less than 60% self-sufficient in food. We have learned something from the current pandemic, not least how vulnerable our ability to import food is and how the food chain can be severely strained and tested if we are too reliant on imported goods. Protecting local food production is therefore vital.
I trust the Government will recognise the importance of standing with our agriculture industry at this time. We must not miss the opportunity to ensure that the Bill secures vital safeguards for the high standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection that are so highly valued by all the people of the United Kingdom. This has been a very interesting debate right from day one and I look forward to Report.
My Lords, we have heard many arguments put forward in this debate. I can say only that the fears that the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has expressed are slightly greater than those in Scotland, but there are fears there, nonetheless. I declare an interest as a livestock producer in Scotland, with a particular involvement in sheep. Like the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and many other Peers, my conviction is that this group of amendments deals with the most vital element of the Bill. In particular, I support the noble Lord’s Amendment 279, and in the same spirit I support Amendment 270 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh.
My noble friend the Minister will be very aware that Scotland has particularly strong feelings on market standards. There are good reasons for this. Scottish land and business, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, told us, have laid down their concerns. Some 80% of Scottish land was classified under the common agricultural policy as areas of natural constraint. Noble Lords will know that these areas are where there is limited or no cropping capability and livestock is the main product keeping some form of resident economic activity on the ground. Agriculture might produce only 1% of Scottish GDP, but that same ground is the background for the Scottish tourism industry, which constitutes a large part of the service sector. Overall, that sector contributes 75% of the Scottish economy. Tourism is a major component of it.
Another vital component for Scots is the nature and quality of our food and drink. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, drew to your Lordships’ attention, this agricultural sector is also highly reliant on exports. These exports are built on the same high-quality production. In particular, the trade of sheep with France has been the benchmark for prices of sheep production for the past 40 years in this country, so the introduction of any tariffs or deviation from our present common production standards carries an immense risk to that trade.
As we have heard, the Government have today launched the Trade and Agriculture Commission to address our concerns. This appears to have aroused considerable interest from the various devolved authorities and trade bodies, which have been asked to join in the setting up of such a body. I think we can all welcome that. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, was very clear in pointing out the shortcomings of the current proposals when he spoke to his amendment. Perhaps the Minister will correct me, but I think the Government will be unlikely to give us much of an idea of the effect the body will finally exercise in time for anything meaningful to be included in the Bill, hence the need for your Lordships to propose what are likely to be workable criteria and make it plain to the Government what we would find acceptable.
As my noble friend Lady McIntosh explained, her Amendment 270 proposes a body not unlike what the Government have initiated, but which also points to the main areas that must be addressed. One of its features is that it would not try to limit the negotiating power of government, but, from having heard my noble friend, I like to think that she will watch to see whether the Government will introduce some of the stipulations she mentioned in the next stage of the Bill. If she does not find them there, I hope she will table them in the form of amendments on Report.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie. I sympathise with the sentiment behind Amendment 280, but I feel it will report only after the main event. Amendment 279 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, also looks for a supervisory body, but does not demand the same powers envisaged in some of the other amendments. It goes into considerable detail, which is critical for the industry. If the noble Lord’s proposal was followed, it would mean that the Government would have the issues presented in a public forum in which they would have to justify their proposed outcomes. It gives much more detail than the current proposals. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that we will have to see what shape things take as Report comes along, but I hope there will be something to give us a greater sense of security.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend on the Front Bench and his team. My goodness he has shown patience beyond belief and reminds me of the problems I had when I was Deputy Speaker in the other place. I am essentially a practical man. I hope my noble friend will listen carefully to the speeches made by my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Lilley, who raised some very relevant issues that we as a Government have to face.
I will only really address Amendment 270. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling it before she knew whether there would be a Trade and Agriculture Commission. As has been pointed out, the commission and her proposals are not identical, but they are not dissimilar. I welcome what the Government have done so far.
Should the commission’s recommendations always be binding? I think not. I have listened to all sorts of advisory boards over many years across two Houses. I thank them, but they never were all binding. They certainly ought to be listened to very carefully, but they must be challenged on occasion.
Should the commission be a permanent body? I think it should, but every time we have a permanent body it is absolutely vital that we review its performance. I have noticed that the traditional review period is about five years. A bit of a drift has been going on to move beyond five years. Five years is about the right length.
I am not a farmer, but the quandary for me is that people say that farmers are being undercut by substandard producers. That raises the question: what happens if the producers are not substandard?
I always take an interest in what I suppose in the farming world are minority areas. I have long been involved with trees. I declare an interest in that I have a very modest 40 acres of woodland, approved by the Forestry Commission on a 10-year plan. We currently have problems with ash importation and with oak, partly from importation and partly from indigenous problems. There is a continuing need in that area, which I think is covered by the Bill, to ensure that we support research and development, and control of imports to ensure that they are of a proper quality for our saplings.
Where is the incentive for our farmers to improve their products so as to reduce the trade deficit? That seems a vital area. I have not noticed a lot of discussion about that in the many hours we have listened to these debates.
I take an interest in two other areas. There is a huge opportunity in horticulture. It is a small industry in the UK compared with what it was 40 or 50 years ago, but we must have joined-up government. We have a situation where one of the key restrictions on development in horticulture is the cost of power. If you have glass, you need cheap energy. We are producing good, environmentally friendly energy and more green energy as a percentage of supply than we have ever done. Lo and behold, along comes Ofgem with a proposal to reduce the profit percentage of energy suppliers—to halve it, in fact. Where will the investment come from in green energy and in the pricing of the product to help the horticulture industry? Someone must have a close look at Ofgem and ask it to stop meddling.
Finally, as I have mentioned before, viticulture is a tiny embryonic industry, but I hope it warrants at least somebody in the relevant department keeping a watch on it. It is growing fast and is well disciplined, but is competing across the world against the continent, the US, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, to mention a few places. It is a good industry, which employs people and uses land that was not particularly well used in the past. It is a very exciting opportunity.
I remind noble Lords of my Devon farming interests and note my American links. I join other noble Lords in thanking both Ministers and the many House and departmental staff for their efforts. I congratulate Minette Batters of the NFU and many others for their tireless work on these issues. Jamie Oliver has been a leading voice for high standards in our national diet; I thank him and his audience as well. But I remain unconvinced that protection of our national food standards is necessarily the right course. I invite the Committee to consider the unashamed promotion of our national food standards as an alternative.
It is now day seven of this Committee stage, and I am embarrassed to note that, in this wide-ranging agricultural debate, the Devon cream tea has yet to be mentioned. It is my ancestral duty to correct that and to remind your Lordships that it was my Saxon predecessor Ordwulf, alderman of Devon, who first recorded serving scones, cream and jam to the builders of Tavistock Abbey in 997 AD. As an aside, could the Minister confirm whether the Duchy of Cornwall is answerable to Parliament? If it is, Devon would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm whether the Duke of Cornwall has any more ancient records of serving the cream tea. If he does not, it might settle an important local debate, once and for all.
Why is this particular piece of peninsula politics relevant? When I left California with my family, seven years ago, we served cream tea to our friends using Devon clotted cream, which was abundantly stocked in the local Santa Monica deli. When we left London for Devon some two years later, we tried the same, but could not find Devon cream in London; it was all from Cornwall. I came to realise then that the brand value of Devon cream is stronger in America than in England.
Along similar lines, we recently saw Her Majesty’s grandson Peter Phillips gamely promoting Jersey milk to the Chinese, whose appetite for meat and dairy is set to rise exponentially over the coming decades. Consider also our traditional French nickname, les rosbifs, and recall the celebration of English beef by William Hogarth and Henry Fielding, who famously wrote:
“When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,
It ennobled our veins and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
Oh! the Roast Beef of old England”.
We can combine this ancient heritage and global brand recognition with modern environmental science. Studies increasingly identify grass-fed meat and dairy, typical of our western counties, as offering a lower carbon footprint and higher environmental benefit than alternative confinement systems, which house livestock indoors, feeding them intensive arable crops, hormones and antibiotics. Nations around the world are beginning to set net-zero targets, following the UK’s bold lead. I note that Joe Biden recently targeted net zero for the United States by 2050, which will include carbon-neutral food and farming.
Rather than protecting our farmers from high-carbon low-welfare imports, as these amendments seek to, might we not consider placing all our efforts on promoting our low-carbon high-welfare exports and re-establishing British farming as a world leader? It is for this reason that I am concerned that the trade, food and farming standards commission could be a regressive step. I do not believe that the commission that has been agreed by the Government and launched today has nearly the mandate it needs to achieve what the industry and consumers want. The commission will report in six months with a series of recommendations, but it will have no real impact on the Government’s negotiating strategy and no binding say. It is transparently a way of kicking the agricultural standards issue into that very same long green grass on which we West Country farmers pride ourselves.
Finally, I note that the Government are conducting dual negotiations with both the EU and the US, whose experienced trade delegations have long been driven directly by their farming interests. In contrast, our trade negotiators are mere debutantes due to be ravaged by their weathered counterparts, without a farming chaperone to protect them. We are all aware of the strength of the agricultural lobby in the US. This fall, the midwestern farming states are due to reprise their enormously influential role in US national politics. Similarly, none can forget the scenes of French farmers shutting down Paris with manure, in defence of their interests. Farmers have a radical sway over politics across Europe. Here, conversely, farming interests are conservative and convivial, as is graphically illustrated by the genteel hereditary voices—included mine—that have been so vocal in this debate.
I worry that this Government are not fearful enough of our farmers. They may need to become so, if our rural interests are to be fully realised in the ongoing trade negotiations.
I make this observation as an old-timer: this has been a particularly significant debate. It has been powerful for revealing the great wealth of experience and wisdom available in this House—noble Lords speaking with real authority because they are absolutely involved in the issues we are discussing. That needs to be recognised. It is epitomised by the Minister and my noble friend Lord Grantchester, both of whom are rooted in farming communities.
I say to the Minister, again as an old-timer, that it is not often you see a Minister have such great respect and understanding across the House. This is enhanced by the way he listens and responds, and because of his authority, speaking from his background. It is one thing to have generated good will and respect in the House—that is to be treasured—but the real test of the Minister will be what he delivers in response to this debate. We may say that the quality of everything he has said is significant but then find that it had no effect whatever on the legislation that is put forward. The test will be the clout he brings to bear within the department and, significantly, with his fellow Ministers, who I am certain will not all be sympathetic.
In speaking to Amendment 271, it is important to recognise that it is not only by our arrangements on international relations and trade that we will be able to ensure the high standards and quality of our agriculture—and that is vital—but we have to look to our own laurels. Not everything is perfect in our own country; think of foot and mouth and factory farming. Both for animal welfare and, more importantly in some ways, for human health, these are experiences about which we must be very vigilant. In taking a tough line in our relationships with the outside world, which I am sure is right, we must redouble our efforts all the time in the standards we achieve in our own agriculture.
I am glad that animal welfare has again been a focus in the context of this group of amendments, because animal welfare matters desperately to a civilised nation. I remember standing on the quayside in Portsmouth when I was an MP for Portsmouth and hearing evidence of the distress of animals we were cheerfully dragging across the country and exporting abroad. This matters if we are a civilised nation, of course, but it also matters to the quality of our agricultural produce, because only if we have good animal welfare and a good standard of life for our animals will we maintain the highest standards.
We also have to remember that the volatility of Covid-19, for example, is highly relevant. We now know the significance of the way in which a virus of this kind can be transferred from animals to human beings—and now we discover, with the story today about the pet cat, how it can be conveyed from humans to animals. Here, again, the need for vigilance in our own standards and the way we conduct our own affairs cannot be overemphasised.
I will briefly mention two other amendments. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, struck me as worthy of serious attention. Climate change has a two-way relationship with agriculture. Agriculture can be, will be and is already affected by climate change, but climate change is affected by our agricultural products. It is no good just generalising and thinking wishfully about this; we have to have some muscle in the legislation. I therefore focus for a moment on subsection (3) of the proposed new clause advocated by the noble Baroness, which says:
“The Secretary of State must, within six months from the day on which this Act is passed, publish interim emissions reductions targets for agriculture and related land use that align with budgetary periods as they relate to carbon budgets.”
Unless we have some muscle such as this in our legislation, we will find we are slipping off course time and again.
My last point is on Amendment 279. This commission advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, could have a significant part to play, but please let us remember that we have expertise, knowledge and wisdom in our own parliamentary system. We must not in any way downgrade the significance of parliamentary scrutiny of all these things and the responsibility of Members in both Houses to keep the Government on their toes and doing what is necessary in the national interest.
My Lords, we have been on this set of amendments for over three hours now. We need to finish Committee tonight, so I ask noble Lords whether they can be a little quicker with their comments in future, then we might get done.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who—it may not have been apparent to your Lordships—was speaking from just over the hill from me in Cumbria. I put my name down to speak to Amendment 270 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, but my thoughts cover the entirety of the amendments we are considering at this point.
I am a farmer; I farm. My business and I face serious challenges, but I dare say I speak for many other farmers when I say that we are up for it—and anyway, we do not have much choice, do we?
Earlier in Committee, I said—slightly oversimplifying and slightly tongue in cheek—that since the end of the Second World War, Governments have paid public money to farmers because they wanted them to produce food and farm. In the brave new world into which we are now going, it has all changed and been turned on its head: farmers are paid public money to do everything and anything on land except produce food, while the food they might produce will be paid for by the market. While there is clearly a change entailed here, it is important to see that there is also a continuity: the central place of farming in the rural economy. It is merely the context in which it operates that is changing.
I do not believe this change of direction can work if food suppliers to this country from elsewhere in the world do not have to meet the same or equivalent standards demanded of domestic producers. The reason for that is that, regardless of any immediate direct impacts on either consumers or the environment, UK producers will not be able to compete and then the whole construct of the future of rural Britain will be put under threat and may well collapse. Were that to happen, not to provide a degree of protection would be a form of state aid given by the UK Government to foreign farmers. I do not believe that is an acceptable political response to taking back control. In short, it is not on.
In my view, unless the Government properly kitemark their intentions and policies with legally watertight guarantees—which, we understand and have heard this afternoon, is exactly what the British public want—under the proper control and in accordance with the procedures well established in the British constitution by Parliament, why should the rest of us place reliance on what we are told? I would like to hope that this matter can be clarified and resolved before Report.
I am really sorry, but the sound has gone again. Perhaps we can move on to the next speaker and try to get the noble Lord back later.
My Lords, as this is the last time that I expect to speak in this Committee stage, I add my thanks to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. I also thank Front-Bench spokespersons for all their work in scrutinising and speaking to all the aspects of this very wide-ranging Bill. I express my thanks, too, to all the staff of the House who have been involved in organising and arranging these marathon proceedings.
The issues raised in these amendments are of huge public and parliamentary concern. They focus on the importance of having high standards in our food and agricultural production, and of ensuring that our producers are not forced to compete on unfair terms. Indeed, many have spoken in favour of a level playing field for our producers, and I agree with those comments. However, it seems highly ironic that we are having this discussion when the Government seem intent on ignoring the political declaration which they signed with the European Union as part of the withdrawal agreement and reneging on the commitment in that declaration to have a future relationship with the EU containing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.
In that respect, I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Hain, who expressed concerns about the state of the current negotiations with the EU, which are so vital not only for our agricultural sector but for our economy as a whole. I welcome the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but I share the concerns and views expressed about it by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.
Finally, I add my strong support for Amendment 280, so powerfully spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Wigley. I had intended to add my name to this amendment, and I apologise to both noble Lords for not having done so before the available time had expired. As someone who lives close to an upland sheep-farming area in the north of England, I associate myself fully with their remarks.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the prospect of either no deal with the EU or a poor deal that would not allow a continuation of the current frictionless trade is causing great fear and alarm among farmers in the rural areas that I know best. Indeed, their work and way of life are seen as being under threat as a result. Therefore, in conclusion, I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government are determined to safeguard European Union access for these important sectors, particularly as the negotiations with the EU enter a crucial stage.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friends the Minister and Lady Bloomfield on their fortitude, stamina and good humour throughout all six—getting on for six and a half—days of Committee on this Bill. I thank all the House staff and all those in the broadcasting unit who have done such an excellent job in keeping our Committee stage covered.
If the Minister is tempted to move in this area, he has an embarrassment of riches. The majority of amendments in this group are really variations on a theme and push the same points. Is he tempted to bring forward a government amendment on these issues on Report, or does he believe that the Bill as currently drafted, and indeed wider government policy, take the issues set out in the amendment into account? If he were minded to move an amendment on Report, he could probably do no better than move the one tabled by our right honourable friend—his boss—the Secretary of State. Perhaps akin to when on the golf course always letting the boss have the winning putt, if he were to go back to the department and suggest an amendment to that effect, that would be quite a neat piece of parliamentary business, in that the Secretary of State could oversee a Bill on which he brought forward an amendment that he had tabled as a Back-Bench Member.
As has already been mentioned by many noble Lords, this is probably one of the most important aspects of the Bill. Many noble Lords have waited a long time to get to day seven of Committee to make their points. I believe that the weight of support and feeling must cause the Government to pause and think again on this matter. Does the Minister agree that, when it comes to the trade negotiations, standards are a benefit, not a burden, and an enabler of economic growth, not a drain on it? In that context, I am incredibly supportive of the comments and work of my noble friend Lord Lindsay, who does much work in the area of standards. Does the Minister agree that, not just in agriculture but across the piece, Britain has a comparative advantage when it comes to standards?
In conclusion, the danger is that if we do not address this issue, wittingly and unwittingly much will get traded away. The trade deals will be third party but, if we are not careful, they will have a significantly detrimental impact on our farmers, agriculturalists and horticulturalists. It will be a case of not just third party but third-party fire and theft of those businesses.
I know that the Minister will be relieved that I am in the last chunk of speakers on this group. The degree of consensus across the Chamber in support of Amendments 270 and 271, in particular, has been quite remarkable, and those are the amendments that I wish to address.
With regard to Amendment 270, much of what I was going to say has been said, so, perhaps untraditionally in the House of Lords, I will not say it. However, I have two questions which I do not think have been raised. First, when I helped to scrutinise the Trade Bill, with great fanfare the Government announced the UK strategic trade advisory group. It was designed to be permanent, have regular meetings and support the consideration of standards. I would be interested to know how that will interact with the Trade and Agriculture Commission. There is a standing group. Is the expectation that the commission will be absorbed into that group?
Secondly, we have a network—again, launched with great fanfare—of international trade commissioners around the world, but I am still unsure what their role will be when other trade commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State. Will they have any interaction with this issue? I suspect not, but if that can be clarified, I will be grateful.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and others have mentioned, these issues were raised in our debates on the Trade Bill. However, when they were, the Minister said that that Bill was not the appropriate place for them. As we have heard, when they have been raised in debates on the Agriculture Bill, it has been said that this Bill is not the appropriate place for them either. At some stage, we will have to find an appropriate place for these issues, as has been made clear in the Committee. I suspect that this Bill is that place.
This House expressed its opinion and passed an amendment on standards during discussions on the Trade Bill. I wrote to the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, when he was appointed, asking why the Government had reintroduced the Trade Bill stripping out the amendments that the Lords had made to it. He said in his reply to me that the amendments that the Lords had passed were “otiose”. After looking up that word—I confess to the Committee—I was disappointed to hear what the Minister had said, but this is now the time and place, and I do not think that this issue is otiose.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who is not in his place, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who is, for their contributions. I suspect they are more in tune with the feelings of Conservative Back-Benchers in the other place than here. It is worth listening to what they say because I suspect that they speak for the authentic view of the Conservative Party this year in many respects when it comes to trade. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering; I wish that hers was the authentic voice but, because we cannot guarantee that, we must have some protections in place in this legislation.
What struck me was that both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord tried to say, in the false narrative that they perpetuate, that there are now clear distinctions and indeed contradictions between producer interest, consumer interest, environmental interest and animal welfare interest. They are all now combined and cannot be easily separated, as in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, reminded us of the establishment of the WTO in 1990. He did not mention another piece of pioneering development in 1990, when he was Trade and Industry Secretary: the Food Safety Act. He felt no contradiction at the time between putting enhanced standards for food safety for our consumers on the statute book and being the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Perhaps he has forgotten about that—but he is not here to intervene, even if that was allowed under the rules. We now need a system where we have strict enforcement of high standards for our market, we stop illegal activity and avoid those illegitimate goods coming in and we do not diminish and devalue market access, which is a cherished commercial benefit for our country.
There is still the narrative of differential—you can buy premium products for food if you pay extra because they have that extra bit of safety added to them—but we should have got rid of that concept a long time ago. If you go to Tesco and buy any good egg there—and surely they should all be good—the chances are that it was laid in my former constituency in the Scottish Borders just outside Peebles. If you visit the website of the farm company that produces most of Tesco’s eggs across the whole of the United Kingdom, the very first thing that comes up on the home page is that it adheres to the British Lion quality standard, the award assured by the British Retail Consortium and the RSPCA. They are not necessarily statutory but they are industry standards that add reassurance for the consumer.
There has been a lot of reference to the United States and I want to say a couple of things about the relationship with the United States. In the US, as we have seen, many states have lower labour rights, and therefore cheaper labour costs, than we have. That may be regretted by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and others, but it is the case. Feed is cheaper, they can reuse their litter and they use massively cross-subsidised soy and grain production for feed, so they have cheaper inputs and they would already be uncompetitive for us for those reasons. However, the US, in its negotiating mandate with its UK, seeks
“comprehensive market access for U.S. agricultural goods in the UK”,
including by eliminating
“Non-tariff barriers that discriminate against U.S. agricultural goods”.
What are these areas? Not all of them are statutory. Yes, we have inherited elements from the EU, such as the EU broiler welfare directive on stock density, and we monitor welfare and environmental outcomes such as CO2 levels. There is no equivalent of those in any part of the United States. We have non-legislative standards that have no US equivalent, which they see as barriers but we see as something to be protected—and, I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, promoted—such as on the welfare of farmed animals and on the condition of animals. We have salmonella control for food safety; we have antibiotic stewardship, where we collect data for good practice not required by law; and we have a farm assurance scheme that 90% of our chickens, turkeys and ducks are reared to.
Finally, I will turn to an element that still puzzles me greatly about negotiations with the EU. This is where I think we get to the nub of some of the concerns. The US is asking of us what it is asking of the EU, which effectively is to remove some of these barriers, which are protections for standards, thus enabling American producers to be more competitive with us—in effect, making their products cheaper. However, in our negotiations with the EU, the draft text that the Government published states that they are not seeking mutual recognition for testing and certification for foodstuffs. In practice, that means a great burden for our food exporters, who will have to provide prior approval with the supplier along with compliant testing certificates, which are linked to the comments of my noble friend Lord Bruce. We do not seek mutual recognition of this testing and compliance regime. Could it possibly be that Dominic Cummings thinks that if we did do this, it would reduce our scope to agree a trade deal with China or with America, where our standards framework, our testing and our certification are seen as less of a barrier? I hope the Minister will state that that is not the case.
Simply repeating that we would not see legislative reductions is not sufficient. We have to have the protections that the amendments would put in the Bill. This is not an otiose issue. The time is now and the time is right under this Bill to amend it.
My Lords, I apologise for my computer not working properly.
It will be a tragedy if British agriculture suffers rather than benefits from Brexit. It appears that aspects of the Bill are not helpful to British agriculture, although it gives us the ability to restructure in our best interests. I was concerned to see Country Life, of all magazines, with headlines like
“British farming sold down the river” and comments such as
“What a way to repay our farmers, by importing lower-standard products that steal their market”.
Is the Bill, with its many amendments, good or bad for our farmers? That seems to be the fundamental question. Defra Secretary George Eustice has insisted on upholding high welfare and safety standards and insists on the same welfare and food safety rules for imports as there are for our own farmers’ products. We need to put into law what Michael Gove promised when he was at Defra: namely, that Britain would lead the world in animal welfare and food safety.
But it now appears that we are going into trade negotiations having told other countries that we will not insist on either proper agricultural standards or environmental rules, so British farmers will be required to meet higher standards than pertain in other countries and will compete with food and goods exported by those who carry none of the same costs. Liz Truss is rightly pushing for free trade deals with the US and Brazil, knowing that the easiest way to achieve them is to signal her surrender on food exports. If that occurs, though, what a way to repay our farmers if we are importing goods or foods that steal our markets through lower standards and subsidies.
But are we misunderstanding the Bill? Is it not a trade Bill but rather a domestic Bill? It establishes a legalistic framework by which we can create a new system for supporting our farming industry post Brexit. The Bill also sets out a list of activities that could be supported by the Secretary of State. There are prescriptions for reforming our agricultural markets in line with farmers’ objectives. The key issue is to ensure that cheap goods and food imported to the UK do not undercut UK food production costs and standards. Arguably there should be a ban on food imports that do not meet UK standards. What is needed is for the Government to set out how and where this legislation is a friend to our farmers and how we can prevent unfair competition.
My Lords, this has been a long and important debate, with a great deal of agreement across the House. I do not intend to speak at length, repeating points already made. But I add my voice in support of the intentions behind Amendment 270, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and Amendment 271 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester.
A major concern for the future is that trade agreements with other international partners will be at the cost of lower standards in food safety, environmental protections and animal welfare. The Trade and Agriculture Commission set up by the Government and launched today is welcome but, as many noble Lords have noted, it is advisory and therefore cannot enforce import standards. It has no teeth, it is not representative, it does not report to Parliament and it will end in six months’ time.
The UK has a chance, with these amendments, to have a world-leading trade commission ensuring that food standards are upheld for British consumers and farmers alike. It should not be up to the supermarkets and food chains to decide the policy of the standards for the food we eat. Their commitment not to sell or serve chlorinated chicken is of course welcome and the right thing to do, but not everyone everywhere will follow their lead. It is the Government’s job to protect our food, animal welfare and farming standards in any future trade deal. We need to bar imports from producers that produce to lower environmental or animal welfare standards. If we do not, it will spell disaster for our farmers. They must not be undercut by cheaper quality produce. With the proper, stronger, regulatory framework suggested by Amendments 270 and 271, we can maintain high standards in our food and farming and protect public health.
My Lords, I have had quite a long wait as I am the 40th speaker, but I have heard all the other 39. We have had varied contributions, but there has been a remarkable degree of consensus supporting the amendments in general and in particular Amendment 270, so ably moved by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, and Amendment 279, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness.
As I listened, it seemed to me that, as this is the longest and most important Agriculture Bill in my parliamentary lifetime of 50 years, we should ask: what is and should be its prime purpose. It should be twofold. It should be to protect British farming and agriculture. There have been debates on other days, some of which I have taken part in, where there has been talk of public benefit and public good, rather avoiding the central purpose of farming, which is to produce food for our people. It is therefore to protect farming. But I was also much taken by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, when he talked about the need to promote farming.
As I listened to the noble Earl and others, it seemed to me that we could produce a fairly good group of people from your Lordships’ House to protect and promote British farming. I thought of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who made a notable speech, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, who always speaks with a quiet and almost magisterial authority on these things, and the ever-wise noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, now a non-aligned Peer, so he can indulge in being semi-detached, which I am frequently accused of being myself.
I was taken, too, by the speech of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who talked powerfully about the importance of Scottish lamb and its French market. He echoed what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said a few days ago in a slightly different context when he talked about 90% of Welsh lamb going to the European Union. We must face up to the fact that, as we have left the European Union and the transition period will come to an end on
I am not suggesting—no one should—that British farming practices are perfect. There were disturbing pictures a few weeks back of the River Wye, perhaps the loveliest river in England, polluted by the effluent from intensive chicken farming. It is nowhere near as intensive as what goes on in America, which is why the birds have to be washed in chlorine before we can eat them. Just this week we had a graphic reminder from the Prime Minister’s personal campaign, which he launched yesterday, against junk food, much of which is either produced here or has some British ingredients. So we are not perfect, but we have high standards. I do not always take a lot of notice of manifestos, but the Conservative Party manifesto in December made a total commitment to ensure that our standards would be enhanced rather than diminished. If the Bill does not create a situation whereby that can happen, it is, in the immortal words of the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, not fit for purpose.
The Government have themselves acknowledged the value of a commission, but a commission whose recommendations can easily be set aside and whose life is very limited will not really deliver for British farming and the British people. That is why I believe that my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, indicated the right way to go: the establishment of a permanent body that we can all respect, whose judgments and pronouncements will carry weight and which will itself fulfil something of the purpose I referred to a moment ago of both protecting and promoting British farming.
I end by echoing the tributes to my noble friends Lord Gardiner and Lady Bloomfield, because they have certainly borne the burden of the heat of the day. But seven days is not too long to devote to the preliminary scrutiny of the most important Bill of its kind in half a century. The Government will have to show enormous flexibility if they regard our powers of scrutiny as real and important when we come to Report. The seven days will certainly be equalled, or even exceeded, and there could be quite a lot of contact with another place as a result of Report. But my noble friend has great talents of diplomacy. He has a quiet, persuasive ability and I hope he will bring the Bill back on Report incorporating much of what has been proposed in Committee. It would therefore have a speedy and triumphant progress through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 271 and declare my interests as set out in the register.
At Second Reading, I stated that for various reasons, which I gave in my speech, if we crash out of the EU at the end of the year without an agreement, there will be overwhelming pressure on the Government to compete a trade agreement with the United States as soon as possible. I also gave reasons why this might take more time than has been anticipated. However, from recent press reports, it appears that the Government are leaning towards negotiating what Matthew Parris, in his excellent article in the Times on Saturday
However, this is still speculation. We must protect the British people and ensure that they have safe and high-quality food to eat, produced in accordance with high animal welfare and environmental standards. These are the standards we currently follow or exceed. We must retain our vital EU markets and, as emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie, in their compelling speeches, Amendment 271 largely follows the wording of another amendment put down in the other place by the honourable member for Tiverton and Honiton, Mr Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and a highly respected Member of the other place. He put his amendment to the vote and although it was lost, a number of Government members and MPs voted with him, as did the opposition parties.
Over the past few months, a number of Ministers have stated that whatever the pressures, the Government will adhere to the high food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards that we have achieved within the European Union. This should be reason enough to enshrine these standards in our own primary legislation. Ministers come and Ministers go, as I said at Second Reading. If it is not in primary legislation, there are real problems.
I commend to the House an article dated
Three large economies dominate world trade: the European Union, the United States and China. There is a saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I refer to the superb cartoon by Mr Peter Brookes, again in the Times, on Wednesday
“I won’t kowtow to a bullying superpower threatening us over Huawei”.
“Ban it … or else!”
None of us knows the outcome of these negotiations. At this late stage, we are still in a state of uncertainty and confusion. Our fellow citizens and our businesses are being massively and adversely affected by this paralysis, in addition to the terrible Covid tragedy. It is our duty to enact this clause to ensure that the Government fulfil their commitments.
My Lords, I echo the thanks for the Ministers’ patience and the brilliance of the technicians who have helped so much in these last weeks. I will speak in support of Amendment 276 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and Amendment 279 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry.
On Amendment 276, I add only that any treaty or trade agreement that we enter into obviously must take into account our goal of net zero. It seems ridiculous that we should countenance anything else. On Amendment 279, I am very pleased to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Curry, says about the new Trade and Agriculture Committee. I have read it described as a fig leaf and a trojan horse. The RSPCA said:
“We fear this industry-heavy commission will not have animal welfare at its heart”.
I urge the Government to support this amendment, which seeks to beef up the role, status and longevity of the new commission.
After listening to this debate and realising how much agreement there is and that everyone knows that we cannot let our food standards slide, I want to bring into play one other factor. A report from the Nature Friendly Farming Network survey last week said that 96% of people want higher environmental standards to be a key requirement of all future trade deals, to combat the threat of cheap imports. What thought have the Government given to the court of public opinion? There can be little doubt that the majority of this House and many in the other place who supported Neil Parish believe that we should retain our current standards in all our trade deals. However, we are not the only people who matter.
For the record, when I was editor of the Daily Express and Monsanto was poised to move into Britain, having done secret deals with many of our seed companies, I joined forces with Malcolm Walker, the founder and owner of Iceland. We ran a huge public campaign that defeated Monsanto’s endeavour. I am not against genetic modification across the board, but we were against Monsanto’s bullying tactics, which seemed to threaten the stability and independence of our Parliament. This campaign gathered force across the left, the right and the centre and in the end, Monsanto was stopped.
Our Government gave a manifesto commitment to uphold our standards and I believe that they will be taken aback by the level of public anger towards the end of this year. There are very few people—pretty much no one, as far as I can see—who actually want to do anything to jeopardise our food standards. It seems an extraordinary irony that our Prime Minister should yesterday have launched an anti-obesity strategy and an encouragement to get us all to eat healthier, better and fresher food, and tomorrow Henry Dimbleby launches the first draft of his food report, also commissioned by the Government, yet the Government are suggesting that we might adopt lower food standards which will harm not just our farmers but our health, our planet, the animals who live on it and the environmental standards for which so many people have fought for so long. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, where will this cheaper food end up? He is right that it will be in cheaper stores and chicken shops, which will only add to the health inequalities which have such an impact on Covid survival rates. This is not joined-up government thinking—quite the contrary.
We should never be a country that, in the words of my noble friend Lord Curry, exports its cruelty to others. We should not be the buyers of products that have necessitated cutting down rainforest, sentencing pigs to live in farrowing crates or chicken to lie in their own excrement for their whole miserable little life. If we fail on these amendments, we should be ashamed, but your Lordships should rest assured that nothing short of a legally binding agreement will satisfy the British public.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Like her, I thank the Minister, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield and the Bill team for their patience and productivity. We need to complete Committee today, so I will be brief and confine myself to expressing doubts about Amendment 270. I am looking forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister, but I think that this amendment and some of the others in this group would in practice lead to problems in trade negotiations in a way that would cause insurmountable problems of compliance with the World Trade Organization. I cannot see a way around this. Noble Lords do not pay enough attention to the importance of trade, wherever it takes place, at a time when we face recessionary shock. We must tread a careful path.
Since the Bill was first presented in the other place, the Government have gone a long way. They have established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which was launched publicly today, and as Red Tractor is involved in its work, I should again register my interest as its chair. It is a victory for the farming unions which fought for it. It is a well-judged move by the Secretary of State for Trade to get it off the ground quickly in time to provide a sounding board and have an impact on current trade negotiations. In these circumstances, I really cannot see the value in the proposal before us today.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, and it has been a pleasure to take part, albeit a very minor part, in these early stages of the Bill. I have been full of admiration for the passion and knowledge about agriculture shown by so many noble Lords. My family’s connection with farming ended when my great-great-grandfather’s farm in north Wales was taken over as a result of the rent increases imposed during the agrarian revolution of the late 1800s, which precipitated the social change his son described so graphically in his autobiography.
It seems to me that as we discuss the importance of agricultural and food standards in relation to Amendment 271, we could be standing at the cusp of another type of agrarian revolution, one which could again lead to changes in the viability of farms, not just in Wales, but in the whole of the UK. The threat of cheap, poor-quality imports leading to the lowering of domestic standards and a reduction in farm income is very real.
I was conscious, as I listened to some earlier debates, that most of the speakers spoke from experience of large farms in England, and it was a pleasure to hear the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Hain, speak earlier about small family farms, which are so prevalent in Wales. As a young female farmer, Beca Glyn, said in her blog, these farms make,
“valuable contributions … to animal welfare, landscape management and culture; especially the Welsh language”.
Wales is, of course, hilly and mountainous and our climate is mild and wet. This means that only a small proportion of our land is suitable for arable cropping, but grass for the grazing of livestock is in abundance. Our upland and hill farms therefore provide grazing for hardy breeds of cattle such as Welsh Blacks and for hardy Welsh Mountain sheep. Our farmers, who work hard in sometimes very difficult conditions, are proud of their produce and the standards they achieve in animal welfare, and none more so than farmers around the Conwy Valley, where I live. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the quality of our farmers’ produce has been appreciated and valued by customers in the UK and in France as much as it has been in recent years. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about future access to the French market for our sheep.
For our local butchers, mart operators and abattoirs, quality is key, a quality that comes from adhering to high standards. Search their websites and Facebook pages, and the words “pride”, “high standards”, “quality” and “traceability” appear in abundance, so it is hardly surprising that farmers and consumers across Wales have been justifiably appalled and angered by the refusal of the Government to agree to an amendment which would guarantee a commitment to equivalent standards on imported agricultural or food products in this Bill. For them, there is no logic that an Agriculture Bill says nothing about protecting the standards which they have strived for and to which they have adhered. They cannot understand why a Government who committed in their manifesto, just seven short months ago, not to compromise on British farming’s high standards, found it so difficult to accept the amendment introduced at Third Reading in the other place.
Sadly, even the commission announced by the Government today, with its temporary nature and inability to give binding advice, will be seen by farmers and consumers alike as an ineffective sop. Unfortunately, and I dislike having to say this, this has now become a matter of trust. Farmers and consumers alike question why the Government are so reluctant to enshrine their manifesto commitment in law. They ask: could it be that a manifesto commitment is easier to renege on? The Minister is held in the highest regard in your Lordships’ House. He is courteous at all times, even at midnight on Day 6 in Committee, and I know he is a man of his word, but Amendment 271 is on the Marshalled List because farmers’ leaders and consumers have asked for it to be there. They know that in reality we are not dealing with a Minister we know and trust but with a Government who increasingly talk in doublespeak and cannot always be guaranteed to stand by their word. That is why their word has to be on a statutory basis in the Bill.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. When she was describing the difficulties of farmers in the north of Wales she could have been describing my county of Cumbria. The similarities are uncanny, but we knew that, even down to the weather. This seven-day Committee stage has been one of the finest debates that I have been involved in in almost 50 years in the Houses of Parliament. I think a lot of it is due to the way in which we have been led by the two Ministers. I am speaking as a member of the Opposition and am proud to be a Labour Peer, but the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has been an admirable Minister. He deals with us all, from whatever side, equally and in a tolerant way and tries to answer the questions, and he is ably assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who shows the same tolerance. I thank them both very much.
My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, speaks with a great deal of sense and independence. He said that this was the most important agricultural Bill he had ever been involved in since he and I came into Parliament in 1970. He is absolutely right, but it is more challenging this time because, finally, we have realised that agriculture is not completely about farming. It is about forestry. It is about horticulture. It is about land use. It is about food standards and quality. It is about the environment. It is about what can be done through agriculture to cope with climate change. Today, this group of amendments brings home to us the result of Brexit and, accompanying that, trade deals.
Finally, although I have the highest admiration for the Minister, I must accept that there is another problem. It is a problem for any Cabinet and Government: the Prime Minister can do what he wants but there is also the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor warned us only last week that there will be cuts in public services in the coming year. I think everyone believes that the NHS will be excluded and that there will not be austerity cuts. We have to make sure of that and protect everything, including the finance of farming and agriculture.
At one level, if we look at the Trade and Agriculture Commission today, I must admit that there are major flaws. Being temporary means that it does not really have much clout. It has not had a successful PR launch, either. I also believe that, with 15 members, it is probably too large. We need a permanent commission with a smaller membership and with authority. I am not sure that it can build up that authority in six months.
I am very supportive of Amendment 271 and most of the other amendments in this group. I have heard some fine speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Lord Inglewood, Lord Bruce and Lord Hain, and my noble friend Lady Quin, but at the end of the day, there is unity in this Committee on this Bill. We have to commit as much as we can in primary legislation because unless it is in primary legislation, the Executive will defeat the legislature and, I believe, will not provide us with the agricultural Bill that we and the country need.
My Lords, I confess that I have some sympathy with the Minister. He is universally admired and respected in this House but he faces a weight of opinion that I have rarely seen in my 20 years in the House of Lords. Members from all Benches and from right across the UK, including some of the country’s leading experts in their field—backed by the NFU, a coalition of more than 20 environmental and animal welfare groups, the British press and more than a million signatories to a petition—have major concerns about standards going forward after Brexit.
However, I have no sympathy at all with the Government, who profess to have an absolute, unwavering commitment to standards but refuse to put them in the Bill. If they thought that the creation and announcement of the Trade and Agriculture Commission was going to be a sop to noble Lords, today should have disabused them of that idea. As the noble Lord, Lord Curry, highlighted, this body is advisory only. If ever there were a time when we should have the lessons of advisory bodies foremost in our minds, it is now, when we have the recent experience of SAGE.
A number of noble Lords asked why the commission has been set for only six months. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, we are likely still to be negotiating trade deals in three to 10 years’ time.
Among many others, the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised issues such as good husbandry and the way in which poor husbandry elsewhere can be used to undercut British farmers. They highlighted important issues, such as stock density and the overuse of antibiotics.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Boycott, highlighted the question of where this cheap food is likely to end up and suggested that it will be with the poorest in our society. I think that they are right. No one should have to choose between their health and conscience on one hand and their budget on the other. These standards should be guaranteed for everyone.
Many noble Lords commented that this is the most important sets of amendments that we face. I agree: they are important in their own right but they are also important when it comes to thinking about parliamentary sovereignty. It is of course correct that Parliament did not approve, or even properly scrutinise, trade deals negotiated on our behalf when we were members of the EU, but that was entirely our decision; other member states chose to do it differently. Now, having apparently taken back control, the Government still see no role for Parliament in negotiating future trade deals, including on the important issues that we have debated today and despite the enormous public interest in relation to not just food but health, environmental and safety standards.
In recent weeks, we have heard a lot about how these commitments are enshrined in the Conservative manifesto. Manifestoes are meant to be an indicator of the Government’s legislative programme—they are not an end in themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, commented that this is a question of trust in government. I absolutely agree. The Government have a problem here because they are telling business that, post Brexit, there will be a deregulatory bonanza and the creation of Singapore-on-Thames, yet in this regard, we are supposed to believe that these protections and such regulation are absolutely guaranteed. For many people, that is not credible, which is why we need something guaranteeing these standards in the Bill. My party has consistently called for the retention of high standards for food, the environment, safety and animal welfare after Brexit. We seek to ensure that this Bill and others will protect UK consumers and UK farmers.
The Minister has quite a job ahead of him on Report.
This has been another very good debate on a key issue in the Bill. I thank all noble Lords who spoke on these amendments, which cover the key variances in opinion on approaches to food standards.
Amendment 276 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain, which other noble Lords have signed, is essentially the amendment proposed in the other place by Neil Parish and others. Unfortunately, that amendment was defeated. I spoke on this in regard to my Amendment 271, which answers various deficiencies that that amendment encountered. However, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his remarks on the amendment, as he underlined the huge support that it secured with so many of the industry’s representative bodies, including the National Farmers’ Union.
If I may, I will group together Amendment 273 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, which other noble Lords signed, and Amendment 278 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, signed. Both approach the issue of food standards from the position that, after IP completion day, existing UK standards must not be undermined. Amendment 273 underlines the importance of equivalence of standards protecting food safety, the environment and animal welfare. It is clear in its objectives but, unfortunately, it does not provide for how this process will be conducted or implemented, including how the ratification—or denial of ratification—of any international trade deal will be endorsed or refused.
Amendment 278 specifies that the Secretary of State must produce a register of UK production standards, against which agricultural goods must be assessed, which must be updated annually. I do not know whether this is necessary when there is a statute book, or how this process will be judged. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Wigley, for Amendment 280, which is focused on the situation should the UK Government not conclude a satisfactory agreement with the EU in time. It requires that the Secretary of State report to Parliament on the impact of this on the beef and lamb sectors. There have been many debates on the no-deal Brexit situation and its impacts. Even after the Government’s announcements on the temporary tariffs that would apply in that situation, I share the amendment’s concerns. However, I remain confident that there will be an agreement between the UK and the EU in time.
A food and trade commission has been proposed by the National Farmers Union for some time. While we can support such a commission, it does not replace our Amendment 271. Depending on its terms of reference, membership and powers, it could become a welcome means to monitor ongoing improvement in food standards and production standards equivalence in all future trade deals, but only as a second step, having secured the importance of the provisions enshrined in Amendment 271. There was always an apprehension that any food and trade commission would just continue anxiety about whether it will be effective in maintaining the UK’s production standards.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who led on Amendment 270, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who spoke in support of the NFU’s Amendment 279. I have great regard for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, coming as they do from a former chair of the important Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in the other place. I also greatly appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has achieved over many years. I have attended many conferences where he has spoken and have sought his advice on one or two issues in the past. However, both speakers struggled to reconcile their amendments’ proposals with what has now been set up. It was rather confusing: were they really promoting their amendments? On this side of the House, we would not be able to support the present proposals, or able to welcome the version of a food and trade commission launched today. That is a very disappointing position to be in.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry, spelled it out himself: it is not permanent and it does not follow any legislative step to enshrine UK standards. It is not independent; it is merely advisory. It has no formal powers and does not envisage any role for Parliament. His amendment makes no provision regarding wide representation of the many interests that need to be included on any commission. The obvious omissions of consumer interests, animal welfare and environmental organisations and others, have resulted in a crescendo of objections following the announcements. The British Veterinary Association, the RSPCA, Greener UK and Which? have all issued statements of disappointment.
This puts the National Farmers Union and proponents of the commission in a difficult position. Do they withdraw their amendments? They will feel embarrassed in farming circles. We do not need another talking shop for the NFU and its sister organisations in the devolved Administrations to debate for a few months. How does this differ from the trade advisory group that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis asked about? We need decisive and independent scrutiny, after having secured provision for our position. The co-operation between the commission proponents and the Government is interesting. Will the Minister confirm whether Amendment 279, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, was drawn up with his department’s help before it was agreed with the NFU? I understand that his department was taken aback when the Department for International Trade seized it as a method to buy off Back-Bench Conservative dismay at the Government’s position, so that Neil Parish expressed anxiety at the department’s approach to food production standards.
We are still where we have always been on our cross- party amendment to enshrine standards in legislation. Over the short summer weeks until we return to these matters on Report, I would welcome further dialogue with the noble Lord, Lord Curry, the NFU and others. It is imperative that we achieve demonstrable progress across the House, especially regarding the food service sector—that is, food produced for consumption out of the home. Will the Minister continue to want to be seen to vote down amendments upholding the clear commitment to maintain the UK’s food standards on animal welfare, environmental protection and nutritious plant health?
My Lords, this debate has taken four and a quarter hours. I have taken careful note of the range of views, but I well understand that there is a considered view across the Committee about certain points. My noble friend Lady Bloomfield and I are touched by the generous comments made by so many noble Lords. If we sit late tonight, we will have had about 54 hours in Committee, compared with 16 hours in the other place. Before any noble Lord starts to say that that shows what important work we do, when I referred this to my honourable friend the Minister for Farming, she said, “We gave it very thorough consideration; perhaps some noble Lords might have taken it to extreme levels.” I pass on that one, however.
Given the time, I want to spend a little time setting out the legislative context in which all these matters should be considered. As I said at Second Reading, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains our standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health, and food safety at the end of the transition. This provides a firm basis for maintaining the same high level of protection for both domestic and imported products. I feel like repeating that. Because of the time, I will not, but I emphasise those points.
We already have the rules and robust processes in place to protect UK standards. The independent work of our food regulators, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, and rigorous processes will continue to ensure that all food imports into the UK are safe and meet the relevant UK product rules and regulations. This will include imports under new free trade agreements. For example, regulated food products need to pass the FSA’s risk analysis process before being placed on the UK market. This process is rigorous, independent and based on robust scientific evidence. The process will bring a substantial weight of expertise to bear. The FSA has doubled the number of risk assessors since 2017. It can draw on the expertise of 100 scientific experts and support staff and has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. It has also taken wider consumer interest into account, such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security, drawing on appropriate expertise and stakeholders to do so. Moreover, the expertise of other government departments and agencies will be brought to bear in the risk assessment process, as required, including the Animal and Plant Health Agency and Defra officials.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, asked about equivalence and who will determine it. Equivalence will be considered by experts in the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Food Standards Agency. The expert advice and evidence on regulated products will then be presented to Ministers in the UK and devolved Administrations for a decision on whether these products should be placed on the UK market. Secondary legislation would need to be laid before Parliament to authorise new regulated products to be placed on the market and the usual scrutiny processes would apply.
We will repatriate the functions of audit and inspection, currently carried out by the European Commission, to ensure that trading partners continue to meet our import conditions for food and feed safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare. This will include UK officials auditing the food production systems and rules of other countries and carrying out inspection visits to facilities in the countries themselves. I did not hear any of that during the debate. We will also verify that requirements are carried out as stipulated through checks at the border. This will provide a robust system to maintain our high standards going forward. Our audits will ensure that trading partners have the necessary infrastructure and regulation in place to export safe food and animal products to the UK, which either meet or exceed UK import conditions, and will then ensure that these standards are maintained. Again, I did not hear much about any of that during the debate.
Given the protections outlined, the Government believe that sufficient measures are already in place. We are committed to ensuring that trade agreements do not compromise our high standards and will continue to take into consideration the views of relevant stakeholders across the food supply chain on the impact of trade deals. A range of established stakeholder groups is already in place to advise the development of government policy on trade. These include the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and the agri-food chain business group, as well as various supply chain advisory groups such as the arable group, the livestock group and the food and drink panel. These groups already provide valuable expert advice to help government develop trade policy.
The Government listened closely to valuable feedback from Parliament and stakeholders and, to strengthen these existing arrangements, recently established a Trade and Agriculture Commission—I say this to my noble friend Lord Caithness. It will operate under the auspices of the Department for International Trade. Defra is closely involved in its work. It will deal with policy areas that my department leads on and Defra officials are members of the commission secretariat. Earlier today, the Defra Secretary of State delivered a message alongside his counterpart in DIT at the official launch of the commission. If anyone studies the composition of this commission, they will see a wealth of authoritative expertise from across the four countries of the UK. The chair of the group, Tim Smith, has over 30 years’ experience in the sector and is a former chief executive of the FSA. I also worked closely with Nigel Gibbens during his time as Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer; his expertise on animal health and welfare will be invaluable. These individuals, and the rest of the membership, will drive a strong and independent piece of work, which I am sure will stand up to scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about consumer and other bodies. Beyond the membership itself, there will be many ways to engage the commission’s members and other structures that will feed into the group to inform its advisory role. The exact shape and frequency of these will be formalised soon, subject to the chair. Members were approached to join the commission following a process of consultation. We believe that we have ensured that there is an appropriate range of views and expertise on the commission.
With reference to Amendment 279, the remit of the newly formed Trade and Agriculture Commission will cover many of the principles set out by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. It will bring together stakeholders across the industry and the four UK nations, using their expertise to advise on how best the UK can seize new export opportunities that our trade policy can deliver, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises. The aim is to promote our high-quality agri-food produce internationally, while ensuring that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined.
The Trade and Agriculture Commission will help to shape the future of trade and agricultural policy in our current negotiations and in those to come. It will also provide advice to help promote our agenda at the WTO and other international fora, including on international standards for animal welfare and environmental protections, and to advance and protect consumer interests and those of developing countries. This inclusive approach, along with the weighty expertise of members, ensures that the advice the commission produces at the end of its six-month term will be representative and robust. The commission’s report will also come before noble Lords, who will debate it when the Department for International Trade presents it to Parliament.
The Trade and Agriculture Commission’s recent establishment could not have come at a more opportune time, as our trade negotiations with the United States, Australia and New Zealand are live. While measures under the Bill will not come into effect until Royal Assent, the new commission has already started work and will have the opportunity to make recommendations at this crucial time. The Government are committed to building a transparent and inclusive trade policy. Parliament already has a role in scrutinising a finalised trade agreement before it is ratified, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
My noble friends Lord Lilley and Lady Neville-Rolfe asked about WTO rules in relation to Amendments 270 and 271. I am advised that both these amendments would raise issues under WTO rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about food. High standards and high quality are what our domestic and global customers demand, and that is what we should provide. Our standards should and will ensure that consumers are able to have confidence in choosing products that conform to UK values, whatever their budgets.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard asked about the UK and EU standards. The UK Government will take a science-based approach to SPS measures and take their own sovereign decisions on standards and regulations, in line with the principles of the WTO SPS agreement and other relevant internationally recognised guidance. We will ensure that our high standards of food safety and animal welfare are not compromised.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked about environmental protections. WTO rules allow for the adoption of measures on public policy grounds, such as protecting human, animal and plant life or health. This is subject to discipline in the relevant agreements, including that these measures do not arbitrarily discriminate between WTO members and are not disguised restrictions on international trade.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about labelling requirements on imported food. Food labelling rules apply to all food intended for supply to final consumers or to caterers. Imported food needs to be fully compliant before it is placed on the market in the UK. Furthermore, the name and address of a food business in, or importer into, the UK after the transition period will be required on the label. There are no exceptions to food labelling rules for imported food. My noble friend also asked about tariffs and the US deal. The third round of negotiations is taking place this week. We will always ensure that the UK FTAs are fair and reciprocal, and that any opening up does not cause an unwanted downturn for domestic producers.
On enforcing FTAs and offshore tribunals, the Government are clear that when negotiating FTAs we will continue to protect our right to regulate in the public interest, including in such areas as environmental standards. This right to regulate is recognised in international law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked important questions about Northern Ireland. The withdrawal agreement joint committee met again on
My noble friend Lord Dobbs rightly emphasised that exports and the promotion of trade are important elements in this. I thought that we had a very good discussion on these with so many noble Lords referring to, and being rightly proud of, many products from all parts of the kingdom. If I had longer, I would name-check not only the noble Lords but their produce. However, we can all be proud of the great products that our farmers create and produce with their great husbandry across the nation.
I turn to the final amendment in this group, Amendment 280. The political declaration sets an aim for tariff-free and quota-free trade between the UK and the EU. The Government are working hard to achieve that. There are currently no tariffs and no quotas for trade between the UK and EU. Talks with the EU suggest that we will maintain tariff and quota-free access; the best way to achieve this is through a free trade agreement. Reducing the cost pressures and processes associated with trade is in the interests of people and businesses across the UK, including the beef and lamb sectors.
For quotas that form part of the commitments within our goods schedule, which has been lodged at the WTO, the UK has already agreed a common approach with the EU to apportion EU 28 tariff-rate quotas between the UK and EU 27 in order to ensure existing trade flows are maintained. Legislation will be presented by the Treasury later this year under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 to establish new tariff quotas in UK law.
We already have means of monitoring these markets, including the lamb and beef sectors. Defra and the devolved Administrations have developed a UK agriculture market monitoring group that allows officials in Defra and the devolved Administrations to monitor and assess the impact of market developments across the UK. This will enable any market disturbances to be identified and allow Ministers to consider appropriate actions.
I am mindful of what many noble Lords have said not only about the lamb and beef sectors but about agriculture in general. I assure noble Lords that we in Defra are absolutely mindful and want to have a successful conclusion to our negotiations not only with the EU but across the world.
As I say, I think we may have missed some tricks in this House by not demonstrating enough the positivity and the opportunities for British agriculture. In the blend of how we have been, I detect too much negativity, and that does rub off in a not very helpful way for our important sector, because we want to be proud of exporting that great British produce around the world.
I well understand the point that has been made by so many noble Lords that this must be on the face of the Bill. I respectfully remind noble Lords that, yes, we are a revising and scrutinising House; there is another one that is the elected one and we should always be mindful of that as well. However, I have said that I have listened very carefully to what noble Lords have said, and I am well aware of the arithmetic of this House and the arithmetic on this particular matter. However, we should also be mindful that there is another Chamber that is the elected House.
It has been very interesting and, as I say, I have found it very valuable to have the intricacies of some of the points that have been made about particular amendments. However, this evening, I hope that my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, speaking in this particular spot I feel I have to echo the thanks and compliments to the Minister from many noble Lords in this debate for his usual detailed answers that fully engaged with the issues, as we have seen throughout this debate and particularly in this marathon session.
I note what the Minister said about food standards and attempts to guarantee those in the UK, which—if we think back the horsemeat scandal—have not always been successful. In establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission, the Government have acknowledged that there are issues here to be addressed, which the amendments in this group are seeking to get to grips with on perhaps a deeper and longer level.
I am sure the Minister knows that, just this month, the first shipment of Chinese-cooked chicken went into the United States market—unlabelled—and, were chicken to be shipped from the US to here, it could equally make its way here. It is planned that, by the end of the year, uncooked chicken will be going from China to the US, despite the issues of food adulteration that have occurred in that country, and also the issues of avian influenza, for example.
My question is not specifically about the Chinese chicken in the US potentially coming here; it is a broader question. How can the Trade and Agriculture Commission, operating for six months, deal with the situation of the continually changing global trade in food and issues that will keep arising after its six-month term?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. As I say, that is precisely why we have established stakeholder groups as well. I think the commission is going to be invaluable to the Government; it will set the parameters and the issues at large with an expert group, but we will always continue to work with stakeholders because we want to have successful trading partnerships around the world, particularly—as I say—promoting great British food and drink.
My Lords, I do not feel in the least embarrassed by my amendment, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. It is precisely because of concerns about the limited authority of the commission that was launched today that I have tabled Amendment 279. I reassure him that I did not collude with Defra in constructing the amendment; however, I did it with the full support of the NFU.
I will respond to the Minister’s usual very comprehensive response. I am very, very positive indeed about the future of agriculture after we leave the European Union. I have said a number of times that this is one of the most exciting points in history—in my lifetime—and we have a great opportunity to promote British agriculture, food and standards around the world. It is a really interesting and exciting opportunity.
However, I am disappointed that the Minister has not been willing to recognise the weight of opinion in the debate this afternoon. I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, will reinforce this. I ask the Minister to reflect on the comments made today before we return in September for Report. The importance of this issue will not diminish over the summer and it would be really helpful if the department were willing to table its own amendment on this subject on Report.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because I was mightily confused at the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, had had a discussion with me or any Defra official.
I said I had made a very careful note of the points that were made. I do not think I can say any more than that at this stage, but I will certainly be ensuring that my ministerial colleagues know the strength of feeling across much of the House. However, it is also incumbent upon me to say to your Lordships that we are a revising and scrutinising House, and the other place—the elected House—also has a very strong constitutional function to fulfil.
The Minister recognised the importance of having a deal; without one, it will be a disaster, especially for producers of cattle and for the whole of the lamb sector. However, even with a deal, there will be a requirement for veterinary health certificates and there will obviously be inspections. Is the Minister mindful of the fact that this in itself will create some friction and cost? Would the department be willing to look at that situation and determine whether support is required to maintain that flow of export, even in the circumstance that we have a deal, while acknowledging that with no deal there is very little we can do other than face disaster?
I am most grateful to the noble Lord; that is an important point. The department is working on all those matters, because we recognise that we need a successful trading agreement, and we are mindful of the importance of the speedy passage of products, particularly in the food sector. The department is fully seized of and is working on these matters so that we have the resources and personnel in order to effect what the noble Lord is seeking.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for taking us to this point. I do not think he has satisfied the Committee; I will return to that. However, I thank him most fulsomely for his approachability, patience and ability to cover such a wide range of subjects, not just this evening but throughout the proceedings.
I add my thanks to the clerks, the Public Bill Office, the Government Whips’ Office, the broadcasting and digital services—without whom we would have struggled to even begin to discuss this—and, especially, the Bill team, who have been here at all hours of the day and night as we have discussed this.
I was delighted when I heard that a commission was being set up, having first secured a Question for Short Debate on
“to establish a trade standards commission in advance of negotiating trade deals.”—[
I have found, both in the other place and in this House, that I have been advised to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I urge my noble friend the Minister—as he regroups and as we leave once proceedings have concluded this evening—to consider that the best possible solution would be for him to use his very good offices and come forward with a compromise amendment, pulling out some of the key themes on which there has been a huge consensus. However, there have been one or two noble Lords we have not been able to persuade at this stage.
I would like to meet the Minister’s lawyers in the department to discuss whether or not this will be compatible with the World Trade Organization. My information is that, according to the WTO, exemptions are allowed for countries to set their own standards, based on the science, in limited circumstances, applying measures
“only to the extent necessary to protect animal, plant and human life or health”,
which we also discussed in the context of Amendment 256.
I regret that my noble friend the Minister missed the opportunity to put my mind, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and others, to rest. Noble Lords asked what the relationship will be with the existing expert trading and agriculture commission—it has various titles. We did not get a reply to that, which was unfortunate. I believe that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is the body best suited to set out the detail and to consider what the criteria will be on reaching each of the trade agreements that come before the House.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on everything, but we did have—as he reminded the House this evening—major success on the Trade Bill, with a number of amendments adopted which I now consider to be government policy. It is absolutely essential, whether we are discussing the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, the immigration Bill or the Environment Bill, that we say the same thing on each Bill.
I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister has recognised the remit of the commission, but I am disappointed that it is going to last for only six months. I think the mood of the Committee this evening is that this is not long enough; it should be permanent and should look at the text of each individual agreement and give its views on those.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, said that the time has to be now. I believe that this is the Bill and this is the occasion and, if not this evening, I beg leave to return to this group of amendments and to the themes that we have discussed. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 270.
Amendment 270 withdrawn.
My Lords, we still have quite a lot of business to do tonight and it is getting late already. I suggest that noble Lords are concise and to the point, so that we can get this important Bill through in a timely manner.
Amendments 271 to 274 not moved.