Amendment 89ZA

Agriculture Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 22nd September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Lord Grantchester:

Moved by Lord Grantchester

89ZA: Clause 35, page 32, line 45, at end insert—“( ) where a product is imported, a statement of compliance with the relevant domestic standards and regulations specified under section (Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards).”

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

At the start of the House’s considerations on day three of Report, I declare my interests as stated in the register, and that I am in receipt of funds under the CAP system.

I rise to move Amendment 89ZA in my name, and I thank my co-signatories to Amendment 93—the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—for transferring their support to this amendment as well. This amendment relates to subsection (2) of Clause 35, “Marketing standards”, in Part 5. That imported food products comply with British domestic standards needs to be backed up with certainty for the British consumer. Clause 35 also specifies Schedule 4, where agricultural products are made relevant to marketing standard provisions.

It is vital that the Bill sets the vision for the future approach of the UK’s agricultural and food policy. It can also signal to existing and future trading partners that the UK is committed to championing high quality and high standards in food around the world. While the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission may have calmed some people, the temporary and limited nature of that body—which we will discuss in a later group of amendments—has served only to energise others.

There was a lot of debate in Committee on labelling, and this will be reflected today in discussions on amendments in the next group. In the UK, there are several quality schemes—the Red Tractor mark, Freedom Food, British Lion, organic and many others—which allow consumers to know at a glance that the products they are purchasing meet certain requirements. While these should continue to act as identifiers of quality British product, rather than being extended in their scope, Amendment 89ZA would allow the department to introduce the merits of some form of “meeting UK standards” badge. However, labelling would not work universally in practice, as 50% of food is consumed outside the home. The importance of the food service sector has been highlighted repeatedly throughout discussions on the Bill. That is why the amendment is linked intrinsically to Amendment 93 in this group, which I shall speak to now.

I am grateful that the Government agree that Amendment 93 is understood to be consequential to Amendment 89ZA. I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for adding her name to this amendment, signalling how important this is to her and her party. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for consistently championing high standards in production methods, the environment and the importance of nutrition.

The strong theme running through your Lordships’ deliberations on the Bill is that of standards. This is not just a matter of food safety. Standards are important in husbandry methods—agricultural, horticultural and forestry—environmental and climate aspects, food nutrition and labelling, and imported foodstuffs marketed in this country. This group of amendments will determine how the UK’s standards will be set at the outset of our EU exit, and how they will be maintained.

Low-quality food cannot be allowed to jeopardise rural communities by undercutting UK farmers with product made using methods that would be illegal here. The National Farmers’ Union mounted a campaign on production standards that attracted over 1 million signatures. A Which? report found that British people really care about their food and expect that the UK will maintain high standards and, with time, enhance them—95% of respondents agreed with such a statement.

Consumers care about the welfare implications of, for example, US production methods that necessitate that chickens need chlorination to be made safe. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef to be permitted to be imported and available on supermarket shelves. Voters who voted to get Brexit done can be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be enshrined in legislation—after all, it was in the Conservative Party manifesto. Now certainly is the chance to get it done here. In the Commons, a previous Conservative Government Minister, Neil Parish, proposed a similar amendment. He is now chairman of the prestigious Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

This amendment makes various key improvements. It prevents any agri-food chapters of a trade agreement being ratified unless, first, the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement confirming that any products imported into the UK will meet the minimum production standards of British law at the time of entry into the country. Secondly, the Secretary of State must lay regulations specifying a process for determining that the standards to which an imported food product has been produced or processed

“are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health”.

Thirdly, the House of Commons must approve the relevant trade deal chapters, and your Lordships’ House must debate them, in much the same fashion as it did the Brexit withdrawal deal.

Supermarkets have also endorsed the commitment to protect British food standards from dilution in trade deals. Waitrose and Aldi have committed to not stock lower-standard imported food. Just recently, the first stage of the Defra-commissioned national food strategy, chaired by Henry Dimbleby, also called for such a verification programme of core standards for imported food.

I turn now to Amendments 94 to 96, in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. His explanatory statements claim that Amendment 93 as drafted is inconsistent with the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement as it refers to domestic, not international, standards. I hope noble Lords will indulge me if I read a short extract from the WTO’s own guidance on SPS agreements:

“The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It allows countries to set their own standards. But it also says regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. And they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary.”

Finally, the last part says:

“The agreement still allows countries to use different standards and different methods of inspecting products.”

Noble Lords will know that, in agriculture, as in other areas, international organisations such as the European Union and the WTO set baseline standards and regulations with a view to ensuring some form of level playing field. However, they are just that—a baseline. In the EU, member states often exceed these standards and, by the WTO’s own admission, the UK is free to do so if that is based on evidence and it treats different trading partners consistently. As the Government have said, the UK currently has policies in place that restrict the importing of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. These policies are evidence-based, with studies showing that certain harmful bacteria can survive chlorine rinsing, and the ban applies equally to other countries. The US is often cited as an example, because it is one of the few producers that employs the technique in a widespread manner. Other countries, such as Australia, also have problematic animal welfare standards.

The noble Viscount, having long espoused the positives of leaving the EU and its supposedly overburdening regulations, now appears to be taking the position of arguing against the UK Secretary of State establishing a set of domestic standards in British law. Instead, he seems to be proposing that we fully align ourselves to international agricultural regulations, even in cases where this may undermine our own interests or those of our farmers. I will allow noble Lords to draw their own conclusions on the intention behind these amendments, but I do not regard them as necessary. I therefore hope that, if they are pushed to a vote, your Lordships’ House will reject them, allowing Amendment 93 to return to the Commons in the form printed on the Marshalled List.

I close by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Empey, for their Amendments 103 and 105. They may have taken slightly different approaches, but the theme is consistent: the legislation before the House should deliver on the Government’s own stated aim of maintaining the UK’s high agricultural and animal welfare standards. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for Amendment 90. We agree with the sentiments behind the amendment but cannot support it, as our amendment is much preferred. I hope that all noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments in my name and I signal my intent, at this stage, to call for Divisions on them. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee 4:00 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to support Amendments 89ZA and 93, both of which I have signed. Noble Lords have received repeated assurances from the Government that, to quote from the most recent Defra briefing note,

“in all future trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

With this assurance, why is Amendment 93 needed? For me, there are unanswered questions and uncertainties about the Government’s statement. I will summarise some of them.

First, the wording of the Defra briefing notes that I have just quoted avoids saying that there will be no imported food of lower standards than UK-produced food. Perhaps this is because the Government consider that imposing certain domestic standards on imports may breach WTO rules as “technical barriers to trade”. This was just discussed in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. According to the interim report from Henry Dimbleby, we are already able to import certain commodities produced in ways that would not be allowed in the UK—for instance, using neonicotinoid pesticides. It is also unclear whether the pledge that the Government make applies only to novel foods, as it refers to the future, or to existing approved foods. My first question is: what is the Government’s position?

My second question is: what is meant by food standards? Standards is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. How do the Government define it? For instance, do they include food production standards in the definition?

Thirdly, it is not clear what role the Food Standards Agency and its sister organisation Food Standards Scotland will play alongside other bodies mentioned by Defra, namely the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive. This is pertinent, as the Food Standards Agency is an independent, non-ministerial department while the other bodies are not independent—they are executive agencies, or non-departmental public bodies, directly accountable to their parent departments. Will the Food Standards Agency advise on welfare and environmental standards as well as on food safety standards?

Fourthly, the Defra statement does not say who will police production standards of imported food as it crosses the border. The Food Standards Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency currently check food safety and phytosanitary standards, but not production standards.

Fifthly, the Food Standards Agency will have to carry out additional duties in future. Has it been given sufficient additional resources in its baseline to carry these out? If so, who has determined the amount of extra money required?

Sixthly, and finally, the briefing says that decisions on imported foods will be taken by Health Ministers informed by the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. What are the other factors that Ministers will take into consideration when making these decisions? The briefing implies that they will not simply follow the advice of the FSA or FSS but will take other factors into account.

It is only by supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93 that we can be sure that the Government are bound to their commitment not to import food of lower standards than our own domestic products. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions but, as things stand, I will support these amendments if there is a vote and urge other noble Lords to do the same.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs. I, too, thoroughly support the amendment. I apologise for my internet connection and hope that noble Lords can hear me.

Food is already in a mess, before we even contemplate lowering the standards that we have. For instance, we already know that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg of bad food that comes into this country. I am greatly worried not just about the environmental impacts of cheap and bad food on the planet but also about its health implications. Bad food is the result of overconsumption and overproduction of processed, sugary foods, yet recently US negotiators have said that they were concerned that labelling food with high sugar content

“is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.

Anyone who has been involved in food politics knows that that is rubbish. It is like saying that labelling a packet of cigarettes as jolly good for your health is a way that will not help change consumer behaviour. This is completely contrary to over 20 years of UK policy to introduce clear, front-of-pack, traffic-light nutrition information to help shoppers easily identify which products are high in sugar, salt and fat. Reading any of the Government’s proposed new obesity strategies shows that this labelling is planned to be even clearer.

Across the world, labelling is already incredibly complicated. The industry likes it like that. It does not want things to be simple. However, there are people around the world trying to deal with this. For instance, the Health Minister in Chile recently decided that no cereal companies could use cartoons to sell their products, so Tony the Tiger disappeared, replaced by a black splodge. Children now tell their parents not to eat that cereal. If we do not set high standards, we will never be able to change things like this. We will not even be able to label sugar clearly.

I am also very worried about what will come into this country. Why on earth do we need more American biscuits? If you take a biscuit such as Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered cream biscuit, extremely like a Penguin, we will get this in spades and it will be cheaper than the Penguin, which already sells to 99.1% of households. Low-quality food is unhealthy food. It has usually meant deforestation in its production, terrible treatment of animals and, as I said the other day, there are over 60 billion of them; 80% of all living creatures on earth sit in cages waiting to be fed to us.

We have fought very hard for our high standards, and it seems quite extraordinary that at a moment of extreme crisis in health and the environment, we should even need to have this debate, let alone have the feeling that the Government might try to overrule it when this Bill goes back to the Commons. Even supermarkets are agreed that we cannot lower our standards. I listened the other day to Christiana Figueres say that we only have 10 years to get on top of the climate crisis, and that in 10 years we must cut our emissions by 50%. Food and agriculture contribute hugely to this, and if we do not have standards that look at the environmental impact, then quite frankly, we have not got a prayer. Next year, we are leading the COP. We should now be talking about achieving higher standards, not fighting to defend the ones that we already have.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is a leading light on the advisory panel of the Dimbleby report, which I will refer to shortly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving the lead amendment in this group. I do not intend to repeat many of the comments that have been made; he has very eloquently addressed the issues of the amendments in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and others, which purport to fall foul of the World Trade Organization.

I shall speak initially to Amendment 90, and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who have been on this journey with a similar amendment in the original rollover trade Bill, on which we made a lot of progress. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rather annoyingly, got in before me by tabling the amendment that was carried. We will discuss that further in the context of the trade Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said when moving Amendment 89ZA, this is an issue that consumers and farmers care passionately about. It was front and centre of the Conservative manifesto—not that I saw that—which we want to build on with this amendment, to then adopt what was originally government policy in the rollover trade Bill. I will not refer to it, but it complements Amendment 97 which follows later.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, referred to part 1 of the interim report by Henry Dimbleby—I almost called him a noble Lord—in the National Food Strategy. On page 7 he refers to

“grasping the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be. The essence of sovereignty is freedom—including the freedom to uphold our own values and principles within the global marketplace. In negotiating our new trade deals, the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justly proud. It should also have the confidence to subject any prospective deals to independent scrutiny: a standard process in mature trading nations such as the United States, Australia and Canada. If we put the right mechanisms in place, we can ensure high food standards, protect the environment and be a champion of free trade.”

There we have it. We are taking back control. I applaud that in this sea change, for the first time in nigh-on 50 years, we will decide how we trade.

I am proud of the high standards that this Government and successive Governments have imposed on production, which our British farmers are only too proud to meet. Consumers set great store by them, as evidenced by the 1 million signatures on the petition to maintain those high standards. We need fair competition and a level playing field. Yes, I applaud the Government saying that we will keep our high standards, but as Henry Dimbleby pointed out, we need to have the other side of the coin. We need to ensure and have it on the face of this Bill, in this place, that we will not import agricultural foods especially, and other goods, that are produced to lower standards. Those are two sides of the same coin. The Government are half way there, and in Amendment 90 I hope to nudge them a little further, building on the conclusions of their own adviser, Henry Dimbleby. Obviously, I prefer Amendment 90 to Amendments 89ZA and 93, but that is something on which the House will decide.

I am reluctant even to consider Amendments 94 and 95, because the terminology is very confusing, and in any event, I worry about us leaving the EU with no deal because the dispute resolution mechanism of the World Trade Organization is in great jeopardy, given the position of the United States. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in that we need to differentiate the terminology that we use quite loosely regarding the difference between food standards and food safety. I have the highest respect for the work that is done in England especially, by our own Food Standards Agency, with which I am more familiar.

We must be clear that if anybody in this country were to eat chlorinated chicken, they would not get food poisoning or anything else that was unsafe in that regard. As I understand it, chicken is rinsed in chlorine because of the intensive levels of production. This is also why beef is injected with hormones: they are not reared outside, so farmers must compensate.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on his amendment, and refer to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because the argument has moved on. Even if we carry the amendments here today, I am extremely worried that they would not find favour in the House of Commons. It appears that the Government are seriously considering allowing in these substandard products, as I would call them, but placing tariffs on them and labelling them. That is completely unacceptable, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has encapsulated that possibility in Amendment 103. It sets out amending or revising UK global tariff rates, and specifically relates to having regard for the well-being of the UK agricultural sector and the importance of maintaining standards of imported goods which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards.

We could end up in a situation that the Minister, in summing up this debate, will remember only too well: the unilateral ban in this country on sow stalls and tethers. Yes, we had the red tractor system, to which the noble Lord referred, and all those accreditations which I entirely endorse and support, but the consumers went out and voted with their feet. They read the label, but they looked at the price and bought the cheaper imports. I do not want to place our consumers in that difficult position, and I do not want to see family farms where I grew up, and which I represented for 18 years, go to the wall because the Government will not sign on the dotted line the Bill with this group of amendments. I shall weigh up the level of debate when deciding on my own amendment.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:15 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I reassure noble Lords that I intend to speak only once, despite being listed to speak twice on this group.

I put my name to Amendment 90 because it echoed the form of words that the Government accepted in early 2019—only 18 months ago—and it was inserted into the Trade Bill. Now, the Government are no longer prepared to sign up to it. I puzzled over what had changed, but now, given the events of the past two weeks, the answer has become clear. The May Government intended to align the United Kingdom with European regulatory standards. The Johnson Government are not happy to do this and, instead, in the event of no deal or a very skinny deal, want the option to pivot to the United States regulatory regime.

It is clear that a choice has to be made, as the two regimes are very different. If we align with European standards, there will be no issue with our existing animal welfare, hygiene or food standards. However, if we switch to United States regulatory standards, without which a trade deal with the United States will be very unlikely, if not impossible, British agriculture and British farmers will face great challenges, and many, I fear, will lose their livelihood.

Some noble Lords argued in Committee that farmers would rise to the challenge and would find a way to compete successfully in the United States market, but I must tell them that, for a start, those exporting lamb would have great problems, as Americans generally do not eat lamb. My guess is that farmers would struggle to access United States markets, save perhaps in niche areas.

Since Committee, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has been published and has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. This presents a further threat to British agriculture, as it would allow cheap food imports to circulate freely around the United Kingdom, except in Northern Ireland. This is of course exactly what United States farming businesses are seeking, and no doubt the United States Government are putting great pressure on the United Kingdom Government to deliver it. However active our National Farmers’ Union has been in mobilising extensive public support behind high food and animal welfare standards, I assure noble Lords that its efforts pale beside the relentless drive of the United States farming lobby, which has the weight and power of Congress behind it, plus close ties to a number of British parliamentarians, who are also putting pressure on the Government.

I can think of no greater impetus towards independence in Scotland than the Scottish Government being unable to ban cheap, often unhygienically produced, food imports. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, reminded us in Committee, the availability of cheap imported food across England, Wales and Scotland would cause huge problems for farmers in Northern Ireland and, as the United Kingdom is its biggest single market, would render them uncompetitive. Farmers in many parts of Wales and Scotland would also face similar challenges.

In Committee, we were assured by the Minister that existing laws on the statute book would safeguard our food and animal welfare standards, and that therefore amendments in this group were unnecessary. As we have also heard, clear promises were made in the Conservative election manifesto. I say to the Minister that laws can easily be changed by this Government, with their great majority in the House of Commons. Who, after the events of the last two weeks, can have any faith in Conservative manifesto pledges? I believe in the sincerity of the Minister but I do not believe in the sincerity of the Government.

Tens of millions of people in this country—over 80% of the population, according to recent polls—are looking to Parliament to uphold our existing high food standards and to keep out of the United Kingdom produce from the United States, in particular, which has been unhygienically treated and cheaply produced as a result of animal welfare standards which would not be allowed in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, so graphically told us in Committee. Unless and until our high standards are written into legislation, a large majority of people across the country will not believe that the Government will deliver on their promises. If and when they do not, that will be a much greater threat to British farmers, British consumers and our agricultural exports than the common agricultural policy ever was.

Given the way in which government policy has evolved since Committee, I believe that we now need a more comprehensive amendment than Amendment 90, and I am very happy to support Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, if moved, in this group in the hope that they command the support of as many noble Lords as possible. I believe that we need to send a clear message to the Commons and the Government, setting out what the people of this country very reasonably are asking of us.

Finally, I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that a Government who are willing to break international law can surely find a way to interpret WTO regulations flexibly. Many other countries find ways of reconciling WTO rules with maintaining high standards of food and animal welfare and hygiene, and I have no doubt whatever that the United Kingdom can do exactly the same if it wishes.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I commend Amendments 89ZA and 93, and Amendment 90, to which I have added my name.

There should be no compromises on food standards. Agriculture and trade are clearly inextricably linked. From the Northern Ireland perspective, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, would agree, we want to protect our existing food standards. We do not want the import of inferior-quality food, because we regard the food that our farmers produce to be of such high quality that it should be safeguarded and protected. Therefore, there must be regulations that do not lower animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products below established UK or EU standards.

Animal health and food standards are vital, particularly at this time of a pandemic. I go back to the report of our Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Select Committee produced earlier this year, Hungry for Change, for which we received evidence from Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the national food strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, he was quite clear that the consumer and the farmer want good-quality food. They do not want any compromise on standards, and they definitely do not want food imports of a lower quality. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-infused beef. Such standards have to be protected, and that has to be written on the face of the Bill.

I remind noble Lords of the debates on the Agriculture Bill in the other place several months ago, particularly on the amendments concerning food standards. Farmers, farmers’ unions, environmentalists, the Food Foundation and the National Trust all believe that we and the Government need to hold food imports to the same standards that currently exist in this country. There must be no lowering or undermining of those standards in order to bring in cheaper food of an inferior quality. I would like to hear the Minister say today that he accepts these amendments—their words, their tenor and the sentiment behind them—and that they should be written on the face of the Bill. I support them.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:30 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I support the first three amendments, Amendments 89ZA, 90 and 93, and Amendments 103 and 105. I shall ignore Amendments 94, 95 and 96 because they are inconsequential spoilers, and I think it is wrong to put them in this group.

At the very start of the Bill, I said to the Minister that the Government had managed to unite the National Farmers Union, Greenpeace, consumer organisations, supermarkets, the Green Party and the great British public, and that this probably meant the Government had got it wrong. This is possibly the most important amendment that we will discuss in the whole Bill because it is one that almost everyone in Britain cares about. One of the things that we get knocked around the head with, particularly when we talk about policing and counterterrorism, is Ministers telling us that this is “the will of the people”. Well, Amendment 89ZA embodies the will of the people to maintain our food standards.

When we talk of American standards, we all know that that is an oxymoron; they do not exist. Its farming practices and animal welfare standards are vile, and we should be ashamed that there is any idea that it might be able to import into our country. This is essential protection for British farming. There is no doubt that the amendment has to pass today. I hope that some of the MPs in the Commons will have a bit of backbone and support it as well.

As the internal market Bill, which has not yet arrived in your Lordships’ House, proves, we cannot trust the Government—on anything, really. They are desperate to make trade deals and are happy to bend and break laws and agreements. The Minister has been very helpful and given noble Lords repeated assurances but, as the resignation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, proves, no matter how honourable and trusted Ministers are in this House, Boris Johnson’s Government cannot be trusted and will ignore or overrule Lords Ministers. The only solution to this problem is clear wording in the Bill to protect British farming standards against this desperate Government. Again, I say that this is truly the will of the people.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I declare again my interests as stated in the register. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Noakes for adding her name to mine on these amendments. I look forward to hearing her contribution and those of other noble Lords.

Like many noble Lords, I attended most of the seven days of Committee on the Bill. Although there were amendments that I thought would improve it, I felt that a large majority were either redundant or harmful. Many were proposed by noble Lords who have consistently opposed Brexit and, even if they now accept the decision of the people and the result of the general election of December 2019, still seek to align our rules and regulations as closely as they can with those of the EU, even in cases where the EU is a global outlier.

There is much that I like about Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, as I said in debate in Committee. It is right that any new trade agreements that we enter into should confirm the UK’s acceptance of its rights and obligations under the World Trade Organization’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. As we start to participate in the WTO as a new independent member, it is important that we do all that we can to strengthen its relevance and remit, which have been weakened by the ambiguous attitude towards it held by the present American Administration. The US has refused to nominate new members to the appellate body, which is hampering the hearing of appeals. The UK should become a leading advocate internationally for rules-based free and fair trade because that is the way to build a more prosperous world. Indeed, given the US disregard for the WTO, the UK as the fifth-largest economy will be able to take the lead in reviving support for international trade liberalisation, which has lacked a champion.

The problem with the noble Lord’s amendment is that there is a conflict between proposed new subsection (2)(a), which would require trade agreements to conform to the SPS agreement, and proposed new subsection (2)(b), which would require all food imports to conform to domestic standards, which means EU standards. EU standards conflict in some instances with the SPS agreement, which encourages Governments to adopt national SPS measures consistent with international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Most of the WTO’s member Governments participate in the development of these standards in three other international bodies: the Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Health Organization; the World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE; and the International Plant Protection Convention.

The SPS agreement aims to ensure that measures are applied for no other purpose than that of ensuring food safety and animal and plant health. Such measures should be based as far as possible on the analysis and assessment of objective and accurate scientific data. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, the SPS agreement permits countries to adopt standards higher than international standards if they think it appropriate but only if there is scientific justification, not if such standards are misused for protectionist purposes and not if they result in unnecessary barriers to international trade.

The EU is a global outlier in international food standards because it gives too much importance to the precautionary principle, which obstructs innovation and interferes with free and fair trade, thus driving prices higher than they need be. A case in point is the EU ban on hormone-treated beef, which the WTO ruled is not based on sound science and denies EU consumers access to US beef at affordable prices. I know there are noble Lords who might welcome the price of beef rising to such levels where economics will force people to change from a mixed diet, including a significant amount of meat, to a largely or all-vegetarian diet, but, besides interfering with the freedom of the consumer to choose what diet he or she wishes to eat at affordable prices, such restrictions will interfere with and limit the ability of British beef farmers to sell to new markets overseas at competitive prices.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said he thought I was seeking to prevent the Secretary of State setting UK standards and requiring him to conform exactly to international standards. I do not think I am trying to do that in any way. I believe that we import many products manufactured in countries with different labour laws, environmental standards and animal welfare rules. Of course we must set domestic standards at the high levels that we rightly wish to uphold.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said that chlorinated chicken was “bad food”. For a start, most chicken grown and reared in the United States is treated not with chlorine but with peracetic acid. Secondly, I do not believe that it is bad food; certainly, I have never found it bad when I have eaten rather good roast chicken on visits to the US. If people do not want to buy American food because they think American farmers’ standards are too low, they do not need to. However, we are not quite as good as we always think we are; there have been many articles in the newspapers recently about poor poultry food standards, pollution of rivers and so forth. Neither are the Americans anything like as bad as many noble Lords make them out to be; indeed, there is not much difference between American rules on poultry stocking densities and UK rules on the same thing.

If the UK adopts food standards compliant with the SPS agreement, no one will be forced to eat food produced in countries of whose animal welfare standards they disapprove. However, I have not heard any noble Lords on the other side of this argument call for clear food labelling to identify products such as chicken reared in Poland, Brazil or Thailand, where average stocking densities are higher than those permitted in the US or the EU. I understand that Poland does not yet comply with EU rules. It is also interesting that there is no criticism of animals killed in conformity with halal rules to conform with sharia law.

In common with most noble Lords, I applaud the fact that the UK has made a big contribution to the raising of animal welfare standards in the world and I sincerely hope that we will continue to do so. Our efforts in this regard should be made within the OIE, and not by trying to interfere with free markets in food by applying restrictions on imports which will drive up the cost of food, especially at a time when so many people’s livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19.

For decades, the time-honoured way of dealing with SPS and technical barriers to trade rules has been to rely on equivalence of standards and technical regulation. This is because an equivalence or recognition approach ensures that everyone’s overall approach to risk is the same—not that every country’s rules are identical. We are more likely to get better rules, and more pro-competitive ones, if we adopt an equivalence or recognition approach with regulatory competition. Pure harmonisation is unlikely to lead to the best result and tends to increase the regulatory burden on our farmers, making them globally uncompetitive. Moreover, this is the approach of most WTO members. The EU is seen as the outlier. Our trading partners are asking the question: will we truly be “global Britain” or will we be more protectionist than the French? In the former case, we will be welcomed into the community of trading nations; in the latter, we will not.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard; indeed, it was a pleasure to add my name to his Amendments 94, 95 and 96. This is the first time that I have spoken during the passage of this Bill. Until my husband retired, I sometimes described myself as a farmer’s wife—but I claim no special expertise in agriculture and, for the avoidance of doubt, I have no interests to declare. I do, however, have an interest in trade matters; that is what has enticed me into the Report stage of the Bill and these amendments.

I start from the position that the main amendments in this group are not necessary. The Government’s policy is clear: they are committed to high food and welfare standards. They have demonstrated that commitment in all the trade treaties negotiated to date—both the continuity ones and the latest jewel in our trade crown, the free trade agreement with Japan. I am sure that we will go over that ground all over again when we commence our scrutiny of the Trade Bill.

We do not need to write into law what the Government are committed to. I fully accept that Governments do that from time to time, but it is generally done when they have weak parliamentary majorities and need to appease their opponents. Writing into law what the Government will do anyway can be a cheap way out of a confrontation. Noble Lords will know that that is the background to the wording of the Trade Bill that was brought forward by the previous Administration. We are not in that position today. The Government have a solid majority in the other place, which has already rejected similar amendments—and if your Lordships’ House passes these amendments, I would expect a similar response.

There is another reason why these amendments are unnecessary. International treaties have to be ratified using the CRaG procedure, which gives the other place the power to refuse ratification. Amendment 93 contains the equivalent of the CRaG procedure, but I fail to see why we need, effectively, to duplicate CRaG solely for the purpose of agricultural and food imports. If the other place does not like what the Government have negotiated in a trade treaty in relation to food and agriculture, it is open to the other place to refuse to ratify the agreement. Parliament already has the power that it needs by virtue of CRaG. Nevertheless, I have added my name to my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s amendments because, as he has explained, without his amendments, Amendment 93 would not make sense.

Now that we have left the EU, the starting point for our international trade will be the World Trade Organization. I welcome Clauses 40 to 42, which give the Government the necessary powers in the area of agriculture. This means that we should be ensuring that our standards comply with WTO standards; at the moment they do not, because our standards are derived from the EU and are in some respects non-compliant.

Noble Lords may not like the idea of imports of genetically modified crops or hormone-treated beef—I do not want to debate that today—but the plain fact is that the EU has been ruled in violation of the World Trade Organization. Therefore, we will be in violation, too. It is not simply a question of so-called higher UK standards, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, sought to argue.

I am in favour of free markets; I stand against protectionism in its many guises, including protectionism around farmers. I favour science and innovation; that is one reason why being outside the EU is so exciting. But if we start our life outside the EU rigidly applying the rules that we have inherited from the EU, we will be missing a trick. We must start to act globally—and the WTO is where we should start, rather than by putting a wall around our own farming practices.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 4:45 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 103, which stands in my name; in so doing, I again draw attention to my registered interests. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will hardly be surprised if I do not follow their line on this matter. I support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, with which my amendment partly aligns itself.

It is not disputed that imported agricultural goods can have both negative and positive impacts for those in the UK agricultural sector. On the one hand, we may rely on certain imports to maintain and improve the viability of our farms, as well as to protect the health and welfare of our animals. On the other hand, goods which may very well meet the required WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards can nevertheless represent a major threat to the viability of our food producers if they are able to undercut them by incurring lower costs in meeting regulatory standards. Such unfair competition can undermine our domestic food production. It can consequently threaten food security if our domestic capacity is indeed eroded. This is particularly relevant as a consideration at a time when the global pandemic has laid bare our susceptibility to the disruption which extreme events can cause to global food chains.

Just weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, it was revealed that the UK Treasury had been advised that farmers were not needed in the UK, and that we could follow the example of Singapore, which, the Treasury was told,

“is rich without having its own agricultural sector”.

Yet, by the beginning of April, Singapore had announced drastic new measures to accelerate local food production, including desperate plans to grow food on the rooftops of public housing estates, as disruption of global food supply chains started to hit home.

The sort of lower standards that could undermine domestic producers would be ones which allow more lax regulations relating to plant health, animal health and welfare, and environmental standards. Equally important in this regard are employment and human rights issues. We should not abandon our principles in relation to food production, environmental standards, and the welfare of animals or people around the world. This amendment proposes that we ensure that tariff levels and tariff rate quotas are maintained at levels which minimise the risk of there being a back door to our market for those without a trade deal with the UK.

Were a UK Government to lower the UK global tariff significantly, and thereby encourage lower-standard goods to enter our market, they would be threatening the well-being of both consumers and the UK agricultural sector, undermining our rural communities and jeopardising our food security. There is more than one way to tackle this threat; we shall come later to other possible avenues—I am thinking particularly of Amendment 97 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which relates to trade deals. In the meantime, we should take the opportunity afforded by this bank of amendments to write into the Bill the safeguards which consumers need and which may be of existential importance to the future of agriculture in these islands.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 4:49 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made a number of comments when speaking to his amendments, including how he felt that a number of noble Lords have tabled amendments because they wish to stay wedded to EU rules, even though the UK has, theoretically, left the European Union. That may or may not be true, but people in my part of the country do not have the luxury of that choice, because we are left in the EU. That is the brutal reality of the situation.

On 2 October last year, the Government produced a document called Explanatory Note: UK Proposals for an Amended Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. That amended protocol used phrases such as “Border Inspection Post”. It said that products coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be “exported” to Northern Ireland, and that people moving goods would have to notify the authorities of that fact. It talked about a “zone of regulatory compliance”, which is the 27 EU countries plus Northern Ireland. This is the first time that I can recall a Conservative and Unionist Government proposing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another. To their eternal shame, the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons endorsed that proposal, describing it as

“a serious and sensible way forward”.

It is neither serious nor sensible.

There are consequences to that. We export to Great Britain the vast majority of our agricultural products, whether milk or meat. Therefore, if the standards with which we are forced to comply begin to differ over time from standards here, our products would become uncompetitive. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, have attempted to communicate to us, by various means, that they wish to retain standards, but they may or may not be in their posts in the future, and we have to look long term. The worry I have, and which I know is shared by many others, is that once you have done a trade deal, if you try to then apply tariffs or to change your own standards and regulatory environment, it will start to break the deal you have done. You can then be brought to whatever adjudication processes are agreed, and no one knows what the outcome will be.

I do not believe we want a situation in which we put up food prices—that is not what I want to see. Other amendments that I put down earlier on Report sought to ensure that people at least had a choice and that the primary producer would, for once, get a decent slice of the cake, so that it was not always left to the supermarkets and processors. However, I fear that if things change over time, and because our farmers will be regulated by whatever the EU decides—which includes state aid, because we will be bound by state aid rules as soon as the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented—in such circumstances, we could very quickly become uncompetitive.

If noble Lords think it is only in my imagination that there is a border in the Irish Sea, I say this. In the first week of July, the Government allocated £25 million to help business deal with the consequences of the additional administrative work that would be required to handle a new situation. By 29 August, that had risen to £355 million. If there is no border, why are we spending £355 million, over two years, to help businesses with the transition?

For us, any diminution of standards in Great Britain is a matter of life and death for our farmers—it is as simple as that. It is a competitive issue. If EU and UK standards remain as they are, or if there is equivalence, that is fine. I hope that that is what happens, because you cannot freeze things in aspic for ever. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard points out, we are not perfect: we make mistakes and there have been examples of these. Nevertheless, if the balance changes over time, our farmers will effectively be hammered. In my belief, it is not in the best interests of the United Kingdom to see one of her four nations left in that situation. Although some of us warned of this in advance, the whole protocol has come about in a way that has the potential to break up the United Kingdom and cause huge damage. It is a very bad idea, but that is a debate for another day.

In Committee, I referred to the FSA and the Scottish equivalent. It is not entirely clear to me how an equivalence in standards would be enforced against the background of international trade deals being done and the fact that we are left in the European Union while the rest of the United Kingdom is not. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. Given all these things, and that Northern Ireland’s biggest food customer is Great Britain, we are very concerned. Our farmers are very concerned that they would be left in a hopelessly uncompetitive position.

There are a number of amendments in this group and there will be a sequence of votes. I reserve the right to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House in circumstances where some of the other amendments are perhaps unsuccessful. I have put that on the record and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 4:57 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I am glad that he gave his speech because, with all the either deliberate or inadvertent diversions of the debate on the internal market Bill, the reality remains that only three of our four nations will be covered by elements of this Bill. For the first time in our nation’s history, one of our home nations will be governed by a set of regulations and laws for which there will be no elected parliamentarians with the authority to make any decisions or to hold to account those making the regulations.

The well-argued speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig, reminded the House that we have debated this before. I rehearsed an argument in Committee about the merits of why it was necessary. I do not want to repeat that, but I want to highlight elements and remind the House of the debate we have already had and the cross-party consensus that was secured. There is merit in doing so. If the Government had had their way and the Trade Bill 2017-19 had passed, none of these amendments, or this debate, would be necessary, because that Bill had been amended. I do not recall the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, arguing strongly against a government amendment that was in that Bill. I may have forgotten, but I do not recall her making that case.

I want to remind the House of what was said. The cross-party consensus was for legislation that would create statutory provision under, as it would have been, new Clause 2 in that Bill, that

“in any of the areas … under subsection (4B), the provision must be consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in that area … The areas referred to in subsection (4A) are … the protection of human, animal or plant life or health … animal welfare … environmental protection … employment and labour.”

It goes on to say that

“‘UK levels of statutory protection’ means levels of protection provided for by or under any … primary legislation … subordinate legislation, or … retained direct EU legislation.”

That government amendment secured cross-party support.

I want to give some quotes from that debate, because I think that they will be helpful. The first is this:

“I am bringing forward amendments designed to maintain UK levels of statutory protection when implementing continuity trade agreements ... The fact that I am able to do so is testament to the cross-party working that makes this House so valuable, and I have no doubt that this process has enhanced the legislation.”

Further on in the debate is a reference to continuity in trading relationships, which is what we are debating:

“A key aspect of that continuity is to ensure that UK statutory protections are maintained. These protections are highly valued by our businesses and consumers and are an important component of the UK’s offer to the world.”

Later, it was said of the amendment:

“It makes it clear that the power can be used only in a way that is consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in the listed areas.”

In addressing the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others on the WTO, that debate was helpful to the wording of that amendment. I quote Hansard again:

“The purpose of this is to safeguard all legislative protections affecting human, animal or plant health. It may also be helpful to observe that this form of words is well understood in the WTO context, thus ensuring consistency with our wider international obligations.”

Finally, from that debate, it was said that it was

“an improvement to the Bill.”—[Official Report, 20/3/19; cols. 1439-40.]

Noble Lords may think that I have done a good Liberal thing and given a cross-party selection of various people from all the different parties that contributed to that debate—one might be forgiven for thinking that I took one quote from each Bench. But they were not my words, or the words of any Labour or Cross-Bench Peer moving an amendment from the opposition. All of those words are from the then Minister for trade, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, in moving the government amendment.

My simple question is: does the Minister here agree with the then Minister? What were the risks that the Government felt were inherent in the lack of statutory provision that meant that they felt that they had to bring forward statutory protection? Does he agree that the amendment did indeed improve the Trade Bill 2017-19? If he could say why it has been stripped out of the Trade Bill that we are now considering, that would be most helpful. It follows that if the Government are now removing government amendments, those risks would present themselves again. It would simply be sensible for them to maintain continuity of policy and accept Amendments 89ZA and 93.

It would surely be cynical to think that the Government only wanted statutory protection and to amend legislation to provide it because they wanted to get a Brexit Bill through at the time and that they no longer believe in it. I have been around politics for a long time and I would like to think that I am not a cynic. It might be that the Government are capable of making cross-party agreements only to remove the commitments made in those agreements a year later. If that is possible, how can we believe what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box now, when what he is saying directly contradicts what the Minister for trade said last year?

I had hoped that these amendments were not necessary, because I hoped that the cross-party consensus which was secured would continue. I hope that the Minister can explain why it has not and that the House will reassert its position that it believes in cross-party consensus when it comes to the highest standards that we have already resolved to protect on a statutory basis.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 5:00 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and to be reminded of our debates on the Trade Bill—it seem so many aeons ago—and the amendment which, as I recall, was not adopted in the other place in its revised form.

I have been reflecting for some time on how, if I was still a Minister, I would deal with the three related and important amendments before us: Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on which I will focus; and two amendments in a later group, Amendment 97 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Amendment 101 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who for many years has been a towering figure in farming. They raise some similar issues, and they all have lots of supporters and some detractors, led by my noble friend Lord Trenchard.

I am a supporter of the World Trade Organization and its predecessor, GATT. Having been trained as an economist, I know that trade brings great benefits in terms of world prosperity, as is convincingly explained by the theory of comparative advantage. This is particularly important when we face recession and the shock of the Covid pandemic affecting, I am afraid to say, every corner of the globe. That is a very different background from that when we were debating the Trade Bill. We must support the WTO and have regard to its rules. The Minister suggested in Committee that provisions of the kind we see in Amendments 93, 97 and 101 might be incompatible with them. We could be ushering in a new argument with the WTO and major problems of compliance, which would be particularly unfortunate given the current problems with the WTO—in particular with the Appellate Body, referenced by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. It is not easy to see a way round this, and there is a severe difficulty in establishing equivalence in order to implement the necessary criteria for maintaining standards, so we must tread a careful path.

Since this Bill was first presented in the other place, the Government have come a long way. They have established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, in which Red Tractor is involved—I should again register my interest as its chair. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was kind enough to mention it and the importance of high food standards in the UK, which I endorse. The comments of Henry Dimbleby, quoted by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, were also interesting and relevant.

The new trade commission, which we will discuss later, is a victory for the farming unions who fought for it, as they felt that their interests were being ignored. It has wider value as an excellent sounding board for Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and her teams on a swathe of current trade negotiations. The widely welcomed Japan agreement is the first green shoot and, to pick up the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has not bent the rules.

In closing, I shall revert to my question about what a Minister might do. I would try to address the substantive issues, without coming down in favour of one approach. I would build on what has already been done, by, for example, agreeing to extend the life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission for a few months and by planning some wider consultation to bring in the voice of those who might feel excluded from the commission once it has published first its interim and then its final reports. Among other things, I would do more to reassure, by repeating the promise the Government have made that they are not planning to change food regulations to let in chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef. Such undertakings could not be reversed in the other place, and I rather agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes that we do not always need to make amendments to have concerns addressed. I also agree with her that science and innovation matter a great deal.

The UK benefits greatly from the international order and enduring economic ties, especially free trade. This is the future and we must tread with care. Before there is a vote on any of these important amendments, the Minister may want to comment on whether they could fall foul of WTO rules.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Trenchard and agree with what he, and my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe, have said. However, listening to this debate, I have occasionally felt the House has been transported back to the debates on the corn laws in the early 19th century. Then, as now, landowners, supported by their friends—romantic believers in an unchanging rural England—argued that we should prevent the import of cheap food, protect the labouring classes from their predilection for it and require them to eat more expensive food and that if we did not, it would mean our farming industry would be destroyed, our fields would remain untilled and our agricultural capacity would be permanently diminished. We know, of course, that the protectionists lost and the free traders won. Most people look back and think that was one of the great victories for progressive legislation in this country which raised the well-being of the labouring classes, although it may have diminished rents of landowners for a time. I hope we will bear that in mind as we consider these amendments.

It is generally accepted that WTO rules permit us to ban foods based on their risks to human health. So it should, as long as those rules are scientifically based. It is also generally accepted that WTO rules do not, unless in rare and exceptional circumstances, permit bans on imports based on the production processes used if they do not have an impact on human health. That is why the EU ban on US poultry washed in peracetic acid or very dilute solution of chlorine is based on the supposed risk to human health, not on the welfare of chickens. We all know the scientific basis for the allegation of risk to human life is tenuous, otherwise the population of North America would not be so large. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and others, want a standard based on the welfare of poultry, not on the welfare of humans. However, to do so would be contrary to WTO rules. Paradoxically, they are asking us to set aside an international treaty, albeit for specific and limited purposes. There are reasons the WTO has these rules. First, when countries prohibit the import of goods, particularly food, based on the alleged inferiority of standards in other countries, it is usually done for protectionist reasons and not for the reasons they give. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to enforce rules about standards applied in another country, unless you adopt quasi-colonial controls reaching out into those countries from more developed countries, which many countries in the world do not want to see themselves subjected to. The WTO recommends where possible we adopt international standards, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, such as Codex Alimentarius and so on, as long as they are based on sound science.

I hope that the House will think twice before going back more than a century to introduce protectionism, flout international law and do something where the sole purpose is to raise the cost of food.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated 5:15 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I should begin by declaring the interests I declared earlier during the passage of the Bill. I shall speak to Amendments 89ZA and 93 and to the gist of the arguments behind others. It is important that UK agriculture and the UK public should be confident about the marketplace for food in this country.

UK farming—using those words in a wide sense—is operating in a global marketplace and needs to be sure that it will be playing on a level playing field not only because of the food implications of its activities, but because of the implications the revenues from food production will have on the delivery of all other public goods, using that word in a general sense, that we have been discussing during the currency of the Bill. That differentiates the debates that we are having from the arguments that pertained at the time of the repeal of the corn laws. I am afraid that as an individual I think that it is invariably the case that reassurances from any Government today are no guarantor of government actions tomorrow. Under our constitutional system, the best guarantor of such things is a specific provision in an Act of Parliament.

From the food perspective, for the entire population the problem is summarised as what has come to be known as the chlorinated chicken issue. It seems to me that chlorinated chicken, which may or may not be disagreeable, is not the issue. The problem is that the place where that chicken originates is so rife with damaging disease and practices that it is necessary to apply those techniques to it. That being the case, it is surely better not to have food from those sorts of places in the first instance. Finally, environment, welfare and other land use factors are important for the globe as well as for the United Kingdom. Encouraging and promoting bad practices elsewhere is something we should be ashamed of doing and we should not do it.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who brings ministerial and practical experience as a farmer to this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Bakewell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

I spoke on food standards and other matters in my contributions at Second Reading and in Committee. I remind the House that I farmed on my own account for more than 20 years and had the honour of representing the rural constituency of Torridge and West Devon from 1997 until I retired from the other place in 2005. I still live in the constituency. In 2001, the constituency was probably the most adversely affected in the country by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Since 1976, and particularly since 2001, I have observed first-hand the agricultural industry making substantial investments in time and money in improving animal welfare, protecting and enhancing our environment and complying with rightly stringent provisions relating to food safety and hygiene, traceability and plant health. British agriculture is justifiably proud of the high standards it has attained in responding to all these challenges and of its ability to provide to good and safe food for the British people. I am aware that some Ministers have declared that the Government will not enter into agreements with countries that dilute these high standards. At Second Reading I stressed that Ministers come, and Minsters go. I gave other compelling reasons why the British public and the agricultural industry should have assurance of statutory protection in relation to high standards for all the matters covered in Amendment 93.

This was all before the Government took the momentous and deplorable decision to provide, or endeavour to provide, powers to renege on the international treaty with the EU, which they had negotiated and agreed less than one year ago. This has shocked most of us in our House and also the British public. In the past, this country has rightly been respected for our commitment to the rule of law and our compliance with international law.

This proposed legislation—which enables this country to resile from its treaty commitments—is outrageous and undermines the good faith of this Government, whose cavalier approach to the rule of law is the most compelling reason why this new amendment on food standards should be enacted. The British people and the agricultural industry must all have all the protections we can provide. Thank you.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103, and I simply ask the Government to honour their election manifesto commitment that

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

Amendment 93 would ensure, on a statutory basis, that import standards cannot be lowered to below equivalent domestic standards as part of free trade agreements. Such agreements cannot be a race to the bottom; environmental, animal welfare and food standards need to be protected and improved over time. Imported products produced to lower standards than required from UK farmers would undermine our farming industry and create unfair competition. Import standards have not been addressed in the Trade Bill, so they need to be addressed here. I do not accept the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the Government can be trusted to stand by their word; we need statutory assurance.

For example, a few weeks ago, I was one of a number of Peers briefed by the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who said that such standards issues would be best dealt with by differential tariffing against substandard imports. I remain unconvinced that tariffs alone would effectively prevent the import of substandard products. However, I am very interested in Amendment 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which would ensure that tariffing, combined with other measures, also worked in the interests of maintaining standards. It would be a useful, but not sufficient, condition.

Others have talked about labelling, but, with regard to standards, this will not work. If you are poor and hungry, cheaper food will be attractive irrespective of standards. To enshrine the Conservative manifesto commitment in primary legislation is, in my belief, entirely in line with World Trade Organization rules, which allow countries to put in place non-discriminatory measures designed to protect human, plant or animal health or a limited natural resource. The Government need to use fine UK ingenuity and leadership to design and justify sensible import restrictions, which could be made compatible with WTO rules; that is what Governments and trade negotiations are for.

We know that the US negotiating mandate for a free trade deal sees harmonising standards as a central objective, and this means harmonising them to their standards. We know that statutory instruments introduced using European Union (Withdrawal) Act powers have already deleted from the statute book considerable amendments governing, for example, antibiotic levels in foodstuffs. That is just one example of what can happen if we do not keep our eye on government commitments.

Once the transition is over, the Food Standards Agency adjudicates on the risks of foods and treatments, but its chief executive officer has recently said that Ministers have the final say on whether food produced to lower standards can make it onto UK supermarket shelves. I think that UK supermarkets will have a view on that. Maintaining high standards is supported by farmers, by 75% of the public and by major retailers across the board, and they are responding to the concerns of their customers. They will not stock produce that they believe their customers do not want to see on their shelves.

I know that the Government will want to maintain wiggle room in the trade negotiations, but, to be frank, the more they wiggle, the more they will reap the wrath of the people they are here to serve, who are committed to high food, environmental, employment and human health standards.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, within this grouping, I support my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s helpful amendments. First, on United Kingdom and EU standards, he corrects a misapprehension or, maybe, he forestalls it before it has time within the Bill to solidify as a regular misunderstanding. For, as he points out, there is no difference between domestic standards and European Union ones. They are identical.

Secondly, what is also insufficiently known—and as my noble friend also usefully observes—in certain respects, the UK and EU are not compliant with World Trade Organization rules. I am in favour of Amendment 103 of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which urges that United Kingdom global tariff rates should take into account the well-being of the agricultural sector and that imported goods must be equivalent to, or exceed, domestic standards.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, I will make a brief contribution. In fact, I was going to opt out altogether because I did not want to repeat anything that anyone else had said. Certainly, I support the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked at the beginning of the debate and, frankly, I expect the Minister to answer all six of them. They were quite specific.

It is worth pointing out that, unlike Ministers, the Food Standards Agency is actually required to do things by law. I will read out Section 1(2) of the Food Standards Act 1999:

“The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food.”

By law, Ministers do not have that obligation. They think they can hump it away in the Commons, but I have news for them: if they want to take on the role of Food Safety Minister, they ought to have a bit of a history lesson about salmonella, orange juice, BSE and CJD. Then they will realise why the FSA was put there in the first place. It was not a happy experience for previous Ministers without its support.

I will make one further point relating to what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has said about chlorinated chicken. I do not think I have got her wrong, but I do not want to mislead. She said that she could eat it safely because the issue was about animal welfare, not the safety of the food, and she is right. However, published research from the University of Southampton has shown that chlorine washing of food does not take away all the nasty bits. They started off, I think, by washing vegetables, but they have since looked at meat—I am not sure whether this was chicken or other meat. However, the fact is that this is not a solution to the problem.

The other thing that is also worth point out is that, in the United States of America, over 400 people a year die from salmonella. In this country, no one has died—I think there was one case in the last eight years—compared to 400-plus in the United States. I am not saying that it is because they ate chlorinated chicken, but I am saying that it is pretty unsafe in respect of deaths from salmonella in the United States, which seeks to push its food onto us without necessarily labelling it. Therefore, there are some issues here that must be carefully looked at.

As for the Minister, I have not been in my office or at my desk for well over 12 months, but I have a little file up there with at least a dozen quotes from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who is a reputable Minister, on food standards over the last three or four years. He has more of a claim than any other Minister to reassure the public and Parliament.

The final point I want to make is relevant if one considers Ministers taking the final decision—as of course, under the law, they are entitled to do; the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency is quite correct. The reason that is okay is built into the legislation: Section 19 of the Food Standards Act 1999 gives the Food Standards Agency the statutory right to publish its advice to Ministers. It does not need Ministers’ permission to publish its briefs to Ministers. It will be a brave Minister who gets advice from the FSA that something is a bit below the standards, and who wants to take their own decision. They will certainly not be able to do it behind closed doors.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, removed some functions relating to food labelling and Defra from the FSA and took them behind the closed doors of the Department of Health because he wanted to abolish the FSA, and part of the price was that he had to take some of its powers away but leave it there. So, it is not quite the same. The agency in Scotland still has all the original powers: nutrition, labelling and composition. That is crucial, because there are differences. You can still have food that is safe to eat that may be an appalling composition. There is a difference between the two issues, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, originally raised.

The debate has been very interesting, but I want to hear the answers to the six questions from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour 5:30 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, at this late stage and given all the powerful speeches we have heard, I shall be very brief in my remarks, which are aimed at supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93. I also express my support for the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Grantchester in his opening contribution.

There have been many excellent speeches, but I was particularly struck by my noble friend Lady Henig’s telling analysis of the problems that we are in danger of creating in the UK’s internal market and the consequent political tensions between different parts of the UK if we do not stand firm on our commitment to high food and environmental standards. This danger of disunity has already begun with the Prime Minister’s dramatic U-turn, which resulted in a trade border being established in the Irish Sea.

In addition to listening to us—I know the Minister is doing so but I hope the Government will too—I hope that the Government will respond favourably to the impressive and wide-ranging coalition of farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and those who have signed petitions, emailed and written to us as parliamentarians on this issue.

Amendments 89ZA and 93 are an effective improvement to the amendment which, sadly, failed in the House of Commons. They are not identical to the earlier amendment and I hope that, as a result, the Government will accept them and translate their stated commitments into proper guarantees in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that we need this provision in the Bill. She is absolutely right. The reason why the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Grantchester and others is so important is that we have put considerable effort and commitment into build up the standards of food, animal welfare and husbandry and, as we were debating earlier, pesticides. It would be quite wrong, inadvertently or deliberately—and we cannot discount deliberately, given the way things are—to allow the commitment with which we have made all these improvements to be rapidly undermined. We need these amendments very seriously.

As a former Defence Minister—albeit long ago—I often remarked that we like to use the phrase, “The primary responsibility of government and Parliament is the safety of the British people”. Here, we are talking about a very real dimension of the safety of the British people, not to mention animal welfare; it is as strong and important as that. I therefore hope that there will be widespread support in the House for these vital amendments.

We get lots of interesting and well researched briefs from all sorts of people who are concerned about the Bill. The strength of feeling about our responsibility at this juncture to put our commitment firmly in place and reinforce it has never been more convincing. I am very glad, therefore, to be able to support the amendments.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I speak in support of these amendments, in particular, the requirement to meet environmental and other standards which are at least equivalent to, or exceed, those which apply to UK-produced agricultural goods.

Noble Lords may recall that I spoke in Committee in support of protecting and enhancing our countryside and of concerns about the pollution being suffered in the catchments of chalk streams such as the Rivers Alre, Itchen and Test, all in Hampshire. In particular, I referenced the activities of the agricultural processing and distribution group Bakkavor in its industrial plant close by the River Alre in Alresford. The abstraction and discharge of water from the Alre has been linked to the rise in pollutants exceeding the levels permitted by the Environment Agency.

I can now advise your Lordships that Bakkavor has since announced its decision to close Alresford Salads in October. The resultant job losses at a difficult time are, of course, a worry, but clearly, Bakkavor and similar businesses can operate their food processing plants from proper industrial sites anywhere, near or far. They do not have to pick sites that threaten the ecology and environment of unique chalk streams with their pollutants, or damage the infrastructure of historic towns with their 40-tonne lorries trundling through medieval streets. As the chairman of the Alresford Society has pointed out in a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle of 3 September:

“The focus now needs to be on what might happen to the Alresford site in the future. The market for ready to eat food, including washed and bagged salad, is large and growing”.

Could the current large water extraction licence held by Bakkavor be transferred to another operator? Could the discharge consent licence be renegotiated in the face of damning scientific evidence? If diversion into a mains sewage system was considered feasible and affordable, the town would still continue to suffer the daily stream of 40-tonne lorries through streets that were built to cater for stagecoaches.

I believe there is an opportunity within this Bill to avoid this. Alresford is just one example. It is on the boundary of the South Downs National Park. The local plan states:

“It will only permit development …. which has an operational need for a countryside location … or proposals for the re-use of existing rural buildings, which should not cause harm to the character and landscape of the area, or neighbouring uses, or create inappropriate noise, or light, or traffic generation.”

Nevertheless, the Minister will be aware that in 2018, the Government announced changes to the town and country planning order 2015, allowing adaptation of agricultural buildings, which could undermine restrictions set out in local plans. Could the Minister assure me that, in such sensitive rural areas, local planning restrictions will remain paramount?

This Bill can provide the means to protect towns like Alresford and surrounding villages, within the chalk stream catchment, from environmental vandalism for generations to come, if only by employing and reinforcing the regulations that are now in place. Unchecked industrial development should never take precedence over the preservation of our rural environment, particularly the unique chalk stream catchments of rural Hampshire. To that effect, I am very pleased to place on record that, following its inaugural meeting, I have become a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chalk Streams. Its intent, inter alia, is to monitor and hold to account, those agencies whose actions could damage chalk stream ecology and environment.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on moving Amendments 89ZA and 93 and on his excellent introduction. These amendments would ensure that agricultural products could be imported into the country only if they met our high domestic standards for food safety, hygiene and traceability and the protection of the environment and plant health. They are not only important in terms of maintaining and improving environmental public health and food standards and addressing the wider ecological crisis, but they will also protect our farmers and environmental standards, which are vital for all our futures on this planet.

I have listened carefully to the many excellent contributions to this debate and have been convinced more than ever by the arguments in favour of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and have sympathy with her Amendment 90. We must ensure that we have fair competition and a level playing field for our farmers. If we allow lower-quality imported foods to undercut our higher-standard national farming methods, we jeopardise not only UK health standards but national food security. We must not undermine our own interests or those of our farmers. The well-being of the UK agriculture sector and small farms is vital for our national self-sufficiency in food. Especially as an island nation, we need a thriving domestic agricultural sector, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made these points powerfully. We are talking about food, not widgets or cheap clothing imports or grains of corn. This is not the same as the Corn Laws debate. Importing cheap corn is a far cry from importing lower-standard meat or processed foods or risking the protection of the planet.

Following last year’s Trade Bill discussions, I regret that the Government no longer intend to align our standards—or seemingly no longer intend to do so—with existing levels across the EU. This would obviously have been safer both for the problem of the Northern Ireland border and for public health. My noble friend assured us in Committee that existing laws will protect our standards and that these amendments were not necessary. I do not doubt the intent and integrity of my noble friend, who is one of our most dedicated and knowledgeable Ministers, but I share the concerns expressed by so many noble Lords and am finding it pretty impossible to support the Government’s position. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to some of the questions from others—the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, in particular —including on whether our definition of food standards includes food production and whether Defra still rules out importing lower-standard foods, because it sounds from this debate as if that might not be the case.

Moreover, will my noble friend please explain how aligning with WTO food standards, rather than the higher standards that we have today, would impact the Northern Ireland protocol and the border flows for farmers on the island of Ireland, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Empey? Without reassurances on these questions, I wonder if the Minister, if he is unable to accept these amendments, could undertake to come back at Third Reading with the department’s own wording for a commitment to this effect on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I have added my name to Amendments 89ZA and 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for setting out so clearly the rationale behind these amendments.

Farmers, retailers, environmentalists and the general public are all concerned about the importation of food produced to lower standards than we currently enjoy, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has already indicated. The National Farmers’ Union’s standards petition has reached over 1 million signatories, and recent polling shows that more than 75% of the public think importing lower-standard food from the USA would be unacceptable. Major retailers have promised not to stock chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef in response to the safety and animal welfare concerns of both their customers and farmers.

The Conservative manifesto promised—and I am sorry that we keep banging on about this—not to compromise high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in all their trade negotiations. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, rightly said that confidence in this document has waned. While the UK should not rest on its laurels, our current standards are some of the highest in the world and are higher than those of most of the UK’s prospective trading partners. These standards relate to animal welfare, pesticide usage, chemical safety and food hygiene. I appreciate that this presents the Government with something of a dilemma when they are attempting to enter trade negotiations with countries outside of the EU, but a manifesto promise is still a promise.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to sovereignty and taking back control. Safeguards have been promised in the Trade Bill, but so far they have been conspicuous by their absence. The Agriculture Bill is the correct place for these safeguards to be contained. Neil Parish, from the other place, has said:

“We are being led down the garden path”.—[Official Report, Commons,13/5/20; col. 300.]

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has already referred to this. Mr Parish has a long and proud history of representing rural and agricultural communities. He is right: now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Once the transition period has ended, the Food Standards Agency will assess the risks posed by foods and treatments before they are permitted or banned. If a change in practice is approved, the relevant SI will be amended. However, the FSA chief executive recently clarified that Ministers have the final say over whether food of lower standards will make it on to the UK’s supermarket shelves. This is not what the public want. They want to be absolutely sure of the quality of the food being imported and do not want it left to the whim of a Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to this, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, indicated that the powers of the FSA were unclear. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has also referred to FSA advice.

Now, as never before, the public are aware that animals are responsible for spreading diseases to humans. Those animals needing to be given excessive doses of antibiotics are more likely to be living in squalid conditions in which super-resistant pathogens can spread to humans. Imported animal products should not need to be treated with antibiotics, as the animals should have been living in humane, clean conditions.

I listened to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I fear I could find no correlation between the Corn Laws, which I studied during my education, and the amendment we are debating.

My noble friend Lord Purvis eloquently listed the previous debate on the Trade Bill from 2019. Like others, I am at a loss to understand the Government’s change of heart and approach. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Burnett on so excellently setting out the arguments.

I share completely the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I know from recent and previous visits to our family in the USA that it has a very different attitude on animal welfare. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right that salmonella is rife. The current American Administration have no regard for the WTO. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, accurately set out the difficulties of encouraging the USA to take our farming produce.

I listened carefully to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, especially his comments on the precautionary principle. Rather than lowering UK standards to the level of the WTO, it is better for the UK to take a lead and assist in raising WTO standards, while maintaining our own high standards. It is not true that those who sign this amendment are trying to increase the price of beef and meat out of the reach of consumers. We are trying to create a better-balanced, healthy diet.

Lastly, I return to the words of the honourable Neil Parish. Now is the time to make this change. Eighteen speakers this afternoon have spoken in favour of these amendments, with only five against. I urge your Lordships to make this change and place this amendment in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, we have certainly had a fulsome debate on this matter. Whether it was in favour of or against these amendments, the opinion of this House was very clear. As I said, the Government’s manifesto commitment—I am pleased to add further to the record of my remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—is that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high standards of environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.

I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe. I would reply to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Rooker, by saying that none of the 20 continuity trade agreements signed to date would undermine domestic standards. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment not to compromise on our high standards in trade agreements. I am fully aware that until all the trade agreements have been signed and settled, some of your Lordships simply will not believe that this is the case. I look forward to those noble Lords who are determined that this is not the case at least having the courtesy to say, “Actually, our fears have been allayed”. I set that as a challenge.

I confirm once again that the Government are well aware of the vital importance of maintaining—indeed, enhancing—the UK’s farming reputation, as it serves as an excellent platform to increase demand for UK produce and consequently enhance export opportunities for our agri-food businesses.

On my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 90, the Government are dedicated to improving animal welfare standards. For instance, we have committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in monitoring high standards and high welfare across the UK market; we will consult on that at the end of the transition period. The animal welfare labelling consultation’s objective is to seek stakeholder views on different possible policy outcomes for improving consumer transparency in relation to the animal welfare standards of produce for sale. This could apply to domestically produced products and those imported from third countries, as well as animal welfare standards on farms, in transport and at slaughter. The Government will consider what possible labelling reforms might be pursued in the light of responses to the consultation, which at this stage they do not want to pre-empt. Changes to how products are labelled will not mean changes to our existing standards for how products must be produced. I also say to my noble friend that marketing standards in England are already very high, as they are consumer and retailer led and often go over and above the current EU standards. We will not use Clause 35 to lower standards for products either produced in England or imported, only to make or amend domestic marketing standards.

On Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 105, as your Lordships know, the Government made an unequivocal commitment in our manifesto not to compromise on our high standards in our trade negotiations. Of course, I understand concerns in this area; they have been aired this afternoon. I have already said that noble Lords’ immediate concerns can be allayed by the example of the 20 continuity agreements. I wish to highlight the risks of duplication and complication in what the amendments present, compared with our existing protections. I will tell your Lordships of the robust processes, bodies and systems in place to protect our standards.

The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains in law our standards on environmental protections, animal welfare, animal and plant health and food safety at the end of the transition period. This provides a firm basis for maintaining the same high level of protection for both domestic and imported products. Any changes to legislation would require these to be brought to Parliament and the usual parliamentary scrutiny processes to apply. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe referred to beef and poultry. Notably, this includes the EU law banning the import and production of hormone-treated beef, which has been transposed into domestic law and will continue to operate in the UK after the end of the transition period, applying in all parts of the UK.

I also reiterate that existing food safety provisions relating to pathogen reduction treatments permitted on poultry carcasses will continue to operate independently in UK law after the transition period. It remains the case in the UK that no substances other than potable water are approved to wash poultry carcasses.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked a number of questions. First, the Government’s manifesto commitment is clear and covers environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. This includes standards applied to the assessment of novel foods, which the FSA will continue to lead. Also, a range of physical and documentary checks will ensure that biosecurity is maintained, alongside protecting animals and plants in public health. Also, the border operating model—I am happy to send it to the noble Lord—has been published with much more detail.

Given not only their experience but the considerable work they undertook, the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, will know that the independent work of our food regulators—the Food Standards Agency, or FSA, and Food Standards Scotland, or FSS—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. In addition, the FSA recently announced that its chief executive will develop a regular written assessment, which will provide the FSA’s view on the state of food standards and consumer interests. Regulated food products, such as food and feed additives, enzymes, flavourings or GM food and feed, undergo the FSA’s risk assessment process before being placed on the UK market. This process is rigorous, independent of government and based on robust scientific evidence.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that 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 also takes wider consumer interests 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 such as Defra, the devolved Administrations and agencies such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency may be brought to bear in the risk analysis process and when considering risk management options.

I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that decisions to allow new regulated food products or processes into the UK market will be taken by Ministers in the UK Government and devolved authorities, informed by the independent advice of the FSA and FSS. As I have described, the risk assessment process will be based on science, evidence and other legitimate factors, including wider consumer interests such as the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security, considered in advice to Ministers.

Any decisions by Ministers to authorise regulated products will require a negative resolution SI in each of the four UK countries to give legal effect to the authorisation. Such SIs will be subject to scrutiny in Parliament and the devolved legislatures according to the usual procedures. At the end of the transition period, 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 the capability to audit the food production systems and rules of other countries and carry out inspection visits to facilities in the countries themselves.

We will also be verifying that requirements are carried out as stipulated through checks at the border. A range of physical and documentary checks will ensure that biosecurity is maintained, alongside protecting animal, plant, environmental and public health. 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.

The requirements set out in Amendment 89ZA and, more importantly perhaps, Amendment 93, would create a potentially vast set of conditions applicable to imports under trade agreements that do not apply under any agreement the UK, or indeed the EU, has today. This broad scope and application would create significant uncertainty about the terms of trade under any FTA and could lead to disruption under those that we are currently seeking to roll over but have not yet ratified. For future agreements, including those we currently have but will wish to update in future, the uncertainty inherent in this amendment would, in our view, cast doubt on the benefits any deal could secure for UK agri-food businesses.

The requirements set out in Amendment 105 would, in our view, similarly create considerable uncertainty about the terms of trade under any FTA, due to its very broad scope and potential application. Such uncertainty could again, we believe, cast doubt on the benefits any deal could secure for UK agri-food businesses. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that while I absolutely respect all the points he made, the UK Government want to develop and deliver a trade policy that benefits businesses, workers and consumers across the whole United Kingdom and in which we take into account the individual circumstances of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our commitment is clear that we will not compromise on our standards in trade agreements and that the FSA and FSS will continue to ensure that standards are met across the UK.

I say to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and other noble Lords that the UK has long championed the WTO and rules-based free and fair trade as a route to prosperity and security for all nations. If voted through, Amendments 93, 94, 95, 96 and 105 would, I am advised, impose an inflexible framework on negotiations and might make it more difficult to ensure that the positions we adopt in FTA negotiations are WTO-compliant.

Turning to Amendments 94, 95 and 96, as I have said, these amendments would not change the unintended disruptive effects on the UK’s trade policy that Amendment 93 would cause, as I have just outlined.

Turning to Amendment 103, I hope that I can provide the noble Lord with some reassurance that, in taking its decision on the UK global tariff, the Government had regard to the five principles set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. These include the interests of consumers in the UK; the interests of producers in the UK of the goods concerned; the desire to maintain and promote the external trade of the UK; the desire to maintain and promote productivity in the UK; and the extent to which the goods concerned are subject to competition. All existing UK import standards that products have to meet to enter the UK market will still apply. None of these requirements will be impacted by the level at which tariffs are set in the UK global tariff.

Given the measures outlined, the Government believe that sufficient protections are already in place. Along with very respected and independent bodies, whose duties I have spent some time outlining, we are committed to ensuring that trade agreements do not compromise our high standards, and we will continue to take into account the views of relevant stakeholders across the food supply chain on the impact of trade deals. We already have in place in the UK rigorous processes to protect our standards. With that, I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:00 pm, 22nd September 2020

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am encouraged by all the support I have received, and many cogent points have been made. I know that several noble Lords, especially from the Cross Benches, have been unable to speak today, which has been very unfortunate at a very crucial stage of the Bill. Their contributions would have been very worth while.

I thank the Minister for his response. I know from previous meetings that this is a subject that he feels very passionate about, and he has done his best to present the line endorsed by the Secretary of State. I did my best to count, but I am not sure that I heard full cogent answers to the six tests asked by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in his remarks.

Remarkably, this is about the Government being unwilling to enact all of their own manifesto promises, due to their ideological obsession with realigning with a trade deal with the US—a deal which increasingly looks to be in peril, given the recent uproar over the internal markets Bill, which threatens to break international law, and the consequential interventions from members of the US Senate and Congress.

The Minister mentioned that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act carries into UK law the existing safeguards from being a member state. However, these provisions can be quickly and dramatically weakened through secondary legislation, which carries far less public and parliamentary scrutiny and amendment, and I would suggest that the noble Lord and his department are aware of this. If the Government think they can break international law, they will not worry about breaking electoral promises.

The most secure way to protect standards is to put them directly into the Bill. Without that, negotiations are left wide open to pressure for Ministers to agree that a trade deal is good for Britain on balance, while sacrificing what so many hold so dear: how we produce our food. UK standards will not be protected through higher tariffs, to price out lower-standard imports. This will merely invite tit-for-tat tariff wars, damaging UK exports. Stability for food producers and a supply chain are best achieved by certainty, by writing our standards into law.

The National Farmers’ Union has now come out and called for support for this amendment. When it comes to trade standards and taking legislative action to prevent the importing of inferior food products that undermine our own standards, there has been an unprecedented alliance between farmers, consumer groups, charities such as the RSPCA and the National Trust, supermarkets, the Green Alliance UK, and even a previous Conservative Secretary of State for Defra.

I have listened very carefully to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I do not agree that there is a contradiction between subsections (2)(a) and (2)(b) in the amendment. After all, imports should also comply with WTO and SPS agreements. I maintain that our amendment does not fall foul of WTO regulations, and that it stands up.

I wish to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, when she says that the amendment is unnecessary as it is in the Government’s intention: what of other Governments? Her disagreement falls.

The EU directorates on behalf of member states already come to audit and do many of the actions that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, claims are not undertaken internationally—those of inspecting food and denying access to the EU market, which those that do not comply have to abide by. We must be assured this continues. I also thank my noble friend Lord Rooker, with his ministerial experience, for his explanations of the vital work of the Food Standards Agency.

This is a case of delivering on promises made to the British people and preserving the high standards that make British agriculture what it is: that is, among the best in the world. I call on all Members of your Lordships’ House to support the amendments, starting with Amendment 89ZA. I now wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 307, Noes 212.

Division number 3 Agriculture Bill - Report (3rd Day) — Amendment 89ZA

Aye: 307 Members of the House of Lords

No: 212 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Amendment 89ZA

Amendment 89ZA agreed.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:27 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 89A. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions for elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.

Clause 35: Marketing standards