Motion D

Agriculture Bill - Commons Reasons – in the House of Lords at 5:20 pm on 20th October 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 12, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 12A.

12A: Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate to create new requirements for imports to meet particular standards.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motions E, E1, G and G1.

It is entirely right and proper that your Lordships should sometimes ask the other place to think again about a given issue. However, the House of Commons has voted on this matter twice already. An amendment with a similar effect to Amendments 12 and 16 was rejected by the other place in its earlier deliberations on Report, and its view on the noble Lord’s amendment has been made equally plain more recently.

We have looked very carefully at Amendment 16B in lieu, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, which seeks that we ask trading partners to demonstrate equivalence across a range of policy areas. The intention here is well understood, but this amendment still amounts to seeking additional, and potentially expansive, conditions from trading partners. Conditions such as these are not a feature of any other country’s trade policy. I was very struck by this when I took further advice—because obviously this is not my specialist area. I repeat that conditions such as these are not a feature of any other country’s trade policy.

Demonstrating and agreeing equivalence of rules is a complex, technical and resource-intensive task. For example, agreeing equivalence of a range of animal health and food safety rules with New Zealand has taken years. So, in theory, it is possible. However, we believe that doing so in the manner set out here would be disproportionate and in practice would likely mean adding years of such processes ahead of any ratifications. So this amendment could result in pressure to pursue an unrealistic negotiating objective.

On Amendment 18 and Amendment 18B in lieu—Motion G1—in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, like Amendment 16B, this raises the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. Once again, I make it clear that, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, trade deals under negotiation now and in the future must be laid before Parliament. As was confirmed by the International Trade Secretary in a Written Ministerial Statement on Monday 12 October, there will be a full scrutiny process. I have now read it in full, and I urge noble Lords to read it after this debate, because I thought it was a very comprehensive statement. This includes publishing objectives and initial economic assessments prior to the start of talks, and providing regular progress updates to Parliament; updates on the conclusion of negotiation rounds with the United States and with Australia are recent examples.

We will share a full impact assessment covering the economic, social, environmental and animal welfare aspects of each trade deal. This will be independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee. We will also engage closely with the relevant Select Committees and will endeavour to ensure that they have at least 10 sitting days’ advance sight of all agreements, on a confidential basis. The final agreement text will be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days, giving Parliament time to scrutinise deals.

I am also pleased to be able to say that the Government are already conducting extensive consultation beyond Parliament, with a range of groups in place to advise on trade policy. These include the Department for International Trade’s agri-food trade advisory group, which was renewed in July and which includes over 30 representatives from the food industry, and Defra’s supply chain advisory groups. Of course, this scrutiny is enhanced by the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Recently, the commission launched a call for evidence to 200 relevant parties, covering several questions, including how standards can best be upheld while securing the benefits of trade.

Finally, I should also mention the important role that the FSA and FSS play in regulating imports. Indeed, I concentrated on some of this at a meeting last week with the chair and others in the FSA. The FSA draws 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.

I can therefore confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, that the approach envisaged in Amendment 18B is already under way. With these remarks, I beg to move.

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)

First, my Lords, I apologise to the House that I was not present at Third Reading; I was engaged in Committee on the Trade Bill. I would also have liked to have thanked the Ministers, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for the patient and receptive way in which they guided the Bill through the House. I also pay special regard to Nathalie Sharman and her Bill team for the excellent advice they gave us on the many calls the Minister facilitated to fill in the gaps in our appreciation.

We are now down to the final key issues on which the future of British agriculture must be built. Once again, I declare my interests as having been in receipt of EU funds, and with interests as recorded in the register.

I thank the Minister for his introduction to this group of amendments and for explaining the Commons’ reasons why it has chosen not to agree with your Lordships’ House. However, the reason given is to misunderstand the amendment. I do not consider the amendment to create new requirements for imports to meet particular standards. Is that really the right answer, when the Government claims that the withdrawal Act puts into UK law all the present standards inherited as a previous member state? Of course, they can no longer claim that, as future standards can be changed through technical statutory orders. This reveals the direction of travel the Government wish to take in agreeing to a US trade deal. We seek to put in primary legislation what the Government have claimed is in the withdrawal Act. The answer comes back, “Why do you wish to legislate for what the Government have no intention of doing?” Well, that is the stated intention. We are all warned of unintended consequences, and it is not the intention of the previous amendment to be misinterpreted. So we have drafted the amendment in lieu for your Lordships’ consideration.

It is clear that the amendment does not exclude cheaper products. It is open to other countries to sell food to the UK, provided that it meets the same legal thresholds in standards that presently pertain in the UK. Certainly, we can raise standards in time, but we cannot lower them. Price is for the market and for consumers to consider.

The new amendment in lieu is also clear that it does not wish any interpretation to be used as a barrier to the Government rolling over more existing trade agreements. The UK has enjoyed being a member state of the EU and we look forward to more of those deals being completed. The same approach has been taken that the status quo must be maintained at the outset. It is also not the intention from the previous amendment to make the UK a barrier to trade with less-developed countries. This amendment also excludes any interpretation that will make development difficult. We have raised millions of people out of poverty already, and we believe in the sustainable development goals.

The Government, in Section 10 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, signalled their intention to replicate the EU’s general scheme of preferences for less-developed countries. Schedule 3’s list of countries is somewhat wider than the UN list. This amendment in lieu acknowledges this and rules out those countries from any possibility of being caught by an inadvertent consequence. This amendment, which I propose the House supports, is intended to bring certainty and continuity to the progression of trade, providing sustainable, healthy and affordable foods, with imports that meet the same standards of production for environmental protection and animal welfare to which UK production must comply.

The Government have replied with errors, excuses and absurdities. Of course tropical countries will not need to plant hedgerows to comply. The debate in the Commons clarified many of these points, and I am grateful for the way many speakers dealt with the issues there. Other trading blocs and nations insist on many conditions, which the Minister denies.

This amendment in lieu listens to key concerns, yet it is still important for parliamentary scrutiny and approval of trade deals to address food standards. This amendment still places a duty to seek equivalence on agri-food standards. Equivalence is the accepted process recognised by the WTO. The amendment makes the promotion of UK standards central, as a rolling negotiating objective. It also requires a detailed parliamentary Statement to explain what is and is not included in a trade deal.

I step aside momentarily to speak to the further amendment in lieu, G1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I will not take his opportunity to speak, but at this stage merely say that it develops on the theme and is complementary to my amendment. It requires a widespread consultation before the Government must produce a report. It is disappointing that the Commons did not get an opportunity to debate the initial amendment on the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

I return to this amendment in lieu to answer two further challenges. The imposition of differential tariffs does not provide a sensible answer. They can lead only to tit-for-tat trade wars, harming UK exports. The food industry can compete based on equal food standards and a level playing field. Food manufacturing and the supply chain is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK. It needs the backing of laws and Parliament, so that the Government can negotiate to bring in food from a position of strength. Nor does the promotion of labelling provide an adequate way out for the Government. Yes, more improvements can be made, but 50% of food is consumed outside the home in restaurants and catering outlets in the hospitality food service sector, where there is little labelling. As my noble friend Lord Rooker explained from his long experience in the Food Standards Agency, the Government have not yet even brought in mandatory food hygiene rating displays to be seen in all premises.

Without Amendment 16B under E1, the biggest threat is to the consumer, who will have to negotiate a minefield of food of differing standards, especially from potential US imports from the Government’s imperative to align with America through a trade deal. We have heard of the practices undertaken there. In the US, there are 26,500 hospitalisations and 420 deaths a year from salmonella. Compare that to the EU, home of 120 million more people, where 1,766 hospitalisations and 10 deaths is the comparative figure. This would be a further challenge to the NHS.

I acknowledge that the Government are beginning to listen. Although in insufficient form, the Trade and Agriculture Commission has been set up and sector-specific trade advisory groups are now involved in the process. There is now the Select Committee on International Trade in the Commons and the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee in your Lordships’ House. But the Government need to listen to the crescendo of voices that greeted the results of the Commons considerations with dismay: farmers; chefs; environmentalists; welfare proponents; consumers, individually as well as through their organisations; the farming unions; Sustain; Green Alliance; RSPCA; Which?; and the Future British Standards Coalition. The Government need to move further.

In a conversation with the Minister and the Bill team on Monday, which we thank the noble Lord for facilitating, the Minister expressed the view that the Commons has rejected standard amendments three times already. We discussed this and that it was perhaps only twice. I am grateful that the noble Lord acknowledged that, but he was perhaps right in his original assertion of three: there was a third occasion, which one of his Back-Benchers remembered in an earlier debate—back in 1834, on the corn laws, but that was before the Factory Acts, the rise of supermarkets and refrigeration.

Today, I call on the House to support the amendment in my name. It allows the Government to read their manifesto commitment again and to take action to fulfil it. As a nation, we cannot produce all the wholesome food we need. We wish the food that countries sell us to be at its best. In encouraging trade to supply our food, the Government must concentrate on promoting the best to come forward—nil satis nisi optimum. The Government’s manifesto statement is not that old, so I ask the House to support this amendment with a resounding vote. Let us get standards done.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench 5:30 pm, 20th October 2020

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I thank him for his support. I speak to Amendment 18B in lieu. My interests are as recorded on the register.

As has been noted already, it is deeply regrettable that Amendment 18 was unable to be tabled in the House of Commons last week, due to it being considered a breach of financial privilege. I very much appreciate the Minister giving me the heads-up that this would be a possibility. During the debate, many MPs expressed their disappointment at being denied the opportunity to debate the proposals contained in Amendment 18. As a consequence of that decision, I am now tabling Amendment 18B which, I am assured by our wise officials in this House, should be compliant.

The purpose of this new amendment is to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on each international trade agreement, which, importantly, confirms that the agreement safeguards our standards of production for food safety, the environment and animal welfare, and if it does not, why not? The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to consult widely on the merits of establishing a body, a trade and agriculture commission, to provide the said report and advise the Secretary of State. The options could be to extend the existing commission, which, as we all know, is destined to be binned at the end of this year, when it has completed its work and produced a report on the principles and standards that should be embedded in international trade deals. In addition, the Secretary of State could take the opportunity to review the composition of the body and consult on a revised membership and remit. There would be real merit in doing that.

I have listened carefully to the explanations from the Minister on why the previous amendment, Amendment 18, and this one are unnecessary. He has taken an enormous amount of time and has shown great patience, which I very much appreciate. I have also had conversations with the Secretary of State for International Trade who has tried to convince me that there is already enough rigour in the system; that is, that the existing bodies have been given an extended remit to scrutinise trade deals and report their findings, as the Minister has just reported. I remain unconvinced and I am not reassured. To bolt on additional responsibilities to a number of agencies in a piecemeal fashion is no replacement for a dedicated, independent body providing oversight with in-depth knowledge of the entire sector, a body that is able to measure up new trade deals against the principles and standards that will have been laid out in the report from the existing Trade and Agriculture Commission at the end of this year. What could be simpler?

Let me repeat briefly what has been stated during earlier debates on the Bill. The fear of cheap imported food undermining our standards of production as a result of trade deals that have not been adequately scrutinised has united all the key stakeholders from the entire farming community, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has stated. They range from the NFU and the CLA, to vets, chefs, environmental bodies including Greener UK and Sustain, and to the general public. Over 1 million voters have signed a petition. All of them are deeply concerned, and I cannot understand why the Government continue to resist this pressure and have not responded accordingly. That is fundamentally a bad ambition in relation to our aspirations as a country—a country trading in the global market outside the European Union. We have an opportunity to set the bar and to position ourselves as a global influence with a reputation for high standards in animal welfare and food safety, along with a commitment to continue to reduce dependence on antibiotics, to restore biodiversity loss, to be the first past the post in achieving net-zero ambitions if possible, and so on.

In addition to providing consumers in the UK with what they deserve and expect, we are much more likely to succeed in export markets if these are the characteristics that mark our ambition and underpin our products. The alternative is a race to the bottom which will completely destroy that ambition and many businesses in the process. This is a crucial moment in our history and the Government’s response to this amendment will either give hope and confidence to the entire sector that they share its ambitions, or create further suspicion and deep concern that those ambitions risk being sacrificed in the urgent need to compromise in order to agree trade deals. I will reserve the option of moving this amendment and testing the opinion of the House.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I now have a list of Members who wish to speak. They are the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Lords, Lord Trees, Lord McCrea and Lord Empey, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lansley. I will call them in that order.

Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. I support the new amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, which has just been presented to us so eloquently. I am sure that he was as surprised as everyone else that his original amendment was ruled inadmissible. This one has been carefully drafted so as not to involve a charge on public funds. The earlier amendment, which was carried in this House with a very substantial majority, sought to establish a permanent statutory commission. Interestingly, the Commons reasons for rejecting that amendment refer only to it involving a charge on public funds and offer no further reason. All the other amendments that we are considering were rejected by the Commons for a specific reason. That is rather significant.

The new amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, might be rather helpful to the Government. It simply requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on the implications of any new trade agreement negotiated by the Government—the implications for food safety, the environment and animal welfare. The Minister has just told us that there will be a lot of scrutiny and consideration, and that many advisory bodies will give their opinion, but what is advantageous about this amendment is that it requires specifically that the Secretary of State should lay before Parliament a report on those three matters.

Like other noble Lords, I have read in Hansard the debate held in the other place on 12 October. It is quite clear that many Members there deeply regretted not being able to debate this matter in the Commons, hoped that the Government might even enable a debate by tabling a finance Motion, if that is the right expression, and asked for a further opportunity to debate it. Today, in effect, if we pass this amendment we will give the Commons another chance to debate these issues. I feel therefore that those Members of this House who voted for the earlier amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, should seriously consider supporting this amendment because that will give the Commons another opportunity to debate this matter. If it is put to the vote, I will support it.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 5:45 pm, 20th October 2020

My Lords, I support Amendments 16B and 18B. I am somewhat perplexed. As a party, we went into the election last year on a manifesto commitment to maintain high standards of food production in terms of animal welfare, health and hygiene, along with environmental protection. That will mean nothing if we have cheaper imports that undercut us. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will remember, I tabled an amendment at an earlier stage that would have gone further than this and would have been totally in keeping with what the World Trade Organization dictates: in certain circumstances you can have higher standards. That is something that my noble friend the Minister must accept is happening in certain agreements now. Indeed, it is already reflected in some of our fair trade deals, in that we buy products from certain developing countries on those grounds.

It is extremely important that we differentiate between elements that my noble friend tends to couple together, but which I think it is wrong to do. He has repeated that the Food Standards Agency for England and Food Standards Scotland keep up standards of food safety; I applaud the role that Heather Hancock and her team have played in the agency. We have now established in debates on both this Bill and the Trade Bill that those safety standards, which I fully support, can be amended by the stroke of a pen through secondary legislation. We do not even need the Government to come back with primary legislation in the form of a Bill. The standards can be amended and removed by statutory instrument. That is why I believe that Amendment 16B should be adopted. I did urge my noble friend to bring forward an amendment to this effect on behalf of the Government.

The reason given by the other place for not supporting the earlier amendment in this regard is:

“Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate to create new requirements for imports to meet particular standards.”

These are not new requirements; they are requirements on which I believe the Government stood and won so convincingly last year. We cannot set high standards in this country and accept imports that might undercut them. Why? Because a Conservative Government did precisely this in the mid-1990s by banning sow stalls and tethers, only to be undercut by cheaper meat produced using sow stalls and tethers in countries where doing so was still perfectly legal. The public voted on price. I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said on labelling and the campaign that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has been running. Regrettably, I believe there is a need for Amendment 16B. I urge my noble friend to think again.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for persisting with his campaign, which I entirely support, with his redrafted Amendment 18B. As my noble friend the Duke of Wellington said, the reason given—

“Because it would involve a charge on public funds”— is unacceptable. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Grimstone for his reply in Oral Questions last week, which set out the budget for the Trade and Agriculture Commission as it currently exists, and for the Trade Remedies Authority. It begs the question why we need the Trade Remedies Authority to be on the face of the Trade Bill, but we do not wish to see the Trade and Agriculture Commission in statutory form.

I actually wish that the amendment went further. I pay tribute to what the Minister said in summing up the debate next door. My honourable friend Victoria Prentis recognised that there might be a need to extend the current remit and tenure of members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but I believe in the advice of Henry Dimbleby in his interim report. He has done us a great service by saying that the Government should consider a stand-alone, purpose-built international trade commission, such as exists in so many of the other jurisdictions with which we seek to trade in this brave new world, having left the European Union.

I will move a similar amendment in Committee on the Trade Bill. I believe there is scope for the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill to reflect each other in this regard. I cannot believe that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s existing budget does not enable acceptance of this modest amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, which, as I said, I wish went further. I will support it if he presses it to a vote.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendment 18B in the name of my noble friend Lord Curry. The issue of maintaining animal welfare and environmental standards is of huge concern, as has been mentioned by many noble Lords. We have previously received a number of assurances from the Government, which are undoubtedly sincere, but there is legitimate concern to see that assurances are turned into deliverable action to create systems and mechanisms that provide a degree of independent advice and scrutiny to government.

As the UK starts negotiating its own trade agreements as an independent sovereign state, we have a chance to clearly demonstrate by actions, not just words, that we will negotiate on the basis that equivalent animal welfare standards and suitable environmental standards apply to the food we import, just as they apply to that which we produce ourselves. This is not about protectionism but giving our farmers a level playing field to compete on, and setting out a global exemplar position on animal welfare and the environment.

Last week, I had the pleasure, coming back from our local town, of passing a field of beef cows, with their well-grown calves at foot, contentedly grazing amid the woods and hills of Perthshire, all in a lovely wildlife-rich, biodiverse environment. Are we going to risk exchanging that for feedlot cattle that live their life on bare earth and are fed soya; or, worse, cattle reared not on natural grassland but on cleared rainforest? The UK is rightly proud of its climate change commitments, but what is the point of trying to reduce our agricultural carbon emissions if we import beef from cleared rainforests?

The creation of the Trade and Agriculture Commission was a welcome step and it will set out a framework for future trade deals, but it will cease to function by January. I submit that there will be a need for continuing advice and scrutiny. Why would any Government not want a readily available, very affordable pool of independent expertise to consult? For imported food, to protect our food safety, there is the Food Standards Agency. To protect animal and plant health there are the international sanitary and phytosanitary protocols. There is a deficit in independent oversight for animal welfare and environmental standards on imported products.

The amendment proposes that Parliament and a continuing Trade and Agriculture Commission should provide that oversight. If the Government object to this revised amendment, will they consider bringing forward their own suitable amendment in the other place? That would go a long way to assuage the very real concerns of the public—let us not forget the NFU petition which over a million people signed—and the legitimate concerns of the welfare and environmental bodies, the veterinary profession and our farmers. What is there not to like?

Photo of Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown DUP

My Lords, I support Amendment 16B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 18B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. We have the opportunity through this legislation to shape future policy on food production, standards, the environment and animal welfare. Surely it is imperative that we do so, ensuring that those who produce our food to the highest standard are protected from unfair competition.

The rejection of the previous amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, was a blow for UK agriculture and consumers. I appreciate that the Government have on several occasions repeated their commitment not to lower food safety standards, which are presently safeguarded under UK law, but I cannot understand why they are so hesitant to strengthen their arm in putting this clearly down in legislation. Flooding the UK market with cheap imports, with lower standards, would have a serious and detrimental effect on our farming industry and place UK food and farming in serious jeopardy. It surely cannot be right to negotiate any international trade agreement without securing clear food, food safety, hygiene, traceability, and animal health and welfare standards.

Verbal commitments are insufficient and can be easily set aside, as we witnessed during other recent negotiations. We need to set the parameters without ambiguity. What happened in the other place was a missed opportunity and we must do our best to rectify it. There is absolutely no excuse for us not granting Parliament a firm and coherent role in any future trade deals. For the Government to demand the highest standards from their own food producers, with all the considerable cost implications, while not demanding the same rigorous standards from those importing food to the United Kingdom, is unacceptable. The House must endeavour to press the Government on this issue by supporting the amendments. They are not wrecking amendments; they are constructive and deserve our support. They would permit a level playing field for all food producers and grant the necessary protection for the consumer.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 6:00 pm, 20th October 2020

My Lords, I wish this Minister were Secretary of State. If that were the case, I think most people in this House would be content and happy with the way of things. I hope that by saying that, I am not doing him any harm.

The Minister has gone out of his way on a number of occasions to tell us about standards in this country. He has referred both publicly and privately to the FSA and the Scottish equivalent, and I get that. However, I want to tell noble Lords of a little experience that I had a few years ago as a member of the TTIP all-party group, which concentrated on transatlantic trade. This happened in the year of the referendum but before it took place. The group was led by John Spellar from the other place, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and other Members of this House were on the delegation.

We went to Washington DC and had a meeting with all the representatives of the US food producers, ranging from the cattle people to the grain people. There was a whole roomful of them, and they all have very powerful organisations based in Washington. I will spare the House: we came to the chap at the end of the row and he said, “I have 46 Members of Congress in my pocket. There’ll be no deal done unless I say so.” Are we seriously suggesting that we do an international trade deal with the likes of America, although it could be somewhere else, and then say, “You can bring your food in here but we’re going to put a tariff on it if we don’t like the cut of it”, or are we going to ignore it in a specific and limited way?

This is the problem that many of us have. Yes, we have good standards and we want to maintain them, but equally we do not want to see the hands of the Secretary of State for International Trade completely tied behind her back when doing international deals. However, to all intents and purposes some of us, in my part of the United Kingdom in particular, are left in the EU. The Prime Minister came over a year ago and said, “If you get pieces of paper, tear them up and throw them in the bin.” On 1 July this year the Government allocated £25 million to help us fill in those pieces of paper. By 29 August that had risen to £355 million. That is a lot of paper.

The first point I am making is that if we have already have sufficient powers to maintain standards, how can we do trade deals? Why are we not saying specifically that we do not want this in the Bill because it might tie the hands of the Secretary of State for International Trade? You cannot have your cake and eat it. Either we have those standards or we do not. The difficulty that my part of the United Kingdom is left in is that we have no choice and no say, and will have no say, in what regulations we have to maintain. I cannot imagine the US or anywhere else doing a trade deal and then meekly lying down and accepting that we put tariffs on their products. That is the antithesis of having a trade deal. You do your deal, and that is what the deal is.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, made the point about equivalence: it does not have to be the same. If it were equivalent then that might be a way around, but if we just say bluntly, “We can bring in cheap food but we’ll put a tariff on it”, there is no point in doing a trade deal because no one is going to agree to it. I can say, from having seen these people in the US, that there are no circumstances in which they are going to be dictated to. Forget about the politics of it; it is the reality of Congress and the people who come from the rural areas. They know which side their bread is buttered, even if we do not. I think we are living in a fool’s paradise.

My second point is that I was quite upset that the House of Commons decided to hide behind a money measure in dismissing the original amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. Yes, we have to be careful of the barriers between the two Houses, but that seemed an unnecessary way around it. They could have stated why they were opposed to it—a point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. But to hide behind a money issue, when what we were talking about was trivial in comparison, was unfortunate.

The Minister and his colleagues have been exceptionally patient with, and helpful to, us all. But he must remember that for some of us, this is the difference between having and not having an industry. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, this is our largest single industry, it has the largest manufacturing, and of all the companies in Northern Ireland, the top five or six are all based around the agricultural sector. That is why these amendments are important, and that is why I hope we can give the House of Commons another chance to look at this.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Empey, I would very much like my noble friend Lord Gardiner to be the Secretary of State, but I have to disagree with him that it would make any difference. I think the die is cast; the Department for International Trade is against these amendments, as is No. 10. They do not get farming in this country, and it would not matter if my noble friend was Secretary of State. I think we are batting our heads against a brick wall. But let us continue to bat our heads against the brick wall, and we might finally get a crack in the brick wall.

Amendments 16B and 18B seek to increase the resilience and sustainability of UK food and farming, and that is to be welcomed. On the sustainability of UK farming, I would like to go on a quick tangent, because, as my noble friend the Minister knows, I am concerned about the sustainability of farming, and I think a lot of English farms, as a result of this legislation, will be turned into theme parks. My fear of that was heightened when I listened to “Farming Today” last week. I do not know whether my noble friend listens to “Farming Today”, but it was an interview about what was going to happen as a result of ELMS coming in. It took place with a Defra representative in Cumbria, and she said a farmer could take his sheep to a show, and he would be able to get a grant for that because that is engagement; it is under the heading of “heritage, beauty and engagement”. This is not farming; this is taking it to the extreme. So I ask my noble friend: if a farmer is going to be able to get an ELM grant for taking his sheep to the show—and good luck to my noble friend Lord Inglewood—would the farmer be able to claim the same engagement by taking his produce to the harvest festival service? There, in the church, everybody would be able to see his grain, his potatoes, his leeks; that is engagement of the highest kind, so surely the theme park managers will be able to benefit from that.

Let me return to the amendment. Again, in the committee I sat on, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, it was quite clear that the hospitality industry is keen to buy the cheapest food at the cheapest price and sell it at the cheapest price, regardless of where it comes from and what the quality is, let alone the animal welfare standards. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—and I am happy to support him once again on his amendment—told us how much of the food we consume in this country comes from the hospitality side. That is a major concern. I have already described how difficult it was to get evidence from some of these people, but what evidence we did get did not fill me with any confidence for the future of farming and animal welfare standards in this country.

My noble friend the Minister, when opening, said that these amendments were disproportionate. If they are disproportionate, it means that the current system is adequate, and the current system is clearly not adequate, because we have heard of the bolt-ons that are going to be necessary and which are taking place. Surely, much the cleanest and best thing to do is to persuade the Department for International Trade and No. 10 that Amendments 16B and 18B should be included in the Bill.

It is absolutely right that there should be independent oversight of these trade deals, and that that body should report to Parliament through the Secretary of State. I have been in the Minister’s position and, after a cross-party defeat—and, so far, the Minister has no supporters, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Curry, have six each—I went to see Viscount Whitelaw, who was Leader of the House, and apologised for getting heavily defeated by a cross-party amendment. He looked at me and said, “Malcolm, perhaps they were right.” I wonder whether my noble friend could take that back to his Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, I declare once again my farming interests, as set out in the register. I am extremely pleased to be able to support Amendment 18B, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. As we all know, the amendment has widespread support in this House and nationally, and, as it has returned in a slightly different format, it can be discussed accordingly.

I will make two very short points. I understand why the Government do not want to see their hands tied by a specific standards clause, as it would be wrong for trade deals to fail if one sector alone, accounting for a small proportion of GDP, has an implied veto. This amendment is a very sensible compromise, in that it enables a committee of experts to report to Parliament before a deal is signed, and then the pros and cons can be decided.

Secondly, other countries, notably the United States of America, have independent trade commissions that report to their assemblies, so no precedent is being set.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, first, I apologise for intervening on our consideration of the Agriculture Bill at this stage, having played no part whatever in any previous consideration of it. But I intervene today because I have played a part in the consideration at every stage of the Trade Bill—and, indeed, the previous Trade Bill, in the last Session. So I come as an emissary from the Trade Bill discussions.

Before I come to Amendment 16B, I will just say to my noble friend the Duke of Wellington that I have sat in a Reasons Committee in the House of Commons, and when such a committee is presented with a Lords amendment that breaches financial privilege, custom and the Standing Orders effectively require that it presents just that one reason. So he should attach no weight to the fact that no other reasons were presented. That is the form of how it is done.

On Amendment 16B, I start from the same place as my noble friend. We have a manifesto that commits us to the highest standards of environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. However, I do not agree with her that we require Amendment 16B in order for this to happen.

I am a member of the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee of your Lordships’ House. We are looking at the trade agreements as they come through. At the moment we have only the Japan agreement to look at as a new, as opposed to a rollover, agreement. Of course, these issues have not arisen with the rollover agreements. The Japan agreement would be covered by this amendment, because it relates to agriculture and food—there are provisions relating to tariff changes and so on. Are we really suggesting, as a consequence of this amendment, that the British Government will now not enter into a trade deal with Japan on the grounds that the Japanese Government will not—I am sure that they will not—accept that UK standards should be applied in Japan? Their view may well be that their standards are equivalent, but they will not sign an agreement that says that they are committed to that.

As far as I can see, the effect of the amendment would also be to say that if we enter into a free trade agreement with the European Union, the European Union must accept our standards. I thought that the whole point of what people voted for in the referendum—I did not agree with them—was that we would not be bound by the European Union’s standards. I have heard Ministers say that they want higher standards. So I am afraid that the amendment makes no sense. Now I might not win that argument—noble Lords want these standards built into trade agreements. Frankly, in many cases they are not negotiable, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, I think perfectly correctly, that this is not a negotiable objective with the United States.

However, from my point of view today, in considering the Commons response to our amendments, the merits of the amendment are not the only issue. The fact is that the Commons debated it. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said in effect that they did not debate the previous amendment very much because they devoted all their attention to this one—and they voted against it. The question is: should we ask them to think again? I say to noble Lords that we can ask them to think again but, if noble Lords want to do that, the proper place is on the Trade Bill, because this matter relates to trade.

I say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that I do not think that his amendment does what he thinks it does. For example, he talked about least-developed countries in the context of agreements notified under paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the GATT, but of course the issue of a reduction in tariffs in relation to developing countries generally arises in the form of the generalised scheme of preferences, where we offer preferential tariff rates to eligible developing and least-developed countries. This is not an agreement notified through paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the GATT. It is not a customs union or a free trade agreement; it is separate and unilateral. So the amendment does not bite on agricultural imports from developing countries under our preferential scheme.

I am afraid that now is the time for noble Lords to say, “Fine—the Commons did not accept our amendment to the Agriculture Bill. We will have a Report stage on the Trade Bill. We will have the opportunity to consider this properly in the context of the Trade Bill, and whether we should mandate Ministers in advance of their negotiations on future international trade agreements.” My personal view is that we should not mandate them. My view—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, rightly suggested this, although I do not agree with his amendment because it is not necessary—is that Ministers will bring forward reports and tell us what their negotiating objectives are. They will report to us on the implications, including on agriculture, food, plant and other issues. We can scrutinise those implications and decide whether, in our view, it is right to ratify such an agreement, and the other place will have the power to reject it.

My final point is that no international trade agreement in itself changes UK domestic legislation. For that to happen requires these two Houses to make those decisions separately. So, directly, we cannot be put in a position where imports come into this country of a standard that is not acceptable under our domestic legislation. In that respect, I think that we should look at this as being about trade, pull stumps now and consider it further in discussion on the Trade Bill.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:15 pm, 20th October 2020

My Lords, how very excellent it is to get back to something like the old House of Lords, where you do not have to put your name down for—and decide you are going to have an opinion on—a debate days in advance. I came in this afternoon to listen, but I have been moved to get up on my hind feet and say a few things because we are debating a crucial issue. I do this for two or three reasons.

First, like my noble friend Lord Lansley, I owe the House an apology. I took a fairly active part, as some noble Lords may remember, in Committee on the Agriculture Bill. I was here for most sessions and spoke a number of times—not quite as often as my noble friend Lady McIntosh but nevertheless a few times. Sadly, in September I was rather messed up by a couple of cataract operations and had to be in and out of hospital, so I did not play much part—two small speeches—on Report. However, I believe the issue we are debating today is of central and crucial importance.

My noble friend Lord Lansley made a very good point about the admirable amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that has been dismissed by the Commons. We will have a Report stage on the Trade Bill, which I have not yet taken part in, which would perhaps be the right moment to reintroduce that amendment. I am one of those who believe that the House of Lords has not only a right but a duty to ask the House of Commons to think again, but if it thinks again emphatically, one has to be very careful indeed before indulging in another round of ping-pong. I am very conscious that I said something different last night on a very different Bill, on which we will be wholly justified in engaging in some very serious ping-pong. I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Lansley nodding a degree of assent.

The amendment placed before us by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is in a different category. My noble friend Lord Lansley is of course right about Reasons Committees and there is nothing strange or novel about the reason given being that it fell outside the financial parameters. Fair enough. However, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has taken note of that and presented a very different amendment in emphasis and degree; I really think the Commons should have an opportunity to reflect on it, because a number of MPs expressed dissatisfaction—some expressed downright annoyance—that they were not able to debate it. They should be given that chance by your Lordships’ House.

I was very taken last Thursday by a letter in the Times from one of the most admirable presidents the NFU has ever had, Minette Batters. She said she had had a cordial meeting with the Prime Minister the previous day and hoped he now recognised certain things—we do not know yet whether or not he does. There is a woman who is giving outstanding leadership, who was responsible for this petition, signed by a million people expressing their concern about food standards.

We know there is a danger—my noble friend Earl Caithness put it humorously tonight—of the “theme park farm” developing. What farming is about, and I made this point myself several times in Committee, is producing food for our people—food of a high standard and quality, produced in a way that recognises the livestock and does not seek to fill them with artificial hormones or to do other things. We are not exactly right, and I have referred before in your Lordships’ House to those terrible scenes on the Wye earlier this year, when the effluent from intensive chicken farming destroyed, for a time at least, one of the most beautiful rivers not only in England but in the whole United Kingdom. We have to recognise that.

Minette Batters wrote in her letter to the Times that we just do not want the situation whereby things that would be illegal if produced in the United Kingdom were sold here and undercut our own farmers’ produce. It was a powerful letter, but that is the fundamental, underlying concern of farmers in this country. I say that having represented a farming constituency for 40 years and living now in my native county of Lincolnshire, which is perhaps the greatest farming county of all.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

I knew that would arouse a few barbs, but it is a very serious and important farming county where, this year, they are battling in the wake of the worst harvest in half a century. We have a duty to these people, and a duty to encourage them to produce food and not regard themselves as theme parks. If that is true of the United Kingdom as a whole, it is particularly true of Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Empey knows so much more about Northern Ireland than I will ever know, but I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place for five years and I travelled there a lot. I got to know and love that part of the United Kingdom very much, and all I can say is that everything that my noble friend said tonight about farming in Northern Ireland is, if anything, an understatement; we have to take that into account.

So I will support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, so that the Commons has a chance to think again. However, in order not to make my noble friend the Minister, for whom I have a very real regard, be too cross with me, I close by saying that I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Empey said about my noble friend Lord Gardiner. Would it not be a very good thing to have a Secretary of State, another Cabinet Minister, in this House? Would it not be particularly appropriate if the portfolio that that Minister held was for agriculture? I would like him to be, in the old way, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does any other Member in the Chamber wish to speak? If not, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, this has been a really excellent debate. I find it quite astonishing, however, at the time of a huge public health crisis—not just in our country but across the world—due to poor diet, as well as an environmental crisis, that we would ever consider importing into our country food that was of lower standards. It worries me, because I agree with all the words that have been said by the Minister—I wish he were higher up the food chain, as it were—and I also sincerely accept his words that these standards will be maintained, somehow or another, but if that is true, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed out, it was part of the manifesto, what precisely is the real objection to writing such a clause into the heart of the Bill?

We have worked, in the food industry and, indeed, through outfits such as the FSA, once chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and it has taken 20 years of UK public policy just to achieve clear front-of-pack labelling, yet right now we are considering doing trade deals with a country, the USA, that says it is concerned that

“labelling food with high sugar content … is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.

Would anyone say that about the way we market cigarettes? Would anyone in this country say that sugar is not a primary cause of obesity—or, indeed, the primary cause of under-12s going into hospital to have all their teeth out?

As has been mentioned, including by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, 40% of the food we eat is eaten outside of the home. In most cases, of course, it means that we as consumers have absolutely no clue about how the food gets to us and what it is. Who remembers the horse meat scandal, which showed that the meat had travelled from some 10 destinations throughout Europe before finally ending up in burgers in well-known supermarkets? I do not see any way, unless it is written into the Bill, for us to stop this cheaper food coming here. Sadly, we know how often price affects the way people buy.

The chemicals and additives that are added to the diets of American pork and beef animals are shocking. We all worry about antibiotic resistance and the prospect that the day might come when childbirth, or even a thorn in your finger that makes it go septic, could cause you to become very ill or even die. More than 50% of all the antibiotics consumed in America are consumed by pigs, cattle and chickens. It is no surprise that antibiotic-resistant illnesses are on the rise there. Surely that is something we need to prevent. Our standards in this respect are good. Our use of antibiotics is limited; we use them only in an emergency and not as a routine growth hormone.

There are other extreme examples of cruelty. I want to coin a phrase that was first said by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, about exporting our own types of animal cruelty. American pigs are given hormones to encourage them to run around and build up their muscle content because that makes them better to eat. I have often though that if we did something like that to Labradors, the world would crash to a halt; having kept both pigs and Labradors, I would say that pigs have the edge in intelligence and sentience. If we allow this, we are also saying that we tacitly approve of this system of rearing animals, including in terms of what they eat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, we must import or export our emissions. That means that we need trade standards that will examine how products have been grown and what they have necessitated. The finance industry is already way ahead of policy in setting targets on products that depend on deforestation or practices that actively encourage and cause climate change; as long-term investments over a 10-year plan, they will become stranded assets because the world will not deal with them. Surely, we should appreciate, enhance and deeply embed this principle in our Agriculture Bill.

As has been pointed out by many noble Lords, there is a huge weight of public opinion. People care about their food. They care about their farmers. They care about their standards. We need to be open with Parliament. Like the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the excellent amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, will allow us to have a commission that puts what is in a Trade Bill before Parliament if we need to examine it. We need both these things put into law; both of them need muscle and power. If we do not do this, we will not be able to level our playing field and carry on producing our own food to a high standard; it will be unfair to us, to consumers and to our children.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:30 pm, 20th October 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks, and for his briefings and those of his officials. I support the contributions from the Floor of the House asking to elevate him to the role of Secretary of State for Agriculture in our Chamber.

We have heard some excellent contributions this afternoon. In his Motion E1, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, laid out the arguments for Amendment 16B, which addresses how the UK’s animal welfare, food and environmental standards will be protected in the negotiation of future free trade agreements. FTAs permit imports to be subject to conditionality based on animal welfare. We are nothing if not a nation of animal lovers. The Government have set themselves the goal of having the best animal welfare standards in the world. This is laudable, but action will need to be taken to ensure that this happens.

Earlier, we debated the previous incarnation of the Trade Bill, when the Government themselves proposed and passed an amendment ensuring that UK animal welfare and environmental standards would be protected in trade agreements. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has referred to how standards can be changed during the statutory instrument process, and I agree that labelling is going to be vital. A broad range of NGOs and bodies representing the UK agriculture sector believe that the Government must protect our farmers and standards by requiring that imports meet UK standards. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, which assists the Government to meet their stated aim of healthy, sustainable food for trade and communities, as he has indicated. There is a minefield to be negotiated here.

I now turn to Motion G1 and Amendment 18B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, whom I congratulate on his introduction. I was dismayed that the Government did not allow his previous amendment to be debated in the other place due to a technicality regarding the use of public funds. At no point during our deliberations in Committee or on Report was this raised as an issue. When the debate on the Lords amendments took place in the other place, although this amendment was not on the order paper, many MPs expressed support for its aim, as other Peers have said, including the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, has altered its wording, so let us hope that it will find favour with the other place and get an airing there.

British farmers work the land and stock; their animals are well looked after and the high standards that pertain here ensure that those purchasing home-reared products can have confidence in their produce. This amendment does not take away any of the power of the Government or the other place; in fact, the opposite is true. Sadly, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that the Government do not really “get” agriculture. The National Farmers’ Union fully supports this measure, which protects farmers from poorer quality—and, possibly, cheaper—imports slipping in under the net of protection that British farmers operate under. The NFU’s petition has attracted over a million signatures, as others have referred to.

While we welcome the Government’s move to set up a Trade and Agriculture Commission, this had a very limited life and no legislative basis at all. It was not independent of government and had no teeth to implement its findings, as others have so eloquently said. It would also have reported long before the move from the basic payments scheme to the environmental land management scheme had become fully operational. The transition of farmers from one scheme to the other is a source of anxiety among the agricultural community. The pilots that are currently running under ELMS have yet to be assessed, and farmers are unsure what the future holds for them.

Amendment 18B would require the Government to report to Parliament on the impact of trade deals prior to ratification, looking specifically at how food imports will be addressed under those deals and whether food produced to different standards will be allowed under their terms. This is important to ensure that our farmers are not undercut. It would set up the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a permanent basis, instead of as a non-statutory body, currently due to be disbanded in January 2021, and it will require the Government to consult fully on these powers.

What we have before us is a compromise, but it is a fair compromise, ensuring we safeguard our standards in future trade deals. It will not impinge on the primacy of the Executive in negotiating trade deals. It gives parliamentarians an important say on whether those final deals are in the interests of the British people before they come into effect. Surely, this is a key role of Parliament.

If we are to enter into trade agreements that do not meet the Government’s manifesto commitments on environmental standards and animal welfare, where are we? When the noble Lord, Lord Curry, divides the House, the Liberal Democrat Benches will be supporting him fully.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a far more extensive debate, in terms of numbers, than I had imagined. It adds to the many other debates that we have had on this matter over the past months.

Some noble Lords could get me into considerable trouble, so I say, emphatically, that I work for an exceptional Secretary of State. Obviously, I do not take these things personally. Like many other Ministers with farming interests—I should also declare my membership of the NFU—I understand agriculture, because I come of farming stock. I understand the mindset of so many farming families and communities at this time. My noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Cormack I hope knocked on the head the issue of financial privilege. I mention particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that this is the procedure. My noble friends who were in the other place know this. I do not want any noble Lord to think that the points raised were not of interest, but simply to understand why it is as it is.

I get the mood of the House and, I imagine, the mood beyond it, but hope that some of the detail in my opening remarks and in what I say now will ensure that whatever the differences, we are all in agreement about the necessity and desirability of maintaining standards. I will not repeat, as I have on other occasions, the legal import requirements that we already have. We have import rules on antibiotic growth promoters in domestic law. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, knows that, but the implication was that this may not be part of our domestic law. To put the record straight, it is, and therefore the points that she made would relate to our import rules.

We have yet to explore fully the opportunity of trade across the world for British agriculture and horticulture. When I say “British”, I mean across the United Kingdom. England has a very strong agricultural sector, but my goodness, it is very strong in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland too. I say this to the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord McCrea.

My noble friend Lord Cormack rightly mentioned producing food at home, but when I speak to my noble friend Lord Grimstone, the opportunities for producing British food and drink across the United Kingdom for export are what he is so keen to grasp. As I have said before, some of the debate that we have had in this House has, on balance, been determined that everything will be grim, whereas I see considerable opportunities for British agriculture and horticulture.

I set out the range of rigorous processes that ensure full input into trade deals and to allow them to be effectively scrutinised. Our overall approach to scrutiny goes well beyond that of many comparable parliamentary democracies. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to a key role of Parliament. Parliament has enormous input and scope to say “No”. All treaties that require ratification are subject to scrutiny procedures under the CRaG Act 2010. Any legislation required to give effect to our FTAs must be scrutinised and passed by Parliament.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke about examination. My goodness—the Government have already made additional commitments to transparency and to aid scrutiny of FTAs. These include: publishing objectives and initial economic assessments prior to the start of talks; providing regular progress updates to Parliament, as we have done at the conclusion of negotiation rounds with the US and Australia; engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords EU International Agreement Sub-Committee —I am so glad that my noble friend Lord Lansley is on that committee—throughout negotiations to keep them abreast of developments; publishing a final impact assessment; and allowing time for the relevant scrutiny committee to publish a report. Where the committee indicated that the agreement should be subject to a debate prior to the commencement of parliamentary scrutiny under CRaG, the Government would consider and seek to meet such requests—that is, when these requests are made within a reasonable timeframe and subject to parliamentary timetables.

I am interested in the point that we always have to run to someone else to consider these matters. This is where the base of authority lies—in Parliament. It is our job to scrutinise. It is the job of our committees. I believe noble Lords would say that the committees of our House are invaluable. What always concerns me is that we run to other people when we should take so much more responsibility for that scrutiny.

The Trade and Agriculture Commission in particular contains an authoritative body of expertise and is already playing a very important role in our trade policy. It was established to run with a fixed term and a well-defined remit. This was a deliberate decision, which avoided creating a permanent quango duplicating existing government functions and, in particular, the trade advisory groups. It is interesting that noble Lords have not mentioned these groups, which are a permanent mechanism through which stakeholders can feed into FTAs.

I am concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, used the words “race to the bottom”. At no point in my five years of existence at Defra—how much longer that will be, goodness knows now—has there been the idea that this Government, or any Government, should want to race to the bottom. I have outlined all the scrutiny that will take place. The noble Lord knows that I have not only regard but affection for him. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland are all very well-regarded regulatory bodies. Their functions are very clear. As I said, I had a meeting with the chair and the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency only last Friday. We discussed what it needs to do, and will do, with Britain being an independent third country, as well as the absolute imperative of standards across the range, as I described in my opening remarks. I emphasise again the importance—indeed, the essential nature—of the bodies we already have.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that we will take account of animal welfare considerations during negotiations and will use the most appropriate levers available to achieve our objectives. Whether it is the Foreign Office or our department, pressing for improvements in standards across the globe has often very much registered with other countries. We should be mindful of that.

I am a pragmatist and a realist, and I know the mood of this House. I can only say that the Government will continue to consider all these matters and other points that are made in the light of the very extensive scrutiny I have outlined. That scrutiny really is additional. I say again, and it is not meant to sound churlish, that the Government have offered so much more scrutiny. Having studied what other countries have provided, I would, as I said, be very interested to hear later whether any noble Lord can cite a country that has even more rigorous scrutiny. I would be very interested to investigate that. I am mindful of the mood of the House but, on this occasion, I commend the Motion to the House.

Motion D agreed.