Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Agriculture Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:33 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Lord Grantchester:

Moved by Lord Grantchester

At end insert “and do propose the following amendments to Amendment 18C—

18E: In subsection (1) leave out “the Secretary of State has first laid a report complying with subsection (2) before Parliament” and insert —“(a) the Secretary of State has laid a report complying with subsection(2) before Parliament, and(b) the House of Commons has approved that report by a resolution on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown.”

18F: In subsection (2) leave out “are consistent with the maintenance of” and insert “achieve equivalence to”

18G: In subsection (7) insert ““Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;””

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)

My Lords, the Agriculture Bill is before your Lordships’ House once more. We do not apologise for that, as food standards remain a clear priority for the great British public. I declare my interest and my farming background as recorded on the register.

I start by thanking the Minister and the Minister in the Commons, Victoria Prentis, for the extensive discussions conducted with me and my colleagues, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the shadow Defra Secretary of State Luke Pollard and the shadow Minister for Food and Farming Daniel Zeichner, which were conducted immediately before the tabling deadline for amendments in the Commons. They were difficult discussions because the Government would not share the text of their amendment with us, as well as deeming it non-negotiable. We all know that Governments do not conduct negotiations. It was a bit like wandering around in the dark looking for a bag to be able to release the cat. When the full light of day came, there was no cat to be found. However, those discussions identified what the cat should look like, and it was very disappointing to discover that the amendment did not resemble what we thought had been agreed between us.

We commend the Government on moving from their previous position and conceding that the Trade and Agriculture Commission be set up in the Trade Bill. Discussions focused on the TAC—its independence, membership and reporting structure within the CRaG process—and the underpinning of standards. How this will be shaped largely moves to the Trade Bill, but the amendment to your Lordships’ previous resolutions regarding standards reporting and the CRaG process is here now in response to Labour’s previous amendments. Sunday’s joint ministerial statement also did not entirely resemble the conclusions we considered had been agreed with the Government.

We understand and agree that, under subsection (4) of the new clause inserted by the Government’s amendment, the advice that

“the Secretary of State considers to be independent” is a legal definition that is challengeable in the courts, and we have no quarrel with that. However, the clear differences appear in our amendment to the text of the Government’s amendment. Under Amendment 18E, it is most important that the TAC’s report has merit and it should be guaranteed that it will be placed independently before the Commons and must not be subsumed as merely part of the overall report that committees of both House may make. Food standards remain a clear commitment that must be maintained and must be seen to be maintained by so many organisations, individuals and farmers in all corners of the United Kingdom. It is very important that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is an expert body. Its voice must be heard clearly. Its voice must not be supressed. Every voice must count, and it must be clear as a statutory body among the plurality of views that come before Parliament. It can then be properly assessed with the resolution to be moved by the Government.

The second adjustment to the Government’s text before your Lordships this afternoon, Amendment 18F, concerns the meaning of standards maintenance as recognised by the World Trade Organization. The word is “equivalence”. It is disappointing that the Government continue to represent the intentions, workings and understanding of this term portrayed in the joint ministerial statement, but now is not the time to repeat previous debates.

Since the Commons proposal, the debate has continued, and I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the way he has engaged with me and the time he has given so that we understand each other. I am pleased that he has responded further in his opening remarks to the Government’s proposal to your Lordships’ House. He is an excellent Minister and much admired around the House for the way he represents the Government.

We should be clear that in offering this late concession to the Agriculture Bill, the Government are also asking us to accept amendments to the Trade Bill, which is currently paused. We have not seen those amendments. Indeed, I expect they have yet to be drafted or signed off. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, is not a Minister in the Department for International Trade, but when he speaks from the Dispatch Box he speaks for the whole Government and I hope very much that when he comes to respond to the debate this afternoon he can confirm that the Government will ensure that amendments to the Trade Bill deal not only with the outstanding issues I have touched on in relation to the Trade and Agriculture Commission but will deliver the issues discussed and agreed with the shadow Secretary of State Emily Thornberry only last week. Of course, the Trade Bill is concerned not just with agricultural trade matters, so there will be other sectoral interests that will need to be addressed if our concerns are to be met.

On the TAC, we will expect it to be established as an independent body with an appropriate budget and staff and with members appointed in accordance with best practice for public appointments. If the TAC is to do the job of underpinning food production, animal health and welfare standards and the environment, it must be able to report directly to Parliament and the relevant committees of both Houses, not just through a report laid by the Secretary of State.

Our amendment in lieu highlights three issues, among others, which will need to be included in the government amendments to the Trade Bill. First, if a future trade agreement is likely to contain measures that change primary or subordinate legislation relating to the current standards, Ministers must ensure that Parliament and the devolved Administrations are made aware of all these in a timely manner, and that all necessary changes to primary or secondary legislation are made before the treaty approval mechanisms under the CRaG Act 2010 are initiated. Secondly, regulations must ensure that the commitments made by the Government provide the appropriate Select Committees of both Houses, and the devolved Administrations, with draft objectives, progress reports and the final text of future trade agreements. Thirdly, sufficient time must be provided by the Government so that parliamentary committees and the devolved Administrations may consider all matters relevant to future trade agreements and that Parliament itself has time to debate and vote on all such treaties.

The Agriculture Bill will be done. It is now clear, from the Government’s position in their amendments, that there cannot be a regression of standards. We can go forward with the Government’s new position and the explanations given. The importance to the British consumer of the nature of imported food has been understood and recognised by the Government’s concession to your Lordships. We had felt jilted after it seemed that we were agreeing to new solutions together. However, the Minister has gone a long way towards rebuilding the bridges with his remarks today. Now is the time for those three special words needed for us to come together: “Maybe you’re right”.

Discussions around the TAC addition to the Trade Bill will obviously continue. The coalition of concern regarding food continues and our deep anguish remains with the massive increase in food bank usage. Nutrition remains of key importance. We also celebrate the very late, overnight concession agreed on free school meals being provided to children in our communities over the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays. The Government have boosted confidence with today’s concessions, which formalise the transparency and scrutiny that they promised at the election. This is an incredible achievement and there is no need for further Divisions today.

It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have supported my many amendments during the passage of this important Bill. The UK will be in a new moment. I have a strong hunch that the Government’s recognition of food standards will be the key to unlock the EU deal. The sooner the Government work with us on the scope and wording of those amendments, the sooner that may be achieved. On these Benches, we recognise the value of the farming industry and the quality of the product that the whole food supply chain delivers. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Curry, Minette Batters and the team at the National Farmers’ Union on the fulfilment of their campaign to achieve this milestone. I congratulate the Minister on engaging with them to bring forward this concession. Minette has worked tirelessly.

I followed the whole debate in the Commons, where many Members spoke in praise of the quality of British food produced in so many of their constituencies, including Edward Timpson, my constituency MP in Cheshire. All spoke with confidence that quality enhances the UK’s competitiveness. The Agriculture Bill sets up a clear vision for the future to be achieved by the measures it introduces. There will still be many aspects to monitor and promote, not the least of which will be to monitor the quality of food that will be needed to enhance the health of the nation. This must be underscored by improvements in the food service sector, which remains an enigma.

Two days ago, the American people voted for unity to begin. We are the responsible Opposition that will continue to bring forward challenges through promoting greater improvements. The responsible Opposition recognise the moment in our constitution where the law is made and is upheld by the judges. Yesterday, the nation remembered the sacrifices of the past. I pay tribute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whose “Thought for the Day” was a key moment for me at the start of every day, unless I was already in the milking parlour.

With this Bill, food will be produced in a more sustainable way, working with the grain of nature, respecting biodiversity, protecting the environment and recognising animal welfare. Farmers can continue to receive the support they deserve for their expertise. There will be no need to press our amendment. We will work together, with the Government and the countryside, to bring all this to fruition.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his time, and that of his officials, in briefings. I will speak to Amendment 18H. I welcome the Government’s concessions, which are extremely helpful and go a long way toward meeting the concerns of this House. However, I regret that they do not go quite far enough for the Liberal Democrat Benches. I agree with the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and support many of his comments.

The Government’s amendment suggests that they may be able to permit imports of products that do not meet our stringent standards, when they merely report to Parliament that they have done so. This measure therefore falls substantially short of the protection of British standards that animal welfare organisations, farming bodies and the British public expect the Government to guarantee, as they committed to in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto.

I am concerned, in particular, with labelling, which can be misleading at best. I support the need for trade with developing countries and countries that do not currently have the same standards as we have in the UK, but it must be clear to the UK consumer where the produce has come from and what its journey has been. If I buy a bunch of roses, I want the country of origin to be clearly labelled. I may choose to buy a more expensive bunch of UK-grown roses over one flown in from a warmer country. Once they have reopened, we will shortly be seeing poinsettias for sale in the shops. I will want to buy a poinsettia that has a plant passport attached; the House debated this issue last year.

The UK has detailed, species-specific legislation on pigs, hens, broiler chickens and calves, to protect their welfare on the farm and at slaughter. Many nations have regulations that are, generally, substantially lower than those of the UK; this can have a detrimental effect on our farming community. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to the importance of equivalence. The dictionary definition of equivalence is

“a state of being essentially equal or equivalent … ‘on a par with the best’”,

but this does not give the whole picture. It should be a negotiating objective for the Government to secure terms that provide for equivalence with standards applicable to domestic producers. Does the Minister agree?

It may well be that imported agri-food products will be equivalent in quality to those produced in the UK, but they may have been produced under very different conditions. I refer to the Danish pork industry, where sows are kept in crates and are not free to roam and grub around in the soil, as they are in the UK. Danish pork is currently imported and processed into sausages in UK factories, then labelled at the point of sale as being British pork sausages. There will, of course, be other similar examples but, in the interests of brevity at this stage of our deliberations, I will not bore your Lordships with a long list. I am sure that neither the Government nor the pork processing industry is deliberately attempting to deceive the British consumer, but our amendment seeks to address this type of practice.

Some 21% of UK-produced eggs are used as ingredients in various products, often in the form of whole egg powder. Would the currently proposed arrangements undermine the UK’s egg producers, who would find demand for their egg powder being replaced by cheaper imports? The government amendment before the House would apply to each of the free trade deals signed by the Government from 2021 onwards, but what of those that have been signed before that date? Setting the TAC on a statutory basis under the Trade Bill is a positive step forward, but it will fail to protect farm standards if the wider issues are not better addressed.

I realise that I am trying the Government’s patience but I hope that the Minister will be able to give reassurances. If he is unable to do so, I regret that I may well divide the House.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the following Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak: the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Lansley. I call the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee 4:00 pm, 9th November 2020

I congratulate the Government on tabling Amendments 18C and 18D in response to the earlier Lords amendment from my noble friend Lord Curry. It is very welcome that the Government have listened to the arguments in your Lordships’ House about trade and standards of food and have accepted the principles debated here. However, I also recognise the importance of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to those points; they are important and I support them.

It may seem churlish to keep banging on about food standards after the Government have made such a major concession. The transparency that will be introduced by requiring the Secretary of State to explain whether and to what extent new trade agreements ensure that we do not import food produced to lower safety, welfare and environment standards is very welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, it does not guarantee that lower-standard food will not be imported; it simply guarantees that there will be a report.

I do not want to go on at length because we have discussed these things so many times, but I want to reiterate one point that I made earlier in the debates on this matter. It concerns the practicalities. Let us assume that we are committed to not importing food of a lower standard with regard to the environment, welfare and food safety. Who is going to ensure that? The Minister has repeatedly said that we have advice from the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. That is fine but there will also be a role for local authorities which, through their environmental health officers and trading standards officers, will be checking the food in restaurants and shops. My concern is that we may have high hopes of ensuring that these standards are maintained but then not have the resources, either in the national bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency, or the local bodies, to ensure that these promises are delivered on the ground.

This question of resources has been highlighted already—without the additional responsibilities of new trade deals—by the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, Emily Miles. On 22 October, she told the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health:

“I want to be clear to the relevant parts of government that there simply isn’t enough funding available for local authorities to carry out their duties on food safety”.

The question of practicality is still unresolved. I very much hope that the Minister will comment on this and reassure the House in his summing up.

My close colleague, the late Lord May of Oxford, used to quote to me the refrain from an Australian country and western song: only the hard yards get you home. We are now on the way home and these last few hard yards are ones that we have debated. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response in finally bringing this home.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I fully agree with all his points. I thank the Government very much for how much they have moved on this issue and how open they have been in discussion. Again, I rather wish that the Minister sitting here was going to be across the Trade Bill because, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, this is not necessarily guaranteed.

I know that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not in the Agriculture Bill. I have been in your Lordships’ House for a little over two years and food standards have become a very big issue. You can see its popularity across the country. I am grateful to the Government for having, over the weekend, agreed to feeding kids through the winter, but this should not have happened because of pressure from a footballer. It should have happened anyway. We should never have been in that position. If we do not get some things right now—in the last hard yards, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said—we may be looking at problems again in the future. I thought the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about Danish pigs was very salient. We say that we have high standards of animal welfare, yet we are prepared to have Danish bacon and Danish sausages. Danish pigs, along with Polish pigs, are the worst-treated pigs this side of Asia. I do not know a lot about Asian things, but those standards are appalling.

I ask the Government first, on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: how will all this be administered and how much will it cost? I also make a plea that public health, in terms of how goods and food are brought into this country, is given a high priority. Covid has shown us, and indeed the whole world, that too much unhealthy food—that is, obesity—has dire impacts on the nation’s health. If we do not somehow regulate the food coming into this country, we risk a race to the bottom and getting a greater preponderance of unhealthy, cheap, calorie-dense and nutrition-poor food. It will end up with the poorest people, probably many of those who will be in receipt of the Government’s current generosity with the Marcus Rashford campaign.

It seems naive in the extreme to imagine that a country—whether Australia or America, both of which consider that labelling food high in sugar is not useful in changing consumer behaviour—will not somehow try to jump into our marketplace unless we have some strong regulations. One of those could be the presence of public health in the TAC.

The other issue that worries me—I would love to be told that I should not worry—is how this will be rated. How will the voices in the TAC be heard? It is going to be a casting vote. What happens when it is a decision between taking Tim Tams—the Prime Minister’s current snack from Australia—or something healthy and nutritious? Will one vote count for more or will they all be equal? It seems really complicated to put all these decisions into the hands of a group of people, however fantastic they all are, and expect them to make easy and clear recommendations if issues of public health are not right at the top of the list.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I warmly thank my noble friend and congratulate him on his role, as I do the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the environment, food and rural affairs next door. It may be a little late, but we have got to a very good place and I thank him for his role in this regard. I want to echo some of the concerns voiced around the Chamber. It is important that these are addressed at the next stage of the Trade Bill.

I ask the Minister to reconsider his stance, as given today, on equivalence. There is scope in the World Trade Organization for equivalent standards. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, have set out—as we have on previous occasions—why it is important to maintain our high standards of animal welfare, animal health and environmental protection.

I am extremely cautious on the role of labelling. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, in a speech in the Commons on 4 November, at col. 386, placed great emphasis on labelling. That did not help our pig producers when a previous Conservative Government unilaterally banned sow stalls and tethers in this country. Consumers went and bought—in supermarkets I must say, not in butchers—the cheaper cut. It may have been labelled as British but they bought on price.

I commend my noble friend for the fact that the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be statutory, that its tenure will be extended to three years so that it becomes more permanent, and that it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. As there will be appointments to that body, including maybe a new chairman, will he ensure that we in this place or Select Committees in the other place have a role in scrutinising them—particularly the appointment of the chairman, if there is to be a change of chairman at some point—so that Parliament has a role?

In terms of parliamentary scrutiny, which I welcome, can my noble friend clarify that 21 and 21 equals 42, so there is not a great deal of difference between the amendments before the House this afternoon and what my noble friend is suggesting? However, we ought to keep this CRaG procedure under review.

Finally, I pay tribute to the government adviser, Henry Dimbleby, who has been outstanding in his contribution to this debate. He has captured the mood of the country, and that has been reflected in the Government’s position on both free school meals and food standards, which I also commend. I thank my noble friend for his role in arriving at where we are today.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, on his determination and persistence in pursuing this amendment. He was ably backed by Minette Batters and the NFU, NFU Scotland and the British Veterinary Association, among others, but it was the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and this House who, I think, managed to shift the Government.

I said at an earlier stage that we were beating our heads against a brick wall, but, however bruised our heads are, at least the wall has cracked to some extent on this amendment. Therefore, I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner. I have no doubt that he understood the mood of the House and helped persuade the Secretary of State that this really needed to be taken seriously.

I have no doubt that Defra would have accepted this amendment on Report if it had been in total charge of the Bill. I still have very severe reservations about the attitude of the Department for International Trade on this matter. We have not seen the amendments to the Trade Bill that will be brought forward. I sat in Committee with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, when we discussed the agriculture side of it and we met a very strong brick wall on that occasion. Let us hope that at long last there is a bit of light in another department, because the attitude so far has damaged Defra’s reputation with the farming community. Defra will always get blamed for anything relating to agriculture, even though it did not have ultimate control of this issue.

I strongly welcome the fact that the TAC has been put on a statutory footing, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, it is the amendments to the Trade Bill that are key, and we will keep a very wary eye on those.

I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh said about labelling, although I slightly disagree with my noble friend, because I think that labelling is hugely important. I do not think that it is good enough now, and that is why we had the problems with Danish pork and sausages—they were not labelled properly. Unless food is properly labelled and there is a traffic-light system for health and food safety, we will not get anywhere. That was highlighted by the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, chaired and on which I had the privilege of sitting. When we get around to debating that report—whenever that is allowed—it is no doubt a subject that I will bring up again.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned enforcement and checks, and I agree with him. I thought that everything would be all right until I saw the recent reports about the funding of the Environment Agency and how there was an increase in pollution due to farming and industry. The Environment Agency was not doing enough checks and there was not enough enforcement. If that is followed through into the Food Standards Agency, a lot of the hope that we have that things will improve will disappear. We will have to watch that. Meanwhile, I have much pleasure in thanking my noble friend Lord Gardiner for the enormous amount of work behind the scenes that he has done to get us this far.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:15 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, in politics you never get everything you want, but this is a very good illustration of the workings of your Lordships’ House. It shows how justified was the terrier-like insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, over many sessions in Committee and on Report, and how justified those of us who voted for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and who carried on ping-pong were in supporting that. But most of all it shows that if you have a sensitive and listening Minister who is prepared to say quite openly and honestly what this House will put up with and what it will not—there is an enormous amount of agricultural experience here—you can make real progress.

I thought that it was rather appropriate and, in its way, delightful that the Minister handling these things in the other place was Victoria Prentis, the daughter of our much-loved colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho. I am sure that he is tuned in but I think that, if he were here today, he would be very proud of the constructive part that his daughter played, along with my noble friend on the Front Bench, in bringing this matter to a pretty desirable consummation—one “devoutly to be wished”, as the great playwright would say. However, obviously we are not completely there yet. It depends on the wording of the amendments to the Trade Bill. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We have to have a Trade and Agriculture Commission with teeth, and people of the calibre of Henry Dimbleby have to be kept in office. Of course, we have all been assisted by the indefatigable Minette Batters, president of the NFU, who has proved an outstanding leader at a very difficult time.

We are, as they say, where we are, and we are in a much better place than many of us feared we might be in just a couple of short weeks ago. The overwhelming credit for that must go to my noble friend Lord Gardiner. I thank him for his behind-the-scenes negotiating skills, his willingness at all times to talk to anyone who wishes to talk to him, and clearly his very constructive relationship with his colleagues in the department and in the other place.

Therefore, this is, I think, a good day for your Lordships’ House, because it shows how our sometimes apparently cumbersome machinery really works. I am delighted to be able to thank and congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues, and all those in all parts of the House who played a part in making a Bill that had its deficiencies very much better than it was when it came to us.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to speak after my noble friend Lord Cormack, because I agree wholeheartedly with everything that he said. I especially express appreciation of the role played by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, the Minister, and our honourable friend in the other place, Victoria Prentis. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for what he has done.

I just want to add one point, which I consider to be important. I participated in the Trade Bill discussions this time and on the previous occasion, in the last Session, when the Bill was in this House. Of course, on Report we will look at the Government’s amendment on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and I look forward to that. However, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: the issue is not enforcement; it is what is in the domestic legislation, and enforcement follows from that.

The point I would make to my noble friend is that, while he said correctly that it is the Government’s practice not to ratify a treaty before it has been implemented in domestic legislation and before a debate has been concluded, not least in the other place, which might have the effect of withholding approval for ratification, neither of these things are required under CRaG. CRaG, in my view, is not yet sufficient, and when we look at the Trade Bill on Report, I will suggest that we have a report from Ministers on an international trade treaty that shows what the domestic legislative implications would be of such a treaty, which of course would embrace any changes that might be required on agriculture and food standards in this country, and would highlight that point, but might also cover environment and sustainability issues, health and related issues. So there is a more general issue about understanding that, if a treaty requires changes to our domestic legislation, we need to know what they are.

Secondly, the CRaG would require that Ministers should not ratify a treaty before the implementation of domestic legislation unless there are exceptional reasons, which the later sections of CRaG allow for. Unless there are exceptional reasons, they should not do so.

Thirdly, if there is a report to either House from the relevant committee—in our case, it would be the International Agreements Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit, and in the other place, the International Trade Select Committee would be presumed to be the relevant committee—that calls for either House to have a debate, then Ministers would be required to extend the 21-day period until such a debate had taken place—which is not what the CRaG currently says.

I am sorry, I am slightly advertising what I think we need to do on Report on the Trade Bill. I hope my noble friend will forgive me; what he said was indeed the Government’s practice, but it is not what CRaG says. I think it is important that it does say it, because that will further reinforce the parliamentary scrutiny aspect.

I could not vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, because, as she admitted, it trespasses again into turning the legislature into the Executive, by trying to mandate what are in the Government’s negotiating objectives by virtue of legislative provisions. The other place has repeatedly resisted such amendments, and it would be unrealistic to take such an amendment back to it again.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench

My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I begin by congratulating the Government on recognising the importance of Amendment 18B and for their response. As I said previously in debates on this Bill, the weight of public opinion on the issue of food standards and the scrutiny of trade deals required a response, and it is reassuring that, even with a large majority in the other place, the Government have been willing to listen to reasoned arguments. I thank the Minister once again for his valuable help and patience in this matter, and for his open door—I fully endorse what others have already said. It is much appreciated.

The progress that has now been made with the tabling of this amendment is evidence once again, if we needed it, of the value of this House as a revising Chamber. Despite the fact that there remains huge uncertainty around many aspects of the Bill and how, as a framework Bill, it will be translated into policy and implementation, there is no question that it is now a better Bill as a result of our endeavours in this House. I am, therefore, very happy to support this new amendment. I had planned to comment on the issue of equivalence, but others have done so articulately.

In endorsing the Bill and this amendment, I am very aware that this is, as has been stated already, just one side of the coin. To change the metaphor: if this is the belt, the braces will be contained in the Trade Bill. The joint announcement by the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for Defra that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be established on a statutory basis, and that that will be included as a clause in the Trade Bill, is of huge importance, as has been stated a number of times already.

I—and others, I am sure—will want to study the text very carefully when the Trade Bill arrives back in this House, to ensure the remit and the scope of the TAC are appropriate to the task. It is essential that in establishing the TAC on a statutory basis, its composition—its membership—is reviewed to make sure that it is more representative of stakeholders and that it has the appropriate skills and experience to scrutinise trade deals. Even though these two clauses are tabled in separate Bills, it is essential they are complementary.

It is also vital that the first report that the existing TAC has been tasked with producing is seriously considered. It is unfortunate sequencing that we are having to sign off the Agriculture Bill and will have to agree clauses and amendments in the Trade Bill before we have sight of the conclusions of the TAC’s initial report—which, I understand, may well be in March next year. It would be helpful, for example, if it said something about equivalence. It will hopefully provide essential guidance and recommend the principles that should inform free trade deals. It will be crucial that the Trade Bill wording ensures that the conclusions of the TAC report can be taken into account and embedded retrospectively within its future deliberations.

Can the Minister also reassure the House that we will have the opportunity to consider the report of the TAC when it is released—in March or whenever? I am grateful not only to the Minister, as I have stated, but to the many Members of your Lordships’ House who have supported my amendments, including the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and, in particular, my noble friends on the Cross Benches. I shall also take the opportunity, as others have done, to express my personal appreciation of the National Farmers’ Union and, in particular, Minette Batters for her help and support throughout this process.

This is one of the most important moments in the history of agriculture in Britain. Under one guise or another, I have been privileged to be involved in agricultural policy development for over 30 years, so it is a great honour to be able to participate in this Bill. I look forward to an exciting new era in agricultural history. With those comments, I conclude.

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 want to thank all noble Lords who have spoken. It is always embarrassing when one receives such generous comments, but I want to record my strong appreciation for all that has been said. I also say that the Government have listened closely to this House and its views on trade standards and on other matters raised over—my record says—90 hours of debate on the Bill in this House alone. I want, therefore, to record the tenacity of your Lordships. Many of the principal protagonists are in the Chamber, but there are others whom I would like to record as well who have done so much.

I think that the Government have made significant undertakings to ensure that trade deals are subject to ongoing, informed scrutiny by Parliament. Obviously, this is the beginning of a journey, and I have no doubt that your Lordships are going to keep that, in turn, under close scrutiny.

I acknowledge the campaigning of Minette Batters, the president, and the whole team, of the National Farmers Union—particularly as I am a member of the NFU, so it is good they have done so well, is it not? I was pleased that they acknowledged and welcomed our proposals and—yes—our concessions as a victory for them. I am also pleased that the chair of the EFRA Select Committee, Neil Parish, was pleased about these matters.

I was also very pleased by the comments of a noble Lord who is so experienced in agriculture, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I was touched also by the points made by my noble friend Lord Cormack about my ministerial colleagues. I should mention the Secretary of State and my honourable friend Victoria Prentis. A lot of comments have come my way, but I must absolutely tell your Lordships that those two ministerial colleagues have been, in their hearts, very interested and wanting to do what I would call the right thing.

Parliament will have an ongoing central role in ensuring that deals work for British farmers and consumers. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that obviously there is a great more work that I know she feels strongly about and we will work together on, but trade deals will be designed to help our farmers—indeed, this is one thing that we have not heard enough of in our consideration—in creating new markets for what we would all accept are top-quality products and the exports that we want to encourage by these trade arrangements around the world. The Government will keep working hard to support our farmers as we pursue new trade opportunities. Indeed, this is the core task of the Trade and Agriculture Commission that will be put on a statutory footing.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked a number of questions, and my noble friend Lord Lansley engaged on one of them. Clearly, to ensure that Parliament is made aware of all changes to primary or secondary legislation as a result of an FTA, any primary or secondary legislation required to give effect to an FTA will be subject to the applicable parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament must be, and definitely will be, aware of any such legislation, because we would expect full scrutiny of it and the expected challenge to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also asked about future trade agreement sharing. We will share future trade agreements with relevant Select Committees in advance of them being laid in Parliament through the process set out under CRaG. We will always endeavour to make sure that committees have at least 10 sitting days to read through these on a confidential basis.

On the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about the Government providing enough time for meaningful study prior to debate, we are committed to giving Parliament and the devolved Administrations enough time to scrutinise properly any FTA proposals. We would expect any reasonable Government to give time for debate through the usual channels. This Government—and successor Governments —would want that, because scrutiny is a positive contribution to how we trade around the world and ensure that in the agri-food sector, as in other sectors, Britain has something very strong to offer.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Lansley, spoke about resources, and I am very conscious of this. I have had a number of conversations with Heather Hancock and Emily Miles of the FSA about these matters. 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 it has recruited 35 additional members to its advisory committees. This is an area that I want to spend continued time upon, because clearly resources at local government level are necessary, as has been mentioned, and the FSA clearly has a prime task to fulfil.

Food standards were mentioned. The FSA and FSS are responsible for standards, and our regulatory agencies remain the voice on these issues, as they already engage with the sector. It is a heavily regulated sector, with statutory agencies at national, devolved and international level, and the work of local authorities. My work encompasses other agencies—including the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Animal and Plant Health Agency—as well as the FSA and FSS, and these continue to be the defining voices on those aspects of food standards.

Several other points were made. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, returned to the matter of equivalence, and it has been raised before. I was thinking hard about the points that were made on this as I was pruning some very difficult climbing roses at the weekend—because that is a time to think. I repeat what I said in my opening remarks: our new clause allows us to consider equivalence, but we prefer our wording for reasons of consistency and because we think that our wording embraces a wider scope particularly, as I mentioned earlier, in relation to developing countries. We have to be honest with ourselves: it is in the interests of this country and of developing countries that there is an economic dynamic that allows those developing countries to become more prosperous. If we were to use the words, as in the amendment, “equivalence” and “exceeding”, we would present difficulties that I know the noble Baroness does not intend, because we all want that dynamic of trade around the world.

There is also the point about consistency and why we need to be consistent in maintaining our standards. We could tease this out—the interpretation of equivalence over consistency—but my point, having taken more advice on this, is that we should cover the broadest extent. Equivalence and consideration of equivalence are very much within the scope of the new clause. I hope that will give the noble Baroness an understanding or a view that this is not about discarding equivalence: the wording is deliberately intended to enable us to assess it on a consistency basis.

Having said that, there is further work to be done and we will need to follow up some of the points that have been made—again, we have discussed the TAC—as the work develops. We will clearly work closely with TAC members and its chair, Tim Smith. The group has an extended remit, more details will be shared and we will need to work on further announcements—a point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke about. The extended role of the TAC, which will produce reports on the new FTAs before they are laid in Parliament, is precisely about independent scrutiny, and we will also have the trade advisory groups, including the dedicated agri-food group.

By reporting to Parliament, the TAC will also enable the agri-food chapters of possible new FTAs to be scrutinised with much higher precision, using expert advice from not only the TAC but, conceivably, the FSA and parliamentary Select Committees. As I have said before, I strongly believe that there is more scrutiny of trade arrangements in the agri-food sector in this country than probably any other country in the world, and we should be proud of that.

I will attend to some of the points that have been made in follow-ups. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke about public health issues. It is absolutely essential that, whether domestically produced or imported, food is safe for the public: that is why we have a Food Standards Agency and FSS. It is at the absolute heart of why we have, and want to retain, very high standards. We want scrutiny in this country, and it is an area, as the Minister responsible for biosecurity, that I am very hot on.

My noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned enforcement and checks. Again, it is essential that we have checks at the border and checks in our work with other countries to ensure that standards are high.

There are a number of points I may not be able to address here. I was not privy to the Emily Thornberry meeting, so I might need a bit of scrutiny on that.

Regarding the generous comments that have been made, in all the meetings I have had with my noble friend Lord Grimstone, he has been on absolutely the same page. In fact, he has constantly stressed to me the importance for British farmers of the opportunities provided by trade deals. He is absolutely on the same page as all of us in wanting opportunities for the British farmer—not wanting to undersell the British farmer at all. So I will take those messages back to my noble friend and perhaps suggest that all the points that he has made to me are made absolutely clear to your Lordships.

The sooner this Bill is enacted, the sooner we can begin the transformation of our agricultural sector in the context of food production for both home consumption and export, unlocking environmental health and well-being benefits from rural areas that I know we all want to realise. That point has been made so strongly by noble Lords today and during the 90 hours of consideration. So I believe it is time for the next stage of our work. The Government have brought forward these proposals—indeed, concessions—which have been overwhelmingly welcomed by your Lordships, albeit with some further commentary, as well as, importantly, by farmers and the NFU, by the other place, where there are many agricultural MPs, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who I see as a symbol of British agriculture. So I ask noble Lords on all sides of the House to support the Motion that I have tabled. I reiterate how profoundly grateful I am and recognise the work of your Lordships in where we have, eventually, fetched up. I beg to move.