With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(2A) Regulations under this section may not amend or repeal any part of retained EU law (within the meaning of section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) relating to—
(a) the protection of the environment, or
(b) consumer rights.”
Amendment 83, in clause 20, page 16, line 17, after “section” insert—
“may only be made following a public consultation and”.
This amendment would ensure that there are checks and balances on the use of Ministerial powers and that Ministers may not make regulations that deviate from retained EU law without consultation with industry experts.
I shall be very quick, because this is the same argument as I used earlier—we make no apology for bringing it back. Clause 20 may not seem to be the most important in the Bill, but the success of any farming operation nowadays depends on marketing. The measure will take effect in a number of different ways. Far too much discretion is allowed to the Secretary of State. These important responsibilities should be encompassed within duties not powers, which is why we make no apology for trying to make it a duty.
Amendment 47 is simple. We do not understand why the Minister has been reticent throughout the Bill to include duties so that successive Governments will know their responsibilities. This is a monumental clause that entails all manner of different requirements on the Minister: classifying different types of animal and plant variety, and how they are presented in terms of the way in which they are sold. Traceability is the issue that consumers feel most strongly about following the difficulties we went through with BSE and the cockle pickers. They want to know that what they are buying is produced in the manner best for animal welfare and that it is safe. They want to know where it comes from, and that the people who produced it have been paid fairly and are looked after.
This clause is important because it has all sorts of ramifications. We ask the Minister to consider when he will include duties if not in clause 20. This is about consumer protection as much as it is about the protection given to producers. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is going to follow up with other issues that are specified, relating to where we would be with our withdrawal from the EU, but this amendment is plain and simple. We are asking the Minister to put at least one duty in the Bill. That is crucial and would enable consumers to know the Minister is doing something because he has to do it for their benefit, and not doing something just because he wants to. I hope he considers clause 20 important and that he listens to us.
I will speak to amendments 82 and 83. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, this argument is to some extent a rehash of the arguments we made earlier when we insisted that the Government should deprive themselves of the ability to amend regulations on the protection of the environment or consumer rights, which are so exceptionally important and valuable to the country that ideally they should not be watered down, dispensed with or altered by Ministers without the use of primary legislation—it should not be done by regulation.
In amendment 82, we seek to safeguard any part of retained EU law relating to the protection of the environment or consumer rights. Clause 20 allows the Secretary of State to amend regulations relating to marketing standards, including the power to amend or revoke standards set out in retained EU legislation. That is quite some power. Current EU legislation pertaining to marketing standards will become retained EU legislation in section 6 of the withdrawal Act. The Secretary of State obviously understands that this is a significant power because even the Government have said that they recognise that they will need to use the affirmative procedure. However, he wants to be able to change the legislation whenever he sees fit.
The Government ought to be aware of just how extensive that power is, and that Parliament will want to be involved and concerned about how the power will be exercised in future. It is welcome that the Government accept the need for the affirmative procedure, but we ask that they accept safeguards in the Bill so that we can be confident that, as a consequence, environmental protections and consumer rights cannot be watered down—or at least that it will be difficult to do so.
We have not debated those important issues as much as others such as support for farmers. We do not want these important measures to be diminished in any way through lack of insufficient debate during the progress of the Bill. The measures were the subject of considerable concern on the Floor of the House during debates on the withdrawal Act. Committee members may remember that many amendments were tabled along the lines of the ones we are discussing. There was great frustration and suspicion that future Governments would be able, through regulation, to make changes to these important safeguards, which have been copper-bottomed up until now because they have been part of EU law, much to the irritation of some Members.
I can see the argument that Members will be pleased when such safeguards can be changed by this Parliament, but that needs to be done in the right way. It is no good saying that things are protected just because power resides in Westminster with the UK Government or in a devolved Administration.
A procedure would take place in Parliament but we have all sat on those Committees and seen just how thorough the examination of regulations can be.
The protection of the environment and consumers is very important. We would argue that, if anyone wants to change those important rules and the law of this country, they should introduce a Bill. We can then scrutinise it properly, with votes on the Floor of the House and the involvement of both Houses. Let us have the warranted scrutiny because these incredibly important issues affect how our country perceives itself and is perceived overseas, and the protection of the environment. The protections warrant the hard work that would need to be undertaken by Ministers, which is what people put their hands up for when they voted to leave—they wanted the ability to make their laws properly, as they saw it. To do that by regulation, through whatever procedure, is not what the public had in mind when they voted in 2016.
I am afraid that warm words from the Minister will not do this time, nor will assurances that Parliament can be involved when future regulations are proposed. We are very concerned. Subject to what the Minister says, we might want to test the opinion of the Committee on these amendments.
It is important to note that amendments 47 and 82 are to some extent antagonistic. On amendment 47, as the shadow Minister said, we have debated the issue of “may” or “must” on many clauses. I simply reiterate that having that power conveyed through the term “may” is how comparable legislation is drafted and is the approach we take. In addition, in this instance, there is another reason why “may” is absolutely the appropriate word to use rather than “must”.
The hon. Member for Stroud should read the clause in the context of the fact that all existing EU marketing standards will be brought across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and placed on a UK statutory footing. It is therefore not the case that, in the absence of immediate action by the Secretary of State, there will be no marketing standards. In the absence of any action under clause 20, the position would be that retained EU law on marketing standards endures and remains after we leave the EU as it was when we were in it. Paradoxically, if there were a requirement that he “must” introduce regulations in all areas, the Government might be forced to change retained EU law that they were perfectly content with and not in a hurry to change.
Amendment 82 almost seeks to do the reverse. It says that retained EU law should not be changed at all when it affects the protection of the environment or consumer rights. Retained EU law will be our starting point—that is what will come across—but what if the European Union itself were to decide that it could improve, for example, its marketing standards or transparency for consumers? Are we seriously saying that we would say, “No. We believe that the position that pertained in the EU in March 2019 was the best forever more, and that no changes or improvement can ever be made at any point in future”?
It is wrong to regard amending or repealing retained EU law as watering down standards. As we leave the European Union, we must increase our confidence in our ability to judge such matters and take the steps necessary to protect consumers. The EU rulebook has not stood still. New challenges and issues will present themselves. We may want to change some measures relating to marketing standards and carcase classification, for example. It is wrong to put a lock on the retained EU law that we bring across. It is right that we retain the option to improve it or to repeal it and replace it with something better. We must not assume that all change is bad. Often, change is a good thing.
Let me reassure the Minister. I am not saying that we should keep things as they are and never, ever change anything. I just think that, if he intends to change these things, he ought to introduce an environment Bill or a consumer protection Bill so that we can decide where the country is going, and not just leave it to the Secretary of State.
Of course, at the moment it is just left to the European Union, and we have no input at all. The hon. Lady will note that the set of regulations set out in clause 20 will be subject to the affirmative procedure. We recognise that these are important issues and that retained EU law may be replaced—there is the option to do that—so we have made them subject to the affirmative procedure. Parliament will have a role.
Amendment 83 is about the duty to consult, which we have covered on many occasions. I say again that DEFRA loves consultations. We have consultations on all sorts of matters. I can give the hon. Lady an undertaking that, before making any changes under clause 20, there will indeed be a consultation—not only because we always consult on matters of this sort anyway, but for another reason: as I explained, on issues of food standards, and food safety in particular, there is already a statutory requirement to consult. It is currently contained in article 9 of EU regulation 178/2002, which requires consultations on changes to food law. That EU regulation will come across in the retained EU law. In addition to my normal argument, there is an even stronger argument, which is that there is already a statutory requirement for changes in many of these areas, because they relate to food standards.
Having addressed hon. Members’ concerns and explained that retained EU law will be the starting point, and that we need not be in a hurry to change these things if we do not want to, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I accept what the Minister said. His undertaking on having a consultation is welcome, and I look forward to holding him to it. I remain concerned about the subject of amendment 82. I hear what he says, but we are at a turning point, and we must to start as we mean to go on. The point we are making to the Government is that we want these things to be done properly and as transparently as possible, with as much involvement of MPs as we can manage, because that is how we involve wider society in our deliberations. These are matters of intense importance and I would like to test the Committee’s opinion on amendment 82.
We have had a number of votes on “must” and “may” so I will simplify this by withdrawing amendment 47, but we are happy to push amendment 82 to the vote.
“(da) the indication on any labelling or packaging of a product of any allergen that the product is known to, or might reasonably be expected to, contain.”
This amendment would explicitly provide for labelling regulations to cover the presence of allergens in products.
New clause 15—Mandatory labelling of animal products as to farming method—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring meat, meat products, milk, dairy products and egg products (including those produced intensively indoors) to be labelled as to the method of farming.
(2) The labelling required under subsection (1) shall be placed on the front outer surface of the packaging and shall be in easily visible and clearly legible type.
(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall (among other things) specify—
(a) the labelling term to be used for each product, and
(b) the conditions that must be met for the use of each labelling term.
(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may exclude from the labelling requirement products containing meat, eggs, milk or dairy products where the total proportion by weight of one or more of these items in the product is less than fifteen per cent.
(5) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”
This new clause would strengthen Clause 20 to require the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, milk and dairy products, and egg products, including those which have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming method. Eggs are not included as legislation already requires eggs to be labelled as to farming method.
This is something different, and again we are here to help the Government. Everyone will be aware of the allergen issues that have sadly affected a number of families, some of whom have lost loved ones. This is an opportunity that the Government should take, because we can insert in the Bill a provision that will at least put into law what many of us feel should already be in law, but has not yet reached the statute book. This amendment would insert a new short phrase
“the indication on any labelling or packaging of a product of any allergen that the product is known to, or might reasonably be expected to, contain.”
We are all aware of two specific cases, and the subject was debated through an urgent question put by my hon. Friend Melanie Onn on
“These are tragic cases, and it is clear that the law needs to be updated. Will my hon. Friend tell us how quickly he expects the law to be changed in this regard? Will they also say more about what the Government are doing to provide guidance to retailers, to ensure that this type of tragedy does not happen again?”—[Official Report,
Here is the opportunity. By making this simple amendment, we could make sure that products containing allergens are properly labelled, and that if someone does not label a product properly or takes a risk with it, they will be held responsible according to the law. Sadly, at the moment they are not.
The two recent cases are but the tip of the iceberg. I am allergic to corn—as a vegetarian, that is not much fun, because corn is one of the staple replacements. I get terrible tummy aches, or stomach problems, if that is proper parliamentary language. I am also allergic to penicillin and I know that. Sadly, some labelling not very clear, and although you can go online and find out, these things should be known. It is like anything: the consumer should be aware and learn through mistakes to some extent, but for some people that is a tragic line to take.
Do we not live in a time when the make-up—the ingredients—of products changes so rapidly that relying on previous knowledge of whether a product is safe is not good enough? People need to check virtually every time a product is purchased.
I agree. Perhaps we just know a lot more about allergens nowadays and people are more willing to be overt in coming forward to say what should happen. This is a simple amendment that gives the Government the opportunity. The Government, through the Minister, may want to say there is a different way of doing it, but here we have an Agriculture Bill that is about food production.
I will be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has to say about her new clause, but clause 20 is a place where we could put a measure that will be immensely important to people who have allergies, so they know that they are being protected. We have various assurances from the Food Standards Agency that it is able to pursue cases; it is just not able to pursue cases because of the gap in the law, which should lead to criminal proceedings when someone been wilfully negligent.
Again, we are having to learn. In a post-Brexit situation—if we get to that situation—the British Government must have fool-proof security in how they deal with food standards and food safety. Given the a huge call on the Government to do this, I hope they will respond positively. If the Government will not remedy the problem at this stage, it would be interesting to know when they will act. Having stated that they intend to address a legislative gap, they are obliged to do so. Clearly, we cannot do this via a specific bit of legislation because we are waiting for Godot. You have to grab the opportunity when it comes around.
I hope the Minister will consider amendment 118 to be helpful. It will save lives, while also telling people who have lesser conditions but who want to know, if they are allergic to nuts or whatever, that a product has been properly labelled. If food is not properly labelled, the law should take its full effect.
I endorse what my hon. Friend says about amendment 118. There are so many calls now for better labelling of food and more information that we run the risk of getting to the point where the information is in such tiny print that it becomes meaningless, particularly for people who, like me, have reached the age where their eyesight is not as good as it used to be. It is important that consumers get as much information as possible.
New clause 15 would strengthen the Bill by requiring the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, milk, dairy and egg products, including those that have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming methods. Eggs are not included in the legislation because they are already labelled. Surveys show that eight out of 10 consumers in the UK would like to know how farm animals are reared.
The Government have a role to play in ensuring higher animal welfare. We talked about that in the context of public money for public goods and the definition of higher animal welfare that will come out in 2020, and on that basis farmers will be rewarded, but the market also has a role to play. Consumers only shop around for the higher welfare products if they know what higher welfare is and is not. That includes how meat and dairy products are being reared.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the clearness of labelling on eggs has resulted in a massive increase in the number of eggs from higher welfare sources, rather than from caged hens, and that that is a good indication of how effective this sort of legislation can be?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The EU introduced a law in 2004 that required eggs and egg packs to be labelled as to farming methods. That was the result of consumer demand. It did not ban anything, but it gave consumers the information they needed to shop in the way that they wanted to shop. It led to a substantial shift away from cage eggs and 50% of UK egg production is now free range, but in other respects information on method of production is not available. Unless food is organic, it is quite difficult for higher welfare farmers to get the information across, so that shoppers will be prepared to pay a premium. There are some voluntary and assurance schemes, but it is all a bit of a muddle.
Of course we are all keen to ensure that animal welfare standards are maintained and indeed improved. On eggs, the public easily understand the difference between a caged bird and a bird that has had access to the outside, but it is much more difficult for milk production. Can the hon. Lady explain how, for example, cows that are housed in winter for good welfare reasons would be characterised in her way of describing type of production?
I have spoken to dairy farmers and organisations such as the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association about the number of days animals would have to be outside grazing to meet the criteria. Nobody is suggesting that they would have to be outdoors year round, round the clock, no matter the weather. That is something that could be addressed in the guidance. The problem with milk is that, at the moment, most milk is pooled together, so it is impossible in most cases to distinguish the source of the milk when it comes to be marketed, so consumers are in the dark—unless it is organic of course.
I understand the point the hon. Lady is trying to make, but would this provision not just hand the market on a plate to the New Zealanders, who can keep their cows outside for very long periods, and in that way freeze out British farmers who, because of the weather we have in winter, have to house their livestock for the best of reasons?
That depends on the criteria set. I have heard 120 days mentioned as a possible benchmark.
The problem is not just that the information is not being made available; one of the main reasons I tabled the amendment is that there is quite a lot of misleading marketing that gives consumers the impression that goods are higher welfare when they are not. A pork product from a factory-farmed pig may carry a label that says something like “farm fresh” or “all natural”. Packaging can carry images of green fields or woodlands. I was praising Tesco this morning for its work on food waste and modern slavery, but there was an issue, either earlier this year or last year, where Tesco meat and fresh produce had been labelled with the names of British-sounding farms, such as Boswell Farms beef steaks and Woodside Farms sausages, and it transpired that not only did those farms not exist, but in some cases the produce had been imported. That is certainly misleading the public, and I might use stronger language to describe that behaviour.
I have concerns about an arbitrary number of days being set. Broadly, farmers bring stock in and out as the weather permits. If there is an arbitrary number of days, it is the target that dictates the welfare, not the requirements of the animal. There is a tendency in the narrative of veganism to focus, perfectly properly, on animal welfare. Would the hon. Lady agree that, in that drive for transparency, many consumers would be very interested to know the health of the soil in which their vegetables were grown and how much insecticide and pesticide was used on them during production?
I have no idea why the hon. Gentleman is bringing vegans into the debate, as they do not eat any of this produce and, therefore, I would imagine, are not particularly concerned with where it comes from. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by one of his hon. Friends who is a dairy farmer, recommended twice in 2018
“that the Government introduce mandatory method of production labelling” to support the existing market for higher welfare products and to encourage more producers to move into that higher value market.
I met various members of the National Farmers Union in Gloucestershire during the mini recess. Most were higher welfare beef and dairy farmers who struggled to get a decent price and to get recognition of the fact that they put more care into producing their products. They are keen to support this proposal, so the idea that it is some sort of vegan crusade is a bit tedious, to be honest, but also wide of the mark.
I was not intending to be tedious; perhaps my tedium was unintentional. I was trying to tease out the hon. Lady’s answer, which I presume be “yes”, on whether clear and relevant information about the type of food production is of use to consumers. That was the point I was driving at. I was slightly concerned to hear the hon. Lady say that because vegans do not eat meat, they have no interest in the conditions in which animals are raised. I would have thought that would unite everybody in this country, whether they eat those animals or not.
Of course vegans are interested in that, but they are not the consumers who are trying to decide between one pack of sausages and another—unless they are Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages, for example.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to take this whole thing off on a tangent. During the referendum campaign, the Government blamed the European Union for tying their hands, making them unable to move further on production labelling. The Farm Produce (Labelling Requirements) Bill was introduced by Mrs Main—I remember it well. Making progress on production labelling was put forward as one of the reasons why we should leave the European Union, and that Bill was supported by a number of Brexit-supporting Tory MPs.
At the beginning of this year, the Secretary of State announced at the Oxford farming conference that the Government were considering extending mandatory labelling, and when that issue was highlighted in the “Health and Harmony” Command Paper, it received very positive feedback. Respondents to the question, “Should government set further standards to ensure greater consistency and understanding of welfare information at the point of purchase?” were overwhelmingly in favour: 72% either said “Yes” or “Yes, as long as it does not present an unreasonable burden to farmers.” As I said, we need to have a discussion about what producers need to do if they are to be deemed higher welfare, pasture fed, and so on. No matter what sort of scheme we have, some hurdle will have to be met, but setting those rules is obviously a matter for the Government.
The hon. Lady is making a powerful point, and in many ways, I sympathise with her. As I have said to the Committee, I am an organic and a conventional farmer, and once upon a time, I had interests in a vegan food company, which, strangely enough, made sausages and bacon out of soya, which I never quite understood. However, I am a bit concerned. My cousins are organic dairy farmers, and their cows spend quite a lot of time inside, because they are in the north of Scotland, so obviously the weather is pretty cold. Lambs spend most of their time outside, because farmers cannot really farm sheep inside a building; they tend to die, although they die outside as well, as it is a pretty harsh climate. Many Members have constituencies where sheep are kept in the hills.
The United Kingdom almost certainly has the highest food standards in Europe; we definitely have the highest standards in the whole of Europe for pigs, for example. I am concerned about trying to differentiate by saying that one thing is a significantly higher standard and another is a lower standard, and therefore is unhealthy, not good for people, or bad for farming. I am concerned that the vast majority of consumers, who spend only 10% to 15% of their income on food, are going to be told that a £2 chicken is an unnatural and unhealthy thing to eat. Chicken is the main source of protein for the majority of people on lower incomes.
The hon. Gentleman might want to make a speech after I have finished, rather than an intervention. Nobody is proposing anything like the traffic light system that was suggested for food containing lots of sugar, which I know the Government have not backed. Nothing will be labelled “bad”, but when farmers have put in more effort and spent more money, they want to get a higher price. That has happened with eggs, and the market has responded. As I said, eight out of 10 people want to know how their food is produced, so this is about rewarding the good, rather than badging the bad.
If people want to choose to buy organic, they can do so. They can do that at the moment. There is not going to be any judgment as to whether organic is better; it is a personal choice. I thought the Conservatives were all in favour of personal choice.
On the non-meat varieties of bacon and sausages, we do not object to the taste of things; we object to the fact that animals are killed to make them. If they are made from plant-based sources, all well and good and we can all have a nice bacon sandwich without worrying about the little pigs and other creatures. I hope that explains to the hon. Gentleman why we might want to have a veggie-burger occasionally, if he struggles with the concept.
On that point, does the hon. Lady think we should follow the lead of France, which, following an initiative by French MP Jean-Baptiste Moreau, has banned misleading words such as “sausage” and “steak” unless they are attached to produce actually containing meat?
No, I do not. I am aware of that move, but I do not think that people are remotely misled. Nobody is going to buy a vegetarian sausage thinking that it has pork in it. It is the same with soya milk and almond milk—everyone knows perfectly well that they have nothing to do with dairy cows. We are underestimating the intelligence of the British consumer if we think that they are going to be misled by things like that.
Can I share with the hon. Lady my absolute speechlessness when a set—if that is what you call them—of vegetarian sausages arrived on a lunch plate that I had ordered? The menu only said “Glamorgan sausages”; it did not say that they were vegetarian, so one can be misled through the use of the word “sausage.” I think that the French are on to something here.
In no way should my hon. Friend’s amendment offer anybody light entertainment. It simply offers to give the information to those people who are purchasing the produce so that they can make a decision, as she has rightly expressed in relation to eggs, which has been so successful. The amendment does not define how many days cows are kept or otherwise; it simply provides a vehicle for giving customers the information they need to make a choice.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the debate back to a more serious note. Basically, consumers are being misled. They would like more information, and farmers would like to give them more information so that when they have put more effort into producing their produce, they can be rewarded for that. That is all the new clause is about.
This group contains two important amendments that have touched on some interesting issues, on which I will update the Committee. The first is amendment 118, tabled by the shadow Minister, which relates to an incredibly important issue. As he pointed out, the problem of allergens leading to deaths has been in the news most recently with the tragic story of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died due to an allergy to sesame in a baguette that she bought from Pret a Manger. This is an important area and we are going to look closely at the review of food law, particularly for the labelling of allergens. We intend to publish our proposals around the turn of the year, to update colleagues further.
It is important to say that there has been a growth in food allergies in recent decades. Nobody is quite sure why that is, but it is real. If we look at the number of people who have allergies, particularly to nuts and sesame, we see that it has grown considerably in the past 20 to 30 years. Another change is that chains such as Pret a Manger, and many others, are increasingly making their sandwiches on-site, which is a relatively new model. That has happened in the past 15 to 20 years. The combination of the growth in the prevalence of allergies and the growth in the practice of preparing sandwiches on-site means that there is a gap in the law. A simple, small derogation that was intended to be used by small family bakers, for instance, so that they did not have to label foods being produced, is now being used on a much larger scale, which had not been envisaged at the time.
We are looking at this, but I do not think that this particular amendment is required. The hon. Member for Stroud said that he would be happy for me to explain how we would deal with this. The current requirements on allergen labelling are contained in the food information regulations—Regulation 1169/2011. That sets out our current rules, including the derogation that exists for non-prepacked foods. We can use our general food law to amend those requirements and any such derogation in future, so we already have the powers under our food labelling law to address this issue. On that basis, although the hon. Gentleman has highlighted a critical issue, I hope that he will not press his amendment.
It is welcome to know that you already have the powers to make those amendments. Can you tell us when you are going to do so?
Order. That is about the third time, and the hon. Gentleman is not the only person to have done so this afternoon. We really must work in the third person, please.
As I said a moment ago, we are currently reviewing this. We intend to publish the results and our thoughts on how the law should be changed in this area early in the new year. We can make the amendments we need through secondary legislation. Obviously, because there is now a food safety issue, given the problem with allergies, once we have decided what is necessary we intend to move quite quickly.
New clause 15 relates to another important area. The Government have already signalled that we are keen to look at this issue further. Before addressing method of production labelling, I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Bristol East to subsection (2)(d) and (g) of clause 20. Paragraph (d) refers to
“the presentation, labelling, packaging, rules to be applied in relation to packaging centres, marking, years of harvesting”,
and so on, and paragraph (g) stipulates
“the type of farming and production method”.
Taken together, those two provisions already give us the powers we need to do all the things the hon. Lady is seeking to achieve with her new clause. Although this is an important area, and one that we want to look at, I do not think that this specific new clause is necessary. I hope that it is a probing amendment, given that the Bill already covers this in subsection (2)(d) and (g).
However, I would like to touch on the substance of the issue. The debate that we have had, with its many interventions—as I said, the hon. Lady is here to lighten the mood of the Committee—highlights how important this is, but also how complex. There are lots of descriptors: we have “grass-fed”, which is not necessarily the same as “pasture-fed”; we have “pasture-fed systems”; we have “outdoor-bred” pigs or “outdoor-reared” pigs; there is “organic” and “free-range”—and often those terms mean different things. It is quite an undertaking to try to define all those in one bound. Probably the more likely thing would be to pick something, such as “pasture-fed livestock”, just as we have done for free-range eggs, where we can draw the criteria and roll out these types of descriptors on labels as we are ready to do so effectively, rather than bite off more than we can chew. The regulations would enable us to do that, so we could bring in schemes as we were ready to roll them out.
Another slight complication is the nervousness I have always had about going too far down the line on method of production labelling, because there could be unintended consequences. For example, at the moment there is a substantial market for outdoor-reared bacon, because people look for that on the packet. They are less inclined to do so if they are buying a pork pie, for instance. Some manufacturers of pork pies might buy from high-welfare farms parts of the carcase that are not used for bacon and that are maybe outdoor bred, but they might also buy pigs from other, more commercial producers.
We have to be careful that, by having onerous labelling requirements for some of those sectors where people are less inclined to seek out the descriptor, we do not create an unintended barrier to high-welfare producers accessing the market for parts of the carcase that they would not necessarily market on the high-welfare brand. I am attracted to moving in that direction, but there are complexities and difficulties around the definitions and potential unintended consequences. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol East will agree that the intentions behind her new clause are already reflected in subsection (2)(d) and (g) of clause 20.
I am partly assuaged by what the Minister has said. I hope he will commit to ensuring that there is an overt process by which the statutory instrument comes forward, so that we can allay the fears of those who clearly now have worries. That is why it is so urgent, and why we have provided an opportunity to make this amendment. People literally do not know what to eat because of their particular allergens. The Minister says that nobody knows quite why this has taken off in the way it has. I suspect that it is because we have become more susceptible to particular foodstuffs. Maybe it is because we know a lot more about why people have difficulties when they eat certain substances. It is right and proper that we give them the protection they deserve.
I will not push my amendment to a vote, but I will hold the Minister to account on this. We seem to have a very busy end of the year, and all manner of things will be coming forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington might wish to take a slightly different course of action; I think the Minister has given certain assurances, but we will not let go of this, because people’s lives are threatened. We feel that, at the very least, it is important for people to know that what they eat is safe and will not affect them adversely. I know from various correspondence that Government Members feel the sam.
I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said and will act on it, and that he will bring the SI forward as a matter of extreme urgency. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment proposed: 82, in clause 20, page 16, line 2, at end insert—
“(2A) Regulations under this section may not amend or repeal any part of retained EU law (within the meaning of section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) relating to—
(a) the protection of the environment, or
(b) consumer rights.”—(Jenny Chapman.)