Duty to report on international obligations

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 15th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 15th November 2018

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We will get active again now, having had a thorough but rapid run through some parts of the Bill. New clauses often deal not with what is going to be in the Bill but with what should be in it. We make no apology for saying that this should be a comprehensive Bill that looks at some of the big issues of our day.

There is nothing more important than the relationship between agriculture and our international obligations, so I make no apology for tabling new clause 8. Of course we want the Government to say that everything in the new clause will be in the forthcoming environment Bill—provided there is a Government and an environment Bill—but we thought we would test the water to see whether there were ways in which this Bill could at least take cognisance of those vital international obligations.

Let us look at our proposed changes, which are all vital in their own way. We are asking that the Bill take notice of what the different vital international obligations require us to do. In so doing, as subsection (3) says, there should be a duty to consult the relevant authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is important because it is putting some building around the scaffold, to use the analogy that has been applied to the Bill several times. The Bill is quite limited in what it seeks to do, so we are asking the Minister to go further.

The new clause requires a report. It does not require huge changes in legislation, but some cohesion in the way in which the Government approach how they intend to use the Bill. I hope that it is not seen to be outwith what the Bill is about but that it is helpful, because it will allow the Secretary of State, or whoever is required to do it, to bring forward a report on how those international obligations are met through the Bill. At the moment, of course, we are part of the EU, so that will take place automatically through some of the ways in which the EU meets its international obligations, but we are presupposing that the UK will not be part of the EU. Brexit means that we need to put into domestic law what was previously implied through our membership of the European Union.

I will immediately sit down and not go any further if the Minister tells me that this will all be in the environment Bill, so the new clause is premature and the issue does not need to be spoken about at length now. Unless we get that assurance, however, we will press the new clause, because we think it is important to signal how British agriculture and the environmental support systems that we are putting in place will operate through the different international obligations to which we are party. If the Minister cannot confirm that, one wonders what we will do to meet our international obligations and targets in the future.

I will not go into any detail about the individual agreements, but clearly the Paris agreement is vital to our commitment to tackle climate change. We tried to get the Government to accept amendment 50, and if they had, the new clause would probably not have been necessary. Sadly, they did not listen to us and we lost the vote on that amendment. In moving this new clause, we make it clear that the Paris agreement is crucial in terms of how the Bill should meet that commitment.

We do not have a good story to tell. Agricultural emissions have flatlined in recent years—there has been no improvement—and we have a major problem with methane and carbon, so we have to do much more. The new clause implies that agriculture must do more, as the 2018 IPCC report said. It is not just that producers have to do more; we should lay down some clear guidelines for consumers about sustainable diets that include what we should eat rather than what we do eat. There should be guidelines about reducing food waste, soil sequestration, livestock and manure management, reducing deforestation, afforestation, reforestation and responsible sourcing. They are all part of what the IPCC is asking us to do.

In the new clause we are bringing forward an important piece of potential legislation—we would all sign up to sustainable development, but we want to do so in the Bill. We ask the Government to recognise that including those obligations is appropriate. If not, we want assurances from the Minister that the environment Bill will include them. If the Government intend to include those obligations in the environment Bill, let us put on record here that including them at this juncture, in the Agriculture Bill, is less important.

The Government need to recognise how important those different obligations are and explain how we are meeting them. I have only identified a small number, but those are, to my mind, the most relevant to agriculture, and the ones that really matter to ensure that our agriculture meets its international obligations. I hope that the Minister has listened to what I have said, because it is not just in the interests of people on this side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East raised this matter in an earlier sitting of the Committee, and it is supported across the board by Greener UK, which feels strongly that we should be setting longer term objectives—that is why the new clause is popular. We hope that, in due course, it will stand part of the Bill, or that its aims will be clearly spelled out in future Government legislation—namely, the environment Bill.

We have read how the 25-year environment plan will contextualise what the Government intend to do and it contextualises the Bill. It would be good to hear what the Government and the Minister intend to do to ensure that those warm words are put into a statutory framework, so that we know exactly what the UK will do when—or if—it leaves the European Union, and know that we are signed up to a better environmental world and one that agriculture plays its part in creating.