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International trade agreements: agricultural and food products

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 20th November 2018.

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“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the agreement—

(a) includes an affirmation of the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under the SPS Agreement, and

(b) prohibits the importation into the United Kingdom of agricultural and food products in relation to which the relevant standards are lower than the relevant standards in the United Kingdom.

(2) In subsection (1)—

‘international trade agreement’ means—

(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—

(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or

(ii) paragraph 7(a) of Article V of General Agreement on Trade in Services, part of Annex 1B to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or

(b) an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than an agreement mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) or (ii);

‘Minister of the Crown’ has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;

‘relevant standards’ means standards relating to environmental protection, plant health and animal welfare applying in connection with the production of agricultural and food products;

‘SPS Agreement’ means the agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time);

‘WTO

This new clause would ensure that HMG has a duty to protect the quality of the domestic food supply by ensuring that imported foodstuffs are held to the same standards as domestic foodstuffs are held to.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 14—Ratification of international trade agreements—

“(1) An international trade agreement shall not be ratified unless it enables the United Kingdom to require imports to—

(a) comply with the standards laid down by primary and subordinate legislation in the United Kingdom regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare, or

(b) have been produced to standards that are no lower than the legislative standards of the United Kingdom in protecting food safety, the environment and animal welfare.

(2) In this section ‘international trade agreement’ has the same meaning as in section 2(2) of the Trade Act 2018.”

This new clause would prevent the Government from entering into trade agreements that allow food imports that do not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.

New clause 23—Import of agricultural goods—

“(1) Agricultural goods may be imported into the UK only if import would not conflict with and would be consistent with—

(a) the UK’s commitments under international law on animal welfare, including but not restricted to the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes.

(b) The UK’s commitments under international law on environmental protection, including but not restricted to—

(i) the Paris Agreement,

(ii) CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),

(iii) the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity,

(iv) the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and

(v) the Sustainable Development Goals.

(c) Domestic legislation on—

(i) animal welfare,

(ii) environmental standards,

(iii) the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants,

(iv) public morality,

(v) public security,

(vi) health and safety,

(vii) food safety standards.

(d) The section on animal welfare in the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code and the section on the welfare of farmed fish in the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Aquatic Animal Health Code.

(2) ‘Agricultural goods’, for the purposes of this section, means—

(a) any livestock within the meaning of section 1(4) or any product derived from livestock,

(b) any plants or seeds, within the meaning of section 13(6)

(c) any product derived from livestock, plants or seeds.”

This new clause would prevent the import of agricultural goods from other countries into the UK if they have been produced to lower standards than those of the UK.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

There has been considerable concern from consumers about the quality of foodstuffs that will be available after Brexit, and particular concern about the possible reduction in quality that might come as a result of trade deals, with chlorinated chicken, hormone-pumped beef, genetically modified vegetables and so on. The concerns are wide ranging and cover many areas.

Chlorinated chicken, for example, has implications for food hygiene and nutrition. We prefer poultry with higher welfare and hygiene standards throughout the journey from hatching to plate, rather than its carcass being bleached to remove evidence of poor welfare and hygiene. Those consumer concerns are matched by producer concerns about high-quality products being undermined and undercut by poor-quality, cheap imports, whose adulterations are masked by later cosmetic measures, which is truly the modern-day purchase of a pig in a poke.

Consumers and producers have been protected thus far by the European Union and its rules and red tape, which we will shortly shed. It seems sensible to me to replace those EU protections with what protections can be offered from this place. Such protection will be a pale imitation—that is sure—but we should do what we can. New clause 12 would ensure that food standards and the protections offered do not plummet off the Brexit cliff to be dashed on the rocks of profiteering below. It is incumbent on us to offer what protections we can, and the new clause would do that. Likewise, new clauses 14 and 23 would offer some peace of mind and some protections, and I am minded to support them.

I have seen no movement from the Government in this direction so far. However, I hope that the Minister will see the wisdom of accepting the need for such protections to be written into the Bill.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am minded to support the hon. Lady on this, although we have tabled our own new clause 23. This is at the core of the Bill. Although we are talking about agriculture, we cannot exclude trade from that. We—I mean the great “we”, because no organisation that has commented on the Bill is not of a similar mind—need to know what guarantees there are that the animal welfare, environmental and food-quality standards that British agriculture prides itself on will not be undermined by a race to the bottom, and that we will not take on some mad trade deals to try to dig the UK out of its current dilemma of what it does if it shuts the door on the EU. This is very important.

We have reached a turning point in our debate on the Bill. We hope the Government will get the message, from not just the Opposition but the organisations that have commented on the Bill, many of which will have spoken to the Minister. They want security and the knowledge that there will be no attempt to undermine the standards that have been put in place over generations for British agriculture and the environment. Greener UK, which has been largely supportive of the Government’s approach, sees this as one of the major dividing lines. It wants new clause 23 or new clause 12 in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith.

We can argue about the definitions—we think that our new clause is slightly more foolproof, but we will listen to the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East, who will hopefully get the opportunity to speak to new clause 14. This issue is absolutely crucial to the way the Bill will be received in not just this country but the wider world. We have to send the wider world the message that this Bill rules out importing cheaper, poor-quality food.

I know there is a degree of disunity in the Government. The Secretary of State for International Trade has been going to all sorts of places, but I challenge him to name one place outside the EU—where he has not been—whose food standards are equal to the UK’s and the EU’s. The reality is that there are not any. Other countries are able to produce cheaper food because they undermine labour standards, sadly mistreat the animals and use all sorts of other methods.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

The hon. Gentleman is making some very valid points, but is it not the case that currently, in the EU, we are unable to ban the import of foie gras or veal produced under systems that are illegal in this country? We could improve animal welfare standards by disentangling ourselves from the single market with Europe.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. If we had been more effective, we might have got rid of those things. We have to pay due regard to our international obligations, and such issues should be tackled internationally. The problem is that we are going backwards to go forwards. I know that we get hung up on chlorinated chicken, but a whole range of things could be coming our way from the US, because the Americans have a fundamentally different attitude towards food. Their view of food is that it is more about price and availability, which is why they are able to do the things they do. Of course, much of the food produced in the US is good quality, but the problem is that the methods by which they produce much of their food are alien to the British way of producing food. We have to accept that.

I have already made the point that if Australia is able to break its sheep meat quota, it will completely undermine the lamb market in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. This really does matter. We know where the dilemma comes from. In much of the Bill, we have had arguments about powers and duties, the Henry VIII clauses and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington knows that the Trade Bill would give so much power to the Secretary of State to chip away our regulation, if they so choose, that it is deeply worrying if we do not hold the line in this area at least.

Our food should be sacrosanct, yet it is included within many of the areas that we see as deleterious in the way that the Department for International Trade is pushing through, on the presumption that those with whom we make trade deals will play by the rules. They may choose to at one level, but they certainly will not take the substantive approach in how they pretend to keep to our standards. That, of course, matters because it is our consumers who will suffer.

Our food trade internationally will also be associated with the lowering of standards. That is why we tabled a number of amendments to the Trade Bill to look at making those trade obligations more secure, but sadly the Government did not listen to us. We looked for guarantees on welfare standards, environmental protections and food standards and the Government did not listen. We make no apology for having another go because it is too important for British agriculture not to do so. We will lose all the benefits of sanitary and phyto-sanitary arrangements currently in place with the EU, which no doubt the Minister could wax lyrical about. We must put something in the place of what we will be removing.

It is important to look at some of the governance issues. We looked at the implications, through the process of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The reality of that is that there will be very few safeguards to stop a Secretary of State who chooses to sign up to a free trade deal that threatens British agriculture.

It would be nice to think that there were backstops to all that for the mainland—ways in which we could prevent the coming into force of trade deals that undermine our consumers’ position and, more particularly, the potential of the producer.

The proposed new clause covers more than trade deals, however. It is about the whole philosophical approach to the way in which we have developed high quality food, largely at a price people can afford. We argued previously, without success, for a clause on food poverty. That is a distribution as well as a production issue.

We want some clarity from the Government to the effect that they are willing to state in legislation that they will rule out anything that undermines animal welfare, environmental protection and food standards. This is a pretty important part of the Bill.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian 10:15 am, 20th November 2018

Is it not the case that new clause 23 would give protection to the timber industry and, more importantly, address illegal logging? We would extend our protections even wider. One of the great environmental tragedies is the loss of rain forests and the continuous forests that are needed. This proposal would give protection there as well.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend rightly chides me that we never bring timber into this discussion. That is, of course, as important as food and other areas, so we should be looking at an integrated approach. He is absolutely right. This is important because, unless we state in the Bill how we will approach trade, we will lose the opportunity for agriculture’s voice to be heard properly. More importantly, there are no safeguards or failsafes in place, because the Government did not listen to us on the Trade Bill.

I hope the Minister recognises that across the terrain of the farming and environmental organisations and the food lobby, security is what is wanted, in the form of a new clause that gives the certainty that we will keep to our word—that the standards of British food will be maintained and will not be subject to cheaper, poorer imports. That is why we make no apology for saying that this is a really important part of the Bill, and that we hope the Government will listen and accept what we are trying to do.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I would like to speak to my new clause 14 and to support new clauses 12 and 23.

As has been said, there is a great deal of consensus regarding support for the principle behind the motions. I was with the National Farmers Union in Gloucestershire during the mini-recess in early November, and members were adamant that all the benefits that would come from the new subsidies regime would count for nothing if they were undercut by cheaper imports that were produced to lower standards. That would mean their either somehow having to lower their own standards, which they are adamant they do not want to do—they are proud of the standards they work to—or simply going out of business. As has been said, the green groups are supportive of the measures for obvious reasons, as is anyone who is interested in food sustainability and anyone who thinks it important that we stick to the standards we have kept to for many years through our membership of the European Union.

We know there is a threat; for all the reassurances the Minister can give us about not lowering standards post-Brexit, we know that many in his party are keen to see that happen. To start with, the response I was getting from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was that there would be no lowering of British standards post-Brexit, which obviously leads to the suspicion that we would allow lower-standard imports. The response has now moved, very late in the day: when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the farming Minister gave evidence to the EFRA Committee last week, they were keen to say that the measure would not apply to imports. The EFRA Secretary also gave me assurances that the Secretary of State for International Trade believed that as well. Given the record of the Secretary of State for International Trade on the matter—I was in Washington last year when he hit the headlines talking about chlorinated chicken and so on—I think that he is, to coin a phrase, “intensely relaxed” about the import of lower-standard foods.

There are certainly many in the Conservative party—the global Britain Brexiteers—who are keen to see us go to a no-deal scenario and, I believe, a race to the bottom. My constituency neighbour, Mr Rees-Mogg, has argued that as socialists we ought to welcome cheaper food imports because they would solve food poverty. He is also the person who said that food banks were a great thing because they show big society coming together and people helping each other. I have urged him, on a number of occasions, to cross the border into Bristol to see what food poverty actually looks like. From what I know of his constituents, I do not think they would welcome the bringing of chlorinated chicken into the country.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Minister and the Secretary of State had the certainty that the minimum level was stated in the Bill, they would have some confidence and protection and the ability to say, when we come to trade agreements, “We can go no lower than this”? That certainty may help with the negotiations.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

We know there will be huge pressure when the negotiations start. The US has made it clear that it wants to see its produce that is currently banned allowed into the country, and Australia and New Zealand have said something similar. The International Trade Committee has warned of the risk of an “agriculture for services trade-off” in a future deal with the US, and we know that when they get into the negotiating room that is what will happen.

During the passage of the Trade Bill, I tried to put in an amendment, and we were repeatedly told that the Bill was not about future trade deals and the scrutiny of them, despite there clearly being provisions in it that talked about such deals. When I tabled amendment 81, attempting to insert a non-regression clause into any new trade agreements, I was told that that was not the place for it, and Ministers now say that that would be outside the scope of the Agriculture Bill too—the farming Minister said that to the EFRA Committee last week. This Bill is about protecting farmers, our food standards and the fairness of the UK supply chain. This amendment is fundamental to everything the Government are trying to do to support and sustain high-quality British food to high environmental food safety and animal welfare standards. I should have thought that the Minister would welcome its being enshrined in the Bill, so that the Bill matches those words.

We heard some concerns for the potential impact if we allowed American imports, for example, into this country. There are food safety issues; the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that chlorinated chicken is not about food safety standards but is just an animal welfare issue of how the animals are treated beforehand—the fact that a bucket of bleach is tipped over the chicken at the end deals with any hygiene issues. When he gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 31 October, I pointed out that the incidence of food poisoning in the US is around 10 times higher than in the UK. On average, one in six people in the States will succumb to food poisoning each year, and about one in 66 in the UK. The Environment Secretary was quite taken aback by that, and said he would go away and look at that.

A total of 380 deaths each year are attributed to salmonella in the US; there were no deaths from salmonella in England and Wales between 2005 and 2015. The campylobacter infection rate in the US is more than 6,000 per 100,000 of the population. In the UK that rate is much lower, and falling. The US has an average of 1,591 cases of listeriosis a year, compared with 177 a year in England and Wales.

Unless Americans are particularly unhygienic in their homes, there is clearly a food safety issue in American food. We do not want that imported into this country. Most recent evidence published by microbiologists at Southampton University in the US journal mBio found that bacteria such as listeria and salmonella remain completely active after chlorine washing. The process merely makes it impossible to culture them in the lab, giving the false impression that chlorine washing has been effective.

It is not just the case that we do things slightly differently here, and that although the American system deals with all the hygiene issues at the end, we deal with them throughout the production chain and they have the same impact. There is a very clear difference in the produce there. The Minister said that in the US they

“turn a blind eye to what might happen on a farm, and then treat it when it gets to the abattoir.”

That is why he said it was an animal welfare issue. It is not just an animal welfare issue. Even if it was, we would not want to accept that here anyway. Colleagues of the farming Minister, such as Lord Deben, will be very interested in this issue when it comes to the House of Lords. He said recently that imports of US-standard food would lead to a huge decline in food safety.

The routine use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to the growth of antimicrobial resistance and the rise of superbugs and putting public health at serious risk. That is five times higher in the USA than in the UK. The Minister will probably say that we are making strides to reduce the routine use of antibiotics in UK farms. In America it is still much higher, and if we are forced to compete with American imports, inevitably that will lead to intensification of our farming system here. Many more animals will be crammed into mega-farms, which will mean that antibiotic use inevitably will go up because that is what it tends to be used for—as a pre-emptive measure against infection when lots of animals are crammed together.

I think we will return to this issue on Report, as there is cross-party support for that. It is not enough for the Minister to say, “We do not want a lowering of standards.” I do not cast doubt on the Minister’s credibility—I believe that he does not want that. I believe that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not want that. Unfortunately, I do not believe all his colleagues, and that there are enough safeguards to rely on warm words alone.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset 10:30 am, 20th November 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I rise to speak very much in the spirit with which the hon. Member for Bristol East finished her remarks. She is absolutely right to have identified the cross-party interest in and concern about these issues.

Since the British people made the decision to leave the European Union, I have always said during my meetings with the National Farmers Union and farmers in my constituency that, as important as this Bill will be, the most pressing issue is probably the one raised by the hon. Member for Bristol East in relation to the new clauses. The Bill does important work: it is trying to sculpt and scope a framework of support, and triggers for that support, for UK agriculture. We all want that to be a success, we all understand the importance of the sector to our national economy, and we all want to see it flourish. We therefore understand the importance of the Bill.

We also understand entirely, from remarks made by my hon. Friend the Minister, that in many respects this is a skeleton Bill, or a Christmas tree Bill, upon which certain things will hang and from which future policies and initiatives will flow. I think that we have to be incredibly careful. I hope that we will be able to enter into trade agreements, because they will be good for UK plc, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater in their pursuit. We should not see a lowering of our standards in certain areas, particularly within the food sector. I have always had a concern that, for some in British politics, the pursuit of the “Brexit dividend”—to give it a handy moniker—could most readily manifest itself in the price of foodstuffs.

On several occasions I have heard my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, as the hon. Lady for Bristol East referenced, talk about the lowering of food prices in the shopping basket, and likewise with shoes and clothing, although I appreciate that they are not part of the Bill. He may very well be right. I always point out that we are spending the lowest percentage of our household income on food than at any time in our history, so it is hard to see how food could become very much cheaper in real terms.

However, my concern is about the next step of the scenario. My concern has always resided on this point: if individual trade deals came back to this House to be voted upon in an affirmative way, whether through a statutory instrument or on the Floor of the House, this issue could be part of the checklist to establish whether one would be minded to support it. However, it looks as if trade agreements will not be subject to a vote in the House, so we would be wise to include in the Bill this precautionary principle—this little check—to provide comfort to consumers, who need as much information as possible. I do not believe in the sort of free market in which any old rubbish is put on the supermarket shelves and then people are allowed to make an informed decision. We have to have some standards so that people can have general confidence in the product they are purchasing, irrespective of the price that happens to have been set. There needs to be some underpinning and some general benchmark of standards.

On the “Brexit dividend”, I have always put it to my colleagues in this way: were trade agreements to be entered into that saw, as part of some spirit of reciprocity, new markets opened to what we might call the sexier sides of our economy—finance, IT, insurance, pharmaceutical and the like—the quid pro quo trade-off will be access to our large and growing consumer market, hungry for food, if the Committee will forgive the pun. We would find ourselves swamped with cheap imports, raised to all sorts of standards. Some may be higher than ours, which would be great. Some may be the same, which would be perfect. I think that we would all be keen to resist anything that was lower, for example in relation to chemical applications or animal welfare issues—I see those as equally important.

However, I have often made the point that those cheap imports would remain cheap only while a robust domestic production market formed a competitive market and challenge. I made that point on Second Reading, as did other colleagues. My fear, my hunch and my prediction would be that, as a result of a swamping of overly cheap imports—priced cheaply because the standards are lower and therefore the costs of production are less—that would see a rapid choking off of our domestic production market, either to the point of being barely recognisable, or to be non-existent at all.

Either of those scenarios could result in a situation whereby those who had distorted our food pricing market would then ride the crest of a non-competitive wave because domestic production would have diminished to a point at which it really only deals with the niche, farmers’ market type of market, but not large-scale domestic production. Having had two or three years of cheap prices, we would suddenly find prices going in an upward trajectory on a very fast escalator. It would be faster plus, because not only would they want to recoup the money for products sold cheaply then, but they would also want desperately to claw back the under-pricing that they had triggered as importers to our country—or exporters, depending which end of the telescope we care to look through—and regain that lost revenue, because they had deliberately distorted the market in order to choke off domestic competition.

I entirely take the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol East that the bona fides on this issue of my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are beyond challenge. They have been absolutely and abundantly clear. If I could preserve my right hon. and hon. Friends in some sort of political aspic and presume that they would always be in office—I am not sure whether they would find that an attractive proposition—we could all take a step back and breathe a little more easily. We all know that legislation cannot bind our heirs and successors because it is subject to amendment by future Parliaments, but we should at least be setting some definitive benchmarks now. On something as important as this, it is in the Bill—although not necessarily in the wording of these new clauses—that we need to put down those important markers. Would it not be the most frustrating waste of the Committee’s time to have spent it talking about the importance of a sector and seeking to build a cross-party coalition in its support and furtherance, only to find all our work and good efforts coming to nought as a result of an overly laissez faire approach to trading issues?

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South has some sort of apoplectic fit, I assure him that, at this stage—because I am very conscious that our hon. Friend the Minister will need to go back and talk to colleagues—if the amendments are pushed to a vote, I will not support them, because further discussion is needed. I give my hon. Friend the Whip that assurance today, but I am afraid that I cannot give the same cast-iron guarantee on Report unless we see some movement on this.

I do not believe that I speak alone. I noticed the sharp inhalation of breath by the hon. Member for Bristol West, in a theatrical, pantomime gesture. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench know that I have never rebelled—I have never voted against Her Majesty’s Government—and I hope that I do not have to. However, I think that the hon. Lady was absolutely right that there is a broad coalition of interest in this on the Floor of the House. Whether Members come from a public health aspect or a fiercely pro-agricultural aspect, or whether they are concerned about better shaping and sculpting the post-Brexit environment, I am not sure.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

My hon. Friend makes some very valid points. Does he agree that adequate labelling is also part of this? For example, a lot of processed chicken comes in from Thailand and Brazil, but consumers are often not aware because it comes as part of a product. Does he agree that part of the solution to this problem is better labelling, so that people know what they are buying?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the appropriate time there needs to be a significant and radical overhaul of the red tractor. There needs to be much clearer labelling and information. However, information itself can be a bit of a blunt instrument. People need to know how to interpret and understand the information put in front of them. I can read a manual on how to wire a plug 17 times but I will still not understand how to do it. However, the information is there. I do not actually know how to re-wire a plug. That is why candle consumption in the Hoare household is very high.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I remember, during the ’70s, when I was a child, my dad having to put a plug on the end of every electric device we had. However, that is no longer needed, thanks to European Union regulations on the issue.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

I hope I do not insult the hon. Lady by saying this, but I am rather guessing from those remarks that she and I are therefore of a similar vintage. Were those not simpler and happier days? That is where we are.

I do not wish to detain the Committee for any longer than I need to, but this is a pivotal thing that could dramatically affect our agricultural sector. It is not about protection or insulation. It is not about preserving our farming sector in some sort of legislative aspic, to create some sort of bucolic scene of smock-wearing, corn-chewing loveliness where sheep are clean and all the rest of it.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to polish his own sandals. I have never been a sandal wearer, apart from at school, I suppose.

However, we need to make sure that the sector is vital. It is not an old-fashioned sector; it is at the cutting edge of production and of using agritech and new sciences to farm and produce in more environmentally sensitive ways and to increase animal welfare and so on. It would be a tragedy if that all came to naught, and the work of the Committee came to naught, and we suddenly found that there was no agricultural sector, or such a small agricultural sector that, in actual fact, all this work was unnecessary.

I think that the hon. Member for Bristol East is right; there is a broad consensus and a growing coalition on these issues in the House. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to convince colleagues across Government of the clear and compelling virtue that motivates both him and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling) 10:45 am, 20th November 2018

I shall be brief, because most of what I would have said has been said by hon. Friends, and indeed by the hon. Member for North Dorset, with whom I absolutely concur. There has been a lot of discussion about whether we should be rule takers or rule makers, but there is no point in adhering to rules or in making them for ourselves if they are all then undercut by other people.

Other countries do not always adhere even to international agreements that they have signed up to. If we are going to adhere to them ourselves, as we should because they are good rules, we need to ensure that we have a legislative justification for refusing to take their goods. I am worried that without any legislative justification it will be extremely difficult for us, under either international trade agreements or World Trade Organisation rules, to prevent imports of goods that are produced without following those rules, undercutting what farmers can and should be doing in this country.

If we are to achieve any of the public goods set out in clause 1—healthy, sustainable food; a reduction in pollution and climate change emissions; protection of our countryside; and decent working conditions for people in agriculture—we need to have farming in this country that is not only ecologically, but financially sustainable, and it must not be undercut by other countries. A television programme I recently saw by chance including an appalling part about vegetables being produced in southern Spain. It showed just how bad some of the trashing of the environment and the treatment of people was. That was within the European Union, so we do not always get it right within the European Union, but at least while we are in the European Union there is a mechanism for trying to enforce rules in other countries. We will not have that once we leave the European Union, and we need to ensure that there is something in the Bill that will do that.

Pollution and climate change do not respect borders. There is no point in our trying to reduce the level of pollution and climate change emissions in agriculture in this country if we do not have some mechanism for ensuring that we can impose those high standards on producers in other parts of the world. If we do not have explicit rules in the Bill about what we will import, we are leaving ourselves open to undercutting and not only will farmers in this country suffer, but the environment will suffer in this country and in the rest of the world.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I do know how to wire a plug; that is the first thing I want to say. I add my voice to this because we need to hammer home to the Minister the level and extent of the concern across the party on this issue. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East wishes to press the clause to a vote today or whether there might be opportunities to express the view of parliamentarians in future stages of the Bill, but the Government need to take the hint provided by the excellent speech by the hon. Member for North Dorset, which put the point across incredibly well. It might be a good idea for the Government to come back with their own proposition at a later stage, perhaps in the other place, and propose something that we can all support.

This matter is of such great concern and importance because it is all happening in the context of the withdrawal agreement that we had sight of last week, which is unclear about the future of these kinds of standards, either in the backstop arrangement or in the political declaration about the future relationship. There is a huge row going on about that outside this Committee, so we do not need to go into it all here, but suffice it to say that the agreement is incredibly vague and non-specific about how the UK’s future standards and regulations on these issues would look. That is something that we are unhappy about anyway, but it is particularly important when we look at the issues that we are considering. The hon. Member for North Dorset put it well when he said that the impact may not be felt straightaway but that the erosion of the industry could be seen over time. We have spent so much time in Committee discussing how to protect, enhance, sustain and grow that industry so it will continue to be the best in the world, and it would be a tragedy to see it diminish because we did not have the foresight to put these safeguards in place.

In a way, I am reminded of what has happened to the high street. In not that long a time, we have seen the withdrawal of the vibrancy of our high streets, and it will be very difficult to get that back. Exactly the same thing could happen to our agricultural industries. As a generation of politicians, we would never be forgiven for that.

Obviously, we import food from the US now, but we do it carefully within a set of rules and we are mindful of the standards of what we import, so everybody knows that they can buy food that has been imported from the US with confidence and that it complies with the standards that we expect in this country. That needs to be the case in the future too. I think there would be widespread public support for that to happen in the Bill, and if it does not, I am not sure where in law that provision would be placed, particularly if we were to leave without a deal. I am pretty confident that we are not going to do that, actually, because I do not think the Government would take us down that catastrophic path, but we are here to deal with things that might happen as well as things that we expect to happen.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Surely if the hon. Lady is keen for us to leave with a deal, her party should vote for the deal before us.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I do not believe that the Government have any intention of leading us out without a deal, and if they tried, the vast majority of MPs would get in the way. According to the Government’s technical notices, leaving without a deal would require 51 pieces of legislation, and on day one of that legislation being introduced, an amendment would be tabled that said, “This Government may not lead us out without a deal.” Parliament would use the many opportunities that it would have to prevent it happening, but I do not believe that the Prime Minister has the slightest intention of going down that path. I think she wants a deal, but the argument we are having is whether it is this deal.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Following the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, I hear what the hon. Lady says—she and I have discussed it—but my right hon. Friend is right that at some point, the hon. Lady’s party will have to vote for a deal produced by the Government and not just hide behind process and everything else. To leave with a deal, we have to get a deal.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

Order. May I suggest that we stop the discussion there before we go down a rabbit hole from which we will never recover?

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I have been advised by the Chair not to respond, so I will resist, but there is nothing processy about our objection to the deal. The deal does not include that which we have told the Prime Minister we need in order to support it.

Our fourth test about preventing a race to the bottom is absolutely relevant to the new clause. Unless we have the new clause, or something like it that the Government have the opportunity to introduce—I have never seen a Minister stand up and say, “I accept your clause” to anybody across the way; I understand that they always want to bring back their own—we will see a race to the bottom. For about 18 months, we have set out the criteria by which we would assess a deal. Avoiding a race to the bottom is very important to us for the reasons we are discussing.

The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration mention non-regression measures. I have not got the agreement with me—this is the only time this week that I have not carried the damn thing around with me. Will non-regression measures apply to food standards, environmental protections and animal welfare? The agreement contains something about workers’ rights, but it would be helpful to know from the Minister whether non-regression measures will apply to the issues we are discussing.

Things look uncertain. We are not even sure whether the agreement published last week will be agreed by Parliament, or what steps the Government will take even if it is agreed. Which measures will apply to this industry, and what opportunities will there be to make this type of clause binding if we do not take the opportunity now? I am not certain that we will have the opportunity before the end of March next year. We have a duty to put this in place in some way, shape or form between now and then. If the Minister assures us that there will be an opportunity to do so, we will need to think about that, but for now, I think this is it. If the Government do not adopt these measures today, when will they do so? They are incredibly important, and there is clearly cross-party support for this kind of instrument. I think the Minister gets that. It would be useful to hear how he intends to proceed, how far he intends to go, and what form he thinks the protections need to be in.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The amendments all seek to achieve the same thing: to set out in statute a requirement that no trade deal can be done or put before Parliament unless its terms mean that no good can be imported that does not meet our standards.

Before talking about the approach that we intend to take on future trade deals, I want to say first and foremost that this is an incredibly important issue. As a number of hon. Members highlighted, the Secretary of State and I could not have been clearer that we will not water down our trade and animal welfare standards in pursuit of a trade deal. The Department for International Development has now adopted that position unambiguously, despite what the hon. Member for Darlington said. It is clear that we will not water down our food standards in pursuit of a trade deal.

I want to make a number of points. First, the EU regulations on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef and other standards are coming across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and will sit as retained EU law. It will be unlawful to do a trade deal allowing hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken into the UK unless Parliament decides to repeal the legislation that bans its sale in the UK.

Secondly, we are obviously working on our future trade agreement with the European Union. The approach outlined in the Chequers proposal, which remains the basis for the UK’s approach in the development of a future economic partnership, is that we will have a common rulebook on issues pertinent to the border, which will include sanitary and phytosanitary issues. It is likely that a Bill giving effect to the future economic partnership will give additional protections in this space.

This is an important matter for another reason. The United Kingdom has been on a rather different journey from the United States—in particular, over the past 30 years. In the UK, there has been a growth of consumer interest in food provenance. Consumers want more labelling so they can understand how their food was produced. They want higher standards, and they have sought to purchase locally where possible. We have seen a growth in farmers markets and a much stronger consumer interest in the quality of food.

The US remains rather backward in this sense—it has not made those changes in recent decades. It has precious little legislation to protect farm animal welfare. There are virtually no federal laws at all. Even state by state, there is only patchy regulation. The hon. Member for Bristol East pointed out that the US is still too reliant on antibiotics and failing to make the kind of progress that we have. It has a long way to go to catch us up. That said, consumer driven trends in the US are making an impact. There is more interest in natural beef—non-hormone-treated beef. There is a growing demand among US consumers for organic beef. McDonald’s now has a British chief executive, who understands the importance of animal welfare. Standards of animal welfare in the US are being driven up as the terms of supply are dictated to big companies, such as McDonald’s. That is all starting to have a positive impact in the US, although it still has a long way to go.

This issue is important for another reason, which is most pertinent to us as we debate the Bill: we must not expose our producers to unfair competition. It would be wrong to have far higher regulatory standards here, but then undermine those standards and effectively export production to foreign countries with lower standards. That is why getting these issues right matters.

The approach we are taking is not to say, “Let’s try and put on the face of the Bill a requirement in this space,” because in a trade deal we need to consider things such as equivalence—they might not have identical regulations, but they might be equivalent in some circumstances. The approach we have taken is to look at the process of scrutiny of trade deals as they come back to Parliament.

There are a number of different models. In the European Union, the Commission first of all requests authorisation from the Council of Ministers to negotiate a trade agreement with a partner. Those are sometimes referred to as a mandate, because the Council will set out the parameters for that negotiation. When a deal is concluded the Commission returns to the Council and the European Parliament to seek agreement for that particular trade deal. The US has a similar approach, in which Congress delegates authority to the Trade Promotion Authority, which is an office within the presidency. Therefore, there is a mechanism whereby Congress can define the parameters and mandate of a trade deal, which finally returns to congress to either be vetoed or accepted, but it cannot be amended.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:00 am, 20th November 2018

Will the Minister tell me what the former Secretary of State, Mr Paterson, was doing in Oklahoma, if not trying to talk about some trade deal? If he cannot pull it off in this country, let alone the US, what was he doing in Oklahoma?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I did not know that my right hon. Friend was in Oklahoma, but he is no longer the Secretary of State, and I have not had time to go to Oklahoma personally.

Smaller countries such as New Zealand and Australia have less parliamentary scrutiny—it is predominantly a prerogative for the Cabinet—but even Australia has a process whereby the final trade deal must be laid before Parliament for a period of 15 days. For us, this is an area led by the Department for International Trade. The hon. Member for Stroud said there were a number of amendments to the Trade Bill, which I know were debated. DIT has taken a position somewhere between the two. It envisages a 14-week consultation to run ahead of any new negotiation. There would then be a strategic trade advisory group, created to advise Ministers. As negotiations progressed there would be regular updates and statements with the International Trade Committee, so there would be a committee of MPs scrutinising the progress of negotiations. Finally, at the end of the negotiation, the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 would kick in. That would require the Government to lay the trade deal and the treaty that established it before Parliament. There would then be a period of 21 days during which Parliament could pray against that trade Bill and vote to refuse its ratification.

If that happened, the Government would have to go away and think again about what to do. If that process continued a number of times, it would obviously be possible to bring a motion before Parliament that would effectively veto the treaty. There would be lots of scrutiny during the development of the trade deals and then a parliamentary right to veto at the end.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

Does the Minister accept that most trade deals involve various sectors? There is something unique about the agriculture sector and, in particular, the agriculture sector that will be created if this Bill is enacted. Farmers will be supported to do things other than the production of the substance that is the subject of trade. When we have a trade arrangement on agricultural products, we have a very different scenario from that we would have with a trade deal on products from producers who are not being supported to do other things. It is the support to do other things that needs the special protection in trade deals to do with agriculture.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is broader than that. Agriculture is unique. There is a reason why most trade deals that fail founder over arguments around agriculture. Controversy around deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or any others, for that matter, always concern issues about food standards, food quality and animal welfare, and rightly so. The truth is that consumers care about those issues deeply and passionately. They are less interested in chapters on digital or financial services.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

So does the Minister accept there is a very good reason for having a special trade clause in the Bill?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There is a very good reason for having the thorough process outlined by the Department for International Trade that I am describing to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

There has been much talk about trade deals in terms of what others might send us, but does the Minister not agree that trade is a two-way process? If, as he suggested, the Americans are becoming much more discerning in the quality of the products they buy, there are great opportunities to export products such as Wensleydale cheese or British beef to these new markets.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is a very important point. We are working at the moment to try to get access for British beef to the United States because it is a premium product and their beef tends to be lower grade. There is also a good market for British dairy products, particularly our famous cheeses, in the United States where they largely have a standard cheddar that is not particularly good. There is a market for those. There are offensive opportunities in some of these trade deals, which we should always bear in mind.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I would observe that not all American food is as dire as it might seem from our deliberations. There is a thriving organic, local food market in the United States.

I want to ask the Minister about process. Will there be an opportunity for Parliament at the mandate-setting stage to constrain the trade negotiations, so that it can be made clear to negotiators that Parliament will not accept anything that breaches the standards that we are trying to embed? The Minister seeks to do that agreement by agreement, but we are trying to put those constraints in the Bill.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hard power, for want of a better term, that Parliament will have is the power to block ratification at the end of the process. As I outlined earlier, there will be a 14-week consultation process where anybody—consumer groups and whoever—can feed in.

As the negotiations progress, there will be regular scrutiny from the International Trade Committee, which will be a parliamentary Committee providing that scrutiny. Therefore, it will not be a mandate as such—in that sense, it is perhaps more akin to the Australian system—but it will have some of the features of the US system, in terms of parliamentary overview as the negotiations progress, but also the ability to block ratification at the end.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

Is not the danger with the procedure that the Minister is outlining that every time a trade Bill comes up with any country or group of countries, we will have a repetition of evidence and submissions from farmers, who will seek, rightly, to defend what we agree across the House about a bottom level. Removing that repetition would make life a lot more certain for farmers, in terms of how we are going forward in the agricultural community, but also, more importantly, it open ups space for other discussions that will be particular to an individual trade Bill, rather than something that I think we agree would apply to every trade discussion.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think that that is right and it is why ultimately this area of policy is for the Department for International Trade, because it has to look at the whole trade piece. As the hon. Member for Ipswich pointed out, agriculture is unique and special, and that is why DEFRA has a special role in this—because there are complex issues in relation to tariff rate quotas, which a lot of people do not understand and which are very agriculture-specific, and lots of complex SPS issues. Agriculture is a unique and highly complex area of trade that we would need to get right.

In conclusion, a process has been set out; there is an ability for Parliament to block ratification and for Parliament, if it so wanted, to make a resolution to strike down a treaty. However, in the light of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, I will of course undertake to talk to Government colleagues to see whether anything could be refined in this process to reflect the agricultural context of trade agreements and to look at the role of scrutinising those agreements from a strictly agricultural perspective. I do not think that it would be within the scope of the Bill, but I hope that in Committee I can give some additional reassurance in this regard.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

This has been a very good debate, with very good contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I appreciate what the Minister has said about trying to refine this issue at some stage, when we go further into the Bill, but I am disappointed that he has not indicated that he will include a clause about trade in the Bill. We still come back to this question: where are the safeguards to prevent Ministers from signing up to trade deals that disadvantage UK food producers and potentially lower animal welfare, environmental protection and food standards? Farming, environmental, public health and food-producing organisations think that the strongest assurances are required in the Bill so, in the hope that the Minister and his colleagues will agree with me that it is important to make it clear now to all those organisations and to our constituents that their concerns are being taken seriously and listened to, I will push new clause 12 to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 23 Decision Time — International trade agreements: agricultural and food products

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 15