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Import of agricultural goods

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 12:00 pm, 5th March 2020

It is a pleasure to continue serving under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am afraid that we will not be rattling on at quite the pace you have managed so far.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will be delighted that today we are going to unleash, as the Prime Minister would say, the full talents of the shadow Front-Bench team and Labour Back-Bench Members. Again, I encourage the Government to do the same. Yesterday morning, while eating my porridge, I enjoyed a thoughtful contribution on the “Today” programme—territory currently uninhabited by Ministers of course—from the hon. Member for Devizes. It is an odd world where Back-Bench Members are free to speak on national media but are constrained on detailed scrutiny. The Government love power but may be less keen on responsibility.

A document relevant to our discussion has once again been released in the middle of a morning. This time, it is a 109-page document on bovine TB. Although it is another favourite document of mine, hon. Members will be grateful that I will not subject it to rigorous scrutiny, but one of my hon. Friends will talk to it this afternoon.

Let me get to the core business. Throughout the Committee, we have said that it is crucial that, in any future trade deals, imported agricultural goods meet our animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards to protect our consumers and prevent our farmers being undercut by lower-standard imports. The Bill improves the standards that we set ourselves by reducing environmental impacts and incentivising public goods, such as high welfare standards. If we do not have coherency between our agricultural and trade policies, however, the Government might as well make the entire Bill null and void.

Hon. Members will have noticed in the oral evidence sessions that I asked almost every witness the same question. Although they put it in different ways, they all gave similar answers and agreed that it is the key issue. The Government have said that they are committed not to allow future trade deals to weaken our food standards—I anticipate the Minister’s response—but the problem is that we have yet to find anyone who believes that. I suspect the same goes for most Government Members. There is a simple solution, which we will say again and again: put it in the Bill. I am tempted to follow the Prime Minister’s lead and get Opposition Members to chant, but I think that is a bit naff, so we will not do that. We will try to do better.

We are sceptical because the actions of the Government and the Prime Minister seem to point in a different direction. On Sunday, the Secretary of State had the opportunity, but again refused to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef being imported from the US under a new deal.