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Import of agricultural goods

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 12:30 pm, 5th March 2020

I rise to support everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge has said on new clause 1. I shall also speak to new clause 4, which was tabled by Simon Hoare, with the support of many of his Conservative colleagues. At the moment, I am the only Labour Member whose name has been added to it, but I am sure that many others would join me on Report.

Some of us sat on the Committee that considered the first draft of the Agriculture Bill in the last Parliament. I was also on the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as well as part of as various all-party parliamentary groups, and there were also debates on these matters in the Chamber and at oral questions. Ministers, including the then Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Farming Minister and, at various points, the International Trade Secretary, gave us verbal reassurances.

There was a bit of a trajectory, because in the early days, we could get Ministers to say only that UK standards would be protected. Eventually, after lots of prompting on our part, some of them—although certainly not on the International Trade side—said that that also applied to imported goods. The Minister needs to reflect on why it is very clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, that those assurances are not believed. The absolute fact of the situation is that everyone, from the NFU to environmental and consumer groups, wants those things enshrined in law, as do the Conservative Members who have signed the new clause.

The Minister has talked about including those assurances in a trade Bill, but when the Trade Bill was introduced to Parliament, we were fobbed off. We tried to get something in there, but were told that it applied only to current trade agreements and not to future ones, although some legal opinion said that it did. When we tried to discuss that during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and all the discussions about Brexit, we were told that it would pop up somewhere else. That game of musical chairs just does not wash with people. We want to see this measure in the Agriculture Bill because it specifically relates to food standards and animal welfare, as we have heard in detail.

I remember trying to bring the matter up during arguments about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, way before Brexit. The then Member for Streatham, who was our shadow Business Secretary, made great play about the NHS being at risk under TTIP. When I started trying to talk to him about chickens, he looked at me as if to say, “What on earth is she on about now?” Now, the chickens have come home to roost—metaphorical chickens—and everyone knows about the issue, but nobody is convinced that the Government are willing to support preventive measures.