“(1) After IP completion day, agricultural goods imported under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—
(a) animal health and welfare,
(b) protection of the environment,
(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and
(d) plant health.
(2) The Secretary of State must prepare a register of standards under UK law relating to—
(a) animal health and welfare,
(b) protection of the environment,
(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability, and
(d) plant health
which must be met in the course of production of any imported agricultural goods.
(3) A register under subsection (2) must be updated within seven days of any amendment to any standard listed in the register.
(4) ‘Agricultural goods’, for the purposes of this section, means anything produced by a producer operating in one or more agricultural sectors listed in Schedule 1.
(5) ‘IP completion day’ has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”
This new clause would set a requirement for imported agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards which are at least as high as those which apply to UK produced agricultural goods.
New clause 11—Import standards—
“(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’ has the meaning given in section 2(2) of this Act;
‘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).”
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.
New clause 17—Animal welfare and sentience—
“Regulations may only be made under section 2(1) if the provisions of the international trade agreement to which they relate are compatible with—
(a) any provision in UK law (including retained EU law) relating to animal welfare standards and the welfare of animals in the production of food; and
(b) any obligations relating to animal sentience by which the UK is bound, or any principles relating to animal sentience to which the UK adheres
Inverness, yes. There we are. I knew that inspiration would be with me.
The explanatory statement shows that new clause 11 is entirely consistent with the other new clauses. It is about the protection of
“the quality of domestic food supply by ensuring that imported foodstuffs are held to the same standards as domestic foodstuffs are held to.”
Labour has tabled a new clause 17 on animal sentience. It is important that the Trade Bill is consistent with other pieces of legislation on animal sentience. The Government have agreed to introduce, under an animal welfare and recognition of sentience Bill, a process to ensure that any future legislation or policy is assessed against animal welfare standards. This should be recognised in the Trade Bill as one of the most important areas that could undermine animal welfare standards, and those standards should be outside the ambit of the trade negotiations.
We had a similar debate on Tuesday, but I will spend a few moments on this because a few things have happened since then, such as the Secretary of State appearing at the International Trade Committee yesterday. She said no, but what did she say no to? She did not say no to taking action on food standards, and the Minister did not say no on the same thing on Tuesday. They are very good at making it clear that food safety will not be affected, but they do not talk about food production standards. We have pride in this country in our high standards not only of safety, but of production and animal welfare as well, and those are the elements that have so far been missing in what Ministers have said.
In trade talks the more powerful side wins, and if that more powerful side wants a reduction in our food production standards, it is very difficult to resist if we want a trade agreement with it, and that is the problem. We have tabled a new clause very similar to one on the Agriculture Bill, and we have done so because Ministers told Back-Bench Conservative MPs that the Trade Bill was the place for such an amendment and for this to go into legislation, so we have done what the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis, told us we should do.
I wonder whom British consumers will believe. Will they believe Ministers who will not quite bring themselves to guarantee food production standards or take the action needed on animal welfare, or will they believe the British Standards Institution? Its chair, John Hirst, was quoted in The Times today, expressing fears over a potential American attempt to
“replicate the approach to standards”
agreed in its deal with Canada and Mexico, which President Trump’s officials see as a model for future accords. He says that such an accord would
“undermine our sovereignty over regulation”
by allowing the US to replace UK standards with its own. The Government should perhaps listen to Mr Hirst.
If the Government do not want to listen to Mr Hirst, they could listen to the executive director of Waitrose, James Bailey, who has said that a trade agreement with the US that loosened food standards—production standards—would amount to an “unacceptable backwards step”. He, very commendably, has said that Waitrose will never sell chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef or meat from animals subject to extensive use of antibiotics.
Has my hon. Friend has seen the representations to the Committee from the British Poultry Council? That makes it very clear that the UK has multiple pieces of national legislation aimed at various aspects of animal welfare. For chicken alone, that includes on-farm catching, transport and slaughter. By comparison, the US has no national animal welfare legislation, particularly covering farm animal welfare. It is true that some states do have laws, but the three major chicken-producing states of Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas do not. Is that not at the heart of what his new clause seeks to do?
It is, and this lack of consistency in the US is one of the problems in doing a trade deal with it, because it has different standards in different states.
While my hon. Friend was speaking, the evidence from Which? came to mind. As we know, it represents consumers in the UK. It has cited consumers’ views on these matters: 79% would be uncomfortable eating beef produced with growth hormones, and 77% would be uncomfortable having milk from cows that have been given growth hormones. Giving antibiotics to healthy farm animals to promote their growth was of concern to 78%. It is not currently allowed in the UK, but it could be under a trade agreement if we give the Americans what they want. Seventy-two per cent. would be concerned about eating chicken treated with chlorine and 93% think it is important that UK food standards be maintained after we leave the EU. Nearly three quarters—72%—think that food from countries with lower standards should not be available.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s clarification that while people have concerns about food standards the things he mentioned are not allowed in the UK at the moment. I noticed he said that sotto voce so I wanted to emphasise it for the record. They are not allowed, we are not going to have them, and it is not relevant to a continuity roll-over of a free trade agreement.
The last Bill became an awful lot more after it was amended in the Lords, and I suspect that things are heading the same way. However, the hon. Member for South Ribble is right. Of course we have the highest food standards in the world. I say it already, and we have pride in those high standards. It is matter of safety, production and welfare, and all three of those have to be retained. I remind you, Sir Graham, that it was the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who confirmed that chlorinated chicken must be part of any post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK. That was confirmed by trade representative Lighthizer on many occasions, including when he said that on issues such as agriculture
“this administration is not going to compromise”.
Further to the intervention by the hon. Member for South Ribble, my hon. Friend will be more than aware that a UK-Canada agreement is very much within the scope of the Bill. The Canadians have lower animal welfare standards and lower pesticide protections than we have in the UK. That is perhaps an even stronger rebuttal of the argument that the hon. Lady advanced, that the new clause is not relevant to the Bill. It is very relevant.
Of course my hon. Friend is right. It is not a question just about the US. It is about other countries with different food production, safety and animal welfare standards, where agriculture will be part of the agreements. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that that is an important part of what we are discussing. You would of course have told me if I had been out of order, Sir Graham, and got me to sit down, but you did not, so I was not.
I remind the Committee again that there are real concerns about the impact on human health of using antibiotics and growth hormones. That is in addition to the impact on animal welfare, and the contribution that things such as antibiotics make to the potential for a growth in problems such as zoonotic diseases, and diseases crossing species—something we should all be extremely concerned about in the middle of a pandemic that probably results from exactly that.
Neil Parish said in debate on the Agriculture Bill that he had been promised that the issue would be covered in the Trade Bill. He recognised that the Agriculture Minister who made the promise was possibly not in a position to make it. He said:
“We are being led down the garden path—we really are”.—[Official Report,
Will the Minister tell us whether his hon. Friend has been led up the garden path? That is how it looks to most people out there, as well as to us in Committee.
I want to speak to my new clause 11. Trade deals can put pressure on food standards and lead to the importation of food of a low standard. We know, for example, that the US Administration wants the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards precisely to allow the export of products currently banned in the UK. The new clause includes a ban on the importation of food produced to standards lower than those currently applying in the UK.
The US and other countries have far lower animal welfare standards and adopt practices that are illegal in the UK for health and environmental reasons, such as the production of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef; use various pesticides outlawed in the UK; and produce genetically modified crops, which are completely outlawed in Scotland. We believe that the quality of Scotland’s food and drink produce, and indeed that from elsewhere in the UK, as well as the standards of production, are essential to retaining our established international reputation in those products.
Is the new clause not an opportunity for the UK Government to do the right thing and prove to the public that they are not trading away food standards and Scotland’s international reputation to the highest bidder? If they do not accept it, will people not justifiably conclude that that is part of their plan?
I think people are deeply concerned. No matter how many times Ministers give assurances from the Dispatch Box or elsewhere—Conservative MPs know this—because of what is said by our negotiating partners, there is deep concern among the public and, in particular, those who work in agriculture about standards that may be reduced. My hon. Friend is therefore absolutely right that by accepting various amendments or new clauses, the Government have an opportunity to cement our standards and rule out in negotiations the reduction of standards rather than simply by words in a speech.
New clause 12 in effect does two things: it affirms the UK’s rights and obligations under the agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures in appendix 1A of the WTO agreement; and it prohibits the import of food into the UK if standards in the exporting country are lower than those in force here. I do not think there is anything contentious about that, nor do many people in the real world. I suspect the Minister will not be at all surprised that various campaign groups, including Global Justice Now and the Trade Justice Moment, support such objectives.
The list of supporters for such measures is deep and wide. Scottish Land & Estates said:
“Scotland’s producers need guarantees from the UK Government that domestic production and environmental standards are upheld as part of future international trade deals. Our extremely high environmental and food safety standards are amongst our key selling points, and this must be protected after we leave the EU to ensure we don’t find ourselves in a ‘race to the bottom’.”
As NFU Scotland has said that it is concerned that the UK Government’s approach to future trade policy creates the potential for the importation of agri-food into the UK produced to an inequivalent and uncompetitive standard of production, one would think the UK Government should listen. The new clause would ensure that the UK Government had a duty to protect the quality of domestic food supply by ensuring that imported foodstuffs are held to the same standards as domestic foodstuffs are currently. I commend it to the Committee.
I turn to new clauses 9, 11 and 17. I am aware of the strength of feeling from colleagues on both sides of the Committee on this important issue. I spoke about the commitments the Prime Minister gave in his Greenwich speech to upholding high standards, which were also in our manifesto.
I have received a lot of correspondence from local residents and farmers in Stafford who are concerned about food standards, with food having to be produced to very high standards in the UK. What assurances can the Minister give me that with the Bill we will be supporting and backing British farming?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In the time she has been in the House, she has been a strong defender and advocate of her farming sector in and around Stafford. I can say that there will be no compromise on our standards on food safety, animal welfare and the environment, exactly as we laid out in the election manifesto that she and I were both elected on just six months ago, both collectively and individually.
This Bill is about ensuring continuity, particularly at this moment of unprecedented economic challenge posed by coronavirus. We need the power in clause 2 to replicate the effects of our current trading relationships and provide certainty to UK businesses. That includes the continuity agreements, including the Canada agreement, which the hon. Member for Harrow West has mentioned again today. I think there has been yet another shift in the Labour party’s position: last Thursday, we heard from the shadow Secretary of State that Labour was in favour of a trade deal with Canada, but now the hon. Member for Harrow West seems to be back to opposing that trade deal. There does seem to be some confusion, but the purpose of this Bill is not to sign new agreements or alter standards in any way. Without the Bill, we risk being unable to implement continuity agreements, resulting in disruption and uncertainty for businesses and consumers.
As the National Farmers Union confirmed to the Committee last week, the EU’s approvals regime for agricultural products is one of the most precautionary in the world. That regime will be transposed onto the UK statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I am pleased to say that the NFU has not expressed any concerns about the framework for mutual recognition in continuity agreements that this Bill provides, and I am grateful for the contribution of its expertise through our expert trade advisory group. As I have previously told the Committee, we have now signed 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, replicating the terms that we had with them under EU trade agreements. Imports under continuity agreements must continue to comply with our existing import standards. None of these agreements has resulted in a lowering of the agricultural or other standards referenced in the agreement.
For the record and for the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm that he can see no way in which chlorinated chicken from the US will be allowed to be sold in British stores?
That is absolutely correct. It is a point that we have made on numerous occasions, and I am happy to make it again today.
Although this Bill relates to continuity with existing trading partners, I recognise the concerns that colleagues have about future FTAs with new trading partners, as I said during Tuesday’s debate. As the Secretary of State, my DEFRA colleagues and I have told this House and the other place on many occasions, the Government will stand firm in trade negotiations. We will always do right by our farmers and aim to secure new opportunities for the industry. Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend Member for Stafford, we would like Stafford farmers to gain opportunities to sell their high-quality produce abroad by breaking down barriers, reducing or removing tariffs, and so on. That is also very important for our agriculture; in fact, the scoping assessment for the US trade deal showed that UK agriculture would be a net beneficiary of any such deal.
All imports under all trade agreements, whether continuity or future FTAs, will have to comply with our import requirements. In the case of food safety, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland will continue to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards, and that consumers are protected from unsafe food that does not meet those standards. Decisions on those standards are a matter for the UK and will be made separately from any trade agreements.
The Minister has said that UK farmers would be net beneficiaries of any trade deal with the US on exports, but I do not see how that can tally. If the United States’ No. 1 priority in any trade deal is agricultural products, is he saying that we will be exporting more agricultural products to the US than the US will be exporting to the UK?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s apparent enthusiasm for Trumpian mercantilism, thinking that because UK agriculture might gain, that would somehow mean US agriculture would lose. Sir Graham, you and I both know that free trade does not work like that: there could be benefits for both sides in the trade agreement. For example, the US simply does not allow in British lamb, and currently puts very high tariffs—tariffs of between 20% and 23%—on British cheeses, including Cheddar, Stilton, and other high-quality British cheeses that we would like to sell to the United States. Of course there is an opportunity for British agriculture, and the scoping assessment that we published on
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the scoping assessment that we published on
We have talked at some length in these debates about the scoping assessment, which lays out the possibilities. The numbers run in the scoping assessment suggested that UK agriculture would be a net beneficiary of the agreement. Our existing import requirements already include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and a ban on using anything other than potable water to decontaminate poultry carcases.
One Opposition Member mentioned Waitrose. I know we are not allowed to use props in this Parliament, but I bow to nobody in my love of Waitrose—I have my Waitrose card to prove it. My constituents benefit from seven branches of that supermarket. When Waitrose came to see me five or six years ago and told me about its pilot of Little Waitrose, it told me all about these fantastic things and asked for my view. I said, “That sounds fantastic. What have other MPs said?” They said, “You are the only MP we are coming to see about it, because half of the pilots are in your constituency.” That is how popular Waitrose is in my local area, so I bow to nobody in my love for Waitrose. Waitrose could well proclaim that it would not be selling these products, and it would be right, because these products will remain illegal in the UK after
Any changes to existing legislation will require new legislation to be brought before Parliament. I reiterate that any decisions around standards will be made separately from negotiations. We appreciate that there will be a range of issues that stakeholders across different sectors, not least agriculture, will be keen to discuss. Let me reassure British farmers that we are on their side in negotiations with all trade partners. We will not compromise on our high standards of food safety and animal welfare in any trade negotiation. To that end, we have actively engaged the agriculture sector and encouraged it to help UK trade policy, including through representation on the Government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group and dedicated Agri Food Expert Trade Advisory Group.
I will now address each amendment in turn. New clause 9 would mean that all imported agricultural goods had to meet the same production standards as goods produced in the UK today and to be aligned dynamically. I have already talked about the UK’s stringent import protections, which are either in place through existing domestic legislation or brought on to the statute book through the withdrawal Act.
As I have mentioned, during the evidence sessions we had on the legislation, the NFU and others described these as some of the most precautionary standards in the world. As Committee members will know, the UK’s food standards for domestic production and imports are overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. Those agencies provide independent advice to the UK and Scottish Governments, and will continue to do so, to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards. Through the works of these independent organisations, consumers are protected from unsafe food, which does not meet our high domestic standards.
Members, however, should consider the unintended consequences of this new clause. It would force us to effectively ban safe food imports that meet our current import standards but do not follow the same production methods as we have in the UK. That is crucial to understand. It would significantly disrupt UK food supply chain resilience, commercial relationships and bilateral relations with partner countries.
I am happy to have a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the difference between standards and methods, but I am not sure that the difference is that big.
The dictation of our domestic standards to our trading partners might well appear a laudable goal, but the new clause would require them to keep aligned with just seven days’ notice. Subsection (3) of the new clause states that a register
“must be updated within seven days of any amendment to any standard listed in the register.”
Our trading partners’ standards would therefore have to remain dynamically aligned to our domestic production standards with just seven days’ notice. That could have serious consequences for our existing trade flows, let alone anything negotiated in the future.
This is true for the developing world. The beans that we can buy at Waitrose in Fulham—I imagine that they are similar to the ones at Waitrose in Putney, for example—come from Kenya and Egypt. The last time I bought beans was at the weekend. Bananas from the Caribbean might not have production standards that are the same as those in the UK, but they can still meet our import standards.
Those markets would not be able to keep up with our changes. Given just five days’ notice, they would have to dynamically align with whatever the UK decided and, within seven days, make the changes to their domestic production standards. That strikes me as being wholly impractical. The impact of the new clauses could be severe on livelihoods in the developing world. I invite Opposition Members to go and see some of the Kenyan or Egyptian beans being produced and tell some of those workers that, as a consequence of new clause 9, they might well find themselves having to align with UK production standards in the future.
The new clauses might have been drafted with the US in mind, but this is UK law and it would apply to all our trading partners. These measures would likely render inoperable the very continuity agreements we have been discussing and, indeed, potentially prevent a deal with the EU itself. There would be an irony in the UK, through our domestic law, seeking the EU to dynamically align with our standards.
As I said on Tuesday, the UK banned veal crates some 16 years before the EU, and we can take great pride in that; it is a great achievement. The idea that the EU would sign a trade deal with us whereby it would have to commit to dynamic alignment with our standards with just seven days’ notice is highly questionable, to say the least. Members who want continuity with those 40 deals should not vote for these new clauses, nor should those who want a trade deal with the European Union.
New clause 9 would have the unwanted effect of discouraging partners with whom we are yet to sign a continuity agreement from negotiating with us. This Government were elected on a manifesto promise that, in our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, and we will not. Parliament will have significant oversight of any regulations made under this power, and any statutory instruments brought forward will be subject to the affirmative procedure. Given our robust commitment to British food and farming, I ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw the new clause.
Like new clause 9, new clause 11 stipulates that all food imported to the UK should be held to the same standards as that which is produced in the UK. The proposal stands in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee East, although I suspect he has the same intentions as the hon. Member for Sefton Central in tabling it. I have already provided assurances that EU import standards, praised by the NFU and others, will be replicated in domestic law at the end of the transition period. Our import requirements include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and any changes to existing legislation would require new legislation to be passed by Parliament.
Given that we have high safety standards in place, and that the wider unintended consequence of the new clause would be to threaten both the resilience of our food supply chains and our opportunity to ensure that we secure continuity for British businesses and customers through our ongoing continuity negotiations, I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee East will not press the new clause.
New clause 17 stipulates that any animal welfare or sentience regulations arising from trade agreements must be aligned with existing commitments in UK and retained EU law. I can assure Members that our world-leading animal welfare standards are at the heart of our continuity negotiations. None of the agreements already signed with 48 countries is inconsistent with existing standards, as the parliamentary reports published alongside those agreements demonstrate. In fact, the UK has some of the most comprehensive animal welfare regulation in the world. We have introduced one of the strictest ivory bans in the world and we have a manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening. World Animal Protection rated the UK as having the joint-highest animal welfare standards in the world, tied with Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
I share Members’ desire to ensure safeguards both for British consumers and for farmers. However, the protections we are already putting in place, coupled with the unintended consequences of the proposals, mean that these measures would be of no benefit. Our manifesto commitment is clear: the Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to support farmers, protect consumers and safeguard standards. I hope that that explanation, alongside the 20 continuity agreements that Parliament ratified, provides reassurance to the Committee that the Government’s commitment to maintaining standards is being delivered. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their proposals to the vote.
That was really telling. It has taken until today for the Government to come up with a form of words to justify not supporting higher food production standards. The intervention, I think by the hon. Member for Dundee East, really did nail it. There is a world of difference between methods and standards, of course there is. How something is produced to a certain standard is one thing; the method used is entirely another. This is the point we have been making again and again in the proceedings of both this Bill and the Agriculture Bill. The Government have been pushing a defence of food safety, but not how it is produced, how animals are looked after or, indeed, how plants are protected. It is really telling that that is the defence being used and that it has taken them a while to get there. There can be and there are different methods of production all over the world, of course there are, but they can be to the same high standards. I am afraid that it did not work, and it will not work. It will not wash, unlike the chlorine the previous Secretary of State at one point said was perfectly safe and acceptable, before changing his mind when he realised it was not acceptable or palatable.
So, there are those differences and we should have concerns about hormones in animals. We should have concerns about the impact of antibiotics. We should have concerns about the impact on fruit and vegetables as well. As my hon. Friends have pointed out it is not just the United States, but countries that are directly a part of the continuity aspect of the Bill, that the Minister is so fond of reminding us about. It is Japan as well as Canada, by the way.
I recently took part in an update call with the Secretary of State about the progress of the UK-US trade deal. She made a very interesting point in answer to a question from Mark Garnier regarding food standards. He asked about outcome versus process and the technicality of that when it comes to animal welfare. The Secretary of State said that we had spelled out our red lines to the US in negotiations, but that the issue the Government had with the amendment to the Agriculture Bill on
That is a matter for the Minister rather than me. Perhaps it is one he will take away and respond to in time, but my hon. Friend makes a very important point. It reinforces the argument we are putting and is part of the reason that we shall press the new clause to a Division.
The reality is that the Minister is relying on safety standards, saying, “A chemical wash at the end of the process is good enough and it does not matter how we get there if it produces cheaper food. If production is cheaper because there is less animal welfare, let’s not worry too much about it.” There are a host of problems with that relating to health, morality in the way that animals are treated, and the animal sentience amendment. Indeed, there are also grave concerns about the impact on human health over the longer term in areas such as the use of antibiotics—not just its impact on zoonotic diseases but the effect on human health of antibiotics and other chemicals getting into water courses.
So no, we do not buy it; we do not accept it. I think we will stick with what the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said. We do think we are being led up the garden path. Getting on for 80% or 90% of the public agree with us and, frankly, so does the NFU. It wants to keep high production standards, whatever the Minister might have said in his response to the debate.